Thursday, October 2, 2014

Swacha Bharat Abhiyan

Indian women are very talented. We are good at many things including making our marriages last long, even the unhappy ones. But one particular talent is controlling urge to relieve ourselves! Indian men are rather lucky in this aspect, they can relieve themselves anywhere, right in the middle of a busy market, on crowded roads practically anywhere. All they need is a short wall or perhaps even a tree stump. But we are not so privilaged. Before the advent of  all the malls out there we went shopping to markets say like Chickpet, Malleshwaram, Gandhibazar in Bangalore or say Chandni Chowk, Sarojini Nagar, Lajpath Nagar in Delhi. I do not ever remember using a toilet or for that matter relieving myself ever while shopping, even if we shopped the entire day which we mostly did. For that matter I do not remember any of my family member or my girl friends I went shopping did. Pee at home, shop and get back home to pee. What an amazing talent indeed. No one speaks about it but for most women it is just part of life, something like breathing.

I did not quite realize this till my solo journey on Karnataka Express when I went away to the university. Karnataka express used to be a 42 hour long journey from Bangalore to Delhi. Starting at Bangalore around 6 PM, the train used to lumber on via Hyderabad Karnataka, Maharastra, MP , UP and finally reach Delhi around noon the third day. To make things worse, the train was seldom on time. So when the train started in Bangalore, things would be clean. The bathrooms usable, there would be water in the toilets and sink and hawkers would sell something called paper-soap. It was a rather smart idea, strips of paper coated with soap which would work lather with a dash of water and the paper that was left over was to be trashed. Smart  indigenous idea indeed. I loved them.
The second day early morning, things would still be ok. But I figured out in my first few trips that it was good idea to wash up at day break else it could get crowded and of course dirty.  But the end of the second day water could be scarce. That is when the problem started. Also by then our people in the train would have used the toilets umpteen times and would find it either dirty or lazy or simply ignorant perhaps to flush and the people sitting close to the toilets would have to endure the stench for the rest of their journey. Water which would disappear by then would just make it worse.

So that is where my talent helped me. During the entire course of 42 hours, I would have used to toilets a couple of times, three times at the max. To avoid having to use the bathrooms, I did be preparing from day 0 of the journey. Eating little, and eating foods that were easy on the stomach. One day 1 of the journey, again eat little and avoid foods that made you go.  Through out the journey, I would eat very little, drink very little water and sleep most of the time typically on the upper most berth. A strategy that helped a lone young south Indian girl traveling into the unkind Northern plains as much as help me avoid using the toilets.

So much of strategy to just travel! But I guess most of us did that. We, as women had our own ways of coping up with the system that imposed invisible constraints, so much so that it was the norm for us. When I came to the States, one of the first things I noticed was how ubiquitous public toilets were and most of the time they were usable and had water. Women here probably do not even realize how easy their lives are, or to see it in a different way, women here most likely do not have this particular talent that we have.

This particular talent has been nurtured by generations in the past. No wonder we are so good at it. Perhaps our great-grandmothers were much better than us in this respect. In my family from what I have heard from my older family members, my great grandfather (a prosperous civil servant) had a big house which survives even today albeit as five portions with four different tenants and an uncle living there. The big house has one bathroom with a big wood fire Handi to heat water but no toilets. The men obviously in those days too had no problems. They would relieve themselves when ever they felt like. But women folk of the family had to wait for the cover of darkness to go to the near by fields to relieve themselves. I shudder to think of how they could have been waiting all the way from dusk to dawn to relieve themselves and then they had to walk in the dark on unpaved paths into the fields. I wonder if they ever encountered snakes, scorpions and other scary reptiles or if they ever encountered other wild animals which were ample those days like leopard, hyena and wolves and may be tigers. What if they did? Was it just a 'normal' thing for them? Were they ever scared? they might have their own strategies to cope up with such dangers. What ever they did, they outdid us in this particular talent!

To this day, there are so many homes in India without a toilet. They simply do not see the need for it perhaps because being a male centric society that it is, when men do not find it a problem to relive themselves in public there is no obvious need. Women just learn to live with the constraint. So there is no obvious need to have toilet at home or for that matter in public places like busy markets. If Indian men were a little more conscious and had the habit of relieving themselves only in toilets, I bet there would have been a lot many more toilets than what we see today. Just like they say there in the States the if men were to have babies, paid maternity leaves would have been long. It is just that since the burden of not having toilets is borne entire by women without complaints we see fewer toilets. We learn to hold our pee instead of demanding for toilets.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Loksabha 2014 Part 1

Phew! finally one of the most expensive affairs of democracy in the world has come to an end.  We should thank our stars that we have a clear winner and there will be no more 'compulsions of coalition'  sucking our blood.

For things that I noticed this election.

