Desi Thelewale Bhaiyya, Zindabaad !

Today morning, I came across an article detailing certain analysis of Indian food by a well-known Australian culinary historian, Charmaine O’Brien. While reading it, I was prompted within to reflect on my own thoughts related to it.

Last week, we had fresh hot thelewale Samosas (an Indian snack from portable stalls) presented to us by our Help.

I was a bit hesitant since I have just recovered from Viral fever. But ultimately I couldn’t resist the utter temptation – toh “Jay Jagannath” bolke khaa liya (so I had it trusting Almighty) 🙂 … It was indeed so mouth-watering !

Then I remembered my hometown’s 50 paisa /1 rupee variety Chops (stuffed Pakoras) that were incredibly tasty, and just slightly bigger than old one rupee coins. Those from the thelewale used to be a perfect treat with Moodhee (puffed rice) and Masala Chaaye (herbal tea) on rainy evenings ! They are still there but with increasing awareness on hygiene and new options of snacks, now the portable stalls are mostly seen in properly monitored exhibitions and traditional melas (fairs).

samosa_kachori

hmmmmn… Kitna bhi badda restaurant ho le ya aap kaise bhi banalo (howsoever big may be a restaurant or one prepares it with all care), when it comes to Pakoras, Chaats, Jhaal Muri, Ghoogni, Pani Poori, Dahi Vada and these kinda stuff, you can’t beat that of our very own desi thelewale Bhaiyya (India’s street Hawkers) !

For a while, forget the hygiene: zindegi ki woh ‘zing thing’ kahaan se laogey (from whence would you attain that unique pungent flavour of life) 🙂 !!!

And the charchaa (gabfest) around fresh street food and the Hawkers’ portable stalls, under the thundering clouds and in the cool zephyr… usmein baat hii kuch khaas hai, hai na (there’s a special air about it, isn’t it)… ?

muddheemasla

 

Reflections: Part-V

Here, I actually have one reflection and one confession…

Reflection :

The morning cuppa tea tastes the same. But three things that have certainly changed along with it are –

1. the basking temperature
2. content of the newspapers
3. ‘chaaye pe charchaa’ (chit-chat during tea-time), including the medium of ‘charchaa’

That reflects so much of life !!

Now we realize what that cuppa tea meant for our parents, teachers, elderly relatives and college seniors in stirring up their days…

Confession :

Whether ‘Act of God’ or ‘Hand of God’… 🙂

In any World Cup Football, whether Argentina wins or loses…

It remains my favourite team because of that old teenage crush on the heroic image of Diego Maradona !!!

Now, reacting to the result of this World Cup Football, let me thus confess…

My weakness for Argentina, as always : Maradona !

My weakness for Germany : whether right or wrong ideology – Netaji’s ally in our freedom struggle, and my first posting abroad !

Dil bola : gam hii sahi… wohi manale… tab tu phir bhi Maradona ke saath hogi (even though I had opportunity to rejoice, my heart swayed towards defeat because that way, it would still mean to be with Maradona) 🙂 !!

A Psychiatric Fallout !!

Under the new Budget in India, the price of aerated drinks (water with sugar content) has been hiked up by 5 percent, making soft drinks and sugary juices costlier.

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Health experts are hopeful that this financial step shall help reduce sugar consumption and thus check obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart diseases and dental decay – a theory many countries have begun to acknowledge but brands still profusely dispute !

Interestingly, last year I had a terrible dream : after the last gluttonous sip of a soft drink, I “saw” myself discovering active maggots at the bottom of the glass – and that was the end of all sugary relishes 🙂 !!!

Next morning, as soon as I woke up, I threw the remaining bottles out of the refrigerator. We do not buy any soft drink or ice-creams unless a guest arrives and indicates a desire for it.

Now howsoever thirsty, we prefer plain water. And since then, if we really need to have a soft drink as an accompaniment, only fresh home-made sugarless nimbu paani zindabaad (hail lemonade) ; thus goes our newly chosen flavour with spicy Biryanis and Pizzas as well 🙂 !

For the same “visual pothers” of my dream 🙂 , we have ditched other sugar-containing items and drastically reduced quantities of sweets or amount of sugar in every possible ‘prepared’ item, howsoever attractive – jalebis, chocolates, pastries, ice-creams, tea, corn flakes, milk shakes, cookies, smoothies, cakes, pan cakes, porridges, etc.

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Luckily, my husband volunteered to “share” the psychiatric fallout of my dream 🙂 ! So that has now led us to limit our daily sugar consumption to even less than six teaspoons as recently set by the World Health Organization. Normally, I take only one teaspoon – in my morning cup of tea which I definitely require to stir up my day.

Well… my father (who is also a Doctor), tried for years to make me get rid of soft drinks; so he has been very thankful to God for blessing me with that thoroughly health-effective dream 🙂 !!… Now his other routine insistences are about regular exercises (particularly Yoga), a 20-minute exposure to the morning rays of the Sun and having maximally green diets along with natural anti-oxidants. My husband has sincerely met almost all these expectations, whether of his father-in-law or his Family Physician 🙂 , and of late, I am trying hard to partner him in it.

