Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dharavi, a success story!

We were on our way to Juhu from Pune and I failed to recognise Dharavi. Not surprising as it appeared to be a continuation of Sion! They looked similar and in fact, Sion railway station looked worse.

To be honest in its early days Dharavi
to me was an eyesore. I remember feeling disgusted with the stench and the sights of Dharavi and feeling a bit afraid. When I expressed my feelings, I was scolded by a graduate of Tata Institute of Social Sciences for my attitude. She said the slum people worked very hard and were only poor. They were not criminals and contributed to the economy with their cheap labor and enterprise.

I was told that Dharavi was different. It actually supported a number of small businesses. Potters, tanners and recyclers and with a working economy developed over the years. No one speaks of other slums in this manner.

Wikipedia has a good overview and we understand why there are so many slums in Mumbai. Just 1 out of 7 million slum dwellers of Mumbai live in Dharavi and the rest are seen all over Mumbai.

Then I see this on the web and I am astonished. It seems that even Dharavi would soon become beyond my means. Will someone explain to me why the land prices are shooting to the sky and in turn the prices of apartments.
The answers, I am sure, will tell us the story of the new resurgent India.
Published: Sunday, Dec 30, 2007, 10:34 IST
By Neeta Kolhatkar
Today a shanty in Dharavi, just 10 feet by 10 feet, commands over Rs 5 lakh, twice as much as before the bidding began for the Dharavi Redevelopment Project. For commercial property, the going rate is three to four times as much.

“The cost of commercial property is Rs20,000-25,000 per sq ft, while residential prices have gone up to Rs5000-7000 per sq ft, as buyers are trying to get properties in bulk,”said Arputham Joauim, president of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of India. “These buyers think they can get a gold mine and have begun offering any amount to property owners.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Pune...Is it the same?

We left Pune 22 years ago. While we have been visiting and meeting friends we did not fully register the changes in Pune! This visit is different. Rohini, and Sundeep have moved from Vancouver and we are here with them and of course our grand daughters.

They live in a different locality and I reacted typically 'Rohini, we are not in Pune'. She replied with 'Pune has grown' and gave me a book to read, My Pune like never before, adding 'The company gave it to Sundeep'.

As I browsed, it felt nostalgic and pictures of notables featured in 'My Pune' made me feel right at home. In a similar book on Bangalore, my home town, I am sure I would not have known or found a connection to so many. Pune seems to have managed to keep its small town feel intact. But I am not certain that you would now see Rahul Bajaj and family at the Alka Theatre. I recall that we would see the same group of people at the West End every Friday evening. They would even occupy the same seats!

The Timeline in the book skips the sixties except the '61 flood. It should have shown '63, a landmark year , the year I came to Pune. I remember that people were still full of stories of the flood! I wish I had made notes. But then I never knew that I would be a blogger, a chronic one at that!

When I spoke to my relatives who had lived and loved the place about my move, they had assured me that people while conservative were very nice and that I would enjoy my stay. I do not know whether Pune ever accepted me, but Puneris' let me be! The place grows on you and very soon you begin to think it as my Pune!

While Punekars were not interfering they could be very direct. Having heard that the best place to stay was off Prabhat road, I went to check out the area. My first meeting with the landlord went like this:
'So you have a job in Pune! Were there no jobs in Bangalore?' I was totally taken aback but replied 'I had a job, but wanted to see other parts of India'!
'You have parents living?' he persisted. When I said yes, he looked surprised and wanted to know if we owned a house, and I said yes again.
It was now his turn to be taken aback. It made no sense to him why I left home at all!
Anyway I was told very nicely: 'People from Madras stay in Rasthapeth, why don't you try there'. I had no bone to pick with him, as I was used to being called a Madrasi by then. I did try Rasthapeth and being from Karnataka I found it to be too Madrassi!

Life was simple those days. The place I saw next had no cupboards. When I asked about providing a cupboard to keep my clothes, I was shown two pegs on the wall and wires strung across the room. I almost took it but I fell ill before I could move.

