Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Method to the Madness - Revolutions

Not very long ago, I had decided to channelize my posts in a certain manner. Not just to give an overall theme to the lilac avenue, but rather to help me find thoughts to write about. And almost a year later, (here is the old post - 'A Method to the Madness Reloaded') it is that time of the year again, where in true Matrix style, I decide to put in 'A Method to the Madness - Revolutions' Part 3 of an n-part saga!

But rather than leave it as a 'things to do post', I piloted the plan and here is the outcome -

Maximum City on Monday
Trends on Tuesday
Weird Wednesday
Thoughtful Thursday
Flirting with Photography on Friday
A bookish Saturday
Sport on Sunday

I hope to adhere to this plan going forward. Let's see how this goes!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Bookish Saturday - The Bourne Identity

A Bookish Saturday
I'll begin with my thoughts on what I think is one of the best books of fiction written in the 20th century. Now people may or may not agree, but books and their perceptions are to a very large extent personal. In any case, a book I hold very dear is 'The Bourne Identity' by Robert Ludlum. And here's why.

At the outset, the book is divided into 3 parts. Post the blockbuster movie, most of us know who Jason Bourne is. But one thing many who haven't read the book don't know, is that the movie is absolutely not like anything in the book. So, the opening lines begin with a shooting aboard a trawler, where we know that someone is mercilessly shot at. This someone topples overboard and then we have a body that is spotted by fishermen and brought over to the Ile de Port Noir in France. They think he's dead, but he isn't. A drunk doctor tries to save his life and succeeds, only to realize that our man remembers precious nothing of his life. And then starts the journey of trying to find out who he is and the reader is taken along in this journey. At each stage he stumbles upon a clue which leads him closer to the truth, while at the same time, someone else is out to get him killed.

The plot is a maze of very well etched characters, with Jason showing his personal traits in situations, which give you a hint that he is perhaps conscientiously a good guy. But then, the reader also comes across some pieces of news that point towards him being an assassin for hire. While the reader would be confused over what his true identity is, Jason's turmoil of perennially staring into an abyss is very well brought out in the book. The character of Marie St Jaques, a Canadian economist is also well sketched - portraying an independence and a steadfastness albeit without explicitly using those words! The circumstances that put Bourne and Marie together, and how they try to find out who Jason truly is, is edge-of-the-seat interesting to say the least.

As the plot goes on, one travels through the mystical world of Parisian haute couture, the corridors of power and diplomacy, the arcane world of the CIA, the crooked mind of an assassin, and the dark environs of a man without a memory. All in all, a real treat for those who like intrigue and unpredictability. The best part is that this book does not have a hero and a villain or a goal to achieve by the end of the book - like say find the bad guy and eliminate him or solve a whodunnit. The magic lies in figuring out the nuances of the characters and delving deeper into each character's psyche. How would one feel if suddenly one were to wake up in an unknown land, with no idea of who he is and the very next instant find out that someone out there wants him dead? What is the relationship between a certain event that happens early on and a certain person somewhere later in the book? Who is Jason Bourne and what happened on that trawler that night? These are the questions one would find himself asking throughout the book and the book never lets a reader down. The high point also is in the believability of the characters and the circumstances. Nothing is left to chance, everything is perfectly... believable. Like it is possible for someone in stress to trust the wrong guys. It is possible for someone to feign an identity and get through to someone else. It is possible for the bad guys to have connections all the way to the top. But then again, who is the bad guy? Such is the tone of the entire book.

And the book may have been written in 1980, but the story and the way it is written will continue to thrill millions for years to come.
Plot - excellent
Characterization - brilliant
Pace - Typical Ludlum
Veracity and believability - Up to the mark.
If you haven't read it yet, it's time you did.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A visit to Golconda Fort

Flirting with Photography on Friday

A few months ago, a few friends and I went to take a look at a historical site in sights starved Hyderabad. The place - Golconda Fort, a 15th century fort in Hyderabad. And given the trigger-happy person I am, (only in the photography department), the place was not at all a let down. The pictures were plenty, and the memories humongous!

It was an impromptu plan, camera batteries were not charged, and here is the outcome through a tiny lens and a cell phone camera. As my good friend and in my opinion one of the best photographers I have come across SSP would say - 'you don't need an awesome cam to take good pics'.
But here are some pictures - each special for the view, the hue, the characters, the everything...

Here, I loved the juxtaposition of the ruins and the sprawl of a new city in the background.
This is the minaret of a mosque at the top of the fort.
The people, the city, and the ruins.
Juxtaposition again.
How those boulders managed to stay there is a mystery. Newton, maybe you can help?

The secret window????

Once upon a time, the corridors of power...

An evening well spent....

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The questions SPILL on....

A Thought on a Thursday
A friend of mine was cribbing the other day about how her mischievous cat had jumped on to her cooking table and knocked over a pan of cooking oil that she'd kept there. The oil spilled all over the table and the sink, leaving a clean, polished surface all slick and sticky. I kept quiet, since I really couldn't say anything. You can't ground the cat, she just won't understand. You can' tell the cat that the kitchen is off limits; dogs understand, cats don't care! Neither can you banish cooking oil from your life!

