(photograph not very clear – forgive me!)
|Census 2011 official – Jyoti Pokhale, school teacher, Pune
(photograph not very clear – forgive me!)
|Census 2011 official – Jyoti Pokhale, school teacher, Pune
|Ruskin Bond (right) and Ravi Singh on Sunday Morning
Of all the events, the most delightful one was on Sunday morning – Boys will be boys – with Ruskin Bond who spoke to Ravi Singh, Editor-in-chief of Penguin India. Reading from his book A handful of nuts, the author evoked laughter among the audience as he read the antics of a lady – whose skin he likened to that of a crocodile – trying to seduce a man much younger than her. In deference to the young school going audience, he had to stop short of reading the entire passage! He shared an anecdote about his visit to a book shop and finding his book lying way below in a pile under all the best-sellers. Mr Bond, looking about the make sure the owner wasn’t watching, took his book out from the bottom of the pile and placed it on top. All his care and caution was brought to naught when the book shop owner picked up his book and told him – unaware that he was speaking to the author – ye book chalta nahin hain! To refute that, he bought the book, the price of which was a meager Rs 3/-
|J M Coetzee – reading uninterrupted – simply divine!
The author began by saying – at festivals such as this one, writers get an opportunity to voice their opinions. Like everyone else, I too have opinions but I don’t think my opinions are particularly interesting! Instead, I will read from my work. So for the next 45 minutes you will only hear one uninterrupted voice, my own.
|(R to L) Chimamanda Adichie and Jasbir Jain
The first thing Chimamanda spoke about was how difficult it is to get an Indian visa for someone holding a Nigerian passport. Her husband, a
|Blowing the conches to signal the end
My favourite among authors whose work I’d already read: Chimamanda Adichie. My favourite new author discovered: James Kelman. The five days at the festival went by swiftly, until next year then, to return for more literature. The provisional list of authors is already out. Some of them are: AS Byatt, Deepak Chopra, Fareed Zakaria, Gita Mehta, Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro, Malcolm Gladwell, Monica Ali, Philip Pullman, Pankaj Mishra, Salman Rushdie and hold your breath – Zadie Smith.
But hey, there is another literature fest coming up before the year ends –
The Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) kicked off today with Sanjoy Roy, producer of the event, taking the mike on the front lawns to welcome everyone. But before he could go beyond the first word, a jingle played on thescreen.
From a recent news report in the Times of India, it seems that J K Rowling will also be there at the festival. I already have requests from a few Harry Potter fans to get her autograph for them. There were rumours in the past too about her attending the festival. Remains to be seen if she really makes it this year.
The news has also reached MuggleNet and fans are ecstatic, even though most of them cannot make it to Jaipur. What a treat for fans who will be at the festival! Are we ready then?
My feature article on Delhi – in Business Traveler, November 2010 issue can be read here!
Wrote it with some misgivings as the cwg scam was unfolding while I worked on it. This is my third feature article for the magazine. Besides these, I also write the monthly ‘India Update’ which unfortunately is not yet available on the web archives.. Will send another reminder to them. In the meantime, the feature will have to suffice. I’ve been wanting to do one on Mumbai, waiting for the right opportunity.
I’ve been tracking it on the website for JaiLitFest . Yes! Now the schedule for Jaipur Literature Festival is out. Starting from 21 January to 25 January, it will be a celebration of books, authors, culture, life, society, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, Languages English and Indian. Most of all, readers and lovers of books and reading.
Excited to be there again, my third time at the festival, I still remember my first visit in Jan 2009, the first moment I stepped on the grounds of the hotel Diggi Palace and looked at the welcome counter, festooned in festive colours.
Young volunteers busy at the counter, arranging badges, brochures, getting registrations done. On the other side, there were groups of men and women from publishing houses setting up their stalls.
