On Trustfully Submitting

May 8, 2020 at 9:15 AMMay (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Uncategorized)

“I din’t understand the intensity of these matters earlier,” he said as we walked towards the parking area. “In fact, I dint even consider these problems as real ones”.

I had recieved a call from him that morning asking to meet “immediately”. There was urgency and anxiety in his voice. I asked him to brief me about the matter of concern and promised to meet him soon. I wanted him to brief me not just because it would unburden his heart slightly, but also because I wanted to be able to think through the matter, in the time between the phone call and us meeting.

A family member of his was going through severe distress, and the psychological stress had begun to impact every other aspect of their life. He felt a clinical intervention was necessary and had called me.

Though not a mental health professional, I have been quite vocal about my own mental health issues, as a personal battle against the stigamtization of mental health matters. For over a decade and a half now, ever since I began to speak of my issues openly in public and social media platforms, I have had people speaking to me about their issues and at times seeking my suggestion. Knowing my limitation in the scheme of things, I have patiently listened to them and guided them to meantal health professionals and tried my level best to be a support to them till they sail through the rough tides.

This time too, like earlier, I listened patiently and then suggested him that his family member be taken to a particular Doctor, who I know, for therapy. He agreed and we went to the hospital to take an appointment. The particulr Doctor wasnt available that day and the Social Worker who was in conversation with us suggested another Doctor. We politely refused because we felt a lady Doctor would be better since the person in distress was a teenage girl, who we assumed would be more comfortable speaking with a lady Doctor. We got an appointmet for the next day and we were walking towards the parking space when he said till couple of years ago he never considered mental health issues as real issues at all.

“Once a classmate of mine spoke to me about she undergoing depression,” he began to recollect an incident from two years ago. The classmate, he said, spoke at length about the way depression fractured her day to day being and living and functioning. Listening to it all he, who was a staunch believer and practicing Muslim, had told his classmate, “It is all because our generation has deviated from the spiritual path,” and went on to say that the psychological issues were unreal and the distress was brought upon oneself by a non-spiritual path of life. Not stopping with that he continued to say, “The solution is in submission to the Almighty”. The classmate lost her cool and gave him a piece of his mind which he now recollected before me laughingly, the laugh being at himself. “Now my perspective has changed and I understand things better,” he told me. I smiled and hugged him before we dispersed.

His words, originally told to his classmate and recollected before me after two years, saying, “The solution is in submission to the Almighty” kept playing in my mind with a small edit. I just couldnt ignore the words, “The solution is in submission.” In a strange way this edited sentence threw light on something important.

It was in the year 2004 that I first walked to a Psychiatrist seeking help. I was a naive teenager back then. From then on till about 2016, when I finally decided never to take any medical/ clinical help, I was consulting psychiatrist regularly and for a long period was also on medication. In 2016 when I finally decided to never take any medical/ clinical help, it was largely because I felt they were all ineffective. I could see in retrospect that over a decade of these interventions had changed nothing significantly for me. Calling medication as “life jackets” which only keep us afloat but do not take to the shore, I decided to “work on myself”. I rejected the “life jacket” hoping to learn how to swim and carry myself to the shore.

Since then I have been discussing this matter with many friends and those concerned with the issue of mental health, and surprisingly have found many people echoing the same: therapy being ineffective. That would drive the discussion into a different direction of how the world order is at fault and the pharmaceutical mafia which believes a patient healed is a customer lost, etc etc. All valid observations and commentaries which strengthened our beliefs and antagonized the system at large, the health care system and its methods too. But in between these I kept seeing some people benift from therapy. Most of them were those who had consulted me and had been guided to a therapist by me. This added to my frustration because I was not finding any healing/ solution while those who I was guiding, were finding a way out and thanking me for helping them. Along with adding to my frustration these made me ask why is it that some were able to benifit from therapy while some of us were not. The question only angered me and frustrated me further. But I could find no answer. In a strange way the words, “The solution is in submission” (minus the last part, “to the Almighty”) made me find an answer or rather see what is at the heart of the problem, or rather what appeared now to me as the heart of the problem.

Be it myself or these other friends and fellow beings who, like me, found therapy ineffective, have all been extremely skeptic in our approach to life. It wouldnt be a coincidence that most of us bred on critical thinking in our humanities education, have had our brains tuned to critique, doubt and counter everything that is presented before us in an almost dismissive manner. If on one side this has enabled us to see things beyond the surface, on the other hand it has divorced us from the ability to arrive at harmony and has created severe trust issues with the world in general. Trained to think critically and dismiss things off, we never were able to invest trust and faith not just in the therapist but also in the process of therapy. To submit, we believed unconsciously, is to become submissive and lose agency. Trained to listen not to understand or comprehend but to find loopholes and tear apart the point made through that loophole, we observed everything uttered by the therapist in suspicion, preparing ourselves with counter-arguments to strike off all that is said. We never let our guards down and allowed ourselves to come in touch with the process of therapy entirely in a healthy manner. To be able to faithfully/ trustfully submit to a process is something that skipped our minds that has been conditioned to take extreme views under the pressure to think critically, which would equate submission to an unequal power structure, hence consider it as something unacceptable. This inability to submit to the process, I would say faithfully/ trustfully submit to the process, is probably what made the  possible effectiveness and success of therapy impossible to a large extent.

While saying this I wouldnt deny the existence of pharmaceutical mafia, poor structure of systems to attend to mental health in this country and extremely narrow approach on the part of practitioners of mental health profession. But it is also true, I have come to believe, that the inability to invest trust has also played a role in the difficulty to outgrow the crisis. To faithfully/ trustfully submit need not mean to blindly submit or submit uncritically. While it is necessary to identify the need of rationality to fight supersition, a point to which blind faith can take us humans, it is also necessary to identify, it appears to me, the limitations or the hurdles that rationality and extreme critical thinking can bring upon our lives.

