Friday, April 26, 2013

Close Encounters

Personally, I feel that the Delhi metro has been a revolution for the city. It connects the north and south, east and west corners of the national capital region. It, regretting, also connects sweaty office staffers, wailing children and families who always seem to have heavy luggage. On crowded rush-hour evenings like today, those suitcases become living organisms and occupy a rather large segment of space inside the coaches.

Violet line has always been my least preferred metro rail-line. Bustling crowds aside, the route is famous for its small coaches and unusually low air-conditioning. Now, before all you ‘traditional’ folk start cribbing that we Indians were born without A/C’s and that this degenerating youth will cease to exist with cool, humid-free air, I request all you ‘Non-A/C and proud’ group members to hop onto a coach on the said metro line. It’s a warm, very warm summer evening and you set into the metro expecting that gust of cold air, ruffling your hair as you walk through the gates, and it does. You grab an overhead handle for support and so does the person beside you. Now, apart from the deep stenches his arm carry, inconveniently, inappropriately designed cooling system also carries the smell from where the man just walked in. Be it the bus, the fish market, his home or even a reeking wall where he took a leek – you can sniff it all.

Even after you successfully evade the horrifying odours and rescue yourself to negligent corner near the door, the train stops for the next station. Here begins my main concern. You see, unlike other routes where people get on and off at multiple stations, the violet line has become a route where people only board (for Central Secretariat and Badarpur). There is hardly any de-boarding. The few souls who do want to get off at say Nehru Place or Khan Market have to wade through a sea of human body (and sweat, mind you) to the door and shove himself and a few other passengers out of the coach. It is quite a fascinating sight to see an average 100-pound trying to make it out. No one is willing to step aside and they are not to blame. The floor screams for surface area.

One remarkable thing I observed about being squeezed to pulp by other people in crowded coaches is that people are really comfortable touching each other, even though it is forced upon them. People offer vague smiles and say, “Beta, kya karein? Jaga hi nahi hai. Metro kitna crowded ho chukka hai”. “Haan uncle ji,” came the prompt reply from somewhere ahead. “But crowd to hum jaise log hi banatein hain na.”

Another interesting thing is that the passengers morph into a single entity. This is a feature brought out by the constant harsh brakes of the train. I happened to be cramped with no space to even twist my leg. My nose itched and I had to turn my face sideways. I couldn’t bear to the alcohol-ridden breath of the “uncle” beside me. I fear the safety of my wallet and phone. So with one hand on my back-pocket and the other pressed against the phone pocket, I relied on my terrible balance to save me from falling. Interestingly, each the time the train jerked due to braking, the entire cabin of people swayed ahead and then back again. It happened every time we braked. Sway towards the front and back again. Front and back.

Finally, Central Secretariat arrived and the sea of people broke into a menacing wave as people just rushed out. Probably it was the crowd and the smells, or perhaps it is the simple metro-gene we Indians now possess and launch out of the train every station, even if it terminates there and won’t move ahead. The incoming passengers have a saga of their own, eyes transfixed on the seat they want to capture. Avoiding any major injuries to myself and my olfactory lobes, I headed to the violet line’s sister track, the yellow line. The ‘8’ coach train arrived; the last two bogies were virtually empty. I wondered why there weren't similar trains on the former one, where footfall is the highest every evening as per Delhi metro statistics.

Well, some questions go unanswered. But the rest of the evening was not fun either. I sent out a bunch of tweets about #DelhiMetro on the way, but that was it. We missed the show for Iron Man -3 and I’m left with some irritating friends texting me how good it was. Curse them. Anyway, I’m at my friends for the night and really have the feeling that I’m missing something, someone rather. It feels odd not to see that cute little face reading a novel aloud while I listened intently, or that cup of tea with maggi or that warm goodnight hug.

Ah, close encounters are rare. I almost suffocated in the metro today, almost watched a movie and almost thought I could pull out a night all by myself without a certain special person. Some days are funny, some are funnier still. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Assam’s lost identity

Ghulam Ali still cannot sleep peacefully at night. The cries of those barbaric tortures till torment him so much so that he still slept with a khukri under his bed at night. Nellie was barely 20 kilometres from his village and the horrific scenes from 18th February, 1983 still plagued him. 

