Wednesday, January 31, 2007

SAINT ABROAD, AND A DEVIL AT HOME! Part 2

Ms. Shilpa Shetty has won! She is richer by Rs.3,60,00,000 ( a conservative estimate); and has a whole new world of opportunities opening for her. And ‘racism’ continues in UK, Europe and the world, glorious India included. Just that the victims don’t earn millions like Ms. Shetty did. Kudos to Ms. Shetty. She did India ‘proud’. My friend snorted, when told that Ms. Shetty had won, ‘For that kind of money, people can call me what they want’!

Let me narrate to you my experiences abroad…..
The year is 2001. I am stopped at the passport control at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. The genial Dutch gentleman finds it difficult to fathom that I am an Indian. He shakes his head in disbelief. How, in God’s name, can LIONEL GERARD JULIUS ARANHA, a Roman Catholic be traveling on an Indian Passport? He looks at me bewildered and says ‘You must be a Jamaican’! I grin. He tugs at his walrus mustache. Mutters in Dutch; calls over his colleagues for a look-see at a unique Indian. I am given the look over by four of his friends. All shake their heads; and wave me through after firm handshakes and a pat on my back. Should my brown self have taken affront?

The Canals of Amsterdam

On a train in from Milan to Chivasso (a town, 20 minutes out of Turin), I approach an Indian gentleman for help in finding a particular place. I spread out the map and speak in English and Hindi. He gives me a curt ‘malum nahin’ and moves away. A Pakistani, observing the mini-drama volunteers to help. He even helps us with our luggage when we reach Chivasso. An Italian lady too joins in helping us. Discrimination ???

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

In Rome we are stopped by Sri Lankans who quite excitedly mistake us for their compatriots. But when my cousin, a Mangalorean priest, stops to say ‘Hello’ to a group of Indian Nuns, they take off as if they have seen a ghost! Maybe they were shy? I can't remember if my cousin was wearing his collar.

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican

In Amsterdam, I am the target of the ire of a bus driver for eating a sandwich on the bus; but he does not say a word to the American who was also eating a snack. What did Indians before me do, for me to deserve this? The American does not tip the driver; I do!

On a KLM flight bound out of Rome, my wife and I are the only brown skinned human beings and I am occupying the emergency exit. The airhostess is clearly apprehensive. She kneels in the aisle and explains to me the nuances of the use of the emergency door. Her speech is slow, deliberate and with a lot of expression; her long eye lashes flutter as if in amusement. No, she wasn’t flirting. She was being cautious. (Whereas on the other side of the aisle she has been businesslike and did not waste much time in explaining; and she did not kneel). After the explanations, she asks very slowly “What would you do in case of Emergency?” I am at my eloquent best; I go through the whole drill. Then she asks me “After you open the door, what do you do?” I look at her incredulously and say, “ I will be the first one out!” It catches her off guard. She gurgles with laughter. Next thing I know, I am treated like Royalty. Bottles of Chianti (wine) and a double helping of shrimps follow.

The Colosseum, Rome

Was I lucky? Maybe I was, because I know many haven’t received the same treatment I did. Some have been beaten up and on rare occasions, there have been tragic deaths. Racism is an attitude specific to each human being, we are all intolerant in varying degrees to varied situations, how else can you explain the attitude of the Indian tourist abroad who after surreptitiously sizing you up, decides that you come from a different state, and moves away?
***
An item in today’s newspaper carries a new sobriquet for Ms. Shetty; ‘she is the icon for victims of racism’. What’s happening? What may I ask the media, did she specifically do as a "victim of racism" to be elevated to the rank of an "icon"?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

THE COMPLAINT (A short story)

(This short story is based on an incident that took place many years ago. My endeavour to provide the narrative in story form is to make it that much more readable.)

He was apprehensive. He looked at his image in the window pane. His hand reached out to adjust his hair. His ‘Khaki’ shirt and shorts had made way for a white mundu and a blue shirt. He had tucked a red handkerchief under his collar to prevent his sweat from staining it. Cheap plastic chapels adorned his gnarled feet. Thaniya had come dressed in his best for the occasion. His wife had been upset. She had seen him dressed this way only when he went for weddings and funerals. He had convinced her that he was going to the school. It was the day of the enquiry; he had reminded her.

The enquiry officer would arrive any moment now. Should he withdraw the complaint? The Headmaster hadn’t been too happy about the complaint. But what would his friends – the Gardener and the Attender say? After all it was they who had prodded him to lodge a complaint. In fact, Seena, the attender had drafted the complaint. Thaniya had just put down his initials after Seena had read and explained the complaint. Enough is enough they had said. The high-caste master could not treat him, Thaniya, as scum. After all he was a human being. The government referred to him and his ilk as ‘God’s People’. He had heard that an ill clad man, whose portrait adorned the wall in the Headmaster’s room, had coined the word. Who was this person, he wondered?

Now, the moment of reckoning was on his head. How would the enquiry officer treat the matter? He had heard that people had been sent to jail for the offence he had alleged in his complaint. Would the master go to jail? He couldn’t help but chuckle. This was fun. He, a mere ‘scavenger’ in a private aided school, would decide whether the ‘high-caste’ master would spend some time in jail!
He espied the Enquiry Officer making his way down the corridor to the Headmaster’s room. The department had sent someone young. He had a bag slung over his shoulder. His face cracked into a smile when he spotted Thaniya. He seemed to know him. He even patted Thaniya on the back and proceeded into the Headmaster’s cabin.
****
The ‘high-caste’ master was sent for by the headmaster. Seena, the attender, escorted him. The master looked very nervous. He looked drawn. Ever since Thaniya had lodged the complaint, that was nearly a month ago, the master had looked ill. Just the other day, Seena had brought news that the master had ‘dibitis’. He was urinating sugar, Seena had said. Strange illness, Thaniya felt. That was how his drunkard father had died. Too much drinking caused it; he was told. How could the master, who never touched alcohol, get it? He had argued with Seena. But Pedru, the gardener told him that he had heard the Headmaster say that something called ‘tress’ also caused it. They had wondered what this ‘tress’ was all about.
The master was inside the room for close to half an hour. He could hear voices. The gentle murmur from the enquiry officer, the shrill voice of the master followed by the booming voice of the headmaster, not in that order though. The master left the room. His face was ashen. For a second, Thaniya was uncomfortable.
****
It was Thaniya’s turn. He stepped into the room but hesitated at the door. He should have left his chappals outside. Tch! How very forgetful! What would the headmaster say? The enquiry officer was sitting in the Headmaster’s chair. He beckoned Thaniya and motioned him to sit. Thaniya had sat down only once in front of the Headmaster’s chair; that was when he had gone to invite the Headmaster for his wedding. He shook his head and murmured that he was better off standing. The enquiry officer then read his complaint. He struggled with the Kannada. Probably it was Seena’s writing. Thaniya made a mental note to tell Seena about it. The enquiry officer looked at Thaniya and asked him whether he was comfortable with Kannada. Thaniya was gratified. He spoke clearly that he would like the proceedings to be in Tulu. It was after all his mother tongue.
The enquiry officer smiled and switched over to Tulu. He spoke with a Christian accent. He seemed amiable. He asked the Headmaster to arrange for some tea and asked Thaniya to narrate his version of what had happened that fateful day. Thaniya began his narrative. Seena and Pedru had told him to start from the beginning; after all he had to make his case very strong!
****
It had been a Saturday. Thaniya was looking forward to a restful weekend. A peg of arrack in the evening and then a game of cock fight was what he was looking forward to. He had swept the corridors and classrooms. Just as he was proceeding to clean the latrines, he had spotted the ‘high-caste’ master beckoning him. He had dropped his broom, last time he had been scolded by the man for holding a broom while speaking to him. The master was agitated. He was holding on to his belt. He ordered Thaniya to pick the buckle of his belt which had inadvertently fallen into the urinal, and then clean it and bring it to the staffroom. Thaniya had refused point blank. An argument had ensued and that was when the master in a fit of anger had said “You and your ilk are only fit to do scavenging!” He, Thaniya, had gone to the headmaster’s cabin and told the Headmaster. The headmaster had looked bewildered. He hadn’t handled this ‘buckle-in-urinal’ complaint earlier. He had asked Thaniya not to make it a major issue. After all it was a simple matter. (Thaniya, had left the Headmaster’s room, walked down to the office and asked the office manager leave for the day. Quietly he had slid from the scene. That, he felt was a masterstroke. Else he would have to do the Headmaster’s bidding; and probably treat the matter as closed. The headmaster had helped him with some money to build an additional room to his ramshackle house and therefore, he felt obligated to the pious man.) It had later transpired that Pedru had retrieved the buckle with the aid of a stick and had handed it over to the rightful owner.
On Monday morning, he had conspired with Pedru; who led him to Seena. It was then that the complaint was drafted and sent to the department. The Headmaster and some of the teachers had requested him not to do it. But Thaniya had been adamant. For effect, Thaniya said that he had wanted to go straight to the police station and have the master arrested. The Headmaster and the enquiry officer were both watching Thaniya intently. He felt elated. He wished Pedru and Seena were around to listen to the narrative.
Just then the tea arrived. The enquiry officer took a cup in his hand and asked Thaniya to continue. Thaniya drew himself to full height; he had seen his cousin Duma who was a policeman do that, and then continued his narrative.
He had not liked the master from day one, he said. Always addressing him in the singular; though he, Thaniya, was 25 years older than him. Poking fun at him now and then. He had made several comments on his being squint. He had not heard the comments though; they had been reported to him. He had friends in the staff, you see. They were nice to him.
And most importantly – The master had refused to eat the sweets that he had brought when his son had passed the SSLC exam after 3 attempts. Then there was the case of the master not drinking water from the jug that he had filled. This, he said, made him feel unclean. All this, he said, had made him erupt like a cracker. And the master had wanted him to pick the buckle from the urinal! No way! He, Thaniya, had 33 years of blemishless work record under many Headmasters. He may have cleaned latrines, but he had never picked a buckle from the urinal, never! He paused for effect.
The enquiry officer sighed and then asked Thaniya if the incident in front of the latrine was witnessed by anybody. The headmaster turned to look at Thaniya. Thaniya said “No!” Was the enquiry officer implying that he was lying? Thaniya was losing patience. With a straight face he said, ‘God was the witness’.
The enquiry officer looked at Thaniya sharply and said “God also forgives! What about you Thaniya? Can you not forgive? Look at the man. He has developed diabetes. Do you know he has a mentally retarded daughter? What do you get from putting him behind bars for commenting on your caste? I know it was wrong, but you are older than him, don’t you think you should understand all this?”
Thaniya was taken aback. He hadn’t known about the daughter. That was news to him. Had God already punished the man? Then why should he a mere mortal punish him further; or did God want him to punish him further? Thaniya was confused. What should he do? He wished his friends were with him. But then again, did the enquiry officer know of his problems? He stayed in a ramshackle hovel. The empty field at the back of his house was his toilet; which he shared with his community members. He and his community members were still being treated like lepers. The government helped. But it looked like it helped only those who already had plenty. Look at that crook Buba. He had joined the government service as an attender. Today he had moved out of the locality, built a huge house, and his children were studying to be doctors. He, Buba, had shamelessly boasted, over a peg of arrack, that he took bribes. All that Thaniya had done was sold a few beedis to the students of 10th Std. He was censured. And Thaniya’s children, less said about them, the better.
He looked at the enquiry officer and said in a loud voice “No”! The enquiry officer sighed, the Headmaster made a clucking noise. “Then you must produce a witness” said the enquiry officer. Thaniya was agitated. “You mean to say he said he did not say all this?” he said. “Then why had the Headmaster requested me to withdraw the complaint? Why did the other teachers ask forgiveness on his behalf?” And then with great aplomb he said “Do you take me for a fool?” That was great dialogue, he felt.
It was the turn of the enquiry officer to be confused. He got up, picked his bag and murmured about making a report. Quietly he shook hands with the Headmaster, offered a vacant smile to Thaniya and went out of the room. Thaniya followed him outside. He did not want to be alone with the Headmaster.
****
That night, Thaniya did not sleep well. The face of the master, the enquiry officer and the headmaster kept coming back in dream after dream. He got up and went out in the open. Lighting a beedi, he looked up at the sky. He was tired of it all; tired of everything. Should he withdraw the complaint? What would his friends say? He pondered for a long while, then turned in and slept.
****
The next morning, Thaniya walked into the Headmaster’s room startling him. The Headmaster asked Thaniya sharply, “What do you want?” Thaniya bowed down and looking at the floor said “I withdraw the complaint.” The Headmaster took some time to recover. But looking relieved, removed his spectacles and polishing them said “I assure you he won’t trouble you again. I will call the enquiry officer and inform him. You may have to sign a statement”. Thaniya turned to go. Just then the Headmaster said “Thaniya, what made you change your mind?” Thaniya paused, looked at the Headmaster and said “Let sleeping dogs lie”. He walked out tears streaming from his eyes, head erect, proud that he, a mere mortal, had forgiven.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

SAINT ABROAD, AND A DEVIL AT HOME!

As I write this post, a strange ‘drama’ is unfolding on TV screens around the UK and India. The actresses are, not necessarily in any order of preference;
Ms. Shilpa Shetty – a wannabee Ms. Aishwarya Rai, who will go any length to boost a sagging career. Known to wear clothing that makes me wonder – did the tailor take erroneous measurements or was the cloth insufficient? Mind you, she is pretty!
Ms. Jade Goody – a dental nurse. General knowledge isn’t her forte; she though Rio De Janeiro was a footballer!
Ms. Danielle Lloyd – dethroned Miss Great Britain. Supposed to have had an affair with the judge of the contest; hence dethroned – a case of undue influence.
Ms. Jo O’Meara – a former singer in a pop band SClub7. It is reported her solo career did not quite take off.
All of the above mentioned ladies are locked in a battle on a reality TV show called ‘Big Brother’. If I am to believe the tabloids, they are all being paid to appear on this show.
The show is simple – after watching their 'antics', viewers vote to have to have them exit the show. My surmise is that the one who remains, wins the show.
It would have been just another show – but for the bullying of Ms. Shetty by the other contestants; particularly Ms. Goody and to a certain extent Ms. Lloyd. Viewers complained – nearly 36,000 complaints were lodged against the bad treatment, with perceived racial over-tones, meted out to Ms. Shetty.
Breaking News, Flash News, Big Fights, Headline, Page 3, Editorials, Letters to Editors, emails, sms, blogs et al have been written and rewritten on the alleged ‘Racial Slur’ on this reality TV show, in the land of our ex-rulers. It has had every Indian worth his/her salt up in arms. Issueless politicians of both countries have pitched in their two paise worth. The matter has been discussed at breakfast, lunch and dinner; in houses, restaurants, trains, buses, planes, airports, cars and God knows where else. Indians in India & abroad, (including a dude in a ship anchored of the coast of Iceland) have felt insulted. In one voice they have bashed the obnoxious behaviour of Ms. Shetty’s mates on the show - Jade Goody & Danielle Lloyd.
Everybody, including the Brits, have had huge sympathy for Ms. Shetty. Ms. Shetty, meanwhile, has achieved stardom of a different kind, Danielle has lost lucarative modeling assignments, Carphone Warehouse – the main sponsor, has pulled out the sponsorship for the show & Channel 4 – the broadcaster, is left holding fort. Indian Tourism Department has placed an ‘Incredible India’ advertisement in a London Tabloid – in which Ms. Goody and her ilk are invited to explore our mysterious nation!
Latest news coming in say that Goody and Lloyd have made up to Shilpa – hugs and tears all around and all appears to be fine……
And finally today, Ms. Jane Goody has been voted out by the viewers.

I am amazed.

Aren’t we carrying this a bit too far? Ms. Shilpa Shetty is not representing India. She is in the show for money and fame – possibly an overseas acting assignment to follow.
People who have traveled abroad, and Great Britain, in particular will tell you that ‘Racism’ exists. There have been countless number of Indians who may have been the target of Racism – has a voice been raised? Forget the shores of a foreign land. What about India?
As a kid, I wished I was born with a fair complexion. My complexion was the butt of jokes for some absolutely, abjectly, miserable cretins; particularly in school. I had a master who once called me ‘kariya’, in Kannada, in class – that’s like calling someone ‘nigger’ in USA. I was helpless – 'red' with indignation; but I couldn’t do a farthing’s fart. In the initial years this was a nightmare – but as I grew up I felt okay. I could not change the colour of my skin. I guess this continues even today. People do not change. Mind you my tormentors were Indians, in India. Then what the hell are we crying hoarse about Racism in some other country?
Aren’t we a brood of Hypocrites? Have we not divided our country, firstly, into North and South? Up North don’t we deal rather contemptuously with people from South? Aren’t the people of South less friendly towards ‘Northies’? The people of the North East are still referred to as ‘chinese’! They haven’t been made to feel Indian. Down south we have our own share of queerness with ‘Mallu’, ‘Tams’, ‘Andis’ et all.
Get in too deep…… and we have Hindus pitted against Muslims. And don’t we have the famous Caste System – that some of us are proud of. Doesn’t the Government tacitly divide us into ‘Reserved’ and ‘General’? Don’t we discriminate the Girl Child? Women?

I am amazed!

And we have the audacity to slam the kinds of Goody and Lloyd!

Saint abroad, and a Devil at Home!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

PURSUE ACHIEVABLE GOALS


Fourteen days of 2007 have passed us by. It is time to take stock of the resolutions that we made on December 31st 2006. I don’t know about you, but I have in the past few years managed to stick to some resolutions at least. For example, last year I gave up the odd cigarette that I used to smoke in the company of friends. I thought that was quite an achievement.

Many of us make the usual resolutions and promptly break them in the first week of January. A census conducted shows the following as the ten most common resolutions made for the New Year:

Lose weight, Stop smoking, Stick to a budget, Save more money, Find a better job, Become more organised, Exercise more, Be patient at work/with others , Eat better & Become a better person.

This year I have made a few 'achievable' resolutions:

  • I have decided to reduce my travel – Past two years have been pretty hectic
  • I have decided to dedicate some time for a sport – I used to play a lot of shuttle badminton; and have decided to resume playing once again
  • Lose a few inches from around my waist
  • Learn ballroom dancing – My wife is longing to learn; and I have decided to help her out
  • Continue posting in my blog, at least once a month
  • Continue work on my novel – at least put in 25 pages of quality writing
  • Put together my mother’s collection of hand written recipes in a book-form.

I have commenced work on all fronts. After a fortnight, I feel confident that I will be able to achieve some of these resolutions. That’s because I have put down that which can be achieved. Are you doing the same? Are you pursuing achievable goals?

Last week an old acquaintance visited me at my office. He was going through a phase; not being able to achieve his goals. That’s when I remembered the above picture. I pulled it out of my archives and blew it up on my PC screen and invited his attention to it. He pondered for a while, stared at me, blinked twice and murmured ‘nice picture’. Knowing him, I knew his mind was ticking. That evening he called me to say that he wanted the picture. I have forwarded it to him.

It does not matter whether they are New Year resolutions or goals that you would like to score during your lifetime – Pursue Achievable Goals!


"Let's only have goals we can go after" - Bono (U2)