New beginnings are disguised as painful ends

It’s late at night and the page is blank so I turn to Laozi and Pooh bear.

Actually that’s not true. I turn to you…… to help me get the ball rolling, to create and share my and Manjula’s story. It’s the age old writer’s conundrum. As you see I have a pile of full notebooks but how to get the blank page filled to begin to start the actual story. Can you help?

If you know Manjula and I or even if you don’t 🙃 what’s the key ingredients of our story that might interest you or a wider audience. What are the main themes that will interest people?

Chamundeshwari fought the demon

It’s early in the morning, a little after 7 am. I cycle up to the brow of the hill and can hear a drumming in the background. Maybe it’s a significant day, a Mela or something else to do with the local goddess.

This is the home, of the goddess Chamundeshwari, her temple and effectively, her woodland garden, the hill is one of the most sacred in the whole of South India.

As I get closer, I realise it’s not what I first thought.

The ‘drums’ are the sound of the diggers breaking up the stones as part of the redevelopment of the hill top.

The hill takes its name from Chamundeshwari the local goddess (aka Durga) who lives on the hill which is just behind Mysore Bed and Breakfast. You can just about see the temple Gopura in the main picture in the far distance.

DSC01379Chamundeshwari is famous for dispensing with the demon: Mahishasura after which Mysuru or Mysore is named.

It looks to me that there is a new demon that she’ll have to deal with and the demon is development.

A few days later I join a walk up the hill to find out a little more…..

 

Hundreds of people walked up the hill as part of a demonstration against the planned development. For those of you who’ve visited you’ll realise its a bit of a mess up there. God knows what it would be like it if wasn’t a plastic free zone….. so there is no doubt  the need to do something

But does it need a new guest house? (there are already two that are not used), a shopping complex? a mulit-storey car park? and a four lane highway? In our view all these plans will devastate the hillside, damage its bio-diversity and make matters so much worse but do the local powers that be give a damn?

Hence I think there is a new demon in town that the Goddess needs to sort out!

Its that magic word development that they keep throwing around. Politicians use it as a catch-all phrase to defend all sorts of unsuitable decisions. Are we against development? by which they must mean progress… well erm yes, if it means destroying the lungs of the city and decemating the woodland, yes if it means worshipping and promoting growth regardless of the consequences.

It has the potential to be an amazing place, not least for the views of the city.

DSC01162

But for that to be realised, we must have: some participation of the people in this thing called democracy, an end to mindless development and some sustainable and practical proposals to deal with the problems. These are currently  unfettered illegal growth, litter and too much traffic. These are practically and relatively easily resolvable with the right approach and many local organisations have come up with suggestions. In my view, it isn’t about grand schemes as they will not work and are, in any case, designed for the short term gain, with money going into a whole range of pockets and the needs of the people and the environment completely neglected..

This will be an interesting story to follow to see how local politicians and the civil servants manage to properly manage the conflicting priorities and show how well they are suited to representing the interests of people and the environment whilst  maintaining long-term sustainable development when and where its appropriate..

 

Houston there’s a problem

BUT we’re not aiming for the moon. We just want a passport for a ‘Passage from India’ is that too much to ask for?

 

We now know what this statement on the acknowledgement letter means..

Documents Verified with originals, however, confirmation from issuing authority is required.

image

No one told us at the time, of course, the officer just said (ie lied) we could have the passport and get Police verification afterwards BUT we now realise there’s a problem with the TC

prepare for re-entry

I telephoned the office and we are called back to the main Regional Passport Office in Bangalore.

 

To make this happen, we have to go all the way back to Bangalore, that means, book a taxi, three hours on the road, and a further hour through the treacly traffic jams, an eight hour round trip, a relatively short queue to get our number and interview time, then come back four hours later for another queue to see an officer. Unfortunately the location isn’t good and any interesting place or attraction is too far to go, so we enjoy a late breakfast and chill out in a local park.

It seems that The Babu (civil servant), on our first visit, (she had a bit of a rant) was not impressed that Manjula didn’t answer questions quickly enough and didn’t know her proper school name. In the Civil Service World it indicated that she might not be legitimate. In another world it might show that she was only seven at the time, have hardly ever attended the school and that she was a woman from a poor background who’s had crap schooling.

How did she not know the name of the school? It seems that it’s known, by the local children, as the name of the slum area: Bamboo Bazaar. Manjula, who attended there when age seven (35 years ago) didn’t know the proper name of the school. Bugger.

