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, February 2, 2021

237. To Burma: With Love

 

It is now almost 36 hours since the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) took over Myanmar by detaining legally elected party leaders. It has been a hard day for me. I can just imagine how hard it would be to the people of Burma. Burmese friends are aware that they will be cut off from the world at any moment. I do not know how to reach out to them if this happens. I do not know how to support them. I feel devastated. But I also feel determined to stand with the people of Burma.

I had an opportunity to stay in Burma for two and half years. I had many conversations with Burmese citizens – across political affiliations, ethnicities, gender, class, education, and age. With all hope and positivity, the conversation always ended with the statement: “We don’t know how long this (the freedom, the democracy) will last.” So, we all knew this was coming; but we hoped and prayed that this would never become reality. Alas! It has. Once again.

Before arriving in Burma, my knowledge about the country was limited to couple of points. That Rangoon (Yangon) is its capital (which is Nay Pyi Taw for more than a decade); Burma was part of British India (so we have similar colonial experiences) and Vipassana (meditation) is practiced in Burma.

When I landed in Burma in June 2016, Burma was breathing fresh air with the new formed democratic government. I found the country like an innocent child – just waking up from decades of alienation and exploitation to see that the world around has changed so much. Credit to Burmese people, they geared themselves to the new reality – with the hope that they can cover the decades they have missed during the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Military) exploitative rule. There was so much of hope in the air that I still feel it.

It is disheartening to read some of the posts on social media rejoicing detainment of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. I know some people were disillusioned with her sometimes; I was one of them. But there is a democratic way to remove a political leader /party that you do not find fulfilling your expectations. You vote for another party. The fact is Myanmar voted in 2020 for National League for Democracy (NLD) in the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The Tatmadaw claims of ‘election fraud’ are as imaginary as Trump’s claim in the recent USA elections. To all those, who rejoice the downfall of NLD and ‘The Lady’ (as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is called by many) do not know what Tatmadaw is capable of. Mind you, I am not using the word capable in good sense! No people on earth should have to face Tatmadaw like rule!

I have heard many stories from my Burmese colleagues about the Tatmadaw atrocities. I have read many books on this topic. In addition to that, I have personal experiences of ‘Big Brother is Watching You’.

When I went to one NGO office in Yangon (and I am not going to mention any names to protect them from the possible harassment), there was a small shop at the entrance of the building. I was searching for the address and confirmed with the shop person. He confirmed and asked me who I was and what was the purpose of my visit. Being new to the country, I assumed it to be a friendly conversation and provided him information. When I entered the office, the NGO workers looked stressed. When I asked what happened, they wanted to know whether I met the shopkeeper. I was amused that it could be a topic of stress. Later they told me that Tatmadaw has this practice of putting their people in disguise and keeping watch on the citizens. This was in 2016 – when NLD had just taken the charge.

Once we (the NGO I was volunteering with) invited media persons to share our plans of our upcoming series of activities. The activities were aimed to generate awareness about violence faced by women and girls. As the meeting started, two plain-clothed men entered and asked, ‘why you have not taken permission from the authorities to hold press conference’. We were confused as there was no press conference. When I looked at the journalists, I realized that some of them had come with their video cameras. But how did these guys come to know about these journalists? Someone must be watching this office and had informed the authorities. The two guys did not reveal their identities to us, they refused to sign the meeting attendance and listened to every word that was spoken in the meeting. This happened in 2017.

In 2018, I moved to Nay Pyi Taw (NPT), the capital of the country. To stay in the city (not in the hotel, but in the house and for long term) we had to take permission of the concerned immigration officer. While signing the documents, the immigration officer told me that every time I move out of NPT, I must inform him in advance. He used to call randomly to check my whereabouts. He was a nice guy and was doing his duty. Once my earlier meeting got delayed and I had to rush to the bus station to catch a bus for Yangon. So, I had not informed the Immigration officer that I was going to Yangon. The bus had just left NPT, and my mobile rang. The Immigration officer at the other end was terribly angry at me for not informing him about my movement. Again, how did he know that I was on this bus? Who informed him? I apologized to him and assured him that now onwards I will never forget to him. I never forgot.

There are many such experiences.

I can understand keeping an eye on foreigners. Protecting your own citizens is an important duty of every government. For that if they watch people like me, it is fine. I have no issues. If I do not like being watched by Myanmar officials, I can always return to my home country. But imagine what would I feel if I were watched in my own country? That is not the idea of Freedom. People across the world need to understand the ‘Constitutional Power’ Tatmadaw has given to itself and how difficult it is to change it.

There are people in Burma who criticized Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD. But every person who criticized; knows in their hearts of hearts that on any given day if they have only two options, they will always choose Daw Aung San Suu Kyi over Tatmadaw. Period.

‘The Lady’ is not perfect. But honestly, tell me one name who is perfect. Each one of us commits mistakes. Learning from mistakes and moving forward is what makes us human beings.

I learned many things from Burma. Two things stand out: Kindness and Forgiveness. Taxi drivers will always donate money if someone asks for it at the signal. They will not complain about their poverty or insult the person asking for money.  They will especially keep some change to distribute. At four in the morning, even when the signal is green, the vehicles will patiently wait for the monks to cross the road. I was once talking to a man, a political activist (in his 40s) who had spent 20 years in jail. I asked him why they do not take the army to the court for violation of human rights. He calmly said, “I did my duty. Things are now fortunately becoming better. At this hour of reconciliation, do you think revenge will help us? In fact, revenge never helps.” I do not think I would be so gracious if I were wronged.

