I’ve just put off recording another excerpt from this excellent book. The pre-Christmas period is always busy at the GP/family doctor. It is like more people want to see their doctor before the holidays when you are confronted with being at home with family/relatives/friends and do things together for more time than what they can bear. Human nature. Our half day sessions between Christmas and NYE are the busiest because people suddenly realise they have put off seeing the doctor and now is good. So those that need to actually have longer discussions about their health turn up hoping for those longer discussions but they never happen. We all work in a transactional world and dedicated time to assuage the anxieties of everyone is near impossible. It is not ideal but for that we have to dismantle and rebuild our approach to health.
Anyway, I came across this tweet today that I quote tweeted and although the original writer have deleted their tweet, the conversation reminded me of these words from रेत समाधि, Tomb Of Sand.
Geetanjali Shree writes about habits, rituals, traditions, memory and culture. Anxieties, inter-generational behaviours. I don’t want to translate from Hindi because that Daisy Rockwell has already done; that is the translation that won the International Booker Prize!
So here is my recording. I have not edited it and kept my little stumbles because they are natural. Like I am reading to my child, which I do, but not Marathi or Hindi. Which I should.
The first time I heard of Ret Samadhi (रेत समाधि) was somewhere in my Twitter timeline where I read it had won the International Booker Prize. I never knew such a prize existed! So many wonderful authors of languages other than English that we never know of simply because they are not visible in our small, limited worlds. But when different worlds collide we discover things of beauty that enrich our lives.
I was a voracious reader in my childhood. I still am, albeit with much less time to devour books at speed. Of course all these are books in English. Apart from the chapters in Hindi and Marathi texts at school, I’ve never specifically bothered to read a book outside of that.
No actually, I did. In my thirties. Because I decided I wanted to, needed to, know the literature of India and, while I could not read all the languages, I should attempt books in the languages I was fluent in. So I read Premchand Ki Shresht Kanahiya (प्रेमचंद की श्रेष्ठ कहानियाँ), a collection of short stories, the first of which in that very old edition was Shatranj Ke Khiladi (शतरंज के खिलाड़ी) that Satyajit Ray adapted for his only Hindi film. It is one of my top ten films and better than the original short story.
But I really put effort in reading Marathi books. The first one was Mrutyunjaya (मृत्युंजय) by Shivaji Sawant [not Mrityunjaya, that is the Hindi pronunciation). It was hard at first. My brain had to get used to reading several pages at one time, pause over pronunciations, and learn new ways of thinking. Once I got the hang of it though, I could not put down the book. A masterpiece, it is.
Then I discovered Bhau Padhye. His Vasunaka (वासूनाका) resonated with me because it was like I knew those characters. The chawl, चाळ and the inhabitants were familiar to me because I grew up in Girgaon, the old Mumbai heartland of the Marathi manoos surrounded by chawls, the migrant workers from the Konkan, the bored eve-teasing boys, the secret affairs that everyone knows about, and the brawls. It was simple and deep writing. A reflection of the native Mumbaikar. After that I read Rada (राडा) about an industrialist’s spoilt son who challenges a Shiv Sena shakha pramookh (chapter chief). Balasaheb Thakeray, Shiv Sena chief, tried to block the publication notwithstanding it was a Marathi book by a Marathi writer. So much for the Sena’s nativist roots.
Which brings me to Ret Samadhi. When I came to know it has won the International Booker Prize I decided to read the original Hindi book first and then the English translation. I am lucky to be fluent in both. I started just like I had Mrutyunjaya. Slowy, word by word, page by page. My Hindi is a bit rusty but it is like riding a bicycle innit. And I am hooked. Stylistically it is unlike any other Indian book I have read (except perhaps The God Of Small Things). Sharp, incisive and very observant. It cuts down the patriarchal, the neoliberal aspirational, conservative upper middle class Hindu India that has forgotten history. And I am just 50 pages into it. The prose feels like poetry such that I felt as deep urge to record myself and share bits from the book.
So acknowledging Geetanjali Shree, the author, and her gift to the world, here is a paragraph about Reebok shoes. I’ll keep posting as I read only because I want to share how the book impacts me.
