I was once a part of the problem

For the last few days, people around the globe have been sharing stories of sexual harassment and different other forms of abuse on various platforms of social media. Many people I am acquainted with have come out with incidents of abuse and a few men have come forward to give confessions of the times when they had willingly or unwillingly tried to inflict abuse upon someone. This has got me thinking about many things including how men react when they hear an incident of abuse against women. Twitter has been abuzz with reactions to subsequent hashtags like #NotAllMen. Everything has been pretty much laid out in the open for all to see. A teacher I know posted something on Facebook yesterday which has prompted me to sit down and think. I want to type all these down for everyone to know.

I don’t exactly remember when it began; I guess it became visible after the onset of puberty. I also do not remember the first time when my peers made a vulgar remark against any of the girls in our class. I was in a CBSE government school for the entirety of my school life and the atmosphere after I turned a teenager was one which bred all sorts of negativity towards girls. With the knowledge of pornography and sexual organs came the realization of lust and objectification of women. It seemed like a fun thing to do, commenting about how a classmate’ breasts were suddenly growing large or how her buttocks were starting to become more prominent. It escalated to things like how it would feel to spend one night with the “hot” girl in the next class and how one would actually want to do “things” to her, discussions about female and male genitalia. Things like menstruation disgusted everyone. There were a lot of graphic details involved in all this; enacting everything was one of them as we had a few people who went over the top with things like this. Everything was taken in a very casual manner. Things were said and forgotten in a manner of seconds. None of us gave a second thought about where all this was actually heading to. None of us, for one second, gave a thought that things like this when said aloud can hurt someone, that these things are demeaning. And to be honest, this is how the average teenage life of boys is. After I passed out of school, I used to meet my juniors every now and then and it didn’t take me long to realise that even they were obsessed with the same things as we were.

We never knew the reason why but until 9th grade, we had little to no interaction with the girls in our class. In 9th grade, a class project brought us together as the entire class had to work as a team. I had seldom spoken to girls properly until then. This period of null interaction with the opposite gender created a sort of animosity towards them. We thought them to be egoistic, talkative and irritating in general and hence, best be avoided at all sorts. All of us were borderline misogynistic. In a few years, some of them got girlfriends but they continued to find titillation in the conversations we had.

In a matter of days, phone numbers were exchanged and some of my friends became friends with some of the girls. This didn’t mean that we stopped making lewd jokes among ourselves. Although I was expected to be a part of all this, considering I was in the “gang”, I refrained for most of the time. There were instances when I laughed at the jokes that were made, laughed when comments about body image were made, laughed about the many things involving sex and pornography and while slut shaming someone. If a girl didn’t reciprocate against a guy’s propositions, she was automatically a slut. During this time, a few stories started circulating about a certain girl in school who had engaged in sexual activities and had to get an abortion. To this day, I don’t know what the actual story was nor have I ever made an attempt to find out. In my opinion, it is a completely personal matter and I never wanted to do investigative journalism in this. What appals me now is the amount of slut shaming everyone did against this girl. Stories were narrated in class as to what happened, who was involved, how it happened. Now when I think of it, I see how dangerous we were as humans and I am glad that my mentality has changed. I don’t know about my classmates’ though. My classmates had fun talking about all this without an iota of shame. Even teachers were aware of the comments that were passed against the girl but nobody said a word. I remember her not seeing for the longest time in school and once she came back, people saw her as the example of committing the most disgusting of all crimes, which is to have sex with someone in high school. She was seen as an example of all things wrong with children who aren’t supervised by their guardians. We didn’t even talk about sex; nobody taught us the very definition of it! It was a school which skipped the chapter of Human Reproduction in its entirety. What more can one expect? There was another girl who was called a slut just because she had dated a few boys in our school. She was in a relationship with a control freak and the abuse inflicted upon her was visible. She was ignored by girls while boys slut-shamed her on a daily basis. I have seen my classmate call her a “randi”, right before my very eyes. Abuse was normalised. The bottom line is the guy never even realized that it was abuse. Boys felt that they were entitled to say things because they were boys.

I have been part of all this for many years without realising anything. I have been equally guilty of being silent and not drawing the line between what can be accepted and what cannot. How could I? Nobody ever told me what was right and what was wrong. Parents, teachers, siblings, friends, nobody told us the basics of human compassion. I blame every one of them. Things like mutual respect and gender equality were not part of the curriculum. What we were made to believe was that girls and boys were two separate entities and the more they don’t mingle the better. This was the image that was projected to me by people who were my elders. We never sat with girls, we never shared our lunch, we didn’t talk to them properly for years and we stopped playing with them after 3rd grade. We never understood them and all we learnt by growing up in a small town with limited knowledge about things was that women were objects of desire, like the way popular media and pornography portrayed in front of us.

