Friday, March 27, 2009

Rules, rules and more rules....

Rules, rules and more rules. Of late, rules have been more in the news than news itself! Weird indeed. Take for instance F1. There was so much baatcheet on the change of rules and a lot of debate as well. Debate with the ones who have been benefited by the old rules arguing against the old rules and the ones likely to be benefited by the new rules siding with the change. Hamilton of course hates the change, simply because he won last year's championship with fewer victories than Massa. Well, you could say that he won by simply being there, than actually competing to get to the top. More like, the kid in school who gets marks for attendance. Ok! So I am not a huge fan of Mr Hamilton. But when Schumi was going about winning races left right and center, people cribbed that the sport was too boring. And at the last minute, in 2005, the qualifying rules were changed to the single lap thingy. But that time, no one cribbed, since this was making the sport more fun! Indeed! So, now some more zing is being added to F1, with the change in rules. Clearly the fight for points makes people cling to a strategy whereby winning the race really doesn't count. And that makes watching kinda boring.

Then Tim Geithner says we need more rules in the American economy. Obama says we need more rules to control Wall Street. And the FASB, the accounting body creates more rules that make it possible for net income to not really be ... net income. As if the current accounting standards are too less to allow sufficient fraud.

So rules and rules. Expected anyway! Everyone is jobless, at least lawmakers need some kaam dhanda right?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A sport called life, or a life called sport?

I know I know, India breathes and lives cricket. So in a way cricket is indeed the life of the nation, a religion of sorts here. And you do indeed have a whole segment of the population that watches any available cricket match, as long as it involves 20 men, a bat, a ball and the whole 22 yards! Ask any cricket enthusiast and he or she'd say that the Government is being mean by not hosting the IPL here. Let me be frank. I sincerely care very less about the sport and people who know me would vouch for the fact that I somehow prefer sports with 2 racquets, one ball and two players or one man in a car on a road instead of the crowded game called cricket. So my point of contention is - a free and fair election in the most populous democratic country in the world is a nightmare. Security provision for all constituencies, not to mention the rallies, the speeches, the booths and so on in the remotest of villages is difficult. So, asking for a deferment in the game, is not tantamount to displaying a failure to provide security. P C even went on to say that the state government machinery could provide the necessary security as long as the match and the election do not clash in that particular state. Elections are a delicate time in the country. To ensure our next government is elected freely, fairly and without any untoward incident, I guess must be foremost on every Indian's mind. After all, if we get a weak government at the center, we could actually jeopardize the developmental future of the country, since most of Parliament's time would be spent saving the government, rather than working the government. That said, now that South Africa is the anointed location, and they too are heading poll side, I ask, what is one trying to prove? UK lost out, apparently on account of the G20 summit. So can we assume that UK cannot provide security for sport at such a time and so UK is also rather incompetent???? Or must we assume that elections in South Africa are too safe and so they can take the burden of protecting the IPL players as well? Oh yeah! We saw how Kenya and Zimbabwe vote, safe indeed.

So the fact of the matter is, that there is no fact in the matter. Some reason somewhere, roils business into politics. Yes, I say business, since IPL according to me is just A-list cricketers in multi colored outfits playing county cricket, TV rights bring in the moolah. There was a newspaper poll once, asking whether moving the IPL outside India, would make the sport lose some of its 'Indian Flavor'. I say, when was it Indian anyway, save for the names and the club owners? The case is a lot like Force India in F1. The claim that India has arrived on the F1 scene, because Mallya has a stake in a team, sounds ludicrous to say the least. Well, every F1 enthusiast knows that Mallya watches the Monaco Grand Prix, every year when he goes yachting at Monte with friends. And if you have the money, you can own a team or a club or be gifted a club like some of our Bollywood beauties were 'gifted' IPL teams!

So its just gimmicks galore in the life of sport, with people playing 'passing the parcel' with the blame, or providing expert opinions, as did Shilpa Shetty when asked where the IPL should be held. "I really don't know... The best place that best suits the sport is where the IPL will be held" !!!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Childhood lost -III

I wonder how many more childhood lost posts I am going to write. But each time I see children having to act in totally un-childlike manners, on account of societal pressures, I don't like it and the desire to try to do something against the miscarriage of childhood, makes me at least want to write something about it. Children, when they're born are supposed to be bundles of joy. But how these bundles soon become burdens is something that we as a society need to revisit and correct. Here are my 3 points to ponder on A Childhood lost - III.

