Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Life is a Zoo in a Jungle!

Musings on a Bandh Day

When can one declare that life is getting too predictable, too routine and hence very very boring? Whenever you feel that time is ripe for such candid declaration…life outsmart you with a new twist or turn and you end up realizing once again like John Lennon that -Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans. Well,its not always that such sudden changes bring any excitement or fresh energy in the otherwise routine life…at times it also fills you with a deep sense of hopelessness and anger. I am facing all these emotions today.

No I was not making any other plans for today। I was all set to reach office and work ॥as usual. But then, someone somewhere decided to call a Bandh…and my day goes topsy- turvy. I wonder how long these useless buggers in employees’ union will take to realize the futility of this Bandh . Bandh in this city is mostly without any conviction. People stay at home enjoy the unexpected holiday(which conveniently happens to be on Friday or Monday in most cases .)…but usually there is no support to the issues or protest mechanism of bandh. Most people stay at home so that they are not harassed by the goons sitting in the associations/political parties …..others because of transport problem. In the end it is a forced support- much like forced membership and forced subscription of association in the offices. But then most people in our world allow themselves to be taken against their own will ...

"जिस तरह हमको बजाओ इस सभा में
आदमी नहीं हैं, हम झुनझुने हैं " -(दुष्यंत कुमार)

It is a hopeless situation for everybody. All the officers in my office have to come and sit in office for whole day without much work to do. Majority of other officials are compelled by the union to take leave. Many are not allowed to enter the office by force. The conviction on the issues in question , is so less that even the biggest union leaders will apply leave for “urgent private work” and would not dare to mention strike/bandh in the leave application fearing Dies Non . It is such a wastage of public money and resources…and surprisingly no one in this state is bothered actually. They blame UP-Bihar to be such passive sufferers of political hell but in their own states they fail to curb this menace of unnecessary unionism. These bandhs come with some rituals e.g burning a government bus/vehicle and throwing stones on some commuters. In the evening everybody sits happily in their home claiming the success/failure of bandh depending on which side of the bandh you are. So today I am again in office …all alone on the entire floor…not much work to do….no pending files either. Its almost like a habit....whenever you try discussing the horror of a bandh people are ready with even better tales of a bandh that happened in the year so and so. How many people were stranded on railway stations or how many buses were burnt . This happened last year too…and also year before . Going by the way people have adopted it in their lifestyle. I am sure they will miss these surprise holidays if they don’t hear of a bandh or two every year .
So Mark Tully you were right when you said that time stops in India. We fail to learn from our past…some of us continue to drag the country back...in an impossible attempt to turn the clocks back .I feel frustrated, angry …disappointed that even youngsters over here are being brainwashed in this culture of bandh and laissez-faire approach to life. . Its so sad to find the younger members of staff getting initiated in the culture of false medical bills, coming late-going early and taking it easy when it comes to work. To make the matter worse, even the private sector in this city of joy , fails to show the corporate culture found everywhere else in similar organisations. They too try to take excuse of bandh and stay at home...even though some companies take it back by opening offices on the next sundays/saturdays.
On days like this I feel it’s not true that life is one damn thing after another; it is one damn thing over and over…It just fail to make sense…and worse, noone is bothered to look for any sense and meaning in it ….in other words....life on such days becomes a zoo in a jungle. And tomorrow there is another bandh called by another political party .....
NB: It was heartening to read this story in The Telegaph today(31.10.07) I will defy Bandh .

