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Elizabeth and Paul

To my 11 year old daughter, Kaveri

You left for India last night leaving me in NYC.  Really missing your  laughter.

Luckily I have friends here, with whom I will spend emotional time . Not defined as just being ‘truthful’ or honest, but going beyond that. Becoming vulnerable.  Vulnerability is the essence of a real relationship  between people.  Vulnerability is the essence of your  relationship with yourself, with God, with everything. Become so vulnerable that you become like water. Accepting of everything,  And then let go of everything in its flow.

Here’s a story for you.

There was a little girl that fell in love with two pigeons. One was a beautiful white pigeon, and the other shades of blue and green and grey. She named the white one Elizabeth and the other one Paul. Everyday she would rush back from school just as the shadows of the afternoon were getting softer and longer. Elizabeth and Paul would flutter together and sit on the sill of the bedroom the little girl shared with her younger  brother.  Not facing towards the bedroom but always towards the backyard of the house.  There they would sit in a very regal manner. Facing outward gently speaking to each other in what the little girl called ‘gooterrr- goon’.

The little girl was convinced that Elizabeth and Paul came from the kingdom of  ‘Gooterr – goon’ and had lost their way.  She would rummage through the store house of the kitchen and feed them with any seeds she could find.  Of course being an Indian household, it was full of lentils, grains and seeds of all varieties. So there was no shortage of food for them.  Every evening at 4 o’clock the little girl would start a conversation with the Elizabeth and Paul.  She would make the guttural sounds of ‘gooterr- goon’ and they would respond back. She was convinced they were trying to tell her something, and if she would learn their language, she could help them.

No amounts of arguments from her parents that the pigeons just came for the food would convince her otherwise.  The fact is that when her little brother would try to go ‘gooterr-goon’ with them , Elizabeth and Paul would just fly away.  She would show the family the hundreds of pigeons that would fly back  to their homes every evening, and ask why only Elizabeth and Paul would come to see her.   Soon the family became used to their little daughter going ‘Gooterr-goon’ every evening. A sort of ritual. And the pigeons became accepted as part of the family. They would fly away to wherever pigeons go, and come back the next day at the same time.

Till one day Elizabeth, the white pigeon, never came back. Paul would be there, looking lost and lonely. But not Elizabeth. The little girl would go out and shout at all the pigeons that would fly by and go ‘Gooterr-goon’ as loud as possible. It was then that the family realized how familiar they had got to Elizabeth and Paul’s visits.  As they watched their little girl come back with tears in her eyes because Elizabeth had not come, they would hug her and all pray that Elizabeth was fine and happy wherever she was.

Then one day Elizabeth did come back. She looked sad and weak. And when the little girl went ‘Gooterr – goon’ at her Elizabeth would not respond. To her shock the little girl realized why. Somebody had shot Elizabeth. The lead pellet from the air gun was still embedded in her throat.  Anything that Elizabeth pecked at would just come out of her throat. It was miracle she was still alive.  It was a horrific sight and the little girl panicked and thought Elizabeth was going to die, and that she had come back to the little girl asking to help.  The whole family was distraught.  They all realized how much they too had come to love the pigeons.

The little girl’s father was one of Delhi’s more famous doctors. Unable to take Elizabeth’s suffering he took her into his surgery, and cleaned her wounds. He took out the pellet that some unthinking cruel person has shot her with. To that person it was just a game, a sport. But to Paul, Elizabeth was his companion. To the little girl, her best friend. To the family now, a a precious life that needed to saved.

I still remember how my father gently cleaned the wound, and then stitched together Elizabeth’s wounds, saying words of comfort to my sister.  But because I was a ‘man’ he would look me in the eyes. The expression telling me that there was little chance for Elizabeth surviving. I remember my mother bringing Elizabeth into our prayers every night.

Elizabeth did survive. I watched in wonder as her wound healed, as the wound of a human being would. The family stood around happily on the day Elizabeth could finally eat without the seeds spilling out of her throat. She never got her ‘Gooter-goon’ quite back, but she was active again and could fly as she did before. I have never worked out how my father, a pediatrician, could operate on a pigeon and heal her, but will always remember Elizabeth for bringing such joy to our  family.

So dear kaveri. The grandfather you only remember as a much older man struggling with age, was once the most compassionate doctor I have ever seen. Your aunt, my sister, once a little girl consumed with fantasies, dreams, love and life, now coming to terms with the experiences of life.  Remember that compassion is the greatest gift of them all.

Will Adhaar /UID project work ?

Sent in by Rudra. By Shakti Salgaokar After much procrastination, we as a family decided to go and get ourselves the Aadhaar UID card. We got hold of the forms, filled them out and armed with the necessary documents, made way to the UID registration centre in the Hindu Colony Municipal School. Upon reaching the centre, we were told that their schedule was choc-a-bloc and they would only be able to accommodate us after 25th December. So we went back on the 26th, we were told that the Post Office forms that we managed to fill up were invalid and they needed us to fill out the form meant for their centre. We managed to get an appointment for 10am on the 29th, which we could not make. We were told to come on 30th.

On the 30th we arrived at 10.10am and were faced with a reluctant Mr Gorakhnath R, an employee of Tera Software Ltd, a Sewree based firm. Busy playing a game on his phone, he asked us to wait. The line didn’t budge an inch for almost 45 minutes. During these 45 minutes, I met a disgruntled gentleman who had already invested four days in fruitlessly chasing his UID, “How many times do I bunk work for this?” he found himself asking just as a couple of college students were denied an Aadhaar form without a valid reason. When the line did not move after almost an hour, we expressed surprise. A seasoned UID chaser told us that the person who handles the equipment, disappears for hours on end each day, halting the entire process.

We were left with no choice but to confront Mr Goraknath about the wait… (more…)

Beautiful letter …

from Uric Hubert Rainard to me , yes, but to the community we have created around this blog.  I cannot say my blog, because if your do not read, I do not write. That is the true sense of the new way of Media, the end of Iconism as we know it, but the beginning of Iconism as a fulcrum around which the community develops and then the Icon itself dissolves into the community.

As I was struggling with my first challenges with fame, I took a local train in the ordinary class in Mumbai.  At rush hour its an experience that defy’s your sense of individuality.  Your are just part of sweaty bodies exchanging breath . Your existence just an extension of the other. I started my first poem that to this day has remained unfinished :

Give me the courage

my friend,

to be ordinary ….

Amazingly fame created not a sense of strong identity but a loss of identity.  Now of course I have gambled with fame long enough, like a game of dice, up one day and down the next, to know that life’s lessons compel you to be ordinary always, but extraordinary through the path of humility  that life enforces upon you. So now the only thing I have to add to the poem is the line :

lost in humility ..

Uric’s letter :

Dear Mr. Shekhar Kapur I am not totally amazed that you are just as accessible as you were three years ago, and just as adroit and wonderful a host, as you are, who is always available in the sense that it is here that you share your world and that we as your guests are welcomed to be ourselves respectively. It is a deep honor and I came by accidently because I looked up my name on the internet search, and a comment I made when i was last here came up. It was when Anthony Minghella passed away… sorry for your loss, then… and I remember being moved by the great array of your blog… it’s total open-ess. I was also present to read and be a part of the wonderful hopeful gifts of support, when Heath Ledger passed away and the strength of spirit, that must have taken. You are just amazing and I say that because _In every way I feel the very expanse of knowledge that surrounds you. I presume you travel so easily, by this heart that is your foresight_ that you are always prepared, because you live in the immediacy of Now. I can feel it as I write. I used to blog a lot, but I have not for awhile, except to blurb on the Facebook, but this year I will be re-creating my attenuation to the great orb of consciousness, because I believe the existence of true wonder is to be found in our natural selection and cultivation of honored friendships. I hope that you and all of your most honored guests have a most wonderful New Year. Ulric(seattle)

Thank you Ulric, from me on behalf of the community that urges me to host this blog.

The world’s best Olive Oil Store

In Grand Rapid’s, Michigan ??

And so I thought that after a week in New York, New Years Eve in Grand Rapids, Michigan was going to be  was going to be the dullest ever.

Was I in for a surprise ! There is something about small town America that is more than just friendly and warm (of course) , it is .. how should I say it .. cosy and comfortable, with a plethora of restaurants and bars clustered together downtown.  You could cover them all in an evening walk.  Some of them quite outstanding. Dinner at the Tre Cugini was amongst the best Italian food I have had anywhere. Try the Trout. Outstanding.

But the treat today was a chance visit to an extraordinairy shop.

