Monday, January 28, 2008

Alert bloggers

I was just checking the Technorati authority of my blog and came across this link...

This blog: http://tatanano.sempros.net seems to be brewing some trouble... I saw a whole long compilation of articles in reference to the Tata Nano car, but the credits go haywire.

I, for one, have not been credited, and someone else, infact two people, are said to have written an interesting post: Do we need one car each? (and so on) which I posted on this blog merely two days back...

As in, at one place it says : "Bob Holland wrote an interesting post today on.....'Do we need one car each? (and so on) and at the other, it goes like this: "Jalopnik: Obsessed With The Cult Of Cars wrote an interesting post today on... Do we need one car each? (and so on) A monologue with the government, or those in power
(This link leads to the article on orato.com and also the link, Read here, but who are Bob Holland and Jalopnik???)

After the on, there's no mention of any website, or any link.

I expect it should be Gauri Gharpure instead of Bob Holland or Jalopnik, is my name that difficult to spell? There seems to be a whole lot of jhol not just with my post, but with many other compilations which deal with any kind of reference to the Tata Nano car in this blog...

If a user is keeping an eye on the net and noting any reference to this blog- Tata Nano on wordpress, whether for some organization or for personal inclinations, The introduction should be "XYZ submitted this interesting post by another XYZ"... Also, the link should be clearly specified as also what is the sense behind these compilations...

Fellow readers, if you have the time and inclination please help and advise as to what exactly this blog is up to. At least, if you are possessive of your work, get a bit more cautious with this little bizzare business...

-Gauri Gharpure

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Have you heard the sound of earth?

Happy Republic Day, to begin with.

From January 26, 2001 on, the significance of Republic day has changed for me, and perhaps, for all of Gujarat. A much destructive earthquake chose to happen on a date one cannot possibly ignore even by choice.

It was 9 AM in the morning and as usual, I was sleeping. I had slept off the previous night urging everyone to wake me before the republic day parade began at any cost, for I wanted to see an uncle who was going to lead a battalion.

I heard the shouts of my aaji and my sister, but that was normal when they wanted me to wake up, so I ignored the faint, far away to and fro of instructions. I was in deep slumber and felt I was shaking all over, in fact, that the entire bed was. In that dreamy, semi conscious state of mind, I assumed it was my sister gone real nuts and innovative in trying to wake me up. Seriously, that's what I thought. And then, the entire bed started shaking too furiously for me to ignore it anymore. Almost preceding this tremendous rattle by a split second was the most ominous sound of my life: the sound of earth. The sound of a furious, fearsome earth.

It started out as a mild, concentrated groan and increased exponentially. In the next second, the circular drumming sound was throbbing right through the bed, and all over me. It was not scary. It was sinister. In a second, I was wide awake, and in the next I had jumped out of the bed. I don't know how I had realized that it was an earthquake, but so I had and had instantly started galloping out.

My aaji was more worried about putting off the fan switches and ordering Indi to switch off the gas before they both proceeded out. I was more interested in shoving aaji ahead of me and seeing that she got out. We have three small steps in between the dining hall and the sitting hall; it was a bit difficult to find a footing. But we were out in decent time, so were all the neighbours. Our ailing neighbourhood grandpa was bedridden and father presently came carrying him out as well.

Let me tell you, we were not scared at that moment. The tremors had stopped completely and our houses were intact. We were all laughing and sharing who was doing what when they realized that it was an earthquake. Indi was boiling milk and when the vessel began to shake, she just thought the milk had come to boil. Aaji was doing the pooja and when she noticed the washing machine was shaking a bit too hard, she just screamed at Indi for having done something wrong with it. Sis, where was she? She must have been around and she was definitely not asleep. Baba was reading the newspaper and it is he who shouted, “It’s an earthquake, get out!” I complain till this date that no one actually came to wake me up and that everyone was already running out when I joined them.

