29 November 2008

Mumbai meri jaan II

I'm feeling sick to the stomach so much that I have managed to come down with flu. Since writing is the only way out for me to feel better I decided to come online.
I'm feeling paralyzed. About a dozen young men decided that their vile methods of killings and terrorizing was the solution to a grievance. Our politicians have spent little time in pointing the finger to our neighbour. What is clear though is they were superbly prepared, well trained and committed to their mission. How does one human being reach such a state of intoxication that killing another person becomes an action as inane as drinking a glass of water? What lies at the root of their hatred? I'm afraid with our finger pointing and dealing with the current situation we continue to ignore the underlying causes for these frustrations that boil over into violent acts. It's important for us to understand how these young men got where they did for I firmly believe that no human being is born with an ideology of hate; this is something that has been taught to them. 
      The media is doing a fantastic job and I mean that with a complete force of sarcasm. Barkha Dutt, needs a few days in the mountains to learn about compassion and integrity. Her incessant questioning of family members who had kith trapped in the hotels was brazenly insensitive. Sir, what are you feeling right now? Gah! and of course her blabber on how many people are holed up and this obsession with the numbers? I feel compelled to single her out because she symbolizes the extreme selfish end of journalism which asks what can this situation do to my career. I wonder if we can file a PIL to have her removed. 
The other news channel are no better. Giving us a blow by blow account of the maneuvers being executed by our forces. The militant who had access to a blackberry would sure have found that useful.  
Right now the media is covering the funeral services for the fallen officers. Of course they continue to abuse their cameras by not allowing the families to grieve in peace. Joining the party are politicians who probably can't do a single sit up but are ever ready to have their photos taken with the brave. If I were one of the fallen families I would have to ban all politicians from the prayer service. 
Served up next is going to be the political tamasha on this issue. Waiting for this... breathlessly.   

27 November 2008

Mumbai meri jaan

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I was a proud Indian. Well, I still am. But I am also feeling like a sad, helpless and angry Indian today.

I have been watching the coverage of the Mumbai attacks since morning and not since 9/11, when I lived 40 miles from NY have I felt this type of urge to stay glued. The images are disturbing: bodies being hauled away by their arms and legs; militants shooting from a police van they abducted. The senselessness of it all is overwhelming.

The media coverage has been largely annoying. By covering it 24/7 they have certainly helped keep the public pressure on our police and political machinery. But their questions are really off putting. For instance: How many of the killed were foreigners? Really, does it matter what was the nationality of this person who died? People are dead. For no reason other than they happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. This obsessiveness on part of the media to keep quantifying the causalities every time they get a mike near an official is exasperating. How about asking instead - Who is in charge of the ops? Who are the leaders spearheading the mission to rescue the hostages? I want a bio on all the cops who were killed because they died in the line of fire and they should be honoured for their commitment. For while we sipped chai and watched in horror, they lived the horror. I also want to know - Why aren't any of the cops and army marines I see wearing anything resembling a walkie talkie? Why aren't film crews respecting privacy of the common citizen who is trying to flee the hotels?

The debates on this incident have just begun. I'm just angry that they are all about the numbers and not about the people.

23 November 2008

Learning at school

Yesterday, I popped over to a government school that Asha-bangalore supports. Visiting the school is perhaps one of the nicest experiences I have had after coming back to India. Along the way there were plenty of signboards that confirmed why I think teaching English is the best service we can give our children. I passed by the "Umemployed youth chicken and egg centre" (If they were selling eggs, how are they unemployed?) and the "Hearbel Beauty Parlor". Evidently, having English signs are a must to glamourize your shop but getting the words edited before making the sign is optional. I'm sure my readers have come across many such signs in India.

The school is a cacophonous joint with children and teachers trying to get in a word edgewise. To be fair I was visiting on a Saturday when the election commission had taken up a classroom to complete their voter registration drive. So they were children, teachers and loony citizens crammed into the small school yard. Some kids were giving a test while the rest who weren't interested in filling in circles were having their notebooks corrected. My grand plan was to play a game with them that would have them interact with me in English. A 'flop show' sums up my efforts.

I divided them up into teams and asked them to pick names. Prompted by the teacher they picked names of flowers - Gulabi (rose), Sampige and tavuur (lotus). Then I asked them to think about movies they have seen and try their best to tell me its story, in English! Boy, that was a tall order. Since no one wanted to say a word in English I tried to introduce new vocabulary in the script as they were narrating the story. One team was prattling on for over 10 minutes so the rest of the crowd lost enthusiasm and soon, they were just talking amongst themselves about the movies. Then I tried to switch tracks and asked them to fill out a sheet with their info on it - team name, team members, their age etc again all in English. The smarty pants that they are, the kids simply took the sheet out to their friend who was fluent in English and had them fill it out.

I'm not bummed about the way things turned out. I just need a better game that uses their energy more creatively and yet is a good way to teach English. Suggestions, anyone?


