Month: January 2015

Vishu, the auto guy: Aspirations, and Jaipur

JLF’15 was all planned out and spoken about- my train had almost arrived and I dialled his number from my phone. “Pick me up from my hotel at 11.45,” I told him. He said he would have to shift around a bit of time, but it could be managed- I nodded satisfactorily.

Standing tall, Vishu walked towards us in a dapper, sky blue waistcoat, white trousers, brown loafers and glaring blue aviators. He walked with a gracious smile, a little pomp in his strut, a little spring in his step, as if almost anticipating our reactions, and especially waiting for the first-timers I had gotten along. As our mouths fell open, he held out his hand, and in his characteristic laugh, greeted us with a Welcome to Jaipur.

In 2014, at the time of my annual pilgrimage to Jaipur for the literature festival, on a cold day buttered with warm sunshine, I took an auto, from Diggi Palace, where the festival is held, to my hotel. Call it what you will, it was just my luck that of all the autos running in this tourist-y city, I had to take the one driven by one of the coolest people one could ever come across.

Vishu drives an auto around Jaipur, an auto which he likes to call his Ferrari. He speaks in a manner that would put most talk show hosts to shame, and has a high-pitched, taunting laugh, which gets even more scornful if he doesn’t approve of something. He speaks almost fluent English, and has picked up a lot of phrases from other languages courtesy the foreign tourists who frequent Jaipur. “I’m a celebrity,” he tells me, and when I first make the mistake of giving him a sceptical look, he hands me a magazine, the page opened to an article in which he has been featured. I look at him in astonishment; he smirks.

He tells me I’m very lucky to have gotten a ride in his auto, and I agree with him- he carries around that magazine everywhere, to disprove people who dare doubt him. He keeps his auto immaculately clean, drawing and fastening the curtains on each side, so as to protect his customers from the Jaipur nip. “All my foreigner friends point at me and say good things when I walk in,” he says and I nod along. He says he prefers foreign tourists in his auto- “Indians are always late, you know.” If you tell him to reach at 11.45, he will more often than not, reach five minutes earlier. Vishu too registers himself for the literature festival and holds a participant pass. While driving his auto, he scoffs at auto drivers who break traffic rules unnecessarily- “He’s a stupid”, he tell us. He knows all the shortcuts in the city and will drop you at the point where it’s most comfortable for his customers.

Last year as we were exiting Diggi Palace, Vishu spotted Kabir Bedi standing near the gate, and turned towards us. “Look at that!” he said. Instead of the usual excitement that other people might hold, Vishu burst into laughter and upon being asked why he was laughing, he said he found it funny that Kabir Bedi was standing all by himself and people passed by him without giving him a second look. With confidence, he stopped the auto near him and said, “Hello, sir”, and my friend and I waved frantically from the back, trying to diffuse the awkwardness. He also treated the two of us to tea, considering we spent a lot of time with him, and laughed incessantly at all his jokes. Once I returned to Delhi, he called me regularly, every few weeks, to keep in touch.

This year, I was excited to make my friends meet Vishu, and once everyone finally overcame the surprise and got settled in his auto, we began discussing which talks we might want to attend that day. As soon as we reach, we will check out the schedule, I said and Vishu, overhearing my remark, promptly hands me the schedule, which he carries around for the ease of his customers. Once we reach, he also makes us meet his father, who is anxious and proud for his son, at the same time hoping he would fit in the festival without trouble. He need not have worried.

On one of the nights, after all the literary festivities of the day were over and we had settled ourselves in front of a live band, I went to get some beer and pizza and while waiting, looked over at our table: there was Vishu, sitting coolly along with my friends at our table, his legs crossed as he appeared to be listening intently. He caught my eye and I waved at him, laughing. I brought over the pizzas on the table and asked him to help himself- he thanked me politely, and took a slice, chewing and listening to music. We could be proponents of all sorts of equality, but in a society like ours where certain professions are so stigmatized, you would need a robust kind of confidence, and a strong sense of security to remain so relaxed.

Vishu, for me, is endlessly fascinating not because he breaches the socially acceptable codes of conduct, or attempts to rise above his ascribed class, and not even because he tells me I’m getting a photo with a celebrity, when I ask him for a picture. He is fascinating because within himself, he represents the aspirational values of the entire country. I want to join politics one day, he had told us, and it would be foolhardy of me to doubt his ambition.

