Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ghaghra feminism

I have a great love for Ila Arun, specifically the pop numbers she did in the 1990s. One of my earliest memories of serious desi pop is 'Vote for Ghaghra', and one of the naughtiest is 'Nigodi kaisi jawaani'. Today, that's what I want to talk about: Good, unapologetic, plugged-in pop.

'Vote for Ghaghra' is one of our best political songs and certainly the only one I can recall in the post 90s cable era of Indian television. What song before or since has mentioned a chief election commissioner (T.N Seshan)? I instantly fell in love with it for reasons I found hard to articulate as a schoolgirl in Rajasthan. But more than a decade later, I still remember half the lyrics.

When a fellow-writer happened to holler back to the pop songs of that time, I was reminded of the song and began to try and decode why I like it so much. I played it over and over on Youtube and found that each viewing-listening session brought more pleasure. I had forgotten the slightly bizarre opening frames and sounds (a baby crying, then grinning) but by the end, it all made a kind of kitsch-sy sense. Finally, I think I know what makes this song such a great piece of work:

1 - The words. It is called 'Vote for Ghaghra'. The lyrics proceed to explain why by telling us a story. It ends by saying 'mardaan ke aage niklegi janaani' (woman will surpass man). If there was ever an unashamed, riotous, simply stated feminist manifesto in desi pop - haminasto haminasto haminast.

2 - The narrative. It tells the story of a village woman who is happily eating cucumbers in a field when along comes a politically-connected young lout who tries to molest her. She thrashes him. He tells her who he is. She laughs at him. He swears to get back at her, and he does too. He files a case against her!

The cops arrive; she is beaten and arrested. But in prison, she uses her charms to seduce the 'thandedar' (jailor) and - one assumes - gets him over to her side. The truth is leaked to the press. Press and politicians woo her. Other bad men try to bribe her, threaten to kill her (one is left to assume that this is because she has filed a counter-complaint, or told some uncomfortable truths).

Through all this, the woman stands firm. And she is rewarded by getting an election ticket. Since she is now singing 'dilli sheher mein maaro ghaghro jo ghoomiyo', one can safely assumes that she has won the election and her skirts are flying low, swirling brightly over the center of power in India - Delhi.

3 - The visual politics. Look at the video carefully in the Indian patriarchal context. When the powerful lout threatens the village belle, he twirls his moustache, a symbol of asserting your masculinity. The funny thing is, in the video, the lout does not really have a moustache! This adds a layer of incidental - or perhaps, intended - irony, because it immediately makes the fellow laughable, claiming qualities and power that are not his own.

When the belle wins over the police officer, his uniform cap is on her head, as she dances. This is a symbol many films and 'item' numbers have used later. It immediately communicates that the guardian has his guard down, that she is toying with the power the nation vests in men of uniform, so she is taking control in some way.

Lastly, ghaghras swirl as elections are fought, votes are sought, and 'Dilli' is evoked. Dilli has been the seat of power in the Indian subcontinent for centuries now. People marched to Delhi, rallying under the cry of 'ab dilli door nahin' (delhi is not far), and they continue to do so. Similarly 'ghaghra' has been a symbol of feminity for centuries. Skirts and bangles - these are the ultimate symbol of womanli-ness and an implied vulnerability, weakness/powerlessness. When a woman wants to insult a man, she might tell him to wear bangles, or a ghaghra (as the heroine does, in this film song). But Ila Arun is singing of making the ghaghra an election symbol, fighting under the banner of a female garment. Which means - taking the seat of power with womanliness.

4 - The physicality. Note, I do not use the softer, more popular pop word 'sensuality'. This video is not sensual. It is bawdy, funny, wild, mixed-up, physical, sexual. Arun sings: watch my choli, watch my tongue, watch my chunri, watch my ghaghra. And ghaghras fly. Wrestlers wrestle in very tiny saffron langots (underwear?). The camera zooms in to bare pot bellies. The women, and Ila Arun herself, wear traditional cholis where the emphasis of design, cut, embellishment and colour patterns is heavy on the breasts. The belle is not afraid of using her body to woo the cop (and sounds like she is proud of it) and the singer makes distinctly erotic sounds while singing out that part of the story.

