Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Lesson 30: Welcome to the rat race

Hello Readers,
Those who are there, those who are not. Sab chalta hai?
Will make this sweet: Welcome back. As with all good intentions, hope this carries on without too many breaks. First post after the first silence has been written by our old mate Sahasra Shatru, Hyderabad.Meanwhile, Delhi felt tremors a week back. Area of origin, near abouts the Commonwealth Games 2010 Village site. And the audacious silence continues…

- Sahasra Shatru
My ex-comrades-in-arms have an interesting approach to life now... Once they delved deeper into the business of making money and discovered the beauty of life deliver goods at the terms they wanted. These were the same guys who had brainstormed over a cup of iced tea or a glass of rum. They had expressed dismay at state of things and had relate stories of their conquests over even the 'little' injustices they witnessed whether at work, while commuting, near their townships, in government offic and with neighborhood morons. These were the guys who had sparks in their eyes that could have set a nation afire. They had lived for ideas and fought for them. These were the same people who once, would have jumped at the idea of any organization that tried for any change.

Then they branched out to their various professions. They started facing bigger troubles, perhaps tried to fight them. Some alone and some with allies, groups or organizations. Suddenly, they stayed quiet when 'such' topics were discussed. Life's 'sober phase' had dawned upon them.
“Life is not a morning walk, sir, it is a race” – they now quote enthusiastically from the movie Metro, that they could watch having commuted by their second car and spent Rs 150 per head in a multiplex, and not feel the pinch on the pocket. “You have to stop looking microscopically, which magnifies trifle things but ignores the big picture”. “Grow up”. They do not call me to attend parties any more for fear of my inadvertently creeping conversations on “issues”.

The more philosophical of the crop goes on saying that it is only that we have to grow so powerful that these things cannot touch us. Have so much money that neither police, nor infrastructure or the lack of it, nor politicians or economic policies can affect our scheme of things. Gain contacts, spend money, become powerful, and you don’t have to live in India even as you live in the “Geographical India”. Pay for the media or police or municipal officials just
like you pay for event managers of birthday parties, and watch the drama unfold, where you are the scriptwriter. Enjoy the fruits of your labor instead of trying to harvest a sterile crop. And then, when you have ensconced yourself comfortably in seats of power, money, fame, and influence, and if you find time, can unravel your grand schemes of “social work” and watch things materialize.You wont have to taste frustration then, as you do now with every battle.

As I heard “social work” in that context, I felt dizzy, my head spinning, felt sick, almost threw up. It is only much later that the amusement dawned on me of why such fine examples of humankind in our “Jamboodweepam”; inheritors of the great civilization that taught the world mathematics, logic, yoga, and philosophy have been reduced to shrewd businessmen, successful in personal endeavors yet mere mute spectators to injustices and gross corruption. The arguments were flawless, “If you have a private aircraft, your schedules are not contingent on airline delays”. The brilliance of the arguments and the soundness of the logic somewhere led me through the alleys of baffling awe to the realization of the pregnant evil. It is not wrong to be callously selfish, and neither is it necessary to be involved in every issue that affects “you” as a category. It is the resources that you can realize for yourself to create personal immunity that matters in a life – so short, and so painful otherwise. It is power to do things that matter to you that you should be after, and then, probably, can try to engage in activities such as are perceived to be social in nature.

I saw the big picture like Keanu Reeves was enlightened about the agents and the architecture of the world. There is the catch 22 situation that will make you so firmly interwoven in the filth of convenient existence by then that you wouldn’t care much and then, some times, in a charged emotional situation when you come out of cinema theaters, that buried bug of conscience springs up, bringing you to tears if you are a sensitive person or a sudden flow of adrenaline and you will go out clapping your hands and feeling so good for having watched that film that espouses such wonderful ideas woven in a beautiful narrative construct – that the collective psychodynamic construct suddenly feels exhilarating patriotism - and you can go home, sit relaxed in designer couches washing down the dinner with nice premium brandy in crystal ware, as you watch late night news while the remote plays god with the set, jumping portals from entertainment to sensational stings, titillating you for the sexual content in it, and you long for more. You stretch on the bed, and probably do not want to have sex – with all that stress of handling business, people, money, busy schedules, frequent flying, credit cards and the next most popular car, you
probably have developed erectile dysfunction, or loss of libido.

Anyways, you can now afford 18-year-old ‘prostitutes’ (my apologies for using that word – because ‘you’ do not think they are ‘prostitutes’, but upper middle class college girls looking for the little extra bit of luxury and a good time). Your wife has sagging skin, like the contours on the political landscape of youth wings of parties of regional and national character, despite her frequent visits to the spa, parlor, and the surgery that you could so easily afford for the tucks. You get up in the morning and get charged with life. Your car is so beautifully equipped with perfumed conditioning and shocks that the drainage that overflows, mixed like colors on Vincent Van Gogh’s palate with the rainwater being splashed on walls, pedestrians, and children just
adds a pleasant sound of squish, intermittently enhancing the RJ’s garrulous endeavors on some channel named after some spice. And the cycle follows.

‘You’ will probably still socialize with ‘me’ (the category), and probably sympathize with me, what with the hangover of that film and all and say, we could do something. And there are tax exemptions for donating to charitable organizations, which have the likes of people at the steering wheel who say, “Dear Sir, the institution is charitable, not the people who run it”. You need power to do some things, and when you have gained it, you need to do other things to
preserve it. You will need to protect your image, ensure the perpetuation of influence and the continuation of resource channels. You are that Pig of the Animal Farm that started out to be some thing else. You are the PIG that has lost its conscience and concept for want of things that could be achieved even otherwise, without having to eat shit. You began somewhere, and somewhere on the path, you found the shortcut strewn with flowers more colorful and the terrain less demanding. You have reached a destination alright, but is it where you wanted to go?

PS: Initially, I considered editing the piece - as is custom - I did edit a bit. Let it be then, for there were couple of things I wanted to add... decided to state my views here. Sometimes, power and wealth breed a strange mistrust around them... the more you have it, the more people expect you to misuse it and thereby assume that you MUST be using it. It's perhaps idealistic (or stupid) to think that those in power or with wealth do not want to help out/do their bit/as you like it; or that they would "only if" they "found" the time. Perhaps, who knows? There are those with the power and money who do their bit and there are those who don't. Power by itself perhaps does have a certain bit of corruption in it's nature; more to do with what it puts you through than any other sinister connotation. Hmm. I would want power. Yes, would like to help WITH the power than without it. Each to his/her own? -- JB

Monday, December 3, 2007

You got cold feet?

Some have been waiting, some have not... I have been writing and thinking, without putting up my words or my thoughts out here. Shrug. Shitizen is on, or rather, this citizen is on... But is waiting for something... what exactly, I don't know yet. But I will find out and write back. Meanwhile, this email came in a few minutes back: am responding here. My responses in red.


Recently I was fumbling with my firefox browser options and accidentally tripped on this bookmark labeled "The Indian Shitizen". Kindly excuse the sarcasm but then whats happening with the blog?
1) Have you got cold feet?
No, uterus problems that make it tough to sit up and write.

2) Is it becoming a professional hazard?
No, technical one since laptop crashed and am scared to operate it at the risk of losing my data.

3) Your parents disapprove of it?
They are quite proud, but would appreciate more thought and more participation from others as well.

4) You find the subject uninteresting now?
Silly question.

5) etc. etc.
Answered above: ALSO, for those showing concern, i am deeply touched. Would be even more so, if along with well-worded emails, some well-worded posts and thoughts vis-a-vis the Shitizen are also sent in.

I can understand time constraints. If its so, at least write that as a NOTE.

Sorry to barge in your personal space like this but as a regular shitizen I suppose I have a right to know (or let you know)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Lesson 29: Charansparsh... We can stoop reallly low!

This post has been written by Citizen Kavitta

The reason for us to be there: To get an interview of the CM. We were doing this story on the Commonwealth Games Village. A story about how the banks of the poor Yamuna are falling prey to the greed of some influential well-connected people. A story about how the fragile, ecologically sensitive river bed is getting consumed, first in the name of God with the Akshardham and now in the name of development with the Commonwealth Games Village.

Anybody who is a Somebody was there. That was the day when the palatial lawns of the CM's house were open to the Khaas Admi. The vote bank or the people who could generate the vote bank. Some 500-odd people; young and old, politicians and political aspirants, men and women, industrialists and beauticians. Hindu fanatics and Musalman Fundamentalists. We were the only two people there who were the actual aam admi.

But wasn't this the same CM that we had elected five years back? Why was she available to only a selected people and that too only on a special day? Why did it take us a week to get an interview that we wanted to air for the public? Why meeting the same CM – who we, the aam admi elected – an almost impossible task? We were not there out of choice. There was no commonality – except perhaps one – in all those were present. They all had the same desire: Madam ke pair choone hain. Madam ke saath photo khinchwana hai. Sole motive: Madam ko khush karna hai. (Have to touch madam’s feet. Have to get clicked with madam. Have to make madam happy.)

The party went on. Silver-haired men and women, children in all sizes, their mothers, everyone had this sudden pang, to touch the CM’s feet every time she came out of her Special Enclosure (The enclosure: A brilliantly white shamiana, with twinkling fairy lights meant for the special invitees, the 'more' influential and the 'more' powerful). The aroma of good biryani and tender kebabs filled the air. It took special security services to protect this space from the visiting throngs and visiting bats.

