Plastic Kills

Baba

Baba

We have always been hearing about how plastic is a serious threat for our planet but not many people seem serious about the issue. Especially in India where there is plastic just everywhere, even the blessings at temples are packed in plastic. Government does all the propaganda by making laws that plastic should be prohibited but nothing is implemented. Just like anyone else living in this country I am also affected by plastic but something happened a few days ago which just blew my mind. Actually I met with someone new in my life a few weeks ago and we became really good friends. A few weeks ago I was sitting at Assi crossing and suddenly a bullock came to me.

Baba with Rahul

Baba with Rahul

He was very cute, just came to me like we had known each other for long time and put his face over my lap. I started stroking him and he seemed very relaxed by me doing it. Suddenly a few of my other friends also came and the bullock behaved very friendly with them as well. We offered him some food but he didn’t seem to be very excited about eating it. Anyways, we named him the same evening and his name was Baba. Baba was with us for almost an hour and then we went back home. We saw Baba the next day at the same place where we met yesterday.

Now we noticed something strange in Baba’s body. His stomach looked kind of bigger than his size. We tried to touch it and it seemed very tight. We decided to ask someone who does dairy business if Baba’s stomach looked strange to him as well. Luckily there is a dairy businessman right at Assi crossing. We called him and asked about what he thought about Baba’s stomach. Based on his experience he said that Baba has eaten a lot of plastic and that’s why his growth has stopped, he doesn’t feel like eating, he is not happy and something is not done soon then he might die as well.

We had also noticed some problems that Baba seemed hungry but he could not eat. His seemed bigger in age than his physical growth. All of my friends were very sad to hear it and we decided to contact some doctor. A friend of mine who owns a cow contacted the doctor and doctor said if the plastic is in Baba’s body for long time then the only possible way to take it out is an operation. Baba’s was not in good shape at all, we noticed that he was becoming more and more skinny everyday. We were still discussing what to do with Baba and suddenly we saw his dead body by the corner of the street where we used to meet.

It was very sad to see him dead and I don’t really think that we will forget him ever. But by looking at what happened with Baba, we can easily imagine what is the condition of our animals in India, the country where each and every form of life is worshiped. Talking about Varanasi, this city had a tradition of setting up big containers at every corner of the alleys which would be filled with water and food by the locals of Varanasi so that street animals could stay happy and healthy but now the situation has become really worse that our street animals are dying by eating garbage which is mixed with plastic.

I have no hope from the government and I think the only way to solve this problem would be some initiative from the people themselves. But it also seems very complicated because whatever we get is always packed in plastic and it has to go somewhere. Usually people put their garbage on the street from where it should be collected by municipality. We also don’t have any system of separating the garbage and everything is mixed. I think the best thing would be use as less plastic as possible. I don’t know when things will change but I will try my best to change myself for sure. RIP Baba.

Baba Dead

Baba Dead

Police in Varanasi

Corruption is a very big issue in India nowadays and everyone is talking about it. Even we saw the result in Delhi state assembly elections how Aam Aadmi Party changed the government only on the issue of corruption. I was also very  excited after seeing the result of Delhi elections but sometimes such things happen which make me feel like there is just no way to kill corruption in this country. It was a friend’s wedding last week in Varanasi and I went to attend it. After the wedding was finished, all of my friends returned back home but one of them parked his motorbike right in front of his home on the main street which is very usual thing for a city like Varanasi where there is no parking space available anywhere.

It was 2.30 AM and I got a call on my mobile from the same friend saying that his bike was missing. He had called me seeking help to find that bike. We went together on the street asking people if someone saw our bike and a person told us that he had seen two policemen taking our bike. We went to the nearest police station and the police officer present there said that the bike was found unattended hence it is sent to big police station which was about a kilometer away from my place. Now we went to the big police station and found everyone asleep other than one person who was standing by the entrance.

We asked him about our bike and he confirmed that our bike was there but we needed to talk with the officer. We went to the officer and found him sleeping on his chair. We were trying to wake him up but he was in super sound sleep. Finally he woke up after our several attempts. We explained him our situation and he said that we would have to go to the court the next day, pay a fine of Rs. 10,000 and only then we will get our bike. We knew it very well that he was telling a lie. We requested him so much to give us our bike back and he finally agreed on doing so after talking with the policemen who had brought our bike from the street. He asked us to go on the street looking for those policemen.

We had no idea where to find him. We requested him to kindly confirm their location by talking with them on phone but the officer just didn’t want to help us. He always felt more interested in his sleep. Anyways, we decided to go back to the same location and luckily found those police guys. We explained them our situation and they were easy. They asked us to go back to the police station and have the officer talk with them. Now we went back to the police station and again found the officer sleeping. It was a serious pain to wake him up but the mission was successful, we were able to wake him up. Now he opened a register, looked at a few pages and found he page where he had written the bike number.

Now he asked for the bike registration paper which we did not have. The papers were with the friend who owned the bike. We tried calling him but he did not respond. We went to his home, woke him up and brought him to the police station with all the papers and asked us to wait. It was crazy to see that right in front of our eyes, he closed the register and again felt asleep asking us to wait. We just did not know what to do now. Now I laughed in anger and we started talking with each other like this is our great India, this is the system…things like that. The awake policemen who was listening to us told us that- now you are laughing too much but imagine what would have happened if a thief had stolen your bike.

I just did not know what to tell him but I told him that we are laughing only because our bike is secured with the police. Anyways, after waiting for 15-20 minutes we asked the awaken police to wake up the sleeping policeman, hahaha. Finally the officer woke up, again looked at the documents and now asked for Rs. 500. We all started looking at each other and asked him why he needed Rs. 500. As we asked this question to him, he got upset, closed the register and again went asleep by asking us to go to the court the next day. We knew it very well that if we go to the court then we will have to bribe to maybe 10 people because everything is super corrupt at the courts also.

