Friday, 24 February 2012

Has the common man beeped the mighty politician?

The straight road around a kilometre long from my house to St. Joseph’s Senior Secondary School, my alma mater always remains congested.

I was hoping that the road would be deserted on Thursday.

Voting for the assembly elections took place in Kanpur yesterday. I have witnessed many elections. I would find roads almost deserted on polling days. It would seem the city was under curfew.

I was thinking that I would light a cigarette, amble up to my school that had been converted into a polling centre, cast my vote and return home walking leisurely, smoking another cigarette.

I was wrong. I found the road more congested compared to other days. I had to force my way through a milling crowd.

And people in the crowd were of varying characters – silent old women, babbling men, giggling girls.....

The facial expressions of the people were different. But their body language showed enthusiasm. Everybody seemed to be in a hurry to cast vote.

Uttar Pradesh, my home state is in the process of electing a new government. The voting percentage in the current elections has broken all previous records – a good sign for democracy.

Many will disagree with me but I feel credit must go to Anna Hazare for people in large numbers exercising their voting right.

People have always felt helpless against the inefficient and corrupt political system. The common man would seethe with anger at the misdemeanours of the government but was unable to do anything. He could only curse or remain a dumb spectator.

No political party is happy with the high voting percentage in the state. Politicians probably wanted the masses to remain passive.

Anna Hazare is his speeches repeatedly said that in a democracy the common man was the king and the elected representative his servant.

People now may have become aware of the power they have in the form of their votes.

I felt happy as I stepped into the compound of my old school after years.

The school was crowded but not chaotic. Polling was on smoothly. Polling agents and volunteers with smiling faces were directing people to polling booths.

Some booths had very long queues. I was glad to see a short queue in front of my polling booth.

A home guard standing in front of my polling booth announced, ‘Women and senior citizens need not join the queue. They can directly enter the booth.’ So finally, we are waking up to the needs of the elderly also.

While waiting for my turn, I was amused to hear the beep of the electronic voting machine.

We hear beeps frequently these days while watching serials and movies.

Beeps are used to make expletives inaudible on screen. But at the polling booth was the common man swearing at the politicians and camouflaging his act with the beep of the voting machine? Or has the beep become the new voice of the masses?

My turn finally came and I pressed the button of the voting machine and cast my vote. The beep was loud and clear.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Valentine's Day reflections

Today is Valentine’s Day.

I was not aware about the day as a kid.

I got to know about Valentine’s Day when I was in college, in the mid-nineties.

‘You can give a rose to the girl you like and propose to her on Valentine’s Day,’ my friend had said.

I liked the idea but could not give shape to it. I liked many girls in the college and could not have afforded a rose for each of them. Also, most of the girls I liked only frowned at me. I was not sure whether Valentine’s Day or a rose would have changed their heart.

Still, I would reach college on time on the day and hang around in the campus and corridors. I would see students attending lectures and taking notes in their classes.

Thanks to satellite television, Valentine’s Day became more popular as years passed.

Flower, gift and card shops would be decorated ahead of the day. Restaurants would put up roses and heart-shaped red balloons on the walls.

Shivaratri once coincided with Valentine’s Day, in 1998 or 99. A friend went to a Shiva temple and unexpectedly found a long queue. He visited the temple and then dashed to meet his girlfriend in a restaurant. The girlfriend had waited for him for over an hour and was fuming. But lord Shiva helped my friend. The girl stopped cursing and started giggling.

And then the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists started attacking Valentine’s Day celebrations. They said the celebrations polluted Indian culture. I am happy that the self-appointed guardians of the Hindu culture have failed to dampen the spirit of Valentine’s Day.

Love may not be the strongest element of Hindi cinemas but it is definitely one of the strongest elements.

Bollywood has given us numerous songs about love.

I may be wrong but I can remember only one song dedicated particularly to Valentine’s Day. Chali chali phir chali chali, chali ishq di hawa chali…- one song – but the best Valentine’s Day song, from the movie Baghbaan.

Love is generally linked with the young. But can anything be more romantic when the fatherly but young-at-heart Amitabh Bachchan is telling younsters about love?

Amitabh places his hands on his heart and sings – ‘…Apne dilbar ko diwana dhoondta dil gali gali.’(Somebody passionate about love is trying to find his love).

Amitabh was an angry young man and action hero.

But he also acted in some of the most popular and memorable love songs of Bollywood.

Who can forget The movie - Muqaddar ka Sikandar. Amitabh Bachchan is in love with Rakhee since childhood but cannot express his feelings. Rakhee, on the other hand is in love with Vinod Khanna. A story about unrequited love.

