Day 134: To act or not to act

A certain commotion caught my attention when walking into my block at lunch hour today. The security guard and the block maintenance in charge were in argument with a girl student. She made multiple protests and even tried eluding the security and running to class, while he way laid her and brought her back to the entrance.

I knew I had to do something. I had heard a lot about the rude behavior of the security. And this maintenance in-charge has been on my radar for a while now for speaking very rudely to a number of the support staffs. So, i intervened and asked the girl what the problem was. ‘I got late and bought a packet of food for lunch. Now my class is about to begin and I need to go in. He’s not letting me in with this covered food container’, she pleaded, looking desperately for some support. My mind had expected some serious argument – dress code maybe, or missing ID card. The minute I heard her protest, I immediately shrugged my shoulders and walked away. I almost did something to help but my sub-conscious walked away.

I thought about what I did, or didn’t do, for the rest of the day. There were many reasons why the girl needed support and I could have helped. The security had no control over students that bring lunch from home and eat in the classrooms. So why detain students that do not have the luxury of a home cooked meal and depend on the cafeteria? There was no crime committed here for which he had to chase her down the corridor like she were a thief. If anything, he could have warned her for the subsequent time and let her in. I could have reminded him of all of this. I didn’t.

Wasn’t this the reason I joined the student council? Wasn’t I interested in standing up for student problems? Then why was I taking a high-grade, especially by picking battles that mattered to me versus those that didn’t. Shouldn’t I be concerned about them all nonetheless. The elevator issue in the central block affected me even though I was directly not effected by it. This incident happened in my block; it was a security guard that I see on a daily basis. Shouldn’t this work me up more?

Sometimes I surprise myself with my actions, or inaction.

Pics4mswiss: Every winter, the earth covers itself in white, to cleanse itself of all that is. 

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Day 130: Being mean – not! 

It’s not easy when you act out what you’ve been meaning to for a long time.

One of the most powerful, and irritating, experiences that I’ve had on campus was at the kiosk; I was waiting to pick up some tea. This was almost a year and a half back, in semester 1, when I was fresh from my professional and western sense of personal space. This college, and most of India, knows nothing about personal space. There was already a row of students directly behind the counter, picking up tea and snacks that they needed. I stood in the next row, behind them, waiting to move in and order when they were done. Yes, life would be wonderful if we had a queue system now, wouldn’t it?

As I waited there, money in one hand and my phone in the other, a young lady joined the melee at the kiosk, in the circle (the crowd equivalent of a queue) behind me. How did I know she had joined our little, uncomfortable party? She was breathing down my neck (literally), was close enough to check my hair for split ends and her arm was stretched above all of the 5 foot and 7 inches of me. The icing on the cake was her shrill-pitched voice yelling ‘Bhayya, ek chai, bhayya, ek chai’. I realized that subtlety and hints were generally lost on this lot when none of my shuffling and mch’ing did any difference to her yelling. I wanted to turn around and shush her. I wanted to ask her if she thought I enjoyed standing where I was, stuck between a sweaty boy in the front and the shrieking her in the back. I wanted to remind her that I was there to pick up tea too, and it would only be fair for me to be served first, before she got her turn. I wanted to remind her of the sad situation that the anna was in, where he had his 2 hands and 2 ears competing against at least 100 hungry hands clawing at him. I stood still and waited for the sweaty boy in the front to get his job done.

Not a second later she yells ‘Abey chai dena, kutte ki aulaad’. It was of course drowned down by the rumpus around and never made it to the guy behind the counter. But I heard it crystal clear. I was fuming red. I turned around to let her have all that I had subdued only a second back, but all I could muster was a cold-dreaded stare. She got the message and walked away.

I think of that episode a lot, especially when I am at the kiosk and I see the persistent commotion. I often think of that young girl that I stared back at, and I wonder if she had learnt a lesson. I beat myself up for not coming up with a wittier response than a simple stare down. I worry for a generation that would go out of the safe confines of the university, and into the world, thinking that it was their legal entitlement to be served without a minute’s delay, and that it was okay to use any words they deem needed to get that done.

