वो मेरे साथी तब भी बिना थके चलते रहते हैं जब पुलिस उन पर नक्सली जासूस होने का आरोप लगाती है, जब उनके फ़ोन टेप होते हैं.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
वो मेरे साथी तब भी बिना थके चलते रहते हैं जब पुलिस उन पर नक्सली जासूस होने का आरोप लगाती है, जब उनके फ़ोन टेप होते हैं.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Covering the Naxal story is not a sexy assignment. It is not lucrative either -- unlike Kashmir, it won't make careers, help people buy big homes, big cars, earn dollars, and American-accented friends. This is the poor man's insurgency. This is a poor reporter's story.
The office was steaming hot, with just one fan whirring, the lights dim, and little to egg them on except their enthusiasm and fly swatters. From this dark hole, the reporters cover the Naxal insugency. They put out news reports when unnamed Naxalites call them and give them reports of ambushes and landmine attacks; or when neatly handwritten Naxal statements come in the post.
(Pic: A child in a village in the Saranda forest, Jharkhand)
They plod on even when police office accuse them of having links with the rebels or tap their telephones; or, in flamboyant conversations with the rare New Delhi journalist, accuse most local reporters of being "on their payroll".
They plod on not because there is a raise or congratulatory e-mail waiting for them. They do it because they know that somewhere they have become part of the story -- so deeply inter-twined with the lives of the people living in humiliating poverty that they cannot walk away from it.
They are India's true reporters. Even after years of travelling the beaten track, they will still get tears lining their eyes when they hear of the woman who died of third degree burns because she had nothing to cover herself on the winter night and slept too close top the fire.
They will never win any journalism awards or buy new cell phones or get a call and kindwords from the editor-in-chief or sit and give their views in a television channel's studio.
And they will never grudge others who do.
I salute them.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
इन्ही हालात में पत्नी ने जो रही सही कसर थी, वो भी पूरी कर दी.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
(The show is on Star Plus. Pictures courtsey http://www.indya.com/)
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Bravo. It is a display of slavery that even the Chinese would not have expected.
Clearly, India has lost its sense of proportion. We are a democracy, of course – people can come last.
What happened in New Delhi during the passing of the Olympic torch was yet another piece of the jigsaw of India’s farce over the Tibet issue. Since 1959, India has pampered Tibetan refugees, even as it cruelly ignored its own internal displaced – everyone from Kashmiri Pandits to those displaced by infrastructure projects, and even those seeking a homeland in Kashmir and northeast just like the Tibetans. And then, India kneeled down to Chinese concerns to ensnare New Delhi with security paraphernalia that a U.S. president would be jealous of.
So here is the big picture: India will do nothing to prevent its workers from being put out of jobs by a deluge of cheap and substandard Chinese goods, leaving hundreds of thousands of its citizens – from carpenters to memento artisans to toy makers to electronics goods makers – struggling and out of jobs. India will also do nothing to prevent incursions by the Chinese into what New Delhi claims is its territory. But it will go out of the way to clamp down on its capital city to snuff out fury of the Tibetan refugees against the Chinese government.
This is what that means: due to an internal Chinese issue, Indian people cannot go to work, to job interviews, to hospitals, to pick up people at the railway station.
Ah, that brings me to the refugees. India has spent more than Rs 20 crores in recent times to help Tibetan refugees. That, of course, does not include the costs in diplomacy, or real estate -- go to any hill station in India, and you will find that authorities have provided land in the best of locations for "Tibetan refugee markets". This largesse is at the expense of the local unemployed youth, of course, but then the young jobless in Nainital or Darjeeling or Dadri don’t have a sexy cause to back them, do they?
And try finding the refugees at these markets. At most of these shops, you will find, have underpaid Indian servants of the Tibetan refugees. The new generation of the Tibetan in India is not a victim.
The Dalai Lama is a decent man. It is his opponents, the Chinese, and his followers, the Tibetan youth, that I have a problem with. And more than that, I have a problem with how India has dealt with these two protagonists in the Tibet story.
