Day 3: Hope

It’s been a while since I wrote on political happenings. But then it has been a while since something so envigorating has happened.

Yes,I am talking about the Aam Aadmi Party(AAP). They have done what was seemingly impossible – brought in a fresh wave of honesty and accountability into Indian politics. Despite all the nay-sayers, they managed to get such a huge number of seats. For a first time party, I think it was stupendous. The icing on the cake is, of course, the fact that they have done all the right things as soon as they started governance. And for a change, it does seem that we are talking about the ‘governing party’, as opposed to the ‘ruling party’ that we had been talking about.

Are all their policies right? Well, they seem to be alright to me, but then I am no expert. However, what I do think is that they do have their heart in the right place. If their policies are not effective enough, I do think that they would be open to changes/criticism to ensure that they do what they set out to do. So far, not only have they done what they promised about the water and electricity charges, they have also tackled huge issues of night shelters in Delhi, things which previous governements did little about. News like the manner in which the young minister, Rakhi Birla has already set about her job, is so heartening to read. For once, we can see the will to do things rather than politicians waxing eloquent about stuff and not doing a thing that actually matters( à la Rahul Gandhi, for instance). Are they perfect? Of course not. But they are pretty much as perfect as it gets at this point in time.

It feels like the dawn of a new era. Which is probably why the old time politicians have suddenly started to get edgy, uncomfortable. I find it funny that parties like the Congress which have had so many years to do all this, are now trying to ensure that AAP does what it promises to do, in 2 days. And BJP seeing how AAP could cut into their vote share, is all jittery and will do anything to discredit AAP(not that they are succeeding, they just sound childish and silly).

While I can understand the politicians reacting this way, I find it hard to understand people like you and me being cynical about AAP. I wonder how our expectations are so low from the other parties and yet, we are so demanding from this fledging party, which is trying its best to stem the rot that has been part of the system for so many years. At the very least, I would say AAP is forcing the other parties to adopt austerity measures and talking of things that so far was never even discussed. While I do understand that there have always been upright, non-corrupt, austere people across parties, the true difference in AAP is the fact that it is the party line. It is their way of life, while in other parties they are more the exception than the norm.

Also, AAP has forced the debate on the things that actually matter. We are now talking about the basic needs that our governments of the past have not bothered to address, and seeing the way AAP is taking action, it is clear that things can be done when there is political will. And my hope is that having had a taste of governance, the people of India will refuse to let good governance and accountability be a dormant option going forward. Hate them or love them, there is no doubt that AAP has changed the way people viewed politics.

Of course, not everybody sees them with the rosy glasses I have on, but I can only speak for myself and I have to say that AAP makes me hopeful. AAP gives me that hope that politics will not remain the refuge of the scoundrel. People like you and me could join and work for the country, if we so wished to. Hope, for a better future for our country, that is what AAP stands for, for me. And for that, I am grateful.

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When Love becomes a poison…

Last night, we watched BBC’s India’s Super Size Kids.

It was a scary watch,to say the least. They followed the lives of two young people. A 13 year old and a 20 year old. Both of them obese and addicted to fast food. The program was following the impact of Western fast food joints that have mushroomed in the Indian cities and how it has resulted in the obesity crisis among the adolescents of India.

While I am sure that the fast food and the general eating out culture has a lot to do with the crisis, I was more appalled by the attitude of some of the parents,who saw nothing wrong in their children being overweight or eating badly. And these weren’t the uneducated or people who wouldn’t know better, these were parents who should have known better, who should have the tools necessary to find out more.

It reminded me of a family we met in India. Their teenage daughter looked overweight to me, not obese, but definitely overweight. In the conversation, the mother talked about wanting to buy the best for her children. It made me wonder, what the ‘best’ was, when the she said that she loved it that her house was centrally situated to two KFC outlets.

Another friend was telling me about a friend of her’s who would make gulab jamuns in ghee for her daughter, on a regular basis, until they realized that they had an overweight 10 year old on their hands.

Daughter’s school had some performance night, and I remember being a little surprised that the children(adolescents mainly) seemed a little on heavier side. Another mum told me that it was because all that children want to eat these days is junk food.