With all the thinking that I had done on this matter, today I was better prepared to respond when a similar incident replayed. I was waiting my turn for chai (I should probably stop drinking this much chai), and a young girl butts in from behind me and yells ‘Anna, ek tea’. I smile at her, she smiles back, and I ask her if I look like I was standing there for fun. Her smile drops half-way down, confused. “What happened?”, she asks. I explain my protest and her smile is completely gone. We stand there awkwardly as I pick up my tea and egg puff. As I head out, I say “Now is your turn. Luck!”, and she smiles, sheepishly.

And I felt miserable at the end of it all. Maybe more so than the previous time. I beat myself up this time for not picking the stare-down route. It actually hurt me to vocalize my discomfort because it made me sound like a bad person, where as I was not. Stopping someone from walking all over me made me feel like the one at fault.  Why did I get disturbed for simply expressing something that I had played out in my mind many times before?

I finally understand something that I had heard over the weekend at Diversity Dialogues. Some of us are very comfortable being the victim; being the one oppressed. Some of us never speak up against what troubles us simply because we are comfortable playing the role of a traditionalist. We do not want the world to think ill of us because of our conflicting opinions. We play along in order to get that gold medal, a fake smile and a nod of acceptance. We conform!

Pics4mswiss: One of the chairs of Einstein, in the old city Berne. Sit with the man and talk about conforming. 

Day 128: Dil-pasands

Runaway Beast

It had been a productive morning, interviewing a counselor for an assignment. As I drove back home, a serene pace in, a certain nostalgia took over and I remembered the amazing cakes and goodies from The Iyengar Bakery in Domlur. While I don’t seem to have too many fond memories from growing up in that that over-crowded, dingy locality, I do remember the bakery. Every time we’d drive by on the Airport Road, the smell of their freshly baked bread would waft into the air and my mind would wander.

I quickly pull over, smack in front of the bakery, and examine the wares in the display case that hasn’t changed in the last 20 years. Half dil-pasand, 2 honey cakes, 1 apple cake, 2 masala sandwiches – I would eat their goodies for breakfast and lunch for the next few days. He packs my loot into an eco-friendly cloth bag, I pay him a little extra, wait for the change and turn to look behind me cursorily. I see the Red Beast standing a few meters away from me, diagonally opposite to where I was standing, at the Bakery. I turn back to the boy hunting for change, and wonder what all the commotion around the Red Beast was!

Had I parked it obstructing traffic on the road? Wait! Did someone scratch my car? I look back urgently to spot signs of an accident. I see a rider in a scooter and a pillion point at me, frantically.  I think the spot I’ve parked in bothers him and I wave back – “One minute, sir, I will move very soon”. I turn back to concentrate on my goodies and it hits me! I hadn’t parked the Red Beast where it stood right now. I had parked it right behind me, while I could see it diagonally away from me. It had found itself a new parking spot. All the while, I was busy buying sweet bread.

I run back to the car and the words of the scooter man become clearer “Can’t you see that your car is rolling away, madam?” I quickly jump into the car, stare in wonder at the disengaged hand break, and imagine the tragedies that I would have caused with this little act of stupidity. I pull over closer to the kerb, shut engines, turn on the hand brake and run back to collect my goodies.

I had fallen down in my own standards as a good driver. I was on probation until I decided when.

Glum Baker

I had seen the owner of the Bakery today, after a few decades. He was much younger then, with more blacks than greys; Heck! So was I. A certain fondness took over me, a certain familiarity or willingness to connect. Would he know if I told him that we used to visit him as kids? Would he remember the number of times we bought his apple cakes and dil-pasands? He smiled back with knowing. But, would he remember the scrawny 10 year old and her chubbier older sister who would buzz around their bakery for those delicious honey cakes?

I lost my train of thought as soon as the man opened his mouth and yelled at the two assistant boys in the store. He wanted them to pack some breads, and weigh some cookies, and repack the bread, and attend to the lady waiting for her dil-pasand, and stop talking on the phone, and run to the back to check on the ovens, and do a million things more. As he started talking, I noticed a distinct change in the demeanor of the gentleman serving me. He suddenly felt emasculated, unimportant and stupid. He hurriedly stuffed all my goodies into a bag, and whispered my final bill.

