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.

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.

Changes

What a day! It is 10.30pm. Another hour and a half and I would have missed writing my 500 for the day. Truth be told I’d much rather be sleeping right now. I am that tired – mentally and emotionally. But writing has always helped me unravel the knots of my mind.

A weekday, today, has been as busy as any other day. My 24 hours have stretched and grown and shrunk throughout the day. And then for 15 whole minutes it stood still. I was tucking my 9 year old into bed but she just could not sleep. And then the tears started sliding down those cheeks that still remind me of a helpless toddler. Her best friend in class was leaving the school tomorrow for another one. It was the end of this great friendship.

My heart broke, because I know how final it can all seem. I muttered the usual platitudes – you will meet again; I will organize play dates; you can talk on the phone. My girl looks at me at says, “But ma, it will not be the same.”

No my child, it will not be the same. Things change. Always. We can go mad trying to stop them from changing, but change is relentless. This is one of the toughest and most necessary lessons of life and I wish there was an easier way to learn this. I wish I could gather her in my arms and protect her from all those changes that threaten to hurt her.

Luckily for her, wiser consul prevails. That and the fact that I really can’t protect her from all the changes that she will have to deal with in her life. These little battles of life make her tougher and more capable of handling the even tougher changes that will occur in her life – puberty, leaving home for college, heartbreak, realising that one can fall in love more than once, the challenges of a workplace, working towards achieving your dreams, marriage, parenthood… God!

Sometimes memories of a younger me slip in through my protective, well-guarded walls of adulthood. And I remember the child that was me. I feel the tears well up as I realise how brave a kid I was. I realise how brave my daughter is. How singularly brave every single one of us who chooses to become a parent is cause, watching our children walk, trip, fall down, and get up, to only trip and fall over again… is one of the most heartbreakingly vulnerable acts out there.

Ah forgive me… I am whining and rambling at the same time. I think it is because I am feeling so raw today. I can handle my child crying because she fell down and scraped her knee badly, but when the tears are because her heart is sad… I am at a loss.

For now, I am going to go and lie down next to her and cuddle up to her. I have a few more years of that and then she will be a teen and, from what I have heard, will change and not want to cuddle so much. Goodnight.

500 Words A Day

This is the first of my 500 words a day challenge. https://www.facebook.com/groups/my500words/. I hope to start doing the 500 words as writing for my novel from tomorrow. But for today, this is it. My motivation for taking up this challenge is to get into the habit of writing every day. I need to work on my discipline and consistency. On one day I would write 2000 words and then not touch my laptop for the next 4 days!

I consider myself a writer but feel rather fake at the same time and I think it is rooted in the fact that I don’t write every single day. I was watching (or listening) Jeff Goins webinar about writing and it was quite an eye opener. I realised that I needed a lot more clarity about what my blog was meant to do. I need to divide my blog in to sections and focus on my pieces on traveling, my poems and my life and motherhood articles and features.

I need to link it up with interesting websites also. I should ask for help from some technically savvy person. *Hint hint* people!

And then there is the email list that Jeff spoke about. I am not so sure about it, because it feels like promotion. But if I want my blog to speak for me and my writing and hopefully help me get a publishing deal then this is something that I will have to consider.

I also like the idea of guest posting though it is not something that I have ever considered seriously until right now. But he is right. It is a community out there. And if I want to belong to a community I have to participate. This is so different a way to approach creativity from the way, say, Joni Mitchell, approached it. She wrote and sang to please an audience of one – herself. She listened to her critics, but at the end of the day her work was dictated by her own insights and opinions. http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/09/22/joni-mitchell-in-her-own-words-malka-marom/

But we live in a very different world. Even writers have to network… shudder… That 7-letter-word is more of a swear word than some four letter words out there. But like Jeff, maybe I need to look at networking differently. In my head, networkers who use the internet and social media are often likened to a spider sitting all alone in a corner, weaving a web that reaches out and traps the poor unsuspecting victims. Instead of limiting it to ‘a selfish pursuit and wooing of individuals who can be of assistance and benefit to you,’ maybe I should think of it as offering your services to fellow creatives and building a web of mutual support. Maybe I should replace the word network with web-work.

Whatever you call it, it doesn’t change one all-important basic fact. In this age of self-publishing, marketing, book tours and blogging, writing is no longer something you do all alone. I love the imagery and idea of Henry Thoreau and his cottage… the physical isolation and heightened emotional and intellectual connection it fostered. I imagine my hero R.W. Emerson sitting in front of a cheery fire and churning out his essays with an almost spiritual sense of solitude. But I live in a world where my mobile beeps, pokes and vibrates. I am so plugged in, tuned in and connected that I am surprised that my head hasn’t sprouted a power station! And I need to find a balance. And peace. And discipline. 500 words a day.