Anything and everything to
do with words, pictures, images, visuals, frames.
Exports of Indian arts and crafts globally
-- love the colours and textures of Indian fabrics.
High quality at competitive rates.
books and newsletters written, rewritten, edited, ghostwritten, designed and printed with strict adherance to deadlines
and quality demands. Ditto with export orders.
Director, India, of Geniusunbound. One-stop
editorial and export house.
Over three decades
of expertise in writing, editing, printing, and exports of exquisite Indian arts and crafts.
3,000 articles in more than 30 journals in 5 countries and 15 books, authored, co-authored, included in anthologies,
or researched, in print. Began my career with The Times ofIndia in Bombay (now Mumbai),
Been a part of several international television
documentaries on marginalised living.
Sutra - Adventures Of A Street Bum, my new book, packs 20 years research on HIV/AIDS, TB, street, brothel and
high end prostitution,child labour, homosexuality, Devadasis, Hijras, drug and alcohol abuse, the trafficking of
women from Nepal to India including the famed Tulasa Thapa saga, the first 'recognised' HIV/AIDS case in Goa, and corruption,
despair and desolation on the Indian street. Kannada and Italian editions to be released soon among a number of
other languages. The unedited version titled Karma Sutra - Essays from The Margin
was first published by Saga Books, Canada, in 2007.
International film projects
based on the book are also being worked through.
One of 88 global writers in Wisdom of our Mothers,
a collection of essays to commemorate Mother's Day, 2010.
of our Mothers, Indian edition, 2012.
Included in an anthology of 90 yogis and yoginis from around the world. To be published in the USA in 2012-13.
Ghost written over 40 books/pocket books.
Editing several titles on Shri Rishi Prabhakar
for the Rishi Vachan Trust, 2012-13.
Biography of Dhanvantari Award winner, the late Dr.Jussawalla,
and edited journals of different genres: from general interest to martial arts to health, hospitality, adult and social
issues including three newsletters on HIV/AIDS and one on Ayurveda.
Sports Editor of Youth Times and Yachting Correspondent of The Times of India, The Daily and Amrita
Bazar Patrika, and Editor of Parade. Also Sub-Editor and Reporter TOI,
Features Editor The Daily, and South India Bureau Chief of the Blitz group.
the first Lilian Khare Award for Rehabilitation Journalism for a series of articles on the challenges of physical
Lectured on Indian affairs in Europe.
Have a unique body of work on gypsies, street life,
HIV/AIDS, prostitution in south asia, yoga, alternate health and erotic fiction.
Freelanced for the BBC, Channel 4,
France 2, UNFPA, Ray of Hope, ARCON Centre, Tralee Teachers' Centre, Ireland,
Gulf News and several other international media organisations.
Projects on hand include a book on
AIDS & Sexuality in India, a book on chakra healing, a book on the powers of rudrakshas, a book of short,
erotic stories and more hands-on research of marginalised existence.
wall hangings, jewellery of all kinds, Thanka and Mughal paintings, antiquities, cotton garments, sarongs, embroidered skirts,
bed linen and upholstery, scarves, shawls, silk garments, leather goods, peepal leaf paintings, dolls, puppets, paper and
other bric a brac. Sourced directly from the manufacturer at wholesale rates. Arts and crafts are a passion.
through India, Asia and parts of Europe.
include walking, pets, travel, yoga, exercise, collecting precious and semi-precious stones, alternate healing and lifestyles,
massage, meditation, offbeat communities and people, sport, mentoring, cow products, silence, tea, astrology, numbers,
aura reading, rudraksha power and spirituality. Would love to connect with people of diverse interests, shadows and consciousness.
Dom Moraes, India's leading author, writer, journalist and poet: Rajendar Menen is extremely talented, the best young journalist I know. He has an ear to the
ground, diverse interests and many exceptional skills.
Out of God's Oven by Dom Moraes, Viking, Penguin Books India, 2002:
" I phoned a friend, Rajendar Menen, a
journalist who is also a student of Mumbai. He is a muscular, dark, handsome young man. He is also unusually resourceful and
has many contacts.
" Rajen liked to walk around Mumbai at
night, and talk to people who lived on the pavements. Once I went with him. After midnight the whole city seemed different,
eerily illuminated by streetlamps and moonlight, the crowds dredged away. Shrouded figures, wrapped in sheets though it was
very hot, snored or smoked in the throats of alleys, or in dark corners.
" We spoke
to some of those who were awake, their kindeled beedis sheltered from the wind in cupped hands. The snores of the sleepers
often ended in choking sounds and coughs. Sometimes a name or a pleading phrase was called out, unanswered. Many people I
met on this walk had come from the mainland for work. They were landless or had sold their land, and could not now return
to their villages. Others were local drug addicts, less communicative, though some of them knew English.
met a woman in her seventies who had been brought from her village by relatives and dumped in the street to die. 'Many old
people are dumped like this,' Rajen said. 'Their families can't feed them. Most die soon. The police pick some up, but have
no way to help them. The lady survived, as you see. She has slept on the pavement the last six months and has been
" He was
quiet and meditative on this walk, unlike his usual self. Two days later he took me
to the Kamathipura area, where the brothels were. At that time he was writing extensively on AIDS research. The streets of
Kamathipura were lined with tumbledown tenements. The windows were barred like prison cells. It was morning and a number of
slatternly women sat outside on the doorsteps, some with small children. The mothers, whose sharp, pointed fingernails did
not match their tattered sarees, picked lice from the children's hair. Some of them waved cheerfully to Rajen.
" 'They know me well,' he said. 'Sometimes we chat. Former sex workers mostly own these brothels.
They pay protection to the gangs and the police. Girls aren't difficult to buy. They're brought from the villagers, sometimes
from Nepal. In places like Bihar and Orissa, parents often used to kill girlchildren at birth. Now they have found they have
value. They can be sold to brothels.'
" We entered a brothel. The women on the doorstep moved to let us pass. A girl in her early teens came out of an
inner room and greeted Rajen with unqualified, puppy-like affection. 'Even so early in the day, they get clients,' Rajen said.
'She's ready for work.' The girl wore a dark blue saree adorned with tinsel stars. Her naturally brown features had
been dusted with white powder, and her cheeks and lips indiscriminately reddened. She looked like a small, grotesque
led me into a room curtained into cubicles. Old sarees provided the curtains, and each cubicle contained a string bed. 'This
is where they fuck,' he told me. 'All kinds of men come here, from labourers to college
students, because it's a cheap joint. One girl can service about twenty men a day. They are supposed to have a check-up
once a month, but it doesn't work out like that. So there's constant danger of HIV positive. A lot of these guys are married,
so one visit here can put a whole family at risk. The government won't admit it, but AIDS is now almost at epidemic level.'
" The room,
hot and closed, smelt of disinfectant, old sweat and stale semen, and, though this was possibly my imagination, so did the
child. She also smelt of the strongly scented oil that glistened in her hair. She rubbed her head against Rajen's hip, speaking
in giglges and whispers. 'She's in love with me,' Rajen said matter-of-fact. 'I'm
different from the other men she knows, and she can't be more than fourteen. She wants me to sleep with her and marry her.'
" As we left, the girl started to cry, and was pulled away by an older woman. Raucous film music
started to play from somewhere inside the house. 'It's time for the lunch break in offices,' Rajen said. 'Peons and clerks
will start to come here soon.' He waved a hand at the girl who, though the older women were trying to comfort her, was crying
in brief, violent bursts like a child. 'Once I gave her a doll,' he confided. 'Perhaps I shouldn't have done that.'
" When I remembered the walk though the dark city, and the visit to the brothel, I felt empathy and
warmth for Rajen."
Lapierre, Celebrated author of Freedom at Midnight, City of Joy, Is Paris Burning?,
O Jerusalem, And I will Dress you in Mourning and a number of other books:Rajendar
Menen is a journalist I admire.
Javier Moro, Internationally acclaimed Spanish journalist and co-author with Dominique
Lapierre on the well known book on the Bhopal gas tragedy - It Was Five PastMidnight in Bhopal.
Author of the bestsellers Passion India (being made into a film) and Red Saree, the new book on Sonia Gandhi
and the Nehru family: Knows Bombay like no
one else. Every vendor and every sex worker on the street is his friend. Walking around with him in Bombay is like shaking
hands with the city. He writes with great passion.Just read Karma Sutra. I can feel his perspiration running through the pages!
John Frederick, Editor of Fallen Angels and other books, and freelance
writer and consultant for the UN and many international agencies. Expert on human trafficking and sex work in South Asia:Rajendar Menen is a gifted writer. His accounts of Kamathipura are unsurpassed. His excellent writing skills are helped
by his enormous knowledge of the subject. Have read Karma Sutra several times. It is, probably, the last word on the subject!
Freelance photojournalist for National Geographic,the UN and a number of other agencies as well as author/editor of several
pictorial books.Based in Nepal, he traverses the globe: It is a pleasure
working with him. His knowledge is immense, and his energy is another thing altogether.
He never says never.
Jerry Hopkins, Renowned journalist
and author of over 30 books, several of them international bestsellers, including the official biography of rock star Jim
Morrison which was made into a film: Read your book (Karma Sutra)
while I was in Bombay and liked it. It provided a running narrative for what I saw through the window of my car. All the people I talked to (for my new book) were varying degrees of rich. The contrast
that you so defty and graphically capture in your book was a real part of my visit. You have to be congratulated
for the courage you displayed.
Michel Szulc Krzyzanowski, Pioneering
photo-journalist of eminence with several designer books to his credit, who lives and works all around the world like a permanent
pilgrim:Excellent writing, superb
vocabulary (Karma Sutra).I only wish the characters portrayed were more fleshed out!
Larry Levene, Award winning filmmaker with a special focus on India, China and Spain,
and President of ADHN, the Spanish Association of documentary producers and filmmakers: I love Rajendar Menen's approach in Karma Sutra to the daily
struggle of the homeless and the dying. Despite it all, these men and women still manage to keep their strength to love and
to forgive. Menen's approach is fascinating.
Well known author, editor, influential poet and critic: Urban studies often sanitise sites of pleasure --- gardens, parks,
even red-light districts. Menen, on the contrary, makes desire and the transactions
of desire, central to his book. That, in my opinion, is one his chief strengths.
Award winning writer, editor, author, publisher, actor, producer and director who lives and works with an offbeat edge: It
is real life. I am translating Karma Sutra into Kannada.
Photographer, chronicler of street life and eminent solicitor: A brilliant, touching,
candid and extremely interesting expose of street life which most of us are totally oblivious of. A must read to learn
and understand the realities of life.
Spiritual healer: A fascinating documentation of survival in a mixed world. The rich language captures street life vividly.
Carolinda Witt, Author
of T5T: The Five Tibetan Exercise Rites & The 10-Minute Rejuvenation Plan:A real
insight into street life. I love the way Raj writes --- I can almost hear the characters speak! His personal insights and those of his street 'friends' struck me with their
wisdom and hope.
E. Wagner, CEO/co-founder Istiqbul Dilnoza and Senior Lecturer at WestminsterInternationalUniversity in Tashkent: A powerful and wonderfully balanced book that reminds us of the inner strength and beauty that all people have inside,
as well as the ugliness and cruelty that still has not been addressed in the world.A must read for anyone with a soul.
Bolla Hajnal, Interpreter
of English, Russian, Bulgarian and Hungarian: It is like being in a cinema and watching a film on the topic. But this
film is not an easy one, it will involve all your senses, you will feel like you are in the middle of everyday life.
Timothy P.Williams, Harvard University, and Researcher, Massachusetts
General Hospital: I really enjoyed the vivid and thoughtful style with which you write. You obviously spent a significant
amount of time collecting your observations and experiences in order to create such an impressive account of the realities
facing men and women on the streets of Bombay. I saw a lot of parallels between AIDS
Sutra edited by Amartya Sen and many of the experiences and observations you describe in your book.
Sharvari Karandikar-Chheda, Professor,
Ohio State University: Menen's exemplary and animated writing makes Karma Sutra one of the most interesting
books of recent times. The book has a unique emotional appeal and reflects the reality of the streets of Mumbai. I am personally impressed by the research done by Menen and his exceptional narrative skills. I have recommended
this book, from time to time, as additional reading for students studying issues around prostitution in India.
Naresh Kaushik, Asia watcher, BBC, London: Good, orignal work. Could
have even been made into two books: one on prostitution and another on street life.
Grant, Teacher of English, Drama, Music and "other mysteries", traveller and social worker, Switzerland: Your
book moved me to tears and laughter. I will recommend it to all those I know. The book is wonderful in evoking,
even for the most thick skinned, the dire misery of the poor. On that level
it is up there with the works of Henry Mayhew -- London's Poor -- and Dickens in his less sentimental moods - Little
Dorrit -- and Sinclair Lewis in his less hysterical mode. But it is seriously flawed insofar as it is deeply fragmented and
lacks the necessary co-ordination of your substantial materials: twenty years
of first hand experience and a real gift in wielding language. Your book could have been one of the most powerful works since
those works I have mentioned above, but you published too soon. Unlike those men, you didn't marshal the materials into one
cohesive vision of outrage and compassion.
Shukla, Writer, art critic and visiting faculty at Rachna Sansad Academy of Fine Arts, Mumbai: The book is a fascinating read. Its gripping layers open up flexible entrypoints. It is
open ended for interpretation as it is deeply researched. It is insightful and involves many voices from the network
of margins apparently unyielding and dark. It is not dramatic, but reflects the hard work behind each encounter the
writer must have undertaken. If urban non-fiction can bring about social change, this
Bob Snyder, American postal service, interested
in eastern philosophy, travel, yoga, fitness, politics, investments: I just finished reading "Karma Sutra: Essays from the Margin",
by Rajender Menen. It exposes life on the underside of Mumbai, India; the prostitutes, brothels, pimps, eunuchs, drugs,
kidnappings, criminals, police, the beach crowd, all of it. The most important thing about this book is that it is "real".
It is autobiographical. Raj not only wrote this book; he lived it. He was able to get the stories and interviews other
journalists could not obtain,often at great personal risk. Raj has a lively,
clever, engaging writing style. You will be taken in by it. It lends erudition to the otherwise brutal subject matter. The stories
are as amazing as they are shocking. It is astonishing how people can survive and even adapt to such unenviable and
hopeless circumstances. I don't know if I could make it through even one week in the world Raj describes. I wrote to Raj every day while I was reading his book, giving him updates, and he constantly asked me for criticism.
But I couldn't fault the content (since I don't live there!) or the writing itself. It is just an incredible narrative of
a desperate sector of Indian society. If you are reading this site, I recommend that you get your hands on a copy of Raj's
book. If you're not sure, buy a used copy! But read it! Your time will not be wasted!
Dr.Margo Kirtikar, Writer, author
of Cosmic and UniversalLaws. counsellor, guide, traveller, spiritual teacher, artist,
trainer in personal evolution, continuous education and in self-transformation, mind and consciousness expansion, lives and
works in Vevey, Switzerland: Beautifully written, extensive description of a side of India that most are blind to, excellent creative vocabulary
and usage of the English language. The reader is transferred to be right in the middle of the scene which can sometimes
be quite unnerving and scary. The author is a master in his style of writing, absolutely
superb, he plays and tosses ordinary words around to give the reader a vivid scene that either breaks your heart or makes
you giggle. Yes, even amidst some heart wrenching scenes, I was surprised that I
caught myself smiling or even laughing. Every Indian who can read should read this book, and every non-Indian who is interested
in India should read this book. Every writer should read this too, there is much to learn from here on the art of writing.
I know that when I travel to India again, I shall see it with completely different eyes. Incredible, fantastic, ailing, dynamic
India! It is said that before one can find a solution to a problem one has to face the problem, recognize it and accept it,
then one is half way through to finding the solution! The rich and powerful, the educated and the dynamic youth of India should
read this, then perhaps they can be moved to do something about it. Bravo to
the author for this unique enlightening piece of work. An applause is well earned.
Gottuso, Entrepreneur, USA: Raj has shared the in-depth trials and tribulations of a section of the Indian
people. Please take the time to read. Excellent! I cried while reading the book and
kept it far away from my daughter who has led such a protected life.
Bejan Daruwalla, World-renowned astrologer: Menen's
book is illuminating and powerfully written. I pray to Ganesha to give this Taurean great success. The language and
research are brilliant. Quotes are well used and there is great compassion for the downtrodden. I predict international acclaim.
Lalitha Dhara, Vice-principal, Dr.Ambedkar College, Mumbai: The author has taken the lives of the marginalised people and brought
them centrestage, treated them with such love and empathy that they no longer seem marginalised.
Jeevaji, Actress in Hollywood. Her recent works include the feature film Taco Shop which is releasing in
2012. She is also known for her television work on NBC's Outsourced and on CSI:Crime Scene Investigation:
Rajendar's writing is rich, honest, heartbreaking, dark and yet beautiful. Every
page is written with a deep sense of irony. I found myself smiling at something beautiful and engulfed
with sadness all at once. Very very inspiring.
Ramesh Menon, Award winning
journalist, author, editor and trainer: A very well written and researched
book. Well done. Am sure you will do more books on street life with great success.
Business person, outsourcer of bric a brac and antiquities, bird watcher and environmentalist, trekker and conscientious
street watcher: Easily one of the best books I have ever read. I recommend
it to everyone without hesitation. Karma Sutra is an incredible look at street life. We see so much around us but never give
it a second thought in the hurly burly of life. Raj has not just given it a second thought but managed to delve deep into
Sunil Samant, Technocrat,
Tai Chi master, experimental chef, bon vivant, linguist and global traveller:I
read Karma Sutra with great interest. I live next to Juhu beach in Mumbai and come to the beach every day. I know Anthony
Bhai and a few others mentioned in the book. I also met the author. I marvel at the way in which he has been able to get the
stories from all these people who have been left behind by India's economic progress. I have seen Rajendar hanging out at
the beach at odd hours and often wondered what he was up to. Now I know! Way to go!!
Sarita Manu,Architect, activist, artist, poet, writer and traveller:Accompanying Rajendar
on his journeys through this book will have you question, if not shatter, your own ideas of love and desires; virtues and
vices; karma and destiny. In Rajendar’s own words, so much of
life is inexplicable. How do you explain a beautiful young nurse at Asha Dan (the late Mother Teresa’s hospice
in Mumbai) feeling happy, cleaning a leper’s wounds or how do you explain a sex worker who has slept with thousands
of men, cooking rice for a man she loves, he says.