The present BP oil spill off the Gulf coast is a classic story. And somehow I get hit by a sense of deja vu. Oil spills happen all the time, it appears. Not even half way into 2010, and there have been 2 already - the big BP oil spill or Deepwater Oil spill as it is called, caused by an explosion and subsequent sinking of a drilling platform off the Gulf of Mexico and another caused by the collision of a light crude tanker and a bulk carrier in the Singapore Strait. There were 3 spills in 2009, 2 of which were in Australia, losing a maximum of 30230 tons of crude. In 2008, again there was a spill in New Orleans, and just one spill for the year. Maybe the recession put a plug on drilling work too, for there seems no reason why carelessness dropped that one year, only to balloon up again. Over history, US has had the notoriety of 27 oil spills. Can't blame them, since they perhaps drill the most too! The worst ever oil spill though was the Gulf War oil spill in 1991, but then all is fair in love and war and so that can perhaps be disregarded.

So, what's the big deal this time? Why such hue and cry over some oil spilling on some water? My friend's cat isn't getting so much of attention anyway; in fact she is getting the silent treatment from my friend. Anyway, this spill has brought to light technological nightmares that can occur in case of a Black Swan effect in a field other than finance. All the methods of mitigation known and used so far are best suited for surface spills not deep water oil well bursts! The crude here is a sticky kind, that emulsifies easily, meaning it forms an oil-water mixture after which dispersants that disintegrate the oil cannot be used. Every method they have tried so far, after the ping pong blame game that is, has floundered, well, literally. Be it placement of an underwater oil recovery system - which failed because it formed methane hydrate crystals that clogged the system; or even using a smaller containment dome. At last, a permanent closure of the well is the only solution in sight. And how? Using the traditional method of stuffing heavier drilling fluids which push the oil down. Again, it will take 3 days before we know with certainty that the solution has worked.

In the meantime, the arguments have been plenty. And everyone has had more than their 15 minutes of notoriety. From BP vs Transocean, over who goofed up, the lessor or the lessee, to an argument over whether the government was acting fast enough or were they goofing off, lost in a mire of bureaucracy. And then came the numerous questions over why the safety systems especially the 'dead man's switch' which was supposed to have sealed the well, had communication between the drilling platform and the well failed died just when they had to work. Just as in the case of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in India, where Methyl Isocyanate escaped off a failed safety valve, in just the way it shouldn't have. Why was a special nitrogen foamed cement, which was characteristically more difficult to handle used here? Why was the final capping not done? Who is to blame? Why was an independent assessment of the spill not allowed? What was being covered up?And what can be done to prevent this in the future, or is every spill unique? How can the fish and birds be protected? And what about all that oil lost?

Just like the 2008 crisis was a lesson in finance, over how things could go wrong and how best to brave such situations, I guess this spill is a lesson on how to expect the unexpected. Only that finance perhaps heals faster, but nature is cracked forever, literally. And this is one helluvan expensive lesson indeed.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Weird Wednesday
The other day I saw an ad on TV that spoke of the dire state of education for everyone especially in rural India. It shows a little girl sitting under a tree talking to herself saying that she can't go to help her mother cook today and that she can't help out in the fields - because she is going to school today. And then the sponsor, a large FMCG conglomerate puts a message saying that out of every sale, some portion would go towards rural children's education. 'Padhega India, tabhi toh Badhega India' the catch line says.

A friend of mine who lives in a first world nation remarked to me the other day that now that summer was imminent, there were loads of hoardings and advertisements on TV relating to sport. Rollerblading, soccer, everything that can best be played and enjoyed in sunshine, when the world isn't covered in snow. And she told me about a certain set of ads by a hardware store, that said, 'Buy here, so our children can play!' It seems that that ad had kids of different races each staring into the camera with a line above their faces that read - 'I only want a tennis racket' or 'I only want a pair of cleats' or 'I only want a pair of inline skates' and so on. The ad apparently ended with a bunch of kids entering a hockey field in uniforms and in place of their names on the back of their jerseys, they had the names of each of the store's products. The purport was that the store was involved in CSR towards ensuring underprivileged children could play.

The irony hit me. Call it Marie Antoinette, but India sure has a long way to go!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

School results and Suicides - an alarming trend

Trends on Tuesday
And the boy tied a belt around his neck, latched the other end on a fan and kicked the chair beneath him.... She ran up to the terrace of her building, looked back one last time and jumped.

No, these are not endings of a set of Gus Van Sant movies. These are alarming trends facing the urban youth of today in a super competitive India. A few years ago, when we were in school, suicides soon after results were unheard of. But now, we have suicide helplines, huge long winded articles in major newspapers, and even shows on TV that try to counsel kids against taking that drastic step.

When did such a dire situation come about and why? Peer pressure to perform is perhaps one of the biggest reasons. Yeah, almost all of us know that peer pressure is the cause of practically all problems facing the youth. But why do some succumb to peer pressure and some others don't? The answer may not be too obvious, but somewhere the stress that people lay on academics and their importance in lives is perhaps key. For instance, in some houses, people tell the kids to work hard. But a few slip ups here and there are perhaps forgotten. In some other households, the pressure to perform is very high. Somehow, the impressionable minds are given the view that if they do not score those 99% marks, their lives are finished. Well, fear is a good tactic to get human beings to work. But somewhere, in kids, the fear has to be offset as well. Which unfortunately isn't happening.

