Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Theatrics at the Wagah Border

A few metres ahead is Pakistan. In India, a stampede precedes fast filling up seats to watch the Border opening ceremony
at the Attari - Wagah border near Amritsar. Indians, being the enthu cutlets that they are are jam packed in the seats. The Pakistani side is still more than half empty.
Punjabis in bling dance to patriotic songs. Girls run up and down carrying the Indian flag. The border between the 'enemies' is about to open.
In a display of tourist over enthusiasm - if aggression, the crowd screams 'Hindustan Zindabad'. The crowd on the other side now suddenly alive screams 'Jeeve Jeeve Pakistan'. (Long Live Pakistan).
The Indians boo.
Our soldiers open the border , go across and shake hands rather violently with our Paki pals. The crowds on both sides are competing on who can out do each other in their cheers and their loud music.
I suggest to my friend that maybe I should scream 'Jeeve Jeeve Pakistan'. She looks at me with immense regret for ever having befriended me.I assured her that it was academic interest in the consequences but she told me sensibly that academic interests shouldn't be fatal.
Above, a few parakeets,my favourite animals in the world flew screeching across unaware of the mayhem below.
And then we sat on a roadside dhaba and ate the best maggi on earth with hot sweet milky chai.
Pictures and posts on The gorgeous Golden Temple coming up.


Intense.Overwhelming.Peaceful and everything else that has been said
about Benares before but i beg you - Do not listen to Lonely Planet
whose pick of all budget hotels was Shanti Guest House which is
inaccessable by any relatively modern means of transport such as the
cycle rickshaw.My paapa foot had to be dragged through narrow streets
jammed by cows , piligrims and the journey to the damn guest house
took half an hour. Only to meet lots of other white people who
suffered in similar ways.

Anyway,we took the boat ride across all the ghats yesterday which was
really beautiful.Marie thinksVAranasi is somewhere between a morbid Venice and Las Vegas!

We stopped and watched the evening prayer from what
our charming boatman Sanjay assured us was a VIP position. The Aarti
was a stunning aesthetic display with dressed up Bramhin priests
singing in vibrant voices silencing the thronging crowds around. There
was a sense of surrender.

Sometimes I long to belong to some religion. I made a wish and placed
my parcel of flowers and a diya to float away in the black of the
Ganga which is now so polluted that apparently even the dolphins are

I followed my diya till it was out of my sight and still burning bright.


Monday, March 22, 2010

The Polyester girl

My sense of dressing is best described as Bohemian tramp chic. I have been dying to invest in the village belle look because of many reasons only one of them being Vidya Balan's ethearalising the polyester sari in Ishqiya.  Ishqiya by the way is  a movie I despise except for Vidya Balan's hotness and that song 'Dil to baccha hain ji'.  Maybe I am bitter because the Hindi was too complex.

This village is very much like the one portrayed in the film. Today I finally got around to buying some beautiful polyester(Georgette, crepe, it's all the same no)  material and getting my new friend Preeti to come with me to the tailor and prescribe the village belle look, polyester, semi Patiala et al.

Now the polyester Salwar Kameez is a loaded word among the average breed of bitchy big city women. In my distant youth, I took a French class. A girl in French class asked me what my mother tongue is. I told her that I am a Tamilian. She was like 'No , you don't look like a Tamilian.' 'Tamilians means bindi, oiled hair ....''. She made the worst face ever.

I have the most Tamil looks ever if there is something like that and I love all the stereotypes – jasmine flowers, vibrant Kancheepuram saris, three stone diamond nose studs, Chettinad cotton saris. The Polyester kurta  ( we are getting back to the point) has also somehow been associated with this stereotype.


Ok so I bought this cloth.

Deep down I am a true consumerist. I imagined a chic summery look, reinvention of the Patiala trousers – the artsy fartsy element can be added with my jhumkas and the corporate element with my watch. Gorgeous deep brown joothis will add some class to the whole outfit ...and a foxy babe hair cut  will make it very urban( I stole this appalling phrase from Shoba De's generalization of Bangalore girls..!!!) . And weren't floral patialas really in sometime back?


