Monday, 28 September 2009
'Shubho Bijoya' - Or Is It?
Today the final day of the Dussehra festivities I wish all 'Shubho Bijoya' - greetings for your welfare - as it is said in Bengali.
As the pandal managers make ready to consign Ravan to the flames, amidst great fanfare, I do a rethink. The burning of Ravana symbolises the victory of good over evil.
But at the kerb where I stay I pause to buy a pair of neat beige floaters (Rs 200). As I get to talking to the salesperson I notice his display of footwear is outside a shop which is closed. I should say closed for a long time. I get to talking to his father- I think - as the man in question bounds off to haul a few more pairs from an 'off-site' storage location nearby.
'This was our shop,' he says ruefully. 'They shut it after the sealing. It has been closed for 1 and a half years now. It has been very hard for us.' About a year ago the Delhi government embarked on a plan to clear residential areas of commercial establishments. Issues related to it are still hanging fire today.
'So?' I asked the senior citizen. 'Khane ka mamla heh' he said. [It's a question of giving them something to eat.] This being the euphemism for a bribe. 'It's not little, it's quite a lot,' he went on thoughtfully. 'How much?' I persisted. 'Ek' he said [One]. 'One lakh?' I asked him in confirmation. 'Yes' he said.
In Jodha Akbar the film on the life of Akbar which I saw this Friday on UTV, Akbar goes incognito through the city of Agra to know the welfare of his subjects first hand. He finds out that his Hindu subjects are distraught over the tax levied for their pilgrimage. He immediately returns to court and repeals the law - even though this will reduce the income to the state treasury.
That was in the 17th century. We are in the 21st now. Real issues are swept under the carpet in this country under the garb of celebration and excess. The poor man is further stripped of what little accrues to him - as has been revealed today (The Mail)in the rampant corruption in Badholi, Uttar Pradesh, where government officials colluded with village heads to siphon off money under the much touted NREGA scheme - this in the time of drought. No wonder Jean Dreze was sceptical of the implementation of NREGA despite pious platitudes to the contrary.
Yesterday, theatre Y from Chennai staged Reality - a simulcrum of voices against communalism. As the actor intoned a litany of names - an 'audio-memorial' she said - to the unnamed who had been killed in riots, we were numbed into hideous silence as though we were experiencing living death.
Even at Sikri where I had gone with friends from the US this Saturday, religion is not free from providing the occasion for a blatant rip off. At the shrine of Baba Salim Chisti at Sikri our muslim guide threatened us with dire consequences if each of us did not buy a chaddar as an offering before the saint. I flatly refused but my American friends bought one for a princely Rs 100 - which included a few of yesterday's rose petals. The only saving grace was a superb Quawalli rendered by some sufi musicians in front of the shrine.
Yes, this has been a season of festivals, Id and Dussehra, with Diwali round the corner. But do I feel like celebrating? No.
On the night of 1 October -a prelude to the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on 2nd October - a Sufi concert will be held at Jamia Millia Islamia in the Safdar Hashmi Hall - named after a man who who was killed while staging a stage play. As the strains of the sufi singers from Srinagar, Ajmer and Delhi soar into the night I wish for this country to be one in spirit, one in purpose, to reclaim our sanity.
Also see www.delhisealing.org
NREGA: National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme