31 August 2008

Balika Vadhu

Some afternoons I watch the tube with my mother and share her TV watching experience. Mostly, I comment on the outfits (too loud!) or how no one on the soaps seems to hold a regular job or that in each episode the family aggregates in the main living space and dramatically ponders over a situation. Let's not also forget the digital enhancements that pick a person's face and delivers their expression to us in several angles lest we don't digest their emotions adequately. When the five minute long advertisements flash between the ten minute drama my mom channel surfs and if I am around she switches to the news channel. Now due to the enthusiasm that neither of us has to properly master the blasted remote control we have to flip through all channels between soaps and the news. While on one such journey I chanced to read the title of a show called "Balika Vadhu" (approximate translation: Child Bride) on a channel called Colors.
What caught my attention first was the spelling. Why is an Indian channel using an american english spelling for a word? Then, I was curious about the premise of the show. Child marriage is still actively practiced in India so I was impressed that a media outlet had decided to talk about it. Naively, I assumed that the show was to highlight that child marriages are illegal and how this social practice needs to end as the purpose it served previously is no longer relevant in today's context. Imagine my surprise when instead the premise of the show is about a girl Anandi, married to a boy at age 8 and revolves around her role in the joint family. Her trials and tribulations are the theme of the show. Besides making people aware of child marriages the show does nothing else to address the issue. It's pure entertainment, that a lot of people seem to like (based on my analysis on various discussion websites) because instead of the usual adult tableau of mother-in-law/ daughter-in-law this show chronicles married life from the lens of an 8 yr old. But, if you look at the show carefully the saas-bahu manifests itself clearly in another type of relationship: the lady of the house (Daadima) and the little kid.
Television media is so powerful, because in a country of illiterate people it's truly the one media that reaches everyone equally, besides radio. So, why is a television channel making a gross social practice - "entertainment"? Am I missing some other point here? That awareness trumps the social consequences? Or is it too much to assume that viewers don't care about the context of their soaps as long as they present something entertaining and different? Quite annoyed.

Also read Rashmi Bansal at Youth Curry who is equally revolted by show.

28 August 2008

Chameli's first day out and How to get a voter ID card

My bum aches. A testament to how much I traveled on Chameli yesterday. We went on a mission: to find the relevant ERO (Electoral registration office) office. This post is part my adventure and part a public information topic, getting yourself registered to vote in India. As an aspiring social citizen I decided that my first act in official circles should be to exercise my right to vote and participate in the world's largest democracy. I hope this information will also be useful to all those of you contemplating this act and feeling overwhelmed by the paperwork. For those of you who want to skip the Ramayan I have written below and get a how-to-register-for-voting guide, please scroll to bottom of post.
I'm from the generation where wikipedia and google hold most answers so having established my objective viz., to get a voter registration card, I googled and went to the relevant websites. For Bangalore (Urban) citizens this happens to be the BBMP website. They have outsourced their online voting information to another service, www.banagalorevoterid.org. Under the contact guide, I found which constituency I fell under. This is based on where you live. There was an address and number listed against the area I come under.
Now this is where the fancy Indian bureaucracy ended and the fabled red tape began. I assumed that for each area, the address listed corresponded to an office in that area. Wrong. After peddling around my neighbourhood in vain looking for a N.R. Square I found out that the address corresponded to the head office. India together has complied a nice FAQ which outlines the process of getting a voter registration card and forms you need so I had some template to the process. There's a form 6 that needs to be filled out accompanied by proof of age and proof of address. So I gathered the required photocopies (in my case, the passport for both. Other acceptable proofs are listed in the FAQ) and headed to N.R. Square. After being shuttled from one office to the next by various clerks, chowkidars and the general population that hangs out in these joints we found the office. I got Form 6, available only in the Kannada edition and was asked to submit the form only at my local ERO ! I got an address and took my kannada form 6. Now, I have to point out that I was unable to locate the address of my local ERO on the Govt. website.
My ERO office address just had the name of a colony; no cross street, no main road number and certainly no house number. Surprise, surprise! After making a few enquiries I was asked to go to the Domlur
Bus Stand where mysteriously this office would be located. Chameli and I took the back roads and after asking various tea shop owners I reached the bus stand only to find a Govt. office, which turned out to be for water and sewage, not what I wanted. What followed was, more dangerous road crossings and a few encounters with Road Romeos (RR) who thought nothing of screaming indecipherable words from zooming cars because I was probably the rare nicely dressed woman riding a bicycle in a helmet. The finger, an appropriate gesture of annoyance in NYC was quite useless. I have to learn, either to be more tolerant or expand my cursing vocabulary. I landed next at the Govt. office that fixes street lights but did run into a citizen who pointed me to the ERO office with precise directions.
I got to bike over a flyover and that was a cool experience. I've probably used up all my karmic favours in this one cycle ride since I could have got run over at every 100ft but managed to avoid it anyway.
Once at the ERO office it was smooth sailing. I had been smart enough to fill out the Kannada form by going online and reading the form in English and, filling it out appropriately. I was told to come back after a month. So, now for some thumb twiddling.
We are at some strange confluence of technology and indian standard democracy; all the info was online but it was incomplete and I still had to make trips to offices to get the low down. Phone numbers yielded engaged tones or deaf ears. But, thanks to the info online I knew that I had the right paperwork and knew the general outline of how things should proceed. So, it was five steps forward and three steps backwards. But if you do the math it's two steps forward so as long it is positive I feel good!

