On the streets of Ooty

On her forehead
worries collapsed
one upon another
a wrinkly pile of seasons harsh
sustaining each other

Wrapped in wool
her body refused
warmth creeping into her heart
with a strangers smile

She sat crumbling in pavements
indifferent to her plight
diffidence poised on her lips
waiting for the dusk
that forever hung over the horizon
to snuff the light out

Travelling around

Just read Mridula�s piece about her trip to Goa on GoNomad. I and Sajju were planning on taking that very same YHAI trip, but never did.

We both keep talking about travelling in India. But somehow all our time seems to just go in visiting family back home in Bombay and Pune. We travelled so much while we lived in the US. That�s the teeny bit trouble about living in India. I am so emotional about family all I want to do is be with them and then I sulk that I don�t get to travel. Slowly but steadily am trying to change all that. We did goto Ajanta and Ellora as well as Matheran this year! Next year I hope to travel more. There is just so much to explore in India. Each state with its own unique topography and social customs. I know if I want to visit each state in the country and understand just a little bit about them all, this lifetime won�t be enough. Maybe I�ll start with a dozen unvisited states first. What say?

In continuum to the previous post � the serious part of it

The green hay prettily nods her head to get my attention. Like that girl fresh into puberty eager for men to look at her in awe. I am awed, my dear, by your freshness, by how tender you look, how alive and how happy you are by your birth and age. But I cannot help look at the men and women tending to your whims. You are the reason they are going to sleep with partially full stomachs tonight, under the stars , under the trees, close to you. To you they have to return.

The scene shifts from the grass to the people around her. Most were daily wage labourers, Paid paltry sums of money and probably a grain of paddy at the end of the season. Some of the paddy, I am told, they�ll save, the rest they�ll barter. Idyllic? Maybe not.

I enjoyed my trip thoroughly. Then came back and read a study done as part of the project? Not even close to idyllic. Food and health is still their priority. Good health, work, education, water, is still their worry. How will these computers and video-conferencing help them? Can it? In a land where the great godavari flows showering them with nature bountiful best can you imagine that clean drinking water is a matter of great concern.

I am brimming with ideas but I don�t know how applicable most of them will be. But the tints are off from my glasses. I see things plain and clear. The exhilaration about nature continues but for the people my heart aches. Will the project help them?

I can see Rama, the lady who is a panchayat member. She uses the edge of her sari to wipe her face as she walks besides me. Radiant at being by my side, hiding a smile and not succeeding much at it. She is tickled by my attempts to block the sun out by pulling my dupatta over my head. She has two children (but she cant be much older than me!) They go to a convent school (the village school government school is not good enough. I can vouch for the infrastructure part of that after visiting the school). There are toilets in some houses (of course in the homes if the richer guys. The poor I could visibly see live in the fringes of the village and have neither light nor a toilet), but there is no drainage system in the village. Also the school has no playground, she whispers. Can you help fill the swamp in front of the school? That was the allotted land for the school playground she informs. Now only flies, bacteria and hundreds other germs frolic there, I can see.

How on earth is a computer to help them do that? Isn�t the government supposed to do this I cant help but wonder? Maybe the project could also include a grievance redressal system. Help them talk directly would the local government. Would they listen? What on earth is the panchayat doing with the money? Hey lady sarpanch, Are you listening?

The deeper I look the more questions there are. Computers may help them, video-conferencing may help them. To what extent, I�ll have to wait and see. I have to hold onto the faith that some good will come out of it all. I just hope it helps those tiny tots at the government school who fought so viciously to pose in front of the camera…

when wishes are fulfilled

(c) Anita Satyajit 2005

It was culmination of desires accumulated carefully over years. The desire to move beyond what skill I have got slotted into and move into the platform where I get to do something that might add more meaning into people�s lives.

Working on the script last week I wrote, �When food is a priority there is no time for opportunity.� The situation was befitting of the villages I visited early this week, but for me it was the reverse. Food wasn�t the priority, god has given me all the basics and then some, what I was craving for was that opportunity that�d let me peek and hopefully move into the world which I have been aching to be a part of. I finally got me some opportunity myself.

I visited 6 villages in the West Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh as part of the project site visits. Now after visiting those six, I am greedy and want to visit all the 32 villages which the project will cover.

I couldn�t even begin to image how serene and beautiful the area would be. We breezed through roads that were bordered by coconut trees. Often a canal accompanied us all through the way and in some villages the aqua fields joined the gang to create stunningly beautiful vistas. Farmers were busy at work. Harvesting season was on. All around I could see people working hard toiling away trying to create those houses of hay (as I refer to them. Circular structures, with a cap atop its head. Grain is stored in these structures. Saw people separating the chaff from the hay, storing the hay, transporting the hay. It was harvest time! I was soaking in the beauty and was enthralled by it all.