[For the same reason, I also like 'Nigodi...' It is breathy and doesn't shy away from husky, blatant expression of desire, placed in the unrevealed bosom of a middle-aged domestic worker. It is desire that likes itself.]

5 - The innocence. You must have noticed the girl in the really short black skirt, gyrating along with another young fellow. There is very little connection between this visual and the rest of the song. The micro-mini was probably tossed into the video because it was India and it was the 90s and cable TV was all over the place. India was waking up to bare legs on TV and shorts and minis were de rigueur if you wanted to catch eyeballs.

Interestingly enough, a decade and a half later, this is still de rigueur. Films, 'items', pop albums - they are full of young women in really limited clothing. And not just one. Usually, there is a horde, usually around one 'hero'. The trend veered towards blondes lately and will probably shift away at some point. But the profusion of bare, gyrating skin on TV nowadays makes this early video look innocent. Note how the young 'modern-urban' couple do not even look into the camera. They are not trying to seduce the viewer. They are just doing their thing like the rest of the dancers in dhotis and ghaghras, looking quite silly, of course, and very happy.

Also, the baby begins to made sense after you view the video four or five times. There are all kinds of non-adult visuals tossed into the mix. There are little girls swirling in their little ghaghras, but they are not sexualized (unlike the kids in present-day dance shows). They are just dancing like little village girls do. There is an old sadhu who pokes his elbow-rest at the camera. Ila Arun preens in her dark glasses like any village woman just back from a tour of the big city.

6 - The visual theme. Spinning. The act of rotating and revolving.

You don't see too many videos in India that actually have a theme going. We totally do not see videos that are intelligent in the way they choose to interpret the lyrics. 'Vote for Ghaghra' works with: '...ghaghra jo ghoomiye... ae ghoomiyo, ae ghoomiyo', but it doesn't remain stuck with swirling skirts, or spinning dancers. Everything is ghoomo-fying.

Ila Arun's fingertip. Dancers' hands. A barber rotates the head of a client getting a massage. Wrestlers move round and round, locking each other in a grip. A leg of chicken rotates on a spit, embedded as a photo in a newspaper. The camel's jaw works in a circular sort of way. Turbans are turned round and round. Lights and shadows slowly move across bodies on the screen. Dancing laddoos. When you have seen it a dozen times, you actually begin to look at the ghoomiyo theme as representing something larger. Everything moves as the world itself does.

7 - A brief list of things to pay attention to: The camel, especially when he eats the newspaper. The moustaches. The turban spinning. The goggles. Ila Arun adjusting the flower garland on her bosom while she stands beside an elderly politician. Ila Arun in a white tee over a ghaghra. The images reflected onto the dancers as a moving shadow around 3 minutes and 38-40 seconds into the video.

For me this song means a feminist high. It mixes up a dozen different elements but it is bold and ambitious and colourful and it places a mature woman bang at the center - visually and contextually - of things. It celebrates her sexuality, even her bravado. It allows her to say 'no' and to punish unwelcome advances. It gives her a backbone. And it gives her a happy ending fixed on her own future, not about her relationship with another man.

I am sick and tired of songs doused in, and set ablaze by, what look like 16-24 year old blondes (or dark girls who want to be the blondes they grew up watching on MTV), dressed in clothes that are cut to reveal skin but have little else to recommend the style aesthetically. The girls all have almost the same measurements. They gyrate and twist in the same predictable way. They all pout. They all stare at you in a seductive, mock-tigress stance.

You might understand what I mean if you watch these videos back to back - first watch 'Choli ke peechhe' (Ila Arun's voice accompanying Neena Gupta on the screen), then Arun's Nogodi, and then a newer remix of 'Resham ka rumaal' which Arun has also sung (but her voice is not on this video). The first two don't have a dull second. I wish someone would tell music video (and film item number) directors that the latter is boringboringboring. The last time a gyrating number was even slightly fun, they had to put in a buffalo into the mix.

There's no accounting for tastes of course. But as a woman, I prefer cholis and ghaghras to buffaloes. They have my vote.

Now enjoy the video

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Night snippet from sleepless city

It was past one in the night. I stood outside the old building with a couple of other women. The night shift security guards stood nearby.