I 'modelled' (basically my friend works there and in his words, he needed a hanger for his clothes) for fab India once when they were launching the UK based brand 'East'. East is ajji/aunty/behenji polyesteresque long gowns, lose pants and shapeless potato sack tops.


At this event, all these socialite  women came  and admired these clothes garnishing the gentle Bangalore breeze with words like summery, refreshing, floral, smart etc.


Maybe that's also where I copied this from but I hope it doesn't die in the corner of my cupboard with all the other ''deviant'' clothes I bought including a Singapore Airlines air hostess costume from 2000. Would you rather I blogged about NREGA?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The fall of the sparrow

I remember birds because I was at Rishi Valley . I forgot them for a while till I came to Anoopshahr where birds burst in many colours from the wheat fields and the trees. Parakeets, hoopoes, drongoes, kingfishers, sun birds, sparrows, peacocks dancing on any random dusty Tuesday afternoon. Sparrows are dying. Can you build a bird feeder in your balcony?

Today is House Sparrow day. Do you remember birds?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Of made up women and women who made my day

(Pictures at Sunai when parents protested children being hit at school)
Yesterday we went to the Sunai village to find out why all students from the village were absent. It turned out that all the parents were upset that one of the teachers was always hitting children sometimes so hard that it resulted in minor injuries. I know that hitting kids in school is pretty commonplace.When I joined in class 6 the school I would pass out from the incentive was ''no exams, no one hits you and no uniforms''.
The parents started screaming at the community mobilizers Neeta and Deepak who tactfully calmed them down by saying they were on the parents' side. They urged the parents to go to school and complain.
The parents also said that this teacher made the muslim students stand up on the bus when a Hindu student didn't have a seat. The Sunai village is predominantly a muslim one and the whole village predictably gathered demanding to know why a school that doesn't believe in caste/religion allowed this to  happen. Obviously ideologically it doesn't but it is impossible to completely remove it from the minds of all the local students and teachers over such a short span of time (10 years).
Interestingly, the muslim parents also said that they trusted this school so much that they sent even their older daughters(Class 6 to Class 10) to school- something they don't do otherwise. However they didn't approve of the fact that this 'beating teacher ' put on make up in the bus while accompanying kids to school on the bus. They asked first of all why she didn't know how to treat children and what sort of a mother she was. We told her that the teacher was unmarried. Then they asked why unmarried women should wear make up and essentially began to assassinate her character. The community mobilizer explained to me later that it was unacceptable for unmarried women to wear make up.
Obviously this woman has to face the consequence of violating the school's policy against hitting children but it makes me sad that ultimately the questions asked about her or fingers pointed at her all relate to her sexuality or her future role as a mother.
I told CQ about this and he was like (insert American accent ) ''Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan , single women have to wear make up coz they have to get a husband's only married women who don't...''
I had to guide him gently from the sex and the city Manhattan of his imagination and habitation to this world.
I also met Mamta who has four kids and an absent migrant labourer husband who never sends money .Mamta lives in a small clean one room house with a yard in front plastered with cow dung.  She makes money by tailoring and is hoping to get a job at the school. A) She was so beautiful man ..I couldn't believe she had four kids with her super model body and all.
B) She was basically way below poverty line but she was so spirited and bright and smiley and confident and enterprising that it made my day. C) She charges fifty rupees for stitching a Salwar Kameez. My friend Panty Padmashree( original nick name) who now lives in Miami would pay $$$$$%@@@ times the price for that service in Bangalore.
Also there is this American volunteer who came with me. Mamta offered us water and the volunteer was asking me if it was safe to drink. I don't usually drink the water in the village because it's made me sick before.Chai and fod is fine - I usually have thirty cups of Chai a day. Mamta thought that he was asking about her caste before he could drink the water.
This crushed my heart soo badly ..I was feeling so paaapa for her. ( Should I start blogging in English or is this fine?)
She said that she was going to educate her daughters for sure because she couldn't afford  a dowry. I told her that maybe an education itself is a dowry.Actually I was quite proud of that line. A lot of times, I can't think fast enough in Hindi to say exactly what I want to say so I feel really inadequate because there is so much I lose out on .
Apparently the cheapest dowry here is 50,000 Rupees and it can go up to four lakhs. Her monthly income is 1500 Rupees and she has three daughters.

