Monday, September 19, 2011
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Thursday, September 01, 2011
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
A book launch was simultaneously satire of the consumer world and star studded with Shahrukh's presence
The impression I got was that if I had to get your attention, I should start with speaking about Shahrukh Khan and his explanation for having said "I am the best." He said that only because he had an inferiority complex, apparently -- he didn't feel that he was good enough. People clawed at him for autographing the book, followed him till they reached the hemlines of the backstage curtains through which he disappeared leaving a vacuum of disappointed children, ladies and gentleman. A small girl dressed in a ghaghra choli for the special occasion jumped up and down, smiling.
Since very few book launches these days are complete without the Bollywood presence, IIPM dean Arindam Chaudhuri and his wife Rajita Chaudhuri invited Shahrukh Khan for the launch of their book Thorns to Competition about marketing strategies.
The lights were dimmed and a cardboard cactus (with one of the cactus stems deliberately revealing a middle finger) was surrounded by flickering blue lights. Shahrukh Khan arrived two hours late and pressed the remote control and out of this garish set up, the book burst forth along with jhink jhack music (that was played before the arrival of every important speaker).
Thorns is an acronym (Khan called it a pseudonym) but we come to that later. We knew that the modern marketplace is a war zone but we pretty much had to keep our satirical glasses on throughout the show.
Arindam Chaudhuri enters stage after the music aided anticipation. "This book is one of the best books, I believe," he says. Chaudhuri talked about how he kept gifting his father expensive watches, but his father insisted on wearing his old watch from high school, much to his son's exasperation. It was a problem with his father's generation. They didn't warm up to the consumer economy as well as we do. "They judged people by what they knew and what they learnt. Marketing teaches you to forget a person's worth. He appreciated things like music, art, literature etc," he said. Apparently, the more you read, the more you want to read, the more you listen to music, the more you want to listen. Now, that's increasing marginal utility. Before you switch off, an explanation will be offered.
Usually it is the generation that is in its teens and twenties that is criticized for its 140 character arguments, its Facebook status relationship breakups, the works. Arindam Chaudhuri superimposes a neat economic theory on all these varied life experiences. The law of diminishing marginal utility. The more you have something the less you want it. But at the same time, you don't want the old watch anymore, but you want the new one.
Just as you buy phone 4560, a radio host tells you phone 4560 is out and 4670 is in. "A satisfied customer is the marketing man's worst nightmare," said Chaudhuri.
Meanwhile, in the room with blue lights, cameramen were fidgety. When was Shahrukh Khan, sitting in the front row going to step on stage and do camera worthy things?
When he finally did, they screamed to the organizers. "Lights, lights, lights"
Shahrukh gave thorns to competition we were told. He endorsed women's products, he was the first star to accept a negative role in Darr (1993) and by the way, he has been "chatting with Lady Gaga and is doing a song with her." It's a marketing thing, he says. "We want to exchange audiences."
Khan was impeccable in his role for the night as the humble, saying Namaste to the old ladies and gentlemen invited to stage super star. He came across at least as humble and a little unsure.
He could be a dilliwalla, he insisted, even though he kept on his best theatre accent in Mumbai. "When I was struggling in Bollywood I wanted to hit many people hard. I can be a dilliwallah and talk like (insert Haryanvi accented expletives). Loud cheers erupt from the audience that had till then held on to every word he spoke in a quiet, contained rapture.
Monday, August 29, 2011
Here were people who had come with anger, with hope and with expectation. They were angry because they had taken the daily frustrations of living in this country as a given. That you have to pay a bribe to get a ration card, that state subsidized food is sold at high prices, that you have to pay to get into medical college, that people who worked less hard could pay their way into medical college. They had laughed it away. It happens only in India.
Suddenly, here was a man who assured them that it was alright to be angry. A man who allowed them to be angry. A quote I read recently makes sense in this context :
“If you don’t have self-esteem, you will hesitate to do anything in your life. You will hesitate to report a rape. You will hesitate to defend yourself when you are discriminated against because of your race, your sexuality, your size, your gender. You will hesitate to vote; you will hesitate to dream. For us to have self-esteem is truly an act of revolution, and our revolution is long overdue.”— Margaret Cho
Anna Hazare gave them this self-esteem. The people were angry and they were hopeful. “What makes you think the Jan Lokpal bill, just another piece of legislation, just like the others we have, will change this country?,” I asked all the 80 odd people I spoke to. The answers were varied and colourful but in essence – there were two types.
Type one: “This is Anna’s bill, not the government bill.”
Type two: “No problem can disappear completely. At least 70% corruption will go.”
Anna is the icon, the go-to God, the sacrosanct Krishna they have waited for. Santosh Chaudhury, a farmer from Darbhanga in his thirties, believes Anna has returned as an incarnation of Krishna. A follower of Baba Ramdev, he has been coming since April. “Yada yada hi dharmasya… glanirbhavati bharata…,” he quotes with great flourish. (Roughly, when there is too much sin in the world, Krishna will return to save it.)
Faith and religion were magnetic words that drew people by the thousands, and it buoyed the other important word—patriotism. Inquilab Zindabad (Glory to the revolution) was at best a quaint phrase reserved for Hindi movies or smaller, less televised revolutions. But at Ground Zero, Hazare, farmers, college students, middle class, lower middle class, wealthy designer wear clad men ,women and school children were chanting it together.
People were thirsty for a revolution.
People like myself – people from the middle and lower middle class had studied Gandhi in History class. They had seen Bollywood films in which heroes fall down and surrender to the police/to a higher power for the country. Where people die for the country to be glorified forever. They cheered to songs from Lagaan, Swades and Rang De Basanti.
People had expectations too. They expected to be heard. They had seen it all play out on TV. TV was finally talking about them. Their day to day problems – not being issued a ration card, etc were getting a sounding board in the national media. All you had to do was walk around with a notebook. (There is also the subtle class marker which identifies you as a journalist.) People came to you and said, this is me, I am from here, I came from there and I am angry with the government, they haven’t done a damn thing right. Shaheen waited three years to enter medical school because of corruption. An 85-year old man from Punjab had seen the British go, the world around him transform and he was deeply disappointed. Twenty two year old Suraj from Allahbad didn’t want to pay to get a government job.
Arvind Kejriwal, meanwhile, is the young hero and hero for the young. He tells the audience how the Government was trying to deny them their rights, how it played games and was trying to force Team Hazare to surrender. The scenes from those inspiring movies replayed in audiences’ minds when Kejriwal spoke.
“Doston, yeh sarkaar hamse kehti hai ki…(Friends, this government tells us that)…,” is the way he starts every line while telling the crowd about the discussions with the government. “Kya ham yeh maan lein…? (Can we accept this?),” he asks like a seasoned political campaigner and a collective ‘nahi’ is followed by another round of “Inquilab Zindabad.”
He then tells them how the government mistreated the Anna’s representatives. The fuse had been lit. Ministers Pranab Mukherjee and Salman Khursheed know the rest. The media rounded them up on behalf of the crowd at Ramlila Maidan.
The crowd at Ramlila Maidan came to you and asked you to write down its story. In front of the Prime Minister’s house, when the all party meeting was happening, a meeting in which talks would fail, a few protestors managed to sneak in. Roads had been blocked for atleast 4 kilometres around the residence. Only the media was allowed. The media had set up camp, with a row of black obedient tripods focussed on the white house. Nothing happened for a while. Vilasrao Deshmukh zipped by the car and the journalists awoke like birds fluttering at a stone.
Finally, a group of women and one or two men came in sloganeering. An alert camera man said to one of the women, “Madam, idhar hi kar lejiye,” Madam, please protest right here – where I have set up.
The women, the men they performed for the camera. The politicians were inside talking politics. Some of them slipped away. One man fell on the ground and said Vande Mataram many times even as the police dragged him away in the police van, to drop him off at Ramlila Maidan, the legal site for protest.
Images from Tehelka.
Some of this material has been used in my stories in Tehelka.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
I had in 2008 was so surreal. It was with a woman who had sold her kidneys for
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Friday, May 06, 2011
Sunday, May 01, 2011
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Most of us grew up on Maggi Noodles. We have many fond memories associated with it. In childhood, it was cold, comforting and in tiffin boxes. In boarding school, it was floating in spicy chilli garlic paste and was made in an improvised hot water from the tap way, not to mention eaten slyly without the feared House parent noticing. Now it is dinner after a long day at work, when your brain has been omleteered by the nitty gritties of commas..
