Jai ho Mobile Revolution! Enabling the art of pointless conversation….and more

There’s this guy in office. He’s just got off the phone from an hour long conversation in which he was offering pointless employment advice and life gyaan to someone who I suspect just had nothing better to do.

Whenever my mum calls her driver to ask him to get the car up, his phone is busy. We have to assume he has seen the missed call and the car will usually arrive in ten minutes!

A cousin spends an average of three hours a day in silent conversation with his girl.

The mobile revolution has been a great thing. Cheap phone calls, the ability to stay connected all the time. The ability to have a conversation when it isn’t needed. The ability to while away time spent waiting at street corners, inside cars, at bus stops, on the Metro, between classes, between meetings, during lonely nights, during blank moments in the midst of babbling friends…and so on.

It’s given so many of us a sense of purpose, it’s mind boggling really! What does he mobile revolution mean to you?

Experiencing small town India at Narendranagar, Tehri Garhwal #employment #migration #aspiration

Having tried my hand at being an entrepreneur, I’m always impressed by people who are brave enough to venture into new territory with ideas and initiatives. My friend Biplab is one such person. I’ve known him for a while, though not very well. And when my research work started focusing on what’s happening in small cities, I remembered his venture and drove over for a chat.

Biplab runs a BPO called EGramServe in Narendranagar (will refer to it as NN), a town of about 10,000 people a short drive uphill from Rishikesh. In starting this venture, he (like several others, of course) has created a window of opportunity for young people who otherwise have no choice but to migrate out to larger cities. The stories he told me, about his own entrepreneurial journey and the experiences of his employees, stuck in my head for days after our chat. And I decided to pay NN a visit. As I was leaving, my kids were curious to know if that’s Narendra Modi is from (no escaping NaMo)!

After an eventless and comfortable train journey (a frequent traveler on this sector, Biplab is an expert in wangling seats even when tickets are unconfirmed!), we got there early Monday morning and walked around town. As a planner, I was struck by the orderliness of the town. NN came into prominence in 1919 when King Narendra Shah of the erstwhile kingdom of Tehri Garhwal moved his capital here from Tehri. It’s orderly main street and relatively wide streets and uncluttered feel contrasts sharply with the messiness of other pahari towns, which are usually trading or market towns. The shops and residences along this main street, I learnt, are still owned by the municipal board and leased out to individuals.

Approaching Narendranagar

Approaching Narendranagar

EGramServe occupies the ground floor of the only hotel in town

EGramServe occupies the ground floor of the only hotel in town

The managerial staff at the BPO lives on the top floor of the same hotel. Was mighty amused at the interiors!

The managerial staff at the BPO lives on the top floor of the same hotel. Was mighty amused at the interiors!

Criss-cross wires and a typical hill town view, albeit much less crowded than any other I've been to!

Criss-cross wires and a typical hill town view, albeit much less crowded than any other I’ve been to!

Mainstreet, the legacy of a royal past

Mainstreet, the legacy of a royal past

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An early morning view, but it doesn't get too busy even at peak hours

An early morning view, but it doesn’t get too busy even at peak hours

More vestiges of a royal and institutional past

More vestiges of a royal and institutional past

IMG_6205The view from NN, which is also the closest town to the world famous Ananda spa resort, is beautiful. It is a remarkable thing that, so close to Rishikesh, this lovely hilly location that experiences excellent weather is so tranquil and languid, the pace of life barely impacted by the proximity of the fervent religious tourism of Rishikesh and Hardwar below or the seasonal tourism of the hill stations above.

The town looks onto lush forest areas and the lights of Jolly Grant airport and Rishikesh sparkle in the distance during the night

The town looks onto lush forest areas and the lights of Jolly Grant airport and Rishikesh sparkle in the distance during the night

IMG_6169Its tranquility is reflected in the conversations I have with its residents, some of who are from families who settled here during the time of Narendra Shah and consider themselves insiders and others whose families have migrated here from surrounding villages or from other parts of Tehri Garhwal in search of livelihood.

