Sunday, December 27, 2009
Till 15 years back, you could find many children and parents who did not believe in education. That definitely has changed….now everybody thinks education is a must which ideally sounds good. But given the quality of education that these students get, I think it was better off remaining un-educated. Literacy without real education is worse…actually I think it’s deadly. Especially in a country like ours where the politicians have ludicrous ideologies and people don’t have the capacity to think logically.
Most families of this ‘class’ still have 4 to 5 children. I have seen families who have 9 to 10 children even now. Imagine the population in the times to come.
Now combine all these 3 factors and all that I can see in the future is utter chaos.
I once read an essay by a boy of 14years from a slum community in Mumbai. The topic was simple…what you want to become when you grow up. This boy started in a sweet but predictable manner of earning more money and getting his family out of poverty. He then went on to say how his ‘desh’ was being taken over by outsiders and “mujhe desh ko azaad karna hain.” Initially I had laughed it off but speaking to others it seemed even the parents thought so. And this is just one instance.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Bombay to Delhi:
Uncle dressed like a politician, Aunty dressed like a politician’s wife – in all white. I look at them apprehensively. After an hour or so I relax.
Well-dressed religious old man who instead of saying hello would greet everybody with ‘radhe radhe’. Was on his way to Mathura for a wedding, he informed me later.
Local ‘chalti-kya-khandala’ type of guy who showed his machismo by chewing guthka constantly. His newly wed bride was also the ‘kareena-kapoor-in-films character’ type with all the adas and jhatkas in place. Snippets of conversation caught…“tumne mujhe itna rulaya…” “akele chorh ke kahan gaye the…”
Dinner time: Religious uncle shares his parathas and acchar with everybody saying ‘Gujrati mirchi hain, bilkul teekhi nahin”.
Post dinner: He tells me the story of his two daughters and then helps me make my bed.
He shook hands with everybody before getting down at Mathura.
Delhi to Bombay:
Gabru jawan from sada Dalhi worked for a small publishing house.
Sweet married boy from ‘New Dalhi’ was from a pharma company. They hit it off in no time.
The first part of the conversation was interesting when Sweet Boy describes the relation between pharma companies and the docs or hospitals.
The second part of the conversation was even more interesting. GJ told this guy that he came to Bombay often and knew the city well. He convinced SB not to stay in an expensive place in Andheri (though his meetings were there) but to stay in a cheaper hotel near VT. Some snippets
GJ: (extremely confidently) Saari locals VT se jaati hain. Andheri adhe ghante mein pahuch jaoge.
SB: Achha? Koi problem toh nahin hoga?
GJ: Main itni baar gaya hoon, mujhe local mein koi problem nahin hua hain.
SB: Bombay mein yeh fast or slow trains kuch hote hain na?
GJ: Nahin, wahan lines hota hain. Ek harbour ki taraf jati hain aur doosri seedhi. Ek aur line hain…woh Marine Lines se Juhu jati hain.
SB: Aur locals mein maine first class bhi dekha hain. Woh kya hain?
GJ: First class mein sitting hota hain. General mein khade hoke jate hain.
SB: Accha, Film City kahan hain?
GJ: Andheri mein. Wahan bahut saare studio hain.
SB: Andheri side mein dekhne ke liye kya hain?
GJ: (coming straight to the point) wahan bahut saaren night clubs hain.
SB: Theek hain, mera kaam ho jaane ke baad main tumhe phone karoonga….(already become thick pals)
Dinner Time: GJ tells SB… 'Aao main tumhe pantry le jata hoon’…obviously hinting to little swigs.
I giggle when I get down at Mumbai Central. Now I’m dying to know what they did in this city.
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
I have been in a reflective mode these past few days….wondering as to where we all are headed. If wheel (I personally would add tissue papers and safety pins!) was the best thing that has happened to mankind, then I believe the www is possibly the worst. Too much info and easy access to everything leads to people not valuing anything. I mean, it does make life easier….but we did live happily before that happened, didn’t we. Technology is supposed to get you closer…that’s what all the ads say. But people, friends and families are moving away. All the magical untouched corners of the earth are getting infected with humans. Too many people are demanding too many things. In the end, it’s just you and a super busy life so that you don’t get the time to think how alienated you actually are.