Sanjay Roy stood there welcoming the early walkins like me. I did not know what to expect on that first day. But it was off to a great start. After two years there already, this year I will be reporting on the daily events on NetIndian as well as posting it here. Watch this space for more updates! Let the Shehnai begin its lilting notes, let the drums roll!!
A post, a tweet doing the rounds of social media and drawing rings of laughter from everyone:
New words: 1Crore = 1 Khoka; 500Cr = 1 Koda; 1000Cr = 1 Radia;
10000Cr = 1 Kalmadi; 100000Cr = 1Raja; 100Raja = 1 Pawar;
I laughed too and circulated it to my friends. They liked it and laughed in return.
Its incredible how in less than a decade what was termed a Khoka in underworld lingo and seemed huge, the amount of Rs 1Crore, possible to be acquired by ordinary mortals by only winning the final round of a television reality show hosted by the Big B, now stands looking shamefully small against the sheer amounts that corruption and scams have thrown up. The amounts are all relative to each other on a scale of numbers from zero to trillions. But what do these numbers mean?
That crores of rupees set aside for a definite purpose like development of a sector to reach the most vulnerable people of our society are swindled. The money dwindling all the way down until it reaches the hands of the deserving in amounts not adequate enough to buy food, to keep shelter, to pay for health or education. For every crore that reaches undeserving pockets, there are tens of crores of rupees that are not made available for developing our infrastructure, for building hospitals and providing electricity in remote rural areas, for providing much needed public transport systems in our emerging and expanding cities. For every crore that exchanges hands without being accounted for, women in villages and city slums walk long distances or spent long hours to fill up drinking water for the day for their families. For every hundred crore that was given secretly in exchange of favourable outcomes in business, generations of children will grow without proper nutrition or healthcare or education.
For every obscene amount of public money that the country has lost in corruption, every rain-fed farm is waiting for irrigation systems and farm ponds to get rid of the unpredictable outcomes of every crop season, driving farmers out of their centuries old occupation to leave in search of work as labourers to cities. For every unthinkable amount that is yet to reveal itself in yet another scam, for every such terrifyingly monstrous amount, the freedom we so proudly proclaim every August by unfurling the tricolour in all its glory, that freedom is rapidly eroding, the colours of the flag are slowly fading. The injustice of living under a foreign power is replaced by the worse imposition of living under the power of a monster of our own creation, that only we can get rid of. Should we remain calm and go about our daily routines? Can we watch the issues debated on television and read in newspapers over dinner and breakfast only to leave it aside and put up our blinkers?
Are we doing enough to keep this monster from growing? Are we knowingly or unknowingly feeding this monster with our own corrupt ways? Where are our fingers pointing, at those laughable figures or at ourselves? Can we dare to laugh now?
A group of upper middle-class women gathered for a kitty party were discussing the amounts they pay their domestic help. One of them talked about her maid asking for a raise since the last four months. She told the maid to wait till January of next year for a raise. Four months is not too long she added. Switching to a more interesting topic, she asked if any one was interested in starting another kitty – a bigger one of Rs 5000/- Didn’t take long for some other women to join in. The amount was not that big. The amount for the current kitty was just Rs 1500/-. That is like loose change. The maid can wait for another month for the princely raise of Rs 100. Her take home monthly salary at present for those wanting to know such things is Rs 1200 for spending an hour each day sweeping and cleaning floors, bathrooms and washing utensils. Everyday, no holidays.
What keeps an educated, well-off, upper middle-class, apparently sensible woman in India from realising that if she can spend thousands on kitty parties, she can very well give a raise of a few hundred rupees to her maid when she needs it. It doesnot require any complex arithmetic or lessons in labour laws to realise the importance of paying service providers adequately. Especially those service providers who give her essential services like keeping the Italian marble squeaky clean for her to put her pedicured feet on every morning she wakes up.
This is the story of India everyday, everywhere. Needs of the deserving millions are ignored in the overpowering greed of those who already have it and are in a position to use their clout and proximity to power.
