Insignificant Encounter

There is so much to write about when you are back home after being exposed to a new environment, new colleagues, new culture or even a new location. It is easy to get excited and fill pages with the stories of important people, places and heartwarming incidences. But this incidence in 2007 that I am writing about falls in the category of an ‘encounter of the insignificant kind’.
While shooting in Mcleod Ganj, we were staying in a hotel called ‘Spring Valley Resort’ at Bhagsu Nag, though we spent the first night in Hotel Triund. Triund is the name of a snow capped peak visible from our hotel. One can trek to this peak in 4 hours. On the off day I decide to be rebellious against the weather. I wore my shorts, T-shirt with a short sleeve sweater and went for a walk, up hill towards the Triund. The sun was good and so was the gentle breeze. After half an hour I came across an open-air restaurant called ‘Haifa’. I came to know later that Haifa is an Israeli name. Place was totally empty. Maybe it was too early. I took a table in the sun and noticed that the soft music being played was actually Indian Bhajans sung by foreigners. I was the first customer there and the kitchen perhaps hadn’t warmed up yet. A Nepali waiter very politely took my order. While waiting I fell ‘in like’ with the Bhajans’ CD that was playing. I asked the boy about the music. He said it is Kirtans by Krishna Das. Next I asked him if I could borrow the CD to make a copy. He apologized and said that the lady who owns the place is not here yet. Understandably he could not give anything to a total stranger without his masters’ permission. It was fair. So I told him that I will come back sometime when she is around. The breakfast was a massive meal with a large bowl of corn flakes with fruits and cold milk, 2 eggs omelet, 4 toasts and a large glass of tea – not to forget Kirtan sound waves floating in the air. I left after struggling to stomach the last sip of the tea.
After a few days my room-mate Pinaki and I walked to Haifa to try my luck with the music CD. I met the small made Nepali lady and asked her about borrowing the music. She went to the counter, picked up the CD and handed it to me. Just like that! I was nonplused. I told her hurriedly that I will try my best to make a copy right away and get it back within an hour; if not definitely by tomorrow evening. She said ‘no problem, but don’t forget to get it back as many people keep asking for it’.
If I was in her place and a tourist asked me the same… well, let us not talk about that. I did make a copy in less than 30 min and Pinaki went to return it. After that I decided to make another copy of it to give it to her as a spare; just in case if someone is not able to return it. Pay it forward.
I am able to extract a lot of wisdom from ordinary incidences and ordinary people. This practical demonstration of trust may be more useful to me in my life than the blessed Khata I received from HH Dalai Lama. As the distant future turns into present, I don’t know who all I will talk about and how much; but the Haifa lady’s story titled ‘Trust’ will remain a good one to narrate for a long time. In fact just like her I too find it much better to trust people in my dealings and loose something small; rather than stay tense in mistrust and later realize that it was a wrong to do so.

A Genuine Enquiry

Do you know how old is this earth? It is billions of years old, 13.77 billion to be precise. Man did not exist at that point of time. On the time line of eternity man has evolved very recently compared to earth’s age. We have all came up from a single cell organism to this present state. Some theories say we evolved from fish, to birds, to monkeys as our ancestors. According to a scientific study, if entire time of the earth’s existence is condensed into 100 hours then evolution of modern times would measure only a few seconds. By modern times we can say when spoken word developed and we started using intelligence for our benefit. We started staying in groups to avoid being attacked, robbed or killed by other groups and to flourish. As the time flew many inventions kept coming, starting from rough stone tools for hunting, to the wheel, then to clothing to save us from acute weather conditions. We started keeping animals as pets to serve us, either for milk, meat, or even to carry us around and later to work for us in agricultural fields.
Sometime later psychology and mind games entered human domain. For the first time the leaders ruled over their group for everyone’s safety. A good reason or even scare was developed in the community, in order to stay together, to fight the enemy jointly and keep the produce, women and children of the tribe safe. Somebody must have been too intelligent to order the community ‘when in danger, always gather under such and such (strategically located) tree, a stone or a certain person’. I guess this was the beginning of politics and religion. Leaders learnt that ‘leading’ gave them immense power over people and that was very beneficial and intoxicating. So from that time onwards we have only been the victims of these two social orders, religion and politics. The benefits reaped by that world by the use of religion and politics, have much out weighed the harm by its misuse, in our so called civilized world. Due to the religion, we have gone through the worst period of wars, mass killings, ethnic cleansing, Jehads, countries breaking up etc. I seriously question the utility of religion for providing any benefits what-so-ever, to human race. A sensible businessman will just drop harmful and useless items or activites from his list, which costs much more compared to the benefits from it. ‘Religion balance sheet’ shows only losses. Religion is not a necessary condition for anyone to be a good human being. People can be ‘good people’ and do very well in any field without the contribution of religion in their lives. People who are busy making money to look after their families may have no time for it. If a beggar starts praying in place of begging; without doubt, he will have to starve. Well, I hope sooner than later, constructive people will get to know the value and real utility of conventional religion and they will revolt against this concept. Charity begins at home. So, I have put religion out of the list of ‘important things’ in my life. Hoping that some others too may be thinking like me, the process may have already started. I sincerely feel it is worth trying to live without religion or at least reduce its importance in our lives and check out the so called ‘balance sheet’. I am sure we will have more time to meet friends, play with our children and do our jobs well at the office.
Any changes on these lines will be possible if other than only eating, talking, traveling, sleeping, having sex, exercising and just surviving, we allocated ourselves time to ‘think’! We have never thought that it is important to close our eyes and ‘think’, which is such a constructive mental exercise. Think about new ideas; think how to solve a mystery or find creative solutions to family’s problems. To make our lives fruitful, we need to think what is useful in our life and what is not and then work on weeding out the useless parts.

To wrap it up, I recently read that the amount of happiness that science and technology have given us in the last 100 years much out-weighs the happiness given to us by religion in the past 2000 years!

‘What the hell are we doing’, isn’t this enquiry justified now?

Two Flowers

Recipe – Sour Potatoes

At my Mumbai home, everyone was out on work. I was relaxed, creative and home alone, yet again. Lazily I walked into my balcony and checked the potato and onion basket. There were about 8 small potatoes and a few onions that were beginning to look neglected.
Suddenly a 40 year old flash-back struck me! One evening during a family chat session my father, late Prem Sagar Sharma, narrated a simple recipe to us. I remember he called it Dahi Aloo. Living alone in his early working life, my father had to manage his own cooking. Thus preparing simple and quick dishes must have been a necessity for him. And that is how this potato recipe was; short and simple. In my parent’s home, I never cooked anything entirely on my own. My mother late Shakuntala Sharma, may not have allowed me to do so. She was a very uncomplicated, at the same time very competent cook herself…
Well, it is difficult to say, how this recipe stayed in my mind. But good it did; because along with it memory of my father also was revives. Main points in its favor were that it was simple to cook, did not need too many ingredients and did not take long. It should be done before anyone returned home. Also there was not much investment at risk. After all a few potatoes and a bowl of left over curds was all that I needed. I decided to go ahead and do some cooking.
Ingredients:
Potatoes: 6-8 medium sized/ peeled and chopped thin in length
Onions: 2 medium sized/ chopped thinCurds: 1 ice-cream bowl sized full/
Grated garlic: 1 Tb spoon full
Green chilies: 2/ cut each into 4 parts for visibility
Oil: 2 Tb spoon full
Cumin seeds (Jeera): 1 Tb spoon full
Doing it:
After cutting the potatoes leave them in water to soak in a dish. Put a wok on fire and pour 2Tb spoon oil in it. After it is heated add Jeera (cumin seeds) and let it splutter until it turns light brown. Then add sliced onions, finely chopped green chillies, grated garlic. Sauté it little till it gets soft and onion loses its crispness; but garlic and cumin seeds should retain their aroma. Too much sautéing will kill it. Add the potatoes now and start turning them to mix everything well. After the potatoes get a uniform coat of the spices/masala, lower the fire and keep turning it with a spatula until potatoes look well marinated. It may take 3-4 min.
Add a bowl of water to Dahi and whip it a little with a spoon, to mix it. It may look a bit like Punjabi drink Lassi. Pour it into the wok. Now add salt to taste, stir until the mixture smoothens. Cover the wok and let it cook on the medium fire for first 3-4 min. When potatoes become a little softer; then turn the fire slowest for last few minutes.
Because this is supposed to be dry dish, keep checking it in case potatoes are getting stuck/burnt to the wok bottom. It should not take more than 12-15 min to cook. When potatoes are cooked well, turn the gas off, cover the wok and let it rest for a few minutes.
When it is ready, color of the dish should look whitish bland.
The steam from it should smell a little sour.
Depending upon the strength of the chilies it should be pungent to taste and carry a definite sour taste of Dahi broken down with heat.
According to seasons you get potatoes that cook faster, some don’t. So check them out by their look before hand. Amount of water mixed in Dahi will depend upon the quality of potatoes. Hard potatoes will need more water.
In another variation you could make this dish with thick gravy too. In that case please add some more water to the Dahi. You could also increase the quantity of Dahi to one and a half ice-cream bowl. You could replace garlic with 1Tb spoon of ginger. In this case use 1 green chili or none in place of 2, because ginger has its own hot taste. Taste of sour curdled curd is the main idea, so don’t let other stronger tastes override it.
When I last cooked this dish, I had used a bowl of left over curds. It had been lying in the refrigerator for the last 3 days and thus had turned a little sour already; just like those neglected potatoes. My children totally endorsed the way the dish turned out. My daughter’s colleagues at work tasted it and asked her for its recipe. Some time things do work out. So, don’t be anxious like, ‘hope it doesn’t taste bad’; be anxious ‘suppose it comes out great and everyone loves it’?

