Hey! Can we talk?

As a kid I yearned for people to talk to me. Every night I wished for a friend who would just talk, listen to how my day went. I was that weird kid in school. Had big hopes about growing up. Thought things would change, I would grow into a normal man who would have company. A man who would not spend nights sobbing into his pillow and seek answers that were never coming.

Now things are better. Wouldn’t call it normal, but at least they talk. And they talk a lot. I mean I didn’t change much, just crafted this wooden table. When they wake up from anesthesia I just tell them that their hands are tied because that’s how the rules of this game are. You can’t really blame me, I didn’t get my fair share of games as a kid, Did I?

Now they have to keep talking, like anything and everything they can to talk about. Usually they try to convince me how we should stop this game and how they are gonna die. It’s lovely having some chattering company I swear. I never interrupt them, see I am very serious about the rules. If I say a thing they would stop talking. So I let them speak for hours and hours. Until their voice is gone or they stop for a pause hoping that I would be lenient with the rules. But they always end the game with a loud shriek, every one of them. Sorry, Did I tell you the guillotine drops when it can’t detect speech?

My Personal Hell

I love my house. The curtains aren’t to my liking but I am still glad the paint on walls hasn’t changed. They have moved my favorite reclining chair to the basement and I am sitting here on this bean bag that my daughter loves. But I still love them, just can’t express.

10 years since our marriage, and she hasn’t aged at all. You know the kind of love they show in the movies? Yes, totally that, it was magical when we first met and it’s still magical everytime I see her. She’s seeing Mat these days. Reading her favourite magazine, cross-legged, she’s waiting for him to ring the bell. I can read minds, I swear.

Mat seemed like a nice guy when I first saw him. Honestly, he was. I was happy someone was taking my place in her life. He gave time to my daughter and seemed to genuinely care for her like a father should. And now? You know it. He ‘was’ the nice guy next door.

Me? I just died 5 years ago. They said I am going to hell. I knew. And then they sent me here, at my home. To roam and watch around. Can’t touch a thing, can’t say a thing. Just glide and watch. I was still figuring out what kind of hell is this? And then one day I realised I could sense impending danger to my family.

Cocaine has got better of him and his finances. Mat’s here, walked into our driveway with a shiny knife. She’s here waiting for him to ring the bell. And I am here, helpless, condemned to watch my family die in my personal hell.personal-hell1.jpg

The Prince Effect

In July 2006 an infant named Prince fell into a 55-foot deep hole and 24×7 media attention ensued. I don’t remember if it was the first ever of its kind but it was at least in my memory. We all prayed while being shown every moment from the rescue site. You can imagine the scale of importance when even DD News was covering it live. He was rescued after spending 48 hours in the claustrophobic hole.In the coming months we saw multiple reports of kids falling in borewells and holes. Some rescues successful like Prince’s while some weren’t.

Recently, we witnessed some appalling imagery. An Odisha man, Dana Manjhi was forced to carry his deceased wife’s body on shoulders for 10 kilometers because an ambulance couldn’t be arranged. It’s shameful as much as it is shocking. In the days that have followed there has been multiplicity of reports of people in backward areas being deprived of basic amenities. People carrying a dead body for her last rites in MP were not allowed to pass through fields as they belonged to the dalit social strata. Eventually the body had to be taken through a pond instead. Another deplorable incident from Madhya Pradesh came to light when a man was forced off a bus and left stranded after his sick wife died during the journey to a hospital.

Today, there are 3-4 new stories. Familiar ones, a father carrying his dying son on his shoulders, begging for help and ending up with just his cadaver when it’s too late. More and more stories of lack of basic medical care and ambulances are being brought up every day.

It makes one think. A lot about administrative apathy in the 7th richest country in the world but more so about how these stories would never be known if not for Dana Manjhi’s dead wife. Media attention to this issue is tremendous at this point and that’s the reason this heart wrenching stream of incidences is becoming staple. Just like no one cared about children falling into borewells before Prince fell into one, so many people have died undignified deaths and many will in future.

What concerns me more is that few months or even an year after Prince’s rescue the reports of kids falling into ditches and their rescue stopped. Similarly, we are going to milk the issue of a dead body being carried on a man’s shoulder for weeks, or maybe months and then go on with our usual uninformed lives because the topic died out or isn’t ‘hot’ anymore. The number of kids falling or the people dying were, and are, the same. It’s just that our collective conscience is woken up from its sweet slumber momentarily by what I call ‘The prince effect’. And then it goes back to sleep.

Epiphany of Justice

The stench of freshly laid cow dung cakes was having a visually noticeable effect on my cameraman’s expressions. For me it was nostalgic in a way. The thing with being a reporter is, you can’t procrastinate. Editors are always on your heels for the next big scoop. We broke the lazy silence of this village, courtesy to the sweltering Punjabi summer. After much inquiry we knocked on what was supposed to be Jarnail Singh’s house.