Kaveri (my 11 year old daughter) and I were walking through the freezing high street. She kicking up the snow and trying to stuff it down my collar. At a temperature of 20 degree F it’s not a game that was very welcome.  And suddenly in front of me was a shop selling Olive Oil.  I am an Olive Oil lover, often harassing my Italian friends to get me the first pressings from their friend’s farms. The stronger the taste of Olive Oil the better for me. Not something my Indian friends can understand for whom any oil undisguised by spices is merely a lack of sophisticated taste.

My first encounter with Olive Oil came on a sailing trip with some of my friends in the 70’s. Hugging the south coast of Spain starting in Gibralter, we sailed  a huge 80 foot ketch built so early in the century that it should not have been considered sea worthy. And I, in the search for spicy food found the Spanish Paella. Well … it looked like a curry. So I thought why not ? Put a handful in my mouth and almost threw it out – for which I almost got thrown out myself by the cafe owner when I complained it was rancid. Maybe I just could not pronounce the Spanish word for Rancid. Of course now I know. It’s Rancio. Of course it would be.

Try telling a passionate Cafe owner in the port city of Cartagena that his Paella was Rancio.  See what happens.

Well Rancio it was not. It was my first bitter encounter with local Olive Oil.  I have come a long way since. Learning to  cook with Olive Oil is an art in itself. How do you preserve the consistency and nutty strong flavours contained in the best and freshest of cold presses by not heating it too much, and yet allowing the food to be cooked ? But ah .. the taste of freshly picked Cherry Tomatoes cooked gently and slowly over low heat of fresh olive oil is the greatest addition to scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Back to Grand Rapids, Michigan. And there was the most wonderful Olive Oils shops I had encountered in all my travels. Oils from Tunisia, all over the US, Spain, Chile, Italy and various parts of the world that I did not even know grew Olives.  Spicy oil with spices from exotic parts of the world. And all kinds of Balsamic Vinegar, which to me was a new experience. For other than organic or not , was the extent of knowledge I had about Balsamic Vinegar.

And just as my 11 year old was getting restless enough to shove more snow under my collar, the great lady who owned the shop sensing that, brought out to her the wonders of Maple Syrup. And I thought Maple Syrup was just Maple Syrup. Well not in this shop it isn’t. There were all kinds of Maple Syrup from various places over the US. Never tasted Maple Syrup so sweet and rich. Perhaps its a speciality in Michigan. Is it ?  So its Maple Syrup from Old World Olive Press – the most fascinating Olive Oil store I have visited.

Small towns like Grand Rapids certainly have some wonderful surprises in store. Like this one

Visit it, you will not regret it.

And I was kicked enough to buy both me and my daughter a pair of the latest Jordan shoes. Which though far more expensive than I would usually pay for a pair of sneakers (sorry , sorry, I know they are not mere sneakers, they are Jordans !) , I know that stores had run out of stock all over the US on the first day. But here in Grand Rapids. Michigan I got them, much to my daughters delight.

Not shoes she said, Jordans.

True Grit : Encounter with a US War Vet in Grand Rapids

Was filming at Grand Rapids Vet Centre in Michigan. Forbidding red bricked building with darkened windows that gave it an even more foreboding look. But in some of the most beautiful natural surroundings you could imagine. Wide meadows. A river. Lake. Trees. Awesome. And that’s in midwinter. Imagining what it would look like in summer.

I could see some of the Vets. Disabled men in long shaggy beards in self driven wheelchairs. Two of my favourite American  films have dealt with the problems of US Vets coming to terms with rehabilitation when they get back home.  Born on the Fourth of July by Oliver Stone and Deer Hunter by Michael Cimino. Have always wondered how men as young as 19 or less felt when the were disabled in a War neither they understood, nor did their country. Especially when they came back expecting to be treated as heroes, only to find that their nation considered it a misjudged war.

Wanted to speak to the Veterans. But was afraid to be curious. How many people must have asked them the same questions I wanted to ?  Where were their loved ones ? How did they handle the loneliness of Disability. Questions about bitterness,

My friend Deepak Chopra always says ‘ask the Universe honest questions and it will provide you with answers’.

Was watching two films back to back with my 11 year old daughter in Grand Rapids (why are Hollywood films becoming so predictable ? Even the ones with great reviews ?). Grand Rapids was hit by winter’s first snow storm by the time we came out. There was no transport available to take us back to the hotel. None of the drivers were willing to take on the icy and dangerous conditions out there. Bitterly cold and hungry I was considering our options.  Especially with an energetic 11 yr old, who thought this was an outstanding adventure !

