Monday, May 15, 2017

For the people??

I had set out this morning, in peace and calmness, to write bad things about my mother. It was going so well that I felt, perhaps I should actually turn it into a novel. And for people who know what a novel is, you will know that it is impossible to write it in those 45 minutes you have till your 2 year old child wakes up from the last leg of her night long short naps. So I decided to take a break. I thought I would resume writing badly about my mother once I am done with my day and the 2 year old resumes nightly naps.

But I made a mistake. I went to two Guwahati Municipal Corporation offices. Yes, you heard me right. TWO. And all you will get is this raving rant about the system once more.

For reasons inexplicable logically and logistically, I have started two businesses at the same time. Both of these are things I have dreamt about doing forever – a small coffee shop and a small shop that sell all kinds of cool non-mainstream, environment and socially conscious products.  For everything else this is like dream come true. But when dreams need licenses, it does not take long to turn into nightmares.

It took me 4 months, at least 12 visits to the GMC office in Fancy Bazar, to get a trade license for the coffee shop. We had all papers in place. But I refused to pay bribe or ask my relative who is a relatively big boss at GMC for help. You see one of the bad things my parents gave me is this nearly self-destructive trait to be honest and demand honesty. Till now, I had never paid bribe and I do not call people I know in high places to get things done. The guys kept on sending me back asking for a different paper each time I went and then their boss was not there to sign it and then the clerk’s daughter was getting married. In the end I paid the bribe and had to ask the relative for help.

This is not the happy ending still. The trade license I applied for in the month of October, I received in late February. It was valid till end of March. A bank loan I have been asking for had to wait for the trade license. In March I could not get the bank loan as they were closing the financial year. In April, I had to apply for a fresh bank loan which required a fresh trade license. So I am back at GMC, Fancy Bazar office again!

The GMC, Fancy Bazar office, by the way, is the office for registering life, death and health. Which means all food related businesses have to register here. If you see the building from a distance, you will fall sick. If you enter it without having a health insurance, be sure some of your bank balance is going to be transferred to a medical company very soon. It has not seen a coat of paint since India got independence; it is stained with the red spittle that is the symbol of our culture and heritage. It is dark, dingy and smelly.

So, I am back at this smelly hole of meanness and money grabbing in less than 6 weeks of making those 12 trips to get a license. Today, was my third trip. In the first trip I was given a form and list of documents which included a certificate that says I dispose my garbage to the bin, whose original they kept the last time. That certificate is valid till October this year. But they tell me I have to get the same certificate again. From GMC. The second time I went with all the papers, they told me the process of issuing trade license is temporarily on hold. I need to come back after 27th April. Each time, I wait at their office for hours, for the concerned official, sometimes for him to arrive at office, sometimes to finish chatting with his colleague, sometimes to finish his tea, sometimes to eat his lunch, to take a toilet break and mostly for him to kindly look up from his file he is pretending to work on and answer my questions.

Today, after waiting for two hours till 11.50am, I asked the lone guy who seemed to be doing his job, when the other people are going to come. He said he does not know anything as that is a separate section although they sit in the same room. In the end, I extracted it from a peon and another person who seemed a regular like me at the GMC office that the process of issuing license is still on hold. The government will be moving this license issuing business to the zonal offices. An official order about this has not been passed, but till the order is passed there will be no work.

Wait! I told you I visited two GMC offices! The other one is on Zoo Road. The Zonal Office! I have to go to this office to get a trade license for the store. Today was my third time in this office too. First time I went with all the papers and a form I had downloaded from their website. The website clearly said this is the form I need to submit. The official told me - no, the downloaded form won’t work. So he gave me the same form which was printed in a different font size and told me I have to come back the next day. The next day, I waited for half an hour near his table watching him negotiate his bribe with one after another party. He ignored me completely while I waited patiently for him to acknowledge my presence and take the form from me. He did this with utmost disdain towards me once he had no more bribe to take. He told me, leave the form here, we will be going to inspect your place and then only we will give you a license. I ask him, how long will that take? He tells me he cannot tell me that. I asked him for some acknowledgement that I have submitted the form, a number where I can follow up. He throws back the bunch of paper at me and tells me – make photocopies of all the papers and bring them back tomorrow. I will sign one copy and give them to you. So, I called my relative again. I was told to meet with the head in that office directly. Today I went there for the third time, walked in proudly ignoring the previous guy’s table, into the bosses chamber. I mentioned my relative’s name. I was given a chair, offered water and told I will receive the license day after. 

I called my mother to share this good news. She said, I told you earlier, you should have called so-and-so. This is why I have no faith on my mother. All my life she has told me I must get things done on my own. I must not use the power of others specially relatives to get things done etc etc. My mother has been ruining my moments all my life. I keep that for later. 


It is amazing, how this felt like a victory. It is amazing, the level of tolerance we have for dishonesty, disrespect and inefficiency in this country. Every person I have met and told my story to have told me one thing – just pay some money and it will get done. All the people I have seen in these offices seem to have no issues with this. No one seems to be angry that till 11.45 am eighty percent of office has not reached office. When you are in government offices, there is no information counter. In a place like GMC which issue innumerable licenses and papers to people, there is no counter to collect and submit forms. There is no counter to take payment. People have to go and stand around tables, pleading to the clerks. There is no time limit to how much time issuing of a license should take. There is no sign saying how much the fees for each of these licenses are. Things so far have been kept deliberately inefficient, so that the officials can take public for a ride. No, I am not going to say ‘poriborton’ sarcastically here. That does not serve my purpose. It is the Congress which allowed this to happen and carry on in the first place. BJP came into power with the promise of change all of this. Little changes have come in the past three years. It has made provisions for single window clearance for large business projects that will have huge impacts on the environment and land. But no, it cannot put a single window to receive forms, take payment and issue licenses to small business. It is clear that political parties and the government do not care about people. And it is clear the people are okay with it. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Emperor’s New Coat. The one I do not have change for.

This madness is uncalled for.  I have never heard so much about money in my life. I bump into friends at the friendly market place rushing to the bank with waddles of cash. And I know very well he has not earned anything in a while. Somewhere else when I go to meet someone I am asked by the maid to wait for a while. ‘She is busy. They have to count all the money you see’ she tells me in a voice mixed with pride and innocence. I call my personal banking guy looking for change. ‘I have a crore to deposit. How do we go about it?’ - I joke. ‘Oh! Let’s see how we manage that’ - he tells me. ‘Can you wait till tomorrow till I figure out?’  He is serious and matter of fact. Obviously he has dealt with similar requests in the last couple of days.

Frankly speaking, this has been the only good spot in this entire black money sweeping spree. The fact that the banker dude actually believed I have a crore of cash. The rest of the stories are grim and dark.

Irking factors in this gimmicky reform measure are many. One is that it chooses to completely ignore the fact that corruption in India is a national disorder. It is a way of life used to looking for undeserved benefits, unearned privileges and a deep rooted hierarchical disrespect for people. Corruption in India is a reflection of its culture, its 6000 years of learnt misconduct and not about accumulated currency. Corruption is such an ingrained part of Indian lives that for the last 3 days people are busy both hailing Modi the great distractor for this magic vacuum cleaner of corruption and figuring out a way to put the black money back into the banks with 10 to 50 percent cut.

The amount of scheming that is going on in every household, every shop, every street corner, every office at this moment is an ironical display of the corrupted Indian mind which the banned 500 rupee has failed to change. The very move that was supposed to have cleared the country of corruption has actually expanded corruption to those who were so far left out. People are putting money into the accounts of minors, rickshaw pullers, chai wallas and domestic helps. Minors, rickshaw pullers, chai wallas and domestic helps are thinking about getting money from the rich. CAs are helping people figure out how to turn the black money white. My help asks me with a greedy glint in her eyes – ‘Baidew, if someone gives me a lot of 500 rupees, I will keep it for them if they give me half of it.’ So it surely has failed in whatever symbolic anti-corruption thing it was supposed to do.

What on the other hand it has done is inconvenienced a lot of poor and non-corrupt middle class people. The daily wage labourer who looks after my garden has been calling up every day. He needs to go home to harvest his paddy. But he only has the last few 500s I had paid him with and he had kept to take home. He does not have change for bus fare. And I have been unable to help.

This is not the only thing that has made me feel helpless in the past 3 days of demonetization. After some 35 years of dreaming about it I have finally managed to open a café of my own. (Quick self-promotion: It is called Back Benchers Café. You must check it out on Facebook, like our page and come over if you are in Guwahati). Over the past two months, since I decided to finally go for it, I have thought about millions of ways in which I will face difficulty running it. Every penny I have spent on the café is earned by me, paid tax for it and spent in the most accountable way. But the biggest difficulties I have faced are from the very system. The thousands of license, certificate and registration required for opening a food business in India is supposedly to make sure I do not make too much money from a small coffee shop and evade paying money to government. At every step, for every document I have been asked for a bribe. I have decided not to pay any of it and hence now I have started this small, homely place without a single license in hand. I have not taken nor paid any bribe till now. I am told by everyone that to do business in India one HAS to pay bribe. I will not do that. So now I wait for raids from the concerned departments every morning as I brew the morning coffee and we wait eagerly for our first customer.

Talking about customers, we have not had many. Amongst all the reasons I thought why customers won’t come to my café, not having change was not one. My irritation with Modi’s gimmicks increased into the-bilillion-of-lakhs-of-black-money-stashed-in-500-and-1000- in-Indian-homes times the moment he announced this stupendous decision the night before the opening of my café. People have been calling me up to tell me they are not coming to the café because they do not have money. I will never ever never never forgive him for this.

But seriously, my personal problems and serious economic explanations of where the actual black money is aside, this whole thing is such bad math. And I hate bad math. Bad math gives away bad lies. For example if you are banning 500 and 1000s because these are big denominations and ill-gotten money is stashed in these then shouldn’t you keep the currencies smaller? How does a 2000 rupee instead help? It is obvious cuts from business projects and bribe taking isn’t going to change in near future. Or was it made to increase the rate for bribes?

It is also irritating to think how utterly insensitive policies are towards poor people. If you wanted the poor people to have money you will make smaller currencies available first to replace the 5000000s and not expect them to start using their credit card overnight.

What about those big promises of it only taking two days to sort this out? What has instead happened is utter chaos. There are not enough employees in the banks. There are too many forms. There is no change in the market. And there are rumours and rumours galore. The new 2000 rupee is printed by Donal Trump’s company and it has a CCTV camera. Bags and sacks of 500 and 1000 rupee notes are being thrown in the neighbourhood garbage dump. Someone died of a heart attack because he had 7 lakhs cash he got from selling his plot of land for his daughters dowry.  10 rupee coins are not accepted anymore. The big monetary bang has managed fuel the great Indian desire for apocalypse-anytime-now into a universal proportion.  

What the move is really about is to change the status quo in a most obvious dictatorial way. Obviously if I want to have complete control over an economy, I have to change the currency. Others in the past have abolished entire monetary systems and introduced new currencies with their own photos on them. The idea isn’t even a new one. Modi’s sadness perhaps is that he cannot go the whole hog because India is some kind of a democracy. But he isn’t a fool. He knows what he is doing. The one who isn’t seeing the emperor’s new coat is the common Indian. The one that believes Modi is this savior who is going to rid India of its corruption and all other evil.

Who has been made a fool into is the poor Indian.  Why, you go to the bank, wait for the whole day and get a piddly 2000 shoved in your face. You come out and you want a cup of tea because all that waiting and form filling has made you really thirsty. But no, you can’t get that. Your chai walla does not have change. Modi of all people should at least think about the poor chai wallas na?



