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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A tired journo

I have an existential crisis. I am really tired of being a journalist. Not because my life revolves around deadlines and deadlines and working on days when the rest of the world is relaxing or holidaying. I am tired because every Tom, Dick, Harry has an opinion so far as my profession is concerned. I am supposedly everybody’s good friend even though I have hardly any friend (in the true sense of the term) in a city where I am living for quite some years. I am tired of going to parties where people jump at me the moment  they come to know that I am a journalist working for a leading daily. Suddenly, everybody becomes an expert in things related to media.

People don’t think twice before terming everything that appears in the newspapers as ‘shit’ and how they loathe these ‘toilet papers.’ I would have been happy if the buck stops there. But they all eventually take my mobile numbers and email id even though I hardly ask for all these details in return. I am on a minimalist drive in my life, so I am not really into forging new friendships. I know if I am doing a story, I will always manage to get the information I want.  And after being agitated about the ‘shit’ called newspapers, they all want their slice of shit. So, after 2/3 days, I eventually get phone-calls/emails asking for some coverage for them or their family-members. And they all tell me with great confidence that their story has got great potential too. Well, I don’t give my ‘expert’ comments about a cardiac surgery or building a flyover to my doctor or engineer friends. Just because one buys a newspaper that doesn’t make him/her a journalist.

And then there are issues relating ‘passes’ (read free) for attending events. In October, I was at my mom’s place in Bhubaneswar for a short break. Suddenly, my phone started ringing constantly as people wanted passes for a 10 day festival. Repeated attempts to tell people that as I am not there in Ahmedabad, I could do little to help them fell on deaf ears. People just don’t understand it. The standard answer is, “Kuch kar lo (do something). But we want the passes.”

Needless to say, I am amazed at people’s overactive imaginative power of networking. In the last 24 hours, I have got four phone-calls from Amdavadis holidaying in Goa asking me to arrange passes for the much-talked about Sunburn Festival. They all presume that as the publication ( I work for) has a Goa edition, I can easily arrange passes for them through the Goa office. I wish I were that efficient ‘jugaadu’ (networker).  I would have been much better placed in life.

There are times I just feel like surrendering my mobile phone, deactivating my mail id and just be with my old friends from school/university for whom it just doesn’t matter where I work. They love me because they love me. They call me up because they want to talk to me.