But finally one car service said they would send a car. Which arrived in 20 minutes. Driven by a charming and friendly lady I shall call Karen. Because I do not have permission to name her yet.

Karen told me just why it was dangerous out there. It was New Year’s day and the State budget cuts had ensured that there was no salt laying drivers for the roads without heavy overtime. So we were dependent on the skills and experience of the drivers. As Karen drove slowly and carefully I could feel the car skid on the new ice under us on every turn and acceleration. On the way Karen told us how the owners of car services would not allow the cars to go out because the cost of towing cars in snow drifts was prohibitive. About $ 250. Not a comforting thought that.  It was then that Karen told me something extraordinary. That she had lived in Mumbai ! Off and on about 30 years ago. When I worked it out, I realized it must have been over 40 years ago. How ? Wait for it.

What were the chances of the one car that came to pick you up in a small town called Grand Rapids in the middle of freezing winter being driven by a woman that had once lived in the city I live in. I looked at Karen again. She was blond with beautiful features. A little overweight, but then with the food in the US that’s easy, I thought. The real truth came out later.

She told me her Grandfather was a lawyer in Bombay (as it was then) and we soon worked out that she lived in Marine Drive. She remembered the best places in Bombay from 30  years ago.  Places that still exist, and were the hot spots of social life then. I could imagine the life of a beautiful blonde American teenager in South Bombay. I began to wonder that somewhere I may have encountered her. After all, those were the places that all young men like me went at that time. Looking for excitement. And if you are wondering thats where the story is going, you are so wrong. It was what she told me next that left me in complete shock.

Karen joined the US army. Went to Vietnam. Got combat status. So was one of the few women allowed to be on the front line. As the US army was retreating under fire at Saigon Airport, Karen was out there helping get the wounded into the planes for evacuation. Seven days from the end of her one year Term of Duty from  Vietnam , Karen was caught in cross fire. In the ensuing battle her knees were shattered.

On a freezing night, when no car was willing to come out to us for the icy near blizzard conditions, one disabled woman, her knees shattered in Vietnam helping wounded soldiers evacuate drove  us.  After a day of filming at a Vets facility where I was wanting to chat to a Vet from Vietnam all day. What were ever the chances of that ? And one who had lived in Mumbai ! As they say there are no coincidences in life.

Karen and I spoke. Of the futility of war. Of her resentment against the Government that promised her a medical degree but trained her just as a nurse. Of the futility of the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq. But also of her memories of her life in Mumbai. The smells, the warmth of the people and the colours. She remembered the colours the most. We spoke of the depression in the US and how it was affecting small town like Grand Rapids. Especially her. How she felt let down by her Government, but that she still managed to put her two kids through college ! All the time I was resisting the temptation to look at Karen’s shattered knees that were negotiating the icy roads well past midnight.

Karen had said” I’m sure your Government treats their war disabled soldiers better”.  I knew an honest answer to that question could not be contained in one word called ‘no’, as in no way did it bring out the reality of India’s war disabled.

As Karen dropped us at the hotel. Holding my little daughter’s hand warmly and wishing a great stay at Grand Rapids I shot a quick look at Karen’s knees. What I saw brought to me me the famous American words ‘True Grit’.

True Grit is not bravery in a moment of battle. It is the courage to live life with grit against odds.

Must the Indian Parliament be dissolved to protect the Constitution?

After a tumultous 2011 for politics and corruption in India we should go back to the fundamentals concepts on which our Nation was created.  So here is how our Constitution opens :


WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;

Just look at the words highlighted (by me) in the opening preamble of the Indian Constitution. Each word in this preamble was discussed, argued, fought over, and after much debate was included in this, arguably one of the best Constitutions ever written for any Democracy. Should we not at some time ask after 65 Years of Independence ( I do not use the word Freedom deliberately as there is so much more work and conflict we will have to go through to achieve that beautiful word), ask if any fundamental words have been achieved ? And if not, is it not time, after 65 years, to stop blaming individuals or Governments.  But blame the system that has usurped Indian Democracy into self serving, power hungry groups and organizations  in complete defiance of, and in a way prostituting the very concepts that allowed the system into power in the first place.