Monday, May 23, 2016

The Restless Mother's Rant

On the big question of whether there is life after birth for a mother, I would say – there are good days and there are bad days. If you ask moms around the world there is not much difference between the two. Here is a comparative table:

Good Day
Bad Day
Get woken up by a scream and a pull of the hair
Get woken up by poke in the eye, kick in the nose and a bum sitting on your face
Go to the bathroom and breast feed
Breastfeed before you can go to the bathroom because the child is screaming the neighbourhood down
Clean and dress child (deal with mild resistance if you follow her instructions)
Clean and dress baby (deal with severe resistance and tantrum if you follow her instructions or don’t)
Make breakfast while baby empties all your kitchen cupboards on to the floor.
Make breakfast while baby catches the fridge open, brings out the milk box, spills it all over the floor, slips on it and hurts herself or breaks one of the china or glass and cuts herself
Eat and feed breakfast (you end up eating her breakfast which has been turned into a gooey mass by the child)
Same as a good day except the gooey mass is thrown at you
Clean and dress child (repeat of the same behavior from earlier attempt)
Repeat of same behavior from earlier attempt
Child plays while you try to get some ‘work’ done. You get about five minutes work done with potty, thirst, some loud noise scare, demand for breastfeeding or plain attention intervals.
You get no ‘work’ done as you have to attend to all the demands as in a good day at the same time.  
Try to put child to nap (breastfeed and deep breath. Occurrence of violent thoughts in you)
Try to put child to nap (breast feed and can’t breathe as you face violence from child)
Child naps. Phew! Now get some work done and make lunch. Drink a beer on exceptional days.
Child naps for all of 10 minutes. You hand child over to someone else, go to the bathroom for some me time and cry.
Bath (usually fun and lasts way longer than you want)
Bath (resistance, deathly screams, accidents)
Lunch (repeat of breakfast scene)
Lunch (repeat of breakfast scene with more screams or squeals of laughter as the mashed fish mixed with dal lands on your head)
Nap (same as before)
Nap (same as before)
Play time in the park (help child climb up and down the slide 250 times)
Play time in the park (help child climb up and down the slide 350 times and have an accident)
Socialise with people your age (with interruption from child every 2 seconds and I am not exaggerating)
Socialise with people your age (have child through numerous tantrums, things at people and complete meltdowns resulting in permanent damage in your long term relationships.
Dinner (child is all perked up, happy, singing, you are ready to die)
Dinner (child is all perked up, you are dead)
Sleep (you sleep while child jumps on your for a while, suckles your nipples for half the night and finally falls asleep. To wake up after one hour)
Sleep (child cries, suckles, sleeps, wakes up, cries, suckles, sleeps, wakes up…every 15 minutes or so and you wonder if you did the right thing by having a child)

Bad days basically are good days multiplied by 10-100 depending on how bad you were in your previous life to deserve this.

But no, this is not a motherhood blog. Mothers have been doing this forever and have done it more efficiently than me. Even my own mother. So do not get alarmed new and wannabe moms. By the time your child stands on their two feet you get so used to the madness that at the end of the day, good or bad, you thank yourself that you are still alive feel nothing but gratitude for this extraordinary experience. But sometimes my bad days get worse (yes, it is possible) by other random things. The affairs of the state I live in for example.

There is no hiding that I am no fan of BJP and what it stands for – be it its Hindutva ideology or its ‘development’ rhetoric. Therefore it is with mixed (trepidations and optimisms) feelings that I take in the election results and what it could mean for people like me.

At the same time I am no Congress fan either. Every time I looked at the list of people who have lost, I feel elated. For *&^%’s sake (no swearing now that there is a child in the house), each one of them deserve to lose. Congress has been sitting at Dispur since Independence (barring a few years in between) and look at the condition of the state. People do not have basic services like healthcare, education, drinking water, electricity, road and access to market. Why, just before the elections I was in splits listening to a Congress radio campaign. This little girl’s mother in the campaign is angry at the little girl for not carrying drinking water to school. The girl tells her mother not to worry because the government has provided them with drinking water at school. And the girl’s mother be like – What! Sarkar has given you drinking water?!! She sounds completely taken aback. Imagine! This is 2016, and this woman is shocked at hearing there can be drinking water at school.

And this is precisely why, my bad day gets ruined when I see a post on facebook praising Tarun Gogoi saying, “lets Thank him for serving us 15 long years. We should not forget that at the age when our Grandparents are at home taking regular medical check-ups, he was there controlling and governing our state...May you live long with a healthy life Sir....!!” For goodness’s sake, what kind of an overtly positive message is this? This is precisely what is the problem with the Congress. That we have been ruled by half-corpses for all this while. At his age, Tarun Gogoi and other deadbeats in politics should have been retired, have health-insurance, have access to good geriatric care, play with their grandchildren and bask in the glow of their ill-gotten wealth. They are not supposed to be meddling with politics without a clue of what is going on in the world, how people are living and how you spell p-o-l-i-c-y. He also did what Congress has been doing shamelessly and there should be some rule about it in this country – making politics hereditary, a property that can be passed to the next kin. There is nothing to be thankful to him for. Stop ruining my bad days.  

Talking about politics being a property, it seems it is also a very lucrative career option right now in India. And I am not even talking about the under-the-table perks. Over years MP’s and MLA’s have given themselves hundreds of percentages of raise in their salaries. They get medical, travel, free housing, daily allowance, water, electricity, furniture, office expenditure etc etc for free. And their income is tax free. They are also trying to give themselves lifelong pensions right now, even if they serve for just 5 years and no matter how lousily. And this while they are trying to tax my savings in Employees Providence Fund, a fund where the government forces me to save and pay little interest. No wonder politicians do not want to retire and want to pass on their career to their children. It is the best job you can get with such little or no qualification and experience whatsoever. Meanwhile there is still no minimum support price for small scale farmers in many states in the country.

Sarbanda Sonowal as a person is definitely an improvement upon the Gogois (both father and son). At least he has all his faculties in order, can speak in clear sentences and has earned his win over years of practice in politics instead of as a feudal title. The young people of Assam seem excited about having a young and intelligible chief minister. And it is a good thing that BJP did not play the Hindu card face-up in Assam. I therefore have prepared a very short list of extremely personal expectations from the new government.

