Monday, December 14, 2009

Fast unto death or Fad Dieting?

K Chandrasekhar Rao's 10 day fast unto death has resulted in the possible formation of a new Indian state, a near complete standstill of legislative activity in AP, significant loss of public property and an epidemic, all over north India, of similar demands for statehood. The media debate has centered around whether the Congress government has acted in haste in accepting the demands of the agitating TRS cadres. Obviously there is also some debate over whether a new Telengana state will be viable and on the fate of Hyderabad. My own view point is that the attempt to divide a reasonably well-governed state along ethnic lines is the beginning of a dangerous trend that may eventually shake the very foundation of the Indian state.
But what I'd like to touch upon is the whole idea of the political fast and the role it has placed in this case. The TRS chief was arrested before his fast under section 309 of the IPC which covers any attempts to take one's own life but his fast continued. He was then shifted to Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad where he even though he recieved attention his medical condition kept deteriorating. At this point his worsening condition began to consume the entire nation and national leaders of all hues came out with statements saying K Chandrasekhar Rao's life should not be martyred to the Telengana cause. The general public was bombarded daily with images of a visibly weak Rao and more importantly the damage to public property by rampaging supporters of the Telengana movement. It was here that the Chandrasekhar fast differed from say the kind of fast that Mahatma Gandhi used to undergo. Gandhi never undertook a fast unto death to force the British to leave India. Bapu's fasts were not about using the potential of his possible death to achieve his political aims, and he definitely would never have accepted any Telengana state that came into being after all the rampaging and violent demonstration that took place. His fasts were about penance and forcing his supporters and well-wishers to look inwards at their own actions. But comparisons to Gandhiji are probably unfair.
However how many of us have heard of Irom Charu Sharmila? This 37 year old civil rights activist and poet from Manipur has been on fast since November 4 2000; yes that's right, 2000, demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 which gives the army extensive powers and immunity in areas the Indian government deems 'disturbed areas.' Now I will not debate how justified Ms Sharmila's demands are. But given the extensive nature of the powers given to the Indian army there is every likelihood of it being misused. But more importantly we must compare the kind of media attention accorded to Chandrasekhar Rao and that given to Irom Sharmila and wonder why the difference? Why the alacrity to act and why the clamour of politicians to support a cause that has not even been debated much in the public forum?
Whatever the outcome of the Telengana agitation, Irom Sharmila atleast deserves a fraction of the media attention that K Chandrasekhar Rao got.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

One year on..

Today marks the 1st anniversary of the most blatant terrorist attack on Indian soil. The images from that horrific day are still fresh in our minds, although I doubt if the sense of outrage and activism that we all felt in the immediate aftermath of the Bombay attacks is still as intense as it was then.

Its been an eventful year for the nation in general and Bombay in particular. We've had a national election and an assembly election in Maharashtra. It was an opportunity for the Mumbaiites to make a statement. And yet despite all the campaigns inviting people to exercise their franchise the elections saw some of the lowest voter turnout in the country. The trial for the lone surviving terrorist is still going on, somewhat of the megaserials we have to suffer on TV. The police force in Mumbai have done themselves no good with the airing of dirty laundry in public that has been going on recently. Across the border in Pakistan, the charade of an investigation and trial keeps our media and analysts endlessly occupied without any real change in our neighbour’s attitude towards terrorism in general and us in particular. And to add insult to injury to our poor brethren in Mumbai, the hooligans of the Shiv Sena and MNS have started to flex their muscles again after a brief period of silence following the tragic events last year.

So what has the last year taught us? The fact that we’ve not had any other attacks in the last year isn’t really because we’ve corrected all the flaws in our security system. The disarray in the Mumbai Police, the first barrier in our security setup, is self-evident in all the in-fighting that goes on in the department. The Quick Response Team(QRT), which is meant to be the city’s answer to a slothful police force, has been abandoned even before it could gain a foothold in the security setup. The political players have done nothing more play the usual game of blaming everyone else. And the media is using the occasion of the anniversary to run up ratings and indulge in superficial schemes like NDTV’s Human Chain, which at the time of writing this post has managed only an abysmal 6115 participants. Even corporate India is using this anniversary to run up some profits like Idea Mobile’s, vulgarly opportunistic Talk For India campaign. And the common man, who was hit the most by the attacks last year, has gone back to doing what we as a people do best; accept it as fate and move on with our lives.

Some of India’s best laid down their lives on that fated day. Most of what has happened since is a great disservice to their sacrifice and memory. And that’s a bigger tragedy than the actual attacks of 26/11.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

To sing or not to sing?

Its funny season again in Indian politics. The latest controversy to preoccupy our television media is the fatwa issued by the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind against the national song, Vande Mataram. The resolution asking Muslims not to sing the national song was passed at the national convention of the Jamiat, one of the largest groups of Muslim clerics in India, held at Darul Uloom Deoband, one the largest Muslim seminaries in South Asia. It was attended by Home Minister P Chidambaram. Now this is the kind of news that makes the nearly down and out BJP drool in anticipation. The BJP has condemned 2 different aspects of this bit of news. Obviously they have taken issue with the JEU for issuing the fatwa. And they are probably rubbing their hands in glee that no less than the Home Minister was at this convention. Mr Chidambaram has of course since distanced himself from the fatwa. The JEU however have taken refuge in the Constitution and the freedom of religious expression provided to every Indian therein. “Some of its lines are of course against the religious principles of Islam. We cannot bow before anybody other than the Allah. It is un-Islamic”, said Moulana Muizuddin of the Jamiat.

Written by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay in response to the British Government making the singing of God Save the Queen compulsory, Vande Mataram was so successful in inspiring freedom fighters at the time, that the British at one time banned the utterance of the cry in public forums. The song, in its later stanzas, compares Mother India to Goddess Durga and therefore was unacceptable as the National Anthem to some of India’s more orthodox Muslims. So as a concession, Jana Gana Mana was adopted as the National Anthem and only the 1st two stanzas of Vande Mataram which describe the beauty of India, was adopted as the National Song. The idea of a National Song or National Anthem or any of our other symbols of nationalism is to inspire pride and patriotism in our citizens. And as a nation we need as many proud and patriotic Indians as we can inspire. Given the historical import of the Vande Mataram and its role in our freedom struggle and the concessions that have already been made to Muslim sensitivities, I’m not really sure what the JEU was taking exception to. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religious expression to all citizens of India, a right that reflects the secular intentions of the people who framed it and the greatness of the Indian nation. Vande Mataram sings paeans to that greatness. To refuse to sing that song because it invites you to pay respects to Mother India, is the worst kind of narrow minded communalist sentiment. And to call this song un-Islamic is, in my view at least, anti-Indian.

