The Disingenuous Railway

Kerala Sampark Kranti was supposed to reach Madgaon station at 9.30pm on the second day of the journey. We were not exactly waiting for the destination. The gravid green scenery hill piercing the clouds and suddenly falling into valleys that gave u a sense of levitation, the extremely plain fields filled with water being sprinkled with rain, the rivers and waterways with canoe and a calm demeanor, looked at through the clean glass window of a higher-class compartment could go on forever. The waiter, although announced, Madgaon station was expected at about 2.30am in the night, apparently because during rainy season, trains ran slow in Konkan railway and there were stops at about 8 hours apart. We ordered dinner. After dinner, with just the darkness outside the window, and a noisy kid inside, I grew restless as I always did in train journeys. The same waiter in an usual nonchalant face said, “Madgaon will come at 11pm”. Most of us, first-time visitors, hurried to get our luggage together.

Cyani, my younger brother doesn’t bother. Did he just sell us a dinner we might not have needed, he asks.

We had been discussing how the railway is milking travelers. Take “tatkal scheme” for example.

Sometime back tatkal could be booked 2 days (i.e 48 hours) in advance of the departure time of the train from the source station. There was a reason for that. Those who book tatkal ticket are either the one who decided to travel just 2-3 days before their travel day or the one who booked earlier but got a higher-numbered-waiting-list that might not convert to a confirmed berth. When the second category people booked tatkal ticket, they simply cancelled their regular (called general ticket) before 24 hours of travel and got the entire fare refunded minus the cancellation fee. Now, since tatkal policy is changed (to booking 24 hours in advance) without changing the cancellation and refund policy, the second category traveler will forfeit 25% of the fare of the regular ticket. Since tatkal ticket can’t be cancelled, that 25% is assured profit to the railways.

Can you guess when this change took place? Mamata Banarjee did a lot of hoo-halla, sacked Dinesh Trivedi for his anti-people fare hike and installed Mukul Roy as railway minister who went on to do roll-back the fare-hike (in March/2012) and did this change in tatkal booking time in June/2012. Nobody protested.

We don’t know if we should protest, half the times and the rest of the times, we are not sure if protests work. Take for example, the railway “Toilets”.

Railway toilets are actually open defecation systems, and with higher-class compartments only the number of times they clean is higher. Even after Bezwada Wilson indicted Railway and the Govt. in prime time national television with Amir Khan, nothing came forward. No provision in the budget, no program for its elimination and quite predictably no protest from the people. Mostly because the people who can protest and be heard don’t care. We believe it doesn’t affect us. How many of the traveler actually hold off nature’s call at the platforms, even though it is suggested to do? Don’t you always see the railway tracks in platform soiled and smell a pungent, very characteristically railway odour there. It can affect everybody’s health, the manual scavenger’s heavily, not even the travelers are not immune to it, especially very young ones. Read here. ” Faeces contain germs that, when released into the environment, make their way onto children’s fingers and feet, into their food and water, and wherever flies take them. Exposure to these germs not only gives children diarrhoea, but over the long term, also can cause changes in the tissues of their intestines that prevent the absorption and use of nutrients in food, even when the child does not seem sick. ”

So may be, next time you travel, put a letter in the suggestion box, you may not find one easily. My coach said the complaint/suggestion box was with the guard. That may not be enough anyway, but it cant be left just like that.


Presbyopia of The Hindu

If you thought the videos that “The Hindu” lately circulating in social medias and TVs(!) were tasty, I want to add some sweet lime juice to your taste. I know its never sweet.

When the march began, “The Hindu” printed a colorful picture captioned “Thousands of landless poor, Dalits and Adivasis gather at Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, on Tuesday before the long march to New Delhi” in the 3rd Oct issue.

When they get closer walking for 3 days, the eggheads in The Hindu’s editorial office re-adjust their glasses and peer into the pictures they get of the people and what they find?