I am apologetic for the things I have been a part of and for the so-called people I had as friends. I am ashamed for laughing at those demeaning, sexist jokes which we perceived as something normal. I am ashamed of being a part of a population which objectified women, a population which thought about fucking every girl that seemed pretty to them. I am ashamed of being quiet at times when I shouldn’t have. I have realised that I was once a part of the problem but I am glad that things have changed. I cannot speak for my peers but I am speaking for myself.

 

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Through the lens of Cop Shiva

Cop Shiva believes that he is still a village boy even though it has been many years since he left Ramnagar, his birthplace and came to Bangalore in search of a livelihood. “Everybody needs jobs and I have not studied much. I have studied only till the 10th standard. I used to work in different kinds of jobs but I was very good in sports. Because of that reason, I applied for the police services and got it”. Before becoming Cop Shiva, the photographer he was Shivaraju BS, the policeman and even before that he worked as railway policeman. The need for a secure job was important for him as he was the sole breadwinner for his family. “My job as a cop gave me a lot of strength, it has resulted in me respecting people and has taught me how to deal with people”, he says with a smile. This helped him a lot in the long run when he started capturing the lives of ordinary people with extraordinary stories through the lens.

Although he was happy about his job, Shiva had an artistic side which hadn’t yet seen the light of day. He recalls his days as a young boy when he used to read novels and was fascinated by Kannada art films. Apart from him, nobody in his family had any affiliation with the arts. “During my free time, I used to work as a program coordinator at 1 Shanthiroad art gallery. I used to go there and attend the exhibitions and I helped director Suresh Jairam in running the place”. This was the moment for him to discover his passion. He met a lot of artists from different nations who came to the gallery as part of residency programmes. By this time he had taken charge of organising events there and helping out the artists in building their projects. He was also in charge of documentation and picked up a camera for the same. “I started out with a small camera and I was always surrounded by artists, filmmakers, photographers. Over time, I realised that I wanted to do something similar”, Shiva says. But why photography? The answer lies in his 14 years of service as a policeman. He was always out on the streets, surrounded by people, people and more people. This made him understand their lives and as he was a local guy, things were all the more convenient for him. “It is easier to work within your community or within your own people. I feel that as an artist, you always have to work with your community; you have to look around within your circle. No need to look somewhere else”, he says. This resulted in him creating two of his very finest projects Being Gandhi and I Love MGR. Both of these projects have been exhibited in countries like the US, UK, Switzerland and Bangladesh. The former project was recently displayed at The Frank Museum of Art in Otterbein University, Ohio. He remarks that the Gandhi project which started in the year 2009 is still ongoing. “There was a time when people thought that Bagadehalli Basavaraj (the man impersonating Gandhi) was mentally ill. But now they respect him more than ever”, his voice has a tone of achievement.

Shiva has had a knack for looking at what he calls the “hidden” and this has been sort of a driving force for him to keep looking for new subjects. There are untold and ignored stories of people hiding in plain sight. He believes that one has to be curious and observant of the things happening in his/her surroundings. It is not entirely necessary that one has to go to faraway places to document something when there is so much that is waiting to be discovered in your own neighbourhood. And this is clearly reflected from his most recent project titled Ecstasy which chronicles the many obscure festivals and rituals happening in Bangalore. In a time when media has decided not to bring these facets of life to the mainstream, Shiva believes that these stories can be unearthed only if one is constantly observant. For him, this might be capturing some tree or wall while people around you wonder what on earth is there to take a picture of. The eye of a photographer finds beauty in the most mundane. “It is difficult to describe how I have developed that instinct, it is a connection in your mind itself”, he says. He has been a witness to the change this city has gone through but his eye as a photographer still revels in the way he was brought up. “I have been living in this city for a long time now but I still consider myself as a village boy. Maybe the way you look at things is what matters. For me, I think the city is changing only for a certain kind of people”, Shiva quotes.

Pictures from I Love MGR (L) and Being Gandhi (R) Source: copshiva.com

For a photographer, consistency of work is paramount. True, there are times when one may not be able to find the perfect subject but that doesn’t mean one should get disheartened. The reason why Shiva chooses not to take names of people whose works he has admired is due to the fact that many of them have given up photography altogether. “The thing is, now it is easy to buy a camera and consider oneself as a photographer. But you constantly have to keep continuing your work. Only then you will get a good grip, you will get good subjects and it will be possible to create a good body of work”. Of course, there have been times for him when the project reaches a point where it moves slowly due to various factors. It takes time to build up a connection with a person as a subject and that requires a lot of planning. It is a two-way process in which the subject has to be comfortable with the artist as well for a fruitful outcome. For Shiva, a project can go on for as long as ten years but it can never actually reach a point of conclusion because there will always be a new perspective which will mushroom up. He gives the example of his Gandhi project and goes on to say that now he is finding new ways to project it differently. There are a lot of ideas and some of them might not work out but that doesn’t count as a failure.

