Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Groping in the dark

The Economist had once published a special report on India titled, "An elephant, not a tiger". A very good read. It goes into various details on the achievements, challenges, screw-ups, etc, etc... But, that is beside the point. The point is that several blind men are trying to figure out what this elephant looks like. Exactly like the poem.

Its filled with dirt, filth and desperate poverty say those profoundly impressed by Slumdog Millionaire. India is a lawless backwater filled with beggars at every corner, abound with stories of police torture and corrupt politicians all within an excuse for a democracy. This is the real India. India has the world's highest number of malnurished children. Half the nation is living under back-breaking poverty. The stories of a rising power are just hogwash as they say. But are they wrong? Most definitely not. They are correct on every account. Poverty, corruption, lawlessness; there is plenty of those. And they are certainly real.

India is a rising power in Asia, with GDP growing at 8%, well atleast before the downturn, filled with young professionals say the industrialists trawling for investment overseas. Indians have bought over foreign gaints in steel and automobiles. It is one of the handful of countries to launch satellites, build nuclear submarines and supersonic jets. Those talking of poverty are living in the 60's. This is the new real India. The information techology powerhouse housed in gleaming glass towers in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Pune. We are coming, whether the world is ready or not, as they love to proclaim. Well, those definitely are real. The satellites, the submarines, the jets; they are all very real, aren't they?

India is the land of spiritual richness say the backpackers flooding to its shores. The land of religious harmony where all the world's religions find a home. The land of a culture spanning thousands of years, of remarkable diversity in languages, customs and lives. It is where one finds peace and the meaning of life. Those talking of poverty and wealth are missing the point. But what about all the riots and killings, ask the techies recently relocated to the phoreign. People are killing each other everywhere. The number of people killed every year by terrorism is second only to Iraq. The minorities are being repressed and the government ignores the fate of the tribals in the name of development. And even that development is a sham. Just like the mask of "Unity in diversity". That is the real India. And they are most certainly right.

The point is that they all are right. They are all talking of the real India. But the elephant is big and the men, blind. We all are.

Well, what do I think is India? It is a circus. A veritable three-ring circus. It is a land filled with acrobats dodging everyday traffic jams. Trapeeze artists dealing with the beaurocracy seemlesly jumping from one babu to the other. Lions when leaving under crushing poverty, lion tamers when not. A land filled with clowns dealing with religion and culture. And jugglers when trying to paint a picture of a beautiful India to outsiders. And the audience too, all enjoying the show. Isn't it that it is every little kid's dream to run away to the circus. Well, I am living in one.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In pursuit of Deacency

Limiting the number of bags you carry on a trip is a very useful tip. Ignoring that very tip caused me a Rs. 75000 headache. When you have two bags dangling from your shoulders, getting hurriedly off a bus to Mangalore driven by a manic homicidal driver may result in you not quite noticing that you are missing one. As it happened to me. That particular bag contained my camera, along with a new lens I had recently acquired all totally worth about Rs 75000.

After I, along with Subbu, Bhayak, Tho and Goobe, got off the bus, Goobe points out that I am missing a bag. My camera bag. By then the bus had already left. After the initial minute of panic, me and Subbu hail an auto and head to the bus stand where all the private buses halt. We reached there and began to hunt for the bus. Fortunately, Bhayak still had the ticket stub. The bus belonged to an agency called Deacent travels. We asked around the bus stand for the bus, but none knew where it was. It was certainly not in the bus stand. One fellow helpfully pointed out that if we could track down the phone number of the owner of the travels, we could find out where the bus was parked for the night to refuel. Also since the time was 9:30 pm, this would the last trip and the bus would still be in Mangalore. That gave us hope.

A little more asking around told us that the bus probably was headed in the direction of Pumpwell. At this point, me and Goobe head off to the police station to see if the police could track down the number of the agency. While Tho, Bhayak and Subbu jump into an auto and head in the direction of Pumpwell with no clue as to how to find the bus. Also a point to note, doing business with stoned auto drivers is not a good idea.

Me and Goobe arrive at the police station and file a report saying that I had lost my camera and the police set about trying to locate that illusive phone number. I actually recorded our entire conversation with the police on my phone just in case they tried something funny. But the were decent, almost to a fault. In the meanwhile, roaming from petrol bunk to petrol bunk, were Subbu, Tho and Bhayak. Tracking down the bus proved fruitless.

At this point Bhayak has a plan. When we studied in college, we usually booked tickets home from a travel agent in Surathkal named Santosh. Bhayak acquired his number through a friend in college and called him up. Santosh, we wonder at his contacts, called back with the number for the travel agency. The boys give him a call. The bus was parked at a petrol bunk in Kattara Chowki. They hurry over only to see the driver and conductor going through my bag. Subbu immediately runs over and claims the bag. The bag was dropped by my friend he says. They found it while cleaning they say. They hand over the bag while asking what it was and how much it was worth. Subbu artfully evades saying that it was his friend's and he didn't know. They hoped into the auto and called me to tell me that they had found my camera intact.

After withdrawing the report filed at the police station, me and Goobe arrive at the bus stand where we were to catch the bus back to Bangalore. As it so happened, we were to head back to Bangalore that very night by the 11 pm bus. We arrived at the bus stand at 10:45 pm. The whole ordeal had lasted only one and half hours. But this will be remembered for a life-time. Forgetting it may prove very expensive. A very grateful thanks to, in no particular order, Goobe, Tho, Subbu and Bhayak.

All things considered, it was a brilliant close to what could have been a disastrous weekend. Then again, as Bhayak put it, if we had ended up at Liquid Lounge as was originally planned, it would have resulted in us not remembering anything at all.