Monday, 2 June 2014

A fall to the right

'This country will never accept a fascist', is what a very senior journalist told me one night, months before May 16. Holding a glass in one hand, I wondered if that was true. He seemed confident however, and pushing aside all my calculations, I thought maybe he was right, just.

However, now I stand in front of the mirror, defeated, not by modi, but by my own people who chose to forgo their liberty to be 'ruled' by the great 'benevolent' dictator, as Paresh Rawal had stated in an interview days before the results were out. I have no words now to express myself, my mind is blank. From hoping to come out of the darkness in India, which has been steadily losing its liberal voices, I now stand as a 'Muslim' guy who opposes modi, which sadly is how most people see me.

A copy of Outlook magazine with the cover story titled 'No He Can't' (about Modi not winning, published some months ago) stares blankly at me, while I try to figure out why I had so much faith in that edition. Perhaps because I eagerly read anything and everything that gave me some hope as to why the BJP may lose the 2014 elections. But even the magazine and the person who wrote the story have to eat their words now that things are crystal clear. He can, and he has done it in style, laughing at the likes of me.

They, the sycophants, do not see me as a liberal, someone who opposes right-wingers who openly  preach hatred, misogyny, and admire the nazis (won't say extinct, because fascists are still probably alive). Anyone opposing right-wingers now are being labelled as 'sickularists', 'Khangressis' (Khan implying Muslim appeasement), pseudo-secularists and what not.

'Give him a chance', 'he will bring prosperity', 'we need a decisive leader', are the kind of things people are saying. But I ask them what is the need to even have a leader, we need people who will listen to us, not who will make us do what they want us to do. The whole idea of democracy is to allow people and the elected representatives to mingle and decide what is not best. Anyway, since it is clear we need a 'decisive leader', I can only pray that our sycophancy bears some fruit, and spills no blood.

Why this new government seems so menacing is because already people have been arrested for writing anti-modi remarks on FB and social media. Alright, here I go, I don't like Modi, I hate him and the BJP, a party which is perceived as a political party associated with violence. Not that the Congress is any better, but by electing one evil in place of another, we have not done ourselves a favour. Great going India, let's hope my fears are untrue and that I eat my words in the coming future. 

Friday, 1 November 2013

A wednesday to forget

As I walked back home on Wednesday this week, I couldn't help but contemplate about how my day ended. I was 140 kilometers away at the unfortunate crash site of a bus on the highway near Hyderabad in the morning, and here I am now at a wedding reception with a friend at 9 30 pm.

Even the happy environment wasn't enough to dull the grotesquely vivid scenes I had to watch of the 45 burnt bodies out of my head. It is something I probably won't forget. Ever

It was all page one news, everywhere. For once, I didn't rue about not getting a by line for my effort of going so far to report, because it was the last week of work at the organization I worked for. My  by-lines were blocked. I've seen dead bodies, battered dead bodies, injured persons with blood dripping off their bodies, but never did I witness what I had seen that morning near the highway, after that ill-fated bus coming to Hyderabad with 52 people crashed and caught fire.

The acrid smell of smoke, or rather, something having been charred, was all around. At first I thought it was only the bus, which lay to the left side of the road, completely burnt, except for its blackish frame which was intact. As I stepped nearer, I saw two huge tents which were set up. I was wondering why that was.

It was only when I went down the ravine, that I realised to my horror, that the strong odor that I had smelt was of the 45 charred bodies in one those tents. The other one was for families of the deceased to wait. All 45 of them, including a baby, were just lying in positions which seemed like they were trying to shield themselves from the flames which took their lives. I could only look for few seconds at best.

One burnt body had his or her hands covering the face, while others just looked like they writhed in pain while the bus was engulfed in flames. They were all in 'seated' positions. This incident was far worse than the bomb blast which took place earlier this year, simply because of the way it happened, simply because of the way it transpired.

45 people were burnt to death in minutes at the highway near Mahbubnagar, in a bus which was coming to Hyd from B'lore, on Wednesday morning. The point is, like how the February bomb blasts were nothing but  a week or ten days worth of news, this incident too will meet the same fate, as always. The RTA will start going after private buses, like how the police tightened law and order for a month. The media will start highlighting news about buses and their problems.

For a while the ball will be in motion, then it will end, and then there will be another bus accident, and then the same things will repeat again. Although I have learnt a lot reporting from such sites, be it this incident or the bomb blast, I am now tired of witnessing death, its tragedies, the sadness which shadows the families of the dead, and the grim atmosphere it creates for a while.

 And with that, I end this silly rant of mine.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The cries every Friday

Every Friday, after the afternoon prayers, I walk out of the mosque a little miffed. Not because I find praying a pain, nor do I hate god. But because at the end, there is always one man at least who pleads to all of us praying inside to help him monetarily; because he's poor and sick and then finally, because he has three, four or even five daughters, and has to get them married.

"God didn't bless me with a son, I have five daughters and one of their weddings is coming soon. I also had an open heart surgery recently. Please help me," cried out an old man ten seconds after the Imam finished with the namaaz today. And once again, like every other man who pleads every week, his cries or rather his lament about not having a son irked me. I felt sorry for the poor man, but I wonder for how long will people consider girls a liability and look at them as something to get rid off.

It's the same damn case across the entire old city, nay all the backward areas, where muslim families unfortunately consider having a girl in the house a burden still. Yep, that's our dear India. It doesn't hold good only for muslims, but across all the poorer sections of society. Even in the lower-middle class social construct, I've heard lot of people say, 'Bhai, I have two/three daughters and till they are married I have to work hard.' I've always wanted to ask such people why they can't educate their daughters and let them work, instead of complaining.

I've personally met lot of people who are economically weak, and for them girls or women solely exist to bear children and to take care of the house, as men rein supreme. And this misogynistic attitude wears even a more horrible mask when these girls do find themselves suitors. Their families have to literally 'bargain' to marry them off, and end up giving, or rather paying the groom's family monetarily or in the form of a bike, and other things.

I don't know how or when or since when this attitude permeated the Indian psyche (probably from centuries), but its so conveniently saturated among the populace that we've begun to hate girls and even women. And when they fight back, they're called 'feminists', which is also another conundrum in itself that girls face. I wish I could walk up to a man begging for money and tell him that his daughter is as good as his son. But I can't, probably because my voice won't reach him.

And it's Friday tomorrow, and I have to yet listen more of such things again.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

When Onions Really Made Us Cry

As I sit in my room and type this blog instead of filing my story for the day at work, I can't help but recall how I felt this morning while walking in Monda Market listening to Pink Floyd. Perhaps it was just me, but Floyd's music actually made me  see the entire area through a different lens for once. Or rather, from a different perspective since I was there to work on a story and not buy vegetables instead.

Realisation dawned upon me when I walked through the same area that I've been frequenting from over 15 years, that how things haven't changed, and how ignorant I've been. As I neared the market place, I slowed down to park my bike, and I kept looking for there was no sign of a single spot to park the moped I was riding. Finding a parking place seemed even harder than meeting an IAS officer for once. With hundreds of vehicles crisscrossing around, it was even harder to look for space.

Finally I just parked the thing behind some vehicles and went in the market place. Now, I had been there on Saturday as well, but Sunday was a different scene altogether. It looked perfectly like a market. No wonder my class teachers in school used to compare my class like a 'market'; noisy as hell. Dirt, slush, and the stench of rotten vegetables all around was enough for me to understand that I had a good story at hand. If only there was Irani chai around, it would have been perfect. But alas.

