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Vikas Kamat
 Vikas Kamat is a programmer- entrepreneur living in Birmingham AL. This blog is a complex mix of Indian culture, life in southern USA, computer sciences, and sports. Opinions are his own.
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Another Footwear Story Durable Link to this BLOG
After reading my stories of 1976-77, many people have written to me about their own experiences of Emergency in India. Some had their brothers and fathers in prison for no fault, and some feel the same danger exists in India of today.

The most amusing feedback is about my bare feet in the picture. It was common at the time to go around the town in barefoot. I did have some footwear, but everybody in my school came barefooted, so I also did. After some time, the bottom of my foot became so callous and hard that once I tried to bang a nail into it, and it wouldn't hurt!

Another Footwear Story

Like I said, my family bought us footwear, but we never wore them, except on special occasions. On one such occasion, my cousin Pradeep wore his chappals (Indian footwear) to a relative's house for the annual death anniversary of an ancestor. While returning (you leave the footwear outside the home while visiting), he forgot that he had worn shoes to the function!

One year passed, and the occasion came again.
We were instructed to put on good clothes and footwear. But Pradeep couldn't find his chappals! -- He had lost them one year ago!

Essence of the story -- For a whole year, Pradeep didn't need his footwear.

FYI: Even today, a lot of people India walk barefoot (pictures)

See more stories like this in Personal Stories from India

(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Monday, February 04, 2002
Last Modified: 1/24/2003
Tags: desitale

Memories of Indira Durable Link to this BLOG
Speaking of Indira Gandhi

The other day, I blogged about Indira Gandhi, and it brought to my mind a montage of childhood memories.

It was summer of 1976, and I was barely nine years old. Indira Gandhi had suspended the constitution of India and had assumed dictatorial powers. She had banned the RSS, and saying anything against the Government or Indira Gandhi landed people in jail without trial.

One day some of us boys got up early in the wee hours and wandered the dark streets of the town writing anti-Indira graffiti. "Down with the Dictator" we wrote, and "Damn the Bitch". I was careful not to deface people's homes, but apparently some others weren't so diligent. After vandalizing the entire town, we went to wash our charcoal soaked hands in a waterfall just outside of town.

By the time we returned, it was school time and everybody everywhere was reading our propaganda. It was great. I felt like the heroes of India I had idolized, who had fought to banish the British.

But when I went home, there was a big "Indira Gandhi is a Whore" written on our wall! My uncles were very angry and upset. I was told to wash the sign with soap before my uncles and I got arrested. I just remember that the darn thing won't come off!

Subsequent to this incident, many people in my town were arrested. I personally know of two people who were kept in prison for a whole year without trial, because they opposed the programs of Indira Gandhi.

I believe the year was 1977. By now Indira was the self-proclaimed Amma (motherly figure) of India, and she came to our town of Honavar for campaigning for the election. The whole of Honavar and neighboring towns showed up. It was no small event.

We waited like hours and hours for the helicopter to land. It was my first time seeing an aircraft, and I believe so was for the other 30,000 who had gathered. Indira Gandhi was taken to an open stage that had been erected for the occasion where she spoke for a few minutes. But the crowd did not move from the helipad, all of them had come to see the helicopter!

As she left, some in the audience started shouting the slogans "Indira Hatao, Indri Bachao" (Avoid Indira and save your genitals!). See, in the name of family planning, Indira and her evil son Sanjay Gandhi had forced many poor people to undergo vasectomies, under their 20+5 Point Programme.

A Piece of History

In a stunning display of resiliency of Indian democracy, Indira and her son Sanjay were defeated in that election, by candidates who were still in prison. Indira's Congress Party lost power, and a new political force, the Janata Party, emerged. But the weakening of opposition Indira Gandhi had engineered was to have a far damaging impact on the nation, resulting in successive governments that were weak and unstable.

(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Tuesday, January 29, 2002
Last Modified: 11/27/2003
Tags: desitale, honavar

On Indira Gandhi Durable Link to this BLOG
Portrait of Indira Gandhi
What I Really Think About Indira Gandhi

A researcher asked me (via email) what I really thought of Indira Gandhi. The summary of my answer:

• I am proud of Indira Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma Gandhi) for holding India together, for winning the 1971 war against USA-blessed Pakistan.
• I blame Indira Gandhi, for her abuse of power and democracy, for her lack of vision, for sacrificing the nation's interests for the benefit of her coterie, and for playing immoral (and bloody) politics against the Sikhs.
• I just cannot deny her important role in forming of 20th Century India. Neither can I deny that she died while serving the nation, and hence deserves the reverence of a martyr.

See Also:
• Indira Gandhi -- by Vinay Lal
• (update) Speaking of Indira Gandhi...