I was in awe. Wondering what was everybody up to. And why? I always knew that ‘this’ happened. I always knew that the pair choona policy was the only way the politics of this country functioned. To see any, especially this performance LIVE was a warped celestial experience. Big stars and small, the politicians, were performing: Continuous, uninterrupted performances with utmost brilliance. One star falling down to another's feet and rising; shining brighter with the I-am-suddenly-more-powerful look. This repeated, bending-double action lasted for over four hours.

Caught between the shooting stars and falling ones were us.

I tried to justify: We are a country with temples for film stars and the Chief Minister should them belong to more hallowed circles. She was our leader, our big GOD. She had the power to turn, immortalise other non-Gods into smaller gods when they touched her feet. I wondered: Could I be the next youth leader if I touched her feet enough enough number of times at such iftars? The concept of Parmeshwar suddenly became clearer.

Maybe this is a country progressing. From the days of black and white movies with their pallu-covered, milk-glass bearing woman, a sati-savitri, now we have a woman as our CM, our God. She is neither sati nor savitri. She is a woman in power and the men touch her feet instead. My head was in a mess: Wanting to accept, to ignore or just wanting to forget about the interview and run. But we couldn’t: This was the Chief Minister of Delhi. We had pitched really hard for this interview. We stay.

We stand in a corner quietly while the others are busy putting up this act. She notices, walks up to us almost five in the middle of the chaos and insists we eat. There are biryani and kebabs goddammit. She invites us inside the Special Enclosure. We insist each time we need the interview first.

After her second invitation to join in the enclosure, even the others started approaching us. Primarily to find out who we were and WHY their God was so interested in us. Others came, some just to drop in their visiting cards others with their visiting stories. One needed to talk about other politicians, another one wanted to show off his community initiative and the third wanted to report a scam being perpetrated by a man in a green kurta. Apparently, someone really big’s son.

People now start to bend double for us, this time with their hands folded in a namaste. Probably I was mistaken about being the Aam Admi. Probably after the politicians the media is God. Probably they could not tolerate my harem pants anymore.(hahahaha) Probably they are showing us the way out. No. They were inviting us to eat! I did understand it was another trick to please the CM. Impress people she talks to.

We got the interview. The CM nearly convinces us that Delhi, now a developed city is the best place in the world to say. Water problems were a thing of the past. The year 2010 will see a new face of Delhi, courtesy the Commonwealth Games. We eat in the white enclosure, food perhaps bought with the taxpayer’s money. My money. I enjoy and appreciate the biryani and her charm and hospitality work on me. The charisma of the woman who had for years been a mother, a home-maker and a true politician hits me in the face. I feel a sense of her power too.

I don’t want to think of the Yamuna, it’s still flowing, can’t we eat first? The aroma of power and food was intoxicating me. I felt part of some episode of Star Wars. Colleagues from rival channels were curious to know our special status to be sitting inside the special enclosure. Overfriendly people, sweet people, nice people, they were going out of their way to socialise with us. As we leave, the CM gives us a little bow and thanks us for coming. And oh my god, I am not the part of the crowd... I am the new God. I too was bitten by the power bug. Thank you madam ji aap ki kripa hai; ab hum bhi bhagwan hain. Charansparsh.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Liar, liar, pants on fire OR…

The river bleeds black

Circa September 2007: River bank, semi-naked men, soaking gods

It’s noon when we reach the banks of the river. And yet the harsh sun cannot pierce its black waters. It’s disgusting to think I wash my face with this water every morning. The government says it ‘treats’ this water. The government says many things.

There is a flash of blue in the water. It’s a polythene bag from the fancy store, Westside. A flash of gold. A recently immersed idol of Ganesha; next to a lump of…. One had recently eaten and did not want to verify that lump. Splash! A boy dives in… right amidst the plastic, Ganesha and lump. Only the top of his head and eyes can be seen. Then he goes under the surface of the water. Under the lump.

He comes out two minutes later and spits out something. What? He swims back and holds out his hand. A cube of some sort of metal rests on his palm. Apparently, devotees throw these cubes into the river and the boy (and more such boys) dives in to pull these out. The cubes sell at Rs 70 a kilogram and are inscribed with words, alphabets and symbols. One of the inscribed words is Ram. But the government says there is no Ram. The government says many things.

“Eww,” she says, holding her packet to throw in the river. “I didn’t know the river was this dirty,” she says to friend, as she pays another boy to immerse her Ganesha amid the floating lumps. “So don’t add to it then,” one had opened one’s big mouth again and instantly felt like a lump. “I know,” she said, with a weird look on her face, clutching her polythene packet tighter, “… I work for an NGO; but, years of habit, religion… Where else do we immerse our gods then?” Where indeed: The Arabian Sea, Hoogli, Ganga, are all taken. Teesta perhaps? We have many rivers, much water, says the government. The government says many things.

Flashback April 2007: Home, toilet flush, boiling babies

The nameplate reads, “So-and-so, DRYCLEANER.” This person’s neighbours are a butcher, three auto-drivers, Mishraji and yours truly, having recently moved to the colony. Most others have lived together for the last two decades or more. They ‘share’ everything: Parking space, water and cable connections and even helpfully borrow from each other’s electricity supply. But things changed.

Mishraji – in one of his let’s-read-the-paper-loudly-for-no-one moods – announced that our locality was one amongst many more to have ‘some’ water trouble. This was before Mishraji still read newspapers and had not declared violently that they were only good for thwacking people. So we had water trouble. Mishraji broke his back lugging water buckets. Mrs Mishraji cracked her voice rationing the water. Mishraji got into a fight with Colonol Sahab – lives on the floor above the Mishras – because the Colonel’s pots were overflowing while Mishraji’s Sintex-tank was dry. The drycleaner’s year-old baby erupted in ugly, pink boils because there was not much water to wash the baby properly. All private water tankers refused to enter the colony because they were beaten at the gates and the water was stolen.

One needed water as well and lugged two buckets of water every morning and evening. Water conservation is an art. One would stand inside one bucket and bathe, to reuse that water to flush the toilet. One considered using the open fields for further water conservation but was daunted by the sheer numbers already heading towards the fields. A good idea always has many takers. And the government says Delhi has no water shortage. The government says many things.

Circa October 2007: Sheila Dikshit’s iftar party

We stood there patiently, in dirty jeans and harem pants while the other media and bedecked politicians clamoured for Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s attention and her feet. The media bent high and low for the right angle, the visitors bent low for her benedictions. Everybody smiled, everybody ate and the Chief Minister posed with everyone, for everyone. With you, for you, always.

All people fit on her lawn and there was room for more. It was a huge lawn. It was moist. One saw sprinklers. They could perhaps fill 18 buckets of water. “Not now,” the Chief Minister told my colleague as our paths happened to cross. Happened to, because while we had not changed our standing-spot since entering her manicured lawns, the Chief Minister’s frequency of appearing exactly where we stood and generally looking in our direction had increased. Perhaps it was because we were the most inappropriately dressed for a party at the Chief Minister’s house. We didn’t know the Chief Minister would invite us for a party; she had so far refused any interview. We wanted a byte, she offered bites instead.

Five hours later, she spoke to us. She said development was needed for Delhi. Development for her means the Commonwealth Games village. It’s on the riverbed of a dead, black river. But the Chief Minister and her government say the river will be cleaned. The government says many things. The games village is also being built on a fault-line that will lead to earthquakes. But the Chief Minister says, “development has to take place.” The Chief Minister says a lot of things.

The Commonwealth Games village will also concretize the last ground-water recharge zone in the capital, the floodplains of the black river. But the Chief Minister says Delhi has no water trouble. Of course there are none in her house. The Chief Minister says adequate trees will be planted, so far no plans have been heard. We have proof the government doesn’t have the approvals. The Chief Minister says she has all. The Chief Minister says a lot of things.

PS1: And we believe her. Why?
PS2: READ the official stories -- we did two parts -- Delhi's death trap and Games village, sitting duck,
see the VIDEO 1 & VIDEO 2 and
the PROOF that we got for YOU (please go to end of story to read the documents). Decide for yourself.
Does the Chief Minister say the right things?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Lesson 28: And Dijkstra says...

"The average customer of the computing industry has been served so poorly that he expects his system to crash all the time, and we witness a massive worldwide distribution of bug-ridden software for which we should be deeply ashamed." -- Prof. E.W. Dijkstra, from The End of Computing Science

Hello Readers,
Again, profusely apologise for irregular (read non-daily) updates, as stuff at work demands more attention and of course, laptops being laptops, mine has decided to behave more like a temperamental boyfriend (who needs to be dumped). And yes, talking laptops… this post is contributed by our new contributor Useless Banter. She, in her own words, is a computer scientist and NOT a software engineer. (Smiles)
So here we go, something different, something technical and something that she reworked twice. The mention of algorithms gives me heebeegeebees. Also, thanks to Useless Banter for shifting the links-to-follow at the end of the article instead of punctuating the text with links. Do read those, quite interesting… even to someone who has been way scared of vectors and algorithms since class 11! Happy reading. Also, for those contributing articles, please remember: Short sentences make for far better and easier reading than rambling sentences that run into four lines. Also, Useless Banter’s copy was the most spelling-error free. Do run a spell-check on your files before sending me; I will still check for spelling errors, but a little help from you greatly reduces boring editing. I do it for a living, you know, so would LOVE to not do it here.
Here is what Useless Banter has to say:

A recent article on The Indian Shitizen about the Great Indian Software Engineer who is really the "Bechara Software Engineer" got me into some serious soul searching. That, combined with influences of some of the recent lectures of the professor teaching my Advanced Distributed Computing class, made me think: Why not put my "higher" MS degree-education to some use, and look at this problem – like a good scientist would – from a research perspective.

