Thursday, 5 January 2017

Gutter to Garib Nawaaz - Why you cant meet Garib Nawaaz at his dargah in Ajmer?

When I reached the dargah of Garib Nawaaz towards the end of December 2016, the streets were full of not only people but also sewage water, which was all over the place. Walking a little further ahead I found some people working having opened a drain hole and one of the persons clearing the muck which may have clogged the drain. The street was flooded because of this clogging.

I felt pity for the person, who had to clear the muck and mann hi mann...appreciated the work of one of the Indians who recently got a prize for his work with sewer workers.

I anyways walked in the lanes further towards the main gate of the dargah with the usual coaxing of people to buy the customary chaddars and the flowers. While I call myself a Sufi but I never put chaddars at the dargahs. It is a unneccessary ritual for me. I also dont offer money at the dargah. I however was in a good mood and decided to buy some flowers instead.

I was hoping to offer some flowers to the great saint Moinuddin Chishti and meet him. Dont read me wrong, you can actually meet Sufis, if the saint wishes, karam ho and if you want to. But when I finally entered the sanctum sanctorum, there was a man standing in front of a chaddar full of currency. He urged me to put some money there. When I said I dont want to. He made a face and directed me on one side. I soon realised that those who put money get to the side where you can get closer to the dargah, whereas those who dont need to go to the other side, where you cant get close to the dargah.

My wife put in some money and we were shoved to the brighter side. There also things were not moving because those people who had paid some khadims were allowed to get to the head of the dargah via a sort of VIP line, as many people like me, stood waiting for their turn.

I started lamenting at the fact that at the dargah of somebody who is called Garib Nawaaz, there is talk of money...there is priority for money. Tried to talk to Garib Nawaaz but phone nahi laga. ha ha. connection nahi hua.

Finally, after waiting for a while I got my chance to bow before the grave...and again the chap sitting there asked for money...very clearly...put some money...I said I wont...and came out.

I had come to meet Garib Nawaaz and I was feeling bothered with this issue of monetisation at the dargah. The trip was spoiled and I couldnt connect to the saint as well.

Sat outside the dargah for a while...lamented more and finally walked out of the dargah.

When I reached the place where I started the walk, the problem of the drain had been sorted out and people had vanished as the problem was resolved.

Suddenly, I realised that I had met Garib Nawaaz even before entering the that place...where the gutter was open...where that poor man..Garib man was clearing muck. Garib Nawaaz was there. As my wife walked ahead I realised that it was this place that I need to bow to Garib Nawaaz. I bowed and was connected...and got to know where to find Garib Nawaaz.

Here is the place I found him

Ya Garib Nawaaz!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Developmental Pornography to Touristic Pornography

Those of you who might reach this page looking for pornography or the advances in field, would be heavily disappointed as it has got nothing to do with conventional 'pornography'. My only travel blog entry which may have pornographic inclinations(on the lingerie market in Istanbul),  has been taken off the blog, courtesy my wife's request to maintain some modesty on this site. I tried my best to convince her that it was a decent article but she won.


'Developmental Pornography' is a term I came across while I was researching for a project on textbooks. Audrey Bryan in her book 'Learning to read the world' had mentioned it while explaining some ill-fitting images in text books. Here is how the book describes it:

‘Development pornography’ is the term given to the use of graphic images of poverty, famine, death and suffering that are often deployed by both aid agencies and Western media to shock viewers into a compassionate (and usually financially generous) response.

The original Article where the phrase was coined appeared in a 1981 issue of 'New Internationalist' by George Lissner called 'merchants of misery'. 

Interesting article on this issue here 

Many people in the development sector and also outside may now be able to place what we call developmental pornography. It is often also seen at five star hotel conferences on poverty etc.

Act 1
I did a fantastic workshop on textbooks in Bangalore and as I walked out of the workshop on the last day, I made friends with a auto-rickshaw (three wheeler 'tuk tuks' in India) driver on my way back into the workshop. I asked the auto rickshaw driver to stay back to give rides to many 'foreigners' in the workshop.

Act 2
I went out for a walk with two participants the next morning and was wondering if it would have been a good idea to make the participants visit the house of the auto driver or perhaps some villagers around. And suddenly, one of my walk mates, a distinguished professor of education, retorted that it saddens her when people do this. What right do we have to walk into poor people's houses and invade their spaces. We are able to do that because we are privileged.

