Sunday, July 31, 2005

Accidents, hospitals and a legal slap in the face

This post on Dilip's blog led me to re-read an email I'd received a few days ago. It referred to a legal precedent (albeit in a different context), establishing that hospitals cannot turn away accident victims.

In the case of Pravat Kumar Mukherjee (the victims' dad) Vs. Ruby General Hospital and Others, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission ruled that no hospital can stop or deny treatment to an accident victim, on the grounds that money has not been deposited.

I'm briefly paraphrasing the sequence of events, based on court documents -

Sumanta Mukherjee, aged 20, a student of 2nd year Electrical Engineering, met with an accident on 14th January, 2001, at 8.10 a.m., on his way to his tuition classes, on a motorcycle. He was knocked down by a bus of the Calcutta Tram Company.
Before hitting Sumanta, the bus had already hit one cyclist ,Vishwajeet Sardar but since the cyclist was obviously of humble origins, he was taken straight to the government-owned National Calcutta Medical College & Hospital.
Since he was on a motorcycle and, clearly, not of such humble origins, the crowd decided to take him to the nearest hospital possible, in this case, Ruby.
Sumanta was still conscious and since he was insured under a Mediclaim policy, he showed the certificate to some of the people in the crowd (who was also one of the witnesses in the case). He promised to pay whatever charges would accrue and based on that, the hospital staff began treating him.
However, some of the administrative staff began insisting that a deposit of Rs 15,000 be paid upfront, and threatened to discontinue treatment.
The crowd who'd brought the boy to the hospital pleaded with the staff to continue treatment, and they'd pay up as soon as they got in touch with the family. They offered to pitch in Rs 2000 on the spot and also offered the boy's motorcycle as security. They showed them the mediclaim certificate.
All to no avail. The hospital insisted on an immediate deposit, and 'in utter violation of medical ethics. They discontinued the treatment after continuing it for around 45 minutes.'
The crowd then took the boy to the National Calcutta Medical College, which was some 8 Kms away. By the time they got there, the boy was already dead.

Now, the boy's family did file a complaint in the consumer court, 'claiming compensation of Rs.1,34,60,000/- for the damages caused to the complainants'. But the court decided that the hospital needed a bigger slap in the face.
It ruled that :

"It is not merely the alleged harm or mental pain, agony or physical discomfort, loss of salary and emoluments etc. suffered by the appellant which is in issue (sic) - it is also the quality of conduct committed by the respondents upon which attention is required tobe founded in a case of proven negligence.

Keeping the aforesaid principles in mind, it would be just and reasonable to award compensation of Rs.10 lakhs for mental pain and agony. This may serve the purpose of bringing about a qualitative change in the attitude of the hospitals of providing service to the human beings as human beings. Human touch is necessary; that is their code of conduct; that is their duty and that is what is required to be implemented. In emergency or critical cases let them discharge their duty/social obligation of rendering service without waiting for fees or for consent."

The same court has also ruled, on more than one occassion, that hospitals are responsible to 'consumers', even if the 'service' rendered is free of cost.

Can the above ruling not be used to insist that victims of disasters - like the landslides in Bombay - be taken in and treated, without waiting for a piece of paper, which certifies that they need treatment?

In fact, I'd be surprised if someone hasn't already filed a PIL in the Supreme Court, in this context... how could we not have?

Friday, July 29, 2005

Mind your millets

One of these days, I'm going to look for the guy who drafts our laws.

For instance, look at section 29 (1) of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001 (passed by both houses of parliament but, for reasons best known to the government, not yet notified).

It says,
"Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, no registration of a variety shall be made under this Act in cases where prevention of commercial exploitation of such variety is necessary to protect public order or public morality or human, animal and plant life and health or to avoid serious prejudice to the environment...."

I would especially like to meet the guy who put the above clause about 'public order or public morality' into the text of the law. And I'd also like to meet all those veteran parliamentarians who did not fall off their chairs laughing, at the idea.

How a plant variety could offend anybody's morals is completely beyond me.

Unless some seed manufacturing company wants to name a variety 'Orgy Millets'. Or imagine a poor farmer coming up with something more desi, like 'Kunwari Dhaan'?
(Actually, that might be a lot of fun, no? This is one issue I'd love to write about... can't wait to see how many farmers are willing to get naughty with plant nomenclature.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Bread, cake and the rulers of the land

When I last spoke to Dr Krishna Bir Chowdhary (chairman of the Bhartiya Krishak Samaj), he'd said one of those things I will not easily forget. He said, "The only currency this country recognizes is 'roti'."

Roti - our geography, our language, our politics, our currency.

Bread. Roti...

And we all know what happens when the people have no bread, and the rulers of the land talk about having cake... Heads roll; that's what happens.
When you talk of building another Shanghai before your citizens have even a tin shed roof above their heads, when you dismiss thousands of workers in your factories, when you build malls on land where mills gave people a livelihood... then cars are burnt down, Chief Ministers are bombed, policemen are confronted...
a lot happens when that do-waqt-ki-roti is at stake.

The lawmakers of this land would do well to do a rethink about laws that threaten the daily bread of the masses. (The draft Seed Bill 2004, for instance. Have written more on that in an article, which is in the current issue of Frontline, but there's no link to it, yet)

"After all, what is the largest issue in the world today?" Dr Chowdhary had said, "Food security. And India's food security is built on a combination of government procurement of grains and a public distribution system. Both these have been consistently undermined by our leaders and the administration.... people talk of dismantling the PDS. To be like the developed nations. The US gives it's farmers a billion dollars worth of subsidies, every single day! When you can match them with subsidies in excess of USD 365 billion, then you can talk about market forces... besides, what will the farmer sell [what will we buy?] if he cannot sow? The new seed bill will make it impossible for the small and marginal farmer to obtain seeds..."

