On standing in queues (or) How people die in queues

December 4, 2016

Indeed, queues are not new to Indians, especially the poor. It is only now, many of us who can talk about standing in queues are standing in queues, and therefore, we get to see and hear the plight of those standing in queues. Standing in the queue is an educative experience, in itself (for us, the so-called educated). The objective is irrelevant. Moreover, in today’s India, the more the time you spend on the queue, the more the points you garner for patriotism. I lose a lot of points writing such long, sob stories and shouldn’t miss a chance to gain some.

When I was on my third mission to get Aadhaar card, last Monday, there was again a long queue. After waiting for over an hour, they issued only 60 tokens at 10am. I was 70th on the queue.

There were a number of old people, who had come for the second, third, fourth times. Many of them had returned, even after registration, as their fingerprints had not been captured properly, and their cards were declined. One helpful staff member said that a new machine was expected to arrive in the next couple of weeks and that may be able to record their fingerprints. But most of the elderly decided to wait.

One old, illiterate woman, complained to the staff member that the people at the ration shop were insisting on her Aadhaar card. She showed him the acknowledgement for Aadhaar that she had received earlier. Her card may have been declined due to no fingerprints. He asked her to show that slip at the ration shop. She had done that already, and yet, they had refused to issue her the ration items. He, then, advised her to go to the Tahsildar, get his signature on the slip, and take it to the ration shop. The flabbergasted lady trudged away.

I keep asking my mother, who had been pressurizing us to get that Aadhaar, to tell the ration folks that there is a Supreme Court order against insisting on Aadhaar card. But she says all arguments are in vain. All that the staff at the ration shops know are verbal orders from above. And I am not sure, if this is a fight I wan’t to pick up seriously at this point. (Anyway, my objections to Aadhaar are not just about queues but I’ll keep them away from this post.)

Our next quest for Aadhaar was on Friday. My wife decided not to leave anything to chance and went to join the queue by 6.30 on a cold morning, chilled by the previous night’s rains. Surprisingly she was only the second person. I relieved her at 8.30. After a week of heavy rush, or due to the rains, the crowd was relatively lean that day. I kept hearing stories from those on the queue about their previous experiences. An old lady who was number 3 on the queue had gone for breakfast at some eatery nearby and was not back for over an hour. My wife had been worrying if she had fallen down somewhere. Another lady said the old woman came yesterday, couldn’t get a token and was in tears. She was coming from Periyanaicken Palayam, around 20 kms from that office. Everyone sighed with relief when she did rejoin the queue.

“I have had fractures on my leg, after a fall. My hip is broken. I had to go up and down to 4 offices, just to find out that I have to come to this office. Our ration has been stopped this month,” she told me later.

Person no.5 on the queue was an eighty-two year old man. His 6 sons and 1 daughter and their families had already taken their cards. At that time, he didn’t deem it necessary at his age. But now, some pension of Rs.1000 that he was getting from the government has been stopped, due to Aadhaar.

We kept hearing many more sob stories. Another old man was complaining that getting the right information was the most difficult task. If he sought some clarification on the documentation and such, he would be asked to refer to a poster with that information. He can’t read.
“Are they telling that the uneducated cannot live in this country anymore?”

There were also touts who had offered to take some of them to a private operator, nearby, for a cost of Rs.250-300. Without middlemen, I already had an appointment with the same private operator for the next week (but our conscience had pricked holes on our privilege and we decided not to go there). The cost quoted to us was Rs.150 per person. Even that was seen as unaffordable (or non-essential) by most of them.

After a combined wait of about 4 hours, we got the tokens. Some people from earlier queues, who, for some reason or other, were turned back after waiting a whole day despite having tokens, were given priority ahead of us. The operator and the machine struggled a bit to capture our young daughter’s fingerprints. Otherwise, our registration went off without much fuss. When we finished, I could see that the old lady (No.3) and the old man (No.5) were still standing, while the others were being attended to. I intervened, and heard the same story again, “Their fingerprints won’t get recorded easily. We will be making 60 others wait if we attend to them now.”

“I am eighty-two years old. I have been waiting since 6am and am starving to death. Should I collapse and die to get this Aadhaar? What is the need for a government that tortures its elders like this?”

“Why don’t you go, eat and come?” my wife asked.
“Will I not go, if I have money?”

We compelled him to come with us and bought him some bun, biscuits and tea. It must have been around noon. He refused the offer to eat lunch at a nearby mess, “At this age, if I eat food cooked badly outside, I’ll have diarrhoea for 3 days. I’ve learnt this after so many such experiences.”

