Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why Remain Involved?

The Indian public is cynical enough to know what the rhetoric will be during elections. What exactly who will say. For example, the opposition will claim that the Congress will never bring in a strong anti-corruption bill and we should therefore vote for them and not for the Congress. The Congress will declare the opposition isn’t secular and we have no choice but to vote for them.

Fear mongering, bringing down the other side instead of showing what they themselves – each individual politician standing for elections (and their party) - plans to do for India and Indians.

Here's another possible action plan. Promise the moon before and ignore the promise after elections. Or couch the promise in ambiguous language that can be interpreted differently after elections.

What concerns me is that we know and accept this will happen. It's a given.

For just a moment take Anna's movement. We protested against corruption in politics; the politicoes were indifferent to our protests to rein their corruption in, they threw mud on team Anna instead - none of it really stuck I think because again the Indian public understood what the purpose of all that mud slinging was.

But we backed away. In this YouTube video, Shanti Bhusan says (starting at 53:00), "If the people continue to raise their voices in a peaceful and disciplined manner, I have very strong confidence that no political party will be able to disregard our demand."

But in the long haul it proved to be too darned difficult to keep going. I know that many of us believed that Anna and team were trying to bring in a draconian Janlokpal but we never, for one instant started believing that individuals in government (or the opposition) had suddenly become any less corrupt. The reason we all got together remained unchanged - we wanted to get rid of corruption in government. (Here's the latest disheartening example of corruption by Ram Jethmalani, a respected Indian lawyer.)

This post isn’t about the Janlokpal and whether team Anna were too rigid in their demand that it had to be implemented in all its entirety. It isn't about the government trying to subvert the issue through any means rather than by addressing it. It is about us - the Indian public.

Who can deny the pluses of the Anna movement? We saw that speaking out and demanding accountability with one voice, in unity, by following a uniform action plan and with dedicated leaders is effective. The incredible energy of 2011 will never go wasted. It taught us that a billion strong force protesting is so much more powerful than a billion lone individuals indulging in armchair politics and just letting off steam.

The biggest minus is that after a while we tend to give up. We aren't persistent enough.

If we don't remain engaged and involved, actively making the effort to right injustice, our inaction comes back to hurt us and our loved ones.

Let me move away from IAC and take the example of the people who migrate to our cities to earn a living but end up living in poverty and squalour. Their numbers are increasing by the day. The money slotted for improving their lot doesn’t reach them. Often, they don’t know where the next meal is coming from. There's discontent and unrest as a result. In the 80s - three decades ago, I remember reading a thousand migrants came into Mumbai each day. (I don't know how many of those were below the poverty line) Now many of them live in huge slums in our cities. Tavleen Singh said on twitter that if we are not careful, all our cities will become huge slums - and sooner than we think. I won't even go near what garbage dumps in our neighbourhoods, traffic congestion and noise pollution on our roads are doing to the air we breathe, to the health of our loved ones and to our cash flow. I've discussed that elsewhere. All these are huge injustices - issues that need addressing, and urgently.

Hum Tum - by Sankar Kanhar on Flickr
Let us just talk about the huge slum cities within our cities. Third and fourth generations have been born into those slums. And their numbers are growing. At the same time we all (slum dwellers and house dwellers) depend on resources,  like water and land, which haven't increased at all. Most of the poorer migrants see others, better off than themselves, having more access to these resources. They are completely disenfranchised. They are desperate.

When someone who sees an opportunity to exploit the situation, gives them reason to blame their misfortune on "others", they are more than willing to listen. Their resentment of these others - people with houses, someone better off, educated, from another community, someone who has a different mode of dress, women who work, don't work, the rich, the ones who speak another language, is carefully nurtured and encouraged by their leader. They feel, where once they were voiceless, they are now talking and everyone is sitting up and listening.

