Monday, 30 December 2013

Waiting for Tonight…

‘… When you will be here in my arms’, so sings Jennifer Lopez as I sit down to write a post in a dinghy little flat that we are using as temporary residence while attending a wedding in the family. It is Christmas season and also wedding season at the same time in India, since the last two months of the year are considered auspicious for marriages (I know not why).

Weddings, as I've found to my knowledge, are very hefty affairs to manage. It becomes excruciatingly more difficult or laidback in direct proportion to the number of relatives invited for the occasion. It also matters if the guests are local residents or travelling from elsewhere.

All other wedding preparations aside, it is highly important to take care of one’s guests. Arranging for their residence, their water supply, their electricity, their food and transportation can be very gruelling when arrangements also have to be made for other aspects of the actual marriage.

The concept of the ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’ is not foreign to the ears and if you haven’t heard about it or are unsure to what extent it is true, let me assure you that it is indeed so (I speak only on my experience). Sometimes I wonder how most of the time, these weddings go off without a glitch. Maybe it is years of training in a big Indian family that conditions one to prepare for such a big and important event.

But as it is in the wedding that I've come to attend, the best part of the wedding is in the whole family being involved in the preparations. All the uncles and aunties and brothers and sisters and cousins coming over in advance to help out the family and lend a hand in organizing the event. More than a social function, it serves as a bonding agent that brings far off relatives together and presents an opportunity for clueless cousins to meet the family, perhaps for the first time as it is in my case.

To see people you haven’t known are related to you or to see people you already know from somewhere turning out to be your fourth or fifth cousin. To be amused at your uncles being younger to you or meeting a horde of grand-uncles who are fairly young. To engage in the harmless fun of calling young girls ‘aunty’ and dishing out relationship advice to uncles who have just entered college and look up to you.

I’m not sure how many of my readers will be able to relate to this but if you can, you know what I’m talking about and those who can’t, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

A Christmas Realization

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way”, I can hear the choir sing as they move from one street to the next, spreading the joy of Christmas.

I go to the window of my first floor apartment and gaze upon the myriad of colours that stare back at me from the multitude of lights upon the neighbour’s giant Christmas tree. The silver bells, the little drummer boy, Frosty the snowman and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer hang there in oblivious calm and apparent joy at the birth of the saviour.

It is no longer a silent night. Noisy crowds jostling through the lanes; trying to get home for Christmas, attempting to buy last minute items, getting last minute gifts and renting out Santa costumes.

Image Courtesy: Google Images.

This winter wonderland hardly gives me any peace, so far away from home am I. In a different city, a big town. No mangers here, no real life plays of the birth, no family, just the loneliness of this room and the desolation of a lost Christmas in work.

Mother had called me, she had been crying. She said, “Please come home for Christmas” but I said I couldn't. Not if I wanted to keep my job. I needed the job, badly so. She cried some more then. I couldn't bear it and slammed the phone. Cruel, but necessary nonetheless.

It is starting to snow now. A White Christmas had been predicted but had seemed unlikely. This was a problem. How was I to go now? Yes, I’d decided to go the moment I put down the telephone. To hell with the job and to hell with this city. I could be a farming man once more, like my old man.  I’d called mama right back and told her, “I’ll be home for Christmas.”

Living in this strange city I've realized that there’s no place like home. My bags are packed, I’m ready to go. Oh little town of Bethlehem, I’m coming home.

And as for the weather, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

Note: This is a work of fiction. It is integrated with a collage of Christmas carols in the spirit of the season. Have a very merry Christmas and a fruitful New year!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Search for Home

Living in another city, away from home has its pro and cons. Well, more pros and fewer cons, oh wait, or is it the other way around? Anyway, once you’re adjusted, it’s pretty alright if you can compromise with certain things like food, water, weather conditions and the people. There are other factors too but chief among all is the need for shelter – A roof over one’s head. And incidentally, that’s the hardest thing to find nowadays. Especially for a bachelor, a spinster or both together.

First of all, people don’t trust young people even a single iota. They seem to be damn sure that there’s going to be rave parties and naked people and rapes and orgies and that they will one day bring the police down on them. They seem to be particularly wary of engineering and medical students, I don’t know why.

Speaking of trust, foreign students have an even tougher time finding residence and only God help those who come from the Middle East; their life is basically hell if they don’t find host parents or hostel accommodation. People, at least in India are very wary of people from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran because to them, all these countries are synonymous with terrorism. Anyone and everyone from this side of the continent is not trustworthy and have basically come over to bomb the hell out of a railway station or market. Now I know this sounds bad but wait, there’s more. They will be refused gas lines, be kept watch over and be tracked just because some maniacs are bent on creating hell on Earth.

