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Just another Holi day

For people like me, brought up in the “south” in a southern populated neighbourhood, Holi is just another day. In our school days in Bangalore, Holi was a working day, so the question of colouring each other never did arise. At best it was a smattering of haldi and kum kum on the forehead. Only those children from the traditional “north”, for whom it was a big celebration, would miss school, and when they returned we would be awe struck by their pink and purple faces.

These days, in an effort to save myself from what I find a totally unnecessary and wasteful mess, it is a day when I don’t need to step out of the doors of my home. It is not that I am anti-Holi. Just anti-the-way-Holi-is-celebrated-today. Several days before the actual day, one finds children “having fun”, filling up plastic packets with water and throwing them at each other. By the time Holi actually arrives, we’ve generated thousands of plastic bags, and spent thousands of litres of water, when people around the world are fighting to reduce garbage and are desperate for water.

Come Holi and societies in Mumbai erect elaborate sprinkler set-ups for “rain dance”. Simply put, it is many many people having a community shower bath with clothes on, out in the open with music, and of course, with colour powders and liquids that vandalise the floors and walls of your property, render your clothes unwearable, and your skin stained for several days. Not to mention the alcohol that makes all of this more enjoyable. Suggestions of a dry Holi is just not acceptable to “society”. “Just once a year, how does it matter!”

With Whatsapp and other social media, one neither needs to get coloured nor wet to feel the spirit of Holi. I saved all the jpgs, gifs and mp4s that people have taken the trouble to make and share to wish us all a Happy Holi!

WhatsApp Image 2018-03-02 at 12.27.52 PM

Pics courtesy misc Whatsapp groups

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The pain that is Aadhaar

aadhaar wait

It is 4:15 a.m. and this is the scene at the gates of the Samta Nagar Post Office in Kandivali East, Mumbai. Men (mostly) just hanging around on the street, doing pretty much nothing. Chances are, they’ve done this before, but not early enough… the reason for this repeat visit.

As I approach the group, Hukam Singh greets me. We were among the unlucky ones, not in the “first 20” of the previous morning. “Madam ka naam lick do bhai… atara” (write madam’s name brother… eighteen), said one. Yeah! I was in the first 20.

This is probably the scene at every post office and place authorised to do Aadhaar enrollment and/or updation in Mumbai. 20 is the key number… this is the maximum number of tokens issued by this post office for Aadhaar, on weekdays. It is 15 on Saturdays.

updation available

The informal queue system is a citizen-devised initiative, from which the post office officials distance themselves. The first one who reaches, starts the list for the day. He writes his name and subsequently, people who come add their names to the list. The list could start at any time… today’s began at 11:30 p.m. yesterday. After missing out on two days, this boy Sawant, decided he might as well sleep at the gates to be sure of a token.

An auto rickshaw stops and as a man alights, another jumps off the pillion seat of a motorbike. “Till which number?”, they both ask. 18. “So, you’re 19 and I’m 20! Tokens are done for the day.”

“20 names on the list?” It was a young lady who needed to update her mobile number linked to her Aadhaar. I’d met her the previous day. She gets off the taxi, contemplates for a few seconds. “Tomorrow I’ll come at 3.”, and she gets back into the taxi that drives off.

It is now past 4:30 a.m. and an elderly lady arrives in a car driven by her son-in-law. It doesn’t take her long to find out she is too late… again! “I’ve done this four times already, and each time I’ve been coming earlier and earlier.” Number 20 then reveals that three more people from his family need to get their Aadhaars, so instead of spending his time twice, he would return the next day, sufficiently early to ensure four places. So old aunty gets promoted to 20. “Aunty, you don’t wait, you go home and come back before the post office opens. We will keep your place.”, the men tell her. “Madam, you also go home and come back later.”, they tell me. But I decide to stay.

The gates of the post office open at 6:30, and those of us around shift ourselves from the road to inside the compound. “It is cold here… when I came at 3:00 I was fine, but now I am feeling cold.”, says Yadav, a cook at a roadside eatery. Yadav’s finger prints are not getting recognised, so he has to get his biometrics redone. “My hands get hot when cooking… and burnt sometimes… the lines on my hands keep vanishing.”

