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Saturday, December 29, 2012

KBC Syndrome

         I wonder what made the tv program KBC so popular. Notwithstanding the star value and the prize money, the main reason for the popularity, I suppose is the limited thinking it calls for. Choose among four options and if you find that two, too many, go for fifty-fifty and if that is also beyond your reach, then ask someone who, you think knows the answer. 

         Suppose someone were to ask you what was the blunder committed by Stonewall Jackson, which changed the course of American history. The question does not give the slightest clue as to whether the perpetrator of the offence was a politician or a baseball player. Yet, under KBC format, one could successfully negotiate the question, keeping your ignorance of American history intact.

How simple life becomes, when you apply the KBC or the MCQ format to day to day situations !

A clever mother does not ask the kids “What would you have for breakfast ?” This may be just the beginning of of an unending discusion or arguement as neither the kids have a clear idea of what they want nor the mother has a clear idea of how she can produce what the kids ask for.

So it is “Bread or Parantha ?”, “Coffee, Tea ?” “butter or jam ?” and so it goes.

With designer wears available for every item of clothing and accessories you just need to choose a brand name, at best an informed guess. Of course, there are variations in the same brand, but an expert comes to the rescue.

If you want to build a house , you frst choose a builder selling residential flats and then a financial institution to loan the amount. Simplicity itself. Compare this to site selection, design of house, procurement of materials , organising the labour force, etc etc. The issue gets simpler if you have selected the right father in law (or a husband; to be politically right, parent in law or the spouse) Then He or She would take care of the mortgages.

Most of the examinations today are based on objective type of question paper with “guess the right answer” and “head or tails” (Some insist that they are actually “choose the right answer' and true or false' ) questions.

Nothing brings out the KBC Syndrome better than an omnious computer screen to install a new application. Many of us would be familiar with the need to choose among “full, compact, standard and custom options to choose from. with standard, selected by default. How many of us have chosen the 'custom' option ?

The busy life we lead (or pretend to lead) nowadays precludes any original thinking. The theme of the game is why should one think when a set of options have been thought of by someone paid to think. In other words, think only when paid to do so or when there are no other options !

Even the options are to be derived by someone 'thinking' through complex situatons. Nothing wrong with that, but the fact is that less and less people or required to think while the vast majority just see the laid out options and click a radio button. Will brain become another vestigial organ ?!

What's more interesting is that even when the choices are well defined, most of us steer clear of the situation when the number of options exceed four, ie the number specified by our super hero. The situation is termed, “Complex” and you run to an expert or a professional for a fifty-fifty !

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Too much of Democracy

Too much of democracy.. too many rights and too  few responsibilities

It all started with an absolutely heinous crime. The criminals seem to fear no law, no law enforcer or no law maker. It may be persumed that when something  takes place like 9/11, 26/11 or for that matter the Newtown shoot out in US, everyone; the govt, the opposition , Police , citizens all unite against the perpetrators of the ghastly crime.. No, not in India and definitely not in Delhi.

The criminals fear nobody. It goes without saying that neither law makers nor law enforcers fear anyone except perhaps losing their power.

Coming to the protestors, they are law unto themselves. Do they fear anything or anyone ? When there were 'police brutalities' being shown on the TV channels, I saw atleast one young woman pouncing like a panther on an unsuspecting policeman.

We have a right to protest, so will protest when we want where we want, the way we want. You can't send us off to jantar mantar or ramlila maidan. We like to protest at India Gate. The fact that delhites prefer to call the National War Memorial as 'India Gate' hurts me every time I hear it spoken and to add to the woes we have 'India Gate basmati rice'. So much for the sanctity of a war memorial.

The media and the Internet community is livid with the police using water cannons; after all the protesters were just peacefully storming thorough the police barricades and marching towards Rashtrapathi Bhawan, to shake hands with the President. Can't a citizen meet the President of the Republic ? Who are these policemen to come in between ?

Arvind Kejriwal tweats "defy sec 144 , come to india gate". What are laws for except to defy ?

The so called national media has been stuck with dilli news for ever.  When I want to watch national or international news I tune to DD News or even a regional channel like 'puthiya thalaimurai'. Ya, to get an update on  the law and order or traffic situation in Delhi I tune to ndtv or cnn-ibn. Does the the media respect anything or any institution ? Whatever they say on their channel, it is worth reading their tweats, to know how they feel on any issue.

Sagarika Ghosh of CNN-IBN tweats  "Those ridiculous lal battis, ape-like commandos, fortified bungalows, all VIPs shd give up "security" and feel ïnsecurity" of public "

Does she know  how many times the "ape-like being" must have risked his life to train himself to become a commando and does she have an idea of the continuous training and deprivation one goes through to remain a commando? Well she is exercising her freedom of expression. Defy authority, demean the security forces, after all she is paying her taxes out of which army, police and the other govt servants are paid.

