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!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What Women Want?

This article was first published with the title This is Not Fair in Seven Sisters Post ( in two parts on 19.07.12 and 20.07.12

The recent incident, of a mob attacking and molesting a girl coming out of a bar in Guwahati, Assam, has been occupying television prime time, drawing room conversations and facebook walls of the Assamese and Indian people with fervor. People have been voicing a range of concerns starting from the role of media, state of law and order in the state to questions of morality and the so called ‘modern’ or ‘western’ influence in our societies.

In this particular 10th July incident some of the popular reactions have been to demand that the police arrest the culprits immediately, and give them severe punishment which will be so exemplary that such incidents will not take place in the future. Also this typical reaction demanding punishment to the culprit is like a stock reaction people of India has for every incidence of injustice that occupies public interest.  This naïve and simplistic expectations are cute and knowing the competence of the police for perhaps a bit far-fetched. In fact news has been going around that the community to which one of the arrested culprits belongs to has been protesting against his arrest. They have claimed that he is a very good man and it is unthinkable that he will do something like molesting a girl in public. It just so happened that the group of people were molesting the girl when he was passing by and he felt the need to join in! 

Typically the administration’s reaction has been to put a series of moral impositions on the public. No music, live or piped, in any bars and clubs, an infantile closing time of 10 pm for bars and heightened road blocks in the city. Living in the war zone of India, we, who live in the North-East, are used to administrative impositions. We have learned to develop coping mechanisms like humour and house parties to subvert any control on our social pleasures.

Another set of reactions, again endearing although naïve is coming from the people of Assam who live outside of Assam.  They have been outraged by the rupturing of the image of beautiful, peaceful, the-most-wonderful-place-in-the-world Assam that they carry in their expat hearts pained by separation from motherland. They have been shamed in front of the outsiders they live with. Assam is not like this they have been telling. Please stop showing Assam in such bad lights. The statistics on violence against women is wrong. Assam cannot be worse than UP and Bihar.

In addition to all these sentiments and reactions, is the outcry in the media. Yes, local media’s handling of the incident has been appalling. They have broken every possible ethical rule and standard in portraying news related to women. There hasbeen breach of confidentiality,  violation of safety measures, and  character assassination. On top of this, the same channel which has broken all these basic ethical lines of responsible journalism has been going rabid discussing the reasons behind the incident – women’s morality or the lack of it. The channel seem to have a set of favourite ‘renowned’ people, writers, actors, psychologists, beauticians, civil society representatives etc who have gathered in various panels to talk about the declining morality of women in Assam and Guwahati. The gist of their noisy opinions seems to be that violence against women is increasing in our societies because women are inviting it on themselves by wearing half-pants (a synonym of Shorts in some parts of India), going to bars and such places at night and  drinking. The public outcry about the media has mostly focused on why the reporter was filming the incident instead of valiantly rescuing the girl.

With renewed attention from the national audience the case seems to be spiraling into inter-spatial complexities with new accusation of the incident being instigated and staged by the reporter of the news channel, the girl’s age and marital status changing every second, one of the accused being accused of receiving protection from ‘influential quarters’ etc.  It has even prompted ‘reflection’ among the national media channels who now claim that despite being seasoned journalists- even they were not able to catch the anomaly of the molesters brazenly performing to the camera; whereas usually in a mob situation – the camera persons are the ones who are first attacked by the mob which tries to cover its face!

What happened on G.S. Rd on 10th July is not just an attack on an individual; it is an assault on every woman’s right to be in a public place, her bodily autonomy and her right to determine her actions. These rights are not something that is merely to be guaranteed to a woman by the state or by the society. Every individual is born with these rights. What is alarming is that there has been a sharp increase in occurrence and in media performing the role of moral police on incidences of similar nature where a woman has been attacked because of her questionable morality.

In 2006 when the rally organized by the Adivasi community was attacked by a middle class mob of Guwahati city, what made most news was the attack of the mob on a woman, tearing her clothes away in public. This happened in front of media and police.

In 2010, a group of women who are members of political parties and who claim to be social workers beat up a Mizo girl in Guwahati city when she knocked on someone’s door to ask for directions. This happened in front of TV and press media.

Last year, in Jorhat district, 2 girls came out of a bar. One of them was quite tipsy. Her friend was trying to find a rickshaw so that they could go home. The media arrived and the camera chased them around in that market place despite their repeated plea to be left alone. What followed was not any public outcry about media invading the individual space but the decline of Assamese culture because of women, particularly young girls drinking.

The incident of our MLA Rumi Nath had seen media discussions veering towards communal sentiments and also raising the question of Rumi marrying for the second time. The issue saw its unsurprising conclusion in a mob of over 200 people attacking the pregnant MLA, beating her up in public and in front of the media.

These incidents are only a few in a series of escalating violence against women in the state of Assam. For the patriotic sentimentalist – yes it is very sad but true. Assam and Guwahati are no longer safe spaces for women. Walking around in Guwahati streets, travelling alone through the state at any time of the day or night is not safe. Growing up in Guwahati as a rebellious teenager, I now myself live in fear every time I have to take public transport or walk on the street on my own. There is no longer guarantee of public protection in the city.

Nanao, a 34 year old woman from Manipur who has been living in Guwahati for 9 years shares, “Although I have lived in this city for a long time, I never feel safe here on the streets. Because of my ‘chinky’ looks people always stare or pass comments when I am in any public space. Even the police are biased towards people from the rest of the North-East who look chinky. There have been more than once instance when me and my husband (boyfriend for a long time then) were taken to police station while returning home at night. Each time they thought that I was a prostitute. For the Assamese people every ‘chinky’ girl is a prostitute, of low or loose morals and can be humiliated or molested any time. I have not been able to call this city home even after so many years and after being married here.”

