The boy in stripped pyjama (spoiler alert)

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The fence. We all have our fences. We watch others through the security of them. Sometimes it even lets us judge the one`s on the other side. “Vermin”, that is how the teacher who teaches the young boy and his sister in the “The boy in stripped Pyjamas” describes the Jews as.
But you never know with fate. It is known to change. One day you are a prince, the other you are the very same vermin you scoffed at. We can always cross over. That is what happens in the movie. A German boy, befriends a Jew boy in a concentration camp. The German boy, Bruno lives in a house which is near the camp and one day he happens to meet this boy over the fence of the camp. A friendship develops. Bruno, promises Shamol, that he would help him find his dad in the camp, who most probably is dead. Bruno digs the ditch deep enough for him to slide through to the camp. Both kids, really do not understand the true nature and purpose of the camp. Their innocence is not able to grasp the magnitude of it.
The last scene of the movie, is perhaps, exactly how death is experienced by anyone who faces demise through cruelty. The people in the death camps are never told that they are sent there to die. They are all just marched into these camps. When commanded to undress, they tell each other, perhaps it might be for a shower. The feeble reassurance that “do not worry, nothing too bad will happen” does not last long. The fear that something unimaginably horrible is going to happen to them only grips them as the lights are shut out. Their screams however do not silence the death knell. You see the helpless banging of the door, a futile, last attempt to escape. This scene left me numb. No one escapes. But just as the lights go out, we see the two little friends holding on to each other’s hands tightly. By the time Bruno`s mother and dad come to know that thier beloved son has escaped into the cruel world becoming one of the “Jew workers” it is too late. Ironically, the father is the one, who is in charge of the concentration camp.

We all have our moments when someone from the other side of the fence, needs us. I remember this homeless guy, I could not help. I could not sleep for a few days. He was just twenty two. I tried my best to help him, but I could not. But, I know he knew that I cared. What made me care? I just felt, it could have been me in his place. His face still haunts me sometimes. I cared, because, it could have been me in his place. It could have been me born into the circumstances that he did. It could have been me who was not strong enough or faltered. Sometimes it just takes one slip and your life can spiral out of control. Not everyone is strong, some people fail, some people falter.
Strangely enough, the last scene in the movie also made think of me being a vegetarian. Aren`t all slaughter houses, concentration camps? Don`t all living beings, cling to their lives?

Fences. We sit comfortably within them, looking down upon or ignoring the less fortunate on the other side of the fence. But never be too comfortable to feel smug. Fate has its own funny ways. Now I understand why simplicity appeals to me so much. It is closest to your core. You are your very true self in times of tragedy. There is no room for an image, a lie. There is no room for a facade. There is no room for brands. Enjoy all these things, but never get too smug about luxury, your materials, your intelligence, the things that you have. Do not rub them too much into other people`s eyes, so that you can feel superior, enjoying the fact that you can make someone feel envious. Basking in the realization that you have something that not many have. But be just a bit cautious, you never know when you might cross the fence. When you are stripped naked of all of these, you would stand only with your humility. Looking out for kindness not judgement.

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Here if you do not say Kemcho, you are somewhat of an outsider.

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Anxious I take my first flight to UK. I do not know what to expect. I feel nervous and am bit on shaky grounds. My anxiety takes off as the plan makes a landing. When I get out of the plane, I realise I have lost two travellers cheques. So typical me. The guy who is going to pick me up from the airport and take me to my new house for at least a year, does not turn up. I panic. In a completely new land, I feel very lost. I do not even have the address of the place I am going to. He turns up nonchalantly one hour late. He sputters something in what I know is Gujarati. I say, “Sorry, I do not understand Gujarati!” He gives me a look. A look which said, “What? Really? How is that possible?”
There. Now, I actually felt like a foreigner.

This experience is the harbinger of experiences I never had in India. Everyone one, every single one was a Gujarati. Was I in Gujarat? Did I take the wrong flight? No, this was Wembley. The word “ghetto” now made more sense. Everyone spoke Gujarati. Hardly anyone spoke in chaste English that I was expecting. After a few weeks, I knew when I bump into anyone, the first thing I should say is, “I am not Gujarati”. There were I guess only three Maharashtrians in the whole of Wembley. My two roomates and I.

