Investigative Journalism in India

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A week ago, I was visiting Yale-NUS in Singapore when I met a rather endearing student there by the name of Angela. I’m going to take you speedily through the background so sit up now: Following typical Yale-NUS tradition, on one of the many travel+learn opportunities the College offers, Angela had come to Tamil Nadu (southernmost state of India) and admits to have completely fallen in love with ‘India’. I say ‘India’ because I have heard this oversimplification far too many times from tourists and locals alike to either be totally enthralled with a particular part of India or totally disgusted by it and hence either love or loathe ‘India’. But more on that later.

So during one of our sessions at the College, we were asked what we would like to be if money and norms played no hindrance in our dreams. (I wanted to be an archaeologist, surprise surprise!) That is when Angela said it- she wanted to be an investigative journalist…. in India.

I realise now that the reason she sought me out later to talk about this might have been because I gaped at her on hearing this. I have a lot of explanations to make. So here we go.

#1 Safety in India

I was born and brought up in Delhi so one should assume I must be totally in vibe with how Delhi works. That would be one’s first mistake. One should never assume anything about India, and I’ll say that all through this blog post. Even as I step out of the gate of my apartments and cross the road, I can have days that I have been leered at and (once) grabbed so much so that I want to go right back home and listen to peace prayers. Then there are also days that I brave gusts and rains in shorts and walk right on, not caring for the world.

I have been gifted a complete Swiss Army pocket knife set. I take kickboxing classes. I’m trying to download safety alert apps on my neolithic phone.

And I’m not trying to scare you. Being a girl in India can be a cautious everyday job. Not because every man on the streets is trying to rape you. But because You Know that India has a huuuuge population, a lot of it is totally unoccupied for entire days, a lot of it doesn’t fear the law, and sometimes, the law may not even help you.

India is a struggling country in many ways- it’s caught between ages, it’s caught between ideas, and it’s got far too many people in it to ever agree on something completely.

That makes even the simplest proposals for safety hard to legalise, implement and maintain. Should streets have cameras? Should there be neighborhood watch? Should there be fast courts? Should law degrees be made simpler to have lawyers in each neighborhood?

For all you know you’ll put up a street camera in a high risk neighborhood and the next day find that someone stole the wiring. Or that someone committed armed robbery in front of it and then smiled at the camera, knowing that his “connections” will never let him be convicted. Or it may even actually serve its purpose and make that neighborhood a little safer.

At the end of the day, the only certainty there is to the security situation in India is that the girls of this country are still taught to “prevent being harmed” than people in general are taught to “not harm”.

And if you’re not local, have fairer skin, speak in a different accent, and are hence easier to fool, you are at a riskier place. Which brings me to my next point- Who you are.

#2 Who You Are in India

It’s not always foreigners versus Indians when talking about security. It is also about the individual. Are you messy, are you cautious, are you over-cautious (if that’s a thing)… Do you have someone who can help you at a moment’s notice? Do you know the place you’re going to? Do you know your routes and have emergency contacts? I hate to say this but- Do you have “connections”? Are you rich- yes that comes into play. Are you confident- will you shut a guard up if he’s asking to frisk you for no reason? Are you wearing heels?

Are you generally more calm, composed and can you think on your feet, or do you rely on others.

I can give you an example with military kids. I have some personal experience with military kids- or as they are called more affectionately, BRATs (Born, Raised and Transferred)- with some of my dearest cousins having hopped all over the Indian map, and us having followed them every summer vacation. These children mostly live in Air Force bases or Cantonment areas, and are generally brought up with easy familiarity with men in uniforms. So- does that mean a BRAT won’t freeze if someone points a knife at her? Is it guaranteed that he’ll fight his assailant, AND come out of it victorious?

There are questions of upbringing, personality, self concept, outlook to the world, preparedness, health, and so much more.

The simple point is: human nature, just like India, can not be subjected to assumptions.

Every incident of wrong doing depends on a number of factors that all worked together to one fateful/happy outcome.