Cyndie Marler, Founder and Managing Director of Akesia Wellness.
Practiced and studied yoga in the U.S.,
Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and India, and also worked in the nonprofit sector in the areas of program development and
marketing, communications, public relations and graphic design: Absolutely transfixed by your book - on so many levels. It is relevant and particularly resonant within my own experience
of and love affair with India. You have so adeptly articulated many of the complicated feelings I experience in India - no
longer do I say 'words cannot describe' when asked why I am drawn to this place - now I will simply say 'read Karma Sutra'!
I actually borrowed this book but will have to buy it to read over and over again. Thank you. You have an amazing gift.
Dr.Iqbal Malik, Noted environmentalist and animal rights' activist, founder-director of Vatavaran,
an NGO which works for greener surroundings, clean air and blue sky with the help of communities, women and students; Adviser - International Primate Protection League, Member
- World Wide Fund for Nature: I just finished reading sample chapters of Karma Sutra on Flipkart.
Your writing shook me. It was gripping and I had a knot in my throat. I
felt I was crying silently but I carried on as I could not put it down. Will buy the paper copy as I want to
possess it. I am with a heavy heart. Hope I can sleep.
Ghosh,Soft Skills, Personality Development
and Behavioral Trainer and Consultant, who has also worked with several NGOs on women's empowerment and gender issues including
juvenile rape. She is also an artist and author: Karma Sutra made me weep and smile simultaneously.Weep,not
out of sadness or pain,but out of sheer gratitude that I had been granted a rare peek into the lives of these tremendous survivors.
And I smiled because I had just learned to appreciate life in all its colors. Unputdownable! Thank you Rajendar.
Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo, Auroville, and the Supramental Man.
Breeding fish and snails, planting trees, collecting stones, pets, walking, healing,
mentoring, The Five Tibetans (a form of yogic exercise), gardening, design, sociology, biographies, psychology, philosophy,
physiology, and the creases of the mind. And, of course, writing.
a life in friendship with nature and, as Sri Aurobindo has said, in quest of the next rung in the ladder of evolution.
the irreverence and wisdom of Osho, and the soul.
Twenty-four-seven. Just ask and it
will be delivered!
(Karma Sutra-Adventures of a Street Bum has been released by Harper Collins in 2012.
The earlier version - Karma Sutra-Essays from the Margin - was brought out by Saga Books, Canada, in 2007. Apparently,
Flicky, the St.Bernard who is not keeping very well, seems pleased as punch with both the books by his side. We wish him good
Adventures Of A Street Bum
LOVING AND DELIVERANCE IN
is short, less than five feet, and petite. She is in an orange saree and blouse that wraps her like an Egyptian mummy. An
orange bindi, orange bangles and flowing black curly hair complete the image of a fluorescent dervish. Tara
always manages a lazy drawl even when she is in a hurry; she drags her feet when she walks, her chappals scrape the ground
collecting the dust with them. It is an uncommon walking style. You can't miss it; you can even hear it. Her hands are wildly
flayed and her posterior rolls in exaggeration. Her gait is expansive and requires a lot of space to accommodate it. There
are flowers in her thick black hair. She has sparkling eyes and a large mouth that often finds the time to smile. She keeps
giggling and gesticulating; it's her way. When she is in the vicinity, it gathers you in its turbulence.
Tara was married but her husband died of tuberculosis years ago. She looks after two
young children back home in her village in Andhra Pradesh from her earnings as a sex worker in Kamathipura. Her father was
a farmer and her mother, frail and blind, is still alive. Tara looks after her too. There
are siblings but they have been separated from one another by the wiles of time and circumstance. Tara
has memories of childhood but they don’t flow as easily as her laughter. She doesn’t know where the others are
and doesn’t want to talk about the details of growing up, hungry and homeless most of the time, under the scorching
southern sun. Maybe, she just doesn’t want to remember the pain.
Tara was gang raped several times, had repeated abortions and several venereal diseases
long before she turned eighteen, and finally found deliverance in a brothel she was sold to by her family with the help of
an agent. It is the destiny of many girls in her village. Middlemen habitually make the rounds. They know about the poverty
that will always refuse to cuddle the girl child and the desperation of those tilling the land made barren by the heat and
dust, repeated monsoon failures and over cropping. There are scars on her body, knife wounds and burn marks, but Tara refuses to stop smiling and offers me tea. "If you stay longer, I will cook for you," she says
happily. "That's if you feel like eating with me."
Her cubicle is tiny, neatly kept, and lit by a tube light. An old ceiling fan, a
trifle unsteady, whirs silently. There is a large cupboard in which she stocks up on cash, jewellery and some clothes: sarees,
salwar kameezes and undergarments. She has a bank account with a nationalised bank and a passbook she is proud to show. She
has eighteen thousand rupees in it. There is a chair, a small table with powder, lipstick and some make-up, a mirror, and
pails of water under the cot. A thin brown rope stretches from one end of the room to the other with some clothes hanging
on it. They are her clothes, washed, wrung and left to dry. She will iron them later, or the pressman on the ground floor
will come to the brothel in the morning, collect all the girls' clothes and send them over in the evening, ironed and sorted
out in neat bundles.
The room is small, clean, cool and intimate. It wears a good feeling probably reflecting
the aura of the occupant. There are shadows lounging around and geckos are mating on the wall. They grab one another with
little gurgles of ecstasy. Tara pours me tea in small
stainless steel tumblers and we sit on her large bed and talk. The bed sheet is brown and clean and the pillowcase an ugly
green. Her eyes shine like expensive diamonds, maybe that's why her parents called her tara
or star, and she smiles all the time. I am speechless. I want to know what makes her so happy. I want to know how she is filled
with so much love and how she can keep giving without being held back by the sorrow that could have turned into crust in her
lifts her saree and shows me her arms and legs. I can see knife and burn marks. She tells me that even her vagina has been
cut up. One nipple has also been sliced off. She says all this in a matter-of-fact voice as though reading out a child's report
card. There's no drama, no tears, no look-at-my-sorry state cry. "How's the tea?" she then asks smiling, trying to cheer me
up. Tara is in her mid thirties and wants to live in the brothel till the last ebb of life.
"I can't go anywhere now. This is my home. I go to my village whenever I want, send money every month for my children's education
and hope they will do well in life. There is nothing else in my life. I am a prostitute. It is my job. The lowest job ever.
I am like the garbage can. Born to be used. Anyway, forget all this, tell me about you, why are you here, are you married,
do you have children, how does your wife look, must be beautiful, what are your children's names, where are they studying?"
Tara charges three hundred rupees for a session, which roughly translates to six dollars.
A portion is handed to the madam. It is a few times that for the whole night. Sometimes, she is booked for the weekends too.
She keeps the tips and the gifts she gets. "I have customers I have known for years. I have loved too but now I don’t
love like that I think I have grown up. That mad, desperate love is over, thank God. My mind doesn’t connect to the
body. It's just a job. Many customers just want to talk and tell me their problems. They
pay me because I listen. No one listens to anyone in the big city. No one has time. Everyone has problems. When I hear them,
I feel my problems are nothing. I am sure even you have problems. It is the human condition. We are all supposed to have problems
and we are meant to solve them. It is karma. Then we will leave this body and take another form. And, maybe, take on
some new problems."
ask her how she knows all this. "Is there any other reason? Look at my life. Is there
any reason for all that has happened? What have I done? I haven't even had the chance to be a bad person. I was raped as a
child. So there must be something I did in a previous life and this is my punishment. When I die my punishment will be over.
My next life will be good. I have done nothing wrong this life. We have talked about this in the brothel. All the girls
agree. There is no other explanation. You tell me. You are educated. If not for karma,
why have we suffered like this? It is destiny, nothing else." I look for answers. The happy geckos are also not on
I ask her about God, religion, about her spirituality. Her room has several pictures of deities.
Yes, she prays every day. All the girls pray. They have grown up praying to some God and the madam also insists that they
pray together. "I am born a Hindu and I pray to all the Gods and Goddesses. I also celebrate all the festivals. Religion doesn’t
matter to me. I don’t know too much about all this. I haven’t studied much, but there has to be some power that
makes all of us so different. Even the girls in the brothel are so different from one another. How? Isn't that surprising?
I feel happy when I pray. So I pray. I don’t know anything else. Maybe,
there is no God. I don’t know. Maybe, He is not kind, maybe He is not just, may be He is. I don’t know all this.
How can I know all this? I just pray to what, I feel, is responsible for creating life. Prayer makes me feel strong and secure
We have more tea. It is late at night, early morning really. The rooms are full. Business is good like it always is.
The cubicle's door is shut and there is no noise intruding our space. A long triangular stretch of light seeps in from under
the door. Some girls who have not been taken for the night sleep in the hall outside on charpoys laid on the ground. "Why
don't you eat? It is not good to have so much tea. There is some rice and dal. I will heat it. Let's eat," she insists.
We eat together in clean, separate plates. She gives me a spoon so that I don’t dirty my hands. Tara
keeps talking and giggling like a schoolgirl. She is kind and loving and wants to pamper me. "This grain of rice has your
name on it. So it is your karma to eat with me today. So eat as much as you can. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
We haven't seen it."
you miss your kids? "I am a mother. Which mother won't? I am here for them. I want
to live and work till they are settled. Both are boys. So I am not worried. If they are girls anything can happen to them.
When I meet my mother I wonder what dreams she had for me? She must have had some dreams at least. Having become a mother,
I understand my mother better. Luckily, she is blind and can't hear or speak too well. If she knew what I have gone through,
her heart will pain."
has pictures of the kids framed on the wall. Two little boys, short, thin, tanned, oiled hair and powdered up, in matching
blue shirts with white stripes grinning away astride a red motorcycle. It is a studio shot taken in her village. Tara can read and write Telegu and watches a lot of television. She loves Hindi films and sees at least
one a day. Sometimes, the girls go to the cinema close by. She likes action and romance and even the scary flicks. "I even
saw Sunjay Dutt shooting," she says all excited. "He had come to Kamathipura."
her daily routine?She normally wakes up late, but it depends on customer traffic. If the traffic is heavy, the brothel gets a life only at noon. Every girl gets about five
customers a day on an average. There are love stories and special customers, and weekend and festival rush. So the numbers
vary depending on several factors. Customers can walk in anytime, some even come to the brothel for breakfast. Some stay in
the brothel for weeks on end. Customers can stay as long as they want if they pay. But the evenings and nights are
madam, a former sex worker in the same brothel, wakes up early everyday and looks into the provisions and other details. The
girls, who had an early night, help her. Everyone does something or the other; duties are assigned. Some cook, other clean up, and food is also ordered from the several hotels nearby. Customers may want to drink and
smoke too. Biryani, tandoor dishes and kebabs can be ordered. On festive occasions the girls cook the dishes they are most
fond of. They don’t entertain customers during their menstrual cycle but hang around and chat. It's holiday time then.
They also eat out with customers. Vendors come to the brothel with fruits, vegetables, flowers, clothes, utensils, jewellery,
with almost everything the girls and the brothel needs. So there is no need to shop unless they need the colours, smells
and noises of the bazaar.
brothel is spick and span. There are maids to clean up; normally they are retired sex workers. The two toilets and two bathing
areas are kept spotlessly clean and disinfected, water collected in large cauldrons, floors swabbed several times a day, condoms
are used always, and great stress is laid on post coital hygiene. The girls and their customers clean themselves thoroughly
with water, lemon and soap. Lemon slices are always used as a natural disinfectant. It is used for everything: washing, cooking
and eating. A doctor on the street below is always available. He lives above the clinic. Sometimes the girls fall sick, but
Tara has never been unwell. "I have never fallen sick, never even had fever, I don’t
know how. I am so lucky. Maybe, it's my prayers."
There is order and the brothel runs without murmur. Fights between the girls, though not uncommon, never last. There
are some 20 girls in the brothel and Tara is one of the senior ones. The others listen to
her without protest. They know why they are here. Tara helps them come to terms with the
new circumstances and when the old ones get frayed at the ends. The girls fight over new clothes and lovers, but it's not
serious. What's a little bit of ego bruising when they have been pulverised by life?
Tara jokes and laughs till the tears trickle
from her eyes. I simply can't fathom her and the others in the brothel. I need a constant yoga practice to still my mind and
find fleeting happiness. How do Tara and the others keep laughing at life when it has always mocked them?
The Buddha talked about clinging and non-clinging. If something good happens,
you have a reflexive tendency to try to hold on to it, and if something bad happens, you have a tendency to push it away.
This clinging response is inevitable if you believe yourself to be the same as or the "owner of" all the desires and fears
that arise in you. You become trapped in an endless web of tension and contraction. For most people life is just this.
"He who understands clinging
and non-clinging understands all the Dharma," said the Buddha. This is the Dharma of happiness. The alternative to the tyranny
of clinging is to fully receive the experiences that arise in your life, knowing them to be pleasant when they are pleasant
and unpleasant when they are unpleasant.Life dances and you have to dance with
it. Each moment is a fresh moment in the dance, and you have to be present for it.
Tara and the girls instinctively radiate the wisdom of the Buddha. I spent years with my yoga practice yet
was unable to scratch out the images of burn and knife wounds on Tara's body, her dazzling eyes, the wisdom of her words and
the smile that roped in all the joys of the world in its loving expanse in a badly lit cubicle of a brothel on the first floor
of a building steadily falling apart in one of the most notorious flesh districts in the world.
Life is dancing, and Tara is dancing
with it. It’s the last tango in Kamathipura. It’s her last dance of life.
INDIA AND THE CHALLENGE OF
By Rajendar Menen
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
-- Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968)
countries like India where food, clothing
and shelter remain beyond the reach of most people and where old epidemics in new clothes revisit with uncanny regularity,
the battle against AIDS can be lost even before the first slingshots are readied. As most of us who live in this part of the
world know only too well, even our fire-fighting techniques are obsolete. But, surprisingly, despite habitually blocking up
the attic with body and soul to sensitive issues that need urgent repair, the government of India has stretched itself this time. Systems have been readied and battle stations
prepared. The immediacy of the situation has magically reached home.
is a large country living in thousands of villages, towns and cities. Randomly throw pebbles from the sky and they could fall
squarely on eighth or twenty-first century India
overlapping each other without quarrel. Cultures, creeds, religions, beliefs, castes, languages and disparate socio-economic
expression live in some argument but still in reasonable harmony with one another. It is another miracle. All this diversity
has some unity. But if one were to prepare a national plan for action this diversity can get in the way. Every inch of strategy
will have to be reworked in different metaphors and keeping several shades of nuances in mind. A variety of needs and emotions
will have to be catered to.
of Indians are illiterate and live in considerable material discomfort. All intervention campaigns have to work through the
ignorance first before mailing a message of any import. Poverty and illiteracy share a peculiar intimacy. They live off each
other. Get rid of one and the other will surely die. As the economy grows and wealth is more evenly distributed, the reach
of information will get larger. But this can take time, and a killer disease needs immediate attention. There is little reaction
are several other aspects: legal aid for the HIV-infected; medical help that includes indigenous systems of medicine; the
legislation of prostitution as it is all pervasive and cannot be done away with; affordable and quality medical care for those
testing HIV-positive; compassionate insurance schemes; professional and dignified testing and counselling services; assurance
of employment; protracted and effective advertising campaigns; and the involvement not only of the government but the community
media has played a tremendous role. It has pounced on the big story with alacrity. International aid has poured in and celebrity
fund-raising jamborees have ensured that money is not a constraint. In January 1998, the government of India announced the draft of a National AIDS Prevention and Control Policy. The
prime objective was to get a stranglehold on the virus without wasting time. Women, children and other vulnerable and "high-risk"
sections like truckers had to be protected from the onslaught of the virus. The policy also focused on improved healthcare
for those affected and decided to adopt new research and approved templates to handle the virus.
All blood is now screened for HIV, professional blood donation has been disallowed
by legislation, infected pregnant women have access to medicines, sex education has been introduced in schools, alternate
sexuality is being viewed with less alarm, condoms are distributed free in the flesh districts, the female condom has been
selectively introduced, hospices are being set up, and India has emerged as one of the largest manufacturers of the highly
active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) with a surplus that eyes foreign markets. It is also believed to be close to discovering
a conventional and affordable treatment for AIDS with minimal side effects. No medico-social challenge in India has ever been addressed as seriously as AIDS has. It has rocked the front
pages and hogged precious time on television and radio, and an entire generation of professionals is working overtime to get
a fix on the problem. Indigenous vaccine initiatives have been launched, and with the advent of HIV a new era in medical jurisprudence
has taken birth.
still copes miserably with malaria, tuberculosis and several other strains of both old and new epidemics that take a heavy
toll of human life. Add natural calamities, endemic corruption and widespread communal and political turbulence to the boil
and you have a country that is bent double with trouble. AIDS only adds to the large burden on its back. It is predominantly
a sexually transmitted disease and that makes it far more difficult to ambush in a country of so many people subsisting in
such diverse cultural sub-texts. Conservative estimates place the number of those infected at close to six million. But those
in the know believe that it could be more than double that.
effort is being made to stem its spread. There's a good chance that India
won't spring another leak and allow HIV to blow up its innards like it has done in other parts of the world. It is certainly
a situation that is worth watching with a magnifying glass.
few months ago, I met up with John Frederick, the tall, bespectacled American who speaks and smiles gently in the most self-effacing fashion. He is the guru of the street. He knows more about prostitution
and trafficking of women than entire governments. We have worked together in the past and decide to check out Kamathipura.
We had heard that it was now living in fear after massive police crackdowns. John has come down from Nepal where he runs an NGO called Ray of Hope.
meet up at his digs in Colaba and take a cab to Kamathipura. We check out old places together; we have known several sex workers
in the area well and we have gifts and words of encouragement for them. We also talk to local doctors and exchange notes with
other NGOs in the field. Then we walk into a little dimly lit bar with a lot of noise. It watches the street and so is a good
observation post. We have beer, talk and watch.
John tells me about the situation in Nepal.