How to get your name on the electoral roll
  1. Fill out Form 6. Warning: the local office might only have the forms in the local language so if you are primarily an English communicator on paper I strongly recommend downloading, printing and filling the form before you get to the office.
  2. Make copies of proof of age and proof of address. Acceptable proofs listed here.
  3. Find out which is your local ERO office based on your city/town and locality. This is the tricky part; for Bangalore we have a website that gives some information but is incomplete.
  4. Submit form in person, retain receipt.
  5. Cross fingers and wait!
  6. I will update this list as things happen with my form.


26 August 2008

Welcome Chameli


She's here! I feel like a kid who has been given exactly the birthday gift she asked for.

I always like personalizing my assests. The laptop I am using is Chamcham, the older laptop was Chandani, my old cars were Rosie and Chipkali (I once rang up the auto shop asking if Chipkali was done with her oil change!) and my last bike was Rani. So, joining all these today is Chameli. Now for some killer quads 

24 August 2008

Teach India

      There's a new media campaign in town to encourage people to volunteer their time with select NGOs. The idea is simple: As a volunteer you can pick any NGO from a predetermined list, decide if you like their philosophy, submit a schedule that works for you (2 hours a wk) and educate underprivileged children. The Times of India group has thrown their entire media weight behind this campaign enlisting film personalities, splashing images on billboards at busy junctions and taking out color adverts everyday. It seems to be on the same scale as the "India Shining" Campaign. 
My mom signed up for this in Bangalore and she received a text message inviting her to join the NGO, Hippocampus Reading Foundation for an information session. I accompanied her, curious about the whole process. Hippocampus appears to be a very organized NGO. They had a carefully crafted vision and goal, quite corporate-like, which is somewhat unusual in NGOs that I have interacted with. Of course this might be the difference between NGOs started years ago by people as a hobby vs young corporate hot shots who leave their current jobs to do the needful. Their MO is to provide library facilities to children at Government primary schools. They started in 2004 and have managed to develop a system to encourage school kids to read, by assigning them books. They have developed their own books, lines accompanied with pictures, which are graded according to difficulty. The ASER 2007 report has made it quite clear that even if our children are literate they can't really comprehend; kiddies in Class 5 are unable to read Class 2 textbooks so it's not surprising that simply encouraging kids to read their class textbooks is an ineffective solution. Therefore, I am impressed with Hippocampus for having come up with their own material. 

A tangent: Why is it that our government schools are so bad? We have the best government establishments for higher education - IITs, IIMs, IISc etc and yet, we handicap our children right at the beginning so if they didn't have the advantage of a "private" education their fate was decided in Class 1. blah.

The information session was well organized, although for this crowd a bit too long and what amazed me was the candor with which the speaker spelled out what volunteering would entail. He did try to pump the crowd up with inspiring rhetoric about this venture being a relationship that you develop with a child but he didn't shy away from pointing out that volunteers can't expect to be welcomed with open arms by the school or children. When you think of a reading room, you imagine children sitting in a circle, raptly listening to a narrator but that's a child in whom the habit of listening is cultivated. When your life revolves around taking care of siblings, bringing home a salary and going to school for the mere advantage of a mid-day meal, sitting down to listen to a nicely dressed aunty might be the right time instead to bunk class and score some drugs. 