That there are no dalits. And thats how they caption the photo, “Tribals and landless farmers seen at Morena in Madhya Pradesh on Friday during their “Jan Satyagraha” march from Gwalior to New Delhi demanding land rights.”

Don’t blame “The Hindu”. You know Dalits are the tricksters, they might have set the landless and tribal people on road and quitely left the scene. Or may be they were the only people, who heard the Rural development Minister. He famously said “go home..blah blah”.

Besides, if you can are nitpicking, like I do, why it is have to be “landless farmers, dalits and tribals”? About 80% of the people in such rallies are usually dalits and adivasis, because ladless farmer as a cateogry is primarily composed of dalits and adivasis. But the newspaper, which claims to teach english and morality to the whole nation (barring its own reader, who it claims are already moral and educated.) has not thought of a way to appreciate the fact.


Sangma, Congress and the Presidential Election

Congress was such entrenched in the rural constituency that, it almost seemed like one of the most pernicious social evils. People would search for “hath chhap” in gram-panchayat polls, Indira Gandhi was household moniker of village tomboys, anyone in white kadi would be a congressia, Congress flags easily went up on Independence Days as a matter of confusion and congress was the sarkari party without doubt. But congress was also hierarchical, so much so that it resembled the “most pernicious social evil”, if you know what I mean. People spent their lifetime in congress and never went anywhere, except for the district party office that they visited almost everyday. If and when one in those unlucky millions somehow sidestepped the tentacles of the family members of the erstwhile representatives and got the “ticket”, as they called the permission to file nomination as a party candidate as if Parliament/Assembly were theatres and they would be spectators watching the puppet show that the high command unfolded if they won, they were senile, impotent by that time but unable to die or abdicate something they longed so long. Delete “if they win” from your memory, because almost always congress candidates won. Or may be don’t delete so soon, because it was the congress which won always, as for the candidates winning was figurative. Younger people kept looking for breakthrough. They were active politicians in colleges having employed every trick of trade in student body elections, able administrators as evident from the despairing state of college canteens, libraries and classrooms and ambitious enough to garner good fortune (from their college funds and other means) and a fleet of well-fed, well-oiled musclemen. Some of them even bravely demonstrated their qualification to the “High command”. Breakthrough was not in the offing, in a party that operated, should I say like the one most intractable social evils!

After a while, the RSS had started recruiting thousands of Pracharaks and few more times more Shiskaks(teachers) for their “Susumandirs and Vidyamandirs”. A wave of “sanskritisation” of the “innocent” tribals had been quietly taking place through the “banavasi kalyana sangha” and “Ekalavya Siksha Kendra”. Shitloads of money was poured both by the Corporation Hindutva and their local Franchise (the businnessmen and the priestliers:-if we are not calling the spade a spade in this post instead call them Poachers). The young leaders from college student bodies, whose families still voted on the “hath chhap” no matter what name it had on ballot with it, were ready to bet their leadership, dynamism, their community’s constituencies for a break- the ticket. The Sangh Parivar provided them the “ticket” and paid them well as well.

It is not a nightmare. It was a winning combination that weaned congress from the most assured constituencies. In western Orissa, including the mineral rich, extremely poor KBK region, congress was all over this lush green belt of hunger death till the early 80s, during which time the Poachers rolled in. Orissa, like most part of India, was always ripe for them. It was one of the first states to prohibit beef consumption by outlawing cow-slaughter aiming particularly at Christian population of the tribals who were unusually educated and high-achievers. The young dalit student leaders, the saffornised non-christian tribals became their foot-soldiers. As a result, Congress ceded Orissa.

The whole spectacle is replayed over the presidential election. Congress never encouraged leadership. It imposed leadership, it imposed leaders- who were party cadres ground into years of submission. It broke and/or bought leaders into submission, to impose its unflinching authority, much like one of the most despicable social evils.

P. A. Sangma probably did a grave blunder in assessing the outcome of Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin controversy and congress may be justified in not supporting him for ‘revenge’. But the way, Sangma, a tribal leader, is forced to emerge a candidate of the NDA and hence the communal Hindutva who are the nemesis of the dalits, tribals and minority retells of the tortuous path to power and position for dalit-tribals leaders that strips them off any power or position of doing anything worthwhile or even remaining authentic to their roots. Tomorrow, i.e after 5 years congress would appoint (newspapers tell you nominate or elect) a tribal leader as President of India. We will owe it to Sangma, as much congress will want us to acknowledge its party president for it.

Coins: An Obituary

Few days ago, a comely woman in a stationary store lost a bargain for change in return of a bunch of envelopes she sold. Reluctantly she tendered a Rs.10 coin to her impatient customers. I was surprised; Sibaji started using the envelopes as we were already late for the late Post-Office of Hauz Khas.

Along the way, I think of the white and pink stripped candy we called peppermint. It was both the least desirable and most affordable candy we could buy while we were in elementary school. I don’t actually remember buying one for 5 paisa, but I know they did cost 5 paisa, and whenever I saw 5 paisa coin I couldn’t relate it to anything else but the peppermint. 5 paisa coin was also important in replacing the 25 paisa (4 anna) coin, along with a 20 paisa coin or two 10 paisa coins, cause those days 1 tanka was 16 annas a lot more often than 1 rupee used to be 100 paisa. I remember expressing my profound doubt over annas, because first of all nowhere “anna” was written and second, what would be ek-anna(1 anna), six-and-half paisa? Impossible. But I could swear someone showed by a very antiquated half paise coin. Besides, there was this bollywood song “panch rupaiya bara anna” on radio.

While elders gambled their money away in card games and sometimes in carom, before all those betting and other stuff entered village, kids had a special gambling. You draw a circle and a straight line couple of steps apart. Then you throw the coins you have pooled among the players into the circle from the line, that is if you win the toss. If any of the coins fall outside the circle you are out, the next player collects and throws them in again. When all coins are inside the circle, you draw your weapon- a circular flat piece of stone that you custom make yourself and hit as hard as you can at whatever coin your competitors point out. If that specific coin goes out of the circle, you take home the dough.

I remember having a lot of 5, 10, 20 paisa aluminum coins dented and distorted beyond recognition. It was only their wavy or orthogonal edges that vouched their worth. A lot many of them would gather in my hostel drawers, too many to be stacked, but they looked neat when stacked. Often, when there is no money after paying all the dues, I would get these out and try to use them, unsuccessfully most of the time, either because of the unwillingness of the shopkeeper or my own embarrassment. Slowly they disappeared and it was the 25 paisa and 50 paisa coins that accumulated in the drawers, shy of the shopkeepers. In fact, in Raipur (Chhattisgarh), in 2005, I was refused a 50 paisa due for something that cost Rs 2.50/- and I had given Rs.3. I checked almost all shops in the railway station, they had derecognised 50/25 paisa coins and effectively raised price of everything to the next round-able Rupee figure. If you bought 10 different items from 10 different shops you could lose more than 7 rupees. In a few years, the marketing industry took cue from Raipur and all retail prices were rounded off. I don’t feel cheated anymore, although I know am.

I remember the excitement to have a Rs. 5 coin as a kid. Five rupees was too much for us, but the unmatched thickness of the coin, although smaller in size than Rs.1 or 2 coins fascinated me. I found out only yesterday, the 1 rupee coin has shrank to as small as the Rs. 5 rupee coin. May be to the size of a charanna.

From the Metro station to my rented house, the DTC bus fair is Rs. 10. The mini-van-look-alike fair Rs 5. instead. It more like a Maruti Omni body on three wheels, with the space inside is imagined to accommodate people’s butts, no heads or legs. But many of us get into that. For people who make that decision, the travel of life is difficult ahead.

P.S- Fair in non-AC metro mini bus services also cost Rs.5.