Earlier I used to love aesthetically decorated houses. Now I like houses that are a bit cluttered and filled in. They feel warm, lived in. I get better sleep in these homes than clean sanitized ones. But when I get my own home, it will be neither. I am a minimalist. I don’t buy things because I don’t really need them. Maybe that’s why I like the houses in villages. Clean, white washed, bare minimum and yet so livable. Many people find it difficult to understand given that in these over materialistic times, not wanting seems like a crime.
I don’t know how to deal with rich people. They have a different style of talking, of doing things. They have a confidence which comes only with money. Maybe that’s why we as a nation deal with the westerners like the way we do. Maybe it’s not really about the colour of the skin but about money. I wonder if we were a rich nation, would we still be in so much awe of the white skin as we are now?
Thursday, October 01, 2009
On the ninth day, the music started late and went on till the wee hours of the night….the law giving them concession for a day I think. To my surprise, the whole place erupted in colours and excitement. Little kids were prancing around dressed like little fisherwomen, goddess Kali, Durga and even an angel. Girls, guys, men, women….all had come out in their best attire….bright red, pink, orange sequined saris, sequined tops with jeans, colourful kurtas. Surprisingly, none of them looked like they belonged to a basti. I mentally went through my wardrobe and realized that I do not have a single dress to rival even the drabbest one of theirs.
Suddenly the same drab music sounded full of fun and masti. And all danced with gusto….the girls with colourful dupattas (who won the best group award), the guys in t-shirts, neck-tie and a white glove, two eunuchs in jeans, a muslim guy swaying to the tune of ‘Nagin’, a man in a golden coat and a long black wig (he won the best dressed dancer award), a mother with a baby in her arms, a drunken guy who came dressed in leaves, a woman who held her sari up a little and let her hair flow down her right shoulder seductively and the organizers in yellow kurtas and turbans. Towards the end, the circle broke. The music changed to pub numbers and the whole scene turned into a veritable open-air discotheque. The girls’ group jumped with the tune, a guys’ group did hip-hop and b-boing, one of the eunuchs danced around with a group of guys and throwing her hair about….there was a strange underline of sexuality between them….something which I did not want to think about.
Naturally the girl dressed like goddess Durga won the fancy dress competition. I watched them till the time the music stopped and everybody slowly went back home. I have never seen such a harmless (saying so due to my deeply ingrained Delhi sensibilities) and fun community celebration and loved every moment of this show.
But now all I want is a quiet and peaceful place to heal my extremely painful ears.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
A half moon looked at me and whispered
The melancholic wind tossed the whispered words around
And blew it on my face, unaware of my reaction
I felt the moon’s whisper rather than hear it
Somewhere the hibernating senses rustled
It crawled slowly over my skin
And settled deep in every pore
The moon spoke of a word which smelt of Freedom
Of roads that led to forever
Of frosty mountain air and simmering dessert sun
A rain soaked earth and sun-kissed empty sand
Of freshly cut grass and drying chillies
Of red roses against a white wall
A calling magpie high in the sky
A window looking over a vale
Of playful mist whirling about
A golden sun over a rolling meadow
And of a road that never arrived
The distant horizon is luring
And the feet’s begun to itch
For a journey to forever
And a road that becomes the home
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
This just opened up the Pandora’s Box for me. I began my diatribe about how irresponsible the world power was. How it’s senseless ‘I, me & myself’ policies have ruined the world economy, ecology, climate, political ties, destroyed countries and made the whole world such an unsafe place to live in. Their bad points far out weigh the good. Why can’t everybody be more like the European countries…..culturally sound, economically stable, politically neutral and ecologically in a better situation than the rest?
I hate to admit but what M’s wife said made some sense – where else can you get that personal freedom, the basic right to life, the choices as an individual and equality among human beings which lacks in so many ways in other countries. Being a fancy free person myself, I would love to live in a country like that only for this reason.
But then even I can’t justify thinking about oneself without thinking about the rest. I, the individual, my life, my family, my caste, my religion, my state, my community, my country! Sometimes I think there should have been life in other planets, only then we could have risen above these petty issues and said my Earth.
It’s easier to follow bad examples than good and given the state of the world, I think we are way past that line where we could have pulled ourselves back to the good.
In the last couple of months, I have realized that there is so much of goodwill that exists in the society. Everybody wants to do something, even a little, if it helps somebody else or makes the world a better place. And there are so many organizations that have been working diligently for years to make some sort of a change.
