A visit to Bobcaygeon on the Birthday weekend

A good friend of mine in Toronto had been encouraging me to explore nature in Canada and spend time in her cottage. So, on my birthday weekend, I headed to Bobcaygeon. I hadn’t written much in the past few years. Just like any other muscle or machine, writing skills too can become dull and rusted if not exercised or used. Hence, I really wanted to spend time documenting my experience and to just write without paying attention to the inner critic. What follows below is what I experienced in the land of Kawartha over a period of three days. Its original version was the letter I wrote to her for introducing to me the cottage country life.

This note is being drafted from the porch of her cottage during the early hours of Sunday morning. My writing pad is too cold. Let me go back in and get some gloves.

Yesterday, my day began with a rush to get the car rental place to pick the car. On the streetcar to Queen and Parliament, I had a very profound experience. A woman was trying to get on to the streetcar along with her little daughter in a crib. So many passengers in the streetcar, including myself, were so busy with our services, gadgets, thoughts and several other engagements, that we did not notice that the mother was trying to push the crib up on to the streetcar. The person who sprang into action to help was the one I judged to be troublesome because he was talking to himself. It was a good lesson for me. First, I should be more aware and present and not be lost. Second, anyone, regardless of their problems or state of mind, is still capable of human empathy and compassion and therefore they themselves deserve the same respect and empathy from me, instead of judgments or scorn.

What followed was a little rollercoaster of emotions. Mother gave the very young daughter, probably two or three-year-old, her due place in the coach by treating her like an individual who could have her own likes and preferences. She asked her where she would like to sit – on her lap or on a separate seat by her side, instead of deciding that for her – something I do not observer often in parenting. Then she pointed the daughter to the leaves that were falling from trees with every blow of wind as if they were tied delicately only waiting to fall. She asked what colors those leaves were. She explained to her that that is why it was called FALL. Watching and hearing all this against the backdrop of trees swinging with wind and dropping their leaves with every swing was very emotional and profound. I felt that what she was encouraging her child to do was what even adults should do – be present and observe the changing weather. This fall won’t come for another year. One doesn’t need to drive to places to enjoy the fall. That tiny toddler could have all her share of Fall amusements in a Toronto streetcar because she was observing all that with bewilderment in her wide excited eyes. My eyes had tears watching and thinking of all this. I cannot forget the dreamy face of that child.

My drive to the cottage was wonderful. I stopped at a farm in New Market and picked some early Gala apples, some peaches and a hot cup of apple cider.  I realized that I hadn’t had apple cider since my time in Indiana five years ago. This was freshly prepared and had no preservatives and therefore had a shorter best before date. That’s my favorite thing to do in small towns – consume things closest to their sources in the least adulterated state before they undergo processing on their way to the city. Apples indeed looked different from their way to the ones in the Loblaws in the city. They weren’t shiny for sure! Also, I learned about the different varieties of apples in Ontario and about their tartness and sweetness through the chart prepared by Apple Growers of Ontario.

My next stop wasn’t too far away either – it was called Rose Farm. I saw a board saying fresh home potato fries. I do not know exactly where this was. It was a beautiful cute place with kids and pumpkins all around. Clouds had lifted away, so it was bright, slightly chilly and cheerfully sunny. I queued up at the Fries counter. Apparently, they grow these potatoes there and I think they fry fresh batch for every order – no wonder the queue moved slowly. There was a nice polite kind couple behind me. Perhaps in their 50’s. I asked them how far up north they planned to go. They replied, “probably not too far, just a day trip, since the weather was nice” . When I shared that I was going to Bobcaygeon, he said, ‘Oh boy! the land of Kawarthas! You still have some ways to go up before you get there! When I was ordering fries, he insisted that I ordered gravy too. And if I did not like the gravy, he would buy that from me. Indeed, I did not regret it – gravy was delicious!

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The rest of the drive was gorgeous too. But at one point, I became anxious. Probably in Peterborough, when I was seeing the word Kawartha all around. I was feeling that I already passed the cottage. From my friend’s details instructions about how to get there, I was under the impression that the place might not be on the google map, at least not accurately yet. That’s why those instructions because otherwise, people might be likely to miss the cottage. Hence at this point, I decided just to follow the google map without stopping anywhere and figure once google says I had arrived. I could check the rest of the farms and interesting places on the way back to the city.

Thankfully, Google brought me straight to the cottage and I noted my friend’s last name! I had printed the instructions, just in case. So, the first step before I stepped out of the car was to pull out those instructions. I was really excited to walk upon the fallen pine and maple leaves on the ground and realize that I was finally here! When I walked behind the house and saw the lake, it was really breathtaking. Quiet, with occasional ripples. The place itself overall was very quiet – just what I needed in order to hear myself.

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I had reached here around 3:30 p. I spent some time in logistics. Then I changed into winter boots – glad I remembered to pack them and then I left the cottage to walk and explore around. I walked in every direction and would turn around at the end of any path like I was on some depth-first search. I had some exchange of greetings with some of neighbors. I got back to the cottage and found the lake very inviting. So, I picked up the book, ‘Lost in translation’ to read by the lake. The booked seemed a bit difficult to read. Perhaps because of several foreign-sounding Chinese words and also lack of context since I knew so little about Beijing and China. The sounds of passing vehicles weren’t helping either. So, I decided to write instead. I wrote a long letter to a friend in India. I kept writing till it became too cold and I decided to walk back in. Inside the cottage, I think I spend significant time just standing and observing. I could spend several minutes standing in front of every corner and wall of the cottage, admiring how thoughtfully every inch of the space here had been designed and developed. All the modern amenities were present here but in an eccentric way! The ‘vacant’ or ‘in-use’ sign in front of the toilet was the first example of the ingenuity of the art in this place that I noted. Very simple tools and means had been used to tell a story on every wall. A piece of wood with an interesting pattern and cuts. The countless New Yorkers in the bedroom. I still haven’t gotten to check out all the covers yet. How did they get that idea? Lamps that have a cover of cloth or Canadian flags to provide just the right light. How did they think of all this? The sign that points to the lake, the paintings on the stools, the world map of experiences – everything was so eclectic here that I could not help thinking who was the brain behind all this. I mean art on stool tops – which are often ignored because their only use is for people to place their bums! But I found the art of clouds and maps on those too! This place indeed was a visual treat to my eyes.

