A Waterless Holi, a crackerless Diwali, a crash diet and earth hour may seem very different from each other, but in reality they are not very different. Each of the above is an event as opposed to a habit. Promote events as much as you want, but the effect of it is short-term at best.
Let us go one by one.
The most recent one is a waterless Holi. Now, Holi is not exactly my favourite festival for a variety of reasons, but not playing Holi (with or without water) is not really going to solve your water problem. If you really care enough about water, you would do many other things. Reduce usage in general, use gray water, promote rainwater harvesting, work in rejuvenating lakes, plug leaks around etc etc. Not only would you do it regardless of where you were, you would also get others to do it. Just by not playing Holi one day is not going to save you too much water if you go the very next day and waste water from washing your car to leaving the tap open while you brush.
Ditto for a crackerless Diwali. The amount of smoke a Diwali cracker (or your entire collection of crackers) lets off on Diwali day is far lesser than the amount of pollutants your car (or even bike) spews in a week (assuming you take a not very long journey- and it goes up as your car gets bigger or your distance gets longer.) Most people who argue for a crackerless Diwali lead a completely opposite life on all the other 363 days of the year. They own polluting cars, will not go anywhere near public transport and wont think twice about driving a kilometer to buy a liter of milk or use a 1000 kg SUV to drop a 25 kg kid to school (instead of using a school bus). If you truly care about the environment, then do many other things - like, perhaps, taking public transport once a week to begin with?
Ditto for Earth Hour. Earth hour is a big farce. Read about it here.
And crash diets, well, you starve once in a year and then hog the rest of the days is hardly going to help your health. If you care about your health, then a combination of food, exercise and controlled eating will do more to you than a stupid crash diet once in a few months.
So, why do people still do it? Because it is easy. It is easy to do an event and then be careless the rest of the year. It is easy to campaign for a waterless Holi while having bath twice a day. It is easy to campaign for a crackerless Diwali while driving around all day in an SUV. It is easy to turn off the lights for a hour, while letting the electricity burn for the other 23 hours each day. And yes, it is easy to crash diet once in a way while hogging away at other times.
Yes, hypocrisy is another word for this...
Saturday, March 30, 2013
A Waterless Holi, a crackerless Diwali, a crash diet and earth hour may seem very different from each other, but in reality they are not very different. Each of the above is an event as opposed to a habit. Promote events as much as you want, but the effect of it is short-term at best.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Friends turn active foes or simply turn away or turn co-conspirators. What is it that institutionalizes hatred in such deep terms? (We all know what it is, but it is fashionable to not talk about it and pretend that such a vile ideology does not exist.)
The book shows the mirror to a people who today perpetually claim persecution, but who have brutally conspired to drive another community nearly into extinction. And yes, this has happened in India - in the great secular democratic state we are proud to be part of - and yes, in the recent past and it continues to be so.
Third, and this is perhaps the most important one. Before the forced exodus, there were many events that happened. And this is what I call as 'creeping poison'. First, one community is asked to wear an identifier (or remove an identifier) - and this has a creepy parallel with Nazis. And hatred is spread on a day to day basis - with basic humanity being denied. There are sporadic incidents here and there. Each day this goes on and on and finally, one day, all the hatred reaches a tipping point. There is no surprise about it - but like the proverbial frog in boiling water, everybody lives in denial - government, society and others. It is not difficult to identify the source(s) and clamp down on them.
I don't know. All I can say is that the book is a depressing read. This happened in our country 20 odd years ago and even today there is very little happening to rehabilitate the community - to give them back their land and home or to prevent its recurrence in other parts of the country.
But this is a great book - it is a story that deserves to be told by the millions who continue to live in forced exile. Hats off to Rahul Pandita to write out this book.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Overall, the visit to Kumbh2013 was a very good one. The arrangements were quite good and the Kumbh itself seemed to have things in place quite well. But there is another side as well.
For one, the roads were really narrow - considering the kind of traffic they take, clearly the Lucknow-Allahabad route deserves a two laned road. Most of the roads were good overall, perhaps repaired to take the Kumbh traffic. Signage could be better as well in general, though the people were the most helpful.
