Monday, July 16, 2007 1 reflections

Skin Trouble

Skin Trouble
© 2007, ShaKri

BEFORE YOU, dear reader, make the effort to decipher what mystical zone I attempt to explore this time allow me to tell you about this man I know. Let us call him – Scotty. Scotty is from New Zealand and is currently employed with a firm in the United Kingdom. And one day he decides to make a trip to the boiling curry pot - India. A few surprises and confusions later he boards the bus to see the Taj Mahal from New Delhi one bright morning.

What I have just shared with you might not sound too far fetched for a foreigner. Almost everyone who is an alien to our land pretty much does the same thing. With their backpacks laden with all their belongings from the hotel room, they roam each street and observe each corner trying to immerse themselves into that magic they seem to have been promised. They smile when we smile. They look away when we frown.

What made me think about these foreigners is my encounter with Scotty. If you haven’t already guessed then yes – I was on the same bus towards the Taj under a merciless summer sun last month. The moment we got out of the air conditioned Volvo bus, the air outside enveloped us as if we were being given a warm (quite!) hug. As I paced along towards the wonder of the world, I managed to get acquainted with Scotty. He was in India on official business and was traveling to Agra for the first time. He was married to a Hispanic girl from Colombia and was into database administration for a communication network. I, being a techie myself, found several dots to connect in that fifteen minute walk we took. It seemed that Scotty and I had several things in common. Both of us were living in countries away from home. He in the UK and me in Denmark. Both of us were global nomads. Both of us enjoyed the same professional choices we had made and yes – both of us were in love with our families. We exchanged courteous humor as we unconsciously bonded in this brief encounter. For a moment…we were so alike.

The moment we approached the main entrance to the Taj Mahal was when it happened. I was shocked to realize that ‘foreigners’ (read people with skin that did not look ‘Indian’) had to cough up Rs.750/- to see the same spectacle I would relish for Rs.25/-. Right then…with that one gesture we were as different as we could get. What made me sad was that we who whine about being racism targets abroad were doing the same thing ourselves.

Ironic, I thought and moved on.

Sunday, July 15, 2007 3 reflections

namma Metro? Really?

namma Metro? Really?
© By Shashi Krishna

THE BUZZWORD WHEN I was in Bangalore last summer was 'Metro'. As my enthusiastic father filled me in on the 'namma metro' project, I too, like most of my fellow Bangaloreans, basked in the joy of being part of such convenience and style. One more jewel in Bangalore's headdress, I thought. Gone would be the days of three-wheeled robbery of our hard earned income and the never ending struggle to use decent public transportation. No more would one frown upon just the thought of getting out of the house when images of traffic beyond logic would flash in their minds. A perfect answer, it seemed, to an age old puzzle.

But that was last year. This summer, I happened to be in New Delhi for a few days. While there a resident suggested that I try out their local metro system. 'You absolutely must take a ride in our Metro,sir' – he said with a grin that went all the way back to Bangalore's noisy morning streets. I frowned, bringing cynicism back into my eyes, since I was certain that in four years of its existence, Delhi Metro would have become a place haunted by the incorrigible lack of civic sense we are infamous for the world over. The unmistakable hint of human refuse laced with the decorative patterns of paan masala and other colorful outputs we paint our best cities with were sure to greet me into this joyride I was being promised. The moment I began my descent into the Metro station at Rajeev Chowk, I was bracing myself for a nightmare. Or worse.

And then it happened. It was like a roaring fresh water stream in the heart of an intense rainforest. Right there in the middle of the humming interiors of the Delhi Metro, I had an epiphany. India is what it is because of its citizens. If we really want to maintain something well, then we do. If we don't want to, then we ensure it is abused from all corners. The reason I was exploding with such reflections was because Delhi's Metro system is better (and I say this because I have been there too) than England's Underground tube system. Those of you who just rolled your eyes at that statement need to head to Delhi sometime and you will see for yourself. Coming from a madman race we call traffic in Bangalore, Delhi Metro seemed like a well choreographed ballet to me. It did not seem to matter how many tens of thousands were traveling at one time since each one of them was paying attention to instructions and following rules. The interiors of the gleaming stations and the trains roaring past patient passengers were clean and pleasant. People were displaying such responsible behavior that I could do nothing more than cringe at the thought of a similar scene back home.

In all my travels in Bangalore over the past few weeks I have seen nothing but serious traffic violations. Everything from accidents due to rash driving, honk crazy motorists, inconsiderate and impatient four wheel drivers, horrific overtaking, lack of helmet use with the police in sight, verbal abuse of people who actually do follow the rules, irresponsible jay walking and many more! I smiled in wonderment as I could not imagine Bangaloreans behaving in such orderly fashion even if it meant being part of something as grand and global as a well planned Metro system. Having gotten used to reckless chaos, orderliness could possibly be our biggest challenge.

Bangalore is definitely ready for the Metro… but are Bangaloreans?


Sunday, July 08, 2007 2 reflections

The Complete Outsider

EVERY DREAM HAS A PRICE is an expression that echoes in my mind as I pen this piece. Whoever knew that being able to achieve something noble in life would bring so much disappointment? What wisdom would spread the halo for the fact that success in one meant failure in the other? Which tree should I have sat under and attained an enlightening that being away from home would mean being away from almost everything?

Things were not always like this. Earlier in my much adored ‘NRI’ life, friends and family seemed a lot closer from my apartment in Caracas than they had ever seemed when I was among them. Whenever I came here, as sporadically as that might have been, I always felt welcome. There was no place in the world that has this effect on me. Home is after all home and there is nothing that can replace it.


But is this a variable? What happens when a person reaches a stage in life when the definition that holds this variable in place starts to dwindle? What if home no longer feels like one? How can one possibly try and explain the fact that despite the love and affection, in spite of the obvious shades of genuine friendship in the air, one still wants more? There is no easy answer for this. Why? Because people living at home will never be able to understand what it means to be an outsider.

I returned home this summer again. Loads of plans, tons to do, exciting and prioritized goals in mind. But a week into my stay at home and I started realizing that nine out of ten plans were almost impossible to do. Why? Because no one had time for me anymore and hence my wants were now minimal.

I suddenly figured out my role in this 5-week play I host each summer. I was an outsider now. Officially I was no longer part of the local crowd who knew it all. I didn’t know the jokes, I was unfamiliar with the slang and I could no longer call people just because I felt like it. Everything was now a planned timetable that I was supposed to follow. Relationships were now an appointment I had to keep.

A tear escaped my dry eye as the facts of this story fell into place. I no longer had any circle of trust left. No one shared their secrets with me. No one considered me their confidant. I had missed out so many weddings, parties, reunions and engagements for so many years that now no one missed me anymore. I was no longer the inside man. I was the outsider…the complete outsider.

I sigh now as I finish this piece since I know that in a few weeks I will be wrapped in a new job, a new city, a new life and yet no one will probably understand what that’s like for me. I am afraid this is the consequence of my dream – a bitter one at best as I head out of this nothingness once more.