Friday, February 23, 2007

We vegetarians can laugh at ourselves

And clearly, so can others :)

And when Rajneesh Kapoor laughs, we laugh with him, because he is so sharp, witty, political, and funny. I follow his comic strip in the Hindustan Times - not very religiously, but enthusiastically. Just discovered his website and have been grinning for the last twenty minutes.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

An Anything But Static Icon

I heard Gloria Steinem talk on “Secret Censors, Public Solutions” yesterday. The grand old lady of the feminist revolution, she has been around since the 1970s, but the significance of this did not register with me until she spoke of how astonished she was the day (two years ago) she turned seventy. Steinem does not look seventy two or behave seventy two, and photographs (recent or from way back), even though in them she is beautiful, don’t do her justice.

There was, perhaps, nothing in the substance of her talk I did not already know/had not already read: women, and men, are censored in a far more insidious fashion than we realize; it is not just the well-recognized censors like government diktats, court judgments and religious fiats, but more often, we who secretly censor ourselves, our speech, our words, because of the way we internalize gender constructs.

It was Steinem herself who made the difference. She spoke, carrying with lightness, grace, and humor an awareness of her role and responsibility as a universally familiar icon of feminism -- revered and assailed in equal parts. She spoke out our deeply held first truths with authority and conviction. She did not shy away from inspiring us. She was not postmodern. Ah, those days of early feminist consciousness… Ah, hostel life stacked with books and bad coffee…

Delhi’s old hands at the battle, battle-axes, bottle-gourds, and the newly embattled had turned up at the musty IIC auditorium in full force and regalia. They had also brought their cell phones, which rang incessantly, each tune different in tenor and timbre and texture from the next. The cell phones rang till I got seriously alarmed about the state of our future – a future holding movie, play and music evenings filled with extraneous chimes, buzzes, peals and tinkles. Or wait a minute. That’s our present.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Really Dismal Delhi

We wake up one day and find the city we live in has changed. Many years ago they had promised us a “world class city”, with the dark and dangerous stuff, the lost and forgotten people, all waved out of sight to a Delhi Below. We had marveled at the vision and gone on with our lives for we had things to do. I remember the day.

I open my newspaper a couple of days ago to the news that the ASI has, after thrice earlier rejecting a tunnel road project linking NH-24 to Lodi Road, finally approved it. The tunnel would pass under Sunder nursery and Neela Gumbad, ending near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The Commonwealth Games Village would have faster access to the stadium, so who cares about the heritage zone.

The same day, the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) razes a Mughal era monument in Gurgaon to acquire land for the Delhi Metro. The same day, the Delhi govt unveils Master Plan 2021, which imagines, improbably, endless skyscrapers and pedestrian and cycle tracks. The same day, in a readers’ forum, people from Chandni Chowk trash as impractical the Delhi govt’s plan to ban cycle rickshaws from parts of the walled city.

The next day, the Residents Welfare Association of my area is given the Best Citizen Group Award for successfully demolishing a thousand jhuggis. Feeling depressed, I drive along Tito Marg to a friend’s house. Along the way, I count at least eight other cars with lone drivers. On either side of the road something is being built – HCBS? The High Capacity something something? I have no idea what and why, and I don’t care.

I refuse to go to the sprawling, 55 year old Sunder Nursery to buy plants for our office. I also cannot bear the sight of the gracious, wide, tree-lined Lodi Road. I resolve to avoid that entire area till the tunnel is completed – Dec 2009 according to the PWD website – so I can more calmly accept things as must be.

In the evening, we drive up to Patel Chowk, park the car, take the metro to Chawri Bazaar and a rickshaw to Jama Masjid. This is one thing I cannot give up. I even spiritedly propose a spin around the Chowk, for the days we can no longer do it. Our rickshaw wallah gives us a fine potted history. “This is the town hall,” he says. “This is the fountain.” “This is a machine where they put in plastic and get money.” My friend contemplates getting a bicycle to ride around in the city. I laugh till my eyes water, and he drops the idea till the Master Plan comes into effect.

In the morning, as I drive to work with chaos and honking and thousands of other cars, grey pigeons are seamless against a background of grey concrete flyovers. If they disappear, we might not even notice.

(For the tunnel road plan, see story in HT dated Feb 6, 2007: Suffering from tunnel vision? by Aruna P. Sharma. To stop dismal-makers in Delhi, leave your email on this post or email me.)

(links coming soon)