Conversations with an Ex-Naxalite

Warning: I have generally decided that Grammar and spelling are useless appendages. If you are not in that genre, pl pardon. Naxalism, for the uninitiated is domestic militancy or localised terrorism.

This was about 8-9 months back. My driving licence had been suspended and i had to rely on Ola and Uber on holidays.
It was twilight and i had hailed an Uber to get back home from Noida. When the cab arrived, I tried to put 3-4 bags with me beside the front seat before taking the front சleft seat as I always do.
‘How is the day treating you Sir’ Came a confident voice – more of a CEOs than a cab driver. I must have murmured some response since i was still at tucking in the bags between my foot/legs and seat.
Once he started driving, i said everything was fine; the day had treated me all fine. I was looking into his face which had the rediance and lustre of say a Kabir Bedi with a 4-5 day cultivated bread which always stays that way.
Me: Are you from Bihar? (I have generally found that people from Bihar and Jharkhand are loquacious and keep yapping and many times excessively to my discomfort dishing out advice on advice even if unsolicited.
No Sir. I am from south- western orissa -Korapur district.  We have a factory in the adjoining district and so know something about the district and naxalite movement in adjoining areas within Orissa, northern Andhra and Chattisgarh.
Somethings I learnt from him about naxalites during the ensuing conversation:
1      It is not like you people think – that naxalites live a life of complete seclusion from the rest of society – in a demarcated land island with boundaries. they move in and out of society. Most of them do farm work during sowing, transplanting or harvest times in the adjoining villages. during slack or non season (or people permanently unemployed work) their activities peak. Most people know them and their families and activities. people in the vicinity dont have the same level of animosity towards them as people distant from the scene.
2      It is only the top 2-3 who dont mix with or expose themselves to the rest of society. They are nearly completely cut off – and some more people who are not known to move around. But mostly they move in and out of the society.
3      The recruits are drafted based on 3 criteria: Physical strength, ability to execute gruesome pain or crime and thirdly loyalty.
4       There are pay scales and cadre depending on the skill levels and experience and years with the movement and of course ‘performance’. They are all trained in their assigned activities.and there is specialisation.
5       the area under their influence has shrunk slowly. It is more or less finished in Andhra Pradesh. (as someone else confirmed in the late 1990s prominent guys in AP from the affected areas felt unsafe or scared even in Hydrabad; now you can drive thru the areas even at night). In Orissa and southern tip of Cgarh their is a marked downscaling of activities.
6      Many of them have moved into Government contracts – road construction, etc. The Govt knows it and has been helping it along. The local politicians and MLAs (who help them with some moneys sometimes) and sometimes even the police help them along.
7       Govts also dont make too much of their past crimes or issues or hound them or their families. there has been a practical approach in the last 10-15 years which helps in normalising their relationship and rehabilitating.

My mind started weighing the new insights with my pre-existing ones item by item saying yes, no , possibly, unlikely and likely as so on. And i muct have fallen silent for a while.
Driver: ‘Kya hua Ji suddenly completely silent’
‘No No just getting frustrated with the jam. I must have reached home by now. We are not even half way through. By the way can i ask you a personal question?’
Yes

Me: Haven’t you thought of joining the naxalite movement yourself. By what you say, it is not as dishonourable as i once thought it was.
He turned and sized me up for may be 20-30 seconds. I was unnerved for those few moments. Not knowing what was in store.
‘Yes I was’.
Hmmmm… i was a bit relieved now.
‘I was a good student normally topping my class and school right thru. suddenly at the 10th std board exam much to the surprise of my teachers, family and self i plugged in 2 subjects. I gave the papers again 12 months later but failed again. I realised my heart was not in it any more. I was loitering around, no work and leaning on poor parents during the time. almost for a year and more. It singed me that i should earn something and thats when i decided i will take it.

But then i was short on physical parameters. But then since i was good with my science, they agreed to train me as a ‘doctor’ (their brand). The training lasted for 3-4 months. I used to stay with my family and they used to pick me up whenever required.
But then it was mostly during night times at whatever time … 10 pm one day and nothing for a few days and then 3 am – very erratic. It took a toll on my health, outlook and general wellbeing. I was getting disillusioned even while the money was OK.
I must have been on duty for 9-10 months – say about 15 months with them.