The experience is not very different for Assamese women either. Anusmita, a 23 year old student who is from Guwahati says, “One never feels safe travelling by city bus or walking on the street             . You face eve-teasing from people of all ages - whether it is a young boy or an old man. If any incident happens and you protest no one ever supports the woman. Instead you get blamed for being out in public. People say you should not come out of your home if you have so many problems!” 

These unpleasant experiences of women in Guwahati city has increased manifold in the past 15 years or so. According to Sheetal, a 29 year old professional who is from the city, “It is even more restrictive when you have to go somewhere at night. Most of the time I decide not to go if I cannot find someone to accompany me at night. I miss out on a lot of functions and sometimes even have to postpone work related travel due to this. Moreover, the city does not have even basic amenities required for the protection of women. Streets are not lit up, there is no public toilet, and there is no help-line for women. Once I called the DC help-line to check if it works. Someone answered saying they cannot do anything. “

In Assam, the local electronic media seems to have appointed themselves as the moral police in recent time. According to urban legends, reporters from various news channels park themselves outside bars and nightclubs to catch people who are coming out after a few drinks on camera. Naturally, in this hypocritical society where despite the fact that Assam hovers amongst the highest alcohol consuming states of India, being caught drinking is still news. No one wants to admit to drinking even if they do it on a daily basis. This gives immense power to the media to exploit people’s fear of social shame. I have heard from many that often the reporters resort to blackmailing people caught by them and extort money in return of secrecy. Where are the morals in such behaviour?

With all its anomalies valid, the G.S Road incident has brought us an opportunity to raise these issues. Let us accept that our city is not safe for women even when they are not going to bars at night.  There is a patriarchal mindset, institutional support and media driven propaganda that violates women’s rights behind this situation. Let us understand that the moral question in a rape and molestation case is the audacity of the rapist to violate another person’s personal space, invade their bodily integrity. The question is not and never should be about whether the woman did something to deserve it. No one ever deserves to be harmed. No amount of moral concerns or cultural protection can allow this.

What however is worrying is the fact that in this sudden outpour of moral consciousness, the central character of the drama, the one who seems to embody the entire morality of a society and culture – the woman - is completely missing. Where is the woman (not the victim, but the woman from the womanhood)? What does she do?  Where does she go?  What does she have to say? Does she have a voice? Does she have rights? The basic of understanding women’s rights is to start from the premise that each woman is an individual and each one has their indivisible, inalienable human rights. Like men, women have the right to self determination and personal choice. Sometimes these choices and determinations made by an individual can be destructive to the person themselves. But that does not allow anyone including the state to violate a person’s personal freedom. To prevent crime, for protection of society and in accordance to the cultural norms of a society there are laws. These laws are applicable to every citizen of the country. In case an individual breaks any law, he or she, irrespective of the gender should be brought to book. The law, although often highly polemic in this patriarchal set up, has the right to take corrective action. Not self appointed vigilante, the moral police.

The slipperiness of morality and any judgment based on it is that there is not really a definition of the right moral behaviour in any society. Particularly in fast changing societies like ours we are faced with new roles and new spaces everyday which extend beyond the norms so far.Every new day brings out new challenges to women. I for example like many million other women have to earn our own keep. We also need to satisfy our creative urges, meet our intellectual demands and enjoy our hard earned freedom and socialize with like minded people. We also need sex and sexual freedom. We need to look after our bodies and minds. We have the right not to face violence because of any of this. Our freedom and our choices need to be respected. Our bodies and our emotions need to be respected. Till these basics, of respect and rights to a woman, are accepted in a society, no society can claim to be tolerant, respectful, progressive.

Preety, 34, who live in Guwahati for 4 years and is now based in Colombo fumes over the internet to me, “This entire debate has been usurped by the media and the political classes to extract their own mileage by playing on public sentiments- which in a patriarchal society always sidesteps the woman. I say we need to turn the whole thing on its head and get it back to the women. Women’s safety in public places- in public transport. Women’s right to have fun! Women’s freedom to choose and live as they like. Go fill the pubs and wear the shortest of skirts. Get out on the streets at midnight and yell the choicest abuses. And lets ensure the pulverizing death of a patriarchal mindset!”

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Earth Lovers of Manipur

World Environment Day came and went. My Facebook was full of messages and thoughts on the world’s environment and its condition. I spent it in Imphal, watching other people plant trees. I must admit, there was a point when I was wondering, looking at people clearing jungles, digging pits, carrying saplings, planting them – ‘I have not lifted a finger in this thing. Does this make me a complete idiot?’

My friends’ 10 year old daughter made me feel better. When I met her just after WED, she blurted – ‘You know Mamu Miss, they are so stupid, they asked us to carry chart paper to school on World Environment Day. It is going to do more damage to the environment na. Because you have to cut more trees to make the chart papers.’

‘You must not call people stupid.’ – Her mother reminded her. 

Her elder sister chimed in the stories. ‘You know Mamu Miss, we were asked to make posters. One boy from my class drew something and wrote  - How Are We Going to Save The Environment by Making Posters on World Environment Day – on it and submitted. I raised a thumbs-up to the boy.  My feeling of being useless eased a bit hearing this and when I thought about my World Environment Day. I was after all in good company and not making any posters or using chart paper at all.

A few of my friends in Imphal are doing a wonderful thing that started 10 years back. When they returned to Manipur from various parts of India after their studies, all they did for the first few months was to smoke up and do what smokers to typically. Dream of doing something nice. 

