Tuesday, June 02, 2009

My Irrationality

We have several superstitions in our community. Some of which I internalized, and still follow stubbornly, despite the scorn and jibes of the rational; the rest I mock for their utter stupidity.

There’s one where, if you’re lying down, and somebody steps over you, they have to step back. Or… well no one is quite sure of the specifics, but some kind of misfortune will be invited in. I follow that a bit halfheartedly, where I ask that the steppers-over step over again, but I don’t push it if they refuse. Its just a preference on my part. I heard a story of a distant cousin who refused to move for an entire day until he was restepped-on, but that’s just ridiculous. I wouldn’t, um, do that. 

Another one, which is more universal, and which I adhere to more strictly is touching wood when I allude to my good fortune, or that of anyone else that I care about.

There’s also a little Arabic prayer that was taught to me, whose meaning I never knew (and most of my very religious family doesn’t either, which is OK because now I almost don’t want to know). But I will swear on anything that saying it puts up a protective shield around me, and it has calmed me in the face of numerous dark nights, would-be ghosts, interviews and dates. 

I learned a Spanish custom that I use quite often. Its very specific. If you hit your elbow hard against something, it is very important that you do not touch it or cry out in pain until you say the following: “If its good let it come, if its bad let it go”. Three times. Then yell out in pain or rub your elbow or whatever. At which point you’ll find that it doesn’t hurt anymore. So it works.

And then there are all the superstitions I mock. Which I’m not going to list, because they seem alarmingly similar to the (rather more numerous than I had previously thought) ones of my own. 

Wishes are strange things. They are perhaps the only reason I believe in the supernatural, the unknowable. Yet so much of Eastern philosophy talks about giving up wishes, desires, fears. Then, what would we be left with?

Monday, May 18, 2009

My Eternal Lover

The police mill around, trying to look busy, like they have something to do, like they may actually find my murderer. What a joke. Though, to be fair, they are doing what they can. One of them took a photograph of me and made several copies. A couple of constables went around the park and posted pictures of me, bloodied neck and all, with a handwritten note asking for information. 

Joggers and walkers and strollers in the park pass my neatly zipped up body. They wrinkle their nose, shake their heads, strike up conversations with perfect strangers using me as an excuse. A young lady, interrupted her jog to stare at my photo, looked quite disturbed for a while afterwards, which pleased me. Not that anything would be done. What could be done that would matter to me anyhow? Another life had passed, another heartbreak, another awful end at the hands of he who loved me the most. And I don’t want him to be caught, or punished, or even feel guilty. After all, I loved him too. I still do, and will for all eternity. No, this is not a declaration, merely a statement of fact. More precisely, a statement of condemnation.

Forgive my morbidity. I usually have quite a sunny disposition. Pair that with unusually good looks and I have been called quite attractive in each of my lives. Its just this part, this post-traumatic death part. The stark contrast between my cherubic life and the last days always leaves me a bit shaken, pulls me down into this gloomy mood. 

In this last life, he was, unusually, my brother. Three years older than me, and absolutely devoted to me. On my last birthday, he single-handedly threw a surprise party for me. Invited all my friends and his as well, made a painstakingly-complete video collage of my life. There I was, giggling as a baby. There, a four-year-old fussing over her lehenga for a cousin’s wedding party. Me reading, me performing at a school dance festival, me winning awards at swimming meets, athletic events (I was particularly good at the long jump), even a beauty pageant. At almost all of these, I turn to the camera and wave lovingly, for at almost all the events that shaped my life, I remember him being there, holding the camera. At the party, I was feted by all my friends for having such a close, loving relationship with my brother. In my neighborhood, we were already legion, the sibling pair that were pointed out by other parents, frustrated with their fighting offspring - “see how close they are? See how well he protects her? Why can’t the two of you be more like that?!?!”