'Whenever the prices of onions soar, the government collapses. That is exactly what happened to the Janata part in the late 1970's and the same will happen now,' said a merchant, when I asked him about the recent increase in onion prices. The vegetable is really making people cry now, that too from the last one month. At 55 rupees, it was enough for a customer to simply turn away from a seller in angst.

I was talking to the first onion seller, and he was narrating his tale of woes ever since the prices hit the roof. The poor man took out the time to talk to me, and just then a customer came and asked the price of a kilo of onions. 'Sixty rupees,' replied the seller, and the customer just turned away with loathsome face, not even ready to listen to the 'wait bhai, you can have it for Rs 52', which the seller shouted in a bid to draw his attention. Unfortunately it didn't work.

As I looked around, all I saw was people trying to find cheaper bargains, which is what you'd expect anyway. So, finally I finished my work and was heading back, which was when it hit me that what I've been hearing since I was a kid, that Monda market is dirty place, which is bad etc etc is all bull shit. That, is what is India, and Hyderabad, and is what every place needs.There are of course things that can be better there, but then, it wouldn't be the same chaos, would it now.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

When the wolf came to bark in my city

Honestly, I wished that a riot had broken out in Hyderabad; without anyone having gotten injured, which is next to impossible. And yes, because he came here. It infuriated me that the man responsible for driving out muslims from my very own native place in Gujarat had come to MY city, and that too to address my people, the people of Telangana, who are not communal.  Bleddy communal fellow, mere sheher mein aake pungi bajaya, bh****w.

Thank god nothing happened, and thank god again he came after Eid. I remember at least four businessmen worried, all of them telling me, 'He shouldn't come here, it's not good for us, as there may be lot of trouble'.

 Anyway, I guess Akbar-baba's warning to modi-bhai didn't work, as the man responsible for making Gujarat 'vibrate' finally landed in Hyderabad. Not surprisingly, policemen were deployed in huge posses everywhere just to keep things in check, which was quite pathetic for a man who's trying to be the PM. The divisive figure that he is, his presence however showed us all what would have happened had there been no extra security.

I'm guessing most media houses were paying apt attention to modi's speech at LB stadium, where he shouted 'Jai Telangana' and 'Jai Seemandhra', in TELANGANA. I'm sure even the stupidest congress wala wouldn't have done that, too bad his epic slickness didn't come to his rescue there. I was told by those who were at the stadium that the people roped in by the BJP from districts wore bored faces when he talked, and didn't know what he was talking about, which is quite in contrast with Akbarbaba's and Asadbhai's speech.

Witnessing MIM's gathering is even worse, where idiots flock just to watch the brothers bark, or spew venom as some say. Anyway, back to modibhai. I really wanted to see him, and I did catch a glimpse of him, unfortunately. That too when he was returning from his second destination, and when he was returning back. The man seemed to need more protection than Kiran Kumar Reddy himself, because I think I counted at least seven cars zoom before his own fleet of four or five SUVs zoomed next.

Too bad  I missed the event where he inaugurated Sardar Vallabhai Patel's statue. I always liked Patel, but never realised we were both Gujarati. Anyway, as I returned back dejected, I saw a lot of young boys aimlessly ambling on roads, wearing confused looks, not knowing what to do once modibhai was gone. It didn't look like they were from the city. Many were on roads eating whatever they could find in nearby bakeries and near bystores, while others began drinking, with saffron flags in hand.

It was only after he left that I realised that he failed. His presence didn't tick off anything, nor did I feel any different, except for pity, that he tried and failed at speaking in Telugu. It just seemed so funny, more than a lakh Telugus brought to listen to a gujarati trying to speak in Telugu. To be honest, there's something that always pissed me off about him, and now,his visit, resulting in posters, banners becoming ubiquitous in my city just made me red again.

He drove out families from my native place. I remember my relatives being unable to sleep due to the fear that they would have gotten attacked by modi's goons at any time. Yes, it happened, and it boils my blood whenever I remember that. 2002 is when time stopped for muslims in India. I was indifferent for a long time about it, but now it hurts every time I realise I come from the land of Modi, that same land which was known for dhoklas  is now known for riots.

My native place Bharuch, where lie my memories of eating ice-golas are now shrouded by the terror with which muslims  had to liver there. Sometimes, I wonder, what if the BJP and modi manage to annihilate all the muslims from India. Then what? Then the RSS and BJP will hunt dalits, then christians, etc etc, until finally only their breed of people are left. And then what? Then perhaps their own people will realise that fascists only need a reason to press their onto others. Hitler never lasted, and I hope the same for modibhai, because I for one do not want other people to lose their native places.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Old city . . . .

Last Saturday was something else. Ramzan finally felt like Ramzan when the food I ate at old city finally entered my stomach. The day started off as usual, with me unable to get my ass of my bed; the lethargy finally forced me to take a day off work and I'm glad I did that, albeit I had to lie. But the day which began in the evening was probably the best I had, and it left me wanting for more.

Until few years ago, I would never understand why people flock there in spite of the filth and crowd near Charminar. Now I know why; it's because the kababs and the charm of Ramzan is something else. While I was cursing myself for trying to be a smart ass for taking a longer, and a usually emptier road there, the bonalu procession  gave me ample time to think about future plans while I was stuck in traffic for half an hour.

I don't even remember the last time I went to the old city at night with my friends. Most of my nights in Ramzan were spent helping my dad at his shop, and the rest of the time I was never interested in going. But over the last one year  my interest has been rekindled. I no longer see bad roads, I see old neglected monuments. I don't see lunatics spitting and dirtying the place, but I have found friendly faces, who now don't let me leave without at least having chai after meeting them.

Chai is another amazing thing in the old city. Not just the taste, but the concept of having tea itself. That's the least a person will offer, in fact you won't even be asked whether you want to have chai or not. The moment I sit with my acquaintances for a chat, chai automatically follows. Sometimes with Osmania biscuits as well, which are also ubiquitous little wonders for the taste buds.

While the place has its own problems, it's hard to ignore the aesthetic beauty of Pathergatti, and the areas surrounding Charminar. Old buildings, minarets, crumbling heritage buildings etc are just reminders of state apathy.Walking past the shops from Madina to Charminar is like walking in a dream, with old buildings surrounding you, until you stop at the 400 year old edifice, which stands tall in spite of the abuse it has taken over decades.

The temple and dargah inside the Charminar are again nothing but blemishes which belie what it represents now. Not to mention the infinite autos which stand parked on roads in front of Unani hospital, with the drivers sitting in their machines, pretending like there isn't any traffic jam everyday. But what more does the old city have apart from the old buildings and Charminar?

Suffering,  and a lot of it. Ramzan and the monuments in the area mask the problems there quit well. Behind the walls in areas like Sultan Shahi, the ugly face of reality shows up in the form of atrocities against girls, which go unnoticed. There are probably many nirbhaya's there, waiting for their story to be told. I met one such nirbhaya months ago, and since then the image of my oh-so-charming old city has been shattered, which is why last Saturday's trip was something else.

I did enjoy the kababs at Sheran and Shadab hotel, and definitely savoured the haleem at Nayab, but every time I go near Charminar, it reminds of that girl. That girl whose story can't be told, whose life, hidden behind the old walls of the old city will forever go unnoticed, like that of the several other girls. And yet, after few days, Ramzan will end, and normal life will begin, sans haleem and the other specialities.