The telephone lines and electricity had conked off immediately and so we just spent more time in animated talks. We were saying that finally, now it's here. Bhavnagar, a city nearby, was in the news for a long time before this major earthquake for experiencing constant tremors of small magnitude on the Richter scale. There were already speculations going on, as to if and when will Ahmedabad experience a tremor, and how strong it would be. We used to joke and fantasize about it, the adventure of experiencing an earthquake and living later on to talk about it. And then it happened...

In about half an hour or even earlier, the electricity and the telephones were revived. News then started pouring in. Sanjana said the building which stood two minutes down the St. Xavier's lane had collapsed and people were stuck inside. Relatives called up with news of damage to different localities. Someone told Mansi Towers has collapsed. We realized something of a very serious and destructive nature had just happened in that mere minute. The string of doom was not to be stopped. It took some time for the worse news to start pouring in.

I decided to sleep with my shoes on after reading that after-shocks were possible and sis made fun of me, accompanied with giggles and pinches. But around four the next morning, there was indeed a sudden, solid jerk that pushed me to one side of the bed. Everyone was again out in an assembly of animated discussion and I chimed in to boast of my decision to wear shoes at night. Aunty organized a reading of Sunderkand in the family the next day.

I couldn't imagine, and still can't, how in those very seconds, less than a minute, lives had turned topsy turvy for so many people of the city and all over the state. Entire buildings had collapsed; people were dead or alive under heights of concrete and construction.

Bhachau was flat, Kutchch was miserable. Trucks of food and medicines were dispatched and people were urging for band aids and medicines and ration. In the neighbourhood, two families had arrived with their bags and baggage to take shelter and so, there was an addition of two young girls and two young boys to our highly talkative gang.

The girls stayed just beside Mansi towers that had collapsed. They had seen some gory sights they wished not to discuss and their flat, though still standing, had suffered considerable damage. In any case, flat dwellers were too scared to go back and live in flats. I and sis were to be found there for the better part of the day.

In fact, as I am writing this, I am surprised at how pleased I am looking back at those few hours that we children spent in the sunshine chatting away under the doom of something scary and sad, merely a few hours after the earthquake, not fully aware of how serious and how massive the destruction was. The elders sat inside, men talked over cups of tea, the women cried and cooked and consoled each other for a better part along with serving us something to bite on in between.

Was it February 28th? I am not sure, but I remember a day when the better part of Gujarat Samachar was full of paid obituaries. The broadsheet looked like a systematic collage of passport size photos that day. It was nerve-wracking to look at the photos with the constant fear that some acquaintance may just flash back at you from the newspaper.

I stared at the obituaries for a long time, gaping at the dead passport photos. Some were beautiful and young, some seemed familiar and endearing. Aaji and baba were looking if someone they knew was in it. I was also looking for the same reason. We told each other how familiar a face looked and then we all racked brains to remember where we could have met or talked with them. A few days later, I went to my cousin's house in the city. She took me out on a bike and in less than ten minutes, we had seen half a dozen flats fallen in different levels of destruction. One housed her favourite professor who had lost both his daughters and his wife. He was in the college for the flag salutation.

I went for my math tuitions two-three days after the quake. After the tuition, I inquired about my friend who was not present. Someone told me her parents had died. I was thankful that baba was around and he drove me home saying some beautiful things he always manages to say when the need arises. We reached home and I called Fr. the first thing and blurted out the news more looking for comfort than to let him know. I don't know why and how it occurred to me that I should talk to him, but there's a scheme for everything.

Then I called her. I don't remember now how I got the number of her relatives or how I got the address. I am blank. I just remember driving in Paldi from one small by lane to the other in search of her house. And there she was, sitting in the window waiting for me. She shouted, waved and beamed a smile. She put me at ease, the way she caught my attention.

I was ushered in her room and the first thing she did was to apologize for the mess her room was in. The room was spic and span, the bed sheets were freshly made and yet she was not satisfied. Said not much cleaning was possible for so many guests kept coming over and everyone was busy. I was amazed at how life never stopped its routine and how easily she had accepted the loss and was now playing that perfect host, that charming friend who paid attention to things as routine as a clean bed or a hot tea.

