Peter Sis

Somewhere last year, I read this:
About The Three Golden Keys by Peter Sís: Through the images and texts, the reader follows a trail of memories of the city through each of the year's seasons, and inbetweentimes learns of some of its legends, each one a golden key for unlocking the past.

Somehow, this brief description really appealed to me, but I made a note of it and forgot it. Today I found it again, and looking further, I also found Peter Sis's website. It's beautifully designed, and has animated excerpts from each of his books. Take a look!

(After posting this, I realised where I had read about it: in the excellent Giornale Nuovo. Misteraitch's post about it includes a number of illustrations from the book.)
James Joyce's Ulysses: One Page Every Day

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the date that Ulysses is set, this lauded book is being presented here page by page starting with page one on Bloomsday, June 16, 2004 ending with the last page on June 14, 2006.

Death of a Carpenter

It's depressing, but it moved me -- and it is one of the reasons for the recent electoral upsets in India and in Andhra Pradesh in particular:
Death of a Carpenter

MUKUNDAPURAM, (Nalgonda, A.P.). No one had ordered a plough in three years. Nor axe and spade handles either. Which meant that Bangaru Ramachari, who made tools and implements for farmers, was in trouble. He had been Mukundapuram's sole carpenter for years. He owned no land or cattle and was not a farmer. But his well-being depended on how agriculture in this village in Nalgonda fared.

"When farming does badly," says S. Srinivas, a political activist here, "everyone does badly. Not just farmers." Ramachari did worse. He died of hunger. In a village that falls in the command area of the Left Canal of the Nagarjun Sagar project. Where farming had earlier done well for years

The fault lines of the farm crisis are sending tremors far beyond the immediate community itself. Potters, leather workers, carpenters and numerous other non-farm groups have been hit by the crisis of agriculture that is driving the farmers' suicides in the state. The delicate and age-old linkages of the sector are under severe strain.

"I was away in Vijaywada working in a chappal company," says Aruna, Ramachari's widow. Women from the Voddrangi (carpenter) caste do not normally migrate in search of work. "There was no choice," she says. "I had never been a migrant worker before. But the chances of finding work here were nil." So she migrated a month at a time, leaving their three children with her husband.

"Ramachari used to have around 40 clients," says Srinivas. "They paid for his services with paddy. Each gave him 70 kilograms a year." Of the 2800 kg he got this way, he kept what his family needed and sold the rest on the market. "He could get around Rs. 250 for 70 kg. Remember this was paddy, not rice." Yet, after retaining what his family required, he could make Rs. 4,000 in a year this way. "With that, he took care of the family."

He had even more clients earlier but problems began in the boom time. The coming of 12 tractors in the village reduced work. "That hurt those who work with their hands," says K. Lingaiah. Landless workers like him also did badly from then on. For Ramachari, it was a blow. But he kept at his trade, trying to make things work. "He had no other skills," says Aruna. He had studied till the 5th class. She till the 4th.

The tractors, though, were just the beginning. Much of the 1990s saw no investment in agriculture, public or private. Crop failure accompanied the stagnation. Farmers were no longer replacing their tools and implements. This was a disaster for Ramachari. "What would we replace the tools for? How could we afford that? What would we do with the new ones?" ask people in the village. At the same time, the older, worn-out tools further damaged what little agriculture was on.

That the canal now had little or no water didn't help.

Meanwhile, everyone was getting into debt. As input costs rose and farming failed, many borrowed just to keep afloat. Ramachari, 45, a proud and skilled artisan, was not keen on that route. In fact his debts of around Rs. 6,000 are surprisingly low for this region.

"This village owes the Cooperative Society Bank alone Rs.22 lakhs," says K. Reddy an official of that body. They also owe the Gramina bank around Rs.15 lakhs and the State Bank of Hyderabad close to Rs.5 lakhs. "And that's not the major amount," says Left activist S. Srinivas. "Mukundapuram owes a great deal more than that to moneylenders." Perhaps, say people here, three times more.

Which means this village of 345 families carries a debt of over Rs.1.5 crore. With life becoming a survival game from there on, farming began to sink. And land prices have crashed from Rs.120,000 an acre to Rs. 60,000 an acre. "Normally, people would hate to lose their land," says Gangi Narain Reddy a ryuthu sangham leader in the district. "But now even for those desperate to sell, there is no one to buy."

