Getting to the Driver’s Seat

How easy it is to get a driving license in Pune.
Or how difficult it can get.

The son turned 18 in 2020. He can now drive a motored vehicle if he has a license. Yay! So we ventured out to get one for Arsh.

What I knew beforehand.

  • It is a two-step process—first the learner’s license test and the actual driving license test.
  • You need an agent to get a driving license done in India.

In general, we have tried to avoid agents after moving back to India in 2001. As we understood it, agents ensure a friction-free process by greasing a few palms. Basically, you employ agents to bribe people on your behalf. We wanted to avoid bribes and accept that it would take extra time to get things done.

We successfully and almost painlessly got a new ration card, updated it twice when the kids were born, a gas connection, and a phone connection. These were the usual pain-points we saw our parents go through from before leaving India. Initially, the system at the passport office was too opaque and confusing, so we got an agent to do the deed for our first few passport renewals. This crink in the system too ironed itself out as private companies were employed by the government to smoothen processes. We have had hassle-free visits to the passport office since early 2012 at least (a friend’s detailed account here), including smooth police verification.

The Road Transport Office (RTO) though is still a scary place. So scary that I even forgot this relatively decent experience from 2015. Come time to get a driving license for Arsh, I instantly thought of going through a driving school though we would teach him the actual driving.

So, none of this applies if you are going to engage a driving school to do the actual teaching. Most likely, you will want them to take care of the test too.

We approached Trishul Driving School (Trishul) in Aundh, Pune. You, please, do not. That doesn’t mean you don’t need an agent. You almost certainly do.

We engaged Trishul for the learner’s license, a couple of hours of test drives before the final driving test and the driver’s license. There were zero follow-ups from them for any of the above. He refused and made a rash u-turn on the test drives he had promised. He sent us to the wrong driving test location for the final driving test. We were to go to the Nashik-Phata RTO and not the Alandi RTO. And when we approached him with our grievances, he yelled that they hadn’t been to the Alandi RTO in a couple of years. Anyway, overall, an awful experience with Trishul.

Also, Arsh had two friends who did not engage a driving school—Isha and Ayush—who took the exam at almost the same time. I will chronicle all three experiences, with a focus on the difference in experiences. Please note that this is our experience from July 2020 to January 2021. Also, while experiences are what they are, all opinions in this post are mine alone. They are not the kids’ opinions or of their parents.

Learner’s license

You might get a learner’s test date which is a good 2-3 months away. So, you might want to start this process the day you turn 18, which is the earliest you can start.

For this bit, you don’t need an agent or school. After much follow-up, Trishul just filled an online form on our behalf and asked us for our credit card details to make the payment. Of course, we wouldn’t share those details with them, so we ended up doing the online process almost all by ourselves. Isha and Ayush did the online sign-up for a learner’s license test themselves, and it was more or less hassle-free.

1. Go to the government’s Parivahan Sarthi website.

2. The main navigation bar has a “Learner’s license” tab with a drop-down list. Click on the obvious “Application For New Learner License” and follow the steps. If you are applying for a two-wheeler license along with this one, make sure you check the correct options.

3 . The steps mentioned on the next screen take you through what you need to do. The site was slow when we were making the payment, so we had to log in and repeat one process a few times.

Uploading name and address proof documents:

3a. These are two/three from the usual IDs needed for any of these purposes—the latest electricity bill, passport, aadhaar, etc.

3b. For each of the documents, you might need front and back or two pages. In such a case, one document has to be in one pdf. So aadhaar back and front would be in one pdf file, passport first and last pages would be on one pdf file and so on.

3c. Remember the documents that you uploaded. For the actual learner’s test, you have to carry the original of the ones that you uploaded on the site. Especially, if this was an electricity bill. The test slot you get might be two months away, and you might misplace the bill you submitted in the mean while.

4. As shown in the image above, you can try out a mock test and edit your form if need be. There seems to be a slot for online tests, but that facility was not available when Arsh took the test in September 2020. Trishul Driving School gave Arsh a bunch of sheets to study from. But, Isha looked up material and tests online and was good to go.

5. Day of Learner’s License Test

You need:

– a print out of the learner’s license form

– all original documents that you submitted online

– all papers neatly stapled together

– a stapler (don’t ask, just take it)

We went to the Main RTO for the learner’s license test. As far as I can tell, that is the only office that offers the learner license test.

I don’t think it quite matters what time you reach the office. We got there about 15 minutes before our slot.

There are no signs, no pointers on how to go about it. You ask around and make your way. Agents are trying to woo you too. I wouldn’t blame you if you caved in and took one. It is a harrowing experience, and there’s no knowing if you are headed in the right direction or not.

We went to the Main RTO for the learner’s license test. As far as I can tell, that is the only office that offers the learner license test.

I don’t think it quite matters what time you reach the office. We got there about 15 minutes before our slot.

First queue: Biometrics. Exactly like it sounds. The license-seeker stands in line and gets biometrics done.

Second queue: Document verification. You are in line to meet one officer who I assume verifies your original documents against the ones you submitted online. This is why it is of utmost importance that you take the exact same documents that you submitted online. Supposedly, the Trishul guy had submitted a document under the heading “Notarised something-something”, and we had to edit our online form right there. And we didn’t have proper data network in that area for some reason, so the online editing was quite a pain in the wrong place.

Eventually, it happened.

Also, neither Isha nor Ayush faced this problem because they filled in the form themselves. In fact, Ayush was in and out of the RTO in two hours.

Third queue: Learner’s license test. You get out of the officer’s room and step out into a crowd of people. You ask around and find your way to the person who is collecting your documents. You trust your instinct and give away your hard-earned verified-documents to this person who has a bunch of documents with them. They are calling out names. You assume they are names of people in line to take the learner’s test. You assume because if you ask them, they will look through you.

Fortunately for us, it seemed like we were doing it right. Arsh’s name was called. It is a computerised multiple-choice test. You have to answer 9 out of 15 questions right. It takes all of ten minutes. Arsh and Isha, who took the exam on the same day, were out soon enough, passed with flying colours. Yes, you know your result right away.

Fourth queue: Learner’s license. The good news is you get your learner’s license the same day. The bad news is you have to go around in circles trying to find out where you get it. It is in another building on the same campus. Again, you stand amongst many people, your name is called out, and they hand you your papers along with a learner’s license. Hurray!

Driver’s license

1. Time to apply for the driving license test:

You can apply only a month after your learner’s license.

Go to the same website. This time you go on the link that says, “Driving License”. Now, this bit Trishul did for us, but Isha and Ayush went through it without help and did just fine.

2. Practice actual driving:

As with many things in education, the driving test has nothing to do with practical day-to-day driving.

The two-wheeler driving test is straight-forward. The four-wheeler driving test has three parts—slope, drive in an 8-shape, drive in an h-shape. I don’t think you can practice this on regular Pune roads. And of course, this has to be a manual transmission car. Driving schools offer practice rounds at some extra charge. They take you to grounds which have sloped, 8-shaped and h-shaped drives.

3. Day of Driver’s License Test:

As you will read, our experience tells us that you need an agent/driving school for this.

3a. For the two-wheeler driving test, you have to have your own vehicle and helmet.

3b. For the four-wheeler driving test, you need a car with dual-clutch control. Driving schools have these cars. The RTO too has such cars available for those who are not coming through a driving school. However, as both Isha and Ayush experienced, the lines are long for the RTO cars. Also, let’s just say the officers are stricter about passing applicants who don’t come through a driving school. All non-driving-school applicants have one or two cars for all three tests. There are about 30-40 such applicants in a day. All applicants go through one of the three tests first, then all of them do the second one, and then all of them do the third one.

3c. All the documents that you got back from your learner’s license test. Original ID papers. We didn’t need the stapler. But then again, Trishul handled the paper-work for us. While it sounds hunky-dory, I am not sure allowing Trishul to have all the papers was wise for us.

4. Taking the test:

As I mentioned earlier, we reached the Alandi RTO. The RTO at which our agent was not waiting for us. After much miscommunication, we realised we were waiting for each other at different offices. Technically, we could have taken the test at Alandi itself. But remember? All our paper-work was with Trishul. In hindsight, I am happy I saw the process at both the offices. The Nashik-Phata RTO certainly looks more organised. Once we got there, Arsh was done with the driving tests in a jiffy. After all, we had the agent who knew his way around. Arsh tells me there was a lot of line-cutting involved.

An important distinction is to be made here, which I realised only after the whole affair was done. The agent and Trishul are separate entities. Trishul just engages an agent to take care of their candidates. One agent might be handling candidates from many schools. Therefore, I would think you can engage an agent without involving a driving school.

