Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why leak the Radia Tapes? It's time to talk motive

More important even than who leaked the tapes may be another question: why?

It is illegal to leak government secrets.  This is true in every country in the world, and there are a lot of really good reasons for it: governments--like businessmen, lawyers, and mental health professionals--sometimes need to do things confidentially.

Of course there are times when breaking the law is called for in order to prevent something terrible from happening. It is OK to break the speed limit, if you need to get a dying man to the hospital. It is OK to reveal confidential documents that will prevent large scale theft or corruption; and following orders is no excuse for committing or aiding in the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity.

We don't know who leaked the Radia Tapes yet, but they probably could have come from one of only three places: the Finance Ministry, the Home Ministry, or the Prime Minister's Office. Who knows? Not me.  But a lot of people like me have been assuming that whoever leaked the Radia Tapes has done us all a great favor by shining the light on some very bad things, and that he or she did so for reasons having something to do with an admirable desire to set wrong things right.

I think I even said something like that at a party recently, and the politically savvy people I was talking with promptly set me straight--after they had a good laugh at my expense. Sure, this leak has revealed some ugly truths we should all know about. And yes, it could have been motivated by a love for truth, justice and Mother India. But there are other, more plausible reasons why someone in a high place may have wanted this information public. Today, I'll list three. There are probably many more, but I've forgotten what they might be. If you've got a good one, why not add it in the comments? Of course, this is all just idle speculation. But remember, motive is something every crime show detective knows to look for, and it seems to work for them!

Damage control: A lot of money was lost to the public in the 2G scandal.  In a previous post, we laid out just how much 1.76 lakh crore rupees really is in terms we can all understand.  For now, let's just say the 2G scam will likely turn out to be the largest in modern Indian history. Whoever leaked the tapes knew that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report was going to make a lot of people look very, very bad. Not just people in the Telecom Ministry, but people in Finance and even in the PMO. The Radia Tapes help to focus public outrage on A. Raja and the Telecom guys. The tapes framed the story, so as to crop out certain very, very important people.

Coalition politics: The Radia Tapes made it possible for Congress to sack A. Raja, putting the blame on him only, while keeping the DMK in the UPA coalition. Presumably the DMK is not just worried about its electoral position in Tamil Nadu and its friendship with Congress, but also whether the CBI and friends have any dirt that goes beyond Raja. If that were the case, they would pretty much need to keep their mouths shut, wouldn't they?.

Get even with the press: A lot of dirt came out in the coverage of the CWG mess. Feelings got hurt. Maybe it's payback time. The first batch of Radia tapes were carefully edited in such a way as to insure the media got it's well-deserved share of the blame for this whole ugly affair. Blaming the media is also a form of damage control, because if you can spread dirt on everyone, then the public is left feeling there is really no alternative to dirty politics and dirty business. Ratan Tata's recent effort to slam the BJP in this context is a variant of this game.

So what to do? I agree with the editors of The Hindu on this one: A Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) is imperative at this point. It's hard to see what Congress gains by trying to delay this indefinitely, unless they feel UPA II wouldn't be able to withstand the truth--in that case, they've got nothing to lose by delaying except whatever public trust they've still got. 

Beyond the JPC, we have to hope that there is a thorough house cleaning, where people who are found responsible--be they members of the government, the media, or India Inc.--go to prison for long terms. You just can't fight corruption of this magnitude by giving middle level bureaucrats a few years in jail; you have to go after the big guys and you have to lock them up for long periods of time if they are found guilty. Otherwise, the temptation to play dirty will continue to be irresistible. And dirty business, dirty media, dirty government is a big part of what is killing democracy in this country.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lessons from a village school: energy, honesty and the price of pessimism

In this post, Gandhi fellow Kabir Arora writes about the school in Rajasthan where he did his village immersion. What is working? What is holding it back?

Rajkiya Ucch Prathamik Vidyalaya-Chhota Lohsana

The school assigned to me was a kilometer or two from the accommodation. An old building with eleven rooms, a kitchen, two toilets never opened and two Ghomut. One hundred forty five kids, 8 classes with 5 teachers, a PT Instructor and a cook. Being a nodal school, it should have staff of 9 people. Doesn't matter! Government Schools are not made for educating masses but data collection centers.