It was already 4 AM and we had no hope other than bribing him. We finally gave him Rs. 500 and got our bike back. But when I think about the behavior of that police guy, it makes me feel like our police is formed to torture us and nothing else. The policeman had no interest in helping us, he was always trying to make the situation more complicated. He was very rude, corrupt, fat, lazy, sleepy and a bigger thief than regular thieves. And I have never ever met any policeman who was better than him. I have also not ever met any person who said that he ever found a helping policeman. I think it is definitely a need of the time to dismiss entire police system and bring new fresh people with a different training.

I have also heard that our police is trained in the same way as it was trained during the British Raj time. The police was trained to fight against locals those days and they are trained the same way even today also. Our political system never had any free time to make police system better because they are also involved in looting the country. I am sure that this problem could be solved by bringing new police act and using more technology but I don’t see any hope especially for my state of Uttar Pradesh where governments come in power by doing caste and religion based politics. I have always believed that Indian police is somehow responsible for each and every problem we have in this country and if things do not change soon then I can grantee that the dream of India of becoming super power we stay only a dream forever.

Untouchability/ Impurity

The idea of unaccountability has always been part of Hindu culture but it also changed the way everything changed over time. If we look at real idea of unaccountability then it is completely karma based and anyone can become untouchable or impure by doing certain karma at anytime in their lives but at present certain communities are considered 24 hours untouchable. The best examples in my city are the people who work at cremation sites.There is so huge discrimination against them that the community doesn’t seem to have any hope. Even they don’t consider themselves as someone who can even dream of changing their lives.

I still remember when I worked with CBC a few years ago on a documentary project which was about filming a young Doam (the caste of people who work at the cremation grounds) whose father was still involved in the cremation ground but the son was either studying computers or working at a multinational company and at one moment we thought that it was impossible to find someone in such condition because no family had ever sent their kids to the school. Anyways, something magic happened and we found an amazing person for our episode, in fact it was the best story of the series.

Something really in interesting happened with me last night which made me write this story and really made me think if there is any impact of education on Indian society or not? Are we still stuck with that crazy system of unaccountability/ impurity / discrimination of the basis of somebody’s caste? And the worse thing is that nobody wants to think about the real idea and just want to go with the present system. One of my friend’s father died yesterday and I went to the cremation ground with my two friends who are my age graduate living in so called educated Indian city.

Both of my friends were really concerned about getting touched by anyone at the cremation ground because it would have made them impure or untouchable. The idea of impurity associated with cremation says that whoever participates in the funeral becomes impure until they have taken a bath again. They were planning to keep a distance from all of the family members, even my friend. They warned me also to not get touched by anyone but I did not know how to make it happen. I was going to my friend father’s funeral and I knew that at least I was going to hug him or touch him to show my sorrow and support in this difficult time.

Anyways, I arrived at the cremation ground and saw my friend standing alone and looking at his father’s funeral. That feeling of seeing my friend was so strong to me that I could not stop myself by going close to him. My other friend’s, who were concerned about getting touched, also came with me. I was talking with my friend and suddenly I noticed that two other friends who had come with me were gone now. They were standing kind of 20 meters away from me. Suddenly the friend who father had died started crying and now I could not stop myself by putting my hand over his shoulder. We were standing like this for a while and then I went to my other friends and we returned back home.

But the most interesting experience for me when I started my motorbike to drive back home. It was the same motorbike I had used to reach at the cremation ground with two other friends but now they did not want to ride it. We were three on one motorbike with me being the driver and my other friends were asking each other to sit on the bike first so that they don’t touch me. Anyways, they also came on my bike and we all drove back together. The next day one of those friends came to me and said that he had to change his clothes and take a bath before entering in home only because I touched someone at the cremation ground and they got touched by me.

I thought about it a lot and was wondering if this idea of impurity is more important than showing your support to a friend who is facing a death of a family member? Anyways, I think I just did not do anything wrong, in fact I did not do anything, it was just my human feeling which made me touch that friend. I also want to respect traditions but definitely can’t compromise with my social duties.

Blogging

I started to blog about six years ago and I have always enjoyed it so much. In fact blogging changed my whole life: it improved my writing, my thinking, increased my social networking and got me a lot of attention. In the beginning I was just writing about anything, even my guests staying at my guesthouse but later I took it more seriously and I started writing about social issues, tourism, corruption, politics etc. But now I have been going through really strange situation ever since my blog has gotten good ranking on google. I never paid any money or put any extra efforts to get good ranking on google, it all happened automatically and I was always so happy and proud of my blog.

But ever since I have been getting good ranking on my blog, I have also started to get threats from different people who are upset with my writings. It was the first time last year when I had to remove one of the posts I wrote about a very famous TV show filming in Varanasi. I just wrote about my views on how they contacted me first, wanted to offer me the assignment but when I asked my salary they said that they did not have a fancy budget to pay my salary. Later I introduced one of my friends to the team and he agreed on working with them. When the crew arrived in Varanasi, I was surprised to see how big budget they had. And finally the producer asked my friend to get him some empty receipts so that he can fill some crazy amount and get money for it.

It was a very strange experience for me because I had already worked with so many TV channels from all over the world and none of them ever asked for such thing. I finally wrote about it and it became a serious problem for me because the producer sitting in Mumbai office found my post way before the show was ever on TV. The crew started calling me several times a day and threatened me by saying that they know so many people in Varanasi, they will go to the court against me etc… Finally under pressure of the crew and my friend who worked with them, I had to remove that post and it was a very upsetting moment for me. It took me more than a few weeks to recover from that incident.

