India, a million voices

(I love India.  Deeply and intensely. I can’t imagine myself living in any other country. I love India’s diversity, its delicious food from different regions, mouth-watering mithais  (I will always go for a plate of rabri-jalebi over a blueberry cheese cake), colourful textiles,  delicate craft, the soul-soothing Indian monsoon, the large-hearted Indian Railways, the resilience of the not so privileged to wade through life with grace and grit and endearing voices laced with humor.

We are living in tough times in India now. India of 2017 keeps me awake in the night. I feel hurt, anguished at the way things are shaping up in our country. From being a multi-coloured, huge, rich, layered collage, we are being politically coerced to look at life in a monochromatic little box. I refuse to be a part of this little box.

My India is the land of Gandhi, Kabir, Buddha, Guru Nanak, Bulleh Shah, Raman Maharshi for whom there is no ‘Other’.  My India is large as the Bay of Bengal. As ravishing as the mystical Himalayas. Life is fluid here like the river Ganga, Brahmaputra, Teesta and Godavari. So also time. One doesn’t know where does time begin, where will it end.

The world is looking at India today as India turns 70 on August 15. Through a series on this blog, I am trying to look at India through my experiences. This is the first in the series) 

India is a country of voices. Silence is almost alien to our culture. Our temples are crowded. Our weddings are a lot about voices, giggles, arguments and counter-arguments. We love talking, haggling, bargaining, arguing. For nothing, economist Amartya Sen wrote a book titled ‘Argumentative Indian’. This is a collage of Indian voices which I am trying to weave into this piece. These voices are not related to each other. They are droppings from that caravan called life in India.

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We board the train from Ahmedabad, this train goes to Bengaluru via Manmad. After putting our luggage, we exchange pleasantries with our co-travellers. Suddenly all of us start feeling restless. And we discover that the AC is not working properly. Finally the coach manager is being tracked down. A lady passenger walks up to him and asks him to adjust the AC properly. The coach manager seems to be in an aggressive mood and he says, “This is how the air-conditioned coaches are like.” She gives him a stern look  and says, “Do you think that this is the first time I am travelling in an AC coach?” Well, the argument ends there. The AC starts to work in full swing. And we are all happy.

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This conversation is from my visit to Shirdi, a temple town. Everything happens around the temple. From a dusty little village few years back, it is now in the midst of a construction boom. There are hotels and there are hotels. We are walking on the main street in the evening. The sun is in a mellowed mood. Suddenly, my attention is diverted by cries of ‘Ramphal…. Ramphal’. This is the first time, I am seeing this fruit called Ramphal, it’s a much bigger version of sitaphal (read custard apple). Apparently, it’s only available in Shirdi.

And then comes a beggar woman and she probably takes a liking for me. She follows me and asks “Bhabhi (sister-in-law), please give me some thing.” Well, it definitely sounds endearing. But I am in no mood to give in. She is also in no mood to give up. Then she says, “Didi (elder sister), please give me something.” I keep on walking, pretending that I haven’t heard her. And then she says, “Madam (she gets into a professional mood), give me something.” I am impressed by her creativity and she knows her business. Even as I move forward, she walks behind me and says, “Mataji (O Revered Mother, please give me something.)”

At that time, I just couldn’t control my laughter. We are definitely a creative nation.

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There’s a young boy in my apartment who loves playing cricket. One evening, I see him walking with great confidence (wearing a helmet, pad and gloves) to play a game in the parking space of the apartment. I tell him, “Hello Sachin Tendulkar.” He looks at me,  “Na aunty, Virat Kohli.”  He’s in sync with time.

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I am in a mood to buy some traditional dolls in a local market in Ahmedabad. I ask him the price, he says “Rs 200”. I remember my mother-in-law’s wise words — “Don’t be a fool. When you bargain, just reduce the price to half and then subtract Rs 20.” I try to be wise and say, “Rs 80.” He doesn’t agree but still follows me and urges me to buy. I tell him, “Why are you following me?” He walks faster and goes ahead of me. And then tells me, “Who’s following whom? Me or you?” I start laughing and then the bargaining starts again.

 

 

 

 

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Gandhi on my mind

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It has been really hectic at work. But on October 2, I took out time to visit the Sabarmati Ashram to pay my respects to Gandhiji on his birth anniversary. It was humbling to see a number of people coming there to pay homage to the ascetic soul who fought for our independence. There were some elderly people who could barely walk but they were there. They stood in silence in Hriday Kunj (pictured above) to pay their respects to Gandhiji. You could see their love for Gandhi in their eyes. Seeing that kind of love for a man who died 67 years ago is so very heart-warming.

We are living in difficult times. We are living in the times of mindless aggression, string of bans, politiciized killings and pure gloss with little substance or no substance. The unfortunate events unfolding in different parts of India disturb me a lot now. I am a Gandhi admirer and a lover of this fascinating country called India. My idea of India is diverse, tolerant, plural, colourful, crazy, tender and affectionate. Everyday, I see a bit of my India being killed now. It breaks my heart. I have been thinking of Gandhi a lot since I visited the Sabarmati Ashram. I have been thinking of our journey as a nation. I have been talking to some of my friends about Gandhi. I have been reading Gandhi. I am clinging to Gandhi like a child clings to his/her mother to protect his/her own self against a violent world.

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I sent this pic via whatsapp to my spiritual companion. The message I receive is : :

“This quote is akin to Rumi’s : one foot in the Centre while another moving in all directions of the world. The difference between Gandhi and Rumi is Gandhi prizes Hinduism while Rumi prizes Islam yet they constructed the same language and message: the language and message of heart. “

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I bought this book ‘Bapu, My Mother’ written by Manubehn Gandhi for just Rs 10 (believe it or not) during my visit to Sabarmati Ashram. Just few days back, I had bought one samosa for Rs 15. We are living in strange times. Really strange times. A samosa for Rs 15, a book for Rs 10. I shared my thought and the pic above  with my friend who now lives in UK. Our conversation was like this:

She : D, you are so right. My dad used to carry a photo of Gandhi Bapu in his wallet. Along side one of Surajbaa – his mother and Mahaprabhuji. For my father, Bapu’s simplicity and way of life were traits to follow. It has become fashionable to blame Gandhi for everything…  i understand that we may not agree with or understand everything he did or preached but am aghast that we doubt his sincerity and honesty. He never made any fortune for himself.
Me: The ones who criticize Gandhi actually haven’t even read or understood Gandhi’s philosophy.
She: i m tired of this new, uneducated, gullible  india.
Me: Please add : Aggressive and consumerist.
She: Yes, Modified. Rewrite history, rename roads. Everything ever discovered was by our ancients.

She: D, we are gone, Our country is gone. Wherever we go, we are pounced on.  All around me I see Muslim haters. In my family, in my husband’s family. India has changed.

I talked to my mother-in-law about Gandhiji. She remembers Gandhi’s death. She was a little girl then but she remembers it very vividly. She tells me on the day (January 30, 1948) of Gandhi’s death, the whole village (in Kerala) mourned. People cried as if they have lost their own father. Hardly anybody had dinner that night. They all grieved deeply and intensely Gandhi’s death.

Like I am grieving right now. Along with some of my friends. But you know, we are the new micro-minority. We are isolated souls living on the fringe of a new, aggressive, masculine, consumerist India.