I suppose all health advices, increasing prices or taxes and making rules in these dietary matters aren’t going to help for long… So I wish that my folks who sincerely intend to get rid of aerated drinks and non-intrinsic forms of sugar, also “see” such a loathsome dream 😉 !!! Perhaps, there is no other way by which someone like me can be more motivated firstly, to quit all those unhealthy molecules feeding potential cancerous cells and secondly, to maintain sustainability at it 🙂 !

 

Memoirs of Indian Dhabas

Period: 1970s-1990s.

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Travelling in a car or jeep on Bhubaneshwar-Mayurbhanj-Kolkata NH during the rainy season, lunch or dinner at an original Dhaba was a wonderful treat then; especially, the home-bound journeys after completion of an enterprise.

Sitting on the blue /green /yellow wooden benches or charpoys under halogen or oil lamp lit thatched roofs, the whole family would chat and relish the mouth-watering, steaming-hot dishes on big steel thaalis or freshly cut, green banana leaves :

typical Dhaba meals, various Kebabs, Tandoori Roti, Daal Tadka, Paneer Tikka, Gobi Manchurian, Rajma Masala, Tandoori Murg, Egg Bhurji, Chingri Malaikari (Prawns-in-Coconut Milk gravy), Mutton Kasa, Murg Makhani, Lassi, etc.

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(Oh God, help me… I am so much drooling !!) 🙂

While watching the promising rains, the shrines of several Faiths beside meandering rivers, the green fields swaying in the drizzles, the farmers working in a row wearing their jute hats, the local vendors selling colourful wares, the movie posters glued onto poles, variegated art themes painted on the walls of the Dhabas, the twinkling mini-bulbs strung in pretty designs…

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And the decorative trucks that sometimes squeak-braked on slippery roads and had boldly labelled all over its robust frame, either wishful or funny or spiritual messages in different Indian languages- awaaz karo, burey nazar waale tera mnuh kaala, bye bye dost, abaar dekha hobe, jaldi baata chadda, ikkada nuvu, nenu miru chudaleru, surakhiata rahina, ram-allah ek hain, sai ram-sai shyam-sai bhagvaan, jai hanuman, hum tum bhai bhai, hum se duur raho, meri himmat teri kismat, badda bhai tej chalega naraz mat hona chhotu, etc. 🙂

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Amidst the cat and kittens mewing, and the puppy wagging its tail hard – all, for a bone ! 🙂

Grand-parents or uncles would sometimes lend their ears to an interesting tale or two of the then Chhotus (the young, resourceful and jolly Helps at the Dhabas) . Down the line, a re-narration of it to the children (us) meant so much of revelation of life’s unknown joys and sorrows…

Gradually, the meals would end with a flavoured Paan, that was always claimed to be the famous Banarasi brand :-). And then the remaining journey would begin against the background of quite a setting Sun, with the music of a Bollywood number as selected by the high-spirited Driver 🙂 of the unfailing white Ambassador or the bouncy red Gypsy (vehicle models).

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On some trips, neither the windscreen wipers stopped nor did the music until we halted at a roadside gumti (small stall), usually under a banyan or mango tree, for a “special Chaa /Chaaha” (Tea) or to buy farm-fresh vegetables.

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And if we happened to meet close friends travelling on the same route, it would transform to a great merry-making. At times, even seats in the vehicles also had to be exchanged since the heart-to-heart conversations never paused and the game of cards never wrapped up… 🙂

Once we reached the gates, the faithful Watchman would briskly unlock the doors and the House-Keeping staff at the bungalow would cordially greet us. Combined with a warm shower, all the tiredness of the journey seemed to fade away into the veil of the night and next morning, we would be freshened as the shiny drops of rain trickling down the velvety leaves.

Those were such utterly charmful days…

Scene of a Real Drama – Request: “No Repetition Please”!

One year, Durga Puja was a real vacation for me after a long gap – after some 8-10 years.

We have the usual Puja celebrations and in addition, we have a cultural function on the last day of the vacation – on the Poornima (Full Moon) day. Kids, young school/college going girls and boys, and even senior citizens of our village including our guests and relatives participate in that function. Small skits, competitions, cultural shows, quiz and many more events are arranged to celebrate the evening.  Like every year, that year also we had that great function.

The evening and the events were going on smoothly. I was asked to be a part of the organizing team but I opted to be an observer. The reason – “Drink “- every one in the organizing team were drunk, literally not on their feet; they were drunk so badly that they were not even able to speak coherently. They had beer, whisky, vodka etc. as a part of the “organization arrangement”. Initially I thought of raising a protest, but whom to speak? No one was in a mood to listen; every body was rather drinking. I maintained silence and was keeping an eye on the event.

More than 500 people (of which 60% were below the age of 12) were attending the event. Suddenly some one from the organizing team entered the dais and started shouting on the microphone. Shouting in fact is not the appropriate word !! He was abusing the anchor with all kinds of vulgar words. To that, the anchor (who was drunk too) started reacting – retaliating with equally vulgar words. In a fraction of a second, the dais became a battleground, the cultural evening became a farce and a travesty of what people name as “culture”. Audience watching the show tried to pacify the matter but in vain. The other organizers too tried their best (with their so called ‘wisdom words’) to pacify this. Nothing happened… no one stopped and we all were watching helplessly.