“Sat Sri Akal! Does Jarnail Singh reside here?” I tried to have an apologizing tone, looking at the apparent displeasure of the sleepy young lady who opened the door.

“Oh, Dadaji? Wait a minute.” She hastened back into the house, leaving the door half open.

After a while a man, who appeared to be her husband attended us. He had no idea what had happened and why we were looking for Jarnail Singh. We tried explaining as he told us about his family history. He was Jarnail Singh’s grandson. His father died few years ago, and his late uncle’s name was Satwant Singh. He escorted us to his grandfather’s room.

Jarnail Singh was 92 years old now. On the table to his right was a picture of his younger days. Presumably just after his marriage. Looking at his wrinkles after looking at that picture could make one understand the frailty of human life. His hands in state of constant shaking, barely managing to hold the rosary in his right. We were told that he didn’t speak or listen clearly anymore. We could try.

I took my microphone out, the cameraman switched on the lights and focused on the man seemingly on his deathbed.

“Your son Satwant was killed in a fake encounter in 1991, the court has given a life-term to 47 policemen today, how do you feel?” His eyeballs turned to us, but that was it.

I repeated the question loudly. I asked his grandson to try and explain what we wanted to ask. I wished it was like movies, he would shed a tear to signal his joy or pain. Not because I wanted to capture it for my newsbyte, I just wanted the man to feel a sense of justice. His senses failed him when it mattered.

More than his senses, we failed him. The justice that we as a society served, stale and fatuous. After 26 years, I knock on the door to congratulate a man that justice has been done. He’s there, but can’t feel a thing. He’s there, but justice was too late to his rescue. His ears must have waited for so long to hear that news but they gave up before it arrived. As I walked back and the whiff of cowdung stuck us again, I felt slight contentment that he couldn’t hear the insult we call justice, anymore.

Based on – 1991 Pilibhit Fake Encounter

Who will guard the guards?

All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.

-Immanuel Kant
We are growing up in a time when every time something happens society looks for someone to blame. The scapegoat society. Anti-India slogans? JNU is bad, shut them down. Beef ban? RSS is bad, shut them down. Rapes? Chowmein is bad (Hi Delhi Police!). Are our choices limited to binary? Is their just a good side and a bad side and we are supposed to take one of them? In case you try taking a middle route, you will be somehow pushed to one side by those who see things as just good and bad.

 

January 30, 2016. Mahatma Gandhi’s Death Anniversary. Hindu Mahasabha celebrated the death of Mahatma Gandhi. Distributed sweets and wowed to make India a Hindu nation. In their own words-

“We do not believe in the idea of a secular Constitution. When India officially declares itself a Hindu Rashtra, Godse will be declared its hero and Gandhi’s assassination would be declared a national festival,” Pandit Sharma said.

How is worshiping the assassin of the Father of Nation not a wrong that is as bad as calling Afzal Guru a martyr?

Justifying one wrong with someone else’s wrong is has become the society’s tendency. I am not here to justify, just to ask why was it not termed inflammatory or even seditious if we look from the recent narrow perspective of the authorities.

I was informed by people claiming to be RSS supporters that Nathuram Godse was a hero. He did it for the nation. Further, Gandhi was tagged as British appeasing, biased, sociopath, bootlicker, racist, castiest, pervert, traitor and inhuman. Further abuses can be read as articulated in this picture below.God Se

Just wait a minute. Don’t be outraged over the fact that this might not be the philosophy or thinking of every RSS supporting person. I am aware, I am absolutely aware. But why we as a society are not aware that similarly, few students shouting anti-India slogans does not make the whole Institute anti-India.

If glorifying Nathuram Godse is nationalism, then no one has the right to object if I start worshipping Indira Gandhi’s assassins or maybe Afzal Guru. Every criminal justifies his acts, in their mind they are correct. Don’t make us read Nathuram Godse’s statements in court and his diaries to justify Gandhi’s killing. Killing someone is not your right, howsoever bad the person was. If I don’t agree with your opinion, doesn’t mean I am going to kill you and justify it later.

My blood too boils when I hear people shouting slogans like “Bharat tere tukde honge..”. But taking law in your own hands just because you prematurely adjudged someone as a traitor. How justified is that?

You saw it, I saw it, everyone saw it. OP Sharma, an MLA from Delhi beating a person on the apprehension that he belonged to the JNU. Police personnel duly watching from the sidelines with their hands in pockets, as the new vigilante took birth, cleaning the supposed scum of the nation from the streets. And the FIR finds no mention of his name. Squeaky clean.

You have the custody of an alleged traitor. His past court appearances have been eventful with mobs thrashing media personnel in court premises last time it happened. Supreme Court has issued guidelines to make things better in this appearance. After all these arrangements, few supposedly nationalistic lawyers, with tri-colour in their hands breach your futile arrangements and manage to hit Kanhaiya Kumar. You had one job mate.