Sunday, 28 April 2013

A year's journey

So, here I am on the eve of completing a year as journalist, before I transcend to become a 'reporter' from a 'trainer reporter'. It has been quite a year. From not knowing anything, to now finding the job easy and a drag at times. I can safely say that I've become wiser. No no, I am still as stupid as I was, just that now I am aware of it, which is why I say that I'm wiser now.

My stupidity to help someone has always clashed with my work, it still does, and I think it's losing, my stupidity I mean. Even as I type this, my head ferments an idea to write about for the day, about something that is not passe. After a while, I think complacency becomes the leitmotif of journalists everywhere. While the semblance of acting as a saviour may reflect upon journalists, I think people need to really understand how we function. I'll begin with explaining how I used to wake up and how I do now.

Exactly ten months ago, life was a struggle every single day. I wasn't exactly spartan in my time table at that point, so I used to get up and then read the newspaper I get at home, to get a story idea to pitch to my boss. Honestly, waking up everyday and trying to find a story made me kind of desperate. While my boss would give me something to do at times, I had to more or less find a 'good' story everyday, and something big at that. I was of course happy to get by lines for my work, but at that point of time I wasn't really getting many, and it only added to my troubles.

Getting a by-line was hard, and after getting one, when I used to put in the same effort for another story, I was mostly disappointed. This I confided to someone, and if it wasn't for that person, I doubt I'd have continued working. Now, I laugh with some other journo friends of mine about the 'super stories' we work on, berating our own line of work. Anyway, what I described continued for about five months or so, until one fine day I got pissed. I decided I'd work my ass off, or I'd quit if I failed. Thankfully I didn't, and I even got shifted to the section I wanted to (yay for me).

Aaaaaaand, life has become much easier since then. Work pressure is always there, but I guess journalists become smarter over time and are competent enough to adjust. Those who can't, well, there's no place for them. That's my opinion anyway. So, here I am, about to finish a year as a reporter, and all I can think of is another story for tomorrow. Now a days, I wake up in the morning, read about three or four newspapers, and find something to work on. Which brings me to wonder whether I should quit, and try to find something more challenging, or I'll end up becoming like some of the seniors I loathe. Perhaps I will; probably when I'm pissed off again, I'll find something better to do.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

An unforgttable night

Okay, this has been on my mind for quite a while. My mind is still filled with images of February 21, when two bombs exploded in Dilsukhnagar, and I was sent to report from there. Below, what I went through.

It was a Thursday, which is the day before my weekly off. That's the day when I try to finish off work soon and leave office early as well. And on that typical day, I had finished my work by 7 pm, and was gloating that I had nothing more to do. Usually I go hang around and irritate a friend when I'm done with work. And that's what I did; but five minutes after I left my place, the colleague I was sitting beside got a message on her chat saying that there were two bomb blasts near her house.

I stood up to check the news, and I saw the entire office on its feet glaring at the TV. I went closer to see what transpired, when suddenly my boss came out and told me, 'Yunus, get ready. Go there quickly and get some human interest stories'. For a minute I couldn't even gulp down what I'd just heard. Then I quickly went to my seat, grabbed my bag and zoomed off to the blast site. I didn't even know the exact location. I just had a vague idea, and I reached the place in a little more than a half hour. Surprisingly, the heavy traffic was no obstacle for me. I really wanted to see that place.

It was pretty evident where the blast had taken place, as both the sites swelled with huge crowds; people  kept rushing in continuously to get a sight of the aftermath. I crossed the road hurriedly and  looked at the site of the first explosion. There was a huge crater where the bomb detonated.  That I noticed later, because I managed to get up into one of the shops which bore the brunt of the attack. And at that point of time, the owners were busy clearing the debris to close down the place.

The people inside were only too shocked to speak, but some of them gave me theirs names, along with a description of what they witnessed. It had been an hour already since the attack, and even till then the place had not been completely cordoned off. Even after it was done, people kept trying trespass. Now, the second site was far more chaotic as it was right on the main road. I couldn't really see what was happening with all the media and crowd in a frenzied mood.

That, plus more and more people kept pouring in. Now let me tell you this much. When there is a bomb blast, a sane person won't venture out fearing his safety, and one would expect the police to ensure that the site is at least taped off to avoid destruction of evidence. But what happened there was just idiotic. It was like the time when Akber Owaisi was arrested, and hundreds of people gathered to catch a glimpse of him. Only that this time it was something far more serious, and passers-by actually stopped to just see what was happening.

Anyway, I hung around for a while  and managed to get my stories, while the mayhem simply continued. Cops were canning those who gathered there again and again, but the public was relentless in its effort as well. While all that was going on, our beloved politicians arrived, made some rhetorical speeches and left. The worst thing was that the episode took a communal turn,with some blaming muslim leaders, because of which mob started sloganeering. Oh year, the entire time, there was continuous jeering, shouting, sloganeering etc etc. Thankfully it didn't end up in a riot.

 Before I left, I got a good look at the area. It was 10 30 pm when I left, and by then the blast sites were secured; with thin wires of plastic. Yeah, our tech savvy and super advanced police tied thin plastic ropes from pole to pole to cordon off one site, while at the other site it used red plastic barricades which it probably borrowed from near the metro works  going on. I still fail to understand why they just couldn't put the huge metal barricades they use in front of Charminar near the temple.

Not that I'm questioning the motive behind that, but this was a bomb blast, and the police had a hard time in managing the public. Their problem. So all said and done, I can say that I learned a lot that night. One thing was that the police here is incapable of handling crowds, and that the average Indian is an idiot and that he has no sense. That's my judgement and I may also be described as an idiot in someone else's view. But from what I saw that day, I don't doubt for a second that we're all just vile creatures.

And all the time I spent there, I was with another journalist friend, and we both helped each other out. We both left at the same time as well. I went back to office by 11. I was so famished that I tried to find any place where I could find something to eat. But every damn place was closed. Finally, something had deterred Hyderabadis to shut their business. So, I reached office on an empty stomach. Thankfully, the bakery near office closed late that night, and I managed to buy few pieces of cake.

After finishing my work that night, I left at 1 am. I was extremely tired, and found the atmosphere more poignant when I was told that my off was cancelled the next day. Fuck. That was the first thing in my mind. Anyway, it's been over two months now since that night, and as indifferent I have become after becoming a journalist, I'd like to confess that the following week was the best so far in my one year as a reporter. I managed to make ten by-lines in a week or so.

So, there we go. Disillusioned, and mortified, I continue to do what I do, and whenever I pass by that place, my heart sinks when I think of how the people around that place live there every single day.

to be cont

Monday, 11 March 2013

Only In India

Only in India you will find a bomb blast and its 16 victims stale news. Only in India you will find the budget something more important than a terror attack. Only in India a terror attack is forgotten after a week. I too was told I'd be writing on the blast for a week. For a week. A bomb that took 16 lives and injured over 100 people is worth a week of news for the media. I shall remember that for a long time to come.

The attack took place on  a Thursday, and exactly a week later it started fading out of news. The subsequent Thursday the budget released and when I  landed that day at Dilsukhnagar to give a report about the situation there, I noticed the reduction in the number of the OB vans. The number of photographers and reporters too had come down. I must admit I felt privileged that I could actually go very close to the spot without having to haggle with cameramen. But then that too got old and I started getting bored there.

