Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Football in Austin Town, Bangalore: In Motherland Issue #16

I love everything about Motherland, the magazine. I love the size, the themes they do, the articles they carry and the whole wide indie-ness of it. The latest issue is on Football and carries some very interesting articles, including one of mine. I write about the neighbourhood of Austin Town in Bangalore which is home to a lot of footballers at the state, national and international levels.

Read it here or see below. It is a long read.


Mother Mary is not brown skinned. Neither is the child perched on her hip. But in her bright pink sari, garlanded with plastic flowers and real marigolds and standing atop a blue pedestal, she is reminiscent of an Angelo da Fonseca painting. At home in an Indian landscape, and similar to those around who wear colours like her, to those that dress their children in frilly dresses like the baby Jesus she carries. This shrine sits by the road that leads to Nandan Football Ground. At 7 am, the neighbourhood is just waking up for business.

The only ones out and about are the trash collectors, the odd auto rickshaw, a drunk, unsteady on his feet and stumbling home, but sprightly enough to salute me good morning. Everyone here knows Nandan Football Ground. Even if they haven’t been among the line-up of boys kicking the ball on the field themselves, they have likely, over the decades, been the ones that cheered on sons, brothers, or neighbours. Football is a community thing here, but it is also the cult that has kept this, and the surrounding neighbourhoods, firmly in its thrall.

In official municipal papers the neighbourhood is called F Kittel Nagar. This area, in central Bengaluru, was re-named for Reverend Ferdinand Kittel, a German missionary to India in the mid-1800s who finds a firm place in the history of the state and its language for his study of Kannada and the eponymous Kannada-English dictionary that he compiled. No one calls it by that name though, as is the case with many neighbourhoods and cities that are rebranded for political purposes. It remains Austin Town, a throwback to the sepia toned era of the Cantonment, and continues to retain an association with the world of Indian football.

Austin Town is home to a large working class population. Many of them are Tamil-speaking, a majority of them belong to the Christian faith. It is set in the heart of city, just a long stone’s throw from Mahatma Gandhi Road, the aging, swishy neighbourhood that houses boulevards, second hand book stores and restaurants that retain an old world charm. New affluence sits adjacent to what urban planners would deem slums. A glance around either side of the road reveals congested little pathways that give way to one-room homes with zinc sheet roofs, places where the business of living and socialising is conducted on the outer side of the threshold. But every so often there are bigger houses as well, some painted jarringly bright colours, others more quiet and elegant. Cars parked outside narrow gates hint at how financially diverse the residents are.

This neighbourhood (along with Gowthampura in the Ulsoor lake area, Murphy Town, and scores of other roads and clusters grouped under the Shantinagar municipal constituency) is what sports history calls the nursery and the cradle of some of the best football players India has seen. From S Raman, the first player to net a goal for India in the Olympics in 1948, to Shanmugam Venkatesh, currently an assistant coach with the Indian team, to P K Nandan (after whom the football ground is now named), former captain Carlton Chapman, ‘Black Pearl’ Ulaganathan, and many, many others in between, over the last 70 odd years, Austin Town has sent players to every single football club and team in the country.

That morning, I walked past the Mother Mary shrine onto Nandan Grounds. It is flanked by a bright fuschia building and coconut trees, and, in contrast to the sleepy neighbourhood outside the compound, boys in jerseys of various hues crowd the length of the ground. I hear commands to attack here, defend there, run straight. Even to my very untrained eye, the footwork of some of the boys is impressive, their control of the ball is natural, meditative.

I am there to meet Mary Victoria. A coach employed by the Sports Authority of India (SAI), she is an institution in herself. Every summer she conducts a camp for the boys and (some) girls of the area, and every summer forty promising youngsters are cherry picked and coached for free. They practice six days a week, in morning and evening batches. The coaching at the Nandan Football Grounds includes a match every Saturday morning, either one batch versus the other, or one team from Austin Town versus a team from either a school or another part of the city. On the morning I visit, Arun and Nancy are the two volunteer coaches, and their trainees come from thirty different schools, from government schools to private, more expensive ones. They range in ages from children in the fifth standard to those in pre-university classes. Their fathers are maintenance supervisors, painters, and small storekeepers. I didn’t ask, but Victoria pointed out that they come from all faiths, perhaps to assuage a demographical stereotype that is often ascribed to this area.

Victoria, her hair closely cropped, is fierce, funny, and visibly beloved by the boys. She started off kicking a ball around with her brothers in the 1970s, she told me, before becoming a ‘spotter’, a talent scout who travelled to different towns and tournaments to find fresh talent. The boys love football and would play all day if allowed, she said, although the fact that most aren’t equally keen on academics is something that makes her worry constantly.