Thirty years ago, the small sub-division in Assam witnessed perhaps India’s worst genocide. Situated almost 50 miles from the capital Dispur, Nellie was a bustling community with a large section of its population belonging to predominantly Muslims originating from the erstwhile East Bengal. Ghulam Ali was a young 20-year-old then, who had just learnt the art of driving a jeep. He earned a scanty Rs. 10 a week, but was delighted in being a full-time employee for one of Nagaon district’s top dry-fish mongers. On the chilly February morning, he set off to work like many of his friends and family. Ali had to drive all the way to Nagaon, which was 40 kilometres from Nellie, and would be returning late at night after delivering the fresh stock of dry fish. 

Thousands of Muslims inhabitants fled the Bodo-populated areas in Western Assam during the rioting last year.
“Assam was gripped in state-wide panic at the time”, narrated Ali, who was currently employed for a gas agency. “The elections were upon us and several Muslim populated areas in Central Assam were declared too hostile to hold any polling.”

In 1978, Hiralal Patwari, a Member of Parliament to the Lok Sabha, passed away leading to a necessary by-elections for the Mangaldoi constituency in Central Assam. The following elections saw a huge increase in the voter base, prompting the All Assam Students Union (AASU) to call for postponement of the voting till a fair calculation of the populous was done. They suspected that the inflation was caused primarily due to a large number of ‘foreign nationals’ who had migrated from East Bengal and East Pakistan at the time.

The AASU, led by their ambitious new leader, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, demanded the state government to differentiate among Indians and non-Indians. They formed a document called the Assam Accord where 25th March 1971 was set as the demarcation date to judge if a person was an Indian citizen or not. All registered voters and people born after the date were eligible to attain Indian nationality; the rest would be termed migrants and hence could not be allowed to vote.

Dr K. Rahim was pursuing his doctorate in sociology from the University of Guwahati at the time Mr Patwari passed away. The 69-year-old retired professor vividly recalled the happenings of the year. “The AASU were determined to protect the Assamese culture. The instilled a sense of Ahom pride in the Assamese people by chanting slogans and holding campaigns explaining how the Bengali Muslims were eating into their land, their jobs, language and corrupting their culture”, recalled Dr Rahim. He explained that the Western districts of Dhubri and Goalpara were used as references to describe the growing encroachment by the now Bangladeshi migrants.

The Government of India under Indira Gandhi rejected the Assam Accord from being passed in the Lok Sabha. The Congress was looking to appease Muslim voters in the country and saw 14 easy Parliamentary seats from Assam. This triggered mass outrage amongst the AASU and other conservationists or so called protectors of Assamese integrity. Revolutions broke all over the state. Even Assamese Muslims, whose families had roots in Assam for decades far before 1971, like Ghulam Ali’s and Dr Rahim’s, had to retreat to areas of concentrated Muslim population to escape harm. Incidents of ethnic clashes were common up until 1985 with Nellie being ground zero for the conflict.

In 1983, the Central Government ordered the State Assembly elections to be held without any fail despite the brewing tensions between the different sections of society. The AASU called for nation-wide bandhs on the final day of filing for candidacy and demanded a 24-hour strike to veto the voting. Mr Mahanta warned the state of dire consequences, and raised him hands off any “incidents” that might occur. “It was a shame that the Government was ineligible to ensure adequate protection on the day of voting”, said Ghulam Ali. “All our civil liberties died that day.”