Burma made me realize the value of forgiveness, the value of kindness. Not for others, but for ourselves. The Pagodas, the Pathana (chanting of sutta), the kindness, the friendship, the smiles, the laughter, experiments with Burmese food and language, Burmese longyi …. Living in Burma made me a different person. - a better person - I would like to believe.  It was a kind of healing process for me – healing from the pains of living, healing from the pains rising from my ego. Amidst all the problems a social activist has to live with, Burma introduced me to the inner peace. Burma will always have a special place in my heart.

                                                          Shwezigon Pagoda, Bagan

No, Burma is not a paradise, definitely not for all. Apart from the Tatmadaw atrocities, people have many other issues to grapple with. Some are natural, some are made by the society. It is a long way to go for Burma. Burmese people have an immense potential to dream big and strive to achieve that dream. They are peaceful people and happy souls. What they need is Freedom to realize their immense potential.

Tatmadaw has once again taken their freedom back from them. The world has to take the responsibility – all those who have entertained Tatmadaw for years – knowing their atrocities too well; and ignoring them. People’s lives are at stake.  We need to stand with Burma.

 Let us get our Freedom back from Tatmadaw.

To Burma: With Love!  

Saturday, July 18, 2020

236.Investigators of Truth (InTru)


This post has been published by me as a part of Blog-a-Ton 59; the fifty-ninth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. In association with ​IndiCreator. For Creators. By Creators.. Share Your #LockdownTales at indicreator.com

17 July 2120. I will never forget this date – that is until they wipe out my memory and recharge me, which is a kind of routine for all of us. This was the day which changed my career, it gave a new direction to my life. It made me what I never thought I would be one day.

To begin with, there was a joint call from DepHeal and DepFam. Well, if by any chance you are from the last century, DepHeal is Department of Health and DepFam is Department of Family. Again, such a joint call is a yearly routine. So, I was not at all alarmed. What floored me was that they told me that Shanti (my great grandmother) was coming home and that too with immediate effect. In fact, they were not waiting for me to pick her up, but were to drop her home in twenty minutes. They did not need that much time to travel 300 kilometers, they were just giving me time to prepare.

Please, do not take me wrong. I like Shanti. To be with her for a day or two is always a fun. She makes me laugh a lot; and she never bores me with the instructions of what I should be doing and what I should not be doing. She shares some of her life experiences – which are more like a fiction, I guess. The resource material that we have does not at all corroborate what she believes as the truth.

But that is natural. Afterall she is 157 years old and she was born and brought up in 20th Century. She is rather independent, and I do not have to look after her. She is not ill. But now all old people (more than 150 years) have to stay in the government HoLCa (that is Home-Like-Care). Once in six months they are supposed to visit their family. That visit had just happened last month and so this call surprised me.   

By the way, I am Ganesh (right, named after a Mythological God in the area which was called India in the past) and I am 12. I am doing postdoc research in Virology.

The SecGd (Security Guards) team dropped Shanti and made me sign (electronically of course, I cannot write with my hands as Shanti can do!) a document. “Why is this unscheduled drop?” I asked. They did not answer. “When are you going to pick up her again?” They ignored me. “Is she kicked out of HoLCa?” I asked. “Check your email. All the details are there. If you find any change in her health status, alert us immediately” one of them responded sharply and they were gone in an instant.

I turned to Shanti. She was calm and smiling. “Did you play any mischief again at HoLCa?” I asked. 

“Nope”, her eyes twinkled. “I am going to tell you something very shocking, so sit down,” she said. “Are you in love again?” I was starting to worry about her calmness, sure sign of a mischief.

“Ah, my falling in love still shocks you! You are incorrigible. But that is not what I am going to tell you,” Shanti said mysteriously.  I was relieved. It must be some story from her past.

“Is there any news in your field of Virology?” Shanti asked. She was always interested in Virology but why is she asking about it after she is suddenly dropped by SecGd?

“Well, you know, there is a new Corona virus emerging from area that was once called China,” she whispered. “Come on Shanti, you know Science has won over the chain of Corona viruses long back. The last known virus came in 2019 and the United World won the war against that virus. Only 26 people died even then and just 1000 had to be hospitalized all over the world. Even in 2020, Corona virus was not a threat. It was a minor flue at the most.” I was happy to explain my favorite topic.

Shanti was stunned. “Where did you get those numbers regarding Corona virus in 2019-20?” she demanded. “Oh, it is everywhere," I showed her online resources.

She was shocked. Her face became pale, she was trembling, tears rolling from her eyes. That was something I had never seen Shanti to be in. What just happened? What did I say or do wrong? Has it triggered some bad memory for her?

We were silent for couple of minutes – which felt like years. I do not know what to say when people give emotional reaction to scientific facts. And why should somebody feel something about a minor incident about a hundred years ago? Did her husband die then? Was he the one amongst the 26 people died? I did not know. I went forward and touched her shoulder from a distance. You know, we avoid human contact as much as possible, but the old guards like human contact.

Slowly Shanti became calm. She looked at me and said, “Ganesh, I respect you. You are an intelligent boy. I do not want to comment on the EduSys (Education System) you thrive on. I don’t know how to tell you but your information about Corona virus in 2019 is completely wrong.”

