Thursday, June 30, 2005

of awesome women

Stepping into that hall at Doon School was a bit of a shock.

Sure, I knew hill-women are known to be part of political history, to be less repressed, socially. That they were at the roots of the Chipko movement. That they were at the forefront of the demand to carve an Uttarakhand out of the sprawling, plains-dominated Uttar Pradesh.
And sure, I know Panchayats have a reserved quota for women.

But nothing quite prepared me for the sight of that hall, spilling over with women, each of them being a panchayat functionary of some kind. Some were pradhans, some were ward members, some were on the executive committee at the block level.

All were elected representatives of the people of Uttaranchal. All were 'functionaries'. More than 650 of them, attending this meeting of local women-functionaries, in Dehradun (organised by Avdhesh Kaushal).

Uttaranchal has a good record, in terms of numbers. The requirement is only 33%, but about 45% of the local functionaries are women. Women are contesting on male (general: same thing) seats, and winning.

And when I walked into that hall, sitting on the floor because there was no space left, I found myself a little awed.

Awed by the volumes.
Awed by these simple, illiterate women who stood for elections. Who stood up and talked. Who had nothing to gain, but who cared about their villages and the rampant corruption ruining their tenure.
Awed because they brought their babies along, and that their squalling didn't seem to affect the proceedings much.
Awed by the black-yellow embroidered head-scarves, their silken shirts and their special silver and gold jewels, brought out on display.
Awed, because they were not.

Also awed because these women gave Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shakar Aiyar a sound yelling. They'd been waiting for him to address the meet all day. (The press had also been waiting. But the press is used to waiting. The press is paid to wait, wherever there's news happening.)

The women waited from 9 am until 6.30 am. When Mr Aiyar finally did arrive, and began to address the gathering, the women told him (not in these exact words) to shut up. More or less.

They hadn't been waiting all day to listen to pretty speeches. They wanted to talk about their problems. And they wanted to know what Mr Minister could do, to help.

Would he arrange extra-subsidized LPG for hill districts, to prevent tree-logging? Would he organise transport benefits for local functionaries? Would pradhans get pension benefits, like ex-MLAs and MPs do? Would he dismantle van-panchayats? Would he stem corruption? Would he? Could he?

They spoke, and the honourable minister listened, and answered.
And I was suitably awed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Climb a hill

Someday, go up to the hills - up, up and up.
Up the narrow 'highway', which cannot allow two cars to pass , simultaneously - where the army has gates and specific times to allow cars to pass in batches. Once every two hours.
Up, where the road is so steep, the best engines won't claw their way up the incline.
Up, where roads cease, and a goat-foot-beaten path is the only way up.

Up, where a local activist will tell you 'Can you walk a little? Maybe half a kilometre... er, or maybe one kilometre.... or maybe its one-and-a-half. Not more."

And once up there, you will swear it was no less than three kilometres and you will rue the day you rediscovered your love for high heels.

Go on, up, where your back seeks a natural bent, against the now warm-now chilling wind, and where you will sit after the first twenty minutes, down on the edge of the cliffs, looking down at sketchy lines that are a melting summer river. And when you get up to walk again, your calves will allow the ache to fall aside, as easily as the dust brushes itself off your skirts.

Up, where you look at this side of the world except that it is no longer there - only a wispy mist beginning at your lashes and densing up at the edge of the cliff. So that, when you stand at the edge to look at nothing, you see... nothing. It is easy to imagine that this, finally, is the end of the world. And if you took two steps forward, you'd be falling off the planet, and who knows where you'd land. It is also easy to imagine that, perhaps, you would not 'fall'. Perhaps, you'd float in the mist... float and fly until the sharp edge of some pine caught your clothes, and you could cling to the tree and be completely consumed by the blinding greyness around you. And perhaps you'd stay that way, through the rain and through the fog, until a very bright sun came up... and then you could climb back, up.

Up, when slowly, all sounds of civilization fall away, and all you hear is the sound of your own breathing. Or the breathing of the person climbing just behind you. You could shut your eyes and place this companion - just ahead, just behind, now at your shoulder. Breaths snaking in, shivering out.

It takes over the hillside, this intake of breath - it is all you can focus on; all you want to focus on. And the only other thing you see is the pair of sure footsteps ahead of you, and you breathe. You breathe long, long breaths. As if you want to swallow up the hill air - fill each sac in your lungs to bursting and let go of it, jealously, slowly. (And though the local journalists will joke about how you should pack a few boxfuls and take it down to the city, for your friends... but you know you'd really do it, if only there was such a box. You swear you wouldn't share any with friends. It is too precious a gift.)

And the locals will laugh and joke about how women carry upto 40-50 kilos worth of goods or fodder on their backs, and climb these steep inclines - climbing directly up the waterfalls and rivers, where one wrong step means certain death. Where no one else dares set foot, not even people who live barely 15 km away. There is a whole world between this side of Chakrata and that. 15 kms is a race apart, a tribe apart. Even now...

Up, where you know, finally, that this is no global village. For this is where your lunch is brought to you free, off the apricot trees - which they call Chullu here; khamani, to us of the plains. We don't need to ask. It is offered; brought to us from a hut by the roadside, where a very silent onlooker and a giggling little girl sit. They ask no questions. No explanations are offered. The local activist slips into the hut, borrows two handfuls of chullu and later, we drink off the streams - piped in stone, naturally, down the hillside villages.

Up here, you know you have never tastes cleaner, colder water, not even when it rains down from the skies. And this is the fabled land of the Mahabharata - Lakhamandal lies close (where it is rumoured that the Lakshagrah was built, by the Kauravas, to roast the Pandavas out of existence.) And here, people refer to polyandry as 'draupadi pratha' (the system of draupadi). Up here, the women are known to take pride in how many men they marry. Just like the men.

And, all breath and stumbling sandals, you ask, "But what about the other women? If one woman has so many men, what do the rest do?"

And they tell you that the place also has polygamy. Across castes, it was so - some men married many women. Some women married many men. And some married whoever they could get. And so went civilization.

Up here, it is easy to imagine why the hill tribes are reluctant to leave their villages, e ven if the government compensates them with houses on the outskirts of the capital, Dehradun. They are used to worlds that fall off the edge of a cliff. They are used to the end of civilization, just off a hillside.

And then, with your breath ringing in the valley, as if you were actually underwater and not on the top of a hill, and with your heart pressing against your ribs, like it was rebelling against the constraint of your skeleton, then you will see a village.

