Monday, August 20, 2012

Got the nerve?

This morning I read a quote by Margaret Atwood
"You Need A Certain Amount of Nerve to Be A Writer" It drew me in and I clicked on the twitter link (courtesy AdviceToWriters, Jon Winokur) to read the whole thing.

"You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer, an almost physical nerve, the kind you need to walk a log across a river."

So true and a bit scary. Quite a bit scary I would say. There are times after I finish writing something that I get this feeling. Is it really me writing this? What nerve? I have often wondered if other writers have ever felt this way and there, Margaret Atwood has answered that question.

Its almost a year since my last post which was on the second day of the nanowrimo 2011. At the end of the challenge (yes, I did win, for those curious to know the outcome) I felt quite exhausted. It took me nearly a month to start writing again. Now as August moves slowly towards September, I already have that feeling at the back of my neck, am I ready for the challenge a second time? I find that I am going to take the 2012 challenge.

And I agree with Ms Atwood. Completely.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The NaNoWriMo Challenge

For those trying to figure out the mouthful - NaNoWriMo  - It is a challenge that writers the world over take up every November to write each day and complete atleast 50,000 words of a novel length work in the month. I have taken it up for the first time this year.

It started in 1999 in San Francisco and come November, a quarter of a million people turn into "Wrimos."
Details are available on the NaNoWriMo website.

In India, there are writers in Pune, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Delhi, Kochi, Kottayam, Ahmedabad and possibly others who have joined in.

Why did I take the challenge?

It took me over 10 years to complete my first novel. It started in June 1999 and was my first attempt at writing. I went through much of writerly angst, self-doubt, self-ridicule, insecurity, frenzy to be published, writer's block, the list is long. Learning about the craft of writing was possible by reading articles on the internet, interviews of published authors, publishers, agents and subscribing to writing newsletters. It was also during this period that I finallly accepted writing as a long term vocation that I will work at along with my career in business and project management and running a home.  Finding my writing voice happened somewhere along the way. I dabbled in poetry and short stories. I wrote monthly articles and features on India for a magazine published in New York that nobody in India ever got to read. Except for a few colleagues and associates who spotted my writing by catching the magazine on a flight or a hotel in the US. When they told me about it, it was a great high! I had got my desire to be published channelized by these writing gigs.

But the novel remains central to my writing existence. The first one is almost complete and I have started to submit to publishers and agents. With the NaNoWriMo challenge, I have kick-started my second novel. It is an idea as yet undeveloped. But the book will emerge now, as I write everyday of this November. I want to do in a month for the second novel what I took years to do for the first.  Its audacious, over-ambitious. But I am raising the bar higher on myself and want to reach it if I can. I am going to try my hardest best to reach it. For, during these years of struggle with the first book, I discovered the joy of writing. A line or a turn of phrase or a paragraph even, that brings a smile to my face as I go to sleep. A turn of phrase that pleases me.

Writing is the one thing that I hope to keep doing until the day I die.

But let me not get carried away with all these happy thoughts. There's writing to be done.
So now,  back to Day2 of NaNoWriMo 2011 !!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rights and Responsibilities

There has been a deluge of articles and news items on the recent movement against corruption. First by Anna Hazare and his associates from the civil society, then by Baba Ramdev and his followers. While the electronic media has been giving minute to minute accounts of the movements and organizing multi-party discussions on location and in studio, the subject itself is hotly debated everywhere in varying intensities.

Politicians from different parties have either supported the movement or opposed it based on personal opinions or depending on which side of the parliament benches they occupy – the governing side or the opposition. One minister from the ruling party likened the fast of Anna Hazare in pursuit of the Jan Lok Pal bill to holding a gun to the government’s head!

The focus of editorials, columns and op-eds of a majority of newspapers has been on showing how wrong it is for civil society to try to do what is obviously the role of the government. In fact, who constitutes civil society? Several columnists have declared that these movements are undemocratic, renamed civil society to “so-called civil society.”

So what is the role of a citizen? What are her rights and responsibilities in this current scenario? If a government official or elected representative is corrupt what should a citizen do? Report it to the media, raise an alarm in the affected community, try to access information through RTI Act to prove the allegations.

The RTI Act was passed and received assent from the President of India on 15th June 2005. 

In 2005? That is rather recent isn’t it? So I looked up the history of the RTI on the net. I found more than one source .  

History of Right to Information movement in India

To cut a long and successful story short, in the early 1990s, the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS), a group of workers and farmers from Rajasthan, fought for fair working conditions and wages for daily wage earners and farmers by using the method of Jan Sunwai (public hearing) to raise awareness of the practical value of the right to information for poor people. MKSS lead the national campaign for right to information and continues to use the right to information to empower local people to root out corruption and hold their government representatives to account.