So although I agree to most of the things said about the people encompassed under the umbrella of "software engineers" in the article, myself included, I would like to conduct myself in the spirit of a true Computer Scientist. Basically, it means I would like to tie this discussion to a more interesting and perhaps more productive analysis by turning attention to the question of: "What real value can software engineers bring towards ensuring mature thought processes in problem solving?" (Think "algorithms"!!!....)

Basically, what role can Software Engineers (ugh!! I hate that term, so shall stick to the personally-preferred ‘Computer Scientist’) play, in inventing novel approaches that can solve fundamental problems in any scenario? Say, even one such as making an underdeveloped nation wrought with problems, become an efficient developed nation?

As its most preliminary steps this process actually involves a lot of reading between the lines, quality research and a special genre of laziness. Yes, a laziness that can effectively cause sharp research minds to come up with elegant solutions and novel ideas such as the shortest path algorithm [2][3]. For this, even if we have to change our education system, which is currently engaged in the task of producing ‘clones’, then so be it. We shall have to be lazy enough to reject the ‘standard’ paradigms given to us, and create an education system that teaches people to be truly lazy, i.e. by "inventing".

Will sign off with this quote, as food for thought, from a paper by Dijkstra [4] (in which he presents his views on the flaws in Computer Science education. Nevertheless, it has a lesson about education in general, so it is a must-read):

"The usual way in which we plan today, for tomorrow, is in yesterday's vocabulary". -- Prof. E.W. Dijkstra

We need just a few hundred people in the nation from our vast pool of software engineers that think like Dijkstra[1]. Are the computer scientists listening?
Useless Banter

PS1: My contribution as a bechara software engineer towards this end: Pledging that I will not be bechara any more. I will (at least try to) get a PhD degree that advances a computing concept, and start a personal venture that provides a tangible solution while providing employment to others, or even a revolution if you will, and not just be happy to take up an offshoring job with a multinational. What's yours?
PS2: Next lesson - Distributed Computing (read "Effective Management of Distributed Resources")

1. Edsger W. Dijkstra
2. Shortest path problem
3. Dijkstra's algorithm
4. Dijkstra's views on Computer Science education and his rant on the irony presented by "radical novelty" (hand-written) / (transcribed)
Appendix 1 - What computing science is about
Appendix 2 - Dijkstra's "EWD" series

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Lesson 27: Did my father murder Rizwanur Rehman?

Dear Papa, hope you don't misunderstand this, if and when you do read this.

I had always thought it was Papa's 'over-protectiveness' that made him dislike the idea of me talking or befriending any boy. I say 'boy' because the first memories of Papa reacting adversely to any male company around me goes back 20 years...

I was 9-years-old and the said boy was 12. We were stationed at Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh), one of the cities where any Ordinance officer will spend a considerable part of his tenure. This boy was a visiting relative of one of our neighbours. He was about two inches taller than me, had nearly blonde hair (called it 'English' hair back then) and very, very red lips. So he would play with us and we became playground friends. Till the day he pecked me on the cheek for some reason and there was "scandal" amongst the kids. I promptly reported the transgression to the Aunty whose house he was staying in; who in turn 'apologised' to my mother. That should have been that, only that Papa decided to have a mini-talk with me (over the years the length of those chats grew, much to my alarm).

The only thing Papa said was, "You stay away from that boy, he is not a good boy. All these Punjabi boys." After that I stayed away from 'Punjabi' boys for a long time. Till Papa found that one of my closest friends was a Tamil boy. Then he said, "All these Tamil boys..." and then it was "All these Jat boys..." and 'Nepalis', 'Sardars' and 'Christians' and so on and so forth. Towards the fag end of adolescence I realised that Papa perhaps just did not like boys. Or boys who were my friends.

It was confirmed when I heard him telling Ma, "Ei je mein, ekta jhola-pora Marxist dhore aan be... nahole tattoo-kora Panjabi ke" (This girl will either get us a jhola-clad Marxist or a tattooed Punjabi boy) When I was getting close-to-marriageable, Ma said, very concerned, "Whatever you do, don't bring us a Christian, Muslim or Sikh." I pointed out that given Papa's restrictions and now hers added to it, there wouldn't be any/ many men left to marry. I had suggested a Nigerian and a horrified mother had said, "Bachcha gulo koto kaalo hobe". (The kids will be so dark). Funny because I am bloody dark-skinned too. Back then, it was a joke.

My father also had a gun (two actually, licensed) and would often say that if I got him a "bugger" he didn't like, he would use it freely. Papa never used that gun (or perhaps I was smarter). But many fathers do use their guns. Or hire thugs and policemen to yield their guns. They kill Jat-sikh boys for marrying a 'Pappa-Sikh' girl -- I still don't know the difference but three years in Amritsar taught me there was 'some' difference. Or a newly-wed couple because one of them is a 'Dalit'. Or a Muslim, Calcutta-based graphic designer called Rizwanur because he married a girl called Priyanka, Hindu.

Sometimes these MURDERS are called mob violence. Sometimes Panchayat justice. Sometimes they are labelled honour killings. It is supposedly honourable to slaughter your child. Wah. Sometimes -- like in the case of Rizwanur Rehman -- the Police Commissioner (Calcutta) calls it a suicide. It is not about the poor. The more money you have, the more you seem concerned about HOW you appear to society. The more you have to protect your 'honour'.

It is not even about people falling in love. It is about Hate. You just hate if someone wears a patka, or a skull-cap or a janeyu. We hate the "spineless and loud" Bengalis. We hate the "crude" Jats. We hate the "dosa-loving Mallus". We hate the "converting" Christians. We hate the "bloody uncouth" Biharis. We hate the "stingy-stinky" Maharashtrians. Wherever we can find ANY reason, we hate. And we murder.

And the lawmen of this country, the protectors', they commit these murders. Sometimes the police reach the site late. Sometimes they don't find witnesses. Sometimes they drag people behind their motorcycles. Sometimes they watch many being massacred. And in Rizwanur's case, it seems the policemen, the bloody protectors, are the murderers. WHY? Because a poor boy loved a rich girl... or a Muslim boy loved a Hindu girl?

Our attitudes are so clear. Team India whopped Team Pakistan in the T20 series. I got two messages on my cellphone. One read, "Chak de India, **** de Pakistan" and the other... The other commented on certain anatomically missing parts and how "we" took care of the rest. Wonder what Zahir Khan and the Pathan brothers have to say about it or if they are lesser players for missing anatomy.

And yet, no posts will bring Rizwanur back.

Praanadhika from Elaan sent me this --- ALL those in Calcutta or those who know people in Calcutta, please inform, PLEASE join. It's not about religion. It's about MURDERING someone who had as much right to life as you and me. Whether Hindu or Muslim.

We believe that Justice is a Constitutional right for every living being, regardless of nationality, caste, religion etc. What happened with Rizwanur Rehman and the circumstances that surrounded his untimely death have raised both hackles and questions. We want answers, fair and just ones. We don't care about the politics behind it, we don't care about the big guns with their (bigger) mouths.. we care about what matters at the end
of the day - Human Dignity. However, since violence and war only lead to more of the same, we have chosen to join hands with some fellow crusaders outside St. Xaviers College, Park Street as part of a silent and peaceful candlelight vigil in Rizwanur's memory. The Elaan supported vigil will be held from 6AM to Midnight on Wednesday October 10th outside St.Xavier's College. Many of you might have read about the candlelight vigil in the papers or seen photographs of it in the papers. It is part of a 100 day protest for justice and it would mean a lot to the people of this city if you could devote just 2 hours of your time to it. If you are interested in being a part of the Justice for Rizwanur Campaign, please email - /

PS: My househelp and companion is a Muslim. The other day, while oiling my hair, she said, "Didi, some Hindus in our colony had a fight with some Muslim boys. The Hindu boys threw bottles in my house. I am scared." She works very hard, pays a huge rent because she does not want to stay in a jhuggi (slum/ghetto) and wants to send her 6-year-old son to college someday. The 'fight' took place somewhere near Connaught Place. We live near Vasant Kunj. So WHY her house? I am scared too. ---- J Bo

Lesson 26: It is always YOUR fault.

This post was written by our new contributor Citizen Kavitta. When she’s not writing for us – hoping she will write a lot – she masquerades as a rule-abiding, blame-shifting producer on various cracking TV shows. In her spare time, she wonders about the blame. I like her style of writing. Do read on… Welcome, Citizen Kavitta.

The favourite pass time of us Indians is to shift the blame. We blame the Rams and the Rahims. The divisions, the states, the politics, the castes. We blame because it is always someone else’s fault. My neighbour is responsible for the dirty street outside my house. Well, it doesn't matter if some kachra is mine too but my neighbour's kachra is definitely more. It has to be, because I am blaming him.