This sets us up nicely for why the agent is made sort-of inescapable. All through the day, driving school staff is cutting lines and making sure their candidates get through quickly. Obviously, independent candidates will take longer to get their turn. Also, palms are most likely being greased. And independent candidates wouldn’t even know where to begin with the greasing. Also, if you are with an agent, only for the 8-shaped drive is the candidate alone. The other two tests, agent is on the passenger seat. Dual-clutch car, remember?

If you are not with a school, you will need to ask around get into a few lines to get documents verified, pay RTO car fee and get the car. Isha had to wait for RTO’s dual-clutch vehicle for more than a couple of hours. The officers were extra strict with her, and she didn’t get through the exam. Isha repeated her driving test 2-3 weeks later. And this time they went through a driving school. She did the practice drives with the school and got through too.

A few days later, Ayush took his exam. His father got an inkling that something similar would happen with them. So, he engaged an agent at the RTO itself. It took him 6 hours to finish the three tests. He got through.

All three young adults got their driving license confirmations through SMS within 4-5 days. You can print the driving license immediately. The actual license arrived in 3-4 weeks.

So, the next time I have to do this—Ruhi turns 18 next year—I will most likely do what Ayush did. Do everything ourselves and engage an agent at the RTO. I might just engage the agent beforehand, though.

Unless of course, I hear that things have changed for better or worse for independent candidates.

In sickness, in health, until death do us part

This two-line story needs two pieces of background.

1. I want to die the day I turn sixty. I think that is enough life for me, it will reduce my carbon print, etc. I am not going to go into a discussion about this, this is just what I want.

Of course, I would be lying if I didn’t add that as I age, I feel like maybe I will shift the expiry date to 65. But that’s it. No more bargaining, ok?

2. Navin has some family history of a genetic degenerative eye disease. As the person ages, their vision becomes more and more blurred to the extent that they can make out only gross shapes and colours. Recently, a relatively younger person, in their mid-50s) in the family has been detected with early signs. Another person in the same age group is also complaining of a problem in vision. Navin will get himself checked soon.

Sorry, there is one more piece of background you will need: Both, Navin and I have a dark sense of humour.

So the two-line story at breakfast today went:

Me: You know the first thought that comes to my mind when I think that you might have it too? My ‘die at 60 plan’ goes for a toss.

Navin: Oh, don’t worry, the day I see early signs, I will start learning braille and equip myself for other things too.

~ ~ ~

This ageing couple’s memory is becoming more and more questionable by the day. Therefore, the need to record that they are the most comic couple there can be. Ok, fine, most dark-comic couple.

Who Let the Virus Out??

Who? WHo? WHO?

Who can I blame for me having to sweep and mop the floor myself1? I have to be able to blame someone for not being able to buy my weekly essentials when I want them. Neither my friends nor I deserve to be stuck without seeing each other for what feels like ages.

We are all converting to the “it’s not that bad, we can see each other on zoom” people. Of course, I need someone to blame.

What follows is a logical flow of thoughts, my logic2. The very basis for this logic is that everyone is watching out for themselves—individuals, organisations, governments. Fair enough?

If yes, please skip the next paragraph and continue.

If no, you believe that most individuals, organisations and governments watch out for the greater good. At most times, I stand at the door of your world. I try to spend my day-to-day life, believing that while knowing it is not the entire truth. So, this once, humour my cynicism.

Can you please give me someone to blame already!?

Let’s start with the most obvious one. No, not China.

The most conspicuous one is the World Health Organisation (WHO). People will cheat. Countries are made of people, so they will cheat too. It is the enforcers who should be at the top of their game. WHO ought to have known better. They had the expertise, they had the know-how, they had the data. And boy, did they have the responsibility!

Which is precisely why I cannot blame them. They had to know that this would blow in their face when the word came out. Not if, when. Imagine you are the person sitting on that desk who got this piece of information from China. You show it to the experts—scientist, health experts, etc.

  • They say it is an emergency for sure, shut the world down. And you don’t. The world would know in weeks, and you are in trouble. So you wouldn’t do this because you are watching out for yourself.
  • They say it can go in either direction. Your choices are shut the world down or let’s take our chances.
  • They say it is nothing to worry about. You still worry about it and shut the world down. Of course, no one will listen to you.

The actual conversation could have taken any hue along that spectrum.

The reality is that they probably didn’t take it seriously, at first.

How I wish I could blame them for this. But I can’t. Almost each of us didn’t take it seriously at first. At the very least, the response was, “Let’s see what happens.” No one knows how to handle this situation, they didn’t either.

