Feeling roadblocked as an artist?

Lately, I’ve been feeling extremely frustrated and upset. But it isn’t a feeling I am not familiar with. As an artist, I have gone through this phase many times. It never gets easier or better though, and I always end up throwing a tantrum and shedding tears while slumped against the bathroom wall.

I feel roadblocked when, despite having ideas, I cannot find a way to materialize them. I  think about my idea, write about it, talk about it, dream about it – but I can’t make it a reality because there are so many variables that I can’t control. It’s extremely frustrating when you can see your destination, but cannot find the means to wade through the blockages along the path. I struggle with finding the right dancers, fixing a suitable schedule, making sure I have all the equipment for the final product etc. But most of all, I struggle with finding an audience for my work. I simply don’t know where to take my work.

When I get an idea for a project, it’s like a freshly lit fire. The more I dwell on it, the bigger it becomes. My reason for investing all my creative energies in this idea is simple: I am passionate about it and I want to see it materialize. But unfortunately, that alone is not enough for an artist to survive. We need an audience to subscribe to our work and consequently some remuneration. What does an artist do when he/she don’t get that? They quit.

Most of us have come close enough to the point of tipping over before mustering the will power to take a step back. But there’s no denying that it gets tough more often than not. I’ve seen a lot of artists trying to juggle their full-time job and passion, hoping to find a break through in the latter so that they can quit their jobs. But that never really happens. In the times we live in, financial security is an unavoidable need. Our country, unfortunately, cannot provide artists that security. Artists fizzle out without reaching their maximum potential because there is not enough infrastructure, opportunities and revenue to support them. We have reached a stage where artists are doing work for free, just to keep themselves alive in the industry. I don’t think it is possible for us to see a worse time than this for our community. The performing arts are dying.

Performing arts in our country are mostly supported by the Ministry of Culture, that has set up various bodies across the country to support the arts: The sangeet natak academy, Indian council for cultural relations and seven zonal cultural centers to support the arts in their respective zones. But most of their funds go in the upkeep of the existing state infrastructure, which hardly leaves any funds for the promotion and welfare of artists. Their grants and schemes offer meager amounts and are hardly enough to sustain an artist for a few days, leave alone an entire month. As a matter of fact, the Ministry of culture does not even utilize 100% of it’s allocated budget because of it’s refusal to modernize it’s procedures and become more accessible to newer, upcoming artists.

Other avenues such as private corporations, do not feel the need to include promotion of the arts in their CSR programs because of it’s low ROI. Given that the audience for performing arts is shrinking, they have an even lesser incentive to invest in them. Most of the private bigwigs are moving towards cinema because of it’s massive outreach and profits. Even when they do fund festivals, they promote performances by well-known artists to attract audiences and media attention. I personally have gone through a similar experience where my dancers and I went all the way to Bombay to put up our piece – “Earthworm”, with a lot of hopes and expectations. However, the limelight was hogged by a famous performer who was specially called in to give a concluding performance. We ended up being just one of a 15 odd performers on the list. The show belonged to someone else.

There are bilateral agencies, funded by foreign governments and private funds, such as the British council, Goethe institute, Swedish council etc that are slowly gaining momentum across the performing arts landscape. They support and promote cross-cultural exchange of artists, ideas and performances. Some of them even support performances within India, but their outreach is extremely limited and hence their support is availed only by a select few individuals or organizations. The Gati dance forum is one such example of an organization supported by these agencies. Foundations such as Tata trusts have been offering support to the performing arts for the last 15 years, but they too, hardly have any visibility and only a select few artists are even aware that they exist.

Overall, I probably know more about some random app, which is of no use to me that recently released on google play store, than I know about these agencies, trusts and foundations that offer grants for performance making and sharing. Unless one sits down to dig information out of their websites, no one really knows they exist. There is not a single database that covers all the grant providing schemes and/or sponsors in our country, so that an artist can conveniently apply for one. 

Why don’t these agencies, trusts and foundations make themselves well-known and accessible to artists? Why are they repeatedly supporting the same artists/organizations (tata trust has been funding attakkalari for 15 years)? Why is an effort not being made on their part to market their presence more so that more and more upcoming artists can realize their potential?

We have arrived at dismal junction in the history of performing arts in our country where artists have started to refer to themselves as being a part of the “entertainment industry”. Well trained dancers are turning towards ad shoots, corporate shows, weddings and school performances to earn their livelihood. These are platforms where they’re treated like expendable commodities and are not compensated fairly. Nothing is streamlined or well-regulated in the industry, which leads to a lot of abuse and exploitation. Due to lack of work and money, artists don’t bother to follow professional channels of communication and go along with verbal word, which leads people to not take them seriously.

Most of the artists are freelancers as there is hardly any company that can afford to have artists on regular payroll. They survive on a project-to-project basis and more often than not undervalue themselves. There is no body that regulates and ensures the welfare of these freelancers. There is no where they can go in case of exploitation. Subscribers of bollywood dance are increasing both domestically and internationally, leaving no room for other forms like Indian classical, ballet, contemporary and folk. Even ICCR is now sponsoring bollywood extravaganzas to be performed overseas. Experimental artists who want to work on new and original ideas are practically abandoned. Their ideas won’t sell without commercialization.

As I said before, I don’t think the performing arts industry and specifically dance can see a greater low than this. People with new and original ideas are slowly diminishing, and no one cares.

Research: http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-creative-arts-in-india/$FILE/ey-creative-arts-in-india.pdf

Nestaway – Stay Away

I had rented an apartment with Nestaway back in February this year, only because of their tall promises about helping bachelors find homes easily. At first, it all seemed perfect because of their swift response and action time. I found a place and was told it would be “fully furnished”, that I would be provided with facilities such as gas cylinder, washing machine etc and that they would get it cleaned up and everything would be bright & shiny before my move-in.