Overall I think  India in general and Delhi in particular needs to understand an ounce of their responsibilities than fight for  tonnes of their rights.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

risk profile :army

The piece was written during the course of a month long LRP (Long Range Patrol), at an altitude of about 15000-16000 feet, circa 1996. It was written in bits and pieces, in the scrap book, in field shelters. The immediate trigger was the number of standard operating procedures army has in place , to avoid / counter all conceivable hazards like avalanche, blizzard, flash floods, frost bite , HYPO (High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema), fire hazards and carbon monoxide poisoning from 'sigris' and of course enemy action. At times you wonder as to which was more hazardous, whether the avalanche or the restrictions imposed by 'measures to avoid avalanche' .

Nothing much has changed in the last 16 years and I haven't changed anything but for some annotations for civilian friends, since it is  a typical military format.



1.      Consequent to a comprehensive in-depth study carried out by (Management of Information System (MIS) Army HQ, it has been revealed that over 90% of fatal casualties in the army, in peace time, occurs in bed. Even in stray cases where the victims lost consciousness else where the actual death occurred only in bed. Hence forth all these casualties will be termed as bed casualties. While it is an indisputable fact that bed casualties can be totally done away by avoiding beds all together, a point to be taken note of is that human beings are more inclined to adapt a horizontal configuration wheresoever and when ever possible. As a humane approach to the issue, it is proposed to make 'going to bed ' as safe as possible.


  1. These instructions lay down guidelines for minimising bed casualties in the army.


  1. Minimising bed casualties will be a command responsibility and commander at all levels will be held accountable , meaning end of the career, for any lapses.

Bed Hours

  1. It is an obvious fact that minimum hours in bed (named bed hours) will ultimately result in minimising bed casualties. It is desirable that bed hours are restricted to 4-6 hours per day and bed hours for various personnel in the unit be staggered to minimise risk of bed casualties at a any given time.


5. In the age of information and communication, this factor cannot be overemphasized. All personnel going to bed should be provided good communication. However due to paucity of resources in the first phase, communication will be provided only up to battalion commander level. Meanwhile to tide over the situation, line beddings(line bedding, for my civilian friends is an essential item of a soldier's kit, mainly for tying up his bedding but used multipurpose like, putting up a bivouac, making a stretcher, communication between fire trenches etc) will be used for inter bed communication. Master general of Ordnance (MGO branch has confirmed availability of sufficient stock of line bedding (LP) in their depots. MGO branch will issue separate instructions for demand issue and replacement of these items.

Rescue Party

6. All personnel going to bed will be covered by a rescue party located in situ, ab initio ; they will also be provided communication as Para 5 above. The details of duties of rescue party will be incorporated in the unit SOPs.


7. A thorough medical check up will be carried out in respect of all personnel before going to bed and after waking up. Units will maintain records and these records will be put up to visiting senior officers.

First Aid

8. Any personnel having any complaint while in bed will immediately be pulled out of the bed and brought to sitting or standing position. Meanwhile help will be called for.

Bunker Collapse

9. There have been instances where in personnel have been choked to death due to bunker collapse while in bed, in the field areas. The Engineer in Chief Branch has been tasked to explore the feasibility of replacing the CGI(Corrugated Galvanized Iron) sheets with paper and the ballies with sarkanda to prevent such occurrences (any takers for AVSM)


10. MIS has also pointed out that most of he bed casualties occurs in hospitals. It is proposed to remove all beds from hosp and convert the hospitals to STCs ( Standing Treatment Centers). Medical directorate has been tasked to work out the modalities.

Standing Court of Inquiry

11. All Station HQ (Formation HQ where Station HQ is not co located) will order standing C of I to investigate all cases of bed casualties

Reports and Returns

12. To efficiently monitor the entire op, it is directed that all commands forward a report as per format att (not to all) every qr. The first report should reach this HQ by 01 apr 1996.


13. These instructions are only some basic guidelines to minimise bed casualties . Imaginative and innovative methods have to be evolved keeping in view the overall picture in mind. With a concerted effort, Indian army would prove to be a shining example in this field, for the entire nation.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Some thoughts on Vijayadasami and Deepawali

       India is a great country and Hinduism is a great way of life. Dassehra is celebrated all over the country, yet an outsider, or for that matter even an Indian, can never relate the celebrations in one part of the country to those in another part. All gods and goddesses are propitiated in some form or the other in some part of the country, unlike Ramnavami, Krishna jayanti or Ganesh chathurti where the entire scene is hogged by  one god. If Ramlila is the main event in one part it is Durga pooja in the other.

It is Dandia in the west, Ramlila in the cow belt, Durga pooja in the east and Navaratri Golu in the South.

       In most parts it is a closed holiday while the kids in Chennai start their schooling on this auspicious day. I still remember trudging along with my father, to the school with a slate and a slate pencil, as a four year old. It was on a Vijayadasami day, the headmaster registered my age as 5 and admitted me in Class 1.

   While I was thinking aloud , trying to understand the diferences, a north Indian friend of mine said, "forget it ya, just enjoy the celebrations! it's all the same" ; I could ony mumble to myself , "There has got to be some differnce between 'burning' and 'learning'!"

Coming to  Deepawali, how can the southies celebrate homecoming of Ram to Ayodhya ? So it is Krishna's day to mark   Narakasura Samharam. All I can recall from my childhood memories on Deepawali is lots of sweets, new clothes (those days, new clothes were bought only on important occasions and Deepawali was the most important occasion) crackers and then came some great reading!!! 

Every Tamil magazine, vied with one another to bring out the best annual number. Every writer considered it his privillege to get his story/article published in a popular magazine's Deepawali Issue. The photos and paintings in Kalki were designed to be cut and framed for posterity. Till today, these issues are quite popular.

Some of the lesser known aspects of Vijayadasami and Deepawali

Where I live today, Deepwali, means, besides sweets , crackers and lights, Lakshmi pooja, amassing of wealth, mahurat trading and ritualistic gambling !! One festival, many flavours; but it is first or the original flavour that persistently  lingers on.

I sign off , wishing Happy Deepawali to everybody ! Vishv ka kalyaan ho !

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Listening to Grasshoppers

Read a collection of essays by Arundhati Roy Titled "Listening to Grasshoppers-- Field Notes on Democracy"

Arundhati Roy must be one of the most hated figures in India, as she spares nobody, be it the govt, the judiciary or the celebrities. Always ready to court controversy, she  manages to be politically incorrect ,so consistently.  She is against free market, against US brand of democracy; and she speaks for naxals, for Afsal Guru and Geelani, people considered the enemies of the state.  She doesn't get much support from the media as well. Arnab Goswamy, in one of the debates on "Kashmir issue", fired an unprovoked salvo, "Arundahthi Roy and Bharat Bhushan ! are you listening ? we have not invited you to our studio, because we find you disgusting." Ironically, the very people she is fighting for, the farmers, dalits, down trodden, adivasis, Naxals etc would  be hardly aware of her, and even  if they do their voices are seldom heard.

It is extremely difficult to hear any views from an Indian on our own national media, speaking up  openly in favour of Kasmiri separatists or the naxals. It is easier to view / read news of 'patriotic indians kicking and punching any compatriot indulging in such open criticism.

There is indeed a very thin line between suppression of criticism and tolerence of sedition , in a democracy.

This title of the book is drawn from an essay, "listening to grasshoppers" , a lecture delivered by the author in Istanbul, on the 1915 genocide of Armenians in which more than one million people were killed. the lecture, the author says, was about the history of genocide and genocide deial and the old organic relationship between 'progress' and 'genocide'

While nobody says genocide is right, there is little critcism of 'acceptable genocides' for eg, the great genocide, in which the europeans exterminated 50-60 million native americans or australian aborigins, all in the name of development and progress. Whereever there is a western model 'development' there are victims whose cries go unheard. While holocost of jews is much talked about, there is hardly any awareness of other groups like gypsies and homosexuals, systematically annihilated by the Nazis during the period of  'nation building' in Germany, even prior to WW II. The great powers of the time were just looking on the legitimate aspirations of the German people.

Martin Niemöller was a German Pastor who became controversial by openly supporting Hitler's policies in the early stages of the Third Reich.He later expressed his misgivings about some of Hitler's acts,for which he was jailed and narrowly escaped being sentenced to death.After the war, he became active as a pacifist

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me. 

Genocide does not necessaily mean killing people; it may be achieved by systematically creating an environment for an entire people to gradually fade away. Our rural popuaion is slowly getting choked as all resources from the rural areas are appropriated by the Rich, with full support of the police and judiciary and millions of people are forced to move to the urban slums where they have few rights even to food and water leave alone the democratic rights to voice their opinion. 

The essays are published unedited, as written at various points of time; after the attack on Indian Parliament, after Gujrat riots, during the peak of uprising in Kashmir and after 26/11. 

Mostly it is an expression of  raw anger against all kinds of injustice ; for  some satire,  here's a link to a street play performed by students protesting against George Bush's visit to India in 2006.

However, bitter the ideas are, there is definitely an element of truth and it calls for a lot of soul searching on the part of every policy maker and opinion maker in the country.    

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Life in the Cyberworld

  Today access to internet is considered a fundamental right and social network is a way of life.

   Anything that you share undoubtedly, enhances the fun. 

       It is not uncommon to see someone reading Asterix comics in a library with a dead pan expression. I remember the Asterix fan club we had at the academy, where anything funny or even not so funny was enjoyed with uninhibited  and  raucous laughter. hey, look at that Roman ... kya naam chhant ke rakha hai ya .. comments and likes keep flowing on every page, every frame, in the book.

