Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Permission not to pay tax

Every time we go out, we wonder what has happened to all the good practices we’d seen as we grew up in the city. I’m talking of kochin. Once upon a time, municipality workers with tall brooms used to sweep the streets and leave them clean and tidy. Where has that category of people vanished? Doesn’t the municipality or corporation employ these workers any longer? Have these bodies relieved themselves of the responsibility of keeping the city clean? What are we paying the taxes for? Every resident pays the corporation tax and every employee pays professional tax, both of which are meant for the maintenance of the corporation/municipality.

Last week a friend from Aluva told me that the town stinks with accumulated waste. Residents had taken to the streets to protest against the utter dereliction of duty on the part of the municipality to keep the town clean. Apparently, not much good has come out of it.

Isn’t there something called accountability? Doesn’t the corporation owe anything to the taxpayers who pay their salary? What surprises me most is the total helplessness and inertia of the taxpayers to demand their right to minimum cleanliness.

It’s not as though there are no solutions to the waste accumulating. If the corporation/ municipality can acquire about 30 cents of land eachin a few locations in every city/town and start biogas plants, they can not only deal with the waste but also produce fuel to light the street lights over a large area. Biogas plants occupy so little space and are hassle free and produce useful by-products. In fact installing biogas plants in government schools which provide lunch for students producing, on a daily basis, huge waste which they struggle to dispose of, will go a long way in dealing with bio waste produced by the city. These schools can even make arrangements to have waste gathered from the neighbourhood within the radius of a kilometre or two. Biogas plants meant for institutions can take in more waste than they produce. Residents Associations can have their own biogas plants which will spare the residents the hassle of sneaking out of their houses when the roads are free and chucking stinking waste on the roadside far away from their houses. Ways of dealing with bio waste are plenty. I know this for sure ‘coos I, along with a few friends, was on the verge of launching a NGO for bio-waste disposal last December when fate intervened and deprived me of the minimum health required to run an organisation. But I have done my home work.

The point is 60% of the waste produced in the city of Trivandrum, for example, is bio-waste. All we, the people, need is the will to commit ourselves to keep the city clean. Ways and means to do it will present themselves once we set out to do it.

I was wondering - - - isn’t there some way of making the corporation accountable, some way of twisting their arm to do their job? Can’t we citizens approach the court with a new plea? All the deadlines from the high court to the Kochin corporation to dispose of the waste regularly have been ignored by the corporation. Wonder why it has not been hauled up for contempt of court!

The new ploy could be a request from the taxpayers to be allowed NOT to pay taxes till the corporation does its duty – a class action suit. If a thousand taxpayers can pool in Rs. 100 each, there will be enough resources to take the issue right up to the Supreme Court.

Withholding money will hurt, and resurrect the authorities’ conscience and sense of accountability which lie buried deep under tons of stinking waste.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Nuns' tales - 3

My friend Sister Rose (name changed) was waiting with the crowd which thronged the pavements on both sides of a street in Ottawa (I think) waiting to see Nelson Mandela who was visiting Canada. This was soon after his release and so the halo around his head shone luminous and bright.

It was a summer day and so bright and hot (I was surprised when she told me this ‘cos my idea of Canada was that of a country always dull and freezing). The sun was beating down right into her eyes and she looked around for shade, as she was prone to migraine.There was no shade anywhere and she seriously began contemplating going back to her cubicle in the university where she was doing research. Just then she saw a demonstration moving up the street slowly, with a gigantic banner which cast a huge shadow on several rows of people participating in the demonstration. She craned her neck to see what was written on it. It made no sense to her ‘cos it was in French and she hadn’t picked up enough French yet.

Just then she noticed a lady who was shouting out slogans loud, beckon to her and those around her to join the demonstration. Delighted, Sr. Rose jumped out from the side walk and joined the demonstration. Since the slogans were in French she couldn’t follow what was being demanded but she lipsync-ed to the sound of whatever was being shouted. She felt terribly relieved to be away from the sun and travelled some distance with the demonstrators.

Once she regained her sense of well being from walking in the shade of the banner, she began to look around at the sidewalk, smiling at the faces from the university and the convents she recognised. It was then that she noticed that she was attracting a lot of attention. Her friends from the university were pointing out to her and laughing. The malayalee nuns were also laughing, typically covering their mouths. Even to strangers whom she didn’t know, she seemed to be affording a lot of amusement. They were pointing out to her and laughing.

“Possibly nun's dress” she thought. “Guess nuns don’t take to the streets in this part of the world. If only these people knew the role we played in the Vimochana Samaram back home in Kerala”.

Her row had reached a group of young students who were pointing out to her and guffawing and giggling and dissolving into peals of laughter. Sr. Rose was thoroughly confused . Just then a Canadian colleague who was with this group of students shouted out to her, smiling from ear to ear:”Hey, didn’t know you were one of these”.

Curious, Sr. Rose turned to the lady next to her who was yelling out something at the top of her voice.
“What’s this demonstration about?” she asked.

