Friday, January 25, 2013

An Assault on the Senses: Day 56

Day 56

I never liked goodbyes.

We left Chandigarh at 4:30am today for the Delhi international airport, from which we would be taking our flight home.

Leaving our family in India is always sad, but this time was different. I had spent so much time with them that leaving was harder than usual. Chandigarh had in its own way became a second home, one filled with love, family, laughter, and also with a breathtaking culture and new experiences.

I will never forget staying up late with my family talking, watching movies, laughing, and spending time together. I won't forget the wealth of knowledge I got interning, observing client meetings, reading cases, and watching court proceedings. I can't forget the colors of the craft mela, the delicious foods, the fireworks and wedding bands in the streets. I will always remember the smiles of the handicapped man and the little children selling souvenirs in Agra. I will never forget the peace I found in Darbar Sahib. I will remember the traffic, the honking, the crowds, the shopping, the smell of henna on my hands, and the auto-rickshaw rides to work. I won't forget the knot that formed in my stomach when I heard about the gang rape that happened in Delhi or when I read about rape cases and domestic violence, and 1984, and so many other injustices. I will never forget the tears in my eyes when I saw where the Chote Sahibzade had given their lives, or when I saw the majestic image of Mai Bhago riding into battle. 

When I think back to the woman I was when I first arrived in India, I know that my trip was well worth it; I have changed and grown so much in these past few months. I pray for the strength to follow in the footsteps of the Chote Sahibzade and Mai Bhago – to fight fearlessly for injustice, to have the courage to stand up for what I believe in, and to honor their legacy.

With that thought I leave this beautiful country, but a piece of my heart will forever remain here. Goodbye India. I will miss you. I hope we meet again soon.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

An Assault on the Senses: Days 50 - 51

Day 50

On our way to Ludhiana, we stopped to visit Gurdwara Dukh Niwaran Sahib, Gurdwara Fatehgarh Sahib, and Gurdwara Mata Gujri.

It was touching to see a part of Sikh history flash before my eyes.
Gurdwara Mata Gujri now stands where the Chote Sahibzade (the youngest two sons of the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh ji) were held captive in a cold Fort with their grandmother, Mata Gujri. They were martyred at the place where Gurdwara Fatehgarh Sahib now stands. Because they refused to give up their religion, they were bricked alive. Baba Zorawar Singh Ji was nine years old and Baba Fateh Singh Ji was six years old.

As we walked through the halls of the Gurdwara, I remembered a story that my uncle in Delhi had told us just days before: A Sikh man was once explaining Sikh history to a non-Sikh woman. When he finished, she said she had 3 questions to ask him, and he agreed to answer. Her first question: When were the Chote Sahibzade martyred? The man answered: December 26, 1705. The women then asked: What time was the first brick laid, and what time did the two young boys achieve martydom? He answered her question. Then she asked her final question: Together as a Sikh panth, what do you do between those times on that day every year? Do you pray? Do you have some service? At this, the man broke down in tears.

I thought about that story as I bowed my head before Guru Granth Sahib ji, at the spot where the Chote Sahibzade were bricked alive, fearlessly and willingly giving up their lives for what they believed in and fighting for injustice. I promised to never forget them and I prayed for their strength, for their courage, and for their conviction.

Day 51

Today, we were fortunate enough to visit Darbar Sahib (the Golden Temple) in Amritsar. Standing there, surrounded by a blessed pool of Amrit glimmering in the sunlight, listening to the beautiful kirtan (hymns) projected from the main hall, being surrounded by stunning carved walls, I found myself in the most beautiful, serene place on earth. I am at peace.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

An Assault on the Senses: Days 42 - 44

Day 42

Talk about an assault on the senses. Today, we went to Chandni Chowk.

We arrived in Delhi yesterday after a five-hour drive from Chandigarh, and this morning, we took the metro (which is relatively new in Delhi) to Chandni Chowk. Instead of Metro Cards, they have plastic tokens, which you scan over the turnstile counters. When we got to the platform, I realized that it was much larger than those in NYC, and much cleaner. The trains were also roomier, and despite the large crowds that kept pushing themselves into the train at each stop, it was a pleasant ride.

