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.

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A romance called Indian Railways

Indian Railways

(This beautiful picture is from Flicker… (BY Ujjawal). This post celebrates 162 years of Indian Railways)

Last July, I was on a flight from Ahmedabad to Bengaluru on a budget airlines. I had ordered a cup of coffee to kill my boredom. Seeing me sipping the frothy coffee, my co-passenger (with whom I had not even shared a hello) asked me, “Why don’t you have a samosa which I am carrying with me?” I politely declined. But the immediate thought that came to mind was, “Oh, it seems like a scene straight from the Indian Railways.”

There’s always something alluring about Indian railways.Strangers become friends in a matter of few minutes. ‘Adjust, just adjust’ becomes the vocabulary. Adjust your luggage, adjust the passengers who are travelling without reservation. Life needs to be lived on an ‘adjust’ mode. Food like love becomes a bonding factor.’No’ for an answer when food being offered is not even entertained. Is everything about Indian railways so intimate, colourful, vibrant, full of life? The obvious answer is NO. But you know, life need not be an Oscar award winning movie. There’s beauty in imperfections too.

When Indian Railways turned 160 years, Google, the uber cool search engine paid a tribute to the Grand Old Lady of India by doing the doodle (well, pardon me for giving a gender to the railways) of a steam train curling around a palm-flanked setting. The world needs to celebrate this even when you are not a part of it.

I grew up in small town India with an awe-inspiring fascination for Indian Railways. My earlier memories of a train was in a train called Konark Express (from Bhubaneswar to Secunderabad). As a child, I used to find it fascinating that the train’s name used to change to Minar Express even as it chugged along tracks from Secunderabad to Bombay (Changing names of cities was not politically fashionable then). As I saw in front of my little bewildered eyes, Konark Express becoming Minar in just a matter of few hours, I thought of having two names for myself. Years later, I created an e-mail id in another name just for the memory of a journey with beautiful memories.

Built by the British Empire in order to open up and facilitate commerce, and link the people of this vast country, the railways changed the lives of Indians, making travel much easier and connecting the north, south, east, west of this fascinating country. And in the last 160+ years, the railways have given a whole new meaning to the word ‘metamorphosis.’  If you have the money, you can savour a delicious slice of a royal life in the luxury laced ‘Palace on wheels’ and if you want to soak in the lingering beauty of the mountains and probably wanting to pick up some wild flowers, then hop on to a toy train in the Nilgiris.

On many occasions, when my mind draws blank, I turn to the Indian Railways for taking that  journey of fancy. On such a fancy flight, I found myself discovering the Vivek Express, from Dibrugarh to Kanyakumari which is the longest route on the Indian Railways network, in terms of distance and time, and the 9th longest in the world. Imagine 82hours 15m with a mind-blowing 56 halts. (Doesn’t it sound exciting).

To travel in the trains in India is to experience a slice of life. Where else would  you experience the landscape changing colours probably every 200 kilometres, voices whispering different dialects with equal speed and the platter of India taking a roller coaster ride. From puri aloo at Kharagpur, oranges at Nagpur, guavas at Allahabad to mango jelly at Moghul Sarai, the variety is unbelievable and irresistible. A meal which is neither gourmet nor exclusive. Yet gives a sense of fulfillment.

The times are changing. The budget airlines have taken over the travel itinerary of India’s vast number of middle class souls. The Railways as per the government statistics is going through heavy losses. The mineral water bottles now have taken over the old world jugs which used to be filled at stations earlier. Yes, now people are hooked on to their mobiles. Listening to songs, playing games or just messaging even as the train chugs along in a languid fashion. But still then it’s yet to become as cold as a flight journey where it’s impolite to strike a personal conversation.

In the autumn of 2013, I took a train from Delhi to Ahmedabad in the Rajdhani express and I had refused dinner which was complimentary. In the morning when I made valiant efforts to climb down from my upper berth, my co-passenger asked me, “Why did not you eat your dinner last night? It’s not nice to skip your dinner.” For a moment, I basked in the glory of that warmth. I couldn’t help but think of a long harrowing flight journey I took (from Ahmedabad to Bhubaneswar) after my dad passed away. I didn’t touch a glass of water throughout the long flight and nobody really noticed it. I was alone in my grief even though I was sharing a middle seat in a row.

Strange as it might sound, for years I have nurtured this desire to travel across the country in an AC first class coupe (I have never travelled in one) with the man of my life. This is one romantic journey I have always held close to my heart. Even post budget airlines.

PS : The steam engines might be a thing of the past in the tomorrows to come. But I hope, as the train chugs along the lush green fields, swaying trees, little houses unfolding dreams within their four walls,  there will be a middle aged man reading a Hindi novel called ‘Maine maili ho gayi (I’ve become impure) and there will be always a smiling woman/man offering you some home-cooked food in a train compartment moving in a zig zag way and thereby bringing you smells of home. Even if home is far far away.

Low-cost happiness

When I booked my Bangkok ticket for Rs 48,000 in October 2014, my friends got into a collective mourning phase. So, for almost two weeks, they kept on telling me , “Oh, for this amount (and a little more), you could have gone to Istanbul, London, Paris…” Their never-ending list covered almost all parts of the globe other than Antarctica (that was really generous). And in typical Indian way, they never forgot to add, “This money is too much for Bangkok. You got a really bad deal.” Well, the Bangkok trip was done only to make my very close friend happy as she wanted to spend her birthday with me in a third destination. I am an old soul who doesn’t believe in always calculating, adding and subtracting in life.

But my friends’ constant talk of my Bangkok ticket did something to my psyche. So one of my bucket lists for 2015 was to experience joy, happiness at low cost. So, I chose to go to Jaipur to be a part of the much-talked about literature festival. And I decided to make it a low cost one. The natural choice was to go by the Indian Railways. I am challenged in many spheres of life (the list will be longer than UPA government’s scam lists).  With great difficulty, I opened an IRCTC account but I could never log in as it kept on telling wrong password (The password was a combination of my name and my ex love’s name. May be the Indian Railways found that it’s not ‘ethical’ for a married woman to have such a password).

But then there are always somebody or the other to come to my rescue. So, by the grace of the universe,  one of my colleagues offered to book my ticket from his account.  When he asked, “A two-tier AC ticket?” I said “No, no…book it in three-tier AC (I wanted to go slow on every penny).” The hotel in Jaipur where I stayed was definitely a drool-worthy deal. It’s a nice small heritage property (however, In Jaipur/ Udaipur, it’s very difficult to find a non-heritage property (every hotel’s name ends with ‘palace’ and this was no different). The highly involved owners of the ‘palace’ hotel make sure that it’s well-maintained. The only drawback is that they don’t serve non-vegetarian food. So, I missed having an omelette in the breakfast. But it was a small price to pay for a wonderful deal.

The organisers of Jaipur Literature Festival definitely deserve a toast for keeping it free. So, for four days I got to listen to writers/thinkers/philosophers/scientists from across the world on a variety of subjects without spending a penny. There can be no greater happiness than reveling in knowledge.

When you are in the Pink City, it’s natural to indulge in some shopping. I have a put an embargo on buying clothes. So, I bought a beautiful bed-cover, bangles for myself and my cook and ear-rings for my cook’s daughter who also works at my home. The shopping sojourn deserves another post which will give a slice of life in India.

I came back to Ahmedabad as a much happier person with loads of stories from the lanes and bylanes of the Pink City and of course from Diggi Palace (the venue of the Litfest). And all this did not cost me much. Who says happiness needs to have a big price tag?