Their vote has begun to count as their numbers are huge. Politicians have jumped into the fray – each one promising them many things. The message is usually aimed against the others - the other language speakers, the better off, the ones with jobs, the ones who live in houses, the ones who follow different customs and traditions... The promises might even be reckless - we'll ensure quotas for you in jobs;  we'll make the use of "our" language - any one of the seventeen languages and hundreds of dialects spoken in India - compulsory)

"How does one make good on promises like that?" The truth is, their followers do not look beyond the promise. Bolstered by the strong front behind which they stand, they become strident in their own verbal rhetoric against the hated others. They don't have anything to lose and everything to gain. What would it take for their aggression and anger to boil over? Very little.

And yet we hesitate. As we wait in indecision and inaction, they become bolder and consolidate their position because of the backing of muscle, goonda and gun powered leaders. As I said before, when they are so pumped up, it doesn't take much for their desire to exact a price from the others to become a reality. That is when every Indian's physical safety is on the line.

To end I have only one question. How do we continue staying free?

free microsoft clipart
And the answer? By doing something we Indians have discovered we enjoy doing - making an effort to better the lives of somebody else; only, let us make that effort in unity and through well thought out action plans; perhaps by joining established NGOs on a larger scale than ever before; perhaps a group effort in our own neighbourhood; by digging deep to find that one hour a week; by not giving up; by doing it now rather than later; by remaining involved whatever the cynics say; by giving the people who live at the edge of society hope that there is a much better way than anarchy to improve their lot in life.

Or, there is a crisis in waiting. It is seething under the surface and if it erupts we'll end up making desperate individual efforts to keep our nearest and dearest or our jobs and livelihood safe and out of danger. It will very much be the luck of the draw as to who is spared and who is not.

This post was written for the Stayfree, Time To Change competition on Indiblogger.
If you liked it and would like to vote for it here's the link


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Adrian and Shashi

Short Story, Fiction. 

Microsoft Free Clipart
Shashi cooked the evening meal, glancing fondly at Adrian as he fed the dog. Their bedsit was big as a barn and they’d both felt a dog wouldn’t cramp their space. They’d found Tim at the local SPCA.

“I swear Tim’s grown since last night.”

“His food bill certainly has since last month,” Shashi said dryly, energetically stirring the white wine sauce, one amused eye on Tim wolfing down his food. Within seconds it was gone. The dog looked surprised. Adrian laughed. Tim wagged his tail and bent down to give his bowl another professional lick. A few laps of water to wash it all down and he looked at Shashi with beseeching eyes.

“We’ll take you soon as I’m done, action man,” Shashi grinned, expertly measuring out rice and water into the electric cooker – a gift from thoughtful parents to make life easy. Shashi remembered wondering at the time where in the small kitchenette this would fit. Now steaming hot rice, because it was cheap and easy to cook, had become a regular accompaniment to their meals. 

Weeping Willow, NZ
With Tim barking madly at his heels, Adrian walked to the door. Barely managing to contain an animal gone berserk with joy, he leashed Tim and stepped out, letting the dog run ahead as far as the retractable leash would allow.  Putting the final touches to their meal Shashi hurried after them, eager for the walk after slaving over the hot stove.

It was dusk - the best time of day to unwind after a long, hard, punishing schedule. Their exams were looming and if they weren’t attending lectures, they were cramming. Tim forced them to get away from it all for a few minutes everyday. Once back home they would bury their noses in their books again, but with fresher minds.

Trying to keep up with Tim’s energy as he charged off to sniff at trees, lamp posts and grass verges, Shashi smiled. Tim had added a wonderful dimension to their lives. 

“Wonder what’s exciting about sniffing at dog piss,” laughed Adrian.

“You don’t know what stories those smells tell.” 

They approached the bend in the road. This is where university flats ended and the posh suburb of Streamarbour began. A wide grassy bank, majestic willows, birches and pohutakawa lined the little stream where ducks paddled, entertaining families with kids, university students, couples and the old. Shashi and Adrian paused to watch as a proud mama duck and her ducklings swam past single file. “Quark” warned mama duck in guttural tones to one of the ducklings who got waylaid by someone squatting at the edge of the stream, holding out her hand.

