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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Freedom of expression, especially in the arts, has taken quite a beating recently. This past week must have been quite stressful for anyone who believed in this freedom and believed in a strong, democratic and progressive India. It is quite disturbing to know that today; I might be taken to task for expressing my opinion and not because I directly offended a person or section of the society, but because someone who was not even remotely related to the expression decided on becoming the authority on offensive remarks and censorship.

The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie’s novel was first published in 1988, well over two decades back and was promptly banned in India for its “blasphemous” contents and that decision was accepted by one and all (mostly). That I thought was enough of a measure to punish the “erring” author and we could have buried the issue then. The recent protests against his planned visit to India and the statement issued by the Darul Uloom Deoband asking for a life ban on the author are more than ridiculous. If a certain section of the society had a problem against the author for what he wrote in The Satanic Verses, they could have dragged him to the court of law for hurting their religious sentiments and then let the court decide on the due course of action. I am not in support of the author here or of his writings, I am more in support of his right to freedom of expression and more importantly, his right to be adjudged a “criminal” or a “wrongdoer” by only the court of law and not by a bunch of intolerant protesters.

Salman Rushdie holding a copy of the controversial The Satanic Verses. Photo Courtesy: http://www.guardian.co.uk

What takes this whole issue to a much higher-level of senselessness is the statement that if the author were to apologize for the blasphemy in his book, his wish to visit India and the Jaipur Literature Festival could be considered. Would an apology nullify the so-called damage that was done by the writings or in other words wash away Salman Rushdie’s “sins”? This in some ways points towards the insecurities of a country that boasts of a thousand years of proud existence and a history rarely seen elsewhere but can’t seem to get over 100 years of British oppression. As is so natural to us, we might as well blame this too on the British. In fact, I do sometimes think that that may be true to a certain extent, in this particular case!

I have grown up watching movies and reading books about the great freedom struggle that India went through and how it didn’t matter if we were of a particular caste or religion when we were facing a much larger issue. The point was to fight for a free India. We did get a free India for sure, but we lost the larger cause that kept all of us from getting into these irrelevant and worthless debates. After the feeling of elation that is felt after one achieves a tough goal, there is always a sense of restlessness that the wait for the next goal evokes. In this state of restlessness, there is a tendency to get involved in many inconsequential lesser issues. This I think is the state that we are in. It somehow points to a weird sense of insecurity that lies embedded in us and this, maybe, is what makes us extremely defensive.

How else can we explain the government’s reaction to comments made by the British television presenter Jeremy Clarkson on the BBC show, Top Gear? As an on-and-off viewer of the show, I know for a fact that Jeremy Clarkson is a prime example of the absurd and often satirical British humour. The man jokes on an almost regular basis about the Queen of the country of which he is a very respected citizen. We have a problem with him because he made controversial remarks about our lack of sanitation, our clothes and our history. But then, we had no problems with Danny Boyle and Slumdog Millionaire showing the slums in Mumbai and the lack of sanitation there. Even if we initially did have some minor issues with the movie, we were all but open to ignoring them once we realized that our very own music genius A.R.Rahman was to receive two Academy Awards for his music in the film.

The brouhaha and protests over M.F.Hussain’s objectionable paintings of our deities and Mother India and the shameful attack on the double amputee artist Balbir Krishan for painting on the theme of homosexuality are other glaring examples of this growing despicable intolerance and hypocrisy.

M.F.Hussain's controversial painting representing Mother India.

Artist Balbir Krishan with one of his works at the Lalit Kala Akademi. Photo Courtesy: http://www.tehelka.com

There are innumerable instances of our ‘selective’ intolerance and it would take forever to list them here, but for me, these are the signs of an extremely intolerant and insecure society which at a very general level lacks a sense of humour. And I would like to clarify, when I say ‘society’, I point at those who have the audacity to believe that what they want to hear or see is what should be said or shown!

Just a small observation that I couldn’t help but mention here, in some instances, we seem to be an overtly tolerant nation too. We don’t seem to mind tolerating the threats of various groups (some are even banned themselves!) and sections and see them murdering our right to enjoy the luxuries of living in a democratic country. It is commonplace today to have threats issued by groups like the MNS, the Bajrang Dal, Ram Sene and SIMI. What is amusing though is the reaction of the government and the police towards these statements. How else would you describe a reaction where the people who are threatened by these groups are asked to stay away or indoors to avoid getting into trouble? I always thought that the duty of the police and the government was to allow me my freedom and then guarantee my safety.

But then there may always be an argument that we are already asking for too much from our severely understaffed and underpaid police department and that they are doing the best that they could possibly do in this incredible nation of a billion people! That, for me, is the beauty of being in a democracy, there can always be arguments and there will always be opinions, even if there is no real freedom in the larger sense of the word!

