Monday, October 18, 2010

Random Walk: Mumbai and Kolkata

Dear All,

Recently, I was reading Rushdie’s ’s Children. I always have a penchant to go through the preface or introduction of any book, be it purely academic or a novel. While I did that for the Booker of Bookers, I came to know that Rushdie used to write it after coming back from his part-time job. He used to take a bath, freshen up and then write.

I fully understand now why he did that. In fact, I have started emulating him. And I find it quite comforting. I also do some ‘pranayam’ (no Baba-effect) before I start pressing the keys of my laptop.

While I am sure that you are extremely engrossed in Dussehra festivities and those who are not into it, are again back to work after a leisurely vacation. That does not, however, make me sit idle and not poke you. In fact, you very well know that I am a worthless person and poking is, not my favourite pastime, but my only job.

Today, I shall tell you the stories of two persons. Yes, two persons who are quite different. They are not related in any way to each other. Neither by language. Nor by caste. Nor by any other parameter. Nonetheless, they are related, very well connected. You will soon discover how and why.

A caveat right at the beginning.

If you are led to believe that since nowadays I take a bath before writing; hence it would enable me to narrate like Rushdie, then I shall be the first person to ask you to leave the theatre. Please. I will tell the stories in the sole manner in which I tell stories.

Well, the first story.

I have mainly two email accounts. Why mainly, I have only two operational email accounts. One at gmail and the other at yahoo. I prefer the gmail account for most of my professional stuff and the yahoo account, for, well, my professional stuff. That is, I use both the accounts almost in an equivalent manner. There are advantages as well as disadvantages of both the accounts.

Okay, bhai, I understand that I am digressing too far. Fine. Let me come back to the point.

While I was logging into my yahoo account, I came across a headline. You might say, "So what? There are headlines in the Yahoo Home page always. And the news articles are informative."

Informative forsooth. I came across the news that our dearest Mr Mukesh Ambani, along with his wife Nita Ambani, three children and a 'modest' 600-person staff would move to a new house. Now, I understand why Nita Ambani always appears to be on cloud nine. The 'Bhajji embrace' is definitely not the reason.

On this Sunday morning, in The Asian Age, I saw the fashionista, vivacious Nita addressing an august audience at the London School of Economics. The Ambanis (err, only Mukesh and Nita) are planning to collaborate with LSE to open branches in India! Wow, what a news.

At least, now, the coming generations of my fellow countrymen would be spared the anachronistic system of education that we had to gulp down our alimentary canal. And now they would be enlightened, not as a Budhha, but as a John Keynes. And they would be respected by the Occident. And they would receive more and more Nobels. And…….

Let me vomit some facts very fast. Mukesh's new house (err, Mansion) is of 27 storeys. Its name is Antilla. It cost him one billion US dollars. And one US dollar is equal to, how many? Okay, not sure; may be forty five rupees to be on the safe side. The sale price of the mansion is two billion US dollars. Our honourable Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has been invited to Mukesh's mansion.

Please allow me to take my breath. Just wait. Indeed breathtaking. What?

Aare baba, the sight of the mansion. No, no. I have not seen it. Just saw the picture. Where and how? Aare baba, in the internet. The picture presents an architectural wonder. It has a rectangular facade. As if one match-box has been placed over the other and that in turn over another and …...

The picture reminded me of school days when I could never solve the problems on static equilibrium.

Downtown Kolkata. The city of joy(?) and dilapidated palaces. Our cherry-coloured Maruti Suzuki Zen was easing its way through the unusually low dense traffic, and on the unexpectedly proper tarmac-road. I glanced at my right. I could see a lean young man, with bulging eyeballs, confirmed to be in his twenties, was intensely focused and had a wonderful hand-eye co-ordination; a coordination which might fetch him a maximum of 300 Indian rupees per day whereas on the other hand, a similar coordination can fetch our Mahendra Singh Dhoni few lakhs per day or may be more!

As I said at the outset, my job is to poke. So, I did. And 'thus spake me'.

"May I know your name?"

A long pause. He was busy in maneuvering the car. Did he listen to my question? I reiterated.

"Lakkhan." Was the stern reply in a Bengali-cised pronunciation, which had a veiled Bihari undertone. It was not at all sonorous and his tone adumbrated the fact that he was not interested in talking to me any further.

He was engineering my vehicle as you know I am a worthless person. I don't know how to drive. So, he was doing a favour. And I am sure that he expected a standard emolument of 150 Indian Bapu notes in return. A perfect professional.

But I was not to be let down.

"Lakkhan-babu, where do you stay?"

"In the garage". This time he gave a prompt answer.

"Would you like to get down here?" he asked, once we reached Muhammad Ali Park.

"No, let’s move on. I am not quite comfortable in entering Puja pandals."