I tried to make a fire. I couldn’t. I am not so skilled in these survivor skills and outdoor processes. Perhaps I should come next time with friends that are much more confident in that stuff. But I remembered the warm cozy feeling I got when, on phone, my friend told me that fire was also a nice company. I never thought about that! Hence, I tried anyway.

I had carried a few eggs and onion in an empty beer crate. So, I made an omelet and ate by the little flow of a ‘fire’ that I could make. After cleaning up, I tucked myself up in bed by around 8:30 pm with my book Maurice which I was surprised to find in my bag!

I was woken up by a phone call at around 11. After I finished the call, I noted light at several places inside the cottage. I wondered if I had left some lights on? I walked into those bright patches and looked up. I could not believe that it was moonlight! It probably was full moon night. It actually was because that morning I spoke with my mother and she told me that she had fasted. Well, I had a new admiration for moonlight. There was some moonlight on the pillow too, where I slept. It wasn’t disturbing. It was diffused. I remembered that she had told me about stars that could be much more visible in this town. It was quite cold so I was a little hesitant in stepping out at this hour of the night. But I did not want to miss the stars, so I got hold of a cap and gloves and another jacket from my bag and slowly stepped out. When I saw what I saw, it was jaw-dropping. The sky was full of stars. And stars so near. Stars in the sky and in the lake. It was beautiful. I have the picture but only in my mind.

I got back in and went back to sleep. Those extra layers proved useful as the temperature started dipping fast.

In the morning, when I woke up, it was still very dark. There wasn’t much moonlight either. It was hard to know what time that was. But I wondered if I really needed to know that to make the decision of leaving the bed or sleeping more, considering that I was on vacation and not on any timeline or schedule. I did look at the clock, which by then I knew was an hour ahead in time. I left the bed and came to the porch area to write some. I noted outside some smoke. It was a bit bright by now. I came out. It was majestic. There was water, a layer of mist and trees. It was spooky and mystical. Reminded me of the Redwood forests of California. Since it was early morning, there were no vehicles zipping by. I took a picture, but that picture could barely capture the scenic moment that my five senses witnessed.

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I got back in to write more. Inside the cottage, I often found myself fixated on one part of the cottage, studying the wall and then without moving the body, studying the objects around. Then a realization would dawn upon me that I had not moved in a while. So I very slowly and intentionally took a few steps to grab my writing pad and to settle this time in the relaxing chair by the fireplace. I wondered what caused this careful calibrated slow movement because it was not so in Toronto. First, there was this pervasive silence in there that I did not want to disturb. As I wrote, the only I sound I heard was that of me scribbling on paper. Second, even though there was no one inside, but it felt like every object and piece in here was telling a story and the cottage was full of storytellers who are just napping waiting to be woken up to tell their tale when I was near them. So, I wouldn’t walk up to them unless I am ready to hear them.

After a while, I wanted to do something else. It was hard to decide between reading, doing exercise, making breakfast or taking a walk. I ended up choosing none of those, instead took the car keys and headed out. I decided to do walking meditation and my friend had told me about a long railroad trail near Fenelon Falls. The car was freezing, but once I hit the road, it began to warm up. I anyway was bundled up heavily.

On the way, I saw a small stationed vehicle and some fruits and two humans. Even though I took this trip to get away from the city, but an almost complete absence of human interactions made the sight of another human an exciting moment. So, I took a pause there. It was an old couple just setting up their farm produce cart. I was the first person to stop by.  It was just interesting to see them doing what they were doing. Both husband and wife wore flannel shirts and the man wore a hat too. They had corn, apples and several other seasonal farm produce. I asked them how long they had been living here, doing that and how they spent their days. They shared that they moved there only three years ago, from Markham where the man was still a grower (he was a sixth-generation farmer) but the woman was a supply manager at a farm. I just realized that we did not even exchange names. The man lamented that farming wasn’t the same anymore. The government had messed it up by turning this into an agri-business and they had no clue about farming. They spent their days attending that several acre farms and ‘feeding chickens, feeding pigs, feeding whatever’! 😊 . I was curious if they missed the city life of Markham which they referred to as ‘huge city’ and if they had found friends and community there. She shared that one could find that anywhere if one wanted. She found really nice neighbors there. They often trade goods and services. They needed some help with a machine and wondered where they could hire some help. But their neighbor offered to help fix and said, ‘hey those eggs look good, I could use some’. It was so interesting to note that the barter system was still existing in this day and age barely a few hours from Toronto! They had several churches there. After chickens were done giving eggs, they would just take the chickens to the foodbank that they supported. Hence, they had found a community and support system there. They just loved this life living close to nature and their son and daughter who lived close by, so they got to be with their grandkids, ‘which is a lot of fun’.

I did not want to get a full basket of apples. I asked if I could get just two. ‘Yes, you may, and that would be fifty cents’, she replied. I purchased two and headed to my car. On the way when I took one big bite, it was sweet as honey!

