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!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

136. Revenge

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 22; the twenty-second 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 started today morning. Since then the word REVENGE had been coming to me again and again, I did not know from where. Sure, I had thought of it for long. No doubt, my life for two decades was focused on this word, this theme. I had reserved all my energies – mental as well as physical for the execution of this idea. The thought was bold, it was aggressive, it was demanding, it was provocative. It was dancing before my mind’s eye constantly. Instead of getting pumped, this time I was completely drained.

Apparently I had forgotten it all in the last few days. Not because there was a change of mind, but because I was in a completely different environment. Every idea, every thought has its place and time. Irrelevance is the dumbest crime. Sometimes someone speaks to you and the word lingers – every time bringing new meaning, creating new space for itself. But I had not spoken to anyone in the last eight to nine days. Not even the customary greetings or formal conversations.  I was in a large crowd and though I knew most of them, I had no eye contact with anyone around me, leave speaking. Yes, there were teachers with whom I could speak to if I wanted, but I did not want to speak to them. They asked me few questions once in a while, but they were so superficial that my nod was enough. 

I was in a Vipassna camp. I mean I was in my usual residence. But I was also in a ten days camp; where one was supposed to observe complete silence. No talking, no reading or writing, no music or news, not even exercises. Get up early at 4.30 and till 9.00 in the night meditate, meditate and meditate. There were recorded instructions and some teachers to help if you needed any help. I was not sure they could help, so never asked them any question. I did not want to open my mind to them; I was always a very private person.

I was always made to follow rules and orders. I could never afford to be a rebellion. So, generally I accepted discipline, rules set by others. I was always surrounded by police – moral and material – and they always controlled me. I always wanted to be the controller of my own life, but that never happened. Everything for me was decided by somebody else, without my consultation, against my wishes. So being in Tihar Jail was not much of a problem for me, neither for the Jail management. Oh, yes, Tihar Jail is my residence for the last twenty years. This Vipassana camp was Bedi madam’s idea. Since this officer took charge of our Jail, things have changed; life had become much better for us.

I was used to hard work. I actually never had the luxury to live without work. Initially it was difficult to sit with folded legs for hours. So the knees pained. The body rebelled. The mind was shattered as it had no activity to fill the gap. I felt sleepy many times. So many unwanted thoughts hidden in the mind came to the forefront that I was frightened. Was I very violent? Was there no softness, no love in me? Was I that bad as a human being? Was I so selfish? Was I so shallow? The world always said so, but I knew I was much better than what the world thought about me. With so many intense feelings appearing clearly, I was in a complete chaos. I was not sure that I would remain sane at the end of the camp. The way I had lived my sane life, to become insane really did not make any difference.

Determination, courage, tenacity were required. That is what the recorded message told repeatedly. Slowly I started enjoying myself. Anyway, I was living as dead. Why not try this option? My mind needed some change; my soul needed some kind of reprieve. The rhythm of breath was soothing. Slowly the mind started to calm down. There were memories and memories – some good and many more bad. But the words “anichcha, anichcha” (transient) of Goenka Gurujee gave another perspective. Everything was so temporary I realized. I could see the connection between the body sensations and the thought processes; I understood the concept of ‘observing without response’ and when I practiced that everything suddenly changed. There was peace, there was calmness, there was light, there was happiness. The thread which was invisible for so many years suddenly appeared and the past was forgotten completely; without any hopes of future. But there was no vacuum.

You know what was my crime? I was accused of killing my young daughter and my husband. The fact is different though. That rascal and his gang (God forgive them!) raped me consistently for two days and two nights. My baby cried as I was not even free to breastfeed her, he killed my daughter first. My husband was made to watch the rape. I never knew whether he died of the weapon or he died of shame – shame of not being able to protect me. It was a clean murder.

Someone found me unconscious with the dead body of my daughter and my husband. I was accused of their murder. I was so shattered that I could not explain. I had no proof either. The rascals were ‘friends’ of my husband – they said and everybody believed. The people I knew accused me even before the court trial. I had no place to go and stay so I came to jail. I found jail to be the safest place for me.

But once I regained my sense, I always wanted to take revenge of those three animals – those who killed my daughter and my husband …. They had killed me too. Revenge was the goal for which I had lived for the last twenty years and I was ready to die for that moment.