Lets talk SECULAR.  please read the following in Section 123(3) in The Representation Of The People Act, 1951 – which lists  a number of corrupt practices for which a Candidate will be  barred from the electoral process :

(3) 1[ The appeal by a candidate or his agent or by any other person with the consent of a candidate or his election agent to vote or refrain from voting for any person on the ground of his religion, race, caste, community or language or the use of, or appeal to religious symbols …

Yet all elections today Regional and National elections are fought on exactly the issues forbidden by the very Constitution under who’s guise the candidates fight for power. Whether they are regional parties or national parties. Secularism is just a word to be touted in India that means nothing. Certainly not in the electoral, and therefore the democratic process. Whats worse is that we, and under the influence of our Media accept that as a fact of life and actually laud Rahul Gandhi’s political acumen when he tries to ‘divide the Muslim Votes to the advantage of the Congress in UP”. Not my words. But the words in every Newspaper and so called Political analyst in India.

What has happened to us ? Why are we not only standing by and accepting this, but arguing and analysing the whole process as if there is nothing fundamentally corrupt in it ?

Is the Constitution just a word that means nothing anymore ? How can that be ? If it means nothing then India’s electoral process means nothing, the Parliament has not legal standing. The system has becomes a Pandora’s Box that has taken over it’s reason to be. The existence of corruption has become the system’s reason to be. It serves neither the Constitution nor Democracy. In which case what gives it the right to exist expect Intertia of the people caught in a trap of ignorance ?

Which is why the Anna movement, Lok Pal or not, was so fundamental to our re evaluation of ourselves. Which is why I supported it. And continue to do so.

The Sytem has become an animal that has run amock and is loose without the reigns of the Constitution to hold it in check.  Its individuals knowingly flout the fundamental charters written in the key words of the Constitution even as they take an oath of allegience to uphold the Constitution in Parliamnent.  Surely that is a treasonable act ?? And those ignorant MP’s that kept repeating that stupid phrase ” To stand against Parliament is to stand against Democracy. Parliament is Democracy. Threatening legal action against anyone that said otherwise.

Our Parliament is not Democracy. Anything but, as recent events have proven. But lets look at more fundamental concepts so dear to our founding fathers of the Constitution :

Justice, Equality and Dignity of the Individual

After 65 yeas of the parliamentary system of course there is Justice, Equality and Dignity of the Individual. But only for those that are in a position to demand it. Are in postition to force it. There is no dignity for the world’s largest number of poor in the world that live in India, who barely manage to survive or die of malnutrition.  There is no justice system where for a mass of people for whom being drawn into a court case  means a lifetime of harassment unless you can buy your way out.

And Freedom of Expression ? Its what we all talk about  all the time when we compare ourselves to (say) China. But what the use of raising your, voice, pleading or shouting when there is no one to listen to 90% of Indians ? When I did Bandit Queen we wrote a dialog which translates as ” If you kill, don’t kill just one, kill many for then they will write about you, make you famous. Let you surrender for political gains, and even give you a pension”.

It’s metaphoric. Do ordinary Indians need to ‘kill many’ for their voice to be be heard ?

In 2012, please think. Lets debate. We need to go back to the original concepts of our Constitution. Of true Freedom. It cannot be Democracy and Freedom of the few for the few.

What do you want ? New Year Resolutions

New year resolutions are fine as a wonderful conversation piece. Great to fill newsprint. Along with the best and worst of the previous year, the predictions that never come true for the next year, come hordes of celebrity new year resolutions, tips for healthy new year resolutions, new year resolutions for better sex etc etc.

But as everyone is talking about them, it does force me to evaluate myself over the past year. But then the past year is a reflection of all my past years. So I sit down and ask myself.

What do I want ? Not an easy question at all when you discipline it down like I do film plots. (If you cannot tell the story in 10 words, then you don’t have a plot. Sounds mundane and silly, but even an artist has an outline sketch that disciplines the painting). So what’s the plot of I want ?

I want to be happy. But then I have walked with enough thinkers and mystics, psychologists and intellectuals to know that is just a word that describes an impermanent moment of brain chemicals. Brain Chemicals. Now thats what frightens me most. Am I just a product of my brain chemicals ? If so then what could I want except balanced chemicals to still my mind and be restful and peaceful. Thats easy. All I need is a prescription from a doctor. Or I am told, drink the water of New York which contains high doses of prescription medicines for ‘happiness’.

