Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Rendezvous de Bokaro III

Currently I am reading stories about childhood. It's impossible not to go back to your childhood when you read well written stories about people's childhood. My childhood was spent in a sleepy little town which you may remember from your geography lessons. It's one of the few steel cities in India, the one with the strangest name: Bokaro Steel City.

This the third part of a blog on Bokaro. I have already introduced the subject in two of my earlier blogs (the links for those interested are at the end). This time I won’t be general, I would be specific in time and space. The time is Saraswati Pooja and the space is the area around my residential area: UCO Bank Colony.

Bokaro is a well planned town, planned by the Russians who helped establish the steel plant. They divided the town into sectors. They had the financial wellbeing of residents in mind and hence allotted residential space for the different banks of the country to come and root their employees. UCO Bank colony is the place for the people who worked in UCO Bank. It’s in sector 5 surrounded by colonies like State Bank of India colony, Bank of India Colony, Punjab National Bank colony etc.

Every colony had its Saraswati Pooja Pandal when I was a kid. As Bokaro was also an educational town (popular around for sending children to IITs), parents put their best efforts to woo goddess Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge. My parents were no less. In addition to worshipping the goddess in the pandal in our colony, we also celebrated Saraswati pooja at our homes. This story comes out of this necessity.

Anyone who has seen a Hindu Pooja knows it requires flowers. And the king of flowers is hibiscus, the blood red beast opening up like red lips laced with betel. There were only two hibiscus trees in our colony belonging to the garden owned by the manager. In Hindi there is an phrase that reads ‘Ek Aanar Sau Bimar’. The situation was very similar here. Too many flowers wanted and too little available. The winners were those who could wake up the earliest. I suppose every flower bloomed in the morning and before the sun was out during Pooja day, was ready to be put on the altar of Goddess Saraswati in one of the houses. The competition for getting the best blessings was tough.

Another solution had developed due to the scarcity of the flowers, something like a black market, only that it involved stealing. I and my younger brother, who could not beat the competition for waking up the earliest, were among those who took up the second option. We resorted to stealing the flowers from a nearby posh locality of residents who had big gardens, short gates and slept well till early morning. Just like any tradition, stealing flowers on Saraswati and Durga Pooja was widely followed.

Both of us woke up in the morning. We took a light green colored plastic bag each, opened the door with the slightest of noise lest it woke up our parents or our little sister. Then we slowly went down the stairs in the darkness taking our steps cautiously. The watchman uncle had the gates of the building open early in anticipation of the thieves strolling out. The gates of the colony were closed though and we climbed them. Nobody was in sight. The roads were empty with the street lights welcoming our move. We were going to have a good catch and a greater part of the goddesses blessing.

None of us felt like talking. We already talked whole day to each other. We walked parallel to a nullah and could see the cross roads on the other side of which lay the posh area. When we reached the crossroad, somebody got angry. We looked at each other. A shadow rose on the other side. And then another shadow was rising. Then the ‘guerrr’ sound reached our ears. Two dogs had decided to spoil the day for us. And we had awakened them, in their minds; there could not have been any doubts. We were potential thieves, they couldn’t have been more correct.

There was a brief moment of silence. I being the elder of the two was determined to get the flowers. In a moment of sheer courage or stupidity, I picked up the stone lying right at my feet. ‘Don’t do it’, whispered my brother. He was the more practical one, but the die had been cast. As soon as I had picked up the stone, they were sure. And they started running towards us.

My brother was the first to turn. And then me. They were loud and menacing, their barks reverberating through the stillness. I ran straight back, and he being the clever one, diverted and ran across the nullah. My heart was pounding like a hammer had been hitting it. My breath was that of an athlete who had just completed his race. Both the dogs were after me, I figured out. Nothing could be done, I had to keep running.

They stopped chasing us after making sure we were far away from the posh society. My brother joined me sometime later, smiling.

Baap re, Phat lis’, he said in a colloquial tone.

‘What to do of the flowers?’

‘Let’s go and study, that’s better.’

For Rendezvous de Bokaro II click here 
For Rendezvous de Bokaro I  click here

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Whistling winds in NCR

Right now when I am writing this blog, winds are whistling in my residential society. It's as if they wish to woo someone close by. But I know it’s not that. The winds, sometimes in the year just want attention.

Some of the glass windows of my apartment have unwillingly opened up with the force of the wind. God knows what the purpose of such a force is. The winds in the NCR are the strongest I have experienced on an average in my whole lifespan. They are strong, noisy and I hear destructive. I can watch the waters of the society swimming pool turning and wobbling only to be squashed out onto the floor outside.