I was looking for an experience that would be really international. I dreamt of the hot intellectual debates I would have about politics, philosophy, films. No. None of these talks happened. There were only two things people talked about. Money and jobs. Later I realized that I and my two roommates were the only ones who really were there to study. Almost all the students from Gujarat when asked about their colleges or universities got evasive, shifty and uncomfortable. I also wondered how they got here with the very basic level of English they spoke. How come they had no clue about their subjects? We all later knew that these were illegal students.

Finding work was a huge uphill task. It was not about what you know, but who you know. It was about whether you are a Gujarati are not. Just like the imported vegetables from India, nepotism was the cultural import. It no longer needed to be imported anymore now though; it had taken roots and was growing well. I felt infuriated. Is it how people start becoming prejudiced? Was I forming concepts which were fuelled by angry emotions? You heard everyone say, “gujju kay pas job karte ho?, kafi nichodta hain kya?” or something on the lines of, “arre galti say bhi gujju kay pass kaam nahin karna”. Prejudices get strengthen when you have the same experience again and again. I am very sensitive about justice, fairness. These experiences made me very livid. I worked with three rich Gujarati shop and restaurant owners. I was exploited to the bone. I now knew how a regular “kaamwali bai” may feel.

While I was there, the Gujarati community built a huge temple of some Hindu God. I never stepped in it. It was a symbol of elitism, hypocrisy, corruption, lies. God knows how many who worked for that temple were exploited. Is this what we Indians love to fight for? Temples? Why do not we come out and fight for justice, peace and equality?. I now know big huge temples are sometimes also excessive, no wonder I never care about building temples or mosques. Shouldn`t we focus on building characters, sowing seeds of love and respect. Cultivating compassion. People will stop going to temples with their broken heart and shredded souls if we treat people well.

The businessmen were rich, had big cars and chains of restaurants of their business. The British government lauded them and gave them awards. But was this wealth was built on blood and tears of really helpless people trapped by tragic poverty? You would never know, these thoughts get lost amidst the shine of money.

As much as I had started hating the community from this particular part of India, I suddenly was a part of them. I was one of the exploited. I connected with them through pain. Unfortunately they were more desperate than I was. These restaurants, shops etc employed illegal cheap labour. When I worked under Indians, I was stripped of every iota of my dignity and self respect. I was a thing, easily replaceable. We were like animals, paid peanuts and fired for a wince of protest. I remember one day I was running a fever while at work. I was in bad shape. I had done all my work and asked my manager, is it okay if I rest for few minutes. My manager told me, no, if you do not have anything to do, why don’t you wipe the tiles on the walls of the restaurant. He knew I was sick. But he got a sick pleasure from being cruel. I thought if I worked here long, would I end up like him? Victim becoming the victimizer? I was reduced to a prostitute; I was not just selling my body (labour) but my heart and soul.

Discrimination was rife. Imagine going to a foreign land and experiencing racism at the hands of your own lot. But I had a choice. I had a Father back in India to send me all the hard, corruption free money he had earned, every single penny, if he heard just a single sob down the phone line. I just asked him I am leaving the job, I cannot do it. If I had told what I had experienced, he would have been heartbroken; he would have asked me to come back. I left the job. Though very happy never to go back and work in those treacherous places, I left with heavy heart, leaving my fellow Gujarati friends, to their cruel fate. Two more jobs with Indians, and I was very weary to work for an Indian in UK. What broke my heart is the cruelty faced by a woman almost of my mother`s age. humiliated and treated like an animal. She was illegal and had no way out. When I got a job at a University and before leaving Wembley, I wrote and made a lot of complaints at the home office. As I write this article, I wonder what has become of her. To think she is still trapped there breaks my heart. Gandhiji was so right; poverty is the worst form of violence. But I think it is more of a poverty of spirit, generosity, love and compassion.

More than pain, I feel very angry. Injustice makes my blood boil. I realised even though I had my share of trails in India, I still have led a so protected and sheltered life. I ackowledge this privilege and make sure I give more than I take.