One woman clicked her tongue and stared into the distance when talking about tomorrow. The day of the Ayodhya verdict. It is enough to say 'The Verdict' these days. Everyone understands. Everyone in our generation at least.

The other lady began to point out the street where she saw flames rising against the horizon, in 1992. Someone else mentioned hacked limbs. Earlier in the day, many people around me had mentioned a hospital. Let there be a hospital in Ayodhya instead. I had nodded to myself, silently. Yes, let it be that way.

Then the security guard said: "Arre, but for that one masjid broken, so many hundreds of temples have been broken since then... around the world."

I did not say 'since when?' Or 'who was talking about temples and mosques?' Or anything else. I got into the cab and went home.

Who knows what this verdict is about? It doesn't seem to matter much to me or to others of a similar class and cultural background - temples, mosques, who cares? Is this too a class issue then?

And what of the younger generation - the ones who do not remember 1992? Those who don't know where Ayodhya is, or what was broken down, or who was responsible and who could have stopped it - even they have opinions on the subject. Sometimes guarded, sometimes just innocently communal. Us. Them. The usual.

Makes me wonder about the young people who went berserk across the country in 1992-93. Did they know where Ayodhya is? Did they know the name of their prime minister? Makes me think of the young men I met in 2002, just before Godhra and the Gujarat riots. They too wanted to go to Ayodhya - take along bricks and their bodies, build a Ram temple. All between 18 and 30, making applications to the Bajrang Dal, thinking they were being carefully hand-picked for something really important.

Did they know where they were headed?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A poem in Cha

Not about cha, which too may happen some day. But for now, 'Diaphragm' is in Cha magazine. Link to the:  poem.

And a piece where the online journal is mentioned.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A verdict, a crime, aggression and infamous almonds.

1. How to respond to people asking me to 'be careful' in the light of the Ayodhya verdict. How is one to be careful, in this context? Any suggestions?

2. Yesterday afternoon, at a signal. The sun warm again now that the rain is gone. The autos have been difficult as always, but still. Somebody finally was willing to ply. Struggle, thy middle name is Mumbai, I remind myself.

I glance outside. On the pavement to my left, a young man sits, legs splayed, head lolling forward onto his chest. A piece of thick white and blue plastic covers his head and shoulders, and is bunched up all around him. He is very still. Ill? Drunk? Exhausted? Drugged?

The signal hasn't changed to green. I glance out at the man again. Another young man walks past. He carries a stick, or is it a metal prod? Some piece of junk furniture perhaps or broken machine part. From a distance, it is hard to tell. This fellow walks past the sleeper, once, twice. He pauses, prods the sleeper with the stick. There is no response. He bends at the waist and chucks the sleeper under the chin. Grabs his chin and waggles it hard. There is no response.

For a moment, my heart skips a beat. Is he dead? Is he that ill? The traffic light has changed from red to yellow.

Then the young man with the stick, still bend, touches the sleeper's chest. I think he is feeling for a heart-beat. He is not. His fingers reach into the sleeper's pocket, right in front of his shirt. From that pocket, he takes out a note - ten? twenty? hundred? - and straightens up.

The traffic light has changed to green. I consider, for a brief moment, the wisdom of raising some kind of alarm. But the auto engine has come to life, car horns are blaring all around. Traffic is moving between me and the pavement. I lose sight of the two young men for a few seconds.

Then I spot him again - the young man with the odd stick. He is walking away. I can clearly see the currency note in his hand. He holds it lightly, casually, looks straight ahead. The sleeper is still. Legs splayed, head lowered to his chest. Traffic moves, and so do I.

3. There's petty theft. Then there's highway robbery.
‎'The Geneva centre of housing rights and evictions reckons sport to be one of the biggest displacers of humanity, perhaps second only to war. In two decades some 2 million people have had to make way for Olympic stadiums and "villages"...'
Sports. Who'd have thunk?

The commonwealth games reports of undoing and mal-doing have begun to elicit 'Oh no! Now what?' kind of response from us Indians. But people in Britain are concerned too. They are hosting the Olympics in 2012 and according to this writer. Also, he says: 'There can be no other state activity that dares such presumption. No arts activity, no theatre or rock festival, no adventure project or charitable fund-raiser would demand such colossal subsidy. The nearest parallel in cost per week is probably the military invasion of a foreign state'.

