Friday, February 26, 2010

Globalization :

When you are in rural uttar pradesh and you are coordinating the hook up of an Indian girl living in London and a New Yorker student in a pretty apartment in hells kitchen, Manhattan.

Back to school

You know that feeling of dread when the invigilator walks around the classroom handing out exam papers. You are so close to knowing what is going to be asked and yet so far way.
Our education system being what it is , takin gthe ICSE (10th ) and the ISC (12th) pretty much determined our lives. A whole year or for some people a whole education spent in anticipation of one exam killed us all!
I am working in the Pardada Pardadi school in Anoopshahr , Uttar Pradesh where the femal literacy rate is 43% , ten percent lower than national average. Very often, girls get married at 13 and people are randomly killed and their bodies abandoned in the mango grove outside the school.
Dinner conversation yesterday was about education. The driver here haas an alternate career option. A 10th Std graduate, he gets paid to write exams of students in the village who are not confident of passing. Passing however is no big deal.
More often than not, in government schools where there are no teachers, on exam day, the invigilator comes and writes all the answers on the board form the students to copy.
They all pass.
Employers think twice about hiring anyone who has studied under the UP State board. Sure they've all passed and occasionally they even obtain university degrees, but there's no point really .
Strangely even to me this is shocking. The South really seems more developed, actually the North is a far cry from the South is a better way of putting it.
Here it is a big deal for girls to go to school after puberty. When I went to my grandfather's village in Tamil Nadu, a man was excitedly telling me about how his daughter just obtained a Masters in physics from a reputed university!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Fireflies music festival

The fireflies music festival was the Bangalore I first came to, alive all night, no feeling up in the name of securty at the entrance to a festival
, bring your alcohol and gulp it, smoke and then the incredible music..rock, qawwali, kerala folk everything and Vandana Shiva's speaking her philosophy although for a bit long.  Felt good to be free and sit behind the stage in the beautiful amphitheatre and listen to the music .
And not be told ''not allowed'' by the cops..
and the whole city it felt like , was there.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Same same ...but different


A friend said he wouldn't want to be seen out on Valentine's day for fear of the Ram Sena. Recently, I was out with a bunch of friends when a group of men with sticks threatened to attack the ''girls''. We joked about it and called them the Ram Sena boys.


Ofcourse ,Bangalore is divided – the pulsating , spiraling IT world and the unchanging  old city.


Men are threatened by the new age financially independent women who seem to earn more with their white collar jobs than them. Locals are apprehensive that immigrants are taking all the jobs. The South Indians suddenly unite in all this and claim that the

North Indians are brash , loud and ''spoiling '' Bangalore's culture.

Envy is at the heart of it all. More important than envy however is economy and politics.


If the Shiv Sena tries to collect   the inner rage of the impoverished, unemployed or in some other way discriminated Marathi speaking person to control a metropolis then in another part of India, the richer Telengana region doesn't want to share it's resources with the rest of the state.


It's same same but different everywhere in the world.


While in a tram in Basel, Switzerland one day, a working class man starting screaming at two men who entered the tram. He was angry and hateful, the old man, I could tell even though the nuances of language were lost to me. The men he was screaming at were Germans.


One of the  rich looking German men said to the old man ''ok , ok'' and tried to calm him down but in vein. An Indian man intervened and started speaking in German. All this while, I was getting line by line translations from C. The old man calls the Indian man a black dog.


I looked petrified by this point so the Indian man in his very Indian man way came up to me and said in slurred speech (he was drinking) ''It's all ok ..don't worry.''.


It turned out that the screaming old man was telling the Germans  to leave Switzerland. Ever since the EU's policies changed, Germans have been coming to take high profile jobs in Switzerland which has created a lot of resentment among the locals and hence animosity towards the Germans.


But we are all human and we need money and we envy.



is the most profound word I can think of. But Rest in Peace , German Bakery. As Shweta Kapur put it ,''a little piece of home'' lost. To all those afternoons of solace it provided me away from the craziness of Bombay , for defining Pune , the charming Nepali waiters, I hope it's all back very soon.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

hangin with the pope..