Yet, I will point out to you that if reality worked as strictly as this blog post is written, day to day activity in India would be a total zero. Thousands of people travel in Delhi Metro on any single day- they wouldn’t do that if one’s every move was a threat to one’s life. In Mumbai, thousands board the infamous Local every minute. Just imagine how things must be there if fear was our basis of movement.

Which brings me to…

#3 There is no ‘India’

I am all for ‘unity in diversity’ and have no plans of breaking India up into millions of factions: let that be clear.

It is no secret that India is a land of incredible diversity. In fact, it is said that the predominant language of the region changes every two kilometers outside metropolitan cities. There are religions in India no one has even heard of. There are gods worthy of their own Nat Geo coverage. There are so many customs- loud and silent- that one can spend a lifetime simply trying to know India. And I am not even discussing the big things- political setup, patriarchy or matriarchy, settled groups or shifting tribes-  I am talking of whether smiling is considered impolite in X’s temple and whether Y won’t eat a bite before you do.

Factor this to a scale of more than a billion people that call India home. Can you really say anything about ‘India’ as a whole anymore?

So when Angela went to Tamil Nadu, she ONLY went to Tamil Nadu.  While I am very glad to hear she thinks she loves India (a country like India deserves more people trying to befriend it), I am also curious how much of it she actually knows of.

It is perfectly all right to leave pieces of one’s heart in Tamil Nadu and not identify with, say, Haryana at all. I am an Indian, and I know at least five places I hate going to.

You also need to factor in some large regional differences- something like “Texan and New Yorker differences”. There is a wide disparity in the ways things function in the North (like in New Delhi) and in the South (like in Tamil Nadu). The sentimentality is different, the weather, food, language, religion, political aspirations, stage of development, literacy- just about everything. In fact, after Independence, the North and the South were in a skirmish of whether Hindi should be the national language or English (respectively). The result: We have the aforementioned two languages as ‘official languages’ and a list of another 22 as ‘recognised languages’ and no national language.

In fact, there are hotspots all over India that no longer consider themselves parts of India. The north-east is continuously in an identity battle. The 29th state was just formed. Four more areas want independent states too.

So when you say India… be sure you mean India.

#4 Journalism,  or India’s version of it.

I admit that I don’t know about the journalism industry any more than what I see in the news- talk about a conflict of interest! If you can ask an Indian journalist about it, you should freely ignore this section.

All I know is that I did not want to choose journalism for my college degree because I don’t like having to fight for credit. But that’s besides the point.

There is one super-famous Indian woman journalism by the name of Barkha Dutt. I am not in a position to comment on her career, but I shall ask you to look for yourself how she is dealt with by the masses and by others on the camera. She gets adulation and respect, but she also gets slandered. She wins awards and uncovers groundbreaking news, but she also gets called out on various aspects that relate to being a woman. A lot of this commentary is not based on her work or a critique of it, it is based on HER.

But I wonder now what with ISIS beheading journalists on camera and all the Hollywood movies I rot my biases with, how I should compare the Indian journalism scene.

Daring is a job requirement for journalism, I say turn that up a bit for doing it in India.

You will find enough coverage, enough stories and enough people to help you along. All you need is an iron will, true passion and that love for India without which this job will feel like death everyday.

Angela, if you are reading this, I remember how excited about India you were when we talked. I am sorry if I rubbed off around the idea negatively- we tend to judge our own cultures most harshly. I hope you find an opportunity to try investigate journalism here, and if you choose to continue, I hope you find your success. I hope you travel India anyway, and continue to fall in love with all this total pinata of wonders has to offer.

I also hope to see you soon, if all goes well, at Yale-NUS, this Fall.

All the best, to you and to the world, so we may all test our dreams for ourselves, and ourselves alone.

shortlink to this article: http://wp.me/p2myBd-173

The Worst Parts Of Fighting

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1. Too many reminders of how much you love them.

Which only follows into how much it hurts. If you fought over WhatsApp, you’re GOING TO find his pictures on your phone, her emails, mom’s presents, friend’s book. It is almost programmed into us to run into the people and the worlds of the people whom we are hurting with, almost like that’s driving our subconscious!

2. You’ll want hugs. From them.

And it will feel extremely silly to ask for it. Especially if one of you has gone away to clear their head.