In the late nineties, something very frustrating happened. Maggi Noodles had what they thought was a bright idea and changed flavours. My beloved Maggi Masala Noodles didn't taste the same for the next few years and I wondered why they would commit such a marketing disaster.
I was, even by then, used to brands responding with eager quickness to customer tastes and problems.
I am reading a book called Niche by social forecaster James Harkin. Largely, it talks about how our appetite for broad concepts (Super market, a "family movie" ) has vanished. How in this world, we cannot be all things to all people.
So, coming back to the question of Maggi and how it didn't respond to consumer needs, it makes me realise how our habits are always under scrutiny by larger forces. Data companies now have systems that process complex data about how we eat, think, shop and behave . One such system in the UK is Mosaic which maps people street by street house by house twice a year. At the end , it takes 21 million bits of data and divides it into 155 kind of people, 67 household types and 15 social categories.
This helps political parties and companies understand the way we think and the way we buy and in turn they respond with their marketing / election strategies to lubricate the course of consumerism.
Coming back to Maggi Noodles, in the early 2000s I think, the packet said 'Your favourite is back' and I jumped. Those long forgotten Maggi Masala tastes of my childhood were finally available again. I despised Maggi for having such a bad marketing department, one that took years to get rid of a flavour that no one likes. I expected them, in other words, at the age of 14 to have surveyed our private instant noodle eating habits.
And yet, it is disturbing this idea. A store like Westside entered India in the early 2000s. They had an audience in mind- women looking for practical, generic clothes. They had the typical 'ethnic' prints on Kurtas with a neckline sized spot of originality. They had plain Tshirts that every girl who had too much self respect to wear bling would buy. But now, the practical generic idea is a Westside person.
The definition deletes all the nuances the idea originally began with. Tide, the detergent in the UK has many many versions that play on ideas of Freshness, April, Spring, Clean etc. They are all essentially the same product dealing with the "image" of what people want to be.
The image, one feels, dominates everything in a world where you can manufacture it, and you are also encouraged to by buying a product that is associated with an image.
It is really a world of smoke and mirrors where it is impossible to separate image from substance.
I wonder sometimes with great fear indeed if politicians too are just images. Obama wrote a speech . ...aaaah next time but they are nooo
PS: there are soooo many ways to make Maggi. Most recent twist is to dunk in fresh parsley, coriander, chilli flakers and crushed garlic in the end.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Monday, April 18, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Monday, April 11, 2011
Edit: I am home, and I ate instant noodles.
Thursday, April 07, 2011
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
Sunday, April 03, 2011
Real life is so difficult after Planet Romeo.
Saturday, April 02, 2011
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
The last time I went to a toy store, before yesterday, was at Walden in Hyderabad in about 1995. To me, it was the most fascinating store, one that stored all the wonders of my childhood, pretty pencil cases, coffee table books on parrots, Enid Blytons, later Sweet Valley and Agatha Christie and the other shit I read then. (Although, I never read Mills & Boon, was Cynical From The Begining Girl). The section I liked best was the toys section, I loved the board games. Cluedo was my favourite then and a little earlier in my childhood, I loved those baby sized blonde haired, blue eyed dolls (for the lack of brown skinned, brown eyed dolls which, after all these years, are still not available, commercially. Why?). I remember my parents gifting me one of those dolls that costed Rs.700, then a HUGE amount. I remained eternally grateful till my older brother took a Reynold's ball point pen and wrote Count of Dracula and drew skulls all over her pretty peachy face. Every girl who grows up with an older brother is secretly traumatized for life. Now, a toy car, costs Rs.20,000 - one way trip to Europe, man!
The toy stores at the Select City (et al malls) scandalized me and the mall itself inspires a continuous cynical, satirical commentary in my head. My friends would say its bitterness at my inability to afford everything there. But they know that there is never a co-relation between what I can afford and what I buy.
I am the real consumerism's love child. I digress.
