The Minor Majority

I am a nationalist.
There. I said it.

And I’m not ashamed of being dubbed one. I’m just sick and tired of how this concept has become one associated with rebels and radicals.
With the rise of the so called ‘pseudo-liberal’ junta in our country, nationalists being compared to terrorists is not uncommon.
Our country has just recently passed 3 landmark judgements. The abolishment of Triple Talaq, removal of Article 377 and allowing women to visit the Sabarimala Temple.
Now these judgments are instrumental, and they have given relief and happiness to millions of Indians.

However, our so called ‘Liberals’ don’t seem satisfied.
Rehana Fathima recently raised furore all over the state of Kerala after breaking into the Sabarimala Temple without permission and causing nuisance.

In doing so, she instantly made headlines all over the country, in a bid to revive her dead modelling career. But did she ‘really’ need to do it?
Fathima doesn’t really care about Lord Ayyapa, the main deity at the Sabarimala. She just wanted to prove a point. In the midst of that, she created nuisance at the temple and hurt the sentiments of thousands of ‘true’ devotees. Did she really need the publicity so bad?

Such stunts are quite prevalent in our country now. They seem hidden to the public eye. But after some observation, I’ve seen that these stunts are quietly ubiquitous.
‘Sanju’: A biopic on Sanjay Dutt, released to much fanfare this July. While the movie was enjoyable, the hidden assault on Hinduism was in very bad taste. While it is well known that Dutt was friends with Dawood Ibrahim, the film decided to portray underworld via a Tilak-clad Ganpati devotee. Now this is not a one off instance. Who can forget the ‘Shiva’ scene in P.K?

Even during festivals, there is sudden increase in news articles about the harms that firecrackers pose towards animals and how Idol immersion is bad for water bodies.

I do agree that these practices are harmful but the way our media portrays Hindu festivals is obnoxious and cynical. Where are they when Bakri-Eid or Moharram is on?

Similarly, why didn’t Rehana Fathima chose one of a thousand mosques where women aren’t allowed?
Why didn’t she hesitate to do the same at a place considered sacred by people of another faith?

‘Oppression’.

This is the word which would’ve been in the headlines if Sanju included Dawood. If articles got published on Bakri-Eid. If Fathima trespassed a mosque. If a person from the minority community is asked to stand up for the national anthem.
Why can’t we call a spade a spade and drop the victim mentality?
It’s high time facts stop being twisted to suit one community and target another.
It’s high time we start treating others as equal.
It’s high time we stop disgracing nationalism.

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We are all responsible.

2017

It was a partially sunny day. The wind was strong but there was no rain yet. Joshua was waiting in the queue with his KTM RC 390 in a petrol bunk somewhere on the East Coast Road twenty kilometres away from Chennai.

‘Last year, around this time, it was sixty-six rupees per litre! I remember it very distinctly’ Joshua said frustratedly.

Vicky, sitting behind him, replied ‘Now it’s eighty-one per litre. I know’

‘Greedy rich shareholders and spineless government’ Joshua cursed.

‘If the fuel was cheaper, what would have happened? ‘Vicky asked.

‘We would’ve visited Pondicherry more often, have fun more often’, Joshua replied.

Vicky sighed with a smile, ‘Yeah, but you would have turned more fuel into greenhouse gases. You will be contributing more to the climate change that’s happening. Any commodity that is harmful to the environment should be costly. That’s the only way you would use it less’, he explained

Joshua moved the vehicle forward as the queue moved and then he turned to Vicky ‘I agree Mister Civil Engineer. Enough with your environmental advice’ he jested.

 

It was unusually a sunny day in a developing locality somewhere in Ernakulam district, Kerala. Mohan Raj was looking around the construction site for the Senior Engineer. ‘Engineer Sir!!’ He greeted him outside the construction site.

The Engineer came walking through the busy site among the brick workers and cement heaps all over the place. ‘Hello sir!’ he greeted back ‘How are you sir? How is Chechi?’

‘All are doing well! My wife also came to the town with me, actually!’ Mohan replied as the both walked towards the nearby tea spot ‘Now she is in her brother’s house here’.

‘Oh, okay sir’ The engineer replied ‘Two glass tea! Both strong!’ he ordered as the both sat down on the old wooden bench painted blue.

Mohan Raj took out a bunch of affidavit papers from the file holder he carried. ‘I have brought all the originals and xerox of the approval certificates sir! All the approval work is done and I brought it as you asked.’

The Engineer checked the papers ‘Okay sir. The work will be complete within two months. Your Resort will be ready!’ he promised

‘Two glasses of strong tea!’ The chai maker called.