Rakhee on a windy night plays the piano and sings ‘Dil to hai dil, dil ka aitbaar kya kijiye, aa gaya jo kisi pe pyar kya kijiye.’(You can’t trust your heart. What if it falls in love?)

Amitabh and Vinod Khanna are listening to the song. Amitabh wrongly feels Rakhi is in love with him. Vinod Khanna rightly thinks Rakhee is singing for him.

Amitabh was the any young man. But Vinod Khanna was macho.

Vinod Khanna is not going down on his knees while proposing to Shabana Azmi in Lahu ke Do Rang. Rather, he is too flamboyant when he sings ‘Chahiye thoda pyar, thoda pyar chahiye… A quintessential Bollywood song of the seventies.

If Vinod Khanna was too flamboyant, then Amol Palekar was too plain. He makes a great pair with Bindiya Goswami in Golmaal.

In the movie, Amol Palekar is Bindiya Goswami’s music teacher. Amol Palekar sings ‘Aane wala pal, jaane wala hai…’ . Bindiya Goswami’s father Utpal Dutt also hears Amol Palekar singing and after the song rightly comments, ‘awaz mein mithhaas hai’ (there is sweetness in the voice). Rightly because Kishore Kumar was the playback singer.

Bindiya Goswami falls in love with Amol Palekar and croons ‘ek baat kahun..’ A perfect song when love is blooming.

The songs of Golmaal were written by Gulzar.

Talking about Gulzar, the song ‘Tere bina zindagi se koi…’ from his movie Aandhi stands apart.

If there is love, there can also be separation. There can be nothing better if the relationship ends with a reunion.

Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen meet after nine years and sing .

You can always sing a Hindi song to express your love.

You can rely on Hindi songs if your love is upset with you. You can try to please and flatter her by singing ‘Koi haseena jab rooth jati hai toh hai like Veeru in Sholay.

Or you can sing

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Hail India, hail Indians

India’s foreign minister SM Krishna must be busy man these days.

He’s strengthening India’s ties with other nations. He also has to register protest with other countries for their racial bias towards India.

Presenter Jaremy Clarkson in a BBC programme shown around Christmas last year was accused of making racial comments against India.

In the show named Top Gear, Clarkson travelled around a slum in India in a car with its boot fitted with a toilet seat.

He said in the programme that a toilet seat in the boot was necessary as foreign tourists in India often suffered from diarrhoea.

India’s foreign ministry was quick to react.

Should we expect only praises for India from foreign tourists; even if they have a hard time in the country?

Reading about Clarkson in newspapers, I recalled my meeting as a reporter with a British biker 14 years back.

I was working in Kanpur with an English newspaper in 1999.

One evening as I was about to finish my day’s work, the office boy came to me and said, ‘Ek angrez aap se milne aaya hai.’ (A white wants to see you).

I was surprised as Europeans or Americans rarely visited Kanpur. The moment a white lands in Kanpur, he or she becomes a spectacle. People in a semi-circle follow him or her everywhere.

I went to the reception and saw a man with shaggy hair and beard sitting on the sofa.

'Excuse me, how can I help you?’ I said.

On a closer look I found his face was covered with grime.

He introduced himself and shook my hand. His grip was so strong that I winced and would have shrieked if he had held my hand longer.

Fourteen years is a long time and today I remember only his surname – Paul. He was globe trotter.

Paul was travelling around the world on his Harley Davidson bike.

He had spent three months on the highways of Europe and Asia. Any man who had travelled thousands of kilometres on a bike ought to have dirty hair and beard and a grimy face.

Paul was travelling across India and had made a stopover at Kanpur.

He wanted me to write about him. He was meeting reporters in his stopovers. The newspaper reports were going to be a proof that he had travelled across the world.

Paul had many interesting stories to tell. But I did not have the time that evening. I called him to my office next morning at 10.30 am.

I reached the office as usual late at 10.45 am and found Paul waiting.

He wished me good morning and said, ‘As asked by you I reached here at sharp 10.30.’ I was embarrassed. ‘Sorry. I was caught in a traffic jam.’ I gave the excuse to a person who had experienced the traffic of numerous cities. I do not think he was convinced.

Paul looked very clean in the morning. It seemed he had spent an hour in the bathtub. His hair was wet and neatly combed and his face pinkish.

He was in a white t-shirt, jeans and flip-flops. Paul was in a hurry. He wanted to be on the road as soon as the interview was over.

The Harley Davidson was parked outside the office.

Paul started telling me about his journey.

He had started from his home England and was travelling eastwards.