I got her point and that was my point of connect between developmental pornography and touristic pornography. What my walkmate was poiting towards was touristic pornography.

So, let me define touristic pornography as I listen to dhrupad on my earphones.

Touristic pornography is the tourism which invades cultures and peoples without making a connect to them. The intention is not to experience culture or people but to create a photo-opportunity.And it is much more. Let me elaborate by my own informal research.

Developmental pornography in tourism: 

Those in the developmental sector know it well. Have seen Indians take their 'foreigner' friends to see the streets of Delhi and click photographs with poor people. And these people give their own discourses on why India is poor without having visited an Indian village ever. Have heard many stories of it happening in other parts of the world.

I have also sat through board room meetings in my office with suggestions of taking people to the Dharavi slums of Mumbai. By the way, Slumdog millionaire was a pornography of sorts.

There is a flip to this as well. I remember when I first visited Bonn in Germany, I asked a couch surfer to show me a village and she had a hard time finding me one. I wanted to experience rural Germany and she said there is hardly anything rural left. But I did find out that villagers keep donkeys in the rural areas in and around Bonn and Cologne. Still looking for interesting villages in the so called developed world.

Found some nice ads around this:

Cultural pornography in tourism:

I have been to reception parties in South-East Asia, where local artists perform folk songs as educated people sip wine discussing poverty and sustainable development goals. There is no effort to introduce that local art form to people in the party. No justice to the performer who keeps singing as conversations in the party move on to deeper matters of health and human rights.

It even happens in Indian marriages as the shehnai person starts with a raag and people are busy doing something else. Of course this can only happen in regions, where a lot of culture is left.

And who can miss whats happening in the Tourist Golden triangle of India. Folk singers sing and dance in posh hotels...and 'foreigners' are pulled in the dance just to get some money. There is no effort towards making the effort to make them aware of the kind of folk music or dance being talked about or the problems faced by these artists and art forms.

It is also true of clothes, there is this trend of getting shot in a certain cultural attire. When you try and wear the local dress just for a photograph. Even Indian men wearing a kurta or sherwani on a marriage rather than regular use...just for a photo op. Sari is going the same way with women these days.

Nationalistic pornography in tourism:

If you have ever been to Charlie Checkpoint in Berlin, where you also have remains of the Berlin Wall. Its pornography to the hilt. People clicking photographs with the American flag and Germans dressed as American soldiers. I cried there. Thats what had become of the place which saw so much of bloodshed. Does tourism always have to be about pictures of smiling faces or can it be even some people sitting quietly. Can there be a historic tourist place where you just sit and pray.

The German Wall Memorial is still a better place. I think the consumistic tourism has killed Charlie at the check point. It pains me that so called peace activists go to these places and get pictures clicked with the uniformed jokers there.

Its the same for the Wagah border parade that happens on Indo-Pak border everyday. Pure nationalistic pornography. Read my other entry on it  here -

Disaster pornography in tourism:
I was discussing this issue with my Japanese Boss and she made me aware of a new dimension. Of how people in Japan wanted to visit the natural disaster sites post tsunami. I read about it being termed voyeuristic tourism on the internet. But apart from relief workers, there are also tourists around it. While human curiousity is natural to see but it becomes pornographic when too many people start visiting without agenda of help.

I am myself guilty of engaging in mild forms of this.

Environmental pornography in tourism:
This is the most often talked about as the world pumps in money on environment. This is most talked about with environmentally sustainable tourism being most written about by travel bloggers. Workshops and conferences and even tourism around environmental sustainability falls flat when such events are full of water bottles made of plastic. While you may visit a wild life sanctuary, you munch on chips and water, the packaging of which you leave behind. We just take responsibility of dumping it in the dustbin but not for what will happen after that. That dustbin being dumped in some unseen corner of the forest...feeding monkeys.

Pictoral touristic pornography
Where you are more concerned with taking a picture rather than enjoying the moment or the place. And with the advent of social media...more concerned about sharing it on facebook that you visited the place.

I think there are many more pornographies to be included in this list.