Every bus has atleast 'Journalist' seat. The Volvos have a MP/MLA seat. And there are people who try to make money off you - like Pandey at the Allahabad bus station. As we waited at the hotel, comes a man, asking if the district magistrate had called and gets a room immediately with the note on the register saying ' paise nahi lena' written next to it. While, we, as weary travellers were made to wait for a good time before anything resembling a room came our way.
The Kumbh camps seem to have a hierarchy. There are camps by the Army, the Income Tax, the High court and various other government departments. And each of these, probably exist to service those who have the clout to get there - and I am sure a little fixing on the way as well.
And then there was some official escorted by 4 CRPF Jawans (hats off to you to enduring such a skunk) who sat around ordering them about, while they ordered food for him, cleared the tables, and boosted his ego while he maintained a sour face throughout. Sad that people have to undergo humiliation like this each day.
Why does obsequiousness have to be part of bureaucratic culture? The residues of the mai-baap culture can clearly be seen around. We may spout socialism, but all this only serves to remind us that much of socialism is like The Animal Farm by George Orwell.
Monday, March 11, 2013
A few weeks ago, I had hired a cab to take me home. It was late evening, nearly sunset.
And at one point, the driver pointed to a gate and told me, "Inside that gate is a temple. The temple is opened only on Mahashivaratri day. On other days, you cannot go inside."
I know the road very well. It is a road I see, almost each day. I even know the potholes very well. And the speedbreakers. Also the ones on which one does not need to slow down. That is how well I know the road.
Or so I thought...
And I driven on the road on holidays including Mahashivaratri and never seen any activity there. That gate was never opened.
"What sort of a temple is it?"
"It is a Shiva temple, Saar"
"And is it a very old temple?"
"Yes, it is a very old temple. It is located inside the army area so they dont allow people on regular days, but on Shivaratri day is open to the public."
"Is this very well known?"
"Only the locals know it saar"
The conversation got me intrigued. Cab drivers, are known to spin quite a yarn in general. And, many of them fall in the unverifiable category usually used to regale passengers. Most cab drivers, I have believed, could have an easy alternate career in fiction or scriptwriting.
But, somehow, I had it in my mind to verify this. It seemed simple enough for me to do so.
And thus it was that I landed there in the morning to see the temple on Shivaratri day. The gate was open - though there was a guard standing there. I asked him if there was a temple inside. He actually smiled and asked me to go inside.
The cab driver knew what he was talking about. I was excited about seeing the temple.
We drove along the road. It was an unpaved road. With old trees around. One could hear the birds. It was an island of quiet in the metropolis. Old, really old trees - preserved only because it was some sort of defence related premises. And after a short winding road, there was the temple.
Clearly, an old old temple, though some sort of gopuram had been added to it in the recent past.
And yes, it was opened only on certain days to the public - and obviously only those who knew of it being open, turned up. That kept the temple, unspoilt...
What a find. Fact or fiction? What do you think?
Sunday, March 10, 2013
The Kumbh Mela is perhaps the worlds oldest religious gathering. But like many (and I say many, because there are some which are 'exclusive') religious gathering, especially of Indic faiths, you can be a part of it regardless of whether one is a believer or not.
One can come down as believer, a pilgrim, a wanderer, a learner or just for the experience. What we observed was that while there are clearly, very big crowds on the 'big' days, the days that we were there (between the last two big days and towards the end of the mela), the crowds were quite manageable.
The arrangements were good. We feared the worst, in terms of it not being clean and unhygienic, but frankly, even at the fag end of the mela, the place was none the worse for wear despite a few million having come and gone.
I am not a fan of crowds, especially unorganized ones and I even avoid concerts and stadium because of this, but the mela is huge - and absorbs quite a few people (and that is an understatement).
Overall, people are helpful, both government designated folks and volunteers and people who are a part of it. Perhaps, it is just a feeling of community.
How to get there? There seem to be many ways. We flew down to Lucknow and took the next available bus to Allahabad. But there are trains (if you can manage to book a ticket sufficiently in advance) that get you nearly all the way upto Prayag. There are cabs from Lucknow as well - which is how some people I know made it. Chartered buses are also seen. Allahabad and Varanasi also have airports. So, clearly, there are many ways to get there. We were a bit confused as to the best way and since we did not have enough time, we chose the Lucknow route - could have been much easier on the pocket had we booked in advance. But well, sometimes, planning does not work - you just have to decide to get up and go.
And yes, if you make it to Allahabad (Kumbh Mela or not), do visit, Varanasi (Kashi) - the oldest living city in the world with a rich tradition of 3500 odd years. And for us atleast, Varanasi was a very moving experience.
Is it worth it? In one word - Yes. Though as always, YMMV. Signing off on the Kumbh series of posts. Regular broadcast resumes...
As a keen political observer, it is tough to not have seen it through the 4 days in Uttar Pradesh. On the face of it, the state is quite poor - having been part of BIMARU - the infamous acronym, one doesnt expect it to be any different.
Much of what I write here is a combination of conversations which I had and some which we heard around us.
Lucknow has its share of wide roads, mostly seem to be leading into the Kanshi Ram Memorial. The memorial is visible from the air and though we missed the Mayawati statues, we saw elephants everywhere - in lampposts, entrances and others. People may have their opinion, but memorial building is a pastime of the human race. If one family can have a million schemes named after themselves, surely, a park for ones own party is not such a big deal. The entire park boundary is marked in pink stone.
We had an ex-politico of some sorts in our bus who was conversing with the driver about the choice of trees in this memorial. The trees seem to be some sort of toddy palm - and their comment was that instead of planting native trees like neem or other flowering or fruit trees, the monument has been planted with palm trees that are not suited for this weather.
The roads between Allahabad and Lucknow are narrow (though a widening exercise seems to be in progress in parts) and bumpy and quite unsuited for the kind of traffic they carry - which is a mix of pedestrians to high end cars and buses. These roads were perhaps good enough some 20 years ago, but with this kind of traffic - it is a danger each time one gets on the road. These roads are the typical old style Indian roads - two lanes - one for each direction - with a painted lane marker. So, in order to overtake, one has to get to the other lane and then get back in.
The best of this drive is the fact that one gets to drive through Rae Bareilly, the constituency of the ruling dynasty (or its favourites for the most part) and it looks no different from any other part of UP. Why is that important?
(and this is what I tweeted)
In a bus via Rae Bareilly....amazing development here...looks like the rest of UP...dynasty jai ho
— Neelakantan (@ecophilo) March 5, 2013
For the dynasty which is ruling India, directly or by proxy, their constituency is an advertisement of what they can do. And in that sense it is a perfect advertisement. The place would look not very different, perhaps 30 years ago than it does not. And that is quite sad. Unless you count the picture of Sonia Gandhi, which I saw at one point, as development, it is as developed or under-developed as most of Uttar Pradesh.
A piece on development indicators:
Another one with some statistics:
The road from Varanasi to Allahabad is a little better - mostly because it is part of the old Grand Trunk Road and it seems like a national highway. Crowded in parts and fairly chaotic traffic, but as compared to the previous road, way better.
Our guide at Sarnath was an ardent SP party supporter - a Yadav and he sees the SP as 'his' party. He feels that his party is not doing much despite being in power. Something interesting happened here. As we were talking a beggar came by asking for money. And as she went away, he tells me, "she begs each day, expects money for free and does no work". And I asked him, is that not the state of the country itself? That charged him up and he agrees that this is what the government is doing to this country. Our time in Sarnath was up, but this was a conversation I would have liked to continue.
I chanced upon this post on my twitter timeline and I quite agree with the post in many parts - which means that my observations were not totally out of the blue.
The Kumbh mela is a riparian festival that has been going on for millenia. What better symbolism to the Kumbh than flow. And we found that our entire trip (all of 4 days) was about 'flow' as well.
First a gentleman offered to drop us off to the bus stand at Lucknow, much of the chagrin of his fellow traveller - so we bade goodbye and went off on our way in a rickshaw. But that, perhaps was the harbinger of things to come - that in general, people are helpful.
We reached Allahabad and realize that the bus conductor forgot to give us change and just as we were about to give up, comes a rickshaw wallah offering to take us to the bus. We woke the conductor up and collected the change - and invited the rickshaw wallah for tea at 130 in the night - which he was grateful to partake.
