Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 1, Dated Jan 12, 2008
|CULTURE & SOCIETY
Seventeen, going on eighteen. The world is their oyster but India
has a special place in their hearts. TEHELKA
talks to ten Indians on the cusp of innocence and the grown-up challenges
DAUGHTER OF a domestic
servant, of an agricultural labourers, of a doctor, of a businessman.
The son of a handicraft dealer, of a caretaker. From Shillong and Siliguri
to Srinagar and Kochi. Voices as gloriously diverse as India, who have
their age in common, and the fact that they have dreams of shaping their
destiny — and that of the nation and the planet they inhabit —
when they take the first tentative steps towards adulthood in 2008. The
year when they can cast a vote and, in case of girls, marry. Their hopes,
frustrations, ambitions, likes and dislikes are varied but there is a
harmony in their collective vision of tomorrow.
JUNE 7, 1990
IT was Krishna Balu Naidu’s good fortune that he was born inside
the precincts of Kamla Raheja College of Architecture (under a staircase
to be precise). His father was a caretaker there and he says that he spent
the first 14 years of his childhood surrounded by architects, playing
with keyboards in the computer lab and sleeping in different studios in
Krishna was not so
fortunate in that his father was an alcoholic. He says that he was forced
to assist him from an early age. His mother is Krishna’s “hero”.
He completed his primary education at Vidyanidhi school and his secondary
education from Gandhi Shiksha Bhavan high school and is now studying at
Mithibhai College in Mumbai.
Like most people
his age, Krishna wants to become “something” when he grows
up. Unlike most of them, he doesn’t have any idea what. Understandable
perhaps given that his concerns are more immediate. “I just hope
to complete my graduation,” he says. “Right now I don’t
know if I will be in college the next year because my father thinks I
should start earning and not waste money on studies.”
No wonder then that
the one thing he is looking forward to when he grows up is the freedom
to take his own decisions. At this point, his ambitions are pretty basic:
as an adult, he wants to earn enough to take care of his family and still
have money in hand to spend on personal needs. What would those be? “Going
to McDonald’s, watching films and buying new clothes,” he
For now, he saves
what little pocket money he gets. These days Krishna’s spare time
is taken up by the Mithibhai College drama team. On Sundays, he likes
to read newspapers. His loves cricket, worships cricketers, likes SRK
and Rajnikanth and doesn’t read books.
In college he spends
time with a small group of boys and girls. When does he think he will
get married? Only after he becomes
financially independent, he says. His views on marriage couldn’t
be more conventional — he wants a life partner “who is understanding
and has a good personality.” Talking about sex makes him uncomfortable
on a personal level but Krishna is quick to add that sex education is
necessary today. He makes it a point to go to the Kali temple on two days
every week and on those days refrains from eating nonvegetarian food.
Is there anything
that he would risk his personal security for? “Yes,” says
Krishna. “My mother needs to repay a massive loan
for our rented home. Perhaps for that.”
Krishna feels that
India’s bane is population explosion; it is at the root of poverty,
illiteracy and increasing crime rates. Two recent events that saddened
and angered him were the killing of a school boy in Gurgaon by his classmates
and suicide by a Mumbai boy who felt that he hadn’t scored enough
in his exams.
If there is one thing
that he could change about India, it would be the lack of jobs. Despite
the ills that he enumerates, Krishna has a lot of feeling for India. He
says he likes “the environment in Mumbai” and wouldn’t
want to live abroad. What about India gives him hope? Krishna ponders
over the question and comes up with an answer that is disarming in its
candidness. He can’t think of anything. And yet, you know that this
is not an articulation of hopelessness. Despite having seen a lot of life
already for his years, Krishna is upbeat about the future.
JUNE 1, 1990
FEELS like we are in a foreign land!” Geetha squeals, as she walks
jauntily down Bangalore’s posh shopping centre, Brigade Road. On
her first visit to Bangalore’s central business district, she spends
five hesitant minutes clutching her bag and dodging passersby. From then
on, it is a confident step that takes Geetha, the daughter of a domestic
servant and a weaver, closer to the huge shop windows decorated with mannequins
dressed in fancy clothes.
