Thursday, November 26, 2009

A space left vacant because it got too full.

A strange numbness overpowers all else. And an emptiness descends into me, onto me, over me, above me. It is me . Simultaneously all soul is sucked away. Bit by bit. All my feelings evaporate. Then emotions are alien.

That hug is no longer warm. It is simply the movement of the arms grasping me in a circle. My body against yours. Wood against wood. Stone against stone. Marble against marble.

That woman in a torn saree, a naked baby in arm and an open wound is just someone else. Breathes and eats. Bathes and washes. Cooks and sews. Starves and dies.

Hopelessness, helplessness and guilt survive in a vaccum. Like the hollow of a coconut. They pull down at me. Tuggin me down. I ache with their weight.

Heavy fog replaces thoughts. The head weighs down with the intensity of the blankness and experiences only that. Nothing penetrates either way.

Eyes shut not to a feeling of lightness that leads to sleep but only to open again in a few seconds. For when the lids come down it is haunted within

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Humayun ka Makhbara

The arches and the domes whispered to us stories of the past. The staircases cautioned of the approaching enemy and the fort stood tall swelling with pride.The light and the darkness played with us,creating layered images or multiple truths.One left wondering.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

One day...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nayi aankhein, purani duniya

The result of a heady excitement of a new camera, a course in photojournalism and an early morning shower.

The little drops from above patted the grass green, which gleamed in celebration,blade by blade.I watched from under the ledge, aware that i could be cleansed of my sins.But would it pollute the rains?However practicality stepped in.What remains is a corrupt moment and me.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

She moves, she compells,she disturbs, she tells and how!

"To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget." — Arundhati Roy

Friday, July 10, 2009

In memory of my beloved camera

I am deeply saddened to inform all of you of the untimely disappearance of my Sony Cybershot. I dedicate this post to its memory.

To my first digital camera

For giving me perspective and vision.

P.S: Advice on how i should have been careful or on what to do next is not welcome.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Anandwan- The forest of joy

Picture courtesy Anandwan Website.

“A human figure-just bone and flesh -was lying on the side of the road. A human body without any vital signs of life. It was merely a form. There were maggots wriggling in the wounds all over the body…Fear gripped Babas mind for the first time. He felt at once fear, disgust and repulsion. At that moment the only thought was to run away as fast as he could. But as he recovered from the shock, he threw a piece of sackcloth over his body and walked home. How shall I describe that chance encounter? I can only say that it was an encounter with what you would call the ‘ugly’, the ‘repulsive’, the ‘ghastly’ and the ‘piteous’. Leprosy was the name for it.”

This sudden encounter with Tulsiram as recalled by Sadhnatai is what led Baba Amte to start the Maharogi Sewa Samiti in 1949. Tucked away in a remote corner of Maharashtra in the village of Warora breathes MSS first project, Anandwan- the forest of joy. Nursing Tulsiram was just the beginning. Till today thousands of bruised souls and bodies have found solace in this forest of joy.
Take the example of Kalpana Meshram. At the age of 35 when she discovered she had leprosy she harboured thoughts of jumping in the well and ending her life. For three years after she developed leprosy she continued living in Nagpur trying to hold onto her job in a tailors shop while trying to deal with the trauma of her own family distancing themselves from her. It was during this period of utter consternation that she heard of Anandwan. Today she has a job in the Anandwan mess and a regained sense of dignity and self respect. That the job pays in monetary terms as well is a fringe benefit. For shelter, food, healthcare, electricity, water and education are all taken care of by the institution.

