Friday, December 13, 2013

Bangalore Stories-2013


Bangalore Stories
I visited India recently and these are a few of the stories I heard from people I know and people I just met off the street.
Wishing to visit Fab India next to Seva Sadan in Koramangala, I hopped into an auto driven by an old Muslim gentleman. He said he did not know Seva Sadan but would take me to Koramangala and then he said instead of wasting our time, trying to find it, it would be best if we took another auto. We told him, not to worry and we would not mind searching for the address when we got there. We then told him, how much we appreciated his being upfront about not knowing the address and his asking us to take another auto. The conversation ball was set rolling by us and he then told us, how he had been duped by a young stranger (a Muslim) exactly a week ago; he gave 22 thousand rupees to this stranger who vanished with it!! He was visibly upset and told us that he did not drive the auto for three days as he was so ashamed of being duped, so angry, so depressed, so humiliated and that he did not give a police complaint as his wife told he would be the laughing stock of their friends and relatives if people knew he had been cheated. I felt deeply sad to hear his tale of woe and livid with the stranger who duped him. The young conman had apparently spoken to this old driver asking him about his family and our driver had told him about his children, their search for a job and also asked  if this  guy could help his sons get a government job. The conman then told the old man, that he could help him but he would need money and the old man’s photo and a copy of his driving licence, etc. Our driver said he felt mesmerized by this young man’s talk or that the young man had probably done some sort of magic on him, and that though he had never ever trusted a stranger, he did trust this guy and gave him his entire savings of 22k. The young man took the money and told the driver that he should get one more photo and that he would wait while he got one more photo. The old man gave the cash and went to fetch one more photo…when he returned the young conman was gone…so was our driver’s money!
I encouraged the old driver to report to the police and explain everything as the young man must be conning a lot more people in the same way. The old man, even had a couple of phone numbers the con-artist had given him (but no one’s picking the phone now). I gave him one thousand rupees, when I reached my destination, which the old driver initially refused, but I insisted. He then broke down crying. I told him, that he was depressed by his loss and that he may need three months to recover from the depression and that he will feel better in a while. I left him with tears in his eyes…and my heart burning with rage and sadness at his plight.

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My friend works at an NGO. She has the good luck to work with a fantastic team of people…her colleagues are intelligent, dedicated, radical and passionate…..unlike most people, they are not working just to make money; they are the kind of people who care about society, the downtrodden, have adopted children, though they have their own, they are not running after wealth and other typical Indian middleclass mainstream ambitions…if you know what I mean.

My friend told me this tidbit about one of her colleagues which fascinated me…this colleague of hers, is a Hindu from a distant city, young, beautiful and with a post graduate degree. She has met and married a Muslim, who, like her, is different from the mainstream middleclass people one normally sees in Bangalore…he is a writer, into film making, has been working in the editorial section of magazines, and so on. The fascinating thing about their marriage is that she has kept her marriage a secret from her family for the last eight to nine years! The few people, who know about her marriage, have closely guarded her secret! If her brothers knew, she was married to a Muslim, they would definitely kill him and probably kill her too! I find this so sad and scary…she cannot have children, even if she wanted to….hiding something as big as a marriage for so long, from so many people is to be constantly on guard and constantly fear being found out.

This would make a good plot for a love story in a movie…but I cannot imagine living a life like this…for 8 years and forever!

 

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Continuing on this topic of Hindu Muslim hatred, I discovered that I had been too optimistic and na├»ve, in believing that this hatred has reduced or disappeared in Bangalore. A driver whom I had hired was chatting with us and when we passed a certain Muslim dominant area, he commented how dangerous and untrustworthy the Muslims were in really colourful Kannada! An aged Brahmin priest who was with me commented in a neutral tone, that, after all was said and done, the Muslims were devoted to their religion and that, this it was admirable. Then the driver responded by saying that he was not saying that all Muslims were bad, that there were a few good Muslims too! I really appreciated this aged Brahmin priest’s admiration of Muslims! This Brahmin priest, is probably highly religious due to his priestly profession and he was probably disgruntled by the Hindus diminishing faith and interest in Hinduism… and he was appreciative of Muslims whom he perceived as highly religious(This priest is unlikely to have ever interacted with a single Muslim…all he knows about Muslims is hearsay)

I realized that this distrust of Muslims among the lower educated Hindus (this distrust of Muslims is possibly present in Hindus of all levels of economic strata, education, class, caste, whatever…and definitely much worse in smaller towns and villages) still persisted in 2013 and the passage of time has done little to reduce this blind hate.

Living as a Muslim in many parts of India must be really difficult for so many reasons…I don’t want to go into that now but I feel really sad and ashamed about it. If an Indian Muslim cannot feel welcome or feel  at home in India, if an Indian Muslim has to constantly be on guard, not knowing if his Hindu friends are really his friends or not….his life is not worth living!

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The Brahmin priest in the above story had officiated the wedding of four siblings in one family over a range of 18 years. Due to his advanced years and frail health, he was  reluctant to officiate at the last wedding but agreed when the family insisted.  While interacting with the first of the brothers whose marriage he had conducted 18 years ago, he discovered that the guy was childless. Even though the guy insisted that he did not want to have children and that it was by choice that he was childless, the aged priest was  upset and wondered if he had done some mistake while performing the marriage rituals and if this was why the couple did not have any children! The childless guy laughed and told the priest not to worry but the priest, pulled this guy's wife forward and asked her if she had stomach pains! He even  asked the rest of the family to leave the room so that he could speak  to the childless wife in private!
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I went on a bus trip to Hampe. It was a KSTDC sleeper bus and was surprisingly comfortable! (I found it comfortable….my standards are pretty low and I am easy to please!)

The bus started late and then stopped for people to pee and have coffee. I got off the bus and asked the conductor where the lady’s toilet was and he pointed in the direction behind the teashop. I went off in the dark behind the tea shop only to find myself in the open field, with men from the bus, walking from the other side of the tea shop into the fields to pee!

I was scared to sit down to pee for two reasons: a snake or a scorpion biting my bum when I sit to pee;2. The men who were peeing may be able to see my exposed butt(even though it was dark, I had this fear). I did not pee but walked back to the bus. I could not sleep the rest of the way as my mind busy thinking about peeing! After a few hours, the bus stopped and the driver announced that the road was going to become bumpy and he asked us to pee (He was afraid we would pee in our pants, when the bus hit the potholes on the road). I got down this time too as by now I really wanted to pee. But this time, there was only open space on both sides of the road…not even a tree behind which I could discreetly pee! I was furious and got in again without peeing. Bus drivers and conductors being men, have no regard about women travellers I think!

Around 6 in the morning, when I felt my bladder would burst, I went to the driver and asked him to stop as I wanted to pee. He asked me why I did not pee earlier and I asked him, how the hell I was expected to pee in front of men in the open space, with no privacy at all. He asked the conductor why the conductor had not told me about peeing at the first stop and the conductor told him that he had informed me (about the women’s pissing area behind the tea shop). I demanded that the driver stop the bus and let me out and also not to let any of the men to get down until I finished. He then pulled over and I got off the bus, crossed the road and walked into what might be a forest…there were trees, plants and grass growing wildly with rocks and stones lying around. No signs of  any people such as fields, huts or houses. I walked into this growth, until I felt I was hidden from the bus and with great pleasure and hurry, tore my pants down and squatted down for a loooong pee! When I was relieving myself of this gallon, I was lucky enough to see a fox walk just a few yards from where I was..it seemed to look in my direction and then it vanished. I was so thrilled!  To see an animal in the wild in India is sort of rare and I had got to see this beautiful fox by sheer chance!

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Current cost of a Middle-class Hindu wedding in Bangalore: I attended the wedding of a close relative in October 2013. Friends and relatives of mine were comparing the cost of recent weddings with this one. I was shocked to see how the prices were escalating year after year, while the income of many people remained stagnant.

This is the break up of the cost of the wedding I attended (October 2013). This is the wedding in a middleclass family, in Bangalore.

Cost of hiring the wedding hall: about one lakh rupees per day that is two lakhs for two days(it’s not two days actually but the second half of the first day and first half of the second day)

Cost of flower decorations for the hall: 80,000-00 ( I thought this was too much and not worth this money…but the family had to hire this guy for flower arrangements as the wedding hall owner allows only this guy to decorate the hall and not any other decorator…and the people hiring him are forced to pay what he asks(he shows photos of  a few decorations with varying costs and you choose what you want)

Food: four and quarter lakh rupees(a simple meal for a few(100-200 guests) and a grand dinner for reception(thousand guests) the first day and breakfast (for about 150 guests)and grand lunch(for 500-600 guests) after the wedding, on the second day). I think it was about 250-00 rupees per plate for the lunch and dinner