“What kind of
design is that? Who would wear a belt around their thigh on a pair of
jeans?” asks Geetha. She nods disapprovingly and moves on. An hour
later, Geetha’s voice is level as she reflects on the bright neon
lights, the expensively-dressed people, the number of cars and the price
Geetha Kadappa Gudgapur
is going to be a fashion designer and a full-time activist with Samanatha
Mahila Vedike (SMV), a women’s rights organization. If these appear
naturally dichotomous, Geetha has no such confusions. A fashion designer
is someone who can work independently, she states matter- of-factly. “If
I work for someone, I won’t have the time. They will make me work
hard, I will be tired and working with SMV will be reduced to a part-time
Geetha is sure that
she will run a shop of her own one day — paint on clothes that she
can sell and embroider sarees that women will be proud of. For now though,
she is finishing a vocational course in fashion designing at Vani Vilas
College for Women. It is a government-aided college and the facilities
leave much to be desired. Geetha opens up a box with carefully preserved
pieces of embroidered cloth, excitedly pointing out various stitches and
patterns. Square white pieces of cloth, with patterns that speak alternately
of perfection and a learning hand.
Says Geetha about
her college, “Most of the teachers in my college finish their own
work while they are supposed to be teaching us. Even the tailoring machines
haven’t been repaired.” Amid peals of laughter, she talks
of the mischief they have planned for their teachers once the final exams
A minute later, she
is serious again. “Why should our juniors and other students after
us waste their lives? We want to shake the teachers up a bit.” Did
she always want to be a fashion designer? She laughs. “I was around
13 years old when I was sent to work in the weaving looms. I had no dreams
then of anything beyond that. It was only after I joined this course that
I learnt that my love for painting and embroidery was called fashion designing!”
There is a remarkable
clarity about Geetha’s plans for her life, extending to the society
she inhabits as well. Joining a women’s rights organisation has
always been part of the plan. In Ramdurga (Belgaum district), where she
lived with her mother and three siblings, Geetha volunteered to work when
she was barely ten years old. She had watched her mother starve to make
sure they ate. “My younger sister, who was 8 years old, and I worked
as domestic help in a house nearby and then scampered off to school. We
were paid Rs 60 a month.” She quickly compares that amount to the
prices of the clothes she’s just been looking at. Worse was to follow,
due largely to an alcoholic father who resorted frequently to violence
on his rare visits home. Work was difficult to come by and wages dangerously
Under the circumstances,
it was Geetha’s constant preoccupation with books, and determination
to study and speak English that made an impression on a women’s
rights activist in the area. At her suggestion, Geetha rejoined school
in Belgaum and then travelled to Bangalore to stay at a hostel run by
the same organisation.
progression to becoming a member of Samanatha Mahila Vedike is a natural
one. “I hear my classmates saying that they won’t be allowed
to study further. I think of my mother being beaten up. I see the acid
attacks on women taking place. The dowry deaths. The amount of violence
that women have to face everyday. I was lucky to have travelled this far.
What about the others? There are so many others…” Geetha’s
voice trails off, there are tears as the past crowds in.
Asked about icons,
she smiles. “Prathibha Patil became the president and they said
women had gained better status in India. But nothing has changed for a
lot of us. For some people, like on Brigade Road, life may be different,
In quieter moments,
there are more questions. “Will things really change? How long do
we have to fight? If I grow up and continue fighting for women’s
rights, will everything really change?” For someone who is happy
that she moved out of Ramdurga (“I would have been married now if
I had stayed there”), for a girl with dreams of becoming a fashion
designer so she can gain her independence, for a member of a women’s
rights organisation — there can be no easy answers to these questions.
JULY 17, 1990
FOR SUHAIB MAHAJAN,
music is what the soul is to the body. Brought up in conservative Kashmiri
society, the son of a handicraft dealer and a housewife, Mahajan dreams
of becoming a pop star, something quite unheard of in Kashmir. He has
formed, along with his friends, a rock band Blood Rockz. In the
next five years, he looks forward to his band performing for western audiences.
“My parents are supporting me in my decision to be a pop star. I
am a lucky fellow that way,” says he.
is to soothe hearts blighted by years of violence in Kashmir with music.
“People here have suffered a lot, their souls are bruised and for
that I think music is the cure. I want people to heave a sigh of relief,
and feel relaxed with the melodious tones of the guitar, drums and keyboards,”
says Mahajan in a philosophical tone.
