destination india

Monday, February 28, 2005

winds of change

A news item tucked away in a corner of the daily newspaper presented the changing scenario of birthday celebrations of today’s children. From the looks of it, most of these children seem to have been born with silver spoons in their mouths. Event managers have emerged to arrange simple birthday parties for as little as Rs 25000 – in case you want it to be special, the cost can go up to several lakhs. Obviously, it goes without saying that there are people around us who can afford such luxuries. In days of yore, the zamindars used to conduct marriage of their pet cats, they used to have pigeon races and cock fights. The basic intention, always, was to show off their wealth and make others envious. Apparently, the trend continues. The idea is to outdo others!

Against this backdrop, the declining popularity of the Annual Oscar awards is causing concern. It seems people have got fed up of seeing the same faces winning awards every year. As the saying goes, too much of anything is bad. After 77 years, Hollywood has realized this and is wondering how to find out solutions. It seems that in 1929, the winners were informed sufficiently in advance (2 months!) and the distribution of the mementos itself was completed in 10 minutes by Douglas Fairbanks Sr. – today it continues for nearly 4 hours and there are countless categories of prizes!

Our very own Bollywood is celebrating the 50th year of one of its prestigious Annual events.

With little or no competition, awards have become a sort of mockery. It is surprising to see that in the best lyrics category, there are five nominations for the same lyricist, but for different movies! Similarly, in the best male and best female playback singer categories, as many as three of the six nominations, in each category, are for the same singer. Obviously, something is wrong somewhere. Awards need to be earned, not gifted away. Is it to be presumed that in a large multi-crore industry like Bollywood, there is a shortage of artists who can be considered for awards? If there has to be five nominations, let there be five different persons– that should be logical. Not one person with five different outputs.

The first Filmfare awards ceremony was held in 1954. As Morarji Desai commented in one of these functions – ‘if you cannot improve society through your films, at least do not do anything which may cause harm to it’. The degenerating standards of present day films and the gradual decline in our moral standards tell a different story. Violence depicted in these films coupled with scenes and situations of intimacy, that tend to support liberal lifestyles, portray a rather dismal picture. Youngsters try to re-enact the scenes they see on the screen leading to the birth of adolescent criminals.

Friday, February 25, 2005

the masala punch

It seems that chili powder is not as red and as hot as we would like to believe.

It is one more Indian product that found its way into the shelves of distant lands but the truth is that they have failed to generate the necessary impact. The exporters, in order to make a fast buck in the shortest possible time, went ahead and made a hotchpotch of the whole affair. As usual, we earned a bad name. We are trying to explain away the matter by putting forth excuses that we ourselves are not convinced about. But, who bothers. Today’s problem will soon be buried under some newer problem tomorrow. We love to create them for our survival. And, we love to divert attention from the main problem by pulling red herrings across the dirty trails. As it is, some so-called experts have explained away the affair by saying – ‘our main competitors are two of our neighboring countries whose yields are falling due to the vagaries of Nature. Therefore, in order to sustain their exports, they are raising such issues to discredit us!’

Not just chili powder but other food products are also adulterated left and right.

Adding water to milk and vanaspati to butter and ghee are age-old traditions like adding stone particles to wheat and rice. The different methods of adulteration vary from place to place. Artificial ripening of mangoes and bananas is something we have known for ages. Increasing the size of grapes by the use of chemicals is also common. Recycling used garam masala ingredients like lawang, elaichi, and dal-chini and substituting dry papaya seeds in-lieu of black pepper have lost their novelty. Once upon a time there was a tremendous ruckus over the adulteration of mustard oil – at one point of time, it had totally vanished from the market! It has, since, reappeared. Coloring agents used in making sweets more attractive involves chemicals that are harmful to the body. Users are fully aware of these factors. But, we do not discourage use of such products.

By far the most difficult adulterants to trace are chemicals that are employed to increase the yield of vegetables and their sizes. Insecticides used to protect the crops and other food products also have unacceptable side effects.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

the world of con stars

Once again we have been taken for a ride.

Some times back it was a gentleman who claimed that he could produce petrol from water. The papers were full with news about him. TV crews descended on a tiny unknown village to interview him and, hopes sprang in all Indian breasts – at last we had the Power to control those oil producing Nations. We could start dictating the prices of the barrels, not leave it to the whims and fancies of others. After all, we also need to stand up and be counted once in a while. That gentleman provided an opportunity to our leaders to picture, for a moment, a world where we reigned supreme, where we controlled the world, where we are invited to be a part of the world decision making body. Instead of us begging for an entry, we visualized an invitation coming our way – to accept and join the big league! Alas, someone pricked the balloon! And, we were back to square one with our begging bowls. Whatever came our way was gratefully lapped up.

Recently, a kid from another village took us for a ride again.

He claimed to have become a topper in a so-called prestigious examination conducted by an august body known the world over for its supremacy in the field of Space research. Again, our news hounds descended on the scene with the TV crews – the media once again whipped up wonderful sentiments. Indians are excelling in whatever field they desire to. Maybe we are not bringing back medals from the Olympics, but we certainly possess the mental brilliance to conquer distant planets. We gave to the world one Kalpana Chawla, we can give many more. No matter what people may say, our education system produces wonder kids!

