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?