Author Archives: ramblinginthecity

Anger: an emotion much devalued

ramblinginthecity:

Are you angry? Good! An excellent essay on why anger as a fuel for change is something we need to think about and learn to harness…

Originally posted on Ramblings of a Sanky Maniac:

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I woke up this morning to this message posted by a lovely well meaning lady and to thoughts of how this amazing emotion – a fuel of our civilisation carries the burden of so much negativism and is so utterly devalued.

At one point of time, when my ‘change the world’ rhetoric was still very much confined to the armchair, I remember having a chat with an anarchist activist friend of mine, yes one of those hardcore ones, as to why solutions are being sought in anger. He was at that time participating in a sit down movement with squatter settlement owners in Jo’berg protesting their eviction from their homes. His immediate comment was laughter… At me and my misguided ideology of comfort. He was not kind in his words, he never is, and told me to understand that such armchair rhetoric comes from levels off comfort not accessible to…

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Carlos Ruis Zafon on Barcelona, Spain #TheCityasMuse

The dark brooding city that forms the backdrop of Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind and its prequel The Angel’s Game bears little resemblance to the sunny bright city I experienced in the summer of 2011. Stop. Let me think again….. a sliver of a memory jumps out at me…

On one dark night, Rahul and me explored the lanes around La Ramblas in the Catalan city of Barcelona and then meandered back to our rented apartment through the Gothic Quarter. I remember vividly picturing the loneliness and pain of Julian Carax and the insatiable curiosity of Daniel Sempere. Mean looking gargoyles stared down at us and strange shapes in light and shade flitted about, sending shivers down my spine. Then the sounds of tourist revelry brought me back to the present….

Zafon’s book brings to life post-war post-Gothic Barcelona in a special way. The city does not take over from a story that focuses on its intense characters; there are no long architectural descriptions, no paeans to the glorious past. Yet the city is a person, present at every turn. A backdrop, a refuge, a cruel taskmaster, a friend offering solace. Zafon constructs a Gothic Barcelona, dark, elusive, misty and mysterious and he weaves it into the experiences of his characters. This is a city that tourists rarely see but are now being shown, in the form of walking tours, since his book’s fame spread!

Excerpt:

“I had grown up convinced that the slow procession of the postwar years, a world of stillness, poverty, and hidden resentment, was as natural as tap water, that the mute sadness that seeped from the walls of the wounded city was the real face of its soul. One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn’t have to understand something to feel it. By the time the mind is able to comprehend what has happened, the wounds of the heart are already too deep. That evening in early summer, as I walked back through the sombre, treacherous twilight of Barcelona, I could not blot out Clara’s story about her father’s disappearance. In my world death was like a nameless and incomprehensible hand, a door-to-door salesman who took away mothers, beggars, or ninety-year-old neighbours, like a hellish lottery. But I couldn’t absorb the idea that death could actually walk by my side, with a human face and a heart that was poisoned with hatred, that death could be dressed in a uniform or a raincoat, queue up at a cinema, laugh in bars, or take his children out for a walk to Ciudadela Park in the morning, and then, in the afternoon, make someone disappear in the dungeons of Montjuic Castle or in a common grave with no name or ceremony. Going over all this in my mind, it occurred to me that perhaps the papier-mache world that I accepted as real was only a stage setting. Much like the
arrival of Spanish trains, in those stolen years you never knew when the end of childhood was due.
We shared the soup, a broth made from leftovers with bits of bread in it, surrounded by the sticky droning of radio
soaps that filtered out through open windows into the church square.”

Of course, the author’s love and sensitivity to the city he grew up in is obvious and he has been outspoken about this. In an interview to The Independent in 2012, Zafon said: “The haunting of history is ever present in Barcelona. I see cities as organisms, as living creatures. To me Madrid is a man and Barcelona is a woman. And it’s a woman who’s extremely vain. One of the great Catalan poets, Joan Maragall, wrote this famous poem in which he called Barcelona the great enchantress, or some kind of sorceress, and in which the city has this dark enticing presence that seduces and lures people. I think Barcelona has a lot of that.”

How to deal with problems by burying your head in the sand

ramblinginthecity:

Sharp, insightful and making a strong case for a legal approach to prostitution, as opposed to one that is based on moralistic judgement. Coming from a lady who walks the talk by actively working with trafficked and abused women and children. Kudos, Monolita!

