Justice

If you are in India or are an Indian or even an Indophile, you must be aware of the Salman Khan hit-and-run case. He is a famous Bollywood star. Nearly 13 years ago, he got behind the wheels of his SUV drunk, and despite his bodyguard advising him not to, he drove… over a few homeless people sleeping on the footpath. The last 13 years have been spent by him avoiding jail time, with the help of some really expensive and good lawyers. Salman and his team have always maintained that he was not driving. His bodyguard and driver and a few witness maintained that he was.

His bodyguard died in penury a few years later. His driver changed his story 11 to 12 years down the line and took on the blame. The witnesses turned hostile.

The footpath dwellers, you ask? One of them died. The others suffered serious injuries and are back in their hometowns in the Indian hinterland waiting for justice.

13 years later, the court found Salman guilty and handed him a 5 year prison term. It could have been anything between 3 to 10 years. It was a judgement that upset his fans and shocked many others. But there was also rejoicing. The sentencing had proved that in this country in the eyes of the law we are all the same – the rich, the poor, the famous and the homeless.

Within 24 hours of the judgement, his lawyers had appealed at a higher court and Salman’s sentence was suspended till the appeal is heard in June end or July.

But what is justice? These survivors don’t want to see Salman behind bars. They want compensation. They want jobs that they can hold despite their disabilities. In the last 10 odd years, Salman has through his foundation Being Human done a lot of good. Some say that the creation of the foundation was motivated by the need to earn brownie points in the court. Others say it was his way of doing penance. I really don’t think it matters anymore.

Given his standing in the Hindi film industry and the amount of money running on him, some members of the Indian film industry have actually fallen low enough to blame the homeless for sleeping on the footpath! Talk about lack of empathy! So driven are they by their need to be in the good books of Salman Khan that they are willing to drop humanity by the wayside.

In fact I no longer consider Salman the main culprit either. The main culprit here is the system that plays football with the poor and the middle class. Salman and his team are playing the system the best they can so that he can avoid jail time. The main culprit here is the complete lack of empathy and the attitude that ‘as long as I or my loved ones are not harmed, I am going to bet on the strongest horse’. Forget right and wrong. Forget guilt. Forget justice.

All of these events make me wonder what hope is there any hope for justice for those who are not rich or powerful or famous! The appeal is going to be heard in a couple of months time. It will be a chance for the Indian judiciary to prove to the Indian citizen that this is one pillar of the Indian democracy that is standing strong. It has provided us with hope in the past – albeit delayed – and one can only hope that justice is protected and served this time round too.

Justice is no longer about whether Salman goes to prison or not; neither is it about the duration of his sentence. It is about whether wealth and power can thwart and topple all sense of fair play.

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10 Reasons Why An NRI Misses India

I am a bit stuck today. Not a writer’s block, but I don’t feel like posting anything that I have written. Not good enough… too personal… not ready to share blah blah. Then as I was sitting in front of the TV and trying hard to not watch the IPL match between Delhi and Mumbai, I realized that I am dying for my daughter’s summer vacation to start. The two month long holidays meant that we spent a month to a month and half in India. Something that we look forward to as it allows us the chance to spend time with our families, and also to reconnect with a country that we call home.

Before long I was making this list.

10 Reasons Why An NRI Misses India… I am not mentioning family and friends – that is a given.

  1. The black ink on the index finger. I am an expat in a foreign land and cannot vote. So the act of exercising your right to vote holds special meaning for me.
  2. The cheerful, frantic buzz of the perfect amalgamation of at least 10 Indian languages that hit you as soon as you land in any Indian airport. You can be assured that you will hear some Hindi, Malayalam, Punjabi, Gujarati and Tamil for sure. Guaranteed.
  3. Monsoon clouds… especially if you spend 11 months of the year in the Middle East, where if you are lucky it will drizzle twice for about 10 minutes maximum. And then you come to India in July and look up and see those thick, luscious clouds.
  4. Roadside dhabbas and chaat sellers. Sure if you are the owner of a sissy tummy you may end up in the hospital with a drip in your arm, but that is a risk most of us are willing to take.
  5. Secondhand book shops on the pavement, with a Mills&Boons steamy romance rubbing shoulders proudly with Jawahar Lal Nehru’s Discovery of India. Not to forget the ubiquitous tutorial and exam guide books.
  6. Movie posters! (I learnt to read Tamil thanks to all those posters I saw while travelling by bus.) And they are so colourful and over the top! The actor’s dramatic expression captured for posterity and for every passerby to gawk at. Some of them are hilarious and some are lewd.
  7. Freedom to criticize the powers that be – loudly and openly. Freedom to display religious icons – no matter what God you believe in. No one is going to persecute them for saying or thinking what they want to. Yes there have been occasions when these rights have been trampled upon. But most times, Indians exercise these rights without any sense of fear.
  8. A sense of belonging that I have not experienced anywhere else. I have travelled to a few countries – all of which were beautiful and well planned (or better planned than India) and seemed to function better. But my soul fires up and I am buzzing with energy when in India.
  9. Holi and Diwali on the streets. If you have not experienced it, you have missed out on something. It is not Mardi Gras. It is more visceral – a heady combination of religion, suspension of rules and masti (a Hindi word that could be translated to mean joy and fun).
  10. Signboards that promise way more than they will ever deliver or ever meant to deliver. “Potty’s Restaurant – Pure Vegetarian” anyone! It should have been Pothy’s. Or how about Anus Coaching Centre. That should have been Anu’s. I love these signboards. They make me laugh out and remind me again and again about what a colourfully eccentric I belong to. Another one was a garage in Goa that advertised its manual car wash services with – The Best Hand Job in Town.

Of course there is the other side to it too. So…

10 things about India that an NRI doesn’t miss…

  1. Nosy neighbours… I swear you don’t have them in the Middle East. And if you do, chances are they are originally from India.
  2. Road work that halts traffic for years.
  3. Flyovers to nowhere that are never completed.
  4. Crazy flooding. Monsoon in India is magical. It can also be scary and disruptive. If like me you like the rains, then you will be a lot more tolerant of all the hassles… but everyone cracks under the pressure – sooner or later.
  5. Inflation! I could buy the shop for Rs500 when I left… now I am lucky if I can get a bottle of milk and a tissue box.
  6. And those tiny four road junctions, where no one will let anyone else have the right of way. The motto is – Let’s all be stuck together!
  7. Your cousin’s husband’s aunt who is mad at you for missing her baby’s wedding. Doesn’t matter that you don’t remember the aunt or the baby.
  8. Lack of queues. I know! It is an Indian thing. We are sorry. I don’t know why we can’t stand in queues. It is a mystery or maybe it is in our DNA. Of course we behave when we are in a foreign land, but the minute we are back in India…
  9. Roadside Romeos – they sound romantic and cute don’t they? They are not. They are irritating idiots who think it is ok to heap unwanted attention on a female, just because she is a woman and he is a… well, man. And no – all women in India do not get raped!
  10. The humidity!!! Heat is one thing. Humidity is another. The icky sticky feeling – it may be good for your skin and it may flush out all the toxins, but a little less of the sweaty feeling would have been nice.

Do write in and tell me what you miss and don’t miss (or wouldn’t miss) about your country.

Vulnerability

I am here again! And today I know what I am going to write about. I am sorry. I realise there are prompts for each day’s 500 words. But I am on my trip… as usual. Today I want to write about Vulnerability. A word that I have been preoccupied with for the last 9 years. I was reminded of it again yesterday when I watched a Ted Talk by Amanda Palmer titled ‘The Art of Asking’ http://on.ted.com/Amanda. (Thanks Sadha for the link). She speaks about asking for help – be it a couch to crash out in, or the help of other musicians and fans of her music or the help of strangers.

Now, in today’s world, forget asking for help from strangers, we are taught from a very young age to not talk to strangers… to not even make eye contact with strangers. We have learnt to equate the word stranger with danger and evil. And in some cases this equation may even be justified. Anyway, which one amongst us is willing to take the risk, especially where the safety of our children are involved! We’d rather build higher walls than risk the safety of our kids.

Then I watched Amanda standing naked amongst her fans, after a particular show, allowing them to write on her body. Like she said, this was taking trust to a different level altogether. I am not even tempted to try. But there was a deeper truth in there that rang so true to me. I was lucky enough to grow up in a world where fellow human beings were still treated with trust, rightly or wrongly. Over the years and with experience I have built up my walls. Walls, the bricks and mortar of which are suspicion, sarcasm, cynicism, anger, toughness, even humour.

And then my daughter was born. She is everything I am not… or rather, she is everything I have trained and taught myself to not be. She is emotional and vulnerable. Rejection on the playground doesn’t faze her. She is back right there, reaching out again to that kid who refused to play with her! She has been like this since she could walk! And when she would walk away, sad after yet another rebuff, I would take her hand and walk around and chatter brightly and then ‘advice’ her. “If some kid doesn’t want to play with you, ignore them. You will find better friends to play with.”

