July 22, 2006

Minding our 'P's' and 'Q's'

I travel by the local trains in Bombay everyday, and it pains me to see how basic norms involving discipline and respect for co-passengers are flouted with ALARMING regularity. And the 'fairer, weaker' sex, certainly does not seem weak when one is a witness to their brand of cavalier behaviour.

There are two or three things that really irritate me.....

A) Scene One: You enter the train and voraciously wolf down food from a packet. After you feel satiated, you chuck the packet right out of the window.

Scene Two:It is a rainy day. The Mithi river begins to overflow and trains come to a halt. We all get together to 'raise our voices' against everyone from the Chief Minister to the BMC Commissioner. Because the Mithi river is clogged and they fail to clean it up. Now, all the garbage we chuck on the tracks also contributes to the multitude of garbage in Bombay to some extent. If we want change, it has to begin with us. Yes, us.

B) This is still fresh in my mind. Everytime a Virar-bound fast train rolls into Andheri, people rush into it without waiting for passengers to alight. Today, I was in one such train at six in the evening, and it was almost empty by usual standards when it reached Andheri. There were only four people waiting to get off the train. The first two jumped off before the train came to a complete halt, and then it was just Ipsita and me waiting at the doors. But without caring to see if our feet had landed on the platform, the Virar people just pushed us aside and jumped in. I managed to get out safely, but Ipsita was in a real predicament, what with one leg on the train and another on the platform. After pulling her out, I just couldn't take it anymore and yelled at this fat old dame who went in by pushing Ipsita into that dangerous position. I called her a stupid fool and told her that she needed a dose of civic sense. I'm surprised I didn't use any of the colourful Bambaiya statements that I had practised on Reuben just an hour earlier. As a parting shot, I shouted into the train window, "You call yourself first-class citizens, do you ?"
Many people on the compartment gave me this 'do you think you own the train?' look, but I couldn't care less, since it becomes all the more irritating when I know that Andheri-ites don't reciprocate their behaviour. When the same people pour out of trains at Andheri in the morning, like an insult to family planning, we give them a fair and square chance to get off before clambering in. Although I agree that people sometimes yell at them to get off soon, they WAIT before entering the train, despite the second-hand treatment they receive in the evenings themselves.

C) In crowded trains to Virar, the demand for a seat is quite high, and people 'reserve' seats with other passengers who get off earlier. So, once they enter the train, they aggresively shake everyone and ask them 'Kaha utarna hain ? ' (Where do you have to get down?). Sometimes, there are these extremely tired people who are fast asleep and are rudely shaken awake only to be asked - 'When you will you get your magnificent posterior off the seat ?'

Before the station issues a railway pass, they should put the person in question through an etiquette course. And make money on that. Really, I should be the next Finance Minister of India ! India's GDP will exceed that of both the US and China put together in one year flat !!!

A letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Mr. Manmohan Singh (and the others who matter),

I am a resident of Mumbai, the very city that was brutalised by the horrendous blasts on July 11. I travel by the same trains that were turned into arenas of mass murder and massacre on that particular day.

Being a Mumbaikar had somehow made me used to disaster. Whether it was 26/7, or the recent showers in the first week of July, I carried on through them, with an air of 'resilience' and nonchalance. But 11/7 touched a raw nerve somewhere deep down. For two reasons; terrorists from any school of thought have no right to vandalise my city and the lives of its people just to prove a point, and, secondly, I'm tired of all and sundry praising our ability to be back with a bang, our 'resilience', as they call it.

I am tired of grinning and bearing everything. I don't expect you to give me a Shanghai, but I want a city which feels loved, a city that embraces everything and maintains a secular identity, not just in a farcical way, a city whose streets do not tremble and shudder with the gloomy promise of bombs, blood and gore.

Post-July 11 , you seem to be working towards my dream city. It feels nice to know that. But at the same time, you are doing it by taking my freedom of expression away, as also that of many other fellow Indians.

I always feel proud whenever I come across the line in the Indian constitution that says - Every Indian has a right to freedom of expression. It reminds me that I live in a country that keeps it head on its shoulders, the world's largest democracy. The internet is an extremely powerful medium today and its potential can be viewed both in a negative and positive manner. But, the blanket ban on blogs originating from certain websites, shook my faith in the 'freedom of expression' that you propagate. When you block millions of blogs so that precisely 20 'incriminating' sites and blogs are not accessible, it is just plain, and plain ridiculous. Of course, there were a hundred other ways to circumvent the ban and access any of the millions of 'innocent' blogs. But the bottomline is - my democratic and egalitarian government actually breached the constitution in such a big way. Didn't you ?

There is talk that the blanket ban was the result of a communication gap. Surely a government that considers itself capable of running a country with over one billion people should not be prone to 'communication gaps'?

With due respect to both you and your cabinet mates, all of you are where you are thanks to me and my fellow citizens. I wish to know why you chose to react to this wave of terrorism in an extremely paranoid and unjustified fashion. I love my city, but I also care about OUR rights.

Hopefully there shall be no communication gaps this time.

Yours sincerely,
Ranjana Dave

July 19, 2006

News bulletin

Life is just so hectic...but things are getting done.

Loony ..... will be pleased to know I attached two inches of modesty to eight of my kurtas.

Music exams in two weeks. I'm s...d (royally)

Did I actually abbreviate that swear word out there ? After all, there is no e-Varalakshmi ma'am. And I guess blogging is one of those 'outside class' activities !

