Sunday, March 25, 2007

Cricket World Cup 2007: Dispatches from West Indies and India

Last few days have been very hectic for me. I have been at multiple places at the same time trying to cover all the happenings in the West Indies and the repercussions back home, much like Salman Rushdie's protagonist in The Midnight's Children. Here are my reports (unedited, unaltered)

24th March 2007 (2:15 AM IST): India's men in blues have lost rather surrendered to the Sri Lankan team. "What do these Bangladeshi's and Sri Lankans eat that our players don't," asked the wife long distance, in a voice that was more lethal than Gabbar Singh's in Sholay when he asked, "Yeh, Ramgarh waale apne chokariyon ko kaun se chakki ka pisa hua aata khilate hain?" These days you can carry on a silly conversation long distance given the way telecom tariffs have come down. "Non veg food and beef steaks," I said quickly referring to my notes of my meetings with the Sri Lankan and the Bangladeshi captain. Wifey, prone to not listening when her better half is speaking like any self respecting Bong girl said, "They should have more Bongs in the team. The fish will do the trick." Fish and beef? I could not see the correlation, but I let it pass. This was no time for frivolities, as Bertie would have said. It was time for action and reporting.

24th March, 2007 (4:30 AM IST): The press conferences are over. Rumors are flying thick and fast. Greg Chappell was rattled by inflammatory questions posed to him by the members of the fourth estate, which indicates that some people may be plotting against him. A source in the Port-of-Spain police force said that Greg has asked for additional police protection. No one who is known to Greg is allowed to meet him alone in the room, especially after the sad death, now confirmed murder, of Bob Woolmer by one or more people he seemed to have known well.

The Trinidad police is not taking any chances and only unknown persons are allowed to go and meet him. He has been provided with bullet proof jacket to be worn at all hours. No Indians are allowed to meet him. In fact, Greg Chappell apparently got the scare of his life when a hotel employee tried to stuff the newspaper on the door handle and as a result made some suspicious noises. The said bell boy has been detained for further questioning and the newspaper has been send for forensic examination to Washington.

Dravid in the post match conference said, "I take full responsibility. Now the selectors have an easy job ahead of them for 2011. They know which sixteen will certainly not be there."

23rd March, 2007 (5:00 AM IST): The Pakistan team sent out a congratulatory note to Greg Chappell thanking him for ensuring that India was out of the World Cup as well. There is a fair chance that now they will not be beaten black and blue when they return home. When asked, Greg Chappell said, "I am not employed by you people and I am not prepared to answer it." He also said that congratulations were not due just to him, but to the entire team since he thinks "it's a collective responsibility" and he would love to share credits with people it is due to.

Geo TV has reported that Khawar Zaidi, a Pakistan diplomat, is being flown in from Washington to personally greet Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid, along with the rest of the Indian team on behalf of the Pakistan government. Pakistan government has promised land to the Indian team in the upmarket Defence Housing Colony in Clifton in Karachi. President Musharraff's campaign in the forthcoming elections will focus on India's early ouster from the World Cup. Things are indeed happening fast.

24th March 2007 (7:00 AM IST): Sachin Tendulkar, Vice Captain, said, "I am looking forward to the 2011 World Cup," as he stepped out of the hotel to go for a photo shoot. Apparently ESPN and Star Sports have given him a lucrative contract to be one of the panelists in their illustrious list, which includes greats like Sunil Gavaskar. The next four years Sachin plans to devote to rigorous training of his vocal chords in anticipation of the challenging job ahead.

The hotel were the Indian team is staying wore a deserted look. Everybody was out (partying) and those who were not out were having small parties in their rooms.

24th March 2007 (9:30 AM - 8:00 PM IST): India has woken up to the news that India is most likely out of the World Cup. I just flew in (in a time machine, of course) to get the reactions in India.

Kolkata: In Kolkata, a procession was brought out by cricket lovers demanding the reinstatement of Jag Mohan Dalmiya at the helm of BCCI and Sourav Ganguly as the Indian cricket captain. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the embattled Chief Minister of West Bengal said, "I will ask Prakash (Karat) to raise it in the next meeting of the UPA coordination committee and our MPs will also raise the issue in parliament after it reconvenes after the current recess."