Probably my Pune days would have ended right there if my colleague Prem had not taken me to his home to help me recover. I stayed with the family for a month. Unforgettable hospitality and more amazing was to discover that his father was stationed in Bangalore and that my father as a public prosecutor had assisted him in a case. Again proves how small the world is!

Coming out of my home for the first time, I could relate to Pune in many ways. For instance when I suggested to a friend that we see a movie in the cantt, he said 'Why? It will come to Alka next month!'. I would have had the same reaction from some of my friends in Bangalore! While a shop keeper in Bangalore would ignore me if he thought I was just window shopping. In Pune, I would be told 'I will show only if you are buying.'

Actually Pune is very important to me as it has given me a lot, I am not speaking about the culture, music and theatre and so on. My life as a grihasta began here! My daughters grew up in Pune.

The story of my life can wait, but I must relate this story: It was my first weekend in Pune and while as I was waiting for my cup of tea at the coffee shop of the hotel, I picked up a copy of Sakal looking for movie ads. Suddenly I heard a person talking to me in Marathi. When I told him that I did not speak the language, he found it funny as I was reading a Marathi paper.

Looking for company I invited him to join me for a cup of tea. I meant to order, but before I could summon the waiter, my new friend separated the saucer from the cup and poured some tea into it and offered it to me. As a Bangalore guy I was used to one bye two coffee. But we would ask for an empty cup. This was something new! It was only later that I learned that he was showing me respect by his action. It was easier to cool tea this way and not scald your tongue!

To answer my own question, I really cannot tell if Pune has changed. I hope not! But I was shocked to see a news report that two girls were hurt by stone throwing kids on bikes. Cowards! Pune was a place where women were not afraid to walk alone in the night and a boy who acted stupid would be taught a lesson by the slippers' wielding women.

I think Pune has not changed in one way. It still has a stream of immigrants coming in each year looking for livelihood and occupying the river bed or the Parvati hills. While it surely has ruined the looks of the city, it could have been one of the prettiest cities in India, it has shown heart by giving shelter to all these hungry immigrants. I suppose that again is another subject.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bangalore Patrol: A senior citizen's view

If you had read my blog 'End of Kaliyug?' and believed, you would be looking for signs of this ending. You would probably place the efforts of TOI and Janaagraha as a sign that Kaliyug is on the wane if not already ended.

Curious, I attended two of the three meetings organised by Bangalore Patrol. I reached the venue on time at 10 am and was surprised to see that the hall which could accommodate 300+ people was empty. I was the fourth to register! The meeting on 'Mobility' started an hour late and by then about a hundred participants had collected. I said to myself, my Bengaluru has not changed, lazy as ever! We have a reputation to keep! Getting up so early on 'Bhanuvara beligge!?' (Sunday morning) that too to attend a meeting? No way!

But I was impressed with the meeting, the officials appeared sincere, spoke with candor and questions were dealt with due respect. While some of the participants did get emotional and angry, the panelists kept their cool. The meeting was very ably moderated by Balaram the editor of TOI. His humor was piquant. Questions were collected in writing and were passed on to the panel to answer. A positive experience!

Next day TOI had covered the event in great detail. Here are some quotes:
'Road goes, markings go': In answer to a question about durability of the paints marking the lanes!

'Seven lakh ( Million), two taxi stands': It is well known that you cannot just hail a Taxi in Bengaluru and hop in. There is a ritual to book a Taxi and if it is for a short distance you may as well forget it. They may say yes but will not turn up or call at the last minute to say there are no taxis! But the renegade taxis were not discussed in the meeting.

The janata mostly depend on buses and autos. I have yet to dare to take a bus and auto drivers are another story! A voluminous one as they are a law unto themselves. The rude behaviour of auto drivers was discussed and the solution mooted is to add more autos to teach the unionised auto drivers a lesson. Keeping them hungry seemed to be the only way. Obviously the law abiding auto drivers will have to work harder and the 'rowdy' types will hopefully move on to more lucrative territories.