July 09, 2006

Banjaran goes ballistic in Bombay !

We all tend to discard ideas and move towards newer horizons, so much so that the old ones seem redundant and are sometimes found ridiculous.

If someone walks on the road dressed in leaves, it is going to cause a lot of furore. But hell, that was the 'in' thing a few thousand years ago !

I am one of that endangered minority of peope who still believe that some of the old is gold. And it's indeed very amusing to see people's reactions to my personification of old.

When I fancy it, I wear half-saris to college. My idea of a half-sari is a snazzy long skirt with a cute top, and a dupatta. Yes, I can claim to have 'reinvented' it.

Every time I wear it, I have an exceedingly humorous day. This is what happened yesterday, when I again chose to indulge in my passion for the old.

Right from the time I stepped out of the house, every functional eye was on me. Since I'm pretty used to the stares that come along with this, I don't bother much.

The first hilarious instance was in the train, when I entered the first-class ladies compartment. After a minute of unabashed, silent, flabbergasted staring, people had decided that I was a Banjaran who just landed from Rajasthan or someplace like that ( thank you Vara ma'am for the 'Banjaran' !) . Every single lady in the compartment wanted to be the self-righteous protector of her first-class status and hence every single one of them was bursting to tell me 'Yeh first-class hain. Second-class compartment aage hain.' (Translation: This is first-class. The second class coach is ahead.)

When I removed my cellphone to answer a call, it only compounded their worries. A Banjaran with a cellphone ?

Not that it quelled their doubts completely, on the contrary, it left them all the more intrigued.

At Dadar, a ticket collector entered the compartment asking for our passes. Again, every single eye, this time both functional and non-functional was on me, while I fished out my pass and showed it to the collector, who moved on with a satisfied look.

This totally sent them into oceans of confusion. A Banjaran with a cellphone, a first-class pass, and she also speaks English. They realised that, if they want to addle their brains any more, it was best not to dwell on me for even a second more.

While walking along the roads of Marine Lines, the old reactions of incredulity were replayed time and again. As I entered college, I noticed the scores of junior college aspirants standing around with their equally nervous parents. An already harried mother at the end of a long line of students noticed me and was shocked to death when she saw what I was wearing, she immediately started arguing with her kid that this was why she should not study at St. Xavier's College, it was full of weirdos.

My class is pretty much used to my capers, but they still felt it could 'match' a little more. To hell with matching. Who said red is to be worn only with yellow and so on ? In the foyer, many people actually came up to me and asked me what I was wearing, with this big look of disbelief on their faces.

The same thing repeated itself on my way home, albeit in a smaller way. When I passed through a slum shortcut to reach Smitalay, a group of women who saw me stopped chatting and one of them actually lamented about how Bombay was going down the dumps with its insanity within my hearing !

We need a dose of ancient Indian culture, don't we ?

Building walls

The other day, during journalism class, we had an interesting discussion on the difference between being a melting pot and being multi-cultural. One of the issues that came up was - Is it right to have Hindi as our national language ?

The argument against it being - Hindi is basically a language used in the 'cowbelt'. In south India, the language is neither prevalent nor is it spoken on a large scale. In Tamil Nadu, and also in Karnataka to some extent, some people just refuse to speak to you in anything but the local language.

This debate went on about whether it is pragmatic to be familiar with the local language rather than just depending on the national one. Also, people questioned the use of English, that is not Indian in origin, as a unifying medium.

There was also someone who emphatically stated that 'India' is a very Aryan name since it originates from 'Indus'.

With everyone standing up for either Hindi or her / his local language, I began to wonder whether it is necessary to divide goegraphical expanses on the basis of linguistic differences. And when people kept reiterating things on the lines of ' English has usurped India, our great country', and spoke in a terribly anti-Pakistan manner, I was even more amused. Sixty years ago, there was no Pakistan, and the people in Lahore were as Indian as you or I am. Two thousand years ago, there was no India and we were all a part of Jambhudweepa, the great expanse of land that encompassed Europe and Asia. When, then, did these impenetrable walls of dialect arise ?

Romping on rampage-diesel

I watched the film 'Rang De Basanti' almost completely today. I've always liked the songs in the movie, and I knew of the theme too.

In the movie, a group of youngsters, disillusioned with the lackadaisical and corrupt political scene, takes things into its own hands and uses some pretty extreme means to bring out the corruption among politicians. While watching the part where a politician blames an honest pilot for a planecrash, I had a strong sense of deja vu. So many times, innocent people get the brickbats. For every Medha Patkar who rallies for the people, we have hundreds of unsung heroes who may be doing much more, whose voices get buried in the shifty, sands of time, that are so tinged with evil that they begin to personify evil.

In an uncanny coincidence, the Shiv Sena anounced a bandh here in Bombay. The reason - Late Meena Thackeray 's statue was smeared with mud. With due respect to Meena Thackeray and the rest of the Shiv Sena, why didn't they go on strike when people's lives and houses were not only smeared, but washed away by mud during the July 26 deluge ? Also, the people who could justifiably rant and rave against the government's grave inadequacies chose to do it in a more peaceful and dignified manner. They didn't go around torching buses and forcibly choking the life out of a vibrant city like Bombay BECAUSE they were victims of negligence and the consequence-bearers of some serious fallacies.

Yes, they have an ideology like everyone else, and have every right to have one, as long as innocent lives and a city's heartbeat are not at stake when they begin to interpret it.

But, they don't want to listen. Do they ?