What do I want ? Of course I should be making more films. But I make films to communicate. So the fundamental force comes back. What do I want to communicate ? I have always been told I think too much, because of which I don’t act enough. But thats not true either. Why should action be measured in terms of marketable creation ? Is achievement and fame, monetary gains and material assets the fundamentals of measuring action ? I am restless always. On the move always. Traveling always. Interacting with people always. Wondering, yearning experiencing, inquisitive. Always.

What do I want ? What should I wish for on this New Year ? What is that fundamental idea that would encompass that which I desire most.

Now here is the problem. My desires change on a day to day basis. On a moment to moment basis. Like a child I get attracted from one desire to another. One idea to another. So how can I trust my desire to define that which I want most ? I want a healthy life for as long as I can. I want all my family and those I love to be happy and healthy. I want to everyone to happy and healthy. I want there to be peace in the world. I want the Planet to be a greener and less polluted place.

All that which will never possible as the Buddha discovered much earlier in his life.

So really, what do I want. Not a wish list. Not a fantasy. Something I can achieve. Something real that underlies everything I have searched for. The root from which the rest naturally grows and flowers. Is there such a root ?

What do I want ?

I want to be honest. Not as in truthful. But to live honestly in the moment. To exist in honesty. Not the honesty or truthfulness of the moment that passed. For that is a prejudice. Not in the truthfulness or honesty that may exist in the next moment. For that is either a fear or a fantasy. But the honesty of this moment. That honesty that needs absolute awareness. That honesty that is aware of all that there is without prejudice or dogma. Without rules or desires. Where the moment stretches into an eternity from one moment to another.

Yes, I have walked with my teachers and friends who have taught me so much. And tried to teach me meditation. They have moved millions to it. But I have another path. One of constant yearning. One of restless and honest yearning –

Stepping from one chaotic footstep to another, but hoping somehow that the unknown path so traveled finds harmony in the journey.

That”s what I want. The journey. That is honest to each step.

Who after Anna Hazare ?

The brightest light of hope that shone through the corrupt quagmire that Indian Politics have become, suddenly dimmed and threatens to fade away. Was it age ? Misguided support system ? Or was it just that he realized that he had lost the support of waves of followers from his first agitation. Somewhere the simplicity of an anti corruption slogan got lost in the dark complexities of India Politics. Like a Political spiders web that closed around the movement.

We will never know. Anna Hazare’ withdrew his agitation for an effective Civil Society hand over a rampaging Parliament unable to control its own greed and lust for power over the needs of a nation. A nation that is just showing some promise of raising hope for the largest number of people in any nation trapped in poverty.

So searing was Aravind Adiga’s comment on India in his novel White Tiger that I had shut my mind to it. Refusing to accept it. Now I wonder if he was right in his complete pessimism. I don’t want to feel pessimistic, but cant help being overcome with wave upon wave of one thought. That India will never change. The corrupt political system is so inbred into the very fabric of our culture that it will never allow India to change. A change that would allow India to become a far less unequal and just society. Where the true potential of India will be unlocked by giving hope to the 70% caught in a poverty trap at the bulging bottom of the pyramid.

Yet how does one live without hope? Especially after the heady few months where Anna Hazare led a people’s movement that seemed to chip away at the arrogance of the political class. Finally they seemed afraid not of their traditional political enemies, their own counterparts, but of the ordinary people. The ordinary people they for so long considered a minor statistic in their need for vote banks. They were taken aback by the surge of anger that spilled over on the streets. And their response ? Destroy the messenger and the message. Leave the people leaderless. Which is what they all did very effectively.

But there is hope. Just the memories of that surge of anger in the streets still ignite hope. That there will be other leaders like Anna Hazare.

But also the hope that they will agitate as peacefully as Anna Hazare did.

Tired Hands, Christmas message by Eshla

There was a lady, rather frail and aged, who would wipe the floor of the home that I was staying in. She came daily, in the leisurely hours of the afternoon. As others rested, she squatted on her knobbly knees and gently cleaned the tiles, wiping them with patience and thought. Unlike the others, she wasn’t in a hurry. Rather, she did it methodically, beginning at one end of the flat and ending at the other in broad strokes – as broad as her bony arms would allow.

