Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Little Prince

I just read this book, which was a present. It came with an assurance that I would love it because of the person that I am. :) It was completely true. It is widely known as a children's book but I think it is more an adults' book. It is about a little prince, who comes from an asteroid and shares his candid opinion about grown-ups with the writer.It is enthralling with all its fantastic ideas and innocent illustrations. Of little planets where there are one thousand, four hundred and forty sunsets in twenty four hours, big enough to be occupied only by a solitary, tired lamplighter!
For an adult, every line is a new hope. A new way of looking at ordinary life. To care for flowers, or even a single flower with full responsibility. To weep, to open your eyes wide and see what you have around you. To slow down and drink water. To see the stars just because they are pretty and not because they guide us to our destinations.To make every simple thing in your life a source of joy. To have friends and to think of them all the time!

We are all proud of our achievements as adults. The way we use the freedom we get as a consequence of being an adult, what we build for ourselves in whatever space that is "ours" in this world, and the constant urge to get somewhere that we yet have to get to! The pride we take in moving on and still being strong.
No one really pays attention to the huge sacrifice we make in order to turn into an adult. We lose our ability to believe in something just because it is true for us. We lose the ability of not comprehending failure and going for it as though it does not exist.
This is all brought back to life in this book by the prince and his flower. :)

You find yourself giggling like a kid in some parts and in some, your eyes well up even before you realize.
My flower is ephemeral, the little prince said to himself, and she has only four thorns with which to defend herself against the world! And I've left her alone where I live!

A must read, especially if you think you are a grown-up!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The side effects of globalization!

Just a few weeks before I came back to Australia this year, an Indian was stabbed to death in Melbourne. Since then, at every dinner party, I had to explain the "real situation" to everyone. Indian television media is extremely hyperactive. I have said this before and I would say it again. The government had to issue an order of restraint to the media following similar reports of Indians being attacked after the unfortunate incident. Although this causes a lot of anxiety to people who have sent their kids to Australia and also others who have family members living here, one good thing about the whole media coverage is that both Australian police and the Australian government have been put in the spotlight. We cannot deny that it has not helped in a certain way. In today's times, any country would be reluctant to admit that racism is even a small element of their culture. Moreover, labeling Australia as a racist country is unfair. Some Australians could be racist but that certainly does not imply that the whole country is racist.
Amidst this frenzy we had statements from various Australian authorities. The Victorian Police Chief admitted that Indians were being overrepresented in the robbery statistics. Here's a quote from his statement:
"I have said from day one undoubtedly some of these attacks have a racist motive or there is racist elements to these attacks. Regardless of who they are, what they are, what colour they are, what occupation they are, my job is to make the state as safe as I can for everyone."

Now, lets go back to Mumbai. In the good old days of Mahatma Gandhi, Indians learned to boycott. We still do that in our own fancy ways by boycotting something as peripheral and frivolous as a game of cricket. So Mr.Bal Thakrey promptly roared in his own secure forest- Samna that he would stop the Aussie cricket team from playing in Maharashtra. The direct Gandhian line has taken to "relay fastings" where one member of the group sits on the podium on a "hunger strike" to wait for someone who takes his place later. :)
The radical groups have taken to violent boycotting of everything that comes in the way of what they want. In fact, these days it is hard to tell if they really want the end that they are striving for. These kind of statements can be compared to a Rakhi Sawant arranging her own Swayamwar on "reality" television. The whole saga is not really to get a husband, it is for getting everything that she would on the way to her alleged destination. Do we ever have a Mumbai chief admitting that he is responsible for every person's safety? When a Sachin Tendulkar says, "I am an Indian first and then a Maharashtrain", all the hyenas in Mumbai start tearing him apart. When the statement he made is so relevant because he represents India, not Maharashtra everywhere he goes!
Around the same time as the Aussie attacks came to light two years ago, Mumbai witnessed a similar style of attacks. The Marathi-Bihari debate that is still giving votes to the Thakrey family. Mumbai is the most sought after city in India. Everyone wants to be in Mumbai. Naturally people who speak the same language as the rest of Maharashtra would want to assert their importance. The latest official reaction to this issue is seen in the headlines today. To be a cabbie in Mumbai now, you have to know Marathi well and you should present a proof of over fifteen years of residence in Mumbai!
The day I returned, I got into a cab driven by an Aussie gentleman. He shed some light on the "other side" of the whole racist debate. Indian cabbies are attacked in Australia mostly because
1. They do not know the streets at all. They jump into a cab the moment they land in Australia and sometimes even do not know how to use the GPS.
2. They misuse the meter by hitting buttons when the passenger is not looking. Unless you ask for your printed receipt, you will never know you were duped.
3. They play Punjabi (Indian Bollywood) songs in the taxi when they have passengers.
4. Some or all of this is done on Friday and Saturday nights when most cabs are used by Australians who go clubbing and can't drive because they are absolutely sloshed.
Imagine if this happens in Pune. If you get into a rickshaw and the driver has no clue where you want to go and you have no clue either! If he plays loud Ganesh festival music while you are trying to have a conversation with your friend sitting next to you. Worst still, if they charge you Rs.1oo for a journey you know for sure should not cost more than Rs.25! Even if you are absolutely sober, you would pick up a fight with him.
I accept that not all "Indian cabbies" have these ways just the way I say that all of Australia is not racist. But the ones who get attacked and the ones who attack them both fall into the same minority!