“What do you mean by wrong? I just showed you references,” I was bit irritated with her now.

Shanti took some time. She took a deep breath. She said, “It is not your fault. The disastrous truth is hidden from all of you very shrewdly and systematically. The truth is replaced by misinformation. In India, where I lived then, we had more than 150 days of #Lockdown. People not only died of Corona, but the economy too died with unplanned and extended series of #Lockdown. There were twenty million affected by Corona virus in the world in 2020 and about a million people died.”

I started laughing. “Shanti, you are funny. But tell me what happened at HoLCa? Why are you dropped here? When are you going back?”

“Two persons died in my HoLCa unit yesterday morning. And their symptoms of breathlessness made me suspect that it was another strain of Novel Corona Virus. One of them had just returned from Wuhan after home visit. You know Wuhan was earlier in the country called China, from where 2019 Corona virus (and some of the earlier viruses) emerged. This man was showing something to the other person on his tablet and the other person had touched the tablet. Moreover, more people developed fever and some lost sense of smell and touch – all this happening within hours. They tested all of us and sent many of us to our homes. There is a #Lockdown at HoLCa. We don’t know how long it will be as we don’t know how many people are infected by this new virus.”

Just to show Shanti that she was imagining something, I opened HoLCa website. Wow, it was closed ‘for maintenance’. This was the first time I have seen HoLCa site closed. I tried to access DepHeal and was surprised to see that access was open ‘only to officials'. DepFam and SegGd websites showed no unusual messages or activities.

I checked with my friends. Sure, everybody’s HoLCa member was dropped home this morning, without any adequate explanation. Everybody thought that it happened only to them and did not check with others.

I was thrilled. Something strange was indeed happening. Is it possible that Shanti is right about the new virus? Is she right about the Corona 2019-20 virus information hidden from the public? Do some people still have the access to it? I needed to check the facts before I could take on the more detailed investigation.

“Do you have some information from 2020, Shanti?” I asked.

She pulled out a small, thin metal stick from her inner pocket. “Do you know how to extract information from this device?” she asked. I did not.  But it took me just fifteen minutes to access the information. It seems that hundred years ago they used this device called pen drive or stick to store information. Shanti had saved this one and somehow had managed to keep her secret. How she did it, I will have to ask her another time. Because the information I see on her drive is shocking and shattering.

For example, look at this site exactly one hundred years ago:





The country called India, where Shanti lived was in a bad shape as well. I can imagine why it stunned her when I said ‘only 26 people died because of Corona Virus 2019’.

“And this was just the middle of the pandemic that you see the data of”, Shanti added. “It took another two years for the world to overcome Corona virus and that too with lot of cost. It is true that we won the war against Corona Virus, but many lives were lost, many lives were destroyed, many were forced to commit suicide. The inequalities and the exclusion in the entire world was as if opened by the Corona virus. It was one of the worst time I have lived through. We would never want to live it again. Even my enemies should not suffer from such a deadly virus. If we indeed have the new strain of the same virus, I am sure Government will declare #Lockdown again, keep on extending it, reducing whatever social interaction we have and hiding information about people in distress.”

“Ganesh, I want your generation to come out of the misinformation loop. If it is a new strain of Corona virus which has killed my colleagues at HoLCa, we are due for another disaster. We need to learn lessons from past generations, past experiences. The World Government will try to hide the information – because after last century disaster, the politician had to face people’s wrath. I know you are very young. But you are not alone. We are many… on the right path, where everybody is treated with respect and dignity.” Shanti went on.

“What do you mean by ‘We’?” I was suspicious. I remember that my parents never liked me to have a good relationship with Shanti. Was she trying to allure me towards something bad? But my parents are complete moron. Both of them are high level Government officials. They want me to give up my interest in Virology. But I never followed their orders. I believe that the right path has less travelers. So be it.

Shanti was smiling again. “We are group of people who deal with misinformation and exploitation related to it. We call ourselves InTru - Investigators of Truth. We make people aware of the truth, collaborate and advocate with policy makers insisting that they share the truth and address the real issues. Would you like to join us? We are old. We badly need young techno-savy people like you. I assure you that saving people from misinformation is as vital as saving them from virus. The choice is yours my boy!”

Of course, I was wise enough not to instantly fall for Shanti’s appeal. Old people are sometimes Utopian. They also want to fulfill their dreams through us. We can’t allow others to dominate our life like that.

I talked to my friends. We checked. We hacked. We cracked websites. We went to libraries. We checked old newspapers (by the way they were printed on papers!!). We discussed. We challenged each other. We prepared ‘Worst Case Scenarios’ and we developed strategies to address various challenges. We had to build security measures around us.

I am sorry to give up Virology. It is  kept in #Lokdown. Now I am an InTru. We are going to shake this power structure (which by the way is based on exclusion, inequality, exploitation etc) and make the world better so that nobody is left behind.

If you are interested in joining InTru, you are most welcome. A secret code is embedded in this post. Crack the code and join the most needed rebellion today.

The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. Show your support for the hastags #BlogATon59 & #LockdownTales. Participation Count: XX.

