Monday, October 30, 2006


I have recently been hearing a lot of criticism with regards to long distance traveling. I for one have always enjoyed every single moment of my travels over long distances be it to Bangalore with my grandpa or to Ludhiana on my way home in the vacations. Perhaps what incites me to writing this piece is the fact that I have traveled almost every possible way and can tell you how to make the seemingly disconsolate journeys a pleasurable experience no matter what the circumstances of the travel.
Here are some tips for undertaking journeys, which provide for such fantastic memories that you will carry them along for a long time to come. I hold the opinion that the journeys should be such that not only do you reach your destination but in the process enjoy yourself thoroughly and not miss a moment of your precious life sitting idly for such long periods. After all, when you reach your destination and are talking with your mates you don’t wanna have to be talking about your boring office and how nothing seems to be happening around you. After all, no one enjoys talking about boring politicos a million miles away, right? You should have had some experiences over a period of over 24 hours that you can rant about to your friends. So here goes-
· Make sure you travel by the good old Indian Railways. Trust me, they go through a lot of trouble to ensure your journey is as pleasurable and memorable as can be. After all, traveling with the world’s largest employer should definitely be an experience in itself every time you travel, right?
· Please save some money and try to travel in the second class if possible. I know it is difficult for some to adjust outside and air-conditioned atmosphere for such long periods but you can only hope to have conversations in the second-class compartments. I don’t understand why but for some reason, the same warm hearted people who would travel in the second class, turn into ice cold strangers in the AC (must be the chill in the air, I guess!) Traveling in the second class, you can meet some interesting individuals and make some really good friends. Besides, you can have a lot more fun catching all the vendors from your window and enjoy the strong breeze blowing through the windows at around 90 kph for a change!
· Make an effort to at least respond to the efforts of the other occupants of your compartments to strike up conversations. Even if you might not have ample time to make really good friends, you can be sure of getting some opinionated views about the widest array of subjects. Often, their views are really worth listening to simply because of the bias. I know it seems a waste of time to have to spend precious moments of your life listening to strangers rant but if you keep an open mind about it, sometimes you can detect flaws in your own reasoning and opinions.
· Try to drink a hot cuppa chai early in the morning when the train is still heading at full blast without burning your tongue or spilling a drop! It is impossible to do it, at least impossible for me!!!
· Eat a lot on the journey as against the notion of eating less! Spoil yourself with chocolates and wafers and chips and cold drinks and… if not now, when? Also, the one cuisine you definitely shouldn’t miss are the omlettes that are sold on the stations. Most of the time, they are divine. I am an eggatarian and if an omlette seems divine to me, oh god those people must be good. I still can’t explain how they manage to make such great omlettes but invariably, I have not been disappointed yet.
· The worst thing you can do while traveling in a train is read a book. You can miss out on some of the best activities by hiding your nose in a book. For example, in this vast expanse of the land of India, the landscape can change dramatically in a few minutes. If you don’t peek out the window, you fail to appreciate the beauty of my land and its people.
· Stand on the footboard and watch the landscape zoom past you as the wind rushes through your hair. There is hardly an experience like it.

Just in case you are wondering why I should stick my neck out for the Indian Railways, here goes. I used to be one of those snobbish kids back in the early days of college who despised traveling by train, especially in the second class. I used to be one of those people who would always be seen with a fat book in their hands especially on long journeys and reading with such intent that I never took notice of the landscape or the people as they passed me by. I despised this land and all the people who seemed to accept poverty as a way of life. I couldn’t wait for an opportunity to leave this land and move out to more civilized shores. All that changed when I was forced to travel to Ludhiana when my parents moved out. The very first time, I was forced to travel without a berth and without a book for over two and a half days! Although I had my friends for company for the first two thirds of the journey, I struck some really good conversations with the people in my compartment. I stood on the footboard for the first time enjoying the breeze run through my hair. I noticed how despite their own problems, people would often step up to help you with your problems. After that first time, I opened my eyes to the vast joys of traveling by train. I have often traveled without reservation without any troubles. On the contrary, my most pleasant experiences have all been related to those times. I was adventurous enough to travel in the general compartment on a couple of occasions and have been able to enjoy them too but would not recommend it to anyone else. To me, no matter what options are available, there is no travel like that in the second class of Indian Railways. I have discovered a land which is so vast and diverse that it ties me so strongly to my motherland that I refuse to venture out of the country with so much to discover even in my own backyard!Oh and as a footnote, the people who are seen most on a train, are senior citizens. I cant explain why but that is the case. Not that I am complaining though. They make the best conversationists and tell the most intriguing tales. And their sweet young granddaughters invariably accompany them on most occasions. All the more reason to undertake the journey, what say???

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Not People Like US

I had written this one for an essay writing competition but since i came out with my hands empty i thought i might as well put it up here for some others to express their views.

