Sunday, 13 February 2011

An ordinary Indian's woe!!!!

I was just glancing through the Sunday Times Op Ed page and I came across two very different articles... one by Swapan Dasgupta on how the brave, tech savvy, Gen X of Egypt brought down an autocratic 30 year rule, below it was another article by Chetan Bhagat 'An open letter to Soniaji'... this one was about the unbearable corruption that the Indian democracy has given birth to...
Now the two articles are quite a contradiction at the first glance... the Egypt article shows how people faced innumerable difficulties trying to bring in a democratic system into a country ruled under US whims and the other reflects how a mature democracy and the largest one at that falters under it's own weight... though they seem to be contradicting each other, there is indeed a great connection underlining the two...
Imagine the India 64 years ago... newly independent, brimming with hope and giving rise to a popular democracy with noble ideas... the first article would have fit to the T.... now imagine Egypt 64 years later... the revolution having succeeded has now given rise to a vast democratic system, freedom of expression and association are abound.. and a system filled with corruption... the second article would have fitted perfectly.
Well of course it might not be true, Egypt probably wouldn't succumb to the pressures Indian democracy have been subjected to, it could well be prove to be a more mature democracy that deals with corruption and inefficiency with an iron fist, where babus and corporate czars and politicians and powerful journalists are treated alike with the "aam aaadmi" and where newspapers everyday do not have pages filled with reports of scams, scandals, kickbacks and illegal accounts in Switzerland... yes Egypt's democracy could be all that... and I pray to God that their democracy doesn't become a mockery like ours.
Isn't frustrating, we see (as we've been seeing) other countrymen fighting police lathis and camel soldiers, to get democracy and we, after having all the freedom and the democratic set up that others are fighting for, misusing them so blatantly?
Where did we go wrong?
We, Indians, are a comparatively much more literate people, quite intelligent, tech savvy, having a pretty good idea of what constitutes right and wrong, we even have electronic voting mechanisms ( even US relies on ballot paper) that ensures our precious votes aren't tampered with, we have GDP figures that makes many a country blush and a lot more freedom of expression, association etc.... we are also extremely patriotic (bordering on jingoism) when it comes to international events of any kind and when other nations point out our flaws and so and so forth... so why are we so corrupt, why has "our democracy" given birth to such immense levels of corruption, why does everyone in power from government, to the armed forces, to the corporates and even the judiciary steeped in corruption????
A recent study by the Times of India and Synovate Research points out that the levels of corruption have breached our tolerance levels... India mind you has a history of scams, scandals and kickbacks right from the "Nehruvian" era... but suddenly this has become all pervasive. Earlier politicians were synonymous with the "C" word, now suddenly everyone from every field is out in the light having stashed away crores of rupees for personal use.
Well the answer is perhaps not very difficult to find, it is "we" the people who have given rise to a system that helps breed in corruption, no I m not saying all of us directly give or take bribes on every occasion, but it's our nature of getting our work done 'jaise bhi', our attitude of throwing around influential names, our showing off when we get those VIP seats without payment, our inbred idea that a Police in uniform can "always be bought"... these are the very things that breeds in corruption. If we want to save ourselves, leave alone the nation, then we have to bring changes in these minor attitudes of ours otherwise we plainly cannot survive.
We'll become one of those nation which thrives on US backed Aid (we have an example in our neighborhood), yes Chetan Bhagat is quite correct when he says that corruption is worse than terrorism as terrorism can be fought with planned strategies but corruption can only be overcome through individual will and character.
Long live the Egyptian Revolution... only wish Indians would enumerate it!!!!

