Sunday, November 25, 2012 11 comments

PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED


As I type out yet another blog post I just hope that I can hit the “publish” button! I had written two posts which are just lying among the documents section in my computer.  I suppose you can guess what those posts may have been about considering the doubts I have about their publication.

The last one week has brought to light at least two unpleasant reports about  violation of the basic rights of an individual to express themselves. Though blogs have not yet been targeted, I as a blogger am deeply perturbed.

The blog world is one where common people like you and me can find room for expression. But now with these happenings, I am not sure that people want to write about what they feel. For example, I do not know who reads this blog-some of you comment regularly on what I write.  I also visit some of your blogs and comment on them. I have formed some impressions about some of your views based on the regularity of your visits here. While I may not always agree with what you say, I respect you for your views just as  you do mine – this  is the world of freedom.

Into this world of freedom it seems has now crept in a mind full of fear. Yes, I am turning Tagore around- (please forgive me Gurudev)I am unable to stifle my feelings as a citizen and as a human being. I cannot believe I live in the world’s biggest democracy!

I remember about ten years ago I had attended an international conference where a friend from one of our neighboring countries made  very carefully worded remarks about the prevailing condition in her country. She told me during lunch that as a civil society member she was under surveillance and had to be careful about what she spoke in public forums. I was amazed that such fears existed and I thanked my lucky stars that I lived in this country where people can speak fearlessly! Now when I say "fearless" , I am not saying that we just speak rashly during official meetings – far from it! We represent an organization or a country as a delegate and need to be prudent about what we say. However when we express ourselves as individuals I think it is alright to be frank-particularly if it is a personal blog or a social networking site where we do not represent any organization or a country!

But not any more!  For the first time I find myself  exercising  caution as  I  word and reword  even simple face book posts. I am glad that I have “unfriended”  some people who may have used this opportunity to get back at me for my “liberal” views. I have also been told by some friends who have lived in other countries about things like “ultra surf” ( whatever is it? Sounds like a detergent to me). I think maybe I should be like the other narcissists and just post pictures of myself in differently colored saris!

It is not that freedom of expression is completely curtailed. We still have strong articles written in newspapers about the happenings in the country.  The point is that these are written by well known journalists who have the backing of their newspapers behind them should something happen- and folks nothing really happens to them. It is  Unknown Indians like you and me who are at risk. We have another life which cannot be jeopardized  by this. I remember warning a couple of  blogger friends to be careful about what they post. One of them is a young girl  who had been quite outspoken about what she had written. I pray for her personal safety and   I just hope I don’t see her name in the newspaper for the wrong reasons !

It is not that the cyber world has suddenly become unsafe. As a woman I have received personal comments from people who visit this blog-comments that I have had to delete simply because they were so inappropriate and sometimes obnoxious. Some people commenting on this  blog have followed me into face book and tried to send me friend requests which I have squashed. I have taken all of this in my stride as I consider this to be one  of the hazards of writing.

But what I am feeling now is something completely new because I do not know who is “out there”.  I thought a lot about this and finally I decided that I should not let my fear get the better of me. I am not hurting anybody or abusing any politician. I am only voicing my fears about the unknown. So am I going to be targeted for something as simple as this? I hope not… but nothing will surprise me anymore!

Arthur Wellesley , the Duke of Wellington is supposed to have said “Publish and be damned” to his mistress Hariette Wilson when she threatened to publish his letters in her memoirs. Unfortunately, this quote has taken on a rather literal meaning today!
Sunday, November 18, 2012 12 comments

WHEN THE TEMPERATURES DROP AND MEMORIES RISE


Remember the Cliff Richards number – “ In the summertime when the weather is fine..” ?  In India, I guess it  should be “ In the wintertime …” !

Yes folks, it is one of the best times of the year. Even hot and sticky Chennai becomes pleasant.  This drop in temperatures can be felt slowly towards the end of September. There is a subtle change – I don’t know if I should call it Autumn because it is so subtle that we can sometimes miss it. Chennai ofcourse has a spell of cyclonic rain during this season but towards the middle of November the skies clear up.

This time of the year always takes me back to my childhood in Calcutta. The Durga Puja in Sept-Oct heralds the change in the season. As a child I could not identify it as a seasonal transition but  used to link it to the festivities.

Winters in India are not  bitter as in temperate climates. We do not have snow in most places but the nip in the air and chill around are most welcome.  It is the season when we  have a profusion of lovely flowers- most of them attract you with their colors and not so much by their smells ( as summer flowers do). I do not see much of these colorful flowers here in the south though I remember them from those days- marigolds, snap dragons, dahlias and others. There is a special beauty that can be seen around- even in urban centers. Among the metros I guess Delhi is at her prettiest best during these months. But Calcutta is not far behind.