In some ways, my behavior in the weeks following was his fault (isn’t it always?). Cocooned by so much love, I already had a sense of infallibility. I could do anything, and my big brother would be there to defend me, to make it all right, to give me what I wanted. Perhaps I took it a step too far falling in love with my college professor. Well, the words “falling in love” are bandied about too casually, it really was just an innocent crush of an impressionable young girl for her more-powerful superior. If it had gone unnoticed, it would have played itself out, ending with the shattering of the illusion of his grandeur, and I would have walked away no longer a spoilt child, but a wiser, more thoughtful woman. But it wasn’t to be. We were caught, his wife filed for divorce, it was all over college, and then our neighborhood. My brother stopped talking to me, though sometimes I would see him from the corner of my eyes, as he alternated between glowering at me and shutting his eyes tightly as if to wish me away, far away.

That gesture, those looks. Within a week of it, I find myself in this position. Looking over my body, hurting for my abruptly ended blessed-life, and even more, hurting for him and the hell that I put him through. It started several centuries ago, when I asked him to fetch me an enchanting golden deer. After all this time, I will never forget the horror in his eyes as I went up in flames. And then there was my most painful death, walled in alive for the sin of letting him, the heir to the Moghul throne, fall in love with a common dancer. I have burned with him in his funeral pyre several times, his express wish to prevent me from falling into the hands of another. 

It is now time to move on to my next life. I am to come back as his daughter in that one. But it will be a very short life. His wife, unloved and mistreated, will abort me when she finds out it is a girl - she thinks, poor woman, that his horrid nature is due to his hatred of all things female. She doesn’t know that he was eagerly waiting for me, and when he finds out, something dies in him, to be followed shortly by his actual death due to heart failure. And then we shall be reborn again in this same land. As lovers this time I would think. To love, to hurt, to kill and to die.

This blog is dedicated to the as-yet-unidentified body of a young woman that was found in my joggers park (Delhi's Northern Ridge). I cannot get her out of my mind. May she rest in peace. article here.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dog Dayz in Delhi

Delhi summer afternoons, for those not in the know (adapted to the current day from Ahmed Ali's Twilight in Delhi)

"As the heat becomes intense and a hot wind begins to blow, the sky becomes bronzed and grey, dirty with the dust and sand that floats in the air. The kites shrilly cry, and the grating noise of the honking far away sounds more dreary. A heart-rending monotony and a blinding glare creep over the earth. People go inside the rooms and close the door. Drowsiness comes upon every living thing. The dogs hide in cool corners, and the sparrows find shelter in the shade of trees or inside their nests in the walls. Only now and then the wild pigeons fly in and out of the veranda, coo awhile, and add to the feeling of monotony."

Amazing how so little changes in 70 years.

Today I watched three traffic policemen huddled humbly in the shade of a tree, surrounding a nimbupaani wala (fresh lemon juice vendor), as the frenzied traffic at the intersection broke every rule in the book. Not that they wouldn't do this otherwise, but today they all had my utmost sympathy. 

Uff the heats-a-got-to-go!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Galis of Gated-Community Delhi: Holi Hooliganry

I headed on foot to the grocery store - a few blocks from my house. As I passed a tiny neighborhood park, I heard a loud splat at my feet. Looking down, I saw a puddle of water. A bit disconcerted, I looked around and with raised eyebrows, said “Umm.. Excuse me?” to no one in particular, because I couldn’t see anyone. Then I heard a voice below - a little boy - “Didi didi its those boys over there that did it.” I looked across the park and sure enough, a group of 6-7 boys of various ages stood with water-filled balloons in their hands. I walked up to them. They watched me approach, poker-faced all.  

“Did you throw the balloon at me?” No reply. The youngest broke his poker-face and dissolved into giggles. The house under which they were standing had a family of 8, parents included, standing at the balcony.  

“Are these kids yours?” I called to the adults  

“All kids are like our own” came the lazy drawling Delhi-boy answer. This tone is sometimes charming, but on this occasion, not so much.  

“Well then, if they’re like yours, keep them under control!” I snapped. At this point, a lot more kids broke into snickers. Infuriated, I turned towards the market and marched off. Two more balloons burst at my feet. Saving the little dignity that had been spared for me, I declined to acknowledge them.  

