Two Religions to this Coin

Mahatma Gandhi, the “Father of the Nation”, is a much revered and respected person worldwide. However, many in India (I’m not one among the many) remember him as a person who wronged many of the things he did right by one big mistake – that of allowing Muslims to stay back in India. They believe that just that single decision of his has cost our nation many years of peace and safety.

Today, on December 6, a day that should be one of the worst in the annals of Indian history, the contemplation of this seems all the more pertinent.

But before I go far ahead of myself, let me go back in history to this quote from an eighteenth century historian, Vincent Smith, about India during the B.C years: “The Muslim Turks, like their forerunners, the Sakas and the Yueh-Chi, universally yielded to the wonderful assimilative power of Hinduism and rapidly became Hinduised.”

That leads me to wonder, what does Smith mean when he talks about Hinduism and Muslims becoming “Hinduised“? Clearly, he is not speaking in the narrow religious concept but in a broader sense. In fact, it is believed that the word “Hindu” was used by the Persians and Central Asians for “people living on this side of the Indus or the Sindhu river”. It is from the same that the name India originated. History tells us that the old inclusive term for religion in India was Arya Dharma till Buddhism and Jainism originated. So then, from where did the term Hinduism originate as a faith?

Interestingly, all who followed the Vedic dharma were subsequently referred to as the Hindus. The very beauty of Hinduism lies in its very amorphous, multi-faceted structure. It can hardly be defined in the classical sense of a faith or a religion. Hinduism, as a faith, has primarily been a national religion restricting itself to the land with no zealous missionary enterprises, no proselytization or looking outside the frontiers of India for “fresh recruits”. The very same Gandhiji, widely reviled as mentioned at the start of this page expressed all this very succinctly in a telling statement,
“Hinduism is more than just a faith or religion. It is a way of life”

Now, let me cross over the other side to Islam. CNN-IBN repeatedly telecasted excerpts from a Shah Rukh Khan interview this morning with a bold caption, “There is no Terror in Islam”. Not having read the Quran, I decline to comment on the veracity or accuracy of that statement. But I must add, from the Crusades to 9/11, from the invasion of Mahmud of Ghazni to the plundering acts of Nadir Shah, History definitely does not support that statement.

In the same vein, I recently happened to read an article in LA Times that threw up some interesting statistics comparing the state of Muslims in India to that of Dalits: “52% of Muslim men are unemployed, compared to 47% of Dalit men. Among Muslim women, 91% are unemployed, compared to 77% of Dalit women. Almost half the Muslims over the age of 46 cannot read or write. While making up 11% of the population, Muslims account for 40% of India’s prison population. Meanwhile, they hold less than 5% of government jobs”

It should be noted that these statistics apply specially to the Muslims in the lower strata of income levels. Another interesting statistic is that the population of Muslims in India, 150 million, is second only to Indonesia’s 190 million and higher than Pakistan’s 140 million and that of the many Arab countries as well. In other words, the 11% population of the Muslims is quite a sizeable figure in a land of over 1.4 billion. This, in fact, quite laughably, is another reason why people direct their spite at Gandhi for allowing Muslims to stay back in India!

At this juncture, I cannot help but quote from Nehru’s iconic Discovery of India: “India is infinitely absorbent like the ocean. It is odd to think that India, with her caste system and exclusiveness, has this astonishing inclusive capacity to absorb foreign races and cultures”

That is why, it felt more than just gratifying to see the middle-class educated Muslims protest against the 26/11 atrocity. That is also why Gandhiji, in his infinite wisdom and tolerance chose to allow the Muslims to stay back or leave on their will and not by force. So, then, was he wrong in doing what he did?

Alas, that shall remain a question that will be asked again and again for generations to come when Muslims commit many atrocities in India and many more inter-caste feuds happen. I may be a small voice, but I fervently hope that Hindus do not respond to this violence with violence of their own. That is an unfortunate trend being seen in the recent times with even a new term being coined, “Hindu Terror”.

It is one thing to fight fire with fire, but quite another when the two fires combine to set the entire country ablaze in a trail of national shame that is an embarassment to humanity itself!

But, after 26/11 and the statements from the terrorists and the statements that there were insiders in India who helped the terrorists, I have only one question to ask: “What are we poor unsuspecting Hindus supposed to think?”

Published in: on December 6, 2008 at 8:46 am  Comments (2)  
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A Paralyzing sense of Rage & Disbelief

V S Naipaul once wrote “Mumbai is a crowd”. For the next two days after 26 November, the city was everything but that.

A city of many millions was held hostage by 25 or so heartless militants with no trace of humanity whatsoever left in them. It began at the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station in Mumbai when two men dressed in black dropped their rucksacks, opened them to pull out guns and open fire. What followed next was gruesome and macabre, to say the least. Many accounts of that have been seen on the net and the Television, where news channels have focussed on little else over the last few days and rightly so.

This post (one being written, after an extremely long “Rip Van Winkle”-ish slumber) is no attempt to recount any of those stories or go over what has already been spoken about the entire episode. I live nowhere near Mumbai, have visted the city only once and spent just three days and I know no one in Mumbai who was in any sort of danger during this episode. Yet, I cannot help but sense this overpowering and overhelming sense of numbness descend upon me in these lugubrious times. I do not feel any personal loss, but still experience a feeling much deeper than that.

Maybe it is the anger that some of India’s finest soldiers, commandos and policemen died bravely and ironically fighting a bunch of cowards. Maybe it is the anger over watching an inert Central Government and a useless Home Ministry that has slept through four terrorist attacks in four of India’s biggest cities in four months. Maybe it is the anger that the only Opposition to this inept ruling party tries to gain political mileage out of this terrorist encounter to win an insignificant election in Delhi (why is it being held at this time anyway?). Maybe it is the anger at watching people and media try to confer religion to the “militants” who cannot even be conferred the very sense of humanity.  Maybe it is the anger one feels at watching the moving images of people killed and wounded for no fault of their own. Quite likely, it is all of this and a lot more that has agitated and frustrated me enough that I come back here to vent all those feelings.

