Monday, December 24, 2007

Silent is the land : Silence is the tower

Today was my first trip to the Bombay Doongerwadi i.e. the Tower of silence. Zoroastrians do not cremate their bodies as they worship fire and believe that even after death they should donate their bodies. Yes, we are the benovalent creatures who consider themselves as pure as white snow (a lot more things that can equal pure, but I shall leave some work for your grey cells).
Spread across 70 acres, Doongerwadi is till date the Bombay Parsi Panchayet's (BPP) largest golden egg. And they seem in no hurry to give it away. The class divide is most prominent in the allocation of bunglis (house of rest for the bodies). The poor section of the community are given bumglis in the lower part of the doongerwadi where as the upper middle class who can afford to pay Rs 900 are given the Wadia bunglis. These are situated near the prayer hall

If one thought that the caste factor would be missing in the small community consisting of 69,790 Zoroastrians (India Census 2001), they are sadly msitaken. The Nasasalars or the Nascisar Khandia's(meaning people who carry bodies on their shoulders) are the body bearers of the community. Dressed in white flowy gown like robes, they carry the dead bodies all the way from the bungli's upto the Tower of Silence. This is a 2km walk up a steep slope and requires a lot of energy. Their work does not stop with carrying the body up with a stream of people walking behind them. But they also have to take the body inside the Tower of Silence and walk amongst the other bodies to find an empty slot to place the new body. They also clean the interiors of the tower ocassionally. Clearning up bones and left-over body parts makes these people impure. Hence there are considered the untouchables of the community.

They are not invited to the houses of chust (pure) Zarthusthi's. They find no one from the community who would want to marry them. They are left with no choice to marry the poorest of the poor, the pit of the pile.

They are the outcasts, the outlaws. They are who we made them. We didn't find the courage to pick up our remains after dead and so left them to do it. Those remains which are ironically donated after death.

"Dikra, jara ai kar ni, pelu kar ni ne pachi jara iya avine maari aagal bes ni!"

White haired and wise, sitting on the rickety chair reading three newspapers every morning - Jamejamshed, Times of India and Mid-day - is granny dear (maternal). A most common sight at the Kola house every morning. This is my maternal home. Located on a busy road in South bombay, with cars buzzing by and people queing upto buy tickets at Liberty, granny is oblivious to all of this.

Granny is oblivious to all of this. She lives in her own small world that revolves around newspapers, crows, food, chappatis, switching on and off the fans and many more things that would seem trivial to you and me. But this is her life. It has been for the past the last 20 years. And it will remain so till she exists.

We kids find her extremely repetitive (polite way of saying irritatingly nagging!). But we lover her, never-the-less. Her "Dikra jara ai uchak ni." (Child, plz pick this up.). And that 'this' will be a miniscule paper on the ground or something equally microscopic!

Her never ending, "Dilnaz, kekli chappati bana vanich?" (How many Chappati's are to be made?) is a daily extra dose one gets. She will call my aunt's workplace just to know that coz granny suffers from short term memory loss.

In the morning while eating her breakfast she hates the crow cawing at her. The black crow perched on our hall-room balcony door, caws away asuming he is entertaining my granma. But she thinks, he is complaining about her not feeding him!

These are a few things that havent changed since I was a kid.

(The title translates to "Child, do this, do that and then that also. After all of that come sit with me.)


Ever thought you did catch the flu a few days after landing in Bombay? I got the worst flu that has stayed with me most part of my trip. Arghhhhhhhhhhhhh! I never though I would, but then again I have never thought of any of the things that happened to me. Like my dad says, you do things to learn from them especially mistakes. I never do. Cant help it, I think the world is a nice place and people have better things to do then do what they do in reality.

Sneezing away on my wicker chair, wondering if I'm going to get the one call that will answer my questions (Psst psst, not all but most of them), I sit reminiscing of all the days gone by - good and bad. I have been doing that quite often.

Yesterday I went to Bandstand (in Bombay) after 10 years; the one place that my cousin and me would go to frequently when we were kids. All those memories came back like a flash flood, only to make my mood more pensive as my cousin wasn't there to squeal at and say "Look, that's the jungle gym we learnt to hang on like monkeys." Nats where are you? Missing you sweety. Remember all the times that we sat on those horses asking the 'godha wala' to go faster so we could out do one another? We did quite often didn't we? I remeber ruhi and mom saying, "Bhaiyya dheere chalo. Bacche hai ghir jaayenge.' and we used to contradict them, urging them to take us faster.

Things haven't changed one bit at Bandstand. It's the same. Almost. The horses aren't same, neither are the godha walas. But the kids who play there, making their own memories are the same. Faces aren't, but the spirits are. Why Nats couldn't we be just kids, with none of the problems to share but just fond memories. We could grow old by staying young and living our stories. Our fairy tale stories, not the 'big bad world' stories that we living through now.

Why o why did things have to change?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Long last.....

It feels like donkey years since i wrote a personalised blog. The last few have beena plug of my work which i shamelessly posted due to lack of time and motivation to write :) Five months spent in ACJ,gives you a lot to reflect on and very little time to implement it. Scraping my knees against the gruelling schedule that MJ puts us through, its no surprise that we are working through our holidays- either for our dissertation or gearing up for our deprivation trip to Cuddalore.

Sitting on my cousin's PC with nothing better to do in bombay, yes you read right - BOMBAY. Tired running around the desks of beuracrats gathering information for my dissertation. The threat of facing a RTI doesn't really bring a change in the sourly looks on their faces. The atrocity of this being, i had to take permission to enter the Doongerwadi (written to the Bombay Parsi Panchayet a letter, but havent got a reply on that as yet.) - atrocious cause I'm a Zarthushthi myself. This is the whole mess in my religion that i was/am talking about. Thought the dissertation would help answer a few of my questions, but it has raised more questions that what I or THEY- the wise men of my religion can answer.

Wonder what MJ would have to say about my dilemna. I think her reply would be "Jessica if more questions are being raised, you are on the right track. Follow the trail." But how do I follow the trail, if there is nothing for me to sniff around? BPP refuses to talk about the nuances of their funds as its not open for discussion and at this point I remember P.Sainath saying "Follow the money, that's where your story is." All i've got from the BPP is that thei liquid assets are Rs 50 crores! Mind you, this is not counting the property they own, which would cost a few billion rupees in the very least. Our Doongerwadi's minimal SP would be 1000crores (at the very least!) The baugs are a different story altogether. This is the story i've to get to the bottom of! The other conflict that arises is the intra-communal conflict, which is larger canvass that i've to paint.

I've one helluva long trip ahead, I'm not expecting it to be smooth without any bumps. But I do want to reach my destination with all the places I passed and stopped at on my way carefully marked out.