3. It always happens around exam time.

In India it’s ALWAYS exam time so this one is pretty much guaranteed.

4. You will question a good memory.

That’s the part where you’re going to hurt yourself more than anything the other person in the fight could have said. This is your cue to go to sleep. Stop thinking, or you’ll end up with a brain warped on itself, feeling even more miserable and your reason will be so far lost that you’ll find no problem with headbanging a pan.

5. It eventually becomes simpler and easier, but you don’t know how much is ‘eventually’.

Everything is awkward and strange meanwhile. Especially talking. You don’t really want everybody to know you’re low but you can’t be bothered to make an effort and sound cheerful. Not while you’re swirling in cold hell.

6.You indulge.

I am a really good money saver so at most times, I have a stash of money for a good treat. Come hurtful fight, I will dole out thousands on food- creamy pastas and cold drinks and crisp potatoes and fried foods. Nothing available in my house will please me. So I’ll also spend money traveling halfway into Delhi to Connaught Place and back.

7. You know this isn’t permanent, and that you want that person back.

So it’s confusing- do you want to forget all about it and make amends? Make sure the other person isn’t hurting? But that can be bad for relationships, so should you feel this through?

There’s no mind-blowing conclusion to this post (much like its beginning). I only wish that whoever feels like that at any time be blessed with soft pillows and heavy fatigue. Grief can be really exhausting so it’s pretty appropriate to sleep it off.

Well, you wanted English exams in India

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Comprehension passage question: How do the old and young consumers differ in buying goods? What I want to write: Older Indian consumers, true to their traditions, only buy materials when their predecessor has been broken beyond repair. They buy materials for their utility, not for their novelty. Younger consumers buy goods as much for the ‘shopping frenzy’ as for the possible use of the goods in question themselves. Guess what response that answer will get? A zero. Here’s what I’ve been instructed to write in my English exam, over and over, and why I “practice” English at all: People of old age who buy things do not waste them. They only buy what they need and not for show. Youngsters, however, buy because they think that new things will make them happy and often do not need what they buy.

Ladies, and gentlemen, let me present the GREAT CIRCUS that is CBSE Board Examinations of India!

Let me tell you what kind of words are a big no-no to be used in your ENGLISH LANGUAGE EXAM, just for example: ecstatic, cosmopolitan, counterpart, flippant, extensive, painstaking, blunder …It pains me to write these examples! In fact, I’ve been told not to write the word ‘gratitude’. “Stick to ‘feeling thankful’, Ruchika”, the teacher said. Now I googled some of these words and I am definitely not happy to tell you that many of these appear on the “tough words” list for eleven year olds. And we’re eighteen, months away from college. At this point, I should put my Word Power Made Easy under my bed, forget what equestrienne or plebian mean and stop watching tv shows that are in English. God forbid I learn a new word. My problems with this whole set up is that it DEMANDS for me to be regressive and if I should improve, it would actually go against me. (Let’s not go into how much I freak out about being limited.) It eventually boils down to this: the English exam, the one exam that can be filled with expression and promise becomes a dull scrap of a words fitted to a dry, calculated equation.