Now it’s a whole different story if, as BJP governments in the past have done, someone makes the singing of Vande Mataram compulsory. The whole idea of being a democracy is that one has the freedom to do or not do what one chooses as long as it stays within the limits of the law and does not impinge on one’s neighbour’s freedoms. I don’t think the singing of the national song should be made compulsory just as I don’t think a fatwa should be issued advising Indian Muslims that Vande Mataram is un-Islamic. Its offensive to the sensibilities of a large number of people who prefer to see themselves as Indians first. Javed Akhtar put it best when he said he would not sing a single verse of the song if the BJP made it compulsory but would publicly sing the whole song including its un-Islamic later verses if a fatwa is issued against it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Ignoble Nobel- Vol 2

President Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to decrease the world's nuclear arsenal. The Committee also noted Obama's efforts to solve the world's complex problems. Now I'm as big a fan of Barack Obama as the next guy, but I'm not sure which I find more ludicrous, the fact Obama won the prize or the reasons for giving it to him.
President Obama came to power on a wave of hope and jubilation the likes of which has not been seen in world history. But the truth is that less than one year into his term some of that halo is beginning to fade away. Mind you, most of it is not his fault. He's an extremely talented and sincere man doing a near impossible job. And he's not been doing it for long enough for any of his much debated and criticized efforts to bear any real fruit. So the committee that praises his efforts to solve the world's complex problems needs to take a good look at the world again. I'm not sure which of those problems has become any less problematic than it was last November when Obama won.
As for the citation regarding his efforts to reduce the world's nuclear arsenal, America still has the world's largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, still has not ratified the CTBT and has rewarded Pakistan's freeing of A Q Khan with more cash in aid. Yes, he initiated a debate on the subject, put non-military options with Iran back on the table and has not lashed out yet at North Korea. All very good, but Nobel prize good??!! Really!! It seems to me that someone on the Nobel Committee decided that they could use some of the rockstar like popularity that Obama brings to the table or they just decided to suck up to the USA. If it was rockstar appeal they were after, I submit Paul Hewson aka Bono as an alternative candidate. He's done some real good work, has been active for much longer than Obama has and here's the clincher, he's a real rockstar. If on the other hand they were just sucking up to the US Goverment, well then, all I have to say is, "Very good choice."
For us Indians, Obama's prize also brings back that never ending question about the Nobel peace prize. Why was The Mahatma never given the prize? To which we can now forevermore add, " Is Barack Obama greater even than Mahatma Gandhi?" Well the committee sure seems to think so.

The Ignoble Nobel- Vol 1

The Nobel prize announcements are always a source of much anticipation and eventually debate. But usually the controversies and debates involve the Peace prize or the Literature prize. For us Indians this year's Chemistry prize also provides much fodder for arguments and the Peace prize as well. Dr Venkataraman Ramakrishnan was awarded the Chemistry nobel along with Thomas Steitz and Ada Yonath for their work involving ribosomes. As if this were not enough President Barack Obama has been awarded the Peace prize for his efforts to reduce the world's nuclear arsenal. For the average "argumentative Indian", to quote another Nobel prize winner, this is a bumper Diwali.

The Chemistry prize resurrects the age old debate about brain drain and its causes and effects. Sadly this is a question that really comes into focus only when someone of Indian origin achieves something substantial internationally, when ideally it is an issue that should be front and centre in India's plans to become a global superpower. Dr Venkataraman was born and brought up in Chidambaram, TN. Sure this gives a lot of Tamilians cause for immense pride and maybe the rest of India as well. In some part of our minds we are glowing with a sense of achievement. This is proof that we are as good as anybody else out there, if, we are given the right opportunities. And that if is the point of all the debate. That Indians are generally smart has been proved beyond all argument by our dotcom friends. So the real questions are these? Could the good Dr Venks have achieved all he has if he stayed back in India? Almost defnitely no. Will the current environment in higher education and research in India ever throw up a home grown Nobel in the pure sciences? Highly unlikely. And should the fact that Dr Venks is now an American citizen take away from our sense of achievement? I definitely feel it should. It should be a matter of great introspection and shame that our best and brightest still choose the greener pastures of American academia. Both in terms of increasing our R&D capability across all fields and in terms of increasing India's global visibility and soft power, we should plan to overhaul our structure of higher education. And it has to begin from top down. The bosses running higher education in India shouldn't be retired politicians looking for a cushy end. That job should be given exclusively to top academicians with proven record in research. There has to be a strong focus on enabling bold and cutting edge research work to take root in labs across India. And more importantly there has to be generous government grants disbursed through autonomous, non-partisan, qualified and meritocratic governing committees. Only then can we have our own Dr Venkataraman and when that time we can truly bask in his/her glory.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Political Legacy : The YSR Way

I recently came to know of a health services scheme started by the late Andhra Pradesh CM Dr Y S R Reddy. Initially introduced on a trial basis in a few poverty ridden districts in the state and later on after it proved to be a resounding success, the scheme was extended to cover the entire state. The Rajiv Arogya Sri came into effect in April 2007. .It provides financial protection and the means to improve the health status of families living Below the Poverty Line for treatment of all the serious ailments. Under the scheme all white card holders(those deemed BPL) were entitled to free medical treatment at any of the corporate hospitals participating in the scheme. And to their credit quite a few of the big corporate names in the state are part of the scheme.

Now I have seen first hand how this scheme is transforming the access these poor people have to quality health care and in the process also their lives. The scheme allows anyone with a white card to simply walk in to a hospital and check if his/her symptoms match the diagnoses in a pre-approved government checklist. If it does, from then on they are eligible for the best care that the hospital can provide including cost of stay and food expenses without having to pay anything at all from their pockets. This is the sort of manna from heaven scheme that we hear of usually in oil rich Arab nations (although only for Arab nationals). They can afford it. But to actually try and implement it in an Indian state deserves special recognition of the man's intent to serve his people. Now I don't know anything else about YSR's or Andhra's politics but it probably helped that YSR was a doctor himself and because of that he probably understood better than most politicians, the difficulties India's poor face with regards to health care.