After the shopping, came the time to decide how I would head back. I could take a longer route and avoid these kids altogether, but that would be a defeat. I considered buying more eggs that I could throw back at them but that would be war and I was far outnumbered. So I headed back, my only concession to them was that I walked around the other side of the park. No use - a few more splatters at my feet - luckily they all had missed me so far.  

After a couple of blocks, I found a couple of policemen sitting around, engaged in serious discussion - no doubt a sabziwallah had been caught flirting with a housewife in the community or something absorbingly outrageous like that. I approached one of them - a rotund friendly-looking sort.  

“Bhaisaab, I would like to complain about a bunch of kids throwing balloons at me.”  

He looked at me. That poker-face again!  

“Yes ma’am - where are they?”  

“Oh just down the street at the park - I’m sure its not illegal, but it was annoying - could you just go and scare them?”  

Grinning, he headed down. But now I was afraid - I had upped the ante - no doubt, if I passed that way again, I would be seriously pelted. I got home and called my husband for sympathy.  

"Sorry babe, I used to be those boys a few years ago” was his response.  

No help there. These past few days, I’ve not been walking down those streets. For grocery shopping, I call my driver and have him take me to another, more distant, store. Perhaps getting a little wet wouldn’t have been so bad after all. Holi spirit and all. Huh.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Desperately seeking solace in an otherwise infuriating city, I wandered in the ancient Lodi Gardens. The tomb of Sikander Lodi, with the high walls surrounding it, is usually a good bet for tranquility, but today was the day the lawnmower chose to make its racket inside. So I headed right outside the tomb complex, and sat perched on a rock facing the 500-year-old Akbar-era bridge, which spans a lotus pond, that was today sadly devoid of lotuses. I opened my book and began reading. The late afternoon sun illuminated the rocks on the bridge to beautiful effect, and the ripples of the water cast dancing shadows on its underbelly. Apart from a half-hearted beggar, I was left alone to my luxurious read. I need this beauty, I thought, I need this magic. That’s it. That’s what I need – some kind of magic. Outside there are horns and unfriendly drivers and traffic jams, pollution and economic crises, jobs lost and identities yet to be formed. Sitting here felt good.

A scream snapped me out of my reverie. A couple, boy and girl, were standing a few feet away and staring excitedly at the same scene. The girl clutched her boyfriend and seemed to hyperventilate as she pointed to a fountain in the pond. The fountain had barely registered to me, in spite of its considerable height. It was hardly a fountain – just a sawed off pipe that gushed water upwards with surprising strength. The shrieking continued – “Look, a rainbow!” Indeed, in the spray of the fountain, a little rainbow had formed. “But how is this possible?!” she yelled, “It’s not even raining! And I’ve never seen a rainbow so close to the ground!”

Eventually she shut up and the two of them retired to the lawn nearby to hold each other and stare some more. The boy wasn’t too concerned about the fountain, it seemed, just content to see the girl excited. I had just managed to forget about them and return to thoughts on the poetry of the setting; when I heard the same voice.

“Ma’am, excuse me! Excuse me, ma’am!”

I rolled my eyes and turned to the couple, who had extricated themselves from each other.

“Ma’am, do you know if the rainbow is natural, or caused by some kind of lighting?”

“Natural.” I muttered


More loudly, and enunciating my words carefully this time, I tried again.

“Its natural – something to do with drops of water filtering the sunlight, I think.”

“Wow,” she said, turning back to her boyfriend. “It’s, like, magic, no?”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Flash Drama

Thought I'd do this too. The theme for this competition was "Truce"

(Two girls, Eresh and Inanna, are onstage. Eresh is hiding behind a box. Inanna is daydreaming. A broken doll (with head pulled off) and a mound of toy bricks are lying nearby. Mother is backstage)

Eresh (jumping out, knocking Inanna over): Got you!

Inanna: Stop doing that! One more time and I’ll come after you! I will!

Eresh: Come after me?!?! Ha! Remember the last time you tried? You’re pathetic!

Inanna: Waahh!

