NUGGETS of LIFE: When the New meets the Old

Art is just used to depict those emotions.

When I recently visited my parent’s house, my mother took out a stack of yellowish worksheets. Some of them were from my kindergarten days, while others were from various other junior classes. My daughter sitting in my lap carefully observed or I would rather say inspected them. She pulled out a particular sheet with men and women dancing and asked, “Mama, who are these colourful uncles and aunties?”

The very next second I was in uncontrollable laughter. I tried my best not to embarrass my daughter but she was spot on with her remarks. Of course, my mother stepped in and chided me for not answering her granddaughter. “These are men and women celebrating a very special day…” my mother explained, “…long time back people were thankful and celebrated all plants and trees when they gave us food to eat.” My mother spoke in very simple terms so that my toddler could understand the message she wanted to convey. Still giggling I chipped in, “Yeah mama BUT who dances like that in the fields on Vaisakhi ever?  Why did they even make us draw that in school?”

My mother was in no mood to extol a lecture, so came in a sarcastic gibe “If you haven’t seen doesn’t mean people never celebrated! There is something called Punjabi folklore! Thank God you kids did all this in school otherwise you wouldn’t even know what Vaisakhi is!” (For parents you are always kids even when your hair starts to grey). 

This made me curious. Even though I come from a family with agricultural background I haven’t seen Vaisakhi being ever celebrated with bhangra on dhol beats or folk songs being sung by women with saggi phul glittering in the daylight. So I asked my mother if she has ever seen it. “No” came the straight reply. “Art, culture, folklore are immensely symbolic. May be in the bygone era they actually did it but it mainly symbolizes culmination of hard work into a fruitful yield. Even the LokGeet are all about husband and wife bickering around the harvest time because there is so much work to do and they do not get to see each other for days. Eventually the bountiful harvest brings good times making every one forget the bickerings”, she smiled. “Art is just used to depict those emotions”, my mother added.

That day when I went to bed I was wondering what the next generations are going to draw. They are more familiar with ballet dances, moon walking and remix music than bhangra, jindwa or traditional Lok geet. As far as bountiful harvest – with change in climate and dropping water levels, yields are affected now. I do not know what the next generation is going to paint for Vaisakhi but if we continue to ignore, somebody in next generations might certainly paint Edvard Munch’s famous painting ‘The Scream’ again.

Published in THE POST INDIA on 29.4.2022

OPINION : Punjab Elections 2022 – Who will form the GOVERNMENT?

It has happened for the first time in the political history of Punjab that seven strong contending political parties (some in alliance with each other), with strong leading faces – have come down in the battleground creating an unprecedented fluid situation. All the political parties had equally impactful cards and represented themselves throughout on these lines – the ‘panthak’ and  cultural image of Akali Dal, the secular image of Congress, the Hindutva and powerful omniscient stance of BJP, re- alliance of the Dalit vote bank of BSP, the ‘Delhi development model’ agenda based AAP, stalwart leader Amarinder Singh led Punjab Lok Congress, BJP alliance Akali Dal (Democratic) led by Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa,  hard liner Akali Dal (Amritsar) led by Simranjit Singh Mann, the farmer centered SSM (Sanuykt Samaj Morcha) which is a new entrant with a successful farm law agitation in its kitty.

This has made Punjab Elections 2022 a high pitched poll fray where vote banks got divided or should I say morphed like never before. Here is my take on who will get the mandate to form the government:

Past Trends & New Waves

The current Punjab was formed in 1966 and ever since it has had a strong Jat Sikh culture. With the exception of Giani Zail Singh there have always been Jat Sikh Chief Ministers in the state. The Scheduled caste and OBC vote bank too which constitutes 62% Punjab population has mainly been loyal to either Congress or Akali Dal. There has also been a single generation of leadership at the top for all the political parties – be it Prakash Singh Badal or Capt. Amarinder Singh.

It has happened for the first time in Punjab elections 2022 that political parties in Punjab are scourging for credible Dalit leaders for top shot positions. It has happened for the first time that the consolidated Dalit vote bank of parties has scattered due to multiple choices they have now. And it has happened for the first time that the Punjab politics is seeing a generational shift with younger leaders being declared as Chief Ministerial candidates.