Rajdeep Sardesai said in his talk, “Aspiration is the one thing that unites the whole of India”, and Vishu is the perfect example of that. He has dreams, ambitions and aspirations, and he tries to achieve them by emulating people of a class he deems higher, and by learning to speak English- that is the great beauty, and the great curse, of our democracy and capitalism. It has created a country of youth filled with aspirations, but without adequate platforms for their fulfilment. It has created the greatest working class population, but little opportunities for them to work. It has created people hungry for change, for dreams, for a chance to work and optimize life- but at a loss to understand how to go about it.

He is India, in all its glory, in the millions of beating hearts, an India which strives to go make its mark. And just like Vishu, we might end up realizing, that this is a place where it is easy to be left behind, so we must train ourselves, groom ourselves, and more importantly, love ourselves in an effort to atleast strive towards our aspirations, come what may be, and in the process, perhaps charm a person or two.

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Vote for Kejriwal because…

….
He can take a joke: Arvind Kejriwal may be many things he ought not to be, and may not be many things he ought to be, but in the filth and sleaze of Indian politics, he is a man who can take a joke, and delightfully so. Seeing his quintessential muffler around his neck, the social media in Delhi began calling him MufflerMan, a term that no doubt excited BJP, probably revelling in the consolation that finally something came along that would cause people to dismiss him as a joke. Little did they know that Kejriwal would take it in good spirit, using #MufflerMan for himself, and selling MufflerMan hoodies on his Facebook page to raise funds for his political campaign.
His innovations in campaigning: Decades old political parties could take a leaf out of Kejriwal’s book about how to campaign with limited resources. As soon as he came in the political foray, Kejriwal launched aggressive political campaigning tactics that did not need expenditure of black money, incentives of liquor, and guns to the head. He raises money through selfies, and asks for donations transparently. He campaigns through flashmobs and nukkad nataks, phone calls and radio ads. Kejriwal’s autos were a huge success: they carried his messages across the city, without paying a single penny.
He is the only leader who has actually acknowledged his mistake in taking a misguided decision: His decision to quit as the CM of Delhi was widely criticized, as people called him the runaway minister. After a point of time, Kejriwal accepted as what was deemed a mistake, and has promised to not do the same thing again. In fact, a BJP sponsored ad on radio sounds a woman feeling betrayed by Kejriwal after volunteering for him, and hence now declares that she will vote for BJP, is repudiated by a clever ad from Kejriwal who assures the same woman that all he needs is another chance to come back with full majority. His slogan 5 Saal Kejriwal promises that despite what might have happened the last time, this time Kejriwal is here to stay.
How many leaders in Indian politics have accepted a mistake?
His resignation as CM does not warrant his complete dismissal: The very fact that people were disappointed about his resignation signifies that he held potential, and that people believed in him. Kejriwal resigning the first time does not discount his skills as a leader. Now if he is committing as strongly as he is to electoral politics, another chance for Kejriwal is due. Wins and losses are a part of politics, and Kejriwal must be considered once more, without the baggage of the last elections. It really is the time to sit back and think whether one wrong decision is really worse than ministers engaging in corruption for years.
He actually has a plan: Kejriwal and his party have laid out a clear, mandated plan for Delhi– chief actions needed to be taken for women’s security, point-wise plans for electricity generation in Delhi, separate plan of action for the youth. One can actually scroll down their Facebook page and get a good understanding of their policies for Delhi. BJP and the Congress, on the other hand, have remained more or less mute about their policies, which just implies that it’s going to be the same old, and nothing much will change, under Congress or BJP rule. While AAP jots down agendas, BJP is busy covering Modi’s entire pathway with saffron flowers.
His reaction to getting slapped: Rewind to April 2014, when an autorickshaw driver slapped Kejriwal, supposedly feeling betrayed by Kejriwal running away from his position as the chief minister. On the pretext of garlanding him, the autorickshaw driver got close to Kejriwal and slapped him hard, leaving him with a swollen eye. How did Kejriwal tackle the issue? By sending a bunch of goons to destroy his attacker’s house and beat up his family? By banning media houses from spreading that news? No. He visited the autorickshaw driver at his house, gifting him a bouquet of flowers, to make peace. One need only think of how a BJP or Congress minister would respond to such an incident. It doesn’t denote a loss of respect for the person being attacked, for a few thousand rupees are temptation enough for a lot of people to carry out such an attack. It is the person’s reaction to such an attack that is really reflective of his future reputation.
While it is easy to say that giving flowers to the person who slapped you is not exactly best way to deal with a situation, it is a move of calculated diplomacy, well worth a man of the stature of a minister.
He changed the face of Indian politics: One can talk about Modi becoming the Prime Minister from being a chaiwalla, but it must not be forgotten that Kejriwal, a complete newbie, in a stellar achievement, was able to beat Sheila Dixit who had had been the chief minister in Delhi for more than a decade, in merely six months, something which was almost unprecedented in Indian political history. If this is not hard work, I don’t know what is.
He is accessible: When the Aam Aadmi Party came into the picture, for the very first time, an opportunity was presented wherein the common student could ‘intern’ in the party, or volunteer for it easily. AAP presents multiple options and ways in which you can campaign and contribute to the party, and with ease. Anybody can go understand the workings of a political party, all thanks to the accessibility created by Kejriwal and AAP.
His politics is transparent, or atleast more so than the other contendors: AAP claims that it can give a record of every rupee used in campaigning. While one can never say how much of that claim holds, he introduced the concept of transparency in political funding at a time when gross misdemeanours in political campaigning were taken as completely normal. Here is an article that actually explains AAP’s funding: http://scroll.in/article/700261/AAP%27s-fund-raising:-Six-charts-about-how-much-they%27re-getting-and-where-it%27s-coming-from
His use of social media: In a world where everything is going digital, Kejriwal has been able to use social media to his great advantage, may it be Facebook or Twitter. Their pages are updated more than regularly, and contain relevant links and information, besides promoting their own agendas.
And let’s face it, there really is something about Arvind- he’s been the most talked about man in the past two years.

