Friday, 17 July 2015

Conversations with an autorickshaw driver: Do I like Modi sarkar?

I have been thinking of writing about this conversation that I had with an autorickshaw driver sometime early this year for a long time now. It went like this. He picked me up from Shaheen Bagh and because he learnt that I live in Shaheen Bagh, he assumed that I am a Muslim. I did not feel like correcting him. So I just let it be and went ahead with the curve that he lent to the conversation.

"Why do you Muslims hate Modi?" he asked me. And that's when I knew that he had mistaken me for a Muslim.
"Who told you Muslims hate Modi?" I responded.
"Well, I know," he answered with a strange laughter in a very matter of fact manner.
"In that case," I said, "Let me tell you, I don't. In fact, I don't give much thought to him at all. But just that, I don't know if you know, he has not done good things to Muslims in Gujarat, therefore I do not have much fondness for him."
"So it is a community thing for you Muslims not to like him?" the auto guy charged. So I put the question to him instead, "Do you like Modi sarkar?"
"Of course, I do!" his emphatic cry still rings in my ear. "He is such a nice man, he has such nice things to say, he has done so much for India's development, for Gujarat's development. He is not a man but a devta. And you Muslims make a demon out of him!"

I went quiet for a while. This guy will definitely not understand the politics of Modi's development approach in Guajarat where the Muslims and denotified tribes have been kept outside the ring of benefits and affirmative action. And I was sure he had not seen the NDTV report on TV, just before the elections in Delhi this year, where the journalist went to one of the Muslim neighbourhoods in Ahmadabad, a place which is like a wound in an otherwise 'shining' example of development that Gujarat is for the Modi camp. Why was this neighbourhood reeking of poverty and wretchedness? No electricity, no drinking water, no sewage. And this has been the case here for the last forty years, they said.

So I just told the guy that I was the wrong person to ask the question. In all of my 35 years, I have never voted, I said. Because I never needed to. I have never needed the government to do anything for me. I have my own house, I earn my own money to spend it as I please. The government has not given me my house; and in Shaheen Bagh, I told him, I buy my mineral water regularly. So I am not the right person to pose your question to. Go ask this to someone who has no house, no money, no electricity, no drinking water. Ask them if the government has given them a nice decent house in a nice neighbourhood with hygienic conditions to live in. A decent salary to live with their self-esteem in tact. Go ask them, I said. Only they will be able to tell you if the Modi sarkar is good or not. This time it was the guy who kept quiet for a while.

I went on to tell him that I am definitely grateful for many things in life. Like the UGC (University Grants Commission) scholarship I received as a student, the SAI (Sports Authority of India) scholarship I received as a sportsperson while in school, the Delhi Metro which has made life so easy for me in the city. In that case, the governments who made these things possible, I am grateful to them. But I know for sure Modi sarkar was not anywhere in the scene when all this happened. So I told the guy that I will be more than happy if Modi sarkar gives me a reason to be grateful to it. And that it is not about being a Muslim or a Hindu. But that for people like him and me, it is about what benefits the government brings to us. And how secured it can make us feel. And to just pinch him a bit, taking the conversation back to where it started, I said, "I won't be bothered about how Modi treats Muslims in Gujarat until and unless it affects me directly. Like I am sure you would not be bothered if Hindus in Assam or Bihar are ill treated until and unless it affects you here in Delhi directly, isn't it?"

The auto guy kept quiet for the rest of the journey.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Craft. Wooden blocks. (Deccan Herald, 12 July 2015)


Carving designs & a livelihood

Juanita Kakoty, July 12, 2015, DHNS
Block printing
Intricate Wooden design blocks used for printing. Photo by author

The courtyard at the Apeejay Institute of Design in New Delhi was dotted with clusters of workshops recently, where master craftsmen taught eager students the craft secrets. In one corner, 52-year-old Manzar Husain from Pilakhuwa, a village in Uttar Pradesh, sat with a slab of wood on the table in front of him, skillfully engraving delicate patterns on it with a fine tool.

“This is a family occupation,” he said, pointing to the beautiful wooden blocks laid out on a table nearby; something that he learnt from his father. 

“Some of these designs that I make are from my father’s and grandfather’s times, and the rest are my own. These blocks have been traditionally used for printing designs on saris, ladies’ suits and quilts. Now they are no more used for creating designs on quilts and sarees. Till a few years ago, wooden blocks were used by rural women for their products of domestic use. Nowadays, in comparison, such work has gone down,” he added.

Referring to the impact of workshops as such, he said, “This workshop is for five days only, but to master the craft of creating wooden blocks for printing, one needs about a year-and-a-half or two.” Nonetheless, he admitted that it was heartening to see enthusiasm among youngsters, and how those from foreign lands were trying to create their own designs by learning his techniques. 

Block printing is an ancient Indian craft. Uttar Pradesh has been an important centre for hand block printing with the classical butis (dots), paisley designs, and the ‘tree of life’ motif being widely used. “Hand block printing is appreciated in the West for its patterns and vibrant colours. Traditionally, the practice has been to use natural vegetable dyes. But synthetic colours are also used now,” revealed Manzar Husain.

“Besides, with machine-based printing capturing the market, the demand from garment and quilt factory owners for wooden blocks have come down. They now churn out finished products much faster and therefore stand to gain in the process. Also, machine printing is cheaper than hand printing. This has adversely affected the artisans who practise the art.” Nonetheless, he said, “there are people ready to pay for it. That keeps us going.”

These wooden blocks have been put to various uses. Women by the roadside and in the markets in Delhi are seen applying mehendi on eager customers with these blocks. “It’s easier for us because patterns can be made in less time. With a tube of mehendi, one takes at least 10 minutes to draw a pattern on one palm. With these blocks, we need only two-three minutes,” a woman with a basket of wooden blocks and mehendi paste at Dilli Haat recently told me.

Interior designers now employ the blocks in decorating walls. “I often use these wooden blocks with ‘tree of life’ or paisley patterns to decorate my clients’ walls. They come cheap. The aesthetic value is also immense,” commented interior designer Urmimala Bhuyan Bora. Celebrating its annual event, the design institute displayed exquisite traditional Indian crafts amongst a host of other things. “We look forward to such events,” confessed Manzar Husain, “They give us good exposure.”

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...