I was looking around and a sardar offered migration to Canada and i went to Toronto. There it was … I was hold up for 45-50 days. I didnt have money … so was hardly moving out … mostly confined to the garage level shelter. It was not that the sardar wasnt trying but then it was not easy. I lost hope and decided to forget the Rs 2 lacs i had spent from my familys and self savings and loans and came back to India.
As luck would have it, i found employment as a travel desk operator with a French MNC office in Delhi. I looked decent and spoke good English so i guess i was lucky with that one.
Me: So do you know Mr Nathan?
Him: How can i not know him. He was a top boss. He used to live here only in Mayur Vihar somewhere. (actually the Gman was our beighbour for 4-5 years and moved to deep south on voluntary retirement).
Him: I was with them for about 3-years or so.

So why did you quit such a cushy job?
I thought i knew travel management well and so thought of starting a cab service and after some trials and errors started driving for Uber and Ola. For the last 3 years.

Me: So whats the status of Naxalism now?
Him: Havent really been following. Hardly visit my home town these days. Next time i go there i will find out. Meet them. may be some of my friends will be there.

And then there was a long pause.
I looked at him and now asked him ‘So its your turn to go silent now?’.
Him: After some long pause. In a completely different tone now. The gleam and glitter in his eyes gone and voice not exhuberant or decidedly hopeful like in the beginning.
Dont know sir. I manage to make Rs 15-20,000 a month doing this driving and my wife makes some 10-12 doing some office work. (some catering or some such thing). We have a daughter in 3 std and one 3 years old.

But dont know where i am going in life or what next. feeling lost not knowing what to do. I am just 34 and have so many years ahead. Not a great feeling. And saddled with responsibilities.
Me: Oh nothing new. Sounding bouyant  and pontificating (dont know if thats the proper way to respond). Welcome to the world of people trying to figure out their place under the Sun. It happens to everyone … between 32 and may be continue for you for the next 4-5 years.
even Vivekananda could not escape it. (he didnt seem all that convinced and i wasnt sure if he was taking in what i was saying).
even if you thought you had figured out, many other thoughts and doubts will wash that clarity in no time and you will feel desolate again. You will try to figure out the meaning of life, your purpose and so on. (That was the Philosopher myself for his benefit. Lucky he didnt say Enough. Shut up now and wait till we reach the destination).
I dont think much conversation took place for the last 7-8 minutes. he must have gone deep into introspection.
We reached home may be in 45-50 minutes where it should have taken 20-25 minutes normally. I paid him.
Him:“Hope we meet again soon. Hope fursat milega apko. Please store my number.
Yes I will. You too.
‘Sir you are brilliant conversationist. I enjoyed it with you”. (what a lie. he must have spoken for 90% of the time. and i became a brilliant conversationist!). In any case i rarely am at at the receiving end of such compliments and hence gracefully took it saying ‘No it was all because of you”.
And forgot to store his number.

Modi’s 500/1000 move may have sent him to stratosphere; but he has to be more convincing

 

I have a slightly negative view on the likely impact of demonetisation more especially the proportion of people who have to undergo the pain for catching a few (may be less than 1%) errants. In many cases the Govt may also know who those politicians/individuals are. So spoke to several people (besides several corporate types during the course of meetings) to gauge the mood; lucky I have not gotten beaten up yet.

First a Kaamwali (she wasn’t all that specific except that mentioned that she has just got Diwali bonus), a Receptionist in Mumbai at one the largest cement firms (she was inconvenienced but said that she supported Modi since it is required for the nation), an Old and frail Tamilian lady who needed some help with Kiosk check in, and my driver for the day. He with a bit of glee and satisfaction said “I had only Rs 3000 which I will exchange”. “Is it required? Do you support it?”. “Yes He has fixed all those **** (reference to some community). They have been asking for it, crooks. They were hoarding so much black money”.

A slightly serious looking Security staff who frisks you at Airport at CS in Mumbai.  When I opened the topic he was cross with me and put his finger on his lips to ask me to shut up. I trailed off with Modi’s name. His outlook took an about turn and asked in utter curiousness ‘Kya Kya Kya?’

I said Rs 500/1000. … he: yes yes. Me : Do u support it. Him: Yes sir.

Me: Why? Aren’t you inconvenienced?’

Him: ‘Yes sir. But that’s little’.

Me: So you can bear it.

Him: There is Hope sir now. I will bear it. His mouth was quivering. I was expecting an English response I was not prepared for an emotional response. I just patted him and said “great man Keep it up” and moved on.

 

2 jet pilots flying off duty. “Sir I can hope to buy a house now. They used to be asking so much cash… where will i go for that kind of cash. We support it”.

My next victim was a 5th std Master Kavya studying  in Singapore Public School in Dahisar seated next to me. Slightly on the studious side but very eloquent and fluent for his age. I took his mothers permission to talk to him for a few minutes.

