Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
Thursday, April 30, 2009
"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
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Desperately seeking solace in an otherwise infuriating city, I wandered in the ancient
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
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!
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!
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
Eresh (serious now): That’s because
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!
Mother (sighing, turns to Inanna): Now.. you did say you’d give
Inanna (sobbing): Mom! How could you say that!
Mother (grabbing the pieces of doll): Stop it! Both of you! Right now! I’m taking
(The girls pout and begin to play with the bricks. In two minutes, their expression changes to joy and they build furiously. Curtain)
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
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
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.
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
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
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.