As the sun rises, the postal truck roars in and reverses into the compound. The post lady is seen doing a count of the huge letter bags and parcels that will find their way over this massive country.

Pappu and his little daughter walk in. She doesn’t have an Aadhaar and needs to get admitted into school. He is told that it is pointless to wait as there are more than 20 names already on the list. He looks disappointed and comes to me for advice. I tell him to write his daughter’s name and explain that if anyone in the list drops out, they have a chance to be in the 20. “There are only 20 tokens. Come by 3 and you will get one”, someone tells him. “But the office opens at 8. I thought I was early!”

A postman who is just entering the place hears the conversation. “Today we are not going to give tokens or look at any list. Yesterday you know there was trouble. Just stand in a line and the first 20 of you will be attended to one by one.”

Yes, the previous day there was trouble. There were two lists, so there was a dispute about which was the real list. It was alleged that a couple of the boys had started one list at 1:00 a.m. and after a few names were on it, they went home, slept for a while and returned at 6:00. So one of the men went to the police station and brought the head constable to get the final list settled.

It is nearing 7:00 a.m. The place starts getting crowded. People who went away for walks, or to have tea, return to claim their places in the line. We see proxies being replaced by the actual Aadhaar service seekers. Yes, this one man was geting paid to stand in for someone who was too lazy to come so early. Jaggi Singh leaves as his wife reaches after her night shift. “Lucky that I had day shift and she had night shift. I could come to stand for her. Once her mobile number is updated, it is easy to do Aadhaar changes online.” The old lady who was graciously allowed to go back home comes back for her 20th place. There are many fresh faces.

People are looking at their mobiles. Just a few minutes to go. Most of the fresh faces are unaware that the others have already spent several hours.

“Stand in line.” Hussain takes a head count. He lost his Aadhaar card with his wallet and cannot retrieve it online. Now that there is going to be no token system, he hopes he can keep his spot in the first 20.

At 8:00, the doors of the post office are opened. One of the staff appears with 20 paper tokens in hand. Each one is numbered and carelessly stamped with post office rubber and date. He takes the list that Sawant has maintained, and calls out the names one by one. “Ah. So they are going by the list! My name is not on the list.”, says a lady in sun glasses. “Anyway you hadn’t a chance. You came just half an hour ago.”, someone tells her.

18. I have the token in my hand! Today my Aadhaar updation will be done! Token 9 is still in the postal staff’s hand. It seems the person who had put his name down didn’t return, so he gave it to the lady who was standing first at the door, though her name was not on the list. Lucky thing! Pappu is not so lucky. He and his daughter will have to come another day.

“What is the meaning of this list?”, an elderly man asks. “Is it official or what?Anyone can make a list.” “Ok. From tomorrow, don’t make a list.”, he tells all of us in the line. But what’s the point. We aren’t the ones who will be there tomorrow. And coming to think of it, this list, to an extent, ensures that first come is first served. “You try to run to the door at 8:00 a.m. You won’t have a chance against the young guys.”, someone tells the elderly man.

Why are there only 20 tokens? “There is only one lady staff who has been trained in Aadhaar. And we have just one set of biometrics equipment. And where is the space?” 20 tokens, 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on weekdays (15 tokens, till 12 noon on Saturdays). This is all the post office is handling.

A branch of HDFC Bank is also doing Aadhaar enrollments and updation.”I got an appointment for 15th May.”, says Mr Pawar. “Can’t wait for seven weeks, so I came here to see.” It is clear that HDFC Bank is more organised than the post office. It is following an official sort of queue system… something like a much-in-demand doctor with a long patient list.

At number 18, 12:30 p.m. is when I walk out of the post office, with Aadhaar update acknowledgement in hand. 4 hours to get the token, 4 hours awaiting my turn. A full 8 hours work-day! For working people, it is a day’s leave, and for daily wage workers… well, no wages for the day. By 1:00 the lady at the Aadhaar counter will finish with the two tokens after me, and wind up for the day.