I managed to get 10 by lines out of the entire week; the highest ever since I  started working, and it was quite an accomplishment for me as well. However the silver lining remained elsewhere and not in any of those reports. One of the victims was a man who worked at a tea stall opposite the building where the blast took place. The poor man lost his life while going to the toilet. Had he stalled for a few seconds his death would have been averted

When I met the tea stall owner, he started chatting. I was tired and ended up having three cups of tea and few biscuits. I think there was elaichi in the tea and I was about to complain about it. But I didn't, and when I gave the owner the money, he refused to accept it. One common notion about reporters in Hyderabad is that journos are free loaders, and that pisses me off very much, so I usually keep the money somewhere and leave when people don't take money from me.

So finally I kept the cash on his table, and the man came up to me and told me, 'You guys have done enough. His body has been sent back home and we got the money too. So please, it's okay.' It was then I realised that for once that there was some impact and the government was not so apathetic for once. I filed my report and left, but that one incident has made me a little stronger. Hopeful too maybe, because for as long  as we stick to the truth, hope is never lost.

I don't know what lies ahead for me, but now I know I will always write the truth. Even if I am in India, where we write the truth selectively. I will still write the truth (doesn't sound convincing isn't it?) nevertheless. That said, I still can't forget the smile on Mr. Mittal's face when the water board finally stopped giving him fake bills and gave him back his connection. It sounded funny, but the 64 year old man was so happy. His rounds to the water board from 18 years finally payed off.

His story was the second by-line I got since I started working. Between that and the tea stall man, I never felt like the journalist I wanted to be. I did learn about a lot of things, but it wasn't exactly the kind of thing I thought journalism would be. For all I've witnessed from over a year as a reporter, I wish that those who take up journalism thinking they can help society should be told about how things are, so that they aren't left disappointed.

And for those who simply enjoy the benefits of being a journalist; you've won. But somewhere inside, there are people who will still write the truth, and not for the sake of a deadline, or a by-line or simply for benefits.

The college of knowledge

I never paid any attention to its beauty, structure or aesthetics when I first went inside the building three years ago to check out the journalism department in Osmania University. It was after I enrolled in my BCJ course that I realised what a colossal structure the Arts college was. I just stood outside gazing for minutes when I got a good look at it. It still stands tall today, like it did when it was built almost 100 years ago, and it stands to make one hell of a structure as well.

I was really enchanted by it then, and I still am. Every time I enter it, I smile, for it is the place that taught me everything I needed to learn about life. It's walls still reverberate with the knowledge it holds; perhaps not about academics, but about the other things we need to learn about life. Of all the things I discussed and learnt about with people as a studdent, the most important thing the the Arts college taught me was politics; which is what runs in its blood and veins.

Granted it was the same politics that has ruined its academics over decades and as a result the knowledge imparted in classrooms has diluted. However, what I've come across in the form of students is a zest for their beliefs. Whether it is right-wing or left-wing, many of the people I came across enabled me to understand the need for an ideology or at least why they have one. I understood why a student from a district is ready to put his life before Telanagana, and why he doesn't mind throwing stones at the police in spite of knowing he may be maimed. I got a closer look at the people of Telangana, and was able to introspect as to how generation after generation never gave up the dream to attain a separate state.

Maybe right now there are people who side with groups just because they belong to certain castes, but there are lot of people who know what they are fighting for. Yes, fighting. Even as life goes on in the city, and as people just live their lives, there are those who work to the bone everyday for their beliefs. Hundreds in OU believe strongly that Telangana will be a reality. And not just students, even the teachers smile when they remember their own struggle they took up as students decades ago. It's a legacy to the battle which has never faded, and for as long as there is such passion, it will never fade away.

My dear friend Krishank, a student leader and my classmate with whom I studied,  is whom I should thank, for giving me a good insight into politics as a student. I don't hate politics anymore thanks to him, the Arts college and OU now.I remember him replying with 'this is politics' for almost every question I used to ask him. I laughed about it then, cursing OU's politics, which I detested completely when I was studying. But now I've come to understand it's just a manifestation of how human beings think, and it's not something one can simply evade.

Caste politics and ideological differences is what the Arts college taught me best. Till I joined OU, I never even knew much about reservations. Later on I got to know about sub-castes and what not. And even after three years I am still learning. Every time I step into my college I'm ready to learn something new. The majestic corridors still have an enigma which only those who studied there will understand. I do wish I would have studied more, but I don't see it as any sort of loss.

There are new flags and banners of new groups which are spread across the campus ow, and most of them are simply pretentious. Many students in the Arts college are there simply to make use of the hostels in OU, and all they know is to burn effigies everyday. I don't know what's going to happen in the future, but what I know is that the Arts college is one place which I will never forget.

Friday, 25 January 2013

The hypocrite's truth

I remember the time, months ago when I had nothing to do and I loved writing. Funny thing is, I thought that after becoming a journalist it would incite the writer I thought I had in me, but alas, I think I murdered him. Now I have not one speck of thought in my head, which I try filling with ideas to work on for a story. That too a story which will rouse interest, not something meaningful or something that's of actual concern, but just a damn story.

It's been almost nine months since I've started working and I clearly remember the first time I think I actually helped someone. He was an old man, and he was so happy that I was helping him. But it was a lie, all I was doing was getting a story, which did help him in the end , but it still wasn't what it looked like. On looking back at everything I've done, there is nothing I'm happy about, because every damn day I had to just give a story to contribute for my paper.

So, for all those of you who think that journalists are above others, well they aren't. In fact, I think journalism has regressed here because half the people in the profession are in just for the benefits, while those who come in thinking that they will be doing something meaningful end up becoming slaves to propaganda. This is probably the least creative post I am writing because my mind has stopped generating thoughts altogether. The only reason I'm penning this down is to remind myself of how pathetic I am right now and that I need to get out of this mesh. Even right now I'm thinking about what effing story I need to work on tomorrow. (seriously, wtf, kill me).

I have now realised that there is no such thing as ethical journalism nor will it ever exist. Pulitzer and Hearst killed it decades ago, also dragging out whatever morality there was in it. I've now found myself tied down, unable to give a voice to those who go without water, to those who face so many other problems and nothing can be done because it isn't 'sensational'. Right now, as proud as I  was to call myself  journalist, I am ashamed of being one. All I  can do is hang on to my washed up convictions, which will probably go down somewhere without being upheld. 

I can even feel the joy being sucked right out of me. As much as I  wanted to learn about everything, which I am doing, has just taught me how full of shit everything is. I am no saint, and nor do I claim to be one. But I have always looked out to find a place with a little more meaning, and I've lost in what we consider as the fourth (fake) estate. In retrospect, I thought journalism still had its sanctity left, but unfortunately it never had anything like that.  I've realised that sanctity lies within a person.

The worst moment I've gone through was when the old woman I met to write about the 1992  Babri Masjid riots told me,  'why do you journalists only come in December, the month when the riots took place. Why doesn't anyone come later to see how me and others lived after that.'. I had no answer. The only answer I could have given, i.e, the truth would have been, 'because that's the month the riots took place, and because it's relevant.' I could not give her an answer. I left self-loathing myself, ashamed of being a reporter. I was there, right there, I could see what she faced yet I could not even write about it.

Actually, that was not the first.Perhaps the worst moment I've experienced was in Gandhi hospital, a government hospital. I'll leave the judgement to the reader this time. I was there to report about Mr. Akbaruddin Owaisi's arrest and after all the drama ended when I noticed something. A man came running to one of the doctors in the emergency ward and told her, 'please check my wife, she is writhing in pain,'. When the doctor asked him what happened to her, he promptly answered that he punched her in the ribs out of anger. The man was still pretty drunk. My office unfortunately wasn't interested in carrying a story like that, even though such cases were quite regular. So, there we go.

