Around this time, the sun goes bonkers over Nagpur

It’s already here upon us. The signs are everywhere, portents of climactic changes to come. Trees, once teeming with leaves, began shedding them, first slowly, then faster, like a summer 9 burden too heavy to carry now. Some of the smaller ones are already bare, their dried out and gnarled branches sharply silhouetted against the bare blue skies.

And the wind too, fresh and invigorating just a month back, has turned menacing now. It whirls through the city, as if pouring out of a gigantic hot air-blower, raising swirls of dust, carrying the cast-out yellow leaves and dumping them in scattered heaps along the sides of roads. The glazed blacktops of the roads, now swept clean by the rushing wind, are already bouncing off scalding sunrays.

Ribs-jutting wandering cows and panting street dogs are already gravitating to the solace of shades offered by neem trees and compound walls. It’s already getting so there’s too much sunshine for everybody’s comfort.

On the human side too, there are signs. Prudent housewives are already stocking their kitchens with onions and kairees (raw manoges), fruity bulbs that act as antidotes against excessive heat. Mothers are already chiding children everywhere: “Don’t go out on an empty stomach and drink plenty of water and, for heaven’s sake, don’t drink fridge water immediately as you come in.” That’s right, for nothing harms you more.

Flats, houses, bungalows, offices everywhere are already preparing to shield themselves with desert-coolers and air-conditioners. Heat-hassled men and women, and young girls on summer2two-wheelers, particularly, are already moving about with scalps fully wrapped, only their eyes visible or covered in goggles. This is so, because the heat pierces through the tympanic membranes and lodges itself in the bone marrow and there’s no worse affliction now in Nagpur than being struck by the sun.

Roadside water kiosks – pyauus – are already springing up all across the city. The insane searing sun burns up the extra-cellular fluids in the body, drenching you in sweat, and dehydrates you in no time. You need water – plentysummer 10 of it – to combat the sun’s fury. “Water is life.” Never was this banality truer than now in Nagpur.

The city’s beggars, the homeless and hoboes, whose dwellings are the streets and open grounds, are already shuffling to public parks, gardens and other snug areas during the day. In Ramdaspeth, resting against a shaded wall opposite summer 11Dikshabhumi, beggar-woman Munnibai has a worried look on her withered face. In her miserable nomadic life, she hates this time of the year most. “Every year, I thought I’d die during these months,” she says. “But I’m still here.”

In earlier years, sun stroke would claim dozens of lives, shooting the sufferers’ body temperatures way beyond the human limit. And government and other hospitals would be ready with special hyperthermia units where patients were laid, stripped and naked, on slabs of ice and nurses scrambled to bring their body temperatures down with swabs dipped in ice-cold water. “But that doesn’t happen often now,” says Dr Smita Chaturvedi, who runs a clinic in Gokulpeth. “People now know what the heat can do and take proper precautions.”

summer 12Like many other places, Nagpur, too, bobs up and down between the two edges of the barometer. But for some strange reason, around this time, Nagpur and its nearby areas, perched above the Equator at 21.09 and 79.06 degrees on the latitudinal-longitudinal cross-cross, somehow seem to nettle that Red Giant in the sky, provoking it to become a fiercer, more ruthless, relentless ball of energy than at anyplace else. summer 13

So, in the coming weeks, the sun will go bonkers over Nagpur and its surrounding regions, exploding furiously, raining down torrents of dry, life-sapping, mind-boggling heat – as if it had a personal score to settle with the land. Yes, the summer is here in Nagpur – a simmering time of pure white hell.


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From an ordinary school kid in Nagpur to a versatile, illustrious icon…

Long long ago, there was a boy in Nagpur. An unknown boy. He was born in the city, a place for which he was to harbour lifelong affection.

He used to trudge along to his school in Dhantoli, meandering through the dusty lanes, a

Dinanath High School as it stands today

Dinanath High School as it stands today

cloth bag dangling from his shoulder, holding his notebooks and school books. In studies he was an average student.

He had lost his father when he was 12 years old, so his mother had raised him. The boy had normal interests, except for football. He was passionate about the sport, although he himself seldom played it. All those who knew him in his schooldays in Nagpur never thought he would amount to anything other just a normal, average person. He did nothing extraordinary that would have indicated otherwise.

So, in later years, it became a huge surprise – and a point of pride for the many Nagpurians who knew him – when that nondescript boy flowered into a multi-faceted, popular figure in the fields of arts, academia, media, politics and industry.

The boy was Vasant Chowdhury.

Born in Nagpur on May 5, 1928, Vasant Chowdhury finished his matriculation from Dinanath High School in Dhantoli. While in school, he used to act in dramas, plays and in Puja pandal, which was a high-point for local thespians to display their talents during Durga puja festivals. In later life, Vasant Chowdhury never failed to express his pride that he had passed out from Dinanath High School. And in 1994, the school itself, honoured its former pupil – with equal pride – during their platinum jubilee celebrations.

After matriculation, Vasant Chowdhury did his graduation from what was then known as Morris College. During college years he was a fanatic lover of football and hockey. Like all the youngsters in the city then, Vasant, too, used to move around on a bicycle. He was known to pedal down to Kamptee, a small cantonment town about 15 kms. north of the city, to arrange players from the Young Muslims Club to cobble together a team of eleven for his Bengali football side. A great lover of books, he was also known to traipse door to door, exhorting 4 anna dues from members to keep the then newly-opened Saraswat Sabha Library in Dhantoli afloat. In 1994 when he came to Nagpur for his school’s jubilee celebrations, Vasant Chowdhury took pride in visiting the library, noting with satisfaction that it had grown considerably in size and in stature.

Then how did this ordinary Nagpur lad morph into an illustrious icon and, no less, an acclaimed celluloid hero? Vasant Chowdhury did not apparently have much going for him during school and college years except that he had grown into a strikingly handsome young man.

After graduation, intending to find a job, he went to Calcutta. While making the rounds of company offices, he met and heard scores of people telling him, “You’re so handsome. Why don’t you join films?”

After pondering the matter for a while, Vasant Chowdhury said to himself, “Why not?” He began frequenting New Theaters in Calcutta, a film studio founded by producer Birendranath Sircar, who went on to bag Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1970.

But Vasant Chowdhury also made a commitment to himself: he would play only the hero’s roles, never the second fiddle. His break came after one year. In 1951 when the company launched its Bengali-Hindi double-version films ‘Mahaprasthaner Pathey’ (Bengali) and ‘Yatrik’ (Hindi), he was cast as the leading man opposite the already established actress, Arundhati Mukherjee. The 1952 movie turned out to be a super hit and, overnight, Vasant Chowdhury became a star.

Thereafter, he went on to play memorable roles with almost all the leading ladies of yesteryears: over half a dozen films with Suchitra Sen, with Sumitra Devi, Madhavi Mukherjée, Aparna Sen, Sadhana, Nutan and others.

With Sadhana in Bimal Roy’s film ‘Parakh’

Also a leading stage actor from 1956, he had over 2,000 performances to his credit. His solo performance of Notun-Bouthan was staged all over the world in the 1980s. He was known for his poetry recitals, mellifluous voice and flawless diction. He regularly acted in radio and television plays.  In between, he also continued to act on Bengali stage and in ‘Jatra’, open-air theatre. His association with films and stage lasted for almost five decades.

Though acting was his profession, intellectual pursuits remained a greater passion for him throughout his life. He became a self-educated scholar who immersed himself in myriad Vasant Chowdhury picinterests. A lover of history, he was an authority on the ‘Arkanese influence on the eastern part of India.’ A widely travelled man, he once floored the wife of U Nu, one of Burma’s then prominent leaders, with his absolute mastery of this subject. His deep knowledge of history and research in arts and culture fetched him a D. Litt. from Ravindra Bharati University. He was also an avid collector of rare coins and regularly attended numismatic conferences, including one held in Nagpur. He also collected exclusive, ancient, opulent shawls. In 1994 he was elected Sheriff of Calcutta city.

Vasantda – as he came to be called affectionately – would periodically visit Nagpur to meet his friends, his love for the city having never diminished. During these visits, he would stay with his old college friend, Sushant ‘Benu’ Sanyal, also a fine stage and film actor – probably the first from the city who always stayed in Nagpur despite producers’ pleas to shift to Bombay – and who had acted, among others, with Smita Patil in the 1985 film, ‘Debshishu.’

