Friday, August 20, 2010

59 jerks

And on a different, shorter route, I counted 59 pot-holes. Pot-hole counting is fast becoming my commute time-pass.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My country, this calm morning

It is Independence day. I wish freedom and peace upon everyone.

It also happens to be the month of Ramzan, which is a month of self-restraint, self-reflection and charity. It would serve both occasions well if we could just retreat into ourselves for a minute or two everyday this month and think about what we want, what we say and do, and what we wish we could do - for our own lives and for our country.

Some people clearly have been doing all of the above and the result is Project S.T.R.I.P. It is one of the few productions I've watched recently that is totally plugged into our times and the souls of the principal actors in situations of conflict in modern India. Often, we read about or watch events unfolding that leave us feeling stunned, or helpless, or both. And when this happens too often, it seems as if there is no longer any language or creative tools left to use against ourselves. But this project does precisely that - looks around itself with empathy, honesty and humour and then just tells an engaging story.

I wish it were on somewhere on Independence Day, but I think it will be staged again next weekend. Do watch it if you get a chance.

On another note, I got the following message on email. I trust you all will do what you can:

"I was barely nine when my dear father committed suicide. My mother has worked really hard to send my brother, sister & me to school. She is still working hard to make our two ends meet... all she wants is ONE OLD MAGAZINE from you all, so she can make paper envelopes to earn & save environment... dear uncles & aunties, please-please do send us one old magazine every month to support us, so that we can go to better schools and live our lives with dignity and less suffering. My mother and other widow mothers like her will not hesitate to work hard to earn for us while saving the environment for the nation... I will be waiting with great expectations dear uncles & aunties for ONE OLD MAGAZINE from each one of you every month... If each one of you send one, it will become so many for my mother and other widow mothers to work hard to earn some amount every month... A very BIG THANK YOU from my brother, sister, my mother and me..."
our address:
Support 4 suicide farmers families
House No: 200
Opp: Dr. Harne's Hospital
Dhantoli Chowk
Wardha: 442001

Friday, August 13, 2010

Zoro.n ka jhatka

Dear Mira-Bhayandar Municipal Corporation

You must be reading a lot about malaria, pot-holes in Mumbai these days. We (you and I) are not quite Mumbai, which means that we don't get to read about our own malaria or pot-holes. I don't know if you've been counting. Your big sister across the naka claims to have only 593 potholes.

This is obviously a subject of much concern. Traffic was bad enough but these blighted holes slows traffic down to the point that people are willing to thrash other motorists and commuters lives become hellish because taxis and cabs refuse to go to high-traffic arterial roads. People with back and neck injuries can look forward to a worsening of their condition. The rest of us can look forward to developing spinal problems. This is nothing new of course. I remember a time, perhaps this was 2002, when I was reporting for Mid-day, when I rode pillion behind a photographer to go pot-hole hunting. Discomfort notwithstanding, it seemed exciting to zip around the city looking for mini-cirques along the way. If I tried to do it today, the bike probably wouldn't move from one mohalla, morning to night.

So I have been wondering just how many pot-holes we can boast of. I mean, we're growing faster than anyone can say 2BHK. We're not a village any more. We have malls, multiplexes, cars, arguments over parking space, famous burger places, three kinds of malaria... What more does a far-flung suburb want?

Our autos, of course, are not quite urban. Even if I boycott them, I cannot claim to be doing 'meter jam'. No meter, what would I jam? (But I will write to you in more detail at another time.) For now, I want to tell you about this auto-fellow who refused to take me home. I wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. The man began to bitterly complain. He said he wouldn't go from the station to my home because the road was too bad.

I flipped, asked him what he expected: Was I responsible, should I get down and begin patting down the road smooth for his majesty, why didn't his auto union do something about the bad road etc etc?

After I had finished yelling at him, I began to count the number of jerks I felt which signified the number of pot-holes there were on that particular stretch, which includes Mira Road's MTNL road.

I counted 63. On one stretch in one relatively new suburb, a ride that should taken five minutes actually takes nearly fifteen minutes, and 63 jolts to the spine.

Mind you, I am not actually counting every single pot-hole on that stretch. I just counted the number of times the auto had to lower a wheel into one of them.

Two days later, I counted again. This auto-wala was clearly not quite as skilled at skipping the craters. I counted 79, not including a small stretch at one end where I chose to walk.

79, eh? We're not doing badly. And I must tell you, I was counting small conglomerations of pot-holes that have effectively led to the disappearance of tiny bits of tarmac in-between as one single hole, because the 'jhatka' I felt was too diffused and drawn-out to be counted and attributed to separate holes.

So based on the experiences of this monsoon, I have a few suggestions.