I told her that I am trying to understand how Austin Town became such a hotbed of football talent. Over the course of researching this story, I heard a variety of answers. The shortest was just that it has always been so. The fathers and grandfathers of these boys played football before them and it was just natural that they picked it up as well. These children will be seen kicking a stone as if it were a ball, so by the time they turn eight or nine, they’ve already ingrained some of the fancy footwork that is crucial in the sport. Add to this the easy access to watching and learning from former Olympians and national level players and the fact that this is a poor neighbourhood where families cannot afford to send their children to the more expensive cricket and tennis camps, and what you get is a ‘nursery’ for football players, where, along with a genuine love for the game, there is the sense that for these boys football is a gateway to get out of the ghetto. It is their way to get famous and get rich.

References to the financial background of the boys are constant. Although the community, and most of their parents, are happy about their children playing, enriching their skills, and winning accolades, they are well aware that they cannot really afford to provide the sort of support that an athlete requires. “I can train them, teach them the best strategies…but what they eat once they go back is very important. Nutrition is very important, but most of these boys cannot afford good food,” Victoria said. For her part, payment arrears she received at work went right back into buying twenty jerseys for her trainees. A friend of hers contributed another twenty.

When she hands out a form that every student has to fill in, she makes them photocopy five more to give to newer trainees, corners are constantly being cut thus. The day I visited she was happy that she had finally managed to get a fixed goal post. Victoria, the children and Bhaskar, a former referee, measured the ground that morning to lay the goal post down. It’s all very hand-to-mouth. At Nandan Grounds girls don’t train, for the simple reason that there are no changing rooms or toilets for them to use.

Victoria knows everyone that comes to the ground by name. I am introduced to Arjunan Shanthakumar; a midfielder who played for the country, went to three Olympics, and was in some of the best clubs - Mohun Bagan, Mohammedan Sporting Club, Dempo Sports, Mahindra and Mahindra, to name a few. He grew up in Viveknagar, next door to Austin Town. “I grew up either watching or hearing about Raman, Kannan, M Arjunan (his father), Pusami and many others. They coached us, we followed them,” he told me. This year Shanthakumar got his ‘A’ coaching license from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the governing body for Asian football, and one of the six confederations that make up FIFA. This coveted license qualifies him to coach any professional team in Asia, and he said he was waiting for the chance to do so.

The boys in this area are most often picked up by the state teams, good at the game even before they began more rigorous training. The Secretary of the Bangalore State Football Association (BSFA), E Krishna Narayana, told me that players have always come from this area, the neighbourhoods under Shanthinagar constituency. “Football is a poor man’s game,” he said, “poor people play it more. Not like cricket.”

Austin Town has this big fancy ground. Gowthampura, some distance away, lays claim to a Pele statue. Frazer Town is home to the old stars, Ulaganathan included. During the World Cup large screens are set up at every playground and everyone watches the matches together, sporting their favourite team jerseys. Unsurprisingly, the sobriquet of Little Brazil sits happily upon Gowthampura. I imagine little boys on their way to practice passing below the Pele statue and dipping their heads in salute. It is a very plausible scenario in these parts.

Right next to the Bangalore East Railway station, an annual ‘black tournament’ is conducted, so called because they are unregulated. The players sometimes play barefoot and the matches are often rough, the spectators always ready to start a fight. This tournament is called the Independence Cup. Spectators spill over and out of the grounds, hanging from trees, perched on tiny bits of walls, crowding on an over bridge. Thousands attend, just like in the case of every match and tournament in Austin Town and around.

These black tournaments, once scouting grounds for football clubs, are no longer so, specifically not for Bangalore Football Club (BFC). Pradhyum Reddy, the assistant coach at BFC told me, “The boys from these rough areas are more street wise compared to others. They have skills that come in handy. But they are often malnourished.” It is the inevitable curse of a poor household. Reddy continued, “There is rampant ‘age-rigging’, where, owing to poor diets, a lot of the boys can get away with lying about their ages because they look younger.” But the club now prefers more disciplined, professional players. “If a player is genuinely good, we will hear about him. We have our own networks and will see him play in a more structured environment,” Reddy added.