Another rickshaw chap in Allahabad insisted of coming along with us expecting nothing in return. Ditto for the rickshaw driver in Lucknow who was very happy waiting for us and driving us around the city. We had a great experience at Sarnath as well.
Varanasi, of course, was a class apart...We received some interesting fundas from the proprietor of Kedareshwar sweets near Cantt on how cows are being grain instead of grass and how that affects the quality of milk.
A wrestler in Allahabad, a few other 'pehelwans' who thought Bangalore was Chennai, a school teacher, couple of sadhus and then some...
All along the way, we met various people who were curious and helpful - and that in general has been my experience across much of the country too...
'Assume goodwill' when it comes to people. And of course, to go with the 'flow' - our big learnings from this entire exercise.
Saturday, March 09, 2013
The time we spent in Varanasi, we saw people of all kinds. There were pilgrims who had come there with a clear purpose. Visiting a few temples (and a few more temples), performing a few rituals, getting the best bargain possible and going back. They require the dedication of commandos to wake up at unearthly hours, take a dip in ice cold water, stand a queue for hours and yet they do it. In pilgrim center after pilgrim center, it is the faith that sustains them. They are willing to undertake any hardship to have a 'darshan' of their god - indeed, they see all the inconvenience as a test of god - which is a reason why our pilgrim centers can do with the current levels of infrastructure and facilities - while in reality they could be so much better.
Then there are the sadhus, bhikshus and mendicants - wandering around seeking enlightenment. These are people with very few possessions or pretensions, though there are different degrees of sadhus as well. They stay at a place, then go to an ashram or another place and wander around seeking god. To think that they are following a rich history of a few thousand years is amazing. Today, we are skeptical of such seekers, when they come, not for alms, but for a meal or a rupee or two, but this is a part of Indian culture and tradition. I was particularly moved a one sight. An old mendicant- came outside a sweet shop (seems to be a regular) and chanted in a low tone - Jai Ram, Siya Ram - and waited patiently for a good half an hour. Until finally, the shopowner gave him a glass of milk - which he was content to take away - no questions asked. Perhaps that was his meal or his only meal of the day, but it was gratifying to see that he was not shooeed away - not by the owner or by his customers - and that they thought that a little benevolence on their part would go a long way for him. This is a great part of our tradition - giving away - even a little bit each day to the deserving. True, there are beggars and lazy chaps who do nothing and yet spread their palms for money - indeed the whole nation is looking for doles, but there are seekers and mendicants who ask for very little. This sight was very moving.
Then there are the next class of wanderers - who I call rich wanderers. These were mostly foreigners who have taken a break to wander around in India. Either with backpacks or backpack and a camera, they roam around the country at places like these. I saw many of them meditating, doing yoga, wandering about, soaking the sights of India. The aspect of wandering seems to be quite a prized thing for them.
Why I say this, is that we found almost nobody 'like us' - Indians from the cities who were wandering around for a few days. As a nation, as a culture, we have been great wanderers and have planted roots in many parts of the world and our own country, but the aspect of aimless wandering for even a few days seems to have been lost among us (yes, Kishor, you are an exception). Perhaps we are caught up in earning a living at one level or at another level, we prefer to wander in exotic places (read foreign), but having done this for the second time, we resolved to do more of this. To see more of our country by wandering about..
One has to lose himself to find himself...
Varanasi or Kashi as it is known became a big part of our itinerary without us planning that way. We found ourselves in Varanasi at the end of a long, rattling, bus ride through much of the afternoon. As we made our way to Godowlia crossing to see the Ganga ghats, we were quite excited. And there is a particular point, when the river becomes visible as you walk - that was quite a moment. We walked down to the ghats which, as usual (as we were to discover later) was filled with people. Pilgrims, wanderers, photographers and many other sub categories.
First we watched the river from the city, then we watched the city from the river - morning and evening. And then walked around the little streets of the city. We sat on the ghats and marvelled at the flow of the city. There is a lot of apparent chaos, but there is also order. Depending on whether you want chaos or order, you get them. Or if you want silence, that is there too. We watched the sun rise over the city from the other side, watching the sun bathe the city in its golden glow - as it has done for centuries. The gentle swaying river as we boated back and forth had a calming effect.
