Bihar: A Glorious Past and An Uncertain Future

As I walked past a small hut the chorus of ‘ek duni do.. do duni char.. caught my attention. The sound was coming from the hut on my left. I took  this route many times, but never stopped to have a second look on the hut. It was so commonplace in a village full of huts. I stopped and so did a couple of people who were with me. One of them was a visitor from Japan.

There were around 20 kids in the hut, swaying back and forth and reciting  do ka pahada (table of two). Some of the kids seemed too young to be learning tables.  The teacher was nowhere to be seen.  Yes, this hut was one of the several centres under Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). The kids spotted us, some kids stopped their recital and took stock of us. Soon, they realized that we are some random visitors making them victim of our stupid  curiosity. Soon a young lady, barefoot, hastily covering her head with pallu walked in to the hut. She was the teacher. Suddenly, there was more enthusiasm and participation in the recital.

ICDS Centre in Lalpura, Vaishali

ICDS Centre in Lalpura, Vaishali

There was a sudden onrush of mixed emotions. Nostalgia, pride, frustration, helplessness, happiness and hope were all mingled together. The kids were oblivious of the odds against them. Uncertain of what lies ahead of the hut. Many of them may were there because their parents sent them to get free food there. And, many of them will dropout after this school. But some of them will surely defy many odds to achieve what their parents never dreamt of.

Ashokan Pillar at Kolhua, near Vaishali

Ashokan Pillar at Kolhua, near Vaishali

It was very ironic. We were in Vaishali: birthplace of Lord Mahavir, workplace of Budhha and the capital of the glorious Licchavi clan. The hut was on our way to Ashokan piller and Abhishek Pushkarni : two reminders of our glorious past. Every person that you will meet from this area will not forget to highlight our past glory. I too, do it without fail when I meet someone who wants to know more about my home state. Often, this helps when I am not keen to discuss the embarrassing present and uncertain future.

A few meters away from that hut, one can find the world peace pagoda and several other palatial Buddhist stupa and temples. These stupas and temples are constructed by several Buddhist countries such as Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Japan etc. Every year a horde of tourist visit this place to experience and appreciate the work of Budhha and Mahavira.

I look at these temples and stupas which are meant for celebrating the teachings of our enlightened souls and several questions pop up. Would  kids there in the hut be able to enjoy and celebrate the teachings of Buddha and Mahavira? What if there were a few schools also built along with the stupas? What if there were enough schools here? What if teachers were inspired by  selfless services of Budhha and Mahavira?

2% extra for credit card payments?

There are many shopkeepers that insist on 2-5% extra for payments made through credit cards. And often, we have to either to pay the demanded extra money or move to another shop. The 2-5 percent is the extra money that, the shopkeepers claim, is paid to bank or the credit card provider. However, the banks and credit card company clearly state that this money is not supposed to be paid by the customer if customer is purchasing at MRP.

The practice of demanding extra 2-5% in case of credit card pyament is more rife among small shopkeepers, and seldom I have seen known retail chains or big shops asking for it. So,  last week when I went to buy a rather pricey electronic item from Gizmos shop at Saket CityWalk, New Delhi, the request for extra 2% payment came as surprise. The shopkeeper insisted on not only getting 2% extra but also getting the extra payment in cash for which there was no bill. I insisted on getting a receipt for the extra charge but the shopkeeper summarily refused. This clearly smacked off some wrongdoings. First, the shopkeeper was charging extra money which was illegal and second he was receiving payment in black money by not providing receipts.

The shopping experience turned sour when he also insisted us on buying the mandatory accessories with the electronic item without which they refused to sell the product. Since, we had already made up our mind and the item was not available with other shopkeepers, we bought it paying 2% extra and with some accessories that we did not intend to buy.  I am not sure whether the parent company Audio Voice is cognizant of these practices or it is the shopkeeper making some extra money, but I am not visiting Gizmos store again.

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Horrible Fast Track Chennai

I have been using Fast Track Chennai for almost a couple of years now, and I realized that I really need a better alternative in Chennai. I have missed my flight twice, reached late at least ten times and lost my temper almost every second time I call them to order for a cab. I can cite numerous reasons (yes, my list is surprisingly long!) but here are three major ones:

1. Their drivers are ill-trained and they never understand their responsibility of informing the customer in case their vehicle is broken or they are running late (which they almost always do if you need them on time.).

2. The call-center employees never understand your requirements and your timing and pick-up address are prone to be goofed up most of the time. Often then tend to attend more than one customer at the same time. Yes, you can easily make this thing from the phone call.


