Thursday, December 9, 2010

49. In the eyes of the beholder

What is common between Sophia Loren, Cindy Crawford and Lakshmi Menon (right)? The dusky beauty has made us proud by joining her hollywood counterparts in stripping for the 2011 Piraelli calendar. Known more for its calendar (since 1964) than the tyres the company has been manufacturing (since 1872), Piraelli has engaged some of the finest glamour photographers for capturing `female body' as a work of art.

The bold and the beautiful have seemingly arrived. Down to her birthday suit for the calendar shoot, the dusky beauty poses a compelling question: isn't nudity a matter of perception? It indeed is! Else, another beauty caught recently without a panty would not have been `cool' about it. Being nude is more than without being with the piece of cloth over vital body parts! Innocent nudes like Lakshmi pose no threat, it's the fully draped individuals caught nude in the public that are a potential hazard!

Having exposed themselves to full glare in public, Raja, Raju, Kalmadi, Koda, Telgi, Ketan, Chavan, Natwar, Vir, Sukhram and Laalu make a strong case for an Indian edition of the celebrated calendar*. However, there is no need for the likes of Terry Richardson or Karl Lagerfeld to shoot these gentlemen with their pants down! Just their pictures on the calendar leaves will make the public see through them, naked to the last tissue.

(*the eleven gentlemen make a full calendar, however, the next edition will feature eleven ladies of the likes of Dutt and Yadav. )

Thursday, November 4, 2010

48. No such thing as a free ride

Memories of hitchhiking date back to the early 90’s, when making friends with strangers was an act of amusing experience. John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath opens with a hitched ride and Aamir Khan gets thumbs down for attempting a hitch in Mahesh Bhatt’s Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin: both reminders of a historical common practice worldwide.

Thumbing as a means of hitching a ride has been on the decline ever since, Automobile growth, economic upswing and safety concerns may have contributed to this decline. Who would risk hitching a free ride when mutual trust is such a scarce commodity?

Mutual trust is scarce because shared values are missing; shared values are missing because mutuality has disappeared; mutuality has disappeared because economic inequality has been enforced; and income inequality has been enforced because capitalist model of economic growth has been embraced.

When income differences are bigger, social distances are bigger. When social distances are bigger, exalted egos are bigger. As the notion of `no such thing as a free ride’ gains widespread credence, gestures like hitchhiking become `smaller' and begin to disappear unnoticed.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

47. Etiquette. My foot!

Tough to spell during the language class at school, etiquette remains tough to emulate in real life too. Sample it at a metro station or a passport office, long queue breaks down as soon as the doors get flung open. Stretch yourself a bit to see the commotion at the nearby grocery shop, at a parent-teacher meeting in a school or even on the road. Whatever be the location, to most Indians etiquette remains as French as its origin.

Whether it is insecurity of being left out or impatience for lagging behind, the notion of etiquette is consistently disparaged. Do Indians consider etiquette to be an unnecessary restriction of freedom of personal expression or do they consider it a philosophy to be espoused only by the children? Without fail, lessons in etiquette get forced down upon children by all parents while they themselves hold the right to vilify it.

If you thought the economic boom will turn things around then you may be grossly mistaken. Etiquette has indeed taken a serious beating on the growth curve: enforcing civic sense at public places has become even more daunting. Compare it with the extraordinary display of etiquette by 33 brave men who were trapped inside the mines in Chile for nearly three months recently. When the day of their evacuation came, each one volunteered to be the last to be pulled out.

If the unfortunate incident were to happen in India, a near stampede could not have been ruled out! Elsewhere in the developed world, good manners followed economic growth and not otherwise.

Monday, October 11, 2010

46. Reduced to a number

One's birth is number and so is one's departure; innerwear has a number and so has outerwear; neither is a shoe without a number nor is a sandal; phone without number doesn't ring and neither does a mobile; success counts on number as failure rues lack of it; date is a number and so is a year.

For legendary Dev Anand age is just a number and for svelte Sobha De a senior citizen status a numerical call for celebration. But could there be life without numbers?

What if life gets a number - a twelve-digit Unique Identification Number (UID)* - aimed to promote inclusive growth by plugging leakages in public distribution of resources? None of what any number could be - rational or irrational, real or complex, surreal or hyperreal, and imaginary or perfect, UID is an attempt to digitise every citizen even if at the cost of an assault on personal freedom.