The media called this attack “Mumbai’s 9/11”.  Every single news channel claimed that Mumbai has seen a lot of violence in the past along similar lines. But I really do not feel the same way.

The riots in 1993 were a result of total madness and there is absolutely no doubting that.  However, there was at least some sense one could see that those riots were a result of blood-thirsty zealots driven by the passion for retaliation and revenge. When the train blasts happened in 2007, one could see that they were an attempt to unsettle the resilience of the average Mumbaikar in the name of “worthy causes”. The same goes for the blasts in front of the Stock Exchange in 1993 as well.

Forward to the present day in 2008 and I just cannot apply the same line of reasoning. The TV Channels repeatedly displayed images of young men (none of them looked elder than me) clad in jeans and T-shirts wielding scary weapons as casually as the rucksacks strapped around their backs. I might be imagining this, but one of those guys seemed to have an insane glee written all over him with his eyes masking the cruelty that he had just perturbed. As these youngsters headed out from Victoria terminus to Leopold Cafe , one of them saw an old couple curiously peeping out from a neighbouring building. Calmly, he aimed his gun and fired a burst, killing both of them. Now, what wrong did they do to be shot like that?

There seems to be no comprehensible reason at all behind this attack.  Was it an attempt to unsettle India’s tourism industry? Was it an attempt to expose India’s poor security and its vulnerable coastline? Was it an attack made out of jealousy over India’s rising global stature? Was it driven by communal reasons?

These are no new questions. Every Indian would have asked these over the last few days. But I have only one thing to add. I began with one Indian expatriate writer and I end with another Indian writer who, for many, still is synonymous with Indian fiction the world over, R K Narayan.

“Whatever happens, India will survive”.

Published in: on November 29, 2008 at 7:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Coach Conundrum

As I write this, India are in the midst of another grand choke on the cricket field. A scintillating start by Sehwag thrown away by the remaining batsmen, India are staring at a sure defeat stranded at 145 for 6. The skipper is still out there, but surely, even he can’t get India out of the sink now!

This made me cast my mind back to the One-day victory in Australia, and in particular, I was thinking of the team composition. There are two big differences. One, quite notably, is the absence of Sachin, a factor that the team should have learnt to cope with by now. But, this post is about the significant other. The presence of a foreign coach. To put it bluntly, do we need Gary Kirsten, or for that matter, any foreign coach, at all?

Look at the bare facts. Without a “head coach”, the team performed well in England, won the T20 World Cup and did themselves proud down under. And these feats span all three versions of the game, the feast, the supper and the snack! The think-tank of Prasad, Robin and Lalchand Rajput proved themselves to be more than adequate. Then, BCCI chose to do what they always do. Ignore common sense and reason to throw the board’s riches on a totally unworthy aspect. Surely, we should have learnt something from the Greg Chappell disaster? But No! We just did not!

What has Gary Kirsten added to the team? Why, he has not even helped the left-handed batsmen with their technique. Gambhir and Raina seem to come up short in the finals and key games. Otherwise, yes, they are promising. But it’s that other perenially promising guy who just leaves you exasperated!

Yuvraj appears more keen on maintaining his brand equity than going beyond his shoddy performances in key games. It’s been six months since he played Stuart Broad. But the media and the marketing agencies ensure that the fame has not got out of that bloated head of his. In the midst of all that, there was the IPL tamasha as well, which I also believe is another major factor in this defeat.

All the Indian batsmen were guilty of getting out to poor shots. They were still stuck in the T20 loop. Raina and Gambhir had big knocks, no doubt. But those came on flat pitches against weak bowling attacks. All they had to face was some quality in the bowling and the technique of these Indian ‘stars’ was exposed. Clearly, this is a problem we are going to see more of in the future. T20 is definitely going to affect the technique of batsmen in the game overall.

But I digress. Has Gary Kirsten done anything that Lalchand Rajput could not have? Or for that matter, we have a bowling coach and a fielding coach. Why a head coach? As a great opening batsman in his country, Kirsten came with good credentials as a cricketer. But again, he had never coached a cricket side and was only the head of a cricket training academy in South Africa. Even then, his previous experience means that he should help the Indian cricketers iron out the flaws in their game. I need not spell this out, but here it is. If anything at all, in the first few days at the helm, Kirsten has not been anything more than ineffective!

This is not meant to be an attack on Kirsten. It really isn’t. It is actually an avenue for me to vent my frustrations against BCCI. They have only been concerned with making money and them starting a new league to, well, make some more money. In the bargain, let us hope Indian cricket does not go down the drain, a la English football. Will the BCCI ever change its ways?

Well, a few more defeats and Gary Kirsten will be sacked. We will have a new coach, I mean a foreign one of course, in hs stead, but will we win in 2011?

Dhoni wants the victory. Sachin seems to be conserving himself for the big tournament. He has played enough cricket and won many awards. But what he lacks is that main international victory. And undoubtedly, Sachin knows this very well. Peter Roebuck tipped India as the next world champions as “India is the sleeping tiger that has just begun to wake up”.

Well, the tiger called Indian cricket seems to roar loudly once in a while,  but the bigger tiger, or elephant, I should say, the BCCI, seems to be competing with Rip Van Winkle. Only when this changes, will Indian cricket really make huge strides!