Of course, I have had enough time to have a good breakfast at Shaktivel Idliwala and read the newspaper cover to cover. Fill up Aadhaar forms for a couple of women who do not know English. Assist an old man withdraw his pension from his post office savings account. Know more about Hussain’s family than I know about the family next door. Discover that scanning the QR code of the Aadhaar card reveals all the individual’s personal information. Find out that Dubai is a better place to work than India… the salary compensates for the work pressure. My new Aadhaar friends!

Most importantly, guide about a hundred souls who walk in at 9:00 or 10:00 or 11:00, hoping to get their Aadhaar registration or enrollment done in the first visit. “You’ve been here from 4:00!”, they exclaim in total disbelief.

Now coming to more serious matters.

Over 70,000 babies are born in India every day. All of them need to get Aadhaars before they can get admission in school. Biometrics need to be updated for every child on turning 15. According to UIDAI, 1% of adults still do not have Aadhaar. Those who have come back to India and need to file income tax returns as residents need to get Aadhaar. To prevent your bank account from getting frozen on 1st April 2018, you need Aadhaar. Name change/correction, address change, mobile number change… all these add to the Aadhaar service count.

Till a few months ago there were privately-run authorised Aadhaar Kendras operating. Most of them, it is said, were expoliting the public… charging them for Aadhaar enrollment (which is free), over charging for updation, forcing people to get plastic Aadhaar cards, charging for running queries… in general behaving like they were doing everyone a big favour, rather than providing a service. Well, they were in a position of power, but maybe they felt they were being inadequately compensated and were looking to make quick bucks. Citizens started complaining about the unfair practices to the authorities, with the result that the government had no option but to suspend these licences.

If Aadhaar is mandatory for so many things, there just needs to be more counters, more proper fair-play centres, more infrastructure… hire and train more people… create more jobs! Spending 8 hours to get your Aadhaar updated or to enroll is just insane!

Studying environment in the city

The most efficient place for children to study environment is the environment!

Received these two pages from my mother. Saved by one of mom’s teacher-colleagues, from The Instructor magazine of May 1967, it explains how teachers can teach children in urban areas, about the environment.

Today’s children will, at some time, control decisions affecting the future of their environment – the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat.

Given that the article is over 50 years old, these “children” would be those in the 55-65 age group… almost the generation of our parents. It is evident that some of decisions taken in the last 50-odd years (like the loss of lakes in Bangalore), have had a detrimental effect on our environment. While we are trying to take corrective action, we need to teach today’s children. Despite all the changes we’ve encountered, it is amazing how relevant the article is today.

Outdoor Science pg 1

Outdoor Science pg 2

Keep the faith

Money stolen in 2006, returned in 2017. That’s a whopping 10-11 years!

Jane with her cheque 30 Dec 2017

Jane (radiant in pink) with her friend Ezme D’Mello, Police Inspector Jadhav (with cheque) and Head Police Constable Choudhury, at Bandra Railway Police Station, 30th Dec 2017 (Photo courtesy Jane)

On 26th Dec 2017, my friend Jane Sequeira-Rodriques, a social worker and activist who runs a hearing-aid centre in Mumbai, was surprised and happy to receive a postcard from the Bandra Police. It asked her to visit the police station to collect a cheque for Rs 5000/-. This was not some prize she had won in a contest or lottery. It was the amount that was robbed from her at Bandra railway station way back in 2006.

At that time, Jane had immediately lodged a police complaint at the station at Bandra West. She kept following up with regular visits and letters to the police station. In 2007 she was summoned to Mumbai Central Court to identify the robber. Subsequently, she found it difficult to follow-up and this was put on the back-burner, almost forgotten.

10-11 years is a long time. And getting back stolen money, that too from a pickpocket! How many people would actually approach the police to lodge a complaint? The common man does feel intimidated by the men in uniform. And then how many would pursue the police to remind them that the case will not be forgotten? I am not sure if Jane’s case is an exception, but to see that the policemen do put in the effort to help deliver justice to citizens, gives us hope.