She was getting ready for the flag salutation in school and her father was pressing her uniform. Her brother had already left for school. When the quake happened, her father had stayed behind to lock up the house. She had reached out with her mother to safety, but when the building started collapsing, her father was just about coming out. Her mother rushed back in to bring him. And then the building collapsed taking both of them under it, perhaps before her eyes.

I have been lucky to have met immensely brave people from whom I take strength from time to time. She is one such person. Never once, have I seen her dull. Never once have I seen the reverence and enthusiasm for life diminish in her. She always looks forward to all occasions good, be it a movie, a function in a school, a friend falling in love, her wedding, or off late, some good news from the married friend. Never once have I seen her epitomize sorrow. She's this petite maiden who will surprise many a people with her sheer sense of life and living...

The earthquake, for me, begins with that chaotic humour in our house before we finally got out and ends with the news of the death of my friend's parents. The news, the statistics, the lengthy newspaper articles stopped making sense sometime later.

I have always believed, and still do, that death is a very personal thing. Till it doesn't affect your select group of people, you don't feel the pang in the emotional and physical sense of it. There's some invisible shell around each human body which attempts to save him from all that grief that may be counter productive to his future. And it’s precisely for this invisible shell that protects us from grief, that we get the strength to move on and take loss in our stride. Being strong doesn’t mean you are cold. It just means you want to concentrate on what is left and how you could make it better.

After the earthquake, followed endless examples of the strength of the human mind to move on. For me, it was my friend. For others, the inspiration would be someone else. I heard the sound of earth that day a good seven years ago and the smell of death soon followed. And yet life’s still as beautiful as it should be.

-Gauri Gharpure,

January 26, 2008


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Do we need one car each? ( and so on...)

A monologue with the Government, or those in power...

There's good news. And I have already started taking my driving lessons. (It was highly incidental, but what a coincidence!) The newspaper reports say (and so gulp them with a pinch of salt) that the 'Nano'- the cheapest car in the world, will be priced around INR One lakh...

So while I was thinking to save up my money and go for a second hand dabba car within one lakh range sometime in six months, I now might as well wait another few months and add another few thousand and get a brand new Nano. Makes perfect economic sense, nai? So it will, for many others like me... And so in a year from now, we all will be happily hopping to TATA showrooms like we now hop to Big Bazaar and get ourselves a car each for a change instead of a t-shirt or a jeans or steel vessel. I am thrilled, I am swooning in disbelief...

Utopia rings bells of alarms, doesn't it? What's wrong here? What's the catch? Let's rack our brains and think a bit.

Kudos to the Tatas to make a car within the reach of the 'common man'. Kudos to the very communist government for putting a step forward to usher in 'development' and 'industrialization'.

Okay, hold on. I am going to explain the quote-unquote thing.

Common man. Whom are you talking about? Surely not he, who spends most of his time traveling in a bus or a metro, not he, who gets fascinated and starry eyes on being offered a credit card. Surely not he, who sweats each day on his way to office, sweats back all his way, and then haggles over the price of tomatoes somewhere in between. Surely not he, who is still in doubts whether he can afford the maintenance and petrol costs if he buys a scooter.

Development. What are you talking about? I have been walking fairly enough in the city and hopping on many a crowded buses. I am yet to come across a decent bus stand, which has seats where people can sit and wait, and which tells which buses go from that route and where. I have moved around in nearby 'remote places' merely hundred kilometers from Calcutta proper, where the most popular of transport is still the three-tyred cycle rickshaw, where there are far more saree shops than proper medicine shops, where basic medical aid seems non-existent. Take snake-bite for example. Many deaths in the villages occur due to snake bites. And naturally so, Bengal is a haven for most snakes poisonous, including the King Cobra. Can't you make that damned snake anti-venom available at medical stores? No. It cannot be retailed and you need to get it only from big government hospitals, provided the doctors are available. Perhaps such things require legislation and consultation. Development is something that happens spontaneously, isn't it?