Finally they were taken away forcefully by the guests. Later, the chief guest, who happened to be a retired Head Master and a seasoned artist rose to the occasion and gave his gandhigiri speech which had the following content:

“Like many good and bad scenes of a drama, this (abusing scene) incident is a real scene of a real drama. However, the taste of this scene is bad. And there is a public demand, ‘no repetition please !!!’.”

Not only that, he took two Rs 50/- notes from his pocket and awarded the two battling organizers for their scene – for their action, their show in the drama, and the function continued smoothly afterwards.

But what surprised me then and now is the deteriorating social and cultural ethics. This is not the only story of one village… This is the common story of many villages and cities. No marriage ceremony or reception can be arranged without these bottles and their side-effects.  Not a single election can be thought of without the so-called ‘feast and foreign brand bottles’.

Just wondering… is this called modernization and development ? Is this the baton we are passing to our future generation ?

Aamjunta – think of it…

An Indian Summer with the Bulbuls

A story from Purulia (West Bengal, India) made quite a few headlines last week. A tusker, also known to have killed three people last year, smashed a house into bits and started moving away. Just then it heard the cries of a helpless 10-month-old baby from under the debris. To the crowd’s amazement, it immediately turned back and gently removed every last bit of stone, brick and mortar from the infant’s body before heading back to the forest.

A similar incident was reported from Jalpaiguri (also in West Bengal, India) about six months ago where a herd of elephants carefully removed a little girl from the way before going on a rampage.

Very recently, it has been reported that elephants and dogs too recognize certain voices and languages. On a lighter note, now we know how justified is ‘HMV’ and its logo – His Master’s Voice !! 🙂

Incidents as these that sound straight from India’s Amar Chitra Katha series or Jataka Tales or western Fairy Tales, have been observed all over the world. In about two or three separate articles starting from this particular write-up, I would love to narrate a few remarkable ones from my childhood. These would also constitute my humble attempt in appreciating all Nature-lovers, observers and researchers. And I hope that readers will enjoy this curious side of life where Nature vividly communicates with man in symbolic languages.

Before I begin, I would like to mention that my parents have always ardently hailed Nature. My mother (here addressed as Ma), was not only keen at gardening but also guarded all life-forms in our garden just as she was protective of her own family. And therefore we believed that’s perhaps how she was more well-recognized, completely trusted and sort of much admired by the other occupants of our green ambience.

In this article, I shall focus on one episode based on birds in a part of India, where I spent most of my young days, almost 25 years.

The jovial Bulbuls seemed to be eternally present in the green, calm surroundings of the bungalow. Once a pretty young Bulbul-ma (that’s how I used to call the mother-bird) over-estimated her plans of a good nest and the entire fledging process after her cute eggs hatched. Consequently, on a scorching summer day in May,1990 she anxiously fluttered up to Ma who was watering the plants in the patio. She chirped madly and then flew to and fro in the direction of her unsecured nest. Ma lost no time in understanding that she had to rush as per Bulbul-ma‘s directional moves. I tiptoed along on the grassy patches here and there, intermittently starred by some bright seasonal flowers. Bulbul-ma perched on a nascent palm tree planted in a clay pot. Its leaves had quite dwindled away in the heat that was everywhere. The tree barely supported the small nest built for three members. Ma peeped at the centre and her heart sank to see three tiny nestlings struggling to survive the heat, thirst and hunger. Hair on their skin was singed and beneath it was visible the tender skin, slightly reddish. Their beaks were wide open with its pink delicate but almost dry inner linings exposed towards the clear blue sky that was absolutely unpromising of a shower for the next couple of days. They were desperately waiting for Bulbul-ma‘s solace. But she was utterly helpless because she could not have transferred them anywhere at this stage! The well too was far from the pot; so she could not have even managed a small spray on her nest with her wings soaked in the water from any container.

With the gardener’s help, Ma quickly but carefully shifted the pot to a spot in the verandah where shade was almost perpetual and we could monitor them maximally. A polythene sheet was later hung at one side as a double guard against all the remaining rays. Ma found a very innovative way to artificially feed the nestlings- she took a new ink-pen dropper and with it, very smoothly let droplets of water and mango-juice into their mouths. They gulped and gulped…and I was always very excited when Ma delegated this task to me after a simple demonstration. Then she taught me to spray their almost singed bodies with cool water and to often check their nests for enemies- ants and insects. When they grew better, Bulbul-ma would feed them small dead ants and insects. At nightfall, it was the watchman’s turn to guard the nest as well. Ma also regularly gave hand-mashed mango pulp and nuts to Bulbul-ma, who sitting on the same palm tree, would sincerely observe us when we nursed her nestlings. Her expression was like ‘achaa! itna kuch karna parrta hai kya? mujhe nahi malum tha!! (oh! we got to do all these, is it? I didn’t know!!)’ :-).

