Monday, January 1, 2018

Letter to Aindri on her 3rd birthday

My dear Chimpu,

You are 3 years old now. 

This past year can be called as the ‘year of the gab’. Yes, you started talking and you did talk a lot of it, and along with it many scores of things that melts heart.

Hindi, Odia, English and Kannanda, in the decreasing order were what you learnt and spoke. Your love for songs continued unabated. You sang more, sang better I must admit and sang variety. However it was dance with which you entertained us. 

The year 2017 (and I think being a 2nd Jan kid, it will be easy to keep a tab of the year easily) began fine with your birthday which was well attended and was a nice little function. Luckily the gifts you received are mostly intact after a year. You have not been, until now, the kid who smashes things. The operative phrase there is until now.

We made a quick trip to Goa in the last week of March and as it always is, we were mighty apprehensive about you and travel. But it was a good road trip by Biju mamu’s car. Well, how much your parents love Goa came to the fore when we repeated the trip, this time by train, in November. The second time around we were a little relaxed and let you play in the pool from where you refused to come. Trisha nani and Hitesh fufaa also made a visit then and met us.

The past year will also be marked by another special event. You started going to school. Having decided to send you to a small school, Minions, close by to home, we were happy that you were happy to go there. But that lasted just for a couple of days. You were in no mood to go there. Now since 2nd of December you have been going to Sonia play school and continuing your routine of crying for an hour in total! It is distressing for us; yet, the routine has to be set. So, sorry if you feel we have been cruel.

You have grown taller, almost reaching my waist in this year. Your food time tantrums are on a rise. Given the premature baby that you are, I am wondering if you are picking these naughty habits a little late! But your love for shawarma from Dishes, American Onion and Cheese potato chips, donuts from Crave, they are all fine. Which makes me think, you are becoming a bit like your father, being fastidious about food?

Your sleeping habits continued to keep us up for a large part of the year but they were better than the previous year. When your mother had to be admitted for inter vertebral disc prolapse (don’t worry about the jargon) you acted very mature by going alone with me, letting me put you to sleep, give you food, bathe you, etc. The way you spent the evening with your friend Tingia when we had to go to emergency will always be remembered by us.

The world in 2017 is a strange place. You will be easily bored to learn about the society, the politics, the geopolitics, that is shaping the world but at some point in your life you will perhaps understand it all. As a parent, I hope humankind keeps striving to make the world a better place for kids like you for when you grow up you should inhabit a place that is befitting for the energy, the enthusiasm, the vibrancy of your youth.

Well, the year had two set of visits from Jema and jepa and nanu and nani ma. It is now clear that people visiting us and your becoming naughty are interrelated. They all love you a lot, much more than what you can think. 

Again, there were plenty of times this past year when we thought if we were doing the parenting act fine. I thought I was being upset with you when you would throw a thing, not eat, not listen, and it was much more than before. If I have been unreasonable (and I am sure defying what impression a tiny tot like you give, you kids understand all that) then I am apologetic. 

We are all set for your birthday. Hoping all things good come your way this year and you have the courage to fight the not-so-good..

Love you loads!


Monday, November 27, 2017

Stench on our Skin

Image result for sitting on garbage india
Image source:

Men, often a few young boys,
Women, rare yet likely,
Huddled for a conversation
Like we do on a mound
Green grass covered
In the park.
But these men, boys, women
Are on a huge heap
Of stench emanating garbage.

Each morning, on trucks, lorries
Door to door
Apartment to apartment
Restaurant to restaurant
Picking up filth
Vomit-inducing rubbish
With bare hands
Without masks or gumboots
Displaying a normalcy
That isn’t.

Those big blue bins
With leftover food
Or used sanitary pads
With soiled diapers, or wet hair
Or when color codes we brazenly disregard
And throw that syringe, a razor
They touch these, it pierces them
But we play the ignoring game well
Pretending well
The non-existence of these humans.

Questions of caste
Of their subsistence
Unanswered yet known
Are relegated to the hind
Where cemented by conditioning
They pass along generations
And breed kids oblivious to
The strife of these men, boys and women.

The forms that resemble us
In cloak of flesh and bones
But on their skin is smeared
That invisible stench
Which no soap can wipe
And a part of the soul
Amidst it all is lost
And part of the mind
Numbed by cheap alcohol
Or that thinner
Caring no more to think

Rag-pickers, garbage collectors, koodawala
And all the hues in between
Part-dead, part-living
Cleaning our filth
Thought of, treated & thrashed as filth
These men, boys, women
Are on a huge heap
Of stench emanating garbage
Huddled for a conversation
Like we do on a mound
Green grass covered
In the park.

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

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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.