Friday, April 29, 2011

Monkey mayhem!

This morning my friend and colleague Sushma texted me to say she would be coming in late to the office. Given that we all deal with such things as children's exams, admissions, dropping them off some place and picking them up at another, I did not think much of it, and did not ask why. But when she did come in, with a somewhat harassed expression, we just had to sit down and listen to why.

The corridor outside her house, a green space of potted plants and a bird's nest, a sort of oasis in her urban high-rise, had been totally trashed by rampaging monkeys! Thinking the abundant greenery housed more than just pretty leaves, a gang of four hefty monkeys tore through the vines, pulled down cables that interfered with their search, and finally broke some pots in anger, not having found any fruit or other comestibles. When they finally ran away, Sushma and her husband were faced with a disaster coloured in terracotta and spotted green--bits of broken pots, scattered mud, leaves and tendrils torn and hanging everywhere....

"Our telephone line has snapped," cried one irate neighbour."Make sure you clean our balcony too, there are bits of broken pots here too," said another, one floor below. "My television isn't working--it's your responsibility to see the cable is up and running," demanded a third.

"But when people have a problem like this, don't the neighbours help?" I asked.

"Well, they blamed us for having so many pots and leading the monkeys to think there may be fruit behind all that greenery," said Sushma.

So Sushma and her husband Anup spent the next hour gathering the debris, cleaning their space then then their neighbours', and fixing whatever cables they could, while angry neighbours either looked on or walked away.

The incident brought up several questions, some directly related and others (in the manner thoughts run across mental networks) not.

First of all, why do people immediately jump on others, blaming instead of looking to see how they could work together? Don't they see that this could happen to anyone, that monkeys could have just as easily come to the first floor or anywhere else and created the same havoc there. As on an earlier "invasion" in Sushma's house, the monkeys could have taken a look inside a fridge, sampled their dal and curry, and made a royal mess of their kitchens. When something happens, in our homes, in our streets, in our neighbourhoods, why is the first impulse to look for whom to blame rather than to see what we can do to take care of the situation? Fixing blame can help us find out why it happened and perhaps try to ensure that it doesn't happen again, but it does not help take care of the situation that has arisen in the moment. For that we just need to set aside the why and pitch with a how and a what!

Secondly, how do monkeys experience urbania? What is it that prompts them to leave the shelter of their trees and jump into our homes? Sushma tells me that in this case, the monkeys may have mistaken the lush potted foliage outside her door for a tree-like growth, and they were hoping to find something edible among the leaves. In Hyderabad, and in many other Indian cities, monkeys are not an unusual sight, sometimes travelling in large groups, complete extended families, settling down on terraces and in parks where we see mothers tending to young ones, and aggressive males scouring the dumps and margins of homes for food. Summers seem to bring them out into the city in larger numbers, maybe because of the arid conditions in what's left of our surrounding forests. Just as people travel to the city seeking jobs in the off seasons of agriculture, they too come here for sustenance. And when they don't find it in the "natural" places they move into what we consider our preserve, the built up forests of the city.

All sorts of boundaries blur in the relentless growth of the city. And some new walls are built. We may as well accept that if we destroy the countryside to gain new plush gated communities, some of us will have to deal with the living things that used to populate those areas. So as we move outward, searching for pristine spaces in which to create our billboard communities, the monkeys move further into the city, claiming all manner of spaces where they can find the one thing they are looking for--food.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Summer arrives in Hyderabad, with Haiku

The trees along the road, overlooking people's compound walls, peeping over the crumbling walls of historic sites, and of course, the view from my balcony...all have together given me some great moments the past few weeks. And so the Haiku emerges, distracting me, of course, from the traffic, but also bringing a smile to my lips as I navigate the rushing hours of the day.  The very amateurish photos are grabbed by me as I rush through the day. 

Please read this as a work in new images and words come together, they will find their way here. And I must mention the debt of gratitude I owe my friend Sadhana, whose enthusiasm for the wonders of nature is infectious! 
Quotidian joys:
the purple jacaranda
against the blue sky

Copper pods burst into
flame, blazing a bold yellow
along the highway

Silver oaks witness
Traffic’s mad, rude rowdy rush
To distant nowheres
The rain trees' branches 
spread their generous arms
like waiting grandfathers


An open blossom
reveals a whole world within
--faith, beauty, and peace

The pink touched blooms of
the temple tree now welcome 
summer’s mango scent
Swinging mangoes wait 
pregnant with pungent promise--
green to yellow soon!