Mother (comes up running and turns to Eresh): What did you do this time!

Eresh (shrugs): Nothing.

Inanna: Nothing! She jumped out and knocked me over!

Eresh: I did not!

Inanna: And she’s done this before too!

Eresh (smirking): No I haven’t!

Inanna (breathlessly pointing to broken doll): And and… yesterday she tried to break away another part of Kashmir!

Eresh (serious now): That’s because Kashmir belongs to me!

Inanna: No she doesn’t! she was always mine!

Eresh: No she wasn’t!

Inanna: Well… before she was mine, she belonged to Harry. And he gave her to me!

Eresh: She never belonged to Harry either! Mom! Tell Inanna!

Inanna: Mom?!

Mother (sighing, turns to Inanna): Now.. you did say you’d give Kashmir to Eresh, if Eresh could get her to talk…

Eresh: Yeah!

Inanna (sobbing): Mom! How could you say that! Kashmir could never talk because Eresh broke her! And took her head away! And now she’s ruining my part too!

Mother (grabbing the pieces of doll): Stop it! Both of you! Right now! I’m taking Kashmir away! (Points to the toy bricks) Now sit quietly and rebuild your houses together! Look at them! They’re a mess!          

(The girls pout and begin to play with the bricks. In two minutes, their expression changes to joy and they build furiously. Curtain)

Flash Fiction

There was a competition last week to create stories under 55 words. I've never actually written a story before so I thought this would be a fun way to start. The topic was "Cheating"

I observed her sitting on the floor in the train, looking up adoringly at me, her savior.

“This is my escape,” she must have thought. “From the village, the boring husband, the infinite drudgery!”

Now, years later, as she prepares for her next client, she glances over again – her eyes are empty.

They snuck out at dawn through the empty streets. A wave of exhilaration swept over them as they reached the station. They kissed, then laughed hysterically.

Her father received her body the next day. The pieces of her lover had been fed to the kites, which swirled around the landfill for hours, fat with glee.

Fresh from a raucous night out with her lover, she crept back home in the early morning hours. Her mascara had smeared, her clothes were rumpled, and she was as happy as she had ever been.

Her husband was sitting on the porch, having tea. His boyfriend grinned, and motioned her to join them.
He came home. She stared at him, slowly and silently opening her mouth in wonderment.

The City had taken him three years ago, only sending four hundred rupees back to her as compensation.

And now her freedom would be taken away.

She pulled the edge of her sari over her face, hiding it.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Mangalore Madness

Read this delightful piece of news today on The Hindu's website:

BANGALORE: After their recent attack on young women at a Mangalore pub, the Sri Ram Sene has now announced an action plan to target couples found dating on February 14, Valentine’s Day.
At a press conference here on Thursday, Sri Ram Sene leader Pramod Muthalik, who is now on bail, said Sene activists across Karnataka would not only hold protests outside colleges, hostels and hotels, where Valentine’s Day celebrations are held, but also forcibly marry off couples found dating in public.
“Our activists will go around with a priest, a turmeric stub and a ‘mangal sutra’ on February 14. If we come across couples being together in public and expressing their love, we will take them to the nearest temple and conduct their marriage,” he said. If the couples resisted the move, the girl would be forced to tie a ‘rakhi’ to the boy.
Mr. Muthalik said his outfit would ensure that Valentine’s Day greeting cards were not sold. Activists would check out stores that sold such cards.
Asked if his men would use physical force against those celebrating Valentine’s Day, Mr. Muthalik said they “will not take the law into their own hands.”
Reacting to Mr. Muthalik’s statement, Karnataka’s Home Minister V.S. Acharya said: “The law will take its course against those indulging in any untoward activity, including violence. We will not bar exchange of pleasantries on Valentine’s Day, but people cannot use the occasion to indulge in unlawful activities.”
On Mr. Muthalik’s threat to forcibly marry off unmarried couples seen in public places on Valentine’s Day, he said: “Let them first commit such an offence and then the law will be enforced.”
The Bangalore City Police have taken Mr. Muthalik’s threat to disrupt the celebrations seriously and is reportedly considering a proposal to take him and other Sri Ram Sene leaders into preventive custody.