Rapid advancements in technology are doing much to bring people closer to each other and in the process making the world a smaller place to live in. Boundaries of nations are soon dissolving and in some instances are little more than lines on maps to enable governments take care of their administrative responsibilities. People come together across millions of miles to accomplish myriad tasks that may be deemed as anything from business to leisure. So be it the pursuit of education, a progression to a new job, search for a new market for products or simply for a vacation in a chunk of paradise, people seem to be finding reasons to travel to the other side of the globe. The world has been opened into a level playing field for all to explore a plethora of opportunity and find ones own pot of gold at the end of their rainbow of dreams. It is a world where there truly seems to be equal opportunity for all, irrespective of their caste or creed. So how different is this world than the world in which an average Indian lives out his life?
To live in a society that does not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed, sex or religion is but a dream. That dream is no closer to being realized than in my homeland. After hearing out all the debates and debacles against discrimination and recently and more popularly- reservation, my views are that we are possibly as close to social equality as might be humanly possible. I shall not incite the wrath of my detractors and would take a safer path by clarifying my views by narrating my own experiences.
I have been educated in a convent and for long had been holding my nose high above others I interacted with on grounds of being unbiased and advocating equality. I realized soon though that I was no different from the very people I spoke against for discrimination- because I too was differentiating against them. For a long time, I supposed them to be unreasonable people who seemed to lack the vision and respect for humanity as a whole. I deemed no difference between myself and another individual and believed that all should be viewed in the same light as me. I was following exactly what I had been taught by my teachers and what had been so extensively advocated for by the many great leaders and personalities we read about in our history books. So many have worked towards achieving equal rights and opportunity for women. Ironically, they had to establish institutes that catered exclusively to women. Yes, their efforts are to be applauded because they to a large extent, have liberated so many women and secured their basic rights but their work was flawed. How is a woman to feel like an equal if the very pedestal that is helping her towards the goal is to remind her that she is standing on it because she is a woman? How am I as a male to view her in the same light if I have been educated in a boy’s school? Yes, my teachers tell me that girls and boys are equal but I see no girls in my school. How am I to believe them?
As we try to secure admission into college, we find ourselves being discriminated against on the grounds of caste. Why should I be denied a position, which I thoroughly deserve on the basis of merit just because I do not belong to a caste considered backward in the eyes of the government? Why are we discriminated against on the grounds of some ancient method that divided society? Would it not be better to identify those people who are in financial despair and hence in need of encouragement as opposed to those who though are well off financially continue to get incentive only because they belong to a certain caste. Why am I paying a price for something in which I did not have a say?
When you step into the realms of college, you suddenly step into a world where the rules are slightly relaxed. The first things you notice is that the individuals you have spent the better part of your formative years with are much different than you. Their clothes are quite unlike yours and so are the financial capabilities. After all the lectures on the essentials of living in a healthy community which treats students as equals irrespective of their economic stature, I find myself incapable of dining a cuisine that the both of us may be able to afford. How then should I spend time with these friends of mine without discrimination? Soon enough, we seem to part our ways driven by the need to mingle with people who can share our lifestyle and hence whom we can relate to.
That brings another crossroad where we befriend members of the opposite sex. Invariably, some discover strong attraction and when such news reaches their peers, the reactions are varied form staunch opposition to those of support. As young guns who strongly oppose any discrimination, such opposition is viewed as a threat and to have it come from your peers seems even more disappointing. They could not be right, could they? A mature analysis soon reveals the truth. The union of two individuals in the institution of marriage does not involve a mere union of individuals but that of two families. It is essential that the families be compatible hence also the cultures. Soon enough these individuals receive a culture shock and are brought back to reality. The cultures may not necessarily be similar but it is essential that the outlook of the two is. Successful relationships are based not on finding similarities but on identifying the differences and respecting them, it does not matter then whether these relationships are between two individuals or several groups.
Is the society we live in backward based on my arguments above? The answer is a definitive no. On the contrary, it is everything but backward. A mature insight into the matters under discussion throws light onto the complexity of the structure of society which though seems to be on crutches at first sight, is actually firmly rooted on strong foundations. The argument that boys and girls are educated in separate institutions only serves as a barrier ensuring interaction between the sexes when both are mature enough to understand each other. It also imparts growing individuals a critical outlook capable of assimilating the importance of such a division and not only reminding them of the prevalent bias but also of the need to do away with it.
Reservations too serve a purpose of bridging the gap between rural and urban India. Although the seemingly dated classifications of caste seem a waste on the urban culture, the same is unfortunately prevalent in the rural culture. Yes, the system is due an overhaul but it has worked wonders in the first fifty years of independence and its contribution towards developing a modern and forward India cannot be ignored. The financial disparity that is evident to the youth as we grow up, only serves a reminder to both the sections encouraging them to consistently work harder and drive one group towards achieving success and the other towards maintaining it.
The culture shock is perhaps the most significant factor in the diversity of a vast nation. It is both religion and locality, which contribute towards the differences in culture. It is here that the wisdom of arranged marriages come to the fore, where not only are the individuals checked for compatibility but also the families. This method ensures that the individuals stepping into the institution of marriage belong to the same school of thought and hence to a large extent, share their interests.
These unique characteristics of our culture hold us in good stead and see us advance in this century as one of the fastest developing countries. As we move beyond the yonder in search of newer avenues, we carry with us knowledge of a diverse culture that has taught us to adjust to differences. A culture that has taught us that to be Indian is to treat our neighbors with love and respect reserved for our kith and kin understanding well, that they are not people like us.

