Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Cost of Standing Up

Bhopal SUV Biker
 Image source:

Electronic media was recently abuzz with an incident from Bhopal where a biker protested the driving of a SUV on the wrong side of the road by blocking its path with his bike. The footage captured on CCTV camera then goes on to show how the car driver thrashes the biker. A range of reaction poured towards this incident ranging from outrage against the wrong doer to appreciation for the young man. While it is heartening to see the courage of one person, it is often faced with the cost of standing up against crimes, small and big, that deters the average Indian.

One thing that struck me about the incident was the routine nature of it. A car coming from the wrong side of the road is dangerous, it leads to traffic chaos and accidents, yet it is one of the most common forms of violation that happens in front of us, and daily. An auto-rickshaw with 6 passengers, a forceful passenger in railway compartment, shopkeeper charging Rs 2 extra as 'cooling charge', etc are every day affair which when placed on a continuum of lawlessness might fall in the lower rungs yet are unlawful.

What prevents people to be that guy on the bike?

Firstly, who wants trouble?
The guy who stood up to the SUV owner went to the police station. Police has filed a FIR against the car driver. So long after the viral nature of the post is over, the guy has to go to police station for testimony, etc. This, assuming that police cooperates in the investigation and does its job diligently.

Secondly, it is not my job.
The human mind works very well to gauge a rough cost vs benefit. When an extra Rs 2 on milk packet is weighed against quarreling with the shopkeeper, writing to appropriate grievance cell and following it up, it is obvious which one is weighted more. it happens all the time in all situations and especially in those that requires things to be done while going out of ones way.

Thirdly, what if there is repercussion?
We, who consumed that video and all the drama and text along with it, do not know how well connected that SUV owner is. It is not for nothing that Bollywood has shown criminals coming back to create trouble for the whistleblower. What is happening to scores of whistleblowers in the country is a testimony to the fact how unsafe activism can be.

Fourthly, who will listen to me?
While one might know that RTO/Police/Traffic Police has to be complained against an errant auto driver, a vast majority might not know, in the physical absence of them, of how to do it. In the Indian quagmire of authorities, bodies, and more authorities and more bodies, one is barely aware of proper channels of lodging complains and thereby creating huge barriers.

Policing every part is not feasible, technology cannot be all encompassing and is often costly, incentives to be lawful are less and risk of punitive action against crime is low. All this makes for a heady mix where we average Indians pass off small unlawful activities like driving on wrong side of the road as innocuous and 'adjust' to these risks and discomfort.

That is why the Bhopal guy makes news.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Blue Whale calling from Odisha - 4 lessons

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Blue Whale Challenge: Myth vs Reality. Pic Source: Getty Images
Odisha has also caught up with the latest thing in the market, the Blue Whale Challenge or let us translate it loosely to ‘Nila Timi Baaji’. And caught up in a big way. The police, the newscasters, the reporters, the administration have shown out-of-the-world seriousness to this internet game and the risk it poses especially to teenagers, who get addicted and kill themselves at the end of playing the game. But amidst the hullabaloo they are all missing the major point – that there is, in all probability, no online game called Blue Whale Challenge.

But this ruckus, fanned by media surviving on sensationalism, fed by authorities not trying to go to the depth of a matter, has many important lessons. Let me delineate four of them. 

Firstly, shoddy reporting has been the mainstay in this Blue Whale Challenge story. All the suicide stories, not just limited to Odisha, have not gone into the depth of the matter. Claims by parents and often the clueless police about the alleged game behind the suicide have been given prominence. While subsequently such claims have fallen apart, the widespread panic it has created cannot be undone. In an article Pranesh Prakash of CIS has cited many such examples. In an era when journalism is criticized by the common man, such poor standard does not help the cause.

Secondly, the way police has gone about this issue is uncalled for. The newly appointed DGP, R P Sharma seems to have taken this Blue Whale Challenge and its threats seriously. He has expressed his deep concern about it. Even Odisha DGP K B Singh has ordered for removal of it from social media, though I wonder how they plan to do it. It is the responsibility of police to not fan ridiculous claims and that is exactly what has happened in Odisha. But at one point they can’t be blamed for such incompetence, as such things are bound to happen at the face of the force lacking technical expertise in the matter and also known for unscientific methods of investigation.

