Thursday, July 17

Socha kya tha, kya ho gaya

If I'd started a blog on social or infrastructural issues plaguing this country, there would have been more than enough posts to write. But I generally avoid it because I don't want to criticize anything or anyone without offering a concrete, plausible solution to the problem.

However, I have to ask - What's the deal with rainwater harvesting? Or, more accurately, the lack of it? Bombay is inundated with rain every year. The city's population is rising like a rocket. I'm reasonably confident the dams supplying water to the city aren't upgrading nearly as fast as the number of people. It's not like rainwater harvesting is some magical new technology that visiting aliens have gifted us; the Wikipedia article on it says that our ancient countrymen practiced it. Madras has successfully implemented it some years ago and other states have held it up as a model way of implementing the system. Heck, even Bangladesh has had some success with it. So when and why did the wheels come off the Bombay bus?

If half the rainwater we've received over the past week was channeled and saved properly, we may not face such a water crisis. Or perhaps, a crisis at all. I know it isn't easy (I don't know much about the technical aspects of it) but if the ancients could do it, why can't the city fathers? Yet, what I read today is that the BMC has possibly wasted Rs. 350 crores on rainwater harvesting, with none of the equipment or systems functional as of yesterday. What a jolly situation.

Meanwhile, Pune is already in the throes of a water crisis, which isn't a shocker considering the feeble rains we've received over the last month. But we did receive good rains last year, so why isn't there a proper system in that city? Again, no one knows and the frantic buck-passing by the chaps in charge suggests they exhibited a higher than normal talent for the game of Passing the Parcel in their youth. It's all very well to say that new building societies in Pune have to compulsorily incorporate rainwater harvesting, but what about the rest of us? And who is making sure these new societies are implementing this rule correctly? Talk to the hand.

The place I live in Bombay falls under the protective aegis of some local hot-shot politico, so water is pretty much assured for the residents in the area, but heaven only knows what other people have to put up with. It's probably a cliche, but we really are drowning in ineptitude, wouldn't you say? Perhaps this is something the new government can fix.

Song for the moment: Drops of Jupiter - Train   

Monday, July 14

Children of this time

Then

In college, he was a voracious late-night reader, staying up till 3 and 4 am with books, the beloved desk lamp covered with a yellow dust cloth to dim the light to a soft glow. The strongest memory he has of those nights are trying and failing to stifle the helpless giggles he'd break into over lines and passages in '3 Men in a Boat'. He would read night after night, doze off and still make it in time for early morning Psych lectures at Fergusson.

He remembers the winter morning classes best, kick-starting the Kinetic and riding off into the cutting wind, enjoying the cold emptiness of Ganeshkhind Road, which was narrower then, with neem trees shading a whole lane that is now empty concrete. He deigned to wear a sweater because the cold made him feel alive. He has a permanent memory of riding past the Ambassador Hotel in Model Colony and marveling at how the black tar road changed from gold to silver as the sun rose higher and higher.

He remembers many things from college, but thinks more of returning home in the early afternoon and sharing quiet meals with his mother, facing each other across the table in the living room and talking of various things. Then, she'd take her afternoon nap while he'd shamelessly watch Scooby Doo Mysteries on Cartoon Network. Tea would be ready at 4 pm after which... there is a blank here. He played cricket with a college friend, but is unsure whether they did so every day.

He remembers 3 days of rain at the end of his 3rd year in college. It was an end in many ways.

He remembers his 2 years at Pune University very fondly, biking his way daily to the Anthropology department via the small access gate on Ganeshkhind Road, now forever walled up.

He remembers his time in the U.S, a churning melange of emotions and experiences, none of which bettered the leap of joy his heart experienced the first time he exited the subway, climbed the stairs and found himself in the heart of New York City, a city he instantly liked, without having any reasons to do so.

He remembers Cambodia. Sometimes, he marvels at the thought. At others, he visits Phnom Penh via Google Maps and is happy that the city stays clear in his mind. 

He remembers returning home and moving to Bombay.

Now

He sees a grandfather, once the brightest of men, now a pale imitation crippled by Alzheimer's disease; the cruel twist of fate that leaves him with a healthy body and almost no mind.

He sees a grandmother, who has confidently faced and carried an ocean of hardship and sorrow on her shoulders, begin to stumble and still, carry on walking... towards what, he wonders.  

He sees a father, the brilliant bridge-playing, IIT Bombay graduate, begin to repeat instructions and incidences during conversations. The man who raised his family from obscure poverty to upper middle-class comfort, now facing long, solitary evenings and the hesitant beginnings of a fading mind as he hovers on the cusp of old age.

He sees a sister, in his eyes always a baby, but in truth a strong, stylish, stubborn and yet, fragile young woman living in a misogynistic society.

He sees his friends, once instinctively rambunctious, carefree men and women, now juggling jobs, children and their own family crises and worries.

He feels the effect time has wrought within him. He can no longer read till 3 am. He can't enjoy the cold without at least a jumper. Meals are just breaks in his day where he sits by himself, inflicting food onto an indifferent palate. Even thought he still enjoys cricket, his body extracts a sore price from his muscles for a week. Work has truly become work.

He remembers, he sees and he feels. And still, time ticks on.