I met a person at the meeting and he had a novel idea about dealing with auto drivers who refused a passenger. Keep a small bottle of red paint and spray on the errant auto (surreptiously!) and once marked police could take action! Interesting possibilities!

Not all auto drivers are bad! I saw a driver getting out of his auto at a junction to give a disabled beggar a rupee. I am happy Commissioner Bhasker Rao threw a new light on the poor auto driver. He said most drivers are at the mercy of loan sharks as Banks do no give them loans and they hardly make ends meet! I believe former CM late Devaraj Urs used to help auto drivers, but now they are a neglected lot. Wish Ratan Tata, who recently donated to Harvard, would give them loans to buy a Nano!

'Parking before congestion fee' ..'Bangalore will soon get 25 multilevel parking lots': All about initiatives taken both to discourage and encourage cars coming into the inner city.

'Here comes the Big 12': The news of bigger buses plying in the narrow roads of Bangalore is worrisome. Swati Ramanathan articulated my thoughts and wanted to know if there were any plans to add mini buses to the fleet. I would like to go further and suggest total replacement of these big buses from most of Bangalore roads. They go about like a herd of elephants hogging road space. I have counted 12 of them together in 4 four rows near SJOI in the mornings! In fact Pasha MD of BMTC did not sound convincing when he said they do have mini buses in their fleet and will think of adding more. He is probably concerned that mini bus drivers will drive even more rashly and there would be 5 rows instead of 4! Anyway that is my fear. In Bangkok the mini buses were known as green monsters. They had a bad reputation.

I think I heard Pasha say that his drivers go through counselling and are taught to be careful and considerate drivers. Encouraging news, but they must learn to identify the hard core ones and work on them. Should ask commuters to snitch on the really rash drivers!

This happened to me recently. The buses in the 2nd and 3rd lane turned right blocking my lane and the 1st lane who had the right to turn right! Before they could complete the turn the traffic lights changed and the oncoming traffic just poured in regardless and we were stuck for minutes till our turn came again.

In the picture: Swati Ramanathan, co-founder of Janaagraha; Praveen Sood, additional commissioner of police (traffic & security); Syed Zamer Pasha, m.d. BMTC and Bhasker Rao, commissioner for transport & road safety.

I shall not deal with all the issues as they may interest only the locals. A look at the Bangalore Patrol website is a must for any city dweller. A lot of data is collected and collated about how various wards of the mega city are doing on basic necessities. Ramesh Ramanathan, co-founder of Janaagraha, who was present at the second meeting urged us study and use this real data to confront corporators and other officials about the need for improvement in each individual ward. In fact, there is enough data to write a book!

TOI had this blurb: 'Indian cities lack leadership. The mayor, supposed to be the first citizen of the city, has neither the time nor the power to steer the city's affairs'.

A picture of the second meeting I attended. The meeting started only 25 minutes late and ended exactly 2 hours later. Surely an improvement and the crowd was around 125+.

BDA commissioner Bharat Lal Meena, BBMP chief Siddhaiah, chief environment officer MDN Simha and Ramesh Ramanathan were the members of the panel.

A good mixture of seniors and ladies participated. It was nice to see my friend Srihari of Agastya foundation and KSS Iyengar active with 'Save Bangalore' at the meeting. Both are in my age group and it is embarrassing as I am not as active as they are with social issues.

N S Ramakanth was also present for the second meeting! He is my schoolmate and came back to India some years ago and has plunged into social service. His focus is on waste management and I wish him all the luck! More about his work later!

It was nice to see some youngsters as well.

This particular young man was upset that a basketball court is being converted to a parking lot in Malleswaram! It was shocking that the residents had no clue! The commissioner said an Indoor basket ball court would be built along with a parking lot! Hopefully the promise is met. But it is sad that it is no Basket Ball for the kids in the area for the next 2 years.

