Friday, 16 August 2013

I am off to Trinidad

I fly to Trinidad when I am ecstatic. I go there when I am morose. I visit the island when I have nothing important to do (that happens very often).  I am once again off to Trinidad. My routine there is monotonous. I meet the same people and visit the same places there but still I never get bored.

I will find Mohun waiting for me in his Prefect as I will emerge from the airport. He will wave at me and grin. I will also wave and grin at him in return.

We will drive to Mohun’s house in Sikkim Street in St James from the airport.

The house can be seen from two or three streets away and is known all over St James. It is like a huge and squat sentry box: tall, square, two-storeyed, with pyramidal roof of corrugated iron.

Once I am in the L-shaped drawing room, I can make out it has been spruced up for me. I find the floor freshly polished, the curtains rearranged, and the morris suite and the glass cabinet and the bookcase pushed to new positions. Heaped in one corner of the drawing room are old copies of Trinidad Sentinel, the paper for which Mohun works as a reporter. I flip through the copies of the paper as Shama, Mohun’s wife, makes tea for me.    

An article written by Mohun once caught my attention. It was –
                                          DADDY COMES HOME IN A COFFIN
                                                    U.S. Explorer’s Last Journey
                                                                    ON ICE           
                                                              By M. Biswas

Somewhere in America in a neat little red-roofed cottage four children ask their mother every day, ‘Mummy when is Daddy coming home?’

Less than a year ago Daddy – George Elmer Edman, the celebrated traveller and explorer – left home to explore the Amazon.

Well, I have news for you, kiddies.
Daddy is on his way home.
Yesterday he passed through Trinidad. In a coffin.

Mohun will later take me to the Hanuman House in the High Street at Arwacas. Among the tumbledown timber-and-corrugated-iron buildings in the High Street at Arwacas, Hanuman House stands like an alien white fortress.

The house is ruled by Mohun’s mother-in-law, Mrs Tulsi and her brother-in-law, Seth. The house teems with Mrs Tulsi’s sons, daughters and sons-in-law – Owad, Chinta, Sushila, Hari, Govind….Mohun has bitter-and-sweet memories about Hanuman House.

The house has a shop named Tulsi Store facing the street. Mohun was hired to paint signs (Mohum was a painter of signs before he became a journalist) for the Tulsi Store. He fell in love with Shama, Mrs Tulsi’s daughter while painting the signs and wrote a love-letter. The letter fell into the hands of Mrs Tulsi. But as Mohun belonged to a decent Brahmin family, Shama was married to him. Mohun’s four children (including the eldest one, a son, who won the Nobel Prize for literature) were born at Hanuman House. But it was also in the same house that Mohun was beaten by one of his brothers-in-law Govind (a cordial relation developed between them later). 
The third stop in my itinerary is The Chase where Mohun tried his hands as a shopkeeper. The Chase is a long, straggling settlement of mud huts in the heart of the sugarcane area in Trinidad. Few outsiders go to The Chase. The people who live there work on the estates and the roads. The world beyond the sugarcane field is remote and the village is linked to it only by villagers’ carts and bicycles, wholesalers’ vans and lorries, and an occasional private motor-bus that ran to no timetable and along no fixed route. 

The Tulsis had a shop there and beyond it, a house. Mohun lived in The Chase for some time before moving to Green Vale. It was in Green Vale that he decided to have house of his own. (The result is his house in Sikkim Street). Mohun tried to build a house in Green Vale but was unsuccessful and had to return to the Hanuman House. Mohun moved to a couple of more places like the Shorthills and Mrs Tulsi’s house in Port of Spain. I want to visit those places but I am too tired. Also, Mohun has arranged a grand party for me. The occasion is special. His son, VS Naipaul is turning 81 on August 17.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

The difference between Indian politicians and American politicians

No sooner had the planning commission declared that a person earning Rs 33.3 per day was not poor that the Congress leaders started giving absurd statements.
Raj Babbar said a person could fill his belly for Rs 12 in Mumbai. Rasheed Masood commented that a person could satiate his hunger with Rs five in Jama Masjid district of Delhi. Both wanted to please the Congress high command and tell the people that the party was doing enough for the poor.  
The statements amply prove that the leaders are not aware of the ground realities. If Raj Babbar and Rasheed Masood were aware of places where food is available cheap, then they should have taken journalists to those places. Journalists would have then not scouted Delhi and Mumbai looking for places where food can be bought at ridiculously low prices.
But Raj Babbar and Rasheed Masood are not the only leaders who have made absurd statements. Exactly a year back, P Chidambaram had said, ‘We are prepared to pay Rs 15 for a bottle of water, but we can't bear to pay Re 1 more for 1 kg of rice or wheat. We are prepared to pay Rs 20 for an ice cream cone, but we can't pay Re 1 more for one kilo of wheat or rice."
Wheat flour was Rs 16 per kg in a shop in my neighbourhood when Chidambaram gave the statement. The cost is Rs 21 at present – a rise of over 30 per cent.
Now let’s turn towards the US.
Every poor in the US is entitled to food stamps worth $4 every day.
Converted to Indian money, that comes to around Rs 240.
By Indian standards, Rs 240 per day is more than enough for food.
But most Americans do not think that $4 is enough. They want their government to increase the worth of the food stamps.
Governors of two states – Oregon and Colorado and mayors of four cities – Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Newark and Phoenix have spent $4 on food in one day for a week to see if the amount was enough to buy wholesome and nutritious food. They wanted to empathise with the poor of their country. Even celebrities and students joined the politicians.
Celebrated chef Mario Batali has lived with his family for a week on $4 per head per day.
An American university also asked its students to try surviving on $4 per day so that they can relate to the poor. 
Here lies the difference between an American politician and an Indian politician. The US is the oldest democracy. Hence, is it also the most mature democracy? Will the biggest democracy take time to become a mature democracy?
In India, why can’t a political leader – whether of the Congress or the BJP try living on Rs 33.3 for a day? We have witnessed Rahul Gandhi entering into the houses of the poor dalits unannounced and sharing food with them. Will he ever try living on Rs 33.3 for a day?
If Rs 33.3 is enough for a person, Sonia Gandhi should live on it for a day and show way to the people. Why only the Gandhis, Narendra Modi also can try surviving on Rs 33.3. He should gain some practical experience before attacking the Congress.

P.S. – Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi visited Amethi and Rae Bareli some time back. The death of students after mid-day meal in Bihar was the hottest news then. Couldn’t Rahul and Priyanka visited a school unannounced in either Amethi or Rae Bareli and shared food with children, just to check the quality of food being served? But they concentrated only in nurturing their constituencies.