Just having a tri-colour in your hand or saying bharat mata ki jai before you kill or hit someone doesn’t justify it. Are we still raising Nathuram Godses today, who kill or hit someone when they think it’s justified to do so?

Dissent is essential. Without dissent there can be no dialogue, no democracy. Remember emergency? I recall my dad telling me how all non-congress stalwarts we see to today, be it Lalu Prasad Yadav, Atal Bihari Vajpayi or  Parkash Singh Badal, all were put in jail for having their own views. The views that the government didn’t like. Being an offshoot of the anti-emergency alliance, atleast BJP must realise how important free speech and restricting police action is. Government is correct in my honest opinion to arrest someone and look out for others. That’s their job. Here we as a society are failing when we are branding everyone from JNU as anti-national, every person conforming to left ideology is being seen suspiciously. You might not be falling for such far fetched allegations, but I have a general idea of it. Go to any news site with news about Lawyers beating Kanhaiya. Read those wonderful comments. They all are happy and celebrating that a person was beaten in public. They are endorsing mob justice. #ShutDownJNU is trending, because why not. After all everyone there, is a traitor.

I am not critical of government or students or the police or media. I am here on the sidelines, looking at this circus. Looking at how everyone is trying to maximize their benefit from a situation. Right winged institutions having an opportunity to show supposedly left university as anti-national (remember West Bengal and Kerala polls are coming?). Congress and left trying to show solidarity with the student community for political goodwill. Mainstream Media calling JNU students and bashing them, because all hail mob justice!(hi Arnab!). Delhi Police showing how ruling party bashing a person in public is a minor incident and how tough it is to spell OP Sharma in an FIR. I am too writing this post trying to get the Certificate of Nationalism from the right as well as left school of thoughts by trying to tread on a neutral line.

Blind folded police, with their hands tied behind their back, silently watching as a mob comes and beats up a person who was in their custody, looking over a man taking law in his own hands, beating a person just because his ‘blood boiled’. Not a pretty picture. In the end the question remains, Who will guard the guards?

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The Apartheid Within

“Indians and Dogs are not allowed”. Imagine being meted out this inferior treatment in your own country, in your own land. After more than 60 years have passed since our forefathers fought nail and tooth for all this independence we revel in today. Yet there remains a systematically discriminatory framework which mocks their sacrifices in the most institutional of manners.

Indian Armed Forces. Here we are with questions that I seek answers to. And I am going to try and address the elephant in the room. From restaurants in Army cantonments to Hospitals for the veterans, I have seen that ‘Indians and dogs not allowed’ mentality hasn’t freed our minds even after Britishers left. These discriminatory practices mock fundamental rights in their face. Pardon me for my diminutive understanding of Indian Constitution, if I see it wrongly.

Let me give you little background to help you understand the situation better. My father joined the Indian Air Force in 1980s, after nearly 26 years of service he took voluntary retirement as a JWO, that is Junior Warrant Officer. Now some work structure of the Indian Army. Workforce is largely divided into 2 parts, that is Airmen and Officers (These days both are collectively called Air Warriors, which I understand is an effort to lessen the divide). Every Rank you gain, like every government service brings in better pay and better amenities. Thanks to the Colonial Era, Indian Military system had and still has two very distinct categories of soldiers whose living, eating and mingling with each other wasn’t really allowed. My understanding is that Officers consisted of British citizens and it was natural for them to not allow people from supposedly ‘lower’ ranks to mingle with them, and these were Indians if you didn’t guess it. JWO is a ‘lower’ rank as seen from that perspective.

Let me bring you to present with some incidences.

First one – My mom’s not well and we are at a Military hospital for Ex-servicemen. We all submit our smart-cards and wait for the doctor at OPD to call us up. Several senior citizens have been waiting for hours to have their turn. And thank lord, there is a priority entry for any senior citizen. As we all patiently wait, a man in his 40s walks smoothly to the smart-card counter, shows his card and gets an instant call into the doctor’s cabin. Yes, the same british-era perks are still present. You guessed it, Officers of the Indian Military forces. Why would you think a relatively young man will wait for lesser humans like Senior Citizens?

It broke my heart. People barely able to walk will have to keep waiting but someone with a higher rank will parachute into the doctor’s cabin. I always thought Hippocratic Oath was to treat patients equally and with utmost care. But there is no reason to blame the doctors and not even the army, when the whole system in place advocates for oppression.