Friday, April 3, 2020

235. Ten days of Lockdown (Curfew notes)



#Coronavirus, #SocialDistancing, #CurfewNotes


As I said in the earlier post, the Curfew did not end on 31st March. We are now in ‘21 days Lockdown’, which is supposed to end on April 14. Again, it is supposed to end. Depending on the gravity of the situation, this could be extended.

To begin with, I was confused. Is it Curfew? Is it Restriction? Is it Lockdown? Even before the National Lockdown was announced, we had Curfew. Or was it Restraining order? I am not sure whether the original Administrative orders were confusing or the interpretation of these orders (by media, by self-declared experts on social media) caused confusion.

The first case of Coronavirus pandemic in Maharashtra was confirmed in Pune on March 9, 2020. There were actually two people who tested positive. On the next day, three more people tested positive. On March 13, Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 was invoked. Corona epidemic was declared in five cities of Maharashtra; closure of commercial (movie theatres, supermarkets etc.) and educational establishments was ordered. Public gathering and events were banned on March 14. Pune Municipal Corporation closed 200+ gardens in the city. Barring essential services closure of all workplaces was imposed on March 20.

Take the case of Pune city. On March 18, Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) was imposed – this means it was curfew. But later it was explained that this order was Section 144 (1) – which was specific to tour operators, restaurants in the city. Later Section 68 of Bombay Police Act was used to achieve the same. There was lot of confusion about whether the restaurants were ordered to be closed or whether they voluntarily closed it – for three days – March 18 to 20. On March 17, Pune Municipal Corporation ordered ‘closure of all places that attract a crowd’. So, were the restaurants closed or not? Same applied to marriage celebrations. They were not ordered to be cancelled, but owners of the marriage halls were ‘requested’ by the administration to stop bookings.  Pune Divisional Commissioner on March 16 said, “People related Section 144 with Curfew and think its imposition will bring all movements to standstill. Nothing of that sort has been invoked till now….: (The Hindu, March 16).

The National Janata Curfew on 22nd March, was extended up to 31st March by the Government of Maharashtra. Not only interstate but inter-district borders were sealed on March 23. The National Lockdown was declared on 24th March at 8.00 PM and began from 00.00 on 25th March.

I am just trying to document the process and trying to make sense of it. It seems confusing even today. What this meant to me was to “Stay Home”. I last went out on March 14 for Medical Check-up and since then I am staying home. But I have a home, I am on vacation. Imagine the horrible time homeless people and migrant laborers have to go through. Imagine people suddenly stuck at home where they are not safe, and they cannot seek any options.

Looking at the timeline of the Corona virus, we had ample time to be well prepared. But as usual we have messed it up and we are busy with self-appreciation and eulogizing our leaders. Our medical teams, police force, administrative staff and many other invisible people are carrying the burden of the mistakes committed by those who had the authority to take right decisions at the right time.

So, what am I doing? Well, doing nothing. I have always been cooking, cleaning, washing myself. There is no house help for me, so on that count nothing has changed. One day I got so tired of doing nothing that I slept for almost twenty hours.  

I used to take one-hour morning walk in the compound of my residential complex. It has to be stopped. That meant I had now time for bird watching in the morning. I joined ‘Lockdown Birding Challenge’. You are supposed to watch birds from your home – everyday 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. The challenge started on March 27. Curfew or no Curfew, I always been able to watch 25+ different species from my house. So, it was fun to watch them again. Once you get hold of a binocular, bird watching can be an addiction. It is good to meet the usual species like Red-vented Bulbul, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Black Kite, House Crow, Common Myna, Rock Pigeon, Purple Sunbird, Rose Ringed Parakeet, Yellow-wattled Lapwig, Asean koel, Greater Coucal and so on. But it is special fun when the White-throated Kingfisher sings close to you; Indian Grey hornbills are so close that you don’t need binocular; Shikra is sitting motionless; Little Cormorants and Pond Herons are flying gracefully; Great tits (I am aware they have got a new name now, but I still call them by the old name!) are chirping. And Coppersmith Barbet and Black-hooded Oriole is the cherry on the top. I am enjoying it and I am spending more than an hour each day with birds.

I am using the time (knowing that most of my friends are also at home now) to connect with friends. One call in the morning and one call in the evening. Nowadays no call is for less than half an hour – so an hour spent with friends is a good time too. I have friends in different countries and exchanging notes with them and knowing they all are good also matters a lot these days.

There are some people who are moving out (with police permission of course) and helping people – migrant laborers, old people, sick people, people who are alone and need help etc. I came across some of these groups on social media. One of my senior citizen friends in Pune needed medicine. Approaching this group was an amazing experience. My friend called on the given number, the volunteer came to her home with medicine. So, spreading good word about this available help is also one task which can be done sitting at home. It is a positive feeling to know that people are ready to help strangers without expecting anything in return. I always have a faith in Generation Next and it is good feeling to see them working tirelessly and taking the risks. I also contributed some amount to one of the groups who are supplying food to all those migratory laborers who are stuck on the road.

Though I have reduced internet time, I have not given up it completely. Now it is the only source of information and communication. I make it a point to comment on posts of strangers which are spreading hearted and or superstitions. People use horrible language on internet, one has to learn to ignore it. But when there are famous people posting rubbish, one has to take it on. For example, when Avinash Dharmadhikari (ex-IAS officer) wrote a post about ‘this is the time to attack and take PoK back’ – I also trolled him a bit. Another example is: hatred speech. No sane person will justify what happened at Tablighi gathering in Delhi. Those who are guilty should be punished according to the law of the land. But blaming the entire coronavirus epidemic on this one group is not a wise thing. So, I just tried to compile the news where people have broken the #SocialDistancing guidelines. This will help people to understand that irresponsible people exist in every group, every community. Blaming a single incident is not the right way to look at the reality.

