Archive for December, 2008

My Grandfather

My write-up on the reservations brought back a whole world of memories. Of my grandfather, the one who struggled to get his education and then was determined to get his brothers the same benefit. The grandfather I started to know as a child was one fun person to be with. When my rebellious uncle refused to shave his ever growing beard, my tatha bought me and my cousin some ice cream on the condition that we would stick it to our uncle’s beard. And that is exactly what we did! Needless to say, my uncle HAD to shave because his beard had become unbearably sticky 🙂

My tatha chased us around the house, let the dog lick us awake when we would not wake up even at 9:00am and held us in his lap while he told us stories of bravery and valor. He was like many other grandfathers, indulging his grand kids. But as I grew, I began to understand the different facets of his personality. I started to love him for the man he was, instead of just as a grandfather.

He was a true follower of Gandhinianesque principles. No, he was not dressed in khadi, nor did he weave. If you saw him, the way he was dressed smartly in crisp shirts and blazers, Gandhi would be the last thing on your mind. But every aspect of his life was filled with simplicity. He spoke with the same ease to his peers and to little kids on the streets. The paan wala and the big shot CEO were addressed the same way. Not consciously to show any sign of generosity, he just did not know there was any other way.Frequently, he was reminded by others of the top posts he had held and he would brush them off as inconsequential. He lived by simple rules, and having been born in a generation devoid of equality and freedom, he made both his utmost priority – for himself and for those around him.

And he was a dreamer – a poet. A published poet. While his poems were made into songs and blared in the radio, he would be wooing my grandmom with a poem that was inspired by her. This, after fifty years of being married. Even his poems stated the truths so simply, like this one that says

Belaku bandide maneya… hostilaa varege
kitiki baagela teredu…baramaadu valage

( Light has come to your doorstep, Open up your doors and windows and welcome it inside )

Today, more than any other day, I miss him. I miss his soothing words, his warm smile. I miss the hope he represented to our generation. That despite everything being against you, you can still have a fulfilling life without holding any misgivings. And most of all, I miss his poems and their messages. Because today we have shut ourselves up in a world that is increasingly becoming alone. And dark. Today his words sound more true to me than anything else I have ever read.

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December 23, 2008 at 11:14 pm 7 comments

My reservations on reservations

I had a discussion on MM’s blog on reservations and this is a post summarizing my views on the same.

Though I agree that bias based on caste still exists in India, I have to differ on how we should be tackling it.
As you say, your father was highly educated and still had to face issues of discrimination. So, the problem here does not solely lie with education, but with the attitude of people. And that is where the work needs to begin. As far as inter-caste marriages go, marrying out of caste is an issue even if it is to another higher caste person. That is slowly changing, at least in the cities.

Also, yes your father struggled to get his education and now he is there to guide you and help you financially. Do you think it is fair that you get reserved seats now, despite all the help you have? If reservations are solely based on caste, then how do I differentiate?

While you talk of the discrimination you faced on one end, my family has faced discrimination as higher caste people too. My mother works in a bank where a peon went on to become the manager of a branch, not because of his merit but because he is SC/ST. And he regularly siphons money and no one raises a voice against him because he is known to file SC/ST harassment cases against them.

All I am saying is, while backward classes need to be helped by providing them with equal opportunity and help, we cannot lower standards for them. They need to achieve, just like others do. Especially in centers of excellence which is the hope for India going forward.

Reservations have been around for sometime now and we still don’t see the kind of results we wanted. Tribals and villagers (both upper caste and lower caste) are still ignorant and the few people who misuse the system are getting the benefits. Obviously, this needs to change and we need to have a different solution to this issue.

I believe you are a person with a higher moral ground, and you did not take advantage of the reservations offered to you. But I don’t think we can expect that from everyone. With college admissions being so competitive, anyone would surely be tempted to make use of any advantage that is available. I was in an engineering college for 4 years, and without sounding immodest, I knew a lot of people there, and in other colleges. I did not come across one single person from the reserved quota that truly came from an impoverished background, both in terms of economy and education. And while the rest of us had to slog to get a minimum 40% pass, the special categories had to get only 35%. We attended the same lectures from the same professors, then why the differentiation in marks? Why did the son of IAS officer have to pay peanuts for fees while I, who came from a middle class background and got a merit seat , and incidentally topped the university too have to pay a full price?

