Friday, July 20, 2012

Musings-Nature's call

The toilet fiasco of our education department last year, in the form of a questionnaire, asking students questions such as “Do you have toilet in your house?” If not, “Why don’t you have toilet in your house?” Again, “What do you wash your hands with?” among other such questions. These questions had to be answered with admission forms in colleges. That news reminded me of an incident of similar nature in my life, almost four decades back.

In my early twenties, I was working in the marketing department of a very reputable company based in Mumbai. I was stationed at their Kolkata branch but after a few months, was called to Bombay to attend the quarterly sales conference. After the conference I was asked to go to Delhi for three weeks to get an idea and feel of the markets in North before proceeding to Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir independently.

There was one Ravi in our Delhi office with whom I joined forces to get a picture of the market and get acquainted with culture of the Northern people which is quite different from those of other parts in India. Ravi was a witty fellow and I hit it off with him from day one. I stayed in Gujarat Bhavan for the first three days, when Ravi insisted that I should stay with him for the rest of my stay in Delhi. I had learnt that Ravi stayed in a joint family so I hesitated, but Ravi would not take no for an answer and suggested that I try his place for one day and if I was not comfortable, I could shift back to Gujarat Bhavan. So I relented. On the fourth day, after completing office work, he took me to his place in Shahadra.

Shahadra, beyond river Yamuna, was just a developing township then. We had dinner at his place and settled for the night. True to his word, other people of his household left us alone after initial greetings and nobody entered the room we were in. So it was okay.

Ravi woke me up the next early morning and asked me get ready to go to the JUNGLE (chal jungle ho aaein). Not knowing what he meant, I thought he must be talking about morning walk. I asked to be served tea first before anything else. The morning tea arrived with a few biscuits and after tea, Ravi motioned me to follow him. Just near the back side exit of the house, there were three small plastic buckets lying on the ground. He filled one with water from a nearby drum and whispered: “We are going for morning constitution in nearby jungle, take one bucket for yourself . Then the nickel dropped.

I was aghast and at loss of words. I remember to have stuttered a few meaningless words. I had never imagined that I would have to face such a situation in life. Not that I was not aware of such things. I had travelled far and wide throughout India and had seen plenty of such ugly sights, people answering call of nature in the open, relieving themselves at railway tracks and such. But originally I belonged to Calcutta where we had a fairly decent self-contained flat and even in Bombay where I put up we had all modern amenities, in fact both Indian and Western facilities to suit all. So I could never dream of such a situation for myself. So I politely refused Ravi and told him to go ahead. Perhaps he sensed my predicament, hesitated and said: “At least come with me for a walk. What will you do among these womenfolk?” So I went with him.

After about ten minutes walk, we approached an area which had plenty of plants with thick foliage with small bold surfaces in between, scattered here and there, not visible from a distance. On each of such open surface ground, a small group of men squatted, their backs to each other so that they didn’t have to face each other. Trying not to look at them we proceeded further and came upon a slightly big opening where at least ten to twelve men were doing the job. Ravi said: “Here is my group.”

This was the most amazing sight I had ever seen or would want to see in my life. Instead of their backs facing each other, these people were squatting actually facing each other, talking to each other amicably, being most natural in what they were doing, with various containers at each one’s side. They were sitting in a circle leaving an opening on one side as if inviting a few more to join them. One of them was reading a paper, a couple were arguing about something, one had an intense look of pain on his face. It was the most horribly fascinating sight I had seen in my life. As soon as we reached near them, one fellow greeted Ravi saying, “Come Ravi, aren't you a little late today? And where is Mehra?” Another from the group replied: “Mehra is not well. I came by his house.”

The fellow nearest to us saw me and said: “Ravi, saab kaun hain? (Who is this gentleman?)”

Ravi hesitatingly tried to introduce me: “He is a friend…………..” And as soon as the fellow tried to extend his hand to me, I fled the scene without bothering to look at or say anything to Ravi. By the time Ravi returned home I was ready with my shoulder bag. I told him I was going back to Gujarat Bhavan and will meet him in the office. Ravi didn’t stop me.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Chavanni

Some time back our Reserve Bank of India administration withdrew 25 paise coin from the market, that is, it is no more a legal tender. And with that withdrawal a little of our culture is lost too. Gone are the days when a chavanni (a 25 paise coin) had its own value, that is, material value or monetary value. Among Indian currency of various denominations, chavanni had its own charm and perhaps more popularity.

