I submit my application to the college office. I say to the clerk, “This is MY application.” Lest he think I was submitting the application of my child.
The answer. “Hmmm. We get many seniors who are looking for a second career.”
Umm…that’s a relief.
A week passes. A nurse working in my operation theatre, whose daughter has also applied, alerts me to the fact that the first list is put up on the notice board. With some trepidation, I go to the college. Peering at the notice board, I scan the list two times before realising that I have applied in my maiden name, all the certificates being in that name.
I read it all over again. Nah…..My name is not there. Utterly dejected, I turn away, my foray into renewed academia over before it started.
Then I read the heading. The list is that of Commerce graduates and I am a Science graduate.
So, with renewed hope, I scoot over to the other list.
Ahhhh. Third time lucky…Yup, my name is there. It has been a long time since I experienced this relief!!!!
Two days later, I am back in the queue outside the college office, with a bunch of forms clutched tightly.
But, I have to be back at work in two hours and am already clock watching.
The sight of the queue that I see puts paid to any notion of a quick exit.
There are twenty persons ahead of me. I realise that each person is taking an average of seven to ten minutes. So, doing a quick math this could take over two hours.
Alarmingly, the kid in front of me has a form that I have apparently not filled. Panicky now, I do this thing that is done when you are ducking out of a queue for a short while. I look the person in front of me in the eye and tell him that I am in the place after his and will be back shortly, thereby ‘reserving’ my place. He nods.
I return to the queue and am absorbed in its snailish pace.
Queues bring out the best …and the worst out of perfectly normal people. You may pour out your life-story to the stranger next to you or make a mortal enemy here. You might meet the love of your life or have a person with the most ghastly body odor pressed against you.
As I said, interesting. No Indian queue is truly complete without an altercation. Sometimes I think it is the Bharatiya way of alleviating boredom. But mostly, its root is in the survival-of-the-fittest conditioning that is an integral part of our genome. Long waits at ration shops, train-ticket queues, movie- ticket windows, government offices, etc., is usually followed by disappointment. We are also used to being overlooked for someone-with-connections who walks right in, past our patiently-waiting-achy-knees-self. This has made us deeply insecure. Years and years of this inequality has made us suspicious of everyone. Thus, flexing vocal muscles in queues at mostly real ( sometimes imagined) injustice is second nature to us.
So, here it was…The person behind me and the one behind her has also left the queue for a short while, telling me that she will be back.
Okay, now a fresh person has come behind me. She is peeved, when the original duo return to what is their ‘rightful’ place in a now a decidedly higgledy-piggledy line. A sharp exchange of words follows. The decibel levels are rising…everyone is looking at the three of them, secretly relieved to be entertained amidst the boredom.
As the last person in the queue, I intervene. Yours truly the referee. Unusual position for me…I am usually in the fray!!!!
Sixty seconds later, peace has been restored. Everyone is back to their positions in the queue. Like a bottle of fizzy drink opened to let the bubbles out! The erstwhile opponents are tentatively smiling at each other. The pentup boredom has been relieved, both spectators and participants entertained and we are back to chewing the cud.
My turn comes. Hallejulah!!
I walk in. Five minutes later….I walk out.
As I exit the building, a bonafide student all over again, a light rain is falling.I picture myself on the green grass of the lawn, lying there with a book in my hand.
I raise my face to the sky, happy as a clam.
It is time to begin a new chapter of my life. Daughter, student, wife, mother, student again.
Who knows what other role life will hand out for me.
Last weekend, I had the time and opportunity to watch two films in two days. Both are based on true life stories, and also based in large part on the personal accounts of the protagonists. Both have been hailed as wonderful films with performances which are Oscar worthy.
On the face of it, they did not have anything in common.
The first was “Twelve years A Slave”, the heart-rending story of free African American man from New York, Solomon Northrup, kidnapped and sold into slavery into the Southern State of Lousiana. The second was “The Wolf Of Wall Street”, set in the 1980s and 1990s, a recounting of events that led to the duping of thousands of American small investors by a glib talking con-man named Jordan Belfort.
I should have realised that more than time and opportunity, what I needed was the stomach to sit through these films.
Anyone who has read “Roots” by Alex Haley (or similar such books) in college or seen “Django Unchained”( another Oscar nominated film of last year), is familiar with the denigration of humanity in colonial America. But this film cuts to the bone literally and metaphorically. The disregard for the rights of another human, and cruel behaviour bordering on insanity made for a gut-wrenching watch.