Alas, once again the balloon has been pricked!

The media is obsessed with such sensational journalism – so long as it is confined to stars of the screen, small or big, the common man does not mind. Neither do the celebs involved – to them, every little bit of coverage gained is a plus point over a rival. But, when it comes to such news, the journalists need to check the authenticity ten times over before uncovering them. That way, their credibility will soar.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

hoildays on instalment

Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to discover a message scrolling on the TV, in a popular news channel – it seems some travel agencies are offering dream destinations for EMIs of approximately Rs 500!!

Here is consumerism for you.

We have money flowing all around us and still we cry ourselves hoarse that we are a poor nation. Finance companies are out to rope us in on their innumerable installment plans – if it is not the 1BHK flat or the car then it will be the furniture or the electronic gadgets or, hold your breath, jewelry! Fly now, pay later used to be a favorite slogan in the West of the sixties – it is now descending on us. We are witnessing a war of the skies. Each airline is coming up with more and more options. Better late than never, as they say. Very soon, there could be a separate budget for the fliers – similar to the Rail Budget, we may have the Sky budget (or Air budget, if you please!). We already have a Minister of Civil Aviation. It will be his responsibility to present that budget – and his Staff will spend sleepless nights to come out with how much of what to be dispensed to whom. In order to remain popular in the eyes of his constituency, the Minister of the day may announce starting air links between villages where the only things that fly are crows and sparrows!

This is what business is all about. Money has to multiply. And, the best way of doing that is to let it roll. Keeping them locked up is bad business sense. One rupee must become ten and then hundred and thousand. The only way to do that is to make it work for you. The money lenders of yore did it, financiers of today do it. Money lenders were disliked by Society – only those who were in urgent need of money approached them and, in order to get the money, they would hock their all – utensils, jewelry, land. Today’s financiers are no better. Only, things are more polished. You sign on the dotted line, in case you miss out on the EMI, their goons come after you.

Nothing has changed. They have only acquired a new identity.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

a solution to the problem

The problem withy regard to the displaying of the tricolor on the helmet of Indian batsmen would not have arisen if some wise person had not said that our cricket team is Team BCCI and not Team India!

We Indians are unparalleled in the field of controversies – we are capable of creating a controversy, where none exists, on any subject under the Sun. We Indians top the lists for all the wrong reasons. The other day it was informed that Mumbai is the third most populated city of the world. We ourselves know that ours is the most densely populated country of the world. We also head the list of the most corrupt Nation. We are the laziest of people, we loathe work. In spite of that we do achieve some milestones – rather, some of us create History of sorts and others bask in their glory. I am reminded of a famous saying in Bengali which, when translated means that the mother-in-law, in order to keep her daughter-in-law always busy, mixes together clean rice and rice with husk and asks her to separate them. In English, a saying which means something similar is ‘the idle brain is the devil’s workshop’.

The reason for writing on this subject today is the problem faced by the Indian cricketing fraternity with regard to the tricolor.

The National flag and the National anthem are things of which every countryman is rightly proud of. No one has ever heard of similar problems associated with the Union Jack or the Star Spangled Banner. National flags, like the National anthem, should be respected for what they are. They have come into existence long before we arrived on the scene. Our leaders of the day gave to us what they thought to be most appropriate. Why should we, then, create a ruckus over these subjects? They should be above all controversy.

The problem of displaying the tricolor on the helmet can be solved quite easily.

Let it be of a removable type. When the batsman goes out to bat, it can be attached to his helmet. When he returns to the pavilion, it can be removed. This will open up the possibilities of including one more member in the team – to take care of the tricolor! This member could also be covered by the rotation scheme and, he could also be given some fixed compensation linked to the performance of the Team, like other members of the team.

Monday, February 21, 2005

its carnival time again

The cricket carnival is back. It brings with it something for everyone. To the players, it means money. To the sponsors, it means money. To the small time business men, it means money. Yes, cricket is, without doubt, big money. While one group makes money, another squanders it. Just look at the timing – Budget session in end February and super suspense guaranteeing cricket matches also in the same period. The event managers really know their business - diversionary tactics is the name of their game. How to keep those in power happy is their password. Generals do it during war; here also it is war – the war of survival!

We can be rest assured that, during the Budget session of Parliament, members will not have much interest in the speech of the FM or the new proposals that may be put up for generating more and more funds to line more and more pockets. They know that all FMs follow the same principle. They leave enough loopholes through which knowledgeable ones can squeeze through quite easily. Therefore, during the forthcoming session of Parliament, it would not be surprising to see more attention being given to whether our star batsmen get their umpteenth century and whether our bowlers keep up the tradition of bowling loose deliveries in the last over and whether our boys have said anything out of context and whether they were right in jumping up and down like kangaroos when their LBW requests were turned down by the umpire.
Cricket is also a game of diverse opinions.

