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!