Friday, February 28, 2014

Never Ending Journey

14 Feb 2014 : Both me and Dr. Mathur left Uttarkashi at noon as we were warned by the District Disaster Management Officer that anytime the roads might close as landslides have begun in some places. So, were rushing to get out. We were told that we should travel through Chamba and Rishikesh, a much longer route in comparison to Musoorie, which is the shorter route to Dehradun. In about 20 kilometers we crossed Dunda and our ordeals began. Couple of landslides had just begun and we escaped them carefully.  As we crossed what is known as Dharasu Bend, Dr. Mathur told me that the worst is over – and we are now free to travel! But that was not to be so!
Just three of kilometers ahead of us at a place called Nalpaani, a landslide from a high mountain had begun almost vertically, and it had thrown much of dirt and was throwing down small rocks. One of the vehicles had damaged its windows. As more vehicles waited, we too began to wait. When for a few minutes the rains seem to withhold, the policemen who had a mini police station next to the location let first the vehicles from the lower hills to climb up towards Uttarkashi. (Did you read it correct? Yes, they let more vehicles to climb up the hill when the landslides were actually blocking the roads.) Once all vehicles from the lower hills had crossed into the upper hills, crossing past us, now it was our turn to move ahead to safety—but then came the shocker!  In line of vehicles was a loaded truck that was standing in front. With much of the slush from the active landslide already having filled most part of the road, the truck was trying to cross it. I was wondering why the police is allowing this to happen. By the time even my thinking was over, the truck had already got stuck in the slush and now it cannot be taken out! We returned back to Dharasu Bend where we had hot rice and fish curry – which was much of the solace against the cold blowing rain. We went back to Nalpaani hoping that the truck will be taken out. Hei, there is a huge earthmover that can be utilized to pull out the truck. No, it cannot be used. Reason: the earthmover had no fuel! Comedy of errors???
Attempt to pull the truck hadn’t succeeded till 5.45 pm, and it was getting dark. We began to look for a place to stay for the night. A little guest house at the Nalpaani and a smaller one at Dharasu Bend were already full with stranded people from couple of buses and private vehicles like ours. People suggested that we travel to Brahmakhal, about 15 kilometers from Dharasu Bend and leave for Dehradun the next morning through Badkot, an alternate route. So, we climbed to Brahmakhal and stayed at Hotel Dhruv for the night, after having some chapatti and vegetables for dinner.
Photo taken from outside my room of our hotel
As we woke up on 15th morning, a Saturday, we were welcomed by four inches of snow and the snowfall continued till 10.00 am. We had been badly stuck in the snows. Once the roads got better with the snow melting and people voluntarily clearing part of the roads, we took the risk of going back to Dharasu bend, as the previously planned route to Badkot had totally been closed with over 3 feet of snowfall in the higher ridges that we would otherwise have taken. We were happy by then that the rains had stopped and the roads will be opened at Nalpaani. But to our dismay, just about a mile before we reached the Dharasu Bend, the road we had taken the previous night, had closed with fall of huge rocks and boulders. Now that is what destiny would have it!

We called up few officials hoping that the road would be cleared. But nothing was happening. Meanwhile we walked down to Dharasu Bend, took lunch, carried some lunch for the driver, and then asked him to go back if the roads don’t open by 5.00 pm so that he can stay with the vehicle at Brahmakhal in a safer environment. Both me and Mr. Mathur walked and crossed the Nalpaani and another landslide about a kilometer from there, and then took a jeep to Chiniyalisaur. I decided to stay that night in Chiniyalisaur, and not take the risk of traveling late at night through the mountains to Dehradun.

Next morning at 11.00 am, the driver along with the vehicle came after all the roads were opened, and then I traveled to Dehradun and reached at 5.45 pm – dead tired. By the way: what or whom should I blame for the ordeal? The nature’s fury?  My luck? The policemen who did not follow proper order in passing vehicles? The journey that should have taken just six hours turned out to be a terror of 54 hours.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In the midst of Children