So, yes, people dying in queues could have died anywhere. But why should they be forced to be on this queue at this point of time is a question that cannot be evaded.


Tolstoy and Tagore on nationalism

November 29, 2016

‘I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means – except by getting off his back.’
– Tolstoy

‘I have already several times expressed the thought that in our day the feeling of patriotism is an unnatural, irrational, and harmful feeling, and a cause of a great part of the ills from which mankind is suffering, and that, consequently, this feeling–should not be cultivated, as is now being done, but should, on the contrary, be suppressed and eradicated by all means available to rational men. Yet, strange to say–though it is undeniable that the universal armaments and destructive wars which are ruining the peoples result from that one feeling–all my arguments showing the backwardness, anachronism, and harmfulness of patriotism have been met, and are still met, either by silence, by intentional misinterpretation, or by a strange unvarying reply to the effect that only bad patriotism (Jingoism or Chauvinism) is evil, but that real good patriotism is a very elevated moral feeling, to condemn which is not only irrational but wicked.

What this real, good patriotism consists in, we are never told; or,if anything is said about it, instead of explanation we get declamatory, inflated phrases, or, finally, some other conception is substituted for patriotism– something which has nothing in common with the patriotism we all know, and from the results of which we all suffer so severely.’
– Tolstoy

‘I am not against one nation in particular, but against the general idea of all nations. What is the Nation?

It is the aspect of a whole people as an organized power. This organization incessantly keeps up the insistence of the population on becoming strong and efficient. But this strenuous effort after strength and efficiency drains man’s energy from his higher nature where he is self-sacrificing and creative.

For thereby man’s power of sacrifice is diverted from his ultimate object, which is moral, to the maintenance of this organization, which is mechanical. Yet in this he feels all the satisfaction of moral exaltation and therefore becomes supremely dangerous to humanity. He feels relieved of the urging of his conscience when he can transfer his responsibility to this machine which is the creation of his intellect and not of his complete moral personality. By this device the people which loves freedom perpetuates slavery in a large portion of the world with the comfortable feeling of pride of having done its duty; men who are naturally just can be cruelly unjust both in their act and their thought, accompanied by a feeling that they are helping the world in receiving its deserts; men who are honest can blindly go on robbing others of their human rights for self-aggrandizement, all the while abusing the deprived for not deserving better treatment. We have seen in our everyday life even small organizations of business and profession produce callousness of feeling in men who are not naturally bad, and we can well imagine what a moral havoc it is causing in a world where whole peoples are furiously organizing themselves for gaining wealth and power.

Nationalism is a great menace. It is the particular thing which for years has been at the bottom of India’s troubles. And inasmuch as we have been ruled and dominated by a nation that is strictly political in its attitude, we have tried to develop within ourselves, despite our inheritance from the past, a belief in our eventual political destiny.’

– Tagore

Two Ministers

November 28, 2016

There were two news items that gripped my attention in the last couple of days.

One was on Smriti Irani at Coimbatore. She had stopped at a cobbler’s shop and had trouble getting change for Rs.100. While posing with the poor, with the press in attendance, is a common enough gimmick, there was something pleasing about this act that pierced my usual cynicism. In the use-and-throw world of today, a minister wanting to mend her old chappals, instead of grabbing a new pair, sends across a powerful symbolic message. And well, there is nothing much for her to gain electorally here.

The other was on a speech by Manohar Parrikar. He had waxed horribly about gouging out the enemy’s eyes and boasted about giving them four slaps across their cheeks. So much for passing out of the hallowed portals of IIT.

I was never a fan of Smriti Irani as HRD Minister.
But I’d say, Damn Education, Damn Pedigree. Compassion is all we need in these times.

On that note, I am finally able to relate to a Kural that I always found out of place – how can someone adopt such an angry tone when talking about compassion?

An eye that is not abound with compassion,
what purpose is it serving on the face, feigning existence?
உளபோல் முகத்தெவன் செய்யும் அளவினால்
கண்ணோட்ட மில்லாத கண். (574)



It’s not Kashmiris vs Tamils

February 19, 2014

What the Government did to Afzal Guru was shameful. It doesn’t mean that we have to continue to repeat the same shameful act.