Song for the moment: Rafta, Rafta - Mehdi Hassan

Saturday, July 12

The frayed ends of sanity

In any situation that requires order, discipline and efficiency, we as Indians tend to fail. Yes, not everyone would qualify, but this is a country of 1.5 billion and counting, so that's pretty obvious. Most do qualify and that's where the problem lies. At heart, Indians are a peculiar kind of barbarian.

I use that word carefully because I ran through a whole gamut of them including ignorant country bumpkin, animal, savage, and so on and so forth, but using any of those tags would be unfair. Plenty of villagers in India understand order, discipline and efficiency. They're smart, self-sacrificing and hard-working. Similarly, animals have their own rules so to compare the typical unruly Indian mob to animals is pretty stupid. Even barbarians could very well have imbibed any of the characteristics I believe we as Indians purposefully choose to ignore. The word 'savage' is distasteful and again, stupid because indigenous people follow their own laws and that's their business. So, I chose to qualify 'barbarian' with 'peculiar'.

It is rather peculiar how we're bloody keen to raise hackles if anyone passes uncharitable remarks about us as people or a country and yet, go out of our way to behave without a fig leaf of decorum when given a chance to do so. I was at the passport office yesterday. The procedure clearly states that one must be at the office 15 minutes before the appointment. Yet, a whole mob of buffoons dutifully arrived much later than the stipulated time and then began gehraoing the solitary security officer at the gate to let them in. They did this, not by forming a queue, mind, but by milling around as if they were at a market auction. Meanwhile, the actual queue, self included, watched with increasing resignation and horror as the guard, distracted by those ass*****, delayed our getting in. Then some chump with a wife and baby in tow decided to browbeat the security guard, demanding that he be let in as he was on time. To which the guard exclaimed "Praise be to Jeebus" and welcomed him in. I'm joking of course.   

Once inside, there were more lines to stand in. Again, random chappies and chicklets would waltz past, assuming that their paperwork was more important than anyone else's. The passport officers were, in general, polite and helpful, which is about all that can be said in the circumstances. Even that lot threw in the occasional googly. Take for instance, this archaic shit called the Emigration Check - Required or Not Required, that is the question, to take a feather from Bill Shakespeare's cap.

I'd come to renew the passport. It was still valid; the address hadn't changed; there were stamped visas to various countries, so essentially, it should be smooth sailing, I thought. I thought wrong. The bloke at the counter asks me if I'd brought my 10th and 12th mark sheets with me. At the age of 31, heaven only knows why in blazes I need to prove educational qualifications, so of course I hadn't brought them along. I wasn't in any mood to be browbeaten by that bunch either, because believe it or not, I consider passports more a right than a privilege. Which is not the officially approved attitude so I was made to do the pinball dance which involves me being tossed around various queues, just because of the dratted ECR/ECNR nonsense. When I asked the tosser who raised the issue what the ECR was for, he didn't know. Fancy that.

As I waited, all I could see was people milling around, breaking and jumping lines, yelling, not having the plethora of required documentation (which can include house deeds, birth certificates and even albums of photos, who knows?), missing their token numbers on the screen, etc. It was exhausting being there but at least it was clean and air-conditioned. After 3 hours, I finally submitted my documents, exited and then realised I'd left my new brolly at the final counter, which meant I had to go through all the rings of fire once again. At least I found it.

Now I am waiting for that delightfully strange exercise called the Police Verification to be completed. It makes no sense to me because the coppers are supposed to show up any time they fancy and I'm expected to be home. Don't people have jobs? Or, I don't know, errands to run? Who is crazy enough to be hanging around at home in anticipation? What would Jeebus do?
 
Oh, and the ECR crap - apparently, if there's a stamp which says that an emigration check is required, I can't work in the Gulf. I guess I'll be crying myself to sleep about that. Not.

Song for the moment: Hard Times - Eric Clapton

Friday, July 11

Evening Prayer

It happened today.

The past month has been incredibly torrid, work-wise. I've usually caught the last train, reached home at 2 am, pretended to eat something and fallen into a dreamless sleep. I worked weekends and even a couple of overnight sessions, including one at the start of this week. And all the time, I have not stopped looking.

There were many opportunities of course. Silent nights as I've trudged tiredly towards the station, the only person on the road; at 3 am, my eyes stinging, staring at the screen, wondering what line would be appropriate for some press ad; on the trains and in the taxis, looking out into the nothingness of the Mumbai night, feeling the wind and rain howl their symphony; the moments I've spent, wearily sitting on my bed, wondering whether my work & my current lifestyle are worth whatever I'm accepting.

But no. There wasn't even an iota of it. Till today. I was home, having taken a rare holiday for personal work. There's no such thing as an actual holiday at the place I work of course, because the phone started ringing halfway through the afternoon, just as I thought about watching a movie or reading. There was a crisis. The client had rubbished the work we'd done and had sent a stinker to the servicing fellow. After a con-call to sort out the brouhaha that now entails working on the weekend (from home, small mercies of the universe) I went downstairs.

And it finally happened. I stood staring at the grey sky framed by two buildings. The wind was playfully spinning in any and every direction. The leaves on the eucalyptus and neem trees were sighing and the rain clouds were billowing. There was just a hint of rain. And right there, just for that moment, I felt at peace.

I could have stood there forever. I could have taken my usual walk around the buildings, but it's no fun without my old colony friend K. So, I turned around and went home. Maybe I'll find that moment again, soon. I hope so.

Song for the moment: Stillness of the lake - Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma