Saturday, 26 November 2016

Stranger In MY City

Eighteen days ago, the one thousand rupee and the five hundred rupee notes were declared invalid in India, by our honourable Prime Minister, from the stroke of midnight, on that day itself. While the world woke to a mundane Wednesday morning, we woke up to worthless pieces of paper in our pockets and purses. In order to flush out Black Money from the bank lockers, bedrooms and boudoirs of unscrupulous businessmen and women, these two denominations of notes had been demonetized, that is, they were no longer legal tender. This meant that all those fake notes floating around, (it is said our various neighbours print more of our currency than we do), were suddenly worthless too. So it was the proverbial killing of two birds with one stone, a master stroke indeed.
Anyone who has bought or sold property in India knows that we have two components while paying for property, the Black and the White. A lower value is shown on documents and the difference between the actual higher value and the on paper value changes hands in cold, hard, cash. Or, if you are a Non Resident Indian and do not have Black cash lying around, the builder asks you to issue a 'Self' cheque, so his henchman can go and withdraw the money from your perfectly legal Non Resident Account and pocket it, without paying a paisa in tax. Now, of course, all such unscrupulously earned money isn't worth the paper it is printed on. The government and the banks are asking some hard questions to those depositing unaccounted for, high amounts, overnight in their accounts.
A predictable fallout of all this is that real estate prices are set to come down in most major cities of India, as builders can no longer bank on Black cash coming in. This, in turn, means that there is a barrage of mails in my mail box from builders I have contacted in the past, while scouting around for property. And my city, Pune, is being touted as one of the destinations to invest in, as it is already on the government's list of 'Smart City' development plan.
From being a cliched pensioner's paradise just a couple of decades ago to a software hub, my city has come a long way. Real estate prices have already hit the very costly roof and there seems to be no limit to development, which is a euphemism for construction and more construction. I go home once a year, after nine months, and so I am always particularly struck by the ever changing landscape of the city, more so than my parents, for example, who live there all year round.
Even my own micro environment in Pune is changing. Our bungalow society is now around fifty years old and every time I go back, I am informed of yet another bungalow being purchased by a super rich entity, (I'm even told about the black and white components!), then demolished and an ostentatious monstrosity being constructed, where once a simple, middle class bungalow stood. These were houses where we spent large parts of our childhood. Summer days were spent playing cards on the carpet of a no longer in existence living room, those were the kitchens we raided for chilly powder to go with the staple summer snack of raw mango, those bookshelves that were pulled down were the ones we ransacked in our search for that one unread book, after our grandmothers and mothers had chased us away to borrow books, because we had finished reading everything we had!
We no longer even know the names of the new inhabitants. This point was driven home to me last June, when the business manager of the folks we rented out my husband's office space to, on seeing our residential address, asked if we knew Mr.X, who was his friend and lived in our society. I was forced to say no as I  really had no clue about this family... Time was when I could recite every inhabitant's name, from the ancient great grand father to the new born babe, birth dates included!
The mails from builders are now pushing what were once far flung areas of my city as well connected, centralized locations! It actually makes me laugh. Those narrow highways, which are now being miraculously transformed into multi lane ring roads, are the ones where my driving instructor took me to practice highway driving, when I learned to drive nearly seventeen years ago. We would be surrounded by rolling green fields and ancient trees, by deep, stone ringed wells, with the labourers, farmers and their wives actually stopping work, to stare askance, at what was then a novelty for them, a car and a girl behind the wheel. Today, less than twenty years later, those same farmers have sold all those fields to builders and yes, cash, both black and white, has changed hands, and they now own cars flashier and much more expensive than my own Mercedes. And as far as the eye can see, there are buildings and more buildings, with scarcely an ancient tree in sight. One might see some saplings planted as mere tokenism...
I belong to a Pune Moms FaceBook group. It amuses me to read about Mothers who have just moved to Pune and who ask each other about the best creche or the best pre school in that particular area and then they share the name of their area. I feel like telling them, "I knew your area when it was scrub land!" Or, I feel like saying, "We used to picnic every weekend where your flashy river side residence now stands..." Time was when there were only a handful of reputed preschools in Pune and another handful of regular schools, which we would even consider getting our children admitted to. Today, a pre school mushrooms in every lane and by lane of the city and beyond and international schools sell themselves through their websites, to folks the world over who might be considering making Pune their home. For, where builders build, schools follow.
At times, I feel slightly resentful of these strangers invading my city and changing its horizons beyond belief. Where once water pumped by the Municipal Corporation gushed right up to our third floor water tank, today it cannot reach our first floor bathroom, without the aid of a pump. Where once a visit to Main Street in Cantonment Area or a food halt at Vaishali on Ferguson College road, meant bumping into at least a dozen people you knew, today unknown people brush past you or unknown faces stare at you, as you wait impatiently for a free table...
What ARE all these strangers doing in my city?...Or wait a minute. Is it that now I am a Stranger in MY city?



                             May be we don't want a smart city? Maybe we were happy with what we had? But who's asking us? Progress, relentlessly marches on...aided by money, both black and white. 

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Ae Deal Hai Mushkil (This is a difficult deal!)