I distinctly remember- when I was young- I used to get pocket money of ten rupees a month, a sizable amount then, with instructions from my parents not to carry the entire ‘treasure’ in my pocket to school. I used to request my brother who worked in a bank to convert that ten rupee note (royally big in size then) into 40 chavannis with the intention of spending 4 annas a day. Later the currency was digitized and 4 annas became 25 paise. 16 annas or 100 paise made a rupee. Even though I intended to spend a chavanni a day, still at the end of the month I managed to save at least two rupees. My elder brother gave me an equivalent of the amount I saved at the end of the month. What a thrill it was!

Remembering the chavanni is quite nostalgic. It brings the simple and golden old days to mind. A coke in those days cost 4 annas or a chavanni, if you like. A cinema ticket cost 1 rupee 4 annas in Calcutta. We felt powerful to have a chavanni in our pockets when we went to school. We could have four or more varieties of snacks costing one anna or even less each, like puchka, moshla muri, churans and even sandesh.

A chavanni was also auspicious. When our community ‘Maharaj’ (Brahmin) visited our house, I remember, my mother used to give him 1 rupee 4 annas or ‘sava rupio’ as it was called then. Sava rupio was considered as ‘shukan’ or good luck. When there was an engagement ceremony, the would-be bride was given sava rupio with a coconut as shukan and also as acceptance of the girl in the family. No occasion was complete without that chavanni.

A chavanni also had its funny side. In our Gujarati language it is also called ‘Paavli’. If you wanted to call somebody an idiot or nincompoop, you said: “Aani pavli padi gai chhe.” It translates to “He has lost his mind.” Oh that phase, I feel sad it will never come back. It is lost forever with the chavanni gone.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Shocking satya

The second episode of Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate on child abuse was a revelation, shocking, overwhelming, overpowering and moving, to say the least. It is not that we were not aware of this nasty side of our society. In fact, we read about it every other day in the news papers. Aamir Khan has brought this ugly fact right into our drawing room. There are many aspects and facts Aamir’s research has disclosed.

For example, if I heard him right, every second child is abused at one stage or the other in his teens. This is absolutely shocking. Another point, according to his research 53% of the children abused are boys. That again means that the percentage of abuse of boys or male child is more than that of girls. So far we were under the impression that girls are suffering more and male child abuse is occasional. Aamir has broken this myth.

The more shocking aspect of the show - even our high courts are not serious or understanding about it. As one gentleman from a NGO said that in one case, when a child was abused orally, the judge said that only penetration was considered rape and there was no penetration in that case. This is absolutely unbelievable. A judge of a high court says this, and still occupies the chair? And according to this courageous gentleman, it took ten years and hearings in the Supreme Court to start a case against the perpetrator. Accused hire the finest lawyers available who ask most filthy questions to the children making them suffer more. Apart from such high courts, we have such lawyers too. The case will go on forever.

What is our society coming to and whom can you trust? What does a child do, what about his childhood and growth? As Aamir rightly said: “Listen to your child and more important, believe him or her.”

Some articles have criticized Aamir for charging huge money for this program. But let me say this, he may have charged but he has done his job and a wonderful job at that. How many actors do that?

Finally, I too believe in defense. Even a murderer should be given a chance to defend himself, but not a child abuser. He should be thrown in the tank right away.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Sachin Tendulkar's retirement

A recent statement from Sachin Tendulkar that he may continue playing till 2015 World cup, is most un-Sachin like. Normally he is a humble person and never responds to adverse comments from critics. It appears that this time, he was waiting for his 100th Ton to make this statement, as if, not sure whether he would make it or not.

Though, without doubt, he is the best in the world of cricket, the media sponsored title of the ‘God of cricket’ is being taken seriously by the veteran. His utterance that he decided when to start playing and he will decide when to stop playing is narcissist, to say the least. He tends to forget that a set of selectors selected him to play for nation for the first time, though that set may have been different from the present one. If they had not, the cricket history would have been different. Even now, with all his achievements it can be his decision to retire, but it should be left to the selectors to decide whether he will play or not. Tendulkar’s statement should have read ‘he will continue if selectors decided so.’ If every good player decides that he will continue to play till he decides otherwise, there is no need for selectors. By making such statements he is setting a wrong precedent for upcoming youngsters with extra talents.

I wonder if selectors and coaches also call him ‘Sir’ like young players do and are in awe of him. Like: “Sir, will you be playing the next ODI? Or will you rather rest?” And Sir Tendulkar grandly proclaims his decision one way or the other.

I had thought that Tendulkar was far above petty differences of the dressing room and would attend the function to honor Dravid where cricketing greats from past and present were in attendance to felicitate him. But our God decided to leave for London the same day, not expected of a man like him.

Lastly, personally I regard Sachin’s playing skills in highest esteem. And like any other cricket fan, I was also praying for his 100th Ton. It is a feat unlikely to be matched in another hundred years. He deserves every bit of praise and fame he got. I am proud of his achievements. But, he is human after all.