What bothers me the most about this endeavor is the inherent risk that the NGO is taking with children. Best case scenario: volunteers who sign up persist and enjoy their interaction thereby creating a positive impact. Worst case scenario: volunteers don't show up or if they do, they do so intermittently and so are unable to form relationships with the children. Also, this program is only for 3 months so what happens to the time these children have had with the volunteers once the program stops? The counter argument to this would be that volunteers would feel inspired to continue after the 3 months - the rate at which this would happen however, can only be guessed. I'm not sure how costly an experiment this would be for the children. My friend over at Planet Why has an interesting post on why she decided not to involve their NGO with teach India and why such a campaign is still powerful.

Overall, I feel positive about the initiative. If nothing, it has sown the seeds of being a social citizen; introducing a powerful antidote for us to use when the twin poisons of greed and ambition overtake our senses and we need a humbling experience to remind us of our place in the circle of giving and taking. 

 

23 August 2008

Riding the Bus

In the spirit of embracing public transport in Bangalore I decided to ride the bus today. Of course there were certain limiting factors: I didn't know what bus to take or how much it would cost. Undeterred, I reached the bus stop and decided to make enquiries from fellow travelers. My choice of information was a broken bus stop info board, four giggling school girls, a burqha clad lady and two young men too busy staring at the marvel of their cell phone. The girls and lady looked intimidating so I approached the men and this is how the conversation went,

Me: "What bus # do I take to Shivajinagar?"
YM: "It's coming right now."
Me: "Do you know the bus number?"
YM: "It's coming right now."

In India at some point one has to rely on strangers and I decided to do just that. Luckily when the bus did arrive YM was nice enough to point out to me, "it's coming right now". 

Once aboard, I received my first pleasant surprise. There was a lady conductor. When I used to ride the bus 10 yrs ago a smelly male conductor who dove into female bodies like a dog on a bone hunt was the normal scene. It was neat to see the foray of women into this job sector. Next surprise, the driver was courteous and drove cautiously, turning on his turn signal at every possible point that it was required on the route. The ride itself was fairly mundane except people seemed to get off at the most unusual places like traffic lights, in the middle of traffic jams or on corners where no other sign of a bus stop existed. When I reached Shivajinagar I wasn't sure where to get off so I followed everyone out only to exit right into oncoming traffic. Luckily our quorum was just enough to halt traffic and make a passage to the main bus stand. I found my bus and plonked myself into a seat. Now this bus was a grade higher than the last one. There are regular buses and Pushpaks, the main difference between the two, as far as I could tell being the seat cushion quality. Puskpak's are plusher and supposed to pack fewer people so the door can actually be shut while the bus is in motion which consequently means that you pay a higher price for the ride. On my bus the conductor was also the driver and very adept at both his jobs. The same hand that held the tickets also managed the gears, horn and money. The other managed the steering while his foot never left the accelerator. Our Pushpak vimana literally flew homewards!

All in all I enjoyed my trip. In comparison to the auto the bus ride took 20 mins more but costed 85% less. My next mission to be eco-friendly is to buy a bicycle!


21 August 2008

Settling In

I'm blogging from India now. It's quite pleasant here and besides jet lag I have no worries. For the next week or so I have decided to spend my time studying my best (only!) friend in the city, my dog, Astro. Astro manages to lead a very dignified and content lifestyle, something I have decided to emulate. Stay tuned for the rest of this study.
Now for my favorite experience today, the Bank. There's some construction work going on at my local branch so I had to to wind through a maze of dirt, concrete, precariously perched bamboo scaffolding and the usual gang of loitering young men to get through to the entrance. Once in, a 900sq ft area was holding 100 people and after managing to catch the attention of an officer I was told to wait. Then I had to conduct my business in the open because the agent was some sort of floor manager and didn't have his own office. It felt quite strange to discuss personal banking stories in a hallway teeming with people, but this is home! I suppose I would have got a chair and some privacy if I wanted a home loan.

19 August 2008

Rainbows

It's a cloudy and wet day, for some reason this reminds of rainbows. I have a special memory for rainbows for e.g., the first time I saw a double rainbow was with my best friend S. Since then every time I see a double rainbow I have taken a vow to call him or establish some sort of connection. A rainbow once traveled with me from mile 9 through mile 13 when I was training for my first marathon. Watching it made me forget my running injuries and carried me through the run. These memories seamlessly travel through my mind each time I spot a rainbow and I'm happy to have a rainbow trigger.