In another 10 minutes, I reached Fenlon Falls or so google said. I thought it was a place for real falls. I found out that it was actually a town. Like Sioux Falls in Dakotas! Most places were closed. As I waited for the walk sign on my way to the Tourist Information Center in the ‘downtown Fenelon Falls’, At the next traffic light, I exchanged greetings with an old lady who complained that that walk signal took forever to turn ON. The information center was closed too. Thankfully one health food shop was open and they told me the way to that endless railroad walk.

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As I began to walk, I once again thought that I should put some time. I set forty minutes and then silently rebuked myself again for being subservient to time and machines – ‘why can you not stop when you do not want to walk any further or when you are tired? Why do you need a clock to tell you that’? I decided to walk as far as I could in forty minutes and run on the way back. I tried to be aware of the fullness of breath and its emptiness. I had expected dense foliage and woods, but this turned out to be a paved path with a lake on the left side and houses or cottages on the right. The day began to warm up or perhaps this place was warmer than the cottage anyway because it was a few kilometers south. I wondered if I could really complete the walk because my feet were melting in those woolen socks and winter boots. I saw a big green farm. So, I decided to deviate for a bit and stormed into the farm and continued my stampede on this bright sunny pasture till I reached the end and then I stormed back to the trail to continue. There was no music. Only me, my thoughts and my breath. And of course, the occasional passing of ATVs, bikers, walkers, dogs, lake, houses and green. Once the timer was up, I had to prepare for running. I was also curious to know how far I’ve come. I censured myself again – is that important? Is anyone counting miles?

Well, I had to lighten up, both figuratively and literally. Metaphorically, I needed to stop judging myself and perhaps lighten a load of thoughts and more important my reactions to them. Literally, I had way too many layers that bundled me up when I left the cottage in the cold morning. It would be hard to run. So, I removed one jacket and tied it around the neck, zipped up all essentials in a pocket lest they should fall when I ran and then I put some music on. As I began to run, I might have looked like a walking shop of winter wear. It was so not how I ran in the city. I was still wearing three layers on legs and carrying plenty of paraphernalia in the pants’ pockets. Those winter boots were heavy as well. To my surprise, I reached back the beginning of the trail rather sooner! It was bright and beautiful. I threw away all jackets and music machines on green grass and felt so light. I tried to do sun salutations but felt weird doing them with shoes on. So, I threw off the shoes and one layer of lowers too. It felt like summer, with a mild sweet cold. I thought of doing 12 sun salutations, but after a few, when I was distracted by my thoughts, I went easy on myself and did something else. I sang a bit. I was probably like a puppy who just rolled in the joy of sun, trees, and grass. Then I stretched some more and then laid flat under the tree and observed the leaves dancing with winds, shining in the sun. Every branch would bend and sway and yet not break and would keep its leaves intact with all the strength it had. As I enjoyed the green earth beneath me, and admired the warmth of the sun on my cheeks and the dance of nature all around me, I felt grateful that I was able to experience all this with help in different forms and shapes, such as that friend’s friendship, my good health and so many resources that universe has shared with me. I felt life was good!

I stretched some more and then spent some time staring into the lake. Nearby, a little girl ran around a tree. After each round, she would wave at her mom and resumed her revolving. Once she was done, she would do the same around a smaller tree. Once I was done the observing, I got back to my tree where I had thrown away my belongings and did some rapid exhalation exercise. I felt hungry so I wrapped up and got back to my car. When my friend recommended me the Kawartha Coffee Company, I found my next destination. On the way at the same intersection, I saw the same old lady who also recognized me and retorted this time, “Are we doing this again!”. What a small town this was!

What a huge patio! Patio probably was bigger than the restaurant.

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Initially, I sat outside with my caramel apple cider and pumpkin apple crumbles but I found it a bit inconvenient to share them with the stubborn honeybees on the patio, so I went inside. I walked on the Bolton street till the end where I saw the lake again.

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On the way back, I checked out a store of British clothes. What could I say, those clothes and that fashion were just that – British?

I was tired from all the moving around, so I got back to the cottage and settled myself by the lake to resume the book, ‘Man’s search for meaning’ by Viktor E Frankl. Surprisingly, It was very warm and sunny here at the lake too. In fact, I had to go inside and get sunglasses to read. I might have read a few pages when the tiredness and pleasant warmth of the sun and perhaps the content of those pages served as a lullaby. I came inside the porch and laid down there with the book and a blanket. I do not recall when I might have dozed off, but I was several pages ahead now in the book when I woke up. It was a bit cold now, still bright but not sunny anymore. Probably 7:30p. I came in and bundled up again. I made a cup of tea and turned my tanpura ON to do some music practice. Around 9pm, I tucked in with the book Maurice again and soon slipped into dreams.

Monday morning was rather clear, perhaps since it rained the whole night, hence no mist on the lake. I began the day with more writing. It was still cold, so I stayed indoors. After some time, I decided to have my breakfast by the lake. It was quite an experience to have a hot breakfast in the little chilly windy surroundings of the lake. Then I bundled myself up for a quick walk upon the foliage of fallen maple leaves on the little silver lake road.

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There were some patches of the bright sun where I tried to breathe in some warmth. I got home, made tea and settled to finish writing. I decide to ignore the clock. By the time I finished, it was close to noon. So, I began the winding down exercise to conclude my stay. After clearing up, I finally decided to brave the cold and test that outdoor shower! I could not open the door.  So, I went outside the cottage with limited clothes and entered the shower from around the house. The wind was sending chills down my body but as soon as the first drops of hot water fell on me, I began to collect myself. I hadn’t had this experience in a long while. An outdoor shower of a house – probably in a small town in India. It was incredible!

