Thursday, July 14, 2011

BOMB BOLE!

When the news on television goes to repeat mode at midnight and suggests that there will be nothing new to tell until such time when various Ministers will arrive in Mumbai tomorrow morning to visit different hospitals and to make assurances to its people on all available platforms...
When everyone who delivers information goes to sleep along with the administrators and leaders who have flights to catch at the break of dawn so that they reach in time to be the first to give and get the bite...
When the injured are left to deal with their pain in institutions that don't match up to the standards that the tax payer who parts with his hard earned income deserves...
And when the dead are left to lie still, next to their wailing loved ones...
I can't help but remember 26/11... 2008.

I can't help but recall the 72 hours of seige which was laid upon us by a terror which had the freedom to attack us and leave us hurt and shattered because of our powerlessness against all those whom we chose, whom we voted and whom we crowned...
All those who frittered away their time in making money and playing politics while the blood of Mumbai flowed on the unkempt streets of the wet city...

I get reminded of that insane need to do something about it which drove us on a road trip to New Delhi from Mumbai over four days with stops in Ahmedabad, Udaipur and Jaipur to garner support and to eventually meet the Prime Minister and present to him an ultimatum that if reforms and various policies to secure the state were not brought in force within a targeted timeline, a civil society uprising would be inevitable and unavoidable.

While we were on the way to New Delhi, a terrified Government of India which felt attacked by its people had proffered their young ones to the podiums and made them deliver impassioned speeches in parliament about how as the new breed, they were not going to stand for systemic delays.
Rahul Gandhi, Milind Deora, Omar Abdullah and all, collectively and individually urged young India and a wasted generation above them, to diffuse their anger and nurse their hurt because now that the worst was over, it was reform, reform and more reform.
We experienced India change on the ground as we travelled from city to city through villages.
Or so we thought.

When we reached New Delhi and when we were followed by the entire Indian News Media to Jantar Mantar where we sat on a Dharna and insisted that we were not going to budge until we had got an appointment with the Prime Minister and presented to him our grievances, a delegation from the PMO arrived and assured us a meeting and took four of us away to meet him deliberately tearing us away from the telecast of our demands across all media which was live by the hour.
Meanwhile another couple of plainclothes men from the PMO spread themselves out amidst the media and diverted its attention towards some inane announcements which dispersed it, while the chosen four were taken on a joyride in a Gypsy across Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate and given assurances that the PM was waiting to meet them and would be free in a few minutes.
The four of us were Nutan Bajaj, Aroona Bhat, Alyque Padamsee and myself.

Once the hype had died down, we were brought back to Jantar Mantar and told that the PM was in Srinagar and could not meet us.
By then it was cold and eerie on a dark winter evening in the first week of December and tomorrow was another day.
We returned to Mumbai via Pushkar and felt cheated but helpless.
In many citizens forums thereafter, many politicians appeared to reassure junta that the Government of India meant business henceforth and there was no reason to worry, as the elected leaders were commited to perform.

Thereafter I, as well as every other Mumbaikar, experienced horrendous traffic snarls every other day, at the end of which pot bellied cops yawned and chatted past the naka bandi's they conducted at every nook and cranny of the city.
I never really believed that the potties were capable of catching the culprits who held the city at ransom and on the edge of endless high alerts, but blinded myself like every other citizen of the city, into feeling reassured that they were doing their job.
I must admit that I was yet to know, when I like the rest of Mumbai also fell for the impressive camouflaged jeeps that patroled what I call the mean streets, and what they call sensitive areas, that what terrorized me was not exactly what would scare the terrorists.

Then came this evening today, and I found myself falling into a routine.
I followed reflex action and called my immediate near and dear ones at first to find out if they were all safe, and then began informing our relatives in the rest of the world, that we were fine.
It seemed customary and a like a job one was used to doing.

I did think that there is a marked improvement in the way the media as well as Government officials were handling the situation without spreading panic and alarm, but was shocked at myself for falling prey to such a feeling because truth hit me when I realized that even they were fatigued and exhausted and too used to doing the same thing over and over again

Finally, as we watched the news, neither moved, nor shocked but rather immune to the images that seemed as unaffected as me, despite blood splattered unavoidably on the lenses of the camera's that captured them, texts sprang messages to friends across the board to find out if everyone had escaped the wrath of human terror.
This was not Gods way of teaching this world a lesson anymore, this was neither an earthquake that led to a tsunami, nor a cloudburst that trapped Mumbai in a sea of water, but this was what has now become the accepted way of the politics of our times.

Today was just another rainy day when terror had struck and we were fortunate for not having been at the chosen places where explosions had taken place, which as a matter of fact were also predictable, therefore none of us, nor those who mattered to us, were injured or dead.
We never were...

Ministers and officials came on screen and spoke rehearsed lines and public anger captured by media seemed contrived. 
Most people on the streets knew what to say as they had seen others do the same at many instances since 1993.
When my friend Ashoo from Chandigarh called to ask me what was going on, I told her that I also only knew as much as she did, because we were both watching what was happening in Mumbai, on the same news channels and following relatively the same feed on facebook, twitter and now Google + as well.
I heard myself tell her that we were all trapped in a box and that was how life was going to be for a long time to come.