And Bulbul-ma was somehow acquainted with saree (Ma, grand-ma and domestic helps), dhoti (gardener and grand-father) and casual skirt and top (me). Till date, I wonder why she missed out the formal shirt and trousers (my father)! So initially, when my father went near the palm tree to see this interesting episode, she would scream and again start seeking Ma or me. We explained to her in a language of the homo sapiens that ‘a father’ is the man-of-the-house, someone who would ultimately rescue us all in case there is a danger…that he is Ma’s husband and my father, the little girl’s father. And several times, we took him along with us to the nest so that Bulbul-ma would learn that he is after all a safe visitor :-).

I had just stepped into my teenage. Once, during a mid-day chat with Ma who was my closest friend, she very jokingly remarked ‘perhaps, this Bulbul-ma has not come of age…looks like these eggs are borne out of a pre-matured wedlock’… 🙂 Then in the next few moments, her tone transformed to that of immense appreciation and respect for Bulbul-ma– ‘but one thing my girl, note she hasn’t ditched her eggs…rather she has accepted Nature’s rule in rearing them up, even all alone in this scorching heat’ !! And again she rushed towards their nest to check on them.

The monsoons were nearing when one day, the now hearty fledglings flapped their wings for the first time. Bulbul-ma spent two days in fruitlessly trying to teach them fly. We concluded that they had got used to the comforts in badde-sahaab ke bungalow (big man’s bungalow)- all our family and helps accused Ma and me :-). On the third day, as evening approached, two of them managed to fly out; after hobbling for a few metres, they took to the air smoothly. The last one just didn’t move. It was indeed robust. Ma blamed it on me saying that I over-fed my pet and now its wings could not bear its weight. Bulbul-ma pricked its back with her beak so as to stimulate it. The fledgling merely shrugged off the sensation and continued to stubbornly sit in the nest :-). Then my Ma gently brought it out and placed it on the floor in the verandah. Using her fingers, she prompted the fledgling to follow it and walk. There was no response. Then she slightly stroked her nascent wings and blew some mouth-air over it. We were still surprised how this little fellow was unable to decode natural instincts! Just then, my grand-father happened to sit on a mattress on the floor barely a few metres away from it. Suddenly, the fledgling flapped its wings and flew onto his cosy lap in a manner most unlike of even a distant-cousin of birds :-)! I think it had understood by then that it had to perform under the full glare of spectators and the view of the short distance to be covered at a small altitude helped it muster some strength to fly- ‘bhai, udd le…isse asaan aur chance nahi! (hey,lemme show I can fly…there can’t be an easier chance to do it!)’ :).

Then it again sat there seeming to be very satisfied with its flying skills. I wanted to feed it again with the dropper because I believed it might have got exhausted with its efforts. But Ma stopped me as she seriously wanted it to fly as a natural response to thirst and hunger, and she also empathized with Bulbul-ma in her desperate efforts. Evening was nearing…

In the meanwhile, Bulbul-ma had brought in either Bulbul-baba (the father-bird) or some Bulbul-masi (Bulbul-ma‘s female friend) !! We didn’t try to figure out exactly who it was. We had better tricks of Bulbul-ma to watch. The adult birds had caught hold of a big grasshopper and another insect in their respective beaks and started luring the lazy fledgling towards it. As the latter hobbled after a few minutes, the adult birds continued moving back, maintaining a minimum take-off distance on the runway :-). The trick went on until the fledgling successfully flew towards the trees that the birds had flown to with the insects still held in their beaks.

Even years later, Ma used to recollect this particular trick and was very amused each time. She said ‘wasn’t that so much like human adults who try to lure their kids to desired activities or places by holding out a chocolate or a flashy toy in front of them ?’. Perfectly so.

That lazy fledgling was a female and she continued to be robust. So, we could always identify her as long as we all lived there. I roughly built a nest the following summer at the same spot (to lure my cute lazy fledgling) and I believe she only laid eggs. She turned out to be an intelligent Bulbul-ma and we didn’t have to look after any of her nests. Honestly speaking, I would have loved to bother about all subsequent fledging processes :-).

It was during this phase that I learnt about Dr.Sálim Moizuddin Abdul Ali, the great Indian ornithologist and naturalist. He is known all over the world for having conducted systematic bird surveys and giving a wonderful fillip to the subject. He is also referred to as the “”bird-man of India” and was conferred the Padma Vibhushan in 1976 . I wonder what a whale of observations and conclusions Dr. Ali must have had in his extra-ordinary pursuit to understand the ways of varieties of birds! The International Jury had rightly honoured him with these lines-

Since the writing of your book, the Book of Indian Birds which in its way was the seminal natural history volume for everyone in India, your name has been the single one known throughout the length and breadth of your own country, Pakistan, and Bangladesh as the father of conservation and the fount of knowledge on birds. Your message has gone high and low across the land and we are sure that weaver birds weave your initials in their nests, and swifts perform parabolas in the sky in your honor.
For your lifelong dedication to the preservation of bird life in the Indian subcontinent and your identification with the Bombay Natural History Society as a force for education, the World Wildlife Fund takes delight in presenting you with the second J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Prize. February 19, 1976.

More similar articles to follow, if Aamjunta approves… 🙂

The Chaste of Liberty

Last week, it was reported that the Maulanas in Aligarh (India) are opposing burqas that are trendy with laces, studs, gems, etc. Reason – they fear it will ‘attract the attention’ and ’embolden’ the evil-eyed people !