Mahajan, who lives
in a posh colony of Srinagar, works hard on his physique at the gym, has
strutted on the fashion ramp and even won the prestigious Gladrags competition. In the years to come he
plans to make western music popular with the youth in Kashmir, perhaps by setting up a school to teach guitar and violin. “Now
our performances and efforts will be taken more seriously by people. I
was really waiting for this stage of life to come,” Mahajan says.
He doesn’t want to change much about himself, except let his hair
grow long so it can be plaited.
Humorous, full of
the hopeful ebullience of youth, Mahajan believes that being an adult
means being mature and handling difficult situations without losing his
cool. However, he will miss carefree days spent bunking classes, singing
and dancing. The coming year portends to be more hectic, as he will be
preparing for his Class 12 exam. At school, Mahajan gets enough time to
mix with friends, both girls and boys, and have a good time. “Once
out of school, girls can’t hang out with boys. Such a culture has
not prevailed here as yet,” he says.
The unity of his band
is Mahajan’s prime concern. “Junoon was a known band
but broke up and then vanished into thin air. I would risk my life to
prevent any such division in my band,” says an emotional Mahajan.
Exactly ten years from now, he want to get married in a lavish style but
he rejects the custom of dowry. “I think the young have a role in
rooting out the evil of dowry from society,” he says.
worries this young Kashmiri and he advocates the growth of a liberal society.
“Religion is a prime thing for a human being. Everything rests with God.” But he also believes
that people should protest against the forces that foment communal feelings.
Like any other singer, Mahajan talks of peace and harmony.
One thing that pinches
Mahajan about India is its poverty but he’d rather live here in
his homeland, than in “any alien land.” “I am proud
of living in scenic Srinagar city,” he says. He sees civic infrastructure,
poverty and illiteracy as India’s key worries but is hopeful with
India’s pace of development.
Mahajan is haunted
by the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, the sentencing of Saddam Hussein to the
gallows, and the brutal use of police force in Kashmir and Nandigram.
Global warming and growing unrest are two things that also worry him.
“Why can’t we be environmental friendly? Why can’t nations
like America behave in a civilised way?” he wonders.
JANUARY 5, 1990
ADHIRA CE is currently
attending medical School in Prague, in the Czech Republic. Her father
is a doctor with the WHO, and her mother works with an Israeli company.
Five years from now she hopes to still be in medical school. She lives
between her old home in Panchsheel Park in South Delhi and Gurgaon. She
enjoys Panchsheel because it’s green and peaceful, “and there
are not too many people.”
Is there anything
she looks forward to about becoming an adult? “Making my own decisions
but I’m pretty much doing whatever I want to do now,” she
says. “I guess it will be harder when I’m 18, being more responsible
and not having someone behind you; you have a lot more independence but
you miss being treated like a child sometimes.”
“Now that I’ve
gone abroad I don’t miss Hindi music”, Adhira laughs. In her
free time, she plays sports or goes to the gym. She hangs out with her
friends, both boys and girls. “We go for a meal, to a café
— it mostly revolves around food,” she jokes. Her idol is
Lance Armstrong, the cyclist. “Because of his cancer and how he
still won the Tour de France. Apart from that, no one.”
When asked what she
would change about India, “Public hygiene,” she says, “I
wish people were more aware of how much difference they could make if
they didn’t litter the streets. Littering and pissing and spitting
on the road needs to change.” The biggest threat to the world is
global warming and scarcity of water. Is there anything to be hopeful
about? “India is growing as a nation and an economy, so its views
will be considered more internationally. We’ll have more power to
Adhira is an atheist.
“I’m fine with others believing in God, but personally I don’t
think there is anything known as god. I guess I need proof, and there
is no real proof and everyone’s belief is different.”
With regard to marriage,
Adhira thinks “earlier than 22-23 would be too early.” But
she wouldn’t give dowry. “Actually that’s something
I’d probably be enraged by,” she admits.
Are there are any
political or social problems she has been following? “Not really,”
she shrugs. One thing that does upset her though is “cruelty towards
animals”. Apart from that, “people complaining about India,
especially abroad. You would expect them to be more patriotic.”
Otherwise, “it takes a lot to get me enraged. I’m not really
an angry or aggressive person; I’m pretty patient that way.”