When I was a child, I was always disappointed that toys didn't mimic real life. A doctor's trolley was never pink in real life. I was lucky enough to have a white one with aluminium foil lined instruments- a choice I made over the pink one. That has changed. Now, there are toy food cans, toy hair dryers, toy barbecue sets, picnic-in-the-park sets, shopping trolleys and they are different degrees of realistic, and marketed that way. Everything I would have liked to have as a child, but never could have imagined seeing in a toy shop.
Except and I must bring in the pedantic feminism here, the barbies. Yes, there is the software engineer barbie with the pink laptop, the TV journalist barbie with skin like she has no stressful job, but then there are the homie barbies which make me sick. They sit daintily skirted at the edge of chairs. One even had a comic dialogue think popping out of her blonde head saying "Oh no, Ken is late again." (So, I'll wait here prettily till he comes back.)
There are dolls that sneeze and need looking after with fake tissues, they say mama and they cry and I recently learned that there are breastfeeding dolls.
I wonder if it is an inane question to ask: by why are there no father dolls? Let's try offering some bizzare explanations. Men's instincts tell them to spread their seed, not to nurture its consequences so there is no need to tap into "paternal instinct". Little boys like guns, little girls want to be just like their mamas. I don't know, really, if it's too basic a question to ask, or even a question to ask.
If you are politically correct, animal loving, technology retarded, mildly respectful of women, persongoing into a toy shop is like jumping bang into a future where you'll instantly be regarded as uncool. Sample this: a hunting game that you plug to your TV to shoot deer. The ad says "Catch the best that Mother Nature has to offer."
It also has a disclaimer: mild violence and crude humour.
Then there's the toy shaver, with real foam and fake blades that can make little Rahul feel macho. Rs.499.
Then there are the alien space ships, battery operated, to be assembled by (8+) children, the complexity of which made the waistcoated hag fag and I shudder. Was the world overtaking our ability to comprehend it?
On one hand, toys are mimicking the real world's complexity in subjectively ''healthy'' ways. There are toys that harness wind energy to work a robot, toys that you can perform medical surgery on.I went to visit my niece in England sometime back and she had one of those. Five years old, she lived in a room that was entirely pink- bed, wardrobe, linen, frocks, tennis clothes everything. (The mother care store in Delhi said above the "girls clothes section"- "colours of the season and of course, pink." On the other hand, it worried me, the passiveness that is passively encouraged in young girls. At 5, she was already so self conscious and positively obsessed with how she looked. She wanted to use make up. (I still don't know how to.) Going to tennis class was not about the tennis class but about the image of it, the pink pants, the huggie goodbyes, the prospect of getting sweets after. I wonder if I am being harsh but obviously this is more a comment on the society she is in.
There is another friend of mine, Nathan, aged 4, who knew the Star Wars by heart and played fake gun games with a very bewildered me all summer, that year. I don't remember all those characters from the movies he constantly referred to but I remember he wouldn't let me be a leader because " I am a girl." :)
CQ's mother, being American feminist Wiccan and all this believed that boys should play with dolls and made sure her son did.
Will women fall in love with men who have played with dolls and are in touch with their feelings? Not women who have been conditioned to expect fake strength from a man,anyway, right?
So, it starts with toys, our first real playmates, who engineer this constructed conditioning of how we are supposed to be. MY parents mostly disapproved of Barbie dolls and my barbies came as gifts although they once agreed to buy me the "School Going Skipper", so I didn't die failing to look like one. But the point, is we need to seriously think about some basic things that go unquestioned about toys. Why is a toy guy,(Freudian slip..I meant toy gun), a toy?