Thirdly, this issue is a testimonial of how radically networked societies react to fake news. And such fake news that involves serious and utterly disturbing matters like suicide. It is likely that you the reader would have received Whatsapp forwards telling you not to click anything with such and such in the link for then Blue Whale Challenge will be loaded and you will get addicted to it. I mean, seriously? Do people even think what they forward? No. Panic brings about strange behaviour in people and this is an example of such. Controlling this menace, which is making people dumb, needs concerted effort. 

Lastly, and most importantly, this incident is causing light to be thrown at an issue that is taking away from where the spotlight should be – suicides among teenagers. 62,960 people in the age group of 10-24 committed suicide in 2013. And no blue or red whale caused it. These deeply worrying, utterly disturbing figures show what psychological issues exist in India. Are parents, schools, workplace aware of this, and if so are they doing anything about it? Do we have a conducive environment for normal and healthy growth of an individual? Does formal education, society, general ecosystem have mechanisms to help an individual under stress cope? Odia and largely the Indian society should ask these questions rather than indulging in senseless sensationalism.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Book Review: Behold, I Shine - Narratives of Kashmir's Women and Children

                                                   Image result for behold i shine

Behold, I Shine – Narratives of Kashmir’s Women and Children by Freny Manecksha (Rupa Publications) could not have been released at a better time. The time when what has captured the attention of many in India is the image of schoolgirls in Kashmir valley, in school uniform, pelting stones. Freny Manecksha’s account gives necessary perspective to what the women and children of the strife torn state think, what their stories are, where in the cultural-social fabric do they stand and what has shaped their psyche. 

Behold, I Shine is in a firsthand account of Manecksha’s research in Kashmir and one can sense the arduousness of the task. Getting people to talk, to share their personal experience, and to capture the essence of their being in a conflict zone is not an easy task. And to do that with women is doubly difficult. Hence all the stories that the author has captured are worthy. They are backed by evidence and thus lend enough credibility, even though everything in a conflict zone is questionable.

Beyond the militancy and beyond the militarization there are lives of real people. The lives of half the population, of women, have been affected in myriad ways. In the grip of militancy in the 1990’s, the women who lost their husbands, who do not know the whereabouts of their husband (half-widows), who have lost their sons make for majority of the narratives in the book. 

The strongest narrative that has been brought about is of the situation where women, culturally and socially restricted, were made to breach those restrictions in search of lost fathers, husbands and sons. And then to earn the livelihood that got lost either to militancy or draconian PSA or AFSPA. This double whammy situation for womenfolk made heroes of many of them, like Parveena Ahangar of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), many of whom champion the cause of azaadi.
The resistance, which a group of women show by merging boundaries between the private and the public, has been depicted well in the chapter ‘Maine Nazira, aa kha?’ The author writes that “Kashmiri mothers using their bodies as a theatrical site at monthly sit-ins” might not conform to Western constructs of feminism but in the valley it assumes a ‘radical statement’. The worst memories of 90’s have been kept alive and passed on to the younger generation Ms Manecksha suggests. The narratives of the current crop have been given less space in the book perhaps because of the calm, albeit uneasy, that had prevailed in Kashmir over the last 2 decades. 

The Amarnath land row or the Shopian rape and murder cracked open the fault lines in a different way that the younger generation of females took to protests. The abnormality of an Occupation, whether it is getting confined to closed spaces, being abused by armed forces or dress code imposition by radical Islamic groups, it has taken a toll on the young. Probably the downward spiral in ‘haalat’ goes hand in hand with increased participation of women in struggle.

The author should be commended for commenting on the spiritual aspect and the mental trauma that women and children suffer. The narration is personal, tugs at the heart more often than not, and one can sense the attachment that the author has had with acquaintances. Also notable are tiny details about Kashmir which is largely oblivious to the average Indian.

Yes, there are a few questions that are left unanswered. The first that might crop up in the readers mind is why have the narratives of Kashmiri Pandit women and children, who were ousted from their homeland not considered. Or for that matter why has women who have been found complicit in aiding terrorism not spoken about. Perhaps, the scope of the book does not go that wide. But it does justice to the matter of its choosing. There are after all more questions than answers on the subject of Kashmir. But an empathetic reader, sans ideological and political blinkers, will benefit in making herself aware of the narratives, difficult and tortuous ones, of the often neglected section in the Kashmir debate, that of its women and children. 