I also joined the team of ‘online volunteers’ with covidindia.org. Though I am yet to identify the areas I can contribute, I am preparing myself for it. I have also registered for blood donation and I have been given a morning slot on April 11. 

And of course, reading. Now planning to read ‘Dhammapada’.

The Executive Committee of my residential complex is very active. We have 11 buildings and we have created building-wise WhatsApp groups for help and support. So, I know if I need anything, I have to just write a message on this group. They also arranged vegetable sell within the compound - every day two hours. Cell number of a grocery shop is shared with us. I can order the grocery on WhatsApp and collect it at the gate of the society. Though I have not used any of these facilities yet, it is good to know that they are in place. I am also aware of the 'E-pass' arrangments made by Pune police. Our elected representative in the Municipal Corporation has shared the number of medical stores - who will deliver medicine at home. So everything for me is settled. 
  
Another 11 days to go.

Monday, March 23, 2020

234. #Coronavirus Curfew Notes: Day 2

#Coronavirus, #SocialDistancing, #CurfewNotes

(Well, Day 1 notes don't exist)
Though my short stay in Afghanistan was kind of 24X7 Curfew, it is amazing to note that it is my first experience of a Curfew in India. I am old enough and I have known many Curfew occasions, but somehow, I was never in the area where the Curfew was imposed. So, it is my first time to experience what a Curfew means. Given the situation of #Coronavirus, I was expecting this Curfew. So, it is not sudden. I was mentally and physically prepared for it.
It is not a Curfew which is imposed after riots or terrorist attacks etc. So, there are no security issues. No stress about what will happen next moment. The city Administration, Police, Medical team, and so many other invisible people are doing a great job. I can't express my gratitude in words.
I am in a privileged position. I have a home to stay. I have cash in hand and cards to use if required. I am in my hometown, so language is not a barrier. I have friends. I know doctors in the city. I have good neighbours. I have a good mobile range and data pack to access internet. I know whom to approach if I have any problem.
For last ten years, whenever I am home, it is on vacation. So mostly I stay home, read books, listen to music. Sometimes I go out, eat local dishes, meet friends. So, I am used to staying at home. I always look forward to it. #SocialDistancing suits me 😊
However, when there is a Curfew, I am forced to stay at home. It is not my choice (though my choice would mostly be to stay at home!), so there is a feeling of suffocation. It is like I am made to follow somebody's orders and I am not used to it. Intellectually I know it is in the best interest of me and others that I stay at home - so I stay at home, but I don't like it. I have a sudden urge of going out. That is a rare internal conflict. And I know this is just a beginning.
Another aspect is seeking information. As internet is easily available, I tend to check the number of Coronavirus cases. It is kind of obsession though I can’t do anything about it. I don’t have to take any decisions about the situation. But the habit of looking at the data, processing it, inferring from it – that is an intellectual obsession. It has to stop. If I am not looking at the data, I am spending more time on Social Media and reacting to people’s posts and comments on Facebook and Twitter. Generally, I access social media, but hardly react to it. I always have been fortunate enough to be able to work with people. I discuss with people face to face: sometimes we agree; some other times we don’t. I never seek online interaction – I seek online information, online entertainment but never online interaction.
But today I found myself responding a lot to people’s posts and comments. I also spent considerable time in reading some of the comments.
I have realized that I have to learn to switch off internet for some time. Take a break from it for couple of hours at least. I need to pick up one or two interesting books from my collection and enjoy reading.
I don’t have Refrigerator at home, never wanted it. But that means I cannot purchase items in bulk and store. For example, I had only enough milk to make a cup of tea. My young neighbor when he was coming home, called and asked me whether I wanted him to pick up anything for me from the grocery shop. I asked him to purchase milk. But it turned out that milk was not available.
Again, I am not very fond of tea and coffee. I drink it only occasionally. If some guests are coming, I purchase milk, otherwise I don’t.  Since my Myanmar days, I mostly take green tea. But now there is no milk, I suddenly crave for typical Indian tea with sugar and milk. Mind is funny, that is for sure.
Let us see how it goes for the next ten days. I fear it is not going to end on 31st March. But if it is going to control the spread of Coronavirus, I am all for it.   

Next

Saturday, October 29, 2016

233. Thadingyut

This post has been published by me as a part of Blog-a-Ton 58; the fifty-eighth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. In association with ​Saravana Kumar Murugan, the editor of Shades Of Life book series.

This year I celebrated Deepavalee a bit early. Hmm, not a bit early but almost two weeks earlier. I was surrounded by crackers, small earthen lamps and candles, lanterns in the sky. There were big "Sale" in the Supermarkets around. Shops were full of gift packages and were displaying those in windows and sometimes on roads. Those roads were crowded, more than they normally are. People were shopping enthusiastically and there was joy and happiness in the air.


                                           Shop from the Street. Woman selling betel-leaf.