Yes, these businessmen have made a lot of money, a lot of cars, but at what price. They are rich but really poor. No temples, no Gods, and no amount of prayers will ever wash their sins; will never wash the stains of blood and tears they have caused to shed. They might be rich but still depraved. And am I still prejudiced? No, probably slightly so, but it is not about Gujarati`s, it is about human beings sucked in by greed. Greed, like I have never seen before, but coincidentally found it a lot in Wembley, but I am sure it is everywhere. Its human beings` favourite flaw.

The Facebook Affair

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As Facebook celebrates its tenth anniversary, I too want to celebrate five years of association with this bewildering thing. To date, I do not know what purpose does it serve? I ask my friend who was on Facebook just for 2 days. It serves egos, he quipped. True, makes sense. Also for many the real world can be daunting. In the real world even if you hide behind masks, the mask does slip sometimes. The slipping of the mask is traumatic only because others see the real you. As long as the flaws are hidden one revels in the glory of projected image.

Facebook provides a safe haven for us to hide. What no one noticed your new t-shirt? Do not worry, they will surely on Facebook. The Facebook phenomenon is telling us something, not just that we have turned into species that constantly seeks validation, but also that maybe we have become stingy with real genuine praise; we have stopped paying attention.We do not care about making people feel generally good about themselves. Result? People are having an extra marital affair. I do not get the acknowledgement through real people; let me flirt with the virtual world.
Human beings probably always suffered from the malaise of constant attention seeking,Facebook has given it an outlet. Facebook has given it a social approval. Seeking attention, is not necessarily a bad thing, but self obsession certainly is. A need probably filled by Facebook.

Facebook is very much an advertising platform. It is an image maker. It is a “me” platform, where everyone steps on and shouts, “hey look at me, ain`t I amazing”. Did I say everyone? Oops, no, probably just me. Facebook is like talking to a crowd; where there is no real dialogue. It is not withdrawn from reality, it is the reflection of today`s shallow conversations. It is not for troubled souls like me. I have my share of flaws, made worse by a questioning mind. A mind which questions the mundane and the not so mundane. Questions, like, why do I look forward to the likes; why do I check if people have commented on my new photo. Do troubled souls like me; need that extra bit of attention? Should I be happy with the attention or should I question the insatiable need for it.
I do not know why I was not chuffed by the video that Facebook made for its users, including me. Does Facebook claim to know me now? I doubt it. it surely has information about me, but it does not know me. I doubt even any of the 276 friends on my list know me.

I surely care about some people, and I do know some people on Facebook. Though there are others, I surely do not want to know. Especially the over exposed types. The ones who have updates about their life every 15 minutes. I would dread meeting such self obsessed people in real life.

Let me not get carried away with cynicism. There are some wonderful things about Facebook for sure. I am amazed how powerful it is. Politically it has organized people to throw off brutal regimes,it has galvanized the anti corruption movements in India. More personally, what a feast it is for your brain to stumble across some inspiring quotes, mind boggling ideas, tantalizing opinions. Creativity and talent of any kind deserves to be shared. It is a great tool for business too. How can one not like the debates and discussions? It is also a great filtering tool. You know whom you do not want to meet in real life, aka, the over exposed types.

But the triumph of Facebook for me is celebrating the unsung heroes. I am talking about the,” not so cool and happening”, inconspicuous lot. Like this guy who studied in the same university I did and is providing counselling service in villages. I love to “like” their achievements.
I would want to keep on working on really “liking me” than getting worked up about counting the external “likes”. Who knows tomorrow, I might just end this affair. But for now let me post this article as my status update and get the last dose of “likes”

. :).

So Mr. God, where are you?

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Dont read with an ego and you will be fine!

During my lowest of times, I used to think of God as the biggest mother, father I could ever have. Someone who cared for me,   loved me and  was  like a HUGE CUSHION of comfort. The God I spoke to, was me, speaking to the inner most being.  Perhaps, it was a way for me to love myself unconditionally. Speaking to ” someone up above the sky”, made it easy. In a way God granted the permission to do so. It was a way of accepting myself… saying , “Dont worry Ketan, God loves you” . Or probably just validating my existence. Boy did it  help! It is what we all do and it does help all of us. Having this same love for self and others is the biggest gift that comes from such understanding. It`s however just reaching out to the love within… nothing to do with the imaginery friend without.