And I'm wondering - even if I concede that the proposed law, which makes registration of seeds compulsory, has everyone's best interests at heart - how will you ensure that poor, uneducated farmers register traditional varieties? How will you prevent big firms from stealing their varieties? How do you decide who is stealing from whom? How will it help that firms and farmers register seeds? Who will be helped?
And, let's say, the big firms stop producing seed, just because they don't have monopoly rights over a given variety, who would be hurt? Who, but the firms themselves?
For, long before there were firms, there were farmers - standing at the mandi with their laden carts, bartering, sharing knowledge as freely as the non-patented breeze, selling, buying....
firms or not, they will go on doing just that.

Dr Chowdhary also says that we're going to be very badly beaten at the patent game. "We shouldn't put our noses into a game we can't win... I have seen, in my own village in the hills, that poor tribals are made to collect all kinds of herbs and give them to foreigne firms, along with a description of what purpose the herb is used for. The tribals are gievn a few ruppees a day for this, and they don't even know what is going on.... the big firms just take their knowledge, do some lab-work, and slam! There comes your patent!... And how will we research when the tools and infrastructure are denied to us? Even the tools for genetic research will be patented... bahut buri tarah pitne wale hain hum..."

Controlling seeds, patenting medicinal plants, toying with the dangerous rattle of daily bread denied... the lawmakers of this land need to brush up on their history.

Roti - our geography, our language, our politics, our currency... for we all know what happens when the people have no bread, and the rulers of the land talk about having cake... Heads roll; that's what happens.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Going to the dogs?

Here a scam, there a scam, everywhere a scam-scam... and now they use the dogs to make some dirty money.

According to a report in Mid-day, the Bihar police not only spends Rs 8 lakhs a month on its 8 dogs stationed in Patna, but also.. "employs 28 dog handlers and almost 25 police personnel meant for cooking food for dogs and cleaning their 'quarters'."

Heh! If only I had 25 cops to clean my quarters, and cook for me... a dog's life sounds like a good life.

On paper at least, the state (kitty) is, literally, going to the dogs... maybe the rest of the dogs in the country should begin a 'Chalo Patna' andolan (movement), and demand that the Bihar police put it's money where their mouths are?

What could they do?

Majaz, years and years ago, had spoken for the muflisi (poverty?) of many a poet, when he put loneliness, desperation, frustration, rebellion and and many indescribable ingredients in his nazm 'Awara'.

Rather ironic, then, that someone who cheats poor Urdu poets, by pretending to be a patron, and an organiser of mushairas, should take on the name of 'Majaz' while conning his lyrical fraternity.

However, these poets, as it turned out, were not the kind who'd take it lying down.
Now, I'm all opposed to violence and all that, but in their place, who knows... ? And I bet they were quoting Majaz, as their justification:

dil me ek sholaa bha.Dak uThaa hai aaKhir kyaa karuu.N
meraa paimaanaa chhalak uThaa hai aaKhir kyaa karuu.N

So the verbal spark did burst into fisticuff-flame, for their cup of patience simply brimmed and boiled over... what could they do?

That said, so much excitement right in my ilaaka, back home, and I wasn't around to witness it? What a pity! Would have 'haath saaf karo'ed myself (as we say in Bombay).

Monday, July 25, 2005

Not so staunch

And here is an interesting post about how all that silly media hype about 'staunch Londoners' is utter nonsense.

He says, "Random searches will accomplish nothing - and let's face it - random searches are never really random. They make brown people feel like shit. I was selected for a random check once at Heathrow and when I looked at the other people selected for this 'random check' they were mostly Asian."

And as this blogger points out, they're saying they're sorry and that shooting the Brazilian was a 'tragedy', but they haven't said they won't shoot anyone else.

Osianic ranting

I’ve tried hard not to rant about Osian, but there’s only so much justifiable restraint.

The last day of the film festival was undoubtedly the worst example of the organisers’ lack of foresight, and inability to manage crowded venues.

I can understand the first-day chaos of people arriving with cell phones and handbags, without any cars to leave their stuff in. But I do not understand why a small counter could not be set up, the next day, where people could deposit their phones, with a paper-token system. Almost every other shop-keeper in Delhi can run such a system (for bags) very effectively. Osian didn’t. Result? Continued arguments at the entrance gate. Show after show, day after day.

One show scheduled for yesterday were cancelled, or substituted with other films that no one wanted to watch, and no explanations were forthcoming about why.

And during the last few shows, yesterday, there were near-riots at two at Siri Fort. Since it was the last day of the festival, and it was a Sunday, and some of the best films were being screened, huge crowds turned up. But the biggest auditorium was cordoned off for preparations for the ‘closing ceremony’. Mind you, there wasn’t anything much happening inside so hall 1 could have been used. The only ‘preparations’ one could see were some awful fake palm trees put up on stage and garlands of tuberoses stringing the stage. Which is so irrelevant to a film festival. People come here to watch films, and not silly plastic trees, thank you!

In any case, the crowds swelled by afternoon to unmanageable proportions. Siri Fort 2 and 3 (where Sandip Ray’s Nishijapon and Santosh Sivan’s Navarasa, respectively, were to be screened) were so packed that there was scarcely room to stand. There were mini-mobs outside, wanting to be let in, screaming and demanding and begging and cajoling. The organisers were nowhere to be seen.

For the first half hour or so, there were no explanations about when, and whether, the ever-lengthening queues waiting outside would be allowed in. One handicapped woman kept banging on the locked doors, begging to be let in, but the guards did not answer, nor asked her to go and sit down somewhere, because this was going to take some time to sort out.

Part of the problem was that those who had been watching the earlier films had not left their seats at all. They just stayed inside, which ensured that nobody else could enter.

The other example of idiocy was that, although there was plenty of space in the balconies, where people could have stood, at least, the doors were not opened, despite repeated requests.

Finally, one of the organisers turned up and asked the crowd to wait five minutes and disappeared. Five minutes turned to half and hour and still no sign of the door opening up.

By now, people were trying to smash the glass doors leading to hall 2.
Finally, the cops turned up and one senior sardarji cop tried to dispel the crowds. He got yelled at, and yelled a lot, in his turn - "What the &*** is going on... This is not my job, damn you… it’s just a bloody movie!"