Published in: on July 6, 2008 at 5:10 pm  Comments (1)  
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Meat and Foodgrains

Manic May has come to an end. On one hand, we had the state elections in Karnataka and the IPL. On the significant other, we had volatile markets, rising inflation, and of course, the towering inferno that petrol prices now represent. I would like to talk only about one of these three now.

While a lot of attention has been given to the rising prices of foodgrains, comparatively little has been written about meat. When I say meat, I allude to only the meat from livestock, particularly cows and pigs. So, I sought to make a little search on the net. Let me just write out a few of those stats here for now.

The average American consumes 125 kg of meat a year, while the average Chinese consumes 70 kg a year. On the whole, America consumes 30 million tones of meat a year while China consumes a whopping 100 million tones of meat a year. If those stats sound irrelevant to you, let’s move on to the heart of the matter, so to speak.

An animal consumes 16 kg of foodgrain to produce just 1 kg of meat! Yes, in India, that 16 kg can be used well to feed a family of four for an entire month, while it is actually being used to feed a family for just one day, or even perhaps only a meal! Interestingly, the animals could be allowed to graze and eat their own food, but clearly, that is not a good idea. Animals seem to fatten faster when they are fed, rather than when they are let off to feed themselves. Furthermore, an animal population of more than 50 million is required to provide for that kind of consumption. Imagine what would happen if 50 million animals are let loose on the American grasslands! The Prairies might well turn into the Sahara!

So now, just pause to think about the diet of the average American or Chinese. Now, the press has written a lot about ethanol and bio-fuels reducing the arable land, and consequently, decrease in supply. Clearly, a lot of blame has been attached on bio-fuels and corn as one of the reasons for this price rise. Here is another argument that is often not really spoken of.

While the overall global supply has reduced, the humongous demand for animals is taken care of and consequently, the supply for human consumption is reduced! What happens next is quite obvious really. Prices, inevitably and eventually shoot up, shoot up even more and continue to move upwards.

Another interesting conclusion one could draw is that while the rising costs of foodgrains is a problem in the US and China, it is perhaps not as big a worry as the rising costs of meat. Interestingly, it is believed that China maintains a reserve of pigs to be slayed in such times of crisis so that the price of meat does not rise!

Another wicked twist to this is that Man deprives himself of food to feed animals just to feed himself again! What’s more, in the process he even wastes a lot of food!

But wait, there’s more to this argument than just food! Animals consume a lot more water than the average human being, roughly hundred times more. That apart, getting rid of animal wastes is a renowned problem. Even after composting and bio-gas and other such novel attempts, a huge portion of animal wastes remains just that: waste!

Now then, coming to our own dear poor country! As a vegetarian who prides himself in the company of many others, I am really not proud of the following stat. The average Indian consumes 5 kg of meat a year. In fact, the consumption has almost doubled from 3 kg in the last six years.

The cow is considered sacred in India. Why would people kill it for food? Furthermore, compared to the Chinese 70 and the American 125, that Indian figure really is nothing. Or, is it?

For a country of our size and poorly managed resources, a rising consumption of meat would become a huge cause for concern. Even if the figure touches 10 by 2015, it could become a monster of an issue. Well, for one, water can only get more scarce and feeding hundreds of litres a day to 10 million animals just for the pleasure of eating meat is clearly a despicable prospect. As for the gargantuan issue that waste management represents in this country already, the problem and the solutions are better left unspoken!

So, should the Information ministry run an anti-meat campaign like the ones for tobacco and alcohol? Or should we just forget about this since there really are much bigger issues to handle in this country of over a billion people?

Clearly, from an Indian point of view, the issue merits no argument. But from the global viewpoint, perhaps Bush and his bunch of buffoons should look unto themselves before they point fingers at India and blame us for the rising food prices.

And yes, can’t resist this cliché – this is an issue that definitely offers a lot of food for thought!

Published in: on June 9, 2008 at 3:23 pm  Comments (3)  
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My First ever Election

A very observant person I know once quoted that “Development in India always happens in spite of the Government, and never because of it”

For the benefit of those not acquainted with me, I live in a state called Karnataka in India which has for the last four months famously not had a Government after some pretty infamous antics from two of the “national” parties in the state. In keeping with that opening quote, affairs in the state have gone on pretty oblivious to the absence of this controlling force. And yes, no State Government in India could perhaps greater furnish more evidence to that statement than the one here. Nevertheless, this is a democracy and democracies as a rule have elections. In those elections, it is expected that people vote for their favourite party. But, to bring you to the realm of the real, let me cut that statement down. In the democracy that is India, people vote. Period.

This experience of mine spans a duration of two weeks and in a typical filmy fashion, I will now request you to imagine the scene that I will now describe in Black & White. Give me the face of any person you know in the industry, hero, comedian, whatever. The setting is a little public school in Southern Bangalore in a 30 by 40 site with three floors and three classrooms in each floor. Now imagine all the classrooms closed except one. Place some police officers outside that one open door. Now, halt right there, you might say and ask me in a confused manner, Police Officers? Outside a school? You can then go on to complain in a highly frustrating voice and proclaim “What is happening to this country if schools are becoming seats of crime?”

As writer and narrator, it’s about time I threw some light on the posish. You see, this is not about schools becoming seats of crime. It is actually about schools being accessories to seats for criminals. If that’s too convoluted for your liking, I will spell it out for you: What is going on at this scene is the issue of voter IDs for the state elections (Time for you to let out a knowing sound, a heavy sigh and a shake of the head indicating the incorrigibility and futility of the scenario!)

Anyway, I stand in a long serpentine queue for so many hours to just get to a table where the citizens check if their names are on the voters’ list. Once you verify that your name really is on the list and exclaim “Voila! I never really expected that I am a citizen in this country who is allowed to vote” you have to note down a complex number with many an oblique and alphabets, the details of which even the election volunteers wouldn’t understand. To give you an example, the number goes something like 697/A/45/125A/RE567/34

Then, the central character of the story joined a new line, this one longer than the first. Thankfully, I have a mobile phone and played “Snake” on it atleast 4,556 times, registering high scores time and again, when I was waiting on both lines to idle the time away. Finally, I got to the front of the line and after a few minutes entered the one open room (whoa! And applause please) to witness a scene of total frenzy and chaos.

After a few minutes or fifteen, whichever is longer, I could make out a web camera in the midst of all the commotion and a person operating a computer to take photos of people using the web camera. I went over to him and then he tells me “Sorry, baas, this web camera does not work. Join the other line”.

I follow his finger to look at a long line and groan, and then the first thought that hit me was, “How on earth did they fit a long line in such a small room?” Well, anyway, I went back to a serpentine queue with Snake. Soon, it was my turn to be shot (or mug-shot, if I may!) I just sat down and before I could even look at the cam, the “Shooter-in-chief” looked at me, “OK Sir, photo over”. I began to protest and say, “But Hey, I didn’t even look at….”
The next person had forcibly moved me out.

After a 15-minute wait (yes, wait – that seems to be the keyword in a democracy!) I signed for my card and walked out. Then, basking in the glory of my achievement under the afternoon sun, I took out the card to have a good look at my Voter’s card.

Now, you should understand that I am one generally not given to swearing, but this time I let a word or two roll liberally off the tip of my tongue. The reason, my dear patient readers, is simply because the details on the card were all wrong.

Here’s how the details on the card ought to look:
Name: Vishwas S
Address: No.429, K R Layout IV Cross, J P Nagar VI Phase, Bangalore
Father’s initial: J

Now, here’s how it actually reads:
Name: Vishwasa. Esa
Address: No.71, G P Nagar IV Phase, Sarakki, Bangalore
Father’s initial: Gee

Laugh all you want at the stupidity of the system and me if you wish. But now I shall try to use some logic to understand the reason behind the way these details have been printed. The voter’s details were prepared in Kannada, the letters quite resemble each other and thus the discrepancies in the names and the initials.

But the address? Even a kid knows that there is no place called G P Nagar in Bangalore and from where on earth did he cook up that number 71? He might have as well printed my address as “No. 42, Platform Nine and three quarters, Malgudi, Timbuktu, Middle Earth”

I then could not help but wince when I looked at the photo. I summon all the modesty within me to describe that photo. My looks, mirror-cracking material as it already is, clearly deserved a better depiction. Even for a mug-shot, this was more than colossally mug.

But hey, I should credit them for getting at least my birthday right. After all, there cannot be more than one person born on the same day in G P Nagar or can there?

Onto matters of greater importance. Having arranged for the card, the central character now has no idea of who to vote for at the election. He asks his neighbours and people he knows. Here is a gist of the conversation:

Poor Old Me (P.O.M): How is the Congress candidate?
Good Old Expert (G.O.E): Oh, he is very bad! Has swindled 3.6 crores and fought a case in court over a fraudulent piece of land which he claimed after cheating a farmer
P.O.M (shocked and aghast): The BJP guy?
G.O.E: Oh, he has swindled around 1.5 crores, I think
P.O.M: Others?
G.O.E: When the others come to power, they will have a chance to swindle, I guess
P.O.M: Yeah, right! Then, should I vote at all?
G.O.E (with a reproachful stare): You should, boy! Haven’t you ever heard of Universal Adult Franchise? Exercise your powers, kid! Even if you don’t, somebody will vote in your place, yes, do not think I am blabbering here and your vote will be misused. Would you want that?
(End of dialogue. CUT!)

Quite frankly, shifting to reality and closing the imagined movie, what bothers me is this. Yes, I am eligible to vote, but will I be voting for someone eligible?

That critical question has time and again been the quandary of every conscious and ethical voter in this country. But I will vote tomorrow. For whom, I really do not know, and I think I will decide that on the spur of the moment. But believe me, the reason I vote is really not Universal Adult Franchise. It is not even for the fact that I waited six long agonizing terrible hours in a queue that could get even a sloth envious to get a card that describes some unknown person in a yet-to-be-created fiction fantasy. It is something a lot simpler.

It is what I like to call “Card Power”. Every card has an unbelievable power that produces in me an irresistible urge to well, use it. No doubt people run up huge debts on their credit cards, love bookstores which give discount cards and flaunt special memberships and IDs. You see, cards give a sense of responsibility and more importantly, impart a feeling of being privileged to the owner. The voter’s ID card is no different. And in the case of the voter’s ID, there is only one way to use it. And that use is quite possibly a futile action, but an action nevertheless, an action called “Voting”

Perhaps this post is a day early, but intentionally so. I do feel very strongly about this entire affair and though my first, it certainly is not my last and I hear that going to the polling booth to vote isn’t half as exciting as obtaining the voter’s ID. After all, there will be a mark on my finger that I would have never before seen in my life and perhaps nothing more notable than that.

But, what about the person I vote for? Is that not a very important notable thing? But, my dear extremely patient readers, while this is a democracy, this is also India. Who you vote for doesn’t really matter. People vote for a zillion reasons here. Sarees are distributed. So is sugar, oil, rice, kerosene, arrack and God alone knows what else in a systematic manner that will not even be remotely reproduced when the party comes to power. People are bribed for votes. And yes, almost half the citizens do not vote. But among those who do vote, never mind the reason why they do. The bottomline is, like I said at the start, in this country the citizens vote.