Sure, I’ve tried holding my tongue for the duration of the examination, but that’s when things get confusing. The question paper freely uses the words “wanton” and “callous”…. and then they tell me I can’t use the word ‘GRATITUDE’??!! Do tell me, CBSE, who pushed you down symbolic stairs that you fell and banged your figurative head. For those who have absolutely no context, I’ll give you the reason we put up with this nonsense. You see, in the great show of being objective and just, CBSE takes our answer sheets, bundles them up and then flies them off to some hush hush school, the senior teachers of which then mark our papers and hand us a few numbers that eventually become our marks to define everything. Teachers in my school openly say the CBSE result can NOT be predicted. Why? Because it simply is not about what you write, at least not after a point. Because if my paper flies out to a school in rural India in a region that didn’t even want to speak English in the first place and may or may not have protested the use of the “British coloniser’s tongue, you traitors to all that is Indian”, what we slang-call “government school” in short, my marks will depend on how much the person reading my answers understands of English. Or how much they like my handwriting. Or how many papers they have to mark that day. Or how their coffee is. And who’s going to challenge them? Who will ensure each answer sheet gets its due consideration. Well, as you can imagine, when Indian students prepare for board exams, especially those in the Arts and Humanities, their instructions for battle are something as follows: 1. Write 3 paragraphs for 5 markers. Nobody cares about the first or the last paragraph, it just has to be there. 2. Longer questions must occupy 2 sides of the answer sheet, shorter must not go beyond half a page. Eff the word limit. 3. If they ask about the disarmament treaties between the USA and the USSR, you start your answer at the bloody Cuban Missile Crisis and then describe the Cold War. 4. Put all math solutions in a BOX, failing which, the examiner might not find it, getting you a zero. 5. Draw a line after each answer. Secure 10% marks. 6. Unless absolutely impossible, draw! Tables, charts, star shaped bullet points, just draw. Finally: everybody knows I make loads of mistakes, I do, but the best part about my exam throes is when I find shamelessly too many grammatical mistakes in my English language question paper. I bring them back to my mother, concerned, am I getting cocky, to have her confirm there’s an error, and that I wasn’t out eating hay on the day they reinvented grammar.

No Neat Title

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“I would love to say that you make me weak in the knees, but to be quite upfront and completely truthful, you make my body forget it has knees at all.” Tyler Knott Gregson.

How can someone who loves like that, feel so sad.

I come here and I see a pack of lies. Yet somewhere in this web string is the truth too, not caught in a neat title with a border and margin, but in the archive spread, the page breaks, the errors and corrections. It is, perhaps, in my agitation, fixation on a misplaced comma in a previous sentence that I refuse to correct. I refuse to set it right, teaching myself that EVERYTHING is subject to perspective, including right, fair, correct and straight lines.

Perhaps it is befitting that I talk of this place before I talk of others. How strange must it to be, for someone otherwise a wall of grey bricks with streamers thrown across it to be raw, breaking stone, hollow in the middle at a completely public, vulgar place, in sluttish manner. In fact, I should think it’s so strange, it’s stereotypical. And I couldn’t care less. I already see idiots assuming they know how to put these words together and form a coherent sentence. I see them now grimacing, some hating, that I should be so full of myself to call some people idiots. And I still don’t care.

Can, sometime, everything around you be so convincingly the same that you’re done and tired of it. Not tired, because you’re tired of tiredness too, aren’t you. I fail at words so hard, sometimes. I mean…. Can everything around you be so itself, happiness so happiness and trials so trials, that you just transcend beyond, shot up on a catapult, while you wish you could grope a stray memory and hold on, despite the knowledge you’d be fooling yourself in the process. Dimwittedness is a strangely lovable word.

But that wasn’t the point. The point is, funny thing is so blunt, that every time I try to touch it, my fingers just rub off dust and fall to another paragraph to edit. Sneaky little thing, the roots of the plants as they say, maybe the root is there is no root. Wait, wait. Maybe that’s it, that the problem isn’t fixed to an event, or cause, and it’s wayward, powerful nature is its scare. Shelter is so absolute and warm with him, but when something becomes too precious, you lose your mind protecting it. The problem is, I’m protecting it so viciously, anything that shifts it a millimeter swirls me off my axis. And that’s when this agonized madman writes blogposts.

Things…. are Still touching me!!!!

Now, pause.

Always, always, always taking care of yourself. And how can anyone else ever help when every word that comes out of your mouth is a riddle in another language to them. Only he could know.

There are a few ways things could go on in a matter of time. The best part is I don’t want any single one of them. What I want is such a mighty bang that it even knocks me off my feet. And I know just what to do to get that.

Yes, now would be the time that you puff, huff and go away. Do you not see my hatred, do you not feel my resentment, I’m breathing down your neck, teeth gritted, tears pasted to my eyes. I hate.

I hate. Tonight, for five minutes, I burn hate.

Comments have been disable for this post. Whatever you think you want to say, you’re wrong. You are all wrong. Except him. But how can he be right from so far.

You’re wrong.

