Author Archives: ramblinginthecity
Activism is not a choice, but a means of survival. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the rewards of embracing activism, mentioning our family’s weekend participation in a protest to protect the Aravallis around Gurgaon and Haryana. That urban expansion has become a threat to nature is something that has bothered me for a while, but I also believe there must be ways to co-exist and imagine a new kind of city, where the richness of nature and the density of humans can co-exist and even benefit from each other. Or at least the latter from the former!
I’ve tried to articulate this vision in an article for The Alternative published recently. I welcome your comments and views on this piece: Death on Arravali: Stopping the squeeze on India’s oldest range between Gurgaon and Faridabad
Moreover, I would urge you to read and sign our petition to the Chief Minister of Haryana that urges the State to protect these forests and work towards making Gurgaon and Faridabad ecologically smart cities.
Do attend if you can
Originally posted on cprurban:
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA), India’s national-level mission on sanitation was arguably born from the realisation that open defecation figures in India remain high in both rural and urban areas. A large push to construct individual household latrines, and convert insanitary (including pit latrines) into sanitary latrines is underway and the target is for India to be Open Defecation Free (ODF) by 2019.
NITI Ayog, the Government of India’s policy think tank and Centre for Policy Research partner to put the spotlight on this issue, which lies at the core of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’s success. The seminar titled “Open Defecation Free (ODF) Communities: A key step towards Swachh Bharat” will debate the definition of ODF communities and the evolution of a suitable matrix to measure the achievement of this status under the mission.
Seminar: Open Defecation Free (ODF) Communities: A key step towards Swachh Bharat
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Adults in our family (Rahul, me and the mums) are generally in the habit of making trips to the cinema hall without our children. Frankly, except for animation films made for kids (and even they have so much dialogue that is lost on the little one, and so much violence), it’s hard to find films that we think children should watch. Piku, after a long time, was a weekend trip with the kids in tow (watch trailer). Aadyaa was highly excited about being allowed to watch a movie with us and highly intrigued with what little she had heard about Piku. “Is he really obsessed with his potty?” she kept asking me the entire Saturday morning after I’d broken the news of our little outing.
In the cinema hall, I saw families helping their elderly up the stairs into the multiplex and several children milling around. The sense of excitement (and star worship) was not quite the same as I see for the typical Khan-type Bollywood multi-starrer, but there was a curiosity in the air and a level of comfort that was palpable.
What I loved about Piku (in that order)
The stunning ordinariness of the characters: The experience was a bit like watching a movie with a very large extended family. Everyone identified with someone or the other. In Piku (ably played by Deepika Padukone), some saw their own struggles with aging parents reflected. In Bhaskor Banerjee (Amitabh par excellence), people identified an eccentric uncle, an endearing patriarch, a dearly missed grandfather. Piku dusts cobwebs, Rana (Irrfan) yells unbecomingly at his mother and sister, Piku’s house has a normal and reassuring level of unkemptness but is spruced up to entertain guests for lunch, etc etc.
Functional dysfunctionality and the wonderfulness of family: But more than that, the film needs to be applauded for bringing home the wonderful way Indian families (and perhaps families in general) accept and live with the eccentricities of their own. I wasn’t entirely convinced about Baradwaj Rangan’s description of Piku as “An irresistible amble with a dysfunctional family” because I cannot think of a single family that is “functional” really! Perhaps it is our identification with this functional dysfunctionality that endears the film to us so! To me, Piku’s biggest achievement is that families, from the youngest to the oldest, could watch together a wholesome, funny entertainer without the usual crassness that we have to swallow as necessary in run-of-the-mill Bollywood fare.
A new way for mainstream cinema to look at women: Piku’s team was evidently quite confident of the wholesomeness of their script, for writer Juhi Chaturvedi has boldly taken the opportunity to speak a very different language about how women can be in Indian society. As one of my favorite feminist bloggers puts it, Piku is among a new set of movies “that acknowledge women as people” (Read IHM’s review titled Piku in Patriarchy) and do not make women fit into the ideas that society has of them, rather letting them break out and be what they will.
Nivedita Mishra’s HT review points out that it’s easy for a priviliged upper class Delhi girl to be ‘independent’. Even so, I think Piku’s character and her manner of negotiating her relationships goes beyond privilege and speaks to her ability to remain headstrong and stubborn in a world that is still largely patriarchal, even for the privileged upper class woman.
Jugal Mody, in his excellent post on The Ladies Finger, also points this out, especially referring to the friends-with-benefits relationship that Piku has in the film and the strength of the film’s other female characters. Particularly, he picks out the film’s ability to highlight how feminist men like Bhaskor (Piku’s hypochondriac dad), though supportive of women in their lives, constantly feel the need to control them. The film, he writes, points out “the irony of men who want to be feminist allies to the women in their life. In the long family banter scenes, they keep interrupting the women who are talking about what they want only to tell them about independence.”