Seemed quite the offer. Reality, however, was quite different.

First of all, the so-called ‘clean up’ included a one time lousy attempt at dusting the place in broad strokes. Even after they had supposedly ‘cleaned-up’, it was horribly dirty. I had to run an extensive cleaning operation of my own to make the place look remotely livable. Despite my efforts, the rotting sofa set, dining table, switchboards, TV table, coffee table, kitchen walls, balconies, kitchen drawers, stove, chimney (literally broken) – all remained the same. Dirty, dusty and not important enough to be given a fuck about by Nestaway. I was promised that there would be a gas cylinder and a washing machine before I moved in, but neither of them was there. I had to order food (including tea and coffee) from outside for days before I went ahead and simply arranged a cylinder myself. I also had to pay the maid extra to wash clothes by hand.

Added to that, was the drain blockage in the kitchen sink, broken toilet seat and a huge bee hive in my room. Suffice to say, I was very comfortable (/not).

I raised lots of service requests from my dashboard. But now it seems they get loads of those from tenants every single day, so they probably make jokes about them over their morning cup of coffee. I followed up as much as I could, and the only thing they really fixed was the toilet seat. Everything else, I had to get done myself and not to mention, pay myself too. And here I thought I wouldn’t have to pay for service requests raised within 7 days of my move in (one of their bogus policies).

After I got everything fixed and functional myself (including the DTH and wifi), fast forward to when other flatmates moved in. Nestaway executives told them that they didn’t have to share the installation fee for DTH and wifi because both these services were provided by them and were included in the rent. Talk about lying through your teeth. Speaking of executives, this company has the most useless, uneducated and uncooperative executives ever. They only respond swiftly until you pay your security amount in full. Post that, all you get to see is a massive middle finger.

When I was discussing the security amount, I asked the executive if it was okay to pay it in two installments over two months, he assured me that it was perfectly fine and it wouldn’t be a problem. So I paid one month’s security and one month’s rent and thought I was good to go (I moved in 5 days before month end). Clearly not.

On 1st of the next month, I got an email from Nestaway saying I needed to pay the rent. I was taken aback and tried to get in touch with their customer support time and again. True to their reputation, they were assholes and didn’t give two farts about my concern. I tried to get in touch with that executive, who told me and I quote – “Pay the rent including the late fee. I will come and return the late fee amount to you in cash because of the inconvenience this confusion has caused”

It would come as no surprise that that cash never came.

Fast forward again to July, when I got an email around the 18th saying that the property was going to be off-boarded so I had to move out. It also said that since it was being off-boarded by Nestaway, the move out charges would be waived off and I would get my security deposit refund within 7 working days. The property was off-boarded on 2nd of August. It has now been one month and 8 days and there is no sign of that refund. I have been diligently following up but their customer support executives always have one thing to say in their robotic voice, “Your refund is with our finance department. You should get it soon”

Now, according to their policy, if you don’t pay rent on time (on or before 5th of every month), a late fee of Rs. 500 will be charged. Post 10th, a late fee of Rs. 200/day will be charged (added to the Rs. 500) until 15th. Post 15th, your booking will be cancelled. So now that you haven’t given me my refund within 7 working days, how much interest will you pay me, Nestaway?

Apparently, they have another bogus program called the ‘3 Days Trial’ program under which, you can decide to cancel your booking within 3 days of your move-in without having to pay the lock-in breach charges, notice period shortfall charges, renovation charges (insert LOL emoji) etc. The ONLY money that you will have to pay is the rent for the number of days since the start of the license date, calculated on a pro-rata basis, move out charges (999 bucks) and cancellation charges (=token amount, which is 25% of the month’s rent. So if your rent is 20k, 25% of that is 5k, which would be your cancellation amount)

Quite an expensive ‘trial’, I must say.

They will deduct this amount from your security deposit and ‘process’ the refund. Rest assured you will never see the face of that money ever again. Ever. It’s gone. Into the chamber of secrets of Nestaway.

If you choose to go ahead with this fraudulent company, you will burn a hole in your pocket paying for things and services they promised to provide. To add to the injury, you will not get your security deposit refund on time, if you get it at all. The only thing you will end up doing is raising endless service tickets, which to all intents and purposes are useless.

I have been reading up on their social media accounts ever since I moved out and all their accounts are full of nothing but complaints and abuses. They have cheated countless people, who are now left with no option but to hound their social media with complaints. But to no avail, obviously.  If there was ever an epitome of not giving a duck – Nestaway would be it. It’s really inspiring how consistent they are in copy/pasting the same response to every person – “Hi [Insert name], we apologize for the inconveniences caused. Please inbox us your registered contact details. We’ll help you”.

They literally say this to every single person who posts a complaint. And then nothing happens. I find it hard to believe that this company is not just still afloat, but is managing to get funding round after round after round. They’re raking in money left right and center and leaving a trail of angry customers behind.

If you’re considering renting a place with Nestaway, DON’T. Kindly read their FAQ before taking any step: https://faq.nestaway.com/docs/faq-center.

If you’re currently a tenant in one of the Nestaway homes, well, good luck.

For people who have moved out – can we plan a class action suit?

 

Dear Indian Parents, why so entitled?

Now this is something I feel I need to talk about, especially in the context of our society. I haven’t written in a while and my writing skill has become quite rusty, but I have been feeling extremely confused, hurt and misguided lately and I needed to vent. So, coming to the question I am trying to pose – Dear Indian parents, why are you so entitled? Why do you think that you are entitled to your kid’s love, respect, obedience, compliance and support? Why do you think that your kid, in some way, is obligated to make you happy?

Because you went through pain to have them? Because you invested time, money, emotions and energy into raising them? Because you made sacrifices and compromises? Because you fought with others to keep them happy and safe? Because you put their well-being above your own? So now that they’re a little grown up and have a mind of their own, you expect something in return for everything you did? Wait. Was this arrangement supposed to work in this investment-ROI like fashion? Why wasn’t I told?