The movement for the right to information was started in early 1990s by Mazdoor Kisaan
Shakti Sangathan (which literally means ‘organisation for the empowerment of workers
and peasants’) in remote village Devdungri (Rajsamand district, Rajasthan).  It was a
movement to expose corruption in the famine relief work by demanding information
related to copies of bills, vouchers and muster rolls for workers  recorded in government

Under the slogan ‘Our Money-Our Accounts’ MKSS workers and villagers demanded their local administrators to provide them with an account of all expenditure made in relation to development work sanctioned for the area. While there was resistance at all levels, little by little, as public pressure continued and the media began to take notice, the Government relented and eventually provided the information requested.

MKSS then used the information disclosed to organise ‘social audits’ of the administration’s books. They organised Jan Sunwais/public hearings to see if the information in the government’s records tallied with the reality of the villagers’ own knowledge of what was happening on the ground. Not surprisingly, it did not tally.

At each public hearing, a description of the development project, its timelines, implementation methods, budget and outputs would be read out along with the record of who had been employed, how long they had worked and how much they had been paid. Villagers would then stand up and point out discrepancies - dead people were listed, amounts paid were recorded as being higher than in reality, absent workers were marked present and their pay recorded as given, and thumb impressions that prove receipt of payments were found to be forged.

Most tellingly, public works like roads, though never actually constructed, were marked completed in government books. Though many villagers were illiterate, through face-to-face public hearings they could scrutinise complex and detailed accounts, question their representatives and make them answerable on the basis of hard evidence.

 Following a period of struggle, MKSS succeeded in acquiring photocopies of the
relevant documents in which the siphoning of funds was clearly evident. The successful
experiments of exposing corruption through access to information was good learning experience for civil society, led to the demand of enactment of RTI law in Rajasthan. Government of Rajasthan yielded to pressure of movement and enacted the law in 2000.

Success of struggle of MKSS led to the genesis of a broader discourse on the right to
information in India and RTI  laws were enacted in some states  of India. The demand for
national law started under the leadership of National Campaign on People’s Right to
Information (NCPRI). In 1996, the Press Council of India headed by Justice P B Sawant presented a draft model law on right to information to the Government of India. A working group (Shourie Committee) under the chairmanship of Mr. H D Shourie was set up by the Central Government and given the mandate to prepare draft legislation on freedom of information. The Shourie Committee's Report and draft law were published in 1997.

Eventually, the Shourie Committee draft law was reworked into the Freedom of
Information Bill (FOI) 2000, which was passed in the Parliament in 2002 but it was not
notified. However, civil society raised several objections to FOI bill and suggested
amendments to National Advisory Council. As a result of long drawn struggle of civil
society; the RTI was enacted in 2005 in India.

But the key question is, can RTI be an effective tool for ensuring accountability in governance institutions? What happens when the information available through RTI reveals acts of corruptions on part of government officials or elected representatives? Would an independent Jan Lok Pal then help in investigations and pave the way for prosecution of the corrupt?

If a group of citizens of India agitated for the passage of the RTI Act, is it not their right, nay responsibility to see that an effective Jan Lok Pal bill be passed? Wait a minute, isn’t that what Anna Hazare and his team have been trying to do? Exercising their rights and responsibilities as citizens of India?

Journalists and news media now effectively use the RTI to get information, frame questions, write editorials, columns and op-eds.  Just like some years from now, they will use the happenings and proceedings of the Jan Lok Pal to frame questions, write editorials, columns and op-eds. But for that to happen, the Jan Lok Pal has to be in place and the Jan Lok Pal bill has to be passed by parliament.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Support the movement against corruption

At the moment of writing this, there are over half a million official supporters of the India Against Corruption Movement. In reality, there are many many more supporters of Anna Hazare’s fast and movement to get the Jan LokPal Bill redrafted and passed.

Details of the existing draft of the Jan Lok Pal bill and suggestions to change it are all available on the India Against Corruption website.

On 6th April Anna Hazare wrote to the PM again and here is the complete text of  the letter.
Here is an important excerpt from that letter by Anna Hazare to the PM:

We are not saying that you should accept the Bill drafted by us. But kindly create a credible platform for discussions . a joint committee with at least half members from civil society suggested by us. Your spokespersons are misleading the nation when they say that there is no precedent for setting up a joint committee. At least seven laws in Maharashtra were drafted by similar joint committees and presented in Maharashtra Assembly. Maharashtra RTI Act, one of the best laws of those times, was drafted by a joint committee. Even at the centre, when 25,000 tribals came to Delhi two years ago, your government set up a joint committee on land issues within 48 hours. You yourself are the Chairperson of that committee. This means that the government is willing to set up joint committees on all other issues, but not on corruption. Why?

