The court of yarns

The other day, I was in court. I needed stamp paper for some official letter. It was a little after 9 am. A busy day had begun. Shops opening shutters, pedestrians walking purposefully towards train stations and bus stands, cars honking. It had the look of rush.

As I was about to enter the court building, it seemed as though life had stopped. I couldn't move. One side of my sandal had given way. I'd have to limp. I chose to pick up the sandal and pull out the dangling sole. Quite nonchalantly I wore it back. That's when I heard a short laugh. A lawyer. I smiled back. 

"Affidavit? I'll do."

"No thanks," I said. 

Suddenly, as if the silence had been broken by a click of the heel, I found about six men in coats offering to notarise and legitimise any form I'd give them.

It was a sad sight. These men (no women were around) had earned a law degree. Yet, they were reduced to hawking their services in the streets. Think of the disparity between the uncertainty of their jobs and the famous lawyers with their well-appointed chambers earning in lakhs for just a one-hour consultation. 

I stood near the lift and asked where I'd get the stamp paper. "After one hour," said a man chewing paan. 

I decided to go up, anyway. 

It was dark on the floor. "Kya?" I turned around. A peon wanted to know what I wanted. "Aadha ghanta baad," he said. It was progress. From one hour my wait had reduced to half. There was a room to the left. I stood at the door. A big-built man in a white bush-shirt smiled. "I am looking for stamp paper. May I wait here until they open the counter?"

He invited me in and motioned towards the chairs near the windows. It was bright, so bright that every speck of dust on the tables was visible. For the next 30 minutes, I watched. 

Plastic chairs were stacked over one another and some staffers sat on them in their stacked state. Umbrellas were opened to dry, even though it wasn't raining. The sweeper began work, and dust flew leaving a temporary cloud of smog. 

There were lockers with names of lawyers. One of them entered. There was a picture of a deity on his locker. He bowed before it. Then he brought out his papers, locked it again, and bowed before the image once more before sitting down to open the files. 

This was repeated by at least two other lawyers while I was there. One of them, after performing his religious duty for the day, did not seem too happy with my presence. I might have intruded into his private space, and although I had tried not to gawk, I'm sure even a sideways glance would have bothered him. 

It was nearing 10 o'clock. I went to the counter. "Five more minutes," said the woman. I went back to my window-view seat. The room had filled up, everybody was working, yet there appeared to be slumber in their air. It reminded me of holiday afternoons of my childhood where everybody was busy reading, knitting, playing cards, or just snoozing.

I realised it was past ten. There was a queue at the counter. This was unfair. Would I have to go and stand in line after having waited this long? No. I was asked to go to the other side. The task completed, I returned to that room and sought out the gentleman, a clerk, who had let me sit there. "Any problem?" he asked.

"No," I said. "Just wanted to say Thank you." 

He shook his head all around and spread both his hands and said, "Work done? Good, good."

I stood near the lift. A board in Marathi read, "Thooku naye." Do not spit. The peon made a fixing lightbulb-like gesture. "Neeche nahin jaata." No lift to descend. 

With sole-less shoes I started on my way down. The staircase walls were peeling, the steps were dirty. As I reached the ground floor, I was shocked. There were commodes and a flush tank. Hay and cardboard were spread around. These must have been the toilets. A woman was sweeping. She kept sweeping into the spot and from it. I waited on the second-last step. She saw me and gestured that I could pass. 

In less than an hour I had experienced without barely any verbal exchange the lives of a few — from their worship to the way they drank their tea, from the dust on their files to the sweat on their faces, from umbrellas drying to eyes squinting at the sun. Lives we pass by everyday without pause for thought. 

And to think that all I needed was a stamp paper that would certify an identity. 


Ghalib Guru and the Media Circus

Should the son of a man considered a terrorist be feted for scoring 95 per cent marks and topping the 10th board exams? 

Afzal Guru is now legend. He was hanged to death for his supposed role in the 2001 Parliament attack. He was an educated man. His son Ghalib, named after the poet, seems to be academically inclined too. He is now in the news. Mainstream newspapers are doing profiles on him. Are they, in the process, already profiling him as the heir? 

