Recently, this potent expression, “In darkness we see that hides in light”, by Mr. Mukesh Kwatra in the recent Times of India Coronasutra entertainment section got me thinking hard. The last line of Mr. Kwatra’s poem on the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak was brought to my attention by my mother, a poetess herself, so she can help me understand the depth of it. And when I did, the essence of it remained with me through the day.
This year has been so different. I, and I am sure many of us, have never witnessed anything like this before where the world, with all its faiths, technology, and might is brought to a halt and is unable to cope with the challenge that nature has presented it. While it has been a relief to slow down a bit and consume less in many ways, it has also been tough in recognizing what we are going through in terms of our existence vis-a-vis our relationships, career, health, contribution to society, etc.
My generation has learnt how to get from being busy to becoming busier with all the technology that has evolved in our lifetime. Now when we are forced to use all of it by staying indoors, one realizes that technology cannot fill the emptiness that is caused by lack of access to nature and people one loves. However, one can hope to get some relief by looking inward and by counting our blessings, by appreciating what nature has given us and that which we haven’t had the time to appreciate thus far. And in these times of aloofness, darkness, see that we never really see – search soul, acknowledge the treasures we own in terms of relationships, friends, health, and the treasures we must seek such as peace, trust, goodwill, knowledge, compassion.
Today is 107th day of being at home and I have been thinking of all these things over the last few months. While life has been extremely hectic, I have utilized this phase to thank the cosmos for the innumerable good that exists around and that has kept me going. Here are a few things I am grateful for:
Having means to earn a living, and sustain
Having a family that’s always there for me (spouse, parents, inlaws, cousins)
A secure, peaceful, ventilated abode
Being fit enough to carry on
Friends that are there, yet are absent : )
Being able to provide sustenance to the house help
Having access to walkways I can use daily to connect with nature
Plants I can care for
The ‘giving’ sentiment God has blessed me with
Opportunity to read books that I have been wanting to read
The revival of nature, reduction of pollution
Learning to be empathetic
Being blessed with decent will power
Experiences that taught me patience
A fulfilling life thus far.
I will add to this as I focus more on counting my blessings. If you want, share your list in the comment and we can together realize how much we have to thank for!
Are we beginning to live in 1984? This fear has been present in my mind ever since there has been an increased disturbance all across India, my home. Those of you who have read 1984, the classic novel by George Orwell (published in 1949), will be able to relate why it is a ‘fear’ in my mind and not just a simple thought. It is not only about the government’s new policies and the way they have been articulated, and misarticulated, that is disappointing, it is also the general state of affairs (rapes, riots, apathy) and the violent public response to everything around us that seems to be breaking the system, the harmony, and to be preventing any kind of slow healing that may have been possible in the same scenario.
More and more we see an increasing retaliation to everything, without even seeing the complete picture or without waiting for the results of the first few steps that have been taken/introduced in the name of development. While I do not understand why the Government of India failed to articulate its new policies well for clear understanding in a nation that is as diverse and large as ours, I detest the violent retaliation countrywide without giving a benefit of the doubt or inviting a debate on the matter. Violence can never be the path to peace and no dialogue can be achieved with a sword in hand.
With all the disturbance going on, my mind has been constantly drawing parallel to 1984. Seeing the way things are in the country today, at times I feel we are living in 1984 … I wish it never happens in real for it is a fearful thought. For those of you who haven’t read the book, here’s a spoiler alert: It is an unpleasant read but it is also a classic for many reasons, as you can sense from this article.
Here are some quotes from the book 1984 that, I feel, hint at the state of affairs that have been existing in the country for years, something only imagined by George Orwell in the 1940s.
“Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.”
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”
“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”
“Big Brother is Watching You.”
“Winston Smith: Does Big Brother exist? O’Brien: Of course he exists. Winston Smith: Does he exist like you or me? O’Brien: You do not exist.”
“The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware that they are oppressed.”
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
“Inequality was the price of civilization.”
“A loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.”
