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Archive for July, 2007

Papamma

July 21st, 2007

Hi! she said to me and then asked me the usual question of whether I had eaten food. I tried explaining to her that I had eaten, but somehow, I seemed to have something to her in our last conversation which makes her think that I don’t eat properly. She asked me to share food with her. I said I had eaten and would come back to her house after I had completed the works that I had set out to do in Ambedkarnagar.

Her name is Papaamma. She is dark, slim, slight wrinkles on her face and so far that I have seen her, she wears bright coloured sarees. I have no idea what does. But she lives in Ambedkarnagar and is like my local guardian there.

This afternoon, as I was passing by her house, I noticed that the bathroom in her house was curtained with a plastic sheet that was an advertisement for a bus company which runs buses for people to travel to places in the South.

By the time I got back, she had finished eating her food. She had thrown away some because she did not feel like eating. I told her it was too late to eat lunch and that she should eat earlier. She smiled. Then I said I have to go. She said, ‘yeah, come’ and then held me by my wrist and asked me to come inside the house. She directed me to sit and then went away. She came back with a glass of tea and as usual, she took some and asked me to take the rest. “You don’t eat properly anyway, so you must drink the tea properly and more of it than I have taken.”

Papamma’s house has a little bathroom, a kitchen area and then a bedroom which also serves as a living room. She has a television in the house, two bulbs and a fan. She said that the electricity was cut off for three months because she could not pay the bill and then it resumed again after she had paid back. “Bangalore is expensive,” she said.

I looked around and asked her if she goes to the Infant Jesus Church which is nearby. She looked puzzled. Then I pointed out to the photograph Christ and Mother Mary which was in her bedroom-cum-living room and immediately she understood. She exclaimed, “I am original Pentecostal, original. My husband is diluted Christian. This Infant Jesus Church is diluted Christianity.” “Original huh,” I exclaimed back. “Yes, original. Come, let me show you our Bible.” She took out a Kannada version of the Bible. Then she asked me whether I believe in God. I said no. She said, “Who do you think gives you food? How do you think you acquire work? And then you say you don’t believe in God? How come? Here, I will read out a verse from the Bible to show you how much trouble the Lord has undergone to ensure that you are taken care of.” She read two passages. Then she reiterated her point about how God is the provider and we must believe in him. “How did I come to Bangalore? How do you think I got this house? So what if the bathroom is small and there is problem with the toilet? What are you? Hindustani? No, no, I mean Hindi/Hindu?” I said I am Muslim. Then she said, “So you have a God. Then why don’t you believe? Believe, believe.”

I laughed out. She laughed too. then I told her I needed to leave. She asked when I was coming back. “Wednesday.” “Okay, I will see you then,” she said!

xanga

Muslim or Marwari?

July 19th, 2007

18/07/2007

“So, what are you? Muslim or marwari?”
For a moment, I did not know where the either-or choices were coming from? Why only either Muslim or Marwari? Why not some other either-or combination?
“Muslim,” I replied immediately, without feeling any sense of insecurity, apprehension or fear.
“Okay,” they said. These are women who are part of a sangha in the Ambedkarnagar slum.
I went along down along with them when their weekly sangha meeting was over. Sujeetha, the only bachelor member of the sangha was also walking down with her cousin who has just come to Bangalore from their village beyond Chennai. I joked with Sujeetha asking her why she is not married. She laughed and asked why I was not married. I asked her then,
“Why did you ask whether I was Muslim or marwari?”
“You see,” she began, “most of us women work in Koramangala. I work in the National Games Complex. Now most of the house owners here are Marwaris. So I asked if you were marwari. You say you are from Bombay. So you have also come from outside like the marwaris. So you are also a migrant.”
I smiled. I remembered what Murthy had said to me on my first visit to Ambedkarnagar. He had mentioned that “15% of the people in this slum are Hindi” and by Hindi, he meant not North Indians, but Muslims “who had stayed back in India when the rest of the Muslims had gone away to Pakistan.”
I was amused at Sujeetha’s analysis, not because I thought she was naïve or something. But rather because she had a very straightforward analysis of how things are in Bangalore and how I get viewed in her worldview.
Muslim or marwari? Aha! The contests are beginning to show up!

xanga

17-Jul-2007

July 17th, 2007

16/7/2007

I am still struck by that revelation of the concept and the practice of ‘local’ – the way I discovered it through Murthy, the cable operator in Ambedkar Nagar. The mazes, the cables, the houses, Murthy makes connections through all of these as he sets up his cables and transmits the satellite programmes into people’s houses.

