About FOOTPRINTS IN THE BAJRA (Cedar Books, New Delhi); By Nabina Das

"Fittingly for a poet, Nabina’s novel also has a strong lyrical core. 'Footprints in the Bajra' takes the homely image of the millet field as its central metaphor. ... But the novel is less a thriller about guerrilla action than a subtly colored character study of a fascinating group of individuals who intersect at various points in their lives ..." -- DEBRA CASTILLO, author, editor and distinguished professor (Cornell University, April 17, 2010).

Footprints in the Bajra is a serious book that moves at a smart uncontrived pace. It voices deep concerns about how and why the deprived and the marginalized in certain parts of our country join the Maoist ranks; how they adopt desperate and often terrible measures to wrench justice and to make their voices heard... a confident debut novel, a good read, which will leave you with plenty to mull over. -- PRITI AISOLA, author (See Paris for Me, Penguin-India, 2009) in DANSE MACABRE XXXIV.

In her debut novel, Nabina Das writes about an India where social divides stand taller than multistoried shopping malls. Footprints in the Bajra, inspired by what she saw while touring the interiors of Bihar as part of a travelling theatre group, inquires into why the Maoists have an influence over a large section of Indian society. Das talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York about her book, and its protagonist Muskaan -- DAILY NEWS AND ANALYSIS, Mumbai, March 28, 2010.


"The interspersion of references from both the West and India do not clash. Shakespeare and Lazarus as reference points are brought in with ease, as also Valmiki and Goddess Chhinnamasta, and nothing jars ... The language is poetic and creates visual images of beauty and ugliness side by side." -- ABHA IYENGAR, poet (Yearnings: Serene Woods, 2010) and fiction writer in MUSE INDIA, May-Jun 2010

Shwetank Dubey says Nabina Das ably recreates the milieu of Maoist-infested regions of India -- Nabina Das has chosen the first person account of narrating a story from the main characters of the novel, Nora the sheherwali (urban dweller), Muskaan the rebel, Suryakant Sahay the crafty clandestine planner and Avadhut the frontrunner of all the operations... the book deals with something that no urban resident is bound to know on his own — the life and times of people living in Maoist infested areas and why do they give in to the temptation provided by the Red Brigade. -- PIONEER newspaper, April 25, 2010.
'"If you misrepresent them, they'll abduct and kill you," says Muskaan, our hostess'... goes the first line with which Nabina Das settles everything about her novel -- style, subject and pace... Excellent plotline. Wonderful detail. A beautifully crafted book. -- Karunamay Sinha; THE STATESMAN, Sunday supplement "8th Day", May 16, 2010.

"This is bitter-sweet, if a rather longish tale of a modern-day Maoist revolution and the seeds of destruction and betrayal that lie embedded in it." -- Business World, May 17, 2010

Friday, May 16, 2008

Walk like a Mexican!

So there was I, flying to the West Coast last year, my first visit that side of this vast landmass we call America. ‘We’ meaning, Americans who travel very little, and the likes of me, not-American, living in the US for some time. A six-year long East Coaster, I was aware of the difference in the weather, culture and sundry other things made accessible knowledge by news, the Internet and the like. I was headed to San Jose to visit my sister-in-law. Mo and I were in the three-seater row with a middle-aged lady by the window side. Now middle age is a tricky word in the American context. She was easily in her fifties but she may not have liked me calling her middle aged if such issues were raised.

It was I think a five-hour long flight with a connection to catch at Minneapolis, Minnesota. I settled down in my seat, the middle seat, feeling good about my California vacation.

The lady on my left smiled. Amiable. She muttered a little when the aircraft took off. Perhaps she was nervous. Then she said to me: “Always this part is the hardest.”
“Yeah.” I nodded.
“How else would I travel back home? It’s too far to drive from North Carolina.”

Yes it is a long drive. In a car-loving, long-driving country, NC to MO would be too much indeed. Although people do things like that. A friend of ours recently had driven from New Mexico to Illinois. Take that!
“I was at my daughter’s,” my co-passenger said.
“Must have been nice.” Polite conversation should never be avoided.
“Yes, so different from Minneapolis. Warm, green!”
“Is it not so in Minneapolis right now?”
“Um, it’s a bit soggy, you know,” she said uncertainly. “So where are you going?”
“San Jose,” I said brightly. “My first West Coast visit.”
“Must be tough to stay away,” she said, a little ambiguous. “From New York City?”
“No, no. We are from Ithaca, not too far from New York actually.”
She nodded although it didn’t appear that she knew about Ithaca.
“Working or studying?”
“Both. We live in the Cornell University campus.” I went on to explain about our Ivy League shelter without lacing my talk with any arrogance.
“That’s a good college, I’ve heard about it.”
Who hasn’t?
“Your English is very good.”
I knew it wasn’t bad. But to be reminded was nice. Thank you.
“Do you feel at home?” It was so kind of her to ask that.
“We try to be cheerful. You know, miss the food at times, or festivals.”
“But to go back to Mexico must be exciting! Maybe I should take a trip there.”

No, what? She said Mexico. I heard her right. She thought I was Mexican.

“Er, I’m going to San Jose. That’s California.”
She shook her head. Gave a benevolent smile. I doubt if she realized I was trying to correct her.
“You must visit Minneapolis some day.” The plane was landing and she pointed out the sprawling flat city skewing on the horizon. “It has a twin city. And there are nice spots to vacation close to these cities. Lakes, camping grounds.”
I certainly will note that down. I love lakes although I haven’t camped much.

We ran along the terminal. She said her sister would be there to pick her up. My connecting flight to San Jose was waiting to leave soon.

“Bye then, enjoy your stay in Mexico!”
“Thank you. Bye! Enjoy back in Minneapolis. By the way – ” I wanted to tell her again I was headed to California and that I was Indian. Oh well.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bajji Tales

Just mention the word bajji to me or ask me to eat it, an army of thoughts marches over my mind. Not because these fried and stuffed Anaheim peppers are not meant for the weak-stomached. The name, just the name rakes up disturbing scenes. From that ensuing commotion, two faces appear before me – one a dark round one, slightly bearded and grave; the other with a pair of eyes trying to peer down your heart and with the expression of an actor or a clown, twisted with laughter or disdain. Punnam and Anji Babu. Two very different but scintillating individuals I made acquaintance of once upon a time in a city called Hyderabad. In a southern state of India. As the train pulled in to the station Hyderabad rose in front of me like a stark stony plateau. And so did Punnam. Actually what I thought to be the city was probably a fort in the distance or a temple. To me all that never seemed clear enough. Forts, temples, Osmania University, Birla Mandir. Something was always visible above the city on the canopy of the sky apart from the regular sun, clouds of dust or shrill birds with no names. At first glance, Punnam seemed to stand out among all this. Tall, burly, rather stony faced in the beginning, and imposing like a deep dark cloud cover.
Punnam I did not know at all earlier but was given his reference by an acquaintance from my university.
“Hyderabad is better than Delhi but they might think you are a northerner.”
“I can explain … ”
“No, no, my cousin will be there to help. Don’t hesitate.”
Being a northerner would create small problems. Small but irritating ones. I understood that. I wasn’t a northerner or a north Indian. And I was aware of the currents of the all-consuming southern political movement in 20th century India. But it never occurred to me to be careful on that account. Obviously after I encountered Punnam – meaning full moon – I was assured I wouldn’t have to worry at all. An engineer by education and thirty, he was looking for a job recently and didn’t mind helping a student from Delhi to find her footing in Hyderabad for two weeks.
“Did you have dinner on the train? We could get some dosas,” was his first full sentence after mute greetings as I descended on the platform and smiled at him, he looking at me with a stony demeanor. He held a biggish placard with my name in capital letters.
“Dosas would be great,” I said, eager to show I was not a northerner, then pointed to the placard: “I can see you got that!”
“Didn’t need it. You look like what my cousin described.” I dared not ask what his cousin might have pictured me for him. “Besides, most people in this train are local folks – you can easily tell,” his round dark face lightened up in a smile at last. I smiled again too.
Traveling light is useful I found out, especially when I had to ride on the back of Punnam’s motorbike and we decided to eat before Punnam took me to my destination.
Most restaurants were closed naturally at past nine then, so we made a stop at a curbside stall in a well-lighted place near the railway station. The vendor had two hot tawas going as he stirred the dosa mix and sprinkled drops of water on the iron implements, wiping his sweaty forehead with a cotton towel tucked under his hips. He spoke in Telegu, which evidently I did not understand and respond to. Punnam realized his role and quickly rattled off, perhaps without giving away that I was from the north (although not a northerner). The dosas were the best ones I have had in my entire life. This entire life anyway consisted of no sojourn into the southern parts of India.
“Osmania University? What’s the address?” Punnam munched his food. Like me probably he had nothing for dinner till that late hour.
“The university guest house. Here.”
He nodded, I know. He knew. A life long Hyderabadi. No wonder his cousin chose him to familiarize me to this place. I decided to thank my university friend soon for his benevolent gesture.
The guesthouse was dead like a tombstone. The lobby was well lighted, not visible from the main road, but there was no one at the reception desk. Punnam coughed loudly a couple of times in order to attract attention of anyone who might be there, then said a loud, “Hello!”
A man emerged from around the corridor, stepping sleepily, with bloodshot eyes. He mumbled at Punnam who became even more stony-faced and asked him a few questions in turn.
“He says the caretaker left a note saying someone from Delhi was expected.” He was the night shift guard here. There is a room ready he can open it up immediately.
“Oh good,” I said.
“No, that is not good,” Punnam’s English was a bit like talking to a thinking mirror – it said mostly the same words I uttered, with just a few added words more.
Punnam assessed the guard to be drunk. Besides, the guesthouse was in a secluded part of the university – the entire university anyway seemed to be on a secluded hilltop dotted with great stones and impenetrable shrubs. There seemed to be no other soul living inside that building. Hence, not good.
“Come let’s go home,” he summarized quickly.
I didn’t care to know or ask the route that we took, the neighborhoods that we passed by or the house that we entered, so tired and sleepy I was. Completely having surrendered to Punnam’s instructions, I remember waking up in a large sunny room with two kids by my side on a wide plush bed. Still sleepy, I watched Punnam tug at the little boys’ wrists, coaxing them to be up for school.
An hour later, I found the attached bathroom and came out freshened to find Punnam determinedly scooping out fluffy white orbs from a steaming plate. An old woman worked at the pots and pans at the kitchen sink and said something very urgently to him.
“Idlis for breakfast!” he announced looking up at me. “Our work-auntie is reminding me about the rice-and-lentil powder that must be eaten with it.”
I thought I was lucky to have all that. And ‘work-auntie’ touched me. Nice guy, this Punnam. Abundant daylight through the windows around the living room showed his burliness to be more of a hulkiness, his teeth sparkling white like water bubbles, his short wavy hair like a tight cap around his head and his earth-brown complexion blending with the must-be-eaten powder he served on my plate alongside the steaming rice cakes.
“Homemade podi.”
The two boys were already off to school, dressed, fed and dropped by their uncle Punnam. The parents, Punnam’s brother and sister-in-law, were away in the village to attend to some important family matters. Therefore, Punnam was not only the guide and protector of the woman from Delhi, but also of his little nephews.
I called up to thank my Delhi benefactor.
“Punnam is a gem,” his cousin my friend gushed. “After his girlfriend deserted him and married someone else last year he had become so wound up. I thought being around you might lighten him a bit, you know, in a friendly way.”
Instead of Osmania University guesthouse I shifted to another smaller one – meant for Hindi language students of Telugu University – quite near the Osmania campus where my conference was scheduled. And happily discovered there were six more participants in the same conference from different parts of the country. Madhavi from Chennai became my roommate. She told me of her impending marriage, showed me family photographs and laughed seeing me wearing only either black or white petticoats under my exquisite hand woven saris specially brought for the conference. In fact, most women participants noticed that aberration and when we all gathered during the tea break, peering at the scorching February sun outside – Hyderabad is notoriously hot right then through June – they giggled and confirmed that I wore black underneath red, green, magenta saris and white underneath cream, blue, lilac saris. Funny.
“Get yourself matching petticoats,” one advised gently. “You look so good in saris. Don’t let bad style spoil it.”
It was tough convincing them I will, I who mostly dressed in jeans.
Punnam came around now and then although I had reclaimed independence in mobility and association. He was indeed a nice fellow and an ice cream one evening or a little trip to the old city on his faithful motorbike did not hurt. Increasingly he looked less stony-faced and more animated. However, he regarded my guesthouse mates with aloof scrutiny. Madhavi he did not so much care (along with other female residents) to observe as he did Adnan – a forty something lecturer from Baroda in western India, Anji Babu – a thirty-year-old PhD candidate from Thiruchirapalli and Pramit Pandey, a masters student like me from Agra in northern India. Adnan was an avuncular figure, patient and comforting to everyone. Back from the conference every evening, he showered and relaxed on the verandah in spotless white kurta-pajamas reading the stale morning newspaper. Pramit would be off exploring the city most evenings. He had friends in this part and never got back before midnight, initially making the gateman grumble that it was a violation of the guesthouse rules to be out so long. Later he opened the gates without a fuss for I believe, he was handsomely tipped by the suave, smart Pramit. Anji Babu was probably the most interesting of the three men. Or I think that’s what Punnam made him out to be. For his medium height and moderate built – nothing special to say if you saw him up close – his face was unusually expressive. Two eyes shone like charcoal with icing on them. His smile was perhaps the most arresting of all features. He sang, playacted, mimicked and joked. He was the star in the group. Also, he drank. A lot. And threw tantrums.
