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November 22, 2013 @ 6:27 pm

Of rains, cows and a picture

by Dhimant Parekh

On a darkly grey evening, I was on my way to the nearest bus stop when the clouds decided they could hold on no longer. The rain burst onto the asphalt in this residential area. A shop across the road had a large glass window and thankfully above that window was a slight bit of shelter under which I could keep myself dry. A few minutes later, another pedestrian came running towards this shop, wiping his handkerchief over his eyes and shaking his head in disgust. He continued to use his kerchief to wipe his face while he stood next to me.

A little later, a motorcyclist stopped his bike on the road in front of us, and keeping his helmet in tact, jogged over to where we were standing. The little shelter that we had was enough for the three of us and could accommodate one more person, should he find himself loitering around in this part of the town. The three of us continued to watch the drops of rain batter the road, each of us being lost in our own little drier worlds as the sound of rain enveloped everything else outside.

And then, a cow trotted over, evidently deciding that getting wet wasn’t all that fun anymore. It came to the side of the motorcyclist, who had by now removed his helmet, and gently got its head below the shelter. While the rest of its body was out in the rain, the cow seemingly only wanted its head to be under the shelter (and that was the only space available). The motorcyclist clearly took a liking to this and kept caressing the cow, intermittently turning his caresses into some praying gesture. The cow took a further few steps into the shelter and we three men got packed in closer. Every now and then the cow would raise its head towards the motorcyclist who would in turn touch the cow’s forehead.

On the other side of the road, we suddenly notice a auto rickshaw with a young girl who was gesturing frantically at the driver, vaguely pointing in all directions and sometimes at us. The auto rickshaw slowed down, took a U-turn and stopped in front of us on the road. The girl brandished her mobile phone, pointed at us, and then suddenly screamed at us  – “You don’t mind na?”

I suppose the other two men didn’t get why she was taking a snap. I was thinking perhaps it was the wet hair and a day-old stubble of mine that still had the magnetic property to attract a random girl in an auto rickshaw to stop wherever she was planning to go and take a picture of me. But none of us figured out how to respond.

“You don’t mind?” she asked again, moving the mobile to the side of her face as the rain blurred everything around.

“What’s it for?” I shouted out, since I do value my privacy to a certain extent.

“Generally,” she replied back.

That was satisfactory, and I shouted back “Sure”. She clicked, slid the phone in her bag and off she went.

“Facebook ke liye hoga,” the pedestrian with the kerchief turned to me and said with a smile. And then it dawned on me as I looked around to see what scene had taken the girl’s fancy. Three men huddled together with a cow, all of them taking shelter from the rain. Definitely a Facebook moment there.

The motorcyclist continued his divine tryst with the cow while I dismantled my wet-hair-and-stubble-theory quickly as the rain sputtered on. For that moment, we four were all in one world, in one picture. The rain finally stopped and each of us found our way back to our own individual worlds, to our own individual pictures.

Filed under Life, Looking around, rain, Thoughts


January 26, 2013 @ 8:08 pm

Paper Planes

by Dhimant Parekh

On a bright and sunny Saturday, in fact on our nation’s Republic Day, we head to the EWS quarters at Ejipura which’ve been recently demolished. From the main road, we see walls of rubble and not knowing where to go, we call one of the volunteers there.

“Come to the church next to the big tree,” she tells us as we tip-toe around garbage mounds and broken footpath slabs.

As we enter past the yellow barricades, we see flattened land all around us. What was once a teeming slum with hundreds of homes was now just a level ground of mud, bricks and an occasional forgotten belonging. There were small children playing with plastic bags and empty water bottles.
The big tree was easy to spot – it was the only standing structure apart from the small church that cowered under it.

On our left were new concrete pipes a few feet in length and large enough to have a man standing inside them. Some of the families had made these pipes their new home – shelter was redefined.

We reach the tree and the volunteer turn out was meagre. One of the coordinators hands out a form to us and asks us to collect information about the remaining families in the premises. This information would then be used to better mobilise resources and to figure out an action plan for the families. While we are going through this form and understanding the work involved, the children have gathered around us. They are eager to show what they’ve been learning at the local school nearby. A school they no longer go to. They sing nursery rhymes – Johnny Johnny Yes Papa evokes much laughter.