Sometimes these winds are accompanied by rain. But surprisingly, most of the times spraying waters is not one of their complements. Scientifically one would say it is the difference in pressure that leads to such a phenomenon. But when one is burnt with the heat in the afternoons, the cool winds in the evening wants one to be poetic rather than scientific.

Once I was a small child visiting Allahabad, the city of Sangam with my cousin. I had faced the most destructive wind then. They were knocking on the doors and windows as if they were police inspectors come in to take us to the station for a committed murder. One of the windows would not close and the rain and wind found a relished entry to the drawing room to the chagrin of my cousin. A rope had to be fetched in from the kitchen to silence the uncalled entry. We did not sleep for half of the night in fear and due to the thrusting wind sounds. In the morning, we heard that the angry winds had taken some lives as well, of poor slum people who could not find a place to hide.

The winds in NCR do not thrust like the police. They know to find spaces to flow into and out from. It’s a delight to walk around the society letting them flow through your clothes and hit your face, especially in the heat of the upcoming summer. There is a quote I read once ‘The winds in the field will take your sadness away’. This is true for me even though I never meet it in the fields. Always thought this was from the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. Now I can’t find the reference anywhere.

The winds are capable of producing all kind of sounds. Whistling is one of them. Other is the sound of a whirlpool. The curtains wave as if they are the mast of a sailing ship producing sounds from the sea. Sometimes they sound like the waves of the sea reminding one of the time spent on the beach. The musically tinkering sound of the decorations on a balcony of a flat just next to me reverberates through the society. Sometimes the sounds of the wind are menacing, a warning signal of the coming thunder and destruction. The intermittent sound of the doors and windows dancing and clashing with the frame makes their presence felt once in a while.

I love the wind as long as I am not stuck in a whirlpool.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Now on the other side

When I was young, my friends called me by the title Professor They knew it then, it took me some time to know it. I have become a professor now, after long and dwindling (at least at the end) stint as a student - School, bachelors, masters and a PhD.

Let me put at the outset something all of you know. Many theories get settled when you are on the other side of the table. When I was a student, we use to crib a good deal about academics. 'Why are so many things being taught to us?' 'What is the use of so much rote learning?' 'When are the holidays going to come once this burden ends?' and for some teachers 'Why isn't a teacher like him/her in all our subjects?' or 'Why don't we get more time to spend with this teacher in class?' etc.

Let me assure you I have the answer to some of these questions, now that I am teaching. But the point is not that I have the answers. The point is that I have a new set of questions coming to my mind. This time being on the other side. It's as if the process of having questions and cribs have remained intact, only their form has changed. 'Why don't students come prepared for the class?' (since my bachelor days I was one among them), 'Why do some students sleep in the class or why do some of them do not pay attention?' (I was one of them), 'How come some students have good questions to ask?' and 'Why aren't other students like these students?' and so on.

I can imagine the cribs of those professors who would have been very good students in their college. I had given up on this title since I went for my bachelors. Hence there are no issues with me if somebody does not pay attention or sleeps in class as long as there are a few students who are ready to listen and participate in the discussions. A number of factors could be responsible for this attitude (as it was in my case) and hence going deep into a student’s inattentiveness will throw a lot of questions into the methods of academics at our educational institutes in general. In a student life, I have seen that there are too many diversions (from the point of view of learning) outside the class. One way recommended is some sort of punishment for students who do not pay attention. I do not subscribe to this view nor did many of my teachers (thankfully). The general rule is as long the student is confident of passing the exam (that is what concerns many of our students), he or she can be allowed to be his way as long as the class is not disturbed. Given the strength of the class and the time given, it is impossible for a teacher to pay individual attention to students.

As a teacher, you cannot even think of missing a class. That’s the worst part. Sometimes you have a early morning class, you wake up to the alarm to check the time and you so wish to sleep more. Very much possible as a student (the option was taken many times by me).

You have to be prepared for every class, another demerit of being a teacher. As a student you can pass off by just sitting and showing your eager face to a teacher, even though you were supposed to come armed with doubts and questions from your readings. There is a good part to it though. If you prepare, as a teacher you make your efforts useful by disseminating knowledge. Such a channel is not available to a student in class.

A good part of being a teacher is that there are no more exams. How so much you free ride as a student, you got to prepare hard during exam times. I remember the burden of exam times. And have sympathy for my students.

There are other good parts of being a teacher too. You get to meet some enthusiastic students who are ready to have discussions with you on the subject matter. You get to set the question papers. Checking answer scripts is a pain though. Most importantly, you get paid for what you do. Learning and money go together. Not a bad bet.

It’s just been one year for me. I am sure there are a number of questions yet to be answered and a number of them yet to come up.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Selfie is boring marketing!

