Author Archives: ramblinginthecity
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!
Some thoughts from my colleagues at work on the Delhi’s government’s approach to water
Originally posted on cprurban:
By Amandeep Singh and Nikhil George
The young Aam Admi Party’s unprecedented electoral victory in the national capital had occupied prime space in the country’s opinion pages during the first half of February this year. After the government formation, the discussions and media attention should have moved onto policies and the new government’s efforts to follow them. But, the opinion space and reportage since then has largely been on the party’s internal rift and less on the policies of its government. An exception was the media interest to discuss a water tariff that made water, free for households consuming less than 20 KL a month.
Governance of water is a policy area where the AAP has a well-articulated vision – Jal Swaraj, The Aam Admi Party Whitepaper on Water. This is in all likelihood a first for a political party in India, discounting the few lines on water that…
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A fresh view of cities, creatively expressed!
Originally posted on the urban geographer:
In August 2011, I delivered a lecture titled Everything is Everything as part of the amazing Fuller Terrace Lecture Series in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
That night’s theme was The Nature of Things, and I thought it the perfect opportunity to distill the messages of my undergraduate thesis, transforming them into more accessible and whimsical language and visuals.
Fuller Terrace Lectures recently updated their archives, including the entirety of the 2011 season. Please enjoy my lecture, and check out the others too!
Kids can surprise you everyday…
Originally posted on theamazingud:
My dream vacation is high up in the Himalayas,a place where you can trek all day.There, I will go with a tent and set up camp after a good day’s trek. I will eat whatever I packed and drink the moving water from mountain streams. I will explore the wild and find which bee stings hurt more, which wild tree has good food, etc. Eventually, I will reach the top of the mountain and my perfect vacation will be complete.
Walking back from our Kathak morning at Raahgiri, we ran into a really peppy zumba session. Now, salsa beats never fail to do their thing and I found my feet tapping along of their own volition. Aadyaa was absolutely mesmerized by the energy in the air. With an exchange of glances that signified permission, she darted into the crowd and began to follow the instructor on the stage.
She joined a sea of kids, both boys and girls, ranging from age 5 to people in their late teens. Most of these super enthusiastic youngsters were from economically underprivileged households. You could see that from their clothes and many of them had the typical light brown streaks of malnourishment in their hair. But their energy and enthusiasm surpassed anything I had seen before. They watched keenly and absorbed the instructor’s every move, even his expression and the nuances of his dancing. The workout, as I mentioned before, was based on Latino forms of dance, which are not familiar to most Indians. But these kids had it down pat. Many of them, it appeared, had been at Raahgiri before and memorized the basic steps already. One girl (in the pink sweatshirt) and a young man (in a red tee) stood out in their attitude and total involvement. They, and not the ones up on stage, were the talented artists at Raahgiri this morning!
A group of us trouped off to Raahgiri on a Sunday morning. It happened to be 8th March, International Women’s Day. To back up a bit, Raahgiri started in Gurgaon as a movement to reclaim streets and has now spread to Connaught Place and Dwarka in Delhi as well as to Chandigarh and Bhopal. The idea is to cordon off a section of the city every Sunday for people to walk, cycle, run, dance, work out and generally have a ball without worrying about being run over by a car! We’ve been several times last year to do one or many of these things, but this particular Sunday was special. This time, we were there to support and encourage a group of talented young girls who learn kathak from my guru Jayashree Acharya.
Kathak at Raahgiri? Well, this is the kind of place where a hundred people are happy to bump and grind to a salsa or zumba workshop (yea, I’m following this post up with another one on the most hilarious zumba class ever!) a couple of dozen are taking a kick boxing demo elsewhere while a group of dedicated women slog on their mats in a power yoga session.
So there we stood, with the girls all decked up in colorful lehengas, jewelry and make up at 8:30 am…with a tepid scattered bunch of people for an audience loitering in front of the stage; half of them parent and relations of the performers! ‘This won’t do, will it? We got to show them what we got!,’ I thought.
On Guruji’s advise, I took charge of the microphone to introduce Kathak, it’s history, what it means and the significance of engaging with a serious dance form- a short introduction to engage and prepare the audience. Then, the girls came on stage and worked their magic. The mood began to shift. The people lined up on the other side of the road, not wanting to join in at first, now slowly drifted to our side of the road. Phone cameras came on, little children came and stared, cyclists stopped to watch, runners slowed down as they went by.
Kathak at Raahgiri was a runaway success, a great kickstart to the morning and hopefully, an inspiration for many more to showcase their talents on public platforms and spread the message that Kathak (or other forms of classical art) is not high culture, it’s also our public culture that we can share and enjoy. As for me, I’m thankful and proud to be part of a group of dedicated and spirited dancers who inspire and energize me everyday!