Monthly Archives: January 2012

26th January – Making sense of a dry day


‘Dry Day’ admonished the waiter giving me a slightly quizzical look. Realization dawned. Republic Day. Ofcourse. Not just another mid-week holiday. I still could not make sense why it needs to be a dry day though. Oh yes we are a prudish nation who lets Sunny Leone on prime-time TV but cracks a dress-code whip on women colleges. As usual I failed to make sense. Like I fail to make sense of the contradictions we accept without batting an eye-lid. For instance why the cow is more protected than women and other animals. Why the choices for drinking water are either packaged bottles that come at a price or contaminated water. Why is Hussain hounded out while Advani can repeat his rath-yatra. Why 600 crore is spent on a Dalit park while 600 babies die of encephalitis. Why is 26th a dry day in upmarket pubs. While hooch-sellers still sell posisoned salvation to the daily-wage workers. “Madam”- my chain of thoughts is interrupted by the well-behaved waiter. The special moktail of the day had arrived – the concoction sported the brilliant shades of the tri-colour. I looked around. The hip joint had brought the tr-colours out in full vigour. Even the back-ground music which usually consisted of Enrique and Shakira, comprised the feel-good patriotic songs. The giant plasma screen played footages of the republic day parade in the capital. The patriotism was too obvious to ignore. Possibly I am the lone sceptic in a sea of proud Indians. If so many people can find reasons to celebrate 62 years of democracy, so can I.

And ofcourse I did. The very fabric of the world’s largest democracy. Patched, frayed yet held together. By the love for cricket. And the animosity for Pakistan. By the search for a messiah. And the disappointment of being let down by the ones they do. By the rising prices. And the occasional sales. Threads of commonalities in the huge list of differences. Because lets face it – diversity does not unite. Look at the fumbling, bumbling EU reeling under an unequal union. The basis of unity has to be a common dream, a a feel-good factor everyone can share . Standing in the 62nd year of sovereignty this ancient nation does give me some of those happy moments I can share with a Madrasi or a Punjabi without the happiness getting lost in translation. The fact that India shined inspite of the political inertia. The nation now is strong enough to be offering bail-out packets to mightier nations. The progress, the success has come on the dint of the strength of a billion Indians who have risen over scepticism to take themselves and the nation forward. The strength of the democracy. Which can vocally attack the men and women in power without the fear of a backlash. The strength of humanity and compassion. The extra-ordinary stories of courage, conviction and compassion curated from all over the country. A young girl in Bengal who canvasses against child-marriages. A middle-aged man from Chennai who overcame social stigma to manufacture affordable sanitary napkins for rural women. People sectioned into states on the basis of differences. People united into India by a strong hope. Of a better tomorrow. Of a democracy where equality and justice transcend the preamble. Of a republic which respects humanity. The country may then truly evolve to be the nation Ambedkar conceived. A nation which does not require reservations and delineations and segregations. A nation which does not require a dry-day to enforce respect for the tenets of democracy. A democracy of the people, by the people and for the people. Have a meaningful republic day!


Neo in wonderland: De-constructing the matrix world


Long ago, on a perfect summer afternoon Alice had the misfortune of falling through a rabbit hole. What followed was an extraordinary adventure including a mad tea-party, a tyrannical queen, a giant cat and a maze of surrealist characters which tested Alice’s ingenuity. Fortunately for Alice she just had to wake up. Neo’s problem was less simple. He had to cut through the maze of a software program which controlled the earth subverting humans to mere programmed zombies in a computer game. Neo prevailed. Ofcourse as long as the rabbit hole and the matrix exist in fictionland, they remain little more than allegorical objects. However the concepts seem to transcend with ease into relatively real world. To trap the unsuspecting Alice. To delude a Neo. Create an extraordinarily complicated web of dreams and surrealism, allegories and illusion, deceit and delusion. A maze more complex than a fictional video game can be. Where human beings are pawned and truth is but a programmed memory. The version of truth depends on who has access to my brain and is programming it. Yes the invisible who’s. The matrix makers. The masters of illusion. The power-brokers. The puppeteers. And the story tellers. Who manufacture the invisible chips inserted into the unsuspecting mass of humanity. Who slavishly do their bidding. The beauty of the arrangement is the slaves do not carry any visible signs of subjugation. So there is no rebellion, no resistance. Only an occasional awakening which again can be corrected by another chip. The perfect plot.

About six months back when Libyans were baying for the blood of Gaddafi, I happened to read an article by an African journalist. Who raised a lone, bold voice chronicling an alternative view of the revolt. And traced much of the Arab Spring to a war to control the richest oil reserves. When a romantic picture of a people movement against a tyrannical despot in silken robes was being played out distinctively over world media, believing this lone voice was difficult. Honestly I am not informed enough to make a judgement either way but I have taught myself to look at the obvious truth with a degree of scepticism.Stories for example of spontaneous people movement with hours of supporting footage on sponsored media. The rise and fall of Anna Hazare for example. A media darling. A messiah. A saviour. Thousands rallied behind a diminutive man supporting a bill which most of the followers had little knowledge about. Six months down the line media killed the hero. A series of amazing conversations I had with people close to the movement ‘revealed’ that Anna was always a manufactured face. A ‘Neo’ caught in a matrix of political compulsions. Just as the supporters who stood behind him. The men and women who bribed, lied, cheated in daily life. But who manufactured their own cocoon of honesty and vindication by siding with Hazare. A deceit of a scale the mind struggles to grasp. Ofcourse I am again conscious of the fact I am presenting someone else’s story. And that perhaps the sums up the only universal truth. That truth is but the story I choose to believe in. The chip I choose to accept. At any given point of time I have a torrent of stories being pumped on me. Guised in the garb of truth. Backed by facts. Can I rise above the hypnotic set of webs to see a clearer version of the truth. Which at some plane is still relative. But which is not planted into me exploiting my gullibility. Exercise the power of judgement, to take decisions, to rationalize. Which is when Alice wakes up to realize it is but a dream. Neo cuts through the web to salvage humanity. And the matrix lies broken.

Is English a big deal?


I am a gourmet. So when I stumbled upon a little shop serving delectable momos – the delicate Tibetian delicacy I was overjoyed. Ofcourse I had been a little confounded by the sign which said in English – Fired Momo, Stream Momo. Enlightenment dawned just as quickly – fried momo, steamed momo. I told the rotund proprietor he needed to correct the sign. People still come and eat my Momos, nah – he good-naturedly replied piling my plate with more of the fired momos. English is not a deciding factor in his dealings. English for him is not such a big deal.

Another day. A situation with more gravity than a snack break at a momo stall. The chief-minister of Bengal was addressing a gathering of global business leaders in a quaint combination of Bengali and English. What followed was a social media backlash centering on a youtube video with the sarcastic moniker – Ak Bangali mukkhomontri ebong ekti Engreji bhason. Loosely translated this means a Bengali CM tries to give a speech in English. The critics ridiculed the CM’s funny pronounciation and grammatical errors to the point that the serious errors in the CM’s speech or the virtues or the core value of the speech got subsumed. The elite journalist brethren supported by the English-educated urban class proceeded to declare the speech a laugh riot narrowing down a broader initiative to an English communication test. Is the CM’s English really such a crucial factor in a business deal with Bengal. Is English such a big deal?

I decided to throw the question at my Facebook network. What followed was an interesting range of answers from a demographically varied set of people. Two distinctive thread of thoughts emerged. One hinging on the indispensability of English as a language in the context of India. A country where there is no single common language(A little strange because I am sure a higher number of people speak or understand Hindi or its derivative languages) needs English as a common, unifying language. Our BPO and service industry have thrived because of our superior English skills. In the age of globalization we cannot ‘avoid’ English. Coincidentally most of these voices belonged to people working in the English-intensive outsourcing industries. The counter view was just as compelling. A number of examples of nations thriving on less than perfect English. Globalization does not condone subsuming cultural diversity to a blanket English-speaking uniform culture. The one India concept is not a magical outcome of all of us learning to speak English – the Akhand Bharat dates back to the Mahabharata. India has been a hub of global trade- the silk route, the Arab traders, the portugese merchants without the need to suppress the individual identities of a multi-lingual, multi-cultural society to present an alien, global face.

I read the arguments carefully and kept weighing them in context of the two examples I had given earlier – an eatery enjoying a robust sale despite the proprietor not caring about the correctness of his English menu card. A chief minister whose ability or inability to draw investment is not a function of her English pronunciation though it may affect her standing with the elite media or society. I add to the mix our relative success at globalization which hinges on the English skills. And a third view starts to emerge. English as a foreign language is a skill. A skill critical to the BPO. Or an author who writes in English. Not to the same extent for the momo-wallah. Or the CM. . When the medium or the skill gets championed as a basis of our identity, our societal stand or the general indicator of our ability, the myopia of the nation shows through. A nation which teaches its children English before they learn their mother-tongues. And carry on their efforts of masking the multi-culturalism with a generation of English-speaking, burger-munchers. Thanks to the outliers who keep the eclectic society thriving with the ‘fired momos’. And thanks to the vibrancy and the non-elitism of the English language itself which has lended itself to be adapted into the vocabulary of a nation woven together by a melange of diverse identities. Where English unlike its elitist speakers has sought an unobtrusive co-existence with the many other dialects and facets that shape our Indianness. Without the necessity to become a big deal.

Mumbai Marathon – Race against the self


Am I an athelete? No. Do I fall in the category of extra-ordinary human beings who display superb physical stamina? No. Am I running for charity? Yes and No. Though I do a lot of fund-raising I was not really running with a specific charity in mind this time. So why was I running? As I stood – a little lost among the vast crowd of Marathon enthusiasts- at the unearthly morning hour, I was mentally reviewing the reasons why I was running the marathon. I needed to have solid reasons. Because while I knew my body could fail and give up, my mind would not. And I needed to give it a strong conviction to propel the body along. And my conviction was to stretch my limit. To cross the mental barrier of distance. To achieve what in my book had been impossible. To participate in an experience which becomes a great leveller by throwing open a track where you only have a pair of shoes and grit for company. And the mantra which becomes something of a refrain – No mountain too high to climb. No river too deep to cross. And you start moving, running, walking, jogging, limping to the finish.

Ofcourse as the gates open and you start running, your mind gains a number of enthusiastic helpers. The perks of seeing the sun rise over the Arabian Sea as you run through the Bandra-Worli sea link. The mysterious Haji Ali rising like a phoenix from the waters. As a staunch believer in the Sufi and Bhakti tenets of complete devotion, I said a silent prayer as I crossed Haji Ali. Give me the strength to run. The courage to endure pain. My prayers helped. As did the prayers and encouraging words of the amazing people who lined the marathon route. A little boy in tattered clothes who held out a biscuit. A little girl in a head-scarf who sprayed the soul-lifting moisture. And all through chants of – ‘Come on. You can Do it’. For me I did not need the celebrities or the cheer-leaders. These people – ordinary Mumbaikars- were my heroes. As offcourse were my co-runners. A middle-aged lady in a burkha. ‘Running was liberating’-she told me after the race. Like it gave you wings. And you soar over your walls, over your constraints and boundaries. Which is what a septuagenarian draped in Indian flag was doing. The tri-colour fluttered as he raced, his face pulled together in taut determination. ‘I run for the country, to tell people it is a nation we have to build together’. Ordinary lives. Extraordinary stories. Collectively this mass of humanity generates a tremendous amount of positive force. At some point Science may be advanced enough to harness it to drive a Marathon mill. Which grinds cereals for the less than privileged kids who shared their biscuits with the runners. When you have such force even a non-athelete like me rises over physical constraints. And finishes the race ignoring a severe cramp, a sprain and blisters. The victory against self is the most extraordinary of all your wins. Next year. A stiffer target. And the race with self begins all over again.

A hitch-hiker’s guide to surviving 2012


I take a hard look at the autos weaving mindlessly through the traffic. The BMWs driven by the supposedly upper echelons do not occupy much higher space in the good driving book. Sitting in a stuffy taxi watching the jungle out there I am suddenly not loathe to the idea of an apocalypse. The autos and the BMWs may finally make peace in the rouble left behind after an alien attack. Will it be an alien attack? Well the Mayans have left the way the world will end an open question. However I am tempted to believe that alien attacks it will be. If I extrapolate the situation on earth to the galaxy, there is a huge space crunch in space (a rather implausibly true scenario) and the earth may be cleared to make space for sweet-tempered, green-horned monsters. I steal a look at the grumpy BMW man and the surly rickshaw man arguing and holding up the traffic in the process and I actually find myself preferring the green monsters over 99% of the world population. The remaining 1% is too young or too old to be noticeably obnoxious drivers.

Ofcourse when I talk about preferences, I assume I will not only survive the apocalypse but be safely juxtaposed with the invading aliens and will somehow form a friendship with them. This will not happen perchance. I generally live life riding on the chance factor however the apocalypse is an event of sufficient magnitude to warrant an exception to my general approach. So sitting in the taxi, I start putting together a survival kit which should see me through the invasion. And live to tell the tale. And subsequently develop affectionate terms with the invaders.

1. A radio – Radios were the most underrated factors in the world war. The mastery over radios tilted the war in favour of or against nations. Most wars being equal , a radio should prove handy here too. To let the ‘enemy’ know I am on their side. Bypassing the asteriskBI’s or the army or whichever bodies are trying to protect the BMW’s or the rickshaw-wallas. Language is ofcourse an issue that has to be dealt with– see 2

2. Rakesh Roshan DVD’s – Yes I am glossing over Spielberg and choosing our home-grown Rakesh Roshan to help me learn 21 ricks to befriend and communicate with an alien. Aliens generally point to what they want and guide you with doleful eyes. They can also imitate humans to say certain words. They speak in deep, guttural voices. After seeing a few re-runs of the alien duology that Roshan served up, I should be able to communicate with sweet-tempered aliens with reasonable ease. If I still can’t see 3

3. Siri – If all else fails turn to Siri. I am sure Siri will be either able to communicate seamlessly with the aliens or shame them into changing their accent or learning Siri’s English. Either way it will work to my advantage.

4. Bhagvad Gita – When Siri can help you cope with the more obvious aftermaths of apocalypse, there’s only one person I can turn to, to deal with the deeper impacts. Sri Krishna. To reinforce the transient nature of the world. And the oneness with the universe. Gita as a must-have to sail through any doom’s day.

5. Vacuum Cleaner – The vacuum cleaner is a wild card entry. I am a comfortably messy person and my cleaner lies more or less unused at a corner in my house. However I have a feeling it will be mighty useful during and after an alien attack. As a weapon, a make-shift transport, as a warning system. And to clean up the debris to make place for me and my reading mat after the war.

6. A bottle of milk – Pasteurised and preserved to last atleast a month. Since I expect my milkan to be dislodged from his smelly shelter after the attack and a consequent shutdown of all dairies on earth. And since I expect my pet cat to survive the bull-dozing. Nothing like hot milk to cure any depression resulting from finally getting rid of my neighbour who spies on the world from her balcony while pretending to water her petunias. Plus the milk will be a perfect accompaniment to 7.

7. Nescafe – I will make a deviation from the brand-neutrality of my blog. Nothing warms the cockles of your enemy’s heart like coffee. They don’t make coffee like Nescafe. So once the dust has settled down I look forward to a warm cup of coffee with the aliens. Once I have breached their coffee-virginity, I will have no problem of happily co-existing with the creatures who hopefully will have better road sense. And exploit the earth a little less.

There! Now I am actually looking forward to December 2012. BMW man makes a rude comment on what do I have to grin about. Can I fast-forward?