“Life, if you looked about you, bore no resemblance not only to the lies that streamed out of the telescreens, but even to the ideals that the Party was trying to achieve.”
“nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws.”
“The more the Party is powerful, the less it will be tolerant: the weaker the opposition, the tighter the despotism.”
“I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY”
“Stupidity was as necessary as intelligence, and as difficult to attain.”
“The consequences of every act are included in the act itself.”
The quotes above are very contextual today in the way we and our thinking are being ‘managed’ by all sorts of politicians, in and out of power. There is a strong need for every Indian to rise above individual, and community, mindset and see ourself as a citizen of a great nation first. We must realize our national interest, our potential as a great nation, our unity in diversity, and our deep-rooted culture of acceptance of all faiths. Irrespective of who represents us in the Parliament, citizens need to unite to be able to manage who represents us than allow it to happen vice versa.
I hope that Orwell’s fiction remains a fiction, forever.
I recently visited Meghalaya, one of the most beautiful states of India, situated in the north-eastern part of the country. This was my first tour of the north-east, to Assam and Meghalaya, two of the popular ‘seven sisters of India’ as they are called. While my visit to Assam was much of what I had expected to see, the tour of Meghalaya was an eyeopener.
Here are 8 things profound in Meghalaya that made me reflect hard on our ways of living in the cosmopolitan, metropolitan cities. Take a bow, Meghalaya!
1. Clean your own mess Nearly every household in Meghalaya, particularly in the surrounding areas of Shillong and in Sohra, takes care of its garbage. They not only reuse stuff a lot, but also make compost of the wet waste, burn the rest of the waste and then use the ashes as a soil fertilizer. The government agency does come for waste collection but what’s noticeable is that people neatly pack the garbage in bags or covered bins before keeping it outside their houses for the regular pick up. People are generally conscious of not creating waste, disposing it only where there is a dustbin, and keeping their surroundings clean. For miles, on the road, in the hills, around the lakes, in the grasslands, nowhere one would see any waste, and therefore touring the state is a pleasurable experience and the only thing you are to see in Meghalaya is its extraordinary beauty. Unlike some of the cosmopolitan and metropolitan city dwellers of India and indifferent administration, people in Meghalaya seem very particular about keeping their houses and city/villages clean.
It is admirable that from the lowest to marginal to large income families, nearly everyone in Meghalaya makes an effort towards keeping their place clean, making their state probably the cleanest in India. And that deserves respect because no other state in India that I have visited has been able to match up to this level of conscious effort from residents and the government.
2. Go organic The people in Meghalaya seem to have a deeper connection with nature. Both the residents and the government opt for maximum use of organic material. For example, extensive use of bamboo, roots, natural herbs, wild plants, etc. can be seen in the stuff that is being used in houses and in the state, in general. For example, nearly all over the state the government has put dustbins made of bamboo. It doesn’t get affected by rains, it is easily replaceable, and it is cost-effective! I feel it is a vicious circle – they preserve nature, which leads to better weather conditions, better green cover and which in turn gives them easy access to organic produce for use.
3. Dustbins everywhere It’s true. This is the first state I have seen in India which has a dustbin at nearly every 100-200 meters. It was simply super cool! I always feel that one of the main reasons why cities like Delhi and Bangalore have turned into garbage cities is because there are no dustbins, for miles! And the ones that are there are either full or do not have a base! There is no regular collection/clearance either! In Meghalaya, not only were the dustbins made of organic material (which also promotes local industry), but they were also placed everywhere at a uniform distance and they were being cleared with great discipline, even in remote areas. I did not see any overflowing dustbin, rather each one in Sohra (which is the wettest place on the planet) was covered with a reused cement bag to prevent the trash from getting wet! I wish municipal corporations in India visit Meghalaya, instead of making trips to foreign countries, to learn how to manage city waste!