Now this is India after all and however noble the scheme, we will find ways to corrupt it. Like so with Arogya Sri. Some of the white card holders are simply too well off to fall in that unfortunate category called BPL, while some hospitals and associated health personnel are trying to make a fast buck by conning the poor patients into paying for services that they should be getting for free. But all things considered as far as a Government initiative is concerned schemes like Arogya Sri should be supported and lauded. Politicians at all levels should take note of the genuine outpouring of grief that followed YSR's untimely and tragic death recently. If you want to win elections and etch your name in history, dreaming up schemes like Arogya Sri is the better way to go about it, than building giant statues of yourself at public expense. Dr Y S R is no more but here's hoping that there are more like him because India's poor really need them.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Name is Con

If ever an issue was created by the media for public consumption it is this whole brouhaha involving ShahRukh Khan and his alleged detention by airport officials at Newark Airport. The facts, as far as can be made out over all the cacophonous indignation, are these. Apparently ShahRukh who has been travelling in and out of the US all this year was detained and questioned for around 2 hours by the airport officials at Newark. Further details of the incident are all still a blur. And no one in the media really wants to find out. Because apparently, to quote Union Minister Ambika Soni, every Indian has been hurt by the actions of the US officials. And if this kind of treatment keeps getting meted out to Indian stars then maybe the Indian government should consider reciprocal action!! Seriously? This from a Union minister; talk about hyperbole!

But it doesn’t end there. News channels have been running this story with the breaking news tagline and with quotes from SRK camp regulars, Karan Johar and Farah Khan. Karan Johar somberly addressed the racist element of the incident and cheekily threw in the phrase “its all because his name is Khan.” And Farah Khan is under the delusion that SRK is the “biggest star in the world.” Of course SRK himself dominated all the airwaves with his extensive and in depth views on everything from racism to religious intolerance to international politics to the mental state of Americans as a people. All the while maintaining that he doesn’t want to make a big deal of the incident!

As an issue this couldn’t have been better scripted and that too on the Indian Independence day and most conveniently with SRK starrer My Name is Khan due to hit theatres soon. Anyone with even half a brain will stop to consider if this whole thing isn’t a publicity stunt. But apparently that does not include the editors running our news channels. Or considering the airtime this story is getting, most viewers are gullible enough to swallow this drivel that passes in the name of news.

The final word in this matter of course belongs to Salman Khan, who basically said that this has been happening to Asians, especially Muslims, for some time now and you have to just deal with it. My sympathies are with the Airport officials at Newark who had to listen to SRK stammer away for 2 hours and that too without the benefit of any songs involving Kajol/Rani/Preity to break the monotony.

But seriously, its time that we as a people learnt to deal with the fact that people we deem VIPs here in India are treated just like everyone else elsewhere and thats how it should be. And SRK should take a cue from Dr A P J Abdul Kalam and deal with any further spillover from this incident with some dignity and a whole lot of silence.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Confessions of a new Dad

In a way this is a post I have been writing in my head for the last 9 months, ever since Geetha told me we were expecting. But somehow I've not been able to put any of my thoughts into words. Even now my mind is in a constant state of turmoil swinging from wild excitement to mind-numbing fear to brimming with an emotion I'm not even sure how to explain except to say it becomes kind of hard to breathe but in a strangely nice way. I'm probably not making any sense to the uninitiated but such is the mental state of a freshly minted parent. I now understand the knowing smiles my parents have been giving me all these years. It meant criticize us all you want now but we'll wait and watch you muddle about when its your turn.
My daughter came to this world ahead of schedule and gave us a taste of the sleepless nights to come straight away. She was diagnosed as being small for gestational age in utero and we couldn't find a reason. One of the problems with being a doctor when you are an expecting parent is that you immediately tend to look for the worst differential diagnoses, even though in some part of your rational mind there's a voice saying that you are over-reacting and it'll be fine. That voice is however easily engulfed and silenced by the irrational fears of a father. Never again will I show the slightest bit of impatience with a parent enquiring about their child. After a torrid week at the hospital where she scared us with her weight (1.78kgs), jaundice and a false alarm with neonatal hypothyroidism, we finally brought her home so that we could settle into the serious business of feeding her every second hour and hoping that all this effort is rewarded with a gain in weight. Never before in my life have I measured grams so assiduously. Every sneeze or cough, every sound she emitted commanded immediate and complete attention. If she craps we worry, was that enough, wasn't it a little too runny and God forbid if she doesn't crap on schedule then we also become scared shitless. All of it would actually have been funny if it wasn't all too real. And all talk of a big family maybe even a set of twins have all gone out the window. Twins!?! What was I thinking!
But it cant and wont always be like this. One day she will be bigger and hopefully soon, toilet trained. And then we'll have different things to worry about. Like where she's crawling off to next or will she walk those few steps without falling. And all too soon there'll be tantrums, school, sleepovers with friends, and, dare i say it, boyfriends!! But I'm sure it wont be all worries. There'll be special moments that only a father and daughter can share, trips that we can take, lively discussions about books, movies, life and love. But I'm getting way ahead of myself here. My baby still cant hold her neck up let alone look at another baby boy. So thats something I can worry about later. But its fun to imagine all the worrying I can do in the coming future. And if you think I have lost my marbles, then such is the state of a freshly minted parent.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Coronation on Clay

Very often in modern sport superlative words of praise are loosely thrown about to describe flashes of brilliance. Roger Federer, even before his monumental achievement on Sunday, richly deserved every single adjective of praise ever attributed to him. But with this long overdue and much deserved French Open victory Federer has firmly put himself in the category of “greatest ever.” And for anyone who follows tennis seriously that’s a rather exclusive category.

But first, the facts. Numbers cannot do justice to the man’s achievement. But this is his 14th Grand Slam, tying him with Pete Sampras; even more significantly the French Open was the only slam he needed to win to complete his career slam, a feat that makes him only the 6th man ever to win all 4 Majors and puts his 14 titles ahead of Sampras’. But the most astounding statistic is the number 20; in the last 20 Grand Slams Roger Federer has made the semifinals or better every single time. That’s the kind of consistency even Tiger Woods hasn’t managed. But to put that achievement into perspective, Nadal who was beginning a streak of his own, was stopped in his tracks at 5 consecutive semifinals and that too at the clay of Roland Garros, easily his favourite surface. Federer has taken on all comers and found the mental and physical reserves required to keep winning even when he hasn’t played his best. After Nadal’s shocking and unexpected exit, the pressure on Federer to win was unbelievable. This was his tournament to lose. And he made sure he brought his A-game against Soderling. This victory at Roland Garros would’ve been that much more sweeter if it had come against Nadal. And it can always be argued that Federer might not even have won if Nadal was on the other side of the net. But the fact remains that at the end of 2 weeks of gruelling play both Nadal and Federer were expected to reach the finals and only one man made it. For all his abundant talent and never say die spirit, Nadal still has some way to go before he can be compared to Federer.

Its always a tricky thing, to compare players of different eras. And the arguments for or against any player as greatest of all time are always contentious. As things stand today, there’s really only one name that can compare with Federer; Rod Laver. But even the Rocket will concede that when he played the schedule was nowhere near as hectic or the competition as gruelling as it is today and he didnt play on 4 different surfaces. In terms of an all round game, consistency, adaptability, sportsmanship and professionalism Roger Federer is peerless. And tennis is richer for it and tennis fans who follow his journey know that each time he steps on court they are watching a master who’s creating his own script that will be the stuff of legend. 