Before addressing the core issue here (which is extremely unhealthy and screwed up) I would like to pose another question – Why do people decide to have kids? Is it because you are already in a happy place in life, and feel emotionally, mentally and financially secure and strong enough to be able to share love with another human being without expecting anything in return or is it because you’re extremely unhappy with your life and feel that a kid will make it better? or because you’re lonely? or because you’re too bored in life and want a ‘project’ to work on? or because you can’t stand your spouse and want a reason to stay in the marriage? or because you are concerned about your old-age? or because you want someone else to fulfill your incomplete dreams? or because you want to fill a void in your life?

What is it?

I truly feel that people don’t decide to become ‘parents’ for the right reasons, especially in our country. Even if we exclude the people who are pressurized into having a child, the remaining percentage don’t have very healthy reasons either. That is where the dysfunction begins and keeps spiraling out of control. If you decide to have kids for any reason other than unconditionally sharing love and raising a healthy human being who will be (and should be) independent enough to make his/her own choices, then you my friend, have a problem. You are invariably going to download all your problems, issues and sorrows onto your kid and expect him/her to somehow a) either give you a solution or b) be the solution.

There are so many parents who tell themselves – we will not end up being like our parents. Well, bullshit. You are your parents plus more issues. It is so difficult to dissociate ourselves from our parents’ identity and personality in our culture – it takes a lot of awareness and almost an entire lifetime’s work to achieve that. Why? Because most of us are brought up within enmeshed relationships. Boundaries? What are those? Our parents have a right to know and interfere in everything. Free will? What’s that? I can only go out with friends that my parents like and marry the love of my life as long as my parents approve. Questioning parents’ decisions, opinions and beliefs? Prepare for a crash landing, kids. That’s never going to fly.

We’re never taught to be individuals with our own separate set of beliefs, opinions and principles. We’re always an extension of our parents. Any form of disagreement is seen as disrespect. (Because ‘respect’ is gulping down your opinion and putting your parents’ happiness above your own) Respect is a concept that only works one way, because parents will never respect our choices and decisions. And if those choices fall way beyond their radar of “what’s ok” – then you’re officially a rotten kid and have given them so much pain you should die in a pool of guilt. In short, the term ‘Indian parents’ should officially be synonymous with ‘insecure’. They’re so insecure about themselves that they cannot stand their kid being too different, or else – a question is raised on everything they did based on their belief system so far in their life, and they cannot be in that uncomfortable position of accepting that they might have been wrong at some point. (The horror)

You see, part of being a secure and mature human being is the ability to empathize and accept your mistakes when you make them (everyone does). In my understanding, Indian parents are neither. But the blame isn’t just theirs, it’s a dysfunction that has been passed down generations.

Coming to the core issue – if you think your kids owe you anything in return for your love and care, then you have issues that need to be dealt with before assuming that you deserve to be parents. Love, respect and care are mutual emotions that should be given unconditionally without expecting anything in return. If you are going to guilt trip your kids about your sacrifices and financial investments – Don’t be a parent. If you’re going to use the victim card to get what you want – Don’t be a parent. If you’re going to expect your kid to support you emotionally – Don’t be a parent. If you’re going to shove your beliefs and opinions down his/her throat – Don’t be a parent. If you have a problem accepting your kid as a separate individual who will have different opinions – Don’t be a parent. If you cannot accept the fact that your kid will not always agree with you – Don’t be a parent. When you bring a child into this world, he/she needs you and depends on you for physical, mental and emotional well being and continues to need you until he/she becomes an adult. You do not, and should not, need or depend upon your kid for any of those.

You don’t have the emotional bandwidth or maturity to be a parent. Please deal with your issues first. Also, if you do your parenting right – your kid will shower you with unconditional love and support, without you having to ask for it. A child’s first impression of the world is his/her parents. If you have truly loved your child without emotionally fucking him/her up – he/she will always stand with you and before you. Try it.

A kid’s love is a precious gift. It’s not your right. You chose to have a child and bring another human being into this world. If you’re putting your best foot forward to take care of him/her, it’s not a favor or a debt the kid has to repay later. If you have problems, they’re your responsibility, not your kids’. In US, if you put undue pressure on your kids or raise them in unhealthy households, the social security services will come and take your kid away. They have an accountability system in place. Raise your kid in a healthy environment or lose your right to be parents. Unfortunately in India, just having given birth to a child is enough criteria to qualify to be a parent. You can do whatever the fuck you want with that child. Because maa ke charnon mein swarg hota hai.

If a kid is being abused emotionally and physically in a house, there is absolutely nowhere he/she can go to seek safety and protection. We just have to wing it. And the number of kids being raised in abusive and unhealthy homes in our country is shocking. What is even more shocking is that most of them don’t even know they’re being abused.

I may not be a human child’s parent, but I am a pet parent to a wonderful and amazing dog called Brownie, who I adopted out of my own free will. It is my responsibility to make sure that she receives care, love and a safe environment. I didn’t do it because I wanted a watch dog or because I was lonely. I did it because her being there truly made me happy. Sometimes I have to put up with messy situations, she poops and pees anywhere, she tears everything apart, she whines for no reason and doesn’t listen to a single command, she demands too much attention, interrupts work and hardly shows any affection in return – I get annoyed sometimes. But I have to remind myself that I signed up for this. If I wanted a picture perfect dog who would sit when I asked her to sit, stand when I asked her to stand, mingled only with the dogs I liked and showed affection to me all the time – I would just sit and watch Scooby Doo on TV.

Even after 4 or 5 years, if I give her too much stress or take away her sense of safety, she will either show me aggression (biting) or simply run away, and I wouldn’t be able to do a single thing. She felt threatened and left to preserve herself. Is she obligated to stick with me despite the stress and abuse, just because I took care of her for so long?

