Friday, August 31, 2012
(An attempt at a 55-word's only fiction genre)
Wait For It
He wanted to die,
He climbed the highest mountains,
He swam the widest oceans,
He fought with the wildest animals,
He even tried to starve himself to death,
But he didn’t die.
And then he found a bag of money,
Abandoned on the road,
Happy at last,
And a lorry hit him,
And he died.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Have you ever met a real full time politician? How many of us have had that unforgettable experience, I wonder? And no, this question is not for any mera dil hai hindustani, magar jeena hai amrika types who might have met American politicians and have a wholesome view of politics. This question is for full time Indian citizens. Have you ever met a full time Indian politician? If you are that lucky, you might have noticed that when and if you introduced yourself as so and so, he/she might have introduced himself (I am going with the predominant type here, excuse ladies) as a FULL TIME politician. If you are still wondering about it, there is no other type. Politics in India is a full time job, it requires a full time commitment to do it. Ratan Tata might run the entire Tata Group of Companies and still find time to think about the Nano project, Nilekani might have his hand in every pie from UID to Infosys. But our poor overworked politicians do not find time for anything else, even hobbies (unless that involves some games with women aspirants for tickets/seats).
Anyhow this fact was brought home to me by my various trips down south into the countryside. As I have previously mentioned, part of my job, involves traveling around the country, into godforsaken rural places even, participating in health care camps. But wherever I go, however remote the hamlet, I find/see a few men, clad in the obligatory, party color bordered dirty dhoti, lounging around in their pyols (or rope-beds)outside their huts, all day, from morning to night, without getting up for anything at all, unless to attend nature's call. They are willingly and voluntarily served by their womenfolk who seem to be so proud of them and these women often run themselves ragged doing all sorts of harsh manual work, just to wait hand and foot on their lords and masters.
If out of curiosity you approach them and start a conversation on whether they are sick somehow and that prevents them from getting up and doing an honest days work, the answer comes straight and fast “I am in Arasiyal aka politics, I am a Full time Politician, a political worker and I work only during the one month time that the elections are announced, the rest of the time I have no work to do, so I take it easy”
Well, for someone who lives in the city and works hard to make both ends meet -this might feel a strange sort of life to lead, this lack of drive and ambition to make themselves better, this wasting away of life just to work one month every five years, so if you question them closely how they manage to make both ends meet when it is not election time, the answer is enlightening “Why should we work? Why should we worry? The benevolent govt provides us everything, from free rice, to free spice, to free gas, to free electricity, to free television, to free fan, to free mixer and grinder and everything. Besides the food provided for free is more than what we can earn even if we work, so why should we get out of the bed?”
What is more surprising is to see the poor lady of the house who somehow despite all these freebies, seems to have plenty of work to do all the time, agree with her lord and master that, there is no more need to work anymore, the govt has improved everything in their lives so much, that people can now all relax, except to go to the ration shop once a month, to collect what's due to them. The rest of the time is for watching TV at home.
So then you quiz them about the future. What they would leave as a legacy for the dozen kids playing in the dirt around them. The answer is quickly forthcoming “Wait till the elections come. Once my work is recognized by the higher authorities, the more senior politicians like the district-in charge of the party (mavatta seyalalar) or the local MLA, and I am offered some substantial party post, then I will earn in lakhs and lakhs, more than our tahsildar or collector has earned till now (both these posts still being the benchmark for earning illegally). Every little thing in our village, every single signature in a document for our village will have to go through me, only then our MLA and Minister will sign, otherwise they will throw all the documents in the dustbin and ask them to come see me first before going up the ladder. And then will come my turn to earn. And my children will go around in giant cars.”
After this honest admission, you can only wish them luck with their future career plans and walk away, for who knows it might come true one day. This is not an isolated incident, but seen in village after village after village, everywhere in the rural part of India, the real India, the village India of which Gandhi used to speak about in such glowing terms; about how hard working all those village folks are compared to city folks.
And this kind of full time rural political workers are increasing every time you return for a visit. Now there are more and more people, sometimes even up to half the male population of some villages who are now opting for a full time political career, forsaking other jobs, because the number of political parties are proliferating and everyone wants their own representatives to work for them during the one month of the election time and don’t mind throwing money around- money usually got from the city folks who pay it as fee's for their children's education in private engineering and medical colleges and rotated back into the rural economy. So according to Gandhi's vision, our villages are indeed prospering.