PS: As we read this, CASO (Cordon and Search Operations) which have had its share of notoriety and have been mentioned in the book umpteen number of times are back in Kashmir as the government has decided to toughen military stand in the troubled South Kashmir.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Dry Clouds

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The unusually warm day passed
Into a tolerable evening
The leaves were showing signs of life
By swaying
The West sky too sprung to life
With mounds of black cloud
Gliding through.
The temperature eased
More birds took to the sky
Children ventured out.
Tired eyes harboring hope
Of respite to the parched land
Of comfort to worn bodies
Of succor to life
Looked above for some signs.
Battered by heat
The only solace
Was to come from above.
Time passed
The breeze was now comforting
The pieces now joined together
For the showdown.
But more time passed...
The clouds were there
The breeze was there
The eyes looking up were there.
Not there now was hope
Not there was a drop of rain
The clouds maybe were dry.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Letter to Aindri on her 2nd birthday

My dear Chimpu,

It seems that this name is sticking on to you despite your mother having decided for a lovely 'Nysha' as your pet name.

But even if it gets replaced by something else, in this letter, it is going to stay so.
At 2, you have become taller, noticeably, and little thinner (rather less chubby than first).

Year 2016, has particularly been a weird year. I would be with a lot of people to believe that it was not really a great year.
Definitely not for us with you being hospitalized twice, once in June and other in October.

But the remarkable thing about both of these incidences, which was heartbreaking for us to say the least, was the grit that you exhibited.

For a tiny tot, going through rigors of hospital, it was from you that we derived strength.

Let's put aside these bad memories...
In your second year, we moved into our own house, precisely on 4th September, 2016.

You got a lot of space to run around which you did really well. We think you like the house. Well, like it or not you have to stay here.

We made our regular trips to Bangalore and Odisha and you seem to be making our airport visits very tiring. That is because you refuse to be at one place even for a minute.

Also you became choosy with food and making your mother's job pretty difficult. Plus, there is something that has been another hallmark of your second year.
That of you keeping us awake for large parts of the night. You wake up at unearthly hours and refuse to sleep for hours at stretch.

You have now begun to sing many nursery rhymes, thanks to all the YouTube videos we 'have' to show you just so that you eat. Also in the meantime Doraemon cartoon has replaced all others as your favorite. (So much so that your mother is baking a doraemon cake on your birthday).

You have a liking for Bollywood songs, be it Bolna, Gerua, Janam janam, ae dil hai mukkil or others and you are humming couple and more lines of them. That makes me think you can start learning singing sometime later. You have started identifying restaurants, be it associating fish at Ocean Pearl or MTR.

By now you have graduated from monosyllables to 6-7 word sentences. And most of which makes perfect sense. And in the process you have learnt how to butter your mother and me and get things done.

Sometimes I wonder if we have been good enough parents in this year. I think it is a genuine concern that most would be having. Trust you me chimpu, we have tried.

In your third year there will come a bigger challenge and perhaps a big reason for your Papa to be worried, of you going to crutch or some equivalent of that. It is true that we are a little overprotective of you but that will be let loose gradually.

At this point I hope the blog sustains few years until when you are able to read it and understand it. Also I hope I will be able to continue writing these on your birthdays.

With all the love in the world...


PS: The clear, innocent eyes with which you watch me and your smile and laughter are things which melts the heart.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Banished from Bengal - book review of 'Exile - a memoir' by Taslima Nasrin

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The Bengal in the title refers to both West and erstwhile East. Both which banished writer Naslima Nasrin. Even if the accusations against Ms Nasrin, dominantly being her fanning religious extremism and of her being a mediocre writer are to be believed, the life of exile she was relegated to (and written about in her book ‘Exile – a memoir’, translation by Maharghya Chakraborty and published by Penguin) speaks loudly of the failure of a State (two States in fact) to protect an individual and its machinations to stifle freedom. The book also brings to the fore a strange love that Taslima Nasrin has for India where she continues to live, largely due to her courage and conviction, at the face of massive resistance and near lack of substantial support.

The book is a powerful account of an individual, a writer, a female, who has been let down by the powers that be. The book is a commentary on how vote bank politics trumps basic human rights. The book is a testimony to the humongous and nearly unlimited State power. The book is a note of how personal relations, friendships, acquaintances fail to stand up in times of adversity. Taslima Nasrin’s Exile is a book that through its diary entries, poems, newspaper testimonials makes all the above points and makes it strongly.
In the first chapter titled ‘Forbidden’ Ms Nasrin writes how the words, which she calls epithets, of ‘whore’ and ‘prostitute’ have become cherished for it reminds her of the stand against patriarchy that she has taken and the reader, provided one is unaware of her work in general, is given a glimpse of what a woman has stood up to. 