Soft spoken, still handsome in his declining years, a gentleman with impeccable manners, Vasantda was a fascinating talker who could charm the earth off from under anyone’s feet. He had the Vasant.jpg0723knack, reportedly like that of American president John F. Kennedy, of making people talk about themselves. Vasantda once made a female photographer of a Nagpur daily, who had come to photograph him, feel like a leading lady.

Despite the trappings of fame and glamour that surrounded him throughout his adult life, he remained the simple Nagpurian that he always was. 

Vasant Chowdhury,  the unknown school kid who grew up to blaze a trail in Bengali cinema, passed away in Calcutta at the age of 72 on 20 June 2000.


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Nagpur’s mod, hip, spirited youngsters revel in trashing Valentine Day

In Nagpur, for decades that we could remember, February 14th meant nothing.

Back then, it was just another day in the year that came and went. At best, it was just another day that came sometime before Mahashivratri Day which was – and still is – a big festival and which preceded another huge festival by a few days, Holi.

February 14th, then, was nada. Just nada.

Not anymore. At least not since the last decade or so.

Today, February 14th is Valentine Day. Everywhere in India. In Nagpur, too.

In the past, Valentine Day used to be a strictly western phenomenon. As for the Indians, most had, at best, only heard about it through the songs of Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and Elvis Presley. (More Indians were probably far more familiar with Ballantines (whisky) than Valentine. No exaggeration.)

So, how come its sudden popularity? Not surprisingly….it’s mainly because of its huge commercial potential. Valentine Day – with its theme of love and symbols of flowers, cupid, arrows, love birds, the color red, hearts, cards, chocolates and what have you – proved to be a commercial bonanza for people ever ready to cash in on any golden opportunity. This year, for instance, the Valentine Day market is pegged at Rs. 15 billion in the country.

So, even as the frenzy of ‘expressing love’ on Valentine Day sweeps across Indian cities among grown-ups and youngsters, it’s refreshing to see that not everyone falls prey to the festival’s ballyhooed hype.

In Nagpur, especially, there are those who shudder at the thought of Valentine Day. These are the folks who hate the colour red in February. They think it should be temporarily banned, along with anything heart-shaped or vaguely cherubic. They silently gag as their pals and colleagues coo loudly over flowers and those silly cards. They feel like blowing their tops off, seeing all those mushy people obsessing over romance. Here is Nagpur’s young brash brigade who thinks Valentine Day sucks.

This is the hip bunch of Nagpur’s mod guys-‘n-gals who would warm the hearts of moralists and tickle pink the nationalists who frown on the doings of Valentine Day.

Take someone like 26-year-old Aditya Paturkar, a marketing executive. His hatred for Adi 30460V-Day stems from basic level-headed reasons. For tough honchos like him, ‘cupid rhymes with stupid!’ “It’s all these lubby-dubby mushy-mushy feelings, hyped up teensy-weensy stuff. It’s all bhankaas, man,” he groans. “Imagine a half-naked chubby kid shooting arrows at lovers! C’mon yaar, I mean…village folks think up better ideas.”

Others like 20-year old Nupur Badge, a 2nd year student of Dental College, refuse to be blinded by the hyped up fad. Ever a down-to-earth practical girl, she croaks, “For Valentine Day they jack up the prices like mad. Like, price of a rose goes fiveNupur 30463 times up than on a normal day. What’s the point in giving a rose on this day? You got to express your love through flowers and gifts, and that’s damn expensive. You might as well spend all that money on something else.”

Most of the V-Day bashers don’t have any hang ups on the cultural front, like V-Day not being an Indian thing etc. “But many people don’t Amol Joshi0450know the meaning of what Valentine really is,” fumes Amol Joshi, a finance masters from Middlesex University, UK. “Do you know your Valentine can be anybody? It needn’t be only your girlfriend or boyfriend. It could be your mom, your dog or cat, anybody whom you love. So, all this lovers and beloved stuff is big time faltugiri. It’s mostly showing off I think.”