A van with the caption “Jesus in Ministry of Lord” on its windscreen comes right opposite the church and stops. Furtively, a man, who represented Maverick Holdings (owners of Garuda malls), packs off a family from one of the pipes into the van. The van quickly starts moving towards the exit.
We rush towards the van to prevent this forced eviction. The compensation of Rs. 5000 per family was reduced to Rs. 2000 by this man. When questioned, he refused to give more. We blocked the van’s exit by sitting in front of it. This got the cops riled up and within minutes many more police personnel reach the venue.

“I will have you arrested in contempt of court,” the police head tells us, caressing his walkie-talkie as he spoke. He then looks at the German volunteer who was protesting with us and says, “We will confiscate your passport.” The German makes a gesture with his hands and this makes the cop go ballistic. He looks at me and screams that he will confiscate my passport too and that he would file cases against all of us. He then gets his mobile phone out, peers into it under the blazing sun, calls up his superiors and arranges for an arrest to happen.

The family who was seated in the van suddenly steps out and pleads with us to let them go. They were grateful for the Rs. 2000 and feared that they would lose even that. We lost our case to poverty and thuggery. We let the van go. The police smirked.

The head cop turned to me and said “Why are you people preventing our work?”
“We are not. We want these families to get compensation,” I tell him.
“See, it is really the goodness of Maverick Holdings’ owner that he is giving at least this much to these people. You people should go thank him,” he says this with clear conviction. Obviously the police had no compassion for the poor. They sang praises of the builder who was doing all this.

The children under the tree had now started singing the national anthem with gusto. They sang with pride, they beamed with joy. They were singing a song about a nation that was killing them slowly right there. A nation that had turned its back on them, a nation that was walking away from them quite nimbly – and the children slapped their foreheads in salute and in unison as the words Jai Hind came out and echoed into the air.

The van had, by now, managed to evict 4 more families. This time they were given Rs. 5000 each thanks to the volunteers checking the money and ensuring that the families did not sign any receipt until they got this money from the builder’s representative. The evicted families would either resettle in some other slums or just be thrown on footpaths. The children were excited about a van ride, not quite knowing that this was pretty much the end of any hope that there might’ve been about their future.

There was one boy, around 3 years old, who hung around and played with all of us. A naughty kid with a lot of energy. There was a 6 year old girl who loved the sketch pens that some of us were carrying and she asked for “fresh paper” to do some colouring on her own. Suddenly the children were having a nice time. Sitting there under the church, I made paper planes with the printed material of the planned freedom march. The kids wanted many more of these “rockets”. For some halting moments we forgot that we were amidst tragedy as these paper rockets left small hands, jumped up in the air and hurtled down.

Late evening as the moon appeared on the horizon, all the pipes were empty. Most families were evicted. There were some more families on the other parts of the land and we distributed clothes to them.

“Dinner is coming,” was a phrase we chanted regularly as the people came up to us asking for food of any kind. The kids were still hanging around and scattered families were in talks trying to figure out what to do, where to go.

We walked away from the site with a sense of shame. The ground on which those kids threw paper planes will be decorated with a mall. A mall for us all. A mall built on the broken futures of our weaker children. Jai Hind.

Filed under India, Life, Looking around


December 19, 2011 @ 11:25 am

Nero’s Guests

by Dhimant Parekh

Click here to watch the video if you are unable to view it above.

How often do we even consider this other India? How well it is concealed from our eyes, like the nondescript garbage can hidden behind a pillar at a star hotel’s corridor. What will it take to make us think, just think – forget act, about this? About our indifference.

I don’t know. I am, after all, just another of Nero’s guests.

Filed under Uncategorized

1 Comment »

December 8, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

Rude, crude and guttural

by Dhimant Parekh

“Do you think such conferences are useful?” she asked while looking at no one in particular and picking the chicken on her plate.
I looked at her as she sat next to me at one of those round tables that are usually filled with people you’ve never met.
Trying to decipher whether she was a part of the organizing committee or not, I managed to fumble a “I guess they are” and before I could continue, she had moved on to another topic – that of cities.

Looking no less than 70 years in age, she had lived in many cities and towns across India. A marriage to an armed forces personnel does that to you. And over a few short conversations that I was having with the others at the table, she dwelt a little longer on Bangalore.

“I used to stay in Langford town in those days,” she beamed with pride. She spoke to no one in particular, but her words seemed to address a crowd.
“Those days Bangalore used to be such a wonderful place to stay,” she continued. The “those days” could’ve been at least 50 years ago, I thought to myself.
“And that area used to have a lot of Anglo Indians staying there,” her excitement was growing by the minute.
“Anglo Indians are such cultured people – they taught me a lot,” she didn’t give much time for you to add a yeah, hmmm or nice between her lines.

