Category Archives: Indian Politics

Farewell

Kashmir… I love the sound of it. It’s my elusive lover. Four times, I have come close to Kashmir but I could never meet Kashmir. A land is like a lover, you might be ready for your lover but the lover is not ready to embrace you. There’s nothing you can do about it till it’s the time. I have my own imagination of Kashmir. Before the onset of every autumn (my favourite season), I always travel to Kashmir in my heart. Today, the whole of India is talking about Kashmir and the scrapping of Article 370. Beyond politics, there’s poetry. Agha Shahid Ali is one of my favourite poets and he was from Kashmir. He died at a young age but his poems are his legacy. He is there. Even in his absence. Here’s the poem titled Farewell by Agha Shahid Ali. 

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FAREWELL

At a certain point I lost track of you.
They make a desolation and call it peace.
when you left even the stones were buried:
the defenceless would have no weapons.

When the ibex rubs itself against the rocks,
who collects its fallen fleece from the slopes?
O Weaver whose seams perfectly vanished,
who weighs the hairs on the jeweller’s balance?
They make a desolation and call it peace.
Who is the guardian tonight of the Gates of Paradise?

My memory is again in the way of your history.
Army convoys all night like desert caravans:
In the smoking oil of dimmed headlights, time dissolved- all
winter- its crushed fennel.
We can’t ask them: Are you done with the world?

In the lake the arms of temples and mosques are locked in each other’s
reflections.

Have you soaked saffron to pour on them when they are found like this
centuries later in this country
I have stitched to your shadow?

In this country we step out with doors in our arms
Children run out with windows in their arms.
You drag it behind you in lit corridors.
if the switch is pulled you will be torn from everything.

At a certain point I lost track of you.
You needed me. You needed to perfect me.
In your absence you polished me into the Enemy.
Your history gets in the way of my memory.
I am everything you lost. You can’t forgive me.
I am everything you lost. Your perfect Enemy.
Your memory gets in the way of my memory:

I am being rowed through Paradise in a river of Hell:
Exquisite ghost, it is night.

The paddle is a heart; it breaks the porcelain waves.
It is still night. The paddle is a lotus.
I am rowed- as it withers-toward the breeze which is soft as
if it had pity on me.

If only somehow you could have been mine, what wouldn’t
have happened in the world?

I’m everything you lost. You won’t forgive me.
My memory keeps getting in the way of your history.
There is nothing to forgive.You can’t forgive me.
I hid my pain even from myself; I revealed my pain only to myself.

There is everything to forgive. You can’t forgive me.

If only somehow you could have been mine,
what would not have been possible in the world?

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India waits…

Like millions of Indians, I am waiting for the election results to be announced on May 23, 2019. I feel that rush of anxiety in my heart. I don’t think that I was this anxious even for my exam results. Human emotions are strange, actually.

It has been a bitterly fought election in 2019. Too much of mud-slinging, character assassinations and hate speeches.

Even as I am waiting for the results, in my head I am planning a nice dinner for myself irrespective of the result. Earlier in the day, I tweeted : Notes to myself: This too shall pass. #electionresults2019

Five years ago, on May 19, 2014 the then general election results were announced. It was a gruelling summer day in Ahmedabad. I was trying to make a sense of the path ahead for India (well, I  am still trying to). But at the same time, I didn’t want to be consumed by the political climate. I had ordered a plate of biryani and caramel custard just to feel better.

Let us see how India swings.

 

Marx on my mind

On May 5, 2018 — the world celebrated Karl Marx’s 200 birth anniversary. So, in simple terms, if Marx would have been alive, he would have turned 200. As an alumni of JNU, I have had the privilege of knowing some Marxists from a close distance. My spiritual/intellectual companion (so also my helpline number ) lived a substantial part of his young adult life working tirelessly and dreaming endlessly of bringing a revolution in this country. With a deep laugh, I say to him now, “I am the biggest victim of Marxism.”

MARX

 

On May 5,  I messaged him, “Comrade, Happy birthday to Marx. Woh nehin hote toh aap bhi nehin hote. (If Marx would not have been there… you would not have been here).

