Sunday, September 7, 2014

In pursuit of dreams

Migrants at Lucknow station queue up to board the unreserved coaches on the Pushpak express to Bombay.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sati ki chori

A child in Sati ki chori village, Udaipur district, Rajasthan.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jambuda, Rajasthan

from my notes yesterday:

sitting in a village shop in Jambuda village, where an antenatal clinic is in progress. the shopowner lets his shop for half a day each month for the clinic, with his wife standing there keeping guard on the provisions. i am pouring sweat in the heat and humidity, and the flies swarm all over me, driving me to distraction.
The shopowner's wife keeps guard

i am here to train the nurses on how to examine pregnant women, and what questions to ask - a large number of gaps in their knowledge and practice, and i need to be patient while they learn. outside the under-3 children cry as they are weighed....
The omnipresent and irritating flies
the son of the shopowner lies the entire time on a dirty mattress and when i asked the mother she told me he had a cut on his left knee six days ago and now cannot walk. a closer examination reveals a sick and toxic child, his left knee swollen, and i worry that he may have septic arthritis. we take him back in the jeep to the clinic, clean the wound, pump in strong antibiotics, that he will  need to continue for three weeks. at 8 years of age, he weighs 15 kgs (33 lbs).
this is rural rajasthan, udaipur district, and a community of meena tribals. the men are all labourers in ahmedabad.
Mawa, the malnourished son of the shopkeeper, with ?septic knee joint.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Horseshoe Falls, Niagara

Looking down from Terrapin point on the American side towards the base of the Horseshoe falls on the left. The tourist boat, called the Maid of the Mist, takes thousands of tourists daily to close to the base, where everyone is sprayed with a shower of water. A cape is given as a souvenir, but you get soaked anyway. It is an exhilarating feeling.

The Horseshoe Falls belong to Canada, and about 90% of the water in the Niagara goes over this. The American falls are less specatacular.

The Maid of the Mist going towards the base of the Horseshoe Falls, Niagara. Seen from the Amercian side.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Road to Barkakana, Jharkhand

7 pm, 31.3. 14
Barkakana Junction. The road from Ramgarh to Barkakana is a veritable nightmare. Potholed, with no tarmac to speak of, damaged by years of overloaded trucks coming from what the taxi driver told us were “Colveries” up ahead. I have a choice of keeping the windows up and slowly suffocating inside, or rolling them down and choking on the thick clouds of dust that swirl all around you inside the car, and in your nose, mouth, hair, eyes, nose and ears. My eyes water, I sneeze and cough, and wonder how daily commuters put up with this. The last three km from Ramgarh to Barkakhana takes us 20 minutes to cover with luck favouring us all the way – the level crossing is open, and there is no truck or jeep overturned or with a punctured tyre blocking this track. I wonder how the driver can see where he is driving or where the edge of the road is.

We finally decide that suffocation is preferable to death by dust, put up all the windows, and drive on; the driver perspiring with the effort to keep the car on the so-called road.

The road to dusty death - Ramgarh to Barkakana
The railway station at Barkakana is a small affair – you climb a flight of stairs (like an overbridge), walk 50 feet over railway tracks below, and descend to a courtyard which you cross to enter the main platform. This is brightly lit, the announcement board for the trains dark and the display switched off; the enquiry counter has its shutter firmly down.
Barkakana railway junction. The entrance to the main platform is beyond this overbridge

Looking down from the overbridge. The main platform of Barkakana is across the courtyard to the left of this photograph.
The 2nd class waiting hall where I sit is done up in pink – pink tiles line the walls chest high and also the slabs for people to sit on. A lone man wrapped in rags sleeps on the slab at one corner, oblivious to the mosquitoes buzzing around, and the noisy announcements.

The ladies and gents’ toilets are, mercifully, not smelling. Perhaps no one uses them, since there is no water in the basin at least.

The Upper Class waiting room, strangely, is not unisex, like the 2nd class one is. The ladies’ room is locked from within, while the gents’ room shows moulded metal chairs instead of a tiled slab to sit on.

