Amrit Hallan
Friday, August 15, 2003

The Independence

Today is India's Independence Day. On this day we got independence from the British who ruled this land for 200 years. Recently I read an article in the Outlook magazine (Ol' Blighty, My Pind) about how Indians are colonizing Britain now. Sort of a nemesis, isn't it?

Recently Alka was telling me about Lord McCauley. Lord McCauley made the British government impose education in India through English. He knew that once English was introduced, he would create a class, which would think in English, eat in English and do everything in English. Not only that, the English learned Indians would become "Brown Sahibs" and would be more obedient to the British rule than the uneducated illiterate masters. The English learned -- these English speaking Indians would consider themselves superior to "illiterate" Indians.

How farsighted was Lord McCauley! They left such a legacy, that even now people who speak English consider themselves superior than those who cannot. They feel proud if they seem less Indian and more British/American -- they even, pathetically, try to follow their traditions and cultures. Nothing wrong in that actually -- anything that improves you as a human should be embraced. But they embrace alien habits due to shear lack of self-identity, or self-respect.

Respect. I respect India as an individual. Perhaps not as a nation. India has miserably failed as a political entity. India as a cultural entity, well, in shambles, but it survives. India is resilient when it comes to individuals. We, as a people, have an unparalleled surviving instinct. We have made strides in the fields of science, human rights, democracy and preservation.

I think we are the strongest democracy in the world. There are chaos all around, but they are bound to happen if freedom is to float in the dust motes of our existence.

What does freedom mean to me, personally? The freedom struggle seems so distant. The emotion is stirred up by jingoistic movies and some offhanded media campaigns to nurture respect for the nation. I don't believe in national pride and such hoopla. I just believe in right and wrong. I believe more in personal pride.
Thursday, August 14, 2003

The Rat Menace

Me and Alka have been trying to streamline our daily activities and the first in the list is, getting up early in the morning. For almost a year we have been going to bed at 4-5 in the morning. Consequently we get up very late and by the time we start work, the day seems to be gone. Not that our working hours get skewed. It's just that, we'll be happier working along with the rest of the diurnal world. Sleeping late was also taking its toll on our health because we spent long durations without eating anything.

So for the past few days we have been going to bed early and getting up early. But our cycle is still set on the old time. So Alka goes back to sleep for an hour after we have had breakfast, and I go for a quick nap in the afternoon.

Today, when I was sleeping in the afternoon, I felt a slight nudge on my head that woke me up. Instinctively I shook my head, and I caught a glimpse of a brownish, plumpish thing flying over my face. A thud on the left hand side followed immediately and I saw a big rat looking at me with his massive, beady eyes, totally offended. The next jump that took place, was a collective one, but in the opposite directions. I fell back on the bed and that fellow disappeared under it.

Before you jump to any conclusions, I'm not scared of rats. In fact, as long as they don't trespass into my paths, I love them, I find them very cute and cuddly.

Seriously, there has been a rat menace in the house and for a long time we have been planning to get rid of these rats. They are gradually taking over the house like a pestilence - they are everywhere. Some IT-savvy rats have even started shitting on my keyboard. We want to use some rat poison but our maid says we should wait until the Monsoons are over because during rains, diseases spread very fast.
Wednesday, August 13, 2003


These days me and Alka have been getting wet a lot -- in the rain. I think this has been the best Monsoon I have had so far. Whenever we get a chance, we go outside and sit in the rain.

There are a few reasons for me to dislike rain. The foremost is the wetness it unleashes. It causes me to slip. And Delhi is not a very neat place to be. One shower and the roads are gone. In place of them you are greeted by gorges of prodigal proportions. So big that an entire bus can disappear into one of them. Ok, an exaggeration.

Coming back to our rainy tete-a-tete -- I love sitting outside with her when it's raining. I wonder why I have never liked it with anyone else. I guess these are the moments we are going to cherish forever, and will imbue are thoughts with pleasant memories when we grow old together.

I get hypothermic easily. So today I sat with Alka, with a plastic sheet wrapped around me, with just my head out under the raindrops. Our original plan was to huddle together under the sheet, but she likes the rain. While my head got soaked, I was dry otherwise.