Her hair was always secure in a neat bun. Her sari was always properly wrapped. Though torn at the edges and sullied by years of squatting on dusty floors, it was wrapped with a certain elegance. She had little decoration on her, if any. Just one thin, threadlike chain that graced her freckled neck.

Much of her looked like it had been overused with little left to give. The arms, especially, seemed as though they’d give way any day. Her skin, tarnished by the intense sun, told stories of countless decades of toil.

Yet, even in such old age, her face expressed certainty and desire to live. Her eyes were alive and grateful. Her smile, hesitant but kind. Her expressions were subtle but firm.

But a certain sadness hung over. After all, she had spent a lifetime doing this work, mastering an art that others had negated. And she’d done it with vigor, knowing that it would provide her shelter, comfort, and food.

I approached her one afternoon, out of curiosity and out of respect, wanting to acknowledge her presence. She shared with me tidbits of her life. Her face lifted when she spoke of her children. She’d had two but they’d migrated to other, bigger cities where work was more abundant to see if they make more for the family. She had little to provide for herself; hence, she kept working into her later years. When I asked her about her work, she responded by saying (in hindi), “Ab to bahut din ho gaye hain. Pasand ya na pasand – kya farek? Roti kilye hai ye sab.” (transl: So many days have passed now. Whether I like it or not – what difference does it make? I work to eat.)

I was silent. I couldn’t offer her much.

It always felt a bit odd to me to have someone of my grandmother’s age, sweeping the floor clean under my feet. But I acknowledged that she had work and thus, she would have food to eat. It would have been worse if she were not employed.

Still, it seemed wrong.

But it wasn’t just because she was of a lower class. Rather, I saw a similar scenario play out in more formal, developed economies where those who had toiled their entire lives had to return to work due to the economic situation.

In a grocery store, one of those mega-sized ones, where you’re likely to get lost in an aisle full of pickles, I saw elderly men and women, standing behind tables, handing out samples. They shifted their weight constantly, leaning on the shelves. Their hands moved slowly, very slowly at times. They spoke to the customers softly, directing them around the store. They engaged with the children more so than the adults. And yet, there was a sadness in them as well as they stood for long hours on their aged bodies.

I hadn’t seen them there before. They were a new addition. Later, I was informed that the recession had eaten up the savings of many seniors and they were forced to go back to the marketplace, looking for work. They didn’t have the skills perhaps for our tech-savvy society. So, they took to simpler jobs, ones that didn’t require extensive training.

But you could tell from their demeanor that they had little desire to be there; rather, they had little energy left in them to be there. The social aspect was nice for them, getting to interact with people of all ages but having to again work on the clock, on their feet, and at long lengths wasn’t appealing.

Two extreme opposite scenarios; one passing out tidbits of food to make a living, the other cleaning crumbs and dust off the floor to make a living. But at the core was a loneliness, a struggle, and a sadness. That too at a time in their lives when they should be reaping the benefits of their arduous years. Why was it that we’d forgotten these faces? In a youth-obsessed society, the elderly don’t feature first. But, still, it just didn’t make sense to me – how can we treat those who had given their lifetimes to hard work and their families with such indifference?

It seems as if we just forgot. And yet, that is the most critical time to remember them, to honor them, and to cherish them. That is the time to enjoy their stories, their insights from life, their memories.

And yet, here they were working away, not out of desire, but of need.

Can we not build a more people-friendly marketplace? It is a naive thought, perhaps, considering the complexities of modern economics. But, ultimately, we are here just momentarily. That is what age quickly reminds us of. And most of us realize that there’s little we can take with us. So, why not share the riches more equitably? Why make exhausted hands work longer – that too to just feed themselves?


from Eshla

When I was younger, in my teens, a friend of mine gave me a letter one holiday season. We were each assigned a secret Santa, someone who’d surprise us with a gift and a little holiday note on the last day of school before Christmas break. One of my dear friends happened to draw my name. So, instead of a bland card with the generic “Happy Holidays,” she decided to write me a letter, recalling all the good times that we’d had together. At the end, she wrote that I had this quality she hadn’t seen in others around her. She said I was tenacious and she wished she had that too. What a lovely compliment.

But, I had no idea what tenacious meant.

So, I politely said thank you, gave her a hug for the note, put it in my bag, and then slipped away to find a dictionary – this was before the era of the Internet. I landed on tenacious. I even tried to pronounce it- sounded funny to me. What on earth could it mean? And then I learned, it meant to have willpower, to persevere, to keep going, to keep trying, to not give up.