I blame LK Advani for raising the Ram-issue and further dividing this country on religious grounds. My best friend is a Muslim. See I have done my bit, I am a secular citizen. The Advanis and the Modis are to be blamed because they are ones who started it. It doesn’t matter if my voice could be the one of the many smaller voices that might just end it. But of course I keep quiet. It doesn't matter that my blood boils if Karunanidhi challenges my faith... Why should I? I am not to be blamed.

And it’s not just religion or garbage where the shift-the-blame attitude comes through. It is also leading us to the end of the ‘relationship age’.

Today, we decide to end the relationship that might mean the world to us… Again, we blame the other. Some of the smallest and the strangest things turn around and stand in our faces after we have already finished playing the blame game. I will not blame it all on my ex- boyfriend because he never understood nor did he have the brains (or balls) to do so; even the fact that he was two-timing me. His ex-girlfriend decided to linger on. Did the woman never get the message? Uff, what a spineless woman! Of course it is not my fault, I was always there you see. So what if I refuse to stoop down to the levels the other woman did to win him back? I am not the type of woman to play games. I am a simple woman. So simply, I blame her.

I come out happy after watching Chak De. Bingo! Here we are back to feeling true Indians months after the Rang De Basanti euphoria. After RDB, we raved about the potential of the youth, the power Generation X (or Y, Z, theta). Back then our blood had boiled (for a bit) and we were euphoric (for a bit). Then the 'Indian Youth' was out on the streets to get justice for Jessica Lall. All through the protest marches, we blamed the inefficient judiciary, the politicians and blamed the 70 mm for shaking us out of our slumber.

Today, yet another 70 mm bonanza gives me the same orgasm. Again I come out of the theater: A proud Indian wanting to change the face of the country. Again I blame the game of cricket for hogging the limelight. And the cricketers for not playing hard enough despite the big bucks they earn. Again I blame the babus sitting on the top. I blame the systems, not just for the bad state of the hockey team but also because the public transport is so bad that I can not find an auto to take me back home and I don't want to get into a bus.

The problem is not even me. It’s genetic you see. I was three years old when the '84 riots happened. Delhi shook. My parents blamed Indira Gandhi. Circa 2007. My parents blame Indira Gandhi yet again. Each time their normal, 9-5 lives are thrown off the track. That is when the seedling of the 'I Blame You' emotion germinated and infected the 'youth'.

Over the years I learnt to blame the municipality for no water, the traffic police for jam-packed roads. No electricity? Why couldn't the government do something about it? My maid was illiterate and still is. I don't have time to teach her – and neither do you – why can't we have a system in place to educate the poor? Oh, did I say poor? Well, it is her fault that she is poor. I continue to go to the best school; it’s not my fault! Basically, I learnt to blame. If I did not do my homework I simply said there was no electricity. “Sorry ma'am, not my fault.” Surprisingly, my teacher understood and she too blamed the government.

Today, I am a grown-up earning a good salary. However, my classmate from school in the same company earns a couple of thousands more... Goddammit, F*&^ the HR! All my colleagues agree too, we all blame the HR. I shall be honest now and blame Facebook for getting me hooked. Oops! Writing this post, I lost track of time and am now late for my shoot. The politicians waiting are going to throw a fit. I will take the familiar route. “Sir kya karein? Traffic hi itna tha. Sir, aap log kuch karte kyun nahi?”
(What can I do sir, there was much traffic. Why don’t you do something about it sir?)

It’s an instinct honed over the years, almost as if the mind has been left on auto-pilot and does not know another way to navigate. See it is not my fault...

PS: And yet, do we ever realize – or will we – that we are as much part of the same blame game?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Lesson 25: Bechara Software Engineer?

Contributed by Citizen Mohit (do read his blog for the complete, unedited text)

There is a very old joke about Bangalore that a friend of mine told me the day I reached Bangalore for the first time after its new found status of India’s IT Capital. It goes like this (told in Hindi first for maximum impact):

Bangalore mein kuchh Chaalees Hazaar (40,000) kutte hain; Itne hi kareeb software engineer hain. Sadak par ek patthar utha kar maarogey to ya to kutte ko lagega ya software engineer ko. Aur Kutte ke galey mein patta ho ya nahin, software engineer ke galey mein jaroor hoga!

(Bangalore has about 40,000 dogs; about the same number of software engineers. If you throw a stone randomly, chances are, it will hit the dog or the software engineer. While the dog may or may not have a strap (a.k.a. leash) around his neck, the software engineer will definitely have one.)

Alright, the half of you can stop laughing now. The other half are of course, the software engineers.

While there are no official figures to support this (meaning I have not researched), I can safely say that more than half of the current youth does something that can be slotted under the title of ‘software engineer’. If you are not a software engineer, there are all chances that either your brother or sister, or your spouse or your best friend or your neighbor or someone else you know closely is on.

It’s funny. What started out as a profession that needed a whole lot of technical expertise, was supposedly ‘niche’ and somewhat glorified, has now become as mundane as any other profession, or most other once-upon-a-time-talked about professions. And not just mundane, it’s become one of the most accursed jobs to have as well. In a way, the software engineer of today is what the babu of the English government was, back in the pre-independence era.

For one, most of a software engineer’s hard work, his day’s energy and all his knowledge goes into productive work (mostly) for the United States (or some other country). His only contribution to the country is the tax that he pays (which is a significant amount) but no one cares for something that you do once a year and that too just a day before the extended deadline. But there is no satisfaction value to his hard work; he is not like his Airtel or Reliance engineer friend who can boast of working to increase the country’s communication bandwidth.

Not like his stock broker friend who invests in the local stock markets (even though he might be working for a Franklin Templeton); doctors, of course, have that halo value; journalists can boast of reporting corruption; even a management professional working for the countless multinationals that have made their way into the country learns stuff about the local market because local is how he deals. But the software engineer learns everything about the US industry but ZILCH about the corresponding Indian industry. He may know loads about the US insurance industry but how things work in the Indian market are quite different.

It started as an esteemed profession (it still is, but a tad too common). Everybody and their bagal waali aunty ka ladka (neighbor’s kid) worth their “Hello World” program wanted to be a software engineer. The charm of sitting on a cushioned chair, complete with the ergonomic works, in an air-conditioned office, the potential of getting the Gurgaon flat (or the Bangalore, Hyderabad or Chennai flat, consistent with your geography) along with the Tata Safari as ransom, oops, dowry, an overall enhancement in the family status, the not-so-proverbial but very filmy samaaj mein gardan oonchi (high status in society) and the ultimate dream of flying “abraawd” (which, for a desi, means any country apart from Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma and Sri Lanka) was just too much of an opportunity to overlook.

And thus started the revolution that would take India from the spiritual tourism pages of the Time magazines to the business section and even the cover story. Young college pass outs left their hometowns for their dream jobs in often far away cities. But is it a Dream Job?

In these far off big cities, the software engineer is no longer looked at as the nice kid who made it from a humble background; he becomes just another bachelor who only rents apartments to cast an evil eye on the landlord’s daughter, or the neighbor’s young wife or to cook non-vegetarian food in the vegetarian landlord’s “pure” house. He also has a tough time with auto drivers; now auto drivers can anyway be a pain; but when they see these 20-somethings with loads of cash, they often hear stuff like “you have taken away our jobs coming from other states”.

Sky-high rents are another reality that becomes a reality only when he gets married.

And if you want to see the software engineer, where do you go? His office is a good answer but you won’t be allowed to enter his actual office area these days with the security arrangements such that I cannot go to my friend’s seat who works for a different client because my tuin-tuin card does not have the access for that bay. Well, so you go to the malls. Those people that you see all over the mall; some sipping their CafĂ© Coffee Day some-difficult-to-pronounce-ccino; others waiting in the multiplex line ready to dish out close to a grand for a movie for two (with popcorn and Pepsi, large please).

And is that enviable chance at a life abrawd really that enviable? The Software Engineer neat stuff all around him but does not buy it because he is there only for a year or two; to save for a lavish lifestyle that everyone expects him to have back home. So, he settles for a lifestyle quite opposite to what he had back home. While he shops only branded stuff from the best shops in India, he is always on the lookout for ‘deals’ and sales announcements and buys the cheapest stuff without caring for a brand name in the US! Not to mention the weird looks he gets from all the natives for taking their jobs away. A few “lucky” ones have seen protesters at bus stops with signs saying “I was Bangalored” and “Say No to Offshoring”.

In a way, it seems that the software engineer of today is what the babu of the English government was back in the pre-independence era. The babus joined the British government in a hope for a good job and a prosperous life for their family. They did their work and even though a large section of the population would have lived off servicing that class, they were often considered as people who just wanted to make money by turning towards the tide. A large section of the youth turns towards software jobs today because that is the area where the largest number of jobs is.

Does that make The Software Engineer a selfish lot? The kind that works for itself and does nothing? (And which is the Other kind of people anyway?) So the abroad-going-software-engineer population is rising (and perhaps not with much returns for India) and so are the numbers who don’t get a basic meal a day. Both are realities of today’s India. I know that the software engineers definitely want to see their country progress. There are small ways in which the software engineers can help the country – even while you spend most evening tracking your Twitter account.

Like making government offices and services tech savvy. Or even teaching your mom the basics of the internet to make banking easier.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Apologies and encouragement

Apologies for not being regular with the updates, my back has been acting up AND my laptop has been crashing. Have been scared to operate the machine for fear of losing all material. (scowl) There are three contributions sitting in my inbox -- excellent ones -- and unfortunately, have not been able to go through them. However, do wait up for a very nicely written piece on the Indian Software Engineer by Citizen Mohit.

Meanwhile, here's what Prasanna ( wrote on his blog, while he will still perhaps write a post for Shitizens' someday, we sincerely thank him for his encouraging words. Am pasting a bit of what he has to say, for the whole thing, do click on his blog link.
Love, peace and faith -- J Bo

Prasanna writes:

This is dedicated to two different sets of folks. For even if what they do, what they dream, what they see that the rest of us don't, are entirely orthogonal and unrelated, they are not so fundamentally different from each other in spirit.

Here's a toast to the folks behind and!

Here’s to the crazy ones...

PS: More to come Readers and soon... Don't lose the faith...or the patience!!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Lesson 24: Justice... is blind?

or, Where the courts are beyond the law...

The Judges Inquiry Bill (2007) should be introduced in the Parliament next week. The bill is all about holding the Judiciary accountable for what they do -- if and when one feels that either justice has not been meted out or if a judge has been 'corrupt'. Remember the movies where we have seen judges taking bribes? Now think... So you have been harassed by the police, your neighbour, your in-laws, whoever and decide to move the court to help you out. You move the highest court of law for a case and perhaps the person sitting on that esteemed chair is not honest. Will you be sure that you will get justice? When studying, one of the chapters in my civics book said that when a citizen does not have anywhere to go, the Supreme Court will listen. It will give you justice, it will do right or at least try. Now... the SC is perhaps becoming a body that becomes all-powerful; but that power perhaps will not be used for the people. Judges will perhaps become prosecution, defence, jury and executioner; all rolled into one. And if perhaps there is money involved, the verdict might not make any sense to you and me. WHAT will we do? WHO will we go to?

Here, is You Don't Know Who (YDKW1) makes a reappearance now to give us the juice on what the entire Judges' Inquiry Bill is all about; why we need it and what the court has to say about it. Read on, it's important for all of us.

Contributed by You Don't Know Who 1

There is a saying along the lines of, "It doesn't matter to the grass if the elephants make love or if they make war, it gets crushed either way."

At times, when huge institutions are in conflict, it can feel like that for ordinary citizens. Frankly, all you want to do is get the hell out of the way, but that may not be the best way to deal with things.

Most people in India will not really know about this, but the Parliament is currently looking at a Judges (Inquiry) Bill. Knowing this may not make much difference to your day as an Indian citizen, but it should, because it is quite likely to affect your life. And just because the judiciary and the Parliament are calling each other names, shouldn't make you forget that the primary purpose of these huge institutions, these elephants, is to serve you.

The Judges (Inquiry) Bill, 2007, is supposed to replace the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968. The original Act was brought into force to investigate complaints against judges. It has been used. Once. Unsuccessfully.

This was in the case against the Supreme Court judge, Justice Ramaswamy. Despite the fact that the Inquiry Committee found the judge guilty of 11 out the 14 charges including those of financial fraud in which his actions were "were such as to bring dishonour and disrepute to the judiciary so as to shake the faith and confidence which the public repose in the institution," Ramaswamy was not removed from office. In fact the impeachment motion against him failed, and he happily went back to his job. No other Inquiry into a judge's behaviour has taken place, ever.

For the last 15 or so years MPs have been trying to figure out a way to make sure that something like this does not recur, and during that time we have all heard many stories of judicial misbehaviour. A few of them are listed here
but the thing is that the Supreme Court has ruled that the judiciary is off-limits.

It has served contempt of court orders against journalists investigating or even the CBI conducting a raid without the Chief Justice of India's permission. Even the Right to Information Act has been declared not applicable to the judiciary.
Now this might not be all that bad. The impeachment process against a judge of the High Court or Supreme Court has been made tough for a reason.

Judges should be independent and not be open to coercion. But it is also common sense to understand that if somebody has power, and no oversight whatsoever, they might be tempted to abuse it. If they cannot be investigated, cannot be questioned and cannot be removed, there might be a bit of an issue. In fact the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to mean that even appointments are done on the advice of the serving judiciary. So appointments of the judge, any oversight or punishment (and we would never know) is all in a few people's hands.

Previous governments have tabled a number of bills until we had a draft version of the bill in 2005. It was sent to the Law Commission, headed by Justice Jagganadha Rao, came back with a report that judicial oversight should be exclusively by the judiciary, and the judiciary alone. The Law Commission argued that this is the case in (most of) the rest of the world. The funny thing is that the National Advisory Council had come out with a report saying the exact opposite, that in most parts of the world judicial oversight is by a wider body. For some reason the Law Commission in its 400+ page report somehow forgot to even mention the judicial reforms undertaken by the UK, and the Act passed in 2005 appointing a committee to appoint judges (none of whom are of the judiciary) and an ombudsman to investigate judges (who is not a judge). So we have the current Bill, about which one of the Members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee has said, "we talk about accountability, instead of Judges appointing Judges, which is bad enough in itself; Judges judging judges, even when there are complaints against them, I think, is worse".

And in the midst of all this when Mid Day magazine raises the issue that the sons of the former Chief Justice of India, Justice Sabharwal, were members of a mall and building development agency that made crores when the Supreme Court forced the implementation of the sealing drive, the Supreme Court cries, 'Contempt!" and sends the editor and reporters to jail. It really makes you suspicious.

Do you really want such judges passing judgments over your cases? With no oversight, no transparency, nothing? Think about it. Inform yourself. It is your country, these are your institutions. Hold them to account.

PS: HOW??? WHO do we go to? Even 'truth' is not seen as enough -- even with proof -- to bring a judge under the scanner. Andha kanoon? And again I ask, how long will you keep quiet?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lesson 24: You bloody Baingan aka Brinjal!

Contributed by Citizen Sahasra Shatru, Hyderabad

People have peculiar attitudes shaped by the cities they live in, so much so that we come to see stereotypes – that are almost, always strangely true – of people with regards to certain attributes. A beautiful old-world charm used to pervade the city of Hyderabad, which was and is famed for its laidback attitude.

That attitude is celebrated to date, notwithstanding the advances in technology, businesses, pub culture and life in the fast lane. Yet, what deeply supports the laidback attitude -- that is so proudly worn on sleeves by Hyderabadis -- is the "Brinjal" Attitude. Now, let me elucidate.

Look at a few everyday encounters that an average commuter or bystander is witness to:

At signals, when someone is obviously jumping one
Person 1: “Arre Bewakoof, signal nahin dikhtha kya?.
Person 2: “Baingan kee meri Signal”……….vroooom….
(Yo, idiot, can’t you see the red light?
My bloody baingan to the signal!)

On the roads, where someone is liberally pee-ing on walls

Person 1: “Arre yaar, thodee hee dhoor mein public toilet hain naa?”
Person 2: “Baingan kee meri public toilet”
(Yo, there’s a public toilet at a short distance you know…)
(My baingan to the public toilet…)

Any given place when women are being letched at

Person 1: “Maal ke tamaatar dekha hai kya?
Person 1½: “Rapchik hai chichchaa…khaali thodee sadelee hain”
Person 2: “Abbe there ghar mein maa behan nahin hai?”
Person 1: “Voh tho hai, par theree behan ko kab bhijaaraa rey, baingan ke baal”
(Yo, haven’t you ever seen a tomato? Don’t you have your mother/sisters at home?)
(Of course I have a mom/sis; but when are you sending your sister over, you bloody brinjal)

In a Government office, obviously stuck at the red tape
Person 1: “saab, yeh kaam thodaa urgent hai, aaj sham thak ho sakthaa hai kya?”
Person 2: “Baingan hota”
(Sir, this work is important, can it be done by evening?)
(By evening? Right. My brinjal…)

In a queue, when someone’s obviously breaking the line
Person 1: “oye theree tho, kathaar nahin dikhraa kya?
Person 2: “thereko dikhthaa hai naa, thoo khade rah”
(Oi, can’t you see the queue?)
(Well, you can see right? So keep standing.)

At a market (with vendors) where stuff is obviously over-priced
Person 1: “uthnaa bhaav kyoon bhai, main ithnaa eech dethoon”
Person 2: “mere mooh pe baingan likhaa hua hai kya, chalo, giraak kaa time hua”
(Why is it so expensive? I usually pay a lower price)
(Er, do you see ‘brinjal’ written on my face? )

With auto driver, who is obviously refusing to budge
Person 1: “Punjagutta chaloge?”
Person 2: “ .....“ (the ‘baingan’ gesture)
Person 1: looks at his watch, the sky, and to the next autowallah
(Will you go to such-such place?)
(Makes the brinjal-finger-sign. No response)

It is that stoicism that I am in awe of that is so homogenously present with the display of this Brinjal attitude that kills any prospect of conciliation with the people that one has to interact with everyday.

The city lives on and grows organically as people move to other cities and exchange their ‘gifts’, the best export from Hyderabad being the Brinjal attitude, thanks to their strong rudimentary principles in the art of living. It is there deep in skin, bones, blood, and sputum, and some times only a dandaa will set them right, albeit temporarily. I keep fighting with the ‘Brinjals’, some times with upper hand, some times vanquished. What do you do with yours?

J Bo says: An eye for an eye, a brinjal for a brinjal?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Lesson 23: Have you been to a Rae-Bareilly?