*Please note that this list does not include the promises of development and change that have been made to the people by the people who won the elections. That is between the people and the government to sort out. My demands are:  

No communal politics. We have already been charred time and over by our ethnic conflicts and identity politics. Let us please not regress back to Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Naga-Hmar-Bodo-Rabha-Garo-Nepali-Khasi-Dimasa-Karbi-Adivasi conflicts. This government has the extra responsibility to retain that pride with which all young people are saying today – In Assam BJP is not the same as BJP in other parts of India. It is not about Hindu-Muslim in Assam. Let that be true.

No beef ban. Serious! One of the major fears that my household has is banning of beef. Or pork for that matter. We will not know what to eat otherwise. If you have to ban, ban papad or achar. Just kidding. Please do not ban any food. Let food, clothes and religion remain a personal choice. Let us not have the state on my dinner plate and in my underwear.

Talking about the personal and the politics, my other demand is about women and their rights. We have all of 6% of women who have won this election. Isn’t that ridiculous? In a country and state where women have been showing better results than men from class X exams onwards, what happens to them in the professional areas? Why are there so few women there? Why are there so few women who are given tickets in the elections by parties? Can this government promise to look first into itself and then around to identify the obstacles that patriarchy has put for women to be in decision making positions? Can we see some promises to work to remove these?

And lastly I want to remain the identity, citizenship defying (even if wishfully), cranky, homebound, barf and potty smeared critter that I have become. Can we please not have any patriotism and ‘sanskar’ imposed on me? It is a bit late for that. I have been terribly westernized, giftedly shameless around my body and have acquired habits like drinking, smoking and swearing from the bad company of my friends. It will not be possible for me to become a Bharatiya or a nari at this point. Can I have the assurance that this will not be imposed on me? Can I continue to smoke in my shorts at the local pub, rant in English and not be terrorized by any RSS-Bajrang Dal and the likes for doing apasankriti please.

Talking about apasankriti, there is a programme that comes on one of the FM radio stations in Guwahati. It is a ‘ladies’ show. And for the sake of my gender, they talk about astrology and puja! Seriously they say things like, ‘on Tuesdays you were a red saree, go to the laxmi temple and give one gold coin and five bananas to a monkey. This will help you bring sanity to your home.’ In case this does not work, ‘you can have a bath on a Wednesday in a purple petticoat and buy a 10000 rupees coral stone and wear it around your middle finger. This will bring prosperity to your house.’ I mean what is going on here? If there needs a policing it is this show. It assumes all ladies are Hindu and the only way they can bring sanity and prosperity to their homes is by doing colourcoded monkey business on specific days of the week. In an year where women have topped UPSC, CBSE and other exams, in an age where mothers expect their daughters to become astronauts and climb Everest, this assumption that stay at home ladies have no ways but to depend on hocus-bogus to raise a happy successful family should be taken as nothing but an insult. 

That’s it. Today is a good and a bad day. The child is taking a nap and I am going to drown my anxieties in a glass of mid-day ice-soaked Amarula. Cheers! 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I AM OKAY WITH WHOEVER WEARS WHATEVER

There are days when I feel like hiding under the bed and never coming out. Most inconveniently the bed is on the floor these days because of the monkey in the house. Today is one of those days.

Facebook has that Pratidin Times ‘news report’ video to show me as soon as I wake up. I ignore it once. It keeps coming. Then I get a few phone calls. Reluctantly I open the video. I want to hide under my bed and never come out.

What is it that bothers some people so much about what others are doing? What is this thing called culture that this super parochial hole of ‘Oxomia jati’ gets churned by so much? Why always only women? Who told you that women is a singular homogenous thing and you can make random general comments about them in media? The questions keep on coming back. I thought I had these answered couple of centuries ago. Or was it medieval period?

I do not want to go to the details of what this reporter had to say about women wearing shorts these days on Guwahati streets. Let him be the one whose knickers are in knots over whether girls wear it for comfort in summers or to ruin whatever is left of Assamese culture after Aircel and Airtel started sponsoring Bihu functions. I wear it because they are damn sexy and easy to take off when you are in the heat. Summer or winter. I also do not want to comment on how bad this report is from the point of view of journalism itself. Subject, content, treatment, form, language, ethics...there is not one thing that is right about this report. It will enter media hall of fame for what-not-to-do-when-you-are-doing-journalism for sure.

I am upset over two things –

1) When will they stop making women the un-appointed head of the culture keeping mission? Every few days in Assam, sometimes a Bihu committee, sometimes some politician, journalists, intellectuals, writers, poets, a nobody or anybody is complaining about how Assamese women are failing to keep Assamese culture alive. As a self-identifying Assamese woman, I really do not remember anybody appointing me with this mission anytime in my life. As far as I remember, they have told me not to get out of the house, not to learn to ride the bike, not to learn to drive the car, not to get too educated, to get married early, produce babies, look after husband and generally keep quiet. No one has ever told me – here, from today you have the responsibility of keeping the lamp of Oxomia culture alight. No I do not remember signing any acceptance letter either. And I have asked around, no woman seems to have done it. Then when and how did we get appointed with this responsibility? Were we asked? Did we say yes? Did we decide on the terms and conditions? What will it really entail if I had to keep Assamese culture alive? If I cut a Kanzeebharam saree into two pieces and make it into a mekhela-sador will it be Oxomia culture? What if I cut a Mekhela-Sador and make it into a half-pant?  I want to know these details of the contract. Will a ‘khati Oxomia’ please tell me?

2) Learn that ‘Women’ or Mohila is not one object. There are all kinds of women in a society – young, old, tall, short, curly haired, straight haired, wavy haired, apple, pear, orange, banana, strawberry, jackfruit, cauliflower and various other fruits and vegetable shaped, polite, angry, smiling, frowning, drowning, swimming, dark, wheat-ish, fair, cooking, hating cooking, educated, not-giving a fuck… did I leave anyone out? So a generalized comment like ‘women today like to wear shorts’ does not hold any water at all. Look at my mother, she is a woman today and does not like wearing shorts at all. Look at my daughter on the other hand. She is a complete monkey and does not like to wear shorts either. In fact she does not like wearing clothes at all. Every time I am trying to put clothes on her, she brings the entire neighbourhood down. (Tips from experienced people on how to overcome this problem is welcome)

Amongst those who like to wear shorts, eg. Me, they come from a varied background too. If I like it because it is sexy, someone might like it because it is comfortable, someone else because it is the only clean thing to wear that day, someone because the jeans was too torn and had to be cut short and someone just to spite Assamese culture. There are these kinds of various serious thoughts and reasons that make a woman chose a pair of half-pants over a mekhela-sador on a given day. What others will feel or think is usually not one of them.  