The school is being lead by Bhagirath ji, second to him is Mr. Satpal who teaches English. Hindi is assigned to the lady teacher whose name I don't remember now. Maths is the responsibility of Bhagirath ji and Mr. Surjit for junior classes. Mr. Vijay takes Social Sciences period, the PT instructor is given health education. The subjects which are left are taken collectively.
The classes which were offered to me in platter were 1st,2nd , 3rd, 4th & 8th standard. For primary classes I used to take mathematics while I took Geography voluntarily for the senior most class.

The very first day at school I was thrown to fifth standard. Found myself totally confused. Did some random exercises from their maths text book. Later the Headmaster (HM) sensed that I'm not worth for that class so I was never sent their again.

1st and 2nd Standard used to sit together, I used to take their class for an hour after the midday meal. I'd take 3rd standard in the first and 4th in the second hour. In between those two classes we used to have pani peshab ki chhuti (break for ten minutes to go to toilet or satisfy thirst).

1st-2nd collectively had around twenty five kids, while 3rd had 18 students but only 12-15 used to turn up. Lowest number was in 4th with only 10 class members. Lot of activities were repeated from the LQ and I took the school as continuation of the same process. Here the response of kids was amazing. Many kids were so straightforward that they used to argue with me. Affection was shown through gestures like hugging, holding my finger.

The “prayer” was banned by Rajasthan Government to stop the flow of Swine Flu. Surprisingly my school staff took it literally. They used to have assembly where prathna was not done. Registers were filled with attendance, while demotivating speeches were delivered by both Headmaster and the PT instructor. Instead of passing optimism around, they promoted negativity in the school to motivate kids, but no progress from other side.

Bhagirath is meditating, but Ganges is hesitant to flow!
Mr. Bhagirath Singh Sunda, commonly referred “Bhagirath Ji”, is the headmaster of school. A very interesting person with good height and old man kind of looks. I met him last time in a Jaipur Kick start workshop. Not much interaction happened between us. But he seems to question everything, very high expectations and like to do role modeling. Sometimes he would grab attention by being very vocal. This was my image before meeting him. The moment I reached the school, he was ready to shoot me with his questions. The moment I entered his house, he was filled with humility of a host. A very different side of his character.

He seems to be an ideal teacher for rural belt. Punctual and walks very fast, I literally have to run behind him. I liked to attend his class which is always full of chaos and vibrancy. The new teaching techniques are used. Kids love him, talk to him with no fear. He likes to sing with them, they too enjoy his company. This is only for the kids in primary classes.

He is always criticizing the kids of senior classes on the ground of behavior and their laid back attitude to study. The whole school is actually falling under the category of fear free. Still, the PT instructor uses his hand sometimes on kids, but he is very much attached to them too.

The headmaster always complains about the extra work passed by the government to teachers. For the state, teaching in school is the last priority. He even stated that the government just want to close all the government schools. The quality is degrading but the teachers are not the only ones to be blamed. The state is equally responsible for it. In front of my eyes, he received a post in which he was asked to submit the minute details of midday meal from year 2001 to 2010 to Midday Meal department in four days.

Why is the state not hiring clerks to do this job, there is large scale underemployment and unemployment all around? The headmaster never missed his class because of the statistical work, the time after school was used complete it. Everyday he used to stay in school for hours after it is officially over, filling the files, answering queries forwarded by various departments. He was honest to his job. Because of his high expectations and role modeling in the school, a very different environment especially for teachers has been created. When he is in school all teachers will take their class. Otherwise they will have leisure time except the PTI and the lady teacher who were regular to their respective classes.

He also seems to be very much unsatisfied with the performance of his team. Most of the time he underestimates the person next to him. On my part I had to show him the demo so that he acts to my advice. At many places I was very hesitant to talk to him because of his idealization of himself. Working with him at times was fun, sometimes frustrating. Especially so because both of us carried our formal and professional relationship at home too, which disconnected me from his realities. At certain instances I felt like running out of the fence created around me. Something was there stopped me. The life at his home was lavish, filled with loneliness all around.

