Friday, August 31, 2007

The 'Come September' feelin'

It's that time of the year again - the only time when I feel the potency of the season in my veins. I can't really explain why this happens. But even as August turns to September, I start dreaming of blue skies with billowy white clouds. And no, I'm not in Kolkata or its neighbourhood - but I still feel the ambience of "Durga pujas" all around me. I'm sure I can't explain this feeling to anyone but other Bengalis, who've lived in Bengal and felt the monsoonal season slowly change to a mellow autumn. "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;...that's Keats' Autumn - and mine too in many ways.
I remember lazy September afternoons on campus at Jadavpur University which slowly turned into light, hazy (Kolkata isn't misty, it's smoggy instead) evenings. It was puja vacations and most of my friends at the JU women's hostel had gone home - I would too in a few days. My father and mother - who were in Durgapur - had sent me a generous allowance to buy myself new clothes for the pujas. And I had treated myself to a shopping spree at Dakshinapan - Kolkata's only 'shopping mall' in those days. Actually it is a shopping complex with various government emporia under one roof - but for us in those days, it was the ultimate retail experience. And Dakshinapan has an outlet of the Gujarat emporium - Gurjari - which provided us with all our needs of ethnic chic apparel. I had just bought my new festival clothes but couldn't wait till the Pujas to start preening in them. I still remember my long red kurta - with elaborate embroidery and mirror work that I was wearing as I strolled around the huge JU lawns and the football field, waiting for at least one of my friends who lived nearby to turn up. Our on-campus 'subaltern' cafes, which were actually dingy tea-stalls were all shut for the vacations. There was a sense of desolation all around which perhaps was symbolic of the end of our heady campus life in a few months from then.

Going back to Durga Puja - it's that time of the year when the farmlands outside Bengal's city limits are overflowing with the yearly rice crop - ready for harvesting. So when you take a train ride from say Kolkata to Rabindranath Tagore's Santiniketan - your eyes can feast on the green fields and the blue skies, truly an artist's palatte. At many places the landscape is carpeted with the almost symbolic 'Kash Phul' - silky white blossoms on tall green stems growing amidst the grass which have been immmortalized by Satyajit Ray visually in his Panther Panchali, the first of the Apu Trilogy. Besides Tagore's own poetry that captures the beauty of the season, a novel called Nilkantha Pakhir Khonje in Bengali- set in Bangladesh before the partition of India also epitomises for me the understated and nostalgic beauty of Autumn in Bengal.
This is a season that doesn't have the exuberance of spring and the underlying tone is one of sadness and the onset of winter. Most Bengalis are part of revelries for the week-long Durga Puja celebrations - but Goddess Durga whose advent we are celebrating will soon be going back to the home of her husband leaving her parents behind in tears - that's the significance that the Pujas have mythologically. The season captures that feeling of loss and also brings with it a coolness all around with occasional light winds and showers - one can sense that winter is on the way, just waiting around the few coming weeks. But where I am now in Delhi, there's no such cooling down, it's still very warm, muggy and uncomfortable. But yet my senses tell me that things are about to change soon.
My birthday is usually close to the celebrations for Goddess Durga and my aunt, parents and grand-parents named me after her - so perhaps it's a kind of bond that I have with the Mother Goddess. My father, too, was born in September and so this year, the intensity of my memories is almost all engulfing. I have always felt that I looked like my dad and did quite a lot of things like him because we shared the month of our birth. Now I feel the pain of separation and a bond with him that runs far deeper than my life and his death...
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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Independence = Freedom & Happiness.Enjoy!

I spent Independence Day with my cousins, uncle, aunts, nephews and neices at a beach resort near Mahaballipuram.It was a great break which I spent soaking in the sun and sand, swimming in the pool, tucking into Sri Lankan cuisine, negotiating the waves, getting myself a tan and most importantly enjoying the company of family.

The reason for writing this however, is to describe a tricolour ceremony at the Ideal Resort which was graced by Indians, Global Indians and non-Indians. The theme was of India changing and finding the true meaning of freedom. There were no arguments - though many felt that the last 20 years were far more meaningful chapters for Independent India than ever before.

We had senior citizens in our midst who were born before 1947 and a Britisher whose speech on the occasion was interrupted by a falling coconut "upstaged by a coconut" he observed with typical British dry humour and then carried on with what India and our I-Day meant to him.

The flag was hoisted by a lady from Chennai who's married to an African-American in Washington DC after which we the Indians and Global Indians in the group sang Jana Gana Mana... The couple with their two cute kids come back to Chennai to enjoy a seaside vacation every year. My brother-in-law, an IT professional in London - spoke about the economic resurgence in India while a retired school teacher said that for her freedom had meant grooming her young students to face life.

Later we enjoyed a cake with tricolour icing and listened to popular south Indian patriotic songs before everyone went back to the serious vacation buisness of relaxing on the beach. Of course, later in the afternoon, my nephew rigged up the kite he had specially stitched for the occasion and flew it on the beach taking advantage of the windy day, as the rest of us took lessons from him.
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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Beyond argument: Nearly eighty percent of Indians live on half a dollar a day

From the Times of India

" NEW DELHI: The number of people below the poverty line may have come down, but 79% of unorganised workers, 88% of SC/STs, 80% of the OBC population and 84% of Muslims belong to the "poor and vulnerable group"... "That includes 6.4% who live on less than Rs 9 per day or three-fourths the poverty line level, another 15.4% who are between this layer and the poverty line, 19% who earn at best 1.25 times the poverty line and 36% who earn between 1.25 and two times the official cut-off for poverty. It, therefore, cautions that while large numbers may have technically ceased to be included in the official poor, they remain vulnerable"
This according to a report by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS). The report (says Reuters) shows that about 836 million people - 77 percent of Indians live on below 20 rupees (50 U.S. cents) per day.

As expected, there is lament all around as to how growth has not benefited most Indians. A real surprise, isn't it? Was it supposed be another way? A few days ago we had a post from RV Bhawani regarding the agrarian crisis. Reporting on the same issue P. Sainath has now won the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay award. Then there was the issue about malnutirition amongst India's children. Much ink was spilt by great economists such as Surjit Bhalla to suggest that poverty did not exist anymore in India. Then there was the debate about exactly how much poverty had fallen by. All along, we have had (fairly predictable) evidence as to what was happening to most of India.

Of course, fiscal redistribution is an immediate need, although its limits are well-known. I think there is little evidence in history which suggests that a nation can keep growing at 8,9,10 per cent with 77 percent of its populace in such condition. And, ironically, there is much evidence that redistributive growth has multiplier effects. But beyond that, there is the need to go beyond the game of fiscal redistribution; band-aids only go thus far and no further. Living off the crumbs of the back-office of the world cannot be a permanent solution for the 77 percent; in fact it is not even clear that it can serve too long as a solution for the 5-10-15% who are now gaining from it.
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Friday, August 10, 2007

Reducing India

"Twenty years ago the rest of the world saw India as a pauper. Now it is just as famous for its software engineers, Bollywood movie stars, literary giants and steel magnates."
Time Magazine

Pauper, really? and in my opinion, none of these four categories of people represent the people of India. Its amazing how the media is so apt at reducing India to one, two, three or four things ... or just one city (B'lore) or just one issue (foeticide) and so on...

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

India@60: Sixty arguments at Arguing India

Let us start with a few.... please add, comment, argue as you wish..

1. India is taking over the world

2. Indian democracy is reaching new levels of maturity

3. Inequality is increasing

4. The situation of India's women reflect deep and irresoluble contradictions

5. Life in India for Indians is much better than life abroad...

6. Indians are religious but India is secular (what is secularism is itself a matter of great debate everywhere and certainly in India. One meaning that I find useful is the one in India's constitution: freedom to practice any religion of one's choice; non-discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, caste, creed etc.; and separation of state and religion).
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