Saturday, 26 December 2009

Random Thoughts III

Some rambling thoughts

Written after a visit to Assam early in 2008

On arrival when I had seen the new flyover at Maligaon I was thrilled. There was positive progress even in the few months I had been away. But soon this exhilaration gave way to despair as I realised that the whole of Guwahati had turned into a massive construction site in the meanwhile. And it is not just flyovers, but apartments, shopping malls, amusement parks, hospitals, private engineering colleges, …what have you. Even in front of our house, the G.N.B. road is being widened, but only by a few inches. Given the big trouble (and expenditure) involved in such an exercise (involving moving the sewage drains), I could not help wondering how much this would help, or how long it would be before the road would prove to be too narrow all over again. It looks as if it is had already begun to happen, even before the road is completely ready! Maybe our planners do not want to think about the long-term. In any case, it seems to me that until our drivers are forced to follow traffic rules and until we have alternative parking lots the roads we have will always prove to be too narrow.

The next thing I remember hearing about are the Panchayat Elections. I had never realised that these elections have become so important, earlier nobody had taken much notice of such local body elections, but this time the hype was almost as much as for a general election. I’m not sure whether this is a good or bad sign. Perhaps decentralisation is good, but too much politicisation at the ground level might not always prove to be healthy.

Well…Besides the elections there were also several fairs and melas on in the city – the Book Fair, the Handloom Expo, the Khadi mela and so on. It is great to be back home at this time. And going by the numbers of people who visit these temporary exhibitions, purchasing power amongst the population is very high. Of course, it is another matter that we do not mind paying Rs. 500/- for an English novel, but hesitate to spend Rs. 50/- to buy an Assamese one. And our children prefer Harry Potter to ‘Burhi air sadhu’. I am not saying that we should not read English books and Harry Potter, of course we should, but does that mean we have to give up our own rich literary heritage in the process?

Well…I should not really complain, because this time I also saw parents taking their children to music, dancing and art schools with the same fervour with which they take them for tuitions. But I wish things could be a little more relaxed – in all this frantic desperation to excel, the fun of doing most things is lost. Our well-meaning parents, in their efforts to see their children succeed, snatch childhood from their own kids. I cannot believe that this is the best way to make them grow into responsible and good adults. All work and no play…

My favourite pastime while being stuck in long traffic snarls in the city this time has been to look at the road-side shops, read their names, and try to decode acronyms whenever they show up. When I saw the GNRC retail outlets in the city, I thought I’d cracked most of it almost immediately – “Guwahati ….Retail Centre”. It was only when I saw a pharmacy next to the provision store that I became suspicious. Our city doctors seem to be the best businessmen these days.

In fact that is the overriding feeling I have about my trip back home this time – that everything has turned into a business – the medical profession is a business, teaching is a business, writing is a business, education is a business, being Assamese is a business, being part of the north-east is a business, being a politician was always a business but now being a social worker is a much bigger business. I just hope we don’t portion of our land and sell it off to the highest bidder one fine day – please don’t do that, which Assam will I come home to then…

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