destination india

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

crash courses

The state of Maharastra was once upon a time considered to be a dreamland – being a resident of far off Calcutta (I talk about of those days when Mumbai was Bombay and Kolkata was Calcutta!) I and my classmates would devour the first hand information of our friends who had been to Bombay during the summer vacations to meet their relatives. They would describe the sights, talk of the Marine drive, also known as the Queen’s necklace, the hanging garden, the Taraporavilla aquarium and show us the bus tickets to prove that they really and truly did visit the place.

This once prosperous city is passing through a critical phase – close on the heels of the floods and the controversies surrounding the dance bars, it is now the turn of crumbling old buildings to wrench away the initiative – the devastations and deaths are a combined result of greedy landlords and tenants. Both have to share the blame - it seems that, even today, a luxurious tenement covering thousand odd square feet is enjoyed by some at a nominal rent of less than hundred rupees – that was the rent once considered adequate hundred years back. But, the owner is unable to increase it and the tenant does not want to increase it. Therefore, both the parties wait for the inevitable. And, along with them, the electronic media keeps watch with their OBVs to cash in on yet another crash in the middle of the night.

Any product that was larger than normal would have the adjective of Bombai prefixed – for example Bombai mango or Bombai potato. Having been brought up on local black and white cinema, we would stare wide eyed at the huge colored posters of Bombai films. Bollywood had not yet entered the dictionary. There were selected cinema halls in Calcutta that screened Hindi films – their clientele were mostly non Bengalis. For obvious reasons, these cinema halls were located in predominantly non Bengali speaking areas. I talk about the time when the city of Calcutta had areas earmarked for particular groups of people – the Burra Bazar and its adjoining areas were for the Marwari traders, Bhowanipore was for the Punjabis, and Maharastrians, and South Calcutta had their share of South Indians.

Later, at some point of time, these boundaries started to blur. Some say it was the metro rail that set the trend – the gigantic project brought with it a horde of people from outside the state to support the venture by way of manpower and finance. Roads were dug up, persons got displaced, and people moved from one location to settle in another. Simultaneously, land prices started climbing and a new group of people descended on the scene. They called themselves promoters – they would prevail upon the owner to part with his land and promise to compensate him ten times over. People fell for their sweet talks and property kept chanting hands – the owners stashed the away the money in banks as fixed deposits and occupied coops in exchange.

The total culture has undergone a sea change. Relationships have taken on newer meanings – physical maturity sets in faster today but reluctance to accept responsibility is prominent. Once it was an accepted fact that beauty and brains cannot co-exist, today such concepts have vanished. The time has now come to conduct crash courses on how to maintain your cool in the face of the worst of temptations.

Monday, August 29, 2005

the elusive arjuna

One more game gifted away. A Team that was struggling at 35 for 6 is allowed to score 215 runs thanks to the unparalleled captaincy of the most successful captain of all times and by the wonderful bowling tactics of the turbaned one who returned figures of 55 for zero!! When it comes to our Team, we totter at 48 for 8 till our tail-enders try to perform miracles. They very nearly succeeded but, our opposition Captain had other ideas – he knew just when to ring in the changes. He ensures that we do not deviate from our norms – of defeat, defeat and defeat.
Many are shocked that this year’s list of Arjuna awards does not include any cricketer even though cricket has become a passion for us and we have got used to seeing non-performers endorse a wide range of products. One of the TV channels conducted a poll and, it transpires that 76% agree with the decision of the organizers. Considering the continuous failures and innumerable excuses put forward to justify the gradual decline in the standards of the game, it is a wonder that a couple of names were proposed.

Arjuna is one of the Pandavas immortalised in the Mahabharata. We, as Indians, respect the teachings of this epic because, in it are enshrined tales of love, hate, devotion and courage. It encompasses each and every aspect of life and, even though clones have surfaced from time to time, they have been miserable flops. Arjuna is an important character in the Mahabharata, he is a warrior to the core and, when war is declared, he hesitates in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Lord Krishna, as his chariot driver, then delivers his famous sermon.

The reason for naming the awards for excellence in sports as the Arjuna awards stems from the fact that Arjuna, when he went to the Swyambar sabha, had to string the bow and shoot an arrow to pierce the eye of the fish. The fish was hidden behind a disc that had holes along its periphery. While the fish was stationary, the disc was rotating! It was an extremely difficult task to perform but, Arjuna accomplished the near impossible since he concentrated on his task of taking aim and hitting the target. He had the eye of the fish in his sight. It was all about the oneness of purpose, the single mindedness of achieving the near impossible, of dedication to outshine others.