What if USA, UK, Australia, China and Germany have given up on such number for it being intrusive and bullying, ineffective and expensive? What if Hitler used an identity (yellow star) to exterminate jews? What if a numbered identity proves an assault on individual freedom in the world's largest democracy?

Dreadful history of `enforcing identity' is being made to repeat itself!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

45. Picture perfect

Not sure what the photographer is clicking and doubly unsure what the women (presumably) would finally do with the picture! Photographer Duane Michals has interesting take on such pictures. Saye he, `It takes no great powers or magic to reproduce somebody's face in a photograph. The magic lies in doing without'. Wow!

A picture, we are told, is worth thousand words. This one could be worth a million or even more....depends who is looking at it! Socio-psychologists argue that most things in life are moments of pleasure and a lifetime of embarrassment. For the photographer, this picture may be a moment of personal embarrassment but a lifetime of pleasure for everybody else. Isn't it?

Picture often offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution. Such images remains itched in one's mind for long, seeking diverse interpretations with changing times. But photographers could be a funny bunch of people, certain of their habits die hard or never die! While clicking picture of a dead person one such photographer had quipped: smile

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

44. Weapon of mass attraction

What is common between George Bush, Wen Jiabao and Asif Zardari? It is universally known that each one has led his country's government - US, China and Pakistan respectively. Interestingly, the commonality between these global guys is shared by our local boys too - P Chidambaram, Omar Abdullah and Bhupinder Hooda? Yes, each of these high profile politicians have been at the receiving end of a piece of `seasoned leather'!

Latest to join the `great shoe league' is Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the Chief Minister of Haryana, who must have been thanking Shakti Singh for doing an incredible favour to him. Had Shakti not thrown shoe at him on Aug 19 at a public meeting, Hooda's popularity may have remained confined to the state only? Now, it has crossed borders and will remain in popular imagination (and the picture with the show) much after he ceases to be a political figure.

Throwing shoe at someone is considered an insult, and more recently `a weapon of mass attraction'. No wonder, in recent times it has emerged as a non-violent expression of frustration, that seeks public accountability in a democratic system. Much to the comfort of those who were aimed at, each of the shoe hurled thusfar has missed its target. Interestingly, shoe-hurling has remained a male bastion till now.

Should women like to give it a try, sandals would add colourful gender dimension to the art of shoe-hurling. Researchers argue that sandals offer better aerodynamics for the purpose than bulky shoes. Any takers!

(Reader Ritwick Dutta informs: Former judge of India's Supreme Court, Arijit Pasayat, who was responsible for granting approval to controversial bauxite plant of Vedanta in 2008, was at the receiving end of a sandal. The sandals hurled at the judge by women litigants did miss the target but `sandals' are known to make a distinction between a `judge' and a `politician'. Ha!)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

43. Take it from a halwai

Carrying a roll of colorful charts, a frail looking gentleman had walked uninvited to the workshop we were conducting for budding environment journalists. The charts had plans of an alternate future where everyone would live 30 feet above ground, perched atop buildings resting on mighty pillars.The land beneath will stay clear for urban agriculture and for myriad other human activities.

The sun would shine uninterrupted and the air will flow freely; neither will earthquakes shatter homes nor will floods play havoc with properties. Producing a series of charts, the gentleman had meticulously argued the virtues of an elevated living, That he was cause for flutter didn't bother him a bit! It was later learnt that the presenter, Nand Lal Gupta, was a halwai (one who makes sweets) by profession who owned Gokul Misthan in Arera Colony, Bhopal.

Gupta had made this proposition in mid-1990's, when the idea of elevated road was uncommon and metro rail on pillars wasn't part of popular imagination. That `life atop pillars' would be a reality could not have been imagined then! Now that urban expansion has altered the drainage pattern in most towns and cities (few millimetres of rain can submerge the entire city) the virtue of living 30 feet above ground doesn't seem utopian.

My only regret till date is that Gupta could have treated us with jalebi for our patient hearing to his futuristic proposal!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

42. Lets watch the real game

Hadn't heard of toilet paper worth 4,000 bucks a roll till the other day! I wonder if there could be a `bottom' as valuable, that would warrant the priciest butt-cleaning paper for its mopping? Kalmadi deserves accolades for taking the unchartered toilet route to convert `commonwealth' into `private wealth'. It has turned out to be the finest reality show in town, each episode turning out to be more intriguing. And, Kalmadi
isn't done yet!