My two-day visit was a most interesting experience thanks to Biplab’s warm and sincere hospitality. He was kind enough to give up his accommodation so I could be comfortable and also enthusiastic enough to introduce me to people all over town. Over the next few weeks, I hope to unscramble some good information from the 20-odd interviews I managed to take. I hope to understand better the experiences and aspirations of the young people who work in EGramServe, their linkages with their family/community and what role cities like NN can play in keeping young people close to home.

I was driven back to Haridwar railway station by two enthusiastic members of Biplab’s team. The most marvelous drive through the lush greens of Rajaji National Park alongside the Ganga canal  served to remind me of how precious the hills, the forests and the rivers are for our survival. In addition to providing opportunity, I remember thinking, encouraging sustainable development that involves communities that can no longer rely on agriculture for survival (low productivity, climate change) is critical. And here too, small cities like NN could be important in tying these rural communities together and linking them to regional economies.

The Ganga Canal, a critical irrigation waterway in the region

The Ganga Canal, a critical irrigation waterway in the region

The road we took through the Rajaji National Park is closed at dusk because of the frequent crossing of wild elephants. They've known to attack and crush cars in the past!

The road we took through the Rajaji National Park is closed at dusk because of the frequent crossing of wild elephants. They’ve known to attack and crush cars in the past!

Remembering ‘billi’ and ‘rasta’ in the unending chaos of NDLS

I deboarded the Shatabdi late last night at New Delhi Railway Station, aka NDLS. Waiting for Rahul to pick me up, I walked out onto the main road staring at the glitzy multi-level parking opposite the station entry and the long line of cars streaming in, winding their way out, looking for parking, honking, waiting in strange place. And I thought of all the zillion times I have dashed into this station, usually on the Ajmeri gate side where trains to and from Lucknow tend to loiter. I have missed trains and boarded moving trains and also waited for hours on these platforms. I have come here by auto and car and recently by Metro as well. NDLS has been incarnated and reincarnated, but the chaos caused by simply too many people always remains. I was smiling, standing there by myself.IMG_6231IMG_6233And then I remembered the most hilarious incident I associate with NDLS. Rahul and me were here to drop someone off, I do not remember whom. Just as we turned left into the station entry (at the same point were I stood, but back then it was dingy and potholed, narrower too), the car before us braked suddenly and came to a complete halt. There was no car in front of them, but they wouldn’t budge. From the corner of my eye, we saw a cat slink into the shadows. I remember our eyes meeting for a brief instant, Rahul’s and mine, before it dawned on us. We were expected to cross that line first! ‘Billi rastaa kaat gayi thi’, the cat had crossed in front of them and superstition says that if you cross that line first, you get bad luck! So this car just sat there, passing the bad luck to us, as we overtook and drove past the fateful cat line!

Suffice it to say that no bad luck chanced upon us, but we now have another beautiful memory of NDLS and a story to recount to our grandchildren, who hopefully wouldn’t encounter the madness of people so steeped in superstition (wishful thinking I know!).

 

Soaring like kites on a windless spring morning!

One weekday morning in mid-March, when the kids were enjoying Spring Break, Rachna came up with the brilliant idea of flying kites! None of us are experts at this clearly skilled job, but then Rachna owned some fancy Chinese kites sourced all the way from San Francisco. We were all delighted and we showed up in full strength at Gurgaon’s Tau Devi Lal Park- Mum (nani), Udai, Aadyaa, me, Rachna and Nupur, who was to get to work after this morning adventure.

IMG_5719IMG_5750As it happened, it was one of those lovely spring morning with a delightful nip in the air, BUT no breeze. Zilch! Not a leaf moved and we spent a few moments of despair, breathing in the scent of the roses, delighted with being out at dawn, but wondering how the hell we would fly these kites!

Not ones to give up, we found another way to do this. And get in some serious exercise at the same time! We taught ourselves to float the kite up in the air and then RUN. Run, run, run as fast as we can so the kite lifts into the air just as the wind rushes into our lungs! Oxygen rush coupled with the excitement of getting the lovely kites into the air- what a heady start to the day!

