Tuesday, December 27, 2011 12 comments


I have been wanting to see the film “Dirty Picture” for some time now but thanks to the holiday season tickets are not so easy to come by. Besides, I have been ill which has restricted my mobility outside home. So, I decided to make the best of the situation and watch some films on DVD.

I saw last night a Bengali film “ Iti Mrinalini” ( meaning Yours Sincerely, Mrinalini). A very moving film ,it was about an aging actress who is about to commit suicide. As she writes her suicide note her mind flashes through her life- her hey days , her affair with a director- yes, a married man with whom she had a child but who never married her! She pines for the child who dies in an accident, the man who she loved but who could not leave his wife and children  for her, her break up with him and her subsequent  relationships with various other men all of whom except one used her for their own ends. The film had some superb acting by the mother daughter duo - Aparna and Konkona Sen, both  playing the same character at different points in time of course!

Stories such as these seem to abound in the film world! We had Marilyn Monroe, who ,to quote Elton John lived her life like a “Candle in the wind”. I had read a biography of hers a couple of years ago and I remember being shocked by the way she was exploited by so many men – the illustrious American President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy included! 

Closer home there is Silk Smitha and Shobha two stars who took their own lives!

It makes me wonder what is it about such lives that drives one to such despair? There is often a man involved – a mentor, usually a director/ producer or a senior co star who is a married. I know I should not be judgmental but considering that these women have the world at their feet, why do they get involved with such uncaring brutes? It seems almost like masochism! I cannot believe that the film world does not have decent men who can give them a good life! But it is obviously not just the men who exploit these women.

If we look closer and deeper into the lives of some of the big women stars in our industry, we can see that their lives are actually not even in their own hands. There are many examples of parents exploiting these girls – Sridevi and Hema Malini two leading ladies who were totally controlled by their mothers! Interestingly, both these women ended up rebelling against this control by “marrying” already married men. The story of Sridevi is probably more pathetic- she had been acting from the time she was a child and had no control over anything in her life. Her mother pocketed the money and is said to have pushed her into all the casting couches possible. In the case of Hema Malini too the story is similar. In most cases the parents do not want the daughter married as they feel that the “golden goose” would then be lost. Actress Padmini Kolhapure had to elope out of her own house to get married as her parents were opposed to her marriage!

When I hear these stories I am reminded of the “madams” in the brothels of the red light districts! They keep their girls similarly under tight control exploiting them until they are able to get a decent price for their bodies! Most of these women end up having  love affairs with  some of their favourite clients, running away with them dreaming of marriage but finally ending up doing the same work for a different master!

Though  I find it horrible to compare the lives of our leading female stars to these unfortunate women, I realize that when you are a woman the chances of being exploited are very high. If money and fame does not give you the power to control your own destiny then it is really sad…!!! These so called “marriages”  to married men are nothing but a sham that these ladies put up. It is a bold woman like Nina Gupta who had a child out of wedlock and refused to name the father.

Somewhere along the way, I realize that despite society having progressed the controls on women have not changed much.  We see Aishwarya Rai, the most beautiful woman in the world, playing the docile “Bacchan Bahu”  as her mother-in- law says in an interview that her daughter-in-law appeals to her because she “knows to keep her mouth shut in front of her elders”!

I don’t know whether it is the fear of public opinion that makes these ladies behave the way they do? If that is so then it is really silly because these women have the power to change public opinion by the way they conduct themselves. Respect for Nina Gupta has in no way fallen after her motherhood.

But then as somebody once told me, when you live in a make believe world you live amidst a lot of insecurities and these insecurities can break you! Besides, if your business is about marketing emotions, you are likely to get caught up in them - Just as working in a cement factory may make you suffer from asthma, similarly working in the film world may make you more vulnerable to emotional breakdowns. Women, Iare more vulnerable to this than men.. not just because of the way they are made but also because their coping strategies and safety nets in situations such as this are lower.

I wish the media would be more sensitive while reporting about the lives of these women – there is more to them than their bodies and their relationships. However, as long as there are people like us out there in the world waiting to “lap up” the  gossip ,the media, I guess will continue to report about them.  And hypocrites that we are, we will continue reading about it, and making judgments …!


Wednesday, December 21, 2011 13 comments


Like most of us I have also wondered what it would be like to go back into the past ? I actually did a post on it early this year  Journey in  a time machine Ever since , I have had this longing to see myself as I was then.

Sounds silly? Well, then so be it! 

One of the places that I have wanted to go back to  has been my school. My mind has often wandered through those corridors, relived those moments and those relationships. This is more so because I no longer live in Kolkata where I did my schooling. I live in Chennai- a city that is as different from the city of my childhood as chalk is from cheese!

So when I found that our school was holding a reunion on the 18th of December it did not take me more than a moment to decide that I would go. Actually, this was the first reunion ever in the two hundred year odd history of the school Our seniors from the 1977 batch got this together and suddenly, I found that face book was buzzing with activity around the school page.

People in Chennai asked me if I was mad to spend Rs 11000 plus on a plane ticket just for this( interestingly no one in Kolkata ever mentioned this- tells you about the fundamental difference between the two cities!). I had no second thoughts. I mean, I could have spent it on a sari, jewelery or something else. I did not see this as an expenditure – more an investment in those relationships.

I have not been in touch with many friends – just about 2-3. But again thanks to face book atleast in the virtual world, we had made contact with more . So, this was the moment to make the virtual image a real one. My friend Maitreyee, the most efficient organizer that she is started to contact “girls” from our batch. She collected numbers, addresses and through what is called the “ghost to ghost hook up”  got in touch with every one that she could. Of course I helped out. I contacted Sushma while she was probably being chased by a rhino during her holiday at Kaziranga, sent a text message to a number on my phone that did not have a name and asked   "Are you Chaitali!!!" 

I wanted initially to just do a day trip- land in the morning – go to school and return at night. But ofcourse, Maitreyee our own “ Ma Durga” would hear none of it! She convinced me to at least consider arriving the previous day and leave the day later.

The excitement around the event was too much! When the plane touched down at the Netaji Subhash airport, I got up even before the seat belt sign was switched off. After being reprimanded by a severe looking Air India stewardess I tried to contain my excitement by holding on to the handles of my seat. I could not wait for the baggage to arrive and once I had my suitcase I went out straight into the arms of Shampa and Maitreyee. I was so touched that both of them had come personally to pick me up.

After a brief visit to Shampa’s  house where she collected her  things for the “sleepover” we were at Maitreyee’s. I think we would have gossiped till 1 AM ör more! There is a beautiful Bangla word to describe his - "Golpo Korchi" - literally meaning "exchanging stories". It seems to have a more serious tone when compared to the word "Adda"

The event was to start at 10.00AM. Maitreyee who had collected all our passes wanted to be early so as not to keep anyone waiting. But of course we did not see it that way- we teased her about trying to be the “good ” girl from the 1980s – “Are you going to sweep the compound?” Shampa wanted to know!

But arguing with a taurean is not easy. They usually get their way. We finally started out at 8.45AM.

The city of Kolkata has changed so much..  I kept looking out for trams and the familiar  run down private buses. I almost gave out a shout at my first sight of a mini bus – “Alipore to BBD bag”. A fly over has been constructed in front of the Victoria Memorial. But down that I could see the race course  on one side and the Rabindra Sadan on the opposite end…We passed the zoo, the national library and suddenly I found that we were turning in at Mominpur into Diamond Harbour road! The last time I was on this road was in 1985!