Shifts & U- turns

As much hopeful the shift to the next generation of leadership, like that of Sukhbir Badal, Bhagwant Mann, Charanjit Singh Channi might look, it has in the run created a disruptive furor. While Akali Dal and AAP went through this shift with internal oppositions and saw many senior leaders exit the party, yet there was always a strong hold that weaved and kept the party men together in a much better way than Congress could. The internal furor of Congress has been a public debacle which has badly hurt its innings in the state.

Congress made two grave mistakes which led to u-turns and change in number game impacting all parties and will impact the results of the current polling.

First, the disrespectful pushing out of senior leader Amarinder Singh – the only leader of Congress party who had pan Punjab appeal, apart from Navjot Singh Sidhu who too have had a credible report card and strength to hold the party together. Congress did not choose him either. Clearly paving way to an ugly show where everyone wanted the biggest piece of cake.

Straight away Congress lost a share of vote bank here that wanted a strong leader to lead but did not get one! Second, when Sunil Jakkar was elected by its own party MLA’s, rather democratically as the party claims; again another very credible face was not declared as the CM candidate. Since all this was in public eye, Congress again lost a percentage of secular and Hindu voters here. Had any of the above leaders were given a chance then the situation for Congress would have been different.

However, with declaring Charanjit Singh Channi as the CM candidate, Congress aimed at strongly tapping into that big chunk of 62 % Dalit vote bank and compensate for the damage. It was an applaudable historic move too. But the ground to earth and ‘gareeb ghar ka beta’ political and emotional wave got backfired right before the elections with ED conducting raid on Channi’s relative.

This made the party slide to the third position from its top position in winning the Punjab elections 2022, especially when it had an edge over an already ducked in Akali Dal which was trying its best to keep itself afloat and AAP which was not able to make enough substantial ripples all this while to give a big fight.

Akali Dal was on backfoot with sacrilege and Bargari issue and was also sinking in the ire of its loyal panthak voters since it allowed the pardoning of rape accused Ram Rahim of Dera Sacha Sauda. However, it got back into the battleground due to the disillusionment that had set in the voters by the mess of Congress. Another factor that played in their favour was the vendetta politics with Bikram Singh Majithia, which was made personal by the changed leadership of Congress in the state. The hype that the party received in the Navjot Singh Sidhu vs. Bikram Singh Majithia battle in Amritsar East brought back Akali Dal in focus once again. While all this was happening, AAP despite the allegations against it was doing relatively well in its door to door campaign.

Number Game & My Take

Although an increased voter turnout was expected this time because of the silent wave for AAP and anti incumbency factor, yet the voters were disillusioned like never before with so many options before them which were all equally stained. This disillusionment is also one of the reasons behind 5.45 % drop in polling this time.

According to my observation, analysis and general conversation with people from lower income or marginal strata to upper income strata, I predict 54 to 60 seats for AAP, 25-30 seats for Akali Dal alliance, 27 – 33 seats for Congress and 4 -5 seats for BJP alliance.

AAP is likely to get majority but it would be won on a cusp. And if by chance it is a hung assembly then Kejriwal is most likely to get into an alliance with Akali Dal even though they are ideologically different. Many would consider it impossible for AAP to take this step. But I have three interesting arguments for my reader to think about. First, AAP does not have a Dalit vote bank to tap into. Second, the rural vote bank or image they want to attain in Punjab through SSM depends on how SSM performs, which looks bleak. AAP’s effort to have any other inner alliances with Sikh hard liners will not be good for them in the long run either. Third, AAP is projecting itself as a national party across India and will prefer to go in alliance with a regional party.

On the other hand, Akali Dal is in a do or die situation and needs to come back in power in one way or the other. Even if Akali Dal risks the shift of its traditional vote bank to AAP, it will still go ahead into an alliance with them.

Albeit, in politics nothing can be carved in the stone till the judgment day or even after. Let’s see what Punjab has voted for.