NO.

I am just glad that I have a dog who will bite me if I cross her boundaries, as compared to a human child who will continue to suffer in silence thinking it’s okay just because I’m a parent. Nothing scares me more.

 

Are all lawyers assholes?!

Why? Seriously, why? Why do all of them believe they own the ground they walk upon and every person who even breathes in their presence is obligated to pay them money? I am yet to come across a lawyer who actually treats his/her clients as people and not ATM machines. When you walk into District court, Saket, the courtyard is brimming with lawyers literally jumping at you like taxi wallas at the purani dilli railway station.

“Madam, affidavit banwana hai?”

“Madam, koi case handle karwana hai?”

“Koi deed banwani hai?”

“Koi agreement karwana hai? Settlement karana hai?”

It seriously feels like you just stepped out at some local station in UP and the most uncouth and boorish taxi/rickshaw/auto wallas are ready to attack you. It’s saddening to see the way these “educated” lawyers put their integrity and self-esteem on a hanger and make a mockery of it in full public view. They’re ready to surrender themselves to you more and more with each 500 note that you pull out in their favor. Rs. 500 = Bas ek stamp milega. Rs 1000 = Court mein appearance kar denge. Rs. 2000 = Appearance + Petition. Rs. 3000 = 2 appearances + petition. Rs 1,00,000 = Private lap dance. Rs 2,00,000 = Private lap dance by their entire family.

A profession that finds it’s roots in words like integrity, justice, right vs wrong, morals and ethics, courage and fighting spirit, has become worse than the business of prostitution. All lawyers are puppets in the hands of money. All they want and care about is money. The more you pay, the better and faster justice you’ll get. It’s like the difference between business class and economy. So in case you’re an economy client who just got molested on the road, you will have to wait for years before you get your so-called “justice” (which is probably only going to be a settlement forced down your throat by the judge who only wants to decrease the load of the cases) and if you’re a business class client then justice will be handed to you pretty soon. And if you’re a first class client then not only will you get justice on a silver platter but also an autographed champagne bottle by the lawyer.

Paisa phek tamasha dekh was probably made for lawyers. They walk into your office as though they are doing you a massive favor by gracing your office with their golden presence. They sit in front of you and start giving advice even though they have no effing clue about what your case is or even glancing at the file. Pfft. Why would they do that? They’re too smart and “experienced” to do something as trivial as getting to know about the actual case. A few IPC sections here, a few citations of latest amendments there – their job is done. They just summarized your entire case without asking you a single question or reading the file. Now isn’t that genius? Next thing you know you have been sent a long invoice of their “services”. You must pay them for throwing around a couple of IPC sections, which you probably could have read yourself with half an hours worth of research.

Now isn’t that an honorable profession? I so will become a lawyer one day.

I actually remember a hilarious experience where I went to a lawyer’s chamber once to get a couple of notices drafted. He drafted the notice in front of me and my god, what a brilliant example of legal practice that notice was. What english! what attention to detail! And that man has a LLB degree and runs a firm. Ultimately, I had to draft the notices and all he did was stamp and sign them. And guess what? He still charged me. They have some nerve to be such unabashed bastards. Basically if they invest even one second in your case, you owe them money. Even if they don’t do jackshit, even if they’re the ones who screw up, even if they gave you wrong advice – you still owe them money. Why? Because they gave you time. And their time is more important than the Prime Minister’s time himself because you know, they have so many bad people to prosecute, justice to serve to the grieved and so many other noble things (=mint more money by raking in as many settlements as possible)

Lawyers are smartasses. They know the Indian judicial system is slower than MTNL broadband on it’s worst day. So the best way to make loads and loads of money is to make sure that each case stretches out as much as possible. That way they can spin money on each date. Our system is notorious for hanging every case for a minimum of 2 years. Sometimes justice is served to the grand grand children of the complainant/plaintiff. I honestly do not remember the last time justice was truly, truly served in our country. So like I was saying, lawyers take full advantage of this gaping blackhole in our system. They dish out all sorts of crap to convince you why it would be best to let the case hang. And mind you, they’re pretty damn convincing. Lawyers are multi talented people. They do business like sex workers and possess mad marketing skills like a top class salesman and pretend to be compassionate like SRK in Swades.

Which brings me to the next point = their ego. So even though our system is churning out lawyers faster than mosquitoes breeding in the summer and even though most of them are useless and don’t have brains to fill a teaspoon, their egos are bigger than the Tatas and Ambanis. They think that a black coat gives puts them at a pedestal higher than the normal civilian. If you hire a lawyer, you better listen to his advice and you better make time for him when he has time, and you dare not ask him too many questions and you dare not contradict him or tell him that he’s not working hard. How dare you tell a lawyer what to do? Who the hell are you? Just another ATM? He will probably go find another one. There are plenty he hasn’t exploited yet. If you do any of the above, he will walk out and leave all your cases hanging midway without any further advice and that’s not it, he will even raise you a bill and demand money for “services rendered”!

Oh I forgot to add one point in there: If you ask them to invest more time than what has been agreed upon in the agreement, then it’s going to be chargeable. Even if it’s just a minute above. They will make sure they mention that extra minute in their bill. Incase you refuse to pay, then “you are an exploitative client who doesn’t pay lawyers for their insane amount of hard work, blood and sweat that they put into your cases. You monster!”

Lastly, lawyers are always on sale. So even if you have a lawyer who is involved in one of your cases, and the other side happens to offer more money he/she will happily waltz into their arms and perform a screw-you duet in front of your face.

