Tag Archives: India

Everybody Loves a Good Drought – A Book Review

Everybody Loves a Good Drought
Everybody Loves a Good Drought

If there is a book which every literate Indian must read, and among those, each and every one in Government Service, it should be this. Not because it is a piece of work like nothing else, is a literary genius or is one of those books you cant keep down despite lack of time (not that it is wanting on any of these parameters), but because this book shows the extent of poverty strewn across this vast country’s remote villages in terms of not numbers but people.

That India is a poor country is no hidden fact, but in how many varied forms this poverty manifests itself is mind numbing to say the least. The author has brilliantly and more importantly, without wanting to cause sensation, brought forward the “sensational” stories from the remotest hamlets of the nation out in the open.

Development schemes worth hundreds of crores of rupees meant to benefit those whose needs the state is neither aware of nor bothered about can be thought of as the central theme of the compelling narrative. Some stories worth mentioning are – extinction of Khariar bulls (almost) in name of development, a road to nowhere, one brother being given the tribe certificate while the other denied of the same thanks to the bureaucratic apathy, thriving business of quacks in villages, loaning cattle to tribes who would rather eat the oxen then milk the cows, bonded labour and water lords and on and on and on.

Issues relating to non-education, development induced displacement, unemployment, landlessness, migration, alienation, debt cycles, hunger, draught and if not for the seriousness of the topic, the comic draught relief have been presented through the processes leading to these outcomes as opposed to only the grim end-picture.

The book is heavy, in terms of the content it brings forward. Awareness and sensitisation are the first steps to any form of action towards anything. And this book makes one aware of the right things, the processes and the vicious cycle of development and poverty. I recommend everyone to read this, but with a fair warning, this may leave you depressed, sad and helpless in the face of so many unknown devils which I shudder to count and face.

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ACBE1 Nilgiri Knights

It was 22nd of Jan 2010, around 3 PM. I was sneaking out of office to attend a friend’s wedding that night. Must have been about 6 PM by the time I got the gift, 7:30 by the time I reached her place, 9 by the time I got ready and reached the venue and midnight by the time we were done with greetings and dinner. Reached my place at around 1:30 AM and took as much time in getting ready for the bed as I did to get ready for the function courtesy the dress I was wearing for the second time in my life – a sari. Wondering why I am mentioning time all the time? Well that’s because this is how my nonstop, hilarious, amusing, wonderful, memorable journey as the one of the Nilgiri knights began!

I was headed to a 10 day camp to the beautiful Nilgiris. I was supposed to catch an 8:30 AM flight the next morning for which I started off from my place at 6:00 AM. I was frantically praying to God to help me reach the airport in time. But alas, God had different plans. My flight to Coimbatore was coming from Delhi in the month of January, which I conveniently forgot. The flight was delayed by one, two, three, four, five hours!! Waiting time five times longer than the actual travelling time after having been deprived of sleep and rest was adding to my irritation borne out of hunger as I had obviously skipped my breakfast. Just as I was about to bug the airport personnel for the tenth time in the last ten minutes, they stared serving McD burgers to satiate our anger more than our hunger. I happily picked up one and lo! There it was, my most liked, adored and admired part of food – an onion slice! I ran to the rest room to vomit gracefully and Spice Jet chose that very moment to land. I ran to the check in counter and was finally welcomed aboard! The travel time was spent sleeping and I woke up only when we reached Coimbatore.

In spite of this lovely start, the moment my feet touched the campus ground, I felt an insurge of energy and enthusiasm in me. There they were – forty odd smiling faces from ten different nationalities huddled together waiting for the next presentation. What happened in that presentation was – well never mind! My purpose today is to entertain you and not bore you to sleep. But I must say, presentations without Microsoft power point are the best. In there you can at least get away by saying that you had your eyes closed to concentrate better, but here you had to have your eyes peeled open for power point slides. However, what did keep you awake were the residents of our base camp, each one a unique personality.

  1. Neeraj from Nepal, who made sure everyone woke up at 5 because of his loud tooth brushing
  2. Mohammed from Libya, who could be seen drying his camera with a hair dryer after he accidentally dropped it in the loo.
  3. Shariar was from Bangladesh, but his telephone services were international, connecting people from UK, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Libya and where not!
  4. Keren from Sri Lanka would be seen capturing everything from her reflection in someone’s sunglasses to the anthills in the ground in the most artistic fashion in her awesome, huge, enviable camera.
  5. Larrissa from Germany was soon the most sought after girl courtesy her beauty and innocence.
  6. Zhao from China was a dear who would teach us saying Nihaal and other musical Chinese words. Once we had a camping lunch and unfortunately the spoons were missing. This guy would take rice in his hand and drop it from at least 6 inches above to his mouth. Obviously, more food was on the floor than in his mouth. Pitying him, our own Jagjeet singh Gautam, was about to teach him the mallu way of eating when we thought of a different plan. We told him to use his fingers as chopsticks and have rice grain by grain. Well you can imagine the lunch scenario 🙂
  7. Dina from Norway was a social science student and asked me the population of Coimbatore on our way back to the resort where we were staying when I realized it is advisable to be prepared for the camps you attend.
  8. Angshuman (popularly Angu) made sure everyone shed some pounds jumping up and down as required in Bihu Dance