Many ordinary persons, social or religious organisations and celebrities have also held similar views in the recent past.

Well, I think statements as these are not baseless in view of certain present circumstances as long as they mean to protect women in unknown zones (physical or social) or when they go out alone in places lacking proper gender awareness.

Many may not agree with my opinion but I would still request them to take a look at my reasons, even briefly.

In this regard, I would first of all like to make a small but very appreciative note on my recent observations of some foreign tourists (mostly westerners) visiting south-India. I found everyone of them to abide by certain directions, probably issued from their respective Embassies, in their attire. They all wore traditional Indian dresses and cast a very lasting impression on the native folks by respecting their values.

The gruesome Nirbhaya incident in December-2012 led to some modifications in India’s rape law. Even then, numerous such cases of either rape or molestation or eve-teasing or brutal murder after a sexual assault or acid-attacks have been reported. Sometimes it appears as if these occurrences have rather increased exponentially, like a severely infectious or viral disease ! To add salt to the diabolic wounds, age of the victim or the offender seems to be no more restricted to the country’s present definition of an adult, that is, a biological age.

With regard to rising rape cases, a year back, the Supreme Court of India had asked the Delhi Police to find out the root-cause of such brutal incidents happening every day even in the capital of India. Many psychiatrists like Dr. Nimish G. Desai are of the opinion that rapists are not mentally ill but attribute sexual perversions or psychopathic behaviour to them due to rapidly changing and non-monitored social mechanisms. They recommend institutionalization of gender studies wherein such people of inherent or acquired violent behaviour and/or having feelings of disengagement from society (work or family) can be identified and reared towards a positive direction before they commit such an offence.

In this context, let us delve into a bit more analysis. We all know that nudity is a form of both ancient and modern art expressed as any gender type, and it continues to be unblemished in some regions or societies. It is unblemished with regard to gender studies and characteristics of art itself. There it is accepted and appreciated as a normal, genteel perception. Now here is the sharp contrast. In other regions, a fearsome trend persists or has emerged of late – women (yes, mostly women and young girls) in attire like tight-fitted outfits, jeans, flashy tops, kurtis or even salwar-suits, are being watched with lustful glare. It happens anywhere, at any time and at any age in a society that is not well-versed with gender-related chapters. Formal education, high social status or financial riches are not always a dissuasion to check grossly misconstrued sexual desires. Rather some people’s disengagement from society combined with their lack of awareness of gender studies can turn out to be extremely distressful for others, as rightly cautioned by psychiatrists.

Now consider juveniles and how susceptible they are to committing crimes, the degree of which is comparable to that done by adults. In this post-modern age, juveniles, almost everywhere find quickly streaming information and easily accessible hi-end gadgets. These gadgets are often provided to the young generation either by unsuspecting parents to make them merely happy or by irresponsible parents to promote through the gifted devices a sign of their proud possession or affordability in the neighbourhood. With swiftly changing times, today children are more intelligent and smart enough to use these gadgets, irrespective of whether the usage is right or wrong. If both the parents are working, then there is hardly any one at home to guard against its misuses; and this may further worsen matters. Sometimes, family woes stir the mud in already troubled waters. Unless duly checked, it is possible that the unwanted or violent behavioural trends of juveniles would continue to get perpetrated across their peers or younger groups.

Perhaps, the same logic would apply for potential eve-teasers, molesters, acid-attackers and other type of abusers or violence instigators, abettors or perpetrators.

And obviously, with rising crimes the already feeble police:public and the judge:public ratios will also further deteriorate, thus delaying justice !

Now let’s explore two of our crucial roles in a society that is not only waiting to get adequate lessons in gender studies but having to already confront frequent crimes ridden with sexual components.

First and foremost of all, we must sensibly regulate or restrain certain type of entertainment and media channels, both print and electronic. Films and documentaries should be more censored, very strictly categorized according to various age groups and then distributed with immense precautionary measures. Particularly, women, young girls and eunuchs depicted on reels or magazines must always be shown in a respectable manner; it should not bear the slightest hint of any vulgarity or obscenity just for maximizing commercial profits. Here I want to highlight a very important point – where gender studies profusely lag, mindless projection of any sensual element for promoting modernity or liberalism, or for gaining commercial goals, further exposes the ‘aam aurat’ (ordinary women) and the eunuchs to sexual glares, pounces and pats !! Instances in an elite society may be rare but the ‘aam aurat’ generally bears the bigger brunt. Surely, there are other factors to be reasoned out but the one of mindless projections is definitely very crucial. Such projections can have an immediate negative impact on the minds of both the adult men and young boys; more severely, if they are disengaged from their family, friends or work-place and/or are already associated with anti-social elements or unhealthy environments like taking banned drugs. When every day we get to hear numerous crimes against women, then as responsible citizens, should we not check certain filming or broadcastings ? By preventing thus, we can help a meek society to muster fortitude, act and practically care for preserving the dignity of its weaker sexes.

