Archive for April, 2007


April 30th, 2007


I cannot remember his name. He was perhaps in his mid-forties. He had a salt and peppered beard. The photograph on the photo identity card in his auto certainly did not resemble him. Perhaps it was one of those cases of sub-leasing where the original driver sublets his auto to another fellow for a few hours.

I: Shivajinagar
He: Shivajinagar bus stand-ah?
I: Russell Market
He: Shivajinagar bus stand-ah?

Our conversation during the second half of the journey swung between two words – gota-gotilaa, know-don’t know, understand-don’t understand. Yet, we spoke a lot. He said he could not speak Hindi. I said I was in the same position when it came to Kannada.

We landed in Russell Market. I picked up the mattress that I had come here to collect. I did not realize it would be so heavy. The maker of the mattress simply started loading the mattress on the head of the auto and began tying it. He was very upset with this load. I insisted that the mattress be kept inside his auto, but the mattress maker told me that if the mattress was kept inside, it would keep hitting the meter and raise it. He was very upset and I thought he was reluctant to drive me back to my destination. I asked him once whether he was interested in going further or whether he wanted to part from Russell Market itself. Meanwhile, the mattress maker and he were arguing. The mattress maker insisted that nothing would happen to his auto and that he should drive me back.

Our conversation began during this part of the journey.

He: Now where?
I: Shanthinagar.
He: How do I go from here? Left or right?
I: Ummm, ummm, ummm, take a left. Route gota?
He: Gotilla.
(Oh no, I said to myself and started to map out the roads in my head. Bangalore being a city of one-ways, I started to think what route would be faster and quicker. Not knowing what landmarks to give him, I suddenly said)
I: M.G. Road gota?
He: Gota
I: So, M.G. Road
(He swerved his auto to the left and from Commercial Street, hit towards Russell Market again and then out of Shivajinagar towards M. G. Road. I started by asking the usual question of how many years since he started driving)
I: Kitna saal, how much time, driving you?
He: Eh?
I: How much time? Auto driving?
(He could not fathom)
I: Owner? Auto ownership? You?
He: (W)owner huh? No. Rs. 170 per day.
I: Oh (saying it profoundly)
He: Karntaka?
I: Baambay
He: Baambay huh?
I: You, Karnataka
He: Yes
I: Karntaka or Tamil Nadu?
He: Karnataka
(I was suspicious still. I wondered whether he was trying to hide from me that he was indeed from Tamil Nadu. But I could not push myself into verifying. After all, I have also, in many strange ways, tried to conceal my own Muslim identity in this city. People ask me my name. I say ‘Zainab’ and then immediately add, ‘Zainab Bawa’. I hope this confuses them, but often it does not. Then they ask me if I am Punjabi or Muslim and I quickly say, ‘I am a Ph.D. student, from Bombay’. In this city which is still strange to me (and I, seeking my own sources of intimacy and understanding here), I protect and defend my identity, off late. Sometimes I feel a stranger to my own self as I protect and defend. Sometimes I wonder if I am betraying my own self. Sometimes I wonder what I fear.
Hence I could not push myself to ask him whether he was indeed Kannadiga or whether he was actually Tamilian.)
He (summarizig): Rs. 170 a day, 20 hours of driving. Kannada gota?
I: Solpa solpa, little, little
He: Haan
(As we hit the airplane landmark, it suddenly struck me to ask him whether he knows Double Road)
I: Double Road gota
He: Double road gota
I: Then Double Road
He: Are you sure?
I: Pakka, 100 per cent
He: Route gota
I: Yes, routes gota
He: Where are you taking this mattress? To Baambay?
I: No, I have rented a house here. I am taking it there.
He: Who was that boy traveling with you?
I: Friend.
He: Brother?
I: Yes, yes.
(Often times people ask how I am related to my male friends. Most, like him, safely want to seal the relationship as one of brother and sister. I, not caring, often say yes-yes. Strange I feel here, my relationship with men under a new form of scrutiny)
He: How much did this mattress cost you?
I: (raised my index finger and indicated 1)
He: Wandu saavra, one thousand?
I: Yes
He: What kelsa, work, do you do in Baambay?
I: I am a student-o here.
He: What?
I: Student-o (trying to think what would be a simpler term), err, ummm, college-o (I struck upon it at last!)
He: Haan. Where?
I: Jayanagar
He: Which college?
I: Private college
He: Private huh?
I: Yes
I: (trying to polish up my Kannada) Bangalore, malay season? Rains?
He: Yes, yes. What about Baambay?
I: Garam (then realizing that this is Hindi), tumba bissi, very hot.
He: Yeah!
(We hit the traffic signal junction at M.G. Road and Cubbon Park. He turned around, smiled and said)
He: Left side M. G. Road. Gota?
I (laughed): Gota, gota
(he got out of his auto and checked if the mattress was okay and if the head of the auto was not too burdened)
He: Why did you load on top? Mele galeeze, it is very dirty on top. Your mattress will get dirty.
(We continued journeying. At Convent Road, he says)
He: Hindi, don’t know much.
I: Kannada, don’t know much. What about English, you?
He (laughed): 4th standard, dropped out. Gota?
I: Yes, gota.
(He kept on saying something in Kannada as we hit Richmond Road. I tried memorizing what he was saying so that I could get it translated later. But beyond a point, I lost him. He continued saying something and then he turned around to ask)
He: Gota? Did you understand what I was saying?
I: This much part, gotilla
He: Hmmm. Father, Baambay?
I: You mean appa?
He: Yes, yes, appa.
I: Baambay.
(I am not sure what he asked after that. I understood it to mean whether my father speaks Kannada. But later, I wondered whether he was asking for my father’s religion …)
I: Baambay, Hindi
He: Brother?
I: Baambay, Hindi.
He: Amma?
I: Baambay, Hindi.
(He turned the auto left, into a lane from Richmond Road)
He: Routes gota?
I: Yes, from here gota.
(We hit my destination. I began to untie the mattress. He screamed)
He: Madam, no, no, not that way, the auto will topple over you
I: oops!
(He carefully untied. I asked him to load the mattress over me. He picked it up on his back and asked where to leave it. I was feeling embarrassed and asked him to drop it near the staircase. He looked surprised and asked)
He: Mattress mele (don’t you need to take it upstairs?)
I: Yes, mele (pointing towards the elevator) lift-o
He: Then let me drop it inside the lift
(He dropped the mattress inside the lift. I handed him the fare)
He: Did you check the meter before giving me this?
I: Yes. Let’s go to the auto and check it together.
(The reading was right.)
I (joined my hands): Thank you. I am very grateful.
He (embarrassed): What are you joining your hands for? Aiyyo? No, no, it is okay.

