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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 1, Dated Jan 12, 2008
future citizens

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 of life

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

PERHAPS 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 the college.

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 replies.

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

IT 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 tags.

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 occupation,”

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 are done.

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 low.

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.

Today, Geetha’s 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, that’s all.”

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.

Mahajan’s wish 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.

Growing communalism 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 change stuff.”

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 is near-idyllic.

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.

Christopher laughs 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

WHERE 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 quiet.

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

ONE 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.”

Richa Priyadarshini 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 says.

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 do that’.

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 mischief.”

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 fast.”

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,” she replies.

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.



JULY 11, 1990

I 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,” she says.

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

I 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 talent.

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.

“The relationship 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,’’ she opined.

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 rituals.



AUGUST 12, 1990

PEOPLE 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.

“Our education 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 though.”

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.”


From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 1, Dated Jan 12 , 2008

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