Crossing the English Channel by boat, he entered France.

On his way towards Asia, Paul biked through Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and finally reached Istanbul.

He once again sailed and reached Asia.

'I have been riding the bike ever since I landed on the shores of Turkey,’ said Paul.

‘Asia is different. The landscape and roads are not the same even in one country. And Asia is a big continent,’ said Paul.

Paul biked through the rugged terrains of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan for nearly two months and finally reached India.

‘Europe and Asia are entirely different – considering the terrain, roads, the dust or the weather,’ said Paul.

‘Roads in Europe are good. The weather throughout is more or less the same,’ said Paul.

‘Asia is totally different. Terrains very rugged, climate very harsh and roads potholed,’ he said.

‘How did you find the people, especially in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan?’ I asked.

Paul got my point.

‘I frequently came across persons or groups armed with automatic rifles. They looked menacing but they never bothered me,’ said Paul.

‘At times armed men stopped me. They questioned me but were friendly and allowed me to continue with my journey without any trouble,’ he said.

Paul was not rich. His travel was being sponsored by rich businessmen or industrialists.

One entering a new country, he had to search for prospective sponsors. His journey in India was being sponsored by a company that manufactures chyavanparash and other Ayurvedic healthcare products.

‘I try to save as much as possible so that I can continue with my journey. I try to spend nights at parks. If I don’t find a park, I find the cheapest hotel. I eat the cheapest food. I prefer roadside stalls,’ he said.

The sponsors were able to keep a tab on Paul through two aerials fitted at the back of his motorcycle.

From Pakistan, Paul entered India through Punjab and went north to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh.

He came down to Delhi a couple of days later and took the GT Road to travel through the plains of north India.

‘What about the Indian food?’

‘It’s too hot and spicy. I often suffer from diarrhoea. But I can’t help as I have to save money,’ he said.

I wanted to ask him about another Indian thing that American and European men find too hot. But I did not ask because I had realised Paul was not interested in beautiful Indian things. The road and his bike were his only passions.

The interview had stretched for an hour. Paul was itching to go. I asked him the last question.

‘Have you lost anything during the journey?’

'Four of my things have been stolen,’ he said, ‘the canvas cover of my motorcycle, the tool box, the spare tyre and one of the aerials.

‘In which countries did you lose the things?’

'India,’ he said.

I became sheepish. I cleared my throat.

I thought whether I should write about the thefts in my report.

I felt it would be a disgrace to mention that a foreigner after travelling through two continents and around a dozen of countries has four things necessary for his journey stolen in India.

The interview was over. Paul once again would take the GT Road for going to Allahabad, Varanasi and Calcutta.

The photographer had reached the office. He wanted to click while Paul rode the bike.

Coming out of the office with Paul and the photographer, I saw people were surrounding the Harley Davidson. Some were even touching it. Harley Davidson is rare in Kanpur.

Paul became angry. ‘Get lost,’ he shouted and moved towards the motorcycle.

People stepped back but did not disperse.

‘The aerial was here,’ he shrieked pointing at a place just above the number plate at the back of his motorcycle.

'The aerial that was stolen was fixed there?’ I said looking at the place where he was pointing.

‘No. Not the one that was stolen earlier; the second aerial. It has also gone,’ Paul shouted. He had lost his temper and glared at the crowd.

I could not believe his words. He had left his motorcycle outside my office for one hour and somebody had stolen the second aerial also in that short period of time. There were guards outside my office but they also failed to check the theft.

His body started shaking with anger. ‘Now how are my sponsors going to track me?’ he shouted.

‘I am sorry, Mr Paul,’ I said.

‘To hell with you and your sorry,’ he shouted at me. I felt guilty and helpless.I was also scared. His friendly handshake was so painful. I could guess the results of his punch or slap. I stood at a safe distance from him.

A white in Kanpur is a spectacle. A white creating a scene becomes a better spectacle.

He was no more bothered about the interview. He wanted to leave immediately and started getting ready for his journey.

A sack that had his belongings was tied at the back of his motorcycle. He opened the sack and pulled out a pair of boots. He removed the flip-flops and put on the boots.

He picked one flip-flop, slammed it into the sack and shouted, ‘Fuck India.’

He took the other flip-flop, slammed it into the sack and again shouted, ‘Fuck Indians.’

He was ready to leave.

I wanted to console him.

‘Mr Paul, I know you have lost an important thing. But don’t you think that such incidents will make your journey more interesting and spicier?’ I said.

A grin replaced the scowl on Paul’s face.

He posed for the photographer, squeezed my hand and left to take the GT Road.