Friday, May 22, 2009

Much to look forward to...

Now that the dust has finally settled on the election season and we know for sure that this government will in all likelyhood last the full 5-year term, the nation can breathe a collective sigh of relief. The Indian voter has spoken and spoken decisively. We've said no to the politics of religious fundamentalism, caste based divisiveness, no to the regional parochialism of the Yadavs and the Mayawatis and no to the blind dogmatism of the Left. And as the results from Bihar show we've said yes to good governance. It seems the Indian voter has finally wisened up, and its about time.
The Congress have been handed a mandate, and a decisive one at that, with a very obvious message. Deliver on the promises, clamp down on  corruption and remove the tired old faces and replace them with the young energetic MPs voted in in such large numbers for the first time since Independence. With 200+ seats in the Lok Sabha there is no risk of the Congress being held to blackmail like the last time. This is an opportunity the likes of which the Congress will probably never get again especially if they fail to make the most of it. Only time will tell if they will flatter to deceive.
But if Rahul Gandhi continues to surprise as he has done in this election with the Congress' performance in UP, the Congress will definitely have sunny days to look forward to. He has displayed a sense of purpose and self-discipline not seen before in an Indian politician. He has been underestimated by almost everyone outside the Congress but this election and especially the results from UP are a vindication of Rahul Gandhi's political acumen. His stress on changing the quality of political leadership in India comes as music to my ears and if he continues in the same vein he may even make a convert of me. But for that he has to bring to fruition his lofty aims of internal democracy in the Congress and merit over everything else. 
Either way the journey of Rahul Gandhi is something to look forward to. Here's hoping he stays the course. God knows our country needs many more politicians who sing the same tune. On a personal note, the victory of Shashi Tharoor from Thiruvananthapuram is particularly gladdening. I've been a fan for a long time and his victory is a sign that all is not lost in Indian democracy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The King's men- In his image

IPL2, despite all the initial hiccups, has finally taken off and even though it may not be attracting as many eyeballs as the previous edition given the ongoing elections, the speed and efficiency with which the show has been put up is definitely worth commending.
The same however cannot be said of the performance put up so far by the Kolkota Knight Riders. Easily the most hyped team in the IPL and atleast on paper just as competitive as any other team on display, team KKR have displayed an amazing ability to lose the plot often from a position of certain victory as was evident in the match against the Rajasthan Royals. But the team has been plagued by controversy even before the a ball had been bowled. Coach Buchanan's 4 captain theory, the decision to strip Ganguly of his captaincy, Shahrukh's arrogant response to Sunil Gavaskar's sane counsel all added to the drama off the field. Unfortunately none of that has helped the team on the field. As a team KKR looks completely deflated and rudderless. Captain McCullum, going through a lean patch with the bat, has not been able to inspire the team. They look and play like they are just waiting to pack their bags and go home.
So what is it that plagues this team, that boasts the likes of Ganguly, Gayle, McCullum and Ishant Sharma in its roster?
To answer that we need look no further than team owner Shahrukh Khan. For a man who's based his entire career on a hyped up star appeal, and has promoted that "Badshah" image at the cost of any acting prowess he displayed at the early stages of his career, its only natural that his team is the best outfitted, most hyped and has the most high profile fan base regardless of whether they actually play well enough to merit all that hype. KKR is the only team with a partner news channel, the respected NDTV! An inspired move one would have thought, but the channel has now been reduced to dissecting everything that has gone wrong this season for its team. Even the Bangalore Royal Challengers, owned by megalomaniac Vijay Mallya, has focussed on the players in their TV ads. But for team KKR, Shahrukh is front and centre everywhere, be it in the ads, the team anthem or the press conferences. Even the front page of the website has only SRK. One begins to suspect that this entire enterprise is just another one of the man's never-ending attempts at self-promotion. A very costly one. But as SRK himself said, he has spent the money and he can chose to do with the team as he sees fit. But any cricket team that goes by the name of Kolkota has to have Sourav Ganguly at its heart.
By the end of this edition KKR will have provided some of the best entertainment the IPL2 had to offer; the funniest ads, the coolest tean anthem video and the very entertaining, juicy and mysterious fakeiplplayer blog. Sadly not much of this entertainment will come from performances on the field. Much like Shahrukh Khan, this is a team that is more hype than substance.

Starved for Choice

At a time when another hung parliament is very much in the offing and the need for the hour is for the two major parties to display their national credentials and appeal, both the Congress and the BJP have gone and shot themselves in the foot.
The fact is that, despite its completely sycophant culture and dynastic obsession, the Congress is still the most acceptable national party. But time and again it fails to behave like one. The decision by the Law Ministry to recommend to the CBI to withdraw the Red Corner Notice against Ottavio Quattrocchi is the latest in a series of calculated moves by successive Congress governments to bury the Bofors case once and for all. But the timing couldn't be worse. It has brought the Bofors scandal, which was a complete non-issue at the beginning of this election season, front and centre. Various Congress spokepersons have been running from televised debates to press briefings, crying themselves hoarse that this latest decision has nothing to do with the Congress party or Madam Sonia and that various non-Congress governments have also not been able to bring the Bofors case to any sort of conclusion. But the fact remains that every single step taken to free Mr Quattrocchi from the clutches of Indian law has been taken during Congress rule, be it the defreezing of his London accounts or his much delayed and bungled up appeal for extradition in Argentina. And given that Mr Quattrocchi's connection with India is based entirely on his ties with Sonia Gandhi, its obvious where the pressure on the CBI comes from, whatever Abhishek Singhvi may say.
The BJP claim to be the only viable alternative to the Congress with pan national appeal. But the recent directive by the Supreme Court to probe Narendra Modi's role in the Gujarat riots is a slap in the face of those nationalistic ambitions. As long as the BJP believes they can get away with their rabid Hindutva politics as symbolized by Mr Modi they will have absolutely no chance of ever coming to power on their own. Obviously there is a need and space for a right wing conservative party in India's political spectrum. But not for one that denies basic fundamental rights to a section of our citizenry based on their religion. And definitely not for one that seeks to promote as a future Prime ministerial candidate, a man who failed to provide law and order during the worst genocide in Indian history; however much he may have worked for development thereafter.
Thus both these parties, have by their actions, opened the doors for the most lumpen elements of Indian politics to have a shot at power at the Centre. And given the current global scenario and India's slow but steady rise to a position of eminence in international affairs, a Third or Fourth front government ruled by the likes of Ms Mayawati or Mr Laloo Prasad is the last thing India needs.