DECEMBER 22, 1990
CHRISTOPHER NOEL MARBANIANG
is shocked at the idea of being interviewed and laughs when asked about
public figures he admires. But he is aware that his existence in Shillong
He walks to college
everyday with his friends. His family sold their car because neither his
father nor his older siblings had any interest in driving it. He plays the guitar and sings for a band that
plays metal and alternative music. In the evenings he plays basketball
and football and hangs out with friends. Right now he only hangs out with
boys. “In Shillong boys hang out with boys and girls hang out with
girls.” Someday he thinks he will have a girlfriend (“my father
will be happy if I have one”), perhaps even a wife. He thinks that
girls in Shillong are cool and good-looking but thinks he could marry
a “cute, non-fashion-obsessed girl from any community and any religion”.
Does he go to church? “I believe in God but I can’t wake up
on Sunday mornings. I go for the service at night.”
He can’t remember
the last time he was angry with any macro concern. “I am a little
upset that my friend is not talking to me right now and I don’t
know why,” he admits. The idea of adulthood is vaguely worrying
to Christopher who sees his bank officer father and two older siblings
working hard. “It seems like a lot of responsibility,” he
says. Someday, he thinks, he will have to become an adult, get a job and
miss hanging out with his friends. But before that, he wants to go to
one of the IIMs, get an MBA and travel to Jamaica and Spain. Christopher
does not even have a grouse about his upbringing. His mother died when
he was very young. He and his elder siblings were brought up with “freedom
and some limitations”. “He would not like it if I turned up
drunk but he lets me serve beer at my birthday party,” he says of
his father. He thinks a lot of teenagers demand too many expensive things
from their parents. “Why do they want all these new mobiles? Just
to show off?” But Christopher does not judge them too harshly.
a lot at the idea of dying for his country or a cause. So does anything
make him angry? He approves of Shillong for keeping its green cover and
does not like people littering. Less corruption would be good too, he
thinks. In a while, Christopher knows he will have to leave Shillong for
higher education but as of now the state of the nation is not on his mind.
“I don’t know what I like about India but I like Shillong.”
OCTOBER 9, 1990
SILIGURI, WEST BENGAL
DO you see yourself in five years?” I ask the girl. Her answer is
prompt, almost premeditated, as if she’s been answering this question
for years: “Cruising in the air”. When Ratnapriya says this,
you might think of her as another teenager taking recourse to a ‘cool’
metaphor. But she means this literally. She wants to be a commercial pilot,
she says, then explains her answer. “I love speed,” and then
moves on, speedily, to another subject.
It’s not her
attention span but something else that typifies her as part of this generation
— the Gotta-Do-Everything club. “What can you not do now that
you look forward to doing when you’re an adult?” I ask, indulging
what I perceive as a sense of rebelliousness. “I’m not allowed
to speak when certain elders are speaking,” she ventures. Then keeps
Siliguri is a small
town; Ratnapriya and I live only a couple of kilometres from each other.
And yet she insists on answering most of my queries by email: the keyboard
is her tongue. And her baton in this relay race called Life. She loves
being 17, she says, but just as much as she loved being 16 or 13. Or 1?
No, she couldn’t have been happy at that age, her parents didn’t
own a PC then. She’ll miss being 17, she admits, and then adds half-philosophically,
“What I do today, I can’t do tomorrow”.
Adulthood is a class-lecture
she’d rather give the slip. “Loads of responsibilities on
your shoulder, no?” she asks. Adulthood doesn’t begin at 18 anymore, she implies; it’s almost a choice.
She’ll decide when she wants to be an adult. Like she’s decided
not to have a boyfriend. She doesn’t miss having one; she doesn’t
miss being an adult. “Simple logic, no?” She does miss something
very much though: being a few sizes smaller.
Is there any issue
that makes you want to step out and protest? She doesn’t wait for
me to complete the question. “The education system.” But “I’m
still a student. How can I fight the system while I’m a part of
it?” Suddenly, she volunteers some personal information, “I’ve
been wearing contact lenses for the last three years”. As if that
was a totem for adulthood.
I ask her if it’s
better to live in India, or move abroad. She answers with a familiar teenage
adjective — awesome. “India is an awesome place to live, no?” Three worries about the country? Her
answer on Google-talk is tinted with a poetaster’s naughtiness:
“Pollution, Population, Politicians”. I note the alliteration,
and call her Priya. She replies with a smiley. I then ask her, have you
been angry recently? She types a long answer, long for her attention span
— “Reality shows, Guwahati riots, Nandigram, rapid hike in
fees of educational institutions, Ekta Kapoor’s soaps”. The
coexistence of such different anger-nodes makes me want to laugh. What
public figures mean the most you? “Angelina Jolie, John Abraham,
Raakhi Sawant.” She provides the comic relief, the names performing
the role of smileys.