Midmornings in winter spent on the lawns of the Victoria memorial having a picnic suddenly come to my mind. The sunlight really soft and pleasant – Gulzar expresses this beautifully in his song “ Dil Dhoonta hai” where he calls it “sardiyon ki   narm dhoop aur aagan mein let kar

Getting ready to school during this time would involve a lot shivering as we quickly rushed out of the bathroom and got into our clothes  and that light blue school cardigan. Those were times when I used to wish that we had trousers as school uniform. Some of us had “half sweaters”  which would be brought out at the start of the season progressing into the “full sweaters”  by December. 

An old building, our school was full of unexpected dark corridors which would make our teeth chatter. There would be a general smell of ponds cold cream around people.  December was also the time for the annual exams ( those days our schools followed the calendar year).  It was the season when we would also be practicing for the Christmas play.  Come 20th of December the school would close for winter vacations.

Winter holidays were great fun as the academic year would have come to an end and there would no nagging from parents to study. These were also the holidays when we stayed home and did not travel down south.  Quilts would be out and afternoons spent lazing around reading books.  Oil massage with mustard oil would precede bath time –sometimes we would use olive oil and feel very exotic.

Winters were the time  for lovely vegetables like cauliflowers, peas, carrots, radishes –unlike the all round stuff that we get these days. Food always tasted better during winter.

There would be trips to New Market especially to the dry fruit section which would be abuzz with shoppers buying dry fruits and cake accessories. One would also get a lot of party hats in anticipation of the impending new year celebrations.

Very few of us actually bought sweaters those days – you see most of them would be hand knitted by our mothers and other benevolent aunties. My mother had this habit of every two years or so unraveling a sweater and re knitting it. She once came up with a brilliant idea to dye the wool a different color. Dyeing technology not being what it is now, I ended up with itchy arms and neck after I got into the once red sweater now dyed navy blue!  Knitting is something that I don’t see anyone do these days.  In fact, I have forgotten those images of balls of wool with needles stuck into them.

My father used to don his evening attire which consisted of an old sweater and a “muffler” tied sardar style around his head with his ears covered. He had also developed an  affection for the famous Bengali “monkey cap” which of course neither me nor my sister favored.  Windows would be shut by  6.00 PM and the mosquito net up by 7.30PM with the smell of “flit” around ( yes there were lots of mosquitoes and we grew up inhaling the pesticide as we slept). Washing hands after dinner would involve a lot of shrieking when the cold water hit our hands. Sometimes we would cheat – not washing them well enough and having to go back to washing them again. Drying our hands quickly we would snuggle into our quilts drifting into blissful sleep.

Waking up in the morning would be the most torturous experience as Appa in sheer exasperation removed the quilt off us forcing us to get out of bed.   

I don’t know what it is that I miss – the winters or the memories. The temperatures in Chennai are cool enough in the mornings these days  to evoke that nostalgia. When I go for my morning walk I see people bundled up in sweaters watching me curiously as I walk about in my T- Shirt and sweat pants. On my way back, I see the children getting ready to go to school . It is then that I realize that they do not have a uniform cardigan here-  not required I guess.

My daughter tells me that she would never like to live anywhere where it is “cold” . I remember  as a teenager being very surprised when some visiting relatives from Chennai borrowed our warm clothes.     “ There is no winter in Chennai. So they do not have any sweaters” explained my mother.  I told her that I don’t think I would like to live where there is no winter.  Ironic…  because I have now lived for nearly eighteen years in a place where winters are almost non existent!

 Life takes you to places where you least expect you would ever be. But memories  remain with us  transporting us in a moment to any  time or place where we want to be!
Thursday, November 15, 2012 16 comments

AB TAK HAI JAAN


When my sister called me suddenly on Diwali evening saying she had got tickets for “ Jab tak hai jaan”  from someone, I should have guessed that something was amiss- I  mean how come we got tickets for the first day ( not sure if it was the first show though). Anyway, romance crazy woman that  I am, I quickly finished lighting  the lamps and met her at the theatre ( there was no question of asking the husband to come along. You see the invitation did not include him). I looked around for the BIL- he was not there. “ Just the two of us” she said . Now when I think back I am so glad that we left  the husbands behind ! Why you ask me? Read on..

Yash Chopra movies as all of us know are like eating “double ka meetha” – sweet and best handled in small quantities. But this was like being handed a huge tub full of the stuff- it just refused to get over !

SRK attempts an AB in the opening scene  when he mutters some heavy romantic sounding dialogue in the back ground while he drives around in Ladakh on his motor bike. But sadly, he is unable to get that “ Main aur meri tanhayi” tone of  Big B in Silsila. Anyway, what is it that he does for a living? A Major in the Indian Army – he diffuses bombs without any protective equipment using just an electrician’s pliers!  