Friday, 19 February 2016

When I met Kabir outside Banaras & the weaving of a Banarasi sari

I have been sitting on this post for a while even as I was very excited meeting Kabir in Banaras and thought of writing about it. But its more than 20 days since I came back. And suddenly one acquaintance again brings me back to Kabir about a festival on Kabir.

May be I am more involved with Lord Shiva these days than Kabir and thats the reason for delay. Read my post: When I met Lord Shiva in Banaras. Read it here

Anyways, Kehat Kabir Suno bhai sadho...let me tell you how I met Kabir.

I didnt go to Banaras thinking of Kabir. All that I had in mind was Banarasi Paan, Bhaang and Saris. It was only after I reached Banaras that I got to know that it is also the city of Kabir. Not really, as some people say that the village of Kabir is on the other bank of Ganga in Banaras and Kabir deliberately never came to Banaras saying that if I have to meet God...I need not go to a city of pundits or so called holy city. God is everywhere.

And that may have been the reason that I had to go outside Banaras to meet Kabir...literally.

One of my seniors from JNU teaches history at Banaras Hindu University and one of his students doing research on carpets in Mughal India told me that his father is a weaver of Banarasi saris. Buying a couple of saris was anyways on my agenda, so I thought its a good idea to get it from a weaver.

The village was about 25 kms away from Banaras but near to the airport. While two of my other friends chose to buy saris in the city. I headed to the weaver's house with his son, the Phd student.

The village was name Badagaon near Babarpur.

The moment I entered the courtyard of the house, I could see women with some seemingly silk stuff with them. I got excited. But the Phd student, Parvez Sharqi (I call him Sharqi because he is doing some research on monument of Sharqi dynasty as well) told me that oh its not that, this is for the carpets.

Parvez had given me a copy of the article that got published in the proceedings of the Indian History Congress last year. The moment I struck a conversation with his father, I took it out and told him that this is something which you should be proud of about your son. He just smiled and said if its true its good. I presumed he couldnt read much of English.

I was eager to get to the weaving bit and he didnt disappoint me. Within seconds we were in a hall, which had a loom and lots of interesting things around.

On your left is the bible that decides the print. Its put on the loom somehow. See video at the end to understand.

He showed me the loom and the frame where handwork is done on the saris. I asked him questions about the work of gold that used to happen at some time.

The thing going on inside my mind was that its a good experience to capture and let me just get to know the sari industry a little better and write an entry on my travel blog. But I was in for a spiritual treat.

We just sat down for a cup of tea and the discussion started on education. Parvez's father hadnt studied much and both his brothers at home helped at the loom. Interestingly, one of the brothers of Parvez was laapata or lost and his father said nobody can find him. I enquired and got to know that he had become a Sufi/Fakir.

I anyways being on my Sufi trail told him that he is blessed to have  kid taking the Sufi track. He smiled. I got interested and then magic started happening in the conversation as we discussed education.

Dhai aakhar is a famous doha or couplet of Kabir and the way he said it was amazing.

The one we study is:

Pothi pad pad jag mua
Pandit bhaya na koye
Dhai Aakhar Prem ka
Padhe so pandit hoye

But he said something else to the effect:

Jo kuch pothi patra rakho do taak par
Aur dhai akhar prem ka padhlo...

Coming from a modern day weaver, it was Kabira live for me.

When I asked him to repeat as I wanted to record it...He couldnt recreate it. As they say golden words are not repeated.

Interestingly, as Prof. Mujeeb Rizvi a renowned scholar of languages at Jamia in one his interviews told me that a lot of what we read as Kabir is in fact not an original verse. So, I dont know what did Kabir originally say but I did enjoy this weaver Kabir telling me a similar quote just off the hand.

He told me a lot of gospels about money as I started buying sarees from him...and also on life and philosophy. I guess I should have written a bit earlier as I forgot a lot of them. May be they dawn on me when time comes.

But it was a lovely interaction. I bought some saris and enjoyed the time before my flight. But it was memorable to be there and listen to a Kabir doha from a modern day weaver.

So, I guess its important to visit a weaver's village outside Banaras to meet Kabir.

In the end they put on the loom for me to listen to the music that inspired Kabir's poetry.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

When I met Lord Shiva in Banaras...Why you should skip the Ganga Aarti in Varanasi?