I really wish we find a solution to this lack of sports facilities for the average kid. I am afraid that the way it is, we will create a number of morons and zombies in the future. My appeal to all stake holders of the city: 'Please give back the space you callously, thoughtlessly stole from the kids'.

This mammoth bridge opposite Sophia school. The audience were willing to bet no one would use this and an escalator was proposed.

This old style bungalow is next to the Sophia school and I took a picture out of sheer nostalgia. Hope it remains this way forever.

I must mention here about meeting an younger person Janardan. The story he told me defines Bangalore. He said he was the only representative of Exnora Chennai in Bangalore and spent 3 years trying to make the city aware of the benefits of waste management. Practically went bankrupt and had to give up. That was some years ago much before Bangalore Patrol came into existence.

Hopefully Janaagraha and the group of young people working with them will not get frustrated and disillusioned. Their efforts to empower the common man and also hold him responsible is a valiant effort. A big ask! I wish all the power to Janaagraha.

I remember the Moral Re-armament movement years ago and the impact it made on the young students then. I guess it does exist but is not visible anymore. I hope Jannagraha persists and succeeds with its intentions. It is easy to be a cynic at my age and especially in India. Please prove me wrong!

Some good news!

I hope this is the beginning of considerate bus drivers!

A lot of bad news each day!
The pictures below only show the enormity of the task for the Bangalore janata. More are added to this every day!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A different kind of leak.- Richie Leak

Bachi Karkaria
01 December 2010, 09:04 PM IST

'No, Milord, taking a leak cannot

become a public inconvenience.'

"Of course, everyone 'exposed' has good reason to be pissed off by the leaks. On Indian streets, every man and dog may demonstrate that ' Walldom is my squirt-right, and I shall use it.', but in more sophisticated spheres, this biological imperative is strictly personal business."

Bachi is actually referring to an entirely different kind of leak in her article linked below! But there is an odd connection with what I saw recently in a 5 star hotel . Have a look!

I saw this door and my hosts said 'Go in and check it out!'

What I saw behind the door and for a moment it confused me.

Later I hesitated using it until urgency overtook my reluctance. Any way it was dark and there was no one walking around. At least I could not see them. Even then I found it distracting! I wondered how it would feel during daylight.

While I do see men using the wall it is more because they are in a desperate hurry or they may not have that rupee which is charged at some urinals. Anyway I notice that most look furtive and embarrassed as they turn away from the wall. But they surely do not survey the world as they take a leak. I think this toilet reeks of sheer arrogance!

The original article:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

End of Kaliyug?

The newspapers are full of such bad news.

News about scams, traffic accidents, accidents caused by negligence, crime and so on and so forth hit your eye as you glance at a newspaper. The list is endless and I feel bad to add to this gloom by writing about them in my blogs.

While it is more than an year since my return, I am still not used to the speed at which these stories pop up. The frequency is amazing. Almost a scandal a day. On some days there are more than one fighting for space in the papers. The TV channels which revel in such news have a great time and manage to frustrate us even further with their endless debates which offer no real solutions! But it is not all bad! There are also some inspiring stories but you have to look for them as they are hidden in some corner of the papers.

Finally, I am also able to give some hope! I was with my golfing friends at the club for lunch and soon the conversation turned towards corruption. John Pinto who is full of anecdotes and stories gave us some interesting stories from the past about corruption in high places! Srihari reacted with 'These corrupt fellows must be put behind bars!' Shivkumar who edits and publishes a Kannada humor mag 'Aparanaji' said he had written about corruption for its December issue and I could read about it.

'But is there an end to it?' I asked. He said: 'It is something that is in our genes and has been there for centuries'. (We have heard this before!) and then what Shiv said took my breath away. 'Yes it is happening, corruption will end but will take a couple of centuries' and announced that 'Kaliyug has ended and Satya yug has begun'.

I first thought he was just pulling my leg but realised that he was serious. He visits the interiors as a member of the Agastya Foundation (Both Srihari and Shivkumar are with the foundation) and interacts with teachers and students and has seen positive changes in the countryside.