If you are one of those who are cursing Kalmadi and his cronies in
drawing room conversations, then you are surely doing a great
disservice to mankind. Ours is a veggie country, heads don't roll here
only whistleblowers get eliminated (with impunity). It is a scam era,
stupid! Entertain yourself as Lalu's, Koda's and Kalmadi's hit the
headlines one day and slip out of our collective conscience the next
day.

Don't be surprised if Kalmadi gets 20 kicks on his butt after the culmination of the 19th edition of the Commonwealth Games - only to move up the political ladder! Didn't Peter say that in corrupt democracies the corrupt move up the ladder in accordance with their corruption quotient. Watch the real game as it unfolds in the days ahead!

Friday, July 16, 2010

41. Know it by any other name

No sooner had I made my selection from a severely restricted veg menu, the waiter at the restaurant in Kensington, London surprised me by quizzing: `still' or `sparkle'? Back home, it now translates into `tap' or `bottled'. Unless one is in a glitzy hotel where a much expensive water menu is on offer, seeking customer's preference for water has become an accepted norm across all kinds of street restaurants and roadside dhabas. And, no one seems to be complaining!

Market economy that thrives on rapid turnover of product diversity have had its impact on consumers' choice for `water' too. Asking `drinking water' is passé, as branded variants of packaged water with varied degrees of quality assurance have filled supermarket shelves. From ordinary to premium and from aerated to flavoured, drinking water has built its own range of products wherein brand draws more value than its contents.

Like ambidextrous master archer Arjuna (pic), who was known by several names, water too has attained an equally evolving nomenclature viz., drinking water, bottled water, aerated water, river water, irrigation water, flood water, polluted water, grey water, brown water, green water, sea water, revenue water and transboundary water. Does each variant not create a distinct liquid relation based on its (water) fast-changing biological and physical attributes?

The elixir of life is facing a crises of `identity', though. Each new name only degenerates its cosmic existence, hinting at the severity of the impending crises.`Blue' has long ceased to be its true colour (though it survives on screensavers)! Instead, it picks on new attributes as it flows. The latest and perhaps the most disturbing name it has acquired in development parlance is sick water, pointing towards a dreadful future!

Friday, June 18, 2010

40. Gotta have it in you to kick the ball

Would India have played the first post-war soccer world cup in 1950 had it been permitted to play barefoot will remain a historical conjecture? That it never matched the power and prowess of the south americans, europeans and east asian countries even when it had acquired resources to equip the players with sports wardrobe is no less enigmatic! Isn't our colonial past playing too heavily on our choice to pick cricket as our national game?

Interestingly, Mahatma Gandhi had chosen football over cricket. Unlike our present-day politicians, Gandhi promoted football clubs in Jo'berg and Pretoria and used the game to promote his political philosophy of non-violent resistance for social upliftment. Unlike cricket that promotes divisive agenda and lifts an elite class, Gandhi used football games as popular venues for political rallies to converse with players and fans.

As it reflects glib, glamour and glitter, cricket finds favour with politicians of all hues as it confirms to their ideological dubiousness. With little regard for the poor and every effort towards enhancing inequality, promoting poor man's game of football doesn't interest the politicians. Since it promotes collective action and brings the best out of people, politicians dread promoting the ball game. Someone had rightly commented `one needs to have balls to kick the ball'. Anybody listening!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

39. The chuddy charm

The colourful undergarment that took the Shri Ram Sena by surprise did a world of good for the chuddies though. Much before Pramod Muthalik, the controversial chief of the fundamentalist sena, brought the ubiquotous piece of clothing into national limelight, Prince Charles had toasted the entry of the word chuddies into the English lexicon during a public dinner at the Windsor Castle in 2007. There is an increase in the number of Hindi words that get into the lexicon whenever a new edition of an English dictionary is released.

You know about `jungle' and `verandah' for sure, and may have heard of `jai ho' getting into the dictionary too. Does it not speak volumes about the English language that accepts words from other languages and cultures with ease? The pace at which colloquial words are gaining acceptance may help sala, an abusive expression which also means brother-in-law, sneak into the dictionary. Given the fact that sala, wife's brother, is held in high esteem by none other than the sister's husband should be reason enough for it to gain an entry. And why not?

Are we not heading for the day when the English dictionary will get colonised by the Hindi words? If that were to happen, many distorted words should feature extensively in the lexicon too. Amongst them, riks should be worth the risk. And how about going to nukhlow and not Lucknow, the capital city of Uttar Pradesh.

Like many of you, I hope I'm not dreaming!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

38. The controversial credentials

For skeptical-optimist environmentalist like me, Jairam Ramesh has been a refreshing cup of green tea. Like the Tata Tea creative commercial Jaago Re (meaning wake up), each of the environment minister's unscripted outbursts and spontaneous decisions have been no less than a wake up call. Occupying incredible column inches in the newspapers and using precious airtime on television, Jairam's business-like exuberance has kept the growth-obsessed development nexus guessing.

Cut out for this indomitable task, Jairam seems a politician-in-a-hurry who is spinning green dreams without unduly worrying about their political fallout. Unilke the oily politico who gets rattled (see picture) by the youngman's calm query about his credentials in the commercial, Jairam doesn't seem to have any misgivings about his credentials though. His impeccable credential lie in him being overtly controversial.

At this time when all other ministeries are working at cross purpose with the environment ministry, Jairam's determination to remain controversial has helped him stand tall and deliver. As he prods his way through the muddled politics of our times, Jairam footmarks are sure to leave a legacy that will force future incumbents to carry the unique credential of being controversial to be considered for this position.

Without doubt it is clear that from now on anyone who isn't controversial will make himself look awkward as an environment minister. However, this may not apply to any other political position. Do I need to tell you why?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

37. Curiosity killed the cat

Curiously, no one knows what to do with the number 1411 that has been flashed all across. Presumably, it is about engaging the consuming class in protecting the big cat. Quite tough to imagine if the consuming class protects anything but it's `self-interest'! Isn't the National Tiger Conservation Authority, set up with much fanfare some years ago, supposed to do just that? One would think so but reports indicate otherwise! Ever since the authority came into being one of the tiger reserves in the country, Panna, has been emptied of the big cats.

The picture outside the tiger reserves can be even more daunting. Far from winning accolades, the man who had actually spotted the tiger for the first time in the forests of Goa was reprimanded for his persistance of having actually seen a `big cat'. Till the tiger was alive, the concerned forest department did everything possible to prove that that was not a tiger. But no sooner was it authoritatively confirmed that the dead remains of the poached animal were that of a tiger, all hell broke lose on our innocent campaigner who was declared a poacher instead. It was indeed a lifetime of an experience for `our hero' to escape from the clutches of the paper tigers.

But why would the forest officials not rejoice at sighting a tiger? Had it been officially accepted that that indeed was a tiger, the entire area would have come under a tiger reserve and the multi-million dollar mining industry in Goa would have come to a standstill. In one of his recent interviews, the Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has said in no less terms that `links between forest department and mining lobbies cannot be denied'.

Now I know that `until the tiger has his own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story'.

Friday, April 30, 2010

36. The hands of god

Did you notice that piao, the conspicuous little window along the street that used to fill your stretched palm with water, has slowly disappeared from our lives! One could rarely see the person behind the window but the proverbial hands of god would consistently pour the elixir of life. More often than not it would be a woman, silently upholding a rich tradition of serving water to the passers by. At other places, a piao would mean few clay pots filled with water lying under a shady tree alongwith a tumbler for self-service.

Not any more, as societal response to fulfilling individual human needs has few takers. As municipalities restrict the supply of `non-revenue water', a class of water that doesn't generate income, the piao cannot sustain its services. Ironically, such an essential service is clubbed under acts of pilferage - be it through theft or metering inaccuracies - that the municipalities are wanting to curb. No wonder, even community taps have been abandoned at several locations.

Isn't the state's failure to distribute water equitably been the cause for the so-called water thefts? Far from addressing the root cause, the move has been to convert all available resource into `revenue water'. Each drop will have to be paid for, the municipalities want to generate revenue from the estimated 40 per cent `lost' water. Many railway stations stop water supplies minutes before the crowded trains arrive!

Mark my words, the next war will be over restricted supply of `non-revenue water' - an unwritten human right. Amen!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

35. Your sickness makes doctor healthy

Did you hear what Dr P Venugopal, the illustrious heart surgeon, had to say about the business of `modern medicine'? Says he, `medical thrillers' wildest plots of ruthless profiteering are now common practice'. Shockingly, corporate hospitals do give doctors monthly targets for the number of stent procedures and scans. Such targets extend to other disciplines of medicine too, with the ever eager doctors ready to bring unsuspecting patients under scissor and scalpel.

Hasn't sickness become doctor's interest? The more people fall sick, the more the doctor/hospital stand to gain! Curiously, doctor's interest becomes not health but sickness. If everybody remains healthy, then the doctor will be the only one who will be sick. The mushrooming growth of private super-speciality hospitals is indeed a trap that the vulnerable fall into. One pays to remain sick!

