Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Berlin ‘Divar’ in India

I visited Goa this December, five years since I’d last been there. Lot of development, lots of new things, improvements in infrastructure but one thing had remained the same; its charm.

How many ever times I visit Goa, it never is boring and even though I’ve visited a lot of places in numerous vacations, no place has ever given the feeling of being at peace like Goa has. Goa today is a tourist hub like none other and one can see people not only from the various states of India, but also from around the world flocking to this former Portuguese colony to marvel at the amalgamation of the West and the East. And then there are Gujaratis, they just go to Goa to drink… with alcohol being prohibited in the land of Gandhi’s birthplace and all.

So, with this entire hullabaloo *hic* and crowd *hic* and everything else *hic*, how can Goa afford me with the peace and quiet that I need?

I go to the villages.

Divar island.
Every time I go to see my relatives spread out throughout the state and some of them live in villages but this time it was different. I went to an isolated little island called ‘Divar’. I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of this place. It is a small island with a population of around 300 families, 3 churches, 0 hospitals, 0 bridges and 0 tourism… Beautiful!

Zero Hospitals! Unbelievable? Believe it. They just have a small healthcare centre on the island and they have to make do in that. With three churches on the other hand, I guess they just pray that nobody falls seriously ill at night. Well, they can be taken to the mainland if that happens right? Wrong! If you’ll kindly refer above, you’ll notice they have zero bridges connecting them to mainland Goa. The ferries that operate on the river Mandovi and the open sea do so only till 11:00 pm. After that, they’re on their own and if you’re stuck there as a tourist, too bad because there aren’t any hotels as far as I was informed.

Considering that the name of these people’s island is ‘Divar’ which means ‘wall’ in Hindi, I guess they really are on the other side on the (Berlin) Wall.

But it’s not like the government of Goa hasn’t done its part for this island. Locals told me that the state government did propose a bridge but the people voted against it in a referendum that the government agreed to honour. One would wonder why these people would be against development of their own area but for the people, the equation is pretty simple.

Bridges = Hotels
Hotels = Tourism
Tourism = Nuisance
Hence, No Bridges.

The people see how the rest of Goa is intoxicated with tourism and in fact a lot of people on the island are also employed by the tourism industry but they want their island to remain pristine, quiet and peaceful in order to continue living there as they have for centuries now. And the government seems to understand that.

So, Divar was, is and hopefully will remain the El Dorado with more green than gold in its streets.

Oh, and by the way, they have this huge crib making competition every year for Christmas. To how you the scale of the crib, here it is with a human for comparison.

A Crib on Divar island.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Ten Rupee Tantrum

Image Courtesy: Google Images.

Have you seen people go nuts when their money goes missing? It is obvious that large sums of money end to cause problems when they disappear but it is absolutely hilarious when people raise a hue and cry for meagre amounts of money that they don’t care about any way. My mind, in its infinite wisdom scoffs at such people and I’m sure you too might have had such an occasion yourself.

I’m writing this post from the state transport ‘super deluxe’ bus because this is the scene of the event and I’m bringing it live to you ‘on the way’ to Ahmedabad. Now, we have these intercity ‘superfast’ buses that have a driver but no conductor (job cuts affect the public sector too). Before, one could just sit in the bus and buy the ticket on the way to the destination but not now! Now, you’ve got to buy the ticket before the bus leaves because the conductor gets off the bus.

Enter: The Woman.

The bus is about to leave and she is the last one to climb aboard just as the bus is about to leave.. the conductor climbs aboard for her and gives her a ticket. Since the bus is already late, the driver and conductor are both in a hurry. The conductor gives her ten rupees less in the change he hands back and leaves the bus as it it rolls on to the highway.

The Woman realizes ten seconds too late that she got ten rupees less and muttered round about ten swearwords at ten generations of the conductor’s family before asking the driver to stop the bus and get back her money. As if that was going to happen…

So halfway into the journey at the rest stop, she again asked the driver about her ten rupees and what he was going to do about it. The driver said he was going to do nothing about it, wore his killer shades and put the bus into first as we started for Ahmedabad again.

However, one or two other passengers either took an interest in her story or were making a fool out of her; they asked her about the issue. She, the poor victim, recited the whole story as it happened but very conveniently keeping the amount of money ambiguous so as not to give her new found sympathizers a chance to scoff at her ridiculousness like the driver and this funky guy with the laptop were doing. So, when her sympathizers thought that the conductor didn’t return fifty rupees, she didn’t even correct them, instead going with the flow and playing the hapless victim to perfection. By the end of the hour, she had lamented so much that she herself must have believed that she had been conned out of fifty rupees instead of ten.

But it isn’t nice to make fun of this woman. She probably needs attention from people around her.

Oh wait! A development!

The sympathizer turned out to be a driver himself and actually called up a conductor or two and found the ‘guilty one’. He made him aware of his mistake and actually reprimanded him on the phone. He then paid the woman fifty rupees that he believed she was owed and the woman took it! 

No reluctance, no shame, only forgiveness in her eyes as she looked right into sympathizer’s eyes and took the money.

I feel like clapping at her brilliant performance but I think silence is of more benefit since it offers a better view of the stage in this play.

Driver! That's my stop!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Killing our Kitli Culture

The city of Ahmedabad is known as the centre of education in Gujarat and along with that comes its very own amazing phenomenon known as ‘kitli culture’. We in Ahmedabad are fiercely fond of our tea; nobody can keep us away from it. We even have a tea company that began here! In a place where tea is not even grown! Because of the immense market of tea consumers, lots of tea stalls or ‘Kitlis’ can be seen dotting this city’s streets. You may have to hunt for an ATM but certainly not for tea.

If you don’t know what a Kitli is, I suggest you take a look at this; The Kitli: Much more than just Tea.

Coming back to the matter at hand, there’s something ‘Vibrant’ happening in the city shortly. Heads of states, chairmen of international conglomerates, ministerial level officials and investors are coming into town. For the Chief Minister, Santa Claus is rather late this year but it sure looks like he is coming nonetheless.

So lots of MOUs get signed and multi-billion promises get thrown about nonchalantly at this event. But, does one have to sell the city’s soul to give an impression of development? Is it absolutely necessary that the common people suffer so that a few foreign dignitaries get the false impression of our streets being devoid of people who earn a day’s living by its side?

Since the past week, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has been clearing all the kitlis and eateries that are stationed by the roads so that our former Chief Minister, the present one and their very important guests don’t have to see these hard working people make a living by selling tea on their precious ‘roads of development’. This is what has happened because of the project of a man who claims to be a former ‘chaiwala’ himself. I suppose he doesn’t believe in taking care of his own.

Image Courtesy: Joel George.

Instead of embracing these kitlis and being proud of them as being part of the city’s culture, their stalls are being dragged away like they are a nuisance. Are the authorities ashamed of this tea culture while they proudly flaunt ‘Indian culture’ in everyone’s faces in Delhi? Talk about hypocrisy!

I’ve been fortunate to have had many interactions with foreign exchange students from various countries throughout my education and I’m proud to say that I’ve taken each and every one of them to a kitli at least once. And they love it! They admire the street life of the city and the vibrancy that reflects in the people here who prefer to breakfast on muskabun or omelette at a kitli rather than bacon and eggs in a five star hotel. This is what Ahmedabad is and what it should be portrayed as.

To you dear authorities, I only ask that you stave off kicking the poor man in his stomach so that you can sign that multi-million dollar deal that might never be realized after these people go back home sniggering at your pathetic attempts to show this city for what it’s not.

Be proud of this city, not ashamed and maybe the people won’t be ashamed of you then.