Not that our cities are lacking behind or anything. But city politicians have a much harder time flourishing financially, compared to rural politicians. For example, in villages you just have to lie at home and people come to you to give you money to spend. On the contrary, the hard working city politicians- for example the city corporation councilors make it a point to go out into the streets, walking every street daily, to check out the improvements in their constituencies daily. Of course, this improvement is of no thanks to them, but merely hard working citizens who make the mistake of starting any construction or alteration to their properties (build even a small balcony and see how fast they turn up) and immediately the councilor is assured of his household expenses for the month.
The good govt has in its zeal to empower the local citizens with their version of direct democracy (panchyati raj/local govt bills), has ceded so much power to the guardians of the streets, these street walking vigilantes, who keep our streets clean of any construction activities forcing property owners to think a hundred times before even whitewashing/painting their houses, in order not to attract any adverse attention from the ever vigilant servants of the people.
The most hilarious story of this kind, I heard recently was about this house owner with a large house opposite a park, straddling two streets at an intersection. When a local people’s representative approached him with an offer to buy the property himself, the house owner refused, saying the property was worth much, much more than the politician offered.
So the next day a group of women from the local (nearby slum) descended upon the house and right in front of the main gate (in the junction of the two streets), they dug up a black stone, which looked like having been buried in a shallow pit dug the previous night and then these women declared that the black stone, was the avatar of the local Mariamman, Goddess Shakti, who has spontaneously manifested herself there (Swayambhu) and immediately a priest was found, a shamiana erected and a temple to the deity raised in a couple of hours right in front of the gates.
The house owner before he realized what happened was caught inside the house unable to open the gate on one side for fear of destroying the local temple with so many believers and all. When the house owner finally went to court for encroachment, the learned court refused to order removal of the black stone, aka the divine deity for fear of offending peoples religious sentiments and the property was sealed (on a stay order) never to be sold again. Loss to house owner- 5 crores, loss to politician- 5 thousand rupees (for the local women). Now you tell me whether our politicians are a hard working lot or not?
P.S. For those of you who think I am pretty hard on politicians and not hard enough on their partners in crime, the bureaucrats, let me share this anecdote, I happened to overhear at a recent visit to the seat of power, the state secretariat. A group of bureaucrats were sitting together gossiping and this is what was said “i wish another tsunami would come before I retire at least. Last time it came I was in too junior a post and I could only watch all my seniors earn for so many generations from the tsunami. Just my luck that nothing is coming now when I am here. If only another tsunami comes I would retire happily”. And I leave you with this cheerful thought.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Continuing with my series of human interest stories about real world inspirations I meet in the most unlikely of places. This time it’s about a young and dedicated wildlife conservationist working on preserving the fast disappearing wetlands of Chennai for migratory birds to come every year in their migratory cycle- a topic I was not aware much of, until I learned about it from the person seated next to me, a few days ago.
I met this young person recently at a public event where everyone was discussing about their hobbies and spending their spare time usefully, and then, when the talk came around to birds, I was my usual wise-cracking self and went on to describe to the company present my adventures in sampling the various varieties of birds hunted and cooked by the Narikuruvas of the Pallikarani marshlands, near Adyar. The swamps of Palikaranai- before a certain to-be-unnamed politician decided to “develop” Velachery- was an outdoor lover’s paradise- in the late 90's- with marshes and lake and teeming with varieties of wildlife and so near to the city too, perfect for a sudden and impulsive day trip with buddies.
Many's the time, me and a few friends from Guru Nanak college- my school buddies- have traipsed around on a full day picnic of the marshes, with homemade poles to catch fish, spending an entire day just fishing and swapping stories, until we caught at least one or two and then we would take them to the Narikuruvas (the Gypsies) who lived on the marshes in tents on the fringes of the dry lands and embankments and who still hunt with priceless old match-lock rifles and are sharp-shooters too and these gypsies would then clean, gut and fry the fish for us. Of course, they also had a stock of their own catch ready to taste- including, to my great regret (now in my old age) Siberian Storks, Wild Geese and turtles. But the thought of experimenting with culinary adventures tempted and got over any inhibitory complexes and I have tasted them at least once just to see how they are.
I was blithely sharing this story around when I happened to glance over at my neighbor’s face which showed an absolute “O” with horror at me. Intrigued by her reaction, I got her to slowly share the reason for the disgust on her face at me and then she told me all about her work. But before that a little something about her background first.