With more guerilla groups attacking the government, the focus on sex work and HIV/AIDS is diluted now. With the increase in
population, the numbers in prostitution everywhere, certainly in the developing world, have also grown over the years. "The
government is in a mess, the NGOs are trying hard but they are under funded,
have dismal conceptual clarity of the issues and are often donor driven," he
says. He feels that the Nepali girls in the Mumbai brothels "probably get a better deal than local girls in their everyday
slavery/trafficked situation. They appear to live okay. Our studies have shown that they stay in the trafficked/slavery/bondage
situation three to five years longer than their Indian counterparts. Probably when they get older, their situation is the
same as local girls. But, remember, the work situation differs in both countries. There are no brothel areas in Nepal. The sex industry is a floating population.
It is a loose network. Whatever the system, HIV is on the rise everywhere. Our studies have also shown that the police raids
in Mumbai have made the brothel communities very paranoid and so HIV/AIDS workers can't reach the women. We feel that AIDS
is rising due to the pseudo rescues."
Nepal has an old, informal network of female gharwalis (brothel owners), which is very different from the way girls
are recruited to brothels in India. However,
irrespective of the type of the organisation of prostitution, John believes that there is a "symbiotic relationship between
the police and sex work everywhere. In most big cities, the Mafia too exerts some control over prostitution. Regarding political
involvement, I think it depends on the politician."
Of all the intervention campaigns he has seen over the years, John rates the
Durbar in Kolkata as the most effective. Sonagachi, Kolkata's legendary red-light area, has among the lowest levels of HIV
in the subcontinent. The best way to clean up prostitution, he feels, is to "collect and organise the sex workers, give them
power to regulate and clean up their own brothel communities with support from others including the government and the police.
Strengthen sex worker collectives to reach out to others of their ilk in rural communities and smaller cities and towns. The
street and bar sex workers should also be included so that they are all protected and supported at the same time." The bottom
line is sex worker empowerment. It's a hard task considering the enormous gender inequity even in more compassionate settings.
We pay up and decide to walk around a bit. Pimps follow us with great hope.
John is a 'white' man and I look like I have just walked out of a merchant vessel docked in Mumbai harbour. We are choice
targets. The pimps surround us. Most of them are alcoholics and drug addicts and don’t believe that we are not flesh
shoppers. Earlier, before legislation banned it, they were also professional blood donors. They look like ruins and fit in
well with the decay all around. They don’t even understand our disinterest in what is on sale. They recommend different
brothels, reel out rates and the virtues of all the girls who, they insist, are pristine pure, highly educated, very sexy,
young, healthy, inexpensive and available for as long as we want. I am always amused when pimps everywhere never fail to mention
that the girls "are from good families". It almost sounds like a marriage proposal. I tell them that we are from the government
and are mapping an AIDS intervention drive. They are not interested and can't be shrugged off. It is irritating and funny
too. They keep following us, sometimes tugging at our shirtsleeves. Finally, they blackmail us. "Give us money and we will
has changed a lot from the early days. It has been badly kicked in the butt. First, HIV latched on, and now the police have
become more aggressive spurred by various concerns of human rights organisations. Quite rightly, there is a watch on children
and teenagers entering the profession. But now there are no customers either. They get mopped up in police raids and don’t
want to take a chance. As a result, prices have fallen and the women are more desperate. There is talk of leaving the area
and moving to other places. New red-light areas are mushrooming all over the city.
talk to Jaya, in her twenties, thin, tall and acne marked, nervously standing on the road, close to a police outpost, looking
for clients. She is a 'floater'. She doesn’t belong to a brothel but has visiting rights. If she picks up a customer,
she can take him to a brothel she has struck a deal with. She pays for bed space and time wrenching it off the customer's
Jaya hasn't had a customer for days. She is worried. There is no money for the family
and she doesn’t know what to do or where to go. She also has a lot of competition and there are hundreds like her on
the street not protected by the collective economics of a brothel. Her rates are rock bottom now, and she is not standing
here, in the noise of traffic and pollution, warding off disease and destitution with all her prayers, for free sex.
We continue walking through the maze of lanes and head back. There is nothing to say. Harsh walls of silence accompany
us on the journey home.
AND ANTHONY BHAI
By Rajendar Menen
He waits patiently for
me every day. He knows that I come to the beach in the late evening and he has been watching the road and the stretch of beach
touching it for hours. He doesn’t want to miss me. Prem Sagar is a short, thin and dark man with bulging bloodshot eyes
and a cyst on his forehead. His hair is scanty and his face is hollowed. He smiles with large, broken discoloured teeth. Many
decades of a hard life have literally wrenched the flesh off his body. It is raining and his shirt is wet illuminating his
bones. He came from Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai many years ago and scrapes around for a living. His family is still in the village.
He earns a little and sends whatever he saves back home for his son’s education. “I believe in hard work,”
he tells me with evocative eyes. “I have to create good karma for my next life.”
But Prem Sagar is not waiting
for me for idle chatter or to talk about the afterlife. He has other, more pressing issues to discuss. He is courting a grand obsession. He wants me to connect him with Mallika Sherawat, the actress who smooches, ad
libs and drops her clothes without patience. Like millions of other Indians, her voluptuous body fascinates him. “Please,”
he begs me. “Just one call. I want to hear her voice. I know you are in the film industry and you can do it for me.”
I tell him it’s difficult, that I am not in the film industry, and why bother to talk to her? See her films and go home
and fantasise like the millions.
“I have seen all
her films at least ten times each,” he tells me with more passion than a scholar at the Sorbonne poring over the nutrients
of ice. “I have read all the articles on her. I know where she stays and the doctor she visits. But I want to talk to
her. I know you can connect me to her.” What will you tell her? You must be decent, no vulgar talk, I insist. “Of
course not. I just want to hear her voice and tell her that she is a great actress and that I have seen her films several
times. I promise no vulgar talk. I just want to hear her voice, that’s all.”
It is difficult to avoid
him. He catches me at any corner of the beach. The moment he sees me his eyes light up and a huge smile crowns his face. “Now,
please call,” he pleads. I tell him that the time is not right and she is on an overseas shoot. He looks disappointed
and then says fine, next time. This happens every day. I can’t shrug him off.
Prem Sagar lives to talk to Mallika Sherawat. The summers in Mumbai are harsher these days and the rains ensure that the city
is flooded. It may be due to global warming. But Prem Sagar isn’t bothered too much. He will sweat for all he is worth
and swim for cover if he only gets a chance to hear the musical voice of the goddess who has snapped up every other reason
for his existence on earth.
For the migrants on the beach the obsession with Hindi cinema is aggressive. All the Hindi films are seen and discussed
several times. Yesterday’s hero Jeetendra walks on the beach in a tight black T-shirt and jeans at a furious clip late
in the evening. Whenever they see him they stare. Some follow him and try to talk to him but Jeetendra puts his head down
and ups the pace. Well into his sixties and wafer trim, he is faster than the boys who follow him. All the boys have their
ears pierced, are draped in bling, and have cut their jeans with blades near the thighs and knees like Shahrukh Khan. Hairstyles,
walking styles and drawls are all copied from some actor or the other. I can’t explain it or understand it. Neither
can I tell them that their lives should make more sense. They are dead to reason.
Everyone on the beach wants
to be an actor, director, singer or dancer. They have no education and have run away from home in the badlands. Why do they
believe that Bollywood is the last recourse of the illiterate? I can’t nail that reasoning to any logic. Is that what
they believe of their demigods?
Word has, by now, strangely,
got around that I am from the industry and can shape their dreams. They all come, one by one, and touch my feet every evening.
It is embarrassing. I tell them to go back home, that I have no connection whatsoever with Hindi cinema, that this is a wasted
dream, and time is precious. It will make more sense thrusting their youth on other things. But my words don’t reach
them. I also know that they won’t return home. There is nothing to go back to.
Mumbai dazzles. It is a heroin fix. Every day unfolds with hope and beckons hundreds of thousands of migrants to
its hollows. Once they are plugged to the energy of the city, all sanity is vacuumed. Their only hope now is in slum development
schemes, vote bank politics, a life of crime or even something as bizarre as being hit or run over by a rich man’s car.
If they survive the accident, there will be good money paid for their silence. If they don’t, the next of kin have a
He knows more about Juhu beach than any other person. His hair and thick sideburns, barring a growing bald
patch on the crown, are dyed black and his dark, clean shaved face is proud and chiseled. His smile is an I-know-it-all smirk
and he walks ramrod stiff, bent slightly back from the torso as though he is leading the Republic Day parade. His sartorial
sense is old world: bell bottoms, leather slippers and a long, loose full sleeved shirt. The beach is his home and his office. Anthony Bhai is in charge of all the little dhandas
that operate on the tiny rush of sand between the shut Tulip Star and the new Novotel hotels. Different areas of the beach
are controlled by different people. Like the stray dogs who have sharply defined territories, one doesn’t step into
the other’s domain. They are also under the jurisdiction of different police stations. So, like the monsoon which chooses
which stretch of the city to rain on, the raids on the beach are also selective.
The dhandas are not injurious to health. They include a few games, children’s
rides and coconut and bhel stalls. Anthony Bhai employs many people and he just
hangs around, smoking cigarette after cigarette, overseeing the work. The municipality raids sometimes and the police are
always on hand. But Anthony Bhai does the balancing act well. He knows how to talk and whom to pay, and still manage
a good income.
I have been watching him
for months and we haven’t exchanged a word, but one day, for some unfathomable reason, he comes over and starts talking.
Once he starts, he won’t stop even if the city is burning. He also loves repeating his story countless times. He tells
me about his life. About his family, his work, the money he makes, the payments to staff and various government agencies and his habits like sea swimming in the hot summer months. “I have written the story
of my life in a book but it got washed away in the monsoon. I could have given that to you. It will make a great story. I
believe you are a writer. You could have used it. It is a bestseller. You can even make a film on it.” Yes, he wants
to be written about and, for a change, I am not in camouflage.
He tells me about his lifestyle
in great detail. He sleeps before the clock strikes on a thin cloth spread
on the beach and wakes up at five every morning, walks to the marketplace across the road for his ablutions and a cup of tea.
It doesn’t matter which time of the year it is. Anthony Bhai’s schedule is clockwork without even wearing a watch.
“I haven’t had formal education but I have learnt a lot on my own,” he tells me. “I read the papers
and sometimes watch television.” He talks about the news channels, how they get advertising, about Animal Planet and National Geographic. There is a lot of wisdom in
his words. As I get to know him over the next few months I realise that, yes, Anthony Bhai is a master strategist at survival.
He will do well anywhere. Starvation is not in his horoscope. His DNA is wired for success even without Deepak Chopra.
“I don’t do
any faltu talk. There is no one to talk to here anyway. They are all illiterate.
Kala akshar bhains barabar. I do my job, sleep, wake up early and, sometimes, take
a nap in the hot summer months. The authorities don’t want me have my dwelling here and have asked me to vacate. But
I have explained to them that I am not building a bungalow here. I sleep here just because it is convenient for my work. I
don’t own any part of the beach and it is not my ambition either. Sleeping here is not comfortable. It is just convenience.
They have understood me now.”
We have cha and as
I feed the strays, he continues, “It is all a money game. What isn’t?
You tell me. You pay and you get things done. It starts at the top and goes right down to the bottom. Even a cup of tea costs
money. You sit here everyday. You pay to come here and go back, even if it bus fare, and you pay for your cha. So you are
paying just to watch the sea. Am I right or wrong? Even watching the sea is not free, even breathing clean air is not free.”
I tell him that he is absolutely right and he likes the answer. Now there is no containing him.
Anthony Bhai talks loudly,
with many gestures, often looking far into the distance, on every topic under the sun. He talks about the sea, the monsoon,
people on the beach, his work, which is interrupted by the monsoon and the many religious festivals, and his dreams. The soul
of his talk is his life that slides through the undergrowth of words like a boa shedding its skin. He wants to talk and spill
it all out before the words pickle inside and crush him. He has no secrets. Everyone knows his story. He picks his audience
and repeats it. He also tells me that everyone knows his story as though to confirm that he isn’t lying and it’s
the same story that is doing the rounds.
He shows me the blue stud
set in silver on the middle finger of his right hand. “This ring protects me. When it gets dark and murky it is a sign
that things are not going well for me and when it shines I get the message that the bad times have cleared up. Look at it
now. It is a bit cloudy. I will show it to you a few days later and you will see the shine. It is natural. I don’t wash
it.” He also tells me that he has bought his family a house in the village. But there is no gratitude. He expects nothing
from them. It was his karma. “I had to do my duty. Now the monkey is off my back. I am a free man and a new destiny
will happen. I also feel that my time on the beach is coming to an end. My duty is over. It is time to get married and have
He was born a Muslim but
a Hindu saint prophesied it all and he was brought up by Christians. I love Anthony Bhai’s story. He has no time for
religion; work is his only God. Barring his cigarettes and his high protein non-vegetarian
diet, he has no other interest. I ask him if he visits the women on the beach. “No way. I have nothing to do with them,
no interest at all. My work is my worship. It is their livelihood. Let them do what they have to do. We all fill our stomachs
in different ways. It is their way. God bless them.”
He shows me wads of notes
in his wallet bulging out of his back pocket. He has a bank account, pays his staff everyday and has saved enough for a decent
living. What if he is robbed? “No one dare touch my wallet. He will be caught in no time. They won’t even dream
of it.” Why do you carry so much money always? “Lots of payments have to be made to many people,” he says
with his usual smirk.
Despite his fondness for
cigarettes, Anthony Bhai has his own ideas about good health. “The salt water gets into your arteries and cleans it,”
he repeats many times. “Sea swimming is the healthiest thing to do. I swim every summer in the high tide and all the
impurities are taken away. Look at this dog you are feeding. It has a skin disease because it is the only dog that refuses
to get wet with sea water. If it swam a bit like the other dogs it would be fine.” If you know all this, why do you
smoke all the time? “Dhandamein
tension hain.”He also has a
light Kingfisher beer every night with tandoori chicken. “Pet bhara hona chahiye,”
he says. “Or what’s the point in working so hard? After all, we are working for our stomachs.”
Like the others, Anthony
Bhai also had dreams of making it in films. But when he couldn’t, he realised that survival was more important. “Look
at the films they make these days. Can they act?? The early films had real actors. Today they are nothing. The films don’t
run either. There is no money now.” He sweeps a look at all the boys, some of whom work for him. “Look at them.
They all think they are film stars. They know nothing. All they do is drink, take drugs and whore. In a few years they will
be nowhere. It is the nasha of youth. When it is over, they are as good as dead.”
While we chat, a cop in a sea blue safari suit lands up. He greets us and joins the conversation. He is Anthony Bhai’s friend.
He tells me that he will be retiring soon after more than three decades in the force. I look at him hard. The close cropped
hair and moustache are dyed black, his shoes are polished and there is, surprisingly, no paunch. He looks very trim for a
man in his late fifties. He also wears a saint’s demeanor and has large, innocent eyes. He also quotes the Gita and
the Vedas. I look harder at him. Is he a Mumbai cop??
Weeks later, terrorists from Pakistan create mayhem
by taking over the Taj Hotel and shooting at will. A handful of trained teenagers from across the border make the Mumbai police
look like awkward schoolgirls at their first prom night. Senior officers are audaciously shot dead and policemen at
the Chatrapati Shivaji train Terminus are unable to even load their rifles. They couldn’t even have shot coloured balloons
at the shooting gallery run by Anthony Bhai on the beach. The cops are the laughing stock of an embarrassed political establishment.
The whole world watches on television how inadequately trained and equipped they are. The entire nation of over a billion
people stand up and chorus that the cops are nothing more than a useless, unfit, corrupt and scandalous bunch of gravediggers.
India has been saying this for decades. Now thanks to the
terrorists some changes in the force may happen.
I am on the beach again
having my cha and feeding the dogs when the old cop lands up. He looks dapper in a smart, well fitting police uniform. He
has a pistol too which looks menacing in its holster. You guys couldn’t fight
teenagers, I chide him. But if there is a rape, some cop is involved. What are you doing with a pistol now after all the carnage
is over? “Oh no,” he exclaims. “You don’t know the truth. Do you know what is happening in the force,
do you know what a cop’s life is like? I can’t talk now. Let me retire and I will tell you the whole story. I
agree with whatever you and the others say but please listen to our side of the story too. Everyone thinks that we are a bunch
of corrupt, useless fellows. There are good reasons for all this.” Then he pauses, thinks, and adds, “Do you know
that even this uniform I bought with my own money. The uniform they gave me was terrible. So I stitched my own. I wanted some
pride while wearing it. Also, let me tell you that every cop is not the same, every finger is different.”
I ask him about the pistol. “They have given me this for a few weeks. Then they will take it away. We don’t
need firearms for regular bandobast. Also, this pistol can only shoot accurately for a few yards. It loses its accuracy after
that.” Have you guys been training regularly? “Please wait, let me retire,” he assures me. “I will
tell you the whole story. I can’t say anything now. You have no idea of the pulls and pressures on us.”
Close by two teenagers are piling on each other. They have probably hit the beach after telling their parents that they have
gone for tuitions. The cop sees them too. They are an ideal target for a bribe. Threaten to report the matter to their folks
and they will give you all their change, their jewellery and their mobile phones. I watch the moment. But, this time, the
cop isn’t interested. Moral policing has no takers after the terrorist attack.
As we talk, the dogs clamour
for more biscuits. Every month new puppies are thrown on the beach by those who don’t know what to do with their pet’s
litter. There is also a hungry bitch with several bloated teats and the ravenous appetite of a new mother. It is easy to see
that motherhood pleases her. She feasts on whatever is thrown at her and then gets down to the joy of suckling her babies.
Like a lot of human beings she has also skipped the family planning net.
One of the old timers,
brown and frail, without teeth, is a ‘widower’. He has to munch the biscuits carefully, after a lot of deliberation,
with his side molars. He looks at the biscuit, examines it from all sides and feigns disinterest until another dog eyes it
keenly. That galvanises his appetite. He has had a long and steady relationship and several puppies with a beautiful brown
bitch. One day, she just stopped eating, was reduced to skin and bones, and died. He looked hard at her lifeless body for
a few minutes and walked away. I wonder what he was thinking; his partner won’t be around anymore for love and frolic,
would he miss her? Does he know about death, would he mourn, would he worry about his own mortality, would he find another
I call him Horny Atma. He has a human soul with the dog’s instincts in place.