“Yeah, basically, it’s showing off,” Amit B. Mundada, a company secretary student, echoes ditto sentiment. “If you really believe in love, why should you have to prove it by giving Amit Mundada0447100 roses or 100 balloons and things like that. If you got a girlfriend who’s expecting your love that way – boy! – she doesn’t love you, take it. Bottom line is she doesn’t like you at all.”

Though young in years, 18-year-old B. Sc. student Gauri Shrotriya, parroting the sentiment, takes a panoramic view. Gauri0455“Really, if you’re truly in love, how should this one day make such a difference? Do you have to wait one year to express the thing? If you’re in love everyday should be like great for you. Everyday should be a Valentine Day, no?”

And what do they think about this insane frenzy and rush to shops for cards and roses and chocolates and gifts. “It’s really like the mob mentality,” points out Neha Mudliar, a biotechnology student, “People see somebody doing Valentine and they think, ‘Oh, I want to do it too.’ And they haven’t fully understood theGauri0456 meaning behind the thing, so there’s mad rush. And all these hotels, cards companies, gifts and flowers shops are cashing in on all these stupid things that have come up. It’s like mullah…mullah for them. And they encourage it like mad.”

So, finally, what’s the answer? “Nothing…just live your life like any other Paras Kamdar0452day,” shrugs Paras Kamdar, who manages family owned restaurants, “I also think it’s stupid to criticise and protest and hold rallies and demos against it, as they do at many places. I’d say just do what you normally do and have a big laugh at those who think Valentine Day is like a mega…maha love festival. It’s nothing of the sort. It’s just a pagan festival from long ago that’s become a lucrative commercial tool in our times.”


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Nagpur’s trendy youngsters setting a welcome new trend….

They first saw each other two years back. She came to the party early, greeted and chatted with her friends, enjoyed the music and dancing and said her good byes around 11 p.m. As she was leaving, he walked in, boisterous, raising his hands, making the victory sign. It was his style. His party was beginning just when hers was ending. She woke up every day very early because she had to be in office by 7 a.m. He woke up just before noon because he was his own boss.

They were two people who just couldn’t be similar. Exact opposite… fact….like one lived on the North Pole and the other on the South.

They didn’t know each other but had several common friends. Some months later, they met again. This time among a group of common friends. The whole group decided to go and see Twilight, the Hollywood movie about the girl next door who falls in love with a vampire boy. After the movie was over, while she, a die-hard romantic in her heart, was gushing loudly about the romantic scenes between the heroine and her vampire boyfriend, he, ever the practical fellow, queried sneeringly, “Aare, yeh vampire log paise kaise kamate hai?” (Aare, these vampire people….how do they earn money?)

Hearing this, she was aghast and cried out exasperatingly, “Aare….who is this? Who is this?” While she could barely hold her anger, he was laughing, mischievously.

They say opposites attract.

Okay….okay….it’s a cliche….all right….

But here the cliche worked its magic.

Last month, he, ever the practical fellow, and she, steeped in the lore of romance, got married.

Ashwin Sahasrabudhe and Neha Khanzode, seemingly, didn’t have very much in common.

Ashwin is a chartered accountant and runs his own company. Neha is a local celebrity in her own right, with a spirited fan following. She has been the popular R.J. of Nagpur’s 93.5 Red FM radio station, much admired for her singular gig ‘Vaat Lagana’: taking some unsuspecting victim on a hilarious leg-pulling ride on air on the victim’s birthday as her legions of fans listened, roaring with laughter.

Both Ashwin and Neha have been part of city’s hip, upwardly mobile, well-educated, trendy, tech-savvy, Facebook-steeped modern crowd.

But, as it turned out, Ashwin and Neha did have one thing in common, something of great value, which became evident during their wedding.

It seems both, in the jargon of environmentalists, care for the planet.

We all know that for over a decade experts have been shouting hoarse about how our planet now stands heavily beleaguered…..what with unchecked emissions of greenhouses gases, indiscriminate use of fuel and energy, insane cutting down of trees etc. wreaking havoc. So much so that even a not-so-industrialized, deeply-buried-in-the- heartland city like Nagpur is severely affected, with a recorded high increase in air pollution levels at 22%, ahead of Mumbai at 18%, Bhilai at 17.7%, Surat at 12.5% and Ahmadabad at 12%.