It was a bloody good movie, apparently, because the crowds refused to move. Finally, the organisers were found, and the door opened, but there was not half an inch of space in the hall.

Watching the movie was impossible, under the circumstances and people began to stamp in and stamp out, fuming. The same organiser-lady stomped in and began shouting at people. "I’ve had enough!… shut UP!!… I SWEAR we will NOT screen anything and cancel all shows if the audience doe not BEHAVE!! I will NOT have this sort of misbehaviour. You are SHOUTING at the organisers. You are abusing us. We will NOT screen anything… SHUT UPPP!!"

[At this point, a lot of people murmured things about their dignity being more important that the damn movie and stepped out. While I wasn’t particularly enjoying the scene, I stuck around because I felt it was my job to see a public mess unravel to it’s bitter end.]

Finally the cops were summoned and the hall was emptied "for security reasons".
Which was true enough because a stampede was all set to happen, and all exits were blocked so that, in case of an emergency, no one would have been able to escape.

Afterwards, the bouncers set afloat a rumour that the screening would not be held in hall 1, which was larger and could have accommodated everyone.
Half the potential audience settled down in hall 1, only to learn that they'd been lied. When they tried to return to the smaller halls, they were shoved away, and told it was too late now. Insults, abuses and such like things happened. Not to me, but they happened...

Meanwhile, Aruna Vasudeva was nowhere to be seen, and Mr Neville Tulli was very visible, pacing across the stage in Hall 1, fussing with his hair, while people waited for three long hours, staring at fake coconut trees!

I can’t think of a worse way to end a ten-day long festival that was so jam-packed with potential - multiple screenings, 120+ movies, panel discussions, seminars, even a campus-talent category… no one had to time to absorb even a fraction of the whole, even if you lived at the venue from 10 am to 11 pm.

Comparisons might be odious, (though not as odious as insulting and pushing your audiences), but I can’t help comparing this to MAMI (the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) film festival, held each year in Bombay.

I suggest Osian’s organisers borrow a leaf or two from the MAMI organisers’ book.
I’ve attended three years of MAMI and although there are issues of space (keep in mind that Bombay’s population is larger than Delhi’s, and it is the nation’s filmi capital, so it has filmi junta, and filmi wannabes and filmophiles of all kinds milling about the multiple venues on a much larger scale. Bombay, in general, has space constraints and yet, never, ever have I witnessed a mini-riot in the making, at festivals.

After screenings, the theatres would be compulsorily emptied, and before screenings, everybody had to queue up, even those who have just finished watching the previous movie in the same hall.
When changes in schedule happen, notices are pasted on the doors of the halls and near the food stalls.
In fact, MAMI’s shifting venue to a larger multiplex (IMAX, Wadala), though seemingly inconvenient at first, was a good move. The organisers also arranged a bus service from the nearest railway station, at regular intervals coinciding with screening time-slots. This ensures that those who don’t have their cars or bikes can still make it to the venue, on time.

One could not walk in and out of the halls at will. Which was a damn good idea - at Osian, one ended up being distracted every three seconds, with someone getting up, leaving, or arriving late.

In Bombay, they allowed food inside the halls, so one could amuse oneself with caramel popcorn if one has made the mistake of choosing a very bad film. They also kept a suitable time lag between screenings, just like a regular commercial screening, so that theatre staff could clean up any leftover popcorn or empty cola cans.

And they were smart enough not to have hundred-odd films so that one ends up being miserable that one saw only one-fifth of what one could have seen. Films were rotated in various halls, on various days, so you had a good chance of catching more than half, and attending the press conferences, which happened between screenings and not simultaneously, unlike Osian where one was torn between watching the films and listening to filmmakers.

So there!! Phew!! Okay, I’m done ranting... but I still maintain that Delhi's Osain could learn crowd-management from Bombay's MAMI, and for God's sake, don't ever yell at your audience to 'SHUT UPP!!'

P.S . - All that near-rioting and one young man grumbles, "How can they treat us like this? We're not some ordinary paan-waalas, you know?"
Aah! Eh?

P.P.S - All that near-rioting and one good-humoured girl tells her friend "You're wearing golden kolhapuris...? No wonder they won't let us in!"

PPPS - The last time I witnessed something similar was in Ajmer, where they had to padlock the iron sliding-screens, during a Govinda-starrer. Santosh Sivan ought to be flatterred. Near-rioting, and he didn't even need Govinda or an audience comprised of paan-waalas!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Firsts of the season

Beteeen gorging films, here are the firsts of the festive season:

Spotted my first mini-skirt yesterday (though it was on a middle-aged woman who forgot to match the skirt with the shoes, or the personality... I wonder why the girls who normally love showing off in mini-skirts, feel that they must appear at film festivals wearing jhabbas and jholas? Is it their way of conceding that clothes define the bimbo?)

Spotted the first girl for whom the short kurta was created… (slender torso, lines that show well under the darkest salwar, full enough to suggest the existence of curves. Would give a lot for those legs...)

Spotted the first Indian woman dressed like an African – complete with turban and all.

Spotted the first so-in-love couple. (They looked too happy to be watching the sufferings of post-Khmer Cambodia. Send them away, please.)

Saw the first good gay-protagonist-film (The Iron Ladies).

Spotted the first Bombay girl deliberately dressed down and covered up, (because she was in big, bad, unsafe Delhi, who felt really stupid, because now she notices all these bare-dare girls trooping in, wearing halter tops and tubes.)

Sat through the first day of non-air-conditioned theatres (the electricity was missing).

Saw the first really modest filmmaker who refused to talk about the film or himself, after he’d been given his claps, post-screening. (These Asian men do know how to bow - without looking ridiculous or self-conscious... completely solemn and completely respectful)

The first really curious audience that couldn’t stop asking questions.

The first really intelligent question (About colour-coding different parts of the film, also representing periods of history)

Heard my first pick-up line (‘Can I look at your brochure?’ Puh-leez! And these are the creative men of our country!?)