In a hard-hitting column on the rise in farmer suicides through 2009, (The Hindu 27-Dec-2010 read the column here), P.Sainath talks about how bank loans at low interest rates have been made available for those wanting to buy luxury cars like Mercedes Benz and BMW. But poor and marginal farmers, the ones who need loans at low interest rates have a hard time getting it. Is is not the primary function of banks, particularly public-sector banks to provide banking and credit services to those who need it to carry out their livelihood activities and daily subsistence? Or is it to dole out monstrous amounts in loan to people acquiring luxury items that they do not really need except to make a show of obscene one-upmanship? These people are actually rich enough to pay for the luxury cars from their own pots of money. They don’t need a bank loan. Should there be some scientific thinking and logic behind who needs a bank loan and who should get how much at what interest rate? For the person low on resources shouldn’t the interest rate be lower?
These and such issues never make it into the mainstream media, print or electronic. Rare exceptions are like the one cited above. Electronic media use the prime time slots to cover stories that would maximise their TRPs. Whatever those are. Considering that at prime time a television news channel can give maximum exposure to stories that really matter, one would think that issues that are important to the nation in the long term would be addressed atleast once a week. But day in and day out, we get the same sensationalization of Breaking News … A minimum of four persons available on each news channel for panel discussions that are heavy on rhetoric and light on content. What we need is for the high-profile media to use their resources to study the real issues, analyse them and present a new, fresh perspective to enlighten the viewer. But instead,
we get the same, lazy treatment – a cacophony of voices from people, some of whom seem to have made a career out of appearing on news channels at dinner time.
A steaming cup of hot adrak-ki chaye slipped off my hand and the tea spilled, half on the kitchen platform, half on the floor and splattered everything in the vicinity including myself with drops of tea. Oh what a mess! But happy to note that the cup was intact. The Schipol airport mug with the smiling cow and chubby windmill was unbroken. Great! Now all I had to do was make some more tea quickly and I was setup for an evening of blogging and surfing. Now why can’t feeding the millions of our country be managed as simply? Why do onion prices shoot up uncontrollably? What, we don’t have enough agriculturists, economists, engineers and management graduates in India to figure out how to maintain the balance of production, demand and supply? I mean, hey, we write software that will manage zillion volumes of transactions through payment gateways, stock exchanges and banks without a hitch. Ok, we have power outages & software glitches and human errors that bugger up the systems once in a while but we manage to get back on track quickly. Even a mind-boggling event like bombs exploding on Mumbai local trains does not stop us from jumping back to normal within a few hours. Heathrow airport in London may be facing the flak for not clearing up the snow fast enough to avoid flight-freeze every Christmas season for the last three years. But we manage pretty well each year through Mumbai rains, Bengal floods, cyclones in the south and excruciating heat in summers throughout the country. Then why can’t we manage food for all at reasonable prices? Is that like asking for too much?
Does the man incharge not have enough time after the additional burdens of the BCCI, IPL, Lavasa and party meets in New York? The man is Incharge of Agriculture and Food Procurement is he not?
Take a woman in this country. Any simple woman, a housewife for starters. She will not rest until she has fed her family well within her capacity. If the earning member does not provide enough income, she will work. If one job is not sufficient, she will work two jobs and work at home to feed her family. No one will go hungry except perhaps herself at times. She will sell her jewellery and herself even to ensure each and every person sleeps at night without going hungry. This has happened since time immemorial. Whether the woman is educated or not, literate or not. It does not take economics or engineering or management or any other college degree to figure out how to feed all those who are in your charge. If she has ten guests at home, she will still manage to feed them all. Is she not incharge of food procurement in her house? How many such women do we have in our country? Millions and millions. Maybe they should be given a chance to manage this better. Maybe one of them will keep the onion prices from shooting up every other half-year. She will know how to calibrate the exports and imports well in advance to avoid shortages, she will know how to store stocks to make-up for loss due to rain. Hell, she is ingenious enough to bring out an alternative to onion in the days of shortages!