Everyone I talked to reeled off the names of all the players that have called Austin Town their childhood home. Gautam Roy, media officer at East Bengal Club and a football historian, went further and could even detail which year which player scored how many goals for which team. He presented a different theory too, one I had not heard so far. Roy told me that after India won the cricket World Cup in 1983 the stadiums in Bengaluru began to be used more for cricket. The leagues shut down, the very popular Stafford Cup tournament stopped. After a golden period from 1955 till nearly 1970, football became sidelined, he told me. The British showed much interest in developing football and cricket, but one ended up becoming the biggest phenomenon in the country, along with Bollywood, at the cost of the other sport. “BFC has been generating much interest, it might just be the hope for the ‘revival’ of football,” Roy added.

Devoid at least as yet of the glitz, glamour and gloss of the gentleman’s game, it might be a quieter revival. The proverbial road to Brazil is strewn meanwhile, with stones and balls of many shapes and sizes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

On Bacha Bazi, Pederasty, Child Abuse: In Binkana, Kannada Prabha

What a horror it is, the practice of bacha bazi, where young boys are 'kept' by older men in Afghanistan and are made to dress up in girls' clothes and dance at parties. The boys are of course passed around for the older men's pleasure. Apparently, there is a saying in that country, that women are to beget children and boys are for pleasure. 

Pederasty, a word I learnt only recently, is the relationship between a young boy and an older man. Such relationships were accepted as normal and even celebrated in ancient Greek and Roman civilisations. It has inspired much art and literature. In retrospect, such relationships are now being termed child abuse and pedophilia.

In the name of tradition and culture, nearly everything is expected to be accepted and continued. I write on the hypocrisy of such traditions and culture that I'd rather have disappear, in this week's Binkana column in Kannada Prabha. See below.

Published Sunday, January 10, 2016.

ಅಲ್ಲೊಂದು ತರಹದ ಬಚ್ಚಾ ಬಾಜಿ
ಇಲ್ಲೊಂದು ತರಹದ ತಲೆನೋವು  

ಅಫ಼ಘಾನಿಸ್ತಾನದ ತಾಲಿಬಾನ್ ಅದೊಂದು ಒಳ್ಳೆ ಕೆಲಸವನ್ನು ಮಾಡಿತ್ತು. 1994-2001ನ ತಾಲಿಬಾನ್ ಆಡಳಿತದಲ್ಲಿ ಬಚ್ಚಾ ಬಾಜಿ ಸಂಪ್ರದಾಯವು ನಿಷೇಧಿಸಲಾಗಿದ್ದು, ಅದರಲ್ಲಿ ತೊಡಗಿದವರಿಗೆ ಮರಣ ದಂಡನೆಯನ್ನು ವಿದಿಸಲಾಗುತಿತ್ತು. ಈ ನಿಯಮ ಅದೆಷ್ಟರ ಮಟ್ಟಿಗೆ ಪರಿಪಾಲಿಸಲಾಗಿತ್ತು ಎಂಬುದು ಪ್ರಶ್ನೆಯಲ್ಲ. ತಾಲಿಬಾನ್ ಆಡಳಿತ ಮುಗಿದು ಅಮೆರಿಕಾದ ಪಡೆಗಳ ಅಡಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಈ ಪದ್ದತಿ ಪುನಃ ತಲೆಯೆತ್ತಿದೆ. ಬಚ್ಚಾ ಬಾಜಿಯನ್ನು ಅಕ್ಷರಶಃ ಅನುವಾದಿಸಿದರೆ 'ಮಗು/ಹುಡುಗ ಆಟ' ಆಗುತ್ತದೆ. ಅಫ಼ಘಾನಿಸ್ತಾನದಲ್ಲಿ ಸಣ್ಣ ವಯಸ್ಸಿನ ಹುಡುಗರು ಹುಡುಗಿಯರ ವೇಷ ಧರಿಸಿ ಗಂಡಸರ ಪಾರ್ಟಿಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಕುಣಿಯುವುದನ್ನು ಬಚ್ಚಾ ಬಾಜಿ ಎಂದು ಕರೆಯುತ್ತಾರೆ. ಪಾರ್ಟಿಯ ನಂತರ ಈ ಹುಡುಗನ ಮಾಲೀಕ, ಅಥವಾ 'ಬಾಜ್' ಅವನೊಟ್ಟಿಗೆ ಮಲಗುವುದರ ಜೊತೆಗೆ ತನ್ನ ಸ್ನೇಹಿತರಲ್ಲಿ ಈ ಬಾಲಕನನ್ನು ಹಂಚಿಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತಾನೆ. ಈ ಅಂದವಾಗಿರುವ ಹುಡುಗರು ಬಡ ಕುಟುಂಬದವರು, ಕೆಲಸ-ವಿದ್ಯೆ ನೀಡುವುದಾಗಿ ನಂಬಿಸಿ ಈ ಮಾಲೀಕರು ಅವರ ಕುಟುಂಬದಿಂದ ಖರೀದಿಸಲಾದವರು. ಅತ್ಯಾಚಾರವನ್ನು ತಡೆಯಲಾರದೆ, ಓಡಿಹೋಗಿ ಸಮಾಜದಲ್ಲಿ ಬೇರೊಂದು ಜೀವನವನ್ನು ಕಲ್ಪಿಸಿಕೊಳ್ಳುವ ಅವಕಾಶವಿಲ್ಲದೆ ಈ ಬಾಲಕರು ಹದಿಹರೆಯುವ ಮುನ್ನವೇ ಕುಡಿತ, ಡ್ರಗ್ ಅಡಿಕ್ಟ್ ಗಳಾಗುತ್ತಾರೆ. ಹದಿನೆಂಟು ವರುಷ ಆಗುವಷ್ಟರಲ್ಲಿ ಮಾಲೀಕರ ಆಸಕ್ತಿ ಕಳೆದ ಮೇಲೆ ಬೀದಿಪಾಲಾಗದಿದ್ದರೆ ತಾವು ಬೇರೆ ಸಣ್ಣ ಹುಡುಗರ ಮಾಲೀಕರಾಗುತ್ತಾರೆ. ಹೀಗೆ ಈ ಕ್ರೂರ ಸಂಪ್ರದಾಯವು ತಲೆತಲಾಂತರದಿಂದ ಮುಂದುವರಿದುಕೊಂಡು ಬಂದಿದೆ. ಮಕ್ಕಳ ಹಕ್ಕು ಸಂಸ್ಥೆಗಳ, ಅಂತರರಾಷ್ಟ್ರೀಯ ಸಮಾಜದ ನಿಗಾಹವನ್ನು ಮೀರಿ ಮುಂದುವರಿಯುತ್ತಲಿದೆ.

