The pothole in Berlin


The other day on my way to office, I saw a sight thats so rare, that in the 9 months that I have stayed here in Berlin, I have seen that sight just once. That sight was the sight of a pothole. A pothole the size of a volleyball. That was to my knowledge, the one and only pothole in Berlin.



I have known Germans too well for too long now. I took a picture of the pothole on my cellphone -- I ll tell you why -- coz 36 hours later, the pothole was gone. I knew this was going to happen. Only, I didnt expect this to happen in 36 hours. For the Germans, a pothole was a national crisis!
As I walked to my office that day, a thousand thoughts flooded my mind.

I remembered the bumpy rides in my own country. I remembered cursing the government, the officials... I tried to remember when was the last time road repairs took only 36 hours? It usually took months of complaining or an accident or better still, a visit by a politician to that road.
People like me, who love their country, start defending their own arguments which expose our incompetencies. Berlin is rich, I thought - they can afford the repairs - we dont have money - maybe one day we will have money - then we ll see...

The truth is - in PPP terms, Mumbai is richer than Berlin. The truth is - we cant hide behind the developing country tag anymore. A boy becomes a man when he takes responsibility for his actions. Maybe its time that we, as a country, grow up.

Honesty is such a virtue. Why have we put people who dont have any in positions of power?

The other day, at a high profile meeting here in Berlin, during a presentation, the name of India came up. The presenter talked about the CommonWealth games fiasco. The theme of the presentation had nothing to do with The commonwealth games.Cheapshot? Yes. It was. It made me cringe. The news reports about Kalmadi never bothered me before, but that day, they did.

And I am sure all is forgotten back home. I have no access to Indian news channels but I am sure news channels must have found a new topic to discuss. I am sure Dhoni's bike/hairstyle or Katrina Kaif's legs/cleavage forms the crux of the breaking news.

Why are we so complacent? Are we so big a country that no one is ready to take responsibility for anything? Are there so many people in there that its easy to find someone to put the blame on?

Do I sound to harsh for your Indian ears? Well, I am just being honest. And you know it.

And its not just us who are like this. I talk to a lot of people around the globe(except India). There is a marked difference in the people from the developing countries and the developed countries - It doesnt really matter what continent the countries are. People in Japan are similar to Germans when it comes to work ethic. While there are a few other countries, which remind me of India sometimes.

Back in India, in MDI, Gurgaon, when we saw our European friends complain about stuff, fight for what they thought was right, while we used - "chalta hai" attitude, each one of us thought they were being fussy. But now that I see them fighting for what's right even in their own country, I understand what their culture is all about. If something is not as it should be - it should be reported. It should be changed. Put into order. That explains the 36 hour repair of the pothole.

I am not saying we should mimic the west. In fact I strongly suggest that we dont. I am just saying, perhaps being complacent is not the best approach to being a successful nation.
Being colonized is the worst thing that can happen to a country. It's worse than losing two world wars. It's like being in a war for 150 years and losing it every year. Little by little, the soul of the nation is dies.A fractured, frail soul takes its place. What follows is appreciation towards the ruler and disrespect for self. This is why we regard learning English as more important than learning other Indian languages. This is why we buy "imported" stuff, even if its made in Taiwan. I have a German friend who I met the other day. She had worn her grandmother's earrings. Of course they were classy and subtle. My question is, how many of the girls in India would wear their grandmom's jewelery? If I was a girl, I wont. They would be too gaudy for today's generation. But arent we supposed to be gaudy? Look at our weddings for example and then compare it with theirs. Look at our festivals then have a look at theirs. Around 200 years ago, not a long time for a country whose civilizations dates back to 2600 BC, we would have been very comfortable in our skin. Now, we are just wannabes.

I dont know if you remember, but around 15 years ago, Doordarshan would show the Population clock everyday at 12 noon. It had this ticker which showed a number close to 92 crores (India's population at that time). It was supposed to spread awareness about family planning. In school you were taught that India's biggest problem was its population. Now, they say we a country of a billion opportunities! In 15 years, we could change the way people think. How many countries in the world have seen that kind of turn around? If you ask me, this quite a time to be born.