Walked into the media centre, and, for the first time, found an unoccupied computer! (heh!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Vignettes (from Osian)

A very quick update (since I am missing one whole movie to allow myself this post) from the ongoing Osian film festival in Delhi:

- Jabberwock has said a lot about the furore surrounding cell-phones, and how impossible it is to watch a movie in peace without the familiar, conforting beeping object snug in your pocket/bag.

It is amusing, nevertheless, to witness the irrational lengths to which people go, in order not to be parted from their cell-phones.

Some are sneaking in cell-phones, by tucking them into their crotches (NOW you know the whole obsession with smaller and smaller instruments, eh?). It's easier for women, with their skirts, sarees and loose salwars.
Some guys tuck their phone inside shoes!
Women try to conceal the phone amongst so many assorted objects in their tiny purses - lippers, mascara, compact, perfume, hankies, pens, whatnot - that a small phone can easily escape undetected (I tried; I got caught).

However, as security checks go, it is most disconcerting to be frisked the way we are being frisked. The big ladies in green salwar-kurtas, manning the gates, don't even feel me up properly. One of them, in fact, just pokes at my insignificant bosom... each time! (What she's looking for, I don't know... for now, I'm too amused to protest.)

- I have, however, been permanently scarred by the Watermelon movie. (I don't remember the Chinese title, but it was called something like 'Wayward Cloud' in English) They should issue a warning about films like this - and I'm NOT a prude - because I will never again be able to eat watermelons without wanting to puke.

I am SICK of filmmakers who seem to be playing out their own ewww fantasies on celluloid and subjecting the rest of the world to this bullshit they call 'radical art'.
Radical art, my radical ***! Apparently the filmmaker said he wanted to elicit a 'reaction'. Well, he got a reaction out of me - I walked out within minutes. (But really, they should issue a warning before such films. I am convinced that the fare on offer at Capitol, outside VT station in Bombay, is more tastefully put together.)

- You MUST watch Saurabh Shukla's Aye Dil (translated very badly into English as 'My Heart Goes Sha-la-la'). It is worth attending a festival for. It was worth suffering the watermelons for, even that.
It made me laugh hard, it made me cry softly, it made me nod my head in gentle empathy with EVERY single character in the movie. And you know what? It even made me wish I'd paid to watch it!

The film has Rajat Kapoor in the lead, the same guy who made the touchingly funny Raghu Romeo, with Saurabh Shukla playing a significant part in it. These two guys are both brilliant actors and, as I now know, good filmmakers. I didn't get a chance to blow them any kisses, but when I do, I will.

- The other watchable films I've managed to catch, so far, are 'The Best Times', an Egyptian-Arab film by Hala Khalil, and Shanghai Dreams, which had to have been good anyway, having been honoured at Cannes and all. Go watch, if you get the chance...

- Cafe Lumiere was my biggest disappointment.
It's all very well to say that to have a plot is to use people and to use people is to misuse people, I'd still like a story to be told when I'm giving you two and a half hours of my time, unless you're going to pay me... to watch nothing happen and nothing unfold and nothing proceed and nothing recede.
If you have nothing to say, you might as well not say it.
When filmmakers don't have a real story, they might as well spare us a numb backside.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

On saving Indian families

I am very glad that my browser was giving me trouble when I first heard about this post, because, although my immediate reaction was to tell Sumanth-ji to do things to himself that no 'radical feminist' would want to, (and no gay man either - since they're firmly rooted in the feminine ethos - which is the only ethos worthy of mother nature), I have done a rethink.

Truly, these radical feminists are all crazy.

The only good thing these feminists do is to burn the bra. The bra is a western invention, and Indian women should never wear western clothes.
In the good Indian tradition, women only wear a single six-yard long piece of cloth. I am convinced that that, and only that, is the proper way to dress. And petticoats!! Such a terrible invasion of culture... the very word is angrezi; our colonial masters with their damn victorian morals made our women wear petticoats and blouses.

And of course, they don't want our laws to change. Now, you and I, Sumanth-ji... we want laws to change. If I had my way with the law, the first thing I'd do would be to remove women altogether from the scope of the criminal procedure code.
Because we all know that according to the great Manu - who had such wonderful ideas about marriage and firmly put to rest all nonsensical speculation about love being a justification for marriage - had said that 'Dhol, Ganwaar, Shudra , Pashu, Naari , Yeh sab Taadan ke Adhikaari'.

Now, do we say that it is crime to beat a drum? Does anyone go to jail for kicking a dog, or even a Dalit, for that matter? Why then should weak, old, sick people go to jail for setting a bride or two afire?

All these people who complain about torture and harassment and 'kitchen accidents'... what do they know about culture and tradition? In Indian families, wives set themselves afire, willingly! Why punish old sick people who're just trying to save them the indignity of being widowed first, and then burnt.

Old, sick, weak people shouldn't go to jail, ji. They should be set up on a pedestal and worshipped for masterminding the growth of the family's economy. Now, just as we close down a 'sick' factory, just as we shoot a lame horse, so it is with the bahu - when she isn't quite being the cash cow she was meant to be. Besides, you can get a woman for less than the price of a cow or a buffalo.

Now, you just try and kill a cow! THAT would be criminal in a proper Indian family. If only these radicals wouldn't distract the law and let it focus on meritorious issues like anti-cow-slaughter legislation...

And oh, that business about adulterous daughters-in-law, since the Imrana case is only a socially fashionable issue and not representative of the real filth in Indian society, let's take a look at the 'real' filth in society: divorce... (tauba-tauba).

Have you heard of a worse thing than two people actually going their separate ways, just because they cannot be happy?

I mean, have you ever heard of something as ridiculous as being happy in marriage? Whoever got married to be happy? Good Indian families are based on the firm foundation of duty. It is our duty to suck all the individual joy out of each other's bosoms; to lay our many burdens on each others' shoulders and hey, the more burdens there are, the more shoulders we need, right?
Besides, what possible cause could anyone have to want a divorce, in India? If a daughter-in-law is unhappy, she should do her bahu-like duty by allowing dear father-in-law to get adulterous with her (that being not filth, but merely a socially fashionable non-issue).
And brothers-in-law might be added to the list as well. Akhir vansh jo aage badhaana hai, nahin sumanth-ji?

