Thursday, April 30, 2009

Of flavoured toothpaste and the need for a stroll

Oh boy! Following the news of the terrorist attack in Bombay is a punishment in itself. Now, the lone terrorist who was caught needs Urdu newspaper, flavoured toothpaste, the freedom to stroll outside his cell and needs his money to be kept in the jail account. Earlier, his demand was for the entire chargesheet to be translated to Urdu.

From where he comes, people are getting shot on the roads for issues like loving someone. They get stoned and shot and hanged, in public. No, we in India are not as inhumane as that. We have lodged him in prison, given top security to him and provide him what is provided to any other prisoner, maybe more. But flavoured toothpaste. What is he thinking ?

Yes, some would say that even a terrorist has right to life. Human rights. But no one speaks about human rights for people who have been affected forever by him and the stroll that he took that night in Bombay. Many have had their lives snuffed out of them. Their families live in trauma. The wounds of the wounded are yet to heal.

He has shown no remorse and instead has started asking for things. Is he really thinking that he has a right to demand all this from the country he has attacked ruthlessly, or is this the beginning of the set of activities planned to show that he is mentally deranged... I really wonder. Or is his lawyer indulging his fantasies.

Yes, I come from the land of Ashoka and Gandhi. But, I cannot show any pity for someone who has killed my brethren, so ruthlessly. I am unable to understand his extravagant request. I cannot imagine him taking another stroll, wherever that might be.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Once in Five Years

It's the time in every five years I dread. I don't care to read the first page of the newspaper nor pause the remote at any channel that even remotely has the possibility of touching on what I dread to hear. That is, politicians, their election promises and their mud slinging. People and their votes cast into equations with variables as religion, language, caste, tribe, the haves and the have nots.

They are seen suddenly, all over the place. They are back after a long hiatus, fresh to fight another election, knowing that public memory is short. Through posters, cutouts and loudspeakers, with hands together, smile pleasant as ever, and humility all over, they come asking you to vote.

Every year, the promises get stranger and wilder. Last elections, one politician promised TV sets and he did make it. This year, another has taken the cue and promises the same, for his state. One promises free electricity, in a country that has a major shortage of power. Another is issuing ATM cards, trying to get people to believe that the accounts will fill themselves later. Money is moving, in 2-wheelers, 4-wheelers, on road, by air for distribution. The tsunami and the earthquake wouldn't have seen so much money moving, so fast, in such big bundles.

India and us Indians. Most of us are plain. Meaning, naive and believing. We have the poor, the landless, the downtrodden, looking at these people, the neta log, hoping that they will do something that provides them some job, enough atleast to feed themselves for a meal a day. They vote, hoping against hope that something will change in their lives. That they will have a day, when they can go to sleep forgetting where the next days meal will come. A father hoping that he will have enough money to look after his family's basic needs (roti,kapada,makan - food, clothing,shelter). On the other side of the divide there are the rich. Some of them are honourable men, I should say. But, as of today, most of them are worried that the recession has nibbled a few crores from their overflowing purses. They vote, but they don't care much as they know the political class works for them. Then there is the huge mass of in betweens, the middle class. This strata is the strangest. This is the lot who are educated, have jobs big and small. Many in this lot especially don't care much about voting. No, not that they have given up. Many of them have not voted since they turned 18 because they do not think much of politics. They feel their vote doesn't make a difference, and who gets elected and who does not, makes no difference to them. But the majority do go to vote ofcourse, hoping again, that things will become better. Falling in this category, voting has been a time of happiness, for I feel the power of my vote, despair, for things have changed but not enough and sometimes for the worse. It has become difficult to decide who to vote for. The person is good, the party is not, the party is not good....... it is a time for tradeoffs. By good I mean, what she envisions, what she wants to do and what she has already done. And these tradeoffs cost so much finally.

The parties have different names, symbols and profess to be different. But finally, they are one and the same. They have on their printed sheets policies and ideologies different, but look beyond and they are all one and the same. Their allegiance is to the respective party high command, then their state high command, then the district high command, then the party, and last is the nation, if they care to and have the time to remember. They fight in parliament, out of parliament, fight everywhere, wasting time and money.

Once the election is over, they don't let it go. They keep dissecting it, in different ways and continue to see if some combination will get them where they want to be. This combination checking continues over five years till they touch the next election. They are never happy with the seat they have got. Instead of going about their jobs and letting their work move them up, they work to move up, their actual jobs relegated to a distant second.

Sometimes, I wonder. Am I asking for the moon ? Of course not. If good governance is asking for the moon, then I guess we should do away with elections. Clean drinking water, proper sanitation, good roads, proper health care facilites, avenues for employment - are these too much to ask for. Use the time in parliament productively, put in your best. This is all a common man in India would ask for. We are a people, who live within our means, who are happy with our simple lives.