We used to reflect together on the day's act. He is very pessimistic person, so I was forced to put my pessimism aside. He used to come to the room with thoughts about how nothing works here. From my literary interest, I used to pick up tales and anecdotes and narrate them to him. How a dumb student like Vardraj became Sanskrit Grammar expert Pannini. Transformation done by Tarun Bharat Sangh in Alwar. Panchayati Raj institution performing amazingly in Uttarakhand, organic farming changing lives of farmers were all incidents narrated to him to make him optimistic. He also concluded that things take time to change, we should do our Karma.

In evenings it used to be like a grandson telling tales with positive note to his grandfather. At one instance he asked me if I'm placed in his position with the similar sort of team how will I work. I was lost for a moment, gathered courage to say that even I'll loose my interest, but will keep on heading and searching for inspiration to move forward.

There is a strong rivalry going between the PT instructor and the headmaster. One day, the PTI took me aside, opened his heart and complained about same thing which even I noticed. Bhagirath ji constantly blamed the lack of interest of parents in their wards' education. All the miseries in school had guardians as their convicts.

If I'm asked what is the one sole thing which I would want to see changed in his attitude, it would be turning negativity to a ray of hope, accepting the individuals the way they are. The moment it happens school will reach its level of perfection, everything will come on track. My hypothesis! 
For more of Kabir's experiences, see:
If I were my own teacher: confidence, colour and voices
Steep Climb 
Tourist Guide  

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Binayak Sen gets life in prison, India Inc. gets Rs 1.76 lakh crore; what are we left with?

A Congress spokesman said yesterday that to dismiss the Sen verdict outright would mean India is a 'banana republic'...were his remarks more candid than he intended? 

The life sentence given to Dr. Binayak Sen for criminal conspiracy to commit sedition is almost too much to believe, even for those of us who have become jaded by a central government that talks endlessly about the common man, but seems to listen only to the oligarchs who are robbing the country--sometimes, legally, sometimes illegally--of almost unimaginable amounts of money. I find myself speechless.  Fortunately, the editors over at The Hindu were not speechless.  Here's what the opening sentence of the editorial they ran on Christmas day:
The life sentence handed down to Binayak Sen by a Chhattisgarh trial court on Friday is so over the top and outrageous that it calls into question the fundamentals of the Indian justice system.
Those are extraordinarily strong words, but this was an extraordinary verdict. Just as extraordinary, was the way Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi explained his party's neutrality in the matter.  Here's how The Hindu reported his remarks:
Mr. Singhvi pointed out that dismissing the verdict outright would mean that India was a “banana republic.” He urged everyone to take pride in the fact that the country had an “independent judiciary.”  
Well, perhaps Mr. Singhvi is on to something. Perhaps it really is better for us to pretend this verdict is about justice, if only because the alternative is just too terrifying. 

By the way, what Mr. Singhvi really wanted to talk about--the BJP's connection to the Radia case--was reported in another article on the same page. As was the fact that the CBI investigations of  the 2G scam and CWG corruption are continuing. That's wonderful.  When someone steals Rs. 1.76 lakh core from the public coffers in a country where 1250 people die from diarrhea-related illness each day due to lack of clean water, then words like corruption and scam seem somehow inadequate.  Rs. 1.76 lakh core is a huge amount of money; invested properly, it would save lives--lakhs of them.

But does anyone expect anyone connected to the 2G spectrum mess to get a life sentence in prison? I'd be surprised if Niira Radia or A. Raja get more than a slap on the wrist.  And as for the guys they are working for--Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, India Inc.--well, they'll just go on making fistfuls of money.

I've read a lot about the Binayak Sen case, and I'm not going to rehash it all here. You can start with this article from Hard News. Then google if you want more. I'm convinced the good doctor is innocent.  Forget the life sentence-- he deserves our thanks and respect for dedicating his life to the struggle for human rights.

If you want to do something more than read, you can start by signing this letter to the President.
You can also join the Free Dr. Binayak Sen Campaign on FB and spread the word.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lonely Urban India

In this report about his stay in the village, Gandhi Fellow Kabir Arora writes about hospitality, loneliness, corruption, naxalism and more.