He is tactile and wants to be fed and cuddled and loves being spoken to in English. He will smile at your words and wag his
bushy little tail. He loves it. He goes to everyone on the beach and they all talk to him and he is happy. You can also talk
to him in any dialect. If he is not a linguist, he just loves the sound of human words. Horny
Atma comes alive in the rutting season in the cool winter months. He is not top dog anymore and has to cower in submission
when the younger studs with full teeth snarl at him. But he still retains the charm and cunning to promise a mate healthy
offspring. Even if he doesn’t get the best bitch, he manages to sell a straggler sweet little lies. Despite his slowly
depleting hormone charge, he remains the king of con.
“Good morning sar,” says a voice from behind me. I turn around and see Mashaal. I haven’t seen
him for ages. “Where have you been? I ask. He remains silent and I notice a little boy with snort flooding his nostrils
holding torn shorts from falling off his genitals. Who is this, I ask “My son sar.” Congratulations but it may
be a good idea to stop at one child, I tell him. Earn a livelihood before you bring more kids into the world. Use condoms
or go to a government hospital and they will do nasbandi and even pay you for it.
There is silence. “I have one more child sar, this time a daughter.” One more child, but you don’t have
money for breakfast?“What can I do sar? It is God’s will.”
Well, then, the God’s must be crazy.
It is all getting too heavy and I decide to visit the loo which once hosted a condom vending machine on the outside
wall. The condoms and the coins inserted got stuck and the machine rusted and was finally removed. The urinal is multipurpose
and hazardous. I have to step over sleeping dogs and human beings, other men keen on ‘sizing’ me up, and inhale
large doses of urea. It is much easier to pee in the sea!
DIVINE ANARCHY AND BEYOND...
By Rajendar Menen
wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above
all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity."
Then the Charter:
1. Auroville belongs
to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be the willing servitor
of the Divine Consciousness.
2. Auroville will
be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
3. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future.
Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
4. Auroville will
be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.
I was in my late teens when I read this. I read it over
and over again. It was quite different from acne and girlfriends and hockey matches. I was doing my post-graduation at MadrasUniversity.
The large Gothic library where I did most of my reading faced the Bay of Bengal. It lay calm,
unruffled, a lazy blue then; a long way from the turmoil it would unleash from its breast in the form of a tsunami several
decades later. Old ceiling fans tried to wipe away the humidity dripping from my face and clenched my shirtsleeves in a stranglehold.
The sun swarmed all over, seeping into every crevice of this large, ancient building built by the British, leaving it threadbare
I continued reading.
Then came the Mother’s words: Let your highest aspiration organise your life.
The call had come. I had to go.
That evening I took the four-hour bus journey to Pondicherry with a slim bag clutching my shoulders. Buses left every
half hour from the terminus next to the Madras central station.
The picturesque East Coast Road, which makes the commute
quicker and far more exciting these days, wasn't ready then. But the bus ride, packed with an assortment of seekers, had its
I booked into an ashram guesthouse without trouble and
spent the next few weeks exploring Pondicherry and Auroville,
14 kms into the heart of wilderness.
It was tough, the sun blared angrily, the long cycle rides
over burnt road were both strenuous and dangerous. Large buses and lorries hurtled past, the dust got into your eyes, and
primordial India swept past on bullock
carts and colourful sarees with pots of water on black, heavily oiled heads.
The wide, impassive road leading to Tamil Nadu from Pondicherry turned left into a dirt track and wandered along a while
before Auroville finally arrived. It was then a barren infinity, although work on Mother's vision had already begun. Vast
stretches of inhospitable red clay zealously guarded several promises for the future. I searched the horizon in dismay. All
that I could see were clumps of dry bush, a stray hut, cattle, street dogs, burning firewood, and its smoke slipping into
the distance and beyond. There was nothing more. If this was divinity, it was so commonplace.
But I thought I could see the waking of a dream. It was
unreal. I could feel it in my bones. The vibrations were powerful. They were different, at least. My young mind was still
uncluttered and I knew in my soul that this journey was the first of several that I would make in a peripatetic existence
spanning continents. I also knew then that this small town and the surrounding villages in this southern tip of India would be the lodestar of all my future wanderings. I
would always return, possibly even to stay.
There was not much to distinguish Pondicherry
from the rest of India. The Aurobindo
ashram and the ‘white’ enclave were Spartan. The town was well designed and clean. Road names were French, they
met at right angles and the tiny shops that kissed street corners were overflowing with goodies from all over India. Occasionally, beautiful women rode bicycles and school
kids trooped out in their house colours. But walk away from all that and the poverty of India hit you in the face. The rest of Pondicherry
was materially poor. The roads were jammed with pedestrian and two-wheeler traffic and disease and dismay habitually consorted
with one another. A lot hasn't changed today. Parts of Pondicherry
are still visibly decrepit with all the problems of an ancient civilisation coming to grips with the seemingly inaccessible
mix of spirituality and modernity.
Long kilometres away, Auroville had taken birth. Red dry
earth, happy scorpions and large Tamil settlements with perennial water problems stared you in the eye. Matri Mandir, the
most visible symbol of the new consciousness, to be adorned with the world's largest crystal on completion, was still emerging
from the earth. If this was the embryo of the dream that had plans for mankind, I was disappointed. My little mind saw nothing
The Mother had said that the new world would begin from
here. Several people, most of them foreigners then, got down to shorts and T-shirts and started digging. The new world would
begin from under the red earth. It would sprout like the green grass, they said.
I cycled back to town in a pool of sweat and grime, had
a bath, swamped a few beers and slept with many dreams. I shut my eyes and all the
world drops dead; I lift my eyes and all is born again, said Sylvia Plath, the poet. I was smitten. Was it the red earth,
a scorpion bite or the dream of Auroville?
I wandered the labyrinths of Pondicherry the next few weeks. I shyly sought the red earth of Auroville again and again.
Maybe, I had missed something. Possibly, in the fist of the void that I couldn’t unveil, was the secret dream.Finally, empty-handed but not disappointed, I went back to my studies in (now) Chennai.
But I returned countless times in my thoughts, in my spirit and in my soul to the haunting image of dry, red earth spreading
across the border from Pondicherry into Tamil Nadu without
care, still hiding the seed of promise along with the pebbles and shoots of grass that gathered on its back. Bullock carts
trampled all over it and cobras and scorpions raised families in the large crevices that had forever escaped the benevolence
of the monsoon. Yes, without doubt, I was too young and immature to grasp the enormity of it all. But the magic of the unknown
remained and I doodled with it.
A few details for the uninitiated:
* Auroville is a universal township in the making for
a population of up to 50,000 people from around the world.
* The concept of Auroville - an ideal township devoted
to an experiment in human unity - came to the Mother as early as the 1930s. In the mid 1960s the Sri Aurobindo Society in
Pondicherry proposed to Her that such a township should be
started. She gave her blessings. The concept was then put before the Govt. of India, who gave their backing and took it to
the General Assembly of UNESCO. In 1966 UNESCO passed a unanimous resolution commending it as a project of importance to the
future of humanity, thereby giving their full encouragement.
* The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity –
in diversity. Today Auroville is recognised as the first and only internationally endorsed ongoing experiment in human unity
and transformation of consciousness, also concerned with - and practically researching into - sustainable living and the future
cultural, environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind.
* On 28th February 1968 some 5,000 people assembled near
the banyan tree at the centre of the future township for an inauguration ceremony attended by representatives of 124 nations,
including all the States of India. The representatives brought with them some soil from their homeland, to be mixed in a white
marble- clad, lotus-shaped urn, now sited at the focal point of the Amphitheatre. At the same time the Mother gave Auroville
its 4-point Charter.
* Auroville is located in south India, mostly in the State
of Tamil Nadu (some parts are in the State of Pondicherry), a few kilometres inland from the Coromandel Coast, approx 160
kms south of Chennai (previously Madras) and 1 0 kms north of the town of Pondicherry.
from some 35 nations, from all age groups (from infancy to over eighty, averaging around 30), from all social classes, backgrounds
and cultures, representing humanity as a whole. The population of the township is constantly growing, but currently stands
at around 1,700 people, of whom approximately one-third are Indian.
* The Divison of Auroville
At the centre of the township lies the Peace Area, comprising
the Matrimandir and its gardens, the amphitheatre with the Urn of Human Unity that contains the soil of 121 nations and 23
Indian states, and a lake to help create an atmosphere of calm and serenity and to serve as a groundwater recharge area.
A 109-hectare area to the north of the Peace Area, the
Industrial Zone, a zone for "green" industries, is focused on Auroville's efforts towards a self-supporting township. It will
contain small and medium-scale industries, training centres, arts and crafts, and the city's administration.
The largest of the four city zones, comprising of 189
hectares, the Residential Zone is bordered by parks on the north, south and west. Main access to the zone will be through
the crown road with further traffic distribution via five radial roads that divide the zone into sectors of increasing densities.
This zone wants to provide a well-adjusted habitat between individual and collective living. 55% of the area will be green
and only 45% built surface, thereby creating an urban density balanced by nature.
The International Zone, a zone of 74 hectares to the west
of the Peace Area, will host national and cultural pavilions, grouped by continents. Its central focus is to create a living
demonstration of human unity in diversity through the expression of the genius and contribution of each nation to humanity
Planned on a 93-hectare area, situated to the east of
the Peace Area, the Cultural Zone will be a site for applied research in education and artistic expression. Facilities for
cultural, educational, art and sports activities will be located in this zone.
The city area with a radius of 1.25 km. will be surrounded
by a Green Belt of 1.25 km width. As a zone for organic farms, dairies, orchards, forests, and wildlife areas, this belt will
act as a barrier against urban encroachment, provide a variety of habitats for wildlife, and serve as a source for food, timber,
medicines etc. and as a place for recreation.
Presently an area of 405 hectares, the Green Belt - though
incomplete - stands as an example of successful transformation of wasteland into a vibrant eco-system. Its further planned
extension with an additional 800 hectares will make it into a remarkable demonstration site for soil and water conservation,
ground water recharge, and environmental restoration. As lungs for the entire township, it will complete the healing process
that Auroville started several decades ago.
I visited Auroville again recently. It was bustling with
people and activity. The red earth was now a green belt. Hundreds of thousands of plants, and birds and animals woke up at
daybreak in a cacophony of joy and ran home at twilight satiated by the stirrings of new discovery. Exquisite guesthouses
and residences had spawned. Small-scale industry had taken root, healing centres had sprung up and a visible prosperity had
visited the land. Two-wheelers roared through the undergrowth and what Mother called the "divine anarchy" of Auroville was
in ecstatic bloom. The Matri Mandir shone resplendent in its gold casing on the exterior and a silence that even blocked out
the hush of the breeze within it.
I had made several visits in the interim and so the flowering
of Auroville wasn't entirely unexpected. I met with scores of people over the years, and am recounting a few of my encounters
in no particular chronology or order of importance. Those I talk about don’t represent the core group of Auroville.
Neither do they fashion its agenda. But they live in the smatter of its wilderness and are privy to the joys and sorrows of
a vision that is unfolding under the patter of their unknown feet.
I am at Fertile, one of the several imaginatively
named settlements in Auroville. It is December, the winter sun is soft on the skin
and, whenever it chooses, a raging breeze hollows through the forest. It is an unusual setting. The forest is vast, thick
and wild and in a clearing, in the heart of the green, is a log cabin embroidered by thatching standing on long stilts. It
is strategically placed like a lookout tower. From inside, I can see the forest stretching into the cloudless blue sky.
The hut on stilts,
about 20 square feet, has no doors or windows. The sun wanders in from several corners, even shyly through the delicate
thatching, picks up an item to spotlight, and wanders off. Luit Hoffman, tall, thin, almost gaunt, bare bodied, barring a
tiny blue shorts, pulls up a chair for me, settles comfortably on the matting, and tells me why he is in Auroville thousands
of miles away from home in Amsterdam in the sun and the humidity and in blue shorts sweating away, chasing away the flies,
mosquitoes and termites that seem to love his faint, freckled skin. The breeze comes in unannounced, rustles a sheaf of papers,
and crawls away with much noise.
"I am a travelling person," he tells me in a strange accent
with some Tamil thrown in. "At one time I didn’t feel like travelling anymore. I just wanted to stay somewhere in the
tropics. I found India a convenient place
It wasn't as simple as that though.
as a journalist, I had the perfect bad life. Women, drugs, booze… can't do all that all one's life, can you? I was planning
to get away to Egypt. A friend mentioned
Auroville. I had a look on the map, read a bit about it, and here I am."
Luit has been in Auroville for four-and-a-half years.
He works part time for the Forest Group. From his log cabin, he is responsible for the preservation of the forest.
The forest has to be saved. That's his agenda. Auroville has to breathe and the forest
is the lung. So Luit has a very responsible job. "I have come to good terms with the village people," he says happily. "They
don’t cut trees any more. They understand what I am talking."
talking. There aren't many people in the forest and in the surrounding villages he can talk to and this is a bonus: someone
who knows English hanging on to every word of his, even taking copious notes."I
was married to a woman from Paris, then to another from Finland. I had to communicate with my wives in English. So my cupboard is filled
with English dictionaries." I tell him that his diction is clear and I can understand every word. Encouraged, he refuses
"I thought life in Europe
was crazy. Unecological and unlogical. The west is spending too much on ecologically defeating items. I wanted to do something
with my life and not just do the same things like everybody else. My life is so different
here. No meat, no beer, no sex. I live a solitary, introspective life with nature. I eat fruits and vegetables and some rice
and chappati and vegetable curry. That’s all. It's a healthy diet. I think I have automatically detoxed my western lifestyle.
It is also very cheap to live here and so I can stay on without having to look for paying jobs."
Luit lives in
sepulchral isolation. He owns nothing. The hut is bare. He is removed from all social contact and spends his time reading
and writing. "I came here with almost nothing," he says juggling his pockets. I look for holes in them! "Then I decided to
do something. I had brought eight books and a typewriter with me. Three of the books were on China, a pure coincidence. So I decided to study Chinese thought." He is researching the I Ching and is planning to write a book as soon as he gets
a publisher. "Chinese philosophy has a deep respect for nature while the western way of life is wrecking the human being."
Luit Hoffman, in his forties, has packed his life with
experiences and has, for now, chosen to live in the shade of Auroville. As far as the Mother's dream for Auroville is concerned,
Luit may be a marginal devotee. He is not privy to the Agenda or the thoughts of Sri Aurobindo that have spent themselves
into tomes. But he has an instinctive feel for the "divine anarchy" that Auroville pulses with.
Ever since Auroville was conceived, the main thrust has
been to prepare a vital, breathing ecosystem. A barren, red earth plateau once, it is now densely forested with a large sampling
of plant and animal life. The magic of the forest, by day or night, is always mesmeric.
Nergis Pesikaka lives in Certitude, lost, like
the other settlements, in the most awe inspiring sights and sounds nature can offer. Nergis is in her seventies, a Zoroastrian
from Bombay, frail and voluble, with an unusual zest for life.
Once she starts talking, she doesn’t care if you are around, or listening. Most of the people I met in Auroville either
kept talking or didn't utter a word. Such extremes!
"I didn't know about Aurobindo or anything," says Nergis.
"In a way, it was quite an accident. After my husband died in 1959, I was in Madras,
and then I just came to Pondy. It was just another tourist spot for me.
"I remember it was February 21, 1972. It was Mother's
birthday. A week later it was to be Auroville's birthday. There was a ceremony at Matrimandir and we were all given pebbles
as a symbolic gesture. I went back and returned to Pondicherry
a few times after that, then again in 1974.
"When I saw the
Mother it changed my life. You see, I am a hairdresser by profession. I take in the hairstyle, hands, feet, the entire appearance
of the person. This time there was nothing of that sort. Mother's eyes and face simply overwhelmed me. And her fingers were
"Then I saw Auroville.
It was very beautiful. I read the Charter and knew that this was the place for me. I returned to Bombay and slowly, part by part, transported my things here."
Nergis is an extraordinary person. She lives alone in
the wild, has had numerous accidents but isn't daunted by it all. She takes me to her beautiful home surrounded by flowers
and greenery and birds chirping away under the sunlight. Her home is painstakingly done up. She has a gym, trains with machines,
does yoga, and loves gardening, trekking and music.
"It is a very
hard life here," she continues. "Everything seems to go against you. There are termites, snakes, mosquitoes and great poverty
in the villages nearby. But, how strange, despite all this, when I came here I realised that this is what I have always wanted
to do. This is where I have always wanted to live.
"I first came to Utility. It was pure and lovely.
I stayed there for four years and then moved to Camp for two-and-a-half years before building this house in Certitude.
You may wonder how I live alone in the wilderness at this age, but I never feel lonely. I love my company and can do whatever
I want here. No one interferes."Nergis has had a number of jobs including the
backbreaking concreting of Matrimandir. Now she works in Information and provides literature on Auroville to those
keen on knowing more.
"I came here finally after a long, long journey," says
Prabahdevi in English that has a lot of Italian in it. We are at Quiet, a settlement
on the fringes of Auroville, bang on the beach. It is a clear night sky. A slice of the moon sidesteps an onrushing cloud
and a sliver of light crashes into the ripples below. Quiet is bathed in the shimmer of a gently woken moon and the muted strains of a flute coasting from nearby. Huts
of fishermen scatter the beach sands. Their boats, nets and fatigue drone gently in the cool night breeze.
Prabha is Italian. The quintessential seeker, she overdosed
on life, married, broke up and found Krishna.
With it began the long journey to India.
The search continued. Finally, several journeys and 'incarnations' later, she found Pondicherry
never leave,” she tells me. “There is magic here. Just look at it. Look at the moon and the sea and the miles
of beautiful land. I am blessed.” Prabha lives in a large tastefully done up hut built on two levels. From her bedroom,
the sea is visible in its various moods. Sometimes, it calls out to her and at other times pretends to be in slumber.
The sea has many faces, and Prabha has seen them all.
