Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 - The year of the common man

2006 – The year of the common man

The year 2006 has been a mixed one for our country with many lessons learnt and many mistakes committed due to a sense of wanton negligence and oversight. At the end of it, it would not be incredulous if I venture to say that 2006 was when the Indian public realized its true potential, stood up and got counted.

The absolute freedom that a democracy in itself provides was felt like never before and the collective conscience of the public was shaken by some incidents that tested the credibility of the judiciary. Celebrities and media joined hands to bring to public attention events which would have otherwise remained under covers. They were helped by films like ‘RANG DE BASANTI’ which heralded a new age in Hindi cinema – the age of experimentation leading to some meaningful socially relevant movies.

Thanks to the increasingly watchful media and the press, the politicians and the judiciary had a lot to answer for. Here, I have taken some incidents that have caused the common man to rise to the occasion and challenge the authorities.

  • When the Narmada control authority (NCA) gave the green signal for the dam height to be increased from 110 to 122 meters, NBA activists under Medha Patkar gathered in the capital to voice their protest. They were supported by bollywood actor Aamir Khan and finally the centre was pushed to act. A review committee found that most of the resettlement work in MP was only on paper.
  • In what is even now regarded as the phase II of Mandal, widespread protests against reservations were witnessed this year, throughout the country when the Human resources minister Arjun Singh proposed that 27 percent of seats be reserved for OBC students in higher educational institutions. While the media was one-sided in lending voice to the anti-reservation forum, the government for its part held on to its position and refused to give a lending ear to the protestors for a long time. Finally, in response to mounting pressure, it was agreed that the seats for the general category would not be affected and a parliamentary standing committee was established to propose a solution for implementing the quota regime. The protests were primarily because of the manner in which the centre sought to introduce the system with least regard for the students who would be at the receiving end.
  • In what can be regarded as the ultimate triumph of the common man and Justice, the Jessica Lal and the Priyadarshini matoo cases saw Justice done. When the media drew public attention to the shoddy investigation of the Delhi police in the Jessica Lal case, celebrities and the middle class joined hands and forced the reopening of the investigation. Though some sections believe that the media are guilty of carrying out a trial before the judges have their final say, a visibly relieved Sabrina Lal (sister of the deceased Jessica Lal) thanked the media without which, she believes that Justice would have been impossible.
  • This year also had some reasons for the Indian womenfolk to be happy about. By passing the prevention of women from domestic violence act 2005, the Government has attempted to empower our womenfolk to stand up for their rights. This forward looking law will go a long way in encouraging suffering women to file complaints of harassment.
  • 2006 has also seen a refreshing change in the way films are perceived by the public. Apart from RDB, ‘Lage raho Munnabhai’ has also contributed immensely in changing the way films can be made so that they are socially relevant instead of being mere entertainers. For once, the average film buff was treated to a dose of Gandhigiri, a term to which no Indian is a stranger now.

As the year ends, one feels that the common man has reinvented his role in the Indian democracy – from that of a mere spectator to one of an active decision maker watching every move of the authorities and ever ready to question their motives and actions when situations warrant. While this augurs well for the Indian democracy, the political class has disappointed once again – the centre could have been a little more responsive to the concerns raised by the public and the opposition could have been a lot more responsible.

It would be fitting to end this article with an extract from Nobel laureate Jose Saramago’s ‘The Double’: “According to popular wisdom, you can’t have everything, and there’s a good deal of truth in that, the balance of human lives is constantly swinging back and forth between what is gained and what is lost, the problem lies in the equally human impossibility of coming to an agreement on the relative merits of what should be lost and what should be gained which is why the world is in the state it is in.”

One can only hope that in the coming year, the people in positions of power are willing to acknowledge their mistakes and try to rectify them.

Tour memoirs - part 1

The following is an attempt to capture in a few pages that which cannot truly be captured – after all one cannot bundle a myriad of emotions in a few pages. Yet, to gratify myself, I have attempted here to focus on certain emotions and situations that will in retrospect, perhaps years later bring tears of joy to my eyes.

Thanks to the efforts of Vasu, Hermus, Kamakshinathan, Ayyaparaj and Karthikeyan, (I may have missed out a few of my classmates’ names which don’t in any way lessen their efforts in magnitude towards making the tour a possibility.) the idea of a north India tour took shape when our end semester exams had just started and the first plans were set in motion. The entire class was methodically briefed, money was collected, the college authorities were informed, permission was obtained and finally the tickets were booked.

The days leading up to the tour after the exams were those of frenzied excitement and preparation. At last, December 2 came and I boarded the bus with a suitcase and a small bag for Chrompet. As usual, it was the hostellers ( J ) who delayed the start though the staff also played their part.

When we finally boarded the train, there was just enough time to reach Chennai central, find our friends who had come directly there and reach the platform in time.

The train started promptly and again thanks to Vasu and Hermus, I think every body was comfortably settled for the night. The tour manager, a Mr. Babu and his team of cooks joined us along with the ration and utensils needed through the tour for providing us with food. As we braced ourselves for rail food, Vasu and Mani generously shared their dinner with almost all of us.

I was fast asleep by about nine thirty while some of the boys played cards. Around one o clock sairam woke up most of us and later I learnt that a person was stubbornly trying to occupy one of the berths meant for us.

The next day was spent playing cards, cards and cards. I think many of us got quite bored. Some people buried themselves in novels. (I was able to see Mario puzo and Sidney Sheldon with some.) As the day wore on, there was a palpable chillness in the air and it was time to get the sweaters and jerkins out.

A Punjabi (Sukhwant Singh, if I remember his name correctly) almost played the role of entertaining us late that night. To our repeated pleas of trying to make him sing a Punjabi number, he skillfully evaded and till the end refused to budge. His demeanor attracted our attention and we were not disappointed whenever he spoke. We had to be content with admiring his looks and occasional comments about his life in Chennai and the different ways of tying the turban.

All the time, Prasad was trying his best to learn Hindi as fast as he can! It amused us to see him checking his limited vocabulary with Mr. Sukhwant and another Rajasthani who was with him. By early morning, the Rajasthani was noting down equivalent Tamil words for the ‘parts of the body’ in a small handbook and Vichu was assisting him!!

Just before New Delhi, the train halted for a few minutes in the outskirts when we could see people defecating out in the open…no matter how fast our economy grows, the fruits of development don’t reach certain sections of the society and it is the same with all cities…no basic sanitation facilities….certain things never change…be it Chennai or the national capital.

After alighting down, we dragged our luggage slowly to the 49-seater bus that was waiting for us. Soon enough we were able to catch sight of CNG buses and rickshaws unique to Delhi. Visibility was not cent percent. In half an hour’s time, we reached ‘western queen’ in the Karol Bagh area.

I, Sudha, Muthu and Alex luckily got a room on the ground floor. (We were divided into groups of four and allotted rooms) and after taking a much needed bath, it was time for breakfast that was served in the top floor of the hotel. Everybody was impressed with the food that was served.

By late morning, we started on our local sight seeing and it was to the Birla Mandir that we headed first. It was an imposing structure and proved to the perfect first choice with its calm and serene atmosphere. The place was teeming with foreigners who were clearly marveled by the temple’s architecture and the Hindu myths. Outside the temple, the courageous among us posed with snakes around the necks.

From there, we headed for the Qutb Minar. On the way, we were able to see a lot of ‘round annas’. Mani felt that land utilization in the capital was poor. We were struck by the smooth flow of traffic and the near absence of hustle and bustle that we wondered whether the day was a holiday! We could spot men playing cards in groups. Another thing that soon registered in our minds was the western attire that the Delhi lasses seemed to prefer. I think that they spend a lot of time making up their faces before the mirrors for it was quite evident from their appearance that they spend a lot of money on cosmetics and beauty products than young women down south. I wonder what girls thought about the Delhi males J

On reaching Qutb Minar, we spent a good amount of time trying to capture the tall structure within the focus of our cameras. The sun appeared to have made up its mind to stay under clouds for the day and hence the weather was pleasant. We settled ourselves on the grass and tried to think how Delhi might look from the top of the Minar.

Our next halt was at the India gate where we were served our lunch. After a hearty meal, we set out on foot to take in the sights nearby. It was then that a curious thing happened. The girls of our class had assembled together for a group photo near the India gate. Just then a small group of highly interested foreigners passed by the place and literally every one of them posed with the girls group one after another. This strange photo session attracted the attention of many people around and the girls were on cloud nine from what I could make out from their broad smiles.

Then we started walking down the long road to the rashtrapati bhavan. The walk took longer than I had expected and at the end of it we were elated to see some dignitary entering the president’s residence with all the security in place. The traffic on the lane was temporarily suspended and people were asked to steer clear of the way and soon enough a black limousine passed us by preceded and succeeded by many security vehicles.

A small group went off towards the parliament while the majority including myself started the long walk back. Along the road on either side we could see couples relaxing in the grass and behind trees. Their public display of affection seemed a little too much.

Back in the bus, as always, it was time to wait for the last group…back in the hotel, some people went shopping in the nearby Monday market and after bargaining hard got themselves gloves, jerkins, sweaters and many other things…

The next day, we started early to Chandigarh after our breakfast. Our driver, a Mr. Mishra was driving at a slow and steady pace. At one of the dhabas, we had our lunch though the food served had been prepared by the team accompanying us.

At the end of what seemed to be a journey that would never end, we reached Chandigarh by 4 in the afternoon. What immediately caught our attention was the organization of the city into well planned sectors as was evident from the many signboards. Here too, the traffic was thin when I tried to compare it with Chennai’s.

Our first stop, rock garden impressed one and all. Divided into 3 phases, it is an artificial garden most of which is built from recycled waste. Running through it were innumerable narrow passages where one could easily get lost. Also to be seen were small waterfall like constructions which made for some good spots to click away photos.

We took a long time inside the garden marveling at the ingenuity of the people who were responsible for coming up with such a novel idea. When we got to the artificial lake nearby, already it was getting dark and a light drizzle began. It however did little to deter our spirits. Had we been a little early, probably we could have enjoyed boat rides.

That night, the dinner was quite memorable at a dhaba with rotis and tomato thokku in the chill weather. Many of us having been used to the Chennai weather (hot, hotter and hottest) got our gloves out for protection. We reached Amritsar in time to catch up with some sleep before the next eventful day. (The day, I enjoyed most)

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