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.

 

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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.

 

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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 Uncategorized

How Mr.Kenneth Sebastian got sexist, got offended, blocks me and then seeks some cheap fame

I watched a comedy show last night. I got offended. Before I tell you why, let me set the context.

I had wanted to spend a good night with my friends. I’d heard of how hilarious ‘The Improvisers’ were and decided to see for myself. I was sure in for an eventful night. The first 45mins they kept me laughing and after that I just ended up exchanging glances with my friend wondering if we were the only ones in the room feeling awkward. It started with Mr.Kannan Gill, on a more serious note (Thank god for that) revealing the fact that anyone could buy a prostitute in Kolkata with just Rs.7. But then things got ugly, at least for me and my friends. They took turns, Abish Mathew, Kaneez Surka, Kannan Gill and, the man of the hour, Mr.Kenneth Sebastian, to make an attempt to tickle the crowd by dragging it to a whole new level. They wondered out loud, what a prostitute could serve a man for Rs.7. This made one of them answer that she gives him one ‘shot’ which if I rightly understood means, one ejaculation. So they went on to wonder what Rs.49 would give them! Not yet offended? Wait, there’s more. In their act, the boyfriend and girlfriend walk into the prostitutes area only to encounter the mother of the girlfriend, who apparently has been working there as a prostitute. This encourages them to pursue an improvised dialog session where one of them asks the mum “How was your day?” and the other person (that is, the mum) responds, “Oh I’m so fucked.”

Personally, I cannot stand and watch people talk about women that way. So I messaged Mr.Kenneth Sebastian, on Facebook, saying I enjoyed the first half but felt that the second half got a bit sexist. He replied instantly and this led to us having a heated conversation where he kept assuring me that he is NOT offended but had to go on explaining what he thought of ‘people like me’. Not to mention, he ends the conversation by telling me how busy he is and how his time is extremely precious and that I shouldn’t go watch the show if I get so easily offended. Basically, he brushed me off by saying ‘Take a joke woman!’. He blocked me after this. In a minute my friend told me he’d posted a screenshot of our conversation with a caption that read:

You are not a real comedian till someone accuses you of being a sexist

#MyMomIsProud

#ConversationNeverEnded

He posted this on twitter and on his Facebook page and profile. There are a couple of things that are disturbing here.

Firstly, he is proud of being a sexist? And this, readers, is our ‘broad minded, liberal thinking, slightly famous’ Indian. Secondly, it’s cheap beyond belief how he posted a very convenient part of our conversation, the part that would boost his ego. Thirdly, this is a huge breach of privacy. There is a reason why there’s an option to post on the wall and send a message Mr.Kenneth Sebastian! You should have at least had the basic decency to crop out my name if you were so desperate to soak in the glory of being called a sexist. Fourthly, He blocks me. Ha! If you really had the courage Mr.Kenneth Sebastian you shouldn’t have blocked me, you should have been brave enough to face my backlash at you. And let me remind you readers, this was from the man who claimed not to be so easily offended by some ‘random stranger’ on Facebook. I mean, clearly this man can’t handle criticism of any sort. Keeping quiet and not responding to me at all would have earned him more respect than portraying himself as an immature attention seeking person.

I’m also shocked by the audience! They were all, I’m sure, coming from a decently educated background and I looked around and these men and women are laughing their heads off at such a derogatory joke. Yes, I know some of you out there believe that one must leave their brains home while going to watch comedy. I’m sorry, but I won’t leave my self-respect or morals back home even if it is to watch comedy. Some say, I’m being a spoil sport or over analysing. Let me clarify to you here, that I love comedy. But do it with some class. And putting a price on a woman is NOT classy! I enjoy witty jokes. And making derogatory perverted jokes does not make you witty!

Anything that involves addressing a mass audience has been proved to have the power of mobilisation. Be it a political speech or even mere comedy. And people who do address the audiences in any which way must have some sense of moral responsibility. I emphasize again, there’s nothing wrong with pulling someone’s leg and enjoying a joke. But there is a line you draw. We are all at a point where we are witnessing and being part of this revolutionary movement of attaining a just and equal society. How easily we blame the judicial system or the government of this country but we fail to remember that to attain a society like that it is most important for us to have an attitudinal shift not a mere altering of some laws. And, attitude comes from what you see, what you experience, your culture, the kind of people you spend your time with and even from something as small as what kind of jokes you laugh at. There is a deep rooted conditioning that gets drawn from these attitude forming patterns.

After reading the comments a man (whom I hold respect for, because he was the only one who chose to listen to my side of the story) messaged me and expressed that it’s difficult now because he really has to filter his thoughts before talking. I’m saying, if you are a non- sexist you won’t have to filter. You will just be a non-sexist.

Mr.Kenneth Sebastian, I know new found fame does give you a high. It probably makes you feel more powerful as compared to ‘some random stranger’ on Facebook. You have no basic decency, can’t handle criticism and seems like you’d stoop down to any level for some more of that tasty fame.

And let me get this straight. I am NOT a feminist who has misunderstood the word ‘feminism’. I AM NOT a feminist asking for superiority of women but a feminist seeking for equality for women.

Readers, I recommend you go read the comments below Mr.Kenneth Sebastian’s post on his profile (not his page) which is even more disappointing. The kind of response people have been giving is unbelievable. Some of us just got attacked by the male chauvinists of this nation (and that too, just a handful of them).

Since you(Kenneth Sebastian) anyway don’t believe in privacy, I’m sure you’re okay with me posting our entire conversation.

Since you(Kenneth Sebastian) anyway don't believe in privacy, I'm sure you're okay with this.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Man Vs Man. And the grave we dug for ourselves, to ourselves, by ourselves.

It was the smell of rotting flesh that made me turn around. I hadn’t smelt human flesh before and prepared my mind to find the decaying body of a dead cat or rat. But my eyes were met with a sight that will probably never leave my mind in this lifetime. An old man, wrinkled by age and life sat staring into space with a large hole in his shin; big enough to fit two fists in it, sat on the ledge of platform no.4 of Shivajinagar bus station. The wound must have been a week old, the strong stench and fresh blood had attracted flies and worms to starting eating out of it. But the poor man’s stomach was empty. I had to sit down and digest the sight before me, before I could react.
I had seen misery. But this one I couldn’t walk away from. I looked around and saw two people who came and clicked pictures of him. What was he an item on show? I picked up a waste cloth and gave it to him asking him to cover his wound, offered him with food and then water when he put a weak hand to his mouth signaling me for some liquid. And then began my ordeal with…what shall I say? The system? Myself? The religious-god fearing-humanitarian-compassionate-intellectual society?
I called up close to five NGO’s claiming to help aged people but everybody washed their hands off with petty reasons, I called up Deccan Chronicle newspaper hoping they would be able to give me some helpline numbers but here was the receptionist’s response to my questions.
After explaining the situation, she listen and said “Sorry ma’am, we are not a helpline”
After I cleared her ‘misconception’, She told me “Sorry ma’am, its 8:30am and there is nobody in the office now. And I’m a receptionist and I can’t do anything.“
After asking her to search her human side and give me a number of someone who could help me out, she gave me the number of a reporter who ended up never picking up my calls.
After a few more calls to NGO’s I was given the number of a ‘humanitarian’ who responded to my call with a message that said “I’m in a meeting”. I explained the situation, saying this man needed serious medical care and she responded saying “sorry. I’m in a meeting” ; to which I asked her “since you and me are busy with meetings shall I leave the poor man to die?” . Then she said she would meet me in an hour at the spot. I let my stupid society-conditioned mind take over for a minute and it told me I’m late for college and can’t afford to lose attendance. I asked the man to stay put and left. I reached college restless and distressed. I need to cry. It came out when my teacher asked me why I was late. I realized I had to go back. I was ashamed of myself for leaving. I told her so and she said “Disease and old age are a part of life. But if you feel you must finish what you started then leave. Preferably take a friend along.”
Taking a kind friend along with me we waited at the bus station for another hour with this humanitarian not responding to my calls. She finally picked up and told me her meeting would go on till 2pm and she couldn’t get out. I felt hopeless.
I took to my last resort and dialed 100, the police. They came in 15mins later, sauntering in with an indifferent air; I approached them and instantly got scanned by their eyes before being rudely asked why they were called, like I had rudely woken them up from a wonderful little dream. After explaining the situation they seemed furious that I had called them. Before brushing me aside, they said “Madam if you are so kind why don’t you take him to the hospital yourself? This man is here every day and we don’t drive him away because he is old. Is this why you called us here? Isn’t there a college or school you have to be at right now?” Finishing their little speech they walked away to get some coffee, leaving me speechless. I sat down again fuming with rage and desperation. The police had been my last resort. They were supposed to be looking after their people. They were supposed to help the helpless. Instead they left people feeling even more helpless.
Finally a friend of mine who was helping me get more helping numbers urged me to try this one last helpline. It was a run by Nightingale Medical Trust along with the Bangalore police. It had been almost 3 hours since I had begun and this was my final call and I had hardly any hope left. They responded to my call by saying they would take care of it and inform the police and take action and I in the meantime could leave the scene. When I heard the word police the last sliver of hope I had also evaporated.
I put the phone down thanked my friend and sent her off, walked to the other end of the bus station to get away from the inquisitive police gaze and sat down with my hand in my head. How was I to go home and sleep? How was I to come back to this station and see the old man tomorrow? How was handle his gaze when he looked at me with pain? How was I to live with this guilt? Will I ever feel safe anywhere anymore? How was I going to be happy without being guilty anymore?

Trying to quieting my bickering head I walked back into the station to take a bus and leave. Suddenly I saw an ambulance in front of the man. There were two elderly men and two male nurses and the very ‘responsible’ police men standing around talking. A small crowd had gathered. I approached them claiming responsibility for the call and asking them what was going to happen. The elderly man representing the helpline told me they would take him to Bowring hospital. The old man suddenly came out of his state of numbness. He was put in the stretcher and as the responsible and dedicated men of society discussed a plan of action, we had a moment. The man folded his arms looked at me and began silently sobbing; his whole body shook with what seemed to me like relief. It looked to me like all the faith, hope and pain that had seeped out of his body due to forced acceptance of cruel reality was all over again suddenly flowing back into his veins in full force. I looked back at him folding my own hands, hot tears rolling down my own face and felt all the hope, faith and trust I had in me seep slowly out of my body.
After the ambulance left I turned to the policemen who had approached me, all of a sudden with this sudden found kindness and empathy to discuss what a pitiful situation it was, and I asked them “this is all you had to do sir, what was so hard about it?” and the uniformed men of safe keeping told me “We also feel very sad madam but we didn’t know what to do. You see madam he spoke Tamil and we couldn’t understand anything as we don’t speak Tamil.”
I’ll leave you to think about it. Before scoffing at the system, the police, the people who clicked the pictures (Who most definitely need to be scoffed at and questioned) let’s look at ourselves (Myself included) and see how many situations like these we have walked out of. And how many times we thought ourselves to be very compassionate when we sat down over a few drinks or coffee with friends or family and explained a horrific situation, telling them how bad we felt. Or the times we thought of ourselves very intellectual while debating over how screwed up our society and system is, concluding the debate by telling each other that this country won’t change.
The question is. Will you?