Saturday, March 28, 2020

Quarantine tales: How Bengalureans are coping with lockdown (The Hindu)

At 6:07 pm on Wednesday, keyboard tunes to Kishore Kumar’s song Yeh Shaam Mastaani… (This fun evening…) reverberated in the quad of a gated community in Bangalore. The occasion: Self-imposed quarantine due to spread of COVID-19.

It started as a call for ideas to keep one entertained during the quarantine on the Whatsapp group comprising residents of the apartment complex. “Balcony antakshari” was a suggestion that amused many. The one who proposed it explained the novel concept in tweet-sized instructions: “We just pick a time, get onto the balcony facing the courtyard and play antakshari for a bit.” Another informed participant on the group posted a short video of how the Italian musicians were singing and playing instruments from their balconies. Yet another resident offered for her son to play keyboard attached to speakers. That sealed it.

And so it was decided: It would be a 20-minute session on Wednesday at 6 pm when people would come to their balconies that look into a common courtyard and croon. Many like me started hovering around the balcony a little earlier than the designated time in excitement! And then a few minutes past 6 pm floated the familiar tune that beckoned some who weren’t on the Whatsapp group and some who were but had forgotten about the rendezvous. Young and young-at-heart, men and women gradually started popping in their balconies, some vigorously waving their hands at their long-lost neighbours. One of the following songs was the apt and relatable number Mere Samne Wali Khidki Mein… (In the window opposite to mine…). Very quickly, I realized that the intersection of my loudest and my suitable-to-human-ear voice could not travel beyond my balcony. I think many others who realized the same compensated with loud clapping at the end of each keyboard song-recital to make their presence felt and to appreciate the player’s efforts. And thus, “balcony antakshari” turned into “balcony concert.” The keyboard player became the community hero and compliments and wishes for a bright future were sent his way in wholesale on the Whatsapp group. The concert for the evening had ended with Chalte ChalteKabhi Alvida Na Kehna… (Never say goodbye…).

Now that we were hooked, we heeded to the advice. Next evening, a German lady whose father was an opera singer in Austria, offered to play his CDs from her balcony. And the day after that, a stereo blasted kids’ favorites like Prince Ali from Aladdin, Sunflower from Spiderman, and We Will Rock You by Queen from someone’s balcony.

Next up was drinks. Another resident showcased on the Whatsapp group a cocktail she had concocted and christened Corona Cashaya. The professional-looking creative that left others on the group drooling, had the beverage served on the rocks with a blob of ginger and a whole lemon artistically placed next to the glass. The post was not meant to make others jealous. The drink-maker had bottled three of the same and made them available free for grabs. “Will just drop at your door and leave,” she offered generously. “Important to keep spirits up!!” the post ended with a smiley. And thus began the auction on the group that lasted nine mighty minutes. This left some, who missed the window, enraged. And so, the next batch was promised.

Then came Sunday, March 22, when PM Modi had urged everyone across the nation to follow Janta Curfew i.e. to remain in their houses during the day as a drill for future lockdown. And the occupants in my residential complex did everything prescribed which is to do nothing at all. Children didn’t play in the quad, garbage collection was paused for the day, domestic help was not allowed to enter the premises etc. etc.

Such are the times in my gated community. Usual measures like sanitizers at the gate, recording temperature of the maids who come from outside, and closing access to common areas of the club-house like gym and pool, were implemented like they were in my friends’ gated communities in different parts of the city. In addition, COVID-19 has helped discover music lovers, mixologists, and patriots in my community so far.

(Here's the link to my article on The Hindu's website)

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Saturday, February 1, 2020

Family Trees (The Caravan Magazine)

Shyam Sunder Paliwal was the sarpanch of Piplantri, a village in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district, between 2005 and 2010. His father helped a marble company establish a unit in the village. In return, the company let his family sell its scrap marble, making them affluent. Over the years, excessive marble mining and sporadic droughts caused a severe depletion in the village’s groundwater levels. Water could not be found in the area, even by drilling tube wells four hundred feet deep.
On 21 August 2006, Kiran, Paliwal’s 16-year-old daughter, died of dehydration after suffering from diarrhoea. Devastated by her death and recognising the urgent need to rejuvenate the water table, Paliwal launched the Kiran Nidhi Yojana, in 2007. The KNY mandates that the parents of a newborn girl plant 111 trees. The father or guardian of the girl are asked to pay Rs 10,000, while Rs 21,000 is collected from other villagers and philanthropists. The total amount of Rs 31,000 is invested in a fixed deposit, redeemable when the girl turns 18 years old. The money is expected to be used to fund her higher education and wedding. In exchange, the parents are asked to sign an affidavit promising to take care of the trees and not marry off their daughter until she attains adulthood. After the wedding, the trees become the property of the panchayat, with any income they generate being used for developmental activities.
Paliwal’s biggest challenge in implementing the scheme, he told me, was “to recover the government land that was encroached.” Convincing villagers, who saw the economic benefits of the scheme, was relatively easier. The KNY is now linked to the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, a central-government deposit scheme launched in 2015, as part of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign.
(Continue reading the remaining part of the article here!)

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