I’ve heard parents proudly claiming that they want to give their children ‘everything they didn’t have while growing up’. It makes me wonder if that attitude has more to do with the current crisis. Pampering with food and inactivity. Every wish of theirs pandered to.

While I am sure the fast food outlets do need to be responsible, surely, we as parents, have a bigger responsibility to ensure that our children are eating right? We all love our children, and sometimes, that love might mean that we have to stop them from doing things that our children might love, if it’s not right for them. And really, it is far easier if we start off right, rather than having to set things right after things have gone horribly wrong.

As I read this back, I do feel that I’ve been rather judgemental. Probably because, the feeling I got was that eating out regularly at junk food outlets, seem to be aspirational not just for the kids but also for the parents. And that saddened me, so much so that I woke up still thinking about those kids who are eating their way to bad health.

A Full Circle

This day last year. I do that a lot. Just a way of loiking back at stuff, I guess…

This day, last year, 26th of June 2012, was the day when we packed off our belongings, to India. We were in the middle of wrapping up our lives in the UK. Daughter and I were to go ahead, and move to Bangalore, because we didn’t want her to miss a lot of the school year there. Husband was supposed to join us later, but unexpectedly, there came up an opportunity for him to be in India for 6 weeks. That meant that he could come with us and keep visiting, while he was in India. And if we were lucky, he would be able to join us permanently soon.Too good to be true. And it was. That didn’t happen, at the very last minute, it got cancelled, and he had to stay back.

To cut a long story short, we moved to India and moved back, all in the span of a year. We just got our shipment from India. A full circle. Back where we started from. Not the same location, but back in the same country. How does it feel? Weird. But good weird. It was not in our fate, to be in India just yet, I guess. But it is nice here as well, back to being a family, back to everyday life like it was. Do I miss India. Of course! And hopefully, the next time we do this, we do it together, and stay there:)

Until then, I’m just glad that my shipment has brought me the things I was so missing. My grinder, I’ve had dosas after ages. And finally some of the curios that we had picked up, and kept safe, for when we live in Bangalore have seen the light of the day.

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Isn’t this gorgeous? I love these Liliput lane cottages!

If there is anything this whole exercise has taught us, it is to live in the moment. To live fully. And not wait for the time to go back to India, and then do stuff. Even if it is silly stuff like putting up the curios we picked up.

When Good Quality Education Remains a Pipedream

Amidst all sorts of dismal news, this story was such a heart warming read. Little Lakshmi, all of nine years, ran away from home in November, in an effort to study in an ‘English School’.

Luckily for her, it all ended well. She finally got admission in a reputed International School in Bangalore under the RTE act. Which is, of course, wonderful. Of course, she has to travel a long distance, and everything might not be all rosy, but she’s got a chance that she so desperately wanted. And hopefully, this chance will make a huge difference in her life. And seeing her grit, she probably will grab this chance and really soar high.

Having said that, I can’t help wonder if it would have been the case had this case not got media attention. Also, why is the RTE so dependent on private schools? I am all for private schools chipping in, but ‘chipping in’ must be what it is. I can’t help wonder why we can’t have good government schools, so that no child needs to run away, or travel ridiculous distances to reach school. If Lakshmi had a good government school near by, I am sure she wouldn’t have felt the need to run away to a ‘good’ school.

Also, Lakshmi is one among many who yearn for a better education. She was lucky, or more accurately, she tried really hard to change her luck, and succeeded. Many might not, many might not be in a position to, many might not even know that they have the right to something better. And even private schools will have only a certain amount of seats reserved for RTE students. This whole dependency on the private schools would disappear if the government schools are ramped up and made just as lucrative. It makes me wonder why the government seems to be least interested in doing things which will actually make a difference in the long term. That’s it, isn’t it? ‘Long Term’. Why would they be interested in long term benefits when all that matters to them is the shortest of short term ones – the next elections!

All I can really hope for is that good quality education becomes a reality for everyone, and nobody needs to resort to desperate measures to gain access to it.

The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi

The name caught my attention. Having loved Malladi’s A Breadth of Fresh Air, I was tempted to give this a try.