It instinctively reminded me of how rude the baker had been when we were kids too. I do not remember a moment of smile or mirth from him. He’d always treated us with disdain, yelling at us for bringing too much change or too little. He would speak with just an ounce of respect when my dad came along, and in those occasions he’d ignore the fact that we even existed. All that angst and discomfort came right back to me. I no longer wanted to make small talk with this guy; I was ready to leave.

The thing, I see, about morose people is that they never change over the years, and continue to be miserable all through their lives.

Day 123: Bumps 

Early morning bump

The OldMan decided to head back home much sooner than originally planned; Daddyma needed him more. I shudder thinking of the midnight conversation with him, when he caught me up with his newly made plan, with his slurring words. I knew I wouldn’t have been able to put up with another day of conflicting emotions anyway. So, I was up at 4, and he drew himself to the station while I sat along.

He managed to find an unreserved ticket, and a seat, with sufficient time for the train. So I headed out, slowly inching out of the train station and a cabbie in front of me navigates the hump very poorly and rolls back into me. Great start to the day!

A little argument and some yelling on my part down, and I no longer had a front number plate. For the rest of the way, I drove more watchful than before.

Mid-day bump

Since heading home from the dinner last night, I had a strange unease about the whole thing with SilverGhoster. That unease, coupled with the early morning train run, meant I slept poorly all night. All I wanted was to catch a decent snooze during the day, to recoup, and yet it failed me. At some point mid day, SilverGhoster and I connected, and the entire reason for my unease became evident; there were ill vibes coming my way and the universe has a way with such things anyway. Turns out that post dinner, he had met his pals, and updated them on the dinner. What followed was a barrage of teenage mockery, directed at my age, my body, my life choices and everything that lay in between. Like that wasn’t enough, he went home and a similar tirade came from the mother.

I accept that body, age or fat shaming is not new to me anymore and I’ve seen more than my fair share growing up. But I would be kidding if I said that it did not affect me. While one can put up a straight face, or laugh off the comment, something inside crumbles. In fact, as I think about it, something inside you builds another wall. Another layer of fortification is added, and you push yourself deeper behind shut doors. If you didnt face such negativity, you wouldn’t be hurt in the first place.

What annoys me is the triviality of the world. For one to be a friend with another, why would gender, age, orientation, or any such factor be of any importance? And who gave mankind the authority to always play the role of the high-horse, judging others as if it were their birth right? A 30 year old is not married yet, and something HAS to be wrong with her. She quits an enticing career, and she MUST have been kicked out for poor performance. Four years into her marriage and she still hasn’t popped a baby, and it HAS to be her fault. She finds a friend in a younger man and she HAS to be a cougar. The man is more well-off than her and she HAS to be after his empire. She is chubbier than the society approved size zero and she MUST have an eating problem.

If only we all spent our days looking into the mirror and judging, as much as we do otherwise, we’d be more gentle on others.

Dusk drive bump

All that riddling and puzzling left me in a dizzy all day, and I left for Valley School much later than I’d planned. I’m looking forward to spending the next week or so at the school, observing from close quarters the functioning of an alternative school. I started the drive on a great mood, knowing that running away from civilization, and toward such an environment might be the answer to all my problems.

Chatted with SilverGhoster on the way to Valley, talking about the complexities of relationships. It amused me to think of how certain relationships complicate our lives by simply caring too much. By being overbearing, you invariably push someone away. By being overly snoopy, you unconsciously force them to life. Little things that you don’t realize until you’re deep into it.

It was relieving to hear SilverGhoster revalidate my theory on the universe and its strange mysterious ways. It’s something that I’ve internalized over the years of heartbreaks and of talking to random men for the arranged marriage scenes. If the timing is not right, if the universe hasn’t sorted its plan for you, come what may, your trials would go in vain. And the opposite is true too. In that comfort, I rest for another day.

Wait a minute! You’ve gone back to bangalore already? Means I’m with dad and mom now? And I can beg for food to the entire neighborhood? 

Guffaaaw!” Scotch

Day 121: Respect Shespect

I see the OldMan going through a major life struggle, something that is affecting him so heavily that it is evident in his every interaction with the family; especially with the OldLady. He is invariably aloof, struggle with his inner demons through the day. He lazes around during the day, making minimum conversations with us. When forced to participate, he generally snaps or spits his answers out. He’s given enough of those that OldLady responds in an equally frustrated manner. For a third person, their conversations qualify for a road-side brawl between sworn enemies.

