Monday, November 29, 2010

103 - Monday Musings - The story of an unusual suspect

The story of an unusual suspect
There are some tales that are destined to be told. Each tale has immense possibilities to touch us, inspire us and reveal a tiny hitherto untold dimension of what human potential can achieve. Pankaj Dubey in my universe is one such tale.
Pankaj was an year junior to me in school in the badlands of erstwhile Bihar and present day Jharkhand. The memory I have of him from those days is that of a lanky, sweet talking, fairly flirtatious young boy (although I suspect that he knew what he was doing would one day qualify as flirting– and in case he knew it then I salute him as a child prodigy). During the very brief time he was in that school we met a few times on the podium in the course of debates and extempores as both of us were active in that circuit. Soon he changed schools and life took us in different directions.
We came in touch with each other almost 20 years later in the middle of 2009. Let me recount what life did to Pankaj and what Pankaj did to life since the time we parted ways.
Pankaj struggled to pass his Xth board, particularly troubled by something called maths. Early in life he realized that between him and maths, only one life could accommodate. He flunked in 11th and owing to the small town schools willingness to take his apology as a creditable enough corrective action, he was promoted to class 12th, where his natural inclination for academic mediocrity continued to flourish – particularly in subjects like maths and science. However he debated, wrote and extempore unabated. Needless to say he just scrapped through 12th.
Pankaj came to Delhi convinced that even someone like him should have the audacity to go to college in Delhi because he was of the view that in a large city like Delhi, surely there would be many like him, with scores like his but still wanting to attend college. The only thing he knew was how to debate and speak in public, with language as his only ally and self expression his only recourse. One such college in Delhi admitted him on something as exotic as a ‘debate quota’. The next three years Pankaj did the only thing he knew – debated, extempored, wrote essays and so on and so forth – clearly not what respectable students from respectable families normally do. Pankaj had many virtues – being normal was certainly not one of them.
Over time Pankaj started winning debate competitions in his college, university and then interuniversity. He represented India in debates in international events. He then went to study ‘applied communication’ (whatever that is) in London – all on scholarship. After completing that he joined the Hindi services of BBC in London and somewhere during this time he found time to be associated with the Pravasi Bhartiya organization doing some work for them – and in one such event was the key note speaker while one Atal Bihari Bajpayee was his listener. He returned back to India only to continue his dalliance with abnormality.
Pankaj started an NGO named SPRIHA and then instituted India’s first  SADAK CHAAP FILM FESTIVAL where he conducted film festivals in the slums of 26 cities in India. He plans to take the Sadak Chaap film company to 50 cities in India next year. He is doing some work on Empathy building in children through his film festival. He is scheduled to be recognized by his work by the Govt of Karnataka as India’s top 5 youth icons who are doing commendable work in social awakening. He is also in advanced stages in the evaluation of being an international recognition for his work in the area of empathy building.
Pankaj is a registered writer in the film writers association and arranges workshops for aspiring actors, directors and other trades on esoteric topics like ‘crowd funding’ He has just entered this area and plans to expand his area of work in the future. I have a feeling this part of his story is yet to unfold.
I asked him once – ‘where do you find time to do all of this?; to which he replied – if you don’t study maths, enough energies get released for mankind to do so much more with life’. Strange answer by a strange man.
In one of the conversation where he was bubbling with enthusiasm about possibilities he remarked – ‘I am against all forms of knowledge. There is no knowledge that Google cannot team me. I am a merchant of imagination. Knowledge is the pursuit of what exists. Imagination is the pursuit of what can be’ WOW!
I told this tale because it had to be told. You figure out what it tells you; as far as I am concerned, it doesn’t tell me anything – it only screams.
PS – There are two followers on my blog – AS and MSA. Could you get in touch with me or enable your settings so that I can identify you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