Looking back at his life as a young boy from a small village, Shiva regrets the fact that he wasn’t born 20 years earlier. With gleaming eyes, he goes on to describe how as an artist it is necessary to look back in the past because it shapes who you are; all your experiences and ideas are noteworthy. “You can compare them and maybe work on an idea which came to you five years ago”, he reveals. His love for films has been a constant for around 20 years and every now and then he has an urge to work in that direction. As of now, this ambition is kept for another day because there are always financial aspects to consider first. No matter how ambitious his aspirations have been, his family has been a constant support for him. “My mother and sister don’t know much about art but they are happy with what I am doing and they are confident about me because I started working when I was 15 years old. I took care of my sister, my nephews. They are all settled now” he says with a smile.

At the onset of his career, Shiva was working rigorously without taking any breaks but now, he has reached a point where he can slow down a bit and reflect on what he has done. But still, he feels that there is a lot that needs to be done. One of the things that he wants to make a reality from his long list of to-dos is to travel across the country. He has been to many places abroad; he recently attended a three-month residency programme in Sweden and there is an upcoming one in Switzerland. “Because of my life and job as a policeman, I couldn’t travel much. There are a lot of things I have missed” he says. Apart from that, there are three projects in the pipeline which will be seeing the light of day soon.

Church Street 2017: In pictures

 

 

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Church Street is located almost in the middle of the map of Bangalore and is regarded by many as the numero uno destination for the youth of the city. The 750 metres stretch houses some of the most iconic places in Bangalore like Blossom Book House, Church Street Social, Amoeba Sports Bar, Indian Coffee House, Hotel Empire and numerous pubs for the thirsty weekenders. BBMP took an ambitious step in February 2017 to create an underground electricity and water pipeline system and as a result, the entire stretch of road had to be dug up. The estimated time allotted for the entire project was six months. It has been more than six months now and the work is far from complete. Business has been affected and the public hasn’t been happy with the turn of events. The pictures below show the Church Street of 2017.

 

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If one gets down in front of Hotel Empire, this is what he/she would be greeted with. Currently, this part of the street is the most affected as there is construction happening on both sides of the road as a result of which entry to Church Street has been stopped temporarily. Parking outside Hotel Empire has been prohibited, much to the dismay of the staff. “Business has been hit really hard. People have turned away because there is no place to park their huge vehicles”, says Sayed, an employee of Hotel Empire. Access to the hotel has been closed from one side which has been causing inconvenience to customers. The street becomes increasingly muddy due to all of the digging which is a nightmare for pedestrians.

 

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These are the pipes which have been laid down alongside the road. All of them are electrical lines while a central concrete pipe runs beneath, carrying water from the storm drains. There will be underground junction boxes beside the electrical lines. Also, there will be manholes like the one visible in the picture above. Abbas, a worker in the BBMP says, “It has been problematic for us to work because of the traffic. It is a good thing vehicular entry is barred now. Most of the delay is only due to traffic and the rains. Work will be over mostly within the next three months”.  The electrical wires inside the pipes haven’t been laid yet and Abbas is clueless as to when that will be done. One can see that the trees alongside the road have been preserved although there are a few which had to be cut down.

 

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Entry of four wheelers has been prohibited in the area and parking on the side of the road would result in towing. The towing truck makes multiple rounds in the area and it is mostly the two wheelers who become the prey. As I was standing alongside the road, one guy came in an Audi and asked a man standing beside me for a place where one could pay some cash and park his/her vehicle. The man said he had never heard of such a place and warned him about the towing truck. “There’s no way they can tow the car away. Look at the road. I would love to see them try”, the man chuckled and walked off. Traders have been demanding the complete ban of vehicles which is the chief reason behind the delay in the completion of the project. Vehicles make walking all the more difficult as there is always one car that is stuck in the middle of the road somewhere.

 

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It was a Saturday afternoon. One doesn’t need to be informed that Saturdays are the time of the week when Church Street comes to life. In spite of all the inconvenience, there was a line of youngsters waiting outside Russh, one of the most happening pubs in the area, known for its attractive happy hour offers. Such is the spirit of Bangaloreans! “I don’t come here frequently. I thought I will come here and park my scooter but then I had to go all the way around to MG Road and park it and then I had to walk till here. That’s a real inconvenience”, says Afnas, a student.

 

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The work is more or less complete once you cross Blossoms Book House. The footpaths are yet to be constructed properly and there are uncovered manholes everywhere. All the establishments alongside the road were given a notice prior to the start of the project and most of them had been supportive of the idea. But, as time has passed, business has been hit and there has been a foul cry due to that. “It’s not that bad anymore. Earlier, the water from the streets used to come when the digging was taking place. All the shops had to pay for the new electrical connections but I don’t think anyone has complained with regard to all that. We believe that it is for the greater good so it’s fine”, says Rooh, an employee at Amoeba Sports Bar. One of the BBMP workers told me that the entire complex which houses shops like Hysteria and the electronics shops (picture above) will be demolished and a new building has been instructed to set up.

 

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Uncovered manholes like this pose a grave threat to pedestrians, especially when it is raining.

