Friday, 24 August 2012

The front page of the Hindu reported on 22 August 2012  that the Government (and most other parties were in agreement) was mulling the need to amend the Constitution in order to enable states to provide reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in job promotions. Earlier attempts by states like U.P to usher in such a provision had been struck down by the Supreme Court. The report quoted the Prime Minister, saying, "You may be aware that the government had always been committed to protecting the interests of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and on certain occasions did not hesitate even to bring constitutional amendments".

The back page of the same newspaper reported that the Supreme Court had accused the Government of being "not serious" in putting an end to manual scavenging, practised primarily (as Satyemav Jayate informed us) by the lowest castes. This was in response to the Additional Solicitor General vacillating about when the Government would introduce a Bill to amend the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, currently a largely loose law since it does not address manual cleaning of septic tanks. The government has been promising to introduce the required Bill for the past six months, the article said.

Just saying.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Happy Janamashtami

The Composition period was a weekly fixture for about six years of my school life. They were meant to encourage creative writing among young students in both English and Hindi, but often their purpose was defeated, due to the lazy selection of topics. The year (especially in the Junior classes) invariably started with “Myself”, a pedantic account of who we were (age, class, physical description, parental occupations) and our interests (with studying being a most ubiquitous hobby). As the year progressed the teacher asked us to write on “Rainy Day” and “I wish I were...”.  And then, there was always the Indian calendar, crammed with festivals and national holidays to fall back on. However, I am quite sure Janmashtami never came up in all of those six years. Pity, since it was always my favourite festival (okay no, but it did come right behind Holi).

The fun started the night before, where we (a gaggle of ten 10-12 year old girls) would get together to strategise about our jhanki- a static representation of the scene of Lord Krishna’s kidnapping by his evil uncle.  And his subsequent rescue by someone else. I am still a little sketchy on the details to be honest. The meeting would involve taking stock of all the toys we could get to decorate the scene, besides the indispensable baby Krishna and his Uncle. People would volunteer to get earthen dolls, generally hand-painted to look like men and women from the Indian countryside, though sometimes an American Barbie would also make her presence felt. I am certain one year, someone said that they had a miniature version of a hand-pump that we could use.  We agreed. Mostly though, we tried to be historically accurate (more than some younger children, at any rate, who were not even shy of placing a car or two in the background). There were other bells and whistles too-if an old shoebox were available, we would fashion out a cradle (a reliable crowd puller) out of that.

The meeting was also important, in order to zero in on the best spot for our jhanki, among the ones available, in the colony’s courtyard. To prevent the favoured spot from being usurped by the other groups (especially our arch rivals-the boys in the same age group) we would solemnly promise to assemble at the crack of dawn, which at least some people claimed they took literally. I of course would saunter in a good 3 hours after everybody had set to work, and then immediately find fault with the way the mountain in the backdrop had been constructed. That would invite dirty looks from the others, and in some years, righteous angry words, or worse, the silent treatment. Of course, my tardiness would be forgiven and forgotten as soon as someone picked up a fight with the rival groups. These generally started with a Rohit making an uncomplimentary remark about our work. Padma would retaliate with a ruder assessment of theirs. Rohit would have disappeared by then. Arjun, who lacked the mental agility to come up with an adequately insulting repartee, would resort to mocking her Telugu accent. That was enough to open the floodgates of personal insults and sometimes even physical fights.

The evenings required sprucing up for the Puja, mainly conducted by one or two of those people in the group who knew a few devotional songs. The less spiritually inclined amongst us would stand at the back and mumble the words through, mind strongly focussed on the wonderful prasad that Akanksha’s mother would rustle up every year. That, and the afore-mentioned cradle were extremely important to bring in the crowds, as well as their donations.  My favourite bit, then, was when we counted all the money, inflated it by a certain amount and then made public to the rest of the groups. Since this creative accounting was quite popular among everybody, it didn’t matter much in deciding who the ‘winner’ was. There was a lot of preening involved if we won, but even if we didn’t, it never mattered. We distributed it amongst ourselves (with the exception of one year, I am regularly reminded), and then spent in on ice creams, while recounting the fun we had had during the day. I would promise at the end of the night that I would be the first person down, the next year. Someone would let out a disbelieving snort and raucous laughter would resume.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

I spent most of Saturday morning in self-pity. The beginning of the semester, after a three-month break, is never a happy occasion. It is altogether unbearable when marred by feeling about the general pointlessness of life, a feeling that even a 8th or 9th (I have lost count) re-viewing of Sherlock’s first episode couldn’t alleviate. Priyanka seemed to be in a similar mood. She was reading Poverty and the Un-British Rule in India, but I could see her heart was not in it. Twice, she put the book down and sighed audibly. I looked questioningly at her the second time, but she simply shook her head. I removed my headphones and paused the video, and waited. She would come around to whining eventually, I knew. This wasn’t a first.

“This is never going to end”, she said finally, staring at the book with infinite sadness in her eyes.

“It will. You want to discuss what you just read? That might help...” I offered.

“I haven’t been reading anything”, she replied.

I pointed out that it could hardly be the case, since she had been glued to the book for the past two days. That seemed to touch a soft spot.

“I haven’t been reading. I have been just staring at the words. Nothing seems to register”, she said with a strain in her voice.

“I am sure some of it has,” I tried to reason with her. “If nothing else, it will at least ease the second reading”, I said reassuringly.

That proved to be the last straw. Without warning, tears started pouring out of her eyes. I would say she was sobbing, but the more appropriate word would be wailing.

“I can’t read it again”, she spluttered through her tears.

“Don’t, don’t read it if you don’t like it”, I said worriedly. Then got up to move closer to her, and hesitatingly laid my hand on her shoulder. That seemed to only increase the sound of the wailing.

“I don’t want to read it ever again.”

“Don’t. I am sure it’s irrelevant. They will never ask you about all this.”

“I don’t want to read anything ever again. I hate all of it. ALL OF IT” she said, notching up the sound levels, just a bit more.

 “Listen, you study all the time. Just take a break, I am sure you will be fine”, I said, picking up the book from the floor and closing it.

“Why do I have to read any of this anyway?” she bemoaned.”What good will it ever do, if I am to become an administrator? Will I refer to books about the colonial period to solve the problems of the people under my administration? Will wading through middle school physics help them? Or writing interminable essays in impeccable English?”

“No but...”

 “I am not doing it anymore”, she said, with the same suddenness with which she had started crying. She wiped her tears. “I am not doing it anymore’, she repeated, this time her voice steadier.

 “Yeah, just let’s relax. Start preparing again from tomorrow”, I said encouragingly. That is how all her whining sessions ended. Not in tears generally, but with her taking a break, then getting back to studying vigorously, immediately after. With the firm determination to make up for any time lost.

“No. I am moving back home. I have gone through this torture once and I wasn’t good enough”.

I opened my mouth to object, to remind her that most didn’t do well in the first attempt. But she pre-empted me.

“Don’t worry. It’s a good thing it took me only a year to realise I am not good enough. At least I know I will find something that I AM good at. Most people go through their life, wallowing in mediocrity, just because they are afraid to leave the security of the path others have eked out for them.”

I momentarily wondered why she thought interminable essays in fancy English was not her forte. Then, opened my mouth to object again but she interrupted me.

“Get me my phone. I need to talk to my parents”, she said.

She took the first train home today. At 6 in the morning. It’s probably only a temporary breach in her resolve. She will be back before late, back to the grind, same as the others. I have already started looking for a new roommate though.