But perhaps he did not understand what I was grateful for. I was grateful to him for the trust he gave to me in the time of our journey. I was grateful to him for the intimacy which our unspoken language brought to me. I was grateful to him for those few moments of friendship, for those few moments of friendship in this city which I find strange and hostile.

I am grateful …


Off Langford Road

April 25th, 2007


Sunday night,
About 11:10 PM,
Off Langford Road,
I passed.

Off Langford Road,
While passing,
I saw …

He lay,
His arms outstretched,
A man about 27, 28,
Dark skinned.
His dark skin glowed in the shine of the night.

He lay,
As if the world belonged to him (in those moments),
As if the space he occupied was ever-expanding (stretching beyond his outstretched arms),

He lay.
Time seemed to have come to a standstill,
He lay collapsed in a drunken stupor,
As if he were lifeless,
As if he were alive in his apparent lifelessness,
As if the world were his …

Off Langford Road,
I saw him,
Alive in his lifelessness,
Jealous of his freedom, his outstretched arms, his carelessness, his time (of which he was the master) …

Off Langford Road,
I drank in his drunkenness,
Felt alive in his lifelessness (for those moments).

I passed
Langford Road,
Then Lalbagh,
Then 1st block Jayanagar.
The streets were empty,
(Poverty hidden away into the interiors),
Time passing by (as if even time were inert)

My heart is cold.



April 16th, 2007


‘Pension Mohalla’, the address read on the details of the display board in his auto. I was intrigued. I asked him what kind of place was ‘Pension Mohalla’. He said these were old names of places. ‘Pension Mohalla’ is about one and a half kilometers away from K. R. Market, he explained.

Khan is his name. His physique is on the leaner side, and he looks friendly and kind. I entered the autorickshaw outside Theological College on Millers Road. A bunch of North East boys were in his auto. They wanted him to drive them inside the college. But he told them, Paidal chalo, paidal chalo. Go walk inside. I have a fare waiting here.

My curiosity about ‘Pension Mohalla’ got us talking. In reality, it was my desperation to connect with this city that got me talking to him – my search for ordinarily extraordinary stories in this city.

Khan owns the auto he is riding, among the few auto drivers I have encountered so far who own the auto they drive. He says his auto runs his household and that he recently got his daughter married through the earnings of the rickshaw. He completed schooling and then did a vocational course in air-condition repairs. But back then in 1988-1990, he said, there was no demand for his services. As a matter of desire he learnt how to drive. This auto, cars and even buses, I learnt to drive them all. I wanted to drive a bus, but I just cannot seem to get off riding this auto. Already, riding this auto from 10 in the morning to 10 at night, my ears burn, my eyes burn, I have backache and, look at these hands, they start to hurt. And the dust around, that also causes fatigue.