A while ago, at the threshold of the board exams in India, I had written something about how much children are pressurized, while saying that exaltation of poor performance is certainly not needed. Here is that post. Now, as time has passed, the number of cases of youth depression and anxiety over exams, parents piling the pressure and themselves succumbing to the performance epidemic has seemed to have skyrocketed. Kids killing themselves over the stigma of being caught copying? Parents immolating themselves, since their kids refuse to study? It seems bizarre, and really sad. I mean, why? I understand, that given India's population, there is a huge disconnect between the demand and the supply of seats for higher education. The competition is cut throat. But the answer does not lie in psychological terror and too much of importance being put on a three hour dash to the finish line. Why can't schools have a strong support system, that inculcates values of healthy competition, coupled with counselling about all available options? Can't the counselling apply to parents as well, who only want their kids to be investment bankers or doctors or engineers? One may argue that the huge crowds that make up classrooms leave teachers with precious little they can do. I counter back, saying, if a teacher can remember the names of all 60 of her students in class in a year, she can certainly look to the well being of those 60 lives. If not, in times of gore unemployment, please recruit teachers! The system needs revamping and reform. Our education system is strong. We manage to churn out tough world leaders who rise through adversity to conquer the world. All Indian achievers are testimony to our strong primary education. Let us make the facilitators of such education strong as well! Temper management sessions for teachers, psychological counselling for parents, teachers, aptitude testing and so on, must be freely available. We have the means, all we need is the mechanism.

Second, juvenile violence. One may say that India is fairly immune to the 'campus shooting' spree seen in Western countries. But children are children of the world! Again, one must treat the juvenile mind as just that. a tender, impressionable, flower that needs careful tending to. Almost every campus shooter leaves an online trail as a means of posthumous gratification. If the Patriot act can scan peoples' online trails in the wake of terror attacks, don't students' life on campus fall under the purview of internal security? Why can't someone find such psychologically fragile minds and treat them before a tragedy strikes? How much more awareness do people need? So many instances over the past decade. A movie by Gus Van Sant. I guess people are sufficiently aware. But one needs to classify juvenile violence as a problem and take some active steps towards solving this problem. Violence can stem from poverty, domestic violence, rifts at home, or just a curable mental condition. Again, we have the means to counter these causes, and we should, instead of devoting newsprint to a morbid account of these meaningless acts of violence.

Third, poverty among children. This is a problem highly rampant in India, more pronounced in metropolitan cities, where the poverty is in your face. Slumdog Millionaire has brought the slums into scrutiny, but more as part of slum tourism than as a wake up call to the powers-that-be to make a difference. Poor children throng sea-sides to trap the random tourist for making the money needed for their meal. But the childhood innocence remains intact, when at being shunned by a rude person, they just run off in playful abandon, screaming and jumping in groups. Mumbai's infrastructure may be soaring. But every flyover has tears of a two year old and the sweat of a 6 year old in its foundation. That has to stop. The day a 4 year old grimy child stops selling balloons to a well dressed 3 year old, childhood would be regained.

Other posts on A childhood lost - A Childhood Lost , The Pressures of Childhood

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Just turn on the news and all you see is chaos. Chaos everywhere! Pakistan, was never a peaceful state. Now with a puppet democracy that almost everyone wants to save, the situation seems more dire! First, in the process of democratization of the Middle East, scores have been decimated. Now, from the time of inception, Pakistan has been under dictatorship longer than under democracy. Its constitution has been dissolved more than it has been upheld! So in effect, Pakistani ideologies, and sensibilities that are truly intrinsic to Pakistan have been nurtured under 'one-man-shows'. So all of a sudden, if someone throws freedom and the right to choose your way of life at the people, they are dumbstruck, and cannot figure out how to use the tool called free intellect and independence! As a result, they elect one that comes along, and the one that comes along, happens to be one that is bullied by the powers that be.

Ok, we all know that democracy has its own flipsides. Simple decisions, take eons to materialize on account of the multiple checks and cross checks, and many a time, in Parliament, a move for a decision is check-mated! Take our own country. Now that polls are around the corner, the poll scene is fraught with chaos! we have an NDA, a UPA, a third front, and a dozen parties, whose full forms I don't know. No offence, but when parties are started almost every year, and a leader defects from one party to another, I, with my own schedule in life, find it a tad difficult to keep track of the developments. That said, the political tamasha with free television sets, cash, hooliganism and the like makes for interesting sideline reading! But since we believe in the power of being able to rule ourselves, we stick on with the model. But when modes of government in our neighboring country change as often as we change governments, it can understandably make matters difficult for people to get acclimatised to a certain way of life! So, a demand to reinstate judges takes ages, for whatever reason, and so, people take to the streets. The only other available political contender decides to swoop in and try to switch the fledgling government to his favor, and all that happens is CHAOS!