In one part of the country, SS activists yell blue murder if such matches are held on our soil. SS, in this context, is not to be confused with the ‘Secret State’ police of Hitler, more commonly called the ‘Gestapo’! Digging up the pitch is one form of registering their protest. Simultaneously, in another part of the country, people demand that if it is not allowed to host one of the matches, it will mean trouble for those in power. Heart burns may extend to other burns! The funniest part is that, till recently, both were part of a single group sharing power and swearing by the same ideologies.

There goes similarity of ideologies for you!

Let us hope that the game keeps its toll of heart attacks to the barest minimum. Doctors may ensure that the ICUs are in fully operating condition and that life saving drugs as well as ambulances are available, to the needy, on demand.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

keeping the flock intact

The newspapers and TV channels are full of the latest capers of the elected representatives of the people who are on a ‘group holiday’, whatever that may mean.

In kindergarten classes, primary teachers have to undergo rigorous training in how to keep a bunch of noisy and mischievous children under control. Sweet talks, inducements and punishments, in that order are supposed to be some of the remedies to control such characters. At times, they are marched to a local children’s park (if available) or the school garden, made to sit under the trees and share their ‘lunch’. Head counts are imperative – once on the outward journey and a second time on the return journey. In case any child goes missing, the responsibility is that of the teachers who would be hard put to explain the same.

Simultaneously, children are cautioned by their guardians never to succumb to temptations and take any objects from an unknown person. The unknown persons would most certainly be having ulterior motives for dangling delicious carrots at the end of the stick! Children are also told regularly to check the greed factor, be they of animate objects or inanimate ones. Examples are invariably quoted to drive home the point.

Right from childhood, the teachers, the parents and the elders keep preaching that desires for the imaginary bring untold miseries on a person. The elders say that one has to live within his means, be contented with what he has acquired, control the urge to become all possessive and learn that there is immense happiness in sharing.

Such thoughts are supposed to be indicative of the maturity of a person.

When we elect a person to represent us in decision making forums like the Legislative assemblies and the Parliament, we expect them to adhere to these basics. They come to these august bodies on the emblem of a certain political party and, at a later date, do not think twice about changing loyalties thus putting tremendous burden on their mentors. These poor mentors have no other alternative but to herd the group to some faraway holiday resort and cut off all communication links so that they do not get a chance to succumb to dangling carrots.

Earlier they used to be taken to undisclosed destinations!

Replay of the kindergarten scenes speak of their immaturity.

Friday, February 18, 2005

the indian rope trick

We knew it all along; the West is realizing it now. There have been innumerable stories and movies on ‘How the West was won?’ Till today, the role of India was never acknowledged but, it has now been said that ‘the Indian rope trick’ was nothing but a figment of imagination of some scribe who wanted to dish out exotic fare to keep his flock intact. Flock, in this context, meant the dedicated group of subscribers to his newspaper who paid to read such writings, apart from the exploits of travelers who were always on the lookout for new horizons to conquer. So, the scribe invented this story and gave credit to India for being known as the land of the rope tricks!
It is gathered that the Rope trick involves mumbling some silent prayers, throwing up a length of rope heavenwards till it becomes taut, climbing it and then vanishing into thin air. Fakirs, it is rumored, were experts in performing this. They would set up shop at street corners and the crowds would go ga-ga over their actions. The assistants of the fakirs would collect coins from the assembled patrons who would, then, go their ways. No one would wait to see if the fakir returned to earth because no one knew how long he would remain in suspended animation! These rope-trickwallas used to be huge draws in fairs and carnivals. Until, magicians descended on the scene to drive around the city with eyes blindfolded or make a complete train vanish in front your eyes.

Indians are adept in not just rope tricks but in any type of hoodwinking.

If you want proof, just look around you – you will discover Bureaucrats and Ministers who, as per Income Tax statements filed with the IT department, claim to be running their families on the really meager salary and perquisites made available to them by the Government. Ask them about their gold and silver assets, posh bungalows, farm houses, holiday resorts and they stare back at you with wide open eyes as if to say - ‘you mean to say I own all that?’ Or, they grin and reply – ‘I have no idea what you are talking about.’ Or, they signal to the pehalwan standing behind them and walk away leaving it to him to handle the sensitive issue in a suitable way. Unknown to you, you become a marked man – or woman!

Indians invented the zero, Indians knew all about aero planes long before the Wright brothers even thought about it, Indians gave to the World the culture of Rope tricks. What do we give next?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

fighting forces of the future

The declaration has come: the Pentagon boys are working out plans of putting up a Future Combat System that will comprise a totally new generation of soldiers - robots of all shapes and sizes.

Such a battalion is bound to have innumerable positive points, most important one being that it will be free from problems that beset humans. Those in the armed forces do not have any secure life; today they may be in one place and may be asked to move to another destination tomorrow, based on demands of the situation. Their domestic life is always in tatters. When taken prisoners by the enemy, their near and dear ones are affected; during hostilities, lives are lost and the government has to compensate such losses by suitable monetary considerations. Over and above that, in some countries, people of the armed forces join together, revolt and seize power to install themselves in the chair of the Supremo.