                                         Lanterns at Junction Square Supermarket
Whichever is the country and whatever is the cultural occasion, Market is overtaking it, controlling it. I could not help myself to think about whether the innocence of the festivals will remain the same in future or not. So it be.
Okay. So, I was saying that the entire atmosphere around me reminded me of Deepavalee celebrations, but it was not Deepavalee. It was a festival outwardly similar to Deepavalee. It was a local festival named Thadingyut - to be pronounced as TaDinju.
A note before we move ahead. I have checked the pronunciation of Burmese (Myanmar) words with English speaking Myanmar people. It is no wonder that if we try to pronounce the word according to the English spelling, chances are  8 times out of 10, we would fail to say the word properly.
I am talking about a country called Myanmar and about a language Myanmar (or Burma). For the last few months I have been in Yangon and exploring the language and the culture - or should I say culture and language?

In Myanmar, some of the traditional festivals are associated with specific towns or Pagodas. So I was not sure where I could go to observe and enjoy Thadingyut. Later I realized that Thadingyut festival is celebrated nationwide and hence I could enjoy it in Yangon as well.

Majority of Myanmar population follows 'Therwada Buddhism'. The traditional festival are celebrated according to the lunar calendar. So they don't occur on exactly same "dates" (of the Gregorian calendar). The seventh Lunar month is called Thadingyut. The full moon day of this month is the middle day of the three days light festival - Thadingyut festival. This year the full moon day of Thadingyut was on 16 October, hence the Light Festival was celebrated on 15,16 and 17 October.

This festival has an interesting mythological aspect.

It is a traditional belief that on the full moon day of the  fourth month called "Waso" (which happened to be in July), Siddhardha Gautama , the Buddha went to Celestial Abode called "Tavatimsa". There he stayed for three months and guided the Gods (Devas) in spiritual enlightenment. There are six such Celestial Abodes according to Buddhist mythology. Buddha particularly chose this one, because his mother of previous birth "Maya" was in this abode. Buddha wanted to share his knowledge with her and hence he went to Tavatimsa.

On Thadingyut full moon day, Buddha returned to earth. His path to earth was lighted by various Gods. Thadingyut is a Myanmar celebration of  Gautam Buddha's Return to earth.

Elders in the family are respected by all the members with offer of special gifts. Some people observe half day or full day fast on full moon day. Clothes, umbrella, food is offered to Monks. People light their houses and visit Pagodas to light the Pagodas.

I visited Kyaik Waing Pagoda with two of my friends and enjoyed interacting with local people. A mythological story of a "hide and seek" between a Nat (powerful spirit) and Buddha is associated with this Pagoda. This Pagoda was initially built in 1872 and later was expanded.

Here are some moments of Thadingyut in Kyaik Waing Pagoda.

                                          Enthusiastic Citizens at the Pagoda
                  Special Stands to keep the Candles and small  Earthen pots

While celebrating a Festival of Lights, which is very similar to Deepavalee celebrations in India, I came across one more realization. Whichever is the country , whichever is the religion (or even if people do not believe in any religion), people like to celebrate together. People always dream for destruction of darkness (pain, suffering, poverty etc.) and the Return of Light (happiness, joy, smiles) in their life.

"From Darkness to Light" is the common prayer we all have.
We all want to Return to Light.

The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. Show your support for the hastags #BlogATon58 & #Aativas50. Participation Count: 50.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

232. Glimpses of Bangkok: 1: Bangkok Art and Culture Center

Bangkok was never in my "To Visit" list.  Suddenly I had to come to Bangkok for some work. First surprise was the name of the Bangkok airport - "Suvarnbhumi" (Golden Land).  My first impression of the city on that Thursday night was good. Wide roads, no traffic jam, and shining skyscrapers. The receptionist at the hotel welcomed me by folding both the hands. It was only next day that I realized that this hand-folded welcome is the traditional Thai greetings.

My plan was simple. Work on Friday, leave Bangkok on Saturday morning. However, the work remained unfinished on Saturday and I had two full unplanned days in this world famous tourist destination. It was very humid with no sign of rain. So, I decided to go slow, visit only couple of places. On Saturday morning when I left the hotel, I saw that the roads within the city were narrow.


I had finalized two spots on Saturday, for which Sky Train was more convenient. I was staying in Sukhumvit area and the nearest Sky Train Station was 'Asok'.

In the station there was a counter where we can exchange notes for coins and use the coins to get a ticket from the vending machines. There were maps in the station and the exact amount needed for each station was displayed, so there was no problem in purchasing the right ticket.

There were regular announcements in the station and in the train. I smiled when I heard a station name "Nana".  The Sky Train was crowded but the crowds were disciplined. I have traveled for considerable time by Delhi Metro and I noted certain differences in Delhi Metro and Bangkok Sky Train.

Delhi Metro has a reserved coach for women, which Bangkok Sky Train does not have. Second: Bangkok Sky Train has sliding glass doors on platform also - which Delhi Metro does not have.


In Delhi Metro, each passenger has to go through personal security. Here in Bangkok one has to enter through metal dictator, there is a security official, but they not necessarily check every passenger again. The instructions show how Buddhist Monks are respected.

The 'Sky Train' map was also printed on the ticket, so I had no difficulty in reaching Siam station. After coming out of the station I was confused about the direction I needed to take. I spotted a 'Tourist Information Center' just outside the station and the staff there, guided me to reach at 'Bangkok Art and Culture Center'.  There is no entrance fee.