When we got off the train at Chandi Chowk, I was sure it was going to be the most intense cultural experience I’ve had in India thus far. The narrow roads were jam-packed with cars, bikes, rickshaws, and scooters, and it took giant leaps of faith to cross those roads because the traffic was so chaotic that you were sure you would get run over. The sidewalks were entirely cracked and broken, which was unfortunate because the only shoes I brought to Delhi were boots with 3-inch heels. Stray dogs were everywhere. I kept staring at the ground as I walked, trying hard not to trip and fall, especially on a dog, because well, that would not have been fun. Chandi Chowk was dirty; garbage coated the grounds of the little alleyways. It was an extremely congested area, with little shops squeezed in next to each other, selling clothes, food, and jewelry, among other things. I still don’t understand how we managed to find where we were going because the whole area felt like a maze, with tiny streets that turned into even smaller alleys, with no signs of where you were. There was also clearly more poverty here than there was in Chandigarh. Like the India I remember from years and years ago, many people were seen begging on the streets, sleeping in ripped-up blankets on the sidewalks, following people around asking for spare change. It hurts to see that.

Day 43

We visited my grandma’s sister and some more family in Rohtak today,and then left for Mayur Vihar, an area in East Delhi where my aunt, uncle, and cousins live. It was my sister’s birthday today, so they brought her a delicious chocolate cake and we had a nice dinner. Desserts in India are amazing, by the way. Cakes and pastries are made with the fluffiest, lightest icing, and they are absolutely delicious. After devouring a lovely meal, we sat for hours talking, sharing stories, looking at old pictures, and laughing. I love spending time with family. It’s the simple moments like these that I’ll never forget.

Day 44

My sister and I told my parents that during this trip, we had to visit Agra so we could see the Taj Mahal. We left for Agra early in the morning, and reached there in the afternoon. When we got out of the taxi and started walking towards the Taj Mahal, a bunch of auto-drivers and men driving carriages on the back of camels began shouting “5 rupees,” “10 rupees,” “20 rupees,” “1 kilometer!” in an attempt to get us to take transportation to the site. (We decided to just walk and realized it was definitely much less than one kilometer.) I remember people saying that the area was really dirty, which was confirmed when I saw the garbage covering the areas next to the road, but once we got to the entrance gateway, it was very clean. Plus, you wouldn’t notice the ground anyway because you’d be gazing up at beautiful architecture.
They charge 20 rupees for an entrance ticket if you’re an Indian national, but if you’re a foreigner, they charge 750 rupees. (How insane is that?) After getting in line with our tickets, we proceeded to enter the area beyond the gate, and soon enough, the Taj Mahal was in full view. At first glance, I could’ve sworn I was looking at a postcard hung up in front of me. It was really that beautiful. A reflecting pool stretched from the entrance to the white domed marble mausoleum, with walkways on either side. As we made our way into the structure, I looked around in awe at the incredible architecture, the intricate detail, carvings of flowers and vines, engraved paintings, calligraphy of Persian poems…it was all so beautiful.

When we left the area, and proceeded out the gate, we stopped to check out a souvenir store and get some snacks. Just outside the shop, a handicapped man made his way over to us, and tried to sell us some Taj Mahal key chains. When we seemed uninterested, he started lowering the price, pleading that we buy some souvenirs. My dad offered him some money, but he refused to take it if we weren’t buying his merchandise. Finally we gave up, and took a pack of key chains from him, and gave him money. He flashed us the widest smile and my heart melted. I wished there was something else we could do to help him. A few minutes later, my sister was looking at the pack he gave us, and said something about how a few of them were broken. I don’t know how he heard us, but the man came limping towards us, pointed at the packet my sister held in her hand, pulled it away, and replaced it with another one. We smiled at him and said thank you, and he smiled wide again, revealing the few teeth he had. We continued on our way down the road to the taxi. On the way, young boys who were probably around five-years-old began chasing us, asking us to buy souvenirs from them. We gave them each some money and they were happy as ever. As I watched them running off, a few extra bills in their pockets, I wanted to cry. Who knew whom they were working for, who was exploiting them, and whether that money ever brought them any good? It bothered me that life was so unfair to these kids, but in that moment, there was really nothing else I could do. It broke my heart.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

An Assault on the Senses: Days 37 - 38

Day 37

It’s getting really cold in Chandigarh. It’s a different kind of winter here; the temperatures don’t go anywhere as low as they do in New York, but there’s no heating indoors so it’s pretty much just as cold inside the house (if not more) as it is outside. It’s strange seeing your breath as you sit in bed. We wear lots of layers here, sleeping in flannel pants and sweatshirts, covered in multiple warm blankets.

