Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Delhi diary

Jhola look always in, colonies- not apartments ,maggi sold at the local chaiwalla,metro,queue to get into the metro,being able to order rocket leaves on pizza,
cheap sexy clothes,free Hair like events,wide roads.
aggression,commonwealth rights violations.

Paying girls to stay in school

Sam (Virendra Singh) retired as one of the top bosses at DuPont. But instead of settling down in a shiny happy American suburb, he returned to Anoopshahr, a small village in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr district, to start a girl's school that pays girls to stay in school.  

"I never did social work in my life. I was born in a feudal family and did 'macho' work all my life," says the septuagenarian founder of the Pardada Pardadi vocational school for girls.  

After 35 years in America, Sam realised he was never one of them; he was always conscious of his identity as an Indian.  

In 1984, Sam was in charge of DuPont's Virginia plant. When the Bhopal gas tragedy happened, he had the uneasy feeling that his employers would trust him less as manager of a chemical plant because he was Indian. He couldn't deal with the India that was portrayed in the West -- poor and underdeveloped. He wanted to transform that sense of shame into something productive.  

So when it was time to retire, Sam knew he wanted to go back to the village where, for generations, the women in his family weren't important enough to be mentioned in the family tree; they were invisible wombs to bring male heirs into the family. 

The literacy rate for women in rural Uttar Pradesh is 43%. In a strongly patriarchal society there is little incentive to send girls to school and, in 2000, when Sam started Pardada Pardadi, many girls were marrying at the young age of 13.   More here.

Monday, April 26, 2010


is a single principle, Capitalism, and teaches that the believer's goal is to transcend the limitations of human rights norms and realize capitalism's superiority over humanity.

What makes Vedanta symptomatic of mining and bigcorporate malpractices?
Vedanta is one of the worst companies I have come across but what's most shocking is that it's happening in the 21st century. This company is misleading the world with its incredible PR campaign. It is making people believe it wants to do good for the people, that it will build a university etc, but this is all fiction. Here's just one example of the kind of things they have been doing. In Bandhaguda, a place very close to their [alumina] refinery, in 2002, the company told the village that they would build a factory, give employment to everyone, displacing only one village. They have already displaced four, and I have been told that they promised one lakh rupees to those who had land titles (as you know, very few have land deeds, especially tribals) and Rs 50,000 per acre to those who had no titles in exchange for their rights, and worse, Rs 1,000 to those willing to give up their houses. One thousand rupees! That's just over $20! It's shocking. And of course they haven't given them jobs. I think there are some 57 foreigners who are running this refinery. So, in 2003, when the people in this village saw that the company had started cutting down the forests way beyond the declared area, and that all the promises made were false, they decided to demonstrate outside the construction site. About 400 people gathered — men, women and children. The police jailed all the men for seven days. When they were released, they were told they had become outcaste and needed to go to Puri to pray and redeem themselves at Lord Jagannath's temple. The state police were used alongside Vedanta company goons to forcibly take them to Puri, while they built the refinery wall. In violation of customary law, their ancestral graveyard was destroyed and the area illegally enclosed in the Vedanta compound. This meant the people could no longer go to pray. This is a serious human rights violation, and it is extraordinary that all this was done in collusion with the police and the Orissa state. All the documents I have show the collusion between the state and Vedanta. When I arrived at the Biju Patnaik airport in Bhubaneswar, I was struck by a billboard that said "Mining happiness for the people of Orissa". What a cruel irony. The aluminium refinery has brought nothing but misery, disease and impoverishment to the communities in the area, and if Vedanta's bauxite project is allowed to go ahead, it will endanger the very survival of the Kondhs.

More here.
I must link my friend's excellent piece on Vedanta here.

You might also like this.