The entrance into school was most emotional with shouts of “ Oh my god” ‘’ EEEEE”!  We hugged our teachers and friends who we could recognize. Some of us had become fat, others had lost a lot of weight while yet others had gone gray..It was a very emotional moment when our Hindi teacher Mrs Goela entered the gates. As I ran to her she hugged me with tears in her eyes. She is over seventy now but still had the same hairstyle and neatly tied sari. Geography teacher Miss Gupta was driven in and helped out of a car. She too had aged a lot and was very frail. Mrs Ghosh our English teacher  still sported her huge bindi though she had become almost unrecognizably thin. With Miss Mazumdar who taught us history and English in classes six and seven  it was as though time had stood still. She looked exactly the same!  Mrs  Hariharan our Maths teacher in 9th and 10th looked younger than she had when she was in school ( God bless her!). Mrs Chatterjee our class teacher in class 7B was her same gentle self. All of them had retired from the school!
It was very funny but someone rang a bell for assembly and we gathered outside the assembly hall ( the hall was taken over by the caterers who had arranged tables and chairs for the meals). There was so much of commotion that Alpana who was announcing had to keep shouting “Girls! Girls! Please be quiet” –almost like what it was during those days.

We sang a very old hymn. I never realized that I even remembered it. But the tune clicked in my mind and I could ,manage the main lines “I have come to thee.. to take thy touch before I begin my day” Somehow this hymn always made me feel very spiritual. When we sang the school song there was not need to look at the words. Everyone knew it from memory. There was a prayer by the current principal Sr. Lucy followed by a message from one of the older principals who was not in India. We missed Sr. Rose who had passed away a few months ago- she had been the principal when we had passed out!

The teachers sang too – a lovely Rabindra Sangeet ‘ Purano Shei diner kotha”. Reminisces were shared, teachers were honored and then we sat down in the auditorium to have breakfast. I felt very strange eating breakfast there. The last time I had been there was during my public exam in class X.

We had a tour of the school-  what used to be classes, 1, 2 , 5,  6, 7,  8,  9, the library, the forbidden wooden carpeted staircase that led from the principal’s officer to the first floor- only teachers could use it during our days. The bird cage below the stair case was missing. But I did not realize it until Sushma pointed it out to me a couple of days later…

It was so crazy to look at the desks to see if we could find any of the names that we had engraved there with our compasses. We even went to the toilet and  drank water from the water taps below the staircase. We found that there was a smart water dispenser there now. Students probably drank mineral water from that instead of the taps through which we used to. I must say that I drank water from those taps  every day of  the six years that I was there but never ever fell sick!

There were new buildings  and tiles installed on the walls where there used to oil paint. Probably more easy to clean but somehow the walls without that maroon paint upto 3 feet before the white wash began seemed strange. We also found that the old pictures of saints  that were reprints of the works of renaissance painters housed in wooden frames and suspended by strings from the nails on the walls had given way on some walls to garish pictures  mounted on wooden boards! The wide verandahs with their ornate railings,  the  windows with shutters were now covered with grills giving the place a jail like appearance. Somehow it did not fit with what I had stored in my memory.

“The nuns do not seem so ferocious now” said one of my friends. Well certainly not – because we had grown up and some were probably older than the current principal! But the school had obviously kept up with its academic performance. We applauded as one of the teachers announced the name of a girl who had passed out last year getting 98.3% in her ISC exam with 100% in Economics!!!

More gossip, some discussion about formation of a formal alumni association and then lunch! Friends teased each other threatening to tell the teachers about how some of us used to sleep in their classes. The old nicknames of the teachers were being freely used – the wonderful souls did not seem to mind! The ice cream man had come in and many of us rushed in to have ice cream sticks! “No cones or cups” screamed someone. Those days a stick ice cream from Kwality costed anything between 30 Paise to 60 paisa. Ofcourse there were special ones like choco bar which was Rs 1.10. We never had the resources to buy cup ice creams! The phuchka man and the jhalmuri man outside were obviously not there. We remembered how we used to eat these forbidden stuff- groups of girls taking turns to watch out for sister or the teachers while their friends ate. My friend Maitreyee almost got caught red handed once – but she had the presence of mind to drop her leaf and rush out on to the road pretending to stop a bus – only it was a lorry that she found herself face to face with! The trams outside school were missing. There were green colour autos plying instead. I missed the No 35 tram that used to take us to school and back.  We used to pay 20 p to ride first class and 15 p to ride second! Some enterprising girls used to ride second class for a week using the 5 p saved each day to eat 25p worth of puchkas!

We discussed the film stars we had lost our hearts to – Kumar Gaurav being the most popular! “Love story” had just been releasedin 1980. After years of watching a middle aged Amitabh Bacchan,  KG was a sight for sore eyes! There used to be a group that rooted for Sanjay Dutt. They told us gleefully how thirty years ago we had backed a loser- “Where is this Kumar Gaurav now”!

Time seems to run when we have good times. It seemed like 5 PM so soon.. and it was time to head home.

It is very strange but we had actually not discussed anything much about our present. That happened after we got back when we started calling each other up wanting to know what we were doing, what our husbands were doing!! I think that is the magic of a childhood friendship- it does not judge you by your current status. It just accepts you for what you are because you are a friend ! It does not matter if you are CEO, housewife, married, divorced or a spinster

I cannot thank my alma mater enough for what it has instilled in me. My concepts in Science and Maths are so clear and my English pronunciation excellent! I was introduced to some of the best books in the school library and the poetry that was taught to us was par excellence! None of us ever went for a day of private tuition! We managed with what we had understood and each of us tried to help the other out where it was not possible. Teachers ofcourse drilled these concepts into our heads till they buried themselves deep inside! They saw our education as a sacred duty entrusted to them and not a job that they were paid to do!

And finally and most importantly were those values that remain with us today. When I see Maitreyee taking care of her ailing father like his own mother, when Shampa’s daughters touch my feet to take my blessings or when I hear of Sushma nursing a pet like a child, I know that these are some manifestations of those core values that we learnt – to love, to care to respect ! All of us carry it and they have seen us through life.

The words of the school song say ….
“ Life is a test where we must do our best
   Whether in work or in play
    Strengthen your efforts
    Maintain your zeal\
   Play up and play the game”

I am proud to say  that we HAVE done our best!
Friday, December 9, 2011 16 comments


Remember that song – “ Likhe jo khat tujhe.. woh teri yaad mein..”. Now imagine these words “Likhe jo email tujhe woh teri yaad mein” or “ Posted jo status message tujhe..?” or worse.. “Phool tujhe bheja hai  khat mein…”  or “Phool ki taswir bheja hai email mein?”

These- my friends  are the challenges of love in the 21st century!

There was a time when a swan was the conduit of the message of love between Nala and Damayanti.. today it is the internet!

I still cannot come to terms with this…

Nothing can surpass the pleasure of pouring your heart out to a loved one on that piece of paper. The movement of the pen on paper is like the beating of your heart. You can choose stationery you like , indulge in calligraphy and poetry to your heart’s content finally sealing it with those petals of flowers inside..