Second one – Mom was operated and we are at Command Hospital, Pune. It’s vast and has public access. While Mom sleeps and recovers from anaesthesia administered to her we go to an on-site canteen. There are two doors to come inside. One is made of reflective cut glass, one is made of dull blue painted wood. As I take my seat on a table I realise there are two halves of the restaurant, one is where I am sitting, other is built on a step higher. I can read the board saying “Officers and Medical Students”. There is a waiter, but he wouldn’t come to your table, he does but only if you sitting on the other side. The ‘Higher’ side. The walls on the other side are well painted, my side is good just that the paint is tarnished. So is my soul. I suddenly realise how was it to be in British India or how was it in apartheid era South Africa, where you could have the money and means to travel first class but you were not worthy of it.

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The Higher Side

Am I dirty or filthy? Or is there a disturbance that my presence will set in your tranquil solitude? Isn’t that a place of public access where you are making compartments without a reasonable reason? Am I too little to sit near you? You have put a curtain between us, am I so perverse that you can’t look at me or I can’t look at you?

The same place, same menu, same price. And I face discrimination thanks to my dad’s rank. Or even if I was civilian, thanks to me being just a little human who can’t eat in the same place as an Officer’s family does.

It was tea-time. I went to a different canteen, once again in the hospital campus. For a moment I couldn’t see compartmentalization and that gave me hope that things are changing for better. And their it was, that beautiful curtain. Saving noble eyes from sight of us poor humans, with the board kindly announcing that I was not welcome. Telling me that you can pay the same price, you can be as good as you want to be, but we will never let you in.

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Curtains, because peasants are bad on the eyes

I can write incident 3 and 4 and then 5, I can talk hours on how this institutionalised discrimination belittles a man and his service for the nation by disallowing his family to have access to basic amenities. But I wouldn’t. It will again be the same rant with no conclusions. In my understanding, ranks should get you more payment and perks but one’s rank should not let his or her family being humiliated on places of public access. Ranks decide your pay, they cannot in any way create a lesser human and more human criteria in a constitutional democracy. Imagine going to a public park in a civil establishment, and not being allowed access to it if your Income Tax return wasn’t above a particular amount last year.
I am not blaming Officers or the Military. They are are just a cog in the wheel. They didn’t decide this, they didn’t do it. It was done long back by the British. It’s the system that needs to be reformed. For the sake that children and families don’t end up being humiliated for a practice that should have been long abolished. So that our senior citizens don’t have to wait longer for medicines. So we can kill this apartheid within.

And it’s not just another random rant, I am aggrieved and fed up from this years of humiliation. Writing a letter to Chiefs of military staffs and commands remains on my to-do list. Further, if it seems legally viable, a PIL to stop such practices.

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Confessions of an Addict

Kindly Note- This is just a sketch I wrote from a particular perspective. This is not my personal story. Purely fictional. Just a clarification, because many friends felt this was real and were concerned. Cheeeel. k?

“It’s not like I am  not aware. What’s that term we use for being aware of stuff… Man I am losing my mind, it’s a very basic term. Yes, so where was I? umm, yes, the aware thing. I know it. I wake up with it, I sleep with it. I know all I am doing is wasting my time, I mean, I had a good brain they said. Could have been a scientist or some shit. Yes! I remember. Haha I still have some memory left. The term is ‘consciousness’. Like, I am conscious. I am totally aware of my shortcomings. I know I am ruining my life by just sitting over here, pushing keys on this damn keyboard, talking random things to random people I am never gonna see. And when I am not doing that, I am busy playing World of Warcraft. I know it all.

You know, I had friends. Like, real ones. We used to play outside when we were younger. They really cared. Sometimes they call, to see if I am alive. Or maybe they share my hope. Hope of getting outside this cycle I am in. You ever saw a Hamster wheel? That damn Hamster keeps running, the wheel moves but it’s just there. Is that hamster being playful or just too hopeful? I am a Hamster.

Sometimes I try to beat these demons in me. I go out, sit in parks, try to socialize. But you know, who wants to talk to a fatload of a person who can barely mumble out words from his mouth. Carrying on normal day to day tasks have become my towering achievements. Bathing once a day, waking up early, remembering birthdays of people close to me. These have become my achievements if some days I manage to pull them off. I woke up early today, felt so good. I mean, not physically, my eyes still burn. But mentally, it’s like I had control of my life for that particular moment I forced myself to wake up.

I think of rehab at times. Telling your friends that they need help is easy. Telling it to yourself is tough. You are the problem. You are suggesting a solution. No one accepts being the problem. Do they? It just doesn’t work out. Some day I wish I will be that kid I once was. Reading books, making sand castles with friends, cycling to new adventures. One day I will get over this phase, I will look back and smile and congratulate myself for all the hope I had. I will call my friends who cared and thank them for being there even when I wasn’t. I am already crying now. I am just choked. These dreams. All they need is little changes in me and yet they are so far. These little changes are too far, I have tried. I have tried to change and then like a rubber band my life snaps. And then I am back to the same life, same cycle. Fuck it I am going back online.”