Then, there is also the factor of the ‘Great Indian Middleman’. The broker is an important piece of the puzzle that is home searching. It is nearly impossible and high improbable that you will find something suited to your needs without the help of a broker. If you do, you’re in luck, but I wouldn't depend on it. The broker will charge around the same amount as the rent, so you end up paying double. But is that it? NO! The homeowner will take three times the rent as insurance in case you cause damage. So if you’re a student without a job and nobody to support you, you’re broke.

The area problem is another hurdle that not many can overcome. Rents differ from area to area and it is hard to find a suitable accommodation which is near to essential areas and affordable at the same time. There is compromise to be made most of the time.

Hence, as you will probably deduce from my first hand experience, living outside is not as hunky dory as you presumed in your sweet world of fantasy. So think twice!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Optimism Lost?

Today was the convocation of the 4th batch of students who completed their Post Graduate Diploma in Mass Communication and Journalism from my college. It was an intense affair or at least I felt so, having attended such an event for the first time. Well, the ceremony was austere, the receiving of medals was enthusiastic and the food was quite alright. But the highlight of the event was the speech delivered by the keynote speaker, an editor-in-chief of a French publication. That address was the clinching factor in today’s programme and I’m sure that it had a profound effect on all those present there.

Image Courtesy: Google Images.
The self-styled ‘Frenchman’ spoke at length on journalism in India and his experiences of having been the correspondent for South Asia for another publication in his younger days. But most of all he spoke about the disappointment that Indians have in being Indian. The lost passion of being proud countrymen that only erupts when lousy neighbours come knocking at the borders. He said that India had great potential, that of manpower, of wealth (albeit black money), of natural resources and of education. But even in the face of all this, the people of India only see destitution, poverty, corruption, starvation, crime rates and terrorism. Today, the people of India are so blinded by the problems in their nation that they have forgotten the great wealth that lies within. And maybe, just maybe, it is the fault of the Indian media.

He didn't go into the reasons but explained how one just had to pick up an Indian newspaper or watch an Indian news channel in the morning to utterly destroy one’s happiness and descend the ladder into depression. He also made a very important point in context to history, going on to say that skewed history and ignorance or disinterest in the subject has led Indians to lose faith in their country over time. But, he says that there is so much good in India. It is not the people who are corrupt, just the ‘system’. But so is the case everywhere else. India’s political structure is no more corrupt than any other nation. It is just that the Indian media needs to change its parameters to judge the situation of the country.

Well, that’s what the man had to say and we, prospective journalist were listening so attentively that had the fire alarm blared out, we wouldn't have paid attention. Anyway, when I pondered over this, I think I sort of accepted his explanation. I, as an Indian, certainly do not think very highly of my nation in relation to human rights, poverty alleviation, standard of living, minimum wage, employment, child welfare and a host of other issues. But come to think of it, there are many other things that have seen progress here and to name them would be a herculean task. But one hardly pays attention to those achievements today. It is not wrong to put problems in perspective, but it is definitely wrong not to revel in what we excel.

There is indeed a lot of good in India and we would do well to realize it.

Here is the video of Monsieur Francois Gautier delivering his keynote address at the convocation.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Of Archaic Traditions & Modern Culture

In almost every religious legend I've heard or read about, it is said or written that first a Man and a Woman were created into this world to procreate and populate this world. It is always been a belief that a man and a woman are the ideal pair and in the natural order of things, these two creatures should meet and propagate the human race. Well, one can understand the concept but what is it about that people are so against two people of the same sex loving each other? First of all, there is no further need to populate this world. Secondly, there is absolutely no record of any God mentioning that homosexuality is unnatural. On the other hand, I believe there are records and stories about homosexual love in great civilizations of the past.

History intrigues me and forces me to ponder upon what has changed so much in the near past which has led to the persecution of those who love.

Have we become more morally conscious as time passes by?

Have we a greater understanding of the workings of the mind of the higher being?

Have we knowledge of all what was meant to be?

And for that matter, who decides what is morally correct?

The decision by the Honourable Supreme Court of India to criminalize homosexuality by overturning the decision of the High Court of Delhi has left the liberals, the gay community and modern thinkers aghast and frustrated at the blatant disregard for the fundamental rights of Life, Liberty, Equality and Expression that constitute the foundation of the Constitution in this nation.