And then there is the time and effort you have to invest in to identify the appropriate courier service! The Indian Postal system certainly has its advantages in terms of  promptness of delivery but it also carries with it the dangers of being delivered into the wrong hands ( parents of the beloved?). So what do you do? Find a pigeon- who is often in the human form -  a friend or that kid living next door. If it is the later you have to pray that s/he remembers to deliver it all the while keeping it safe from prying eyes and hands. If it is a friend then .. it is safer! But then you might meet some “friends” like me or my kind  who delivered letters promptly but made sure that they  were allowed to read parts of it  ( just for kicks!)!  There are of course  those really “dangerous” lot of people who accept to be couriers only to tear up the letter, blackmail the sender/ recipient  or worse write a reply spurning your love.. remember how many stories have been written on that?

 Now tell me can the internet compete with any of these? For instance, it limits the font and style options and as also the writing stationery. It often leads one to type out single letters for complete words  “u”  for “you” is a prime example.. Nothing wrong you might say as it conveys the message adequately enough! But then communication when one is in love is not exactly telegraphic.. one wants to communicate verbally and non verbally- unfortunately in terms of verbal communication in the absence of direct speech U is a poor substitute! We also lose the thrill of receiving in our hands a piece of paper that the loved one has touched with his/ her fingers – silly you say? But then whoever said that people in love were logical? You are silly, crazy and mad.. ! You long for connection but an email or that wall on face book or a text message are poor substitutes for the connection and communication that being in love demands!

I am sometimes surprised when I see some status messages on face book. They are obviously meant for someone special but unfortunately the forum is too public and all your 200 plus friends read it too!!!  Then there are a few annoying ones like me who make some comment on that message embarrassing the living daylights out of the poor person for whom the message was meant  ( because you see I may be one person’s friend but not the other’s )

Sure the telephone is still  around and with a mobile  it is almost like holding his/ her hand all the time… ! I would again like to say that  nothing is like the written word!

Ask any woman of my generation how she felt when she received her first love letter? It is the first certificate in writing about your being an attractive person! You can  have someone tell it to you directly but a letter can be read, re read and re interpreted! You can see the handwriting and sometimes (like me)  notice the grammar and punctuation too deciding if the person is educated enough or well read enough to be worthy of your affection! You can store them in a box or tie them up with a red ribbon reading them when you are in your forties , fifties or seventies..! Tell me can you do that with email? I suppose you can take back ups but with the quick evolution of technology everything even ten years old quickly becomes redundant…!!!  First there was email and now there is skype! 

Let me make it clear , I am not against technology for communication. Blogging for example is one major breakthrough in terms of what technology can do to encourage people to express themselves. But there is still communication that demands a certain intimacy which can only come out of human efforts. I treasure those cards my husband sent me during our days of courtship where I can see his name  scrawled laboriously across the paper along with some interesting quote!  He is not much of a writer- has a handwriting that has not evolved out of middle school but then that is him.. and what I have on those sheets of paper are the efforts he made to reach out to me – hand writing notwithstanding! The writing of the human hand is very unique – almost like a thumb print..! It is like having a part of the person on paper.

I wonder if it is something to do with the way society as a whole has changed today? There is a certain casualness and flippancy in whatever we say or do. We are also very economical in our use of words – LOL, ROFL… I guess it requires an entirely new dictionary to be created! Somewhere along the way it also indicates the limitations we have by way of time..!

But seriously, if we are not able to invest in a relationship in terms of time and effort is it surprising that the number of break ups are on the rise?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 11 comments

GAM AUR KHUSHI MEIN FARK NA MEHSOOS HO JAHAN - A tribute to the Evergreen Hero of Hindi Films

Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya. Har Fikr ko dhuen mein udata chala gaya”( I continued my companionship with life blowing away all cares into smoke ) goes the song…!

But not any more.
 Life, and the man emoting the song parted ways on the 4th of December 2011! 

The death of Dev Anand is something that I still cannot believe! He was not called the “evergreen hero” for nothing!

I don’t know when I developed this passion for Dev Saab’s films.  I used to find him quite funny initially – what with his shaking head and lop sided smile..! I was actually quite annoyed when I saw the way “Guide” was made. I was inclined to agree with R. K. Narayan when he said that it was his “Misguided guide”! And then one day I saw “Tere Mere Sapne” – an adaptation of an A. J Cronin Novel and I must say that I developed an interest in this actor and his films.

As I grew older I found myself appreciating music from films a lot and that was when I got hooked to Dev Saab’s films. I love his  black and white movies more than his colour films.

Some of my favourites “ Dil ka bhanwar kare pukar” which has Nutan and him on a tower ( Qutb minar?) romancing along the winding steps. I love his style when Madhubala tries to console him in the song “Accha ji main hari chalo maan jao na” .  Or when he is drunk and singing about building a house  – “ek  ghar banaoonga tere ghar ke samne”

While Rafi was the voice behind many of the songs above, in the later films it was Kishore . But of the two singers I think it was Rafi’s voice that suited Dev Anand’s persona the best. I love the way Rafi slurs at the end of some of the lines when he sings for Dev Saab!

Dev Anand was called India’s Gregory Peck ( another favourite of mine) but I would like to think that each one of these men was different and attractive in his own unique way. It would be unfair to compare one to the other…!

The interesting thing about Dev Saab was that he was forever young…!  There was a joke that someone told me after watching his interview on NDTV a few months ago – “Dev will make another movie next with a girl young enough to be his grand daughter” He introduced many new girls into the movie business – most notable one among them being Zeenat Aman. Unlike Raj Kapoor I must say that his camera treated his heroines with respect – we did not have him exposing them unnecessarily!

I like the range of subjects that his films handled. Actually coming back to “Guide” I feel today that it probably took guts to make a film like that – about a relationship between a married woman and the hero.  The song “Katon se kheech ke aanchal- tod ke bandhan bandhe payal” today sounds to me like a song about a woman’s  liberation!

A man who even at eighty eight was alert and alive.. death is not something that is going to wipe him out from history so easily. His songs and his mannerisms live on – not to mention his style.

Rest in Peace Dev Saab… !  Enjoy your re union with the men whose voices contributed to your fame – Rafi and Kishore .

We will miss you!!!  “ke dil abhi bhara nahin”

Sunday, November 27, 2011 15 comments


Those of us who have grown up reading Enid Blyton would certainly remember Mr. Goon, the policeman- probably  my first introduction to the police –albeit in another country. A fat man with eyes like a frog he was always outsmarted by  five children. He had a bee in his bonnet about a “fat boy”, Fatty aka Frederick Algernon Trotville.

Over the years as I grew up my experiences with the police also  began to grow and today as you can see I obviously have enough to write an entire post on them…

The year was 1995. I was new to Chennai as were my two friends with whom I shared a flat. One of them – I will call  her H had a scooter on which all three of us merrily rode around town. Our usual “beat” was from the flat where we lived to our office and back. One evening, we decided to be adventurous and move out into the Central Business District. As always we were riding “triples” with H driving the bike.  We encountered a “NO ENTRY” board at a point.

Generally law abiding citizens, I don’t know  what happened to us on that day but  we decided to ignore the sign and take that turn. It did not look like there was anyone about to check us. The lane itself had a deserted look . Just as we had turned into the lane and driven for about 2 mts who should loom up in front of us but our own Tamil version of Mr. Goon..! A medium sized person with a huge moustache he stopped us in that lane…  This was embarrassing and scary – to be stopped by a traffic policeman- the first time in our lives. Both my friends were not Tamilians and therefore the job of dealing with Mr. Goon was naturally thrust up on me. Well here is the conversation that we had

“ What is this ..? Did you not see the NO ENTRY board? “

“yes sir we did” I replied meekly

“Then why did you turn in this side?” He hollered

“ Didn’t know what it meant sir”  I murmured.

