Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto killed!!!!

I really don't know what to type here. I'm just shocked completely after seeing the news bulletin of Benazir Bhutto's death. It's just so sad to see how unstable Pakistan is politically....

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Harry Potter

Like zillion others, I love the Harry Potter series. I think J K Rowling has created such a beautiful world that it tempts me to be a part of it every time I read any of the books.
I recently finished re-reading all the seven books back to back and I fell in love with the series all over again. I've always been a sucker for fantasy. However, it's an irony that I hadn't read a single book pertaining to the genre of fantasy before Harry Potter. Of course I was a great fan of magic series that used to be broadcasted everyday in Sony Entertainment Television almost a decade ago. I dream of Genie, Bewitched were my favourites. I was also a big fan of Alice in Wonderland too. Such was my craze that whenever I was at a receiving end of a punishment from a teacher, I would pray hard that I possess powers enough to turn the teacher into a donkey. Alas, that never happened. Sigh!

Ok, I digress. One of the main reasons for writing this post was this article. I wanted to blog about it couple of months back, but couldn't, thanks to my laziness. Suffice to say Dumbledore is one of my favourite characters of the book. When I read that he was gay, the first thought that stuck me was why did JKR announce it after the launch of the 7th book and not include it in the story. It kind of angered me because as a ardent reader of the series, I kind of felt cheated. Why add details after the launch of the book when you haven't bothered to include it in the story. I know, many of you will think that Dumbledore being gay has got nothing to do with the story and that it doesn't make any difference. However, I disagree. The whole last half of Book-7 talks about Dumbledore's intense friendship with Grindelwald. The intense friendship going horribly wrong lead to many things including Dumbledore's refusal to inform Harry about the Deathly Hallows and many other plot twists. Rather than mentioning intense friendship, she might as well could have said passionate love affair. I wonder what's the big deal about it. Personally I think, it would have made the series so honest and human. What is the point in shying away from such stuff?

However, this incident did irritate me because I think its hypocritical when authors push issues like homosexuality under carpet or camoflage it by using euphemisms. There are umpteen number of fan sites related to Harry Potter. It just shows the kind of fan following the Harry Potter,series has. People share intimate relationships with several characters, Dumbledore being one of the main ones. It is funny that when she has gone ahead and mentioned love stories of Harry-Ginny, Snape, Ron-Hermione, Tonks-Lupin, and various other characters, why did she not talk about Dumbledore's relationship openly? Did she think that by mentioning Dumbledore's sexuality, the fan following would have been affected?

But, all said and done, I love the series and can't thank JK Rowling enough for the delightful read. Sometimes I think, how can we ever repay some musicians, authors, cartoonists and other artistes who give so much happiness through their work. I sometimes envy them for their ability to make people happy. It truly is an enviable gift :)

Sunday, December 09, 2007


I have never been very comfortable with poems. I hardly read any. Though off late, I enjoy reading Neha's poems. Couple of days back, I came across this blog by Shreyasi and I read Homecoming. The poem took me back to the memory lane and then I came up with Goodbye.

I think Shreyasi's written a beautiful poem and it deserves a mention again :)


I will leave when you sleep
Quietly, on tip-toes

I will slowly fold the morning light
Wrap the pale sun around me
Push the chill with a coat brush

I will stop for a while to catch a last glimpse
Of sights I have always seen
Or one made uniquely for me

And when am gone
I will wish that you wake up
To see the crease on the armchair seat

I will look down from the porthole
Poring over the matchbox city
To find you in the lap of the beautiful sea

I will leave when you sleep
Quietly, on tip-toes

I'm actually a bit scared for I have never posted a poem before. Please do read the following and leave behind your comments. I need a frank opinion :) Let me know what you think... :)


Blissfully asleep
Deep in my dreams
Completely unaware...that you are leaving.

I think you look at me
and wish you could talk to me
But you go away.

And then when I wake up
My eyes search for you
And I chuckle,
For I know
Playing a game, we are
You remain cleverly hidden.

I ask Amma,
Tells me you've left.
Angry I am
You did not tell me
I rush towards the door
In a hope to see you walking by
but the door knob I can't open...
I sit down and cry
Unable to grapple with my helplessness
I've always hated goodbyes.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bangalore, Home and other musings's been one year in Bangalore. I find it difficult to believe it myself. Having never been away from home in my life before, this is a bit special for me. I never really thought I will live and work in another city. For someone who's never left home ever, this is definitely a small but a significant milestone of my life.