Lonely Urban India
I was reading a cover story in a journal on increasing loneliness in urban and metropolitan cities of the country. The very next morning, Bhagirath ji and I were walking to school. While walking we came across an old man who was from another village. Bhagirath ji and the old guy met for the first time. They asked about each other's introduction. The old guy was in Baas Dhakkan at some villager's house for a night and was walking back to his village. The way they were interacting with each other it seemed they knew each other from a long time. Suddenly two strangers came very close and started discussing family affairs. It was very interesting for me. As the lonely urban India was still criss-crossing my mind, where no one matters except me and myself. Here, these people live in open fields and accept every new person coming on their way.
Struggling with a question: Can I do this in Delhi or for that matter in my own hometown in Jalandhar? Walk down the road and start interacting with a stranger!

Rein Basera
The moment I got down, the first question which Bhagirath ji asked was about my prospective stay. I was prepared for the worst case scenario where I'd have to stay in a school. Bhagirath ji had some other idea in mind. He invited me to his house where I stayed for next whole month. They alloted me their Bhethak (drawing room). A cot with bedding and a loi (shawl for men) was offered to sleep. When the first week got over they felt that somewhere I'm feeling bored. They shifted the television to my room. It was exactly placed on my head side.

Hearing a news bulletin at seven from Jaipur studio and two bulletins (in Hindi and English) from Delhi at 8:00 became a habit. Many a times we used to discuss them.

Bhagirath ji's family in their household included his wife and son. Three of them. His brothers with their wives were staying next door. All the members  and around were old. I was the youngest person there. The lady of the house rarely interacted with me. Many a times I felt that I'm staying in a rural house of Punjab.

Bhagirath ji will be the last person in his family who tilled his land. His sons and grandsons will move away from their “roots”.

I used to open my eyes at six in the morning and see sunrise while lying on my bed. Actually used to wait for Bhagirath ji's call “Kabir ji”. I was neither allowed to fetch water for my shower from Kund, nor to wash my utensils after having food. The most lavish, pampered and dependent part of my life was the month I spent there.

The timing for eating and sleeping were fixed. At around 7 o'clock in the morning, when I was ready after the shower, tea with some namkeen and biscuits were served. Many a times I was given Dahi Roti which initially I didn't like but later got used to and accepted it as my destiny. Lunch was at around one with a subzi, lot of rotis and curd. In dinner, which was served at exact seven thirty in the evening, a subzi with rotis and milk were tabled in the room. Rice with Daal was given once in a week.

To show respect I never left anything behind as food waste whether many a times I didn't liked eating the same thing again and again. I loved having Karhi which was amazing. Tea with Matira or Kaakadi  was also served as evening snacks at four.

The family didn't know my caste and surname. For them I was Mohammedan. They never questioned my belief. One day elder brother of Bhagirath ji came at home. Ayodhya Verdict was suppose to be declared next day. He asked my opinion on the Ayodhya issue. He wanted me to react to the assumptions being made on the verdict. My answer was very simple that we should focus more on immediate priorities than fighting on the basis of faith. He was not convinced but we never had conversation on the same issue again. One day he came up with a question about “democracy in India”. He was looking for my opinion about it. I replied with a pessimistic view and said that I'm hopeless about it. He himself added and concluded the discussion by saying that there is anarchy all around which is not a healthy sign.

The lavish spending on Commonwealth Games while the food prices are rising and anarchy all around also became a part of discussion. Naxalism was discussed in length. The discussions in the rural India especially in those households which are educated  have started questioning state's propaganda. Sooner this fire can spread to the surroundings.

Just a hope! Later become a mass resistance movement!

Life in the village is a survival issue but there is happiness all around. Nobody  in front of me talked about poverty. Yes price rise & corruption in Panchayati Raj institutions were always potrayed. Many villagers are suffering from the increasing alcoholism. The drinks are not for pleasure but to forget the worries of day to day life. 