ಕೆಲವು ತಿಂಗಳ ಹಿಂದೆ ಅಮೇರಿಕಾದ ಪತ್ರಿಕೆಯೊಂದರಲ್ಲಿ ಬಂದ ವರದಿಯ ಪ್ರಕಾರ ಅಮೇರಿಕಾದ ಪಡೆ ಸಿಬ್ಬಂದಿಗಳಿಗೆ ಈ ಸಂಪ್ರದಾಯ ಕಂಡುಬಂದಲ್ಲಿ, ಪ್ರಮುಖವಾಗಿ ತಮ್ಮ ಮೈತ್ರಿ ಪಡೆಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಕಂಡುಬಂದರೆ, ಅದನ್ನು ನಿರ್ಲಕ್ಷಿಸುವಂತೆ, ಹುಡುಗರ ಬಲಾತ್ಕಾರವನ್ನು ಗಮನಿಸದಂತೆ ಇರಲು ಹೇಳಲಾಗಿದೆಯಂತೆ. ಈ ದೌರ್ಜನ್ಯ ಆ ಸಮಾಜದ ಸಾಂಸ್ಕೃತಿಕ ಸಂಪ್ರದಾಯವಾಗಿದ್ದು ಅದರತ್ತ ಗಮನಹರಿಸುವುದು ಬೇಡವೆಂದು ಹೇಳಲಾಗಿದೆಯಂತೆ. ಈ ವರದಿಯು ಅಂತರರಾಷ್ಟ್ರೀಯ ಸಮುದಾಯದ ಗಮನ ಸಳೆದು ಭಾರೀ ಸದ್ದು ಮಾಡಿದಾಗ ಅಮೇರಿಕಾದ ಸರ್ಕಾರವು ಇದನ್ನು ನಿರಾಕರಿಸುವ ಹೇಳಿಕೆಯನ್ನು ನೀಡಬೇಕಾಯಿತು. ಈ ವರದಿ ಮಾಡಿದ ಸದ್ದು ಮಾಸಿಹೋಗಿ ಸಂಪ್ರದಾಯದ ಹೆಸರಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಮಕ್ಕಳ ಬಲಾತ್ಕಾರ ಮುಂದುವರಿಯುತ್ತಲಿದೆ ಎಂದು ಮಾನವ, ಮಕ್ಕಳ ಹಕ್ಕು ಸಂಸ್ಥೆಗಳು ಹೇಳುತ್ತವೆ.