Near Imphal there is a reserve forest that belongs to the government forest department. Although it is a reserve forest, there is no forest there. The trees have been cut long time back and the foothills only had cropped tree stumps and small bushes. My friends decided to build a hut, live there and ask people not to cut the trees anymore in the area around. 

Soon the trees protected by the group of boys started growing and now it is a young forest that covers two small hills. It is a small place but is the only one around with trees. The boys pulled in whatever little resources they had and kept the place going. They added a kitchen, a tree house, bamboo benches strewn in here and there to sit around in the middle of the jungle, a cowshed and a cow, cats, a dog (his name is Jacky) and rabbits. They planted saplings and made fire lines in the dry season to protect the little forest from wild fire. Seeing all these activities the birds started stopping by and staying back depending on their nature. It has become such a safe space that even the rabbits are not scared of people. 

I spent my day here at Punt Shilok small forest on WED. The place had a festive air around. There was a bunch of people who had gone to visit the place on WED. Like a pilgrimage. And the place has more than one sacred connection. 

There is a sacred spring there that the Manipuris call Puntshilok – the spring of life. Loiya who started living in the hut since the beginning claims he feels his life is expanding every time he takes a bath in that spring. 

Close to the spring of life is a small temple dedicated to the father of a Meitei clan. Ram told me this clan is one of the seven original clans Meitei’s believe they started with. Since the clans came directly from heaven the father of the clan is now worshipped as a god. This is one thing I like about being from the North-East, our people came from no where less than heaven. Ask anyone and nearly all tribes from Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim will tell you their people came straight from heaven. This kind of explains the godlier than though feeling that I carry in myself when I meet people whose people did not come from heaven. 

Talking about heaven, the energy at Punt Shilok is very close to heavenly. Seeing the older boys do this work, young people have started joining in. They come and help run the place. On WED they were all working from morning to evening clearing the forest and planting new trees. 

A lovely lunch was also organized. It made me feel like I have come to a sacred festival. So far my WED participation was limited to poster and drawing competition, seminars, rallies and such government and NGO like activities. This was like a local festival. What people would do during a holy festival in this part of the world – gather, work and eat. 

In the early evening, when the boys finished planting the last of the saplings, we sat on top of the hill, cooling in the breeze and looking at Imphal valley turning golden.  Suddenly the air filled with wild cries coming from the boys. One started and the others joined in. Then they all did it together. 

‘Being close to nature has made me very happy’ one shouting champion told me. Another looked deeply into the distance and said, ‘you know I have been coming to this place for many years. There was nothing here. One day I came here after a gap of 2 years. I suddenly saw trees growing here. I got curious and came to find out. I saw Loiya living here and working really hard. I liked it so much and seeing his hard work was so inspiring, I started coming here regularly and helping him.’ 
Isn’t that just great? A group of boys trying to make a jungle. For many generations now Manipur has been a difficult place to grow up in. The presence of Indian Army and Armed Forces Special Power Act has restricted the youth of Manipur and many other parts of the North-East for generations. I find it incredible that they can still laugh and tell stories of being beaten up by the army while going on bikes to the river nearby for a picnic. They have adopted humour to normalize the terror created by the state. What I find even more incredible is that they are finding their own ways of countering the violence, the restrictions. If a generation before, to cope with the indignation, my generation resorted to arms or drugs, the younger generation is finding other means. It is as if they have evolved out of a need to retain love and creativity. 

The creative energy in Manipur is ever charged with its dance, music, martial arts, theatre, cinema, poetry and literature. They have been using it to protest. If Irom Sharmila is a well known example, there are others who are at it relentlessly. These boys who have been growing a forest made me feel like I am part of resistance that is growing from the earth, fed with love. 

There is however a little twist in this fairy tale. The land where they are growing the forest belongs to the forest department. They do not want ownership of the land. They just want to protect it. Rationally speaking the forest department should give special award and allowance to the boys to retain the forest and make more such forests. They are doing the department’s job. Indian governance is not however known for being rational in history. The department keeps on handing out eviction notices to them along with other people in the area!

I feel outraged at the absence of logic in the whole thing. We talked about what could be done to save the forest, to carry on growing it. The boys are pretty relaxed. ‘We will see when they come. We will talk to whoever we need to. People can see what we are doing. Surely they will support us.’

I hope everyone in Manipur come together and support them. I hope everyone in the world come together and see what a different way of thinking this is. It moves away from the ideas of private property, individualism, consumerism and the non-reversibility of damages being done to the environment. I hope the world supports these kinds of beginnings wherever they are happening. Surely more meaningful than making posters and protest rallies on World Environment Day huh?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cycling the Revolution - Manipur Diary 3

I am in my favourite place of being again. For Manipur is not just a place where you live. Here you be, a part of things happening around you. Some inspiring and some unpleasant. And you laugh at everything.  
I am here after what feels like a long time. In the meantime some economic blockade of the highway has happened. The congress won the last state elections completely. One sided. ‘No opposition?!’ I express my worries of basic western democratic understanding. ‘But many young people have won and 3 women MLAs too for the 1st time’ - I am assured. Thing in Manipur is never one sided.
The first meeting, I invite myself to, is the meeting of the Manipur Cycle Club – MCC as they like to call themselves. They are having their annual meeting and the elections for the new board. Ram my friend has already received domestic threats of divorce from his wife Nandini if he becomes the president. Going by the feel in the air, some lawyers might be able to make money if Nandini acts her threat. I try to mediate randomly few minutes before the elections. Turns out, Ram is the new president. Few who are at the know about the threat look worried. Nandini looks happy. There goes my story about the domestic drama. I try to pay attention to the MCC instead. 

