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!

Monday, June 27, 2011

132. Tripurization: Part I

About a week ago, I knew only two things about Tripura. One: it is an Indian state; Two: Agartala is its Capital – thanks to my middle school Geography teacher!! When I received ticket for Agartala, I hurriedly browsed through Wikipedia and updated myself. Sometimes I wonder whether now I depend too much on Wikipedia; is it another kind of GranthapraamaNya (Unchallenged Authority of books)?

I am basically not an ‘information’ kind of person. I would certainly fail any and all General Knowledge tests. I value information. But there is too much of information around and one would never be able to say ‘I know completely’. Secondly, there are sources of information – books, websites, and people. You only should not feel shy about accepting your ignorance – then there are many sources. By experience I know that information is many time ‘fact interpreted’ by someone; so it carries biases. The way information is collected gives the form to information collected; and we can interpret the information the way we want.

While discussing the population size of Tripura, someone informed me that it is about 36 lakhs (3.6 million). Another person, who had been part of India Census 2011, immediately corrected him by saying, “actually it is 3,671,032”. Well, I was impressed by the accurateness, the efficiency, the enthusiasm and the memory of the person. But for my purpose, the difference of 71,032 was not very critical. I could understand that the population of Tripura was almost same as Pune.

After a weeklong stay in Agartala and visits to eight villages, I have gathered little information. Well, I now know that Tripura has four districts as I interacted with people from all these four districts. I now know that Tripura shares border with Bangla Desh, because I was on the border a few times. I know Bengali and Kokborok are the two official languages of Tripura – I saw official boards in these two languages. I know that Tripura was a Princely State as I saw the Palace of the then King. I know that Tripura has still not banned animal sacrifice in the temple, as I saw those spots in the temples I visited.

But there are still many things that I do not know about Tripura. What I have is: hundreds and thousands of impressions.

On the first evening, I went on walking alone through Agartala for an hour. It was a lovely walk, the evening was pleasant. Being Sunday evening, there was not much traffic on the road. Walking always shows things differently – from different angle, in slow motion. The city though strange, sounded familiar to me. It is a sort of hilly city – with roads up and down, bridges on river, and many ponds. It ridiculously reminded me of Dharwad – ridiculous because I have visited Dharwad only once.

Next morning, when I woke up, the Sun was already ablaze. I thought it must be 7.00. The wall clock in the room was ticking and showed 5.07. I thought the clock must be running behind. Then suddenly I realized that I was in the North East. I enjoyed the early Sunrise for the next few days.

However, the early rising of Sun does not ensure that people reach on time. They came late and they had all the excuses for reaching late. They went early and they had all the excuses in the world for leaving early. Whichever part we visit in India, some things are common; and this is one of those.

For long I have been fascinated by Bengali. Here I listened to it continuously; read shop boards on the way almost perfectly; picked up couple of ‘utility’ sentences like ‘tommara naama kee? “(what is your name); and listened to Bengali music. As I tried to make most of this opportunity to polish my Bengali- it was fun not only for me but for others too as I kept on committing silly mistakes. They had hearty laugh each time I asked something very preliminary. I never had an opportunity to learn Sanskrit formally, but I realized that Bengali has too many words which are close to Sanskrit. So I could make 2+2 and picked up many words in conversations. This could happen as I knew the context of the discussion – I have been fully into the subject that was being discussed. People were surprised when I answered the questions asked in Bengali without waiting for them to get translated. “If you stay here for a month, you would be able to speak Bengali well” – they gave me a certificate. I know people were just polite to me. Picking up a language is not so easy.

Tripura is surrounded by Bangla Desh on the North, South and West. National Highway no 44 connects Agartala to Mizoram and Assam. On the highway I saw many buses traveling towards Gohati. It takes about 30 hours to reach Gohati by bus, people told me. Agartala has a beautiful railway station. Silchar is the nearest junction which takes people to other destinations in India. I also was shown a train going towards Bangla Desh – but to which station it reaches, I do not remember. So, in short Tripura is connected with rest of the India only through East - to know that was indeed scary.

I traveled in West Tripura district and I liked the landscape of Tripura. For the first two days, the humidity was awful. People told me that about ten years ago, they did not need fans – now they need Air Conditioners. This has to do with climate change and also with the changing pattern of crops and trees. For example, Bamboo is making a way for Rubber. A huge rubber plantation can be seen on both the sides of roads and bamboo was seen only in remote areas. In Melaaghara, I had an opportunity to interact with members of a Bamboo Federation. This is a Federation of self employed workers who are engaged in making Bamboo products. They told me that the Bamboo prices are constantly rising – earlier they used to get on ‘Paavaraa’ bamboo for Rs. 10/- and now they have to pay Rs. 180/- for the same piece. They also told me that the bamboo cultivation area is diminishing due to rubber plantation.