I am also fascinated by the idea of the map which I discovered in my last trip to L. R. Nagar. The very concept of the map takes on a different meaning in the slum. Murthy explained the boundaries between L. R. Nagar and Ambedkar Nagar by pointing out to the garbage dump that separates the two slums.

Yesterday, I went walking around Ambedkar Nagar to find my way through the maze of houses and shops in the slum. I walked and walked. But I could not make sense of the direction in which I was walking. I followed any path that appeared to lead to some place. The experience was absolutely fascinating because even though I was not getting my path right, I discovered something new with every step I took. The lanes were made pucca with concrete while the roads were still mucky and uneven. I hit the end of Ambedkar Nagar to find myself facing the National Games Complex in Koramangala. For two minutes, I stood with bated breath. I felt a strange kind of urban schizophrenia – I am standing at Ambedkar Nagar and watching the National Games Complex from the other side. At that moment, I realized immediately why the four slums are such a contested space – they are ‘occupying’ the area which is prime real estate in Bangalore – Koramangala. At that moment, I felt some kind of strange ecstasy. I am now beginning to discover Bangalore for myself. I am beginning to make connections with this city.

[I am finding my words, once more, once again, yet again …]

Walking back, through yet another different, unknown route, I found myself at the garbage dump, the boundary line that separates L. R. Nagar and Ambedkar Nagar.

[I am finding myself, founding myself, founded myself, finding, found, lost … delirious, drunk on my experiences and words …]

It’s time to fall in love once again …

xanga

14-Jul-2007

July 14th, 2007

Filth
Muck
Terd
Open Drains
Garbage
Stench

Filth
Muck
Terd
Open Drains
Garbage
Stench

Filth
Muck
Terd
Open Drains
Garbage
Stench

I entered Lakshman Rao Nagar (L.R. Nagar), walking and sensing with my feet. There was a sudden burst of rain. The muck that lay (perhaps an unfinished road) came alive. I looked down as I walked. Every hair on my skin stood up as I experienced the filth, the muck, the terd, the garbage, scattered all around. People live in L. R. Nagar, open drains outside the doors of their houses. I made notes:

Sewage – very poor
Sanitation – non-existent

Yes, people live in L. R. Nagar, amidst
Filth
Muck
Terd
Open Drains
Garbage
Stench.

I walked further into L. R. Nagar, attempting to find the offices where I needed to get some information. The boundaries between L. R. Nagar, Rajendra Nagar, Ambedkar Nagar, Shastri Nagar are all very, very fluid. Murthy, the local cable operator, explaining the boundaries of L. R. Nagar said to me,
“See, you see that pile of garbage. That is where L. R. Nagar ends and Shastri Nagar begins.”
I immediately noted the landmarks (literally!) and the ways in which people create maps of their own localities.

The offices were closed. Murthy could understand and speak fluent Hindi. I asked him:
“Sir, what is the population of this slum? Is there majority Kannada people?”
“Tamil majority. 60% Tamils.”
“Remaining 40% Kannadigas?”
“No, no madam. 60% Tamils, 25% Kannadigas, 15% Hindi.”
“Hindi? You mean people from North India, Uttar Pradesh?”
“No, no madam, Hindi peoples are everywhere in India. Hindi.”
“Hindi?”
“They are Hindi Muslims.”
“Muslims? Hindis? But surely, these Muslims would have come from parts of Tamil Nadu or Karantaka? They must be Tamilian Muslims or Kannadiga Muslims?”
“Illa, no madam. You see, they are Hindi. Now, some are in Pakistan. Those who decided to stay behind, not go to Pakistan, they came here. So they are Muslims, Hindi Muslims.”
I am struck by this revelation. Hindi Muslims. I noted the category.

Murthy is a cable operator. He ‘supplies’ cable to Ambedkar Nagar. He began his business fifteen years ago, the time when you inserted the ‘cashette’ into the VCR and broadcasted the movies to everyone’s homes through the cable network. Then came the era of the satellite television. Murthy became a distributor for Ambedkar Nagar.
“The big guys get people to buy the set top boxes for 3,000 rupees after which the subscribers have to pay 250-300 rupees per month to receive the channels. Here it does not work like that. I go up to the terrace and have my man go over to the terrace of the next building. We throw the wires and make the connections. The big companies cannot come and do this here.”
“Yes, because you the local fellow. You know the local system here.”
“Exactly, because I know the locality here.”
My eyes sparkled as I discovered the idea of locality through this complex maze of wires and cables. Murthy knows the ‘local’, how to make the connections, something which the big companies cannot do because they simply do not know the ‘local’. I make a note.

