Thursday, May 25, 2006

At the Railways

I have always found trains very romantic. It is so much better than sitting in a bus. Cannot say much about planes here. Trains have a nice, old world charm about them, I think. The chugging of the long bogies, the chai-wallahs and the hundreds of others things that are sold, the walk down one compartment to the other; I have always loved them. But what I had failed to register were the little boys who swept the compartments with the shirt off their backs, the little beggars we often shooed away. Recently I had the opportunity to talk to them.

Bangalore Railway station gets around 150 runaway boys and girls every month from various parts of the country. Most of them are from rural parts of Karnataka though, escaping to dreams of the big city from lives full of problems like alcoholic fathers, poverty, etc. The runaways are aged between 3 and 25. Some grow up on the platforms of the railway station. Some go back home, some run away again and some settle into decent jobs.

I met a lady called Shanthi who works for Bosco, an NGO that works for the rehabilitation of these children. She told me some amazing stories about them.

Some of these children do drugs. A few use ganja but a majority are addicted to 'solution', commonly available whitener. Drops of this whitener are put to a piece of cloth, rolled up in the shape of a cone and inhaled. This supposedly gives them a high. The rolled up cloth is called 'mike' in their slang. A bottle of whitener is normally sold at Rs 18. But the shops who sell them to these kids do so at around Rs 30-35! A group of such addicts can use up to 3-4 bottles every day.

Some boys are forced to work in hotels. Owners and middlemen trick these boys into going with them. Every boy would fetch the middleman a sum of Rs 50. The young boys are locked in in hotels and are made to wash dishes the whole day. This leads to skin problems, so much that they cannot use their hands or walk after some time. Few manage to run away.

The children are sexually exploited too. The dark corners of the platforms and empty bogies breed a lot of such activities. Homosexuality is prevalent too, with the older boys exploiting the newer and younger ones. The worst is the child prostitution. Some young girls would enter into the flesh trade for as little as a bottle of whitener for payment! There are also women who come from villages around Bangalore every morning, trade their wares the whole day and go back to unsuspecting husbands and children in the evening.

Bosco has been taking these children to their centre in the city. They are given training in various trades. Some are sent back home after counselling. They even help the children save money from what they earn as coolies, rag pickers, sweepers and middlemen for travel agents.

Something I never expected was the way these children opened up. I never thought they would speak about their activities. But to my utter surprise, they were very open about their drug addiction, illicit relationships, etc. They were all very very friendly too, probably because they didn't know I was going to write about them!

Among them, there was a 13 year old who already had a 10 month old baby! The father was just 15 years old! Another 13-year old who sells peanuts is pregnant too. Her 'husband' is all of 15 years and is very shy when we ask about his 'wife'. Most of the girls pretend to be married and wear mangalsutras and toe rings. The boys have long, ugly gashes across their cheeks from fights over women and drugs. It is supposed to be a matter of pride for them, an initiation process into street life. A boy with a gash becomes a man, if I understand right.

Some of these people lead very posh lives. Shanthi told me that they buy one pair of clothing every week, wear them till the next Sunday and throw them away. The women give their clothes to the dry cleaners! Most watch up to three films every day on a first day first show basis. They get everything they could possibly want in the railway station- food, freedom, women, drugs. Some of my friends who had accompanied me looked at their own old clothes with disdain. I could almost detect a look of envy in them!

These people lead sad lives. But then, the sad stories are the ones that sell. Poverty makes the best stories. What this story did to me was that it sort of sensitised me towards their kind. You normally tend to turn your noses at them at public places. I learnt that they are people too, not faceless entities. They have their problems, their joys and sorrows just like the rest of us, just the nature of problems is different. When I went there the second time, some of them came up to me to talk. And thanks to this story, I had become human enough to talk with them too.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Bus Rides I Take

