Observations

The Changing Landscape – II

The sun had begun to be visible from above the lush green fields. The winter crops in the few flat patches amidst the rugged countryside bathed in the sun, and the resulting golden-green hue set off in sharp, bright contrast against the deep blue of the sky.  It was a perfect morning for a bike trip.

A canine popped its furry head out of the growth. It was a full, solid, muscular head with strong features and authoritative eyes. My eyes met those eyes for a fraction of a second as my Klashni* approached, and then left them behind at the side of that country road. I asked Parshuram, the guy sitting pillion behind me who I had befriended and given a lift in Etawah –

“Bhaiya, ye kya tha? Bhedia?” (What was that? Wolf?)

“Haan.” Came the nonchalant reply of the villager.

I had traveled some 15 km off the main road at the MP-UP border (at the horn of MP) into the hinterland of Etawah district of Uttar Pradesh. We reached Parshuram’s house in the village, and his Bhabhi made a fuss about me riding bike in such icy weather and so much away from home. But then she went away to arrange tea for me. Parshuram, meanwhile, was busy letting me in on the village.

“Vo dekhiye bhaiya, ve saamne wala kuan hamara hai, thakuron ka… vahaan tak hamari zameenein hain… aur us taraf brahmanon ka kuan hai, aur vo taraf neech jati walon ka.” (See brother, that well is ours, the Thakurs’. That well belongs to the Brahmins, and that to the lower castes.)

I was curious. “Sabhi jaation ke kuen alag alag hain? Aisa ab bhi hota hai?” (Different wells for each caste? This still happens?)

“Bilkul hota hai.” (like hell it does.)

“To, agar unke kuen mein paani khatam ho gaya, to aap log unhe apne kuen se paani nahi denge?” (so, if their well dries up, would you guys give them water from your well?)

“Vo pyaase mar jayenge, par is kuen ka pani unhe nahi milega.” (They can very well die of thirst, but they won’t get a drop out of this well.)

I was shocked. A similar scene has been etched in my mind ever since I had read it in a Premchand’s story some fifteen years ago. A scene written almost 100 years back was being played out in front of my eyes, in this day and age.

“Acchha, aur agar aapke kuen mein pani pehle khatam ho gaya to?” (What if your well dries up first?) I was curious if the system worked the other way as well.

“To hum log to tanker mangwa lenge”, came the reply, on an air of carelessness one normally reserves for talks with only those who one considers as so stupid that they are insignificant for you.

The rules of eating in different caste homes were no less bizarre. These days, anyone could go and eat in an upper caste’s house on marriages and other occasions, I was told. Which meant that Thakurs, and selected Dalit families could eat in Brahmin’s house, and dalits could eat in Thakur homes. But Brahmins would come and eat in Thakur homes only snack-type food (poori sabzi), and not drink water.  They would never eat in a Dalit home. Thakurs, in turn, would eat only the kachcha (snack) food in Dalit homes.

Parshuram admitted that these rules were wrong, and were on decline as more and more people moved out, ate in dhabas and hostel messes where such shenanigans could not be afforded. This whole system of untouchability, he was of the opinion, was there only till the time “puraane buddhe mar nahi jaate”.

*Klashni == Name I have given to my beloved Pulsar 180. 

——-X——–X———-

“Sir, ye timer start ho gaya hai, main abhi campus ka round laga ke aata hoon!” I handed over my cellphone to the security guard sitting on the bench beside the temple complex in the campus. I was timing myseld for my quater-to-three km jog of the campus road.

I raced back to my starting point in less than 13 minutes, according to the timer. This was better than yesterday’s time and I happily started on my stretching routine in front of the Bajrang Bali temple. The guard looked at me with some curiosity.

“Aapka naam kya hai sir?” he finally asked me.

“Aniket.”

“Aniket… aage?”

I stood straight and looked at him in the eye.

“Aniket Sharma.”

“Oh, to aap bhi Pandit hain! Hum dekhte hi pehchaan gaye the!” (Oh, so you’re a Pandit! I knew right away!)

“Achchha?” (Really?)

“Ji, bilkul… Brahmin ka chehra sheeshe ki tarah damakta hai… saikdo ki bheed mein Brahman alag se nazar aa jaata hai.” (Yeah, a Brahmin face shines like a mirror… a Brahmin is so outstanding he can be identified in crowd of hundreds) he declared.