“What is the
best thing about Siliguri?” I ask. “Me!” Back to teenage
mode. She’s an electronics gadget freak, she confirms, almost with
a hint of pride. She loves sports like “racing”— in
the virtual world of course. She loves watching movies too: “Sci-fi,
racing, horror, mythical”. And music? “Hard rock, trance,
hip-hop, psychedelic.” When I ask about favourite books: “School
books are enough!”
She “hangs out”
with her brother’s friends, and “masti” is
how she describes their activities. “When do you think you should
get married?”Another single word answer: “Never”. I
try to get her into girlish mode. “What do you imagine in a life
partner?” She mumbles, “I don’t want one”. A little
later she says, “Donkey!” I’m not sure who this is thrown
at, the life-partner or the interviewer.
Just as she wears
“everything”, she prays “everywhere”. What about
inter-caste and inter-religious marriage? “Stupid!” Again
that teenage default mode which I find difficult to crack. I’m not
sure where she wants this adjective tagged, to the question or the implied
opposition, or perhaps even the questioner!
AUGUST 11, 1990
OF the reasons Richa is looking forward to adulthood is love marriage.
“I cannot do it now because I haven’t stood on my own feet
yet,” she says. “After getting a job, I can fall in love and
marry the one I love.”
is a first-year student at Patna’s AN College. The eldest of four
sisters, she is doing her B.Sc in Biotechnology. She hails from a village
in Madhubani district and happens to be a Bhumihar — the dominant
upper caste in Bihar. She also works part-time as an announcer and anchor
for public events in the city. “I get only Rs 350 for four hours,
but I like to put my voice to meaningful and creative work,” she
Richa is optimistic
about her home state on the economic front. Five years from now, she sees
herself working in a pharmaceutical company. “By then, Bihar should
have attracted one or two big companies producing drugs or doing research
and development,” she says. “A salary of Rs 40,000 per month
would be good enough.”
There is another reason
she is looking forward to adulthood: “In Bihar, there is so much
societal pressure on girls that it’s stifling. When I become an
adult, I would no longer be ordered, ‘Don’t do this or don’t
Clearly, Richa finds
being a girl in Bihar limiting in many ways. “I used to play cricket
and badminton as a child,” she says. “All sports ended as
I grew up. In Bihar, it’s impossible for girls to engage in sports
seriously for many reasons.” Are there any possible situations in
which she sees herself willing to put herself in danger? “A family
member getting kidnapped or receiving threats,” she says. “Such
fears are still alive in many places in Bihar.”
Richa would also like
to control her temper. As she elaborates, you get the sense that there
are things about Patna she is not happy with. “When I am walking
on the road and someone passes a comment at me, I fly into a rage and
react without fearing the consequences,” she says. “But I
have gradually come to realise it is better to be more tolerant of harmless
Clearly, being a girl
here can have its drawbacks. Going out in the evenings to relax or socialise
is just not possible for girls. “No hangout even though I would
love one,” she says. “Patna is still not a suitable place
for hangouts for girls.”
But the gentler pace
of life here, she points out, has its rewards. “People here are
more cooperative and reliable than in other places I know,” she
says. “In Delhi, where I lived for two years, I found people not
bothered even if there is a road accident. Life elsewhere is maddeningly
When she has kids
of her own, Richa will place fewer restrictions on them. “I hated
the way my mother wanted me to return by 5 pm and kept asking me to stop
talking with this or that person,” she says. “I would be friendlier
with my kids. That would encourage them to share their complex thoughts
with me. I would allow them to take their own decisions.”
Like most of her peers,
Richa feels politics and politicians are holding India back. “Leftwing
terrorism and separatism spreading to new areas, and the youth experimenting
with new forms of intoxicants, the derailing of the Indo-US nuclear deal
at a time when we need energy so badly — all these are signs of
India’s politics losing direction,” she says. One of the things
that made her very angry last year was “MLAs like Anant Singh in
Bihar exploiting a girl and raping her before getting her killed.”