While at it, she’ll solve other problems too that you, Mr. Minister of Agriculture and Food Procurement have not been able to solve. Like the agrarian crisis causing farmers’ suicides, insufficient supply of water to unirrigated farms, shortage of storage options for grains without letting them rot while millions go hungry.
Move over Mr. Agriculture Minister and give someone more efficient a chance to keep everyone well-fed at reasonable prices.
Now on to relish hot pav-bhaji. Someone pass me that plate of chopped onions please!
The last time I was there, it was in June 1999. As I looked out of the window of my rented apartment, the lights from the Manhattan skyline could be seen far away in the distance. Yes, this is it I thought. I am in New York.
Twelve years later on 25th June 2010, it was the same feeling. Only this time I was looking out of the window of a hotel room at Newark Penn Station. Its sprawling greyish brown expanse eating up the entire stretch of the road. A clock stood up in the centre of the building. But far away in the distance was the Manhattan skyline again. I wondered why it seemed less brighter than it did
the last time or was it just my imagination. The next day I stepped out early in the morning, map in hand, determined to reach the Newyork Metropolitan Museum by subway. It wasn’t easy. But I decided to behave like a complete newcomer and started with the enquiry counter. Newark Penn Station to 33rd Street on PATH, Crossover from 33rd Street PATH to 34th Street Herald
Square Yellow Line and take the train to 14th Street Union Square. Crossover to Green Line and take the train to 77th Street. It was the easiest thing to do! The trick was to do the reverse in the correct order. But I managed to do even that. At the Union Square station I waited a while to listen to a South American band. They had a decent collection of green notes in the upturned hat kept for the purpose.
At 77th Street as I looked about trying to decide which way to go, I was acousted by a woman with three teenagers – two boys and a girl. From the quiet friendliness of the group, I concluded the woman to be their aunt not mother. They asked me the way to Central Park. I told them I was a visitor like them and trying to find my way to the same destination. A man walked by and they
asked him. “I am a tourist” he said. So map in hand, the teenagers and aunt decided on a way and walked ahead. I went on too after crossing over to the other side of the road. As we approached Central Park, we realised we had found the way and waved to each other across the street. Walking along the park, I reached the Met Museum. Had someone told me I would spend four hours there alone, I would not have believed it. I did spend four hours. But I was never alone. I skipped the Asian and Medieval sections and went on to the American section. The complete sets of furniture from 18th and 19th century America were a treat to watch, especially the tiny chairs with bright yellow tapestry crafted for children.
Among the European painters Picasso was the favourite with everyone and such a great collection spanning an entire lifetime. The Man with the Lollipop was my favourite.At the museum shop I bought five postcards with painting prints. 4 Picasso of which one is a portrait of writer Gertrude Stein and a self-portrait. 1 each of Van Gogh and Monet. The sixth postcard was free. Walking back from the museum I stopped at the artists displaying their works on the street along
Central Park. From a glass sculptor I bought two tiny red beetles and a white and blue turtle to go with it. A cartoonist had his creations titled “Manhattan Cocktails”. None of the artists allowed photography but when I told this one I wanted only his Signboard and would put it up on Facebook and Twitter, he let me take a photo. “This price has already been pre-haggled” it said.
It reminded me of Puneri Patya!
On the way back in the train, a woman stood in the centre of the two rows of seated people facing each other. Her dark glasses made it difficult to see her eyes. She was pregnant and attired in a way that would make it impossible for her to sit. A red t-shirt covered her slim torso and stomach. A pair of denim shorts were slipped on somehow, the front zip fully open gaping at the
swollen stomach. The woman said something about her baby being happy while she stood up. No one was looking at her except probably me. After a while she proclaimed loudly, “I’m sorry all you people. I apologize for my appearance and my clothes. But I’m homeless.” I could only imagine the expression in her eyes. There was complete silence from everyone. After a while, the woman walked away to the other side. Yes, I thought to myself. This is it. This is New York.