But why is it that the deeper I look, the grimmer the situation seems…be it environment, children, education, women, human rights or wildlife. Sometimes I feel that the people we want to help are so used to external support that they don’t want to get out of their situation. Or perhaps we don’t know what ultimately the cause will end up doing. There’s always this….. ‘then what?’ question that remains.
Like education for all children. Once you fulfill it, then what? Are we capable of handling giving all these educated kids a dignified life, a decent job? Chances are lots will be frustrated at the lack of it….so they will go back to doing things to get quick money.
Like community development and infrastructure in the hills. Roads bring people, development brings money. With money comes consumerism, branded clothes, tv, car, tourists. Beautiful locations see mushrooming of grotesque buildings…then there’s pressure on availability of water, pollution and the list goes on.
Seems like a vicious circle to me….with no real time solution for it.
Near Mumbai Central, I saw a cat sleeping curled around a dog. At Nariman Point I saw 2 cats and 3 hens feeding from the same dish containing fish and rice.
Why can’t we be more like them?
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Sunday, August 09, 2009
One girl is standing and reading Sidney Sheldon’s Rage of Angels which she had picked up from a library. She’s a college student. I was in school when I had read that. Nice novel….nostalgia floods in remembering those days.
The girl next to me dials a number and starts talking to a Yogesh in the typical fashion which clients uses to screw their vendors. She didn’t care how, but she wanted her work done Now. I remember the number of times I had used that particular tone and shuddered. Poor Yogesh, his week is going to go really bad.
A woman-hawker gets up selling hairclips, rubber-bands and other stuff which she distributes amongst the passengers. The stickers sell like hot cake….most girls pick up the ones with cute little hearts in various designs and colours. Romantic fools! I look up at the second class compartment. The hawkers there had more interesting things to sell. They don't come to our section…..I wonder why.
I find a seat near a girl who’s talking seriously on the phone. I catch snippets of her conversation. “This is the last chance I’m giving you” “Listen, I have told you that I can’t do it”. There goes another love story all the way downhill. It seems to be happening way too often.
I lean my head against the seat and close my eyes. A fast train rushes past….how I love that sound of speed and urgency, the sound of long journeys. Vaguely I sense a girl leaning to take her bag from the overhead rung.
Soon, the movement lulls my senses and I’m lost to the world.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
A man comes with his cart, full of garlic and stands at a vantage point at the corner of a narrow lane. Not much sales today and in a few hours his place is empty….soon taken over by another cart full of colourful plastic toys. Suddenly he’s surrounded by eager mothers in ‘nighties’ rummaging through the cart. A couple of boys are talking and laughing at the ‘Xerox’ centre nearby comfortable in the chaos around.
The clouds suddenly let go and the strong winds make the raindrops fall at a thirty degree angle. The click of the umbrellas opening sound like somebody’s checking his drum-sticks before hitting the drums. Everybody’s umbrella is slanted at the same angle to shield themselves from the oncoming rain.
The day slows down to evening, and the shift in the wind direction unfurls the MNS flag which had wound itself around the flagpole in the daytime. The approaching night envelops everything in its darkness, cloaking all real life details in its mysterious fold. In the distance the twinkling lights of the airport bursts through, shimmering in the cold wetness around. An airplane slowly comes to a halt, its taillight still blinking red. A different world leaps out from that horizon, drawing you like a magnet….to the world of gloss, wealth, distant lands, important meetings and eagerly waiting families.
The lilting sound of a wind-chime floats out from somewhere. You can hear the wind blow. Then all is quiet.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
A year back, while trying desperately to hail a taxi after work, I was given a ride home by a stranger who was also waiting for a cab and who got it before I did. At first I was surprised, then scared and then strangely touched by the gesture. Later noticing around, I realized it was not too big a deal here. Now-a-days, I share my auto with strangers going the same direction and they do the same for me.
The third thing I have mastered, is the art of finding my space in a crowded train compartment without stepping over other people, hitting them with my bag or getting in their way. Nobody tells you these codes of conduct…(of how to stand/sit so that your feet are not sticking out, how to hold your purse so that it doesn’t poke the other person)….you watch the people around you and you just get to know.
