Posted in 26/11, ajmal kasab, Kasab, Mumbai, terror attack, Uncategorized

Thoughts on a Killer

downloadDisclaimer: Th following piece of writing is NOT representative of my feelings toward capital punishment, it is NOT representative of my feelings toward terrorist and this is NOT me claiming that what the Indian government did was wrong. As a citizen, I completely stand by the decisions taken by the system. This is a purely personal piece on how I felt on the day Kasab was hung.

The only thing that registered in my head on 26th November 2008 is the grainy picture that flashed on every news screen. In the image was a short man, wearing cargo trousers, a black hoodie and a school bag of sorts. His body language seemed calm, in fact, he seemed like he was taking a stroll. I remember thinking that if not for the gun he could easily pass off as someone I saw on a bus or Raja’s tea stall.

Funnily enough, I don’t really remember anything else about the day of 26/11. In fact, I don’t remember what I was doing, what I thought, how I felt when I heard the news or anything. So clearly, I can’t write about it.

However, I vividly remember another day in November; except it was four years after the attack. I had woken up to the news of Ajmal Kasab’s death. The news channels said it was a day to rejoice and that the man who claimed many lives in the Mumbai attacks had finally met his rightful fate. I remember my father mumbling something about how the government had done at least one good thing. The next few hours went on as usual, except for my head which kept saying funny things like, ‘here I was making coffee and there he was – dead’, ‘here I am arranging my books and there he was – dead’. I had read quite a bit about him in the four years that he had spent in prison. Every single account of him managed to show me how the man was only a victim of his own childish decisions and not really the savage psychotic killer he was framed to be. He came from a poor family and his brother sold Dahi Vada in a village in Pakistan. I had wondered if it tasted as good as the one I had from Krishna Sagar. No lawyer had been willing to fight for him until Anjali Waghmare stood up for his losing battle.

Amidst all the commotion, he seemed to me, like the loneliest man on Earth – a leftover. He had been the only surviving member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba team of attackers from 26/11. Pakistan refused to claim his body after his death, his family kept mum, apparently, even the rope that was used for his hanging was initially weaved by prisoners in Bihar for Afzal Guru’s hanging but when his death got postponed it was then used for Kasab. Apparently, even within the prison, he wasn’t allowed to interact much with other prisoners, the Indian government was paying quite a high fee to maintaining the young killer. I read that all he had asked for before his death was to contact his mother which didn’t take place. Apparently, he also asked for tomatoes and on being given a basket of it, he took two and ate one. There were endless discussions and claims of his final moments, of what he said and how he acted. With nobody to even take his carcass, his body had been buried in Pune’s Yerwada jail.

Another line that distinctly stuck in my memory was when a particular report said that Kasab had undergone a thorough medical examination the previous day and was declared ‘Medically fit to be hung’. The line had haunted me. I kept wondering what it even meant to say someone was physically fit enough to die. It had been a dull day. The facts are still hazy but that grainy picture is never leaving my head.

 

Posted in Film, Shabanazmmi, Nanditadas, Deepamahta,, fire, sex

Fire – A Review

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Self-assured is probably the best fitting word. I watched her on an interview on YouTube, elegantly seated on a beige couch, crossed-legged, her fingers transcribing in action, what she spoke in words. Deepa Mehta the Indo-Canadian filmmaker calls herself a cultural hybrid and says she’d rather be known as a citizen filmmaker of the world than be questioned on which nationality she belonged to more.

From her elementary series, I happened to watch fire and water. Fire was undoubtedly one of the best movies I’ve seen by far.

Fire stars Nandita Das (Sita) and Shabana Azmi (Radha) as two Indian housewives. The women find in each other a connection that they themselves find hard to comprehend. Both the wives are stuck in a loveless arranged marriage which pushes them to seek solace in each other. By the end of the first half of the film, the warm and caring relationship between the Sita and Radha start to ‘dangerously’ tip into a passionate romantic link. Sita’s character begins with her playing the role expected of a newlywed Indian bride. When she begins to get entwined in an amorous relationship with Radha, Sita’s character opens up to reveal itself as a woman who unabashedly claims her right to love and intimacy. To me, the beauty of her character lay in her courage to openly address her vulnerabilities.

