Thursday, 18 June 2015

For a Free and Fair World

"May I be protector for those without one,

A guide for all travellers on the way;"

~ Shantideva, in A Guide to the Bodhisattva's way of Life.

The gorgeous Goan monsoon is washing my windows squeaky clean, and as I'm lying around in bed, I’m suddenly thinking of Sealdah railway station. I was there just last month, a sweaty, stinky blob of flesh melting in the heat and humidity. We were running to catch a train to North Bengal, pushing through a roiling mass of people, dodging handcarts, sidestepping squalor when three ragged, dirty, little boys ran past us, pushing each other around, laughing, eyes a-sparkle, running barefoot across the platform... all I could think of at that time was him.

I saw a world & it was mean,
and hope was nowhere to be seen…

Impatiently pushing aside tangled, matted hair, one of the little boys lithely swung himself onto the train pulling into platform number 1. The other two ran alongside, deftly catching plastic bottles he threw out at them, swiftly stuffing them into a sack, ending with a running jump onto the tracks beyond. They’re irreverent, incorrigible, heads thrown back in laughter, and I’m still stuck somewhere on one those long, lonesome nights spent with him, sitting in near-silence by Chapora River. It’s like we’re strangers, mostly quiet, sometimes speaking of stargazing in Mumbai.

I know I’m indulging in a sickening bout of sentimentality here, but seems like being at Sealdah station was rougher on me than I choose to remember. Obviously it’s making my mind into a simpering silly slug flopping around in slush erstwhile known as brain. Each night by the river was to be a different story. He'd tell me why he ran away from home. When. How. We’d wondered through various theories together, whether his family ever looked for him, missed him even. His references to ‘home’ leave me lost. For him, ‘home’ sometimes means the jhula at Juhu Chowpatty. He'd swing rich lil Bombay brats by hand on that jhula. He’d often slept under the stars, he’d said, gazing up at them even now, more than a decade later, as he told me of those nights. He wrapped his arms around his bony knees, rocking himself in rhythm to the river slapping gently against shore, staring at the stars, anxious, always aloof, always alone…

I used to go to Chapora with him because it was quiet spot we could sit without a care. Poor carefree Chapora, made maudlin by all these stories. He’s often talked  about being hungry & homeless, alone & afraid in a strange, scary city. Other friends have described to me warped relationships wrapped in secrecy & strange compulsions, subtle notes of subdued pain, old scars of struggle...

My whole damned trip into West Bengal last month had felt like a strange sorta ‘ghar wapsi’ for me, a return to my motherland after almost a decade. Decades have gone by, that India has been ‘independent’. Yet West Bengal got left behind in some sepia-toned time warp, where people are still impoverished and deprived. Denied a basic quality of life, of choice, of the right to raise their voice, people usually resign themselves to substandard lifestyles, depending on government doles to sustain themselves.

West Bengal boasts of being the sixth largest economy in the country, and the state’s power infrastructure and roads and railways network is top notch as compared to the rest of the country. Despite having literacy rates higher than the national average, over 30% of the youth in Bengal remained unemployed in 2012-2013. 47 million unemployed young people. This was the same year the state recorded the highest rates of violence against women in the country. Around the same time, there were apparently no farmers committing suicide. Around that time, apparently, no custodial rapes in West Bengal, according the National Crime Records Bureau. Same time when there were no custodial rapes in Chhattisgarh either. Hahaha. Someone forgot Soni Sori. Savage destruction of fragile ecologies of the Sundarbans and the Northern Himalaya, rampant pollution caused by illegal stone quarrying, pathetic living conditions, arsenic poisoned ground water, droughts and floods, caste based discrimination and violence, cross border trafficking and smuggling, it seemed like everything immoral and illegal, it's all happening in Bengal! Most of the government records I’ve trawled twice over had little to offer. The websites were mostly defunct or full of dead links. The newspapers rarely asked these questions. They were busy with the political violence ripping apart the state.  

All the missing stories were right there, with the legal groups, the health workers, the forest villagers, the tea workers, the non-profits, the self help groups and women’s collectives. We heard about the deplorable state of education, appalling stories of the sheer lack of employment opportunities available, the desperate search for a means of survival, and the subsequent trafficking and the migration that is rampant across the state. So many stories. No one to listen.

Hearing these sickening stories almost always hurt, sometimes, rarely, they inspire imagination. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to simply walk away when someone starts speaking, sharing their strange stories. I’m usually compelled to remain. Perhaps it's politeness. Maybe it's curiosity. And a certain sordid fascination for speaking to strangers for sure. Sometimes these stories make me want to wage war. Channelize my dormant Chandi Maata and wage a war of non-violence[1]. And then I reluctantly remember we must accept our fate. ‘Kismet’, as Saloni says. Dratted destiny. If I must listen, I must do so in renunciation[2].
For a free & fair world.

And so, still lolling in bed, still thinking of Sealdah station, still thinking of him, I make up my the many moods of monsoon take over, I must remember not to indulge in too many bouts of sentimental shit.

I must always remember, nothing I do can fix the world he grew up in.