The Ganga aarti is perhaps the closest we have to an 'event'. In many international destinations, there are shows put on for tourists and visitors. The Ganga aarti as it is today is quite a visual spectacle. And it attracts quite a few people and it is done very well.
Yes, this is how the worlds oldest living city would have been. For 3500 years. Where chaos and order intermingle. Where pilgrims would have bathed in the Ganga for millenia. Where the samosa sellers and the shops would have hawked their wares for ages. To think that this city is basically unchanged over all these years was mindblowing to think of. Except for the dresses and perhaps the shopfronts, the city would have been the same. Seekers, pilgrims, wanderers...all of those who make this city a city of flow.
The Flowing city of Varanasi has left quite an indelible impression on my mind...
In a way, the Kumbh mela and life is also about flow. Flow with life as they say, like a river. Is it a coincidence that much of human civilization was riparian to begin with...
Friday, March 08, 2013
Wake up. Put big pan on fire. Pour oil. Deep fry. Serve delicious food. Every morning.
Puris - rich, biteable, wheaty and delicious. Bhature, oval shaped, fluffy and crispy (maida it is, but we will ignore health for the purposes of this post). Samosas, for breakfast - take that, all those who live South of the Vindhyas. And Jalebis - sweet, dripping with sugar syrup, orange and crisp. Paranthas - made to order. And cook some lovely accompaniments - like Chole, Alu Sabji. (For some reason, Rajma was missing in most places...any idea why?)
All across Varanasi, Allahabad, the Sangam area, Lucknow, this is the description of food. Deep fried, piping hot, breakfast. Lunch is usually a thali or rice with cholle or some such. Somehow, the Samosa and the puri seem to be breakfast favourites, but the roti takes over at lunch.
And I have not yet spoken about the sweets - the Khova, the Paneer, the Rabdi, the Hot Milk, the other sweets. And the lassi, with a blob of malai floating over it - if its sweet, it is just right sweet, not overpowered like a sugar bomb. And yes, I missed eating the launglatha...
Every place. From Cantt in Varanasi, to Godhulia crossing to Lucknow to Sangam. Amazing food.
The amazing part is that all this food is subtle. The tastes dont jar. They are just right and soft on the tongue. The sweets are not overly sugared. The samosas not overly spiced. This is bit different from what I have experienced - street food in general, is not subtle. The tastes stand out. The mirchi powder often strains your throat later. The oil is often oxidized.
And the Kachoris. (And yet, after all this gastronimic gymnastics, the stomach was in perfect condition.) Paneer with salt sprinkled on it. Some melt-in-the-mouth rasagolla, hot Khova with just the natural sweetness of milk (and that is just so good).And this is just the stuff we tried. We missed trying the chaat, the chole-pakode, the masala kachori and perhaps 90% of the menu.
There are no refrigerators, most of the food is in front of you, in big baskets, big plates, big vessels - sometimes on a low flame, sometimes, just so. Served not in fancy plates with tissues or wraps, but in ordinary steel plates or in leaf containers that beat plastic by a mile. All this at a cost that makes your wallet smile.
And the tea, uniformly sweet, mildly flavoured, but brewed as it is usually is in places like these. Not for the dip dip connoisseurs or those who sip green tea at their desks - this is the real tea. And every place the tea tasted perfect.
(Aside: The birds here are also fed some form of farsan - is that the secret of migratory birds returning?)
After all this, we reached Bangalore, very hungry, took a long agonizing look through the glass refrigerator of a chain that sells frozen food as fresh food. And picked up an apology of a prepacked sandwich with cheese, corn and palak. It was served, microwaved, wrapped in foil, packed in a brown bag and two tissues and a huge bill. As I bit into it, I dreamt of a piping hot paratha or the chole pakode that we had missed. Sigh!
Thursday, March 07, 2013
It was my first visit up North - beyond the obvious big cities and the 'tourist circuit'. Sure, I have been to Jaipur, Delhi, Shimla and the like, but Allahabad, Lucknow and Varanasi were a first.
Now, in general, we tend to believe that South Indians are a genial lot and North Indians are the aggressive lot. And by and large that might be true and it has held true across my previous visits, though I would only keep Delhi on the list. Or if you take the average Bangalorean and the average Delhiite. And the average Chennai autodriver might be an equal to the average Delhi autodriver. And an occasional Bangalore auto driver might give both of them a run for their money.