As much as it is important to be critical, to see through things in a highly hierarchical and profit driven market capitalist world, it is also important to be able to submit, so that we can be touched by a process that could bring us healing or at least enable us to manage things well. The way out, I feel, is in the strange space where there is an interlocking of opposites, where trust and skepticism coexist in a healthy manner and healthy proportion.

When I saw a mind possesed by faith, make way out of it to an extent and embrace a scientific method and process, I felt that may be even the mind obsessed with rationality and skepticism also has to make way out of it and and be able to trust and allow to be touched.

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The Poor Are Also Humans

April 30, 2020 at 9:15 PMApr (Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

April has certainly has been a cruel month this time.

Among the innumerable heartbreaking stories from across the world, the story of Mukesh Mandal in particular refuses to evaporate from my mind, even after weeks.

Mukesh, a migrant labourer stationed in Haryana, ended his life early this month, after having no money to feed his family of six. Before hanging himself, Mukesh, sold his celphone for Rs. 2,500/- and with that money bought some ration for his family, a fan for the house and also repayed the remaining debt he had.

Whether there was any pressure on Mukesh to repay the borrowed money or not remains unknown. Even after his death, the family did not speak of any such pressure on Mukesh. But even when faced with an extreme situation of not being able to feed his family and being pushed to take his life, Mukesh did not disappear into absence without repaying the debt money.

While the poverty, hunger, suffering, helplessness and humiliation of Mukesh are all true, let them not eclipse his dignity, his self-respect, for our looking eyes and percieving minds.

The words of one Brahmaji, a labourer in Hyderabad, reported later in the month, continues to echo in my mind, like the story of Mukesh, for the words of Brahmaji, like the final act of Mukesh, speaks of dignity and self-respect, along with a dire situation his life has been facing. He was reported to have said, “We are not beggars. We came to Hyderabad to work and earn money with self-respect. We feel ashamed in taking donations. I personally feel like committing suicide when donors came to distribute cooked rice and clicked a picture with my family.”

Harsh Mander once narrated his experience of having lived and closely interacted with a migrant labourer family, as a part of a project on understanding labour, poverty and hunger. The family which moved from one city to another, across states of India, for work was asked by Harsh Mander of the place they like the most to visit for work. The family said their second favourite place in India was Punjab because there the people treated them with affection. Their most favourite place was Kashmir for they were treated with not just affection but also respect, they said.

Unfortunately our society has never considered Respect and Affection as ‘basic necessities’ of humans. A connection is never seen between them and survival/ living.

In times when a Supreme Court judge asks why the poor would need to be paid wages when they are being fed for free, in a society where a helping hand is accompanied by a camera lens, it is not just hunger and poverty which needs to be confronted. We also need to confront the poverty of heart among the non-poor, which is us, that fails to recognize that those who put under the category of ‘poor’ are also humans and the poverty fo heart in us which also fails to recognize the existing dignity and self-respect among the poor.

Mukesh, who not just repayed the debt but also bought ration for his family and also a fan just before ending his life, was labelled “mentally unstable” by the police. If the system and mainly the State had a percent of the dignity and self-respect that Mukesh had, and for its people a percent of the love Mukesh’s heart carried for his family, then probably the month of April wouldnt have been this cruel.

The shadows of this April will be cast on several months to come. For sure.

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On Sonia Gandhi and Arnab Goswami

April 25, 2020 at 9:15 AMApr (Activism, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

If at all Sonia Gandhi was the kind to attack those who speak against her or speak rubbish about her, she must have attacked innumerable tom dick and harry in this country from the big actors to the small actors of history. This country has been terribly unfair and unkind to her all through.

In a country which considers people born in this very country as ‘outsiders’ for their identity, what chance did Sonia Gandhi ever have to get any respect or acceptance by the countrymen?

Arnab is just an amplified verbose version of the “common sense” of many in this country. Yeah, his capacity to spread the stupidity cannot be underestimated. We know what was the general opinion average Indians had about Sonia, even before Arnab became a sensation and occupied screen-space.

No matter how much she was hated for no fault of hers or for no reason at all, Sonia Gandhi always conducted herself in a dignified manner.

Let us not dismiss or ignore the flaws and mistakes of and by the Congress, but let us also not forget the contribution Sonia Gandhi made from behind the screens, in the interest of this country and its people. They might not be revolutionary contributions. Yet were significant and despite all their limitations, were still in the interest of the people.

Sonia Gandhi was not motivated to do the work she did by a desire for power. Else why would she refuse to become the PM? Or continue to work even after letting go the chance to become the PM? Twice that too. There is something else that drives her. Call it patriotism or compassion or just a sense of duty, if you wish. The fact that not even once did she move away from taking up responsibility and performing her duty as best understood by her, despite the amount of hatred she received, actually says a lot. To not recognize that is still okay. But to demonize her left right center for no reason; that is unjustifiable.

***

Arnab, I am sorry if someone attacked you. I dont think you deserved it or you invited it. Partially because I dont trust you (because you are not trustworthy and not because I have trust issues) but more importantly because attack of any kind on anyone, I believe, is wrong. Having said that and condemning the “attack” on you, I just request you to pause and think for a while if any of the two is possible for you; to pause or to think. I urge you to pause and think how it feels to be ‘attacked’. If you can pause and think for a while, and through that understanding if you can understand how others who you have attacked and those who feel attacked feel when they feel so, may be you will be able to liberate yourself from yourself. I am sure it is difficult to carry the you that you have become and that would require you to “attack” and destroy any human side to you that breathes within you. Please stop that attack on yourself. Liberate yourself from yourself. Trust me you will feel light and better. And so will the nation.

