While I am still in reminiscing mode, I thought I would add some more nuggets to sort of complete that storyline. There are, of course, many more images and incidents galore that I can dig out of memory, but these are a few special visuals I really want to share.
Each year on the 6th of December, newspaper editorials remind us of the Babri Masjid episode in Indian history. I can hardly believe two decades have gone by when I watched the TV screen in utter horror and heard the mixed opinions of the adults we knew and trusted. I grew up in Lucknow and my family was very much liberal and rather left of centre in their political leanings, though never directly involved with anything political. I was brought up in the post-independent ethos of secularism and socialism and held these two as non-negotiable values of life. For the most part, I still do.
The demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Ram Janmabhoomi movement burst my ‘the world is a good place’ bubble. For the first time in my life, I realized that there very radically different belief systems at work even in my little world, that these were contradictory in nature and could create confrontational and tremendously uncomfortable situations.
I was aghast to find that ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’ who I thought of as harmless and ‘nice’ were capable of unleashing a diatribe of hate against Muslims. That they had been silent so long and felt empowered to speak after the Babri Masjid incident perplexed me no end. I kept thinking whether I had simply not been exposed to that side of them, or had chosen not to see it, or had they developed these opinions overnight. I didn’t realize that this was the subtext of many conversations to come in the future, that this would test my own beliefs repeatedly, push me against the wall and take me far, far away from God as propagated by religion, any religion.
I remember watching that inflammatory CD that did the rounds at that time, the one that clearly shows BJP leaders egging on kar sevaks, and bodies being dumped in the Saryu. The inane jubilation and naked hatred, the meaninglessness of it all. The sense of jubilation around the room and the sadness in my parents’ eyes.
Life changed after Bari Masjid. No doubt about that.
So many visuals flash past me from those few weeks. No school. My attempt to visit a friend, only to find her street cordoned off by the police, curfew declared and spending many hours worrying if she was safe. The policeman ushered me away urgently and I could literally watch the tension on the other side of the barricade.
The confusion of other people my age, our hesitation in discussing any of this, not knowing what belief system the other follows. The silence. The subsequent breaking apart of a city that had lived in relative harmony for centuries. The segregation of religion, but also of class. The search for security. The changing definition of security. My people, my own, keep out the ‘other’. I wasn’t aware of all this before. I still live in acute awareness today, hoping against hope that people will rise above this and find a more meaningful way to view their lives, their world.
I met with a schoolfriend last night after a decade. Nothing much had changed, yet we had all grown up. The things in common remained and time seemed to have passed by as if water through a sieve.
What stood out in our conversations was the power of nostalgia. Memories of the past, especially fond memories of places and people, hugely influence our lives in the present. I have seen with many people that their memories of their growing years continue to be the yardstick for how they judge the rest of their lives. For those of us who had reasonably happy childhoods, childhood memories define our tastes for food, music, books and even friends!
Growing up in Parel, Mumbai in the ’80s has left deep impressions on me. It taught me to value freedom, of which I got plenty in a city that was big, yet safe, with excellent public transport. Life was simple and very middle class and the highlights were small, wonderful things like crates of alphonso mangoes in summer, mutton on Sunday, bi-annual picnics to places like Elephanta caves and the Goregaon national park; and Chowpatty visits full of the sounds of the sea intermingled with the smells emitted my a mass of people. This was the time of the mill strikes and I remember vaguely catching the mood in the chawls (via the relatives of Manda, who was my constant companion and caretaker back then), of livelihoods lost and futures in jeopardy; a sense of struggle, sweat and hope intertwined. The buoyancy of Mumbai has remained with me as my strongest memory of the city.
Lucknow, which plays the other major role in my formative years, is like a delicate, beautiful but slowly withering flower. I associate it with the gentleness of its people, the hot, sleepy afternoons spent curling up with a favorite book in cool nooks and crannies of our sprawling home on the SGPGI campus, innocent friendships, the discovery of love and longing, growing up, riksha rides with friends through the city’s winding alleys. If Mumbai taugt me about freedom, Lucknow taught me about bonds and being bound, by convention, by social expectations, by limits that I was expected to respect because I was a girl.