So it comes as a surprise that politicians figure prominently in her list
of role models. There is former president APJ Abdul Kalam, Sonia Gandhi
and even the current occupant of Rashtrapati Bhawan, Pratibha Patil. Her
alltime idol and role model is Indira Gandhi. Why? “For her confidence,”
Richa is convinced
that India’s star is on the ascendant. She gives three examples
why: “The booming markets of India, the cheapest medical care available
here, and India’s youth who can go to any level to achieve anything.”
Richa would like to
stay and work here. “Earlier there was brain-drain from India, but
now the brains are coming back. India is booming, money from all across the globe is flowing into India,”
she says. And above all, there is something else, something intangible.
“Life in India is full of meaning,” says Richa.
ANAND ST DAS
JULY 11, 1990
WANT MY face to become more attractive,” says Neelam when asked
what she wishes to change about her physical appearance in 2008, the year
she turns 18.
The coming year is
significant for the 17-year-old, a class 12 student of the Government
Girls Inter-College in Lansdowne and the eldest child of the local hospital’s
chowkidar. She is eager and edgy to embrace adulthood. But what is it
that she will miss about being 17? “When I was younger, I could
go everywhere with my friends. When I turn 18,” says she, “there
will be a lot of new restrictions.” But it will also move her a
step closer to her ambition of becoming a teacher.
“I see myself
teaching Economics in the same school that I study in five years from
now. It will be a great to come back and serve the place which has taught
me so much,” she says. Independence is also important to her. “I
want to be able to stand on my feet when I turn 18. I don’t want
to depend on anyone else. I hope I will be able to think freely.”
She also hopes to
end discrimination against women in education. “The sons in the
family are given more importance while the girls are told to help in the
kitchen. There are many girls who are married off even before they have
turned 18. Some of my own friends are engaged to be married,” she
informs. Neelam is also concerned about old people being deserted by their
family members. “Once an old lady fell in the market. No one came
forward to help her. Then my friend and I took her to the hospital. She
told us how her sons had left her to live by herself.”
Terrorism is another
concern for Neelam. “I don’t want to blame a particular religion
or a community, but feel the perpetrators of violence are the ones who
dislike Hindus and Muslims living peacefully.”
She probably would
not risk personal security for anything she feels strongly about, but
clarifies, almost as if asserting her tough persona: “There have
been times when I’ve contested something wrong said about me.”
Over the brief chat,
she gives you enough reason to believe she is an aware and opinionated
citizen of the country. “The July 11 serial blasts in Mumbai, and
the Hyderabad Mecca masjid and Ajmer dargah blasts left me fuming because
hundreds of innocents were killed.” At home, another incident that
angered her was the rape of a schoolgirl in Lansdowne a few years ago.
“She was attacked and raped when she was returning from school.
The rapist cut her body into small parts and hid it in the bushes. He
is now in jail. I hope he will be punished soon.”
But mention marriage,
and you see the otherwise extroverted girl reveal her bashful side. “I
don’t want to get married,” she says. “I want to wait
till I am independent and then decide whether I want to get married,”
she says. “I would like to spend a lot on my wedding.” So
does that mean a love, or an arranged, marriage? “I would marry
a person of my parents’ choice,” she says, almost trying to
avoid the question. “There is no harm in inter-caste and inter-religious
marriages. But unfortunately society doesn’t accept it in most cases.
I would like to marry within my caste and be a part of society,”
If given a choice
Neelam would like to continue living in Lansdowne a “safe and an
unpolluted place” where she can wander freely without any fear.
APRIL 18, 1990
WANT TO be a biotechnologist as I’ll be able to contribute to the
betterment of society,” says TC Rejitha, the daughter of
agricultural workers. Her aim is to get a PhD and then engage in research.
“Various epidemics have surfaced even in hygienic Kerala, making
a mockery of its public health credentials. I hope research in biotechnology
will find solutions.” Rejitha is now at the end of her preuniversity
course and is also undergoing a course set up by the SC/ST department
of the Kerala government and IIM-Kozhikode to boost the potential of young
Why are you so concerned
about society, I ask. “From childhood, I’ve been watching
how the meek in our society struggle to survive. I can say proudly that
I belong to a segment that has faced discrimination because of caste and
class. But I have always dreamt of an egalitarian society where everyone
would have their share,’’ she says.