She has three
cats who meow relentlessly for food and walk restlessly around the refrigerator. Surya, the smallest and most pampered,
sharing its colours with the sun, is always coaxing her for more. Sometimes, large black snakes slither in and hide, once
even the thatching collapsed in the monsoon. “But all this is nothing if you look at the larger picture,” she
Prabha is beautiful
and petite. Her long golden hair falls to her waist. Every day, she gets on her Luna and rides to Pondicherry for yoga and Reiki classes, does seva
in the ashram batik department, visits the Mother’s samadhi and returns
home in the evening to a simple vegetarian meal. Friends drop in, the classes go on, the heat and the rain pound the land
and, sometimes, when she feels like it, even at midnight, she skinny dips in the beautiful blue waters kissing her home.
It is a life of
peace and contentment. A long journey has come to an end and another, much more significant one, has begun.
Prabha gives me another cup of delectable cha. I soon find out that she is also an excellent cook, a great host and a wonderful companion. She can also
talk to snakes. While I shudder in fear at the sight of them, she looks them in the eye and tells them that it is not a good
idea to share digs with her. They listen, hoods raised, and quietly slip away into the bush without argument.
Not far away from Prabha, also in Quiet, is Amba
Shankar's house. It is still being constructed. The walls are not complete and bags of red bricks and cement lie around. It
is another soulful night in Auroville.
Amba is in his
sixties, tall, tanned and powerfully built like a leading man in a Biblical epic. His clean shaved handsome face with its
deep lines seems chiseled from granite and when he smiles, which is often, dimples and two rows of shining teeth light the
visage of a rake now slowly being done in by the passage of time. But, despite the years, Amba still remains a striking
Amba has been in Auroville and Pondicherry all his life. "I am from the border of Northern Karnataka and Southern
Maharashtra, he says slowly. "My father was a big landlord with no interest in worldly matters. He was a true
seeker. When he found Mother and Sri Aurobindo, his questions were answered. He realised that they were the divine incarnate
Amba came to Pondicherry
when he was four years old. He returned to his village to complete his studies and came back to the ashram as a strapping
young man. He wasn't to know then that in the years to come his endless stamina and great physical prowess would whip controversy
and legend in the same breath. Everyone in Pondicherry knows
him. Mention the word Amba and you hear a gasp of recognition. He has straddled generations.
"The early years were fabulous," says Amba. "Mother was
the centre of everything. We were always filled with peace, harmony and energy. The mood continued till the Mother passed
away. And then Auroville plunged into its darkest period. Power struggles and petty squabbles depleted the vision. Then the
central government intervened and all was set right."Those were dreary days
when the sun had set for a while on the City of Dawn.
Amba has done
it all. "I was first involved in laying the green belt, then digging the foundation for Matrimandir. But the PlaySchool was my baby. All the children and
a few adults met every evening after five. We played, talked, ate and drank milk. We didn't teach anything specific. It was
informal schooling. We planted trees, built a gymnasium and a road and recreated Mother's spirit with discipline and love.
I have also been to several parts of the world with those who came here to discover Auroville."
The last few years
for Amba Shankar have been as calm as the early years have been fiery. He poured his energies to realise Mother's call, and
with what was left of it nurtured the land he now owns. "I am very happy with the life I have spent here. There are no regrets.
I have one fundamental quest in life: to do whatever Mother and Sri Aurobindo wanted me to do.
Amba goes to the kitchen and gets us large mugs of delicious
tea. He sits barefoot on his haunches on the incomplete parapet of his house and scans the horizon deep in thought. In a few
hours, it will be daybreak. Then the lanterns will be switched off, morning sounds will take over the silence of the night,
and the tide will surge closer to the shore
Pitanga and Dana are two of several settlements in Auroville.
The road is long, narrow and lonely. It is a moonless night and I ride
heavily on luck to get around. The wind is heavy with raindrops. I lift my
scooty to full throttle and search the landscape for a route with headlights
that sear the night sky. A large scorpion, or is it a twig, goes
crunch under the tyres.
Celestin is tall, dark and slim with thick shoulder length
curly hair. She is in a white shirt and blue shorts. Ordinary canvas shoes encase her feet. We met at a music concert and
she pillion rode with me to her home in Bliss, anothersettlement not too far away. It is at the foot of a 45-acre
settlement of forest.
Celestin lives with two cats in a tree house so fragile
that I lose several heartbeats stepping into it. She hardly eats anything, munching
most of the time on raw salads and whatever else the forest drops on her dining table. It is an offbeat and reclusive existence.
But she loves it, and has the guts to walk into the darkness without even a lantern.
"I am from Jaffna in Sri Lanka," she tells me. "I came away before the trouble
started. I have spent my entire life searching for meaning. J.Krishnamurti influenced me. He came to Sri Lanka for a lecture series. I hung on to every word. I was obsessed. After
listening to him I lost all fear. I just changed from inside."
At night the forest is filled with eerie sounds. You see
nothing, but you hear a lot even at elbow range. You look around frantically, but no human or animal form is visible. The night has its distinct language. Wild cats jump on the table and lap up the spilt tea,
then get distracted by a wandering mongoose and decide to chase it. Snakes, owls, rodents and foxes swish through the dark
undergrowth. It is a beautiful night. The air is pregnant with rain, tree leaves carry droplets, and the earth, wet, fertile
and caressed, is as coquettish as a newly wed bride.
The bush is thick.
Tiny paths cut a swathe through it. For one unused to the secrets of the night or of the bush, every step can be a frightening
experience. But for Celestin, frail and vulnerable and all trusting, the forest and the darkness and its mysterious ways are
good friends. "I always wanted to be enlightened. That’s all I ever wanted," she tells me. "Now I am free of that need.
This realisation was sudden. Maybe, now I am enlightened. I feel the liberation from inside me."
Celestin has been living in Auroville for years. She taught
in a school in Isaiambalam and then moved through a number of settlements. She
loves the forest. "We are planting more and more trees," she says. Celestin doesn’t want to return to Sri Lanka. That bit of her life is over. "There are dangers
here too," she says. "Assaults, burglary, thefts, even rape. No place in the world is ideal. You have to work at peace from
within yourself. In fact, there are more challenges here. I do yoga, meditate, and have no fear. I am happy."
Arpit Aggarwal is tall, dark and slim. When I met him,
during one of my first visits several years ago, he had passed out of the Ashram school and studied a bit more before deciding
to work in a boutique in Pondicherry. He had just entered
adulthood and had decided to live in Auroville.
"You could say I was a problem child all along," he says
quite happily. "I didn’t study too much. But the Ashram school is probably the
best in the world. It has an informal atmosphere that is conducive to learning. Nothing is forced on you.So you learnt a lot even if you have been a difficult kid like me. Everything is taught with the high principles
of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo in mind. This is simply the highest consciousness. There are loads of extra-curricular
activities and no examinations. But the education is complete. All the kids from the
school have done so well in life."That's a valuable point. I have been to the
school and interacted with the kids. The quality of instruction is exemplary. There is also great input from the outside world;
from visitors and travellers who come to seek themselves in Pondicherry.
The genius of visiting skills rubs off on them. There is sport, drama, dance, elocution, spirituality, guest lectures and
innumerable outlets for other interests. Education at the Ashram school cannot be more complete.
I ask? Why not stay in Pondicherry or anywhere else in the
world. Kids from the Ashram school have settled all over. "It is the brainchild
of the highest consciousness on earth, a place the world definitely needs," says Arpit gravely. "I feel very proud being a
part of it. Despite everything, it is still the best place to stay. I wouldn't exchange this for anything else."
Arpit works in Aurosarjan, a boutique that exhibits
and sells garments made in Auroville. The garments are also exported all over the world. He lives in Bharat Nivas student's
hostel and commutes to work on a red motorcycle. "I do have the desire to make it big in life, to make money and do something
substantial with my life. But all that is on hold now. The desire to stay in Auroville is slightly stronger than any other
need now.I don’t know when the scales will tilt. But right now, this is
my life. Every moment here is a challenge. The main difference is that those living here are working with a positive and higher
The boutique is large and airy with beautiful clothes
hanging in clusters. Business is good and Arpit has a never-ending stream of squealing females asking him to help out. He
loves every moment of it. I buy two fine white cotton full-sleeved shirts and leave.
Life in Auroville
is hard. Apart from snakes and scorpions and the intense heat and humidity, even basic provisions have to be procured from
the town. "It’s like the wild west," says Arpit."I am like John Wayne
on a mobike. Every moment is a challenge. It's so exciting."
In the evening, after shutting shop, Arpit will meet with
his class fellows for a bit of bonhomie, have dinner and gear his motorbike for the long journey home.At the start of the dirt track that turns left to Auroville from the main road leading to Chennai, he will
pause, looks around for lurking danger, and move ahead full throttle headlights blazing. There are not enough road lights,
and buses and lorries are driven by demons. There is also a steady stream of pedestrians and rickshaws to add to the disarray
on the road. Of late, to add to the woes of navigation, Aurovilians have also been attacked by drunk villagers. The outlying
villages are poor and it is difficult for them to understand the great physical and spiritual renaissance happening in Auroville,
right under their noses. But for Arpit and the others who use the road such matters are trivial when compared to the demands
of a greater call.
S.Martin, in his sixties,
is a big, fair, expansive German. He is over six- and- a- half feet tall and is several hundred pounds. He is in a pink T-shirt,
blue shorts and large brown trekking boots and white stockings. I bump into him at a café. He is trying out everything Indian.
I try to be as polite as I can for obvious reasons.
"I read Aurobindo at
18 when I was at boarding school," he tells me with a smile in his eyes that are forever dancing like fireflies. "You know…looking
for the truth and all that." Martin has a deep sonorous voice and energy restlessly
oozing from every pore. He grabs a paper masala dosa, which is almost a foot long, like a hapless fly and plonks the whole
thing into his mouth along with coconut chutni and sambhar. Before I can blink
an eyelid politely, he continues, "I went through a lot…the Christain mystics ..Jakob Poehme, the Protestant mystic
of 17th century Germany, influenced me.
I accidentally saw a German translation of Sri Aurobindo in the Kal Yuga and relaised that this was what I was looking for.
In 1964 I wrote to Mother saying I wanted to join the Ashram. I wasn't sure about myself and so I wanted Mother to command
me to come. She replied that I would have to make my own decision."
Martin gestures wildly, punctuating every sentence with a hearty laugh. "I worked as a librarian for 11 years, broke
up with my girlfriend and decided that it was Auroville now or never. And here I am." He laughs and slaps me on the back in
friendship. I could have died.
"I will drop you," he says. He has a tiny bicycle on hire and I sit behind. Somewhere along the way I hop off and
he makes his way silently through the bush. His hearty laugh travels with the breeze caressing the decision he could finally
make after so much thought.
Christain Jacquss from France
works in the Auroville printing press adjacent to the Medical Health
Centre. He lives in Dana and commutes the distance from residence
to office and back everyday on time and in clean clothes like a good
office-goer. Christain is fair, slim and bubbly. He also has a distinct
nervous temperament. "I came here for the Mother. I don’t believe
in the future city and all that. I just came here for the Mother," he says breathless.
It is a few moments before sunset and Christian has returned home
after work. I am also staying at Dana and so I don’t have to go out
of my way to chat awhile. He prepares tea and feed me organically grown
brown bread with a splash of peanut butter. It is trademark Aurovilian hospitality.
We sit in easy chairs, in his comfortable home, watching the plants
and trees, and discuss Auroville.
"I have been here ten
years," he says. "I also returned to France
for two years but left disenchanted as life was useless there. I can't live there any longer. It is over. After Auroville, most of the world becomes unlivable." Christian is in his thirties, has straddled many worlds, and
is here to stay. "Here I get energised. I live every moment. I feel Mother's dream will be realised in Auroville."
Introverted and uncommunicative
until rustled from his corner, Christian locks himself in his room every evening after work and listens to music. He doesn’t
socialise or get out too much. He works, returns home, listens to music and meditates for hours. Every morning he jumps onto
his motorcycle and hacks the same path to work like one possessed. For him there can be no other way.
A representative of
urbane India is the stocky and balding
sophisticate Sanjeev Aggarwal. "I was a lawyer in Delhi but
was dissatisfied with the legal profession. I was searching for something all along. I came to Auroville, saw it, read about
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and realised that this was exactly what I wanted to do," he says with clarity.
Sanjeev is in his early
forties. He has already spent over a decade in Auroville. "It has been a exciting period," he says in impeccable English.
"I have learnt a lot and imbibed a deep spiritual knowledge. But we still haven’t touched the fringes of the Mother's
message. There's a long way yet. Sanjeev is involved in the educational aspects of Auroville. "There are almost 20 schools
here of all sorts. It is a very different type of education from what is imparted in the outside world."
Sanjeev lives in style
in a beautiful bungalow surrounded by fragrant flowers. It is a good life. He attends to the legal aspects of Auroville, travels
when required and is committed to meeting the great challenges that lie ahead. "We have undertaken to create a place that
is the best in the world. There is no question of leaving and going anywhere else now."
We share a few beers
and then Sanjeev has visitors who don’t want to be quoted or mentioned in passing. I break free, kick my motorbike alive
and hit the track that snakes through Auroville. I can see that my journey is also going to be long one.
La Boutique D’Auroville. inthe busiest thoroughfare of Pondicherry,
is the window to Auroville. Tastefully decorated, it exhibits and sells
at reasonable rates everything that is manufactured in Auroville. It
is a shopper’s paradise and the general sentiment is one of dismay when the entire shop can’t be purchased. So enticing are the offerings on display!
Managing the boutique is C.Bhoominathan, a Tamilian who
lives in Aspiration in Auroville. Dark, with large eyes and a slim moustache, Bhoomi
sports bright, colourful shirts over dark trousers. "I am from Kuilapalayam village,"
he tells me. "My mother used to work in Auroville. One day she asked me if I would like to study in the Auroville school.
I said yes and joined up. I must have been five or six years old then." Other village children joined Bhoomi and they lived
together in a sort of campus hostel. Two Americans, a husband and wife team, supervised their work and play.
"We stayed in a big house called Udayam. It was great fun," recalls Bhoomi."But in 1975 there were
problems between Auroville and the Sri Aurobindo Society (SAS) and the school shut down. In 1984 the LastSchool was started and a different type of education began --- more informal, more
fun. We had no degrees or diplomas. We studied only to acquire knowledge."
Bhoomi slowly integrated into mainstream Auroville. He
travelled overseas for conferences and was touched with the winds of different lands. His education was, in a way, now complete.
From an ordinary Tamil settlement, he had become a true representative of the cosmopolitan entity of the universal dream.
Francois Gautier, the well know writer, lives in Auromodel on an enchanting slice of property. Tall, slim and pleasant, he is a journalist, jogger and environmentalist.
Auroville is his base. He travels extensively and is a correspondent for several journals.
"I have been here for decades," he tells me. "I just love
it. Besides, Auroville is an experiment which should be applauded when the whole world is going to the dogs." Francois is
a widely read professional writer. "But what do I write about Auroville?" he asks pleading, very French, his hands in the
air. "Words will never be able to capture the spirit of Auroville. We are growing, evolving, experimenting all the time. The
moment anyone tries to define it, it may change course and move into another direction."
Auroville is packed to the brim with stories. Every line can be canned for posterity, every whiff turned into a blockbuster. Every person here has an interesting
tale to tell. Even the dogs, cats, birds and fish wear attitude. Auroville is well into its third decade of life on
earth. It is thirty-seven. Yet, it is beyond definition and simply impossible to pin down. The moment you even attempt to
cajole it into some shape, it slips out of your grasp. It is a working human experiment, constantly evolving and, miraculously,
still moving in the direction it was meant to. There have been dark moments when all that was ever attempted precariously
perched on the brink of disaster. There were moments of darkness in the City of Dawn.
But at every crisis, Auroville rallied to triumph.
Like with every other alternate lifestyle commune, Auroville
too attracts the most brilliant and offbeat minds. Thrown against a backdrop of such wild, incalculable beauty and a purpose
that is constantly crystallising, it is anarchy at is best. A divine anarchy, Aurovilians concede, that may some day show
the world where it floundered.
(Book on Pondicherry and Auroville in progress)
Damodar Pandita Dasa
BHAKTIVEDANTA HOSPITAL'S SPIRITUAL COUNSELLOR
By Rajendar Menen
is tall, fair and slim. His head is shaved and he is in spotless white cotton kurta and dhoti. His long feet are shod in rubber
chappals. We haven’t met in a decade but Damodar Pandita Dasa, the chief counsellor for patients at the BhaktivedantaHospital at Mira Road in Mumbai, hasn’t changed much. He is still in the garb of an ascetic.
If anything, his smile lingers longer and his gaze is charged with more benevolence. We decide to meet in the Krishna
temple in Juhu. Twilight is waltzing through, the lights have come up, kirtan is
in progress, and Damodar Pandita Dasa is waiting for me, his arms outstretched, his bright eyes shining like beacons.
Pandit has had a life of several twists and turns. Born to an upper class Roman Catholic family, he graduated in English Literature,
studied law, and then went to Vienna in 1974 for higher training
in Orchestral Conducting and Composition. In Vienna, he started
questioning the purpose of life, became interested in spiritual matters and returned to Mumbai in 1981 to pursue his spiritual
inclinations. He joined the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
in Juhu, headed its Public and Cultural Affairs department and travelled frequently to the Far East
for fund raising, drug counselling and flood relief. He also met with and fell in love with a devotee. They got married but
she left her body a few years later, struck by brain cancer. In 1998, he joined the BhaktivedantaHospital and has been actively involved in patient care and child counselling
and is a much sought after speaker at Rotary programmes. He is also the advisor to schools on the Cell System of counselling
and is the chief coordinator of Bal Samskara Kala Kshetra, a youth group that organises cultural activities for students.
the pleasantries, I ask him about his work, how does he feel to be surrounded by the terminally ill every moment of his life,
doesn’t he burn out, what’s his take on life, death, and the final moments?
body is the droppings of the soul,” he says gently, the soft smile not leaving him even for a moment, quoting John Dryden,
the renowned 17th century bard. “But the Bhagavadgita
elaborates on that highly esoteric subject matter in such a succinct but elaborate manner (specifically verses 13-30 of the Second Chapter) that one has no more queries about
the dubious distinction between the perishable and mutable gross material body (comprised of ‘pancha maha-bhuta’
viz. earth, water, fire, air and ether) and the immutable, eternal and indestructible spirit soul or ‘atma’.