The worst thing in the world is ALMOST, for its insatiable need to become an Always. It’s the almost that makes mud out of minds, nerves half electric, thoughts half formed, feelings have felt, because everything is frozen in almost.

Wandinoda… {} Tight. Always. Always.

I love you, always.

A CommonApp Backstory I Didn’t Tell

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The Professor asked the creative writing class to write a story “that involves sex, mystery, religion and royalty; and you have one hour!” Within five minutes, one student got up, handed in his paper and left. The professor read his four line story.

Oh God!

The King is dead.

The Queen is pregnant.

Who did it?

I laughed. Mom told me her favorite joke when I was only ten, kissed me good night and turned off the lights. My mother never did try to keep my feet on the ground. Always, she told me what all was possible, irrespective of what was probable, or even proper. She never told me that anything was something I couldn’t understand, but let me try, and stood by to help me if I asked. She taught me to imagine before I knew, and to appreciate the beauty of perspectives. A math teacher herself, while she instilled in me a joy of rapid solutions and numbers, she also showed me how to prove four equal to five, and amazingly, all it takes is a few basic math laws.

Sometimes, I think knowledge hasn’t been as important to me as imagination. Knowledge, to some extent, is a good book away. But to expand my imagination, I have no tricks and no guarantees. I tried imagining ‘six impossible things before breakfast’. I wrote stories and rewrote all the names. I tried to imagine a new color, until I got a cross between peach and brown and pretended that it was original. Imagination has become my closest friend. It is also my most trying one. And it is a gift my mom chose to raise me with.

Dad taught me more practical things; the machinery of a world. A man rather obsessed with meditation, organisation and assisting, he roped me into all three as soon as I could write. I rejected meditation outright, my already developed imaginative mind mocking the concentration demanded from it, changing the silence involved into waking dreams. But I happily picked up the other two. There are countless incidents in my life when sheer organisation has made everything -academic, personal, random- so much simpler and easier. Being collected also benefited me in managing my time and consequently, in helping others, and anyone who knows me today knows that I will be there when they need me.

What I am is significantly touched by other members of my family as well. My little sister is a living testament of the power of optimism. My grandmother taught me Mahjong, an old Chinese game, that adds to my life of wonders. My uncle took me across India, as I followed his transferring Air Force home, collecting music and endless hobbies along the way. My grandfather showed me that all you need to do to travel first class on an economy ticket is ask. The list is endless, just like the lessons. The result is me; Icarus, with long wings.

Today, this positive-positive combination is the bedrock to my strength. If I am known as the Ruchika that doesn’t break, its because I know how to handle hard-hitting situations. I know how to put seemingly larger than life moments in the context of time, to project my feelings in outrageous proportions just to ridicule them and make them palpable. I fail, feel lost and get hurt, but I know that anything is only as grave as I let it be.

Even if they didn’t specifically know the ripples of what they were teaching me then, my family has given me this world in an oyster. They’ve equipped me to achieve anything I truly want.

Now, I just have to choose where I want to start.

Where am I Content

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“Do you think people who live alone close the bathroom door behind them when they take a shower?” I asked, my eyes pinned on the kiwi pastry behind the glass.

In response, I got a swat on the back of my head that said everything: “Of course they do.”, “No, why would they?”, “Just do your work”, “Wut.”

I was sitting with my friend at a café. She was trying to read, I was thinking of everything in the world except differential equations. I was dreaming about college again. But simultaneously, I had imagined contingency plans A to F which were to be executed if none of the universities I applied to accepted me. Plan D or E included flipping burgers in Lisbon, where I would live, a young, single photographer, and that was where my Pivotal Question about Closing Bathroom Doors had come from. It is not usual for me to wane at things that I truly want, but when I do, I respond to them like the goofball I proudly am, joking, projecting my emotions into ridiculous thoughts until they become palpable.

Sometimes, I am the most bored teenager in the world, sitting with a Pokéball of my energy in my hand, waiting for someone to show me what to do with it.