 

Many are at this stage of understanding of God, while  some are stuck at, ” Why is God doing this to me?” phase. It`s the ultimate victim phase. Saying, ” I am destined for a horrible life” , lessens the blows of life,  mitigates the pain  as you already expect it, and desensitizes you to agony. It not only acts as a buffer but lowers your expectations of happiness.Hence the fall does not hurt as much as it would have.

 

There`s   ofcourse   the ” big brother who is  always handy to  blame”  use of  God. It works really well for some, not for me. Each to his own. Maybe life has been so cruel on some people that letting one realize that they are to blame for their failure is too much to take. I can never see myself as a victim,  probably sometimes,  but rarely to my liking.

The whole,” hope pschology” is another reason why we so want to believe in karma, afterlife and the heaven/hell above. We believe in these things  without  proof ,  rationale,  scientific or historical  evidence for its existence whatsoever. Believing that justice would be done,  no matter what, is a balm which soothes slight and severe wounds. 

 

I definitely believe that justice is central to humanity. When justice breaks down so does the human spirit. If belief in God keeps it from breaking, then why, not, am all for it. But I don`t buy the idea of hell, heaven, Karma.

I believed in it, but found huge logical loopholes.  The assumption that you are a sinner (right from your birth!)  is a nice way to establish a patronizing relationship and cultivating and fostering guilt. Guilt my dear friends is  the best ammunition to manipulate and control.

When you think of the concept of  Karma, which I used to strongly believe in, being justice (e)centric… was demolished by my thinking brain. I firmly believe if one does not know  their mistakes and gets punished for it, it brings no realization and redemption. It doesn`t help human growth.

Second, justice delayed is justice denied for both the victim. If the sinner is going to be punished in his next birth then it makes no sense.  It also implies  that if something tragic happens to you, you deserved it. If there are laws of Karma then we dont need a justice system?. The victim has been punished( if bad things are happening to him) and the perpetrator (the one who does the bad things) has  rendered the punishment.

 

I have read a series of books by Cathy Glass. They are her experiences of a  foster caring severely abused children.

A particular story, made me think real hard. It is a story of a young girl, who is  gang  raped, abused, by her whole family and relatives from a very young age. This trauma  leaves her damaged psychologically  beyond repair. For her the abnormal becomes the normal way of life.

Would any sane person say she deserved it?. Given she did, will she ever realise why she was punished  and can make amends so that she does not get gang raped by her family in her next birth?.  By the same understanding of Karma, her abusers should not be punished, probably they are merely delivering the punishment commanded by God`s justice system. Any attempt to stop such injustice by mortals would mean perverting the path of God`s  justice.

 

I really think I have come a long way. From believing, to rationalizing the exsistence of God, to questioning his/her existence.

This is how I understand God.I have come to believe the if there is a God, he/she is almost absent and very much an uninterefering entity, infact it is not an entity at all.  For me, God is  Love spelt in three letters. At the risk of commiting blasphemy,you and I are God!. Simply because you and I can do things which are impossible. Simply because you and I are unique and beautiful no matter what. Simply because the immense power of love can do wonders.

The quest, is not for God anymore, its for the Truth.

Erik….

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My first impression of Market Street, San Francisco will always stay with me.  As I walked towards my hotel, I saw a man urinating right in the middle of the street. Epic. Where the hell am I?

I opened a window of my hotel room. The San Francisco air seemed unabashed just like that man; it had a touch of bohemian.  It was very different to the stiffness of London.  San Francisco then and there promised me that there was more to come.

I closed the window and realised that I had throbbing headache. Cribbing that I always doze off, my friends went off to tour the city. I dozed off. I got up around 4pm.  I was woken up by a growling, hungry tummy.  What I saw when I stepped out was startling, hordes of dishevelled people, all around, roaming, quite aimlessly.  It felt like a zombie nightmare come true. Checking my wallet a few times, I got into a cafe, got myself some tea and a few croissants (yes a few, I was hungry ok!). A young man, with a huge rucksack  walked in and gave smiled at me. I smiled back, realizing that I was clumsily trying to chew a huge piece of croissant at the same time. Everything’s big in America, I muttered to myself. The guy came and sat next to me with his cup of coffee. “Hi!” he said and was amused seeing me eat the big croissant.  I finally managed to say “hi”, gulping down the croissant along with the lingering embarrassment.