Oh there is so much to write about this! It’s like Karnataka is experiencing a social revolution in reverse! Here’s an earnest appeal to all Mangaloreans to participate in what can only be the historic Valentines Day Marriacre 2009:

-Gay couples who can’t get married in most religious or civic institutions in India (who can’t even legally be a couple, but that’s a different matter) can be married by The Ultimate Religious Fanatics! How great is that!
-People who are dating commitment-challenged individuals must, at all costs, be out at Valentine Parties to be targeted by these goons.
-People who want to propose marriage, but can’t find the courage, ditto.
-Cheap people who want to spare themselves the enormous cost of a marriage (we are in an economic crisis, you know), should definitely look at this money-saving opportunity. Tell the hordes of indignant relatives cheated out of a free meal that you had to get married this way – you did it for your country.
-Even if you’re not in a relationship, find a member of the opposite sex with a taste for adventure, have the male wear some Muslim symbology (borrow a pendant with something written in Arabic), and the girl something Hindu and ask if these guys will also conduct Nikaahs.
-Oh girls, please please please – am still looking for volunteers for a girls night out in Mangalore – and now the 14th presents the perfect date!
-All this shouldn’t involve any danger to your person – Muthalik promised that his boys will not take the “law into their own hands” – whatever that means!!!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Delhi vs. Bombay part deux

Ok so I finally did some research - Its rather trivial, mostly Wiki - yet, it expands the discussion beyond the bias that I impose, as well as the sub-strata of the population that I'm exposed to in both cities.

So, the child sex ratio, a good indicator of the value societies attribute to their women stands at 821 in Delhi to 875 in Bombay (number of girls born per 1000 boys). The shocking thing is that in South Delhi, the ratio is 762, while in South Bombay (Colaba & Cuffe Parade) it is 860. Presumably these are people that can easily afford abortions, so the sex ratio really reflects their preferences. Pretty pathetic in both cases, but 762!!! A quarter of the guys in South Delhi won't be able to find wives!! God only knows what will happen then.

There were 533 cases of rape in Delhi vs. 165 in Bombay (2006). There were 718 cases of sexual harassment in Delhi, vs. 357 in Bombay. Its hard to put much weight on these numbers though, as they are definitely underreported, and its unclear where the underreporting would be more pronounced. Still, the numbers are pretty stark.

Delhi vs. Bombay

Decided to weigh in on the Delhi-Bombay divide. It’s a venture fraught with danger, as I have dear, dear family and friends on both ends – although in a way that is immensely reassuring – I would never come up with hasty or hurtful stereotypes. I will keep this opinion fiercely independent of any cumbersome statistics or data, mostly out of sheer laziness, and restrict myself to anecdotes and fluff. That said, here goes.

There is something inevitable about this discussion. It seems to rear its head every time I chat with a Bombayite, and it comes up that I live in Delhi. “Oh how do you manage?!” or something like that is their retort. I have separately (and sometimes together) heard Delhi-ites being called thieves, liars, backwards-provincial-chauvinistic-pigs, stupid, vacant and the worst insult from a Bombayite – Uninteresting. All of these assertions are backed with earnest solicitude, and to none of the asserters occurs the slightest twinge of guilt that they are making a dramatic stereotype of some 1.5 crore human beings.

The strange thing is that when confronted with these assertions, Delhi-ites are strangely undefensive. Not even upset. The answer is a collective shrug, perhaps a chuckle – “Ah those Bombayites…” followed with, and this is the most shocking thing, a wistful look of assent. Bombay is lovely, if a bit crowded, they volunteer helpfully. Very sophisticated, very progressive, very vibrant.

