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Bharat Bandh: A juvenile opposition, a lost government

Today, May 31, 2012, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) called for a Bharat Bandh in protest of the Rs 7.8 hike in petrol prices. Considering the frequency of the number of Bandh’s in the country, I would like to place before you and the People of India the helplessness I feel as a citizen of a supposed democratic country.

In the midst of some news of violence, and many rumors of uproars, I ventured out to reach my office – not because I couldn’t work from home, but because I wanted to exercise my right of freedom and not be held ransom by a group of juveniles. Bandh’s and strikes are not the only way to get your point across, in fact they are equivalent to throwing a tantrum. Have our leaders ever heard of “sitting across and discussing the issue”? Do our policymakers feel the need to let us know why exactly they have chosen to go with a particular decision?

Sadly, we are mute spectators to this political “Tamasha” that torments our development as an economy and our well-being as a people.

So, here was this rebellion that was flagged off in supposed support of the common commuter, and yet this bandh put commuters at terrible inconvenience. If there was one thing that this bandh did achieve, that would have to be the shameless fleecing of ordinary citizens. Here’s an insight – Taxis were still plying, but charging commuters absurd amounts for passage (minimum fares were charged at Rs 40); Food stalls at commercial locations (like Nariman Point) doubled their rates and halved their quantity as restaurants remained closed.

Not only do we have a government that is caught up in  web of lies, empty promises and more lies to cover up for the promises; but we are also blessed with an opposition party that considers it its primary duty to resort to crass methods of voicing an opposing view.

According to the India’s political set-up: The Opposition’s main role is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable to the public. The Opposition is equally responsible in upholding the best interests of the people of the country. They have to ensure that the Government does not take any steps , which might have negative implications on the people of the country.

In our case we are having an opposition that is equally responsible in sabotaging the rest and interest of the people of India. We have an opposition that takes steps that do have a negative implication on the people of India. We have an opposition which apparently does not seem to work for the benefit of India, but seems to function only to off-throw the current government.

This sordid state of affairs needs a stern intervention from the judiciary. A corrective warning to both the majority alliances that it is time to think about the people of India, and get past mud-slinging matches.

Walk Alone!

When there’s no one there that you can trust,

When friends turn into strangers,

When you’re wonder what all this is really worth,

Then, O solitary soul, walk alone

 

When each day seems like a waste of existence,

When each moment like a curse of woe,

When you bear it all in silence,

Then, O tired spirit, walk alone

 

When the world treats you like nothing,

When you doubt what you’re fighting for,

When you have nothing left to lose,

Then, O forgotten one, walk alone!

 

In a world of madness, Tagore brings us sense. Inspired by the great one, my humble submission to Walking Alone…

Beyond

The kitchen like the rest of the house had an overwhelming hue of white. Reesha bent over the lemongrass that grew on the window ledge, clipping a few leaves. She closed her eyes for a brief moment to take in the scent of the herbs, and smiled as the wind blew a few strands of her red hair loose. Reesha straightened up and carried the lemongrass to the pale wood counter standing in the middle of the kitchen, that usually served as a workstation and on a seldom occasion was dressed to resemble a dining table. The teapot was already bellowing steam through its spout. Reesha let the lemongrass drop in, following it up with 2 spoons of tea leaves. Then she let it stand, as she turned to fetch the mugs from the crockery cupboard.

In the reflection of the cupboard mirror Reesha saw a woman of average built, dressed in cotton trousers and a white tee. She didn’t yet have the experienced look of someone in her late prime, nor did she look naive enough to be in her early youth; she was possibly approaching her thirtieth birthday soon. She wasn’t totally unattractive, infact her porcelain skin and hazel eyes were totally capable of attracting the target they chose. Reesha drew her attention back to the mugs and stepped away from her image in the mirror.