Radha, on the other hand, was a woman who’d adapted to a sex-less marriage. Her husband remains her friend and they share a warm and beautiful friendship. Nevertheless, Radha feels disconnected from herself and the world. Lack of sex and bodily warmth from her husband seems to steal her off a certain amount of happiness which she, as a woman, seemed to have no right to demand. Initially, Radha fears Sita. She finds her questions and childish ways unnerving. Her fear slowly churns into fascination, creeping towards a desire to bury herself in Sita’s body. She finds in Sita a courage that she failed to muster up for herself. Although towards the end of the movie, roles reverse and it is Radha’s character that holds the seams of their relationship together.

So, why was the movie named ‘Fire’?

The Hindu tradition speaks of ‘fire’ or Agni as God playing a significant role in an Indian,  Hindu household. God Agni is constantly present in the house, like a watch dog. Agni is referred to as the purifier who stands witness to the chastity of women and accordingly decides their fate. In the Indian epic Ramayana, Sita – Rama’s wife who was forcibly taken away from her husband, upon her return to Ayodhya proves her chastity to the kingdom by performing the “Agni- Pareeksha”. This is a test where the accused is made to enter the fire and if she emerged alive she would be considered pure. Sita emerges victorious in this test and Rama accepts her. Similarly, in the film Fire, when Radha’s saree catches fire and yet she comes out alive which goes on to prove that what Radha did, didn’t seem immoral. A desperate Radha, in a blackened saree, kajal smudged face manages to drag herself into Sita’s waiting bosom. Thus by not killing Radha, Agni aligns itself and finds a purity in the relationship between the two women, simultaneously rejecting the ‘morally’ correct and institutionalized relationship between the women and their husbands.

The next idea of fire rises in the two characters. To me, it seemed like Sita and Radha both had a fire in them that burned with two different kinds of tensions, nevertheless finding in common the same fury.

Sita a young girl, indignant and charming, houses a fire that is at its fiercest rising. Within her, lies a flame ready to embrace or scar, depending on who approached it and with what mindset. She writhes with the heat of a young woman craving for sex and love.

Radha, on the other hand, represents the dying embers. She knows her fate or is rather living it. She has accepted it and yet she only needs one drop of kerosene to relight herself and burn with a sort of passion that she herself never knew she could.

Finally, there is the obvious depiction of fire that lies in the searing desire between the women. A desire, that sparks to life when Sita in a spontaneous moment, turns a perfectly platonic hug into a kiss that sets ablaze a myriad of emotions between the women.

Many critics have categorized Fire as a movie about lesbians. But the director rejects this claim, saying “I love the film Fire. I am proud of my film. The questions you raise prompted by your middle-class upbringing forces me to defend Fire. This is a situation I do not like at all. I am not obliged to defend anything in the film Fire. The question here is not whether one chooses to engage in homosexual and heterosexual relationships or whether one chooses to engage in only heterosexual relationships. The question is the necessity to choose a life of dignity and self-fulfilment.

To me, the passing of the Agni Pareeksha is one of the most significant moments in the film. It tells the tale of two women who manage to flee from a spiritually and emotionally bankrupt entanglement into one that fiercely knits them both together as one.

Post release, Fire created an uproar in India. The on-screen display of sexual feelings, which was tame by western standards, raised an extreme reaction from Hindu fundamentalists. Members of the BJP Party attacked and looted theaters in Delhi, Bombay, and several other cities. The press embarked on a battle between pro-Mehta and anti-Mehta supporters. The threat of violence hung in the air. To this Mehta’s reaction was such –”I did have supporters, but they, too, were intimidated and threatened. A group of doctors and lawyers in Bombay decided to put up posters around the city defending me. But no one in Bombay—a city of 11 million—would print the poster. They finally had to go all the way to Madras to find a printer who would take the job. It was that scary.”

For me, the movie left me in a sort of daze where I struggled to grasp a sense of what I was feeling. My young body and mind went through a roller coaster of emotions a few hours after the movie. Love wasn’t enough suddenly. Putting my feelings down to words on paper felt silly. I wanted to write my thoughts on shoulders, palms, and lips.

 

Posted in childooh, faith, god, pabuji, raika, rajasthan, religion

A Lonely Night of a Faithless Devotee

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I grew up with no religious beliefs drummed into me. My parents had decided not to stuff God and religion down my throat. For the longest time, I considered myself lucky. I thought I was free to choose or in fact free enough not choose at all.