The Engineer took the glasses and gave one to Mohan ‘So, are you leaving Bangalore after the Resort is opened sir?’  he asked.

‘No, no’ Mohan laughed ‘I work in public sector sir! I can’t just leave the job. My wife’s side of the family will take care of the resort. Her brother will oversee the hotel’

‘Oh, okay’ The engineer sipped the tea

‘Sir, the materials used in foundation are effective, no? The final cost is less than estimated which is good, but still’, Mohan asked.

‘Sir, there are no land slides reported in this locality for the past fifty years. It’s just one floor building, there nothing to worry!’ The Engineer sounded confident

‘What about the drain?’ Mohan asked

‘I suggested typical Kerala style roof, but you wanted flat roofs. All the rain will reach the ground as per my design and moreover your hotel is built in a land area that is slightly higher compared to the neighborhood, and the rainfall is getting lesser every year, there will be no flooding problem even if you ask for it!’ The Engineer replied with a laugh

‘You can’t be sure about the rainfall with all the Climate change and global warming sir’ Mohan said worried.

 

2018

Vicky focused his phone camera. The pottery wheel spun round and round as his grandmother pressed her four fingers tightly on the clay to bring the pot into shape. He was finally spending his vacation in his native as he wanted.

‘Throw the phone away!’ she said annoyed

Vicky pressed the ‘add to story’ button and slipped the phone in his pocket.

His grandmother held his hand and pulled it towards the clay. ‘Wet your hands with the clay! Don’t assume it’s dirty. Clay is not dirty!’

‘I know Aachi, I study Civil Engineering!’ Vicky said smiling as he pressed the edge of the clay.

‘We have to bring it to shape as fast as we can. Soon the sun will dry the clay, and when it dries it will be strong as a stone!’ she exclaimed

‘So, then wet it more. If you add more water, it will take longer time to dry’ told Vicky’s little sister sitting next to them painting dried out pots.

Vicky was curious what answer his grandmother would give.

‘It doesn’t work like that! The soil is strong without water, it is weak, out of shape and can be molded when you add a little water, the more water you pour the clay itself will become watery and flow away’ she replied

‘That’s exactly what my Soil Mechanics sir told!  So it applies to all soil.Not just clay!’ Vicky said stunned.

‘So, if you pour more water, all the soil will erode like water? Even all the sand in my school ground?’ Vicky’s sister asked

Vicky was lost in thoughts ‘All you need is to pour more water’ he thought.

 

Mohan Raj was standing there not knowing how to answer his wife. He kept on calling to the phone number of the Engineer, but the number was unreachable. He was nowhere to be seen.

His wife was sitting in the corner along with her mother in the corner of her native house crying out loud, mourning in the pain of loss. In the middle of the all the crowd of relatives that surrounded, was the body of her brother wrapped up and ready to be taken

The unusually heavy flood that hit Kerala didn’t exempt Mohan’s brother-in-law. The ground level of the Resort building which was higher than the neighborhood dissolved into eroding soil and moved the Resort building along with its shallow foundation causing the single floor building to collapse. There were no guests at that time. Only two servants and Mohan’s brother in law.

If the authorities didn’t approve the construction, if the Engineer wasn’t that dumb, would the dead be alive?

If there was no climate change, if there was no such unusually record-breaking rainfall this year, would all the built-up structures that have collapsed be saved? Can we even blame anyone in particular?

The severe rainfall was two and half times the usual rainfall and it’s the highest recorded in the last hundred and eleven years. The Indian government was formed only seventy-two years ago while the state of Kerala was formed sixty-three years ago. Although the causality was not dangerously high, the property damage is about twenty thousand crore which the people of Kerala cannot recover from for years to come. This year’s flood is one of the obvious phenomena that happened as the direct result of Climate change, the human induced climate change. We are all equally responsible to take care of our planet and all of its changes and challenges.
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Cutting a Sorry Figure

Poverty is one of the most monumental yet overlooked issues of our country. Money is the end and the means of our existence. It is not bad to have an urge to earn more money, the lesson of acquiring more and more resources is embedded in the most primal parts of our brain. We want more money than the person next to us, and the urge to earn is what drives any economy forward. There is no surprise that our economy is growing by leaps and bounds. The question that rises is why are the poor so poor in our country? In a country with a predicted GDP growth rate stands at a huge 7.3 percent, why haven’t the poor already become rich?