It is alert level 3 in Aotearoa New Zealand and it’s been more tiring than I thought. Of course I have worked through this period. Not at a COVID-19 testing centre but keeping the wheels of primary care moving. Repeat scripts, ‘flu shots, phone consults, the anxious and the ill. Then there was/is the homeschooling. Utterly, utterly exhausting! I don’t know how parents with more than one child cope but I didn’t even have the energy to read a book. The child can now go to school but we still have homework.
We watched Mr India on YouTube. I thought a classic Hindi film about an invisible man, lots of kids and a comedy would be fun for the child. I first watched it when it came out in 1987. I was in junior college in Bombay. From my middle class, upper caste Hindu, dominant culture perspective it was an innocent time for us teens in India. For our parents, who had been born just before or after independence, building a new nation was top priority. That meant being upright citizens, focused on education and economic mobility, being modern but maintaining traditions and community. India had just come out of The Emergency. The anger was subsiding. Rajiv Gandhi had become the Prime Minister after his mother Indira, the one who declared The Emergency, had been assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards in 1984. (Why she was assassinated and the aftermath of that requires an in-depth discussion but suffice to say some Sikhs affected by the progrom after arrived in New Zealand as refugees.)
In 1987 Rajiv Gandhi was still popular and perceived as progressive. Someone who would take India into the modern era. I remember a speech he gave invoking Martin Luther King Jr. He seemed to be surrounded by fresh thinkers. Of course at 19 you have different priorities and ‘politics’ was separate from life. Mr India was released that year in May.
If my memory serves me right (because in those days I was an avid reader of Stardust and other filmi gossip magazines, this herewith can be a bit unreliable), Salim-Javed shopped around their script of Mr India for a long time. Popular Hindi male stars refused to take on the role of the invisible protagonist because the idea did not gel with their image. Shekhar Kapur came on board pretty late. It was his second film as director. Sridevi‘s most famous song ever, Kaate Nahin Kat Te Yeh Din Yeh Raat, came about when Feroz Khan told Shekhar Kapur to see her number Har Kisi Ko in his film Janbaaz just to understand how sexy she was in a saree. So we have Mr India. A film about an ordinary music teacher who raises orphans and finds a device that makes him invisible and gives him the power to fight against the powerful villain.
Now looking at it from a grown up, diasporic Indian, film student, filmmaker, writer, enrolled in an M.A. to direct drama and a slightly decolonised lens, I see a not just a fun film but a pertinent film.The Western world largely dismisses mainstream Hindi cinema as tedious and illogical (until now of course calling it Bollywood and whatnot = ‘$$$$’). How can a film industry that started pretty much after the Lumiere brothers brought their magic to Bombay be irrational and meaningless? The template is different from the Western model but we know that storytelling differs across the world. So does cinema.
I will argue that Mr India is a modern, urban ‘native’ story that captures the desires of Indians and the spirit of India across political climes. So I looked for articles and analyses but stopped myself from going down the rabbit hole of academic readings because this is not an assignment for a university paper. 🙂
None of the scanty essays on Hindi science fiction cinema mention Mr India but there is plenty about Koi…Mil Gaya, the most well known Hindi film from that genre. (I’ll give some references at the end of this long post, and not in an academic biblio format.) Mainstream sci-fi Hindi films can be counted on your fingers and I’ll categorise into two periods. Before 1991 and after.This cut off point is crucial because Indian society changed significantly after 1991 when Manmohan Singh opened the Indian economy. The free market benefited the rich and middle classes but nothing trickled down, entrenching successive generations in poverty. The money allowed the Indian to be upwardly mobile, aspirational, travel easily. Materialistic consumption became easy. India prospered but India got more divided along class lines, urban-rural lines and religious lines. She was not prepared for the neoliberal existential anxiety that would settle in like the dust on her roads, ailing and eroding her insides. Much has been written about this that can be found easily online. I blogged about it years ago after I read Thomas Friedman’s book The World Is Flat and Anand Giridhardas’ book India Calling. There is a documentary John and Jane on Indian call centres that mushroomed in India. Anyway. Before 1991 there were only two Hindi sci-fi films. Mr X In Bombaycame out in 1964. It is a love story and has an invisible man, a flying car and a mad scientist in a small, straightforward, linear universe. Although there are two scenes that can be considered a comment on Brahman greed when the invisible hero stops four overweight Hindu priests from taking expensive gifts after his fake death rituals. Mr India came out twenty-three years later.