Making Sense of Reservations

Almost 50 years ago, the famous mathematician and philosopher, Bertrand Russell came up with this ingenious and oft-repeated quote, “Statistics is very much like a bra. What it reveals is good, but what it hides is a lot more vital”

A lot has been said and written about reservations in the media as well as the blogosphere. Having read a lot of that, I thought of a different approach to the issue, an Engineer’s approach.

Let’s start with the numbers and see how they stack up to reach some interesting conclusions

• To start with, the National Backward Classes Commission designated 4,820 communities in the country as backward, (yes, it really is a shockingly large number) and they estimated these communities to form 40-44% of the national population. Initially, members of all the 4,820 communities were considered backward and then of course, came the SC ruling on the “creamy layer”, which I will not detail here, but will discuss later.
• The 4,820 communities included some very powerful castes which yield a lot of political clout. Some notable entries there are the Chettiars, Devars in Tamil Nadu, Patels in Gujarat, Jats in Bihar, but not the Jats in Rajasthan (!) and Vokkaligas & Shettys in Karnataka, to name a few.
• The IITs set aside Rs. 15 Lakh a year per student for infrastructure.
• The IITs normally admit 5000 students a year, but will have to admit 6000 this year, which by simple math, means an increased spending of Rs. 150 crores just this year.
• The Central Government has already issued Rs. 1100 crores to the IITs and IIMs last year for the implementation of quotas and will be releasing another 1771 crore over the next three years.
• Let’s move to the Delhi University now. One of the biggest in the country, its problems with staff shortage and woeful infrastructure for a capacity of 1200 students is already well publicized. Now, they will have to admit 1800 students with no hope of improving the infrastructure.
• Now, the creamy layer: Two definitions that I found more interesting than the rest: The income cap of 2.5 Lakh & if the parent is a farmer holding land of area greater than 85% of statuatory ceiling issued by the state.
• There will be a marks limit for the OBC students too. One of the SC judges suggested a 10-mark difference.

Enough stats there. Let’s move on to dissecting every one of those little nuggets to uncover what lies beneath.

4,820 communities form say 42% of the national population and we are told that they cant make it to institutions without a quota in place to help them and this will promote social equality and justice. Now that can mean one of either two things: The people from these 4,280 communities are really dumb, or of course the people from the remaining 58% of the population are extremely smart. Coming from the latter category, I guess you can clearly understand what I am alluding to!

One look at the Categories list will tell you that the list should have been renamed from OBC to ANC, which quite simply stands for All Non-Brahman Classes. Believe me, that is no exaggeration. Along with the Brahman classes, the only exemptions from that list are a few powerful classes who do not hold any place in the politics of the country, since they are busy making a living for themselves on the merits of their own sweat and hard work.

The good thing about money is, it normally speaks for itself. That’s the beauty of the next few numbers there. Now, isn’t such a lot of investment in a few colleges in the country a very skewed manner of ensuring social “equality”? Wouldn’t it make more sense to build schools in rural areas and ensure that people get their primary education right?

Ah! Now we uncover the crux of it all – the creamy layer. This definition was obviously excluded from the HRD Ministry’s proposal, but trust Arjun Singh and Co. to find ways of skirting around this little technicality and making it just another piece of legal jargon. For instance, there is already a move to increase the cap to 4 lakhs. Now, we have all been through the process of admissions and examinations. If a parent earns, say 3.98 lakhs a year, how difficult is it for him to enroll his son in a private tuition? Can’t his son then write the exam on his own merit?

I come from an area in Bangalore which was recently included in the clutches of the BBMP. Till then, many people here owned fake land documents and shirked paying taxes for well, God Alone knows, how many millennia!!!? Once again, this is Bangalore. A big, booming city and an epicenter of development in the country. And people do own fake land documents here. So, how difficult is it to do the same elsewhere? That apart, 85% as it is, is a pretty huge ceiling. And even if people are above that limit, this is India my friend. A wad of the cash under the table equals a piece of paper above it!

I would like to conclude this whole piece with an interesting experiment conducted in Bihar in 2004. The experiment conducted by two Dutch women in a small school in a Bihar village required children to complete mazes and do logic puzzles after which they were rewarded for their efforts. The exercise was done in two stages. The difference between the two stages, was one simple announcement.

Before the second stage commenced, the students were differentiated on the basis of their caste and then asked to perform the same exercises. Now, tell me, what do you think the result would have been?

Before the announcement, all students were seen to be equally competitive. After that, Surprise! Surprise! The students who were designated as the backward classes actually performed much worse!

If not anything else, the experiment tells us one thing. When people are typecast, unconsciously and unintentionally, their actions and mindset too fall into the same stereotypes. Now, if a student is admitted on the basis of being from a “backward” caste and not on merit, the inferiority complex will probably kill him when he faces the competition from the “forward” classes!

Let’s paint a different picture. What if the same money is channeled at the primary education level and these students make it to the same colleges on merit and not on the basis of just being backward? Well, one may argue that the students may not study at the primary level. Believe me, if one cannot study at the primary level, there is just no way he can succeed in a competitive atmosphere like the IITs!

So, then, in this case as in so many other cases, this is what the entire issue boils down to: A matter of perspective! What matters is not about who is looking at the issue in the right way, but whether the right people have the right take on the issue. In this case, that is a question I’d rather not answer!

Published in: on April 26, 2008 at 6:42 am  Comments (15)  
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Bails to Bales

The following is a set of short stories, all of which are entirely real and pure fact. These stories have nothing to do with fiction whatsoever, dreamed up by the author or otherwise. And yes, importantly, all these tales have a common theme. The author leaves it to the readers to decide their opinion on the topic based on the many tales that practically present every side of the issue. In short, draw your inferences and make your own conclusions!