I packed up everything and hit the road again. While driving back, I reminisced about the past few days in the cottage country. I cannot thank my friend enough for opening her home to me. That was very generous of her. I also noted her generosity in encouraging artwork of everyone who visited the cottage – whether kids or adults. She had put up drawings, sketches, paintings, carvings of so many people who had spent time there, regardless of how simple or sophisticated those were. That art captured a slice of the memory they created during their stay there. I saw some artwork from 1993. No wonder every corner narrated some stay in the cottage.

 

 

 

 

 

सामाजिक औपचारिकताएं

अब एक हो तो कहूँ । यहाँ तो कभी कभी साँस लेने में सोचना पड़ता है की लोगों को कैसा लगेगा । कहीं आस पास बैठे लोगों को कष्ट ना हो जाए । अब मेट्रो में ही ले लो । हूडा सिटी सेंटर पे जब गाड़ी आयी तो मैं लपक के बैठ गया। जैसे आपने देखा ही होगा के कैसे ख़ाली ट्रेन का दरवाज़ा खुलने पे बाहर खड़े लोगों में ऐसे हड़कम्प मचती है जैसे मलयाली लोग २ दिन की छुट्टी के बाद शराब की दुकान के बाहर बेचैन से खड़े होते हैं और दुकान का दरवाज़ा खुलते ही स्टैम्पीड ही कर डालते हैं।

मैं कौनसा रोज़ जाता हुँ गुड गाँव । जैसे किसी अन्य स्टेशन पे भीड़ ही भीड़, मुझे लगेगा यहाँ भी सीट की मारा मारी होगी। बड़ी बेशर्मी से भागता हुआ सीट पे धरा गया मैं । बैठने के बाद देखा सीटें तो कई ख़ाली थीं ।  फिर ख़याल आया की अब तो  दिन डूबने को है। इसलिए धूप मेरी गर्दन पे पड़ेगी अगर में यहाँ बैठा तो। काले होने का इतना डर नहीं था जितना वहाँ बैठे गरमी कचोटने सी लगी १-२ मिनट में ही। सामने सीट खाली देखी थी तो मन  था कि उठ के वहाँ बैठ जाऊँ । अब यहाँ जिस धर्म संकट में मैं पड़ा , मुझे ख़ुद भी बताते हुए झेंप से होती है। मैं इस दुविधा में पड़ गया कि बग़ल वाला क्या सोचेगा ! हे भगवान , मैंने तो शायद उसकी अब तक शक्ल भी नहीं देखी थी। फिर भी ऐसा संकोच ! बड़ी हिम्मत करके सामान उठाया और सामने जाकर बैठा और बैठते ही उस आदमी का चेहरा चोर नज़रों से देखने कि कोशिश की कहीं वो भून्नाया हुआ तो नहीं । देखा और पाया , वह तो सो रहा था ।

अब लगी भूख । सुबह साढ़े आठ बजे नाश्ता करके घर से निकला था।  जहाँ इंटर्व्यू देने गया था, उन हरामखोरों ने लंच तक ना ऑफ़र किया। ख़ैर करते भी तो मैं कौनसा खाया ही बैठा था। अपने दफ़्तर जाने के लिए भी तो देर हुई जा रही थी। लंच के डिब्बे की सोची तो ट्रेन में खाने योग्य कटे हुए ख़रबूज़े ही लगे । मम्मी ने संग में सीख भी रखी थी । ना हाथ गंदे होने का झंझट ना ही कोई एम्बैरस्मेंट । कान में राग पहाड़ी ताकि आस पास की निगाहों की तरफ़ ध्यान भी न जाए । आइ मीन, कुछ लोग ख़रबूज़ा खाना या ट्रेन में कुछ भी खाना सही नहीं समझते। क़ायदे से तो नहीं खाना चाहिए, पर भूख भी तो थी। और उससे अधिक महत्वपूर्ण बात यह की घर से तय्यार लंच यूँ ज़ाया होना बहुत बुरी बात होती।   ख़रबूज़े ख़त्म हुए । ढाई तो बज ही चुके थे । अपने दफ़्तर पहुँच कर समय  मिल पाए या नहीं । दही तो तब तक शायद ख़राब हो हो जाए । पूरे दिन से बेचारा खाने का डिब्बा मेरे साथ लगा लगा फिर रहा था । इतनी गरमी कि आदमी सड़ रहे थे, तो दही चीज़ ही  क्या थी ।  दही का डिब्बा निकाल के देखा तो माथा ठनक गया । हर बार की तरह आज भी एक तरफ़ से खुला हुआ और पन्नी में दही गिरी हुई थी । दिमाग़ में बस एक ही ख़याल आया – ‘आइ काँट डील विध दिस मेस्स नाउ’ । डिब्बा जैसे निकाला था वैसे ही वापस रख दिया । ना चम्मच थी, ऊपर से दही खिन – बिन और फिर दिन भर की गरमी से थोड़ी खट्टी भी हो गई थी –  उस बबाल से इस समय उलझना मतलब संकोच और औपचारिकताओं के सारे पहाड़ लाँग जाना ।

५ मिनट हो गए थे। फिर ख़याल आया – टू हैल विथ दीज़ स्ट्रेनजर्स, दही पी तो सकता ही हूँ। उसमें क्या चम्मच। मूछें बन भी गईं तो क्या फ़र्क़ पड़ता है – इन अजंबियों ने बड़ा याद रखना है मुझे । और रूमाल तो था ही मेरे पास, अगर कोई आपात्कालीन स्थिति होती भी तो।