I recalled the curious incidence of the afternoon, when coming back from classes, I had seen the security guard sitting on his chair, his finger raised in typical Chaitanya Mahaprabhu fashion, while on the floor sat the hostel housekeeper, looking at him in awe, and listening in rapt attention.

So this guy was a preacher. Interesting.

“Achchha!” I stretched my shoulders. “Main bhi aapko dekhte hi samajh gaya tha ki aap bhi Brahman hogey.” (Really! I had also known right away that you were a Brahmin.)

“Dekhiye, yahaan campus mein sab galat ho raha hai”, the preacher had by now got into his flow. “Ye sab ladke ladkiyaan kaise galat galat kaam karte hain!” (See, all kinds of wrong things are happening in this campus. These boys and girls… they do such evil things!)

“Nahi, aisa to…” (No, that’s not…)

“Ye sab isliye ho raha hai, ki neech jaati wale adhikari aa gaye hain. 1 Lakh vo kama rahe hain, aur 10 hajaar hum. Isliye hamari sunte nahi. Paise ke nashe mein bhool gaye hain ki shreshtha kaun hai…” (All this is happening because lower caste people are running the administration now. They don’t listen to us. They’ve forgotten who is better.)

My heart skipped a few beats as I stood and looked at this curious creature. Till now, I had seen caste differences. Some, and  increasingly dwindling number of, upper class people thought that they were superior to the so-called lower castes. But the reason for this superiority, I had concluded, was because it was more likely for an upper caste person to be more educated, more wealthy or more ‘cultured’. That is, that the superiority complex was due to cultural differences.

But this guy was different. He actually believed that he was superior to others, on the basis of his birth, on the basis of his genes.

And recalling the way the housekeeper had sat on the floor, listening to his preachings in the way he was, the same was probably true in the reverse as well.

The lower caste person probably actually believed that he was inferior to the Brahman, on the basis of his birth.

———-X———-X————

I have tried to understand the caste phenomena for long. I must have read hundreds of articles on caste system in my lifetime. I never could understand how a system so unjust and detrimental could persist for long.

I think I have stumbled upon a good lead. Some more research on this would be in order as and when I get time. But this is my hypothesis.

For thousands of years, people have probably believed that they were superior or inferior, on the basis of which caste they were born into. It was this belief which was sustained by the unequal, rigidly hierarchical social system. And even as that system had been officially broken, and a semblance of meritocracy, and not heredity, was prevailing in India now, the belief still existed.

Although it took me 26 years of living as a Brahman in India, to come to experience and realize this. Which gives me the relief, that this belief now only exists only on a narrow, lunatic fringe.

*The Changing Landscape is my ongoing series of blog posts about life as I see it in Uttar Pradesh. Here is the link to the first post in this series https://simplyani.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/the-changing-landscape/)

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Categories: IIM, Observations, Uttar Pradesh | Leave a comment

At Ajmer

It had been Seventeen months since I had last been to Ajmer. My shoes had, in between, trodden on the islands of Andaman, across the beaches and backwaters of Kerala, through jungles and fields of interior Andhra, on people’s feet in the local trains of Mumbai and had been removed outside the temples of Rameshwaram and Srisailam. After having finally shifted to Delhi, I was going to spend my first weekend in Ajmer. Not too bad, I thought, as I drew virtual lines on the map of India as I waited for the bus to Ajmer at Iffco Chowk, Gurgaon. The primary emotion, bewildering though it was to me, was that I was going to Ajmer, going to my parents, going to be among the Aravali hills, but not that I was going ‘home’.

My thoughts turned towards the concept of ‘home’. ‘Home’ for me has been a little different from most people. I always refer to the place I am living in as ‘home’, and not as ‘flat’ or ‘room’. For example, I had a home in Hyderabad where I lived for 21 months. I now have a home in Delhi. I don’t own that home, but it is my home nevertheless. Why is Ajmer ‘home’ for me? Because I was born and brought up there? Then in that case, isn’t Hyderabad a home, As I earned my degree there, got my first job and bought my first vehicle there? Is Ajmer my home because my parents live there? Then what if they leave Ajmer sometime? And anyways how does that make Ajmer ‘my home’? Can a person have several homes? Or is the entire India my home? Or the entire world…

The bus stopped on the turning on the bypass. There were a few shops already open at 7o’clock in the morning. I adjusted my backpack and hopped over the debris of the construction material lying on the road. As I crossed the road, there ambled along a brightly decorated truck, a Rajasthani song blaring out of it whose lyrics I couldn’t make out.