Anyways, something similar again happened with me last week. I wrote a post about a guesthouse in Varanasi based in my person experience about how stupid the guesthouse staff and owner were in dealing with their guests. Actually one of my groups was staying at this guesthouse in the year 2011 and I got a call from the guesthouse owner the same day the group arrived saying that I should tell my group that I can’t provide any services to my group. I was surprised to hear it and I asked him if he was sure what he was talking about and he said that if I provide any boat, taxi or tours to my guests then they would kick the group out of their hotel. The owner also suggested me some stupid excuses like I can tell my guests that I don’t know anything about Varanasi.

Anyways, I informed my group about it and they also talked with the hotel owner, they had a little fight but later everything was fixed. But the guesthouse owner had threatened me by saying that I am new in the industry, I don’t know the rules, I should not try to be so smart and he will see me. I decided to write about it on my blog and same thing happened what had happened with that TV group. They started calling me, sending me emails and such things. Finally I got a call last week from a dude in my neighborhood who asked me to remove that post. I thought a lot about whether I should remove that post or not and decided to ask the group what they thought. I was surprised to see that the same group was going to stay at that same guesthouse in their next trip to India.

They said that it is convenient for them to stay at the same place because it is the closest guesthouse to the building where they have all of their business in Varanasi. I was kind of upset after hearing this but thought what can I do if even the group is not supporting me. So finally I removed that post also. All these removal of my posts and similar incidences all across India have raised a serious question about whether I should still write about corruption or not. Recently a writer was arrested and sent to jail because he made a comment on Facebook about some politician. Where is the freedom of expression and freedom of speech? At a moment I had thought to take help of Police but later realized that Police is definitely more corrupt than any the camera crew or the guesthouse owner.

I don’t know if I will ever write about corruption issues on my city level because I feel threatened by these local mafias. I have a family and I need to think about them as well. And in any case I never feel like having enough time to become part of bullshit politics. Peace.

Public Display of Affection in Europe and India

a young couple walking in Budapest

Public display of affection is something not seen at all in India. Actually its very strange here. The people who love each other are not supposed to show any physical intimacy in public whereas regular friends can hug each other, hold hands and sometimes kiss on cheeks. Holding hands and hugging is the most common act of physical intimacy seen in India amongst same sex person but it doesn’t mean that they are homosexuals. Its again very strange that homosexuals never want to hold hands, hug or kiss each other in public because homosexuality is very very hidden and homosexual people don’t want to express their sexuality. I have met so many Europeans and Americans who always thought that same sex people holdings hand of each other are homosexual because this is how it works in their world.

a middle aged couple in Vienna

Usually friends do such things and there is no idea making love behind it. If people see a couple kissing or hugging they want to watch it. Holding hands is kind of becoming common and is not kind of issue anymore in big Indian cities. Anyways, I have also grown up in the same culture where I never saw any act of physical intimacy in public. My city gets a lot of western people from all over the world who some time kiss and hug in public so at least people in my city have an idea about it. Every once in a while we see some crazy drunk westerner making love on the street. Making love doesn’t mean having sex but finding a westerner kissing or hugging is not something unknown to the people of Varanasi. Doesn’t matter whether they have seen it or not but they are very well aware of this culture.

an old couple in Vienna

I think that having sex or watching people having sex has always been one of the biggest attractions amongst us humans in our whole history. But the world has changed a lot within past a few decades. There are several countries and cultures where sex is discussed, is opened (doesn’t mean in public: in fact there are places where people can go in groups and have sex but is usually a group activity rather than a public activity), people have a choice and it is seen in a very different way than the it is seen in my culture and country. This idea of watching people making love or just seeing them in their undergarments is very exciting for Indians because we just don’t see such thing happening. And whenever we see someone in such condition, most of the time they are western people.

an old couple in Vienna

I am very well aware that a lot of people go to places like Goa in India just to watch western woman in bikinis. In fact, when I went to Goa first time in my life it was also to watch western girls in bikinis and find cheap alcohol. To be honest most of the woman I saw in Goa were old with ugly bodies:) Still when I see someone kissing on the street my eyes like to stop and watch it. But I usually try to avoid it because I don’t like to disturb people but my mind still talks with me about that picture while I am trying not to watch them. I think situation should be the same with most of the Indians, even the ones who try not to watch people kissing or making love. And I don’t really mind it because we just don’t see such thing happening and foreigners should also learn about these cultural issues before coming here and try to respect and be respected. But at the same time we can’t blame foreigners either because it is very important part of their culture.

a newly married couple in Buda

Anyways, I got to travel to Europe (Hungary, Austria and Slovakia) , in fact anywhere out of India for first time in my life a few weeks ago. Everything was different than what I was used to hence everything was a shock, in fact very interesting shock. I don’t want to discuss about all those things in this post but I would like to discuss the idea of the importance of physical intimacy and public display of affection. I had started seeing couples kissing, holding hands, sitting on the lap, caressing, nestling… as soon as I crossed the immigration area at Delhi airport. The most interesting thing was that very good percentage of Indians were also involved in such act who usually never do such thing in public.

a young couple in Vienna

It seemed like they had planned to do it as soon as they leave India but could not wait for the flight to land:) haha. Maybe they had not planned it together with their partners but they had planned it with themselves for sure. Experience make us feel comfortable and I could easily see that Indians were not comfortable doing what they wanted to and looked completely inexperienced. hahaha. I am sure that they did not want to do sex in public but they just did not know what they were doing. They didn’t seem comfortable even in touching each other but they were trying their best. I am not making fun of those people I saw at the airport but It was really funny and interesting both for a person like me to see them. Because I just don’t see such thing happening in my society by the locals and they had changed their as soon as they crossed immigration area at the airport.

even statues were making love

When I arrived in Europe I saw people kissing and hugging just everywhere even inside a church. They were very comfortable with it and it seemed like it was just not an issue at all. I saw people kissing in the train, at the crossings, shopping malls, restaurants, zoo…just everywhere. It seems like kissing is as important as meat to Europeans. I saw all aged people, literally as young as 14 years old kissing in public. Kissing seems very important to Europeans. Once I saw a young shop keeper smooching her boyfriend in front of the customer and the customer waiting for them to finish.