Still, like every time since 18, I hope to vote this election too. For, as of today, all I can do is to vote. Vote for the person who I think is best suited for the job. And look forward.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Circle of Control

Having only an RAC (Reservation after Cancellation) ticket on my journey from Hyderabad to Coimbatore, I was hoping that I would get a berth. For otherwise, I would have to sit for 21 hours. I met the ticket checker before boarding the train. He asked me to sit in my seat and assured me that in case a berth was vacant, he would assign it to me, being RAC 1. He seemed a very calm and quiet person.

He came on his usual rounds and checked all our tickets. He also had a string of people queueing up behind him asking if they had a chance. And he kept moving up and down the three A/c compartments with this string of people behind him. He did not even by glance give any idea of whether I had a chance.

So passed two hours before he made his arrival. And, there he goes directly to the person having RAC 2 and looks at his chart to assign the tickets. My co-passenger asked me what my number was. I told him that mine was number one, but he was assigning it first to the others and that I was wondering why. The co-passenger told the ticket checker that I had RAC 1.

The ticket checker looked at me and said, "Yes, yes". And then he announced in a loud and pompous manner, "Single ticket(meaning, you are travelling alone). You have to get out of this compartment ?" I found that a little rude, given that he made the announcement loud enough for people in three coupe's to hear. Taken aback a little, I managed to keep my cool, laughed and said, "To where ?".

I was to move to the next compartment. RAC 2,3,4 were allocated berths next to each other because they were travelling as a family.

Set me thinking, he was showing of his authority, wasn't he ? And he did get maximum mileage out of it. So, every person within their purview or circle of control, tries to throw their weight around. The ticket checker, outside the circle of the particular train he is in, has no power at all. So, that is the only place where he rules, and he ensures that he rules.

Go to a government office. The peon throws his weight around. He decides whether to let us into the officer's room or not. And he ensures that we know who is in control there. Especially, if you are a common man. So much for a peon in his territory, the government office. Same with teachers, bank officers and people in many other professions.

Don't we all do the same ? At home, at work, ........ Funny how much power means to us......

Monday, April 20, 2009

Musings of a train journey

I boarded the train early morning. Being a day journey, it was a chair car. I was waiting for passengers to board, hoping for something interesting to start the day as sleep eluded me despite having woken up at 3:00 a.m. Came a couple, around their 50s, man in a safari suit, to find that they, husband and wife had seats in two rows, one behind the other. Hence, they decided that they would sit in the same row of two seats, and ask the other person to move to the row at the back.

Fifteen minutes later came the other kathapathram (actor in malayalam) of the story, the man in white. He came up looked at the piece of paper in his hand. He told the man in the safari that the seat he was sitting is allocated to him as per the ticket. The man in the safari told him that yes, and asked him, "Could you sit in the seat behind ? It is mine". The man in white went over to the seat behind and put his luggage on the rack above.

The man in the safari said, "Hope you do not have a problem in moving over". To which the man in white answered, "You have already decided that I will have to sit here. Then what is the problem ?" The man in the safari said, "That is why I am asking if you have a problem in sitting there ?". The man in white said, "It is okay" and went to meet the rest of his family sitting on the other side of the compartment.

When the man in white was comfortably out of ear shot, the man in the safari tells his wife, "Look at him, how big his ego is? I just asked him to sit behind and he has to speak like this."

That got me wondering... who is the person with the ego, the man in the safari or the man in white. Wasn't it already decided by one who came early where the other should sit ? Was that right ? What would the man in safari have said if the man in white had refused to part with his seat ?

Of course, one has to adjust during a journey. But can one expect the other to toe their line of adjustment ?

As I was musing about one and the other, the train started moving. I was happy that the small issue did not lead to flared nerves. Smiled thinking, maybe the early morning, still half asleep and the air conditioning in the compartment have to be thanked.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The pain of being

Why are you like this
Why are you not like that.

Why do you speak like this
Why do you not speak like that.

Why are you doing like this
Why are you not doing like that
Why, why, why.......

Why not
Why can I not be like this
Why should I be like that
Why can't I be
Just me.....................

First They Came...

THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

and by that time no one was left to speak up.

- Martin Niemoller

(Niemoller spoke out against the Nazis, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed.)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

To the Rain God

Lying in bed
Eyes closed
Ruminating the heat
Dreams uncoming.

Suddenly could be heard
The chatter of the seven sisters
The song of the cuckoo
The call of the peacock.

Mind starts working
The symphony familiar
Heard before
But where wondered.

Eyes opened
Behold on the tree
Sat the cuckoo
Her song peaking.

Suddenly remembered
The scene seen before
The symphony best ever
Called "Welcoming the Rain".

The ceremonial dance
Euphoric and ecstatic
In knowledge of the arrival
Of a guest unparalleled.

And minutes later
Came the breeze
Cool and refreshing
Herald of the Rain God.

Splitter, splitter, splatter
Disc lights bright
Drums accompanying with splendour
Performance begins.

Like a seed I've felt
In the ground parched
Waiting for the first drop
Eager to sprout.

Having felt toasted
Sauted and barbecued
Days on end
Happiness flowed over.

Watched with wonder
Shower blowing in
Hours on end
Nature's miracles.

(Thoughts when it rained after days of searing heat)