If the husband is unhappy, of course, he should just leave the stupid bahu at her maika. No divorce needed, ji. Better still, he could utilize her dowry to go abroad. When he has had enough of pleasuring himself elsewhere, he could always return and demand his wife back.

In fact, what are we talking about? Divorce? Divorce does not exist! There is no such thing as divorce, as good old Manu told us.

Come, people, let us all take a pledge to save the 'Indian family'.

There is that little problem of choice - so many types of Indians and marriages and families... we'd have to decide who is the most 'Indian' and therefore deserving of the honour of being upheld as THE Indian family.

Let's sort this out right now -

Single-parent families are out, of course.
The Pandavas were not a proper family. Kunti (the mother) was not an Indian mother at all. And we really must stop this bullshit worship of Radha. Radha was a properly married woman. She should be punished for lusting after a younger boy, not worshipped, for Krishna's sake!!

And what is this nonsense about Atal-ji's 'adopted' family. He's a single man, so how can he have a family?

And, why do they keep referring to that Nehru-Gandhi family as a family at all - it never seems to have all the ingredients that Indian families are supposed to have - widows never 'head' families, and if they do, it becomes a single-parent family! Besides, it cannot be traced back to Nehru, because vansh toh putra se hi chalta hai, bhai! Pity, Nehru-ji didn't have sex-selection technology at his disposal in those days...

But, what does one do about the Tribes?
All these savages - they actually claim to have divorce rites. Ever heard of anything as un-Indian as that?! Hmmm, I guess we can tackle them by 'mainstreaming' them all - cut down the forests; 'change' laws, to prevent them from working in the forests, force them to come down to cities and then, of course, all those savage un-Indian practices will automatically get taken care of.

But what do we do about the Muslims?
Oh wait! I forgot, the Muslims don't count as 'Indian'. They're outsiders and either they'll get thrown out or will have to accept the 'Indian' way of family-building (minus the offensive section 498 A, of course... even minorities have the right to seek dowry, and grow old and sick, unmolested)

And also (since divorce does not exist and polygamy is outlawed) either Rama or Lakshman must be considered illegitimate - Dashrath couldn't be allowed three LEGAL wives, could he? Oh, he can? The mere mention (in 'Indian' texts) of Polygamy is enough, is it?
Aaah, and so is Polyandry (Draupadi-pratha) Indian, then... like, wow!!

You know, I'm liking the sound of this Indian family more and more - first, I get to have a swayamvara - so all the men who want me have to line up and get looked over. I'll check them out and set all sorts of impossible conditions for them to fulfil. Then, I pick one. Or five.
Depends on what's on offer.

I get to pick the brainiest, the brawniest, the most skilled, the sweetest and handsomest AND maybe twins, (just for variety). And I get to keep them all, and they have pay for me and fight wars for me and kill their family members, if they insult me... and they do this for ever and ever, because... divorce, you see, does not exist!

[Psst! What the hell were all you radical feminists thinking of, all this time?]

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Of giggly little girls

As I'm bending to drink water from clearer-than-clear springs , just having lunched on apricots, I realise I'm being watched by three eight-year-olds who can't stop giggling; they want to know my name.

I tell them. I forgot their names, almost as soon as I ask. They probably forgot mine.

We get talking - do you go to school? Do you learn mathematics? Where's the school? Do you get food? A mid-day meal? Yes?

One little girl is littler than the others - maybe six - and she's shuffling a pack of cards, which she clutches very tightly and looks slyly at, every few seconds, before erupting into a gaggle of giggles.

Finally, our curiosity gets the better of us and we ask to look at the cards.

The littlest girl holds the pack behind her back and shakes her head 'no'. She giggles. Everyone giggles.

Me and a journalist-friend exchange amused glances. We try to coax them to show us the cards.

The girls are clearly torn between wanting to hide their giggle-treasure, and wanting to show it off. They whisper - they shake their heads yes and no and they giggle.

I've almost given up, when, suddenly, the littlest holds out the cards - shyly, slyly.

The cards, it turns out, are not playing cards at all - no King of spades, no Queens of hearts. These are picture-cards of bikini-babes. The kind you'd see in a Playboy. Slim, seductively pouting, chests out-thrust... blondes and redheads wearing...well, their skins, more or less.

We ask where they found these. One girl begins to tell us that they were given the pictures... another hushes her and tells us they found them lying about... just lying in the grass.

We give back the pack of 'cards'... but all the way back to Dehradun, my friend and I argue about how they could have found those cards.

"Found, lying in the grass?"
"Handed over by a man?"
"More likely."

Long pause.

"But who would have bought such a pack - hardly anyone is educated; hardly anyone has access to hardly anything? Where would they buy such picture-cards?"
"It had to be a foreigner; the cards look foreign-made. Right out of Playboy."
"But this is a restricted area - no foreigners allowed. Must have been the men who leave the village for jobs in Delhi; they return, with all this city-made stuff... it's easy to buy, in Delhi."
"You think so?"
"Oh yeah... who else?"

Another pause.

"But would anyone give such little girls these cards?"
"You think so?"
"I guess... they were saying something, before they stopped."

A long pause.

"They shouldn't... They're very little, these girls."
"I know... but the way they were giggling..."
"I know... maybe they just found them, lying the grass."

We both shrug... it is easier to think of the beauty of coincidence, up here, where all is beautiful. Or almost all.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Kaafiri and the blogger

Neela asks me I am curious about why bloggers advocate not reading their blog as the solution to anyone who criticizes their writing. Would you really rather that someone does not read you if they disagree with what you say or would you rather have them say waht they will?

I cannot presume to speak for all bloggers; but here's my answer:

I would rather that people continue to read me, whether they agree or disagree with what I'm saying. I'd rather that people hate me, despise me, get infuriated by and want to hit me, but that they continue to read me.

Why do I (as a blogger) tell someone to stop reading my blog?

Because that is my way of saying 'Live and let live'.