Later, when I was in college and had to write letters, expressing my interest to work in a place, do an internship, or apply for a fellowship, I always used one word to describe myself – tenacious.

I was raised in an immigrant household. I didn’t learn tenacity from a dictionary. I saw it in front of me. I saw success and immense failure. I saw good times and very rough times. I knew what it took to put food on the table. I saw sacrifice daily. And I saw tenacity.

That frugality and work ethic stuck with me. I went to college and worked three jobs – two that paid housing and expenses, and the other that helped me inch closer to my dreams. I spent early mornings and afternoons in newsrooms in DC, chasing journalists and producers. I spent evenings sitting through classes on the Cold War. And then spent nights, writing papers, completing assignments, and doing yoga at 2 am to relax. I also had my share of good times with friends. But it was always a humble existence. It was always an existence that knew that this would be the way to a better future, a more secure future, a future of my dreams.

And then I graduated during the pinnacle of the recession. Even with a stellar CV, I found myself entering an economy that didn’t have time, space, or money for me and my classmates. So, I applied to graduate school and, shockingly, got in after a few weeks of submitting my application. But I didn’t have the funds. So I applied to countless scholarships. I got rejected and rejected and rejected. Then, I applied to some more. And finally, found my match. A year later, I found myself walking the streets of London, something I had only dreamed of. Even though I had money in my pocket to catch the bus after class, I would walk. Even though I had money to buy a decent lunch, I’d go for the simple sandwich. Even though, I could have spent on myself a little, I saved. I suppose that frugality resulted from having seen the struggles in my childhood. It was fear that you’d never want to run out.

And in the process of doing all this, I discovered the beauty of service. Perhaps because I grew up in a humble abode, I could relate to the art of service, to giving to those who had less. For me, it became my passion. I enjoyed spending time in rural villages, tending to public health issues. I enjoyed sitting with other young twenty-year-olds, trying to figure out new innovative solutions to serious problems. I enjoyed reading about great leaders who lived big lives on little resources. I enjoyed listening to others stories, learning from their struggles. I enjoyed prodding inefficient organizations and agencies to give more, to do more for their communities.

And yet, while I would spend hours in rural communities, tending to these needs, and coming back home to figure out how to get through silly bureaucracy to get funding for them, I’d run into a middle class, living a life of luxury – far beyond their means. It didn’t matter where I’d look, whether in the so-called rising Asian giants or in the developed world, I saw young people walking around with technology hanging from every pocket, wearing branded t-shirts, shoes, bags, and even socks. And I thought to myself, have we simply exported our bad habits globally?

After all, a generation and a world that had never seen credit cards was now using them – and liberally so. Cities that had deep, cyclical poverty also had families getting bigger homes, more cars to fill all the parking spaces (literally), and more designer wear to compliment their new 21st century lives. I saw bakeries pop up, feeding those already a little too plump with more gluttony. Outside such a shop, a starved man and his family would be sitting, but few looked at him or recognized his presence. I saw globalization benefit thousands in the metros and leave thousands more behind in its shadows. I saw youth that had been granted everything and had little to achieve on their own.

What we had achieved on paper and pencil, they needed an iPhone to do it on. What we achieved by working jobs after school, they expected from their parents. Places we worked so hard to visit by getting scholarships and support, they vacationed in during their holidays with ease.

And I wondered, will this generation have the same work ethic? Will this world have the same tenacity that I learned first-hand? Or has this world’s expectations of a “comfortable” life grown so exponentially that if they don’t slow down, they may just come crumbling down?

As an immigrant, I’ve traveled continents, lived my life in fragments, parts here and parts there. I’ve learned that every society has its flaws. But today, when I see the rise of Asian societies, I worry that perhaps they’ve adopted the bad economical habits that are ravaging the Western world.

We’ve been told repeatedly that one can still live big with less, yet we ignore that advice and indulge our senses. But at the cost of what? To breed a generation that expects luxury but doesn’t know how to achieve it? To breed a generation that doesn’t know struggle, only excess? To breed a generation that isn’t equipped with the tenacity to take on the challenges that life presents?

I hope not. I hope that the mistakes of our economies in the West can be a lesson. A life with less can still be a grand life.