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When Mother’s Milk Becomes Poison and Kills

April 10, 2020 at 9:15 PMApr (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Few days ago I translated a note written by my friend Kuntady Nitesh about his friend (a Hindu) being asked to vacate the house by the landlord for not participating in the 9 PM 9 Minutes performance, and posted on my Facebook timeline. The purpose was to make the non-Kannada speaking/ reading but English reading fellow humans know of such an inhumane incident. Not surprisingly, when it found circulation on FB, it invited comments from people who are not on my friend’s list too. Most of these comments expressed anger and disgust and for long there came no comment which either dismissed the whole thing or questioned it. Late that night a comment by a girl (a Hindu) was a bit unclear. She typed something on the lines of “Mother asked to shift to rented. What can I say?” and I couldn’t understand what was she trying to say. I asked her what she meant and she in her reply she, even if not in the same words, said, “I refused to participate in this lamp lighting and my mother asked me to look for a rented place. My own mother. What can I tell this man whose landlord has asked him to vacate?” My mind went numb as I read that. My eyes refused to move away from that comment. I took time to type a reply as I was struggling for words. When I finally gathered some words and formed a reply trying to tell her I understood her pain, even if not in the intensity she would be feeling it, and typed it, I couldn’t post the comment. The girl had deleted her comment by then.

Later when I spoke of this to a senior friend she told me that her daughter’s friend faced the same consequence at her place for not participating in the light and sound shows of Sunday!

A 12th century Kannada saint-poet in one of his verses asks, “When mother’s milk becomes poison and kills Who do you complain to…?” Mothers abandoning their children is just a micro image of the motherland abandoning an entire community.

Illustration by the inimitable Mir Suhail

Couple of days ago another senior friend (a Muslim) put up a small note on FB saying her daughter now is convinced that they will all end up in the concentration camp. The note was removed by my friend in a few hours, which I can understand. Few months ago couple of my friends (both practicing and non practicing Muslims) telling me about their family members and relatives having nightmares about concentration camps, which made me feel ashamed as a fellow-human. Fear seeping into the subconscious and erupting as nightmares is one thing but fear gripping your conscious mind is one thing and convincing you that you will be hunted, that too by the state, is another thing. The note by senior friend troubled me quite a lot because theirs is a well educated family and also has members who serve in the judiciary system. If someone from that family has to lose faith in every system and be convinced that they will end up in concentration camp, I don’t know what is left to crumble anymore in this secular democracy.

A tweet by a friend (a skeptic Muslim) couple of days ago, spoke of how she has been fearing death and losing family and friends to Corona and even in the midst of these fears, when she wakes up at night what fills her is with dread are thoughts of how Muslims will be hounded after this is over.

It is heartbreaking to realize that someone is able to imagine the world surviving this pandemic for which there is no vaccine that has been invented yet, but still is not able to imagine a sane society, a secure society, a secular society in the land which takes great pride in saying it is the land which said and apparently believed “vasudaiva kutumbakham,” to mean “the entire world is a family.”

Couple of hours before I began to write this note, a release by the Tahsheeldar of the Krishnarajapete Taluk, Karnataka began circulating over social media. The release speaks of an incident that took place at Tendekere of KR Pete taluk on the 8th of April at 22:45 hrs. Three men were stopped at the check-post and when stopped they have fled after announcing that they “are Muslims and Corona infected,” and threatening to “spread the virus and kill,” in case any attempt is made to catch hold of them. Investigation revealed the three as Mahesh, Abhishekh and Srinivas on whom FIR has been lodged! In the release. the Tahshildar says, “The three lied just to escape the consequences and there was no malicious intention behind it,” after which he says, “In the taluk of KR Pete no Muslim youngsters have arrived to spread the virus,” and adds, “Muslim community is not spreading this disease, it is untrue, hence all are requested to not to get anxious over it.” The release, in its concluding lines appeals the citizens of all religion to live in harmony “like always” and cooperate in fighting Corona.

I am willing to believe that the three men “lied” only to “escape the consequences,” for breaking the rules of lockdown. All of us do lie when we fear consequences. We do not do it consciously but as a reflex. I understand. But I cant square the circle as to why would they say they are Muslims and Corona infected,” and not just “Corona infected,” for escaping consequences. If at all we are to believe that the three did whatever they did just as a reflex action to escape consequences, then it is to be believed that the bias against Muslims, hatred against the entire community has become so internalized that it is now a part of the muscle memory!

If this is the kind of country/ world that we have to live in, what is the point of fighting this pandemic? If we are not able to re-imagine a humanitarian society, re-evaluate ourselves, when being reduced to just biological beings during pandemic with death staring at us, why are we, as a nation, as a society, even fighting for survival?

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Protected: A Wounded Heart

March 29, 2020 at 9:15 PMMar (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Uncategorized)

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Between Death and Hatred

March 22, 2020 at 9:15 PMMar (Activism, Friends, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

In continuation of the battle against CAA-NRC-NPR, we (a group that is united to uphold constitutional values and communal harmony) were planning to have a workshop today in Udupi, a small town in coastal Karnataka. The purpose of the workshop was to train a bunch of trainers in  who could go later meet the communities at the block level and educate them about NPR and also to help strategize on how to resist NPR.

On the 18th when the DC imposed section 144 in the district, to fight the spread of Coronavirus, an emergency meeting was called where the core committee of the group met. Majority of them at the meeting said they believed the imposition of section 144 was to diffuse the protests. So they were all of the opinion that we should go ahead and conduct the workshop as planned, for 100-150 people.

Shocked by this, I raised objection and said the threat of virus spread shouldn’t be taken lightly and we should postpone the workshop for the time being. Some (largely ladies) agreed with me and suggested we cancel the workshop for now. But still a majority felt that as warriors who are out on a mission and have already begun to fight the Government, shouldn’t care for anything and just continue the battle. They began to call legal experts and take opinion on what would be the implications of not bending to the imposition of section 144. I urged all to not consult a legal expert but medical experts. Thankfully the one presiding the meeting felt the need to consult a medical expert and made a call to one medical expert who strictly advised against any gathering for whatever purpose. Though not happy to listen to it, quite a few gave up on insisting that we go ahead with the workshop. Yet not all were convinced. The one presiding over the meeting said, “I dont see the Government going ahead with NPR by putting the lives of teachers at risk for the collection of data.”

