Tell Me What I Can’t

To that free spirit born out of privileges,

Tell me, how does it feel to get what you want?

To that free spirit flying high, I have spirit too,

So tell me, what have you that I can’t?

When the wait doesn’t last longer than a day’s,

When what you desire has already come your way,

Do you think what must happen to the ones otherwise?

Or do you get cast away in the rejoice?

Tell me, how does it feel to be able to choose and decide?

With no holds barred and questions set aside,

To be able to make and break a heart as you feel right,

How does it feel not having to have the spirit to pass on your life?

From a spirit to another that is free and daunting,

While you stem from happiness, I stem from recurring challenges,

So show me what I can’t and tell me,

How does it feel to get what you want?

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Can technology change settled notions?

In light of the arrests made earlier last month over siphoning off of Rs 7 crore from Bank of Maharashtra in Pune and Bhayander through United Payments Interface, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s statement in Parliament on Wednesday in defense of technology is not quite convincing, even after it does stand true. The FM’s reply to Opposition leader P Chidambaram was addressed to the latter’s objection to the government’s decision of making Aadhar compulsory for I-T and bank accounts, arguing that it’d lead to increasing instances of breach of security. To this, Mr Jaitley replied saying, “The fact that technologies can be broken into can never be an argument to say don’t have technology.” Alas, instead of making a case, the argument becomes bedrock for a further argument; the fact that cash can be exploited by the privileged can never be an argument to say don’t have cash.

On this note, I would like to recall an enlightening encounter with a woman selling plums and kiwis in the Mumbai local. I bought some kiwis from her worth Rs 100 but had only Rs 500 of the revised currency. It had been a week since the cash crunch had hit the country starting November 8, 2016 when Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes were banned. Presuming that a fruit vendor wouldn’t have change, just as I was about to return the fruits to her, she produced a thick bundle of Rs 100 notes with a sense of accomplishment and returned Rs 400 to me. Surprised looking at the bundle, I asked her if she had withdrawn the notes from the ATM since PM Narendra Modi’s Jan Dhan Yojana had enabled those under poverty line to open zero balance bank accounts. “Hum gareeb ko kya karna hai ATM khaataa kholke? Humko bas ek sir pe chhatt, kapda, khana aur bachche ke padhai ke liye chahie paisa. Neend toh unki kharab ho gayi hai jinke paas zarurat se zyada hai. [What is the poor to do with an ATM account? We only need money enough for a roof on our heads, clothes, food and education for our children. Rather, those who had more than required are suffering now (referring to the impact of demonetization)],” she replied.

What led me to explore various arguments with regards to demonetization and digitization then was the sheer unintended and innocent conflict in her reply. The positive impact of demonetization had merited her struggle as a working mother, wife, daughter in a crammed, scorching city; but she seemed unaware of the transformation of this impact into a foundation of digitization, which she didn’t deem necessary to live a simple life (referring to her take on ATMs).

rural bank
Credit: Bloomberg

Transparency and privileges that come through technology for those of us literate and privileged enough to operate it, can certainly not be ignored; especially in these times of increasing “living standards” and time-space compression. But for those who have been living a culture of simplicity and necessity, partly because they cannot afford otherwise, it does not add up if this proposed change would ensure security of privacy only partly with no security and scope for progress. Yes it is to merit the hardships indeed, which the less privileged undergo, that technology is required. But if technology will only be as good as that cash which is “exploited by those who can afford it more than others”, then I don’t quite understand how it is a more reliable source of financial, political and social communication.

I welcome counter-arguments to the above in order to widen the scope of understanding.

When I met Faith

Yesterday, I ran into Shraddha. I hadn’t met her before, didn’t know her; she was a stranger. Until, comfortably sitting in a typically crowded Mumbai local, something made her concerned about me, so much so that she offered me her seat and willingly sank into the frustrated crowd. It is only upon meeting her did I realize that I had lost her. I had lost Shraddha. One might ask who Shraddha is? And why does it matter that I lost her if she was a stranger in the first place. Shraddha, in Sanskrit, means Faith. But in Sri Aurobindo’s words, “This Shraddha – the English word Faith is inadequate to express it – is in reality an influence from the supreme Spirit and its light a message from our supramental being which is calling the lower nature to rise out of its petty present to a great self-becoming and self-exceeding.” And this light, she found me. She, in her literal physical presence. Her face plain, simple and pretty. Her eyes, although tired but observing, searching for those who have gotten lost while searching for her. Her thin, straight, pale brown hair readily tied into a bun. Carrying a bag full of reliability upon her. Voice full of energy and words full of optimism. And her speech…, her speech confident but kind, and limited initially, as if testing the willingness of those around her to believe in her, gradually turning into a wave of inspiring and encouraging music.