Now cut to 2003. Koi…Mil Gay, starring Hrithik Roshan, is the story of a young man with a mental diasbility who makes friends with a blue alien. Jadoo, the alien has come to earth in response to the sound Aum that has been sent out multiple times by the young man’s scientist father before he dies. Jadoo also ‘cures’ his earth friend’s mental disability plus gives his ‘superpowers. It is now welve years since India became a free market. Neoliberal anxiety has made a home in her psyche. There is deep fear of losing the Indian ethos, tradition and culture (=the Hindu way of life), the apparent outcome of material consumption and Western influence. It is also the time mainstream Hindi cinema travels easily, beyond its traditional overseas markets of the Middle East, South-East Asia and smaller places like the West Indies, Fiji, South Africa. Or the erstwhile USSR. Hindi films can now reach the Western consumer, the affluent Indians who will readily replicate popular cinema as culture(=Hindu culture) to assuage their own diasporic anxieties. Kaching! The few readings I did describe the ‘Hinduised visual regime’ of Koi…Mil Gaya. Jadoo is blue, like the god Krishna. He can use the powers of the sun to heal, like Krishna had multiple powers. And reshaping the ancient Aum’s syllables as a sonic signal when sound cannot travel in outer space! (You know, just like the claim that the sounds of the sun are like an ancient Hindu mantra!) Of course you could argue that Avatar has blue creatures too. But those creatures and the universe they inhabit is informed by various indigenous cultures. It is a story about colonisation and destruction not a religion resurgent as extremist ideology and supremacy. Another reading on Koi…Mil Gaya talks about how the film “re-inscribes the hierarchical systems of oppression that are associated with colonialism”.
All non-Western cultures reference their mythologies while telling stories. So does Indian cinema. Raja Harishchandra is the first film made in India. He was a noble king and his story is told across various ancient texts with slight variations. We all want to see ourselves represented but does India only have a Hindu past and Hindu mythology? Or does Hindi cinema erase India’s indigenous mythology? That is another topic.
The way I read it, Mr India does not reference Hindu mythology, a Hindu past or Hindu nationalism. There was no tension between telling a story about an ordinary Indian man who can become invisible aimed at local audiences and producing a film to entice foreign markets. Thus there are no flash digital effects done in overseas post-production facilities to compete with big budget Hollywood blockbusters. It is not imitative or derivative. The only anxieties are about everyday issues like being able to pay rent or afford food. Of course it is full of classic tropes such as the corrupt and ruthless rich businessmen and the white foreigner who exchanges ammunition in return for gold deities stolen from temples that he can smuggle out. (Bless Bob Christo!) Yet. Mogambo, the second most famous Hindi film villain after Gabbar Singh, who wears a blonde wig and decorative army dress, addressing himself in third person could be anyone. He is stripped of caste, race, nationality and religion. Seema, the spunky journalist, is a single, independent woman whose only aim is a good story. She moves between the traditional saree (used here as a dress of desire rather than submission) and Western clothes with ease. She does not bow to the patriarchy disavowing her self after she finds love. Calendar is gay, his homosexuality is normalised even though the speech and gestures are stereotyped he is not subject to ridicule. The orphan children are not scolded into respecting their elders or told never ask questions. Arun could have been invisible in real life. He is not a typical Hindi film ‘hero’. To make him even more every-man his attire harks back to Raj Kapoor in Shree 420. The invisibility is a salute to the dormant democratic power that Indians have (but rarely use). It is about looking internally to find the ability to resist and fight again our own corruption and an external power. These enemies lurk around at all times and can be anything or anybody because anyone can desire ultimate power and be corrupt at any time.
That is why, to me, Mr India stands out as a modern, urban ‘native’ story that captures the desires of Indians and the spirit of India across political climes.
Nationalism and Postcolonialism in Indian Science Fiction. Bollywood’s Koi…Mil Gaya. 2003. In multiple journals.
Science Fiction, Hindu Nationalism and Modernity. In Sci-Fi, Imperalism and Third World Essays on Postcolonial Literature and Film, 2010. Both articles by Jessica Langer and Dominic Alessio.
Liverpool Companion to World Sci-Fi Film, chapter on Indian sci-fi. 2014.
Cultural Imaginaries of Science: A brief history of Indian sci-fi cinema. 2015. AV Lakkad.
Democracy is when you keep the people in the loop. Not some people but an entire country.