ಅಫ಼ಘಾನಿಸ್ತಾನದಲ್ಲಿ ಒಂದು ವಾಡಿಕೆಯ ಮಾತಿದೆಯಂತೆ, ಹೆಂಗಸರು ಮಕ್ಕಳಿಗಾಗಿ, ಹುಡುಗರು ವಿನೋದಕ್ಕಾಗಿ ಎಂದು. ಸಲಿಂಗ ಪ್ರೇಮ ಶಾರಿಯ, ಇಸ್ಲಾಂ ಧರ್ಮದಲ್ಲಿ ನಿಷೇದವಾದರೂ ಈ ಬಚ್ಚಾ ಬಾಜಿ ಸಂಪ್ರದಾಯ, ಹಿಂದಿನಿಂದ ಬಂದ ಸಂಸ್ಕೃತಿ ಎಂದು ಧರ್ಮ, ಸಮಾಜ, ನೈತಿಕ, ಕಾನೂನಿನ ಹೊರಗೆ, ಇವೆಲ್ಲವನ್ನು ಮೀರಿ ನಿಂತಿದೆ. ದುಃಖದ ವಿಷಯವೇನೆಂದರೆ ಈ ಪದ್ಧತಿ ಅಫ಼ಘಾನಿಸ್ತಾನಕ್ಕೆ ಮಾತ್ರ ಸೀಮಿತವಾದದ್ದಲ್ಲ. ಬ್ರಿಟನ್, ಜಪಾನ್, ಚೀನಾ, ಅಮೇರಿಕಾ ಸೇರಿದಂತೆ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ಹೆಚ್ಚು ಕಮ್ಮಿ ಎಲ್ಲಾ ಪ್ರಮುಖ ದೇಶಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಬೇರೆ ಬೇರೆ ರೂಪದಲ್ಲಿ ಗಂಡಸರು ಮತ್ತು ಹುಡುಗರ ಸಂಬಂಧ ನಡೆಯುತ್ತಿದ ದಾಖಲೆಗಳಿವೆ. ಇಂತಹಾ ಸಂಬಂಧಗಳು ಸಲಿಂಗ ಪ್ರೇಮದಿಂದ, ಪೀಡೊಫಿಲಿಯಾದ ಚೌಕಟ್ಟಿನ ಹೊರಗಿರುವಂತದ್ದು. ಪುರಾತನ ಗ್ರೀಕ್ ಮತ್ತು ರೋಮನ್ ನಾಗರಿಕತೆಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಇಂಗ್ಲಿಷ್ನಲ್ಲಿ ಪೆಡೆರಸ್ಟಿ ಎಂದು ಕರೆಲ್ಪಡುವ ಇಂತಹಾ ಸಂಬಂದಗಳನ್ನು ಪ್ರಶಂಸಿಸಲಾಗುತ್ತಿತ್ತು. ಒಬ್ಬ ಹುಡುಗ ತನ್ನ ಪರಿವಾರದಲ್ಲದ ಒಬ್ಬ ಗಂಡಸಿನೊಂದಿಗೆ ಹತ್ತು-ಹನ್ನೊಂದು ವರುಷದಿಂದ ಇಪ್ಪತ್ತರ ಹರೆಯದವರೆಗೆ ಸಂಬಂಧ ಬೆಳೆಸಿ, ಆ ಹಿರಿಯವನು, ಹುಡುಗನಿಗೆ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿಷಯದ ಪರಿಚಯ, ಕಲೆ, ಸಾಹಿತ್ಯ, ಆಸಕ್ತಿಕರವಾಗಿ, ಹೆಂಗಸರನ್ನು ಸಂತೋಷ ಪಡಿಸುವ ವಿಧಾನಗಳ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ಕಲಿಸುತ್ತಿದ್ದನಂತೆ. ಈ ಚಿಕ್ಕ ಹುಡುಗ ಬೆಳೆದ ನಂತರ ಹುಡುಗಿಯೊಬ್ಬಳನ್ನು ಮದುವೆಯಾದರೂ, ಇನ್ನೊಬ್ಬ ಹುಡುಗನನ್ನು ಸಾಕುತ್ತಿದ್ದು, ಈ ಪದ್ದತ್ತಿಯನ್ನು ಮುಂದುವರಿಸುತ್ತಿದ್ದನಂತೆ. ಚಿಕ್ಕ ಹುಡುಗರನ್ನು ಆಕರ್ಷಿಸಲು ಗಂಡಸರು ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಕಷ್ಟಪಡಬೇಕಾಗುತ್ತಿತ್ತಂತೆ. ಪ್ರೇಮ ಪತ್ರ, ಹಣ, ಉಡುಗೊರೆಗಳಿಗೆ ಒಲಿದರೆ ಸಮಾಜದಲ್ಲಿ ಈ ಗಂಡಸರ ಸ್ಥಾನ, ಗೌರವ ಏರುತ್ತಿತ್ತಂತೆ. ಅಫ಼ಘಾನಿಸ್ತಾನದಲ್ಲಿ ಇಂತಹಾ ಹುಡುಗರು ಇದ್ದಷ್ಟು ಆ ಮಾಲಿಕನ ಗಣ್ಯತೆ ಏರುತ್ತದೆಯಂತೆ.

