Of nosy relatives and over eating

It’s a hot day in Hyderabad and I’m back home from college for a ten day long break before I join work. It’s really hot and I’m dreading the idea of having to pack for a trip to my aunt’s place in Vizag.

Relatives, that’s one word that unnerves me. They are somehow an integral part of your life without actually fitting in your life, more like an appendix. You never really need them, but then one fine day you realize that they’ve become a pain.

Ok, maybe that’s a little too harsh. Maybe its because I don’t really do small talk, I find these annual visits to the home town as pleasant as having a discussion with the Pope about gay rights–futile and frustrating.

If the inquisition on your personal life(which includes questions like, what do you mean you aren’t ready for marriage? or remarks like, you’ve lost your hair very hard to get you married!) isn’t enough, what is with the piles of food they expect you to finish? It’s like they expect you to go into hibernation for which developing a thick layer of fat in the next 24 hours is extremely important.

I know they think I’m a kid, but I think I know when I’m not hungry. So yeah, I’m going to Vizag for two days of interrogation and death by gluttony. Where are you guys off to?

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Haaavee you met “the bureaucrat”?

The first thing people ask me when I say that I’m doing a postgraduate degree in journalism is if I’m going to be on TV. No, there are other forms of journalism, not just the belligerent Arnab Goswami or the reporter from TV9 who thinks we are blind and has the compulsive need to repeat everything we can see on screen.

Not that I have anything against being a broadcast journalist, I just find it amusing that this is the first thing people would ask me. Why not, “Oh, so you’ll be the next P. Sainath” or “hey maybe we can read your piece on blogger or wordpress “?

So, after I politely nod my head and smile and say that I’d probably do more online, they look disappointed and move on. The more persistent ones though, ask me, “Have you met anyone famous yet?”

Now, that is a difficult question. What do you mean by famous? Can self importance, pompousness and extremely uptight attitude be classified as the traits of a famous person? Then yes, I have met famous people— celebrities in their own right, tantrum throwers extraordinaire and basically, people who would put the Queen to shame in matters related to protocol. Move over Beyonce,  the sahibs and babus —the bureaucrats are here.

While it may seem that I am exaggerating a bit, I’ve always had a problem with authority and all, but, it is true that bureaucrats have this flair of making life infinitely difficult. Flair I said? Scratch that; make it sole purpose in life.

I now, truly see Douglas Adams’ inspiration when he wrote about Vogons, in his book, the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy. Unfortunately, neither is there a guide with the words—“do not panic” written on its cover nor the very helpful Ford Prefect to help me navigate the meandering columns of a parallel universe— a bureaucrat’s office.

For all those of you, who are bored enough to read on, let’s start by classifying the myriad bureaucrats, from the harmless to the extremely vile.

“The Sri Sri Ravishankar”: Can be identified by the presence of an almost beatific smile plastered on the face at all times.  The smile is a fake ploy, to trick the said trainee journalist into a false sense of trust and then give out completely misleading information or refuse flat out to give any information, mind you, always with a smile.

The compulsive yeller: The face of a bull dog, and a look that can make children cry. These are the attributes of the compulsive yeller. He/she is also blessed with an amazingly pitched voice, that said trainee journalist can hear from outside the cabin and will spend the rest of the waiting period, twiddling thumbs and biting nails nervously. Trainee journalist must not dare argue with the compulsive yeller, for if he/she does, a tirade on the futility of media shall ensure.

The free advise dispenser: Trainee journalist: “Sir what do you think of increasing rice prices?”

      Free advice dispenser: “I think, by the way where are you from?”

       TJ: Hyderabad.

       FAD: Good biryani. You came so far to study journalism? You left your job at an IT firm? You should     get married. Journalism is not a good field for women, get a desk job. Why you are wasting your parents money?

Enough said.

The “generalist”:  A generalist will sit you down, offer you a tea and then tell you how messed up your field is and how you haven’t done your back ground research, there by failing as a “generalist”. No, he isn’t inducting you into his cult, but for reasons, mostly unknown, even to him, he will call a journalist a generalist.