He answered, “Yes, let’s celebrate. Ideas never die, they just travel.”

Being in an organic, instinctive relationship for more than two decades, I knew he would call up after this. So, when he called up, I just picked up the call and blurted out, “Yes Comrade.” We then got into ruminating about his days of being a ‘Comrade.’ Once upon a time.

His humble room was like an open house with almost no concept of lock and key. Even if it was locked by chance, the key was kept there on the top of the door ledge. So, at best the lock did what the traffic lights in most two-tier cities in India do, advisory function. As the room did have floor sleeping arrangement (sorry if you are thinking of Japanese aesthetics or tatami mats), it gave enough space for the innumerable visiting comrades to lounge and brood over petty bourgeois. The room at any given time had more than four people.

And just because it was open that didn’t mean that my ‘comrade‘ was in the room. He could be anywhere but his room was 24X7 open for fellow comrades from different parts of the country. Nobody other than these comrades understood ‘atithi devo bhav’ (The guests are like Gods) better.

There was one occasion when I and another friend of mine had gone to his room late in the night to look for our ‘missing’ comrade. The room was open and dark. And we found four/five people sleeping on the floor. In our polite middle-class ways, we kept on telling, “Hello, Hello, Excuse Me.” But there was no response for almost 10 minutes. And then out of sheer frustration and anger,  my friend shouted, “Comrade, comrade..”  It worked like magic and suddenly one of them got up and told us, “We have no idea where’s he. As the room was open, we came and slept.”

There was no concept of personal possession in this world of Marx. Everything was collective. So the shirt bought for this comrade of mine changed hands in less than 48 hours. My blood pressure shot up to 500/200 when I saw another lanky comrade wearing the shirt.  These young revolutionaries lived in their own world. So no wonder then when I made coffee for them, after gulping cups of it, one of them (the brightest among them) said, “Waike hi aap chai bahut accha banate ho.” (You really make tea very well).  I wish I had an AK 47 with me.

There are many ‘comrade legends’ from Odisha I have grown up listening to. One such legend is about a communist-cum-academician riding a bicycle in his own marriage procession. The whole village gathered to see this unique bridegroom on a bicycle as even poor families go extra mile to hire a car for the marriage procession. And after his marriage, he insisted his new bride and now fellow comrade should come with him on his bicycle. His spirited bride went to her new home sitting on his bicycle. Well, this was followed by the bride’s mother weeping inconsolably and howling, “Why did I choose this rakhash (monster) for my daughter?” However, the silver lining was that the comrade bridegroom didn’t take a single item/penny as dowry.

In the neon-lit streets of India where now dreams and material desires are always engaged in a foreplay, the comrades are  a vanishing tribe. But these are also the times of jarring economic inequality. Then when suddenly you look back and you actually look at the comrades with a sense of tenderness. The beauty of being a comrade. When you are young, you dream of the impossible. There are no limits to possibilities. I have always admired them for that vision of a larger world. I may not agree with them but it always warms the cockles of my heart when I look back and remember many bright young minds looking beyond their comfort zone and dreaming of a classless world.

So, here’s to a belated Happy Birthday to Karl Marx.

Right to Privacy

The Supreme Court of India in a landmark judgement on August 24, 2017 unanimously declared that  individual privacy is a “guaranteed fundamental right.” I danced in joy when I first read this as a ‘breaking news alert’ on my mobile phone.  It’s a historic judgement and I am really excitedly looking forward to see its ramifications.

In between joy and excitement,  I thought of this conversation I had with my Punjabi co-passenger during a train journey from Manmad to Jalgaon.

She: Where did you stay?
Me: Name of the hotel
She: How much you paid?
Me: The amount
She: Tax vax to hoga ji (there will be some tax amount too)
Me: The amount
She: How did you go to Shani Signapur (A place in Maharashtra, famous for its Shani Temple) ?
Me: Taxi
She: How much you paid?
Me: The amount
She: Indica? AC
Me: Swift?
She: Bhaisaab hai na (meaning my husband)
Me: Haanji
She: How many years have you been married?
Me: Years
She: Family. shamily
Me : Planning (BIG LIE)

And then the icing on the cake of right to privacy

She: I am very good at it

Me: Meaning

She: On teaching how to have babies

Me: Wow. Good for you.