19 November 2008

One chapter ends, another begins

It's been 3 months since I broke away from my life in Seattle and flew back to India. In that time my sister got married, my possessions are being shipped to me piecemeal, done a part time research project, visited all my Asha projects and started reading like crazy. I have also started a process to heal from the betrayal of someone I trusted and a system I thought I could use when my emotional world was rocked.
Today that system has been legally severed and I am in the position to start over again - personally as well as professionally because as luck has it I have landed a lovely job which couldn't reflect my philosophies of living any better. A journey of relationships that was started with much anticipation ended and I am starting a new journey now.
Each such journey should make me wiser and stronger but all it seems to do is make me thinner and balder. Whenever friends asked for advice on how to deal with tough situations, I would recommend a haircut. In my case I feel like I just need to shave the whole thing off - go bald; because only such a drastic step would justify the craziness of situation that I got myself into. Of course the baldness thing isn't going down well with the family. They thought the buck stopped at a shorter than usual haircut.
Healing is an interesting journey by itself. I can sense my thoughts spiraling out of control when I remember all that happened. Small phrases catapult me straight into the entire saga over and over again. Then I think of all the things I should have said, but didn't. All the poisonous insults build up inside and there is no one to release them on. So the venom spreads deep inside my body, driving my mind to despair and ultimately shaking my faith in my own constitution. Am I weak or was I made weak? Did I make all the choices or were some choices forced on me? How did I get there? Will I get there again? Round and round the mind takes me through anger, guilt and shame. A three part mini series with no commercial breaks or comic relief. Snap. Out. Of. It. So says sunlight, a roomful of smiling children and a pushy bus conductor. Life moves on.
I have a strong family, good friends and health. and I am off to drink to that. Peace.

14 November 2008

Swift-kick-in-the-butt clinic

This idea evolved a few years ago after bar hopping with a couple of people in NYC. The whole experience appears so ridiculous when I think about it today: the dressing up, hoping the bouncer thinks you are hip enough; drinking 20$ drinks in a low lit lounge; loud music; sitting on overcrowded but terrifically comfortable couches; smoking Hookas because of the smoking ban; perhaps, the zenith of my hedonism. This would spill over into early morning perogis, wanderlust in lower manhattan and finally, the magical doors of the LIRR. The hangover was simply awesome. Lolling in bed one afternoon after such a fright I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if someone had simply given me a swift kick in the butt and reminded me that I'm not particularly suited to such pleasures?"

Then the humanist in me kicked in. Don't we all know someone in our lives who could use a swift kick in the butt? My execution of this idea is pretty simple. All you need are some decent shoes of varying weight. The clinic is a small set up, preferably in the back room of a cosy tea shop and the appointment has to be made by someone who knows you. I would be happy to administer the kick but I think it would more effective if it came from someone you know (they also get to pick the weight of shoes). I would like to nominate my mother to administer all of mine.

Alright, there are some caveats to this idea. Foremost, many people are not aware they need a swift kick in the butt. Denial is one of the more wonderful emotions our brains have adapted to with ease and efficiency. In this situation - let the mountain go to Mohamed; bring the shoes to the butt, as in this case. Then you have actual administration. It has to be quick and painful, well at least a level better than a spank. Since I haven't really had a chance to administer this myself I really don't have answers to this sticky point. Readers are welcome to post suggestions. Lastly, remuneration. This is not a business idea. It's a socialist idea based on the premise that everyone either needs one or will need one. Therefore it's best administered between friends. So you can create one in your own social group. This also has the advantage that what goes around, comes around. All kicks are universal.

Why is my idea better than an intervention? Well, it's quick. No willy nilly talks about life, love and the world. It's to the point. You don't need a group of people. 2 is the minimum, I would recommend 3. It needs no elaborate planning; you simply walk into a tea shop and mysteriously end up at the back room.

I believe in the potential of the swift kick; a jolt to propel you into a state of pain thereby making you forget whatever anguish/depression you may have or delaying any important decision you might have to make. It's a temporary respite designed to put you in touch with your inner feelings, at least those with regard to pain and annoyance. Those brief moments and hot cuppa tea with a dear pal is all one needs in order to receive clarity because the heart always knows, it's the head that actually confuses matters. So get yourself a swift kick today and divert your head while your heart can tell you what to do.