102 Monday Musings

The social transformation – 2
Last week i talked of the first of the two experiences I had undergone, that were bound by a subtle thread of what one may call a trend. Today I shall talk about the second experience.
As I landed in Mumbai the other day, the cab driver who came to pick me up was a lady called Sulekha. Sulekha has been driving a cab for now for over two years. She entered this business, clearly a male bastion so far, under the prodding and support of her husband. I recount here for you some of her statements which have a powerful subtext of a strong social transformation that is unfolding around us.
Question – Why did you chose this profession of driving a cab?
Answer – “I wanted to do something new. I did not want to rush every morning without serving my in laws or not cooking for my husband. This gave me flexibility to do both”
Question – Any problems you faced?
Answer – “Initially as my timings were erratic, neighbors used to raise eyebrows and bitch to my mother-in-law but not they have got used to it. The money I am able to make here helps of course”
Question – Which are the normal routes you ply?
Answer – “Oh! I go all over the place. I do local in Mumbai and I go to Pune, Nashik and Shirdi. Sometimes I travel through the night, reach in the morning and come the same evening. It can become taxing. My son misses me, but what to do!
Question – How do customers react on seeing a female cabbie?\
Answer – “They are surprised surely. They ask a lot of questions, the way you are asking. But I provide the best services that I possible can. I never complain of odd hours or long drives. There are times when the schedule of the passenger’s changes and it creates delays. I cannot complain, can i?  If I start complaining then off goes my reputation.” “You see there was this Gujrati lady who wanted me to take her to Shirdi. I said you just pay for the fuel, no need to pay me anything else – after all the car is doing to Baba’s house. Got to worship him too na!!
Question – Does the long hours disturb you?
Answer – “No No. In fact now the day I do not have any trip I don’t know how to spend my time. Today was a lean day and no trips since morning. The moment I got this call for an airport pick up, I immediately said yes – ‘chalo shaaam to kategi
I was bowled over by her confidence, her matter-of-fact attitude towards her profession, her faith in her ability to chisel her future and her complete dedication to her craft. As you read through the conversation you realize the magnitude of the phenomena that is happening as the sub text of this saga of social transformation. The fun is in discovering that sub text for yourself and not in me taking away your joy by describing it.
PS – It was Guru Nanaks Birthday yesterday. As he appropriately says – Nanak Naam Chaddi Kalaa, Tere Bhane Sarbat Da Bhalaa. (O Nanak, With His name shall you and ALL prosper)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Monday Musings 101

Monday Musing is back after a hiatus of a little over three months. Everyday living sometimes gets better of us and the discipline of pursuing an interest takes a back seat. I guess thats precisely why it is so difficult to be dogged in pursuing an interest without compulsions other than the calling of the heart. I guess that is why it is difficult to be a genius. But the good news for me is that it is back. This time with a fair amount of audacity i am taking the liberty of marking it to a wider audience, some of whom are far more learned and experienced than me. Hope Monday Musings in its second incarnation as a blog will be received with as much fondness as its first avatar.
The creeping social transformation - 1
In an extremely short span of 24 hrs I witnessed two isolated incidents bound only by a very fragile thread of what one would call a trend – a thread so fragile and subtle that one would miss it If one did not pay attention. I was in a hotel in Chennai in the course of a training program, which also housed a pub on its first floor. It was the middle of the day and the place was swarming with teenagers who were barely out of school. It was some kind of a party and they were having a ball – dancing to loud music and from the state some of them were in, it wasn’t difficult to imagine that they were also a few drinks down. It was also not difficult to imagine that it was a college bunking party and young boys and girls were ready to go back home after what was a day supposed to be attending classes. As the party broke at around 5 pm  and they started to bid goodbye to each other the inebriated state they were in became obvious. The sight of extremely young kids drunk and smoking without remorse or hesitation and with ease was, for the want of a better word, disturbing.
The sight of one particular girl who looked more like the front bencher-studious-notes taking types, puffing like a practised veteran just doesn’t leave me. This was happening in a relatively old and traditional neighbourhood, on a lazy afternoon and in Chennai - had its own significance. This was breaking all the stereotypes of the youngistan that I had in my mind or had read about.
I am not puritanical normally – in my own growing up or in my views on changing sociological landscape – but even my otherwise liberal sensibilities were stretched to accept what I was seeing. Surely I have been a youngster and not a very nice one at that, but this took my breath away. For heavens sake – they were just too young.  As those images linger in my head and the pragmatic in me takes over, I am almost forced to consider that perhaps I missed some changes that might have occurred around me since the time I was a teenager.
Teenage rebellion is not new – neither is the youth’s desire to experiment with the prohibited. I guess the prohibited list just expanded. So how does one deal with such social transformation. I guess the first step is to accept that the world of an adolescent has undergone a change and so has the notion of taboo. What was taboo till the last day is perfectly kosher now. My sense of disbelief is a construct of the times that i have grown up and may be completely out of place.
My own liberation lies in accepting an entirely different new world of a 16 year old and accepting that he and i are united at least in one way – that he is deriving as much joy in being a rebel as much as i enjoyed it in my times.
(I shall talk about the second evidence of a creeping social transformation in my next blog.)