Srinivas Venkatraghavan, popularly known as Venkat in the cricketing fraternity, during the 70s came across a common problem in the 70s. A nephew of his, who Venkat felt was very talented, wanted to play for India at the national level. The 12-year old kid was a batsman who could spin the ball. Venkat proudly encouraged him to keep playing and was very confident that the boy had a bright future. Many weeks passed after that little talk between the youngster and the veteran. Venkat had almost forgotten all about it when he received a call from the kid’s father, his cousin, who was practically angry at Venkat and spoke to him with great disdain. “How dare you ask my son to become a cricketer? What do we all do for food after I retire then? Will cricket serve us food?” Needless to say, the promising talented kid never became a cricketer.

Subhas Chandra, a man who was ridiculed as “grain seller” when he wanted to enter the then fledgling entertainment industry in the 70s, is known to be a man who puts his mouth where he thinks money is. And in true fashion that did not disappoint any of his friends, he launched the idea of an “Indian Cricket League” in an ostentatious press conference. It was a revolutionary idea and the BCCI, though they didn’t conceive it, were quick to realize the potential. They refused to acknowledge the ICL and asked every other cricket body in the world, including the ICC, to do the same. But of course, the ICL was surely going to be popular and there was only one way to hit the ICL. The BCCI started its own league and the ICL was relegated to the staus of a “rebel league”

The year is 2008 and the place is little-known Cuddapah in Andhra Pradesh. The hero of this small story is a man named Vijaykumar. Vijaykumar’s main occupation is cleaning lorries. As someone with hardly any education and no other ability, this is one of the few options remaining for this young man. But wait, did I say he had no other ability? Well, he does have one and that’s bowling and taking wickets. When he represented Andhra in the Ranji Trophy, he took many wickets but with the season over, he had to go back to his usual job. Then, one fine day, as the cliché goes, he received a call to join the Hyderabad team in the Indian Premier League. Consequently, Vijay happily swapped jobs. So, what is our hero’s take on this stroke of fortune? “”I didn’t even know what the IPL was when I got selected. Just a few days ago, my seniors explained to me what IPL is all about. I didn’t even tell anyone at home that I got selected.They won’t understand even if I do till I perform. When I was playing for Ranji, my only goal was to play well and get maximum wickets. This is a wonderful surprise”

Now, to a very popular and oft-repeated story – The Tale of the Turbanator Down Under. Let’s fast forward straight to the epilogue, that is, the part after the charges against Bhajji were dropped. Many Aussies cried foul and said that the BCCI had flexed its financial muscle. And yes, Aussies in the above line refers to both the public as well as the players in Australia. Papers and television channels all over the country slammed BCCI and its “blackmail strategies”. As always happens in such stories, the coin reversed after two weeks. The IPL player auctions were announced and everybody sat up to take notice. Aussies were soon vying with their own compatriots for higher salaries. The auction itself did not disappoint in terms of drama and jaw-dropping nine-figure sums. Some conservative thinkers were even reminded of the slave trade that happened in ancient Rome. It was soon discovered that Ganguly, Buchanan, the young Ishant Sharma and his bunny Ponting will represent the same side. Wait a minute to think about this: Buchanan, Ganguly & Ponting in the same side. An extremely volatile and potent mix, and quite possibly a recipe for disaster. But who cares? This is the Karmayudh after all!

The Kolkata team for the IPL was launched recently. At the launch, owner Shah Rukh Khan was asked about his opinion regarding the future of the Indian hockey team after failing to qualify for the Olympics. But hold on a minute. Isn’t this Shah Rukh the same guy who acts in sad sobby-syrupy-scenty movies? So, what is he doing talking about hockey? Oh yes, in between his attempts at rebirth, he became the hockey coach of the Indian team, didn’t he? Ah yes, acting in a kitschy movie about hockey does make him a veritable expert and guide for the team, doesn’t it? So, what about cricket? He owns an IPL team now. The man himself clears the air with this formidable statement, “Yes, even I will be presenting opinions in the studio and so will Preity. Come on, it’s after all our teams fighting it out there”. A clever journalist immediately shot back, “But Sir, will this strain relations between you and Preity?” Khan guffawed, but I cried. So long to quality cricket telecasting. Who knows, we might even see Amir Khan sitting next to Harsha Bhogle in the studio during the next TV Series that ESPN-Star telecast!

In 1999, the LG Cup in Kenya presented him an opportunity, and he grabbed it with both hands to take a career-best haul of 5 for 6. Unfortunately, he could not hold on to his place in the national squad just as tightly. But life, he says, has always been kind to him. Indeed, after many years, Sunil Joshi is set to stage a return to competitive cricket through the IPL. So are many others, including Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.

Football was always a game that meant a lot to the countries that played it. Given the fact that the sport is played in more than 168 countries, well, that is a lot of people who share a common link to the beautiful sport. The concept of national football was always about pride in football. Then came the “vested interests” – club football. Yes, clubs in football have existed since as early as the nineteenth century. But, club football never did precede the national interests. But somewhere down the line, this distinction became blurred. Now, the World Cup in football has lost its sheen, not in terms of viewership, but definitely in terms of quality. And now, when the English Premier League became the richest league in the sporting world, the England team failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 championships. The players cited burnout after a long club season. But then, with three English clubs in the UEFA Champs’ League quarterfinals, English football seems to be in good health. But then, the three clubs put together have only eight English players representing them. That isn’t even a concern, they say. After all, football is good business. Doesn’t matter if it’s domestic and not national.