Now this either means that Delhi-ites are far more gracious than their Bombay brethren, or all of this is true. I am inclined to believe all of the above, and here’s why. First, hardly anyone in Bombay, while on their rants, mentions the redeeming qualities of Delhi – the infrastructure, Sheila Dikshit, and the incredibly layered history of its greatness. Today Delhi is seriously well on its way to being a city that is truly responsive to the needs of its citizens – clean, green, fantastic public transportation (built on time, and on budget, no less), and great roads. Perhaps even a clean river in the next few years. Delhi-ites could do some obnoxiously triumphal tribalism and horn-blowing of their own, but I’ve never mentioned it brought up. The few Bombayites that do stoop to acknowledge the progress in Delhi usually say it in the context of “Yes, the city is nice, but the people…” The head will shake; the exaggerated shudder will pass across their face.

And that brings me to the second point. The people. I grudgingly concede that Bombayites may actually have a point here. Delhi is far more old-fashioned – far fewer women work, drink, and show skin in any kind of interesting manner. Far more joint families (sometimes a positive thing), far more female foeticides, far less individuality. These are (with the one ambivalent exception noted) bad things. But Delhi, as its population currently stands, is a very young city. There is no old elite guard that could define the culture, progress the thinking, set an example. You know, the way the old money of Bombay – the gymkhanna lot – do. There used to be a substantial elite in Delhi, but they mostly relocated, and not exactly voluntarily, to Karachi. The current lot, the ones that form opinions and reign over dinner parties are a more cerebral, transplanted lot – professors, writers, artists, activists – not usually rooted in the city well enough to help contribute in a substantial manner to the progress of its thinking. The very rich, property-developer-types, are best not mentioned. And so the evolution is slow, as more neighborhoods turn inwards in a self-congratulatory reinforcement of their traditional ways. But the progress will happen. The third generation of the new-moneyed class is now entering their twenties and thirties. They look to Bombay, and the West, for inspiration; they tend to be far less tied down in caste-creed distinctions, they like a night out on the town, they take gender equality for granted, and they are far more likely to take risks and shape their own unique identities. Another decade or so, when these kids start to take over the decision-making and shaping-of-the-identity of the city, I predict that the landscape of the Delhi population will be vastly improved. And then there are the mistaken stereotypes – I was warned countless times when I got here that women could not walk/take buses/drive alone in Delhi, yet I’ve been out and about for more than a year without incident. Almost disappointingly so – I quite look forward to unleashing my tongue (and a nearby policeman) on a hapless eve-teaser.

Now I know that all this is dreadfully condescending to Delhi-ites. I am a Bombayite after all, inherently biased, although I suppose I do have some criticizing-credibility. For one thing, I have a husband that is a rare proud (and need I say, very progressive) Delhi-ite who is always pointing out the good things about Delhi, while acknowledging its shortcomings. Additionally, I also have heard these very things from the mouths of almost all Delhi-ites I have encountered. So I’ll end with an anecdote. I recently met a Delhi girl at a party who roundly criticized her city and its culture, or lack thereof. I remarked that it was very cool that she could introspect in such a candid manner, and she said of course I can – I just don’t do it around Bombayites. As soon as she was told by my giggling husband that I was one, she squealed in good humour, and promptly took back everything she had said and enumerated all the good qualities of Delhi. So that’s where Delhi stands for me – a bit self-conscious, very gracious; while silently but surely heading towards reclaiming its greatness.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tales of Red Lights in Delhi

No, not that kind of red light…

Delhi, much to my delight, has a lot of traffic signals that have a clock that tells you how long you will have to wait. In the otherwise heart-and-mind-rending exercise of driving in Delhi, this gives you a lovely chance to ungrind the teeth, take a deep breath and switch off your car. It also gives numerous entrepreneurs the opportunity to clean your window, sell you tennis rackets that magically kill mosquitoes, and generally solicit money. Its fun to sometimes engage the little kids in discussion – “Now, wouldn’t it be better to stop wasting your time on me when I’m clearly not going to give you money, and move on to other cars during this all-too-short signal” – and sometimes, of course, just heartbreaking to see the display of diseased limbs, the desperate mothers clutching their children, the dead look in the eyes of children who have seen too much.