“Didn’t know? ..And what is this three to a scooter? Don’t you know it is not allowed?” He persisted

“Didn’t know sir. Theriyadu” I said again.

“What are you girls doing in the town anyway? Studying or working” he asked.

I decided at this point to play the sympathy card.

“ Neither sir. We are hunting for a job. Been at it for a month now. Unable to get any jobs” I said pathetically.

“  Well who will give you a job? For every question that is asked you answer Theriyadu ( don’t know” he said looking at me seriously

He then went on to disperse some Gyan- “ Look here ma.. even if you don’t know the answer never say I don’t know in an interview. Just say something. Otherwise people will think that you are fool” !!!!

I nodded seriously and then he let us go after calling out behind us about where we could buy some General knowledge books….! Unfortunately both my friends missed the joke. This experience is mine and mine only …

The second experience happened when I was pregnant. My husband was driving me to the doctor for a check up. An ancient lady ( I think she must have been about a 100 years old) she was a stickler for punctuality. Even if we were  late by 5 minutes she would stare at us as though she had caught us doing something really awful. So, I am sure you will understand the reason why my husband ignored a traffic light and sped past. But not for long… we suddenly found ourselves being stopped by a whistle blowing cop.

The scene goes something like this…

Husband pulls up on the side of the road and the cop starts questioning him… He says that he is going to fine us. Husband tells him –sure and asks him to hop into the car so that we can all drive to the police station where the fine can be paid. The cop hops in. I get distinctly uncomfortable. I am sure that the guy wants to be bribed. So I ask husband loudly whether we can buy some mangoes from the road side seller thinking that this would be a good way to “gift” some to the guy in the passenger seat.  Husband glares at me and continues driving. The cop is very vague about which station he wants us to drive into. He is obviously not keen on us going to the station nearby.. Finally he  asks us to stop and gets out. Husband shouts out asking why he was leaving us like this in the middle of the road. What about the station visit? I ask him if he wants mangoes. Husband tells me to shut up.. “You and your mangoes. He will fling it at your face”.. Well I was only trying to be helpful and any day a few mangoes would have been cheaper in the event of us having to pay a bribe…

The next experience goes beyond the Chennai territory into Pondicherry. I was with  some colleagues in our office jeep. One of them N was on the front seat with the driver while I was with another colleague at the back. We were to pick up a third colleague at a traffic junction. N and I were deep in conversation about something interesting. She was laughing and talking to me turning  behind while also looking in front trying  to guide our driver to the point where we were to pick up the other colleague. Just as we spotted him and were slowing down for him to get in we suddenly found a person tapping the window. It was none other than a traffic constable – a fat guy bursting out of his white uniform with his red saucepan hat barely fitting his head.

N rolled down the window and looked at him. He in turn looked at the senior lady ie me sitting in the back seat and said “ This girl in front ( N) is very badly behaved.  Am I looking so funny that she has to point at me and laugh” For a moment I was not sure what he meant. I realized none of the others had understood it either. We just nodded dumbly and after colleague no 3 was in the car we started laughing- this time really at the guy!!! “Probably has a complex about his weight” said N. I think it might have been about his uniform too. It may look okay in France but as a colonial legacy looks ridiculous…!

It is sad.. the way the police in our country are reduced to this While the crème-de- la crème is the IPS what we deal with are the ones of the Mr. Goon variety – most of them are pathetic cases..!  As citizens I do realize that we are a difficult lot to deal with but bribes are not exactly a way out . As long as there is supply there will be demand. Policewomen are equally bad if not worse. .. There was recently a case of a man in Madurai who murdered his estranged wife in a police station in full view of all the police women present there. He had been called for counselling by the police as he had a history of domestic violence. The chap had come prepared with a knife to plunge into his wife- a plan which he executed flawlessly.  The point is that the guy escaped after doing  this in the presence of law enforcers in their own space.

Save for the movies which are about the police in almost all of them we see the police arrive in the end when the issues have been resolved. I don’t know if it is art imitating life or is life taking some cues from art …? 

Law enforcement is not an easy task. It requires a person to be strict and faultless.. Unfortunately the strictness is only a mask that is put on to derive other benefits like “maamool”…  I remember a dialogue from the film “Gangajal”where Ajay Devan who plays an honest police officer says “ Policemen are also part of this society. How can we expect them to be different?What  you see in the police is a reflection of what is happening in society” 

The slogan that appears on the police uniform is "Satyamev Jayate" - "Truth alone triumps"- unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth
Thursday, November 24, 2011 10 comments


Last week I was at my daughter’s school, meeting the teachers. Mr. R ,her physics teacher told me that he was disappointed  with her test scores because that he had expected her to top the class. Now, this came to me as a surprise because  I know her abilities in Maths and Physics.

When I came home and shared what her Physics teacher had told me about her she was most amused!  I wasn’t so sure because I felt that the gentleman genuinely felt that she had potential in Physics. “Oh mummy it is just that he is fond of me” she told me. “So what makes him fond of you? I am sure it is because he feels you are good at his subject” I challenged her. To this, my wise thirteen year old pointed at her two long plaits saying “Mum he is fond of these…! In his scheme of things a girl with long plaits like me is a good child and is serious about her studies. So he automatically assumes that I would be good in Physics.”

Now, that is probably the best “gyan” that I have received in years..!

In a class of thirteen year olds she is  one among the three girls who have long hair and probably look like they dropped out of my generation! Though she is known to be outspoken and argumentative, in terms of appearance she  fits the archetypal image of what is called a “nerd”!


 My sister a humanities student says “YES”! According to her, most science students do not have time for anything other than studies and grades resulting in a lopsided development of their personalities. When I think back to my student days, I cannot but agree with her. I was a science student right up to my post graduation when I suddenly revolted, dropped out of a M.Sc program, kicked my scholarship aside and went in for an Arts program- probably the most controversial thing that I have done in my forty odd years (besides, the revolutionary act of marrying a man from another religion- but then that is another story)

Right through my school years, I was what can probably be best described as a “NERD”. I was very much into my lessons and my grades using my extra time for reading. I did not participate much in any extracurricular activities and was definitely not into sports! Ofcourse, my passion was writing but outside of being on the school magazine editorial committee I was not really much into anything else..! 

Getting good grades automatically made both teachers and parents  assume that I was destined for higher education in science. Though secretly I had dreams of being a writer, I never dared voice it because I was afraid of letting these people down.

As I went into college, I found that the course was so demanding that I did not even have time to watch movies. I studied at an agricultural university which involved over an hour’s commute twice a day. I used to leave at 7AM and when college got over at 2.45PM my only aim in life was to catch that university bus and get back home to complete my records and study for the various tests that were scheduled.  I  did not have what can be termed a “LIFE” !  Four years of science education also introduced me to the image of the “good student” which influenced Professors to a large extent in doling out marks in the internal assessment. A girl with long hair in a sari or a salwar kameeze was a “serious student” as was a boy  in a long sleeved shirt and oiled hair. Ofcourse if you wore glasses it was a definite plus. There were Professors who hated me at the university because of my skirts and trousers. I realized that soon enough and kept to Salwar Kameeze for the last two years.