Throw a stone and follow its destination. Chances are that you are at a world famous colossal monument that speaks of the grandeur of another era.  To experience Rome is to be swept away by the Colosseum, to walk down cobblestoned paths from fairy tales and eat the best pizza there is.


When we landed in the airport, taxi drivers rushed at us hoping to cheat clueless foreigners. This was not the only thing that reminded me of India .We took the shuttle to the centre of the town in an overheated bus. My swiss companion complained about how it was too hot and that Italians considered it cold . At 8 degrees, much warmer than Switzerland my previous destination, I was happy as can be.



Rome can make you feel like you are in a 70's movie with fiats or fiat like cars dominating the traffic space... Sometimes, its History modernity conundrum and it's somewhat chaotic nature reminded me of Bombay.

 But these are not the most important things about Rome. The most important thing is that the city is a living museum , each spot sprouting some evidence of its dramatic History.


On day one, we went to Vatican City and were amazed by its sheer size. The St Peter's Basilica is an impressive structure with a beautiful imposing dome that is free to enter but unfortunately the queue was too long for our taste. We decided instead to pay fifteen Euro and enter the museum and  see the Sistine chapel instead . 


In the hallway , the roof was spectacularly painted where each square foot was a master piece in itself.  Hungry for the grandeur  that Rome had so far pampered us with , we couldn't imagine what the Sistine chapel would be if an ordinary hallway was this grand.

We walked past sophisticated maps and  paintings  to enter  a silent room with about a hundred people staring at the ceiling in silence interrupted only by the guards saying in that delightful Italian accent '' no phoo ooo tooo'''.

The curtains look real , Jesus looks alive , and books jut out from the ceiling, the story of creation is not merely drawn, it unfolds . The Sistine Chapel is human genius to its highest extent. Is it painting or sculpture or just magic?



We left the Vatican and went to the centre of town to see the gorgeous Trevi Fountain whose Italian name is more evocative of its beauty somehow – Fontana Di Trevi. There were Bangladeshi photographers all over persuading tourists to use their services and this too reminded me of Indian monuments.


The Pantheon , for all its greatness is unlit at night because believe me Rome has way too many monuments for them to be able to light up all of them at night. Lit or not , The Pantheon is a massive magnificent structure. Today the Pantheon functions as a Church.


Colloseum  , the construction of which started in 69AD is designed to hold 50,000 people. It's almost surreal to stand there and imagine all the glory and brutality it's walls have witnessed over 2000 years.

Apart from History, food is a big reason to go to Rome.  However, if you don't scratch below the surface , you will be disappointed.

Restaurants are jaded and in most you won't find the ''cooked with passion by a sweet Italian mama''  food that you are looking for. Many of them have ''tourist menus''.  If you have the patience to drift off the well trodden tourist paths and veer off to where the Romans eat, I promise you that you'll remember the meals forever. Research and ask the locals.

 Trastevere on the other side of River Tiber is a working class neighbourhood now made fashionable by the new restaurants and the tourists who throng there for the '' real Italian experience''. A local we chatted with told us that the best pizzas in Rome are to be had at Dar Poeta (The Poet). WE spent about 40 minutes looking . With a map in hand and very little linguistic skills except  our  stock basket of twenty useful words, we made our way through narrow cobble stoned paths lined by charming buildings painted in orange and brown to finally find the restaurant in Via Bologna, a quiet street .

Down to earth in appearance, the place lived up to our expectations.  I had freshly made thin crust pizza with rocket, mozzarella and  pomodoro tomatoes  and it wouldn't be an exaggeration to call it nothing short of ...poetic.  There's lots to try in Italy including creamy gelato, home made pasta , biscotti, pastries and the list goes on.


Everyone wants to learn English evidenced by ads everywhere selling Anglais classes for cheap. Hardly anyone speaks it though. An old woman comes up to me in a clothing store , taps me gently and starts a whole monologue in Italian about the clothes not giving me time to interrupt. Another woman had to intervene and suggest that I, perhaps given my obvious foreign tourist appearance did not speak English .