Secondly, comes our role as parents or guardians or teachers of the current generation of children. It is a gradual effort. Right from an early age, we must educate them on various aspects of gender, and teach them to dress, converse and behave as suited to our culture and society, that is, where we live. Wearing full-length attire (whether oriental or occidental) should not make us a judge in our own minds even; we are not supposed to be labelled traditional or modern merely by our clothes or appearances. The terms are antonyms but it is wise to interpret them such that adhering to one outweighs the other according to relevant occasions. We should thus adequately put bridle on what we wear and appreciate. We should not fall into any sort of crazy rat-race. Our matured thoughts must do the smart talk and walk. Young boys and girls must be taught to equally respect each other and accommodate their issues. Gone are the outdated ways of gender-based barriers and patriarchal dominance ensnared by attitudinal issues!

Similarly, social or official guidelines must be adhered to by all groups of gender in corporates and other social gatherings. These are awfully necessary safeguards in our very own interests.

Well, now consider the provisions and protection sought under law. If enforced properly, it can take a tougher stand against mere violators of law and criminals. But it should not be just to punish them or deter potential offenders. It should also be because children witnessing depictions in any form of media or offences in society, that has sexual components or differential roles of man and woman, imbibe an awful sense of gender inequality at a tender age, and it would in all probability remain with them life-long or worse still, may find their yet scurrilous or violent vent in some form of anonymity at a later stage !! Moreover, changing rules should be in accordance with the definition of gender, the attributed social patterns of which are changeable over time. Hence, it needs thorough discussions and debates and cannot be simply listed over-night.

Nevertheless, law is definitely one of the greatest tools of social transformation. But legal reforms must be supported by an efficient administration, institutionalization of gender studies, holistic understanding of other socio-economic issues by the people of the land, their active participation in large numbers in associated programmes and awareness generation by a responsible media. Without all of us realizing these various aspects and acting in a co-ordinated manner, it would be quite impossible to root out the causes of such diabolical crimes and prevent these in some present societies.

As a well-known Indian columnist has aptly remarked yesterday in a leading newspaper- ‘Empowerment doesn’t work without maturity‘ !!!

Aamjunta – what do you say?

Special Category Status of Indian States – Recent Developments

This is a topic on and off the Indian political radar, now particularly as the General Elections are scheduled in the summer of 2014.

Currently, India has 11 ‘special category’ status states. They are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. It is usually given to states which have distinct features like international boundaries, hilly terrains, special environmental issues, different socio-economic patterns and where infrastructural investments or public services are very difficult to be implemented. And most of these states bear a large tribal or economically backward population.

The country’s apex decision making body National Development Council headed by the Prime Minister and all the Chief Ministers and Union Cabinet Ministers on board, is the competent authority to grant ‘special category’ status to a state based on a set of criteria as per the Gadgil formula. This formula was evolved in 1969 by Dr. D. R. Gadgil, the social scientist and first critic of the Indian Planning Commission. Since then, the formula has been applied, modified and re-applied because of various reasons (statistical or changing social indicators, political, financial, etc.) and in various ways.

The states which enjoy the ‘special category’ status are given 90 per cent grant as assistance for externally aided projects. For the general category states, there is usually no grant and resources flow to states as back-to-back loans.

In March-2013, Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had remarked “Whoever empathises with and helps backward states will come to power in Delhi“. In May-2013, the Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said that a high-level sub-committee would be constituted under the then Chief Economic Advisor to Government of India, Raghuram Rajan (now the Governor of Reserve Bank of India) in order to determine the criteria of backwardness of a state. Further, Mr. Chidambaram added “… going by whatever information that I have, Bihar will certainly qualify under the new criteria”. Assuming that the Minister rightfully pre-possessed some good data about Centre’s likely financial assistance, tax-waivers and performance-linked-incentives, I believe it were apt if the statement was made by him with certainty but only after the criteria of backwardness was re-defined. Otherwise, the statement still leaves behind a gap that may rather mean that the criteria be re-set so as to accommodate Bihar in the ‘special category’ status !

Anyhow, this gesture by the Congress-led UPA Government was interpreted as a sign of wooing Mr. Nitish Kumar away from his alliance with the Opposition party, BJP and gaining his party, the JD(U)’s support. From the aamjunta, there was hardly any amount of noticeable discussion on this deal just focussing on Bihar’s genuine needs.

In August-2013, the expert committee under Mr. Raghuram Rajan identified 10 parameters for a new Composite Development Index for the allocation of Central funds to backward states. The new index considers the rating of states on the basis of their distance from the national average on parameters including poverty rate, consumption, education, health, female literacy, urbanization, household amenities, connectivity, financial inclusion and share of SCs/STs (Scheduled Castes /Scheduled Tribes) in total population. Some states like Bihar have also insisted on the inclusion of per capita energy consumption as a measure of development. Overall, if this new index rates Bihar as a backward state, then it will definitely do the same for Odisha and few other states as well.

It has been reported that ‘while Bihar was given Rs 12,500 crore as part of a special development plan, Odisha’s eight Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput (KBK) districts, more backward than many of Bihar’s districts, should have received an allocation in the same proportion’. As the discussions and rallies were being held by various groups seeking the ‘special category’ status for Odisha, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia cited the state’s stable finances and “sound indicators of fiscal deficit, outstanding liabilities and interest payments” as reasons for non-consideration !!

