Saturday, November 19, 2016

Demonetization – Not Quite the Demon

People who visit the temple-town of Sringeri, the famous seat of learning situated amidst the lush green hills of the Western Ghats, swear not only by Goddess Nature who has endowed so much to the place but also by a shop located in the vicinity of the temple. 

The shop is run by Sri.Vijayanarasimha along with his wife and son. It deals in the usual rich goodies that Malnad has to offer - various varieties of pickles and chutneys, chips, spices, oils and what not. While other shops can boast of the same quality of goods, what sets this shop apart is the savviness of the father-son duo. They develop an affectionate connection with the customers. I do not know how they do it, but they seem to remember customers and their choices in spite of having a large number of them. When net banking and online fund transfers were still in their infancy, they had a mail order system which enabled people to transfer money to their account online and get stuff delivered to their houses, all from the small town of Sringeri. Actually, make it the other way round. They would deliver stuff to your house, and you could then transfer money to their account. And yes, all from the small town of Sringeri. Their account was one of the first recipients I added for fund transfer from mine. 

As the various news outlets were publicizing and highlighting the difficulties undergone by the "aam aadmi" due to the demonetization of 500 and 1000 - rupee notes, I could not get this small store ( not so small now, bless them; they now have online sales also) out of my mind. Why is demonetization hurting us more than it ought to when transferring money is so easy? All it takes is honesty and trust!

We can't deny that the news channels and the English language newspapers had their own agenda in maligning the initiative of the government and this contributing to the confusion. The queues which were still manageable a day after demonetization grew longer and longer, owing to the panic willfully stoked by the media. False reports of people dying in ATM queues and of children dying because the older currency was not accepted were feverishly circulated by journalists themselves in the social media. One news channel shamelessly asked people to send videos of people suffering in queues. The situation truly started going downhill then.

It is a very Indian - nay, human mentality to stock up on or even hoard things when they promise to become scarce. It is programmed in our genes. And human history has been proving that the hoarders will, in a large number of cases, eventually be better off than the non-hoarders. After a couple of days, thus, our instincts got the better of our good sense and the queues outside banks became longer still.

The black money mafia also did their bit to make the situation more chaotic, by promising commission to people who would deposit money in banks on their behalf. There were many flavors of this scam. Paytm ads notwithstanding, a substantial percentage of the low-income group is gullible and this promise of easy money is too hard to pass by. The result was unprecedented chaos, with people standing multiple times in queues and fights reportedly breaking out in front of the banks, adding to the general disorder.

There were many things that could have been done to reduce inconvenience to the people. Obviously, the initiative has to come from the people first. There were people drawing money from three or four cards when it was their turn at the ATM, adding to the wait time for the others in the queue. Banks could have mandated that only one card could be used at a time. Also, people who could get by with plastic money could have done so for a longer time instead of standing in queues and complaining. Let us face it, waiting is not pleasant for anyone – for us and also the bank employees. The security guard at the HDFC bank near my house was so cheerful and helpful even after dealing with hundreds of people who only had questions and complaints. Yes, that is another thing that would have helped – a smile of acceptance on the faces of the people. Because however much we try to argue against it, we know that this move of demonetization of high-value notes is going to be eventually good for the country.

If shop-owners had accepted cards and cheques it would have made life a lot easier for everyone. The day after demonetization, I was out shopping for some lamps in a respectably-sized shop in the heart of Bangalore. The bill came up to a decent amount of around 400 rupees. I offered to pay by card, but the shop-owner did not accept cards. And no, cheques were not accepted either. I did not have cash on me. After a lot of haggling over the mode of payment, the shop finally accepted the five-hundred-rupee note that I offered. I later learned that the cash transactions are not logged properly, so as to avoid tax.

So that's the root of this evil. With the memory of 97% tax and no development etched in our minds, we cannot bring ourselves to pay even a reasonable 35% amount as tax. And when the government does what it has to do to recover taxes we whine and complain because it is inconvenient. God help us!

In contrast, some people rose to the occasion and started conducting more cashless transactions. I paid my kids’ music class fees via online transfer. By the way, the teacher happens to be a housewife.

Finally, I recall the infamous words of a departed politician, said at a different time in a different context but completely valid now. When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

ಇಂದೇ ಸುದಿನ...

Years ago, when I was still a young girl participating in dance competitions, my mother had taught us - my sister and me and a few friends - a dance to a song. The song was about gopikas eager to meet Krishna on the banks of the Yamuna. We danced to it, dressed in langa-blouse and a veil on our heads. I think we had some painted pots also, to complete the effect of the gopikas. All I remember from that dance competition is how pretty my sister looked, with kohl in her eyes and a bright light-green duppatta covering her hair.

The song went something like this - "ಇಂದೇ ಸುದಿನ ಬನ್ನಿ ಸಖಿಯರೇ ಹೋಗುವ ಯಮುನಾ ತೀರದೆಡೆಗೆ ". I knew the song was penned by my grandfather. However, the music was distinctly not South-Indian. I was not too curious about it at that time but got to know the story about that song later, from my grandmother.

My aunt, herself a teacher, had taught a few neighboring children a dance to perform at a function in the layout. It was a Hindi song. The kids learned the dance with great enthusiasm and were looking forward to performing at the function. A couple of days before the performance, they got to know something shocking. A few miscreants - Kannada warriors got to know that there was going to be a dance performance set to a Hindi song, and they had decided to create trouble. The kids were crestfallen. After practising for so many days, getting ready with costumes and telling all their friends about the dance, their program was about to be canceled because it was simply not safe to dance to a Hindi song.

My grandfather had a brilliant idea then. He immediately composed a song in Kannada which could be sung to the same tune and matched the dance steps. The kids practised a few times with the changed lyrics in Kannada. The adaptation was beautiful and the presentation on stage was a huge success. After watching the dance performance, the miscreants went back home with greater wisdom in their heads and their pockets still bulging with the rotten tomatoes they had intended to throw at the dancing children.

The song is beautiful and set to the rāga Kāpi. It does not adhere completely to the metrical rules of Kannada poetry, but has great word-ly beauty - like "ಜುಳು ಜುಳು ಹರಿಯುವ ಯಮುನೆಯ ಕಲ ಕಲ ನಾದವ ಕೇಳುವ ಬನ್ನಿ ", "ಜಗದ ಜಂಜಡವ ಮರೆಯುವ ಬನ್ನಿ ಜಗನ್ನಾಥನೆಡೆಗೆ".

I happen to be humming this song since morning and wanted to share the story here. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

To Enter or Not To Enter; That is the Question

There is a beautiful story about Meera Bai, whose devotional songs linger on a million tongues even to this day. She once visited a temple at Brindavan, which, at that time, was only open to men. When the priests prevented her from entering, she innocently told them "I thought Krishna was the only male in this universe". The priests were tongue-tied and let her in. 

I wonder if the women who are making a hue and cry about Sabarimala and Shani Shinganapur know about Meera bai. The noise that is being made over Sabarimala and Shani Shinganapur would have been funny (come on, airdrop?) if it were not so pathetic. It is evident that these ladies do not have any love for these Gods or for the religion that endorses these Gods. They are in it just to prove a political point and buy their two minutes of fame, and that is it. 

In a country as diverse as India, there are many, many unique temples and unique ways of worship. In Sandur, there is a Kumaraswamy temple that women of child-bearing age are denied entry to, much like Sabarimala. There is a short wall right in front of the main door, that prevents others from even snatching a glimpse at the icon inside. And there are some Maaramma temples, where traditionally there are priestesses but no priests. Some Gods and Goddesses are worshipped with flowers and fruits and sweets, whereas others need meat and liquor. Yet others are worshipped with song and dance. Flowers are not to be worn in Tirumala, because all the flowers that grow in the vicinity are meant for the Lord. There is room for the devotion of everyone and answers to the spiritual aspirations of everyone. This diversity is what makes sanAtana dharma so charming but yet so difficult to understand. 

The devotees of Ayyappa undergo penance for forty days before visiting Sabarimala. They dress differently. They abstain from meat, alcohol and sex. Can they do these without the consent and help of their wives? The day before the men leave for Sabarimala yatra is a big festival for the entire family. All the people (women included) worship and sing bhajans in praise of the lord. At least, this was what I had seen a few years ago, when I was invited to the celebration before the departure of the yaatris. The women send their husbands and brothers and fathers happily for the yaatra. Women participate in the celebrations with great fervor, even if they don't enter the temple.

And then there is Shani Shinganapur, unique in its own way. The temple does not have doors, like any other house in the village (even the bathrooms do not have doors, believe me!). Contrary to what some of the loud voices of today would have us believe, women do enter the temple for darshan. However, going up on the platform to pour oil on the icon is done by males who have undergone purificatory bath just before entering the temple. My mind simply fails to understand how this is an affront to women.

The vrata men perform before visiting Sabarimala is arduous. Also, it emphasizes self-denial and detachment. The daily duties of women need some level of attachment to the family and worldliness. Taking care of children, for instance. Whatever the feminists say, mothers' duties towards children are more those of the father. This affects other aspects of their lives also. They dress in different ways. They prefer different timings at work. They worship in different ways. sandhyāvandane is for men, whereas Hūvīḻya and kuṅkumārcane are for women. The Kathasaritsagara talks about a weird vrata that was performed by women to ward off diseases that are common in the rainy season. 

The argument that feminists put forth is that the patriarchal society of the day kept women out of places of worship because they menstruate. This is, however, true only in places like Sabarimala. Women do not visit any temple on the days when they are menstruating. Frankly, half the women I know would rather spend those days curled up in a bed and reading, than visiting overcrowded temples. Whatever prompted theses rules to be dictated, they are a blessing, even if in disguise. This is especially true in India where public sanitation leaves much to be desired.

Finally, the ultimate truth is that Biology is Destiny*. Until technology can make men with uteruses and make them produce babies, there is going to be this difference. But I hope we never get such technology, because we should accept and cherish these differences. A painting with many colors looks prettier than one that has been smeared with red ink all over. 

*Not my quote, but I love it.