If we delve deeper, the issue can also be with the education infrastructure. Too few opportunities for too many people. Few seats in the IITs. Few really good colleges. add to it the seats eroded due to reservation and kids have precious few opportunities. And academic lineage does matter while getting into universities abroad or even into premier schools in India. The kids really at risk are not the average or below average ones, for they manage to do something or nothing at all. The kids at risk are the ones a notch below the best. The ones who fall in the 'just missed' category, who set their goals on the best and fall into despair when they miss. So the issue is complex and the resolution perhaps lies in proper counselling and hand holding services, not just for kids but for their families as well. Somewhere someone needs to tell the super moms and super dads that it is ok to fail once in a while. For with every fall comes the effort to rise again and that effort builds a true human being.

But till then, the spate of suicides and botched suicide attempts soon after school exam results is a scary trend. It really is insane, for a 16 year old who is considered too immature to vote or buy alcohol or even drive, decides that a few low marks in an exam have the capacity to break his/ her life! It is a very gory foreboding of future trends that need to be checked before it is too late. India has a young working population to look up to in the future. The last thing we need is our competitive nature getting the better of us.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Maximum City - an urban nightmare

Mondays in Mumbai
Annoying horns, crackling firecrackers, the annoying digging noise of a digger somewhere, dust flying all over the place. Seems like a scene straight out of a day in Mumbai? Yes. What happens when you try to fill a water balloon and keep pouring water in beyond what the balloon can carry? That is exactly what is happening to Mumbai. Maximum city is bursting at its seams. Despite being a Mumbaiphile, despite how much it hurts me to write this piece, it is the truth!

To keep up with the urbanization spree, the infrastructure needs to grow. So everyone needs bigger roads and more buildings. And now, India is a growth story with Mumbai as one of its central characters. So, people are getting more affluent. As the standard of living increases, people grow aware of heretofore unknown entities like status symbols and so on. So, in a new phenomenon that is gripping Mumbai, people buy 4 cars per household! 2 small cars, and 2 SUVs, all for a family of maybe 4! Given the affluence, people hire a driver for a small sum a month and absolve themselves of the sorrows of driving in Mumbai. The result - the ever burgeoning need for more flyovers and even bigger roads! As the number of rich people grows, room at the bottom and the middle of the pyramid is let up and more poor people migrate into the city. This puts a pressure on public transport, the buses and trains in Mumbai, which till date have been hailed as the best in India! But even these have a set capacity which cannot be overshot.

The result - the balloon bursts. Crowds have become unimaginably huge such that traveling by public transport is literally painful. Augmented crowds lead to discomfort and whole lot of rage in an already stressed out city! Fine, so one could choose to travel in his own vehicle. But what will you do when someone chooses to take his SUV through rush hour traffic? He probably wouldn't realize the agony he is causing by choking up an arterial road in peak traffic, since he is perhaps being driven! And everybody else on the road has to put up with the ordeal of having to traverse a 20 minute distance in 2 hours. Add to the mess the pain of incessant honking, which adds on to the noise and unbeknownst to us augments our stress levels. Another major problem is the noise pollution that people in houses need to bear. An arterial road goes past their apartment building and they have to bear the noise of vehicles, sirens and honks all day and all night. This is a slow poison which has the capacity to increase stress levels and cause a whole slew of physiological as well as psychological problems!

What can be done? Well thankfully, a lot. In terms of urbanization, Mumbai is not the pioneer, nor is India, for that matter. So we have loads of precedents to fall back on. So, for the public transport infrastructure, decidedly we need wider roads, although not at the expense of trees and mangroves. We need more trains and more buses, or even more double decker buses! As far as road congestion goes, we can adopt rationing on the basis of number plates, as has been done in Brazil, which has the world's worst traffic congestion record. Or even adopt a penalty system for vehicles with single occupancy during peak hours, as has been done in Singapore. Another idea could be imposition of a prohibitively high tax on the third vehicle entering a household - a modification of the high purchase tax regime of Hong Kong. And as for the noise, well, putting up sound barriers or noise absorbent boards along arterial roads and expressways is a practice followed all over the developed world, to shield residential areas from road traffic noise. Surprisingly that mechanism is totally absent in India. Provincial parks and anointed green zones are essential in Mumbai, to check pollution levels as well.

All in all, strong and immediate steps need to be taken to preserve Mumbai's sanity. Or the very things that attract people to Mumbai and keep them there could turn to haunt them and perhaps even shoo them away!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Crash and Burn

As if the woes facing the airline industry are not enough, we now have one of India's worst air crashes since over a decade to add to the list of issues. It is more like the recession of 2008. Bear Stearns went down, followed by Lehman, and then a whole slew of institutions went belly up. And just as the world was trying to emerge out of the turmoil thanks to a cartload of bailout packages and hand holding, Dubai screamed out for help. Then Greece, which threatened to set the world on fire!

What is really sinister is the fact that there was yet another crash in Libya on the 12th of May, hardly 10 days back. Again a crash at Tripoli, soon after landing. Last seen, there still was no clear idea of why the crash happened. And now again, at Managlore, just after touchdown. Some ideas being floated are that the aircraft's tyre burst, the plane hit a pole, broke, and skidded into a ravine. But the real cause is still unknown.

The discussions and theories abound. People blame the pilot. They give ideas on what else could have been done. Like he could have just taken off again, circled and come back. Why didn't he do that? No one knows what happened in those last few minutes before the crash, and it is quite stupefying, since the pilot was indeed a very experienced captain, and errors are typically not expected of such experienced pilots. The question still remains.

