A Nation of a Billion Captivated

A German friend of mine just texted expressing her sadness that Narendra Modi won. It made me think about my own feelings on the outcomes of Indian Elections 2014. I’m not sure how I feel about the freshly minted leader of India. I do know – as do most of us – that he is a polarizing individual. And almost all the Western press that I’ve read thus far do not support his appointment. The Economist, usually very tactical in the manner of expressing its opinions, flat out said “[though] there is much to admire…this newspaper cannot bring itself to back Mr Modi for India’s highest office.” The US has in the past denied this very individual a visa to travel and visit the US. This man has been accused (and has never tried to negate these accusations) of playing “religion politics.”

Leaving The Man aside – let’s talk about something else that has fascinated me more. I have never seen before such collective fervor, where the entire nation’s pulse can be heard. Everyone from my 85-year old grandma to the mid-aged parents, aunts, and uncles, to my Indian friends across many different ponds holding various degrees – everyone in my circle – has been infected by “Election Fever.” As I opened my Facebook at about 1AM Eastern U.S. time – updates, both of enjoyment and disappointment, were everywhere. Calling my grandma who is in Gujarat at the moment – I could hear her enthusiasm reverberate through the phone line.

And this is not a Bollywood movie. This is living that Rang De Basanti momentum in actuality.

To whom do I attribute this to? The Gandhi Scion was always in the picture. Corruption in India has always been an issue. Push towards an economically successful country has always been on the platform. Had BJP furnished a lukewarm candidate, though, would such a historic election have happened? Would the everyday Indian citizen truly have woken up and gone out to vote and take that precious selfie? Frankly, judging from my past memories of Indian elections – I am not too sure.

Yes – he is polarizing. And no, despite being a Gujarati Girl from Vadodara, I am not endorsing him. Nor am I endorsing anyone else. Because, frankly, this election – it was about choosing between a dynasty that was successful in the past and a man who, while playing up religion in a secular country, promised economic gain. When it comes down to it – hasn’t the West too voted for individuals who favor one race over the other? Or those who push towards promoting only a certain kind of sexuality? Didn’t Bobby Jindal just recently admit switching to Christianity from Hinduism to gain more American voters?

While I do worry what is going to happen to my preciously secular India – where I celebrated Christmas, Eid, and Diwali alike – I am confident that Indian citizens are capable of decrying any moral transgressions carried out by their leader.

 

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The Dimming of Starry Nights on the Agaasi (Terrace)

Woh bachpan ka saawn
Woh kaagaz ki kashti
Woh baarish ka pani

-Jagjit & Chitra Singh (Urdu Ghazal)

I was just about to head off to bed here in Gujarat, India, when I felt a sense of dampness on my pillow due to humidity brought on by the Monsoon. This felt pleasantly familiar – a memory box from my past started churning. I hadn’t thought about this in ages.

Closing my eyes to let the memory engulf me, I saw a dark sky illuminated by stars, heard laughter propagated by aunts and cousins, felt coolness of the soft breeze, and smelled the pungent smell of Odomos (a mosquito repellent). Beautiful summer nights – spent in the cradle of the agaasi (terrace).

Precious memories of a fun childhood.

Confident due to the cover provided by  darkness, my relatives sleeping on mattresses next to me would open up to tell hilarious stories and jokes; the others tittering with laughter. The aunts would gossip, while the kids talked about their lives outside of summer vacation. At sunrise, we would all wake up due to the dampness brought on by morning dewdrops (*click* memory trigger).

Sadly, these days of sleeping under the stars are now too few and far between due to a certain progression in India. Whereas before, our privacy on the bungalow terrace was ensured by the nearby edifices being of similar height – now many of them have been torn down to accommodate our bulging population in tall, voyeuristic apartment complexes. Furthermore, sleep is no longer broken due to the dew but rather due to the incessant honking on streets that are too narrow to accommodate the ever-increasing traffic (consumerism, check).

And beyond anything, this fading of Terrace Nights is brought on by the dying of a certain kind of summer vacation. One that was spent in reuniting with cousins on an annual basis, on watching summer Bollywood blockbusters in 1-screen movie houses, on traveling to the same ancestral home every summer to eat a truck-full of Kesar mangoes. Life is too fast now – people too distant (literally and figuratively) and summer days at Grandma’s house are replaced with summer camps and exotic vacations.

For me, I will always miss sleeping in the gentle arms of the indigo nights, surrounded by an atmosphere that knew but innocence.

~Bhale chin lo Mujhse ye meri Jawani~

Woah, look at them Flyovers!

India is progressing. That much we all know. It is visible everywhere – in highly populated metro hubs as well as in slow, sleepy towns. There is only one, permanent season here. Not Monsoon, neither Summer. Nope, it’s Construction Season, year round! Shiny new malls, overly-daunting skyscrapers dot almost every town (big and small).

But, at what cost?

Vadodara has welcomed this season with a widely open heart. My grandma’s wonderful home of 20 years, in the heart of the city, was acquired five years ago by commerce-driven businessmen looking to capitalize on Booming India. It was torn down and replaced by a snazzy mall.

Recently, malls have taken the back seat to road construction in the city. It has caught the Flyover Bug that Mumbai had at the turn of the 21st century. Road improvement is definitely needed to alleviate the terrible traffic congestion that plagues the city.

However, in the process of building these, many surrounding homes have had to be destroyed. These houses belong to the underprivileged who lack both the voice to oppose and the money to bribe officials. Fine – for civic improvement, such a step is needed. Yet, these citizens are not given immediate alternative housing nor compensation to purchase one. In all fairness, the government does guarantee housing for the displaced 2 years down the line. But where is one to go in the time interim?

Progress should not be just measured via the increasing number of expensive, imported cars of the Classes but also through the improvement of the basic standard of living (a human right) for the Masses.

Hello Lilliputians, It’s me Gulliver

I love bargains. I come alive when street shopping. Therefore, it is but natural that I thrive when in India – going down the cramped streets, stopping at stores selling wares in shallow little stalls, talking my very best in regional language to stop myself from being duped by a shopkeeper charging me 200% more for a shirt. I never lose the battle and always come out on top. Except when getting those damn chappals (flip-flops).

Chappals. Pretty Mojris (heels). Sigh. Always approach them with the hope that maybe this time, I’ll win. Nope, I always lose. And not because my bargaining skills are somehow compromised.

I am Bigfoot reincarnated. I ask for the maximum size possible at a variety of stores (small and big). Excitedly, I slip my foot in. Stuck. My foot is half in and can go no further.

Ciao Commoner, You’re no Cinderella

Say both the shoe and the shop-owner.

I have been losing the shoe battle for 10 years straight (that’s when I started tracking). It’s not just with shoe size — my average American height of 5’6 too stands out like a sore thumb amidst cute Gujarati women.  And I am left with a hunch because I always have to bend due to low ceilings. OK – in that I exaggerate, but you get the point!

Travelogue – Rediscovery – India + Emirates

Dear Readers,

I am setting off on a short 3 week trip to the Exotic East (Gujarat, Mumbai, Dubai). I plan to write a travelogue for this period of time. I am visiting areas where I grew up after five years and the pace with which they have changed are probably going to shock and surprise me. I wish to capture this rediscovery.

I will try to be as frequent as sporadic internet access allows me to be.

Here’s to a journey into my past and towards understanding the current progress and future development of India.

~I