12 November 2008

India after Gandhi

Penned by Ramachandra Guha, this book left me emotionally stunned possibly because I read it straight through, like I would a murder mystery and was doing so in the background of the Indian railways, an institution that always elicits great nationalistic pride in me. My foremost comment about the book is this - if you are going to be a voter in the upcoming elections then this needs to be your research material.
The author provides a clear picture of India's political history from about a year before our Independence up to 2007. There is a small section towards the end that talks about our culture and cinema but for the most part it details how the world's largest democracy was built and is still buzzing along. For me personally, the book nicely details our *deterioration* from a constitutional democracy to a populist democracy.
I am sure there are better reviews of this book out there so I'm going to talk about issues that struck home to me the most. To start with, I finally understand that the Kashmir issue is not just about its strategic location and land but a fight about principle; by retaining Kashmir India wants to demonstrate its secularism while Pakistan wants to vindicate the two nation theory based as it is, on religious ground. The perverse nature in which our countries have decided to resolve this is of course, open to debate. I learnt about the violence that has been perpetrated by tribals and the government over the separatist movement launched in various parts of the north east. Sitting so far away it's easy to wish for peace! Our turbulent history with Chinese aggression was also nicely captured. Who knew that the word "naxal" comes from the village naxalbari, Assam where the first such rebellion was conducted?
Finally, the book made me think about my identity in this large subcontinent. To be politically relevant it would appear that I need to define it either by state or caste or religion. Long ago I came to the conclusion that the number one perception that I define myself by is as a woman. Everything else takes a back seat to that. Also after having lived much of my life as a defense brat and later abroad I have never had the need to define myself either by caste, religion or regionality. This book has reaffirmed what I always felt rather intuitively that in spite of our diversity, differences, lunatic religious sentiments and hundreds of languages, I am proud to be an Indian.

11 November 2008

Huffing and puffing away!

Today, I finally read the law that was passed banning smoking in public places. Its labeled glamorously as THE CIGARETTES AND OTHER TOBACCO PRODUCTS (PROHIBITION OF ADVERTISEMENT AND REGULATION OF TRADE AND COMMERCE, PRODUCTION, SUPPLY AND DISTRIBUTION) 2003 and filed under Section 31 (of the constitution I assume!). You can read a copy of it here. Be warned it's 4 pages and the first two are in Hindi. I spent the better part of an hour deciphering the language only to discover that the English translation starts on page 3!
The basic point is that you can't smoke in public place. This I had read in the newspaper and was vigorously enforcing when two incidents occurred. The first happened a few weeks ago at a restaurant when the chumps next to our table were smoking in an el fresco milieu. I popped over and in my politest desi english asked them to put it out as ahem, it's against the law. The bohemian with at least 20 earrings in one ear merely cocked her head and said, "Excuse me?" Not to be undone by such frivolous contempt I dropped the desi accent and said in my best clipped voice, " Madam, smoking is banned here." To which our siren replied that it was the smoking section of the restaurant. Well, I bought the story, tucked my tail under, apologized and sauntered off. Only when I got home did mummy dearest inform me that Ms. Chimney Stack was wrong and I should have boldly approached the manager. And if I had actually read the bill at that point I would have known to go to the top dog instead of wasting my time on the offensee.
The second incident was at the local shop around the corner with whom I have been having an ongoing battle to install a dustbin for all the litter his motley consumers spread around. Now this pal is a Mallu and his kannada is only for commercial purposes so communicating words like 'smoking' 'illegal' in my broken kannada is quite a theatrical event. Plus I honestly think he has no compunctions in trying to understand me better as I rarely speak outside the bread-eggs exchange if not to complain. Consequently my ire is now reserved for all the jobless youth who stand right outside his store and puff away. These youth just give me the stink eye and walk away 5 ft to continue smoking. Today, I have learnt that he's actually required to plant a sign outside asking people not to smoke there. So tomorrow I am going to assail him about the sign. 50 bucks says he'll come up with a way to hide the sign; probably place a hanging basket of chips right in front of it.
The last thing I want to talk about in this area is about fining. How does one get hold of a person who can issue the fine? In both the instances I reported, whom am I suppose to complain to, in case the person in charge doesn't listen to me - I mean one can hardly summon the police for such things. I guess I better go around my colony looking for an Inspector of Income tax ...

2 November 2008

Eco friendly floating candles

To all readers: Happy Diwali! Hope the coming year brings prosperity and peace of mind.

For our celebrations I adapted candles I saw at a devi temple to become floating candles. I'm sure many people already know about these candles but, here's the protocol that my grandma and I optimized. 
  • Cut lemon in half.
  • Squeeze out juice throughly. Make sure not to bruise the skin or puncture it. Use lemon juice for refreshing lime soda.
  • After feeling refreshed, turn the lemon inside out. Wipe the skin with a dish cloth to remove all moisture. Place in a bowl of water to make sure it will float. We laid the candle gently on the water and watched it for 3-5 minutes ...basically the time it took for us to clean the rest of the lemons. 
  • If lemon floats, set it aside. Test all lemons before turning them into candles. 
  • To make candle take a cotton wick dipped in ghee and place in the center of lemon boat. Pour about 2-3mL of oil. Gently lay candle in the bowl you want it in. Now light it. 
  • Candles prepared this way lasted 30 - 45 mins. If you want them to last longer you'll have to top off the oil or change wicks.  
  • We placed our candles in a brass shallow pot (urulu) in the midst of flowers.