“We Indians are crude. We speak in a rude, crude and guttural tone. Have you noticed?” she suddenly looked at me, singling out my face from the crowd she was talking to so far.

I smile at that remark and try to articulate my response in a manner that would deem fit for a disciplined elderly, but this energetic lady didn’t have much time for that.

“Is Bishop Cottons still there?,” she continues to ask the crowd, looking at the plate and addressing no one in particular but making everyone want to respond.
“Oh yes, it is,” I give her the prompt answer.

“But the teachers must be Indians now,” she shrugs in a manner of a child who, after having a bowlful of candy, is no longer interested in the biscuits being passed around.

“I was educated by nuns,” she raised both her palms towards us and smiled.
“The problem is with our education system,” she now looked at the person on the other side of her seat. “That is why we Indians will always remain like this,” she finished the last bit of food on her plate with that statement.

“Is Mangalore Breweries still around,” she looked at me considering that I had answered her previous question.
“Mangalore Breweries? I haven’t heard of that. I guess it isn’t around anymore,” I venture to offer.

“Oh! What a pity. We used to walk down from Langford town to Mangalore Breweries. They used to give a beer bottle for 1 rupee back then. This big a bottle,” and she uses her two hands to indicate a pint-sized bottle.

“Just 1 rupee, can you believe it!” she talks to the crowd again and gets up to fetch her dessert. I offer to get dessert for her considering that she might find it difficult to go through the crowds, but she declines. She looks at my card for my name and reads aloud the name of the organization I am representing. In a smile, she dismisses me off with a half-wave of her hand and disappears into the lines waiting for dessert.

Filed under Looking around


March 13, 2011 @ 10:09 am

Recommended Magazines

by Dhimant Parekh

In the past few months, I have come across a few interesting magazines which I think are worth talking about.

One of them is The Caravan – A Journal of Politics and Culture. I quite like their style of in-depth reporting. It is unlike the other national magazines which have reduced themselves to sensational headlines and shallow content. As the editorial mission of The Caravan says:

The Caravan has been shaped as India’s first narrative journalism magazine a la The New Yorker, Harpers, Atlantic Monthly, The New York Review of Books in United States, and Granta and Prospect in the UK.  It is a change from the linear ways of reporting, a change from impersonal, dry facts, to a narrative story with perspective.

The issue I bought lives up to this mission statement. And I hope they continue to do so in the subsequent issues, unlike many magazines which give a promising start but fail to live-up to the original values. The OPEN magazine, to cite a name that I easily remember, did start off with a unique set of characteristics – giving alternative views, showcasing stories that were not picked up by the mainstream bunch of journals and so on. However, since then, they slowly seem to be slipping into the “do anything to grab eyeballs” business. I do hope they fix this and return to what they were doing about a year ago.

The other magazine, rather a sidekick (if I may call it) to the primary Tehelka magazine, is the Tehelka’s “Original Fiction” issue. It is essentially a collection of short works of fiction in the pulp noir genre by some really wonderful writers. Tarun Tejpal explains the idea behind “Original Fictions” in his editorial letter:

But for one brief week, at the end of every year, TEHELKA lets go. It hands its pages over to the artisans of fiction, leaving them free to decode the world as they choose, with sense or no sense. To the critics — who wonder at such whimsicality — we say, it’s only a fleeting interlude, the stars of reality are straining at the wings ready to regain the stage. So take a deep breath, shake your head, perhaps locate a fresh perspective.

Some of the short stories are brilliant. Do check out the first one written by Atul Sabharwal. And a surprise entry in this list was Devdutt Patanaik, who I thought restricted himself only to mythology. It is an interesting collection and while some of the stories could have been better, the entire package is worth reading.

Another magazine that I came across, albeit online, was Guernica. In addition to the poignant articles and fresh perspectives that this online magazine carries, the site itself is very beautifully designed. If art and politics are what you feed on, Guernica should satiate you quite well.

Filed under General reading, News, Short story

1 Comment »

October 27, 2010 @ 10:56 am

While you are listening

by Dhimant Parekh

Bangalore traffic (and I can’t seem to get enough of it) can be partially dealt with. Indeed. If you take more than an hour to get to your work place then one thing you can do to utilize all that commute time is listen to audio books on your phone or mp3 player. If you don’t take more than an hour to reach your workplace, you definitely don’t stay in Bangalore and can ignore the rest of this post. Unless, of course, you are a fan of my writings.

