Cruising through the week, I had a few ideas about the focus of my column. It was going to be a little bit of this and a little bit of that and finally, I was going to end with a gleeful welcome to President-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Wednesday changed everything. Wednesday revealed a fractured, deeply divided country. Wednesday was a slap in the face, a reality check, a shattering of faith. But, from the ashes we will rise and America will once again be whole. It will take time, possibly more than four years but a lesson has been learned and a wounded country will slowly limp back to a semblance of normalcy, maybe even rise above misogyny, meanness, bigotry and become truly liberal and inclusive. After all, according to statistics, a majority of voting youth between 18 and 25, voted blue. The emotional wreckage of my being is also coming to terms. Do I have a choice? It is as it is.
And Wednesday did not stop there. Late on Tuesday night, PM Modi threw a googly and decided to get a pie of the media attention too. Demonetisation: a master stroke against corruption was effected and threw a nation into turmoil and ecstasy. I have never claimed to be a Modi bhakt and have always erred on the side of caution when it comes to him, but I have to hand it to the man with his uncanny knack of stealing the thunder, pulling the rug and showing his shrewd Gujju business man side. I do question the way he does things, in an autocratic, dictatorial manner. It has the stench of Emergency without actually being an Emergency and I am fearful of such tactics.
But around the world it is such people who are getting the people’s mandate. People are fed up of institutionalised politicians who pander to their pockets as well as to those with deep pockets. The middle class is reeling and in protest are using the only weapon they can, the ballot. Kalyug is making its presence felt but the scary part is Kalyug is supposed to last for 432,000 years and we are in year 5118, leaving 426, 882 years more. This is just the beginning!
Scrambling for sanity, I took refuge in friends and family. They embraced my pain and held my hand.
Far away from America, Pune provides an alternate reality, though a fast changing reality. I attended an event; Poona vs Pune and the panel of well-known Punekars spoke eloquently about the change in Pune. Pandit Sanjeev Abhyankar, Vandana Chavan, Sullaja Motwani and Tarita Shankar highlighted how Poona has evolved in the fields of music, politics, industry and education. The audience chipped in with comparisons in fields of defence and medicine. But alongside stories of angst at a more polluted, congested city were stories of pride in a safe and fast growing city. A sleepy Poona has become a dynamic Pune, a city which will be one of the experimental cities in Modi’s smart city experiment. As a Puneite who lives outside India, I have spoken to many fellow Puneites and there is one common theme running in everyone’s narrative: the warmth, genuineness and hospitality that never dies and the fabulous weather.
As Puneites we need to make a pledge. We have to ensure Pune grows in a manner that does not compromise on the city’s essence. Let’s not kill the lungs of Pune, our hills. Let’s not kill the rivers of Pune, our lifeline. Let’s not add to pollution and go the Delhi way. For this we need a thriving public transport system that we should be proud to use. A few years ago, I was part of the protests demanding the Metro be underground and not above ground, in order to save the trees. I overheard someone gloating because the metro would ensure more space on the roads for his car. I was appalled. As Punekars, this is not what our thinking should be. We need more efficient public transport to prevent pollution or subsequent generations will be left choking. Pune Bus Day was another initiative highlighting the need for public transport. Pune has always had active citizens. Many of the leaders are ageing and do not have the stamina to continue the battle. It is time for the mantle to be passed on to the younger lot. Wake up Pune. Grab the opportunity to save your city before it gets too late.
It is time to work towards positive change because change is the only constant. As I return to a country grappling with change, it is this thought I will embrace