  1. The bitterness in the political campaign was unprecedented. Never was the bitterness against political opponents so very much in open. Name calling, mud slinging, one up-men-ship, sheer stupidity and George-Bush like 'you are with me or against me' water tight compartmentalization of opinions. We all know politics is the last game of a scoundrel but this is the nadir of being scoundrels. Was it so ugly because the top-dog was not a part of the elite either in terms of power circles like the Gandhis, V.P.Singh and Charan Singh or in terms of  better education and chance at life like P.V.N and Chandrashekhar.
  2. B.J.P is accused to being the force behind polarizing the electorate, but to think of it, Polarization has two faces those who were for Modi, the ones cultivated by B.J.P and then those who were against, cultivated by everybody else. Well heights of polarization and intolerance was when I saw a 'liberal' person threatening to un-friend those who 'like' Narendra Modi's page on Facebook. So those who were fighting for the cause of tolerance and 'secularism' were not tolerant enough to accept their friends for having a different like of thought.
  3. 'It is the Economy, Stupid!'... How Congress can be so very clueless as to what is driving the Modi phenomenon? Being a grand old political party with so many wise brains at its disposal, how could they not get it? Congress party looks locked in a shell. They thought giving our people rights is the best they could to,  right to marriage, right to reading, right to urinate in public, right to eat, right to god knows what... at the end of the day it all boils down to the tangible gains people saw. 'Rights? ok, what is in there for me? My life is no different from before. The rights have not given me better roads, better education, better chance at life...Give me more.'  We all know that doles and subsidies are never enjoyed by those who are supposed to on paper. Even if the right to food, employment and everything else is supposed to deliver goodies to those deserving on paper, how much of it really reaches the real beneficiaries?
  4. Congress has something way too elitist about their thinking. They seem to say, 'oh! you poor people, let us feed you as long as I an available, and yes, because you are poor you should not aspire for anything else. Get your free square meal and do not ask for MORE'.  Don't they know that, giving a fish to a person will feed her one day and teaching her to fish will feed her and her family for a life time? How many people, even the poorest want just food? probably no one. Every body wants more than just food. People want better life, for themselves and their children. Why else do we see poor parents moving heaven and earth, at the cost of loosing most of their merge possessions, send their children to the best schools they can afford and to colleges too? Have we not seen such people around us, our poorer cousins, our maids, our Dhobis, our vegetable vendors almost every one... So why do they do it at all? Because they hope education will lead their children to a better life they themselves can never hope for. Education enables good life. Period. So it is 'fishing' more than fish it self that people are demanding. They are demanding opportunities and an enabling atmosphere which is conducive for meritocratic rise of their children. We demand for good education, good medical-healthcare facilities and we demand for infrastructure. Simple. That should have been the focus.
  5. Meritocracy! Most parties this time fielded sons and daughters of known political faces. If we accept doctor kids becoming doctors, or movie stars kids choosing acting career why not politicians grooming their kids in politics? Well the answer is still 'No'. No other profession has the kind of clout and power like Politics and no where is the bar so low as Politics either. What riles me as a common born with no famous surname is the unfair advantage the kids with famous surname have over me. Not because they are cleverer than me, or even more competent then me but because of they have a famous surname. A famous surname is good enough for a career in politics. Especially if you are a Gandhi, Congress party behaves like your bonded labor. Priyanka Gandhi who is officially a no one in the party screams out that her cousin has gone 'astray', that some one dishonored her 'martyred father' and that response from every booth in Amethi will come in full force to avenge for the dishonor of his 'martyred father'. Indeed we saw that on the day of counting when her poor brother was trailing behind his opponent for a while and then his victory margin reduced to just half of what it was last time. What is so great about the Gandhis any way? Unfortunately the only message the rise of Rahul and Priyanka sent out was that no one can aspire for the top post in Congress because it is the birth right of either of the two. It is not a coincidence that they have all but disowned P.V.Narashimharao, the man who steered the ship in its most fragile time and they have dishonored Dr.Manmohan Singh like nothing seen in history.
  6. Rahul Gandhi factor. After his disastrous interview all I could see in Rahul Gandhi were his cute dimples as he stood grinning while his mother somberly spoke of the parties election rout and accepted the moral responsibility. Does he evoke any emotion in me? yes I think he is kind of cute, he is rich, privilaged, rather spoilt and he gets to do what ever he wants without ever having to answer anyone. But at 40+ years and 10 long years in politics is a long time enough even for a late bloomer to learn the ropes of the trade. With the kind of support, shelter and resources at his disposal, he still looks like lost-last bencher in school who is constantly staring out of the window and waiting for the bell to ring. Nothing in him, or nothing he has to say rings with you. Sorry this is not 1984, good looks and a Gandhi surname are not qualifications enough to become a leader of aspirational India.I heard some one say the other day that the fear of Narendra Modi lead Muslims to consolidate against his strongest opponent but the fear of Rahul Gandhi becoming the next PM consolidated the votes of all those who had ever seen his famous interview in favor of Modi!
  7. The rise of the Mango people! Indeed this is an election of 'Aam Admi'. At the center of the election was a very 'Aam'-common man, a man with no privilaged upbringing, no money, no famous surname, no English convent education, but who was cleaver enough to make the most of the opportunities he got on his way to the top. Yes Modi might not be the perfect leader but no one take it away from him that despite his humble background he was smart enough to make it to the top. We middle class admire people like him, the meritocratic rises to the top, the reason why N.R.N, A.P.J, Sir.M.V,  are middle class icons. AAP too made a splash, though a disappointing one. AAP was a real democratization of Politics, it attracted a lot of young, energetic, disenchanted  who would otherwise look at politics with a lot of disdain into active political participation. Many contested, many worked as volunteers and many walked up the the booths to cast their votes. But it is not Kejriwal represented AAP for me. If he did, it would be sad. Kejriwal is too pedestrian to be a leader, his constant pop-economics rant of Black Money- Swiss Banks, selling petrol at Rs38 and "Media being sold out" only made him look like a bitter anarchist. He did not come across as the leader with a plan for the country but an opportunist cribbing about one thing and everything.  If AAP achieved something this elections, it is despite Kejriwal. In Punjab they were successful because they chose the right candidates to represent them.They stuck to their plank of clean and corruption free politics. That should have been the plank of AAP everywhere. With Kejriwal voicing for and against everything he had heard and being the new maker he is, he diluted the message of the party and what they stood for. Sadly this was not AAP's election. This was clearly Narendra Modi's election. But as we saw in Punjab, if Narendra Modi were to fail to deliver, next election might as well be AAP's.