Democracy is not just voting.
Democracy died today.
Now for the land grabs, Hinduisation and further homogenisation of a vast, deep and diverse mass.
But Krishna, she will be born. Maybe she already is.
The charioteer will paint a new universe
Where wars are not about killing your own and winning
Democracy died today
She will rise. From death only will come new life.
I have never written so many posts so soon one after the other but here I am. My last post Musings On Suburbia on Saturday night and now this one. Nothing in particular. Just doing some work and listening to the podcast Moon Landing Memories on Spotify. A friend of mine sent me some other links on Apple Podcast commemorating 50 years of the landing but I have not yet listened to them. I am not an Apple consumer and only use my Mac Book if I am editing audio or video. Which is not much these days. I writing more than filming. Lots of still photography. Especially travel photography. Not fancy landscape but mundane things that take my fancy. They are all on this blog on the the right side bar. Via Flickr. I have quite a few others that I have not yet uploaded.
Anyway. The point is that I am writing more than I have in a long time. Looking at my old scripts, writing one-pagers, putting pen to paper. I am even attempting an experimental piece for theatre. Now this post.
I lived in Hobsonville for almost a year when I moved to Aotearoa in Decmber 2001. It was a small suburb with Whenuapai airport and army homes towards the north and Massey towards the south. Westgate was a collection of Countdown, The Warehouse, some cafés, Burger King and Event Cinemas. A gaming pub. I sat my driving test at the Automobile Association there. It was hard to get to Westgate from where my sister’s house. You needed a car or waited aeons for a bus. I took a bus into town when I started my PG Diploma in film, television and media studies the University of Auckland. You took it from the back roads of Hobsonville and it went down Don Buck Rd towards Massey, came out somewhere Triangle Rd before it got on the motorway. The last bus back from town was at 11pm and too bad if you missed it.
I went to Hobsonville after many years today and the Westgate area is a mess. Rather a superb example of very poor urban planning. Of course the roads have been widened and the fields opposite of the old Westgate, along the old road to Helensville, where Garelja Strawberries used to be are now fancy shops. Beyond that more parking lots and new developments. Another Countdown.
And lots of cars. But no sign of public transport.
I did not see a single bus go by; I did not spot a bus stop.
I was in Melbourne last week. I love that city, I love taking the train, the trams, the buses, walking the laneways. Public transport is smooth and easy. Of course Melbournians will disagree with this LOL. The two days I went into town, the Frankston line was closed beyond Caulfield. We had buses take us from that station to Flinders St. It was cold, raining, my son was with me and it was completely painless.
Here in Hobsonville, Auckland we have car upon car and a supposedly unending supply of parking space but no thought to public transport. Whoever planned this development did not seem have given a thought to adding in public transport. For now or in the future. So many people out there on the weekend. I am sure they would have taken public transport if there was any. With good frequency too. Not every 30 minutes. I drove. From Epsom. My bad too. I would have taken a train if it was there.
Three weeks ago I attended the Diwali function at Parliament. I am always surprised when I receive invitations for events organised by government or related agencies or even political parties. Who could’ve invited me? Why have they invited me?
Some years ago, I received one for a meet and greet with Don Brash when he was the leader of the National Party. Those days of snail mail. I was a bit shocked when I opened the envelope. Me?! For a National Party event?! (Or a Labour/other Party event.) I went along. I mostly do. It is usually out of academic curiosity; as an observer of human behaviour. What do Indian migrants want? Why do they do what they do? Why do politicians say what they say? That is what drives me. Don Brash spoke the usual stuff. Numbers, immigration, law and order. Strong subtext perpetuating the model minority myth versus dole bludging tangata whenua. The Indians, mostly men all suited, talked about immigration, visas, direct flights to India, law and order. Some I knew, others I did not. All Very Important People. They didn’t see or did not want to see, that even if supposedly better than iwi, they were not quite Kiwi.
There were hardly any women and no youth; there was an early iteration of Paula Bennett. As is my wont, I stood in the middle and asked Don Brash why there were no women and youth. Then I asked him what the National Party was doing about the health sector and the creative sector. The TVNZ Charter was going to be scrapped and arts funding was iffy if National won the election. A senior, a pillar of the Indian community who edits an Indian newspaper, his eyes popped out of their sockets. Ah, there she goes again. Who does she think she is! It was a fun Sunday afternoon.