This was contributed by Citizen Mohit.

“Have you ever been to Rae Bareilly?” I was stumped by this question coming from my neighbor’s 7-year-old kid. How and why is this little kid interested in the Gandhi family’s constituency? Well, my fears were unfounded. After some rounds of Q&A, I understood that he wanted to know if I had been to a library (lai-ba-rairy in a kid’s voice became Rae Bareilly!).

Hmmm, I told him that I had been to libraries in my schools and college. But this little chap wanted to go to a library near his home. So I took him to my stack of Champaks, Bhokaal, Chacha Chaudhary and Archies comic books; the 7-year old was satisfied with that but not me.

I have never seen a library in my town Ghaziabad. I have only heard of the British Council Library in Delhi and one probably in Bangalore. But apart from these ‘exclusive’ libraries, don’t we need more libraries across the country? Our politicians call bandhs for providing so many commodities either cheap or free to the common man but they never hold the parliament down for providing free/easy access to books and other reading materials. Is this part of their evil scheme to keep the man on the streets forever on the streets?

Here are, what I believe, the benefits of having a library in all towns of our country:

1. Access to books for people who cannot afford to buy them; access to books will not only enhance their knowledge, but also widen their horizon about issues facing their own towns, districts, states all the way up to the country and even world.

2. The self-appointed darogas (policemen) of Indian culture will also get an opportunity to spread word among the people about the value based sanskriti (culture) by showcasing Indian literature especially in the regional languages to the youth of today who are blamed for embracing Western influences while ignoring the rich cultural heritage of their motherland. What else can they embrace when the only public face of Indian Cultural heritage that they see is some hooligans burning down public property or breaking window panes in a card shop on Valentine’s Day or turning a blind eye to any constructive suggestion by terming it as an insult to their religious sentiments?

It just dawned on me, while writing this piece, that this library effort is especially critical from a regional language literature because a failure to do this (in the way I am suggesting or any other) could very well mean pulling the curtains on those precious gems forever from the general landscape. Sounds exaggerated?
Consider this: you and I still have heard in bits and pieces about Prem Chand (frankly, he is the only Hindi author I can quote, I know, shame on me) because our parents came up from villages and were in touch with these but keeping in mind the amount of Indian literature we know, how much do you think can this generation pass on to its children?

Just putting books in a building is not my idea of a library; the library complex should allow place for small gatherings as well where learned scholars from local universities, colleges and other affiliations can hold short discussions or discourses on some key topics including the importance of the Vedas in these days, the lessons of Bhagvad Gita, the teachings of the Quran, even controversial topics like whether the Babri Masjid was actually a temple with both sides being allowed to put their points across.

These debates, discussions and the resultant awareness and knowledge in the common man should allow for greater understanding of the complexity of issues and hopefully should result in a society that is more civilized and aware of the real cause of problems (also understand if there is a problem at all).

If we follow this, I am sure the next time some mischief mongers deface an Ambedkar statue in Kanpur, people in Mumbai will understand that no amount of kaalikh on Ambedkar’s statues all over the country will lessen even an iota worth of his contribution to the Constitution of this country and beyond. This is the respect and tolerance that is the hallmark of any civilized society.

If we cannot work together as a society for the upliftment of the man at the bottom of the society, we do not have any option but to cry foul when he converts to a religion which did help him get some education, however minimum it was, and raises his quality of life.

Like I said earlier, I do not know of any local libraries in our towns and cities. If you know of some public libraries, do share those with us here so that other towns and cities of this country can hopefully learn from them.

I will try and share my books (at least the ones I don't mind if they don't come back). It will hurt, parting with the darlings, but will try share good books and brilliant authors with people. That will be my contribution today. Yours?

PS: Recommended for science fiction/fantasy readers or simply those interested in DAMN good reading, Samit Basu's Gameworld series -- The Simoqin Prophecies and The Manticore's Secret. The third and final part of the series, Unwaba, hits bookstores this December. Yea!!!!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lesson 22: Claim your dead for Rs 3000/- only

Originally titled: Nanamma
Contributed by: Citizen Mads

Greetings people. Lots of angry tales, na? Too much heat and all. You want chilling? Here.

Husband and self, having brought in the New Year, were fast asleep. Suddenly, a phone call wakes me up. My brother.
‘Nanamma’s been stabbed.’
This is no time to tell you what nanamma means, but still. Grandmother. Father’s mother.
‘You’ve downed a few, right?’
‘I’m dead sober.’
Next thing I know, I’m at dad’s place taking charge of the situation.
‘Nobody touch anything.’
My grandma’s dead. Murdered.
This is supposed to happen in films.
Blood on the walls, the sheets, all over my dead grandmother. I huddle the family in one corner of the house and call the police.

They come and start examining the place. There’s a knife in the loo. Dog squad arrives. Neighbours are enjoying the show. After all the investigation’s over, the cops leave. The relatives are here. The drama begins.

Curtain opens:
Twilight. Cremation ground. Funeral scene.
Nanamma has been brought here in a van straight from Cooper hospital after an autopsy, and a bribe of Rs. 3000. For those who don’t know, Cooper is the municipality hospital in Bombay where all cases of unnatural death that side of town are taken for post-mortem. The police and doctors do some paperwork and lock the body of your loved one till you pay up.

Scene 2:
Back home after the cremation. The media is waiting at the door.
Tell me, is the police legally allowed to drag the media into people’s personal lives?1 (NO, every citizen HAS a right to privacy. The police and the media play on the fact that no one will push them away or sue them. PLEASE sue the media.)
Cameras, mikes, reporters. “Aapko kaisa lag raha hai?” I roll up my sleeves, “Come, I’ll show you kaisa lag raha hai.”

Sure enough, the next morning’s papers have us splashed all over them. Long lost friends and relatives dig up our numbers and call to find out kya hua. Trying my best not to lash out, I say. “Jo papers mein likha hai wahi hua.”
The Aaj Tak guys even come to the condolence meeting and dig people for information.


For those who don’t know, here goes. She was in her room; my dad was in the next room. The rest were out for the New Year’s eve parties. She’d probably put up a fight. There were signs of struggle. Knowing her, she wouldn’t give up so soon. She was just back from hospital having beaten age and illness black and blue. Coming back to her body. Diamond earrings, and some gold ornaments she wore were missing. She had been stabbed in several places. And a cushion had been use to muffle her screams. (It was blood-soaked). Yes, she always slept with the windows wide open.

Scene 3:
A dull script would have the police solve the case, get the bad guys and thus help the family, right? Not in this one, though.
Apparently, in such cases, the prime suspect is the family. Dad, mom, brother, us, everyone was subjected to days and days of questioning. And still more questioning. The cops went questioning our neighbours, doodhwala, sabziwala, dhobi, maidservant.
Everyone we even met on the roads, shook hands with or spoke to were caught hold of. Plainclothes cops were all over.
Was my dad a good son? Did mom have fights with nanamma? Was there property involved? We lost a lot of friends who, we realised later, were never friends anyway. The true friends were with us rock-solid. They spoke, gave statements, and did everything they could to help us (bless them all).

Grand finale:
The 13th day ceremony at home. Relatives pouring in. When my family was working round-the-clock to serve nanamma while she was in hospital, none of these even cared to ask if we needed any help. And all these relatives are here to watch the show and point fingers. How could you let it happen? You didn’t take good care of her! You got the family involved with police. All this from people who never bothered about her when she was alive! Curtain closes on my dad who loved and served his mother all his life, now in the middle of all this unpleasantness. His own people accusing him. His friends deserting him. His trust broken to shreds. His mother gone in such a terrible way.

Mom was out of town when all this happened. She arrived on the morning after the murder, from Rishikesh with Gangajal. Little did she know how soon we’d have to use it.
The windows we loved keeping open now have strong grills that block the view and breeze. We never ever leave my parents or my old father-in-law alone.
And yes, we don’t celebrate the New Year any more.
What happened to the killers nobody knows.
The police never got back to us.
The media never came to follow up the case.

After ruling the headlines for some two days, my nanamma became part of the statistics on the senior citizens’ murders happening all over the city. Our wounds are yet to heal.

Mads' comments:
I too will grow old some day. I don’t know if my children will live with me. Nanamma died like this in spite of living with a family. I’m scared. I can only pray.
PS. If any of my so-called friends/relatives manages to read this, I advice you to stay away from my family. If any of you bothers my people with more questions in the wake of this blog, I swear, I’ll come after you with a hatchet.

PS: And pass on the addresses if you need to Mads, you got another hatchet here. REQUEST to people: BAN the media in times of personal tragedy. Please understand, Indian media SUCKS at follow-ups. Half the time they suck at getting the basics right. Yes, I am from the media and YET I request, DON'T talk in times of tragedy. It's like giving a carnivore a taste of blood. And next time a media person asks, "How are you feeling?", just slap them hard and repeat the question to them. Period.