The first hut, the second. And you will see horses and mules, and three young men - barefot, with their skin-soles thicker than your shoes. And you will think of the point you'd driven past - a horse sacrificing ancient temple. And you will know that humanity has always sacrificed what it valued most. What it wanted most. And you wonder what we sacrifice now? Our generation? What do we kill and offer up to our gods, as a peace offering, as appeasement, as an incentive to send more our way.

What is our sacrificial horse? Our holy cow?

Friday, June 17, 2005

Lit, a critic view and half a question

I was talking to Hindi media critic and writer Sudhish Pachauri, about what is wrong with the modern (Hindi) literary climate in this country. These are some of the things he said:

"No new truths are being told. Our new writer (of Hindi literature) is not talking about youth, or even new ideas. He is talking about his/her own inner conflicts. Those who write do so because they like the idea of being writers. They want awards, and they get them through networking... plying older authors and literary editors with favours and alcohol and parties. They are content with a certain amount of 'fame' that comes from having a book published and being mentioned in the mainstream newspapers.

These are narcissists and megalomaniacs and they are full of personal hypocrisy. that is the crisis...
They want media coverage, but they claim to hate mainstream media.
They want to sit in the middle of the bazaar (the market-based economy) and lick up the cream of globalization, but claim to be against the 'bazaar' , because they want to be known as 'radical'
They send their kids to study in the USA, but claim to be against the USA.

Do you know when the best bestseller of the last few decades was written? It was a novel called Gunahon Ka Devta, written by Dharamvir Bharti, way back in 1949. This is a love story, set against the backdrop of campus politics in Allahabad. It continues to be a bestseller and has run into 49 editions - unheard of, in Hindi. It was also made into a movie.... not a single modern author has managed this. They do not know what the younger generation wants.

Do you know what the most profitable book venture has been, for Pustak Mahal? It is a book called 'Rapidex English Speaking Course'. One printing machine has been devoted exclusively to this book. It has sold crores of copies, and been translated into 18 languages.

What does that tell you about the educated youth of our times? That he wants to speak English; that he needs it to survive. Has any author written about this subject?

The new readers of Hindi books are keen on information. They want to read about globalization and its impact. I write about media and my books sell. People want to read about politics and media. Kameshwar's 'Kitne Pakistan' was a success, because it dealt with the Indo-Pak issue with great sensitivity, and humanity. Readers need an understanding of poetry and sociological issues.

The reader's world has changed. The writer has failed to notice...

Literature is not a stable thing. It changes. Public tastes change. They are 'constructed' in fact, and have to be 're-constructed', every so often. We need to form public tastes, as well as cater to them. Newspapers no longer do that - we need to, but we can't, without the right media... that is the other crisis.

The old writers 'lived' amongst their characters. Saadat Hasan Manto lived in Bombay; he talked to the workers, to prostitutes. Modern writers live in comfort; how will they know what poverty is about? A whole big Tsunami happened, for instance.... how many writers made their way over to the victims?

The crisis is that writers in Hindi don't have a finger on the pulse of the public. That's why there are few big names, as far as the masses are concerned, in either poetry or fiction; because the masses know where to seek a reflection of their needs and ambitions. Writers are not writing about the challenges ahead. They don't know what challenges lie ahead!"

[I don't know if he's right. I haven't read enough Hindi lit. But he talks like he knows what he's talking about. I do know that this is pretty much what I feel about the English literary scene in India... political books lie in the non-fiction sections; political poetry went out in the last millennium, it seems - it now survives through the oral tradition of the grassroots-activist culture. Or is it just that I'm under-read?]

Auto-maton - 4

Here I am, dropping off a firang friend at Paharganj, leaving him with some cash to tide him over until he gets some more money from home.

The auto driver has been glaring at me through the rearview mirror all this time.
When the firang friend has gone, he turns to me - "So, he's your master, is he?"

This takes a long time to sink in, so I stupidly say, "Master... master?"

The driver impatiently repeats, "Your maalik, isn't he?"

By now, I have vaguely begun to understand that since this is a reference to me being a possession of some kind, it is possible that the driver is insinuating that my friend is actually my pimp, or my owner.
But my long silence and obvious incomprehension has made the driver sheepish, so he rephrases his curiosity -

"Is he your man? Your husband?"

I'm still on the truth trip, so I say - "No, not my man. He's a friend."

"So, he's your master, then."

"No, he's not my master!"

"So, who's your man?"

I give up. The truth, clearly, will not help - "My man is this man's friend. They're friends - my man and he... He's visiting and I'm dropping him off to his hotel, because my man asked me to."

"Ah! I see... so, where's your man, then? Why are you dropping him off?"

"Because my man's abroad. That's how he has the firang friend... My man works abroad."

The driver stares at me a long, long time, in the rearview mirror. Then he demands to know, "How many kids?"

"No kids yet."

"You're lying!"

"What? No, why should I be lying?"

"You got to have kids. I'm sure you do."

"What makes you so sure?"

"Because, why else would your man leave you?"

The logic of this is beyond me; I said so - "What's that got to do with kids?"

"Well, your man would leave you once you had kids. That would explain his being abroad."

I didn't know what to say to that, so I just applied the old rule that applies to all married-single women in India -
"Oh, but my man loves me... He is busy making money abroad. When he can afford me, he'll fetch me and we'll live together happily... in a foreign country."

This apparently satisfied the driver. He nodded sympathetically.
Then, he started again, "So, this man will come back to see you?"

"I don't know."

"Will you go back to his hotel?"


"Will you both go back to your place? At night? I can wait for you, outside, until evening... if you like."

"No, I don't want you to wait," I said, and paid him off.

But of course, he wasn't done dealing with me. He refused to give me any change back, saying I owed him extra. What I owed him for, he chose not to explain. He kept saying - "You're not being fair... you should give me more."

The presence of a traffic cop right across the road saved the day for me. A few threats, some cajoling, some scolding and I wrested back at least some of the money.

Later, my friend and I had a good laugh about this, but I'm still trying to figure out the 'why' of the whole episode.

Why do I have a master? Because I'm seen handing over some cash to a man?
What if I did have a 'master'? What do I owe to an auto-driver, anyway?
Why do I have to be abandoned if I have kids?
And how do women survive in this city, without 'master' or 'man'?

How long before we can tell the truth? How long before we'll be believed?

[Auto drivers in Delhi often provide me with much amusement and food for blog, despite the exasperation; here's Automaton - 1, 2 and 3.]