Switching topics, the auction was a success. Mostly because my friends are a generous bunch and they bought everything far in excess of what I expected. My fundraising goal was $500 and we brought in about $600, thanks to my friend E who made sure that everybody loaded up.

So, all the loose ends are tied up and my bags are packed, I'm ready to go ... leaving on a jet plane.

15 August 2008

Love and blessings

As I wind down my life here my emotions are like waves with weepy lows and uplifting highs. I think I have shared enough of the weepy lows and so will focus today on the uplifting highs. Firstly, I am excited that this episode in my life automatically qualifies me to write a memoir. Yes, the market is crammed with people sharing their inner most thoughts but human drama has remained a sale-able quality since man first started writing. Think Iliad, Mahabharat or even the Bible. They are filled with human drama. Of course this endeavor means that I will have to save some of my best prose for my book. :) Hmm... I wonder if it is plagiarism if I were to copy words from my blog to the book? Will I be violating the copyright of my cyber self? This will require further analysis that is beyond the purview of this post.

Back to my highs. I lost love, the type that two people share and hope to build their lives around but I have also been exposed to a higher love. The type of love that surrounds us like a web and comes from family, friends and pets. The type of love that is never expressed in "I love you" but the type which wraps you in a tight embrace letting you know that everything will be alright and you have the strength of 100 because that's how many people are invested in helping you. I thought I had little in terms of a social fabric till I was forced to change my life , personally and professionally, but as word gets around each phone call, each email and each meeting feels like a relay of torches that are set on carrying me to the end of the tunnel. This is why I am also blessed. I am blessed to share my life with such people for whom even an acquaintance's pain is there own. I have a lovely friend, whom I have never met (in this day and age we are email pen pals) and she always signs her emails with love and blessings. Today, I realized the blessings. I can never thank my supporters enough but I promise that I will pass along their love to someone else who gets stuck and needs a hand, because that's the proper way to keep this special energy flowing.

14 August 2008

Boxing

Well, pugilism is far away from my mind today. My friend got me some really nice boxes to pack stuff in. Unlike the lab boxes which have already seen much of the world before being delivered to me, these boxes are brand new.
I always have mixed feelings while packing household items. On one hand I feel that I accumulate too many things and these material worldly possessions are of no consequence in the large scheme of life. But on the other, every thing I own has some memory and history behind it. By default I don't discard anything I have been gifted. I also collected kitchen items with much care; picking, researching and maintaining them in perfect shape. So, those get tossed into the boxes as well. Clothes I am less sentimental about. I am a thift store shopper mostly so parting with the stuff is easy because I never invested time to get them in the first place. Then there are knick knacks I have bought from India during my several trips back and forth to make my home feel cherished and comforting. Those are easy to discard or keep as well. I like my books and do tend to read them over and over again. Some are coming back with me while some are being auctioned.
Ah, the auction. My final farewell to memories which would go to make some nice memories (hopefully!) for a kid in India. I volunteer for Asha for Education and decided that rather than donate to goodwill I will throw one last party at my house which would be an auction fundraiser. I am looking forward to this party. I get to meet all my friends and raise some money for my favorite charity. Let it not be said that I left with a whimper but with a bang.

11 August 2008

Making my way out

I was stuck. I have become unstuck. Only now, I don't know where or when I will stick again. So, this is a good time to begin chronicling my journey because I am truly tired of accumulating all these life experiences and apparently not learning any lessons. This way, I can re-read my own stories and find myself in a cyber avatar so as to recreate my physical avatar.

My job sucked, my spouse decided he had enough and, my social life consisted of my plants and my volunteering work. Surely life has something more to offer so I am quitting it all. The job, the relationship and the life I have built here for the past 7 years. I am moving back to India. At the grand age of 29, I am moving in with my parents with no game plan into a city where I will have to build my life over again - professionally and personally.


Wrapping up my home has been hard. I have memories with everything; including the stinky dish rag that has now dried out to a starchy membrane. I'll miss having my own home, a kitchen where I picked out every item with care and collected enough food stuffs to feed my friends, family and of course, him. I tell myself that this has just been one-seventh of my life so far and I'll re-create everything beautifully once more. One part of me believes the glass is half full and the other, which is locked in mortal combat with the first, believes the saala glass is not there to begin with.



So, here I am making my way out.