Bangalore was always my second home for me with some of my favourite people residing here. It used to be a regular summer vacation adda. However, nothing could prepare me for my work experience here. I realised that my work life is going to completely alter my perspective about the city. Till I came here for work Bangalore for me was my paati's house, bunch of cousins and the time spent with them.

Reporting is such an awesome way to discover a city. I now know more about Bangalore than my paati who's been staying here for the past six decades. It's fascinating when I look back at the process of discovering the city and how it slowly starting changing the way I look at Bangalore too. I was conscious about it all the time.

Well, I went home recently after 11 long months. Phew! I can't believe it myself. This has been the longest I have been from away from home. When I went home, I noticed one thing. I think majority of people living in metropolitian areas don't really leave their homes/cities. Even if people leave, they usually go abroad (A small but a significant student population).

It was such a pleasant experience for me to go back home and see not much has changed. Yea, some friends of mine have left the city, but not everyone. It would have been quite unnerving had most of my friends left the place.

This visit back home had me thinking about lot of things. What exactly is home? Is it still home only if one's parents and friends live there? Or is it home wherever they go? Will Palakkad/Patna/Bangalore (Any random city/village) be home to me if my parents shift there? Will B'bay still be home to me if all my friends leave the place? What is it about the place that makes me call it a home? It's such a complex thing. I'm trying hard to put a finger on it. If internal migration can make me think like this, I shudder to think what it might do to people who have migrated abroad.

Is it people who make me feel at home or the language or the culture or the nostalgia? Can it be called a home even when there are no known people around? Some of my friends who left for USA or other countries for further studies come back and can't relate to half of the things back home. No, I'm not referring to their snobbery here. They come back to to see that everything has changed. The cities they lived in have changed. Gallis, Nukkads, Houses have undergone major changes. Their people have left the city. They cannot relate to anything. I wonder how traumatic it will be. Will the new place or the adopted country be home suddenly? I reckon it would be a very difficult for them to consider a new place as their new home (which is only few years old) as opposed to what was home for the past 20 odd years (that doesn't exist in the same form as they remember it)... Sigh....I think when you are not a part of the changes that happen back home, it can completely alienate you.

Some of my friends who live in smaller towns feel sad about this fact. Not just smaller towns, big cities too. When they go home, they get bored too quickly since none of their friends are present. I can't imagine being bored when I go home. When I went home last month, I realised I know far too many people there. It was just impossible to meet everyone. I wanted to see everyone though.

However, I felt nice that I still had a long list of people to meet. When I was leaving for Bangalore by an early morning train, I met so many friends and acquaintances in the railway station. I was glad that I still had people whom I could say a hello to. I still found familiar faces around. I wasn't a completely nobody. People still knew me despite of my absence for almost a year. Felt very nice.

We cling to things. Most of us resist changes, including me to a large extent. I hope some things don't change. But I know my wishes are foolhardy since the only thing that will never cease to change is change itself. I think the idea of home is constantly undergoing some change or the other. I think many of us will have different homes at various stages of life. It is tough to even imagine the inevitable thing. Sigh!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Second hand books

Circa 1990s....
Me: Again second hand books? Why can't I have new ones?

Amma: Ganeshan Mama has been so kind to give us the textbooks every year. We did not even ask him. He and his wife volunteered and we couldn't refuse. It would have ben rude.

Me: But can't you just tell them that I don't like it? Arrey, I want new books ma. Why don't you understand?

Amma: Shobha, how does it matter? The books are in a very good condition. When you have such good books, what is the need to buy a new one? You can always buy other books with the same money. Tell me, don't you think the books are good?

Me: But I don't want other books, I need NEW textbooks.

Amma: Tell me, don't you think the books are in good condition?

Me: Well, yea...they are.....but.....

Amma: I think buying new books would be a waste of money. We will not spend money on something that we already have.

Me: But all my friends have new books. Only I don't have them.

Amma: Shobha, don't compare yourself with your friends. Everyone is different. Besides, is there any difference in the old and the new book? It is not as if your textbooks contain old matter in comparison to the new ones.

Me: You are being totally unfair. (I leave the room crying)

2007: SMS conversation

Me: Ok, what book you want for your b'day?

D: Give anything you want of your choice.