Since today morning, the feeling of revenge is trying to guide me, it is trying to gain control over me. It is teasing me, it is motivating me, and it is provoking me. It is talking about sense of duty; it is talking of love, my commitment towards you. The feeling of revenge is exploding within me. But the mind is not completely accepting those suggestions.

Now I don’t think it is possible for me to take revenge.  No more.Never. I can’t torture or kill anybody. I am not fit for it. I have lost the urge, though my love for you remains intact. Would we meet again? Not in body but at least in spirit?

My dear little angel, wherever you are, would you forgive me for not taking revenge? For forgiving those who killed you so young and so brutally? 

My dear man, would you understand the change of my mind and would you embrace me with the same love, if and when we meet again?

It is the last hurdle I need to pass….and then I would be free for ever…..In a world without revenge.
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

135. Shoe-Watch

I realize that I am on ‘Shoe-Watch’ mode once again.
No, I have not changed my occupation. I was never in the ‘shoe’ business; nor do I see it happening in either near or distant future.
Then what am I talking about?
During the last few months, I have been out of Delhi many times. Every time I return and every time I take a Metro to reach office after the gap, I realize that I am engrossed in ‘Shoe- Watch’.
I know: it still does not make any sense.
Why do I watch shoes? Am I obsessed about shoes?
Let me explain.
When in Delhi, I take Metro to reach office and for coming back home. Metro is good: it saves time; it is less crowded; it is clean; it is not very expensive and all that. The most important part is the first coach of Delhi Metro is reserved for women.  That makes travel less irritating, much comfortable.
The Metro line I daily (well almost daily!) use is an underground Metro line. Once I enter into the Metro station, I am completely disconnected from the sky. As the Metro is fully AC, the doors and windows are closed – except that the doors open wide in the station.
So, while traveling by Metro, I get caught in the limited space. No sky, no trees, no buildings, only darkness outside. I feel completely uprooted, empty. I need some activity to fill the vacuum within me. But one cannot do any activity here except watching. When my eyes wander here and there, they certainly fall on some woman’s face. It is disgusting to be noticed when I am watching someone without purpose, without knowledge, without any real interest.
For everyone it is an awkward moment. There are different responses. Some women smile as they are involved in the exactly similar act – they too are watching me without purpose, without knowing, without interest. However, some women feel irritated, which is natural. It is in a way trespassing their privacy. Some women get angry. Some women start listening to music, speaking to someone on mobile. Some talk loudly with their friends, colleagues sitting or standing next to them. Some women become more conscious; some women ignore; some women stare back as if challenging me. Some politely open conversation.
Some women are wise; they look at me and close their eyes without  any expression. They treat me as if I do not exist. I am sure, I too respond in all these different ways in different situations!  Well, that is one of the best option I too have - to close eyes. I can take a nap if I want. If I don’t want that, I always have so many moments to remember, to re-live. I have so many ideas to give more thought to, to plan their expression. I have things to remember and things to forget.
But somehow I close eyes only to open. With every announcement (and there are too many) I open eyes. I close eyes and open them again; I open eyes and close them again. I cannot relax completely. I don’t like to use earphone for listening music. I do not know anyone with whom I can go on talking for half an hour on Metro. I don’t make or receive calls (unless absolutely necessary) when I am amongst strangers – I like to keep my world to myself. So, closing and opening of eyes goes on endlessly – again attracting attention.
What do I see with open eyes? As I said earlier, there is nothing to see outside and I need to avoid watching faces. So, as a last resort I have developed a habit – I watch shoes. Generally women around me don’t understand that I am watching their shoes – because in one glance I can cover a range of shoes.
Let me tell you, that is an amazing world – the world of shoes! They come in different sizes, colors, styles, designs; they are made of different materials and have different personalities. There are sandals, floaters, chappals. There are some with single strap, some with cross straps, some with double strap and so on.  Each one of them expresses something – not about itself but about its owner. I look at the shoes without looking at the face and imagine how this particular woman would be – and funnily when I look at the woman, my guess about her outward personality is almost right. It is certainly fun to imagine about a person wearing pink shoes or zebra stripes or blue bordered red shoes. It is not just imagination but a combination of logic, experience and imagination. Even the shoe lace speaks volumes about the person (how tight it is tied, what is its length etc.) – that is what I have learnt.
The ‘shoe-watch’ is no more an awkward habit for me; I no more feel guilty about it, nor do I get bored by it. Shoe-Watch is a topic of entertainment, and silent learning. It is a world without words. The experience gets synthesized (without words), and makes way for new hypothesis, observations, and inferences! The cycle continues… the challenges provoke and keep me awake and connected.
It is amazing that when we are forced in a certain situation how our mind finds out moments of happiness and creates its own space within the limited space. The mind creates its own world even when the walls are limiting the view. Mind has the capacity to rebuild from what is given, to interpret anew. It has a capacity to find meaning in apparently meaningless life.
Every time we fear that there is no alternative, we just need to change our intent and the whole new world emerges – even when all the external aspects remain the same! The same ‘shoes’ will not interest us forever, the purpose will of course change from time to time- but does not matter until we enjoy and grow.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