All you need to do is buy an audio book or download one from the hundreds of free AND legal versions available out there. While the audio versions of new books are relatively expensive, there are hundreds of classics which are in the public domain and are available for free download!

Legally free? Yes. Head over to OpenCulture and check out the catalogue there. The caveat is that only classics are available for free. But then, when were you going to sit down and start reading all the classics? Never. So it makes sense to be done with them while driving through all that mess of this city. If not anything, you definitely will come across as a well-read road-ragist.

I have finished two audio books in the recent past: Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The Grand Design has been shared over at InGoodBooks.com.

I am now reading, er, listening to E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View. The only drawback I see (hear?) with audio books is that it is difficult to appreciate fine writing while listening to it. Sure, a book like Hawking’s can be listened to since the core there is the idea, the concept. In Forster’s book, for instance, the emphasis is more on the writing styles, the metaphors, the juxtaposition of prose over a poetic framework – all a tad difficult to infuse in your literary senses while you are avoiding potholes and other fellow motorists.

Nevertheless, an audiobook is worth giving your ear to. If not anything else, it will keep you well-insulated from those seemingly clever music radio stations and their mind-numbing RJs and the singularly inane music that they dish out in between screams of sponsor company names and equally mind-numbing advertisements. Enjoy, ladies and gentlemen.

Filed under Books, General reading, Interesting, Technology, Traffic


September 11, 2010 @ 5:47 am

The Bookers are here

by Dhimant Parekh

If you haven’t yet checked out my Twitter or Facebook stream, you have missed the noise (alright, whimper) about In Good Books.
In Good Books aims to be a site where you (yes, you precisely) can talk about a book you have loved or hated.

And if you haven’t read any book in the recent past, no problem. We’ve got you covered too. Just head over to www.InGoodBooks.com to check out the recommendations!

More about InGoodBooks here: http://www.ingoodbooks.com/about/

As always, feedback solicited. And welcome.

PS: Don’t go by the title of this post. We don’t review only Booker winners. We are also willing to allow you to talk about Five Point Someone. Yeah, we are that open about it.

Filed under Book Review, Books, Self-publicity, Web 2.0

1 Comment »

September 9, 2010 @ 12:02 pm

How’s the car

by Dhimant Parekh

The only pleasant phase of my long sluggish drive to office is a brief stretch of Cubbon Park. Ideally, vehicles shouldn’t be allowed through this park. On my part, I am guilty of using this stretch because it saves me time whenever I am running late. I know I shouldn’t be using this route. There is enough pollution already in this once-beautiful park.

For those of you not familiar with the topography of Bangalore, Cubbon Park is a green hub right in the middle of the city. A sprawling park spotted with numerous trees. In the mornings, there are enough vehicles passing through this park to impart a smoke-screen on the greenery. One such morning I enter Cubbon Park and line-up quietly behind a trail of cars. We are all waiting for the traffic signal at the far end to mercifully spit us all out from a lovely park into the concrete jungle lying adjacent to it.

Suddenly, a car slides right next to mine. I notice from the corner of my eye that someone is signalling towards me. I turn my head to the right and find the car’s driver asking me to roll down my windows. With the tinted mask gone from my sight, I notice the white gleaming car parked periliously close to my car. The driver is a young chap, with a beard – a goatee rather, and has sunglasses perched on his head rather than on his nose. He munches on an already half-eaten apple and blurts, “How is the car?”

“Sorry?” I try to understand what he just munched.

“The car. Car. How is the car?” he repeats, in a tone that tells you he has miles to go before he can have a nap.

I realize he is asking me about my car. For some reason I look at my dashboard, as though that is where the answer lies. I then look back at him and say, “Yeah, the car is good. No problems so far.” I nod my head a couple of times in affirmation to what I just said.

He munches on his apple a bit, says a “hmmm”. I look out of my window to figure out the make of his car. But he had parked the car so close to mine, it was impossible for me to know the car model.

“What car is yours?” I ask.

“Volkswagen. Polo.”

“Wow, that’s cool. How’s the car?” and I suddenly start believing that asking a stranger about his car is perfectly acceptable.

“No leg space” he says in a dejected tone. “I should have bought your car,” he continues in a regretful tone.

“But you’ve got a great brand. It’s an European car after all. My car is one of those cheap Korean brands, not much of a reputation there,” I try and cheer him up. I was feeling bad for the boy now since he seemed quite depressed of having bought a ‘wrong’ car. For me, though, his car was just as good as any other car. In fact even better owing to its German roots.

