Politically incorrect

A couple of days ago, I went on “the walk” (yes, these walks are quite eventful), and I must say it did not leave me feeling fresh and full of life, like it normally does. Reason – there were people standing all around the circle, distributing pamphlets, holding banners with gory pictures of dead fetuses. I don’t mean to be really graphic or sound insensitive here, but these pictures of dead, unborn children’s bodies covered in blood brought feelings of disgust rather than sympathy or sadness.

Of course, these were the “pro-life” campaigners. For those who are not have not heard about it before, you can read the definitions here or google “Pro-life vs Pro-choice”.

So, I quickly finished one round around the circle, avoiding any eye contact with the banner holders as much as I was avoiding looking at their banners, and was about to head back to end my uncomfortable walk, when a young boy barely 10 years old, walked towards me and handed me one of the pamphlets he was helping distribute. Shocked as I was, more so to see a child participating in this political campaign, I took it from him and kept moving.

He then asked me – “What are your thoughts on abortion?”. A lot of replies came to my mind, like – “It’s none of your business what I think about anything!”, or “What are you doing here instead of playing on your X-box (or whatever kids play on these days) and enjoying your summer break?” or “Where are your parents? Let me take you back to them” . All I could manage to say was – “I would rather not talk about it”.

I don’t have a problem with kids talking about complex issues like these, nor with kids being interested in politics. Not that it matters, but I do have a huge problem with kids being used for political gains. Not just the ones appointed to distribute fliers and talk to people about their opinions, but also the ones in the pictures. I am not even going to discuss what I think about the whole abortion issue – that is not the point. The point is, why is this even a political issue? People make good choices, people also make bad choices. Sometimes because they are bad people, sometimes just because of their circumstances. Why does a government have to control everything its people do? Don’t they have enough to do already? Don’t they have other issues to use for their campaigning that actually pertain to how a country is run, not how it’s people make their personal decisions (as long as they don’t lead to criminal behavior)?

I have never been very interested in politics. Not when I was in India, not here in the US. I just cannot bring myself to trust the breed of politicians. And I admit I am not very familiar with the political history of US or with the background of these issues. But I do feel it is a disrespect towards these unborn children to display and use their pictures to provoke people so that they vote for a certain political group/candidate.

So, what do you think? Feel free to point out if you think I’m wrong. Whether or not you agree, I am interested to hear other opinions on this.

How corruption killed Mahi

There was a little girl named Mahi. It was just any other day in her life until she went outside to play and fell in an illegally dug borewell, fell 70-feet deep to her death. People think it is the borewell and the fall that killed Mahi. Actually it was a monster with a thousand heads who murdered her. That monster has its tentacles spread all over the place and is eating away the roots of the Indian society. That monster is called ‘Corruption’ and it is Corruption that killed Mahi.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. I remember at least 2 other similar incidents that became national headlines at different times. Two other kids who fell in borewells and remained stuck there for days. Army was called for rescue, tunnels were dug to reach the children and news channels ran live telecasts of the rescue operations. One of those kids was rescued, I do not remember what was the fate of the other.

Whenever something like this happens, people are shaken by the tragedy. They talk about it for a while – in newspapers, on TV talk shows, and then they forget. We the people are very forgetful you see, but then it’s not really our fault. New issues come up, we forget about the old ones and start talking about the new. We like talking a lot, mostly talking, no doing. Take for instance Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption crusade. People went crazy for a while, going gaga over Anna, holding debates on social media platforms, even changing their profile pictures to support Anna. And then what happened?

All of these people who “supported” Anna, I want to now go back and ask them. What change did they make in their own lives to make sure they do not feed the Corruption monster? Do they refuse to bribe the traffic policeman to avoid getting a challan (ticket) when stopped for breaking a rule on the road? Are they bold enough to not pay any money to the police walla who comes for their verification so that they can get a new passport, and bear the consequences? Did we suddenly stop building encroachments on our properties thinking we will be fine if we throw someone some money to keep their mouth shut?

I doubt if any of these happened. These small acts of corruption may sound harmless – who cares if you can get something done quickly by shelling some money – look at the example we are setting for the future generations. We are basically telling them that 1) it is okay to break the law as long as 2) you can bribe someone to let you get away with it. Just yesterday, I was watching the movie “Ferrari ki Sawari” (a ride on the Ferrari). It’s the story of an honest man who is compelled by circumstances to do something wrong to get the money he badly needs. There was one particular scene in which the guy and his son are riding on his scooter and he accidentally jumps the red traffic light. There was no traffic police in sight to stop them, so this person went to the nearest control room and offered to pay the fine. When the cop on duty asked him why had he come to pay the fine when no one was even watching him, he said – “There was someone watching me. My son.”.

Granted movies are a little over the top, but even in real life, we mock people who are honest and actually punish them instead of appreciating and rewarding them. I know that because I have seen that happening, up close and personal.

I now live in a place where kids, their safety and well being of people in general is given utmost importance. I have been here 4 years, but still feel a lump in my throat sometimes when I see all the traffic stop on the road when a school bus stops, to let the kids get down and cross the road safely. I can’t help but think of places in the world where kids die of malnourishment because some corrupt officials sold the food that was meant for the children, where Mahi had to die on the day she turned five because someone else did not want to follow the rules. I wonder why something as simple as following the rules is so difficult for us. And I hope that one day, we will be free from monsters like corruption who kill our children and kill the society. One day, that day will come.