He argues that people are acting against corruption and are exposing corrupt people and this has never happened before in such a scale. News paper write about corruption, people go to court with proof obtained by them as a right (Right To Information). Some have even died while going after corrupt practices but this has not stopped other people.

I hope he is right and we are into Satya Yuga. Interesting to read about it and the Mayan prophecies for 21-12-2012.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A visit to Paschima Vahini and Srirangapatnam.

My memories of Paschima Vahini is linked strongly to my maternal grandmother. The only grand parent I knew. I still remember the careful walk down the steps to the river and the shock I felt as she dunked my head down thrice below the water.

I also recall taking a dip in the Kaveri later on. I was a very worried kid as I had heard that there were crocodiles in the river and kept my eyes peeled for any unexpected movement on the banks of the river.

I have been to the place a few more times, twice to consign the ashes of my parents. While these moments were poignant, it is the memory of my grandmother that fills my heart as I walk down the steps to the river. The unquestioning belief part of my nature was entirely due to her nurturing. She passed away when I was 14 years old and I was desolate. I guess my questioning attitude took over from then on.

But this story is about a temple her grand father had built on the banks of Paschim Vahini and the tradition of Tulamasa Kainkarya the family continues to follow till today. (Tulamasa is during mid October to mid November)

It is a typical Hindu Indian story. My great great grandfather Kodagu Srinivasa Iyengar was tired after a long travel on horseback (This impressed me a lot as I heard the story from my Grandma!) found a nice place to bathe and rest. While asleep under the ashwatha tree he had a dream. He was asked to dig the earth below where he rested and he would find an idol of Lord Krishna. He should
then build a temple and install the idol. He was also told to perform kainkarya of taking care of all pilgrims who would visit this sacred place.

The ground below the tree was dug, a beautiful idol discovered and a temple built. The pilgrims who came were offered food as ordained in his dream and the tradition which began 200 years ago continues till today. Many members of our extended family stay there during the month supervising the temple activities and organizing the 'Annadhana' for the pilgrims who arrive during Tulamasa to take a dip in the river and offer prayers. Annadhana consists of a freshly cooked lunch which is served around noon.

I remember my grandmother's brother was very active during my younger days, later my maternal uncle, my mother, maternal aunts and older cousins would all stay and take care. Now it is the turn of younger aunts and cousins! Their dedication and especially the contribution of their time is admirable. It is not easy to camp for a month and deal with many issues. Some days the numbers of pilgrims visiting is unexpectedly large and they manage to somehow give them food.

Paschima Vahini finds mention in Puranas as a sacred place from time immemorial and mythology says that God Brahma's daughter came down to earth as river Kaveri and it is said that a dip in the river washes our sins, guarantees moksha and a freedom from rebirth.

We made a pilgrimage on the 16th of this month and it is always a special feeling as we feel connected to the temple and the river which holds the remains of our parents somewhere in its depths.

We did not go directly to Paschima Vahini. We took a small detour to Gosai Ghat which my sister Srilatha had seen earlier. A beautiful place to visit.

My cousin's wife Sridevi takes a careful step as she gets into the water.

The rest preparing to take a dip in the river.

It was nice to see the larger river bank almost litter free.

This warning and the flowing water discouraged me from swimming! The dip in the river felt great. While I believe there is more to attaining moksha than just a dip in a sacred river, it felt heavenly while we were in the water. The water was pure and clean. May be the reason why Tulamasa is the chosen time for a dip.

The small temple was neat and the walls recently painted.

This boating is for a very special purpose.

The boat had no takers on that day.

This notice forbids people from drinking alcohol and consuming non vegetarian food in the area. Typically I saw a couple of empty whiskey bottles lying just near the sign!

There were some jarring reminders of what the future may hold. Hope someone can convince Pepsi to be more sensitive to the surroundings!