Recipe – Mint Raita

When I am home alone, mostly I read, watch TV, surf the net, write and sometimes (though not very often) try my hand in cooking. I like making some side dishes or add-ons to main course. After making some of them a few times I seem to have got a good hang of certain dishes. One of them; rather simple one, is called Raita. It is basically a curds (Dahi) dish. Last time I wrote a piece about this, it was on a day that I made Pudina Raita and got burnt. I only wrote about the incident of getting burnt in the process of making a dish that essentially is supposed to be cold. I was quite excited with my stupidity and foolishness in doing what I did; so I shared it with everyone. But slowly I got pretty creative and started making different kinds of Raita. And surprisingly, I started getting complimented too for them. So I decided that it is now safe for me upload these recipes on the net. Of course it is safe for the readers too. Let me put my white hat on. Ok, here it goes -Ingredients: Curds (dahi)- 500gms/ mint leafs- 50 gm/ Garlic flakes- 10/ freshly ground black pepper– to taste/ salt- to taste.

Chop mint leafs fine. Chop garlic fine. Put chopped mint and garlic in a small utensil. Add a large cup of water (not more than 200ml) in it and put it to boil. We are boiling them to basically get the mint leafs disinfected. It will also reduce the strong flavor of both, mint and garlic. Boil it on slow fire and keep it covered to retain the water from the steam. In 4-5 min, mint and garlic should turn soft. Cover it and let it cool to a comfortable temperature. After it has cooled put it in mixie just for half a minute. It would become smooth.

Now put Dahi in a large bowl. Add a little salt. Add black pepper preferably from a pepper grinding mill, because it retains the fresh taste of pepper. Now add the cooled mint and garlic in it and whip until it becomes homogenous. Taste it for salt. If you find it less then add some more and stir again. But it is better to keep the salt on the lower side and let others add it if they need.

If it has turned out to be smooth in feel and looks saturated light green color, with dots black pepper, I guess you have done it. Just in case the Dahi is too thick then you could add some more water before whipping it. Keep it in the refrigerator for at least an hour; two hours will be better.

Raita is a side dish of an Indian meal. It is had with Indian bread (roti) meals and also quite often with Dal and rice. Northern India, especially UP and Punjab are the lands where you can find a variety of Raitas.

You could follow the same process and make Raitas with spinach (palak) or Methi too. Use garlic for both; but you may not use black pepper for Methi. I like to play with flavors. I like the dish to be recognized as a ‘so and so’ dish with a clear hint of ‘something else’. Like mint Raita with a hint of black pepper. You could add a little ginger paste to the Palak Raita to get a hint of ginger flavor and not use pepper. Like that you could have various combinations; like this with that or next time something different. It is always good to have a clear flavor in a dish rather than mix many things and create confusion.

Raitas can also be made with cucumber (shredded fine), white pumpkin (shredded fine and boiled), onions (shredded), onions and cucumber, onions and ginger etc.

Delhi Darbar restaurant in Mumbai makes a very simple and interesting dish that is made with curds, onions, salt and sugar. Onions are chopped straight and fine, added to the curds along with sugar and salt to taste. It is stirred until the sugar is mixed smoothly. The sugar in fact is a variation here and is to be added just enough to be noticeable; without turning the dish too sweet. Also the mixture should be thick. So there has to be good amount of onions in it. Each mouthful should get a taste of curds with onions. It is more like a salad than Raita.