So here I am, as numbers stand still at 21 dead, 113 injured, well past midnight, unable to sleep but neither angry nor agitated.
Unaffected, I write this piece, because I already know what everyone who appears on live debate and print is going to say right till the end of this week... 
Everyone from police to government officials, from politicians to media men, from ministers in power to those in opposition.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

THE UNDERBELLY

I often go a length before I get to the point of realization that it is not the journey I want to be on. I maybe a tripper of sorts so its possibly why I am able to flow with things and experience them until I make up my mind about whether I want to go the whole hog or whether I want to get back to base and try another route.
The process is more important to me and I count myself lucky for having the choice.
In this industry of ideas which means the world to us, who knows what is right and what is wrong? Who knows what works and what doesn't? All we know is that the one which squeezes its way into existence might be appreciated or else will be trashed. And, everybody who has one, believes it is 'the' one. At the end it is that faith which has a hope of making it.
But there is yet more to it than what meets the eye!
A writer came to me with a script today and his own story to me was more interesting than the one he had written. I might have offended him by spending far more time listening to him about his own search for recognition than listening to the reams of material on his laptop he tried to engage me with.
This young boy was signed up to write a screenplay based on a story he had written for a film, and was payed ten thousand bucks by a producer.
A few days later the producer called him and asked him to narrate the story to a Kanada Actress who was apparently in town for a week.
When the writer told the Actress the story, she loved it and the producer, now over excited, told her that he wanted to sign her right there and then and pay her an amount of one lakh rupees.
Then Mr. Producer realized that he had left his cheque book at his office and asked the writer if he was carrying his, which unfortunately, the boy was.
The producer asked the writer to sign a cheque in the girls name and give it to her and promised him that he would transffer the funds into his account the very next day, taking note of the writers bank account number there and then.
In the evening, the producer texted the writer and told him that he has transffered the funds and the writer, the poor young boy, was happy, now that the film he was writing, his first, had a lead actor as well, and she was nice.
A few days later, roughly two, the writer got a call from the bank to inform him that the cheque he had issued of one lakh rupees had shown up for clearing but the funds in his account were not sufficient. The writer in panic, called the producer but the producer's phone was not available.
Then he sent the producer a text message which kept waiting in his outbox and eventually he had to request the bank to return the cheque as he had no other choice.
Thereafter, he kept calling the producer but the producers' phone remained switched off and that was it.
The cheque got represented once again and was finally bounced. The writer was now worried as the producer had dissapeared.
The writer realized that the producer did not live in the house that he had shown him as his, nor could be traced at the coffee shops in Lokhandwala Complex which he would be usually hanging out at practically every evening.
Then came the Kanada actress one day.
She first called the writer and asked him why he had swiped her money, and then she turned up at his doorstep with her parents, abusing him for having taken away the funds that the producer had deposited for her in the writers bank account.
Eventually both the writer and the actress discovered that they had been conned.
The writer had been hired for a paltry sum to convince the actress that the producer was actually making a film and the actress had then been exploited by the producer and his friends for a couple of days before they had all dissapeared into thin air.
Now the actress threatens to sue the writer under Section 138 and the writer hangs around at the coffee shop where he had first met the producer, hoping to catch him one day and beat him up.

What a story?
And one without a closure, no end.

Then I heard about an admissions racket that spreads far and wide into the system which otherwise has no way of providing most of its' citizens a livelihood with dignity.
I chanced upon an actress who is auditioning for roles in films and television and who has come from Madhya Pradesh along with her mother to become a star.
Her father is no more and her elder sister who was married, passed away a couple of years ago, which the actress told me, was most certainly a dowry death.
However, the actresses sisters' 6 year old son lives with the actress and her mother in Mumbai as well.
I asked the actress how she manages her life while she is waiting for roles to come her way, because I thought, if they had enough money, then her sister would not have been done away for dowry. (I often wonder why I get into peoples lives like this, but I guess, that is where I find my stories and that is how I understand how difficult life is for average Indians if they are not to succumb to illegal practices).
The actress told me that she helps students get admissions in various medical and engineering colleges for which she get paid pretty well. She achieves a few admissions every year, and that keeps them going, other than which they also keep paying guests in the appartment which they have taken on rent in Mumbai.
Then she told me that if I know of any students wanting admissions then I should pass them on to her and she will share her monies with me.
I asked her who it is that she does this work for and she said that she doesn't know.
She fills forms for the aspirants and passes then on to a friend, who passes them further to another friend and so on... but admissions get done and none of them really know who gets them done and how it is that they get them done.
But, she clarified with me, admissions are guaranteed and money promised to them gets delivered in cash.
So much for entrance exams, leaking papers and all.

This is the city of dreams, tinsel town and the valley of the dolls and this is where people, writers, directors, artistes and all come to with a hope that one day they will make it and legitimize their existence by not being exploited and not having to survive off a piece of a bribe. Those who find a way and squeeze their way in, gaining recognition, singers, lyricists, writers, actors, poets and others, through television reality shows and struggles of other kinds, join the stars, but those who get left behind continue to be exploited until they become the exploiters themselves. Nobody ever goes back to where they came from.

But what the heck!
It gives people a livelihood, even if the writer only got a measly ten thousand bucks for a love story which has become a horror because a Kanada actress will chase him for the rest of his life, and the young girl from Madhya Pradesh gets paid for getting students admission in universities, until such time that she gets a role of a lifetime which will take her to what she believes, is the place she deserves.
Idea's! Idea's! Who knows which one will make it?!