Something about his huge, “oh am so glad to see you again” grin struck me. Trying to make sense of it, I asked, “You from here?”  “ Am from everywhere” he replied.  Squinting my eyes a bit and with an incredulous smile, I said, “ Oh, so you are like God?”. I found it funny me being an atheist.  He laughed loudly. We hit it off instantly. He told me about SanFrancisco, showed me his paintings and told me how much he misses his dog, who died last month. Lucy was her name. It seemed like a huge loss to him. The best part was when he got out his guitar and played some beautiful music.It stirred my soul. I was touched that he played a piece of music for me. I asked him where does he live and what does he do.  Flashing that smile again he said, “Come on, lemme show you where I live”.  Brushing off the hint of fear, I went along. Something told me, this guy won’t harm me.

We walked into a stinky alley. “There, that`s my home at least for now, where are you from?”.  He pointed at the piece of footpath near a closed shop, with his stuff there. I was shocked. I was not thinking clearly. Gloom, compassion, shock were jostling in my brain. I told him the name of the hotel where I lived. “ No, I mean where are you from, where`s your home?” , he asked again. “Oh! Yeah, my home…London and India”.  I said.  The sadness I felt, was intense. I could literally taste it. It was palpable. He caught it. “It’s strange, strangers don’t give a passing thought about me, and here you are feeling sad, C`mon here tiny one, give me a hug!” He opened his arms and gestured a hug. I hesitated. “I don’t stink that bad, I promise”. “No, no, of course not”. I  gave him a fleeting hug. He did not stink.  “And, please don’t call me tiny!!” I barked back.  We laughed out loud.

I had to know this person. He came from a completely different world than mine. How come he lives like this? Where is his family and friends? Does he have any? We laughed, talked about random stuff for almost half an hour. I had to know how he ended up there, mustering some courage I asked, “How did you get here?”  “Long story, but I ran away from home when I was a kid…”  After a meaningful silent pause shared between us, my phone buzzed. My friend was screaming down the phone, asking me where I was. I told him I will be back soon.” Hey, it was great meeting you! I need to go now!” I exclaimed.  Shaking my hand he said, “Same here, you know where to find me now?”  I said bye and he flashed his signature huge smile.

In my next meeting I learnt that his name was Erik.  He had been homeless for the last five years. When he could not deal with the abuse of his father, and ran away. He lived with his grandmother for a while, but ran away from there as well. After the death of his grandmother he was devastated. She was his only support. He slipped through the safety nets, and ended up on the streets. His addiction to speed got better of him and made sure he remained on the streets.  Abused, beaten, humiliated, burnt, prostituted, Erik had been there and done that.  He had a terrible life. He did not like speaking about it, but somehow wanted to tell me all. I knew there was more pain and more sadness. I felt how lonely he felt. I told him that he had an amazing personality and how witty and funny he was. He loved to hear those words.

The day before I was to leave I asked Erik, if he would hang out with me for dinner. He said, he would love to. He told me he`ll meet me around six the next evening at the corner of the street.

The next day at 6pm, I left the hotel, and waited for him where he said he would be. It was almost seven now.  Erik never turned up.

At 2 a.m. in the night, I ditched my friends and went for a walk on the streets. The street was full of homeless people moving in circles. Some were high on drugs, some prostituting and looking for clients, some looking for drug dealers and some just walking to keep warm. A few even came upto me and asked if I wanted weed. I bantered with more people, not once, did I feel scared.  This was a community.    The next morning, I got a few doughnuts and gave it to another homeless guy, I saw on the street. “I hope you like it”, I said. “Thanks, I appreciate that” he said. Giving can be so wonderful.