Within this theme, I come to what I loved particularly about Piku. In a setting when Piku is forced to travel with a man she doesn’t particularly like (Rana Chowdhry, played by Irrfan), a man who has an uncanny way of getting under her skin and really understanding her, one would expect a romance to kindle in the style of Mills & Boon (which is absolutely full of these strong silent characters who are drawn to each other after a series of misunderstandings). But no, the knight in shining armor (I was really wondering, when the Tullu pump was being repaired in the minutes before Rana leaves Kolkata!) does not gallop in on a white steed and carry away the Princess to ‘happily ever after'; instead, they exchange friendly knocks with badminton rackets in the closing scenes, which shows their growing friendship but nothing more.
What I didn’t quite get about Piku (in no particular order)
Everything about the film was subtle, so subtle that somewhere on their journey to Kolkata, I found my attention slipping. Aadyaa was restless besides me: “When will they reach Mumma? how many hours in real, how many hours in the movie?” The events on this journey seemed to me haphazard, but I’m sure that chaos was also part of the charm. I certainly have no suggestions for how this could be improved!
I thought the film could have highlighted a bit more Piku’s pleasure in re-connecting with the city of her childhood, Kolkata. It could have been an opportunity to show another side of Piku, the contrast to her severity and wilfulness might have rendered her even more lovable. Even her sudden change of heart about retaining (and not selling) their ancestral home came through, to me, as abrupt (close after her conversation with Rana about this, it came across as if he was overtly influencing her, which is at odds with Piku’s character). If this was an important part of the subtext, the connection with their home and their old life, it merited a bit more attention perhaps.
Kudos for telling new stories, and not rehashing the formula
I’m saying nothing new here and I admit I’m biased, having known Juhi for a long time. But truly, Piku is a brave story, a real story. Kudos to Juhi for writing it and to Shoojit for putting it together so beautifully.
Piku could be my story or yours; and it’s impossible not to love it. After Vicky Donor’s bold humorous take on a taboo subject, Juhi’s fresh take on the ordinary madness of life’s relationships in Piku deserves all our praise. I can imagine the catharsis she experienced in writing this, the long hours that went into the detailing it and the uncanny instinct that helped focus on that one thing that Indians love to obsess about- Potty!
I know, as the daughter of a gastroenterologist. I grew up hearing stories from my dad on the strong links between the bowels and the emotions, especially in Indian culture. On how the cures he offered were less about medication than about listening to his patients and counseling them. On how bowel movements were a reflection of relationships, of a person’s status in their family, of their self-esteem, a whole bunch of stuff that was way beyond anatomy and digestive processes. So Juhi, spot on! My father is smiling at you from wherever he is, and that’s my way of saying you simply aced it with Piku.
A friend wrote the post I’ve wanted to write forever. Cities never fail to amaze and surprise, and Delhi is special that way…
Originally posted on Rural-Urban Frontiers:
Twenty years ago when I lived in Delhi I drove past Meherchand Market without giving it a second look as it was never a destination. It was simply a row of small shops, tailors and mechanics which catered to Lodi Colony residents. Lodi Colony was a run down low-income neighbourhood which housed those working in the nearby posh central Delhi locales of Khan Market, Jorbagh and Golflinks. I was surprised to find Meherchand Market now being widely reported as Delhi’s upcoming retail spaces catering to the high fashion industry and elite. Delhi’s “developing” urban fabric, its ever expanding metro network, numerous flyovers (being built supposedly to ease the traffic), the revamped airport have transformed the city, but all these did not surprise me half as much as what I saw the other day while driving past Meherchand Market. The humble shopping street which had held out for so long has gentrified into a posh upmarket street. Being located close to Khan Market, which attract Asia’s highest…
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Some concrete suggestions for planners in the context of Mumbai’s recently shelved (but soon to re-appear) DP!
Originally posted on cprurban:
The ambitious Mumbai Development Plan (DP) 2034, envisaged as a blueprint that specifies the land allocations, land use patterns, transportation networks and amenities for India’s largest metropolis, has been recently put on the shelf for revisions following intense criticism on several fronts. It is to be revised and republished for public response within four months.
The release of the plan into the public domain, itself a unique occurrence for Indian city planning, has facilitated an unprecedented amount of public debate and discussion. In the process, many hitherto unconcerned citizens have hopefully thought about the issues involved in deciding a future for their city. However, several burning questions remain. On the mechanics of planning a megacity like Mumbai. On the processes and institutions required. On responsibility. On why Indian cities are unable to plan. And on why they must learn to…
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Of Manish Sisodia, transportation policy and Delhi’s smart city conundrum: A report from CONNECT Karo 2015
Sharing my post on the CPR India Urban Blog this morning.