My fondest memories of Lucknow are numerous visits to its many memorable historic buildings, and the fact that old world charm was imbued in its every pore. Even Lucknow’s newer developments exude a languid, laid back air; people never look rushed. Whenever I feel like life is threatening to overtake me, I think of Lucknow and can feel my heartbeat slow down, my breathe come in easier.
Nostalgia is, to me, a great antidote when life goes through its unbearable moments. Mumbai and Lucknow, experienced at two distinct stages of my growing years, have created a checkerboard of contrasting and intermingling memories that have guided my opinions and tastes.
Election fever is all around. And this time round, I’m seeing the voters I know getting excited about things, for the first time in my living memory. I’m talking middle class, salaried people, not known for their love of the poll booth and most of who are happy to indulge in armchair discussions without any real political affiliations.
Perhaps we should thank Anna and his team for this gift to the nation- some sort of awakening of the middle class voter towards his responsibilities as opposed to his usual emphasis on rights (voter turnout has been increasing steadily for local and assembly elections throughout India and many voters claim to vote for development and not traditional reasons like caste). Or perhaps its my eyes that have opened, late in life.
A few weeks ago, at a wedding in Lucknow, much of the discussion among the local guests was about the impending voting in the city, which was to be the following Sunday. Rahul Gandhi’s every gesture was analyzed and Akhilesh Yadav seemed to have impressed quite a few with moves that reminded old timers of the Mulayam of their youth! Strangely, it was unclear what the election issues were from these conversations, the focus was entirely on the personalities!
Last night, a chat conversation with my cousin Pooja who lives in Goa spoke of the absolute excitement about the elections in our constituency of St Cruz, a bit outside Panjim. The villagers are being wooed by promises of better infrastructure and connectivity and of course, the possibility of real estate development is a huge lure for politicians in wards surrounding Goa’s large cities, where several residential projects are mushrooming in a rather haphazard manner.
An infamously corrupt and flamboyant local politician Babush Monsterrat from nearby Talegaon, she told me, was contesting from St Cruz this time round. Of course, his wife was contesting from their home seat, which got us into a discussion about women often being dummy candidates.
Last week, I was having dinner with friends, one of whom is from Pune. The recently concluded elections for the 152 seats of the Pune Municipal Corporations, this friend informed me, resulted in 51% of the seats occupied by women corporators, who number 78 as opposed to 74 men. This means that beyond the reserved seats, several women have won general seats as well. The number of woman applicants this year was 1,260 as against 2,080 men. The NCP and Congress gave tickets to 76 women, out of which 24 NCP and 14 Congress woman leaders secured a place in the House. Again, many of these could be dummy candidates put up by male politicians (husbands, fathers) who are seeing a decline in their political fortunes, or have criminal charges against them, or are embroiled in some controversy. Even so, locals feel there are many noteworthy, serious women politicians in power, which is a heartening thought.
It is unclear what these changes mean for our cities and citizens. Unfortunately, better voter turnout in a democracy does not result in better politicians, better governance or better accountability. More needs to be done to make politicians accountable to the people, and a lot needs to be done to mobilize communities to debate issues, list priorities and place adequate pressure on governments and bureaucracies to perform; but getting the middle class slightly more excited about elections is a good start, don’t you think?
We landed at the T3 terminal of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi yesterday. The luggage was already on the conveyor belt when we got there (that’s the real reason to build an airport so large that the walk time is more than enough for the handlers to get the baggage out!). Soon enough, people had picked up their stuff and gone. Nupur’s bag hadn’t come yet and a suspiciously similar bag was still on the belt. We got the Jet staff to figure things out and sure enough, a certain Ms Pooja Bajpai had walked off with Ms N Chaturvedi’s suitcase, completely ignoring the bright green ribbon Nupur had tied over the handle just to avoid incidents like this!
As the two of us waited for Ms Bajpai to return to the airport, we spoke about how hugely things have changed in the customer service attitudes since just a few years ago. The Jet Airways ground staff person was fairly prompt, unruffled by the situation and very polite yet firm with Ms Bajpai. He explained the situation patiently to her and insisted she turn around to return the bag immediately. Through all this, her bag stayed sort of unattended somewhere near but not inside the Jet Airways counter! We wondered who was taking responsibility for the bag! The guy’s composure stayed intact through the process of locating her as they scurried back and forth the three lanes of traffic outside the terminal, till finally the bags were exchanged and Nupur returned triumphant.
Meanwhile, I was admiring the T3 airport, its sense of busy orderliness as compared to the chaos we normally associate with airports in India. The post-paid radio cab counters operated efficiently (we were lucky to be there on a Sunday evening) and we were home bound soon!
The entire experience was quite a contrast from the crowded Lucknow airport, where instead of making loudspeaker announcements, airline ground staff shouted at passengers to wait, board or hurry! Nobody really knew what is happening. Long lines for the security check and insufficient seating at the departure lounge ensured frayed nerves and rising tempers. But most people did not look annoyed, simply resigned and impatient to get on board and away!
Clearly, traffic at airports in India’s Tier-2 cities is far more than these airports can handle. The current terminal at Lucknow airport was built in 1986. The new 3-storey building was to be inaugurated in November 2011 way before the election, but what we used yesterday appears to be the same terminal I have used for several years now! Media reports that the new 20,000 sq ft terminal will be able to handle 750 passengers at one go. I’m hoping this will be enough. I’m also hoping they’ve found a way to manage the UP Govt white ambassadors outside the terminal to whom no rules apply!
After spending the last two days in Lucknow at a wedding, I am apalled at how low its touristic value seems to be. Of the 20 odd people who visited Lucknow for the wedding (and some from as far as Dubai and the UK), only a handful ventured out of the resort. The few who did made it to Hazrat Ganj, the city’s infamous shopping street to shop for ‘chikankari’ fabrics and saris that are what Lucknow is best known for.
Maybe I was in the wrong crowd, maybe my parents were unusual in their tastes, but I have many fond memories of showing scores of visitors the ‘sights’ in Lucknow as a high school kid. The sights were the bada imambara (that boasts of a labyrinth on its upper floors), roomi darwaza, chhota imambara and the residency. We usually stopped at Ganj on the way back to give visitors some shopping time.
Noone I spoke to at the wedding even acknowledged Lucknows enormous historic and cultural significance; its legacy as the capital of Avadh, which was one of the principle kingdoms in North India and a bastion of the Shia Muslims. One of the visitors from abroad had someone at Delhi airport ask them why they were visiting Lucknow at all? Clearly and I know this from other experiences as well, this lovely city has dropped off the tourist map.
I see the lack of awareness as a result of extremely poor marketing. There is no desire to develop the city from a tourism perspective and bring in revenue. For a city that is (or at least was once upon a time) famed for its culture hospitality, etiquette and art this is a sad come down. And another reminder that governments can destroy by sheer sloth in a few decades what it took centuries to create!
I’m leaving for Lucknow tomorrow morning for a wedding and I’m already in nostalgia mode (that it is my parents’ anniversary, most of which I remember celebrating in Lucknow added to this trail of thought!). Planning the trip in my head, I remembered to look up the pictures of the last jaunt to the city in November 2011 for another wedding.
This trip was special as it was the first time I was staying on the SGPGI campus where I grew up after my mother retired a few years ago. Initially it felt strange not to drive direct to VA/1, the spacious bungalow that was home from June 1997 till August 2009. Someone else lives there now, but I didn’t have the heart to go there or even take pictures!
Udai remembers the campus well from our summer visits to stay with mum, but Aadyaa doesn’t. Yet, the open space, parks, well-maintained gardens with lovingly tended flower beds, vegetable patches and fruit trees, general greenery and friendliness of the people we still know won the kids over and we had a great time just soaking in the winter sun, talking about the old days and about common acquaintances.
Here are some clicks by Ma, me and the kids to give a glimpse of the campus that is the largest hospital campus in Asia!