But when I joined my post graduate program in science, I suddenly began to realize that I had a generation gap with my own generation and so I decided to call it quits! I dropped out and then joined a premier social science institute- the best decision that I made because it brought me in touch with another world – a world where anything could be questioned and argued about! I found the Professors very different – they discussed testing methods with us ( whether they would grade us based on a end term exam or a term paper or a presentation on a topic). They did not care what we wore to class as long as they were sure that we were interested in their course and were applying ourselves to learning. The two years  of my post graduation  in  arts were probably the ones which really constituted my education. I participated in as many extra curricular activities as I could, I argued fiercely with everyone for what I believed in and was respected for it.  I did a field research project that was about real people and their lives.!

I wonder what is it about science education that stunts a student’s development as an individual? While agreeing that rigor of science education is higher in terms of having to study and remember more I cannot understand why it leaves so little time for a student to explore other facets of their personalities? An average science student generally is poorly read about anything other than their own subjects ( even that is doubtful given the way science is taught and tested in our country). In any college the students from the Humanities department are, as my sister calls “the life of the college” – they are the ones who participate in events and give the college visibility outside of academics. They are also the ones who are the leaders participating in student bodies and contesting in elections.

It is unfortunate they way people perceive science education to be the only form of education that is worthy of being considered as “education”. Students are therefore forced into science  whether they have an aptitude for it or not simply because it is the done thing! Children go through with science education till their 12th standard and are then forced into engineering or medicine – those who do not make it get into a Bachelor’s degree- more out of compulsion rather than out of choice. They are probably the mediocre performers who neither have the brilliance required to excel in science nor do they have the general smartness, creativity or confidence of the Humanities student .

We see droves of engineering students who join IT firms and are sent for “soft skills” training – very sad!

Somewhere along the way, our education system needs a revamp shedding itself of imaginary hierarchies of knowledge. It needs to also take into account the fact that mere academic performance alone does not define a good student. It also calls for being non judgemental about many things – dress code and appearance being the most important one.

As adults we owe this to the younger generation. Otherwise what we will be producing will be a bunch of mediocre people who do the “right” thing in a very average sort of way.
Thursday, November 17, 2011 13 comments


Bollywood films take us to a world of make believe where “anything” is presented as being possible. Remember those Big B films of the 1980s and 70s when Vijay would single-handedly bash up dozens of the bad guys.? He would romance the heroines ( never mind if the heroines were daughters of millionaires while he may have been a car mechanic), sing songs and care for his mother- the hero in other words was a super human being  also know as “superman”! These films were said to be very cathartic for our masses who felt that they were living their dreams through the three hours that they spent inside the theater

But the same period also showcased some films which were about “ordinary mortals”- or the middle classes. It dealt with issues around their lives. Though it had “de glamorized” heroines and heroes it still managed to have an audience among a group of people. Hrishikesh Mukherjee , Basu Chaterjee and later Gulzar made a number of such films. There was another group of film makers who also made  the same genre of films– The Rajshri productions.!

While Hrishida and Basuda’s films died a slow death in the post nineties era of liberalization and open markets, the Rajshri films did not. Actually, like the phoenix this production house rose again- making and remaking films to fit the need of the new times.

Thus, was made “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun” -  a saccharine sweet love story with a middle aged heroine masquerading as a teenager. Compare this to the original – “Nadiya ke Paar” which was made in the 1980s .Set in the rural districts of northern India, it had a young Sadhana Singh and Sachin playing very believable characters of Goonja and Chandan. It had no great wedding songs and neither did it have any garish sets. The movie probably did not do very well in regions outside of UP and Bihar.

But come, the 1990s the production house dished out the same story with a so called “star cast” going on to become one of the biggest hits of the decade! This film (or shall we say the longest wedding video?) had characters who lived “ extremely over the top” lives. They followed it up with “Hum Saath Saath Hain”.  “Main Prem ki Diwani hoon”- similar drivel with story lines based on an “ancient value system” irrelevant in today’s context but again made saccharine sweet in very over the top sets!

I have grown up watching many Rajshri production films – “Geet Gaata Chal”, “Dulhan Wahi Jo Piya Man Bhaye”, “Paheli” etc.  I  loved the simplicity that they were able to bring out in their characters. Sachin was one of their permanent fixtures – very symbolic representation of the uncomplicated youth of his times. Among their heroines, there were a lot of fresh faces –usually very ordinary looking girls that one could identify with- completely fitting the characters they played.

So why the shift to Salman and Madhuri? Can a person seriously believe Madhuri’s portrayal of Nisha in “Hum Aapke….”.  or Kareena’s in “Main Prem Ki Diwni hoon”?  I think the closest that any character in  one of their recent films came true to their usual type was Bhagyashree in “Maine Pyar Kiya”. Trouble was that while “Prem” became a permanent fixture in their present day films “Suman” got left behind-this was a pity because  “Suman” was the real Rajshri person in “Maine….!”

But that has not bothered them because as they seem to have understood what the public wants. The public obviously wants  what they consider “Indian Values” sugar coated in yards of silk and chiffon with jhatkas and thumkas! I guess their “Paheli” heroine today might be mistaken for a extra in their own movie!

The biggest victim of this kind of “going overboard” with gilt and glitz has been the music. While their earlier films had some sweet and melodious music, today we have in their films some very inane tunes with words that somehow do not gel with the times. To put it very simply I can only say that it sounds very false!

I wish the Rajshri Group would go back to making the kind of movies that they used to . .Making  it relevant to today’s times, does not require fancy sets and highly paid heroines. The story just needs to be made contemporary but the simplicity which I always thought was their USP need not be compromised upon!

To conclude, I can only say that their films today  remind me of a favorite aunt from a small town who has gone to a beauty parlour  for a “make over” and emerged looking like she has entered a fancy dress competition. Barjatya babus- bahut ho gaya. Give us back some of your old characters. Salman , Hrithik Kareena or  Madhuri are poor substitutes for Sachin, Sarika and Rameshwari. Even  Arun Govil in "Saawan ko Aaane Do" was preferable...!!!
Friday, November 11, 2011 23 comments


Now, the National Language is not my  mother tongue! But having lived in the northern and eastern part of the country during the formative years of my life, I speak it more fluently than my own mother tongue.  For my father however, this language has always been a challenge!

Appa’s introduction to Hindi was during his late twenties when he joined the Indian Railways. Armed with his engineering degree and charged with the passion of participating in the process of nation building he readily agreed to being posted in Bilaspur ( then in Madhaya Pradesh).  But when he got on to the Grand Trunk Express, at Chennai central in 1960, he realized that working north of the Vindhyas was not going to be easy! Appa told us many years later about this journey- when his co passenger on the train told him that he was going till “Hazrat Nizamuddin”, Appa’s  first impression of the word  was of a “soda bottle opening”!

Life at Bilaspur for my parents was an idyllic one but for the fact that Appa realized that he had to learn Hindi- not just the speaking bit but also to read and write as that was part of his job requirement. In fact, I think he had to pass number of internal exams. A brilliant engineer who always topped his class, Appa now found that he was among the “not so brilliant” set of students! My mother who was familiar with Sanskrit tried to coach him in the initial days! But Appa had problems in transferring the language rules from Sanskrit to Hindi because he was not familiar with Sanskrit either! Though as a Tam Brahm he had learnt his shlokas but unfortunately, having learnt them orally, he had never associated them with the written form!  When I was about eight  years old, Amma transferred her responsibility of teaching her husband , Hindi to me. I remember the way we both wrestled with a lesson called “Abu Khan ki Bakri” for one of Appa’s  Hindi exams! Appa, used to say during our lessons together that it might be better if we were to sit on a bullock cart and do them, considering that there were so many “Hai”s that were there- “at least the cart would move” he used to joke!