Politicians showed their true colours from the first day onwards. By evening of 5th April, the first day of the fast, spokesperson of the Congress Party Abhishek Manu Singhvi showed his and his party’s contemptuous attitude by saying that others were instigating the veteran social activist to take a premature action. It speaks volumes about the ruling party and its attitude towards an activist using Gandhian methods to root out corruption. It shows how far the ruling party has moved away from the principles of the father of the nation.

Dr Kiran Bedi made a very valid and important point when she said that if Public-Private partnerships can be pursued for business ventures or infrastructure projects, why is there so much opposition in letting the citizens participate in the drafting of a bill that is so necessary in today’s time to root out corruption from the polity of India. 

Manish Tewari, another spokesperson of the Congress Party tried to obfuscate the issue by saying that there is the legislative and the executive of the government to make and pass the bill. Where is the need of people like Anna Hazare to intervene? Well, perhaps Mr Tewari does not realize that viewers and readers are not fools.  What is asked by the eminent citizens is that they be a part of a committee to draft the Jan Lokpal Bill. They are not asking the government to bypass any constitutional authorities nor short circuit any existing democratic methods. It is a straight forward, valid suggestion.

The BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad tried to show solidarity with Anna Hazare and asked him to give up the fast. Well, we know that neither the Congress nor the BJP during their tenures have passed the Jan Lok Pal Bill so both are equally guilty of letting corruption thrive in the country.

On day one, Mr Sharad Yadav and on day two, Mr O P Choutala and Ms Uma Bharti tried to take advantage of the platform created by Anna Hazare and his supporters to create political mileage for themselves. Rightly, they were asked to go by the people.  Subsequently, Anna Hazare requested the people gathered there to let politicians and anyone else join if they want to support the movement and refrain from sloganeering against them, but he maintained that they cannot use the stage to make political statements.

While there is tremendous response and support to the movement from citizens and even film personalities, the silence from corporates is deafening.  The people of India are supporting the movement from every part of the country. We hope the government takes required action before the fast affects the health of Anna Hazare.

I pledge my support to this movement against corruption led by Anna Hazare. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tragedy and Hope

I sent an email to a friend from Japan. Hoping it would reach her and a reply would confirm she is well. But the message was returned undelivered “unable to make a connection” it said. The devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan makes one sit up and take notice of nature. Can we call it cruelties of nature? Or is it just  normal behaviour? How do we define cruelty when events occur because nature follows its own laws, the elements of nature follow the principles of physics that affect the geography and through it all devastate lives of human beings, creating tragic history.

Watch and endure. Wait and endure. In sometime, normalcy will be restored. Bridges fallen will be rebuilt. Property damaged can be restored again. Lives lost… lives lost are lost forever. Each one of those lost may have loved ones left behind to mourn. Would the survivors value their own lives more now? Did the people who lost their lives deserve to die in such a hard way? Is it all a matter of chance or was it nature's careful selection? How bad are the damages? What is the impact on nuclear power plants? Will there be radiation leakage? How bad will it be? After sometime, the questions stop and one can only hope for the dawn of better times.
When the mind is numbed by thought, work is a good relief. As I watered plants in the balcony, I noticed the autumn-dried brown stems of my favourite creeper. One had broken out a green shoot and a rush of green leaves. And there were more green shoots and newer green leaves. Soon it will bloom and white Jui flowers will sparkle their beauty, spreading a faint fragrance. There is hope. Yes, there is hope for better times.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Women's Day!

Why is it called so? International Women's Day?
Because on the eighth day of March we want to remind everyone -
Women perform 66% of the world's work, earn 10% of world's income and own 1% of the world's property.

Next year on this day, I hope the percentages will be better. That women the world over will have a better deal in life. We need men on our side to achieve it. But more importantly, we need women to be the biggest champions and support for women.

I end this brief post with three poems written years ago one short and two long (no pun intended).  Stashed away in my writing folders they have travelled from pc to pc and laptop to laptop. Today I remembered them and want to share them. They are raw, unedited. I chose to leave them that way.

Let me be

Don’t play in the sun
Your skin will darken
And then, who will marry you?

Sit straight, cover your knees
Look down, don’t speak

You are grown up now,
So behave
Don’t stay out after dark
For what will people say.

Let me be.
Just let me be myself.