Delhi Free

We went for an animal rights protest where Delhi of a certain kind turned up in Fab India pyjamas to protest the killing of stray dogs for Delhi's beloved Commonwealth games.
The goal apparently is to make dog free.(Dust free, pollution free , germ free , hunger free, DOG FREE?BEGGAR FREE?who does Sheila think she is- Jesus Christ?)
While a lot of the protest was taking indirect jibes at the commonwealth by alluding to how animals are our common wealth and talking about how all our (Hindu) Gods have
animals for transportation.Thankfully , Vinod Mehta came and stated the clear goal of the protest- against killing of strays.I am an animal fanatic who can tolerate leather, meat etc but the needless inhumane killing of sweet , lovely stray dogs? Don't give me arguments about how they are a menace.We are just sharing the world with them and have no right to kill them. Period..
Jaya Jaitley came and made some sense - she spoke about how we want to break perfectly okay pavements to build new ones to impress goras who will probably never
walk on it in the two week duration of the commonwealth games.India is not a sanitized country and it will never be , she said and asked why we should try to impress our colonizers and prove to them we are just like them after which she apologized for being political.
Yesterday , Marie and I won one of our first battles ( we've had many in the past few weeks). So, we booked tickets to watch Date Night at Select Citywalk. Since it is close to where I live, I spend an unhealthy amount of time there - I confess despite the risk of being labelled a mall rat.
We prebooked tickets . (500 for both of us- 5 summery skirts at Sarojini Nagar) When we reached tlhere, the guard said the mall was shut because of an internal problem.
Not satisfied with his answer, I asked him five times if there is a bomb and finally he admitted there are four.
Predictably, it turned out to be a hoax. When we came later in the evening, they refused to refund our tickets saying that they hadn't got approval from the corporate office  and that they could only refund it the next day.I bet they were hoping that no one would turn up to refund their tickets the next day.
We talked to like ten people before finally convincing the manager to refund us. I acted jetsetty and lied that I have an early morning flight out of Delhi.
So, yeah , we won.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Happy Hours

I know that is impratical to be humane when India is shining and there is a spirit of progress in the air, in a pub at Khan Market that has Happy Hours till 10 PM on a Saturday Night.
It is a bit like being a spoil sport no? IT is as if your best friend had to choose to die of cancer just when you started dating a hot rich guy with a lamborghini.
Arundhati Roy has her bullshit moments but her writing breaks up our careful layers of pretensions for me so beautifully. I just finished reading the whole of her famous essay about the ''maoist infestation'' .
I will not be academic or even factual.That is not my strength right now.
I will just try and tell a story that I invented in my head. I will try to be helpless against the the state.
Because, the first time I realised that we ( of the blogspot class) can expect anything from the state was when a Sri Lankan friend told me their state schools were excellent and free unlike ours.
You and I probably live in a house in Bombay or Bangalore or any other citadel of flickering shimmer.Any city, in any case which has supermarkets that stock deodarants or where you can get Instant Sicilian pasta sauce.
Let us say that in our apartments, the electricity fails. The bill however arrives as predictably as being burnt on a summer afternoon spent shopping for cheap export rejects in Delhi.
You can choose to not pay the bill which didn’t light up your life, you say. Remember that the Collector Sahib , friend of Chief Justice will hack your head off .
Candle lit dinners are it then.
Supermarkets open on even months for three days. Corporate employees get preference over journalists and by the time it is your turn ,most of the products are sold and you go back home with a packet of haldi , an overpriced can of Chinese stir fry sauce and a bag of jowar which by the way you don’t know how to cook.
Your job as a newspaper reporter hasn’t paid you in three months because the Minister for purification is hunting down the intellectuals and he shut the newspaper offices down so that no body will know.
The plumbing system collapses and you use your toilet to store stolen food.
You are forced to shit on the streets, your bum bared to the collector’s daughters smooth stilletoed legs.
The stench is all pervasive, it piles on top of fresh piles , sashays around your dirty stinking laundry and returns to your morning jowar dosa (or something like it) with a smirk.
You tried to complain to the Plumbing Authorities but they said that when their CEO was having a heart attack and needed medical care, all you could think of was a toilet to crap in.
They raped your sister in anger.
You’d really just like some cheese toast. There is a block of mouldy non blue amul cheese in the fridge and the cows died of an epidemic. Your brother gets prefential treatment because he is older so he eats most of the cheese.You get to eat as much as the amount of ointment needed for your pinky finger.
Imagine that your mother , grandmother, great grandmother and her mother lived this way.
Multiply the hardships and the helplessness by the biggest number you know.Add random acts of injustice liberally like balsamic vinegar in your salad.Build walls where there are questions. Clog holes with bombs that go off at the smell of rebellion.
Kill thought. Recruit compliance. Impose cultures. Flush ancestral heritage and place a steel plant.