This is what I had posted when Afzal Guru was hanged secretively. I know many many others in Tamilnadu (arguably more than anywhere else in India, outside Kashmir) who had expressed similar sentiments, while the English channels were spewing venom – then as now. It is nauseating to see the same news anchors now pitting Kashmiris vs Tamils, with complete disregard for the consistent humanitarian stance of many Tamils. Along with the undeniable Tamil sentiments, this humanitarian stance has also played a major part in creating the political compulsion, if any, for the Tamilnadu government. I should never use this word against anyone – but if ever the much misused word, anti-national, can be applied, it is for these anchors for playing such a blatantly divisive role.

And please, words like going-scot-free don’t stick easily on the shoulders of convicts who have spent 23 years in prison, with the death-threat looming all the time, and as one of them poignantly put it in a poem – without ever seeing the moon. They have, knowingly or unknowingly, played a part in the assassination of a former Prime Minister, but death sentence is too severe for any act of crime and 23 years in prison is a long enough punishment.

Enemies of the state

July 20, 2010

The head-on collision of trains in West Bengal, again, proves that the Government is barking up the wrong trees, in treating Maoists and terrorists as the biggest enemies of the state. It should stop pooling all its resources and non-existent intelligence in fighting only these enemies, however real they are.

Can we wake up and launch a war on inefficiency, callousness and corruption?

Rajiv’s Ghost and Srilankan Tamils

February 20, 2009

Why did India not bomb the under-seige Taj and Oberoi Hotels, to flush out all the terrorists? Why did Indian foreign minister escort a top terrorist to Kandhahar to get the hostages released? Why is Indian army not launching an all-out war against terrorists, even in Kashmir, where they are accused of extreme excesses? Why did India not support Israel’s rampage in Gaza? Any sane Indian citizen will dismiss these as questions of a lunatic.

But then, by the same rationale, should Indian government not be condemning Srilanka for its utter disregard for human lives in its war against LTTE? Why then, is the acting Prime Minister reading out a statement in the Parliament that eerily resembles Srilankan government propaganda material?Yes, LTTE is a proscribed organization, which may have indulged in acts of terror. Yes, LTTE may have assassinated a former Indian Prime Minister. Yes, Pirabakaran needs to be tried in a court of law in India. Yes, LTTE may be holding over a lakh Tamils as ‘hostages’.  But how does any of these make the actions of the Srilankan government justifiable? Will any government put the onus for the lives of its citizens on the terrorists? If the Government doesn’t care about a lakh citizens perishing during its pursuit of a thousand terrorists, why would the terrorists care – after all, these are people who have least regard for their own lives? How can India endorse such an act, particularly when the Indian connection is so strong for the victims through their sympathising brethren in Tamilnadu? Is it because the victims have a stronger ‘Tamil’ association than a ‘Hindu/Indian’ association?

It is time Rajiv Gandhi’s ghost is exorcised. One hundred thousand people cannot be allowed to languish anymore because of one man’s unfortunate death a decade ago. Mahatma Gandhi’s ghost was buried with the ascent of BJP to power. Indira’s ghost was bid adieu with the Sikh pogrom orchestrated by Congress. Rajiv’s ghost still dictates India’s policy on Srilanka and by being approvingly nodding, indirectly presides over the mass man-slaughter occuring in Srilanka. How many more lives need to be sacrificed before India exorcises Rajiv’s ghost and asserts itself as a moral and regional power to rescue the thousands of innocents caught in the cross-fire between a suicidal rebel group and an irresponsible fascist government?

Gandhi on Jews

October 14, 2008

I was ploughing through the vitriolic comments that had flowed in for the post on Israel and the subsequent apology (more of a clarification)  by Arun Gandhi (Mahatma’s grandson) on The Washington Post, when I stumbled across this link in one of the rare comments in support of the Gandhis. Mohandas Gandhi’s views on both the creation of Israel and the persecution of Jews, are so balanced and in retrospect, so full of foresight. Mohandas Gandhi is one person, who can easily be quoted, completely out of context, as many many have done in their comments. Any sentence, highlighted in isolation, can sound insensitive but in the context of what he has written, will carry deep insight.

Contrary to what most comments claim (that the Mahatma has been shamed by his grandson), I thought Arun Gandhi had shown immense courage in countering a complex and sensitive issue, and sounding right:

“Any nation that remains anchored to the past is unable to move ahead and, especially a nation that believes its survival can only be ensured by weapons and bombs.”

More importantly, he had the grace and courage to apologise for the only error that he was willing to concede in his article, without compromising on the core premise. He seems to be a man who has understood what his grandfather stood for and is not just, as alleged by so many in those comments, living off an illustrious surname.