At this point one senior Muslim man said, “I realize that there is a serious medical threat. We can take some precautions for that while conducting the workshop. I feel the Government is quite cunning. They will impose 144 and create panic till the day before NPR data collection is to begin and then will go ahead with their own plan and complete the process of NPR. If teachers do not cooperate they might hire the cadres of RSS and do it,” and asked, “if such a thing is to happen, what are we to do?”

I froze. It seemed like this man, heart in heart believes, the Government is more cruel than the pandemic. An interpretative reading of his words make me realize that for him either God or science will come to our rescue if infected by the virus. But there is nothing that can save us from this Government other than our fight against it, however bleak the chances of our protests triumphing in this battle. To stretch it a bit further- even God cant save us from this Government!

Also, his words reflected how his mind could be asking him as to what the point of surviving a pandemic would be if in the end one is to lose their home(land)? Though I continued to argue till the end of the meeting that at this point we should prioritize our safety, I am still feeling guilty about my privileged position which can clearly, whether right or wrong, prioritize safety over security, while people like the senior Muslim man who spoke, cannot make such prioritization. If there is no assurance of a life of dignity and equality, what is the point of such a life? – his words question. Hence he is ready to take a risk with Coronovirus, but is not ready to take any chance with the poisonous Government which is determined to show people like him their place, as per the new vision of the nation revised by the forces behind the Government.

There was a message that kept circulating on whatsapp few days ago which read: samajh mein nahi aa raha, naagarikta bachaaye, khaata bachaaye ya jaan bachaaye!

It certainly is easy to make sense of death than to make sense of hatred.

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Anxiously Anticipating The Darkest Times

February 4, 2020 at 9:15 AMFeb (Activism, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

The real dark times are yet to begin. The stage is set already, it appears to me.

We are at a point of history where we, as a country, have the highest number of youths in comparison to any other phase of Independent India’s history.

While it is overwhelming to see so many youths, especially students, hit the streets to resist and protest against CAA-NCR-NPR, it is unrealistic and too much of a romanticism to believe this mobilization, this resistance and protest will bear fruits.

On the 26th of Jan the Hyderabad edition of ToI had a public notice issued by the SBI which said the customers are expected to provide with the documents/ information they have listed which includes also “Letter issued by NPR.” The public notice also says, “Bank may be constrained to freeze accounts… if the above documents are not provided.”

NPR demands ones’ aadhaar, DL, ration card, passport and also bank details. Come April arm twisting begins and with Banks threatening to freeze accounts and the possibility of other institutes following the same steps will leave the masses singing “kaagaz nahi dikhaayengey,” mocked, ridiculed and also dismissed. How many, including me, would go on saying, “kaagaz nahi dikhaayengey” and for how long, when being arm twisted through freezing of bank accounts, cancellation of passport, struck off from the voters list etc.?

The chances of the Supreme Court giving a verdict against the CAA is unlikely. While it can be argued that even if the SC doesn’t uphold the constitution, the protests must continue, it is only right to ask sincerely as to how many among the mobilized will continue to fight even after being let down by the SC, given the fact that many among the protesters are first timers.

A large number of protesters have been youths and most of them are students and have come out on the streets for the first time to fight for a cause, which is certainly is a reassuring matter. But these fine minds and spirits rebellious, I fear, will be majorly disillusioned and disappointed when the arm twisting for NPR would begin and when the SC will let us down. Also, to slowly see a good number of comrades of concern withdraw, under the pressure of the circumstances, will not be an easy thing to digest and it certainly will leave a lot of youngsters feel more disillusioned and disappointed. In the end to see all the energy, enthusiasm, rightness, mobilization, hope and dream be crushed will be an immensely demoralizing impact on the fine young minds who are risking a lot in this battle of the right against the might.

The RSS has destroyed a major section of the youths by poisoning their minds with their ideology, a great reflection of which is Gopal Sharma who fired at the protesters near Jamia few days ago and Kapil who fired at Shaheen Bagh. Imagine how many youths who otherwise could have been a great asset to the world and contribute to its well being in several ways, have been turned into venom spitting destructive beings like Gopal Sharma and Kapil! Now if this great mobilization and mass movement against CAA-NCR-NPR ends up causing disillusionment to another major set of youths, it would literally mean the nation, the society having lost a major energy of an entire generation. I dont know what the next several years are going to be life for this society, for this country if that is to happen! That, if happens, I think will be the darkest of times.

Gopal Sharma and Kapil must have been a different people altogether before they got poisoned by the ideology which is poisoning the nation. They would have been different human beings had they not been poisoned by the ideology that is poisoning the nation. So many youngsters this country this society has lost, thanks to the poisonous RSS. Now, I fear, many more young minds getting eroded in this fight against the RSS. If we do not tackle this, somehow, the last laugh will be that of the RSS and worse, a good number of years will be lost with the losing of young minds and youthful energy.

I pray, all my fears mentioned above will be proven wrong by history. But I feel, may be we should collectively begin to think how to deal with the situation if at all it comes to being.

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A War On The Minds

January 13, 2020 at 9:15 PMJan (Activism, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Sometime in early December, 2019, when the ongoing protest against CAA-NRC was just picking up momentum, seeing the activities of an old friend on social media, got me a bit worried. I could sense that this friend was losing his mind, which was understandable given the Muslim identity of the friend. Something that appeared crucial nearly half a decade earlier had caused a rupture between this friend of mine and me, as a result of which we turned our backs to each other. But now after nearly half a decade, I felt the urge to speak to him and be by him. I gave him a ring. Due to some issue with the network we couldn’t hear each others’ voice. The awkwardness of the long silence stopped me from trying again to reconnect.