We started our New Year last night sitting with our family here in India, cuddled up together in bed, watching a broadcast of a program in a Delhi Gurdwara on TV.  I love starting the year with simran and prayers; it always makes me feel at peace. Wishing you all a wonderful new year filled with joy and success. Happy 2013!

Day 38

On December 16th, 2012, a woman was brutally attacked on a bus in Delhi. Going home after watching a movie together, the 23-year-old woman and her 28-year-old boyfriend had boarded a public bus, not knowing that the five male passengers already onboard were taking the bus for a joyride with the driver. The five men began taunting the couple, and when the woman’s friend tried protecting her, he was beaten, gagged, and knocked unconscious. The five men then dragged the woman to the rear of the bus, beat her with an iron rod, raped her repeatedly, and then shoved the iron rod into her vagina, causing massive internal damage to her abdomen and intestines. The attackers then stopped the bus and threw the couple outside onto the street. They were determined to kill the couple, as they tried to run them over with the bus, but the woman’s friend pulled her away. The two victims lay naked and unconscious on the street for almost half an hour, until finally a passerby called the police. The woman died thirteen days later in a hospital in Singapore.

As gruesome as this attack was, the response of the Delhi police was probably just as inhumane. According to the woman’s friend, the police arrived at the scene from multiple police stations after about 30 to 45 minutes. The officers then stood at the scene to discuss under which station’s jurisdiction the case fell. Nobody gave the couple clothes to cover themselves, and nobody called an ambulance. It took a total of two and a half hours for the couple to reach a hospital from the time they were thrown off the bus. And it wasn’t even a nearby hospital; they were taken to a hospital that was far away.

In response to this horrific attack, protests have started all over India. (Don’t even get me started on the police brutality that ensued during the protests.) Protesters called for a “Bharat Bandh” tomorrow, January 3rd, 2012. “Bharat Bandh” is basically what it translates to: various organizations gets together and shut down for the day in protest. This includes shops, transportation, offices, etc.

Fortunately, this attack is generating a lot of attention and international concern. We can only hope it will spark some changes in the way rape cases are dealt with, the method in which the police conducts their business, and the way society views women. It’s about time for reform.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

An Assault on the Senses: Days 30 - 31

Day 30

It’s not a secret that drug abuse and addiction has become an overwhelming problem in Punjab, India. In 2010, Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar suggested that as much as 70% of young Punjabi men were addicted to drugs or alcohol.

This dramatic increase stems from the sale of drugs; Punjab has become a hub for distribution of drugs for supply to other countries. Most of these substances are produced in Afghanistan and then routed through Pakistan to Punjab. Therefore, the consumption and sale of drugs in Punjab is on the rise.

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) Act of 1985 contains section 7A, which mandates the central government to create a national fund for control of drug abuse, but this has not really been implemented. Unfortunately, it is difficult to mend the problem when politicians and police are involved in drug sales, taking profits from sellers. According to the Washington Post, more than 100 pounds of heroin were confiscated from parties who intended to distribute it to voters in Punjab before the state elections last year. Furthermore, the former police narcotics chief from Chandigarh was arrested and charged with the selling drugs in 2009. 

One of the most interesting discoveries I made was while reading case files at the firm – that drug smuggling in jails is also a widespread problem. Statistics show that out of 18,000 prisoners in the jails of Punjab, at least 30 percent of them are in illegal possession of drugs. In Patiala Central Jail alone, 1100 out of 1910 inmates are reported to be undergoing trials or serving terms under the NDPS Act. 

Narcotic traders have set themselves up in jails in Punjab and even though they have been able to get bail, they aren’t posting bail because the trade of narcotics is more profitable inside the jails. Also, they find it safer to sell drugs in the jail since the jail staff is easily swayed. And so, alcohol, opium, and drugs like cocaine and heroin are easily available in the jails. Previously, prisoners were addicted to injections and capsules, which were available in the jail pharmacies. (Records show a high consumption of sedatives in pharmacies in the jails.) These are now considered “poor prisoners’ drugs,” whereas prisoners with more money are able to obtain more “sophisticated” drugs and alcohol. The drugs are supplied inside the jails through food items or raw vegetables and fruits.