Being a Sport

It was late afternoon and the metro was warm and cosy; the crowd was suddenly your friend, and the otherwise incessant chatter like the caress of a soft hum. The ‘general’ compartment was filling up fast, and noticing the last empty seat, he rushed, quicker than his friends, and sat; sighed, leaned his head against the back, relaxed his feet. Loosened, shuffled, and opened his eyes again.

When he saw his friends sniggering, nudging at each other. “It’s for ladies only,” they said, pointing at the green sign above the seat. “Perfect for you.” He shook his head at their taunts, smiling back sarcastically in return, but worried inside- should I get up? It’s peak time, some woman was bound to claim her seat. Yet, he wanted to enjoy those few minutes of rest just as he wanted to join his mates, stand up, be their equal. So he sat back.

The doors opened.

She entered, wearing a bright orange jacket, straight hair, laptop bag in one hand and a large handbag in the other. She scanned the compartment, and finding all seats occupied, plonked her bags on the floor, held the railing and stood facing him.

His friends laughed louder.

Ab toh uthna padhega,” they said. Now you will have to get up. Urging, jeering, laughing. He could not ignore them and more importantly, he could not ignore her and her right; bhaisahab, he would hear soon, uthenge zara. He closed his eyes for one more second, relishing in the stillness, and then opened them determinedly, resigning to his fate.

He half-rose.

Baithiye, baithiye” she said, laughing loudly, touching his shoulders, forcing him to sit down at what he believed had been reserved against him. Surprised, he settled back down, looking at her bags, his friends, and then at her. Her laugh was sparkle, her eyes playful- she glanced back reproachfully at his friends who were jeering even more loudly now. Smiling mischievously, shaking her head as if to say, nice friends.

In a bit, he relaxed again and his eyes shut, oblivious to the ladies only seat, to the lady who stood in front of him and her rightful seat, to the “doors will open on the right”, and leaned back in peace, in contentment.

Is it love at first sight? No.

Her magnanimity? Not really.

This

is spirit. Spontaneity. Love and cheer, on a cold, January day.

In the sweat and grime, hostility and spite, in the rat race, in the overpopulation and the muck and pushes and impatience, it is being a breath of fresh air.