A paradigm shift alone can keep the masses healthy. In China a revolutionary step was taken two thousand years ago. Under then new system the doctor had to be paid by the patient as long as the patient remained healthy. If the patient fell sick, then the doctor was not to be paid. Isn't it strange because we pay the doctor when we are sick. This is dangerous, because the system then makes the doctor dependent on our sickness.

And the difference lies in how `health' is perceived: in the West it is called `medicine', which relates to sickness whereas in the East the term is `ayurveda', which means `the science of life' - not of sickness.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

34. A card to prosperity

In recent times, hundreds of newly built toilets have been ripped apart by poor households in many parts of rural Madhya Pradesh. Eyewitness report that such incidents have been rampant across the countryside where these subsidised structures have sprung under the ambitious total sanitation campaign. But why would the poor engage in such destructive activity?

Posessing a toilet not only lifts them above the poverty line (as it adds up the requisite points to jump the line) but strips them of the attractive doles too. Who would not want to remain poor when hundred days of assured employment, cashless health care facility,subsidised ration and free education are on offer? The virtue of being `below poverty line' is without doubt compelling. A one-time toilet in contrast is a contraption, a poor substitute for lucrative monthly gains.

India is perhaps the only country in the world where poverty has a premium. BPL Card is like a privy purse, a contribution by the rich state to sustain its poor below an imaginary `line'. Each new move by the government, be it the rural employment guarantee scheme or the ambitious food security program, is designed to increase the number of poor. Poverty is a grand celebration for keeping the machinery called `government' well oiled. Smells fish!

The poor don't need fish but a helping hand to catch a fish!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

33. Who is fooling whom?

Gone are the days when preparations for April Fool's Day would be well orchestrated. From simple jokes to elaborate hoaxes, friends and relatives would remain on toes for being the intended beneficiaries! Whatever the prank, the trickster would usually end by yelling to his victim, `April Fool'. Saddam Hussein was at the receiving end of one such cruel joke, April Fool was the code name of the double agent who played a role in his downfall.

April Fool has remained in popular imagination ever since calendar was reformed in France in 1564. Those who stubbornly clung to the old calendar system and continued to celebrate the New Year during the week that fell between March 25th and April 1st had jokes played on them. Even films were themed on it: 1964 Saira Banu-Biswajeet starrer April Fool had a song to signify the day. But playing pranks on April Fools Day now seem passé.

Hasn't making fool become a national pass time instead? Government is fooling its citizens; ministers are fooling their portfolios; elected representatives are fooling the democracy; judges are fooling the law; teachers are fooling the books; market is fooling the consumers; actors are fooling the medium; and news is fooling its readers. Closer home, the vegetable vendor fools the housewife; the autorickshaw fools the passenger; the policeman fools the hawker; the employer fools the employee; and the doctor fools the patient. The list goes on...!

Once in a fool's paradise who bothers for April Fools Day!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

32. Watch who is into the act!

Did you notice that we have plenty of it and yet it keeps coming? Since our attitude towards it is more benign, the television and the internet keeps serving it endlessly. Ladies and gentlemen, it is called bullshit that the dictionary defines as non-sense or some foolish exaggerated talk. Play your memory back by couple of hours or if possible by a few days and you realise how much of it you have savoured recently.

From contested nominations to the upper house to acrimonious debates in the lower house, from dubious cine awards to outrageous political utterances, bullshit has been on offer all the way from Mumbai to Lucknow and beyond. The media-market nexus almost always chooses a glib ignoramus over an expert to further the concept of bullshit. No wonder, some newspapers and television channels could be respectfully re-named Bullshit Times and Bullshit TV in that order.

Be it the dubious case of glacier melting or exquisite piece of monetized garland, or be it the curious case of an artist's nationality or an idiot-box marriage of a politician's offspring, bullshitters are earning iconic status with their nonsensical persistence. The realms of advertising and of public relations, and that of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit as unmitigated that they can serve among the indisputable paradigms of our times.

The contemporary proliferation of bullshit may have deeper sources, which not only restrict any reliable access to an objective reality but do reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. Though most people pretend confidence in their ability to recognize bullshit, they lack collective courage to unmask the bullshitters. Shockingly, neither has the subject been deliberated upon nor been put to sustained inquiry.

Aren't we becoming a bullshit nation?