Monday, October 22, 2007

Homecoming of a Married Daughter

I didn’t enjoy her home coming when I witnessed it for the first time . It was all so weird. First of all my logical mind questioned the very concept of her having her Mayika( parents’ house) here . I mean didn’t we all know that she is Shailadhiraj Tanya.( daughter of the kings of Mountains-Himalaya) . Then of all places , how come this city of joy - so much towards east , is her parents’ place . Then she will supposedly come with children and pets in tow. And who are these children? I am ok with the two sons- Kartikeya and Ganesh . But Laxmi and Saraswati as her daughters . Hello, something is wrong here…. I knew that Laxmi came out from the sea at the time of Amrita Manthan. And Saraswati as Ganesh’s sister….something was terribly incorrect. Then comes her daughter in law- Ganesh’s wife. I know this cute elephant faced Ganesh is fond of sweets and may be banana also- but his wife cannot be a banana tree. As far as I know , there are two wives-Riddhi and Siddhi .So which one is this Kaula bau ( the Banana wife) .
Then the days of her staying , marked by rituals and festivities..starting from Mahalaya. Finally on Dashmi day she will be sent back to her husband’s place ( which as per my knowledge is Kailash Mountain) by bidding her farewell at the riverside. But how will she travel by the river route to Kailash? No one answered these queries for me… So the confusion combined with the pandal hopping frenzy almost made me dislike her visit. I ignored her last year as well, despite the lovely sound of Daak ( traditional drums) announcing her arrival from all corners. But then after witnessing her homecoming for three years consecutively...finally I have come to terms with Durga –the most beloved daughter and also the most revered mother deity of Calcutta. I now realize that myths are very living breathing concepts which change colour and tones of the region they are told and followed.
But despite this philosophical realization, I am still very envious with Ma Durga. I mean , this city which is known to go its way without caring a bit about the rest of the country or the world , suddenly gears up every year to welcome Ma Durga. All rules of living in the city are changed. The city looks like so much different , so much better in many ways. And that it is a god-less communist state makes this festival even more special. Even those who claim to be atheists are found active inside these puja pandals ( the temporary abode for Ma –durga) . I don’t recall any other festival in India which captures the pleasure and pain of a married daughter’s homecoming so beautifully .
I feel sad that the most enthusiastic participants in these pandals are more involved with the game part of it and ignore the sensibilities involved. Rituals are followed without understanding the meaning behind them. These days it has become more of a competition –getting the prizes for most innovative pandal, getting maximum media coverage and so on. People come up with weird ideas for Puja pandals- Titanic Ship , Harry potter’s Hogwarts school , Eiffel Tower etc. The long queues for the famous pandals still scare me. I prefer to visit only the small puja pandals of my colony and in the neighbourhood. And some of the statues are so beautiful. Even I, who is not all that religious feel so moved in front of the statues.
And once again yesterday , it was Dashmi, when everybody was wishing Shubho Bijaya– it was time for Durga to return. I was thinking why the stay has to be so short for her. Why such joyous farewell ...Don’t they want her to stay permanently in some temples like rest of the country ? Perhaps no…she is not a goddess for this city. She is a much married daughter having responsibility of kids and household. It is time for her to leave for her own world – and her folks to get back to the business as usual.
Find some of puja photos here .

Monday, October 15, 2007


Ok...I am not talking about that Baywatch. I was talking about bay-watch literally ..that is watching the bay of Bengal...which was my favorite activity this week. I was at Port Blair once again. This time staying at Hornbill Nest-which is just next to the bay. Once it was dark all one could hear was screeching sounds of the waves hitting the shore. To my unaccustomed ears it was scary. But mornings were heavenly. It was just like having a sea facing apartment...even better....You could witness the sea changing colours with every passing hour from wherever you are, inside the room, in the dining area or even from my office window .It was such a splendid play of sun and sea that if I was not there for a rather messy official business I would have just spent my day looking out from the window. Here are some of the snapshots taken from the Hornbill Nest :-

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rose by any other name

What is in a name?….well, if you ask me Mr. Shakespeare I’d say “A lot!” .Take a second opinion from all those unfortunate souls like me who are fated to bear the cross of an unusual name. It will be our unanimous decision that rose may smell as sweet by any other name as well but the rose will not feel good if even before smelling it ,people give you a confused look and ask “ You said Ruse or is it Rouge?” “ ummm…but what does it mean?” “ Well…how do you spell it?” “ Quite unusual ..eh ? Never heard of this name. How do you pronounce it BTW” …and other equally irritating queries .