So, even though their marriage featured many a traditional rituals, immediately after the Ashneha1wedding, Ashwin brought his new bride home – not in a flashy car embellished with tonnes of flowers and decorations – but on a run-down bicycle, albeitAshneha3 inexpensively decorated with crepe flowers, paper flags etc.

Yeah….Ashwin, in his groom’s designer regalia, came home pedaling with Neha, primed equally in her bridal finery, perched atop the carrier behind – to the inevitable accompaniment of wide stares, stunned expressions and surprised faces of the strollers and passers-by on the road.

Ashneha4In shunning the usual flashy way of zooming out of the wedding hall in a long shiny  decorated car, both Ashwin and Neha opted for a novel, environmental-friendly way, rendering a bit of a green touch to their marriage ceremony.

Whether it was a planned or  spontaneous move, one will never know. But that doesn’t matter. DSC_496703810483

As most environmentalists would undoubtedly agree: whatever is done to save the planet, whether small or big, is welcome.

And it seems, some of Nagpur’s trendy youngsters are acutely aware of this.

About three years back another Nagpurian, Aditya Chaoji, too, added a similar  green touch to his own wedding.

After doing his B.Tech from India, Aditya did his Masters in engineering management, marketing and operations from Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA. He is now working as an associate product manager at Cummins Filtration in Nashville, Tennessee.

But all of this did not stop him from bringing home his new bride, Arya – in a cycle AdiAryarickshaw, with him in the rider’s seat. And Arya – who also hails from Nagpur – too, had no qualms at all about sitting in the rickety rickshaw’s ‘sawari’ (customer) seat, P10207600482 although she, too, had done her Masters from Georgia Tech University in Atlanta and was working – and still does – in a globally renowned company in California, USA.

Here, too, both Aditya and Arya, opting for the cheapest and ecologically the best vehicle, showed that they care for planet.

Adiarya2Environmentalists and ecology experts have pointed out 50 small ways ordinary people can adopt to help save the planet: from things like, among others, planting a tree, recycling newspapers, turning off computers at night, taking a shorter shower to going vegetarian once a week…

In Nagpur, both newly-weds Ashwin and Neha and Aditya and Arya showed the 51st way.





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An invigorating time in Nagpur….

You haven’t probably noticed it. But of late, dusk has been falling earlier in Nagpur. The birds have been returning to their nests sooner. And days are getting shorter.

winter in nagpur2There’re other tell-tale signs, too.  Though the desert-coolers have long since been removed, you’ve let the ceiling fans go on. Indeed, you needed them to ward off the October heat which this year, of course, wasn’t anything to worry about.  The fans, however, have continued to whirl automatically, without you being conscious of them.

But now suddenly you find yourself getting up and turning them off. Instinctively, you get a slightly uneasy feeling; you can’t seem to bear the air the fans throw at you.

Then, there are still other signs. In the laid back mahol (ambience) of the Nagpur evening, you’re chewing your tobacco-laced paan (betel leaf) at your favourite paan-thela (kiosk) after dinner. You came out wearing your usual clothes; you had no reason to suspect otherwise. A ripple of languid breeze wafts across and, unwittingly, you thrust both your hands in your pockets and draw yourself in….to control the tiny spasms that threaten to break out into shivers.

And the mornings now are invigorating, and the afternoon heat doesn’t sting any more  As a matter of fact, there is now a sprightly tang in the air that keeps you refreshed all day long. And towards the end of the day in the evening, sometimes, the tip of your nose feels two degrees cooler than the rest of your body.

Yes…these are the sure signs.

Elsewhere in the city on street corners, at open spaces, a couple of bedraggled rickshawallas, their pedal-driven 3-wheelers parked nearby, pile up pieces of old tyres, winter in nagpur1bits of twigs and sticks and soiled papers retrieved from garbage dumps and create a makeshift ‘shekoti’ (bonfire). Then they light up their leafy beedies, squat around the fire and start warming their hands.

Yes….it’s the time of the year in Nagpur when mothers start warning their frisky children to keep their necks covered. “Listen, I’m telling you. Don’t blame me afterwards if you fall sick and spoil your December holidays,” so goes the admonition.

