Saturday, April 28, 2012

Garbage unloaded 1.0

Till I was eight, I never really saw garbage on the streets. There is a silent sense of pride the Arabs have in keeping their streets and city clean. While I was in Muscat, they even undertook many City Beautification Projects. So you see, it wasn’t just about cleanliness; it was about beauty as well. That part of the Middle East was like a mirage, like ones that appear in stories and movies.
When I moved to India, my first tryst with garbage and its abundance was at Malad Market, Mumbai. The entire area was filled with the stench of rotting produce. The landscape speckled with plastic bottles and bags, and all the garbage was piled away in a corner. It wasn’t in anyone’s direct view, so it was OK to let it be there without bothering with it for the next few months.
Later, as I moved around and travelled to various parts of the country, I found that this is true not only of a particular city. Every market, street corner or ally turns into a makeshift garbage dump. People in apartment buildings fling waste out of their windows.
It made me think. Is it possible? Could there be someone else to blame other than our ever-so-inefficient government?  Are Indian people to blame for this phenomenon?  Could it be something else; something other than the fact that for the past 20 odd years, our government has been concentrating on economic growth, forsaking developing better infrastructure?
I began observing people’s attitude to waste; it was not pleasant to discover that the problem is actually the people. We seem to believe that the country—its streets, its park and public areas—are our garbage dumps. Someone else will come along and clean up their mess.
It might come as a surprise that the “educated” English speaking middle class make up a sizeable number of the litterbugs. They think it is not their place to be concerned with garbage and its disposal. There is no sense of ownership and pride in the nation.
People say that they are patriotic; they will stand when the national anthem is being played and sung. The same “patriots” do not flinch or hesitate before defacing the very nation they so proudly belong too.
Telling them off doesn’t help either.
You get ridiculed and laughed at if you stop someone from throwing garbage around. “Will you pick up garbage from the whole state?” I was once asked.
What they fail to understand is that if each person took care of their own garbage, the streets would not be littered as they are now. We expect the corporation to clean up after us, so we leave a trail of garbage behind us wherever we go.
Why can’t we stop leaving the garbage trail to begin with? We keep waiting for the corporation to come up with a waste disposal plan or a recycling plant. Why can’t we work towards taking small steps ourselves? Compost your kitchen waste; stop buying or collecting plastics—these are some steps that can be followed instead of turning every street corner into a dumping ground.
Maybe then India has a chance to rise out from under this heap of trash.

A letter to my uncle Churchill*

*Author is not related to the politician though she has been accused of being so on numerous occasions, the only connection is the same last name.

Dear Mr. Churchill Alemao,
I write to offer my sympathy about the recent elections. Well actually I am not sorry you lost the elections. You had a good run with being an MP in Goa, you looted and plundered during your reign before that as well. 
You lost because the people of the state got smarter than to elect you for a few goodies once again. Blaming a parish priest or the ex CM might help you sleep better at night but everyone knows that is not why you lost the elections.
You were at some point during your political tenure had the portfolio of rural development. During that tenure is most rural areas in South and North Goa, mining corporations set up mines, most illegal and the land acquired by means fair and foul. What part of that destruction was development according to you?
You might say well it provides jobs to those who would otherwise have to travel to the city for work. Well once again, you were wrong. In the mining infested areas of Goa there are few locals that would actually want jobs in mines.
Their fields are not cultivable now, their water unfit to drink, their livelihood and health are compromised. In what way exactly do you think this better for them? Areas that sustained themselves entirely, water straight from springs, grew their own food, are now forced to be dependent on other sources for income.
As a public works and development minister you were accused of misappropriation of Rs. 300 crore, money that was actually part of the PWD funds. The case never came up in the papers again after a few days. That may lead you to think that the Goan people have forgotten about the incident. Clearly they haven’t as evident in the election results.
Your days of being the mastermind puppeteer were bound to come to an end at some point. You could only hide behind the secular banner of the congress for so long. The Goan people may have hoped while choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea, that you were the lesser evil.
I am glad the day has arrived when they have woken up, realised that voting you out was their only option.
It is a great day when an independent candidate can contest against a political thug like you and win. That surely must give you an idea of what the people feel about you now.
I do hope you never find a place in politics again.
Desiree Alemao

On the verge of vegetarianism

I am Goan. Being vegetarian is extremely difficult, if not impossible. There are many homes and restaurants that will proudly serve you any meat you could possibly desire, except for well maybe dog meat, Goans like dogs too much. Wild Boar, Venison, Veal, Cat, Rabbit, Frog, well you get the picture don’t you. I grew up pointing at cows and calling them beef.
That was a bit of background information to give you some context for the shocking announcement that is about to come.
I, Desiree Alemao, feel a strong urge to stop eating meat.
Yes, you read right.
What happened to bring this on you ask? Well ever since I moved to Bangalore I have seen poultry shops that dot the road to college treat livestock very badly. Dozens of hens’ feet tied to the seat of a bicycle to be transported. While they are still alive, mind you so that they can feel every bump on the road, at which point they hit each other.
Just because they were raised to be someone’s meal does not mean they were born with no feeling in their body. While they are alive they can feel, we seem to conveniently forget this fact. This too is cruelty. Cruelty to livestock is also cruelty to animals.
I am a pacifist, hence seeing things like this makes me sick. I cannot think of eating something that has been treated so badly. In all this, where is the government to enforce its regulations on livestock farmers.
Where are the NGOs that care so much? Are the hens not as important because they can’t look up at you lovingly like puppies do or rub against your ankles like a kitten? Is it because they won’t look good on your brochures and calendars?
This is my way of standing up against this treatment and saying that I will not eat meat that is not ethically treated. If the demand does not go down then there will be no change in the way the livestock farmers treat the animals.  
Hopefully if enough of people who are concerned about these issues we will have concepts like free range poultry becoming popular in India as well.
It has been a difficult journey for me, not eating meat is not very easy but I think the cause is worth it. Are you willing to take a stand as well?

(This was a while ago. I couldn't give up meat but I try and make sure the meat I eat has been treated ethically. That is quite a task as well.)

Volver: a review

I had to write a review for a course I was taking recently. I thought it might provide a little variety, so here goes.

Film: Volver
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Released: 2006
Cast:  Penélope CruzCarmen Maura and Lola Dueñas
The minute Volver opens, we know we’re in for a strange ride. A rural cemetery is the hub of activity for a bunch of cheery women scrubbing and decorating tombstones with almost festive enthusiasm. It could well have led up to a song and dance sequence. The scene though supposedly strange to our cloistered eyes is seems extremely normal in the context of the film. Like what could possibly be odd about decking graves and being extremely chirpy in a cemetery, right. 
As Raimunda (Penelope Cruz), Sole (Carmen Maura) and young Paula (Lola Dueñas) leave the cemetery we swept along into a fast pace film that largely revolves around women and the roles they are required to play sometimes.
This film mostly revolves around its strong women lead characters, women that stand together through anything.  They come together across generations, long separations and misunderstandings to hold each other up.
After Paula’s step father tries to rape her and ends up dead the plot unravels and the dirty linen begins to tumble out the cupboard. A very real ghost adds that constant element of unpredictability to the film. I was sitting on the edge for almost the entire film, and for someone who was trained to watch and review cinema dispassionately, that really means something.
Cruz’s performance in the film was undoubtedly one of her best ever. She radiates from the centre stage, bouncing between someone who has had to murder her husband and someone who finds out her mother was never dead, effortlessly.  Within the film itself she is required to put on a cheery face when the crew of a film approaches her to cater for the duration of their shooting. Every bit the gracious hostess while around the crew and in the cafe and when she is on her own her darker side and the burden she carries shows through her silent exterior.
The director also takes an occasional break from a capable verite approach to showcase cinematic artistry, which the subject of the film presents ample opportunity to do. You see that in the unexpected overhead shot of Sole when she is surrounded by mourners, or the extreme close ups of Cruz preparing the last dinner for the crew. The shots of the mint in the mojitos and of Cruz chopping peppers look so divine you want to frame them and put them up around your house.
Diversions from dark underlying plot are provided in plenty. The scenes of the crew’s party transport you into an entirely different atmosphere, the flamenco guitar and Cruz’s beautiful singing, shots of old cobbled streets in rural Spain and the character of the friendly befuddled sex worker that Cruz ropes in to help her.
The plot develops in such a way there is never a dull moment in the film. Toward the end the director ties up the film with Hitchcock-like revelations. Volver takes a very real story and portrays it in almost with extra ordinary finesse and classic storytelling. The aesthetics of the film and the director’s use of shades colour red through the film to indicate when things are about to change were stellar.
A great film to watch, I highly recommend it. If you do not usually watch subtitled films as they distract, trust me this really is worth the watch and the emotion will come through despite the language difference. Enjoy!