We then came to Paschima Vahini and I was again disappointed to see more number of buildings, restaurants and lodges blocking the view of the river and the temple our forefathers built. I gather many structures are illegal. Earlier it was a small beautiful temple with an open space next to it, which could have been made into a nice garden for people to relax and enjoy the view of the river. Sadly the reality is very different.

I wish the gurus who hold forth on our sashatras will usher in a change by unearthing doctrines which demand clean and well maintained surroundings for our well being, material and spiritual.

The rear entrance to the temple.

The main entrance.

The building next to the temple which was once an open space with a small garden.

The building on the left of the temple! Ideally the communities could join together to make the surroundings beautiful.

The steps I took as a kid with my grandmother.

The ceremonies before conveying the remains to the river.

The building across the river.

The tree under which the idol of lord Krishna was unearthed.

The flood level. The temple was half under water.
The rituals during Tulamasa:

The chanting of prayers as we wait for the doors to open.

The devotees from the town wait patiently.

The doors finally open.

Electricity failed and it felt special as the aarthi was performed in darkness. We were taken back in time!

Offering homage to the river from the doors of the temple.

Reaching out for the aarthi. This is a very important part of our ritual.

We bow our heads to be blessed by the priest.

The annual report.

Great grandparents. The only pictures of our ancestors we could find.

The modern hygienic kitchen.

This has a very special significance. My mother would tell me the story with a lot of excitement. She was in the court yard of the temple making wicks for the lamps when she heard a loud thump. She looked up and was surprised to see a silver vessel lying near her and then she saw a monkey which had thrown the vessel down looking at her. Then the monkey just vanished! As no one came looking for the vessel it was decided to use the silver to cover the Hanuman idol. She maintained that Lord Hanuman had arranged this miracle to happen and she felt blessed as she was the chosen one.

As I researched the web to learn more about Paschima Vahini, I saw this report from Hindu. May be there is hope that there will be improvements will be made, but we really do not know.
Having ideas is fine but implementation is something else.

A deluge of problems at Paschima Vahini R. Krishna Kumar
Tuesday, Jul 22, 2008

Tale of woe: The ghats at Paschima Vahini near Srirangapatna.

MYSORE: The Paschima Vahini, near Srirangapatna, presents a picture of neglect. The ghats and the steps leading to them are on the verge of collapse.

Thousands of people come to the place to immerse the ashes of the dead. A priest, who has been officiating ceremonies here for several decades, said that any development here was last witnessed during the time of the Maharajas.

In summer, the water level is low and the banks are strewn with garbage. The water stinks as garbage is thrown into the river. During rainy season, people take risk to immerse the ashes of the dead in the absence of chains and meshes as at the bathing ghats. According to the local priests, there is a need to clean the banks and undertake dredging operations to ensure that there is enough flow of water during summer while ensuring that garbage is regularly cleared.

The bathing ghats need to be strengthened and the flooring has to be relaid the steps are in urgent need of repairs. Local people have suggested that chains be fixed along the banks to facilitate people to take a dip in the river without the fear of being washed away, especially during rainy season.

Located in sylvan settings, the area is historic and there are a few structures belonging to the period of the Maharajas. It was here that the then Chief Minister Chengalaraya Reddy took the lead in the ceremonies associated with the immersion of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes on February 12, 1948. A stone plaque records the event for posterity but it is now covered with weeds.

Srirangapatna is often clubbed with Mysore (which is just 13 Kms away). In reality, Srirangapatna needs to be considered as a stand-alone weekend destination. As an island of cauvery, it has perfect setting, It has a rich history to narrate as it witnessed the valour of Tipu Sultan. Sri Ranganatha temple at Srirangapatna, is an important pilgrimage centre. Naturalists will love Ranganathitu Bird Sanctuary, arguably one of the best in India.

Temple at Srirangapatna

Tipu Sulatn, Srirangapatna

Srirangapatna near Bangalore
Daria Daulat

Srirangapatna attraction

Ranganthittu, weekend from bangalore