Mumbai: A member of the Mumbai Cricket Association and the Prabhadevi Morning Walker's Association has said that Sachin should be made the non-playing captain till younger talent is groomed, preferably from Mumbai. A despondent cricket fan said, "The Indian team is fit only to play Rakhee's bouncers." Yuvraj Singh has apparently refused to play ball and vowed his loyalities towards another starlet.

Bhopal: Kiran More, the erstwhile selector, has squarely blamed Sourav Ganguly. He said, "The Indian team's entry into the 2003 World Cup finals had raised India's hopes and expectations. If only Ganguly had not led the team into the finals then we had almost managed to forget 1983." Off the record he said that is why he had dropped Ganguly and tried to hound him out of Indian cricket.

Somewhere in Uttar Pradesh: Rahul Gandhi, the crown prince of Congress, interrupted his campaign for the forthcoming UP elections and took of his skull cap he wears when he is Deoband or Aligarh to speak to the press. He said, "If my grandmother had been alive, she surely would have been the Prime Minister of India and then India would have won the World Cup. Look at 1983, who was the Prime Minister then?"

And in true traditions of the Gandhi family when asked what he was going to do about the loss, he said, "Humein dekhna hain, hum dekhenge..." "Rahul baba resembled his dear father when he said this," observed an old timer as he wiped a tear from the corner of his eyes. Rahul also said that BJP and Samajwadi Party were to be blamed for India's loss since they only encouraged wrestling (SP) and stick wielding (the RSS).

Delhi: A section of the Congress has demanded that Sonia Gandhi replace Sharad Pawar as the President of the BCCI and Rahul Gandhi be made the Chairman of the selection committee, since he had secured admission to St Stephen's College, New Delhi, under the sports quota, when he did not meet academic standards, which only goes to show what a great sportsman he is. "Sonia lao, cricket bachao" is the slogan coined by Ambika Soni and Mani Shankar Iyer jointly. Sonia has refused to comment and is maintaining her sphinx like silence. During the day she only spoke to her daughter, Priyanka.

Meanwhile the BJP has blamed the Congress for India's performance. They said because Italy does not play cricket, Sonia Gandhi does not encourage our cricketers. They also blamed Indira Gandhi for the creation of Bangladesh without which the tragedy of losing to Bangladesh could not have happened. "Na rahegi baans, na bajegi bansoori" was their inimitable logic. Atal Behari Vajpayee has refused to be drawn into the controversy and has decided not to campaign for the UP polls since he is unwell (any cricket fan would understand and sympathise with him).

Kamal Nath, Union Minister of Trade & Commerce, has blamed the lobby producing cricket bats for India's woes. He has said India will ban the export of cricket bats so that more bats at lower prices are available in India for our budding cricketers. He said his government will impose price limits on cricket bats and the government will supply bats to minorities on a preferential basis in line with the PMs statement that "minorities have first right on the country's resources." He said he will also urge the Pakistan administration to take similar steps.

Mumbai, ZEE TV studios: In a hurriedly convened press conference. Pradeep Guha, ZEE TVs CEO, announced that his channel would start airing a new serial from Monday titled "Kyonki Sachin bhi kabhi cricket khelta tha". The serial to be produced by Balaji Telefilms will be directed by none other than Ekta Kapoor, India's soap opera queen. Pradeep Guha said, "This serial will be a hit with housewives across the country as they would regain the control of the TV remote that they had lost since the start of the World Cup."

25th March 2007 (5:00 AM IST): The Sri Lankan skipper, Mahela Jayewardene said, "Cricket is a funny game." From where he is sitting, I am sure he sees many funny things. Meanwhile the Bermuda captain, Irvine Romaine, has said, "That the whole of corporate India wants us to beat Bangladesh. Don't worry, we will try our best." So corporate India and Bermuda is rising to save India's team for another battle another day.

Rumors are that corporate India is trying to fix the match and has approached the Bangladeshi players to throw away their match so that India can qualify. Prakash Karat, General secretary of CPI (M), who has recently fallen in love with industrialists and industrialization has reportedly promised corporate India that he will ensure that West Bengal government offers land for settling the Bangladeshi players if they lose to Bermuda and are unable to go back to their country. Bermuda players have vowed to take India to the next round. There is hope yet.

25th March 2007 (6:00 AM IST): Ricky Ponting said that he preferred the Australian way of winning rather than the Indian way of losing. He was reacting to Sunil Gavaskar's comments that while Aussies were unpopular champions of the game, Indians were more popular (losers). "Sachin has more sponsors running after him than the entire Aussie team," said Gavaskar when I met him in the hotel lobby.