Rejitha is a close
observer of the political system in India and is adamant about the need
to change the course of students’ politics. “It must be free
from the influence of self seeking and corrupt political leaders. Patronage
must not be a criterion to choose student leaders.’’ She also
wants an end to the commercialisation of education where only the children
of the rich can study and prosper.
between parents and children must be friendly and free from all kinds
of force. Gone are the days when parents commanded and children just obeyed,’’
Rejitha is ready to
take any risk to help anyone with a genuine problem. “I hate inequality.
In today’s India, the gap between the rich and poor is widening.
Caste and income considerations are not allowing people with real potential
to succeed. Caste is the number one enemy of our country.’’
Rejitha is worried
about the fate of India. She is concerned about growing violence against
women and the attack by upper castes on SCs and STs. She is also anxious
about the growing clout of the US. “Imperialist hegemony, like in
the case of Iraq, must not be repeated,’’ she says. In the
meantime, she finds pleasure in witnessing India’s emergence as
a world power. Another matter of pride is that India is still united despite
sharp divisions of caste and community.
While upholding her
strong leftist convictions, Rejitha is unhappy about the developments
in Nandigram. “This is not the way to ensure industrialisation. Agriculture must be the foundation of any economy.
Otherwise we would all starve,” she says. The carnage in Gujarat
and the inability of the country to punish perpetrators like Modi is shocking.
She’s also concerned about the number of sex scandals in Kerala
and the delay on the part of authorities in arresting those responsible.
“Our political system must be free from vested interests and corrupt
elements,’’ she says.
Rejitha has extreme
regard for Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy. The positive thing about her
home city of Kochi is its readiness to accept different cultures and ways
of life. “There is not much discrimination,” says she.
In the case of marriage,
she feels it would be better if there is a consensus between the person
and his or her parents. “Imposition of parental decisions is not
right. The boy or girl must have a say.” In the case of inter-religious
marriages, she wants protection for the right of the concerned individuals.
She is against dowry and lavish weddings and maintains that girls ought
be self-reliant. “A decent job is necessary.’’ Rejitha
goes to both temples and churches. She has fear of god but no faith in
AUGUST 12, 1990
BHOPAL, MADHYA PRADESH
CALL me Hitler because I follow rules. I can’t see injustice,”
says Preity Sachdev. This is no idle boast. Once she spotted some boys
harassing girls. “You won’t believe me when I tell you this
but I beat up those boys,” she says. “I have grown up with
my cousin brothers so I have the guts to fight for my rights. Now those
boys go hiding when they see me coming.”
Preity would call
this just another advantage of growing up in a joint family. She lives
with “one real brother”, a housewife mother, a businessman
father and many cousins and elders. She loves the arrangement. “I
hate nuclear families. People who live in them face a lot of problems.
Here my brothers are my best friends. There is no downside to joint families.
My chachis are working women.”
She is happy to have
grown up where she did. “Everyone is kind hearted in Bhopal,”
she says. “People actually have time to share and solve each other’s
problems. Best example is Marine Drive, everyone sits there in the evening
and talks things through.”
Preity has some of
the usual gripes about India and her citizens — negative attitude,
superstition, poor infrastructure, lack of good jobs which lead to brain
drain. (Asked about her career plans, she says she would like to stay
in India unless, of course, a better opportunity presents itself outside
the country.) But she is full of hope about the future.
system is improving. Industries are developing. Even the political system
has improved,” she says, smiling. Among her role models is the lady cop Kiran Bedi. “She has worked
unselfishly and she never worked against the rules,” says Preity.
During her free time,
Preity surfs the Net or hangs out at “CCD [Café Coffee Day]
or Barista or VIP Road” with her “gang of six boys and four
girls”. “If we want to just enjoy and relax, only the girls
go out. If we want to make fun, make masti, we take the boys
along ‘cos they make noise.” Then Preity says something that
will reassure those who don’t want the winds of change to blow away everything: “We also hang out at temples.
Preity considers herself
religious. “Going to a temple is my routine,” she says. “I
go there for the calm it offers.” The talk veers towards marriage.
“Ask any girl and she’ll say, ‘I want a boy who is trustworthy,
flexible and conservative.’ I don’t see any boys like that
Just by the way, does
Preity have er … um… a naughty side? Yes she does, she admits,
full of glee, and proceeds to spell it out. “I am such a spendthrift!
I spend my pocket money on chocolates for my cousins and friends.”