That said, let me say something about where I come from. My ancestors were priests in the village. And when my grandfather wanted to study with a formal education, my great grandfather refused. My grandfather left home, had to work as a help in his teacher’s house and get educated. And he worked two jobs to support his kids and his brothers whom he wanted to educate too. Did he get any help from the government? No. The last post he held was as the Director of AIR for Kashmir. Imagine a South Indian in Kashmir! In spite of knowing Urdu to the extent of quoting Ghalib at the drop of a hat, he was ridiculed for being a Southie. For being shorter and darker. He had to put in extra effort to gain a standing and respect. Does this mean that all South Indians should be given reservations in North India?

While the upper castes may get “respect” in villages, it does not automatically convert to assumptions that they are reasonably well off, or that they are open to education. And frankly, I have seen the reservation system being more misused than used. In my class of 60 people, only 5 seats were from General Merit. I don’t see sense in that.

We cannot reserve seats in colleges while having villages that lack even primary schools. We cannot fight a crappy attitude towards certain segments by lowering standards for them.

I agree that many Indians need that helping hand. What I don’t agree about is having one blanket criteria for providing that help. Because in a country like ours, where the number of seats in higher education are already grossly inadequate, the scope for misuse is greater than the benefit it provides. All I am saying is, we have to think of more valid criteria for helping these people. I feel economic criteria is better because, honestly, money does buy respect. That is the way the world works. And people who have money have more chances of being exposed to different things, and different people whose mindset may be different from the ignorant. And if everything else fails, they can always buy the services they want.

What we also need desperately is some work towards change in attitude at the grass root levels. We go and reserve 50% seats in the city colleges while there are villages without electricity and schools. And since all of us cannot be morally responsible people (I know I would have been tempted if there was a reservation for me), we need more genuine criteria for deciding who needs help.

I know, it is a lot of work. And it is not easy. But we cannot just have an easier solution because it is easier, we need to have the right solution. Look at what reservation has become now – vote bank politics, with now every community trying to have seats reserved for them.

At least, we can start off by saying that people who have availed reservations in the past cannot have their kids avail the same benefits. And kids with college educated parents cannot avail reservations, or people with annual income above a certain threshold cannot avail reservations.

Added: Supreme Court came with a ruling that people earning above 4.5 lakhs per annum cannot avail reservations. For which there was some protest. Ofcourse all the forward community people who earn below this income have magical powers through which they can cough up the insane amount of money that is charged as fees for education.

December 15, 2008 at 10:21 pm 5 comments

Finally, the Europe vacation

I know, it is a couple of months too late…but what the heck?

Our first destination was Paris. The first 2 hours after landing happened to be not-so-romantic when we decided we will take the public transport from airport to our hotel. The transport was awesome, unfortunately our luggage was not. We have to walk 2 blocks from the station to the hotel and the handle of our suitcase just came off!! Not a very pleasant experience, but that was quickly quelled by the sight of this – yup we stayed right next to the Eiffel tower and if you strained your neck hard enough, you could actually see it from our window!

p10000542Paris went off on schedule after that, it is a charming place. The culture is so vibrant, and the city is so modern yet so seeped in history. Absolutely loved it , except for one snobbish restaurant that refused to serve us just desserts (the creme burlee..if you must ask) and wanted us to eat a three course meal or get out!

Then, we took the DDLJ wala Eurail to Zurich. I was so excited because..you know..it is DDLJ for gods sake! The land of romance for all desis. Just that, well..err..there were just too many of us. So many that, guess what is there at the highest point of Europe, Jungfrau?? An Indian restaurant! And it charges 26 Euros for its silly buffet…and we ate it! Horrible is not the word to describe the bastardized Indian food. But anyways, the rest turned out as picture perfect as we hoped it to be. Chocolate milkshakes, rolling grass fields, snow…everything.

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One thing though is, don’t drive in Switzerland. I don’t know how Raj Malhotra managed it, but they have these roundabouts (Glorified “circles” like in India). But each of them has about 6 roads coming into it. So when your GPS tells you to take the left one, you are left a little disoriented.