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Another telling comment

Comment by agricultural activist:

"There was a time when our leaders gave us slogans like 'jai jawaan; jai kisaan' (long live the soldier; long live the farmer)... later, with the whole emphasis on technology and nuclear weapons, they got 'jai vigyaan' (long live science) added to the slogan. Nowadays, the attitude seems to be "jai jawaan; jai vigyaan; bhaaD mein gaya kisaan" (long live the soldier; long live science; to hell with the farmer!!)"

Just a comment.
Probably just a reactionary 'quote', spoken in anger. It's coming from a place of frustration and fear, I'm guessing. But it frightens me a little to think that there's anger coming from the place where my food comes from.

And anger there is. A mounting anger.

There are reasons for this anger. There must be. 7000 people (and those are old figures, from older estimates) don't just up and kill themselves. Not without reason...
And how long before large-scale suicide turns into large-scale violence? How much time do we have, I'm wondering.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Some gossip

I'm sitting in Raghuvansh Prasad Singh's office (ministry of rural development). It is a very plush office. (These ministries have SUCH pretty furniture! It seems to me to be the ideal environment for one to sink into the designer furnishings and forget all about where you come from, and why you've been sent here.)

The office is full, even at 8.30 pm.
I haven't said a word yet, because I'm labouring under the delusion that mantriji deals with one person at a time - and that, if I just wait long enough, I will have hid undivided attention.

At present, mantriji's attention is being divided between six repersentatives of various groups from Bihar and a marketing team from India Today.
I know straight off that these aren't reporters. They're carrying laptops and packaged copies of the last few copies of the Hindi edition of the magazine. They begin by showing him a VCD - this is something that India Today (Hindi) did for some government chest-thumping kind of thingy, from Andhra Pradesh.

Mantriji is struggling to deal with a query from some NGO that hasn't got a project it had applied for.

Hindi India Today rep number 1 clears throat - Ahem! Sir, we were hoping to work with you; we have a proposal in mind...

Raghuvansh Prasad Singh - But I am telling you the Hariyali scheme has nothing to do with the union ministry.

Hindi India Today rep number 2 shuts laptop down, then restarts it and grins at me.

rep 1 - We have crossed 1 crore circulation, sir, did you know?

Raghuvansh - One crore? That is good news.... yes, but NGOs are the bottom of the priority list for projects.

rep 2 - Yes sir, much more than 1 crore. That's just the Hindi edition.

Raghuvansh - Hmmm. Good, good... Why don't you understand - I cannot clear this project because it is not a centrally sponsored scheme!

rep 1 - Sir, actually, we were looking at a VCD, that goes in free with the magazine... or a feature that would deliver your vision to the people.

Raghuvansh - my vision?

rep 1 - Yes, sir.

Raghuvansh - Great. Then go right ahead, and deliver our vision to the people. That is a good thing to do.

rep 1 - Ahem! er... ahem! Sir, we were thinking about a paid feature.

Raghuvansh - A paid feature? What nonsense! There is no such thing as paid-for news. We have no provision for it in our rules.

rep 1 - But you do! We've already done a similar one before. For cabard.

Raghuvansh - That's an independent body. The ministry has no such provision.

rep 2 - We're sure there is, sir... you could ask your PA.

Raghuvansh (reaching behind his back to ring the bell) - Fine! But I don't think there's any such thing.

rep 1 -But sir, you can communicate to the people... about all the good work you've done for them.

Raghuvansh - If I build a road for my people, they can see that a road has been built. If I don't build a road, they will know that I haven't build a road. They don't need your magazine to tell them what is done and what is not done.

rep 1 - Ahem! That is true sir, but you can say what you want to do.

Raghuvansh - That's the sort of thing done by those who have not done anything. They need newspapers to talk about what they want to do!

rep 1 has lowered his head and is grinning at me; rep 2 can barely suppress the giggles.

rep 1 - ahem! so, sir... maybe you'd like to ask the PA?
The PA is sifting through files.

PA - Yes, Sir. It is true; paid features are permitted. There was a precedent, last year.

Raghuvansh - Ah... if they're permitted, we'll see. Arre, how many times should I tell you - this scheme is a state-controlled scheme. The centre has no say in it!... Yes, and have you seen the article Meena Menon of the Hindu did? she wrote that we're doing a good job, in our area. She did a real survey, asked the villagers, and wrote honestly.

rep 1 - We could write abou-

Raghuvansh - Look! We have nothing against you. Outlook also came here asking for the same thing. I told them the same thing. The government spends crores on media and advertising and everyone gets a share. When we're spending, we'll give you the ads too.... what the hell are you going on and on about the project for? I told you - I am not blocking you funds. And no, my ministry has NOT received any such paper.

rep 1 - er... Sir, so we'll take your leave.

Raghuvansh - Oh, bring that green book of Hariyali guidelines...

Me - er... Raghuvanshji, if I may ask something....

Raghuvansh - Why don't you ask? You've just been sitting here silent for an hour. I've been waiting for you to say something.

Me - The seeds draft bill, sir. And the PPVFR Bill.

Raghuvansh - What bill? Seeds... yes, our country has lovely plants. And great variety. Even for animals.

Me - Sir, it's about protection of those varieties... why has the bill not been notified?

Raghuvansh - How am I supposed to know why? Ask the government.

Me - Er... sir, you're in the government.

Raghuvansh - Our country has the best buffaloes.

Me - Sir?

Raghuvansh - Yes, they stole our buffaloes genes and made it some 'diamond' breed in Brazil. And do you know, we have at least 26 kinds of goats in India?

Me - No, I didn't know that. But-

Raghuvansh - Yes. 26 varieties. And the best of them is the mother of the goats - the black Bengali one.

Me - I see. But what are we doing to patent genes?

Raghuvansh - The black bengali goat, she can give 2-3 kids. And lots of milk. Even the weakest and smallest goats gives us at least one kid each.

Me - I assumed so, sir... abotu the farmers' rights bill -

Raghuvnash - We will take very good care of farmers. That's what we are here for. That musaato-vusaato (Monsanto) - bad corn. Long hair, but no corn inside! And they have the gall to tell us about seeds!

Me - You're absolutely right! But the new seed bill will make it legally impossible to pin blame on seed manufacturers.

Raghuvansh - It will what? No no... nothing doing. No law for seeds.

Me - But there is a law. There's a draft bill coming up. And the parliamentary standing committee -

Raghuvnash - There's a procedure to this. In parliament, we have procedure. There's the lok sabha, there's a committee, and the committee looks at the bill before passing it.

Me - Exactly. So, the farmer's rights bill has been passed. Now, what procedure is stopping it from becoming a law?