There are huge hoardings everywhere depicting Michelangelo's 'David' tied to helicopters flying over London. The Italian caption above threatens the exporting of Rome's art if no one went to see it.


Yet , one gets the sense that Rome is so burdened by its past that it has nothing new to offer, no young scene to speak of. It is largely a tourist city. In 2001, the then Deputy Prime Minister started out a project to modernise the city while still retaining its historical character. There is some new architecture , new venues but nothing you'll notice on a short visit.

The last thing we did at Rome was to go to The Forum, We walked near the ruins which are a testament to human ambition , tragedy and ultimately the transience of all things – even great civilizations. I wondered how future humans would react if they found the ruins of New York . Would they piece together the Empire State building and wonder how they built it without robots, would they preserve the head of Liberty in a museum? Would they find it as beautiful as we 21st century humans found Rome?

Friday, February 05, 2010

''bound to titillate the senses''

Statement made in response to the 9 year old being raped in Goa
"You can't blame the locals; they have never seen such women. Foreign tourists must maintain a certain degree of modesty in their clothing. Walking on the beaches half-naked is bound to titillate the senses," New Delhi's Mail Today newspaper quoted Pamela Mascarhenas, Goa's deputy director of tourism, as saying Friday.

Action Heroes respond:

No woman of any colour, dress, age, character deserves to be sexually violated or what some might lightly call 'eve teased'.

By making the statement above you are blaming women instead of taking responsibility of the issue. If you believe a person's dress is culturally inappropriate, you may continue to believe so, but you cannot defend any act of violence. A person inappropriately dressed according to your idea of 'Indianness' does not deserve to be attacked, assaulted, molested, raped or even whistled at.

For your information, women from across age groups be it 3 month old babies of 90 year old have been raped. They have been raped in saris, burkhas, salwar kameez, school uniforms, bikinis, jeans, skirts, shirts,lungis. Women have been molested, assaulted, raped at all times of the day, and in public places.

We hope this will direct you towards taking responsibility of these incidents by actually addressing male behaviour and men in Goa, for which you will first have to address yourself by accepting this truth.

We have evidence even though we don't really need it.

No woman of any colour, dress , age, character deserves to be sexually violated or what some might lightly call 'eve teased'.

Thank you for your attention,
An Indian girl who loves her saris and her hot pants.

A detailed letter to the Deputy Director of Tourism, Goa is here:

Support this campaign by being an Action Hero:

1. taking a photo of a garment you wore when experienced
street sexual harassment, street sexual intimidation, street sexual violence, or think you were 'eve-teased'.

2. upload the photo on this event and also make it your facebook profile photo for 1 week start Monday Feb 8.

3. Feb 13 onwards will witness clothes collection drives in different cities, starting with Bangalore. More information coming up. You can help organize one. You can be the Blank Noise agent and collect clothes from women around you. Take the word where you can. Be an Action Hero

4. we want out BN guys to propose ideas via which men can be involved, addressed in the issue of street sexual harassment.

5. tweet it #blanknoise

Monday, February 01, 2010

Roman Holiday part two





The story is coming up!
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A Roman holiday




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Our real needs are raped by their association with buying something to satisfy them

In the depth of our hearts, where once hopefully, at the beginning of civilization there was a reservoir of stillness and connectedness, there has emerged a buzzing , gyrating train station.

Trains run in a blind metal ecstasy satisfying one manufactured want to another. And not once can we feel

the sacred silence .

If I was scatterbrained, organizing challenged, messy and careless, not even the fanciest wallet with Many categorized pockets would change my personality or make me organized. My true being of careless existence will win. Yet my credit card will shit the requisite amount paid for perceived change in the leather company's balance sheet.

The Bangalore Central happiness sale is on, a hoarding told me.  Happiness , I strongly suspect lives

in that huge reservoir now drained.
(I'd like to publicly apoologize to Matt Lowenstein for my Soviet style rant)