Me: Hmmm...ok...Will it be ok if I give u second hand books? Tell me if its alright with you. If you don't like the idea, its perfectly ok. But let me know.

D: I love second hand books.

Me: :)

From being close to tears because my parents forced me to use second hand text books in school to actively buying and gifting second hand books, I have come a full circle today. Unnecessary consumption can be stopped whenever possible. Sometimes, I realise my parents were so cool. My parents came up the hard way. The economic backgrounds of their families weren't particularly flattering during their childhood. However their lifestyles did not radically change once they started earning well. It is remarkable that they have continued with their simple lifestyle. Amma still follows the adage of 'Simple living and high thinking'. She proudly flaunts it. Hehe...

'Hand me downs' are never fun, especially when you are a kid. C'mon, whoever likes using old stuff? Not surprisingly, I always used to be at loggerheads with my parents when I was in school. Most of my school textbooks were second hand. Our family friend Ganeshan mama's son was a year older to me. This effectively meant that all his school textbooks were handed down to me after a year.

At one point of time, I used to think that we are very poor as compared to my friends because of this annual ritual. Only poor families did things like this, no? Indulging in self pity was an annual ceremony (It makes me laugh now). The ill-feeling with my parents would last for a month or so, before all my friends' books started resembling like mine and I would be normal again. Worse, after a point of time, my books looked better than their new ones.

This used to bother me quite a bit. I once asked Amma if we indeed are very poor. I remember Amma having laughed at my question. She assured me that we were not poor but was very firm on having a simple lifestyle. Now-a-days it often strikes me as to how amazing my parents have been in certain ways without even them realising it. I was never a fan of their simple lifestyle and always dreamed of spending extravagantly once I started earning. While I did indulge in some consumerist fantasies earlier, nowadays I see myself constantly questioning it. Earlier I would tom-tom about how retail therapy was an instant cure for depression. Now, I laugh at my own claims.

For the first time I will do something that I have never done before. I will be gifting a second hand book to one of my dearest friends. Amma-Appa have always maintained that it is the emotion behind the gift that matters and not the gift per se. I have never consciously gifted anyone second hand. I always thought, it was not a right thing to do. I don't exactly think likewise now. The 'always' bit can be tampered around a bit. Earlier, my refusal to use second hand books was more to do with my stupid pride. I think I was too bothered about what my friends would think of me.

I now believe that I should use every product till it completely looses its utility value. What Amma intended then makes complete sense to me now. Both the new and the old textbook served the same purpose. So, there was no point in actually buying a new book when I had a slightly older one to serve the same purpose. Besides, it also reduced unnecessary consumption.

The above SMS conversation just reminded me of my childhood. It's amazing how certain incidents can make you look at your parents in a completely different light. I love my parents' simplicity :) I think as one grows older, one starts appreciating certain facets of our parents' personalities which we would never have thought or appreciated before. Come to think of it, I consider my parents' so-called kanjoosi then as simplicity now. Hehe :)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Why the world hates America?

I read about Postglobal during one of my aimless surfing sojourns and came across this and I was hooked on to it. The first thing that stuck me while reading the blog was, "How I wish, I could also do the series!" (I remember having felt something similar before) It's an amazing assignment which gives a chance to go to different countries and meet different kinds of people from all over the world. I personally feel it's a huge kick for any journalist. Sigh....I wish I'm able to do something similar in future. However, I thought I will do an email interview with Amar C Bakshi, the chief contributor of the project and well, here it is....
How did you become involved with the project? What has been your personal interest in it?
I proposed it to Fareed Zakaria, David Ignatius and Hal Straus. They were all very supportive. I've been fascinated by views of America ever since seeing strong political anti-American rhetoric in Zimbabwe. It is also a crucial issue facing Americans, one worth exploring and putting a human face on.

How many countries have you visited till now for this project?
So far I've been to England and India. I'm in Jammu&Kashmir now, going to Pakistan next week. Then I'm taking a break for a few weeks before pushing off to East Asia or the Middle East.

Starting afresh in a new country with an assignment can be quite a task. Can you tell me a little more about how did you go about your work in various countries? Who all helped you?
I've received great help from MJ Akbar, who put me in touch with Asian Age correspondents around the country. Similarly India Express reporters in Srinagar and Calicut were very helpful. It varies greatly -- between contacts from the Post, friends, other journalists and luck I manage to get by.