Image Courtesy: Google Images.
It is not only the Justice Department, but also the Parliament of this country that should be held in contempt of the basic human rights that the people of this country were promised at the time of Independence from the British Empire. The compilers of the Indian Constitution, in their futuristic vision, left provisions in the same in order that with changing times, outdated laws and their sections may be amended to accommodate the changing times and be compliant with the wishes of the people. But alas! The representatives of the people represent only a certain section of the population and totally ignore the rest.

Image Courtesy: Google Images.

Today, there are religious leaders who claim to be messengers of God, saying that homosexuality is against the Almighty. That in public interest (to save our souls), the country must not decriminalize homosexuality. There are also precedents in history where people have tried to control the people by this very fear.  

King John of England was forced to sign the Magna Carta, a charter by the Barons to limit the monarch’s powers which were held by divine right.

King Henry VIII of England challenged the divine right of the Pope and instituted the Church of England, where he became the Head of the Church.

Adolf Hitler, through a painting of Jesus in his resemblance, believed that he had divine right to rule the world. We know what happened there.

And so, surprisingly I have come to the conclusion that ancient human civilizations were far more advanced than given credit for. Modern culture has been doing nothing but alienating people and creating divisions in society. Go figure!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Celebrating Nonsensical Things

There is a rising trend among teenagers today. I know not whether it is relevant everywhere but I've certainly seen a fair share of the teenage public engage in this particularly irrelevant and to an extent, nonsensical celebration. Now this is my personal view and I’m open to other interpretations, if anyone would like to offer any.

The trend I’m referring to is celebrating ‘one week’, ‘one month’, ‘two months’ and so on and so forth, of a relationship. Two people, apparently in love, announcing to the world that their relation completes a milestone in time. I wonder why.  When I was in the middle of my undergraduate studies, I used to be amused at the first and second year kids celebrating a week together. I would think that they were relieved that it had lasted that long. I mean that we as humans of course need reasons to celebrate but I wonder whether those celebrations were not in fact sighs of relief at the endurance level of the couple.

Secondly, the concept of gifting things to one’s partner for absolutely no reason at all is also alien to me. I do not get how people gift each other chocolates and stuff. I have seen boys and girls who get a limited amount of money from home to spend while in college, especially those whose homes weren't in the same city. These people would buy lavish gifts and this and that for their partners all the time and then would borrow money from other people at the end of the month. This, I thought to be a literal bribe for the partner to stay along with them. I mean, it may be alright once in a while but how can one afford to spend recklessly and then complain that their parents didn't love them enough to pay for their expenses?

For some time now, I've been observing a couple of teenagers and what strikes me is their adherence and leaning towards foreign soap operas rather than Indian ones. Good job kids! But anyhow, my point is that it may be possible that teens today are influenced enough by these English and American television shows to believe that relationships do not in fact last as long as their parents advertise. I have also watched said shows and since I've just passed this stage a couple of years ago, I think that’s what has also run through my mind at one time or another. Is it not harmful then if one thinks about it? That teenagers today feel that their relationships, should they choose to commit to one, will ultimately fail; which is leading them to be overjoyed at every little step along the way?

Now, I’m not against the television shows or any media in particular, what I’m afraid of is a senseless generation of Indians who believe whatever they see on the ‘idiot box’ and that is a matter that should be given serious consideration by parents as well as the teenagers themselves. They need to be made aware of the fictional nature of these shows by their parents and/or teachers. Students in the mass communication field are aware of what happens here but what about the rest? It is absolutely imperative to for parents to talk to their children about one of the topics considered taboo in Indian society. When even love marriage is considered sacrilegious in this country, I wonder how communication between generations can take place on this apparently delicate topic.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

The Fight for the Streets

It had been an exhausting day with assignments, voice-overs, projects and a heavy dose of ‘Contempt of Court’ in college. When we finally managed to escape at about 4 pm, we were half dead and in dire need of tea, the international symbol of rejuvenation and the ultimate reviver of all things that are brain dead. And no, I do not exaggerate. So the four of us proceeded to the nearest corner and ordered tea.

That is when it happened - The gang war. Not of thugs or dogs, but of the multitude of shoe-shine boys one finds roaming around the office complexes in Ahmedabad.

As we were sitting there, sipping tea and just talking about nothing in particular the effect of Iran’s nuclear deal in respect to India’s oil export, we noticed a commotion just across the road. There were about six boys around the ages of 8-10 talking down another one of them. The poor kid most probably being bullied or made fun of for not earning enough. He started crying after a few minutes of silent sulking. Getting increasingly encouraged, the other boys continued while a few of them stopped and looked concerned. Having enough of this nonsense, the victim finally snapped and threw a punch at the principal offender who was about two inches taller than him. After that, it was a complete free-for-all and the rest of the boys just picked their jousting partners at random and there began the first kiddie street brawl I’d ever witnessed in my twenty one years.