Should they have known better? Of-effing-course. Of-effing-course.

That human being sitting there didn’t do their job well. The checks and balances in that system should have worked better. Worst of all, “how do we trust them the next time?”

Sure, we need improved processes and the person(s) in-charge should be reprimanded.

Meanwhile, though, as fate would have it,
they had to be incompetent, thus they were. :/

Still, my thirst for blame hasn’t quenched. I want something less abstract.

Hello, China.

Sorry, just can’t make myself do it.

Because one, almost every country downplayed it the way, China did. Some continue to give little weight to it, right? In fact, all other countries knew the repercussions quite well. Yet, the world is where it is.

Two, they intentionally kept information. For some reason, I find it hard to believe that whoever was up there knew the severity AND chose to keep it from the rest of the world. My disbelief would like to be based on the naivete that they didn’t want humanity to suffer so. But it is not.

To say that this was intentional and not plain denial, is I think just our way to satisfy our need to blame someone. Anyone up there had to be smart enough to know that the political fallback of such a move would be disastrous. The virus’ origin couldn’t have been a secret forever.

Three, China is a country. 1,438,261,858 people3. Decisions to share or keep numbers, to treat the situation with the gravity it deserved or not, are all made by the government. Am I, one of 1,377,393,760, willing to take the blame for the decisions my country’s government takes3? Ummm, no. Even if it is one I like? Still, no.

Four, if I blame China, the only thing I can do is boycott their products. Unless I am willing to live under a rock, it is impossible and unfair to boycott. I’d be blaming one-sixth of the world’s population while typing about it from an instrument that most likely some people from the same populace toiled over? A tad too hypocritical for me.

The other thing I could do is that I demand my government to ban and imposes sanction on China, the country. For starters, I doubt anyone really responsible would suffer half as much, if at all, as the person on the factory floor. Then, the macro and micro-economics implications of such actions are complicated, and I don’t know enough to make a humanitarian comment on that. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it is much more harmful than it is good.

Five, following from the two points above, not only do citizens have to pay for what the government did directly. They also have to face by-products such as hatred, discrimination, racism. Guess what, you don’t even have to be Chinese for that, you just have to look oriental. A remote resemblance will do. Jwala Gutta, an Indian badminton player, has faced racism because her mother is Chinese</a>. I cannot even imagine the wrath the ordinary Chinese person must face on a day-to-day basis. Whether I like it or not, blaming China is racist.

Virus, the next generation might grow resistant too.

Virus, if the Chinese and the Americans and the Indians and Brazilians work together, can fight, will fight.

‘Othering’, ‘us’ vs ‘them’ will be reinforced in our kids, and we will be left to fight viruses on our own. Racism and stigma have lives well beyond the life of a virus.

So, as fate would have it, they didn’t want to take it seriously at first. They didn’t. :/

And the events are squared because we didn’t take it seriously at first either. Double :/

Hey, what if the second wave comes when we open borders and some countries which took better care get hit because others couldn’t be bothered? Will we impose sanctions on those other countries and boycott their products? They knew better but were still okay with the damage the virus causes, right? Triple :/

Okay, fine. Can I blame the bats at least? Please?

Turns out I cannot. Supposedly, bats and other rodents are as likely to cause a virus as other animals. I cannot claim to understand all the statistics involved, I will rely on PNAS’ word. Instead, it’s likely that we need bats as a part of our ecosystem. hmph

Anyway, is there any way to predict which species will play host to the next deadly virus? Could be carried by the chicken you eat. Or maybe the spinach I eat is lugging it around, looking for ways to make itself truly novel as a plant-based virus. These would be possibilities even if all deadly viruses came from bats, which they did not.

Oh, and while we are at it, this virus might have come to humans from bats through uncontrolled markets and illegal smuggling. But, there is no saying where the next one will come from. Would it make it any better, if the virus came from legally sold crabmeat or tomatoes?

It had to transfer to humans, it transferred. :/

Anyone else?

No, I am not blaming Muslims.

So looks like, I can blame development.

Here’s a quote from a ‘Scientific American’ article, which talks about the origin of COVID-19:

They found that the emergence of new pathogens tended to happen in places where a dense population had been changing the landscape—by building roads and mines, cutting down forests and intensifying agriculture. “China is not the only hotspot,” he says, noting that other major emerging economies, such as India, Nigeria and Brazil, are also at great risk.

लो भई, गयी भैंस पानी में!!4 (The situation is out of control.)