134. Clap: Artificial, Funny, Formal

It was a huge gathering of rural women.
Women from 10 different villages had gathered together.
Many of them were for the first time participating in such a huge event. They did not know about meetings, gatherings, lectures, guest speakers etc. They were all poor, middle aged, never had opportunity to see the larger world. Most of them had never been outside their village, had never seen pendal, had never known microphone.....
They were anxious, they were excited, they were curious, they were smiling.
They were clearly enjoying the event.
There were songs, quiz and competitions like 'Musical Chair' etc. Women had lot of fun. It was a happy environment.

And then as is the usual case, there was formal learning session.
Some well known social personalities were on the stage. They were to guide the gathering.
But even before that  some of the rural women were invited to the stage to share their experiences - about Self Help Groups, about their struggle, about their successes, about their challenges and about their hopes.

I like to be at the backstage, that is my strength. That is also because I generally easily get bored with the formalities that have to be carried on the stage with pomp and show. Generally it is so artificially funny, that I cannot sit on the dais with stone faced seriousness. So, I was sitting in the audience. Initially some of the women were little bit frightened to have me with them. But many of those women knew me well and were happy to have me with them instead of me sitting on the distant dais. With exchange of lot of spontaneous smiles and nods  from them and from me; we finally were set to listen to the speakers.

The experiences shared by those rural women - most of their were illiterate - were very touching and inspiring.
The dignitaries on the stage and some of the people sitting in the first rows clapped for the first woman speaker.
The women sitting around me exchanged hurried looks, I noticed that none of them actually clapped.

The second woman spoke and the sequence of the events was repeated - dignitaries and people in the first few rows clapping, the large gathering of rural women sitting quietly.

I did not understand what was happening.
Had we (the organizers) chosen wrong women to share the experiences?
But that did not seem to be the case, because their experiences were worth listening to, the stories were told with vigor,  honesty and simplicity.
But why these other women were not clapping?
Were they angry? Were they not  happy with the speech, the speakers, the content, the prestige some of them were getting?

I was not sure how to interpret the silence of that large crowd. Was it indicating some potential disaster?

No, the women  were smiling, they were in agreement with what their representatives were saying. I was getting more and more confused.

When the third woman's eloquence was met with silence, I spoke to the woman sitting next to me.
I asked, "Don't you like what she said? It is not true? Is it not the real story? Is it not the right kind of expression?"
Before the woman answered, another turned to me and asked, "Can you go to the dais and tell those learned and urban people not to clap?"

That was such a strange request that for a moment I was speechless.
"What do you mean?" I asked with a great courage.
"Why are they discouraging our women by clapping?" another woman asked me with visible irritation and anger.

I did not know why they thought that the dignitaries were discouraging their colleagues.
"They are not at all discouraging them. On the contrary they are appreciating your friends," I tried to explain.
"By clapping they are appreciating? That is what  you mean?" another woman was amused.
"Are you sure?" third one wanted the assurance.
The whole conversation was happening in a hushed tone but within moments it spread like a fire.

From almost every corner, women turned to me and smiled at me sheepishly, some even encouragingly, some with their faces glowing as if with a new light.
I was completely lost.