The busy-bee: Classified by the indiscriminate use of “I am busy”. Indiscriminate because, whenever you go to meet him, just as he steps in, lunch time, in between meetings, during visitor’s times, he is busy— ALL THE TIME. No amount of, “I’ve made an appointment with you, sir” will persuade him to look up and say anything other than, “I am busy”. His commitment to work will win him a Nobel Prize for world peace one day, or might just kill him.

One might also wonder, if the state actually has enough work to keep him busy through out his officialdom.

The poser: Classified by an intense desire to be photographed. Will chide you if you get the angels wrong of the picture is shaky. Information isn’t important, being photographed is. So, say bureaucrat!

The protocol observer: Is a stickler for rules. Inane, nonsensical and completely irrelevant rules.  Exihibit-A:

Trainee journalist: Sir, I’m from this college.

Protocol Observer: Letter?

TJ: *pulls out a letter authenticating him/herself*

PO: What is this? Why has it not been signed in black? I cannot accept a letter signed in black. Please follow rules. This is unacceptable. Get the letter signed in black ink and then come back tomorrow.

TJ: *Stares in dismay*

PO: Ok, since you are saying you are coming from far, I will allow you. But, first, go to my higher up and ask him/her to counter sign the letter that it is ok for me to accept this letter signed in blue ink as proof.

The Phantom: Characterized by his absence. You will never find him at his desk. He is either on vacation or away. You would wonder if such a character exists, but everyone around seems to be talking about him, so he might exist. Again, that’s what people also say about ghosts and God.

There is also the flirt, the door-banger and the rattler. But, I think these categories are self-explanatory. I’ve met all of them. How many have you met?

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Ejipura— one word, many sentiments

Mounds of debris, scattered belongings, people sitting under the hot sun, gazing into nothingness, Ejipura EWS has a cloud of gloom and destruction hanging over it.
What if you woke up one day and realized that the home you had been living in was illegal and it had to be razed? What would you do? Where would you go? How would you even begin to come to terms with the fact that you were homeless?
Ramu(name changed) , 8, woke up Saturday morning to a loud noise. He couldn’t find his mother in their tiny shanty. He went out, still groggy from sleep and saw some men pulling out the tin sheets from his friend, Hari’s home. Hari’s mother was crying. Ramu saw big bull dozers standing in line. He finally spotted his mother near one of the bull dozers, asking someone not to demolish their house. Ramu, scared, clutched his school bag and decided to sit on the roof of his house. After all, they wouldn’t demolish his home with him on it. His logic was infallible, but one of the men shoved him off and Ramu fell—he hurt his arm.
There are many Ramu’s and Hari’s baking under the harsh sun and freezing in the cold, suddenly destitute and with nowhere to go.
The BBMP, on Saturday started the demolition of the shanties at Ejipura following a court order staying the demolition.
Aisha, who stays in the EWS quarters overlooking the slum says, I thought my house would collapse because of the bull dozers. The construction is so poor. I guess, now even we have to start looking for homes. After what happened to a few of my friends in the slum, I’m not so sure about my home.
Most of the settlements in the slum are illegal and the residents do not have khattas or proof that they were allotted sites.
Sudha,54, used to stay in Koramangala with her husband and son four years ago. After her husband’s sudden demise, unable to keep up with the rents there, she moved into a rented shanty in the slum. Now, she has nowhere to go—the rents around Ejipura for a one room house start from Rs. 5,000 and the owners demand an advance of Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 40,000. Sudha works as domestic help and earns around Rs. 3,000 per month.
Rs. 36 may not be a big deal for most of us, but for these people, who are being relocated to areas like Sarjapur, the bus fare for commute itself takes more than a quarter of their income.
Anantha, who paints buildings for a living, has Rs. 40 in his pocket and a blank expression on his face. His children go to school in the school run by the corporation nearby. To move into a house near Sarjapur, it would cost him at least Rs. 40,000, advance and temp costs included. He has already pulled his daughter out from school, since the school is too far from where they are planning to relocate. He has no money saved and he hasn’t gone to work in the past three days. Anantha says that he contemplated sucide at times.
The police make an appearance, trying to get people to clear the area away ASAP. One of the dwellers told the police, “Don’t tell us that we have an hour remaining, you ruined our life in an hour. Now I can’t find a place in an hour.”
Mukunda, an auto driver, has already moved his family to Sarjapur. He says that the government had told people well in advance—a year ago that the slums had to be evacuated. He had pooled in enough money, since he was living on rent. Mukunda said that the original owners were given plots and it is wrong on the part of the encroachers to demand rehabilitation. “It was meant to happen, tomorrow if not today. It is the government’s land and its worth millions of rupees. Why shouldn’t the government use it productively?” He said.
The local MLA and the corporater hadn’t visited the site until yesterday.
When the MLA did finally come, on Tuesday, he went on the defensive, telling off volunteer workers and the students who had come to help or look around and take in the reality. Dressed in crisp white clothes and a costly wristwatch, he seemed uncomfortable and out of place in the whole setting.
He had the audacity to say “Do not make fun of these poor people by taking pictures and videos. We know they are poor. If you want to help, give them money, give them a home. What help are you doing? Giving them water? These people always had water.”
The water tank built there 10 years ago has stagnant rain water.
What is more amusing is the fact that the slum dwellers who were so filled with rage against the MLA, were impassive. They didn’t stand up to him. When he was going on his tirade, they stood watching, some even agreeing to what he said.
Development is good, but at what cost? Why have so many people put up shanties there in the first place? Why have they come to the city?
Most of them have no identities and in the view of the state don’t exist. Maybe they are illegal residents; maybe they have no business protesting there. But, there is one thing that can’t be ignored—they are real, their pain is real, their angst is real, their sense of dislocation is real and now, they have nowhere to go.

