Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Where is the helping hand?

As a country, we’ve long gone from being the golden bird. In the recent past, we’ve always been perceived as a country that is forging ahead; a country that will be a formidable super power. The world has been waiting and watching for that day to dawn. Over the years, much has transpired within India to set speculation rife about which way the country is headed. Yet, one thing that has been a constant source of pride for the country is its spirituality and innate humaneness. From ‘Atithi Devo Bahava’ to the Mahatma’s doctrine of non-violence to the revered Upanishads echoing the ancient sentiment about, loving thy neighbor, India has been seen as the forerunner in all things humane. I am a proud citizen of this country rich in many intangible treasures. Certain incidents in the recent past, have, however, distressed and upset me.

He was headed home. As a bachelor staying away from home, the home going (as the home coming at the destination) was always a momentous occasion. He had been planning a whole week before leaving- gifts for all the relatives, the sweets and snacks for home and of course, the huge pile of old clothes that are to get left behind (making space in the wardrobe for the yet to be bought, new arrivals). The nights before the departure hadn’t been among the best- no electricity, no water and add to that climate change. The upcoming home-going shone like a beacon of light in those dark, gloomy nights. Though glad about getting home, he wasn’t feeling too well when he headed for the Hyderabad airport early in the day. His flight was scheduled for 8:30 am and he felt strangely hungry and weak. As he stood in line to board the flight, the world went dark and blank in front of him. His knees gave away and sweat broke out on his forehead. He groped aimlessly for the nearest support but found none. Somebody held him and made him sit down. The line hadn’t yet started moving. He sat on the floor on the airport bang in the middle of the line and passed out.

A couple of minutes later, he seemed to rise from the stupor and could vaguely identify foot fall. A few more moments and he could make out people circumventing him and moving on… No one had come to offer him help, they simply moved on, like he was a mere stone that lay in their path. A little longer and the never ending line seemed to dwindle. That’s when he mustered the last of his energy and stood up. He staggered through the line to the aircraft and slumped on his seat. Within moments, he was asleep, a disturbingly dreamless sleep that gave him no rest.

A fortnight later when he returned to Hyderabad and to work, he shared this incident with a small bunch of us. I was appalled. No one came to help him? How could people ignore a person in need of help? Were we turning stone hearted? Just as this discussion came up, another friend in the group reminded me of a similar incident that happened with me. I was walking through the office cafeteria and slipped and fell. My first thought had been to save my laptop that I was carrying in my hand. The entire impact of the fall was therefore on my knee and elbow. An involuntary cry had passed my lips, but no one had offered to help. One or two snide people had even sniggered. I had thought of it as bad mojo and dismissed it.

The indignation surrounding that incident and many more such stories I had heard exploded within me when my colleague had described to us what he underwent. Where did that helping hand go? I had seen my parents rush to aid anyone in distress (more often than not, they were strangers); had heard stories of countrymen going out of the way to help another in need. Now I was left wondering if those were just things of the past and tall stories to tell. But then, it isn’t right to gauge everyone by the same meter so… I am left with just one thought, the country might just have its heart in place… whether the citizens do, is another story.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

English ain’t the only funny language…

Who hasn’t guffawed at the age old Tamilian-Punjabi joke- ‘Tamil Terima?’ to which the infuriated Punjabi replies, ‘Punjabi tera baap!’ But, come on, in a country with as many as 22 recognized languages, miscommunication is but inevitable! Add to that numerous dialects, about 847 of them recognized! Misunderstanding is also, but a natural consequence. Yet, what do we do, when a phrase that has multiple meanings in different languages is thrown at us and we are caught unawares??? Well, I was in one of those sticky and terribly embarrassing situations and all I could do was gape and stare…

About 3 years ago, a young journalist came from cosmopolitan Bangalore to slightly conservative Hyderabad. She wore well-fitting jeans, a short pink top, had her shades drawn up on her head and the wedding Chura jingling along. That was me! Anticipating that I would get a day or two settle down before the madness of news catches up with me, I settled down in the CNN-IBN Hyderabad bureau. As journalists, we have this natural instinct to look up at the right television screen at the exact time when an important piece of news breaks. (Those of you who have ever visited a TV media house will know that at the very minimum 6 TVs will be on at any point of time- spieling content from different news channels.)

So, within seconds I was on my toes, running helter-skelter for information and shots and of course, those all elusive bytes… After all, Taslima Nasreen had been beaten up by some Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) activists. With the ever resourceful Venkatesh (my camera person) I managed to get the first bits of information. A couple of phone-ins later, Venkatesh went to get some shots and Raju (another camera person) and I headed to the Police Commissioners Office. Back in Bangalore, the police commissioner’s office is spread over a sprawling couple of acres and boasts of heritage buildings. It was always a pleasure to visit that place- especially on a hot sunny day- the shade from the numerous trees and the juice at the canteen- oh! It was absolutely delightful! Hyderabad, however, has one tall building for the Police Commissioner’s office and my handbag, even the camera bag was checked before we entered under the Door Framed Metal Detectors (DFMD’s- another marked departure from my experience in Bangalore).

Raju and I walked towards the conference room on the 3rd floor. I was about to enter when the then Police Commissioner, Balwinder Singh ji, looked at me, at the door of the room and saw the mike in my hand. (I had spoken to him a little earlier). Given that the Commissioner had looked away from the table, the room full of reporters (almost all of them were men- another difference from the Bangalore reporting scene I noticed) looked over their shoulders to see me enter. Mr. Singh then proceeded to say, “Randi, Randi Shwetal Garu”. The smile on my face vanished almost instantly and I stopped dead in my tracks. What did this man think he was saying? I thought. That too on camera and in front of the entire journalist community; he is the police commissioner for God’s Sake!!! He can’t abuse me and get away. Within a minute all these thoughts and more flashed through my mind. That’s when he repeated himself, “Randi Shwetal Garu”. Now I was furious and it showed on my face. Raju had already gone ahead and was setting up the camera. He came back and smiled and said, “Aaiye Shwetal ji. Woh aapko aandar aane ko bol rahe hain.” As I walked in and everyone’s face turned to the Police Commissioner once again, Raju nudged me and said, Randi means ‘Please Come In’ in Telugu. It is a word used with lots of respect. I resisted heaving a huge sigh of relief, Respect!!! And here I was, furious, cause I only knew the Hindi connotation of the word!

When I got home later that night, I was in splits of laughter… shaken and stirred by the cultural differences and the experiences it can gift us. I’ve stayed in Hyderabad long enough now to know that rape in Telugu doesn’t have the same connotation as it does in English, but, for some reason, I have never been able to say Randi even as a mark of utmost respect…