With a combat force that is completely robotic, all such problems would have become things of the past. Standardization would be of the highest order and such a division of the Army, the Navy or the Air force would always be a super efficient team. Of course, programming such creations will pose problems – the most important one being how to differentiate between friend and foe! One never wields a weapon on his friends, hence for a robot to identify between the two is important. Probably, all humans will have to undergo some form of operation to get chips implanted in their bodies to meet this requirement. Each of these chips would have an ID and, when death occurs or when a person is declared as persona-non-grata by his country, suitable upgrades may be fed in the super computer so that the robot can benefit from that knowledge.

As they say, nothing is impossible in today’s world.

We have seen such imaginary characters in foreign movies. Within the next fifty years, they are expected to be transformed into reality. Once again, Man would try to prove his superiority. Probably, the only profession that will be severely affected by this introduction will be those in the branches of medicine because, patients of flesh and blood would cease to exist!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

the indian touch

Some time back there used to be a popular TV show where the anchor would dream up fancy names for the participants of his show. Whoever was the hero or heroine of the day, became the butt of his jokes. Nothing serious and no one seemed to object. Freedom of speech is guaranteed in our Constitution and, granted it was. I remember when he brought on stage an episode where the sponsor was an entity called Tonikchand! And, the event was an annual prize distribution ceremony. That serial was a tiny speck of light humor in our day to day routine lives. The time was before the ‘saas-bahu’ episodes usurped all time slots with their series of ‘Kay’s and umpteen clones.

There used to be another popular serial, also hosted by the same anchor, where he would have his audience in splits with visuals depicting the original version of some foreign cinema which was rechristened into a Hindi version without any acknowledgement of sorts to the original. Frame for frame, one could see the similarities – plain cheating to the ordinary viewers but termed as inspiration by its makers!

We Indians love to leave our mark on the sands of time – all political parties bask in the glory of their mascots identified with film personalities and, in rare cases, with TV personalities but drop them like a ton of hot bricks when we discover their hidden links with unwanted elements. That is a true Indian for you. We never go into anyone’s credentials before identifying him as an idol worthy of emulation – we presume everything to be above board and swallow the charisma hook line and sinker, only to repent on our folly at a later date.

In India, Politics is also an extremely complicated game.

Its all about equations and one-upmanship. If a CM is cornered, he or she looks around for diversionary tactics. With Political parties being created at the drop of a hat, stability is something that appears to have lost its meaning. A recent news report indicated a CM asking her team to be in readiness to face snap Lok Sabha polls next year. Another ex-CM, while trying to play the act-tough game, suddenly discovers that a case that she was trying to push under the carpet is again raising its head. And, of course, the greatest ex-CM of them all, while chewing on a twig of the neem, asserts with confidence that he will keep coming back, no matter what exit polls may suggest!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

in the world of animals

The Centenary celebrations are on in the Kaziranga Park. Inaugurated on the 13th February by the Chief Minister of Assam, it had celebrities like Lord Ravensdale, the grandson of Lord Curzon, the first Viceroy of India and Maharani Gayatri Devi apart from the author Mark Shand. A group of 50 elephants took out a colorful procession to mark the beginning of the festivities. Kaziranga is famous for its one-horned rhino population – it is reported that out of 2400 such animals, nearly 1600 can be found here.

Preserving wild life is an area that is often discussed and debated upon at dinner tables and over cocktails but is seldom practiced seriously. We are fond of showing off our dressed up puppies and cuddling those lovely poodles, we ring up the SPCA to complain of our neighbors not taking proper care of their kittens and caging birds for pleasure. But, do we know that a type of blood sucking fly is putting the country’s tiger population at a great risk? The alarm bells have been sounded by the authorities – in order to contain this evil, it is necessary to ensure that domestic animals do not stray into the territory of wild animals. How that can be achieved when the green belt is slowly diminishing is anybody’s guess.

Similarly astonishing is the fact that a WWF team has concluded that there is not a single tiger left in the Sariska Tiger reserve in Ranthambore, Rajasthan. Two years ago, a census indicated the presence of 25 tigers. Last year, it was 16 – this year the count is NIL. Authorities are trying to establish the reasons, when it is common knowledge that they have been poached upon by unscrupulous elements with the connivance of those who are responsible for the safeguard of such treasures. In this connection, one more news item about a petty thief killing and skinning a tiger in the Zoo garden of Hyderabad (four years back) and finally transporting the tiger skin to Mumbai for disposal reveals the sordid state of affairs of our resolve to protect wildlife. Those who cry themselves hoarse demanding justice should know where the fault lies. The guards should be reimbursed according to the value of the goods being guarded – their loyalties should not waver for the greed of additional remunerations. This is provably one of the reasons why we are witnessing loss of our prized possessions that carry historical weight like the medal presented to Tagore by the Nobel Committee and the statue of Buddha from the Kolkata museum.

