Sunday, July 25, 2010

The city of hills and the sea – I


It was raining heavily and to board an overcrowded bus on Andheri-Asalpha-Ghatkopar route was a task in itself. But somehow I could get into and secure a place to stand in the corner, not very comfortably though. I plugged my earphones in and played “Mora Piya mose bolat nahi” in my cell phone. In few seconds I forgot that there were people overhauling at me, that there was bad odor all around, that I was half-rain-soaked, and that I had to buy a ticket for myself. I guess that’s how we adapt to in Mumbai; we stop caring about these small, small things in life in an attempt to identify the big picture. But many a times we end up living a life whose meaning either we don’t understand or we shrug off the desire to understand. Am not sure, which of these applies to me or whether it does apply at all but at an hour like that, I didn’t care to think about any such matter. So I started humming the song and turned my head from left to right, looking at people around me (I love watching people, their expressions – and expressionlessness and their behavior). In the midst of many faces, what I saw was a “situation”. There was this big man holding a boy, sitting at the window seat, by his collar and was shaking him left, right and center. I tried to make sense out of it, but it was a foolish attempt; one can’t make sense out of such situations.

I looked around. There were some people who were standing to observe the situation, and JUST observe! And still there were some, who didn’t care to observe and were involved in their routine of the bus travel, including the conductor, who was ignorantly issuing tickets to other passengers. Guess we all live by this thing called Routine. At times I wonder whether it was the “spirit of Mumbai” that encourages people to resume their routine even just an hour after a bomb is blasted or this compulsive addiction to their routines!

“What to do? What to do? What to do?” my mind raced, “Why everyone is so indifferent to this? Is not-to-react the most right way to react? Why no one is asking ‘what has happened’?” There were so many ‘What’s and ‘Why’s but no answers seen. And then I realized, “why am I expecting from others? What am I doing to this?” Almost fifteen minutes had passed since I had seen this situation out there and I was still standing at my secured position.

“Why? Isn’t it the most practical thing to do? After all that’s not my problem so why the hell should I get into it? He is a big guy. What if he bashes me too? That may intensify the situation, so why not chuck it? And the boy being beaten up should be courageous enough to stand up and bash back this hooligan. He should stand up for himself. That’s what this city is all about right, to stand for your own cause? I don’t know what this city is all about. All I know is that I don’t want to get into it. My bus stop will arrive in sometime and I will go home and sleep. I am already tired of the day’s work and don’t wish to take anything more,” with this I lowered myself to look out of the window and told myself, “Another ten minutes and my stop will arrive. I better move towards the exit.” On the way to the front exit, something stuck within me. I just stopped at the site of this situation, as if my standing there alone will stop that bastard from bullying the boy. But I couldn’t stand there for long because it had no effect on him and I couldn’t take my own cowardice to speak up against something I truly believed was wrong. I moved two steps further, then thought, “if not now, then when? If not you, then who?” The faces of children, with whom I interact during my volunteering classes and deliver sessions of truth, bravery and life appeared in my mind. It all appeared hollow in that moment.

I stopped and turned to the guy who was sitting in front of that boy. “What has happened?” I was loud enough to ensure that the buffoon hears me out. Before that man could speak out, he shouted something in Marathi which I didn’t understand. I asked that fellow again. He said, “It seems this kid said something to him... some abuse while boarding the bus and this fellow is beating him since then.”

When I asked that boy to say sorry and end this whole issue, everyone around informed me that he already had. I asked that buffoon, what his problem was then. He said, “A sorry doesn’t work here. And then again started shouting in Marathi.” By that time, people started scolding him.

“Then what matters to you?”

“How much more you gonna beat that kid for whatever he said?”

“Have you not done enough already?”

Meanwhile, my stop had arrived. The bus stopped but I wasn’t sure if I should get down. I wanted this to end before I leave. But then decided against it and almost ran to the door and jumped out of the bus since it had started already.

When the bus passed by me, I didn’t look inside. I wanted to believe that the issue was resolved, that the man must have stopped beating that boy and that if it happened so, I had a role to play. But deep inside my heart, I knew I could have done better, much earlier and more significant. Who is to blame; the practical Mumbaikar (well that’s another debate whether I can call myself a Mumbaikar since neither I nor my parents) inside me or the weakling who dared not to stand for what he believed in, at the right time?

P.S.: To read more on Mumbai, you may please read a series, called encounters with maximum city by Nilay.