(This write-up has been inspired by On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt, Princeton University Press, Oxford, 63 pages, US$ 9.95)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

31. A case for two prime ministers

Unlike Gandhi and Nehru, the leaders of the present generation are rarely seen amongst the rural poor. And whenever they do, it is no less than a breaking news. The entire media, both print and electronic, goes esctatic on their unique feat. Hailed as a shrewd poliical move, it seems a rare favour returned to the poor by the powers-that-be.The trend has indeed caught on with political leaders of all hues, keeping (safe) distance from those who return them to power is more of a norm than exception. The apparent dichotomy of India vs Bharat is getting real.

The physics of distance is getting redefined. Neither kilometers nor hours, distance has become a measure of power. More the distance, higher the power. Once in power, the distance switch gets activated by default. It is a colonial legacy that has seemingly lived on, taking pride in representing the urban elite at the cost of ignoring the rural poor. Deficit democracy is clearly at work where the head of the government has little time to travel to the countryside to hear the pains and anguish of the rural poor. Did you notice that our current Prime Minister and his predecessor have hardly been to a village, as if the 60 per cent of the population doesn't exist?

Don't the rural poor deserve a second Prime Minister to represent their case? Ek se bhale do!

Monday, February 8, 2010

30. Oye Kanjar, Kanjar Oye!

Every day past midnight, the police comes knocking at their door. Half asleep, each one from their dilapidated dwellings (see picture) is forced to crawl out for the mandatory headcount. For fear of retribution, no one dare remain absent without prior permission from the `protector of law' . It isn't a work of imagination but a narrative on the daily ordeal of over 600 families in a district of Rajasthan. These are Kanjar, members of a semi-nomadic tribe, who wonder what freedom is all about? They haven't slept well for several years now!

Household name across north India, Kanjar carries double-edged expression. While some mothers call their naughty children `oye, kanjara.', for many others it is an abusive expression. Derived from the Sanskrit kanana-chara, kanjar means wanderer in the jungle. Claimed to have originated in Rajasthan, they served as servants of the Rajputs & Jats before Moghul invaders forced them to flee to the jungles to avoid persecution. Since then they have been on the run, as hunter gatherers or petty criminals.

While the British had listed them under the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, a tribe addicted to non-bailable offences, the denotification of law in 1952 placed Kanjar under the Habitual Offenders Act. Though most have left their past vocation, they still carry an absurd social stigma for which their children are often forced out of schools and their women remain vulnerable to exploitation. Bereft of any assets, Kanjar have been literally driven to the wall. No one offers them any respectable job either. Most survive under the shadow of perpetual fear, with less than Rs 1,500 a month to survive.

However, for police they remain a potential catch! Wonder, if the law enforcement agency were to look beyond and hound other potential offenders amongst bureaucrats and politicians?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

29. P stands for creativity

P is silent in psychology but not in the movie 3 idiots. Unlike in a swimming pool where its presence could only be speculated, pee provides the apparent flow to the story in 3 idiots.The very idea of innovation is pitched around this saline excretion, it being a good conductor of electricity. Pee is so creatively woven into the script that for once the Hindi-challenged Chatur Ramalingam's (see picture) struggle to find a place for mutra visarjan (urination) through the 180-minute entertainer doesn't seem stupid.

Can pee trigger creativity? Not only in reel life, pee has its creative dimension in real life too. Not long ago, I was witness to a bizarre incident when my midnight travel from railway station was punctuated at a traffic junction. A minor commotion ahead of my autorickshaw raised my curiosity and I soon learnt that branded liquor was being sold for a pittance. Wow! The driver however cautioned me to avoid getting trapped into that late-night sale gimmick. Why?

Because, it isn't country liquor but fresh pee in a new bottle, sold every day at that traffic junction! After an initial shock, I could only laugh my way home. It may sound unethical but does it not speak volumes about the survival strategy of those who are engaged in this innovative vocation? At least, our pee bottlers are not playing with the lives of their unsuspecting customers. Else, they could have filled the bottle with country liquor!

Is human pee not better than country liquor? Only Morarji bhai could answer that!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

28. Jam today, jam tomorrow

Sigmund Freud would have retracted his words had he been on Delhi roads, or for that matter on roads in Bogota, Bangkok, Mumbai or even Munich. Freud had said that `if you have been breastfed then you ought to be optimistic'. Breastfed most of us are but I suspect if we are optimistic about easing of traffic congestion on roads. Each widened road or elevated intersection causes further congestion, mocking at transport planners who made us think otherwise. Simply put, each improved road means an added incentive for more cars to flood the streets.