GDP without freedom, is just a number - ask the Chinese. Economic superpower, new world, fastest growing economy order are just words - if we cant pull our act together. Being the strongest economy in the world would make no sense if our roads are pothole ridden. Of course, there are other bigger problems. I am talking in figurative terms here.

We dont need to do anything path breaking here. All we have to do, is try our best at doing whatever we do. All we have to do, each one of us, is to take responsibility of our actions. All we have to do, is just try a little harder - 'Cause the best thing about being a billion people is -- even if all of us try a little harder -- its actually... a lot.
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The girl you didnt search for...


"Are you on orkut?" A friend asked me.


It was the winter of 2003. I was in the first year of my Mechanical Engineering. I didnt know what or who orkut was and what do you have to do with it! Why does one have to be on orkut?


"To make friends." He said. "I am on orkut. You can add me there."


But weren't we already friends??!!


I dont know when I decided to join orkut. But I fell in love with it instaneously. So many of my friends whom I had left behind in school, in the scholarship classes I had taken, the people I had met at the science fairs I had visited -- all of them were there on orkut. You could see what junior college they went to, what they were currently studying, if they were single or not...


The best feature was that you could search for your friends by entering their names. Boys would enter the names of the girls who were popular in school. Maybe now they would have enough guts to talk to them.


Sometimes you typed in the name of the girl who you thought you were in love with back in school... you wanted to know what was on in her life... what college was she in.. was she still as pretty as she once was.... did she have a boyfriend...




But this post is NOT about that girl. This post is about another girl.


The girl whose name you never enter in the search box on orkut. The girl who never matered to you... The girl who you were mostly embarrassed to be seen talking to...


----------------


In the 7th standard, when you are 13 years old, the best thing that can happen to you is that a girl falls in love with you and declares that to the world. Not so much if that girl is --Suman.


I wont call Suman ugly, but there was something about her that.. well... wasnt pleasing enough... She wasnt as curvy as the other girls (which mattered) nor was she too smart like some others (which didnt matter). She was, well, kinda plump.


When you are 13, you have such frail parameters of beauty. I know I did.


I had changed schools in the 7th standard. So, I was the new kid in my new class. The guys wanted to know what my rank in my old school was. You know, if I was a threat to the rank order. Men can be so competitive! It all sounds so silly now.


The girls wanted to know if I had a girlfriend from my old school or maybe someone who stayed next door or something. I didnt really know how to differentiate between a girl who was a friend and a girl who was a girlfriend. But puberty had made an appearance already and the realization of the differentiation came soon after.


So, Suman liked me. And had called dibs on me or something. So all her friends were on a mission to be matchmakers. Girls like doing that. It's embarrassing to all parties involved.


Initially, it would be her friend -- Hina, who would come up to me and make small talk. It was important to be friends with me before she could make me an offer. Then it was all her other friends. I enjoyed the attention for what it was worth but realized it might be getting out of hand now. The funny thing is - Suman never even tried to initiate talk with me. She would sit in a corner and keep looking in my general direction during free periods, lunch hour and such.


My guy friends made sure that I was made fun of enough number of times. They would call her names and though I thought it was wrong call someone names, I figured if I wanted to be one of them, I better dive in with them.


News travels fast in school. Soon all the kids in all the divisions knew about Suman's attraction for me. Every time I passed a group of girls in the corridor there would be giggling! It drove me nuts!!


Suman tried talking to me in a way only school girls can. She got hold of me in the corridor after school.


"Hi."She said. I didnt answer. She continued, "So, I was wondering if I could have your English notebook. I was absent yesterday."


Now she could have asked the book from one of her girl friends. I mean who would want to read my handwriting? The teachers did, coz they had to, coz they got paid to read what we wrote.


I gave her the notebook. I wanted to get this over with. I felt people were watching us -- the more time I spend talking to her, the more news it would make.


