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!
Evocative piece, mum! Love it
Originally posted on sitanaiksblog:
The short 5 days I spent in Kutch last month has left a myriad of images in my mind – of the flat, uncluttered country side, the great, impressive architectural marvels (Rani-ki-vav, Aina Mahal at Bhuj, Sun temple of Modhera) and wonderful, impressive crafts people and their art. But the most recurring image is that of the little girl, holding rock salt in her hand and flashing the most glorious smile for the camera.
This is Meena, all of 7 years old, who lives with her parents in the flat lands of the little Rann. And when I say flat, by jove is it flat!! I have never seen anything like it and am unlikely to – it is a vast extant of cracked brown mudflats, stretching as far as the eye can see. Under a searing white sun, where temperatures rise into the 50s and…
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Women’s safety has become a rallying cry in Delhi and its environs, where I live. Arguably, it’s become a talking point across India and in many parts of the world. Arvind Kejriwal’s election promise of 100% CCTV coverage reflects the widespread phenomena of the elite fencing themselves into gated havens, imagining they are keeping the unwanted at bay. Extend that thought and you have private cars ferrying kids to school when they should have taken the bus and girls being asked to restrict their choice of college because commuting is unsafe. Clearly, safety and the perception of safety is driving how people live and work, how productive they are and how they interact socially.
Well-designed quality infrastructure is non-negotiable
A large number of studies have shown us that it is quality infrastructure that will provide the base for making spaces safe and livable. A recent study that asked the question “What is the latest time in the day that you feel safe returning home alone?” in rural and urban spaces across India found that amenities and infrastructure had the largest impact on perceptions of safety.
It doesn’t matter whether it is urban or rural, basic infrastructure, including lighting, sanitation, electricity, streets, drainage and efficient public transport, is non-negotiable. More than any other interventions, including quick-fix technology, well-designed hard infrastructure for public use will empower everyone (not just women) and, over time, change attitudes too.
Technology is redundant if physical infrastructure is simply not there
The soft infrastructure that integrates tech can be a great complement, but fails when infrastructure is missing or badly designed. I’ll give you two examples.
#1 School bus alert systems
I get a set of SMSs everyday before the school bus arrives to pick and drop my kids. One of these gives me a time for arrival of the bus. The estimate is made by a computer based on an algorithm that factors in the route map, expected traffic at time of travel, etc. But the large number of uncertainties introduced by water logging, poor quality roads, mismanaged traffic etc mean that the estimated time is almost certainly off. Every afternoon, someone waits anxiously for a bus that announces it will arrive at 4:00PM when it actually shows up 8, 10, even 15 minutes later! A clear case of redundant technology.
#2 Women’s helplines
Asha, who worked as a nursing assistant for my grandmother a few weeks ago, pooh-poohs my suggestion for using the police helpline to report harassment, which she says she faces several times a day on her two-hour, 21-km long commute to work and back everyday. I would say she would not have hesitated to to dial the helpline if her daily commute was largely hassle-free, but as of now she has internalized the violence she faces and the technology appears redundant to her.
Let’s focus on the right things: Fix the pavements, lights, roads…just fix my city!
Personally, I don’t want the protection of my brothers and male friends when I get home late from work or a dinner appointment (As we know from the Nirbhaya case, this is no protection anyway). I want a lit pavement to walk on and the assurance of a late night bus service instead!
I don’t want a CCTV camera on every street corner of my city. Instead, I want clean, lit, accessible public spaces where families, young girls and boys, the elderly, basically everyone can access, frequent and make safe by their participation. The central park in Connaught Place (Delhi’s central business district) shuts down at sunset, while student theater groups who try to practice there have been asked to leave because they are a threat to security!
I don’t want a helpline that is flooded with requests and unable to help anyone. Instead, I want a safe city where the police can concentrate on those who really need their help because the majority of us are able to get on with our lives empowered by decent public amenities and infrastructure!