2014 May
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Practice makes us perfect

From my Dibrugarh diary:

I received the final confirmation of my ticket at 5:30 pm via an SMS; I had been wait-listed in the AC coach. A wait-listed ticket booked online gets cancelled automatically. Hence I had to buy a new ticket standing in the line. That meant that I had to reach the train station at least two hours before the departure time, 11:45 pm, of my train.

I called my auto driver and asked him to pick me up at 9:30pm from the hotel. thinking that the 7 km ride to the train station should not take more than 20 minutes. The auto driver was punctual and arrived with company, his brother. I loaded my heavy backpack and boarded the auto with a feeling of uneasiness. En route to the train station, a police constable flagged us near a junction. But our auto driver brazenly ignored him and continued.

“Wow! I would never do that to a police constable!” I said with all the surprise I could muster.

“Oh, he tries to flag vehicles every night,” said the driver’s brother.

“Yes, that’s what they do in Bangalore too. They check whether the drivers are drunk,”

“Yes, we are drunk. But not much, you know. We split a 375 ml whiskey bottle between us. We exercise moderation,” replied the brother in a voice filled with honesty.

“Whoa! You guys would have been in trouble had that policeman caught you!” I said with amazement.

“Yeah. But that police guy himself was drunk. He was trying to stop us to get a free ride home. He does it every night and begs people to drop him home. Didn’t you see him wobbling?” the driver asked me.

“No. It was too dark. And it is still too dark,” I cleared my throat. “Please drive carefully. The road is full of potholes!”

“Don’t worry sir. We drink every night and drive. We have practice,” replied the brother confidently.

Terrified by the situation I was in, I shifted to a less terrifying subject to distract myself. “What do you guys think about Modi and BJP coming to power?” I asked, staring at the darkness ahead of me.

Human? No, I am an Indian!

I pity you; do I or should I? It is not my problem that you are born to poor parents, of lower caste, from abc religion, reside inside a forest that has resources beneath it, or live on the wrong side of the dam.

It is not my headache that you are a woman. Nor is it my worry that justice, education, access to health or employment is not reaching you. If your land gets grabbed in the name of development, so be it. Comfort of a few million people matters more than the survival of a few thousand.  We need more industries, bigger towns and wider roads so that I can have a variety of job opportunities. I should be able to drive to those places in my private car faster so that I can come back home and watch TV.

All I am worried about is myself and my family; whether my children go to school; whether I have electricity to watch cricket match or soaps; whether I have a job that provides me with good salary and health insurance; whether there are ATMs in my neighbourhood; whether there is high speed internet and good cell phone connection.

I am not bothered that the farmer who is feeding me is dying hungry, I don’t care that my habits and routines are polluting the environment, I am not bothered that my shopping habits is ruining small businesses.

I know that I am the only species on earth who is capable of thinking. But why should I think or act when all my needs are taken care of. Do you know how much work it is to travel, to talk to people, to read, and understand a complex nation like India? I am too busy to spend time on such understanding. I am happy with whatever media or McDonald’s feeds me. I consume information and food quite effortlessly. I confuse my analytical skills with critical thinking skills and if someone opposes my thinking , I will call them pseudo-intellectuals, pseudo-liberals or, better yet, Congress sycophants.

I love peace. Have you seen how many anti-war pages I have liked on facebook? I am an activist. Have you seen how many online petitions I have signed? I believe in bringing in change. Do you know how much money I have donated to charities?

I know that someone has to pay the cost of development, someone has to suffer for my luxuries, someone has to die so that I can procreate. Colonization, racism, sexism, and slavery made the west a developed hemisphere. Look what happiness development has brought them! They can now buy make-up kits and antidepressants with free same day delivery. Credit cards and mobile phones have made such purchases possible virtually from anywhere.

