So, where do see yourself?

I have finished three weeks at my first job. The place is an Industry Chambers and I work as a Research Associate in the Economic Affairs and Research Division. Sounds fancy, right? Well, to be honest, it is fancy if you work in a corporate job or have a small business that is not related with the Government. Though I do not get to sit and get up with Government officials day in and out, my bosses surely do, and I get to do all the policy work I always wanted to. Sometimes, what I find and write goes to the Government as recommendations from my organisation and it feels good. That somehow somewhere all of it will make someone’s life easier and make an impact. That is all I thought about doing via my work when I was a student. Government policy undoubtedly touches lives.

So that is my story, and will continue to be so for a few years at the least. And this is also the story of the 250 other employees who work in my organization. Let me tell you, as I have told my business-oriented Gujarati family, especially my parents, several times before, that not everyone gets to do what I am doing easily, and I consider myself fortunate enough to work at this place. Now let us go to the one extreme of the spectrum (I consider myself to be somewhere in the middle). There are people who spend their entire life driving people from point A to B, maybe in their own cars, or a taxi. There are people who are career chaiwallahs, liftemen, guards, rickshaw-pullers. THAT IS THEIR JOB! That is what they do all their lives. And still live through it. I sometimes cannot believe that the guard outside my office stands for twelve hours and still manages to smile at me when I enter office after him and exit office before he does. Dada at office is the most animated chaiwallah I have seen in my life. He makes jokes while passing the cubicles, makes random sounds, all this for ten bucks for every cup of tea. And, I have never seen him yawn!

The other extreme of this spectrum is people who work six hours a day, five days a week. Biz honchos work for four to six hours a day and there are enough people around them to do everything for them. They make tons and tons of money and lead a brilliant life. Sure they have seen tough times but they now utilise most of their day behind themselves and their families, playing golf, or going on a vacation every week. And then, there is everyone in the middle. Managers, teachers, professionals, your typical middle class. Everyone who is apparently doing what they are good at to make a living for themselves and their families. And that is how the world works.

Moving from home to New Delhi has taken me away from this entrepreneurial vibe I was around all the while. Mostly everyone in my family, from my father’s generation and the one before his, has a business. It shocks me how they sleep every night thinking from where is the next two thousand rupees note is going to come from the next morning. Somehow, they do manage fairly well. Now, I am doing a job, like most of the people from my generation in the family are, and everyone is doing something different than the other. So that’s the thing  about entrepreneurship. It has changed greatly from the way our fathers and forefathers did it to how it happens now. Hate to say it but engineers have taken over the entire start-up scene. Nothing is moving an inch without science. These guys are making real difference to our lives. I recently happened to meet a serial social entrepreneur and was blown away by the work he does. And I thought to myself, why do people not know about people like him. Why do we settle down so early in our lives with a secure job and dont strive to make real difference?

The currently non-entrepreneurial kind is my kind. I, for a Gujarati, think a lot about betterment of things and chose Economics as a career. I love to put my opinion out in the open. Though, I need to brush up my debating skills a bit. And maybe, just maybe, I want to be a thinker, among the best in the country, or maybe the world. Write stuff down for people to read and think more about and see the world change. So there are people like that. Economists, editors of newspapers, writers, columnists, politicians. They sit in their offices and change the world we live in, one research paper, one article, one signature at a time. They too, are making a difference, but how real or quantifiable is this difference?

What if an industry economist really set out to open a factory? Will he actually optimize his production function with a budget constraint and calculate optimum output? I really want to know! Or will he do it better than his entrepreneurial boss if given a chance? This question haunts me. There are theorists. They either make new theories or link a current event to a pre-existing theory. I sometimes feel they miss out on the point. It never about generalising. It is never ever one big elephant, it’s always a million tiny ants. But if you say that these experts, theorists do not get business, I say it stands true the other way round too, does it not? So, where do you see yourself?

