Friday, September 24, 2010

Atanu Dey on the CWG

His is a blog worth reading (with a pinch of salt) and he has some very interesting points to make about the ongoing CWG debacle. Yours truly, as always, had some vishesh tippani to offer (useless but supposedly grand). Drop by there:

Personally, I think we should boycott the games and demand that the government repay all the money spent on this sham (in cash or kind).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hands Tied

I have a problem. I am audience to men who shall die in exactly two and a half days. No, that is not my problem. My problem is that it is always two and a half days. Not two and a half hours, not two and a half minutes or two and a half decades. It is always two and a half days and that tears away from my living self invisible fragments of vital sanity. No, I can't see myself in the mirror at least not till two and a half days before I am supposed to die.

I always meet the fated being at two thirty. No matter where I am, I see him with a red envelope or her with a red parasol or something red which I notice as being red. It is difficult to explain this noticing of things. It is like seeing a dove when it is there and when it is supposed to be there and not at other times. Haven't you felt that way? The sun for instance is not something you would notice all seven days of the weeks of summer. Even then, there would be that Thursday, warm and empty on the park bench, peeling the world of its colours into something bright but not necessarily colourful. That Thursday you would find a penny on the pavement near 21 Rue Saint Augustine and stop, your heels trying to race ahead but pushed back by determined toes in soft suede moccasins. You stop and notice that penny leaning against a raised pebble in the road. It is ordinary, I assure you but you see it and then move your head slightly to the left and bend your knees a little bit while your thighs tremble under your weight till the sun fully reflects off the penny and hurts your eye. You move a little more, lose that beam and catch it with your other eye. You play this game till you are reminded to look at the real source of light and you say, "Aah! What a bright sun it is today!" and walk on blinded seeing pulsating discs of grey on each pedestrians shoulder till you rub your eyes back to normalcy.

I would not have noticed that man or his red socks on any other day or at any other hour of that day. Her red brassiere strap would have always been tucked under the blouse's shoulder except when she turned the corner of the road at two thirty afternoon. Then I know. Then I sigh. And then I rush to the nearest cafe to sip some Irish coffee that my trembling hand allows to remain within the porcelain precincts of the cup. Then the waitress frowns and lets me know that she is doing me a favour for not charging for the stained tablecloth. Then I get up to leave for my room under the paper and board cutting shop of Mssr. Duncan and Phillipe. I rarely reach there without the kind help and curious enquiry of some known soul, but I do.

Road to hell
With half day spent in recovering myself, and two days left to ruin my sanity, I listen to the clanging above my head which mimic the boisterous laugh of Hades.

Do you now see what scrapes at my inner being? Why would I care if someone dies or not? I have neither wife nor son nor large bosomed mother who could cry out the minute I enter - "Frédéric, Où sont les oeufs?" and then cry at her fate for not getting a chance to wash her hands off an invalid son. None, sir. I have but a bed, a writing table whose one leg is slightly rotting and hence I have placed that corner on the shelf, yes, the shelf and some items for a make-shift kitchen. The penny I spoke of earlier is on the shelf.

So what does bother my soul, which is less positioned near the heart and more near my intestines, is that I have 2 days to live with a piece of information that I can't sell, nor trade nor use as a lever to crank Fate into being cheated by the forewarned soul (not the intestinal one but the one carrying the red rose bouquet) nor become a prophetic Guru - yellow turbaned with several long strings of beads and heads bowing down before me - who would be Death's tour operator because that would make thousands throng my little room under Mssr. Duncan and Phillipe asking me when they would die and I wouldn't know because they might not be wearing red or the time wouldn't be two thirty.

I feel like any ordinary man who knows that he will die some day but differing in the vital facet of knowing exactly when. It is true, isn't it, that every man knows what I know? Walk down the road of your choice and I shall point you to someone, maybe that lady with a horrible hairstyle and what can you say about her with certainty? Yes? Yes! That she will die. You can go tell her that and she will spit her chewing gum at you. But tell her that she will die the day after tomorrow and you can see her nostrils quiver and her eyes throb in seismic shudder in a pool of tears as she hoarsely whispers, "How... how... how do you know?"