What are we going to do now? Stop making roads and cutting down forests? Stop our economies from emerging? That’s not happening, is it?

Also, that seems to be pointing the finger at me. I will have to take action and start behaving responsibly and respect nature. Never mind. I will live without blaming anyone.

It had to happen, it happened. :/

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1I live in India. I have loads of domestic help to take care of my home.
2I have little faith left in news outlets. Almost every publication says what someone makes them say or they have a strong agenda and matters are tweaked to fit that story. The validity of this agenda warrants a separate discussion.
3And counting, of course.
4lo bh-i, gayi bhains paani mein, the proverbial buffalo has gone into the pond for a bath, there’s no way you are getting out, it will come out when it feels like.

To Friend or To Parent

“You can either be a friend or a parent to your child,” I often hear, “there is no way you can be both.” they pass a verdict.

I appeal.

You have to be a friend if you want to be a half-decent parent.

A parent has to be a friend+ because being only a good friend is not enough.

A friend here would mean being the person who they come to when they are in trouble or going through a difficult time. And of course, they continue to like you even when they don’t need you :).

Which is why things like grades in school, professional aspirations, how they will be there for me when I am older—all take a back-seat in my world of parenting. That some of these things are actually projections of the parents’ aspirations imposed on the child and others are plain unfair expectations—is a matter for another discussion. But I would argue, even for these aims, being friendly rather than parently would serve the purpose better.

Of course, neither do I want to take the place of their best friend, nor do I want to substitute their social circle. Not only is that the opposite of being a good parent, but that is also hardly something a good friend should do!

To be that specific friend, though—who the kid comes to and who will continue to like your company—while being a parent, is no mean task. They would have to know I am non-judgemental. Like really*. They would have to believe that I know what to do in a difficult situation. Which means they have to know me and how I have handled such tough spots. And I would have to be a person they like to hang with*. And all of this without losing my sense of self and without bending backwards.

This entails lots of non-heavy conversations. A two-liner here, a few-liners there—none of them intentionally revealing right now. But in the long term, I would like to believe, they are adding up to making me their friend+. Yes, getting to know my little human beings, is a welcome by-product.

So, of course, you have to discipline them and tell them about the ways of “society”. It is you who has to teach them about boundaries—others and theirs, and let them learn from their mistakes, be independent, and all that jazz. There is no getting away from leading by example on values like empathy, compassion, and just generally being a nice person. Taking responsibility and dealing with both good and bad consequences, that’s still a part of our job description as parents. If you have done all of that, you get a bonus responsibility—guiding them towards being aware of their feelings, emotions, reactions to situations. Oh, and paying bills. You get to do that too.

Loaded, right? Tell me about it!

But, who said we can’t build a friendly relationship along the way? This can be done without creating a power dynamic, right?** Some parts of our role can be converted towards our real goal. And guess what? Along the way I have sensed the “loaded”-ness of parenting lighten up a bit, making room for the really heavy times.

Anyway, the biggest one of them all, “discipline” covers so many activities that fill a day. The instructions are exhausting, even when you are the one giving them. “Wake up.” “Sleep.” “Eat.” “Not that, don’t eat that.”

I know I need a break from them. And I believe if we allow ourselves, the relationship offers enough opportunity to take that break. So, I would rather

– they learn ways of “society” by us mulling together about why we do what we do, rather than the finality of, “This is how it is done.”

– they discuss newspaper items with me to know my view about the world, power dynamics, boundaries, and so on.

– I tell them about my day. The boring ones and the challenging ones.

– I ask about them and their friends. They ask about my friends and me.

– we exchange things from the latest books we are reading or movies/shows we are watching.

– not make each moment of my parenting life a teaching opportunity. I could try to make it one of learning though.

And most of these things can be made age-appropriate. I remember a lesson in feminism I learnt from my daughter when she was all of three.

Isn’t this what friends do? Why keep the friend in our kid away from us? Are these not the little things that might want them to spend time with us, have fun with us, and of course come to us for help, if need be?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

*Attempts to speak like them makes them roll their eyes. It’s cute.

**I am not one, so I am not sure, but I reckon even submissive, permissive parents could gain some control back if their kids see them as their friends.

The P-word—Pride

What am I proud of? What can I be proud of?

Certainly not of the medal that my 10-year-old neighbour won in an international sporting event. I admire his enthusiasm. I am in awe of what he can do and how much technique it involves. None of which I have contributed an iota to. What did I do so that I can be proud of him?