Over the last one week, I have travelled quite extensively in buses around the city. It had been many years since I did that here; and I am not being snobbish. Thankfully, its not too hot and the smell of sweaty bodies is one less thing I have to deal with. I normally nod of to Dreamland in buses but right now, its a matter of survival for me to be alert. Ok, that, I know, was a little bit dramatic but I do have to keep my eyes open to know where to get down.
In the meanwhile, I have been observing people around me. I normally don't take crowded buses. When the bus is near empty and in bus stops, I have come across a variety of people.
There are the couples, safe in bus shelters from the moral police who frequent the parks. These are obviously oblivious to the world, hold hands and gaze into each others' eyes; the guy says something not so funny and the girl lets out an extra loud laugh to boost up his ego. A prettier girl walks by and the guy can't help but turn his head. The girl, depending on the stage of their relationship, either scolds him or ignores. Once inside the bus, they continue staring into each others' eyes.
There are the young women and girls going to work or college who normally listen to radio on their phones and stare out of the window. An uninteresting species.
There are the mothers with over zealous kids pulling at their sarees, putting their hands and faces out of the window, jumping from one seat to the other, pestering the other passengers, making nuisances of themselves. Some mothers try to pipe them down with stern words or a smack on the hand. Doesn't help too often; there is a limit to how much you can scold a kid in public, even if its your own.
There are then the men, going to work or elsewhere. Would have been an uninteresting species too but they look everywhere else but out of the window. The lecherous looks and groping hands of some perverts makes it hard not to be wary of them.
By no way is this list applicable to everyone. It has just been a week for me. I am coming across strange and thus, very interesting people. Will keep you updated, of course.
I went to a temple today and got stuck in a traffic jam on the way back. A little boy came up to me and asked me to take his picture on my phone. He wanted to buy a phone too and kept asking questions until his parents called him to go sit with them. Behind me was this family of four, parents and two little children. I was forced to listen to their conversation because they were so loud. From what I figured out, they were going to a birthday party. The wife was cursing the husband for taking the bus. This lead to a fight about adjustments and being snobbish between the two. The son was way too arrogant and used abusive language in every sentence! I failed to understand how parents could let him go on like that!
Moral of the story: I should buy a pocket radio and use it. Atleast some inane discussion on the present length of a mini skirt by an overly perky RJ followed by noisy songs is better than listening to family fights and sweet nothings and stupid questions and comments and cries and all that you see and hear....on a normal bus journey.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Going Are the Days....

Today as I logged into Blogger, I looked up the date of my last post. Pretty long time back, I realise. Time has flown for me at the speed of a light year. Before I could fully comprehend what was happening, life changed totally.

The most important thing is that I finished uni. I moved to Bangalore and I am sorry I cannot say anything further. But I am doing what I love and I am enjoying it too (for the time being, at aleast!).

Life is going very well. Really well..... Will get back to you, my dear readers, soon.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Golkonda Fort

A friend reminded me last night that I had stopped my travelogue half was through. Thanks for that, it had totally slipped my mind. Before I continue, I must say yeah(!) to this friend again. He had the guts to let go of a great job, a job that many people would die for, and move on to a totally different field. In the course of his new job, he will get to go to places I have never heard of (I am sure he wouldn't have either!) and travel around the world. Good for you friend, I am very happy for you.

Where was I? Oh yes, I last wrote about Charminar.

Hyderabad is famous for its Nizams, its pearls and its cuisine which I find very very spicy. After a tour of the other sights our next stop in our conducted autorickshaw tour was the Golkonda Fort. Nice fort but I wasn't too impressed.
I have this new theory in life. I feel that when you travel a lot and see many places, it takes a lot to impress you. The good and the great does not hold your attention much. Its sad, but I think true.

Anyways, a path that winds through high walls takes you inside the entrance of the fort. There are people milling around the entrance. The noise pulls you back from any attempt to go back to the days when the king still looked below from his palace with his beautiful queen hanging on to his arm. We walk through chambers that used to house slaves. The guide shows us hooks to which they used to be chained and I think of The Roots. We move up different levels towards the top, stopping every now and then to take in the view, huff a bit and take a breath.

There is a photo exhibition by a French photographer in the garden below. All blown up pictures of Indian life, quite good.

The guide takes us past a little temple, shows us the impressive drainage system. We reach the top, totally out of breath. True to a typical tourist haven, there is a little tea stall which sells Lays chips and other stuff so that tourists can coveniently litter the place.
We then get to climb up a flight of stairs to see this beautiful view of the entire city. That was good. We could see Hyderabad from all four sides.

The climb down was easy for ma; she hates climbing. I hate getting down; climbing is my thing. There is this one spot on top from where you can here the sound of a man clapping at the entrance very clearly. This was how someone announced their arrival, a sort of old-age door bell, the guide says.