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
The blackberry zoomed in and out. Bosom/legs/bosom/legs. We were watching a prelude to the Wills Lifestye India Fashion (WIFW) Week standing behind tall men. Young designers showed their work in front of judges which included designers Namrata Joshipura and Rohit Gandhi. The clothes alternated between banal, fabulously futuristic and even burqa inspired. (Shashank Singh said he was saddened by burqa bans in cruel Europe and is kindly making the burqa glamorous, yet practical.) Rohit Gandhi tittered away after telling us that
Aishwarya Rai could do with more of his clothes. (Read: Diplomacy on her fashion sense.) Namrata Joshipura told us about her upcoming collection at WIFW making us promise it's a Tehelka secret (one that's kept apparently) She was more scathing than her counterpart judge and begged to redress India's fashion grievance : Rakhi Sawant.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Saturday, March 12, 2011
overreacting? By the time someone reaches, he would have stopped and I'd have been home - I was thinking.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Saturday, March 05, 2011
I have a date with myself, as in I am on it right now looking out through glass walls at scyscrapers on Barakhamba road bathed in benevolent Spring sunshine. Ever since I stopped being a carefree college student , which is way back in 2007, I have accumulated a toxic collection of fantasies of things I want to do on weekends. Invariably, these fantasies only involve myself - as self obsessed as I am. One of these was to spend a whole day in a book store with no agenda at all. It would be a quaint book store with a cafe attached with me alternating between reading parts of random books and sitting on my laptop and drinking coffee. The funny thing is, in all these years I haven't done it even once so here I am at the Oxford Book Store at CP. (I am the sort of crazy person who will make such a long journey to do this.) Unfortunately, and predictable my photon isn't working so I don't anymore see the point my indulging my luxurious attempt with having two internet connections- one wifi and one photon given that I do such things once in four years.
There are more things like this such as going for picnics, having wine nights at home etc etc.
So yes, I am in the crowded midst of a book store that has an ongoing 80% off sale. The people behind me are covering that nowadays dreaded topic of who is getting married. I am sort of still in denial of the fact that people my age are old enough to get married It can't be, really.
Yesterday CQ tried calling me a feminist so I told him I am not. I found myself performing laproscopy on a light bulb recently. So, to put it more simply, I fixed a light bulb and felt proud about it. And then, I felt so ashamed that a twenty something woman should feel proud about achieving a normal thing such as fixing a light bulb. To be fair to me, the socket was reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaally high up so, yes, I was sort of performing laproscopy- I couldn't see what I was doing, only guess. The point is I wrote a long introspective mail that started with the light bulb and went to all sorts of topics. So there, that, according to CQ is what defines a feminist. Feeling proud of fixing a light bulb, then feeling ashamed and then writing an introspective piece about it.
Friday, March 04, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
A narrow road by Delhi’s Mehrauli jungle will lead you up the stairs into Raghu Rai’s haphazard office. Haphazard, till you enter the serenity of his room where white window panes frame an endless expanse of green. Uninterrupted by billboards, artificiality and performance. Much like his photographs, you think. Rai ,69, is dressed in a black t-shirt over which he wears a red woollen kaftan. Behind his desk hang some of the old portraits he has included in his new book The Indians- Portraits From My Album that explores the history of portraiture in India and includes iconic portraits by Rai and photographers like Raja Deen Dayal.
Rai had been a full time photo journalist for 12 years in the sixties and seventies. He documented the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, photographed Indira Gandhi and Mother Teresa among other people. There is no residue of the mad rush of journalism about him today. There is a gentleness and stillness to him which is perhaps what allows for his frame to be real and his subject free.
Talking to Rai will convince you that portraiture is half internal process, the photographer’s attitude and half the sharpening of intuition. (“You allow the supreme and the supernatural to enter you.” The digital revolution or the romantic magic of film are a mere backdrop to this relationship.
“Intutive moments come and disappear like a nudge People don’t notice,” he says, nudging the air gently, suddenly and beaming. To Rai, the portrait should capture the physical , mental and spiritual entirety of the person.“You have to be patient, you have to be sensitive, quick and yet gentle enough for the person to reveal.”
His image of Faiz Ahmed Faiz has that hazy poetic quality to it; his image of MS Subbulakshmi is infused with an other worldly intensity having caught her at an opportune musical crescendo. The photograph of former Pakistani president Zia Ul Haq is almost caricature like in its portrayal of tyranny. Now Zia was a man who intensely believed in himself and could enrapture anyone with his speeches. “Unlike a writer, As a photographer, you don’t listen at all; you just connect to the person’s energy.”
And sometimes even Raghu Rai uses tricks. Notice the stern look on Satyajit Ray’s face. It was taken when Rai told Ray he was leaving. As soon as the film maker turned around with that strong expression in his eyes, Rai was ready with camera to capture that moment.
