Health is wealth. Who said it?

I am looking for the name of the person (read genius) who said, “Health is wealth”. For me, he/she is more important than Marx, Aristotle and Tagore. Everything pales, looks insignificant if you don’t have health. A succulent mutton biryani will taste insipid if you are not in good health.  My mother-in-law says her mother (my grand mother-in-law whom I have never met) used to always say “The best way to leave this world is while you are enjoying a meal, wearing your favourite clothes and talking to your loved ones.” I completely agree with Kalumutti’s (that’s how she’s being referred to) wise words.

I have spent a lot of time in hospitals — running around depressing corridors. I have  waited for hours in front of the doctor’s chambers holding my loved ones’ medical reports in my hand. I have walked into hospitals with tears in my eyes. I have walked out of the  the hospital’s elevator with my mother’s lifeless body on a stretcher. I dread visiting hospitals.

I feel very strongly about India’s pathetic health-care. I feel very angry about the super-expensive private hospitals that look like luxurious hotels. I feel angry about the way we are dealing with health-care making the best available only for the super rich. At the same times,  I feel super rich when I am healthy and when my loved ones are healthy. There’s no greater joy than this.

And here’s to the genius who said health is wealth.

Are tomatoes the new avocados?

tomatoes

 

Tomatoes are now selling for Rs 80 a kilo. Forget about having a tomato salad. It’s a luxury to have a simple potato curry cooked in tomato gravy. Blame it on global warming. Reports mention that the brutal heatwave affected the production of tomatoes. There’s something very serious brewing on the ecology front. The developing nations which previously thought that global warming is a problem of the rich, developed world must now wake up and act on the serious issue of global warming.

I find it surprising and shocking that none of our top political leaders, film-makers, actors, writers (Amitav Ghosh, you are really an exception) and artists are talking about it. And India’s vulgar rich people are still reveling in mindless consumption. I don’t know whether they will ever stop and spare a thought for the ecology. Will they ever celebrate the philosophy that ‘Less is actually more’? Will they ever come forward to say goodbye to the culture of waste now we see in  urban India? There’s a certain elegance in having money yet refusing to consume recklessly.

The poor, the salaried class will have a tough time in the coming days to put up a decent meal on the table. The soaring prices of vegetables are something that will create a hole in the wallet. Needless to say, tomatoes are the new avocados. The poor will try to cook up something without using tomatoes. The rich might just organize a Tomatina festival in his/her garden to celebrate a birthday/anniversary.

 

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.

My Rainbow Man

Our paths crossed (for almost 24 months) when we worked together some years ago. He had heard horrible things about me from one of his close friends who worked with us for a brief while.  She had painted me as a ‘ruthless bitch’.

It was a tough beginning for him too. But somehow he loved me for being a hard task master. He was eager to learn. I was eager to teach. In due course of time, his reservations melted away like ice cubes leaving no traces of its existence. We clicked. He had and luckily still has a wacko sense of humour. Humour works for me. But not Comedy nights with Kapil.

He left the job to move to another continent. He wrote a highly emotional three page long letter as a goodbye note. He wrote in that note that I have changed his life as a senior at work, as a human being. He wrote also a line, “It was gratifying to meet somebody who has experienced more of life than me. And till now I thought I have seen it all.” I read the note and thought to myself, “What does this 24 year old know about life? What has he seen in life?” I was arrogant about my share of experiencing life, loss, love. I was arrogant about my grey hair.

We have stayed in touch over the years. He still writes long emails to me and calls me at regular interval irrespective of the time zone. Last year, he was in India and we met for a nice meal of naan, paneer makhni and chooza chicken noorani. He has been telling me that he wanted to talk to me about something personal. I thought maybe it’s about a girl he’s dating or his career dilemma.

During the course of our dinner, he told me, “I am gay.” And he told me, “I want to live a life of truth and love.” And he chose to tell me because he knew that I wouldn’t judge him and would love him the same way as before. He talked about his whole painful struggle of coming into terms with his sexual choices and the whole turbulent path that lies before him as he comes from a very very traditional family. He talked about being ridiculed throughout his life, of going through deep pain in his personal space. I felt ashamed of thinking about “What does this 24 year old know about life? What has he seen in life?” I felt ashamed about my own arrogance, lack of compassion.

Our relationship is one of the most beautiful parts of our lives. He has given me lots of gifts. He has gifted me beautiful silver jewellery, lovely handcrafted notebooks, lots of songs carefully chosen for me and beautiful handicrafts. I haven’t given him anything material. Nothing at all.  I wanted to buy a shirt/kurta for him when we met couple of months ago.. I told him, “I haven’t given you anything.” He looked at me and said, “Mam, you  showed me how to love. The art of living life as a lover.” I had no words express.

I have been thinking of him for the last couple of days. On Tuesday, February 2, the Supreme Court will hear a curative petition on LGBT rights. It’s rare that it would be an open hearing on section 377. On Saturday night, I watched a television debate on LGBT rights and I almost cried seeing the aggression, hatred for homosexuals (by some panelists). I just wanted to hug my rainbow man and tell him, “It’s fine to be a gay. The world needs love. Just more love.”

Today morning he called me up and we spoke for almost two hours. Yes, telepathy works. Longing for someone intensely works. We talked about hatred, aggression ruling our public and personal space. We talked about Syria, Palestine, LGBT rights, dalits, women and hungry kids. It was wonderful to be on the same page. Sharing our anguish, our desire to love freely and openly.  We talked of life ahead. He told me, “Mam, I will be your budhapa ki lathi. I just want to give more of myself to people I love. I will cook for you.”

He’s the rainbow of my life.

 

Political orgasm

aap Politics fascinates me. I am addicted to politics. The ‘Sahu-Menon’ household is talking, eating and sleeping Delhi  elections for last few days. I think, hubby dear seems to be more excited than Arvind Kejriwal’s wife. He woke me up today at 6.30 in the morning to watch news (I went back to sleep after telling him that the counting will only start at 8 in the morning). It’s a happy day for me (understatement… I am toooo happy),  thanks to the magnificent landslide victory of AAP in Delhi Assembly Elections. Political orgasm … that’s how I can describe my feeling right now.  No, I am not a die-hard supporter of Arvind Kejriwal. But it’s the arrogance of the BJP and its politics of strong Hindu fundamentalism laced with dollops of anti-minority stance  that puts me off completely. I strongly believe in secularism and inclusive economic growth. The beauty of Indian democracy is that it can really spring up surprises and it shows its door to arrogance. We as a nation collectively did in 1977, 1980, 2004,2014… we have done it and we will continue to do it. I have great faith in India and its diverse canvas. Now, it is up to Arvind Kejriwal and his team to put up a show of good governance. Rhetoric(s) will not work in the long run.

On a lighter vein, politics also brings out humor in people. Here are some gems from Facebook status updates

बड़ा मन है कि श्री अमित भाई शाह के बेटे की शादी में गेट क्रैश कर उन्हें बूंदी का बड़ा लड्डू खिलाऊँ।  (BJP president Amit Shah’s son got married today,  Feb 10… so you can connect)

I cant bear the tension any more. I am going out to buy a jhadu.

So muffler-wearing now compulsory? No Saville row suits? Gosh

मफलर बिहार में छोड़ कर बहुत खुश था. नही पता था कि दिल्ली में यह एक दिन बहुत पॉपुलर हो जायेगा.

SWACHCH BHARAT AVIJAN started at Delhi,