Monday, 27 January 2014

Lives blessed by 'barkat'

I shifted to Shaheen Bagh with my husband in 2012. At that time, Shaheen Bagh was the only place in the whole of Delhi NCR where we could afford to buy an apartment. I was a little skeptical, not quite knowing how my life would be in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood. Now I know. It is not any different from the kind of life I have led before in different parts of Delhi or Assam or elsewhere. Yes, may be, there are more women to be seen in the hijab, and a few other outwardly "Muslim" characteristics; but other than that, life has been as usual. Just that, I have been fortunate to have amazing neighbors. And now, I really don't want to shift out of this place until and unless my neighbors shift out too :)

My two closest friends here are Rashida Baji and Munni Baji. Both of them are tailors and they are so good with their work! What is extraordinary about them is not just their work, but how they live their lives and inspire me and others who come in touch with them. I dedicate this photo essay to them.

Munni Baji and Rashida Baji at the terrace of Rashida Baji's building

These is a lot to learn from these two women. Munni Baji's husband has been ill for almost a decade now. His health does not permit him to move much out of the house. Hence, the onus of earning this household's livelihood now rests on Munni Baji. She has three children: One girl is still in high school; her son is in Mumbai with his uncle since last year after he passed his high school, learning the trades of his uncle's business; and her eldest daughter joined work last year. So, for quite some time, it was Munni Baji who was running the household. And she has been living in Shaheen Bagh with her family since 1996, before the real estate boom hit it in the 2000s and turned an idyllic piece of land into the clutter that it is now. "I can't tell you the beautiful life we led here," she tells me. "It was almost like we were living in a village with lots of open space for my children to play and for me to grow vegetables!"         

Munni Baji with her husband Islam Bhai in the courtyard of their house 

The courtyard has several trees and cats. And many children from the neighborhood have grown up here. I am glad that my child is growing up here too, in the midst of sand, trees, plants and cats. This is such a blessing in Delhi!

Rashida Baji moved to Shaheen Bagh with her husband and two little daughters in 2002 and took up a place on rent near Munni Baji's house. The two women became friends and soon started working together. They work in a small room by a corner in Munni Baji's courtyard. They work very hard and proudly run their households. 

There is a term called 'barkat', which means a blessing of abundance. Munni Baji and Rashida Baji's households have 'barkat'. Always and for everyone, there is good food coming out of their kitchens. There is a lot of warmth for whosoever visits them. And they look after the road in front of their houses. Both these two women and their husbands. They clean it by themselves every morning. Not only are their houses clean, but the road outside too. This sense of ownership for the road and the neighborhood is something that I have not even seen "educated" people in Delhi maintain. And for keeping the area clean, if they have to shell out of their pockets, they are not even complaining! Has anyone seen many "educated" people do that? Only a few days ago, Islam Bhai got a few people to clean the manholes in the lane. He paid extra of course because despite many rich and educated people living in the flats around, they refused to pay for work being done on the road. Which they say is the government's job! But of course when Islam Bhai pays from his pocket to keep the road well and clean in front of their houses, they have no objections!       

My toddler cries at late in the night and these two households, where people go to bed early, call me up to find out if all's well and if they should come over to help. There is 'barkat' in everything they offer, even in their generosity.

I am so happy that they have included me in their circle of family. 

Rashida Baji and Munni Baji at their workstation

Rashida Baji's husband owns an auto and he runs it in Noida. Very recently, some newspaper had covered the story of how he had tracked one of his passengers who had left behind a suitcase full of thousand rupee notes in his auto and returned it to the man without a single note missing. The man was overwhelmed and offered him some token money as gratitude. Rashida Baji's husband, Samneer Bhai, refused and came back with satisfaction at having located the man. The man spoke about this fortunate incident to a few journalist friends and soon they covered the story of this hero for their papers.  