Therefore, our bowlers should have their sights on the stumps behind the batsman, our batsmen on gaps in the field to steal singles and twos (and, refrain from thrashing opposition bowlers from the word ‘go’), and our fielders on the ball. In short, our cricketers have to prove that they still have it in them, they must strive hard to prove to the world that the word ‘chokers’ has been really and truly banished from their dictionary.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

ufo demystified

If you ask me, I will tell you that UFO is an acronym for User Friendly Options! The customer is always right - that is what Business schools teach the white collared bosses of the twenty-first century. Today, everyone follows the line of least resistance. Whatever be your product, you must ensure that it is user friendly. The term ‘user friendly’ is not restricted to computers alone; it is extended to cover all walks of life. Take a simple example of the tooth brush – the MNC who markets the FMCG introduces special grips on the handle of its tooth brush so that the contraption does not slip out of the fingers of a person whose body is still in the sleepy mood! Then the MNC assigns a budget of several crores of rupees to an ad agency to ensure that the message, of a revolutionary new model of the toothbrush, hits the market. The ad agency ropes in a group of dance artistes to gyrate their hips to the tune of catchy jingles and slip-proof tooth brushes.

It was H G Wells who first dreamt up a vision called the UFO – they are vehicles which convey aliens from distant planets to Earth. These aliens come in any number of shapes, colors, and sizes – they arrive in the dark and leave before the day dawns. A very popular TV serial called ‘The X Files’ airs hour-long episodes that narrate tales of aliens who violate our air space and create problems for those they interact with. This TV show is rated high in terms of popularity.

We have been treated to life-like film versions like ET where the director takes us on an imaginary encounter with an alien. Sightings of UFOs are reported regularly from different parts of the world and there are International bodies who study innumerable signals that reportedly emanate from god-knows-where. In passing, may I inform my readers that, whenever I switch on the radio, I am bombarded with hundred and one different frequencies and intensity of sounds – can any of these be linked to transmissions from outer space millions of miles away?

I am not a scientist. When I look at the night sky and see the hundreds of thousands of stars that twinkle in the darkness; I wait for an UFO to streak across the horizon and land somewhere on the surface of our Earth. Unfortunately the only moving lights that I see in the sky at night come from the cabin lights and tail lamps of aero planes that are going towards their destinations. By the way, can anyone clarify why UFOs invariably select deserts and oceans for landing, why don’t they ever land in the centre of metropolitan cities?

Monday, August 22, 2005

two wrongs make a right

Yes that is today’s mantra. It applies to all those who cherish a hidden desire to become a politician. We know what a politician is – he is the terrible outcome of an election system that will take another hundred years to achieve total transparency. The politician considers himself to be the proud occupant of the seat next to God. The politician is endowed with the gift of the gab; he can paint rosy pictures of abundance when skeletons are shown counting their last days, and he is one who would like the country to follow a certain principled lifestyle when he himself never flaunts it openly. He never bothers about maintaining any standard whatsoever. He extracts much more than he parts with. His latest sermon is – ‘remember, two wrongs always make a right’. When confronted with solid evidence a couple of days back by one of the TV news channels, he coolly points that ‘what we are doing is nothing new; the previous government did it, those who were there even before them did it. So?’

Corruption has pervaded all levels of Society. With more than half a century of Independence behind us, we are happy with color TVs in our houses and mobile phones in our pockets (as an ad so aptly states – ‘if you get a mobile for only two hundred rupees per month, it is unnatural not to have one even in the hands of the waiter who serves the tea as you wait for the barber to trim your hair). Here also, the lingo has changed – they are hair dressers, not barbers! Money is what sets apart the men from the boys and, if you want to survive in this cruel world, you must master the art of ensnaring the money into your bank account. After all, with so many plastic cards in your pocket, you have to ultimately take from Ram to pay off Shyam. Therefore, in your own interests, master the art as fast as you can, resort to the latest fad - scams. Look around you and you will certainly discover tutorial schools that coach in this specialized discipline. In the olden days, when the cost of living was cheaper, that extra money for the occasional fag or the matinee cinema show came from coins kept aside from funds earmarked for the daily market. That was how scam took its first step. Scams are a new form of disease that has no remedy. You cannot eradicate it, therefore, learn to tolerate it.

We conveniently turn a blind eye to the ill fed specimens of humans that pop up once in a while on our TV screens – pity no channel issues the warning –‘the visuals you are about to see may be disturbing. Viewer discretion is necessary’.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

vanishing tribes of india

During the Tsunami, the world came to know of the vanishing tribes of the Andamans viz. the Onges, the Jarawas and the great Andamanese – people who have remained untouched by the effects of advances in Science and technology. From the visuals presented by the electronic media for the benefit of spectators, it is apparent that they detest outsiders; they want to continue to live the life that they have grown accustomed to.

Close on the heels of this revelation comes the announcement that rickshaws will soon be things of the past for Kolkattans. That is the gist of the decision of Chief Minister Sri Buddhadeb Bhattacharji.

He has also informed that alternate avenues of employment will be made available to the affected. What is not disclosed is that against the 25,000 registered rickshaw-wallahs, there are as many, if not more, unregistered ones. Obviously, the obituary may not be that easy to write. Once this cheap mode of transport is really and truly consigned to history, it would be in the fitness of things to preserve one of the pieces in the Indian Museum for posterity. In case the tanga is not already there, a provision could be kept to add it as yet another exhibit for the kids of the next century.