And yet I continue to be a journalist, perhaps I am even a hypocrite, a good hypocrite at that. Whatever that means. Hypocrites aren't good I presume. I  was called one by someone once and I laughed. I still laugh when I think of that instance, because I am really a hypocrite and I continue to be one. At least other journalists who are in the profession for its perks are at least truthful to themselvesm  that they aren't there out of morals and shit. So god save me.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Old city - A dying Hyderabad

Behind the facade of Charminar, biryani, and irani chai, we don't think of anything more when it comes to the old city. Apne ku old city boleto sirf haleem aur khana malum, aur shayad famous ice cream. Kya toh bhi yaaron. And oh yeah, baigan, Hyderabad is also the land of biagan, not the vegetable, but the other baigan which translates into a word we use literally to describe everything we hate.

Toh the semblance of the 'beauty of the old city' probably lies inthe majestic Charminar, no doubt that it is still an edifice that towers the entire place one you cross Nayapul. Hyderabad is Charminar. However, once you go past that, past the awesome hotels, you'll start to feel cut off. For the people in the city still remain to shut themselves out. It's been a year since I've been going to places, talking to people and what not, but I still don't feel a part of the city, my own city.

Perhaps because I'm not really a pucca Hyderabad, but  gujju. How I wish I would have been born in Hyderabad, the land of baigan, my land. My job allows me to explore the place every now and then, and everything there only brings out the worse qualities human beings have. Not the people who live there, but how the people there are governed. I still don't understand, how, even more than 60 years of our so called aazadi, that place has managed to stagnate and remain the same, while the rest of the city is moving on.

We want and like the friendly old chichas who help us, but we don't want to write about their problems. We want to eat tasty old city food, but we don't want to know how many people have problems just to get a square meal a day. We want to see charminar, mecca masjid, chowmahlla palace and what not, but we turn a blind eye towards the slums filled with people who live in pitiable shanties.

Below is what I wrote a long time ago, it's crude, but it's what I felt when I went there initially and I still feel the same way.

As I entered Sultan Shahi, I felt like I was entering a village, or a place cut off from the city in some corner outskirt. It reminded me of the pathway to my grandfather's house village in Gujarat. But it wasn't a village, nor was it an outskirt, it was an area right after Charminar and not even deep inside. It felt more like I just lost all contact with civilization when I realised that that was how lot of places were in old city; and it was pitiful.

As I went in further, I closely examined all the people who I could see. Two young girls were washing clothes and utensils in their school dress, while some children were playing on the road. It was then I noticed an old man sat outside his home, his face apathetic. I could make out from his face that he had seen it all, that he had lived there all his life. I was in Sultan Shahi to find victims of the 1992 riots that took place in old city. Little did I know that the task for finding someone for a story for work would finally connect me back to my city more than ever. For once, I found a sense of belonging, that, that was where I should have been.

As I looked further to find a victim, I managed to get some information; remnants to say the least. However, I did learn one thing, that no one there was, is or will be the cause of any riots. They were and are just victims. "I don't know anything, please don't ask me,", was the first reply I got from the owner of a Kirana shop. I understood that like him, many could help me, but they didn't want to. I  received help from a very enthusiastic person, who did help me quite a bit, and that is how I finished the task.

My work, to say the least, is all about finding a story for the to fill the page of the newspaper I work for. It seldom gives me the chance to go in depth about anything. I have realised ever since I started working that journalism has no place for compassion, nor does it have place for to actually show the real problems faced by the majority of the people. What is there is actually what newspapers want people to read, that's it/

 It's a strange feeling that I get when I go old city these days. I've found a new liking now, and I don't hate the place anymore. All these jumbled up feelings will perhaps make sense to me one day. I've hated tradition and I still do, but I  surely do not want to get old watching the old city lose its culture.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Voldemort's speech

'Wow, Rowling should have contacted that dude to play Voldemort in her HP movies.', was the first thought that hit me when I saw the Guv's  face. It was my first press conference where such a big government representative was present, but as usual, me being myself, could not hold back from picking out some weird thing about someone. Second, was Gujarat and secularism's black mark look-alike, Modi, who said something about the event. Even the reporter friend beside me agreed he had an uncanny resemblance to the Cm.

All the preaching that is doled out by government servants is always the same. The guv, in particular was talking about how poor people should stop looking for handouts by the government, as it strains their budget. I was like dude, your budget? It is our budget, meant for us, not for your low level servants to eat, instead of  making use of it. 'This dil maange more attitude of people has to stop'; that's what he said, pissed me off. Nobody wants to beg for anything. It's because they do not get their rights, that they require assistance. Some pittance thrown at the  faces of the poor is not exactly helping them. Reservation system is not what they want, nor do they need to be living at the hands of their political masters, who keep them that way.

Some preaching he did, he wanted to cut the gap between the people and the government, and he himself ran away right after the pres conference, without speaking to the media, or taking any questions. I had so many in mind, and I had no chance to ask even one. Man, I wish I had the courage to throw a shoe at someone at a press conference like how that guy did at George Bush. I'll probably get my ass kicked, and cases slammed at me, but it'd still be fun. I sound like a rebel no? But I'm not, I'm just stating what lot of people feel like doing. Anyone who tries to do the right thing these days is called a rebel, by dumb fuck people.

But what pissed me off the most was when he spoke about universities, and it is safe for me to assume that he hinted at ones like Osmania, where I studied. He asked why students don't get employed in spite of obtaining degrees. That my dear guv, is your problem because you the friggin Chancellor for universities and your government has failed to provide standard education to  those who are born in villages, because they can't come and cope in cities, because nobody wants to hire them, because of what you and those at the top have done.

Anyway, all this ranting shall end for now, I hope there is a day when I will be able to shoot a question at him. That will be the day I shall say that I have defeated lord Voldemort, and the other lord Voldemorts who continue their existance, as there are no Harry Potters to counter them. 

Sunday, 22 July 2012

What Lies Behind The Curtains

My life began exactly two years ago when I joined university to study. Today, as a journalist, my beliefs have become stronger, that there is no democracy, my beloved country is a lawless country, where every sectarian group can dole out its own sense of justice, even if that means killing others. Where we think there should be humanity, we do not find, but often we find it in the places we despise the most.

In university I never studied, nor attended classes, went half an hour late to write my exams; I didn't learnt anything I'd need when I'd start working. But I did learn that politics begins when we are students, that it is everywhere, and it is something we are born in, and something we will die in. We can't negate it, because it is  a part of our lives. I learnt that to do what you set out to do, you have to jump and twist as it twists you, and you will probably fall, but  you may finally learn what you ought to.

What I thought I'd find at my work place, I didn't, but I did find out other important things. One of them; to learn to survive this world. It's a wonder that in places I'm looked upon as some magnanimous savior, whereas in other places, a journalist is a scum. All my philosophy, my whims, my ideals are right now bundled up and thrown in a corner. It's going to be a while before I can actually rummage through my past and flick them out.

In the past two and a half months, I have learned that life is unfair, and the more you try to accommodate yourself to the things around you, the bigger a puppet you are. My grandfather was right, it's better to be the boss doing something on your own, than to lick someone's ass. That's exactly what he said. Although I don't agree with him on many things, his words have started pinching me. But it hasn't gotten me down yet.

I still go to my office with the same enthusiasm I had the day I received my offer letter, and the day I became a journalist. It's definitely not what I expected, but then again, it is something to sit beside everything you decided to fight against your life. For one, I've always smiled at everything, and continue to do so. Changing the world, or trying to do it, is just fools paradise.