Are you going to ask me what the point of this was? Nothing. I just wanted to break your world
a little bit. Break my world. To imagine what it takes for the poorest of the poor to be lured by a violent war against a shining new foetal super power . That's all.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

NREGA: Non existent in Uttar Pradesh

I wrote this in March but didn't have some information then so here is the post preceding this one.

I went to meet the Pradhan of Garhera again today. He told me that the ones with the job cards had left. There was one man there who claimed to have a job card.
Me: So you have a job card?
Him: Yes madam
Me: What work have you got in 2010.
Him:Whatever the Pradhan asks me to do .
Me: I mean to ask what projects under the NREGA scheme meant to improve infrastructure for the village have you worked for?
Him:Made toilets and other projects
Me:what other projects?
Him:Woheee madam
I asked him to show me his job card. He said his house was far away. I said that we had a car and we would take him in our car. Then he said he was working for the Pradhan fixing things in his house.
There is no budget for the NREGA for this village according to the Pradhan.Also, remember no one wants a job card because everyone is high caste. According to this 20 households in Garhara are registered job card holders.In the year 2008-09, the budget allocated was 1,72,000 Rupees out of which 50,000 Rupees is recorded as officially having been spent. 72953 people in the Bulandhahr district are registered under NREGA according to In 2008-09 , 5000 Rupees was spent on paying five workers for ten days of work each .
He however showed me one example of a job card in which no entry was made for any work done or money received supposedly because the man who owned the job card did not want to open a bank account.

A visit to a 'Below Poverty Line household'.




And then there are people who are 'above poverty line', but cannot afford three meals a day. Very few people have below poverty line cards and roughly 85% of them own land, a television , have an electricity connection and live in pucca houses.
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Y and the art of cooking...

Cooking is an art that has evaded me for 22 odd years. When I tried, the vegetables weren’t cooked enough or it was too salty. The idea that I could convert raw material like pungent hing , red lentils or green chilies into edible substances of favourable consistency seemed magical to me.

Except when I learnt. Most human beings have the luxury of a slow progress into cooking. The first time I cooked was when I had to entertain about twenty foreigners keen to try Indian food.

Scary, right ? It gets worse.

I was looking for a beautiful place to live free in and do some work in exchange. I wrote to an eco village in Scotland. The Dutch lady who ran it had an Indian husband .She wrote back enthusiastically saying that I was welcome ‘’especially if I could prepare lovely Indian meals’’ .

I agreed. After all, I had occasionally cooked dal under heavily supervised situations. However, when I arrived I realized here is a woman who can pronounce ‘Dosha’ properly and someone who has yelled at the unsuspecting Bangladeshis running an Indian restaurant in Aberfeldy, the closest town.
As we all know, British food that is actually food basically consists of falafel, pizza and curry. Curry being a generic term for all Indian food ranging from Biryani to Utthappam. Every British town has the ubiquitous Indian restaurant. Recently, a Turkish man living in England wrote to me asking which places in my opinion are the best to research a representative version of Indian food. HE plans to open an Indian restaurant .
Anyhow, my turn to cook arrives. My partner is a British girl , aged 27, who has assisted child births in Africa and has had the babies named after her..When it came to Indian food though..She was pretty clue less. She could only help in chopping tomatoes..
I had enough time to call India and get exact instructions to make egg curry and peas pulao, the best I could manage in the forty minutes assigned to me.

At that time, making a gravy was the scariest thing in the world. I didn’t even have pureed tomatoes and I was too ‘ghati’ to know that tinned tomatoes worked as well.I didn’t know that chopped tomatoes could evolve into gravy. Clearly, blanching was as new to me as neurology will always be.