“Are you fine?”, she asked me with an inspecting look. I was instantly surprised at her concern and could only say yes. “Are you alright? Do you want to sit?” I shared the little bit that I was suffering from. She immediately insisted that I take her place as she had to get down on the next station. More than how helpful she was after my telling her, for which I still can’t be thankful enough, it was her first initiative that touched me. To find someone kind and helping in Mumbai, or India for that matter, isn’t surprising. And we all at some point find kindness around us. And yet what touched my heart about this incident was that, while the race for boarding a Mumbai local knows no kindness, a stranger compelled me to think otherwise. Yes, Mumbai local is loaded with human interest stories and this might be one of them, but everything’s fair to the commuters boarding and deboarding a Mumbai local, war too!

Gradually, we started conversing. While I couldn’t find enough words to thank her, she narrated her story to me. An architectural engineer by profession, illness came to her too, like spilled ink on a pure white paper which had made her empathetic. Kidney stone and the suffering that came with it, as she puts it, compelled her to become positive, kind and vibrant. These words from her reminded me of an impeccable quote by Lionel (Bob Hopkins) from the movie Maid in Manhattan which goes, “Sometimes we are forced in directions that we ought to have found for ourselves.” Her story was an example of this quote put in practice. Kidney stone had limited her diet and the number of medicines weren’t countable anymore. But, eventually, she was led to practice Vipassana Meditation and Ayurveda that allowed her to eat her favorite fruits which she otherwise couldn’t. “Now every morning when I wake up and relish that piece of fruit, I feel so grateful to God for having took me through the bad times which eventually led me to the good ones.” More than the words, what touched my heart and of those around me, was the energy with which she spoke. To define her energy, I’d say that she spilled her heart out and meant every word she said.

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In a matter of seconds, every passenger’s faith was restored again; restored in goodness, kindness and optimism. The entire coach listened to her words keenly, words which worked like magic and transformed their hearts! As soon as she stepped down at the station, she left behind a soothing silence. Those violent and angry pushes turned into kind verbal requests for space, and faces were lost in wonder. To meet a kind stranger out of the blue, caring for you, is an unforgettable experience; and though she spoke with me, they all shared this experience.

Another lady, who had been with me in the compartment all this while, got down on at the same station that I did and asked me about the next scheduled train. Minutes before we parted, she said, “Wasn’t she so vibrant? So full of life? You don’t meet people as good as her often unless you are so yourself; we probably are good people then.”

We probably are.

 

Love of Choice and Realization

As we hugged proudly looking at the reflection of our love,
She stretched her hand out from the mirror offering me a gift.

It was a box smaller than the size of my palm,
Wrapped in pure silk, soft, calming and warm.

Its touch as soothing as the dewy edges of grass,
Its colors as enlightening as the coral reef.

The ribbons hoisted across like cheerfulness,
And diamonds that could light up the moon.

Struck by its beauty such that I didn’t belong to this world anymore,
Until I reached out to open the box and my world had hit the floor.

Reality had hit my sight with a ring and a note inside,
A corroded ring of reality in a beautiful box of deception.

One with a worn down body with a soul that looked like the box,
Another with a pretty skin with a soul that looked like the ring.

That note would determine the extent of my love for her,
“I am the ring, the box my reflection. Which one would you choose as your reality?”

An unconditional love inside, an unconditional youth outside,
My angels and demons laid in front of me, my love somewhere in between.

Journey In A Box On Tracks

It has been more than 10 years since the inception of this memory. Thanks to the internet that I can look for him online. I start typing his first name, that is all that I know about him, on Facebook unsure whether I want to find him or find out about him…..maybe neither, maybe either.

I had boarded the train with my family. Before the smokey Mumbai traffic could move, which’d get lost at every turn it found, the train was ready to leave.
I was quiet and timid. But the excitement of preparing to board a train to Delhi was an adventure which brought out the best of happiness in anyone. I hurried to the window seat. With a sigh of accomplishment, I assured myself of having given everyone the impression that ‘I had reserved the seat’ for the journey to follow. Alas, in no time did I realize that I was traveling with a sister and she was no nun, no sir!