Luckily my kid, even as a toddler, had better sense than me. There she was. Again. In the playground. Walking up to that girl! God! Really! Will this child never learn!? Apparently not!

I tied myself up in knots at how vulnerable a position my daughter was placing herself in by opening herself up to this kind of rejection. My eyes would fill up with tears as I watched her reach out, sometimes risk rejection and often make friends with the other kids in the neighbourhood. Over the years she has made many good friends and a few ‘bestest’ friends. And since we are expatriates living in a foreign land, she has also had to watch a few friends go away and cried over it. But the next day she is back out there. Again! In this world. Making friends.

Over the years I have learnt that she is not a fool for being this trusting and vulnerable – about the whole process of life. She is not being foolish when she is not guarded and protected. She is being brave. There is a lot of courage involved in being vulnerable and trusting the world to take care of you… in being willing to risk getting hurt. And the child has become the teacher of the father… mother in this case.

And no, that girl still did not want to play with my daughter. But that still did not deter her from reaching out! They did eventually end up playing once in a while, until we moved out of that neighbourhood.

I have over the years begun to knock some of those bricks out. Unknowingly, the world and I have given my daughter a few bricks to build her own wall. Hopefully, she has the sense to build a picket fence instead of a wall.

Stuck

Most days when I actually sit down to write, the words flow. And then there are days like today. I have not written a word the last few days… the weekend, a bout of cold and friends visiting from India. This is such a terribly familiar litany that I am cringing with shame as I jot it down. I am also writing down these tiny, inane details cause I have no clue what I should write about today in my 500 + words.

Ummm…. I think I will write about… gawd! Nothing! Blank. I had a few topics flit through my head – support, ennui, helplessness. But I don’t feel like writing about any of them. I don’t feel like writing today.

Since morning my self-talk has been littered with stuff like, “I am going to hit my 500 words today. Even if I have to sit and type out meaningless drivel.” “I think I am going to take a break and do this later.” “This is torture!” I can think of a hundred different things I want to do right now. Respond to some emails and comments. Clean my bedside draw. Cook. And I am not even that fond of cooking!

Aaaarrrgghhhh stuck again! Now what! Can I complete this later?

I have been a writer most of my life. I have written for newspapers, magazines, PR companies and as a favour for a few friends. I have even ghost written articles for a fitness expert! But these are the bread and butter kind of writing. When I am not doing that, in my spare time, I am working on two projects – my novel, and my script.

I am currently working on a novel and things are proceeding well. I have plotted my story outline finally and my first three chapters are almost done. The one-line break-up for my movie script is also ready and is now only going to be touched again in July, when I visit Mumbai and can hopefully sit with an old friend and go over it with a tooth comb.

I am over my first flush of youth, and am firmly ensconced in middle age – though my head and heart are in their 20s (statements like the 40s are the new 30s only add to the confusion.) Most days I tell myself it is never too late to chase a dream, but then once in a while there are days like today, when the words don’t trip and tumble over each other in their hurry to get set on paper. Days when the blank sheet is scary and blank. Expressionless. On those days, I ask myself, “Is it silly of me to hang on to a dream like this?”

I have spent most of my life being busy – but not really working towards my dream. And now that I have quit my job with the express aim of focussing on my dream, I continue to fill my days with busyness of the worst kind. The kind of busyness that lets me tell the world that I write. But I am not writing what I want to write, instead I take up projects that bring in some small change and a by-line in some magazine. But that is not what I want. I have seen my name too many times in a newspaper and magazine for that to hold any charm for me.

Since September last I have tried to cut down on that kind of writing. But I was still wasting time on stuff. Not on my writing. The last one month has however been good. I have actually got down to sharing my work on my novel with a few friends and getting their feedback and basically am working on the novel every single day. I realise that it is not laziness, but fear, that prevents me from working on my pet projects. Fear that it will not be good enough. Fear that I am fooling myself when I think that I have a story to tell. And every single day, I have to fight this particular demon, before I can even open my laptop and click on my story’s document and start typing away. Like a smoker trying to give up the habit, I have to take it one day at a time.

And now, a couple of paras down the line, I shrug and sit back and relax and let the words flow. The page is no longer blank. The gates have opened. Again. Thank God! Today, I have earned the right to call myself a writer, again.