The reason I’m ranting so much is because I’ve had it with lawyers and their SOB-ish behavior. I’m done with them hanging out their tongues at the sound of money and salivating like dogs. I’m done with them having no integrity or respect either for themselves or their clients. I’m done with lawyers not wanting to put in any work in a case and just breeze through it like it means nothing. Heck, I’ve become half a lawyer thanks to my varied experiences over the years. I’ve not met one lawyer that I can actually look upto and respect. They’re all greedy, selfish, money-minded businessmen who don’t give a rats ass about the client’s problem. I’m sick of being ripped off and still being treated like horseshit.

Lawyers, I suggest you to the market and buy clothes from a store called “Balls&Respect”.

Who says prostitution is illegal in India?

Back to Europe

Three months have lapsed since I was here. I had thought that when I would be back it would feel like an eternity. It should feel like an eternity. I’ve been through so much in these 3 months. My life has been turned upside down. I’ve had a surgery, been beaten up (over a parking issue!) and been through an emotional roller coaster ride. I released my first ever group choreography and shed tears when it was received brilliantly. But it feels like it was just yesterday that I was walking across the streets of Europe to find an open restaurant at 10 pm at night, trying to find the best possible route to class, cleaning the house and washroom myself, trying not to get lost (!), trying to find people who speak english (for the love of god!) and – trying not to look like an idiot.

That, honestly, is the biggest struggle. As an Indian you are brought up to believe that  the white race is superior. Every time that a white woman/man was spotted on the streets of a small town, the crowds would ogle them shamelessly as though they were aliens. I was a part of that crowd. I saw the firangs as people who belonged to a completely different world. When I was a kid and lived in a small town called Kashipur (a little away from Ramnagar), an american couple were brought home by my cousin uncle (we were a family of show-offs. Apparently he promised he would tell them everything they needed to know. He knew zilch, btw) and my god it was like Radha-Krishna had entered our home. Every single resource was devoted to making them comfortable. My entire family turned into Indian historians. I, too, was quite overwhelmed. I stood there like a darbaan waiting to salute them when they left. And that’s what I did.

Anyway, the point is that that experience is still very vivid in my mind. Out of all the extraordinary experiences I may have had as a child, this is one of the very few that is still as clear as it gets. The only reason being that we were noticed by foreigners. Wow, isn’t that a big thing.

That is the reason why the possibility of making a fool out of myself infront of these posh, highly sophisticated breed of homo sapiens causes me extreme anxiety. Having a cup of coffee in a cafe can sap me of all my energy. What if I pronounce ‘cappuccino’ wrong? What if I enter the cafe and then they tell me that it is already closed? Won’t I look like such a fool then? What if the owner/waiter doesn’t know english? What if I don’t like what I order? Would it be okay if I left it untouched? Would they think I’m insulting them by not liking their food? – are just some of the thoughts that go through my head when I undertake the simple task of ordering a cup of coffee. There is a plethora of other things of course – accidentally walking on the cyclists lane, not knowing whether or not it’s okay to cross the road even when there is no zebra crossing, not knowing where to buy the train/tram/bus ticket, not knowing how to buy the train/tram/bus ticket, not knowing whether to place an order in a restaurant at the counter or at the table, not knowing whether to settle the bill at the counter or at the table, whether to say “take away” or “to go” when getting food packed, not knowing if it would be okay to pee after 10:30 at night or the neighbor might call the police for making noise etc.

Yes, living in Europe is a struggle for Indians. Especially a lazy and lost Indian like me. Makes me realize how many things we take for granted in our country. Today, I went to a mobile store to buy a local pre-paid sim. I had to wait an hour before that guy could attend to me because he was attending to another customer. Had it been India I would have made an angry remark and got the job done in 10 minutes.

Despite my struggles though, I feel like I manage myself reasonably okay when I’m here. I wash my clothes on time and manage to put some food in my stomach. Sure, sometimes I have to eat utter garbage in the name of “vegetarian food”, but that’s when I thank the lord that I know how to cook and for Indian restaurants. I manage to figure out the public transport system and the lanes/streets (One thing I can never figure out is the lock system here. True story – I always forget which way to turn the key to open the door) Most importantly though – it keeps me on my toes all the time. I’m in zero chill mode in Europe.

I like being in the hustle mode. It gives me a sense of purpose and direction. It helps me overcome a lot of challenges. It isn’t always a party though; being alone all the time can get to anyone – but that’s why I hustle harder, so that it doesn’t overwhelm me. More than anything else – I get to focus on and explore dance to the fullest, which is what I live for.

This trip has been a rush so far. I went to Brussells for two days and now I’m in Berlin for a couple of days, followed by a yet undecided destination for a few days and finally to Amsterdam. No enjoyment anywhere though – just auditions, auditions, auditions!

 

Crash & Burn

“I swear to god; I will kill myself!” she cried whilst holding a sharp knife to her wrist.

“Mom, please! Don’t behave like this! Sambhalo apne aap ko!” screamed Vikas frantically. He couldn’t believe how quickly things had spiralled out of his control. At the outset, he had been so sure that he would be able to handle this well. He had been so sure that he would be able to get through to his mother. Little did he know that he hardly knew his own mother and how inaccessible she had become, surrounded thickly by her own grief and sorrow.

“Don’t you dare tell me what to do! You have betrayed me all along! I trusted you so much, I thought you would listen to me!”

Hair unkempt, dupatta having slipped down onto the floor, tears streaming endlessly down her face, the frail and tiny woman shivered as she screamed each word. It did not seem as though her son had confessed that there was a girl he was in love with and wanted to marry, it seemed as though he had proposed to disown her. To her, perhaps, there was simply no difference between the two.

“Mom, please calm down! You’re really scaring me! At least try to understand what I’m saying. I’m your son!” Vikas screamed the last three words in a desperate attempt to make his mother understand.