To read other posts from The City of Hills and the Sea, click below:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A city of hills and the sea

It has been six years since I arrived in this city. And in all these years my love with city has blossomed exponentially. It’s like the love in a family – that despite knowing the badness of a member, we do not stop loving him or her. Same goes for this city. I talk about the bad roads, the bomb blasts, the political nuisance, the pollution, the population and the chaos but at the end of it all I don’t forget to mention – But this is my sweetheart city.

I am not very sure what is it that I can account my love for; but the extremity with which this city survives is amazing. Be it the slums contrasted to the 5-star hotels or the rich, tall buildings standing next to a series of chawls. Be it the underworld, the political goons and corrupt officials on one side and honest, aware and law abiding citizens on the other. Be it the potholed roads (and even the so called highways) or some nice, memory-stricken lanes in south Mumbai. And of course, a series of hills (which are either being cut down monstrously or being converted into hill towns) and a deep sea that surrounds it from almost three sides!!! Extreme contrasts, that’s what this city is made up of and its rules of survival remain enigmatic for this reason.

To explore my mesmerized self, I plan to write a series of stories. Please note, I don’t say ‘articles’ as I am a compulsive fictionist. However, I will try my best to retain the originality and the essence of situations and the characters. Since this would be compilation of experiences and not incidences, I would prefer to write in first person. And yes, I don’t intend to plan this series. It may come every day, and at times it may not come even for months. Coz, that’s the way I write. And neither will it have fixed number of episodes. It can’t, as my affair with the city is everlasting.

To make this series more comprehensive, I invite you all to share YOUR experiences, the love-hate stories, with this city. Let’s participate for this city of hills and the sea; the city, you and I love!

So here comes the first story of this series, titled as “Weaklings?” Read out and let me know your views. [Will post tomorrow, going for a movie now :)]

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Judgment

11:46 PM, 12th Feb, 2007

Lt Col. R. K. Rathore, the judge for the case of Captain Vijayendra Singh, was in a serious dilemma. He had handled many cases in his career with severe complexities. But this one was different. Not complex, but just different.

How does one court marshal a soldier who deserves a Vir Charka? What if I make a wrong decision? It has the power to kill the faith this soldier would have in judicial system if he is ‘not guilty but punished’ or spoil the culture of military if he is ‘guilty but not punished’. And moreover it is not the case of right versus wrong; but right against more right. In such case, how does one evaluates and decrees the right degree of punishment?

01:14 AM, 21st Aug, 2006

It was raining heavily in the upper range of Himalayas in Arunanchal Pradesh, near the China (Tibet)-India border. In such opaque rains, it is not expected from both parties to infiltrate, but the greed of power is such that it breaches any such expectations.

Captain Vijayendra Singh was walking in the dense, dark and damp forest with his troupe of three soldiers; all drenched in the rains. After a few rounds of patrolling, they mutually decided that all was pretty okay and they could rest for a while. They sat down, opened the beer bottles and took a sip each. The weather was frigid and the rains had made it worse. They all sensed hunger, almost at the same time. None was carrying anything to eat, except Vijayendra. He smiled and pulled a small packet out. Everyone looked at everyone else, though no one could actually see anyone. The packet contained Cocaine; raw and real. He placed the powder in everyone’s hand and asked them to take a piece of paper, roll it and suck it in. “It will help you beat your appetite and keep you awake,” he said. The troupe followed its captain directive and closed their eyes after the processing was over. They didn’t realize whether it was just a moment or a lifetime that had passed before they opened their eyes after hearing the sound of bullet. They immediately ran to hide behind a safe place and once settled, indentified the direction of the fire. It was north. And it appeared that the enemy was approaching nearer. The troupe looked at Vijayendra, who was trying to connect to the base through wireless, for command. No connection. He looked at his team with a straight face. “Do or die! Farewell, soldiers,” he told them and then directed all in different directions, taking the front position himself. It appeared there were more than fifteen from the enemy troupe. He told himself, “Wo pandrah, hum char? Bahut naainsaafi hai!! (They fifteen, we only four? Not fair!)” and smiled to his untimely and poor sense of humor. After that what followed was firing, and more firing; deaths, and more deaths.

It was the time of dawn in the land of dawn-lit mountains (that is the meaning of ‘Arunachal Pradesh’ in Sanskrit) that Vijayendra realized the firing had stopped. He tried his wireless again and was successful in being connected this time. He briefed his base team about the happenings of the last night, put the wireless off and closed his eyes. He could feel nine bullets in different parts of his body. Suddenly the absence of his troupe struck him. No one was seen around. He tried getting up, but couldn’t. In around two hour’s time, the base team arrived and captured the area. He was taken to army hospital where he was told that his entire troupe, except him, was martyred on the battlefield, killing a total of 23 soldiers and 3 half dead. A proud smiled appeared on his half-woken face.