But at the end of the day, I always do find the little speck of light in the corner, if not burning bright, at least still flickering, which is enough to pump some life into me. There has been no incident  which has brought down my will, nor has anything ever, because for some reason, I can't, nor have I ever been able to give up. And I will not.

Why am I even writing this? No idea. Hopefully, someday I will look back at my past, and smile after reading this, congratulating myself for not giving up.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Peace Broken Into Pieces

I was walking on the road last week when I noticed something unusual, at least to me. A young boy, not more than 8 years old, had a religious flag attached to his cycle and was walking with his friend. He was shouting something along with the group he was walking with. It was Hanuman Jayanti and it was celebrated all through Hyderabad with men on motorbikes and cars running amok shouting at the top of their heads. Well, it is not something uncommon. Muslims do the same thing too on certain days. Anyway, what struck me was the fact that a little boy was dragged into the affair. That young innocent boy will probably grow up learning to hate other religions if he lives among fundamentalists who like to celebrate with such audacity. Muslim or Hindu or any other religion, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that even children are not left out of right-wing organizations. I remember that as a child it is very easy to sway to one side easily, believing only what we see. Children learn to hate or love soon. And if the children of our city, state and nation are learning to go along with fundamentalists who teach them to breed hatred against other communities, I can only imagine what’s going to happen in the future.
I don’t think any religion preaches violence. Every religion preaches harmony and tolerance towards other religions. So what drives such people to take such provocative stances against other religions? It’s surely not their religion which asks them to act that way; perhaps in religion they try to find a way to cause disturbances and breed hatred. Whatever it is, it’s not something that people want. We call ourselves citizens of a secular nation and then we watch communities clash on the basis of religion. I think considering what is established in our constitution, we live in a paradox where people of certain religions feel restrained. The term ‘religious tolerance’ is negative in itself. Why should we be ‘tolerant’? Peace, harmony, those are the words that need to be in effect. People get swayed by religion easily, often getting irked by the slightest provocation. Citizens need to wake up and grasp the fact that religions are made to clash to cause communal disharmony by anti-social elements. When the time comes, they will not hold back even from harming people from their side.
Having witnessed religious aggression and violence myself since I was young, I can vouch for the fact that the everyday citizen has no hatred whatsoever when it comes to other religions. I have seen Hindus celebrating Eid with Muslims and vice versa. And who doesn’t love Christmas? So the question is why does communal violence always recur? The aggressive fundamentalists who look to cause breed communal hatred have no side, they are on the side of hate; hate against peace. Such ruckus creators can be found everywhere. As a student of Osmania University, I have watched violence eschew between two sides time and time again. Most of the times, it is all politically instigated. Why will ordinary people or students want to waste their time and indulge in the pleasure of clashes? As citizens, all of us must act responsibly and understand the fact that any sort of act that violates any religion, must be dealt with calm and perpetrators must be taken to task, instead of people fighting it out on the streets like barbarians.
The question I’ve frequently asked people and myself often is not ‘Why we fight?’, but ‘Who makes us fight?’. Till that question is answered and understood; that more or less everything is politically linked to gain mileage, and people must not react harshly to such gimmicks instigated by certain groups. In fact we must identify the culprits, publicly humiliate them and trace their backgrounds. That is just one way, but, the point is culprits should not be allowed to walk scot-free. Gone are the days when people from different communities didn’t mix with others, today members of all communities live together in society and walk hand over shoulder forgetting boundaries. This is what probably irks religious zealots who can’t tolerate the amicable environment and look to create hostile ones entrenched in hatred. So let us wake up and fight back, and uphold the secular nature of society.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

A pointless societal norm

Marriage. I dread the word, not because I don’t want to get married, but because attending one is what gets to me every single time. Especially in Hyderabad, where people like to get married at night, all night in fact. I have no memory of ever coming back early after attending a wedding or a reception; in fact at times I’ve even returned home a little before dawn(!!!). That’s why I seldom attend these social gatherings. I feel kind of sad for the bride and the groom, because they have to remain seated the entire time meeting people, who click pictures, scores of pictures. And while the groom can move about, the bride is under a dress which literally handicaps her from moving, or from making sudden movements. Then there’s the jewellery on her, I swear some brides look like small jewellery stores. Clicking pictures is another trend now a days where almost every person hops around with a digital camera ready to pounce on known people and then clicks their pictures. In a recent wedding I attended, I was rendered blind for 20 seconds because of the flash emitted from these cameras. Worst part about that is the next day when I find hundreds of pictures in different albums with pictures of the same weddings. Posed, candid, all sorts of pictures appear. Whoever hacks facebook one day will probably delete them out of sheer frustration seeing their numbers. And have I mentioned about the amount of jewellery some women throw on themselves at weddings? The women’s section, is overshadowed by glittering gold, and most of the ladies present there have their faces layered with so much make-up that some look like clowns, all they need is the cherry nose, because their dresses are no less funnier. Their show would probably be called ‘the Golden Jig’ .
But most recently I noticed something else. The food. Large voluminous quantities of food is prepared, consumed and then wasted at our beloved shaadis. I was at the wedding reception of an acquaintance who showed me around and took me to the back where the food was prepared. I was aghast! Not only was a lot of food wasted later on but so much of money had been spent. When I enquired about the cost of the entire event, I was stumped. With the amount he told me, I could buy three big cars and I’d still have enough money to splash around for a while. Apparently, this was the norm, with the cost fluctuating as per the financial caliber of the person. Anyway, when we went back, I was asked to enter the dining hall from the back door, I promptly did as asked and wondered why; I found out later. It seemed like most of the people out of the thousands present there, were there just for the food. I’m not judging. What I watched was that people were being held back like there was some was some sort of a free food marathon and when they were let loose it felt like it was a stampede. And all through my meal I heard people shouting and screaming for more food to be brought to their tables. The hosts themselves were doing all they could, but it was clearly not enough. But the food was tasty, and usually there’s a lot of variety, so everyone goes back satisfied and happy. This one time I ate so much that I could barely walk. I wasn’t going to attend the wedding, but I was glad I changed my decision because of the scrumptious meal.
Weddings are lavish now a days, that is the norm now. Big decorated halls are intended to impress. Some weddings go so far as to appearing in newspapers. I wonder since when did this become ‘news’. News values have surely declined. What people don’t realize is that these ‘normal’ weddings have put a strain on every family. I’ve heard so many people saying, ‘I need to start collecting money for my wedding’. While some households are blessed and ready to conduct the holy matrimony, others aren’t so. What society does and makes the norm, also includes the ‘not so’ effluent class. So many people struggle, collect money, borrow, take loans etc just to get their children married. This has created a disgustingly bad situation where the parents of a girl feel that their child is a burden and marrying her off will be a big weight off their shoulders. What’s more the Dowry system has unfortunately not died, it is still accepted mostly. I’ve heard of countless people talking in weddings about the staggering amount given to the groom. Some families give lists to the bride’s family
And so what is the point of all these charades? Nothing, someone got married to someone, and the wedding was grand and had exceptional food, just that. All that will later be forgotten because there will always be someone to top that last wedding off, simple. While some people go just to maintain their social credibility and to maintain social relationships, there are scores who will complain if the food wasn’t up to their expectations, because people expect wedding food to be exceptionally tasty. And it is mostly, I’ll vouch on that. However, it is in that, that we have created a separate paradigm.
I still don’t think that weddings are that big a deal, to dress up, or to serve good food or to make it a night to remember. If it were up to me, I’d go happily to congratulate someone I know, but wasting hours of my time and sleep and attending the event wherein food is served a little before or after midnight doesn’t really sound exciting, it’s tiring. But alas, that is the norm. And so it continues.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Man At Peace

I hoped to find someone who I can talk to about Burma during my trip, and I found someone where I least expected myself to; the house I was staying in. I was looking out for someone who lived through different eras of Burma and would tell me in detail about how life was in a country which fell from economic stability to stagnation. I didn’t want to ask any of my relatives because they’d have more or less the same thing to tell me. I wanted someone from a different background, someone who didn’t want to live to become rich and who lived life satisfactorily. And I did find him; he is the night watchman of my uncle’s family, Mr. Akber Ali Khan.

