Bungle and the Jungle

Posted in uncategorized on April 28th, 2016 by nandini

Bungle jook, bungle jook, bungle jook.

It’s like a mantra that repeats itself voicelessly. But who said this, when and where. I don’t quite know any more. All I know is that I was a child then. And Bungle Jook was a child’s rendering of Jungle Book.

Bungle Jook wakes up the long ago and makes my heart ache. Childhood and youth are gone. And jungles too.

These days, when I am not busy conflating nature with environment, then I am taking walks or going on bicycle rides around the man made lake, along man made tulip fields or the man made canal or in the man made polder, or the man made woods or the man made botanical gardens. All of these are available at a stone’s throw from my home, and I consider myself extremely fortunate that they are there. Not everyone on the planet can claim such a privilege. Jungle Book in 3D puts the sublime back on the agenda, if for a couple of hours only.

Then, in the days of Bungle Jook, eyes wide open against utter darkIMG_2730ness, riding on a scooter, listening to sounds that emanated from the thick foliage, knowing that a herd of elephants was crossing the road ahead in their search for food from the fields of villagers, I felt the adrenalin flowing freely. Now as I listen to the wind in the trees in the darkness of the woods, my only fear is that a man may just be lying in wait for someone like me, and I try to connect to the breath that flows in and out of me to keep calm and carry on. Then, when the toilet was a mud hut, I almost squatted on a cobra in the process of digesting a frog, now I trip over puddles with the reflection of the clouds in them. Then, the leeches were picked off ankles, toes, legs and stomach, thick with the blood they had feasted on, now I feel the irritation of nettles on my skin. Then, when a million butterflies in myriad colours presented themselves on the blue catwalk in front of my nose, now the duck with the flashy green neck waddles across my path on her way to the water’s edge. Then, when the hundred-member cicada choir added to the feeling that I was slowly and surely being electrocuted as I sweated through each day, now I tell myself it will pass when a gust of wind slaps my face and threatens to fling me backwards.

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Then in the time of Bungle Jook, I didn’t know, that many years later, I would be walking in a glass box in the botanical garden, my glasses misty from the moisture generated by a machine. A man, in uniform, would open a little cupboard, and take out one butterfly after another, to place each gently on the branch of flowering plants. I would peep into the cupboard to see eggs, larvae and pupae. In the mean time, the butterfly would fall off the branch. As if it has forgotten how to stand or fly. The man would pull up his trousers and place himself on the ledge to look for the butterfly, then he would pick it up and put it very carefully, back on the branch, holding on to the wings until he feels sure the butterfly has found its feet. He would tell me that the butterflies have come from Costa Rica.IMG_2722

They didn’t fly in. They were flow in, in the belly of another sort of bird.

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Dutch Direct – Indian Indirect?

Posted in Diversity in India, Diversity in the Netherlands on April 21st, 2016 by nandinibedi

Some years ago I asked an Indian lady working for Tata Corus what she found to be the biggest difference between working in India and in the Netherlands. She said it was the directness of her Dutch colleagues that took some getting used to. I smiled remembering the couple of times I almost packed my bags and left for Schipol airport after hearing my then boyfriend’s ‘no’ followed by a physical removal of himself from the common space. Simple, efficient, clear. Message conveyed. When he did that, I sometimes felt like I’d been slapped on my face.

I think Dutch directness is another manifestation of the idea: ‘we are transparent’. What you see is what you get. Why else is it so easy to look into the living rooms of so many Dutch people? A walk in Amsterdam allows, beside other tourist attractions, the possibility to gaze into the homes of its folk. This attraction is not confined to Amsterdam alone. While on my bicycle sprees I have looked through a lot of windows in Holland. And what you see are orderly, neat spaces designed to tell the viewer that all is well and above board here.

A transparent folk. An honest folk. Those clean, glass windows seem to call out, ‘don’t you see, what you see is what you get’!

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Dutch directness to my mind is also about efficiency. Why would you spend time and energy on a long explanation that implies a ‘no’ when you can simply say it (and maybe leave to get onto other important things)? If it is in the interest of the listener, they may follow up with a question or follow you, to know the reason for the ‘no’. If they don’t, you were right – the story underlying the ‘no’ was not so important, anyway.

In contrast, many people in other parts of the world find the story underlying the message more important than a direct utterance like ‘no’. They take the listener with them, meandering sometimes, so that when the ‘no’ message comes, it resembles a nudge and not a slap. Quite often, it is nuanced – so that it reflects many a possibility along the ‘yes- no’ continuum.

This is often how communication goes in India. Indirect.