 

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This is the road right next to the Times Network office and is the zone where most of the work is taking place. The first impression one would get from looking at this site is an area struck by a bomb blast. Electrical and water pipes crisscross each other and it is difficult to make out which is going where. Workers have been working tirelessly to complete the work in this zone. Vehicular traffic is completely prohibited as there is no place for cars to go. One can only imagine the plight of people living in the houses on the far side of the street due to this disruption.

The redevelopment project for the roads has been undertaken by TenderSURE with a budget of Rs. 9 crores. The entire project was divided into two phases. This part of the area belongs to Phase I while Phase II is from Rest House Crescent Road junction to St. Mark’s Road junction. So the next you go to Church Street, don’t be surprised if a JCB like the one above is blocking your path, although it is highly advisable to not tread this road when it’s raining.

 

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All photographs have been taken with a Moto G3 and have been post-processed using VSCO

As they keep searching      

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Many wannabe musicians feel that following music full-time in this country does not pay off financially. And this insecurity tends to make many abandon their dreams and passions. This wasn’t the case for Uddipan Sarmah, the lead singer and guitarist for Ahmedabad’s Hindi-post rock and ambient outfit aswekeepsearching. The band has received critical acclamation since the release of their debut album Khwaab in October 2015 and has played in shows headlined by the likes of Tides From Nebula and Steven Wilson. The band is back with their latest 11-track offering ZIA, which was released in May. Since the band’s formation in 2013, they have come a long way. From playing in shows without any payment to signing off a deal with a music label from Russia, the journey has been tough but rewarding at the same time.

Shubham Gurung (Guitarist/Keyboardist) and Sarmah came up with the idea of the project when the latter was doing his engineering graduation from Dayanand Sagar College, Bangalore. “I have known him for the past ten years. We have been making different music whenever we used to catch up. I was in Bangalore, doing my graduation and he used to be home in Ahmedabad so whenever I had semester breaks, we used to sit and write music,” says Sarmah. After his graduation with an electrical engineering degree, Sarmah worked as an application engineer for a year and a half before taking quite a risky step and quitting his job in 2013. “I had two years of experience and a degree and even if I had to lose two more years doing music, it wouldn’t have hampered me and so I decided to pursue music full-time”, he says. Coming back to Ahmedabad, Sarmah decided to open up BlueTree Studios, his own personal recording space which proved to be a major asset for the band’s activities. “I started producing other artists, mostly local artists from Ahmedabad. And since we had our own space, a lot of things got easier for us, for example, to record or maybe sit in a studio and write scratches,” he says. Sarmah approached a mostly DIY process when it came to the technicalities of the recording process by consulting YouTube videos and experimenting on his own personal projects including the band’s first EP released in the year 2014 titled Growing Suspicions.

“After the studio was up, I and Shubham decided that it was time to take things forward professionally. Thus, we wrote some scratches from our side but we were short of a bassist and a drummer. That is when we met Tushar and Ashwin Naidu who filled up for the duties respectively,” he says. The release of the EP generally got them a positive reception and the next step in Sarmah’s mind was taking it live. But things weren’t so easy for them. “We jammed but we didn’t get any shows for around 7 to 8 months. And we were from Ahmedabad which didn’t have a scene and until and unless you come out of the city and play in other cities, nobody notices your work. And I believe at that point of time, there were a lot of other bands who were doing really great and for a new band to reach out to a larger audience was really difficult,” Sarmah recalls.

Tushar and Naidu decided to leave the band in late 2014 for their musical pursuits. Current drummer Gautam Deb and bassist Bob Alex came into the picture after a few moments of discussion and jamming sessions proved them able for the job. Sarmah goes on to talk about the genre they are associated with, something which is quite underground in the country. “We never considered writing post-rock music. It was more of like our whole influences put together into a song and when it was released people started categorising it into post rock. We were influenced by that genre and bands like God Is An Astronaut for instance and that is evident, but our music has elements of electronica, rock and metal and I think that makes us much more than a post-rock band,” he remarks. What set the band apart are their Hindi vocals and Sarmah believes that this was something which made them interesting and the audience felt that this was different within the scene as there wasn’t such an amalgamation between Hindi and western influences. The quartet might be the only Hindi post-rock band on the planet.

Sarmah was able to sign up a record deal with Flowers Blossom In The Space from Russia who was seemingly impressed by the music that they were making and this led to preparations for their first debut Khwaab. “Every band’s first album is always something which is special. We ended up getting some really genuine fans who came out to see us live and then talked about how good the experience was. We are a performance based band and live shows mean a lot to us,” Sarmah says. The five city tour in Russia during October 2016 was a turning point in their career and even provided inspiration for a song titled There You Are in ZIA. “It is old now and we have talked enough about that tour. Let’s just say it was a fun experience,” says Sarmah.