She let the knife linger at her wrist a for a few more seconds before her knees gave in and she fell down on the floor, the knife slipping away from her hand with a loud clunk. She immediately started sobbing like a baby and held her head between her palms. Vikas slowly walked towards her and sat down next to her. He grasped her hand and said, “I’m sorry mom, I know I have hurt you. I know a lot of things have come as a shock to you. I lied and that is hurting you the most. But you must understand why I did it. I did it because I knew this is how you would take it. I cannot see you like this”

“T-t-hen wh-why dd-id you-u d-do it a-at all?” she asked in between sobs.

Vikas sighed, “I’m in love, mom. I don’t think that’s a crime. I do have the right to choose my life partner, don’t I?”

Although tears continued to stream down her face, she took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself down and said, “You’re doing your masters right now. Don’t you realize how much pain your parents have taken to be able to provide you with such excellent education? How much money we have invested in it, so that you can make a good life? How can you even think of marriage right now? All these things are a distraction!”

“Whose talking about marriage mom? All her family is suggesting is an engagement so that the commitment is final from both sides. We can get married whenever we want. I will focus on my career and so will she. This will validate the relationship, that’s all. Besides, I’m not a baby. I’m 25 years old. You do realize that we both have already committed to each other, don’t you?”

At this point, her temper rose and she said in a raised voice, “So is that my fault? Did you ask me before committing? Why should I bear the punishment and pain of something that I didn’t decide?!”

“That is not the point!” said Vikas in a slightly irritated voice, “I just told you that I have the right to choose my life partner. We fell in love. We didn’t decide to, it just happened. That does not mean that it will ruin my career or I will not be able to make a good life. We lived together when we were in US, mom. I think that speaks a lot for itself”

“You should be ashamed of yourself. How could you do that? How could you take such a step without thinking twice?” she asked as she suddenly got up, “Is that what I have taught you? Didn’t you think about the family’s respect? About us?”

“I know that it sounds wrong to you, but what I’m trying to say is that we were able to take that step because we are so sure about our future. There is no doubt in our minds that we will marry each other one day. It was not a casual deal; it was a mark of our commitment. Please try to understand that”

Once again, she shook her head and said in any icy tone, “No, I don’t want to know. This engagement is not possible. We didn’t send you abroad to do all this. How can you get engaged to someone without even getting a job? Without standing on your own legs? I cannot allow you to make a commitment like that without having a financial backbone!”

“What does my financial backbone have to do with this? I’m not being asked to financially support her or spend money on her in anyway. Honestly, she wouldn’t ask for that even when we’re married! The commitment is already there and has been there for the past one year! That’s what I’m trying to tell you! Her family got to know that we lived together in US, they know that both of us have to go back again, so if we went as an engaged couple it will simply make them feel reassured. Come to think of it, it should be reassuring to you as well! Would you want me to lie to you again?”

Vikas was feeling drained. Their conversation was simply going in circles. She was looking at what had happened in the past and what he proposed should happen in future as two disconnected events that were both crimes in her head. She simply wasn’t trying to understand that the natural progression of any relationship is to take a step forward, especially when the two involved are on the same page. He had hoped that she would at least understand, if not respect, his decision. But he had not even been able to get past the ‘acceptance’ stage.

Living together under one roof is an accepted norm overseas. In India, however, it’s a blasphemous idea, enough to make the immediate society shudder. So naturally when their parents found out, all hell broke loose. Her parents, however, came to the conclusion that if they had to be living together then might as well make the commitment official. “Let us feel safe and not unsure all the time”, was their argument.

Vikas had been apprehensive when that happened. He knew his mom would not take it well, but he also knew that he wanted to spend his life with that woman because she made him happy. She made him feel content. He had given her his word and he would keep it. It was the thought of her that gave him strength in difficult situations.

“My decision is final Vikas. If you want to be with that girl, you leave my house. I will never see your face again. You can do whatever you wish to with your life. I am already dead inside, so what’s the difference? How does it matter to you, whether I live or die?”

Tears started streaming down her face again as she continued to mumble to herself. Vikas realized that there was no point in trying to talk to her right now, he would have to try again later when she was saner and more mature. He took a deep breath and said, “We’ll talk about this later mom. Why don’t you have dinner and sleep?”

“I don’t want to eat anything. I won’t eat until you give up on this crazy idea!”

And with that, she got up and went inside her room, banging the door behind her.

Vikas sat there staring after his mom, trying to blink away some of the tears that were threatening to roll down his face. He was caught in a situation where he had no idea what to do. He wished his mother would stop reacting in such a childish way and using threats to manipulate him. He felt stuck and helpless. If he were honest to himself, deep down in his heart he knew what the permanent solution was. But he also knew that it would take a lot of courage to put it on the table. At that moment, his phone rang. He wiped a lone tear off his cheek and picked it up, “Hi Dad”

“Hi beta, is everything okay?”

Vikas let out a sigh, “No Dad. Nothing is okay. When are you back?”

“In about 10 minutes”

“Okay dad. I need to talk to you about something”

Vikas kept the phone down and tried to arrange his scattered thoughts. If he could convince his father, then he would be one step closer. It would be tough, but doing the right thing was never easy.

15 minutes later, when his father had arrived and had had his customary cup of coffee, Vikas sat across from him at the dining table and said, “Papa, we need to discuss Mom’s state of mind”

His father let out a defeated sigh and said, “Beta you know how she is. I have tried to channel her thoughts in the positive direction time and again, but she simply doesn’t want to. She is mentally very weak”

“Papa you can’t find a solution unless you identify the problem. The way she is right now is not something that has happened overnight. It’s the accumulated effect of all the years she has spent feeling wronged and cheated by everyone around her. She has started looking at herself like a victim in every situation Papa. Can’t you see what is happening here? It’s gotten to a point where she has started to threaten suicide!”