You have met a lot of people and written about hem on your blog too. Can you talk about any interesting experience which you haven't mentioned in the blog? (Something that would be irrelevant for the site, but interesting nevertheless)
Well, I've made a lot of friends along the way. The girls from the TV in the American Language piece opened up Manchester nightlife for me, which was a blast, and I got a real deep look into Blackburn's tabacco hookah scene before the smoking ban went into effect.

What are the apsirations of the youth you met in various cities and countries?
Big question, but basically to earn money, have fun, and improve the lot of their family or community in some way. Aspirations of youth are vital. I always ask about it, especially because often the U.S. is a part of those aspirations for more education or money, or to resist. Anyway, not sure what else to say here. Maybe you can be more specific?

Your parents are from India. As opposed to the initial views you had about India, what are the different things that you experienced about India especially in this specific assignment?
Well, America was always the sole land of opportunity for my parents. I'm seeing now more and more how India itself has become the land of opportunity for many of the brightest students. Seeing this energetic, hopeful part of India is wonderful.

Did you come to Bangalore? (Bangalore has a huge section of population working in call centres serving clients from USA) I believe you went to Mumbai and interacted with the call centre junta there. What were your observations? How was it visiting South India?
I loved South India. I loved the way people laugh there. I visited call centers primarily in Chennai, and didn't end up going to Bangalore for a variety of logistical reasons, and because a lot of American journalists seem to go there, I figured I'd look at Hyderabad or Chennai. I spent time in Kerala too driving up and down.
I found call centers very interesting because of the aspirations of the young who work there -- for money, success, material things, and a chance. Often America represents a meritocratic ideal, which is interesting. Also, it's fascinating for Americans to see who it is calling them. I think it might be alienating for call center employees to call hostile, distant Americans, and it might be aggravating for Americans to get distant phone calls, but by putting the two communities in touch online and showing a face to both sides, it creates understand, the goal of this project. I was proud of the call center piece and hope it gets more Americans aware of just who calls them.

You talk about Muslims in madrassas being close minded. But are you aware of instances of modernisation of Madarssas wherein Maths, English are being introduced? (There are some madrassas like that in Bangalore)
I never talked about Muslims in madrassas being closed minded. In fact, my post was about how modern Muslim madrasas in Malegaon can be. I've taken readers/viewers into madrasas in Malegaon to show them how progressive they can be, how education-oriented they can be
My other post talked about how Muslim teachers avoided teaching politics, but curious students wanted to know more. And in that case the teachers used history and theology to say that there is no need to enter politics because all great powers fall. It's a peaceful but tricky balance. *** Please fix your line above where you say I say Muslims in madrassas are closeminded. This is a misunderstanding on your part. Thank you!***

For a patriot (you mention in a post about how you hung American flag prominently at the entrance of your house after 9/11) was it unnerving to hear people's opinions regarding their hatred for America? Was this the first time you were personally coming across such views?
It was unnerving. See this. But it wasn't the first time. Doing research in Zimbabwe I can across really vehement criticisms of the U.S. as a neo-colonial force by a lot of government ministers who got political mileage, like Mugabe, off of such rhetoric.

Books like Inheritance of Loss, The Kite Runner have portrayed that despite the faults, USA is still the place to realise one's dreams. Do you think it is a dominant perception while interacting with the youth in India? How was it interacting with a upper middle class urban Muslim youth of India?
Yes, I think it is true. America still represents great hope. In Srinagar, for example, I am finding the same. Now there are certainly chinks in America's gleaming armor, but it still as an ideal holds weight. Upper middle clas urban Muslim youth that I met were incredibly bright and worldly. Like most Indians, they criticized recent American foreign policy and hoped that it would genuinely support human rights and democracy, and like most Indians they felt great love for the idea of America, though wariness of its international actions over time, and especially lately.

Racial profiling of people from South Asia is a common phenomenon in USA that was started after the 9/11 attacks. Do you think that plays a important role in how South Asians view USA post 9/11?
Yes, I think racial profiling in America has a real bad impact on perceptions abroad, especially because these cases make big news here, while they might not make quite as a big a headline in the U.S. I hear, though I do not know, that this is especially true in Pakistan.

