Sunday, April 24, 2016

Visiting Yerwada Prison with a full beard?

On a jail visit organised by the students of a Law College in Mumbai, which I'm a part of, we decided to visit Yerwada Central Jail. I wish I could start the way traditional stories would, 'it was a fine day, a beautiful morning and clear sky spread above our head...'. It was the April of Mumbai - hot and humid.

The Wall

We stood in front of a grand fortress behind a thick wall. The wall has a gate equally thick and big, made of solid wood, and oil painted with loud red and yellow. A guard opens a small door in the gate and we duck our head to go through the door. Behind the wall, stands a huge facade of the prison, guards rush around us, and the organizer prepares himself with documents and names of students. We stand in a couple of two students behind each other to make a neat line, so that we can again duck our head and go through a similarly small door that we have seen outside.

The Distasteful

While still standing in the line, a few guards engaged in a conversation with us, they inquired about our college. The guards perhaps were the lowest in the rank of security there. They boasted about how benevolent they're to have given us the permission. A few minutes later, one of two guards looked at a student with a full beard. This student is a large guy. He could easily pass by as a one man army. He has a beard, let us say his intention is to keep one, but the boy's biology isn't benevolent on him, and thus a few hair hang off his chin. The guard smiled and said, perhaps with a humor, that he won't be allowed inside. The guy smiled, took it in his stride, and replied, 'dekh lenge'. Interestingly, another student just passed him, and this time we're in for some real good business. A thin frame man, long face, a head full of thick hair, beard so thick and neatly and densely hanging off his chin. A beard big enough for his face like the present population large enough for Mumbai. 'Arrey baap re, aapko to andar hi rakh lenge,' the same guard commented. This time I overhead the guard, and I move ahead to tell the two guys that the guard was being disrespectful. When confronted with him, he said he was joking. He pulled the lid off a drum that had water, dipped a cup attached to a long rod and drank while the water fell off the edges of his lips. He said, 'dekho sir itna garam hai, aur paani bhi thanda nahi'. The boys expressed their disappointment and said, 'PIL darj karengey, aap fikar mat karo'.

The Explanation

One of the boys tells me that he wouldn't have confronted the guard, had I not pitched in. The reason being that he is not bothered about several such people who have had no proper education on culture and variety. It's his problem that he acted this way, and it suggested his illiteracy.

The Tour

Once inside, our IDs are checked, we're now following a smart gentleman police officer who has asked us to follow him again in a couple of two students in a strictly neat line. He briefs us about Poona Pact, and takes us past the room where Gandhi stayed. The room was neatly colored with a beige oil paint. A desk laden with a neat white cloth was kept in front of a charkha that Gandhi used, and a few candles lit the atmosphere. We walked on a road covered with greenery on both sides, and reached the kitchen.

The Kitchen

The noise of a machine mixing flour with water welcomes us. We move carefully through trays of freshly cooked rice on each side. There is a chest of racks, where one prisoner is storing chapatis. A long pan made of thick iron is cooking these chapatis with few men attending to it. Another prisoner applied oil on these chapatis.

Oil or Ghee

The dapper gentleman who we followed brought us to a shed with few benches and a few more police officers. These officers were happy to answer the curious questions they received from our group. They happily answered questions from what prisoners do for entertainment till whether they applied ghee or oil on the chapatis. This group of officers were polite, engaging, soft spoken, well informed and I must say that the first impression is not the last impression, at least sometimes.

Open Prison

A few minutes drive away is an open prison, the unbearable noise of handloom machines welcomes us. These machines are arranged so closely that walking through them would require agility. A very hospitable police officer greets us and engages with us in a conversation. He informs us about the vegetation, gardening, and how each prisoner needs to do something that he enjoys.

Masters of all

The police officer gave us a brief on the open prison, remission, and how people with amicable behavior are transferred in the open prison. One student requests that we'd like to talk to a prisoner. While he readily allows us to talk to one of the prisoners, he also cautioned that we should not talk to them about anything that could hurt them emotionally.

The prisoner introduces himself. He is an MBA from a university in London, and while in prison he studied for another master's degree. He spoke in impeccable English, and engaged in a very casual conversation on the prison, his likes, the criminal justice system, the courts and the judiciary.

The open prison resembled to me like a happy village. I believe that is a purpose of reform to create an environment conducive enough to induce change or correction, so that the reformed outcome can become law abiding members of the society. I feel both the low and middle level guards have a tough job there. They may come across as rude and unfriendly, however they aren't as bad as cinema has shown us. They ought to be strict to enforce discipline, and subsequent reform. I believe a jail visit is a must for every law student. To work towards the ends of justice, we must know what rests at the end of a criminal justice system -- the prison.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Subhash Ghai: 'Acting is a fake profession.'

I recently had the opportunity to listen to the showman of Bollywood - Subhash Ghai. The event was organised by Jagran Film Festival. Although, I'm always keen to attend such festivals both literature and cinema, however I often don't manage to make it. This time the push factor was that I'd be meeting my old friend from Delhi.