We used to travel for hours in our two buses. PJs and self composed surangini song was the best time pass we could have ever evolved. Sashank first introduced the concept of PJ. Pointing to his left hand, he asked, why did Gandhiji never eat with this hand? His reply came, “Because it is my hand!” Whether you call it a phenomenal joke or a poor joke, it spread like wildfire around the camp. Bharadwaj and Archana had a whole library of PJs. Creative juices were flowing and people began composing their own PJs often reflecting the place we were in. At the elephant feeding centre in Mudumalai, Samhita came up with this little gem: “Q: How do elephants transfer data? A: They switch on their ivory tooth!” My favorite were Sardarji jokes. I started off with this PJ – Sardarji was sunbathing on the beach. Lifeguard asks him, “Are you relaxing?” He replied, “No I am Kuldeep Singh.” I remember Anu ma’am’s ant joke as it was super-duper cute. Three ants were walking in a straight line. The first one said that there were two ants behind it. The middle one said that there was one in front and one behind. The third one said that there are two in front and two behind. How come? Her punch line came, “The third ant was lying!” There were countless moments of fun between spotting bears, deer’s, elephants, peacocks and eagles on the treks, looking at the folded mountains with your own eyes with eagles reigning the sky, wandering in the virgin sholas of Nilgiris, treading the paths to Mukurthi, Ooty, Mudhumalai and what not. This experience was one I will never forget and will cherish throughout my life. I hope you get motivated with the same and plan an eco/ laugh trek soon!!

Random Musings on a Train Journey

Sitting on the window side of a sleeper berth, while going from Ranchi to Bokaro, in the skin parching and lip cracking heat , I wonder at a question, I read in the book that I am currently reading. what is India? Who is an Indian? How are we alike as citizens of a common country? 

An Indian Trains's Sleeper Coach

It is so difficult to relate to those women bathing in the pond by the railway station (Khalida, was it?). There is another woman sitting on the same berth as me, feet dirty, heels cracked, hair cut in the “boy style”, face as though unwashed since at least a few days, wearing a cream-colored sari with a dull brick reddish-orange border, flowers printed on it. She is wearing her blouse inside out. She has a bag, a polythene and a worn out sweater as her luggage and she is singing a song in a language which I do not understand. The TT hasn’t asked for her ticket. Does he think she is mad too? And then there are herds of cows and buffaloes in the pond, trying to defeat the heat somehow. How do I relate to these countless people selling tea, jhal-muri, cucumber, paan masala and so on in the train? Where do they board the train? Where do they get down? Where do they actually live? How much money do they make? Does it suffice? The woman I just talked about, said aloud, all the alphabets, A-Z, I don’t know to whom? I don’t know why? Its strange, the amount of questions a mere glance at the world around you can fill you with. There are plug points in this train, one each for approximately four seats, so that cell phones can be charged. And I am forced to think of the places where there is yet to be electricity. That can’t seem right to anyone. or does it? I have this sudden urge to get down somewhere near such a settlement. And talk to the people there. I want to know what do they think about. Is their life simple? Their thoughts untroubled? Do they sleep early? What do they do the whole day? The cattle. I am sure rearing the cattle must be a time-consuming and tedious task. Or is it just my notion? Do they enjoy their lives? Or do they envy ours? or maybe pity ours? The woman beside me is clapping her hands and smiling. It seems as though she is looking at someone or something, I can’t see what. But the fact that she can be so happy or oblivious to her surroundings or so carefree, makes me want to prod her. But I hold myself back. I don’t know why. Am I coward? Am I shy? Am I too proud? Maybe I will never know. I am waiting for my station, Bokaro. I will get down there to catch another train to Delhi. Even the train to Delhi would be different, forget the life. It is much more shiny, noisy, crowded, much more made up. And yet it is so much more inviting. Does that seem right? Or is it as perplexing to every one as it is to me. I should stop now. My station may come anytime. Rather, I will reach there anytime now. I should be ready to get down soon. I don’t know how long would the train stop there. And I want to look out of the window. Not intermittently like I have been doing so far while writing. But giving the hinterlands my full attention. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because I might be a dot in this hinterland sometime. So long!