There is a family that lives at an intersection near my office. It’s a long light, and I have had plenty of time to observe them on my way to work in the morning. There is a mother that sits at the actual crossing suckling a newborn child, several young children that perform acrobatics in between the waiting cars, and one young man – in his twenties – that seems to collect all the earnings of these children, including, as I found out later, the fruit that I usually give to one particularly cute little girl. The mother looks like she hasn’t eaten for days, and I shudder to think of the quality and quantity of breast milk available to the infant. This last week, I haven’t seen them and hope they have moved on to better things. Not likely, but still.

And then there are the fellow car drivers. We look around, appraise each other. I get a lot of stares – maybe it’s the crazy hair, maybe it’s the fact that I’m dancing in my seat and singing along loudly to some old Hindi song – who knows? Once, the owner of a Hyundai Accent next to me rolled down his window and released an empty Bisleri bottle. Having the luxury of a long wait before the light changed, I got out of my car, picked up the bottle and tapped on his window – “Excuse me sir, this seems to have fallen out of your window…” He muttered as he took the bottle – “Yes it was an accident, I was just about to pick it up”. At another light, on another day, a car full of plump happy businessmen rolled down a window to release a wrapper of Kurkure wafers. “Excuse me bhaisaab, but you dropped something” I called out to them. “No no madam, we threw it out!” came the reply. I rolled my eyes – “Please pick it up bhaisaab”. And they quickly did! I was very impressed. No aggressiveness – it’s like they know what they’re doing is wrong but also take pride in their ability to do it. No, that doesn’t make sense. Huh.

Anyhow, if anyone has ideas on what to do at these intersections – How do we know when the money/food we give actually goes to the person, or are they part of an oppressive brothel-like arrangement as in some of the horror stories you hear? If someone has a dreadful untreated wound, should you offer to take them to a hospital, or are they (too awful to think about) needing to display it to maximize begging income? When a distraught mother knocked on my window to show me a prescription of medicines that she needed to buy for her dying child, how do I know that isn’t the latest fraud? Or in that scenario, should that matter? For God’s sake, can we have shelters that take these women, children and diseased/crippled people in to show them some real charity?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Jaipur Literature Festival 2009

In a word, uplifting. In a few more words, (and to quote one of the panelists on the subject of art), “…A release from the trivialities of quotidian life…”

Where else would a middle class engineer living in Delhi get to rub shoulders with her heroes - the likes of Shoma Chaudhury and Tarun Tejpal? Listen with enraptured attention to a panel consisting of Dalrymple, Thubron, Pico Iyer – each of whom individually fills a shelf in my library. Discover brilliant authors and books – Michael Wood, Simon Schama, Sheldon Pollock. The event was aesthetically, intellectually, and humanitarially (is there such a word?) – illuminating.

Aesthetically – the setting was spectacular. Diggi Palace is a beautiful hotel set in the heart of Jaipur with wide lawns replete with the necessary peacocks, an adorable poolside restaurant and a huge hall that could only be described as endearingly tacky. The decorations were such as to leave in my memory a pleasurable rush of colors – the place had been curtained and streamered (and the people had been dressed) in tasteful excess. Intellectually, the appeal is somewhat obvious – it is a literary festival after all. But most unusually, I loved the hyper-humanitarianism of it all. The stalls for NGOs, the nod to rural art forms and languages, the abundant jhollas… Oh and the fact that all of this was free and open to the public. Unbelievable, is not it? Just a year or so ago, I paid a couple hundred dollars to see a similar festival in Ubud.

No more gushing! Alright, just a little bit more! I sat next to Nandita Das! She is so completely free of ego - she was at one point shooed from her seat by an usher, and she quickly and gigglingly moved to the floor. In an hour or so, she would sit on the large stage in the front lawns in front of hundreds of fawning souls and discuss her upcoming movie. Shoma Chaudhary napped through a session next to me! And embarrassedly mumbled something about being tired when I afterward congratulated her on a couple of brilliant interviews that she had done. (1 & 2)

I am completely starstruck. Perhaps I will write about the sessions in greater detail some other time – right now I will just wallow in lovely memories.