Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I protest!

My four years in Bengal did not go in vain. Some of that famous ’pratibadi chetna’(loosly translated as spirit of protest) has got into me . There is definitely something in the water and air over there that people protest on anything they find wrong. A good and aware citizen in those parts of the world is expected to know about the injustices and excesses on groups /individuals in the rest of the world and they happily protest for these excesses. The spirit is very visible in the daily working (and non-working) also.
Of late I found myself doing the same. In any case I was always one who believed in doing things right-if for nothing else then to gratify few and to astonish the rest (a la Mark Twain ). So far it worked well for me.To cite few incidents I once marched off my class (in 12th standard) because I found my teacher (a favorite otherwise!) was glorifying the kar seva and demolition of Babri mosque structure at Ayodhya. I just stood up and blurted out that I don’t think you should be teaching this in Hindi literature class and walked off. She was stunned but thankfully did not raised the issue again. Then once I fought with my batchmates during a train journey when they first used their government I- cards and then offered bribe to the ticket collector for few confirmed seats. Surprisingly they budge in to my bossiness. But in all these events my protest was very principled and calm. I never thought I can feel angry and frustrated with the ‘wrongs’. Things started changing once I moved to Delhi. As I wrote earlier on this blog, this city celebrates both Gods and Anti Gods and with same fervor . Nepotism, favoritism, power play by politicians is looked upto and when I crib on such issues, they look at me with surprise. I still find it difficult to accept the negative opinion of colleagues about sharing information, spoils system prevailing in the government and the faulty premises on which most important decisions are taken in the system. But for this post , I would like to note only my complaints in personal capacity. Surprisingly I find ample opportunity for that too, even when I often close my eyes to the daily excesses one witness on streets.( Finding a police car accepting currency notes from a rickshaw wallah or driver is not uncommon in NOIDA) . During my last train journey from Lucknow to Delhi I noticed that the service quality, cleanliness and even the food has gone down. I politely asked the train supervisor for suggestion /complaint book . He first asked me what I want to write. I said I am not interested in verbal complaints. He nodded and said he will send it. The complaint book never came, despite my reminded thrice and even going in search of it. When I was about to get down and IRCTC person came with a one page feedback form and laughingly said –you can write whatever you want on this. I shot back that I will now write an email to railways . He smugly replied-“As if anyone reads those.” I was so angry with the incident that I could not get peace till next morning when I actually send that email. Well, he was right…there is no reply. I still feel so angry about the incident .
Then the other day I was in Lal Quila with my nephew and niece and we found an ITDC run restaurant ‘Dawatkhana ‘ .They were terribly thirsty and wanted to drink something. When we went inside we found that the place was untidy and full of dust. There were about 4-5 boys in uniform but no one paid any attention to us. When asked they rudely said-“We don’t serve anything but water and cold drinks . “ The same reply was given to few foreign tourists in front of me. First I asked him to call the manager, to which his confident reply was : Manager comes only once a month. Then since the kids badly wanted water we asked for a bottle of mineral water. After 5 minutes of wait an old Bisleri bottle refilled with tap water was passed on to for double the charge. I was furious. When I started creating ruckus asking manager’s number, the fellow changed the bottle. I refused to let this go so easily and asked him to give me number of ITDC officials. He gave me a mobile number and when I called there the manager was not very willing to listen. Forced by the circumstances, I decided to reveal my official identity. The scene changed thereafter . The person with a polite tone started apologizing and insisting that I may not complaint against him. So much so that by the time we came out of the fort we found the boy who at first refused to give manager’s number was standing on the gate pleading that I should not complaint or he’d lose his job. They were not so worried when I as a common person I threatened to complaint. So much for our democracy!!! I find the entire episode very pathetic. Today I tried calling ITDC for launching complaint. There was no reply on the phone. No email on website . They just do not presume any complaint may come. I then wrote a letter to the Secretary concerned and am sending it my post (I told you the infatigueable pratibadi chetna!)