But in the interim, what will ensue is a dirty blame game, with the airline blaming amenities, ministries blaming airlines, victims' families blaming everyone. The solution? Well, one must realize that while embarking on a journey in the high skies, you must be ready for the worst consequence. No one would crash a plane on purpose and so, perhaps any underlying issue would need to be looked at. Are the pilots' working conditions not conducive to their composure while flying? Are they being stressed out? Can any other precautions be taken in such airports that are on top of ravines, or abutting sea coasts, like say in case of Vizag and Goa? A lot perhaps needs to be done, and unless some clear steps are taken, I am sure the airline industry would be staring in the face of several more controversies that sure do not help its prospects!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The more humane side of justice

There has been a lot of hue and cry on a new judgment passed by the US department of Justice. The decision involves the scrapping of a punishment - life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for juveniles in crimes that do not involve the taking of a life. On the face of it, it looks cruel to imprison a child for life without the possibility of parole. Think about it. Kids at ages below 18 are considered too immature to buy alcohol, too immature to vote for a government. So, how can one decide that they will never reform themselves ever? How can someone decide that the crimes that they have committed should have a punishment that makes them bitter for life? Everyone has a right to reform themselves and everyone has the right to a second chance, right?

Usually some juveniles, fall into the wrong ways from a very young age. Not their fault, perhaps, since they may have grown up on the streets, or may have been raised by addicts, other offenders, and may have had to participate in crimes to save their own lives or protect themselves from abuse. At such a time, they perhaps are so brazen towards rights and wrongs that they can't quite distinguish them. Or rather they can't realize that what they're doing is wrong. That is their immaturity. Take the case of children who have been accomplices in an armed robbery. The reason why they participated can be anything - fear, joblessness, lack of education, or just some way to earn some money. They get caught and they are tried. Suppose they are repeat offenders in such misdemeanors, because of which, when found guilty, they're put into a juvenile delinquent's prison. The idea is that they undergo some sort of reformation while in prison. But what if they come in contact with worse criminals? Maybe kids who've committed murder? At those impressionable ages, the wrong impression gets formed first. And society is perhaps better off not letting such newly formed criminals out.

But that does not mean that their chance at clemency should be withdrawn. The kids can be checked regularly, their psychological growth can be measured. But more importantly, while such a scrapping of a punishment brings forth the more humane side of the justice system, one must think of reforming prisons as well. They should be a correctional facility in the real sense of the word and not a dirty marsh that breeds further crime.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bad Michael time!

A bad Michael day. It looks like all possible sport misfortunes have come bundled up together. First Michael Schumacher. Now Michael Ballack. Two sportsmen I truly respect.

I felt Michael added a dash of fun to an otherwise dull and drab business-as-usual Monaco Grand Prix. Technically race control said - 'Safety car in this lap'. Usually that means that the safety car would be pulled in in that lap. Besides, there were green flags waving which implied people would race to the finish line. It is true that overtaking behind a safety car is not allowed. But the race engineers in the pit garage were seeing the goings on and they got their information from race control. So how could that be all wrong? And we're speaking of Ross Brawn for God's sake. A man who built the man and the machine combination - Michael at Ferrari. He could not have gotten it all wrong! And, a penalty should be commensurate with the error. The lines were murky and overtaking behind a safety car is disallowed because it can lead to damage to man and machine! But here, the road was clear, the lights were out, the green flags were waving and it was an itsy bitsy overtaking manoeuvre. It could not have hurt anyone. The penalty - 20 seconds meaning, 12th position, meaning all points lost. Last time when Lewis Hamilton raced Vettel in the pits, that was dangerous. It could have knocked both cars out, and hurt the pit crew! The penalty - a stern warning. Now that according to me is unfair. Everyone in the sport should really be treated equally - be he an F1 legend or a rookie! Fine, if Michael was violating article 1.2.4. whatever, he perhaps needs a penalty. But commensurate with the crime committed.

And now the second Michael. I remember the Euro cup final where despite a bleeding brow Ballack came out to play for his team. He is a great captain indeed, responsible for getting Germany all the way up to the Euro 2008 finals! Pity the day didn't work out his way when the team lost to Spain. He is also a guy chosen by no one but Pele as one of the 100 greatest players of all time! With hardly a few weeks to go before the World Cup in South Africa, what has happened to him is terrible! Knocked out by injury sustained in an FA cup final. Well, Chelsea won the EPL and the FA cup. But at what price? And the injury was caused by a tackle in response to a slap! Again, let's have some equanimity here please! Ballack slapped Boateng. Wrong. Ok. But the tackle that resulted in such a bad injury was certainly not a commensurate rejoinder! A slap will tingle for a few minutes, the hurt ego will perhaps tingle a bit longer. But that's all. It can't stop you from playing in a tournament as critical as the World Cup! I sincerely hope that this isn't the end. For I remember how Batistuta cried in the 1998 FIFA World Cup after being knocked out by the Netherlands. For it was his last ever World Cup match. We all also remember the 1994 FIFA World Cup, where Roberto Baggio's penalty shot went over the cross bar handing over the championship victory to Brazil. FIFA World Cup matches that happen once in 4 years are too precious to let go of. And certainly not in such a painful way as in the case of Ballack.