Dissenters have the option of providing an alternative perspective, either through comments or via email. Or creating a new post on your blog (and I will happily link to it). You have the option of shooting holes in any given argument. You have the right to correct me if I'm factually wrong. You can even tell me you don't like the blog (and I will probably reply along the lines of 'Thanks for nothing... I don't like you either').

But you can't tell me to change my blog, to suit your tastes.

If people are going to try and tell me what should or shouldn't be posted on the blog, then I would have to gently remind them that this is my turf, created for the specific purpose of allowing me to have my say.

Besides, that is the most civilized way of dealing with disagreement. I do not take differences of opinion (dissent) lightly. Dissent led to burnings at the stake. Dissent let to impalements over a gate. Dissent has led to killings and war.

They smash shops on Valentine's Day because it cannot see eye-to-eye with love-hungry teenagers anxious to get their first date through this love-sanctioned festival. They strip down to their underwear and parade semi-nude in front of an old, respected actor's home. (Saira Bano must have been vastly amused... in her place, I'd have filmed it all for post-dinner entertainment in duller times). They rip through brilliant canvases because they don't like to think a Goddess could be nude. They threaten to burn down cinema halls because they disapprove of one dialogue, one scene, or one song. (Poor MF Hussain gets it from both sides of the communal spectrum... and such a lovely song it was too!)

They set off bombs in theatres, tubes, bus stations, offices. They fly planes into buildings. They induce children to take up arms and turn into suicide bombers. They break down mosques and destroy hard-won livelihoods, all on account of a difference of opinion.

Do you know the meaning of 'kaafir'/Kafir/Qafir?

Not 'non-believer', as they would have you believe. My mother tells me that the word actually 'dissenter'.

Yet, dissent is all around. All of us are Kaafirs unto each other.

The trouble begins when we take upon ourselves the onus of tackling kaafiri, of wiping out the things we don't like.

What would you say is a rational way of dealing with each other as kaafirs?

Would you not tell violence-mongers that they have the option of not watching a movie they find offensive? That they have the option of not celebrating Valentine's Day? That they have the option of not looking at women, if they think women's faces should not be seen? That is the rational, peaceful approach, right?

Cut back to blogs and the blogger's reaction to disagreement.

People have the right to disagree with my writing. They have a right to tell me they hate my writing. You have right to say I'm melodramatic and that my brains probably aren't working. You do not have the right to tell me to spare you x or y kind of post.

Monday, July 11, 2005

One strict headman

Here's proof that where there's a strong will, there's an unbeatable way.

"The sarpanch of Doraha village in Madhya Pradesh opted to use some stick to keep the kids in school. They would lose their BPL (below poverty line) ration cards if they did not ensure that their children attended school. Those cards offer more than foodgrains, they are a passport to land allotments, loans and so on. So in schooling their children the village community would avail of immediate benefits, and of course the long-term gains that education brings... "

This editorial column from The Statesman goes on to argue that the move might smack of coercion and even be undemocratic, but that such disincentives have potential.

What I say is, whoever this man is, may his tribe increase.

Besides, in a country that has no qualms imposing laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958, at the risk of alienating and disenfranchising a sizeable chunk of our population, what business has anyone to question the democratic values of one strict headman trying to make education work in his village?

Friday, July 08, 2005

One night

If life were a rail-ka-dabba, where you don’t have a reserved berth, you’d learn a lot of lessons.

Humility, for one.
And the old, old lesson of do-unto-others… that lesson finally comes home to you if you’ve spent a night in a train in India, without a reserved ticket.
Finally, you begin to understand what it means to have a ticket to ride, but no place to call your own. Not even temporarily.

Ever traveled on an RAC ticket in an AC rail-dabba?
I recently did, again, on my way to Lucknow (yeah, in our infamous bhaiyya-land. My land.)

There I was – unreserved unless, miraculously, 18 people decided to cancel their trips, at the ‘n’th millisecond... but that miracle never happened.
I didn’t expect it to.
I was grateful enough to just be inside a compartment, and hoped that – being alone, a woman, and possessed of eyes that fill up, without much effort on my part – I wouldn’t be thrown off the train, en route.

I wasn’t. But that night, I finally understood what it means to be a migrant into a big city.

What’s the connection?

This – that you have no place you can sleep in peace, because everywhere you look, all space is already taken -
Booked. Bought. Someone else’s space. Even the aisles aren’t yours to lie down in. They’re public ‘common’ space. Government space. Public space. Private space. Leased space. Not your space.

You can’t even sit up, without the fear that the rightful owner will turn up at the next station and order you off. Not only will he order you off, he will also glare at you for having sat on ‘his’ seat, even if he isn’t around yet, to make use of it.

He will have the ‘oh, so you don’t have reservation?’ tilt to his chin. He will have the ‘pata nahin kahaan kahaan se chale aate hain…’ admonition in his eyes.

You will, without having intended it, given offence and will squirm with the guilt – you have no real right to be on this train, perhaps. At least, not in the nice, AC dabba. You probably belong to the ‘general’ compartment, where you ought to risk your life like millions of others, fighting, stomping, stampeding, elbowing, punching, throwing your weight, literally, onto six square inches of floor, luggage rack… anything!

But you crouch there, on a corner of somebody else’s berth. Hoping against hope that the rightful owner will not turn up. Or not for a while, at least. You very, very tentatively stretch your feet, and shut your eyes, between stations.

At the slightest movement, or the sound of a throat being cleared, a shuffle in the aisle, a child crying, a porter crying, you quickly sit up straight and draw your feet back, folded tight against your hips. Is it time to stand up? Already?

The rightful owners, finally, turned up at midnight. An old couple with their daughter… granddaughter? I sit on the edge of the berth, that belongs to the old woman. She lies down. She doesn’t ask me to clear off.
I don’t.

There are others like me – five schoolgirls who didn’t get reserved seats are similarly perched on the edge of other old women’s berths. And a schoolboy of about 14, sulky, is hunched on the floor, at my feet. All of us are apologetic, though the girls crack jokes about phoning their 'boys' on the sly. I bury myself in a book, wishing I were invisible.