He would have liked Clinton to come back, since she would have succeeded Obama who is a great friend of Modi. He likes Modi because he is the one to start Swatch Bharat which will clean up India.  They debated the effect of Rs500/1000 in the school.  The teacher briefed them on what ‘black money’ is. They had concluded that black money is not a fair system that some people bear and some people go free, it is cheating. He said that his parents would be greatly inconvenienced but still he supported Modi wholeheartedly.  ‘Its required for the Nation’. Views were erudite but he made his point in a manner befitting his age.

 

I was zipping thru most of Delhi and India Gate at 9.45 which was deserted like someone had announced that a nuclear bomb is going to be dropped there in an hour’s time. ‘Aaj Kya hai?’ I asked the Mega cab driver. ‘Logoan ke pass paise nahi hai’ he refrained. I thought I had at last found an ally and started a conversation. But he was more than a fan of Modi; he almost looked an appendage to him. Next 15 minutes he gave me a lecture on how Modi is good and how what he does is good and how it will benefit in the long run. I had no choice as his captive audience.

 

With 6 -7 others also, Modi seem to have scored a perfect 10 with this move – somewhat surprising for a debative society…he has managed to whip up a frenzy to ecstasy in support of his action. ‘Sock those Black Money B***ds’ seems to be the mood.

 

I did not expect such a one sided view from lower /middle income people.  So when I write this piece i know I’m in a minority. But still i present my sour grapes.

 

And Now the Sour Grape

Someone asked Deng Xio Ping the architect of Chinese reforms, on the 200th anniversary of French Revolution as to what its impact on Democracy was? He replied, ‘Too Early to Tell’. My instinctive reaction is to reserve my judgment on this recent chest thumping by Modi fans on his recent salvo (Mandatory Disclosure : I am a Modi fan myself, except i want to temporarily suspend that status on this issue till i get convinced on the benefits of his recent action).

What has been done is bold, no doubt. His speech was more patriotic, but it needed to be convincing more than being patriotic is my opinion. He could have told the nation on how much Black money he thinks is in circulation, how much the Government aims to garner thru this action, how much Taxes the Govt hopes to get as a one-time measure and how much on a running long term basis,  how much additional growth its going to create.

Most of all how am I as an individual going to benefit for the pains imposed on me – at least in qualitative terms. I have not earned a penny with tax dodge – rather I am yet to get so many I Tax  refunds (petty though) from the Govt since 1995-96. This is a pure compliance measure; so to impute any sense of patriotism is unwarranted, i reckon.

Half way into Modi’s term, i am far less convinced about his (or rather his cabinet’s) ability to deliver on the one most important thing – growth and with it employment for the rural, youth, newly graduating. I don’t think there is even a plot or story line leave alone a convincing plan. So i am not willing to be mesmerised by side shows, however impressive. If MMS was lack of action, Modi’s cabinet seems to be lack of ideas. Growth seems to be in an anaesthetic state. Just excessive focus on a few things  alone is not enough to run the country. And he hasn’t addressed the core issues causing black money – unreasonable stamp duties and Capital gains taxes alongwith election funding… in that sense the monster will sure take rebirth and start from zero again

When some Isreali said that even they would have been proud of India’s surgical strike, sure my chest went up 560 inches. Sure he is doing a great job of whatever he is doing; but then is he doing what all needs to be done?

While resolving strictly to comply with the rules, i am tempted to suggest the following actions:

Devalue our currency also – to may be around Rs 76/$ which is its true value. Impose a 30% tax on Chinese imports citing national security interests (their actions on Brahmaputra and POK).

It will create all the jobs that our youth and country needs.

To give a sense of balance, sure Demon’n will ease inflation and hence interest rates. It will make real estate more affordable and not prone to periodic price spirals and so people may not invest in them out of desperation but only when needed and look for better alternative investments. May reduce fees and prices of sectors thriving on black money like doctors and lawyers and some professional classes. It will motivate me more to pay taxes…but that alone may not convince the 99% abiding citizens to strain themselves (i thought so… but quick survey exposed my hollowness) to facilitate the government to catch the errant few.

With some serious disgust i should also mention that balanced debate seems impossible on this subject. Modi baiters throw all kinds of silly bile  … it won’t work, too draconian; what happens to A, AA, MA, BA,him, etc., will not succeed using anything from vile adjectives to heavy invectives. On the other hand Modi fans are rather obsessed – they talk as if this is the best thing that could have happened to the country since independence, this act required stature of Go… or such terms. You utter your reservations, abuse is not far away in time.