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.

 

 

 

 

India and its privileged class

Most of India is standing. Standing in serpentine queues in front of banks. Even before the banks have opened their doors, people are standing in queues. All conversations are revolving around Rs 500/Rs 1000.. And then there are some well-fed, well-oiled, net-savvy Indians who genuinely believe that their story is the only story of this vast, diverse country. If I remember correctly, more than 60% of Indians don’t have bank accounts. Yet, there are privileged urban Indians who talk like this:

Why can’t people just use paytm?

(Hello, please make sure that your domestic help, vegetable vendor, garbage collector have access to paytm. It’s like Queen Marie telling ‘let them eat cake.’ )

I commute to work by uber. I have no problem in paying as the money gets automatically deducted from my net wallet.

(Thank you very much for sharing this STATE SECRET)

I just ordered some designer outfits online using my net-banking.

(You definitely deserve a Nobel prize for peace for this extraordinary charity act of yours.)

India should be just cashless. America is so cool in this case.

(Yes, my dear, thanks for having such a wonderful realistic vision of Indian society.)

All my friends are all net-savvy people.

(Yes, your friends are God’s gift to this ancient land called India).

To a large extent, privileges make most people blind. The challenge is to open your eyes and see life and people around you.

The tragedy of India is that one half has no idea of how the other half is living.

Of JNU, Emptiness and Azadi

(Yes, I love JNU. If I have to choose something that changed my life and changed the way I see life around me, then it has to be JNU. There’s a JNU in the way I see/love India, its rich diversity, pluralism. There’s a JNU in the way I listen to music, the food I eat and relish, the films I love watching, the way I love people of this land and the way I feel for India’s marginalized communities.  

No, I am not a card holding member of any Communist party. I never was one and will never be one.  I cherish the dreams and imagination of a free, diverse, egalitarian, liberal India. I will fight for your right to say though I might not agree with what you say. And yes, I pay my taxes.  I also enjoy my Macbook Air and I start my day with a cup of Earl Grey tea.)  

‘I am feeling so empty,” I told over phone to my friend who lives in Dubai.  I have never felt so empty before. For the last 2O odd days, I have led a life marked by deep anguish, emptiness and pain. I tried earlier to pen my thoughts but I just couldn’t. Today, I sit down, look back and make a note of myriad thoughts that crossed my mind in the last few weeks. Sometimes at the break of dawn, sometimes in the darkness of night. I am using the symbol of hashtags to express myself because we now live in the ‘banal’ times of hashtags.

#  It was a February late night when before sleeping, I scrolled down the notifications on my Facebook .  I came across a post from a friend (ironically she lives in Nagpur) which mentioned #shutdownjnu. I was too tired to delve into the details. I left it there to sleep.

#  After  JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on charges of sedition, I listened to his speech to understand what he spoke. Yes, he ripped apart the BJP-RSS politics in that speech but I didn’t find it at all anti-national. And being a student activist in JNU in the 90s, I have heard far more scathing speeches. I loved that line in Kanhaiya’s speech, “What are universities for? To critically challenge, the society’s ‘common conscience.” Yes, we need universities to encourage a society to think, question and dissect. A nation is not made of computers, smart phones or tablets. A nation is made of men, women and children who think, imagine, love, debate, discuss. There’s no uniform software.

# Just a day after his arrest, the onslaught of hate speeches on social media happened. Prime Time TV studios felt like war zones. The talks of JNU students being ‘prostitutes/call girls/anti-nationals’ dominated the public space. I put a post on my Facebook timeline celebrating the ethos of JNU and an idea called India. The so-called ‘friends’ came up with choicest abuses. They showed the ugly face of aggression through their comments, personal messages.

# As a social sciences student, I am really curious to understand how do these people harbor so much of hatred, venom, violence within themselves. How do they live, work, sleep and raise children with so much of aggression, violence wthin them?  Yes, they have this AK 47 called Facebook and Twitter accounts and they think they can engage in mindless violence without rhyme or reason.