As I crossed the road, a barren hilly terrain and the black topped, single lane road snaking through it beckoned me. Behind me, the sun was rising. With a quiet ‘Adi Deva Namastubhyam’, to the sun, I squinted my eyes. It was very bright. So bright that I had trouble keeping my eyes fully open. I realized that it was probably the brightest morning I had had in months. Welcome to Rajasthan, the land of exceptional sunlight.

My mom had yet to arrive with the car, so I started walking the 4km road till my home. The almost completely barren hills on both sides reflect almost all sunlight all the time. And the hills are low, really, so you can see till far. The cool morning breeze carressed my hair. This was the road, running up and down which I became the athlete I once was. Up ahead, was a small, roofless ruins of God-knows-what, where one evening many summers ago under an halfish, but beautiful moon I had opened my first beer. These surroundings have been as barren and pollution free since I have been seeing them. And the road as free of traffic.

I plugged my Ipod to my ears. Shubha Mudgal was crooning

Hai kitne baras beete, tum ghar na aaye re.

Raah dekhe kaale megha, dariya pahaaadi!

Under my feet, the road was hard. Turning to the soft, comforting loose sand at the side, I concentrated on the brightness of the hills, trying to perceive the change in their height since I last saw them. Turning a picture perfect bend, I squinted to register the furrows caused by wind erosion on my favorite hillock at the side.

Tum laut aao sajanaa, mera dil bulaaye re…

Tum laut aao sajanaa, mera dil bulaaye re…

Tum laut aao sajanaa, mera dil bulaaye re…!

Round the bend, I was able to see the Mazaar of Madar Sahab atop the hill at the base of which my home is located. As the concluding strains of music faded away, I kept looking at the Baba.

The song had ended. Another one would start now. And in between the songs, I could listen to the chirping of the teetudi. Of the chugging of the spokes of the bicycle of the Dhoti-clad Gujar riding by. A train was whistling in the distance. Wind was ruffling my hair. A polythene bag from a nearby garbage dump was fluttering in the breeze. Up ahead, a runner was plodding down the gentle slope. I removed the earphones. These were sounds I wouldn’t trade for any song in the world.

I now had the full view of the hill above my house, as also of the colony below it. Looking at the Madar Sahab, I raised my hand to my forehead.

Categories: People and Places | 8 Comments

The town that was – III

The town houses two Assembly constituencies. One of them, Ajmer South, includes Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti’s Dargah and the nearby substantial Muslim population. This constituency is a Sindhi stronghold. Whatever name this constituency may have been called by, ever since independence, it has always been represented by a Sindhi.

Sindhis were people who came to this part of the country to escape the Muslim majority of their native Sindh. Some prejudice against Muslims would be understood. In all my years, I have never seen any. In the throbbing market surrounding the Dargah are shops of Muslims, Sindhis and other communities. Welcome is accorded to the pilgrims by all. Chaadar, loban, flowers and other materials required for ‘ziarat’ are sold by shopkeepers of all communities. The pilgrims put up in hotels set up by all communities. There is stiff competition for this business, and that is that.

The nearby Pushkar houses perhaps one of the holiest of Hindu shrines, the Brahma Temple. In five out of the last six assembley elections, this temple town, where sale and consumption of onions, besides non-veg food is banned, has elected a Muslim MLA.

Come October-november, and the city goes into festive overdrive. While Ajmer city plays host to lakhs of Muslim pilgrims at the annual ‘Urs’, the ‘Pushkar Mela’ and the ‘Karthik Snan’ attract Hindu devotees and tourists in the same numbers. Any north Indian can testify that festive seasons at places of religious significance of even one community are ‘sensitive’ times. In Ajmer, two places, of paramount religious significance of two communities play host to huge festivals simultaneously. This has been happening for centuries. The word ‘sensitive’ till yet remains out of vocabulary of this season.

Of course, these religious places attract international tourists as well. And while pilgrims from the Arab countries are offering prayers to the Khwaja, boys and girls from their friendly neighbor Israel are running about, scantily clothed, up and down the streets and nearby hills and valleys of Pushkar.

Ajmer, like India itself, is not without its contradictions.