Holding the mugs in her hand, Reesha started towards the verandah to join Jay. Through the steam rising from the mugs she could see a figure reclining in a cane arm chair. Suddenly conscious of someone behind him, the figure peeped over the side of the recliner. With his head tilted at such an angle, his silver streaked hair fell over his glasses. He carelessly pushed back the errant locks, and tumbled out of his cosy cote to help Reesha with the mugs. For someone soon joining the rank of Senior Citizens, Jay had kept himself in very good shape. The white shirt with the rolled sleeves and the blue denims fell loosely over his lean frame.

They sat by each other sipping tea, breathing in the aroma of the lemongrass, watching the sun sink lower on the horizon, and simply being a part of each other’s moment.

Quite an unusual pair they made – Jay, the scholarly historian, and Reesha, the primary school teacher. It was difficult to believe that they had just known each other for the past 10 months, it seemed a lifetime of an acquaintance.

Reesha religiously followed Jay’s weekly column in the local newspaper. Jay had a way with words – he wrote his opinions on different historic events, and yet always threaded them with his current life – his need for silent escapes, his random walks in the rain and his search for completion. When Reesha had mailed her first appreciation email to him, both of them were in total oblivion about what followed 26 email exchanges, and some unplanned meetings that seemed to bring them face to face.

“You’re not in love with him, you’re just in awe,” Reesha’s best friend and colleague, Doyal, had admonished her when she once hesitantly voiced her feelings.

Did she admire him? Did she love him? She wasn’t sure. And actually, she never thought that her feelings needed a name – the societal approval of a relationship status – she was fulfilled enough just experiencing the surge of emotions he awakened in her.

Jay as a writer travelled a lot, and Reesha was quite a coop hen. And the overwhelming bone of contention was the 25 year age gap that existed between the two of them. Didn’t they see it? Didn’t they feel the generation gap divide?

”What do you’ll talk about?” Doyal had once asked. And Reesha had then realised that they never really “talked” – none of the routine work and family talks, neither about the price of vegetables rising, or the weather changing. They actually spoke in silence. Just taking in the presence of the moment and knowing that the silence that existed then was shared by just the two of them. It was their intimate moment.

The gossip-mongers usually murmured, “Oh, they are just sleeping around.” And Reesha would chuckle to herself. How would they know that their connection was not limited to physical needs. They would sit on the balcony holding hands or sometimes welcome each other with a long warm hug, but without any sexual yearnings. There was never the need to explain the existence of the other to their respective social circles, and yet between the two of them the circle that mattered the most was complete.

But the murmurs were always there. People knew, though not necessarily understood the depth of this different affair – a scandal nevertheless.

Among Reesha’s wellwishers were those who thought that spinsterhood had frustrated her to such bounds. They tried to patch her up with distant cousins, and so-called acquaintances, like they said “to make her see normal”.

Jay’s family reacted typically to the news when he tried to explain, though he did add that he really couldnt express their relationship or the want of it in words – his wife broke into hystericals, his kids were shocked. Expected, considering Reesha was 29, he 55.

Why did they find each other? Neither of them had any specific need. Reesha’s mind was atuned to the solace that her loneliness brought her, and he was a vagabond in a world of his own. They never searched, just seemed to find each other like a wanderer does a piece of rare pebble that he doesn’t need, but still treasures.

The hour chime of the clock snapped her out of her flashback. Jay stumbled out of the recliner, and straightened up with an exaggerated delay. It was time.

From the window ledge on which the lemongrass grew, Reesha waved adieu to the homeward bound figure in the white shirt and blue denims.

Feeling the love…

You don’t have to be in love to feel the love. Yeah, I wake up these mornings feeling the love. I’m not sure if the autumn sun rays that wake me up have anything to do with this, or whether this is simply to be credited to a change in perception. I really don’t know, and to be honest I’m not too concerned about the reason. I’m just happy to feel the love.

Well, in the midst of this warm fuzzy feeling – that makes me smile at stray animals I pass, that makes me purchase flowers on an impulse, that makes me sing while I work at my comp, that makes me feel oh-so-good – I’m trying to work out the formula that could probably let me keep this emotional tide for a while longer.

And I’ll stay prepared for when the days will come when the sun won’t shine that warmly, and when you wonder – Where is the love? – But until then I’ll stay loved.