What is the contribution that Tibetan refugees have made to the Indian nation, society and people over the past fifty years? What is their level of involvement and engagement with this country? When Indian refugees or migrants go abroad they make small and big, but always important, contributions to their society. They have a sense of belonging. They drive forward economies.
At a very basic level, the Tibetan story, for me, is about losing one’s home. It is a tragedy I completely empathise with. But it is a tragedy that is resonating far more eloquently in India for Indians – and I am keen to know what India is willing to do for the Kashmiri Pandits who have become a big yawn for the government; for the Kashmiri Muslims and people in many areas in the Northeast who also have an aspiration like the Tibetans for a homeland; and for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the so-called New India.
India’s warlike exercise to prevent a little flame from being snuffed out has only highlighted the shameful and hypocritical state of denial about the other fires of discontent raging across this nation.
Photos courtsey: PTI, top, and Gautam Singh (AP)
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
मेरे अन्दर मेरा छोटा सा शहर रहता है
ये पंक्तियाँ मैंने कई साल पहले लिखी थीं। कभी पूरी नहीं की। गीत बस वहीं का वहीं रह गया, बड़े शहर में क़ैद. कई बार सोचा, क्या छोटा शहर मेरे अन्दर किसी गहरी, बरसों लम्बी नींद में सो गया? या फिर कोई खूबसूरत मौत मर गया?
पिछले दिनों एक फ़िल्म के गीतों के लिए बम्बई में एक निर्देशक के साथ बैठक चल रही थी, कि उनकी फ़िल्म की कहानी सुन कर अनायास मुंह से निकल गया ... "मेरे अन्दर मेरा छोटा सा शहर रहता है" ... उनको इतना पसंद आया की अब आदेश हुआ है की मैं ये गीत पूरा करूं. पर गीत तो खामोश बैठा है, नाराज़ दादाजी की तरह. आगे कुछ कहता ही नहीं.
हम सभी तो इसी छोटे शहर की यादों की खाते हैं ... जब बड़े शहर ने परेशां किया, इस की बाहों में दुबक जाते हैं। बनारस का वो घाट याद है? पटना का रेलवे स्टेशन देखे हो? यार ये चांदनी चौक तो एकदम जैसे लखनऊ का अमीनाबाद है ... अमां तरबूज़ खा कर तो लल्लन की दूकान की याद आ गई ...
अपने ब्लॉग पर भी बड़ी शान से लिखा, "Hidden inside me, a small town guy" (छुपा है मेरे अन्दर, छोटे से शहर का एक आदमी)। लेकिन कभी कभी सोचता हूँ, कहाँ रहता है ये कमबख्त छोटा सा शहर? क्या पहनता है ये? कौन से गाने पे नाच रहा है ये नचनिया? हट! ये तो बहाना है बस। कहीं ये खूबसूरत छोटा सा शहर हमारे शातिर, कल्पनाशील दिमागों की ईजाद भर तो नहीं? एक ऐसी मरीचिका जहाँ सभी अच्छा था, ज़िंदगी खूबसूरत थी, मधुबाला की तस्वीर की तरह ...
फिर दो पंक्तियाँ याद आयीं, कॉलेज में एक नाटक के लिए लिखीं थीं उस पानी से भरे शहर नैनीताल में ...
जीवन में प्रेम हो, सद्भाव हो, समरसता हो
चावल सस्ता हो ...
यही तो है न हमारी ज़िंदगी में छोटे से शहर की ड्यूटी? एक ऐसी छतरी जिसके नीचे हम पट से भाग जाते हैं, जैसे ही वक्त की धूप थोड़ा सा तिरछी आंख दिखाती है ... ये छोटा सा बेईमान शहर बस हमारे दिल में ही तो रहता है भाई, एक टाइम मशीन की तरह। मुश्किल वक्त, कमांडो सख्त -- नाना पाटेकर ने बोला था न "प्रहार" में? -- बटन दबाया, अपने आप को दो मिनट के लिए छोटे से शहर में पाया.