मैंने कान में राग और तेज़ कर दिए ताकि लोगों की काल्पनिक नज़रें इन आवाज़ों में दब जाएँ । डिब्बा फिर बाहर निकाला , पन्नी हटाई, धीरे से ढक्कन खोला,   आँख बंद करके ४-५ बड़े घूँट में पूरी दही पी गया। रूमाल से साफ़ पोंछ करने के बाद फिर अपनी किताब ‘सीट नम्बर ६’ में रम गया मैं ।

Tale of Printed Prices

Recently I came across a ‘meme’ that accused the ‘liberals’ of negotiating prices with vegetable sellers in the street but buying fancy items in malls and stores at face value and then tweeting the grief on farmers’ suicide. On its face, the meme seemed logical. But somehow it didn’t seem to connect the dots. The thoughts of finding why we negotiate had been visiting and revisiting me for a long time. We end up negotiating the cost of the grocery with the vendors in the streets. We bargain with rickshaw persons for a better fare. We do that even for manual rickshaw which requires human muscle strength to pull another human. Often some section of society judges the section of negotiators and bargainers. I wanted to dig deeper instead of dumping judgments and labels.

We don’t do this bargaining when the price is printed. Even when that is handwritten on a piece of paper like in the farmers market or artisans market or trade fair, we hesitate in any form of negotiation.  In the fancy malls or stores or hotels, we again have only two options – take it or leave it. When the price tags are seen digitally on Amazon or Flipkart, we would have no control again. There might be sale or deals, whose control again sits with the sellers or the platform.

Somehow, when the price is written down,  it puts mental blocks towards the direction of negotiations. Those printed or written digits discourage us from asking for a better price. Of course, the motivation for this discouragement works differently in different situations.   

Sometimes the class difference between buyer and seller plays a role. Street hawkers or rickshaw pullers fall in much lower classes than buyers. So buyers exercise some power in extracting a better price. But the power of class differences dilutes if the price is printed.

When we buy a house or buy media or software subscription for our company or ourselves, we negotiate to the last drop. Big money involved there. In essence, those negotiations are a thousand times bloodier than the ones on the street with grocery sellers.

Thus, ground for negotiation is not as simple as it is portrayed to be. Many factors play into this.

Why I Would NEVER Vote for BJP (or Congress) .. unless..

This evening, I was going for my music class. As I turned onto the Janak Puri Road, the one I take every day, I saw it blocked. I was already late for the class. It was quite a nuisance to see this tent pitched in the middle. I went around it and noticed two police men. Turned out that some BJP meeting was planned to take place in that pandal. I asked the beat officers if the organizers had  permission to hold this assembly in the middle of the road. He said that he did not know. I went up near the stage. The meeting had not started yet. Few people were seated in the chairs. I enquired with one of the guys in the front to learn who the organizer was. He said, “I am the organizer, tell me”. I said, “Do you have the required permission to hold this event at this place?”. He asked why I wanted to know that. I told him that I am a citizen and if a road that I use every day, and specially the one I pay tax for, is used for purposes other than vehicles or pedestrians, then I had every right to know that. He pulled out a paper, and told me that that was the permission letter. As I began to read that, some other saffron clad man snatched that from my hands and asked me who I was. I tried to tell him the same. He asked me to leave and kept asking who I was. The organizer told me to come with him to the beat officers, they would show me the permission letter. I told him that they didn’t have that, that was why I came to him in the first place. Regardless, he brought me back to the constables. As we got there, some other men reached there and told the officer that I was disturbing their assembly. I explained the situation. Some guys hit me. The two constables did nothing. When they tried to charge at me again, constables tried to intervene, one of the men succeeded anyway. Police officers asked me to leave. I asked officers if they were going to press charges against those goons. He asked why I was talking inappropriately. I couldn’t believe this, a group of men just punched me in front of them and they are not saying a word of censure. There was some verbal duel. I asked him if this was why he wore uniform, to just watch? An offense of culpable homicide happened just happened in front of so many eye witnesses. He asked where the eye witnesses were and told me that he would arrest me if I spoke further.

This was a meeting to ask for votes. This is the foundation of electoral democracy in a city – municipal elections. If the idea of ‘development’ is founded on violence and injustice, do we want such ‘development’ ?

One Modi, if at all he genuinely wants to fix this high headedness, cannot fix this arrogance and sense of impunity across the party and supporters. Manoj Tiwari, the head of Delhi BJP already has been seen showing the same attitude of hierarchy. Unless this intolerance of questions goes away, unless these political parties begin to respect ordinary voter and his questions, there is no way I can vote for them.

PS: Not voting for BJP or Congress does not simply translate to a vote for AAP. Any voter can dislike or like more than one political party or leader. Not to forget that there is always the option of ‘None of the above.

PPS: I went to a similar assembly some weekends ago, where AAP candidate was going door to door with his supporters. I asked him questions. Sure enough, he was visibly discomforted. But not once did him or his supporters dare to even touch me. And there was no police there. Rather, I got him to sign an undertaking that if he failed to deliver, he would quit.

 

Could we be missing something in the conflict issues of African nationals in India?

Like every other evening, I took the e-Rickshaw on Friday evening from Uttam Nagar east to Dabdi. The driver was a young man , 23, from Begusarai, Bihar and his name was Aman.  As usual, I took the shotgun seat next to the driver because the drivers have amusing stories to tell. Therefore, while looking ahead and talking to this cheerful gentleman, I didn’t know who all were sitting in the 4 seats behind us. Aman amused me by telling the story of how his girlfriend from last 5 years turned bewafa! And he got married at 21 and became a father at 22.