However, some Dutch people who have been to India tell me that they have experienced a shocking form of directness in their Indian colleagues. It’s a good idea to think about where and when this direct form of communication takes place, because that tells one a lot about India, and of course about Holland.

 

Some useful links to the website of India Connected

 

Working in India is a feast

 

Adventurous entrepreneurs perform better in India

 

Questions (and answers about working in India)

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Human-it-ies

Posted in Diversity in India, Diversity in the Netherlands on January 29th, 2016 by nandini

Two and a half intense years of studying appear to be coming to an end. By tomorrow I may just be a student with the number ‘s1634690’ in the administration system of Leiden University. As I wait for the last grade to find its mark, I decide to put down some thoughts that have nothing to do with those grades, but with other values, in other schools, with other teachers and other companions and friends.

Last year, I could not spare much time to support two institutions on two different ends of the world. I’m speaking of the University of Amsterdam (Uva) here in the Netherlands where I am now, and the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII)– where I once was. Glancing furtively up from my books – telling myself I wasn’t going to be spending much time on a quick catch up, I saw how students of both these ‘ex schools’ of mine stood up in rebellion.images

In Amsterdam, a year ago in February of 2015, just after I finished my Masters in English Literature, students peacefully took over the administrative heart of the University – a historic monument and the equally impressive building that housed the faculty of humanities. I had spent many wonderful hours in the latter as a student. The protest was in response to budget cuts to the humanities in favour of those subjects that supposedly draw the crowds (and the money) and apparently contribute to careers. In other words – the students were protesting against the idea that the humanities don’t really count. Languages were badly hit. I was told that my thesis supervisor’s contract was not renewed and that another teacher of mine left for America, where the future looked brighter. One of the things the students tried to negotiate was a representation of those who learn (students) and those who teach (teachers) in decisions that involve what a university stands for. Thus, not managers and more managers. Its not just the economy stupid.

images-1When I met one of my teachers at a seminar, I asked him if there was anything I could do to show my solidarity. He said, ‘tell as many people as you can to go to University’. Because, quite simply, if enough students don’t register for the humanities, the latter are seen as irrelevant to society and scrapped. This same teacher, who later gave the inaugural speech at our graduation ceremony had done his research, and could convincingly show that graduates of studies like English language and literature do find jobs – and ones that deeply satisfy them. But…jobs made up one part of the speech. He lingered with love on what literature does to the mind, the heart and soul of those engaged with it. Hearing him that day, anyone would understand those protesting students whose message was clear: there’s more to life than returns and efficiency.

In the Film Institute of India, the protest began when unqualified people were appointed to run the institution. Or…differently put, people whose qualification was highly evident in their worship of the prime minister and not in their knowledge of cinema; people whose credentials lay more in their membership of Hindutva and less in the skills required to really educate young, impressionable minds in anything else. Every now and then, I caught a glimpse of a classmate, or friend, now alumnus of FTII taking the time to go to the campus and address the students, to repeat everything I heard as a protesting student so many years ago there – that this place – where the questioning, curious minds of all those who enter its gates – rich, poor – from every corner of the sub continent- had to be kept just that way – open to questioning and curiousity – and it was now threatened with some form of ideology that opposes those very precious qualities. Filmmakers, thinkers, writers joined in – one did not need to be an alumnus of FTII. One needed to care about what was happening in the society at large under Hindutva. I read of the protest march in Delhi – of broken bones; of the surgeon who reduced his fees when he realized that those broken bones came from a lathi charge. I read about the corner shop that stocked magazines of the student protest – so word would get around.images-2

In both cases, police were called in to use force to break the protests. In both cases, the message had already spread and was not any more confined to these institutions alone. It resonated with a larger public. In India, this student protest spurred many more voices of dissent.

But why am I writing all this? Because maybe by tomorrow, I will have met the formalities required for a teaching qualification. Because my newspaper says that since robots and computers are going to be taking on much of the administrative tasks and the mechanical work we do, schools should be focusing on nurturing those qualities that make us ‘human’.

And where do you think the word ‘humanities’ could be coming from?

Human it is.

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(Terug) naar Oegstgeest

Posted in Diversity in the Netherlands on February 26th, 2015 by nandinibedi

Just about everybody to whom I mentioned our impending move to Oegstgeest said, ‘oh terug naar Oegsgeest’! Friends, parents of kids’ friends, not so friends friends, the huisarts. And almost everybody of the everybody did this with a smile.

We weren’t going back to Oegstgeest. We were simply going.

Some mentioned that it was voted the best municipality in the Netherlands. Some said that they couldn’t dream of leaving a vibrant city like Amsterdam to live in a sleepy, residential place lined with houses but apparently no people. One said, ‘where would I find my daily inspiration in such a boring environment’?