         Earlier families were large and when a new issue of a magazine arrived , we were at least two of us reading at one time (rapid reading was a necessity) and another waiting in the line. When TV entered the living room, it was a scheduled community activity, what with a solitary channel and the few extremely popular programs.    Sharing, liking and commenting were so spontaneous and in real time, that it was hardly perceived. 
         Today, we watch TV programs , play games , read poetry, or listen to music, mostly alone   and on the computer screen. To share anything with like minded people, we instinctively look for the like or share button. The advantage is that 'Atlas has shrunk' and we can reach across to any netizen, and the  disadvantage is that we have forgotten the warmth of real sharing. The present generation won't even know the feeling.

        Life in the cyber world is not just sharing ideas and feelings. There is vanity, sycophancy , office politics and even mischievous and dangerous exercises as it happened recently in Pune and Mumbai, resulting in  attack on people from the North East. 

         Whatever be, we have reached the stage of living in a cyber community, switching on and off,  as it suits us. Let a thousand sites grow and a million blogs blossom.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Incredible India

I wish I could do some sketching. It is a typical family scene from the rural India. It could well have been a chaupal in their village. Men , women and children  are comfortably reclining on the settees / beds; there are more women and children than men. All kinds of travel bags, gunny bags and packages are lying all around.

Meeting, feet touching, talking on mobile phones, and the non stop gossip keeps everyone busy. Some one is passing around some eatables on leaf cups. I am sure the women folk would have caught up on all happenings in the families and extended families. It was quite possible that some match making would have also taken place.

There is a  stream of people taking turns at the toilet for washing, combing, and changing clothes.

This is not a waiting room in a railway station, nor some choultry; just a scene outside an ICU; yes, people, an Intensive Care Unit of a city hospital.

The place is air-conditioned. There is a vent on the ceiling, from where there is steady trickle of water . There is small puddle formed just at the entrance and it serves the purpose of spreading the dirt brought in by street shoes over the entire floor area. There is a bored security guard sitting at the entrance to ICU , answering  any query with monosyllables and minimal gestures. Some people discard their footwear before moving in , and some simply walk on in street clothes and slippers.

Children keep playing by themselves, and when they get tired, the moms put them to sleep in any available space. If people are concerned about the health of the patient they have come to look up, it certainly doesn't show.

What kind of relative are you if you cannot look up your kin at an ICU ? So, they have all come to mark their presence. Probably a tractor trolley has made a trip from the village to ferrry maximum number of people, From the sticky clay soil on some of the footwear, stacked in one cornor, you can see that the men folk have rushed to the hospital straight from the fields.

Since most people use the elevators, stairs are convenient places for the spill over crowd to sit and the staircase landings are just enough for four people to sit cross-legged for a homely meal of dal and roti.  

And life goes on.......

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Global Economic Scene

Oxfam activists wear masks representing G20 leaders (L-R) South African President Jacob Zuma, French President Francois Hollande, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and U.S. President Barack Obama sitting at a dinner table along a shore in Los Cabos June 17, 2012. 

Can someone explain please ?

Euro-zone Crisis

India pledges $ 10 Bn
China pledges  $ 43 Bn
US pledges    $ 0

To put it in some perspective, $ 10 bn = Rs 56,700 Crores which is roughly the amount earmarked  by former Fin Min P Chidambaram in his  budget of 2008, for loan waiver for farmers.There was a huge debate on the issue of bailng out our own farmers, whereas there was none whatsoever on bail out of Eurozone.

Dollar appreciation

US national Debt (Ranked no 1 in absolute terms) is over $ 15 Tn, ie $ 15,810,178,118,108 and counting ....
It is 103 % of GDP.  refer to

China's debt 5% of GDP
India's  debt 22% of GDP
data from  wikipedia 

Copyright for cartoon © 2009 Creators Syndicate

Yet dollar is appreciating aginst rupee and yuan.
Why is India and China competing to provide subsidies to America and Europe ?

And what does US do with its dollars ie borrowed dollars? Fight wars all over the globe, Provide social security and health cover to its citizens and provide heavy subsidies to its farmers to beat down the price of agricultural products from the third world.

A man working in a cotton factory in Mumbai, India. US subsidies of $24bn to its cotton farmers have driven down world prices and damaged livelihoods of developing world cotton producers. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
for more click

Friday, June 22, 2012

North South Divide :Perception and Communication

During a party in the officers' mess, there was a disruption in power supply. Amidst several 'oh no ' and some unprintable words, there were two distinct voices, "light gayi" and "current gayi" . 

The vast variance in Perception and Communication, by different people in similar circumstances, is so  fascinating. The way you perceive, dictates how you communicate or behave.