That was my intention when I attended Diwali in Parliament on 28/11/18. To observe. Besides I love to dress up.
I live tweeted. So much easier to rant.
The dear Pakeha lady sitting next to me, who told me I was entitled to my opinion is the wife of a very important, senior Indian New Zealander. She was perhaps not used to a brown woman opining about numbers being problematic. Or asking questions. According to Statistics NZ Indians were the fasting growing ethnic group in Aotearoa. There were 155, 178 of us here in 2013. What could our needs be exactly? Direct flights to India? Better law and order? Better education? Better visa conditions perhaps? Jenny Salesa said, I paraphrase, we were doctors, engineers, accountants, all sort of highly educated, high earning types. We should also go into public service. Priyanca Radhakrishnan said we should make submissions to the select committees and she praised the honorary consul general to India Bhav Dhillon for looking after migrants.
Priyanca might become a minister one day, she is ambitious, makes all the right noises although the korero is empty but Jenny, Jenny should know better. What would she have said at a festive gathering of Pasifika peoples? Praised leaders and shining stars across the spectrum but also addressed the acute needs around health, social support, education, domestic violence, poverty, lack of housing? Encouraged the community to engage in finding solutions? Talked about the wonderful Pasifika creatives telling amazing stories about the communities and sought more? Acknowledge the racism, the resistance, the self-reflection. Yet also be fully aware of the intra-community beliefs and perspectives, the rebels, the feminists, the patriarchs.
I mean, it was a Diwali celebration. Good versus evil, illuminating light, happiness, good versus evil. That singular myth about a triumphant Rama returning to Ayodhya after vanquishing Ravana. Best time to re-iterate the model minority myth so why shatter it?. That four days of celebrating different traditions and myths coming out of an ancient agrarian society to mark harvest and new beginnings is also a time for introspection and reflection. Most opportune to look beyond the facade of high education and silk sarees. The issues, Jenny would find, are the same. Health, social support, domestic violence, poverty, lack of housing…exploited migrants…
Priyanca worked for Shakti and the Ministry of Women. Shakti’s Wellington Refuge has been struggling to get funding for some time now yet not a peep about domestic violence. Not before she became an MP, not now. Guess that sort of activism to create awareness and push for empowerment of her coloured sisters does not fit with her political goals. Then about Bhav helping migrants. I have young Indian migrant patients who are exploited by their employers and whom I have directed to unions. I suppose this does not happen in Auckland and north of then? Or maybe these young migrants with immense financial burden have been helped by the office of the honorary CG?No harm in mentioning that evil exploitation then?
There is now enough research to show gaps in health requirements, accessibility and outcome of the pan-Asian diaspora in America. That the model minority migrant is wealthy, generally healthy, can access health providers and services and have their supposedly fewer health needs met has been proved to be wrong. The Asian-American Health Initiative, the U.S. Office of Minority Health and this NCBI article are just some simple examples. It is not much different from Aotearoa and there is enough anecdotal evidence to warrant academic research and maybe those Very Important Indians could potentially fund it in partnership with various ministries themselves. So when for Diwali, one wishes happiness, long life and prosperity is it just related to material wealth? Maybe no one gave Jenny the memo even though Jenny should intuitively know. Because that is the problem with numbers. 150,000+ Indians in New Zealand will tell us their superficial needs and what governments can do. Such as organise Diwali to make them feel Important. Join the public service but who will weed out the casteist right-wing Hindus, the patriarchal men, the misogynists, that get into the public service? The numbers will not tell you such outlook and ideology exists amongst the Indian here will they? Because you will only see, for example, ten Indians pat yourself on the back for being inclusive.
I don’t expect invitations to any political party/government/parliament events because, you know, the ‘angry brown woman’ mars subservient, grateful gatherings of Very Important Indians. And that’s alright. It is not like you need to be seen by and known to ministers and MPs to make change.
This from one of my favourite blogs. Cannot unfortunately just share via wordpress, which we could in that blog’s old avatar. But hey, at least I can post the link.
Stories from different parts of the world always interest me especially those we do not see on a routine basis. It is hard to make a film (I know, ‘coz I been there and keep going there). So I have great respect for those who maintain their passion to carry on with their projects, keep looking for money, for like minded collaborators, for staying true to their vision and then make it happen.