Monday, February 14, 2005

of bullets and ballot boxes

The rail budget of 2004-2005 proposes to introduce bullet trains running at 250 to 300 Kms per hour between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, in the first instance. There are also plans of introducing super-super-super fast express trains linking the capital New Delhi with Howrah and Chennai. Such announcements need to be examined in the light of an ongoing exercise of the Indian Railways regarding identifying non-profitable rail links initiated at the instance of Railway Ministers over the years with an eye on the vote banks. It is understood that the figure (of un-necessary rail links) is of the order of 10%. It is expected that withdrawal of these trains and the resultant savings it will generate in direct and indirect costs will help the authorities to streamline the balance sheets.

When one talks of bullets, ones mind goes off to the peak of the Naxalite movement in Bengal. The wordings of a poster that used to be frequently seen, in those days, went as follows: ‘Independence flows through the barrel of a gun.’ Subsequently, we have been treated to innumerable visuals of people who, for suitable compensation in cash or in kind, would assist the Political candidate to secure a mandate in his favor by displaying an arsenal that would put our law enforcers to shame – bullets, it is rumored, can win ballots. All such dealings used to be extremely hush-hush, the coverage ensured that the faces were always hidden behind blankets and mufflers. Some of the states are notorious for sheltering such people who, thanks to existing laws and their interpretation of the learned lawyers, refuse to acknowledge that a crime has been committed unless the suspect is apprehended committing the crime – this presupposes that there has to be a group of persons who are capable of knowing beforehand that a crime is about to be committed and is available at the location armed with mobile outdoor vans, to record each second of the crime. Even then, doubts may be planted in the minds of the investigators as to whether someone else’s face has been superimposed to implicate an innocent leader of the masses!

The fact remains that bullets are not dangerous – depending on their end use. They are nothing but a means to the end, so far as rail travel is concerned. Being the proud owners of such trains will be an achievement in itself and, if we can maintain the tracks and its surroundings to accommodate such trains, we will rise in stature in the eyes of our neighbors.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

silence is golden

It seems that in one of the largest states, nearly 50% of the MLAs have not uttered a word in the Assembly in the past several months – against at least 90 days sitting in a year, the house had sittings of between 30 to 40. In recent years, the figures are 29 in 2002, 15 in 2003 and 28 in 2004.

The reluctance to open their mouths is difficult to comprehend – they have been elected among a whole lot of would-be’s all of whom relied on their oratory powers to win votes and get elected. Come election time and we can hear them shouting themselves hoarse over this point or that, loud mouthing their various agendas. Unfortunately, once elected, they clam up, irrespective of party affiliations. The whole affair draws a rather grim picture and needs to be investigated.
As we all know, the spoken word is often likened to an arrow shot from a bow – it cannot be made to come back. When participating in a debate, the member must have sufficient knowledge of the subject to not just put forth his point of view but counter the opposition’s views quoting from past references and brandishing relevant statistics. To perform this task effectively, one must, naturally, be equipped with the necessary ammunition in the form of knowledge. Lack of such knowledge can prove detrimental to both him and his party. Opening ones mouth to prove his ignorance is something no one in his right mind would like to propagate! Is this one of the reasons for them to remain tongue tied? Is this one of the reasons why they appear to have lost the powers of speech once inside the sanctum sanctorum?

It is high time for all to realize that such actions will, one day, boomerang. No amount of grooming by media experts, who advise on the most appropriate dress code, can substitute the necessity of knowledge to face the electorate – after all, the electorate wants action, they want someone to remove their grievances. Not listen to MLAs waxing eloquent in front of the media in talk shows but preferring to remain silent where it should assert itself most, through the power of words. Not muscles.

We are accustomed to seeing MLAs throwing missiles at each other in the house.

Let us, for a change, see them engaged in verbal duels.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

the curtain call

It is revealed the in some countries restrictions are imposed on doctors who have crossed 65 and forbids them to work beyond 70.

Doctors look after the health of individuals and, naturally, the nation because individuals ultimately add up to make up a nation. The policy is to guard against ‘doddering idiots’, if I may borrow the phrase from the news clip. This decision has already raised many eyebrows. One group believes that age brings with it experience which is useful in the medical profession. They argue that experience may throw up similarities in symptoms and, hence, ease the subsequent treatment. The other group believes that old fogies are misfits in the present world where consultations can be held over the net and experiences exchanged with others at the click of a mouse opening up the flood gates of knowledge.

Both are right in their own ways.

This piece of writing is not about their debate but about the possibilities of opening a new debate on how long should a politician rule? From which age onwards should they be asked to retire from active ‘service’, revert to the role of a wise old man (or woman) and remain indoors to look after their families or spend the evenings in going to some ashram to attend lectures of religious leaders who love to recite from the age old scriptures like the Gita, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana?

Considering the prevailing scenario in our country, it is high time that we enact some ordinance to prevent them from undertaking the rigors of electioneering and, subsequently, adorning the Parliament. With all due respect to their age, let us admit that visuals of aging leaders, who need support to move from one place to another, who experience difficulties in making speeches depict a rather sad and pathetic picture to the outside world. Agreed they possess valuable experience in managing affairs of the party and the country, in that order, it is essential to find alternatives. As in sport, new blood brings with it newer ideas and helps in generating more involvement of the younger generation. Such interaction only can bring about the changes that we are all searching for. A sportsperson cannot expect to remain in top form till his dying days – at some point of time he has to call it a day.