MCC started in Jan 2011. Some people who like to ride cycles and think about their place, the world etc came together to ride and promote riding of cycles.
They are really enthusiastic about it. Already they have got people to pledge to ride cycles, bought cycles for people to rent, doing BMX stunts, giving away cycles to people, printed t-shirts. They are talking about including cycles in the Imphal development plan and talking to the government about making policies to make Imphal a cycle city. Through cycles they are ‘defining’ their city. They are talking about economic development, climate change, of health and life, memories and science. They have organized cycle tours to the Sangai Festival 2011 and have published a book with a collection of writing on cycles and the larger benefits of riding cycles. The book is called Cycle for Life and the writings cover from philosophy to humour around the cycle.   More about their hectic activities here
Imphal is always in some very interesting crossroad of time and things. Right now under the Asian Development Bank’s Jawharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (ignore the ridiculous naming), the city is planned for a change. There will be roads and markets made, arrangement for public transport and such designs done. The MCC sees this as the right time to include cycles in the city planning and make a city for people and the future. Great stuff! 

What I like best about the club about the club is the BMX riders. This is why Manipur is so cool. Where other people play cricket and kabaddy these kids are BMXing. And from what I read, in Bobo Khuraijam’s article E=MC2 is that kids have been doing it here for years. 

Really, cycling city is such a good idea. And I have a feeling Imphal is on its way to become one. That’s why I am going to move to Imphal. Can you even imagine Guwahati ever becoming a cycle city? Ram talks enthusiastically about cycles to everyone he meets now a days. That’s why he has become the president you see. He told me I should go and talk to the minister of Guwahati about policies to make at least some parts of Guwahati only for cycles. Really they should. But I told Ram I am not going. Because if I tell anyone in Guwahati about cycles, they will laugh at me. They will think either I am being loony or I am saying this because I do not have the money to buy the latest biggest guzzler. So I refused.
Ram says this is what everyone says. MCC went to meet the chief minister of Manipur to ask him to support the cycle revolution. He said – ‘Why do you want to ride cycles? Drive cars na.’ Amazing! Only a politician can say that.
They are however not disheartened. They have plans of popularizing the idea and getting public support. Every one I have met supports the idea when they hear about it. If they are already not a member of the MCC that is. When I move to Imphal, I am willing to become the member of any club for the first time in my adult life to join MCC. If my office does not support me, I will sell my car and do it. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Bangkok Diary: Heart full of garbage

Bangkok, to my North-Eastern existence, is a very unreal place. It is the biggest city I have ever seen. Even if you consider the fact that till I was about 16, I had actually not seen a city and from then on have seen only a few, it still is a very big city. According to some scientific study there are more than 3700 7-11 stores in Bangkok. This automatically means that there are more than 3700 street corners in Bangkok. And that makes it a very big city.

The convenience of 7-11 aside, it is ranked as one of the best cities in the world by most travel magazines. Tom-Yam-Goong (famous spicy tangy flavourful Thai prawn soup) is a proof of this.

When I am not either looking up at the tall buildings or looking down into my Tom Yam bowl, the city has never ceased to surprise me. In a very pleasant way. Known as the food capital of the world, the city must have millions of eateries. Most of them on the streets. And yet there is no garbage lying on the street. How is that possible? I know, fellows back home will say, 'it is because we have too many people and we do not have garbage bins around'. Statistics say that Guwahati has an area of 264 sq km, with a population a little less than 1 million (968, 549) and its population density is  3649 people/ sq km. Bangkok has an area of little more than 1500 sq km with a population of around 9 million and a density of 5259 people/ sq km. It also receives more than 10 million tourists every year. Logistically speaking, which city should be easier to manage waste? No, it is not a matter of numbers. It is a matter of mentality.

In 2011 a bomb scare made the Bangkok authorities remove all the garbage cans from the city. The authority has not managed to bring them back yet. What I hear from reliable source (as in I have to completely rely on this source) that the bins are lying in some bin-yard near the city. They will be brought back someday. Just that they have not found the time!

Leaving the authorities to do their duty, what comes to my mind is a morning early this year in Guwahati. I land at the ISBT bus stand and decide to take a rickshaw instead of an auto so that I can enjoy the early morning fresh air. The astronomical fares the auto guys demanded made being healthy a cheaper option at that point. What however I was greeted by was piles and piles of garbage – dead animals, rotting food, flying plastic bags and a stench so strong it nearly pushed me out of the rickshaw. And this is not one site. Every few meters on the highway and in the city roads this was the scene. And this is not one day either. For those of us who live in Guwahati know it very well that we actually live in a garbage hole.

Coming back to Bangkok, it has been more than 6 months that the cans are resting in their yard. The city is still clean. Still there are no garbage flying from anyone’s frying pan or soup bowl. Not a grain of rice escape their chop sticks. How? What people have done is that they collect their garbage in their individual garbage cans/ bags through the day. As one bags fills out they tie it up properly and keep it at the back of their make shift store. At night, before going home, they pile up the packets in one place leave it for the garbage vans to pick it up.

What strikes is the sincerity with which people do their work. Chulalongkorn University gets its weekly cleaning every Saturday. I have noticed fervor in the people who do this job. They sweep, wash, prune, water and organize every corner of the campus. And it is a big campus for your information. They even clean the roof of the shades that cover the footpath. This is something I miss at home. If the Assamese people were already born slow (lahe lahe being their favourite excuse), with newer economic and political relationships they have learnt to turn not doing things into a form of expertise. Every person, who has some job to do, tries not to do it at all. It is only by some sheer probability of transaction cost that you will get them to do about 5% of the job. Of course very unhappily and asking for extra money very frequently. If we did not have the Bangladeshis, I wonder if we would get anything done in that place at all.