One, let us hold MUSSJAR contests for autos. MUSSJAR = Mumbai and Surrounding Suburbs Jhatka Avoiding Race. This will raise the morale of the drivers and teach commuters how much skill is involved. You can safely sponsor the prizes. I am sure our local boys will win.

Two, let us have a Pot-hole Princess contest. Some people have already given the title to Mumbai. But I think it should be a fair contest between suburbs. Pot-holes are a game of chance but we stand a good chance of winning. You could institute a special prize for maximum number of pot-holes on a one kilometer stretch. MTNL road is a strong contender. This would draw welcome media attention to your commissioners and other senior officials. If you do this, I promise I be there with a bouquet for you - a hundred and one roses.

Three, after this monsoon, why don't you hire a specialist contractual firm and have all the roads dug up. Evenly, neatly, undeniably dug up. In effect, I am proposing that we have kuchcha roads instead of pucca ones.

The thing is, as I mentioned, in places where there are so many holes that the road itself disappears, one does not feel too much of a jhatka. The auto (or car) starts to feel like a cookie sliding across a bed of custard-jelly. It is slower but actually safer than a series of spine-threatening holes.

Besides, if no road remains, then no pot-holes will remain and that takes care of mosquitoes breeding in stagnant little pools all over the place. There might be some criticism of such a measure, particularly from car-owners, but do not be afraid. There is nothing more important than health. You can ask them to choose between smooth rides and cerebral malaria. That ought to shut them up.

The auto-walas, I'm sure, will not mind. You can tell them that Mira-Bhayandar has decided to rethink its urbanization strategy, since they refuse to adapt to metropolitan, professional norms of public transport, which include functional meters, and where drivers aren't twelve-year olds, nor carry more than three passengers. If they protest, perhaps we can come to some sort of compromise. We give you pucca roads; you give us metered rides. You get my drift?

My fourth suggestion regards traffic policemen. Now, I've been living with you for a decade almost and have never, ever, spotted a traffic cop working outdoors. There is supposed to be a lady constable posted on duty near the auto-stand at Mira Road station and she is much-needed there. (More about that in another letter.) But except for that, no traffic cops in sight. Do we have any? Where are they? Mumbai traffic constables have set a good example by taking on pot-holes themselves. Your big sister wasn't much shamed by their intervention, it seems. You might as well go a step further and requisition of our local traffic cops to map, control or neutralize pot-holes, or supervise the effective elimination of tar roads.

In the event that you choose to ignore my suggestions and instead go on patching the broken roads, season to wet season, please learn from your big sister's mistakes. She spent Rs 100 crore last season when it didn't rain that much. Rs 100 crore is a lot of money. Where did it wash up? Nobody can tell thus far, but poor Jayant Patil tried. He took some officials out on a spin to remind us all that wherever Rs 100 crore disappeared, it certainly wasn't slicked firm and fast over the city's motorable surfaces. Not even on the airport runways.

This year, BMC spent another Rs 20 crore. It might go up to Rs 40 crore. She still gets 60 complaints a day. 60 new pot-hole complaints every day! We cannot match that level of complaint, of course, because in Mira-Bhayandar, people are used to keeping their heads down and are far too busy trying to get into trains to be able to complain about anything.

But please treat this as one. A major complaint.

My final suggestion: It would be great if you could get a list of contractors along with the specific roads they worked on. If their work did not last even three monsoons, I suggest they be black-listed from all future projects, particularly those involving public infrastructure and public funds. Because that's our money. Ours, which basically means mine and a million people like me. Actually, it's not a suggestion this time. It's a demand.

Kindly do the needful.

Yours truly,

Annie Zaidi

August 12, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Some more attention

All of which is pleasing:

Worse, of course

It was just something I felt instinctively to be true. Our khap honour is sullied most easily when caste is murking up the gotra waters. Now there's the National Commission for Women report seems to confirm the view.

"of the 560 cases where couples were threatened, 121 persons were killed... most violent reactions appeared to be prompted when a girl chose to marry a boy from a lower caste than herself...
88.93% perpetrators of the crimes were from the girl's family."

Read more from the ToI report.

Another snippet from the Shakti Vahini blog: The skewed sex ratio in the area has led to the worsening of the status of women in this region.

I am reminded once more of that elderly gent who had sauntered once into a panel discussion on female foeticide. I don't know his name but I mention him in my book in an essay on the subject. He had said, almost innocently, that there was nothing to worry about. It was all about demand and supply. When women got to be in short supply, India would learn to value them. Implying, of course, that we all need not get into such a flap; things would automatically get better.

I would dearly love to point him towards the Shakti Vahini report today.

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