I think there are mixtures of both these kind of people. People who can write, think, teach, theorise and people who can, plain and simple, do. I think it is not a mutually exclusive set. There is a mild intersection, but there is. In my opinion, it boils down to a few things. Firstly, what do you see merit in? Do you see merit in a lot of books or a lot of money? Answer this question. Next, it is about what you absolutely love to do. And then, finally, it is about what you want your perception to be. In today’s age of social media, and media in general, there is only a certain perception about yourself that you are allowed to put out.  An economist will never be asked questions about  a particular pharmaceutical company’s financial health, a biz honcho will not be generally asked about what he thinks about the fiscal deficit of the Union Government. Though it is very much possible that both know about both, but they will only be allowed to put out one perception, though the other one is equally brilliant. Finally, money, fame and knowledge, in more than decent amounts are equally easy and difficult to come by at the same time. So is switching career paths after a certain threshold. So it all boils down to where you want yourself to be!

Arrival

Arrival was among the most gripping and thrilling movies I have ever seen. Arrival uses things like time and language, something that affects our daily lives more deeply than we understand in an extremely effective way to tell us a story we have not heard before. Spoiler Alert! The female protagonist in the movie, Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, is a linguist who is given the task to decipher the language, roughly speaking, spoken and written, by extra terrestrial forces that have landed on earth. Alongside, she gets visions of her own daughter and husband which seem like flashbacks. However, as the movie’s end unfolds, it becomes clear that those visions and sounds are not of her past, but of her future, while her husband is Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner, who works alongside her to solve the extraterrestrial invasion. This article is NOT about the movie.

While talking to a friend about the movie, he told me about a theory built by some people from some part of the earth on which the movie is built on. I tried and tried to find the article he read which spoke about this theory but could not do so. So what the theory says is this. We are in the Present, CAN see our Past and CANNOT see our Future. This is what time does. As time passes, we are moving one step ahead in the future, but are only getting more and more sure about our past. However, what we desire is an insight into the direction we are moving, ahead into the future. This is exactly what the movie is showing. We actually have our eyes in the back, not in the front, technically speaking, because we never know what lies ahead of us.

So, in a way, I realized where this comes from through a personal experience. I have to take a battery powered open roof rickshaw from home to the metro station. It is a small vehicle that can seat four people, where two sit facing their back towards the rickshaw driver and are front facing their other two co-passengers. So the first time when I sat in the direction opposite to which the rickshaw was moving:

1) I was moving ahead in time.

2) I could not at all see the road on which I was moving, by which I mean to say that I had no idea of potholes, speed breakers, turns, or even abrupt brakes that the driver was going to apply due to an idiot on the street. I could not brace myself for them in anticipation, there was no way to do so.

3) I had an extremely clear image of the road I had crossed. My past was right in front of me. I could now see the pothole, the turn, the building and the idiot on the street.

This is something that actually sums our life up for us. If you do not believe me, try it for yourself. Sit backwards on the pillion seat of your friend’s bike. The movie shows us our desires turned into reality. Life as we know it is full of potholes, speed breakers, some crazy twists and turns, and of course, a lot of idiots. Only a few of us are extremely wise to foresee what lies ahead of them. And guess what, after this fifteen minute ordeal when I am kind of tossed a bit around my seat in the rickshaw, I do reach the metro station in time every morning. And so will you reach wherever you are headed towards in life, in time too.

When Mommy’s Cute

Mothers are our first and last teachers in our lives, and probably, the most important ones too. This stands too for my  Mother. But well, they are not perfect humans and err as regularly as we do, and sometimes, it is too adorable to not write about. Mummy was cute three days in a row, and her innocent mistakes made me laugh and hug her as she laughed at herself after what she did. To give a slight background of Mummy, she hails from Amreli, a small town in south-eastern Gujarat. She dropped out of school in her 10th Grade due to family issues. Whatever education she received was in Gujarati, and has a hard time speaking or even comprehending English. Despite these facts, she maintains an active presence on Whatsapp Family groups and Facebook via her smartphone (I have to intervene time and again when she forgets how to attach a photo).

Day 1: Delhi for Insurance Policies?