Some images stay behind. The naked children uninhabited, diving into the canal and swimming in the mossy green; The tiny mud road dominated by the tall coconut trees on either side that met their heads to maybe ponder about us foolish wanderers below; the lady sitting with a child by the road side ( I got their snap), the aqua ponds and the whirring of the water churning machine which was busy oxygenating the water; the view from Patepuram village school roof top, the kids at school jostling for a snap and the four girls who came outside begging for one more, the girls at Ardhavaram standing shyly and their teacher eager and restless to move intellectually beyond the confines of her village…

The more you see the more you observe. Slowly I began to also take in the people working. The sweat streaming down the sometimes bare backs, Women� blouses dark with patches of sweat, the bare feet, the threadbare houses along the way, plain sheets pulled across 4 stumps and people lunching beneath it. A colleague present said jokingly that they are picnicking. It was a daily affair I commented. But were they?

Delhi is not far away

it really wasnt. ( the title goes after a novella by Rushkin Bond, cant remember the story though).

A long standing dream finally came true. I travelled by myself for the first time ever. Na, to word it better though I have travelled by myself many times, I had my first experience living alone in a new city. Went to Delhi for two days. There was a resource mobilization workshop which I wanted to attend. At the end of the two days at the workshop I realized I knew enough to actually take workshops for starters. One of the speakers was very bad communicator, strange considering the fact that the person had more than 15 yrs of corporate experience and had collected crores as a fundraiser.

Being in Delhi was a thrilling experience. You can sense that you are in the political capital of the country, from the attitude of the cab-guys to the good ( crowded but good) main roads, it all speaks one word: Power. Everyone is some mantri�s relative, that�s the attitude with which they carry themselves and yet it was friendlier than I expected it to be. The people there were so free, organizers et the people attending. I got a vehicle and went to Janpath Market, .bought myself some lovely bags, a top and an earring.. hmm Delhi shopping is yummy I must say. The prices, man, they can surely give Fashion Street in Bombay a tough contest. After dinner, I went on to see Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliament and then finally went to India gate. I had my preview of Connaught Place in the afternoon and was eager to see the India gate.

The road from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate is so fantabulous. I parked far away and walked till India Gate and back. Took me a good half hour but I was glad I had this time to myself. Strangely the road banked with gardens on either side reminded me of Champs Elysees in Paris. Not even remotely close I know. But I guess I just felt the same happy feeling. There were dozens of families in the park, all out to have a nice picnic in the garden. The cab driver told me they stayed till late, having fun, singing their songs, celebrating their lives and love. As I neared the India gate I felt very patriotic. The names of the soldiers carved on India Gate filled in me a sense of pride and despair. Why war I asked myself? I felt sad for the families of those who had died. I also admired the ability to those to look death in the eye. Why did they goto war? How does anyone agree to goto war? Its such a dichotomy. The need to feel protected vs the futility of realising that millions of dollars cannot change fate. Death comes, defeat comes, pain comes univited, when it has to.

I stayed at the YMCA and good see Bangla Sahib, the famous Sikh Gurudwara from my window. I bet if it wasn�t for the gurudwara, I wouldn�t have slept a wink alone in the hotel room. Or maybe I was more tired than I could imagine. I felt a little sad that I didn�t stay for longer in the city. There was so much more I wanted to see and explore. But I am sure this isn�t the last time.

This month is going to be full anyway. Trip to Bombay , this month end, then to project sites next month. Lotsa travel on my cards. And after each a blog posting will surely follow.

The long Awaited Vacation (Shirdi)

Shirdi. It was a fantabulous journey. We went through proper rural Maharashtra, Maharashtra as it is (minus the frills and fancies of Bombay and Pune). Small huts, fields, streams and temples. If you thought that poverty existed only in cities, you need to think again. The fate of small and marginal farmers is as pathetic. Now policy changes have to be for such people, India lives in its villages. I learnt what this means. After a 4 hour journey in the shaking at its seams ST buses, we reached Shirdi.

Now this is one place that is getting so commercial. In Shirdi everything comes from a price, from water to welfare. People hound you in the street. How many make their livelihood out of Sai Baba I wonder. What would Baba have to say to this, if he were alive. Would he happy that he is the source of livelihood for so many or would he be sad that his word and teachings are getting lost in the process. How many come to celebrate him and how many to ask? We all have our own ulterior agendas. Poor Baba.