IMG_5723IMG_5733IMG_5731IMG_5737IMG_5748IMG_5769IMG_5774IMG_5778IMG_5779IMG_5784IMG_5785IMG_5787IMG_5788IMG_5802IMG_5804IMG_5856Of course, we were so tired in a bit that we call sort of crashed into one of the covered gazebo the park designers have obligingly built. Here we proceeded to eat a picnic breakfast, receiving indulgent and slightly mocking smiles from a few young men from nearby Wazirabad who were into a serious workout session in the same space! After a bit, we noticed a little boy, about the same age as Udai, curiously looking at our kites.

Finding an opportunity to sidle out of more running, we tired adults made the necessary introductions. Aman (he’s a village kid, same grade as Udai, studies in Scottish High where he claims the English is too tough!) , Udai and Aadyaa spent some more time running around with the kites till they too were tired out and the kites were too heavy from being dragged through the dewy grass! We promised to do this again, on a windy day.

IMG_5821IMG_5824We can’t thank Rachna (the kids call her Bausi!) enough for that wonderful morning! Looking forward to more bright ideas from the brilliant Bausi soon…

 

 

Freedom is precious. Let’s value it, not abuse it! #Elections2014 #VoteSmart

Last week, I found myself at Teen Murti House in the heart of New Delhi. This is where the Nehru Planetarium and the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library are located. I was here to attend a talk, a couple of hours too early. On impulse, I decided to stroll through the museum, a great alternative I though to sitting under a tree and scrolling through my phone!

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, lived and died in this house. The grand building witnessed not only many important moments of a young nation’s history, but also absorbed the vibrations and echoes of many meaningful debates and reveries, I am sure. I had heard terrible things about the museum, of how badly the great photographic collections was displayed, how much more is possible, etc. But I am a sucker for museums and I set that sort of negativity aside during my time there.

A grand colonial building!

A grand colonial building!

Kushak Mahal, Tughlaq's hunting lodge is inside the Teen Murti campus, just opposite the Planetarium building

Kushak Mahal, Tughlaq’s hunting lodge is inside the Teen Murti campus, just opposite the Planetarium building

A lovely spring afternoon!

A lovely spring afternoon!

Inscription next to Jawahar Jyoti, the eternal flame that burns in his memory

Inscription next to Jawahar Jyoti, the eternal flame that burns in his memory

An aside: It is a sign of the times that Cambridge educated Jawahar wrote to his father in chaste Hindi, something that the most of us English-medium folks would find hard to do today. I felt a bit ashamed!

An aside: It is a sign of those times that Cambridge educated Jawahar wrote to his father in chaste Hindi, something that the most of us English-medium folks would find hard to do today. I felt a bit ashamed!

I walked through pictures from Nehru’s early life without much interest, but the fascinating perspective of the freedom struggle that the display offered got me thinking. Few of us realize what a long way we have come and how precious our freedom is! I read the names of hundreds of people on those walls, brave people I didn’t even know about who had dedicated their lives to a cause, because of whom we can dream the dreams we have today.

Even fewer question what we are doing with this freedom? Are we choosing to reinforce prejudices and stereotypes that our colonial masters reinforced for political and economic gain or are we working to create institutions and processes that set our nation on a new path of change (Historian Romila Thapar talks about this)? In fact, are we really free?

Isn’t that a great question to ponder over today, as our nation goes to polls. India is the largest democracy in the world and its relatively high voter turnout astounds the West repeatedly. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, this puts a great responsibility on each of us to vote intelligently and to vote for change and NOT vote for people who reinforce the old stereotypes and continue to play us against each other for narrow political gains.

I’m not even getting into how we abuse our freedom everyday (break traffic rules, bribe the cop, have differential rules for others and none for ourselves!). I’m not going to ramble about how we need to become better citizens and better people, find ways to work with each other, contribute to our own community and neighborhood, etc. To me, these are no-brainers! We know all of that, but we choose to ignore it because we believe the future of our country is in the hands of THEM, corrupt politicians, stupid egoistic bureaucrats. Perhaps it’s time to think differently and take that future in our hands, in whatever way we can!