I leave Murthy, fascinated, hoping to return back. I go over to the next office for data collection. I am directed to a rose-coloured building, but I do not understand from where to enter to get to the office. I am pointed to a house. Someone calls her out, saying,
“Come out. She needs something.”
Out comes she. She is old, wrinkled. I explain to her what I want. She has a morsel of food in her hand which she rolls into a ball and throws into her mouth. She washes her hands, holds me by my arm and wraps her arm around my shoulder and directs me. The local boys are asking me what I want. She shoos them away, holding me by my hand and taking me in a direction.
“Baa, baa. Banni.”

She is barefooted. I watch that carefully. My hair starts to stand up as each sense on me begins to experience all the
Filth
Muck
Terd
Open Drains
Garbage
Stench
which her feet are traveling through. I almost want to give up my footwear, over to her. She is comfortable (or so it seems). I am not.

It is Saturday and everything is closed. I decide to come back on Monday. On my way out, I notice the open drains. Two children are running boats in the sewage waters. At that moment, I am horrified. My senses come alive.

People live here, here in L. R. Nagar. There is
Filth
Muck
Terd
Open Drains
Garbage
Stench.
These are also cityzens. They also have legitimate claims.

xanga

From London to Bangalore

July 10th, 2007

From London to Bangalore

Aldgate. It is literally a gate. It separates Central London from East London.

East London. The infamously famous part of London City. There is Brick Lane which is the ‘culture hub’ of the city and many novels and stories have been written about Brick Lane. I have not read any of these, but I certainly know that these would be unable to capture the territorial, inward, closed and ghetto nature of Brick Lane. Don’t get me wrong, I am not condemning Brick Lane. I am stating what I have sensed. Given the political atmosphere in London, the targeting of Muslims, the experience of living in a city that is not really home for the Bangladeshis who inhabit Brick Lane, there is something inward about Brick Lane. Yes, there are restaurants, shops, eats, the everything that a tourist would look for, but that is a very superficial image of Brick Lane. There is more to Brick Lane, the people who reside in it. It is the people who make the space. And it is through the lives and stories of the people that Brick Lane can be understood.
(Now I understand what ‘apparent’ actually means …)

For a moment, just for a moment, I stand amused. It’s called the Brady Arts Center Street and beneath it is written in English and Bengali ‘Kobi Nazrul Islam Street’. I wonder whether this is a form of making a claim on the space of the city. Kobi Nazrul is the national poet of Bangladesh. Maybe one would say that this is a sort of ‘establishing Bangladesh in London, a form of assertion.’ I disagree. I believe it is a form of making a claim on a city, asserting that yes, we indeed do not belong here, but we are here. We have made this space from its past into what it is now, we have a hand in perpetuating this city, we are here and you have some obligations towards us to fulfill. Undoubtedly, the space and nature of claims will change with the coming generations.
(‘Claim-making’, now I understand what a tedious process it can be to make claims on the city …)

It is a Sunday, thankfully sunny. I have dragged Alt to come with me to Tower Hamlets because I am given to understand that there is some kind of an ‘illegal’ market here which takes place only on Sundays. ‘Illegal in London’ – this fascinates me. The last two days, I have walked the Portobello street market, Spitalfields and some other street markets, but these are all licensed markets. There are licensed stalls to let. Yes, there is ‘culture’, if you may please, in here, but I can’t seem to enjoy it. There is a certain feeling in me which says that this is marketed culture, propped up culture. It does not give a flavour of the contests in this global city. So here I am, curious, excited and eager to find this ‘illegal market.’

We accidentally tumble on Petticoat Lane market as we walk from Aldgate tube station. Nah, I said to Alt, this is not it. We were told to walk towards Brick Lane. Inside Brick Lane, we stumbled upon licensed markets until we finally hit the backyard market. The backyard market consisted of displays of students from the nearby fine arts school. We walked out of backyard, and there we were, that ‘illegal market’ which had been so elusive. We stood there for a while, Alt and me. Alt was busy making pictures but I was feeling too hesitant. Am I marking these people by aiming my camera at them? There they were … they were probably East European and some seemed Chinese-Taiwanese. They were squatting on the pavements on both sides. Some had opened up their suitcases and were beginning to lay their wares. Some others were watching, waiting, looking here and there, before they could open up the boxes and suitcases to lay out their wares.