मैं इस हफ्ते लखनऊ में था। बड़ा हुआ था यहीं। काफी वक्त सड़कों पे छोटे से शहर की राह देखता रहा। लेकिन वहां तो अब डोमिनोस पीत्ज़ा फ़ोन करने से मिलता है। वहां तो अब सिनेमा देखने के लिए गाँव के मास्टर की दस दिन की तनख्वाह खर्च करनी पड़ती है। वहां तो अब बिना नम्बर की मर्सिडीज़ दौड़ती है ...
भाई यहाँ तो अभी अभी किसी नेता ने अपनी ही प्रतिमा का अनावरण किया है, चमकीली बत्ती लगवा कर, लाखों रुपैय्या खर्च कर के परदा उठवाया है. ये छोटा सा शहर कहाँ है , ये तो एक भूतपूर्व और एक भावी प्रधानमंत्री का शहर है ...
मेरे छोटे से शहर पर तो कब का परदा गिर गया यारों ... अब तो बस एक किरदार है जो निभा रहा हूँ मैं।
और हाँ, आप भी.
For the first time in more than fifty years, he went to his childhood school where he used to walk 12 kilometres from home every day, and to the home of his late, the legendary Sharda Baksh Singh who was feared and loved across Lucknow district in the early years of independence. The visit was part of my father's research for his upcoming book for Roli Books, "Story of an Ordinary Indian".
"This is where I used to sit," my father said, pointing to a classroom on the side at the school in Itaunja town. A jackfruit tree he had planted had disappeared -- so had a building on the far side, beyond the playground.
He looked around, confused, followed by four children who had taken a break from plucking berries from a tree in the school campus. Birds chirped loudly somewhere nearby.
"There used to be a building there," he said.
"No, there wasn't, there was no building," said the most talkitive among the kids.
"Offoh, I am talking about 50 years ago, kiddo -- when I was a little boy like you, this high," he said, smiling and gesturing.
At the home of the teacher (photo, right) in Singhamau village in the Lucknow district, he met Sharda Baksh Singh's talented and passionate writer son, Mr. Batukeshwar Dutt Singh (left, picture at top), who has renovated the entire house but left his father's two rooms untouched, with the walls, ceilings, books and furniture. Mr. Singh was getting ready to leave for the housewarming of his son's new home in Lucknow. But this occasion was more important for him.
He walked inside his father's old room and brought down a picture from the wall. It was a black and whilte image from decades ago, from the day when his father was retiring from the school in Itaunja town, sitting with a grimace and a garland.
Mr. Batukeshwar Singh, also a student of his father, told my father how his late father did not discriminate between him and other school children. He narrated old and forgotten stories. They laughed about old times. They both wiped the photo frame together.
There was dust on it -- the dust of time and forgetfulness in an age where teachers are harassed, insulted and almost never respected.
It was dust that an old and favourite student had come back to wipe clean.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Life’s biggest lessons sometimes come at the most unexpected moments, don’t they? For me, one of them looked me in the face from a sheet of paper as I stood in a makeshift relief camp on Car Nicobar Island in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, less than two months after the December 2004 tsunami.
As officials asked survivors to list their losses, thousands of mainlanders who had come and settled there jotted down details of homes and motorcycles, cash and jewelry. But a man from the Nicobarese tribe, from the small island of Camorta, bereft of many of these things as well, just wrote a few words to list his loss: “Three pigs. One dog.” He didn’t care for anything apart from his beloved pets.
Peace of mind. On that day in 2005, I thought that this rare commodity was all that the Nicobarese had, and used, to face the life-changing disaster that nature had brought to them.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
In the evening, I thoroughly enjoyed writing a song for an upcoming film, a stunningly beautiful melody by Shankar-Ehsan-Loy.
But my thoughts this morning had nothing to do with either the lawsuit or the song. It had to do with two cats, and the profound effect they have had on people.