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A martyr?

I am a woman in India. My life is not mine. The course it should take is not judged by me. My life, how I should live it, what is proper, what is not, is judged by the society. I am expected to take it, no questions asked.

When my parents got to know about the Delhi rape incident, a couple of days ago, I was in Bangalore. They called me up and asked me, if I was safe, if the security in my hostel was ok. They also asked me not to venture out after dark, cover myself up with a dupatta or a scarf at all times and NOT to go out with a male friend, lest I should attract unnecessary attention.

My parents are doctors. They are not uneducated, they are not from rural India and they most certainly know that rape is a sensitive issue. But, their first reaction was for me to take precautions. That is funny, because, it wasn’t use pepper spray, walk with a crowd, yell if something is wrong, but dress appropriately.

For the lack of a better word, I’m stumped. Why is it my problem, to not bring upon rape on myself? Isn’t it disgusting that sexual assault is seen as the woman’s fault? But it seems that there is much lost in translation.

Indian women are subject to tremendous violence. Take the case of Delhi rape victim, she was raped, beaten up and left to die. Why did they have to beat her up? They had already traumatized the woman enough; did they have to kill her? They had their way with her, was it necessary to kill her? Who are they to decide what should happen to her life?

Most Indian women do not even realize what sexual harassment is. Sexual assault in India is masqueraded as “eve-teasing”. The fact that, if you raise your voice against assault, you not your offender will be objectified, out to trial and hung out to dry in the society, is well why most women even refuse to speak up and bear it in silence.

The public outrage over the rape victim’s death is welcome, it symbolizes that Indian public is not impervious to the extremely disinterested attitude of its lawmakers. It marks that dissent will be voiced out however strongly the government tries to crush it.

It also shows that an innocent 23 year old normal girl, leading a fairly inconspicuous life, had to die before the nation could examine the safety of women throughout.

One question does remain unanswered, if she wouldn’t have died, or if the media did not give it such all-encompassing coverage, would she have been ignored like the thousands of the women in India, who face assault every single day?

She is a martyr, but I still think that unless women of this country, come out of their prejudices, hypocrisies and false notions, that men are supreme and their acts cannot be condemned, we will have a lot of martyrs.