Friday, April 24, 2009

To hang or not to hang?

In all the media circus surrounding the elections one event not given its due was the farce of the Ajmal Amir Kasab's trial. Advocate Anjali Waghmare, assigned to the case after much drama and hoopla provided by the Shiv Sena, was replaced due to a conflict of interest. She hadn't informed the court about her role as counsel for one of the victim's of 26/11. Now none of the media coverage of this incident asked the most pertinent question, namely, how come a lawyer deemed by the Government to be competent enough to represent the accused of such a high profile case could display such ineptitude. The whole incident smelt of a cop out by Advocate Waghmare; a trick played on the general public to find an honourable way out. Instead of focussing on her incompetence, the media somehow seemed to be taking her view of situation as not just feasible but reasonable.

The truth of the matter is that Kasab needs to be tried as soon as possible and as fairly as possible. This trial is a test for our democracy and our society as a whole. A section of our leaders and society are saying the man was caught red-handed. Why do we need this long prolonged drama of a trial? We should simply hang him. But that would be a big mistake. India is a tinpot dictatorship. We are the world's largest democarcy and the only functioning one in our neighbourhood. There is enough evidence against Kasab; images of him firing away with that automatic gun are still fresh in the mind. But to deny him a fair and public trial, would put our judicial system and our society on the same barbaric level as Kasab and his ilk. It would be a rallying call for more misguided young men across the border.

But now Advocate Abbas Qazmi has been appointed as Kasab's new lawyer and already he has filed a petition claiming lack of jurisdiction because Kasab is underaged!! Ridiculous twaddle of course, but atleast he's being afforded competent legal representation, in our finest tradition. Let Advocate Qazmi bring it on; the prosecution must be ready with an air-tight case. Only then will justice prevail and only then will the victims and martyrs of 26/11 get closure. Our reputation as a democratic society is on the line and the world is watching.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Prime Minister who?

The past month has witnessed a curious new trend in Indian politics. The BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate L K Advani has challenged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to an American style televised Presidential debate. Obviously the Congress isn't biting. Their argument being of course that India's parliamentary style democracy has no place for presidential style theatrics and that the Government is run by a cabinet of ministers owing allegiance to the party in power and the Prime Minister is only the first among equals. Now coming from the Congress this is Hypocrisy with a capital H. Since Independence the party has tried to project its leader as the person with the greatest public stature and moral fibre. The Congress party today is simply a shell of the party it once was and requires the Gandhi surname at the helm to keep itself from imploding. Hence the large posters with Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Madam Sonia, little Rahul and for some odd reason Mahatma Gandhi. I'm guessing the party thinktank believes enough people might think the Mahatma is also related. Funnily the Congress persistently ignores the one Congress PM who did show some spine and had considerable political stature, the late P V Narasimha Rao. But then he doesnt count as a family loyalist. 
All of this leads to the question what role does the PM play in a parliamentary system? After much dillydallying the Congress has finally announced Manmohan Singh as its PM candidate. It is a curious situation to have a man who refuses to contest the Lok Sabha elections as your top guy. But atleast we know that if the Congress manages to return to power it'll be Dr Singh who'll jump around to the strings pulled by Madam Sonia. And for all his political shortcomings Mnamohan Singh is a world renowned expert in his field and a gentleman. The same is the case for the BJP. L K Advani is there for all to see, all 82 years of him, with the Ayodhya warts and all. But still a man of some principles, his stand in the Hawala scam being a case in point. 
The third front is where the real action is. Between Ms Mayawati, Ms Jayalalitha and even H D Deve Gowda there are way too many egotistic heavyweights vying for the top job. And this does not even take into consideration that other coterie of Lalu Prasad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan and Mulayam Singh Yadav. Between these names we have every single one of the worst traits in Indian politics. And the scary part is that, given the current scenario, they have a very real shot at the kursi. Of the lot Mayawati is being talked of as the prime contendor, not least because if things go her way, UP alone will ensure she has considerable bargaining clout. And the Left have already indicated that they dont have any issues with her Prime Ministerial aspirations. But I shudder to imagine an India where the prime aim of Government is to rename everything possible Dr Ambedkar this or that, and spend tax payers money on huge public parks housing statues of Dr Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and rather prematurely, Mayawati herself. The PM is the face we present to the outside world and the very idea of a summit level meeting with President Obama and Mayawati or her fellow aspirants in the Third Front induces waves of nausea. A billion people and is this the best we can find? 
The truth is this. For all the hype and hoopla about the power of democracy and the importance of voting, in India we vote for the party not for our choice. The names on the ballots are foisted upon us by the party apparatus. Maybe its time we change over to a Presidential system. Then out votes will really count.

Down and dirty.

Its still early days and this election season has thrown so much filth already. Beginning with Varun Gnadhi's vitriolic campaign speech to Lalu Prasad Yadav's reply to the same, its been a never ending spectacle of the depths our public discourse has plumbed to. All discussion so far has been about complete non-issues. No major political party has come out with a manifesto where issues of any significance has been dealt with. Instead we've had the BJP and Congress vying for top honours with regards to blatant populism. All thats left is for the third front to announce free rice for everyone below the poverty line.
But to begin at the beginning, whats sad about Varun Gandhi's speech is not that he said those things but that he said it. This is a young, articulate and educated man, one of the GenNext of Indian politics, with blood ties to Jawaharlal Nehru. For him to have said these things just shows how deplorable things have become. And the BJP did itself no favours among the voters, with the way the party tried to spin what is obviously a condemnable statement. Ofcourse, Varun Gandhi's immaturity has given every bit player in every other party to make hay while the sun shines. All manner of narrow minded, opportunistic politicians have jumped onto the bandwagon to protect the minority community from the communal saffron brigade as represented by Varun Gandhi. All this means that we will not have any meaningful debate in the near future about the definition of secularism or communalism as it is practised in our politics and by our Government. There would be no takers for the extreme right wing politics of the RSS/VHP if there had not been the kind of shallow appeasement and myopic vote bank politics displayed by the Congress vis a vis the Shah Bano case.
Meanwhile, the Congress has taken opportunism to new levels. Not only did they buy the rights to Rahman's Oscar winning song Jai ho (a legitimate election device some would argue), but they have also got the child stars from the slums campaigning for Madam Sonia after they were promised flats and other goodies. To complete this picture of complete chaos, we had the Samajwadi Party parade Sanjay Dutt as a possible candidate from Lucknow. Thankfuly the Supreme Court put that idea to rest. Now Sanjay Dutt is no hardened criminal and there are definitely far worse than him already in the corridors of power in our country. But for someone whose conviction is of such a high profile and for a crime associated with an event as terrible as the '93 Mumbai blasts, to become a legible candidate for the Lok Sabha will only open the doors for every underworls don with enough clout and money. Thankfully that has been averted for now.
But there a few silver linings in this dark cloud. The candidature of Shashi Tharoor from Trivandrum and Mallika Sarabhai from Ahmedabad along with many other upright individuals from society who are not stained by the muck that is Indian politics today is something to cheer about. More power to them and others like them. 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Election fever!!