Beginning 2007, or late 2006 there was a double murder in R block, Greater Kailash 1; one of THE shopping and moneyed hubs in Delhi. An old couple was hammered and clubbed to death, no stabs or quick demise... A blunt object was used and NOTHING was missing. The next door neighbours to the deceased couple happen to be a lead singer (and wife) of a much-loved band. We were all in shock. The murders were committed in the afternoon. There are full-time, stay-at-home househelps in both the houses. No one heard a thing. What were the chances that the murderers should have chosen that house and not the house next door? My friends' house? The case is STILL unresolved.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Lesson 21: The Plastic Suicide

The post is contributed by Citizen Mads, one of our 'Mumbai shakha', as she calls herself

Me, average middle class Mumbaikar. It means I travel by train, eat vada pav and call onions, kanda. I’m proud of my city. Come flood, riot or blast, Mumbai gets up, dusts the seat of its trousers and moves on. But I have a problem. I hate the anti-Mumbaikar. No, no. Not the one who’re against Mumbai and all. That one I don’t care about. I mean the jis thaali mein khaate hain, usi mein… type.

Let me introduce you to Her. (It’s going to be Her because I travel in the ladies’ compartment, go veggie-shopping, use the women’s loo, etc.). She’s this nice, god-fearing woman who does her puja everyday, handles all the household chores, balances home and work. Nothing wrong with that, eh? Now this goddamn woman travels by train every morning. I meet Her everyday in some or the other avatar.

The first time I saw one I couldn’t believe my eyes. Just as the train moved from Bandra towards Mahim, she braved the crowds and slithered through to come to the entrance of the compartment. She stood on the edge with folded hands and a resolute look on her face. “Is she going to jump?” the mind questioned.

And behold! Come Bandra creek and she throws a huge plastic bag right into the water. And before the dropped jaw could come back in place, she disappeared into the crowd.
The puja ke phool, apparently, have to go in the water. Else, you go to hell. Fair enough.

I make it a point to stand at the entrance and meet the anti-Mumbaikar everyday. I request her to throw just the flowers without the plastic. “Try using newspaper,” I suggest. “Tu (not even tum) apna kaam kar na!” she retorts, “shaani banti hai.” (Why don't you mind your business and not try and be a smartass?)

She also frequents the veggie market. I meet her on most weekends. You could recognise Her by her conversation. “Bhaiyya, thaili do na.” There she goes again! My blood’s turning to steam now. She takes plastic bags, one for each sabzi. “Bhindi alag thaili mein daalna.” I’ve lost it completely. “People are dying every year because this city’s clogged with plastic bags.” With a sneer she looks me top to bottom, looks at my shopping bag teeming with newspaper-covered vegetables and says, “Toh mai kya karoon?”

Whaddya mean main kya karoon? You’re the one who’s strangling my city with bare hands. Strewing plastic left, right and centre. You’re the one who’s drowning all our people. You killer! I want to shoot her at sight. But she’s got so many avatars. What to do? (….)

PS: (… and 'where to start?') That’s another Yamuna story happening in Mumbai. A common myth is it’s the slum-type and slightly better-than-slum-type colonies that contribute to ‘dirtying’ a city. Those mentioned in Mads’ post are not even slum dwellers. Research by The Hazards Centre, New Delhi, headed by Anuvrata ‘Dunu’ Roy shows clearly that at least in Delhi, the slums on the Yamuna flood plains contribute to ONLY 0.08 per cent of sewage to the river. The rest of it is the imported-car driving as well as the DDA housing-society-living type. You and me. Please look at the picture of the day again. The blue plastic bag has WESTSIDE written on it. Westside is one of the big garment store chains in the city. So are Lifestyle, Shopper’s Stop and a whole lot of international brands that have entered the market. Most of these stores give out plastic carry bags in various sizes. Point to be noted here, there ARE stores that give out handmade-paper bags as well as bags made of linen. Om Book Store for one, The Shop (Connaught Place) for another; and there are more. If these guys can do it WHY cannot big stores, which obviously have the money not invest in biodegradable packaging as well? Hmm. I am going to find out, will perhaps try and rope in the Centre for Science and Environment as well. Let’s see.

Meanwhile, for those who drink beer:
If you break the bottles on the sideways and throw them behind bushes, it really does not help anyone. One, you are dirtying places around you and two, you are preventing those cans and bottles from being reused. What I don’t understand: WHEN you can carry 12 full bottles of beer in your car, why cant you carry 12 EMPTY bottles back? Now you can even stack them roughly as there’s no fear of spilling or breakage. Just bring the empty bottles back next time, instead of aiming to see who throws it the farthest or who can break his bottle into the bittiest pieces.

I will use newspaper, disposable bags and linen shopping bags instead of plastic. That will be my contribution today. Yours?

Lesson 20: Water IS my birthright...

The capital of India, New Delhi, is one of the few capital cities that BEGS for its water from neighbouring states. Just before the Yamuna enters the capital, it's broken into two and the flowing waters of the river are blocked and released as channels. Six different drain pipes release untreated sewage directly into the Yamuna. Once the water is treated and 'cleaned', people are seen bathing, washing clothes and cleaning vegetables in the so-called treated and clean water. THIS so-called treated water is what comes into your houses. PLEASE go and check inside your overhead tanks and SEE if you find any living creatures in it. Frequently, my taps are blocked -- in 3 days -- because there are larvae and other insects STUCK inside. The water smells as well.

Yesterday, as part of yet another festival, 'Gods' were being immersed into the river. The concept being that once invoked for the festival -- apparently to come and bless the people -- the gods are then sent back home by way of a river/ ocean/ sea. It's actually carnage. What was shocking was that people were actually BATHING in all that shit, were going UNDER, check that picture with the boy's head merely sticking out. A few minutes after that picture was taken, the boy spat out something from his mouth. I did not have it in me to inspect exactly what.

Two women, who were paying one of the boys to take their 'idol' into the water were standing at the end and ewwwing. "Oh my god, this is so dirty", so I stopped and asked as to why they were contributing to it. I will give it to the lady, she looked confused and said, "Yes, I know what you are saying, I had not realised it is this dirty. But... religion says... Is there another option?"

Is there another option? Hmmm. Visarjan (immersion) has been a part of (Hindu) religious proceedings for ages and perhaps demanding that it not be done is... religiously impractical. Common sense though DEMANDS that we stop so immediately. However, common sense and common man -- even the Skoda/Lamborghini driving class -- do not sit well together. So I suggested that she immerse her idol in a bucket of water and perhaps keep him under a tree somewhere. Her response, "No, no, that would be such disrespect to Ganesha."

Well, and Ganesha likes to be dumped into YOUR excreta? Does he know that? Delhi is living like PIGS; we drink and eat our own shit.

PS: Is ANY environmental body watching? When celebrities can petition the government (under PETA) to become 'ele-friends', to save elephants... Can we expect SOME celebrity to petition in FAVOUR of the PEOPLE? I mean, how are we SO moved by every other living creature but our own goddarned species?
Can we ask a Pandit if there is perhaps another option than DUMPING everything into rivers? Will Religion stand by it's people or is Faith always destructive?

You got ideas of HOW we can help; mail me =

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Lesson 19: Anger is the manifestation of Fear…?

And are you afraid yet? For till you don't feel the fear, you won't feel the anger.

Suresh* (name changed to protect identity) has old parents at home, he’s their only support. Like any other young guy, he also likes this girl. She stays in his colony. They don’t speak much, except he ensures he takes a round of her house when she is outside, drying clothes or sweeping the porch. He is an autorickshaw driver. Suresh and his family faced a severe money crunch for three years so that Suresh could buy his own auto. Usually, autorickshaw drivers work under contractors and pay anything between Rs 300-350 as daily rental charges. Whatever they earn in a day – or not – they have to pay that amount for using someone else’s auto. Once he got his own auto, the family saw happier times. You and I perhaps would still find their living conditions pecuniary, but they were happy.

Last week, another autorickshaw driver – a local goon of sorts – murdered another auto guy, with a sickle (darati, in Hindi). The police came to their colony and picked up Suresh. He had not even raised a finger. There is proof, there were eye witnesses that he did NOT do anything. Currently Suresh is in jail. His bail has been refused. The murderer is roaming free; he has local-level politicians for friends. Suresh’s parents don’t know what to do. They are scared. Suresh’s friends are angry. Because they are afraid. That despite their friend being innocent, he will probably be booked in a false case.

I am scared because despite knowing Suresh – I know him through Umakant, my favourite auto-wallah – and yet, I cannot do anything… As a professional. They called me, the auto-drivers. I know them, they have my card. I had said, “Bhaiyya, kabhi zaroorat ho to batana,” (if you ever need me, call me). They called. I am media. People are supposed to be scared of me. I am angry. I am scared. Can I do anything? Will my channel/editor take up the story? Will METRO NOW take it up? But then, Suresh is an auto driver and such things only happen to little people. Not news, nah. Not TRP.

On the colony gate of Green Park Extension – one of Delhi’s relatively posh areas – there is a notice. A missing person’s notice. The girl in the picture is pretty… and has been missing since August 8, 2007. The notice is in font size 8, hardly visible; and has other posters sticking on it. I wonder if the girl is alive. Or gang-raped. Or maimed. Or perhaps sitting in a minister’s bedroom somewhere, to be used and then sold off. But you see, that missing girl is not any Adobe officer’s child. So no one in the media will bother about mobilizing forces and cameras to find her. Can I help her? You? Ha ha.

There was a comment on my employee-website… We had broken a story on Ministers being part of a racket where MINOR GIRLS are brought as house-helps, raped and made to have babies. The comment read, “Can you please help us find my brother’s daughter? She has been missing.” It was written by a Doctor… not an anonymous Rupa sticking on a busy colony gate. And yet; is their family angry, because they are scared? And what if tomorrow someone from your family is kidnapped? Will you trust the police or will you hold a press conference?