Anyhow, I managed to make enough gravy to mildly coat each boiled egg and still have some extra left.
The peas pulao wasn’t intensely flavourful or anything but that’s because the basmati in Britain ,
well, sucks..

Anyhow, most people such as the Italian who makes brilliant pizza appreciate my food with a little more than just politeness in their heart. M, who ran the place though didn’t really seem to think I was a gourmet chef . She even later refried the rice and spiced it up.
How does one estimate spice for an audience that believes roclet is spicy and achar is the same as weapons of mass destruction?

I had another chance though. When I managed along with C to make a fragrant coconut based curry, mildly spiced dal and rice..and then my cooking confidence grew enough to start a food blog only to abandon I decided to repost the lone post on dear zteky.





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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Indians not allowed ...Madam

Marie and I reach Rishikesh after a nauseating but beautiful ride through the mountains overlooking the gorgeous emerald of the Ganga. We spot a couple of signboards for cottages and guest houses that we recognized from the guidebook as cheap places to stay. Marie waits downhill as I carry myself and my yellow bitchsack  of a handbag up the hill to EVERY single guest house there was.

At the first, called New Bhandari Swiss Cottage , if you please, I ask for a room and they take one look at me and say ' No rooms'. I walk up to the next one called 'New Swiss Cottage'. They refuse me.

I go to Mama guest house where a sweet Nepali waiter guides me to meet the Mama who he says will show me the room. When I meet Mama, she takes one look at me and says there are no rooms.

I can see that half their rooms are vacant. Discouraged, I walk on anyway and try THREE other places and I am refused everywhere. In my head, I am sure it is because I am Indian. I went back downhill and asked Marie to go try.


So, she goes up to the first place, New Bhandari ''Swiss Cottage'' and gets shown a room immediately.

I am so angry and humiliated by this point that  all I am thinking of is wanting to ''fuck their happiness''. So we go and check in anyway because of the lack of options.


At the reception the guy is kind of shocked to see me again with Marie and refuses to meet my eye.  I ask the guy why he lied to me about there being no vacant rooms. He tells me that Indians are not allowed. I told him that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of nationality. He says that according to rules, he cannot take in Indians (Presumably, he allowed me because a) If I am the friend of a white person, I am safe? b) He just felt awkward about throwing me out  and risked losing Marie as a potential customer.

I continue to argue with him when he finally says ''Madam , since you insist so much , I have to tell you that these guys come from Delhi and disturb the Goras- the goras hate them.'

I am somewhat flattered to think that he believed that I had as much power as a ''bunch of guys'' from Delhi but seriously, why would I a young woman alone be a threat to his stupid Swiss cottage?


How can we be treated like this in our own country? Over breakfast , I tried to rationalize it wondering if those people from Delhi he talked about really caused havoc. But then, you can't generalize and I am still really angry and humiliated. What was the right way to respond? Just say that I didn't want the room or insist on my right to stay.

Blessings : On sale

Yesterday we went to see the Mansa Devi temple.She is a wish fulfilling godess and my wishful mind wanted to give this a shot. The cable cars weren't working and we had to make our way up the hill by foot in the bitchy heat and through the harsh ruthless landscape of bare grey decidous trees sometmes occupied by black face langurs sitting like fashionable ladies.
Marie was really confident about making it up but me after my greasy chowmein had no energy. Just when I felt I would die of dehydration, a guy stopped and offered both of us a lift on his bike.One wish fulfilled so far.
Anyway so we made our way up and while getting off , I burnt my legon his exhaust pipe thing (what is that long silver thing called) so much so that I have a huge burnt patch on my leg that makes me look like I am in an abusive relationship. Ok , I will not romanticize my life further.
We entered the temple and came to what looked like a covered slab . A priest grabbed me by the head , put tikka on my forehead and pushed me away doing the same to Marie. After we moved on , he pulled us back shouting at us for not having made a donation. He literally grabbed me by the hand and demanded money so I meekly placed a ten ruppee note on the slab. At the next deity, the same happened and by this point I was practically screaming in anger and at no one in particular about how they are begging.
This is the worst experience I have ever had at any religious place.
I like going to religious places because I am always overwhelmed by the positive energy, the faith , the sense of surrender. I like to linger in this , to try and meditate .A thinks that I am stealing from the place if I don't participate in some way.  I don't really consider myself religious. The Golden Temple is the only religious place I have been to that is both extremely famous and not commercial.  . This poem by Larkin captures what  I am talking about well.
I will post about that soon.
In the evening I had a huge craving for maggi so I decided to cook it in the kitchen of the Ashram we are staying in . Awkward is too gentle a word to describe the girl in a purple dress (with jeans below for modesty) making maggi among Holy men eating their Saathvik food. I was really worried that they might find my maggi impure and come yell at me but they were really nice to me.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Once every twelve years...