Originally posted on Ramblings of a Sanky Maniac:

I woke up this morning to what i initially thought was a very interesting piece in the Hindu Op Ed section:

The dark side of pleasure: http://m.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-dark-side-of-pleasure/article7519141.ece

But as I read through it, I sadly realises it is another typical missing the wood for the forest kind of knee jerk reaction article, which chooses to ignore the real problems in bleeding heart arm chair activism. I feel especially sad when I see it coming from well meaning and obviously highly emancipated women. Sitting a couple of pages after the news of how an enquiry is being conducted in the raids conducted in Mumbai hotels where couples were booked under the public indecency act, in itself an idiotic Victorian rule, such an article coming from an emminent scholar need to be looked at through many perspectives.

Firstly lets look at the concept of pornography. Pornography is nothing but an extension of…

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Women, marriage and (in)security: Multiple scenarios, similar fears

Sharing two pieces that highlight the stressful relationship that women seem to have with the institution of marriage. This Quartz piece from China that tells the story of married women who condone and finance criminal acts to eliminate their husbands’ mistresses puts the spotlight on an uncomfortable fact: that marriage is about social sanction and financial security. What about love, companionship, trust?

The other piece from The Guardian highlights this same stressful relationship that women have with marriage, but in the light of Muslim women in India who live in perpetual fear of “talaq, talaq, talaq” from husbands whose motivations to remain married to them are often purely exploitative in nature.

That women should be so dependent on marriage for their security in an age where more women are financially independent (not nearly enough though!) is a travesty. That women should constantly live in fear of the consequences of a failed marriage is also a sad reality, and it’s not just poor women we’re talking about here.

I’m sure men too are stressed about marriage and the responsibilities that come with it and that could be fodder for another conversation, but surely the idea is to move towards a social structure in which marriage is a matter of choice for both men and women and not a social tick mark burdened with so much expectation and anxiety?

Amitav Ghosh on Fanqui Town, Canton in the 1800s #TheCityasMuse

This post is a teaser to entice you into submitting an entry to #TheCityasMuse Contest I’m running on this blog. There are more to come. I’m jumping at the chance to bring my favourite  descriptions and narrations of cities from a variety of authors of different genres and nationalities. Hope you enjoy these…and may the words fly from your pen (or keyboard) soon!

I’ve recently completed re-reading the first two books of Amitava Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy in preparation to read the last and final one, Flood of Fire. I’ve been fascinated by his description of Fanqui Town outside of Canton, where foreign traders were permitted to set up enclaves while they were forbidden to enter the actual city.  Ghosh describes this small and intensely colourful microcosm of the world through the eyes of various characters very different from each other. Set during the 1830s, at a time when colonialism was at its peak and trade via sea flourished, here are some excerpts from Ghosh’s 2nd book of the trilogy, River of Smoke.

This excerpt is from one of the letters that Robin Chinnery, a Bengali-speaking illegitimate son of a British painter self-exiled in Macau, to his lady friend Paulette, the Bengali-speaking orphaned daughter of a French botanist, both having been friends during their childhood in Calcutta. Robin wrote:

“And so at last to the foreign enclave- or ‘Fanqui-town’ as I have already learnt to call it! It is the farthest extremity of the city, just beyond the citadel’s south-western gate. In appearance Fanqui-town is not at all what you might expect; indeed it is so different from what I had envisioned that it fair took my breath away! I had imagined the factories would be prettily primped with a few Celestial touches- perhaps a few curling eaves or pagoda-like spires like those that so beguile the eyes in Chinese paintings. But if you could see the factories for yourself, Puggly dear, I warrant they would remind you rather of pictures of places that are very far away- Vermeer’s Amsterdam or even… Chinnery’s Calcutta. You would see a row of buildings with columns, capitals, pilasters, tall windows and tiled roof. Some have colonnaded verandahs, with the same khus-khus screens you see in India: if you half close your eyes you could think yourself to be on the Strand, in Calcutta, looking at the bankshalls and daftars of the big English trading houses. The colous are quite different though, brighter and more varied: from a distance the factories look like stripes of paint against the grey walls of the citadel………..