Use of gas, electricity, etc for cooking: about 40 thousand rupees (paid to the hall…not part of the rent)

Coconuts for tambula: about 15 thousand rupees

Wedding cards : each card cost about 40 rupees and about 500 cards i.e. 20,000 rupees plus cost of printing(I do not know how much the printing cost). Cheaper cards were available but the bride wanted cards which were grand-looking and of hand-made paper ( I understand that much more expensive cards than these, exist)

Cost of saris: The bride wore about eight or nine new saris over two days’ time, for various rituals ( Gourie pooja, sari when she entered the wedding hall, sari for the engagement, sari for reception, sari for the bangle-wearing ceremony; sari for the wedding; sari presented by in laws, sari to enter groom’s house) her saris must have cost anywhere between 75 thousand and a lakh. Apart from this, new saris and clothes to be worn for two days for her mother, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, parents, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law. And then, the gift of clothes to her closest relatives and to the groom and his family.

I was shocked to see the cost of getting a sari blouse stitched these days! I have not been in India for over four years and the inflation in India has simply zapped me! I feel out of breath when I hear some costs! Another major change I saw this time was that women, especially young ones, no longer wear simple blouses! The blouses have become terribly fancy and have embroidery and cost a fortune to stitch! I could not believe that one blouse with embroidery costs over two thousand rupees to stitch! My lovely silk wedding sari, over a decade ago, cost less than what it costs to stitch a blouse today! Factoring in the cost of stitching several blouses not only for the bride but for about 6 other women, makes the wedding budget bloat like anything.

The family also bought about a hundred and fifty blouse pieces to be given to guests. I do not know the cost of this, but will find out and add it here later. (each was a one meter of cotton  blouse material of good quality, bought wholesale, in Avenue road)

The bride’s family hired cars and drivers not only on the wedding day but also to distribute the wedding cards. It cost them about one thousand rupees per day, as far as I know and their wedding-related travel cost would have come to about 50 thousand rupees or slightly more.

They also had to spend on jewels such as the ring and a chain for the groom; the bride already had a pair of gold bangles, a chain and earrings at time of wedding and did not  buy jewels for herself for the wedding(the jewels she had is really minimum, when compared to what her cousins had when they got married).

The makeup lady cost about 50 thousand rupees for two days and I think this was way too much!

Expenses below ten thousand rupees each included the cost of (1)pooja items, (2)cost of hiring the priests, (3)cost of building and taking down the chapra in front of the house of the bride, (4)the cost of hiring the bangle-seller to come to the wedding hall to put bangles on the bride’s hands and other women,(5)musicians(Volga) during the wedding,(6) the taped music during the reception,(7)tips and gifts to servants in the family and the workers in the wedding hall,(8) accessories for the bride such as artificial jewels, slippers and purse for the wedding, artificial jewels, accessories for her female relatives, (9)things to take to the wedding hall for guests staying overnight at the hall itself(towels, soaps, toothpaste, locks and keys, etc)

Both families hired photographers and the bride’s photographer charged them about one lakh rupees (Don’t know, will find out and put the exact amount later) for photos of the two days (reception and wedding) and the Gauri pooja, which was done earlier at a different venue.

I am afraid to add up the cost as it seems such a lot to me…and friends assure me that this family has spent moderately and not lavishly!

I might have missed out some other expenses but this is all I can recall now. I am writing this for myself and also hope it is useful for anyone wondering how much a middle-class Hindu wedding in Bangalore costs now..in 2013.

 

I dread to think how much more this wedding would have cost if the groom’s family had demanded dowry or demanded the bride’s father to “celebrate the wedding in a grand way”. Fortunately, this was not a typical arranged marriage…in this wedding the bride and groom had chosen each other and the typical drama which occurs in arranged marriages was pleasantly absent.

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In the context of discussing wedding expenses, a friend of mine (he belongs to the business caste of Shettys) told me of a wedding he attended (Oct or Nov 2013) recently. I was shocked to hear of the expenses of that wedding. The flower decorations alone in this wedding cost 65 lakh rupees!! Apparently, the flowers were flown in from other countries and they were rare and expensive ones such as orchids. He also told me that as the decorating takes time, the wedding hall was hired for six days! That the road was blocked off for decorations. That the family also hired a ? Rolls Royce to roll the bridal couple in I think at the cost of about 50 thousand rupees per day! I was appalled…65 lakh for flower decorations and the flowers would be thrown out after the wedding! You are throwing out 65 lakh rupees…. I and a lots of Indians believe that most business class Indians do NOT PAY TAXES and they simply want to get rid of their money, in case the tax department raids them…they get rid of the money by spending lavishly…They would rather spend like this i.e. buying flowers worth 65 lakhs for a wedding , than give a raise in salary to their under-paid and over-worked employees; they would rather waste money like this than pay their taxes; they would rather waste money like this than donate to a hospital or pay for some poor student’s education….