My net God Google reveled that there are many such harassed consumers and citizens like me and of course there are several fancy agencies doing the work of grievance redressal. But I wonder how efficient is the system. The common citizen still feel so powerless in front of huge sarkari machinery-railways or any other department.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Waking up with cuckoo’s song

I woke up suddenly when I heard the recognizable sweet sound almost in my dreams . There was a distinct aroma of familiarity in the room. It was still early in the morning and the last hints of winters were enveloping the place. I could not make out what was different for quite a few seconds. Then suddenly it dawned on me that I was in my parents’ house at Lucknow. The sound was of course from the koel sitting on the mango tree and announcing the arrival of spring. Now things were becoming clearer to me. Why the bed was feeling so comfortable last night. Why there were no bugging alarms in the morning and why the breeze bore a faint smell of bela- carefully planted by mom outside my window. Its intoxicating smell in the summer months was my constant companion in my college days . Oh,There is nothing like your childhood home to sleep in and wake up into.Even the old wall clock looks like a long lost friend .
Yesterday was a ‘diamond day’ for me. There is nothing like your own town to go shopping and of course there is no better companion that your own sister for such an expedition. I had the luxury of both yesterday. I was home after almost a year and that too only for two days. There was so much to squeeze in those 48 hours of blissful existence. No wonder , more than the shopping my mind was engrossed in the sounds and sights of my beloved Lucknow. I was delighted to find that even my driver took time to stop and comment on small things like the flowering of mango trees or the blood red semal flowers decorating the streets(this for a change was nature’s not CM’s initiative !) One of the surest signs of coming of spring (month of phalgun) is this erupting of the Semal (Silk Cotton tree) into flowers. Bereft of leaves, the flowering Semul plays host to a large variety of birds, bees and flies who congregate to enjoy the nectar. The same tree decorates Delhi roads also…but I wonder if anyone notices. But why blame Delhi, even Lucknow is changing fast before my own eyes. Everyone I met in the city this time , complained about the extensive stone work that is going on at each nook and corner with giant size statues of political leaders enhancing the so called beauty of the city. (There were also huge posters announcing this beautification and also giving thanks to the CM –supposedly from common people, for her thoughtful initiatives.)
Most of Lucknowites like me try to ignore these and carry on with their daily lives- kind of living in a dream world of what the city used to be. Some signs of those days are still there . May be just in some crumpling walls of aminabad kothis and few sepia photographs hanging on these walls . The old world charm and the magic of old days are perhaps outdated. What is the worth of a place where a quick repartee is valued more than a new Merc? Or where style and not speed was the hallmark of success. The old world is replaced suitably by the new one. The fast and furious world of selfish ambitions and insensitive power is here for good. But for non residents like me some places and some institutions are so much part of our Lucknow that it is difficult to imagine the city without them and their old ways. My favorite bookstore took exactly 10 seconds in giving me the title I was looking for on Meer Taqi ‘Meer’ and the person also told me about three related books . In contrast , the fancy New Delhi bookstores could not even understand which ‘Meer’ I am talking about. One even suggested I may like to look into the section selling self-development books and another(disappointingly OUP-the publisher of the title I was looking for ) thought I am asking for Titu meer!! These are comforst for which each one of us crave for a home- comfort of being understood, comfort of familiarity and comfort of the existence of the world as it should be .
During this journey I was reading a heartwarming book ‘Diddi-My mother’s Voice’ by Ira Pande. It is a collection of stories and articles by famous Hindi Writer Gaura Pant ‘Shivani’ . The book was echoing my sentiments about the old days and the magical world of childhood.Its so fascinating to travel through someone’s life- almost as if one is living another life. This book and my being in Lucknow reminded me once again that “Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies that matters,—mothers and fathers don't die…… Tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow if you're busy havingfun,/Is plenty of time to say, /"I'm sorry, mother." “ and yes the other part of this poem is also true that “To be grown up is to sit at the table/ with people who have died,/who neither listen nor speak;/Who do not drink their tea, /though they always said/ Tea was such a comfort ."