There was a time when the concept of electrical power was not there. When it did come, in North India, it was associated with its most visible aspect , ie light, in South India , it was associated with the underlying  phenomenon , ie 'Current". 

To cite more examples  of the way people  perceive and communicate , what is mobile phone or 'mobile' in the north is a 'cell phone' or simply 'cell' in the South. A filling station is 'Petrol Pump' in the North while 'Petrol Bunk ' in the south.

To go further, in the North, any examination is simply 'paper' , which I presume is short for 'the question paper'; marks are just numbers, a network is just 'tower' (can be used as, 'yahan , tower nahin hain'; meaning 'this place has no access to network').  In short, what is most visible, or just the first word is used to communicate the idea. It can also lead to some ludicrous terms, like "Old faridabad" referred to as 'old' and platform tickets as 'platform'.

May be that is  how everything is perceived in the North.  'hamen kaam se matlab hai, kaida-kanoon se kya  lena dena hai" (We are concerned with the proceeds not the processes.) and may be, the perception leads to disdain for systems and processes.

Just as I was writing this, my son tells me that among sailors, the certificate issued to them for proof of address or proof of identity is simply referred to as "to whomsoever", since such certificates have a heading "TO WHOMSOEVER IT MAY CONCERN". It can be used as 'mujhe ek whomsoever chahiye" or "I want a 'whomsoever' ".

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mammaries of the welfare state

Reading  'English August' and 'Mammaries of the Welfare State' by Upamanyu Chattterjee, prompted me to pen my own experiences with babus of the Welfare State . Most people include army in the 'babus' category, but, despite being a govt organization it is more like a corporate, in terms of order, work culture, efficiency and accountability; in short, it is more like HDFC bank than SBI.

So when we do get to work in a civil govt org, we too undergo a cultural shock. I have had to deal with three different State Govts, while serving with NCC (National Cadet Corps) , viz, Tamilnadu
(TN), Madhya Pradesh (MP) and West Bengal (WB). There are vast  differences betwen the States in  language , resources, and work culture. In most of the states, NCC comes under the Education Department or the Department of youth affairs, but in WB, it comes under the Department of Civil defence and Disaster Management (CD and DM), though NCC has little do with Civil defence or disaster management except in extreme circumstances.

Be that as it may, considering that everyone is interested in milking the welfare state, it is a common factor that in any State you approach the dept, mostly for finances. Milking the state is a full time job, and it can lead to ludicrous situations. In WB, there was an NCC BN, where not a single clerk was posted out of authorized strength of 10. Of course there were 12-15 Group D staff posted. The question is how do you do the paper work for drawing the salary and other allowances . A clerk was hired to do the needful and he was paid out of the unit's private resources. So the only work done in the unit was preparation of salary bills and that too was outsourced !

While at TN and MP, I was just one of the users, in WB, I was one of the privileged few to be involved in budgeting, release of funds and such aspects.

This took me to the famed Writers' Building atleast twice a week. The WB Govt , or the Party, as they call it, loved to exercise tight control over everything and what better way to achieve this  than by holding on tightly to the purse strings.

An NCC unit incurring an expenditure of say, Rs 2000/- for sending just one cadet for some training, had to send  a proposal to the Department through the proper channel of communication. This was finally approved by the Dept of CD and DM, and  a Goverment Order (GO) was issued based on which the amount was drawn from the Govt Treasury. 

Issuance of a GO is a torturous process, requiring the concurrence of the triumvirate, Pricipal Secretary (PS), Joint Secreatry (JS) and Deputy Secreatry (DS) , duly approved by the all powerful "finance dept" and the invisible hand of the trade union. Despite all efforts,  the funds may not be available in time if the particulr clerk responsible for  typing the GO glares at you and says 'hobe na' (not possible) for whatever reason. It may be due to the fast approaching Durga Poojo (Poojo starts approaching  a month in advance) or 'jomoi shashti' or one of the many 'poojos' in the land of 'barah mahino, teroh poojo'. When poojos didn't oblige, the didi did by calling for a bandh on the odd working day. Those were the days when didi was in the opposition.

Coming to the ring side view of the working of the Govt, the minister was young, highly educated and a genial man. But any interation with him started and ended with exchange of pleasantaries. The PS, of the IAS cadre, was again a very affable person, but had definitely imbibed the work cuture of the State, with the long years spent in the districts. When he was not pan-chewing in a comtemplative mood, or discussing office politics, he could be seen laboriously working on a draft letter with one bare foot perched on the chair, and tongue sticking out in deep concentration. The entire process of issue of a letter, from dictaion to his PA, typing, corrections, recorrections, retyping and final despatch could take about a week in good when there was no disruptions due to strikes or poojos. A computer was seen in his office, but it was seldom used.