Destination 3: Venice. One of the most expensive places you can visit. Our hotel cost us so much and when we went there it turned out to be a shack. Not only that, the hotel manager took one look at our Indian passports and decided that we MUST be poor. So he declared that he knew we must be earning a pittance and advised us on which expensive restaurants to skip, etc. He even warned me not to pressurize my husband to buy me stuff! I wanted to say something, but kept quite thinking atleast our luggage will be safe because no one wants to rob poor Indians. Other than that, Venice was sticky and hot in the mornings, and I cursed myself for wearing a skirt instead of shorts (I don’t have to go into the dynamics of sweat here do I?). But it was enchanting by evening.

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Destination 4: Florence. Absolutely useless. The Uffizi gallery cannot hold a candle to the Louvre of Paris. And I had already seen Louvre. Stared at “David” butt and giggled. And by now, we were pretty bored of churches, and there was nothing else to do. Except. There are these people who sell fake Prada and Gucchi and such on the streets. Ofcourse it is illegal to buy such stuff in Italy. But they were so pretty and I am pretty sure my conscience won’t allow me to buy the real ones, so I made K stand and watch for police while I haggled over my fake Hermes. And bargaining is so ridiculous here…they start with 80 euros, you say 15 and finally for 25 you have yourself a bona fide Italian fake! K made me swear I will never put him on cop watch again. Ever. And oh…we visited Pisa too..nothing spectacular. Just a small cute building that leans…not dangerously or anything, just like it is tilting its head or something.

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Destianation 5: Rome. The eternal city. By now we had discovered that if you have to eat good fresh food in Italy, look out for Chinese restaurants. The Italian ones near all the tourist places are overrated, expensive and serve frozen food anyways. The Chinese places had hot veggie fried rice and chowmein with some hot sauce by the side – heaven I tell you. Oh yeah, one more thing, in Italy you have to buy water in restaurants – and it is so expensive that it can double your bill in no time! We were at the Sistine Chapel and the whole thing is painted, every inch of it. So it was kinda hard to locate this famous painting, but I did and with my new 10x optical zoom beauty, I managed this

One thing about Rome that left me a little sad was that you could literally see the inquest on all the historical buildings in the city. The Panthenon, initially a tribute to mathematics and science is now a church and all the marble appliqué sits uneasily on the walls, most definitely out of place. But these buildings still stand, and that is a consolation.

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Destination 6: Athens. Honestly, I was expecting a small town with donkeys. Was I suprised! The recent Olympics have changed the face of Athens. With one of the cleanest subways in Europe and convenient shuttles to the airport. We had to take a taxi from the city center to our hotel, and we definitely got hustled by the cab driver. Who, after getting his ridiculous fare treated our already beaten luggage pretty bad. After a day of sight seeing in the city, we went on a 1-day cruise to some of the islands – Hydros, Protos and one more I can’t remember. And then, we committed the highest sin as per Greek constitution by asking a restaurant for some falafel. We were quickly given a crash course on Mediterranean cuisine and now we know that falafel is Egyptian food, not Greek.

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After sauntering through Europe, we finally landed in Namma Bengalooru. Straight from airport to Vidyarthi Bhavan at 6:30 in the morning. The place was empty, coffee fresh, and the dosas…crispy, fluffy rounds of heaven. Did the usual rounds of shopping. And then we went off to Mysore for two days with parents and in-law. Did boating in the theppa, ate watermelon on the streets and got a really really sore throat. KRS was unusually sparse and Mysore Palace was…well Mysore Palace. Things were going really well till my dad decided that we young people should walk up the Chamundi hills and chucked me, K and my sis off the car.

No Mysore trip is complete for me without a visit to Devraj market. The market is crowded, smelly but charming. Selling everything from vegetables to flowers to brightly colored powders. I had a mini following from the vendors while I was taking photos of all the jasmine, bangles, etc. Despite wearing a kurti and having a smear of vermillion on my forehead from the temple visit, they wanted to know a) If I was Indian and b) Why the hell would I want photos of ginger and chillies? Despite such deep doubts, they still happily posed for my camera!

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December 12, 2008 at 3:44 am 6 comments


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