26 October 2009

one step forward, two steps backward

There are two kinds – the oppressors and the oppressed. Sometimes the oppressed hit back, like when the Maoists decide to screw the Bengal government, or when they get the politicians to reserve seats for the lower castes in universities. The Forward Ones cry in protest. The Backward Ones know that a rule once made is hard to shake. Ask Ambedkar no?

The Forwards argue that we should focus on primary education, and uplift the masses instead of lowering the bar. Fair enough. In an ideal world, we could use primary education to liberate The Oppressed – oppressed since we began recording history. The oppression of The Forward Ones has just begun, and they’re weeping already.

In my Brahmin school called P.S. Senior in Mylapore, Madras, I recollect seeing 2 lower caste students in my 15 years holed up in that school. Now that I think of it, perhaps there were a few more, bunched up and banished from the rest. Then I looked up Wikipedia, which generously put my school as one of the top 5 schools in Madras, along with similar schools with purely elite or forward children.

Some 3 year old kid is taken to my school’s Principal, who then passes judgment on whether the kid is suitable for this school. It’s no coincidence that the Principals always pick one way. Essentially, The Forward Ones impose near 100% reservation right at the start, and then go on to celebrate their success and crib about reservations in higher education.

This kind of unwritten social reservation is infinitely more crushing than a 50% hurdle the Forward Ones face higher up… there is no number fixed, no explanations required… and nobody finds it odd. There is pride in sending kids to these schools. There is pride in oppression.

For the sake of the Principals who judge 3 year olds, and their kind, I hope hell exists, with 50% reservation for The Forwards.

2 September 2009


another storm in pleiku. a swim in the lake. rain is cold, lake is warm. a few feet below cold current grips feet. rain bounces off lake's skin like baby bulbs flickering. infinite baby bulbs. lungs are tired, feet tickled by slush and grass. floating alone to the sound of thunder and rain.

29 August 2009


In a land of silky hair and smooth skin, where people were white thanks to the Chinese whose sperm and eggs spread like the dingo in a large island, lived a group of brown skinned natives in conflict with the outside world. That they survived the attack from the most voracious breeders in the world is credit to their will and discipline.

While the rest of the country thrives on vices, the natives are a peculiar, sober bunch. Contradict : The entire community wipes out 3 days on toddy when someone dies. Like celebrating the life more than mourning the death.

They live in houses not too different from before the Chinese sperm and eggs first arrived over a thousand years ago, unaffected by changes elsewhere is education, healthcare, farming methods… entering the village is like visiting a live museum.

The man invites us into his wooden house on stilts, spreads a mattress and we sit down. There is one room with a small partition for his eldest son and his young wife. He has a little farm full of coffee, grown and sold at whatever price the only middleman visiting the village offers. Lack of choice makes life simpler. Fewer things to decide. Fewer decisions to regret.

The rain came like an angry ghost. Water sprinkled on us from top, and he apologized. He also apologized for not having drinking water to serve at that time. His little children sat next to the burning wood as dinner was being cooked and played with corn in the fire.

One of the Chinese descendents in our group of three is encouraged to light up even though nobody in that house smoked. No ashtray is necessary since the wooden flooring has gaps providing a large tray for the ash.

The different skins live in close proximity, share the same society. The rest of the country finds no use for the dark-skinned. They’re primitive and uneducated, and treated like the American government would treat an aspiring egalitarian society in a cave rich with oil.

The white-skinned shower contempt and hatred is rarely not reciprocated. They fought and spilled blood and bullets some years back. Contradict: In my factory the white-skinned refuse to work with the dark-skinned, not vice versa. Elitist behaviour and caste struggles don’t die in the face of socialism. It’s in our sperm and eggs.

Back to our farmer, who goes to work on a farm pulling out weed for less than a dollar a day. He has seven kids to feed, clothe and raise. Death is not uncommon, so they learn quickly and well to deal with it. There is so much uncertainty in life that they truly live in the moment. The warmth was genuine, the happiness honest and overwhelming. Truly, happiness is poorly correlated to things outside our mind.