According to the then Assam Inspector General of Police, KPS Gill, 63 constituencies were given a green light to hold polls under the protection of the recently deployed paramilitary forces and Indian Army. 23 constituencies were declared red zones or hostile areas with Nellie being labelled on of the troubled spots. Nellie 1983 was one of the few books published about the barbaric massacre that followed that day. The cover page of the book, written by Diganta Sharma, recites a brief summary of the day:

A mass burial of children after the massacre at Nellie.
On February 17, 1983 two truckload police contingents came to Borbori and assured the inhabitants that they are patrolling nearby and full security has been provided to them. Being assured of security by the security personnel, Bangladeshi Muslim residents of Nellie went to work outside as usual the next day. At around 8:30 am, suddenly the village was attacked by mobs from three sides surrounding the villagers and pushing them towards river Kopili. People armed with sharp weapons, spears, and a few guns, advanced towards Nellie in an organized manner. The attackers encircled the whole village and left open the side that ends towards river Kopili. There were attackers in boats too. Killing started at around 9 am and continued till 3 pm. Most of the victims were women and children. The survivors were taken to Nagaon police station. Most of the survivors were put into Nellie camp at Nagaon and they returned to their village after 14 days upon restoration of normalcy. Police filed 688 criminal, of which 378 cases were closed due to "lack of evidence" and 310 cases were charge sheeted, and all these cases were dropped by Government as a part of Assam Accord and as a result not a single person got punishment.” (Translated from Assamese)

The Illegal Immigration Act (IIA) was passed as a result of the signing if the Assam Accord with fences being set up and guarded round the clock by the Border Security Force. The AASU leader Mahanta, went on to lead the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) to victory in 1985 becoming one of India’s youngest Chief Ministers. The Nellie massacre had been buried as a miniscule event in North-east India. Like countless other stories, “mainland” India was unaware of Assam, and sympathy was scares, more so due to Mrs Gandhi’s fatal shooting the same year. Ghulam Ali was one of the fortunate few who were away from Nellie that day. 2000 others were not.
The reasons for rapid immigration from Bangladesh:
Immigration into Assam was common among the poor Bengali Muslims in East Bengal during colonial times. Many did it to escape ruthless money lenders, while some from savage floods. The Bramhaputra valley was an ideal location to start afresh – abundantly fertile and unoccupied lands, devoid of the zamindari system. The partition of Bengal in 1905 caused many rich Hindu Bengalis to migrate to trade areas in lower Assam like Hailakandi and Karimganj, where they still thrive today.

The 1972 war in Bangladesh propelled more refugees into Assam and then it became a cult to shift of Assam in search of better fortunes.  1978 was in many ways a turning point in Assamese nationalism. Though the immigrants from 1901-1951 had by and large become Assamese, with their children and grandchildren being the product of being provided education in Assamese, as well as the policy of assimilation that their grandparents had adopted for survival. Many poets and writers also emerged from their midst. But, there was another angle to it. People among them who stressed more on their religious identity allowed illegal immigration to continue unabated even after independence, and with increasing numbers the compulsion to assimilate them into the melting pot that was Assam gradually diminished. Assam was slowly losing its identity, because the sheer magnitude of this migration was perhaps unprecedented.

Last year, Assam saw its fair share of violence yet again. Ethnic clashes between Bodos and Muslims resulted in the death of over a 100 people. The districts of Dhubri, Goalpara, Mangaldoi and Kokrajhar, where the clashes took place have a large Muslim population today, hovering about the 40% mark. The Bodo militancy, and the lack of law and order in these areas means that the struggle might get a bloodier in the days to come. The Bodos and the Tiwas were the first victims of illegal immigration. They turned perpetrators of unseen violence under provocation, in Nellie in 1983 and Kokrajhar in 2012. In many unheard of cases in areas where they are in a minority, the Bodos are also victims. This is not a justification, but a mere reason. The density of population in minority dominated districts of Assam which border/include tribal areas is high. : Dhubri has a density of 1171, Barpeta 632, Nagaon 711, compared to Sonitpur which has 365, and Dibrugarh 393. All these districts have almost similar (physical) geographical characteristics. Dhubri borders Kokrajhar whose density of population is just 280. This gradient is a reason enough for ethnic diffusion. Ethnic diffusion is the reason for ethnic tension. Does it take a soothsayer to predict that? At least it takes an insensitive and incompetent government to ignore that.