Talking about the Bangladeshis, one day walking around the city, I reach Sukumvit – the immigrants’ underbelly of Bangkok. There are streets full of signs in Benagli. I enter a ‘Muslim Food’ place to have beer. There I chat up the waiter and the manager in Bengali. They get really happy that I speak Bengali and extremely unhappy that I drink beer. And they tell me I look like a Nepali.

Talking about Nepal, that Bagmati river (?!) in Kathmandu is filthy. Unless they have cleaned it up in the last week (which they can if they want) it was filled with plastic packets filled with all kinds of garbage. The place looked like it was made of garbage filled plastic bags. It was stinky and abominable to go close to. We had to park the van next to it and walk across to get to Darbar Sqaure. It was stinky and not rememberable. If we do not stop now, Guwahati, Assam, North-East and other places in the world will soon turn out the same way.

It is sad that when I sit down anyplace I am in and think about home, all I can think about is garbage. I have nearly finished my term in the enemy boot camp.  Time to go back looms. All I can think about is not being able to walk around in Guwahati. I feel sad.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Trauma and Self-Care

A guy called John Pead came to teach us last week. He is from Australia. So far in the course, I have had it till my snooty post-colonial nose from the ‘western’ teachers really! How much of white peoples’ understanding of Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan can you take without insulting your post-colonial intelligence you tell me. They speak as if the only beings with an occupied (as opposed to vacant/empty) spherical body part above the shoulder in Afghanistan are the ones that considerably lack in melanin. I will not go into the debate of occupation and vacating for some might take it as a downright insult. Not that I mind insulting anyone at all. Just that this is not the purpose of mentioning John Pead. Overall the whole experience has been so colonial that I have considered calling up Achille Mbembe and Gaytari Chakravarty Spivak to complain.

My urge to call and complain has suddenly increased in the past few weeks. When I discovered the next module was to be Trauma and Self-Care. I considered calling up my boss (who is at the moment heavily ignoring me) and telling him I am coming back right now. But cost of long distance calls and Thai food hold me back.

I chose to burden my benevolent classmate instead. As I complained to her about being in the enemy boot camp, I dreaded that the next lecturer will now turn unsuspecting Afghan and Sudanese into traumatized victims needing psycho-social support. I visualized hoards of Australians (who have grown beards to fit into the Afghan culture) talking to Afghans who are traumatized because already the ‘Disarmament and Demobilisation’ guys have taken away their AKs.

As the Afghan lies on the couch by the Bamiyam Buddha the bearded Australian prompts – You need to try. Try to remember how they took away your AK 47. Where were you? What were you doing? How did you feel? What did you think?

Afghan on the couch – it was not a 47, it was a 56 damn you (swear word in Afghan) Do not ask me to talk about it. It is the saddest moment of my life. It was my favourite toy. What will I play with now? And the bloody Disarmament guy had a whole rocket launcher to himself too!

Australian – That is very good. If you can remember the exact model of your Kalashnikov it means your memory is not completely disjointed. You even remember the weapon your traumatiser carried. If you try you will be able to join the fragmented parts of that incident and that will heal you.

Ok, I must admit I am getting an uncontrollable desire to continue with this scene under the BB. But this story is not about that either. This is what I was dreading will happen in class last week.

Come John Pead and no matter how hesitant I feel talking about anything positive, I must say, he and elections in Myanmar are the only positive things I have heard in the past few weeks. Yes, I know, don’t remind me that elections in Myanmar mean nothing. Perhaps JP means nothing too but I need to get on with the story.

He spoke mental health, trauma, systemic oppression in groups like Indigenous population in Australia and the effect of that, trans-generational conveyance and he said – psychiatric intervention is not always the best thing to do when people are traumatized.

For the first time in my life I heard a mental health practitioner saying intervention is not always the best thing! I could not believe my ears. He does not want to go to Afghanistan and provide ‘trauma counseling to the affected population’? Is he Raja Harichandra in disguise? For my non- Indian friends, Raja Harichandra is this nearly mythological king from some part of India who went through absurd levels of suffering because he would only be honest and truthful. Not that I like Raja Harichandra a bit. He was a patriarchal maniac if you ask me. But that’s another story again.

Now, enough about JP too. I feel like erasing everything I have said so far about him because it all sounds so positive. I am sure if I see him one more time I will be able to find some fault in him. Some of my classmates who are further ahead of me on the irritability scale have already found many. But the man did say many things I did not know about mental health or had assumed completely wrong things. Now, it is not every day that a man can prove me wrong if you know me. And it is probably the rarity of the occasion that has impressed me so much.

Now to some basic cokoo, loony, banana science. For those of you more knowledgeable than me (really?!) this might be namby-pamby stuff for you. Leave a nasty comment if it is. But please do not suggest psychotherapy at any cost. JP says we are junkies.

I actually wanted to do this in a quiz session. But since blogs are not really interactive tools, I will have to sound very scientific.

Mental Health: No, not the physical health of a person who has gone mental. WHO refers to it as a ‘state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of diseases.’ Like all UN definitions this one too is so broad that it has spread itself thin into air. I can’t remember what JP said as I did not take note in class. But from what I remember clearly what he said is something close to this – ‘A state of emotional and psychological well-being in which an individual is able to use his or her cognitive and emotional capabilities, function in society, and meet the ordinary demands of everyday life.’ This one is said by Scientifically what I understand is that mental health is important for us to be able to enjoy our single malt and marijuana and to borrow money from anyone (especially parents) without guilt. It might also keep me from treating my boyfriends so badly. It might make me not pretend to be working the whole time and actually do some work in the office. This one I just made up and is not backed by any science at all.