The old woman falls asleep. My back is beginning to ache, because once the middle berth has been opened up, you can’t sit upright. Nobody can. But the little schoolgirls have somehow been accommodated – with other women, or on the floor. Even the schoolboy has also been allowed to sleep on the floor, near my feet. He’s sulky.

The uncle-ji across has gotten into a fight with another uncle-ji on the top berth, because top-berth uncle-ji refused to ‘accommodate’ the teenaged schoolboy on his own berth.

Neechewale uncle-ji is cribbing loudly, “What kind of people are these? Don’t know how to adjust. He’s just a young boy…”
Uparwale uncle-ji retors, “He’s a grown boy. We’re both tall. We can’t fit in together.”
Neechewale uncle-ji repeats, “Selfish people. Don’t know how to adjust… easily done.”
Uparwale uncle-ji finally loses it. “Why don’t you ‘adjust’ with the boy?”
Neechewale uncle-ji says, “I’m…er… heavy!”
Uparwale uncle-ji smirks.
Neechewale uncle-ji, grumbling, stretches out to sleep. He tells the boy, visibly magnanimous, “You can sleep on the floor... we all have to adjust in life.”

The old woman is making soft moaning noises in her sleep.
I wonder if she’s sick. But my own back is totally killing me now. It's 2 am and I can’t bear to sit. I stand up and take a walk down the aisle. The father of the five schoolgirls is also walking. I return, tentative, sit down some more. But the old woman, still moaning in a strangled, breathy sort of way, has stretched her feet. I sit at the very edge, back bent at a 45-degree angle.

I am also very hungry. I haven’t eaten all day and I dare not get down at the station, to buy food. If I get up, that little edge of berth on which I’m parked, might be taken. That uncle-ji with five daughters is looking for a place to sit, too. What if he takes my place?
No, not my place… the place I’m encroaching on.

At 3 am, my back gives way. I slide down onto the floor, near the schoolboy’s feet. It is cramping for the knees, but at least, my back is straight.

The hunger is a gnawing one. I haven’t been hungry in so long. Hunger’s always been taken care of before it ate into me.

At 3.30 am, the old woman moans awake. She pats my head, and motions me to lie down on the berth. I’m too grateful to protest, or even whisper my thanks. I slip onto the lower berth and curl up in a tight circle, beside her. I can’t sleep, though.

This is the first time in my life that I can’t sleep because of hunger. It is not nice at all.

Thank God the old woman is thin. Everybody should be thin.
She is moaning again. It doesn’t matter.
A minor miracle has happened...

Perhaps this is how slum-dwellers feel if they’re rehabilitated. Ten years of getting your back broken in a city where, you’re told, you’ve no right to be in… the relief, the constant fear that the old residents, the rightful-righteous residents, might decide they need to stretch their feet, and you’re in the way.
You, who don’t have a reservation. You, who didn’t belong. Not unless 18 miracles happened.

At 5.30 am, I am up again, though... A miracle lasts only so long.

Besides, those who don’t belong need to work extra-hard to be allowed their stay. Their backs need to get used to more bending, less straightening. They need to be visibly grateful. they need to carefully slip out of the rightful-righteous people’s way, before they realize you’re in the way.

I am careful.
This one night, I don’t belong. This one night, I will not forget….

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The update

The thing with blogs is - they have to be updated.

And the thing with me is - I usually blog either when I'm exceptionally angry, or when I'm just back from somewhere new or have been covering something or discovering new things amongst new people.

What can I say, sitting in Delhi, filing reports about yet-to-be-created laws of our land?

Besides, the weather's too delicious to allow critiques. Or angst.

All you can do is walk in the monsoon drizzle. All you can feel is the damp edges of your skirt brush your toes. All you can think of is that breeze in the balcony. The morning papers are almost an intrusion into an otherwise harmless world...

Funny, how it was never like this in Bombay.

Bombay - the rains are lashing.
They bind you, they confine you, they swamp you, they confront you, they rise up in sheets and walls and are nearly an assault on the skin, but they don't stop you. Strangely, Bombay rains are not 'stilling'.

Delhi rains are. Stilling.
Like you want to be very still. Like the world might stop, and gawk at it's own reflection in a puddle, and brood about how happy it is.

No, not happy.
Happiness is a strong word.

The city seems to be contented; not sulky, for a change. Like it were toying with the knowledge that the world may be rotten, but so are the leaves floating in the gutter, that even rot is preferable to that searing, numbing dry deadness of May and June. As if, in some corner in the collective memory of civilization, that stalling deadness, that restless heat, still lurked, and made it grateful - even for gutters and stinky narrow streets and muddy feet.

It is breathing harder, this city - but it's not fighting anything. It's just breathing hard, because there's more to breathe in.

The weather is wooing weather. The weather is stay-at-home weather, cook-at-home weather.
It is... it is stilling weather. And I am tempted to be very still and not think of yet-to-be-created laws or how-will-they-ever-implement-it laws or will-it-never-change lawlessness.

But the thing with blogs is - they have to be updated... yes?

Sunday, July 03, 2005

More lessons

Having heard testimonies from various women panchayat functionaries, and having watched them interact with some bigwigs of democracy, here are the lessons -

One woman 'panch' (one who is elected to the panchayat) actually faced the threat of a 'No-confidence Motion', from her other male colleagues.
The problem?
She 'tavelled to Dehradun too often'.
She 'took too much interest in the panchayat meetings'.

If you're going 'huh?' right now, remember that this is the country where we actually deal with a socio-political situation called 'Pradhan-Pati'.
Pradhan-pati is also a pratha, now: The system of the pradhan-husband.
In other words, the system of the husband's constant interference, arm-twisting, taking-over-of-power/responsibility/rights-as-functionary when a woman is elected as head of the village panchayat.

The woman may have gotten elected on a reserved seat. In which case, the man would have allowed her to contest on the assumtion that he would be the real power-centre and wifey-dear would be his rubber-stamp, his ticket to building a local fiefdom, his new minting machinery for sarkaari largesse.

