While standing outside an ATM and awaiting my turn…

Date: December 8. Time: 10:45 PM. Location: CR Park (Delhi)

Exactly a month after that damned (some call it haloed) day when the Indian PM declared Rs.500 and Rs. 1,000 worthless, I ran out of patience and money. The resolve to withdraw Rs. 2500 from any ATM was too strong to be dampened by biting cold.

These days, people don’t crib much about long queues outside ATMs. They set aside two unproductive hours, accepting this vivid waiting. I felt tad confident when I approached the queue in front of the Canara Bank ATM near Market 1. But then, when you have about 80 people standing in front of you and stories do rounds about unfortunate countrymen and countrywomen coming back with empty pockets despite waiting for hours, a feeling of fighting a lost battle doesn’t escape you easily. I have hours to wait before I get cash. That was the only certainty.

While some grumbled about coming from as far as Badarpur Border to withdraw money, few others had a stoic expression on their face, perhaps hardened by the harassment. Some red-eyed folks with stinking breath had lined up in a group. While they were sharing wisdom about which ATM in the vicinity is dispensing cash at some ungodly hours, I was toggling between Twitter and Dr. Manmohan Singh’s write-up that demonises the idea of demonetisation.

Distraction appeared in the form of a young fellow, who, in a bid to get attention of the crowd, suddenly proclaimed, “Machine kharap ho gaya, doosri ATM mein jaao (the machine has conked off, go to some other ATM). He narrowly escaped being beaten up for the cruel joke he played. Just when the frayed tempers had calmed, a clamour from inside the ATM made the wait even more tense. Someone was trying to use second debit card to withdraw money and faced the ire of the fellow queuers.

It was beyond ordinary to see how people cope with difficult circumstances. As I write, I can distinctly recollect a motley crowd who stood in the queue for the second time after a long-one-and-half-hour wait in their first turn. They had withdrawn Rs. 2,000 at about 11: 45PM on December 8 and they are now ready to wait for few hours more after midnight, as the new day entitles them to withdraw Rs 2000 more.

In the same queue was a 20-something guy who was bragging about how he hoodwinked a security guard in one of the ATMs into using two debit cards and withdrawing Rs. 5000. There was a smirk on his face. Desperate times drive people to break rules.

As we moved one step a time, gathering hope by looking at the shrinking length of the queue, a mini scuffle emerged. This time, a man was accused of absorbing his recently-arrived friend into the queue. The lady, standing in front of me, asked in English, “Why do they have to jump the queue every time?” I didn’t know to whom was the question directed, but my instant response was an unconcerned shrug.

All this while, a little fellow was sitting on his father’s back, quite patiently. Seeing me come out of the ATM, he uttered in excitement “Humara number aa gaya”. I sincerely hope that this child grows up to see Modi fulfilling his promise: “Line that I’ve made you stand in is the last line, to end all lines”.

As I reached home at quarter past 12, I am reminded of what the old security guard at the ATM had said sardonically, “Acche din ke intezaar mein, humari raatein kharab ho rahi hai.”


Bengal: An Afterthought

While reading Sagarika Ghose’ piece on Bengal in HT, her one idea hit me: “Bengal is still destroying the one resource it was famous for: the mind”

My stint with Bengal has taught me that the state at large treads the middle path. Its disgust at rusty governance is muffled even though it is among the first to sound dissent. The state takes light years to turn criticism against reforms into acceptance. In the din of bandhs and protest walks, no one has realized that the development clock has stopped ticking.

Wind the clock, reset its time and take note of the movement of small and long hands.

The people are selectively ‘progressive’ forcing pace to set up cultural edifice, even though other societal foundations suffer a quake.  It will take million of Spartans to boost sagging will of the people who are preoccupied with ritual obligations. The state suffers from hyperactivity- only in terms of festivities. Crores go into building make-shift structures to welcome Goddess Durga and the half-starved pregnant women in Nandigram languish in ugly corner of their derelict nests.  The prolonged festivities witness companies lightening their wallet for spending on ads. No one listens to cries of corporate social responsibility.

The arm-chair critics of govt policies will shrug at the idea of facing nagging humidity and don the role of public servant.  Fault finders outweigh problem solvers and individual comfort ignores collective convenience. The ones who wear the cloak of intellect are no experts at niceties of governance but their attempts (albeit on the surface) at putting things back on track have fallen on deaf ears.

Reasons are more than one. Lack of strong representation of intellectuals in state legislature is one of them. West Bengal is sadly losing the distinction of being a good listener. Debate turns into mudslinging, critical analyses camouflage into propaganda and statements from stalwarts come loaded with snide remarks. People are turning bitter.

The state has never been one of the most industrious ones but recently it has surrendered to ‘delicious sloth’. Much of this boorish mindset has its origin in pseudo-social wave lashing against the fragile castles of illiteracy and ignorance. The political workers act as opinion leaders and public opinion on imperative issues are formed on flimsy grounds. The imprudence spreads like an epidemic leaving the city with few ‘healthy’ souls.