Well, for no fault of my own…I happened to be the third daughter for my parents and in all good intention my mom named me with a unique name which rhymed with my sisters’ names .So after Apoorva and Anoorva – I was given name- Atoorva. So I become world’s first and perhaps till now only ATOORVA. Now, there is nothing wrong in the name per se. In fact I quite like it. It even carries a beautiful meaning which can be derived through a Sanskrit root – One who believes in Ahimsa (non violence) . But…and it’s a But with Capital B – no one has ever heard of this name. So when they hear it, they are not sure if it is a spelling mistake for Apoorva or not . And poor me, all my achievements and glories go waste with this name . To cite a few cases- I topped the state in 12th standard and the newspaper announced my name as Apoorva Sinha . Even my own school board , for about two months carried wrong name of the topper ( a good intention deed by the painter who CORRECTED the wrong spelling supplied by the school! ). Then I won an all India essay competition and my essay was duly credited to my eldest sister Apoorva . Even those who have heard of this name will never spell it correctly. I have seen at least 6 variations of my name in various official and unofficial correspondence. Most horrible is the Bengali version “Oturbha” – due to its inherent weakness in Bangla my name can be either AtoorBa or AtoorBHa . Both of which sound awful to my ears ..but then there is no escape . I revenge it by calling my husband Anindy rather than the right Bengali pronunciation Onindo .
And that is not all. Dangers of an unusual name may lead to a very embarrassing situation. Especially when people confuse the gender of the holder of such names. I am ok with receiving official letters addressing me as Sir or Dear Shri Sinha… I mean people generally visualize an unknown civil servant to be male and you cannot do much to such MCPs. To be fair, in a society like ours, a mistake of addressing a Ms. as Mr. is less grave and considered less insulting than the other way round …so its Ok. But how would you react if your parents receive a proposal for matrimonial alliance from a girl’s father who has picked up your name from

the Civil List of UPSC. Well, that happened twice with me…and though I have learnt to joke about it now…It was quite embarrassing when it happened. One pair of parents even landed up at our place in Lucknow only to find that the prospective groom is a 'she' . Then on another occasion organizers of one of our outstation visits put me up with a male colleague in twin sharing system for rooms . I was very upset on this till I hear they were not confused about my gender but about his. A victim of English spelling of Indian names, his name was spelled with an additional ‘a’ in the end which confused the organizers who took him for a female.
As a teenager, when I blamed my Mom for this calamity in my life, she coolly gave me a beautiful tale from the Sanskrit scriptures about the intelligent Queen Madalasa. The tales goes like that the intelligent queen Madalasa gave birth to seven sons . Her husband named first six with all high sounding names meaning Possessor of Valour, Terror for Enemies and the like. The King announced that the seventh son was to be named by the queen . The queen chose an unusual name -Alark . A word without any good/known meaning. A very unusual name for a prince. The king was very annoyed but kept his promise.As it turned out later that all elder princes were killed/died because of their own weaknesses and finally Alark the boy with an unheard/meaningless name , became a mighty king. Such was his might and glory that for centuries together a new king was given honorary title of Alark –to symbolize his virtues and glory. So the moral of the story was –you give the real meaning to your name, by living your life . But hello…which name after all? The one which is confused by one and all. One which comes with a question mark every time it is uttered.? One which sound like a mistake when spoken right! One which comes with an unsure Ms /Mr. Prefix?
These days I like to write my name as Ms. A.Sinha .This is just to ensure that there is no confusion about gender or spelling. But then it so happened that I found that e-ticket made for my today morning’s flight was in the name of Mr. Atoorva Sinha . Well, my PA called the airlines explained the situation and was assured that there will be no trouble in boarding the flight. I was advised to carry a photo Id card. So today morning at Airport check in counter when I showed the Id card and the ticket – the wise girl on the other side asked. “Is this you?” My answer in the affirmative did not satisfy her and she called her boss. He again asked if I am Atoorva Sinha . I confirmed the fact once again. He then exclaimed : “But Apoorv is a boy’s name Isn’t it?” I replied “May be, I am not Apoorv in any case.” Even while the words were passing through my lips I knew what will follow. “ohho..yes..yes….Atoo-rva….umm…what does it mean?” Wish I could say it means exactly the opposite of what I will turn into if you do not hand me the boarding pass immediately. But then…it’s my cross to carry. So I smiled, took a breathe and replied ….thus enlightened another soul about the unusual name called Atoorva.