Varanasi or Banaras is the city of Lord Shiva, the god of destruction. You cannot meet him at the Ganga Aarti. And if you dont meet Lord Shiva, there is no point in being at Varanasi. You will miss the most important part of Varanasi.

As any other person we also went for the Ganga Aarti, where a horde of people on land and on water were keenly watching the pundits do their antics holding fire in diyas. I immediately wanted to leave that place as we were far away from the ghat and couldnt make any meaning of what was happening. But my Muslim friend asked me to wait until the Shiv Stuti was over. Being a Hindu myself I didnt know that it was the Shiv Stuti going on (a song in reverence of Lord Shiva). About a hundred boats filled with people from almost every part of world, looked on at the pandits at Dashwamedh Ghat. Two different groups of pandits in two seperate parts of the ghat. Tourists aggregate at this place every evening as it is the most talked about thing.

Shiv Stuti got over and we left on a boat. It was while coming back that we passed by Harishchandra Ghat. There was dead body being burnt on the funeral pyre and some people, possibly relatives standing in grief or perhaps some good willed people were cremating dead body of an unknown person (Watch the film Masan). You start connecting to Lord Shiva, the moment you look into the fire.

We asked our boatman to stop the boat there. We deboarded and stood near the funeral pyre of somebody whom we didnt know and I prayed for the people in my life and the world. It was a spiritual experience of being there and we met Lord Shiva, the god of finality. The god of Truth. The truth that we all will die one day.

There were hardly any people there as compared to the crowd at the ghat where the Ganga aarti was happening. Here there was no aarti, no noise..just silence. spritually uplifiting silence. You realise that all this rat race that we are in...our jobs especially, our fears are nothing...and we are wasting our time and energy on these fears, on earning money. We all will die one day and all our fears and anxiounesss, our money will go away. You get to experience that there is no point wasting your life on all this. Just enjoy life and be fearless.

And you cant get experience at the Ganga aarti. You get this only at Harishchandra Ghat. Thats the reason I would rather skip the Ganga aarti and be at Harishchandra Ghat every evening. By the way Harishchandra was a king known for speaking the matter what.

I also happen to meet Nandi, the famous bull of Lord Shiva there. While you find scores of these everywhere in Varanasi but the grace of the bull at Harishchandra Ghat was unmatched.

 I video recorded a dog play at that ghat. Three dogs playing tug of war with a piece of cloth.They seemed like humans to me who keep playing the same game in life to prove their worth. But you only realise the true worth of a human being at that ghat. Its either soil or life.

As we walked out of the ghat another dead body reached for cremation. Life's truth.

One of my dear friend's father passed away recently but I couldnt attend the funeral. I guess I was required to attend the funeral of another human being and I was able to do my bit.

For rest of the stories of Banaras, you will perhaps have to read my other blog entries on visiting a village where Banarasi saris are made and one on foods of Banaras.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Dont spread your holiday energy:Multiple Locations on a holiday

So you are going for a holiday to your favourite destination. You have saved, planned and researched for your holiday and are looking forward to it. You know you are not going to be there again soon unless you win a lottery ticket, so you want to make the most out of it.

One tendency obviously is to visit as many locations and hot spots at the destinations and put several things on your itinerary. And what virtually happens is that while chasing all these locations, you end up skipping a few because it becomes too hectic. And despite you skipping some places, it still sucks the energy out of you. While you are happy that you will give no chance for your friends to say "Oh you missed that" as you proudly announce that you have been to all the cool places in Paris, but you know in your heart of hearts, how much energy it sapped.

While you may have selfies at all the right places in London to share on facebook, but you still are not satiated with your trip. You come back as a person who requires another few days to recover.

And worst is that while you were there at all those cool places but you actually werent there! Because you were worried about moving ahead. You never enjoyed the moment.

You never enjoyed the cool breeze by the Thames as you clicked a picture beside the London eye. You didnt enjoy the sun while you were there at the Taj Mahal or the Blue Mosque. While you were busy looking at all the shops in Istaklal, not to miss any, you didnt take the time to just sit on a bench on the roadside and enjoy watching the people pass by. You didnt stop to have a small chat with the guy selling food on the street. You didnt strike a conversation with someone at a pub.

You were just busy going from one place to another.

I realised it while doing some whirlwind holidays in Himachal that while I may do Sangla, Kalpa, Sarahan, Rampur and all but I will not get even one of them as I dont stop to have a relationship with any city or town.