couples at Szimplakart pub in Budapest

I was very well aware about this culture in Europe years before I went there but I was still surprised when I saw it first and my first few days were shocking for me in terms of seeing people making love on the street. I think I had stopped noticing or watching it after a week or so but it was something which won’t go out of my mind soon. In fact once I was discussing this issue with my host Attila and told him about how I saw Indians involved in physical intimation in public at Delhi airport or in Hungary or other European countries I visited and Attila was so surprised and he asked me why Indians don’t do such things in India also if they like to do it.

men and women dancing together at a cultural event in Kesthai, Budapest

Attila had already spent more than an year and half living in India and he was very well aware of what I was talking about. I did not know how to make him understand but his question was very genuine that why don’t we do it if we like to do it? I knew the answer but it was hard for an European mind to understand. Sex is very very hidden in India, even talking about it with parents and unknown people is something which just doesn’t happen. Everyone does sex but they don’t want to talk about it. I have met so many people, to be honest all of the people all I meet, who find such sexual acts like cunnilingus and several other sex positions very exciting but they never want to admit that they do it with their partners and always relate with something coming from the western world which is very dirty, disgusting and unnatural. haha

temple art in Khajuraho, India

I am sure that everyone does it but they just don’t admit, even when they are talking with their friends. It is again very interesting for me to see why people relate such sexual acts with western world when all of them are mentioned in Kamasutra or if they are present on the temples of Khajuraho and several others all over India. I think we were practicing all of those acts way before western people started talking about it, at least it was very open part of the society thousands of years before the first sex museum was opened in the world or anyone ever tried to document sex in this whole world. Anyways, my issue is about present India so I should about present.

A young couple in Bratislava, Slovakia

I just mean to say that sex is a very very hidden act in India which is one of the reason why we don’t see public display of affection in India. The second biggest reason behind this issue is the safety of woman in India, woman rights issues and in fact safety of couples also who dare to show physical intimacy in public. It was hard for Attila to understand why someone could be upset by watching others kissing but I understand it very well. Anyways, Attila only seemed upset and I could not satisfy him with my answers. The world knows how Shiv Sena was targeting people celebrating Valentines Day in India. If we try to learn how they were protesting against the festival then we can see that they were not actually looking for people celebrating the festival but mostly they were targeting the couples.

In fact kissing is seen as a form of greeting also in western culture. Men are kissing each other in a wedding part for greeting.

They wanted to beat the couples who were found together watching cinema, hanging around in the park or other public places. So it clearly means that they were protesting against the people and not the festival itself. And I know it very well that the all the people who were protesting against the festival either had a partner whom they went out with to celebrate festival the same day or definitely they wanted to have someone. And I personally know so many people from my own city, who were part of the Shiv Sena and were targeting people celebrating the festival, now are either married with the someone whom they loved or they have girlfriend.

a view of Rajdari waterfall from Devdari

Only after a week after I returned from Europe I went to visit a water fall 50 KMs from Varanasi called Raj Dari. This water fall is a very famous picnic spot for people living in Varanasi and nearby districts and hundreds of people visit the fall on Sundays during rainy season. I was there to find rock paintings and to watch people. The whole region of Chandauli district has several sites with ancient rock paintings and tree fossils which are said to be around 1400 million years old. While I was looking for ancient rock paintings I heard a group of people shouting which made me look at them

Couples bathing together in public is no problem in Europe

It was a group of like 15-20 men, all different aged, mostly young who were taking a bath. A young girl who was wearing Punjabi suit was also taking a bath hardly 20 meters away from them. She was with her boy friend and wearing Punjabi suit mean her whole body was covered with cloth. That group of 15 men was taunting at her. They were calling her with the name black panty. And they were doing it repeatedly in front of hundreds of other people who were there. They were taunting such things like- call us also, we are also very good…

usual scene at bathing places in Europe

The couple was doing nothing other than taking a bath, even they were not kissing or doing anything which can be considered as a sexual act. Her dress was also not different than bathing dress of woman in India. I am 100% sure that it happened with her only because she was with her boyfriend. Most probably such thing would have not happened with her if she was with her parents. It happens with woman even when they are with their families as well but it is more likely to face such situation when they are with their boyfriends. The girl was so nervous and uncomfortable with the situation that she came out of the water and walked away from there.

Even when she was walking away another group also joined and they all started taunting at her with vulgar languages. I know that such things are less likely to happen in big cities and one of the biggest reason behind why such happened is because those people were locals and there was no security at all. But the question that raised in my mind was-

  • Does a girl need security if she wants to take a bath at a water fall?
  • Are couples not allowed to be together?
  • What do such people think about the the couples who kiss or hug, do the think that the girl wants to be kissed and hugged by just anyone on the street or do they think that she is a slut?
  • What about freedom to express your feelings?
  • What about constitution of India which allows us to choose our life partner?
  • What about constitution of us human beings which allows us to live and let others live?

a couple in Bratislava, Slovakia

There are thousands of questions but its very sad that because of such practices we just don’t have any answer for them. The bitter truth is that if we try to study the mentality of such people then we find out that if they see a girl doing anything which can be considers a sexual act, even kissing or hugging, the girl is immediately thought to be a slut who is wanting such thing to be done with herself by just anyone. In small Indian cities and villages If a girl is found in relationship with anyone boy then people talk about it and now the whole neighborhood wants to try that girl out.

I don’t know what is right or wrong but it was really upsetting for me to see how that girl was being taunted and abused only because she was with her boyfriend. The radical and nationalist groups in India relate such things with something coming from the western world and we should not allow such things because it is against Indian culture. But I think we as a human have a human culture before we get into any particular country’s culture. Love, hate, emotions, feelings are natural human behavior and it just can’t be stopped. And in any case if something hurts us then we should try to control ourselves first and then think about others.