But on this trip, we found the roles slightly reversed. Especially, when it came to fares. Most rickshaws quoted a fairly reasonable fare for the destinations we wanted to go. Sure, there were a couple of them that quoted some random numbers that can give a shiver to googol, but by and large, they were in the range of the numbers we know and recognize as auto fares.
A common thing in Bangalore if you get off a bus is autodrivers who will offer to drive you to some nearby destination at the price of a plot in that destination. Or business class airfare. Or a 5 star room equivalent. And then you walk away and settle for the price of a smaller plot. Or economy class. Or a 3 star room. And the auto driver is happy. And so are you, because you bargained and won!
All of these places were not like this. The rates were reasonable and quoted within an acceptable range - by rickshaw drivers, cycle rickshaw drivers. But the best were the Vikram drivers - same fares for all accents, skin types and gender. Sure, one has to be smart, know the language and keep ones wit about themselves and bargain a bit, but that is required anywhere.
So, the typical stereotype that we associate with South versus North was seriously challenged this time, atleast for us. And Lucknow was an absolute revelation - the auto driver was as good as any guide and very happy to wait with us. As was the sweet shot chap (Raj Sweet house) who was better than any sweet shop chap we have met anywhere.
Was it the negotiation experiences with Bangalore autodrivers over the last many years that prepped us for it? Or what you seek is what you get, perhaps? Or perhaps it was the magic of the Kumbh?
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
It all began with Twitter. There were a few on my timeline who were tweeting about the Maha Kumbh Mela, 2013 and a thought took root in my mind. Can I make it to the Kumbh Mela this year? After all, it was tempting to be part of the worlds oldest and largest human gathering - and it seemed within reach too. And The Kumbh Mela was not a place that had ever figured in my list of 'things to experience'.
And I must admit that I did not know that the Kumbh is a month long event. A series of events happened in the meantime and I was resigned to going there after 12 years. But then, as it happens, somehow, there is a force in the universe that ensured that I would make it to Kumbh this year. And so I did. But thats for later.
At first, the reactions of the people were somewhat of a revelation. And it continues to be so. For a lot of India, the kind of India in the cities, perhaps, English educated elite like us, the Kumbh Mela seems to be some sort of a place where we dont go to. Perhaps it is conditioning, perhaps it is the fear of crowds, perhaps it is the feeling of infra dig, but whatever, a lot of people I mentioned this to thought it was 'uncool'. To be honest, in the pre-twitter era, I would have thought of it likewise too, but twitter has opened my eyes to our traditions and history among other things.
Some asked me, if everything was ok in my life. There were others who asked me, why am I going? Yet others thought that the Kumbh was a mythical event - as in, not real - only spoken about in movies. Then there were those who thought it was a great idea to be part of such an event. Some thought it was cool. A few encouraged me, called me and even wished me luck. The best one was where someone told me that it was important to 'wander'.
After coming back from the Kumbh, I must admit that the reactions have still been along almost all of these lines. And a feeling of incredulity - as in - you have actually been there - wow! And, you are the only person I know who has ever been there.
It is kind of interesting to note the range of reactions that a momentous event like this evokes in us. It is worth a thought. In general, as Hindus, we have the liberty of ignoring, questioning and even poking fun at our traditions. That is a good thing - life is too short to be taken seriously. But having said that, am not sure if the reactions would have been the same if it was a rock concert or Burning Man or some such thing.That is perhaps the result of our constant looking up to Western traditions as 'cooler'. Perhaps yes, perhaps not.
Perhaps twitter will contribute to the coolness of the Kumbh wiping a bit off our schooling that did not teach us our history and traditions well. From the last couple of times (the smaller kumbhs), there are services that offer luxury tents with some spectacular views of the kumbh at spectacular costs. There are spiritual gurus who offer guided tours. And then those Harvard case studies. And foreigners. And then some.
Whatever, the case, I am thankful that I was able to be part of this historic gathering and soak in the energy of the Sangam. And yes, there were many who longed to be part of this event - so I see the event gaining in strength year on year. More power to the Kumbh Mela and its yatris...