It’s also the time of the year when distracted husbands who live in ground- floor flats get flak from their alert wives. “Aaho, how many times do I have to tell you? I’ve told you seventeen hundred fifty six times (a local vernacular expression) that when you come in, close the front door…close the front door. But you never listen. Don’t you know ‘hivala’ is here?”

Indeed, ‘hivala’ i. e. winter is here in Nagpur. Sending first its unmistakable signs, every year winter steals upon Nagpurians unobtrusively – like a sneaky, noiseless, furtive feline slinking into a house.

But of course, the weather-watching meteorological  people don’t see it exactly like this. They say because of withdrawal of south-west monsoon by the first fortnight of October, there is a rise in day temperature, and the night starts getting cooler. By November the post-monsoon season establishes itself, making the weather generally fine. The sky remains clear or lightly clouded. Sultry weather of October is absent and nights are much cooler. As the month advances days temperatures start falling.

The weathermen, as weathermen do everywhere, whether on radio or TV, love to expound. They add that in November surface winds are generally light and usually take a northerly or north-easterly direction. There is on an average only one rainy day with normal monthly rainfall of 9.3 mm. The month is generally free from thunderstorms and hailstorms. The normal day and night temperature ranges from 29 to 31 degrees and from as low as 7 to 13 degrees.

Whichever way you look at it, there’s no denying: winter is here in Nagpur.


For Nagpurians….a winter of disruption…too…

This is also the time of the year when Nagpurians get another chance to pillory the politicians. The State government’s ministers, bureaucrats, local politicians and their winter in nagpur3cohorts all descend on the city for the State assembly’s winter session. Ostensibly, they all gather in the city to conduct the state’s affairs; but no important legislation has ever come out of the session. The ministers and their toadies, though, enjoy a nice wintry vacation every year at the expense of taxpayers.  “Saale, karte birte toh kuch nahi; phaltu hamari zindagi kharab karte hai,” (“These fellows don’t do anything except unnecessarily disrupt our lives”) is the oft-heard grouse during this time in Nagpur.


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Nagpur ke Kisse: A different kind of bar brawl…

The majority of Indians are happy to flay the nation’s politicians, decry the political system and denounce the worsening state of affairs in the country. But the moment you utter the word ‘election’, most of these people turn into characters you normally see in disaster movies. They become grave and ponderous and serious. Damn serious, in fact! And of course, all this seriousness ultimately ends up causing the gravest of all grave disasters: destruction of all sense of humour.

In Nagpur, however, the word ‘election’ takes on a totally different meaning. People here don’t just get serious about the parliamentary or assembly elections, but about any local election, whether it be of a cooperative housing society, a social club or the local cricket association.

Correction: As a matter of fact, Nagpurians become much more serious about such elections than others.

So, in the elections of the Nagpur District Bar Association, held a few years back, things got so serious it ended up destroying more than just sense of humour.

Three days before final voting, two lawyers, properly attired in black coats, bows and all, representing two opponents, entered the Court’s bar room for canvassing during lunch hour and ended up pushing their own candidates so passionately they turned the legal bar room into the sort of boozy bar room seen in Bollywood bhelpuri western flicks.

In their bid to reach the same prospective voters, the canvassing lawyer-duo first jostled each other, scrambling to reach the lawyer members. Then they got into a fracas, shouting, “My candidate….my candidate…” Then their tussle dipped down to a level where they were hurling abuses at each other and, finally, it erupted into a full-scale fist fight between the two. The Learned Brothers, throwing learning out of the window, sparred like two boxers. Soon, other lawyers, whose votes were being sought, hurriedly rose from their seats and separated the fighting duo.

Ultimately, whose candidate won and whose candidate lost, is not known. What is known is that the Nagpur District Court bar room that day saw a more spirited spontaneous election frenzy at local level than all those boring ones at national level usually broadcast by TV channels.


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And Nobody Criticised in India….

The last person to voice criticism in public in India was Garibrao Bichare on October 10, 2014. Nobody told people to stop criticising; they quit voluntarily.

No one exactly knows when people gave up censuring or showing disapproval in India. The Congress party claimed it was during the BJP party’s regime, and the all opposition parties said it happened because of the Congress rule in India.

