Monday, December 31, 2018

Odd end

So, starting this year (2018), I had begun to feel nervous about saying things out loud/in public. This wasn't just the nervousness of saying politically incorrect things, or things that would make me lose friends. It was the nervousness of thinking, will I trolled for this? Will I be called names and will my ancestors' chastity be called question? Worse, will I have to defend myself from state institutional over-reach (people filing complaints or policemen acting on their own initiative). Would I waste precious time battling such over-reach? Would I become unemployable?

As laws were made or amended to allow the state to act with greater authority viz people's communication, private and public, my nervousness grew. Was it enough that I did not comment myself, but only RT-ed someone else's tweet? I felt guilty too, for feeling nervous. And I was also afraid of saying that I felt afraid.

As a way of dealing with all this, I began to maintain a private log of things I could not say, things I was afraid to share or retweet. It was a sort of diary. Today, I had to decide whether or not I'd keep it going. I've decided next year will be different. Not because all fears have evaporated but because fear doesn't get you anywhere much. Where it does get you, is backed against a wall in a blind alley, and you become an unwilling magnet for everyone else like you - similarly nervous, similarly backing away, ceding the public space.

The answer lies not in silence, but in finding new and creative - civil! civic! - ways of saying the things that must be said. Doing brave things without bravado. Hoping 2019 will be about that. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Double sighted

Double sighted

After years, I hopped onto a double decker bus. I'm not sure why I say “hopped”. Hopping was as unlikely as gracefully waltzing in. A more accurate thing to say would be that I lunged desperately at the bus and that, somehow, I didn't fall. That I was forced up the stairs and onto the upper deck because there was nowhere else to go. That I managed to sit for ten minutes, surrounded by weariness and careful impassivity, until someone shifted and the possibility of a seat emptying broke the spell.

Trying to keep my own face impassive, feeling the crowd thicken, breathing in infinite disappointment and anxiety, I felt as if I had to grow another skin at once. A skin thick enough to prevent an osmosis of mood and mein.

Those who stop taking buses and trains forget what the city feels like for most. I do use public transport a lot but have stopped commuting during peak hours. That evening, I hadn't planned on boarding a bus, but it was after five and Cuffe Parade was spewing out line upon line of office-goer. Since no cabs were free, I went to the bus stop and thought: I've done this; it's not all that hard. Besides, Mumbai's BEST services are really quite decent, and so on.

It was hard. The bus was so full that if I kept my seat on the upper deck, I'd never make it down to the lower deck when my stop arrived. There were people crammed all the way up the steps. So I went down to the lower deck, and discovered I had nothing to hold onto. No grab rails or strap-hangars where I found a spot to stand. With the bus braking and lurching every few seconds, it was near-impossible to keep my balance. Yet, the near-impossible was achieved through sheer force of will and several muscles working in tandem. It was a militant form of yoga.

Now I was forced to remember why I had sworn to myself that any life plan – anything at all – had to be better than this. Surely, my life couldn't be reduced to a degree of stiflement so that I'd rather risk my life standing on the footboard than being squashed on all sides by a crowd, even if that crowd is all female? I wouldn't be reduced to the sort of pettiness that makes the most generous spirits lunge at seats and argue about who is entitled to sit down first?

As the bus turned towards the promenade, I caught a glimpse of the setting sun glancing off grey water. It was a tiny hint of mercy. For a minute, I breathed easier. Then I found anger. This wasn't just bad, it was much worse than it used to be. The slow bleeding of the BEST has meant fewer buses, older buses, never enough buses on busy routes. Taking away chunks of fairly profitable public sector companies – such as electricity supply – and handing it on a platter to private firms has meant that public transport can't be subsidised the way it was. The continual focus on cars has meant more roads, bridges and sea links to cut down on traffic time, but never any dedicated bus lanes.

Outside the bus, I spotted foreign tourists taking selfies. I wondered whether they thought of this as a good city. Of us, as a happy people. Look at us! Smiling through it all even as we hang off the sides of a rickety bus. Look at us, coping. Suddenly, I wanted to shake a fist at someone.

First published here:

Monday, December 17, 2018

Three Plays/New book

Three of the plays I've written over the last decade have now been published in one volume. They include the first full length script I ever wrote, Name, Place, Animal, Thing, which was shortlisted for The Hindu Playwrights Prize in 2009, and Untitled 1, which won the same prize in 2018. The third script is a radio drama, Jam, which was named regional winner of the BBC International Playwriting Competition, 2011.

Please go forth and purchase: 3 Plays by Annie Zaidi

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