25th March 2007 (9:00 AM IST): In the offices of a foreign brokerage house in Nariman Point, Mumbai, an analyst is writing a "Buy" report on Zee Tele. His earlier fears that Zee would have a poor quarter because of the World Cup will not come true any longer. But he is not happy after having been dragged into his Dilbertian cubicle on a bright Sunday morning. "Curse the Indian team," he muttered under his breath as he typed furiously on the keyboard. A sentiment with which the rest of the country agreed.

After 48 hours of non-stop working and criss-crossing the Atlantic, I need some sleep now. Ciao. Good night, sleep tight and don't let the bugs bite.

(All the characters mentioned in my dispatches are true and real life. Any resemblance to persons dead or living is purely intentional. However, the same cannot be said about the events.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Rahul Gandhi, filmy ishtyle

For a long time now I have believed that Indian history will some time give a pride of place to the late Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao. He was one of the most erudite and scholarly PMs and politicians we had. But that is not the reason. If Dr. Manmohan Singh is credited with being the poster boy of reforms, then a large share of the credit has to go to P V Narasimha Rao. Mr. Rao was no more a believer of reforms than say Indira Gandhi. Dr. Manmohan Singh did not write any documents and scholarly papers on economic reforms in the 70s and 80s. Economic reality of the day meant that one either acted to bring this country back from the brink of disaster or push it further into an age of darkness started by the late Smt Indira Gandhi.

P V Narasimha Rao made the right choice and he brought in an economist-bureaucrat to do what was prescribed to be done. If today India is acknowledged for its economic potential and lauded for achievements of the last decade and a half, due credit has to go to P V Narasimha Rao. Of course, a party steeped in sycophancy which cannot see behind the name Gandhi will never acknowledge the same. They even did not give a decent burial place (Narasimha Rao's final humiliation) in the capital to the late departed PM since the party believes that only the Nehru-Gandhi name can adorn each and every monument, structure and social schemes in this country.

Why should Dr. Singh share the credit for reforms with Mr. Rao? Simply because Mr. Rao was heading a coalition government then, similar to what Dr. Singh is doing now. Dr. Singh was not a seasoned politician then and even now he remains a reluctant and an uncomfortable one. Mr. Rao not only gave a free hand to his FM and his team but also ensured that they were shielded from the politics of the day. His diplomacy and political legerdemain ensured that Dr. Singh was left free to do his job. Mr. Rao took along with him the BJP, the Left Front and sundry other political groups. Sure reforms did slow down during the last two years, but it did not come to a standstill or take a step back as is happening now.

The parallels between now and then is similar. Once again the Congress is heading a coalition government. But the politics of the day has been so badly handled that both the BJP and the Left Front are opposing the economic policies of the government. Within Congress, their leaders are opposing government's policy decisions. To a not so keen observer, it will be difficult to say who is in the government and who is outside. And the poor Doctor is a man besieged. One had expected that Mrs. Sonia Gandhi would have managed the political side with Dr. Singh and his team getting on with the job. She and her band of merry advisors have instead created a royal mess. They have proven that the Congress cannot run a coalition government and has no respect or tolerance for its allies.

You dear reader may be wondering what started this diatribe? It was a report in the Indian Express, titled 'Gandhis wouldn't have let Babri fall'. This is what Rahul baba reportedly told reporters during his campaign in Uttar Pradesh. No prizes for guessing what constituency he was trying to address and who he was trying to appease in the golden traditions of the Congress. His take was that he was giving facts and if any member of the Gandhi family had been in active politics, the Babri Masjid would have been still standing in all its glory. He also said, in his father's forgettable "naani yaad dila doonga" style, that had Rajiv Gandhi been alive, "he would stand in front of Babri Masjid if it will do any good. They would have to kill him first." This is a dialogue worthy of Kader Khan. Rahul Gandhi has indeed learnt a few things from his father. Difficult to believe that the late Mr. Rajiv Gandhi had such sentiments. He is the one who took the retrograde step of turning back the Supreme Court judgment on the Shah Bano case and he is the person under whose regime the Babri Masjid locks were opened for worship.