Vikas was trembling as he spoke. They had become so used to his mother whining and complaining all the time that they had accepted it as a part of who she was. “That’s just how she is”, was their usual refrain. They either tried to avoid triggering her or architected their behaviour to suit her wishes. They never really tried to tackle the root of the problem. This situation, however, was one too many for him to handle. It was neither avoidable nor designable. They would have to look at it for what it was and take a small step towards finding a permanent solution instead of band-aid ones.

“I know why you are suddenly saying all this. It’s because you don’t want to lose that girl”

Vikas shook his head lightly and said, “That’s a part of the reason, Papa. But mom’s behaviour has been raising red flags for a while and you know it. Do you think she has a problem with the engagement? No! she thinks that she will lose me in some way if that happens. She’s insecure and that’s why she’s lashing out. This is her fear talking, not her. She is trying to keep me clutched to her chest in whatever way possible. She will behave like a child, threaten suicide, will stop eating – anything to avoid facing that fear. And I can assure you that her passive-aggressive side will come out tomorrow in the form of depression and silent treatment”

His father processed what he said for a while and said, “So what are you suggesting?”

Vikas continued, “Look this situation seems to be the problem now, but it’s not. Today it’s the woman I love and tomorrow it will be my career choice, later my decision to buy a house or how to raise my kid. No matter what it is, she will react in the same manner. Except that it’s getting increasingly worse. She has no faith in either of us. She thinks if I don’t walk the path the way she wants me to, I won’t be successful in life. If you don’t comply with her wishes, her old age is doomed. She needs professional help. She needs someone who can make her face the fact that the real problem is inside her and so is the solution. She needs to stop expecting other people to fill the voids in her life”

“Are you suggesting that we put her in a mental hospital?” asked his father curtly.

“No, papa. And I’m not suggesting that she’s ‘mental’ either. All I’m saying is that her behaviour is alarming and scary, and we should get her some professional help. We can start with counselling sessions in either group or personal. Trust me, finding identification is a huge step in the healing process. Later, if it works, we can try suggesting something she can get involved in and commit her time and space to”

“You know she will never agree”

“I know, which is why we need to give her a dose of her own medicine and show her the mirror. We will suggest this idea to her and get it done the way she would get it done if it was her idea. Refuse to eat. Refuse to talk. Refuse to go to work. Keep complaining about everything. Tell her how dead you feel inside, how people in your life have used you. Be passive-aggressive. I will do the same. At some point, maybe a day, a week or a month later, she will realize what we are trying to put across. She will realize why we are suggesting this. She will accept it herself, Papa” said Vikas earnestly.

His father drummed his fingers lightly on the table and said, “Are you sure this will work?”

“I don’t know. All I know is that we need to do something drastic to get her to see what she is doing to herself and this family”

His father let out a sigh and said, “Okay then. Let’s do this. I am with you”

Vikas smiled and said, “Thanks Papa. We need to do this as a team”

His father smiled and nodded, “Yes we do. And what about this situation? Will you go ahead with the engagement?”

“Yes I will. If we want to find a permanent solution, we need to stop enabling her by giving in to her blackmail. There are healthy boundaries in every relationship, and its high time I defined them. If we do this together, I’m sure we can get through to her”

“Okay, beta. I trust you” his father said with a smile before patting his shoulder twice. Vikas smiled back and let out a sigh of relief. That’s one level down, he thought to himself. He picked up his phone and messaged her:

Baby, we will get engaged. I am happy this happened, because I could finally find the courage to do something I should have done long ago. I love you : )

 

 

 

She got up with a jerk and wildly looked around. She was in her bed, in her room, in her house. She quickly checked her phone for any messages. It reflected nothing but the time: 9:30. She opened her whatsapp contact list and scrolled down to V. She was still blocked by Vikas. It had been 7 days since they split because his mother threatened suicide and he couldn’t take a stand against her. She spent each day dreaming the same dream and waking up expecting the message she so badly wanted to read. But reality offered her nothing but the same disappointment every day.

She sank her head back into her pillow and let a tear roll down the side of her face. They were happy and content. If only he had done the right thing instead of the easy one. If only he had tried to fight the problem instead of giving into manipulation. If only he didn’t let her go so easily. If only.

All she had now, were her dreams that crashed and burned every single morning, taking a piece of her with them in the flames.

The socio-economic polarization of Delhi

Delhi can be defined as many things, but heterogeneous is not one of them. It is a city whose rapidly rising mall culture contrasts heavily with it’s stark realities at the ground level. A major garbage dump can easily exist outside the long stretch of big wig structures like Select city walk and Max Hospital. A 5 star hotel can co-exist with a slum area. A pedestrian could wait for an auto to stop while ten BMWs zoom past him.

In a nutshell, Delhi is a city that essentially has two faces – The one that is rich, glamorous and swanky and the one that is poor, inadequate and unorganized. These two faces define the way things are run in this city. They dictate the terms that will eventually be levied on everyone. Unfortunately the ones who suffer the most in this tussle between the extremely rich and the extremely poor are the middle class people. They slog away for years in 9-6 jobs, pay their bills and taxes, pay for their children’s education, invest in policies, take loans and dream of living a comfortable and stress free life one day. That ‘one day’ however, never really arrives owing to the fact that the middle class is one sector that no one gives a shit about.

The extremely rich people are the ones dwelling in places like Sainik Farms, Paschim Vihar, Panchsheel, Vasant Kunj, GK so on and so forth. They have enough money to rent Honey Singh for an hour to sing at their daughter’s wedding, enough money to arrange a luncheon with a high ranking government official, enough money to buy their children seats in coveted institutions and enough money to drain down the pipe and still be left with enough to feed the entire city of Ramnagar. They have strong connections with all the right people. They can exert influence in places where a common man can only dream of getting past the peon. Say a tender floated by MCD or PWD, open to all on paper, offers an opportunity to relatively smaller units as well. But in reality, someone sitting in a chair worth 1 lac just needs to send a bottle of whisky, a complimentary mobile phone and a few sugar coated promises to nab the tender and shove everyone else out of the way even before someone can think of bidding. The reason why the line ‘Tu jaanta nahi mera baap kaun hai’ is so famously abused in Delhi is because it actually is true. The only way one can get out of tight spots is if he/she has the right connections. A rich dude from a rich family can break traffic laws, drive under influence and eve tease openly without the fear of bearing any consequences. Why? Because ‘consequences’ are not for someone whose dad has coffee with the Commissioner ever week.