Jane says, “Thank you God. Thank u to cops. And thanks to my government for finally getting my cash back from the pickpocket.”

Well done Bandra Police! And well done Jane, for the patience and persistence.

A heart-warming story before we step into the new year. Wishing you all a fulfilling 2018. And yes, keep the faith!

Dusk at Puttenahalli Lake

A visit to Bangalore is incomplete without a visit to the JP Nagar Puttenahalli Lake. This Diwali holiday, it was late evening, and as I rushed down the Brigade Millennium Avenue alone, I was happy to bump into one of my former neighbours, Meena, who said it was a while since she visited the lake. We went together, chatting about our children, and made it to the lake just before daylight vanished.

A splash of yellow Coreopsis flowers against the blue tranquil waters make a pretty picture indeed! It was almost a year since my last visit. Last year too there was a lot of water, so the lake itself did not look different. But this year the trees looked much bigger, washed clean, greener and more lush.

Lake 1

Lake 2

Lake 3

As we made our way along the pathway, we were struck by the richness of the island’s foliage. Many years ago, a single date palm was all that was there. Now, this date palm, though still head above the rest, could go unnoticed by a first-time visitor. We spotted one bird in flight, one lone egret.

Lake 4

The line of coconut trees in the erstwhile neighbouring coconut grove could well be a scene from the backwaters of Kerala.

Lake 5

This dry sheesham tree at the viewing deck looks like an artist’s installation. The boys playing on their mobiles were probably oblivious to its background. I had got it as a sapling during a visit to the Golden Temple, Amritsar.  While it grew well for a few years, something seems to have happened, causing it to dry out.

Lake 6

In half an hour we had walked back to the entrance. By now it was dark, and the waters were lit by the electric lights of the neighbourhood.

Lake 7

Then all of a sudden, we saw movement in the water. Boating was anyway not allowed, so we wondered who could be in the water in the darkness. We soon saw the nets and figured that it was the fishermen, setting out to work in a coracle. They were placing their nets for the unsuspecting catch. With abundant water, fish must be aplenty for them.

Lake 8

Till next time…

Pics taken at Puttenahalli Lake, dusk 21st October 2017
using an iPhone 7

The Dingy Bushbrown

It’s not everyday that one sees a pretty flying creature inside a 9th floor apartment in Mumbai. One that is not a pest or predator that is.

I watched it, settled on the floor for a little while. Ran to the cupboard and grabbed my camera, returning to find that it had not moved. Then it fluttered off and I followed, not to let it get out of sight. As long as it was not being bothered, it was fine sitting at a spot for a few minutes. But I guess I kept bothering it, trying to get close. I switched lenses for better shots. The light was not good so I needed the flash. Carpet, floor, kitchen towel… it settled here and there. The pictures didn’t come easily, but the effort was satisfactory! And then it vanished.

Dingy Bushbrown

As I pored over my butterfly books trying to ID it, I was amazed at how many different butterflies look like this. Differences are so minute that they could easily be passed over. Dingy (or Common) Bushbrown butterfly (Mycalesis perseus) it seems to be.

Dingy Bushbrown 1

Dingy Bushbrown 2

Dingy Bushbrown 3This morning I found that it was still inside the house. Poor thing, I thought. It must have spent the night searching for a space to escape. Or maybe it just rested. With the lights switched on, it started flying around like the night before. I gently opened a window and the cool morning air flowed in. The butterfly found its way out… to freedom.

The Badminton Ball Tree on G’ma’s 97th

On my grandmother’s 90th birthday, on 19th September 2010, she planted two saplings at Puttehahalli Lake.

The first was a Kadamba, that along with most of the other saplings planted on that stretch did not survive. The ground underneath has a lot of plastic, and this could be one of the reasons. The area is now a butterfly garden with lots of shrubs.

Kadamba tree planting

The Kadama did not survive, but I do so like this pic with my mom, g’mom and me! (taken by Usha)

Read more…

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