Raghuvansh - There's procedure. We'll take care of farmers' rights. Don't worry.

Me - Alright, then. Do take a look at the seed bill though before passing it.

Raghuvansh - So, here it says, the Hariyali scheme is for panchayat-level initiatives. See, it says here - as a last resort, it goes to NGOs...

And that was my meeting with Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, rural development minister

Friday, June 10, 2005

PS to meme posts

This opinionated guy is somewhat miffed that I didn't tag him, since he thinks it implies that I don't believe that he's well-read enough.

So, here you go, Good Opinionated Sir - you are hereby tagged for BOTH books and music. Please refer to this and this, for the respective memes.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

We, the Media

We, the media, don't flog dead horses. When a story dies, we give it a decent burial. When our job is done, we let go.

On June 4, a bunch of social activists, students, musicians, economist, journalist, villagers, political workers were attacked. By AK47-toting cops in plainclothes.

Since some known names were involved, since these were JNU students, outsiders from the capital city, noted economists, English-speaking-media-savvy NGOs - since these people are one of us - we sat up and took note.

The cops filed the FIR, against their own. It took three attempts to meet a senior cop... but still, only three attempts, and he did see them, eventually.

The CM made sad noises. The ex-CM made angry noises. The central government officials made clucking noises. A probe was ordered. A committee was set up. An apology was offered.

We reported the assualt. For once, we (in our limited way) possibly helped the cause by keeping ourselves open to reporting senseless attacks by the police. Then, we reported that a probe has been ordered. A committee has been set up. The guilty would be punished. Possibly.

Our job is done.

We won't ask the rest of the questions.

We won't ask that the guilty cops be suspended, if not thrown out of the force, for overriding their powers, for harassing the very people they're supposed to protect, for not using their brains.
We won't keep a close watch on so-called 'naxal' areas, to check how badly and how often the locals are beaten up, when urbane activists are not around to lend their voices to the protest.
We won't demand that the cops be made to pay for the damage they cause.
We will not even suggest that the state pay up for physical damage and emotional trauma caused by their behavior. In this instance, the cops will not even pay up for the broken bus and the hospital bill, after all the havoc they caused.

They said 'SORRY!' and We, the Media, rested our case.

Ask questions?
But that is not our job.
Let someone go to court and file a PIL. If the state loses, we will write about it as a 'landmark judgment... cops finally made to pay'.

Let a few villagers get beaten up as they peacefully confer about employment draft bills in parliament. When they turn turn militant, acquire land-mining technology and blow up a few cops, then we'll write about 'state atrocities drive common man to take up the gun'. We'll risk life and limb by 'going into the forest' and living underground with those who dare not surface.
Now, that would be a live-wire story, wouldn't it?

And just think of the possibilites of follow-up stories!
Think 'Who supplies the guerrillas their arms?'.... think 'naxals steal dead cops' guns'.... think 'naxals to hold peace talks with CM'.... think 'naxals reject govt overtures'.... think 'violence continues... demand for separate state'.... think 'Naxal group splits'.... think 'a movement betrayed'.

Why flog dead horses? For now, our job is done.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

On disappointing a male reader

The world of men sometimes saddens me.

(While I still resent the fact that they have most of the fun, what with being able to get away with not being pregnant, all the beneficial non-consequences of not having kids, not getting raped (at least, not by women), not being burnt for dowry, not needing toilets everywhere they go, being President of the USA and bombing smaller countries....
but sometimes, the world of men saddens me.)

Especially on days when I get up and read about classifieds like 'My name is Radkar' or, about men who proposition a relationship - inter-city too! - but want to do it 'formally'.

It is sad, isn't it, thinking of all those guys, sending in a name to dating-classifieds, checking out the blogosphere in the forlorn hope of finding 'formal relationships'...
and it totally breaks my heart to think of the poor man who must have spent hours, googling "Lucknow+girl+wearing+panty"

And guess how this great big worldwide web answers this desperate query? By throwing up my humble blog!

Picture this sex-starved creature in Lucknow, waiting (probably at a cyber-cafe, so probably dishing out his pocket-money) to look for nice stimulating images of his fellow-citizenanis.

Perhaps he was sick of the black tents walking about in the narrow alleys off Chowk.
Perhaps he was a schoolboy who couldn't imagine what sort of panties girls in Lucknow wore, if any?!
Perhaps men believe that Lucknowi girls wear special underwear, something that is somehow more... polite?

Picture his disappointment, when he's directed to boring old me droning on about mobile-rail bazaars, and second-hand tales about UP's campus mafia... Bazaars!? Campus politics!? What's this? Arghgh! (Hey bhagwaan... maine kya maanga tha; tune kya diya?)

Poor guy! No panty-shod genteel rumps here, I'm afraid...

Anyway, for me, it is always been fascinating to find out what men are really looking for.
What makes it even more fascinating is that, often, I find - they're telling the truth! They actually have women and/or sex on their minds, most of the time.

I suppose I had better set myself a reminder - next time I am in Lucknow, I must go check out the panty scene there. I promise to blog it.

Of shelter, love and PeTA

Last week, the office received a press release from PeTA.

It was the expectedly glamourous photo of Sheetal Mallar, sitting in the lap of this giant teddy-bear. The message was... animal rights, I assume.
Since this is not about my opinion of such campaigns, I will stop at saying that, the picture would inspire me to buy life-sized teddies - and, if I were given to alternate orientations, Sheetal Mallar as well - but I wouldn't be tempted to give up my tikkas and kebabs (and, for the umpteenth time, there is no such thing as a veggie kebab, okay?).

Yesterday, a friend wrote to me telling me about the trauma of having to let a whole litter of kittens out of the house, and into the streets.

How are the two subjects related?


My friend takes pity upon a poor stray cat, who decides to simply adopt her (my friend's) home. Then, this cat decides to have kittens. In my friend's home. The kittens are duly cuddled, and pampered and fed.

But the cat, being a cat, has the ability to kill birds, and evidently takes great pleasure in doing so, even if she gets fed tastier non-veg tidbits by friend's family. This bringing in dead birds is a sore point with the 'society' (the building's other residents, that is).

Perhaps, this is because some people like birds better than they like cats. Or perhaps, this is because some people can't stand watching violence of any sort...
The long and short of it is this: the 'society' wanted the cats out. And societies, being elected bodies, make the rules.

The kittens (all of them possessing the same potential ability to kill birds) also had to go.
So, my friend's family took the hard-hearted decision of turning out the cat and her babies.