ಪೆಡೆರಸ್ಟಿಯು ಪ್ರಾಚೀನ ಶ್ರೇಷ್ಠ ಕಲೆ, ಸಾಹಿತ್ಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಕಂಡುಬರುತ್ತದೆ. ಅಪ್ಪ ನೆಟ್ಟ ಆಲದಮರಕ್ಕೆ ಕಟ್ಟಿದ ಬೆಕ್ಕಿನಂತೆ ಈ ಪೆಡೆರಸ್ಟಿಯಿಂದ ಬಂದ ಕಲೆ, ಸಾಹಿತ್ಯವನ್ನು ರೋಮಂಚಿಸಿ ನೋಡುವ ಅಭ್ಯಾಸದಿಂದ ಈ ಕೂಡಲೇ ಹೊರಬರುವ ಅವಶ್ಯಕತೆಯಿದೆ. 'ಸಂಪ್ರದಾಯ', 'ಸಂಸ್ಕೃತಿ' ಎಂದು ಹೆಸರಿಟ್ಟ ಮಾತ್ರಕ್ಕೆ ಯಾವುದೇ ರೀತಿಯ ದೌರ್ಜನ್ಯವನ್ನು ಅವಲಕ್ಷಿಸುವ ಈ 'ಪೊಲಿಟಿಕಲ್ ಕರೆಕ್ಟ್' ನಡವಳಿಕೆಯಷ್ಟು ಅಪಾಯಕಾರಿ ಇನ್ಯಾವುದಿಲ್ಲ.

ಮನೆಯೊಳಕ್ಕೆ ಕಣ್ಣಾಯಿಸಿದರೆ ನಮ್ಮ ದೇಶದಲ್ಲಿ ಅದೆಷ್ಟು ಇಂತಹಾ 'ಸಂಪ್ರದಾಯ-ಸಂಸ್ಕೃತಿಗಳಿಲ್ಲ'? ಬೇರೆಲ್ಲಾ ವಿಷಯಗಳನ್ನು ಬಿಟ್ಟು ಕೇವಲ ಮಕ್ಕಳ ಮೇಲಿನ ಅತ್ಯಾಚಾರಕ್ಕೆ ಬಂದರೆ ಸಾಕು, ನಮ್ಮಲಿ ಪ್ರತಿಯೊಬ್ಬರೂ ಅನುಭವಿಸಿರಬಹುದಾದ, ಅಥವಾ ಕೇಳಿಪಟ್ಟಿರುವ ಅತ್ಯಾಚಾರದ ಕಥೆಗಳಿವೆ. ಹಿಂದಿನ ಕಾಲದ ಗುರುಕುಲಗಳಿರಬಹುದು, ಈ ಮಾಡ್ರನ್ ಕಾಲದ ಬೋರ್ಡಿಂಗ್ ಶಾಲೆಗಳಿರಬಹುದು, ಇವುಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಪೆಡೆರಸ್ಟಿ ಹಲವು ವಿಧಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ತಲೆಯೆತ್ತುವ ಉದಾಹರಣೆಗಳು ನಮಗೆಲ್ಲ ಗೊತ್ತಿರುವ, ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಸಾರಿ ಕೇಳಿದ ಕಥೆಗಳು. ಮನೆಯೊಳಗೇ, ನೆಂಟರಿಂದ, ಪೋಷಕರಿಂದಾದ ಅತ್ಯಾಚಾರದ ಕಥಗಳು ಮುಚ್ಚಿಡುವ ಇನ್ನೊಂದು ಸಂಪ್ರದಾಯ-ಸಂಸ್ಕೃತಿ ನಮ್ಮದು. ಸಭ್ಯ ಸಮಾಜದಲ್ಲಿ ಇಂತಹಾ ವಿಷಯಗಳನ್ನು ಪ್ರಸ್ತಾಪಿಸುವುದು ಒಳ್ಳೆ ವರ್ತನೆಯಲ್ಲವಂತೆ. ಮಕ್ಕಳ ಅತ್ಯಾಚಾರದ ಕಥೆಗಳು ಬಾಲ್ಯದ ಕುಂಟೆಬಿಲ್ಲೆಯ, ಬೇಸಿಗೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಮಾವಿನಹಣ್ಣು ತಿಂದ ನೆನಪಿನಷ್ಟು ಸಾಮಾನ್ಯ. ಅಂತೂ ಇದರ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ಎಚ್ಚರಿಸುವ ವಿಷಯವಾಗಲಿ, ಅತ್ಯಾಚಾರಿಗಳನ್ನು ಎದುರಿಸುವುದಾಗಲಿ, ಮಕ್ಕಳಿಗೆ ಆದ ಅತ್ಯಾಚಾರ ಅವರ ತಪ್ಪಲ್ಲವೆಂದಾಗಲಿ ಕೇಳುವ ಸಂಪ್ರದಾಯ, ಇಂತಹಾ ಪದ್ದತಿಗಳನ್ನು ಹೊಗಳುವ, ಎಗ್ಜೊಟಿಕ್ ಎಂದು ಕೊಂಡಾಡದಿರುವ ಸಂಸ್ಕೃತಿ ಬರುವವರೆಗೆ ಹೊಸ, ಹಳೆಯ ಸಮಾಜಗಳು ತಮ್ಮ ಹಿಂದುಳಿದ ಅಭ್ಯಾಸಗಳನ್ನು ಬಿಡುವ ಹಾಗೆ ಕಾಣುವುದಿಲ್ಲ.