The elevated roads are far from being badly designed, as Delhi's Lt Governor has recently felt, instead they release supressed demand for cars. Delhites are indeed expressing their suppressed demand - by adding over 1,000 new personal vehicles on city’s overstretched roads each day; by switching from small to medium and from medium to big car in a reasonably short time; and by increasing the per capita number of cars. This is true for most cities in the world, I'm told. No surprise, therefore, it was jam yesterday, it is jam today and it will be jam tomorrow.

Well-known transport theorist Martin Mogridge reckoned that traffic speed could be doubled just by reducing space for cars. Howsoever logical, it is quite unlikely that if car manufacturers will ever reduce production and if people will ever stop buying cars. Not only is car a status symbol but it helps in monopolising city roads. Ironically, sustained congestion only pushes carbon-friendly cycles, rickshaws and hand-held carts out from roads without in anyway easing traffic snarl.

Did I hear people saying that the climate is changing?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

27. Not far from being a suicide republic

At 60, the republic has become a senior citizen, scapegoating public as necessary sacrifice in the name of progress and development. It has chartered a growth route on which neither poverty registers nor suicides matter. Our politicians and policies deserve praise for sustaining farmers' suicides, some 200,000 land tillers have been lost at the alter of development in past twelve years. For the agriculture minister, the pitch seems to be playing perfect. The uneven bounce may be fatal for farmers though, but not for the minister, bureaucrats and farm scientists.

With young students joining the league, the space and scope for suicide is getting expanded. A new script is being written where the word suicide cuts through all languages, no one need explain what it may mean. It has become a household term unlike in Ramesh Sippy's landmark film Sholay (1975) wherein a character was specially created to explain the term when an inebriated Dharmendra atop the village tank threatens suicide. `angrez log jab marte hain to ose suicide kehte hain' (when whiteman dies it is called suicide) was scripted by the writers to convey it's meaning to the masses. In less than two decades, suicide has become a household vocation for the masses.

If Salim-Javed were to do the Sholay script again they would be writing `desi aadmi jab marte hain to ose suicide kehte hain'.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

26. Making sense of shame

Unlike many of you, I'm getting convinced that we have run out of ideas to get everyone to shit inside a toilet. The sheer number of toilets required for the country to attain some level of decency would be close to 300 million, assuming that a family of five takes turn to use the same loo. The number will continue to grow rather endlessly - as population grows exponentially, as families break into smaller units and as households migrate in search of new opportunities. I suspect if a Toilet Ministry, working 24x7, can achieve such rolling targets!

But why are we stuck to toilet as the only option, the absence of which favours the foreign tourists with some stinking photo opportunity? Unlike the west, toilets for a vast majority that survives on less than $2 a day may not be a good idea. For them, easing in public seems a democratic decree. It has worked thus far and mark my words, it will sustain during our lifetime for sure. Because public empathy towards squatting has remained secular, never did it trigger any class or caste strife in matter of appropriating public space for conducting private action.

Shit in itself may not be a problem. Left on its own, it engages millions of microbes in enriching the soil with organic carbon. The moment it comes in contact with water, something that a toilet facilitates, the trouble starts. Each water body, be it a pond or a river, gets an undesired share of floating excreta at various stages of decomposition which proves fatal to some half a million children below the age of five on account of water-borne diseases. And nowhere does this piece of statistics suggest that all these deaths are caused due to the scourage of open defecation!

With its extensive paraphernalia the toilet makes unreasonable demand on increasingly scarce public resource - water, which not only limits its spread but amplifies the sanitation crises too. The solution to India's sanitation enigma rests in recognising 'informal squatter islands' as permanent municipal spaces where individual waste will get managed in a way that produces subjectivity than shame. The state's role will then be limited to aesthetically managing such islands, upturning the soil periodically and getting it ready for next volume of bowel discharge before it is sold at a premium to the real estate builders.

Like `nude beaches' elsewhere in the west, we can call such islands `butt parks'

Friday, January 15, 2010

25. The postman always rings twice..

So they say, but my postman didn't ring even once this new year. Let it be clear, mine is a concern and not a complaint. At least twice each year, the postman did more than just deliver letters. On deepawali and on new year eve, it has been an accepted norm to exchange his greetings with a token monetary appreciation - for his tireless daily routine on an ageing carbon-friendly bicycle. Not too far ago, delivery of letters containing a passport, a telephone or cooking gas connection elicited additional appreciation. The postman had become part of an extended family, delivering ecstasy and agony with a touch of sensitivity.