Sound of spoken words

Sounds of spoken words or speech would be the most heard sound among all the other sound waves that are stirring the air around us. I speak, my friends speak, my wife, my father speaks, my mother speaks and my grandfather too speaks, shop keepers, doctors, cops, politicians, businessmen, actors, singers, beggars, watchmen, servants, salesgirls, priests all are filling our ambiance with spoken words. Our sound-scape is full of colorful speech patterns. But it is certain that all the vocal sounds have different effects on us. Some fill us with affection and another fills us with anger or despair. Of course yet another may not make much difference.
But is it ‘the words’ that really do the trick? Or is it the person? Is it the way of speaking? Or it is just my perception that the words from some people affect me in a certain way. Why is it that when your daughter speaks you feel that you are being reached out. When your son speaks to you, you feel important and equal. But your father’s words may fill you with dejection and breathlessness. I could never be comfortable in front of my father. Whenever he enters my room from one door, I get up and leave from other door. And try to find another place to sit. My father’s presence always makes me uncomfortable. I never find him friendly. His presence never relaxes me, because I could never be myself in front of him. So his ‘words’ do not matter or may urge me to get away. He had an overpowering personality. On the other hand my mother does not throw me off balance. I can put my point of view in front of her, sometimes even fight with her. I just thought I could handle myself much better in front of her.
I have realized now, that words do not matter. It is the person who speaks matters, because we already have an impression about him/her. When I hear the voice of a brother of mine, I feel relaxed, while another one may make me tense; although both may be giving me the same information over telephone from different cities.
We feel differently in the presence of a certain doctor or a car mechanic. An FRCS doctor may not necessarily make you feel better and thus may not be able to cure you easily; while a simple GP may just do the trick because you feel easy with the quality of his voice and the way she speaks. In the same way a qualified automobile engineer might make you uncomfortable, while you may leave your car confidently with an illiterate person in a small town.
I guess there are people who grow your confidence and space in their presence, while others squeeze it off. This is what makes them popular or unpopular with you. There is some magic in the way people speak. It is not the exact words people use that matter, but it is our experience of their total personalities from the day we have known them. A hundred different persons asking an innocent ‘how are you?’ could make you feel alerted or angered or make you fall in love.

Straw Age Hand Writing

I am quite excited to be writing about a part of my early childhood (mid 50s), which is associated with the nostalgia of writing instruments, or ‘pens’. I am also happy that in my life as a young student, I got to use ‘pens’ of various kinds, from downright primitive to current. I guess today’s generation will be missing out what we had to use 50 years ago. Most basic pen that I used was made of ‘straw’ that grew wildly on the roadsides and was found in abundance in villages and small towns. Thankfully it was also, no one’s property. We just had to pull out dried plant of straw, cut it to a suitable size with a kitchen knife or a discarded shaving blade and make a pen. Length and thickness of the pen should fit my (student’s) hand comfortably. One end of straw would be sliced off diagonally, making the side narrow and expose the hollow of the straw. This was sliced further from both sides until the point reached the required thickness of alphabets. For me in the 1st standard the point must have been about 0.3cm to 0.4cm wide. In the beginning of my school, I learnt to write the alphabets and digits on what we called as ‘Takhti’. Takhti was a single piece of flat rectangular wood, measuring about 1.5ft X 1.0 ft and weighing about a Kilo. Its surface would be either black or white. On one side a handle was carved out to hold and carry the Takhti comfortably. Takhti could be used only once at a time. If it was to be used again, one had to go through a long and laborious process of repainting its surface. So every time I came back from school I had to wash the Takhti clean, re-paint it with black or white liquid and leave it to dry for next day at school. It had to be done every day. Initially my mother did it for me, but when I grew a little older she asked me to learn to do it myself.

White ink was made by dissolving chalk (white Khadiya) in water and for black ink I used a charcoal based stuff. Both looked like small pebbles. Sometimes we also drew lines on the Takhti, to be able to write in a straight line. My alphabets would be about 2 inches tall. With that thickness of my straw pen, I could barely write about 5 alphabets in one row. Takhti had 4-5 rows. Sometimes one side of the Takhti was used for writing alphabets and the other for numbers.