I recently got a job in New Delhi and will be moving there within a few days. So I make it a point to spend time every evening with my sentimental Mother who will miss her only child who will be off soon. I will  be working at the Economic Affairs Division at an Industry Chamber, following my dream to pursue a career in policy. My mother has heard this word “policy” time and again from my mouth, and I never cared to explain it to her, presuming she knows what Government policies mean. After all, Narendra Modi is from Gujarat and he got her vote too! Innocently, she asked me, are you going to work on insurance policies that are made by LIC? I split into hard laughter as she was clueless why I reacted so. As I stopped laughing, her expressions told me she knew she was wrong in guessing that but I appreciated that she did not worry about asking me. I later gave her numerous examples regarding policies and what passes as a policy and what does not.  Both of us couldn’t stop laughing after I stopped with the explanation.

Day 2: Where is my phone?

We had guests late at night the next day. They left close to midnight, as is normal. The guests were a couple and the wife was averse to anything cold. Being Gujarati, we offered them khakra to eat as it was the middle of the night and that was all we had at home that day. So these khakras as flavoured and you can buy them on Amazon. Good for us, the guests did not know about them. So Mummy pulled out 6-7 packets of different flavours from the box and offered it to them. They barely opened two of them and kept the rest of them on the table. After they left, I went to my room to catch some sleep. After 15 minutes, I heard her knocking on my door to ask if her phone was in my room. I looked around and it was not around. So we started ringing her phone and we could hear a very feeble ringtone. After going from one room to another, we figured the phone was ringing in the kitchen. We then  took some more time to figure out the cabinet from where we could the feeble ringtone the loudest. We started moving stuff around, and finally found the phone in the same box as the khakra packets were kept. Turns out, that the guests kept the khakra packets on Mummy’s phone that she, in her own  trip at midnight, picked up and kept in the box unknowingly. A similar laugh riot followed for a few minutes.

Day 3: Best pics of Celebration

Even after wishing the closest of relatives over phone, Mummy makes it a point to wish them over social media again, be it their birthdays or wedding anniversaries. How else will she stay active on social media? However, as she does not know English, she will very conveniently copy the immediately previous message/comment and paste it, all emoticons and punctuations intact. But she takes the effort. This time, it was my cousin’s engagement in Gujarat and Mummy could not be a part of it. She was waiting eagerly for photo’s of the bride-to-be. I observed something different later in the comments on Facebook. She had not plainly copied the previous comment which said ‘Congratulations”, she went through all comments and picked the one she liked the most. It said “Best pics of Celebration”.

The bad part is, she will see this post on Facebook and still not be able to read it. And I will not know how to explain her my motive behind writing this blog. It’s going to be tough. But I love you Mummy, and I will miss you there in Delhi as much you will miss me back home!

The End of the journey called Gokhale

On the 8th of May, 2017 at 1 PM, as the bell rang, the last exam of my postgraduate programme in Economics concluded. I came out of the class a master’s in Economics. The beginning of the effort goes three years back, in March 2014, when I decided that I do not want to pursue Chartered Accountancy anymore. The trio of the last two papers of IPCC, University exams and postgraduate entrance exams danced on my head, as all I had were 90 days in my hand to tackle to all three. But alas, fate had its own way here and I had to wait an entire year to proudly march on the beats of my own drums and finally live my dream of pursuing a master’s in Economics.

For many it may not be a big deal, as I eventually realized. For many Gokhale was among the last resort options after a Delhi School of Economics or an IGIDR. But for me, things were very different. As a kid who was always intimidated by calculus and math at large, and being a B.Com. graduate where you probably forget math by the time you pass out of college, it was a real challenge. I know I could have done better, and there is no shame in admitting that, but I guess not having the habit of self study since the 1st grade right up to IPCC really put me at a disadvantage, and I had tough time teaching myself. Also, secretly, I spent a lot more time studying Economics, simply for the love of it.

