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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.