This sudden bolt of inspiration came into my mind when I was at a market near my place, and a balloon vendor, all dressed in scraps, came to me asking if I wanted a balloon. My stature does not serve justice to my age, but then the both of us knew that I wouldn’t have bought the balloon, I am too old for that. The desperation on the face of the man made me give him a 20 rupee note. We do know that desperation makes men scale the unscalable, and the will of the man who is ready to offer a balloon to every grown up at a market really shook the workings of my inner mind to the core. The face of that man has occupied my mind ever since, and this article is a result of the many hours I have put in to research what it is like being poor in the developing nation we call ours.

According to the Census of 2010, the number of people below the poverty line in India stands at 32.7 percent, or almost 43 crore Indians. The count stood at 49.4 percent in 1994, and on paper, it could be seen as a great achievement when you reduce the poverty rate of such a huge country by almost 17 percent over 16 years. Our regional rival, China has brought down the percentage of its poor from 60 percent in 1990 to 12 percent in 2010, just to keep things in perspective.

This achievement is quite hollow though. According to the latest report presented by the C Rangarajan (the ex RBI governor) expert panel, the minimum daily wage stood in urban areas for qualifying above the poverty line stood at 47 rupees, which was brought up from 33 rupees per day in 2011-12 as recommended by the Suresh Tendulkar expert panel. The World Bank has set the standard at US$ 1.9 per day. Adjusted for PPP (Purchasing Power Parity, or in simple terms, the amount a local currency can buy what US$ 1.9 could buy in the US), it amounts to about 54 rupees, a little more than what our seemingly efficient (pun intended) Finance Ministry thinks is okay. The simple conclusion is, the number of poor people in India is more what the reports show.

I am not an economist or a statistician, but as an engineer, I can crunch some numbers for you.

Two young economists, Abhijit V Banerjee and Esther Duflo, studied numbers from many cities throughout the globe, and Udaipur, a huge city in the Indian state of Rajasthan was one of them. I am using their data and observations to put my points forth to the reader. Udaipur has people from both ends of the economic rainbow living peacefully among its beautiful blue walls for many years now. It is an ideal place to do an economic study, because like all rainbows, the rich found the pot of gold first.

Consider this. 65 percent of the poor in Udaipur are underweight. In a country where obesity is looked on to as a sign of healthy well-being, this data is clear enough to show that the poor in India have troubles even while trying to procure food. 55 percent of the people have some form of anaemia (deficiency of red blood cells), and 46 percent of them have been seeing a doctor because of the issue. 45 percent of the adults reported they cut down the size of their meal quite often to have enough for their children. This actually hinders the healthy development of the brain, and coupled with anaemia, we are looking a way lesser number of IQ points available for poor children to use. The rich may not be born clever, but they certainly win over the poor during childhood.

So, what do the poor people eat?

In Udaipur, the cheapest cereal is millet. 68 percent said that they depended the most on millet, 20 percent said that they had rice (which costs twice as much per calorie), 10 percent depended on wheat (70 percent more expensive than millet per calorie) and the rest resorted to sugar (which is the most expensive per calorie and has no nutritional benefits). The poor are great at managing their food budgets though. A person in the middle-class income bracket will go through weeks without even touching millet, only complaining about how quickly the prices of other staples have increased. The poor learn to manage their money better than the rich, giving up on satisfaction and taste to save a little more money.

On studying their expenses, we find that only about 2 percent is spent on their children’s education, which is quite understandable as almost 72 percent of the children in the city attend schools run by the state government, which offer free education and mid-day meals. Poor children still continue to underperform at the higher education level, a proof of the fact that our public schooling system is functioning way below par.

Almost 8 percent of their income is spent on alcohol or tobacco, and this is where the knowledge of keeping one’s body healthy comes in. A well to do, educated person has some degree of concern for his health, while a poor uneducated guy revels in the momentary pleasure his cigarette gives, not giving much thought to how great is the damage to his life expectancy. Life expectancy is a farce for a poor Indian though. Less than 5 percent of our poor have access to clean water and toilets, and you don’t expect people to live very long in those conditions anyway, which equals lesser time to earn money.

It is true that the poor are always at a disadvantage in the money game, they face a difficult childhood, coupled with mismanaged, and often missing government funds, thoughtless economic policies which have no real economic benefit to the poor. They do learn to save money, the do not take care of their health, or even if they do, their surroundings are way too unhygienic to prevent disease. At this juncture, it is quite easy to understand why only a small proportion of poor people do manage to rise up the economic ladder. The government might show that they are helping the needy, but then there is no such thing as free lunch, or a mid-day meal (pun intended).