Its election time once again. Although in India, thanks to the various political shenanigans and sheer number of states, we are always in election mode. In the last five years some state or other has always seen some election or other at some level of our political system. But this is the big one; the Lok Sabha elections. That time when the world’s largest democracy gets its act together to put on a show for the rest of the world. The numbers involved in India’s tryst with destiny are truly mind boggling and the Election Commission must be congratulated for putting it all together in a relatively smooth and incident free manner especially when one considers the logistics. A recent report suggested that these elections will be even more expensive than the US presidential elections! But then the bulk of the cost there involved 3 individuals unlike in our electoral circus.

But cost and size aren’t the only comparisons that arise with the US elections. Having followed Barack Obama’s route to the White House closely its extremely disappointing to note that we don’t have a single politician of a similar calibre on our candidate lists. We don’t have anyone who can inspire and who talks about a message of change. But that has to do partly with our system of Government. Having decided to follow in British footsteps we have a Parliamentary system where the Party governs not the People’s representative. Whether or not India is better served by a Presidential style of Government is a whole other debate. But for now we’ll just see whats on the menu this time around for the voter.  

The Congress party seeks to head the UPA back to power based on the track record of the Government. The UPA itself was cobbled together under the pretence of keeping “communal” forces out and they sought to govern on the basis of a Common Minimum Programme. Now if the blueprint for your Government has the word Minimum in it, I’m not sure there’ll be all that much to crow about. The one thing that Manmohan Singh’s government did achieve was the nuclear deal with the US but the Congress isn't saying whether Madam Sonia will let him return as PM.

The BJP now leading a constantly depleting NDA will be hoping to continue the momentum of several state level victories to the Lok Sabha. In L K Advani they have an able but aging leader now trying to reinvent himself as a moderate. But the problem with the BJP is that they just don’t get it. Hindutva does not resonate with the voters anymore and they should simply focus on the issues of the day.

The last few days has witnessed the rebirth of that pitiable entity called the Third Front. This is an idea that has been doing the rounds since the 90s and its member list includes every single party that has been aligned with either the Congress or the BJP. This time around what is definite is that the Leftist parties will not have the clout they had in the last Lok Sabha. So what remains to be seen is how the others will fare and how much they will eat into the vote bases of the leading 2 combinations.

So as usual its not an altogether exciting fare. The Congress has ruled India for close to 50yrs and has nothing much really to show for that kind of faith. The BJP were voted in as the party with a difference and have shown themselves to be just as inept. The Third Front doesn’t even deserve to figure in these elections as they are the most opportunistic scumbags of the lot. So whats left? The Election Commission recently made it clear that the voter can chose to vote “none of the above” and have it recorded. All things considered that may just be our best bet. Cast a vote for a better political culture and a better class of leaders.

Monday, February 23, 2009

And the award goes to.... Abhishek Singhvi and the Congress party!!!

First of all congratulations to the cast and crew of Slumdog Millonaire. Since I've not seen any of the other four nominees for best film it would be premature to say that this was indeed a deserving win. Definitely Slumdog doesn't measure up to the standards of a Silence of the Lambs or Life is Beautiful. But it had a freshness about it that was appealing. However, the victory has set off wild celebrations in India from all walks of society. Which is kind of surprising considering the reception given to the movie prior to the Oscar win. Anyway all manners of jingoistic hypernationalism is on display now and if some of the congratulatory messages are to be believed then every Thomas, Sadiq and Hari seems to either have predicted that these men would one day achieve greatness or in some crazily indirect way claimed to have contributed to this achievement. As usual the politicians take the cake, coming out with the most ridiculously opportunistic statement I have read/heard ever in all my years of following the news and current events.
This from Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, and I quote "We are proud that in the conducive environment of good governance by the United Progressive Alliance with special emphasis on inclusiveness, we have been an achieving India." This was part of his statement congratulating the cast and winners of Slumdog Millionaire. This has to be the most outrageously shameless attempt to bask in someone else's glory, ever. What has the UPA government done that could contribute to Slumdog's victory? I can only think of one thing. This government has done absolutely nothing to relieve the common man's poverty and misery and has thus perpetuated the slums in Mumbai maybe even contributed to its expansion. Besides how does a victory for Slumdog become an example of an achieving India? It is after all a Hollywood production and the fulfilment of director Danny Boyle's vision.
Yes, more Indians have managed to get on the winners' list on Sunday, than in all the previous years put together. And our Hindustani hearts beat with furious pride in the light of our fellow countrymen's achievement. But make no mistake about it; this is their achievement and theirs alone. Neither society nor government has played any part in it. So while we savor their moment of glory, let's also remember that this is after all an award... for a movie. Nothing more.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire ki Jai!!!

Slumdog Millionaire continues its relentless march to Oscar glory. After astounding critics and experts at the Golden Globes and sweeping the BAFTAs, after a long time we now have true Indian representation in the Oscar nominees list. This fact alone makes the 81st Annual Academy Awards due to be presented next week more highly anticipated than it usually is. But for a movie that has so thrilled the West, India’s response to Slumdog has been lukewarm to say the least. Is it because we cannot recognise good cinema even if it is right under our noses? Our previous entries for best foreign language film at the Oscars would definitely suggest it is so (Jeans or Hey Ram anyone?). Or are any of the many arguments against the movie valid?

The arguments against the movie are many. It exploits Indian poverty. It portrays India in a bad light and makes too much of our corruption and or communalism. It exploited the child actors and didn’t pay them enough. Or in the words of India’s highest paid director (and also its biggest plagiarist) Priyadarshan, it’s just a terrible movie. At least in Priyadarshan’s case he seems to be ranting against the quality of the movie. But are the other arguments even worth mentioning? It is a truth that we ignore at our constant peril that India has Asia’s largest slums smack in the centre of Mumbai. And that obscene opulence coexists with heart-wrenching poverty all over India. It is also true that we rank among the most corrupt nations in the world with one of the lowest regard for basic human rights. And it’s also true that India has been witness to more communal violence than any other practising democracy. So when we are voicing our opposition/dislike for this movie in these terms we aren’t really saying it’s not all true. We are just saying it’s unacceptable to our sensitivities to have it all portrayed on screen and that too so successfully. It’s really a ridiculous argument to make against any movie but especially against this movie. If anything director Danny Boyle has brought out the sheer joy and hopefulness of the people who live in the slums of Dharavi. It’s a brilliantly shot movie and even the much discussed shit scene is at once revolting and hilarious. But at the end of the day that’s all this is. A movie. It adds nothing to or takes away nothing from the marvel that is India.