And in this entire crowded milieu, what I love to do is to eavesdrop on other people’s phone conversations…..to imagine their lives and match their faces and looks to their voices and their stories.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
I thought we had a decent budget for getting a good house on rent. As it turned out we were almost laughed at by the brokers. Add to it the fact that we are ‘bachelors’ and hence most areas were automatically out of our reach. We were taken to areas where you will never go even in your dream, to buildings besides huge stinking nalas full of mosquitoes and to buildings where all the wires were hanging out ready to kill somebody. We saw apartments where the loo stank, where there was no natural light, where the vibes were so negative that it sent shivers down our spine. And then we were taken to a nice house in a good locality and told in a harsh voice….that its available only if we guarantee that there would be no ‘boys’ coming.
It was humiliating and depressing. Depressing because there are people and families who stay in all these buildings and houses for years….cramped and dirty. Humiliating because the married neighbors feel it’s important to warn the brokers (who in turn will warn us) that we are stepping into a ‘family’ area.
I wonder exactly what is the cost of dignified living in this city…..probably too much. There are many who can afford as one can see from the mushrooming skyscrapers but for the rest of us it’s far too big a compromise.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
C said that the most beautiful view in the world is to see the snow peaks on a full moon day. The range turns absolutely blue and sparkles in the silvery light. I was jealous of C. This was his first visit to the mountains, yet he has seen this fantastic sight. I, on the other hand have been to the Himalayas so many times but never ever seen such a sight. Even on this visit to Kumaon, the summer haze hid the snow range on the full moon day. I still have so much to see and experience.
In my last post I said that villagers are so simple and happily ignorant. Here in the villages of Kumaon I saw a different sight. With the help of an organization – Chirag - who have 209 villages under their wing for conservation through community development, they have come a long way. And all the change have been understood, led and implemented by women. Its not that the organization deliberately chose to empower the women……but it’s a big fact that men are less prone to gaining positive knowledge and more prone to resistance and destruction. With proper guidance, the women of the villages are now involved directly into all areas of work….from forestry, rain water harvesting, education, livelihood issues, self help group, micro-financing, agricultural marketing etc.
One woman of the Van Panchyat Committee (Forestry) admitted that if given to the men folks they would cut down all trees for easy money. She and a female member from each house takes turn to guard the forest, plant trees and collect fodder and dry twigs. I looked at the mountain side….it was lush green and vibrant.
I remembered Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code. Our ancestors were right. There’s immense power in the feminine.
And I was grossly wrong in my thinking. Villagers are ignorant but you can change their mindset by giving them right education and guidance. Whereas its just the opposite for city folks. They are educated, yet its so difficult to change their mindset. Tell a villager why it’s unwise to use plastic and they will carry one plastic bag for months. Tell a city folk that it’s unwise to use plastic…and they will insist on taking back 3 plastic bags instead of 1 every time they shop. They are not bothered because they wouldn’t give up their luxurious life or mad rush for money for anything in this world. Even if it means giving up Earth.
And its when we actually reach down to their level and try to understand, we see that in reality its us and not them, who have no clue.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Recently I got a chance to volunteer for an organization dealing with wildlife conservation and community development. One of their ways to gain trust of the villagers is to conduct medical camps in villages inside and outside the forest area. Medical camps in villages within the forest are exciting. Not only you get to experience the forest at close quarters but also see the effects of human life on the ecology directly. I was that way very unlucky. My camps were in villages outside the forest area.
Though I didn’t get to experience the forest, I did get a chance to get close to the villagers. These villages were in prime tourism locality…..and so one would think full of ‘jobs’ potential. But strangely nobody wanted to work in the resorts. They were happy with small amount of work and small amount of money….and loads of free time for themselves. Very few wanted to learn more about the world…..to open their mind. I had infact long believed that they understood nature and respected it more than us. So imagine my surprise when I learnt that they did not even know the difference between a cobra and a rat snake. And because they had all grown up with the forest in their backyards….they were simply not interested to know more.
The scary part of it is the difficulty of educating them about the need for conservation and importance of wildlife. It’s like telling them to protect something which they have abundance of and hence don’t need, and which we outsiders are going all out to destroy by logging and poaching (for our city needs).
The charming part is their satisfaction in small things and small quantities. And their innocence. (No wonder our politicians love them so!). I was caught between wanting to shake them off their inertia and lethargy and tell them about the world beyond, and wanting to let them be. Exactly where can the cut off be….I do not know.