The next day, newspapers had carried the story of Indian soldiers’ gallantry and had informed that Captain Vijayendra Singh may be honored with Vir Chakra.

03:35 PM, 25th Oct, 2006

The doctor entered in Captain Vijayendra Singh’s room, closed the door behind, and asked him to sign on a few discharge formalities. While Vijayendra was signing the papers, doctor asked, “Did you intake any drug that night?”

Vijayendra looked up and stared at the doctor’s face for a minute, without any response and without any remorse. Sometimes to lie or not to lie becomes a huge decision in itself. But he took his decision and nodded in a “yes”.

“Your reports show that. And so does the postmortem for the other three,” informed the doc.

10:00 AM, 4th Dec, 2006

While the nomination of Captain Singh was in consideration, one of the regiments filed a case of his “drug abuse on duty” in the court marshal. Since then Vijayendra was made inaccessible to public and media, who were informed that the captain had to be admitted again and yet unrecovered.

01:00 AM, 13th Feb, 2007

What is more right? To save one’s country or to not use (or abuse) any drug on duty? The court can offer only legal judgment, but who can deliver a moral judgment on this? In courts, we deal with events and their evidences. They are the only logical blocks to reach a conclusion. How often we consider a ‘circumstance’? He took Cocaine on duty; that’s, for sure, is a crime. But was he not forced into it by the circumstance he was sent into, by the same entity, called duty? Did he do it for the pleasure this drug offered or in response to the immediacy that circumstances created? Who knows? And by the logic of law, possessing the drug by itself is a crime and the person who does, becomes an integral part of illegal drug trafficking. Charges are many, arguments are many and so are counter arguments. The question remains is, whether he was eligible for Vir Charka as he and his troupe of three had killed, with élan, twenty three enemies and got arrested three. The argument is whether he was the veer (brave) who killed the enemies or it was his inflated sense which was stimulated by the drug usage? In a film, for a drunken scene, if an actor takes in a peg and acts, who would know the beauty of the scene is by the efforts of the actor or the drink?

Lt Col. Rathore thought of the last time Vijayendra had looked at him in the courtroom. It was the look which said, “I wish to live a life or die a death; but not to live a death, please!” He knew exactly what a court marshal meant.

On his bed, Lt Col Rathore closed his eyes and pulled the sheet up over his face and told himself, “Tomorrow… I need to take a decision. I don’t know what it would be, but God… please help me to take the most right one.”

10:00 AM 14th Feb, 2007

Lt Col. R. K. Rathore walked into a packed courtroom. While the media outside still awaited the announcement of Vir Chakra to Captain Vijayendra Singh, from the whispers around and previous discussions with his counterparts, Lt Col. Rathore knew that the armed forces had already declared Vijayendra guilty. “Which stream of thoughts am I going to flow with today?” He wouldn’t know.

Sitting in the judge’s chair, he listened to last few arguments for and against the case with a stone face for approximately forty five minutes. Then there was a silence for a minute and few minutes of whispers before he announced, “GUILTY!

“Captain Vijayendra Singh has breached all codes of conduct for Indian Army and has set a horrendous example to our fellow soldiers by abusing drugs on duty. Not only that, he has been found forcing it to his troupe and misusing the power of his captainship. This has brought utter shame to all of us. Not only that, he has, in fact, brutally murdered the dignity that armed forces withhold in the public eye. And for this extreme crime, he is to be hanged, till death.”

There was an air of shock in that room. Everyone knew, and wished, Vijayendra to be pronounced as guilty. But a death sentence? That did not figure in wildest of anyone’s dreams.
“Captain Singh, do you have to say anything?” asked the judge.

“No, sir,” said Vijayendra and tried his best to smile. This was the first time that he had uttered something during the entire trial. Only two people in the courtroom knew this was the best possible judgment; to die a death.

08:00 AM 15th Feb, 2007

The morning newspapers read, “Captain Vijayendra Singh, who had fought bravely on field was declared a martyr after he could not recover from his ruptured body, yesterday. Captain Singh and his troupe of three soldiers had killed 23 enemy soldiers in a battle on 21st Aug, 2006 and had got arrested 3 of them. The Armed forces has declared to honor his gallantry with Param Vir Chakra, the highest military decoration awarded for the highest degree of valour or self-sacrifice in the presence of the enemy.”