4. Reuse It is amazing how the entire state is focused on reuse. In Sohra particularly, the street lights are covered with not glass or metal lampshades but by reused, half-cut plastic bottles/jars. It not only reduces the plastic pollution but also protects the lights from the constant rain in the region. And, again, it is durable, cost-effective, and easily replaceable. I found it quite an innovative model adopted not only by the people but also accepted by the state government. Imagine if we adopt the same for all of India in some manner – we could reuse a considerable amount of plastic and save on generating more waste.
5. Kindness matters The culture of a state/region matters a lot when it comes to tourism. Unlike Uttar Pradesh, a state where you need to be wary of thieves, eve-teasers, fake guides, etc. around the tourist spots, touring Meghalaya is very safe. People are generally kind. Even the very low-income groups living in remote areas are kind in offering help if you need it. In my five-day tour, there are several instances where we stopped for tea and snacks and witnessed locals’ kindness towards each other, be it a free tea or a free ride or an affectionate bowl of soup! When people are happy, and share a hearty smile, the general mood/the environment is light. In Meghalaya, especially in Sohra, one could feel it almost everywhere.
6. Endurance Living in the hills can teach you a lot. Life in the hills is hard, the weather conditions, the distances, the lack of proper livelihood, the lack of facilities, etc. make living daily life quite a task. I believe endurance comes naturally to the people who live in the hills. In Meghalaya too I found that people have far more endurance and acceptance of life as is than we who live in the well-provided for environments. I find that quite admirable. To learn to live life at its pace, not rush it or fret about it, is something one could learn from them.
7. Care for nature
Nearly every household in Meghalaya is a garden! No matter the size of the house, every home is well kept with nice little windows and white lace curtains, and a welcoming garden of flowers or an alley of potted plants. People are very careful about preserving nature. They care for it, nurture it, and protect it diligently. I also found that people are quite conscious of how their actions could harm nature and they try avoiding them. A conscious effort not to litter is just one of the things that’s on the list. And that is why all over the state one can see clean, abundant flowerbeds on the roadside, grasslands, flowers and vegetable gardens in the houses, well-maintained parks and lakes, and untouched natural beauty. I feel much of Meghalaya’s beauty is nature’s gift to its inhabitants for the care they offer towards its upkeep.
8. Live like a community Last but not least, I found a great camaraderie and a sense of community in the people of Meghalaya. It makes a lot of difference to a tourist to see the people of a state as one community, and a welcoming one at that! In a 10-day tour, I never saw a fight, heard no arguments, no abuses, no accidents. I am not doubting that they all must be existing but no one was washing their dirty linen in public. Why I point this out is because there are places where the behavior of the locals among themselves can tell a lot about the culture of the state, which at times is not a pleasant realization. I feel that people in Meghalaya are aware that they are a tourist-friendly state and they are supposed to behave responsibly. It almost looks like there is an understanding among them and certain behavior is promoted as a community.
I hope this list evokes curiosity in you to visit this beautiful state and contribute to its economy. Do write in if ever you visit Meghalaya and are able to observe any of these eight things. It would be great to learn from your experience. Also, I hope someday someone will take inspiration from this to start making amends, at home, and drive change to make our cities technologically advanced, yet naturally beautiful.
It’s been quite a while that I have been observing, and have been disappointed as well, about the manner in which news in India is being reported through different channels, such as, television, online apps, Web, print, etc. Why always bad news? Is India only about sad issues? No. Since the purpose of journalism is to report noteworthy information as is, and perhaps at times validate or criticize it with a viewpoint, shouldn’t good and bad news be equally reported? I feel increasingly Indian media/news channels have become a medium to promote and propagate bad news, and bad behavior.
Whatever news medium you access, the channels are either reporting bad news (murders, rape, torture, theft, accidents, deaths, crises, violence, deceit, abusive behavior, corruption, lies) or they are reporting community/interest-specific news (about NGOs, sports, business, science, relationships, debates, indifferent view of incidents, travel, etc.). After consuming news for years, I have begun to question this now because I am observing that reading and listening to news now makes me feel as if more and more people in India are turning into bad people, with sad attitude and zero values.