The first time he did that, Punnam had come to drop me at the guesthouse. I had been gone to meet his brother and sister-in-law who were back from the village. They loved to hear that I liked Hyderabad and that I already learned to say “pappu” for daal in Telugu and phrases like “randi randi kuchandi --- please come and sit down”.
“Pappu is a male name in the north,” I said gingerly.
“Yeah, they’d keep any name like that!”
My “Please come in, sit down” also generated much banter and merriment when transliterated into Hindi. They insisted I could come and stay with them. I told them how thankful I was for being allowed a night of rest while they were away, courtesy the thoughtful and kind Punnam. I dined with them, delicious things I didn’t have a name for, except obviously the pappu.
Après dinner, the gentlemanly Punnam dropped me at the guesthouse gate and heard a commotion inside. Anji Babu, drunk and boisterous, was addressing the gateman, just arrived for his nightly duties. Anji flaunted his well-built arms being shirtless in the warm February night. His conversation – Telugu or Tamil I could not tell – seemed to grow louder and rougher.
“Does he sound like trouble?” I asked Punnam.
“Like trouble,” the thinking mirror repeated, “You can’t be here.”
“I don’t mind staying here.”
He grimaced. “Don’t mind staying here?” and added, “ I don’t understand.”
I appreciated the mirror’s concern. And was amused by his mirror responses. But I convinced him no trouble would befall me from Anji. Until later.
I will digress here to speak about a few more ‘mirror responses’.
In different scenarios, such responses were prolific.
Scenario one: A trip to the mythical Yadagirigutta temple with Punnam.
A teenaged boy was selling flower garlands at the bottom of the hillock standing on a scenic road that connected Hyderabad with its twin city Secunderabad. He rattled off an instruction translated by Punnam thus: worshipping in this hilltop temple for forty continuous days would relieve anyone of very tough diseases.
“What tough diseases? Does he mean cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s?”
“Cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s,” Punnam repeated.
Although we were conversing in English, the boy understood the diseases mentioned and stuck out his tongue and caught his ears with both hands in an apologetic gesture.
“He is appalled. The very mention of cancer and AIDS makes these people cringe.”
Oh, glad to know that, I thought. What about the garland business then? How many can he convince just like that?
“How many can he convince like that? As many that come here.”
“Punnam I’m not convinced. I came here only because of touristy interest.”
“I’m not convinced,” he repeated after me. “I came here because of you.”
What did he mean? Lord knows. He rose like a mini hillock in front of me with that, as he strode up the hill to where Yadagirigutta smiled down on us in mid-morning sunshine.
Scenario two:
I had been told three things I must try before leaving Hyderabad: Bajji, sojji and buttermilk. The first item was a fritter made from Anaheim peppers, the second was sweet semolina pudding oozing with clarified butter. Buttermilk was a hot favorite to maintain cool heads with the temperature rising outdoors. My loyal guide Punnam – who seemed out of the sorrow inflicted on him by his ex-girlfriend – took me on a culinary trip.
Seeing me ask for a fork and knife for the bajji his face flopped.
“You just bite into them.”
“Need to make sure the peppers don’t have seeds inside.”
“The peppers don’t have seeds inside,” the mirror mouthed.
“I don’t trust peppers Punnam.” I was a little harassed with the chaperoning.
“Just have sojji afterwards na…” he trailed off.
Of course, the sojji, a sweet dish, had the potential of rescuing people from bajji’s volcanic taste. But did I need to be told everything?
“Don’t trust peppers!’ He would still repeat after me, but with a kindness in his eyes. After all, I was not a Hyderabadi.
I was in the guesthouse for more than a week now. Anji had been up to his things every now and then but not so much in the open. One night, after amusing us by caricaturing south Indian film stars, the plump mustachioed lot, he begged us to stay up with him. It was late for both Madhavi and me.
“Okay, let Madhavi go. She is anyway getting married soon. But you stay.”
His logic wasn’t clear of course, as to why I should stay – just because I wasn’t looking to be married – while Adnan and Pramit were already headed towards their rooms.
“Let her alone.” Madhavi mildly reprimanded him.
That night Anji turned sentimental. It’s his own love story he wanted to tell us, he said. He needed an audience. He showed us a letter from his wife, the words “Anji” and “love” written all over the one-page missive. We were sorry it was getting late and we couldn’t stay.
Another night he started on the same vein. Drunk of course. How much he drank I had no idea. It seemed every evening on return from the conference he went straightaway to buy liquor first. He drank all through the evening, sometimes showed up at the guesthouse dinner, sometimes not. That night he was incoherent. We were chatting sitting in Adnan’s room. The man from Baroda spoke little, just smiled from time to time. All throughout Anji’s demonstration, he kept looking at him keenly. Later, pointing at the table clock he said, “Have to call in now.” Then looking at Anji he said cryptically, “In a week’s time, we’d all be gone. But you don’t go home alone Anji.” With that, he turned to me and threw a mischievous smile.
“What do you mean Adnan?” If there was some meaning there, I didn’t care for it. I got up to go.
Anji followed me till my room and when I pleaded with him to go back and not wake up Madhavi who was in early with a headache, he laid a finger on the hollow of my neck.
“Shush… It’s so soft.”
“Anji go to your room. I don’t want a scene.” I was afraid he’d try something else too. He didn’t.
“You’ve no idea,” that’s all he said and went back to his room. I kept this incident from the others.
At the conference next morning, he looked fresh and composed. He still continued to drink in the evenings but did not again accost me. Instead, he rattled some people on an outing. He wasn’t drunk then.
I made several friends and Hyderabad was gradually opening up to me with its tongue-tingling spices, balmy markets, strapping dark men with chiseled faces, well endowed women with fresh jasmine garlands in their hair, dusty streets and main thoroughfares with their fierce traffic, and centuries of history gently blowing in the incense-smelling breeze. Punnam appeared now and then. Although he refrained from intervening on seeing Anji drunk and quarreling with the gateman the other night, he made it quite clear that the guesthouse was no longer a nice place for me to stay. I didn’t tell him about Anji’s latest scrap with Sunil and his professor.
The latter were from a university in the state of Kerala. A group of us were out one evening visiting the historic Golconda Fort, colorful bangle markets in the old city, sampling the famous biriyani and mango lassi, and walking around a bright shopping area. I usually never dressed in a sari outside the conference. But Madhavi had requested me to wear one that evening. Both of us wore blue. She in powder blue, I in indigo. The Kerala professor was a friendly talkative man and he praised his student Sunil, his protégé, quite a lot.
“I not only have to get him a PhD, but also get him a bride,” Prof. Balaravi said, gently twirling his partly grayed moustache and patting his jet-black beard.
Past sixty at least, he resembled one of those ancient Indian sages depicted in calendars or roadside poster catering to the religious.
“Too bad no one is available,” Pramit quipped. “Besides, professor, you’d prefer a Kerala woman, right?”
Balaravi sighed dramatically, looked around at the milling shoppers eating, laughing. Then grabbing the ice cream cone from the six-feet tall but demure Sunil’s hands and giving it a determined lick he looked at me. Then pointed.
“Doesn’t have to be a Kerala girl. This sumathi here looks like one. Neelambari!”
His epithets embarrassed me. I understood them – a woman of good bearing and the lady in blue – all words from Sanskrit roots. Madhavi patted my shoulders. Everybody liked the joke at my expense. Well, I wasn’t angry or anything. Just taken aback.
“What? Did you say she is available?” This was Anji. He had been quiet all evening.
“My Sunil is a good man. Certainly a lady with good characteristics as this can make his life a heaven –”
