Touring the Indian countryside

Several months back I wrote about a road trip I took to the countryside, spending time in farms and talking with rural folk. The essay, “In random conversations with farmers”, received a lot of positive feedback for reasons that still elude me. However, since I went on a similar trip earlier this month, I thought it would be a pleasant idea to share my experiences once again.

To me, calling it the “Indian countryside” has often seemed redundant. Most of this country qualifies under that term. Urbanity is the minority here, so perhaps this essay should have been titled “A trip away from urbanity”. Nonetheless, I was out a little late in the morning, heading northwest. The roads were free from traffic, but the potholes made sure I had no other conveniences whatsoever. The occasional bus shuttling from village to village was all that I came across. These busses are often painted bright red, and are dear to the villagers — unless the driver happens to run over some cattle — to the point where they deck it with thousands of flower garlands covering the windshield.


This part of the district is yet to see any development. This has two consequences: the people are nicer, not nouveau-riche, and there are still dedicated farmers with beautiful farmlands. The problem, however, due to fragmentation over generations is that farms in India are now mostly minuscule by comparison to those in Europe or America. This, in turn, means lower likelihood of even partially good yield, which means most farmers end up earning extremely little over the year — something no government seems to understand or even talk about. Continue reading

Munnar

This is not so much a travelogue as it is a bunch of random thoughts penned in conclusion to my recent trip across the Switzerland of the East. I have always loved clouds and fog and coniferous trees, and I was surrounded by all these for the past few days. (This article only has a few photographs; you can find others on my VSCO journal which I will soon publish my VSCO journal entry.) Continue reading

Telangana etc.: why the Andhra Pradesh statehood movement is a hornet’s nest

Smaller states have generally been richer. The World Bank’s list of top countries by GDP put Luxembourg, Macau, Qatar, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland right at the top five, in that order. They are some of the smallest countries on Earth; in fact, the largest, Norway, is only the 61st largest, and most others fall around the 140th-160th mark.

Smaller states are also easier to govern. The population density is lower, the government can juggle funds better, generally everything becomes more transparent and understandable when we speak in millions rather than billion-trillions.

Conversely, larger states are easier to ignore. Larger land area means a greater risk of some regions being better looked after for no apparent reason other than proximity, geographic location, climate and such — none of which local residents have control over.

Enter KCR

One calm day of early December 2009, a 55-year-old Mehboobnagar MP, Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao, decided to go on a fast and take the country down with him. His fast was a weapon to etch the state of Telangana occupying 10 of Andhra Pradesh’s 23 districts. He also made sure that his hometown of Hyderabad would be included in the proposed state.

The main reasons given to justify the creation of a separate state were historic circumstances — Telangana spoke Telugu in times of Hyderabad state (1724-1948) — and the alleged suppression of Northern Hyderabad. KCR, as Mr K. Chandrashekhar Rao is popularly known, previously resigned from the Teugu Desam Party to form his Telangana Rashtra Samithi citing suppression as a reason. Continue reading

The sorry state of Indian politics: AAP v BJP

Aam Admi Party’s (AAP) attention-seeking has taken to new heights. When protests followed a 30 min detention of the party leader and then reverberated across three states, one was left wondering what all the fuss was really about. Mr Kejriwal’s breaking the election code of conduct, Mr Modi’s attempt at suppressing his political rival, or Mr Kejriwal’s desperate attempt to make people believe Mr Modi was trying to put him down?

Digging up the past

It seems any movement against Mr Kejriwal’s brief detention was uncalled for simply because the man has bigger problems: there are at least five well-documented cases against him, somehow happily ducking out of any court’s view.

And Mr Kejriwal’s over-ambitious plans to rake in all voters at all costs is proving increasingly irritable. Fellow leader, Yogendra Yadav’s, words sound almost silly, if not staged:

“Kejriwal was going and he had no flags or wasn’t with any candidate. He was not even doing any type of campaigning for polls. Police stopped him and took him to police station… If this kind of behaviour is given by Gujarat to a former Chief Minister of a state, I don’t know how Gujarat government is flaunting about the law and order of their state”

This all comes down to the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Mr Kejriwal may have had no flags or candidates on his side, but the “aam admi” that he is, he was traveling in a motorcade (which he probably reckons is a perfectly normal thing for a common man to do) and for somebody whose face is arguably quite familiar — even in Mr Modi’s home state — moving about so and stopping every now and then may be easily mistaken for political campaigning. Continue reading

Photographic grittiness: justifying what we leave out of the frame

This is one of those Ah, I’ve figured it out! moments you get when you think you stumbled upon the key to a secret treasure. Only, there are so many of them that this becomes just another I think this is how it’s done… maybe? moments.

It is alright if you followed none of that, because that flowed unchecked from the back of my mind. But I think what I have come to realise in framing a photograph today will cause me to make a pretty huge turn in my photographic endeavours.

