Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

19. Working Sunday

This is becoming a Sunday posting blog. But I have missed that too on this Sunday. It was one more working Sunday. I am happy that this was the last one in 2008. When most of the world is getting ready for New Year, we were working. I was not alone, of course. There were 50 colleagues working with me, and I am sure, there were many more working at other places. We were in a tiny town, for a workshop on ‘Strengthening People’s Organizations’.

I do not belong to this particular project team; I was there just in case I was needed. That is my usual role…not to belong, but be there. Be at the background, help others when required and disappear when people don’t need. This is bit stressful, because I love to belong, and unfortunately I never could belong to this workplace. In the process I have learnt the art of giving 100% without getting involved…. sounds like Zen…..sounds too much of self-eulogizing …. I understand. What I am trying to say is one can mould oneself without compromising with the inner core, without loosing dignity. I need to say this with more humility…. I will try next time.

I think each one of us has this sense of – ‘when we are wanted and when we are not’. Each such ‘disappearance’ act motivates me to carve out a new world for me. I am not frightened about lost opportunities, because I know I can always create new avenues for myself. That has brought out a great variety and diversity in my work. I was at that particular place for the particular task(s), because in a way I have created this opportunity.

I facilitated number of sessions in the three day workshop. We had a four hour session on ‘Gender sensitization’. Such sessions are provocative for participants and tiring for me. Such sessions drain me, because in spite of lot of efforts, every time I have to start from zero. People resist changing, and I resist stagnating. So, the battle is on ….a lost battle. It is not lonely only at the top; it can be lonely if one’s ideas, dreams and actions are not conventional.

Why do I spend Sundays in lost battle is a question I need to deal with. And there are many more sub-questions. But at the moment, I am tired. I have just returned from journey and need to check my messages and need to prepare for the next workshop.

With all this, it is good to be working for a cause, for a dream, for a change. What if this Sunday was spent in working? I am free to turn any other day into a Sunday. The older I grow, better I understand that LIFE is less about FACTS and more about PERCEPTIONS….

Sunday, December 21, 2008

18. Book A Week

At the moment I am very happy. I have achieved something that I had decided 24 years ago.

In 1984, I met ‘A’. He was a great scholar, a good orator and a calm person. Even then he was an Encyclopedia on Indian Culture and Religion. I did not like only one aspect of his behavior. If he had to speak to me, he always looked at some other thing and talked to me – totally avoiding eye contact. I used to get angry with him feeling that he was treating me as dirt (he did it to all women!). Even listening to his humorous comments (I am sure he still has a very good sense of humor) was always painful because he never shared it directly with me. I respected him but I never liked him. I never went to him for any discussions, I kept a conscious distance.

One day, while taking breakfast, he suddenly said, ‘How many books do you read in a year?” I was enjoying my dosa, and anyway, I thought the question must have been to someone else. Then ‘A’ raised his voice and said, ‘Sister, I am asking you, please, answer” and he repeated his question. As always he was not looking at me. There was no one else in the dining hall, so he was definitely talking to me. I was surprised with his pro-activeness. But I felt humiliated. I angrily asked, “Why should I tell you?” Such an answer was indeed courageous on my part, because if he wanted, he could throw me out of the organization.

More surprise. Instead of getting angry, ‘A’ smiled. He looked at me. He said, “I see that you like reading. But have some definite goal for reading. You should read at least one book per week. Books are the friends who always help and don’t expect anything from you. Books are always a good company; you will never feel lonely in life. Don’t forget, a book per week.” I was stunned. He smiled again – little at me, little at himself. He poured coffee in a glass, handed over to me, looked at me, smiled and walked away.

I did not understand him that day, nor do I understand him today. But I was touched by his advice, by his act of serving coffee to me. I decided to follow the path he had suggested. I knew that it was for my good.

Every year I kept records of the books I read. I have read as less as 9 books in a year, and the highest so far was 44 books in a year. At the end of every year I felt sorry that I have not followed the path ‘A’ had suggested. Every New Year started with the determination, and ended with disappointment, for 24 long years.

But today, I have finished with 52nd book of 2008. I have read Fiction, Religion, Philosophy, Biography, Humor, Economics, Drama, Technology, Ecology, History, Poetry, Ideology, Short stories, Development, Mathematics, Sociology……. I do not have any discipline in reading, but I have cherished every book that I have read. I hear some of you saying ‘quality matters, not quantity…’ Yes, I know. That is why it took me so many years to achieve it.

All these books made my days wonderful …. I don’t know whether it has added wisdom, but I certainly have smiled and learnt to face painful moments with courage. As a human being I have definitely grown with these books.

I know the senses are going to loose their power if I live long – slowly but definitely. A time may come, when I will not be able to read…… I am sure even then the books will be with me….. Some things in life go away but some grow within you … unless the time is ripe they are not visible. I know, these books have come to me crossing all the barriers of time, culture, language…. they are to stay with me.

Why don’t you too ‘book a week’?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

17. Invitation

The place I work is comparatively big. We are about 3000 people spread over 12 states. Some are here for about more than 30 years and some have just recently joined. We come from different states, different academic backgrounds, different interests and different views. So, naturally I do not know all the people here. Some I work closely with, some I have met occasionally, with some I do not have anything to share (and vice versa) some I know but they do not know me, and some know me and I do not know them. But even without knowing my colleagues well, life moves on smoothly.

Last week, I was working on a document in the office, so was engrossed in my PC. Then I heard couple of loud voices saying “There, there only. Yes, that is the desk. ” The voice was very near to my desk and a man was standing little confused at a short distance from my desk. He was wearing Gandhi topee, so at the instant I did not recognize him. But I know him by his name and may be we have interacted just a couple of times (mind you it is almost nine years I am here … that will give you glimpse of the environment in which I work…). I stood up and asked him, ‘Sir, whom are you searching for?’

He was happy that I had stopped working with PC and addressed him. He said, “I am looking for ……..’. It was my name. He did not know that it was me, he was searching for. But that is the usual happening here and I was least offended by it. I very politely told him, “Yes, I am here. What can I do for your sir?”

Now he was embarrassed. He was bit nervous. He said, “Oh, sorry, I mixed you up with XYZ. I know you very well, but somehow I get confused when I come here’’. I thought it was ok to get confused when you don’t know the person very well, and have not bothered to converse with in a decade. For me, this still was very natural. So, I again asked him what he wanted me to do.

Then he produced a marriage card from his bag. His daughter is getting married next week and he had come to invite me for his daughters’ marriage. I congratulated him, wished happiness to his daughter… generally the formality ends here. He again said, “Please, do come.” I smiled, said all right things and he left.

Afterward I stopped working. The person, who does not know my name, does not know anything about me, has hardly talked to me or smiled at me when we met across. … Why is he inviting me to share his ‘private’ happiness? Why he thought that without knowing him well, I would feel happy to get such an invitation? I have nothing against marriages and I wish well to his daughter… but .....

I know this is all about formality. We are more bothered about customs, traditions, log kya kahenge …… type of things. We hardly listen to ourselves and hardly do what we want to do. To keep society together, we need to follow certain norms, but we can choose to be anarchist in our private lives – without hurting anyone’s interest. The cost of such a behavior is high….. But I think anyway you have to pay the price - either by doing things you don’t want to do or by being isolated, alienated. Why not pay price and still be happy?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

16. Taldev

Have you ever heard of village ‘Taldev’?

Don’t bother. I heard about the village just last Sunday. One of my friends has started social mobilization activities in the area. He wanted me to interact with office bearers of Self Help Groups (SHGs). So, I was in Taldev.

Taldev is about 10 kilometers from Mahabaleshwar – the famous tourist spot. The village is small – about 180 households and 1000 population. It has a common Grampanchayat with one more village whose population is just 300 – that means 50 more families.

Taldev literally means ‘God of Deep/God of Lower Land’. The village has an old Mahadeva temple. The tradition credits Pandavas for building the temple. The construction is really cool and elegant. Though I had just left the crowd of 250 people outside – I felt so much away from the world when I visited the inner sanctum. The Nandi is well built; facing linga as always and the linga is not of much height.

The lamp was feebly burning and I felt that everything is alright in this universe. Funny, I should feel it in the presence of ‘God of Destruction’. I realized the meaning of ‘death’, the meaning of ‘dead end’, the meaning of ‘being in the womb’….during those few moments in the inner sanctum.

When I was interacting with Vanitajee, the Sarpanch, I learnt that she has been elected unopposed. Later, the Deputy Sarpanch invited all of us to his home for a cup of tea. I asked him about the ‘unopposed’ election. What he told surprised me.

This village never had ‘Grampanchayat elections’ as such. When elections are notified, Grampanchayat calls a meeting of villagers. They all decide together about who should work as members. The required 7 members are selected with consensus in the meeting. When couple of years ago it was clear that the Sarpanch seat is ‘reserved’ for women, the village nominated Vanitajee without much ado. All the 7 members go together to block office to fill up nomination forms. The senior, experienced members help new members to fill up the forms – so no forms are rejected.

When there is cut throat competition around, how come things are different in this particular village? Ramchandrajee, the Deputy Sarpanch had some answers. He tells: 1) At least one person from each family is working in Mumbai. The villagers have enough money coming from Mumbai. In Mumbai the villagers are bound together, they do not want any conflicts back home. 2) The village so far has all the required facilities – roads, electricity, water, post office, telephone, school, good Grampanchayat office, and specious temple… Name it and it is there. There is no infrastructure to be developed. This leaves no space for dissatisfaction of villagers. Everything seems to be going smoothly. 3) Nationalist Congress is the only party of the area. It is in power in Block and District – and even in the state. So, no other political parties have reach to divide people. 4) Out of 100 people, some are ambitious and try to divide villagers. But most of the villagers deal with the issues raised by them with maturity and wisdom, if anything needs to be done, villagers do it.

All this certainly sounds very interesting. We have equated democracy with elections but if democracy could be achieved by consensus nothing better than it. At least at village level it saves money and makes life peaceful.