Moving to West Bengal in the 1970s brought in additional problems in Appa’s Hindi comprehension abilities. In the small town in north 24 Parganas, where he was posted the only language that was spoken was Bangla and some  Hindi of the Bihari variety ( “ek tho, do tho” types). Added to this were his new Bengali pals whose Hindi was equally bad – between all of them they killed this beautiful language. Every case ending would end with the masculine and Hindi would be liberally sprinkled with Bengali words! While the Bengali gentlemen managed to kill one language- Appa killed two- Hindi and Bangla! But the second murder is another story…

 Appa’s posting in the Railway Board, made it necessary for him to be familiar with Hindi versions of the Government Orders. In an effort to help him with the translation, I found my Hindi skills improving dramatically! Between the two of us we used to consult a thick – Hindi- English dictionary. Appa also suggested that we both listen to AIR’s Hindi news between 8.00-8.10 AM! I still remember the “beep beep” sounds and Devki Nandan Pandey saying in his deep baritone voice “Yeh Akashvani hai…”!  I tried to introduce my father to Hindi film music thinking it would help. But it had some hilarious consequences.

Banda parwar, tham lo jigar…”  was turned by Appa into “ Vanda varuval”( “May be she will come”-  as impromptu adaptation in his mother tongue -Tamil).A fan of Nazia Hasan, Appa used to sing her hit song from Qurbani “Aap jaisa koi meri zindagi mein aaye to baat ban jaye” as “Aap Jaisa koi meri zindagi mein aaye to BAAP ban jaye” giving it an entirely new meaning!!!! 

Appa used to constantly threaten to come to school and discuss my Hindi marks with my Hindi teacher in Hindi. He felt that I deserved more than the 60% marks that she doled out to me ( but Mrs Goela, my Hindi teacher was a Sanskrit scholar from the Benaras Hindu University, her standards were therefore entirely different!!!). I used to plead with him not to! Finally he made a compromise saying that he would discuss it but in English- thank god for small mercies! My Hindi teacher incidentally, was very impressed with Appa’s interest in my marks. She made a mention of  it in class saying that if the daughter  were as interested as the father in her marks she would top in Hindi. If only she knew….!!!

When Appa got transferred to Hyderabad, he was given an additional charge-  “Rajbhasha Adhikari” ( National language officer). Apparently it was a policy decision of the Indian Railways to appoint all officers whose mother tongue was not Hindi as “Rajbhasha Adhikaris” in a bid to promote role models. With the additional charge came an additional headache- he had to propagate the language within his office! He used to ask me every day for a new word which he used to copy down and ask someone in his office to write on a public blackboard. By this time in his life, his Hindi resource  person was his younger daughter – my sister!

I remember a hilarious incident when he was Additional Divisional Railway Manager in Hubli Division of the South Central Railway.  He was presiding over the Hindi week celebrations and as the “Rajbhasha Adhikari” had to give a Keynote address in Hindi . Between myself and my sister, we had prepared what we considered a “superb speech” for him! We made him read it out aloud and were reasonably confident that he could pull it off!

We accompanied him to the function and were sitting with him. Someone announced from the stage requesting his presence on the dais. Appa went up on to the stage graciously. There were some speeches and then about a minute before the speaker before him finished up, we realized that Appa had left his speech behind with us. We tried to signal to him but he was busy pretending to listen to the speaker.. who concluded his speech by requesting the  “Rajbhasha Adhikari” to deliver his key note speech. The Adhikari just then realized that he did not have that paper with the speech on him. But Appa, being the confident man that he is did not bat an eyelid. He went up to the podium and started speaking extempore!!! To say that we were amused would be an understatement. My sister and I laughed till our sides ached and till people in the audience started noticing these silent paroxysms of laughter ( they probably thought that both Mr. Sundararajan’s daughters were simultaneously having epileptic fits) . Appa got down from the stage looking very pleased with himself – “not bad was it?” he asked beaming at us after soaking up the applause” ! Poor man, we did not have the heart to tell him otherwise!

As he grew older his loss of hearing added to his problems with his Hindi comprehension. There used to be a song from a film called “Zamane ko dikhana hai” which went like this “Bolo bolo kuchh to bolo”. This song was playing on Chitrahaar one day. Appa suddenly looked up from his files and sat through the entire song watching it with great interest. Once it was over he commented “ But where are the dogs?” Dogs? “Well isn’t she singing – bolo bolo kutton bolo”? he asked innocently. Poor Majrooh Sultanpuri Saheb.. would have committed suicide had he heard my father that day!

Despite all his trials at mastering the language, I have never heard my father say anything negative about it. In fact, he used to love some words in Hindi ( “Kadi Mehnat”-hard work  being one) . His curious mind used to often ask information oriented questions about the language and its roots. He used to be very fond of a poem by Bhartendu Harishchandra which was in my Hindi  text book “ Nij bhasha to Ahai sab unnati ki mool, bin nij bhasha gyan ke mitat na hiye kosool ‘( the knowledge of one’s own language is the basis for all development). Not just Hindi, he always encouraged us to learn all the languages that were spoken in the different places we have lived in. His quest for knowledge made him rise above the language based politics of his times.

After fifty years of service in the Indian Railways, when Appa retired, a person who had worked under him gifted him with a lovely plaque which has in Hindi, some beautiful words describing him –each of those words begin with an alphabet in my father’s name. It also has a realistic pencil sketch of my father. My father was so touched by it that his eyes filled up with tears. This plaque hangs in his living room today- a reminder about a South Indian gentleman’s efforts at mastering a language alien to him!

Monday, November 7, 2011 7 comments


Last month, my daughter studying in class 9, in what I would call an "elite" school brought home a form to be filled in. This form had been sent by the school requesting the parents to verify information relating to the child's name, date of birth,citizenship etc for forwarding to the Council for Indian school certificate examinations which conducts the ICSE exams  for which this batch is slated to appear in 2013. Among the list of questions was one relating to caste with the usual  options of  SC/ST/OBC etc. The Principal had put in a small note at the bottom of the page which said " parents please be judicious in filling up the information on caste. This benefit is for underprivileged children. We believe that none of our students in this batch  are underprivileged in anyway". We were completely in agreement with the Principal's message because almost all the children in her class come from families where both parents are employed - usually in high profile corporate jobs. In fact we also noted that about 25% of the children were not of Indian citizenship ( though of Indian origin) because it was most likely that they were born while the parents were professionally placed in a foreign country.

But we were very surprised to hear from our daughter that many of the children had brought in forms that had the caste option filled in with SC/OBC etc!!! Now, this is a school with a very small class size and with only one section per class. So we know practically everyone in her class -children and parents. When she  told us the names of the children whose parents had filled in those options we were shocked because we know these parents and they are no way "socially or economically backward" considering that they do international holidays, live in  very upmarket localities, drive around in fancy cars etc!

So what is this reservation for backward castes all about? This example about my daughter's school is only an illustration of what is actually happening around us.

I work for a non profit organization which takes me to villages around the state of Tamil nadu. I find that when we do surveys, people are most reluctant to give out information relating to their income and assets ( in fact they sometimes even deny that the house they live in is theirs) but the information that they make sure we have taken down is about their caste! Therefore, caste as a basis for  entitlement is something that is here to stay- irrespective of whether people deserve those entitlements or not!  I have found through my interactions with the poor that the caste-class linkage can only be seen where it comes to the scheduled castes and tribes. When it comes to the "backward castes" it just does not work!!! I am yet to come across a person who is of the BC category ( MBC/ OBC and what have you!!!!) who is actually poor! So why this reservation?