I saw many fruits in the markets – jackfruit, pineapple, mango, banana, were available in abundance. Fish, meat and chicken are consumed a lot. At Heazemara, my car driver complained that food was not good. I asked him why and he answered that ‘it was cooked by Tripuri people and not by Bengalis’. There is no apparent tension in local tribes and Bengali communities now – but in many ways they are still different.

Tripura Legislative Assembly has 60 members – a very small assembly indeed. In February 2008, the Left Front came to power with 49 seats. Now as it is the only Left Front state in the country after the loss in West Bengal and Kerala in 2011 state assembly elections. The environment in Agartala seemed politically active... red flags across the roads and corner meetings at couple of places.

As Agartala is state capital and as the state is surrounded by Bangla Desh, the presence of Military is very noticeable in Agartala. I came across buildings indicating presence of Border Security Force (BSF), Tripura State Rifles (TSR), and Assam Rifles (AR). On my way to Teliamura I saw the board “For your tomorrow BRO is here” and was confused about who this BRO could be. Then I realized it was Border Road Organization.

Border was an important experience for me. I will write about it later – maybe in the next post.

For me the process of Tripurization has just begun.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

131. The Other Day

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 21; the twenty-first edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.
It was about six in the morning. Somaa was in his 8th round of the police parade ground. He was feeling tired and weak. He was not able to sleep well yesterday night – for no apparent reason. He was remembering his home, his village, his parents, his friend Mangu, the hillock, the trees and his dog. His friend Shyaama laughed at him and said, “You are becoming really girlish now a days. What is wrong with you?” Somaa had smiled and kept quiet. However he continued to feel uneasy about something, which he was not able to name.

Suddenly a car appeared on the scene and a man alighted down. Somaa had never seen him. He must have called the people here, because at that moment Somaa’s reporting officer too rushed in. From the manners of the reporting officer, Somaa could guess that this must be a very senior officer. “City Commissioner”– somebody said in hushed tone.

“Somaa MaDaavee, come here,” Somaa’s reporting officer ordered.

Somaa stopped in an instant. He felt weak in legs; a drop of sweat ran down his neck. He knew everybody was watching him.

“Sir,” he came forward and saluted both the officers.
“Are you from GaDachirolee district?” the Senior officer asked.
“Yes sir,” Somaa answered. The reporting officer nodded in affirmative.
“From which area?” another question; without revealing the cause of the inquiry.
Somaa answered. The officer thought for a second. Then he ordered, “Pack up. You are traveling to GaDachirolee in 10 minutes.”

Somaa panicked. What was it? Was he being expelled? What was his fault? He looked at his reporting officer, but he avoided eye contact. “Run, only nine minutes now,” the senior said.

After half an hour, Somaa along with a group of police officials was in the railway which was heading towards Nagpur. Most of them were from Chandrapura and GaDachirolee districts. He knew some of them and he gathered about others from informal interaction.

He heaved a sigh of relief when he realized that he was not expelled but was called on a Special Duty. What would be that duty? They were going to GaDachirolee – meant some special mission. In GaDachirolee area, Special Mission could mean only one thing – combat with Nakshalites. From experience Somaa knew that combat with Nakshalites meant life or death – nothing less than that.

Was he ready for that? His relief was so short lived.

Somaa remembered Mangu. Mangu had strongly advised him not to join police force. Somaa’s family had little land and so many mouths to feed. There was no alternative but someone in the family had to move to city and earn money. When the police recruitment advertisement was announced in the newspapers, Somaa decided to give it a try. Having studied in Ashram School, Somaa had such dreams to be a ‘man in uniform’. He was mature enough to understand that he could not become a doctor or an engineer.

Somaa’s father did not object, “You are grown up now, you know what is good for you” he had calmly said. Somaa’s mother did not understand anything; she was used to Somaa’s being away from home. Somaa’s siblings were too young to understand anything. However Mangu opposed the idea and Somaa was surprised by that.

Mangu had dropped out of school very early, but Somaa’s friendship with him remained intact. Somaa always was surprised with the knowledge Mangu had in spite of lack of education. Lately Mangu seemed to have been earning good money – he wore posh clothes, had a golden wristwatch and even had a motorcycle. When Somaa asked him the source of wealth, Mangu had told him that he was taking various forest contracts. Somaa had accepted it without giving much thought.