SUNDAY FEATURE: A DISCOURSE ON PRONUNCIATION SNEERS

Sneer - Wikipedia
the pronunciation sneers have become a tell tale of people’s character, being and the many shades in between.

Being a creative writer it is but natural for me to observe people and places around me. And out of the many observations that I have made, there is a rather interesting one about sneers – a series of pronunciation sneers I would say, that have taken birth out of the British American pronunciation dichotomy since on one hand we deal with a colonial hangover, while on the other a Hollywood hangover. These hangovers reflect the great Indian tragicomedy aptly because neither the French would have replied nor the Irish would have served their coffee on being talked in English, but the Indian would have gladly jumped in a competition of spoken English (as much hilarious it might become at times!).However, over the years this did not stop the sneers to become the tell-tale of people’s character, being and the many shades in between.

 So if you compliment a girl for the lovely flower on her dress with the British pronunciation of ‘flaa-vur’ and not the American ‘flaaa-r’ accent…oh boy! No matter even if you read at Eton in England she would still give you ‘educated from village school’ sneer. Well, that is your cue. She is certainly not the soul companion you’re looking for – get going.

Then there is the ‘confused kitty party’ sneer. It often happens over kitty parties when a lady from one corner of the table shares her tested and tried tomato soup recipe with the tomato being a British ‘tmaa-to’. While the American harbinger on the other end throws in few of her ‘tme-tos’ in the recipe and both the women end up thinking am I wrong or is she right? In such scenarios, it is best to let them stay confused.

Well then there is the ‘old school’ sneer. When over whiskey two men of different generations share the tales of the same boarding school they went to with one telling that the housemaster did not open the ‘on-ve-lopes’ (he grew up watching Hollywood) during their times. While the older one replies that his was a different era with no letter being passed without the housemaster opening the ‘en-veh-lope’ (making sure he emphasizes the ‘en’ of his envelope; he grew up watching BBC).

Of course, the most common is the ‘desperately wanting to speak in English’ sneer. So if you go to your doctor complaining phlegm (the ‘g’ is not very silent in American pronunciation; try speaking with ‘g’) in your chest he would definitely have a silent laugh in his head because he would think you are trying to throw in English words but know nothing. Not his fault! Most people in India pronounce it with a silent ‘g’. Thanks, to our education system that follows British norms of language.

And then finally, last but not the least, there is the ‘run away’ sneer. This sneer generally works the other way round with the speaker being sneered at because he or she is neither speaking British nor American. So when a haughty flashy person comes and flaunts his neon jacket telling you it’s a Givenchy (‘gee-van-chy’) instead of the French ‘zhu-vaun-shee’, you know it’s time to slip away!

NUGGETS of LIFE: When I missed mishap by an inch

Did the zebra cross the road? - The Hindu
I could not stop thinking and overthinking about what went wrong.

The incident left me numb for several days after it happened. Each time I would sit down for some peace and quiet, ‘the incident’ would play itself in my head.  It happened the day, I drove down to my daughter’s school and parked a little ahead the front gate. As per routine,  the nanny takes about five to 10 minutes to go get my daughter from class and accompany her back to the car. However, that day she was out in no time and I could see both of them walking down towards the car in the rear-view mirror. So,  I did not shift the gear to parking mode. And that was it! That’s when it all happened…

The nanny was settling down my daughter in the car and I had my face turned towards both of them. The moment they settled in and I turned my face in front while lifting the brakes; a man and his son were passing right in front of my car. It shudders me to think that in that moment I could have rolled over them for my car had promptly drifted forward.

God was kind that day, and the petrified father and his cute son, who had no idea what could just have happened, were saved, because I applied the brake in the nick of time. However, for a few seconds after that, I could only shake my head stupidly. Onlookers may have seen me mumbling sorry from behind my face mask, and perhaps the father could have taken my head shake, as either aggression or simply a “gone-nuts” case.