I have also found that the castes that call themselves backward vary from district to district even within the same state. For e.g caste A would call itself MBC ( by the way folks MBC stands for Most backward !!!) in Cuddalore but when we move to Madurai they would not figure in that category. So how is this thing called backwardness judged?

The state of Tamil Nadu has probably been the worst offender in this regard particularly when it comes to educational institutions where nearly 60% of any number of available seats are "reserved". I would say that a better way to deal with it would be to declare that only  40% of the seats would go by open competition or merit ! 

There are two points that worry me about this caste based reservations-first being that the really deserving among these so called back ward groups would lose out because they would be competing with those who go to elite schools like that of my daughter's and benefit from the high quality education there and the second being that with nearly 60% of the capacity having to comply to lower standards, there would be an increase in overall mediocrity. The later is something that is fast becoming a reality.

Actually if we take the state of Tamil Nadu into consideration, we find that the government in general is promoting mediocreity . For e.g the quality of school education in the state is rather low. But the state keeps the standards low and also practices the system of liberal marking so that a student who is below average in terms of capacities also gets 80% or above. And when this is coupled with reservation around " backwardness"  what do you get ? Your guess is as good as mine!

While I am a strong advocate of affirmative action and the benefits it can result in for the underpreviledged ,we need to take a balanced view on this. A person is not backward if s/he comes from a family that is economically well to do - whether the income is farm based or a professional salary is not the question! There has to be an economic criteria put into the fixing of the reservation. There are people who believe that with the coming in of the system of Unique ID for every citizen we would be able to track and correlate the caste with the income tax returns being filed. I think that would be good way to weed out those who do not deserve such entitlements!

It is about time our government realized the harm it is doing to the country by viewing the short term benefits of caste based electoral politics. If backwardness has to be addressed then there has to be good and sound targeting - so that those who deserve it get the benefits and much more! I am sure that Babasaheb Ambedkar who gave us this wonderful constitution, would not have ever imagined what the system of reservation proposed by him has been turned into by a group of shrewd vote mongering politicians and an electorate of avaricious individuals using "backwardness" as a trump card to corner all benefits and entitlements!

Friday, November 4, 2011 15 comments


The year was 1990. My sister and myself had gone to watch an eminently forgettable film starring Sonu Walia and Akbar Khan ( remember them?). While the name of the film and most of its plot has been erased from my memory, what stays intact is a very curious sequence in the story- the hero had met with an accident and the heroine was seeking divine intervention. So we have a sequence like this… She goes to a temple and prays “Bhagwan,, etc etc”, then to a dargah and finally  to a church . Now here is the interesting bit- while the temple and the dargah prayers were in bollywood Hindi her prayer in the church was in English – “Oh god.. please blah blah!”.  We found that very funny. We wondered if  prayers inside a church would be heard only if they were said in English!!!!!

But tell me folks, isn’t this a popular  stereotype?   For example, most Indian films show a Christian bride wearing a gown!!  However, in reality very few of them actually do! I have attended Malayali, Tamil, Telugu and Manglorean  Christian weddings and I am yet to see a bride in that white gown!  And about the use of the English language inside a church – I can only say that it is ridiculous! Christianity  as a religion has worship sessions in almost all Indian languages.

Coming to portrayal of Muslims in Hindi movies- there are actually two typical types that used to be popular until the 1990s. One was your “Abdul chacha” sort of person ( portrayed almost always by A. K. Hangal!)  and there was the “Nawab Sahab” !!! So hilarious! Why these extremes? But now I think there is a new Muslim stereotype that is emerging –the “Bhai” or the underworld don ( poor guy he was originally a Christian with names like “ Robert “ or “Michael” in the 1970s and 80s but post 1990 he has converted to Islam).

Muslim women shown in films unfortunately were again of the “Sahib jaan “ or “Umrao Jaan” type or the Burqa clad girl who ties a Rakhi to the hero! But these are again pre 1990. I am yet to come across a story with a different portrayal of a Muslim woman.

There are also some personal experiences around stereotyping that I would like to share. I am a Hindu married to a Christian. Both myself  and my husband maintain a secular household where both religions are given equal importance and festivals of both religions as also cultural ones like Onam and Pongal celebrated. Our daughter does not have a religious identity. But people see her forehead without a “Pottu”/ “Bindi” and automatically assume that she is a Christian! She gets very furious when that happens because not wearing a “Pottu”/ “Bindi” for her is a personal choice. She does not wear it because she does not like herself with one.  Now I have seen this happen in the reverse too. There used to be a college friend of mine by name Maria. Maria was a catholic from Mangalore and used to wear colourful bindis . She had very long hair tied in a plait reaching till her waist and was very fair. Both of us used to almost always be together. Our roll numbers were also consecutive ( Meera and Maria). But most professors used to think I was the Maria- guess why? I was the darker one, with shorter hair and often without a pottu/bindi!!! While the “pottu/bindi” thing might be the reverse of what my daughter experiences I think the dark skin and the short hair again were stereotypes associated with a Christian girl!

Sometimes I wonder if it is unfair to blame the media completely for creating these stereotypes. After all what we see on screen is a reflection of what our general understanding about something is all about.  This lack of understanding is due to our own closed  mindedness and lack of exposure to any culture outside our own. We fail to realize that while Islam and Christianity may be religions that are not of Indian origin, those who practice them are very much part of this country and its culture. Therefore how can we expect anything different ? Christians in India are not British or Portuguese- they are as Indian as the so called majority and their culture is therefore not western though their religion might be! Yes, there were once upon a time a community called the  “Anglo Indian” who tried to maintain a distinct western identity during the British and the early independence period. But to club all Christians into that group is an injustice not only to them but tthe Anglo Indians too!
India is a country with differing cultures. So putting people of the same religion into one box and labeling them is very unfair. You cannot compare a Moplah Muslim from the Malabar with a Muslim from Lucknow!  We do realize that Malaylis and people from UP are distinct from each other but how is that we are unable to extend this understanding to include within it people of different religious groups. We would like to limit this differentiation to people from the majority religious group. We probably think that Muslims as a group are all the same irrespective of  their local roots.  The local context influences the religious identity to a large extent. Otherwise how can we explain a name  like “Allah Picchai” –a variation of “Allah Baksh”? ( it is true, I have met a person by that name in Nagore in Tamilnadu)

While there are so many misconceptions about the minority religious groups like Christians and Muslims, I am surprised why no one mentions the  positive realities vis-à-vis these groups. If we look at the sex ratio in the 2011 census we find that in the Christian communities there are 1009 women for 1000 men and among Muslims it is 936 women for 1000 men. Compare this to the sex ratio among Hindus which is only 931- lower than the two important minority groups! ( Demography tells us that  in any society nature made it such that women would be equal or more than men in number. Anything otherwise tending towards lower numbers of women are due to man made interventions. ) And interestingly both these communities maintain  high sex ratio  among children in the 0-6 years category which in simple terms means that they do not practice female infanticide or foeticide! In terms of  literacy Christian women are  second highest at 76.2% ( the highest female literacy is among Jains at 90%) Muslim women are the lowest at 50.1% but it is only marginally different from their Hindu counterparts which is at 53.2%. And interestingly the male literacy among Muslims is also low –only 67.6%  unlike in Hindus which is 76.2% leaving nearly a 23% gap between male and female literacy rates. Therefore if we are talking about discrimination against women, Hindus are probably equal to Muslims in that if not worse !