When Somaa shared his idea of joining the police force, Mangu asked, “what for?”
“Money, obviously,” Somaa had said.
“Ok, work with me. I will give you more money.” Mangu had said. Initially Somaa thought it was a joke. So, he humorously added, “I don’t want to work on wages. I want to earn status. I want to see the world at large.”
Mangu with exceptional seriousness had said, “I promise you more status, more power, more money and more luxuries if you work with me.”

Somaa was confused and asked Mangu to explain. But Mangu did not explain. He had another point.

“You are half the time in the city, so you do not know. But those people have banned us joining the police or for that matter any government job.” Mangu said politely but firmly. Somaa knew that ‘Those people’ were Nakshalites. He had come across some suggestions of joining them, but he always had kept himself away from them.

“What are those people to me? Do they feed me and my family? Do they take care of our needs?” Somaa spoke angrily. “They have not bothered about me, why should I bother about them? Why are they against my progress? ” Somaa was still furious but stopped when he saw Mangu’s face.

“Tell me the truth Mangu, are you one of them?” Somaa asked, hoping that it won’t be true. Mangu was silent. “That is how you get all that money, by killing some, by exploiting our own people… “Somaa stopped once again abruptly.

“Look,” Mangu was very polite, but Somaa could sense the volcanic anger behind his calmness. “I never came to ask your advice, so keep it to yourself. What I want to tell you is that don’t join the police force, I assure you that you will be taken care of.”

“And as a friend it is my duty to tell you that if after all this assurance, you decide to join the police, I will not be responsible for its consequences.” Mangu said again.

“Are you threatening me? You, my friend? Do you think it is Sultanate? We are free people and we can do anything that we want. Now let me see, who stops me from joining. I also tell you, that come what may, I will make it happen. I am not going to join the dogs….” Somaa had to stop again because Mangu left without even looking at Somaa.

Somaa traveled from Wardhaa towards Chandrapura – with a tea break at Jaama. On the way they were not allowed to read newspapers, no radio, even mobiles were ordered to be switched off. But Somaa gathered that Nakshalites had struck some of the villages in GaDachirolee. Somaa knew that Nakshalites always struck badly – involving many deaths.

After a brief at Chandrapura district police headquarters they moved towards Etapalli with many more joining the group. They were moving like an army in the battle. Somaa knew the forest paths, and once they entered the forests; his role was to guide the team.

Slowly they moved in the direction towards Somaa’ village. Somaa became more and more anxious. Was his village surrounded by Nakshalites? Was his family safe? Was his home safe? Could he help them? Or was it too late?

Now he knew that it was his village that was at the center of the event.

From the distance Somaa saw fire mounting to skies. He ran. He screamed. He shouted. He wept.

But it was of no use.

There were no human beings – only dead bodies – some half burnt, some burnt into ashes.

Somaa had no time to lament, to grieve, to weep for the dead. Nakshalites were in the next areas, other villagers were trapped by them. They had to be saved. Somaa had to lead the police force to the next village through the forest.

The other day, this village was vibrant.
The other day, his family was here.
The other day, the trees were adding serenity.
The other day the animals were moving listlessly.
The other day he and his friend Mangu were smiling together.

Someone found a piece of paper, well preserved in a plastic sheet. It must have been kept when the Nakshalites left the village. The officer tried to read but could not. It was written in Devanaagaree script but in tribal language. Assuming that Nakshalites had put their demands, the officer asked Somaa to read those lines.

Somaa read it.

The note said: “The other day, I tried to convince you. But you did not heed to my advice. Now, this is the price you had to pay. For your foolishness, the villagers had to pay the price of their life. Have you now the honor, the money, the status, the power you were talking just the other day?”

Somaa’s agony had no end. Somaa’s anger had no outlet. Somaa’s pain had to be kept to himself.

Everybody looked at Somaa questioningly. Somaa had no answer.
But the chief of the mission understood – he said, “My God! They had warned you against joining us. Is it?” Somaa nodded. The chief patted him as consolation and ordered to move on.

Somaa wished, he could go back to ‘The Other Day’ and change everything, but he knew it was too late.

The Other Day is either in the past or in the future, it is never in the present!
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Thursday, June 2, 2011

130. His Daughter’s Dream

“Do you know what I had when I came to Delhi?” he asked me with a proud smile.

