Thursday, June 26, 2008

Milk of Human Kindness

The other day I came upon a news clip about this villager in Orissa who rescued a bear cub which had strayed from the forest and took care of it. The cub has become a part of the family, treating the villager's 7-8 year old daugher as its sibling. It is quite tame and the villager, till now, has not used it for any commercial purposes.

The authorities (Forest Department, police) got to know of this, took the bear cub away and parked it in the zoo. They are also planning to arrest the villager for illegally keeping a wild animal in captivity. Which means, that his daughter, whose mother died sometime back, is going to become an orphan.

What sort of justice is this? Understood, that he did something illegal, but it was done with the best of intentions - the cub would have died if he had not looked after it. Being an uneducated villager living on the borders of a forest, he is unaware of laws that stop people from showing kindness to animals. And in doling out justice to the animal, a 7-year old child is being orphaned! Of course, another matter for debate is whether the bear will indeed have a better life in the confines of the zoo given the notorious facilities that Indian zoos have - at least, with the villager, it was living free, with open spaces around it.

While we definitely should care for animals and ensure that they remain in their natural habitat, sometimes we take things too far and become insensitive to human life. Maneka Gandhi, the most high profile animal lover in India, sometimes does push things too far (though I admire her work through People for Animals) - I wonder how she feels about all those people who were persecuted and presumably tortured by her ambitious husband during the emergency?

Monday, June 23, 2008

One Love

When my daughter got admitted to school, the parents were called for an orientation session on parenting. It included a session by a child pshychologist and the lady (or was it a gent?) said something that has stuck in my mind for 5 years. She said that though parents always crib about their children when they come to a psychologist, the children never complain about their parents - in fact, they always say 'My mummy is the best' or 'I love my daddy'!

Though it was rather touching, I was also a bit skeptical (that's my usual state of being, the 'sthayi bhava' as exponents of dance and abhinaya would say). But as my daughter grew up and started expressing herself, I began realising the truth of the statement. Being a single parent, I have a lot of pressures to handle. On top of that I almost have two professions and both are equally demanding. Amidst all this, I can make very little time for my daughter, though I try to make up by making her a part of almost all my socialising.

However, the pressures of such a life are difficult to handle and slowly but surely, I became the irate parent, impatient with her, taking out my frustations by scolding her (sometimes for a reason, but sometimes just to get the angst out of myself). After many a long day, I have been too tired to even listen to her and am hardly part of her daily routine like homework, etc. I've missed countless school shows and prize distribution ceremonies because of my travel schedule. Sometimes I feel that I should send her to a boarding school, but can hardly think of it seriously, since she's the one person who belongs to me. Ironically, that's probably the reason why I take her for granted and turn on her when I'm battling my inner demons.

What about her? Call it unconditional love or an uncanny sense of diplomacy, she still says 'My mother is the best' and 'I love my mamma the most'. When she was quite small, I had once scolded her. She went out of the room and after sometime came back with a card, which she shyly presented to me. On it was written 'Mamma you are the best and I love you very much' - I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. On every mother's day she makes a card for me and on one such card (which was titled 'Happy Moter's Day') she had written 'you are kind'. She still considers me her hero, is unnaturally proud of me and unusually shy when she has to perform in front of me. Diplomacy? I'll go with unconditional love.

As she's growing older, the bond is getting stronger - the flip side is that she only listens to me and not to too many other people. There are still the daily ups and downs to face but I've realised that this is one love where there's no profit and loss account, no tracking of how much you gave and how much the other person returned and definitely no threat of the scheming 'other' who will take your beloved away. Even when the day comes when she will turn around and say 'Mamma, you're so stupid', I will cherish the love that she has given me all these days and be forever grateful for it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Who will cry when you die?

I've often asked myself this question. No, it's not the sign of impending old age - this is a question that has been popping back and forth between my conscious and subconcious minds since I was a teen. While the title is shamelessly plagiarised from a Robin Sharma book, the question is entirely original.