He asks me whether I am still studying. Then he wonders why I am headed towards Jayanagar. I am amazed, he says, you study here and you live there. Dikkat nahi hoti? Nowadays, it is luxury for even working class people to ride in autos and you are a student here. I am amazed. I explain to him that I live in Jayanagar and also study there and that I was at the Theological College on a special class. That’s what I was wondering, otherwise it is too expensive for students to ride in autos.

As we continue to ride further up, I tell him that I was in Bangalore back in 1993 sometime and the city was different then. Oh yeah, it has changed a lot now. Earlier, main aankhein moondke gaadi chalata tha, I would close my eyes and ride and today, I am afraid even as I keep my eyes open and attention focused. Traffic has increased. Now just look at this man here on the scooter, he has stopped in the middle of this thick traffic to talk on his cell phone. Back then, the city was different. Now, it has improved. I wonder what ‘improved’ means to Khan. He goes on. I encounter so many people who come from outside to study in Bangalore – from Bihar, Delhi, the madrasis – they all come here. How long have you been here? Nine months, I tell him. How long will you be here? Three years. Hmmm, even in software you see, many people from outside are coming – from Bihar, Delhi, the madrasis. There are good earnings, you can have a good life. But I remark that this city is very expensive. Why do you say that, he asks. I tell him that commuting is a cheaper affair in Bombay given the trains and the buses. But there are buses here too, he tells me, trying to understand. But here the buses run only on main roads, I explain, and then, in Bombay, the train is always there. Ah, trains run on the roads there haan? he asks. I don’t know what to say. Then he says, I have never to been to Bombay or Delhi, but I have heard about these cities. I was born in Bangalore, have grown up here, aur idhareech main khatam hona hai. His words remind of the dialogue I had heard in the movie Namesake. A fellow passenger in the train asks Ashoke Ganguly whether he has been abroad, ‘England, America’? Ashoke says he has never been to these places but then his grandfather had told him that books are meant to help travel. Here is Khan, working through an imagination of the cities he does not know and he perhaps does not even have the books to help him travel. He later tells me that last night he watched a television programme which ann ounced that Delhi is the best city in India and he started wondering where does Bangalore figure in the scheme of India. Main soochne laga, Dilli ki baatein kar rahe hai yeh log, Bangalore kahan pe aata hain India mein. He says that the best thing about Bangalore is the weather – cool climate and lots of greenery. That is why they have named this Garden City, he tells me.

I continue to talk to him about the costs of living in Bangalore being high. Rents are high, I tell him. Oh yes, I agree. Back in my time, a house in my area was available for three hundred rupees monthly rent. If you gave four hundred, you would get more amenities. Five hundred, even more and with six hundred to seven hundred rupees, you could get two rooms, a kitchen, good water, etc. How much rent do you pay? I lied to him saying I pay three thousand when in fact I pay four. He is shocked and says, you find two or three people to live with you. Then you can each pay a thousand and spend about two thousand monthly on food. I cook at home, I tell him. He asks if I can make rotis and I say yes. How about rice? I tell him I eat red rice. And chappatis, you eat wheat eh? Yeah, and also raagi. Really, do you eat raagi rotis? he asks me. Yes, I tell him. We make raagi mudde at home. But back in the villages, they eat the rotis. with spicy chutneys, I tell him immediately. Yeah, he says excitedly, clicking his fingers, you are right, with chutneys. I think we have connected now.

I have relatives in Thilaknagar, he tells me. I tell him I like living in Thilaknagar because it is a noisy and vibrant area. Yes, he says, otherwise you have houses scattered at distances. In Bangalore, he says, 80% people are good and only 20% are not so good. Only 20%, he emphasizes. See, if you ask for directions in this city, people will tell you, unlike in Bombay or Delhi where people don’t have the time to tell you. Here, in Bangalore, you see this man walking on the roads, if you ask him for directions, he will tell you. In fact, if he is going in the same direction, he will come along with you and say, ‘I am also going in the same direction’. But back in Bombay and Delhi, people don’t tell right. See, what happens is that 20% of the not-so-nice people, they are jealous of outsiders coming here and making money. They say these people are outsiders. Jealous people.

We arrive. I ask him to stop on the main road so that I can walk into the lanes, to my house. He asks me where I stay. I explain to him. The fare reads Rs. 62. He returns forty rupees to me. I tell him to wait as I fish for two rupees. He says, let it be. Don’t bother about two rupees. You are a student here. I tell him the two rupees are his earnings and that he should let me give it to him. He smiles at me as I leave. It is a smile which tells me that for that moment of our journey together, for that time that he drove me, we traveled into each other’s lives, in Bombay, in Bangalore, in Delhi. We journeyed together.

It was desperation to seek my own words, to seek stories in this city that I got talking to Khan. I still seek the ordinary lives which have stories to tell me, stories which reinforce that these lives are not ordinary, that they make this city- whether it is Bangalore, Bombay or Delhi. I seek these stories …


What if there is no water?