And who was Rahul Gandhi blaming? Of course, P V Narasimha Rao but without naming him. How easy for Rahul to say this. If only it was possible to fool all the people all the time, Rahul would have been able to revive the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. I am hoping that Congress continues its slide in Uttar Pradesh during the forthcoming assembly polls. Rahul also blamed Congress's alliance with Baujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 1996 for Congress's declines. If the migrant taxi drivers in Mumbai are correct then Rahul may have to eat humble pie very soon. Because according to the taxi drivers, BSP is slated to make a come back in the forthcoming polls and then Congress may want to get hitched to her coattails only to keep BJP out of power even if it means it will cut its own nose.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Truth and rumors - the Nandigram tragedy

Last night at about ten, I received a call from a school friend of mine. He sounded agitated. The issue was Nandigram. He said he had spoken to many people in West Bengal and in towns near Nandigram. He had worked in that locality in his younger days as an officer in a public sector company and clearly knows the region well. The gist of his statements were as follows:

"A very bad and evil thing has happened. The government and the cadres of the Left Front have gone on a spree killing innocent people. While the official numbers say 14 dead, the actual number of dead is over 500. A ditch in Nandigram is littered with bodies. Something like this last happened in Jallianwala Bag. Everyone is West Bengal is agitated, people are coming out on the streets in Kolkata. This Left Front government will not get elected again. West Bengal is on fire."

Clearly the revolutionary spirit of my friend had been awakened by what by all accounts is a most tragic incident. He said all this and more. While I am relying on my memory to write the statements, I can assure you that there is no exaggeration. I had also been watching the news on prime time television switching between CNN-IBN and NDTV trying to catch on what had happened (avoiding the noise of the anchor and concentrating on the visuals) and trying to make sense out of it. What I have understood so far (and even I have spoken to a few people in Kolkata):

1. The West Bengal CM quite some time back had assured the people of Nandigram that no land will be acquired for the SEZ if they did not want it and the SEZ will be shifted elsewhere. But apparently the administration was yet to withdraw the notice for land acquisition although all such activities had come to a stop.

2. In Nandigram, the CPI(M) cadres and administration officials had been driven out in January and since then they have not been able to go back. The villagers have bee under the control of the agitationists and quite possibly there are outsiders in their midst fomenting trouble. Roads have been dug up and ditches have been built to ensure that vehicles cannot move in.

3. The West Bengal government sent in police force to "reclaim Nandigram". Sometime back a policeman had been killed and his body discovered after many days. Apparently commingling with the police force were the CPI (M) cadres itching for violence and revenge.

In this melee one side started the firing - both sides obviously accuse the other. 14 lives, some innocent and some not, have been lost. Numerous questions crop up:

1. Who were the people who had driven out the administration and what were they holding out against even after the government had put a stop to land acquisition?

2. Who had supplied arms and ammunition to this group and what is their motive? Where did the crowd get crude bombs from?

3. Why had the West Bengal government not withdrawn the notification for land acquisition if it had acceded to the "people's will"?

4. Why were the police force sent on Wednesday - two months since the resistance? Should it have been sent earlier or later after trying to resolve the stand off through dialogues?

The media has been frothing at the mouth calling Buddhadeb Bhattacharya names and heralding the beginnings of a new revolution. One TV channel had the caption "Blood in Buddhadeb's hands". He has also been compared to General Dyer and in a comparison it was said that General Dyer was probably the better of the two. This debate has now turned into a debate of whether industrial development is necessary. Mamata Banerjee has already called for a 12-hour bandh in Kolkata today. Many political parties have supported it. The result is Kolkata will "enjoy" a three day weekend, few buses and taxis will be burnt, some public property will be destroyed and lakhs of students will not be able to appear for the board exams that are going on.

To my mind, the two casualties of this will be truth and development. I called back my friend about half an hour back to see if he had any further updates. He said, "The situation is not bad. Most of what I was told yesterday seems to be rumors (goojob is the Bengali term that he used). But today's bandh has brought life in Kolkata to a near stand still and those who have dared to venture out are facing numerous problems." There you have it. In a matter of twelve hours, the views had taken an about turn. I have long believed that:

1. Indian media should behave more responsibly, tell the truth but not necessarily be sensationalist at all times and also look at the greater national interest (read the balanced editorial in Indian Express today)

2. Indian government and states should do better PR

And of course I wish, but it is too much to expect, that political parties could at times rise beyond petty politicking.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Olympic ka race ya police ka case?

I have been a big fan of Amitabh Bachchan for longer than I can remember. In fact there was a time when I would try and memorize lengthy dialogues from his hit films. Many a bacchanalian nights revelries would end with my friends urging me to say the dialogues from some Bachchan movie, and I trying my best to impersonate the Big B's baritone voice.

Such a dialogue came to my mind today morning. Early in the morning (8ish is more like it), I was standing waiting for "Lift number 3" to come down and swallow me in. I had pressed the button and the light on the panel had lit up. The lift was making its journey down from the 10th floor. I am not a morning person normally and was still trying to keep my eyelids wide apart and thinking of the long day ahead. I mean I was not in a mood of hustle and bustle. Suddenly from behind me a gust of wind blew in. Not exactly, but you get the impression, right? A man, obviously in a hurry, rushed in.

Now I must describe this man who broke into my early morning revelry. Tall, well built and a slight hint of a beer belly. Clearly someone who use to be a regular at the gym in the not so distant past, but probably his professional life was not allowing him to pursue his passion any longer or too many dinners with clients with lots of booze. Was he an ad industry types? Possibly yes, if his dress of denim shirt hanging loose over his khaki trousers and a small diamond stud earring in his left ear was anything to go by.

Definitely not a banker types. Although I had some doubts about his being an ad industry pro since most of the ad industry professionals that I know, excluding my good friend SGT, never get out of the bed before the sun is well and truly on its way to the midday mark. By the way I must hasten to add, before I lose a friend, that SGT does not wear diamond earrings. But the "early-morning-ad-person's" shoes were designed and worn to draw the attention from the most placid and uninterested onlooker.

The shoes definitely merit a special discussion. They were large, larger than what the person's physique would suggest. Not surprising given that the black shiny leather shoes were very narrow in the front. It (I mean the shoes and not the man) also had some sort of floral pattern around the edges. The sort of shoes you probably see dancing enthusiasts wearing in pubs or bars. They reminded me of some of the white shiny shoes that Jeetendra used to wear in his hey days. Shudder.

Now Mr. Pointy Shoe rushed past me and started jabbing at the lift button as if willing the lift to hurry down fast or rather ASAP as his ad industry boss may have barked at him time and again. He did not stop with one or two jabs. He was clearly a man who believed that once you start jabbing at the lift button, you might as well try and destroy it forever. Or maybe he really believed that his earnest and desperate jabbing would actually bring the lift down faster. The lift, unfortunately for Mr. Pointy Shoe, was in no hurry and was coming down by stopping at each and every floor on the way down, possibly exchanging greetings with the floor cleaner and the security personnel on each floor.

Finally the lift arrived. Much to Mr. Pointy Shoe's frustration, two other people got into the lift apart from us. While he wanted to go to the 6th floor, the other two gents wanted to get down on the 3rd and the 5th floor. As if that was not enough, the lift decided to take a stop on the 1st floor - a stop it had missed during its downward journey. Mr. Pointy Shoes was clearly getting impatient and jumped off the lift as soon as it reached the 6th.

And I remembered the dialogue from Amar Akbar Anthony, which long years of neglect had driven to the deep recesses of my memory, which is also rapidly failing with the advancing decades. The very appropriate dialogue, said by who else but the Big B and penned by Kader Khan, goes something like this: "Aadmi zindagi mein sirf do ich baar aisa bhagta hai, ya to Olympic ka race ho, ya police ka case ho." I wonder which one of the two was it in Mr. Pointy Shoe's case? Or was it an impatient boss or a client presentation not ready but due at ten in the morning? I was smiling as I got out on the 8th - not at Mr. Pointy Shoes, but at having successfully dug out the old dialogue from the recesses of my memory.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Jaipur and Bhaonta - one country, two world's

Rajkumar was driving us from Jaipur to Bhaonta. Bhaonta is a small nondescript village about an hour and half's drive from Jaipur where Rajendra Singh, Magsaysay Award winner and water man of Rajasthan, started working his wonders. Testimony to his work is painted on a wall in the village where the President of India gave him an award. More important is the sight of water streams in villages in that area that were bone dry for decades and the grateful look in the eyes of the villagers when one mentions the name of Rajendra Singh. It had all started with my request to Rajendra Singh to interview him And he said before that you must see the work we have done. So that is what brought us to Jaipur that day.