As we walk back to the entrance, little kids and old men trying to sell postcards throng us. We brush them off and pose for a few pictures of our own. The gardens are pretty but it is too hot to sit there even for a while.

Golkonda Fort is very famous for its sound and light show. It is much later in the evening and we go out for some more shopping at Abbids, Hyderabad's shopping centre. There is a Kannadiga in the shop we go to. He speaks the language of the north and we have difficulty trying to understand. But in a place where its harder to understand Telugu, we manage. There is a looong (by dad's standards) session of trying on pearls and bargaining and picking up elegant pieces.

We then rush back to Golkonda for the show. We are a bit late but are instantly wrapped up in history, the way Amitabh Bachchan is reciting the story. His voice is magical, no doubt. The magical story of the king, the dancer he fell in love with and way his kingdom was ruined manages to take us to the age we were trying to go to amidst the crowd earlier in the day. Now this impresses. The play of light and sound highlights sections of the ruins of the fort, music floats by and the cool wind carries the stories of the past to enchant every generation. It is then that I realise. No matter how much I travel, no matter how many places I see, life and this amazingly beautiful world, filled with magical stories and brave people, will, in one way or the other, always impress me. And also put in me a renewed desire to travel some more, to listen to the stories each fort, wall and stone has to say and impress me with sheer beauty, yet again.

Between Posts....A Tag

San Nakji does it again! Here is the tag I am supposed to answer.

I AM: What I am!

I WANT: To travel, write Simple.

I WISH: I was in Antarctica or Sahara desert right now, for no particular reason.

I HATE: Hmm... nothing really. Hate is too strong a word; dislike would be better.

I MISS: All my friends who are not here right now.

I FEAR: .................(still thinking)...............

I HEAR: The sound of drums in my head, those African tribal beats that I love.

I WONDER: Why I am here right now.

I REGRET: Some things that happened, some that didnt.

I AM NOT: Totally immune to pain, as I had previously thought.

I DANCE: Best to tribal beats, best with this dear friend of mine from uni.

I SING: Songs of my soul.

I CRY: Alone, always.

I AM NOT ALWAYS: A sane person.

I MAKE: Life happy for myself.

I WRITE: Because I feel, because I want to make others feel.

I CONFUSE: I get confused when I am talking with this friend. He has this habit of doing that.

I NEED: Love, friends and my crazy family to live.

I SHOULD: Have been studying right now. But, ah well!

I START: Writing when I am free, sad, happy, depressed, angry.

I FINISH: Tags, no matter what! (Just kidding!)

I TAG: Everyone who read to the end of this post!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

My Mistress of Spices

This is not about the latest movie starring Aishwarya Rai. I do not like her much and I rarely watch her movies.
This post is about someone more beautiful than Ash --- my mother. This is about the magic she has been weaving with her box of spices.

I must admit here. I do not know how to cook. I could manage to keep you from starving, that too if I ran out of money to take you out to dinner. I make great coffee, good homemade chocolate and I can cook rice. And there my culinary expertise ends. All my mother's efforts to make me learn have been futile. I guess I am not very domesticated.

The point here is that I have always been fascinated by the little spice box in our kitchen. Earlier we had this round aluminum box with little containers inside to hold the different spices. Today we have a steel one. The smells remain, the wiff of cinnamon drifts out as soon as I open the box, just like it used to.
I have not been abroad but I have tasted different cuisine, each good, each beyond comparison. I have always felt that it is wrong to compare the cuisine of different places, because your food will always be the best to you. What fascinates me about my food is the colours and the smells. Each spice is essential. A pinch here gives that extra tang, a pinch less and you could spoil the dish. I have always felt that cooking is nothing short of magic. How else can you account for the way a few ingredients are blended in so fine a way that a beautiful creation comes forth to cure the eyes, the ears, the tongues.

They say every family has a secret for that perfect recipe, a secret to make the perfect idlis, soft and puffy, a secret for the right consistency of the saaru. The box of spices play their magic, differently, for every generation of mistresses of spices. The boxes carry these secrets inside. It is up to the lady to unravel the mysteries, to take in the wiffs, to feel the touch and breathe in the smell and solve the mystery. This can be done, as ma always says, with love. Love for life, love for cooking and love for the people you cook for. I cannot wait to discover, to unravel the smells and feast on the colours.

I just have to learn to cook now. Only then will all this be possible. And that is not a very heartening prospect, sadly!