Monday, October 02, 2006


After a long duration, I took the opportunity of a long weekend to get away from the hustle and bustle of Pune (although how that affects me is debatable) and spend a weekend with some very close friends in the serenity of Matheran. The visit proved to be soothing and gave my sagging spirits a much-needed uplift but the return journey left me pondering about more issues than one. A chance conversation left me enlightened but in spite of the fact that I know the path to be tread to effectively tackle a difficulty that threatens the very soul of my nation, I shall continue with my life as usual just like you. The reason would make an interesting topic for another blog but for the moment let us get back to this tale.
The journey back from Matheran required us to travel from Neral to Karjat to catch a train to Pune. Although we managed that part of the journey with relative ease, traveling from Karjat to Pune proved to be tricky. As is my nature, I have to manage to complete things at the very last possible moment and catching a train proved to be another chapter in the story. We reached Karjat just in time to catch the last possible train to Pune in the evening. We bought the tickets to the third class but did not have time enough to board the third class compartments. So, we boarded the nearest bogie which happened to be a reserved compartment. People who are familiar with train travel will know that a fine needs to be paid along with certain charges for an upgradation of class. The fine happened to mount to Rs. 150 in our case.
Trust me to find a loophole in the system. To avoid paying the charges, I suggested we move to the pantry car where we could sit without any concerns of being found out and in the process, enjoy a good meal while at it! Smart aren’t I? So it was that we moved to the pantry and made friends with some of the vendors on the car (who of course were happy to have us on board) who talked to us for a bit, (sold their wares goes without saying) and then dashed off to cater to the rest of the train. Some were from Bihar, some U.P. and one from M.P.
They were mostly children of landless farmers who wished to get away from the poverty that their families lived in and working on the trains ensured a good step towards a better life. In the course of the conversation I managed to get a deeper insight into the way some of them approached life and the changing course of Indian culture. Yesterdays conversation was an eye-opener for me and I hope this article would be for you.
They believed in the customs of child marriage where some of them had married their sisters to men 10-15 years older than they and were completely against educating the girls in their families. Think they are being unreasonable? Read on. They seemed to justify this because it was what their parents had done and if they had done it, it definitely would be right, would it not?
The death of reason, what say?
They narrated an incident that had occurred on their way to Mumbai from Bhubhaneshwar (those are the two cities it connects) a while back when they had just started working (a week ago I learned later.) A group of students on their way back from one of the colleges in Bhubhaneshwar (needless to say there were women in the group) behaved in a manner most inappropriate for Indians. (At this point, I was thinking along the lines of couples getting mushy or something but…) I asked what exactly were they doing that they seemed to deem it so unfit to warrant such disgust. They told me that the group was the loudest on the whole train, singing and laughing as their chatter rolled along the journey. I was perplexed as to what they found so inappropriate about such behaviour and was told that it was not very lady-like for Indian girls to be laughing and joining in the banter with boys especially since they were unmarried. They did not deem it fit for women to express their emotions publicly. They concluded that such behaviour was an outcome of the education they had received and that this was being carried out away from the eyes of their parents. When the group boarded off the train, these ‘good Samaritans’ took it upon themselves to inform their parents about the behaviour of their children and suggested to the parents of the girls that they marry them off soon. What mortified them though, was the reaction of the parents who told them to mind their own business and that such behaviour was perfectly normal. The kind praises they had for the parents would be best left unsaid in the course this passage. They believed that India was going to the dogs because of such irresponsible behaviour on the part of the parents.
I felt the need to lecture them right there and then on the need for them to reason their beliefs, to understand the need to educate their daughters and to realize that women were as capable as men and needed to be treated like human beings, as equals. On the need for reasoning each of their beliefs and not accepting anything as the correct course of action just because someone told them so or because it had always been so. I would need more than fifteen minutes to change the way they have been taught to think their whole life. I chose not to say anything though.
What was most disturbing was the fact that they despised the people living in the cities for destroying the Indian culture. Indian culture is undergoing a sea of change in this new millennium, adopting new ways and awakening to the process of thought. Some of the old ways will be destroyed and new ones adopted instead. It is a constant process of change which has continued over thousands of years and will continue as long as we exist. No one system can be perfect. Flaws can only be detected and ironed out of the system over a period of time. There will always be some who oppose the process- ones that I classify as those afraid to think and reason for themselves.