The real work or obstruction to any kind of work took place in the large halls, populated by hundreds of clerks, duly supervised by JS s and DSs from their tiny cabins. One had to negotiate through a labyrinth of corridors, with only the singara vendors and huge stacks of files and the public toilets, for sign posts. You literally had to use your nose for navigation.

It all may sound very depressing, but surprisingly things do move, if you keep at it. People are good natured and courteous even if they didn't like being rushed in their workplace. Only in their workplace they take it easy; they are just personifications of efficiency when it comes to participating in Durga poojo celebrations or while organizing a musical night. The PA to the minister was secretary of his mohalla Durga poojo cmmittee and by the way he plotted and planned to mobile resources for the poojo, one would think that was his primary job. So, things did move if you are patient.

West Bengal Civil Defence Minister Sreekumar Mukherjee

It was a great day, when I saw the 'Master GO' declaring that the senior most army officer responsible for all NCC activities in the state , was empowered to draw and expend money, based on a lump sum allotment for the whole year. It also meant the end of my biweekly or triweekly visits to the Writers'  Building. Fortunately for me, my tenure there alo came to an end around that time, for I would definitely have missed the trips through the corridors of power. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Married Woman : Manju Kapur

After her debut novel, Difficult  Daughters, Manju Kapur has followed it up with ' A married woman', another story highlighting the struggle within a seemingly conventional woman to find her identity in the family and the society. 'A married woman ' starts in the period 70s and 80s, the period, when the 'difficult daughter'   signed off.

If the first novel was about education vs marriage, the second is about a woman's right to own property, manage finances, develop her talents, explore her passions, thrive for self actualization and all this from within the safety and security of a rock solid marriage.

The story starts with, Astha, a middle class college student,  running away from 'girl seeing ceremonies' and the constant talk of her marriage at home. She has a couple of teenage flings before finally getting married to a 'good boy' as arranged by the parents.

While the husband has relatively liberal views on women, he continues to take his role as the 'sole provider' too seriously. I suppose, this is one role men have to go easy on and women have to be a little more serious about to bring about harmony at home.

As the story unfolds, there is a nice description of the fears and aspirations of a middle class family , in the 80s. Astha's parents, pay the price for not preparing well for the retirement, while Hemant's parents ride the boom in demand for property.  

After a few months of married life, 'dullness' sets in. With, undemanding in-laws and  ample support from domestic help, she has enough free time to be restless. She has to take up a job. It had to be a teaching job, which she dreaded.

In-laws approved " It is a good time-pass"
Mother: " As a teacher you will earn some money, you will be out only half a day, so the house will not suffer"

father: "It will do until you decide to develop yourself in other ways"
Husband :- With a job you won't get fidgety if I am a minute late"

So, a career is made, for all these reasons, while Hemant's business picks up well to provide for the family.  Kids come, grow old enough to go to school, depending less and less on their mother. Obviously it is not a life fulfilling enough for Astha.

Astha's latent talents surface, encouraged by the attractive Street Play director , Aijaj. She starts painting. Babri masjid issue comes up , conveniently enough, so that Astha can express her social awareness and responsibilities with her painting talents.

Enters Pipleeka  Khan, to arouse in her a kind of sensuality, which she did not know that it existed.

Now you have a married woman donning many hats and switching deftly among the many roles that she plays; as wife , daughter in law, mother, an artist  a social activist and  a passionate lover to her lesbian partner. So much for self-actualization.

Naturally, it is not easy to play so many conflicting roles. She resorts to lies and deceit which is sort of justified , for whatever reason.

"She began to lie at home about where she was going and what she was doing. Most of the girls she knew who were seeing boys lied. It was routine self protective thing . And how necessary, Astha had seen."

"Her lies grew skillful. Her desperation and her need had ensured that they tripped off her tongue, as though she had rehearsed them for hours."

Much has been said about the rendition of a lesbian relationship. Frankly it is not easy to understand.   

".......Afterwards, Astha felt strange, making love to a woman took getting used to. And it felt strange, making love to a friend, instead of an adversary."

Strange it is ! to call men as adversaries, and if so, it is stranger to call 'having sex' as 'making love'.

A good read, if only to learn or understand  a little more about the women in your lives.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

what is for 'touching'

At home, whenever there is a talk of a meal  / tiffin there is always the question of ' thottukka  enna ?'  (for the benefit of non tamil speaking, thottukka literally means 'touching') , but it is one of those untranslatable words associated with the way some people eat.

It is best explained in a scene in the tamil movie 'nala dhamayanti'. A customs official opens a jar of pickles and asks,  ' something eatable' ; the pallakkad brahman is mortified; and he  exclaims in a thickly accented english 'no no no no, not eating.. only touching."

It is not seasoning, not garnishing or anything like that. Typically, when you have  curd rice with your  fingers that have just touched a dollop of pickle, well that is 'thottuka',

Some people  call it a side dish. but it is more than just that. it complements the  main dish from taste, texture, nutrition and health point of view.