Shadows of the Mirror

I want to be a supermodel – wrote Dheuva – in her assessment sheet. Then cancelled it out again, when she thought of her 5ft 3 built, coffee brown colored, and box shaped frame. Sure she had almond shaped eyes that changed color from a dark brown to a hazel everytime they lit up, and a smile that was dangerously contagious, but considering herself suitable for professional modeling was pushing it too far. As she walked back home after lectures, she had long forgotten about the cancellation on the assessment sheet.

Blue tiles with lavender flowers drawn on them nod in consent. The white floor meets her step as she graces her audience with a smile. They seem to be smiling back. Even the blue basin which stands at the other end seems to beckon. The faucets, the soap dish, the buckets, all look upbeat, glistening and awake. She starts the tap to shut out the noise of the daily soap programme that’s on full volume outside. In her one room kitchen flat, where she lives with her parents, this was her space, her domain. It doesn’t matter much to her that the time she gets here is brief, because in the world that she knows, a world where gardens are grown on a one-foot window ledge, privacy has not yet been discovered. The water on the floor begins creating myriad patterns of curves and ‘ess-es’ with the strewn strands of hair, and the heat from the bucket rises to create a fog between the four walls of her stage. Today she’s a famous model, a face that the fair-skinned envy and others desire. She flutters her eyes at the reflection, tilts her head back and pouts for the camera. Then she nudges her head lower till her dark brown tresses partially cover her face. She holds that pose till the camera clicks away. It’s a perfect shot. And then the bucket overflows.

Dheuva and her sweetheart met on a social networking site. She casually accepted his random friend request and before long they discovered a comfort zone with each other. On their first date she thought him talkative, yet quite interesting, and constantly blushed in response to his stream of flowery compliments. It might have been their fifth or sixth date, and Dheuva was officially smitten. Though, she still didn’t know how many siblings he had or even where his parents stayed, she thought these details were petty to fuss about; she would deal with it later. He made her feel like a queen and she was blissfully blinded to every thing else.

The lavender flowers are more greyish today. Outside the single window, the rain pours incessantly. Inside the blue walls her tears taste like salt. The thunder muffles the cries of her broken heart. The vapor forms clouds in front of her gaze, and she sees her lover with another woman. She holds on to the razor, poised at a right angle to her wrist, while they make out in the back seat of the taxi riding right past her.

The corporate jungle with its snares is not a place for the weak willed. Had someone told Dheuva that earlier, she might have heeded her mother’s advice and applied for a teaching job, instead of subjecting herself to the daily turmoil of the corporate class. Her desk was located at the far end of the office with no view of the world outside. She saw the sky only twice a day; it was a bright blue on her way to work and a dark indigo on her way back home. Her job involved entering information; sorting it into understandable rows and columns – just the way errant school children are grouped into straight lines according to their standards and classes. Well, she was similar to a teacher in that sense.

She’s not much of a singer, yet today she sings while she dances like Santa on Prozac. The shower faucets are her dancing partners. They’re somewhat rigid but they support her well as she twirls on her toes, and arches backwards. She straightens up and clears her throat for her address to the board of directors. She dismisses their silent questions with an air of arrogance. She moves around the wet floor mimicking moves she has observed from her seniors, while they made their presentations. All the while her visiting card peeps from the pocket of her just worn trouser, her designation – Executive – edited with a scribbled – Senior. Her first promotion at work.

Her forehead is marked with vermillion, and a string of black and gold beads is hung around her neck. Her wedding vows were exchanged years ago, and the essence of marriage eventually faded into indifference, yet Dheuva was still Mrs. Bannerjee – a title she wore with every symbol of a wedded woman. At every party, her husband’s colleagues credited her with his success as a reputed criminal lawyer – the woman behind the successful man – they said. Dheuva smiled like the obedient wife that she had been modeled into and proceeded to serve her husband’s dinner. She was no success charm, just an insignificant homemaker.