Why have you put on a beard before going to Pakistan? This is interesting because 'beard' + 'South Asian' looks are a stereotype for a Muslim terrorist. Do you think people In Pakistan will warm up to you because of your appearance? Does looking similar to the majority help in any way?
I might shave the beard. It was a bit of a joke, but maybe not an appropriate one. I really haven't had much time the past few months, I've been traveling, been busy, and have only carried the bare necessities around (which doesnt include a razor and cream) so I just haven't gotten around to it. I might well shave it off this weekend when I catch my breath. But as far as looking local, my appearance has helped. I don't stick out quite so much when I travel, which helps me get my camera in different places without raising quite as many eyebrows.

You have interviewed non resident Indians as a part of your project too. How do they view India?
A good place to invest, a place of rich history/culture, a place that could benefit from some of the looser social mores that America has -- particularly vis a vis gender and class.

What do you think is this project going to achieve? How has the reaction been of American readers to your articles?
It's added depth to news items and given people a glimpse at human lives around the world touched by America. I think it might help people have a sense of the impact of their electoral decisions, and the degree to which America is involved globally. There are many ways Americans can help shape the world for the better from smart buying to aid to votes. So far the reaction has been great. People are saying they didn't have a human face on a lot of big issues: like a student at a madrasa or a call center employee. This project puts it out there, encourages readers to interact with interviewees, and tries to make people see people around the world so headlines become more than just a sound-byte, but a bit of understanding - empathy and hope - for others around the world.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A day when I was almost attacked...

It was just any other day (or so I thought) till I got a call informing me about a raid by the labour department. The raid was on a brick kiln unit wherein the owner was practising bonded labour. It's an amazing story. It took a man from Orissa to point out the instance of bonded labour in Bangalore while the Bangalore city cops had no clue about the going ons in their own backyard. Bijaya kumar Babu, a social worker from Orissa tipped off the labour commission in the city about the practice of bonded labour at SRB Chamber Bricks, a brick kiln unit in a village in Anekal, 30 kilometres from Bangalore. One of the members took a chance escaped leaving behind his wife in the brick kiln unit. Once back home, he contacted Das who works with the tribal and Dalit community in Orissa.

He then got in touch with South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM) and informed them about the situation here. The people trapped in the brick kiln unit were mainly Dalits and tribals who had come all the way to Bangalore in search of employment. He also told me that National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is in shambles in the state which is prompting lot of people from Orissa to come all the way to Bangalore. One of the main reasons that Bangalore lures people is the construction boom here. There are apartments being constructed left, right and centre here. Now that the city's become greater Bangalore, the constructions will only increase. (Trivia: Greater Mumbai is 434 sq. km whereas Greater Bangalore is 721 km. Greater Bangalore is almost double than that of Mumbai.) Another reason why they are in demand is because migrant workers don't demand as much money as the local employees.

I took my camera and went to the spot along with officials from labour department, revenue department and a bunch of human rights activists from SICHREM and Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA). I had never been to an actual raid before. So it was quite exciting :D

Most of the people were from various villages of Bolangir district in Orissa. Their condition out there was very bad. We heard some horror stories. No one was allowed to go home with their family. Mamta, a worker said, "I was beaten up black and blue when my husband tried to ask for higher wages. I was not allowed to breast feed my kids for three weeks. They beat up my husband too. I desperately want to go home. I asked them for a leave. But they did not grant me one." There were cases of child labour too. N B Ramchandra, labour officer-Bangalore said, "The children ought to be subjected to medical examination by a doctor to determine their exact age. After that, can we give the exact statistics of the number of children involved in child labour." The workers alleged that they were paid Rs 400-500 per week per family.

When the team went to the spot, they were very happy. They were expecting us since Bijaya had gone to the place in disguise couple of days before informing them about the raid. Overjoyed, they immediately started packing their bags. However, some associates of Nanjundaiah began physically abusing the labourers and the activists despite the presence of labour officials and the police personnel. They also prevented the government officials to take the labourers along with them. Bijaya was slapped real hard by the goons. We couldn't do anything because there were just two police officials with us who did nothing. When I spoke to the Anekal police, they told me that the labour department officials had only asked for two people and that they provided the people likewise. They also said it is difficult to handle such last minute requests. The human rights activists told me that during such kind of raids, the police is always informed in the last minute because word usually spreads fast and the owners of such kind of places always manage to escape.