Industrialization? What are you talking about? O, do you mean industrialization as that situation wherein you confiscate a piece of fertile land and gift it to any XYZ company. The company will grow, so will the smoke, so will the population density in that area, and so will sprout a few measly tea stalls and bun stalls in a futile attempt. And when the roadside stalls sprout and when a few youths are employed as peons and a few young women are degraded to being sweepers and cleaners from being free-willed maidens who picked up green peas in their fields before the SEZ nightmare happened, of course, you will point your fingers wisely and say: "See, we told you, SEZs generate employment..."

Stop kidding me. I know who will get the icing on the SEZ cake. You want to know? KFC, McDonald's, Burger King and Sify Broadband cafes. Sorry to the bun maska and the kerosene stove tea. Saab log don't eat at down market places and nor do such stalls suit the chic and plush corporate glamour. So please, shove off, you villagers, make way. So what if we now stand on what was once your land...

All the development that is happening is happening to you and me, who have the luxury to type away idle thoughts on the brand new keyboard and who are discussing which next laptop to buy. Development, the real one, out of sarcastic quotes, should ideally happen to those who are sweating day in and day out to and back from bus and trains and who haggle the price of tomatoes. Development should happen to those dark and dusty village children who walk miles to the lone primary school years in vain hope till truth dawns upon them and they give up. Education is still a joke in majority of remote India and development should happen to that sad and different species of human race altogether who live and die each day in an ignored existence. The talks of 'development' and 'industrialization' are mere candy floss.

When I see flocks of villagers marching kilometers, the red flag swinging behind them to come to the city and attend this or that political meeting with religious reverence, I feel extremely sad and pained. Here is one state, and here is one people, who have unquestionable faith in their leaders, or let's say, the communist ideology. Here is a people who believe that their government is indeed for the sickle and the labourer. They might be right. But they might be wrong too...

It seems to me that the communism today, or for that matter any political ideology, is nothing but degenerated and misinterpreted set of basically skewed up ideals. Today, communism seems simply standing up for the poor while keeping them as poor as they are, while enveloping their scope of vision with so many like them that they feel they are happy and satisfied and one of the lot.

Was the communist ideal always like this? Wasn't it always an excellent piece of theory which can never ever be implemented in practice. Like the Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty- it is a fascinating truth, but it cannot be proved experimentally. Isn't communism that perfect synonym of utopia? For when have we, in the course of history from Marx to this date, witnessed the successful evolution of a classless society, where all evolved together and ultimately all were equals?

Why cant there be a sensible development? Why can't there be more public means of transport, more realistic prices of goods and lesser loans and credits? Professor Pinto once thundered in the class in his trademark style: "All this is lobbying. There's this dreadful nexus of car manufacturers and banks and builders and so on. Why don't they increase the number of municipal buses? They won't do that, for then, how will cars and scooters sell by hundreds each day?"

Though the quote may not be verbatim, I hope this is the essence he wanted to convey. For after that lecture, I brooded on and on, and could never shake of this logic.

Think of it. A bus can easily hold 50 people at a time. Why don't you increase the number of buses? Why don't you clean the buses more often and spend some on the interiors of the buses? Why don't you make the mode of transport popular and start brand image advertisements to clean up that snobbish 'O , so down market thingy to travel in a sweaty bus' attitude. Why don't you make the public transport system so chic and so plush, that everyone feels a relief using it and prefers it to driving down the chaos of jam and pollution each day? If you plan it well enough, a state transport system is a winning formula which satiates all the wants- economy, convenience and environment.

Case in point, the famous Neeta Volvo versus the Maharashtra State Buses that ply between Pune and Mumbai. Neeta Volvo (and Konduskar and such alike) reek of monopoly and cheating- the way they hike their tickets on weekends and the way sometimes dump passengers on the worst seats possible in spite of advance bookings. State buses offer the same facilities but at a far cheaper rate. But the State Bus ticket counters are dilapidated, easily ignored, tin-roof structures nearby a urinal and Neeta operates from a plush office. Only a lot of asking will ever, if at all, tell you which are the stops all over the city (Mumbai and Pune) where the State buses stop enroute to pick up the tourists.