Balaravi’s high-flowing address would have continued but for the fact that Anji leaped in front of him, nearly screaming, “Hey watch out”, and pulling himself up menacingly to the tall professor.
Madhavi quickly put a protective arm around me and in seconds Pramit, Adnan and other men in the group tried separating Anji from Balaravi. Sunil stood like a wet sheep not knowing what might be required of him. We came back to the guesthouse tired and bitter. Anji, not a drop of alcohol in his stomach that night, did not speak a word, instead went straight to his room. He presented a rather interesting paper the next day: Tamil Cilappatikaram: a comparison to Odyssey and Iliad of the West. Focused, enthused and thoroughly academically responsive he was.
Towards the end of our stay in Hyderabad, Madhavi and I began bonding well. I accompanied her on evening shopping sprees meant for her marriage. She bought saris, Hyderabadi lacquer bangles, Bidri vases and tableware as gifts for the family back home. Invited me to Chennai where the marriage was to take place four months later. A couple of times Punnam came looking for me and went back. I was out. During this time Punnam had completely discarded his stony face and appeared rather jubilant, at least the time I met him. He also became a little talkative – no longer just a mirror – and displayed flashes of volatility. Most of that last trait was directed at Anji Babu who he did not know well but already disliked.
“He drinks so much.”
Drinking wasn’t a virtue according to him, drinking in the manner of Anji.
“He was abusing the gateman the other night.” Apparently in choicest vulgarisms.
“Anji speaks Tamil … how do you understand what he said?”
“I had Tamil friends in the engineering college. Know them all,” he summed up with such hostile definitiveness (and no mirror responses) that I let the topic rest there.
On our last night at the guesthouse – most of us were to depart the next afternoon following the wrap-up session – we threw ourselves a little party. A few outsiders, like Punnam, were invited. Professor Balaravi and his protégé Sunil, who lived at the Osmania guesthouse, also joined us. Balaravi and Anji drank together like long-lost friends, pouring each other drinks. As usual the alcohol was procured clandestinely – it wasn’t allowed in the guesthouse – by our prolific colleague Anji Babu. He was drinking after a gap of days. He seemed relaxed. Sidelining all chatter about the conference to be over the next day, he was regaling Balaravi and Adnan about his love story. How he ran away with his beloved to make her his wife. Very Bollywood. Very bold. I think I even heard him mention riding a horse carriage. Amid rain and thunder. Her name was Amba. Anji and Amba were longtime lovers. Of different backgrounds – probably different castes, that factor which supposedly deeply permeates the Tamil society. He laughed, happy. Narrating his love story obviously was a curative effort.
Punnam had again withdrawn into his shell, speaking little, not drinking even a drop. Solemnly, he informed me he’d be at the railway station the next afternoon to see me off to Delhi.
“No Punnam, really don’t. I’m not alone. It’s fine.” I tried convincing him that his guardianship was formally over.
Anji heard that. He presumably was on a break from his storytelling. Refilling his scotch and ambling around.
“Don’t bother, I’m going to the station. Madhavi’s going too.” He spoke to Punnam.
“Madhavi’s going too?” Punnam the responding mirror had returned.
“Don’t you get it? I’m sending my wife a letter through Madhavi’s hands. I can see off both Madhavi and this friend of ours.”
“This friend of ours?” Interrogative mirror.
“Are you an idiot or what?”
“You are in idiot.” Assertive.
Anji made a gesture of helplessness. Surprisingly acting sober. Punnam, lucid enough sans much alcohol, glared at him. Adnan sensed things were about to turn awry and intercepted the not so illuminating conversation.
“Hey, both of you rest. I’ll go. Got to send a telegram to Baroda. Letting my folks know I’m planning to visit Bangalore, you know.”
“Bangalore,” Anji and Punnam said in unison – the ‘bang’ part of the word booming out.
The next day Madhavi and I boarded the same train because she was headed to a relative’s in Indore before returning to Chennai, her hometown. I would of course travel all the way up north, straight to Delhi, a longer but scenic train journey. The station, like all Indian stations was milling with people, talking, laughing, saying goodbye, crying, picking pockets, men brushing unknown rushing or waiting women on their butts or breasts, kids yelling and scampering, and beggars begging aggressively. Although northbound, trains to or from the south were usually clean, organized, and on time. Their bathrooms had the fittings intact, there was running water and no one peed on the floors. As a result these trains smelled quite okay too – of cleaning liquids and sanitary purifiers. Madhavi and I sat face to face, our small suitcases up on the luggage loft. We looked out of the window facing the station taking in the last whiff of Hyderabad. We had a sort of quick lunch at the wrap-up session, but it was past two-thirty and in our excitement we felt hungry. She was eyeing a stall selling soft drinks and potato chips. I was eyeing a boy vendor with fresh pepper bajjis on his makeshift wooden tray, carefully piled up on a sheet of aluminum foil, tucked on the sides by paper tissues to soak up the gut-clogging oil in which they were fried. I had been informed that these vendors usually have a set-up quite next to the stations where one person cleans and fries the Anaheim peppers and the other carries the freshly fried ones to the platform. Quite predictably, the bajjis are gone in minutes. The vendor then runs for the next batch and is back in no time spreading the crackly aroma in the normally stale station air.
“You want the bajjis?” Madhavi knew my new obsession.
“Well, I can … “
“No, I too will have some. Instead of chips. And how about some hot tea that woman is selling in earthen mugs?”
“They call them kullar in Delhi! Chai, ey chai!” I proceeded to call the woman.
“Bajjiwala, here! Pack us a dozen.” Madhavi waved through the window.
The bajji boy turned his head towards us, it seemed in slow motion, as if with three heads. No, it was two other heads that turned simultaneously at us with the vendor. Before even the vendor put his hands on his crispy fare, the other two heads, much taller than the boy, grew hands and reached out for the bajjis at the same time.
“Oh my god!” Madhavi said.
Anji and Punnam. They were at the station.
Their four hands grabbed the tails of fried peppers with a rapidity that confounded the vendor boy. One of the hands tossed a ten-buck note on the pile of peppers. The other quickly shoved the peppers in a paper bag.
“I paid first, hey boy take it,” one roared. I don’t know who it was.
“To hell with your money, I’ll get the girls my bajjis first,” the other swore.
At this point the little vendor started screaming, in anger or in fright. Naturally, he had no clue what was going on. Neither did we, although both Madhavi and I had guessed it all. The train gave a tug by then. The vendor was trying to prevent his livelihood from being sabotaged, while the station crowd suddenly saw the goings on.
“You wouldn’t give up? You … “
“And you wouldn’t, huh?”
The dialogues were more or less identical, tough to say who was saying what. Tamil or Telugu, I do not know till this day.
Horrified, we saw two hands reach out and smack each other. And then, one of them squashed a bajji in his hand and slapped it over the other’s eyes, seeds and all. I still couldn’t tell who did that to whom because the crowd now formed a ring around them, partly endorsing the quarrel, partly asking them to stop but not actively stopping the circus. Anji or Punnam, whoever got the pepper in his eyes, was howling like a half-slaughtered buffalo. The tea-woman had meanwhile forgotten to give us tea. The train was moving. Somebody blew a whistle, probably the railway police, if they did arrive so promptly against the usual slovenly speed of purpose any Indian security agency have.
“Oh my god,” Madhavi said again and gaped.
I wanted to laugh, really loudly. But I tried to respect her feeling. She saw my face was distorted with something hidden and started laughing herself. We rolled around as the train sped up.
“Let’s go get something to eat from the pantry.” I got up finally.
“No bajjis, please!” She still held her tummy.
I heard later that Punnam visited Delhi during the summer of my graduation. I did promise him an evening of ice cream while in Delhi but that did not materialize. He did not inquire after me. As for Anji, I never heard from him. I guess he and wife Amba lived happily ever after. Madhavi wrote me letters for months before she got absorbed into her married life. Adnan kept in touch for a while, never mentioning either Anji or Punnam. I never enjoyed bajjis again.
(2007-- Some names and portions of this account are fictional while some are real.)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Lost writings

