Wednesday, October 25, 2006

To Sorrow

I am grateful to the sorrows
Like the green grass after rain,
They spring up from nowhere
And add colour to my life.

I am grateful to the sorrows
Which bunch up like old friends,
Uninvited, uncalled
And thoroughly help themselves...

I am grateful to the sorrows
Which complete the jigsaw of my life
By placing themselves piece by piece
Exactly wherein they fit.

I am grateful to my sorrows
For when they are gone
My happiness is sweeter;
And smile, a wise smile.

I am grateful to the sorrows,
To their benevolent teachings
For without them, how would I appreciate
The good offered by life?

Gauri G

Death Sentence for Santosh Kumar Singh

The news is enough for a lot of emotional brooding over. A reason to rejoice, even for strangers like me sitting miles away.

Some news spread like wildfire. Some gain momentum slowly. This case, throughout its proceedings, perhaps witnessed a mixture of both the phenomena...

While the aquittal on December 3, 1999 was met with dismay and shock, nothing much ensued immediately. It took time to wake up the citizens of India from their indulging luxuries, their safe coccoons of existence and peep into the system which had gotten stinking rotten.

But wake up, they did. One whisper to another, then muffled discussions, then furious debates, slowly people found a voice whose existence they had forgotten. They shouted, not caring if they were heard or not. Shouted their shouts of frustration. It was necessary to spit out the years of meek tolerance and mute witnessing of injustice...

Jessica Lal, Priyadarshini Mattoo, or Nitish Katara. On the face of it, these are just three names, of the innumerable number of people who are murdered or raped in India. But they are different because the victims' relatives did not give up. These cases have managed to wake up a nation and compel it to seek justice.

I want to pay tribute to the families of all the three deceased above. Had it not been for their committment, had it not been for their perseverance, their sorrow which they resolved to turn to their strength, I would not have been able to see today the Judiciary bending down to a public outrage. I would not have seen the retrial. I would not have gotten elated hearing the news. I would not have been touched.

I have learnt one of the most important lessons of my life through Priyadarshini's father. If you want something, you don't get it merely by wishing it. You'll have to slog for it and be prepared to stumble upon all the unseen, but almost certain obstacles on the way. But most importantly, if you want something dearly and are certain it's right, the most conscientious thing to do is to go ahead and try.

It's a moving paragraph when Atticus tells Jem and Scout in 'To Kill a Mocking Bird' :

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

It is because of such courage of Chaman Lal Mattoo that we can manage to see a brighter side of the judiciary.

Gauri Gharpure

Life or Death for Santosh Kumar Singh...October 30 The Red Letter Day...

It's October 29, 2006. It's a stale, redundant, selfexplanatory lead.
But I repeat: it's October 29, 2006. So what...

I'll tell you what.

A family somewhere is huddled up in anxiety. Remnants of sorrow are mingled with flakes of hope. They would love to be optimistic. But they might have learned to fear the feeling. Being optimistic is risky these days. It can also be devastating. It was, on December 3, 1999, when Santosh Kumar Singh, a rape and murder accused was acquitted. The conscience of a nation was rocked.

The Priyadarshini Mattoo case might have limped up to the courtroom, fought a galant battle and finally glimpsed at justice. From December 3, 1999 to October 17, 2006. That's the journey of justice. A haggard, effortsome, unrelenting journey.

There's a strange anticipation in me when I write this blog. I fear this anticipation, for I hate not getting the anticipated. I anticipate, with all my willforce, that Santosh Kumar Singh is ordered to be hung to death.

I assume that the reader knows about the case. Priyadarshini Mattoo was raped and murdered on January 23, 1996 in New Delhi. Evidences pointed to Santosh Kumar Singh, but these were smothered by power and influence. Period. The Delhi high Court, on October 17, 2006 pronounced him guilty of murder and rape, and is expected to read out the sentence on October 30.

I have a few questions to ask.

Have you wondered how Santosh Kumar Singh managed to go on to become a practising lawyer? (Who were the people who trusted him with their cases)

How did he manage to get married? (!!!)

How his friends had the gumption to rough up the media after the October 17, 2006 conviction?