For more of Kabir's experiences, see:
If I were my own teacher: confidence, colour and voices
Steep Climb 
Tourist Guide  

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Best Dhabas in Delhi: Jagdamba Bhog, Shahpur Jat

Shahpur Jat, one of South Delhi's urban villages, is undergoing a gentrification of sorts.  Along its edges, it is now possible to buy stylish shoes, pizza, high priced coffee, English books and more.  You can even get an artistic tatoo.  Small publishers, software engineers and artists have set up offices and studios in buildings which, until recently, provided crowded living quarters to local workers. 
It's hard to say how all this is affecting everyday life in the area.  On the upside, new business means new jobs, though most of the professional work goes to people from outside the neighborhood.  Still, some of the new businesses do hire local working class youth, educated in the area.  On the downside, rents are going up in certain parts of the village.  This is difficult for workers who are seeking low cost housing in South Delhi--of that, there can be little doubt.  This kind of displacement rarely makes the news, because it involves lease agreements and not bulldozers.  But it is displacement, nonetheless.  

How far will it go? That's hard to say.  The very density of the housing and the narrowness of the lanes makes it likely that a complete transformation of Shahpur Jat is unlikely to happen anytime soon.  And in many cases, ownership of buildings is shared; in those situations, renting out a floor is typically a lot easier than selling the whole building.  My guess is that unless someone very powerful organises a lot of bulldozers--something which seems unlikely at this point-- gentrification will remain an incremental, problematic process, pushing from the edges, slowly inward.

But this post is supposed to be a dhaba review, not an essay about gentrification.  Well, if you live or work or shop in or near Shahpur Jat, there are a lot of places you can eat.  Try them out--except the pizza place; skip that entirely--there are a lot of better choices.  

I spent some time in the area recently with a friend who works there, and I was impressed with Jagdamba Bhog, a small joint that serves a different dish every day. Some days, it's rajma chawal, some days it's chole chawal, some days it's kadi chawal.  Most days there's a sabzi and roti as well. The food is spicy and hot and is served on eco-friendly steel plates.  If you are lucky, you'll get a spot to stand and eat.  If you eat there in summer, you won't have AC of course, but you may catch a cool breeze from the dhaba's water cooler. Of course, take away is also an option.

Rs. 20 buys you enough food to fill most human beings up.  In fact, after a week of eating there, I had to let my belt out one notch--and that's not a joke!  This food is made for fellows who work hard for a living; it's not short on carbohydrates.  Still, the rajma itself tends to be pretty thin--protein is a little harder to come by on a Rs. 20 budget these days.  But if you feel shortchanged, appeal to the chef with a smile, and you will surely be rewarded!

To get there, find the road that runs along side the maidan that separates Shahpurjat from Panchsheel Park.  When you see the temple pictured at right, head straight in and don't stop until you reach the first T point.  On your right, you will find, Jagdamba Bhog. Simple, like much of what's good in life.  And you can rest assured knowing that your AC-free, locally grown, locally prepared meal is greener than most meals you'll find in Delhi.

Happy eating!
Sometimes greentech is really low-tech.  For more of the best dhabas in Delhi--and other green 'cheap and best' technology, check out our low tech green page!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My father is in Iraq-What?

In this post, Gandhi Fellow Kabir Arora writes about two kinds of migration, the difficulty of unreliable rainfalls and that eternal questions: to spray or not to spray....

While interacting with the kids in school I came across a very interesting migration phenomena. A major chunk of kids had their fathers in the Middle-East which they commonly refer to as Iraq. Why Iraq? The answer was provided by the teacher in the school. Iraq started giving work permits in the good old days of the “secular socialist country”. Later other countries in the middle east opened for work which was mostly manual labor. Still the image of Iraq is by and large in the mind of people. Even educated people also refer Middle-East as Iraq. Those who leave are mostly men from mediocre families which included few high caste families and backward caste families. They leave the behind women to take care of household work and toil in the fields.

There is another set of migration happening in the well to do families. The younger lot of well to do families (at many instances whole of family) have migrated to different cities. The huge inherited houses are locked. In many, aged couples are found staying alone.

Kheti Baari
As Indian villages are identified, huge farms dotted with different crops, milch animals at home-goats, buffaloes, cows. Those who were owning land didn't find farming very profitable. They wanted to give the land on rent but there were no takers for it.