ZIA chronicles the various adventures and feelings the band members felt while travelling and touring after Khwaab’s success. “This time we sat down and discussed our experiences and decided to write songs based on them. What we felt collectively was really deep and so it was easy for me to write the lyrics for the album. Khwaab was more of a random album while this isn’t,” Sarmah says. The production took one and a half years with delays mostly due to touring. Sarmah and Gurung travelled to a small village named Kalga in Himachal Pradesh for a week which inspired the song Kalga. “Going there was more of a personal choice because we thought that we were at that moment of time when we were lacking some creativity and wanted to take a break from constant gigs and travelling. Even then we definitely had that whole thing on our head of writing music there. We took a few instruments with us so that we could program and write scratches,” he says. ZIA features three guest musicians namely Sambit Chatterjee from Ganesh Talkies, Ajay Jayanthi from Anand Bhaskar Collective and Rishabh Seen from Delhi-based prog band Mute The Saint. On taking this step, Sarmah says “The moment we were done with the songwriting and recording, we felt like in some songs we had some space for some tabla, strings and sitar. So, we sent it to the artists and they really liked it and the moment they sent us the scratches, we liked it in the first go itself”

Being featured on UK’s prestigious PROG Magazine and Metal Hammer has been earning them quite an international presence. Many blogs have reviewed their new album and the reception has been positive. When asked about the band’s future prospects, Sarmah makes it really clear, “Now we are only focusing on the gigs ahead of us. We are doing a 14-city India Tour starting from September 5th. We will also be playing live in the NH7 Weekender in both Pune and Shillong. So now, all we want is to go onstage and just play the music. Once we are done playing ZIA in different venues, we will plan for the future.”

Chronicling KR Market

These photographs describe my journey to KR Market (Krishna Rajendra Market) and the different things I saw and experienced. All the photographs are taken by me using my cell phone. The pictures have been post processed up to a certain extent. The photographs were taken on 26th February 2017.

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Although KR Market is situated only three kilometres from where I live, I had never had the opportunity to visit this place. One of my friends sent me a link to an event which was happening in the so-called KR Flower Market. I had seen pictures of this place but didn’t have any idea as to what it was really like. Taking an auto, I was whisked away to a place which was different from the Bengaluru I usually got to see. Away from all the glass structures and multinational IT companies, KR Market was a place that was disorganised. This was the first word that came to my mind. Honking buses, auto rickshaws slithering down around like cockroaches, people crossing the road without any kind of warning sign, flyovers spanning overhead and the indefinite noise; this was how KR Market welcomed me. The weather was searing and as I got out of the auto, I saw people bustling around me, the big white mosque to my right, a big red building to my left, traffic policemen trying to regulate the traffic, buses still honking and Google Maps shutting down unexpectedly. I started walking towards this mysterious KR Flower Market.

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Taking directions from a boy who was selling vegetables, I came to know that the Flower Market was in a building behind the red building. Crossing the road, I entered this huge complex which had numerous shops which sold mainly two commodities i.e. hardware items and flowers. I asked another guy as to where the courtyard of the Flower Market was and he told me to walk down the corridors and take a left. KR Market took me back to Chowk Bazaar in Tezpur. Narrow lanes with shops on both sides but the only difference here were that almost all these shops sold flowers. There were shops selling varying types of jasmine that are usually used to make gajra along with garlands and other flowers. The air had an odour which resembled the mixture of several different flowers, pungent but somehow choking at the same time. After walking a few more steps, I could hear the sound of drums beating in the distance. I knew that my destination was nearing and I followed the sound.

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The drum beats grew louder as I approached the courtyard of the flower market. It was a huge open space where flowers were being sold on all four sides. There was a crowd gathered around near a tall pillar where a mural had been unveiled. Beneath the mural was four men drumming djembes in a much pepped up beat and hands were raised recording the performance. Inching a bit closer into the crowd, I heard the sound of someone playing the flute as well and saw a woman dancing. The courtyard had baskets full of flowers, placed in huge mounds. Red, orange, violet, pink, it was a spectacular display of colour. A kind I had never seen before and which left me in awe. People around me were clicking pictures, whistling and craning their necks. People on the second and third floors of the building were peering down at the performers, hooting and whistling occasionally. A few customers roamed around, checking flowers to buy while there were a few groups who were silently weaving garlands. A few foreigners were astounded by what was happening around them. This place was alive with activity!

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I decided to go upstairs to get a bird’s eye view. And this is what I saw

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Hardware shops adorned the first and the second floor of the entire complex. And most of these shops sold drilling machines. There were shops selling pumps, bathroom fittings, electronic items, tools and hardware, even steel and aluminium utensils but drilling and drilling repair shops outnumbered everything else. Somehow, this gave an industrial edge to the whole place. These shops stayed away from the flower shops and were creating a contrasting dimension within the whole place.