All in all a terrible time for all Michael fans. Hope this is it, though and the happy Michael times come back soon!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Technology is at it again!!

A while ago I'd written quite a bit on technology and how social networking has its own flipsides. Here those posts are - 'TECHNOLOGY'. Anyway, come to think of it, the flipsides of technology are quite fascinating, as perhaps is technology itself.

Take gtalk taglines. A few months ago, completely aghast at the kind of status messages people put up, I'd posted this. Do take a look. And I realize that the trend continues. Only this time, through Facebook and Twitter and also Gtalk! I wonder why people travel. To see places? Or to tell the world that they're traveling? Looks more like the latter, with people unabashedly putting up where they are. Question 1 - Who really asked XYZ where they went. Question 2 - Did XYZ spend more time analyzing sceneries and backdrops to make a choice over which shot would look best on FB? Or did he/she actually spend time admiring the place? And then again comes the bout of showing off. Back in school, if someone got a new pencil case, they'd find every opportunity to remove a pencil! But that was school. Now, if someone buys a new phone, they find every mode to publicize that! WHY? So you wanted a new phone, you went and bought one. I wanted a new couch cushion and I went and bought one! I am sure no one wanted to read a message like - 'Rust colored silk chequered cushion will adorn my couch starting now'. Oops, did I read a message like that on Facebook sometime???!!??? Maybe I had! So why would I want to know that ABC bought a Blackberry Pearl? or Bold or whatever! Why would I want to know that someone else bought a toothpick! Blatantly in your face. Yes that is what this is.

And now, with the advent of Twitter, tweet-happy people abound by the millions. Take our very own Lalit Modi of IPL notoriety for instance. Mr. Moneybags was in Monaco watching the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix, and he tweeted - "Touched by the solidarity on the streets of Monaco. Touched by the solidarity for IPL. One day F1 too will have IPL following". I couldn't stop laughing. Did Mr Modi even know about the existence of the Tifosi? Tifosi translates to scarlet fever in Italian and these are the Italian fans of the Prancing Horse - Ferrari! Did Mr. Modi know about how F1 tickets get sold out in Australia? Did he even realize that Formula 1 that runs across countries for a championship run throughout a year has a following in as many countries as there are races? Which brings the current country tally to 19! Let us not even begin counting the number of F1 fans in India. But then once you have a Blackberry, with access to internet, international roaming charges notwithstanding, and you have a constant thirst for fame, no matter what the route, I guess you can dismiss such statements as being an advanced form of the common foot-in-mouth disease!

So cranky status messages, weird twitter updates - well all hail technology!!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Demo CRAZY!!!

This week saw a coalition government in Britain for the first time ever. There was such a lot of hue and cry surrounding it, that people in India were at a loss over why! Since we have had coalition governments since eternity. And two years ago, the most bizarre form of coalition governance was seen in Israel, after every party claimed success! And if we look at all major past British colonies, a funny trend comes up.

The United States has a perfect two party political system with the Republicans and the Democrats. And by and far amongst all the biggies of the developed world, they have maintained this system for the past 234 years! Take Australia. They supposedly have a two party system, but sometimes, they are pushed to a 3 party system calling for coalitions at times. And now, the UK has stepped into the coalition game as well. Canada is another major player in coalition politics.

But look at India. 7 National Parties, 42 regional parties and 730 unrecognized, yet registered parties. So are we an example of democracy gone horribly wrong? True, democracy is precious. Thailand is a glaring example. People are arguing and fighting over the lack of a proper and transparent form of government. I remember Aghanistan, when people first stepped out to cast their votes post the tyrannical Taliban regime, there were luminous smiles on peoples' faces, they suddenly felt so empowered at being given the right to choose their own governments! The right to decide what happens to them as a country. But in India, the world's most populous democracy, the story is a tad bizarre.

Shepherding so many parties is a tough ask. Everyone has an agenda and a local mandate. Aligning these and being able to achieve significant development is a taller ask! And if you have leftist, fiercely communist parties as part of the group, like we did a couple of years ago, all semblance of capitalist development can be kissed goodbye, since they would be fiercely opposed! How we passed the nuclear 123 agreement is a story in itself. And then we have the numbers trading game. Outside support with withdrawal of support at the slightest provocation, a demand for certain ministries and portfolios, bargaining to have charges against someone dropped in order to hold a government together - it all happens.

A change is certainly in order. Outside support, ideologically different parties should not coalesce as per law. Several such changes would be ideal. But how can someone expect a parliament to bring about a constitutional amendment that may be detrimental to the passers themselves? I don't know. But before we begin commenting on how things should change and how government should be reformed, I guess the first thing needed is to do something to increase the voter turnout. For till then, we may call ourselves a democracy, but only one that does not represent the disillusioned, uninterested lot. Which unfortunately makes up the majority of our country!

Monday, May 17, 2010

The story of the parking spot!

A busy day. Loads of cars on the street. A place. One parking spot looks available, since someone is just backing out. You notice it and you stop strategically a few steps away from that outgoing car. Just a few minutes later, another car pulls up on the opposite side after seeing the outgoing car backing out. Outgoing car backs out, the spot is open, up for taking. What happens? The answer - IT DEPENDS.

If I am somewhere in the non - desi part of North America or UK, I can be sure that I'll get a smile from the other contender, who'll perhaps just shrug and turn his wheel to go look for other spots.