Made me think about sport and war.

Ever since I was a child, I was taught to think of sport as an 'alternative' to war. Nobody specifically said it, or maybe they did too. I don't remember clearly. But people who turn combative on the sports field were cheered, as opposed to kids who get into random fights on the playground. This seems to be a maxim that holds good all over the world. Movies, books, educators - they all recommend that 'aggression be channelized', preferably into some kind of artistic expression, or competitive sports.

Is that what the channels lead to - violence of a slightly different sort? Is there no way of looking at aggression and chauvinism as just that, and sport as just that. Play. Fun. Something you do aside from work, something for your body's needs. Something that is not about national egotism and international bullying.

4. On a happier note, I was thinking that there should be a retweet option on blogs too. There is always good old-fashioned linking, but when I read this blogger's thoughts about Munni Badnaam, I just wanted to retweet this extract.

K- I can’t find any white people on the internet! I Googled ‘where can I find white people’ and it was phail.

S- I can’t believe that didn’t work.

K- I KNOW! The internet must be broken. I also Googled the English translation for MunniBadnaamSong. Did you know that Munni Badnaam Hui means ‘Munni goes infamous’?

S- Is that the right translation?

K- It was on the internet so it must be true. Munni goes infamous.

S- Is that like going hungry? Is the song about famine?

K- Could be. Or it could mean she is becoming criminals.

S- Like Bandit Queen.

K- I actually thought the song was about almonds. Doesn’t ‘badnaam’ mean almond?

S- I think that’s ‘badaam’.

K- That’s not the same thing?

S- Apparently not.

K- Why not? Sounds same only. Munni Badaam hui. Munni Badnaam Hui. See? Same only.

Ok, we’re going to end this conversation right now.

Maybe ‘badnaam’ is a bad almond. Maybe the song is about food adulteration.

S- Either we end this conversation now or the phone becomes lodged within your nasal passages with great force and violence.

K- You’re really mean. And I didn’t even put the song on also.

S- Hang up now. For your own good only I am saying.

By the by,

S- Shut up your face and hang up.

K- By the by,

I’m not kidding.



S- Did someone die? Because I can’t think of any other justifiable reason for you to be calling me at this time unless someone is dead or the Americans have finally invaded our one number country.

I want to know something. In the MunniBadnaamSong,

S- You have got to be kidding me.

K- There’s this line that apparently means ‘Became cinema hall for you darling’.


K- I’m curious to know if that is a sexual metaphor or is it symbolic of the fascination that our country has for the cinema combined with the objectification of Woman or is it a reflection of the fatalistic outlook of the common man?

S- Why don’t you go fuck yourself?

Read the whole thing. Caused me much amusement on this late, strange night.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A little madness

You may have heard about the Madness Mandali. I heard (about their poetry-art project), I wanted in, it seems I am in. Mixing poetry with art/photos etc it is a great concept. I'm pretty excited and impatient to see what happens to my poem when an artist works with it.

In the meantime, in case you want to know more about Madness Mandali: "Most of these groups are made up by youngsters, all with day jobs, who also double up as artists, sound engineers, actors, photographers, etc. However, there are also a few celebrated artists, for whom public art is a medium to enhance their creativity."
So very young, but so very cool.

According to the article, the Mandali is "also geared up to go public with art exhibitions, impromptu music sessions and street plays." I hope they do.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

People who give

People are talking about giving this week. I've got a couple of calls from people wanting to give, wanting advice about who to donate to. I am not going to point you towards any one NGO.

Today I want to talk about a different kind of giving. The kind that involves years of involvement, stretching your own resources almost to bankruptcy, nights spent staring into the void, longing for creative inspiration.

No, I am not talking about writers or artists, though they too do live and create in this mould sometimes. I am talking about inventors. Not the kind who work out of research labs in universities or those who make presentations to get their research funded. I am going to talk low-income, even desperate researchers. People who poured their time into projects that had little hope of realisation. People whose projects were a personal problem-solving mission. And for that reason alone, their work is powerful and relevant. Their inventions really are the children of necessity, and the story of how and why they made stuff is a compelling read.