I go to school with great enthusiasm, but this zeal is not directed towards my curriculum as much as it is to the hopes of landing something new to do, something which carries meaning, possibly causes an impact, on me for starters. It is like being in a constant state of- I can’t wait to start my life. In fact, I have an entire history of it. In ninth grade, I took to theatre at the local American Center because I wanted to test my acting skills. The next year, I scourged Delhi for ballroom classes. When I didn’t find any, I switched to Jane Fonda Aerobics videos and supplied my family with film of me waving my arms about. Then I was showed how to prove four equal to five, and despite instantly pointing out the fallacy that made that possible, I was over the moon for a  month, twiddling with math laws, happy beyond limits.

My biggest break, just the thing I needed in my record, was when I got selected for a foreign exchange trip to Japan last summer. I remember thinking- This is it. Don’t you dare sleep now. And as I trudged my suitcase down the airports, I watched everything with big gleaming eyes, telling myself to believe it- I was doing something after all. I survived that weeklong trip solely on caffeine. I uploaded a few videos to my up-and-coming YouTube channel and I only kept my camera down when I did fall asleep, for not more than three hours at a stretch. Folks at home called it ‘typical sugar tourism’ but I didn’t want to hex it with tags.

The point is: I have always want to do. I want to create. I want to be on the radio, I want to write a column, I want to be in a cycling group, I want to go to concerts and galleries, I want to put another kid through college, so much and so badly, and I want to make my life worth it. I don’t find any reason to be satisfied with things that automatically happen; just as college for Indians is like a given. I want to try myself at the things that are hard to get, I want to be willful, meaningful. Living, though not started by the person whose life it is, is actively created by him through every second he exists. Whether awake or unconscious, we make ourselves people out of a mass of tissues, and I just can’t let myself go waste.

I sat at the cafe, beating songs onto the table. “So”, I asked my patent line, “What is the most unhealthy thing they have on the menu?”

Tense

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Time to make this personal blog personal. There are times when I am glad of this blog’s relatively small audience. It is not very comfortable to talk raw. Not for me.

I’m deep in the college application process right now. And finally, I feel tense. I don’t usually worry about results and outcomes, because sometime in the process of waiting, I have usually imagined how my world will go on just fine with any possible decision that comes out. So too, with college.

What I can not, however, settle down with is all this delay. Had the application process been just about me, I would have wrapped it up by now, 15 days from the deadline. But it involves far too much, far too many people- my school administration, my counselor, my teachers, my advisor, my parents- and I am going mad coordinating with everyone. They are all more relaxed of course, since it doesn’t directly affect them, nor are they keeping all the strings together. In fact none of them is even aware of all the dimensions I’m looking into. But then it’s not their job.

When you’ve been in charge and in control all your life, and when everyone sees you like that, it becomes harder still to even admit these things. People haven’t seen you like this, they don’t know how to help you. You have to sort yourself out.

And I’ve been trying to do that, so far. When things start slipping, I take a break. I sleep it out, or I turn up the music, just something that leaves no space in my mind to think of anything else, especially college.

Right now, I am tense. I am too awake, too free, and slowly, the tension is creeping into my sinews. Like when you hold something in too tightly, your jaw starts to ache.

There’s far too much involved in my process. Maybe it’s not like that for everyone, but it is, for me. There is an entire whole human besides me whose life depends on this. And thinking of all the levels it affects, and the depths I have to control, can seem too enormous.

Like….

There are essays I have to finish. There are transcripts and letters I have to supply. There are test scores I have to deliver, hoping badly that I get exemptions from a language test. There is fees to be thought of, in the backdrop of the BILL this process is ringing up already, in the backdrop of the tuition I need massive assistance for. There is a confidence of steel I need to have while doing all of that, otherwise I’ll fall apart, fail at reflecting the best of myself, and virtually guarantee not getting admission!

I have to do all this without even having finalised my list of schools yet.

That is like drawing lines on the ground without knowing which game you’re going to play on it. I need to be a very adept eraser. Ready to adapt.

Right now I’m just pretending that documenting this tension will place it somewhere outside of me. Let it exist if it has to, just not in me, because I can’t work like that. This blog is superb in that sense.

There is nothing else to this post really.

That’s ‘all’ just.