She tried her best to talk to me. She would come to me during the games period and try to make small talk. I know how difficult it can be for a guy at the age 13 to talk to a girl he likes, and she was a girl, it must have been doubly difficult for her. But you arent exactly Mr.Sensitivity at 13. That is an age where your reputation matters more than the feelings of the people you are with.


"Hi, we are organizing Garba night this navratri. Would you like to give it a try?" -- Some girl from the 8th standard said. I had seen her before. In fact I thought she was kinda hot. But I have never been interested in dance and such. I have never been interested in anything I am not good at. Thats just how I am.


"no, thanks." I said.
"Suman is going to be there." She smiled.


Even 8th graders knew! I was pissed at all this. What was going on? My reputation was being tarnished here. Suman? I wouldn't go out with her in a million years. What does she think of herself!!


Then came the breaking point. She called home one day. Only, it wasnt any other day. It was Valentine's day! And my father picked up the call. It was an era when students in the 7th standard didnt own mobile phones.


"Hel..Hello" she said.
"Suman you cant call here. What do you want?"
"Uh.. I just.. just wanted to know if you will come to school tomorrow." She said.


What? she called to ask me if I will come to school tomorrow?
"Yes I will. Now I have to go do some homework." Saying that I banged down the phone.


My parents knew the date too well. My mother had smile on her face and I knew that a question would follow anytime. Before I could rush out of the room she asked -- "Who was it?"


"Just a friend. Had some doubt. Now it's solved."


It was far from solved.


The next day, we met after school in the corridor near the school library. Everybody had already left the building. We were the only ones in the corridor. She had a glittery pink packet in her hand. She looked at me and smiled. My expression remained unchanged.


"I wanted to give you this." She said.
"I dont want anything from you." I said bluntly.
"Please." She said. Her eyes pleaded to just have a look inside the packet.


I was angry at her. More than her, I was angry at myself. How could I be so shallow? But why did she have to call my home in the night on Valentine's day? What was wrong with her?


"No. I dont want to. And I want to clear out some stuff for you --" I was angry and my choice of words made sure I sent out the same message. But before I could say anything, she said--


"I love you."


I felt the insides of my gut heat up, i felt hot acidic fluid corrode my insides.


"Well I hate you. Do you get it? I hate you."


I said it. Not once but twice.


I walked out of there. I left her standing there all alone. I didnt even look back at her.


In a few days, the giggling stopped. Suman stopped staring at me in lunch hour.


She will get over it. I was sure. It was for the best.


------------------




We left school school after the 10th standard, a good three years after the 7th standard. So much had happened in those three years. Crushes. Quasi-love. Heart-break. We were now mature, wise 16 year olds or so we thought. The world was waiting for us.


On the last day of school, we dressed up in our formal best to bid our goodbyes. The boys dressed in formal shirts or suits while for most girls it was their first chance to wear a saree.


The girls normally cried as they said their goodbyes. Some of the guys did too. Well, I am not a cryer. If you ask me, I dont even remember the last time I cried. Not that I am proud of it.


Suman came up to me. She wore a white saree and a worried look.
"Can I have a picture with you?" She said. This was the first time we had spoken after that incident. "Please?"


I had turned her 'please' down once upon a time.


"I would love to." I said.


And I placed my hand across her shoulder. I looked at her and the big smile that had suddenly appeared on her face from nowhere. And we got our picture taken.


"Thanks. I will keep this picture with me." She said. "I hope we meet sometime in the future."


I am not sure, but I think I saw a tear in her eye.


It made a dent in me somewhere.


--------------------------


I have never said - I hate you - to anyone ever. And I hate myself for the single time that I said it. I wonder if I should have been kinder to her and looked what was in that packet - maybe a greeting card was in it, or maybe a poem... I could have read it, at least. But I didnt.


I have never searched for her on Orkut or Facebook. I dont know what she looks like now. I dont know what college she went to. I dont know if she has a boyfriend or if she is married. Maybe she even has children. I dont know.


But I dont wanna know all that. I just wanna remember her as she was in that picture. I just wanna tell myself that among all the pain and hurt I had caused her, once, just once, I was able to make her smile.

- Arshat Chaudhary


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