Having pondered over the above questions, it seems there are a large majority of people to whom 'right' or 'wrong' and 'conscience' do not exist. And the rest, perhaps a minority, have to be preprared to struggle against this gamut of negativity.

When such attitude and arrogance survives in our country, I cannot dare to call it a 'civilised' nation or attempt to bask in an illusion of security. We, as a people, are in an urgent need to be more sensitive. Sensitive to corruption, senstive to rapes, murders, political scams and all the innumerable news which we assume unaccountable and irrevocable. Sensitive, because the bad things in life are not always benign.

Cynicism has, sadly, become a fashion statement for many. People may not be satisfied by 'one' such stray verdict against powerful and rich accused. They are granted their intellectual brooding over.

October 30, 2006, for one, might prove instrumental to fuel up strength in some more weak, haggard bodies to stirr up another long battle, just to get a glimpse of justice. The battle has begun...

Gauri V. Gharpure

Monday, October 16, 2006

Food for thought

All my spurts of impulse and misbehaviour at home would invariably be followed by a shrill scream from Aaji, "You'll get to know what living is all about when you go live in a hostel".
Infact, there are a lot of things which teach you about living, but let's not get that personal.
I eventually did leave home.

It's different to be shouted at home, called names and be scolded to the bones. You are nestled in security and protection in spite of all that. It's different when you get to a new city, start hunting for places where you can get a decent meal two times a day.

When I came to Pune, I initially devoured the idea of eating outside. I humoured myself with my fascination as long as I could. But one day I realised I was missing home. And aaji's cooking. In time, I discovered there was a decent 'mess' just in the lane behind.

As I climbed the wooden stairs, each floor showed a different kind of lifestyle. On the ground floor, inside the building entrance, there was a modest courtyard, and a tulsi plant right in the middle. On the first floor was a well furnished house, with expensive tiling, a spacious kitchen with most modern gadgets and visibly well-off people stayed there.
Then I reached my to be 'food place'.

To the right of the stairs, was a small passage, 10 ft by 4ft by my vague estimations. A small wooden bench was accomodated to the left of the passage. The kitchen where kaku (aunty or an elderly lady, as called in Maharashtra) sat, eternally rolling chappatis was, to put it most generously, another 10 ft. by 4ft.

But in this area, also imagine a cooking platform, a gas stove, cooking utensils, a small TV space, 4-5 large steel vessels full of the days vegetables, rice and dal, besides a small single gas stove on which kaku cooked chappatis. And why forget- the two to three girls eating their lunch in this space? Life accomodates everyone...

The first day I ate there, a strange feeling enveloped me. I could faintly hear my aaji's screams, "When you go and live in a hostel, you will learn what living is all about".

I paid Rs. 15 per meal. A meal which was cooked with hygiene, precision and most of all, affection. At Rs. 15 per meal, I ate two chappatis, a generous serving of rice and dal.

My meal meant business to kaku in more ways than one. Each day, her work would start early in the morning, perhaps 4 or 5 AM. I always saw her with the rolling pin and the dough, skillfully going about one chappati after the other. She had to visit the doctor when she couldnt sustain the backpains any longer. As kaka, her husband, who helped her side by side in the kitchen, cutting vegetables and serving us, fondly put it one day, "Your kaku doesn't get up for 2-3 hours once she sits for making the chappatis". And then other day, he told me, as if divulging a great personal moment, "Your kaku's home is just 5 minutes away from this place, but since marriage, she has not once gone away leaving the business to me. She has stood by my side all along."

Half a dozen sparrows always hopped up to us while we were eating. One was rather brave. She came right to the stove and picked small balls of dough from kaku's hands.

I met honest people who made a living out of cooking. They didn't use bad cooking oil, the dal was not water-thin, plain salt and turmeric like I experienced in a friend's tiffin. The rice was not full of stones which crackled thru the teeth. In the chutneys she made, out of beetroots, guavas, sesame or mango, we got glimpses of kaku's culinary mastery. And on sundays, she lovingly treats us with sweets.
Rs. 15 a plate...