I want to see this film. Here is the trailer. Enjoy.
This is more than a year over due. Might seem like a random discontinuous series of words but really it is the last of my Chile and Bolivia travelogue and should be read in continuum with my other Sud America stories. I had to refer back to my little book in which I diligently make travel notes to see if I had missed anything. That is my post Fellowship exam year brain. 2017. What a year! I could have spent the entire time blogging about world and local politics but am grateful I was bound to work and studies. The journey to this point has been tumultuous; a story I shall tell one day and name names, those who bullied me in the hospital, made unilateral decisions about my career and values, mediocre registrars and consultants. That is why it was important for me to be focussed and get through the year. Promises I made to myself and to my teachers who believed in me. I have left this blog verbatim from when I first wrote it and added the last bit only.
The highest capital in the world! I shared a taxi from El Alto into La Paz where I had booked my airbnb for the my final leg in Bolivia. I was going to be town! My companion was an Australian woman on a prolonged OE and we talked about Australian politics, as you do. Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Australia’s terrible handling of their refugees on Nauru…all favourite Leftie topics of conversation. I invariably meet such Aussies on my trips. There was this couple in Samoa who also lived near Shepparton, Victoria, where my sister lived at that time, and they were rabid Tony Abbott haters. So much so they scared an American couple at the same hotel who, being Americans, had no clue of any other democratic system. Yeah. So this woman gave me a copy of Marching Powder and said I must read it. All about cocaine and crims in San Pedro prison, La Paz. Then she left me to go her way.
La Paz is a difficult city. I have never seen such traffic! Not in Bombay, not in Auckland, Tokyo or anywhere else. Narrow one way streets, people in queue for private buses, for taxis. Seemed like an eternity to get from Plaza De San Pedro to wherever. Same distance I covered in less than 30 minutes walking one way.
I reached my airbnb, dumped my gear in my room and went looking for food. I found a shopping mall right next door. Hang out of the Bolivian middle class. Shops, food court, multiplex. Even Hello Kitty ice cream!
The burger and Fanta I ate almost made me throw up. My body is not used to aerated sugary drinks and that combo was poison but the hungry can’t be choosy. Sometimes lionesses have to eat hay.
There are three amazing things to do in La Paz in a short time. Not in any specific order this.
Visit the Church of San Francisco. An impressive structure in Plaza Mayor, a public square witness to constant transient crowds and traffic. Akin to the Strasbourg Cathedral in Place du Chateau. Both Catholic buildings but San Francisco not the slightest intimidating or ugly. Watch the faithful, see blue Jesus on the museum wall, climb up the steeple then wander out to Mercado Lanza and have fruit salad and ice cream like the locals. Don’t forget to check out the dvd stalls. Asian cinema is big in Bolivia.
Do a walking tour with the Red Caps. This is a bunch of enthusiastic La Paz locals who will take you through the food market, the Witches Market, Bolivian government buildings and finish in a bar. They have wicked sense of humour and tell a lot of jokes about Evo Morales. I was the only person of colour on the walk. An American-Chinese couple at the airbnb had warned me about the ‘ignorant Australians’ (surprise, not) on these walks. When we reached the Witches Market the boys made us sit on the street and told us a story about human sacrifice, to be careful of going out alone at night and the horrified ‘oh-my-lord-these-dark-uncivilised-barbarians’ look on the faces of the goras, the Americans and Australians was worth more than a million dollars. It was hard to keep a straight face. The Red Caps paused, looked around and snorted. ‘Oh you all got scared’! Then there was this story about Evo Morales telling Bolivian women they should keep their virginity until they got married. Those women, they came out on the streets telling him to mind his own business! He backtracked and said Bolivian women were the flowers of Bolivia. Of course they tell it better than I can. 🙂
The third thing to do in La Paz is to take the cable cars. Mi Teleferico. It is a great way to see La Paz. Locals told me it was a cheap mode of transport for all those who commuted great distances to get to and from work in this difficult, mountainous city. ‘It creates equality.’
A well travelled friend once told me that the poverty in India is different from the poverty in South America. I think the poverty in developing countries, invaded and colonised by Westerners, their cultures and indigenous ways destroyed, is the same and different from poverty in New Zealand and Australia. Or Europe and UK. (Can’t comment on America, never been.) There should not be homeless, hungry people in the Western world at all. There is enough wealth to provide basic amenities for everyone. But, greed. How to alleviate poverty in the post-colonial world? That is a difficult, complex process. (In my head anyway.)