He diligently dresses up at sundown and steps out for his daily dose of intoxicants. With it in the system, he suddenly gets very verbose, would like to know what my life plans are, would advice H on her marital woes and would push OldLady’s buttons some more. The daily drama is painful, an all too evident sign of a crumbling relationship. And yet, he finds no value in salvaging it.

It would have been much easier if I were able to relate to either sides; I would have easily picked a person to support and fought the other. Unfortunately, I’m unable to see either positions of view. I do not understand why one would resort to escape routes to sort their life struggles. I do not understand how one would blame their family for all their life’s sufferings when they would be nothing without the family in the first place. I, in fact, do not even know if that is the reason for all the melancholy. On the other side, I do not understand how one could be so submissive for these many years, without a voice of their own. I definitely do not understand a woman building her entire life around one man, making him her Achilles’ heel.

I do not understand relationships.

Humans are so complicated, S. All this yelling and screaming and loving and doving. Why! 

Eat, Sleep, Repeat, remember?” Scotch 

Day 119: The solid crunch of bones cracking shattered me

Semester done and the extra day complete, Scotch and I squeezed ourselves, and a lot of amma’s demands, into the RedBeast and we were off on our way to Coimbatore. The start was much slower than I’d planned, the wee hours of the morning were spent sleeping instead. The detour route through Sarjapur was a pleasant change considering the standard traffic blocks on the usual route.

I was cruising at a fairly decent speed, until I was shocked out of the comfort of driving. I was tailing a small truck in the middle lane, when I decided to move over to the right lane and overtake him. Between looking behind at the passing lane and the truck in front of me, I did not see a dog dash over from the left lane at all. I sped into the right lane, and immediately saw the brown colored, black nosed dog run frantically into my lane. The back was clear and I floored the brakes, hoping to miss the little guy and let him pass through. He, however, did not know my intent, and was of course shocked at finding me on his way.

Instinct made him turn back to the center lane instead of running ahead. The truck’s speeding tyres lay behind him, and crushed him as he turned back into that lane. The truck wavered on his way, as the little fellow gave his life under it. As I looked back at the mishap in my rear view mirror, the half-chopped body shivered, the dog raised its head one last time to look at the massacre of blood around it.

I couldn’t drive any further.

I had killed a dog, directly or indirectly, and it pained me. I looked back at Scotch and asked for some forgiveness, and drove along. That is a feeling I will never forget for life.

He died a dog’s death, S, and you were just an agent for what was already destined. It was meant to go and there wasn’t much you could have. May that pupper have fun beyond the rainbow bridge.” Scotch

Day 116: Let’s take it slow and you tell us what you want

One more exam to go and I took the day off to visit Valley school right after breakfast. The drive over was interesting, a comfortable NICE road, SilverGhoster to keep company over the phone, and a beautiful weather. I had lunch with Shankar aunty and helped Sandhya aunty struggle with their failing electricity to grind some dosa dough and realized the simple life that they’ve chosen to live. They battle with the infusion of modern wants and needs every day, but have, as an institution, taken a conscious decision to live simplistic. And I’m told that’s their strategy in reaching kids as well.

I met with Ms. Elsie, who will be my sounding board every evening after the observations. I also met Ms. Suneeta, coordinator for the junior school, and Ms. Indira, coordinator for the middle school. I’ll be working with these two ladies starting 23rd and I was stunned by their openness in sharing about their respective jobs. As we sipped hot tea and ate freshly fried bajjis, they quizzed me on my interest for the school and my plan for the upcoming weeks, months and years.

What caught me off guard, and warmed me the most, is the practicality of their approach to my research. They did not want me to come with a predefined questionnaire, structured interview questions, or a project plan for the week I’d spend with them. They wanted me to walk in with an open mind, and a willingness to question and understand. Everybody I met was willing to share, warm in their welcome as they opened their doors for me. I do not yet know if it’s the philosophy of J Krishnamurthy or their individual ideologies, but I sensed a comfort in their interactions that I have sensed in few other schools.

“I hear they have leopards and monkeys at the Valley School. Thank you very much, but I’ll stay out of that campus.” Scotch