Originally posted on cprurban:
By Mukta Naik
The Stein Auditorium at India Habitat Centre is half empty and it’s the hour in which conference goers are eager for lunch to be served. We are attending the CONNECTKaro 2015, an annual and global event on sustainable transport and urban development organised by EMBARQ and WRI India. An esteemed Brazilian politician is speaking about his city’s sustainable transport strategies. The audience is politely bored. He finishes and there is some scattered applause and he leaves the stage.
At that moment, something changes in the air. The hall is full in a matter of minutes, lunch is forgotten and Amit Bhatt from EMBARQ is introducing Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia to speak on his vision for Delhi. Mr Sisodia addresses the audience in Hindi, picking up issues important for urban development (a portfolio he currently holds, among many) and specifically for transportation which is the theme of the event…
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A rare guest post on my blog from my colleague and friend Susrita, who thinks deep and smiles broadly. Will gladly convey your comments and feedback to her as you react to her post on a complex and contentious topic.
This year the Day of Silence is going to be celebrated on the April 17, 2015. In the myriad list of special days in a year which are celebrated in order to generate awareness, sensitize and what-have-you, this day is much the opposite. It is a day to silently protest against the bullying and harassment of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans-genders (LGBT) and their supportersto symbolically represent the silencing of LGBT community. This year I chose to celebrate this day by asking few questions to my heterosexual counterparts with the hope that by answering these questions they may be able to reflect better on their beliefs about homosexuality.
The set of questions I will pose are an adapted and abridged version of “Heterosexual Questionnaire” of Martin Rochlin, who was a pioneer in the field of gay-affirmative psychotherapy. Although almost four decades have passed since this questionnaire was prepared, much of this remains relevant, especially because the mindset of heterosexual community about their homosexual counterparts has not really undergone much change in these years. It is not very uncommon for a member of the LGBT community to encounter one such question each and every day of their lives. The leading thoughts are primarily my responses which have been echoed by many like-minded individuals.
Question 1: What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
Leading thoughts: If we believe that heterosexuality came to me naturally, why is it hard to believe that it would have been the same way for a homosexual. On the other hand if we believe that there was some incident which triggered our heterosexuality then it means that prior to that incident we too were homosexual. And in that stage also we were the same human being, with same emotions and same thoughts.
Question 2:How can you enjoy an emotionally fulfilling experience with the person of the other sex when there are such vast differences between you?
Leading thoughts: How many of us believe that we connect better, have more fun and are less likely to be judged by our same sex partners? How many times have we thought that if you stayed with a same sex friend life would be much less complicated?
Question 3: A disproportionate majority of child molesters are heterosexual men, do you consider it safe to expose your children to heterosexual male teacher, pediatrician and scout master?
Leading thoughts: Rape of young girls and child sexual abuse is very often in news and the perpetrators are mainly male heterosexuals. In such a milieu do we still think that our child is unsafe with a homosexual teacher?
Question 4: Considering the menace of overpopulation how could the human race survive if everyone was heterosexual?
Leading thoughts: Isn’t it ironically, on one side we want everyone to be heterosexual and on the other side we don’t want them to reproduce? Isn’t that the only advantage of a heterosexual relationship over a homosexual one!
Question 5: Could it be that you heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?
Leading thoughts: As a girl when do we feel more unsafe, when you surrounded by only men or where there only female around you? Thus it can be confidently said that even when we oppose homosexuality, we feel safer with same sex people around us.
My unsolicited advice to all heterosexual readers who are indifferent to homosexuality is this: Please spare some time on April 17th to understand that homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. It is definitely not a “disease” and homosexuals are not “abnormal”. Those who have chosen to be that way have a right to do so. They do not deserve anyone’s stare or ridicule; instead they need to treated with equal dignity like the others. I, I feel that there should not be any “other”. We all belong to the same species of homosapiens with different choices of food, clothing and in this case sexuality. Various studies trying to prove that there are biological differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals have been groundless. We can choose to change our indifference to one of inclusion rather than one of ‘othering’. As for those who vehemently oppose homosexuality, I have noting to say to you as I know that you are anyway very few in numbers.
Typical of my generation, I live a dangerous paradox everyday. I’m wary of idealism and yet, I’m deeply idealistic. I refused to wear the famed ‘Anna topi’ and participate in what I considered empty gestures. I was faintly disgusted by the candle light marches in my housing complex held in the name of the fight against corruption with young children shouting stuff they didn’t understand. I did not make fun of them, though. I wondered about my position and my reluctance to embrace what seemed like a wave of idealism and change at the time. That was my wariness of idealism asserting itself.
More recently, even though I do not vote in Delhi, I was delighted to see the AAP come to power in such a conclusive manner. That was my idealism kicking in. I wish the government success in meeting the impossible (and in most part laudable) objectives they have set themselves. I hope to to play my own very little role in it too, to whatever extent possible.
However, the charges of “high command culture” leveled against CM Arvind Kejriwal disturb me immensely. Prashant Bhushan’s advice to the CM to read George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ indicates in no mean terms the extreme dangers of a lack of consultation. Neither can I reconcile myself to the idea of condoning a little bit of evil for the greater common good, which is also what the CM is accused of resorting to in order to push through what he wants.
What is true and what is not, I cannot say. But the events as they are playing out strike deep and sharp nails into the coffin that idealism has climbed into and is lying, preparing to die a painful death. We may end up with a better Delhi but not, it seems, with better politicians.
Last Saturday, I watched middle school students at Pathways World School, Aravalli put together excerpts from three Shakespearean plays. They explored the idea of unbridled ambition with Macbeth and the idea of friendship with Merchant of Venice; and both of these apply to the AAP drama unfolding before us. But their perception of Julius Caesar is really applicable to the situation. Are the detractors (Cassius=Prashant Bhushan, etc) merely jealous of Caesar’s (Kejriwal’s) success? Or are they truly concerned with the values of democracy and equality? Does Rome (Delhi, India) really need a leader of Caesar’s (Kejriwal’s) appeal to stitch it together even if it means absolute power, the crowning of a King, the breaking of a tradition of democracy and replacing it with an authoritarian system? How justified are friends and supporters like Brutus (Yogendra Yadav?) in taking a stand against Caesar despite their deep sense of loyalty and friendship?
There are no clear answers, but we must think about what sort of future we envision. What have been the expectations of those who idealised/admired/supported the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement and later its conversion into AAP? Did they buy into it because they wanted better governance or because they wanted clean politics? I’d put my money on the latter, but unfortunately that doesn’t look like it is going to happen.
I’m left with many disturbing questions. I cannot answer them for you, but I must try to do so for myself. Politics is a game of compromises, but which of these is acceptable and where does it cross the line? Is one kind of dirtiness is politics better than another kind? Is the end more important than the means? How does my idealist self work with and contribute to systems that are dubious and dishonest? How does my non-idealist self stay motivated to contribute if the hope of better politics lies abandoned?
Even as I mull such questions, life goes on. I eat, sleep, play, laugh. Or crib, bitch, slander and cry. And every now and then, I wonder at my place in the scheme of things.
The most unexpected people can hold the mirror to you and show you a side of you that you didn’t think of before. In my experience, people who know you rarely offer negative feedback. The closer they are to you, the harder they find to tell it like it is, unless there is a direct provocation. Mostly, they tend to live with your rough edges. Sometimes, a surprised glance, a hurt look, a flash of anger or a sharp retort could, if you are self aware enough, bring you to the path of self-reflection and acknowledgement of wrong behaviour.
On Saturday morning though, as I returned from dance class, the security guard below my apartment block stopped me. Hesitantly and offering prior apologies, he asked me if I specifically disliked being greeted with a ‘Good Morning’. He was concerned. Was he greeting me correctly? Was there something wrong in how he says these phrases that are obviously in English and not in his native language, Hindi?
Now the person I’m referring to obviously comes from very humble origins and with little education, but he has a dignified bearing that I always notice and appreciate. Puzzled and quite taken aback, I asked him why I would mind being greeted, and why he thought I minded. And he told me that unlike the other adult members of my family, namely my husband and my mother in law, I rarely responded to his greetings. Further, he told me I usually had a frown on my face and rushed past him without paying any attention to his politeness, leave alone responding to it. All this he said in a mild way, not being offensive, but continuing to be genuinely concerned.
Now imagine my plight! I have no idea what my face told of my feelings, but I went through a few seconds of complete bafflement! I’m not even sure I was gracious enough to properly apologise though I did assure him he was not at fault in any way, that I might have been pre-occupied, etc etc. As I climbed into the elevator to go home, I fully examined my own behaviour. And I accepted that I’m not a good listener, I do walk around with a frown or an ‘I’m busy’ look on my face, I do not adequately react to those around me. I said a silent prayer, appreciating the gentleman for his courage in having this conversation and vowing to change myself for the better. To smile more, to give every person I encounter full attention and a proper response, to reinforce basic etiquette and manners (something I feel we always teach our kids but tend to overlook ourselves).
I learnt something valuable this weekend. Feedback comes from the most unexpected sources and in the strangest form. To be tuned to receive it graciously, reflect upon it and act upon it is also a life skill to be cultivated. Life may not always be good, but its ever interesting, always an adventure, big or small and I’m grateful to starting this week with an enhanced sense of what a blessing it is!