They did the first sensible thing - call every single animal shelter in Bombay; it turned out that no one had the space, or the inclination, to take in six kittens.

Dogs are easily taken in, since strays are always a problem. Dogs fight and bite. Besides, there are many more dog shelters and kennels, dogs being popular. Cows have their own fan following, as do rescued parrots (from Crawford Market) and other species that win sympathy and space in urban shelters.

Cats - being fairly self-reliant, invisible (compared to dogs), and not holy creatures, unlike cows or snakes - are not welcomed with open arms. At least, this particular family didn't get any welcomes.

When all resources were exhausted, all helplines called, all answers given in the firmly negative, my friend's family was forced to abandon the kittens to their fate. They took care, though, to leave them near a fish market (incidentally, now the cats are quite happy there, fending for themselves very easily, and have apparently forgotten my friend's affectionate hospitality - which has left her family feeling quite bereft, if somewhat relieved).

My point is this -
How many shelters has PeTA set up, in Indian cities, over the last decade?
How many shelters do they finance?

Don't they have the money? But press releases and publicity stunts are expensive propositions...

It's great to have fancy photo shoots and make neat little press kits and pile up shoes outside embassies... it's fun to make some noise, but the animals that are alive and need help, will not be helped by noise alone.

Because, Mahima Chowdhary is very pretty but she's not going to adopt all the strays of the city. Even if she wanted to, her house is not large enough. Sheetal Mallar's legs are very fine, as is John Abraham's expansive chest, but they're not much use to cats who find themselves without a home, suddenly.

PeTA could easily set up a string of animal shelters, with the kind of funds they have. Have they? How many vets do they have on their payroll? How many charitable hospitals have they built? How many animal old-age/retirement homes? How many poachers have they caught? How many forest-dwellers have they trained to fight, or complain about, poachers?

Here's some advice (free... naturally) from PeTA's website:

"SHELTERS: Visit the animal shelters in your area. Check the facilities provided for animals and find out how the animals are cared for and housed. How do the shelters insure that new homes are good? Do they refuse to release animals to laboratories? Are they overcrowded? Are the animals starved for attention? Do they seem withdrawn and depressed? If your local shelter provides inadequate care, what other options exist? (It’s important to understand the problems animal shelters face — many are overburdened with huge numbers of animals in poor condition and are able to find very few acceptable homes.)If you find conditions at any of your local shelters unacceptable, contact PETA for information on how to improve the situation."

This is wonderful!

Contact PeTA about what you should do about a given bad situation. PeTA will tell you what to do... and while you're doing it, PeTA will busy itself with photo-shoots - leggy models, cuddling teddies. How incredibly shweeeet!!

I've seen dog shelters in Bombay. I almost threw up the first time I visited. But for all the filth and depression and wounds and misery in that place, I give it 10 on 10, for being there!

(Now I think of it, someone had said to me, once - love is all about 'being there'. By that definition, the lousiest animal shelter loves animals better than all the noise-making volunteers put together.)

As for PeTA, I wish they'd understand this - all the pictures of the world with humans posing as packaged meat are not going to put me on a veggie diet. But setting up shelters might induce me to volunteer. Me, and a lot of others.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Meet... Bhanwar Singh-ji

Bhanwarji’s story (as told to me by MKSS activists), is the story of a thousand young Hindu men in this country who were betrayed by the saffron brigade.

Bhanwar - I am told his proper name is Bhanwar Meghwanshi, though fondly, people refer to him as Bhanwarji mostly, (and for fun, Bhanware) - used to be an RSS guy.

Like many others of his generation, he bought the Hindu Rashtra theory, and wanted to help build a temple at Ayodhya; he, perhaps, thought that the RSS and other sister-concerns of the Sangh Parivar wanted to 'rescue' Bharat-mata, from... (oh, don't we know all the usual conspiracy theories?)

Bhanwarji was a valued member of the Sangh. He was not only a well-networked worker, steeped in the saffron ideology since the tender age of 11... he was also a good writer, and wrote on behalf of the Sangh in magazines like Panchjanya, in local papers and so on.

And one fine day, everything fell apart.

Bhanwar and his friends in the Sangh had been performing a kar seva. The event had been chockful of sadhus and other priests.

On their way back, an enthusiastic Bhanwar invited his gurus, his sangh brethren, into his home, in Bhilwara district, for a meal. They agreed, equally enthusiastically.

They stopped at his village, and food was prepared.
Bhanwar's father - an old congress loyalist - shook his head pitifully and told his son that these saffron-clad leaders would never eat in this house - a dalit house.

Bhanwar, of course, refused to believe his father. He continued making preparations. But just as the food was ready, the sangh leaders suddenly discovered that they were in a tearing hurry and needed to leave the village at this very moment. They refused to wait for the food.

Poor innocent Dalit-born Bhanwar, still uncomprehending, offered to have the food packed for them, if they were in such a hurry. The leaders mulled over this and, finally, agreed.

The sadhus left, food in tow. An hour or so later, Bhanwar's friend rode up on his motorbike and asked him all about the sadhu-visit and the grand meal. When he heard all, he quietly took Bhanwar on his bike, and showed him the spot where all the 'Dalit-tainted food' lay, thrown out by the 'pure' Sangh.

The spell broke, and Bhanwar turned on his former mentors with a vengeance.

At first, he converted to christianity, but found no solace within the rigidity of church norms and what remained a heirarchial system of belief. Eventually, he made his peace with faith when he found Senani Sarkar, a fakir and local sufi.

In the meantime, he began to glean away his own friends from the Sangh. He would send dalit boys to demand Trishul-diksha inside temples (with non-casteist upper caste friends to witness the scene), knowing the Sadhus would refuse outright, or find excuses for their refusal.

At the same time, he began exposing the saffron agenda in newspapers and magazine. Being all too familiar with the methods they used to stir trouble, it was not hard for him to uncover the details of this agenda. He investigated riots. He wrote books. He talked to people.

He also publishes a magazine called Diamond India. Many of his financiers withdrew their funds from the magazine, when they realised that he no longer supported the RSS. But he managed to continue, with small support from sympathizers and friends, and some backing from the MKSS.

Now, he has a book out that exposes the RSS/Sangh's role in riots in Rajasthan. The VHP has filed an FIR against him. There are threats against his life, and that of the fakir, Senani Sarkar.

What is happening right now? I don't know... but I just hope Bhanwarji keeps polishing that Diamond and keeps the faith it took him so long to find.