The labour department had hired a truck to ferry the people. However, as soon as the labourers boarded the truck the goons forcibly tried to pull them out of the truck. Mind you, the goons who were being violent were only 3-4 of them. In comparison the workers were about 50 of them. But they were so scared. Mentally they had surrendered. To see them so meek somehow disturbed me. They could have easily over powered the men since they were so few in number. The owner had still not reached the spot and his men were simply creating ruckus. It was such a helpless feeling. Despite crying for help, we couldn't do anything. I couldn't spot the police officials at all.

The goons also thrashed the ETV cameraman. His camera was broken as they demanded the cassette from him. However, he was smart and in the nick of time managed to replace the original cassette with an empty one. Looking at the situation, the media persons decided to quickly leave the place. I had to leave early since I had a deadline to meet. One of my friends from Hindu who had come in a car offered me a lift. As soon as we sat in the car we saw that the owner had come. We again rushed out in order to get his version. I spoke to him and clicked his picture. Within few minutes went back to the car and were all set to leave. Suddenly, 5-6 goons rounded up the car and the driver had to stop it. They began banging the car furiously. Me and my friend looked at each other. We were really scared now. We had not exactly locked the doors. They opened it and demanded the camera. "Who has the camera? Delete our boss's photo. Tell us where the camera is?" they shouted. I was really scared now. I was the one with the camera. In the whole melee, they were confused about who exactly took the camera. I was confused. I did not want to part away with my camera and pictures. Well, why should I? But at the same time, I wondered, they only want me to delete the picture na. I should simply delete it and go away from the wretched place. In the midst of all the nonsense, I was wondering what exactly to do.

My friend did not have the camera with her. She screamed at them saying that she doesn't have it. We were seated inside. But they started searching the car. They even tried to open my friend's bag. Meanwhile, I started crying for help. I also told them that I don't have the camera. The Hindu photographer was waiting for us in another place. Anticipating trouble, he had smartly left the place. However, his tripod was still inside the bag. They took away the tripod. I couldn't believe my helplessness. I yelled at them and screamed for help. I was really angry and scared. Suddenly the owner came and snatched the tripod from his goons and gave it to us. He asked his goons to shut up and apologised to us and requested us to leave. We were both very angry with him and shouted at him and finally left the place. Mind you, the police out there did not come to help us at all.

As we were going back to the office, I realised the enormity of the situation. I have never been rounded up by violent goons like this. It was only later that the gravity of the situation hit me. It can be extremely intimidating. I have been in similar situations before/ (Looking back at the post, I realise some of my opinions have changed. It's weird. But well, that's a different story altogether. Will blog about it.) However, I think I am lightly lucky in such cases because I'm a woman. Had there been a male reporter in my place, he would have been bashed left right and centre in no time. They wouldn't have asked. They would have simply beaten the guy black and blue.

I went to the office and filed the story. According to my boss, I shouldn't have taken the risk and should have simply deleted the pic. She's asked me not to get into trouble like this. Hmmm.... But I'm secretly glad that I did not give the camera to them. I think I can ramble all about it now especially since I am safe now. But still, why should I? Argh!!!!!! Oh, I did not file a police complaint. I think I should have. But well, at that time, all that was in my mind was to go and file the story. Later I kind of lost interest. I think I should have filed a complaint. But well.... that did not happen.

The activists who were there for a longer time told me that they had a tough time leaving the place along with the workers. More police officials were sent in later. The workers are now back home :)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Men Bahadur

Image courtesy: Nishant Ratnakar-BM

Kids do the darndest things. Indeed! One of them is Men (pronounced Meen) Bahadur, (an approximately) 10-year old Nepali kid languishing in the Government Boys home in Bangalore. Well, he hasn't committed any crime. He's just there because the government simply doesn't know where to send him. Besides the fact that he stayed near a mountain and a lake in Nepal, he doesn't remember anything. Men's living in Bangalore for the past six years which roughly means that he ran away from Nepal when he was around 4 years. Well, the government officials are currently trying hard to find his kith and kin. There is a fear amongst the officials that as days pass by, it would be difficult for them to help him since he would forget whatever little he remembers now.

I was chatting up with him. He told me lot of things. He opened up a lot to me. He kept telling me that he doesn't want to go back to his parents. When I asked him why, he told me that they are 'bagde' parents. Bagde in Kannada means Rented. Rented parents? I kept wondering what it meant. Then I figured out that he was referring to his foster parents. Apparently, his parents died when he was very young. He was taken care of by the foster parents. However, his father used to beat him quite a lot. "That's why I used to run away", he says. When I asked him how he managed to reach Bangalore, he innocently told me that he just hopped inside a bus to Bangalore from Nepal. I wonder if there is a direct bus service like that, hehe. I don't think he remembers how he came here.