Ok, let's look at the possibilities. One might say, of course, your family will cry. You wish. Yes, they will make sure all formalities are done, they will probably be generous enough to call all the estranged and obnoxious relations to your funeral/shraddh/rememberance ceremony, irrespective of your hatred for them. But soon that ceremony will become a social occasion with discussions about/with people you haven't seen for a long time, scandals in the family, the menu and the appropriateness or otherwise of the clothes people are wearing. Heck, I've seen people ending up jiving at the rememberance get-together for a 20-year-old!

This is not to belittle the love your family has for you. One or two people, the ones closest to you will miss you, yes. But the way we are going about our lives, running from pillar to post to make a living, chances are that those 'close' people like wives, husbands, children would be estranged and disconnected by the time you die. It would just be an extension of the disconnect that you had created - it will slowly change to a dull pain and then to a vague rememberance.

Let's look at other aspects of life. The office? One minute's silence, during which numerous mobile phones will ring to the tune of all the Bollywood songs you detested. Fidgeting people will look at their watches, wondering when this torture would end. A few murmured sympathies in the pantry, a visit to your family by the boss and that's it. Your exit interview is over.

On a more serious note, I do feel that there is lack of purpose in our lives. What is it that we were born to do, that unique thing which I can brand as 'me' and which no one will ever forget, even if they forget my name, how I looked and when I lived. We get so involved in our petty problems - deadlines, clients, bosses, houses, name it. Yet, it's so inconsequential if you put it in perspective of the larger world. I feel petty and insignificant when I see this perspective. At least, for me, my other profession, dance will help me leave some legacy, in terms of students, dance productions and hopefully, a few admirers. But even I can't pursue what I really believe I was born to do - i.e. dance, because I want a safe and secure life, for which I have to do a high pressure job. Is it worth it? Probably not.

However, I don't have the courage to quit and follow my dreams. Maybe I will psyche myself into it some day, but I can't see that day clearly before me. Paulo Coelho said in The Alchemist 'When you want something badly, the universe conspires to help you achieve it', and I have seen it happen in my life. Still...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Notes from a Pilgrimage

Finally, I'm ready to talk about the other theme of this blog - dance. A trip to the Mecca of my form of dance seems like an auspicious beginning.

A few weeks back, I visited Manipur along with a motley group of people comprising my mother, daughter, mother's friend, two students and a student's mother. I was visiting after a long gap of four years and I didn't really know what to expect. Added to that was my trepidation about the increasing insurgency threats and consequent security concerns. I was responsible for the safety of other people, including that of my mother and daughter, and the pessimist in me collaborated with my overactive imagination to give me visions of abduction, torture, getting caught in the crossfire....

We arrived in Imphal after a gruelling 16 hour bus journey from Guwahati (which was preceded by a 22 hour train journey from Kolkata in 3-tier comfort!). Expecting verdant valleys and the splendours of nature all around us, we found ourselves in the middle of a busy market place (rather like Burra Bazar in Kolkata). Enthusiasm Counts slipped a notch or two. Hopes of a cooler climate too were thwarted by the blazing sun. Finding a hotel proved a tough ask too. If after many sweaty hours we managed to find something decent, there did not seem to be too many eating joints around. Plus, the language problem became apparent. Though most people talk broken Hindi the gap between our intended meaning and their understanding was huge - and I wasn't yet feeling adventurous enough to try out my broken Manipuri! The crowning glory was an evening spent without electricity, cooped up in our hotel rooms. The E.Cs were dropping faster than the current-day sensex. (Only my six-year-old daughter Ana seemed to be enjoying the rare privilege of spending endless hours with me!)

However, even this day of trial for the helpless big city people in a less privileged world had its rewards. And that was a visit to the Ima market - a market run entirely by women, made famous recently by Discovery Channel. It was just two minutes away from the hotel and the local handloom products had us engrossed for one happy hour and we came back satiated. However, my anxiety about the E.C. remained and I started to think of this trip, rather fatalistically, as an unqualified disaster.

And then we went to Moirang on Day 2. It's a border state, the famous place where Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his Azad Hind Fauj planted the first Indian flag in his bid to overthrow the British Empire. Moirang is better known among the Manipuris as the birthplace of their ancient festival of Lai Haraoba. The moment we heard the sound of Pena (an ancient string instrument, somewhat like a makeshift violin) from outside the enclosure where the festival was going on, our spirits lifted. We watched the Maibis (female priestesses who get the 'call' to serve god and devote their lives to worship and social work) perform with inimitable grace, a little child, barely 4 or 5 years old, performing the trademark steps with great confidence and the entire community gathered to take part in this re-enactment of the creation of the universe. The E.C.s began their heady ascent into hitherto unknown heights!