As an end to this already long piece, I would like to ask a few pertinent questions. What gives greater joy and pride – Our national team thumping Australia or a team that has us and them beat another team that has, well, us and them? Yes, the IPL has brought in a lot of money and where is all that money going to go? Will it be used to help develop cricket, like they actually claim? Or even better, can the money be used to develop other sports in the country that are desperately in need of some attention and funds? Will the IPL make cricket in India travel down the same road as English Football? To express the same in a more urgent tone, will the IPL do more harm than good? Should we all collectively hope that it fails while we actually watch it becoming a roaring success?

All of the above can be answered only by our old familiar companion: Time!

Published in: on March 15, 2008 at 9:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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India’s Civil Dis-Services: Are we to blame for our own neglect?

I recently happened to read an article on the Economist titled ‘What’s holding India back?’ and another article which was linked from within that one titled ‘Battling the Babu Raj’. Both these articles led me to muse a great deal on the state of civil services in the country, and being a part of the enormous and ever-increasing youth of the country, I was led to ponder on the question: “How many of today’s able-bodied and keen youth would want to join the Civil Services in the country?”

My bias against the IAS began, perhaps at the tender age of 9, when I learnt that a member of our family, out of what can be described as “an idealistic zeal”, quite like the heroes of Shankar movies, joined the IAS with a hope to contribute to the nation as a part of the system. What happened, quite predictably and believably, was the contrary. He became fond of throwing his weight around and became a perpetrator of every sin IAS officers in India are accused of. For the benefit of the uninitiated, I refer to bribery and saluting politicians among an entire list of Terrible Commandments that so many civil servants are fond of following! But the point is, in short, the System changed him.

Now, to a different story. In the year 2004, the topper of the Civil Services Entrances was a Computer Engineering B.Tech graduate from IIT-Delhi. To reiterate the point, he was a Computer Engineer from IIT-Delhi and graduated at the height of the IT Boom. He chose not to join a software company, not to pursue studies abroad (like most IITians), and might I have the temerity to add, he did not write the CAT as well. So then, a reporter from our one-and-only ToI-let paper posed this brilliant question to the topper, “By joining the Civil Services, don’t you think you have wasted a valuable opportunity for some other IIT aspirant. After all, your Engineering degree is a waste now, right?”

So then, personal stories apart, what really does ail the Indian Civil Services? In a country that is on such a hot road to prosperity, it is only expected that responsible officers and government servants will play a huge role. The reality, though, is something that I need not state explicitly, but the long-and-short of it is, where the officers should be responsible middlemen and an important cog of a well-oiled machine, they end up becoming necessary devils and the Mr. Hyde of a very vital Dr. Jekyll. And yes, I need not say this, but Bureaucracy is a bad word in our blossoming nation!

The Economist article on the Babu raj that I have linked throws great light on the issue and I would rather not repeat those points. But to give a condensed view of what’s been stated in the article, the quality of IAS recruits is falling due to the following reasons: falling education standards; growing competition for talent from the private sector; increasing political interference; and, above all, caste-based reservations.
Elaborating on each of those points is a painful and needless task, so I would rather skip to add another point, the proverbial truth about the greener grass on foreign shores!

Now, to the point of view of one of the “youth”, being a student in one of the National Institutes of Technology, I do not even have the feeling that I am turning out to be an engineer, let alone, a good one. So, quite frankly, the question of wasting the degree and the professional education does not even arise! Yet, I would not prefer to join the IAS. There could be many reasons to this.

The main reason is a deep-seated resentment against the politicians who rule our country. Come on, which self-respecting individual would like to take orders from a person who isn’t even half as educated and pompous to the core? Worse, butter the wrong side of the bread, and you would definitely be facing your very own version of Lord Ram’s vanavasam. Deplorable as that sounds, it’s completely true!

The second, though I may be mistaken here, is a belief that IAS officers do not actually get to change the way things work. But yes, there are exceptions, like Jaykar Jerome.

On the whole, though, the first reason does dominate. And, there is a third factor, one that I would not like to admit, but yes, at the very depths, it does exist. Other avenues like a high-paying job or the opportunity to study abroad would certainly appear more lucrative at the end of the professional education. Yes, I am talking about money and salaries here.

There ends the frank self-assessment. But that always brings me back to the nagging question: As a part of the large populace that feeds off the rampaging Indian tiger, how will I ever help feed the tiger and ensure that it remains robust?

That is a very large topic in itself and merits a separate blog, let alone a few posts. For now, though, here’s the main theme that I am looking to drive in this blog. The Civil Services are steadily and surely dipping in quality and a large part of this can be attributed to the latest recruits. So, if the quality of the recruits has to improve, it simply implies that better candidates have to apply. In other words, self-respecting candidates like you and me should also look to apply. But, given that we don’t, are we in a correct position to crib about the services and fault them? More significantly, if we do not take the responsibility, the quality of the services is definitely going to fall. And swallow the bitter pill, as the future citizens of this country, won’t this affect us in the later stages of our own lives?

These are questions that I can only but ask. And that is why I take my hat off to the IIT-Delhi 2004 topper! Answering difficult questions in life is usually what sets apart the winners from the losers. And to all you self-respecting geeks, no, I am not referring to difficult exams!!!

Published in: on March 10, 2008 at 2:24 pm  Comments (5)  
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2008: So far, So Good!

It’s only March, correction, March has just begun, and perhaps this is too early to recount a year that is so very young. But, except for the fact that I haven’t blogged in many centuries that have passed (!!), this has definitely, and I must say quite unexpectedly, been an action-packed year so far!

To begin with a pet topic: Cricket. 2008 began controversially at Sydney and for the first time after the loss to Pakistan in Chennai in 1998 after Sachin’s majestic century, I felt so hurt that India lost a Test match. It felt very personal and was indeed a great shock. For a few days after that, I did go around telling everyone who cared to listen that India must at any cost return from Australia immediately. Thankfully, Kumble proved to be a great ambassador, did not let his emotions dictate terms, and we stayed. And yes, we stayed, we perceived and (what else!) we conquered! After returning dramatically to win in Perth and a narrow draw, the loss in the test series was a loss only statistically to not just billions of Indians, but many impartial Aussies as well. So, we cheered our heroes.