Before we left I wondered what he thought of us. My capitalist roots won’t have much interest in his town for they don’t have any resources that can be plundered and passed on so you can drink and piss out.

Maybe the outside world isn’t a happier place.

22 August 2009

Fast Runner

As kids, Fast Runner and Joker were inseparable. Joker envied Fast Runner for how fast he could run. In Joker’s eyes it gave Fast Runner unmatched power in this world. Like a caste system. How fast one could run was determined at birth, and stuck like caste.

During competitions in school, Joker would cheer madly for Fast Runner, even if the bigger boys often outran his friend. Fast Runner couldn’t charm the teachers or the girls. Running was his thing.

Joker, Fast Runner and their gang of kids would eagerly await the end of the day in school. The shoes slowed them down, so they were kept in a heap and played China Town - an exotic chasing game with rules nobody outside the kids knew. Till dusk they ran. Chasing and being chased. Like a video game, Chinatown had traps like railings and parapets, which were designed to favor the most athletic, who invariably sucked inside the classroom. Those 3 hours of sun after school was the only time they were elite and acknowledged suitably. So they waited, through the insults and reprimands from teachers through the day for the evening bell, like bird for air. Sports Day was even better than Birthday, because for the only time in the year, the fast runners earned the applause. Everybody got cheered on their birthdays.

As people's brains grew older and seemingly bigger, running was overpowered by exam scores. Fast Runner was no longer celebrated or envied like before. Joker, steadily average inside the classroom, scraped through. Fast Runner’s run stopped. They went to different schools, became older, and shed the innocence that once served as oil for their fry.

31 July 2009

distrust, equality & gambling

Distrust is tiring. The world is out to suck on your wallet. Turns out that Co Huong is a bitch, who thinks she is Robin Hood. I was happier when I didn’t know. I’m the evil colonial bitch that everyone’s out to fuck. The big fat target that a blind fuck can hit.

Equality is against everything biology stands for. The oppressed are waiting to have someone to oppress or die trying. However, here its much harder to tell someone’s occupation (or social class) from the way they look or speak or are spoken to. The workers in my factory refuse to accept an office job because they earn more lifting bags than they would punching into a computer.

Vietnam is like a chronic chain-smoking gambler with a drinking problem and an eagerness to breed. Everyone bets all the time. And they’re always betting on the same side – the price will go up. The only time they stop betting is when they don’t have resources to continue speculating. Its hard to eat out without someone trying to nag you into buying lottery tickets. There is a friend’s maid who bought 20 kilos of onions and kept it hidden because she thought the price will go up.

21 June 2009

Abstinence is easier when you don’t know what you’re abstaining from.

17 May 2009

From The Hippie Uncle

We are on the highway.

One more hour of bumpy jeep drive is to be covered.
The hot wind dries up the wet towel I have put on my face.

It is plain land with gentle undulation as far as the eyes could see. To break the monotony few trees, far from each other, dot the landscape. Its shade can barely protect a person from the scorching sun. Resilient trees. Not a soul in sight.

Somewhere in North Karnataka on a hot summer day. (40 C is cool)

We reach our destination, a cluster of thatched huts, big and small. Regional command centre for the social service organization.

Padmini is going to help them with their accounts and I escort her as this is her first trip. After the exchange of pleasantries with the top guy we are shown our respective huts.

Below this level you will be in misery. There is a cot with a thin mattress to sleep on; a net saves you from the mosquitoes; between the sunny sky and you there is protection by coconut thatch; three feet high asbestos sheets act as a wall and prevents the occasional rain water from entering your abode; since you are a nobody there is no need for a door! Water trickles and drips down from the tap in the open-to-sky bathroom. I am comfortable.

Glasses of water just evaporate through the millions of pores on my skin in no time.
The stifling heat and the spicy dinner deprive me of sleep till the early hours of the next morning.

At this centre there is good amount of human traffic. A lot of activities go on at this place. Health, educational, cultural and economical aspects of the populace are taken care of.

Mid day.