Couple of weeks after the above mentioned episode, another friend- a practicing Muslim- who I had lost in touch with, gave me a ring. The video of my speech at the anti-CAA-NRC protest held in Manipal the previous day had found some circulation and had reached this friend. “I saw the video and I was moved by it,” he said and we went on to talk about the current situation and also about our lives. I was very happy about reconnecting with this friend and in that joy I failed to understand something crucial.

A friend-an atheist Muslim- shifted back to the town where I currently live on the first day of the new calendar year. Over a long conversation that weekend, this friend of mine told me, “I don’t know why, but I feel grateful to people like you who are non-Muslims but still are standing by us.” He immediately added, “I know it is strange because I shouldn’t be feeling so. But it is not just me, many Muslims are feeling this.” Those words immediately made me realize the reason behind the phone call I had received from my friend who I had lost touch with.

The right-wing politics might not achieve what we are seeing as their intention behind CAA-NRC: driving away Muslims from this country. They might not achieve, I say, because of logistical reasons and also for having some faith still left in humanity at large and to some extent in the system too. But the right-wing politics has almost achieved, in a big scale, one of their dreams which found articulation in the words of MS Golwalkar who said that Muslims are to “expect nothing but second-class citizenship in India.”

Though a sense of alienation had already seeped into the collective unconscious of the Muslims in the country from some decades now, the recent developments, in a big way, has made them feel second-class citizen to the extent that when a good number of people- non-Muslims- are standing by them, instead of just feeling strength added to the movement, they feel grateful to these non-Mulsims (read Hindu) standing by them!

While fighting CAA-NRC, I also feel the need to fight this thought, this idea that has seeped into the collective unconscious of an entire community. Re-building fraternity is also an important act that this movement should actively and consciously focus on, it appears to me. This is urgent, I feel. It is our duty and also our moral responsibility demanding special attention at this hour.

On realizing this, without second thoughts, I called up my friend who I hadn’t spoken to for nearly half a decade. That is where I could begin from. But how do we do this rebuilding of fraternity at large, I do not know. Also, I realize that it cannot be a one call, one event venture but a long-lasting sustained work.

Rebuilding a sense of belonging that can erase the sense of gratefulness demands us to enter the space of human hearts and engage at a deeper level. Because the impact of what is happening has hammered the realms of human lives which are not visible.

One Anqa Ahmed had tweeted about her mother warning her not to say, “Assalamaliakum” over the phone while in public spaces. Recollecting this Anqa in her tweet said, “Do they realize how unsafe they’ve made us feel?” What Anqa’s mother has told her now is an instruction many Muslims have been getting from their family from some years now. The situation has been getting worse from some years and now seems to have reached an unprecedented peak.

Another friend- a skeptic Muslim- told me that her mother has been having repeated nightmares about concentration camp from several months now. The day my friend told me of this, another friend told me that her friend’s younger sibling too was having nightmares of concentration camps. I am sure, nightmares of concentration camps is haunting a lot of Muslims and are not being shared with anyone but some close ones.

While thinking around all these episodes and more from lives intersecting with my life, I have come to realize that this war is not only on Muslim lives, but also on their morale and their minds. While we get a glimpse of the attack on their bodies through the documentation of physical violence unleashed on them, we are not getting even a partial picture of the violence that has been inflicted on the minds of Muslims. Attending to the attacks made on the mind and morale of these people also has to become a conscious and active activity of ours, I feel, in this unequal fight we all are fighting against fascism. These works of tenderness, I am of the opinion, have to go along with our aggressive protests.

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Journey of Three Decades

December 29, 2019 at 9:15 AMDec (Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Few years ago when Boya Ramanjaneyalu (48) took the Volvo test, he failed to clear it. The remaining 44 drivers who took the test and also the technicians who were to assist the evaluation there appreciated Ramanjaneyalu and regarded him as the best driver there, though he couldn’t clear the test.

“One of the tests was to identify the message that is shown in the bus while there is some internal problem in the bus,” says Ramanjaneyalu. It was this message that he couldn’t decode. “I don’t know English. That is the reason I couldn’t read it. But once someone told me what the problem shown was, I knew how to get that problem fixed. But that is not what they required,” he explains before saying, “But my owner lets me drive the Vovlo because he has faith in me.” Ramanjaneyalu has been the most trusted driver for three decades and also for three generations of owners.

“Things have changed quite a lot from the time I began,” says Ramanjaneyalu who has been a bus driver for nearly three decades now. It was at the age of 15 that he began to work in the motor industry. He began as a stand cleaner at Rayadurga in Karnataka attending to the bus shuttling between Anantapuramu in Andhra and Hiriyur in Karnataka. After a year he became the bus cleaner for the same bus and continued to work for two years before shifting to a truck as cleaner for three years. It was during his time in the truck that he picked up driving and later moved on to become the driver of the same bus of which he used to be the cleaner earlier. After two years on that route, Ramanjaneyalu shifted to the Anantapuramu-Hyderabad route, which continues to be the route in which he drives even now.

“Now a days one cannot climb the ladder the way I did from a stand cleaner to cleaner to driver,” Ramanjaneyalu says. Over the years the design, mechanism of the buses have changed so much that they have redefined the responsibilities of the driver and the cleaner, he says and goes on to explain in great detail the changes that have taken place.

The job of the cleaner earlier was to regularly grease of the machines, oil them, go under the bus and check the machines there, change the tyres and also to clean the body of the bus from outside and inside. The new buses that have now hit the road need no greasing or oiling. The mechanisms are so complex that it is difficult for anyone other than the authorised people to touch the parts of the bus. That has reduced the role of a cleaner to just washing the body of the bus. Also, because driving has become a job which needs a minimum education at least up to class ten, it has blocked the possibilities for the cleaners to learn driving while on the bus and climb up the ladder. It, he stresses, also has blocked the road now of drivers who have climbed up the ladder from being cleaners, from climbing up further and becoming Volvo drivers.