As we are talking about the government downplaying their facilities, let me provide you with another example:

The postal letter drop box. I still write a lot of inland letters and postcards, and so I know how difficult it is to convince yourself before dropping that letter thru the flap of the box that this mode of communication is still not defunct. The letter drop box always seems to stand so unceremoniously at some busy corner, with so much of dust sleeping on it, and with so many cobwebs swinging by, I always ask three different strangers to ascertain if this is 'still in use' or is past its expiry date. When you do deliver the postcards and the inland letters in good time, why don't you just make an effort to make the service well known? Why don't you tell the public you offer cheap services and direct them to the letter boxes? Why don't you just colour that damn thing bright red once a year at the least??? Might as well go to some ad agency, get them make some hip direction banners and post them prominently on top of all the letter drop boxes?

So the thing is, all this talk of development and industrialization is sheer humour. You are game for development? Then start sacking teachers from municipality schools this second on. Start some serious re-thinking of what kind of teachers you want to teach at pre-school and primary levels all over the villages of the country. Get some management graduates tell you what product marketing is so that the state transport and postal services and all that stuff you let rot away in oblivion is used by the common man. And for God's sake, hire some dumb advertising agency make some yellow and black billboards to signal the bus pick up points, and the letter boxes.

We want to grow richer and drive that Nano, but we don't want to do so kicking the stomach of someone thin and lean and who sleeps hungry. We want to grow, but we also want those strangers who sweat each day to see a better tomorrow than their disappointing today. We also don't need one car each and we need you to know what development really is.

-Gauri Gharpure

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Politics of Food

We are treading on controversial grounds. Yes. I announce so and throw my hands up right before starting to write this piece. But write I will, however controversial (or obvious) though it may sound...

For the Bangla community, lunch is an occasion in itself. Never before have I seen being served course after course of veg and non-veg items with that typical laid back attitude. You will be served bhaat* in huge quantity along with a generous serving of dal and other vegetables, only to be reprimanded later if you don't eat enough of maachh , mangsho and chicken in the next serving accompanied by another generous handful of rice. Then there's the chutney to round up the meal and finally a mishti. Delicious. Nothing controversial here. So let's proceed.

Now imagine there's a widow in the group. Generally, there are at least two or three widows in a party, however big or small it may be, and that's a personal observation. So what happens? Just when the tables and chairs are being pulled for the lunch, someone starts calling, "Niramish? Who's niramish? How many? O, three. Fine, we will set the tables here".

For a moment, at least for me, there's a sudden thud in the festive mood. I have been pondering about this niramish business ever since I was a notun bau, even perplexed at times, at this accepted, sometimes even seemingly advocated practice of niramish for the widows...

What's niramish? For the uninitiated, it's vegetarian food, ideally even without onions and garlic. A person may be even vegetarian by choice, by the virtue of growing up in a certain environment or values. But the niramish that I am discussing here is not that sort of vegetarianism. You know, a woman becomes a hardcore vegetarian overnight in these parts of the country. Even today.

Once your husband is dead, consider your taste buds dead too. And make no fuss about it. You are expected to be that ideal wife forever and 'prove' just what a control-freak eve you can be in the absence of your dear husband.

So when, after growing up as a hardcore non-vegetarian (yes- I read somewhere that 95% of the people in Kolkata prefer non-veg food) for a good forty fifty years of your life, could be more, or could be unfortunately even less, once you are a widow- you are expected to give up on the kind of food you grew up eating. Maach, Mangsho and Murgi. Let's not forget eggs and seafood and such alike. The Bengalis seem to eat anything and everything with gusto, but for the women, unfortunately, there could be a sudden fullstop.

Do taste-buds die with the death of the husband? Is it essential to give up on good food to prove you are a good widow? What is behind this tradition of Niramish in Eastern India? Are we really a progressive nation or we prefer to ignore things right under our nose? Am I biased or common sense just doesn't hold true these days?

It's matter of choice and assertion then. I have seen at least two widows who prefer not to follow the seemingly idiosyncratic flow of thought and ideals. And this time, I also heard a gutsy lady ask another rhetorically, "Hey, they served the chicken pakoras first and then the vegetable chop, both cooked in the same kadhai. Now don't tell me they changed the oil"...