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winter blossoms

Where indeed?

This is where – to begin with.

Following the suggestion of my friend Lena…I urge all Oegstgeesters and Amsterdammers alike to look at the sky. Lena said that’s where the landscape of Holland is to be best enjoyed…in the ever changing expressions of the sky. ‘Here in France’, said Lena, ‘I see a hill outside my window and I cannot change that. But when I lived in Holland, the changing sky offered me a new landscape – sometimes several times a day’.

So that, my dear Michelle is where I find my daily inspiration, for one. Today…the sky is not fifty but one shade of grey. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

 

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one shade of grey

 

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What to do with the family Khan?

Posted in Diversity in India, Diversity in the Netherlands on June 10th, 2013 by nandini

 

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Recently I joined one of the book clubs that the public library in Amsterdam has started. A friend, who knew I’m looking for ways to get deeper into Dutch, suggested it and I’m deeply grateful to him. And so…I read a whole book in Dutch! To be honest, when I began, I thought this is going to be an uphill climb. It came as a pleasant surprise to me that the book pulled me towards it. Despite the limitations of my vocabulary that made sure I had a dictionary within reach, I could hardly put it down. I was fascinated by what I read, and recommend this book highly. Unfortunately I don’t think there’s an English translation yet, but hope there will be one soon.

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We’re not dumb, just poor. (…)

That always gets mixed up.

(Orhan Pamuk in Snow)

The book is called ‘Het Pauperparadijs’ (The Pauper Paradise) by Suzanna Jansen and begins with this quote. I didn’t choose it. The name of our club is ‘Ij Amsterdam’ and the concerned library staff member made a pre-selection of books related to Amsterdam. A common consensus of the six people in our club selected it as the first for us to read over a two-month period.

At the end of May on a warm evening, we met to discuss the book. It wasn’t a very structured discussion. We took it in turns to speak about it. At one point someone asked, ‘does anyone have a favourite paragraph’? I wasn’t ready for the question, so let is pass me by. But later, a section of the book came back to me and I translate here:

The government officials couldn’t decide what to do: on what conditions should they give my grandfather social security? They wrote each other notes with texts like ‘ a strange history’! And ‘Will you please discuss this with the GAK’? In the mean time, my grandfather had to go again and again and beg for emergency social security money.

This situation that my grandparents had landed up in makes me think shamefully of my own time as a temporary employee of the Social Services Office in the mid-eighties. As a twenty year old, I worked as someone who’s job is to ‘estimate’ in a department full of unemployed teachers and people with a Master’s qualification in history, a fired bar keeper, an accounted fired due to cutbacks, a pregnant physiotherapist – that was the unemployment relief work for those days. Day in and day out, in piles of files we spit out the comments by social workers by converting these into numbers for the sake of the punch operators. The purpose was that the right holes in the right cards would lead to the right amount of money in the bank accounts of the people who, somewhere behind the files, we would never see. All that time, there was a big file of one family Khan on my desk, about which I could not decide. Again and again, I put it aside, and somewhere at the back of my head, buzzed the vague idea that it was just because of me that the family Khan faced renewed uncertainty every month.

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The servant and the mistress, Amsterdam

Somehow the name of the family Khan, who needed money to survive in the Netherlands felt too close to home in a book full of poor Dutch people with very different names. Even more importantly, the book (which is actually a family history) asks a big question: What to do with the poor? It strikes a very deep chord in me because I’ve spent most of my life in India. In this book I see reflections of so many of our attitudes to the poor and the causes of their poverty – blame them, change them, improve them, ship them out, criminalize them, categorize them, convert them, share with them, bring them up, teach them, pity them,encourage them to join the nunnery, curse them, institutionalize them, love them, check them, bury them, make them work, give them money …… the whole range is present depending on who is in power and which way the wind is blowing, or on where the economy is. Chilling, also, is to read how the vicious circle is so hard to break. It does in the case of the author, whose grandmother, Rosa, took the first steps. To Suzanna Janssen, I have admiration and gratitude, for speaking with such eloquence and clarity about a subject without the shame often associated with it, and for linking our tendency in the present times in the Netherlands, to blame sections of our society for not being able to rise out of their lot.

Our newspaper, the NRC Handesblad carried an article recently, the headlines of which read something to the effect of, the unemployed needn’t expect any understanding from those who are employed.

So, what should the family Khan look forward to, if understanding is something they shouldn’t expect?

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The author’s grandfather, photographed for a study to link poverty to personality traits

 

 

 

 

‘Het Pauperparadijs’ is translated into Spanish.

Link to Suzanna Janssen’s website

Link to the beginner’s reading club at the OBA, Amsterdam

 

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