“What use is this brand when there is so little leg space,” he laments with a remorseful look on his face. Then he shakes his head, drops off the core of the apple somewhere between the front seats and raises the window through which we were conversing.

No bye, no thank you, nothing. The conversation ends just as abruptly as it had started. A vendor comes by selling mobile chargers for cars. The signal had turned green, the dormant cars had switched on their engines and everyone’s right feet was on the accelerator raring to get to wherever they had to go.

The Volkswagen Polo slides away hurriedly ahead of me, and one of the most dejected guys I have ever seen is steering that car. I roll up my windows, drive past the glitzy UB City mall. The security staff there is getting ready, some of them cycling in with their lunch boxes in tow. No half-eaten apples in there, I suppose. No dejection on having a life without too many choices, perhaps. What gives? What makes one person depressed about a thing such as a car? And what makes one person strive to get to work in a cycle?

As these thoughts swirl around my head and fade away into the radio’s constant noise, I pat my car’s dashboard and congratulate myself for having bought this car. I don’t know much about cars, but if someone who owns a Volkswagen wanted my car, I have perhaps done it right.

Filed under General, Life, Looking around, Traffic


July 22, 2010 @ 11:00 am

Here we are

by Dhimant Parekh

This blog has been missing out on a lot of action in the recent past. The reasons are plenty and not necessary to get into. One noteworthy fact is that Twitter has managed to steal a greater percentage of my digital communication.

I also understand that I had cited a similar reason many months ago to explain the paucity of posts here. Things seldom change. While I re-resolve to blog regularly, here are some interesting links which you might find interesting (some have already been shared in my tweet stream):

  • Tour de France 2010: Circle of Death marks century of suffering http://bit.ly/dx4ogO – Fantastic writeup on the history of the Tour de France and how arduous it really is! Must read to give you an idea of man’s endurance limits (or rather the lack of limits)
  • Penguin’s next march http://bit.ly/atGj9i – This is about the publishing house named after the black and white forever freezing bird. Penguin’s 75th anniversary (yes, it is that old) is coming up and as it approaches this milestone, how does it deal with the rising challenges of the industry
  • The urban housing conundrum http://bit.ly/9ZNlLS – Rahul Chandran writes at The Mint on the problem of “inclusive” accommodation. How India’s cities need to plan to accommodate the ever-growing population of the urban poor. Very insightful and well written.

And oh yes, in the meanwhile The Better India celebrated its 2nd anniversary.

Enjoy, ladies and gentlemen.

Filed under Articles, General, Interesting

1 Comment »

May 20, 2010 @ 9:51 am

The End of God?

by Dhimant Parekh

This is perhaps one of the biggest and most important milestones in the history of mankind. Craig Venter has created the world’s first synthetic life form. The new organism was created in a lab entirely out of four bottles of chemicals.

Excerpt from the article in Guardian:

The new organism is based on an existing bacterium that causes mastitis in goats, but at its core is an entirely synthetic genome that was constructed from chemicals in the laboratory.

The single-celled organism has four “watermarks” written into its DNA to identify it as synthetic and help trace its descendants back to their creator, should they go astray.

“We were ecstatic when the cells booted up with all the watermarks in place,” Dr Venter told the Guardian. “It’s a living species now, part of our planet’s inventory of life.”

Details of this process in some other articles indicates that the creation of this new synthetic “life-form” did involve yeast as an intermediary. Does that still count as synthetic then? Keeping that minor fib aside, I believe this is an incredibly big achievement for mankind. Creating life was the prerogative of God and by imitating Him, man has reduced Him to a much lesser stature. That is of course based on the assumption that He existed in the first place. This particular experiment and all subsequent ones might well question that assumption a lot more strongly.

Andrew Brown raises interesting questions in his article titled “Has Venter made us gods?” Some points made by him:

The man who can make life can also give humans apparently godlike powers. “We are as gods and might as well get good at it” said the Californian visionary Stewart Brand 40 years ago; and Venter’s techniques should make it possible to engineer bacteria to do almost anything we can imagine, from cleaning up the oceans to supplying us with energy. The bacteria found in nature can work like the philosophers” stone, transforming almost any substance into anything. If we can design them to turn pollution into energy, that would be wonderful; but the same techniques could produce weapons of unparalleled cruelty and efficiency.

This is exciting stuff! God knows what the future will hold for all of us. Oh wait, change that sentence…

Filed under Articles, Interesting, Life

1 Comment »

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