Tim seemed to know that hand. Tugging hard at his leash he almost dragged Adrian to reach it and proceeded to smother it all over with a very slobbery tongue. “Oh TIM,” squealed a familiar voice. Adele jumped up hurriedly to face Adrian and Shashi with a smile. “Oops, sorry Adele. Ever since you got him those doggie treats he’s been overwhelmed with gratitude.” 

“You mean, overwhelming,” laughed Adele ruefully, rubbing her wet hand and face. Part of the charm of a university town was that one did run into friends often. After a few minutes of conversation Adele said she had to get some books from the library and that she’d better hurry before it closed.

Adrian and Shashi smiled their goodbyes clutching Tim's collar for he wanted, once again, to demonstrate his fondness for the lady.

“Easy boy,” murmured Shashi, making sure Adele was out of earshot, “she’s married to medicine. You don’t stand a chance.” 

Adrian laughed. “I agree,” he said. “She’ll probably top the class." 

After a good forty-five minutes they led a tired but happy dog back home. Tim promptly flopped in his favourite corner, dozing contentedly within seconds. Adrian poured out some wine - a pinot for Shashi and a cold chardonnay for himself, gifts from Adrian's indulgent parents. 

“You drink red and I, white; I am a tea person and you prefer coffee. However did we get together and manage to stay together for five whole years?” he laughed.

“I know. You like rugby - jinkies, what a blood sport,” Shashi teased, knowing Adrian would rise to the bait as he loved rugby with a passion.

“What about cricket? Half the players are just sitting around waiting.”

“You wouldn’t understand. It is a game of skill.”

“It’s boring. Nothing seems to happen. Rugby is fast - involves all players.”

“A game of kill, not skill," said Shashi, slightly riled, "where the unsporting rule by manhandling their opponents.” That was an unfair dig – a reference to a recent incident where a rugby player had picked up his opponent by the legs and smashed his head.

“Those players are disqualified - taken off the field immediately. You know that. Rugby isn’t just violence without rules."

 “Those huge hulks break all your so-called rules and are happy to take the penalty AFter they’ve almost crippled their opponents and made them redundant,” said Shashi. “That’s not sporting.”

Adrian laughed softly. “People break rules in cricket too – all that match fixing and under arm bowling one hears of,” he said, aware that this was beginning to sound like an argument. How on earth did they get into it?

“Well,” said Shashi crossly, “I hate it when that happens.”

 Realising they were dangerously close to a fight over something neither cared too much about, Adrian quietly got up and dished out the food. Then he motioned for Shashi to join him.

Damn, it smells good,” said Adrian, sniffing appreciatively.

Shashi, knowing full well Adrian was trying to make up, but still sore about his exposing the underbelly of cricket, couldn’t help feeling a bit gratified. The two ate their meal in silence though both were aware that it was Shashi’s turn to say something to indicate the fight was over. Childishly taking refuge in their theory of savouring each bite seemed like a better idea to Shashi.

Damn, it tastes good too,” he ventured finally, responding to Adrian's truce offering. The two smiled tentatively and Adrian raised his glass in a silent toast. After a sip he added, “Hope I can rustle up something as good tomorrow.” They finished the meal and continued sitting at the table, chatting some more. Then, reluctantly, they got up to clear away their simple meal.

As the two passed each other Adrian silently reached out for Shashi. For a moment the young men hugged, content, energised by each other, and wonderfully happy. These were their last few, critical days at medical college. Both knew a lot depended on their doing well in their exams. There could be no distractions now. “Later,” said Shashi softly with a sigh and a final lingering feel of Adrian’s wonderfully sculpted arms. The moment passed and they reluctantly broke contact. After a while each was lost in his books.

They both had dreams. To make them a reality  they knew they’d have to work hard - perhaps harder than others. There simply were no shortcuts. Eventually, they planned a partnership.  Partners in life and partners in work.

Damn, life was good.

Note for non-Indians – The name, 'Shashi' is common to both genders in India. I used the name as I wanted heterosexual Indians to realise only towards the end that the story was about two men living ordinary lives together. As I suspected, most comments were positive towards same sex couples.

if you liked the story. Thanks.

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