If I am in Mumbai, well, the story is totally different. First, we begin with a slurry of honks. Since everyone is scrounging the parking lot looking for a spot, everyone is slow. But the guy behind me couldn't care less, since for him, I might have slept off behind the wheel. Then when we see this spot, the situation can vary depending on who I am in competition with. If the other contender is a young, brash, spoilt brat driver, I can be assured that I am better off getting out of there. Simply because such kids drive a Honda Civic as if it were a Lamborghini! How they manage to achieve that sportscar kind of pickup in a sedan is beyond me. If it's a woman behind he wheel, forget it, that opportunity for parking is lost. Having to fight for everything in the world, I guess makes them fiercely competitive. Enough to make grabbing that parking place a mortal battle of egos! And if I and the other contender are locked in a non-verbal battle of who can take the spot, a cabbie will thrust his nose in, and park even as we both start hurling abuses his way. And after parking, he'll just turn around, give a couple of abuses himself and walk off!

And if this were happening in Delhi, most of the above cases may remain, except that as a woman driver, I might have to even face a couple of lecherous winks as well! It's almost like giving this premise to 3 different directors - Satyajit Ray, Karan Johar and Sajid Khan! The output is gruesomely different. But that's how they are!!!

Sunday, May 16, 2010


The Monaco Grand Prix just got done. Of all the F1 races, I somehow don't like the one at Monaco. Simply because there is no action in there. He who wins pole wins race. Period! The records and statistics are testimony enough. It is a street racing track, with ABSOLUTELY 0 overtaking opportunities. Back when refuelling was allowed on track, at least there were some bleak chances of overtaking action. But even there, the pole-sitter would typically build up enough of a gap between himself and the second guy before diving into the pits.

And as expected today, Webber was on pole and Webber won! Pooh! Well, my sentiments used to be the same even when Schumi used to win back in the heydays! And sometimes, when I see the Monaco GP, I kinda realize the boredom non-Schumi fans used to feel between 2000 to 2005 when almost all races and definitely all championships would be won by Michael. BO-O-O-RING. But somehow, the tortuous track, the uphill and downhill nature of the track itself, all contribute to several drivers and some fans liking it. Add to it the fact that it is quite a picturesque track, with hills on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other. With the uber riche enjoying the race from their personal yachts on the sea. It is a different experience compared to say a Bahrain or a Montreal GP, for sure.

No post is complete without mention of THE MAN. Last time at Spain, Michael came a cute fourth. I still pine for the day when I'll see him on the top step, or at least on the podium this season. And I keep the faith that that will happen one day. Nevertheless, last time Michael got Nico's car and he proved that he still has it in him to perform. This time, Michael was outqualified by Nico, but he turned the tide in the race. No great shakes, for sure. But Michael provided that itsy bitsy dash of entertainment, by overtaking Alonso at the last corner, just as the Safety car pulled in on the last lap, lap 79. I guess it was the only overtaking manoeuvre in the whole race, and perhaps the only one ever! I am not sure. The move is being investigated, but it still was good to see him making up a place. Although Alonso had a dream race too, rushing from the pits. But no sympathies there for having lost a place. All said and done, Alonso had the penalty for having crashed his car prior to qualifying, right? Nonetheless, it was a boring race with half a dozen crashes, retirements, which also were responsible for catapulting Alonso to sixth.

Now, let's see what Istanbul has in store in two weeks.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mental health - a ticking bomb for the emerging world

Speaking of mental health, the number of news pieces on flash, gory violence, murders, suicides is definitely on the rise. On one side, terrorism is wiping out people by the hundreds. Civilians caught in the crossfire of anti-terror missions is again killing people. And adding to that list now - the criminally insane.

Yet another spate of killings at a Chinese school. No sane person would want to go on a killing rampage in school filled with helpless children. But what perturbed the perpetrator so much so as to want to kill so many children, I can't understand. Then again, what are the authorities doing against such crimes? Yesterday came news of the finding of a beheaded corpse of a boy in Pune, India. Again, the cause of such a devilish act is unknown, but no sane person would have the mind to do something so sick. Day after day news of devilish murders, suicides, cases of people killing all family members before killing themselves, incestuous acts, all really bring to the fore a gory reality.

Countries like India and China with a humongous population that is growing fast in numbers and also economically will soon be faced with growing numbers of diseases of the mind. Now, mental diseases do not begin and end with insanity as is childishly depicted in several of our Hindi movies. They do not just involve people dressed in ragged clothes, with unkempt hair and acting weird. The issues go deeper. Schizophrenia which involves hallucinations, and a disconnect between oneself and the real world is one such example. The patients may look normal, unless hit by a bout which if left untreated will result in the patient internalizing the split personality. Depression is another major disorder, which is always hushed away. In extreme cases, when left untreated, the patient develops bipolar disorder or a state which leaves him/her with extreme emotions - deep sorrow at the smallest of issues, and delirious happiness the very next instant. Rage is yet another issue, which results in spur of the moment crimes. I can see for myself in a megapolis like Mumbai, people so angry with crowds, traffic snarls, losing their temper, and allowing their anger go on a crescendo in a war of words. How all this will shape up going further, I do not know.