I wander up and down platform 1, in search of a drinking water tap and fail to find any. At one end I spot two enterprising youth unhooking the large pipe (that is used to fill the railway coaches), opening the valve and having a drink in the gush of water.. I don’t fancy doing that, and walk back to the stationmaster’s room to enquire. He informs me that it is on platform 2 – I have to cross the tracks or go on the overbridge if I need a drink of water. Otherwise, he adds helpfully, just go to the railway canteen at the end of this platform and there is water there in the basin.

That is precisely what I do, though getting inside requires skill and maneuvering between the cartons of mineral water bottles that have been stacked like sandbags in front of a VIP residence. I edge in sideways to find a spotlessly clean and empty restaurant. The manager (a youth of about 25) edges in after me, asks what I want. The menu is in English and in Hindi, at least 50 items on it, put up on the board like a roll of honour. I have no intention of eating there, but keep up a discussion about the various items as I stroll casually to the basin and wash my hands. I tell him I will think it over and return, and edge out – what subterfuge to be able to wash one’s hands!

A little later I walk past the same canteen and drop some waste paper into the dustbin kept outside. I hear two of them mutter among themselves – she is the one who said she will return in half and hour….. meanwhile I have crossed the tracks to reach the second platform for my train.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

what happened to the flower garden?

i wonder whether it is inevitable that institutions decay with time. i am in orissa at the moment where i used to live and work a decade ago. at that time, as a staff of unicef, i would visit some districts, and stay in the circuit houses. the large, airy rooms with high ceilings that were cool even in summer, the well-tended garden, the excellent food - all were a delight. often, though, it was not possible to get accommodation in these places as government officials would be visiting or passing through and staying there; or sometimes a politician and his hangers-on.

though circuit houses in smaller districts were in some state of disrepair and looked poorly kept (where i was sure that neither the coir carpet on the floor or the sheets had not been changed since the days of the Raj), the ones in the larger, busier districts were not so. air conditioners had begun to be introduced, as well as geysers in the bathrooms for hot water.

the circuit houses at mayurbhanj and balasore, therefore, came as a shock to me when i visited them now. i am still at the balasore circuit house as i write this. this is set in a large ground with the long building looking out on a small enclosed garden around which a path winds it way. winters were a riot of colour with the garden full of roses, and the path lined with flowerpots with marigold, petunia, calendula, anthurium, pansies and others.
The Circuit House at Balasore: where have all the flowers gone?
the verandah of the circuit house had more flowerpots hanging from the wall, trailing flowers. it was a cheerful, warm place.

when i arrived here earlier this week, i was dismayed to see the place. the circuit house itself had a deserted look, not a flower to be seen anywhere in the compound. a row of upturned flowerpots sat forlon along the driveway.

the building looked decrepit, with water having seeped through the walls in many places, the place full of cobwebs and dust. i was put up in a shiny new building at the back - a two-storeyed building of steel and glass and concrete and false ceilings - new, and poorly maintained already.

i spoke to the khansama whom i remembered from my earlier visits - he has been here since 1982. his face lit up when i recognised him and asked about some of the people who used to live in the district. and also asked him what had happened to the circuit house. he said very few people come here now, with the two legislators from the area having their own homes nearby. the post of the manager was vacant, with the head clerk being given additional charge, and he had enough to do without bothering about this place. the khansama was growing old in loneliness and with little to do and only an occassional visitor to look after. i asked why the new building had been built when even the older one was not occupied, though of course he would not know. i encouraged him to think about at least putting some plants in the pots that were lying around, even if he could not tend to the entire garden, though i am not sure whether he will follow up on it.

the circuit house was not deserted, though. a group of people on election duty were there - they would leave early morning and return only for dinner.

Monday, October 14, 2013

a glimpse

during the five days i spent at Peora (Nainital district) last week, i could glimpse the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas for only 15 minutes early one morning. the rest of the time they were shrouded in cloud and Peora was shrouded in dense fog.

View of the Himalayas from the Dak Bungalow at Peora, October 2013.