Being born and brought up in Odisha, I can vouch that while the state is rich in many natural resources and abounds in several industrial potentialities, it is economically backward due to meagre or non-sustained patronage from New Delhi. Odisha dramatically boosts the national treasury through trade in various minerals and industries namely coal, iron-ore, bauxite, manganese, power, steel, railways, shipping, commercial ports, fishery, agriculture, art, craft and tourism. One of the most significant DRDOs of the country – testing of missiles, is based in this state only.

There are at least 32 primitive tribal groups (the state has 22.8% tribal population, higher than the 8.6% national average) and according to the Planning Commission, about 155 lakh people in the state are suffering from acute poverty. The literacy rate is low and infant mortality rate high. Health and sanitation issues have just started getting mobilized towards a better future. Only then, would come the next arduous task of strengthening the education sector.

It is a fact that Odisha does not have an international border but some analysts are of the opinion that the 480 km coastal line can be treated as a substitute. This gets pronounced considering massive environmental factors like the Paradip cyclone, 1999 and the recent Phailin cyclone, 2013 hitting the state from across the vast Bay of Bengal, the waters of which are known to whirl some of the most dreadful tropical storms and cyclones ! This coastal line, if not guarded properly, is also vulnerable to illegal trades and anti-social activities, including infiltration.

Though the present BJD government led by Chief Minister Mr. Naveen Pattnaik has taken good measures towards developing some areas of the state, much of the state funds are spent either in administration or repayment of huge Central loans; therefore, it is not adequate in helping all the economically affected people and developing remote areas. Inadequate solutions and non-uniform development of a region, both are largely detrimental to the inclusive concept of growth. A sustained development model, as also envisaged by world-bodies, can gradually come into the picture only at a later stage.

The demand for ‘special category’ status for Odisha was first raised in 1979, but successive governments at the Centre have not paid heed. On one occasion, Mr. Naveen Patnaik has led a 30-member delegation comprising Odisha ministers, BJD MPs and MLAs to President Mr. Pranab Mukherjee. They have submitted a memorandum and one crore signatures collected from the state voicing their concerns and demands. But any noticeable step is yet to be taken by the Central government.

Last week, the state of Seemandhra (earlier part of high-ranked Andhra Pradesh) has been granted ‘special category’ status by the Centre, as quickly as it was curved out. Whereas states like Odisha and Bihar, whose demands have been far more justifiable and long-standing, still continue to be ignored. These type of callous decisions quite seem to be linked to political bias, appeasement tactics and ploys for vote-banks. Ultimately, the citizens suffer ! One better ranked region steadily rises up the development ladder; whereas other regions, in actual needs, may still continue to falter, under-perform and remain almost stagnant for years. This undoubtedly leads to  undesirable issues of inter-state migration or over-populated urban areas where people from low-ranked states flock in search of employment and social upliftment !! Thus, it is negatively cumulative in effect.

So, when is any Central government going to think cogently and channelize the available resources in a proper direction for the long-neglected states ? In fact, not only should it provide the necessary financial grants to economically backward states but also assist them with proper and timely guidance through various advisory bodies or committees working successfully in various parts of the country. This shall expedite development in these low-ranked states and be one of the ways to compensate faster for all the years of neglected work. No Central Government should ever make the blunder of political discrimination (for vote-banks, rivalry, etc.) among states because that will create a huge social mess in the long run !

Aamjunta – What do you say ?

Similar article by aamjunta – Odisha Assam mein hai na!

Welcoming Telangana and Seemandhra – what lies next ?

With green signal given by the Lok Sabha to the Telangana Bill, creation of the 29th state of India becomes a reality. Now, Andhra Pradesh is divided into two smaller states – Telangana and Seemandhra (the one which opposed the division of Andhra Pradesh). Though there is a sense of pride and victory by some people of Telangana, the general mood of the people of the region, particularly of Seemandhra, and other parts of India is not happy regarding the way this specific bifurcation was handled and new states are being created.

Most surprisingly, the recent developments which came into light are undemocratic and pathetic !

First, six Honourable MPs (Congress) of Seemandhra issued a no-confidence motion against their own party and the government. They were later expelled. But their grievance was never discussed in the parliament. Neither the parties in power nor the parties in opposition bothered to listen to their dissent.

Second, Pepper Spray was used by Mr. L. Rajagopal on 13th February, 2014 which shamed the Indian democracy and Parliamentary system. His act was merely condemned by the political parties and later, he was suspended. However, he had managed to defend his act on live-TV shows and became an over-night hero in his constituency, Vijayawada (Seemandhra).  Many critics of Seemandhra MPs view their opposition to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh only as a means to safeguard their business investments in parts of Telangana, particularly Hyderabad (its supposed capital) and an election tactics. It is widely alleged that the LANCO business unit in Hyderabad of Mr. Rajagopal was bailed-out by a political pact with the UPA government.