I still don’t know whether my Indian system is better than what I saw in Europe or not but one thing is very sure that woman are living in very tough condition in India. If we just look at this data it can easily tell the story about woman in India. But one thing I would like say for sure that whatever I saw in Europe looked really lovely and I saw Indians also enjoying it in Europe and missing in their own country. Jai Hind. I got a funny picture online which shows the difference I am trying to talk about-

Hospitality industry in India

I work in hospitality industry and I have been trying to learn about it ever since I started working. I had already heard about India having so many problems for tourists but never realized how serious the problem was. Every once in a while I heard about something but it was not possible for me to realize how big the problem was and how easily we could solve it and make more money and send our guests back with a positive impression about India. The biggest problem I was hearing all the time was the issue of forced shopping and I was seriously upset with it. For whatever reasons I was never ever interested in it but I was still happy with the money I was given for my services.

Now when I am back after my first trip out of India, my industry seem shockingly in terrible condition and I feel very sad about it. I traveled in Europe for 14 days and to be honest I was traveling ever hour of the day, except when I slept. I was just not at home at all. I went to all almost all kinds of tourist places possible in Europe and I was really surprised how easy everything was and how the government and people were so nice and welcoming for tourists. The only difference was the cost but its not an issue because life was very expensive in Europe and they definitely need to charge more.

And the good thing was that at least you get what you want after paying for it. Its just not possible at all to buy good services in India. I am not saying that its impossible to get good service but its very hard. I have no idea why such things are going on and why not government and the people of my country are serious about it. We need to understand that Tourism in India is relatively undeveloped, but a high growth sector. It contributes 6.23% to the national GDP and 8.78% of the total employment. A World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) report says that by 2020, tourism in India could contribute Rs. 8,50,000 crores to the GDP. In other words, every man, woman and child could become richer by Rs.7,000. India has yet to realize its full potential from tourism.

The Travel and Tourism industry holds tremendous potential for India’s economy. It can provide impetus to other industries and create millions of new jobs. But we won’t be able to make this dream come true if we don’t organize our tourism industry. The major problems tourists face in India is the lack of basic infrastructure, behavior of people working in tourism industry (tourists guides, drivers, hotel staff, restaurants etc), unorganized services, people on the street targeting tourists etc. To be honest I don’t really think that we need to make huge changes, we can organize tourism only by making little efforts.

A few things happened with me in recent times which made me write this article. At first my Europe trip which was like an enlightenment for me other than that the first attraction with a foreign tourist after returning back to India. Actually it was going to be my first work after returning back to India. I was going to work with a Dutch family. I was going to take them on the boat ride. This assignment was given to me by a travel agency, the only agency I work with in whole India. Usually I talk with my guests the evening before the working day. I called the hotel several times but no one responded.

In fact they were staying at a very nice hotel in Varanasi and I was just not expecting such behavior at all but it happened. I wanted to talk with the guest just to reconfirm the timing and other details. I went to the hotel and met with the guest. The guest seemed seriously upset when I met with him at first. He told me- Thank you so much for coming otherwise I was not hoping to see anyone. I was really surprised why he told me such thing. I started talking with him and he said that he was traveling with his wife and daughter and he had requested his travel agent to provide them either a triple bed room or two different rooms but today he was provided only one double bed room.

And when he asked the hotel where would he sleep, the hotel said that they could give him a blanket and he needed to sleep on the floor. He was so upset with it and told me that his dog sleeps on the floor and he always sleep in his bed. He called his agent in India and they said that this is Indian way. Finally he decided to booked another room and paid from his pocket. He had already paid for everything but here he had to pay for the mistake he was not responsible for. The guest was so upset that he said he was very well aware the hotel guy and the travel agency guy sleeping in the bed but they did not care at all about him. I was really sorry for him but…

Anyways, I needed to discuss about my work with him next morning so we just sat together and discussed about the next morning. He said that he did not want to go on any boat ride as he was already super exhausted by traveling for 14 hours on a train and then having all the crazy experience at the hotel. He asked me if I could arrange his boat ride for the evening. As a tourist guide working for someone else it was not under my power to change his boat ride. As per the rules of the travel agency I was working with he needed to pay again because he was the one who wanted to cancel the tour. And in any case we would have to pay the boat guy doesn’t matter whether use him or not after making a booking.

He also seemed fine with this and asked me the price but when I told him the price he was again upset. He said that it was a rip off. I could easily see that he was prepared to tell this way before I told him the price because he was seriously upset with everything. He had no idea what I was asking for but he had developed this mentality that I was going to cheat him. I had asked him for Rs. 1200 per person and this is the rate travel agency in Varanasi charge. He had paid almost three times more to his agent for the morning boat he canceled but still Rs. 1200 seemed like a rip off to him.

I could easily see how upset and angry he was and I was the one who was dealing with him alone. I was seriously scared but I knew how to make Dutch people happy:) I have worked with many Dutch people already but the most important thing is that I have worked with a very popular TV channel called VPRO from The Netherlands. All the Dutch people I ever met know about this TV channel and they all way that they like this channel a lot and follow their programs as they are very progressive channel. And when I tell them that I have already done so many assignments and research for VPRO they become very interested in me and seem so comfortable and happy with me around them.

I knew it would make him happy and comfortable if I tell him about my relations with Dutchland so I shot my arrow and it worked. He was kind of shocked at first and later so happy and comfortable. He invited me to have a beer with him. We went on the roof top restaurant of the same hotel and ordered beer. We were just talking and talking about my work with Dutch people and what he could do the next day in Varanasi and already passed more than 20 minutes but no beer. Neither I nor the guest had any idea why the service was so later as beer is a packaged drink, the hotel did not need to produce it.