I used to buy shoes and clothes and earrings and what not. And spend without thought, to hear once again, "When you begin living on your own, you'll know the importance of money".

I still buy what I like, but I have started giving more thought on my expenditure than before. The efforts people have to put in to earn whatever little they do are much more than can be imagined. And yet, they don't grumble. In their contentment and simplicity, I find new meanings of humility.

- Gauri Gharpure

Monday, October 09, 2006

How temples should be

The place where I stay in Pune fits perfectly into my imagination of what a hostel should be like. It's a huge bungalow, with such utilisation of space that we have as many rooms as could be built in, a large veranda and a spacious courtyard. Girls have enough places to talk in peace on their cell phones thus...

Just as I step out of the comfortable recluse, I find myself on a narrow, busy street. By general observation, most streets that are narrow buzz with unusal activity...Merely ten steps of walk leads to an unassuming little gate on the left. From this gate, one can see a small black stone ox sitting patiently on a concrete block. An elementary garden of sorts is formed by a few rows of plants neatly maintianed in the little space available.

A frail old man sits on a plastic chair near the entrance. He is dressed in khaki, and wears a calm expression. Ocassionaly he rubs off the drops of sweat from his bald head. His eyes are deep and soft and bore right through the believers with a mix gentleness and aloofness. On hot afternoons when I return to the hostel, I peek inside the temple to see the old man sleeping on a sheet in the courtyard. In the mornings and evenings, he sweeps the floor clean. Around nine at night, he usually checks if everything is in place, perhaps puts the broom to use again and gets out of the temple. I don't know where he goes, but each morning he is right back.

The temple from the inside, is spic and span. There are two large bells, and a small raised platform where diced sugar is kept in a bowl, covered with net. This is the daily prasad, simple and sweet, literally! On either sides of the entrance inside, two clean mattresses are placed. A mirror is arranged at a perfect angle, that I can see the Shivling from far behind.

In visiting this temple, I feel like paying tribute to an old man's conviction in his job. His slow movements never alter the state of the temple. Everytime I have entered this temple, it is just as clean and quiet as before. His behaviour is so dutiful, so disciplined, that he personifies worship in itself. He is not a priest, no sir! God bless the trustees who decided to keep him there. His gentle demeanour is much more spiritual, than the fanatic pandas I encountered in Pushkar, near Ajmer and many other 'famous', 'jagrut' temples..

There are never queues lined up at this temple though. Like the ones at the Camp Hanuman in Shahibaug, Ahmedabad, or at the Dakshineshwar temple near Kolkata. Does that mean that the black stone which is carved out in this temple is 'less Godly' than the others I mentioned before.

I was angry at myself for standing in a long queue at the Dakshineshwar temple, When, finally when my turn came to 'pray' after about half an hour of standing in a long line, the priest inside the temple matter of factly asked what I had to offer. When I said 'nothing', he gave a loud expression of disapproval and hurried me to exit. My father persisted and he thrust a few flowers and two pieces of sweet in his hand. Three priests were 'maintaining' the queue by hurrying devotees to back off as soon as they stepped in front. I don't need flowers, fruits and mithai and money to please my God. Thank you.

What drives people to such random belief in God. Why do people walk miles, eat the offerings which might have turned sour from heat and drink water which is more than guaranteed to be impure, as a sign of devotion? Why smear the kumkum, which is chemical to the core and can spark of an allergic reaction with ease? The reason my bafflement multiplies ten fold is that most often, most people do this by choice.

We all need somekind of external, inexplicible and supposedly higher source of referance to look up to at one time or the other. We conveniently label this abstract idea as God, go on to complicate it further and further, in the form of different manifestations, rituals, scriptures, idols and omens.

What started as a source of positive energy perhaps becomes a form of bondage without our realisation. Not all bondages are bad. Life, in itself would be meaningless if we were loners, not bonding with our surroundings, people and ideas. But when those ideas and actions hinder your intuition and impulse, become a morbid compulsion and an aimless destination, the soul rebels.

My soul, to cut things precise, something in me always rebels when I see large queues of people lined up at temples. I love the temple opposite my hostel. It gives me time to be with myself. This is how temples should be.

-Gauri Gharpure