I am sorry. I am a big Modi fan myself. But i refuse to back him wholesale. I retain my right to be critical on certain issues or as in this case certain aspects of proposed action. To surrender this right of mine is an assault on reasoned debates and a vacuum of balance.

When we were descending I asked Kavya as to how he would like to be told by the teacher on any issue (i) Just be told by the teacher what to do in a stern way or (ii) she explains the matter, tells him about the risks and benefits and recommends that he acts. He didn’t hesitate to vote for 2nd option.

At last some consolation for me. Modi could have taken the convincing route than the prescriptive school teacher approach.

Brazi-Logue

landscape

I had great hopes of doing what I like best –talk to people, during my recent trip to Brazil. When I asked the receptionist on the first day morning which way I should walk from the hotel and what I should hope to see, she (of Taiwanese origin) sternly told me that I may not come back with my purse, passport or even person intact. I turned towards a co-host who had also flown in from Europe but extremely familiar with the location about what she was saying. ‘If you don’t know Portuguese and the ways of Sap Paulo, better not to venture out’. The goons know to spot the victims all too easily. I had hopes to talk about the yo-yo economy, evolving political situation, boisterous people, onslaught from Olympics, Samba dancers, may be even a petty thief to understand what drives them. My spirits stood punctured by their cautionary and sagely advice.
What follows is based on conversations with the car drivers, guest house keepers, hosts, hotel assistants, tourist guide in Rio and a few others. Unverified and you may believe it at your own risk and peril.

1          The road discipline is great. The BRT bus lanes are not barricaded or divided with dividers like in Indian cities – just a white line marker. Taxis with passengers and Ambulances also use the lane. But no others – pedestrian or vehicles get into those lanes. When the cars are crawling at an inch a minute speed, these busses whizz past at 60-70 kms. They know the risk I guess – if you get into it, the bus driver will have no choice but to hit you. He has no way of turning left (he is on the leftmost lane already) nor against the wall of vehicles on the other side. He has to hit them and drag along till the next signal since stopping will mean he himself will get hit by the buses behind.
Even on highways where there is 3 mile long queues there is no horn honking and they stand in one file. Just no one slips into the overtaking lane or side kerb. Extraordinary discipline one should say.
2        Portuguese gave Brazil (its original native name is Pindorama) its name after a tree which has the red/saffron colour of burning charcoal. Red dyes for cloths used to be manufactured out of it. Red colored cloths were very expensive in the 1800s in Europe and had to be ultimately banned. Nowadays the finest violin base is made from that tree.

The world’s largest football stadium is Maracana in Rio which was the venue of the recent Olympics opening ceremony. It’s the name of a bird like parrot which makes sound like the percussion instrument. At the main entrance is the statue of Bellini the captain of their team in 1958 and 62.

3         Brazil is the largest exporter of Cocoa, Beef (there is one ox for every Brazilian I was told), Coffee (largest producer for 150 years), Leather, Chicken, Pork, Orange, Sugar, Tobacco, Cashews, Pulp, Bikinis and as my guide cheekily remarked Football players.

Cashews (Cajus) come from Brazil. They gave it to India via Goa and took Mango and Jack from India. Jack is under attack now since some environmentalists believe it’s in quarrel with local species. There is Caju tree (single) in North East which covers an area of 8 Ha. (Wiki confirms this).

Brazil gets 3 crops of mangoes per annum. When during the pre flowering period the mango crop needs water the most, I understand they starve it and the starved tree starts flowering faster. When it does, they water it copiously and get a good crop. (need to understand this better). This way they induce 3 crops per annum. Apparently Brazilian mangoes are a craze in Japan to whom they export by Air. A solitary piece can cost as much as $ 50 in Japan, I was told.

4        Brazilians believe it’s not Wright Brothers but Santos Dumont of brazil who invented Airplanes. He did not register the patent or publicise it. WB used a catapult to get it up and glided down whereas SD used the engine to propel it up is their version. He is also billed as the inventor of wrist watches.

5       The largest contingent of Japanese outside Japan lives in Brazil. They started coming from 1901 and is a sizable community is Sao Paulo. There are more Lebanese in Brazil than in Lebanon. There is no quintessential or typical Brazilian. They come in all shapes and sizes, colours and textures. Only their skin tones, bone structures and facial features all look great and is one of the most beautiful people … all easy going and boisterous, irrespective of what… as good as the Greeks, Cyprus, Lebanese, Syria and middle east races.