She has left the lavender flowers behind and now the walls are covered with abstract designs of black and red – dizzying circles that merge into jagged edges.  The room is different but its no longer a stranger, it remains her preferred hideaway. The bathroom is bigger now. The glass shelves placed on either side of the full length mirror hold their toothbrushes, his shaving kit and her hair care potions. She starts the shower and lets the water flow through her being. Tiny rivulets that find their way into intimate nooks and corners, caressing her, calming and yet arousing her in a way that’s seems almost forbidden. She’s not a wife here; she’s never been a mother. She is only a woman, a creator of images that live in her mind. She rehearses the lines of her upcoming already houseful show – “I will not live in your shadows; I am me, a person, a life, a living beyond an existence. I will shine through, like the light that creates you.” The candles flicker and the rain stops.

A garland of sandalwood flowers adorned Mr.Bannerjee’s photograph. Dheuva emptied out his wardrobe to the household-helps, a parting gift to them all. For the first time in 30 years she had time to think about something other than her husband’s needs, wants, expectations. But yet, partly out of habit and partly due to fatigue she simply found it difficult to focus on any thing in particular.

Reclining on her armchair in the comforting warmth of the winter dusk, she looks at the stretch of grass before her. The unkept, wild, free grass. She would tend to it in her younger days, now she lacks the spirit. She is not the woman that she could be, nor one that she wanted to be. Her stage is no longer confined to the walls of the bathroom – the only room that shut the world out. Her world now doubles up as the stage. The entire house – 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, a living area, and a study – all hers. She misses an audience sometimes, but then again, she never has had a live one. As the evening sun turns a hue redder, she sees through the neglected blades of grass, a tiny, virtually insignificant new bud erupting from the heart of the earth. And in that last ray of light she spots the spark that moves her towards the dawn – Hope!

Dheuva has an important meeting today. She picks her favourite saree: guava pink with a cream border. She ties her hair into a sophisticated bun. It has been a while since she took the effort to dress up, and she struggles with lining her eyes with dark kohl. She purses her lips together to smooth out the lip balm, and reaches out for her pearl set. She looks at herself with approval and prepares to begin her meeting. She reaches out towards the mirror, smiles and says – ‘Hi, I’m Dheuva. Pleased to meet with you.’

Spikey, you can keep your job!

“You can close your excuse-referral book now. You’re coming home for lunch, and that’s final” said Melissa with an affirmative air that leaves you nothing much to say other than, “Ok, ok, as you say,”

As I put down the phone, I thought, I might as well. After all, it’s not every Sunday that I travel to Suburban Mumbai, and more so I could do with a little company while I crib about how my Sunday is absolutely ruined by a sudden business event, and most importantly it had been quite a while since I met Meli (well long enough for us to realise that the other had either put on weight or lost some of it – in girl terms, that’s quite a long time).

And so Sunday found me walking towards Meli’s society gate, a happy spring in my step, looking forward to an interesting rendezvous. In the true style of the considerate host that she is, Meli was already at the entrance, waving her hands in the air to catch my already attracted attention.

We don’t believe in exchanging pleasantries, we’ve known each other for much longer than that, so we giggled a little at nothing really hilarious, and broke into an almost immediate chatter, that wasn’t much interrupted by a sudden realisation that we could continue our babbling or rather “exchanging notes” as we prefer referring to it as, in the comfort of her home.

“Sure, let’s go”, I seconded her, all the while blissfully unaware of the recollection about to move slowly from my subconscious to my cognisant mind.

Happy feet moved inwards from the gate, which stood at the extreme end of the rectangular compound that was shared by 6 buildings, each separated by cobbled pathways. The buildings were lined by tall Ashokas on all sides, which provided a shady slumber space to the strays that called this society their home. I let out a short laugh, as I pointed to the white and brown mongrel that was resting under one such spot, all its fours up in the air.

Meli continued walking ahead, her head thrown back by the recent spurt of chuckles that dominated our banter, and it was only when she glanced behind that she realised that I was firmly rooted to the spot.

As all the laughter vanished in a whiff, I managed two words – “Meli, Spikey!”