The job responsibilities of a driver also has changed because of this, says Ramnajaneyalu. He says earlier the drivers were expected to know a bit of repairing. The kind of urbanization we see today wasn’t prevalent back then and the roads would actually cut through regions with no or less human habitat. If the bus broken down anywhere in between, the bus driver had to get the problem fixed, with the help of the cleaner. But now most of the parts of the engine and machines are protected and cannot be opened without the scanner which only the company people have access to. This, Ramanjaneyalu says, has handicapped the driver, cleaner and also the other mechanics who used to attend to the mechanical problems in motors. “Earlier with consulting the owners we could assemble some of the machine parts in the bus depending on what is best suited. Now that can’t be done because it’s the company which manufactured the bus who solely have the right to not just repair the machines, if repairing is possible, but also to replace the machines. It has not just made us slaves of one manufacturer master but also has made us feel we do not belong to the bus which is we own and which we work with.”

As he explains this he says, “Earlier there used to be so many mechanic shops and garages by the roads, especially the highway. Now they have reduced to the point you can say there are none. If there is any problem you have to take the bus to the authorised garage or call them. Only they can open the machines using the scanner technology. Nobody else can. If the role of the cleaner has been reduced, the role of a mechanic has been wiped out in the onslaught of newer technologies.” Ramanjaneyalu who has closely observed how the authorized garages work says the mechanic has been reduced to a mere labourer there since there are devices to check what is wrong and what needs to be fixed. “There is no need for brain now. Only hands are enough,” he says.

Speaking about the changes that have taken place Ramanjaneyalu goes to say what the diesel prices were back when he started and what it is now, what the ticket rates were from Anantapuramu to Hyderabad then and what is it now and explaining how the roads were single roads back then and now are four lane, he says, “Back then the average speed of a bus would be 60-70 kms and now it is 90 kms but still it takes the same amount of time to reach from point A to point B.” This is largely because with time the number of vehicles has increased on the road. Also, he says, with two lane and four lane roads the cars, bikes have not just increased but also their speed since all believe it to be less dangerous with the lane system. “So we all have to be careful and that reduces the speed though the average vehicle speed has increased,” he says.

Good roads have given a boost to rash driving in the opinion of Ramanjaneyalu. He says earlier the tyres used to be good to be able to run in bad roads. With good roads the quality of tyres has reduced. It is the same with the body of the buses, he says. Earlier an accident would cause some dent on the body but now they get crushed. “It is all because of the light bodies,” he stresses and points that the number of deaths in accidents has increased than before now. The number of accidents has also increased because of the improved road conditions. “People believe that if the road is good, then one can drive however one wants. But that is not the case. You need to know where the curves are, at which point the vehicle population increases or decreases and other things. Now people own cars and decide to drive through the route which earlier they used to go by bus. Now this not just increases the number of vehicles on road but also runs a risk of greater accidents because they are not familiar with the roads. Also personal vehicle gives a confidence and thrill with which they rash drive. All of this leads to more accidents,” elaborates Ramanjaneyalu. But, he says, accidents do not cause traffic jams these days because of the lane system. Earlier when there used to be single roads, an accident would cause jams for vehicles travelling both sides, Ramanjaneyalu says and points that there are cranes every 50 km stretch which comes to help and the number of connectivity to call ambulance also has increased over the years.

The roads, as Ramanjaneyaly observes, have made life easier not just by increasing connectivity but also by providing business opportunities for many. “When I began driving there weren’t much Dhabahas by the road but now there are plenty. Also wherever the roads go there the town develops. These Dhabas and increasing petrol stations etc. provide employment,” he says and adds, “Earlier there used to be the fear of thieves on the road. But urbanization and increased street lights in the four lanes have reduced the fear of being robbed.”

The coming of roads and widening of roads have also caused disturbance observes Ramanjaneyalu. “Hundreds of years old trees were brought down, small canals and rivulets were buried. Farming lands were run over,” he explains. “Also, the roads have come in the way of the wild animals,” he says and tells how at night sometime the bus has to be stopped because some wild animals are crossing the road, sometimes also because some of these animals are sleeping on the road, because the roads are warm. “The vehicle movement, us honking all disturbs them, I am sure,” says Ramanjaneyalu and points at Kerala and Mysore region not permitting road widening because of its sensitivity towards forest animals.

Like the bus, the roads, the role of driver and cleaner even the passengers have undergone a huge change according to Ramanjaneyalu. The night-bus passengers earlier would invest full faith in the driver. But nowadays they not just keep enquiring which road he would take and also give him suggestions based on their reading of Google maps, he says and also mentions about the increasing demand of the passengers for water bottle, movies etc in the bus. “Earlier the safety besides the roads was not much ensured so most of the passengers would go for recess where we used to stop. But now they demand for the bus to be stopped wherever they find the necessity,” says Ramanjaneyalu and adds, “This is also true about women these days.”

“In the last ten years we have slowly seen single women travelling in night buses,” tells Ramanjanayealu and goes on to explain how initially they were a bit hesitant but the women would say the responsibility was on themselves and not the bus employees. “Earlier women travelled only with the family. Even a couple wouldn’t travel in the bus if the rest of the bus would be consisting only of male passengers. From there we have reached here today,” he says. But he also points at the parents or the male family members who come to drop these women travelling alone in the bus. “They take our phone numbers and check who and all are there in the bus etc.” This, he observes, doenst happen with male passengers travelling alone.

The increase in the travel of women, he says, also compelled the bus to shift the places they would stop for dinner and recess. “We had ensure there is a functional wash room for the women,” he says and adds, “With only men we need not think so much as we are all used to urinating in the open.”

Ramanjaneyalu says there have been occasions when some men have tried to misbehave with the women in the bus and the driver and conductor have to be alert to all of this. Once, he remembers, a man had to be tied and then handed over to the police. With women traveling more the kind of movies that are shown in the buses has also undergone a change, says Ramanjaneyalu. “Fight films are not preferred by women. We need to play family films,” he explains. The shift began with women demanding change in the films and music, he remembers.