Now I knew and he knew that the question was meaningless. Not because the question was not important; but only because I had met this young man just about 10 minutes ago.

I always feel that there is some kind of spark in working people, in poor people that connects me with them in an instant. The person I am referring to was a Taxi Driver – a clan; I have lot of interactions with and learning from.

When I came to Delhi, I was advised to take MERU cabs – a well known Taxi service. It is little costly – but safe, clean and always on time. I have interacted with many MERU cab drivers in the last eight months and have always enjoyed the interaction. Today was no exception.

After initial dialogue about Delhi traffic, MERU working, customer behavior, driver behavior etc. we entered into more personal kind of information sharing – rather he entered into it with the above question.

“No, I do not know. What was it?” I asked.

“I came to Delhi with just a Zola (a small cotton bag) - that is all. I had no education; I had never been to a big city….. and see now for the last 15 years I am driving a Taxi in Delhi”, he added with the same pride. I can understand him. Coming from a small village, I know what it is to be in a Megacity. I know what challenges it poses and I know how one feels disconnected sometimes.

This man, Jai Inder; in his late 30s was born and brought up in Banka district (earlier Bhagalpur district which is now divided into two districts) in Bihar. At the age of 17 or 18, he came to Delhi in search of livelihood. He worked here and there and saw a great opportunity in driving profession. Then he purchased a taxi (kali –peeli – black and yellow colored cab used for public transport) and drove it for years. It was only recently he joined services of MERU and he was enjoying his new work. He does not at all know English but can make out generally whatever text messages he gets on his "GPR"System installed in the cab.

I had been to Banka district a number of times; so I could talk to him about the places, the people, the environment, the hopes etc. He was thrilled to meet a woman who had been to ‘his’ area. (This is one of the advantages of my profession that I have visited places where city people hardly go!!) Then he started talking about his family. He has a 10 year son and a 7 year daughter. When asked about them, he told me that they are studying in a good school in his village. He added, “I have decided to provide best education to my children. Madam, like you are sitting and I am driving, I dream that when my children grow up they would be sitting like you and someone else would be driving their car….”

I was touched by his dream. I was touched by his passion. I was touched by his hopes. I was amazed by his simplicity. I could see a poor, illiterate (or just functionally literate) man, staying away from his family, working hard... so that his children have a better tomorrow. I wish his children know this and remember this when they grow.

“But what does your son want to become?” I asked.

“Oh, he wants to be an Engineer. He studies hard and gets good marks.” Again a proud father emerged.

“And what does your daughter want to become?” I asked. I was ready for an answer: teacher or a doctor or a pilot or a computer operator – that is what most of the girls say.

Jai Inder looked at me. Then he asked me very seriously, “Won’t you laugh if I tell you what she says?”

I was astonished by his question. “Oh, certainly not. Life has number of possibilities – so even if your daughter is dreaming something impossible – who knows, it would happen!” I encouraged him.

“Well, she actually wants to become a Railway Minister!” he said sheepishly.

I was taken aback by the innovativeness of his daughter’s dream. I have interacted with thousands of girls and this was the first time I have come across a girl and just a 7 year young wanting to be a Rail Minister.

“Who knows? She might become a Rail Minister one day….. “I said honestly and was glad to be able to feel and say this.

The father was very happy. He even narrated me a childhood story of Dr. Man Mohan Singh (whether true or not true I cannot say). The story goes like this: Man Mohan Sing’s father sold vegetable in the market. One day he had some other matters to attend and he asked his young son to manage the stall for few hours. Young Man Mohan declined. His father became angry and asked, “If you don’t want to sit in this chair, are you going to sit in Prime Minister’s Chair?” On which young Man Mohan replied, “Yes, I am going to be Prime Minister of India.”

It was one of the rare occasions when I did not argue about the story. I mean there are such stories about all people who became successful later in life – it is trend to rediscover and exaggerate their greatness from (and in) their childhood. But today I realized that such stories (whether true or not true) have a bigger role to motivate those who are not in a good condition, who are poor, who have the capacity to dream but no means to achieve those dreams.

I cannot say whether His Daughter’s Dream would become a reality. Maybe, when she grows, she would want to become something else. What I appreciate that a 7 year girl can think so differently and her father loves her so much that he wishes the dream to come true – he strives in that direction – giving her best of the education is first step according to him.

Girls now dream differently. Bihar expresses itself differently. Poor have the tenacity to strive for their dreams - differently. India is shaping differently.

Daughter’s Dream can certainly make the difference.