There is strict code for what can go with what . There is virtually not a single preparation that is complete in itself. What is idli without the coconut chutney or curd rice without a dollop of pickle, particularly, lemon or better still, dry sweet lime pickle.

How can one have adai with sambhar?  For a Tanjavoor brahmin,  it is sheer blasphemy to have adai with anything other than jaggery or butter.

Curd rice being the most important dish for the 'Tambra's has a great many items to go with it. Just the sight of makali kizhangu  kindles one's appetite so much that you end up having double the portion of curd rice; after all you cannot have makali kizhangu without curd rice.

While 'touching' is so important while eating, at times, a simple touch can render a whole meal uneatable.  Here, we come to the concept of echil (avoiding contact with saliva, like while sipping from a tumbler) and pathu (segregating cooked food from uncooked food).

most people can never understand the nuances. But a tamil brahmin can never understand as to

  • how can you  drink water from a bottle or a glass on which some one else  has put his or her lips to ?
  • how can you pass around a cake or a sweet for everyone to take a bite from ?
  • how can you wash the utensils in a sink where someone has just gargled after a meal ?

an american, the story goes, was offered a makke ki roti with saag on top. He ate the saag with  a spoon and returned the 'plate' to his host.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Give a man a fish

"Give a man a fish you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and he is fed for a life time" ...much quoted lines..

after all why should it be only about food ? Almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the internet is a fundamental right, a poll for the BBC World Service suggests

people come to me with computer problems, hardware, software and skills...

they are not stupid people , (they are generally smarter than me) and they can easily do what I do, through a bit of googling and a bit of experimentation.. but then they enjoy taking a fish from me , rather than learning how to fish.. though sometimes someone does insist on learning but then complain that I don't teach well...!?

the bottom line is that I enjoy fishing and giving fish to people and they enjoy receiving their fish free of cost and using their time and effort in more productive ways, for example partying or networking.. I don't complain at all, since the whole effort makes me feel good ;-)

How I wish the whole world adopts ubuntu for their OS, and I am saved from the pain of seeing innocent people suffering from virus attacks , formatting and reformatting of hard disks, data loss, rampant piracy and anti-piracy operations in the cyber space.. not to mention the financial loss to all except Bill Gates and his like ?

I do feel strongly that there is a great injustice perpetrated on innocent computer users. But who am I to complain ? who am I to change the way people use their computers ? I restrict myself to making some noises where I can, just to please myself.

coming back to the first line ...sigh .. sigh... will I, or someone else ever be able to teach the world how to fish ?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A tale of two indians

In the past month, I read two books with similar settings , but diametricaly oppposite story lines., "the White Tiger ' by Arvind Adiga and 'a tale of two Indians " by Maharshi Mehta. 

Both the stories are set in rural India and have protagonists struggling to break out of a vicious cycle of poverty, ignorance, casteism and feudalism .

That is where the similarity ends.The white Tiger, from rural Bihar  finds his way to Delhi through cunning and deceit and finally obtains a fortune by murdering his employer. He then goes on to use his ill-gotten wealth to bribe the powers that be and become what he calls an entrepreneur.  

The second story, set in rural Gujrat, follows a course diametrically opposite. Our hero, loses both parents early in life; and he is particularly upset that he could not save his mother as medical help could not reach her in time due to poor roads. Fired by his mission to participate in building good roads in rural areas, he struggles through his way , through sheer grit and handwork to become an engineer in Goverment service. Through out his life he faces more than his quota of  tragedies and yet finds ways to overcome his personal grief by serving his fellowmen. It is also significant that most of the characters in the novel are based on real people , as mentioned in the 'acknowledgments'. 

The 'white tiger ' won the Man Booker prize, while 'the tale of two Indians' is hardly known. Is it necessary to expose the dark underbelly of the country for an Indian work to win an Oscar or a Man Booker prize? 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Freedom to break laws

This is cartoon from DNA, on 26 Jan 2012, when our nation celebrated  the 63rd Republic Day.

In India, if you are a  big shot, you have  to break more laws and with more impunity to prove your worth in the society. It is not as if we live in a lawless area like a tribal belt in a frontier region. We have plenty of laws, as any civilized society should.

Oprah Winfrey, on her recent visit to India, exclaimed, "...No, like, what is it with the red lights ? I mean, does the red light mean stop or not ? or is it just for your entertainment ?" . Ma'm we know what a red light is meant for . It is just that we like to break a few rules wherever we can. It is a land of 'speed breakers' not 'sign posts'. If a motorist is to be stopped it has to be through speed breakers or better still barricades. A 'Chaudhary'  is simply not intimidated by a mere red light.