The way Bengal thinks needs a serious rebuke. Bengal’s overly critical genes need to be wiped off and enterprising blood needs to be inoculated. Send the state to a reformatory. The state should be charged for cultural snobbery, unbridled retrospection and keeping future in dark.

The highly paid optimists in Bengal must be busy using their credentials to design a new ‘Under Construction’ template for the world to see.

Bengal has surely seen better days.

We scramble to understand the real struggle

Each of us is a Mujahid. A struggler. Terrorism and trouble across the boundaries may have covered the maximum space of the canvas but some corners are also left unsettled. If we look at life as an onlooker and zero in on the micro events of our lives we find bits and pieces of struggle lying everywhere around us.

We are justice fighters. We fight for the extra dose of blessings from the hundreds of spiritual babas, we fight to catch the first metro to office and we fight the uncertainty of future. It is in our instincts to fight, to move on with the little baggage called struggle.

The struggle for a man to shave off the acre of stubble hiding in a remote corner of his chin, the struggle for a bowler to pitch the ball in the right place and the recurring struggle of an old man to recollect the memories that bring smile to his face can never be gauged.

It is no less a struggle for us to bring smile in a mourner’s face and to grow up with an insensible heart. A student’s struggle to complete an equation in a hurry and a newly wed bride’s struggle to please her partner are all obnoxiously difficult. The desperate attempt of a deer to not to become a leopard’s prey and the constant effort of a thirsty crow to get his beaks closer to the water in a long vessel are more than sheer struggle.

Is n’t it horrific to see a dumb struggling to cry or a dog walking with three legs? How horrific it is to see a drowning man raising his hands for the last time and how grievous it is to find a young boy watching a cricket match sitting on a wheelchair.

Everybody is a freedom-fighter. If a baby struggles to free himself from the monotony of milk and diaper others fight to free themselves from the ugly looking curse called poverty.  The craving of an orphan to find a refuge when thunder strikes, the frantic search of a father to arrange blood for his child lying in a critical condition are more poignant missions than the terror-mongers. We notice the horror of getting killed in a terror attack but never read the lines that come from a deserted wife or a person soon to meet his death.

The old man’s attempt to get his pension running even after decades of his retirement is just another piece of struggle. Fear of losing one’s much waited first child and the forceful submission of a soldier before a fanatic general are no less terrifying. Do we give a stare of concern to the school boy who hurts himself while boarding an overcrowded bus? Do you fathom the terror of the family members who have not received any news of their sole bread winner for months?

Open your eyes and hearts, purge your ears and beckon your power of introspection before you can mull over this omnipresent struggle. You really need to be a struggle fighter for it.

India wants a stranger

India wants a stranger, a full-proof outsider who is ignorant of all the constitutional complexities and legal laxities but at the same time vivacious enough to repel the negatives and bring in the positive vibe in the socio-political ring. Too many over-rated fighters battling among themselves to see the crown sitting on top of their heads, India needs a leader.

The country needs a teacher who has every right to scold the whining students and punish a truant child. She needs a teacher who can imbibe in pupils the not-so-pedantic values but simple ideas about attaining goodness. No compulsion to go through rigorous examination every year and waste time in pulling fellow students down just to emerge winner. Let the skill and talent win over other factors and leave no space for last minute manipulation by the lesser lot.

India invites a soldier who fights for right and not for the side, who takes care of his family’s welfare. The country will gain back the missing pieces of peace only if the gunman knows how to use his weapons with discretion. She is in dire need of a virtuoso who knows the world better and is driven by first-hand ideas.

Our motherland needs an interpreter – a middle-aged interpreter who has learnt all the dialects in the world. Half-truths, convoluted phrases and equivocal speeches must witness a painful death under his dictatorship. He will make sure they return to the dust safely. The nation wants a translator who knows exactly what the others mean, neither an inch more nor an inch less.

A doctor is a must for this frail health of the country, bogged down with too many ills. A sensitive practitioner must be in-charge of helping the country recuperate and not to bring out his theory book and prescribe a long list of pathological tests. It’s a doctor’s religion to diagnose the malady and treat it with the medicine that is in best of his knowledge. The patient must not die of wait. Remember, justice delayed is a ripping-apart pain.

It always helps to have an engineer on board. To say building India is a Herculean task is an understatement. We beckon the architect of tomorrow at our service, who is well aware about how past has gnawed upon us. Our foundation has been shaken time and again and this time we want to ensure that we will never see our dreams turning to rubble due to a mere intensity of 2.3 on the Richter scale. Make us shock absorbers.

This is a time when we find hundreds of piranhas nibbling off India’s skin and we see our nirvana in combating this gradual dissipation.