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is still suffering from political and ideological unrest. Suddenly someone has said that Osama is in the Hindukush mountains. Israel just went through its own political circus, with a George W Bush - Al Gore like situation, with both PM candidates declaring their respective victories. First bush fires that destroyed acres and acres of land, and the lives of scores of people, killing 200 odd people, and allegedly started by arsonists, and now a toxic oil slick that is threatening wildlife, Australia is in ecological turmoil.

While every nation grapples with its own share of strife, one common thread seems to be a state of chaos. A chaos in the midst of calm. Like in India, political chaos, in the midst of civilian calm. Overall calm in America, but in the midst of economic chaos. Military calm in Australia in the midst of ecological chaos. Can everything be traced back to an inherent unrest and unease, at the prospect of a dull economy and a bleak economic forecast? Can one assume that the civilian unrest is an offshoot of the worrisome nature of the world economy? If so, I guess symptomatic solutions are only part of the answer, and our world leaders need to act fast before the world becomes too hard to handle.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The cat's out of the bag - Swiss Banks

Swiss Banks are doing away with their rigid secrecy laws. I know, that in the wake of all the corruption, and terror and what not, the safe havens have become a tad too safe. But well, I for one, am really dejected in this sudden turn of events. Broke as I may be, (by Swiss bank standards of course) for me, the Swiss banks have held a certain mystique, which can only come when everything is shrouded in secrecy. Much like how stories of secret brotherhoods have intrigued generations!

Now that the secrecy clause is gone, the starting point of one of my favorite books, The Bourne Identity is gone! So what if Bourne had the number of a 3 zero account implanted into his hip? Till today, only Bourne would have known the contents of that account. But now, if that book were to be rewritten, all Carlos (Bourne's arch nemesis - for the information of all the uninitiated people - who I exhort must read the said book at least twice, as a mark of respect to a sterling character called David Webb/ Jason Bourne) would need to do, would be to tap into his contacts in the government, and find out Bourne's whereabouts. Gone are all the mysterious tales of hiding three zero account numbers into the hem of tuxedos, or into the circuitry of watches, or even under someone's skin.

With such a regulation, the romantic intrigue associated with such banks, that actually made me want to put the Gemeinschaft bank on Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich on my sight seeing list is gone..... Sigh!!!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Disillusion down memory lane....

Long long time ago, when civilization in Mumbai was still quite naive, there were some standard hangouts of sorts. Junk shopping at Linking Road and Fashion Street, going for movies at Sterling and spending 10 hours at VT, around a 2 and a half hour movie, eating at the McDonalds there and topping up the burger with a coffee from the Barista across the street. Then came the era of Planet M.

I still remember how cool it was to just go there, hang out, listen to the music at the listening stations, go and choose songs you want to hear at the kiosk, picking up all the new albums by the zing things of our time, and then get a coffee and a pastry at the next floor. Many a time, some celebrity or other would be scheduled to make an appearance there, to promote some new album. For me, that place holds some very happy memories. My first CD of Enya, my introduction to Yanni, a whole host of gifts to various people, this place was the ultimate time pass place during my years growing up in Mumbai. This was the place I used to udao a lot of my saved up pocket money, many a time, borrowing a 'never to be returned' loan from my dad to build my movie and music collection.

And then, padhaai and work caught up with me, and almost 5 years later, I decided to go again down memory lane, to Planet M, since my stock of movies was running dry. I stopped outside Times of India building, and walked across to the entrance I so vividly remembered. And... I saw nothing. Absolutely nothing at all. I asked the security guard outside ToI, and he said that PM had moved to Handloom house, near Siddharth college! I went on over there, and I was rather stumped to see that the store was reduced to less than 10% of its original size! The genre-wise, artist-wise labeling and ordering was so scanty. There were no rows and rows of CDs of all possible foreign and desi artists. The number of store attendants were just a handful. And there was no coffee place! And I was honestly let down. I just picked up a few movies I wanted, and quickly moved out, disappointed at the completely antithetical contrast between what I expected and I what I actually saw.

Harried, I quickly exited the store. Just after I stepped out, one chap moved across and thrust a new bunch of DVDs of the most recent Hindi and English flicks and said - 'Madam, 100 rupees 5 movies - ekdum latesht movies - excellent quality. Loge kya madam?'