Here I am in Rajasthan, in an unknown place, with unknown people. Last night was a very depressing night.

It was dark. I was in bed, cold, frigid and hopeless. I felt myself losing my self-confidence. I want to be a writer. Although lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m not good enough. I felt extremely lonely.

At such moments, I wonder if it helps to have blind unquestioning faith in someone or something. God, maybe? Would it have helped if I could sleep knowing that God will fix this by tomorrow? My education and rationality act as an impediment for me to instill my faith in something so intangible. I counter question, I analyze, I rationalize and knock myself on the head and tell myself that God doesn’t exist. But last night, all I wished was to be able to put my faith in a safe locker and know that it was going to be okay.

I’m reminded of one particular incident that took place during my childhood…

Until the age of 12, I used to spend few weeks in summer with my cousins. We were 5 hyperactive kids. We used to spend most of our day battling the sun and soil. By around 6pm just as the sky turned amber my aunt would holler from the little kitchen window. It was our cue to drop everything and sprint indoors. She would usher us in with a stream of strict instructions. We cramped into the little washroom under the staircase, scrambling about to reach the water pipe. Five of us would giggle and wriggle inside that tiny washroom. In lightning speed, we would be out of it too. Clean limbs, hurriedly washed faces, the water still dripping off the tips of my elder cousin’s hair, we would position ourselves in front of the small puja room. One of my cousins would light the lamp. Once the lamp was lit, all other lights in the house would be turned off and the smell of pear soap and agarbatti  (incense stick) would waft through the air. Up until this moment I was in tune with the happenings around me. Then they’d start the recital of shlokas. All of them knew it by heart. They would press their eyes shut, sit spine erect and sing a stream of Sanskrit words that made no sense to me. I remember the feeling of isolation that would sting me. They all knew something I didn’t. When one you’re 9yrs old this is a sure heartbreak. My ego, of course, wouldn’t let me show my embarrassment. I would sit hunched back, drawing dust circles on the floor. Occasionally, I would try and lip-sync with them but their speed of recital would be too overwhelming that after a minute I would resign to being a silent artist.  Back then, I pretended to be indifferent as if it didn’t matter to me but God knows it did.

Now, even in Rajasthan, after a long time I’m surrounded by this innocent blind faith yet again.  The Raika are religious people. They worship Lord Shiva. Their large amount of opium consumption was enough to prove this fact. The Raika follow a complex system of worship. Although Shiva is their main God they also worship local heros. One of the most fervently worshiped hero amongst them is Pabuji.

Pabuji, a Rajput chieftain belonged to the 14th century and lived in Kolu. Known to be the cattle God he was part of the Bhomiyo – ‘Cattle Heroes’. Songs in praise of Pabuji often echo the mountains and forests where the Raika camel herders graze their animals.

 

Another such local hero who gained divine status among the Raika is Mamaji. I visited a Mamaji temple, a small structure that stood discreetly by the side of the road. Few old men sat inside smoking a chillum and looked at me very skeptically. It was only later when I was told the story of the Bhopa that I took fascination to the little stone structure. The Bhopa is the person into whom god descends on every full moon day. There requires no criterion to become a Bhopa. A Bhopa realizes his identity by the time he is around 20. He does not represent a village or community nor he is not bound by caste or color. However, it is the Raika men who largely have a tendency of being Bhopas.

 

Every 15 days on the day of Chandnapak, the Bhopa visits Mamajiki-Mandir (Mamaji’s  temple). He sits down before the idol and begins his prayers. Soon the Bhav enters him. Bhav  refers to the possessed state of being that the Bhopa assumes after Goddess Durga has entered his body. Once Bhav possesses the Bhopa, his whole form alters. His voice changes, he grunts and hisses a lot, his body language becomes more authoritative. The Bhopa also follows a ritual where he flogs himself. After this, the he assumes his position on a stool. He is now ready to face the community.

For the men and women visiting the Bhopa, sitting on the pedestal is not a man but an incarnation of the Goddess herself. They now take turns to consult the Goddess about each of their worries. The Bhopa advises them with philosophical as well as practical solutions.