 

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The tale of two cities and a woman

I am a Hyderabadi. Sure, I may not like my biryani as much as the average Hyderabadi would and I may not swear by a cup of Irani chai, but I still am a Hyderabadi. You say anything against the city, you are dead, needless to say, I’ve had my share of fights.

So when I had to move to Bangalore, I was hesitant. “You’re moving to Bangalore woman, think about it, the clubs, the weather, better clothes, independence,” my friends said.  So, I thought about it. Bangalore does have an IT culture, Bangalore does have better clothes and I needed a change. 

There I was, fresh off the Kachiguda express, being accosted to my maternal uncle’s place, when I first saw it. The first unfinished fly over, and the mounds of dust and debris below.  Well, okay, it’s an unfinished flyover, what’d you expect, I thought as we zoomed, sorry crawled past it. You see, it was peak hour traffic.

The comparison started, almost immediately. I judged everything, from bus fare to what they served at Hard Rock café.

Hyderabad has midnight biryani (again, not a huge fan). Those Friday nights when everyone met and bonded over bandi Chinese and a smoke or Kulfi at the old city.  Bangalore, well closes down by 10PM.

To add insult to my injury, I was unemployed in Bangalore, out of an IT job, back to being a student. I had almost forgotten how it was to be a student, sharing a chai, living off maggi, spending your entire month’s phone balance in the first 10 days and drag the remaining days with the remaining 2 Rs of balance.

It seemed a lot of fun in college, but now, most of my friends, who were working in Bangalore, always seemed to hang out at those “cool” places, with those cool names which served fancy fare. I was, to put it politely, broke.

My only solace, I thought was watching a movie. I went, to the nearest Inox, at Mantri square on a Saturday evening, stood in line and asked for a ticket to the latest Salman Khan movie. Rs. 290, the guy at the ticket counter said. One ticket, I told him, not two. With a snicker, the guy said, “weekend prices ma’am.” I retired, hurt.

My mind went back to the times when a friend and I would watch any passing movie with a tub full of popcorn, at a local Hyderabadi theatre for almost the same price.

I was a part of the IT crowd in Hyderabad and I saw my fair share of cultural diversity. Somehow, Hyderabad never did really seem to mind that people couldn’t speak Telugu. Maybe it is because of the whole Nizami culture, people didn’t really mind.

You’ve definitely not had the Bangalore experience, if you haven’t been laughed at or made fun of by the conductor and your fellow passengers in a bus, when you say “Kannada swalpa swalpa barathu” (roughly translates to, I speak little Kannada).

Then, when Bangalore finally got to me, I decided, to make a list. I mean, a list always makes things better. 

Hyderabad has better roads, street food, an awesome history, culture and well, most importantly, character.

Bangalore has, and I thought, and I thought. I couldn’t write anything down. Then I thought for some more.  Why had I come to Bangalore, if loved Hyderabad so much? And it came to me, Bangalore had opportunity.

Hyderabad cared, Bangalore was indifferent.  This indifference manifested itself into a very impressive quality, of letting you be yourself and maybe, that was a part of the appeal.

For the record, the climate isn’t all that bad either. When it isn’t all right-wing, Hindutva propogating, moral policing, 11pm deadline adhering, Bangalore has a lot of fun stuff to do. It has a vibrant art and culture scene and quaint little book stores. A walk at Cubbon Park, a coffee at Koshy’s or a dosa at MTR would definitely make your day.

Bangalore, if it were smaller, would be awesome, it’s not a city designed to handle the population explosion. Plus, it has an identity crisis, is it a suave, modern, cool city? Or does it want to stick to its Kannada roots, be orthodox and judgmental? Bangalore’s lack of character arises from this basic conflict.

Doesn’t Hyderabad have this duality? I’m pretty sure it does, but somehow on a more emotional note, I think, it has learned to compartmentalize. Plus, geographically, Hyderabad is much smaller than Bangalore.

Taking off my Hyderabad tinted glasses, I have to say, I have a thing. I compare cities with men. Bangalore would always be the rebound guy I know I’d never get serious with, however fun he might be and Hyderabad, would be the guy I’d take home to my parents, though I know we’d have our differences.

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