Today is India's Republic Day

(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Saturday, January 26, 2002
Last Modified: 1/23/2003
Tags: desitale

Suicides in India Durable Link to this BLOG
Suicides in India - Some Notes

Mahesh Shantaram, a blogger from India writes about his rules for euthanasia. I am leaning towards a stance for death with dignity (politically correct name for assisted suicide), but I find that someone else making up the rules of death (like tape recording the procedure ?!) very repulsive. Isn't self-determination the crux of this debate?

India perhaps has the longest history of assisted suicides. Described as Ichha-Marana or desired death, it is mentioned in ancient Indian epics such as Mahabharata. We have the cases of both men (Bhishma) and women (Madri) undergo desired deaths. The Sallekhana, Sati, and Johar systems were essentially suicide mechanisms in ancient (and not so ancient) India.

The Sallekhana was practiced by devout Jains by fasting and meditation, and the participants starving to death. The most famous person to undergo Sallekhana was the queen mother Machikabbe.

The Sati (a.k.a. Suttee) was the system in which a window committed suicide on the funeral pyre of her husband, believing in (or forced into) an eternal marriage.

The Johar occured when the women of a town preferred death to dishonor and committed suicide in large numbers after a war.

Attempt to Commit Suicide

Indian buses tend to be extremely crowded, and it is common to overload the buses. Once I was going to school like that and was arrested by the police (that's India for you; instead of improving the public transportation system, the government harasses the citizens.) I asked on what grounds the police were arresting us as we had been issued valid tickets by the government operated bus service. The inspector told us that we were being arrested for "Attempt to Commit Suicide"!!

It was then that I learnt that attempt to commit suicide was a crime in India. (For record, I wasn't attempting anything, except going to school. We were let go with a warning and a demand of a bribe, but that's not the point...)

Since the days of Gandhi, Fast-unto-death protests have become common in India, where the activist in an non-violent protest goes on an hunger strike till his/her demands are met. I wonder if those qualify as attempts to commit suicide. ;-- )

Indian Suicide Links

• The Sati (Suttee) System of Suicide
• Death by Demand in Indian Culture
• Sati or Not? --a thought proving (and perhaps disturbing) article by S.S. Kshatriy on Sulekha.com

(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Saturday, January 05, 2002
Last Modified: 1/24/2003
Tags: desitale

Understanding the Illiterates Durable Link to this BLOG
Understanding the Illiterates

Context: A couple of days ago I wondered how the people in India who cannot read or write, compute and conduct business.

Many years ago, Saver Fernandes was an employee (we called him a servant then, but that's another story) in my family's cloth shop in rural India. One day Saver showed me the label of a garment and asked me to read the brand name, which I did and asked him why he had asked me to read. He smiled and told me that he didn't know how to read!

It blew my mind. Saver had been with us many many years and constantly had to deal with brand names, product names, sizes, and reading of packaging (without opening them). There's no way he could do his job without being able to read. But amazingly, he was able to cope up with the job without anyone ever suspecting! I then asked him how he distinguished a Bombay Dyeing suit from a Raymonds Suit (or size 8 from size 6 for that matter). He told me that it was all intuition and experience. At that time I thought that he was kidding me and had asked him to read numerous printed matter in the shop (brand names mostly), which he could, but could not read the newspaper except for the name of the newspaper.

Few days after this incident, we received a large consignment of undergarments from Erode in Tamil Nadu (topics), all of them packaged with instructions (product names, sizes) in Tamil language. What was the supplier thinking? No one can read Tamil in the town of Honavar!

But see, for an illiterate, Tamil language is same as English or any other language! Saver had no problems whatsoever in dealing with the different product names or sizes. It was only then I believed that he couldn't read.

BTW, in the later years Saver did banking errands (he used a thumb-print instead of a signature) for the shop. He also could measure (length of the cloth) and compute (how much it will cost for 70 centimeters -- the cloth required for a typical blouse worn by Indian women -- of cloth that sells for 16.50 a meter etc.), without being able to read or write.

Education and intelligence are two different, unrelated entities.

See also: The Bengali Dhobi -- Righteousness and education are two different, unrelated entities.


(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Wednesday, December 19, 2001
Last Modified: 11/27/2003
Tags: desitale, honavar

Pretend Fight, Pretend Cry Durable Link to this BLOG
I Pretend Beating, You Pretend Crying

There was a poor family in my village in India, who was always under debt and financial hardships. They owed money to every merchant in the village. Every time a creditor went to their house for collection, he would find the couple in a fierce, family fight with husband trying to beat up the wife, and the wife crying for protection from the abusive husband.

Turns out that it was a clever ploy by the couple not to face the creditors. Afraid of being dragged into the family feud, the collectors would go away. The strategy worked every time!

The emerging feud between Sharon and Bush reminds me of this strategy. "Let us pretend a fight between Israel and USA for now, so the Arab nations can support the alliance."

(Comments Disabled for Now. Sorry!)First Written: Saturday, October 06, 2001
Last Modified: 1/29/2003
Tags: desitale

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