For someone like me who has always had a secret fascination for gadgets but has been ‘technologically-challenged’, surviving development seems to be an everyday issue. The barrage of apples, ice cream sandwiches, chocolates, éclairs, donuts, etc. that have taken over my menu today has actually left me with no appetite! (All those among you who thought I was talking about food, believe me, you are not alone!) It would not be fair to discuss my personal struggles here, especially when the impact that these have on my life is almost insignificant.

I always thought that development meant gradual improvement or growth and that might have been something that I was comfortable with. The last decade has shown that this was not the case and that growth or improvement at a comfortable pace could never be comforting to the world. From landlines to cell phones to smart phones to tablets, it’s been a rather quick journey.  It all seemed to be fascinating when it started, if only the starting point could be defined, and then it started becoming maniacal and now it’s almost devastatingly detrimental. I am not going to discuss the very obvious pros and cons that are not alien to most of us. What, to me, is more important is the impact that this development has had on the real owners of this beautiful planet.

I’ve been reading this book about a man’s attempt to observe and document the lives of some of the remotest tribes of the world. Tribe by Bruce Parry takes you from Arunachal Pradesh in India to the Darhad Valley in Mongolia, from the Omo Valley in Ethiopia to West Papua, Indonesia. The admirable, and in today’s world of popular television ‘reality’ shows, unbelievable feature of this book is the fact that it tries to present these indigenous people in an honest, real and unaltered manner.

There is no attempt to conceal the impact that visitors from the modern, so-called-civilized populations of the world have had on these tribes and their ways. It isn’t surprising anymore to see tribes deep in the ‘untouched’ forests of the world wearing Nike tees and smoking Camel cigarettes. These people did not crave for these ‘pleasures’ of the modern world, they were content wearing nothing and wanting nothing more than what they needed. The many explorers who travelled to these far flung and isolated corners of the world ended up bartering products in exchange for captivating stories or footage. In the process, not only were many ancient traditions and rituals lost in this exchange, these tribes were also introduced to various illnesses to which they had no cure! Many of the tribes that existed have now gone extinct or have moved away from their traditional way of living.

The speed at which populations across the world are growing and the necessity to satisfy the cravings of these growing numbers has resulted in the wiping out of millions of acres of pristine forested lands. While we wait for the doomsday predictions to come true, we have not noticed how unknowingly but shamelessly we have brought doomsday to so many animal species, languages and indigenous tribes that called our world their home. We’ve managed to push species like the regal Caspian tiger, Mexican grizzly bear, Chinese river dolphin and many others to extinction. In the last century, we have lost tribes like the Bo, the Sirenik, the Kamasin, and the Jangil. Most of the surviving tribes are now left with a couple of hundred members and there are many tribes were the number of surviving members is as low as one or two. I wonder how intimidated I would feel if I was the last living person from India.

Boa Sr, the last member of the Bo tribe, died on 4th February 2010

The Caspian Tiger, a tiger sub species, last recorded in the wild in the early 1970s

I don’t think there is any way in which the damage can be reversed, but then we could always prolong the inevitable! Being sensitive and knowing the impact of our actions would be great for a start. I wouldn’t want to come across as a person who saw only the down-side of things and the reason for me to write about this issue was the fact that I see hope. To begin this process of rebuilding, it is important for each one of us to be aware.

I’d like to share a few links which, in one way or the other, are related to what this post is about.

http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/5509

http://www.truthabouttigers.org/home/

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/tribe/

Whilst pondering about how good 2011 had been to me, I couldn’t help but think about some of the people I had met that year and how they had, in one way or the other, managed to influence me.

I apologize if the title led you to think that this was about the television sitcom! This actually is about Mr. Raymond and the other Mr. Raymonds, who I’m sure all of us have chanced upon ever so often on the streets of Bangalore. Let me explain.

Last year, during my many visits to a site on Lavelle Road, I used to find finding a parking slot quite a challenge. On one such occasion when I was trying to move some bikes and make space to squeeze my bike in, I heard someone call out and say in immaculate English, “Good Morning, Sir. Let me help you with that.” I turned around to find this scruffy old man in an oversized dirty black tee smiling at me. After thanking him for offering to help, I parked my bike and walked to the café. When I returned to take my bike and leave, I gave the man a tenner, he smiled and said, “Thank You, Sir. Have a great day!” This then became a daily routine.