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I decided to leave the courtyard and decided to explore the other parts of the market. Never in my life did I know that selling flowers can be such a big business idea. There were people who were feeding entire families just by engaging in this business and the daily transaction that happened created a lot of revenue. What was even more interesting was the variety of flowers one could find in this place. It included everything from roses to jasmines, crossandras, barlerias and much more. I couldn’t help but think about where these flowers came from, where were they grown and how they were available on such a large scale. On asking a bystander I came to know that most of these flowers came from the area along the Mysuru – Bengaluru highway. Another observation which I gathered was that this business was mostly run by the Muslim community. A few men nearby were weaving garlands. I decided to take a photograph of them but one guy sitting in the middle told me not to do so because they were doing a ‘religious process’, which shouldn’t be disturbed. A few others sitting beside him laughed but they were too engrossed to look up at what was happening.

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KR Market is one of the few remaining places in Bengaluru which has been untouched by modernity. This place would call me back again because in the midst of all the people and the grime and the sweat lies a raw, unpolished sense of something old and ancient. To an outsider like me, it shows Bengaluru’s past and the way this past has been preserved. Just beside KR Market lies Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace and Bangalore Fort; the walls of which are still standing to this day. As I was leaving the market, someone got mango juice in a tray for 30 rupees. My body demanded something to cool itself down. Standing near the stairs, I saw this guy selling paan, a commodity which is as important in Assam as sambhar is in Bengaluru. KR Market reminds me of my home in varying ways and I will be coming back soon.

Sartre’s version of hell

Spanning over two hours, Jean Paul Sartre’s seminal 1944 play No Exit (Huis Clos) is an acquired taste. It has to be consumed one take at a time, like the gentle chewing of undercooked rice. As part of Bangalore Little Theatre’s (BLT) three-day French Theatre Festival, Alliance Francaise de Bangalore staged the play on 20th August. BLT’s Director Training programme is an initiative to propel new artists and directors to come up with live productions within three months while learning to manage a theatre production. The third edition of the festival saw two more plays staged; Jean Anouilh’s Dinner With The Family and Moliere’s Tartuffe.

 

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Joseph Garcin in conversation with the bellboy

 

The afternoon show at 1 seemed auspicious with the patchy sky and the venue had a sombre air, synonymous to what an existentialist play would demand. Although it wasn’t a full house, as expected on an afternoon, the people present in the room had not come to watch just any other play. Sartre demands your attention at all times and fraying from this rule even for a moment means one cannot comprehend the next scene. The play, directed by Deepak Mote is a mélange of many sensory elements. One has to shift between what is happening on stage to what is happening on the other part of the stage while being in tune with the rumbling bass, snare drum with the cymbals against the backdrop.

‘Hell is other people’ is the meaning behind Sartre’s No Exit. As three individuals find themselves in a not-so-everyday living room sans the ‘devices of torture’, their conception of how the afterlife of damnation would be like comes crashing down. A bellboy with neatly combed hair in a snappy black jacket comes on stage and brings into the room its first occupant Joseph Garcin and answers many of his stock questions about torture chambers and hellfire. Garcin is soon followed by Inez and Estelle, two women who are to be his roommates for eternity. “It’s like this”, says Garcin in an inquisitive manner. “It’s like this”, answers the bellboy in a bored fashion.

The three occupants start showing their connections to the real world, portrayed by dancers on the other part of the stage, separated by a flimsy cloth. It gives the idea that it is within one’s reach yet unreachable. There are no mirrors in the room and the furniture is colour coded to match their personalities. Estelle frantically looks for a mirror to check on her appearance. Inez offers to be her mirror and tells her to look into her eyes. As Estelle frantically tries to put on her lipstick, Inez reveals the many dark secrets of Estelle and frightens her to the core. The three of them serve as mirrors for each other and in turn become unrelenting torturers.

Garcin is a dapper figure dressed in a beige coat and white shirt, a journalist from Rio de Janeiro by profession. As the heat in the room rises, he sheds his civilised self and the caricature of the coward and the unfaithful wife abuser he came out. He flees his country during the outbreak of the war and gets killed in action. Estelle, clad in a lilac one piece dress is a chirping flirtatious lady from Paris but like Garcin, her true face of a hypocrite and a child murderer propelled by lust and vanity emerges. Inez is a cold and calculated figure who is not afraid to say her mind and stand up for the same. A lesbian postal clerk, she ends up turning her cousin’s wife against him resulting in the murder of the latter. She doesn’t flinch away from showing her sexual desire towards Estelle who never reciprocates. Estelle, on the other hand, shows her lascivious nature towards Garcin because he is a man. Although reluctant at first, Garcin finally gives in to Estelle’s advancements, much to the distaste of Inez. He begs Estelle to not call him a coward and while she complies, Inez remarks that Estelle is doing the same just to feign attraction because he is a man and at this point, any man would do for her. This causes Joseph to make an attempt of escape from the room and although the door opens up, he isn’t able to leave because his redemption lies in convincing Inez that he isn’t a coward.

As their verbal paroxysms shoot up with the temperature in the room, the trio is able to see the characters they formed while they were alive. Now, in hell, nothing can be changed but to shed their outer pretentious selves and embrace what lies inside them. Isolated in space and time, in a room when the night never comes they are able to perceive the torture device they themselves are to one another. For all eternity, Estelle won’t care that Garcin is a coward till he kisses her; Garcia won’t be able to kiss her because he knows he is a coward while Inez will always despise Garcia and lust after Estelle in vain.

The lighting and the musical score in the backdrop play a crucial role in the play, highlighting the moments of crescendo. Somehow, the electricity cuts in between the play would not have surprised the viewer as it fits seamlessly into the atmosphere of it. The dancers depicting the earthly lives of the three characters are able to portray the emotion that is expected from them. The play gives Sartre’s message that for the living, change is always possible until the final choice is made.

Ten years a home

Duliajan is also known as the Oil Town of Assam. Digboi, the place where the Britishers dug the first oil well in the country is situated just 80 kilometres away. Oil India Limited found oil fields in Duliajan and established a modern0town with quarters and various other amenities for their employees. I was born in a hospital which had the words Oil India in it. C-Type, our first quarter was a cramped 2-BHK house which was excruciatingly hot during summers, owing to the asbestos roofs above. It was the house where I watched Teletubbies and Kaun Banega Crorepati as a toddler for the first time while my father struggled with the TV antenna outside to get a good signal. Cable hadn’t arrived till then. It was also the house which housed our vomit yellow FIAT Padmini in the cane-walled garage while the red Hero Honda gleamed beside it. Most importantly, it was the house whose walls were abused with crayons by yours truly in such a disgusting way that the occupants after us were traumatised.

 

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Somewhere in Duliajan. Credits: http://dada.theblogbowl.in/2012/11/the-badminton-chronicles.html

 

I was a particularly shy kid, as my parents tell me. Babu Dada was my favourite relative. His mother used to call me out from the back of their gate in the evenings while I stood behind our gate looking like some lost puppy, drooling. Sometimes she opened the gate and advanced to pick me up and that was when I ran inside. They lived opposite to our house. Babu Dada was a teenager at that time and he had a lot of good toys, especially that green truck which was my favourite among the lot. He gave me that truck when we left C-Type as a parting gift. I was ecstatic. I attended a play school for some time before going to Tiny Tots for kindergarten. My father used to haul me up on the petrol tank of our Hero Honda and drop me till the school, which was actually a house. On a hot summer day, the tank used to burn my bum but I seldom paid any attention to it. A few passers-by giggled as they saw me sitting awkwardly on the tank and not on the back seat. I was too young to sit back there without falling off. When my father napped in the afternoons, I used to go near the bike and twist its accelerator while making bike noises. I could never reach the seat. One foot rested on the ground while the other used to stay at the footrest. There is a picture of me doing that when one day my father saw me and got very fascinated. We had a Yashica back then and father used to take a lot of pictures with it.

Outside our quarters, we had a small garden in which big, yellow dahlias bloomed during spring. My mother was fond of gardening and there was space to do all that. We also had a few jasmine plants and chrysanthemums. Then one day, there was a storm. We had been reading the papers that a cyclone was imminent and we were terrified. Father was out of Duliajan for some reason and my mom and sister were even more worried as to what was going to happen. None of us even knew what a cyclonic phenomenon was. There were high-speed winds that day and it rained for hours. We stayed inside and I think my mother was praying now and then, she is immensely scared of thunder and lightning. The cyclone didn’t blow us all away but it decimated the garden outside. It was pitiful to look at all the dismantled flowers which my mother painstakingly grew. She was upset. I had experienced a cyclone for the first time and survived through it.

Father got a promotion and we had to leave C-Type by the time I enrolled into a nursery. We moved to the quarters named DD (pronounced Double D) which were a few kilometres away. DD was resided by people who belonged to the ‘executive classes. We got free gas, free electricity, free water, a maid, and a small patch of a garden, a large 2-BHK house which had a terrace which made the house hot yet again and three families as immediate neighbours in the block. Parul Didi was our maid and she used to take me to Tiny Tots. She was from Andhra Pradesh but she had lived in Duliajan for many years and had learnt Assamese. She used to bathe me, feed me and tolerate all my not-gonna-go-to-school tantrums early in the morning while my mom shouted in the background; I hated school from the very beginning. I walked with her to Tiny Tots for three years. She introduced my mom to idli and even got a cooker from her native place and taught her the process of using it. Back then, my mother was one experimental cook. We got a microwave oven and I was fixated in just opening and closing the damned door of it. It was probably the best invention I had seen till then. Mom even made dhoklas in that oven.