As the Assamese singer Zubeen sang in his 2009 song:
“Kokaalotey tongaali khon bandhiboley hol, Aako aebaar Aakhomiya jaagibole hol”.
Meaning: It is time to tie the traditional scarf on our hips again; it is time of the Assamese to rise again.
The question is – which Assamese? 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The toll of Tennis

Consider this. In his entire career, only once has Roger Federer competed in a tennis match that has lasted over 5 hours. Rafael Nadal, on the other hand, has appeared in five. At 31, Federer still continues to pursue Djokovic for the summit of men’s tennis, while the man from Majorca nurses a knee injury that has kept him competitive tennis ever since Wimbledon last summer. He is just 26.

As tennis matches grow longer, it leaves a puzzling question – how much can the athletes’ body take? The past two years has seen the rise of Novak Djokovic, a player who simply could not climb tennis’ Everest in the preceding years. He has reached 6 of the last nine finals, losing only one of those to Scot Andy Murray. What audiences realize is that the Serb is merely trudging on the foundations laid forth by Nadal. Djokovic has managed to prolong the duration of rallies and in turn the length of matches much like Nadal in his hay day.

Gone are the days when tennis was a recreational sport, the only requirement being a fit body and nippy toes. The likes of Borg, Connors, Sampras and Federer are testimony. Lighter racquets and heavy tennis balls have changed the dimensions and brought about the power of the muscle. These new balls were smoother in the air and although they travelled with the same velocity, they gave the players a few microseconds more to make returns, hence longer rallies.

For the better part of a decade, Federer enthralled audiences with nuances of a perfect game. He remained the only top flight athlete to use a heavier racquet, a reason that enables him to hit better returns at the price of lesser reactionary speed. Nadal challenged him with baseline battles and won. His muscular winners were too quick for Federer. Djokovic beat Nadal at his own game, and it all came round when Murray won at Flushing Meadows.

The sport has turned more physical even though it might lack actual contact. This will take a toll, like Nadal’s knee giving way or Djokovic’s back spasm last year. Murray frailty with his ankles are a known fable while Federer’s exhaustion makes him attack more and hence the unforced errors.

Tennis was never this complicated. The influx of muscle over mind makes it thrilling to watch, but at what cost?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Romain Grosjean – More than just a First-lap Failure

Fans have serious spite for the Frenchman ever since he took out Alonso in Spa last year .
In a totally sane dimension, had Romain Grosjean not tried that overly ambitious move in Spa, five car would have made it cleanly beyond the first corner, he would have been racing in Monza and Fernando Alonso would have been partying in Sao Paulo with his world championship.

In a sport labelled as entertainment in India, sanity is vital as a new set of threaded tyres, and according to the Swiss’ fellow racers, Grosjean lacked a little portion of it. Romain Grosjean would perhaps go down as the most destructive driver in motorsport this year, with only a certain Pastor Maldonado as competition.

But before all the bulldozing, before all the drive-through penalties, and certainly before Spa, Grosjean was a racer brimming with expectation. The 2012 Formula 1 season erased a quite a bit of success that catapulted him to a podium snatcher and a potential championship in the seasons ahead. With racing being banned in his birth country, Grosjean’s family took the trip to neighbouring France from Geneva to accommodate Romain’s passion for circuit racing. His rise was evident when he won the 2003 Swiss Formula Renault series with ten wins from as many starts. He then moved to French Formula Renault and was seventh in 2004 and champion in 2005.

In a technically demanding F3 circuit in Macau, Grosjean impressed with a 9th place finish from the back of the grid. Unfortunately apart from his 2006 Macau debut and a rare podium in Germany, Grosjean had scanty to show for his efforts. A move to champions ASM steered him to the championship in 2007 and a contract as Renault test-driver for the upcoming season.
Over the winter of 2007/8, he became the inaugural GP2 Asia champion for ART, winning four times and beating current Toro Rosso driver Sebastian Buemi in the process. He stayed with ART for the GP2 main series in 2008 before switching to the Addax team for 2009.