22nd November 2007 was the fateful day, and a chapter “Farewell, 22 November 2007” has been devoted to it, when after applying immense pressure on Ms Nasrin to leave Kolkata, where Muslim religious fundamentalists were protesting against her, she made an exit to Jaipur, from where she was to eventually live in ‘exile’ in various safe houses of New Delhi.

Taslima Nasrin has given the reader an image of her happy self in Kolkata, prior to her becoming a captive at the hands of Indian State. How she set up her house, was happily writing, was socially active and how all of it was snatched away from her just because a state government (then a CPM government) could not rein in fundamentalists and rather sought recourse in sending the author away.

Ms Nasrin asks the right questions about Muslims, which a vast majority of people wonder about. At one point (pg 153) she writes “I feel that the ‘moderates’ do not even exist.” She invokes Gandhi, Mandela, a host of editors, poets throughout the book who have given her strength to fight the mighty State and who have praised her valour. The book ‘Exile’ is also about how friendships (be it the Mr B, a minister in UPA government or any other) have ditched her in time of need and through that becomes relatable to the average human.

The powerful sections of the book are where Taslima Nasrin writes about her love for India and her dislike for the comforts of Western world where she spent 11 long years before coming to Kolkata. This narrative comes along at various points in the book. A Bengali first and then a Bangladeshi perhaps is how she has chosen to put it.

The outright disgusting part of the book is where she describes her exile of nearly 8 months in various safe houses of Delhi. Stripping a human being of basic freedom of meeting people, availing medical facilities, going about a normal life is a gross violation of human rights and Ms Nasrin was subject to that. She has provided a disturbing account of how due to lack of medical help her blood pressure situation got worse and which eventually led her to bite the bitter pill and leave India.

Maharghya Chakraborty, a PhD scholar at CSSC Kolkata needs to be commended for a wonderful translation. The literary prowess of Taslima Nasrin has been done justice to in English it can be safely said. The narration is gripping, fast moving and accommodates literary flourish along with some lovely poetry in vast sections. There could have been more clarity on the timeline of events in general. The book is a highly recommended one for those who would like to learn more about Taslima Nasrin, her love for India, her fight against religious fundamentalism, the coercion of the State, machinations of governments, and much more.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book Review - Fables from India

 Image result for fables from india uday mane
Fables from India by Uday Mane has 23 short stories which revolve around Indian characters and its villages and towns and hence the "from India" part. The book opens with 'What Do I Seek?' which is a poem. May be the authors love for poetry has been given place. The first Tale, "Prince of Aramadia"sets the mood for rest of the stories. It is very Indian, with theme of sacrifice, divine intervention, bringing back to life (wife of the protagonist in the story) and is highly predictable.

Almost all the stories lack the element of surprise, the twist of tale that marks a good short story (without having to be O Henrysque; okay I just made that word). To be fair to the author stories like "Secret Keeper's Secret" do intrigue the reader for quite some time but their number is miniscule and the consistency is lacking.

There is inconsistency (though it does not matter much) in the length of stories. From six pages long to two page long, they do not hold the attention of the reader well. And then there are some stories like the last one in the book (Langu's Calling) which begin well but do not reach the pinnacle and become dampeners.
Perhaps the book is targeted at kids who can derive some moral lessons (there are quite a few of them) and hold on to very short stories well. The book does not work for adults.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The thing about Not Writing

I have barely 10 minutes before I have to rush out of my office. Already while typing the first sentence I missed the 'o' of 'out' and had to hit a lot of backspaces to correct it. Yes, I fall in that set of people who do not use the cursor to get back to mistakes. But here, that is not the point. I am making a dash here. A dash to tell something, which if I don't I might never do.

It is about time. Or timing, if you prefer that. I look at the clock on the bottom of the screen and see that three minutes have passed without me making two complete paragraphs. 

The thing about writing is a lot about not writing. If you like to write, and a lot of people I know do, it is also a lot about timing. Unless they are the timeless things. Stories, poetry, etc. But then there too the element of time is important. Professional writers might have their own ways, but for the rest of us, what about the thought that consumes you while you are driving? One may hold it, and if it is powerful enough it will stay. Like this story which I thought about sometime in the afternoon while correcting answer papers of an university exam for students of dentistry.

But the holding on becomes difficult after point. Or even if it does not, the form changes. I have given myself 4 more minutes to make the point. 

I particularly find myself in desperation when there is an issue to write on, say the current issue of disbanding Medical Council of India and replacing it with National Medical Commission. I have read the whole report, made my observations yet I am falling short of time to write a commentary on it. And I am not even making excuses. The little girl wakes up at unearthly hours and it is taking a huge toll. More about it later.