Mamata Proves Mayawati Right

Had Mamata Banerjee not walked out of the TV recoding due to be televised, we would have never known what she was talking about when she blamed the audience to be Maoists. In the last part of the program that continued without her, rallying the popular theme of an intolerant head-of-state, none of the audience came forward to defend her, or to provide an alternate view. In the state where popular opinion is deeply divided along party lines, and that of basically the two dominant parties (CPI (M), the opposition and the TMC-the party in govt.), none of the participants of the program spoke TMC tongue. To cement her suspicion, even after she questioned the reference only to Jadavpur university students, no one from any other universities come forward and identified. Except for one man, who was from IIM-Calcutta.

So were they all Maoists?

“You don’t look like a Maoist to me”, said Sagarika Ghose to the last person to question before a railed Mamata walked out. So what does a Maoist look like, Sagarika? Not like Arundhati Roy or Binayka Sen, I suppose? How about Soni Sori?

The audiences probably were not Maoists, who came to defend the right to expression, dissent and drink (totally anti-Maoist!!), to question about lack of women’s safety . But these would be exactly the same audience (and I don’t mean the same individuals), if Mayawati was to accept such platform in those numerous TV debates that sprung up against her, and in which Mayawati never appeared nor she sent any representative. The problem with these audiences is the lack of an opinion. Under their garish English and vociferous ideals, there is an utter lack of opinion, which  has followed its natural course of being. The questions they wield, the opinions they display and conclusions they draw reek of the breath of their parents views and seethe tone of tv/newspaper they follow. With their unflinching attachment to institutions, they can not appreciate a shift in popular narrative of a leader, development, growth and governance. As few columnists belatedly find there were areas other than parks and memorials where Mayawati made radical contributions, as newspapers find one or two dalit/obc/muslim columnists once in a blue moon, an audience, at least a part of who looked beyond NCERT textbooks for their education and newspapers for their opinion, is awaited. Till that time, leaders like Mayawati, Ram Bilas Paswan, Laloo Yadav, A Raja and some unfortunate Mamata Banarjee would only be answerable to the legistative assembly, and the court of law where as Arun jaitly, Sushma Swaraj, Arwind Kejriwal and Digvijaya Singh will adorn the TV channels.

P.S- I do condemn any dissent labelled Maoists or anti-national.

Dont Kill Hikaka

To kill a tribal politician, while releasing the foreign tourists will not be a good thing for the brahminical leadership of Naxalite movement in Orissa. Tribal people will recognise this dual treatment and revolt against the rank.

Changing Tune of The Indian Express

Often politicians are equivocal. They change/reverse their statement as and when it suits them. And it is the media who tell us that. Here is how one of the national newspapers does the same.

March 12, 2007: Indian express editorial

Her Dalit-ness has given her politics much of its special grit and therefore it will be that much more difficult for her to transcend identity politics. At the same time, this large mandate would arguably never have come about if she had remained imprisoned in the Dalit corner in the first place. Mayawati’s social engineering was a much bolder experiment than anything that the pre-election Nitish Kumar tried out in Bihar. [link]

March 10, 2012: Indian Express Editorial

When Mayawati was voted to power in 2007, her mandate came riding not on the back of the innovative “social engineering” attributed to the BSP chief, but on the widely shared revulsion against a regime that had failed to honour that basic promise a government makes to the people — to ensure the safety and security of all. [link]

Indian Express could be forgiven for reviewing their analysis in five years. After all, the winning combination they dubbed social engineering was not winning anymore. But they are so predictably adamant about the timelessness of their views, that when Maywati was voted to power in 2007, Indian Express reproduced one of their editorials from 1997 and titled it “A moment in Maywati’s evolution” [link]. Mayawati had formed a coalition govt. with the BJP 1997 despite strong ideolgical differences and in 2007 she made a deeper coalition at the grassroot level among castes to get the mandate. I have no idea what kind of importance this piece of writing carried even for the day in 1997 or 2007 not to mention in the legendary political life of Mayawati.