#   What’s nation? What’s the Idea of India? What’s imagination of a nation? Can a nation exist without imagination? Who makes a nation? These are the questions that have always fascinated me. Where does my cook who can’t now afford a bowl of her favourite Gujarati khatti mithi dal (Thanks to arhar dal being so expensive) figure in this idea of nation?  What about the rivers, forests, mountains and valleys that make this nation so beautiful and the way we are abusing them, destroying them in the name of development?  And who will decide what’s nationalism? Who will define how Indian am I? Will the central government (whether it’s a BJP/Congress/any coalition) decide what is nationalism? Will these governments put a stamp on my love and idea of my nation?

#  How will we thrive as a nation, as a society if our young minds are not engaged in debate/discussion? Why are we so scared of young minds? How will we arrive as a society if our young minds don’t think out of the box? Why are we scared of dream catchers, rebels, thinkers, philosophers, poets, artists? Aren’t ideas/cultures/narratives all about evolving? Where does critical thinking figure in our political/social/cultural narratives? Who are these people who are jumping into conclusions without even discussing?

#   I am not even talking about doctored videos, fake voices. I am not talking about somebody offering Rs 5 lakh for cutting off Kanhaiya’s tongue? Or posters offering Rs 11 lakh to anybody who will shoot Kanhaiya. And who were these masked people shouting slogans in JNU? Why can’t our state machinery/apparatus put a face and name to them?

#  Three of my close friends have lived a life of ‘the other’ in this country. My soul sister is from Manipur and she lived in Delhi for more than 15 years. All through her Delhi years, she was seen as a ‘Nepali’. But never as an Indian. House owners in mainstream India shut doors on her face when she went to pay the deposit money because they couldn’t possibly give the house on rent to a Chinese/Nepali/Chinky. Her face became her greatest enemy. She became ‘the other’ in her own country.  My friend ‘M’ is a Kashmiri Pandit who has lost her home in the valley. She mourns the loss of her beautiful land which now hides behind a veil of pain, anguish. Her voice chokes when she talks of her Kashmir yet she says she feels a sense of joy and warmth when she meets an elderly Kashmiri Muslim woman in a phiran in Delhi. She says time has stood still for her as she can’t connect with today’s Kashmir. Another close friend who’s a Muslim feels like an outsider in the land he loves dearly and warmly. His young daughter was traumatized for days when she was called a ‘Pakistani’ in the school.  I can’t understand urban India’s obsession with Pakistan. Pakistan is not my benchmark so far as the ethos and imagination of a nation is considered. I am sure many will agree with me.  Why should I celebrate a monolithic nation?  India with its vibrant democracy, multi-culturalism, diversity is closest to my heart.

#  Post his release on conditional bail, Kanhaiya Kumar became a prime-time hero thanks to his earthy, fiery, witty speech.  His speech appeared as front page lead in many newspapers. In the times of 24×7 channels and social media, he suddenly became the flavor of the day. ‘Azadi’ became the word of the season. For some, spring suddenly felt more enticing, more young, more beautiful. Was his speech a ground-breaking one which would go down in history?  I will suggest restraint. Let us not go overboard. As a student of JNU (in the 90s), I have heard equally soul-stirring, fiery, political speeches by young student leaders. There were no 24×7 channel television then to beam those speeches across the nation. There were no twitter trending hashtags then. Let us not become a desperate nation looking for momentary heroes or anti-heroes. Let us look at the larger canvas of nation building. Let us think of a nation that gives a fabulous world class education and medical facilities to its poor and marginalized. I liked it when Kanhaiya said in one of his TV interviews, “Speeches alone don’t make for political leadership.” The struggle has to go on. And the toughness of the struggle ahead will decide who is what.  The struggle ahead will separate the wheat from the chaff.

Let truth prevail. Let our young and old minds celebrate ‘azadi’.  Let the young think, imagine, feel and work for those who still can’t afford to study in this beautiful institute of learning in the last range of Arravalis.