All it took for me was to ask him ask his name, after that, conversations between us came naturally. Just greeting him was enough; I’d find myself sitting outside with him and chatting unmindful of the time; after all he was one of the few people with whom I could converse in Urdu or Hindi and English so fluently in that country. Of average height, he looked another ordinary Burmese Indian (there are many in Burma). But there was much more to him, more than what anyone could see.

His father was a Pathan who came to Burma through the British army which he had joined prior to India and Burma’s independence from the British Raj. He told me his father was 6’5 in height. Being 6’2 myself, I couldn’t help imagine him. Pathans are known for their huge and herculean physiques, but 6’5 was something I’d never seen in my life (actually, seen taller). Our conversation actually started with him telling me I resembled his son, who was few inches shorter than me apparently. I could sense happiness in his voice as he spoke to me and I was more than happy to speak to him. His joy brought a little happiness in me that I was able to make someone happy just by speaking to him. He called me Yunus Bhai, I didn’t like it: I never like anyone addressing me with anything other than my name if they are older than me. Anyway, his 67 years of age showed on his face. The reason I was immensely interested in knowing about his life was because he had seen Burma fall from its zenith of economic stature to its current scenario.

My grandfather had told me many anecdotes from his life when he was in Burma and when he was very wealthy. He had returned to India because the Burmese government has nationalized everything and sent many Indians packing home. Most of those Indians were businessmen. Even today those of Indian descent living in Burma are businessmen, most of their origins rooted in Tamilnadu and Gujarat. But Mr. Akber Ali Khan was different. He had an surprisingly warm smile on his face every time I saw him, I could see that he was content with his life. What amazed me the most after a I spent some time conversing with him was that he was one of the few people who used to speak to me in English (Burmese people don’t concentrate on English communication). As I enquired, my curiosity got the better of me and we had a very detailed conversation about him. Here’s what I learnt from him.

He studied in a Burmese school, which back then, under the British rule taught good English, and a week after he joined university, it shut shop because the government was taken over by the ruling military faction; the same faction that destroyed the country from within. As he grew up, he watched his towering and brave father live and teach him things. His father was a doctor, Dr. Sher Ali Khan. He was a Kashmiri Pathan muslim. I was profoundly surprised that a Pathan had chosen to live in a country like Burma. Not only that, his father even got married in Burma, 4 times apparently. He shared many stories about his father, about how brave and pious he was. As good as he was, his anger was equally ferocious. Not afraid of anything or anyone, his father truly stood up to his name, Sher Ali. How cool! I thought to myself, here was a man who not only was named after a grand animal, but was also a grand human. The reason why Akbar uncle was fond of me was because apparently my height reminded him of his father. He was surprisingly short, I asked whether his mother was short and there was the answer to my question. I guess not much of dad’s genes had passed on to his siblings or himself.

Both he and his father had lived through stages of the country where protests were rife and had been quelled by the government with oppression. It was a wonder that this man knew so much about everything. One thing he told me surprised me; that Burmese rulers had many Indians working for them, because apparently they were aware of the fact that Indians are more loyal to their masters than Burmese people. Given the many examples of my country’s fellowmen, it wasn’t so hard for me to believe. Akbar uncle had worked as a watchman at a hospital for almost two decades. His father left behind a legacy of 17 children out of whom a little more than half are alive today. He and the rest of his brothers and sisters never differentiated between the mothers. He had been with only two and one still remains alive today, who he loves very much and takes care of.

Out of his four children and according to him his second son resembles me, and that’s probably why he probably lights up every time I speak to him. His youngest daughter just passed school and the older one just got married and has a degree in biotechnology. He didn’t tell me much about his oldest son. After everything he told me, I just had one question, the question which I cannot and am afraid to ask others who are looking to become wealthier every day, but never happiness.; I’m afraid to ask because I’m never sure whether the answer will be honest or not. I asked him whether he was happy and had lived a good life. To my surprise, his answer was yes and he told me that he couldn’t have lived more happily. This, coming from a man who is the night watchman of my uncle’s house. Surprisingly, I have known people who are still complaining about life in spite of having so much. Little do they know that true happiness comes not from money, but from the heart when it is truly happy and at peace.

And as for his job? He is more than happy to work for a man who lets him offer namaz 6 times a day. He appreciates the fact that he is working for such a good and open hearted man and his family. He is fond of his work and does the best he can everyday. His happiness stems from what I could only say is a zest for life. I don’t think I could ever smile if I worked like that.

What bothers me most is that, his whole life could have shaped differently had it not been for the government’s military regime. He would have been a university graduate who would have had a bright future. Nonetheless, I’ve now learnt that life is truly unfair to most and I am appreciative of the fact that I’m holding a laptop and typing away about what I feel like. To all those of you who wondered why I chose journalism, here’s the answer. IF it’s not for people like me who make known about others through words, the world would have been truly ignorant.

And as for Mr. Akbar Ali khan, he still works diligently and happily for my uncle.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

My First About Lungi Land

It’s funny how landing in a foreign land can change your view and take on life. Before leaving from Hyderabad, I was probably briefed about how my flight would be at least a hundred times by my mother. It was a connecting flight, and it was the first time I was travelling through transit to Burma or the first through transit anyway. My mom’s a Burmese Indian and most of her side of the family lives there. This trip to the Lungi Land(as I like to call it) is my 6th or 7th time; however, It has been the most interesting one so far because I’ve been sent here for different reasons. Except for the trip before this, i.e. last time, I had spent my summer vacations in my mother’s town. Since I couldn’t speak in Burmese, I was literally handicapped every time; language was a major obstacle up until now. It still is, but people have become a bit more English oriented this time around, but just a bit, mind you.

A taxi driver came up to me and asked me, “You want to go hotel?” after I came out the Yangon International Airport. I was surprised, but I signaled him no and after he asked me few more times, I told him in broken English in which he’d understand that I was waiting for someone. Imagine his cheek, when he came up to me after ten minutes telling me, “Your friend not come”, and grinned at me. I still signaled him no and walked away. Finally sick of waiting, I remembered my uncle’s address; it was pretty simple actually, just 31st street. As my patience kept decreasing, another taxi driver asked me where I wanted to go, and after the third time, I decided I’d give him the pleasure of driving a foreigner that day. So off I was. And honestly, there wasn’t a speck of fright in me, in fact I was gloating that I was able to travel alone in a foreign land.

My conversation with the taxi driver got pretty interesting. I asked him about his take on the economy and his country; he wasn’t happy with the way things were. The reason I asked him all that was because till then I could ask only my family members, who were all businessmen. It’s funny how you come to learn about the real ethos of an ethnicity from someone else whom you’ve never conversed with. I learnt that he lived near the airport; he was a school pass out who was driving a taxi for a living. The abysmal education system of the country prevented him from studying further. It wasn’t just him, more than males in Burma, females are employed and earn more. After a satisfying conversation and a small journey I reached my uncle’s house, only to learn later that I had agreed for a taxi fare which was 45 % higher than the normal fare. I didn’t mind given the fact that I had traveled alone for the first time in the country. You know, you don’t crib about spending 5 dollars worth extra money because when you go abroad, you probably spend much more than that frivolously.