Back in town, I went for a night out to one of the most expensive ‘discs’ with my friends. Music boomed, liquor flowed and so did the smell of wealth – perfume, dresses, accessories. As far as I am concerned, music sucked…even if it means it’s played out by a well-known dj and it’s the favourite haunt of the city’s social circle. Hours of trance music and remixes of bad bollywood songs and shimmering disco lights started doing funny things to my mind. I got increasingly claustrophobic. I looked around at the branded clothes, high stilettos, short skirts, swaying arms and perspiring bodies. People really do spend so much money every week….for this? Either I am seriously getting old or the world has really gone drastically wrong.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
The park is round and surrounded by tall buildings all around. When you look up, you see this tiny patch of space that is the sky. Sometimes I think that’s what a frog would see looking up from the well. Sometimes I feel I am in a toy land – those tiny tall buildings covered by a glass hemisphere type of a toy – somebody shakes it and you get snowflakes.
I have not been able to shake off this surreal toy-land feeling in the past 2 years. I don’t remember seeing stars, or floating clouds or getting caught in a sudden breeze which cools your senses. There are fleeting glimpses of the moon…while traveling on a train; at the seaface the horizons are mostly smoggy to see any clouds. Now I know why most people of this city can’t live anywhere else. It’s this constant warm, fuzzy, un-real feeling that one grew up with. It’s difficult to get rid of when you are so used to it. There’s nothing to make you feel restless – no sparkling moon with the smell of approaching winter, no bright mornings with parrots chirping, no sudden drizzle after a hot muggy day. The only change in this constant exterior happens when the rain lashes down for days…then there is a sudden burst of exhilaration and energy engulfing everybody in its fold. Because that’s the only reality in the year which seeps into you and make you feel real, alive.
They say Bombay grows on you. And I will agree with that completely. Living here is like finding your own snuggly spot in a huge non-interfering joint family. When I ask people where they think I come from, they all say the same. That I am definitely not a Bombaiyya and that they have no clue which city I belong to. I have no ‘ite’ attached to me. I can belong to any and every city.
And that’s how I want it to stay.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Just remove a few coconut trees from around the village ponds and add in more bamboo shrubs and the villages of Kerala and Bengal would look the same too.
The stark difference now though is the presence of colour in Kerala and the sheer lack of it in Bengal. Most of the old style houses have been razed and ponds filled up to build the most colourful concrete houses I have ever come across in my life. From deep orange, magenta, bright yellow to 3 shades brighter than parrot green….I was jumping like I found new treasure each time I encountered a new colour. This bright colouring is prevalent everywhere…..from temples, saaris, and ropes, to wall paintings-advertising (which mostly are of jewelers and builders), boats and even butterflies (I saw one gorgeous black and red butterfly in one of the villages)
It might not come across as a big surprise for many people, but I didn’t know how to react to the fact that there are no empty stretches in Kerala. One village seamlessly merges with the next throughout the entire coast. Although in a different place I would have found this claustrophobic, but here the greenery and the hundreds of waterways seemed to cover up everything….giving you an illusion of living in a thick dense tropical forest.
What I loved the most was observing the women there. For a fully literate matriarchal state, the women are surprisingly coy….even the news-reader in a business suit was soft-spoken…almost apologetic. Kochi (with its numerous food-joints misguidingly called ‘barkery’, where they sold anything from sweets to beef chilliy) however was a bit different, I felt. The current young generation was quite open…wore western dresses and sat freely with each other. This, I found only in the city-centre….the moment you entered the residential areas…they were clad in salwar-kurta with properly oiled and braided hair and carrying umbrellas. My friend and I stuck out like sore thumbs….stared up and down so blatantly that after some time we stopped getting bothered. I, in my travelers’ attire of pajama, t-shirt and dupatta came across as a foreigner….so much so that in one local temple a priest refused to give me flowers or a tika on my forehead!
It’s a very strange concoction of a state – very rich and expensive where you cannot shout
at an auto or honk at them ‘cause they are equal and have the same right to the road as you do. Even the maid will refuse to take tea if you serve her in a different cup than yours. Yet despite all this surface equality, there lacks the basic equality between a guy and a girl. Their traditional role, attire and looks are etched strongly in people’s mind….any different and one gets so stared at that its better to look like a homogenous mass than be different. To the point of living a stifled life, I feel. One thing I found quite commendable is the fact that despite so much external influences through tourism, they have managed to retain their traditions aggressively.
I just wish I had come here earlier and discovered niches and pockets which tourism has not taken over yet.