Alt and I began walking. I still cannot forget those scenes. I passed by a Bangladeshi family – father, son and some uncles. The Holy Spirit, in this case, the London policeman, was not around, yet. They were selling secondhand goods. Perhaps they found some of these in trashcans. My eyes fell upon what I thought was a beautiful painting of a girl carrying concrete over her head and I could not take my eyes off it. ‘5 pounds, I make it 3 for you’, the young man of the family said to me. I took it. I was too tempted to engage in a conversation with him and yet, I agonizingly could not. At every moment, I was nervous, what if I broach something inappropriate. I decided to walk ahead, to see if I could muster any courage. But perhaps there was no need for me to muster any courage. There was enough to see, and I decided to carry out the conversation with myself.

Alt continued making pictures. I made a few pictures and happened, by chance, to point the lens at an African man. ‘No, no, you can’t make pictures, you dare don’t take that picture’. I moved my camera away. Yes, I was right. In this space, I could not afford to be a leisurely tourist. I was in a contested space, a highly contested one at that – marked illegal. He continued to shout and became abusive. I walked ahead until he came behind and tapped on my shoulder, ‘if you made that picture of mine, you take it off.’ ‘No, I did not,’ I said. ‘Okay,’ he said and moved back to his place.

Place – yes, that is what that market was about. It was about place, what is known as jaaga in Bangalore – solpa jaaga. Place, jaaga, and a new term that I have recently encountered ‘location’. This market was about place, jaaga and maybe location.

There she stood, besides a clothes hanger. She was haggling with a customer over a price bargain for shoes. ‘No, no. what do you think? This is used? No, no, this is brand new. What you think, it is old? I don’t sell old.’ She was very beautiful, perhaps Eastern European. We started admiring a dress hung on the hanger. ‘Yes, very beautiful,’ she said, turning to me, ‘and look, it got that belt in here. You can tie it to your waist and you will look pretty. And it’s also got that nice jacket over it.’ ‘Can I try it on?’ I asked. ‘Sure,’ she said. ‘I sell for 7 but make it 5 for you. Take it.’ Alt asked her where she gets her goods from. ‘This one, this dress, the boutique made sample piece for client and then gave it to me for sale because sample pieces just lie in boutiques and they try to discard these. So we go and pick ‘em up.’ ‘But aren’t there stolen goods in here, in this market?’ he asked. ‘No, no, I don’t sell stolen goods. I get from boutiques, they give it to me. I have a license to stand here and sell. I can show you.’ I did not want to take this conversation further. Already I was beginning to sense the tension. Next to her was a much younger girl, again East European. She was being questioned by the policeman about change of place/location. She seemed intimidated by him, though his questioning and body language did not appear as if he was threatening her. She said, ‘I was there, but today I came here. Otherwise I stand there.’ He nodded. We moved from there, just to encounter another scene, but this time certainly one of intimidation. These were two Bangladeshi boys who had a clothes hanger with clothes hung on for sale. One of them stood with a cardboard box containing electronics, perhaps pirated. A hefty policeman rounded up the boys, telling them that you don’t sell these things in here. Some Bangladeshis and Pakistanis collected around the scene. ‘Can you give us some place here please,’ one of the officers shouted. The boys were certainly being intimidated. We could not understand what happened afterwards.
(Authority – now I understand what it means …)

We continued to walk, fascinated and awed. The sale of goods was picking up.

‘This for 50 pounds, I sell for 50p, only today. What do you say?’

‘Anyway you like it mate, anyway you like it. Only 5 pounds, Marks and Spencers! Anyway you like it, mate, anyway’

A little further away, a man appeared from nowhere
and started out a game. Spot which one of the 3 round rubber plates has a white sticker beneath. He began juggling. A woman gave 20 pounds and on spotting the right one, got 40 in return. She played another 20 and won another 40. Encouraged, a Bangladeshi man gave 20. He lost it and his face fell. The game was just beginning.

Back here in Bangalore today, I spent twenty minutes in the City Market.
‘Social Justice, Economic Justice’
‘Opposition to the UPA government which is anti-poor’
‘Dalit Sangha’
Yes, the jaaga was marked, unlike that in London, but marked for sure. Those who are marginalized mobilize themselves through their identities and attempt to make claims on the city. I saw this in a little glimpse in City Market today. The hawkers were hawking on dug up land. Beneath the Avenue Road flyover, the road dug up were hawkers selling kothmire. ‘Naati maa, naati.’

Contested space, perhaps. I still don’t have a grasp of the space in this city, of the numerous contests. I struggle to understand. My words struggle with me as do my consciousness and sight.
(Awake, this is Bengalooru …)

xanga