I thought of Simba, Laurinda's regal cat boy, and Gori, the cat girl that literally got into the elevator one day, walked into Ehsan Noorani's home, and has lived there since.
I haven't known much of Simba, apart from a fleeting hello when I visited Laurinda's home years ago. You could tell from that look: it was the look of a person who owned the room. He lazily curled up in a corner, let the guests enjoy and chat, not seeking undue attention. I remember Laurinda mentioning Simba first when she had just arrived in New Delhi from Singapore, new to the chaos of the subcontinent from the placid, often boring perfection of the island nation. I could see that her only emotional anchor in those early days was Simba.
Simba and I had no connection whatsoever until an evening a couple of months ago when I bumped into Ehsan at a shopping mall in Saket, where he and I were both patiently sauntering as his wife Madhu and my wife Nidhi were on their separate shopping trips.
Ehsan invited us to dinner at a friend's home in Delhi, and we then were introduced to Gori, the cat who has touched the lives of the couple in a profound way. I thought of Simba.
Here are some stories about Gori. She can tell tell a Sunday from other days, and that is the day she sleeps late, unlike the rest of the week. She saunters around their residential complex in Bandra and here is how she finds her way home: she waits for someone -- anyone -- to come, and then hops on to the elevator, and spends any possible time patiently, while the elevator goes up and down, up and down, until someone decides to go to the third floor where Ehsan and Madhu live.
She knows her floor; that is when she hops out too and struts right into her home.
She can tell when a person is ill -- as Ehsan unfortunately was a day after we met. She consoles the person, and Madhu believes she has healing abilities. I don't dispute.
So when word came in of Laurinda's lawsuit, and then as I wrote the lyrics to the song that Ehsan had helped compose, I wondered: what if Simba and Gori were out on a date at India Gate in Delhi or Bandstand in Bombay?
What would they talk about? Music, or the news?
Saturday, April 5, 2008
He wrote a piece on his blog about how in Bihar, a chemist can "look at the prescription and tell the caste of the doctor" -- an irony-filled piece about how caste plays into the health sector there. What happened next -- including a death threat to a person quoted there -- is detailed here in this extract by Mr. Avinash Das in Mohalla, the most popular Hindi blog.
Friday, April 4, 2008
The fan is a small punctuation in a long story.
As a child, Dr. Misra walked 24 kilometres to and back from his school in remote Uttar Pradesh, with a dream to educate the children in his region so that they would not have to undertake that long walk every day.
Within months, he became a star when he discovered 565 million-years old fossils that were the oldest records of multicellular life on Earth.
But he still agonised over the long walk to school, that thousands of children were still making in his rural backyard.
Before that could happen, marriage proposals were pouring in. This was the 70s, few people from UP ever went to the West -- and Misra suddenly was a very eligible bachelor. He humbly entertained all proposals -- but laid one condition. He would mary the woman who was equally passionate to set up a school in his village.
Nirmala Shukla was a city woman, a 1960s Lucknow brat. She had never been to a village -- she preferred to go to the movies and poke flirtatious men with safety pins when they tried to act funny with her group. She said: "What the heck, lets do this." They got married in May 1972. Within weeks, she was wading through waist-deep floodwaters in remote Uttar Pradesh, an adventure that sent the blood pressure of her strict father shooting.
This seemed much more than she had bargained for: all the god's creatures she was terrified of, from snakes to scorpions, were here. The couple went door to door, asking people for contributions to the school. They knew people did not have money, even to feed themselves -- so they asked for a fistful of grain, so that the people of the area -- mostly SCs and STs -- felt involved. The school was set up.
In an area where no girl had gone to school before, parents began sending daughters to study because there was a woman principal in Nirmala Misra.
But back in Canada, a deeper conspiracy had taken place. His credit as a discoverer of the extremely rare fossils had been snatched from him by Western scientists. His family launched a campaign to fight back, and finally won.