Desert soil with good quantity of salinity and sandy features made it suitable for pulses cultivation with Bajra. When I went there, it was  harvesting period for bajra. The rains were very good this year but farmers there were still not smiling. As heavy rain destroyed the crops, both pulses (which include moth & mung) and bajra were affected. The dew (common phenomena in rainy season) is not good for pulses cultivation as it doesn't allow the flower to bloom from which cross pollination is suppose to happen.

Farmers do a bit of organic farming with desi seeds for their own consumption. For market they prefer to use chemicals and hybrid seeds as they give more output.

I always used to hear that farmer should not buy anything except salt from the market. Nowadays high inputs have increased pressure on our agrarian class which later complains about losses. I shared this idea with my headmaster Bhagirath ji. He also accepted it.

Later he asked my opinion on spraying insecticide in his farms where pulses were sown. I had to be very diplomatic. If I say,"No," he can suffer a loss for which he will blame me and will not trust anyone who comes from the organization. I shared the potential dangers and health threats of chemical spray with him and motivated him to see things on his own and compare between  health loss and economic benefit. At the end of the day, it is going to be his own choice.

In vegetables Kaachri & Tindasi were in abundance. Every day or second I was served the same vegetables. Thought that the moment I get back to Churu my navel would have turned green after eating the greenery served in dinner and lunch. After coming back to the city I came to know that Kaachri costs more than Rs. 300/- per kg. Surprised and Shocked! the vegetable which is in abundance in the village is scarce in city.

Desert Fruits Kaakadi & Matiri (Siblings of Muskmelon and watermelon) were all around. This year because of good rainfall their length and breadth is increasing, but the sweetness is decreasing. I still loved eating them. 

For more of Kabir's experiences, see:
If I were my own teacher: confidence, colour and voices
Steep Climb 
Tourist Guide  

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Art, corruption, and how you can do good deeds while using the public coffers like an ATM

 What do Priya Sebastian and Ratan Tata have in common? 
Not very much, it seems.

I really should be writing about the Radiagate and the 2G scandal. There's so much to say. But we have to be careful: the Supreme Court is urging us to take care not to tarnish the images of those caught on tape talking with Ms. Radia.  The Supreme Court is probably right; after all, they  were moved to action by Mr. Clean, Ratan Tata. I mean, here's a guy who's recently made much of the dangers of 'crony capitalism.'  So he must be honest.  Plus, he's got loads and loads of money, and is not afraid to put it to all kinds of uses.

But having said that, maybe honesty is overrated--I mean what's wrong with using the public coffers like an "ATM" as long as you are a "doer"? At least that's what the illustrious former head of the Confederation of Indian Industries, Tarun Das, seems to think; he was allegedly quoted on the tapes saying, among other things, “You can do national service and also make money… and do really something worthwhile here.”  

Maybe he has a point: I mean don't servants--even public servants--deserve to be paid for their hard work? Read the exchange between Das and Radia here, if you have any questions. I don't-- I'm convinced: the rot is deep, and it will take some strong medicine to cure it. And in case you have any doubt about the extent to which we've all been robbed, read our piece about what we could have done with the 1.76 lakh crore lost in the 2G giveaway. It's almost unbelievable.

If you live in Bangalore and need a break from pervasive stink--or should we say scent--of corruption, why not go check out Priya Sebastian's exhibition? She's pretty amazing, and if I had a train ticket south and a week to spare, I'd be there for sure. If you can't get to Bangalore, you can see some of pRiYa's stuff over at the Plum Tree2Here's a recent post I love, only partly because green is my favorite colour.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Photo Essay: Delhi Dreaming

At last night's launch of Waking is Another Dream, Canada-based Eelam poet Cheran, said--almost in passing--that since going into exile, he never dreams about the cities he lives in, only of home. It somehow didn't sound nostalgic when he said it, just terribly sad. I'm looking forward to reading the book.

By the time I fell asleep, I was no longer thinking about about war, exile or genocide, but of things closer to home. Where do the dreams we dream right here in Delhi come from? What do they cost? Who is trying to sell them to us? How are they changing? Are any of them shared?