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Priya Rao had left India 7 years ago as a twenty year old student. For seven years she avoided coming back, and managed to flout most of the strict rules that her mother had handed out, most important of them all – not to marry a foreigner. Well, she’s not married him yet, but she’s engaged to him. And the biggest challenge she faces this holiday is to tell her parents all about Nick, the man in her life.

Returning back to India, Priya realizes that while she has changed a lot over the last few years,things seem to have remained same back home in India. Things she grew up with, suddenly felt alien and strange, although her family, her really extended family seemed to be just the same. The same values, the same power struggles and conflicts, the same beliefs, some of which included very narrow view of Westerners. All of which, of course seems even worse now, now that Priya wants to marry one. How on earth is she supposed to tell them that, when the whole family seems more interested in getting her married to a nice Indian boy? They seem to be ready to do anything to get her married off to a nice Indian Boy.

While her family arranges bride-seeing ceremonies, Priya is at a loss. She feels torn and a traitor to both her family and Nick. She knows she will have to choose between her love and her family, and it’s no easy choice, even though her family gets so annoying at times, even though Nick is just perfect for her. Both are equally part of her. To have to choose is so brutal.

I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the mango season, the way life in India in the hot, sultry summer was depicted. I could almost feel the sweat, taste the tangy mango pickle that was made, hear the bargains that Priya’s mother stuck up.. and Priya’s embarrassment. It was just great! I love these sort of books, which totally take you to the place they are set. Priya’s dilemma felt real as well. Especially given the family that she came from. Although the story could have been predictable, the manner in which it unfolds is quite nice. And there is a nice little twist at the very end.

A quick, fun read, one that will keep you entertained and asking for more. The ending was a wee bit abrupt, but never mind, I still liked the book, over all.

Happy Republic Day

One of the best things of being in India is being able to celebrate days like Independence Day and Republic Day.Properly.

It is such a wonderful feeling. And it makes me glad that I am in a way, able to share some parts of my own childhood memories with daughter. Making some memories with some common ground, because no matter what, living in Britain did make it very different for me. Little things like the the national anthem meaning different things to her and us.

Being in India, changes all that. For the first time, we are enjoying the day, feeling the pride, explaining to daughter, the importance of this glorious day. No matter how negative things might seem, I have always felt rather proud of our constitution. And Republic Day, to me, is a symbol of all that is right in our country.

Today, as the National Anthem was sung in daughter’s school, I felt the pride wash over me. The happiness at belonging to a wonderful country, a country with its problems, its flaws, but a country of our own.

Today, brought back memories that had been almost forgotten. Watching the school celebration, my own school memories came flooding back. Memories of preparing hard for the marching, dances and then the day, when we would have a ceremony in our schools, and then rush off to the colony stadium to celebrate with the whole community. What fun it all used to be.

Today, daughter had a taste of it. She had a celebration at school, and we rushed back to the celebrations at our apartment. And we, husband and I enjoyed it all, soaking in the atmosphere.

Hopefully in years to come, daughter will come to truly appreciate and celebrate the day for what it is.

May You be the Mother of a Hundred Sons by Elizabeth Bumiller

Another Goodreads recommendation, one that both husband and I loved.

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‘In a chronicle rich in diversity, detail, and empathy, Elisabeth Bumiller illuminates the many women’s lives she shared–from wealthy sophisticates in New Delhi, to villagers in the dusty northern plains, to movie stars in Bombay, intellectuals in Calcutta, and health workers in the south–and the contradictions she encountered, during her three and a half years in India as a reporter for THE WASHINGTON POST. In their fascinating, and often tragic stories, Bumiller found a strength even in powerlessness, and a universality that raises questions for women around the world.’, says the blurb, and it had me hooked from the first page.

Elizabeth Bumillier’s husband’s foreign assignment in India, brought her to New Delhi in 1985. She writes about how she came to write this book, going from a person who knew little about India, to someone who travelled through India, lived in villages and came to understand the lives of women across India. Absorbing it all in, and writing about it in the most non-judgemental manner possible. She writes about the dowry burnings, female feticide, the complex hierarchy that exists, the condition of women in both rural and urban areas. The ironies that is India. Despite the powerful women in the political arena, women, are still facing issues with the most basic of things, health care,safety, basic equality and social freedom. The traditions that bind even the richest families in India to patriarchal norms that have resulted in the deep-seated lack of gender equality in India. Women who make the most of their lives despite all the challenges that they might face, women who adjust, accept their fate, and some who succumb to the challenges they face.