Ms.G as she is known, has been a total animal person from her childhood- something which she attributes to her dad. Although she wanted to do Veterinary Medicine, she ended up doing Zoology with plans of working with conservation groups and wildlife enthusiasts. But practicality and family sentiment won, and she ended up doing business administration, after which she landed into an IT firm. And there her dreams should have died, like so many others dreams do.
But she was made of sterner stuff- she dint let the long work hours, exhausting commute and the lack of support from others stop her. She volunteered with all sorts of wildlife groups and NGO's trying to do her little mite for our speechless cousins. She enjoys the little pleasures that wildlife offers, She travels to Vedanthangal, Pallikarnai and Pulicat to spot/ identify/gaze at the migrant birds. She works with Blue Cross for the cause of abandoned animals that need shelters.
And all of this had been done anonymously, without any self publicity or advertising. She was even reluctant to share her story with me. But hey, you know me; I have a way of making people comfortable enough to talk their life stories with me. And so I ended up hearing from her, all her dreams about looking forward to someday dedicating herself full-time to bird conservation and research about migratory birds in wetlands
And this was the person, I was telling stories from my past about tasting rare birds. Consider the pickle I was in. So, instantly adapting to the changed circumstances, I told her I am now a reformed ex-rare bird eater and would gladly join any new nature trek their group organizes in the near future. What better way to exculpate past sins? And I vowed to henceforth look at bird for their plumage and beauty and not to wonder how they would taste, properly prepared. Anyway, the point of this post is not my culinary tastes and exotic dishes I have tasted in the past. It’s about what a privileged life I (And a lot of us) lead daily without giving anything back to anyone while people who have the heart to do so, transcend their circumstances to help in ways we can’t even think of.
I am especially impressed with Ms.G's mother for being so supportive of her interests and standing by her. Most single mothers would actively discourage their children from pursuing any passion which is not strictly mainstream. And it is even worse when it comes to unmarried girls, because the mothers (rightly or wrongly?) consider their girls as a burden which must be passed off to the right person at the first opportunity available- the first suitable alliance which turns up. But here the mother trusts her daughter to pursue her own interests without piling any additional pressure on her to get married soon. An exemplary, supportive and understanding mother.
And what can I say about my friend herself? She truly is an inspiration to lazy bums everywhere, who with no fixed ambition, drift around taking life as it comes philosophically. There is no great big cause, no driving force behind most youth of today, beyond personal ambition. They have not yet paid their dues to society or to this earth for sustaining them all these years without demanding anything back. Its only when you meet people like this- who are silent achievers in their own sphere, you realize that there is so much more everyone, including yours truly, can do too, if only you want to. Mere online ranting, is not enough, it’s the real world doing that counts. Go out and do something, anything, contribute your mite to mama earth. It’s your planet too.
So, here’s to wishing Ms.G that she becomes the Salim Ali of our generation. Salut.
(P.S. And in addition to all her social obligations, she finds the time to blog too. The link to her blog is http://rhapsodic-xana.blogspot.in )
Monday, August 27, 2012
Have you heard the one about the best laid plans of mice and men? Yeah! That one. Well, it happened to me this Sunday. Last week had been a hectic one for me work wise and all I had been looking forward to on Sunday was to sleep long and sleep late and I had left strict instructions with my mother not to wake me up till ten in the morning on Sunday as I intended to sleep in till breakfast. My friends from Kilpauk (those who I call my “area” friends) had called me up on Saturday night proposing a road trip to Konai falls. But I had just returned from a food walk covering the entire Mint Street and naturally, I wasn’t too anxious to go on another trip again the very next day. Besides I knew from past experience how these trips went. One day with MadMax Manoj and the gang and I would need a week to recover from the aftereffects. These guys never did anything in half measures, when it came to enjoying, they enjoyed full time. So I was reasonably sure when I went to sleep that I had made the right decision in turning down the trip. I didn’t realize that Saturday night, how wrong I was.
So, imagine my surprise, when my mom shook me awake at around 7 in the morning on Sunday and tells me “Manoj is here waiting for you in the hall”. Is that the kind of shock you give to someone who is half awake? Barely had my mom finished her words when the Madmax himself waltzed into my room to convince me to go on the trip. Well, you have to say this about Manoj, he can be very convincing when he wants to be. So I got up, got dressed and in half an hour was packed and ready to go. That packed stuff? An extra pair of boxer shorts and my passport, for when you got out with Manoj you can never be sure where you will end up before returning. Carrying a passport helps in emergencies; to cross back national borders you might end up the wrong side of. He organizes that kind of get-togethers, the kind which will bleach the hairs of any fainthearted.