The higher you go in the social hierarchy, you need to break more laws. It also rubs off on the kith and kin. The children can merrily cheat in their school exams and where else can you find news headlines like "IAS officer's wife slaps cop " ?

Encroaching on public property is a birth right, it is our country, our land, isn't it ? If you own a DDA flat, a one bedroom flat with some ingenuity can be converted into a three bed room flat with overhangs here and there.

Intellectual property is a great joke. IP lawyers can fret and fume, but we reserve our right to buy and sell pirated books and CDs at pavements, railway stations, inside the trains and well, wherever we can. And now  we have become tech savvy.  A computer buyer, demands a long list of software to go with it. Shops selling mobile hand sets in small towns, invariably flash a sign board saying "Downloading done here" . Even simple rural folks are not happy with just the handsets ( having 32 GB, storage capacity, all for under Rs 3000/-). They want their handsets with plenty of songs and Video clips of all kinds !

Not every one can break every law every time. A beggar sleeping on a pavement is promptly chased away. A hawker is tolerated as long as he follows certain 'conventions '(not laws, mind you). Then comes an ambassador  car with a red light on top, and it can be parked wherever for however long. 

When you are really big enough, and when you can get away with a murder, not just figuratively, you are ready for bigger roles in the society. Run out of laws to break, some of the law breakers, even mange to become law makers,  so that they can make more laws  to break!

No harm in dreaming . If only,...if only, every Indian decided to abide by the laws of the land,..atleast there will be wider roads, cleaner pavements and no traffic jams. Revenue collection, in every department will soar, to be used for all sorts of welfare measures.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Where are the girls ?

In India, it is nothing unusual to read news stories about female foeticide  or abduction of girls. But what is extremely disconcerting is that one crime feeds on the other and the entire outcome is condoned by the society at large.

In a typical village in Haryana, the sex-ratio is so skewed that there are few prospective brides available. So they conveniently buy 'girls' abducted from impoverished regions and the demand-supply chain is well established . But, why have the villagers become silent spectators to this heinous practice ? The uncomfortable truth is that every third house in the village is party to such a crime, in one way or the other.

Ironically, the relentless pursuit for male offspring has all but emasculated the society.

Men and women alike have lost the courage to stand up for justice and compassion to stand by the oppressed.

Where are the Khap Panchayats , the custodians of clan honour ? What kind of honour does, abduction or purchase of girls bring ?

More than enacting of stringent laws, the need of the hour is social reformers !

I wish, Anna hazare and his gang of four (Kejriwal, Bedi, Sisodia and Bhushan) , who have considerable influence in the region, channelize their energy to weed out this malaise . After all, what good can an anti-corruption to law do to a society where every home is morally corrupt ?

some links

times of india
indian express

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Religion and Music

Can a religion exist without music ? No religion can be totally cerebral and there are always some rituals which are invariably associated with some kind of music. Even in Islam, where the attitude towards music is at best ambivalent, the 'Adhan' , Islamic call to prayer is recited in a melodious voice rather than as a terse announcement.

Can music exist without religion ? Apparently, the answer is  yes, as 'kolaveri' is also music , having nothing at all  to do with any religion. But then,if  you ask a carnatic musician, you cannot even think of music without thinking of God. There is simply no room for atheists there.  Certain kind of music gives rise to certain kind of emotions as joy, peace or compassion in a listener. To a practitioner of carnatic music, music is an intellectual and emotional exercise and also an expression of Bhakti and it also creates a similar feeling in a listener's mind.

Then, we have the lyrics or sahityam . With the current generation, lyrics have taken a back seat and it is all drums and beats. Drums and beats are not great and  such music is so enlivening and exhilarating.  I remember , when we were in the academy, we used to have what we called 'jam sessions'. We could hit the ceiling energized by orange squash, some eats like jalebi and doughnuts and........ the Drums. It was all expression of raw energy and 'OSI BISA' (particularly, 'ojah awake'  and 'dance the body music') was a great favourite.

While the effects of rhythm and beats are physical, it is only the words that can really get to your mind.  Words are powerful and music is even more powerful, and when these powerful words are set to great music and rendered with the right bhava or emotion, it definitely does something to your innermost self. What's amazing is that every time you here such a piece of music, the feeling gets more intense rather than follow the law of diminishing utility. To me, Bharathiyaar songs, sung by MS, or DK Pattammal / Nithyashree or Bombay Jayashree can be listened to any number of times.

Tailpiece . Recently I read AR Rahman's biography. AR Rahman is said to  avoid composing for non-sufi, religious songs. Just wondering what made Rafi sing such wonderful bhajans. Some of these works, Baiju Bawra, Kohinoor  have been the combined effort of a great team, Mohammad Rafi, Shakeel Badayuni, and Naushad, with star cast including Dileep Kumar. They are professionals alright, but how does Rafi put in so much emotions into his devotional songs ?