For an institutionalized sheep like me, this felt utterly superficial. Even as these stories were narrated to me, my mind buzzed with doubts and suspicions. How could one believe in God and such practices as the absolute truth?

However, last night while I lay so utterly hopeless, all I wished for was the ability to be able to believe something, anything. Somehow, I’ve only seen those men who believe in God be able to do this.  I wanted to simply close my eyes in prayer knowing that a miracle is bound to happen.

 

At the end of the day shouldn’t one’s education and conditioning equip one with hope and confidence more than anything? But at the end of the day, what has all this questioning and rationalizing given me?

“It has given me this night of hopeless loneliness. This night is the result of my intellectual capabilities that I strive so hard to achieve on most other days”, I thought to myself.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

The Raika – Breeders of Rajasthan

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The sun was setting as Parvathi patiently waited for her beloved Shiva to finish his meditation. As she waited, the demure woman began toying with the wet mud beneath her. Soon she molded a structure of a five-legged animal.  Once Shiva returned, she asked him to give pran (life) to the clay model. He breathed life into the structure and commanded it to ‘oot’. ‘Oot’ literally translates to ‘get up’ in Hindi. Camels in vernacular are referred to as ‘Oont’. However, due to the fifth leg, the animal struggled to walk. Immediately Shiva pushed the fifth leg into the stomach of the animal. This push created the hump on the camel’s back. The stomach became the bearer of the fifth leg. The myth justifies this by observing that the base of a camel’s stomach resembles the sole of its foot.  Soon enough the Oont began walking and because of its height, it could reach the leaves on trees. Parvathi realized that left alone, the humpback animal would soon bare the trees of all its leaves. A dismayed Parvathi turned to Shiva and asked him to create men to take care of the Oont. Shiva who had just returned from intense meditation was hot and sweaty. Rubbing his body he gathered a handful of chammad (sweat) and created the chammadi out of them – ‘men made from sweat’. These chammadi came to be christened as the Raika community.

This is the mythological story of the birth of the Raika.

Research on the origin of the Raika has resulted in revelations that the community has an Afghan lineage. Evidently, the Raika community belonged to a nomadic Muslim camel breeding tribe. On one of their migratory trips, this Muslim tribe entered India through Jaisalmer from Pakistan. A part of their tribe – the Raika ended up settling in different regions around Rajasthan. For the past 700 years the Raika community has inundated different parts of Rajasthan occupied a deep-seated position in the Indian caste system and transformed into devout worshippers of Lord Shiva.

The Raika are pastoralists who belong to the fourth tier in the hierarchy in their caste system. The caste system around rural areas of Rajasthan is structured as such –

  • The Rajput is the highest, most respected class of people. They belong to the royal family.
  • The Brahmins form the priestly class who receive Sanskrit education and perform the temple duties.
  • The Jhats comprise of the agriculturalists who own land and reap profits through them.
  • The Raika or Rebari community is bestowed with the responsibility of being the caretakers of the animals, mainly camels, goats, cattle, and sheep.
  • The Kumar are the potters. Kumars make a living from pottery and sculpting.
  • The Malli are the community of gardeners.
  • The Meghwals who are the scheduled caste, engage in an occupation of removing the skin of dead camels and making products from this.
  • The Harijan, who are almost equivalent to social outcasts are the manual scavengers of the village.

The Raika are an indigenous pastoral community to whom Rajasthan is home. About 1 million Raika population have settled in this North Western part of India. Even among the Raika there are two types – the Maru Raikas and the Godwada Raikas. The Maru Raika wear gold jewellery and have access to land ownership while the Godwada Raika wear silver jewellery and do not own land. They are also distinguished by the type of turban they adorn. The Maru Raika wears bright red or white turbans only while the Godwada Raika wears multi-colored ones.

For the Raika the camel is more than just a source of livelihood.  They do not believe in the slaughtering of camels and it is culturally banned. Traditionally, they never trade their female camels in order to maintain the purity of their breed. The camels play an integral role in the social and spiritual fabric of the Raika existence.

The Raika are a nomadic community. They spend 8 months of the year in migration. They tend to travel up north and sometimes south till Madhya Pradesh. For the 4 months of monsoon the Raika return to their villages in Rajasthan. It is during the monsoon season that most marriage ceremonies take place.

Life of the Raika is dependent on their access to forests, gauchar (village communal grazing lands) and oran (sacred groves attached to temples). The Raika apply traditional medical knowledge in taking care of their Camels. In a sense, the Raika are also known as caretakers of the forest. Their grazing patterns are based on traditional knowledge according to which they follow strict codes of rotation in their grazing routes.

The camel dung acts as manure for more green growth. Studies on the Raika grazing patterns have shown that their healthy grazing patterns have contributed to the growth and expansion of the surrounding forests.  Apart from forests being maintained by the Raika, they also give camel dung to farmers as manure. The existence of Raika near forest regions has even said to contribute to maintaining animal diversity in the Kumbhalgarh Sanctuary. Predators like leopards that roam the Sanctuary region prey on the Raika livestock. The Raika consider the hunted animals as a natural process of maintaining equilibrium in the ecosystem. If the customary rights of grazing are taken away, the leopards will soon encroach into villages due to lack of food.

The Raika community tends to be a close-knit one. Their years of experience with animals and nature have resulted in them amassing a vast amount of traditional knowledge. This traditional knowledge is one that has sprouted out of encounters with numerous natural disasters, forest fires, livestock loss, disease etc. Their solutions to these problems have been found in nature and the environment that surrounds them. Thus, their methods of dealing with disasters and problems tend to be eco-friendly, ensuring the maintenance of a natural equilibrium. Due to their dependence on the forests, they not only take care of their animals but also to the entire ecosystem of a region.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Unravelling the Phad

The slow and steady demise of an exquisite art form

devnarayan-ji phad painting
devnarayan-ji phad painting

As the sun makes its sojourn downward, the delicately folded Phad is unraveled. A Phad is a 15-20 foot horizontal piece of cloth on which an entire folk tale is depicted. The stories commemorate deeds of local heroes. Usually, the stories revolve around 2 main folk heroes – Pabuji and Devnarayan-ji.

Devnarayan-ji was a 10th century A.D hero and was known to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. His story is said to be very similar to that of Krishna’s. Pabuji, on the other hand, was a 14th century A.D hero. He was a local Rajasthani who abandoned his wife at the marriage pyre to keep up his promise of helping a woman from the Charan community save her cows. During his attempt to save the last calf, he died in the battle. According to the folk tale, Pabuji is said to have ridden his horse for close to 10km after his head was slain. A temple was erected where his body finally fell dead.  Both the men are titled as ‘Cattle Heroes’ who vehemently fought for the cows of their community and ended up giving up their lives in the attempt. Cattle heroes are collectively called Bhomiyo. Only some Bhomiyo become famous and achieve divine status.

Today, renowned Phad painting artists like Prakash Joshi, are expanding and exploring the art form further by creating Phad paintings that narrate tales of Durga, Sati, Ramayana, Mahaveer, Buddha and even the Krishna-Leela series.

Till date, the origin of the Phad remains a mystery.  This is because once a Phad becomes old and worn out it is destroyed by ceremoniously submerging it into the sacred lake of Pushkar. This is ritual is known as Thandi Karna. Hence, the earliest specimens of Phad paintings remain unavailable to us. The oldest Phad painting available today belongs to the late 19th century.

A Phad is ideally only painted during the monsoon season. This is done with the belief that the folk lords are asleep during this time. Traditionally it is painted only by people of a special cast – Chippa, also called Joshi. Ideally, only vegetable colors are used as paint for the Phad. This is because the natural colors remain fresh for a long duration. However, today the scarcities of these natural dyes compel Phad artists to use artificial or synthetic colors. While painting a Phad, only one color can be used at one time. Only once the complete usage of this color is done can the next color begin to be applied.

The initiation of a Phad painting is marked by a ceremony dedicated to Goddess Saraswati. Once a rough draft of the folk tale is drawn and perfected on the khadi cloth, all the figures are given a base color of yellow. This is called kachcha. Finally, the youngest virgin girl of the artist’s family is summoned. She makes the very first stroke on the Phad. This ritual is followed by a distribution of sweets.

Every available inch of the khadi cloth is covered with figures. Although the characters are harmoniously painted across the cloth, the significance given to each character depends on the social status and the role that the character plays in the story. Another intriguing feature of a Phad is that the characters never face the audience. All character represented on the cloth face each other.

A Phad painter does not paint the eyes of the main figure until he hands it over to the Bhopa. The Bhopa is the performer-priest who uses the Phad to perform the tale depicted on it. At the time of handing over of the Phad to the Bhopa, the painter draws the eyes of the main character and adds the name of the Bhopa to the Phad.

Traditionally, the art of painting a Phad was never taught to girls. The painters feared that the skill would stray out of their family when women who were taught the art were sent after marriage into other families. The men would pick up the skill as they would be handed paint and cloth while they were young to experiment and learn with. Most young boys would spend a lot of time around their fathers and thus automatically be gifted with a flair for the art.

Once the Phad is handed over to the Bhopa, the exquisitely painted Phad is brought alive with music, dance and narration. The Bhopas belong to the Bhopa caste and are the men who perform the tale depicted on the Phad. The Bhopa usually adorns a red baga (Skirt), Safa (Turban), a red bagatari (A long Shirt) and ties Ghunghroo(anklets with bells) to his ankles. He uses traditional instruments like the ravanhatta or jantar to sing the folk songs. He is assisted by his wife, the Bhopi, who holds an oil lamp and illuminates different parts of the Phad as the Bhopa sings and dances.  Using the intricately designed Phad the Bhopa, the performer priest begins the Phad Bachna – ‘Narration of the legend’.  The Bhopa usually begins the narration by singing the lura, which refers to hymns of the folk hero. The performance begins once the sun sets and continues till sunrise. It takes up to 4-7 nights of performances to complete the narration of a single tale. Traditionally the Bhopa and Bhopi used to travel from one village to another, pitching their Phad at a central location in the village and performing it for locals.

Unfortunately, today India is left with only about 13 traditional Phad painting artists. People do not understand the value or the intricate work that goes into making a Phad. Most Phad artists today earn income from exhibitions, workshops, and classes. Artists are heartbroken at the current social value of Phad paintings. They believe that the government must put more effort in the form of funding and sponsorship to Phad artists. Phad artists are often called by the government to conduct 3-4month workshops in teaching the art. However, these artists are bound for this time period by a contract that restricts them to take up any other external work in terms of workshops or exhibitions. This arrangement is not financially viable for Phad artists as most of their income and networking happen during exhibitions and workshops.

Also, the market today does not give sufficient exposure to the Phad art form. For most consumers the cloth becomes a mere add-on accessory to the interiors of a room.

It is a pity to note that such a rich cultural legacy is vanishing at such a rapid rate. The creation and presentation of the Phad is more than just an entertaining activity. The entire procedure from the first stroke on the cloth to the last step of the Bhopa is done undertaken with a spiritual dedication. During the performance of the Phad the Bhopa becomes a priest and the Phad becomes a mobile shrine.

 

Posted in development, rural, sanskritization, thigalas

The Thigalas of the Hills

_MG_8977HaleKote is a small hamlet of Durgadahalli in Devarayanadurga, located 20kms off Tumkur, Karnataka. There are about 60 families, most of the members happen to be descendants of three large families. They speak Kannada.

HaleKote is a homogeneous village with its entire population belonging to a single caste – Thigalas. But some of them, for instance, Naggamma ajji would claim that they were not originally Thigalas.

The origin of the true Thigalas themselves has been highly debated through time.

A search on Wikipedia reveals that it was King Hyder Ali who encouraged and brought the Thigalas to Bangalore so that they could plan and construct Lal Bhag – the mighty flower garden of Bangalore.

In another article published by ‘The Hindu’, Niranjana Ramesh states that Thigalas were responsible for the popular inscriptions on the walls of the Begur Temple. She goes to claim that it is a sadly less known fact that these inscriptions were carefully carved out by the Christian community of Thigalas who resided there more than four centuries ago. In due time, it was Tipu Sultan who brought the Thigalas to Bangalore, who eventually became responsible in transforming Bangalore into – The Garden City.

On the contrary, some believe that it was Kempe Gowda, the feudatory ruler of the Vijayanagara Empire, who led the Thigalas into Bangalore. Kempe Gowda established Bangalore as his capital and got the Thigalas to help him convert the city into a city of flowers.

One thing in common amongst all Thigalas that came into Bangalore city was that, they all spoke Kannada interlaced with a slight mix of Tamil.

The most factual record of the Thigalas so far is that, a Karnataka state government order issued in 1994 that all Thigalas were a sect of Backward Hindu Caste. Although it was only in 2001 that the residents of HaleKote were included into the Indian caste system by casting them off as Thigalas.

So where do the Thigalas of HaleKote come from?

Some of the people I met in HaleKote vividly recall their grandfathers and granduncles being hunters. They also recall of hearing stories of being descendants of people of the hills, the tribals. They told me that their ancestors lived on the hills and hunted for food. The only reason why they would occasionally come down had been for water, which a mighty well at the bottom of the hill provided. Today, they live at the foot of same Devarayanadurga hills. In due time, Bangalore became the Silicon Valley of India and got inundated with people from across the world. With the city getting crowded and land becoming scarce, it was no surprise that the government soon began looking at expanding the city. Tumkur became one of the first targets under this expansion project. Between the years of the founding of Siddaganga Institute of Technology in 1963 and the later laying of Nice Road in 2014, regions in and around Tumkur began getting much more accessible and developed. During these years of development in Bangalore, urban invasion forced the tribals to come down from the hills. These tribals transformed from food gatherers to food growers. Thus, they got engulfed into the Hindu system as Thigalas of HaleKote. Thigalas, the flower and vegetable reapers.

It has only been about 60-70 years since they have made their way downhill and settled down as villagers and already, they are faced with the enticements of the city of Bangalore. Most villages in India face this enticement today. But this luring of the city has happened after years of living as villagers rooted in their own unique culture for long enough. And this forming of a deep rooted identity is what the Thigalas of HaleKote unfortunately have not had the time for. While some Thigalas of HaleKote today work as carpenters, plumbers, painters, or even in different companies in the city of Tumkur, most of the population are largely agriculturalists. But even through this process of change and adoption of various occupations other than just farming, a large part of Thigalas still hold on to various tribal practices. For example – hunting; some of the Thigalas still go up the hills and hunt for animals and birds.  Hence, it is probably right to say they are stuck in a labyrinth. Not necessarily in an uncomfortable one but still a labyrinth.

By far their transient transition from tribals to villagers has been consistent and smooth. But although they have been casted off as Thigalas they still remain a distinct sect because of their tribal lineage. For example, villagers of HaleKote, after coming down from the hills, worship Goddess Maramma. Maramma is said to be an incarnation of Draupadi and most Thigalas around the country worship her. But HaleKote has personified Maramma and represented her in the form of a large stone deity whose features are ill-defined. This is in contrast to most Goddess’s in the Hindu culture, who have explicit physical features. The reason for this physical ambiguity can be attributed to the fact that the Thigalas of HaleKote, as tribals mostly worshipped stones and trees as it was these forces of nature that guarded and protected them and hence it made sense to pay homage to them.

When I asked Nagamma ajji, the second eldest woman of HaleKote, of the story of the origin of Thigalas, she had a rather interesting tale. This is what she told me:

“One day when Shiva and Parvathi were sitting together, Shiva began to feel very hungry and requested Parvathi to prepare a meal for him. When Parvathi entered the kitchen, she found to her dismay that there were no vegetables to cook. On complaining about this to Shiva, Shiva thought for a while and requested her to give him seven days’ time. It was in those seven auspicious days that Shiva created the Thigalas. He asked us to grow vegetables and become the source of life to him and Parvathi.”

I believe that the Thigalas are at a very interesting phase. A phase that we don’t very often get to witness at such a rapid rate. Although, residents of HaleKote truly believe their identity to be that of Thigalas, there is no doubt that the evidence of their tribal background still (consciously or unconsciously) transude into their lives. It would be fascinating to watch the direction of the growth of these vegetable and flower growers. As much as they hold on to their Hindu identity, the question still remains if – Will the Thigalas of HaleKote rise to a day when they manage to fully and thoroughly sanskritize themselves into the Hindu system and find their place in it? Or will they eventually carve out their own distinct niche that sets them apart from the other Thigalas?

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Posted in information, new media, rural, technology, villages

New Media and Real India

“The real India lives in her seven hundred thousand villages” – Mahatma Gandhi

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If this were to be true then to understand the true role of New Media in this nation, it only seems fair to know what the real India thinks of New Media.