“Oh, you don’t know”, she asked looking surprised.”This is a demonstration for the rights of the lesbians, organised by the local Lesbian Club”.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Nuns' Tales - 2

It was 6 in the evening when Sr. Goretti entered one of the dimly lit bathing rooms which were built in a long row. The thunder showers of October were just over and it was dark. The Septuagenarian sister Goretti pulled the tin door behind her and sent the hook latch home with a flip of her fingers. She then started discarding layers of clothes, something she hated doing. She flung them one by one on the thin line stretched across the corner opposite the door. When it came to the chemise, she hesitated. In her early days in the convent, the chemise was supposed to remain on the body during the bathing act, but over years the unwritten law was put in place that nudity during the act of bathing was not that unpardonable a deed.
She pulled the chemise over her head, flung it over the other clothes and was about to reach for the aluminium mug when she felt a movement under the line where she had put her clothes. Sister Goretti looked in the direction of the sound and she froze!
There, with its head almost touching her long outer habit which hung from the line, was a cobra, its hood spread wide and eyes looking at her with that classic aloofness.
Unlatch the door and jump out, natural instincts told her.
Oh God, How can you, nurture admonished. What, run out in this state of undress in full view of all those novices and aspirants, and also the man who comes to clean the cowshed? No way Goretti.
Goretti’s face became hard. Of course she remained absolutely immobile while these thoughts chased each other in her mind, for she knew the slightest movement and the snake would strike.
She looked venomously at the snake. You vile creature, she thought. Eve fell into your deadly trap and all mankind is still paying for it. But you shall not tempt this Goretti. No you ugly serpent, history shall not repeat. I will not let down my saviour.
And thus stood the serpent in all its crowning glory and Goretti in all her shrivelled nudity, staring at each other, totally immobile.
Oh saints in heaven, help me. How can I make an honourable exit from this wretched bathing room, wailed Sister Goretti while she continued to look with defiant hatred and steely determination into the slanted eyes of the tempter.
More time passed. No miracle happened. Even making a lightning grab for her chemise would provoke the snake and it would strike, she knew. Oh God, I’d be found dead in the bathroom with not a stitch on, she thought distressfully.
Naked I came into the world and naked shall I return thither, came a voice from somewhere deep within her.
Away Satan, she thought. Angrily. So this is what’s called the devil quoting the Bible.
All you saints n heaven, have you forsaken me? she pleaded.
And lo and behold, there appeared in the periphery of her vision a tall new broom, in the corner near the door, just a few inches from her reach.
And then everything happened in a flash. Sister Goretti reached for the broom, the snake struck, missed and the broom came crashing on its head, again and again and again till the magnificent hood was a pulpy mess. Sister Goretti looked at it triumphantly, and snorted with supreme contempt, “What you wretched creature? Did you forget i was named after Maria Goretti, the very epitome of chastity and virtue!” She smirked at the mess and then retched all over the bathing room.
To date, that little convent in the watery Kuttanad sings the praises of brave Sister Goretti.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Nuns' Tales - 1

I love nuns. They belong to a category of people I’m perfectly comfortable with. Of course on most issues I don’t see eye to eye with them. But I know I can’t but be different in my approach to them. More important, they know it too.
From Baby Class to PG i studied in convents. I served in a college run by them. They gave me my sense of values, which, Of course has undergone mutations as I grew older and wiser (?). We have learnt to accept each other with all our differences, and take care not to step on each other’s toes.

I have never felt that teeth- gnashing hatred for or anger towards them, cos the nuns with whom I interacted were good souls. They were judgemental but never uncharitable. They were mulish in their convictions, but only prayed for those who didn’t share them – they did not curse them. They honestly believed that their ministry was to save the lost sheep – tho more often than not, the lost sheep did not believe they were in the valley of darkness. This often caused friction which led to unpleasant exchanges which I had witnessed with much anxiety; but I’ve never had any serious fracas with them. I was always indulgent with them cos I was blessed with an understanding of why they were what they were, and also with the knowledge that they basically have large hearts.

Something I loved about the nuns who were my colleagues was that all of them had terrific sense of humour, and very often the but of the humour was the nuns themselves. here are a couple of stories which have send us in the department into such explosive laughter that the librarian was reluctantly forced to walk into our department which was adjacent to the library, and ask us to keep our voices down.

Both the events happened in a convent in Kuttanaad. Sr Modesta (name changed) was in her late seventies, and belonged to that generation of Catholic women who were taught it was a terrible sin to see their own bodies, leave alone expose a fraction of a centimetre more than was permitted by the laws of modesty. She once went to a doctor (male) with the six year old trainee parlour maid Kunjandy. When the doctor called them in, she asked the bewildered Kunjandy to turn around and show her backside to the doctor. Kunjandy turned around and then stopped, refusing to perform the next motions that would expose her back side to the doctor.

“Lift your skirt, kochey” snapped the angry Sr. Modesta.

Kunjandy froze and refused to budge. Sr. Modesta got up from her chair, roughly bent the little girl over almost double, lifted her knee length skirt, jerked down her billowing cotton bloomer and pointed to a spot on the right buttock saying, “there doctor, there”.

The doctor looked at the spot where she pointed, then frowned, adjusted his glasses, edged himself forward in his chair and brought his face close to the right buttock of the girl who, by now was struggling to set herself free from the vicious grip of Sister Modesta.

The doctor looked up at Sr. Modesta with a puzzled look and said, “I don’t see anything there. There’s nothing amiss”.

Letting poor Kujandy go, Sr. Modesta pulled herself up with haughty dignity and said stiffly to the doctor, “It’s not she but I who have a boil on that spot. I’m the patient, not she.”

The second episode in the next post.