So that’s how it must be judged. Slumdog Millionaire is a rollercoaster ride and it’s easy to see why the Western audience would take a liking to it. It’s like nothing seen before in Hollywood. The opening sequence alone sets the pace for the rest of the movie. There’s really no need to go into plot and cast details. Half the world has seen this movie by now. But for what it’s worth here’s my 2cents. It’s beautifully shot, perfectly casted and adequately scripted. The music’s great but this is definitely not Rahman’s best work. But the movie has its flaws. My biggest grouse is how Simon Beaufoy has deviated from Vikas Swarup’s original novel; starting with the protagonist’s name. In the original it is Ram Mohammad Thomas which is sort of a testament to the secular nature of poverty; this has been changed to Jamal Malik in the movie and in my mind that opens the gates for somewhat justified criticism. The child actors switch from street lingo in Hindi to perfect convent school English with way too much ease. And Dev Patel could have been instructed to curb his British accent. Regardless of how much time one spends listening to it, it is kind of difficult to accept that a chaiwala at a call centre can pick up the Queen’s English. Anil Kapoor’s character is not as well-defined as it is in the novel and that sort of hurts the climax of the movie as well. But overall it’s worth the time and full paisa vasool. And at the end of the day that’s all that should be expected of a movie.

So this 22nd I will be cheering for Slumdog and hoping that the musical genius of Rahman will be rewarded with a statuette. What could be a bigger validation of our style of movie making? And that would be something that should cause all of us to shout out, “Jai ho”.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Come on Federer!!

Rafael Nadal is now the new Australian Open champion, the first man since the legendary Andre Agassi to win Grand Slams on 3 different surfaces and, it seems, the undisputed number 1. His 5-set victory was typical of his style of play; unrelenting and brutal. That it came after an even more exhausting and thrilling semi-final victory, only shows how strong Nadal is, both physically and mentally. But what of his opponent? Roger Federer was on the cusp of history at the start of Sunday’s final. He would’ve equalled Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles had he won. But in the end the Spaniard prevailed, and convincingly so. So is Federer now on a downslide? Can he be written off in the face of a bullish Nadal?

Nadal’s game has all the brute force of a bazooka. He can outrun and outhit just about anybody on a tennis court. And he never ever gives up. His current number1 ranking is a testament to his impressive run last year. But he still has some way to go before he can be compared to the Swiss maestro. Federer on song is a delight to watch. His game is nothing less than poetry in motion. The grace of his backhand, the accuracy of his forehand, the effortlessness of his court coverage all of this and more has been eulogized many times. But the man’s greatness lies in his remarkable consistency. He has spent a record 237 weeks as world no.1 and has every appeared in at least a semi-final or more in a Grand Slam tournament for the last 19 attempts dating back to Wimbledon 2003, winning 11 of those. Even in 2008, the year most critics say he had his biggest slump in form; Roger reached the semis at Australia, the finals at Wimbledon and Rolland Garros and won the US Open. Simply put, he is a victim of his own high standards of excellence. Having already earned more than any other player ever to pick up a tennis racket, and having won almost everything in sight(the glaring omission of course being the French), Roger really has nothing more to prove to anybody. He is chasing history and will sooner or later etch his name firmly as ‘the greatest player ever.’ This I truly believe. But for this he has to first win the French Open. And the fact that he has an opponent of Nadal’s calibre breathing down his neck only makes his victories that much more valuable. And what better time than this year? A victory in Paris will be his record equalling 14th grand slam, will avenge his last 3 final losses there and will cement his place as the greatest ever tennis player, having won all 4 Grand Slams. The loss at the Australian Open may have been draining, both emotionally and physically, but the Swiss genius will recover and will bounce back. All the while the Matador from Mallorca waits, for he also knows it is only a matter of time before even he loses on the clay courts that he has made his backyard. If you are not yet a tennis fan, this is the best time to tune in. It doesn’t get any better than this. Allez Roger!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Moral police?!

Terrorist attacks all over the country, a looming economic recession, corporate scams, corruption at all levels of government plus the usual poverty, illiteracy and disease. All of these mammoth problems and yet the “patriotic nationalists” of the Bajrang Dal and the Sri Rama Sene decided our most pressing problem was a bunch of young women having a drink or two in a pub. The recent attacks in a pub in Mangalore are particularly hard to digest, because having spent a considerable part of my formative years there; I do not remember ever having to deal with anything similar during my time there.

There are so many things wrong with this horrendous attack. The so called protectors of Indian culture didn’t just attempt to close down the place, but hit at, abused and molested a bunch of young women. From all accounts, it seems, these hooligans could have been beaten down by the sheer number of people present there at the time, but who only stood by watching, all except one man. And to top it all the state BJP government’s response to this incident has been nowhere near as condemning, hard and immediate as it should have been.

These attempts to impose on society one particular set of moral/cultural values are not new to us. Every year around February we hear of various nationalist/ Hindutva groups denouncing the degrading of Indian culture and threatening possible Valentine’s Day revellers with loss of limb and more if they attempt to celebrate. In a nation as diverse as ours who are these people to decide what constitutes Indian culture? Why does society let them get away with these acts of vandalism when they shouldn’t even be allowed to give out these threats? Why do we have politicians of various hues from the Congress’ Ashok Gehlot to BJP’s Yeddyurappa mouth off on what we should and should not be doing in our private lives without any fear of public reprisal? The truth is that if society stays silent in the face of these kinds of attacks, then it only emboldens these hooligans to carry out more attacks. It is time we stood up and declared that this sort of moral policing will not be accepted anymore. It is time we declared that ours is the land of the Kamasutra and a few young couples choosing to celebrate Valentine’s Day does not in anyway threaten our national/moral fabric. It is time Hindus all over this country shouted down the so called Ram bhakts and declared that the Lord Ram we worship respected women and would never raise His hand against them. It is time we firmly asked government or anyone else who nurtures moral policing ambitions to stay out of our private lives and that what we do within the confines of our homes and within the limits of the law should strictly stay there. It is time we reclaim our right to live as we choose, with whomever we want and how we want to. It is time to impose our own brand of moral policing. 

Friday, January 23, 2009

Change, but can we believe?

Every generation has at least one epochal event in their lifetimes when they remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when it occurred. Ours seems to have more than its fair share and most of them not positive ones. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the destruction of Babri Masjid or the events of 9/11 are just a few. But on the 20th of January 2009, the inauguration and swearing in of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the USA was an event to stand back and savour.