I realize some of my published writings -- reports, commentaries, articles -- are no longer on the web. Some of those pages don't show anymore. So, I've tried plugging on this site some of those I could lay my hands upon. Most of those articles from my days at Tehelka. But several are missing. I am looking for the hard copies, they must be tucked away some place. Too carefully I guess, so I can't find them now! Anyway, this blogsite is also like a place to tuck away stuff, hopefully to remain visible.

Kutchch Diary: Rapar, where desert meets the sky

Nabina Das

Rapar taluka (Gujarat), June 19 (2002)

Morning 8.30 in Bhuj (read "Bhuj: sun, sand and more sun" I'm searching for this story of mine) is a quiet time and just about warm as I set out to Rapar taluka with Mahesh driving me down. It is a two and a half-hour drive to Rapar, one of the worst affected talukas in Gujarat in the earthquake of 2001. Bhuj taluka too suffered lots of damages but comparatively, the Bhuj people have leapt back to normal life. Rapar still continues to be one of the backward areas of Gujarat, struggling even to meet day-to-day needs.

My journey begins along a road, well-metalled as most other roads in this place are, and prolong through acres and acres of dry barren land dotted with keekar, bawar and other desert vegetation.

Mahesh tells me that 60 per cent of the population of Bhuj work outside Gujarat, mostly in big cities like Ahmedabad, Surat or Mumbai or even abroad. “My father’s two elder brothers are in London engaged in travel business and one of my cousins is in Nairobi. People here have enough money. Our house got damaged in the earthquake but we managed to repair and rebuild parts of it. Even my father was abroad…, he came back 20 years ago.” He proudly tells me bank balances of Bhuj families would put to shame even those belonging to posh areas of Delhi or Mumbai.

He points out spots on the road that had developed cracks due to the quake. There are bridges on the way, which too are being rebuilt. The highway to Bhachau, Rapar and Anjar from Bhuj were all clogged last year as hoards of people, terrified after the quake’s impact, left home and hearth and shifted. Mostly they work in shops or do petty business in cities, having given up whatever little agriculture that they practised.

So what do they eat and how do they survive? Well, most of the times, vegetables, rice and wheat come from towns. Brahmins, known as maharaj, and Patels are vegetarian. Only darbars or Rajputs eat some poultry. Even dalits do not. Muslims of course eat non-vegetarian food, depending on its supply. “Is there any tension between Hindus and Muslims?” I ask, immediately realising the cliché I am always caught into. Mahesh, a Patel, smiles, “No, not in this taluka, or even in Rapar… Once in 15 years may be, chhota mota jhagda (small fights), not what you see elsewhere, not in Kutchch.’