What had to happen happened, and I landed at Gokhale in July 2015. I was taken aback by the fact that students had travelled alone from all corners of the country with all that luggage, without their parents, whereas both my parents had accompanied me, to make sure everything was well. I felt like a kid. That was also my first encounter with my roommates, Harshvardhan Dhapola and Shshank Chowdhury, who would go on to become my closest friends. And I had the best room in the hostel, the Boys Common Room, or as we called it with great affection, BCR. No privacy, but full party scenes. Though it was only for the first year, we had a ball.

Come December, and my life was wrecked as a lot of quick but permanent changes took place on the personal side of my life. I had barely just made it through the first semester, I was tired and weak, but was coming back from home to Pune with renewed vigour and a lot of free time in hand. The plan was to use the time from Diwali to Christmas for doing research with Shubham Gupta and Dhruv Goel, probably the two most well read and intellectual rational minds on campus I knew by then. It would have been great to even start writing something with them, but that was also the time they fell in love with their respective partners. Good for everyone at large, I too found place in a “group”, with Shubham, Samiksha and Kshama, who went on to be my support system for the rest of the year and half there.

The year 2016 and 2017 were everything I could expect from time. All the ups and all the downs hit me. There were all kinds of days. It is hard to express in words the high I felt for days at stretch, and the kind of thought stimulation that was taking place. In a course like CA where you get very few moments where your mind is blown away, this place was like heaven. With all resources at hand, open door policy everywhere from administration to faculty right up to the Director of the Institute, it was a very free environment to grow, at least for those who chose to.

January 2016, in the Alumni meet under the Banyan Tree, a place of historic eminence, where it is  said that Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah would talk about the Independence struggle, where an alumnus from the early eighties batch who also joined in as a faculty for that year, mentioned that he does not see people spending enough time under the Banyan Tree. In my mind, I agreed to the fact immediately as I always thought that I loved the campus but never spent enough time on the campus. Also, on the same day, the Director had mentioned how Professors had fierce arguments among themselves. I think, everything came together to give birth to UTBT, which went on for the following year too, for a total of 12 sessions in my presence. UTBT opened a lot of doors for me. It gave me the opportunity to talk to many seniors, just brainstorming over topics, with various faculty, who I think appreciated the initiative even more than the students did. This was followed by the juniors who came in July 2016, where I met the three best people there could be to pass UTBT down to in Sejal, Shreya and Prasanth. They became like family till my time at Gokhale ended. They added a lot of substance and flavour and maturity to the content of UTBT. Not to forget, it was only two sessions old when UTBT found its place in Pune Mirror. UTBT also influenced some of the most important interviews that I gave, and put me virtually in control of the interviews. Also proud to say, UTBT did not cost even a single penny to the Institute and I was able to get students and teachers from neighbouring colleges to come participate in the sessions.

The following year I was given charge of the Alumni Committee with Anne, who went to become my go-to person that year whenever I was unsure what decision had to be taken. Alumni Committee was very close to my heart, not just because of the nostalgic factor, but mostly because of my head in the junior year, Arushi, who did some spectacular work and made me realize the linkages that Alumni Committee possesses that waited to be unleashed. On top of it, Anne and I were blessed with a great team. We could pull off four Alumni Meets around India at a fraction of a cost that  would otherwise be incurred to hold a single meet inside the campus. We also began the Alumni Lecture Series and laid the foundation for an Alumni Portal.

Among the things that I treasure the most about Pune will be gazing at all the different trees and flowers in and around the campus and the city, the clear skies that I hardly ever get to see in Pune, and most importantly, how nature was so close to civilization. We had two hillocks, Vetaal Tekdi and Hanuman  Tekdi at walking distance from our hostel campus which we used to climb regularly to get a good view of the city. The only thing to not like about Pune was the food.

I met a lot of interesting, and at the same time, weird people at Gokhale. That is the thing about staying in hostels with 300 other people. It is a small world in itself. You get to see go-getters, humanitarians, shrewd people, selfish ones, and also those who have not made any worthwhile friends in the entire two years. You get to see the world a bit more. Also, as it was my first time outside the house, I cooked, washed my clothes, and did some cleaning, along with a few other chores for the first time by myself. Made me realize what home-makers go through on a daily basis and still do it with perfection.