Does the same logic not hold true for politicians?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

mismatched

papers says that accidents on our roads can be attributed to mismatches – (i) mismatch of road to car (prehistoric roads with Sci-Fi type cars) or (ii) mismatch of actuals against plans (density of traffic goes beyond expectations –result of poor planning since plannings are done by those who have little or no knowledge of ground realities and how much safety factor or buffer need to be inbuilt into the system to take care of eventualities), or (iii) mismatch of the ability of the driver to understand the workings of the gadgets that control the hi-fi car or (iv) mismatch of fines imposed by the authorities on the negligence of the drivers (few hundred rupees in-lieu of lives, if one can prove that the driver did not have any intention of committing the accident – sometimes the perpetrators of such heinous crime get away scot-free due to the clout of the personalities involved).

Unfortunately, mismatches do not stop at roads safety.

We face mismatches at every step – in the family, there is the perennial mismatch between saas and bahu – this single factor has spawned a whole range of soaps on the tiny screen. While each of these serials attempts to discover an antidote for this age-old malady and nearly succeeds, by the time the slot ends, we are back to square one: leaving options to start all over again the next time we meet. Every episode calls for a new beginning with an end that is a foregone conclusion.

Then there are the mismatches between husband and wife – ads present a picture that is not always true: each of them wants to lead individual lives – none is in favor of surrendering. They land up resorting to compromises at every step – until, one day, the thread snaps. Proof – increase in the number of lawyers who have switched over to handling divorce cases, increase in the number of divorcees seeking fresh matrimonial alliances and increase in the number of detective agencies that have opened up promising to hand over a complete dossier with photographs taken through hidden cameras and identified as exhibit number so-and-so to exhibit number so-and-so.

Examples of mismatches in our day-to-day lives can go on and on. Mismatch between the teachers and the taught, mismatch between the parents and the children, mismatch between expectations and achievements. These should make us think whether compromise is the only solution.

Monday, February 07, 2005

advantage indian hockey

At last it is official – cricketers have been called upon to lend their charisma to pull Indian hockey out of the deep rut in which it finds itself.

The golden era of Indian hockey was when India bagged the gold in the 1928 Olympics and managed to retain the number one position till 1956 with subsequent brief recoveries in 1964 (Tokyo) and 1980 (Moscow). The complete story of Indian hockey is a tale in apathy, as it were. For the last 25 years, our teams have been unable to prove anything except, probably, the fact that we are excellent losers, that our bureaucracy is as crazy as they come, and that we do not mind spending crores and pretending to boost this beautiful game when in reality what we are doing is creating golden opportunities for unscrupulous elements to flourish and reap the benefits. Therefore, organizing the IPL (Indian Premier League) Hockey matches appear to be a silver lining in the dark and ominous clouds that cover the sports skies in India. A positive step in the right direction. The names assigned to the ten participating teams reveal innovativeness of a high order. Whoever thought of these exotic names deserve praise –

Tier – I - Sher-e-Jalandhar, Bangalore Hi-fliers, Hyderabad Sultans, Maratha Warriors and Chennai Veerans
Tier – II – Chandigarh Dynamos, Delhi Dazzlers, Lucknow Nawabs, Imphal Rangers and the Bengal Tigers

To return to the advantage part – it is heartening to see our cricketers ‘reveal their true colors’ (as the wordings of the sponsor goes!) to promote a game that seems to be slowly but surely heading towards oblivion. We, who taught the game to the Westerners, are now struggling to return to a level of reckoning.

Unfortunately, monetary incentives need to be considerably increased. From news reports it seems that the monetary packages are of the order of 4, 2.5 and 1lakh rupees respectively for the first, second and the third spots!! The top scorer will get Rs 50 thousand and the best player Rs 76 thousand.

There needs to be a serious rethinking on the feasibility of promoting this game with such meager allotments. Compared to what our cricketers earn, these appear to be chickenfeed. In order to appear as International competitors, finance is a very important factor. Where individual landmarks are concerned (like Sania Mirza, Narain Kartikeyan, Viswanathan Anand etc.), those who have the ability to practice in international surroundings obviously have better chances of making it big. Our cricketers play in the British leagues and earn valuable experience that they cannot expect to acquire elsewhere. Such experience works wonders to their achievements. Why don’t others emulate such ideas?

Saturday, February 05, 2005

the last few hours of boi mela 2005

All good things must come to an end. Boi Mela is no exception. Sunday the 6th February will bring down the curtains on this year’s Mela. Exactly, at 8 pm the gong that heralded the start of the Mela will toll once again, mournfully this time, signifying the end. The stall owners and visitors will leave the grounds with a heavy heart. The venue of next year’s Mela remains undecided. While one cannot over rule the decision of the Honorable court, from what has been gathered, the new location may not be able to accommodate an event of such a large scale. Some statistics will highlight the problems –

In 1976 there were 36 publishers and 51 stalls. This year there were 852 stalls. The value of books sold in 1976 was around Rs 20,000 while last year it was approximately Rs 18 crores. In 1984, the Mela secured international recognition – it earned a place in the international calendar. In 1991, the theme pavilion started – initially with the different states of our country. From 1997, other countries joined the theme brigade. Over the years, keeping in mind the needs of the visitors, IT pavilions, internet magazines, software, CDs etc gained prominence. Today, there are stalls of popular TV channel networks hogging the limelight.