Renault’s was in shambles in that year. Team principal Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds were expelled after the details of Piquet’s deliberate crash to help Alonso win the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix had been exposed. Piquet was sacked and Grosjean had literally abandoned his cockpit for Addax to race in place of the Crashgate Casualty at Valencia. Formula One was anything but kind to Grosjean that year. He didn’t finish higher than 12th while (ironically) team-mate Alonso conjured miracles with an average car to seize 5 podiums. An identical crash to Piquet’s in Singapore left him red-faced before he was dropped for the 2010 season.

GP2 was where he found home and recognition. Champion in 2011 with 3 races to go, cemented his place alongside the returning Ice-man, Raikonnen at the newly named Lotus-Renault for 2012. With three podiums he managed to grab quite the attention, but not as much for being coined a ‘First-lap Nutcase’ by Mark Webber.

In another dimension, Grosjean would perhaps been a force to reckon with, and who knows, he still might be. However, in this world, you might just want to steer clear when you see a car painted ‘Grosjean’ zoomed past.    

Thursday, January 10, 2013



Life’s magic is best portrayed when one is procrastinating. The idle brain seeks ways to trick itself out of this dazzling reverie only to find obscure reasons to plummet back into the same trance.

When faced with such a dilemma, I generally read, a lot. It may include anything, from the daily news to some old dusty novel that I had thrown aside months earlier. On occasional days, I would often surf the web and fascinate myself with tales of Greek heroes or fill my rather fast emptying head with bucket loads of information. Strangely enough so it may seem, I have been pretty idle recently. I haven’t finished any books, my blogs have run dry and there are still unexplored pages on the internet that truly deserve my utmost attention.

Putting a lot of will power into this manuscript, and on an almost soaked-out battery on my computer, I began what may seem a pretty ‘weak’ blog, or so it seems. I was beginning to lose interest with every other word. Keane’s ‘Somewhere only we know’ was flooding my ears, making me unperceivable to any noise or distraction around me, although my room-mates are rather quiet. With very few topics in question, I may as well write upon my dreams, and lately I haven’t been having pleasant, honey-dripping ones.

In a dream a night previous to last, I saw Felipe Massa die in a horrible car crash. Of when I mention Massa and cars, I am talking about Formula One of course. It seemed a track I had never seen before, with a vicious bend and a sharp chicane. From what I recalled, I saw Felipe banging wheel with another car and his tyres came off their rims. Astonishingly his car rolled on some distance until it hit a barrier where the driver was thrown out of the car and lay on the floor, motionless. It was horrible crash. Everyone, I included, was sobbing presumably and heavily. I have no idea what that dream meant, but I awoke disturbed and stirred. I, however, checked online, wishing to myself that may even Felipe’s arch-rivals not have vision like the one I had. He was fine and I was quite happy to see him wearing his ever-so-cute childish grin waving to the camera as he made a handsome donation at a charity event.

The world is a strange place, new streets emerge every day. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dreaming Delhi

There was something about the chilly air of approaching winter that always got me excited about North India. Delhi in November lay blanketed among thick layers of mist and smog, all quiet and serene when you gazed at it from an aeroplane window.

Contrary to all my previous visits to the capital, this time it was different. I had an agenda to follow. Work was needed to be done. 6 years of studies in the city had left me well tutored in the local mannerism and customised my outlook of its inhabitants. I was all ready to tackle anything that came my way. The ‘Dilliwaala’ in me, bash with accented Haryanvi dialect was all bursting to come out. I had drawn mental plans of doing crazy stuff, revisiting all those places that left me with nostalgia and filling my starved stomach with oodles of joyous ‘masaledaar’ food. Nothing such happened. Delhi was different. Or had I changed?

The train journey to Delhi was comfortable, other than the sometimes pesky Rajdhani waiters and the four hour delay thanks to an engine derailment near Mathura. I called up my friends, reached their apartment and was momentously left searching for words. Well, living in confined quarters for 4 summers in this place can make a man teary once he sees huge rooms that begged to sock-slid upon. (Mental sock-slide!) Work at the school began and things started moving rather the way I imagined. Little did I know that my foresight of the ‘things-to-be-done-in-Delhi’ list was getting checked there and then.