There is a lull in the human activities after the lunch. A full stomach and a cloudless summer sky have sent most of the staff to siesta indoor. A couple of guys sitting under an open hut are browsing the news paper.

You could see him coming.
A dot on the horizon becoming larger and larger.

He enters the camp with his son perched on his shoulders. The boy about five years old is polio affected. The man talks with the health worker who was reading the news paper. From the body language and facial expressions of the staff you understand that he is asked to come back on some other day. Without a murmur he turns and heads back on the same path to trek back to his village. As he goes past, you catch a glimpse.

He may be in his early thirties. Browbeaten by fate. Poverty, extreme suffering, helplessness have made the face calm; no sign of sadness; no disappointment. Not even a flinch. Total acceptance and dignity .He just turns and walks off towards the horizon; clad in a worn-out shirt and a pale, knee length dhoti he carries the burden of his life back home. Searing sun, blistering tar road, parched earth and the heat wave dries up the moisture deep inside the nostrils. No head gear, no dark glasses, no sun cream, no water bottle; and he walks into the wavy cauldren.. ….barefoot.

the same Himalayan monk?

-KLK aka Sakshi

16 May 2009

co huong

Co Huong, my maid, talks to me more than anybody else these days. The first day I met her, when she came to the interview dressed in a suit, I understood one in 20 words she said. now im up to 3 in 10. the pride she takes in her work easily puts me to shame. I’m not that passionate about anything, least of all work. She cares more about cleanliness and the house than I do… so im asking her to go home and sleep but she insists on cleaning something.

When im sick she offers some leaves plucked from her garden, or a piece of wood, some white paste… so I’m nature boy now. She feeds me vegetables and leaves that I’ve never seen, some plucked from my garden, experiments generously with Indian cooking and keeps me well fed.

When I come home drunk she’ll scold me and put some salt in my coconut water, which she knows I dislike. But the next morning she’ll bring green tea and watermelon juice to wake me up and threaten to pour chillis (plucked from my garden) in the next meal. Sometimes she really pours chillis, like a wicked joke. She once said that nobody in her place drinks… when we had a little beer party at my place, her sister was the beer dealer who delivered, and co huong took a splash. She later said she drinks only on occasions and 3 pints.

Co huong tells me she was born in 1960 (though she once claimed to be 55), in Hanoi. When you go from Saigon to Hanoi, ‘r’ becomes ‘z’ and ‘y’ becomes ‘z’, so there is quite a buzz as you go north, and co huong is very proud of it. She likes the 4 distinct seasons in Hanoi, for which she holds it higher than Saigon. In 1971, when she was 11, her dad was killed in the war and he wasn’t found until November of 2008. co huong grew up working in the rice fields and moved to pleiku where she now has three kids my age. The kids speak a mix of Hanoi and Saigon Vietnamese, and they help translate to English things she buys in the book of accounts.

26 April 2009

doan thanh

thanh is the man of charm.. people do what he influences them to do.. he also buys all our coffee.. other middlemen adore him like a teenage crush.. thanh is like a postman who brings news from around the village.. phu linh nam bought 3 trucks of coffee at a high price.. ha son is nearly bankrupt.. this quality chick is pregnant.. like that. people like talking to him.. they say when an agent goes bankrupt she'll first sell everything and pay back thanh and then declare bankruptcy.

the other day we were discussing tribal lifestyle in vietnam, and like some tribes in meghalaya, the boy lives with the girl in her village. she is also the hunter gatherer while the husband sits at home taking care of home. infants are strapped behind the mums after a week as they return to active work.. when the kid is 3 days old, they give a cold bath in the river... some die, and they say if the baby dies it would've grown up to be a bad person so it's a good thing.. thanh said "...and they continue... no problem! but now some some the government... talking..."

7 January 2009

when i was a kid, i used to wonder how my parents went to work everyday. i couldn't understand how they didn't run out to play sports everyday. how did they accept summers without holidays?

i want to roam around, but who will roam with me? many years back i stood in front of my engineering class and asked the same question. i've been lucky, i hope i haven't run out.