I have already admitted I did not take note in class. But when he talked about human emotions (happiness –sadness), their physical manifestations (what in India we call gas and heart burn), their transference (love, jealousy, violence) and how love and work can help us live a healthy life it made sense to me. See how simple it is to have a normal life. All you need is love and work. I remembered many of my friends, my lovers; my family and a lot of incidents, feelings, reactions, and decisions became clear to me. I have been reading up frantically ever since. And yes, even to find peace in the world, to resolve conflicts, we need loving human beings first. So whether it is the descendents of Alexander who want to dominate the world through sophisticated warfare and sinister business plans or it is the guy from Burma who has been living in the refugee camp in Mae La for 30 years, we all need to feel good sometimes. And love is good for that. Love can make the changes we desire. Love can make good policies and make us see all human beings as human beings irrespective of their skin colour and size of the penis.

Uff, do I sound like I have flowery clouds in place of brain already? That must be the seesha. This is scientific, I am telling you. And if it sounds like free advice again, I am sorry. I am advising myself loudly and hoping you will hear and pull me up if I do not follow my own advice.

No, money is not important at all. You can have it or make it important for you but that is only transference. Yes, physical well being is necessary for mental health and for that a certain level of physical comfort, basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and health care need to be met. It is very unfortunate that in this world of ours many people live in the absence of at least one or more of these basic needs. But you know what, there are more unhappy people in the world than there are poor people. And I should mention that the way we understand poverty is very subjective too. A person who owns his own land, grows his own food and has his river to fish from might be happy without potato crisps, but for some of us that is a sad life, ain’t it?

No, jealousy is not an emotion. It is a conveyance of anger. If you are angry at something in/about life, you will feel jealous of others. So every time you are deeply in love and feel very jealous, think what is making you angry. Not what is making you jealous or take it as a measurement of the depth of your love. Not healthy for the mental at all.

Losing a mobile phone or a break up with your lover is not a traumatic event. You mean, when I am traumatized by the bad writing or bad public speaking, it is not a traumatic event at all? I am traumatized learning this! For an incident or an event to be traumatic it has to involve a threat to life, a face-to-face with death. That’s it. Now I can’t even have PTSD. Damn these scientists. This decreases my chance of drama and manipulations to near zero. Not healthy at all.

To be continued…

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Green Pills, Pink Crystals and While Canvas Shoe Dreams

Last night I popped a green pill that I should not have. I knew that pills do horrible things to me. But my throat was hurting mad and I thought why not. And that’s not the only why. It’s also true that I had checked on the net and it said Bormhexine makes you dizzy and hallucinate. I must say I gave in to temptation, but a lesson that I never learn is, drugs are not ice creams. They are mind fucks. And just like fucks, although it can be really nice sometimes (and this is what tempts you all the time) sometimes it can go horribly wrong. I pay my price of course. By dreaming of people in white canvas shoes, carrying multi-coloured plastic sacks and boarding a train to go to America.

Earlier in the day, we had gone to visit an organisation that facilitates safe migration. The place is called refugee processing centre. As we waited for the official to arrive to show us around, I see people strewn about. Some lying on hammocks, children playing around and some sitting around waiting. Some of them are behind the fence. Some outside, near to us. Some are peeping at us from their first floor window. They wear puans around their waist, have flat nose and slit eyes and tanakha on their faces. They remind me of home. I look around and see the vehicles parked in the parking lot. I recognise the ones that are used to carry the refugees. They look like prison vans with windows. The sitting arrangement is in two singular files along the windows. The door is at the back which can be latched from outside. I think - why they can’t have a normal bus? The one that has two doors on the side and that has rows or two or three seats? I tell myself, I am too much of a cynic. Or maybe a namby-pamby frooty loop. Will I be happy if the bus was coloured pink and flowery? But it was already a bright blue.

The very camp official arrives. He apologises for being late. He had to organize a funeral he says laughing. I am desperately looking for a laugh too. My throat hurts and it is bloody hot and sunny. I need medicine and laughter is the… (ok, I promise some they I will stop myself from using these over used stock phrases. But the temptation of repeatedly irritating choosey readers is too much to resist). I find none in his funeral description. It seems one of the refugees from the camp and he needs to find a spot to burry and a pastor to carry the rituals. He says all of this laughing. Like it is so funny he bends down every sentence.

Our tour of the processing centre begins. This is the ‘in processing centre’. This is where the refugees, who have been registered, come for their medical and interviews. They stay at the processing centre for 2-4 days and then they go back to the camp. At the camp they wait to hear from the host country. When the host country accepts, they are brought to the out processing centre. From there they depart to the host country. The place smells sterile. The people about have expressionless faces. The camp cannot stop laughing.

We proceed to the ‘out processing centre’. We are told we are lucky because we are getting to see the last group of refugees for this half of the year. Lucky?? My throat hurts, the sun is too much, I was born in a country whose money is 45 to a dollar, the government wants to build dams on my rivers and roads and railways which will turn more and more people into refugees. I rarely feel lucky!

The out processing centre reminds me of a halal chicken factory I saw once. A maulbi stands at the end of the conveyor belt which brings the live chicken into the slaughtering machine. As the chickens go into the machine one by one the maulbi keeps on repeating his prayers that makes the meat halal. And then you are very particular when you go to a restaurant and ask – is your meat halal?

The out processing centre looks like a factory building. I am told, it was made to be a factory building. It is being used as a refugee processing centre. A group of people are busy getting colourful plastic bags into a waiting bus. The bags are called what they call ‘Zim Bags’ in South Africa because they were seen first being used by Zimbabwen refugees. They should be called refugee bags because refugees from all over the world use them but that would be too impolite and some non-refugees use them too. The first thing I notice is that they are all wearing the same white canvas shoes. Then I notice that they are wearing pants and shirts and jackets and caps. Then I notice that they look cleaner and healthier than the people we met at the in processing centre which is about 300 metres away. ‘You can go and take photo with them. Also say bye bye to them. They are going to America.’ - We are told. I sit down on a chair. I am not feeling good at all. My throat hurts and it is too hot. From the corner of my eye, I see the white canvas shoes moving.