On a serious note, seriously, when will this reporter, his entire bloody news channel and anyone else who agrees with what the report said understand the concept of individual autonomy and bodily integrity?

Individual autonomy is the idea that every person has the capacity to be her or his own person. Radical isn’t it? It also means that every person applies her or his reasoning, has her or his motivations for decisions they make in their lives. These decisions could be about whether to eat crispy honeyed pork belly or tandoori aloo, whether to study science or arts, whether to wear shorts or half-pants etc etc. What respecting individual autonomy means is that just as you will not want anyone else to comment on your choices in life, you will also not comment on others’ choices.

Bodily integrity is another radical idea that says, that a person has rights over her or his own body and that the physical body cannot be violated. It considers that human beings have autonomy over their own body and have the right to self-determine about their bodies. Violation of bodily integrity is an unethical infringement, intrusive and also criminal where applicable. So suppose I know that you do not brush your teeth in the mornings and hence have really dirty teeth. Also all the dirty thoughts from measuring the length of women’s shorts have given you bad breadth. So, if I point a camera at your face while you are blabbering away about Assamese culture and use it for a ‘how not to ruin your teeth and get bad breadth’ campaign and suggest your teeth be removed, I will be unethically infringing upon your bodily integrity. Is this so difficult to understand?

I am really up till here with these repetitive derogatory talks in Assamese media and sections of society about women, what women do, what women wear, how they behave etc. No, you have lost that one ever since mekhela-sador and gamusas started coming from mills in Andhra Pradesh, since you started taking your children to KFC every excuse for celebration and since Assamese men gave up dhuti-gamusa for the sahebi potlung. Stop talking about women in disrespectful ways. Stop trying to control women’s behavior. Stop restricting women from moving around, doing jobs, getting education, getting property, getting land, participating in governance and politics. Stop violence against women. Stop stopping women from having fun.

I would have remained under the mattress on the floor the whole day. But I thought I need to get out, wear my shorts and go out. We got arrested for that too. But that’s another democratic story.


Today, for those young people who got arrested because they wanted to protest against unethical journalism, whose peaceful democratic ambition to voice their concern got throttled by this police state I just want to say I AM OKAY WITH WHOEVER WEARS WHATEVER. I hope you are too.  

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Who can I tell


I do not watch TV. To protect myself from knowing what is going on in the world. Ever since Imitha has taken to reading the morning newspaper, I have z class security from any kind of news. There is however no protection from mothers. Mine gives me several missed calls by the first half of one morning. I call back thinking the worst. Are you alright? – I ask anxiously. Her voice sounds tense. She tells me with urgency – Have you heard about Papon’s controversy? I sigh! She proceeds to fill me in with three controversies one after the other. Papon’s, Zubin’s and Zubilee’s. I beg my mother to not pass on worldly inanities to me. Who shall I tell then? – she demands.

Talking about inanities, I have stopped watching Papon’s live shows for some years now because of it. He talks too much on stage and makes one wonder what he is on. I take it as a personal insult when he expresses random un-thought-through political opinions from the self-righteous moral height of the stage. Once he said something about Oxomia and Bangladeshi. And that was the last show for me. So this time he has gone on to say one of the songs he sang during this Bihu should have been the national anthem of Assam. (I do not know the English for Jatio Xangeet).

Quite not-surprisingly Zubeen has gone on to say the same thing. No, not that the song Papon says should be the national anthem but that one of the songs he (Zubeen) sang during this Bihu should be the national anthem of Assam. I never watch Zubeen on stage. Why, just the other day he pulled out a gun at a show and pointed it at the audience, didn’t he?

What gets my goat, in the middle of being extremely busy cleaning poo these days, is that  big shit is being given to this whole national anthem thing. After lecturing me on why I should renew the Tata Sky connection, mother carries on to tell me that there are fervent panel discussions going on in Assamese TV on this. Some sentimental Oxomias have even burnt Papon’s effigy. Wow! Papon now has joined the lofty club of people whose effigies get burnt. That is really big hey. Congratulations Papon! I digress. Mother insists on sharing details of the whole situation to me. Papon after all is 'like a son' to her. She names intellectuals and artists who are part of these panels. Really now? When Papon makes random comments bordering on communal hatred there wasn't a peep from anybody. When Zubeen pointed a gun at a packed audience, there was no controversy. This could have wiped out a considerable number of culture-loving Oxomias. But no intellectual or artists talked about it. It turned out the gun was fong-kong (South African for fake) but how dare he do that even as a joke? No, this did not hurt the fragile Oxomia sentiment. The whole existence of Oxomia nation instead is threatened because Zubeen and Papon want their own songs to become the national anthem of Oxomia Jati. I say why not? Did not some Oxomia great-man say once – change is constant? Why is it not possible to change the national anthem? Why should we have a national anthem? Why should we have only one? Who chose the national anthem we have now? You have bad general knowledge – mother scoffs me. But my maths is good and I have a win-win solution. I illustrate to my mother -Half or more of the Oxomia people who exist now (not forgetting we do not have a definition of an Oxomia till date) did not exist when the current NA (national anthem) was chosen. If you have to democratically select a NA now, we could do a vote through SMS. How many votes the existing NA would get is a simple answer of two minus two. So Papon and Zubeen wins. On the other hand I think the people who want the NA to remain status quo should do this SMS thing right now instead of panel discussions and effigy burning. Since the Oxomia Jati currently is anyway divided equally into Papon and Zubeen fans they will negate each other out. And even if one dinosaur from last century want the current NA to remain, it will win. The Oxomia Jati should relax and continue getting drunk and breaking chairs at Bihu functions to Papon and Zubeen's Songs. My mother is speechless for a second. Her maths is not as good as mine.