Monday, March 15, 2010

We are the purest of them all



We were driving to Garhera, described as the worst village in the surrounding areas. Mr D Singh (DS) who is driving the car tells me that all one caste villages tend to be filthy

because no one is less equal to another.

I ask him what he means. He tells me that Garhera is a village where only Thakurs live. No one wants to stoop down to the level of cleaning the streets.

Enter their houses and be assured that everything is spic and span.Almost everyone in the village owns land- something unique in this area.

Yet, on the outside, the squalor is comparable to that of an urban slum, to the worst of slums.


I was to meet the Pradhan.He was sleeping on a charpoy, barechested, wearing only a towel when I arrived.He woke up and ordered for chai .

I made lots of polite conversation and finally asked him about NREGA and about how many people had job cards. He said that this is a high caste village and  no one needed a job card here. I asked him what projects were in progress under the scheme.He said pond construction and the making of pucca structures for the borewells was on the cards.


I asked him if I could see these. He said that it was hard to get labourers in the village again emphasizing that high caste people didn't do such work.



It occurred to me  that in this village of filth , of black stinking water lining every street with houses with grand macho gates , a sense of greatness ran in the blood of its citizen any evidence of which was absent in any tangible form. The ancient delusion of caste superiority desecrated the streets. (Do I sound condescending, sarcastic, angry..? I think I am.Angry.)


One of the Pradhan's points taken though. Villages with a high SC population get more funds and privileges under Mayavati's government.



All the village Pradhans had to contribute 5000 Rupees each for Mayavati's birthday celebrations and 1000 Rupees from the village's ration account share.


Let's think about the structures we create man coz if they suck, it's gonna take generations to get rid of them.!That's just how profound I can be right now..




Sunday, March 14, 2010

Long and winding roads

Yesterday, we went for the birthday party of one of the teachers daughers.I like that anoopshahr has both the charm of the village and some of the comforts of a small town but it isn't dismal in a way that a lot of small towns are.
The  winding roads lined by gorgeous old houses all roads leading to the Ganga .
Anyhow the birthday party had yummy food, cute kids and it was just really great.
Alhough on the way back we were squeezed on a rickshaw travelling in the dark through pot holed streets and I felt like my relationship to gravity was very tentative.
Random thought that I woke up with...blame the terrible hangover if you want..but
I wish I could leash my restlessness to the goal post of reality and stay put.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

The sanctity of things

Watching women do the Aaarti to the Ganga is a humbling experience.It's that little bit of Hinduism that is still holding on to a past where our ancestors worshipped the forces of nature, to whom it even occured that a river is sacred .
What has happened to the Ganga at Varanasi or elsewhere is an ancient form of corporatization of worship.
In Anoopshahr , it is still only the locals who walk down from their homes and pray to the river, the water is still clean and being on the only boat in the gorgeous sugarcane juice like water is a spiritual experience with the soothing rhythm of the oars and the water.
IT's my favourite thing to do here.
 ''To divide anything into what should be and what is, is the most deceptive way of dealing with life.'' Jiddu Krishnamurthi
that's a thought i am thinking about now.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Vodafone can reach a forgotten corner of Uttar Pradesh , why can't development is a question I have had about development for a long time.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Government schools





I went into a government school today and announced to the teacher that I am a journalist.He looked as if he would have a heart attack.He quickly opened and shut registers while explaining to me details on enrolment, attendance and staff. He said 50 students are present out of 57- I got up and went into the class to count. I first clicked candid pictures and then he came and yelled at the kids as seen.Here’s what I saw – in the school and later in the village.