We are fortunate to live in a democracy. The wise men (and some women) who wrote our Constitution and set up our democratic processes gifted us many powers we don’t bother to use. I’ve been reading up and thinking deeply about these issues and only beginning to understand what these powers are. I’ve made many friends in Gurgaon (you know who you are!) because I’ve been curious about these issues and I laud the dedication of those who take up citizen activism at sometimes great cost to themselves. And I see great hope for a country that has people like these as its citizens. I’m learning everyday that citizenship is as much about GIVE as it is about TAKE; it is as much about our relations with EACH OTHER as our relations with THE STATE.

Here is a pic I took from the display at the museum that puts my thoughts in perspective.IMG_5992

 

 

 

Indian language writing – the translations just dont work for me!

ramblinginthecity:

Avid readers, you will find this interesting!

Originally posted on sitanaiksblog:

Being an avid Indian reader, and  constantly searching for new and interesting authors, I have periodically tried to read Indian language writers in translation. At the outset, I must confess, that although I can converse/understand a few of the Indian languages, my reading skills are limited and certainly inadequate for any serious reading. So, I have to resort to English translations and therein lies the problem…

I often pick up books while browsing a bookstore and Sivakami’s ‘Taming of women’ was one such. I had read great things about this Dalit Tamil writer and also seen a positive review of the English translation.

I have struggled through the first 100 pages  and gave up. The story, if at all there is one, revolves around the women around the life of Periyannan and the power equations between him and the many generations of women who live in his house – wife…

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Citizenship starts with making your community better: Thoughts on the AAP manifesto

I watch Kejriwal’s antics and I laugh, along with many who make fun of him. I doubt his capabilities, I wonder about his future. But I also admire his courage. Not just him, but all those who has taken the ultimate step towards making change possible. All those who have joined the AAP, given up being ordinary citizens to become people with a cause. I am excited to live these moments of history, experience these cataclysmic changes.

I, like many of you, am afraid to commit. I am shy, scared, ambivalent. I do not understand politics as deeply as I think I should. But I do care, about myself, my family, my nation. And I firmly believe that the way ahead can only be with the participation of all of us in the democratic process, in ways deeper than just pressing the button on the EVM every now and then!

I, like many of you, am loath to take either side on the Cong vs BJP, RaGa vs NaMo debate. I see them both as part of the same problem. Even though I abhor right wight politics, I do not see the Congress being able to, at this time, provide any stability or direction. AAP’s short stint in Delhi confused me. Like many of you, I wondered if this was the end before the beginning. I also went over the various choices again and again in my head.

This morning, though, something clicked. I was tired of hearing people make wild calculations about who would win and then try to take sides as per these estimates. It seemed to be a lot like betting on the horses. This is not a horse race, I thought. I’m not gambling, I’m trying to take a rational decision about who to vote for! I decided to vote by gut feel, for the sort of politics that I am willing to live with.

I read the AAP manifesto and it echoed a lot of things I have felt and said about how I want my nation to be. It, most of all, was rooted in the idea of giving power back to the people, the idea of deepening democracy. A few analysts feel it toes the Congress line and in a sense, there is a common left of political intent. (Aside-All manifestos must talk about the same stuff; modus operandi, collect a list of current hot topics and put in a point about each!) But therein ends the similarity. In tone, the AAP document empowers citizens. The Congress manifesto reads in a top-down fashion. It sort of lords it over us, the masses. It is a critical difference, I think. The AAP’s document is also a lot   more succinct and well-organised. The BJP is still silent, as of this moment (I just checked their website).

The idea of devolution of power is problematic, especially for us Indians who have been used to someone or the other being our mai-baap for centuries. But it’s time gave a chance to party that says of itself: “It is not a party that will solve your problems. It is a party that wants Swaraj; that wants power to return to your hands, so that you can solve your own problems.”

This is just my own personal point of view. Each of you reading this is entitled to their own perspective. I am not trying to convert you. But please, those of you who follow the strange logic that they should vote for XX because they will win anyway, please rethink. Either you should just admit that you agree with XX’s political agenda, or you should follow your heart and vote for the right candidate in your constituency. Please remember, citizenship starts with making your own community better!