6 Brazil
a.      In many prisons there are stationery bi-cycles which the inmates can cycle for health. They are connected to electrical generators and the electricity is sold and the proceeds are shared with the cyclers.

b.      Many (the guide said most) companies/offices in Brazil have made Yoga compulsory for 5-10 minutes at the start. They believe that it reduces work place tensions, stress and to lesser conflicts. Brazil has had to change its currency 10 times since 1942. Due to high inflation. Twice they had to knock off the last 3 digits of their currency. Looks like their inflation is as high spirited as their outlook towards life.

c.      It produces nearly 70% of its electricity from hydro sources and most of these are from dams in the plains.

d.      Divorce was legalised only in 1972. And the current rate as people felt would be 20-30%. But even middle class people are shying away from marriage due to financial reasons. They live as friends but feel raising children as very expensive and unaffordable due to rentals and costs of education etc. Sad to see even people in 40s say it.

e.      Sao Paulo can easily be rated the Graffiti capital of the world. Most of them are elaborate, colourful and cover the entire wall in a single theme. Must be taking 2-3 people a week to do them.

f.      Voting is compulsory is Brazil. Between 16-18 it is optional but from 18 its compulsory. If you don’t vote you can’t get your passport renewed or apply for any Visa or get social security. But i believe the fines are a paltry $ 5 (=ent). But you have to run from pillar to post in the Registrar’s office and waste the better part of the day besides the traffic time in reaching their office… that in itself seems to be a deterrent.
g. Earth’s magnetic potency is solely waning in Brazil, i was told. (this seems to be confirmed by Internet).

7      Rio De Janeiro (River of January) is one of the finest urban living places. It has 49 km of fine white sand beaches, a forest (botanical garden of 38 sq km) right in the middle of the city, rocky hills, and a beautiful lagoon. The small strip of land between the lagoon and sea is one of the costliest places on earth to own your residence.
Ipanema, Copacabana, and Prainha are some of the most crowded sun bathing spaces. Fine white sand but not as wide as the Marina or Elliots in Chennai – just may be 1/10th to 1/5th the width and goes into the seas fairly steeply except in small stretches in Copacabana and at one end of Ipanema. But that does not deflate the spirits of the revellers, who play beach volleyball, and other sports with gay abandon. It seems as crowded as the VT station (some exaggeration there).
The city airport is a risky affair. (see the photo taken while approaching it – I am at right angles at a distance of 3-4 kms from landing). It’s in a narrow triangle of sorts jutting out into the sea. Not even space for fencing at either end. At one end is the Sugar Loaf rock some 750 meters tall with the seas hardly 3-4 km separating it from the take off point. And at the other end are hills and the 14 km long bridge over the sea running right across – again hardly 4-5 kms away. The aircrafts can only approach it at right angles and take a steep turn at such a short distance and land knowing full well that there is very little margin for error. On takeoff he is turning almost at right angles even before vertically out of airstrip.
Even the other airports don’t seem to be fenced like in India. There is a football ground very close to the main runway in their Guarulhos International airport. A good kicker can easily kick it over the 4-5 ft high fence right into the main runway. The city airport in Sao is on a raised table and if one misses take off can straight plunge into the thick residential colony. But then their Pilots seem as confident as their football forwards.

8      Crime
A gram (or whatever) of cocaine costs $ 265 in Australia i was told but just $ 9 in Sao Paulo. Most crimes are drug related or young people trying to finance their habits. In my trip to Rio raised the topic re crime with the Guide. He outright dismissed it blaming it on the media. Crime is always there in cities. He did take us out for the first time on the base of Christ Statue, Maracana and then again in Copacabana where we took some pictures. We had earlier been advised… ‘if you want to get out at the beach make sure you don’t wear watches, don’t carry your camera or cell phone. They hunt in packs … one to engage you, another to distract your attention and they are experts in identifying their victims and quickly sizing them’. We did nothing of these when we got down 3-4 times but lucky the Guides words weren’t belied.
My driver from Sao Paulo city centre on the way back opined that the crime is largely prevalent in poorer sections and areas and controlled by mafia. In business and office areas the influence is less to non-existent but 30-40% of the area is under their control. But in Rio it is they who rule. They just don’t carry knives, pistols or revolvers but Rifles. Bullet proof cars are no protection.
People under 18 can’t be put in prison in Brazil. The drug mafia uses delinquent children as fronts and establish their control. He opined unless this is changed, controlling crime may be a pipe dream.

It was nice to see everyone from the door keeper to the driver, car driver to the chairman, flight and hotel attendants, exhibit self dignity and more importantly respect others for whatever function others were performing.