What’s worse is that the jail staff is often involved in the smuggling of drugs and sale to the prisoners. Superintendents, guards, doctors, and pharmacists working in jails have been accused of partaking in these illegal activities. When prisoners try to make complaints against the jail staff that is involved in the drug sales and smuggling, they are put in solitary confinement in unsanitary conditions, beaten, or tortured.

It’s become necessary for the government of Punjab to adopt a long-term strategy to break the cycle of the abuse of drugs. Fortunately, de-addiction centers have been opened with pilot projects started in Kapurthala and Bhatinda Jails, and hopefully more will continue to open with the success of these programs. There is a great need for transparency and accountability in the goings-on of the Punjab jails so that the sale and supply of drugs in these jails can be cut short and addicts can have access to rehabilitation during their stay in jail. This way, they are less likely to fall victim to recidivism. To accomplish this, the police, prisons, the Health Department, and NGOs need to work together to get Punjab on the road to recovery.

Day 31

My aunt and I watched a Bollywood movie on TV today called Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (which basically means “You only have one life to live.”)
It was a pretty good movie (considering I’m not generally a fan of Bollywood movies) about three best friends who go on a bachelor trip to Spain and have fun doing adventurous things like deep sea diving, skydiving, and a bull run.

As you may know, I’m obsessed with poetry, so my favorite parts of the movie were Hindi poems that were recited by Farhan Akhtar, who plays one of the three friends. They were absolutely beautiful, and I thought I’d repost them underneath. To get the real feel of them, you should really hear them being read in the movie, but here they are anyway; hope you enjoy them as much as I did :)

Poem 1
Ik baat honton tak hai jo aayi nahin
Bas ankhon say hai jhaankti
Tumse kabhi, mujhse kabhi
Kuch lafz hain woh maangti
Jinko pehanke honton tak aa jaaye woh
Aawaaz ki baahon mein baahein daalke ithlaye woh
Lekin jo yeh ik baat hai
Ahsas hi ahsas hai
Khushboo si hai jaise hawa mein tairti
Khushboo jo be-aawaaz hai
Jiska pata tumko bhi hai
Jiski khabar mujhko bhi hai
Duniya se bhi chupta nahin
Yeh jaane kaisa raaz hai

Poem 2
Jab jab dard ka baadal chaya
Jab ghum ka saya lehraya
Jab aansoo palkon tak aya
Jab yeh tanha dil ghabraya
Humne dil ko yeh samjhaya
Dil aakhir tu kyun rota hai
Duniya mein yunhi hota hai
Yeh jo gehre sannate hain
Waqt ne sabko hi baante hain
Thoda ghum hai sabka qissa
Thodi dhoop hai sabka hissa
Aankh teri bekaar hi nam hai
Har pal ek naya mausam hai
Kyun tu aise pal khota hai
Dil aakhir tu kyun rota hai

Poem 3
Pighle neelam sa behta ye sama,
neeli neeli si khamoshiyan,
na kahin hai zameen na kahin aasmaan,
sarsaraati hui tehniyaan pattiyaan,
keh raheen hai bas ek tum ho yahan,
bas main hoon,
meri saansein hain aur meri dhadkanein,
aisi gehraiyaan, aisi tanhaiyaan,
aur main… sirf main.
Apne hone par mujhko yakeen aa gaya.

Poem 4
Dilon me tum apni betabiyan leke chal rahe ho,to zinda ho tum
Nazar me khwaabon ki bijliyan leke chal rahe ho,to zinda ho tum
Hwa ke jhokon ke jaise aazad rehno sekho
Tum ek dariya ke jaise lehron mein behna sekho
Hr ek lamhe se tum milo khole apni baahein
Hr ek pal ek nya sama dekhe nigahein
Jo apni ankhon mein hairanian leke chal rahe ho,to zinda ho tum
Dilon mein tum apni betabian leke chal rahe ho,to zinda ho tum

– Javed Akhtar (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara)