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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Things I Learnt Living in Ranchi

1) The rhythm of life is around hindu religious festivals. One is either approaching, or is going on or has just concluded. Right now, "holi aa rahin hain."
2) There is little scope for rationality and public spiritedness in a larger sense. At best, in a public altercation, people will intervene. There are no spaces to participate in public life as such.
3) People gossip a lot about IAS officers, particularly drivers of government departments. They will share intimate and fantastical details.
4) The codes and norms for public transport are completely invisible yet known by everyone. You can step onto the road and reach the other end of town simply by asking at every roundabout where to go next. There is not a single sign or time schedule.
5) Cops can hail down any private public transport and get a free ride till anywhere.
6) The Chief Minister is an overwhelming presence. Billboards follow you, as well as stories of unbelievable abuse of power.
7) Neighbourhood parlours exist where you can get your whiskers trimmed for Rs. 10 still.
8) Milk cooperatives exist, and indeed Sudha Milk is the only option.
9) In Prabhat Khabar, there is a report every single day on one or the other animal in Jamshedpur Zoo, and reports form Forest Rangers on the movement of elephants in the Singhbum corridor.
10) Chowmein is the most popular and delicious fast-food snack. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Bigmummy's bangle

Gold sort of slipped into my life. It started with my ear piercing, deep within the cartilage that blackened with silver. I started wearing a gold pin there, barely noticeable, rarely catching the light or anyone's eye.

Next came the nose ring. I lose my nosepins a lot. Because I wear Rs. 20 pins, I don't care for them and therefore I lose them. Because I lose them often, I get worthless pins and so on. I bought a gold nose ring, and started wearing that so that it wouldn't come off and because it was valuable, I would take more care of it.

Then you went, gently but suddenly, restless but at peace, in your bed. As my mother and her sister undressed and bathed you, dressed and propped you, they took off your bangles and handed them to my sister. There were four bangles, and we each wore out, slipped it on as though its the most natural thing to do.  The ease of that gesture was the ease with which you headed the family. Mine is a little crooked, bent, and I love it for its dent.

Now it rests easy on me, encircling my wrist as you would with your soft bony hands. Every time I notice it, I sense the shock of the gold, the unfamiliar sight of it against my skin, and the gentler shock of your absence. You've set this up so well for me. To honour your memory, would be to be what you wanted me to be - happy, successful. To honour your memory, would be to live by your values - kindness, humour, grace. To honour your memory would be to do this for myself, as much as for you.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Eucalyptus tree stands tall, still
As we wait at the railway crossing,
Motors running, noisy vibrating
The train whooshes by
Hot, angry, shrill
The tree stands tall, haughty
Its leaves motionless, proud
We don't stir for trains, no sir
It takes breeze, wind, rain, clouds
For us to deign to look down,
To move at all.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Patna Sahib

When I was in Patna last December, there had been huge hoardings everywhere welcoming Sikhs from all over the world for the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, or as it was being called, Prakash Parv. I of course, had no idea. Mainaz, my colleague and co-traveller, who up till then had been steadily debating with me on current affairs, in preparation of the UPSC exam, was suitably judgmental. This time, on a whim I decided to go see the gurudwara, which is called the Takht Sri Patna Sahib. 

To do this, is to venture into one of the densest parts, of one of the densest cities in the world. The office Tata Sumo dropped me off at Gandhi Maidan and from there I took a shared auto. For about 10 kilometres, it drove through a narrow road with shops on loop; jewellery, poultry, steel dishes, clothes, tent house, band, halwai, tailors, kids toy stores, plastic buckets, vegetable vendors, again and again and again. Google maps showed the road we were on, as an angry red line of traffic. The Ganga its apparently a few hundred metres away. There's no sign of it. 

To survive in this country, is to have a relationship with heat. During my time in London, I remember acutely missing searing heat, the kind that soaks your clothes with sweat off your back. This auto ride had plenty of that. To thrive in this country however, I'm not sure what it takes, but it would have to do with crowds, accepting the jostle, allowing for adjustment. Crowds are instantly democratic, as are crowded places, and Bihar has a lot of those. 
The main gate of the gurudwara is impressive in its height and patterned doorway. Venturing in, there are a couple of state policemen, a few turbaned army jawans and signs for toilets and drinking water. Walking inwards, through the archway, the majestic beauty of the gurudwara presents itself, with its multiple domes and jharokas, framed by spires and flags. The whiteness goes with heat. There are also two blocks of rooms, adjacent and opposite it, all clearly brand spanking new for the visitors it would have expected last year. Some women are snoozing in the corridors, a few street kids walk around doggedly, knowing all eyes are on them. There's a sign that says "From Auckland to Manchester, from Toronto to Nanded, all Sikhs welcome." Beyond it, there is still construction work going on. 

I leave my shoes and walk in to the gurudwara through a curtained doorway. After matha-taking, I venture towards the end and sit down for awhile. The first thing I notice is the temperature, it's cool. There are two giant electric fans on the ceiling, each blade perhaps 10 metre long. There are also air conditioning vents. Being mid day and mid week there aren't too many people. There are a few bossy looking women sitting around, a shrieking child, a few young girls taking selfies. There is also a lady monitor amongst us, wrapped in saffron, who exhorts people to cover their head, and not take pictures. The ceiling of the gurudwara has marble inlay work, reminiscent of the Taj Mahal. The entire front face is plated in gold, invoking the Golden Temple. There are two huge, layered chandeliers dropping from the ceiling, spawning perhaps our cultural aesthetic.  

The earnestness of my prayers always surprise me. Perhaps it is the universal act of thanksgiving, of focusing sharply for a few minutes, that automatically reveals your priorities. If I was to really introspect, I would perhaps be classify myself as an atheist. Then again, to live in this country is to know that faith is largely inconsequential to religion. 

History though, is always a pleasure. There are no signs in English, and no visible learning material. Quick internet searches reveal that this is one of the five takhts, or holy places for Sikhs, the others being in Amritsar, Nanded, Bhatinda and Kartarpur in Pakistan. A takht, literally means a seat of authority. Earlier it is from where the Sikh gurus issued their hukums (or commandments). Now it has a more metaphorical meaning, as fountainheads of the faith. This is also the birthplace of our last guru, Guru Gobind Singh in 1666, and a gurudwara was built here by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, during 1837-39. 

The Government of Bihar has set up its own website ( with details of the birth of the Guru in Patna. A name that appears repeatedly in the write ups, is that of Pir Bhikhan Shah, a muslim mystic from Haryana who predicted the birth of the guru and travelled to see him in Patna. On meeting the child, he placed two bowls of sweets in front of him, one from a Hindu shop and one from a Muslim shop. As the story goes, the baby Gobind Rai, placed his hands on both the bowls at the same time, thus confirming the Pir's prophecy that this guru would help both Hindus and Muslims. 

After a while I head out. The person at the shoe counter, is young and sort of flirty. He talks to me in Punjabi, and asks if I've eaten langar or not. I reply in Hindi. I go to the tourist information centre, mainly to check out the public service and also to see if there's a shorter return route. In typical Bihari fashion, when posed with this question, the three men at the centre energetically discuss the options. After a while they ask me my name. When I reply with Inayat, one of them asks me my full name and fathers name which I refuse to give. His name his Husain he says, he's an inspector, and that he's just trying to help. I'm not Muslim, I clarify. At least write something in the visitors book, he says, which I do and then head back into the heat. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The one in which I practice loving someone a little less,
As per their demand
And not as per my supply

Is it doomed then
Like when Ammu told Estha
that it makes her love him a little less. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Patna Airport