As a macabre joke, interestingly, my favourite autowallah Umakant, was the man who brought Adobe Anant back home in his auto: It was out in the newspapers, please check. And today, his best friend Suresh languishes in jail.

I had mentioned a DJ-event sometime back (on the sprawling Garden of Five Sense, under the aegis of Delhi Tourism) in one of my earlier posts. The organizers had paid all taxes and taken all permissions to hold an event. Yet, the police interrupted the event much before the sanctioned-time. No one could do anything but go home. Meanwhile, this Italian restaurant flouts rules every Saturday. Why? Because they pay the cops. Tomorrow, when the same cops come and declare they are going to bulldoze the place, I wonder how much money the restaurant would shell out.

Does Delhi remember Turquoise Cottage? THE Media hub on Wednesdays? Quite interesting that despite frequenting that place and joining communities in its praise, I really did not see ANY media support IN the papers on or TV for “our beloved TC”. That restaurant too used to be open till 2 am. Any guesses how? And yet. Shrug.

Do you have a friend in the Air Force or the Army? What will you do tomorrow if you learn your friend was shot dead in Drass; trying to protect a post, the location of which was compromised BY another corrupt official or perhaps some buffalo-loving politician? Or because some extremely intelligent politico – usually with a criminal record and no education – decided that that particular post did not need many soldiers? Or what if your pilot friend crashes, flying the decrepit helicopter the Air Force has? Will you do a Rang De Basanti? It IS a real situation, the b******s really don’t care. And how many times, the Rang De Basanti... for each soldier? Each missing person? Each religious riot?

Ditto for those who might have seen ‘Crash’. It could be your girlfriend and a policeman’s hand under her skirt while you are held at gunpoint. Gurgaon Police nearly did it to me in 2004. We were waiting at a Gurgaon colony-crossing, waiting for another couple to come in their car and lead us to their house. It was 9.30 pm. So these drunk cops come and while they are talking to my male friend, are checking me out. I will never forget. This burly cop, spat, then cleaning his teeth with this little finger, was pointedly staring at my breasts. I could FEEL his look. Then pointedly looking at my crotch – jeans – he asked my friend, “It’s not safe for medam to be traveling with you. Leave her here. Go find your friend.” I took out my press card then, like an ass. It was a lame gesture. The cops started laughing and said, “Arre medam, biyaabaan main camera nahi hote.” (There are no cameras in the jungle.) I swear, IF a policeman EVER touches me…

Yes. I am angry BECAUSE I am scared. And I am thinking. I really did not like the ending for Rang De Basanti. Does it have to be that? What happens when josh (adrenaline) and hosh (intelligence) come together? If a handful FEW can find ways to tweak the law for their benefit… WHAT happens when an ENTIRE nation puts its head together? Joins hands? Or even a handful? Do we always HAVE to be the victims?

And for how long? And for HOW long will you live in fear… Turn it to anger. Yes, Anger is a manifestation of fear. Feel the fear. But GIVE me your anger.

I will be afraid; and yet I will transform that fear into potent anger. Anger that DOES something. But, I will use my brains. Josh aur hosh. That will be my contribution today. Yours?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Lesson 18: Angry kya?

When standing for what is right, I will not be daunted by those who laugh at me or desert my side. I will stick to the truth and bravely face the music. That will be my contribution today. Yours?

About a decade ago, my mother was contacted by this lady who wanted Ma to get involved in a direct-to-home marketing project; she wanted my mother to become a distributor for Amway. As the lady explained to my mother how Ma's joining would ensure untold riches to the family, the lady said, "Remember Mrs Bose, you have to learn to dream big. When you dream big, remember there will always be many Dream Stealers around you; those who will discourage you from following your dream. Don't listen to them, listen to your dream." Well, Ma was not convinced enough and happily continued teaching kindergarten kids; but what the lady said about dream stealers stuck in my head.

Remember that the next time you REALLY believe in something and are told it cannot be done or is not feasible. If you are standing up for a cause and believe it to be right; KEEP THE FAITH. Once you stop believing, your dream is lost. It might take time for your dream to become a reality, but as long as you believe in it... There's always a great possibility of it coming true.

Shitizens' welcomes new contributor, Sahasra Shatru (Hyderabad). As an introduction, let it suffice to say that SS is someone who has been working actively - though alone - in standing up for causes that perhaps most would ignore. Thank-you SS, for having the spine to speak up for what is right. And yes, thank-you, for your anger.

Here's what Sahasra Shatru has to say --->

That I am writing this piece, I thought the reader only deserves to know why - At other times, because I would have thought this is the best weapon I had, or the only one. Now, because I am reduced to exercising this as compensation, having lost a battle again in life – on the roads, with the system, with myself.

No, I am not going to tell you a sob story as to the narrative of the events that led me into dejection. I am, in fact, if anything, angrier than before.

Angry, because the advocates think it is in the nature of law to procrastinate procedures to a point of bringing the plaintiff to resignation.

Angry because the police thinks it is a waste of time to handle “petty” cases of argument or altercations over illegally cut-down trees for erecting Ganesh pandals, even as I watch the nice Gulmohar tree I had a fetish for being dismembered to allow the lofty idol exact its due… A procession grander than any wedding- unhindered by swaying branches that dance with every rain with a promise of fighting the miasma, a promise which it delivers every day, the only promise that was ever delivered.

Angry, because the municipal commissioner does not find time to take up “frivolous” cases of concrete slabs being constructed between the road and individual houses in a township, causing water stagnation and mosquito menace, “Tumhaare ghar ke saamne banaya kya?” (Is it made in front of your house?) “Tumhaare ghar ke saamne thode hai kya?” (It’s not in front of your house is it?) “Tum ne ped lagaya kya?” (Did you plant that tree?)
Tum ko kaam-dhandha nahin hai kya?” (Don’t you have any work?)

Angry, because the 24-hour petrol bunk refused to fill petrol at an odd hour into an empty tank, and beat up the man because he insisted on leaving the bunk only with filled petrol and was later forced to compromise in the police station, for want of evidence and pressure of counter-cases.

Angry because the school students of a “Concept” school, upon completion of their last final exam would tear up their papers and books and throw them on the road, in a cinema theatre style in aplomb, and the man standing in the way of the bus, demanding that every piece of paper be picked up from the road would be pushed aside by the lecturers. And the people who have just won a ticket into the utopia that they are going to carve for themselves, were jubilantly hooting and mouthing filth, and even as he watched helplessly, another bus, this time, a public bus, passes by, and a commuter spits crimson and burnt sienna beautifully splashed on a particularly fluttering piece of paper. He picks up the paper to find a part of some question, a word, printed in nice ink on a 75 GSM paper – which read something like - “India”.

A melancholic strain from a movie made exactly 50 years before, starts repeating itself like the voice in a schizophrenic mind, “Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind par voh Kahan Hai?, Kahan Hai, Kahan Hai, Kahan Hai? (Those who are proud of this country, where are they, oh, where are they?)

Angry, because, we as Indians are fundamentally not angry enough. We are not angry at personal injustice and find it a personal liability to get so much as a prompt service in a Nationalized bank.

Angry, because we feel guilty getting good service from businesses.
Angry because ethics are a commodity to barter for convenience.
Angry because my idea of civil rights and personal justice is outrageously perceived as Idealism.

I am no champion and I do not intend to be. I just want to get things done properly and am willing to pay the price.

Are you angry enough? Are you willing to pay the price? Can we ever be an Angry nation and channel it to fruition? Do we have the spine? Do we have the balls?

PS: “We are not the heroes. We are the anti-heroes.” Sahasra Shatru, will NOT be alone. I got a call from my mother. This is how it went: “I heard what you are up to now. WHY do you have to do it? WHY cannot you simply write and be happy? And are you not supposed to write on fashion and music and parties?” My mother has categorically said she does NOT want to know what I am up to. Shrug. She never did know, you know. My father called: “So are you writing all this on the blog?” Yes, Papa. “Do you have proof?” Yes, Papa. “Don’t get into trouble, ok? Rest, your papa is here.” Yes, Papa. Sigh. He still thinks he is superman. But THIS is as much for the people as for my parents… the father who spent a lifetime dedicated to the Indian Army and when he retired, was not even offered a ride back home. The Ordinance officer who never took a penny and since he questioned seniors in his younger days, was told that he would never make it to a Major General. He retied a colonel in the Ordinance corp, also known as one of the “chor corps” (chor = thief) of the Indian army, allegedly for stealing everything from snow jackets made for soldiers in Siachen to taking bribes and giving tenders to arms companies. My mother often said, “Only if you were not Gandhiji's avatar, we would also have an air-conditioner like other families.” My parents still do not have an air-conditioner. The LEAST I can do, is ensure they have their dignity in their old-age. It saddens me that perhaps what I am doing is giving them sleepless nights. But I have to. I have to feel the anger they perhaps didn’t feel. And I hope you feel the anger too.

When reading Sahasra Shatru's line about, "can you sacrifice?"; was reminded of another old slogan: "Tum mujhe khoon do, main tumhe aazadi doonga." (You give me your blood, I will give you your freedom). We don't even want blood. Just give me your anger, and we'll give you what you want.