Prema, the kaam waali bhai in her late sixties- was waiting outside the apartment we are staying in. In her mind, the Kashmiri family that employed her during winter was back; Prema did not solicit us aggressively. She waited for us- patiently. As I ambled out for a smoke, I noticed the frail, elderly Prema. She made eye contact; I smiled and asked, kya haal hai? (How are you?). Badiya, Sahib,(Great ,Sir) responded Prema. I could see struggle and striving in Premas frail physique and visage but surprisingly, I could not discern pain. Marad Zinda hai (Is your man alive?), I asked. Nahin, chaar saal pehley khatam ho gaya, said Prema. (No, he died four years ago). Kitney bacchey hain? (How many children do you have?). Chaar betiyaan , sahib, responded Prema and added, Sab kee shaadi hogayee hai, in a smugly satisfied tone.( I have four daughters but all are married). Akeli rehtee ho, I enquired. ( Do you live by your self?). Haan , Sahib, said Prema. (Yes, Sir). The brief encounter with Prema was revealing. The elderly woman at the fag end of her life was a brave woman who had neither given up on life nor had broken down despite the hand that fate had dealt her- loss of a husband in a patriarchal society, the birth and raising of daughters in a society where the male child is accorded preference and is viewed as a hedge and insurance in old age. And now loneliness at a vulnerable age. Prema bravely and stolidly soldiered on , facing all odds with a forbearance and determination that was admirable. There is a lesson in Premas saga: life is struggle; fate, socio-economic status and socially and culturally determined constructs can be daunting but that does not mean one should give up. Prema is a tribute to determination and will to live- an inspiration to all!
The harshness of Life in a world of apps and platforms
Anil, the driver of an Ola cab, cheerfully greeted me as I boarded his taxi. I soon stuck a conversation with him. Anil was from Mathura and had like countless others migrated to Delhi to make a living. Anil lived in a shanty town with his family of five. I asked Anil about the nature and functioning of Ola cabs and he briefed me succinctly. As far as I could understand, all that Ola had done was to provide a tech platform and aggregate services. People with commercial vehicles could plug into this platform and deliver a service and Ola would make money by charging a commission- all a reflection of the world we inhabited defined by technology and communication. Anil, why dont you buy a cab too?, I asked. Sir, I cant. I live hand to mouth. I have no asset. All I have is a skill- to drive, Anil responded morosely. Ola- the tech platform and service aggregator- and Anils struggles accorded a real perspective on life and the state in the 21stcentury. While technology and apps may be changing the tenor and pace of life at a staggering speed, the fact remains that access to technology is unequal and asset and cash poor people can only remain at the margins of this world. This calls for a real and substantive role for the state as an enabler and a welfare provider- something certain ideologies disavowed and rooted for a market Utopia. Anil and his case provide a useful contrapuntal here.
The need and ability to connect transcends cultures, time and space
On my way back from Gurgaon to New Delhi, I hailed a cab. The cabbie, Maheshwari, looked sullen and sounded angry. I boarded the cab and probed Maheshwaris face. He did not seem to be inclined to talk. Maheshwari did not take the usual route; he took a detour. I feared the worse; he was taking me for a ride both in the literal and real sense. I did not express my concern at this point in time. Delhi is a ruthless place, I said, rather abstractedly. Maheshwari, who had stayed silent all the while, looked at me through his rear mirror- a probing look. He still did not utter a word. Nobody cares about anybody here, I added. This evinced a nod from Maheshwari. We drove past an upper class woman walking her dog. Look at this: some have the best of all worlds here, I chortled. Maheswari now laughed, yes , Sahib, youre right. The ice was broken. Maheshwari and me struck a conversation spiced with humor, nature of life, the struggles in Delhi and what have you. He was now relaxed and had developed a rapport with me. Maheshwari dropped me at my destination. As I got down from his cab, I looked right into his eyes, smiled and gave him a tip. Maheshwari, looked back at me- straight into my eyes , beamed a warm smile and said, Thank You. As I was about to enter the apartment I am living in, I realized I had run out of cigarettes. I started walking to the market square. Maheshwari, who had, almost reached the end of the street noticed me walking again. He stopped and the moment I walked past his car, he said, Sir, where are you going now? Can I drop you? No charges this time . Sir, he added with a beaming smile. I smiled in return and thanked him. Your wish, Sir, added Maheshwari and bid me a hearty Good Night. A lesson was learnt again. All of us have a need to connect and if we attempt to connect in a genuine way and with empathy, people respond and connect with even greater intensity.
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.