Sameer Bhai and Rashida Baji with their daughters and two young neighbors, plus my daughter Zaara on Eid  2013 

celebrating Eid 2013 with my two closest friends in Shaheen Bagh

Rashida Baji and her sunshine smile just like her sunshine persona :)

What I have learnt most from these two women is that nothing can and should come in between a life that is lived with generosity, kindness and gratitude.      

Sunday, 12 January 2014

for those interested in the MIDIval Punditz...

On a musical quest

Juanita Kakoty, Dec 8, 2013
The music based travel show Sound Trek on Fox Traveller is a kind of cross-country musical journey promising to bring alive some unique jugalbandhis like fusion of rock with sufi, electronic with Indian tribal folk and soul with choral. 

“The show captures the travels of musicians from different styles to various parts of India. Part of the show is about discovery of a new place, in our case, it was the Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad. And another part of the show is to do musical jam sessions with local musicians of the place where we travel to,” says MIDIval Punditz, one of the bands to feature in the show that is aired every Thursday and Friday at 10 pm.

The Punditz — Delhi-based musicians Gaurav Raina and Tapan Raj — are celebrated as trailblazers in electronica, and their style mostly covers jungle, electronica and North Indian classical music. “For this show, we travelled to Hyderabad,” continue the Punditz. “We had to jam with the local Burra Katha musicians, the traditional folk musicians from Hyderabad. We did a new version of a track called Baanwarey from our oncoming fourth album. The version performed on the show is different from our album version.”

The Punditz carry the honour of being the first Indians to get signed for an electronica act by an international label, Six Degrees Records. In 2002, they released their debut album Midival Punditz, which created quite a stir. Midival Times, released in 2005, further cemented their position as Indi-electro pioneers, and Hello Hello (2009) earned them a spot on Amazon’s top picks for 2009.

The Punditz are renowned for their jam sessions, where they have blended electronica with live percussion, vocals and Indian elements like the flute and tabla. They have performed at the biggest clubs and music festivals in the world including Fabric (London), Joe’s Pub (New York), 9:30 (Washington D C), Glastonbury (UK), Paleo (Switzerland) and Stern Grove (US).

Travelling has always enriched their music, relate the Punditz. “Our travels and experiences play a very big part in our music. We pick up all these inspirations from meeting new artistes and also by performing for new audiences. These experiences always make their way into our music, perhaps subconsciously.” They are also optimistic about the electronica scene in India. “The electronica scene in India is exploding, especially with so many festivals pushing the style of music. Earlier, there weren’t too many platforms for an electronic musician.”

Apart from the MIDIval Punditz, Sound Trek features other musical geniuses like Lucky Ali, Advaita, Parikrama, Avial, Indus Creed, Soulmate to name a few. The show will take the audience, along with the musicians, to popular Indian destinations like Ladakh, Goa, Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Auroville, Kerala, Kalimpong, Maheshwar, Srinagar, Orchha and so on.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

My latest short story "the utterance" (published by Writers Asylum, 4 Jan 2014)

I begin 2014 with my short story "the utterance" (published by Writers Asylum, 4 Jan 2014). An excerpt:
"A month after he had sneezed and uttered “Allhamulldillah!” he was still looking for a place to move in with Yamini. The whole cycle had started again: Of going through affordable houses but unlivable existential conditions, love-at-first-sight houses but burn-holes-in-pocket prices.
They finally moved into a Muslim neighborhood in Jamia Nagar. The owner, Jumman Mirza, happily handed them the keys to the apartment although he didn’t recognize the boy who now stood in front of him as an adult, and whom he had once hero-worshipped for having shown the thumb to the skies. The boy, whom he had seen once in a while, heard a lot about but never had a conversation with.
To start from the beginning, he might have been born in a Muslim ghetto in the small town of Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, but people, without much appreciation of course,knew him as a rebel. They said he had got into the bad habit of objecting to everything around him and that it was in very bad taste."

My short story 'Where is Arsalan Miyan?' in Himal Southasian on 27 April 2018

My short  story 'Where is Arsalan Miyan?' in Himal Southasian on 27 April 2018 Right in the middle of the sprawling Nakhasa Bazaa...