What Baba Amte and Sadhnatai gave birth to has today groomed into a thriving community under the guidance of Dr.Vikas Amte. The industrial unit has expanded to include units of power looms to leather works. The disfigured hands and feet that society rejected are today running departments ranging from handlooms, carpentry, fabrication, and tailoring etc. The products manufactured at these workshops not only place Anandwan at the verge of self sufficiency but also have a demand outside. The agricultural produce too is consumed within the community and the surplus is sold in the market.
What is overwhelming is not the facts and figures that go behind these units. Or the economics that is applicable here. Or the number of beds in their hospital. Yes, these feats are important too but it is the spirit of the place that truly stands out. Everyone in Anandwan, age permitting, is contributing in keeping the community alive in some way. Regardless of the number of toes they have or if they can see or not, no one is living on charity. They toil day and night to keep alive this wonderful world they have created for themselves. More importantly the strength the members demonstrate is awe inspiring. It disturbs moves and compels one to action.
Miracles abound in Anandwan. Pinky whose hands are challenged makes cards with her feet. Malini who lost all her fingers to leprosy runs errands on her bicycle. Swaranand, the orchestra consists of instrumentalists who are blind and dancers who are deaf. Yet they hit the right notes and the steps to go with it. It is perhaps the labour of love Sadhnatai mentions in Samidha that casts such magic.

Even after their treatment was over society refused to accept leprosy patients. MSS responded to this by extending into various projects where the cured patients could be rehabilitated. In Somnath families are farming on their independent lands. Mohammad Kaka a patient of leprosy has prevented many farmers from committing suicides in Zari Zamini. Some others are conducting experiments in small dams. Some have helped Dr.Prakash and Mandakini Amte in Hemalkasa to continue their remarkable work with the Madia Gond tribals. There is no end to the list.

Times were not always so good. Right from the beginning of the pilgrimage that Baba and Tai undertook there were several obstacles to overcome. They came in various forms- financial difficulties, health problems, lack of doctors etc. When they started out all they had was a hut in the middle of a jungle and scorpions and snakes as uninvited guests.

Today Anandwan has achieved a level of 45% of self sufficiency. For the rest it is still dependant on donations. For it to have reached such heights a dedicated team was a must. This need is today fulfilled with the presence of Dr.Vikas, Dr. Pol, Dr. Bharti, Prabhu kaka, Sathe kaka and kaustubh sir amongst many others.

Places can awaken emotions. Anandwan does that, in a positive sense. But to capture and confine those emotions into words is an impossible task. Another aspect of Anandwan is that it heals not only the body but the mind and soul too. So regardless of whether you are in need of medical help or not take that trip to the little forest. For it will heal you in places you didn’t even know were wounded at.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

Reservations on reservation

On April 2006 an idea was proposed by the government of India to pass a law which would provide for 27% reservation for OBCs in educational institutes. That then led to the awakening of a generation to champion the cause of social justice. Before this, so committed were they to live up to the notion of merit that not once did they allow the numerous opportunities to rebel against injustice to distract them. But that wouldn’t do any more. How else were they to do justice to their merit then?
Protests were organised and sloganeering was the in thing to do. The Rang De Basanti generation was here. After all how could they tolerate the discriminatory petty class politics of our politicians? Agreed that the motivation factor was provided by the vote banks .But like Yogendra Yadav puts it “Even the politicians who led the Indian Nationalist struggle were not always motivated by lofty ideals”. The law independent of who proposed it and why, does contribute to the larger collective good. Historically, the OBCs have been denied space in educational as well as professional areas. The National Sample Survey supports this argument with statistics that show that among every 1000 upper caste Hindus every 253 were graduates. Among the OBCs this figure is 86 per 1000.
Classes were cancelled and armed with colourful posters the revolutionaries took to the streets. The proposed law was disrespectful to the sanctity of merit. It was claimed that merit was a form of purity above all caste and class lines. What they fail to understand is that merit is dictated by ones social and economical environment. Considering the kind of marginalisation the OBCs have faced on these fronts it is obvious that the kind of resources they have access to in terms of education and otherwise has been substandard to say the least. How is merit then a measurement of equality?
Refusing to accept caste discrimination the determined braved the water cannons to make their voices heard. After all it’s a democracy. Why can’t reservations be made on an economical basis? Well, because reservations are not meant to be a poverty alleviation programme. They are meant to address issues of double discrimination of caste and class. Caste is considered to be an indicator of not only social and economic hierarchy but also of educational disadvantages due to their close interlinks. The poor are likely to be lower caste and the rich the upper caste. Caste is measured to be the single best predictor of educational opportunities if the other factors of social and economical conditions are kept in mind.
Effigies of Mr.Arjun Singh were swallowed by a fire fanned by millions across the country. Him and others supporting his stand were constantly asked “Would you get yourself treated from a doctor who got her/ his degree because of the accident of her/his birth and not merit”? Simple enough. Reservations allow people to have access to seats in educational institutes. However, every student regardless of her/his caste has to qualify in the same examination to obtain the degree.
Reservation and nation building are not antithetical to each other. But nor can reservation alone be the solution to the layered educational problems faced by India. Quotas are a mechanism of attending to the problem at one level. However, they need to be backed by strong infrastructural support and remedial classes to enable the reserved category students to draw level with the rest of the class. This will help in preventing dropouts and come closest to providing them with a fair platform on level with the rest of their class. Reservations are not an end in themselves. The gaps will be bridged only if this move is complimented by the strengthening of access and quality of primary education.