Call me pretentious, but the city had a charm of attracting even the worst of loathers. I mean, Mumbaikars are famous for hating Delhi. The weather got too hot, they said, and the autos didn’t run on the meter! I don’t mind at all. I was always good at bargaining and often tried to lower the rates set by the auto-drivers. Delhi in its own way has sweet hidden nectar that drew me towards it like a bee. The hustle of the crowded metro platforms, the pleasure on getting a seat in the train, the foggy winter mornings, the thundering monsoon skies, the spectacularly lit markets on the eve of Diwali, the streets of New Delhi, the monuments, the food, the people. The city managed to conjure its own beautiful love portion that kept me glued each time I was here.

I realized that during the past few years I always had the best of company, some amazing friends who made each day as memorable as the last. Countless pictures filled not just photo albums on Facebook but unlimited spaces in our hearts too. This time around the city somehow grew out and reached me. I was given a chance to walk the streets, see the city lights and share its joy all the more. We have countless reasons that make our lives beautiful. Well I had just one, and that was more that I could ever ask for. Sometimes all you needed was a donut, vintage blues on the speakers and trees blooming with twinkling lights on a terrace.

Delhi could always remain a city to you unless we have the perfect company. Or else you would want to return home the very next day you arrived. But for the first time, I saw the city for what it was - more than mere columns of concrete and criss-cross of unending tarred roads. It gave me reason, just like every other time to want to come back. I realized no matter how much I changed, the city would be constant. I had big Delhi-plans, seems Delhi had planned otherwise.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


“And you, Elaine. You'll die, too. And my curse is knowing that I'll be there to see it. It's my torment, you see. It's my punishment for lettin' John Coffey ride the lightnin'. For killin' a miracle of God. You'll be gone like all the others, and I'll have to stay. Oh, I'll die eventually รณ of that I'm sure. I have no illusions of immortality. But I will have wished for death long before death finds me. In truth, I wish for it already.”
- Paul Edgecomb, The Green Mile IMDB
I rarely believe in miracles and pride myself that I am not swayed by people trying to convince me of one either. Stephen King’s book “The Green Mile” is phenomenal, the movie adaptation is even better. Although Frank Darabont doesn’t hit the same crescendo as he attains in The Shawshank Redemption, he doesn’t let you down in this one either. The same jail-like settings apply to this one too, and Darabont was adamant to adapt the book’s story as soon as it released in 1996. 
In the movie there is this guy who is abnormally huge and is in death-row for being convicted of raping and murdering two girls, one aged 7 and the other 5. Turns out that this convict has a God-gifted power of healing the sick. He cures the ailing prison guard first {played excellently by Tom Hanks}, then a dead mouse and finally, an estranged women dying a painful death from terminal cancer. What strikes you in the end isn’t the miracles performed, but the result or the scars it leaves on Peter Edgecomb {Hanks}. When he narrates this story to a colleague in an old-age home, he claims to be 104 and still waiting to die. He has seen his family die before his eyes and has to live with the pain of an agonisingly long life each day.
Sometimes I feel how difficult it must have been for him, to wake up and expect death, only to be cheated. We quibble that we do not want to die and how scared it makes us feel to even think about it. I guess there comes a certain time in our lives when we decide that we cannot or do not want to live anymore. Every day becomes a burden, every day reminds us of a haunting past that refuses to perish away, and every tomorrow seems a nightmare, where more close ones will die before us.
I may not understand the human element of a miracle, but this movie gave me something to take back. Miracles happen every day. We survive countless deathly encounters and are never even aware of how fortunate we are. A bus may trample us or a boulder may squish us to pulp. Heck, we might slip and fall in our bathroom! We must be grateful for each day we live, grateful that we have other comforts that people in war zones or areas plagued by disease don’t have. Life in itself is a miracle. Pity, we often are late to recognize it. The clock is ticking. The sands of time fly.