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Happy Women's Day???? Really???

Newspapers are going gaga over today. TODAY! 8th of March - International Women's day. There is an editorial by Hillary Clinton, where she talks of the sterling work done by women's groups in China, where she went as the First Lady and now as Secretary of State. She talks of collaborating with her counterparts across the world to raise awareness about women's issues, blah blah blah. There are articles by Shobhaa De, Tanuja Chandra and everyone else who has had at least 15 seconds of fame. So 'achiever women' from the corporate sector were profiled and asked key questions, and the rest of the womenfolk in India are supposed to feel proud of such achievements.

Kudos to all those who have made it there. But as a woman, do I really think that women have actually reached a stage where they can achieve their full potential? Well, the very fact that women need a day to celebrate as their own, shows the extent to which they have been repressed so far. Stark? Yes, very much. Everyone knows about the atrocities against women and girl children that are rampant in rural India even today. Its also mentioned all over the papers today. The proverbial glass ceiling has been proclaimed to have been shattered. But is that really so? Is a woman still being treated equally at the workplace? Is the woman truly liberated? Just knowing problems exist and doing nothing about the malady is not women's lib. Yeah, everyone talks of the woman who successfully juggles life, career, home, finances, and emerges a winner. But such people are preciously few. And they are here, because of a rocking support system! Take Indian 'achiever women'. More often than not, their parents or in-laws are OK with raising a couple more children - those of their own kids, while the achiever women go and take over companies, float investment schemes, market a brilliant product and so on. Seldom ever does anyone talk of how those kids grow. Indian work culture is such that in case women need to be considered on par with men on the ladder that leads to the top, they still need to prove that they can do all that the guy can and more. So, if a bachelor guy, with 0 encumbrances prefers to stick around at work for unholy hours just to please the boss, many a time, a woman aspiring for the next top post is implicitly expected to do the same. If she doesn't, BAM! there goes the promotion. Its like, a woman needs to fight her way to the top every inch of the way. In case she tries to raise her voice and say that she is not too happy with the corporate set up that does not allow her to balance work and life, she is implicitly asked to choose between family and work, since no one asked her to come and compete in the first place. She then sits down and wonders why she slogged it out in undergrad, and beat everyone to the top rank, why she slogged her way through B School, and landed a plum job, only to have to let it all go, when the family beckoned. She then says - 'Its always a trade off and a compromise - you win some, you lose some'. The very fact that some women with stars in their eyes and brilliant ambitions, along with the caliber to achieve these goals is forced to take a back seat and compromise on her ambitions, because work culture and working conditions are not conducive enough, shows that at least in India, women's liberation has a loooooooooooooooong way to go.

Friday, March 06, 2009

A highly bizarre week that was

This week has been a motley week of bizarre happenings. First terrorists, who have more or less become permanent fixtures in modern day life, have proven beyond doubt that terrorism has no affections or soft corners. Even in ancient times, arts and sports were beyond the reach of war. During the Olympics, all warring nations would cease their war efforts and participate in unity in the games. As times progress, humanity is said to have moved deeper and deeper into civilization. May I safely assume, that the present day behavior of terrorists, that shows gross disregard to sports, and to innocent civilian life, is actually a regressive step towards barbarianism? Is this the civilization of tomorrow? Well, Pakistan is already crumbling. What with the Taliban in the Swat valley, and with and economy sunk in debt. Cricket was by and far their only saving grace. They did have a decent team, that could actually give World Champions a run for their money. At such a time, a planned terror attack that challenges the well being of visiting, touring cricketers spells doom for any of Pakistan's prospects of resurrecting its failing image. More so, when the visitors were Sri Lanka, who also are sufferers of the same plague called 'terrorism and lack of internal security'.

Bangladesh Rifles - mutiny. The last time I heard this word was when I learnt Indian history that spoke of the Sepoy mutiny of 1857! I mean, what does it look like? Does the Indian sub continent look for some damn reason to be in the news? For all the wrong reasons that too????

Next up. The whole mess surrounding Gandhiji's things. There's a Tamil saying about a guy who left an elephant's trunk and tried to catch it by the tail - 'Thumba vittutu Vaalala Pidikkara Kadhai'. We Indians seem to operate in a similar manner. Cricket matches to Indian prestige issues. We almost always let go of a victory at the top of the innings and depend on Kumble and Harbhajan to bail us out in crunch matches. Likewise, why do we always sit by the sidelines and drag our feet, in global matters pertaining to Indian things? Remember the patent on Basmati and turmeric? Almost similarly, some Otis guy comes up with Gandhiji's things to put on auction, and only then do we realize that something of historic and sentimental value to us is being 'sarey aam neelaamofied'! And then it hits our government to do something in this regard. And even then they hunt, and think, and discuss and decide and lawfully try to work their way through goodness knows what, till finally, a beer baron goes on, bids at the auction and gets the memorabilia and donates it to the government. Strike one, two and three!

And finally, its time for Africa. A beautiful continent, with rich environmental resources. Gold and diamonds more than anywhere in the world put together. Forests and wildlife better than anywhere else in the world. But poverty, angst, disease, death, ethnic cleansing, genocide - the only place in the world to boast of these vices. Sad? Very! To watch what can actually be a thriving continent, that can perhaps fruitfully employ its vast resources, wither away into decadence and waste, is saddening, to say the least. Africa can make use of its people, who are traditionally hard workers. She can popularize her culture into a unique art. She can put her geographical vastness and strategic location to good diplomatic use as well. But internal issues that have festered for centuries on account of either complete condoning by superpowers or tacit complicity of powerful people with what is wrong have reduced Africa to a wasteland. Take Zimbabwe. With inflation well over one million percent, the economy is in shambles. With a simple disease like cholera claiming 85,000 lives, the country's infrastructure is in ruins. With election results being botched amid high bloodshed, the country itself is in dire need of a messiah. Morgan Tsvangirai, the PM who was sworn in a few weeks ago in a highly publicised 'power-sharing deal' seemed to have at least some right answers. And today, a car crash has left his wife dead and him in hospital. Is there any hope at all for this angst-ridden country nee continent? May God's grace come upon Africa to try to protect the beautiful continent from self destruction.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The overvaluation of academic underachievement

The board exams start across India pretty soon. CBSE class 12 actually begins tomorrow. Std. 10 and Std. 12 kids are put to the test and their year-long efforts are supposed to culminate and find fruition. As is always the case the spate of media coverage of anxiety-ridden parents and children has begun. And as is always the case, the 'even if you don't do well its alright' advice is floating everywhere.

I agree, our exams put kids on the spot. One year's effort is supposed to bear fruit in exactly 3 hours. So in case one is a tad unlucky on that day of the exam, his future, is for all mortal considerations, screwed. Or so people perceive. At least all the neighborhood uncles and aunties and relatives think so. For a very long time now, talks have been doing the rounds that the system must be reformed to actually provide a more 'holistic' view of the child's learning even in case of key thresholds like grade 10 and 12. Well, I for one, never looked up the meaning of 'holistic' and this act of laziness, really hasn't mattered yet, since the system has not been touched in ages. If at all anything has changed, then it is the politics of education, that has produced the dire effect of new entrance tests being introduced, only to be repealed later and re-introduced, as the education minister at the helm keeps changing.So in the middle of all this ruckus, comes the hapless student. School, tuition classes, test series, doubt-solving sessions, home education, home work, revision, Multiple choice question speed training sessions, concept sessions, whew the list goes on. So it is understandable that the kid is under tremendous pressure.

At such a time, if someone goes on to say that marks are not the makers and breakers of life, then that comment is supposed to be a consoling factor, that actually at least rids the kids of some tension.But going totally overboard and profiling school dropouts who have made it big in business, sort of, according to me, conveys a very morbid picture. One, does it mean that marks mean nothing at all? If that is indeed the case, then shouldn't Nobel laureates and economists and social thinkers, why researchers who have met with academic brilliance all life long, feel affronted? Have their efforts all been in vain? Secondly, how well do the odds of making it big in business stack up in favor of the general population? One needs vision, genius and raw determination to make it big in business. Granted,qualifications do not assure one of big bucks. But neither does a lack of grit towards the books! I argue, that if for some reason, one quits studies, does that certainly mean that one would not quit in the face of adversity in business?

I give full kudos to acumen and a talent in a certain art or business and I very strongly feel that one must certainly follow one's dreams. But before taking the decision against studies and in favor of something else, perhaps one must just introspect for a while, and think whether the decision being taken, is out of laziness, or otherwise. For if the decision is motivated by lethargy and a lack of determination, it only forebodes a life of indigent indolence.

So I say, take up every exam, every stage as a challenge, and treat it as one that only YOU can overcome, and see the results follow. However, if for some reason beyond your control, fate stacks up odds against you, remember fate has opened up a door elsewhere, and it is only a matter of time, before you find that door.... ALL THE BEST TO NEXTGEN INDIA.