Some of these disorders are actually illnesses. Just like a headache or a broken leg which can be physically seen and felt, these are disorders which reside in the mind, and play frightful games with the victims. The victims suffer too, but more often than not, their suffering are seldom ever appreciated by the sane man. Why? They just don't understand the disease. A lack of awareness is the criminal here. Also, some cultural aspects kick in here as well. Many-a-time, in smaller villages, where access to proper sophisticated medical apparatus is missing, people rely on the local physician. I personally know of a maid of mine, who having had several personal problems got afflicted with depression. We tried to get her to a proper psychiatrist here. But her family was vehement in wanting to take her home to her village, where she had been told that she had been possessed by a ghost! The solution? I can only guess here, based on what I've read and the treatment involves hitting the patient, and giving them painul burns with hot iron rods. Brutal and stupid indeed. But again, when facilities are unavailable, the rural physicians don't have a clue either! It is a sorry state of affairs indeed.

And then again some of these disorders like say rage, are man-made. The usual suspect - stress. The race to the top, for the best house, the best car, the best education for your kids, the best vacation, the race to be on top in the showing off game is turning into a nightmare. People are forever in a hurry to go somewhere, just the where is a mystery to everyone. The frivolity of a life lived on the fast lane is lost on everyone till it is too late.

So, one thing that countries like India and China would be immensely benefitted by, going forward would be augmenting awareness about mental health issues, and also strengthening the mental health apparatus in the nation. Till then, God save those whose minds have wandered off into a dark place.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Of World Champions and attitudes.

The unassuming champion has prevailed. For the fourth time! Vishwanathan Anand, one of India's and Chess' favorite icons has won again. It is amazing how this guy has managed to shine for so long and stay at the top for so long as well. I remember back in the past, his opponents kept changing, but he remained. Gary Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, the names came and went. Some returned. But only Vishy Anand prevailed. This time against Veselin Topalov.

And as usual I got to thinking. Here is India's unsung hero, who quietly goes about his job, one that he loves doing, one that perhaps needs more mind than all other sports put together, wins and remains at the top - forever. I can't remember a time in India where Vishwanathan Anand's victories didn't make the newspapers! Then we have a Sachin Tendulkar, who has been in form for a greater part of 20 years. He's been doing his job, which again incidentally is something he loves doing and has been collecting the accolades, the records and the victories. First man to get 200 runs in an ODI. Maximum run getter at the IPL. And still going strong. We might have seen more o him had it not been for India's early exit at the T20 World Cup.

Then again we have a Michael Schumacher (Yeah I know. My post has to have a mention of THE MAN!) He went about doing what he loved best and the awards, victories, titles, championships and of course the money came along. This time at Spain Schumi was fourth - it is at least a start, and a commendable achievement for someone who's come back to a new form of F1 four years after he bid adieu, to a sport where rules, cars, teams and team mates have all changed. And yet the spirit survives.

So in effect, the true champion, I guess is one who prevails the longest. The one who endures, against all odds and all pretenders. And that is the true test of a champion. For me now, all eyes are on Rafael Nadal who faced a slump all of last year, only to come back very very strong this year at Rome. What Roland Garros has in store - I sure want to watch. But till then, I guess it is time for us to just soak in history.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Two movies and a thought

This week I saw two highly interesting movies and unbeknownst to me, these movies revolved around a topic seldom ever discussed - mental health. One was a Martin Scorsese beauty called Shutter Island and the other was a Steven Soderbergh wonder called the Informant. And each had a characteristic trademark of the respective directors.

Shutter Island is a story about 2 Federal Marshals sent to Shutter Island, which houses a high security facility for the criminally insane. There are 3 buildings there, Ward A for men, Ward B for women and Ward C for the most dangerous lot. The 2 marshals are called in to find an escaped convict sorry patient, for that is what the shady shrink played by Ben Kingsley repeatedly corrects the marshals for. Leo Di Caprio plays one marshal and Mark Ruffalo, the other. Several vivid images are intertwined here and that adds to the edge-of-the-seat cinematic brilliance.

For instance, Leo keeps getting flashes of his past life in a Nazi camp, where he was one of the soldiers who ruthlessly killed several German guards. And then there is the track of his wife who he claims was killed in a fire that gutted her apartment. So one track has Leo wanting to come to Shutter Island, since the pyromaniac apartment supervisor who set the fire in the apartment was there. Leo keeps seeing his dead wife who tells him what to do, adding to his confusion. Almost as in 'The Departed', there is this constant undercurrent of suspicion, since one day, the missing convict resurfaces. And how she escaped an electric fence, and sharp rocks without a shoe is a mystery. Her crime, of having drowned her kids is a mystery as well, since she maintains she didn't do it and her kids are in school. So everything is a mystery.

And then there is a lighthouse, where nefarious acts are said to be taking place. What exactly are those acts? What massive cover up is being staged? Why does Ben Kingsley act strange? Why is the escaped convict's psychiatrist on holiday a day after she mysteriously escapes? And then on one such search, Leo's partner goes missing. Where did he go? Who is the unknown woman in a cave? It really gets interesting and the end is intense, and in typical Scorsese style - it is a surprise twist.

As for The Informant, its based on a true story, with Matt Damon playing the central anti-hero in a completely believable man-next-door demeanor. He plays an insider who turns whistleblower in exposing one of corporate America's frauds in relation to price fixing. he cohorts with the FBI in exposing these crimes and also tapes conversations, endangering his career. All hell though breaks loose, when he begins to be investigated as well, for embezzlement and he comes up with a labyrinth of lies beginning from his alleged adoption! The story has everything from fraud to lies to embezzlement to bipolar disorder all shot in typical Soderbergh style with an unrelated jazz track in the background!