Oftentimes I am guilty (as I am sure you are too) of leaving out certain things from my frame for whatever reason. But I think only about 60% of the time or thereabouts we do this for a real cause: composition, light, the whole assortment of technical reasons.

And then, the rest of the time, we leave it out because we just do not like it. A hanging wire, a cracked wall, a broken pane, a stray leaf, and the list can go on. These have come to be subconscious decisions of cleanliness rather than aesthetic. A cracked wall, many of us believe, will somehow wreck out photograph; that it will somehow make our photograph look like it stemmed from a poorer locale. The same with a broken window pane, for instance.

What I notice about many people shooting a country like India, is that they attempt to make it look better than it is. Indeed there are parts of the country’s urban belts that are no less modern, high in tech or global than a so-called first-world metropolis. Continue reading

Let us examine the abyss Indian politics is falling into

As I sat watching the news this morning, following the results of the recent state elections in North India, an interesting discussion began that lasted nearly four hours; one among the panel of experts speaking on the issue was my father.

Setting the stage

As the talks went on, right around the two-hour mark, what seemed quite apparent to me was that the possibility that the country was spiraling into an abyss was something few were prepared to accept.

Part of this, no doubt, was a direct result of the participation of party-representatives in the talk. There were times when they were quite defensive about their parties; but a few things that stood out were hard to deny.

Four states (Chattisghar, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan) along with one nobody cared about (Mizoram) today elected representatives of their choice into state houses. But the voting was preceded by bizarre political campaigns and media-happy scandals, and voting day itself involved machines carrying a none of the above option.

A lesson in voting for anarchy

The thing about this weird none of the above option is that it is the very definition of futility in not one, but two, manners.

Firstly, why should voters opting for none of the above even bother to vote? After all, voting for nobody is effectively the same as not voting at all.

Here is a brief lesson in maths to illustrate my point: if 80 of 100 people in a town voted for three political parties and the exit polls rewarded them 20, 30 and 10 vote shares each, (in other words, adding up to 60 votes), then, clearly, the remaining 20 voted for none of the above. Continue reading

Revisiting the past: old beliefs with an old acquaintance from a remote village

Here is an article that justifies the title of a personal blog. This was a planned trip, made about a week ago, to meet an old acquaintance, that almost ended in futility — not to mention possible embarrassment.

It all starts roughly four decades ago (or more), when, as is still the custom in India, flower, fruit and vegetable vendors would roam the streets selling their goods. In a way, this is far more convenient than a trip to either the supermarket or the grocer’s. There was one such woman by name Bīramma.

During this trip, although I did not carry my camera, I managed to take exactly two pictures with my phone, very careful not to invade anybody’s privacy or turn them off. They have both been published below.

A glimpse into life in erstwhile Mysore

Often, anybody from two generations ago who lived in the heart of Mysore city, would tell you a thing or two about her; especially about her helpful nature, her hard working spirit and her trustfulness.

It so happens that ours was one of the houses she used to frequent, to sell, and later in the day, to rest herself before she traveled back home, or, in the morning, from home. Her journey was a good twenty-four kilometres in all, a tedious, time-consuming journey back in the day.

The peak of it all was when my grandmother decided to seat herself on the floor beside Bīramma — an act unseen, even if vaguely heard of.

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On the honourable Indian road laws

The reason why Indian road laws are so honourable is because, to a new visitor, they humbly make themselves inconspicuous, bordering on invisibility. On further examination it becomes clear that they do not exist. At least they are no longer in active practice. Continue reading

Munnar and INO: Day 3

Today is my last full day at Munnar. Tomorrow morning I head further south to the proposed India Based Neutrino Observatory site near Theni, Tamil Nadu. While the first half of today I spent mostly in the resort, typing, reading &c. I spent most of the later part of the day driving around the mountains, exploring parts–or rather paths–that I had only been to a few years back when I had spent about four days in this very place, in this very resort and in a room neighbouring the one I had been in previously. Like the last two posts, here are the pictures:

[You can also see Days 1 and 2 here: ?Day 1 ?Day 2]

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Munnar and INO: Day 2

Nothing much went on today. Remember that lovely thing from yesterday? Well I decided I can’t forget it. So I’ll live with it. And yet, do not ask me to expand on it.

I awoke and typed out a couple of pages of my script and then readied myself quickly to do nothing through the day. I decided that since I was on a holiday, I would rather do nothing (by nothing I refer to writing my script and reading some books) than go sightseeing. The point in taking a vacation is to cut yourself off from your daily schedule, not make things more rigid. So I was at my informal best and seemed to like it.

By afternoon, I was hoping to go out at least for an hour or two so I set off on a drive. Not stopping where everybody does or visiting places tourists frequent, rather just driving. It looked like six o’clock when it was actually three and began raining like I was in a rainforest. It happens. And not everything  can go right all the time.

So these were some pictures I managed to click with my tablet. (My camera wisely chose to stay back home.)

[Also visit ?Day 1 and Day 3?]

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