August 29, 2012

Roadside, And Waiting

Past Jhalki on the NH 13 bound for Solapur, villagers wait roadside by a temple, likely for a bus that winds through the countryside, past homesteads on farms that stretch to infinity, and beyond.

The sky is overcast and a breeze is about. The Bhima is a ten minute ride ahead where it flows by Vadakbal. Ah, the Bhima, such a long journey. So many memories.

And it’s a morning I'd like to spend by a window looking out at the world passing by, except I'm passing by a world looking on.


August 18, 2012

Ramadan Time In Bijapur

Gareeb bacchey hai,” the elderly Muslim man in a white skull cap and a red gamcha around his neck said as he stopped to speak with me on his way through an old quarter of Bijapur, the ancient city in the Deccan.

It’s likely he had noticed me watching on while five children, three boys and two girls, stopped him for chocolates in what I believe is a regular occurrence in the kindly man’s day.

I had seen him before at the gate of an old masjid watching the faithful walk in through the entrance in twos and threes as the call to prayer went out to the neighbourhood at roughly five in the evening.

It is Ramadan time, and the Muslims of Bijapur, having prepared dishes through the day in anticipation of breaking the Ramadan fast at sundown, look forward to the second call that will issue forth from the loudspeaker at around seven in the evening, announcing Iftar at about the same time that sodium vapour street lights begin to glow in the predominantly Muslim locality.

I had taken up a corner to make way for bulky bearded men in spotless white Salwar Kameez and equally white muslim prayer caps returning from the Masjid at half past five, the prayers having lasted a little under half hour. Most of them would not return to the mosque upon the second call announcing the breaking of the Ramadan fast, instead staying home to break the fast with their families.

The old man walked hunched, his hands folded behind the back in the manner of old men from the generation before who’ve lived all their lives in the neighbourhood, deriving their assurance, and authority from being in nodding familiarity with all its residents, including strangers like me passing through.

His blue Kameez (Kurta) worn over a colourful, chequered ankle length lungi reached below his knees and was held down in the forceful winds blowing through the city by pockets weighted down with what I would later learn were chocolates he carried along so he could distribute to poor children in the holy month of Ramadan (Ramazan).

“Many (children) do not have sufficient to eat,” he said. I nodded. He continued, “I carry chocolates with me so I have something to give them when they surround me. Chocolate dena padta hai. Khatey hai. Saat bajey khulta hai.”

“Some (children) will come to the masjid and carry back a little Iftar food distributed after prayers. They will eat it along with whatever their parents have prepared back home with whatever they can afford,” he said. I nodded again.

I remembered having seen children from poor families holding dishes covered with cloth run towards the masjid, laughing as they raced each other in response to the Muzzein’s call announcing Iftaar at sundown. Soon they would emerge from the mosque, their plates still covered with cloth but this time holding some eatables distributed in the mosque.

On one occasion, much to her chagrin and horror of her friends, a young muslim girl was near tears after her plate was knocked down in the melee, scattering its meagre contents into the mud. Embarrassed, she had quickly gathered the plate and whatever she could salvage from the earth and stumbled along holding back her tears.

Aatt baje, Bijapur ka ek laakh masjid mein badee namaz hoti hai. Sabh masjid mein. Tab bari kitaab pada jaata hai, Musalmanon ka special kitab,” he explained, circling his hand, index finger raised, over his head to indicate ‘one lakh’ masjids.

(At Eight in the night, in all of Bijapur’s one lakh masjids, a big prayer takes place when the Big Book is read, muslim’s special book.)

By ‘badee namaz’ he was likely referring to the Tarawih, the night-time prayers unique to the month of Ramazan. While Bijapur has numerous masjids, one lakh would’ve been one too many.

When the muzzein ‘talks’ to the neighbourhood around the mosque, walking alone through an empty lane is no different from walking with an invisible companion.

Soon dusk wraps its blanket closer, and tighter. The glow from sodium vapour lamps appear to grow stronger, lengthening shadows further down the lane. The loudspeakers have fallen silent. And so have I.