For someone who loves to write and feels actually irritated for not doing it often, such backlog of issues is only killing. All the sane advices of prioritizing, allocating time, setting aside things, staying away from social media, etc, etc, works but not very often.  Now I see I have a minute left. 

I will be flying to Bangalore tomorrow, there has to be some last minute shopping done, bags to be brought down the attic and dusted, debate over what to take and what not to engage with. But another thought that bogs me down is this trip will be the end of writing anything for the next 6 days. 

For those of you can, keep writing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Kashmir Grief


Kashmir has captured the collective attention of the country again. And for distressing reasons. Killing of a terrorist, curfew, stone pelting, deaths, pellets, muzzling of press, Pakistani insinuation, it has all the ingredients to make a situation volatile, tense and largely unwarranted.

I often wonder what does it all mean to the average Odia or the average Kannadiga sitting thousands of kilometers away from the site of action, having never read anything intellectual (are we supposed to use that word these days, without fearing derision?) about nuances of the Kashmir conflict, having fed each night with a pill of 'nationalism' from TV newsrooms, receiving Whatsapp forwards drawing differences in a tabular form between a Kashmiri terrorist and a newly minted Kashmiri IAS officer.

Whatever it is, the situation is one of grief. The normal life that the average Indian was going on about has time and again been shattered by unfortunate incidences in the 'heaven on earth'. Clinically, there are 5 stages of grief. I have attempted to place the average Indian in these stages.

Primarily the average Indian is in the first two stages. The first stage is shock and denial.

It is shocking for most, depicted by many 'highly qualified' people on Facebook and Twitter, to learn that Kashmiri people are pelting stones at our security forces over death of a militant who had taken up arms against the Indian state. This juvenile thought of shock does not seem to go away even after decades of strife in Kashmir.

Denial of problem perhaps is the biggest problem that both people at large and establishment face. A lull in Kashmir can send government machinery into complacency leading to closing of many channels of peace. If people deny the average Kashmiri his voice, if the Arnab's shout down the Kasmiri panelist accusing them of treachery, if we deny that the problem in Kashmir is genuine it will remain gridlocked and will alienate more Kashmiri's than ever.

The next stage of grief, anger.

This the average Indian has in plenty vis-a-vis Kashmir. How can they come on streets like this despite the Indian army helping them during floods? Let there be another flood. How can thousands come in a funeral of a terrorist? Bomb them all. The anger is just there to subsume all sense, subsume all sanity. That it is going to bring out something meaningful is extremely doubtful.

We are just going round and round in these two stages.

If our worldview of Kashmir is to be changed, our grief over that integral part of India, needs to move to stage three, that of depression & detachment. In detachment can one observe well. It is not just philosophical, but practical. In detachment from the rhetoric that has been blaring since decades regarding wrongdoings of the past that we can move forward.

It would then lead to dialogue & bargaining. If there is one word that Kashmir will understand, that Kashmir wants, it is dialogue. Dialogue and more dialogue, among various stakeholders, more regularly and in a conducive environment. Bargaining chips can be drawn only when there is dialogue and when the dialogue moves forward into meaningful action.

The final and the most warranted stage of grief is acceptance. The average Indian is far from this stage which is a prerequisite for return to meaningful life. Acceptance of the fact that there are separatists who need to come on table, acceptance of the fact that much political ground needs to be covered to get the Kashmiri to the so-called mainstream, acceptance of the fact that decades of living in forces controlled place can scar one badly and sometimes beyond repair and multitude of such acceptances can bring peace in Kashmir and to others in the country.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Its First Day this Year


The sound and music
Freshness of its feel
Intermittent, sporadic
Had been knocking at the door
Since a few days.

Time had been ticking away
Mired in uncertainty
With patience withering
Having betrayed twice earlier
Of a long stay.

But in the dark of last night
With such humdrum
A roaring arrival
Beckoned from high above
And left all awash.

There was no bright Sun
In its welcome
Only a growing green mat
On the ground that
It had made suddenly supple.

It its wake the dusty umbrella
Mushroomed to its glory
The ascending sound atop it
Old, familiar, yet new
Felt music to the ear.

A puddle here
A stream there
A rivulet somewhere else
Contours and colors changed
For the first time this year.

Inching towards half the year
With a great gap to fill
Filled in endless grey mounds
From the sky above
The Monsoon arrived today.