Lastly, I would like to thank everyone who made this journey beautiful. All my friends, seniors and juniors from whom I learnt so much! The faculty with whom I had the privilege to discuss things within and outside academics freely, Registrar Sir who made possible to convert everything I had in mind for Alumni Committee and UTBT, to every single person in the administration to every single peon who have worked throughout to make Gokhale Institute the way it is! These two years have been etched in my heart and my mind!

Field Visit to Beed, Maharashtra

I visited Beed, one of the most backward districts in Maharashtra in the Marathwada region for three days ending yesterday. We put up at Manavi Hakka Abhiyaan (Campaign for Human Rights) (MHA) at Telgaon in Beed District. MHA was the birth child of Late Eknath Awad, a Dalit fighting for their cause. The work of MHA was multifaceted, spanning from Dalit atrocities, land disputes, gairans (grazing lands), gender inequality to irrigation. The purpose of the trip was to study caste, land and contestations. The trip, in one line, was a life altering experience for me.

About Manavi Hakka Abhiyaan and Eknath Awad

Dalits in Maharashtra were subjected to numerous atrocities by upper castes, mainly Marathas and Brahmins. They were the primary land tillers but had no legal rights to land. They were forced to do menial jobs at the Maratha households and were not compensated for it. In order to survive, they took to begging and stealing. They lived a life full of poverty, struggle and indignity. Even in 2017, as I visited the four villages around Telgaon to study these atrocities, I could see flavours of this oppression still working its wheels.

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A building at MHA

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*woot woot*

What Eknath Awad with MHA did was to re-equate this imbalance of power and give Dalits back a their respect and dignity by following an Ambedkarite narrative and ideology. They sought to do this by giving them land. Eknath Awad encouraged Dalit families in Maharashtra to encroach gairans in their villages and start tilling them. The produce from these fields would help them make a living. Gairans were grazing lands for cattle in the villages, that were not highly fertile but arable. This land did not belong to anyone in particular but was a common resource of the village. This was a very rational way of going about it as it was not a loss to the upper caste landowners. In 25 years of its functioning, MHA was able to give possession of such gairans to more than 25000 families and helped alleviate them from their horrible conditions. Over and above this MHA also worked for equal rights for women, education and stopping domestic violence.

Day 1: MHA, Sadola and Purushottampuri

We arrived at the MHA premises at 7:30 am after a 9 hour bus ride through the night. The premise was green but wore a deserted look. After the demise of Eknath Awad almost two years back, the functioning of the NGO curtailed drastically, with activists associated with MHA still working on the field. However, the cause lacks a central figure. In front of us were four buildings, two of which were for residential purposes and the rest for official ones. Right at the entrance was a hand pump which spewed out cold water in those heated and dehydrating afternoon hours that helped us get through the day. It almost became a ritual for me to wake up and go the hand pump first thing in the morning to wash my face.

Food everyday was a simple affair with bhakri (bajra roti), a vegetable, rice and dal. All food would be cooked on a chulha (wooden burner). This held true for both lunch dinner and lunch, while for breakfast, we were served poha. Bhaskar Gulle, or as we called him Gulle Mama, was the caretaker who looked after our food along with one more family that stayed on the premises. As we were having lunch, in came Rajesh Ghode, one of the activists for MHA who was very well known in and around Beed and was to stay with us for the next three days and show us around.

We gathered at the meeting hall post lunch to understand about MHA’s work. The discussion was led by Rajesh Ghode. At the end of the discussion, Rajesh bhai said that he would like to sing a song for us. The song was in Marathi and went, “Durbalanna jo de swabhiman, Manavi Hakka Abhiyaan!” It meant, we are MHA, the ones who give self esteem to the weak. In the trip to follow, we were audience to a lot more poetry, songs, shayari and qawali. All the songs were about MHA, Eknath Awad, Ambedkar, Phule, Annabhau Sathe and others who belonged to this line of thought. I have never before seen such effective use of music to join together people and communities for one cause. Whenever Rajesh Ghode would sing, he would go into a completely different zone. He would sit on his knees, and the glow on his face and the glitter in eyes while he used to recite one line after the other with all the energy and his hand movements were unmatched. Such glow on ones face can be seen only at one other time on a person, when (s)he is in love. I knew right at that moment how dedicated these activists were to their cause.

We started moving towards the first village on our itinerary, Sadola. This was one village which was most negatively impacted due to atrocities. We were told that the Dalits in the village live outside the peripheries of the village, away from the upper castes, and were allowed inside only when required for some menial job. This partition exists even today. We first visited the part of the village where there were houses of the upper castes, called vadas. Each vada had two things in common. Each boasted a saffron flag, symbolic of the Maratha identity. Every vada had small windows all over the walls. These windows were to be used by the women of the house to talk to someone outside the house. Women were not even allowed to come to the doors. We did not see any woman roaming alone in the village. Any women who would see us through the door would quickly turn their eyes away or close the door. These oppressive roots of patriarchy were still deep and strong in the village.

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The biggest and oldest vada at Sadola. Check out the small windows and the saffron flags. The people who conceptualized it were forced to get their hands cut.

We next went t the Dalit basti of the village outside the periphery of the village. In the part of the village where upper castes resided, we met a bunch of children who we interacted with. They followed us till the periphery but did not enter the Dalit basti with us. Casteism was ingrained in these kids right from their childhood. The condition of the basti was horrible. The basti was situated at a place where all the sewage water of the village was drained out, and there was this constant stench. There were very few concrete houses with no proper roads to walk. Rajesh Ghode told us that the upper castes at least allow him inside their houses due to his popularity and reach and offer him tea. But the cup in which the tea is served is different, and he is not allowed inside the village.

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The periphery of Sadola. The road to the right leads to the upper caste residences. The road to the left leads to the Dalit basti.

We then moved on to the second village, Purushottampuri. The unique thing about this village was that there was land in the name of a temple trust. This land is called devsthan, about 10 acres lying idle. It was kept for God, as a symbol. Purushottampuri is the only village in Maharashtra where the Dalits were successfully able to encroach a devsthan and till it. It was night and we sat on the ground a little away from the Purushottam temple, addressed by the Sarpanch, a few activists from MHA and other elderly people from the village. The thing about Eknath Awad was that once the villagers would hear his name, they would be full of sorrow and energy at the same time.

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Discussion with Sarpanch, activists and elders at Purushottampuri

They began their stories from their childhood saying how the upper castes would treat their parents. They would  have to eat then leftovers from the houses that they worked at. There was no kind of monetary compensation. They would also protect their fields, for the entire year. When the crop was harvested, they would bend down on their knees, spread their shawls on the ground and accept whatever their masters gave them. They were not allowed to open their mouths and ask for compensation for the services they rendered in a dignified manner. This was nothing but a way of begging. In came Eknath Awad in the 1990s and instilled a feeling of pride, fearlessness and self esteem among Dalits. This gave them the power to encroach land. This was followed by numerous cases and stories of various villagers. The elderly person reciting it to us proudly said how his daughter is now a lawyer and has a Maratha servant at her home. The Sarpanch also served chai to all 40 students. The chai had jaggery in it instead of sugar and tasted very sweet and different. The night ended on a very high note with shayari and qawali.

Day 2: Upali

We visited a nearby agricultural village called Upali and met the Ichke family. They had 8 acres of gairan land out of which they were using only 4 to cultivate. The size of the family was 15 members and hence all the output was used only for subsistence, unless there was a dire need of money and they needed to sell a part of it. The farmer showed us a pile of rocks and said that is how the land is and hence they are taking some time to start cultivating on the other 4 acres. Kamal tai, the eldest female in the family led the discussion. She was bold, fierce, forward thinking and jolly. We not only spoke about her farms, but touched topics like inter-caste and love marriages, education, women empowerment and her views on all the same were astonishingly and surprisingly way forward than some of the females I have interacted with in cities. The outer appearance with a sari around her body and sindur on her forehead gave a very different and misleading image.

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The oldest generation of the Ichke family. Kamal tai is at the left with her husband. Learnt a lot from her.

This interaction was followed by lunch at a nearby temple in the village. There was an occasion for which there was a feast in the village. The sponsors were generous enough to accommodate the 40 of us. We were served simple but delicious food with a couple of sweets and basmati rice. The night that followed was interesting. Rajesh Ghode had arranged for the best musicians from the neighbouring villages and they started playing native local music at 11 PM after dinner. The music was engaging. It went on till 2:30 AM and everyone was absolutely gripped. A few students from my institute who were acquainted with the music tried their hand at singing and we had an absolute blast.

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Lunch at the village feast. Bhakri, dal-rice, aloo ki sabzi and sweets!

Day 3: Sangam

The last day, we went through land records at the MHA office along with bank statements and newspaper clippings. We then left for Sangam village to meet one more farmer family. We sat right on a field that was freshly harvested as the stems of the crops cut were still there. Dr. Prashant Bansode, our teacher from the Institute introduced himself and us to the farmer family. The moment he mentioned we were here to study the work of Eknath Awad and how it impacted them, the family was in tears. Their eyes were bloodshot and they were saying that Jija left them too early and all of a sudden.  Everything that they had was due to him and that he was greater than God for them. This only explains the level of involvement and dedication and the force of one man behind the entire movement that is Eknath Awad. As it was a field study about castes as well, we asked them about their experiences of oppression. The one very interesting discussion we had was about their aversion of inter-caste marriages if the other party is from either a Brahmin or Marwari community. They shared a story of such a marriage where the boy from the Dalit community eloped with a Brahmin girl and eventually stopped identifying with his own mother and sister. Such experiences do scar their image about the entire community. The discussion ensued with most of us explaining them how such one-off events should not be generalised to entire communities at once.

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Discussion with the farmer family at Sangam

Lessons:

1) The education system in india, particularly at the primary, secondary and higher secondary level is skewed towards the masters. There is absolutely no intersection with reality. I completely fail to understand why we have no clue about such atrocities even in the late 20th and 21st centuries even after just being within 500 kms of them.

2) The trip will be a turning point for the students lives. Everything I do, all my actions will be influenced by this experience of mine. The sheer knowledge of people living in such conditions and still being so happy and energetic has changed my outlook. The way we stayed for 3 days, with less electricity, heat and no Wi-Fi, that and even worse is the life of all these people.

3) We take a lot of shortcuts to do our work. We want instant gratification and success in the work we do. Think about the life of an activist who has to wake up every morning, does not know what kind of a situation he is going to face. He has no financial compensation for his work, but it is so important at the granular level. It is life changing for Dalits. There are no instant results. It is an accumulation of daily effort from his end that culminates in liberty and freedom for others.

4) Land has given dignity to these Dalits. They still have to work outside to make ends meet. But there is a sense of independence and self esteem. They can now enter the village, and in some cases, the Sarpanch too is a Dalit. There is an entire shift in the socio-cultural fabric of these villages for the better.

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The face of an activist. Rajesh Ghode

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The entire group

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Rajesh Ghode in full form while singing with a student in the front. Man sitting in blue shirt is Gulle Mama.

Finally, we gathered at the meeting hall before dinner. Students shared their experiences and emotions and learning. This was followed by a speech by Rajesh Ghode and ofcourse, a song! We commemorated him and Gulle Mama with a shawl and sweets which they graciously accepted. I packed my bags, had dinner, washed my face with the water from the hand pump, and took the bus back to Pune.

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Perks of knowing Marathi. Me interacting with a farmer.

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Bajra fields

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In all the backwardness and poverty, I found some colour. Sunset at Telgaon.

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Taught some kids to solve one side of the Rubik’s cube.

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Sunset at Sangam

 

 

My Mumbai Food Crawl

I was on a three day Mumbai food crawl last week with a friend I love eating food with and trying new dishes. Well, you hardly find someone else who matches my appetite and shares my love for food. This was a food crawl that was on my mind for a long time, and it feels good to finally have successfully completed it. It is a collection of places which are unique to Mumbai, most of them you do not find a substitute to.

I was very comfortable going to Mumbai. Of course, it is my city. But I was amazed at how much it has changed in the year and half I was not around. Maybe, that is the thing about cities. Their dynamism always takes you by surprise just when you start thinking that you know it all and that you belong.

The crawl may have missed out on many things. I did not cover Vada Paav, nor the food stalls along the Central Railway line. But I have covered most exclusive things that one should compulsorily try when they are in the city. I will follow the order in which I tried these things. Each of them is an equal favourite. I tried not to cover restaurants and focused on street food as it was a three day long crawl so it does not get too heavy on the pocket. I am proud to say that we only spent about Rs. 1500 per person on food at about 15 places. Hope you guys enjoy going through the list and relate to it.

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Bhagwati Pav Bhaji, Kandivali West. The specialty here is the red chutney which adds loads of flavor.

 

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Malai Roti, Jelly Slices and Minion Candy at Candies, Pali Hill, Bandra.

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Jini Dosa at Anand Food Stall, Opp. NM College, Vile Parle West

 

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Dadpe Pohe at Jivhala, Thakur Complex, Kandivali East. They are nothing like your normal poha and are absolutely mind blowing

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Samosa Sandwich at Zaveri Bazaar, Marine Lines East. This one is my personal favorite

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Ferrero Rocher and Blue Velvet cupcakes at Guilt Trip, Pali Hill, Bandra. Another one is the Lemon cupcake which was not available. 

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Chilli Cheese Fries at The J, Churchgate

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Special Masala Milk at Anando, Girgaum Chowpatty

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Cheese Fried Rice at Sukh Sagar, Girgaum Chowpatty

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Special Kesar Dry Fruit Falooda at Sukh Sagar Juice Center, Girgaum Chowpatty. Really burned a hole in our pockets!

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Puneri Misal at Vinay Health Home, Fanas Wadi

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Kothimbir Wadi at Vinay Health Home

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Millionaire Chocolate Brownie at Theobroma

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Baba Special Falooda at Baba Falooda, Mahim West. This was a first time for me, and it was mind blowing! Complete bang for the buck at just Rs. 110

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Paav Pattice at Dahanukar Wadi, Kandivali West. This is one of a kind in the entire city

We went to Prithvi Cafe too, but forgot to click images. I found new stuff in the city too. Somethings like these

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The I Love Mumbai neon sign at Juhu

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The painting on the new railway bridge at Vile Parle Railway Station.  #satyavachan

The Food Crawl was inevitably a lot of fun. I could reach my potential food capacity for a day and I was proud of it. As they rightly say, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, I am surely in love with the city and the delicious food it has to offer at every nook and corner. The Crawl for me was reliving my childhood as I have been brought up in the southern part of the city and hadn’t tried many of these dishes for a few years, like the Samosa Sandwich. To be honest, we were too full to cover a couple more places that were part of our itinerary. We also walked a lot to help ourselves, 4 kms a day, on an average while on the crawl, to help make space for the next dish! All in all, I would not mind doing this again!

#Hashtag

I was taught to keep an arm’s length
And follow a single file in school
All this to maintain discipline
Now as the arm stretches out
With a camera phone in my hand
And people behind me not in a single file
Making an expression as weird as I can
How we have submitted to this device
Making ourselves look stupid
For a few hundred likes on social media
Capturing moments that have no importance
Applying filters all over more so
Maybe a doggy’s tongue and ears
Or glittery eyes and a flower tiara
Uploading every single detail of  our life
That we otherwise consider to be intimate
Open for everyone to view
Everyone to comment, everyone to judge
What is it that we are trying to achieve
Pouting to our phone screens
Recording our ability to do exactly nothing
The amount of time we waste
For ourselves and for others too
Hashtagging our way to glory, we feel
A new one for every new piece of cloth
Or a new cosmetic, or a new dish
#HidingAwayMyInsecurities
#ThereIsNoSorrowInMyLife
#Hashtag