Monday, June 06, 2005

She want, she want, she want

After much weekend conversation about feminism - the whys and the why-nots, the what-next and the will-it-evers of the movement - I had begun to wonder whether I would ever fight for a woman's cause, and what it was that my generation really wanted next.

There's the general belief that there is not much discrimination happening in corporate circles anymore. Some. But not enough to re-fuel a movement.

After all, I was given most things the men of my generation were given.
More, perhaps.
I have education, I have a job, I have many, many clothes. I have a room to live in... and it's been a few years since someone stoned me for showing my legs.

Whether it's thanks to the feminist movement, or my educated mother, my times, or our urban culture - I didn't know what needed to be done next.

Sure, women are still getting raped. But the law and society in general has acknowledged rape as a crime. Some are even asking for capital punishment or castration for rapists. My immediate society dismisses the idea of marrying your rapist with a comforting disgust.

Sure, I hear of the horrrors of female circumcision, but that's not here - that's in Africa or Saudi Arabia or wherever else that's far enough away to let us forget. It's not going to happen to my generation, in my country.

Sure, there's dowry. But the law has given me the option of going to the police. (The cops might not do anything about the bride's complaint, but that's a different battle. A principle wrong has been righted, at least at the idea level.)

Sure, some women are still being tortured and killed for being 'witches'. But that's a newspaper report removed. It happens in villages, in tribal districts, amongst the illiterate and irrational. It doesn't happen to me and you. That's not an ideological battle anymore.

And what, then, shall I fight for? What is my feminist battle going to be about?

I believe that no one can fight with conviction unless the war is a personal one.
If I am to fight for women's rights, I must fight for the woman that is me. That is us.

The woman that greets us in the morning, in the mirror above the sink. The woman that is not fussy about what caste the maidservant was born in, but is very fussy about the cut of her jeans. The woman that hangs out in the neighbourhood cafe, worrying about whether she wants to play safe with tried'n'tested cappucino, or experiment with a new smoothie flavour. The woman that wants to walk the streets at night without being called a streetwalker. The woman who no longer knows what's the big deal about streetwalkers, anyway, as long as you don't catch AIDS or some other foul infection.

This is the woman that is frightened and outraged by a college kid being raped by a cop, because it could be her.
This woman is protesting the 'model nikahnama', because all the education in the world can't save her from poverty and despair, if she's got the bulk of a religion stacked against her.
This woman protests Barbie, because she is oppressed by the idea of not being the live barbie that her husband and brother and boyfriends are all pining for.
This woman wants reservation in parliament, because, finally, she is ready for public office.

This is a selfish woman. And this woman will fight the most personal battles first.

She will fight for singles' entry to night-clubs. She will fight for women-only bars. She will fight for the right to drink and smoke in public without being insulted for it.
She will lobby for lax gun-license laws, as long as there are news reports about rape.

She will lobby for equal-wage legislations, and stringent laws against sexual harassment.
She will fight for removal of the 'Father's Name' category in hospitals, school forms, certificates and passports.
And she will whoop with joy the day there are women masseurs on Juhu beach, armed with mats and champi oil, waiting to serve the tired working women of Bombay.

How do I know all this?

Because, I found this.

And I immediately found myself saying - I want, I want, I want!
I want it too - dhabaa on the highway, where women motorists drop by, to unwind with a midnight massage. Where they wouldn't confront violence or be treated like freak insects that can be killed with merciless staring.
I want a country where this is the norm and not some lonely secret, that last feminine resort for thousands of miles in any direction.

What was that, again, about 'that heaven of freedom, father... let my country awake'...?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

and AGAIN!

I got tagged again! This time it's because of J.

Total volume of music files on my computer:
On my work computer - none.
On my laptop - none.
On the desktop back in bombay - who knows?
(like our chapattis, and our books, we don't count our songs)

The last CD I bought was:
A VERY long while back... actually I haven't bought any music for over a year.
J did me the favour of buying me a Mirza Ghalib CD on my Happy Budday. The rest of my music is probably illegal (if downloading MP3s, and burning CDs is illegal).

Songs playing right now:
None. Not even in my own head.

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me:
Listen to a lot, or mean a lot to me? Which is it?
Because the ones I listen to a lot are totally meaningless, most of the time. For instance, Dhoom or Kem Chhe? or Aati Kya Khandala.

But, for the record, I like listening to -

Din Dhal Jaaye... from Guide. (Dev Anand used to be SO good-looking, even when he played morbid-drunk)

The soundtrack of Mirza Ghalib (the TV serial, by Gulzar)

Chalte Chalte... from Pakeezah (actually, everything from Pakeezah. I could play the album over and over and over again. 'Najariya ki maari' especially, and also these lines from Chalte-Chalte "Jo kahee gayi naa mujhse, voh zamana keh raha hai...").

Ghode Jaisi Chaal Haathi Jaisi Dum... the rain-song from Dil To Pagal Hai (silly song, but it's a rain song - a childish-innocent-romantic rain-song... Hmmm, but if it comes to rain-songs, it's a tie between this and Rimjhim-Rimjhim... from 1942, A Love Story).

Ranjishein sahi, dil hi dukhaane ke liye aa; aa mujhe phir se tu chhod ke jaane ke liye aa...
This ghazal as sung by Ghulam Ali is awesome. If I had to pick ONE favourite ghazal, this would be it!

Five people to whom I'm passing the baton:
I'm doing tagging. No more.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Meme (who decided to call it that?)

All because of Hurree babu, I'm having to fill up yet another form-like thing (one of my least favourite things to do).

But, so here is my take on books vaghaira:

Total Number of Books I Own:

Since we are getting into ownership issues here, what will qualify as MY property?
Do books bought by me alone qualify? Or can I include books handed down by grandpa, aunts, mom, cousins etc?
Or can I give a joint property estimate - since most of them lie scattered between three different houses?

And if I am only going to include MY books, do gifts count?

The answer, anyway, is - I don't know. Nobody knows.
We don't count books. Grandma says one shouldn't count one's chapattis as one eats. I think my grandpa's funda was - don't count the books you read/keep.

If I am allowed to count trunkfuls and cupboardfuls... no, actually, I have no clue. We really don't count bookshelves either...(I have to admit here, that Hurree's house is the only other I have seen that is in a whole other book-league. No contest there.)

If it helps, my mom has been making noises along the lines of "now, if you buy any more books, either we live in the house or.... " but she's got a list of gifts she needs - most of which are books of some sort.)

Last Book I Bought:

Let me see now.... ummm, I've taken to borrowing books heavily, but I last bought two books simultaneously.
One was Sahir Ludhiyanvi's collection of songs and poems.
The other was a collection (a tiny selection) of Faiz' poetry.