The fact that we have so many movies on mental health, ranging from topics around schizophrenia, insanity and depression, I guess goes on to show the trends of our times. Mental health issues are a reality. And the mind is more mysterious, since hardly anyone has been able to unlock everything about it. Celebrity suicides, bipolar disorder, numerous cases of people killing their kin and committing suicide - the list is endless. The lack of awareness makes one look down upon the mentally unstable, and not give them the help and aid they need. When in reality, diseases of the mind are just like any other ailment, only perhaps more complex. And movies like these, are certainly a step in the right direction, since if not anything else, we know about the existence of such issues!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Judgement day a year and a half later - the frivolity of it all.

This morning's paper was full of gyaan on Ajmal Amir Kasab. Again. It reminded me of the week in November 2008, where we had only news of the terror attack in the news, in the papers, on the streets, everywhere! Yesterday was judgement day. Almost all of India knew he was guilty, since all of us were treated to terror television through November 2008! And now finally after a year and a half was the time to put a stamp on what was already known. And this stamp was important, since I guess the world wanted to see whether our judges are trained enough to pass a judgement based on evidence alone, without being swayed by emotion. I guess we have paid a very heavy price to prove this to the world!

First, this lone surviving terrorist has been in custody for a year and a half. At humongous costs to the taxpayer. With a special cell, special food, additional security personnel, everything needed to protect the terrorist from himself and his own people, the costs have been high and they have been mounting. Secondly, the terrorist has been going in a flipflop, confessing, denying, mocking, laughing and annoying courts, and his security personnel. The drain on the police has been enormous as well. They are being forced to be civil to one who has killed several of their own. They also have to protect him, feed him, and see his mocking face everyday, and these tasks are painful reminders of the past. Thirdly, what about the families of the victims? Imagine seeing the face of one who has robbed your loved ones from you being flashed across papers and the TV for a year and a half. Think about the trauma associated with realizing that a guy responsible for murdering hundreds of innocent civilians, some of whom were related to you still has the gift of life, despite having stolen that gift from your friends and family.

And finally, what is the way out? People say 'Hang him to death.' But wasn't this a suicide mission in the first place? If he is indeed given the death penalty, he will end up achieving what he set out to achieve anyway, albeit a year and a half late. Does it make sense to punish a pawn with death, while the real perpetrators still roam free? So should he be kept alive? Well, all of the above realities will then persist till eternity. What is the way out? I don't know, for sure. All I do know is that either way, at least in this case, terrorism has indeed won! We are filled with a helpless form of disgust, where the choices make no sense. A terrible outcome for one of the worst instances of heartless terrorism this world has seen. A pity that it had to be Mumbai at the receiving end again.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Pannas Varsha of Mazha Maharashtra (50 years of my Maharashtra)

There is a huge hullabaloo outside, that Maharashtra, my state is all of 50 years old. Today is May Day, Labor Day, Maharashtra Day. A day that marks the event where Maharashtra was given the status of being an independent state, disjoint from Gujarat. It was given a special place, as being for the Marathi speaking Indian. Ok. The papers have screamed their heads out about the struggle, especially around the mill areas of Lalbaug and Parel in Mumbai, where in total 105 lives were laid down in the demand for a separate state.

Sitting in Mumbai today, I really wonder what the deal is all about. Through the past one year, I had a ringside seat in the middle of a similar struggle for Telengana, where people were fighting to have the state split into 3 -AP, Rayalseema and Telengana. What the issues were, that pushed the people into demanding the trifurcation of AP, I perhaps won't really understand, since I moved out of the city within a year. People who have lived in AP told me then, that the whole movement was political and somewhere some of the common men didn't even want it!

MP broke into Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh. Bihar broke into Bihar and Jharkhand. Maoism is on the rise in Jharkhand. What is the whole funda behind wanting a separate state? Yes, May 1st was a well looked forward to holiday at work, but what has changed? Gujarat is steamrolling towards progress with several huge companies setting up shop there. Maharashtra continues to be one of the most prosperous states, thanks to Mumbai. I love my city and my state, and the cardinal love of unconditional love is to be able to see the faults too.

So Mumbai is growing. We have a Mumbai-Pune expressway, a Bandra-Worli sea link, a bunch of metros blooming, the best rail network in India, the best public road transport infrastructure in India. But that is Mumbai's story. We also have the notoriety of still having farmer suicides in Vidarbha and interior Maharashtra. Somewhere in between, there had been a demand for a separate state of interior Maharashtra as well. Will that solve the problem of drought, poverty and a crumbling infrastructure? Maoism and dacoity also show up in Gadchiroli in Maharashtra. Growth, clearly has not been inclusive. Movements against north Indians, non-Maharashtrians keep cropping up every now and then. But again, mainly concentrated around the political hub of Mumbai.

Yes, my state is all of 50 years old. A lot has been achieved. I couldn't be prouder of being a Mumbaikar. But somewhere in between, maybe the winners have been chosen over the laggards and the support has pulled the winners all along, leaving the laggards to languish somewhere at the bottom. We do have a lot to be proud of as a state. But we also have a lot to achieve as a united state.