But this story is not about Rajendra Singh, this one is about Rajkumar. There was something about Rajkumar that told us from miles away that he is a rajput - the moustache, the walk and the proud head held high. Rajkumar graduated from being a mechanic in a two-wheeler workshop to driving a tourist taxi. While working as a mechanic, he fell in love with a college student who used to come to the garage with her two-wheeler. His love was reciprocated and the two love birds got married after much opposition from the girl's parents (naturally, right?). Rajkumar's wife went on to do her post graduate studies in English and today teaches in a local college. Rajkumar continues to drive the taxi.

His wife has also started an export business - exporting local handicrafts and Rajkumar is in the process of trying to get her a loan from a local bank. He deals with the local bank officials because "they do not treat women well". He with his traditional rajput aggression and bravado is better at dealing with the bank officials. Rajkumar and his "Rajkumari" seem to be destined for a happy ending, the kind we see in movies where the rich educated girl and the poor illiterate boy live happily ever after.

I asked Rajkumar, whether he plans to buy his own car and run a taxi service some day.

"No, sir. There is no money in running a tourist taxi. There are just too many taxis and too few tourists. And a majority of the tourists do not use taxis and use auto rickshaws," said Rajkumar as we passed one of the many forts in Jaipur and hit the highway full of advertisements for Omaxe City and many other cities and shopping malls coming up with a vengeance.

"In fact there is more money to be earned by being an auto rickshaw driver than driving a tourist taxi," he concluded.

Huh, what was that! "Is that so, then why don't you...?," I started to ask.

Before I could complete my question, Raj answered my half completed question and also gave me a lesson on immigrant labor and its success. "Sahib, I am from this city. People will say "Rajkumar rajput is driving an auto" and that will lower my prestige in the society. Therefore, I will continue to drive the taxi even if I can earn more doing something else. It would be different if I were to go and work in Delhi or Kolkata. There I would not mind even working as a manual labor. Here in Jaipur, it is people from Bihar and West Bengal who come and do all these jobs, stay in tiny one room pigeon holes and when they go back to their home towns, they boast of their earnings and better life style and bring in more people. All this drives down the wages and earnings for us because we cannot do the same. These people from Bihar and Kolkata also work harder and for longer hours, because they do not have anything else to do."

"Do you regret not studying?," I asked.

"No, sir. There is this friend of mine who studied and is a graduate. But there were no jobs for him here and the jobs that were there, he felt, were beneath his dignity. His father was well to do, so there was no urgent need for him to start his livelihood. He has got married, started a family and his father still supports him. At times I tell his father to throw him out of the house so that he starts earning his livelihood. That would be the biggest favor the father could do to the son. Otherwise what will happen to the son after the father passes away? That is the problem with education, sir. It makes you incapable of doing certain jobs and there are not enough opportunities for what you think you are qualified for," he confidently concluded. Reminded me of one of my favorite stories by Somerset Maugham - The Verger.

We had reached Bhaonta, a small dusty village with scattered huts, very little vegetation, stray cattles and surrounded by brown barren hills. After locating our guide (Rajendra Singh had informed one of his co-workers of our visit), we trekked for a kilometer or two to see how the johads were built and ground water was being replenished. It was a hot sunny day and after about an hour of steady walking we were thirsty and slightly breathless. We sat under a tree near a well and Rajkumar virtually barked at a cattle grazer nearby to fetch us some water from the well after ascertaining the caste of villagers who used that well. The cattle grazer ran to fulfill Rajkumar's command and first offered him water and then to us. Right from the time we had reached the village Rajkumar was in command. You could seethat he was strutting around and in some way exuding power, which you could feel from a distance. I was stunned.

"I am a rajput," was what he offered as a matter of fact explanation. One and half hours out of Jaipur and caste equations were alive as they had been many decades back.

"I cannot drink from the same well as a lower caste person or eat with him. This is the way life is in villages. A few months back, I was driving back to Jaipur and stopped to have water in one of the villages. The people chased me till I told them I was a rajput. Otherwise I may have got lynched that day for drinking water from a particular well." continued Rajkumar.

"But what do you do when you are in Jaipur? How do you know the caste of the person who is sitting next to you in a tea shop," I asked.

"In the city it is different; we do not care about these things out there," laughed Rajkumar.

We returned to Jaipur after dusk and after meeting the Waterman checked into our hotel well past 9:00 PM. Settling down to a warm Rajasthani meal washed down with a chilled beer, it seemed we were light years away from where we where the whole day. Which of the two are real? Or are both real? Can one of them influence and change the other for better? What is better?