In any case, this particular pradhan wasn't leting her man take over and the rest of the men were, clearly, not letting her get away with it. The local NGOs had to step in. They explained that a 'no-confidence motions' would not help. Even if this woman lost her position, the seat was reserved for women, and it would be another woman replacing her, not a man.

The panch-log backed off for a while. But resentment continued to simmer.
Until, one day, there was a forest fire. 8 women died. But this pradhan, almost single-handedly, managed to save 12 women's lives, by getting them to the hospital in time, and making sure they got treated.

That day, she won respect. She won admiration. She won the right to stay pradhan.

So, I learnt that elections are not won at the polling booth. The real test is the winning of hearts.

And I learnt that though most of them didn't read and write, they knew what they were talking about.

They didn't know that we now had a 'right to information' law. But they are already discussing the Uttarnchal Panchayati Raj Act of 2002, and why it was almost of a xerox copy of the UP act. "Where was the grand idea of fighting for a separate hill state, if all you do is bring back old laws in new packaging?"
And they talked 'delimitation', something I quickly needed a crash course in, to follow what was being debated.
They talked of all the cops being male. They talked of how these cops wouldn't come to save them, if their husbands turned violent. They talked of threats of being kidnapped and killed, when they succeeded in getting some work done. They talked of reserved seats for women in parliament. They talked of an emergency relief fund, to be made available directly to panchayats, without intermindable red-tape chasing.

They talked health, auxillary nurses, roads, hospitals, punitive action for 'inspection tems' who 'inspect' records and find nothing wrong with the financial transactions.

And I learnt that talking does help. That talking is about spreading the word. That when you can't read and write, talking is your only source of information.

Some of the women brought up the issue of pensions. Old-age pensions and widow pensions.
And I learnt that we have really crazy rules. I can't vouch for this, but from what I understood of the discussions, apparently, there's a cap on the number of pensions issued.

So that, A old woman has to wait for B old woman to die, before she is entitled to pension.
also, a widow is no longer entitled to pension when her son turns 18. This is the most ridiculously short-sighted bit of policy I've ever heard of.

First, 18 is when the son is just finishing school. 18 is when he could do with financial help, to get into college, and maybe get a slightly better chance at tackling life. By stripping his widowed mother of pension at that point, you effectively ensure that the boy is forced to take up whatever job he's offered, and the family stays trapped in the poverty cycle.

Secondly, it assumes that the son WILL take case of the widowed mother. Which we all know is NOT a given. Besides which, with unemployment and poverty being what it is, there is no guarantee that a son could provide for his parents, even if he wants to.

But I learnt that there's a whole lot of stuff about policy and laws that the illiterate women of this land know, and I don't.

I also learnt that the "roots of corruption not only are deep, but also high".

They talked of 20% commission for the BDO and and 20% for the ward members, and so much for the pradhan and the panchayat... and about nothing left for 'development work' work.
One woman had the whole gathering in splits, when she recounted how the Lok Pal would run away and hide, every time she tried to visit him and demand that a meeting be held, to discuss accounts. "We haven't had a meeting for years now."
One pradhan actually went to a certain state minister and complained about the BDO and the local administration's demands for 'commission'. She said that the minister told her, "I can't stop them. Nobody can."

The corruption tree has roots growing from the top. A sprawling luxuriant banyan, it is.

Most of all, I learnt from these women to not be cowed, or intimidated, by bigwigs. Whether it was Mani Shankar Aiyar, or Brinda Karat or whoever you like. They spoke up.

Nityanand Swami, former Chief Mininster of Uttaranchal, claimed that he had done a whole lot to improve the position of women in the villages. That he refused to attend meetings where women did not sit in the front row.

One woman stood up and said - "You promised the women of the hills that you'd make Uttaranchal a dry state. Whatever happened to prohibition?"

Nityanand Swami cleared his throat, laughed uneasily and admitted - "I tried, but they wouldn't let me."

But he learnt, as I did, that trying isn't good enough. Not in politics.
He is the ex-CM, isn't he?
I'd say, N.D. Tiwari had best watch out for his kursi.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

of hospitable women

Ah, Jaunsar Bawar...

In Garhwal, so I've heard, every mother tells her grown sons - 'son, do not go upto Jaunsar-Bawar; if you must go, do not accept anyone's hospitality; and under no circumstances must you spend the night.'

The mothers of Garhwal tell their sons, 'son, beware of the women of Jaunsar...'

The mothers of Garhwal, though, are not afraid that their sons might be murdered during the night, or poisoned, or pushed off the hillsides, or even ensnared into a - Gasp! Heaven forbid! - marriage.

Legend has it that Jaunsar-Bawar is known for its hospitality. When you go there, they will bid you sit. They will feed you and give you whatever they have, to drink. They will share clothes, and beds. A journo friend in the region tells me, the hospitality extends to sharing their women as well.

I was most curious about how. I mean, isn't it a little awkward to offer your wife to a guest?

Friend told me, "Oh, the women offer themselves. After the guest is fed and given a bed to sleep in, the woman will massage his feet. And legs.... an offer is somehow made and accepted, at that point."

I wondered if anyone had ever rejected such a generous offer. My friend doesn't know, but she does know of a guy - another journalist - who refuses to spend the night in the region.

Stupid guy, I said.
My friend agreed.

I wondered whether the same hospitality extended to female guests.

Neither of us thought it possible, but I'm still wondering.... I wanted to ask the hill women, but I've heard that since the 'mainstreaming' process has begun, the locals resent being asked about local customs and traditions. They don't even like talking about polyandry, and are all set to beat up 'outsider' journalists who try to ask questions.

Somehow, it has been communicated to them that we 'outsiders' disapprove, and they, naturally, don't like being treated as curios at a museum. They don't want to be gawked at. They don't even like to admit that the practice exists.

Of course, this is all hearsay. Neither of us dared to actually go to Jaunsar, alone, and find out how hospitable the cultural climate was.

All the same, I wonder... would they extend similar hospitality to women guests? Would the men extend an offer, then, or the women? and would the women really beat me up, if I asked them about how they went about making the offer?

Perhaps, one of these days...
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