So in that quest, I travel. Trying to connect the dots, connect humanity, find my place in the universe. I’ll go to South America again but I want to go to Africa first. Morocco. With a trip back to India. Maybe Korea or Taiwan in-between? Japan, beyond Tokyo again.
Nights rides on a bus are sometimes a blessing. You can sleep and not worry about missing the landscape. So it was on my way from Uyuni to Sucre. The seat was comfortable, I had a big llama fabric wrap around me, and my bladder stayed quiet. The bus reached Sucre at 3a.m. A short cab ride and I was at my airbnb Hostal CasArte Takubamba. I’ll write about this again but not once did I fear taking a taxi ride in the dead of the night in an unknown town, in an unknown country where I did not speak the language. I would never do that in India. Not an alien country AND I speak the language.
It was a relief to sleep on a bed in a warm room after the freezing temperatures on the bus. The hostal is a beautiful old casa, (house/abode in Spanish) that also doubles as an art gallery. One of the guys invited me to an opening later and it was really interesting to see the chi chi set of Sucre. This place offers a very good breakfast too. Fresh fruit, freshly squeezed juice, eggs on toast and a variety of Bolivian teas. I had coca leaf tea every day.
Sucre is beautiful.
It is laid out like a square grid, streets running perpendicular and parallel to each other with a green space bang in the middle. There is a church on almost every street. I wonder how Christianity dealt with indigeneity and vice versa. Indigenous cultures are embedded in nature, tied to this universe, manifesting multifold. Then there is the idea of a singular God. The dissonance therein and eventual assimilation would make fascinating study. Although I guess colonising forces always have the upper hand. On my last day in Sucre a guest at the casa invited me for Sunday mass but I had a flight to catch. Pity. I would have loved to go. A service in Spanish after experiencing one in Manase, Samoa.
The genteel atmosphere of Sucre was a welcome change after touring Uyuni in one day. I walked around and observed the locals as I love to. Bolivia is slowly getting prosperous (as one local in La Paz told me). I saw indigenous people tucked away in corners trying to eke out an existence or just beg. I don’t have a solution for poverty; to prevent people from being forced out of their own land, where no God or gods can alleviate suffering nor prevent greed or selfishness. It breaks my heart. I wish I had an answer. I don’t think global poverty can be eradicated with us from privileged positions wanting to help others but maintaining hierarchical status quo. The failure of free trade economy is obvious for all to see; the world is not flat! There has to be a collective solution, the will and leadership for it. How that can be when the world order is imperialistic? Not that communism is the answer either. That order to begets its own pecking order and unilateral power. President Evo Morales of Bolivia, not quite comunista y socialista you know. (Incidentally I blogged about Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat way back in 2009.)
Back to Sucre. As is also my habit I eat street food as much as I can and I discovered this little place under the stairs of a building. A whole pot of hot chocolate con leche, queso (cheese) empanadas, masaco de yuca con queso sonso, a kind of cheese pastry that is a Bolivian speciality. Another time I had Milaneza de pollo, a chicken dish, in the food court at Mercado Central, the central market. Right amongst the people some of whom were counting their coins for what was a treat out. It reminded me how I went to this roadside joint two of the three nights I was in Shanghai and finished off an eggplant and rice dish from an orange plastic plate.
I got a taste of South American soaps while dining. Like Hindi television soaps they are loud, melodramatic and hilarious. I was riveted :-p
Oh and was I not surprised to see Asians established in Sucre.
An old Korean couple ran a Kodak Express right in the town centre. Asians rule!
I did most of my shopping at a co-operative in Sucre. The wool, the fabric, the style is quite unique. Arts and crafts that reflect the local people and their ideas of the world, their interactions with outsiders. Museo Casa de La Libertad was another little place I browsed to know more about the history of Sucre and Bolivia in general. And there is a great vegetarian cafe just off the town square too.
There were many parades through the streets during the time I spent there.
On my last night in Sucre I went up to the church behind the casa where the street was closed for a fair. A jatra जत्रा as one can see anywhere around a temple and on festivals in Maharashtra. Some things are the same across countries and cultures. So what if the language and religions are different.