On the flip side are the poor people who constitute the daily wage workers, domestic help, autorickshaw wallahs etc. Their one and only funda is – ‘Strength in numbers’. They are united by their status and their ambition to get as many free benefits as possible. They use their unity to exert influence in workplaces to get their way, and their status as a sympathy card to get out of situations. Say you dismiss a worker in an Industrial area like Okhla without further pay, the next thing you know, about 50 other workers are standing right outside your office demanding why this happened and threatening you with everything from labour court notices to local gunda connections. Their threats may be real or empty, but strong enough to get the job done. A local lady who works as a cook only needs to tear her dupatta and cry rape before an official case is registered against you. All for what? A few extra bucks.

Their unity is also a great vote bank for local MLAs who rely on them for local help. They do petty jobs for them in return for solidarity and support. This is why you could be running a smart IT business and still fall prey to their tricks.

What’s being sandwiched in all this is the middle class, who simply cannot see beyond their monthly stressors like roti, kapda, makaan. They’re the ones who get ripped off by autowallahs and sidelined by Audi owners. They’re the ones who can stroll around in Select Citywalk and yet manage to buy nothing. They’re the ones who are qualified enough to get a good seat in a good institution but get squashed either by reservation or by the wealthy son of a wealthy father. There is no politician who finds the middle class issues strong enough to create a mudda, no godfather who is willing to stand up for the never ending struggle of the 9-6 worker, no NGO that is invested in supporting the paper thin lives of the middle class man, rearing to fall apart at the slightest touch.

In conclusion? If you want to lead a good life in Delhi, you must either be very rich or very poor. If you’re one of the middle class, then you’re pretty much doomed to lead a life of misery throughout.

Caste and Religion Politics: Is the power of voting any power at all?

We all know the famous tag line that is often associated with Indian politics – “You don’t cast your vote, you vote for your caste”. India is a culturally rich country. We have an array of religions, languages and cultures. Not to mention that the caste system has existed for centuries. Yet the vision of our leaders at the time of Independence was secularism. Our diversity should be our strength, not our weakness. But over the course of time politics became more about winning and less about public service, and our diversity became a tool for the politicians to pit us against each other.

Religion

Indian politics was easily about three things – Religion, caste and regionalism. Each National party had different candidates that appealed to all three vote banks. During the Congress led government (since 2004), the then marginalized and ghettoized Muslims were a major vote bank for them. When Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister, he appointed the Sachaar committee to collect data about the state of the average Muslim in India, who was shockingly underrepresented in the BJP led government. During the tenure of Congress, more Muslim MPs were elected and brought to the forefront. Thus Congress established a strong relationship with the Muslims. This, however, was not a new development as the Congress has been accused of harbouring a soft corner for the Muslims ever since the times of Nehru, followed by Indira Gandhi.

The BJP, on the other hand, has always been very vocal about its Hindutva ideologies. It’s many affiliations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (with it’s militant wing – The Bajrang Dal) are a testament to the fact. It’s history regarding it’s involvement in the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and then the Gujarat riots in 2002 is still very unclear and murky. Both the acts have still not been punished in the court of law. Under BJP’s tenure, Hindu majoritarianism took precedence over other minority groups. The Christians in Orissa were heavily attacked by the Bajrang Dal in 2008. When they retaliated, the Bajrang Dal reacted with even more violence, forcing people to flee from their villages. It was declared that only the refugees who converted to Hinduism would be allowed back in their villages.

Caste

In the 1990’s, the very infamous Mandal commission was established that declared a 27% reservation for all OBCs in the public sector. The upper caste retaliated with strikes and movements, because of which the OBCs were forced to come together in solidarity to protect their common interests. They began voting together and for their own caste, which was marked by Mulayam Singh Yadav’s rise to power in UP and Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar. Both these politicians took their politics to the home of a Dalit.

In the beginning of the 2000s, however, the OBC solidarity went down mainly due to the fact that both National Parties, namely – BJP and Congress, conjoined hands with OBC candidates and provided them with representation in relevant areas. In Madhya Pradhesh, all BJP Chief Ministers have been OBCs since 2003. Despite the disintegration of the OBC unity, Bahujan Samaj Party is still on a steady rise.

These facts converge to form one fact – in India, parties don’t manage to get a majority or even enough seats to exert any influence in the Parliament without Identity politics. Since it’s Independence in 1947, Indian politics has always relegated itself to caste or religion politics rather than focusing on real issues like poverty, illiteracy, healthcare, unemployment and crime. It is rather unfortunate that we, as a people, are never moved by the core issues that form the basic infrastructure of any economy, but are rather more invested in differences that, at the end of the day, are someone’s personal choices. ‘Power of voting’ is a powerful right only as long as the people are not manipulated or brainwashed into believing in one particular ideology only because it’s being perpetrated by the leaders of their own caste, religion or state. In that case, this power isn’t any power at all, but rather an illusion that makes us believe we’re voting out of free will.

With the grand sweep by the Aam Aadmi Party in the 2015 Legislative Assembly Elections in Delhi, people are now hoping that AAP will bring about a change in the face of politics and the focus will be on developmental issues. Whether or not it will succeed is a question that will be answered in the next 5 years, but here’s hoping that it doesn’t disappoint us.

Source: Religion, Caste & Politics in India by Christophe Jaffrelote