In all the excitement of the afternoon, I had forgotten all about Spikey. Yes Spikey – one of the strays in the society, a malicious bundle of black and grey fur, that once chose to distrust a visiting friend and make a light snack out his seat. Ouch!

Stranded right in the centre of the compound, with a few wagging tails coming closer and not another human soul in sight, I’m faced with a dilemma – Do I retrace my steps towards the gate? Or should I listen to Meli, and continue onwards.

“I will be brave,” I tell myself. Murphy’s Law at its best here again has the destination building situated right at the end of the compound. Drat!

We keep walking, and I put on a smile that I hope will make me appear nonchalant should Spikey spot me. All the while, Meli keeps mumbling, “Jo, walk normally! We’re fine! We’re cool! No catwalks please. He may just find that suggestive,” I try hard to ignore that, but a dog finding your gait suggestive is just too much to handle.

Now we’re almost near her building, and I see a black figure striding towards us. “Oh crap Meli,” I shriek, my feet gone numb and my heart pounding loud. “Shut up woman! That’s not Spikey. That’s a good dog,” says Melissa. I don’t believe her. The dog changes course mid-way and I almost jump into the open lift.

Phew! We’re finally seated in the comfort of Meli’s home, but though a little calmer, my nerves still are a mess. How the heck am I to get back now?

I’m sure Spikey knows that’s there’s some stranger in the vicinity, and his already alert senses would be even more alarmed should there be a slight slip-up. Meli insists dogs are not interested. She further defends his case with her argument that he only bites vendors. “You do not look like a vendor”, she says. I said, “neither did Lee, but he still thought him (junk) food.” She keeps at it, “Lee instigated him”. I ask how. She says by walking provocatively. I stare in silence, dumbfounded. What could you say to that? A dog getting instigated because he thinks your walk is provocative. Sigh!!

We’re still debating about how we could possibly get past Spikey. Could she ask a few neighbours to escort her poor friend till the gate? She looks at me stupefied. “Ok”, I say, “could you carry some titbits with you that you could throw in another direction so that he changes attention, and I can sprint for the gate?” “No,” I contradict myself, “he would smell the titbits on us, and we’d probably be inviting him over ourselves, rather than keeping him away.” I asked her, “Can you go out and call a rickshaw inside, right up to your building?” “Well, no” I thought again, “He could jump inside very conveniently. And then I’m so done for.”

“Relax,” she says, “we’ll manage.”

I’m not sure what that meant. I mean he wouldn’t bite ‘her’, she’s familiar, but me? I’m a sure victim.

As we step out in to the evening sun, I start muttering my prayers. During the past 2 hours I have visualised and re-visualised my fight with the villain. At least in the re-takes in my mind, I end up victorious.

Melissa takes the obvious lead, and we begin the journey back, towards the gate of salvation, on mission – Protect Rear!

“The key is maintaining constant speed – not too quick, not too slow. Remember Johnny Walker” says Meli, “Keep Walking.”

We’re almost reaching the gate now, and then we spot the enemy – sleeping blissfully on the warm cobbled path. And then just as I’m about to offer my thanks to the powers above, the rest of the gang start their doggy chorus – barking at a speeding motorcycle that whizzed by.

Oops, the quadruped fiend opened his eyes to inspect the source of all the chaos. I’m so done for I thought. “Should I try singing a lullaby”, I ask. “If you do, I’d leave Spikey on to you myself,” warned a partially serious Melissa.

We turned our focus back on Spikey – it was exactly 5 seconds – he looked at us, yawned disinterestedly, and then went off to sleep again.

It took almost 10 minutes for my breathing to get back to normal, once I climbed into the rickshaw, relieved that every piece of me was intact.

A few days later Melissa called up to tell me that the society is thinking of putting Spikey to sleep. She asked if I would like to have my name on their signature campaign for protecting strays in Borivali.

“Sure,” I smiled back, “after all Spikey is just doing his job. The problem is that he is taking his job a little too seriously.”