While the first movie almost revels in its slow pace and the drawn-out scenes of torture of the slaves, the second film, “The Wolf Of Wall Street” has an insane pace. Belfort makes money and spends it with scant regard for the law or the people that he is duping. The explicit sexual dialogues and actions are designed to shock and do. As do the excesses with drink and drugs.
I came away with a slight sickening feeling a second time in two days.
On reflection, beyond the obvious difference of time period, characters, storyline and geographical setting, these two stories are, surprisingly, rather similar.
Both reflect the exploitation of humans, physical, emotional and mental.
The need to prosper from the labour of others with little care or regard for the persons that they are using was shown in both, albeit subtly in the latter. The emotional and physical torture of the slaves was portrayed in a raw manner in the former. But the devastation wrought by Belfort’s manipulations must have been no less devastating to the Americans, whose pension fund, savings and college funds were eroded by the con. His treatment of his family, some of his employees and friends, the women that he uses for his pleasure, bears the same stamp of condescension as the slave-owners in the first film.
What came through is the need of some (or is it all?) humans to dominate others, by fair means or foul. Given a chance, if there is no fear of consequences or repercussions, most of us will not hesitate to exploit another and use him/her with no qualms to our conscience. Most alarming of all, there seemed to be an undercurrent of admiration for Belfort, the man who lived a disgustingly decadent and hedonistic life with the money he had fraudulently obtained. Is this what the world we inhabit, come to? Commit a crime, but do not get caught?
“Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.”
said Mark Twain,
There will always be many in the general populace, who will, given a chance, cast off their veneer of civilization to become cruel, exploitative or manipulative, seems to be the lesson.
Any citizen of Indian descent who has had the misfortune of needing a passport made anew, renewed or replaced due to damage has to run the gauntlet of our Regional Passport 0ffice- quaintly named the Passport “Seva” Kendra. Gone are the days when an agent would be a palmed a few hundred rupees, followed by showing up at the Passport office….er..Seva Kendra and waiting in the queue from the crack of dawn. And then watching helplessly as high-fliers with some kind of insider acquaintance or adequate palm-greasing capacity, coolly glided past you to the head of the queue.
Now, it is different, I was told. The entire process is online, transparent
with no possibility of any hanky-panky. “Oh! How wonderful!” I thought proudly, “India is finally making progress. We have an impartial system in place in the hallowed sanctum of Indian citizenship”.
How naïve I was, in my surmise of our feudal system and its stranglehold on our people.
After one fills an online form, the process of getting an appointment begins. For some strange reason, this happens at the ungodly hour of three in the afternoon. An hour, when, I trust most hard-working people are slaving away at their respective jobs. The portal opens at the exactly three P.M. and dispenses with appointments for the next two days within two minutes. Alas! There are literally thousands of people (and agents) lying in wait with their computers logged on and the appointments disappear like a puff of smoke if your finger is delayed from clicking even by a nanosecond. So, what this means for a normal person is that fifteen to thirty minutes prior to the said time, one logs on at the site, switches off one’s phone, does not take toilet breaks. Some recite Hanuman Chalisa or its equivalent as the clock crawls closer to the witching hour of three.
So rare is success in holiday season, that celebratory parties must be given by lucky winners of the coveted appointment.
After trying for nearly a week, a process guaranteed to give one an ulcer, if not fired from the job (for unblinking computer-gazing for days on end at the three P.M. muhurat), we called up an alleged agent, who promptly gave us short shrift. He had others who had been waiting months, he said….his voice trailing away sounding distinctly melancholy, depressed perhaps by repeated ‘three P.M.failures’
The 24-hour help line directed us to the Regional Passport Office, ‘between 10 and 12.30A.M.on working days’ for appointments. Little did we know that we were now wedged in the jaws of the monster of bureaucracy. We did reach fifteen minutes before the hour, but a serpentine queue had already curled up outside the gate and was flicking its patient tail. Like a good middle-class persons who are against the practice of queue-jumping, we walked to the end of the queue. Some well-dressed persons did slink in, as if their designer duds and fancy car made them blind to the Patiently Waiting Great Unwashed at the periphery of their vision.
