India’s Defeat in World Cup Cricket

India exits from World Cup cricket today. But media, politicians and celebrities never criticize the sports, the players, and the deep politics and corruption. The game and its hype distracts people from real-life problems.

India lost today to New Zealand in World Cup Cricket, and ended its 2019 tournament. New Zealand, once a minnow in cricket, will now play the championship match either with England or Australia. The tournament is being played in England.

India spends billions of dollars in cricket. It does not have money for any other sports, and India has a miserable show on global sports arena. There is no lack of men and women talents in the enormous country, but the ruling powers and their billionaire corporations never cared for sports and games and athleticism.

India’s show in other international sports events such as the Olympics has been pathetic. Why? Because cricket has all the money, cricket has all the media attention, and cricket has all the corporate sponsorship. Yet, only ten countries participate in World Cup, out of which England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies do well in many other games. India does not.

USA, Russia, China, France, Germany, Brazil, Cuba, Belgium, Holland and other such giant sports countries never play cricket: the entire cricket culture is confined to English colonial nations we loosely call the Commonwealth. But courtesy media hype, even the local paan shop vendor and rickshaw puller take interest in cricket, believing India is truly number one in the world. It gives them pride.

A massive ultra-patriotism springs up. Work at offices practically comes to a halt when India plays cricket. Players on the Indian team are worshiped like gods. And some of them are extremely arrogant: police cases have been filed against some of them for their bar brawls, etc. Some of them have been given a slap on the wrist for their alleged involvement in multi-billion-dollar mafia betting and underground gambling and match fixing. All star players are multi-millionaires in a very poor country, where the poor do not have enough to eat, can’t send their children to school, and end up living on the streets — even in harsh cold or hot weather.

Even after this embarrassing defeat today, there is hardly any criticism of either the players or the way they failed. Indian ruling class has found a great way to distract people from their miserable money, health, education, environment, racism and sexism problems with this magnificent toy. Most Indian know the names of their celebrity cricket players, but cannot tell the names of their prime minister, finance minister, or health or education minister.

Indian society never criticizes their gods and goddesses who are rich and famous and flamboyant and flim flam. Media and big-name politicians and celebrities ask them not to do it. Life goes on without a hitch (for the one percent) that way.

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India’s Money Terrorism: Lakshmi’s Mom

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A Real-Life Story — Part 2 

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It was December 1, 2016.

The cool weather has slowly set in, with the usual fog and really, more smog, due to the clay ovens still used in numerous households, and wood chip urns millions of slum- and street dwellers and roadside eateries use in Calcutta.

Add to it the city’s archaic and dilapidated state and private buses and trucks that run mostly on leaded petrol and diesel, accompanied by an enormous number of private cars, auto rickshaws, and motorbikes. And the countless, underground battery recycling places, where boys of twelve or thirteen years of age use sulphuric acid to clean the used electrodes.

We call them underground, but they are truly not. Nothing is underground in India — good, bad, ugly or evil. It is perhaps the most transparent country in the world.

December and January evenings, in cities such as Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, Benares, Agra, Bhopal and Bangalore, you cannot breathe outside of your home: the air is so thick with pollution that you can vomit, faint, or go blind. Your lungs burn. Especially if you’re from outside. Indians and Bengalis do not vomit, faint, or go blind. They die slowly of cancer or diabetes or heart problems. Like my mother, who died of cancer at the age of forty-two.

Well, this is not my memoir, and definitely this story is not about my mother. This is today’s story.

On December 1, 2016, at seven in the morning, the middle-aged maid named Lakshmi’s mom showed up at the Mitra residence. Everyone calls her Lakshmi’s mom, as nobody ever asked what her own name was. She has been working in this household for the past fifteen years. When she started, she was a married woman with a working husband and two little children named Kartick, and of course, Lakshmi. Her husband Jibon worked in a lathe factory.

After fifteen years of working as a daily maid with this family, she is still married, but Jibon lost his job when he lost two fingers under the lathe machine at the shop, which went out of business, and Jibon got zero compensation. He now stays home, and cooks and cleans. He has developed asthma. They live in a slum just outside of Calcutta. Needless to say none of them has any medical insurance. They can’t afford it.

Lakshmi was married and sent off to a village in the state of Orissa, but came home one year after, abused by her husband and in-laws. She stayed for a couple of years with her mom and helped out, but she was very beautiful and soon fell prey to a Calcutta thug’s lust. What happened then to her, nobody really knows. Sujata, Deb’s wife, came to know, but she would not tell anyone except for Deb. They gave Lakshmi’s mom two thousand rupees. Neither the Mitra family, nor Lakshmi’s mom, talks about Lakshmi ever since.