Third, and the most surprising thing is the complete blackout of the debates in the Lok Sabha. It was never seen since the live telecast of Parliament proceedings began in 1996. Hon’ble Speaker says  – it was a technical glitch; BJP says – first, we were unaware of it, then admits it was a “technical glitch”, and then blames it was a “tactical glitch”; Congress – as usual does not say any thing (even the Union Home Minister refused to comment on the blackout) and the rest call it as the “murder” of democracy or stage walkouts. What surprises the aamjunta is the way the Bill was presented and passed; there was no proper debate, no discussion, no clear plan of action for Seemandhra or Telangana, and above all no consideration on the fall-out of this Bill !! Whom should we blame, only the party in power – UPA (Congress in particular)  or the opposition (BJP in particular) or both ? Don’t we see that both of them have tried to use this sensitive and controversial Bill to earn more seats in the next general elections ? It is just “hunger and abuse of power” – both so destructive in nature, especially in the context of a multi-cultural and multi-lingual country like India !

This actually frustrates the common man of this country. Unfortunately, we probably have no option but to elect one of them (Congress or BJP or coalitions led by them) in the future, as the alternatives including Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Third-Front can prove to be more disastrous for this country !!

What would follow are perhaps – Bandhs (strikes) in Seemandhra and other parts of India, fights between various groups of  Andhra Pradesh and Delhi, debates on television and in newspaper columns, and increase in demands for creation of new states in other parts of the country – Koshala in Odisha, Vidarbha in Maharashtra, Harit Pradesh in Uttar Pradesh, Bundelkhand in central India, and Gorkha Land in the east /north-east ! This does not stop there; as it did not stop with the creation of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Goa.

The Pandora’s Box is opened now with many political compulsions, strikes, acts of hate, and various other possibilities including elections and re-elections !

If we analyse the impact of creation of smaller states, we can certainly find two major points – (i) smaller states boost regional parties which are definitely not a healthy sign for a democracy like India and (ii) smaller states bring political instability as in Jharkhand and Goa – 8 Chief Minsters in last 10 years (9  governments in last 13 years) in Jharkhand, and 14 governments in 15 years between 1990 and 2005 in Goa !! The instability can be frequently created by regional parties, especially in a coalition type of government.

Other than the above major points, smaller states give rise to further intolerance, regionalism and selfish motives, which sometimes hinder the growth of India as a whole, and complicate the inter-state relations and distribution of resources – water, mining, dams, power, etc. Likewise, administration and delegation of executive tasks may take a back seat. In this light, one should take thorough note of the detailed analysis in the arduous Srikrishna Committee Report.

Further, such divisions of states in cacophony can also highly complicate the internal security with many neighbours as observed from New Delhi and NCR. Many fear that the anti-Maoist steps being carried out jointly by Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattishgarh, etc. may also get diluted.

As I have mentioned in one of my previous article, the way we are creating smaller states with the above motives and intentions, an European Union model is not ruled out in India in the future – with one or two major partners (states) and many smaller partners (states) with political and financial instability.

Aamjunta needs to awake, arise and take the centre-stage as a voter, implementer, jurist, lawyer, businessman, student, teacher, social activist and others – for, by and of India. We need to go beyond the selfish intention of small states and think of an united India only, without which our existence will be at stake.

It is now obvious that the selfish political parties will instigate us on the differences in languages, religions and region-specific development. But the choice is ours; whether or not to fall in their line !

Aamjunta – what do you say and how do you react ?

Chanakya’s  (370–283 BC) “akhanda Bharat” (undivided India) is becoming “khanda Bharat” (divided India) !!  “Uttistha Bharata” (Arise India) !!!

Jai Hind…

Other articles on Regional Politics in India:

1. Regional Political Parties – danger to Democracy and India?

2. Yes to Telangana – Opening of the Pandora’s Box or another European Union !!

Delightful Diwali but… NO crackers, Please !!

Over the years in the Indian subcontinent, we have celebrated Deepavali or Diwali by lighting clay lamps and bursting fire-crackers to drive away evil spirits.

Now, let’s reflect from a different but existing interpretation from our ancient holy texts. It is the festival of lights, which signifies a “consciousness of the Inner Light- the Atma” dispelling ignorance and also generating compassion for all beings.

Looking at things around in this age, one can observe with a little insight that any unmeasured or unconsidered practice of bursting fire-crackers can fatally harm, aggravate and disturb four major cases of life on Earth –

1. already high levels of pollution
2. conditions of ailing people (particularly, the heart-ached or migraine-affected)
3. the common man living on the streets or slums, or awfully needing to rush his/her child, aged-parents, spouse, relative, friend to the hospital
4. creatures living on the ground or underground

Many of us have ourselves confronted these situations or watched others helplessly struggling against it. Is not it then our responsibility to check the way we celebrate Diwali and also educate the younger generations?

Let us care a little for Mother Earth and ALL beings living on it. Human beings are the highest kind of intelligent animals here. Therefore, as long as it is within our control, we should avoid killing or hurting even lower and weaker life forms; we should rather strive to protect them.  FOREMOST, we can surely try and make things Safe, Secured and Clean !!! That would in fact bring us closest to attaining the real “ananda” or “rejoice of the Inner Light”…

Lets make it a festival of lights for all; not festival of darkness for some !

Wishing everyone a truly Delightful Diwali.

Aamjunta – what do you say?

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