I asked the waitstaff again about our order and he said, it will come soon. I asked how soon and he said ten minutes. I asked why and he did not answer me. At this moment I thought maybe they went out to buy the beer and we started talking again. After ten minutes I again asked the waitstaff about our order and he just open the refrigerator right next to our table and gave the beer to us. The refrigerator was literally right next to our table, so close that I could easily opened and taken the beer out without leaving my chair. I just did not understand why he made us wait for 30 minutes???

Impossible to imagine but this is what happened. I can’t even imagine why they did not serve our order on time. Were they worried about me? Were they personally upset with the guest? Or do they just don’t care about their guests at all? Didn’t they care about the money we were going to give them by buying their goods? In any case if they did not want to entertain us then they should have just told us about it. Even after doing it no one said sorry or anything. No one explained why they were so late even when we asked them. Why such things happen?

Such kind of thing is just an example which happened recently with me otherwise I encounter something crazy every time I am working and I know it very well that most of the tourists must be facing similar problems, or maybe bigger, when they are in India. I spent fifteen days traveling in Hungary, Austria and Slovakia and I hardly noticed such things two three times but the problems I noticed in Europe was different and was not as extreme as here. It happened only once in Budapest when someone approached me trying to sell an iphone but it was very easy to avoid him. I noticed a problem second and time in Bratislava, Slovakia where a waitstaff at a restaurant did not speak any English and was dealing with customers.

We ordered something else and got something different. Other than this I just can’t think of any problem I noticed during those fifteen days. Now I wonder why can’t we also have similar kind of services here in India? I know that Indian government is crazy and I just don’t have any hope at all but what about services offered by people? Our attitude for tourists? At one hand we are so proud of saying that as per Indian culture the guest is like God (अतिथि देवो भव्) and on the other hand I am very well aware of such incidents where foreign guests were not treated even like a human? And it happened only because they were our foreign guests.

I have a strong feeling that the people not working in tourism industry are very friendly and nice and all the tourists like them a lot but unfortunately a lot of people who are working in tourism industry are really strange. They just don’t have any sense of tourism or hospitality at all. Another unfortunate thing is that the tourists don’t really get to meet many local people and mostly they interact with their agents or other people working in tourism where they develop strange ideas about India and I am not surprised at all. I would also develop the same mentality if such thing happened with me.

I still don’t forget the way my driver in Himanchal Pradesh had cheated me for only Rs. 100. The amount was nothing for me but that experience of being cheated changed my whole idea about him and I started to hate him and was not feeling secured at all. If we just look at any online travel forum about India then the forums are full of negative stories about India. In fact there are warnings. I know that a few people might be offended with my thinking about tourism industry in India but to be honest I experienced the difference and whatever I am writing is a bitter truth.

We really need to realize that there are problems. If we don’t admit that there are problems then we just won’t be able to solve them. Internet is changing the world. Now we can easily learn a lot about the any place in the world without visiting. We can talk with people without meeting them, we can share ideas and if India is getting negative impression online then we are going to be in huge problem. People read about India before coming here. We need to change otherwise one thing is very sure that we are not right track and things are not going work this way for very long.

I know that everyone is not the same and there are so many people who have real passion for tourism and they do really nice work but it is very likely to get a bad experience in India. I hope we change such things soon.

Passport office in Varanasi

Government has been trying to make the passport application process easier and they opened a passport office in Varanasi hoping that it will solve a lot of problems. I got my passport two years ago and I still remember that I had to wait for 11 months after applying for it. When I heard that we have got a passport office in Varanasi, I was so happy because earlier there was only one passport office for whole Poorvanchal region of UP state which was in Lucknow. I got to visit this office with my friend who wanted to apply for a fresh passport. The building looked new and organized and definitely it had all the unnecessary formalities which we usually find at Indian offices.

They did not even allow carrying any bags inside, no camera, helmet..The office looked hi-tech and full with young employees. Later I learnt that first step document verification and other inquiries are done by Tata Consultancy which was very good because private companies always work better than government. We did some inquiry about the process of applying the passport and asked for the form. They told us that there is no system of filling up the forms manually exists anymore and now everything is done online. You apply for the passport online by filling up the form and booking an appointment on their new website.

You the just supposed to bring all the documents on the appointment date and go for the interview. They have a website with the name Passport Seva Porta with all the information available on it. This new system sounded beautiful but I don’t really think that this is a good system for whole India, especially my region of Poorvanchal where thousands of villages still don’t have electricity, just forget about having computers or Internet. There are so many places where they have got computers but there is no Internet or if there is Internet then people just don’t know how to use.

And in any case the website is in English which is a huge problem for a lot of people. I was discussing about this issue with a few people and they told me that the people who don’t even have electricity or the ones who do not speak English or don’t know how to use Internet won’t ever need passport. But the fact is that there are thousands of uneducated but skilled laborers from Poorvanchal who go to Arab countries to work every year. If fact when I think about the people I saw at the passport office, it seems like most of them wanted to go to Arab countries to work and they were having huge problems with applying for passport online.

All of them were having some kind of problem. The website says that you need to bring certain kinds of residential proofs, identity proofs and other documents but the website doesn’t say that they don’t only need the original documents but they need a print out of the same document from the concerned government office website. When I had applied for the passport only my PAN Card was enough but now they want the original PAN card, a xerox of it with the print out of information available on Income Tax Department ‘s website about my PAN card. The same thing was there with all other documents.

Now they don’t entertain any document which has no record available online. For example driving license is not accepted anymore. All these formalities sounded like a huge problem even for a person like me who uses Internet all the time. I was thinking about all those people who had never used computers before. At the same time I met a gentleman who needed an urgent passport for his wife. He was working abroad and wanted to bring his wife also with him. He had his ticket booked after 15 days or something. Government promises to provide urgent passport within a week by charging some extra money.