3. I know that it is my stupidity/lethargy/idleness that I did not learn Tamil and I understand that the drivers are not supposed to be fluent in Hindi or English (though most of the time Fast Track people assure me that they are sending driver who understands English), but I do expect the drivers to know the routes in the city. I am not able to count how many times I have got delayed or paid twice the normal fare due this reason.

There are a number of other operators whom I have started trying instead of Fast Track. Anyone knows a better option in Chennai?

Ranchi Trip

Last month, I visited  Ranchi for a couple of days almost after

the water tank on hilltop

the water tank on hilltop

23 years. I was so excited to visit that place, to see my school and go to those places which were slowly getting eroded from my memory. But the menace of ‘Naxalism’ completely ruined my enthusiasm. We could not go to remote villages and surely not in a ‘car or jeep’ as they generated extra attention, and one local naxalite expert told me that in election time Naxals do not think before bashing up any outside face. Their policy.. first bash them up.. we will see the other issues later.

Though Ranchi city seemed quite peaceful, I ventured out on bike to find my childhood school and all I knew about that school was that there used to be a small hillock near the school and at top of that hillock there was a water tank. I called my mother to get more info, she told that the school was near a Hanuman temple in Harmu. We drove in and around Harmu and were able to locate almost 4-5 temples but the hillock was nowhere. That means there was no way to get to my school. New constructions and other developments made this place completely different from the image of this place I had in mind.
So I came back to the guesthouse, disappointed and full of thoughts. Naxalism, Development, Urbanization etc.. My plan to take a road trip to Daltonganj, Garhwa and Ranka stood canceled. I wanted to use this weekend for that. It would have been an experience to visit these places but the fear of Naxalites and poor connectivity to these places have left me with no options. Probably I will dare again, after the elections when the Naxal activities subside.

my school :)

my school 🙂

Next day I was busy in my official chores and I had given up on finding my old school in the concrete jungle, but a local resident and employee of the host organization here in Ranchi, blessed me with his local knowledge. He knew the location of the hillock which has a water tank on top. I realized I can still see my school and I ventured out. He took me near the hillock, in front of a very big nice looking school, St. Francis High School. He was sure that this was my school, but I knew I was not that lucky to have studied in schools like these. But I could still see the hillock and the water tank on top, our favorite place for having lunch around 23 years ago.
I wanted to go there again on the hilltop and somehow I found a way to go there and on the way, I could see an almost dilapidated building and here I was. That’s my school, I shouted. Rajkiya Krit Madhya Vidyalaya, Harmu – 12. Suddenly those faint memories became vivid. I could remember the place I used to stand for morning prayers and the school gate and numerous related incidents. School gate was a common factor in most of the incidents. I jumped the wall to go inside the campus (once inside I realized there were numerous ways, and surely not intended ones, to get inside the campus, the surrounding wall was broken at many places) and saw the menu of the food served under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan painted on the wall.
I pulled out my cam, wanted to capture these moments of relived, realized nostalgia. Great feeling to be there. If I look back on my school days, the biggest complaint (apart from not being able to study in any ‘decent’ schools) is my father’s job forcing frequent school changes for me, that means I could never have those childhood friends. All gone. No trails.

Chennai 3.0

Chennai celebrates its 369th birthday. Though my professional commitments and other constraints  deprived me from participating in the celebrations, I did get a chance to attend ‘Chennai 3.0’ organized by Confederation of Indian Industries (CII). The theme of the conference was “Chennai – Evolution Today, Revolution Tomorrow”.  And, I have no doubts seeing the growth plans and the people behind the evolution, revolution is bound to happen.  CII did a great job to get industrialists, city planners, bureaucrats and politicians all on the same platform and talk different aspects of Chennai today and tomorrow.

While everybody presented their vision for Chennai and how ‘the Detroit of India’ should move forward to become the world class city, it was intriguing (and one of the speakers highlighted this) that none of the Chennai based industries/business houses came forward to sponsor the event. I was bemused seeing most of the speakers talking about inclusive growth and sustainable growth but they did not highlight any of concrete plans to give any indication how they are going to achieve that. Though we had detailed plans on how to solve problems of Car Parking, Shopping Space, satellite cities and how to make Chennai Airport a world class airport, but somehow problems of commoners living in Chennai took back seat like the commoners present in the TAJ Conference Hall. But probably this was not primarily intended to dwell upon that, it was more of a celebrations of achievements of this city and setting up the context for future growth and expansion.

My personal experience with Chennai has been really wonderful, earlier I was a bit hesitant to think Chennai as the preferred workplace, but after my fieldwork in Tamilnadu and now more than one year in Chennai I love the city.