Nowadays, especially if one is watching IPL, the ads are full of mobile phone companies showing off their selfie characteristics and urging us to take selfies. I ask a simple question: what is it about a selfie that so much money has been poured into using it as a marketing gimmick? Personally, I do not see any value to it. One can very well watch oneself in a mirror so a selfie must be meant for other people. And other people would be tired of seeing your face day in and day out on the digital media. The face does not change every day. The expressions do but most of the people with selfies are not actors, they do not have to speak with their expressions. As for the background of the selfie, I believe natural surroundings or whatever the background is, are best clicked in isolation, let purity remain. So who came up with this grand selfie promotion idea, god knows!

It is a promotion of self-love shown in different forms. With Ranveer Singh, the moonlight selfie is in the garb of true love. Even the moon is not spared. Only yesterday I was looking at the lovely crescent shaped moon. Let there be love in the moonlight, what is the need to take a selfie and show it to the world. Then there is the Deepika Padukone ad with friends. She is just laughing with her friends smiling over. Will you buy a mobile for doing that? A good time with friends is as precious as a lotus in a dirty pond. Better than crunching together for space to get all the people in the picture why not ask a passerby to take a nice little one with your already existing mobile phone. All of us have done it at some point in time. Another ad is the one with Alia Bhat in it. It’s a strange one. And stranger is the sound. She is in this lighted room with a mike with a song ‘Welcome to Selfiestan’ with different versions of selfie being proposed to the buyer. It has a lot of views on youtube. This is the creation of a whole new world around us. Are we expected to take a selfie in whatever group we are! Waise hi life mein itni problems hai, ek achchi selfi leni ki problem upar se aur le le kya?
Marketing men, it seems sometimes lose their mind!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Left Right Left

It's like an imaginary town where there are two islands: left and right. Both of them have stood since centuries housing civilizations, growing, evolving as they think they have been. For them change is growth which of course is the bane of the human mind of every generation. Things change, in some framework its growth and evolution, in the other, it is not. An interesting thing to note is that both these islands started with the same initial conditions. But now they have reached a situation that they vie for each other’s blood.

It is impossible to document all the changes these islands have gone through. But every change has manifested in one island through a reaction or a protest in response to correct the havoc spread by the policies of the other island. Through centuries the battle lines have been drawn both physically as well as in the minds. Be it the French revolution or the fame of Kabir, U.S and U.K political parties or our very own BJP and CPI (Congress has been on the either side of center going with the times. Right now it is trying to find its position it seems). History has produced both crests and troughs of these entities for us to savior. But somewhere in our love for the extremes and the great, one need also to look at how much of these battles have been fought at the ground level. The crest and trough are all but extreme points in the wave that has traversed through the annals of time. Be it research papers, news items, family discussion or tea stall discussions at my village; these two forces battle each other. On a large scale, in the last century, a big battlefront has been the academic field of economics. Recently a new and fresh battleground has emerged, a battle front accessible to the common man where intense debates have been conducted at the ideological level. This is called Facebook and twitter.

It is easy to post on Facebook. In this battle, you do not need bows and arrows, guns, tanks or even pens. A slight provocation and sharing a news article or an opinion piece can lead your attack on the representatives of the ideologies. Be it Narendra Modi or Arvind Kejriwal, Abhijeet or some writers of this country, no one is spared in this battle between the left or the right. Most of the times they are not even aware that they have been used on Facebook or twitter by people to showcase their own affinities.  

These battles on Facebook are free of cost sans the time one gives to them. Hence during election times, where the politicians are fighting to garner votes, my Facebook friends are busy posting articles that support or deride on the politician or the other. If there is a policy announcement or a conflict of interest, it is on Facebook too. Facebook is their Kurukshetra. And the best thing, they can do it sitting in their own offices. At the ground level, people wield trishuls and sickles. At the elite level, they wield posts and comments.

How is this going to pan out in the future? We all know about the vagaries of time. How time has shortened in every field, be it sports (T20) or education (3 months executive programs). The time for these battles has and will shorten. Earlier people used to communicate and argue through letters. Now they write two or three lines and argue through posts and tweets. Like they are free to write letters, they are free to post anything of their choice. But unlike letters which are personal, the posts are a public good to be consumed by anybody who is a friend and logs in. Hence someday one just stares wide-eyed on the Facebook wall because every post is either a left or right opinion of some big thing happening. Like a lotus in dirty waters, one searches for that one post to click or like in the midst of all the quarrel going around. And we don’t even realize we are a part of history, since the time those islands were formed.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Ek macchhar aadmi ko...