Why not report good behavior, children’s positive actions, good news, courteous gestures by governments, the brotherhood between communities, actions made by love and affection, positive impacts made by people in small and big ways?
I believe Indian media plays a big role in shaping the country’s culture and the next generation’s thinking, and hence behavior. I am sure subconsciously we feel different when we watch bad and good news. Are we not making people too comfortable with all kinds of bad behavior by feeding them 24×7 with negativity? Also, whenever such things are reported, there is no follow up with positivity where a person can see right/good behavior and how it can make the world a better place or positively impact someone. For example, while a news medium reports a theft, supplementing such news with two positive ones where people have helped someone, or created something good, would neutralize the shock/apathy generated by the former article and rather would infuse a positive sentiment with the latter.
India and Indians aren’t as bad as we read/see about it in the news. There are several people in the country who are contributing in meaningful ways in making their surroundings better, in elevating lives, and in spreading positive actions/thinking. Several such efforts are made even though these people go through their own struggles of life. But the spirit remains positive and that’s something that needs to be acknowledged and promoted. Positive behavior will bear positive results only when people are trained to see that effect. With constant evil feed, people in India are increasingly forgetting how to behave nicely and how a smile needs to be responded to.
It’s time media becomes a medium to shape India’s culture into a highly positive, good, healthy, spirited one. It’s time for a goodnews.in.
My recent and the first tour to the US opened my eyes to a whole new world which was so fantastically friendly for the differently-abled. I wonder why we in India cannot make it the same! It is not so much about the economy or the wealth a nation has. I am sure it has more to do with the culture itself — with the way we think and look towards the differently-abled.
Nearly everyone I crossed on the streets of America – in the shops, on the ship, in the desert — everywhere — had the same regard for the disabled and gave way for priority access to them at the cost of waiting a little more for their turn. It was one of the most humbling experiences in my life.
I am thankful to all those people for the courtesy they extended and made my wheelchair-bound mother feel equal in every way.
It was the tourist season at the time when we were there and therefore many times we were part of large groups at entry and exit points of tourist spots. People from all over the world were there and yet everyone was polite to the differently-abled and extended a helping hand whenever they felt that someone requires assistance.
I feel sad to see the state of things at home, in my country. We have somehow forgotten our basic culture of being courteous and to respect everyone.
The attitude towards this small group of society (of the differently-abled) is of neglect, ignorance, and indifference. Shameful to say the least! While towns are turning into cities, businesses are willing to spend millions on lavish decor and swanky lifts but not on creating ramps and easy access for the differently-abled in their offices, shops, or malls.
It is nearly impossible for a differently-abled or a wheelchair-bound to navigate in India – we do not have proper pavements, roads are uneven, there is absolutely no way they can cross a road and get onto a pavement safely (we do not have those wheelchair ramps on any traffic light), most malls and shops have stairs at the entrance as the initial access point, and certainly no one wants to wait or give way to the differently-abled. In fact, most people take advantage of the slow speed of such a lot and run ahead of them to save their spot. That’s sheer apathy in action.
I am not sure how we Indians will ever change and imbibe empathy. I am not even sure how to make my countrymen understand the importance of being nice and being considerate towards the differently-abled. A minuscule percentage of people/not-for-profit organizations work towards helping the differently-abled but no one ever demands an equal place for them, an equal infrastructure for them. The efforts are clearly unable to move the needle. All of them, including the state governments, seem to be busy attaining something except cleanliness, hygiene, health, quality of life, ease of access, and empathy.
The difference between us and America is that there it is a law to create ease of access for the differently-abled and that law applies to governments, shop owners, infrastructure agencies who build roads, hospitality industry, everyone. So every service is meant first for the differently-abled and then made available for the able folks. The key is – the law is enforced to the core. Honestly. The intent is to make everyone in society feel equal and safe and nearly everyone works towards it, together.
Will any government in India ever be able to enforce such a law and lead that change? Will my people ever realise what society they are creating by choosing apathy over empathy? I love my country and I wish that someday this world of mine becomes equally safe and accessible for the differently-abled.