July 12, 2007

Capital in chaos

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For the past few days, regular Delhi-ites (not the high-flyer variety) are in deep muck, because of the government's inability to provide a reliable, convenient transportation system. The capital of India is in dire straits after a crackdown on private buses which have been flouting every rule in the book ever since they opened their eyes.

Anyway, thousands of buses are off the roads, either in protest or because they have been booked. Now, people are forced to travel on the public buses which have never taken their job seriously since they opened their eyes.

And now, it seems, auto-rickshaw drivers (who were under the scanner earlier) are making the most of the public distress. I experienced this first-hand yesterday when I went to Lajpat Nagar market to pick up some stuff. I do this sometimes in the evenings and I didn't expect things to be as bad as they were. Well, at 8.30pm there were no autos available and people were stranded all over the place as auto wallahs refused to go or charged the moon. Ultimately, I ended up taking two cycle rickshaws to cover the 6.5 km distance home!

This makes me think about the mentality of Delhi versus Mumbai (again!). On 26th July 2006, when people were stranded due to the floods in Mumbai, strangers offered people lifts home, taxi drivers took passengers without caring about money and shops stayed open all night to provide shelter. Consider the situation in Delhi where the slightest bout of rain or agitation is fully taken advantage of by everybody to fleece commuters.

I mean, this is the capital of Asia's emerging superpower, for heaven's sake! I rest my case.

July 8, 2007

' A Thousand Splendid Suns': That which is behind the veil

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When the much-televised reign of Taliban in Afghanistan was beamed into our homes, did it ever occur to you what was inside the figures blanketed in blue - the Afghan women who were strictly, to put it lightly, kept 'in order'. Well, it did enter my mind. I wanted to know what went on in the hearts of these women. What did they feel at the torture meted out to them - fear, anger, hatred or even, guilt in some strange way? Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns tries to get inside that abaya, into the homes these women inhabit, into their lives...and into their hearts.

Though even Hosseini cannot claim to know these most elusive women inside out, he does seem to do justice to their many tragedies. The book is the story of two women, Mariam and Laila, who become sister-like friends in the most unexpected of circumstances. They see the many changes in power that their country goes through, and the many wars which batter it completely. Mariam is resigned to her fate at being a woman in a male-dominated country and is ever-resilient. But Laila is in for a rude shock as her life of liberty is snatched from her and she is thrown in to share Mariam's nightmare.

Sometimes, it is hard to believe that it is a man, Hosseini, who is writing the book and not the women themselves who are forming the words on the pages. Oppression does not come by choice, but sometimes it is suffered due to helplessness. This is one of the insights this story gives us. It is as if, we the reader, are being secretly taken into a world which will never unfold before us.

With A Thousand Splendid Suns, the author faced a classic situation that comes with any second book after a hugely successful first one. And Hosseini does not disappoint. Though he is far from his country, his attachment to it is evident, as he quotes Saeb-e-Tabrizi's love for Kabul:
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.
Even more heartening is the fact that Hosseini is not all words. He is an active social worker for Afghani refugees. Visit his site for more.