Some of the tractor owners lost their machines to creditors. It brought no relief to Ramachari as even the non-tractor farmers were no longer replacing tools. "He was down to three or four clients in a year," says Srinivas. And in just recent times, the villagers lost over 30 bullocks in distress sales. That too, meant less work for the carpenter who made various items linked with their use.

Next came the migrations. "Earlier," says Gangi Reddy, "500 labourers used to come here each year seeking employment. That's gone. Now 250 people from here go as migrants searching for work."

The whole village was hungry this past year. Ramachari more than most. Ironically, two of the worst years they went through, India was exporting grain at prices less than those paid by poor people in this country. The only time the carpenter borrowed a little money from a neighbour, he bought some nokalu (broken rice) with it. The remains of the nokalu are still in the house. Aruna hasn't the heart to throw it away.

While she went to a sweatshop in the city, hunger was biting Ramachari. "We helped the children often with meals," says Muthamma, a neighbour. "But he would act as if he was fine. He had not had a morsel for five days in his last week but was too proud to admit it." The neighbours, too, were doing badly. Yet, their help kept the children going. On May 15 this year, Ramachari collapsed. He was dead before Aruna raced back from Vijayawada.

Ramachari was swamped by a crisis of many layers. Most of which have also driven the farmers' suicides in this State. That have devastated Andhra's agriculture. Zero investment. High input prices. Crop failure. Rising debt. Criminal governmental neglect. Falling demand for his skills. And other layers, too.

Aruna clings on to the hope that the Government will step in to help her family. As for Ramachari himself, the only government programme he had ever applied for was `Adharna.' One that gives artisans new tools. But the carpenter was gone before the tools could arrive.

Dolls

Bill Clinton and His Family Paper Dolls

Chobimela

Via Tiffinbox, the beautiful online gallery of the Chobimela, an annual festival of photography in Bangladesh. The 2004 Mela will take place in December.


Balance, from a series called 'Surviving Dreams,
the struggling circus of Bangladesh,'
by Pierre Claguin


Several Things

Two men came to the gate, offering to clean our coconut trees -- Rs. 20 each for three trees. Chinnaraj has a long pole with a hook on the end, for pulling down coconuts when we need them, but he's too old to climb up the trees. The men shinnied up the tall trunks with their aruvals, cut down the ripe coconuts (38 in all), and cleaned the detritus and dead fruit stems out of the crown.

Mary suggested that we sell the surplus coconuts to the vegetable vendor who brings his cart around to our gate, and snoozes in our shade in the afternoons. She said that he he would pay according to size, but that we could expect Rs. 2 or 3 apiece for them. It hardly seems worthwhile for such a tiny amount, but she says that another crop of coconuts will be ripe soon, and we now have more than we can use.


Yesterday a man came to read the electric metre. He said that we had used a tremendous amount of electricity in the last two months -- about 5,000 units, as compared to the usual 1,500 or so. He asked if we were running a factory. I said no, but that we had had a big power surge last week that might have damaged the metre. I said that we had certainly not used 5,000 units, and that I didn't want to pay for them. Then he lowered his voice and said, "I can help you..." This is a story that every Indian knows, no need to tell the rest of it here.


... Janine maintained that the source of Flaubert's scruples was to be found in the relentless spread of stupidity which he had observed everywhere, and which he believed had already invaded his own head. It was (so supposedly once he said) as if one was sinking into sand. This was probably the reason, she said, that sand possessed such significance in all of Flaubert's works. Sand conquered all. Time and again, said Janine, vast dust clouds drifted through Flaubert's dreams by day and by night, raised over the arid plains of the African continent and moving north across the Mediterranean and the Iberian peninsula till sooner or later they settled like ash from a fire on the Tuileries gardens, a suburb of Rouen or a country town in Normandy, penetrating into the tiniest crevices. In a grain of sand in the hem of Emma Bovary's winter gown, said Janine, Flaubert saw the whole of the Sahara. For him, every speck of dust weighed as heavy as the Atlas mountains.

-- W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn

Binding

I made my first effort at book-binding yesterday: a small Coptic-bound book, 5 signatures of 5 sheets each, the size of an A4 sheet folded in half. (I couldn't find the link to the instructions I actually used -- this one includes a wraparound leather cover that I didn't like.) I used watercolour paper, and sewed it with sea-green cotton yarn. The pictures that I glued to the cover-boards were from a calendar that my mother used to buy every year to hang in her kitchen:


On the back were jottings in my mother's instantly familiar handwriting, reminders and notes of hers and my father's doings. They are both dead now, but the calendar made me feel as if they were still puttering around somewhere, just a phone call away.

