Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Govinda Ala Re

The title of this piece is deceptive as Govinda has already ‘yevun gela re’ as it has been almost two weeks since Gokulashtami was here. Nevertheless, better late than never. These photos were taken while I was passing through Shivaji Park. The group was trying to make an eight-tiered human pyramid but fell as they were onto the sixth tier. Here are some photos I took tier by tier.

and then they all fell down....

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Independence Day in Bombay

On India’s 59th Independence Day, Mumbai wore a tri-colored look and people everywhere were celebrating Independence Day in their own way. Walking down the vegetable market near my house, all the vegetable vendors had put up flags which were either tied to their stall or even stuck into the tomatoes or potatoes that they were selling. Many street children were selling flags of all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately for some years now, plastic flags have come into the market in a big way.

Ahead, outside Grant Road station, many people including senior citizens from the area had gathered for a flag hoisting ceremony. Many people had worn Gandhi topis and a politician came and hoisted the flag amid some speeches and singing of ‘Vande Mataram’. Thousands of such ceremonies must have taken place at various places in Bombay including the August Kranti Maidan at Gowalia Tank, Mani Bhavan, Mantralaya and all government offices.

There was tight security at Grant Road station with lots of policemen at the entrances. The trains were moderately full. People had small tri-colored flags pinned onto the shirts on their chests. Children were carrying flags and also tri-colored pinwheels.

On my way to the WSD kennels, I passed the Dhobi Ghat (at Mahalakshmi). For them it was a normal working day and they were busy going about washing the clothes in the little washing place compartments. Some dhobis had flags tied to the handles of their cycles carrying big bundles of clothes brought in for washing and ironing. I could hear the sound of patriotic songs like Meri Desh Ki Dharti coming from a loudspeaker inside the Dhobi Ghat. In the slum outside the kennels, all the houses had put up paper or plastic flags. One flag was already hoisted on a make shift pole and another was being hoisted as I was passing. The resident had worn a Gandhi topi specifically for the purpose. As the kennels are located in the premises of the BMC Dog License Department, a flag had already been hoisted there. Many taxis had flags on their dashboards. The Ganapati Idol makers too had put up flags in their tents and I could see that they had finished coloring many of the Ganapati idols.

All offices have a holiday on Independence Day but I could see uniformed school children on their way back home after the attending the Independence Day function in their schools. BEST bus services were few as any other holiday but the trains were full of people going out to visit relatives and friends.

Independence Day - Vision Animals 2025

Hindustan Times had asked me to write an article on my vision of how animals would be treated in India in 2025. It has appeared today in the special Independence Day supplement but has been drastically chopped. Here is the full version…

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. This oft-repeated quote made by Gandhiji sums up my vision of how animals should be treated in the year 2025. In order to achieve this, I hope that there is a drastic change in the attitudes of municipal and police officials, politicians and bureaucrats who need to look at animal issues with compassion and rationale. The common man though will continue to be compassionate towards animals just as our culture and values teach us to be.

Sensitizing children about animal welfare through the education sector can achieve a lot. I hope that awareness on animal welfare issues would be a part of environmental education in schools and colleges and by 2025 there would be many animal lovers who would have graduated out of colleges and universities offering courses on animal welfare, stray animal management, farm animal welfare and NGO management.

Veterinary education in the country needs to keep updating and incorporating changes and breakthroughs in practices, methods and technology taking place in the world. Newer subjects that deal with specializations like ophthalmology, dentistry and cardiology and specialization in the treatment of birds and wildlife need to be introduced in the curriculum. Courses with alternative medicine therapies like homeopathy, ayurveda, acupressure and acupuncture (all for animals) need to be introduced and institutionalized so that lakhs of animals are benefited.

Animal cruelty was thought to be an important issue by our lawmakers even in 1960 and so they framed The Prevention Of Cruelty to Animals Act. Sixty-five years later, I hope that this act, which is obsolete today, would have got upgraded and toughened so as to give it more teeth such that people would think twice before inflicting cruelty on any animal.

Though urban Indian cities have stray animals today, their population would decrease by 2025. This would happen if the municipal authorities implemented a proper garbage management plan and invested enough in basic infrastructure (land for more sterilization centers, animal shelters (Mumbai has none today), animal hospitals etc) and in recurring expenditure (sterilization programme) whilst partnering with professionally run animal welfare NGOs. This would reap the benefits of a decreased stray animal population and more importantly elimination of human rabies in urban areas and a drastic decrease in rural areas.

I am sure that by 2025 more and more people will keep pets, though the trend of keeping more dogs than cats will continue. I also hope that more people who keep pets would adopt it from an animal welfare organisation like The Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD) instead of buying it from a breeder. There also needs to be stringent laws incorporated in The Prevention Of Cruelty to Animals Acts, 1960 for breeders with clauses of yearly licensing and monitoring.

I also hope that there would be more responsible pet ownership displayed, people would not abandon their pets and sterilizing them would be made mandatory. I hope that by 2025 there are no societies that say no pets allowed or no pets in lifts and more and more restaurants, hotels and shops allow pets to go in with their owners.

I also hope that our technological advances would make way to minimize research on animals and tissue culture meat would replace meat from slaughtered animals.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Ganpati Idol Makers

Walk around Chinchpokli, Lalbag and Parel in Bombay during July or August (two months before Ganesh Chaturthi) and you will see lots of small and big ‘karkhane’ or workshops in every lane or as one would say in Marathi ‘gallo gallit’. All these karkhane spring up under tents with lots of plastic sheets to shelter them from the rains where craftsmen toil all day into the night making Ganpati idols of different sizes.

I visited one such ‘workshop’ where I spoke to Surve and Sutardekar who were toiling hard making the Ganpati statues. The statues are made either of ‘mati’ (Soil) or of Plaster of Paris. It takes two days to make a ‘mati’ statue and around one month to dry it. But the POP statue can be made in two hours and dries in 2 days. (They just make a mould and they can keep making many) Their workshop makes around 300-400 statues in the season, which begins 2-3 months before Ganesh Chaturthi. This year Ganesh Chaturthi falls on August 27.

Most of the craftsmen are from the Konkan area. Surve and Satardekar were from Sawantwadi and Malvan respectively. Their colleague wants to say something and they immediately taunt him in Marathi, “ Look at him, just come from the village two days ago and has already started chatting up”. Many of the craftsmen are relatives and friends who are called from their villages for additional help specifically during the season.

People also book idols according to the size and material they want used. The already booked idols have a yellow tag put on them and I could see many such yellow tags on many of the Ganpatis.

Walking down to the other side of Chinchpokli bridge, I see many Ganpati idols, which are already painted, wrapped in plastic and arranged on shelves. Samir Mangaonkar who is into the printing business owns this shop. He takes time off from his business and concentrates on Ganpati idols. He goes to Pen (Pen has the biggest Ganpati idol making industry), selects the idols, gets them transported and sells them here. He gets a license from the BMC to set up the tent.

Thus the Ganpati idol industry provides a livelihood to so many people.