It is quite amazing to see this vast expanse of land, a desert of shrubs and brown rocks, sometimes undulating and even hilly in feature, that stretch beyond one’s vision like a great brown sea to the horizon. Rapar is closer to the Little Rann of Kutchch and hence, is drier and hotter.

The road leads us into Bhachau, another taluka that registered massive onslaught of the earthquake. Bhachau still has heaps of rubble and debris and rows of broken houses that have still not been cleared. I look at the Bhachau village. The people have evacuated on to a different site close by, some have gone away to Surat or Ahmedabad to work, sending their families off to Bhuj. Half of Bhachau still stands as a ghost town.

Villagers in Radhanpura, Khirai and Chitrod villages have similar tales to tell. It is not that rehabilitation has not been carried out. There are colonies of houses of all designs and shapes built by agencies of all possible shades- the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government, the Ramakrishna Mission, Larsen and Toubro, the Rajasthan government (this was recently inaugurated by Congress president Sonia Gandhi), NGO-industry collaborations and what have you. The villagers, especially those that are really poor, have indeed been benefited. They had never dreamt of making such pakka houses ever in their lives. It is the middle income segment in Bhuj or the well to do in Ahmedabad that have incurred losses running into lakhs and crores as their concrete houses tumbled.

“The earthquake did not leave a pattern in attacking the buildings,” said Nirali Mehta, a resident of Bhuj and my guide in Rapar. “While very tall water tanks and some high rise structures in Bhuj did not fall or even show cracks, small single storied buildings were flattened. Village people were all the more benefited because they got new hospitals and schools.”

Most villages around Rapar had houses built of massive stones. Stones for the poor of Rapar are the easily available materials for building houses, as rocky structures abound in the hilly slopes around Rapar. Little did they know that the killer quake would strike with such intensity, bringing down their homes.

Somewhere in the middle of everything there are striking patches of greenery. Some look like lush crops, others sway by the roadside, painting the picture of an oasis before my tired eyes. “The crop looking things are fodder for cattle, ” says Mahesh, adding, “the greens flanking the road is bawar, a plant that grows anywhere and very fast. The seeds of bawar were strewn from helicopter during Indira Gandhi’s time because they thought this is good for social forestry. Once the bawar grows it looks lush green. But we know it is very bad for the soil, it makes the soil even drier and its roots do not come off easily. Now they are trying to slash and burn it all down, in an attempt to clear it completely. ”

I am stunned by the semi desert landscape and before I recover totally, I am led into a dusty lane housing the Save the Children (SC) office of Rapar. In this taluka the SC is building a number of integrated child care development service centres (ICDS) or anganwadi as these are locally known as, balwadis, primary health centres, and health service centres. It is a huge project and in most cases, the land has been donated by villagers themselves.

Although Rapar is comparatively backward than Bhuj, in the town there are a good number of people obtain income mainly from members working in big cities or in foreign lands. It is not unusual for a Rapar town resident to own 5-6 well turned out concrete buildings, rent them out or lend out stuff in credit for as much as Rs 3-4 lakh.

But Fatehgadh, the largest village in Rapar which has a population of about 8-10 thousand, have living conditions that may be called squalid. The people here are mostly dependent on subsistence agriculture that takes place one time in a year as rainfall is scant and on cattle rearing. “They mostly grow some wheat or jowar or bajra, if rains are satisfactory,” says Rajib Satapathi of SC Rapar office, “They even grow jeera (cumin seeds), as cash crop, to earn more money. Or else they sell milk.”

Vegetables come from Rapar main market or Bhuj and they are painfully limited in variety. About 50 per cent cattle had perished in droughts and the subsequent quake, hence cattle rearing has also become tough for villagers. It is regular to have drinking water delivered by tankers. “Often if we have got a tanker for our construction purpose, it is taken away by villagers. What can you say in matters of water scarcity!” Rajib says.

While NRI money seems to be controlling the fate of Bhuj in Kutchch, Rapar and Anjar talukas particularly do not seem to be offering any quality life for its people. It is only natural that education and health care among the people is also abysmally low. In fact, the PHC that SC is building in Fatehgadh village, would be the first of its kind in this area. The plan has been developed in consultation with the community. Villagers would have 24 hours access to doctors, medicines, complete with male and female wards.

The anganwadi in Fatehgadh too looks impressive. The most significant aspect of it is that the structure has been developed after exclusively consulting the children of the village. Anganwadis are traditional children’s schools and training centres which also provide them pre-school teaching and provide nutrition. Gujarat has an impressive anganwadi movement. Taking off from there, SC planned its intervention after the earthquake devastated several of such anganwadi buildings, health centres etc and devised a child-centric programme.

From the terrace of the near completed PHC I am shown the dusty roads leading to Devisar village. The residents settled there after the 1971 war. The approach to the village is not good, there is no electricity in Devisar, but almost 60 per cent households have telephones, thanks again to NRI connections. After Fatehgadh, there are mines where Devisar residents work. White soil is excavated for making porcelain which is mainly exported. There is some coal mining too, I am told.

On the way back again Rapar landscape numbs my mind. I see a couple of cowherds assembling fodder for their livestock, cross busy Bhachau shops in tin shades (now that they are scared to build stone structures), look at that vast expanse of coarse brown land clinically halved by the metalled road – a land that is without a single drop of water below or any speck of shadow of a rain cloud above. Despite such tough terrain, repeated droughts and the quake’s ravages, life goes on here, still.

KUTCHCH DIARY: Saving Children of a Lesser God

Nabina Das

Bhuj, Gujarat, June 23 (2002)

After the devastating earthquake of January 2001, several voluntary organizations and NGOs moved into the area to conduct relief and rehabilitation work in Kutchch, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Kandla and Jamnagar. With the government machinery taking a beating due to the staggering volume of death and destruction, it is these NGOs that pitched in day and night to offer food, shelter and clothing to the affected. This is when Save the Children (SC) of UK embarked upon a huge rehabilitation project in Bhuj and Rapar.

