Thursday, November 27, 2008


Those of you who know me in my guise of a cushion propped up on a settee next to a steaming mug, picture this:

Imagine a steep and fairly loose mountain, clad with pine and strewn with slippery needles. The colours are intense- startlingly blue cloudless sky, intense green pine with silvery tips, rust-red trunks and floor. On the mountainside is carved a narrow path like a string tossed onto the mountain. Along it, moving ever-upwards, one hand always maintaining contact with the mountainside, are three people: a handsome, forty-ish man who looks every precise inch the Junior Engineer that he is, a painfully shy and painfully young priest-by-birth-development-worker-by-training, and a sofa cushion complete with tassels and all.

Two of the three are wearing expressions of ferocious concentration. The cushion is wearing a fatuous grin. “Hee” she is thinking, “This is me; I am here. I am a grassroots worker in the Himalayas walking 7 km to a mountain hamlet accessible only on foot to help establish decentralized governance. Wow. ”

Quote of the week

“If the most oppressed person of the village is not included in the planning process, then even if you account for every naya paisa after implementation, your plan is still dishonest.”

Surendra Bhandari, Jan Kalyan Samiti, Ghat, District Chamoli.

Politically incorrect, absolutely biased rant.

You know I have had some reservations about settling in Dehradun for the first few weeks. I have shrugged it off by saying ‘new place, adjustment issues’. But let me get the reasons off my chest and then we can move on to talking about the weather, ok?

I thought I will be moving out of the hindu fanaticism belt when I left Maharashtra, so it discomfited me (to say the least) that it is alive and kicking here.

I arrived in D’dun on a Sunday, and the first thing I did was buy a local paper. The main article in that rag attempted to advise the government on how to deal with terrorism, or rather, with terrorists, or rather, with that entire section of society that has been labelled as “terrorist”. Apparently ‘we’ need to deal with ‘them’ they way they are treated in ‘their countries’ with an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Who is we? And who is them? And which country are you talking about, exactly? Does the author seriously believe that India has a spotless human rights record?

The next week, I am off to the hills, and in a village near the Nepal border, I come across a ‘situation’. Policemen aplenty, onlookers even more, much shouting, and in the centre of it all, three-four wretched, roughed-up youths.

“What is happening?”

“ They have been arrested.”


“They were taking some cows to Nepal to be slaughtered.”

“Ah, they stole the cattle.”

“No, no. They are traders. But they were going to slaughter them. And killing gaumatas (the cow as mother) is a sin.”

(I did not do anything. I could not have done much, but I did not even try. Forgive me)

So let me get this straight. Cow-slaughter is not banned in India, but it is considered to be a ‘sin’ by some good citizens, and so one is liable to be arrested for the intent to slaughter a cow. This is ok, as it is ok to beat up some poor youths who are trying to make a living any legal way they can. It is ok to slaughter goats and chickens, ok to wander into a Reserved Forest with a gun and shoot at endangered animals, ok to beat up other humans, and also ok to let those wretched cows starve to death, but NOT ok to do something which will provide food for around 20% of the population and apparel for the entire population (I mean seriously, where do these ban-on-cow-slaughter enthusiasts think their shoes come from?).

My boss greets everyone with a “Jai Ramji Ki”. Which I forgive because he just does it to be contrary, he hasn’t been seen in a temple since he got his set of permanent teeth, and most importantly, he does not impose it on other people. The office gardener however, is a different story. Gem of a man, no doubt, and has a keen understanding of roses. He greets everyone with a “Hari Om”. The first time I met him; I greeted him with a “Namaste”, and was gently corrected. Since then I greet him with a Hari Om, as does the entire staff, but on the days when I am preoccupied and slip up, I am always corrected “I prefer Hari Om, Madam. This way, the Lord’s name is on our lips.” When I am reading or working and merely grunt in reply, he stands directly in my line of vision and repeats the Hari Om till I get the subtle hint. This is not a big deal, but his insistence is annoying- like a grain of sand in my shoe. One of these days I am going to greet him with a ‘Salaam Aleikuum’. That way also, the Lord’s name will be on our lips, don’t you agree?

My mother and sister, not to worry. I will stop short of getting myself lynched.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

a botanical search

As i was walking back from the village I had visited (Attoo, Dewal Tahsil, Camoli Block, Uttarakhand),the middle Himalayas were at their stunning best. The snowclad peaks loomed majestically, streams gurgled musically, bees buzzed busily, flowers preened valiantly as they tried to attract said bees, and strange animals rustled well, strangely. All wasted on me, though. I saw none of these things. I was on a quest. I was looking for a certain shrub, with erect and bushy form, with a slightly woody stem, with deeply palmate and serrated leaves- Cannabis sativa .

I had first come across it, growing by the bushel, during a reconnaissance survey along the Bhagirathi. The main shrub along the road to the village of Mukhwa is hash. I had then managed to pluck a few leaves and stow them in my wallet- for experimental purposes. Took them to my room in great anticipation and chewed. Sadly, I was so tired with all the walking of the day, that I could just register, “Ah, fibrous. Of course, hemp!” before I fell asleep.

The next time I came across this shrub was during my visit to Chamoli as an observer for the planning processes being implemented in the villages. There was just one bush growing next to the Pradhan’s house, and I was eyeing it hopefully. But the thing about being an observer is that one is in turn, continually observed. And the credibility of said observations suffers a beating when it may be considered that they were made under the influence. I know, I know. This is blatant marginalization and I shall launch a protest. But not today.

But where one bush grows, surely there must be more? And that is why, as I walked the 6km to my hotel, my eyes were roving like a pair of bees on a search-and-consume mission. It all came to naught. Have suspicions that that one bush has been planted there. But ah well, there are other field trips and I might even visit Mukhwa again.