He told me things that he hadn't told the government officials yet. He told me that his brother used to work in the defence service and that he was in Bangalore for some training. The officials have taken a note of it. hopefully it should be of some use :) During the conversation, I wondered what might have prompted him to run away in search of his brother.He still hopes that he would be able to find his brother. Kids don't take drastic decisions like these. I think, the foster father would have really beaten him badly to have prompted him to take such a step. or probably he would have plainly got lost. I don't know. But the fact that he is so keen to go back to his brother and not his foster parents does indicate the former.

Actually, nobody knows his exact age since he's a runaway kid. I wondered when he celebrates his birthday. I did not ask him that. When I was a kid (even now, to a great extent) birthdays were a big thing, It was a very big deal for me. I used to look forward to my birthdays every year. The fact that it used to come in the same month of Diwali was a double treat since Diwali's a favourite festival. Oh well, I am digressing now. But the point is, I felt bad wondering about this child who doesn't even know his birthday. Also, the government boys home has parents of kids coming and meeting other kids. I wonder how lonely he would feel. Despite knowing that he has a brother, he doesn't know where he is. So much helplessness....

When he first came to Bangalore, the police officials had admitted him at Makkala Ashraya Kendra. However, he used to often run away from Makkala Ashraya Kendra (MAK) where he initially lived. However, he maintains that MAK is his favourite place. I was puzzled. I asked him why did he run away from the place often if he liked the place so much. He remained silent for a while. I again asked him. He paused and then replied, "I used to go out in search of my brother." I can't forget the look on his face then. To say that I felt bad would be an understatement. I just wanted to hug him tight and tell him that things would be alright.

While I was taking down some numbers of officials of MAK, Men came and silently stood next to me. I asked him what happened. "I wanted the number of the MAK official." I asked him, "What do you plan to do with the number?" He said, "I want to call them to ask them to take me back." I did not what tot ell him. I just gave him the number. He was so happy. It was as if he had got a big bar of chocolate that has been denied to a kid for a long time. According to the Child Welfare Committee officials, MAK is not very keen to take him back because of his vagabond ways. CWC has issued summons to MAK. Lets see what happens.

Currently, the boy shouldn't technically be in the government boys home because they house kids only from Bangalore (urban district) per se. They are trying hard to put him back in Makkala Ashraya Kendra. But, even then, that's not his real home. Worse, he ain't even a bonafide citizen of this country. Worse, the government does not have any policy to deal with such kids. ARGH!!!!

I really hope they are able to track his brother soon. I think his brother is extremely lucky. His younger brother surely loves him very much.

PS: I will surely rotate the pic properly very soon.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

It's all about money, honey!

Some say, Money can't buy the best things in life. While others say, there are no free lunches. Depending on how much importance we give to money in life, we will believe either of the two fundas strongly.

I tend to believe the former strongly. However, I realise that I'm in a hopeless minority. Given the backdrop, having an argument with people with a contrary worldview can be quite an unpleasant experience, painful to be precise.

There is a subject in schools called Work Experience or Socially Useful or Productive Work (SUPW) for the students in Karnataka.

Assessment of the SUPW should not be in terms of marks assigned to different processes but on the basis of skills learnt and the needs satisfied by individual students or in small groups. A diary of the day to day work done, the knowledge gained, production achieved with sketches and tables of statistics will more than answer the needs of assessment (Coutesy: )

As usual, the reality is quite different. Many school principals, teachers are of the belief that SUPW involves making children cleaning the toilets, filling up buckets of water for school purposes and various other stuff like this. I am not kidding at all. One school in Bangalore (school A) which suffers from severe water shortage makes it children fetch water from nearby areas as a part of SUPW projects before the start of every class. Another school (school B) which was smart enough to utilise the government funds, procured funds from Suvarna Jala Yojana and invested in a rainwater harvesting system. However, the work of filling up water in several buckets for various reasons is done by students of the school as a daily project under work experience.