……..I am getting ahead of myself: I have yet to bring you to Fanqui-town’s landing ghat, which is called- and this is true I swear- ‘Jackass Point’ (the fabled Man-Town must, in other words, be entered through the point of Jack’s Unspeakable). Yet this suppository is no different from our Calcutta landing ghats. There is no jetty- instead there are steps, sticky with mud from the last high tide (yes, my darling Puggleshwaree, the Pearl, like our beloved Hooghly, rises and falls twice a day). But even in Calcutta I have never witnessed such a goll-maul as there is at Jackass Point: so many people, so much bobbery, so much hulla-gulla, so many coolies, making such a tamasha of fighting over your bags and bowlas. I counted myself fortunate in being able to steer mine towards a lad with a winning smile, one Ah Lei (why so many Ahs, you might ask, and never any Oohs? On the streets of Macau too you will come across innumerable young men who will pass themselves off as ‘Ah Man, or ‘Ah Gan’ and the like, and if ever you should ask what the ‘Ah!’ signifies you will learn that in Cantonese, as in English, this vocable serves no function other than that of clearing the throat. But just because the bearers of the ‘Ah’ are usually young, or poor, you must not imagine that they possess no other name. In their other incarnations they may well be known as ‘Fire Breathing Dragon or ‘Tireless Steed’- whether accurately ot not only their Wives and Friends will know).”

Masaan: Profound, a film about hope [Hardly any spoilers]

I watched Masaan six days ago and my brain is still processing it. That’s the way the narrative is fed to the viewer, slowly and subtly in even measures; loaded with detail and yet very clean and sharp. I haven’t seen a film with so much clarity in a long time.

Masaan is a film about hope, not despair. It’s about the ability that humans have to rise above the depths of grief and anguish. It spoke to me because it underscored that the plunge into the abyss is but part of the experience of life. And death, that too is just what it is. Nothing more, nothing less.

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In particular, I liked that the women in Masaan are stolid and yet ordinary. In Devi’s (played by Richa Chadha) silence- one that has been interpreted widely as strength- I saw simply a profound grief. At losing her love, at being deeply misunderstood and wrongly accused. In Shaalu’s recognition of Deepak’s sincerity (played by Shweta Tripathi and Vicky Kaushal respectively) and her courage in wanting to overcome what certainly are overwhelmingly large taboos of caste, I see a rare independence and ability to take risk. These are strong women emerging from the deeply conservative landscape of a small city; they forge an independent path without an iota of self-consciousness. How can they not make a profound impact?

Deepak’s story is the stuff of inspiration. Despite numerous obstacles and a debilitating experience of personal loss, he perseveres to make himself and his family proud by being the first to rise beyond his low-caste occupation and get a white collar job. What makes Masaan special though, is that its the small details that come back to you later. In all the light-hearted banter of Deepak’s friends circle and in the midst of the masculinity exhibited by the small town male- roadside flirtations, catcalls and comments, social media stalking- there is also the space for a heart-rending outpouring of his grief. I appreciated that nuance shown in the relationships between young men even more perhaps because of the stereotypical portrayal of youth in Hindi cinema.

And then there is the river. The Ganga. As a vessel of sorrow, as a rejuvenator, a forger of destinies and above all, a harbinger of hope. The quality of cinematography in Masaan played no small role in highlighting the poetic parallels between the river and the ebb and flow of life.

The life and times of a b**g*r

ramblinginthecity:

Of all Udai’s writings, I’ve enjoyed this the most. He really wanted to write about b**g*rs!!

Originally posted on theamazingud:

I was born in somebody’s nostrils. A dark, damp place filled with our homes. When I slept I dreamt of light. I thought that my home was peaceful and I would live forever in this place.

But the next day I saw the monstrous thing. It picked up my brother. ‘It’s going to eat him up’, I thought. It flicked my brother on to the carpet. ‘How rude!’ I thought. I found that this monstrous thing or ‘the finger’ won’t leave us alone.

One day I woke up to find myself in the gutter. I stayed there for weeks and weeks. I was saved by water missiles that poured down from the skies. Next day ice and water missiles rained from the skies. I saw a massive strangely shaped giant running. Those missiles must be deadly for him to be in such a hurry.

After some months, the…

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My Ramzan food journey to Matiah Mahal, Jama Masjid

ramblinginthecity:

Udai pens down his recent gastronomical journey to Matia Mahal during Ramzan…. Enjoy and yes, your mouth will water!