Rage within me

There is this rage within me
Which rises every now and then
Like a storm it remains unabated
For a while, then subsides again
like waves noisily
rushing on to the shore
then going back to the sea

God must be a man I think
Why else would he
Make the man so free
To do what he wants
And go where he would
To rule and decide
While the woman
cleans and cooks
and trails behind

To march and conquer
While the woman
Waits, suffers, sheds a tear

To work and achieve fame
While the woman
Only gets his name

To hold the right,
the means to perpetuate
While the woman
Carries and brings forth
New life, bearing all the pain

God must be a man I think
Why else would he
Make the man always the achiever,
the saint,
prophet and avatar
to be revered and worshipped
far and wide by all

For was Moses not a man
And Spitama Zarathustra,
And so was Jesus, the son of God
So also Mohammed the prophet
And Buddha and Mahavir
Guru Nanak and other saints Sikh

And what of the Hindu Goddesses
Lakshmi, Saraswati and Shakti
Of Wealth, Knowledge and Strength
all wives of Gods more powerful than them.
While Lakshmi gives wealth,
she sits at Vishnu’s feet
Saraswati  gives knowledge like a mother and teacher
Is married to Brahma, the creator
While Shakti is none other
but Shiva’s wife Parvati

But the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer
The Trinity : Brahma, Vishnu,  Shiva
Are all men.
So are all the ten incarnations
a few of them are even part animal
But no, not a woman, not one of them

And while a man could be bought and sold
for silver, for its fifty pieces 
A woman, could be transacted
For only twenty pieces

Is it any wonder then,
That God is a man I think ?
And now you know why ….

There is this rage within me
Which rises every now and then
Like a storm it remains unabated
For a while, then subsides again
like waves noisily
rushing on to the shore
then going back to the sea

A woman, a sari


A sari,
sometimes red,
for a newly-wedded bride
sometimes green,
like fertile, for a wife
but white for a widow
when left alone, forlorn
a married woman dead
is more fortunate
as dressed for her cremation is she
in a sari thats fresh, new and green
as if fertile even though
lifeless, no more  alive.

A sari,
a rope to escape
from a window upstairs, bravely
to a passionate lover waiting
somewhere patiently

A sari,
a cover to hide the breasts
and to uncover them sometimes

A sari,
for a baby to nestle behind
suckling, in comfort,
holding with one hand,
clutching its silken edge, tight

A sari,
damp with water seeping
from wiping hands and faces
from perspiration after cleaning
and cooking on kitchen fires
from tears of fighting,
crying children
and often unseen, untold,
unknown even,
from tears of the wearer
the woman,
quietly weeping away her troubles,
away from the eyes of everyone

A sari,
a hammock tied to cradle
a child, when she,
the mother, struggles on construction sites
to make ends meet
with loads on her head
of concrete and rubble

A sari,
Like a backpack 
with her child held within
when she, the mother, sells
bangles, bindies, rubber-bands
in crowded local train compartments
walking back and forth
traveling up and down
while the child sleeps
clutching onto her back

A sari,
Old and unworn now
Though still very much in use :

To wash and dry rice on
to make sweets from, for Diwali.

To hold curds, and hang up tied
to strain water from,
for making sweet shrikhand

To four-fold and sew a quilt
soft now with use and fragrance
of scents and touches of mother’s love
What child would not long
To clutch on or go under it
To shield the cold breeze
And sleep peacefully
In its soft cool warmth
into a deep slumber.

The sari,
too old and worn out now
torn all over
but wait, don’t throw,
it may be of use yet
to fold up and roll
into a ball
to cover something
maybe a rat hole.

Draped or undraped
the sari
and the woman who wears it,
their lives so deeply
woven and entwined
soon it is difficult
to distinguish
one from
the other.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Censusional Lady

Just a while ago, a young lady, pleasant and well-dressed came to my home for the Census-2011. Mrs Jyoti Pokhale is a school teacher at the Maharshi Karve Stree Shikshan Sansthan in Pune. Like over 25 lakh Indians, she is a part of this massive exercise. She stressed on the fact that she was doing this additional duty over and above her work as a school teacher. Earlier this morning, she gave a test-paper to her students before moving out to do the census work. After it is done, she will go back and continue with her duties at the school.

Although a little disgruntled about this work, she did her work well, strictly following all the rules while recording details. Surprised when I asked her to pose for a photograph, she liked that someone was appreciating this extra “unpaid” work that she was doing she said. It took much cajoling from me to get a smile out of her! When I told her she was doing very important work for the nation, she went away happy and smiling.

Here’s to Jyoti Pokhale and the hundreds of thousands of others who are giving their personal time for the Census-2011. Treat them well when they knock on your door!

(photograph not very clear - forgive me!)
Census 2011 official - Jyoti Pokhale, school teacher, Pune