ಅತ್ಯಾಚಾರಕ್ಕೆ ತುತ್ತಾದವರ ತಪ್ಪು ಅದೆಂದೂ ಅಲ್ಲ. ಬಲಾತ್ಕಾರಕ್ಕೆ ಕಾರಣ ತೊಟ್ಟ ಬಟ್ಟೆಯಲ್ಲ, ತಿನ್ನುವ ಚೋಮೆನ್ ಅಲ್ಲ. ಹುಡುಗಿಯರಿಗೆ ಬಲಾತ್ಕಾರಕ್ಕೆ ಅಣುಮಾಡಿಕೊಡಬೇಡಿ ಎನ್ನುವ ಬದಲು ಹುಡುಗರಿಗೆ ಬಲಾತ್ಕಾರ ಮಾಡಬೇಡಿ ಎಂದು ಕಲಿಸುವ ಸಂಪ್ರದಾಯವನ್ನು ಕೈಗೆತ್ತಿಕೊಳ್ಳಬೇಕು. ಬಚ್ಚಾ ಬಾಜಿ ಅಕ್ಷರಶಃ ಅನುವಾದಿಸಿದರೆ ಮಕ್ಕಳ ಆಟವಾಗಿದ್ದು, ನಿಜವಾಗಿಯೂ ಮಕ್ಕಳು ಬೀದಿಗಳಲ್ಲಿ, ಕೆರೆಯ ದಡದಲ್ಲಿ, ಮನೆಯ ಅಟ್ಟದಲ್ಲಿ ನಿಶ್ಚಿಂತೆಯಿಂದ ಆಡುವ ಆಟವಾದಾಗ, ಹಳೆಯದ್ದೆಲ್ಲಾ ಚಿನ್ನವಲ್ಲ ಎಂದು ಒಪ್ಪಿಕೊಂಡಾಗ ಮಾತ್ರ ನಾಗರೀಕತೆಯ ನಿಜವಾದ ಬೆಳವಣಿಗೆಯನ್ನು ಮುಂದೊಂದು ದಿನದ ಇತಿಹಾಸ ಪುಸ್ತಕಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಅಳೆಯಬಹುದು.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

What is Home for the Migrant/Refugee?: Filter Coffee Column

The Kindle magazine has an issue on the global refugee crisis this month. I write on an issue I have thought about on and off for many years now - that of what home means to someone who has migrated from one place to the other, for whatever reason. Can it ever be "Home", with a capital H? Or is it an illusion of home we create in the new place? Isn't the home we leave behind an illusion as well?

Read the column here. Or see below.


We design the idea of home to be fluid, to be like water, to pour and flow and fill any space that we inhabit.

Come this new year and its month of May, it will be a decade for me, living in this big city. Ten years since university, ten years since moving to neighbourhoods larger than my whole district, ten years of navigations and heartbreaks and loves and fears and joys and changes. Maybe I can start calling Bangalore home now. Or maybe I never will call it home.