But…

I begin with a finding. I found that as I searched on the internet for what rural India thought of New Media I didn’t find any satisfying answer. Every write up about rural perception of New Media was written, revised and interpreted by an urbanite. This urban perception on what rural India thought, seemed to largely lean toward justifying a statistic that he/she may have collected from that region.

Where money rests, so does power. Hence because the upper middle class of the nation control the media, industries and foreign relations they tend to become the face of India. Although, rural population consists of close to two-thirds more population than the urban, there isn’t much voice being heard or even being spoken by this majority.

Payal Arora in her research postulates that ‘information poverty = rural poverty’. Is it possible that we have risen to a day were it is the dearth of information and your incapacity to access it that defines your status in society? Poverty, I assume is when you feel just as poor as people judge you to be. Does rural India really feel this information poverty? And if they don’t, then they do not feel as poor as we judge them to be. Could it possible that they are not in as much thirst for information as we think they are? Maybe, there is a contentment that already prevails there. Thus, in this case making information available to them and almost enticing them to use it, would be creating a demand and not catering to a need.

I’d like to draw a parallel between the process of information gathering before new media and the process of food gathering before the age of food growing. In both these processes of gathering one goes out, seeks, finds, gathers and returns. And each of these stages has a deep physical and emotional process that man is pushed into, because of his imperative need. Also, the process enables the gatherer to encounter with other people, other physical environments, other thoughts and perceptions which lead to gathering information/food becoming a rather holistic experience. But today, the availability of instant information which new media now makes possible, robs man of this experience of gathering information.

It is an age old belief that we tend to value something more preciously when we’ve gone into lengths in order to possess it. Could it be possible that making information available so easily also leads to lowering the value of it?

As I see it, New Media has reached its puberty stage in urban areas. I use the word ‘puberty’ because, with puberty I associate high emotions, questioning nature, rebelliousness, speed, disasters and through it all a growth. And that seems to be exactly what is happening with New Media in most metropolitan cities today. With rural areas it is still a new born baby where it is still finding its own ground to stand on.

In the journal ‘The machine to aspire to: The computer in rural south India’ by Joyojeet Pal, he states that after conducting a detailed study in the villages of south India he observed that owning a computer itself brought the family a social upliftment. Joyojeet Pal said “Specifically in schools, where this research was conducted, we found that computers played a much larger role than just as a delivery mechanism for digital educational material since they represented an aspirational artifact to children and parents alike.”

Ever since New Media spilt into urban areas, urban landscapes have been through dramatic changes. It began with adoption of new media into different professional areas and eventually it made its way into our personal lives. Soon it started getting involved with how we physically operate and now interjects even into our mental and emotional spaces.

A shift in mentality can be observed in how cities began with a concept of consistent and steady growth and development which has now transformed into a culture of ‘consume it while it lasts’.

Cities are supposed to have fast and efficient transportation and connectivity. Interjection of New Media in cities brought in a whole new dimension of speed, transportation (of information) and connectivity (inter and intra city).

How does such a medium of New Media affect a rural region? Is the rural India really looking for new dimensions of speed and connectivity or are they looking at enhancing their already existing lifestyle? If so, what is an enhanced lifestyle for them?

Although New Media in terms of availability is available to all, it definitely is not accessible to all. New Media requires equipment and knowledge of how to use it which can only largely be afforded by the urban class of society due to their higher standards of living accompanied with education. In today’s world the inability to comprehend or use new media technology can almost cut one off from a major dimension of society and isolate them into a world of ignorance.

As per Census in 2011 it was found that 377.1 million people are urbanites as opposed to 833.5 million living in rural spaces. Now, is this large majority empowered with the knowledge of new media usage? Education itself has not reached homogeneously across this nation. Education is the only tool that can bring about a new understanding in a mass method. Although out of curiosity, for convenience and maybe even desperation there are those rural people who have managed to understand the know-how of new media usage to certain extent.

From this entire research processes, one thing stands out clearly. New Media has thrown the real India into a dark corner and thrust them deeper under the heavy blanket of discrimination and inequality? Because, while New Media attempts to represent itself as a platform that is strongly non-discriminatory in terms of who accesses it, in reality, it seems to have brought about a whole new dimension of poverty, reinforcing the stark differences between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.