Badminton and an Elephant

Our friend who produces TV serials came yesterday evening to play badminton. He has a new serial debuting today (Monday), so he's been busy. We asked what he's been doing lately. He said that he had sent a small camera crew to Trichy yesterday to take footage of the temple elephant at Shrirangam. It's a very large elephant. Every morning it emerges from the temple, goes down to the river, fills its trunk with water and carries it back for the Lord -- for the morning puja.

The crew was to film it, and was due back in the evening, when the director would choose some shots to insert in the serial. This sounded like a lot of fun, dashing off to take pictures of the elephant -- but then I thought, oh, it must have been very early in the morning, and it would be hot... so I was happy, sitting in the garden and imagining the whole thing.

The people's party

Author Hari Kunzru used to have no time for the kitsch, trashy movies of his father's homeland. Then he realised that behind the romance and musical fantasy of Indian film was a serious social message. Just don't call it Bollywood ...

Hari Kunzru, The Guardian

It all started with a film called Tere Ghar ke Samne ("In Front of Your House"). Late one night I sat up with a girlfriend and was unexpectedly charmed by this romantic comedy set in early-1960s Delhi. Dev Anand plays a smooth, young foreign-educated architect who is engaged by two feuding businessmen to build rival dream houses on adjacent lots. The trouble is that one client is his father, and the other the father of the girl he loves. How is he to please everyone?

The girl is the sublimely beautiful Nutan, who illuminates the screen as thoroughly as any Hollywood goddess. Anand is debonair and driven to distraction, in Cary Grant-esque fashion. Things resolve themselves in a light-operatic way, as Dev finally unites the two families by marrying his love at an altar-cum-conversation pit in the swish, space-age modernist pad he has built for everyone to live in together - a typically Indian, extended-family solution to the problem! ... (more)

Yeh Bacha

I recently posted a comic piece by the Pakistani writer Ibn-e-Insha. And I have also mentioned the website of Matteela, a group of young Pakistani film-makers, photographers, preservers of Pakistani traditional music, and artists. I just came across this, from their website:

Yeh bacha kis ka bacha hai ('whose child is this?') is a well known Ibn-e-Insha poem which he wrote upon seeing the photo of a starving Ethiopian child during the devastating famine of the seventies.

The message and words of the poem are universal and lent themselves to the theme of street children with an ease.

The song and video was commissioned by Action Aid Pakistan in keeping with their policy of mainstreaming issues through popular media.


You can listen to the poem (without translation, but quite simple for Hindi / Urdu speakers) and see stills from the video, and the story of how it was made here.

Dekh to Dil

I am trying something different here: I have uploaded the mp3 of my most favourite ghazal, Dekh to Dil, written by Mir Taki Mir (1722-1808) and sung by the great Pakistani singer Mehdi Hassan. It is here: Dekh to Dil. The size of the file is 10 MB.

If you have trouble downloading it please let me know, since this is new to me.

If you are not familiar with ghazal -- or even if you are -- let me know what you think of it. I'll leave it up for about a week.

Here is the Urdu:



And the transliteration:
Dekh to dil ke jaan se uthta hai,
Yeh dhuaan sa kahaan se uthta hai.

Gor kis dil jale ki hai yeh falak,
shola ek subah yaan se uthta hai.

Khana-e-dil se zinhaar na ja,
Koi aise makaan se uthta hai.

Larti hai uski chashm-e-shokh jahan,
Ek aashob waan se uthta hai.

Bethne kaun de hai phir usko,
Jo tere aastaan se uthta hai.

Yun uthe ah us gali se ham,
Jaise koi jahaan se uthta hai.

Ishq Mir ek bhari pathhar hai,
Kab yeh tujh naatwaan se uthta hai.

And the (so-so) translation, slightly modified by me, all from Masterpieces of Urdu Ghazal from 17th to 20th Century, translated by K. C. Kanda (Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd.):

Watch, from where does it rise, from the heart or the soul,
From where does it rise, this plume of smoke?

What smouldering heart lies buried under the sky?
Every morning a flame rises here.

You should never leave the chamber of my heart,
Who would leave such a secure place?

Where she casts her coquettish glance,
A storm begins to blow.

Who will take him in,
Who has been banished from your door?

As I left that lane, I felt
as if I were leaving the world.

Love, Mir, is a heavy rock,
Beyond your strength to lift.

Even now, so many years after I first heard this, while walking through a busy bazaar in Karachi, it still makes me catch my breath, especially when Hassan sings
Yun uthe ah us gali se ham,
Jaise koi jahaan se uthta hai.

(Self-winding has suggested this page which describes the ghazal form.)

Ibn-e Insha

In casting about for something to post, my hand fell on this little book: Urdu: The Final Book, by Ibn-e Insha, translated by David Matthews. It is a parody of a child's elementary Urdu textbook, and was published in Pakistan around 1971. It has a gentle tone which I like.

Ibn-e Insha, "Son of Style," was the pen-name of Sher Muhammad Khan (1927-1978), one of Pakistan's best known humourists. This piece is from the History section:
Shahjahan and the Taj Mahal

Shahjahan was the son of Jahangir and the grandson of Akbar. He was not the apple of the eye of some architect or building contractor, nor was he the chief heir of a Public Works Department employee, as many people have assumed on account of the fact he erected so many buildings.

Of his buildings, the Taj Mahal is the most famous. It took twelve years to build and cost millions of rupees. It took just as many years and just as much money to build the Qaid-e Azam's [i.e., Muhammed Ali Jinnah, 1876-1948] Mausoleum in Karachi. If there is any difference in the construction and beauty of these two edifices, the reasons are obvious. By Shahjahan's time, such great advances had not been made in architecture and draughtsmanship. Lifting, dragging and polishing stone was done according to old fashioned principles, and took a great deal of time. Automatic vehicles and high-speed electronic machinery had not yet been invented. Another factor to bear in mind is that there were millions of people who adored the Qaid-e Azam, while Mumtaz Mahal was adored only by one person. Nevertheless, taking its period into acount, we can say that the Taj Mahal is a very nice building.

Shahjahan was very far-sighted. If he had not built the Taj Mahal, India's tourist industry would not be so far advanced, and much less foreign exhange would be earned. There are other far reaching consequences. If there was no Taj Mal, there would be no Taj Mahal batteries, no Taj Mahal slippers, no Taj Mahal butter, a blend of healthy ingredients, never touched by human hand in the process of its manufacture. It might even be said that there would be no Taj Mahal soap for washing clothes clean. Another thing worth thinking about is that, if there was no Taj Mahal, what pictures would people put on their calendars?

Shahjahan also built several mosques - the Pearl Mosque and Delhi's Jami Mosque etc. He also build the Red Fort, where the last Mughal king, Bahadur Shah Zafar, used to hold his poetic symposia. It was also Shahjahan who made the Peacock throne, which at his own expense he had studded with diamonds, jewels etc. But unfortunately his successors did not care for it. Muhammad Shah threw it out and gave it to the cowherd, Nadir Shah, who took it to Iran [this is a joke: Nadir Shah sacked Delhi, and took the throne (and the Koh-i-noor diamond) as part of his booty].

Shahjahan's reign was a time of peace, but even so he managed to fit in a few conquests. Historians write that during his age there was no stealing or theft, nor did bribery exist. God knows how civil servants managed to eat. Shahjahan also built Jahangir's tomb. It is wrong to suppose that Sher Afghan had it built [another joke: Emperor Jahangir married Noor Jahan after having her first husband, Sher Afghan, killed].

What is it with churidars?

Two recent Google referrals (and there have been others):
man putting ice cubes into churidar of woman
churidar sex
Churidars look like this:


(I have borrowed this image from what appears to be a
Swedish site describing Indian clothing styles.
It also includes pictures of salwar-kameez & dupatta,
which is what I wear most of the time)


Churidars are worn covered by a long top, so that you generally only see the tight lower part. They can be worn by men and women. (Here's a picture of the male version). They're nice and all -- I wear them frequently myself -- but I can't figure out why one would particularly want to put ice cubes in them -- I mean, as opposed to any other garment.

Powerless II


click for a larger version

Powerless

Friday:
Power failure for three hours.
Turned on the generator - it's big, 32kva, enough to run the whole house.
After half an hour the lights began blinking and went off, though the generator was still running.
Switched off the generator -- still no city-power -- started it again.
After five minutes Mary ran from the kitchen, saying the room was full of smoke.
Ramesh followed her there, and saw a tube light burst into flame and fill the house with a reeking stink.
I ran to the office to turn off the power there, but was in time to hear four big popping sounds: the UPS, two power strips, one light bulb.
Switched off the generator, tried to phone the repairman.
The electronic phone system has a UPS connected to it - that wasn't working.
There's also a backup telephone on the old system, which gets activated when there's no power - that wasn't working.
By the time the city-power came back, the generator office was closed.
Guests were coming.


Saturday
:
The fridge wasn't working.
I bought fuses for the power strips, but they popped immediately.
I called the electrician, generator repair, fridge repair, telepone repair.
I failed to reach UPS repair, CD player repair, cable modem repair, water heater repair
The day was full of repairman.
The generator repairman claimed there was a cable fault, and that the underground cable linking the generator room to the house must be dug up and replaced. Ramesh forced him to do a few more tests, and it was discovered that one small component, called a totaliser -- which measures the number of hours the generator has run -- had burned, causing the entire mess.
By the end of the day everything worked but the CD player, the cable modem, the UPS and one water heater.
I couldn't use the computer till the UPS was fixed, or until I got the right cables to plug it into the wall socket.


Monday:
The UPS guy took the UPS and promised to bring it in the evening. He lent me two cables to plug in the computer.
The modem guy has done something from afar that has started the modem working.
My Jack of all Trades, Palani, is taking the hot water heater apart, not for the first time, and putting it back together again.

I'm going to make a page in my fledgling illustrated journal: a black border decorated with dead and wounded appliances. Fire and smoke from the tube light bleed into the center of the page, which is grey with smoke. I will recount the incident in big black letters. At the bottom of the page I will glue a tasteful assortment of burnt fuses and sundry other damaged gizmos. It will be entitled POWERLESSNESS

I hope that regular service will be resumed tomorrow.

Sheru

I’ve been taking baby steps in sketching and watercolours. Yesterday I decided to copy a photograph Ramesh had taken of our dog. He was a German shepherd, somewhat goofy, but we loved him. He died several years ago. His name was Sheru, short for Sher Khan.


Making this little picture was really interesting for me. First I did a pencil sketch. The photograph was full of dappled light and shade, and I wanted to capture it, so my sketch was very busy, like one of those old paint-by-numbers kits. Probably a mistake. Then I started painting, working from light to dark, and it was okay. But when I tried to do the darker shadows it suddenly looked ghastly. So I grabbed a larger brush, and filled it with water, and tried to scrub off as much as I could. I decided it was beginning to look okay again, though all the light and shade had vanished. Then I thought I would just highlight the eyes a little with ink. Yikes! It looked awful! With nothing to lose, I thought I’d just add a few more lines with ink. Then I decided it wasn’t too bad after all. (though Ramesh said, “Just don’t let Sheru see it!”) What a roller coaster ride – who knew painting could be so exciting?

I think of Sheru’s long thin body, ambling through grass. In the night, sometimes, we’d look out the window and see him rolling on the lawn, his legs waving in the air, silent, alone, happy.

The Romance of the Tropics

After my hopeful posting of poems for the rainy season it did not rain again. Then yesterday evening we were playing badminton, when grey clouds moved in swiftly to cover the sky, and a brisk breeze sprang up. I recently bought a book on watercolour technique, so I saw the sky as a series of grey washes, each fraying into the next. There was a pleasant intermittent rumbling of thunder in the distance.

Then the clouds began to recede, and the breeze died down a bit. The sky brightened. It was as if the whole thing had gone into rewind.

Abruptly the sky darkened again, and fat drops of rain fell. We sat on the veranda and said, It's coming, it's coming!

In five minutes it was all over, leaving the air still saturated with water. We were abandoned, perspiring and dissatisfied. The temperature had not dropped even a degree. Mosquitoes grazed languorously upon us.

Another poem for the Monsoon

From today's Poetry Daily - by Ravi Shankar, from his book Instrumentality:

Return to Mumbai

Bombay no longer, the island
Circumscribed by water exhausts
Herself in rain. For six months,

Her suitors, Vasai, Ulhas, Thane,
Spar, each swelling, vigorously
Surging, empurpling against

The horizon's taut washboard.
She, placid, stares breathless,
Smiles the smile of a schoolgirl

Whose step-father has just left
For London and decidedly opens
To each. Already, her soil soaks.

Already she sings in preparation,
Rust-colored flames smoldering
Compost, plastic tarps flapping,

Held down by planks, stones,
Discarded tires; dirt roads gravid
With rickshaws, vegetable wallahs

Whipping bullocks, Tata trucks
Distended with diesel, yellow
And black taxis like so many drones

Evacuating the hive, bicycles,
Ambassadors, Maruti Suzikis,
Creaking double decker buses

Emblazoned with the latest
Bollywood star, women in fraying
Saris, barefoot men collecting

Alms, children praying, their shape
More rail than real. From an island
Mother, rising water fathers

This mitotic bharathanatyam,
An embryonic dance held
Until the obstetrician's arrival.

(Note)

Resplendant

Resplendant Reflections/Roving Revistas, formerly of New York, has been writing fascinating stuff about life in Istanbul. Glimpses of a very different life / culture / world -- just the kind of thing I like.
When did American politicians stop saying "Americans," and start saying "the American people"?

More Photographs

Thanks to Prentiss Riddle, a link to a site of luscious photographs of Asia: Asia Grace by Kevin Kelly. Riddle's comment on the site is very pertinent:
The photos are indeed lovely, spanning Asia from Iran to Japan (if I've caught the right clues). But the highly saturated colors and above all the complete absence of anything modern or Western makes it apparent that together they form a very selective fantasy Asia. You can't go to the densely urbanized and tourist-infested spots Kelly has photographed in India, for instance, and take a photo lacking so much as a Bisleri bottle, a white-skinned backpacker or an autorickshaw unless you plan carefully from the outset for that result. I'm not sure what it means when one of our most prominent voices for an imagined future has another oevre so focused on a romantically imagined past. Maybe this book is an invitation to a critique of orientalism, or maybe it's just eye candy to be enjoyed and not probed too deeply.

But the photographs are still beautiful.

Dom Moraes

The Indian poet and writer Dom Moraes has died, at the age of 66. Here's the Guardian obituary. Here's an article about him from The Daily Star.

His poems seem mannered and old-fashioned to me - I think he's been known more for his prose in recent years, and as a literary celebrity. But here's a poem, from The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets:

Future Plans

Absorbed with each other's flesh
In the tumbled beds of our youth,
We had conversations with children
Not born to us yet, but named.
Those faculties, now disrupted,
Shed selves, must exist somewhere,
As they did when our summer ended:
Leela-Claire, and the first death.
Mark, cold on a hospital tray
At five months: I was away then
With tribesmen in bronze forests.
We became our children, my wife.
Now, left alone with each other,
As we were in four continents,
At the turn of your classic head,
At your private smile, the beacon
You beckon with, I recall them.
We may travel there once more.
We shall leave at the proper time,
As a couple, without complaint,
With a destination in common
And some regrets and memories.
We shall leave in ways we believed
Impossible in our youth,
A little tired, but in the end,
Not unhappy to have lived.


The Bureaucratic Way

Mary gets a small widow’s pension from the government every month – Rs. 200, which is almost nothing. She must take a bus to a post office in Adyar to collect it, spending Rs. 10 for the round trip. Once she receives the money she must give a Rs. 10 bribe to the clerk who disbursed it. Yesterday she went there, and was told that the money was ready for disbursement, but that the clerk had gone on leave for three days – so come again. It seems to me that about 50% of the time she has to go at least twice before she gets the money in her hand. She is resigned to it.


Almost everyone here has a ration card. The ration shops sell rice and sugar and kerosene etc. at subsidised rates for the poor. For years we didn’t have a ration card, but we finally applied and got one with great difficulty – it took about six months of going back and forth to the government office concerned. We did it because government agencies often ask to see a ration card as a proof of identification, or of address. Unfortunately, when we got the card the address was written incorrectly, but that’s the way things happen. We allowed the staff to use the card to buy the ration for themselves. The stuff available is of poor quality – yellow rice that smells rancid; coarse sugar full of dirt, etc.

Anyway, last year it was declared that people above a certain income level could no longer buy commodities using the ration card. And they must take it to the ration office and have an “H” – for "Honorary" – stamped on it. The notice in the newspaper to this effect had an almost threatening tone – if you don’t get an “H” on your card, you will never be able to get another ration card ever, etc. etc. So we did that.

In May, elections to the national Parliament were held. Here in Tamil Nadu, the party which governs the state didn’t win a single seat. Taking this as a wake-up call – state elections will be held in two years – the Chief Minister abruptly, and un-subtly, began rolling back a number of policies that were unpopular. Inter alia, she abolished the Honorary ration card system.

Now that there is no such thing, you might think that one could just ignore that letter “H” stamped on the card, right? It has become meaningless, hasn’t it? But no. We must take the ration card back to the ration office, and have the “H” officially cancelled. We must learn to think the bureaucratic way.
Via pf's blog, the most amazingly beautiful site, Luke Powell's photographs of Afghanistan.