In this connection, we hear of other categories of people who gradually pass away into oblivion – sometimes back there were news that conch shells and articles made out of these are going out of fashion, even the raw material has vanished from the market post Tsunami. Likewise, the potters (not Harry, he is doing roaring business!) have lost out to throwaway varieties of cups, plates and tumblers. The priests, who used to attend to their devotees on a generation-to-generation basis, are also hard to come by. Today’s priests are gainfully employed elsewhere and, donning the garb to perform the tricky rituals of invoking the Gods or Goddesses is more of a pastime for them. In many instances, the devotees have eliminated the third party interference altogether – pre recorded cassettes are available in plenty. These contain step by step directions of how to progress towards attaining enlightenment and, possibly, nirvana.

The latest trend is to propiate the Gods via the internet – probably, the response is faster!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

ills, pills and PILs

Pills come in two varieties – the sweet and the bitter. Most of the bitter ones are sugar coated for X-tra special Zing. Then there are the sleeping pills and the morning-after pills apart from pills that one pops into ones mouth as a matter of routine to improve the functions of the various human organs.

PILs, on the other hand, are a means to eradicate the ills that affect our society. It is a term that is gaining popularity – the full form is Public Interest Litigation. As the name implies, it is all about Social Justice. Any citizen has the power to demand justice and approach the Honorable Court to decide in favor of whatever is right if he feels that a wrong has been done. The person who does so need not necessarily be affected as such, as a citizen of a free democratic country, he can take up cudgels on behalf of a group of persons or a community. In this connection, the following can be referred – ‘…..In 1982, the Supreme Court conceded that unusual measures were warranted to enable people the full realization of not merely their civil and political rights, but the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights, and in its far- reaching decision in the case of PUDR [People's Union for Democratic Rights] vs. Union of India [1982 (2) S.C.C. 253], it recognized that a third party could directly petition, whether through a letter or other means, the Court and seek its intervention in a matter where another party's fundamental rights were being violated…..’

"Public interest Litigation", in simple words, means, litigation filed in a court of law, for the protection of "Public Interest", such as pollution, Terrorism, Road safety, constructional hazards etc.

PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION is not defined in any statute or in any act. It has been interpreted by judges to consider the intent of public at large. Although, the main and only focus of such litigation is only "Public Interest" there are various areas where a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION can be filed. For e.g.
- Violation of basic human rights of the poor
- Content or conduct of government policy
- Compel municipal authorities to perform a public duty.
- Violation of religious rights or other basic fundamental rights.
Public Interest Litigation popularly termed PIL has attained much significance than anticipated as against the traditional and conventional litigations. It is a strategic arm of the legal aid movement which is intended to bring justice within the reach of poor masses who constitute the law visibility area of humanity, and, is a totally different kind of litigation from the ordinary litigation, which is essentially of an adverse character, having dispute between two litigating parties; one making claim or seeking relief against the other opposing such claim or resisting such relief.

WPSI initially filed a Public Interest Petition in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in April 1998, requesting the State Government to ban the manufacture and sale of shahtoosh shawls and to abide by national and international laws and conventions.

One of the best examples is the one by Naveen Jindal Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of Jindal Steel & Power Ltd (JSPL), the man who fought and won for every Indian citizen the right to fly the national flag.

The latest in this list will probably be the one planned by the film industry bigwigs against the Government of Maharastra on its inept handling of the flood situation that is reportedly the worst in the history of the last 100 years.

mum-bye to shang-high

Normally, the distance between two fixed points remains constant, come what may. But, in the case of Mumbai and Shanghai, we observe that the distance keeps on increasing. Doubts are being raised in certain quarters as to whether the crown of the Financial Capital will look better on another head. No one can recollect wastage of so many days of activities in any other metropolitan city due to rains. Schools are forced to declare holidays, employees are compelled to remain night long prisoners in the office, and commuters have no other alternative but to wade through knee deep and sometimes waist deep waters to reach safety. It is natural that it rains during the monsoons; if the rains are delayed it spells doom for farmers and city folks alike. Farmers - because they are unable to till the soil and plant seeds and raise crops to feed the hungry populace the following year. City folks - because if the reservoirs do not get their quota of water, the effect will be felt only the following summer.

City fathers are meant to ensure that, when it rains, the rain water has a smooth journey down the drains and sewers to its final resting place and does stop midway to clog the gutters with discarded polythene bags, waste paper, leaves and an assortment of garbage from orange and banana peels to empty packets of pan masala.. If the passage is not smooth, it results in accumulation of dirty, filthy water that carry hundreds of thousands of germs. These cannot be wished away as natural phenomena and vagaries of nature. They are lame excuses. Shanghai also faces the rainy season, has it ever been reported that excess rainfall leads to chaotic conditions there, that power supply remains cut off for days, that anti social elements take advantage of the situation and cry ‘tsunami is coming, run for your lives’ resulting in death of innocents?

Obviously, there are certain actions that need to be planned in advance and executed before the onset of the rainy season. A leading tyre manufacturer gives advance notice of the probable date of the strike (of the monsoons!) Others can take the initiative and repeatedly keep telling the city fathers that – you have so many days to get your things in order else you will lose out in the race for supremacy.