At C 1 Janak Puri signal, some passengers deboarded. My pleasant evening mood was suddenly disturbed by the sound of a rather violent pat that I found was on Aman’s hand. There was a passenger, apparently of African origin, who had given Rs. 100 and Aman didn’t notice that as he was busy narrating his stories to me and assumed it was Rs. 10 note, which is what passengers often gave because the ride was priced flat at Rs. 10.

Aman apologized, of course in Hindi. And gave him the rest of the change. He again made some mistake in counting and there was one Rs. 10 note less in the change. The passenger yelled again, this time rather more loudly and hit his arm. Aman realized his mistake, apologized again and gave the Rs. 10 note. The man left talking to himself.

I don’t know if that is how that man or other people of his community usually talked or he was high on something, but I found this demeanor very disturbing. I can tell from my gut feeling, and not because Aman and I have common identity – Indian, that it was an honest mistake. Incidentally, this happened, just when he was telling me that he does not like Delhi because people are very rude to him.

I do not know where that man is from. If it’s Nigeria or some other place. I don’t want to believe that all people of his country or continent behave like that. For all I know, on his part, it might as well be very natural. His talking to himself could also be natural – we also do that in anger.

But the only point I am making is that there is a possibility of another side in each of such cases of conflict. Before jumping to any conclusion, we may want to hold our judgments and keep our mind open, absorb information, if we absolutely have to ( we can always have the option of not going to facebook or avoiding news of any kind!) and later have any opinion. Each conflict is different. Assuming that all Nigerians in India are into drug peddling or all Indians are racists is quite a dangerous proposition.

Interestingly, when I told that man that he should not have hit Aman, the lone woman in the rear seat, an Indian, advised us that we should stop harassing Nigerians.

 

 

Political Warfare

In politics, there are two ways to impress the people you govern. Words and Actions. Ideally one would expect words to be a short term ploy and actions to be instrumental in creating long lasting impression. Empty vessels are known for making more noise. Actions are assumed to be louder than words. Sometimes, it works out like that. Often it doesn’t. More so, in the times when social media shapes national opinions. Surprising as it sounds even in the case of nations like India where population active on social media is negligible compared to the total population.

In the spring of 2014, if my memory isn’t failing me, I met Dr Gayatri C Spivak at a seminar at Columbia University. During a group discussion, I asked her why Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal was doing populist things like chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai when he was supposed to lift political conversation above any rhetoric. ( I’ll leave the discussion on Bharat Mata ki Jai for another conversation. )

What she replied  shaped my way of looking at political words. She explained that he was up against Modi! The amount of resources that BJP had, including Modi’s brand was exorbitant. So, Kejriwal would do all that he could, hopefully in ethical limits, to fight this out.

I interpreted that in this manner. Political parties or leaders should not be taken seriously on what they say. They need to be judged on what they do. Their saying is more or less inconsequential. They do that for short term political gains to get power or to sustain power .

In the US elections last year, or even in the past, so much dirt was thrown by all, including Democrats. I witnessed same madness in Loksabha Elections in India 2014. At that time I used to wonder how would Modi and Kejriwal would ever meet in person when they have poured so much of bitterness for each other in public. Incidentally, in India, we still don’t see top political leaders debating directly. So we don’t see the nasty talk that Trump and Hillary engaged in directly with each other on national TV. Can you imagine Modi directly saying to Kejriwal – तुम मूर्ख हो। . I was aghast though when during a debate Trump so effortlessly called Hillary ‘stupid’ !

So many things that Kejriwal says like an uncontrolled stereo are to sustain a public opinion against BJP and keep it in his favor. These are the need of the hour because we live in times when just DOING good work or even SPEAKING about the good work done isn’t enough. All parties engage in trash talk, in putting allegations (false or true), in belittling other parties’ belief and in many other kinds of toxic things. Different political parties or leaders have different methods to engage in this. While Kejriwal does it himself,  Modi has a fleet of people and technology and police to do it so that his image stays clean. Around the world, general people aren’t objective enough to see through this. Yet. Simple example – imagine a teacher who gives quality education in a school in an Indian village. A simple way to bring the teacher down is spread such information in public as the teacher eats beef or he is gay or is having a love affair with an upper caste girl or any such things that are considered ‘blasphemous’.  And that might be true too. In the knowledge of such information, all the good teaching work would vaporize.

Thankfully, we haven’t gone that dirty yet in political narratives. We still try to respect private lives. But we are not far from there. If the current pace and intensity of dirt continues, we shall soon be there!

So the point I am trying to make is that when Kejriwal alleges that Modi is corrupt or when BJP says Kejriwal is a liar and takes frequent U-turn or when parties make such allegations, remarks or tweets, which by the way are golden for media, then we needn’t take these seriously. They do it to balance the amount of trash against each other. It’s unfortunate but true. Apart from competing in who does better work for public welfare, they also need to compete in who says more stupid fictitious things or dumps more trash. I must clarify that some of this trash might as well be true. But they come out in an unstructured way without any serious intention to follow through. No wonder these disappear as soon as they come. There are never follow-up actions. If AAP claims that Modi takes bribe, then apart from making #ModiTakesBribe trend, why don’t they file a complaint with Vigilance or FIR and follow-up and keep people informed about progress and ultimately take it to a conclusion? If BJP and its supporters believe Kejriwal is corrupt, then arrange to get him convicted. They even have police and CBI under their influence. Why do you think they arrested AAP MLA’s when they ultimately found nothing. They too probably knew that nothing could be found. Doesn’t hurt to book them. It would fan the public sentiment against them and keep the toxicity against AAP at the optimal level.

What should ultimately matter are the decisions and executions. The projects for public welfare or even against public welfare. Those are what everyone, including news media, should focus, discuss and debate.