Tonight is no different. I hold with me the knowledge that that fat lady who kicked the poodle with her red pumps, will die. I followed her before she drove off in her Peugeot. AA-723-DI. Cafe Monet's tablecloth (woven, Jaquard) was ruined and I was charged (€36) for the damages. M. Hermès (who has retired as the postman) was kind enough to bring me home under Mssr. Duncan and Phillipe's shop though they are closed today mourning the demise of M. Phillipe's aunt. M. Hermès tells me stories of strange letters he delivered and how he has seen romances and tragedies lived out behind him as he cycled away after delivering the instruments of untold emotion and drama.

Hades watches me from the corner of his eye and I adjust the table a little more. I found out where Madame Red Pumps lives and quite nonchalantly, quite cunningly, I am writing her a letter. I sign it as Hades and look over the corner of my eye. Tonight, perhaps, is different.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Decay of Cities

Would I prefer to live in Bombay or Manali or Auroville? This question (with a variation in the specific cities tossed your way, skyscrapers and all) has been posed often and dealt with more frequently. Everyone agrees that Bangalore, Madras and New Delhi are excellent places to live in because the quality of life is much better. "You get everything there", I often here. Bombay was always such a promised land "as long as you can find a decent house". These are places where a child can be assured excellent education, wives can find the best malls and salons, husbands can find the best jobs and so on. Cities attract growth and infect prosperity into neighbouring localities.

The growth we see is primarily in the concentration of commercial establishments (malls, companies, hotels etc.) and not in the holistic sense of the word. It seems as if growth can only be inferred if there are establishments providing employment opportunities and/or monetary transactions. There is growth only if the geographical entity has more options and a variety of avenues for entertainment. More multiplexes, international schools, MNCs, high-rises, multi-cuisine restaurants, fashion shows, F1 tracks, bowling alleys, BPOs and **llyWood, the more likely are we to consider those cities as growing. The fact that the economic divide is ever-widening implying that the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer, that basic amenities are ill-provided (so what if they are worse in towns and villages?), that the crime rate is increasing, that the pollution level is chokingly high, that food prices are unbearable, alcohol consumption high, diseases high and accommodation is ever so hard to find has no telling on our definition of "growth".

Would I rather stay in a decent place, where the morning air is clear and filled with bird calls? Where food is seasonal and available at very reasonable prices? Where people are honest and care more about helping each other than making a quick buck? Where people are not in a hurry to over-achieve their neighbour? Where there is plenty of open space where children play through the evening? Where it is absolutely fine to make enough money to feed your family and a little more? Where the greenery surrounding me is revered and maintained? How difficult would it be for me to setup a shop there and provide employment to a few others so that we can all be productive without being obnoxiously differing in our economic status?

Why would I struggle and strive in a place where I need to live through power cuts, polluted roads, poor drainage systems, overwhelming concrete, petty politics, magnified prices for basic commodities (and I was stupid enough to believe that we were living in a shortage till I read the recent agricultural and financial reports) and fearing the criminals that lurk in the dark?

What do I lose out by boycotting the cities (oh! we can't repair the damage done. Trust me! It is simply not possible)? Accessibility, conveyance, connectivity (telephone/Internet), material delights (gadgets, latest books, fashion), culinary experiences (multi-cuisine restaurants, coffee shops), entertainment (bowling alleys, pubs, discos, movie halls), medical facilities (no super-specialty hospitals) and certain other things which we have come to believe that we must have because "we are worth it". What do I get in exchange? Fresh air, fresh seasonal food, simple people, simple facilities, slower sustainable life, lesser information overload, simpler joys, open spaces for children to play in, lower cost of living and a much better overall health. Though the disadvantages make it seem like non-cities resemble life in the Andamans, things aren't that bad. I have been to places (which are also decaying, though very slowly) where most of the above can be availed though with a little extra effort. 

The point remains that quality of life is not about the various things I can buy but about not having to buy things to make me feel that my life is good enough.