He booked the appointment online and his appointment was issued for Varanasi office. He showed up at Varanasi office and they told him that Varanasi office is not authorized to take applications for urgent passport and he needed to go to Lucknow only which is like 10 hours by train from Varanasi. He went to Lucknow the same evening where he was told that since his appointment was issued for Varanasi office he needed to go there. He again came back to Varanasi office when I met with him. And again the same story. The people at the Varanasi office were saying that they were not authorized to take applications for urgent passport.

Now this guy was so angry, he was asking if they are not authorized to take the application for urgent passport then why do they issue the appointment and no one had any answer. They were kept saying that they could not help him and he needed to go to Lucknow only. Now this guy wanted to talk with some big officer and they were kept asking him to wait. He passed more than an hour waiting for some response and finally they said that no one would meet with him and he can do whatever he wanted. I was kind of scared after looking at all these conditions and was not sure whether one should apply the passport at the office or go to some agent.

I started asking to my friends if they knew some reliable passport agent and they told me about a person named Rehan Bhai who has got his office in front Diamond Hotel, Bhelupur. I went to him and he seemed thousand time more helping than anyone working at the passport office. He charged me only Rs. 1000 as his service fee but he offered me a lot in exchange of it. At first my friend did not have to fill up the form or anything. He informed us about the documents which were accepted nowadays by the passport office. We just provided him all the documents and he took care of the rest. He booked the appointment as well. He went online and printed the online records of his documents, booked the appointment, prepared all the documents in order, kept them in a file and handed it over to us. Now we just needed to go to the office on appointment date.

It hardly took us 2 hours to complete everything and yes, he promised that he will us the passport within two months because he had some connections with the officers working at the passport office. My friend reached to the office on the appointment date then everything was very professional. All the problems that we had to face were in the beginning stage. At the office he was sent to a desk where people were sitting with their computers. All the computers had two screen- one facing to the computer operator and other one facing to the applicant so that applicant could also see what information was filled in.

They asked my friend after filling each page to confirm if all the spellings and other information was right which was a very good system because in the past so many people had problems with the name or address printed wrongly on the passport  and with such system I don’t really think that it will happen any more. After this he had to meet with three different government officers who verified the original documents. It was really funny that one of the recognized that we were taking help of Rehan Bhai only by looking at the file. I asked Rehan Bhai about it and he told me that he writes some secret code somewhere and that is why the officer was able to recognize it.

Anyways, all the formalities were done. My friend hardly spent 30 minutes inside the office which was very impressive for me because I still remember the time when I had applied for my passport. But the most important thing is that we saved all the time and everything was so smooth for us only because we were taking help of Rehan Bhai. It would have not been possible to get the work done that easily without his help. Finally my friend received his passport also only within 2 months But I still feel sorry for all the those people who were at the office facing all the problems. Government of India has always been crazy and I definitely have no hope from them but I was not hoping for them to be this stupid of ending the entire system of filling up the forms manually. I think they should keep the both systems alive and have a help desk to fill up the forms for uneducated people.

I would like to share mobile no. of Mr. Rehan Bhai so that if someone looking for an agent or information regarding passport office in Varanasi, reads my post may contact him directly. His mobile no. is- 9415291050. He has an assistant also named Deepu whose mobile no is- 9336633322. Feel free to contact them as I already have their permission. I hope this post will help people wanting information about getting their passport without any hassle. Please don’t think that I am advertising for Rehan Bhai, his services were really awesome.

work with OHM, The Netherlands

OHM is a TV channel from The Netherlands. They actually make radio and TV shows about Hinduism targeting the Hindus living in Netherlands. They wanted to make a documentary TV show about a young Dutch Hindu boy who was born and raised in The Netherlands in a Hindu family experiencing Hinduism in India. The character they had chosen was named Bramha and they wanted Bramha to live with a traditional Hindu family in India for a few days, experience their daily life, religion, culture and then make a presentation about it. Bramha was a 26 years old young energetic boy who did not have much interest in any religion.

To put a contrast in the story they wanted Bramha to stay with a Hindu family which is follower of Aghor. They had contacted several people across India to organize their work but none of them were able to do it. And I understand it very well because India and Indians have changed a lot after terrorist attack in Mumbai and now they do not want to take any risk by hosting any stranger. Finally they contacted me through my blog. At first I thought it would be easy but later I also felt the same issue. People did not want to host any stranger.

They wanted to film inside the Kina Ram Ashram which I knew wont be possible as I had already tried it several times but every time I got same response that they do not allow media inside the Ashram premises. They have done it because a few years ago some TV channel from India did some filming inside the Ashram and later played with the footage and story and presented Aghor and Aghoris as the people who eat human body flesh, use alcohol in the rituals and do other strange things. Anyways, I still went there but they did not allow me.

But they suggested me about a family who was devotee of Aghor. I knew the family personally but I did not know that they were devotee of Aghor. Another condition put by the TV channel was that the family needed to be a joint family and luckily this family had seven brothers living in the same house and sharing the same kitchen. It was perfect for the show but they were also not comfortable with hosting a stranger in the home. In any case this was the best option I could find. I was talking about an option of TV people meeting the family in person and asking about the option of hosting Bramha for a few days and luckily it also worked when Bramha arrived.

They permitted Bramha to stay with them. So Bramha stayed with the family for four nights and the other crew members stayed at hotel and did the filming. Other than filming with the family they also filmed some regular footage of Varanasi like the evening ceremony, sun rise, rituals, temples, river… They liked Lali Baba a lot and filmed with him also. I have no idea what was the impression of Bramha and what he will talk about the family or Hindus in India but I have a feeling that they were happy with my work and went back with a positive impression about the family they worked with.

Is beer sacred than Whiskey?