The way back was enthralling too. The nearest station is located in a village called Nagarsol. We went through roads or rather where there were no roads. I wonder how the driver drove precariously in the uneven roads. If the earlier trip was through rural India, this was through the bareness that marks rural India. We passed through the village ( the bus did nearly pass through the houses that are located dangerously close to the road or vice versa. Any closer we would be having afternoon snacks in the residents living rooms) and finally reached the station. Which is one building with one platform, one station master, one attendant and one guy selling juices. The station was nearly empty, other than we who had got off from the bus and who were all travelling by the same train. The state transport plies buses from Shirdi to the station at regular intervals only to ferry people to that station. Only two trains stop at that station during a day, filled with people who want to visit shirdi. As the afternoon passed, the station became a mela, filled with families, all awaiting this one train. The fruit juice vendor who was trying hard to make a sale and then slowly he had a field day. Even though he had competition. Another guy selling frootis had suddenly arrived amidst all this hullabaloo and had set shop next to this fruit juice guy. But clearly the fresh juice guy had an upper hand. I bet he made more than people in cities do. It was a scene straight out of a Rushkin Bond book or a Rk Narayan novel. And to describe the afternoon in its entirety would take a story.. maybe I will write one.

The train came and in 5 mins the platform was empty. And life there had just got back to normal. people had slipped back to their comfortable silence.

The Long awaited vacation (Daulatabad & Ellora)

Daulatabad Fort: Magnificent! It was the first time I was seeing such a well preserved fort. After seeing the ruined state of the other forts (Shivaji�s) I was pleasantly surprised to see such a well maintained fort in the same state. Did make me think about how the ASI could pay as much attention to Daulatabad fort made by a muslim king and not care much about Shivaji the local maratha warrior. Now political parties, why don�t u raise a cry or two about the disrespect shown to culture? Or does this not fit into your political agenda?

The fort had a moat around it. We walked the bridge and crossed over a dark room to stand in front of a doorway beyond which was only darkness. We joined a chaotic bunch of school kids. The guide explained that the route was a secret one. One of its exits lead straight to a hole whose exit lied in the moat below. I call it the walk of death. The cave / room inside which we walked had a lovely roof, filled with thousands of bats. I have never been as scared in my life. But also enjoyed each moment of it. At the exit we thanked the guide and handed him a 20. An old old lady was sitting nearby. Hand me some money she demanded. She mumbled something more. But I couldn�t decipher her accent. Smilingly we handed her Rs. 10. Then surprisingly both me and Saj reached down and touched her feet. We just needed to respect little culture and heritage she carried in her. Gladdened she patted out heads and back. We walked away feeling very glad.

Ellora: He sees all come and go; and yet smiles with a knowledge that says impermanence. The only image that sticks with me about Ellora, is of the Bhuddha. Rows and rows of caves with thousands of carvings. Ajanta�s paintings play with you and Ellora�s carvings make you bow on your knees. Not only caves of carvings, but three storied buildings of rock filled with carvings. Can you even begin to imagine the magnanimity of these structures? The kailash temple, the grand monolith, words betray me. The dozens of caves are divided into residential, meditation halls and worship temples. They are adorned with big to small carvings of a variety of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain gods. It is blasphemous to describe such beauty through mere words. These carvings have their stories to tell and as you wander through them, you cannot help but go back and try to live in the mind of one of those many monks who created them.

How did he climb up there and carve? What did he do for food? How many hours could he constantly chip away at the rocks? As I walked among the caves in Ellora, I saw people shout loudly at each other inside the cave. I saw people wear footwear carelessly inside the caves. Most of them were temples once upon a time. How many of us would dare to wear footware inside a temple even today. But here no one seemed to care. We tried and removed our footwear every time we went close to the inner shrine. Maybe that was why god decided to bless us too. As crowded as it was, we found ourselves being left alone in some really beautiful caves for few minutes. We sat and chanted and prayed. Saj sang a song for Shiva in one of the caves. I felt god and probably after long he felt his presence there too.

After that we were to visit the Grinshneshwar ( Shiva jyothirling) temple. Lost between the crowds in the temple, I strangely missed god. Also went to the Bibi Ka Maqbara ( little Taj Mahal) which houses Aurangzeb�s wife�s tomb. Now that was a disappointment. I remember how pretty it looked in the pictures taken 15 yrs ago when my brother had come here on a school trip. Now it was decaying visibly. Yellowing and crumbling under the apparent lack of maintenance. It was a shame to see a monument which could undoubtedly have been beautiful, being degraded to such a state. What are they doing with the entrance fee they were collecting? Such blatant apathy and ignorance of culture shames me and also ire�s me. We walked away disappointed.