Due to ignorance and delusion, the eternal soul identifies itself with the outer coverings including the subtle body comprising
mind, intelligence and the sense of one’s misperceived identity or false ego.
“There are four irrevocable phenomena that confront and plague all embodied beings.
They are birth, old age, disease and death,” he continues. “Of
these, the word ‘death’ generally strikes terror in the heart and evokes a spontaneous response of revulsion –
‘Why me? Not me!’ Within the subtle body, there are 72,000 ‘nadis’ or passages through which
the universal energy (‘prana’) flows. As the gross physical body becomes more and more disabled, due to
advanced age and terminal disease, this inner subtle body becomes more and more hyperactive, thus compensating for the disability
of its gross counterpart. When the process of death commences, the spirit soul (whose dimension is calculated to be the ten
thousandth part of a hair tip) ceases to illuminate and activate all gross bodily processes.
“In the event of such an internal blackout, the Supersoul or ‘Paramatma’
takes charge and illuminates one of the major 118 ‘nadis’
through which the individual soul may leave the body (along with the subtle body) for judgement by higher authorities under
the surveillance of the Supersoul. If the living being has realised and perfected his/her relationship with the Almighty Lord,
then the soul (‘atma’) departs for the abode of the Lord, deserting both the gross and subtle material
a deep breath and try to absorb all this. It is a lot for my little mind to receive on a beautiful summer evening with the
wind still deliriously kissing the tree tops watched by the faint red-orange glow of the setting sun.
Pandit continues, “As long as the distinction between body and soul is not clear, terminally ill patients are bound
to be dragged through the gamut of emotional phases like Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Despair and ultimately Acceptance or Resignation.
The human psyche is such an unpredictably complex entity that these various stages could manifest in varying degrees of intensity,
depending upon culture, spiritual upbringing, life experiences, and familial relationships and support (both emotional and
spiritual). The scriptures explain that Death, for an ignorant being, is more painful
than being stung by 42,000 scorpions at one time.
“I am honoured and privileged to be of some help to people in the darkest moments
of their lives. I am never burnt out. On the contrary, I am energised.”
he explain all this to grieving next of kin?
“It is important to be the bridge,” he tells me. “I help by being with their loved
ones and assist him/her traverse the various phases -- from the dread of the dark, unknown and unfathomable to the illuminating
vision of the definite mercy of an all-caring and all-protective Father. It is my role to provide the stimulus to gain courage
and inspire the patient to enter the sublime process of relinquishing his/her incapacitated body in divine consciousness.
The relatives are encouraged to take part in scriptural readings and prayer, either by the bedside or in the lobby. This helps
the terminally ill to progress steadily from the morbid to the sublime.”
spiritual counsellor of the Bhaktivedanta hospital, Damodar Pandit is always at the deathbed of someone or the other. His
door is always open and strict instructions are left with the operator to allow every call to reach him any time of the day
or night. It is his responsibility to help patients comes to terms with their situation, to facilitate the need for forgiveness
by clearing emotional and physical baggage, to deepen already existent familial and fraternal ties with a deep sense of gratitude,
and to renew and reaffirm sagging faith in “His divine will.”
have been thousands of memorable cases; so many have died smiling in his arms. He recounts the case of Rubina, a young Muslim housewife who had tried to immolate herself due to family problems. She survived and was brought
to the hospital with ninety-two per cent burns. With the permission of her spouse and family members, Rubina heard the entire
Bhagavadgita (700 ‘shlokas’) twice. “So dependent
were her relatives on the spiritual care at Bhaktivedanta Hospital and the extraordinary efforts of Spiritual Care Nurse,
Vishrita Patil, that they insisted that Vishrita remain in the room, alone, with Rubina, read the Gita and put ‘Ganga
jal’ and ‘Tulasi’ in her mouth as Rubina was slowly leaving her body,” says Damodar Pandit.
“Christians and Muslims, people of every faith, allow their dying relatives to hear readings exclusively from the Gita and listen to the rendering of Hare Krishna
Hare KrishnaKrishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama HareHare either alone or accompanied by readings and chants from their sacred texts.”
part is counselling and consoling the relatives. “Death is the most powerful manifestation of God (‘mrityu
sarva harash caham’),” adds Damodar Pandit. It is inevitable and yet relatives adamantly hang on to the misconception
that their loved ones will not die. They pray for life. When that doesn’t happen, the family members lose faith in God.
Instead of putting the onus on God to do the irrational, they could, instead, utilise this phase of intense emotional activity
to reinforce their faith in His goodwill. Death is only a physical separation; it is the sublime gateway to an eternal reunion
with the Creator.”
are also other, more earthly, needs to look into. Family members can squabble over financial and property matters, and the
terminally ill have their own fears. They want to know how much time there is, they worry about being a financial burden on
their loved ones, and what would happen to them when they are not around anymore. There are feelings of guilt, hopelessness
Damodar Pandita Dasa is always there with a smile playing on his serene face and kind, shining eyes as he guides them from
this life to the next on the toes of the last sonata.
lot of noise is being made of the three medals India
won at the recently concluded Beijing Olympics. At one level, it is our best performance ever. No one would have imagined
a ‘shooting’ gold, and bronzes in boxing and wrestling. Abhinav Bindra sidestepped the system, made his own plans,
threw in his own money, and slogged at it for over a decade to enter the zone and grab the gold. If he had worked within the
system, he would have been done in. The other medalists too, Sushil Kumar in wrestling and Vijayendra in boxing, from poor,
rustic backgrounds, were buoyed by fierce determination and a singlemindedness of purpose. Their self-belief, thankfully,
overlooked a haggard sports agenda which has perfected the art of mass producing losers. Like with Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Indian
cricket’s wonder boy, their backgrounds helped. They weren’t unnerved by the big league. They had within them
the arrogance of confidence which those who live and work with the soil have in plenty. The medalists are billionaires now,
have won accolades normally not even dreamt about in the badlands, and the whole nation has seen it. It won’t come as
a surprise if these medals kick start a boxing and wrestling boom in the country. With Colonel Rathore’s silver in Athens and Narang’s world championship success, greater shooting
glory in the future can also be expected.
While we go gaga over these accomplishments, and quite rightly too, we should
also remind ourselves that three medals out of a population of over one thousand and two hundred million people is nothing
short of abysmal. It is pathetic. If there is a stronger word, I would use it. China
is only slightly more populous but strides ahead in the medals tally. We have more people than almost all the other competing
nations put together, barring China, and
very little metal to show for it.
of millions in India live in terrifying
poverty. When the state is unable to provide them the basics, it is almost impossible to expect sporting stardom for which
very big money has to be made available. The equation is simple: sporting prowess is directly proportional to the money spent
on it. Training facilities, stadia, coaches, sports medicine, travel and exposure, right diets, latest equipment, and a host
of other factors cost money.
The talent is widespread and the hunger to excel is huge. Which Indian doesn’t want
to be a world beater?He has seen the lolly and the plaudits on offer. If anything
can draw him out of the hopelessness of Indian life, it is a display of some form of excellence. In the absence of education
and no claims to original scientific thought, a sporting triumph will more than suffice. It happens all over the world,
even, in fact, at random, in the favelas of Brazil. Samba soccer is favela soccer.
It has taken the likes of Ronaldo from grisly poverty to international stardom and big money. In nearby Argentina, the hand of God tweaked the genius of Diego Armando
Maradona. The blacks began their renaissance with Jesse Owens in Berlin.
Every Indian knows that a medal, whatever the colour, will be a passport to economic deliverance. A sporting nation will also
be healthier, more focused and productive and less prone to civil disobedience. Plus, in the absence of war, sporting prowess
makes a potent point. So an investment in sport is unequivocally in the national interest.
The money angle needs to be put forward with some force. To put it simply, you can’t paint if you don’t
have an easel and you can’t take pictures if you don’t have a camera. Likewise, you can’t perform on the
greatest platforms of sporting excellence if your dreams are not strengthened by the best facilities. Technology, like records
in the heats, ropes in new imagination all the time. Unless we keep pace, brutally put, we will remain a Third World sporting
nation for EVER. We need to create an aura of excellence, a culture for sport to breed and thrive. We need a sporting revolution,
a change of mindset, a switching of lanes. We need the state to sponsor the cause of sport. This will take time and a lot
of effort. But, first, the will has to be there, and in plenty. We need to believe in ourselves, we need to believe that we
can make it happen. We need to puff our chests and indulge in some well meaning jingoism.
It is not talent or the dream that is important. I repeat, it is about pumping in
money and keeping abreast of the latest developments in sport. Tiny countries have returned with huge medal hauls. A classic
case is Australia which has only a few more people than the city of Mumbai. But their systems are in place, the planning is well worked
out, and the hunger to win is well supported. Take on the Aussies in any sport any place any time and they are well prepared
over to Indian hockey and to its ungainly demise.
We last won the World Cup in 1975 in the humidity of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia in a thrilling and controversial final against Pakistan (2-1) in which Ashok Kumar, son of the legendary Dhyan Chand, scored the
winner after the dashing young buck Aslam Sher Khan had equalised with a penalty corner conversion. The Pakistanis protested
saying that the ball had hit the post and ricocheted. But Malaysian umpire Shanmuganathan stuck to his whistle. En route to
the title we had rattled Germany in the
semi-finals. We had the dapper Ajitpal Singh as skipper, possibly the best centre half the game has ever seen and Philips,
the black streak of lightning, as outside right, again possibly the best in the business at that time, among a host of other
talent. Later, in the partially boycotted Los Angeles Olympics in 1980, under the doughty Bhaskaran, we won the Olympic gold
edging out Spain. The talent is still
there, but the big podium finishes seem so many light years ago.
last World Cup win was 33 years ago and the last Olympic gold 28 years ago. For the first time in Olympic history, India did not even find a slot in Beijing.
We were knocked out by England in the
qualifying tournament. Prior to this we have had minor triumphs, a series of dismal performances in subsequent Olympics and
World Cups, and even a highly forgettable Asian Games in which newcomers China, trained by a Korean who learnt the nuances
of hockey in India, shocked us.
all, we have seven Olympic gold medals in hockey which is still an Olympic record. Today, we are placed eleventh in the world
even behind Belgium and England.
The Netherlands, Spain and South
Korea are the top five nations. Pakistan,
Korea, Malyasia, Japan
and now China breathe down our shins for
Asian supremacy. On their day, any one of these teams can beat the other. The difference in quality is razor thin; you can’t
even push a hockey ball through it. Skills and strategies are so similar that it finally boils down to biorhythms, temperament
and staying power.
India has its work cut out. It has to,
first, enter the top ten which should be no trouble, and then take the big leap into the top five. Which is going to be difficult.
how? Where do we start?
the Gill-Jothikumaran combine, which ruined Indian hockey with its patent lack of vision along with allegations of corruption,
has been axed. The Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) has a new name now – Hockey India, and a new team of selectors which includes highly respected former players.
The annual premier league is exciting, and some sponsorship has dribbled in. But all this is a trickle. We are still at the
begin, we need at least 300 synthetic surfaces all over India.
This costs a lot of money, well over Rs.300crores plus maintenance and refurbishment costs. Kids should start hockey on these
surfaces or the transition from grass and hard mud will be traumatic. Hockey on synthetic surfaces is fast and requires great
athleticism. The ball bounces, and passes can curve. The pace of the game can take a huge toll on leg muscles. Special shoes
and the latest hockey sticks are needed. Young blood has to be weaned on all this. Young legs have to grow on such surfaces.
All sub-junior and junior tournaments will have to be played on synthetic surfaces. There is no option. It is not a matter
of choice; it is mandatory. But, strangely, despite the lack of facilities, we still remain a junior powerhouse. What then
happens at the senior level? There are a number of theories here, from the age old age scandal to the indiscriminate axing
of talent and corruption in selection procedures, but we won’t go into that just now.
The traditional nurseries of hockey like Gurdaspur and Coorg need to be revived.
There is new talent in the tribal belts of Orissa. They have to be harvested, and the call for talent made as widespread as
possible. The big cities like Mumbai have no space to play and so the search for talent will invariably lead to the larger
spreads of rural and small town India.
Decisive thrusts will have to be made into Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab
and the old bastions of hockey where talent is in plenty even today.
Money has to pour in. Players need monetary security, and talent needs acclaim. There is
big money in India and no dearth of sponsors.
But those who put money into sport are not selfless. They are making an investment and need to see it grow. It makes monetary
sense to pamper the Indian cricket team. There are only ten cricketing nations, and chances are we may win some time. It is
a gamble and worth the chance. The same odds will favour Indian hockey if it enters the top five club. Once players become
celebrities and endorse products, the spin will benefit the game as well as the sponsors. Over time, the initial investment
will bear dividends. A hockey player’s life at the top is short. He has to be assured of a good job and a comfortable
pension scheme. If this happens, hockey will become a profession of choice like cricket is now. And then, abracadabra, there
will simply be no dearth of talent.
Our coaching methods are also outdated. The present coaches need refresher camps. Rules have changed and the coaches
need international exposure. Ditto for the umpires.We need to see them officiating
the big games. It will also make sense to appoint coaches for age group teams and the national team for at least four years.
There has to be continuity of thought and strategy. The coach and his wards have to work, live and slave like a family without
the fights. Professional and generous contracts need to be signed with them. Selection procedures should also be transparent.
We goofed up a great chance by not giving Aussie great Ric Charlesworth enough bully room. He could have been entrusted with
the national team till the next Olympics and retained or given a larger role depending on the results. But, again, sadly,
all this is the past!
all teams flying Indian colours should take part in at least four international tournaments a year. You have to assess your
skills against the best all the time. The Indo-Pak series should be revived, constant exchanges with Continental teams made,
and, possibly, even an Asia versus Europe trophy initiated. European teams should be invited
to play here and admissions to tournaments made free for the public. The coverage should also be comprehensive and not entrusted
to Doordarshan alone. Hockey needs all the publicity it can get. More school and university tournaments, and continued national
coverage should be the agenda. There should be obsessive recall. Hockey India
will do well to appoint marketing professionals to spread and market the game. Support could be enlisted from the highly successful
Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), and Federation International Hockey (FIH), the international body, could learn
a few lessons from the International Cricket Council (ICC). Look at how cricket is packaged. What gloss!
with soccer, it is now a case of total hockey. No country can afford to stick to a traditional style. The Aussies and the
Spanish have married deft movements to power. There is nothing wrong with the Indian physique or the team’s fitness.
It just languishes in confusion. Give the players a style that works best for them and they will adapt. In fact, I think,
the Indian physique is ideal for hockey. It is perfect. We are supple, slim and athletic with the right centre of gravity
and great wrist work. The muscle tone is ideal. We also have the needed speed and strength. Plus all this talk about lack
of a killer instinct is baloney. We are ‘killers’ without a doubt. We just need modern training methods to optimise
what is probably in our DNA and genetic make-up, and I am talking of hockey. Excellence in sport is not at all about size.
The greatest sportspeople have been small even in contact sports. It is about skill and about heart. I can drop several names
here, but since we are talking hockey Aussie Jamie Dwyer suits the context. Voted the best payer in world hockey, he is short
and compact (very Indian in build) with a great burst of speed, intelligent off the ball play and a mind brimming with goal
scoring and creating opportunities. Anyone who knows the game can see that the long pass, abrupt stops and body play will
not suit us. That style makes sense for the bigger built Dutch and the Germans who are still seeking the magic of ball play.
We have to deftly incorporate our intrinsic skills and weaving patterns into the speed and thrust of modern hockey. It is
not a difficult task. It is only a question of channelising it all in the right direction.
we lack is a plan. We need strategy, video replays, masseurs, a team of the best coaches, psychological planning, morale raisers,
the best technology, equipment, training facilities, a whole newly packaged ‘Team Indian Hockey’ backing the players.
We simply can’t endlessly go about saying that the video equipment hasn’t arrived or the masseur’s visa
has still to be worked on or drop the coach while the tournament is still on. All this is puerile and so completely unprofessional.
It just smacks of blatantly poor planning and irreverence to the national game (is it still?). The rest of the world just
watches our antics and laughs. We don’t need the ridicule from extraneous factors. The dwindling impact on the game
is bad enough.
are several fund raising ideas I can think of. If, for some reason, corporates take their time to support the game, the government
can intervene and, possibly, lay a one rupee cess on everyday products like, say, matchboxes, to garner funds for the game.
If they proudly propel a Save Indian Hockey campaign, there will be many takers. Indians living abroad are also enthusiastic
to help hockey and if tax deduction clauses invite funds, there will never be a dearth of it. I have met so many Indians settled
abroad who shed tears whenever India loses.
They are willing to back any move to revive Indian hockey. What is required is the vision and the desperate desire to wipe
out the past. One tournament win and we are back. The resultant euphoria and adrenaline charge will ride over the past. Winning,
like losing is a habit. Like life, sport is about passion, and the winner takes all. We simply can’t keep saying that
we WERE a great hockey playing nation. The past is over and done with. Face the mirror and see the warts. It can’t get
worse than being eleventh in the world. Or can it?
Rink hockey, indoor hockey, four-and six-a-side games should be held at the school level and we should compete
in all tournaments everywhere. Thousands of residential sports schools should be opened and talent scouts sent to every village
tournament. Our players should take part in foreign leagues and overseas players should play in ours. Hockey is global and
no nation can afford to be left out. The exchange is intrinsic to excellence. All this is relevant for the women’s game
we start today and break into the top five at the London Olympics in 2012, the grand revival of Indian hockey will have happened.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH INDIA?
By Rajendar Menen
In politics, absurdity is not a handicap.
Bonaparte, general and politician (1769-1821)
When the flag is unfurled,
all reason is in the trumpet.
-- Ukrainian proverb
I am asked this question wherever I go.
At roadside chai shops, in nondescript rural hamlets,
by the very poor and desperately impoverished, and in more genteel surroundings by the middle and upper classes. I am also
constantly emailed this question. Everyone wants to know what is wrong with India?
And there are as many answers as there are people.
It is not that I am privileged in any way or privy to
the rumblings in parliament or to the uncensored blurps of the finance minister. I am just another everyday, ordinary bloke
with no deep throat pretensions. I am also, like all of you, fed up of the system and filled with a seething anger. I pay
my taxes on time and wonder why an elected government can’t even provide me a proper road to walk on. Asking for a comfortable
lifestyle may sound too demanding in the circumstances. And I am a part of the educated middle-class; the hundreds of millions
below this bracket have more basic and unfulfilled needs. The question – what is wrong with India? - is being bandied about to just about everyone and his first cousin. The
world wants an answer. India is certainly
the flavour of the season, and for so many reasons!
‘What is wrong with India?’ is repeatedly asked even when I travel out of the country. The globe
has shrunk and Indians are everywhere dazzling their peers with their brilliance. The Indian Diaspora is charged with talent,
integrity, ingenuity and ambition. So the rest of the world is even more confused and surprised. How come a nation of over
1,300 million people, with such breathtaking skills, can’t get their act together even once on their own soil?
The rest of the world has also come to India and they love what they see and smell despite the all-pervasive
squalor. It is not just the exotica. There is, without doubt, a magic and aroma about the Indian bazaar, and the sun shines
so bright all the time. But, somehow, despite the warmth and friendliness, spices, brains, ayurveda, yoga, passion, Vedanta,
epics, sages and ancient wisdom, emotion, diversity, culture, dance, music, art, cuisine, fabric, beauty and colour, gods
and goddesses, festivities and so much more, nothing ever seems to work in India.
In this Aquarian
Age with its information and spiritual overspread, when moon and mars missions are commonplace and the Antarctic has been
searched and re-searched, and records tumble to sporting excellence, and so many slices of the planet are partying non-stop,
and the good life spills its charms to all those who can afford it, and a large chunk of the world can, India is still unable
to provide its people water, food, shelter, clothing, education, medical aid and some entertainment outside of the political
There is progress but it is far from equitable.
The poverty is
gut wrenching, and growing faster than the Indian billionaire club which is also swelling by the day. Even after sixty years,
the political system doesn’t work and chances are it never will in its current avatar. The corruption is endemic; cross
border infiltration is increasing; the Kashmir deadlock is far away from a solution; caste and communal tensions are growing;
the nation is being bombed at will; hunger, disease and destitution are taking a heavy toll; there is a colossal power and
water shortage; ordinary housing is beyond the reach of most Indians; police excesses are commonplace; the integrity of the
judiciary is in question; the dignity of the individual and any semblance of human rights gets a kick in the butt every moment;
women are still low down in the social pecking order and their emancipation and empowerment seem aeons away; the population
continues to grow recklessly; insurgency is rife; several parts of India are torn by civil strife; petrol prices are rocketing;
inflation is sky high; the investment in military hardware has risen phenomenally; the environment is being savaged; any type
of integrity has been neutered; civic planning has long been dead; migration to urban areas is increasing manifold making
for more refugees than ever; the medical system is in intensive care; employment avenues are not keeping pace with the population
growth; communal attacks are on the rise; a miasma of gloom, doom and hopelessness has gripped the land; and the morale of
the people has touched rock bottom. As I write this, the markets have also collapsed and a global economic meltdown is shutting,
at least for now, the last windows of commercial opportunity.
In short, India seems to be running amok like a headless chicken and
bleeding at will.
Worse, the neighbourhood, very important in this context
(responsible for the colossal military spend and the proliferation of terrorism), is also on a tricky wicket. Pakistan is
deeper in trouble with new bombs terrorising its new democracy; China, rich, healthy, ambitious, and blustering away, is a
superpower eyeballing the United States; Sri Lanka is torn by a long ethnic war; Nepal has become a poorer and more dangerous
place; Bhutan is still waking up to the world; Myanmar is in eternal siege; Tibet has been devoured by mainland China; and
Bangladesh is worse off than most countries in the world. Nuclear arsenals are piling high all over the region, in the midst
of extreme poverty, desperation, hopelessness and religious fanaticism, and it only takes a moment of insanity to unleash
furious destruction. Unfortunately, without the erstwhile Soviet Union, we need the ‘benevolence’
of Uncle Sam, now on the economic rack, more than ever before to restore parity in the region. So all talk of non-alignment
in a global village is hogwash. It always was.
Ironically, while Coca-Cola, Nokia, LG, Adidas and Nike
and other expressions of material progress are easily available at the corner shop, the simple act of going to court or to
the police station to lodge a complaint is terrifying. Lawlessness rules, new flyovers develop cracks even before the cement
dries out, the lights go off at will, the taps are dry, and when the water flows it reeks of chlorine, pesticides or germs.
Will an entire nation of over a billion people be reduced to drinking water sold in plastic bottles to save its body? Its
soul and its soil are already spent.
STATISTICS OF POVERTY, INEQUITY AND CORRUPTION
I generally don’t take recourse in statistics and
official quotes to garnish a point. It seems foolish to sit with a calculator and make seemingly clever additions and subtractions
to embellish an argument. And official quotes say the same meaningless nonsense all the time. They are normally an escape
hatch to slither out of a tight situation. We have all heard everything that has to be heard on the subject and, honestly,
we are simply fed up of the drivel.
But a recent report released by the US-based International
Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) caught my eye. India
is worse off than I had imagined. Punjab, the granary of India, home to the green revolution, and the best performing Indian
state in terms of hunger levels, ranks below countries like Gabon (have you heard of it?), Honduras and Vietnam which are
low down in global ranking. In the Global Hunger index 2008, Madhya Pradesh, India’s largest state, ranks between Ethiopia
and Chad. “India is home to the world’s largest food insecure population with more than
200 million people who are hungry,” says the India State Hunger Index (ISHI). India stands 66 in the 2008 global hunger list of 88 nations and it does not have
a single state in the ‘low hunger’ or ‘moderate hunger’ categories. India’s
malnutrition rate is higher than most sub-Saharan countries in Africa. Twelve states fall
into the ‘alarming’ category, four, which include Punjab, Kerala, Haryana and Assam, fall into the ‘serious’ category and Madhya Pradesh falls into
the ‘extremely alarming’ category.
China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan are all better placed in the hunger index. Thankfully,
if that is some consolation, we are ahead of Bangladesh and Congo.
G.K.Chadha, member of the Prime Minister’s Economic
Advisory Council released the report in New Delhi. “Figuring
in the 88 countries itself is shameful for the country,” he admitted. High GDP growth is not sufficient. Inclusive growth
is necessary.” Child underweight, calorie deficiency and child mortality was dragging Indian down in every country comparison
made by watchdog agencies.
A UN report says that four in every ten Indian children
The World Bank adds that one-third of the world’s
poor live in India. Based on its new threshold
of poverty - $1.25 a day – the number of India’s
poor has actually gone up from 421 million in 1981 to 456 million in 2005; it is still growing.
In the UN’s Human Development Index which calculates
life expectancy, literacy and standard of living, India
ranks 128 out of 177 countries.
There are other reports, one more depressing than the
other. In the World Prosperity Index 2008, India
ranks 70th of 104 countries. Australia, Austria, Finland, United
States, Germany, Denmark,
Singapore, Hong Kong and New
Zealand are among the most prosperous. We are, of course (?), better off than Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Low quality of secondary education, high cost of starting a business, lack of government effectiveness and overpowering corruption
are some of the reasons for this dismal position.
The crush on space, such a scarce resource even now, is
going to be more telling. According to a 2008 UN-Habitat report Mumbai and Delhi will be most
populated cities in the world after Tokyo by 2025. The State
of the World’s Cities Report 2008/9 adds that Indian cities will witness an “inequality trend” as a result
of economic liberalisation and globalisation. The study also says that the most egalitarian cities in the world are in Western Europe thanks to economic performance, and the regulatory and distributive capacity of the European
welfare states. In the developing world, one out of three people in a city lives in a slum. In the last two decades, an average
of three million people a week has been added to the urban population of the developing world. By 2050, the study estimates,
70 per cent of the population in the developing world and 55 per cent of that in India will be urban.
I quote, puts the current ecological footprint of humanity as 2.2 hectares per person, while the earth’s biocapacity
remains at 1.8 ha. China and India
have ecological footprints that are twice their biocapacity. In other words, what the population consumes in a year, their
area of earth will take two years to produce. Other challenges facing cities are mobility, waste management and environment.
The World Health Organisation estimates that more than a billion people in Asia are exposed
to air pollution levels that exceed its guidelines.
According to R.K.Pachauri, chairman, Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “India
has miles to go in improving human development indicators. For instance, of the nearly four million deaths of new born children
globally in 2007, 28 per cent occurred in India.
Despite massive efforts towards immunisation, 40 per cent of the world’s children who are not immunised live in India. After 61 years as an independent nation, over half
of India’s population practices
open defecation (more than 500 million people). Despite efforts to popularise primary education, more than one in every five
of all primary age children out of school, are in India.
Of the 1.6 billion people who have no access to electricity globally, 25 per cent of them -- or 400 million -- live
Professor Lant Pritchett of the HarvardUniversity, who has been studying the social development parameters of several countries,
has called India a “failing state.”
According to him India is worse off than even Bangladesh
and Indonesia. More than 40 million people
joined the ranks of the chronically hungry in 2008, taking the world further away from its millennium goal of reducing hunger
by 2015, according to preliminary data released by UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. There are now an estimated
121 million more hungry people in the world than there were in 1990-92, the base year on which the goal of halving the number
of the hungry was based.
In FAO’s latest report, TheState of Food Insecurity in the World 2008, the developing countries
account for more than 93 per cent (901 million out of 963 million) of the world’s hungry. Out of these, 65 per cent
are from seven countries alone — India, China,
Congo, Indonesia, and
is home to the largest number of hungry people in the world, accounting for more than 20 per cent of the total.
According to UNICEF’s 2009 State of the World’s Children report, 60 per cent of pregnant women still deliver their babies at home in
India. More than two-thirds of all maternal deaths occur in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh,
Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Assam. In Uttar
Pradesh one in every 42 women face the risk of maternal death. UNICEF chief Karin Hulshof adds, “Of every 100 children
born in the world, 20 are from India.
Of every 100 children who die globally, 22 are from India.”
One-quarter of the world’s unattended deliveries take place in India, only one in four babies is breastfed within an
hour of birth, and around six million babies born in India each year have low birth weight.
The report adds that a woman in India
is 300 times more likely to die in childbirth and from pregnancy related complications than one in the USA or England.
Avoidable childbirth complicationskill 78,000 women in India
every year; on an average a woman die sin India
every seven minutes from pregnancy complications.
CORRUPTION ACROSS THE BOARD
Indian companies have been perceived as one of the worst
bribe-payers while engaging in business abroad, ranking along with firms in other BRIC countries - Russia
and China - according to anti-corruption
organisation Transparency International 2008 Bribe Payers Index.
“The BPI provides evidence that a number of companies
from major exporting countries still use bribery to win business abroad, despite awareness of its damaging impact on corporate
reputations and ordinary communities,” said TI Chair Huguette Labelle in a press statement. Belgium
and Canada shared first place in the 2008
BPI, with a score of 8.8, indicating that Belgian and Canadian firms are seen as least likely to bribe abroad. The Netherlands and Switzerland
shared third place on the index, each with a score of 8.7. On the other end of the spectrum is Russia,
which is ranked last with a score of 5.9, just below China (6.5), Mexico (6.6) and India
The BPI also shows that public works and construction
companies are the most corruption-prone when dealing with the public sector, and most likely to exert undue influence on the
policies, decisions and practices of governments. In the first of two new sectoral rankings, companies in public works contracts
and construction; real estate and property development; oil and gas; heavy manufacturing; and mining were seen to bribe officials
Transparency International recommends the Indian government
to sign the international anti-corruption conventions, ratify the United Nations’ convention against corruption and
also exhorts it to pass laws like the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977. “The unfolding financial crisis has
shown us just how integrated the world’s markets have become. Accountability must be guaranteed across borders, include
improved risk management and reach all the way down a company’s supply chain,” said Cobus de Swardt, managing
India stands at a low 22nd rank among 24 countries
surveyed in preparing and disseminating reports by banking and other monetary bodies for cases of illegal financing and shady
transactions. The survey was conducted by anti-fraud consultancy service provider Indiaforensic Consultancy Services (ICS).
All this inequity has made our cities unsafe. Delhi seems to be the most unsafe city among the four metros. As per
government data the whole of Delhi, including the rural areas,
registered 598 rape cases in 2007 which is one rape every 879.9 minutes. Kolkata is the safest metro with a rape reported
only once in 11,945.5 minutes. Nagaland was the safest state with a rape reported only once in 40,430 minutes. The statistics
were prepared by the National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB).
Bribery in the World Bank’s lending methods is as
rampant as ever, says a former Bank official who has written a book on this corruption. Steve Berkman contends that Indian
IT majors Satyam and Wipro, who were barred from World Bank projects for offering their stock to Bank officials, represent
a miniscule problem compared to the kickbacks and commissions that go to government officials for approval of Bank projects.
Berkman, who was an advisor to various project teams within
the Bank on human resource issues and capacity building, retired from the Bank in 2002. He is the author of an expose on corruption
in this multilateral institution titled, The World Bank and theGods of Lending, based on his 16-year experience auditing Bank projects, including the $800 million loan to health
sector projects in India. While most of
his experiences were in Africa and Latin America, he said the corruption “I’ve seen in India
is no different than what I’ve seen in Africa and other places. My experience has been
that -- and again, one of the things I was trying to shed some light on in my book -- is that almost always corruption emanated
from government officials in these developing countries. In my experience, they have always been the catalysts for the corruption
and the fraud. Everybody seems to be talking about the companies that bribe these officials, but what never seems to come
out is that in fact, it is the officials who are the catalysts for this and they are the ones that are more of less coercing
the business. That if you want a contract you have to pay us -- that kind of thing.” In most developing countries, Berkman
said, “Nothing is done for the benefit of the people. It is merely for the benefit of the people who are running the
In the case of the $800 million loan to health sector
projects in India, a team of investigators
found dummy companies that were paid by the Bank for products and services that were never delivered and a plethora of bribes
and kickbacks that went into the pockets of senior government officials.
At the time, it is believed, that when Wolfowitz had written
to then Indian finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram about the alleged corruption and the Bank's concern over corruption
in India projects, an angry Chidambaram, irritated by what he believed was the Bank president's patronising tone, had curtly
responded that India was as concerned or more about corruption and implying that New Delhi did not need lessons about fighting
corruption from 'a holier than thou' Wolfowitz.
is the largest beneficiary of World Bank lending.
ACTION PLAN FOR CHANGE
So what is to be done?
A mammoth agenda for an ancient country cannot be reduced
to a few typed sheets and brought within the ambit of an article. It has to be worked on ceaselessly by several clever minds.
Here is a tiny attempt, within the confines of the paradigms I have just mentioned, to steer India from further collapse.
* The first task,
obviously, is population control - to circumcise the bottom of the pyramid. India will
soon be the world’s most populous nation – a terrifying prospect. No solution is possible without a harsh
chop on family sizes. Reining in numbers can become a sensitive religious issue and one has to tread carefully. Remember,
India lives in several time, economic,
religious, geographic, political and cultural zones. To further dampen and retard the enthusiasm of any type of reform, remember
also that India has been used to dissent
and anarchy in the name of democracy for over sixty years. So every move for change will be opposed however well intentioned
and long lasting.
* Instead of forcing
the population issue, the government can start with gentle incentives and disincentives which are bound to work. For
example, no one with more than two children should be allowed to run for any office. Certainly
not political office. Those with girl children could be given monetary rewards and those without children assured of a pension after the age of 55. All promotions and monetary incentives in government
and private offices could also be based on the number of children the person has. Earlier, when the government wanted to promote
Hindi as a link language, they pushed through an incentive package. The same strategy can work for population control.
Children are a
pension fund in India. They are also early
wage earners (since most of them don’t go to school) and contribute to the family kitty. If a pension is provided by
the government, there may not be the need to have children; certainly not many children, and there may also be a good reason
for children to go to school. Incentives for having daughters can also restore the gender imbalance which is threatening to
get out of hand. The media is used aggressively when it is time to pay tax. Now the media can be used equally aggressively
to help control family sizes. It will be a happy and able ally.
* Now let’s move to the burning question of politics.
Today, Indian politics is the last refuge of the freebooter. It is packed and spilling over with the dregs of Indian society.
As I mentioned earlier, no one with more than two children should be allowed to contest any election. This will cut the numbers
* Then, let there be qualifying standards in place, if
not an entrance examination. If every other job in the world is competitive and needs written and oral tests, why shouldn’t the job of leading the state or the country, in a
nation where there is a desperate need for quality leadership, have stringent qualifying rounds?
This will ensure
the arrival of the educated, ethical professional into Indian politics.
* In an ‘illiterate’ democracy, the chances
of an illiterate person winning the elections are very real. A fair, busty starlet will always be more visible than a Nobel
laureate. She is generous eye candy for an intellectually and physically starved electorate. So she is bound to thrash him
at the hustings.
* Now, replace adult franchise with literate franchise.
Ensure that only those who have, at least, passed the tenth standard, to begin with, be allowed to vote. This way, you hit
many birds with one stone: the voting gets more qualitative, better people aspire for positions of authority, the opposition
in parliament and other bodies gets more educated too, and, even better, more people will start going to school. Adult literacy
will also gain strength. Once this gains momentum, raise the qualifying standards for the electorate to a graduate degree.
* Those standing for elections should also be examined
medically and not allowed to drain the exchequer with medical treatment abroad as they are doing now.
* There should also be a retirement age for politicians
like with every other job. It can safely be placed at age seventy after the relevant medical tests. After that, whoever wishes
to be associated with politics can do so in a consultative capacity.
* They should have no court cases pending against politicians
and they should declare all assets to the voting public before, during and after the period of office. Any citizen of India should be able to access the bank accounts of politicians
and their families. The Supreme Court of India should allow it.
* A call also has to be taken on the extensive police
and military protection for politicians and their relatives.
Indiacan’t afford it.
* And, since a politician is technically a servant of
the people, he should be awarded reasonable middle-class perks and housing which is not
too removed from the lowest common denominator he is meant to serve and who has elected him to office. If over 700 million
Indians live on less than two dollars a day, how can their elected representative be allowed to spend over several hundred
times that amount in the same period? The ‘servant of the people’ should be provided a modest lifestyle to allow
him to do his job well. Not more; he shouldn’t be fattened by the state. Politics should be made a tough, responsible
and sacrificing area of activity and not be reduced to a hospice for the corrupt.
* Most important,
India has to end dynasty rule. A billion plus people cannot be governed for eternity by
one family alone. India is not the personal
property of anyone. Emotional voting is the privilege of the mob. Replace it with the ‘educated’ vote. Replace
it with people who have a stake in the country. Replace it with people with vision, who can chart imaginative directions to
take India out of terrifying and widespread
* If a dynasty insists on ruling, let it prove its mettle.
Being born to the ruling class or, worse, being married to it is no qualification for leadership. If Indian society is looking
for equitable economic and caste and communal representation with reservations across the board, let the dynasty’s representative
also be chosen on merit. Make military training and a year’s service with a unit on the border mandatory. Let no one
just ‘talk’ patriotic. They have to live it and prove it. If you are asking for the country’s highest position
and the opportunity to shape its destiny, be capable of it.
This rule should also apply to other families with similar
ambitions at all levels.
* As a rule, families
in politics should be discouraged if not banned entirely.
should also adopt a two-party system or, to stretch it a bit for more practical reasons, maybe a three-party system. At present
the party that loses aligns with anyone keen on joining the circus, and comes to power. Votes and ministers are openly bought
and sold. The whole world has recently seen it happening in parliament. There are multi-party alliances. So the entire voting
exercise, which takes years of logistic planning, considering the size of the electorate and the vast security concerns in
the mammoth diversity of the country, goes to waste. Suddenly, sworn enemies, sensing failure at the hustings, come together,
head for power, share the spoils, and the voter and the nation are conned. And then the rape of the country begins in earnest.
So this opportunistic collation politics, horse trading
and the sell-out of the country has to end.
* Merit should
be the sole criterion for any political appointment. The education minister should be chosen by academics, the health minister
by doctors, the defence minister by the three service chiefs, the sports minister by leading sportspersons, the railway minister
by members of the railway board, and so on. Only highly qualified and skilled people should be handed ministerial portfolios.
Right now anyone can pick any portfolio depending on his clout in parliament. Read that as a person with a large vote bank.
* Vote bank and communal politics should also be banned.
* Every state should be run by CEOs. No career politician
should be allowed to govern. If he wants to be the CEO he should not run for popular office, and be chosen for the job purely
on merit. The Prime Minister need not necessarily have an electoral base. Mass popularity is not synonymous with statesmanship
and skills at governance. If mass popularity were the criterion, only film stars would hold office. He could be a person of
considerable accomplishment in his chosen field and can be decided on by members of parliament. He will be the nation’s
CEO. I have to add here that the CEO also gets sacked for non performance.
THE ONLY CRITERION
FOR ANY OFFICE SHOULD BE THE DESIRE TO TAKE INDIA
OUT OF DESPERATE POVERTY ONCE AND FOR ALL TIME. ALL SYSTEMS TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN SHOULD BE MADE AVAILABLE TO THE INCUMBENT.
* Any corruption charge should be addressed immediately.
If the person in office is found guilty, he should be given the death sentence. This will have a profound impact on the country.
The message should be clear – ANYONE WHO IS ANTI-NATIONAL, WHATEVER HIS/HER
ECONOMIC, POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS CLOUT, WILL BE GIVE N THE DEATH SENTENCE.
* The death sentence
should also apply to terrorists. Human life is valuable and no one will be allowed to bomb public places and get away at will.
Special fast track courts should be set up specifically for this and the guilty punished with urgency. Today, the law is filled
with loopholes and it is so easy to get away with murder.
* Deterrents to
terrorists should also be set in place. Any person disturbing the peace, in any manner whatsoever, should be put behind bars.
Democracy in India is synonymous with
anarchy now. So stringent action should be taken against anarchists, be they terrorists or those indulging in civil disobedience.
* The lumpen element
rules the country. Anyone instigating the lumpen element (in most cases a politician who threatens the state of more violence
if he is arrested) should be immediately dealt with. (It seems puerile stating the obvious but, unfortunately, this is the
reality of Indian life.)
* All open spaces,
which include pedestrian plazas and vacant land, have been illegally taken over by mobs and leased out. The state has to reclaim
the land and make life friendly for the tax payer. Squatters have now taken over vast tracts of prime real estate and twisted
the law to extend their stay indefinitely.
* Thousands of crores of rupees are collected as by the
state in direct taxes. The Supreme Court of India should ensure that the people of the country have accesses to an audited
balance sheet of the government. Today, no citizen knows where the money goes. The taxes increase every year while the quality
of life plummets. The people of India
want to know what is being done with their money.
has hundreds of millions of people, probably more than the entire population of Europe, and certainly almost double the population
of the USA, below the age of forty and
in extreme poverty. If young hormones are not reined in and given something tangible to do, more civil disturbances will happen.
The frustration is seething. If it doesn’t get something to chew on fast, it will burn.
* Open thousands of sports hostels and playgrounds. Make
a year’s military training compulsory for all able bodied youth. This will impart discipline, and their time and energy
will be well spent. Social service at the school and college levels should also be compulsory.
* It is important that India makes a mark in international sport. The best facilities should be provided
and money pumped into sport. It is embarrassing to have over a billion people and own just one Olympic gold medal.
* Everyday laws should be strengthened and the delivery
system streamlined. No one wants to go to court if it takes a lifetime for justice. More courts should be opened and more
judges appointed. Today, generations of litigants fight the same losing battle. It is farcical. The Right to Information (RTI)
Act has opened a window for justice. But it also needs to be pushed through fast. All roadblocks to justice have to be removed.
* The police force should be freed from political interference.
And central forces used with discretion. The police should also be trained and equipped better. Third degree and encounter
killings may be necessary at times. But compassion and neutrality should be inculcated in the force. This will happen when
a neutral CEO runs the country and the states. The army should also be kept away
from controlling civil disturbances.
* The rampant corruption should also be pounced on. Every
step of Indian life is bought and sold; from the cradle to the grave and even to the afterlife. Both the giver and the receiver
of bribes should be given severe public punishment. If more police personnel are required, recruit them. If tough laws are
to be enacted, enact them.
* There should be strong laws to protect the environment.
Urban centres should have mandatory lungs. Town planning should include zoos, museums, parks, playgrounds, mangroves, nurseries
and open spaces. Urban sprawls should be greened with a vengeance. Stray and sick animals that roam the land as though it
belongs to them should also be impounded.
* The smaller centres of India should be developed. Villages, towns and two- and three-tier cities should
host the indices of progress. Employment opportunities and entertainment avenues should be provided. This will prevent the
large-scale migration to big cities. Today, it makes more sense to sleep on the street or in sub-human tenements in the big
cities than to live in the villages where even water, electricity and basic human rights are scarce.
* Rivers, lakes and other waterways should be garlanded
through canals. Often, parts of India
are submerged in water and the other parts don’t even have a drop to drink. This has to be remedied. India is flush with water and other resources. The rainfall
is heavy, India has the sea on three sides, the world’s greatest
rivers, and the Himalayas in the north where the water melts and the supply is copious. The
sun shines most of the year and solar energy is an easy option. So are wind mills and water harvesting. But all this requires
visionaries at the helm.
* The education system in India, despite having the world’s oldest centre of learning in Nalanda, also
needs serious beefing up. We mass produce graduates who are unemployable. We have very few institutes of excellence that can
match the best in the world. Corruption has seeped into education too and question papers, mark sheets and degrees are bought
and sold. All this has to end. Only excellence should be prized.
should adopt a three-language formula – English, Hindi and the regional language. This way we work with the world in
English, are connected to the rest of the country through Hindi, and knowledge of the local language will help bond with the
local culture and facilitate everyday transactions. This way there will be no language quarrels considering the fact that
we have 28 official languages and thousands of dialects.
* Alternate sexuality, live-in relationships and prostitution
should be legalised. India has several
millions living with HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, arguably the world’s highest disease burden.
It is impossible to treat STDs if sex is a hush up job. It will also be easier to reach red-light areas and other sex workers
across the land with medical aid if all such activity comes under legal purview.
* Euthanasia should also be looked at carefully in a nation
teeming with people. When there is no money for medical aid, and the medical fraternity, the next of kin and the self have
given up, what is the point of living? Even in the best of circumstances, life is tough! When one loses the handle on life,
why not let it go legally?
* We should maintain our old monuments and the rich tapestry
of a land blessed by the gods. India is
so many countries put together with such an incredible depth of flora, fauna, landscape and peoples. Arunachal Pradesh and
Kerala, for example, have nothing in common barring the tricolour. ‘Incredible India’, buoyed by its poor rupee, should have more tourists than all the
other Asian countries put together. Yet, there is only a trickle. Obviously, the tourist, be it the backpacker or the well
heeled one, has better options. Thanks to obsolete systems and an uncaring attitude we haven’t been able to seduce him.
Sadly, another blot! Isn’t atithi any longer deva?
* We should also promote
yoga, traditional martial arts and indigenous systems of healing. The hold of allopathy is all pervasive and India has emerged as a much sought after destination for medical
tourism. While this is laudable, Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, traditional massage and other ancient medical systems shouldn’t
be neglected. They should be sponsored by the state; thankfully homeopathy has many adherents.
* Our culture is rich, colourful and diverse. We need
to promote it big time. Cottage and rural industries should be injected with fresh hope (read money). Our ancient martial
arts like kalaripayatu are fading from memory. Let’s revitalise it. We have a rich tradition of neem, tulsi, ashwagandha,
lasuna, thousands of other herbs and amazing cow products with miraculous curative properties. They are also easily affordable.
The state should ensure patronage so that they reach the far corners of India.
More input into R&D will also fine tune their efficacy.
Why should the best of our culture be patented by the
United States? Let us proudly tell the children of the world that sugarcane juice is better than Coke and that India is the mother of yoga.
* Let us take pride in ourselves and let the world admit
that Indian goods are far superior to theirs. Today, Bollywood hip and tit movements is India’s calling card. What an embarrassing statement for such a culturally
rich nation? Don’t we have anything else to showcase?
* We also
need to develop a scientific temperament. We need to get Noble prizes for new thoughts and not keep importing them from the
western world. We need to develop intellectual property. We keep borrowing worn out ideas and goods, and are never in step.
The world is changing at the blink of an eye.
* The only way we can walk shoulder to shoulder with the
best in the world is when we eliminate cutting edge poverty and infectious and communicable diseases. Until the living standards
of the country’s lowest common denominator is raised we will, forever, be consigned to ‘developing’ country
status. The nation’s bottom is too big. It can’t move fast enough.
Do anything and everything that is required to make India a great nation.
The state is above the individual, the family and religion.
If there is no state, there will be nothing. The world is a small place now and every nation lives in a glass house. The rot
that afflicts India is seen by the whole
world. Just walk into any Indian airport, train or bus station and you know what it means to be in the ‘Third
why should a soldier die for his country when civvy street is bleeding it? His patriotism and edge gets a beating when he
returns home on furlough and sees the mess he is supposed to guard. Why should he then step out of line in the blaze of enemy
fire to secure a nation that is being subdivided from the inside by its own people and by its leaders?
If we embark on a Save India campaign right now we may
get close to what Singapore is today in a hundred years. In parts.
WHY DO WE WATCH CRICKET AND NOTHING ELSE?
By Rajendar Menen
Have you ever wondered why a nation
of over a billion people plays and watches only cricket? Of course, there are a host of other games but its cricket, and only
cricket, which grabs the imagination so compulsively. Why?
Football has over 200 playing nations
(the qualifying rounds for the World Cup alone takes two years), and every other sport, including field hockey which was once
our national game (I just hope and pray it still is), has at least 25 competing nations. And now look at cricket: India, Pakistan,
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh constitute the Asian challenge; Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa add quality to numbers;
there is the former powerhouse West Indies; and then ragged Zimbabwe and Kenya. Eleven teams at best. The West Indies is a
shadow now, Bangladesh is still learning to bat at the highest level, New Zealand can spring a surprise, and Zimbabwe
and Kenya are easily beaten. So, whichever
combination you choose, there are just six nations competing for the top slot.
The International Cricket Council
(ICC) is doing its best to popularise the game, and recent reports suggest that China,
another populous giant, is taking to it! If that happens in earnest, we could well look at a future champion. But, right now,
under Mahendra Singh Dhoni we are on a winning spree and in the throes of applause. There is a lot of cricket on the calendar
which will climax in the London World Cup next year. But even when we lose, which is most of the time, cricket makes so much
noise! Football is widely acknowledged as the world’s number one game, and yet its cricket that grabs the eyeballs in
To my mind there are a few reasons
for the insane popularity of cricket in the subcontinent. I should add here that it is a secondary sport in other cricket
playing nations; thankfully they have other diversions. They all have rugby, football, swimming, countless other sports, and
formidable track and field performances. There is no mass hysteria there barring the excitement generated by the Indian Diaspora.
Just watch the matches in England, New Zealand
and Australia and count the brown skins!
foremost reason is the aggressive hype generated. Cricket is well managed and marketed. Over a billion people, possibly more
than two billion around the globe, watch it. Cricket makes advertising sense: imagine the recall value of an ad which returns
to hit you for a six, over after over, for five consecutive days? When so much money is pumped into it and special programmes
and editions drummed up on multiple television channels and the print media, the watching and reading public is hypnotised.
It’s a bombardment of the senses. There is no escape. Add the 50-over and the 20-over versions to the classical Tests
series, ostensibly brimming with tradition, nostalgia and elegance, and there is enormous entertainment value. Day-night matches,
coloured balls and clothes, new rules, lush premier leagues, smaller grounds, player auctions, prizes for every run, viewer
involvement, endorsements, cheer girls, fame and fortune at the flick of a wrist, nymphet liaisons, controversies, and a cavalcade
of offerings lift the game to a surreal pitch. Even commentators and statisticians are deified. Cricket has entered the consciousness
-- a soft drink ad parrots, quite rightly, that people sleep, eat and drink the game!
other sport is as well managed as cricket. The Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) is the richest cricket body
in the world and its power and influence is well recognised by the ICC. Place an ad in a cricket match India plays anywhere in the world and it will be seen by billions.
Play the game in the sub-continent and ticket sales zoom. Ricky Ponting can probably shop in a Melbourne mall unnoticed, but imagine what would happen if Sachin Tendular walked into a
suburban Big Bazar in Mumbai?!
The point, of course, is about numbers.
Add big numbers (India has more
cricket players than entire populations of nations and more people than the entire cricketing world put together; as I write
this India is playing New Zealand
which probably has less than half the population of North Mumbai) to a complete lack
of entertainment in a nation still being suffocated by poverty and dead dreams. Cricket and Bollywood allow the masses to
vicariously live out their lives. Success in cricket allows for jingoism. It feels good to beat the white man in a game they
invented. It feels good to know that, somewhere, somehow, all is not lost. That even without the basic amenities of life and
the cloud of corruption that chokes all aspiration, we can still be world champions. It makes for consoling conversation.
When India wins, the talk veers from empty
taps, broken roads and corrupt politicians to victory mode.
We barely manage to squeak into the
top ten in world hockey, languish at around 150 in the soccer ratings, have finally managed an Olympic gold medal, and can
counts the sparks of collective and individual sporting brilliance, spread over six decades, on the fingers of a few hands.
So when the cricket team wins a World Cup there is, understandably, unadulterated mass euphoria. If they are on a roll, they
are the new Gods of the ever expanding celestial pantheon. The cricketers are easily India’s greatest entertainers!
There is also the ease with which
one can play cricket. Anyone can play it. A wooden bat, even plastic at the basic level, and a ball, any ball, will do. One
bowls, the other hits and a few fielders hang around in the hope of a run-out or catch, and a batting chance. A cardboard
box can be used as the wicket. Rules can also be altered to suit the playing conditions. So, it’s very easy to start
a game. In the smaller towns and rural areas there is enough space to play cricket. In the more populous bigger cities, verandahs,
corridors, gardens, parks, maidans and gullies
make sufficient room. Gully cricket is intense, and even the great Sachin Tendulkar perfected the straight drive in the little
area that his middle-class housing society allowed him to play cricket. A lofted ball would have broken window panes. The
maidans of Mumbai are packed with cricket matches. Walk through them on a holiday
at your own risk as balls from several teams ricochet in different directions. It requires some cunning to figure out who
hit what. And in that conundrum of heat, dust, poverty and ambition are born great champions just like the soccer demigods
thrown up by the Brazilian favelas. Cricket also ensures that India is well represented. Anyone who can hit the ball hard
or bowl well, anywhere in the country, has a chance for national selection. It is more democratic than the electoral process,
is performance oriented and not dependent on pedigree. It is an equal opportunity employer. More than half the current Indian
team has emerged from the traditional badlands. Their success is percolating right down to the grassroots.
The mass appeal of cricket is also
easily accessed on an everyday level. It is a viewer friendly sport and lasts days if you have nothing better to do. There
is a lot of time to waste in the developing world and watching cricket is not a calamitous diversion. Imagine following an
Enterprise or Seabird
on the Arabian Sea. There is no connect at all; there is simply no mass appeal. Plus
you don’t need expensive racquets and gear like in tennis, squash, badminton, snooker or table tennis (to name a few
sports); you don’t need boats like in yachting; even hockey needs several sticks and, now, an artificial playing surface.
It’s only when you graduate to the bigger stage that more expensive equipment comes into play which local associations
and sponsors take care of.
If it is so easy and relatively inexpensive
to play cricket, and if that’s the sole reason for its popularity, the obvious question that comes to mind would be
why aren’t Indians world beaters in running, carrom, chess, football, cycling, walking and so many other activities
which cost very little? But the answer is not only about finance. It is about organisation, appeal, hype, and a few victories
under the belt. Tradition too plays a role, but then hockey had it in abundance!
It is not easy for a sport to get
under a nation’s skin. Once it is embedded in the soul, it is also not easy to eject it. Cricket in India has done just
(The statistics in some of the articles could be dated as they were written in another time and space. But
the theme continues to haunt relentessly.)