O dashehari aam, how I miss thee!

I like summers in Indiana, like a thousand times better than winters in Indiana. I actually dread winters here – the sub-zero chills, the driving on ice and snow, make me want to go hide somewhere warm. Summers are way better. Never too hot and almost perfect.

This summer though has been a little warmer than usual. Just recently Indianapolis had a record high temp day (about 110 F/41 C). You actually sweat when walking outside. I have rarely seen that happen here before. Most people are complaining about the heat. But in a crazy, convoluted way, I like the ‘bad weather’ – because it reminds me of home.

It is amazing how the smallest thing – a smell, a taste, a feeling – can take you to a time and place completely different from the present. A couple of days ago, I went for my daily 10 minute walk in the afternoon. It was hot outside, and the cold air from the air-conditioning hit me as soon as I entered the building. That immediately reminded me of coming back from school in the summers. My brother and I used to ride our bicycles to school ever since I was 11 or 12 and he was 9 or 10 years old. We used to be drenched in sweat when we came back home in the afternoon and immediately ran to the air-cooler to claim the place directly in front of the cooler (the kind that you fill with water so that the fan throws you cool air – middle class people in India did not have air conditioners back then). Mom usually had cold neembu-paani ready for us, which is a drink similar to lemonade made with water instead of soda. It has been 20 years since then, but the tastes and the sensations are as clear in my mind as yesterday.

I say summers here are ‘almost perfect’ because there are two of my favorite things missing – monsoons and dashehari aam (mango). Monsoons brought the much needed respite from the heat. We kids went crazy whenever it rained. We used to go out or on the terrace and play in the pouring rain and the puddles for hours. No schedules, no special swimming costumes, no tickets were needed for that pure, unadulterated fun.

And then there was Dashehari aam. For those of you who don’t know, Aam is the Hindi name for mango and Dashehari is a variety of mango very popular in the northern part of India. There are few other things in the world quite like peeling a whole dashehari aam using just your teeth and then digging into the cold deliciousness till there is no more left except the stone. During summer vacations, we would hunt the refrigerator multiple times in a day for seconds, thirds and fourths. Summer is not really summer without the heavenly taste of dashehari aam. Any other varieties just don’t cut it for me.

I could go on and on about how happy my childhood was, how uncomplicated the life back then and how things are just not the same anymore (a classic sign of getting old). A couple of other things are worth mentioning about the summers of my childhood – sitting down on the cold floor at my Daddy’s home (my father’s older brother, we call him Daddy) and eating the really spicy and yummy food Mummy (Aunt) made. Visiting and staying at my Beeji and Bauji’s (maternal grandparents) home during summer vacations where an extended family of anywhere between 10-20 people ate dinner together in the veranda everyday, and followed it up with bucket-ful of mangoes. The countless trips to the comic book store close to their house to rent comic books that I finished reading so quickly and voraciously that no one believed I was actually reading them (of course all expenses covered by grandpa). Sleeping on the terrace of our home at night (that was the only way to beat the heat when it got so hot and stuffy inside), counting stars, making shapes, making up all kinds of stories about the stars and the universe along with my brother.

What would I give to take a trip back to that time and place, to eat one more dashehari aam? Quite a lot, I would say, quite a lot.

Satyamev Jayate

Looking for something different to watch on TV? Or maybe learn something new about a place thousands of miles away?

Here’s the first episode of a show that has taken India by the storm since last one month. It is called ‘Satyamev Jayate’ (Truth Alone Prevails). The anchor is an established film actor, Aamir Khan, who is known for doing some real meaningful cinema.

I personally love this show. It is about the various problems that plague the Indian society today. Things all Indians are aware of, but which haven’t been talked about on such a platform and presented in such a way before.

If you are still interested, go on and watch this (it’s in Hindi with English subtitles). Just be warned that the facts and cases presented in this episode are sad and depressing and parts of it can be very disturbing too. So if that’s not how you want to end your Sunday, please ignore this post.

“My cause is not to just create uproar,

I strive to change the times.

If not in my heart, maybe in your heart

Wherever lies a spark, the fire must be rekindled.”

http://youtu.be/w1ByZCLOvXY

Walk. Smell. Heal.

Not too long ago (maybe a couple of months), I found a haven close to where I work. It’s a shame it took me so long to find it. I always knew it was there, just never paid much attention to it, never thought it could change my life in so many different ways. You may think that I’m being a little dramatic, but it is true. I know it, and I feel the positive changes with every visit.

Over the last couple of months, going here for a walk has become an important part of my day. It’s like a 10 minute vacation I get, sometimes the only time I get for myself in the day. I walk around the circle, taking in the aromas of coffee and food, watching people, watching life and its hustle and bustle. So many different kinds of people – walking, eating, talking, doing nothing – each with a story of their own, stories that I want to hear sometimes.

Ten minutes go by quickly, and then I get back to life – stronger, happier, with a resolve to do better, be better. Looking forward to coming back tomorrow to this oasis in the middle of concrete, and heal some more.