I can, however, always fight for a free and fair world. I can fight to fix the world everyone will live in hereafter.

[1] "Nonviolence is not only a state of being, but a course of action meant to be waged rather than merely preached."

[2] “Renunciation is not giving up the things of this world, but accepting that they go away.”~Shunryu Suzuki

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Eternal Conscience of the Space Cadet’s mind: 2

Now, moving on from my pitch to be goanese, us wish-I-were-Goan breed peppered across the state, I’m not really claiming to be deeply knowledgeable about Goa. I’m only falling back on certain experiences to make this childish claim for citizenship. A few years in the same villages here has earned a morning ‘hi’ from many households I pass on the way to work. I’ve developed a deep respect for the local lifestyle, with a few years with Rose & Peter, at their Addams Family-esq estate in North Goa.

Meet Morticia Addams: 
Rose. Rose is an enigma, smooth faced and soft spoken. She rules her male dominated empire with a sweet smile and gentle grace...I've known Rose a few years now, and really enjoy being her neighbour/tenant. Peter is her perfect Gomez, he refers to her as the ‘Boss’. I see him every evening, banging a thick bamboo cane along as he walks barefoot across the estate. Once he promised he wouldn’t ‘hurt’ the scorpion we found, and proceeded to break it into four pieces with a few blows of his bamboo stick. He cut short our squeals & wails with a straight-faced ‘dogs are here’, clarifying the cruelty he knew we would accuse him of. I once came home to find a street lamp from our lane being taken to pieces. It had stopped working, so he was investigating it’s insides. He fixed it.
Rose & Peter run their estate with the help of Laxman and ‘the boys’ – a rag-tag bunch of Kannadiga men, shy and reclusive, they’re always on the estate, fixing, pruning, cutting, picking, fixing…they carefully maintained & repainted a friend’s cycle when I’d abandoned it here one monsoon.
I've cut the most ridiculous capers while living with Rose & Peter - brought home random animals (of the two legged & four legged kind), climbed their balconies looking for injured birds, sub-let to a fab DJ (yes, we partied till 4 am too) and Rose has walked me into the house "I'm scared of the dark". I ran to her once with a half-baked space cake "Can you fix this?" She left me a beautifully baked sponge cake on my veranda. I told her this afternoon I broke her washing machine again. When the AMC guy left, she came over with all these mangoes, 'make mango shake.'

The extended family includes Molly, Martha, Choti, Spotty, human puppy Dylan & his mama, Natasha who live in the crazy near-kennel behind us, while my home is shared with similar strange, reclusive creatures. In both these houses, the humans are outnumbered by the non-humans. Our home has multiple lizards, multi-coloured frogs, an occasional scorpion, and during the day, different kinds of birds, chameleons and the stealing, scheming monkeys. A loud squawk from any part of the house usually means varied species have encountered one another. Thuds across the yard, means the monkeys have gotten into the orchards again, bouncing off the branches heaving with summer fruit.

We spend a lot of time lost in our garden. In the grass. On the swings. Staring at prayer flags fluttering in the breeze. Life is as is here at our home. At 63/1, space station, there is an ebb, there is flow, an action, a reaction, high tide, moon rise, sunset, weather change, seasons, nights, sultry Sundays. Our lives sway along in a structured flow. People sleep over, friends pass by. We gather often, under the prayer flags, especially in the evenings, where we begin serious conversations which lapse into giggles with inanities like the PeePoo Song[1].

Example: “How do you break up with someone you never really went out with?”
 “Like you get back to someone you never really broke up with?!”

We’ve recognized that laughing ourselves into helpless hiccups is a great way to forget that which wasn’t important anyway.

Private investigation: The world has its ways of helping you move on. My household here often makes me think about the meaning of ‘home’. I’ve started differentiating my references to ‘home’ as ‘home’ (here in Goa) or ‘my parents home’. When did that happen? The space station has been out in space almost 2 years now. The Cat & I have begun to speak out the same words simultaneously. Aloud. It’s shameful. I’m secretly glee-struck. She can seem all scratch and hiss, if you strike the right light, she’ll settle to placid purr.

We’re exploring perennial philosophies, exploring ideas of Inner Being here. It’s time to go old school, so we’re looking for solutions in times gone by. We recycle, emulating examples from people around us who make it possible with infrastructure to practice this lifestyle. We have enough inspiration. I earlier wrote of people playing out their anarchist fantasies, for example when concerned, conscious citizens unleashed guerilla tactics against irresponsible garbage disposal. The relentless restlessness many wandering Cadets feel when they stay in a  place too long finds expression in explorations of different lives. I’ve found folk who are equally comfortable lying in the grass, staring at the stars, or squelching some mud while pretending to be planting. 

The world is in turmoil, earthquakes, volcanoes erupting, lakes frothing over, there's something sick we've unleashed out there...and it's time to take it all be aware, conscious, and omnipresent is possible today. While I don’t believe you or I can change this world single handedly, I do believe a collective conscious is possible, a collective way of thinking exists, we only need to come together, find each other.

Our Vibe attracts our Tribe, they say.

[1] Curious Cat & I composed this for the Depo.