THE UPSTAIRS SAHIB
At 10.A.M., we were allowed upstairs and separated into different queues. The more seasoned among the applicants were already ensconced in front of the correct offices with the attitude of those digging in for a long wait. I was the fifth in my queue, but the person that I had to meet was a no-show for the next forty minutes. In a bizarre manner, which only happens in India, people were chatting with each other in a we-are-in the-same-boat kind of way. They shared stories of how an entire family had their passports issued, save a little girl of nine. As all eyes swung towards her, the girl in question looked sufficiently shame-faced as if she was guilty of something criminal. Some one spoke of being away during the postal arrival of the passport, which then disappeared into the dusty confines of bureaucratic indolence..
At eleven-fifteen, we were loudly informed that the person we wanted to meet would not be coming and asked to join a longer queue on the other side, thereby pushing me to fifteenth place. At this position, we would be exceeding the closing time of 12.30., so we decided to cut our losses and gave up. Returning a couple of days later, an early arrival ensured us an enviable fourth place in the upstairs queue. We had a ring-side view of the Indian art of queue -jumping.
The sneaking person and the security employee of the passport office make eye-contact and a silent mysterious message (of reward offered or already given?) is exchanged ending with the applicant’s visiting card taken and given to the officer. The next person to be called was usually the card-giver making a mockery of the patiently waiting members of the queue.
All this while, various clerks are zipping In and out with mysterious forms ‘to-be urgently-signed’ by the sahib, thereby cutting into the time assigned to the waiting people. The scion of an industrial house stood in the queue with us, but a dress-designer thought she could skip ahead giving me interesting insight into their respective psychology. After watching this desi pantomime for a few minutes, I raised a vociferous objection, hoping to shame the performers involved.
What was most surprising was that I was the lone voice speaking out, the others merely contributing murmurs. I wonder if as a race we invite subjugation or are conditioned to meekly accept whatever is meted out. Where I expected to see disgust and anger from my fellow-sufferers, I only saw envy, resigned acceptance and at times fear of being targeted by the sahib/staff thereby botching any frail, fragile hope of getting their passport done in time.
The queue did not move faster, but I was spared the indignation of being superseded. By the time my turn came, I had a splitting headache and my companion was irate. In the tones of one conferring a great favor upon us, we were given our appointment.
As for what happens during the actual application, watch this space for updates.
“Did you know that the child has a working mother? This is what you get when your children are raised by maid-servants. They are grossly neglected.” How many times has a working mom heard this statement and felt its sting?
The prejudicial assumption made by a parent about the upbringing of another’s child only proves that ill-informed people not only judge a book by the cover, but they also comment on its contents by looking at the section it is filed in.
BAD MOM OR GOOD ?
Mothers are blessed with protective instincts that kick in as soon they feel the baby move in the womb. While some mothers may want to be home with their child 24/7, others may balance work/ career with motherhood. In certain societies, the working mother is unfairly perceived as neglectful and the blame for any real or imagined problems is laid at her door.
“Oh! His project looks like it was hastily put together! Did you not find the time to “guide” him?” was another.
Or “Doesn’t your child watch a lot of television or surf the net?”
You get the drift!!! Comments in a similar vein; some helpful, some critical.
My son is nearly twenty years old now and looking back, I wonder what the fuss was all about, but when in the thick of things, I had bouts of guilt after hearing such comments.
THE WORKING MOM’S CONUNDRUM
You have chosen to work after motherhood, and although your reasons are sound, the decision was not an easy one. Every mother makes sure that her kid is in good hands, is well-fed, felt safe and that she is just a phone-call away. Continue reading
Auroville is township in South India, dedicated to spiritual communal living. This is a narrative of a day that we spent there and some questions that we had. Humankind has along way to go, as far the sharing of material things are concerned…..but perhaps this is the beginning.
‘The boy stood on the burning deck, whence all but him had fled’ my inner child was chanting lines from Casabianca, under her breath.
Standing on the top of a huge shipping container, heated by the blazing noon sun, in the middle of a barren field, the only movement that I could discern were the tall trees near the horizon. For a moment, I felt like the boy in the poem. I was on the outskirts of Auroville, a small township near Puducherry in Southern India, trying to imagine what our host, Sumeet, would see every morning from the roof of his new home.
We constantly hear men say, “oh, she is a female. What does she know about driving/parking/reversing the car?
In male-dominated societies, the comments come thick and fast…
So I decided to look at the facts. Here’s what I found-
On my way to work by cab one day, I had the misfortune of being driven by a garrulous Mumbai cabbie. Swerving and speeding like he was on a Formula One track and not a pot-holed Mumbai road, he kept up a constant banter (sometimes glancing back to make his point), making me wonder if I would make it to my Hospital as a doctor or patient that day. Continue reading