Last Book I Read:

I last finished reading 'The Mists of Avalon'.
Then there were some reports by some NGOs compiled in book format, but I don't know if they count.
Besides, I don't quite remember the titles.
Am currently reading 'A prayer for Owen Meany', along with Faiz's poetry (Hai, Faiz!! Sigh...!)

Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me:

Books by themselves don't mean so much to me. I might get attached to an idea expressed by an author but that doesn't always have much to do with the book itself - many a scene, image, metaphor, philosophy has remained stuck in my head, though the book itself has been forgettable.

I can't think of a single book that altered my perspective about anything on a permanent basis.
With the exception of P Sainath's 'Everybody loves a Good Drought'.

What? I HAVE to name five?

'Gone with the Wind' had me sobbing for the rebellious, loveless, all-human Scarlet, for three whole days. Rhett Butler was SUCH an idiot, and Scarlet? Poor Scarlet... made me cry my heart out (I was only fourteen, alright?!).

Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged' had my mind in a twist all through the second and third year of BA. The effects wore off when I stepped into the real, working world. (Though her 'Anti-Industrial Revolution' does make me think... even now).

Tolstoy's 'War and Peace'... I vaguely remember thinking a whole lot about love, war, relationships and writing, while I read this book. Don't ask me what, though. None of it stayed. (But, frankly, the last thirty pages took me a whole month to waddle through.)

Margaret Atwood's 'Good Bones' is a current favourite. It was consumed (three times in the same month) recently, so I don't know how long the hangover will last, but it made me both heady and frightened, dark and enlightened, at the same time.

Then, there's Ghalib who's like the ghost I'm quite in love with, though I'm sure he was rather ugly...
And Kahlil Gibran's 'Prophet' still gives me goose-bumps, in places...

Oh, that's more than five already, is it?

Tag Five People And Ask Them To Do This On Their Blogs:

But this bit is totally unfair - the people I know and who blog have probably been tagged already. Okay, fine FINE! I'll try.

But I'm only going to tag three, to begin with (since I'm running the risk of being shot for sending forward-like objects that call themselves 'meme', I might as well keep my list of assailants short)

Thursday, June 02, 2005

One little girl

Was checking out Atanu Dey's blog and came upon this, and a four-year-old memory just came back to me.

I was walking down a narrow pavement, from Lower Parel station to the Mid-day office, manouvering between shoppers, shopkeepers, commuters rushing to catch the evening locals, hangers-on, fisherwomen... and there was this crowd blocking my way - about fifty people gathered round something I couldn't see, their backs turned to the street.

I almost crossed the road to bypass the crowd... almost. But I didn't. I stopped. (I still haven't figured out why, because I am not in the habit of checking out mini-mobs on already mobbed streets). When I finally elbowed my way into the centre of the circle, I found that a little girl of about seven was being slapped out of her senses by two grown men.

She was crying - howling and screaming, really - but I couldn't hear her screams because this mini-mob was collectively louder - the buzz of whispers was deafening as it egged on the men - 'teach her a lesson'.

Somehow, I have no recollection of the next few seconds. there's a memory lapse after which I remember being on my knees, holding the girl, and being stared at by half a dozen very surprised men.

One of them was talking to me. "You don't know these children... she's a thief. Don't go by her innocent looks."

Another spoke up, "They're trained to do this sort of thing."

I remember barking back, "What sort of thing?"

"She's a thief, I tell you."

"What did she steal?"

"An item from my gift shop.. I saw her."

I looked at the child. Her clothes were - or had been - torn almost off her body. Tears running down... she cowered and shrank away even from me, as if I was about to hit her next.

I asked her, "Did you take anything from this man's shop?"

She just howled louder and shook her head.

The men started their buzzing roar of whispers again. "She did... she did... I saw her."

One of the men reached out to drag the child away from me, and began to slap her again.
Again, there is a slight memory lapse; I have no idea what exactly happened, but this time I was standing and holding the girl very tightly by the wrist.

The men were angry with me now. "You leave this to us, madam... we will sort this out."

"By beating her?"

"She deserves it... she's a thief."

"So what if she is? She is a little child."

"Madam, this is not your business... You have no right."

"You have no right either... this is not your daughter, for you to teach lessons to. Save your beatings for your own children."

"Madam, get out of the way. We don't want thieves around here..."

"Alright then, why don't you call the police?"

"What? The police?"

"Yes, call the police. I will hand over this girl to the police."

The men exchanged glances. Frm somewhere in the back of the mob, I heard a small voice, "It wasn't worth that much... you'll have to give mor to the police to register a case."

"Isn't worth that much? But it is worth enough beating the life out of this girl? Or were you just having fun doing it?"

Finally, one by one, the crowd dispersed. There was just the girl. And me. In a sudden silence.
The girl was still crying and I was still holding onto her wrist.

For a long time, I did not know what to say. Finally, I asked her, "Did you take anything?"

She shook her head.

I tried again, "I'm not going to call the police. But did you steal?"

This time, she just kept crying quietly, neither admitting it, nor denying it.

"Do you have somebody here, in Bombay?"

"Yes, my father."

"Do you know the way home?"


She was beginning to strain away, but I was still holding on firmly. I considered my options, briefly - calling the police, calling some NGO, calling the government shelter for homeless kids, calling a helpline, calling my office...

Then, I gave her a cursory one-line lecture - 'Don't do it agin, ok?' - and I let go of her wrist.

But I knew she would do it again. Even at the risk of her life.
It can't be easy, stealing for a living, when mini-mobs begin to thrash you... It can't be easy. But she'd do it again.

I don't recall feeling particularly brave. In fact, I felt guilty - as if I had been responsible for getting the child into that horrible situation. As if, in some collective sense, it was my fault as much as anyone else's. As if we were responsible for this one, and all others like her. I had only just salvaged my pride, by stepping in when I did.

I also remember thinking, "Perhaps she should go to an NGO... but I remember pinching colourful pencils when I was five. I didn't get beaten up... Mom just collected all the pencils in my bag which she didn't recognize and gave them back to my class-teacher... I didn't need to steal, but I did. And I didn't go to a juvenile home. I didn't get arrested. I was not taken to a shrink. I wasn't handed over to an NGO.... I was five. She is seven now, eight maybe... maybe all children steal. Maybe..."

I had convinced myself that the girl deserved to stay at home, with her family, and if she needed to steal to stay alive, well then - so be it!