How much does this matter to you?

ramblinginthecity:

I so agree. We need to put our weights behind a party that promises alternatives. No one knows what they will or won’t do, but if anyone will try, it’s them! At least let’s give them a fighting chance!

Originally posted on The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker:

I don’t think there should be any confusion anymore.

 The point is not even whether you think Modi is better than Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, or any other potential prime minister. What matters here is where you draw the moral line between what is acceptable in a politician and what is a deal breaker. [http://qz.com/178362/india-crosses-the-moral-line-of-no-return-if-narendra-modi-becomes-prime-minister/]

And then take a look at -  AAP National Manifesto 2014 This is the party that we are being told is going to do nothing. Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 12.00.50 PM Provisions of’Right to Reject’ and ‘Right to Recall’, Animal Welfare, and here’s something we have been asking for:

i. Implement comprehensive and long-term public education programmes to end the culture of gender-based discrimination and violence. These will include: SMS, radio and TV public service campaigns, accessible lesson plans for schools, modules for training teachers and to train professionals such as doctors and lawyers. To this end we will…

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Will Modi be able to check these goons if he becomes PM?

Last evening, I attended an interesting talk at the Nehru Memorial library by Neema Kudwa who teaches at Cornell. She was speaking about the relationship of history and memory with urban planning, urging planners to delve deeper into how cities work and how people experience their urban environs over time. Her research in India looks closely at Mangalore, the second richest city in Karnataka and a centre for higher education.
At some point during the question answer session, an interesting discussion in the religious politics of this region. She spoke about the strong strain of RSS and extremist Hindu groups even as the area has historically had prosperous trading Muslim communities as well as Catholics.
Naturally then my eye was drawn this morning to this news item reporting the sexual assault of a Congress councillor by extremist Hindu groups in a town only 15 kam from Mangalore. Women like her, of course, are targets of a twin bias of misogyny and communal hatred but what diatribes me most was he threat by the goons that when Modi comes to power, we will teach all you Muslim lovers a lesson!
Of course, all those of us who are neutral about religion or refuse to believe that a Hindu is superior, all those of us who respect and love our Muslim friends because they are good people (not just because they are Muslim certainly!), are banded into this category by these people.
I shudder to think what sort of anarchy we are to expect when Modi comes to he helm, if he does. With polls coming nearer, the clamour for him gets louder and people like me fear for the future. Yes, even people like me who are Hindu by birth, who practice Hindu rituals, who are the so-called majority.
Will Modi be able to restrain these sort of goons? Will his plank of development, which also remains to be really tested, be strong enough to convince the muscle flexing crowd to reign themselves in and wait for economic prosperity? I fear for minorities and I fear for women, who can be assaulted for befriending a Muslim while the infamous bhartiya sabhyata simply looks the other way!

Sugar rush and insomnia ring in my daughters birthday!

Aadyaa is turning six tomorrow. Her infectious enthusiasm has had us all work overtime to prepare for a party. She has worked, opined and supervised many aspects of this event and I can only learn from her attention to detail.

I feel proud, emotional and excited. I never thought I would be the kind of mum who gets into a tizzy over organising a birthday party. But it’s not the stress, it’s the creative juices that drive me. A few moments before midnight and a few years before Aadyaa gets into the routine of bringing in her birthday the night before, I’m pondering…

I have, many a time, longed for time away from my kids. I still do. But with Udai turning 10 later this year and Aadyaa turning six, finally all that stuff the auntys and more experienced mommy friends warned me about is coming true. My babies are not going to be babies for much longer. I see, in my minds eye, Aadyaa’s turn to independence, I see her grow and move away, no longer my shadow. With Udai, the transformation is already underway.

I want to clutch at these experiences now. Laugh with them, play, do stuff together, nonsense stuff. Roll in the garden. Today evening, we were dancing in the lawn, some imaginary ballroom scene! Time is flying by and perhaps I want it to slow down.

Gosh, so much mush! It doesn’t sound like me, even to me! Sugar high perhaps. Insomnia definitely.

Go to sleep Mukta and happy birthday Aadyaa!

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