I politely gestured them to take their time and cross the road. The father thankfully nodded when he passed by and I was still stupidly shaking my head. Anyway, I drove back home at the speed of 20km per hour that day much to the nanny’s irritation. It was a simple human error. It might have happened to many. Yet, I could not stop thinking or over thinking about what went wrong because with due humility I say I am a good driver despite my gender (sarcasm intended).

It was a simple pick and drop your kid from the school task and yet my reflexes were not square enough. I scrolled through doctor Google and came across a recent published study that said that over the years with upgrade of technology, especially the internet, our attention spans have greatly reduced. We have become more absent minded than ever before, losing touch with the subtleties of life that bring the real joy because everything is getting automated. No wonder, our generations have forgotten the art of knitting, the touch and feel of the slumbered brown paper of a Nietzsche book, the thrill of using manual four by fours.

Surely, fancy technologies in our daily lives are altering our behaviour pattern, our instincts and reflexes. Or perhaps, I should stop over thinking altogether because “there no zebra crossing” as my father opined.

Published in Hindustan Times Sunday Read on 28.11.2021

SUNDAY FEATURE: 5 FASHION TRENDS FOR THIS FESTIVE SEASON

Come September and we are at the cusp of festivity in India. The lovely curls of the athletic model on the glossy magazine cover, the futuristic angular sleeve dress worn at a sun downer or that Cleopatra gold shimmering eye make-up you saw your friend wear – all metamorphoses into Indie fusion festive trends in India around this corner of the year. So gaining inspiration from the Indian and International Fashion Week Runways 2021, here are 5 fashion trends to brush you up with, that are here to stay this festive season!

Color Code

Generally, the transition from summer to winter means saying goodbye to vibrant bold hues and hello to shades of blue, gray, green, brown and burgundy. Yet, this time bold monochromes with dash of sindhi gold will take festive wear by storm. “Colour Blocking will pick up attention in Indian wear. Having said that, butter cream and coconut cream for bridals and festive collection will rule the roost too this time” predict Chandigarh based fashion designers Navneet and Harpeet Toor of the Moods and Colours label.

Malaika Arora  in a maroon Manish Malhotra piece
at the Lakme Fashion Week 2021.

Floral Frenzy

Not paisleys but florals will be the center stage this festive season. Florals with more saturated – muted tones with sequins and sparkle will be trending the Festive Look Book 2021. From Dolce and Gabbana to Abujani and Sandeep Khosla, all are digging in for florals in one way or the other because floral print is a trend that just won’t end.

Jennifer Lopez setting major floral goals in a Dolce & Gabbana ensemble.

Back to the Roots

The covid pandemic has left an indelible imprint on the fashion industry, favourably spotlighting the trends that are more sustainable, conscious and rooted in traditions. Fast fashion has paved way for slow fashion which means limited but exclusive fashion pieces for the closet. So the pandemic can be credited with one good thing at least that the hand looms and works of traditional embroidery artisans are seeing the light of the day once again.

Shraddha Kapoor donning a handloom saree at a recent event.

Make Up alamode

“Make up has been an ever evolving world of stains, colours and glitter. 2021 Festive season will also not be shy of experiments”, says Mumbai based make-up artist Ritika Cheema. “Dewy skin make up look for the face or nude soft tinted lips and cheeks with strong liner and mascara laden eyes are some of the looks that we should be prepared to see this festive season”, she further added. The romantic red pout with sheer skin or shades of pink – peach shadows with nude lips are some other make up trends to watch out for.

Dewy makeup never goes wrong. Gidi Hadid looking a dream vision.

Hair on Fleek

Festive season is always about renewal and our hair play a major role in setting any sort of new vibe one intends to don on. Bob cuts above shoulder level, fringes, 70’s flip hair are some hair trends that will rock on this time. According to the senior hair stylist at the Mohali based The Hair And Body Lounge, “Slick back combed hair is the perfect runway inspired look for this festive season but beach waves, face contouring highlights are equally trendy and in fashion these days for Indian party looks”.

Alia Bhatt in slicked back hair looks every bit a Diva!