Same goes for the drawings of other neighbours, a 6-year-old and his mother. I am stumped by the thought behind the pictures. The choice of vibrant colour-combinations amazes me. Still, not why I can be proud of it. I did zilch for their imagination to be where it is. 

Can I then be proud of my daughter’s artwork? Or when the school staff voluntarily tell me about my son’s exemplary behaviour? I am not sure, you know. Who is to say that the skill and the thought-process are despite me and not because of me? Right? Anyway, providing an enabling environment is my duty as a parent, not a good-to-have for my child.

Similarly, if my child behaves well, should he really be getting extra points for being a decent human being? Same goes for me. If he learnt to behave well because I set an example, I should be proud of…being what? A nice person? 

I think we deserve higher standards than that. 

See, I understand the sentiment. When someone tells me they are proud of me for something I did or my kids did, they mean well. They certainly don’t mean to take credit. Well, at least some of them. They like what I did and are trying to express that feeling. The word “pride” though, doesn’t cut it. And I think it is because of the “I, me, myself” attached to the concept. 

Let’s look at the other usage. I should be proud of my lineage, my community, my religion, my nation. Oh dear, no! For one, the first argument continues to apply—what was my contribution to me being a Baldawa, a marwadi, a Hindu, an Indian? Being born into it? Really?

Again, I think we deserve higher standards than that. 

What have I done to make Mumbai what it stands for? Have I truly, completely understood what it means to work towards *moksha*? If I did understand, would the philosophy want me to take pride in choosing it, let alone being born into it?

Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I have to imbibe the qualities of what being an Indian, a Hindu, etc. mean for me to be worthy of being called one. Of course, we are talking of feeling good about something. So, this hopefully means taking on and trying to sustain positive qualities associated with belonging to that group. 

Just imagine. I am born an Indian, into a Hindu family. But I am not allowed to call myself one till I demonstrate the capability of following the Indian constitution or the all-accepting tenets of Hinduism! Ok, let me not digress. Just tell me, which religion/nation/community is looking for a seal of approval from us?

The thought-process then drifts towards me not being able to use the word pride for soldiers at the borders, national sportspeople, doctors at the front-line of a pandemic. For many reasons.

One. I did not contribute to their process or the result. In fact, I might have been an obstacle when I, and those like me, criticised them for not behaving/performing well. These people will survive without the pressure of having to make us feel proud. 

Two. Who are we fooling? Pride is an escape. We feel proud of them, so we don’t need to do anything else. We don’t need to be supportive of them when they suffer in other ways. For instance, if a soldier doesn’t have access to appropriate amenities or food or a doctor to proper equipment, I don’t need to do anything. Because we have absolved ourselves by being proud of them otherwise. 

Three. Isn’t there a hint of us telling them, “Hey, this is what you signed up for. I did my bit by being proud. Don’t expect more from me. You are supposed to fight for me, not the other way around.” Of course, some of us donate and volunteer. Some raise voices even. But none of these actions requires us to be proud. In fact, they need humility.

So, where does pride come from?

I have been able to narrow it down to this—pride seems to rest on the foundation of identity. Whatever separates the group that I fall in from the others, is something I should be proud of. So for a French person, being French is ‘us’ and Americans, Afghanis, Indians are all different versions of ‘them’. Of course, it goes further. A Parisian would belong to the ‘us’ for Parisians, and a South Bombay-ite would be ‘us’ to people staying South of Dadar, or Bandra, is it?

Where does this stop? At a village or a suburb? Not really, right? We have the ‘us’ caste and the ‘them’ caste, the marwadis and gujaratis, the ‘us’ religion and the ‘them’ religion. Oh wait, we even have a ‘them’ apartment complex and a ‘us’ apartment complex. He he he he…this is real. Apartment complexes have an ‘us’ building and a ‘them’ building. Heck! A household would have a ‘them’ generation and a ‘us’ generation!

Let’s humour ourselves for a bit. Let’s say that every Indian can be proud of what they think identifies them as an Indian. Even then, there is little chance it will hold a hundred per cent. So, “I love the diversity that I live in,” is a lovely line. I couldn’t mean it wholly, though, could I? Because I certainly don’t love all my neighbours. Not equally, for sure. Not to mention, there are non-Indian street-smart people, and non-Indian people who are loving, and so on. So neither of them is an “Indian-Indian” trait. And I am sure this would hold true for any nationality, community, religion, etc. Then there are so-called Indian traits—like spitting and peeing on the road or disregard of civic sense in public life and privacy in personal life—that I have no inclination to be proud of.