Originally posted on theamazingud:

Ramzan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. In this month, every able-bodied man, woman and teenager is supposed to fast. From dawn to sunset nothing is allowed to touch their tongues. After seeing the moon and doing Namaz they can eat whatever they want till sunrise.

A few weeks ago, I went to Old Delhi to try all the various delicacies made during Ramzan. I went by metro with my father’s friend Ruzeveh. The metro was very, very crowded. My father was waiting for me when I got to the Chowri Bazaar metro station. We walked till Jama Masjid and after some time entered Matiah Mahal.

We had seekh kebabs and beef boti at Lalu Kebabee; brain curry, tandoori roti and Nihari at Haji Shabrati; biryani at Tofiq Biryani; mango ice-cream, and kesar milk and Firni  at a shop opposite Karim’s. We drank lassi at Khabo Lassi too. I liked…

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Shoghi Chronicles: Rolling mists, doodles and a boost of confidence

Earlier this month, I traveled out for work. This wasn’t your usual work trip, but a retreat to help some of us unplug from the humdrum routine to think of more strategic matters. And what other place but the mighty Himalayas to make the brain go into overdrive. Fresh and clean air and lush greenery, occasional showers and the mist rolling into the conference room…could one ask for more?

I had my own personal challenge to overcome on this trip. I’ve recently undergone surgery on my knee to reconstruct a torn ligament. Weeks have gone by with limited movement, extreme caution, pain. Shoghi (located a little short of Shimla in Himachal Pradesh) signified RISK….and risk brings in a certain excitement, an element of challenge.

When we reached Shoghi after a train ride and a taxi drive steeply uphill, the clouds were building up and threatening to rain. The walk from the reception to the room was steeply uphill and I laboured upward, taking one step at a time, praying the ground would not be slippery. I texted home: This was a bad decision!

But over the next two days, I learnt to negotiate the slopes. I set my own pace. I asked for support and help. In between the most productive work discussions, I doodled furiously, as I do when my brain is on overdrive. The adrenalin was pumping through me and the confidence (which had taken a wee hit in the weeks before though my optimist hadn’t!) went up and up.

A change of scene can do wonders and the Shoghi sojourn proved that for me. I returned calmer and surer of myself, snapped out of my ‘patient’ mode and stopped cutting myself slack on account of by health. I re-introduced elements of my regular routine (dropping kids to school, the little errands and household chores). I feel so much more hopeful now.

Sharing some misty images and doodles from the trip…..

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Can Uttarakhand fight out-migration with development?

This post was first published in ‘Migration Narratives’ on the SHRAM portal, which focuses on migration in the Sotuh Asian context. It can be read here.

The hilly states of India have had a long history of out-migration. In Uttarakhand, officials in the smallest towns and district capitals cite palaayan (migration) as a top concern. Farmers talk about falling productivity, climate change and poor connectivity to markets and youth rue the lack of employment opportunities for them in and near their villages. The sense one gets from conversations is that migration is not always a matter of choice, the city is not necessarily seen as a place of opportunity and that there are many young men (and increasingly women) who would rather live closer to home if they were able to access non-farm jobs.

Development to fight out-migration hasn’t yielded the best results

A key aspect of the hilly region’s bid to disengage from Uttar Pradesh through a long separatist struggle that lasted through the ‘90s and resulted in Statehood in the year 2000 was the concern that focused resources and strategies were required to develop the region and strengthen it economically so that people are not forced to migrate out to earn a basic living. The strategy of fighting out-migration with development has, therefore, been part of the Uttarakhand’s DNA since inception.

However, Uttarakhand’s initial successes have yielded intense development in its non-hilly foothill regions. The Census 2011 shows high growth in decadal population in the four districts of Dehradun (32.5 percent), Hardwar (33.1 percent), Udhan Singh Nagar (33.4 percent) and Naini Tal (25.2 percent) that have much of their land areas in the plains. On the other hand, population in the hilly districts like Chamoli (5.6 percent) and Rudraprayag (4.1 percent) has grown slowly or been in the negative as in the case of Garhwal (-1.50 percent) and Almora (-1.73 percent)!

Can strategic investments impact migration patterns?

Last month, the Chief Minister Harish Rawat launched 15 new development projects worth Rs 62 crore that include road upgrades, pumping of drinking water and housing. While these development projects follow the old mantra of using development to fight out-migration, they seem to be wisely located projects in remote hilly locations like Pithoragarh.

Similar timely interventions are required to develop quality educational skill development infrastructure, encourage entrepreneurship and invite private sector investment in hilly regions. While value-added agricultural initiatives like floriculture and cultivation of exotic vegetables has taken off in many parts of the State and the tourism sector is a large employer, service sector jobs created by rural BPOs are also making inroads here. How do these investments impact migration in the State?

Narendra Nagar case study reveals migration decisions are complex, rational

Detailed interviews conducted in 2014 with employees of eGramServe, a rural BPO located in the Nagar Panchayat of Narendra Nagar, Tehri Garhwal, reveal that decisions regarding migration are complex and rational. When a new opportunity emerges in their vicinity, it compels young people to rethink their alternatives and opens new avenues that are alternatives to the dominant pattern of out-migration.

The study found that while aspiration is still strongly connected with migration to the city, imagined as a place of opportunity and also risk, educated youth from rural areas around Narendra Nagar, find themselves unable to or unwilling to migrate far away from their villages in pursuit of a better life. Young people in Narendra Nagar viewed a business like eGramServe as an opportunity to work in an IT-related job that they perceived as respectable and exciting without the need to migrate out in pursuit of one. They also saw it as a learning platform and stepping stone to something better.

With the Internet and mobile telecommunication easily and cheaply available, young people have considerable access to information about opportunities and hardships in the big city. These information flows impact their perceived value of migration, which in turn comes out of an analysis of the expected returns and costs of migration. The respondent analysis clearly shows that while the expected returns of a better job and better lifestyle come with risks, young people are able to identify several tangible and intangible costs of migration that urge them to remain closer to their families.

The responsibility of taking care of aging parents and dependent family members, for instance, was recognised as an inhibitor to out-migration for instance. Said Manvir, a 19-yr old boy, “There is a responsibility (upon us), we have to understand that. The family also needs us. If we go away, how will they manage?” Poor quality of nutrition and low-quality living environment in the city was another. Shakuntala, a young woman who was pursuing her MA while she worked in eGramServe and who lives with her family in Narendra Nagar said, “Here (in Narendra Nagar) I can eat well, home food is good. We like our dal chawal roti (simple food).”

Many rural youth feel passionate about bringing development to their villages. They want to return to their villages where they can live on their own land and wish for new kinds of livelihood that complement their agricultural earnings. They see the option of migrating out as a betrayal of what they believe in and hope for. Ajay Negi, who commuted to Narendra Nagar from his village every day to work in eGramServe and was also enrolled in college in NN expressed this conflict well. “I don’t like the idea of going out. People from the village are selling their land, but others are protesting new developments being proposed here by investors from the city. I want to stay here to be part of that movement. Maybe I can somehow save my family from misfortune and ensure their survival,” he said. His passion is reminiscent of the passion that marked the many years of Uttarakhand’s struggle for autonomy.

Understanding youth motivations, developing small cities key to influencing migration patterns

These perspectives run contrary to the larger and rather simplistic understanding of migration as something desirable to educated young people from rural India. The Narendra Nagar case study highlighted the need to listen carefully to these alternative voices. To me, they seem to be saying something important. By tapping into these perspectives, it could be possible to be more strategic about future investments and planned development in the hills of Uttarakhand. It would also be possible for this bountiful hilly State to reposition its small towns as critical conduits for development and migration.

Narendra, who worked in eGramServe in a supervisory role, the development of strategic opportunities in urban locations in proximity to the rural hinterland could trigger return migration as well. “Now I am nearer village,” Narendra told me, “its easier for me to stay in touch (with my family), attend to their needs. I can even manage much better in terms of expenses.” Narendra is also more hopeful about the development that has come to Uttarakhand and the Garhwal region and sees his return migration as his contribution to the positive changes in and around his home.

References

Naik, Mukta. 2014, Vibrant small cities can keep rural youth closer to home: A case study of Narendra Nagar, Tehri Garhwal presented at a Special session on Small Cities at the Annual Conference of the RGS-IBG, 2014

Todaro, Michael P and Smith, Stephen C. 2012. Economic Development, Tenth Edition. Pearson Education

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