Some parts of me felt more at home with these people. Probably because, I felt a bit free. There was lack of judgement, lack of sizing up, lack of showing off. All I saw was humility. Pride is a distant relative of the broken, I thought.   I felt a bit liberated among them. These people had nothing to hang on to. No structure and no pressure to sustain one.  No pretence and no facade.  Not worrying if the other one has got a better job, house, or a  car. It’s that kind of freedom these people have, which probably we will never know. These invisible people gave me a glimpse into what freedom could really mean.

Some people fall harder than others. They do probably because of their own flaws but mostly due to circumstances. But they are not failures. Probably they did not have people to break their fall, to catch them. Not everyone is as lucky as some of us.

I felt thankful that I have the basics that I need. But ever so doubtful of the slight sense of pride I might feel for earning an “x” amount, being in UK or having that amazing phone. I learnt an invaluable lesson, you never own anything, but things own you.

Coming back to the story, the day I was about to leave, the receptionist told me someone had left a message for me. I was curious.

I unfolded the scruffy piece of paper. It read, “Dear Kiaan, Sorry, I could not come the other day. I hope you understand. I want to thank you; your kindness would keep me warm for days to come. Erik”. A tear rolled down my cheek. It was time to say goodbye to San Francisco and Erik. I will never forget his smile. It had a captivating quality. It still haunts me and I know why. In all the horrors of life he faced, the child in him, the innocence in him was left intact. You saw that in his smile.

Note: Name of the main character has been changed to protect identity.

An open letter to a friend….

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AN OPEN LETTER TO A FRIEND…

DISCLAIMER: This letter is not intended to hurt anyone, not intended for anyone specific. Not intended to show disregard for friendship. This letter is just to express thoughts, words we have not ever said to our loved/not so loved friends. Things we itch to blurt out. Some is from my personal experience, some from others, some imagined. Does bear resemblance to real life, but partly. Last but not the least, I love all my friends, but what the heck!   

NOTE: This letter does not in any way convey, that I don’t love you, to all my friends, I love you the way you are, I don’t want you to change, I just want to express, these may not be the  things I want to tell you, these are random thoughts! These may be things probably you want to tell me J

Dear friend,

I have known you for ages, but certain things get on my nerves, by the time I finished writing, it became a long list

I am sick of your Sridevi posts. You have a bad breath. You are embarrassed about my huge, loud laughter. Do you know you are gay?. Its ok you can tell me. Do you know I am gay?. I have a crush on you!. I always wonder, if you are a virgin? I am sorry. You sing like a crow.  Your marriage sucks! Big time. You talk a lot, I mean a lot, without ever asking me a single question, which makes me regret, I asked you, “how are you doing?” you have a huge ego, discussing any issue with you, brings this poisonous ego out. Why do you want to always have to have the last word? Do you realise, it’s I who always pays? Stop flirting with my girlfriend. Stop name dropping, how come you know everyone on this planet?  How dumb of you not realise why you get so many deodorants as gifts. Cut the macho crap. You are a hypocrite.  Could you stop telling us how amazing you are, just for a sec, just for a sec, it gives me room to breathe. You haven’t returned me my money yet. I am not a vegetarian, live with it. Can I question your belief in God, or is it a no-go-zone. You can be an ungrateful bastard. You can be bloody insensitive. You take pride in being insensitive. You never wash your hand after you pee! Can you lend me some money. I actually hate sharing food. Why are you scared of saying that you love me? Learn to say sorry! Or thank you. Your jokes make me wanna cry. Can we forget and forgive. You have got stuck in a rut, though, I have grown as a person, and you have not. You have no passion for anything, you don’t read, don’t research anything. Our friendship hasn’t moved beyond the superficial. You really don’t know me. I don’t know you. You don’t want to know me. You don’t want me to know you. You never hug me well. you hug me too much. I want to rip your clothes and have sex with you. You never listen. Silence makes you uncomfortable. Your mom bores me to death. You never see the pain behind the words. I hate that you have a better paid job that I do. But I love it when you always offer to pay. You don’t know when its time to say bye. I hate your sister. I love your sister. Your mom is hot. You never talk about your dad.  Your boyfriend is a jerk. Your girlfriend laffs like  a hyena, she is a hyena. Don’t be on the phone when I talk to you. You fart like a dog. I love you.