Back then, even when it was a land of opportunities, it felt like a transit place, a pit stop in between graduation and ‘something else’. That something else was always a return to the roots, of sorts. The pit stop has extended a decade now and unless I keep calling it not-home, I worry that it will extend another decade or two. No. No. No.

A lot of people I know are migrants, from smaller towns and villages to this city and other cities. Driven as we are by the glitz of being happily away from families to do as we please, driven by the job offers we are made, driven by the glamour of choosing to be as free as we would like to be every damn day, I and thousands like me have made these heartless, soulless cities ‘home’. There is a wonderful little word in Havyaka, a little known dialect that my community speaks. ‘Bidaara’, with a sharp emphasis on the ‘DA’. It translates to ‘house’ but is often meant to denote a temporary, most times a rented place before you move up the socio-economic ladder and get married and buy a home or rent a bigger, posher house with an extra bedroom for when parents visit and utility area for the washing machine and a balcony for the mandatory holy basil plant and all that. Some of us spent entire lives in these bidaaras, moving from one to the other, from a 1BHK to a 2BHK, from this neighbourhood to the slightly better one where the schools are nearby and supermarkets are aplenty. These carry the hopes of never calling this or this city home. Calling it that is wringing the neck of hope and settling for here, where your heart never is. Let us never call this home.
How long does it take before the others, the ‘locals’ begin to consider you one of their own? Very long, it seems, going by the way things happen in your city and mine. 

A dear friend from a neighbouring state has been here for as nearly as long as he was ‘home’, speaks the local tongue, albeit a little broken and has lived all over the city, in its north and south parts. Yet he is still an outsider, neither here nor at home, at home. Decades can go by and these things will never change, no matter what the effort you put in, it sometimes feels like.

We are the privileged ones, we the migrants of this sort. The exodus from Syria and elsewhere and the devastation it brings, the lifelong scars that it gashes against the soul is impossible to imagine. At a microcosmic level, arrogance would permit me to say that leaving home is leaving home for everyone, either them or me. But of course that is a ridiculous notion. I can always go back home, to a safe place and be that girl in the hills again. Privileges that I, we have taken soundly for granted.

Does home remain just that? Amongst the very few quotes I can quote, this is one. “You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it's all right” by that gorgeous woman Maya Angelou. Somehow, back home, while the walls and the gardens and the pets and trees remain the same, older certainly, but same-same, something has changed with every visit back. Perhaps it is just me, I have changed. The city and this hard life here have taken something away, even when it gave so much. As it always happens.

Back home, the walls don’t whisper old secrets and crazy stories anymore. Or perhaps I fall asleep too quickly to listen. The foxes that hooted into the night somewhere on Stewart Hill bang behind my house and gave me company when I devoured book after book every night, till 2, till 3, till ma yelled have gone elsewhere. Perhaps to the other side of the hill where there are fewer lights and fewer houses and people and chicken coops are not so securely fastened that they can’t steal even one at night. The winter wind that whirled around the microwave signal tower, shrill and much like the wail of a banshee – we warned guests who stayed the night about her – she is gone too. That is because the tower is gone now, after some fifty odd years and all that remains is an abandoned building, covered in moss and black soot where the boys in town go to smoke and drink beer and watch the sun go down over the hills of Kodagu.

The hills are there and so are the fig trees I learnt to climb trees on and the pond and the house and my room from where I can see the sun rise. Yet, there is still…a void?...a vacumm? emptiness…? I can’t be sure. I don’t want to be.

Home is a myth, I read somewhere. Perhaps it was Adichie, longing through her woman character and reducing brilliantly to a phrase all that home means to a migrant. It is never where you are from, it is rarely where you are at or will be. It is a dream, a nostalgia, a foolish wish that you know can never be fulfilled. But we migrants are the adaptable sorts. We design the idea of home to be fluid, to be like water, to pour and flow and fill any space that we inhabit. Thus, home is the red yoga mat that I hold on to, despite how old and slippery it is today, for like the safety of home, it has seen me through it all. Home is the few books I can never send back to the home library, for in them lies the stories of comfort, of people I bought it with or read it with. Home is the cheap plastic figurine of a Radhe-Krishna that even the agnostic in me cannot let go of. Home is a badly framed, hastily made painting that was my first art buy and that has followed me into all the houses I have lived in. Home is the inscribed ring on my finger, the silver keyring that holds my house keys, the yellow fountain pen and this and that and all this, the sentiments and memories, bad and good and everything in between that we carry along like extra baggage. And in these concepts of fluidity do we build a home, we outsiders.