The camp has a partner now who takes us to the medical centre. Someone passes out. As she is carried away hurriedly to the centre, I have an incredible urge to join her. But my bad luck extends to my acting skills as well. So I take no chance. The medical centre smells strongly of disinfectant. They have quarantine room we are informed. There are posters that say do not chew betel nut. I am dying to have one as soon as I read the poster.

We move to the cultural demonstration centre. There are four or five small demo houses there. They have shoe racks, kitchens and toilets. The refugees learn how to use these things so that they do not have much problem when they reach America. It is perhaps a very realistic model too, considering how small their living arrangements will be.

From the centre we go to see the refugee camp. Camps where registered, unregistered, processed, unprocessed refugees live. We are told we can take photos from the road. But we cannot interact with anyone. They remind of villages back home. Just that they are packed too close to each other. Captivity requires controllable physical space. At the camp I wonder, if we can go to see how refugees live, why are the refugees not taken to real homes to show how people use stove and flush? Why demo units for them?

By now the sun has gotten into my head. The pain in the neck is unbearable too. I require medication and quick. I am taken to a pharmacy where a teenage girl gives me two strips of pills and some lozenge. I don’t feel assured. She looks too young and too quick. I am fearful of western medicine too. Especially of the ones that can be bought legally over the counter. I skip the pills and suck on the lozenge feeling a complete sucker.

At night I read up the medicine. I was right for not taking them. The doses prescribed by the quick teenager are far higher than the doses recommended by the pharma company. For once I trust a company more than a human being. But then, if the human being is a teenager, your choice is not so difficult. Talking of teenagers, there is one hidden inside me for sure. For as soon I read that one of the prescribed drug is used for entertainment, the teenager gets fidgety. It says it can cause dizziness and hallucination. I decide to pop one immediately. To the adult me I tell, it is because the throat hurts so much. To the teenager I do a high five.

As I start hallucinating, I know I have made a classic teenage mistake again. To do drugs, you must be careful of the space, people and frame of mind you are in. And a refugee processing centre is not exactly Lumbini jungle on a full moon night.

As I toss and turn about my bed, I see rows and rows of white canvas shoes. Moving, running, sometimes falling down. I reach home and feel the soothing presence of my mother, her face has tanakha and the houses are all too close to each other. Someone turns a shower on and I see a poster that says ‘Refugee, Immigrant, Labour’. I worry about the people who are leaving on a train. Do they know how far they are going? What kind of a life they will have? If they will ever be able to come back home? Or are they writing the beginning of another history? The history of another world, where there will be no boundaries, so there will be no refugees, no illegal immigrant. I remind myself never to do over the counter hallucinogenic ever again. They don’t make them as good as the pink crystals. At least the pick crystals would have added colours to the white canvas shoes. I need to sleep. I need to forget.

Every dream has a connection to something real you have seen. Every real you have seen has a connected emotion. These emotions create dreams. Sometimes they are real, sometimes imaginary and absurd.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Darma-Karma Lucky Draw


Yesterday I was sitting under a tree at the Darma centre. It was so tranquil. Well, at least for some time. There I was, lying down, reading, sitting up, drawing, in beautiful harmony with the old trees and the still pond. A cool breeze made the hot afternoon feel like a tiger balm. You know what I mean? When it is warm and soothing? Birds were singing in the trees. The cuckoo kept on going coo-coo and I wondered if it has flown from home or is going to go home for Bihu. I mean overall it was like a very meditative scene. And at the Darma centre too.

But alas! Like Budhdha says (or does he really?) happiness like other emotions in life are momentary. What he did not say, I think, is that the moments can travel at break-neck speed in some and particularly urban settings. Hardly had I finished drawing the trunk of the tree that a monk started preaching on the mike. I admit he was no where near shouting (like the hindu and muslim bastards when they get their hands around a mike) and he sounded like he was saying meditative things. All in Thai. I swear I did not mind this meditative drone added to my background at all. But somehow my mind would try to pay attention to the words. I also thought maybe I will be able to learn high Thai from listening to preaching. Fat chance! At some point I thought I heard him distinctly saying the words – ‘lucky draw’. And things went only downhill from there. In a slow deteriorating order.

Then came the cleaning girls. No, it is not their fault. Thai people are really clean. Why only the other day in our class the person in charge of running things has to make an announcement that people must take showers! Well, this is another story. But I am coming to that later. So the Thai people are really clean. This huge city of Bangkok must have more than a million eateries. A whole lot of them on the street. But there is no garbage thrown around. Somehow, living in India, it is almost like an implausible dream. Every Sunday, the university gets cleaned. They sweep the pavements, clean the water bodies, water the plants and do all kinds of things to shine the campus weekly. While walking to the Darma Centre I saw them getting up on the shade over the pavement (yes, they have that too) to clean the leaves off the roof! So it was only a matter of moments that they would come to clean the exact spot where I was sitting. It was a shady sport between 2 old trees. Naturally under the trees there were leaves. They made a nice soft bed to spread my sleeping bag on. But it is Sunday and the trees need cleaning too. So came the cleaning girls, smiled at me and politely shifted my belongings one by one to an already cleaned corner. Since my interest on the Budhdhist discourse in Thai had increased intensely after hearing the words ‘lucky draw’, the dislodging was of some irritation. I did not want to miss a word of the discourse least I missed an opportunity to win some lucky draw. But my latest philosophical enlightenment is that not many people care about what I want or not want. Sigh!

