Friday, March 30, 2007

Power crisis in Mumbai- Maharashtra a failed state !

Somehere in rural Maharashtra, near a tiny dark hut, a woman is sitting , using her pallu to fan her little baby to comfort her from crippling heat and darkness, occasionaly looking at the shadow of tree in courtyard, with hint of tears in her eyes. There is no power in the village and the tree in the courtyard sometime metamorphoses and looks like her husband who hanged himself on it , just a month back. Hanged himself on same tree, when he was driven to penury, when his sugarcane crop was not bought by the sugar mill owner to avenge the caste which had not voted for the mill owner's politician father. In distant corner of the village, near the small cluster of shops which are unlit and dark due to perennial power shutdown, stands a tall statue of great marathi warrior Shivaji.

For first time in 36 years, Mumbai (read south Mumbai) may be subjected to scheduled power cuts. BEST general manager said that BEST would ask all the cinema halls in south Mumbai to cancel their noon shows to beat the power crisis. He said that "it won't make any difference if people don’t watch movies in the afternoon". What an absurd argument. I understand that there is power shortage and some power saving measures is need of the day. But what I find absurd is the way BEST manager is asking consumers to save the power. He doesn't show any concern or remorse that consumers would be affected by shortage in power and is almost insinuating as if watching movies on afternoon is a sort of frivolous activity which can be done without, almost as if watching noon shows is causing power shortage and by discontinuing these shows we can save power. If we have to extend the logic, we might as well say it won’t make any difference if we don’t use our TV sets during the day, stop using air conditioning, just use fans, and open shopping malls only during day. Some one might suggest that this would be good since it would make us free from our dependence on various machines gadgets and devices. It will be in keeping with Indian culture which has always encouraged frugality. BTW, how much power can we save my stopping noon movie shows!! Phenomenal? Or is it mere symbolic! I suggest that everybody voluntarily switch off lights in their house by 10 pm and sleep. After all, it will “not make any difference” .

Just now when we are organizing India tourism road shows in foreign capitals on grand scale and inviting people to visit our country, just when India is seen all around business conferences, just when we are shouting ourselves hoarse about our double digit growth, just when Chinese are perplexed by large number of Indian billionaires in Forbes list, here we are talking about why not to watch afternoon movie shows so that we can save little power here and there, in the financial hub of the country.

One might say I am harping on power cuts in Mumbai when for most of rural Maharashtra, power cuts are way of life and has been like than for a long time. Unlike Mumbai which had power distribution in private sector, rural Maharastra is at mercy of government controlled MSEB and has been reeling under long hours of power cuts for many years now. So it was only inevitable that citizens of Mumbai also face the heat .Untill 1992, Maharashtra was a power surplus state and was selling power to other states. After Enron debacle, the state government lost the plot entirely and power situation since then has been deteriorating. What was government doing and thinking all this while! The problem is not that we are suddenly consuming more power; problem is that we are not producing enough power. Problem is with inadequate planning. When you are growing as fast as 8-10% annually and when you are dreaming of becoming a superpower, you would know that you would need power. Industries need power, cities need power, agriculture needs power, and economy needs power. It can not happen that we suddenly wake up one day and find that there is a shortfall of 4000MW of power. The power deficit has been increasing every year and state Governments hardly did anything other than distributing power free of cost to framers who are anyway finding it hard not to take their own lives. Today state of Maharashtra is being called a failed state (by planning commision) and power cuts in Mumbai are just a stark and "dark" reminder of how bad things have gone. And what are politicians of Maharashtra doing? Those who are in power (pun intended) have no clues about what needs to be done and those who are not , are busy playing their divisive agenda around regional and emotive politics. But then it is not surprising. Politics is a business where voters are the consumers. As long as voters are happy being doled out emotional shit rolled with misplaced pride, politicians will keep serving them that. Who wants proverbial Bijli, Paani and Sadaks! We are happy as long as all the major airports (when they function), all the major roads (when they are built), all the major ports, all the major buildings and everything major is named after one great hero from past.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Cricket , Media and Gods

I was watching Australia South-Africa Group world cup match the other day. Australia had scored some 360 runs and South Africa was Chasing to win. Graeme Hick and AB DeVillers started the innings on aggressive note, not sparing any bowler including the once fearsome McGrath. Before the match, both the teams indulged in war of words. Australians called South Africans chokers and South Africans reminded Australians of their recent defeats and wondered if tag of chokers now needs to shift to Australians. I like Graeme Hick. He is built like a bully, hardly seems to emote anything and constantly chews while on the field. He looks like this gladiator who is not taken in by the awe of occasion or fear of enemy. Eventually Australians won the match but not before South Africans had instilled fear of God in them. This is what a good game of cricket is all about and this is what sport is all about. Competitiveness, aggression, hard work, self belief, desire to win and lots of sweat. Our team lost because we had none of it. Contrary to what people are saying about world cup being over, it is just starting now. The real contest is beginning now.