It’d been an hour or two since the train had bid adieu to the station. A platform which was packed with luggage guarded by passengers, where pillars were looking out for the passengers’ bogies, and the roof was soothing their impatience a while back, was now deserted; left alone in a matter of minutes, the platform, looking with envy at its fellows who were crowded with passengers waiting for their Mumbai Local which arrived by the minute. Leaving this monotony of everyday life, I was headed to my grandparents’ house in Delhi for summer vacations. But more than the destination, it was this journey in a box on tracks passing through various cities and villages that inspired a little something in every passenger. Almost twenty hours to read, to chat, to play around, to eat, to sleep and yet one could get lost in the route extended by the stretch of time. The view of a barren land and haystacks which must’ve looked like boils emerging under the scorching heat from the top, looked beautiful only from inside this air-conditioned box. Had I been a few years beyond twelve, I’d have stepped out to walk with the cheery children heading back home from school in their muddy uniforms and breathe in the smell of freshly baked bricks from the factories in Gujarat, to savour the taste of fried daal pakodas of Madhya Pradesh and rest below a tree on the grass mowed by herds of cattle who fed themselves, to learn and drape a saree in Rajasthan like those women who had colored and decorated their houses in the prints and colors of their sarees flaring with the wind.

My chain of imagination was broken with the light chatters in the compartment growing a little louder and they were bound to since my family had befriended fellow passengers. Too hesitant to indulge in a conversation, I kept to myself enjoying the scenery. Just then while I was looking out the window the chatter transformed into periodic giggles followed by a sound of stamping. I looked around to find everyone as if they were trying to look for someone from the other compartment. Just then a little boy of around ten playfully ran back and forth through the aisle in a lightening bolt speed. His cheerfulness had spread across everyone’s face. How lively it must’ve been to be young like that, clueless, careless and to find happiness in the tiniest of things. 

Curiosity pulled me to the aisle seat and as I looked back into the other compartment, it was occupied by a bunch of school kids and their teachers. While I was investigating, my aunt insisted that me and my sister must meet them and socialise; Facebook and the others weren’t prevalent yet. While I was too hesitant to agree at once, my sister had already befriended the kids in her mind. And after all, not many have survived the war waged by aunties and sisters combined…

I’d spotted the boy already, even before entering their compartment. All the other seats were crowded with students who weren’t quite talking. I could hear incomplete sounds coming out of their mouths but not words. Dressed in what I remember to be navy blue and white colored uniforms they seemed like students from any other regular school. “Hello. I am Pragya. This is my sister Pritha. We were wondering if we could join you. Can we?” I said, almost close to something like a thirteen year old would, to one of the teachers who was more than happy to oblige. I discovered through our conversation that those incomplete sounds should have been words, and those words should’ve been audible. But in no time did I realize that they carried with them a voice, they could feel what we couldn’t hear and listen to. The evident confidence on the students’ faces and that they were traveling to Delhi to perform in a drama competition in Pragati Maidan was inspiring and amazing and I was thankful to my aunty for pushing me. Harshal, the boy with the lightening bolt speed, was the youngest of them all. And the most charming. A dusky, round face, broad, expressive and confident smile, thick, dense black hair and the only one who had the leisure to dress up in casuals. “Hi,” said I as we shook our hands and he tried his best to shy away. One of Harshal’s teachers told him my name using a sign language to make the pronunciation understandable, for he could hear a little bit through his hearing aid. “Harshal, she is Pragya. Pra-gya,” said she as she ran her fist through her lips while pronuncing my name as if trying to explain the tone my name carried. She insisted that he pronounce my name and to my happiness and amazement, he did. He couldn’t make it all the way but his successful attempt at the first letter and pronuncing the pattern of the word followed by a thick voice vapourising into the universe was as delightful as a child’s first attempt at speaking. However, there was no way I felt sorry for him for he was no different than any other child and yet way too different than boys his age. “Harshal, who would you like to be your Simran?” (Kajol Devgan’s character from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge). After seconds of careful inspection of a few faces, he pointed towards me. I have liked my thick, almost joint eyebrows ever since and Kajol Devgan remains to be my favourite Bollywood actress till date. His innocence lit up the atmosphere so bright that even after all these years its reflection comes back to me every time I wish being a kid again. That moment, I realized that nothing is different, everything is only special. Witty, playful, fearless were the words to describe him until the X&O game, which he beat me in thrice, made him smart even. 

If you are reading this right now, you must know that it was my first game of X&O.

While we conversed with the teachers most of the time, Harshal very actively kept our attention with his playfulness. He was just as much the part of our talk since most of it revolved around him. We had spent more than half of the day with them. My sister was back to her seat already. As I was about to leave, one of the teachers was kind enough to share her number if in case I wanted to attend their performance in Delhi. A wave of kind goodbyes poured in chorus as I left for my seat. And for the rest of the journey, I kept looking for Harshal to run through the aisle hoping he would want to see us again. The last time I saw him was at the end of our journey at Delhi. While the entire group bid us farewell, a tiny little guy was standing amongst them, all ready for what was to come and excited about the moment at hand, having left behind what was once there.

I had a chance to speak with Harshal’s Mother upon returning to Mumbai. Harshal and his group stood third and he stood first in the competition. But just like him, the piece of paper which had his name and number on it, flew away like the wings of a free bird…