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Another person of the Shetty community told me how worried he was about his niece’s marriage. Apparently, the Shetty singles, going in for arranged marriage, were demanding incredibly huge amounts as dowry. The parents of these Shetty single males had strictly warned the marriage brokers to prevent the brides’ fathers or whoever was negotiating for the brides from even having a peek at their son’s horoscope, if they could not give the money or property expected. My Shetty friend told me that, now the dowry was in crores and not in lakhs, like before. He said that he was so glad that the relative whose marriage I attended had found her own partner and had not gone into arranged marriage…I was shocked to hear him say this as this is a guy who was once pretty conservative and had himself gone in for an arranged marriage! Now that his own niece is struggling to get married, he is favouring ‘love marriages’.

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Talking of weddings, my cousins and I were discussing how weddings have changed over the decades and the changes are tremendous!  Let me tell about the weddings in rural areas about 50 years ago ( I was not born then but this is what I heard). The relatives who came stayed in the houses of thier relatives in the village where the wedding was held; these days, no weddings are ever held in the village! The villagers couduct thier weddings in nearby towns. Food was cooked by the women of the wedding party in huge containers on wood burning stoves, outside the house in those days. Now cooks are hired. Previously, the food was fairly simple except for a sweet dish or two. Now, even village weddings have a range of foods served during weddings. The 80 year old priest with whom I spent some time said, that people did not go and get a brand new cloth to hold as the screen between the bride and groom (part of the Gowda wedding ceremony) in those days. Instead, the person conducting the wedding would ask for a dhoti and one of the audience would take off his dhoti (and stand in his underwear, until his dhoti was no longer needed!) and hand it over to be used as the screen! I found this hilarious but the priest insisted that it was true. My grear-grandmother was married to a widower more than thrice her age, when she was just 10 years old. She was sent to her husband's house as soon as she attained puberty and bore 5 children (or more assuming some died in childhood). Now of course, there are no child marriages ( I hope!). In those days, farmers, did not want their daughter to marry into a family which stayed even a few miles away from their village but now, women are ready to marry and move even across continents, as distance is not a big problem now. (My grandmother told me how, in her childhhood,  they  travelled for months, to Tirupathi and back to her village in Tumkur   by bullock cart !) Thanks to prosperity or other reasons, now it is not just the bride or groom who buy new clothes for the wedding, but all family members. In those days, it was just the bride and the groom. My own wedding, 17 years ago, did not have much by way of  decorations. All we had was the traditional banana plants at the entrance of the wedding hall but now, city weddings, even middle class people's weddings, cost a fortune for flower decoration of the wedding venue.

 

Theft in houses by servants was a topic which seemed to dominate several conversations I had. I was so disturbed by this as I cannot tolerate having anyone inside my house, whom I cannot trust. I would rather have a dirty house or clean it myself than have servants whom I cannot trust. Theft is so much that one cannot leave a single item of even minimum value outside the house (and inside the compound) as someone was bound to flick it in no time. This particular house I visited depressed me no end….let me tell you why.

The kitchen knives and the scissors in this house were so bad, that though I offered to help in the chores by cutting vegetables, etc, I could not do it as the knife was so terrible. I then asked why the family did not use the good knives sent to them by their son from USA. I was told that all the good knives had got stolen by the hired help! I offered to buy them from India or Canada and they vehemently declined stating that it would be stolen in a week’s time or less! Every suggestion I made was turned down. They cannot manage without servants; they cannot find good servants who do not steal; they do not believe in finding servants from an agency; they cannot follow the servants when they work as the servants ask, “why are you following me? Do you think I will steal something?”; they cannot lock away everything, everytime;

I was so depressed and angry about this situation. When I grew up as a child in Bangalore, theft was not this high. We left things outside the house and things were never stolen. When I was a child, I only heard of clothes being stolen from the clothes line, where they were hung out to dry. Now even the ugliest things of the least value go missing..things such as dust rags, used brooms, broken vessels, brushes used to clean bathrooms. How miserable can the thief be, that he or she needs to steal these miserable things?

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