I had assumed this place to be a museum and I was partially right. This nine-storey building has paintings, sculpture, handicrafts, woodcraft, ceramic art,music and design displays. There are couple of book stores and an Art Library.  There are coffee shops where one can have lengthy discussions over a cup of coffee. When it comes to art, I am almost illiterate. However, I was in this center for more than three hours and enjoyed the visit. Here are some of the snapshots from the Center.







                          

                         

                        

                        

It was good to see that the information of the artists was also displayed.


There was some experience/experiment related to sound waves. This was something new for me. There were number of photographs on the walls. Each photograph was given a unique number.  Every person entering the exhibition hall was handed over a small cellphone-like handset.


One was expected to type the photograph number on this machine, press the green  button and hold the machine near the ear. For different photographs, I could hear different sound waves (if I am using the right term!), but I could not understand what it was all about. For people more interested in this, the following photograph might be of some help.


I was surprised to see this huge wall poster of the Hindi film in the Art section. Is this film already released in India?


I was feeling tired as I was walking for more than three hours.  When I asked for the directions of my next destinations, I realized that it was nearby. So, I continued walking with enthusiasm.

To be continued ...


Monday, March 7, 2016

231. #PledgeForParity

Tomorrow is 8 March. Tomorrow is ‘International Women’s Day’. Tomorrow is a day of exchanging best wishes. Tomorrow will be presented women’s problems with statistics and concerns will be expressed. Tomorrow there will be speeches, articles and sighs. Tomorrow people will be hopeful after coming across examples of women’s success. Tomorrow Radio, Newspapers and Television channels will salute Women and many will express Gratitude. The Market will shout about ‘Discounts to Women’. Tomorrow women will wear their best dresses and lunch together. Tomorrow will be a day of smiles and despair.

Whatever is the experience, for many people it last for at most 17-18 hours. On 9 March, everything generally falls back to normalcy. People, especially men joke about ‘how there is a need for men’s day’ or ‘how women are getting all the favors in this world’. Many times I feel that such opinions are expressed because people are not aware of the history of why and how ‘Women’s Day’ came into existence.

Before moving further, I would like to emphasize two points. One, I do not believe that only women have problems in this world and all men are happy. No one with common sense would make such a sweeping statement. Men too face problems, they too struggle, they too have responsibilities and men too are unhappy. However, when we think about women-men relationships, we realize that men have an upper hand. When I say women-men relationship, it is not about husband-wife relationship (as most of us in India spontaneously think) but son-mother, brother-sister, father-daughter, colleagues … all such relationships show that men get better treatment, men get favor. Women favor their sons over their daughters; because women are born and brought up into a system which favors men. It is an invariable impact of the social structure and the upbringing.  I am not going to discuss ‘Patriarchy’ in details. However, we need to understand that Women’s Movement is not challenging individual men but Patriarchy. Patriarchy means secondary status of women, the existing men-women hierarchy, the stereotypes regarding roles and responsibilities of women and men.

Secondly, one has to accept that not all men are insensitive because they are men and not all women are sensitive to other women just because they are women. There are sensitive men and insensitive men. All the men in the world do not behave badly with every woman they come across. Similarly, there are sensitive women and there are insensitive women. Transformation is expected in both men and women. So, Women’s Movement works not only with women but also with men. For many years we have been taught to treat women as secondary. So it becomes our habit to treat women as if they are inferior to men. It has not happened and it is not happening only in India, but it is a    world-wide phenomenon. There was a time when some believed ‘women to be a separate Class’ and expected them to revolt against another class called ‘men’. But, women’s identity has many aspects (common with men) – such as Religion, Ethnicity, Province, Language, Caste etc. All these factors influence men’s and women’s identities. At the same time women have to carry the burden of being women – across all the societies. In spite of being many differences among women in the world, they share something common which cuts across all the above mentioned factors.

I won’t describe the concept of Patriarchy in details here. Broadly speaking, male progeny preference; discrimination between men (sons) and women (daughters) in food, clothes, educational opportunities (Women also discriminate because they are born and brought up into Patriarchy); household chores being the responsibility of only women (and girls); control over women’s movement and body; sexual exploitation of women and girls;  lack of inheritance right (in India we have improved laws now); lack of decision power to women regarding how many children she wants and when; … all such points highlight the importance of men in the life we all live. There might be some exceptions around, but we are discussing the general norms.

So, Patriarchy means:  men have control over women: control over women’s productive and reproductive capabilities; control over women’s sexuality, control over women’s mobility, control over all the resources etc. Different institutions and systems like Religion, Family, Law, Education, Market, Politics shape and strengthen Patriarchy.

Let us accept openly that men are also burdened by Patriarchy. They too have to fulfil specific roles and carry out specific responsibilities with which all men are not comfortable. They are also trapped in a system, which no doubt is still more beneficial to them. Women’s Movement turns away from these traditional roles and responsibilities and appeals to us create an environment where all individuals will have equal opportunity to realize their potential. Men and Women have different bodies (though only reproductive system is different), but based on that an entire social structure of discrimination and favor has been created. Women’s Movement is not asking us to change the body, but the asking us to change our ways we look at women’s body. If you review the life of your grandmother/father – mother/father- and you – you will realize that social change always happens. The changes Women’s Movement is seeking are difficult and time taking, but they are not improbable.