More green photo essays here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

An evening of blunder: bad manners, drinking, and disappearing peacocks

This week, Gandhi fellow Kabir Arora relates his run in with a mentally unwell drunk man and the truth about the relationship between disappearing peacocks and pesticides.

Once during my village stay I went out for a walk in the lane next to my house. I was having conversation with a friend on phone while walking. Suddenly an old man asks me whether I'm Kuldeep or not. I said “No” and moved ahead.

Next day again I went out for a stroll, this time he stopped me and started yelling at me in Marwari. The words were beyond my understanding in the beginning. I kept on listening. He was furious and was telling that during 1965 war, few Pakistanis spies came to the village and joined the Indian Army later, when their conspiracy came out, they were arrested. So he questioned me about my identity and my affiliation with Pakistan. He added to his words that he would file an FIR and send me to jail. The reason for his agitation, which later came up, was beyond my understanding. I hadn't talked to him the previous evening and had sort of ignored him. He felt humiliated about it.

In village if one meets someone anywhere, one has to have conversation which can last from ten minutes to hours. The moment he left me, I was just shocked and tried to understand the fragile situation around me.

I was walking back to my home. He turned back and called me. My heart was beating very fast. He took me to his house. He offered me Bidi and peg, which I declined. He ordered the lady of the house to serve me tea. She informed him that there was no milk at home.

Angry! He went to get it. In the mean time another man came there. He asked me about my background and purpose of stay in the village. Questions were also around agricultural output of  Punjab.

When the old man, who later informed me that he and My Headmaster both were cousin brothers, came back, I sat with my fingers crossed, waiting for another disaster to happen. He was drunk, mentally not well. I wanted to run away but there was no place to escape. Suddenly I saw Vikas (Bhagirath Ji's son) entering the house. I became confident now that at least there is someone who can take me out of this weird situation. I smiled while looking at his face. He smiled back. Through eyes he conveyed that he was going to take me. When tea party was over, he told the old man that my dinner was ready, so give us the permission to leave. With this, the episode didn't end.

When Bhagirath Ji came back home, the old man came and narrated the episode to him. He made the narration spicy by relating me to an incident which happened a day back in the village, where few men on bikes with cellphones in hand harassed the village girls. The old Hindustani saying “Rai Ka Pahar Banana” was the top emotion at that time. When he left, Bhagirath ji told me not leave house without him or his son. Lakshman Rekha was drawn, which I didn't crossed after that incident. 

Late that night, me and Bhagirath ji were talking about something, suddenly he yelled at us to shut our mouths as people in village sleep early. In last week of my village stay, the same old man brought Kaakari for me as departing gift. 

There was another dimension to whole episode. For the first after my arrival in the village I interacted with Vikas. Both of us were hesitant to start the first conversation. He informed me that he is waiting for B.ed. Entrance result will shift to Churu city soon. Those were again first and last words between us. Later the  interaction was limited to yes/no.

Disappearance of Peacocks in Punjab
I was surprised to see so many birds in these villages. In Punjab most of the birds especially peacocks have left the fields. The old drunk man who was mentally not well informed me that the peacocks died because we spray pesticides. Even he understood the concept of food-chain.
Those minute old words of wisdom are still around tillers hear it!
For more of Kabir's experiences, see:
If I were my own teacher: confidence, colour and voices
Steep Climb 
Tourist Guide  

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bhopal: 26 years on

Today is the 26th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster. We are still a long, long way from justice on that issue.  To remember the day, we are posting a new video blog by Annie Leonard, as well as some other interesting links.

It always feels good to do something. Click here to send an email to President Obama.

Ask him why he is willing to get tough on BP over their oil leak, but not do anything to hold Union Carbide/Dow accountable for the continuing disaster in Bhopal.

And if you want more information and analysis on Bhopal, check out some of our past posts on the subject:
And of course there is a lot of work to be done. Try these links to get involved:
  • Lots of information; a good place to give money: 
  • Students for Bhopal explain how to Dump Your Dow!
  • I'm a Bhopali--bloggers bring the attention back to December 3, 1984 
  • Join one of the many Bhopal-related  Facebook groups here.