So all you Johns and Janes out there- you do not know how lucky you are to carry a popular name. You need not spell it out over phone, You need not flash Id cards at hotels and airport…..you carry your achievements and your embarrassments with your own name. Never mind if you know a dozen more carrying the same name in your locality/school/office. At least your gender is not confused and your name is not mutilated by torturous spellings.
To think on a positive note, every time I face an interview I know the first question will be about my name . Also if you have a name like mine, no problem in getting a short n’ sweet email Id on even the most popular webportals. There is no confusion about the identity of the person –Aturba, Atoorbha, Othurba …call by any variation. I know- it’s for me. Let me acknowledge….at times it feels nice to be unique.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thoughts from the Hornbill’s Nest:

Government in the Business

My first reaction when I reached here was that Government should stay away from hospitality business. In fact from any business where we can do without them! I mean the place has all the ingredients of a resort- a lovely location looking at the bay from all sides. A huge piece of land decorated with ancient looking trees and the advantage of height . It is just at a stone’s throw distance from Corbyn’s cove . But then…its Government property ….and you can read it all over the place. Ill maintained , lacking imagination in design and furniture and having indifferent faces of the staff- Welcome to Hornbill’s Nest! --The place that could have been the most sought after resort in Port Blair.
It’s not about this place alone. I feel the same anger the same frustration about most of the prime government properties . In every small and big city of India government owns properties at prime locations – which in most cases are allowed to turn into eyesores thanks to national shames like PWD and ASI . People responsible for their upkeep or those who work inside these buildings, never bother to preserve them. So the stone building of UP Vidhan sabha will have paan stains in the corners…..Coochebhar palace will have a leaking roof destroying the Venetian tiles ,Muir central college building of Allahabad will have posters of student elections and even indecent graffiti on the walls of Majestic Vijayanagaram hall. Kolkata alone will give you dozens of such addresses . Asiatic society for instance…..a so called Institution of National Importance….just on the mouth of Park street . Perhaps the most posh address any institution can dream of. Enter the place and you feel sad that such valuable treasures are placed at the mercy of such incompetent lot. The Historical cannon of Plassey is placed clumsily near the ugly staircase(alon gwith some broken chairs) and the golden statue of Dharmaraj getting more and more black with neglect and dirt with every passing day. They even have an excellent collection of oil paintings, which are decorating the ugly walls of dingy rooms of its officials, who would never pause to take note of the treasure hanging out there . These buildings are Heritage buildings! But what heritage we are carrying with them..and how carefully ? It is the same story with most of the museums and historical buildings in India. Give it to a government agency and they will mark it with an indelible Sarkari mark .

Some time back I and hubby stayed at BNR hotel at Puri. It was a memorable experience . It was just like a period drama of Raj era. A private beach, beautiful garden. Rooms with fresh flower bouquets . A coffee room . Bearers with turban for each room . Tea with a floral designed china tea set and even a tea-cosy. Evening after dinner coffee served with lemon cake . Old styled four poster beds and dressing tables. Mercifully, the quality of the food is still good and the service even now smacks of an indulgence that gave the BNR Hotel its name. But then it has a sarkari mark too…..the bed sheets were torn. Everything has the Indian Railways seal on it . Hotel was understaffed. The telltale signs of drift and destitution are written all over the dining room what with the unclean livery of the bearers ,not to say anything about the state of the tablecloths, the napkins, the crockery and cutlery which, not so very long ago, were the definitive hallmarks of excellence and uniqueness of all railway catering establishments across the country. The place was obiviously facing fund crunch thanks to apathetic bureaucratic red-tape. How I wish the place was with someone who could value its history and its worth. I get the similar feeling with most of the state museums in UP. Be it currency building of Calcutta or Rajbari of Coochbehar- our holier than though government agencies and ministry of Culture have captured all these places by placing a small blue board declaring it as a “preserved building”. But after that, they have no time, fund or intention to preserve it to its old glory. Our media cry fowl when a private businessman tries to get back Tipu sultan’s sword ---may be for his own personal collection but where are our pillars of awareness when our government agencies fail to even have list of their possessions in various museums, libraries and such other buildings. For how long we can quote the archaic laws to take possession of properties which government can no longer afford to maintain.

I can see, hornbills are not making nest at this place anymore ….they also realize the place is in wrong hands.