That’s raised the Babu’s suspicions or at least provided an excuse for a right old runaround.

Because of this they require  her TC (transfer certificate from school,which serves as her proof of date of birth) verified by the headteacher. More uncertainty and delay.

So they plan to write to the headteacher to verify the TC is correct.

I’m not at all sure why we needed to be here in Bangalore for all this… So we do try get useful and help it along a bit…. and get the letter sent fast!

We provide another two copies of the TC. On top of the ones we’ve already provided. They are scanned on the first floor.

Back to ground floor, officer signs chit that acknowledges papers scanned in.

Up, to second floor to trigger the formal letter to go to headteacher.

Back to ground floor for something or other.

Back to second floor, God knows why.

One more trip down and then up. They promise to get the letter off tomorrow. (we’ve become part of the team so we wander in and out of the office up on floor 2) That’s why we did all these ups and downs, we’re running out of time to get the passport and apply for visa for the BIG trip.

I now have a new worry: Manjula’s Disappointment if it doesn’t work out. How has this become so bloody difficult?

 

 

More on elections

a follow up and part two of half life finished

This is a pretty impressive election. Just look at some of the facts, complements of the Diplomat:

India’s upcoming general election will be the largest democratic event in history, with more than 814 million people entitled to vote to decide the country’s 16th government. This, however, is not the only record that will be broken when the world’s largest democracy goes to the polls. According to the Centre for Media Studies, Indian politicians will spend as much as $4.9 billion during the electoral contest, which will end in May. The estimate makes this year’s general election the second most expensive of all time, behind only the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign in which, according to the U.S. presidential commission, $7 billion was spent.

The sheer scale of the electoral exercise is unprecedented. Almost two thirds of India’s 1.3 billion people are eligible to vote – 100 million more than in 2009 – and 96% of these have already been equipped with electoral ID cards. In nine polling days spread across five weeks, the world’s largest electorate will visit 930,000 polling booths to cast their votes using 1.7 million electronic voting machines. 11 million personnel, including members of the army, will be deployed to assist with the elections, whilst a further 5.5 million civilians will be employed to manage the voting process.

http://thediplomat.com/2014/03/indias-record-breaking-2014-elections/

Back to the extraordinary ordinary in Mysore.

As you may now be beginning to notice….Manjula is very much my touchstone and helps keeps my ‘ear to the ground’.

As these election for lok Sabah (parliament) are upon us, I’m reminded of last years Karnataka state elections. Manjula was on holiday. I was astonished to hear that her mother came back to Mysore a journey of some hours on an uncomfortable bus in order to place her vote. I was impressed. I thought back to my own studies in politics and the importance we gave to those who’d struggled to give us the vote. It was the sort of commitment that those who’d fought for the vote would have been proud. But you know, in India, nothing is as you’d expect.

Cary, a good friend of some six years, burst my reality bubble.

He explained that political parties pay people to vote for them. Manjula’s mum had travelled back to Mysore as she had been paid to vote for a particular party.

It also why we’ve found, over the last few weeks, checkpoints manned by police and election officials, popping up on many of the roads outside the city. Cars are stopped, searched and when found, large amounts of money or gifts that can’t be properly accounted for are confiscated as it’s assumed they are to be to be used as bribes.

It seems that it is a common practice, at least in state elections, to bribe the electorate to vote for a particular party and in manj’s mum’s case it was 500 Rs. A significant sum for this poor lady who might be lucky, when she found work, to get 200 Rs for a days work. I’m reliably informed there is no bribe money around for this national election.

Another more subtle technique, for state elections, is to promise gifts to the poorer sections of the community , sewing machines, cycles for school children etc and give them once elected, so it influences the vote and it’s paid from the coffers of the state government. Normal politics I suppose, we’re all part of that particular system.

Over dinner this evening, it’s a last supper as Manj goes on holiday (again!) tomorrow. Manj happened to mention that the pressing lady (she operates out of a hut down the road and presses our clothes with an enormous, heavy charcoal driven iron) had ‘earned’ 2,000 Rs by promising to vote for four different political parties in last year’s state elections. Hilarious.

So who has the last laugh?

The poor accept the money, conscientiously vote and press the buttons (they vote at electronic voting machines) for the party they’d wanted to vote for anyway.

People have to survive as best they can.