Overhead, around
it’s blooming summer, smiles, sweat...
holidays arrive!

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Power of the Fast, the Power of Poetry

For the past few days, one of the "last men standing" in the name of Gandhi has been fasting in Delhi. His protest has captured the minds and hearts of millions of people across this country, sparking rallies in support and signature campaigns to add power to the very simple demand he is making: to enable a mechanism to fight corruption in politics and other public institutions. Civil society groups in most parts of the country are organizing their own protest events, going on relay fasts and drumming up support via every possible medium from Facebook to Twitter to plain old text messaging to get people into public spaces to silently and sensibly express their anger and frustration with the system and support the demand for one sort of a clean-up mechanism. In Delhi, where Anna Hazare is confronting the government with his fast-unto-death (or fast unto the death of corruption), hundreds are people are thronging Jantar Mantar and the Boat Club lawns, carrying candles and placards, singing bhajans and signing hope. While there are some who are joining the bandwagon to gain publicity for themselves and their organizations, many feel truly and strongly that this is a common fight, one that we must all join if something is to be achieved.

Maybe it's the mood of the world. People everywhere, from Egypt to Iran to Libya to the heartlands of Chattisgarh and Vizianagaram, are saying enough is enough. Enough oppression. Enough discrimination. Enough corruption. What was once a helpless frustration has turned into a determined anger (Bapu too said there are uses for anger, and we must find those uses and channel the energy that anger carries with it) that has now been catalysed into a specific movement by Anna Hazare.

Why is fasting such a powerful tool of protest? What does one person's threat to refuse sustenance achieve, and what does it symbolise? It seems to be a peculiarly Eastern way of indicating protest and inciting guilt. It lays the burden of action on the object that is being confronted--in this case, it appeals to the conscience of government to admit its guilt and expiate it by acceding to the demand of the protestor. The fast is a powerful means of activating social conscience, particularly in this time of excess. Most of us consume much more than we need, so to be brought face to face with denial for a purpose does something to us--or at least to those of us who feel some sense of outrage at injustice of different kinds.

That "fount" of digital knowledge Wikipedia, tells us that the hunger strike as a means of protest, to draw the attention of the powerful to the problems of the people, dates back millennia, and is recorded in texts dating back to 400 BC or earlier. But most of us instinctively associate the hunger strike with the non-violent activism of Gandhi, and later with those who carried on the tradition, such as Jayaprakash Narayan and Anna Hazare, and of course the indomitable Irom Sharmila.

Anna Hazare's fast comes in the wake of the exposure of some of the country's worst scams: CWG, land deals in the capital and elsewhere, 2G spectrum sale, mining contracts in Karnataka, votes for sale...and the list goes on. We are all so sick of reading about corrupt politicians yet feel we cannot do anything to stem the rot. But the proposed Lok Pal bill offered a glimmer of hope, and one that Anna Hazare is determined to force the government to make real. So we now have a face to that protest, and a means which seems within our reach. Perhaps that's why this time, the fast has sparked off such a deeply felt reaction across Indians of all ages and persuasions.

At the University of Hyderabad, students plan a candle light march on the evening of April 9.
On Hyderabad's Necklace Road, people gathered in the morning of April 9 holding candles to show their support, and began a signature campaign as well as a relay hunger strike that will go on until there is a clear response to Anna Hazare's demand.
In Cyberabad, people took time off from their high paying IT jobs on Tuesday April 5 to gather together and show their support, some fasting for a whole day, others committing to skip a meal.
Quietly, in homes, people are performing their own symbolic acts of support--foregoing a meal, adding their votes and signatures to forwarded emails and messages, talking about it and spreading the culture of resistance to corruption.

And some write. Prose and poetry. Art and Music. To fire the embers of peaceful protest and energise the hope that change can happen.

The link below is a great example of the power of words, and their capacity to make us feel and think, and perhaps also, act.

Suheir Hammad's amazing poetry performed">