No doubt, the way we lost was shameful, but it was coming nonetheless. We just had to cut the media hype before the cup to see that. Media in India, specially the news channels, is turning more and more into theatre of absurd. News is being made and presented the way we have made our movies for so longs. Over the top, exaggerated, dramatic and overly emotional. May be this is how we are as people and so it reflects in whatever we do, whether it is movies or news. I wonder if some news channel in future is going to start item songs as well. Before cup hype by the media, made billions of cricket fans to believe as if Cup was for India to take and other teams were just coming there to have some fun and frolic. As if, like a Bollywood hero, team India was destined to get the girl and others teams were just the supporting actors needed in the drama. Funny that it is, the hype was so much that almost every cricketer of past, found his way into one or the other channel's expert panel. The same players, who were themselves failures when they played the game, were now commenting on what strategies India should adopt to lift the cup. I know that it is not necessary that you be a stalwart to earn your right to comment on the game, but even then it is little funny.

Also, we must be the only people in world who would invoke God to beseech him to let us win the cup. How many Yagnas and sarpdosha yagans were performed before the cup! If Gods really did played their part in sports, then we would have been world champions in every sport, considering how religious we are and how many varied gods we have. And we share this trait of invoking God in sports with Pakistanis, proving that two people are not really different. Pakistanis always say that "It was Allah's will and grace" when they win the game but don’t say same when the lose it. Before team was to travel to West Indies, most of channels ran programs where "leading" astrologers and tarot card readers were invited and were asked to predict the fate of team. These chaps did some crystal gazing and most of them predicted that team India was sure to reach the Semi finals. Beyond that they were noncommittal as they usually are when it comes to sticking their neck out. I wonder what these soothsayers would say now that India is out of first round itself, forget the Semi finals. May be the planetary position was changed after their predictions.

Then the great Indian cricket fan is so emotional and fickle minded Same batsmen who couldn’t move the bat against Bangladesh, become heroes all over again when they butchered poor , first timers like Bermuda, Bermuda which is country of 60,000 people and whose cricket team is made up of amateurs like doctors and school teachers. Why do these fans think that we lost because our players are more concerned about advertisement money than the game! Because money is bad!!. Money is sinful!!. Just because players are earning more money they should be made to feel guilty about it. May be it is true that cricket players in India are spoilt with the money and once they become stars, they start behaving more like movie stars than sport stars. May be our fielding is bad because these stars think it is beneath them to slide on the ground to stop couple of runs. May be. But I think the real reason is that we are week in mind. We are not aggressive and competitive. We don’t understand that sport is all about competitiveness and about winning. Sport is about skills and fitness. Sport is about testing. It is about testing the real men. It is about testing physical endurance. It is about testing the belief and courage. It is about rising to occasion. Whoever told us that it is more important to participate than to win was merely consoling. Obviously we can not win every time, but when we start thinking that we can’t win every time, we certainly legitimize possibility of losing in our minds. This is why current team of Australia is such a champion team. Because they hate losing. And they win because their sum is higher than the parts, unlike Indian team which if media reports are to be believed, is perennially divided into groups, into groups of junior and seniors, into groups of who speak Kannada and Marathi, into groups of who eat pada paav and who eat masala dosa.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Shiv Sena, politics and Anatomy of Social Group Conflicts

A Bollywood actress participated in a UK reality show and was called "Indian" and "curry eating" by one of British house mate. The issue turned into a racism row which got escalated to the extent that it almost became an international incident and diplomatic row between 2 governments. One of politicians, Raj Thackeray of Maharashtra recently remarked that he would not hesitate to slap North Indians (read Biharis) if they insulted local Marathi culture. He said that “they would get slap as breakfast, slap as lunch and slap as dinner”. He never bothered to mention how North Indians were insulting local Marathi culture (by not learning Marathi perhaps) and his audience never bothered to ask him. They just clapped happily. Obviously knowing how Indian politics operates, the politician in question, was merely playing to his target vote bank. And it did not matter that his party had taken an inclusive stance during recently concluded elections for BMC. After his party got the drubbing, he had to change his ideology from an inclusive to more excluding and based on parochial and narrow concerns. It is paradoxical that we Indians blame British for enslaving us for 200 years and making us poor through divide and rule, and today we use same fault lines of division and even accentuate them through vote bank politics. This is not limited to Maharashtra and can be see throughout the political landscape in our country. The question of outsiders versus locals has been raised for quite sometime in Mumbai and I fail to understand why it is a big deal for megacity like Mumbai. Cities don’t belong to any community and that’s why they become cities and acquire their typical characters and personalities. Cities are often product of migration of people from villages and hinterland and they become nerve center of economic activity because of large set of economically active migrants. It does not matter whether migrant is from Bihar or from some rural district of Western Ghats of Maharashtra. Bangalore for example is Silicon Valley and attracts qualified IT engineers from across the county. Mumbai has become an economic hub because of contribution from various communities; most of them not are from native Marathi speaking population.