April 7th, 2007

I was reading Lisa Peattie’s work on Planning this morning. She says:

… every telling represents a way of seeing. We see from where we stand; and why would we look unless we care about how the story comes out?

Telling represents a way of seeing;
We see from where we stand …

I was standing in my window, looking through the grills, squinting as much as my eye could reach. There was a commotion going on. The albino woman from the opposite houses was on the street, shouting loudly, as if making a very clear point, to a main in a safari suit. He could have been a politician or a bureaucrat. The woman was complaining about the lack of water in the street. There were other women standing around her, with their orange and fluorescent yellow and green bhindis. The bhindis were empty.
I got scared looking at this, frightened. The sump which stores water and the motor which pumps the water up are located in the storeroom downstairs. I decided that I will lock the storeroom when I leave.

Telling represents a way of seeing;
We see from where we stand …

I was sitting outside Dilli Haat, the crafts bazaar in Delhi. The afternoon was hot and I was tired.
The circular seating space outside the Haat is decorated with patches of grass and some trees. There are sprinklers rooted in the ground which then water the grass.
It was getting hotter. A boy came from somewhere. He was about 14 or 15. He squatted a bit, then put his mouth close to a sprinkler and turned it on. In about a minute, he quenched his thirst and switched off the sprinkler. Satisfied, he walked along.
I was quite amazed to see this. Walking around in Bangalore and exploring people’s access to water, I discovered that the Municipal Corporation of Bangalore (BMP) which has been responsible for providing water to the poor decided that it will no longer pay the Water Board (BWSSB) for supplying water to the public fountains and standpipes. This is now called Non-Revenue Water (NRW). So BWSSB now urges the poor in the slums to take individual water connections and pay according to the meter. Standpipes are being taken off from the slums because we live in an age where ‘UTILITIES MUST ENSURE FULL COST RECOVERY FOR SERVICES’.
The stories which my friends and I have collected show that the very category ‘the poor’ is problematic because it does not account for the heterogeneity of incomes and contexts that make up the poor. Some among the poor earn as little as Rs. 1,500 per month and pay a water bill of Rs. 73 (in addition to buying potable water) and this accounts for 4.87% of their monthly incomes. In contrast, I pay about .67% of my present monthly income (and even lesser if I earn more).

Telling represents a way of seeing;
We see from where we stand …

‘Neeru beka’, Eeshwari said when she came home that day to work. Eeshwari works in my house as a maid. She looked troubled that day, troubled because there was no water. We told her to take water from our house if she needed. Meanwhile, we began worrying at the prospect of water shortage and no water in the sump downstairs.
Eeshwari came home as usual next day. ‘Neeru beka’, she said again. We asked her to take water from our house. She happily came over, with her sister-in-law and five empty bhindhis. They filled it to the brim and went off.
Meanwhile, we worried at the thought of water shortage. He said to me, “WHAT IF THERE IS NO WATER?” I told him, “I have never thought of a situation when there is no water. I have always had access to water.”



Networks of Informal Financing

April 1st, 2007

1: Saw some houses when I went home. Liked one. Will look for some more before I settle on buying one.
2: Kewl!
1: Some of them are priced too high. Will not be able to afford the EMI!
2: You want to take a home loan?
1: Where else will I get the money to buy the house.
2: But I heard that home loans are not a good deal for buying a house! I hear there are lots of hidden costs involved in a home loan.
1: I am aware of it. But where else will I get the financing for buying a house?

After eating dinner, we boarded autorickshaws and went off to our respective homes.

Next day …

2: The auto driver was cool. He gave me his number and said that in case I needed an auto to go to the airport at 3 or 4 in the morning, I just had to call him and he will come over.
1: Yeah, my autowalla was also cool. He took me to an all night booze joint right next to my house!
2: Are you telling me that you did not know there was an all-night booze joint near your house all this time?
1: Yes, I did not know about it and the fellow took me there.
2: I tell you, I am sure these auto driver colonies will be very useful to study and become known to. I am sure they should be having networks of money circulation among them. For all you know, you will get your home loan from these fellows!
1: Yeah, I think so too!
2: Let’s try to study them!


Now, is Information Neutral?

April 1st, 2007

Is information neutral?

At Bar Camp Bangalore3, people were talking of how information needs to be made available to public. One such form of information that will be made available is lists of registered voters. Now, I have problem with this information about registered voters being made public. In the case of the Sikh riots in Delhi, during the 1992-1993 Bombay riots and also during the Gujarat violence, the rioters made use of electoral rolls to target people. If information about registered voters is made public, online, isn’t there a danger that this information can be misused in ways that may have been unimaginable?

Then, is information neutral?