We lived on the first floor and DD-39 had a balcony too. Overlooking the balcony was a badly maintained road and across that was a high concrete wall with barbed wires on top. Beyond the wall lay a stretch of tea plantations which extended all the way to the horizon. Sometimes we saw women and kids plucking tea leaves and they waved at us when we stood in the balcony. I waved back at them but my mother was a bit reluctant to do that for some reason. There was a road on the horizon which went to this place called Tinsukia and the vehicles plying looked like fireflies at night with their headlights. My mother got a lot of potted plants and decorated the balcony to match those of our neighbours. Our neighbours were nice people but I never had the kind of toys their children had. They had Beyblades and Hot Wheels sets while I was only permitted to have a small blue Maruti Zen and a yellow Tata Sumo. Sometimes I felt that gross injustice was done to me but I seldom protested in front of my parents. There was this one incident in Oil Market. Everything in Duliajan had Oil in it, even the market. So, Oil Market was this enclosed bazaar that we frequented. There was a shop named Pick-Me which we crossed on our way to other shops. It had a glass-paned counter and behind that were chocolates. There was one big blue pack of Dairy Milk which I will never forget; it is perhaps the biggest Dairy Milk I have ever seen. I don’t remember how many times I begged my mother to buy me that, but she never did. One time, I got so hysterical that the shopkeepers inside looked surprised as to what was happening outside. My mom, on the other hand, did not budge.

Our neighbours included our family to the executive life by taking us to Zaloni Club. The place was a hangout place for many of the people in our colony and others. It had a movie theatre which was also an auditorium, a swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, a bar, a restaurant, a canteen, open space with a stage for events that happened, a gym, a place for aerobics, a venue for table tennis, a small cricket pitch and a lot of rooms behind which I don’t know what lay. None of us had seen a place like this and we were surprised by the openness of culture over there. Kids were roaming around in shorts, speaking fluent English because they were from DPS (I was in KV and there was a rivalry with them) while their mothers walked around in high heels with short hair and smeared themselves with red lipstick. All the kids in my neighbourhood did some kind of coaching in Zaloni Club, some did tennis, others did squash or swimming or TT. Naturally, my parents expected me to do something as well. My father joined the gym and found his long lost love for swimming and so did my sister. Mom joined aerobics and gym for a short time as well. Everyone lived a very healthy, active lifestyle. I tried swimming but failed miserably due to hydrophobia and I screamed and wailed in the swimming pool and made life hell for my father. “I am not taking this good-for-nothing back there again”, he told my mom one day. I enrolled for TT instead because tennis was beyond my physical capabilities. I was the only noobie in the TT department and the coach ignored me because he already had some ten kids who were playing quite well and deserved more attention. I learnt some of the basics but failed to catch the attention of the coach. My first time of watching a movie in the theatre happened here as well. It was The Polar Express which was screened as part of Club Week, a week long fiesta involving a lot of food, games, competitions and other upper-class stuff like flower shows and all. Most of my friends in the neighbourhood went there while I was forbidden to do so. Kids were allowed to buy ice cream by just signing a coupon and writing their parents’ name. They didn’t have to pay money because it got deducted automatically from the parents’ bank account. I was strictly forbidden to do this as well.

In the Club Week of the year 2004, I decided to take part in a children marathon race. It started from Zaloni Club went through the DX quarters, took a U-Turn, beside the Golf Course and back to the starting point. It was a beautiful stretch, shady with trees and shrubs along the side of the road. There was a kid who lived in a couple of blocks from us named Riki. Now, the news was floating that Riki had been practising for the event with his father in the Golf Course every evening. Everyone in the neighbourhood was sure that he will bag the first prize. I didn’t do any practising but my father gave me a couple of tips. Start slow, keep your stamina for the final 400 meters, let everyone pass you first but they would eventually die out, regulate your breathing and do not open your mouth at any cost. I did the same, I was in the third position for quite a long time and was content with that. The organisers gave everyone Center Fresh before the race. That’s when I got greedy. I stopped and my fingers went into the pocket to get my chewing gum. I looked back and saw a few kids but they were far. I forgot the last rule my father said and ate the gum and started running. Naturally, I inhaled from my mouth and that’s when my lungs got tired and the lactic acid crept in. There was a shooting pain and I lost my speed. There was still around 300 meters to cover and my breath was gone. I saw a kid run past me and then another until some four kids crossed me. Ricky was in the first place as expected and he won. I sipped the glucose which was given after the race dejectedly, cursing myself. Back home, I told my parents what happened and they face-palmed themselves on my stupidity.

Duliajan was one terrific place. After father got a transfer and we shifted to Tezpur, I and my sister got a tremendous culture shock. We had to leave our executive lives behind and move to a place which was ordinary and mundane, didn’t have clubs or swimming pools or round-the-day electricity. It took me around six months to assimilate with the new place but I missed Duliajan a lot. Many years down the line, I occasionally gave a thought as to how life would have been like if I grew up in Duliajan as a teenager. It would have been exciting and active and fun-filled maybe. But in some ways, I was also glad that I was able to grow up in a much humbler setting than Duliajan, amidst the common folk. I left Duliajan in 2005 and haven’t seen it ever since. From what I have heard, things are pretty much the same. There are still Club Weeks and other stuff which happen every year. Many of the kids I knew played with are doing different things in different places. Duliajan was my hometown for nine years but it gave me moments worth writing for.