Rai allows the subject to have a direct relationship with the camera, to be in his element. Photographer Dayanita Singh once said “photography is not the truth.” Suggest this to Rai and he bursts out laughing, dismissing it, insisting that it is too dramatic a statement for him. “I am nobody to make a truthful statement about somebody let them make their own statement,” he offers.
By now, the green outside glimmers in the cool February rain that will soon end winter. Peacocks and parakeets compete for stage space in the sky. Rai insists we stop talking about him and shifts attention to the first half of the book- portraits from 1855 to 1965.
“People say these old portraits or like other old portraits but that is not true”, he says, marvelling at the technical brilliance despite the pre digital age
This section , with a preface by Rai reveal the coloniser’s gaze on the early portraits that gradually transforming into subject’s revealing a self confidence and an aspiration for grandiosity over the years. The cold gaze of the men and women in Bourne and Sheperd’s pictures melts steadily into a warm presence in front of an Indian photographer.
The studio tricks- Raja Sawai Man Singh being blessed by gods, smoke denoting a family tree, individual portraits of the Maharajas of various Indian states superimposed against a palace in Jaipur with a digital precision, the works. One can also trace the strong influence of painting in the early works.
The long exposure time required at the time determined the mood of those photographs. “Everybody is like this (demonstrating an uptight look) with riveted eyes you know. You can hold your breath but all those emotions coming and going in your eyes intensifies your look,” says Rai. Rai’s new work picks up from there, to play with the past and expand it into the present, quite literally. The new series he is working on (the two colour pictures that are included are a “teaser”) plays with backdrops placed in the centre of the frame and “life” occupying its sides. He walks over to the window and picks up a print where women are posing in front of a scenic backdrop and outside it , there are various energies floating around, women at a handpump for example. It’s his way of including contemporary India into the template of the past.
Rai who uses digital as well as film is not one to be nostalgic about the past but to him the modern portrait is “fluent, quick but not so deep”. A fraction of a second is too little time to accommodate intensity and truth.
Photography has imbued a silence into Rai, an alertness and a seeking, not an intrusive seeking but a subtle, even playful one that will catch you unawares till you realise a picture is taken and a moment captured. His daughter calls and he says to her “baby, bacchu please don’t go out, you are still weak, but he is convinced by the end of the conversation to let her.
Rai is a follower of Guruji Maharaj but doesn’t call himself a spiritual person. It is like this, he tells you.
“Satyajit Ray’s early films had everything in them. When he started working out of his intellect, his films were better than ten others in Bombay but it didn’t have that extra spiritual magic, it had become planned. Unless the supernatural comes and plays a part and reveals itself, it is good and nice and informative. It is like the difference between making love and an intellectual orgasm.”
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
According to the police, the victim - who works as a caretaker at a house in the area - was sleeping alone when the accused, Sanjay Kumar, barged into her room. The accused is the victim's neighbour.
In November 2010, a 30-year-old call centre employee from Mizoram was allegedly abducted by five men, when she alighted at Dhaula Kuan. The woman was raped in a pick-up truck and then dumped in Mangolpuri. The police have arrested all five accused.
In February this year, a drunkard in the Dhaula Kuan area allegedly molested a 25-year-old woman who works at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in the wee hours.
Meanwhile, the police said that in the present case, the woman had been living with her elder sister for the last few years. "The accused accosted the woman and then tried to be friends with her. When she refused, he wanted to take revenge," said a police officer on condition of anonymity.
The police said that on the night of November 19, the accused sneaked into the house of the victim and allegedly first threatened her and then raped her. On hearing the commotion, the victim's elder sister came out of her room. After that, the accused tried to flee the spot.
The police said they have nabbed the accused.
In a similar incident, a jilted lover has been found harassing a woman in the Satya Niketan area. The accused Rahul, 22, went to the office of the 20-year-old woman who works as a receptionist and threatened her.
"On February 17, the accused went to her office and tried to forcibly take her along with him," said a police officer. "A police constable nearby saw the whole incident and came to the rescue of the woman."
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Forest official Sanjiv Chaturvedi has been transferred 12 times in the last five years. He has been threatened, booked under false cases, illegally suspended and charge sheeted by the Congress government in Haryana. His personal life has been destroyed. Chaturvedi lives all alone in a house with bare shelves and walls. The next transfer is always imminent.