As an Indian who has never had to face racial discrimination of any sort it’s hard to imagine the thoughts or feelings of the millions of African-Americans for whom the colour of their skin decided where they studied, or what they did for a living and at what wages, or where they lived. In a nation where up until 1965 black people could not vote, it must be a truly remarkable and inspiring feeling to watch a black man lead his successful black wife and kids into the White House. But Obama’s presidency also marks the end of the Bush years. How America managed to send George W Bush, not once but twice, to the hot seat will forever remain an enigma and an embarrassing one at that. So it is with relief, hope and a tremendous amount of global goodwill that President Obama begins his term.

Barack Obama has had a meteoric rise from small-time state level politics to the most powerful job in the world in the span of 5years. In that time he has been put under the scanner and given the media spotlight like no other politician before him. He has been honest, in a spectacularly articulate manner, about his origins, his influences and his political ideologies. He is probably the first President to be elected after admitting drug use in college. With a white Texan mother, a black Kenyan father, a part Indonesian step-sister and brought up in Hawaii by his white grandparents he truly brings a touch of the exotic to the White House. But make no mistake about it; Obama is where he is today not because his is a compelling story, which it is, but because he is a very smart politician.

His message of change and hope resonated with American voters, during a time of crisis the likes of which has not been seen in the last two generations. And that, along with his electrifying oratory, rock star appeal and a brilliantly run campaign has brought him where no other African American has gone before. But at the end of his term if that is all President Obama will be remembered for, it would be a massive disappointment. He has been accused often enough of empty rhetoric and inexperience. He has also, with some justification, been accused of being vague on the details. But the time has now come to walk the talk. Most commentators agree he will be given an extended honeymoon and that his initial efforts will be directed towards the ailing American economy. And that is but expected. But he would do well to remember that in the run up to the November elections, polls showed him ahead of McCain almost worldwide. That is a testimony not only to American influence on global issues, but also to the weight of expectations his candidacy has aroused. He has already brought to fruition the first of his campaign slogans; “Yes We Can.” The world waits for him to realize the second; “Change we can believe in.”

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Selfish Indian

It is both depressing and ironic that a company named “Satyam” is involved in the biggest corporate scam of recent times in India.  The shocking revelations by former chairman B Ramalinga Raju added significantly to corporate India’s gloom this new year. Thankfully, Mr Raju may be forced to face the consequences of his actions although he seems to be resorting to the usual tricks such as suddenly developing severe medical complaints to avoid time in jail. But hopefully the law will take its course this time. But the powers that be are asking if that will be enough? Whether making an example of Mr Raju will repair the dent in corporate India’s shining image? But shouldn’t the question be why something like this should happen in the first place? Why would the senior management of one of India’s biggest financial success stories resort to fraud? Or even bigger questions like, was this whole scandal inevitable considering our Indian nature?

A book I read recently, Games Indians Play by V. Raghunathan, uses game theory and behavioural economics to understand the reasons behind the way we do things. It raises some interesting observations. Occurrences and behaviours that we consider part of modern Indian society, when put under a scanner, should really shame us. For example, our complete lack of public hygiene, the impunity with which we cross red lights at traffic signals, our complete disregard for corruption at all levels in our society. Mr Raghunathan in this delightful book suggests that the problem lies in our inherently selfish nature. His theory is that most Indians use their famed intelligence to assess any situation to see how it can be beneficial to them. Now this by itself is not a problem, the problem arises when it is associated with a complete disregard for the rule of the law. The author in his book says most Indians have a low degree for self regulation and will take the easy less painful solution to any problem. Thus urinating in public or littering is simply done because we can and we know that everyone else does it with no real personal consequence. We totally disregard how this behaviour affects society at large. Similarly cutting a red light is alright because we know that cop most likely will not be on duty, or even if he is will not be bothered enough to catch and fine us, or even if he does apprehend us will accept a bribe lower than whatever fine we would be required to pay. So its a win-win situation over all. Here both the cop and the person cutting the red light are behaving selfishly and ignoring with impunity their larger responsibility to society.

While we may disagree with the basic premise of the book that most Indians are inherently selfish, it is hard to ignore the fact that all of these behaviours are part of our daily lives. In some way or other all of us have at one time or other done some of these things, thinking that its not our individual responsibility when no one else seems to bother.  Surely some of these problems will be controlled if only we had effective implementation of the law. But that is again passing the buck. If on the other hand each one of us decided we will follow the law, in letter and spirit, or that we will not litter, or display better traffic etiquette, imagine how much of a difference it would make almost immediately to society.

Most nationalities are associated with a derogatory adjective; the prudish Brit, the snobbish Frenchman, the arrogant/ignorant American. Generally for us it has been the sly Indian which all things considered isn’t so bad. It would be infinitely worse if that became the selfish Indian.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


So we're four days into another new year and the effects of all that revelry is just about wearing off. Now granted that the first few hours of a new year hardly constitute a time for profound introspection (or introspection of any sort for that matter), but there's something about the idea of yet another year being seen off that brings about just that kind of unwelcome thought bubbling to one's mind. Anyway there I was, in the wee hours of the new year wondering what this signifies for me and for all of us in general. Not the best way to start the new year.
At the end of every year we gear up for a round of partying to signal the end of one year and to ring in the new year. But what's the point of all this partying. What is it that we are celebrating? At the end of all it most of us just have to drag our sorry selves to work the next day where nothing really has changed. We are still doing the same things we were doing last year, still surrounded by the same irritating people we try and avoid getting into conversations with, still bundled with the same same amount of obligations, financial or otherwise, and thats assuming we didn't end up doing anything really silly the previous night. So whats there to be really happy about? Whats there to look forward to? Now, on the other hand, if we were given a clean slate where all our cumulative mistakes, debt and skeletons in closets were wiped out at the end of the year, then there would be reason to celebrate and be hopeful. Since thats not going happen we really have very few choices to make any new year happier than the previous one. Resolutions to achieve specific goals have a tendency to fizzle out before the first month is over. We are too involved in our lives to spare the time to lose those extra pounds, or read that new book or go on that vacation. Just as we were last year. 
But what we can hope to change is how we interact with our neighbour, how we view our position in our family and our society, how we assess our self worth. Too much effort in our daily life is spent on just getting through the day. We could all do with a lot more patience and equanimity. We always end up wanting more in our lives, most of it material. The best things in life, however, we cant measure. 
Now if all of this sounds like I'm still hungover, that could just be true. But come this new year, I'm just aiming to be happier, in every way possible. And thats the wish I want to send out to the world. HAPPY NEW YEAR.