So why do we continue to believe in myths and misconceptions about certain communities instead of looking at facts?  Why don’t we mingle with our fellow citizens from other religious groups and learn for ourselves what or who they are?  It is not a sin to read the Bible or Koran or books about them? We don’t have to practice the religion but why not learn what they are all about? Do we think it is an act of betrayal towards our own religion?

An finally and most importantly, we need to realize that it is unfair to club every individual under a  label! Every person, even within the same culture and religion is a distinct human being with his/her own likes and dislikes as also habits.  

I would like to end this post with a beautiful line from an old Hindi film song “Tu Hindu banega ya Musalman banega, Insaan ki aulad hai Insaan banega” ( roughly translated it means – Will you be a Hindu or a Muslim? You are the child of a human being and so you will grow up to be a Human being)

(  Muslims constitute  13.4% of the Indian population and Christians 2.3% . The word minority has been used in that context. I sincerely apologize to any reader whose sentiments I may have hurt inadvertently  by using this word )
Sunday, October 30, 2011 14 comments


I was walking past a construction site near my house today when I happened to hear the workers speaking among themselves. Was that Hindi I wondered? I went closer and found that it was indeed Hindi- not just  Hindi of the Bollywood variety or the Deccani that is heard South of the Vindhyas but the Bihari style Hindi of the Indo Gangetic plains!

It is not just Bihari Hindi , I have heard during the course of my morning walks security personnel  outside  palatial houses, speaking on their mobiles in Oriya and I am sure all of us in Chennai are quite familiar with sales personnel in malls who are of North east Indian origin.

So, my question is- Why  so many migrant workers ? What happened to the local workforce? I mean we are not like the oil rich middle eastern countries where the locals occupy highly paid jobs while the poor from our country do the manual work. Are Tamil people going without work because of migrants or is the phenomena of migration a result of Tamil people not participating adequately in the labour market?

We had done a study last year of some tea plantations in the Nilgiris. Interestingly, all the owners told us that there is an acute shortage of local workforce. Many of them were employing migrant workers from Jharkhand! Further probing revealed that the  local population did not want to work in the plantations as they felt that the terms of employment were not attractive enough – this from workers in a sector that is pretty well regulated under the terms of the plantation labour act. While we did find that in some of the plantations there were problems in terms of adequacy of housing for the family in one of the plantations the conditions were extremely good- yet this was the place with maximum number of migrant labourers!

A friend of mine who owns some agricultural land in Thanjavur was complaining that he is unable to get workers these days during harvest. So he has got into an arrangement with a labour contractor who brings in migrant labour during harvest time.

I have been trying to understand what may be the causes behind this? Why are Tamil people not engaging in the work force? Someone tells me that Tamil Nadu is going the “Kerala” way where the labour market is extremely expensive. But Tamil nadu is a different case.  We do not have a shortage of labour on account of labour migrating out into foreign countries like in Kerala. I mean we do have people who migrate to Singapore and Malaysia but in terms of percentage of the population it is not comparable to Kerala. My guess is that most people who used to engage themselves in labour are very much here in the state but not working regularly.

Now the question is, if one is not working how does one feed oneself and one’s family? There are people who believe that with the huge subsidies that people are getting courtesy the state, the desire to work has been coming down. Food grains for the “poor”for example is free thanks to the public distribution system, in many cases housing is also free and now with the National Rural employment Guarantee Scheme one can get a moderate wage for not doing work! And to top it, we find that the government is also giving out consumer durables free! So where is the incentive to work?

There is another interesting side to this. With increasing literacy and access to education, the aspiration of the average Tamilian in the poverty category has changed. Today, they do not see manual labour as something that they want to do. But the question is , has education prepared them for any other sector? Let me give you the example of Kala who helps me out at home. Kala has a nineteen year old daughter who has completed her 10th standard ( well not really completed. She failed her board exams because she got two marks lower than the pass requirement in Maths says her mother). This girl was employed at a local department store doing the billing. After four months of working there she has quit. Her mother has been nagging me to get her a job in my office.  When I asked the girl why she had quit her answer was that she did not like to constantly stand on her feet and work. Her legs were “hurting”. I give her the example of her mother who in her fifties sweeps and swabs the floor in 4 houses in our neighborhood and ask her how the pain in her legs compares to that of her mother’s? The girl looked away sulkily. Kala, in the meanwhile keeps pleading with me for a job in my office where her daughter would sit under a fan or in a AC room. “Doing what?” I ask her?  She has no answer!

Now, before you start calling me a person with a feudal mentality, I would like to clarify that I am an individual who firmly believes in the rights of workers and in the dignity of labour. Tamil nadu as a state in that respect offers good working conditions for the person who is seeking work- it is obvious from the hordes of  people who are migrating! When I spoke to some of the Jharkhand migrant workers in Nilgiris they were all very happy with the working conditions here – “Much better than our village” said one of them.

So the question again is why are people here not engaging themselves in work and building on their ambitions to move ahead in life? Coming back to the point on aspirational levels, I can only say that the skills of the people do not match their aspirations. While education is something that has reached many in this state, unfortunately, the quality of this education leaves much to be desired. Besides, the skills imparted do not prepare the person for any jobs. So for a first generation educated person , it becomes infra dig to go back to manual labour. They feel they are destined for “better” things. But they fail to understand that whatever the sector they work in there is going to be pressure of a certain type. It may be in the form of standing long hours or working long hours. Your legs may hurt like Kala’s daughter’s or your eyes may hurt like mine! 

I guess that most of the people who are looking for “better quality work” are led by an image of a government job where one feels that there is little accountability. But believe me folks, for an industrious person even government jobs can be high pressure jobs with long hours. I have seen government officers working till 7 PM !  The first generation educated person has some dreams about jobs that they want. They are looking for trappings of a formal sector – a government job or a job in a factory like Ford or Hyundai. They fail to realize that even working in a semi formal place like a department store or a beauty salon can pave the way for professional growth! There is a beauty salon opposite my house. It is a swanky place and is obviously doing very well! One of the things that you notice the moment you enter there is that there  are absolutely no Tamil men or women among the employees ! All the people employed there are people from Darjeeling and the North East! “ I can’t depend on the local people. They are too unreliable” says the proprietor!

 I agree that in terms of bargaining power the employer holds all the cards while dealing with migrant labour, I still cannot feel a sense of regret to see an opportunity like this go out of the hands of my Tamil brethren! Imagine, if some girls had been working there, they would have picked up new skills and probably opened up something on their own resulting in development of strong entrepreneurship!

It is sad that the government keeps alive this attitude by pumping in more and more money in subsidy schemes that are increasing the spirit of dependence on the state! As a person who has been working in the development sector within this state, I can say with confidence that there is only a minuscule minority of people who lack access to food, health care or education in this state.As a person who works for a NGO, I have seen over the years the spirit of people's participation in our programs coming down. About a decade ago people were more forthcoming to contribute to the projects from their side either in cash or kind. For e.g if we spent Rs 100 on an activity Rs 10 or Rs 15 of it would be the community contribution. Today, I am sorry to say they do not want to contribute even a rupee though in terms of standard of living I do see an improvement.!

While I must say that the government of Tamil Nadu had a big role to playi  in the  development of the state , what I fail to understand is why  has it not translated in ambition and industry among people to build on what they got and move ahead ? Why are people continuing to fall back on the state?