This scene was being observed by around thirty or forty people from offices around the block. Some of them even bought peanuts from a nearby vendor and began cheering them on. People were just watching as if this were some form of entertainment and a delightful diversion from their mundane lives of home-office-home. I felt as if I’d gone back to the glorious days of the Roman Empire and was seated among the bloodthirsty crowd in the Coliseum. No one, absolutely nobody gave a damn about the plight of the kids, and if they did, they sure didn't show it there. Yeah, who wants to get in the middle of a brilliant fight and get mixed up with the supposed child labour mafia that they saw in Slumdog. Anyway, the fight continued till the tallest boy caught the collar of the crying kid and asked in the meanest tone he could manage,

“Idhar ka Don kaun?” (Who is the Don of this area?)

Wow! Silence. Everyone was stunned by what the little blighter had managed to say and with such conviction! After that, the rest of the boys caught the little one and took him away before anyone could do anything about the situation.

I don’t think I need to write anything more about this since all my readers are capable enough to understand the implications of what I've witnessed today. Some of us must have witnessed such things happening in our own cities and countries and others must have heard about it; but everyone has surely understood the plight of children today, at least in India.

Where is compulsory education?

Where are anti child labour laws?

Where are children protection groups?

Where is the social and moral responsibility of parents?

Where are the police?

Where does the moral fibre of civilized society stand today?

These questions lie unanswered and will probably remain so for the foreseeable future.

Monday, 2 December 2013

The Happily Ever After Party

The Big Fat Indian weddings have been famous and notorious all over the world for being beautiful and mind-bogglingly expensive. They are pompous, extravagant, have lots of unnecessary trappings and are, as mentioned before (bordering on the obscene) expensive. But it is all in the name of tradition. One can put the blame on the endless line of predecessors who thought fit to celebrate their union by throwing insane parties that lasted anywhere between three days and a week. Inviting people from all corners of the empire/country to gape in awe at the kick-ass way they could afford to feed a host by blowing up all their life savings in one huge bash. 

But weddings are seldom recognized to be what they may or may not have originally meant to be, that is a gathering of the community, meeting and reminiscing about what has happened and the opportunity to meet new people and develop contacts with possibly related or similar minded people over long distances. After all, that was a time when the word communication meant travelling vast distances and meeting up with relatives only a few times in many years.

But today, though there may not seem to be a difference in Indian weddings, I feel there are subtle changes taking place within the mindsets of people. There are several factors contributing to the change in the wedding scenario in today’s world, I've tried to bring up a few here.

First of all, is the factor of cost. With democracy and taxes and inflation, the expense incurred in marriages have risen up exponentially which means that the more people one invites, the more their bank balance dwindles. Everything, ranging from taxi rent, hotel bookings, the pundit/priest, the halls and food have prices shooting through the roof. Then there is also the cost the bride’s father has to pay to get his daughter married. Arranging a wedding, decorating a girl in gold, bestowing lavish gifts upon the groom and feeding an army can certainly be a tad expensive.

The second factor is that of communication. In today’s world, in contrast to yesterday’s, is the benefit of greater communication ability. One can talk and meet people with anytime with those once magical instruments called the “flying chariot” and “akaashvani.”  It is unnecessary and also virtually impossible to invite all the people you know because due to technology today, one may have contacts with millions of people around the world. So unless one is the sheikh of someplace or owns maybe a dozen oilfields, so many people cannot be invited.

The third and last factor affecting the Indian wedding is the change in generation and hence the evolution of thinking and freedom from age old traditions that bound the older ones. The Indian society is subtly changing, independent thought processes are getting bolder and are gaining impetus largely due to the social media and interaction with people in other parts of the world. The present Indian youth seems to be distancing themselves from their culture, not in a way that is defiant but in a way that promotes rational thinking and gives rise to the freedom of thought independent of their parents and grandparents. Marriage has no longer retained its traditional meaning today. Anybody can and possibly will marry anyone they want. They might also feel it was a mistake and marry again. Orthodox thinking today is making way for the future in which everyone is a master of one’s own fate and is hardly if ever controlled by others. Now if you’re going to marry more than once, can you afford that bash again? Because your parents sure can’t.

Note: This is the author’s personal view and has been written with statistics in his own head. He has merely written what he has observed in his surroundings. If one holds a different view, the comment box is begging for your thoughts.