The mid day meal is a huge success in luring kids to school. After the meal, they all run back home.
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Monday, March 08, 2010

All you ladies..



A structured discrimination system against women has taken thousands of years to become a rigid tradition. It takes many generations to plant a belief in ourselves and our ability to live a beautiful life and nurture the seed within our hearts before it can take root in society.


For those of us who are free to do as we please, picking out a day to call ours may not seem as relevant .However , I embrace this day in solidarity with the men and women who are striving for  a better world and those who are bearing the brunt of the harsh unequal world, Happy Women's day.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Chai Vai, photo voto , kite shite

I’ve told all the bleak bleak stories about being here but then actually 99% of the time I am actually just laughing a lot and being offered a lot of great food so I have to represent that here. 
Marie and I went to Shika’s house yesterday. Shika teaches English at the school as does her older brother. It’s this beautiful many storeyed house from the roof of which the view is very Welcome to Sajjanpuresque.
She offered us many plates filled with homemade namkeen – bhujiya and all types of yummmmmy fried dals and gujiyas which is this holi sweet I’ve discovered. We then (tried to) fly kites.
Her cousin from Delhi was there too and soon we were all chatting like chaddi pals. All of us girls – one each from Anoopshahr ,Delhi , Bangalore and Washington DC. There was this point when our conversation was exclusively about skinny jeans, wide leg jeans and fat! Sometimes, girly talk is so universal.

Today we went to three villages for collecting information for making profiles of all the students. We drank like THIRTY buckets of chai and eat lots of samosas and sweets and whatnots. Also crossed a ravine of mean looking but mostly just lazy buffaloes . Fun happened .

The national livelihood guarantee Scam.

9 out of every ten persons I ask about the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act have never heard of it. I have extensively toured about five villages now. So far , I have seen one advertisement for it. And I met one man who has heard of it.

Pota is a village that is a five hour ride from where our pals Manmohan, Chidu and the rest have their office. X used to work as a tailor in a garment factory in Delhi making a small salary he sent home to his three daughters and two sons. The factory shut down after heavy losses incurred during the recession because of a cut in export orders. He says ‘’ Ofcourse I have heard of it but the rich people have more money than me and so more power. How can I get a job card?’’

That is the exact translation of what he said.

Apparently, people who are close to the Pradhan get themselves job cards and use these cards to get employment for their SERVANTS who slave away only to have their income taken by their rich masters. Also , he said that the Pradhan was an illiterate woman (‘’bichari , woh unpad hain’’) who had benefited from the reservation for women – again a well intentioned act. However her husband and all the men her husband was scared of made all the important decisions.
Do we notice how one string of corruption carefully winds itself around another till all we can see is
a tangled impenetrable mess of strings?
He said it is no point questioning this system and went on to say that in the government school the parents had already been told that half the food rations meant to be used for the mid day meal program were sold and that the parents should not complain.

Friday, March 05, 2010


It is so important to have an imagination assistant when you are a village girl who has never seen a woman do anything other than to aim to get married and have children 
and look after the house.  
Photos of Medha Patkar , Indra Nooyi and the others are hung on the walls throughout this school. Yet it's always a case of 'unki baat alag hain'. 'Their case is different.'
Perhaps it will take generations. If a girl from here finishes class ten , hopefully her daughter will graduate from college . Social context is so important it can sound exaggerated to an outsider.
I just cannot imagine that an 8 year old girl has to wake up at 4 AM , finish her chores attend school adn return to the same routine in the evening in a dark one room house shared with five brothers, her mother and the usually absent migrant labourer father slaving away with his bare hands to build a mall in some distant city.
The entire village has no electricity . The animals live inside the houses of the families more often than not.
Within such a context, for her to be able to pronounce an English word takes so much courage , let alone intellectually questioning the deep rooted boundaries of caste, class, gender , and an 'aukaad' accumulated over generations of power games.