I guess that sums it all. I could go on and on about this, but then, it's a matter as simple as that of choice- unduly complicated by the burden of age-old practices and a politics of discriminatory behaviour.

I have written what I have witnessed; understood and argued relying on some very basic common sense- just like the one the lady demonstrated above. There are other important issues of personal choice, preference and the right to enjoy life to the full- as an individual and not as someone's wife, mother or daughter-in-law.

What's important is to speak up, perhaps more importantly, at least let others speak up and stand for themselves if you yourself don't have the gumption... In matters like these, it seems sometimes that a woman is a woman's worst enemy.

What do you think? Bangla bhayro and bonro, a special invitation to you to comment...

*Bhaat= RiceDal= A thin lentil preparation
Maach= Fish
Mangsho= Any kind of meat, referred to mutton in particular
Mishti= Any sweet dish
Niramish- Vegetarian food, ideally without onions and garlic
Notun bau- Newly wed daughter- in law
Pakoras= An Indian deep-fried snack
Kadhai= A deep vessel, normally used to cook food or for deep-frying
Bhayra and Bonra= Brothers and sisters (information courtesy- constant political rallies :)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Blogging

I started off writing this blog with a non-committal frame of mind.

I started by promising myself that I will blog only as a reaction to the daily happenings I read about in newspapers; or at the most- pen down poems in their abstract beauty and not about what I had for dinner this day and what dress I wore the other. I promised no interpretations. I loved the mystery.

But today, I feel a change taking over. Things have changed before i realised.

Through this blog, I have met innumerable facades of people. People, who work by the day and dream by the night. Who may lie by the day but swear by nothing by the truth on the faceless e-world. People who blog, not just as a process of words, but as an exercise of thinking aloud. It's beautiful and it's encouraging.

I now feel that the promise I made to myself, about 'not getting involved' in the blog was contrary to the basics of just about anything. Perhaps, you just put a little bit of your soul in each thing you do. And even if you don't want to, you end up leaving bits and pieces of your being here or there. That's what I have realised I am doing in the course of writing this blog.

After reading some wonderful blogs, it seems like writing a blog is essentially a spiritual exercise. A blog seems like a subtle confession box. It's a place where we make promises we dare not announce in the brutal real world, where we dream at leisure and where we think of bringing a change without being bogged down by immaculate reason. It's a place where creativity is to be pampered, explored, haunted and hoisted. It's a secret cocoon, which is not so secret after all. And that's the beauty of it.

I rush to meet myself every time I blog.

-Gauri Gharpure

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Tagged

My first tag comes from Gaurav...Thanks a lot Gaurav :)...

I am supposed to write down ten things I miss. Also, a list of other ten things I would like to happen to me in the next ten years...

I miss

Ahmedabad in general

College, the tekri and LR 12 in particular.

I also miss my zoology professors- Momim, Robin and Sharad Sir- and the two peons who helped during the practicals- Piyushbhai and ... :( cant recall the name now...

I miss the college gang. Heck.. I am getting sore over the winter days in college...

I miss my home- Not much the family (for we talk almost every other day) but the bungalow. I mean, my house, the garden, the hall and the bedroom where I slept beside aaji...

I miss being irresponsible with elan.
(I am still irresponsible, but I am now accountable. I hate that. I miss the inborn clumsiness which I and everyone took granted for. )

Missing a few incomplete pieces from the past.

What I look fwd to / want in the next ten years...

A piece of land, a good bungalow, a dog or two, a flock or hens, a huge enclosure for my budgies and a well-designed aquarium in the garden. 1991-92 Paramdham revisited, in short.

For the above to happen, I will get some kick-ass professional position.

Go abroad for a short educational stint.

I want to visit Romania via Istanbul. And a Euro tour...

Perhaps, just about, go the mommy way.

The tag goes to the bum, phish, dip, necropolis.... Also baruk, gaizabonts and all those people whose blogs I love to read...
If you think ten is a big list, like I thought initially, you can stick to five...