Previous posts in this series:

The Town that was – I http://wp.me/p1jJo-dL

The Town that was – II http://wp.me/p1jJo-ee

Categories: Memoirs, People and Places | 8 Comments

Hyderabad – II

The city just rambles on and on. Kukatpally with its nearby areas is the capital of the Telugus – of the Andhra region. Squarish multi storeyed malls, with lighting a tad too bright sometimes. Cinema halls showing Telugu movies every here and there. Bars by the dozen. Large space between the buildings and the roads. Hindi understood here, but chances of facing a difficulty are not nil. Extremely cultured people, whose bank accounts may be mistakenly judged by the simplicity of their clothing.

Hitec City, the IT hub. Neo – Cosmopolitanism at its best. Ordered, neat and new residential buildings. Finely finished, shining glass office buildings. This could be a city anywhere in India. Polished faces, fake accents and plastic smiles. It is what it is, not what you think it is. Every sqaure inch utilized and accounted for and made productive. Random temples/ parks/ open spaces? Well, don’t you know? We believe in leveraging all available resources to add value.

A much more prodigious younger sibling coming up near Gachibowli.

If Objectivity is the word for Hitec City, then ‘wealth’ it is for Jubilee/ Banjara Hills. ‘Hey, I see lots of public gardens, where are the houses?’, ‘Look closely dude, you’ll find them within these public gardens.’ More cars than number of people per house, professions ranging from real estate to politics to tennis to overrated hottiness. Cost of weddings resembling phone numbers. Cost of (probably) everything resembling phone numbers.

Secunderabad looks like a much, much older version of Hitech City. It gives the feel of an old time metro. The presence of temples of every hue – from Vaishno Devi of Jammu to Ayyappa Swami of Tamil Nadu confirm the joint epithet. ‘Intellect’ is the buzzword here, with the astounding density of highly educated, upper middle class, high positioned people and the amazing tone and vocabulary of the language you come across here. A former cantonment town, the army and huge open military spaces still have a formidable presence and adds to the richness of this ideal-to-raise-a-child place.

By far the largest among these is the Muslim Hyderabad. Somehow, muslim sections of majority of Indian cities look more or less the same. This area encompasses the central part of Hyderabad, and all the major Govt Buildings – ranging from Assembly to Haj House to Police to Museum buildings can be said to fall within it. Although prosperity differs from lane to lane, one common feature is randomness. People for the large part still seem to be living in a pre-modern age. This is a city within a city, or maybe a state within a state, with the language, lifestyle, demographics, cuisine, even politics having no parallels anywhere atleast in the state of Andhra Pradesh outside this mostly sardine can of a city quarter. Change seems to come slowly here.

Nestled within this Pakistan (no offences, only chance rhyme) there exists a Rajasthan. Just cross over into Begum Bazar from Mauzam Jahi Market Chaurasta. Vegetarian restaurants appear out of nowhere. Temples at every what seems like two steps. Lanes are narrow, but cleaner than their neighbouring ones. Penetrate deeper, and you’ll start seeing what are probably the only Hindi Signboards south of MP. Women cover their heads with their sari pallo, but young girls run around in their Jeans. Temples have Hindi markings and Anoop Jalota blares out from the Masjid-style loudspeakers installed outside the temple. There is a BJP office and saffron flags furl from rooftops. …’Namashkar ji, main Pawan Kumar Agrawal…’. ‘Ji main Aniket Sharma.’ ‘Yahaan ke to nahi lagte, kahaan se hain aap Sharma ji?’ ‘Ajmer, Rajasthan.’ ‘Aji main Deedwana se… yahaan kaise aana hua..?’ … ‘Ji Namaste.’

No, this would not be mistaken for Jaipur. This is some small town of Rajasthan. Ajmer? No. Kishangarh… yeah, something like that!

And from what I see, in between these extremes lie the confluences, and in places of both extreme and confluence type, live Telugus of the Telangana region. Probably the very ‘original’ inhabitants of this piece of land now called Hyderabad. Whose culture borrows from all of these extremes. The foundation, upon whose sweat has been built tall this city.

PS: Yes, I overemphasized the Rajasthani area. Can’t help doing that. I’m running a temperature, feeling homesick and haven’t been home for a long time.

PS1: This is Hyderabad – II. Hyderabad – I can be found here .

Categories: Observations, People and Places | 8 Comments

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