So I settled on the other side of under-the-tree and tried not to lament my lost chance at a lucky draw. I told myself cleaning is good, for the person sitting next to you in a closed van and for your soul. I started reading the book on Thai culture and society with hope that I will learn more about taking showers, using Thai toilets and winning lucky draws when I noticed a neighbour. I raised my eyes to have a look at him and down dismantled all my prejudices about Thais being clean people with all my belief in that classroom instructor of ours. For I could smell the alcohol breathe mixed with sweat from a distance of 5 meters. It also bothered me that suddenly I had company. The presence of this man in my life was like a quickie of learning and de-learning. Although he dismantled my notion of Thai cleanliness, he did reconfirm my view that Thais are extremely polite people. He smiled at me, did a wai (a namaskar in Thai) and started talking to me in Thai. I had a feeling he was somehow concerned about my sitting alone under the tree. (This is another one of my latest philosophical grasp that random people seem to be concerned about me. But this too is another story. I save it for later). As I tried to explain to him that I do not speak Thai and I do not want to be disturbed, slowly, I realised that my moments of happiness, tranquillity and meditation for the day are over.

But then, Budhdha has many stories and none of them linear. When I was trying to explain to him that he must not disturb me in my creative pursuit of pretending to be creative, one of the cleaning girls came to my rescue. She sat 5 meters away from both me and the man forming a triangle. The man now naturally started talking to her. I started preparing for my departure. But the man frantically said something to the girl and walked away fast. The girl told me to wait. Thoroughly confused by now and annoyed that I am unable to understand Thai after being here for whole of 2 weeks, I slowed down my process of packing my numerous unBudhdhist belongings. In a few minutes, the man returned with two cool drinks in his hand. He offered one to me and the other to the girl. She took hers and looked at me. I accepted mine and took a long drag at the straw. Just as the liquid passed by thirsty throat, I remembered a word of warning from some random free advisers who are generally concerned about me – do not accept food or drink from strangers. I looked around me, the Darma Centre stood in its calmness, the old trees were enjoying the cool breeze, the birds were playing next to me by the pond, children were cycling around, groups of people had come and sat around, the sun was about to set, the evening light is filtering through the clouds to the leaves. But my chains from Babylon drag me back, into the world of suspicion and fear, of warning and advice, of fleeting moments of confusion. I wonder what the Budhdha said about that. Is this my Karma?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Strawberry Cream vs Banana Split

Saturday was the football match between Chulalongkorn and Thamasat University, Bangkok. This was the 68th time they played each other. Naturally the stadium was packed. There were a few firsts there too for me

A pink football team

The revelry outdid the rivalry

For a football crowd it was so polite, it made me feel like I am sitting in a kindergarten school annual function. No one pushed, shoved or shouted any ones eardrums burst.

Combining football and carnival, this is Thailand’s answer to Brazil!

For every day of the week, there is a colour in Thai culture. Sunday – Red, Monday –Yellow, Tuesday – Pink, Wednesday –Green, Thursday – Orange, Friday – Light Blue and Saturday –Purple.

Because they do not have such notions as pink is for girls and blue is for boys, you see people of all gender wearing all colours. Yes, you also see people of all gender, wearing all colours, in all directions, doing all kinds of things. Rather nice. This all gender thing and those boys in pink. Reminds me of strawberry ice cream, slurp! ;)

And the results were

Most importantly, there was also bubble milk and many other kinds of edibles at the venue!!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Imaging Chula

I am in university again. For the first time in one with good food!

Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok has a co-operative canteen that sells an amazing range of yummy Thai food at dart cheap price. Although this is the best thing about Chula, I have been told the university is also famous for being one of the oldest and best educational institutions in South-East Asia etc. It seems some people (read Thamasad University, Chula’s soccer rivals) also insist they are just the oldest but those are unimportant details. And thankfully there is very little of this big university comes between the canteen and me. It is less than 2 minutes away from my room.

My first few days went into taking photos of all the food that I have been eating. I am taking pictures so that I do not repeat the same dish. Before I leave Thailand, I want to taste everything that they have. But after about 10 days of doing this, I realised, no matter how many photos I take or how many ever things I eat, I will never be able to eat everything Thailand has to offer. It is like trying to reach the end of time or space.

This realization however strangely was a relief. I felt light as the burden of having to eat everything lifted off me (could also be the fact that I stopped eating four meals a day consisting of at least 3 kinds of meat and fish) and I decided to go have a look at the other things in the university. In the process I also took some photos, Downloading them, I found out that my camera was permanently set to take food photos at the co-op canteen. So they came about rather queer. Thankfully, there are also such things called photo editors and I fiddled them around to make them marginally presentable. Some beyond recognition. But how does that matter?

Chula main campus, seen from the entrance. No, that is not my palace.

Chula is lovely to walk about. Sometimes around the king, sometimes around his gardens.

Another tree-lined lane

This is the book store at Chula. They have many books. In Thai. We went there to buy Chula T-shirts for the historical soccer match that is being played between Chula and Thamasad University. The rivals have played each other for ages. Each team has feelings towards each other similar to what the US of A has towards terrorism in other countries. The match is tomorrow Saturday, 25th Feb, 2012.

The Darma Centre where one can meditate. They also hold lectures on spiritual matters. All in Thai. It is very serene and has lovely trees around it. However, the most spiritual and meditative place I have found, in case you have not figured it out already, is the co-operative canteen.

Apart from the canteen (whose photos I have decided to publish in a multi volume book and hence not published here) the other things I love in Chula are its trees. It has many trees. Many shady corners. Every day when I walk around to digest my canteen food, I fall in love with a new one.