A few days ago, I made the mistake of going for a movie that had been released the preceding Friday. My daughter had been waiting to watch it for many months, as she is a huge fan of the director and he has just one release every four or five years! As per the original plan, she was supposed to watch it in India with her brand new college friends but as luck and the Supreme Court Of India (one judge in particular) would have it, medical admissions of international students were arbitrarily cancelled, citing a lack of an exam they were not supposed to give in the first place and so she had to come back to Nairobi, just like a hundred plus medical college students had to go back to their countries of residence. Which meant that I had to go with her for the movie.
Ten minutes into the movie and I knew I had made a gross error. This particular movie had been in the news for the past few weeks because one of the actors was from our neighbouring country. Relations between our neighbour and India recently took a turn for the worse and so a particular political outfit had threatened to disallow the screening of the movie. The matter was resolved with the powers that be meeting with the directors and producers who apologized and promised to check passports before casting actors in future and the movie was released on time.Well I just wish they had succeeded in blocking the release...
If I wanted to watch scenes from blockbuster movies of yesteryears, I would simply watch them online or I would wait for the movies to be screened on television, which they are, with unfailing regularity. Why would I pay good money to watch two silly people with too much money and too much time on their hands trying to recreate those scenes? And not that the scenes are much to speak of in the first place, as they mostly involve women in chiffon sarees prancing around trees in Europe and looking ridiculous. People in Bollywood seem to have over flowing bank accounts but have a complete paucity of ideas at times...
Twenty five years ago when I was a teenager and in high school, the concepts of living in, multiple relationships, same sex relationships, divorce et al, even malls of the Sweet Valley High series, were all completely alien to us. We were very clear back then that such issues were 'American' in nature (with sincere apologies to my American friends here, all of whom have rock solid values) and we had nothing to do with it. Well, well, the shoe is on the other foot now. A post liberalization India is grappling with all this and more today, leading to an irrevocable break in what old fashioned people like me call basic decency, core values and some semblance of culture.
Even then we, as upper middle class, middle class (and below) parents do try our best to inculcate basic moral dos and don'ts in our children and we still hope that once they are financially independent and no longer answerable to us, they will lead reasonably decent and upright lives and not turn into home wreckers and adulterers. And then this kind of a movie comes along which is so completely divorced from the reality in India. We have only a hand full of Metros and maybe another fistful of large cities. The rest of India is a combination of small town and rural life. Open any newspaper and you will read about many of the social and ethical issues that are raising their heads there, leading to Panchayats and parents often taking the law in their own hands, generally with tragic results. And very often, these new age couples are inspired by Bollywood, which they think is the new reality. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
When this kind of a movie comes along, teenagers and young adults think if the lead actors and actresses can hop from one bed to another, from one relationship to another, get into a physical relationship with a person he or she  met TWO hours ago, then why can't they do the same? If the reel life heroes and heroines can puff cigarette after cigarette, down vodka shot after shot in a bar (this seems to be a favourite scene in EVERY movie these days) then surely it's the right thing to do? Instead of emulating people who have made something more of their lives than simply increasing alcohol and contraceptive bills, our youngsters seem to be getting caught in this vicious cycle of a lifestyle that doesn't seem to serve any higher purpose or calling.
Such movies, if at all there is a need to make them, surely need to come with an A for Adult tag. Then at least, younger, tender, minds will not be exposed to what can be termed as a complete breakdown of our traditional Indian society on the screen and a complete aberration of the way most of us choose to lead our lives. Life, even on the straight and narrow path, is not easy and if complicated by jumbled up ideas and no clear delineation between right and wrong, is only going to become more tumultuous.
Another completely irritating feature of the movie was the way the hero came across as a clingy, needy, guy ready to burst into tears at the smallest possible provocation. While I am ready to break most gender stereo types ( and have broken quite a few of them) and have NEVER said to my son 'Don't cry like a girl' (and will never say it either), how many of us want husbands/ boy friends who spout tears like a leaky faucet every few minutes? No, honestly, think about it. Tears are genetically a woman's prerogative and let's keep it so or else, as a compromise, let neither sex cry on screen!
The hero discloses that his mother abandoned the house and him along with it, when he was a two year old toddler, leaving him to the mercy of his billionaire father. Even that is insensitively treated as a joke by the leading lady. Well, it certainly explains a lot about his behaviour...
That's about the only lesson you can learn from this skewed movie. Leave your marital home if, compelled by circumstances, you have to, but NOT without your kids. Else one day a girl is going to have a soggy, weepy guy on her hands, craving the attention and affection denied to him by his mother, and she will drop him like a hot, sorry, soaked in salty tears potato...
P.S : My daughter remains loyal to the aforementioned director and found nothing much wrong with movie, save the twist at the end. But then, her ideas of busting gender stereotypes involve letting grown up guys wear pink dresses if they want to! The less said about this, the better. And yes, she's refused to go and watch a movie with me ever again, after I tore this one to shreds! See what I mean about Bollywood destroying family traditions?!! I've been taking her for an occasional movie since before she was born...

From My Desk: Tales Out Of School

                                               My Alma Mater, St.Helena's School, Pune. As we went back and forth on the Core ...