Lyricist Gulzar had captured many facets of a postman in his melodious number dakia dak laya, khushi ka sandesa kahin, kahin dardnaak laya. It was the sheer brilliance of legendary singer Kishore Kumar who could lace the racy number with desired emotions, lending depth, dimension and meaning to each word. For once, the social status of postman was lifted to dizzy heights. Not without reason because the postman often went beyond his brief. Not only would he read out the contents of the letter but would lend his writing skills to others as well. This and much more, the postman had carved out an exclusive niche in the social fabric.

One would doubt if the courier boy is a suitable replacement for a postman. Not only do they keep changing, courier boys lack emotive connectivity too. Though efficient, there is something mechanical to the way they go about their job. While I await my door bell to ring twice, I'm reminded of a touching incident a colleague of mine had narrated many seasons ago. Being son of a postman, he said, deepawali and new year were special occassions for him and his siblings - eachone would get a new dress and new toys.

I wonder if we haven't bargained the finest public servant for speed and efficiency!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

24. Every dog has its day

What has the dog been speaking into the phonograph cylinder? One could not be sure, but author Mabel Louise Robinson wondered if it didn't echo the dog's point of view - that his master is an elongated and abnormally cunning dog! Cunning because the dog is often named after the one his master loves to hate. Frances, Peter, John, Baker and Abbot are no coincidences, each name for the dog has been aimed at denigrating the colonial master - the Gora Saheb. Carryig an abusive expression, kutte has been conveniently adopted by Bollywood movies. No one could tell the villain, "Kutte, Main Tera Khoon Pee Jaoonga!" (Dog, I will drink your blood) more convincingly than actor Dharmendra.

The border conflicts of the 60's and 70's saw many a canine caught in the crossfire. Several were then called Bhutto. Wonder, what political honours were bestowed upon tail-wagging counterparts on this side of the fence? But why has the beloved dog been the only carrier of hate? Why not cat? Is it because we haven't got the guts to bite people ourselves or because the canine has given us its absolute all? Socio-psychologists would need to unveil the lingering enigma of our times. For Winston Churchil, the answer lay in the eyes of the pet. Dogs look upto you whereas cats look down upon you, could be one reason. Try a pig - it looks into your eyes and treats you at par.

Times have changed and so has our hate quotient. With pet nomenclature having gone through dramatic transformation, expression of hate has lost its canine cushion as well. Chunmun, Freddie, Saloni are some of the new names for dogs - rhyming with packaged products - that do not provide the passive route for expressing hate or anger. The net result is active expression, growing violence being the manifestation of intolerance. The therapeutic value of dog is surely being missed. The dog may be the carrier of hate but continues to remain a symbol of what love has on offer - selfless devotion. Though paradoxical, dogs helps humans strike a delicate balance between love and hate.

No wonder, to err is human and to forgive canine.

Friday, January 1, 2010

23. Skepticism will rise even if temperature doesn't

It doesn’t matter if one is a skeptic or an alarmist or none, the veritable charge sheet published by Christopher Booker and Richard North in The Daily Telegraph should be a matter of concern for everybody with a slightest degree of concern for `climate change’. The authors have accused IPCC Chairperson Dr R K Pachauri of making fortune from his links with carbon trading companies. I neither represent Exxon nor Greenpeace but am clear that the climate science is in a deep crisis of professional credibility due to this expose.

I agree with Dr Roger Pielke Jr, professor of environmental studies at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who wonders if the rebuttal issued by Dr Pachauri’s institute clears up the issue. The TERI rejoinder provides details of $ 250,000 in payments received over the past three years only. But what about the gains that might have accrued directly/indirectly to the organizations that he advised/served? Evidently, it is an issue of `conflict of interest’ that ought to be investigated.

Incidentally, anyone who points fingers at any of climate change proponents is considered an `idiot’. I’d be happy if I’m called so, `idiots’ have earned respect following the phenomenal success of `3 idiots'. The irony is that climate scientists are clearly accustomed to deference. Theirs is a community coddled by global elites, extensively funded by governments, celebrated by bollywood and honored with international prizes.

In his op-ed column in Washington Post, Michael Gerson aptly summed up the issue: `some of these (so-called) scientists are merely activists, deeply invested in a predetermined outcome. They assume that political change is the goal; the scientific enterprise is the means -- like a political ad or a campaign speech’. Since the experts have become advocates, it is time we stop believing the experts and avoid listening to such advocates.

Hasn't climate change strongest proponent Al Gore gone into the hiding already?