Last autumn, he received a rare honour from Canadian officials and scientists when one of those fossils was named after him.
Meanwhile, the school has touched and transformed thousands of lives in an area where most of the residents are from the Scheduled Castes, who earlier had no access to education. And for the time time, girls began to study with the opening of the school, and numerous have changed their lives with education. But the school has come through, and continues to face -- many challenges, and is an eloquent example of what is wrong, and what could be right, with India's education system.
And the school just got its first ceiling fan. A few people will not sit in the heat this summer.
Two little girls walked nearby, wearing their white and blue school uniforms, giggling, their hair in plaits. They stopped under a tree and looked up.
To our left were buildings with small windows, opening into small dark rooms where clothes were hung and faint shadows moved. They were, Radhika told me, the city’s oldest “chawls” – humble homes of textile mill workers in the sprawling textile district that once buzzed with the clatter of a booming industry.
The schoolgirls stood opposite a house with a two storey-high painting of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar painted on it in black and white, with a huge garland of marigolds pinned to the wall.
The textile mills all shut down over decades and gave way to shopping malls, putting hundreds of thousands out of work.
But the residents did not stop dreaming, and hoping.
The two school girls leaped in the air, together, stretching their little hands as high as they could to reach what they wanted: a bunch of champa flowers hanging from a branch. They jumped several times, failing each time, giggling at their failure.
A passer-by walked past, holding what looked like two large notebooks in his hand. He looked at the girls and stopped, and gave them the notebooks to hold.
Then he reached out and held a large leaf jutting out of the branch – like holding a donkey’s ear and asking it to sit down -- and lowered it towards the girls.
He let them have the flowers, looked at them as they smiled in their simple joy, took back his notebooks, and went his way.
(The picture is representational; I took it in a school in Anjar, Gujarat)
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
An image stayed with me. A man soaked in sweat, in the Indian team’s light blue T-shirt, walked slowly holding his stick after Pakistan beat India 4-3.
But let me take you back an hour and a half.
I was at the departure lounge back at the airport, doing what I always do when waiting in public places: looking at people and trying to guess who they are, what lives they live, and inventing stories about them. Two metres away from me to my left, there was a man completely invisible in the rows of chairs, dressed in a full-sleeved black T-shirt and shorts, listening to songs from his mobile phone and sharing the headphone with his friend on his right.
It was the same man.
It was India’s hockey star, top national team player and former captain Dilip Tirkey.
The celebrated defender. The guy who I would watch in amazement on my tiny TV screen at 30,000 feet an hour and a half later, walking back in dejection and complete exhaustion after the defeat to Pakistan.
Dilip sat looking around, barely talking, a face lost among hundreds seated across the huge lounge. He fiddled with his rug sack, the colour of army fatigues. He ran his hand through his short hair. He caught me looking at him. I didn’t say anything.
He then stood up, in the centre of the departure lounge, completely and utterly unnoticed. People walked past him, several people came and sat next to him, picking up newspapers from seats around.
Many of them front-paged pictures of the new mercenaries – players of the IPL cricket league, every man worth some crore of rupees. And there were copies of the entertainment supplement of the Times of India, which had a story about how Kingfisher chief Vijay Mallya had convinced Beyonce Knowles to perform at the inauguration of the IPL, and Shah Rukh Khan had prevailed upon Amitabh Bachchan and his family.
Tirkey went back to his seat – next to the lean man with whom the player had shared the headphone wearing it in an ear each. The other man wore a black cap that said: “Condemned”. I am not sure if it was bitter sarcasm, or a Freudian slip.
I picked up the newspaper with the Beyonce story. It asked readers to turn the page. There, it told them the entire story was for April Fool’s Day.
And I suddenly realised the subject of the joke was sitting next to me, wearing his black T-shirt, a headphone in one ear.
The joke was on him.
The joke was on us, this country that loves to throw money on mercenaries.
(Dilip Tirkey's picture: courtsey The Hindu)