Note: The Muslim holy month of Ramadan concludes tomorrow, followed by Id-ul-Fitr the day after, Monday.

August 15, 2012

My Name Is ……..

No, it’s not Anthony Gonsalves!

From where I sat in the bus, wedged between passengers crowding the aisle on my right and a fellow-passenger in the window seat enjoying his music on my left, I could not see the words framed on the passenger window at the back of the rickshaw clearly in the twilight hour.

The bus soon came to a stop among honking auto rickshaws, trucks, cars and other buses, headlights waving about and stuttering  as impatient souls at wheels sought to throw the gear forward for the few inches of space vacated by the motor in front, each rocking back and forth while edging forward inch by inch in preparation to speed away the moment their turn came except their turn would not come anytime soon for, the busy signal at the intersection of eight, four main, and four service, roads, only went green by turns for not more than 30 seconds.

Lit by headlights from behind I made out My Name Is in the first line but the second, while I could make out ‘R’ or ‘Ra’ in Devanagari, defeated me momentarily in the rush of evening traffic. It’s uncommon, more so now than before, to see the ubiquitous three-wheelers dressed up on the road, and since the few I see are usually the result of Muslim youth preening their rickshaws for the road I pressed my mind for Muslim names to finish up My Name Is ……

Rashid? – Of True Faith, Guided Rightly
Rahim? – Merciful, Compassionate
Rafiq? – Friend, Companion
Riaz? – Devotion

That blazing headlights from behind glazed the letters yellow did not help either. I leaned across the rucksack of my uncomplaining fellow passenger to get a better look, and Lo! … the word was …






My Name Is Raftaar

In the corner of the window, illustrating his declaration to the world - his identity as a man of SPEED (Raftaar) - graced a heaving soul astride a beast I could not quite identify. His back arched in the moment before the beast, its head close to the ground, arches its back before powering forward. Red, blue, and green lights circled the window as if dancing to a tune, a psychedelic display of delight in the middle of a crowded road.

And, between his declaration and the registration number plate, ‘1111’, a number sought no less vigorously than a ‘786’ or a ‘1’ and no less unattainable as for those questing for unique identities to set them apart from the rest in their own cultural and economic milieus, as say, the quest for immortality, was affixed …..


If the identity he sought to acquire for himself needed any reinforcing than the ‘R’, borne like an insignia or better still, a single letter Coat Of Arms, did the job.

  R  for  Raftaar

And, today, 15th August, more so than all other days, as India celebrates its Independence Day and remembers among the greatest of its sons, Mahatma Gandhi, it’s in Mumbai more than elsewhere, a city known for its FAST pace of life, where SPEED separates those who ‘reach’ higher from the also-rans and where time can be exchanged for money, that Mahatma Gandhi's quote provides the greatest contrast and comes the closest to aiding reflection:

"There is more to life than just increasing its speed."

~ Mahatma Gandhi

And, as India looks ahead, it could do well to reflect upon the words of a Roman Philosopher, Statesman, and Constitutionalist –

“It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.”
                                                                                      ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 B.C.)

Happy Independence Day


Links: Raftaar, Entertainment

1. Invoking the proverbial JatBoy, the presenters, Raftaar and Deep Money, poke fun - all in good humour -  at how the Jat community, even if it were to invent a Rocket (unlikely at the last count), would allow little or no belief in its “buddhi” (cerebral abilities) other than for its muscle and power implying "they're no less than the others". At Technospark, Noida.

2. Honey Singh, presents Raftaar

4. Main Teri Heer Hoon, from Raftaar.

5. NDTV (Raftaar) – Dream Riders

August 10, 2012

Bal Krishna On Gokulashtami

Mumbai, 2012

A boy dressed up as Bal Krishna looks on as visitors crowd available balconies in old buildings on Ranade Road, Dadar, for a glimpse of Govindas girding up to battle rival groups for a crack at the Dahi Handi on Krishna Janmashtami today.