Take the example of the man who found a way to cut generator noise and collect carbon particles released by diesel engines at the same time. He didn't do it because he was overly bothered by global warming, but because he needed to use a generator in his own workshop, in east Champaran, Bihar.

"My workshop was just opposite a school. Since we faced frequent power cuts, I had to install a generator. This resulted in noise and air pollution, which affected school children and neighbours. Everyone was up in arms against me. They even filed a case against me in the court."..."It was difficult to move to a new location for me so I started thinking about ways to control this pollution," says Virendra.

That was how Virendra Kumar Sinha's pollution control device got made. It can be attached to generators or other diesel engines, and it allows carbon deposits to get collected, which can even be re-used (to make shoe polish, for example).

Pandharinath Sarjerao More from Ahmednagar has a similar story. He was a farmer who knew that onions could make a grown man cry even before they became onions.

Onions saplings have to transplanted after they are eight weeks old. It takes a lot of time and a certain amount of skill, which
makes it especially hard for small and medium farmers who cannot afford to hire enough people to finish work on time. So he set about making a machine to do it and his experiments were almost fatal.

"In the year 2000, Pandharinath, on a pilgrimage to Pandharpur, was sitting devotedly and listening to bhajans (devotional songs). A line in a bhajan by Saint Tukaram meant 'paras also cannot make gold without touching iron'' struck (sic) in his mind."

It took him 43 days and Rs 18,000 to build a semi-automatic working model. The tractor-drawn unit not only transplants onions, it can also add fertilizer and create furrows for irrigation. And he doesn't even want to patent it!

More was 66 when he won the national innovation award and according to the website, he wants to share the technology rather than lay restrictions on its use. If that is not one of the highest forms of giving, what is?

What I found particularly touching while reading his profile was the bit where he is quoted as saying:
"Chetanwadi dimaag mein jad bhi bolne lagti hai,pyaaz ka paudha bhi mere se bolne laga tha... (Even inert things communicate to aware minds, the onion plants were talking to me…)"

There's Kanak Gogoi from Guwahati, who won the NIF award for being a ‘Serial Innovator’ This school drop-out has made hover crafts, amphibious crafts, a rumble strip for generation of electricity, a gravitational bicycle. In fact, he made an air gun when he was a student in class six!

One of his most usable inventions is a ‘gravity operated cycle’, which can “harness the repeated downward movement of the rider on a spring-loaded seat. This would charge a spring that would release the energy and make the cycle move without much pedaling.”

He also has a ‘Kanso hybrid car’, without gears that runs on solar power as well as fuel.

But he began by selling milk in Jorhat and doing odd jobs at mechanical workshops. He read up a lot, worked in a mechanical workshop, struck out on his own, tried getting into the transportation business, and failed quite spectacularly. But he went on inventing things.

And he's not the only serial innovator on the list. There's a dozens of people like him and Uddhab Bharali, who is credited with innovating eighty-five engineering devices of which thirteen have found commercial applications.

One of his inventions is the 'Arecanut Peeler', which he made after being "annoyed by the injuries caused while peeling the areca nuts manually." His machine can peel 100-120 nuts per minute now.

Mansukhbhai Raghavjibhai Prajapati is reasonably well-known since the mainstream press has covered him. But what I found interesting was his personal journey. He quit studies after high school, went to work in a factory but an eye injury forced him out of work. He tried setting up a tea lorry on the highway, and then worked in a tile manufacturing unit. That's how he learnt pottery, and how!

He actually won the NIF award for earthen products, the most famous of which is ‘Mitticool’, a clay refrigerator that does not need electricity. With the help of Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network (GIAN) in Ahmedabad, he researched and experimented for three years and in 2005, Mitticool was available for Rs 1500!

Soon Mansukhbhai developed a better version with more storage room. And he also made a non-stick tava since his wife wanted one. Only, he made it of clay and it took “about a year of research, and after making and breaking almost one lakh trial tavas, he succeeded in developing the non-stick coated earthen pan using Azo Noble, another food grade non-stick material like Teflon.” Costs Rs 50-100 and consumes less LPG, apparently. He’s also worked on a clay cooker, thermos, and is working on a fridge fitted with a reverse osmosis unit to filter drinking water.

C Mallesham’s story is very touching.

