[Letter to Editor]
The Hindu Express
Hyderabad August 10, 2016
Unable to live with the dismal roads in our Alipetty area in Hyderabad, I bring my community’s grievances to the attention of the Hyderabad Corporation and the general public through your esteemed daily.
Despite being the capital city of Telengana, certain parts of Hyderabad suffer appalling civic neglect. While copious rains have brought joy to Telengana’s farmers, misery has piled up for residents of Alipetty area. Potholes have sprang up in dozens in the roads of our locality. For pedestrians, motorists and two-wheeler riders, the badly-maintained roads pose great peril. Accidents happen daily injuring commuters. Women, school-going children, and even able-bodied men dread to use the roads because deep craters lie invisible under the muddy & dirty water standing on the roads. Citizens’ protests and pleas to the concerned authorities have fallen in deaf ears.
Through RTI applications, we gather that Rs.12 crores have been spent on the maintenance of just 30 kilometers of Alipetty’s roads in the last two years. Obviously, large chunks of this public money have been siphoned off by unscrupulous contractors and a few corrupt officials. Frankly, we see no end to such apathy when greed and dishonesty is so pervasive.
We hope, publication of this letter will stir the conscience of the people in authority, and urgent action will be initiated to maintain the roads.
(All names used in this letter are imaginary.)
The Collector Munibag village
Jhansi District Taluk .. Sahabd
Jhansi April 15. 2016
Sub .. Request for a tar road connection to Muninag
We, the villagers of Munibag, have no road connectivity to our village. We have to walk at least two kilometers through mud tracks to reach the road that leads to Jhansi. This causes great inconvenience to the students, to our elderly and sick, and to our womenfolk. It takes a one-hour bullock cart ride to reach the nearest Primary Health Centre. For pregnant women and terminally ill patients, this often results in death en route to the PHC. Our farmers find it hard to carry their fresh fruits and vegetables to the local Mandi situated four kilometers away. In short, the absence of a motorable road has stifled our welfare and economic progress.
We see a lot of rural development work presently going on in our Taluk under the MNREGA scheme. It would be a great boon for us if construction of an all-weather road to Munibag is included in this programme.
We give below the mobile number, name and address of our Sarpanch Sri Radheshyam Pandey. He will be most eager to discuss this proposal with you in your office at your convenience if you desire so.
Thanking you with expectation,
[Names and signatures of villagers]
Name, address and cell no of Sarpanch ………
CC: 1. The MLA Sri …
2. The Chairman Panchayat Samiti Sri ……..
[All names are imaginary.]
A market place fire through a 12-year-old’s eyes
It is midnight, yet I am struggling to sleep. I feel I must unburden my feelings to let my turbulent mind settle down, and I get my sleep. So, chum, I am writing this mail to you.
Being born in well-to-do family, I had never seen an open fire burning anywhere. I faintly remember the fire of a Homa during my maternal uncle’s marriage ceremony. So, I was aghast when I saw a huge fire, almost the height of tree, burning with its full fury. It was an inferno! It made me dumb for a while. Believe me, I can’t get the horrifying sight out of my mind.
Today being a Sunday, my father took all of us out for lunch. We were heading towards Koramangala. About a kilometer away from our destination, my eyes fell on a huge plume of black smoke that seemed to touch the sky. I peered out of our car window to get a better view, but my father just ordered me in. As we drew near, it became apparent that it was indeed a wild blaze devouring a footwear shop with great fury. My father parked the car at a safe distance as I begged him to stop. My elder sister and I jumped out of the car, and ran to the spot where a crowd had already gathered to see what was happening. My sister grabbed my hand as we jostled through the flock of onlookers to get a better view. I went past the Fire Brigade truck, and lo and behold, I saw a person being dragged out of the shop that had been fully engulfed in flame by then. The Fire Brigade men wearing their fire-retardant suites, had managed to pull out a trapped man, apparently a shop assistant, from inside. He was alive, but badly burnt and scarred. The Ambulance soon arrived and whisked him away. For my sister and me, the sight was as saddening as it was depressing.
Then we turned our eyes to see what was happening in the shop. Fire Brigade personnel had turned their water hoses straight into the interior of the shop. Obnoxious smell of burning leather filled the air. We coughed and gasped for breath, but somehow couldn’t turn back. The owner of the shop was beseeching the Fire Brigade personnel to retrieve his shoe cartons. They obliged and braved the fumes and heat to go in and bring out as much goods as they could. Some of the onlookers joined in to stack the cartons being flung out by the Firemen. It was a desperate attempt to salvage the unburnt or half-burnt shoe packs. The frenzy of activity of the Firemen struck us as very remarkable.
At this point we heard the angry shouts of our mother. She was gesticulating frantically at us to return to the car. We had no way, but to obey although out feet appeared to be anchored to the spot. In the car, we talked animatedly about the fire, but our father strangely appeared so unperturbed. He said, such fires happen, and the insurance company would make good the loss. At our lunch table, I could barely eat as the angst-filled face of the shop owner and the blackened limbs of the injured man haunted me. I became silent. Since then, the fire and the sight of the shouldering ruins of the shop are tormenting me.
Dear Vanumati, come early morning tomorrow. We will go on a long cycle ride. Perhaps, that would be the healing balm for my charred mind.
As a school student, I have to commute to school riding pillion in my father’s scooter. By the time I reach school, this 4-kilometer ride leaves me chocked and irritable. Due to traffic rush, the journey takes 30 minutes instead of 10. The black exhaust fumes from auto-rikshaws, cars, and buses choke my lungs, blacken my face, and rob me of all energy to study. Additionally, I have to continuously move my legs to escape being hurt by passing vehicles. Irate drivers hurl obscene abuses at one another to get past each other. The traffic police in the stands do their duty, but many do not heed them. This adds to the confusion. It seems the people of Guwahati are condemned to live with this obnoxious problem.
Through your columns, I intend to draw the attention of the senior traffic officials to this vexing problem so that the streets of Guwahati become more orderly and life in this city becomes more livable.
Cell number —–
You saw an old family photograph which shows your great grandfather walking to school barefooted, holding a bag with a just a black, wooden-framed slate, and a small bag of rice to be given to the teacher as the monthly fees.
Write a letter to your friend about the feelings that arose in your mind on seeing this photograph. Compare it with the facilities you get to enjoy today.
Dear Kashyap, Date …..
Ever since I came to my grandfather’s house for the summer holidays, it has been a journey down the memory lane, full of intrigue and excitement.
Yesterday, my grandfather asked me to look for a certain property document which was not in its usual place – the hidden wooden chamber under my grandma’s cot. So, I was ordered to open the family vault that stores the family’s valuables. It is an antic wooden box that has been in the family home from time immemorial. Its lock is a huge 5kilo contraption that needs a 12-inch long key to open it. The ornate brass key has heads of so many gods and goddesses intricately engraved on it. The vault is kept just behind the family deity of Mother Kali. She is believed to keep the prying eyes of unwanted visitors away.
I proceeded to open the vault, clearing the cobwebs along the narrow dark passage. Before embarking on my mission, I said my prayers to the deity invoking her not to treat me as a trespasser as I was simply obeying orders. I cringed as a few bats flew off the passage’s walls. It took me some effort to open the lock. I poured a generous amount of coconut oil to nudge the lock to let the key in. Finally, as I turned all my strength on the key, the lock opened making a weird sound.
I began to rummage through the vault’s contents with a torch in my left hand. In minutes, I got the giant red-coloured cover that had the documents inside it. I was clearly elated. My eyes soon fell on an old photograph that had turned yellow with age. Its edges appeared frayed –perhaps disgusted with such long solitary confinement. I looked at it. It was the portrait of a young boy who resembled a beggar more than a student. The boy looked emaciated, forlorn and resigned to his fate. I was clearly intrigued.
Triumphantly, I brought the property documents out and also the tattered portrait. I handed over the documents to my grandfather, and received a hug from him for the hard work I did for him.
With sneer writ large in my face, I took the old photograph to my grandmother and asked who the ‘beggar boy’ was. ‘Or, was he our servant?’, I asked. She recoiled in horror at my arrogance and stupidity. With great reverence, she touched the photograph to her forehead, and admonishingly looked at me. She said, ‘It is your great grandfather.’ Then, she proceeded to give me a fleeting view of the eventful life of her father-in-law. She spoke about his humble beginning, his long duel with poverty, his intellect, and his success in studies. He had passed his Matriculation examination in first class. His record in marks stood unchallenged for nearly two decades.
The British government soon spotted him and offered him a clerk’s job in the District Collector’s office. By the time he retired as Deputy Collector 40 years later, he had served under nearly 10 different British collectors. For his long distinguished service, he received government awards on three occasions.
With a chuckle, she told me that her father-in-law got to use pen and paper only after he reached class eight! And he had just one pen, one pencil and an annual allotment of just 100 sheets of paper!
I gaped at her face as she reeled off these figures. Then, with searching eyes, she confronted me with the question that had my brain reeling from a mix of amazement, and guilt. Initially, I was incredulous. One pen, one pencil and just 100 sheets of paper in whole one year! To add to my bewilderment, my grandma added that my father had just two khaki pants, two vests, and no footwear. And his monthly school fees were just a few morsels of rice. He could not afford the monthly fees of four annas (25 paise of today).
For his first and only job interview before the British Collector, he wore the shoe so lovingly presented to him by the village cobbler. His full pant and shirt were stitched by the village tailor free of cost with the cloth the village temple priest had donated.
With pride and a sense of deep satisfaction, she narrated how her philanthropist father-in-law paid back to his village for the affection they had shown to him. Out of the savings from his salary, he bought and donated land for the village school’s expansion, renovated the temple, and used his influence to have loans of scores of distressed farmers waived. He got many widows remarried. When he departed from this world, villagers from far and wide came to give him a tearful farewell. His bronze bust stands at the entrance of the village.
With a glance that seemed to ask me a thousand questions, she told me, “How do I compare my student days with my great- grandfather’s?” I have a dozen pairs of dress, four sets of uniforms, three pairs of shoes, box-full of pencils and pens, inexhaustible supply of paper, internet, laptop, tablet, and, of course, the air-conditioned school bus.
She asked me about the enormous investment of resources in my education, the large carbon foot-print I was leaving on the environment, and, most disturbingly, my snobbish attitude to people around me. I felt miserable as I reflected on my upbringing, my selfishness and my total indifference to those boys and girls who lived next door, and went to the inexpensive government schools, because they were poor. A boy, attired like my great grandfather, would be shooed away by the security guard at my school gate, let alone get admission to study. As regards the expenses, my one month’s school fees are equal to my great grandfather’s ten years’ salary, possibly. How have things changed! For the better, or for the worse?
I began to introspect. Why the process of education needs to be so sophisticated, so expensive, so elitist? Remorse and repentance swept through my mind as I had mistaken my great grandfather to be a beggar. I was disturbed, and am quite so still. How far have we drifted from Gandhiji’s espousal of plain living and high thinking!
Yours dear friend,
The Principal ——————-
——– HSS School
Sub….Restocking of our school library
We, the students of Class X, beg to place before you our grievances and suggestions with regard to our school library that appear to be gradually losing its relevance to us. The reasons are the stock of very old versions of most of the text books, the tattered appearance of a few important reference books, and the general absence of modern books that we need for supplementary reading. Regrettably, a good number of titles have gone missing although they are still listed in the catalogue.
Our library has been the mainstay of our academic life for long. Its deterioration in any manner hampers our studies. Restocking it with latest edition books and procurement of some current best-sellers will add some charm to this age-old wing of our institution.
As a way of suggestion, we append a list of 50 titles which you may please consider while finalizing the list of annual purchase of books. We hope our request will be treated as concern for our dear school that has shaped our future in such a conspicuous way under your stewardship.
(Students of Class X)
Encl… List of books
Sub .. Plight of pilgrims in the Jagannath Temple, Puri
This morning, I was aghast to see three temple priests accosting a group of nearly 50 devotees from Rajasthan inside the Jagannath temple premises. The trio was making monetary demands which the hapless tourists were apparently not in a position to meet. The three priests hurled insults at the group in very hateful way. The head of the tourist group bore the brunt of the three temple priests. They tore apart his shirt, threw his head gear on the ground (a grave insult for Rajastahnis), and snatched his wallet. The victim, unable to offer any resistance to the intimidation, went down on his knees and begged the trio for some reprieve, but the abuses continued with increasing vulgarity. Other members of the group just looked on, unable to decide how to come to the aid of their headman. It was a shocking and shameful sight for the onlookers.
I understand such fleecing is commonplace in and around the temple. It has been there for ages, but in recent times, the menace has become increasingly alarming. It is nothing but thuggery – a shameful practice which is repugnant to the tenets of Hinduism. It is a scourge that needs the heavy hand of law to be eliminated. I request the temple administration and the state government of Odisha to rise to the occasion, and use coercive methods to rein in the truant priests who bring such disrepute to this pilgrimage centre considered the most paramount among the four ‘Dhams’ of Hindu religion.