Raj Thackeray is not alone in this kind of divisive politics and he is merely following on footsteps of his mentor, Bal Thackeray who has made a political career by promoting “Maharashtra for Maharashtrians" brand of politics. Shiv Sena first captured power by running a hate campaign against South Indians in Bombay, then they targeted migrants from UP and now it is turn of Biharis who are everybody’s favorite whipping boys as is happening in Assam also where ULFA kills poor Bihari migrants at will. I wonder why Raj Thackeray’s statement against Biharis is not same as what Fascists said about Jews. Does it not amount to racism and hate campaign, of spreading hatred and fear against another set of human beings! Then why is that we made such a big noise about Shilpa Shetty being racially targeted when we are targeting our own people in our own country! But that perhaps is quite understandable since we don’t like others to behave with us the way we behave with our own people. I mean, is caste system not the biggest institutionalized mechanism of discriminating against people anywhere in the world! We accuse white skinned of being racist against dark skinned people like us, even when we would prefer half of our population to be of fair skinned (look at Indian matrimonials). And we know how easy travelers from Africa find their stay in India who are targeted just because they are shade darker than us. What Shiv Sena does in Maharashtra to Biharis, is it a form of racism or merely an instance of social conflict! What is the reason for this social conflict?

I believe that fundamentally all of us are racist. And without exception perhaps. Only degree of basis on which we chose to discriminate varies. Racism is only one form (though more sinister perhaps) of inter social group conflict. Social groups, which could be based on language (as Marathi, German), religion (Hindu, Muslim) , culture (French, British) or territory.

Social Groups and Conflict: To understand genesis of racism better, we have to look closely at inter social group conflicts. One way of looking at these conflicts is to look at them from biological and evolutionary point of view as Desmond Morris had done in his superb book called "The Naked Ape”. We know that, we humans started our civilization as Apes, a kind of animal species. When we evolved from fruit eating apes into flesh eating hunter apes, we suddenly had to fight with other predator animals that were much more advanced in their hunting skills. Only way we human apes could compete with those hunter animals and survive was to stay and hunt in tighter groups. We depended upon the group for safety and food, the two vital things required for survival. We also became territorial because as co-operative social hunters we had to create base or a territory which could mark the group as a separate unit (most of hunter animals are territorial, like lions). We also had to defend the region of fixed base or the territory and because of our co-operative social nature we had to do it on group basis than individually. Also prolonged dependency of our young (children) for survival and rearing, forced us to adopt pair bonded family units within the fixed social group, where a male member of family defends his own individual home within a large home base or social group. So a family became the fundamental unit within a territorial social group. Hence, from biological point of view, it is in our genes to form social groups and defend them (territories). Cultural, political, social and many such changes which have happened after our ancient days of social-cooperative group hunters have not necessarily curbed our inherent instincts of belonging to a social group and defending it. And what have also not changed are the inter-social group conflicts. Hunt now is hunt for resources and jobs, and modern man has various overlapping social group identities. We have not changed that way since our ancient days. We must need to believe in something and we must need to belong to a group which we must defend against other social groups or perceived or real threats. Due to incredible improvements in healthcare and scientific advancemans over last century, a gross over crowding and migration of our species is happening which is leading to social stresses, tensions and inter social group conflicts. From Tribal systems which are still found in some countries like Afghanistan to Nation states, all of these are nothing but a form of this social group mechanism and territories. Nation states as we know them today are relatively much modern concept. Some commentators a argue that Globalization as seen in past couple of decades is bound to threaten notion of nation states, as geographical boundaries which act as physical territory of nation states are becoming redundant because of forces of globalization and technology like internet. An interesting social-group product of globalization is perhaps MNCs. MNC are groups of people who are held together by idea of making money or conducting business irrespective of any affiliation to any nation state. It is said that culture of globalization and technological advancements have shrinked the world to a small place but it has not eliminated fragmented identities and affiliations to social units which an individual carries which ultimately lead to conflicts. A person from Tamilnadu is called "madrasi" in north of India and can be taunted for his strange eating habits. Same Tamil person, if he is an upper cast Brahmin, would not mingle with other Tamil lower caste men. An Indian from Bihar state can be beaten when he gets employment in Mumbai and Americans would threaten to stop migration of Indians (including Marathis) to Silicon valley. The same Social group conflicts exist in many forms and at many levels and one would be tempted to say that it is in very nature of us, humans. Belonging to a herd. What people like Raj Thackeray do is to cash on these potential conflicts and fault lines by making "his group" see a threat from "other group". It does not matter whether that threat may be real or merely perceived. BJP comes to power by making a Hindus see the threat from Muslims. Osama Bin Laden runs his shop by making Muslims see the threat from Christians and western world. May be this is what politics all about.

Nation State, above other social groups: Desmond Morris says that one way of reducing the inter-social group conflict is to "de-patriotize" the group, break the cohesion of a group. But this goes against our genetic need of belonging to a tribe, a group. If relationships are broken in one way, they must be formed somewhere else. In this view, concept of a secular democratic nation state is interesting one. Even more so in Indians context where we have such an amazing array of diversity in terms of languages, religions and customs, not to mention the castes. In a secular democracy like ours, a nation state is thought of as most important social group and all other social group identities which a citizen of nation-state might have are seen as lower and subservient to identity as citizen of nation state. This includes linguistic as well as religious identities. Even though state lets an individual has his/her social affiliations, state practically ignores them when dealing with the individual, at least in principal, as is also enshrined in our constitution. A citizen of Indian nation state has fundamental right to live and work in any part of the country regardless of whether he is from Bihar or from Maharashtra. Our identity as Indian is assumed to be more sacred than any other identity (from a social group) we might carry, and when somebody violates this by appealing to narrower, parochial agendas like Raj Thackeray or anybody else, he/she is hitting at the very foundation of how we have agreed to live in a country (group). This is what makes it a dangerous scenario. There is a distinction bwteen genuine regional interest,culture,language promotion and holiganism. And what Shiva Sena and other such Senaa do is to indulge in holiganism.

Man is not just another Animal: Man as animal. We understand how inter-social group conflict is biologically wired in us. When we see ourselves as just another animal and look at it from evolution point of view, we can understand many things about why we are the way we are today, our customs, our religions, everything. Our society the way it is today has not become like this in a day but is a product of many millions of years of evolutionary cycle and there are various traits which we carry in our genetic makeup which still connect us to our primal life as just another animal on a big planet fighting to survive. This gives us our baser or lower instincts. But we are not just another animal. We have an extremely advanced faculty of reasoning which makes us think and question. We have always tried to understand who we are through our power of intellect and exploration. For example ancient Indian philosophy delved deeper into nature of man and his mission. One of most profound thought which we find in our ancient philosophy and which can perhaps be termed unique to Indian civilization is idea of "Vasudhev Katumkamb" or entire planet is one big family. This thought can only come when we are able to overcome our baser biological nature through use of intellect to see our higher self. Instead of belonging to narrower social groups, man has to see him belonging to one social group whose destiny is interlinked on this planet. Obviously this is so high a thought that even political parties who run their shops on name of our great Indian culture, do not want to see or understand it and they are happy running their business on narrow, parochial and divisive agendas whenevee they suit them. So if one day Shiv Sena appeals to all hindus to unite against a certain community, on another day they don't hesitate to target same hindus who speak a different language.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Net Nannies in IIT

IIT Mumbai recently announced to ban free intenet access for thier students in hostels for 13 hours from 11 pm onwards. The reason given was that free internet access was making students into net addicts and social recluse. IIT even claimed that free internet access in hostels is one of the reasons for higher rates of suicide by students. Whereas problem of net addiction is not new (China is even opening net de-addiction centers) and is only to get worse with time as internet becomes more and more available and as new generation gets more tech savvy, its ban in an IIT on the given reasons is only ludicurous.

If there are indeed students who spend time in surfing net and blogging, listening to music or watching movies on it, there would also be students who use internet in doing something more useful. Students will always be students. They would always do things which they want to do regardless of what teachers and professors want them to do. And anybody who has been to a professional college would know this. If it is not internet surfing then they will perhaps read novles or play cards. Or may be they will donwload music and movies during the day and watch them during the night. If studetns become addicted to reading, would IIT then ban the books? It is not that if there is no internet acess after 11.30 pm, suddenly students will become early risers, attend classes on time and start playing sports. I mean, even while there was no internet access, students used to be late to classes and found ways of killing time.

Banning internet access is not a solution. There are other ways of making students socialise. By the way, I dont really understand what do they mean by socialising. Having a girlfriend!! Some of geeky students I have known dont really like socialising and are happier when left on thier own device. Students who go to IIT are some of brightest of the country and I dont think that they need to be told what to do and what not to do. And anyway they will find a way around the ban. Clever,bright people have little respect for hierarchy and authority when it is imposed. Students in an engineering college are matured enough to decide for themselves what is good and what is bad for them. Regulating internet access is a bad solution. A college dedictated to produce technologists, need to be more tolerant of technology and Net nannies just need to chill.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

1971 The Movie

It is one of those pleasures in life which doesn't cost much. Watching a good movie in near empty cinema hall without being disturbed by noisy college kids or by never ending mobile phone beeps. Added advantage is that you don’t have to jostle at the popcorn counter during interval and you can occupy any seat you want. It feels as if a private screening has been arranaged just for you. When I walked into the hall to watch 1971, I had little expectations and just wanted to kill some time. I was in for a surprise. It turned out to be unusually engaging and well made movie. Movie's plot revolves around attempt of few Indians prisoners of war of 1971 who are lodged in Pakistani jails and are moved to a new camp near the border to avoid their detection by visiting Red Cross. Bollywood has a bad record of making mainstream movies which deal with politics or war and most of such movies end jingoistic, over the top (Border) and sometime unintentionally funny (various) . 1971 is more restraint and except for few cinematic liberties it takes, like in climax scene, it is rather realistically made. For once there are no songs and dances which would have killed the pace of the movie. A good movie is which engages and which makes audience feel the character’s travails. 1971 does it pretty well for most parts. Most of characters are well etched out and acting is also top class. Some of scenes are absolutely fantastic, like the one in which on the run prisoners see Pakistani army marching into the village, the scene where Ravi's character kills himself to let his friends escape and a scene where Manoj Bajpai see the Indian side of border after the day break. Fortunately makers have made sure that characters are not made larger than life like in earlier PoW movie called "Deewar-lets bring our heroes back". The drama behind escape is engaging and creates necessary tension for action to be gripping. Dialogues are sensible and cinematography apt. After the movie I wondered why there was just handful of spectators in theatre to watch such a good movie!! It is far better than many karan Johar movies.

Though the movie has fictional plot, it is based on real facts. During 1971 war, India returned around 90,000 Pakistani PoWs and in return Pakistan also did the same though they had few indians PoWs. After the wat some families of indian soldiers claimed that pakistan had not returned all the soldiers and some of them who were deaclared missing were lodged in pakistani jails. Pakistan denied this (and still does). This was contrary to all kinds of proofs from smuggled letters by Indian PoW which were sent to their relatives and families in India describing their locations and conditions in various Pakistani jails. There were also news in Pakistani newspapers about capturing of Indian soldiers or air-men during the war. Lots of families of these prisoners have fought for many years to bring their sons back from jails and even after co-operation from Pakistani human rights activists and Red Cross nothing has happened for more than 35 years. Victoria Schoffield , BBC reporter in her book on Bhutto, the president of Pakistan who was jailed after the war and imprisoned in Kot Lakhpat jail, quoted Bhutto as saying that he could hardly sleep in his cell due to horrific shrieks and screams at night which were tracked to Indians PoWs who had gone lunatics. Pakistanis are known to speak lies with straight face. For example they never attacked Kargil, Pakistanis killed in Kargil were not their soldiers, and they have nothing to do with Osama Bin laden or even Taliban. For Pakistan hiding 60-70 odd Indians prisoners in Pakistan would not have been tough and they possibly had to do that to avoid any international shame for violating the Geneva Convention. Whatever the politics behind it, it is tragic for those families who do not even know if their sons/brothers are still alive or dead.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Dog's Life and open Manholes

Death of two children after attack by street dogs in Bangalore over last two months, have sparked a public anger against "menace" of street dogs in Bangalore. It is totally understandable. What is not is the knee jerk reaction of Bangalore Municipal Corporation by launching mass killing and culling of the street dogs. Knowing how considerate our municipal corporations are towards human life, it leaves one in no doubt about how "mercifully" these dogs will be eliminated. So thousands of street dogs in Bangalore and Mysore will be killed for avenging two freakish and unfortunate incidents. I have absolutely no contention in my mind that human life is precious and definitely more precious than animal life if we have to make such a choice. But I have a strong suspicion that the move by the Bangalore Municipal corporation and supported by State health ministry has anything to do with real concern about human life. Call me a cynic.

Last year in month of July, one 5 yrs old boy, Prince, fell into a bore well which was unused and left open in a village in Harayana. The kid was saved after grueling 52 hours of rescue operation by Military which was broadcasted live on TV channels, and had the entire country hooked to the TV. People throughout the country prayed for Prince, some fasted and visited temples. Even Prime Minister was alarmed enough to speak about his concern about prince's safety and rescue. Unsurprisingly some even hailed prince as reincarnation of Krishna seeing his unusual survival instincts in a hole which would have left even a grown up man terrified. Last week a 4 year old girl Arti Koli in Bhavnagar fell into 60 feet unused pit for bore well and died within few hours before she could be rescued. She died when she fell while collecting guavas from a guava tree, into an unused and uncovered bore well pit. Her story ran just as a peripheral incident in TV news. Between these two incidents, there have been at least 6 such incidents across the country where little kids have fell into unused bore-well holes and pits and have either died or somehow rescued. I totally fail to understand why these bore-well holes are not covered since they are in middle of human settlements and are clearly dangerous to safety of children. Is this not a criminal negligence on Authority's part? Why haven't these incidents sparked a major systematic operation leading to covering up such potential man made death traps? Forget about operation, these incidents now hardly make any news.

In our cities and towns, walking on pavements where they are still un-encroached can be potentially dangerous as one might walk straight into an open manhole. Manholes left uncovered on our roads and pavements is a usual sight and it would be interesting to know how many people actually fall into them or even lose their lives every year. In cities like Mumbai, during rains it is not unusual to read stories of people falling into manholes while wading through flooded roads. People fall into uncovered manholes, uncovered pits and pavement gaps every year and some of them loose limbs and even life but we have hardly seen any action where people in charge of covering such unholy holes have been reprimanded and punished for such criminal negligence.

The fact is that we have low regard for human life. Why target only street dogs on this pretext!! Just becuase they are esy target! The real culprit is Municipal Corporation itself which is so ineffective with its garbage disposal duties. Street dogs subsist on those heaps of garbage dumps which litter our cities. With Bangalore growing by leaps and bounds, Municipal Corporation has all but collapsed in Bangalore just like most of other civic infrastructure. Killing on dogs is no long term solution and reeks only of revenge in short term. Population of street dogs can only be controlled through Animal Birth Control (ABC) schemes which are used across the world and were even being implemented in Bangalore before Government resorted to drastic action of killing the dogs.

May 2006 in kolkata, three street dogs watched over and protected a human baby dumped into a garbage bin. They surrounded the baby and protected her and left only after baby was rescued and taken home. I wonder who acted like animal here. The dogs that protected the baby or its own human parents who dumped her. I am hardly an animal rights activist but I just can’t understand how mass killings of dogs would get over the problem of street dogs that are known to breed faster than rate of killings. I also wonder if we would resort to mass cow killings if thousands of abandoned cows on our roads lead to fatal road accidents!! Now only if dogs were holy.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Fear Of the Dark - Iron Maiden concert

Iron Maiden, one of best heavy rock Bands is coming first time to India and is going to perform in Palace Grounds in Bangalore on 17th March. The UK band would be first ever international Metal act to perform in India and it is fanatstic opportunity for fans of Bruce Dickinson , Dave Murray and Steve harris. Last time when I attended Deep Purple show in Bangalore, there were huge organisational problems as drinking water at the venue had run out quickly and dehydrated fans had created a riot like situation. Considering that Iron Maiden is hard code metal band I just hope that this time organisers would be prepared for most pits , wall of death and of course would provide ample water and not just Pepsi and coke.

Iron Maiden has such an amazing collection of songs and their concert is going to be real rocker of a party as they are going to bring the entire stage show as used in Europe. It is expected that fans of hard metal genre from not only India but also form neighbouring countries are going to come for this rare concert in subcontinent. I hope I get the ticket for the show as it would be a real treat to hear the anthem of song "Hallowed be thy Name" live. Hallowed be thy name describes a man's thought just before he is sent to the gallows. Some believe that it is the greatest metal song of all times though that it is subjective. I particulary like this song for various reasons. I like the way it starts in slow temo and then slowly builds upto the explosive climax with fantastic piece of guitaring . Last few lines from lyrics of "Hallowed be thy Name"
As I walk all my life drifts before me
And though the end is near Im not sorry
Catch my soul cos its willing to fly away

Mark my words please believe my soul lives on
Please dont worry now that I have gone
Ive gone beyond to see the truth

When you know that your time is close at hand
Maybe then youll begin to understand
Life down there is just a strange illusion.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Nishabd - Pushing the Envelope

Nishabd is hardly a great cinema. It is just about good, though at times it is patchy (jerky eiditing) and looks in a haste. Cinema is a piece of art which evokes certain emotions in us and stays with us some time after we have left the cinema hall. Cinema presents some aspect of our life or reality seen from a perspective. Movies on the other hands are more of entertainment products, and more commercially driven. We watch such movies just for the stars, the glamour, and the entertainment value and to be transported and escape into a fantasy world. For example Bollywood movie like Dhoom2. It defies anything called reality or logic or even gravity but it became a big hit in India simply because it was a great fantasy product for mass consumption. It had some nicely choreographed stunts; some lovely song a dance and some scantily presented great toned bodies. It was great spectacle to be enjoyed over popcorns.

What makes Nishabd a landmark movie in context of Bollywood is the fact that it is a mainstream Bollywood movie with megastar Amitabh Bachchan, which deals with quite an unusual topic by Bollywood standards and also does not play in typical format of song and dance routine. For long Bollywood has churned out movies which has always played safe and offered romanticized and glamorized world for audience looking to see some nice dance and sequences and mostly they stayed away from any topic which could be remotely introspective, disruptive, though provoking or disturbing for audience or society. It is only recently in past few years that a new breed of filmmakers has emerged who are experimenting and succeeding with newer and much bolder themes. By bold theme I don’t mean sexuality but anything which is not afraid of dealing with controversial or grayer side of our society. In Bollywood context it also means a deviation from standard, off-the-mill masala ways of making movies where families are always happy, heroines are always beautiful, heroes always win and clich├ęs always prevail.

In India the movie stars have larger than life persona. Masses are so much in awe of stars and their onscreen persona that the even forget that star is merely actor who plays out certain role. This also makes stars to play safe by straitjacketing into a particular image which audiences have found acceptable. For example Shah Rukh Khan has literally played himself for years since it has worked for him with audiences.

Coming back to Nishabd, the movie is about a 60 yrs old photographer's love with an 18 yrs old girl which happens to be his daughter's friend. There are some genuinely great moments in the film like the one where Bachchan can not stop laughing after playing footsie with the young girl on dinner table. Bachchan is first rate like he usually is in most of his movies and Jiah Khan is ok for a first timer. Cinematography is good and enhances the mood of the movie. Bigger question is would Indian audience accept a film where a man old enough to be girl's dad is shown falling in love with her! I think no. The reason is that this is too much of a taboo for us. Some of us might be repelled by such an idea, after all , doesn't it sound like an old man sexually exploiting a young kid! Though there is nothing sexual between the characters in the movie. After the movie released there has been spate of TV interviews where Bachchan had to face all and sundry questions from public and "defend" himself. In one of interviews, a member of public almost castigated Bachchan for spoiling his "image" by doing "such a role" at "his age". Another guy asked him what he would do if he is faced with same circumstance in his real life. As if this is really important what Bachchan does in his private life and considering how conservative Bachchans are, I find it funny that somebody could think that Bachchan is capable of such a thing after all. As expected audience has not been able to accept Bachchan in a role which most of them would consider demeaning and undignified for his stature. This is typical of Indian audience where they can not see the difference between the star and the role he is enacting. And if left to audience, only role Bachchan , who is 65 , should play is that of nice, loving, grandfather. Now how interesting and challenging that would be on screen for an actor who is one of best of our times. For most of Indian audience a hero is always strong and righteous whereas Bachchan’s character would be called “morally weak", something which stars in India are always wary of playing as audiences "reject" such heroes.

Indian society is extremely function and role driven which are clearly defined with corresponding moral codes. Here father of a girl also by default becomes a father for friends of his daughters. And once he is a father that identity (dharma!!) of his becomes paramount over all other identities he might have. So how can we Indian audience ever accept the idea that a father like man is romancing daughter like girl!! In fact I am not surprised that were calls on banning such a movie which is "against Indian cultural values". Also lot of audiences would have complained that this is not a movie they can watch with families as movies should always be made only for families as unit of audience and never for an individual. In India families are sacrosanct and above everything, certainly above an individual.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Google Zeitgeist - Database of Intentions

Google Zeitgeist is an amazing application provided by Google which provides an indication of what a particular country or culture is looking for on internet. Jhon Battelle in his book "The Search" calls Google a massive "database of intentions". The reason is that as our society goes more and more digital and as we start spending more and more time online on internet, we use search to find anything we are looking for. For a whole generation of young people, search or lets say Google has become synonymous with internet. Evey given moment, millions of people are using Google to key in their desires, wants and fears in form of search queries in simple text box against white background. A simple look at Zeitgiest results for a country can tell us what people there are looking for giving an insight into trends and needs of society.

Here is a look at 5 most popular things searched by India in month of January:
  1. Indian Railways
  2. Cricket
  3. wikipedia
  4. sania mirza
  5. flowers

Surprisingly Indian railways is top indian queries for most of months in 2006. Does it mean that most people in India uses Internet to look for railway times or book rail tickets online!!And this is what our neighbour pakistan was looking for in month of January:

  1. pakistan
  2. sania mirza
  3. atif aslam
  4. kareena kapoor
  5. katrina kaif

It is interesting that 3 out of 5 top queires in Pakistan are looking for indians. In month of December 2006 , this is what pakistan was searching for:

  1. pakistan
  2. aishwarya
  3. sania mirza
  4. kareena kapoor
  5. katrina kaif

In top 15 of searches done in Pakistan, 7 of them are for indian actors or bollywood. So we know how much besotted our neighbour is with bollywood and actors.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Himachal Diary - A state of Development

India is rocking. India is poised. Poised to eject millions of people out of poverty. Poised to become a developed, modern country. I don’t know if we can eradicate poverty in one generation or we will lose the plot and miss the bus again. But there are clearly signs all around us that we are progressing fast towards destiny which we always believed was for ours to take. In small towns in Himachal the signs of new found prosperity are everywhere to see. Menial work is being done more and more by migrant workers from Bihar as locals don't want to do menial jobs anymore and they don’t have to anymore. I am not saying that menial work is lower but it is just that it can be taken as an indicator of how economy in a region is progressing since when a society progresses economically, the menial works are the first to be outsourced to a cheaper migrant labor since local labor moves higher up the value chain. So whether it is helping in farms, or construction, or building roads, it is increasing being done by workers from Bihar. Suddenly there are so many of Biharis in state that it has created a small law and order problem for a state which was always known to be most peaceful state in India. There is rise in murders and thefts and state Police has taken a wise step in registering all the migrant workers to keep check on their floating population. In My district, two cement factories in vicinity and an industrial hub town has galvanized the entire economy of region. In some villages, most of families own up to 2 trucks to transport cements creating a veritable jam on one of most used national highway passing through the state. Kol Dam is perhaps better example in how to rehabilitate people displaced due to construction of dams and to create employment opportunities. Horticulture which has tremendous potential in state is being harnessed now and this year massive quantities of flowers were exported to Netherlands. Farmers have moved big way towards organic farming and are growing off season cash rich vegetables in a big way. Tourism industry which is mainstay of hilly state’s economy has been doing consistently well over the years. A fledgling and nascent market of local music and movies is getting created and there are some Pahari movies made and circulated in local markets. Himachali songs and their videos are being aired on local cable channels something which never happened before.

I happened to be in my home town a month back during my vacation, where Virbhadra Singh, the Chief Minister of Congress led state government was addressing a public meeting and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by a rather rare apolitical (by our standards) and progressive speech he made. He was talking about the development that has happened in state and (in country ) and what has to be done in near future. I particularly liked his ideas about major reforms in Police force (law and order is a state subject) to restructure police force around two separate groups, one for law and order and other for case investigations. Himachalis by nature are known to be peace loving and gentle people and its police is also more friendly than what we are used to in other states, specially in neighboring Punjab. But there is still a lot that needs to be done to make Police less a force when it comes to dealing with ordinary, innocent people who are scared of reaching out to it. Later I read that State was on verge of replacing its 100 years or so old police act, which would enable major reforms the way Police force is governed in state. It would become very difficult for politicians to transfer police personnel on will. This itself will go a long way in making police more neutral, non-partisan and effective in dealing with crime since it is a known fact that transfers are used by politicians as a tool of manipulation and exerting pressure for their own selfish goals. In one of other progressive steps, Director General of Police in Himachal passed the orders for discontinuing practice from British raj where policemen had to salute all vehicles bearing red beckons, a practice of Victorian times.

Even though most of the times I am not given to romanticized nationalism or "statism", I occasionally take such liberty specially as I feel a connection to hills and lives of people who live there and Himachal being my home state , makes me feel good. Himachal has undergone a rapid transformation from the most backward part of country around independence to one of most advanced states now. State is now 4th in India in terms of per capita income. Himachal has a glowing record in education and it is also perhaps single most important factor for lifting the social and economic profile of the state. Himachal has one of highest literacy rates in India and in terms of Women literacy rate it has done very well. Districts of Hamirpur is among the top districts in country for literacy. Education makes people aware of their rights, making them politically wise. Political aware people understand their role in democracy and their stake in political power, governance and development. (Some of leaders of state understood role of education in economic and social development long back. While reading biographies of one of royals of my home district, Raja Anand Chand, I was surprised to know that he had opened schools in some remote villages of district much before independence and he actively encouraged bright students and teachers alike). Another important catalyst of development in state has been the excellent road network. For a region which has some of most challenging mountanineous terrain, the road connectivity was extremely vital for mobility of its people without which there could not have been any commerce related activity or development. Himahcal at present has highest road density among all the hill states of country with one of the Districts Hamirpur having highest road density in entire country. Roads are the veins in any region’s economy through which life blood of commerce and trade flows .

An important thing to note about Himachal is that, it has always done well in terms of economic development in last couple of decades irrespective of which party formed the state government. Having a population of around 60 lakh, Himachal has negligible influence in nation's politics and on radar of national politics; the state would appear just as a blip. But its own politics has been rather straightforward with power transferred alternatively between Congress and BJP. Irrespective of vagaries of politics in India which obviously has effect in state as well, it can safely be said that both the political parties have always looked at development of state and could perhaps share credit for it. I often wonder why certain societies do well than others in terms of economic and social development! Why do certain regions do well than others? Is it because of government policies? Should governance be the only factor to be blamed or credited? I am not an economist but I do believe that irrespective of various factors which govern economic development, the most fundamental factor is people itself. In democracy, people form governments, they chose their leader; they can influence what policies are implemented by political parties. Government is just the reflection of who it is governing. If Himachal has done well and is doing well, it is due to the fact that its people want to have better life. It is the collective will of people which translate into political will and then into policies which takes a state forward or backward. In sate elections of 2003, Hindutava was resurgent and BJP had won a massive victory in State of Gujrat. Narendar Modi, the firebrand BJP leader was the star campaigner of BJP in Himachal polls and it was hoped that hindutava would sway the voters of state to bring back BJP government. But people of Himachal thought that there were other important factors to reckon with than one's Hindu identity while voting for a government. In a predominantly Hindu state, where 95% of people follow Hindu religion, hindutava plank failed in spite of high voltage campaign on issues such as cow slaughter and Ayodhya. In state where 95% of people are also literate, far above the national average, obviously majority of people of state felt that issues of their day-to-day life like proverbial roti, kapada or makan, education, roads were far more important than a certain brand of hindutva. Congress won the election with whopping 40 seats in assembly of 65. It was a vote for development and progress.

Things are not always be hunky dory. There are always darker sides, the bitter sides. It is said that numbers don’t lie. Himachal has largest density of buses per person of its population.. Ok, so we have 22,000 km of roads in state now, but are they all really motor able? I have seen more roads in state where only motor you can drive is a tractor. Most of tarred roads in villages are of such poor qualities that while driving you wish if they had been left un-tarred. Travel in one of those small mini buses operated by numerous private transporters can be a pain as they are packed to the hilt like a jar of sardines. It is not enough to have good highways connecting just the places of tourist interest. People in small towns and villages deserve same levels of comforts and facilities. We have lot many tourists visiting state now. But knowing the potential the state has, it leaves one saddened that only surface has been scratched in this aspect. We need to learn from countries like Switzerland or even Scotland. Couple of years back while traveling through Scotland, I could not but find similarities with Himachal in terms of natural beauty. Why is that state doesn’t have a single international standard airport which can make Himachal accessible to lots of time deficient travelers! Himachal as tourist destination needs to be sold more aggressivley to foregin and local tourists. Rural tourism is a big untaped opportunity in Himachal. Railway network is almost nonexistent. Accepted that State has some of extremely challenging geographical conditions but there are various areas which can do better by connection through rail network. I believe that a haphazard, unplanned development is not development because it creates problems of its own. It is a big mistake to take trees for woods and start jumping with joy. Most of towns in Himachal are growing rapidly and new constructions are happening but all the new architectures are creating eyesore in region where tourism will always be main industry. Town planning is being overlooked and garbage disposal is becoming a problem in tourist places. There is a danger that in zeal of development, the natural resources of state would be exploited and its enviornment could be destroyed. A development which is not scalable and sustinable become useless. Planned development needs to be future proof. A future which is happening faster than we think.

Added on March 30 ,2007: This article was featured in Http:// . read here