Since then, it became easy. The Loktak Lake was breathtaking with its huge expanse, floating vegetation and the presence of military personnel from the army camp, in as much abundance as the vegetation. We were lucky enough to witness two more Lai Haraoba performances, this time within Imphal, where again the community participation enthralled us. When I say that everyone from six to sixty years of age took part, it's actually an understatement. Children and elders, who can barely walk, took part and one 70 year old man gave a spirited performance! A visit to the Govindaji Temple proved an experience in spirituality that I seldom encounter. An added bonus was a brilliant play by the celebrated director Kanhai Lal - an adaptation of Dakshyajagya rendered in a style that's uniquely Manipuri - stark, earthy, eloquent, poetic and wholly surprising.

What has always struck me most about Manipur is its paradoxical ethos. On one hand, you have the Assam Rifles men, with menacing looking automatics, placed a few metres apart, on almost every road you travel. On the other hand, you have the people - simple, friendly and demonstrative. We were overwhelmed by the love and affection showered on us - and especially on Ana, who wore a Manipuri Phanek (a kind of sarong) through most of the trip and delighted everyone who saw her. Of course I had to field uncomfortable and sometimes funny questions about whether I had married a Manipuri! By the second day, I was a little more adventurous with my spoken Manipuri and that immediately made people warm up even more towards me. We made friends in the Ima market (strangely enough, everyone knew our travel plans by the 2nd day); we were offered places to sit (a rare commodity) at the Lai Haraoba performances.

Manipur is a state that is less privileged and neglected in many ways. The infrastructure is poor, the power situation is nightmarish (barely 6 hours of electricity per day in most areas) and there are numerous problems, one of the biggest of them being the prevalence of AIDS. Yet, in spite of all these troubles, the Manipuris create unparalleled beauty through their art - the dance style is lyrical, the handicrafts are exquisite and the aesthetic sense and artistic sensibility of the man on the road, remarkable. It's difficult to imagine how such artistry, love and beauty can exist side by side with negligence, terror and violence.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hail Reservation

India is truly on the path to global leadership. Not only do we have a booming economy and an increasing position of strength in international politics, we are teaching the world a thing or two about liberty, equality and fraternity.

The proposed policy on reservation in educational institutions for scheduled castes and tribes is a revolutionary step towards the emancipation of the downtrodden. Of course, some of those downtrodden may well be owners of Swiss bank accounts but historically and by virtue of their birth they fall under scheduled castes or tribes. The government is showing great sense of discretion in not letting financial status cloud their vision. The other small matter of depriving the meritorious upper caste student is also been seen in its true perspective. After all, how many meritorious students actually serve the country - most of them will take the superior education provided by India and then use it for the benefit of some other country. The reflected glory that sometimes belongs to India is dispensable, especially in these days of real glory.

On the other hand, consider the benefits of the reservation regime. India will forever lose the stigma of an old social order that believes in caste discrimination - a stigma it has carried for thousands of years. The Western countries, already falling over themselves in deifying India and its talent, and its large, rapidly evolving consumerist market, will hail the move. We will be the true upholders of democracy, a country where equality is not just a word but something that we live....and suffer, everyday, with faulty diagnoses and collapsing buildings.

The other benefit is even more far-reaching in effect. Think of this. After the reservation policy comes into effect, people will think twice about going to doctors and hospitals. To ensure that they don't have to do it, they will take care of their health - they will eat right, exercise, give up smoking and drinking, go vegetarian, start mediatation and...and, practice birth control. In one fell swoop, the government has tackled the problems of overpopulation, national health, the issue of lack of beds in hospitals and so on and so forth. It won't be surprising if world leaders now look towards India to lead the path in innovative strategising and policy making.

An appeal to the demonstrators - get your perspective right. You are seriously jeopardising India's chances of global glory. No wonder the official reaction is so severe!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Ram, Shyam and Harry

Many of us have hailed the Harry Potter series and its creator the inimitable Ms Rowling for leading our children, a la Pied Piper, back to books. The hysteria surrounding every new release and the avid interest with which today’s children devour the books would tend to validate this opinion.