This is what, is called being a sport.

What is the Good Life?

I mean to explore this question in a manner that seeks to gain an understanding of what being successful entails, and what we think of when we set life goals, where we hope to end up once we have crossed this particular stretch of time characterized by the so-called hard work- is it a way of life we envision for ourselves, a luxurious household and a life full of amenities and comforts? Or is it the search for a time where we could be less conflicted, more confident and fairly self-actualized? Or could it possibly be the aspiration of a good family, cultured behaviour and a life that was lived best in terms of relationships maintained?

The ‘Good Life’, in this age, like in every other age, would comprise such multitudes of answers that no spectrum would ever be able to contain the diversity. It could mean a good career for some, and a good family life for others- a bellyful of dinner for some, and pina coladas on a sandy beach for the others. Sometimes, it may come to mean the return to those old times, a nostalgic longing that one finds so difficult to shake off and at other times, it could imply a vision for the future yet to come, an age you can’t wait to be. A white picket fence, abundant wealth, the desire for middle class-ness, of education and stability, of love and luck, the chance to go back and undo that one little mistake- it could mean an escape from war, to live in peace at the place which you call home, an office at the swanky, new building in the town. The Good Life could measure your success in terms of what you contribute to the public society, or by the meter of your children’s achievement. Such is the elasticity of the Good Life.

A few years ago, I could not comprehend lack of ambition, the absence of a defining goal, the absence of knowing what you want out of life. As a child you’re taught to aim high: say you will be like Sachin Tendulkar, beta, the father says, say you will be an astronaut and fly into space. Nobody grows up thinking they will be a state level cricket player, or a simple agent at a tourism office. It is only in the lure of stability, and the kicking in of practicalities, that plans change.

Middle school teacher, she told me, I want to be a middle school teacher as I stared at her disbelief. What is the point of all this education, I thought to myself, of all the resources and the talks about life- is there a point to all this? But now I think, maybe, what is the problem in aiming for the usual, the path oft-taken, the vicinity to the comfort and security of the people you desire, and the unchallenged spirit? Of opening a little clinic, waking up late, chatting with your regulars, of being a middle school teacher and preoccupying yourself with the next maths test, of waking up, doing your chores and sitting to paint, without a higher purpose of being a great artist? As long as you can maximise the good times, and minimize the tumultuous ones, lead a happy healthy life full of food and love and laughter.

At the end of the day, they say, it all depends on what you want out of life. The Greek hero Achilles faced the dilemma of glory against love, and ambition against family and he chose the former- he went down in history as one of the greatest warriors, but never could enjoy that glory. He lost out on a lived life, a life filled with all sorts of emotions, but he gained the familiarity and the awe of generations yet unborn.

If it all depends on what you want out of life, then there can be no standards, no American milestones to cross by the age of twenty-five, no approvals needed for one to have really lived life, no visa stamps to prove the refinement of the mind. None is worse than the other, maybe, when it comes to ways of life, and since we are all savages in the end, no way of life better than the other.

Loiter

She posed a question quite simple, in a lecture that digressed without meaning to as often lectures do, posing a question quite simple: can women loiter? Can women loiter, I thought to myself, and the very thought seemed strange- loiter? How? Do what in that? And why? What does ‘loitering’ even imply? A quick Google search will tell you that it means to ‘stand or wait around without apparent purpose’. To saunter, to dawdle, or as more commonly known in today’s time, to hang around. To loiter, at street corners and park corners, near the panwaadi or a metro station, at chaiwallahs and roadside parapets, to loiter near benches and taxi stands, bus stations and train stations, on motorbikes, terraces, and the liquor stores. Liquor stores- a different ball game altogether. A single woman, or two perhaps, hell three or four even

On dark wintry evenings enjoying a hot cup of chai.

Stopping by a paraanthewalla or the Maggi guy, after a late night movie.

Stepping out to 24/7, in case of midnight munchies.

Linger at the edge of a park, and gawk at guys as they walk by.

Stand and chat with a rickshaw puller.

Think of the last time you saw a woman/women doing that.

The next on my reading list is a book called Why Loiter, which theorizes the exclusion of women from public space. Much needed.