Your trip transforms the moment you spend more than three days at a place. Just sit quietly and relax. You are not on a holiday to get up early in the morning to take a cab to a destination on your checklist, three hours away. Just sit and have a hearty breakfast with your loved one as if its a sunday morning at home and you dont have to cook breakfast.

Go out for walks into the city or the wild. Absorb the place. Feel the sunlight, the breeze, the mist, the people...everything. Relax. You may miss some very important locations in a city...agreed. But you will come back as having a relationship with the place you went to.

Keep only 2 to 3 things on your agenda: nature spot; music and shopping OR  shopping;food and liesure. Choose whatever are the top 3 things on your mind not more.

For sure you will come back from a holiday looking forward to work and not to another holiday.

Rather than moving to multiple destinations, locations or places...keep a minimal list and enjoy every place. Keep time for yourself to relax and enjoy the moments.

Make it a sweet, simple and satisfied holiday

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Kaliyar Sharif

Kaliyar Sharif is the dargah of Sabir Peer in a place called Kaliyar near Roorkee.

I got interested in Sabir Peer primarily because he is one of the most popular desciples of Baba Farid, whose dargah in Pakistan is as popular in Pakistan, as Ajmer is in India. But I hadnt heard of Sabir Peer in popular circles in India.

My research got me to realise that the reason was that perhaps Sabir Peer chose to live a life away from the popular circles. I really got interested in being there and then finally once coming back from Dehradun, I thought it was time for me to pay a visit.

The place is about 25 kms from Haridwar and about 10 odd kilometres from Roorkee. From the main Haridwar-Roorkee highway, it is an offshoot of about 3.5 kms.

The place has a character of its own. Though I reached late in the town and didnt have time to see the town of Kaliyar but I found out that the town is full of dargah's of many other Sufi saints, some after and even some before the time of Sabir Peer. Its a town of Sufis it seems.

The sanctum sanctorum was closed by the time I reached but yet it was great to sit in the courtyard and meet the saint. What a peaceful place it is. The courtyard has a couple of trees of gular...that adds to the beauty. There is also an old porched section, where one can sit and be with the saint.

Interestingly on one of the trees, I saw a number of papers tied. On enquiry, I found that they were actually applications to the Peer to take care of matters of the devotees. I havent seen something like this before. I had seen locks and dhaagas at dargahs but not letters.

Have been thinking what I will write in a letter if I had to write one. How about writing a letter to God?

Monday, 2 February 2015

Dents, Car Design...and Sustainability???

Being the philosopher traveller that I claim to be, I was toying around with an idea for a while, which came true this weekend.

On New Year's Eve 2013, one drunk fellow (Its not that I hadnt been drinking...but he was more drunk than me...believe me) hit my car badly. And that dent has been on my car for a while now. There were a few more visible dents from my earlier mistakes while parking.

I was lazy that I didnt have the energy to leave my car with the denting guy...until some of my female friends pointed it out and I thought seriously about getting it repaired. I could still not break the inertia.

One fine day, the philosopher in me started to philosophize as I looked at the new year dent. I started comparing dents to experiences in life. Being the pucca philosopher, I realised whatever I am is because of the dents or experiences I have had in life. And they are memorable.

I thought of putting memory tags on my car giving out the details of the dent: where was it dented? when was it dented? how was it dented?.  How interesting would it be to point out the dents with an arrow and then giving out the details as sticker tags. I loved the idea.

Started sharing it with my French Classmates and one freaky lady (Nupur to be exact) gave me the tagline "Every Dent is a Memory".  Another dastangoi friend, (Ankit to be exact) after laughing it off, finally gave me ideas of monetising it as well, by patenting the idea. I was sharing with him, that repairing a dent on a car is a resource wastage, with so much of labour and other materials going it it. We were sharing the sustainability leanings of the idea, when he shared that even paint has harmful chemicals and we are saving out on polluting a little less with the paint. Did we actually hit on Sustainable Car Design. Hmmmm....

I was excited but I slept over it for over 3 months. But finally this weekend it happened.

Ab Buss Musafir Travels Private Limited ka thappa lagana baki hai.

Here is the beauty...My Ford Figo. It is Figo indeed.