Later, I chanced upon the same man on St. Mark’s Road limping and walking towards Lavelle Road and I stopped to offer him a ride on my bike. The man refused at first and seemed to be a little surprised but then, on my insistence, agreed to let me take him to his ‘workplace’. During the short ride from near Noon Wines to Java City, I noticed that he, for some reason, was sitting right at the edge of the pillion and it worried me that he might slip and fall. His response, to my request for him to sit more comfortably, shocked me. He said that his clothes were very dirty and so he didn’t want to move any closer! He later told me that his name was Raymond D’Souza and that daily he collected five rupees from people who parked their bikes outside Java City on Lavelle Road. Mr. Raymond, had two children whom he had taken care of and had gotten them educated in one of the city’s finest schools, Frank Anthony Public School and that these children had abandoned him some years back. He had gone through a lot and yet had managed to smile at everyone whom he saw there. He explained that the smile was because he knew that everyone loved him and he had no reason to be sad!

As the days went by, I started meeting and chatting with Mr. Raymond, whenever I could find time. I had noticed that he had blisters on his feet and that walking all day long had really damaged his feet. At one point, I’d offered to get him some new shoes and clothes to wear and he had managed to amaze me again with his response. He refused saying that the way he looked and dressed helped him in getting a few bucks more as people felt sympathy for him and that if he had dressed better, they would think he was scamming them! Wasn’t he doing the same that most of us do when we dress in a particular manner to create the right impression, whether it is going for a meeting at work or going to the court to pay a fine for DUI? He was only trying to look the part and it worked for him, I guess!

During the many chats that I had with him, I had developed a lot of respect for him and I began to go to Lavelle Road almost everyday, even if it was only to check on him. Sometime in August or September, I think, he stopped coming for his job as the unofficial ‘parking attendant’. After a few days of his disappearance, I enquired with the security guards and others who were there and nobody seemed to have noticed his absence. It’s been more than 4 months now and there has been no trace of Mr. Raymond. I can only hope that he is doing fine wherever he is.

After getting to know Mr. Raymond, I realized that not every poor man on the streets of the city , who begged for money, would end up getting drunk later in the night. More importantly, how did it matter even if he did? And if I did doubt their intentions, did I bother to check even once if my suspicion was valid? This is when I am reminded of the quote by George Bernard Shaw, “Any belief worth having must survive doubt.” If I did not have the courage to check if my belief was rational, I had no right to doubt. And then, aren’t there scamsters in every section of the society? Would it be right to generalize and label the entire section based on a few instances?

Hoping that the next time someone sees a Mr. Raymond, they will think twice before doubting him!

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Sunrise at Bandipur

A dawn full of hope, that is what I hoped for when I woke up on the 1st of January, 2012 and it was nothing short of that! I spent a lot of time, last year, contemplating a deep desire to start blogging, a desire that arose from the multitude of experiences that I had gathered in solitude and with company and the conversations that I had had with myself sitting alone on my terrace. There was a need to share some of these experiences and more importantly to create a vent!

As 2012 dawned, I could think of nothing better to start writing about than the surreal last week of 2011 that not only gave birth to a few new personal aspirations but also brought about a new sense of clarity to my perception about my life and what I wanted from it.

It all started with a chat with Santosh Kumar (http://www.getoffurass.com/) over a cuppa at Java City. He shared with me a dream that he had been holding on to, a dream that seemed so close to what I had been aspiring for too. Before I knew it, we were off one morning, off riding to 10 Degrees Off placed beautifully in the serene Bandipur reserve forest. I can’t say that the ride was the best I’ve been on, it was hot and we faced stretches of busy traffic at Mandya and Nanjangud, but then riding out was always something that I preferred to riding within the city!

The stay there was spent in quiet ease amidst the surreal landscape of shrub forests with the hills of Ooty framing the horizon. Waking up to the sounds of the birds outside and seeing the brilliant azure blue sky while sipping on a hot cup of coffee, was something that I had dreamt of every morning in Bangalore! Chandra and family made sure that we were looked after well and that every meal was as fulfilling and delicious as it could possibly get. The week was sprinkled with sightings of a gaur, wild elephant herds, a magnificent lone tusker, herds of Cheetal, a couple of wild dogs and a beautiful Travancore Wolf snake.

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Wild Tusker at Bandipur

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Spotted Deer at Bandipur

A large part of my time was spent lazying on the bean bag and reading or chatting away with my more than generous hosts, Santosh and Indu. We discussed and sometimes even argued about everything from Gandhiji to Anna Hazare, from the conservation of the Tiger to the grandeur of the forests! It always amazes me how it becomes exceedingly difficult to sit peacefully in the midst of the chaos of a city and hold a conversation about these seemingly random issues and how , in some unexplained manner, the wilderness fosters the same.

I could keep writing about the days at Bandipur but then that would still not be enough. From my experience, I only hope that everyone gets the opportunity to travel and find peace. I could not end this without mentioning the great company that I had at 10 Degrees Off and without thanking everyone who shared this experience with me. It was fabulous to usher in the new year with Reena, Athreya, Manu, Nisha, Gurpreet, Praneet and Minky and I hope 2012 is a year that sees everyone fulfill their dreams.

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