Why would media not report on work carried by an MLA in his constituency? When a government decides to start a mining project and auction frequency spectrum, that needs to be discussed. When education minister in Delhi starts a new project, that needs to be reported. When union government brings out a blueprint for fighting corruption, that should be debated and discussed.

But Kejriwal living in X house or Y house or Modi wearing a shirt with his name – how consequential are those on regular people’s lives? If Modi or BJP says AAP people are Naxalite and should go back to forests, are those comments important? When Delhi CM constantly claims that BJP and INC are in cahoots, is that important when not a single conviction is happening? These things are at least not worth producing hundreds of articles and telecast five thousand debates on TV.

Of course, these are of great consequence for page views and TRPs. That’s why I often observe that in media business you end up doing what is profitable and not necessarily what is right. Sure, sometimes the right thing to do also happens to be profitable.

Now there has to be a line that should not be crossed in the crossfires of allegations and comments. Case in point is politicians and influential leaders saying things that have a potential to cause violence or rift in society. Those should be reported and reported again. General people, lacking objectivity will believe such things as well and resort to violence. Comments on religion, faith, gau raksha, and fatwa can cause serious problems to peace in society.

In short, if us people start seeing through words and filter out the noise and pay attention to only the relevant information, that can encourage politicians to engage less in trash talk because they would see that those efforts aren’t bearing fruits. We need to stop liking, retweeting and sharing irrelevant sound bytes and videos to help reduce this madness.

 

कश्मीर की दहलीज तक | Kashmir, Almost !

kashmir685

Early in January, I had to cancel one planned trip to Kashmir. A week later, I wanted to go. Anywhere. Just somewhere.  After lots of deliberation about going to Kashmir or Bhutan or going anywhere at all,  I finally got myself close to flying to Srinagar. Loaded my iPod with the most beautiful santoor pieces, packed enough woolen. I was super organized this time. Reached airport on time. While in the lounge, checked the display with reasonable periodicity. But something else was planned.

The flight was delayed first. Another announcement delayed it by another hour. Finally canceled 😦 . When I went down to the departure gate, it was a mela of Kashmiris. They were all so pretty. Exactly how I imagined when I would hear Rahul Sharma’s album Sounds of Valley. Long nose. Chiselled faces. An accent that usually pahadi people have. There was no flight seat until 22nd January. My return flight itself was scheduled for 22nd. There. My Kashmir vacation was over before it even started. Only thing Kashmiri I could get access were Kashmiris. They were very kind. They expressed disappointment for me.

Oh well. Another time.

Paan – Can this be fixed?

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Not so early morning. 7AM. DTC bus RL77. As the bus roared it’s engine, the man in front of me spat one long red pichkari leaving fresh deep red blood marks on the white foot walk that looked recently painted. I felt too lazy and confused to do or say anything. I hadn’t even brushed my teeth. Didn’t feel comfortable talking. The suddenness and profoundness of the sharp pichkari also left me thoughtless and speechless. So I collected myself and took admiring looks at the landmarks of central Delhi.  Two traffic signals later, came another pichkari. This time it wasn’t a long jump. The projectile of this one was more of a high jump and didn’t make it to the already dirty footpath but settled only a few inches away from the bus and few droplets on his face too. Might be an occasional slip because he otherwise appeared experienced.

Now the hideousness of this red rain was grossing me out. But apart from demotivating factors stated earlier, this time I also feared that if I speak to him then I too would get a slice of the red shower on me. I ignored once again.

But when the bus hit a speed breaker, the rain man lost some stability and poured down entire tsunami of redness in a consecutive series of 2-3 intense pichakris.

I had to do something now. In these early hours of the morning, I didn’t want to spoil his mood or mine. I didn’t want to lecture or preach. I wanted to just understand what I could do for him to stop doing what he did. What could be an alternative to pichkari?

First, to begin, I asked him if the bus went to a place that I already knew it would. He replied in affirmative and added that that place is two stops away. Now post this ice break I felt comfortable to shoot.

“अच्छा यह बताइये, की अगर पान के साथ एक डिब्बी या थूकदान  निःशुल्क दिया जाए थूकने के लिए, तो इस समस्या का हल हो सकता है क्या ?”   {“I want to ask you something. If a small spittoon is given free of cost along with pan, will that solve this problem?”}

“कौनसी समस्या ?” [What problem?]

“ये पान की पिचकारी”  [Pichkari of paan]

“हम्म .. ” [ Hmm ..] He didn’t totally see it coming but didn’t take too long get out of the mild surprise I inflicted on him through my unexpected question. So he replied after a brief pause.

“बंद कर दो”  [ Ban it ]

“हैं?” [what?]

“डिब्बी से कुछ नहीं होगा। डिब्बी के बाद भी मुझे बाहर थूकने में अधिक सुविधा होगी। टहनी को क्यों काटो। पूरे पेड़ को ही काट दो। पान पे बैन लगा दो। ” [ Spittoon won’t help. I won’t find it comfortable to spit in that. And why bother chopping a branch of an infected tree. Bring the entire tree down. ]

It was my turn to be lost in surprise. That too not a mild one.

“हम्म .. ” [ Hmm ..],  I responded.

“पता तो सबको है कि जर्दा सवास्थय के लिए हानिकारक है। तब भी सब करते  हैं न सेवन।” [We all know that Zarda is injurious to health. Still, we consume. It’s not easy to give up. ]

“पर बैन तो शराब भी है गुजरात में, फिर भी बिकती भी है और पीते भी हैं। ” [ But does ban work? Alcohol is banned in Gujarat, still, it is sold and consumed ]

“क्या बिना पुलिस और सरकार के सहयोग के बिना संभव है वो?” [Is that possible without the help of police and government?]