What’s with the people living in villages and forests? What do they know of happiness or civilization? What is life without greed? What is life without the suffocation of living inside concrete buildings , breathing thick smoke or drinking contaminated water ? Why do they want to hide in the forests or villages? Why are they afraid of the comfortable life a city provides? Cowards! I want to show them, those who want to escape from the realities of life, how to face life and live it. After all, Ache din aanewale hain!

I want show that world that India too can be a developed nation by following the path of kindness. We are not cruel like some of the western countries. We, Indians, don’t have the history of invading foreign countries, subjugating their people, wiping them out if needed, and looting their resources. We believe in self-rule (swaraj) and hence in self-colonization. We have bred for a reason. 1.2 billion people! If we subjugate all the Indian poor, it is like subjugating all the people of USA and Europe put together. The carbon footprint of our violence will be minimal as the victims live next door. And yes, we will make those rifles and grenades locally. Local police and army will be brought in to rape the women, butcher the old, and jail the young. We understand our local people and culture better and hence we are more efficient at exploiting them. We will make the British wish that they had outsourced their colonisation to us.

I know that no other creature on earth can think or empathize the way we, the humans, do. But if I think and empathize, I am afraid that I might use that ability all up. I am saving it for all the people who are going to suffer so that they can think about how it all happened and empathize with their fellow victims.

OK, I am a homo-sapien. But what’s in the name of a species? I am an Indian (by that I mean Hindu + upper caste, upper or middle class + male) and that’s what matters!

Jai Hind! And yes, Vande Mataram!

Question of situation

I get haircuts (even Ripley does not believe this!)

I was visiting World Bank office in Nairobi, Kenya and I wanted to look civilized. Or else the bank might fund more projects in India to make us “look” civilized. I was staying in YMCA and it was too late to go out to buy a razor to shave my head (yes, I have so much hair that it needs to be razed, not cut!) I decided to get a haircut from the saloon inside YMCA.

After explaining my hairstylist, Esther, about my necessity of getting a haircut, I sat down on the chair. Of course, we have to kill time. A shave and a haircut that takes ten minutes is too long a silence not to be broken.

“Which country are you from?”

“India,” I said, wallowing in my exoticism.

“I love India. I have always wanted to visit India.”

“You should visit India soon then. Most Kenyans I have met want to visit India.”

My haircut was over by then! Esther prepared me for my shave by lathering up my face and neck. When she was about to scrape the stubble off my neck, she asked “What’s your religion?”

A hard question for an atheist to answer even under normal circumstances. With a knife to my neck, I was gambling. “I am born to Hindu parents,” I responded.

“Hindu? What religion is that?”

“It is a religion which gives you the flexibility to live life any way you want. But some of its followers want you to live life only the way they want. Not sure how different it is from Christianity”

“Oh my God! Can you take me to India with you? I want to spread the love of the lord who died for our sins.”

“What sins have you committed, Esther?”

“I cannot think of any right now. But I must have sinned right? Why would then Jesus die for us, if not for our sins?”

Not knowing how to answer her innocent question, I said, “Visiting India is a long process. You need a passport and a visa. May be your church might help you to visit India.”

“Oh? I need passport and visa even to spread the word of God?”

“Unfortunately, yes”

FAQs in Bangladesh

If you are a foreigner travelling in Bangladesh, please be ready to answer the following questions:

  1.  Which country?
  2. Are you married?
  3. What is your religion?

Third question was the most ubiquitous in Bangladesh. I did not experience this in Nepal. But in Kenya, it was a different story.

In Chittagong, near Sitakund, I met with a group of 8 to 12-year-old children playing cricket in the back alleys.

From a distance a kid hollered, “Which country?”


The kids stopped playing cricket and approached me to ask a more important question, “Which religion?”

“Humanity,” I replied with a smile.

“No, I am not asking about how you look. I am asking what religion you follow,” blurted a kid in the group.

“I don’t have any religion,” I reassured them.

“One always has a religion”

“See, you are wrong. I don’t have one and I am alive, so far”

“You are lying!”