Monday, 7 February 2011

A Skeptic's Truth

Two years ago in a sudden fit of enthusiasm for voluntary social work, I enrolled myself into this NGO. The inspiration came from the certificate that I received for volunteering for the Times of India's "Teach India Program". This one entailed taking communicative English classes for women inmates at a prominent Kolkata Correctional Home (another sophisticated term for Women's Jail). As I have had some experience at teaching communicative English at College, I jumped at the offer.
The day I reached the NGO, I was informed that I have to undergo training of some sort at how to communicate with the women and I was to be mentored by a senior who worked at a nearby Correctional Home, doing the same job for which I had signed up.
The first day I met my senior-cum-trainer-cum-mentor, I knew she was the classic "textbook feminist case"... these types are found frequenting
Indian University campuses, wearing "kurtas" of a dark hue, jeans, specs with heavy frames, carrying jute "jholas", heavy silver jewelry... and never lipstick!!! till date I haven't met a single one who wore a lipstick... oh! and dark "kohl" in their eyes...
This one (my mentor-cum-trainer) had all the trademark qualities. She took one look at me and dismissed me as the "non sustainable ones", probably because I was wearing a shocking pink salwar... along with pink lipstick... (what a blasphemy!!!)... however she was pretty cordial and explained all I was supposed to do. This week I was to accompany her to the Correctional Home she taught in and observe her at work. I was also given the liberty to talk to the women so as to familiarize myself with them. After this ten minute intro she shut up. For the duration of the journey that we undertook in the NGO's White Ambassador, I peppered her with enthusiastic questions none of which were answered in complete, meaningful sentence.
After reaching our preferred destination where my mentor was greeted with reverent smiles, she seem to have quite an effect on the inmates, I thought, she took pain to introduce me to everybody present and by their looks I could sense that they also put me into the "non sustainable category".
Undeterred I ploughed further and approached a group nearby. As soon as I started introducing myself, my mentor's voice was heard instructing the ladies to gather where she had set up her black board. The group I had approached left in a huff. Slightly demoralized I wandered further to find a shade from where I was to "observe" my mentor at work.
That was when I spotted her. She was seated on one of the stone seats beneath the shade of a giant tree, in the inmates' uniform, her head covered with a black 'dupatta', her back turned to me. I was slightly taken aback.

'Hello!' I called out, she didn't turn around.

'Why aren't you in the class?', my next obvious question. No response elicited.

'May I sit next to you?' my third plea.

All this while she had studiously refused to even acknowledge my existence. With timid steps I went and sat next to her.

"Hello!" I again repeated, this time my greeting was accompanied by an outstretched palm, to let her know, that she was recipient of the greeting. Slowly she turned around and I gasped, my mouth fell open, shocked...

The face that looked at me was burnt on the right, there were no eyebrow or eyelashes to speak of, infact no eye at all, just a black unblinking iris, it was gruesome... her left eyebrow and eyelashes also seem to be partially burnt. The right of her nose and lips didn't exist. It was the most macabre human face I have ever set my eyes upon. Infact it didn't even look remotely humane. I don't remember how much time had lapsed. All I do remember are those eyes, a black iris on one side and a partial eye on the other looking unblinking at me. I must have looked abysmally foolish with that open mouthed expression and my palms still stretched out. After sometime, she turned away. I withdrew my hand and stood up. There was nothing to ask, really, my mind was still blank.
As I started walking back, I heard a soft voice- " ai je aapni aar ekhane aashben na, eshob aapnar jonno noy"... (please do not come back here again, this isn't your calling). There was no contempt in that voice, no sarcasm, no regret, no nothing, just a mere stating of a fact. I turned and gingerly walked away.
While on the return journey, I narrated my amazing meeting to my mentor.

"Oh! so then you met Sumati, she doesn't attend the classes", my mentor stated.

"Why, what happened to her face... why is she here? why doesn't she attend your classes?" my volley of questions.

"She's quite educated already; she used to teach English at a primary school".

"Why is she here?"

"For murder. She bound her husband and her in-laws to a chair and set them ablaze".

"Why?" I almost yelled out.

My mentor shrugged, "oh! the usual Indian bride's story, you know, cruel torture, daily beatings, bickering over dowry... the usual sort. She got partially burnt by default".

I never went back to teach communicative English. Sumati was correct. I don't think I have the guts to teach countless Sumatis' adverb, adjectives, prepositions...