It is a voluntary orgnisation founded and based in the United Kingdom in 1919. It has branches all over several countries of the world. In India itself, its presence is about 35 years old. Mainly, SC has been supporting children’s groups in Rapar taluka and empowering them to take the message to the community through child awareness campaign.

There were losses reported worth lakhs and crores in terms of life, livelihood, housing and livestock. The state of Gujarat is still reeling under the impact of the temblor after more than a year. The worst area was Kutchch where the people of Bhuj taluka seem to have more or less bounced back to normal life while backward and climatically harsher regions of Bhachau, Anjar and Rapar still are crawling to build their lives back.

For SC it has not just been a challenge to simply work for the children for their protection and see the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act in the state, it has been a focussed endeavour especially in the context of emergency, both natural and human-made.

My visit to SC-Bhuj is to see its activities in Kutchch for long-term assistance to affected people of the region. It provides support to villages both in terms of ‘hardware and software’. It is building back destroyed or ill-maintained anganwadis, balwadis, training centres, health centres etc by investing in land and construction. The software that it is providing covers, imparting joyful learning to children of migrant labourers and disaster-struck children, conducting training programmes for partners, anganwadi/balwadi workers and helpers, creating health and nutrition awareness, child-to-child health promotion, bal melas (children’s fairs), childline services etc.

According to the 1991 census, Kutchch district has a population of 12,62,507 which is 3.1 per cent of the total population of the state. The district has a total of 949 villages of which 884 are inhabited and the rest uninhabited. The 10 towns of the district are Anjar, Bhuj, Gandhidham, Mandvi, Bhachau, Mundra, Rapar, Madhapar, Nalia and Kandla. Nakhatrna and Lakhpat talukas have no town area, only rural areas. Among the economically active population, 26.57 per cent are cultivators, 25.85 are agricultural labourers and the remaining 47.58 per cent are engaged in livestock, forestry, fishing, mining and quarrying, manufacturing and processing, construction, trade and commerce, transport and other services.

“We have actively cooperated with the government in order to restore people’s homes, rehabilitate them, provide them temporary shelters and distribute relief materials,” said Randal Leek, SC-Bhuj ‘camp’ chief. Here the staff refer to the office as ‘camp’, as it perfectly resembles a temporary set up in huge tents and quaint bungas (read Life in the bunga).

The recent communal tension in Gujarat is not much perceivable in Kutchch. And even if minor scrap happen here and there, largely the locals dismiss it as ordinary tiffs and not altercations communal in nature. Understandably though, Bhuj, economically and socially, is Patel-dominated, but is well off in a way and does not display any tendency to fall into the trap of Hindutva politics.

“A major part of our project is the construction of ICDS (integrated child care development service) centres or anganwadis. We are at present building 115 of them, for which we have received sanction from the government,” says Leek. Save the Children is working in collaboration with partners like Yuva, Gram Swaraj Sangh, Samerth, Chetna, Marag and others.

Among the government agencies, the Gujarat Electricity Board is showered high praises for its proactive cooperation. The GEB has readily electrified all existing ICDS centres, health centres and activity centres in even remote areas, and has agreed to do the same for all upcoming ones.

Structurally speaking, the ICDS centres are unique in the sense that the quality of the buildings and facilities would be far more superior to those that are being replaced. They promise to meet international earthquake and cyclone safety standards and are being tipped as NGOs as ideal model for future constructions in earthquake-affected areas.

Robert Orina, programme coordinator, who is an international appointee from Kenya to SC-Bhuj said, “Construction is also in progress for 16 medical centres – a primary health centre (PHC) among them catering to a population of up to 50,000, 12 health sub centres and three dispensaries in Rapar taluka of Kutchch. For the PHC, we also have work going on for living quarters for staff, ambulance park and a morgue.”

“In Rapar,” went on Orina, “even before we began construction activity, we have been working with partners to impart information to them on child rights, gender, child to child training, children’s health, government health care system and the ICDS system.”

“In fact, last August, SC carried out a series of focus Group Discussion with children on the design and functions of ICDS centres. The results were fed directly into the design. This was phenomenal as it led to considerable debate and about the issues of and value of children’s participation,” said S K Nandaratna, another international appointee from Sri Lanka, in fluent Hindi, and added, “It was radical in the sense that it challenged social biases in terms of child right. Only Save the Children was doing such pioneering work in the region.”

Another feather in the cap for SC-Bhuj has been the first ever Children’s Summit in Rapar. This March, children between 12-18 years, and representing one of the economically and socially most marginalised segments of the Kutchch society. Participated in the summit which was actually the brainchild of 11 children’s groups formed at their own initiative. In the summit, the children demanded fulfillment of basic needs like good nutrition, health services, quality education, organised representation by children’s groups, full cooperation and collaboration from adults and the recognition of the potential of the children to change the society for the better. SC simply provided advice, logistics and publicity for the event.

The Special Projects (SPs) under save the Children are those that have drawn the maximum applaud because of their uniqueness. Most of these SPs are education-based, both formal and non-formal. There are Bal Sampark Activity Centres and Dhanvantri school in Bhuj, Sri Sarvajanik Vidya Mandir school in Anjar, balwadis in Bhuj, as well as support for Children’s Development Programmes and Activity Centres for Children of Migrant Labourers and Earthquake Affected Children in Slums in Bhuj and Rapar.

S Sahany, who looks after the Special Projects, said, “There has to be some difference in what always went on in anganwadis and what SC is doing. Also there is a lot of overlapping of activities between anganwadis and balwadis. We try to overcome that. We advocate joyful learning especially for the children of migrant labourers and those children who had been affected by the earthquake.”

Jalpaben has been sending her daughter to one these activity centres. “I am happy that my bacchi is learning new things. She will grow up with more commitment in life than just look after a household,” she said. Jalpa herself is an anganwadi worker. “We look forward to the new centres being built by Save the Children. Through healthy happy children alone we will have a stronger society,” said Jalpaben.

Doomed: Gujarat’s daily wage earners

Nabina Das

New Delhi, May 12 (2002)

Shanti Abhiyan and PUCL-Vadodara (Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties), two voluntary organizations and human rights activist groups, have found that post Godhra carnage in Gujarat has rendered daily wage labourers bereft of employment and on the verge of starvation.
Most of the daily wage earners, a majority of them belonging to the minority community, are being forced to stay indoors for weeks together without any employment. A targeted attack on the minority community in the name of a revenge for the Godhra massacre has continued unabated ever since February 27. Homes of thousands of people belonging to the minority community have been razed to the ground. With all hell being let loose, and the government proving to be indifferent towards the ongoing problem in the once prosperous state, sources of livelihood have been destroyed.
It is only now that with the presence of K P S Gill, that the Gujarat state police has been revamped. The Supercop has promised stern action against those involved in rioting. Earlier, most cases of arson and looting happened in the presence of the police forces where the attackers had boldly stated that they have police protection.
According to Shanti Abhiyan and PUCL, looking back at the statistics, in the atmosphere of polarization in Gujarat in the past 5 years, as many as 10 lakh people have lost employment in the state. No new employment has been generated to rectify this. “The government, the public and the private sector have instead touted the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) as an answer to this,” states a PUCL observation.The PUCL-Shanti Abhiyan statement says: “Due to the new economic policy of the government, the situation of the common person is worsening day by day. Like vegetable vendors, groups of daily wage labourers move around in areas like Old Padra Road, Nyay Mandir, and the railway station underbridge. Now they have begun to overflow to other, newer areas of the city. In Baroda city, earlier there used to be 3-5 casual labour markets but now these have now increased to 20.”
Under any circumstance, daily wage workers have to work for more than 10-16 hours every day. The PUCL-Shanti Abhiyan report points out that as many as 4,000-10,000 people stand in labour markets for hours each day in Baroda city alone to get employed.
The common myth earlier, according to PUCL, was that these people are migrants from Panchmahal or Chota Udepur region. But a careful survey of these labour markets will reveal that there are new categories of people in these markets – even those who earlier had secure jobs or people who worked in industries that have now closed down, or those who have been retrenched in the name of "Voluntary Retirement Scheme".
The report states that some of these “daily wage labourers” used to get Rs 2,500-3,000 per month as permanent employees in industries. Now, in the casual labour market they get a meager Rs 35-65 as daily wages. With the size of this casual labour market bursting at its seams, the wages naturally, have shown a downward trend. With more people joining these markets after being rendered homeless in the recent carnage, ones may imagine the situation.Taking stock of the riot scenario in Gujarat, PUCL notes that the number of rickshaws that are run on rents has also significantly increased. Among the number of those who are earning a living in such a manner, 50 per cent are workers of the closed mills of Gujarat.
Amongst the new rickshaw drivers, there are of course those who are unable to get other jobs, but also those who have lost their regular jobs or have been retrenched in the name of voluntary retirement. Those who can afford to rent out their rickshaws have bought the cars themselves, so that those who drive the rickshaws and those who sit in rickshaws are from about “the same economic strata” making the economic condition of rickshaw drivers even more precarious. Around 70 per cent of rickshaws are not able to go on road ever since the riots broke out and assumed a nefarious proportion.
There are about 70 per cent of people who rely on the informal/unorganised sector for their employment. It is anybody’s guess that a section of the population has been either been driven out of their homes or virtually imprisoned in their houses since rioting began and are unable to go out to seek employment. This segment of the population are not white collared workers employed in schools, banks or any other organised sector, where if people do not show up at work due to curfew, they are still able to get their salaries or wages. So not only have these people been pushed on the brink of starvation and are being terrorised by the fear of communal attacks, but they also do not see a favourable state intervention.

Rollbacks: Industry suggests investment fine-tuning

There are inadequate measures in the Central Budget that especially hurt the manufacturing sector and discourage investments, pointed out Industry, reports Nabina Das

New Delhi, April 19 (2002)

Anticipating rollbacks in Central Budget 2002, the Confederation of Indian Industry has now submitted its “post-Budget memorandum” to the government for probable revisions in the existing one. The CII calls it “fine-tuning to encourage investments”.
A Confederation source stated that if there is at all a move by the government to roll back measures like LPG and petro product prices or remove the 5 per cent surcharge on income tax, etc., it also should be able to “revise and correct” measures that would help the Indian industry in terms of investment generation. “There should be no reason why the Finance Ministry cannot take such recommendations into consideration. In fact, by helping the industry, they will only earn goodwill, which they some how forfeited,” an Industry source said.
The apex body has said that additional 15 per cent depreciation allowed on purchase of new plant and machinery in the Union Budget for 2002-03 is not “adequate” in its present form to encourage investments in the manufacturing sector. In its post-Budget memorandum submitted to the Finance Ministry, it has been pointed out that 15 per cent additional depreciation on plant and machinery as a measure to promote the manufacturing sector comes with certain conditions, rather difficult to fulfill. Industry is of the opinion that the requirement to set up new units or enhancing capacity to the extent of 25 per cent or more “may not be possible in several sectors due to the existing economic conditions”. An industry source close to the CII said, “This reduces the effectiveness of the measure considerably and would fail to promote investment in plant and machinery.
Plant and machinery acquired and installed by existing units after March 31, 2002, would not be eligible for additional depreciation of 15 per cent unless its builds additional capacities of 25 per cent or more.” The prevailing economic conditions make it imminent that the requirement of the capacity enhancement of 25 per cent should be dropped, feels industry. There are restrictions on the availability of the additional depreciation benefit in the form of ineligibility for plant and machinery acquired before March 31, 2002, but installed thereafter, for additional depreciation. “This restriction on claiming additional depreciation on plants and machineries acquired ‘prior to March 31, 2002, and installed later’ would dilute the benefits of additional depreciation to a great extent, “ said the source.
The CII has suggested that such plant and machinery should also be allowed for additional depreciation. The source stated, “Limiting the availability of the additional depreciation only on plant and machinery would also reduce the scope for its use in large scale. Therefore, additional depreciation in case of acquisition of office equipment and transport vehicles should also be allowed.”
According to Industry, the provision of 15 per cent additional depreciation does not apply to cases where the existing plant and machinery are being replaced by a new set of plant and machinery. In view of the efficiency gains that such a change would bring about, it has been suggested that replacement of old plant and machinery should also be eligible for additional depreciation. For the moment although there is a hint from the government side of rollback on taxes and the prices of LPG and petro products, it is yet to be seen whether such moves actually materialize.
Given the Gujarat impasse, budgetary rollbacks may be one of the last trump cards the government would like to play to remain in command of the situation. With industry deciding to push for its own revisions and corrections, it might not be a smooth sailing for the Finance Ministry. After all, the Central Budget is now the property of Parliament and any change will take place in it only after debate and discussion between the members, not just by the ruling party.