               

OPINION: PUNJAB ELECTIONS AND ISSUES THAT NO ONE WILL TALK ABOUT

Election time in every state is the time when the populist issues take center stage – whether relevant or irrelevant. Sadly, deep social and political problems are overlooked and public fails to bring it to the table with their leaders. However, people of Punjab should not ignore it further. The key uncertainties lying ahead have been aggravated by the consequences of pandemic, climate change, demography, economics, political climate, artificial intelligence and can spiral out of control if unaddressed in the coming times.

Here is my analysis:

Agrarian Crisis and Cultural Crisis

While Green revolution might have sustained the country, it has drained Punjab. It has depleted the soil of its nutrients, increased dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The traditional crop diversification has disappeared from the state, leaving rice-wheat monoculture which is now an extremely dangerous practice for the state with rising air pollution and depleting aquifers. Post green revolution, the cropped area for pulses had reduced from 19% to 0.4% and for oilseeds from 3.9% to 0.5% from 1960-61. This needs immediate attention because these crops are important for fertility of the soil. Today, 50% of Punjab’s soil is carbon, with only 0.3% of organic carbon. Soils with less than 1% organic matter are found in desert. The farm laws that were needed with MSP to woo the farmer out of this rice-wheat monoculture have now altogether left the farmers helpless. The public and legislators need to come together with models and strategies to face this foreseeable crisis which no one wants to talk about.

The wealth that ushered in the state due to green revolution has eventually led to a cultural crisis too. Where once every farmer began his sowing season with utter respect and regard, throwing five fists full of seed up in the air in gratitude and love of god, nature and all good things; now the next generation of farmers has loud screeching music on their tractors, forgotten traditional practices and have lost the muscle for farming. The good old Punjabi culture is slowly dying.

Hollow Economy

The state of Punjab needs a solid engine working for it to survive. It is principally an agricultural economy which is on the brink of crisis. With state having water depletion issues, electricity deficit status, skilled workforce shortage – the future looks dismal until a major booster model is put in place to flesh its hollow economy. With Union government’s new policies the economy of the state will further weaken. It is importing pulses and oil seeds to maintain the demand supply difference in the domestic market, but not ready to tap into Punjab’s potential in catering the increased domestic demand of oilseeds and pulses in India by offering better incentives in form of MSP for these crops.

On the other hand, the process of de-industrialization across Punjab that took place was not stopped in its nascent stage. Not much effort had been made to retain the small or large scale industry which could have generated employment in the state. According to Annual Report of Periodic Labour Force (2017-18) Punjab has an unemployment rate of 7.8% which is higher than all India unemployment. One of the major reasons for loss of competitive industry and deep in debt economy is the cross-subsidization of farming, farm loan waivers and power subsidies. And yet, every election season is fought on which party will provide maximumn FREE power units. For how long is this viable? It is indeed a sad situation.

Misplaced Priorities

Every election season the blame ball starts to roll from one party to another. The incumbent Congress ministers in an effort to save their own faces before beginning the election campaign, have brought up the Bargari issue blaming it on the Chief Minister. The CM is so embroiled in this infighting that the state seems to be going to utter neglect. On the other hand, Akali Dal is milking the situation by blaming the shortage of electricity on the policies of Congress government in the state. Not staying behind, AAP makes tall claims of providing free electricity upto 300 units which is highly unlikely in the current scenario without overburdening the already burdened financial exchequer of the state. One should be mindful of the fact that Punjab and Delhi’s electricity situations are very different due to its pre – purchase agreements.

Everything from farm bills, farm loans, electricity shortage to Kotakpura Bargari sacrilege has become the hot election issue. However, topics like Buddha Nala, environmental costs, effluent treatment plants, sustainability of farm loans and solar panel subsidies – that really matter to the future of Punjab have still not found a voice. The politics of vote bank always takes over serious issues that all political parties willfully ignore – not understanding that if these issues aren’t looked into they are responsible for the onset of catastrophic times.

However, are politicians solely responsible for not talking about it when the public – the people – are not ready to raise these issues and seriously take measures for it?  The truth is the day people of the state put the right issues on the table with their elected leaders, all political parties will be at their service to do the right thing.