This is my concern. It is not in the same league as sensationalists glorifying a criminal for copy. In this case, the young man is being pinned against a wall on which they've already stuck his father's posters. It is not Ghalib the media is interested in, but the ghost of Afzal Guru.

Probably the worst line of questioning came from The Times of India. Sagarika Ghose starts with these words:

"The Pathankot attackers said they wanted revenge for the hanging of Afzal Guru; and in the Kashmir valley, Afzal Guru's "martyrdom" has becoming a rallying cry in the valley. But Afzal Guru's 17-year-old son Ghalib Abdul Guru says he has nothing to do with the azaadi (freedom) sentiment and wants to become a doctor and study at AIIMS."

This is such a cheap shot. By including the recent attacks in Pathankot, the interviewer is updating Ghalib's profile. There are many doctors, who have studied at prime institutes, who continue to believe in azaadi. The two are not at odds. 

The interrogation is sneaky with the subject being given key queries from which there is no escape. Since this is not a Q&A format, the inquisitor can get away. 

Ghalib is indirectly quoted as saying he wanted to get an MBBS "just like his dad" (interviewer's words). This is followed with:

"I used to meet dad in prison. The Crime Patrol told me he had done something bad and had hurt some people that's why he was in jail. When I met him he used to tell me to study hard all the time and do well at my studies, to look after my mother and read the Quran."

Isn't it clear what is going on here? The boy is being prodded to talk about his father. This guy is happy with his marks and a journalist goes on hammering him not about aspirations and how the young in Kashmir think, but about Afzal Guru. 

What are his memories of his father? "I don't remember him very well. All I remember is he used to always stay with his books, always reading and studying. He used to tell me to do the same. He used to say everything is in the hands of the Almighty. Whatever is written in your naseeb (fate), that's what will happen."

This gives Ms. Ghose another chance to pounce with, "So is Ghalib also religious?" Not "is Ghalib religious?" but "also religious". Like his father, like the man who he seems to be following, from medical practice to the Quran? This is what the media likes to build up. 

When he says, "I want to work in Kashmir because there is a shortage of doctors here. I wanted to also join the IAS, but my family was against that", the brave questioner has nothing to ask or say. No comment on how the youth of Kashmir wanting to contribute to it is more mainstream than some weird idea of allegiance to the nation. 

It is pertinent to note that he wanted to join the Indian Administrative Services, but his family opposed it. Many young people start out with naïve dreams, but the past returns. It is not what they inherit but that history does repeat itself in circles of deceit.

Towards the end of the interview, we get this:

What does he think about the Pathankot attack where the attackers claimed they wanted to avenge the death of his father? "I don't know much about that. People should not try to harm others. But yes if the Indian government has done something wrong then they will be punished.

And does he agree with the azaadi sentiment? "I don't think about that. I stay with my studies and my work. I work very hard as that's what my mother tells me."

I do not expect a 17-year-old not to be politicised, especially one who is surrounded by politics, and who has to bear the burden of being the son of a shaheed. But why should he be dragged into such indirect battles when the media claims it is celebrating his 94% achievement? To end the interview in this manner seems to be projecting a future martyr. 

A reader left this comment at the end of the piece:

Why are U championing the son of a terrorist as if he is some great Yuga Purusha? There are countless children of soldiers who excel in their studies and career. Why dont U feature them? For all that U know, this son of a 3rd rated terrorist and traitor would still be supporting his father and his philosophy of Jehaad and may be nursing a feeling of revenge towards the nation for the hanging of his father...

This is how deviously some liberals work. They seem to 'champion' a cause, so that it plays right into the hands of patriots frothing at the mouth. The reason they do not feature the children of soldiers or others is because the real aim is to highlight jihad, draw people out so that others perceive it the way this reader has. (Note the last sentence here and of the second last para of Ghalib's interview.)

Such binaries emanate from their own comatose perceptions to benefit only themselves. 


Whatever will be, will be

The star in the new year night by Eugen Bracht

I could not find the right curtains at three stores. If three stores that are known for their nice curtains do not have what I need, are my needs difficult to fulfil? Or are they catering to a template of expectations?

They showed me red, red in its many shades. They showed me brown, brown that covered distances from beige to the darkest wood.

Rust, I said. I wanted rust-coloured curtains. This? And they showed me a pink, faded and jaded. No, I said. Rust. Their faces were question marks. "Rusting is the common term for corrosion of iron and its alloys, such as steel." How could I explain this when it is not what I ever thought about when the colour rust danced before my eyes?

I rummaged through piles. Nothing. I left. With a few things, but not what I had set out for. There are always a few things that act as placebo, but placebos work only if you are looking for an ailment, not a cure.

The rods were empty this morning, like bare branches. I stared at the brass holder glinting in the sunlight. And then I remembered. The old curtains. Cleaned and ironed, lying in some draw. I am not good with putting up curtains, but I was on a stool, craning my neck and trying to find the fixing places. See? I don't even know the terms.

They are up now. Old. Familiar. Yet new. No dust, no stains, no wear and tear. I look at them with new eyes. Isn't that what a fresh start should be about?

* * *

I have skimmed through the newspapers and surfed past channels holding forth on the year that was. It is a necessary ritual, with some lame attempts at humour.

I recall how years ago as an active media person, I too would write a column or do a feature on the new year. There was the roundup, the people who matter, who don't, what was said, what was done. There was much enthusiasm. Today, with the surfeit of minutiae passing for information and insight, all I can find is regurgitation.

This, alas, is unlikely to change because the dispensers of trivia believe their audience can only handle bite-size bits and the latter shrug believing the dispensers can only dish out this much. They live in a happy compromise.

* * *

A lot has happened around the world.

Donald Trump being able to think he will be President of the United States of America is not only about his temerity but the licence a large enough section of Americans has granted him. He exists because there is perhaps a felt need for him.

Then there is Hillary Clinton who said that Trump is ISIS's best recruiter after he said he would not allow Muslims into America. If one was being paranoid, the other seemed to convey that Muslims hurt by such a move would naturally be inclined towards ISIS. This makes Hillary sound worse. Transparent hate is way better to deal with than such covert projection of stereotypes.

In the days following San Bernardino, the top search phrase was "kill Muslims" on Google. It would be interesting to find out who was looking for such details, and what it might reveal.

Muslims continued to make news, much of it because a bunch of them terrorised the world into believing that they represented 1.6 billion people. It couldn't be their marketing skills, for they were killing Muslims too, mainly Muslims. In fact, it is Muslims who are fighting them on the ground.

In India, it was the cow. Some suggested that the cow should be honoured as the Mother of the Nation, and this was in all seriousness. Cow urine was sought to be used as disinfectant in hospitals; it is already an ingredient in the Patanjali range of products by Baba Ramdev, a yoga guru who has the government of India as his patron.

Narendra Modi continued with his magical version of prime ministership by using the flying carpet jet to see what other countries have been upto so that he can tell Indians what he can do to become like them so that they can become like us with Make in India. It's as simple and complicated as that.

He made a 'surprise' visit to Lahore on December 25, which happened to be Nawaz Sharif's, Jinnah's, Vajpayee's and Jesus' birthday. Much was made of it as a move forward towards peace. It is more about showmanship. The people crave for such visits on both sides. Unless they are permitted such "drop in" moments, peace will be a word on paper erased and rewritten many many times according to the whims of the politicians.

* * *

To wind up for now, I am not cynical about the new at all. I welcome it. I only wish that we did not feel the need to kick out the old. Is there any assurance that the new will not be mere varnish?

Last evening, on my way home I stopped at the end of my lane where the fruit vendor's cart stands. I like pineapple, especially if they are sliced and ready to eat. I do not pretend to enjoy hard labour, and don't find it exciting to cut and chop. He had strawberries too. "They are too bright," I told him. "Stobry aisa hi hota hai (strawberries are always like that)," he said. I gave him an angry look, "Do you think I am buying strawberries for the first time?"

He did not look chastised, and for some reason I liked that, that certain defiance in his eyes. He is a young man, maybe just out of his teens. For him strawberry is upward mobility, the shinier the better.

A beggar woman with a baby held at her hips stood there. What does one do? He gave her one piece of the shiny strawberry. I fished out some money and gave it to her.

As I walked towards home, I saw her sitting on the pavement. She beamed and waved at me, lifting her son's hand to do the same. I waved back and reached my gate with a strawberry smile.

A Happy New Year...may you all find a reason to smile.