Kartick is now eighteen years old, and works part time at the basement storage of a wholesale clothes store near the Sealdah rail station. He makes 2000 rupees a month, at 25 rupees an hour — way below the living wage. But his employer is a Hindi-speaking man from the state of Bihar, and prefers his country people over Bengalis. He often cheats Kartick, miscalculating his hours, a phenomenon we call wage theft here in America. Kartick, however, never heard of this political term. He did not go to school after seventh grade, and he is slow in arithmetic. In fact, he is a slow kid. It’s real easy to cheat him.

Today is the first day of the month, and Lakshmi’s mom is expecting her monthly salary from Deb and Sujata, after work. It’s Sujata, a primary school teacher, who normally pays her. Fifteen years ago, when Lakshmi’s mom began working at this family, her pay was 125 rupees a month. Now it is 600 rupees.

Deb’s father Hari Sadhan grumbles: he calls it “daytime dacoity,” which in America is known as high-noon robbery.

“Six hundred taka (rupees) for the cleaning maid? Bouma (daughter in-law), what age are we living in? Do you know my father made eight rupees a month?”

Sujata smiles. She knows it’s meaningless to explain inflation to an 80-year-old, who rose from a very humble beginning. She knows silence is often the soothing layer of ointment on soreness.

But kind and patient Sujata is, today she cannot pay even that 600 to Lakshmi’s mom. Since the scrapping of 500 and 1000-rupee notes on November 8 by prime minister Modi, banks and ATMs ran out of cash. The 100-rupee notes are scant, and people are holding them very carefully like their sick children. And they are running out fast.

Sujata now only has seven 100-rupee notes and two 2000-rupee, newly floated notes. She doesn’t want to part with all the 100s.

She pulls Lakshmi’s mom on one side and whispers, as if she committed a crime, “Lakshmi’s mom, I can’t pay you in full, okay? I have no money. Take two hundred now, and I will pay you two hundred more next week.”

Lakshmi’s mom didn’t know about prime minister Modi and his demonetization speech that made rupee bills useless like scrap paper. She only knew she had to buy food, oil, coal, and asthma medicine for her crippled husband.

She was speechless, and then she was angry. She broke down in tears.

(To be continued)

The Dark Side of Diwali

The poor people of India do not have the privilege to share the joys of Diwali, or the Festival of Lights. They live in the dark.

Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is here.

And India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and people from those countries living in other parts of the globe are celebrating it with food, festivities and fun.

And firecrackers. Firecrackers are a huge part of Diwali celebration.

The little-noisy crackers they call patka. And the big, very noisy crackers, like chocolate bombs and bottle bombs and the two-repeat and three-repeat bombs, driving people crazy. Noise pollution at this time takes on an unimaginable level.

And the beautiful, noiseless fireworks, like the flower glitters or phul jhuri, colored torches or rang mashal, floor spinners or charki, and fire fountains or tubri. The blue-green-red-n-yellow, fun match sticks made especially for this occasion. The earthen lamps and candles lightening up each porch, terrace and verandah. The spring-up, black snakes or saap baji. The rockets. You name it. The underground, illegal varieties too.

Phul Jhuri
Phul Jhuri

And then, expert artisans make all kinds of incredible fireworks to lit up the dark, new-moon, autumn skies. Some go way up in the sky, and then make shapes of famous leaders and celebrities. Gandhi, Tagore, Modi, Shah Rukh Khan 🙂

But behind all this explosive happiness and gaiety, very few remember the poor workers who make these little and big fireworks and crackers that the affluent and middle-class families and children play with on Diwali. Most of them do not know or care about the fact that a vast majority of these behind-the-scene workers are hapless, poor children who can’t go to school or get enough to eat. Most of those celebrating the Festival of Lights do not remember that for these poor child workers and their families, there is hardly any festivals and any lights.

Diwali blog 1In fact, these children cannot afford to pay for the high prices for those firecrackers. If anything, they pay for them with their own lives. They die a slow but sure death because of the extremely toxic environment they work in, and the often-carcinogenic chemicals they use. And often in India, fireworks factories explode because of unlawful chemicals wrongly used, killing scores of these child laborers. It has now become a commonplace tragedy, happening every year in India, over a few weeks before Diwali.

Nobody really pays any attention. The fun show must go on. Children filed petition to India’s Supreme Court to stop the horrific noise pollution, but the government intervened to stop the petition from winning.

This Diwali, even though all for celebrating it, I am inviting everyone from every religion and non-religion to be a part of it, I’m also inviting you to remember this untold, dark side of the festival. Think about how you can improve their lives. Think about how we can find an alternative, healthy life for these children and their families so that they don’t have to die working with poisons. Can we send them to schools they deserve? Can we find them money to eat a good lunch and dinner?

It’s easy to say, “Ban Child Labor!” That is the cry the affluent, bleeding-heart liberal cry. But then what? If not an economic way out for them, what other choice do they have?

Diwali is not, and cannot be the Festival of Lights, unless we bring light to illuminate this deep darkness.

Wake up to this reality.

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