Now one would obviously be proud of school B. However, the only difference is, students from school A struggle more than school B since they have to go out and fetch water. But the point is, even in school B, the students are made to do the work. The principal proudly proclaimed that the children do so under the able guidance of the teachers :|

It is sad to see many of my friends and acquaintances who do not think that something is wrong. One reaction that I got from one acquaintance (who is apparently doing a human rights course!?!?!?) was....."those are poor children, they get free food, free books, free everything. They don't have staff, so I guess, they have and need to do it. They do only within the school premises na...not outside."

Why don't people understand that making children work like this is a wrong thing to do. Even filling up buckets involves hard work. It isn't an easy task for a child aged 9 to fill up large buckets of water and lift them with/without help. Just because the students get free stuff, doesn't mean that they are "OBLIGED" to do work like this.

Filling water on a regular basis is a chore and not productive work. Making children do it is ridiculous. There is no harm in teaching a kid how to clean a toilet. But making the child do it on a daily basis as a part of school curriculum is a crime. But it happens in such an alarming regularity in all the schools, that it is just not funny. Unfortunately, it is not even a story for me....*sigh* Its interesting to note how people stop having expectations from municipal schools just because they are 'free'.

I am just appalled. Does money determine everything? Just because the children come from unfortunate backgrounds, does it mean that they should do work like this.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Hello from Bangalore!

Hello everyone. Yup, I am still alive. I have been very busy for the past couple of months. There have been so many changes in my life that blogging was the last thing in my mind. Well, I have relocated to Bangalore now. It's been quite a change for me. But it's also lot of fun since I am getting a chance to explore a new city and being a vagabond is just so much fun :D :D

Some of my posts henceforth would be about my impressions about the city. Bangalore is a growing city. There is lots happening here and it is interesting to chronicle its growth. However, while I scour the city, I always end up comparing the city with Mumbai. I know it's a stupid exercise, but I can't help but do it since Mumbai is the only reference point for me. Reporting in two different cities also helps me gain a perspective of how cities function. Bangalore is growing at a rapid unhealthy pace. Mumbai is a 'been-there-done-that' kind of a city. Even though they are different, there are some interesting parallels as well. I might blog about that later.

What I intend to write in this post are my impressions regarding the events that followed the verdict given by the tribunal on the Cauvery issue. Anyways,on February 6th Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal gave its verdict after 16 long years. One can read more about it here

I went out with my photographer colleague to scour the city to check out how various areas were reacting to the verdict. Most of the city remained indoors yesterday. The roads were completely empty. I could have played roller skating on the roads. Shops in many areas remained closed. I wondered why. The city had a presence of 18,000 troops to prevent any possible backlash against the Tamilians in the city. {I was advised to forget talking in Tamil for a week, he he. I think I can manage quite well with my broken Kannada, Hindi and English :D :D} And all this happened when there was no formal declaration of a bandh.

I found the reaction of the Bangaloreans to be quite precautionary. In fear of a possible violence, people themselves opted to not to leave their houses. I guess such kind of response was because of the failure of the administration in earlier occassions especially during the 1991 Cauvery riots, Rajkumar's Death etc. {Can anyone tell me how bad the situation was during 1991?}

Finally a formal bandh was declared on February 12th. The roads were EMPTY. There were no buses, no autorickshaws, no cars. There was absolutely nothing at all. For someone who is completely dependent on public transport, it was a difficult day. But thankfully, a colleague came to my rescue and I went about to various parts of the city in his motorbike. I thought the public reaction to the Bandh was quite submissive. Back home in Mumbai, we have witnessed many such instances. However, I don't remember of any particular bandh which was uniformly effective all over the city. I guess one of the main reasons why Bandhs are only effective in only certain pockets in Mumbai are the local trains which never stop completely. Though Local trains remain one of the main targets during a bandh, people don't really stop commuting. So in essence normal life does not really halt completely. Here in Bangalore, the BMTC buses (the main mode of public transport) did not ply on the roads at all. I shudder to think what would happen if local trains don't function at all. I guess in Mumbai one has many options including BEST buses, autorickshaws which complement the local train services perfectly.

Also, Mumbai hasn't had a proper Bandh for sometime due to this reason. In the past four years, I don't really remember one single Bandh paralysing the whole city. Needless to say Bangalore was completely crippled without buses, rickshaws, private cabs etc. One could have organised a skating tournament. Bangalore was completely pollution-free that day. I wonder how would the city have reacted, had something like this happened in Bangalore as well! Hmmm....