Whether in Mumbai, or in Brisbane, the problem should be "unprofessional taxi drivers" instead of "Bihari (non-marathi)" or "Indian taxi drivers".

We should all condemn the attacks, in India as well as Australia. But we should not close our eyes to the reasons that cause them.
All of us know that it is unfair to attack people just because they come from a different country or claim our jobs but hey! this is globalization for you. This has been happening and will happen until the world becomes one color from mixing. Until the time when every person in the world cannot correctly trace their origins to a single ethnicity. Just the way Indian media and politicians make a big hype about "Indians" in Australia, with all sincerity and gratefulness, I would request them to do something about the intra-country racism that exists blatantly within India itself. This is an underlying reality about every nation. Whether it is visa procedures made more "stringent" for only certain passports or cabbies being abused openly and attacked in a faraway land. Just like the fear of unpredictable terrorism, everyone who is not white lives under a subconscious fear of being pointed out at! It is a choice that people living outside their country make very consciously. The only precaution you can take is to abide by the laws of the land and make sure you are not found helpless at wrong times.
Above this murky, angry and sensational reality lies another one too! Where Australia, India, China, UK, Poland, Jamaica and Fiji meet for beer in a pub after work on a Friday night. :)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sarpanch Sahib!

This is a new post in brand new year. Let me wish all my readers a very happy and more importantly peaceful new year. :)
I am in India for four weeks. So I have been very lazy with writing. I got my hands on some interesting books while I was out shopping. Sarpanch Sahib is one of them. This is a collection of seven biographies of female Sarpanchs (village heads) of seven different remote villages in India. What is more interesting is that each of these stories is written by a different female journalist who had to get out of her metropolitan existence to meet her subject in a far off village. Edited by Manjima Bhattacharjya, this book shows you a completely different and honest face of the Indian woman.
It starts off more or less to review the effects of the 73rd constitutional amendment that was done in 1993. It mandated elections to be held for membership to the panchayti Raj and reserved one-third of the seats for women. Since then over three million Indian women have become politically active and one million are elected to political office every five years.
However, the role of women in politics is still looked upon with doubts. This book travels through all the trials and triumphs associated with a woman leader and puts them across honestly, without even a hint of dramatic feminism.
There is Sunita, an Adivasi woman, Sarpanch of a Brahmin dominated Tighra village in Madhya Pradesh. I found her story inspiring. It took her about a year and nine months just to open her own account and access the funds granted to her for developmental work. She had to fight with men of power, men of higher castes and initially men (and women) of her own family. All of this just to start working as a Sarpanch after being elected by people. Journalist Manju Kapur narrates Sunita's journey from a ghunghat-clad skinny daughter-in-law to a fuller Sarpanch who looks into her opponent's eyes. She even jokes that all the fighting made her put on weight!
Or even the illiterate Chinapappa of Pachikanapalli, Tamil Nadu. She helped twenty one kids of the nomad Irular tribe with enrollment in a nearby school. She takes us through the struggles of being an illiterate Dalit woman. Each adjective adding a new constraint to her efficiency.
I am always stumped by the "images" that foreigners carry with them about India. Many times, their travel diaries are full of descriptions of the non-existence of women in India. I myself have been caught in never ending, heated debates about how Indian women are not as helpless as the West perceives. Reading this book opened my eyes to a new reality.
We should learn to measure success relatively. For me, Sunita who was married at ten, entered politics at twenty two years of age from a mute Adivasi background is much more emancipated than any metropolitan Indian or even Western woman. Not getting things done with bribes, getting out of her house to go to court because she has been accused on fake charges and silencing higher caste men are her achievements. They are probably bigger than any qualified politician (if there is a term as a "qualified politician"). If these struggles are delaying developmental work, it is like latent heat being absorbed to make something invisible happen- the empowerment of these women. Once they are powerful enough not to care, development will take place with a greater speed and honesty.
Over the past few years, I have learned to open my eyes to these realities that exist around me. It is easy to get wrapped up in your happiness (or sorrow) and not look around. But in every humble woman lies a great power. When you take a step back to look around you find that women who are on the so called lower rungs of the society pyramid are actually emotionally and professionally much more successful than you. Mostly because they have to deal with struggles that would never cross the path of an educated, modern woman. Their expectations are humble and their everyday life makes it impossible for them to dwell on their problems.
It is not so important to be better than everyone else. Sometimes that leads to loss of compassion. The true beauty of a life well lived is to be better than what you were yesterday and also to help others on your way, achieve that dream!