He’s from a family of Pochampalli (silk saree) weavers. “Before weaving these patterns on loom, hand winding process of yarn has to be pursued, called Asu. This process involves moving hand, over a space of one meter up and down around semi-circularly arranged pegs, 9000 times for one sari, demanding high concentration and accuracy. On each peg one has to wind four times before moving to the next peg.

This work, Laxmi, his mother would do. Her hands ached. So in 1992 he decided to invent something to make the job easier. He used up his wife’s money in the process, took loans he could not return, annoyed his own family and listened to neighbours’ taunts. He had to leave home, live alone as a migrant worker in Hyderabad, but he never gave up. In 1999, he cracked it and returned to Malleswaram with a ‘Laxmi’ machine that worked!

A saree could be made easier, it took one-third the time it used to take. Once, people used to tell him that his mother wasn’t the only one who suffered – trying to make him quit his crazy project – but now he was making life better for all the mothers of Pochampalli weavers. And he didn’t stop. He kept improving the design so threads could be adjusted and noise levels reduced. Do go read his story to see how his device has changed hundreds of lives in his community.

One of my favourites is Muruganantham, from Coimbatore, inventor of the ‘Mini sanitary napkin making machine’. Here’s how his profile on NIF tells it: “Once the innovator noticed his wife going to the toilet with an old cloth. On his enquiry, she said it was not an issue related to the concern of men. He surmised that she was using the old cloth as a substitute of sanitary napkin. When asked as to why she was not using a regular sanitary napkin her answer was a revelation to him. She said that if all the female members of the family were to buy sanitary napkins, then they would have to cut down on the family budget for milk every month.”

He got napkins tested in a lab and found out that they use wood fiber. He got the material from Mumbai first, then developed his own de-fibering unit. Then he made other machines for the forming and sealing of napkins. Finally, he added UV sterilization.

Entrepreneurs and SHGs have already begun to sell pads at very reasonable prices, like Rs 15 for a set of 10 pads.

His system can produce over 900 sanitary napkin pads per day. That’s not all. After he saw ATMs dispensing cash to customers, he developed a sanitary napkin dispenser with a coin slot.

Next time you spot a pack of cheap napkins with names like ‘Free Style’ or ‘Be Free’ in the local market, remember to doff your hat to Muruganantham.

One reason I've done this post and poached so liberally from the NIF website (and I doff my hat and deeply salaam to you, madams/sirs, who profiled the awardees), is that we often forget that science and manufacturing is about people - by and for ordinary people.

A schoolgirl who made washing machine-cum-exercycle so her hands were free to hold books. Other kids who made herbal mosquito repellents. A 76-year-old who recycles natural fibre to make match-sticks. No logging, no wastage! A school-boy who made a tea-making machine since his mom was ill and he wanted to avoid using a wood-fueled chulha, but almost had his invention destroyed!

These are people with injuries, people with loans, people with hearts that ache for their own family members and communities. People who then stake their all to create something new, DESPITE their families and communities.

These are brave, brilliant people and they have given the world wonderful things. Things that reduce pollution, things that empower women, create jobs. Things that save lives or cause someone's spine to bend at a less brutal angle. Things that should be aggressively marketed and widely available. But who's going to do it?

Where are the marketing whizzes? Where are the logistics' managers? Where are the intangible innovations, where are our tertiary sector geniuses?

Maybe we will find those people too. Maybe not.

Let me leave you with thoughts of Janakiram from Dindugal. He did not invent anything tangible but he used his eyes. He noticed that birds who attacked a grape crop were wary of honey bees. Voila! So, he set up honeycombs near a grape farm. Shahad ka shahad, angoor ka angoor!

Chew on that, people, and go read up all about the wonderful inventions by hundreds of people across the country. It has kept me up all night and I've only mentioned a few award-winners in this post. But each page has stories of triumph, survival, and quiet heroism.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The PEPSU-ization of Punjab

'Pepsu?' I frowned at the word. PEPSU? Where? How? Why didn't I know?

Oddly enough, India did have a state by that name though our history books don't mention it. At least, my school-books didn't. But independent India did set out with a state called 'Patiala and the East Punjab States Union', PEPSU for short.