“Once we played a particular film to which a man travelling with his daughter raised objection. So we changed the film. He was going to drop his daughter to her college. On his way back, he requested us to play that very film to which he had raised objection during onward journey,” recollects Ramnajaneyalu. When asked how come he was requesting for the same film, he remembers, the man said, “This is the only time I can enjoy. Neither my daughter is with me nor my wife. No responsibility now. So let me enjoy.”

When the night sleeper buses started it was a new phenomenon and quickly it gained popularity, remembers Ramanjaneyalu. With these sleeper buses he says he got to know how young unmarried couples were travelling in the buses to get some private space and private time. “The buses have dim light, sleeper coaches have curtains and there is movement too,” he begins to say with a mushy smile. But in no time says, “They would face police raids if they took a hotel room. Home in a conservative society as ours is not available for privacy. What are they supposed to do? If this gave them some space, they would use it.” After the bus stops for dinner the cleaner goes and checks if every passenger has boarded the bus. That is when for the first time Ramanjaneyalu discovered the bus being used by unmarried couples for private space. When asked if anytime the co-passengers raised objection to anything of this sort Ramanjaneyalu says, “There have been such instances. I have then requested the couples to not be too noisy. Other times the co-passengers have passed comments and the couples have heard it and tried to make themself not audible.” During all of this Ramanjaneyalu knew one thing for sure, he says. It is that the couple shouldn’t be dropped down in the middle of the road nor should they be allowed to be shamed by the co-passengers.

Ramanjaneyalu also has observed parents booking two seats for their daughter and her female friend in the bus and following the bus for some distance. But in a different stop two boys who have booked two seats would board and one of the girls would shift with one of the boys. These are students studying in a different city. He also says how some girls would get down in a stop before theirs to meet someone and then either go home or hostel depending on which way are they travelling. “The parents of girls take our numbers and call us to enquire if their daughter was dropped at the right bus station,” he says.

Between all these interesting anecdotes Ramanjaneyalu also has a horrifying story to share. A girl was once travelling alone. “That particular bus was a bit strangely designed. The last row had two seats and the rest were sleepers,” he recollects. “The girl was sitting and two boys were in the sleeper next to her. The girl initially borrowed a magazine they were reading. Later the boys offered her some soft drink consuming which she felt dizzy. So the boys offered the sleeper to her and both of them took the seats,” tells Ramanjaneyalu and goes to say when the bus reached the shed the cleaner found the girl naked in the last sleeper. The soft drinks must have had some intoxicant, suspects Ramanjaneyalu. The girl was assaulted. “The parents went to the police but did not complain fearing their reputation. They knew the police officers so the police came and asked for the booking list. Back then no bus would take the details of the passengers. So it was difficult to track down those men,” narrates Ramanjaneyalu. The girl, he says, did face further harassment in police station when she was told that she is responsible for what happened for she trusted strangers and accepted the soft drink they offered.

Other than the regular route that he drives Ramanjaneyalu occasionally drives to other states if the bus is booked by a college or group for long trips. That has made him visit several states in the south. But outside this he has also driven heavy motors in the north states also. He is proud about having driven in so many states of India and driven successfully without any accident or hassle.

On asked what the most memorable journey is for him he recollects driving to Goa on a college trip. It was a bus full of girls who were in their final year college. “They all wanted to have as much fun as possible because they were in their final year,” he says. He remembers how they bought him cothes and alcohol during that trip and made him feel like he was one among them. The shine in his eyes cannot be missed as he says he was happy to be treated with such affection. Explaining how beautiful the sea appeared to him and how he danced in Goa quite hesitantly he says, “Some of the girls in that trip became very friendly and asked me to make love to them.” He remembers them telling him, “In a few months or in a year our parents will get us married to someone they find good for us and our lives will be tied to theirs. Hence we want to live to the fullest here the way we wish to.” So, when asked to make love to them, Ramanjaneyalu agreed.

There is respect in his eyes not just for the girls in the Goa trip but also for all the girls he earlier spoke of, the one who asked him to change the film, the girl who got down from the bus a stop earlier to meet her boyfriend, the girl who boarded the bus with her partner for some private space. The respect is totally non-judgmental.

After recollecting the Goa trip Ramajaneyalu said, “Women these days are not being determined by their marriage. They have become very strong, bold and independent now. In some years the world will be ruled by women.”

(Conversation held on 22 Nov 2018. Special thanks to Sandeep Nayani)

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A Touch of Love and Care

November 29, 2019 at 9:15 AMNov (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

The television set is switched on and small videos clips play one after the other. The videos are of an old man spotted near the railways station with urine bag tied, an old women spotted near the power house with a diaper in which she has excreted for several days and gotten infected, a mentally ill lady spotted near the bus stop whose matted hair is being shortened with scissors and lies are dropping in huge numbers, a bearded man spotted in the outskirts of the town, whose leg is rotting and has accumulated worms, an old lady living through the final stage of cancer whose wearing skin is being cleansed after a hospital withdrew itself from treating her, a lady whose hands have been tied as she eats her own excreta in a state of mental imbalance. These video clips which are not easy to watch have two things in common; One, all the people being featured are orphans. Two, they are all being attended to voluntarily by Krishna Reddy.

Resident of a small village named Katnekalava, Krishna Reddy since the ear 2002 has been making trips to the district head-quarters Anantapuramu regularly to attend to the orphans on the street. Some of these street orphans need to be given a hair-cut, some need to be given a bath, some have wounds which need to be cleansed and Krishna Reddy has been devotedly doing all of this and more for the street orphans in Anantapuramu.