Then there was this passerby who gawked at us while passing by, and Alka couldn't control the burst of laughter that proceeded. He must have found us a queer sight -- we sitting in front of our own door, with our plastic chairs comfortably laid under the heavy downpour; I, all wrapped up in a plastic sheet and Alka chatting with me as if we were sitting under the sun on a winter afternoon.

Once we have also enjoyed rain in the pitch darkness of 1 am in the morning. We had switched off the computers and were about to go to sleep. It was raining. I asked Alka if she would like to sit in the rain for a while before going to bed. She said yes.

It was so thrilling to see the heavy drops falling from the sky in the darkness. There was no other sound in the air – just the raindrops hitting the ground and the leaves -- all around us. You feel a part of the extravaganza. The feeling cannot be explained, it can only be experienced. It is as if the entire world has disappeared and there is nothing beyond your immediate, pouring surroundings.

But it is not just the rain -- it is with whom I experience it. Alka. She makes every drop worthy of embracing.
Sunday, August 03, 2003

Salman Rushdie

"The Moor's Last Sigh" was the first book I read of Salman Rushdie. Ever since then, I've been an ardent fan of his. He is one of the greatest contemporary writers. I heard of him for the first time when the Iranian President (Ayatollah Khomeini) had issued a Fatwa against him for writing "The Satanic Verses."
Salman Rushdie
Incidentally, our so-called secular state -- India -- was the first country to ban the book and appease the Muslim world consequently.

He often uses a mosaic of myth, magic and surrealism to represent reality. He fantasticates almost all his characters. While keeping you firmly on the ground, he takes you on an odyssey of an unreal world, and you return in the end feeling enthralled, enriched and introspective.

Rushdie seems to be influenced by the Magic Realism movement. The central figure in this movement is Gabriel García Márquez – another of the greatest contemporary writers. Both these writers have used historical events to write their hallmark novels. Garcia won the Nobel Prize for "One Hundred Years of Solitude," and Rushdie won the Bookers Prize for "Midnight's Children," -- both the subjects dealing with historical periods.

In "Midnight's Children," all the children born on and around the midnight of India's Independence were born with various magical powers. The central character, Saleem Sinai with a monstrous nose, had the ability to read another's thoughts. The government (but then who else?), fearing that these children could spark off a revolution, gets most of the children eliminated. Only Saleem survives, gradually dying in his pickles factory, to narrate the story to his corpulent and dark ayya (a sort of a nurse), I think Shanthi.

Amongst my favorite books of his (whatever I have read till now), it is difficult to decide between "The Moor's Last Sigh" and "Midnight's Children." Both of them are brilliant literary works.

Although highly intellectual and profound, "The Ground Beneath Her Feat" was a tad disappointing. In this novel, his narratives grow tedious. The central character, Umeed Merchant, was a boneless, uninteresting character.

Rushdie was born in Bombay, India, to a middle-class Muslim family. Although Rushdie's parents moved to Pakistan much later after the gory partition, he decided to stay back. This didn't stop him from working in the Pakistani television. Interestingly, he worked as a freelance advertising copywriter for Ogilvy and Mather and Charles Barker.

He made his debut with "Grimus" in 1975. I haven't read the book so I have no idea what was it about. I plan to read it very soon.

Given below is a list of his works:

Midnight's Children
The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey
The Satanic Verses
Haroun and the Sea of Stories
Imaginary Homelands
East, West: Stories
The Moor's Last Sigh
Ground Beneath Her Feet
Saturday, August 02, 2003

The Gardener

The octogenarian "mali baba" used to work in the President's house when he was young, he often claimed with toothless, charming smile. In India, old men of grandfather's age are mostly addressed as "baba." "Mali" means the gardener.

Since he used to work at our previous house, I don't know whether he is still alive or not.

We never believed that he used to work at the President's house but then he had no reason to lie. He was the best gardener I have ever seen. Not that he was a great landscaper. He loved the plants he tenderly nurtured and the soil he delicately tilled. Long before it became a socio-scientific fad, he used to talk to the plants.

He was so old and so shriveled that he almost used to become a part of the soil and the dense foliage. He was not more than four-and-a-half feet. He couldn't recall when his last of the teeth had disappeared. The slight hump on his back and his long, dirt-colored tresses used to give him an appearance of a leprechaun. He had two toes on both his baroque feet and they had hardened so much that they looked as if they were made of a very old bark.

We, as 10-something-year olds, never found him scary. We always loved sitting with him, listening to his incomprehensible babble, observing him, while he worked prodigiously. Sometimes he got lost in the hazy vestibules of his past and started saying things that seemed to be from another world. Then we used to leave him alone.

If mali baba had a family, we never knew. While returning from school, we always found him working in one garden or another. Very often he told us that his children were studying in an English school, and again, nobody believed him. A very solid reason was, at his age, how could he have school going kids? He used to laugh off this query of ours. Nobody laughed back at him.

Amazingly, he had the sight of an eagle, and sometimes he used to become an unavoidable nuisance. He had this habit of bellowing blessings whenever he saw kids whose names and faces he could remember, even if the kids were a mile away. I was one of the kids whose name and face he remembered. Whenever he saw me on the road, he stood upright like a warrior with his sickle raised high up in the air and launched a concatenation of megaphonic blessings such as, "May you get the highest marks. I pray to my lord that you be the richest man in the country. Oh lord, let him have the biggest of the motors…" and so. It used be really embarrassing while the passersby tried to suppress their laughter and I tried to pretend that the vociferous show had nothing to do with me.

He never charged more than five rupees per day from any body in the colony. "I don't need more," he used to say.

What made me think of him today? Due to my business I need to interact with many business people. The more I meet them, the more I realize how poor they are compared to mali baba. They are always scared that they are going to be duped by the other person. They want to pilfer as much as they can from the smaller business person; so that they can be happily pilfered by the bigger business person.

He was rich in his thoughts. Although he was always wrapped in soil and his feet had seemingly turned into bark, he was generally a happy person and he never asked for more than he needed. His affectionate outbursts were annoying most of the time, but they were real, they originated from his heart unmitigated.
Friday, August 01, 2003
  We are having the Monsoons rains. Rain is always welcome, as long as my roof doesn't leak. Last time it leaked and the rain water seeped into my computer and monitor. We had to use the blowers (with heat turned on) to dry the hardware. So much for a good rainy season.

The economy in India still depends on rainfall, and there is almost always an economic boom whenever there are good Monsoons. A few years ago I used to resent this fact that ours is an agricultural country and we depend on Monsoon rains for good harvest.

Now I feel good about it. At least we are not spoiling our natural resources as much as some other, the so-called advanced countries. I'm not saying that river pollution and deforestation doesn't exist here. These plagues are becoming a part of our progress towards the future. But their proliferation has been curtailed by a growing awareness in the cities and aggressiveness in the tribal areas.
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
  I hope I don't end up ranting daily in my blog but infrastructure in Delhi really sucks. Business process in itself brims with myriad challenges, and on top of that, one has to deal with regular power failures, daily Net disconnections, roads that are built for the pure purpose of maiming and crippling, and irregular water supply. Entrepreneurs really have to pat their backs if they manage to do business here.

Last week the CEOs of the two biggest IT companies in India -- Wipro and Infosys -- warned they would resort to street protests if the government failed to improve the infrastructure. There are frequent power cuts while they are video-conferencing with their international clients.

Well, they are big guys and if they want, they can setup their own mini power stations near their corporate offices. They can build roads. They can by pass the continental cables and connect to the Net directly.

But the problem is massive for small businesses. They don't have finances to arrange their own resources. Problems can still be solved collectively though.

For instance, we have a very erratic Net connection in the building, and there is only one cable company in our area that provides the connection. Their service is terrible because of this monopoly. So I was talking to another subscriber in the building, and we decided that we’ll contact as many subscribers as possible. Then collectively we can either arm-twist the present provider to give us a better service or arrange a cable network on our own with a little investment. This will force the company to at least act when a customer calls.

The same can be done to other services too. Numbers really matter, and anything can be done if people get together. Generally it becomes difficult (not always) for a single person to take on big challenges but if people get together, for their own good, they can act as a collective mass. 
Amrit Hallan

07/01/2003 - 08/01/2003 / 08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003 /

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