"Oh! We thought only when you don't like what somebody has said, you clap", another spoke in my ear.
I did not know why they had such a concept, from where they borrowed it or how they imagined it.
It could be only due to their lack of exposure to public life and social gatherings.

I do not know how the message was spread without speaking, without words .. but when the fifth woman spoke, at the end all the women clapped loudly - so loudly that even the dignitaries on the dais noticed that. Maybe for the first time they realized that the four earlier speakers were not greeted in the same way by the crowd. And the fifth woman looked stunned.

At the end of the function, one of the senior colleagues came to me and said, "That was well done, truly well managed, your backstage contribution is always noteworthy."
"What?" I asked, not knowing for what the appreciation was.
"Oh! For asking the women to clap properly, the silence was so embarrassing you know...." and  with a mild pat on my back, he moved on.

But since then whenever I see people clapping I ask myself - is it really appreciation? Or is it a relief that finally the speech has ended? Or is it just a formality? Is it just a norm? A stereotype? Do people clap only when they want to appreciate? Is there any spontaneity? Why do people really clap? When did the clapping start? How did people learn it? What if I don't clap but appreciate in some other way?

I am not sure whether I gave the right information to the women that day.
Somehow from that day. I find claps very artificial, funny and formal.

Monday, July 4, 2011

133. Tripurization: Part II

Border was one of the most frequently talked topics during my stay in Tripura. Maybe, people around me understood that I was fascinated by the fact of their life – with which they have learnt to co-exist, rather peacefully now. I did not meet old people who might have memories of at least 1971 (leave apart 1947); if that opportunity had been there, I might have experienced something different. These are all ifs and buts! What I experienced is still worth remembering and worth sharing.

When I was six year child, I had my first experience of ‘border’ which I still remember. We were traveling by a bullock-cart to the neighboring village for some religious function. I was looking forward to some kind of demarcation separating the two villages. To my utter disappointment, there was no border as such... the land continued, the people were of the same type, the animals were the same kind of animals, and the trees were no different. I was expecting so much from the ‘border’ and was completely disillusioned. The disillusionment was so strong, that I still remember that evening and that moment.

Later I realized that there are no district borders, no state borders. In USA and Canada people were different but there was somehow no feeling of crossing the border then. Maybe that is because these countries are at such a distance, that I expected to find different things there and was not surprised with the change. However, here in Tripura, I was to re-live my childhood experience. In a way a sort of disillusionment and in a way standing face to face with reality!

On the first day, there was no range for BSNL cell phones. I took it as a normal situation. BSNL is certainly an enigma to me. In remote areas, BSNL always provides good range. Only in bigger cities it has a problem in providing satisfactory services. Maybe in remote areas BSNL does not have competitors, in urban areas it has. It seems that BSNL cannot handle competition or it has some subtle ways of accommodating its competitors!!

During lunch break, there was discussion about ‘no range’. People nowadays get so uncomfortable if they can’t send or receive SMS for couple of hours!! Then one local person explained, “Oh! The border is just half a kilometer away from this place, so there is no range!”
“Just half a kilometer?” I was indeed surprised.
“If you go to the top of this building, you will see Bangladesh” another person explained.

I actually planned to go to the top of the building (which was just a two storied building by the way) but once the meeting started, forgot all about it. Well, one forgets border when one is not directly affected by it, or when one in involved in something more interesting!

One evening we went to visit Kamala Sundaree temple at Kasabaa. The place is about 25 kilometers from Agartala. On the way, the scenic landscape mesmerized me. It is in fact a Kaalee temple situated on a hillock and has a huge lake at its base. The lake is called Kamalaa Saaagara and was excavated by Maharaja Dhanya Maanikya Bahaadura in the late 15th Century AD. It was evening time, and the place was peaceful. (See the third photograph in the earlier post) A train was passing by beyond the lake and my colleague told me, “Look, the train is going to Bangladesh”. A tiny light was seen on the other side of the lake – that too was from Bangladesh – I was told. I was amazed at that. And then the ‘Aarti’ started in the temple (by then I was wandering around the lake) and simultaneously the ‘Ajaan’ was heard from mosque in Bangladesh. An Aarti and an Ajaan at the same time, on the same piece of land, but divided into two countries - by the border!