So, in reality, there can be no complete “us” versus “them”. If fate hadn’t made me an Indian, I would have to be proud of being an American or a Brit or a Russian. Then what can I be proud of? The only identity that I might allow myself to be proud of is the education or work-space I belong to. But, that too comes from a sense of belonging and not necessarily pride-pride.

On the other hand, we could hold pride responsible for so much of the chaos around us. The otherness it brings can be held accountable for the hatred it spews. The holier-than-thou attitude it fosters on either side of the us-them binary. The bitterness and the violence it has thrived on through the ages.

Is that we like it so much? Is that why we feel we need it? So that we have a reason to kill others?

Count me out. I am at the other end of the spectrum. I don’t like the very meaning of the word and the baggage that it carries.

I want the word to be relegated to a profanity, a p-word of sorts. A word society would frown at. Something kids are asked not to use. Certainly not something you would use to describe yourself.

~ ~ ~

PS. I started writing this piece in September 2019. I didn’t want it to be associated with any current event because the concept is not restricted to this tragedy or that. Finally, gave up. The ‘us vs them’ fervour in the country/world just won’t take a “chill pill”. And here we are.

Staying Afloat

Yesterday, I went swimming.

After 4-5 years, maybe, I swam. Or rather, I tried to. That thing they say, “Once you learn swimming/cycling, you have learnt for life. You never forget.” All lies. Pure bullcrap, I say.

My head wouldn’t register the rhythm of popping out to breathe. The mind struggling between, “all those breathing exercises in yoga class gone for a toss” and “all those breathing exercises is why there isn’t water snorting up my nose.”

My legs had forgotten how to float, they just dragged behind the torso. What choice did they have? The helpless, unwilling children that they were, being dragged to the dentist.

My heart pounded hard within the first 20 meters, “You want cardio? Here, take cardio.”

My eyes refused to adjust to the particularly poor visibility in the pool on our building premises. Don’t ask. That was supposedly the cleaned-up version of the pool.

Not that a clean pool would help me recall how to move my arms to displace water smoothly and not go splash-splASH-SpLaSh-s p l a s h. What did I tell you? No rhythm. What. So. Ever.

Not that I care, but I would be an amusing sight to onlookers. Not that I care, there were none. It was drizzling. And supposedly, no one likes pools with lots of leaves, from the trees above them, merrily floating on the water. And in the water.

Not that I care, my attempt at swimming amused me too. Not that I care, it felt like I wasn’t looking either. The very act of not being able to swim was surprisingly meditative.

The gaze was internal. It was critical. But, it was also amused that it was being critical. It was unexpected. But, maybe focussing on the chaos of the crying legs, the stubborn head, the vengeful heart, and the fogged-out eyes, the gaze had no choice but to observe the debacle. It was steady. As if telling me—come what may, I am here watching you stay afloat. Watching you entertain me, but watching you, I am.

The conflict-compassion conflict

Plurality always existed as did difference of opinions. But, so did each sect, sub-sect, and sub-sub-sect’s
need for individuality.

Is it a surprise then, that there has never been a world without conflict? It goes with the theory of evolution too, right? Every group of humans fighting a fight only because they want to survive?

So, looks like there will always be war to be seen as the fittest. By definition then, are compassion, taking care of the “weaker” ones, etc relatively newer concepts that have to fight a long battle of survival?

Does this apply to non-war situations too? Can war then, be thought of as an extension of a conflict between two people?

Who knows ¯\_(?)_/¯, right? Till then I guess we have to make peace whenever we can, and make peace with whatever we can’t.

~ ~ ~

This is a thought I tried to articulate in response to a discussion on the StoryBench group about “Confilct”.

OMG modified

The kids were playing a game of cards with their friends. The usual banter of a bunch of 10-14 year olds was on. A perfect hot, summer afternoon pass-time.

Of course, I had to chime in a “Language!” every time one of them went “SHIT!” or “What the hell!?!” That would make them switch to “Oh no!” and “Oh my god”. Well, at least for the next two times.

In one of those breaks from inappropriate language, one of them pleasantly surprised me. He went, “Oh my Goddess!”

I was stumped, for a minute I thought I misheard a “Oh my goodness!” (because that is what I use. Why bother God for every little thing, right?). But, he had said Goddess.