And then we have Anoushka  Sharma being introduced (literally), with a splash-she jumps into the Pangyong lake after stripping to her bikini. Wow! I have been to the banks of the lake in May and it was so bitterly cold that I had to be coaxed out of the jeep by the husband to pose for that family snap. But then, I guess I am not Anoushka.. ! SRK watches till she almost sinks. He then jumps in and rescues her and leaves the place draping his jacket over her. The pocket of the jacket of course has his dairy in which is written his love story ( oh, how I wish I could hand write those stories I type in Kaleidoscope and hope that a publisher would find them in my jacket in some exotic location ).

The love story begins with Katrina running through snow fall wearing a pink lehenga ( why?) into a Catholic church ( I thought England was largely protestant.. but then a catholic church looks more impressive on screen I guess) and make deals with Christ as SRK who is sweeping the snow follows her inside and eavesdrops.  SRK is an immigrant sharing a flat with a fellow immigrant from Pakistan –Punjabis sharing the same culture from both sides of the border  ( wonderful marketing strategy Yashji!). SRK, waits tables, delivers fish and also sings for his supper.

So the love story develops as he is hired by Katrina during one of his singing sessions to teach her to sing a Punjabi song. He in turn tries to get her to “let go” and be herself. They fall in love and she continues making her deals with Christ ( yes at the same church) that she will give him up and not cross “boundaries” in the relationship. She is of course engaged to a good friend who she is planning to marry just to please her Dad. And in the midst of all this we are introduced to her mother who had left her when she was a child to “follow her heart” and live with the man she loved. So we have Neetu Singh the mom and her lover Imran managing a Vineyard in England ( now don’t tell me that vineyards are found only in Mediterranean locales- remember it is a Yash Chopra movie). The gorgeous Neetu and her obese real life husband Rishi Kapoor enact a mushy love scene which gets Katrina to go back on her promise to Christ.

She is just going to talk to her Dad about the change of plans around who she now plans to marry that SRK gets hit by a passing vehicle ( awful traffic in London- they keep having accidents!). As he is being revived by paramedics she makes a deal with God that if he lives she would never have anything to do with him ..

Now back to the present.. Anoushka the Discovery channel film maker is out on an assignment filming the man who diffuses bombs- SRK! She gives him the diary and tells him how much his story moved her. Then she is there with him trying to shoot while he is diffusing those wires. I must say the guy must be one hell of a bomb diffuser- he hangs suspended from under a  bridge playing with the wires while this film maker ( also suspended from another wire parallelly) with camera on her shoulder confesses to him about her love . WOW! The Indian Army sure needs more people like that !

So, finally the shooting done, Anoushka has a presentation to make in London for which it is required that SRK come. Just as he is arriving there what should happen to him- you are right ! He again gets hit by a passing vehicle ( told you that London traffic is awful!).  He has a head injury and when he recovers.. guess what? He has gone back in time to the period when he was with Katrina. He has forgotten Anoushka and his bomb diffusing abilities ( I am sure many guys will now want to be hit by some vans in London to get similarly afflicted. You can conveniently forget a present girlfriend and have the excuse to link up with a previous one).So there goes Anoushka looking for Katrina and then begs her to pretend to be married to SRK so that he could recover.  Get the drift?

I think among all the mindless nonsense that passes for entertainment these days, this is probably the worst! I mean a love story needs a basic ingredient – Chemistry between the lead pair! No amount of lovely clothes, beautiful women and wonderful locales can compensate for that basic thing! There is that scene where SRK asks Katrina just as she is getting ready to board a train whether she would slap him if he kisses her. She stops there , the train leaves and they kiss… ! Sadly this very romantic scene fell flat on its face!  I felt bad that SRK could not capture the magic that came through in his saying  “Palat” ( turn back) to Kajol in that now famous DDLJ scene!

The only redeeming feature of the torturous experience was Anoushka Sharma. She was supposed to be the antithesis of Katrina – a tomboy in jeans and sleeveless T shirts ( even in Ladakh) swearing and speaking the guy language…!

While the first half was not so painful, I spent the entire second half of the movie shivering in the very cold cinema hall and complaining that the movie was not ending. The sister was less vocal but felt similarly about the movie I guess. And when the movie ended we almost shouted with glee…! Coming back home I was surprised that I had the survived the experience –so here I am folks –Ab tak hai Jaan! Watch this  movie at your own risk!
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 12 comments

THIS TRAFFIC NIGHTMARE CALLED CHENNAI


I feel like a liberated soul these days..!
Guess why?
I work out of home…!
One of the best things about working out of home in a city like Chennai is that I do  not have to deal with “monsters” – aka auto rickshaw drivers!  It has been over 2 weeks since I got into one. And believe me folks it has made me into a different woman! For starters, evenings are more pleasant for everyone at home as they do not have to soothe someone ( me)  who has just emerged  “wounded” after an ‘encounter’ with a monster on three wheels! And most importantly, I do not have sneezing bouts!