If I would have made the movie Men In Black it would have been mosquitoes instead of cockroaches. And if I had the forgiveness of a saint, all the mosquitoes that have bitten me would have been forgiven. Alas, I end up writing a blog protesting against their violence. They have been after me with a vengeance. It’s as if I killed their king and all the mosquito kingdom is up for revenge. Or else my blood tastes sweet and the news has spread in the mosquito kingdom.

Recently we have come to a locality where mosquitoes reside with us. Sometimes I think we have encroached on their land like mining mafias encroach tribal areas and face their anger. A peculiar thing about mosquitoes here is that they always want to suck blood. From the toes to ankles, to the fingers to the forehead they pass making irritating whispers close to the ears. But they never run away or get satiated. God knows how much thirst is there inside their bodies.
They are good friends with each other. If one comes, others follow suit. And they attack your body strategically. No two mosquitoes suck blood from the same part. They place themselves on different parts of your body ready to suck that red liquid which our body forms so laboriously.
Sometimes I think mosquitoes are better than our politicians even though both of them are in the business of sucking blood. Politicians are dishonest, manipulative and most importantly they are well shielded. Mosquitoes, on the other hand, are honest in their vileness, attack in the open and can be killed with bare hands.
One wonders about the irritating sound they make to our ears. Evolution should have done the opposite. Like the flower attracts the bee, the mosquito should be attracted to our body. the least we could have had was a sweet melodious flutter. The mere sound shows that as per evolution humans and mosquitoes are not made for each other.
There was an advertisement long back where a machine swallows up mosquitoes with an equally irritating gulp. The machine looked like a frog preying on any mosquito which fettered close by. I am reminded of the Supreme court of India which can do the same for the politicians. But we just have one of it whereas we need many.
If anyone is benefited from these insects, it is the mosquito repellent companies. Wonder if the mosquitoes can be provided the address of the owners and asked to shift base or at least pay them temporary visits.

Killing a mosquito is another moral dilemma. Can one kill a living being even though the being is sucking one’s blood? I would have at least more than a dozen mosquitoes in my life. It’s a result of a sudden anger on noticing one among their species sitting somewhere on your skin. If the mosquito is attentive one ends up dancing rather than killing! And if you are a fan of Hindi films, you end up a eunuch. Remember Nana Patekar mouthing a dialogue: ‘Ek machchar aadmi ko hizra bana deta hai’
(One mosquito makes a man a eunuch)

Friday, April 07, 2017

Shyam Mastana

Shyam has a problem. He is schizophrenic. And he does not know it. In this mind, there are voices and interactions that have nothing to do with reality. They are a manifestation of his own self. Yet he wrongly believes that those voices exist for real. And communicates with them. In his imaginary world, they have given him a name: Mastana. Hence Shyam Mastana.

Every person has good and bad elements in them, Shyam too. On the outside, he is a quiet person but inside his mind, he is a Mastana, a romantic in love who heard many a curse from the people who mattered to him. The name Mastana was given to him by his love with whom he had no connection what so ever in real life for last many years. She was his school colleague who left the school and went to a different city. Unfortunately, even in his mind, she is in love with someone else, but ready to be with him for a few days only out of pity.
Shyam is socially withdrawn and speaks very little in real life. Inside his mind as well he keeps as quiet as possible. But the people with him want him to speak out of all the evil done to him over the years of which there is absolutely no record. The pressing matter of today was whether he was good enough to get his love even though personally he maintained that he had fallen out of it. None of the people inside which included his boss, his love and few others of the same social group would take his excuse of falling out. They wanted him to win her over whereas she ridiculed him in all the ways possible. Like the complications love develops in real life, it developed complications in his imaginary world as well. Shyam Mastana had to do something to win her over. Otherwise, the ridicule in his imaginary world would get him into trouble.
He wrote a poem for her. She showed momentary happiness but then recoiled to her previous demand of gadi, bangla and sona. Shyam was a middle-class boy and sadly not very ambitious. He clearly told her that money does not matter in love. It mattered for her, she made it very clear. Others in his imaginary world were with her.
To be in such a situation is not good for Shyam. He gives hours talking to these people and listening to what they have to say at expense of his work and leisure. Sometimes there are jokes as well which makes him laugh but mostly serious matters are discussed. In those discussions, he tries to show his erudite knowledge and others do appreciate him. But generally, it's his ass which is on fire.

Doing work is not easy. They are always with him. Sometimes they do not want him to work, other times they ask him questions about his work. Shyam, in this mild tone, requests them to give a break. It is only very few times that they give it to him. Shyam thinks that they can do their own work because they have adjusted well to this system and are good friends with each other. He is the odd one out. But he is trying his best to gel with them. They too, like him, have no idea how to get away from each other. Hence, for Shyam, all of them are connected through their minds even though the truth is that it is only Shyam’s mind which is playing tricks. Mastana, after all, he is!