Author and activist Deshprem Satyabol who wrote The Decline and Fall of Moral Values in Independent India, claims the first group to give up criticising were the netizens: people who used the Internet. Over a decade back, to fight terrorism the government had introduced an Information Technology Act. But some of its provisions allowed anyone to file police complaint against anybody for things like causing ‘annoyance or inconvenience.’

After two young girls were arrested for innocuous remarks on Facebook in December 2012, the netizens said to each other, “If we criticise or denounce anything we subject ourselves to punishment and harassment.  We are now doomed to a submissive existence and we’ll be damned for protesting or saying anything against it. Instead of rebelling, why not keep quiet?”

Satyabol points out that the decline started in India after independence when ministers, MPs, MLAs and government people became corrupt and began amassing vast personal wealth. Soon, this was picked up by the adult population, and when the rich and influential started doing the same, people from other strata had no qualms about emulating them.

In no time rampant moral and economic corruption spread throughout the land. Moral values nosed dived, decency went underground and wheeling-dealing and making easy money by any means became the national obsession. Law enforcing agencies fearing they would be left behind hurriedly joined the national craze. Criminality blossomed and lawlessness thrived.  Greasing of palms and ‘fixing of things’ became the in-thing, expressing anger and disapproval about the deteriorating state of affairs was out.

As things worsened, the nation was rocked by successive man-made scandals:  economic scandals, real estate scandals, natural resources scandals, mafia scandals. Finally, even when underworld figures and criminals openly consorted with people in power and themselves became politicians, no one expressed anything that would suggest disgust or denunciation.

Editors of newspapers, sensitive to the national mood, stopped writing truth about any issue that might set anyone’s ire and disapprobation rising. To smoke-screen the harsh reality, they sensationalised murders, rapes, robberies and terrorism. Articles and news items began appearing, glorifying the exploit of the wicked and powerful. Pretty soon, word had filtered in the hinterlands that anyone who voiced criticism about anything was a fool or a knave.

Satyabol says in his book that it was difficult for a certain segment of a society go give up criticising, but these people did it privately in their homes where no one would see them. A group of friends would get together, send the children off for the night with relatives, and then would bristle and give vent to their reproof among themselves.

There were certain key organisations where people could go to hear vituperative orators from the past. But as the elder generation started dying out, the organisations closed down, as there were no fiery young men to take their place.

Voicing negative opinions or denigrating in public places was forbidden and considered extremely dangerous. Anyone who grumbled in a restaurant or theatre was asked to leave. If someone attempted to give vent to his censure on the street or in park, he was met with stony stares or was shunned.

The government contributed to the anti-criticism campaign by issuing statement everyday that things were better than they were the day before. To make sure the people wouldn’t find their derogatory voice, the Centre and state governments beamed inspirational programmes on TV, painted rosy pictures of the nation, made outrageous promises and played down the grim reality. Outwardly, life indeed presented a normal picture, but deep down indifference became the national emotion.

Satyabol claims the last person in India known to have expressed criticism in public was Garibrao Bichare, who lived in Nagpur, Maharashtra.

On October 10, 2014, Garibrao, a lowly school teacher, was standing in front of a cheap hotel in Sitabuldi in Nagpur. Ten days earlier, his only daughter, a petite 20-year-old, had hanged herself. She had become one of the unwitting victims of a sexual exploitation racket in which young girls were lured and blackmailed into sexual interactions that were secretly videotaped for circulation.

Shattered, Garibrao and his wife Venutai had been frantically imploring the authorities to bring the culprits behind the racket to book. But the powers-that-be were already trying hush the scandal because of involvement of some local politicians’ sons.

As he stood looking at the hotel, which was the centre of the racket, Garibrao couldn’t restrain himself and, before he realised what he was doing, burst out yelling in fury, “Goddamn you all! You all are pigs, animals! You’ll all rot in hell! Goddman you scum!

A nonchalant crowd gathered around Garibrao. Some gave him stony stares, some started whispering among themselves, others made the gesture to indicate he had gone mad. Policemen came and dragged Garibrao to jail for defamation and disturbing public peace.  The newspapers flashed the story next day, highlighting the police version, and the lesson was not lost on the populace.  Satybol feels it will be some time before anyone expresses criticism or condemnation in public in India again.

(This is an imaginary piece of writing)


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