My beef with the Zubilee issue is something else altogether. She, by the way, was not allowed to perform at a Bihu function in Guwahati because she wore a salwar-kameez. The rules, it seems, say one HAS to wear a mekhela-sador to be able to sing. I warn my mother to stop at this point. She pulls out her feminist card and asks me – Why is it that there are dress-rules only for women? I tell my mother she must not bore me with such radical thoughts. Everyone knows one can sing even in a salwar-kameez. Provided one has a nice voice and is trained and practiced. I have never heard Zubilee and cannot vouch for her singing. If the Bihu committee is unaware of this fact, they must have been drunk. I do not want to comment any more on a woman’s autonomy and the right to choose what to wear. These are being rehashed since before the days my mother wore bell-bottom pants. Nor do I want to say anything about why men have no responsibility in preserving or pickling our culture. If culture can be maintained only by wearing mekhela-sador then all decisions about culture should be made by the ones who wear mekhela-sador.  As my duty towards a fellow sister I have already shared her post on facebook. But my beef is why salwar-kameez and why that particular one? Salwar-kameez is one of the most boring attire designed in the history of woman kind. It covers you from neck to ankle and is difficult to take off. In the scale of clothing excitement that gets it a whooping minus 2000 immediately. In terms of appeal one can only look very sisterly (read behenji) in it. And the particular piece of salwar-kameez Zubilee wore that day (she has posted it on FB) is hideous. While I completely agree on what she has to say about no one having a right to dictate her what she wants to wear, I absolutely disagree on her choice of the costume. I think instead of the moral police, the fashion police should have stopped her. Not from singing but from wearing it.

That is why I tell you to dress properly – with mother things have to ultimately turn to me. You also have no sense of dressing. Wherever you go you always look like you have come in your night dress - she chides me. Why are you always telling me all theese ma?  – I defend myself. I think you should stop watching TV too. She sighs in Nirupama Roy like melodrama again – Who else can I tell?  

Here is a nice one from cartoonist Nitumoni Rajbongshi. 

                                                                     
You can check out his work at http://www.cartoonistnituparna.com/ or on Facebook at Cartoonist Nitumoni Rajbongshi. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

NOHOBO – will not happen

So, the people of India have decided and the darkest fear of the progressive Indians has come true. Once again my facebook wall is busy busy busy. I hear so much despair that I actually dreamt being dragged by large machines of development (they looked somewhat like bulldozers).  People were running helter-skelter and I was being dragged away from a group of people for wearing shorts and being drunk. Strangely I was at an anti-dam protest and I kept on asking why I was being dragged. Is it because I was protesting or is it because I was wearing shorts? No one answered. Awake, I was confused. Was that dream a manifestation of the fear? Has this not happened already?

Being from the North-East India, state oppression is something that I (and a whole lot of people) have learnt to live with. I was born in the middle of political crisis that led to a full blown armed conflict with state by the time I was a pre-teen. Growing up at gun points, restrictions on basic freedoms of speech and movement is not something I fear might happen to me. I grew up with it. Being dominated by cultural hegemony imposed by state machinery is not something a new fascist in power will do now. To experience marginalization and discrimination for belonging to certain ethnicity or religion did not have to wait till now. I have lived through all of it.

May be because I am from the North-East, whose face represents India in the international circuit has never been a great concern. When Rajiv Gandhi died I remember my mother saying very sadly – ‘At least he was good looking. Look at our other politicians, they are so unpresentable. What must the foriegners think when these people go abroad?’ And just like guilt, my mother handed me this embarrassment at an early age and I learnt to live with this too.

Yes going by its nature and form and the company it keeps (read RSS), there is much to fear with BJP in decision making power. Will it make me wear a saree and sing bhajans early in the morning? Will they drag and separate me and my partner since we have no plans of getting married? Will there be constant Hindu-Muslim conflict? Will Muslims and Christians be prosecuted? Will rock music be banned? Are they going to bust our rave parties? What will happen to our gay prides? Will I be allowed to continue writing inanities in my blog? Yes, there is a lot to worry.

All the worries withstanding, I am also somewhere thrilled. I am thrilled that the Congress party has been made to taste shit. I am relieved my father did not live to see this day. He would have been heartbroken at the defeat of Congress and would have disowned me for saying this publicly. But I am glad (and I hope this is permanent) that the baap ka raaj, that the Congress and its cronies had thought the country to be, has come to an end. Not that I think BJP will do anything different but I am happy to see the privileges that some of the most dubious people have enjoyed in this country because of their Congress mai-baps in power is under threat. I hope the people who had taken permanent residence in the government provided luxury bungalows of the tree shaded, high walled central Delhi will be thrown out and forced to find their own two bedroom apartments in Gurgaon and Indira Nagar. Perhaps they will understand what it feels to be displaced.

Coming back to the North-East, someone on facebook said they have banned Assam from the North-East. Good for them I say. No matter how much denial we live in and claim with false pride about our secular, gender-sensitive, egalitarian society, the truth is that over the years, culturally the Assamese have become closer to the red tika wearing cow belt than our leather jacket clad tribal cowboys. This election results show clearly how communal Assam has really become. Generally speaking in this election, the Muslims voted for AIUDF and the Hindus voted for BJP. May be the Assamese who voted for BJP should really move to Gujrat. Once they see that being Hindu is not only about the shiny sarees and the heavy weight jewelry, that it also means you have to eat vegetarian food and fast for many pujas in a year, they will learn their lesson.

When I looked deeper I found that, the major factor behind communalization of Assam is the issue of Bangladeshi immigrants. To get to the depth of this analysis I spoke to a couple of experts – my mother and some aunties and uncles. I asked why people voted for BJP. There was one common answer – ‘Modi said he will throw out all Bangladeshi’. Poor things ya. I feel bad for the Assamese people sometimes. For years they have lost their land, felt culturally threatened and now are politically marginalized by Bangladeshi immigrants. Congress with all its vote bank politics did precious little but to distribute truckloads of colourful cotton sarress (the kind the Bangladeshis like) to the poor immigrants. Of course they also made it possible for them to get ration card, driving license, voter’s id and passport through proper channels. Forget doing anything about it, the Congress did not even hold any in depth discussion on the Bangladeshi immigrants issue in the last few decades. In the meantime Assamese people have become so desperate that they actually believed what Modi promised in his election rally – ‘after 17 May there will not be a single Bangladeshi in Assam!’ I hate to break their gullible hearts but one word that I want to say to the Assamese people – NOHOBO. Will not happen.

Not only the Bangladeshi issue, for people of Assam and the North-East, it will be good to remember, nothing much is going to change for us. We do not need to fear the BJP as a new demon. It is only a different incarnation of the same Indian colonizer that has troubled us all this while. We have already been imposed with Indianness, decisions for us are already made in Delhi. All they want is our resources. They want our land as their battleground and buffer zone. The development they promise us will make profit for their companies. The same dams, the same Uranium, the same land for industrialization and militarisation, the same super highways that Congress wanted from us, BJP will want from us. They want our votes to be able to get all this. They will use military when we say no. They are not thinking about us. They will not think about us.

All that will change is that a different set of power mongers will come. Some new secretariat dalal, new business tycoons, new local gundas, new suckers in media will emerge. But for the poor and pathetic (like me) who did not benefit from the Congress raj do not have nothing to fear from the BJP rajya.  

As for me I see only two ways to exists. 1. eat some home cooked beef biriyani (which I am going to do now) 2. Say NOHOBO to them all.



Monday, August 13, 2012

Order Order! Random orders and the law and order situation in Assam


Last few months have been hectic in Assam. Apart from confirming my desire to live in South-East Asia valid, it has given us – me and some similar suffering souls - endless trouble. The good thing is humour is at ready hand. The bad thing is jokes are getting crueler as situation gets worse.

Come June and come flood. Estimated 2 million affected. I had to walk through deep water pulling my pajamas up to indecent heights and reluctantly baring my Thai food fed midriff to complete strangers in day time at public places. Not good news for anyone. While we were busy figuring out relief work, a group of Indian experts on disaster insisted on visiting. They told us they can set standards of relief work for us. They ordered a meeting of all people who wants to do flood relief work and told us what happens to people during floods. They have seen that in Bihar it seems! In my father’s village I have seen people getting out of their home through the roof during the floods on a yearly basis. The roof is designed for this specific eventuality. Inside the house there are planks at various levels to escape the raising water level. The hope is one will not have to cut the roof. But in case the water level gets too high, one always has the option of cutting open the roof.  Flood relief is as regular as Bihu and Malaria in these parts. People know exactly where to keep their goats and exactly where to row the raft to shit. Still a bunch of people from Delhi who has barely seen water in a bucket wants to set standards for us! Sigh! Even our disasters are being ordered now! 

Barely had we finished sprinkling the bleaching powder into the submerged wells that a group of morons decided to molest that girl in public. The city was abuzz with rumours and speculations after the 9th July incident. The story I have fabricated after collating all gossips goes like this – The girls is a call girl. That day she was at the bar celebrating her friend’s birthday. They were quite tipsy by the time and had a fight inside the bar about payments and bills. (Quite a common phenomenon considering how often bars try to cheat you on your bills thinking you are drunk and have lost count of your drinks). Outside, the reporter of that sleazy news channel was drinking with his buddy who is the main man in that video. When the girl came out with her friends, they wanted to pick her up. She, already pissed with drinks and off high bills, refused. That irked the reporter immensely. ‘I am a reporter with the most TRPed news channel of Assam’ – he thought. ‘And you a mere call girl dare refuse me as a client!’ – he said. To teach her a lesson he called and ordered his channel to send a camera immediately and his friend helped by molesting the girl. It seems they were thinking people will think the girl is being attacked by public for being drunk and going against Assamese culture. Everyone knows what happened afterwards – the public ordered death for both. The chief minster ordered the police to take immediate action. And the police ordered the main culprit to surrender immediately. Could you please find out what exactly is happening to the case, while I take a break to laugh at them some more?

After 9th July times were good in Guwahati. Good only because I do not go to bars, pubs or clubs much. Mostly because I cannot hold my drinks well anymore and tend to fall asleep on the dance floor and need to be carried home very often. For some years now there has been a shortage of people who want to go out with me. The number and frequency has decreased further since I have put on about 6 kgs. Therefore, the news that the DC has ordered all bars to close by 10 pm and has banned live music in bars and clubs hardly did anything to my non-existent night life. While others mopped about the regressive direction our society is taking, I indulged full-time in the drama and gossip that ensued. Who is saying what on TV, who is an anti-feminist, who is a raving idiot were all unraveled. The editor of the news channel resigned giving a false idea to a young aspiring journalist to believe that her incessant twits did it. Some threats of murder and police case later, it turned out that the aspiring journalist is a compulsive liar and no one really knows who she is. I spent exciting time doing B grade detective work trying to weave more stories. My favourite part of the Guwahati-girl-molestation-case saga involves our chief be by power. For the first time in my life I went to submit a memorandum. While we submitted the memorandum the chief assured us that he has offered the girl whatever she wants – accommodation, employment and security. Someone in our motley crew asked if we could visit the girl too, to see if we can offer any help. I do not know why the person asked that but the chief, true to his magnanimous reputation told her – ‘yes, yes, of course you can do her.’ I burst out laughing and nearly got ordered of the palace of the high priest. Thankfully we departed quickly as he assured us that there is nothing he can do because ‘common people do not understand anything.’

I was beginning to enjoy this over ripe ferment of our moral discomfort with modernity and sex. I started wearing the shortest shorts and miniest skirts because people, on the streets and in the shops, will look at me disapprovingly and tell each other - our society has gone to the dogs! I had taken to going to bars from office as they are now open only in the afternoons when the whole thing just came to a dud. To be taken over by the ‘Muslim-Bodo’ clashes in Kokrajhar. Bad one, as you know, I have just come back from Bangkok attending a 3 months course on Peace and Conflict Resolution. I was sweating in my shortest shorts thinking the office might want me to go there. If I said no it would confirm their jealous suspicion that I was only having a good time in Bangkok. If I said yes, I will be surrounded by millions of Bangladeshis.

Now don’t get me wrong there. Personally I have nothing against Bangladeshis. I have a couple of them as friends. But being surrounded by millions of Bangladeshis in relief camps is not my idea of peace at all. It is a physical discomfort. I suffer from a condition that makes me get very annoyed with loud noise unless I am making it myself. People who are close to me can vouch for this - for loud noise I make. Living in the North-East for the past couple of years, I have been spoilt by the quiet ways of the tribal people here. In fact my condition is so acute that sometimes I find some tribal people also very noisy. But it is not their fault. It is my condition. And if you have been near a Bengali speaking crowd, you would know what it will do to my condition. Again, it is just a physical thing that Bengali needs to be spoken at a very high pitch. When I visit Kolkata, sometimes I get thrown out by the sheer volume of the salesperson who is standing across the counter and answering if he/she has the thing I want to buy. When you pass through a Bangladeshi village in Assam (you know they are Bangladeshi because they wear blue checkered lungis and a particular kind of colourful cotton sarees. They might have legal documents, but they have come from Bangladesh for sure) you will hear a distinct high decibel buzz in the air. It is all of them talking at the same time at the top of their voice. So Kokrajhar was bad news for me. Also the issue is not about Muslims as the Indian experts are saying again. And I by no means am advocating for or against any community at all. After all it is a physical issue. Like Nietzsche says – ‘annoyance is a physical illness that is by no means ended simply by eliminating the cause of the annoyance.’  

To escape Kokrajhar, I went to Xadiya - the furthest you could get within Assam. It was green, wet and quiet. There is no news paper, no phone, no internet, no electricity. There is no road, no hospital, no high school either. It was kind of ideal except that I had to travel on the no-roads in a tempo (a larger auto-rickshaw). The only time my guts were not being shaken out of their socket was when I was pushing it through the knee deep mud. The home brewed rice beer is sour at this time due to too much water content I was told. So the drinking had to be controlled too. After about 10 days I came back to Guwahati thirsty for some scotch on ice. But no, this is not the right time to be in Assam at all.

I have walked through pit-latrine washed flood water, demanded that women be allowed to drink and wear shorts and still not be molested, I have managed to escape undesirable noise level, I have braved muddy road and sour rice beer but nothing prepared me for the jolt that came on 10th of August. One idiot filed a complaint against another idiot who owns a wine shop in Guwahati. It seems his (the 2nd idiot) wine shop is right next to the church and hence illegal. The DC (the 3rd idiot) ordered the shop closed. In retaliation the 2nd idiot filed a petition in the high court saying if his shop is illegal then all other wine shops are also illegal. In an unprecedented quick response to a case, the court ordered the DC to immediately close all wine shops, bars, clubs, beer shops and local liquor places that fall within 500 metres of any religious institution, educational institution and hospitals, dispensaries, nursing homes etc.

Now, as bad luck and terrible math would have it – there are about 700 wine shops, bars, clubs, local ghatis (official figure 461) in Guwahati. Guwahati’s area is around 264 sq km. This means there is a wine shop every 300 mts in the city. Also in the past decade Guwahati has given permission to about 600 educations institution and 400 private nursing homes (figures are chosen as random as the orders). If all these EI and HI and WS (educational institutions, health institutions and wine shops) have to be fitted into 264 sq km, then obviously they will be next to each other. In fact it is a sheer wonder that they are not one and the same.

This is where my North-Eastern pride comes in again. Despite there being an Indian law about wine shops not being allowed to be near hospitals, schools or temples, we have managed to co-exist very conveniently so far. If a school does not have a wine shop within 300 metres, there is always a bootlegger who will have it. Every hospital has photos of muslim, hindu and Christian gods by the corner where everyone spit their red beetle nut juice. Some highly secular ones even have guru nanak and budhdha photos. They also have attendants and workers who double as bootleggers. In all religious festivals we drink and in fact in many temples too you will always find alcohol and ganja. All of this is an educational experience anyway. Law has never been a problem for us.

In fact, finding alcohol has never been a problem for us. I am not jolted that the high court order will hamper my drinking. On the contrary since Friday, last weekend has been one of the drunkest weekend I have had in months. We have been drinking more because wine shops are closed! What has jolted me is the mess administration is going to be in because of the order. First, so what all wine shops in Guwahati are closed? We have Khanapara on the high way right next door which is in Meghalaya and hence free from the high court order. Already there are millions of wine shops there due to lower taxes. Since Friday, Khanapara has become like a crowded fair ground and a traffic night mare. Guwahati traffic police department had to send extra teams to Khanapara to manage the extra flow of traffic into the highway which would otherwise block highway traffic. We know that Guwahati is in a traffic jumble because of lack of traffic police personnel. Where will they manage traffic now? Inside the city or at Khanapara?  

The court has also ordered that all the officials who had given all those illegal licenses to the 700 wine shops, bars and clubs be pulled out. While this is a bringing-tear-to-the-eye kind of anti-corruption move, what worries me is that there will be no officials left to do office work anymore! Again using math we know that behind each illegal license there is a whole department from the officer to the peon. (Reminds me of an African village – ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ – they say in Africa). Will all of then be pulled out? Even if all the officers are pulled out who will remain in office? Who will find out who did what? All of them will be in court defending themselves, according to my calculations.  

So you see, I worry. I worry about my country and my country officials. I have been worrying so much that I have orders a friend who was visiting Khanapara to get me a few bottles of expensive scotch and all other kinds of alcohol I do not even drink. Now I worry about my finances. While I pour myself one last unnecessary drink to get over all these worries, I really think I should move to South-East Asia. There you can drink wherever you want, whenever you want. Also the alcohol is much better. Short skirts are not a problem and there are not so many Bangladeshis there. Cheers!