Apart from books, this Mela encourages all those associated with fine arts to come centre stage and showcase their talents. A separate area is earmarked for the artists who can draw your portrait in colors or pencil sketch if you have the time. And then there are the dedicated group of little magazine owners whose motto appears to be to get noticed – in their own words ‘we do not bother about how many books we sell but in how many people we can enthrall with our products!’

And then there are the groups of youngsters huddled together, humming tunes and soaking in the atmosphere, trying to become one with the elements. This time of the year is pleasant as it is – there is a slight nip in the air, evenings are charming with promises of good feeling flow in the air. The Kolkata Boi Mela gives everyone a wonderful opportunity to feel the toxic odor of new books, of goodies that make your mouth water; of suddenly locating someone you have been searching for – probably, this is the place where your search may end.

Friday, February 04, 2005

experiences in boi mela 1993

How was our experience that first time?

Well – it was a rewarding experience, to say the least. The three of us stayed in different parts of Kolkata – we had to assemble every day by 1.30 pm at the gate of the fair. One of us would, then, proceed to the stall to open the counters and hold fort till the other two joined. The other two, meanwhile, would distribute leaflets to the people who were waiting for tickets at the gate. We took it in turns. Advertisement is something that is very essential. The message had to go out. We had taken two types of advertising material with us. Single sheet pamphlets and folders. The folders we used to distribute to those who visited the stalls – leaflets to the people at the gate, waiting to purchase tickets and enter the fair grounds.

Our personal approach impressed the visitors. We were asked innumerable questions; the fact that modern day technology made it possible for printing any matter from any where was in itself a revelation to many.

The time, it must be remembered, was 1993 – a good 12 years back.

Language typing was just taking off – some reputed publishers had made a start. Those who could handle DTP work in the regional languages were gaining importance. Obviously, curiosity pulled most of the visitors to our stall. We did not have very many products to offer but, with whatever we did have, we built up a rapport of sorts with many persons. We met people who come to this mela regularly but do not stay in Kolkata. They were writers who reside elsewhere but who had publishers in Kolkata to look after their interests – hence, this annual pilgrimage. Yes, it was indeed a pilgrimage of sorts for those with a creative bent of mind.

And then there were the cultural programs. A golden chance to rub shoulders with those who have the power to visualize the extraordinary – yes, writers are no ordinary mortals. We missed out on them because, with only three of us to manage the complete show, we had to forego what normal visitors preferred – meeting real life authors, taking part in discussions, talking to them. But – the loss was made good by new contacts that we developed. We had a number of visitors, mostly Maharastrians residing in Kolkata, who came to our stall searching for Marathi books. When they discovered that we had brought Bengali books from Maharastra, they were disappointed. Then we had children asking whether we had books for them – unfortunately, we did not. That disappointed them also. In spite of so many disappointed visitors, we did have a large group of writers who wanted to become a part of our combine. They all wanted to write for our magazine – and, every day, they would come over, chit-chat and, while leaving, would hand over their poems or short story or essays. We had taken a bold step of setting sail in uncharted waters.

The theme for 1993 was Orissa.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

first timers in boi mela

Once the decision was taken, the three of us along with some more interested friends picked a set of our best writings and started the ball rolling by data entry work. The setup that we had was located in the city proper and the place where we stayed was approximately 20 Kms. away. So, in the evenings, after finishing our regular work, we would make a beeline for doing the data entry work. We used to work up to 10 in the night. We were fortunate to have a person who had come from Kolkata looking for a suitable job. We roped him in to assist in the data entry work since he was already in that line. In due course of time, the basic work was complete. We sent the material for the first book to the press (photo offset press) and, took up work on the second one. Our intentions were to attend the Kolkata Book Fair with at least two books and the magazines. Accordingly, we applied for allotment of a Stall. Simultaneously, we arranged for finance from various sources and, one fine day, in January-1993, we landed in Howrah station with luggage comprising Books, Magazines, brochures and plenty of hopes.

The experience was something that is difficult to describe. The innumerable incidents that we faced during travel could be enough material for a full length novel! People gawked at us, some thought us to be weirdoes, the Police wanted to see what we were carrying in the boxes – to convince them we had to rely on monetary incentives. When we finally landed at Howrah Station, we were mobbed by the porters. Fortunately, we had some local friends waiting for us; therefore, we were spared more tortures.

When we arrived at the Fair grounds to take over our stall, the decorators, the electrician, the agent who supplied furniture all came over to size us up. The news that we were from Maharastra had already spread like wild fire and they were waiting for their pound of flesh. A tiny hundred square feet stall is all that we could afford – the smallest type. It was totally bare and the Publishers were supposed to cover and decorate it in whichever way it suits him. Therefore, our local contacts came into play. We discussed how best to put up a reasonably good show with the barest minimum of investments and, by the time the inauguration took place, we had arrived.