However, if one pauses to think, are Harry, Ron and Hermione (and most of the children on the ‘Good’ side) worthy role models for our kids? More than the dangerous tasks they undertake with such deceptive ease, it's their precociousness and audacity that is a matter of concern for parents. The attitude of the born rebel and challenger of rules and courtesies of social existence is tremendously attractive to children (one of the reasons why the books are so popular?)

Think of it. If you were a teacher in Harry’s class, would you have put up with their behaviour? They are pathologically inattentive and spend a lot of time discussing their adventures in class. Harry and Ron need frequent help, sometimes of the unethical kind, to pass their exams. They are disrespectful to most teachers and here I’m not only referring to Snape – think of the trouble they give poor little Flitwick. Breaking school rules is second nature for them and being rude to adults is also part of their ‘charisma’.

So are these the values that we want to inculcate in our children? It’s pointless to say that children today are not that naïve and they don’t imitate fictitious characters so easily. If that's true, then we won’t have all those children jumping off windows thinking they are Superman. Even if you manage to educate the children about the danger of the more physical acts of bravery in Harry Potter, it will be far more difficult to counter the insidious effect that their behaviour in the most sedate of chapters can have.

Having said this, I must also say that I’m not against the HP series. In fact, I’m an avid reader (the 6th book is the only one I have read less than three times!) and enjoy the world of fantasy that Rowling has created so effortlessly. But may be we could do with some Parental Guidance as our Rams and Shyams read and internalise everything in these books – right from the incantations and the quidditch positions to the bravado of rule-breaking and name-calling.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A pedestrian approach

She grabs her 10-year-old daughter’s hand. Then, sari firmly tucked around an ample waist, blouse fighting a losing battle with the love handles, she starts running across the street, unmindful of the vehicles hurtling down towards her. Her daughter, weighed down by the multitasking capabilities required to manage a heavy schoolbag and a dripping ice-lolly, breaks into an awkward run too.

The Crisis: A bus on route No. 47A in Kolkata
The Motto: Pran jaaye par bus na jaaye!

The empty cab puts the Mississippi to shame as it meanders, immune to the desperate horns of office-going vehicles. Just when you decide he’s going to pull up on the side, he puts on a sudden burst of speed and swerves to the right, or left, depending on which part of his brain is functioning at that moment. The horns are now replaced by the screeching of brakes and some really offensive remarks about the cabbie’s treatment of his mother and sisters.

The Crisis: Too many cabs/Too many Bihari non-drivers
The Motto:
Yeh dil, na hota bechara
Kadam, na hote awara
Jo Salt Lake wala koi apna
Pa-ssenger hota!

The light turns green. The vehicles surge forward. So do the pedestrians. For unfortunate owner’s of vehicles in Kolkata, it’s a case of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ If you stop, the car behind will have something to say about how YOU behave with YOUR mother and sisters. If you move, that hardworking representative of the proletariat, in other words, the pedestrian, will abuse your bourgeois audacity to not only own a car, but also drive it when he/she is crossing the road. Signal? It’s like your inner consciousness – it takes the shape, or colour that you decide to give it. After all, we belong to the transcendental Orient and can rise above such mechanical inventions of the materialistic West.

The Crisis: Colour blindness?
The Motto:
Yeh Mahalo, yeh takhton, yeh taajo ki duniya
Yeh insaan ke dushman riwazo ki duniya
Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hain?

The world is their playground. Free spirits, they are not bound by the laws of space, nor are they confined by the boundaries of streets and sidewalks. If they decide to greet a friend and exchange pleasantries in the middle of the road, there’s no stopping them. Minor things like cars or the laws of the state cannot dampen their spirit. If a car comes, it will stop – simple! The sidewalk? Boring. We like to take centre stage in all that we do. And if a car dares to use its rights of moving on the street, all that’s needed is a strong, hard stare from bloodshot eyes and a slow, oh so slow, swagger to the roadside.

The Crisis: Misplaced bravado
The Motto: Aa dekhe zara, kisme kitna hain dum!