But after all this time, I'm wondering... whatever happened to that little girl?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A book launch, an admission and a few discoveries

I attended a book launch - Niyogi Offset's new coffee table book on the Jama Masjid, by RL Batra - courtesy a senior Hindi writer who had so many interesting things to tell me that I might have discovered a story idea to work on (talk to anyone long enough, without any stated concrete motive, and there's your story idea!).

Book launches teach you a lot of things, for instance:

It's Shabana Azmi (between the two of them).

I used to look at, and read about, Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar - both talented, both intense, in their own starkly different ways - and wonder who I liked better.

Azmi had my vote, when I first saw Arth.
Then, I heard Akhtar reciting his non-filmi poetry at an Adda meet, and I kissed his hands (okay, so I was not yet out of college, and given strongly to impulse).
Then, I read about Azmi's strident defense of the slums, and the balance shifted.
Then I heard Akhtar speak up against the US invasion of Iraq...

But today, I saw the two of them sitting together on the dias, and I looked at her arched brows, her silently defiant jaws, and then, that sudden lifting of the lower lid before she grinned, and those eyes turning into vats of cool-warm molten coal - and me thinking that if this is what liquid coal looks like, it must be a beautiful sight.

She spoke with warmth, spontaneity and seeming honesty. And goaded her husband to do the same - "Come on yaar, what's this? No formality here...". She totally gets my vote.
(Besides, Javedsaab has got himself a terrible haircut).
No, but seriously, I don't understand how he can ever get himself to take his eyes off her. In his place, I wouldn't have.

Recovering from culture

Amongst other things, we spoke of culture and the need to decentralise it, like power and economics and everything else.... based on the fact that a certain gentleman from Bihar is planning to set up a decent cultural centre - equipped to cater to cultural trouples, workshops et al - in Gaya, the naxal heartland.

Writer says, "It is interesting... that there might be music and creative protest in the same region that echoes with the sound of gunshots. Though I did ask this benefactor to open something like this in Delhi, instead"

I say, "No no no.... he MUST open it in Gaya. You have no idea what it means to small-town and rural kids to have access to genuine/alternate culture. It's not fair that all of India must run to Delhi every time she wants to see a decent play."

What I did not say was that I have never quite recovered from my cultural illiteracy, and subsequent exposure to trash that passed for 'pop culture', during my formative years.

I grew up in rural (almost) Rajasthan, and the only 'culture' I knew consisted of a mish-mash of folk, passed on by harrassed school-teachers who didn't have a choice, since the school did not have any music/ dance/ dramatics/ fine arts faculty.

As a result, I grew up grooving and moving to Banglaa songs like dhitang dhitang bole... and even (shudder!) ekla chalo re, wearing Assamese costumes, to the visual accompaniment of jhatka-matka sequences from the Haryanvi heartland. Which was all very good for national integration, but even so....

The only other exposure we had to the outside world was television - movies, to be more precise. Film music at parties. Orchestras singing the latest filmi songs at social events. Filmi dances adapted to suit school stage programs (when the said harrassed teachers ran out of folk memories).... Hindi film songs translated into Sankrit - to bypass the school's inviolate rule of 'nothing filmi' (yeah, that too!).

The result?
My soul refuses to respond to numbers that the rest of the world acknowledges as 'awesssum!!' music. The only reason I am able to appreciate someone like Shubha Mudgal or Ghulam Ali, is that these genres - thumris, ghazals etc - are part of our filmi heritage. But Coldplay leaves me cold, and (don't flog me, please) so does Jim Morrison.

At this end of extreme, my feet automatically, almost unstoppably, move to 'Jawan jaaneman' and even (exhale... deep breath... blurt!) 'Ishq Kameena'.

Now, if only I'd been somewhere near Sangeet Natak Academy...

A drunk writer and a bit of curiousity

After the first dip into the cocktail session, writer asks me if he could call me Annie "Or is it Anne?"

After the second, he decides he prefers to call me Zaidi. "Annie is so... I mean, what's in an Annie?... Zaidi is so much more..."

After the third drink, he doesn't like my surname, after all. "It's your family name, not yours."

All this is utterly harmless, of course. Besides, the good part about men being drunk is that they abandon all pretense at table manners and eat, without inhibition, with their hands. Which is a good idea, considering hand-mouth coordination problems with forks and knives.

While I politely 'Hmm-ed and Ji, ji-ed' along, I begin to wonder what it's really like to be really drunk....

Do you hear your own voice as if it comes from very far away (which would explain the need to yell three decibels above the necessary level, right into someone's ear)?

Do you see people stepping further away or simply melting into thin air (which would explain the wide gestures, most of which are aimed at prodding the air within three inches of someone's face)?

Do you feel the room swoooosh and swiiiish under your shoes (which would explain stepping on someone else's toes, and bumping into other people's heels, five times into a row)?

Does your head suddenly feel like it's going to snap off your neck and roll out of grasp (which would explain your jerking it back into position, carefully resting it against the wall and fighting the temptation to give it into the safe custody of the nearest shoulder)?

What on earth can make a sane person say 'Enjoy Delhi', five times in the space of one hour?

The TV-camera-wallas got a scolding!

And (I'm terribly contrite, in retrospect) I was quite glad to see them get a dressing down.

Since I was not attending the launch in my official capacity, I was sitting there smugly, quite happy to see the media being put in its place. All thanks to this really old gentleman, wearing a really ornate sherwani - who called out "Photohgraphers... SIT DOWN!" and then again, "SIT DOWN, I SAID! This function has been organised for the audience's benefit, not yours! SIT DOWN!!"

The faces of the camera crews - and the print photographers - were worth looking at. They all looked like little schoolboys (I say boys, because all of them were men... not a single female around with a camera) caught smoking their first cigarette in the school loo - shocked, intimidated, bemused.

A few had to be pulled into their seats. A few squashed themselves into each others' laps, in their hurry to find a seat while hanging onto their tripods and vantage shooting positions, all at the same time.

The trouble with the media - esp TV crews - is that they are a rude, ruthless bunch whose living depends on being a rude, ruthless bunch.
They push people around. They block everyone else's view. They monopolize celebrities, and in turn are controlled and driven by celebrities. They ignore the real people of the moment - the writer Mr Batra, and Prof Mushrul Hasan, who wrote the foreword, in this case. They don't ask intelligent questions... actually, they didn't ask any questions.

And they ALWAYS push ahead of print and/or radio, as if, by virtue of lugging around a big camera, they have a moral right to speak out of turn.

So, though I was quite sorry for them afterwards, they deserved the scolding. Serve them right!
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