Then came the up-grade in writing technology and I got to write with a ‘nib and holder’. Holder of the nib was again a comfortable sized piece of wood, at the end of which was a slot to hold a writing nib. This piece of wood was factory made. The nibs also came in two kinds, one for Hindi and the other one called ‘G-nib’, for writing in English. The nibs had a fine cut in the middle that held a little ink and was right for writing English alphabets. Hindi did not need the slit in the nib. For writing, the nibs had to be dipped in the ‘ink-pot’ frequently, as they had no arrangement for storing ink in them. You could write only 2 to 4 alphabets after dipping it once. So, the idea was to master the art of dipping it just right to avoid a drop falling on the paper and nib not drying off soon enough. Even this ink was made at home. I remember I used to buy blue or red color, dry ink by the weight. It looked like crystals, the size of sugar. I would put some crystals in the old ink bottle, add some water and then stir it until it dissolved. The darkness of the ink could be increased by adding more solid stuff and vice versa.
After a while fountain-pens appeared and I found them so very convenient. I could fill the ink in it and that eliminated the problem of dipping it frequently in the ink pot. Initial fountain pens seemed ahead of time then, but in reality they were very crude. First fountain pen I remember was the type in which its nib assembly had to be separated by unscrewing it from its ink storage to pour the ink in it and tighten the nib assembly back on. Though it could take hardly 2cc of ink, but you could do a whole day’s work with it.

Initially we filled the fountain pens, directly from the inkpot. But soon I learn that it was a good idea to always fill the ink, away from my lap or any other item. Later to avoid messing our clothes we got medical droppers to fill the ink more efficiently. Many times after filling, the ink did not flow down onto the paper while writing. To solve this problem, the famous action of giving a few jerks to the pen was used. With this action drops of the ink would escape out of the nib and that meant that, pen will surely work now. Again, here too utmost care was advised to be very careful while jerking the pen, in case the drops of ink fell on the table cloth or on your teacher’s white Pajamas.

Later on the ink filling technology improved when small inflatable rubber tubes were introduced for filling and storing ink. They were attached to the nib assembly. This mechanism worked by squeezing the tube to create vacuum inside, dipping the nib into the ink pot and then releasing the pressure to get the tube inflated back again; there by sucking the ink inside it. I felt this was a brilliant idea.

Then for a short while there appeared a piston type arrangement for filling ink. You push the piston down to create a vacuum, dip it in the ink and pull it out. Just like our Pichkari, used during festival of Holi. Most of these pens were not really fool-proof (read leak-proof). So many educated people shyly wore a patch of blue ink around their shirt pockets, as everyone would sport his pen in the shirt pocket. To some extent this could be tackled by putting Vaseline on the threads of the pen. There used to be some pen thieves too. They would borrow your pen in a post office and then walk off with it. To tackle this smartness you did a touché by not parting with the cap of your pen. So, if a thief pocketed your pen without its cap; he would certainly be caught red handed, by being blue pocketed.

For hand-writing the last instrument to arrive was the ball point pen. They were accepted very well are still reigning supreme. With these, the trouble of keeping ink bottles and filling ink was completely taken care off. But economic conservatives initially said it did not make sense to buy new refills every time. Indian banks too took time to accept forms or cheques filled in with ball point pens. You know how resistant governments and its employees are to think beyond what they have been doing. They did not care if the figures or signatures on cheques got washed off with a drop of rain water. They stuck to their point, ‘ball pens are not allowed!’

It does not seem to me if there are any advanced technologies in hand-writing instruments are waiting in the wings. In the present age of flying emails, I feel using those straw pens was literally like being associated with the stone-age, rather ‘straw-age’ of hand writing.

Education scenes

Not too distant in the past, I noted three news items concerning the respectable field of education that came into the limelight from different geographical areas of India.

First story is from a Madhya Pradesh town of Ujjain, dated March 2012. In this scene on the right of the frame is a very agitated, but not very young looking man using his index finger to make a strong point to an older person on the left of the frame. The dialogues were being delivered only by this, not so young person, supposedly a student of Ujjain College. The background is that the student union body elections are being postponed and the professor seems to have taken this decision. The student leaders do not like it. After all it may be a stepping stone for their entry into the world of real politics. They would not allow anyone to mess with or delay their political careers. We can hear the student threatening the professor in a chilling tone, ‘We will tell you what does Gundagargi mean?’, ‘Be ware of the consequences’, ‘We all know what you people are doing in the name of education’. Many beeps had to be inserted in his long dialogue sequence to self-censor the sound bytes. It was a very lengthy single shot in which the so called student leader delivered his lines without any hesitation or fumble. Third important person in this scene was standing in the middle of the two main characters and was wearing a police uniform. For some vague reasons he was also wearing a metal ‘riot helmet’. I guess they over-dressed him. His uniform was ill fitting, as it was hanging loose on his body. This guy in the middle did not deliver any dialogue and no visible action was assigned to him too; quite like a C-class ‘junior artistes’ in Hindi films. He only adjusted his pant once by pulling it up. All he did was to shift his look left and right between the professor and the student leader according to the punch in the lines. The scene ended with the leader exiting from the right of the frame, followed by the so called cop.
Next day the perhaps camera could not pickup the thrilling action sequence in time. But promises (read threats) made in the previous unrecorded scene seemed to have come true, behind the camera. 3 professors were beaten up by would be Indian leaders. Camera picked up action when the professor was already unconscious and was being lifted into an ambulance. He was declared dead after that. The professor who was a part of ‘scene one’ placed on left of the camera is now confined to wheel chair due to severe real beatings.

In the reversal of the roles, the setting moves to a very small school in small village in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir. Some very young children with pink cheeks and runny noses are happily running around in the school compound. Walls of the school have been raised higher to keep the terrorist’s bullets away. But no one can predict a known teacher to do the unexpected. A teacher comes calmly out of the laboratory with a bottle in his hand and started spraying some liquid on the young ones. It may have taken a few moments for the kids to realize that the liquid had actually started burning them. Only then they all decided to pick up their bags and run! In the beginning a 6 year old boy got the liquid on his face, while others got their backs and clothes burnt. A girl of 9th standard, carried a boy for 7 km on her back to reach him home! The teacher had been missing from the scene.

DAV Girl’s College, New Delhi. A cell phone rings in the classroom; a student picks it up. A teacher feels very let down. The girl student gets a tight slap for using a cell phone in the class. The college goes on strike. The girls go on flash strike and protest by clapping and singing slogans. A girl jumps the high gate to enter in principal’s home, another one is trying to break the gate by banging it with a stone.

Do these 3 episodes educate us in any way? It can be hazardous guessing game for me. But generally I would imagine that however irresponsible and disrespectful students may get, the teacher is a teacher. He or she still holds the responsibility of retaining their mental balance and composure.

Very idealistic sure, and should be so too, but what about the teacher spraying acid on his little students! What about that teacher?
Any ideas, anyone?

That’s growth

When the economic reforms started in India, everyone was very skeptic. After a few years down, it seemed that the benefits were not reaching its people at the grass root level – to the poor or in the villages. But India stuck to its reform-guns (like Bofors?), inspite of the government at the center changing hands for a full 5-year term from Congress to the BJP. Now that the power is back with Congress, the ‘reform train’ has covered a lot many areas of Indian economy. Even during BJP’s tenure there was no let up in this process.
Since I live in Mumbai, the largest metropolis of this country, I am not able to notice the changes in people’s life style in the rural areas. But what I can talk about are the scenes that I watch from my own window. Presently ‘hero’ of all the scenes is the ubiquitous ‘cell phone’ – basically meant for the higher to rich class. When cell phone was launched it costed Rs.16/- per minute to make or receive a call.
Let me warn you that some of these scenes may be strange, weird or even exciting. But they will amply prove that the lowest wrung of society is now beginning to get the benefits of things which even our middle class could not afford.
Scene:1: I am in my bedroom balcony watching the activities on the road. There is lot of traffic here. Gone are the days when it was a peaceful dead-end. Right in front across the road, Rakesh, our garbage collector (Kachrawalla) is sorting out the plastic and other useful items from the garbage collected from our and nearby buildings. He has the company of dogs, crows and a few cats. Rakesh is very young. We have seen him growing up. Earlier his mother used to do this work; now he does.
Well, Rakesh was hidden behind a few large red and blue plastic buckets full of garbage. Suddenly he lifted his head and slowly stood up. What do I notice? He is looking round while talking on a cell phone! He kept gesturing, which perhaps meant that he was trying to find someone. But that’s not the point. He is just about 20, he is a Kachrawalla and he has got cell phone!
Scene:2: This scene is also from the same film. In this case the actor is different. This time it is Rakesh’s young wife who is sweeping the compound. Her one hand has the broom, other hand is behind supporting her back, as Jamadars do. But her head is completely bent towards her left shoulder nearly touching her ear. You want to know why this awkward pose? Well if she does not do it, her cell phone will fall off. This was the most elating surprise for me to see a Jamadarni sweeping and chatting away on a cell phone clutched between her shoulder and ear.
Scene:3: I am on my way to work in an auto-Rickshaw. A phone rings, while I fiddle into my bag, the Rickshaw driver pulls up to side of the road and whips out his cell. After he is done he says sorry to me and we moved off as my lower jaw fell.
Scene:4: Walking through a lane in Lokhandwala, I notice a vegetable vendor from UP, with a large basket on his head. He is very strong and well fed. After all he has to carry nearly 20 Kg of vegetables, selling from flat to flat. I hear a ring tone of ‘Om Jai Jagdish’. He puts the basket down and rescues a cell phone from under the ‘Tarazu’ and speaks,”arre, hum najike pahunch gaye hain. Bus 5 minute main aate hain….. haan haan Karela leke aaye hain. Jaban diya tha na apko.”
Well in our land of Gods, ‘Bhagwan Ke Ghar Der Hai Andher Nahin’, even for economic reforms. Take care.