On 12 Feb I traveled in the afternoon from Dehradun to Uttarkashi. Since it was already late I preferred to stay at Chiniyalisaur, a small and beautiful town en route. I also took the opportunity to visit Mary Mata School, a high school that imbibes Christian values among students. Fr. Joey invited me to stay on that night as it was already late and in any case it would not have made much sense to travel to Uttarkashi as I was to visit next morning Dunda which is closer from Chiniyalisaur than Uttarkashi.  We  took a walk to the Officers’ Recreation Room where some boys were playing table tennis. Boy! I too started playing table tennis after 15 years….! The boys in their late teens and early twenties were playing very slow, and I told them how the game must be played faster, and I played faster! I ended up losing the first game at 13-21, the second I lost at 19-21, and the third I won at 21-14! Impressive! The boys appreciated that at my age I had the power to play the game after a decade and a half.
On 13th I spent the whole day in several field visits and meetings – and the height of the day was the visit to Gunalgaon village supported by Mata Amritanandamayi Math Trust (MAMT) where I spent some time at the Anganwadi (ICDS center) with 3 – 5 year olds checking how the education and health services are met for these children. A few of those children were very talkative and started climbing on me, sitting on my lap… I took the opportunity to check if the children are able to recognize the Tabs that  MAMT has provided to the anganwadi for educational purposes. I also asked the teacher to demonstrate how she teaches the children. There were issues in the way she was teaching. I took those issues up with the MAMT volunteers who were accompanying me.

On 14th morning I woke up to heavy rainfall lashing through the mountains. It had turned to be extremely cold in comparison to the previous day. Luckily, I did not have to walk out for breakfast, as the hotel where I was staying did not serve food. A friend, Mr. Stephen was kind enough to bring some homemade parathas and tea for me and Dr. P.D.Mathur who heads the coordination efforts in the district. And thus began the ordeal of a journey that lasted from 6 hours to 54 hours!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Animals or Men?

I am deeply intrigued by a story that I was following on news in the last week. (A portion of it can be viewed in this Times of India article. In short, a cooking gas delivery guy befriends a young lady who has newly got married six months ago and has shifted from Uttar Pradesh state to Mumbai saying that he too is from the same State and is in Mumbai for livelihood. (In India cooking gas is delivered in cylinders, approximately once a month.) That means he had met her a maximum of five times, by when he comes to know that her husband goes to work and she is alone during the day. On the eventful day he comes with another delivery man mentioning that they have come to check if there is any gas leak, and they want her to get the Gas Delivery Book, where they want to make an entry of their visit. As she gets into their personal room to get the book, the men pounce on her, gag her, rape her and threaten to kill her. She pleads to be left live saying she will not inform any one. And at last they leave the beleaguered woman who passes out. The men loot the house, take valuables and gold, and escape. 

When the woman wakes up she calls her husband and informs him of the ordeal, and he in turn approaches the police.  Both the men are behind bar now. 

Why do people think that any "safe" place is a place to "attack" another? Why do we treat a place that is safe for one is unsafe for another? How can a home that is to be the safest place for a woman become unsafe in the presence of delivery boys? Indian laws need to change. This is not just a rape, but also is using one's official work for the purpose of perpetrating a crime. 

The government is speaking about having security guards and security cameras in all the ATMs to make people feel safe. But we don't need ATMs to feel unsafe. We can just be unsafe at home! The perspective needs to change. It is not the places that perpetrate a crime, it is the criminal mind that nourishes it. Unless we identify such and treat it with effective law enforcement, we might just not change. By the way, I am not sure if this woman is the first victim of these two criminals. May be there are others as well, and victims of such violence need to speak up.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Super Week

The last week has been one of the most hectic weeks I had in terms of networking, organizing and analysis. The week started with organizing for some high profile visits that are due in mid-February. On 4 Feb there is a Coordination Meeting to be organized between more than 12 Government departments involved in livelihood enhancement and civil society organizations engaged in livelihood and economic recovery in the state. There was also a visit for couple of days by Mr. Vijay K who is documenting the involvement and impact of UNDMT in Uttarakhand. And finally, being end of the month, as the reports started flowing in, doing a lot of data analysis. On an average I was writing 20 mails and was receiving about 35 mails in the official ID for Uttarakhand that I use, besides the scores of mails that I get in my personal ID. 

It was also a week where I could feel that things are moving much faster that I can imagine in few sectors as work has started getting implemented by various organizations, and good number of activities are getting completed. Oh yes, the much awaited news (though I would have personally preferred this to happen in April or May after the national elections) came that the Chief Minister of the state has resigned, and the new Chief Minister took charge on Saturday, 1 Feb 2014 evening. This may have further implications as some officials may get transferred, which may be for good or worse, but will take time to get the ball rolling. 

To top it all, I also got to meet one of my teammates : Mr. Praveen Pawar. He is an amazing person....we always make fun of him asking him to stand the elections from Rudraprayag, and he is sure to win! Not just the officials and civil society know him, even the community has begun to recognize him. He is one damn good guy I have in the team. As we spent the morning together, he had some serious questions that kept lingering on - which certainly had to be answered by himself to himself. I was able to help him and get to know himself better. And that made me feel so close to him. Thank you Praveen for being a wonderful friend.