Friday, March 20, 2009


On quiet days and busy nights my thoughts are stolen. They are filled with the smell of the early morning sun on tamarind trees and of stars story-telling on a clear dark blue sky. Pretty little hills close in on my thoughts, until I have no escape.
Confined, I climb the hills. Perched on top of the valley, the breeze whispers stories into my ears. Stories the banyan tree has witnessed or the lost pond has found. Then I see them, walking down the gate and over the first bridge. As they snail down the road, some giggling and some staring at the distant sliding rock, a halo surrounds them. Innocence flows around it.
Bicycles whiz across on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The foot of astachal serving as a starting point, like always. Two of them halt at the big banyan tree. They lie down on the cold, rough stone benches to stare at the hanging roots, the large leaves and the fat trunk. Beyond that they see the blue sky with golden streaks staring down at them. Words, giggles, tears and laughter…the big banyan tree the sole spectator. Or so they think.
I see him perched on top of the guava tree, scanning the branches for a full, ripe guava to throw down at his friend. They collect a few and settle down by the edge of the orchard, chewing on the fruit as they stare at the hills. Some are picking on the carrots while the rest are pleading with the anna for some good sugarcane. Anna, happily obliges.
A distant whistle call. The song “Hey jagdata vishva vidhata” trails us for a while. The joggers move past it to stop only in an open field.
I see her as she walks down the tar road towards the K tree. The crunching leaves sigh under her feet as though relieved of pain. However, it is her whose movement is graced with a visible lightness with every step.
I want to walk down the hill, carefully this time, lest I fall and hurt myself again.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The black river is blue

Rivers are generally blue. The Yamuna is black, at least at Quadasia ghat. I am ignorant of the numbers dealing with the Yamuna-its age, length, maintenance cost etc. All that matters is that we are all killing it, slowly but surely. Industrial waste, our daily garbage (unnecessary bottles of Kinley, Coca cola and Reliance poly bags) and the city’s shit, literally, is fed to the Yamuna. A little too forcefully.
A few days ago a campaign was organised to clean up the Yamuna. Citizens of Delhi picked up the spade and shovel and got to work. It is impossible to manually clean up the mess we have created of the Yamuna. This was an attempt to create awareness and apply pressure for governmental action in this regard.
I decided to do my bit. Lifting the shovel with all my might, flinging it into the river and dragging it out with a load of crap was a strange feeling. Carrying the heavy tray brimming with reeking squander was a reminder of the burden we have cast on the silent river. This was an initiative towards setting things right. Cleaning the Yamuna manually, pulling stubborn plastic pieces with my hands and tiring myself out only seemed fair. Four days later when my body continued to ache it still seemed fair. A week later, when only the shoe bites from the gum boots remain it still seems fair. I have contributed to the pollution in the Yamuna. I better clear it up. Cleaning the Yamuna felt extremely natural, like cutting overgrown nails. But the black river, a stark contrast below the blue, reeked of mutilation.
This experience was my first brush with manual labour. Of course, in those rubber boots and gloves it was a far cry from ground reality. Yet, it was painful. I couldn’t push myself beyond that one hour. Lakhs of labourers are exposed to worse working conditions for long hours and are underpaid for the same. The hot water bath that I came back to only reemphasised the injustice in our social systems. Meanwhile, we create the mess ,others clean it up. Life goes on.