Then, came the shocker – the squad for the one-day series had only one senior member in the squad and in the one-off T20 game, India was bundled out for the second lowest score ever. Quite predictably, the media kicked up a ruckus. However, Dhoni stuck to his guns and defended every decision he made, a quality so admirable in a leader, and once again, on a testing tour, it was heartening to see that India had the right person in front. Soon, the team got its act together and then came the historic finals and a wonderful victory.

Many important positives came up on the tour. While the press has hailed Ishant Sharma and Dhoni’s captaincy and the young spirits in Team India and the enthusiasm and camaraderie in the team, I would like to talk about just one man. A man, who to me, has always been the very reason I watch cricket. A man, who many in the press had written off in the matches leading upto the finals of the tri-series. A man, who was often accused of not delivering when it matters most, that too, considering he has played for India for 18 years now. A man, about whom Dhoni gave this summarily wonderful response, “Who am I to talk about him? He has scored 16,000 runs and the rest of us haven’t even faced 16,000 balls!”

It was nice to see the same press do a complete U-turn after the finals and hail him as a key member of the side. Be it his two centuries in the tests or his key contributions in the one-dayers, none of the success would have been possible at all without his contributions. And when I saw Adam Gilchrist step up to accept the memento from Cricket Australia at the end of the tri-series, I could not help but think, with a very big lump in my throat, of the day when Sachin would retire. Suffice to say, for now, that I instantly drove those thoughts away! Quite simply, who am I to worry about Sachin retiring, when the man himself plays with the same enthusiasm he had fifteen years ago? Keep going, Sachin!

Staying with cricket, it was a shame to watch the IPL auctions. I sincerely pray (and hope that every other cricket-lover in the world does the same) that the IPL should be a flop. But I am aware though of how impossible that is! Let’s just hope that cricket in India does not turn out like football in England, with Dhoni being India’s Bobby Moore and Yuvraj George Best!

Many other things have happened in 2008. Notably the swings in the US Presidential race, oops the race for the Democratic nominee for the US Presidential elections. Thank Goodness I can be a lot more politically correct than today’s media!

Then, we have had the budgets and the movies, particularly Jodha Akbar, the Oscars, all of which have evoked in me, pretty much mixed feelings. Lots of political upswings in Pakistan, the Prince Harry episode, blah blah blah…

…And, of course, how could I ever forget: Engineer and Incident, two fests that ensured the fact that I was kept busy during the entire period of the last two months. I do know that very few read this blog, and to those very few, here is a statement. Hold on to your Hats, guys. Coming up soon is my take on the fests and my experiences as a part of them!

Incidentally, just as I was about to click on the Submit button, my neighbour knocked the door to let us know of something truly shocking. Her house was broken into last night. The third in our layout over the last two weeks, my mother tells me, and finishes off by adding, “Has never been worse in any other year”. While the first thought that came to my mind was the Thank-God-it’s-not-us relief, the second was about how Bangalore is just becoming a difficult place to live in. But the third is all that counts.

Yes, my dear netizen friends, the keyword for 2008 quite simply is: Action!


Poor Old Scrabulous!

The word Bingobinge would probably not ring a bell to anybody. Some would hazard a guess at it being the fanciest new candy around or a snazzily packaged beer. The truly naive might even think that the title alludes to someone gorging down on a badly manufactured Indian snack! In truth, it has nothing to do with food and beverages, or for that matter nothing to do with any sort of consumer goods or the wildest sounding orgy.

Or wait, in a sense it was an orgy. An orgy to those who are in love with the English language, and felt that the Internet could be the best host ever for this long-lasting party. But then, the party could not last, simply because those who loved playing word games on the net realised that it quite literally does come at a price.

Enter two brothers in Kolkata. They loved word games but more significantly, they did not love paying to play them on the net. So, quite naturally, they decided to do things their own way. They created an online scrabble game and named it in a way that truly pleases the Scrabble lover. For the benefit of the uninitiated, here’s an explanation of the term “Bingobinge”. In Scrabble, when a player uses all his seven tiles to form a word on the grid, he is said to have scored a Bingo and gets a bonus 50 points!

Then come 2007 and a new social community website created and pioneered in a part of the world very distant from India called Facebook. The website, one we know all too well today, allowed little applications as forms of fun and diversions. One such application that made it to Facebook was, well, the subject of this blog, Bingobinge.

However, when Bingobinge did go there, it had a few changes in it. The biggest change however was the name. From the quaint Bingobinge, the name changed to Scrabulous, a word instantly recognisable with the game Scrabble.

Today, Scrabulous has more tha 2.3 million users, and needless to say, yours truly being one of the very many adding up to that large number. However, the good times are coming to an end, in a manner quite reminiscent of the cliched proverb. The popular application will soon be removed from Facebook simply because it infringes to copyright of the owners of the actual game of Scrabble, Mattel and Hasbro.

What I find bewildering is here was an application that was earning over $25,000 a month in advertising revenues through a game you actually own. So, would you look to remove that application from the Web or try and link your name onto it in a manner that could also serve as a marketing tool for your own game?

But well, strange are the ways of Business and Businessmen. That is clearly beyond comprehension for trivial word-lovers like me. What I do know is, when you were around, you were a great source of fun and while other sources like Wordbiz are available, they never really can replace you Scrabulous.

Rest in Peace, good old friend!

Published in: on January 17, 2008 at 1:09 pm  Comments (4)  
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