I had no answer.

“बैन करो तो ठीक से करो, सब राज्यों में करो।  सरकार ने गुटखे में जर्दे पर बैन लगाया और कहा की जर्दा खाना है तो अलग से खरीदो। अब जहाँ 1 रुपये में गुटखा जर्दा दोनों मिलते थे अब 5 रुपये का जर्दा अलग से लेना पड़ता है। जहाँ पहले एक पैकेट से पर्यावरण दूषित होता था अब 2 पैकेट  से होता है। और 5 रुपये किसकी जेब में गए ? सेल्स टैक्स सरकार का बढ़ा। ” [ If you ban, ban it properly and across the states. They tried to ban zarda in the paan by declaring that consumers would need to purchase zarda separately in Rupees five sachets. What did that result into? People still buy that zarda. It is rather more expensive now. And the government gets higher sales tax. And earlier environment was polluted by one packet, now we litter two packets ]

He deboarded.

 

Socializing over Sonu’s Samosa in Sagarpur

In the past, talking to your friends did not require a background music of food or beverages. An innocuous walk would do. Or just sitting on the roof would do. That changed. Now socializing happens OVER something. ‘Let’s discuss this over a cup of tea’. ‘Let’s get drinks and catch up’.

It is what it is.

But why that has to happen in a Cafe Coffee Day or any fancy cafe or a bar or a fancy restaurant in a fancy part of your city. Honestly, at least in India, most of the fancy places serve food or drinks that are often equally unhealthy as the regular tea stall or neighborhood halwai shop or regular theka-bar.

samosa-at-munni-lal-halwai-samosa-shop-gol-market

 

 

 

 

 
 

I had to meet a friend few months ago. We both are from the same neighborhood. It didn’t make sense  to go to a third place that is far off. We do not have a CCD or any cafes in our neighborhood. We decided to get a cup of tea at Sonu Halwai – a neighborhood sweets shop. He was making fresh hot  Samose then. We got those too. Background set, we spoke of the same things that we would have if we were in an upscale cafe. We ate and drank similar things as we would have otherwise except that it was way cheaper here and the tea was ready to be consumed. Unlike in cafes, here we didn’t have to grab sugar sachets and keep stirring sugar. Some fancier places are even worse – even tea water and milk need to be mixed by you. Although I do empathize with their attempt to celebrate individual taste . Further, it saved us the inconvenience of driving some kilometres to find a cafe.

Saving costs and convenience is definitely one push for this favoritism of mine for local and less opulent places.

But other equally strong, if not stronger, force is the concern for widening gap among socio-economic classes in India. Gap not really about how much people make or about their ability to make money, but about the ability of people to be present with each other. Often, you won’t rub shoulder with, say, an auto-driver when you are having a drink of rum or whiskey with your friend. The drink you may have at some bar in Connaught Place or on One Hundred Feet Road in Indira Nagar, in Bangalore, might be similar to those consumed at a theka bar. A less expensive rum or whiskey might be more common. Chances are that your preferred brand might also be available. Perhaps specific concoction like Mojito or Bloody Mary might be unavailable. Granted, the theka-bar may not have the ‘your type’ music, ambiance and crowd. But are these ancillary background items too big to bridge when all you wanted to do was catch up with your friend over drinks? Could it be possible to go over the fence once in a while?

I understand that at bars, safety can be a concern when female friends are involved. But for other socializing at least, like a quick bite or cup of tea, the place in your street isn’t too bad an option. If health and hygiene are concerns, a ten rupee samosa could very well be equally unhealthy as a slice of expensive burger or doughnut.

This occasional fence jumping addresses that widening gap in an interesting way. Going to those nondescript places creates the presence of otherwise disconnected individuals. When you go to those places, it is very much possible that there might be no conversation between you and those relatively less privileged ones. But sheer presence of all of you in the same space ushers in some sense of familiarity. Just occasional unintentional effortless overhearing of each other’s chats or musings will bring in more familiarity than the transactional chats you had with people like them earlier. ‘Will you go to Moti Nagar?’ or ‘How much?’. They too will perhaps learn to hold you in less awe or feel more comfortable with you.

 

 

Is Brand Modi Copyrighted?

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Was that a joke? Someone using Prime Minister’s picture advertisement can be fined up to Rupees 500? Is the present government just shoots from its hip when it has to make a law or rule?

A lot of noise in media amplified when Modi’s picture appeared in Jio ad. And it has been a month since then. Now Information and Broadcasting ministry woke up, that too with this crap of a rule?

Politicians making noise about this is understandable. Trash talk after all. But media? How could they interpret this as Modi’s involvement in Jio or Paytm for that matter that launched its ad featuring PM post demonetization ? Rakhi Sawant showed up in a dress with Modi pictures on all over. Would that mean that Modi gave the green signal? Or should she be slapped a fine of Rs. 500?

The issue has to be looked into detail to understand where to draw the line for punitive action. A tea vendor can put pictures of Modi or even name his stall as Modi Chai to sound cool and boost his sales. Can this fine be slapped on him too? In that case why same fine on violators regardless of the monetary value they stand to gain in their business with the help of this violation?

I do not have a clear answer. But I do believe that whether PMO office is involved or not in these ad campaigns, Modi’s brand value does influence consumer’s decision. He is the Prime Minister of the country after all. Thus while there shouldn’t be an assumption that government must have colluded with these businesses , yet government must make its position clear. Ideally, it shouldn’t be a part of this at all. It should levy a heavy fine on the businesses in proportion to monetary gains and ask them to take the campaigns be down and issue a public apology. This definitely can’t be seen as a revenue stream for the government.