When the economic reforms started in India, everyone was very skeptic. After a few years down, it seemed that the benefits were not reaching its people at the grass root level – to the poor or in the villages. But India stuck to its reform-guns (like Bofors?), inspite of the government at the center changing hands for a full 5-year term from Congress to the BJP. Now that the power is back with Congress, the ‘reform train’ has covered a lot many areas of Indian economy. Even during BJP’s tenure there was no let up in this process.
Since I live in Mumbai, the largest metropolis of this country, I am not able to notice the changes in people’s life style in the rural areas. But what I can talk about are the scenes that I watch from my own window. Presently ‘hero’ of all the scenes is the ubiquitous ‘cell phone’ – basically meant for the higher to rich class. When cell phone was launched it costed Rs.16/- per minute to make or receive a call.
Let me warn you that some of these scenes may be strange, weird or even exciting. But they will amply prove that the lowest wrung of society is now beginning to get the benefits of things which even our middle class could not afford.
Scene:1: I am in my bedroom balcony watching the activities on the road. There is lot of traffic here. Gone are the days when it was a peaceful dead-end. Right in front across the road, Rakesh, our garbage collector (Kachrawalla) is sorting out the plastic and other useful items from the garbage collected from our and nearby buildings. He has the company of dogs, crows and a few cats. Rakesh is very young. We have seen him growing up. Earlier his mother used to do this work; now he does.
Well, Rakesh was hidden behind a few large red and blue plastic buckets full of garbage. Suddenly he lifted his head and slowly stood up. What do I notice? He is looking round while talking on a cell phone! He kept gesturing, which perhaps meant that he was trying to find someone. But that’s not the point. He is just about 20, he is a Kachrawalla and he has got cell phone!
Scene:2: This scene is also from the same film. In this case the actor is different. This time it is Rakesh’s young wife who is sweeping the compound. Her one hand has the broom, other hand is behind supporting her back, as Jamadars do. But her head is completely bent towards her left shoulder nearly touching her ear. You want to know why this awkward pose? Well if she does not do it, her cell phone will fall off. This was the most elating surprise for me to see a Jamadarni sweeping and chatting away on a cell phone clutched between her shoulder and ear.
Scene:3: I am on my way to work in an auto-Rickshaw. A phone rings, while I fiddle into my bag, the Rickshaw driver pulls up to side of the road and whips out his cell. After he is done he says sorry to me and we moved off as my lower jaw fell.
Scene:4: Walking through a lane in Lokhandwala, I notice a vegetable vendor from UP, with a large basket on his head. He is very strong and well fed. After all he has to carry nearly 20 Kg of vegetables, selling from flat to flat. I hear a ‘ring tone’ of ‘Om Jai Jagdish’. He puts the basket down and rescues a cell phone from under the ‘Tarazu’ and speaks, “arre, hum najikai pahunch gaye hain. Bus 5 minute main aavat hain….. haan haan Karela leke aaye hain. Jaban diya tha na apko.”
Well in our land of Gods, ‘Bhagwan Ke Ghar Mein Der Hai Andher Nahin’, even for economic reforms. Take care.

Depressing.. ?