In April 2007, Chaturvedi was the Divisional Forest Officer in Kurukshetra. He exposed officials who without required permissions from the Supreme Court violated the Forest Conservation Act and The Wildlife Protection Act in constructing the Hisar Kurukshetra Canal through the Saraswati Wildlife Sanctuary. At the time, the warden RD Jakati overruled him. Jakati is now the Director of the National Forest Academy. Chaturvedi however was warned by the Haryana government and subsequently transferred.
By the time the Wildlife Trust of India filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court's Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC), the court had no grounds of charging the accused because the forest had been denotified by then. The Haryana Government was let off with a Rs.4.5 crore fine that included private litigation fees.
In one of his postings at Fatehabad, the forest department was spending crores buying rare trees for a herbal park owned by the relatives of MLA Prahlad Singh Gillakhera, a powerful independent candidate close to Haryana's then forest minister Kiran Chaudhary. Chaturvedi halted the work only to receive a letter from the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest JK Rawat that stated Chaudhary's objections.
Someone from Gillakhera's office called Chaturvedi and threatened to "eliminate" him. Chaturvedi was suspended for indiscipline. He filed an RTI seeking reasons for suspension. The department refused stating that it will hamper investigation. The chief job description and the ticket to success in Haryana's forest department is to be blind to the gross environmental violations and to collectively cash in on the spoils. Chaturvedi consistently failed on both counts.
Chaturvedi appealed to the central government and finally his suspension was revoked. However, a fake FIR had been registered against him accusing him of criminal intimidation and stealing a Kachnar plant. Since then, to cover the illegality of the herbal park, it has been declared a protected forest. No one was punished except the man who exposed the crime.
Chaturvedi was kept without a posting for six months. In January 2008, he was finally posted as DFO at Jhajjar where he exposed a five crore rupees scam for fake plantations. He suspended nine forest officials and fired 40. Transfers and harassment followed.
Chaturvedi is an unassuming jovial man with no airs about him. His family says that he refused protection because it sends a signal out to the world that he is scared. He is matter of fact when he tells you that he cannot talk to the media because of his position in the government. He is today the Divisional Forest Officer for production in Haryana.
"What can I say on the phone, madam, I believe in karma. Whatever I have done, I have to pay the price for it and so does everyone else. My fight is an issue based one and it is futile if the process is not initiated against the guilty. Conviction is of course far away," he ends unwilling to continue the conversation.
The most important thing to him is "self accountability". He understands that external motivations are short lived. Yet, it is this awareness of self that drives him to fulfil his external obligation, to live up to what his role in the world expects of him.
To preserve the sanctity of Haryana's power corridors, its leaders decided to destroy Chaturvedi's personal life. His wife was convinced by unknown persons that he constantly sought transfers because he didn't want her staying with him. His in-laws were paid to slap a dowry
Since it is a non bailable offence, they thought they had hit a jackpot – one that could silence their only enemy.
In the next three years till the case reached closure and Chaturvedi won, his aged parents were traumatized by the legal battle. Simultaneously their son was moving from one obscure posting to another. For him, personally and professionally life was proving to be a nightmare. He divorced his wife and appealed to the central government.
Initially the central government wanted the state to respond on its own. Officials in the Haryana Forest Department would tell you that Haryana and Delhi are close especially when it comes to their shared vested interests. There is no explicit rule as to how the centre can intervene in this situation. As of January this year, President Pratibha Patil has called for the charge sheet against him to be quashed. This is the first such intervention by a president in independent India.
A two member probe panel investigated his case and recommended a CBI investigation. The Committee found strong evidence again former forest minister Kiran Chaudhary who recommended Chaturvedi's suspension.
The world we are living in is satisfied celebrating the quashing of the charge street. We triumph in having successfully protected the whistle blower even as the criminals he exposed are rapidly extracting more power and wealth from very crimes they committed.
Kiran Chaudhury has since been given the plush posting as the Cabinet Secretary of taxing and excise. Prahalad Singh Gillakhera has become the Chief Parliamentary Secretary. Chaturvedi plans to file a petition in the high court and Supreme Court. The battle isn't over anytime soon. The price is still being paid.
Part of this appeared in Tehelka magazine.