He must’ve meant it like a quip, a pun, an attempt at being funny. But, it felt good to see that play of words by a fresh teenager, the true next generation. It was reassuring. Maybe we, the current generation are doing some thing right.

Are people phases?

Are people, phases of your life?

Are kids phases in their parents’ lives? At different ages, different phases? When they fly away, the empty nest phase arrives with a whole new world of opportunities for all parties involved?

Are friends phases in friends’ lives, with physical distance, comes a little emotional one too? You grow apart and then maybe you can’t relate to any more.

Are lovers the most difficult phases of them all? For they leave a phase of heartbreak behind.

You are the sum of a few important people in your life, they say. Makes perfect sense. For a little of each phase, each person that has passed has changed me and stayed with me thus. If it stays though, has it passed?

My daughter, she has these egg-phases. For months she ate plain boiled egg, with no salt or pepper. Then there were weeks of omellette – this time there was salt and pepper only to be followed by days after days of a recipe she saw at a friends – baida roti*. Currently, we are at bhurji**.

The egg stays constant, the flavors change.

We are the same; people come and go. Of course, there are constants, our pillars, our soldiers. But, the ones who are not, they too add to my life, nourish me so.

Then why do they feel like phases? Why does it feel like they have moved on and we are left behind? We manage fine without them, but the emptiness stays. We don’t miss them much either, yet something’s amiss.

The attachment stays, then why is there a pre and a post era? Something changes. Of course, nothing is permanent, everything is transient, ya-di-ya-da-da. We adapt, we figure it out, tra-la-la-la. But then, what did that attachment mean? Does it mean anything now?

~ ~ ~

*Indianised eggy-bread (French/German toast) of sorts

**sauted crumbled eggs with Indian spices

Faking Nonchalance

I’ve been having these intense conversations with a few close friends. Coincidentally, almost all of these friends are single. And I guess not so coincidentally, many of these conversations revolved around relationships – both romantic and platonic (but relatively close friendships). A common theme has begun to emerge. People play games – knowingly or unknowingly, even with people they are close to.

It is not just a “who calls how many times” and “responds to texts how quickly” kind of a game. And it is beyond the quality of the conversations and responses too – no more a dissatisfaction with a “hmmm” as a reply. It is more manipulative than judgement of self-worth based on these quantity and quality parameters.

They are games, I am not sure, they realise they are playing. It is things like –
– She is giving me attention, now she can be taken for granted. It’s as if some battle has been won and now the territory doesn’t need to be heeded to – by way of time or attention.
– As a converse, I should behave as if I don’t care about him. That’s the only way to get him to talk to me.
– If I share my emotions, I will be “showing my cards”.
– Let me ask this question. Her answer will tell me if she is thinking of me/likes me/is angry with me.
– I am giving away too much control. Let me not do this thing he wants, (even though I want to) so he knows, I am boss.

All the above lines of thought point towards one thing – hiding one’s true feelings from oneself and the other and ending up expressing quite the opposite – nonchalance. Faking nonchalance when you actually care.

In most cases, this isn’t a calculated move. It just materialises in the back of one’s mind in a fraction of a second. Only when questioned, might the person figure their train of thought. Unfortunately, though, once they realise it too, it gets only a shrug. It has become so ingrained in the system. When I ask them, “isn’t that a game though?” They either are stumped or they go, “That’s how it goes, Meeta.”

One close friend pointed out, people don’t “show cards” because it is self-protection and if the other person knows how important they are, it makes them vulnerable to the other. But, how does showing the opposite of what you feel help the relationship?

What is so wrong about letting the other person know you care, that you think of them at random times, that you think of them more often than not? Of course, you don’t go about saying that to one and all. How many people do you feel about that way, anyway?

What struck me was this wasn’t restricted to romantic relationships. Other than those, I saw a daughter-father relationship, a relatively close friendship, and colleagues who are friends also pointing towards, “let me not make myself too available”. Most of these people would count the other in the top 15 important people of their lives, if not better.

As far as I understand, close relationships are meant to fulfill emotional needs. Needs of companionship. Companionship comes from sharing. Not only sharing of other things going on in life, but also what you feel about each other. Of course not in words or a “I love being with you” every second day, but by actions – little by little, one at a time.

It doesn’t surprise me that people play games. It surprises me that age (maturity?) is not a barrier here, neither is gender. It surprises me that people are faking nonchalance in relationships that they deeply care about. **shudder**

~ ~ ~

Thank you Ashlu for your input.