11th July 2016

At Jai Prakash Narayan airport in Patna, they let you get off the aircraft and walk directly to the airport. Something that even its new neighbour, Birsa Munda airport in Ranchi wouldn’t allow you to do. If there’s ever an untapped indicator for comparative sub regional development, this is it. Even so, I am yet to land in Patna from Delhi, without some sort of VIP on the flight. I am yet to walk out without a large crowd lined up with garlands, bouquets and dhols. I am yet to view the parking lot without haughty Tata Sumos, Xylos and Boleros crowding it with their bullying lal baatis on top. 
There’s been a mess up and I have to wait for my vehicle pick up. As I walk through the parking lot looking out for the registration number that was messaged to me, I hear from the general direction of thte arrival gate, the familiar sounds of “Sudarshan Ram ki” followed by a respectable chorus of “Jai.”

Patna airport shuts down quick.  By 8:30, the cars in the parking lot have reduced to about a dozen. The attendant at the Amul store outside the airport is doing his stock taking at the end of the day. I decide to go back into the airport to wait and am easily let in by the CISF guards after showing my boarding pass. I head towards the two prepaid taxi stalls but there’s no attendant in sight. I get a call and by the time I’m done, the attendants are shuttering down and locking up. I sit down in the waiting area near the baggage belts but get told to move by the CISF guard on duty as she pulls out her off duty bag as well. I move towards the waiting area outside. The sole khaaney peenaey ki dukaan, a CafĂ© Coffee Day is also shutting down and the staff is packing up and leaving. At the water cooler a small crowd of CISF guards gathers, as they fill their water bottles and chit chat before leaving. The women’s pistol bolsters hang just as effortlessly on their hips as their slim gold watches with diamond shaped faces hang from their wrists. By 9 pm, the exit door to the airport has been shut. By 9:15, the lights begin to dim. I step out at 9:20 to an empty car park save for my pick up vehicle standing sulkily, communicating its displeasure at no doubt having heard an earful for the mess up in timing. 


Ranchi is the town of Ankita Anand, poet, feminist extraordinaire, who said to me when I told her that we would be switching cities, "I envy you." It's the city of Birsa Munda Airport, and while it's residents will talk of how much the town has changed, and I will say, yes and you have such a swanky airport now, they will say, no, that's always been that way. It's the city of village haats full of fresh vegetables, near the Vidhan Sabha road. It's the city with passenger trains shoot out radially to districts, where people wait at stations, two-three-four hours away, and then again, on the train while it stops arbitrarily for two-three-four hours on its way to Ranchi. It's the town of a generic hindu ethic of a way of life, viewing your intentions with wariness, predisposed to think of your corruptions.

It's a town full of street food at chowks and when you have only one of the two oily kachoris, the lady will ask you "taste nahin aaya kya." It's the city with Capitol Hill where development professionals drink with the opposite sex, while pot bellied all male groups, most likely District Development Officials sit at the adjoining table, everyone washed in a seedy red light and misogynistic punjabi music. It's the cluster stop of NGO's, where people talk without a breath of Ranchi-Patna-Raipur-Indore, which attracts investors, business folk and of course development folk, while it's ancient adivasi people like through this epoch too, as serenely as the last.

As someone said, Ranchi ajeeb hain, thoda city, thoda town, thoda gaon. It's the city with eagle eyes auto-wallas, who drive looking at the sides of the road, for people standing, waiting, patient, for the next shared auto to come by. It will come, it always does. It's the city where, no matter how congested the street, the sky is always expansive. It's the city where the name "Rupi Baskey" jumps out at you from a registration sheet at an event, because you're probably the only person in the room who has heard of and read Hansda Somendra.

It's where people will point out Dhoni's house proudly, on the middle of a bustling main road, visible to all who pass by, like a village, with all windows blacked out, like a city.

It's the city where I've moved out of home for work, and am always a little bit on edge, interspersed with, adrenalin at the sheer thrill, the chance, to live and work in a place like this.