After a very long time we are renovating our home. It must be a good 7-8 year back when we went through the motions of spending money on painting and other usual wear and tear jobs. I had enough spare money then, for using it on such necessary luxuries…
Somehow the winds changed direction, as they always do; the flow of money got restricted and an unusually dense fog of lull enveloped my professional life. A string of projects that were lined up to roll any day- did not roll at all. In India we like blame the poor distant planets. So, for a true Indian the planets seemed to have turned their favorable face away. All this had started after my main employers downed their shutters under the demonic burden of their bad financial situation. For the next 18 months I was very busy doing some of my most high profile and better paying jobs. I did some serious ‘audio’ work for television in the United States and India. Then I was picked up and appointed as ‘general manager’ in the office of a high profile film maker.
Soon I had another offer from a ‘distance learning’ company. Here I was working in a very high technology area. This job gave me experiences of using VSAT and software used for online education. I enjoyed this job the most, since I have been looking to get away from the glaring lights of media related environment. Perhaps enjoying the work here seemed to have made the company run aground. I said ‘seemed to have’. I am a die-hard optimist. If I have to take cues from twists and turns of my life, then a massive surprise is waiting for me in the wings, about which I have no idea.
Well today I am in a mood of counting the chickens that did not hatch. It’s rather amusing to count that in last five years of my professional life how many high profile and exciting projects surfaced, but never swam ashore. So many films were conceived but never delivered; they remained on the idea and project levels only. The most important one was ‘Singularity’. It was a Hollywood film, being directed Oscar nominated Roland Joffe with Brandon Fraser and our own Aishvarya Rai. I had done documentaries with foreign teams, cinematographers and directors. But I was exited that this time I was going to experience the making of a pure Hollywood cinema, for the first time. I was on cloud nine; but treading cautiously. A very close old friend of mine was involved in the film as an executive. I visited him often, gave him my CV, kept in touch on phone, went to his office and read the script of the film twice over. I had asked to be a part of the direction team at any capacity. If there were going to be 12 assistants I was ready to be the twelfth. Desperately yours, but I was dying to be exposed to the experience of ‘Singularity’. I wanted to see how is it done in Hollywood, how does everyone gets ready, actors are given lines, makeup tested, lighting and sound levels checked, each shot being taken… After all Roland Joffe was going to be in Mumbai next week and he was to meet and interview the direction team. That next week hasn’t arrived for the past 2 years. As per the last update this project has been re-announced for Jan 2007.
Next in line was a friend of mine actor/director Dolly Jena, who was to shoot a film in Goa. It was a period film depicting Portuguese times. I was to be her associate on this project. I read her script too many times over and got involved in production process. Film was to roll in six months, so we were busy getting hotels rates and identifying old houses for shooting. The period of six months has over shot by three years.
Among all these dream productions, three films managed to break through and reach a stage of getting themselves (a) married print. And that’s where they too stopped. I was involved in them in various capacities like script, direction, production design and sound. Presently they all are far from getting a commercial release. Coincidently, my dues from all these films are also awaiting release.
Most interesting part of this long ‘touch and go’ sequence was when an unknown person phoned me to ask, if I would make a children’s film for him. ‘Of course’ was the best answer I could think of. He said he had seen my name on the IDPA festival brochure. That’s it! Soon a contract was signed on his official letterhead and a cheque equivalent to $20, was handed over to me. It thought things have got serious this time. I called up a scriptwriter, organized our meetings and started the work briskly. Producer was in a hurry. I struggled and finally handed over a fairly good version of hand written script to him in two weeks. The Gentleman went back to his hometown to organize adequate funds. After that he never made a call to me or sent any note. No not even to ask for the refund of his money. None of his telephones worked. I wonder why was he in hurry to lose his money on us if he had to do a Harry Houdini.
I was never approached by cheats. There was no fake person among all these. All of them had been well meaning people and serious filmmakers. They just did not have it in them, to finally swing it. Whenever someone has asked, ‘so what are you doing these days?’ I have formatted a humorous answer for this situation, ‘only serious job that I have been doing for years; is looking for it!’
Under these unavoidable circumstances, I decided to take a relaxing stance, instead of usual stance of struggling and worrying. I thought of changing gear as I step into the next stage of age in my life. I started reading and I started writing. I would never have read and written, so much satisfying and meaningful stuff, if I had been busy making small money from the mundane motions of making movies. Of course many do not agree. But I really feel very satisfied with my growth as a writer. I am not bothered if it has not been financially rewarding. This was the right time for me to start using my time doing un-ordinary things, things that gave me a chance of making my immortality a little longer. This would be the best thing to come out from all this nothingness.