The poor in our country are seen as scum, as people who do not belong to our country, the ones pushing our economy downwards. Yet, at the same time, they clean our houses daily, they stand in the heat to sell fruits and vegetables, they take us place to place in their rickshaws and contribute a significant 27 percent to our GDP (Gross Domestic Product, and I’m not explaining this) while doing so. It is high time that we start helping these people on our own, instead of blaming the two ineffective political parties who are always in power in our country.

We, as the people of this country can turn things around, and we should.

Though I still do wonder what would have happened if I had bought that balloon.

 

Dag Nul

It was a typical spring morning in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. The monotonous routines of the residents began pretty early in this area. The early morning struggle to fetch water for their day-to-day use had become a staple for them over the years. The plumbing was inefficient in the major parts of this community and the only source of water for the residents were public taps which were generally rationed.

On this rather humdrum day, Thato was getting ready for school. He was a generally large kid for his age and spent most of his time indoors. He didn’t like going out and playing basketball with the other kids when he could very well be reading a nice book. He was a smart kid and studied in one of the best schools in Cape Town. His hard work had paid off as a scholarship and he was getting quality education at Pinelands High School. It was pretty far away from his house and his neighbours ridiculed him for going to a “White” school.

His father had already left for work at the factory and his mother was packing his lunch. She worked as a waitress at a nearby diner and hence her job needed her a little later in the day. Thato filled a bowl with cereal, poured some milk into it and let it soak for a while.

He was scrolling through his newsfeed while eating. “Day Zero is here”, the news articles said. “10 things YOU do that actually waste a lot of water. Number 7 will surprise you!”, the magazines said. “0 day is a government conspiracy… man #woke”, said Darren, his classmate. The posts had been the same since the official announcement was made, over a month ago.

Thato finished his breakfast, kissed his mother bye and walked over to the bus stop. Pinelands’ school buses didn’t come all the way down to the Flats, so he had to use public transport. The bus took around 45 minutes to reach his school. The bus to Pinelands rarely had any people from Khayelitsha and the conversation and feel of the bus was more like the rest of Cape Town.

“How am I gonna wash ma’ dog man? There isn’t ‘nuff water for meself!”

The Day Zero ruling had shaken the entire city. Last year, when the threat of Day Zero was looming in, the government had upgraded the water security to level 6B after gradually increasing it in the years prior to that. Reports came out stating that 6B restrictions were sufficient and Day Zero can be pushed indefinitely. This was around the time when Cape Town came under the world’s media spotlight. Many researchers worked on ways to improve conditions, desalinate the seawater and “cure the drought”, but the rains never came. The reservoirs were almost dry and Cape Town was forced to go to level 7 restrictions.

The bus stopped a few meters away from Thato’s school. Public buses weren’t allowed to go through the school zone, so Thato had to walk the last stretch. Johnathan and Nancy were waiting for him right outside the entrance.

“Bro we’ve been out here for 50 years! Hurry up next time, would you?”

“Yeah! Johnny here has been telling me awful things about what will happen after tomorrow, I just can’t listen to anymore of his BS!”

“Oh please, a year later, when the war starts you’ll remember this day and realize I was right all along!”

Thato just grinned at them. His daily entertainment quota was filled by their non-stop bickering. The three friends walked into the main gate and shuffled through the crowd, into their classroom. Mrs. Moodley was already addressing the class when they arrived.

“…and so, the school will be closed tomorrow. Ah! I see the three of you decided to grace the class with your presence after all. Take your seats quickly, I’ll be giving out holiday assignments in a while.”

The school was abuzz with gossip about Day Zero, and so was the entire city. The majority of the population were about to face the biggest water shortage of their lives. It was the closest that they had ever been to a water apocalypse. Laws would change, and so would lawmakers. Priorities and requirements would also change.

Despite all of this, the lives of Thato and the other residents of Khayelitsha would be devoid of change. What the rest of the city was about to face has been their constant for many years. The water problem was evident for many years, but only when the rich started facing the problem did the world look at Cape Town. The situation could be compared to that of a rare disease brought into limelight when contacted by a member of the higher classes. Cape Town’s Day Zero was Khayelitsha’s Day Twelve Thousand Four Hundred and Nineteen.

Happy World Water Day.

– NSVR

CLUMSY

img_4124While all the girls walked with grace,

I spent my time falling on my face

And when I landed in the muck,

I would blame my stupid luck

Slipping and sliding, I was a mess

Always the damsel in distress

Because I didn’t know left from my right,

Sports would give me such a fright

Walking into poles seemed like an obsession,

Maybe there was something wrong with my vision?

I would always laugh it all away and

Secretly hoped I would grow up to be okay

Been a few years, I’m still the same

I have a few more mishaps to my name

Now I look into the mirror and smile

I know I’m clumsy and that’s just fine.

 

– Sonal Mahanta

Not Being A Prodigy

Being in the presence of a prodigy is amazing. They leave people around them often spellbound, mesmerised and awestruck with their works. Their light works as the torch that brightens the paths of many after them. Every field of human interest or disinterest as well, has those names that become metaphors for novitiates in their fields. Prodigies occur once in generations and they redefine the field they enter.  They make things seem so effortless that everyone around wants to imitate them. They set new standards, new bars to cross for people around them.  They shatter old records, styles, make new ones and repeat this all over again. It takes great effort to come to top and it takes even more to stay there. And a prodigy is one who keeps bettering himself before someone else does.

Sergey Bubka, a legend in the sport of Pole Vaulting, broke the record not once or twice but 35 times. Kenny Schrub, better known as KennyS, redefined how the AWP sniper rifle was used in the game of Counter Strike. Unconventionally, he played aggressively with it,  instead of hiding in corners and waiting for players. The list of names is limitless, but my ability to remember is. When we are capable of fully admiring a prodigy, we get unknowingly attracted to their fields.

There are two ways to become a prodigy. Imagine the making of the best wooden chest. To do so, you can either use the best wood or you can use an ordinary type of wood but craft and polish the chest in a way that it becomes unparalleled. We will talk about the first method later. To use an ordinary wood to craft the best chest, the maker needs to put in the extra effort in polishing the wood, multiple times. The wood too needs to be able to withstand that kind of polishing and stay in its shape. It goes the same for becoming a prodigy. The person needs to work themselves out, exerting, enduring harder than normal to take the top spot. One can easily tell a legend in the making when they see them pushing beyond limits.

The other way to make that chest would be selecting the best wood. This wood could’ve been lost in the forest forever, but it discovered its best use in the chest. This wood would need much less effort and would outweigh the best of the contenders and set a new standard once it is finished. This is probably the best way to make a prodigy, to be born one. To be natural at your talent will help you master the basics quicker and in a much better way. Then you can do what the best people do easily and become better than them in no time.

That might seem complete, but there is a third way to make a better chest than the two above. This can be done by using the best wood and polishing it extensively, to make it the best of the best. This chest would make the best of items put in it look inferior. This method makes a prodigy, unparalleled.  The ones above this are remembered for long. But prodigies who got up there by this way become legends. They become the origins to folklores and are cited way beyond their time. This gives us the epitome of perfection, the Sirius of a sky full of stars.

On close evaluation, we observe that all the methods discussed above are flawed. Not all of us are born with a special skill. The world is a cruel place and getting noticed itself is tough, let alone becoming the best. Not everyone is able to make the cut and thus they become a part of the general crowd. You must beat the one at top to get to the top, which leaves the veteran lost in history books. There are so many trying to get up there that it takes impenetrable will power to get there which not everyone is capable of. Every spot has numerous contenders, and there is but one winner which leaves the rest lost in the crowd. And the third method thus gets out of calculations, lost in the rare probability of finding the talented and making it the best.

Is living worthless then?

If you are not special, then why are you alive? This question that ignites the fire of existential dread among many, can be very easily answered. The first argument is, you might have still not found your talent yet so keep trying until you find what you were made for. It is never too late. The second and most pointless argument would be, you need the dark to see the stars i.e. you need ordinary people to admire the extraordinary. The third argument is what I live for:

Freedom.

When you are not a prodigy, you are not bound to something specific. You can be a guitarist for a year and an athlete in the next. You can try out everything while not being the best at any. And that is what makes your life worth living. You are not bound by the limits of perfection, but only by boredom. If one thing gets you bored, try the next because the complete saying goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none, though often times better than master of one”. So, keep doing what you were and keep admiring the prodigies, for they need it and deserve it. Remember this in your heart that you are only bound by your motivation to do something. You might not be the best but hey, you never planned to come this far either.

The Stranger With The Light

A world so deeply pained,
And all efforts went in vain.
Yes, the light had gone missing somewhere,
And you brought it back again.

I thought that I had changed,
Indeed, this thought was insane.
Now learned that that was me who led the change,
I left those thoughts to search new lanes.

I then resolved to follow,
the good words thy had sent,
In your face, I learnt lessons,
Till yesterday, I hadn’t.

You wiped the picture clear,
How my steps should I steer.
Like a blessing you had come,
A stranger, who is no more one.                                                                                  –

-Sakshi Ragini