Once in the car, after meeting and greeting the old gang, Prakash, Bala and Arun, we decided to let Manoj do the driving, because that’s the only way to irritate bala, who thinks he is the best driver of us all. Having someone else drive, drives Bala nuts. And the trip was off to a fine start. We took the old Tirupati high road route past Vilivakkam, Tiruvalur, Sulurpet and Tada to head towards Konai falls. It was drizzling outside and we hoped that it was a local thing, climbing up those hill paths, up the slippery slopes, after the rains would be pretty dicey. Meanwhile, the curse of modern technology caught up with us and everyone started checking their mobile phones for mails and chats and updates. Prakash it was, who first discovered that the Sunday was supposed to be “National topless Day” and immediately the crazy dude suggested we all take off our shirts to show solidarity and go on in just the under vests. I begged, literally begged them to postpone this decision, till at least we crossed the city limits, for once on the highway no one would mind whatever these shameless guys did. I didn’t want to be caught by the traffic police in a car full of half-naked crazy guys. Beside these dudes were all long past their youth, they were now middle aged men, with paunches and not a pretty sight topless.
Meanwhile Bala was having a hot and bothersome fight with his ex. He had spent a long time staring over into my mobile phone while I had replied to a few FB notifications. So in revenge I happened to peek, accidentally, over into his chat messaging with his ex-girlfriend. And this is what I saw (true story): “you don’t intimate me anymore” Bala was sending. I couldn’t help falling and rolling over in laughter. I tweeted to him (for better effect than saying it out loud)- “Yeah dude. She doesn’t Intimate you. That’s why she is your ex. But she sure as hell, Intimidates you- making you commit spelling mistakes even when you chat.” He turned and frowned at me and then shut off his mobile for the rest of the journey.
We finally reached the Tada hills around two and a half hours later (stopped for breakfast along the way) and then to our surprise found some new improvements. The way unto the falls had steps constructed unlike the last time we had been there. The old path, which ran straight unto the top of the hill, still ran beside the steps, which were built only up to the falls. So we climbed up the steps to the falls. Halfway up, we saw a group of locals standing around in the path and pointing to something. When we stopped to look too, we saw two figures hurrying on up the steep hill slope, way past the falls and they seemed to be heading for the top of the peak. It was still drizzling a little, so we couldn’t make them out clearly, but one of them seemed to be a little way in the front, while the other was rushing behind as if to catch up. When we asked the people there they said that the one in the front was someone who had experienced a love failure and was now rushing up to the peak to commit suicide, while the second one was his friend hurrying behind to stop him. Seriously, do people nowadays commit suicide for love failures? I had thought that kind of true love had long disappeared. This news kind of sobered our party mood and we went up the rest of the way to the falls, debating the pros and cons of love failure.
Well anyway, when we reached the falls and stripped, the mood lifted again and we spent a glorious two hours bathing and playing under the falls, which was thankfully not much crowded, despite being a Sunday because it was raining?. We left reluctantly after having had a fun get-together after such a long time. And once we got down to the foot of the hill, we stopped to have a tender coconut. The coconut seller told us that it was customary for people who bathed at the falls to visit the local Devi Temple. So, we decided to follow local customs and went on to the temple situated just behind the falls. Just before the entrance to the temple we saw the ground was full of puddles of red Sindoor water (Kumkum as it is known locally) which is commonly given as an offering to any Goddess (Amman) temple in South India. It was only when we entered the temple and glanced around to see a severed goats head staring at us and people doing pooja with the offering, that we realized that what we took for Sindoor-Water was actually blood from the goat sacrifice. And I thought such customs had been long wiped out in our temples.
After hurriedly worshipping there, we took the road back to madras, as we were all extremely hungry by then and wanted to find some good hotel to have lunch. We finally found one near Periapalyam and after lunch, Bala got his chance to drive at last. He drove us back to Chennai and dropped me off at home. Just as we split up, we promised each other that we should do this more often, seeing how much we enjoyed this and all, but you know what? These kinds of road trips never happen with much planning. As Manoj said, the best trips are the spontaneous ones. He can say that authoritatively- because he never stays in one company for long unlike the rest of us- he is too spontaneous even in going to work.
(P.S. I have left out a lot of the interesting conversational bits and a few truly wacky stunts the guys pulled during the trip, because this blog is intended for general public viewing. And that’s why I haven’t put any photos too, for who wants to see paunchy, middle- aged dudes, bathing topless? Until my friends develop bodies like Hrithik Roshan, I am not putting their photos on my blog)