Kunal would work with me at NDTV between 2011 to 2012, and his practicality on life merges with my philosophical meddling in the social affair of humankind. The result: he spoke, perhaps more than what people hear from him in days. Sometimes, it's fun to move a friendship forward through years of our lives.

'There is nothing that I'll say, which you already don't know,' said Subhash Ghai as soon as he walked in the auditorium. He was dressed in a loose yellow cotton shirt, stitched in an old fashioned style - just the way your grand father got his shirts done. A blue trouser teamed with a blue jacket. His trousers were hemmed at the bottom, and the thick thread that was used was clearly visibly. He was clean shaven, and the skin on his arms were loose, almost hanging. He had a perfectly round stomach, on which his shirt arose, ascending from his collars. I thought of a small round earthen pot that my mother would keep at home to store water long time ago.

A pregnant man

Huge bellies hanging on the torso is a common place in most of the metro cities of India. These men are poorly nourished. They are ordinary low to moderate income people, unlike the assumption that the middle and upper middle income group are often exploited by the fast food chains. These men develop an alarming amount of visceral fat. Fat that engulfs their intestines; when you make a deep incision on their stomach, you'll see long thick threads of fat that wrap their internal organs. Indian society is in a nutritional crisis. We're taught about what we must not eat before we are even taught of what we should eat. Religious conventions on food overpowers the essentials and science of nutrition. There is a rising demand of nutritional programmes in villages, cities and even on streets of our country. Eateries should be encouraged to stock healthy foods. I've personally been in a dilemma on what to eat when I'm in a mall. The mall culture has spoilt the health of millions. If you're on a healthy diet, you'll perhaps starve; since everything in malls is unhealthy.

We're not talking about men who afford luxury, and don't need to struggle through public transport. These are men who sit at the shops, men who work in IT and related services, they make our nation's workforce; this workforce is on the verge of becoming poorly nourished. We've the highest number of diabetes patients in the world, and this is due to an alarming change in the nation's nutritional pattern. The lackadaisical approach towards nutritional education, policies, and programmes are all the reasons that have resulted in this situation. 

THE government that sits at the helm must take effort in disseminating information on healthy eating habits, and creating arrangement for availability of nutritious and  healthy food. However, the lawmakers are more concerned about giving force to an undemocratic ban. Right to food, not mere that food which fills your stomach, but healthy and nutritious foods is a fundamental right. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The simplicity of weight loss rests in the complexity of your food

Craving is a natural urge. Man's desire has no limits. Food's relation with man is beyond nutrition. It has a psychological, sociological and economic affair with people. Thus, the never ending debates on  meat / beef ban prosper by time. Anthropologists will tell you how humans have evolved their eating habits to suit their ecology, resource availability and belief pattern. Food has never been limited to proteins, fats and carbohydrates - as a nutritionist would think of. Food is biryani on Eid, sweets and namkeen on Diwali. There is a massive illiteracy about what food is good and what food is perhaps unhealthy. As a matter of fact foods that are unhealthy are so unhealthy for such reasons, which remain contested. Mumbai's Vada Pav is one such food, which is cheap and promoted as a healthy food to help provide employment by putting up Vada Pav stalls. Now if we cut through this Indian burger, we realise that it's starch dipped in fats. At a nutritional level, it'd not rank as one of the healthiest food but it certainly provides energy to your body that's light on your pocket. To understand whether a food is healthy for you, there are several factors one needs to keep in the hindsight. Tamil Nadu has several stalls that provide cheap food and claim to be healthy. Brainchild of the heavenly mother and goddess of all times who is also an incumbent CM out of humility, these stalls serve Idlis. Simple carbohydrates are known to have high glycemic index. They increase blood sugar level instantly and are responsible for weight gain as the surplus glucose attaches itself to fat cells. The north of India is bathed in desi ghee. Its richness is believed to be a cure-all for all ailments.

Friday, September 25, 2015

When two beliefs prosper in one place

When two festivals coincide, plurality of our nation's culture is on show. This year, Eid and the Ganesh festival fell around the same time. While writing this post, I'm listening to bhajans played at the Ganesh pandal, just next to an arrangement made for Muslims to attend to their religious sacrifice. Coexistence is fundamental to the narrative of the subcontinent. Tolerance towards multiplicity of ideas has always been a part of our culture. Ethnocentrism has never prospered and only resulted in tremendous loss to humanity.

Man is a social animal, and must live together. Religion is a complex dogma and its relation with man is more complex. Violence is never a solution to clashing ideas. In the social pursuit of togetherness, civilisation has always attempted to create better settings for ideas to prosper. Democracy is a right, so inalienable that it must take effect from the very fact that we're a part of human family. The right to practise one's religion harmoniously, unless expressly inconsistent with natural justice, in a plural democracy like ours is essential to our constitutional framework.

Eid Mubarak.

A Ganesh Pandal beside an arrangement for sacrificial animals. 

Faraz Salat

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Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Admirer of all things that make up a global human society.