The car cruised along Central Avenue and reached the boulevard of Kolkata: Esplanade. I insisted that we move toward New Market. I planned to buy some chocolates and dry fruits and bakery-made biscuits. (I remember with shame how my aunt reprimanded me because as a kid, I used to pronounce it as 'bis-koot' and not 'bis-kit'. At home, I still prefer the earlier pronunciation.)

"Where is your actual home? I mean your native place?"

"Belpahari, near Jhargram."

Suddenly, I could feel my heart beating faster. I must know more. I have to.

Why? Well, I guess your memory is not so weak. Though, you consume all sorts of memory-boosters to retain it. Nevertheless, let me remind you. I am studying the Maoist movement in India. And Belpahari has recently become a Maoist bastion. Even their flamboyant leader Kishenji could be hiding in that area.

And this guy is just from that place. It is very difficult these days to have visitations to Jangal-Mahal area which has been labeled as 'Maoist-infested'. The security forces not only gun down suspected Maoist guerillas but also love to incarcerate civilians and researchers who might loiter around that area for field work and data collection. A proper permission from the Superintendent of Police is required. He or she is, on most occasions, if not necessarily always, bloated with an authoritarian ego of the position conferred by the highest executive of the Indian Constitution as well as conceited in a false academic vanity of qualifying one of the so-called toughest competitive examinations in the sub-continent.

But I should not curse my fate at all. I got a chance to pay a visit, at least to the Jhargram town, the urban epicentre of the tension. I did not turn it down. Rather, I was torn apart between the capitalist-bourgeoisie service sector and my passion. The former won the day. I must again state that I am a worthless person.

"Well, as far as I know, the Maoists are active in that region, right?" I felt that it was a probing question.

It appeared to me that Lakkhan was a bit hesitant in answering it. Was he suspecting me? Was he a Maoist? Was he staying here in Kolkata to expand their urban base?

I needed the information, very badly. Hence, I had to win his confidence.

"Yes, they are." came his reply after a few seconds. By then, we had reached New Market. However (I am in love with this word), to our utter disappointment, the shutters were down. May be because it was Sunday.

"Where are we to go from here?" asked Lakkhan.

"Hmm, well, let's drive back."

And he was swiftly into the business. I also viewed a gentle smile on his face. As if he was happy to go back and probably happier that the conversation would end.

Time was running out for me. I had to extract the information from him.

"So, why the Maoists have been successful at Belpahari". I framed a rather direct question.

Lakkhan, by then, must have understood that I was not a police informer, let alone being a cop (though my dream was to become a 'top cop'). My innocuous, chubby face must have assured and reassured his self. He confided in me.

Furthermore, I told him that I had a plan to visit Jhargram town for some academic work. And I was feeling sorry for not being able to visit the region. Since academicians are mostly harmless and bovine-like, that must have given Lakkhan an additional cause to have faith in me.

"Dada, ki bolbo, party-r lokera amader jibon otishto kore tulechhilo", (The party musclemen [read the Marxists] had turned our lives into hell)

"tai Mao-badi-ra jaega dokhol korlo, ei aar ki." (that is why, the Maoists could gain foothold in the area)

I will not prolong my story any further. I spoke to Lakkhan for another fifteen minutes. I gathered some (hopefully credible) information regarding that area which would possibly help me pen down another essay or a paper for my next scholastic venture. However (I am really in love with this word now), the point of discussion is not that.

Do I still need to tell you the connection between Mukesh and Lakkhan? If yes, then I am on a rudderless boat in a sea of stupidity.

Mukesh lives in a 27-storey building. Lakkhan sleeps in the corner of a eighty square feet garage. Mukesh’s story appears as front page news. Lakkhan is unknown to the scribe.

If tomorrow, may be day after tomorrow; Lakkhan, along with scores of his compatriots, not only from Belpahari, but also from Bastar, Gadchiroli, Kalahandi, Nayagarh and hundreds of other 'below poverty line' districts of our 8 per cent-ly growing India, converge on the 27-storeyed mansion; then what would Mr Mukesh Ambani do?

May be Dr Singh's top cops; bolstered by their shapely buttocks and a protruding epigastrium will definitely save Mr Ambani; at all costs. Red blood would splash on the streets of Mumbai, in considerable volumes and desecrate the holy city of Mahadev Govind Ranade.

And after the mayhem, the government of the land of the Buddha and Gandhi, and yes Ashoka-- the Great, would proclaim that it can only happen in India: "One man, one vote". No discrimination.

Disclaimer: This is a non-partisan piece. I am not a member of any political party. I want to put an end to the malicious campaign against me.

Uddipan Mukherjee is a late riser. Still, he works 'very hard' to edit Indian Policy. By the way, he writes in diplostratics

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