Although it was written over two decades ago, the book is still relevant in so many ways. The way in which women’s lives have not changed at the rate at which one would have expected it to change is evident when we read the book. She explores the lives of successful, independent women in India, socialites, feminists as well as women bound by traditions, and rules, for whom life hasn’t changed much from the time of their grandmothers’. The manner in which she writes, the way she sees it, without being judgemental, or stereotypical makes it a great read. Her observations of life as it is in India for women, across all strata of society, the difference in lifestyles and expectations that could vary so much and at the same time be so similar for women across India. My husband read it. He rarely reads a book these days – he finds reading on the Kindle much more easier,he just couldn’t put it down.

For a book, on a subject that can be sad, and heavy, it was a surprisingly quick and interesting read. A book I would definitely recommend.

Conditional Respect – 2

Something that always upsets me is when I see people behaving badly with others who have no option but to keep quiet and bear it.

Sadly, I keep seeing instances of that. I had written about this a few years ago, but can’t help writing about this again.

Yesterday, we were at a supermarket, and as we were leaving, the security guy checked our bill and our purchases – standard procedure in most places these days. There was a family ahead of us who they found had one packet of something that was not reflected on the bill. Probably a billing mistake, I am sure they wouldn’t have been stealing it, but as soon as the security guy pointed it out, they blew up, shouted at him, and threw the packet, rather aggressively, into the shop and stormed off. Totally over-the-top reaction, in my opinion. I am sure there was a polite way of handling it, especially because the security guy was quite polite.

This morning, again, at another supermarket(which begs the question, how much do I shop?, but that’s a question for another day :)), I saw another lady being rather nasty to the cashier because she did not pack the bag properly. I don’t know, it feels so sad when I see stuff like that. I do understand that people do get frustrated, but why take out our frustration on somebody else? The saddest part is the people who have to deal with such rude and nasty customers several times a day. I wonder how they must feel? Once I told a security guard, a simple Thank You, and had him tell me how some people are so rude to him. I am sure that he certainly appreciates the few kind words that must come to him.

Every time, I see such behaviour, I can’t help wonder what joy, what pleasure people get from treating others who can’t answer back, or who can’t retaliate badly.

Just a power trip, I suppose. Just a way of passing on what they might have been receiving from somewhere else.. Why else would one treat another person in this way?

Just some thoughts…

Very few amongst us would have been unaffected by the Delhi Gangrape, and eventually the death of the brave young woman, who tried so hard to stay alive.

Some like Hitchy, have written posts, straight from their hearts, and make me feel so hopeful, that things can’t possibly not improve when people think like this. It gives me so much hope.

The last couple of weeks, I have been travelling, and interestingly, came across so many subtle indicators of how the society thinks. Things which, at an earlier point in time, I would have just not noticed or would have ignored. This time, I reacted slightly differently to some of them.

– People who try to walk a little too close to you in an effort to get to touch. I was lucky it was in an airport, not in a shady road, so I just stood still and stared right back until he was forced to move away.

– People who refuse to reply to a question asked by a woman, would instead reply to her husband. Almost as if they could not stand the fact that a woman dared to talk when her husband was with her. I could actually feel their antagonism towards me.

– People who still believed that women had no business being outside their homes after dark.

– People who believe that without a man in their lives, women are totally, completely helpless.

The one thing that I did notice that most people did shy away from openly blaming the victim. I guess the massive outrage has, in some ways, if not completely changed the way people think, has made them rethink, just a wee bit. Of course, we will still have our share of painted-dented and India-Bharat quotes, but then, not everything can change in a jiffy, can it? Then again, had women been a vote bank for our politicians, I can’t help feel that things would indeed, change in a jiffy. Of course, a lot of the measures might just have been token measures but still, they might be slightly more sensitive.

India has a strange way of making one feel optimistic and pessimistic at the same time. And in a lot of ways, it feels like we are part of a massive change which will make history – fingers crossed.