During the course of the last few years I have travelled a number of times to Delhi and then once to my childhood town of Kolkata and now more recently to Mumbai.

One of the most striking things about Chennai  is the awful public transportation system.! Sure, there are buses but think of those who do not want to take these buses?  Auto rickshaws in most cases serve the purpose in all other Indian cities. In some like Kolkata and Mumbai taxis are a good option too.  I remember on a recent trip to Mumbai paying Rs 75 by taxi for a distance for which in Chennai I would have paid twice by auto rickshaw! I could not believe it – I remember peering into the meter of the taxi a couple of times before I paid the fare.  The same goes for Delhi- I paid less than Rs 100 by auto for a distance that in Chennai would have been hugely expensive by the same mode of transport!  Kolkata is ofcourse another world- the taxi fares there have to be paid to be believed –they are so affordable!

So what makes Chennai like this? People tell me it is the nexus between the law enforcement agencies, the political parties and the auto rickshaw system. There is NEVER a question of using the meter – it is like the dinosaur – just for history books! The drivers start by quoting a minimum fare of Rs 100 no matter what may be the distance…! And the worst thing being intimidation particularly if you are a woman. These chaps do not want to go to  any place which is in an inner road and in case you do not know the address properly –god help you!  I think I used to spend about one third of what I earned in my last job just on auto fares!

And the love that auto drivers in Chennai have for the inner roads is something about which ballads can be written – I can never convince an auto guy in this town to drive on a main road. Excuses like ‘ long route”  are completely beyond me.

The roads in Chennai  present a challenges that are very unique to themselves . Each road is a glorified by lane- narrow with dividers making them narrower. They have not evolved since the 1970s. There are fly overs at places that are least convenient for traffic management. And the variety of vehicles ( if I may say so…) is mind boggling! Starting from two wheelers (including cycles, scooters, motor bikes and all the others in their family) to huge cars, buses, tricycles ( aka as fish carts) and tempos. The buses are not just used for general public transport- they include those that carry large numbers of students to the various engineering colleges around town and employees of the various IT companies! So can you imagine the plight of someone like me in that yellow color three wheeled vehicle trapped between two such buses inhaling huge amounts of smoke every day? There have been times when I have felt suffocated – just unable to breathe.

The Times of India tried to have a campaign for introducing meters back into the autos. But I think being an” immigrant “into the city they probably never understood the lack of public spirit in this town. People in Chennai are very weird –we behave like we live in a small class 2 or class 3 town where it comes to spending – this includes public transport. The AC buses which have been introduced are apparently not doing too well in sectors which do not have any IT companies. People prefer to get into the regular buses, or take  “ share autos” or try to get on a “two wheeler”. There are some who continue battling with autos like me- but we are very few in number and dwindling by the day. 

Traffic in every Indian city is bad but the awful way in which it is managed in Chennai requires special mention.  Mumbai has clearly delineated zones within which auto rickshaws are not allowed to ply ( they ply only in suburbs and not in the main town). Delhi autos are restricted to neighborhoods but they can be engaged if required between neighborhoods.

I remember landing mid morning at Chennai airport once to be faced with a strange problem-the black and yellow taxi (aka as pre paid airport taxi) had put up a board saying “ No taxi due to traffic congestion and heavy rains” ! People from other towns were amazed. Meanwhile the “ Fast track” taxi guys were making a killing charging people whatever they felt like . “ Aren’t there any Meru or Radio taxis here?” asked a fellow passenger from Mumbai. Come to think of it… there aren’t any such taxis-we only have “ Fast track”, “Bharathi” “ Friends” taxis etc . They are fairly okay but then their efficiency during such stress periods is terrible. They sometimes just cancel a booking without any warning.

Now, I find that Chennai is getting ready to have a metro. I have my own personal reservations about how much it would be used. Remember your average Chennaite and his/ her aversion to spending money on transport? We would like to spend lots of money covering ourselves with kilograms of gold but not take a stand to make our traffic situation better or travelling in little more comfort. We prefer to travel triples on motorbikes carrying suitcases and trunks along with our two kids. My husband once asked a person travelling like this at a traffic junction” Ammi kal mattum than neenga kondu varale illa?” ( I think you only did not bring your grinding stone). Yes, I am all for value for money- but I am not for it if it involves complicating a traffic nightmare or making travelling a horrendous experience!

What I think is the need of the hour is a strong stand to be taken by the government on traffic management notwithstanding the political consequences of such decisions. It is only then that we will be able to wake up from this nightmare!
 
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