A lesser human

The road was almost dry, other than the open-mouthed potholes that now resembled small pools of chocolate milk, and an odd pedestrian or two rushing past with still open umbrellas. As I strolled below the gulmohars that unevenly lined the street, their leaves dropping off the final evidence of their recent bath, in the multitude of the unacquainted, I saw a face I recollected but couldn’t place.

The owner of the face was scolding away at a little replica of herself perched like a pot of water, firmly on her little hip – identical curly hair, button-nose and the same round face with a heavy jaw. As she drew nearer, and I could clearly see the whole of her, I stood rooted to the spot, shocked to observe the visibly rotund tummy.

By now she seemed to have done with the admonishing, and the subject looked penitent about whatever it was that had led him into this predicament.

The last few shadows between us moved away and we stood face to face now. As the yellow smile greeted me, I finally found my memory.

This young mother was once a student at the street welfare centre at the Church. The centre was started for the betterment of the children whose families had set up their own society on the foot-paths of our vicinity, and for who their plastic sheeted shanties were home. The centre had classes every Saturday – 2 hour classes; from 10 am to 12 noon. The girls were taught stitching; embroidery; and bead-art; while the boys had lessons in carpentry and handicrafts. Other than this, they were taught basics in formal education – a lot verbal, and a little written.

The centre had opened to 5 anxious children, with the help of 6 eager volunteers, including myself. After the first Saturday, we had another 4 children who joined in, and the week after another 5. Towards the end of the 2nd month the centre was throbbing with 30 children and 10 volunteers. The kids were just like kids – mischievous, unpredictable and a handful to manage. While we were ecstatic about the growing number of attendees at the centre, it was only during the middle of the 2nd month that we learnt the real reason for the splurge – the food distributed at the end of every session; a simple meal of dal and rice, sometimes khichdi, but to these children, this seemed to be quite a feast.

It was at this centre that I had first encountered her, then a kid of about 15, (which would now not make her more than 18) lively and actually quite well mannered. She was a quick learner, I remember, she learnt to spell her name right in the first class itself – ‘S-A-B-I-N-A’. Always the first to be in class, the last in the queue for lunch and the last out of the class. That was the girl I remembered. The day she learned to write her name, she wrapped the fluorescent green plastic rimmed slate with her name written on it with white pencil chalk, in some old newspapers, as if it were a gift she was packing, and scurried off in the rain, holding the slate close to her chest. “Silly girl,” I heard another volunteer remark, “the rain will wash away the name anyway.”

And now before me stood this very girl – a contrasting image to what my memory knew of her. I was hoping my smile would disguise my disappointment, and continued to ask her about herself. She was married, she told me. But, with a wife and kid to feed, and another one on its way soon, her husband figured that the only way out was to abandon them. I asked her how she makes a living now – she says she works as a charwoman in the neighbouring chawls. It doesn’t pay too well, but sometimes the people are generous and give her leftovers and scrap items to sell.

The child on her waist is getting weary of our conversation now and begins to fidget. “He is hungry” – she says, “I have to feed him”. That’s my cue for bidding her an adieu, and yet I can’t seem to walk away without asking her – What about the centre? Why did you leave the centre?

She looks at me confused – “What about the centre?” – she asks – “the centre closed down years ago. They said they didn’t have enough teachers.” She turned to go. And then as if on second thought, she turned and said, “Teacher, I want you to know I went there every Saturday till my mother forcefully got me married. Get married, or get sold, she told me. I’m still not sure what’s the difference. But, I just want you to know – I went there every Saturday till then.”  As she walked away, a part of me broke.

I left the centre because I had just begun my career. I did not want any distractions then. “The centre doesn’t depend on me alone. There are other volunteers who will take care” – I had justified my decision to my conscience. And yet now as I stood fixated gazing at this one opportunity that had been wasted, I wondered how many others. Would things have been different had I continued? Would the centre have survived?

I slowly retraced my steps towards home, and as the water soaked my being, and flowed down to the drain, I hoped it would carry away with it my shame and remorse.

I walked past the pools of chocolate milk and the eternal gulmohars, feeling much less a human.

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