I have a friend who has a strong belief in spirits, ghosts, demons and they affecting your life because somebody (usually your enemy) has sent them to destroy your life or sometimes you just made a mistake like peed on a grave yard or on a Pipal tree or there are a lot of other mistakes one can make to make ghosts destroy their life. This friend believes that he has some kind of unknown supernatural power which affects his and his family life. He has been trying to know about this power by taking help of a Guru (exorcist) so that he can make his life better.

Its very hard for me to believe in such things but it has always been a very interesting subject for me hence I follow such people and like to talk with them. The Guru who has been helping my friend told him that the spirit which is related with my friend needs certain kind of attention and respect and if it doesn’t get that respect or attention then it will destroy my friend’s life. The Guru suggested certain kind of rituals which usually take minimum of an hour everyday. The Guru suggested my friend to come see him on every Thursdays as it is some kind of special day for dealing with spirits and don’t drink whiskey or any other strong liquor.

He also suggested my friend to spit on every eatable item, especially milk, before bringing it inside the home and only then consume it. He said that there are so many people on the street who can damage his food (mean send ghosts in his food) only by looking at it from their evil eye. The interesting thing is that my friend literally follows it. The Guru suggested him to not eat anything alone, if other people don’t want to share his food then he should throw a small part of the food. I have heard about such believes several times but the issue with alcohol and spitting on the food is something really strange.

My friend says that his Guru has become very famous, powerful and rich now because his suggestions are always very helping and all kind of people come to him and like to give him money. Now the Guru owns several buildings in Varanasi and now he has three assistants. I asked my friend what was the difference between beer and whiskey, after all both of them have alcohol but my friend said that the spirit who has affected his life doesn’t like whiskey and in any case his Guru also drinks beer. Sometimes his disciples bring him bottle of beer as offering. Now I knew the answer why beer is more sacred than whiskey.

Since his Guru likes beer now he has made a rule for all of his disciples that spirits don’t like whiskey and they like beer. hahaha. But one thing I never understood that why he suggested to spit on all the eatable item before bringing them inside the home. It sounds disgusting but sad thing is that people believe in such things. I should really appreciate the smartness of the Guru that he is make people do such things that they won’t ever do usually. My friend sometimes seem to like his Guru a lot and sometimes he seems kind of disturbed. Sometimes he says that his life has not changed at all since he has been seeing his Guru and sometimes he says that whatever he has is because of the blessings of his Guru.

He says that there was huge tension in family before he started going to this Guru but now there is no tension at all. But whenever there is any tension he is upset with his Guru. He says that his sister was having problems with her husband. In fact the husband was kind of prepared to divorce his wife and then my friend suggested his sister about this Guru and Guru solved all of the problems by organizing some rituals. The Guru said that there was a ghosts in their house who was creating all of the problems but he controlled the ghost and thrown him out of the house by the rituals.

It still doesn’t matter to me if someone believes in such things or not but I feel sad when people with limited amount of money go to such Gurus and loose all of their money and finally they nothing to do. The something happened with my friend also. He is unemployed but he had a plan to start a business. He worked on a project, made some money and seemed so excited for this new business. The same time Navratri (nine nights festival) also came which is a very important time for the people who believe in the ghosts. They do some special rituals during this time.

My friend also started going to his Guru everyday during Navratri and by the end of the festival he had already spent good amount of money he had made by working on that project and now he did not have sufficient balance to start the business he wanted to. He was unemployed before working on the project and he is still unemployed. I feel when I see him but it is impossible to make to him understand that he should believe more on himself rather than his Guru. Anyways, I hope someday things will get better with him.

Another project with VPRO

VPRO hired me again for their documentary project called From Bihar to Bangalore. This documentary project was bigger than the last one I worked with them in 2011. The host of the show Mr. Jelle Brandt Corstius wanted to show how India changes from one city to other. I was responsible for organizing their work in Varanasi. Mr. Jelle spent 4 months studying Hindi and exploring India to prepare for the documentary. I met him about 3 months before the crew arrived in Varanasi. Mr. Jelle told me that the whole world knows Varanasi but they only one classical picture of Varanasi but he wanted to show something different.

We went to a few places which is shown in all of the documentaries about Varanasi. Apart from those regular places we went to Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan where they allow only 15 days of stay for the people to die, we met with Mr. G. D. Agarwal and the king of Doam society. They wanted to interview one of the members of National River Ganga Basin Authority also. I suggested them to interview Mr. Rajendra Singh because I was very well aware of his honest activism for environment, especially Ganga but we could not schedule an appointment with him as he was going to be busy somewhere else during the filming time.

We decided to work with Mr. B. D. Tripathi, professor at BHU, instead of Mr. Rajendra Singh. Mr. Jelle was very much interested in the king of Doam society, the people who work at the cremation ghat. Arranging an appointment with him was kind of a pain because this person was seriously commercial. The only thing he cared about was money. VPRO wanted to film Shivratri festival in Varanasi and I arranged the filming at a temple called Tilbhandeshwar with consent of the temple management committee and Shivratri organizing committee.

Everything seemed very well organized. I knew what we were going to do and when. Everything went smoothly except filming at the Tilbhandeshwar temple and interview the king of Doam society. When we arrived at the temple to start filming, it was too crowded. We got in the temple and by the time we were going to go on the rooftop to film the preparation, a policeman stopped us. He said that filming inside the temple was not allowed. I told him that I had permission but this guy just did not want to hear anything.  One of the persons from the management committee also said that it was not problem for them but he still did not allow us.

VPRO understood that it was not my fault but it was crazy to see how this policeman behaved us. The king of the Doam society was also a crazy guy. He did not want to speak anything, his answers were too short and finally we decided not to work with him. We filmed a Sadhu also at the biggest Ashram in Varanasi which was very nice. The Sadhu was very cooperative and he invited us to join him at his personal Ganga ritual. VPRO just loved this footage. Everything went very well and finally we completed the filming in Varanasi and VPRO told me that it was one of the best episodes they had ever produced.