The biggest change in me was that fact that I didn’t or don’t have to ask anyone for directions to go around in Yangon anymore. I was familiar with the streets and places in the city before and am capable of going around alone anywhere now. My mom thinks or thought that I was scared to travel or something because she used to ask me to travel just so that I learn to go to new places alone. So how was this mom? I didn’t expect you to get furious on knowing that I went to your sister’s house alone, rather I expected a pat on the back, or you know some more money to spend or to travel alone. Oh well, I just hope now you don’t ask me to travel less. Fingers crossed.

Frankly, I always feared getting lost in new places, but hey, if I don’t get lost I won’t learn about new places. With just a little bit of preparation like keeping the names of places and streets saved in your phone, you can wander anywhere you want. But I think being complacent makes you pay, because I did get lost. I had to call my cousins and ask for directions to go to the place I was going to. But I did learn the route to another place. Burmese roads have very less lanes and gallis as compared to Indian roads. The main roads are fairly disciplined and people don’t break rules or traffic signals. That is pretty impressive considering the low literacy or education rate. Or maybe not, it’s probably the fear of the police; the word government or police has instilled a very high sense of fear among the populace of country which has been tightly restricted and society has been bound by repressive policies from decades of military rule.

If you are from a developing country such as India or from a developed nation, you’ll notice that the even the former capital of Burma or Myanmar, Yangon is plagued by poverty and economic stagnation. It’s a huge contrast to India’s large cities which are host to billions of rupees worth commercial industries and businesses. Leaving the business, even the houses show the economic condition of the country. If I remove the bastis from Hyderabad’s view, my city is a paradise compared to Burma and its cities. Even with the poor areas, it still is. And the best part of India as compared to Burma? The fact that I can write an article like this about India is what marks its freedom of expression unlike in Burma where the press and media are governed strictly by the government which probably indulges in propaganda through fair mediums. Anybody who writes about the government or anything about it will be promptly sent to jail. That fear is a completely different phenomenon which I’ve never seen in India. An example: I posted a status on my facebook wall in which I used the word journalism; as a result my mother freaked out and asked me repeatedly not to write that word on the internet fearing I’d get into trouble or my relatives would. She even asked my sister and brother to tell me that again and again. There is also a law here which does not allow Burmese people to communicate or talk to foreigners; this is a very good example of how repressive the government is. The people are fearful of their lives now and do as the government bids them to.

Once the fastest growing country in Asia and a natural resource haven in the world(perhaps still is), Burma now lies at the brink of near economic and social decapitation due to a military government which has destroyed the country from its roots. A scared population which has suffered from decades, now hopes to get some relief as the military government recently announced its transition to democracy; however the people still remain skeptical and cynical. One can’t blame them for being so, because they have all grown up amongst a harsh and deadly regime which made them work had just to live. I hope the country sees a new face soon, or else it will be left far off in the race. These are just a handful of the conditions, the real ones have even horrific faces.

Monday, 18 April 2011

The Newspaper Saga

We all read newspapers, heck I’ve been reading it from when I was in school(only the sports and entertainment section then), but after I started reading it completely I realized from fiasco to fiasco that the newspaper is just a saga which has been in existence from more than a century. Here is how I describe it, rather putting it explicitly:

Okay, front page, news about someone conning the government and running off with huge sums of money. I think it’s safe to assume that monitory problems that deal with scams are now just passé. Then there’s always our beloved politics to entertain us. A politician in a scam, another politician makes remarks about someone else, and then there are those who are just doing their usual so-called public service; they are in the news because of their lapse of service. Fine, nothing we can do about it anyway. So, apart from that there’s always news about actors who have done some right or wrong, I mean come on give them a break, they’re humans too. And there’s always national news about some crime, like today about how a drunken lady killed 2 and injured 5 others. I guess women aren’t that far from men now a days, they seem to be catching up on the latest trends. And page 2 is just a continuation of page 1, which is pretty boring.

Page 3 gives me information about some of the most heinous crimes committed, which is just a small fraction of the countless crimes committed daily, and the funny part is that all the articles end with ‘the thief/criminal is absconding or the police are investigating the crime/ crime scene etc blah blah’.

Page 4 and 5 just give me some more info on politics, rather local politics. I mean come on, gimme a break; all the names I read sound the same to me, get what I mean? Oh, forgot to mention, that section is also where politicians can crib about each other or cry foul about someone they’re unhappy with or something they are unhappy about. Page 6, don’t really remember, I think it gives me national news I guess, which is mostly sad or bad news. Good things are there too, but somehow there’s never much. More like news about good things and good people I read only when they expire, so much for that. But I guess sometimes it just shows that the good people and good things they do need to be heard of more. There was a politician who recently passed away, his name was Jyoti Basu. From what I read about him, he was probably one of the good guys because of whom our country still retains some of its integrity (or maybe not). I’m happy with such things; in fact reading about people who help my country always gives me happiness, because they’re radical in building a nation with strong walls.

Anyway, after that I quickly hop on to the open-ed page where I get to read articles written by different writers on different topics everyday. It’s valuable information I get for free so I pay attention because they address problems faced by our country and also offer solutions; which I think our political think-tanks need to see. But if they do that, what would happen next wouldn’t be what they want to be. So much for progress. Anyway, after the open-ed page, there’s international information, on the latest attacks, bomb blasts, scientific research, and oh! I almost forgot to mention the beloved actors, how would newspapers flourish without gossip and sensationalism? Then after that it’s business news, which is important in its own way I guess. And last but not the least comes the sports page. Ironically those were the only two pages I would read when I was in school. And the funny part is that one whole page is allotted for cricket, and then if there is really anything important about other sports or sportspersons then it’s there. Apart from that I guess we all know how cricket-crazy India is, which is pitiful because just like cricketers, there are other sportspersons too, and they too deserve the kind of attention cricketers get. I mean that an international level player from any other sport is not even as famous as a district level cricketer. And the funniest part is that cricket is the only game in which a person can actually gain weight while playing.

Newspapers give us pivotal information, but I think that now it has become like this short book of everyday tragedies that we read every day. After reading each day’s paper, I can’t help but think about the many negative things in it. Ask yourself, hypocrite politicians, tragedies, fights, communal division, communal riots, caste and creed differentiation etc, isn’t it about time we find a solution for everything? Well, I guess the answer lies within itself, every bit counts, change yourself. I think the situation has become so bad that now it doesn’t really matter if u break traffic signals or if u drive on the wrong side of the road or don’t just follow rules, but it does really matter when u don’t stand up when the national anthem is sung, it does really matter when u skip the flag hoisting ceremony, it really matters when u don’t respect the people who laid down their lives for us to be able to sleep in peace, it does really matter when u don’t correct people who don’t respect their country. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, for a radical change, we need to work towards it, change doesn’t just happen, people make it happen. Think about it, it’s all inter-related, what we read in the newspapers is about us, about our culture, about our own cities, about our own lives we lead. If we don’t change ourselves, then I guess we’ll still have to read what we’ve been reading for a greater part of our lives. So therefore do your bit, because every bit does count, and I am writing this because I believe that there are many who think alike.