To be able to attend to the street orphans Krishna Reddy has to first befriend them and win their trust, which he does in quite an interesting ways. He carries packet of cigarette or beedi in his shirt pocket in ways that it is visible to the person in from of him. When he casually begins a conversation either the cigarette/ beedi helps break the ice or the conversation itself does the necessary. At times the conversation begun by Krishna Reddy is sufficient for the street orphans to demand food from him. In return of the beedi/ cigarette or food Krishna Reddy asks them to do them a favour. The favour he demands is nothing but their cooperation to cleanse them and do the first aid, in case of requirement. This method works if the street orphan is a male. In case of female street orphans Krishna Reddy takes a back seat and his wife Yerragunta Devi takes charge and the husband assists the wife.

This process of breaking the ice and winning the confidence takes just ten minutes, sometimes it takes about an hour and at times it takes nearly a week. Krishna Reddy and Y. Devi are not short of patience to wait till the ice breaks and are dedicated enough to wait and ensure they do the necessary, within their limits.

When Krishna Reddy and Y. Devi got married, the latter was perplexed by this unusual caring side of her agriculturist husband towards street orphans. She says initially she felt the work to be a bit embarrassing. What added to this sense of shame was the comments made by some of her relatives regarding her husband. But it did not take much time for her to realize the greatness and also the significance of the work her husband was doing voluntarily and in no time she joined him in his work and took it up as her work too!

This voluntary work of Krishna Reddy began because of a few experiences in his early life. It is difficult to spot it if not observed closely but Krishna Reddy slightly limps while walking as his left leg is affected by polio. The blood group of Krishna Reddy happens to be B- Negative, a rare group. This was the reason why he would be making regular visits to the hospital to donate bloods. These regular visits made him closely see the state of orphans who would be outside of the hospital as hospitals wouldn’t get them admitted. Slowly the until then invisible street orphans began to become visible to him. Their state of being disturbed him. That is when he decided to do the least he could do; give them a haircut, give them a bath, give them clothes, give them first aid service. He started to carry a first aid kit with him and a pair of clothes also. To enhance his services he joined the then existing course of Registered Medical Practitioner course. The course got abandoned when its ideator Rajashekhara Reddy passed away. But Krishna Reddy did not abandon his work though the abandonment of the course left him with no certificate. He continued to do what he was doing for years. The determination to continue to attend to the orphans only intensified when both his sons were identified with mild mental retardation.

The rapport Krishna Reddy had built with the doctors as a regular blood donor that too of a rare blood group, helped him in his service. The doctors and also pharmacists would give him cotton, gloves etc at cheaper rates which helped him in doing first aid for the street orphans in need.

The long work of Krishna made him have friends in all streets of Anantapuramu. This went to the point of him getting calls from the civilians of town if they spot any new and unwell street orphan. For years now he has been the one who the police call, if any unidentified dead bodies are found on the streets. Krishna Reddy has no count of the orphaned dead bodies he has buried. Every dead body has been bathed before being buried, as a mark of respect and a ritual practiced across all faiths. Apart from this no ritual is practiced by the non-believer Krishna Reddy.

Though a non-believer Krishna Reddy found it a bit difficult to accept the critique of Sai Baba by the rationalist group Jana Vijnaana Vedike of which he was a part of. The service provided by Sai Baba in drought prone areas was immense according to Krishna Reddy. Critiquing a man without considering the lives saved by the person, the service provided appeared unfair and unjust to him and made him quit the Vedike.
Based on his observation and analysis Krishna Reddy says the main reason for people to cut ties from their home and become homeless is domestic violence and abuse. He is also of the opinion that disruption of join family has also contributed to the same with a certain concentration of authority in nuclear families.

Continuously working with the street orphans made him realize that there are orphans who have to be given closely monitored care and some need proper shelter to heal. This realization made him start Aashraya a shelter for the homeless people in his village Katnekalava. To build this he sold a piece of his land and also his house. With additional help by Kotak Mahindra Bank, Grameena Bank etc he constructed the building for Aashraya, ensuring it gets proper light and air circulation, in a land he inherited from his father. Aashraya now has 30 inmates and in its half a decade of existence has seen the death of 30 other inmates.

At Aashraya it is Krishna Reddy, his wife Y. Devi along with their two sons Madhusudan Reddy and Rajashekhara Reddy and Y.Devi’s mother take care of the inmates. An aaya of a nearby anganwaadi voluntarily comes to cook food for the inmates.

The villagers are quite suspicious about Aashraya says Krishna Reddy and adds, “Nobody from the village support or help us. But people from the neighbouring village are extremely supportive, cooperative and helpful.” People of their village were suspecting of Aashraya because of their logo having Mother Theresa in it says Krishna Reddy. This made the villagers believe that there is Christian missionary funding that comes for Aashraya. But for Krishna Reddy the image of Mother Theresa meant nothing more than an inspiration for selfless service. In the same breath he mentions how difficult it is to run Aashraya without much funding. This is what prompted him to make short videos and edit them on his mobile phone and put them out on the web, hoping that would bring Aashraya some financial help.
The experience of working with orphans on the streets did bring Krishna Reddy face to face with street children too. The substance abuse among these children and sexual abuse did trouble him. Though he did consider having them too in the shelter, he finally decided not to. The existence of systems like “ICDS and 109” who work for street children made Krishna Reddy arrive at the decision of not having orphan children at Aashraya, which takes inmates only when the orphans need extra care.

Yet while this interview was being conducted a girl child kept coming to Krishna Reddy, plaing with him and going away only to come back later. The girl is Siri who is two year old. Siri’s mother was spotted near the Anantapuramu railway station. She was nine month pregnant at that point and had lost her mental balance. Krishna Reddy who suspects it to be a case of rape pregnancy, got her to Aashraya and three days after later she delivered Siri. The mother of Siri is originally from Maharashtra and Marathi is her mother tongue. But she seldom speaks to her own daughter because of the state of her mind. Siri speaks Telugu and that is becoming her first language says Krishna Reddy, who playfully converses with Siri like a mother!

(Interviewed: 20 Nov 2018. Special thanks: Sandeep Nayani)

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