If women’s awareness about their Rights increases, men certainly will have to give away most of the benefits they get in Patriarchy. That is one of the reasons why some men dislike Women’s Movement. However, we need to realize that Women’s Movement (and there are different schools of thought within the movement) is not against Men. It is not about Men versus Women, but it is about Men with Women. The “women” are not someone we do not know; she is the mother, the aunt, the grandmother, wife, girlfriend, friend, daughter, colleague, neighbor …., these women enrich our lives, their happiness would make men too happy. Men and Women both need to contribute towards this struggle of Women’s Rights.

The struggle for Women’s Rights is on for centuries. These Rights are classified into Economic Rights, Civil Rights, Socio-Cultural Rights and Political Rights. Basically, all these are Human Rights. The form of the struggle has changed, the tools used by the movement have changed and the response also has changed. Many sensitive men have supported Women’s Movement during the long journey. Many laws have been improved to accommodate Women’s Rights. But we still have a long way to go. Not only in India but across the world, we still have lot to do to achieve the goal of Women’s Rights.

We are not going to discuss history of Women’s Movement here – may be some other time. However, we would briefly look at the evolution of ‘International Women’s Day’.

In 1908, women working in Garment industry in New York (USA), declared strike to demand better working conditions. To support these demands, in 1909, women in USA celebrated ‘Women’s Day’ on 28 February. In 1910, Copenhagen hosted Socialist Conference in which more than 100 women from 17 countries participated. The Conference passed a resolution of celebrating “International Women’s Day’ to support Women’s Rights movement and Right to Vote for Women. However, the date of celebration was not fixed.

In India, on 26 January 1950, Constitution was adopted and it established Right to Vote for both women and men (who have completed 21 years, later the age was reduced to 18). We in India, do not know about women’s worldwide struggle to get Right to Vote. (Also in many countries all men did not have Right to Vote; description of this journey will need separate blog-post.) Let us look at the journey of some of the countries – which will give us some idea of women’s struggle.

Sweden – in 1718, taxpayer women members of the City Guild had the Right to Vote. Women’s Right to Vote was achieved in 1921. United States of America – in 1756, one woman in Uxbridge (Massachusetts) was given a Right to Vote in Town Meeting. In 1910 women’s Right to Vote was established in some of the States and the process was complete in 1920. Great Britain 1928; New Zealand 1929; United States of Soviet Russia in 1917 (after abdication of Czar); 1935 British Raj (included India) and Burma (now Myanmar); 1945 – France, Italy and Japan; 1947 China and Pakistan (initial only literate women could vote in Pakistan, in 1956 the right was extended to all the women); this process is going on. In Saudi Arabia women were granted Right to Vote in 2011 and they could contest municipal election only in 2015. So, the struggle is still on.

As an impact of Copenhagen Conference, on 19 March in 1911, millions of people (both women and men) celebrated ‘Women’s Day’ in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. With Right to Vote, they also supported demands like Right to Work, Right to Vocational Training, Right to Equal treatment (no discrimination) at workplace.

In 1913, women in Soviet Russia filled the streets on the last Sunday of February in demand of Peace. In Europe, Women’s Day was celebrated on and around 8 March in 1914. In 1917, on the last Sunday of February, Russian women took the streets demanding “Bread and Peace”. This was 8 March according to Gregorian Calendar. (Later Russia accepted Gregorian Calendar in 1918.) Within 4 days, Czar abdicated.

Different countries kept on celebrating Women’s Day. In India, All India Women’s Conference Initiated Women’s Day celebration in different towns on 1 March 1930. India celebrates ‘National Women’s Day’ on 13 February which is a birth anniversary of our First Women Governor and Freedom Fighter Sarojini Nayadu.

Women’s Day became truly International in 1975 when United Nations Organization declared 8 March as ‘International Women’s Day’. All the countries now celebrate this Day and many events, discussions are organized on this day to review progress and strategize towards achieving Women’s Rights.

The journey to Gender Equity is a continuous journey.  Every year for ‘International Women’s Day’ a theme is declared so that it does not remain one-day activity. In 1975, the theme was “United Nations recognizes International Women’s Day”. I easily remember the following themes: Women and Human Rights (1998); World Free of Violence Against Women (1999); Afghan Women Today: Realities and Opportunities (2002); Women and HIV/AIDS (2004); Women in Decision Making (2006); Empower Rural Women, End Poverty and Hunger (2012).

The theme for 2016 International Women’s Day is #PledgeForParity. Four types of activities are suggested which can be taken up by individuals and/or organizations. 1. Help women and girls to achieve their ambitions: challenge conscious and unconscious bias 2. Call for Gender balanced leadership 3. Value women’s and men’s contribution equally and 4. Create inclusive, flexible cultures. If you come across any other idea, you are free to act on it. I have pledged for the first idea, though these four ideas are not compartmental but connected.

You can sign the page here. If required, develop ideas which you think will work in your environment.

Can we declare our commitment to “Parity” – in home, at workplace, at whatever place we spend time? Can we act with consciousness towards Gender Equity? Both Men and Women are expected to work jointly to arrive at a better world. Signing this pledge only makes us feel better to know that we are not alone on this path. There are millions in the world who are trying to make the world better.
Happy International Women’s Day to you all.

Please, do share your experiences of the journey. I look forward to learning from you.