the Maha Kumbh Mela happens at Haridwar and we are here for it. The Ganga Aarthi ceremony yesterday the the Hari ki pairi (Vishnu's foot print) ghat was a celebration of the faith of thousands silently harnessed by flames paying homage to the river. It really seemed to me an amazing system of organization till when the aarthi was over and all he pilgrims fought and pushed to be blessed by the flames. We just stood there in the corner trying to get photos and waited for the stampede of sorts to subside.
From Varanasi we had to make a stop at Delhi because we didn't get direct tickets to Haridwar so I had to willingly suspend disgust during the 15 hour delayed journey on the filthy train to Delhi, I drowned out the smell of sweat and raw onion with mushy hindi songs on my ipod. Despite how snobbish I sound in that sentence, I am actually comfortably in love with travelling Sleeper Class nowadays. Also , when I was a child, I did that a LOT when Indian railways had green berths and yellow lights.
We reached Delhi looking like tramps and waltzed into the Saravana Bhavan at CP. After 40 days, of endless aloo gobi and roti, I had a sublimely spiritual exprience eating idly sambar and drinking the heavenly filter coffee.
Ok back to Haridwar now..the Ganga here is cold, fast flowing and much cleaner than at Varanasi where it is thick , tepid and shining with fecal possibilities.The moment we arrived at the main ghat,  a man in a white kurta and pyjama with kumkum on his forehead approached us with a lecture on the significance of the ghat. We were at the spot where amrut accidentally spilled into the water and was the holiest spot in haridwar, according to  him. While I am always open to trapping free information , this guy started telling Marie that she should learn something instead of taking pictures and acting like a foriegner. By this he meant , we should pay him to do a ganga puja for us.
We had been there five minutes and had already met someone Lonely Planet warned us about. Anyway, we just ignored him and went to a quiet corner where there were no pilgrims and dipped our feet in the icy refreshing water.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Mankarnika nightmares

We have been staying at the horrid Shanti Guest house on the Mankarnika ghat - the main and most auspcious burning ghat for the Hindus. Yesterday, we were lost as usual and we ended up at the ghat up close and personal with the funeral pyres. It turned out that we had to cross them to get to our next destination. (Our hotel is not at the ghat, but near it).
It was dark except the blazing fires of the burning dead. I somehow felt so troubled being so close to it all that I couldn't sleep at night and kept having nightmares featuring Mankarnika. The name sounds so evil somehow.
Otherwise, it's been lovely here . We've been hogging yummy cheese at the excellent Brown Bread Bakery like silly tourists, doing Yoga and going to the temples.
The main Vishwanath temple to which Marie isn't allowed because of reasons of terrorism and Hinduism was architecturally spectacular with a golden gopuram.
The King of Punjab commissioned the construction of both the Golden Temple in  Amritsar and this temple so there are some similarities. However the street leading up to the temple and the temple itself feel like a war zone completely stripped of the spirituality and the sanctity that temples have. There are gun men everywhere even inside the main temple where the Shiv Lingam is. Obviously it is very crowded, and cops are pushing you around and old men behind you in line are holding on to your waist so that they don't fall in the stampede.
Just walking along the ghats , with ancient buildings in the foreground, people watching while drinking chai and navigatiing the quaint narrow alley ways of the old town
foraging for silver jewellery,hot  palak pakodas and beautiful photographs are some of the things I like about Varanasi.
Off to Sarnath today.