It was a place where "The people had been suffering from the ‘double slavery’, under idiosyncratic and pervert rulers who were themselves under the slavish subservience of the British. The caretaker government with Sardar Gyan Singh Rarewala, a high official of Patiala State and close relation of the Maharaja, as the Premier was installed under a stop-gap arrangement in Aug 1948. I have a vague but disturbing memory of bloody popular upsurge in Malerkotla against police repression in the wake of murder by angry mob on June 14, 1948 of Thanedar Kuldip Singh who had raped a girl when she was in his custody."

I had a funny sensation when I read the paragraph above. It was like time hadn't moved at all. 1948, 2008. The same thanedaars, the same mobs, the same relatives of rulers squatting in positions of power. It could have been modern Punjab or Kashmir or Karnataka or Delhi.

The passage above is part of an interesting memoir-essay by Bal Anand, who remembers Pepsu (the state eventually merged into Punjab in1956) with mixed feelings.

He says: "I have strongly mixed emotions of love and hate with my Pepsu identity. The two years of studies, during ’59-’61, in Government College, Malerkotla and the two years as a college lecturer in Bathinda in ’67-69 provided me with a wealth of contrasting experiences with my studies in DAV college Jalandhar for graduation and Post Graduation in Government College, Ludhiana. To me, Pepsu seemed personification of feudal depravities and, rampant corruption, in its myriad hues. The peon of the Principal and the clerks in Malerkotla college; the clerical staff and even lecturers and Principals in Bathinda, I am very sorry to say, remind me of the most viciously corrupt and intriguing persons in contrast to many inspiring and most helpful functionaries I came across as student/lecturer in Jalandhar and Ludhiana. When the Pepsu was merged into the Punjab, many like me, had hoped and prayed that values and work culture of Punjab will have a salutary influence on the Riyasati-Pepsu people. But, alas! the wheel seems to have turned the other way round: The ‘Pepsu-ization’ of Punjab seems to be full and complete; the theory of economics, 'bad money drives out good money' rings loudly true in my beloved present Punjab."

Alas, indeed.

But do go read the essay. It offers a lot of context and small details which should tell us about the way our country was, and in many ways, still is. For instance, when the writer was going to be sent to school in 1949, the Government Primary School, four kilometers away, was chosen over the middle school which was only three kilometers away. The former was 'falling in the Angrezi Ilaqa' because people thought that schools in the 'British territory' were better than those in the princely estates.

Really, what has changed? The 'angrezi ilaqa' has changed to 'English medium' or 'convent' and nowadays, 'international'.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

How to get rid of one's troubles

Wouldn't it be awesome if one could avoid trouble by declaring that the conditions in one's life are no longer conducive to the creation of trouble?

Apparently, the government of Maharashtra seemed to think this was possible. It has banished famine from the land through the simple and entirely effective mechanism of disallowing the use of the word.

‘The Maharashtra Deletion Of The Term “Famine” Act, 1963...that “there is now no scope for famine conditions to develop.” Why so? Because “the agricultural situation in the State is constantly watched by the State government.” And “relief measures as warranted by the situation are provided as soon as signs of scarcity conditions are apparent.” Goodbye Famine.

Neat, eh?

From the same article: It's a proud tradition the State still hews to. Can't stop farmers' suicides, so redefine who a farmer is. Then redefine what a suicide is. Maharashtra has done both. Why not have a law banning the word ‘farmer' or ‘suicide' or both? Solves an annoying problem in a State that has seen, in official count, over 44,000 farm suicides since 1995.

This is an Act in a State with a gosh-awful record in food production for years. That includes a 24 per cent fall in 2008-09. A rich State that has seen far more child hunger deaths than many poorer ones. A State that added greatly to its hungry with 2 million people losing their jobs between 2005-06 and 2007-08. That's over 1800 each day — and that's before the global meltdown of September 2008, according to the State's own economic survey.

The 1963 Act casts its shadow to this day. By legal definition, we cannot have a serious crisis in Maharashtra. So when there is one, we respond to it on a much lower scale than needed. No matter how deadly the crisis, relief work will never be up to the mark because it is not required by law to be so.

I have two poems in this new anthology of love poems from contemporary Indian poets.

Makes for lovely gifts for loved ones. Makes for poetry by some of the country's best poets who work with the English language.
Do check it out.
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