While traveling to Hezamera, my car driver showed me ‘the border’ again. Here it was a huge fence cutting across the land. On the Bangladesh side were fields and on the India side were shops, houses, and a road running by. Though very peaceful I thought it to be so artificial.

While returning from Khowai, I received a SMS saying ‘Welcome to Bangladesh’. I had not entered into Bangladesh, but somehow I received this SMS. Does it mean land and space work in different ways? I wonder.

Another day, I was coming back to Agartala. Looking at the setting Sun, I realized that the Sun actually never sets in this village... it always sets in Bangladesh. That could be a tagline to attract tourists here!
Border no doubt is human-made ( I am tempted to use ‘man-made’ here!) concept. These were not the two separate lands just 64 years ago. It is an artificial line that divides people, land, water, sky, trees... emotions and lives. This side of the fence, you are an Indian and that side of fence; you are traitor if you are in Indian. This side, this is the law, other side is the other law though the crops, the food, the landscape is the same. Standing there I wished that all these borders vanish!!

After those moments at the border, I am glad that I am not accountable to the larger world; the masses – I am accountable to some but that is more of my choice. I can imagine the burden the leaders would have carried in the heart during Partition, during 1971 war. It is a difficult call to make. One can’t be Utopian (like me) when one has the responsibility of thousands and crores of lives, their present and their future. One has to take into consideration that if I am not ready to defend myself (and my country) others would mercilessly attack and kill my people. If the leaders were like me, they would have been blamed more than they are blamed today. We could always debate about ‘what could and should have been done then’ but whatever would have been done; this debate would have continued. I am sure of that.

Has the partition helped? Had the border made people happier- though not completely happy? Do they feel secure? Well, the people I met seemed not much bothered about the border. They have accepted it as a fact of life; they have learned to live with it.

Of course, there would be other people with other experiences, other opinions, other views. Unfortunately I could not meet them. So, my perception of border remains incomplete! It is incomplete not only due to my personal bias but also because of not meeting the representative strata of the communities, of the generations, of the history.

And the border continues. There are many more borders around. It is not the border with Bangladesh alone. Within the country, within the state and within the community there are more borders that need to be destroyed.

Take the example of caste! In a small state like Tripura there are as many as 34 notified scheduled castes (http://socialjustice.nic.in/sectorsc239.php) and as many as 19 notified scheduled tribes (http://tribal.nic.in/writereaddata/mainlinkFile/File1067.pdf)! Why such a tiny population is divided into so many categories? Is it not a kind of border that too is artificially created by us?

Take another example of women’s status. I was happy to see women traffic police and women on petrol pumps. However I noticed one very young girl maybe 14 or 15 in a Saree. First I thought that it must be school function or some religious day. Then while traveling to many villages, I saw many more such young girls in Saree. When asked about it, I was told that in the government schools Saree is mandatory for girls after 9th standard. Is it not an artificially created border between 21st century and 20th century? Can’t we leave the choice to people about clothes? Why government wants to rule young girls in this way?

I met two women who receive monthly salary of Rs. 1700/- ; they work in the organized sector. I felt ashamed while talking to them, because I earn much more than what they earn! The amount of work we are putting in would be in the same range though. Is it not another kind of artificially created border which differentiates physical work and intellectual work in such an exploitative manner?

Well, there are borders and borders around! All of them, rather most of them are created by human beings. We respect them, nay, we adore them! We feel that limits set by borders are to be strictly followed; anybody crossing the border is treated as a traitor!

Can’t we change that? Should not we change that?

If we can destroy the borders within the community, within a state, within a country ... then international borders would cease to exist. At least they won’t matter much, they won’t be frightening, they won’t hurt and they won’t make people more violent in the name of patriotism.

As I said earlier, for me the process of Tripurization has just begun. To be in Tripura, I do not have to be physically in Tripura! I can close my eyes and remember the beautiful landscape, the rain, the peace, the coconut and beetle-nut trees, the people, and I am in Tripura.

For me, the process of Tripurization means a lot more than just being in Tripura. It means opening of a new window; it means seeing reality with new perspective; it means understanding our own flaws; it means the art of differentiating between good and not so good; and it also means the determined courage to make a change!