Our Stall number was ‘921’ – it appeared auspicious enough!

The amount of money and efforts that went into creating these temporary stalls that would be pulled down after ten days was mind boggling. There were people who undertook any type of work that would add to the attractions of the stalls. They were everywhere – ready to extend assistance, of course against suitable remuneration. Kolkata is a place where master craftsmen have perfected the art of replicating almost any important structure or landmark – in whichever part of the World it may exist. Their creations are what Bengali festivals are all about. The Boi Mela is no exception. The two storied building created for a leading Bank is in itself proof of what they are capable of.

Then there were the artists who could work wonders with thermocole sheets – designs, letterings: you name it, they produce it.

Each Publisher, also, had his own ideas – those who were in this business for years on end had an envious entourage of assistants. Those to whom this was a family business had the second generation and third generation products to learn and get acquainted with the basics.

We only watched and hoped that one day we could also afford such luxuries.

(to be contd ….)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

in kolkata boi mela as a participant

I still remember my first association with this gigantic event.

It was in 1993 that a couple of my friends and I decided to participate in the fair and not go there just as a visitor.

When we sent our request for allotment of a stall, we were apprehensive – it had been given to understand that, due to limited number of stalls, these were allotted based on recommendations. However, our allotment came almost immediately without involvement of any third party. Probably the novelty of getting a Bengali publisher from outside Bengal to participate in the fair was the deciding factor for the Committee.

All of us were into writing and, being Bengalis, we naturally honed our skills in little magazines that we produced ourselves. We used to stay in Maharastra and, Bengali printing facilities outside Bengal was unheard of in those days. Therefore, one of us who had a good handwriting would transcribe the matter on to cyclostyling stencils from which we would take prints, then bind them into book form and distribute them among friends. In return, we would collect some subscription to cover expenses. The periodicity of these magazines was ‘as and when ready!!’ We always had a stream of writers waiting to see their names in print. We continued such literary pursuits until one day a friend came and informed that Bengali language font could be arranged and we could print our magazines right here in Maharastra. It was something revolutionary. We immediately sat down to work out the pros and cons, especially of the Finances involved. If we were really able to get this off the ground, we would be considered as pioneers in the field, we would be able to nurture a lot of hidden talent. The gentleman who we were banking upon agreed to include Bengali fonts along with his own Marathi, Hindi and Gujarati fonts. Thereby, we would have to share only one fourth the cost of the complete package. We agreed to pool our resources and arrange to procure the package.

Then came the difficult part of learning something that was totally alien to us.

We were no typists and our knowledge of computers was also very limited. But, undaunted, we accepted the challenge, learnt how to type the language characters, how to compose a page, how to edit them, how to introduce special effects – and then, one fine day, we released our magazine in the market. We had a ready local market and, to cover expenses, we relied upon advertisements of our local patrons.

Thus, in 1992, we entered the print market and, with a couple of issues of the magazine under our belt, we got the inspiration to move on to something bigger, something we never thought could materialize.

We decided to publish books – Bengali books from, of all places, Nasik.

(to be continued…..)

more on kolkata boi mela 2005

With the organizers advancing entry to the Kolkata Boi Mela by 2 hours everyday in view of the loss of two precious days viz. Friday and Saturday, obviously, the Sunday was chock full of booklovers who swarmed all over the fair grounds like bees around a beehive. In addition, it was celebrated as a day where prominence was given to children – a child was drawn around in a palanquin, to publicize this fact.

All the participants were of the opinion that the loss of two vital days cannot be compensated by extending the fair timings by two hours everyday – even if the fair gates were thrown open at 12, people started to come in only by around two. Similarly, extending the fair by a couple of days is also impractical because many participants come from outside Kolkata and their travel plans are finalized much in advance. Hence, the loss remains unrecoverable.

There was a pair of young boys who went around the fair grounds walking on stilts. They had posters of books hung around their necks and, in this age of marketing, proved that people literally look up to them to know about the latest books doing the rounds. It transpired that these boys earned around five hundred rupees per day for exhibiting their special skills for the duration of the fair.

One of the stalls was devoted to books in Braille for the blind booklovers.

The Kolkata Police stall, set up with the intention of bringing the common man closer to the Police displayed rare photographs and arms and ammunitions used by the revolutionaries during the freedom struggle. Also, there were exhibits of various police equipment and books written by members of the Police force.

Similarly, the stall of Prasar Bharati had on display CDs and cassettes of old songs and dances preserved over the ages.

In addition, there were groups of youngsters strumming their guitars and singing songs – crowds surrounded them chanting ‘yeh dil maange more’.

Of course, the undisputed attraction was the ‘Food Park’ patronized by people of all ages, where people thronged in hundreds to taste their favorite dishes – as some one casually remarked: ‘this should be rechristened as the Food Fair instead Book Fair’!

(to be continued…)