Are there any other such examples? Can they be replicated on a large scale?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

15. Not About Udaipur......

Couple of weeks ago, I had been to Udaipur. This was my fifth visit, but I had never been close to this city. Earlier I was always in a company. Cities, towns, villages, places don’t talk to you unless you pay special attention to them. This time as I was alone, I thought I will get to know Udaipur.

But this is not about Udaipur.

I can write about the Auto driver who drove me to Bandra terminus. From Shegav, he came to Mumbai in 1979. He told me that he was involved in some dirty business but lost peace over it and so gave it up. Now he is poor but satisfied soul. …. But this is not about Udaipur.

I can write about ‘youngistan’ in my compartment – constantly involved in vulgar jokes, rubbish talk. They were genuinely concerned that how people in Udaipur can live without Dominos and CCH (Café Coffee Day). …… But this is not about Udaipur.

I can share how I had to spend 24 hours without food, in spite of pocket full of money. But this is not about Udaipur. I can elaborate how during my return journey I was compelled to occupy upper berth for almost 16 hours …. sorry, this too is not about Udaipur. I am tempted to narrate a story of Marathi taxiwalah (what a surprise!!) who is in the business of driving taxi since 1962. He had a grand analysis of status of Mumbai and his comments on Raj Thakare, Congress, and people coming from other states to Mumbai were indeed thought provoking and humane. But alas, this too is not about Udaipur.

I can tell you how during Gujarat serial bomb blasts in July a ‘bomb squad member’ German Shepherd licked my feet on Udaipur station; how in the next round of vigilance the dog started wagging its tail. …. I can tell you about the driver who said that ‘nobody now belongs to Udaipur, and Udaipur belongs to no one, it is a lonely city’. May be, it is bit about Udaipur. I can tell you about food, roads, traffic, surrounding Aravali, big traffic circles and number of ‘gates’ in the midst of city. I can tell you how beautiful Udaipur railway station is. I can elaborate tourist economy and influence of Gujarat on Udaipur. It is something about Udaipur but then this can be about any city in the country

I went to Udaipur but I did not ‘meet’ Udaipur. Each place has a heartbeat, with which one needs to get attuned to. Each place has a story to tell, and one needs patience and time to get it first hand. Each place has its own voice….. one needs to be lucky enough to get close to it….

Unfortunately, Udaipur did not open up to me. It treated me as a stranger, because I carried too much of my world with me. I need to create space for Udaipur and wait for the grace to fall upon me. Then may be I will write about Udaipur.

But till then, it is not about Udaipur…..

Monday, December 1, 2008

14. Living With MFJ......

To tell you one more truth, I never like MFJ …
Oh! Oh! Sorry for this acronym. By MFJ I mean Mixed Fruit Jam.

I have been a hosteller during college days, then passed through a long phase of being ‘paying guest’ and even some time as a 'non-paying guest' (my friends always welcomed my stay with them) …… but it was always someone else’s home. So whenever I had to go on treks, picnics, and travels the easiest thing to carry with was bread and jam. Butter was not available easily (because I like only Amul butter!!) and it melts so packing was always a problem.

Luckily in every group, there are always people who like MFJ with Bread. I gladly exchanged my food with them – it was a two fold benefit. I was able to get away with my MFJ and in exchange I always could get good, testy food. In addition, sometimes I earned goodwill of MFJ fans.

I never have purchased a bottle or a sachet of any kind of jam. The canteen people at my workplace have the habit of preparing jam-butter-bread pieces. On one piece of bread they spread jam and on the other piece butter and they serve the two pieces together. Whenever I have a breakfast at the canteen, I remove all jam pieces and eat only bread with butter. I avoid jam in all food items, at all places and at all times.

Life was going on well without this ‘jam’ until very recently. In October, I received a gift of MFJ bottle from one of my colleagues who facilitates ‘Food Processing’ activities in tribal area. I just did not know what do with bottle full of MFJ. One of my friends suggested that I give away this bottle to someone who has MFJ fixation.

But I have a very typical psychology regarding gifts. Whatever is given to me, whether I like it or not, I use it as I appreciate the feelings of the persons who have given it to me. Any Tom, Dick and Harry does not throw gifts at you, there is an ‘invisible’ value to the gift one receives. The gift is meant for me, and so whether I like it or not, I use it till it lasts. In this way I have worn clothes of certain colors that I do not like, I have read books which were boring, I have used luxury items which I never needed and so on.

I spent lot of time on planning strategies for dealing with the MFJ bottle. Then I put it away and forgot it.

But alas, the disaster has not ended. Today, one of my friends presented me one more (and bigger too!) MFJ bottle. I was trying to tell him that I do not like MFJ and I already have one unopened bottle hidden somewhere in the kitchen. But it did not work. Now I have two brand new MFJ bottles, which is scary.


Any ideas on jam recipes? Do anyone make jam paratha or jam chutney? Any wild idea would help me. Why don’t you just drop in to my place? Entry restricted to MFJ fans only. You can stay with me as long as MFJ lasts. If you are not MFJ eater, don’t come at this time. I might be tempted to put all MFJ in your plate. If you can help a bit, do come. I am looking forward to rescue.