Saturday, September 27, 2008

Another day, another life

Another bomb blast has taken its toll on the innocent Indian citizen. Continuing the chain of destruction, the capital was struck today with a blast in one of the busiest areas of the city.

It seems to become clear that the infection of terror has spread into the core of our country and it is not concentrated in largely fundamental areas like Kashmir. Usually all of these cowardly acts of terror are either preceded by or followed up with a communication from the perpetrators that the carnage caused was in response to the government atrocities on the minorities. Mostly they want the valley of Kashmir to be given on a platter to Pakistan or declared an independent entity (so that the Pakistanis can appoint their governments like PoK).

Here is the problem I am having with understanding this situation. If Kashmir is no longer a part of India, will all these fundamentalist boneheads actually go to Pakistan or whatever crazy land they think they belong to? Will we see a great terrorist migration where all these enemies of humanity will board the coward express and take their stupid asses out of our beloved motherland? Will we never have to hear from these people again since every time we "hear" from them its usually a loud boom leading to more loss of life? I will leave it for you to decide, but if Pakistan, Bangladesh etc are any indication my thoughts are that this will never happen. Whatever their demands are now, they will change with time so that the killings continue. They are here for us to weed out. No appeasement process will work except the one that targets the fundamental brains. If you can't change these minds from inside, destroy the heads that hold them from outside.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Witty take on Kashmir and Pakistan

A friend forwarded this in an email:

An ingenious example of speech and politics occurred recently in the United Nations Assembly that made the world community smile.

A representative from India began: 'Before beginning my talk I want to tell you something about Maharishi Kashyap of Kashmir, after whom Kashmir is named.

When he struck a rock and it brought forth water, he thought, 'What a good opportunity to have a bath.'

He removed his clothes, put them aside on the rock and entered the water.

When he got out and wanted to dress, his clothes had vanished. A Pakistani had stolen them.'

The Pakistani representative jumped up furiously and shouted, 'What are you talking about? The Pakistanis weren't there then.'

The Indian representative smiled and said, 'And now that we have made that clear, I will begin my speech.'

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A case of severe jet-lag

A major effect of jet lag on the human body and mind is that it can shift the body clock and in severe cases, throw it out of whack completely. An affected person ends up sleeping during the day when he should be awake and is wide awake in the night. Though the only known scientific cause is physical travel cross time-zones, we are currently witnessing a case of jet lag where the people affected seem to be living in a completely different world than they are physically in. They take actions when none are needed and are mute spectators when they need to do something. Yes, I'm talking about the elected government in power in India. Both at the centre and in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Current tension over the allotment of land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board has already taken 3 lives and doesn’t show any signs of abating. And the government sleeps. Not that they were always this way. They were wide awake when they reversed the decision on allotment of land to the shrine board. They should have been sleeping then.

In a broad sense, the issue isn't even of the allotment of a small piece of land to the board appointed to take care of the shrine. After all, which logical mind wouldn’t support allotting resources to take care of pilgrims that travel from far and wide under harsh weather conditions for a spiritual experience akin to getting a little more closer to the supreme being. Case in point: all the millions in cash being spent to make hotel like accommodations for Hajj pilgrims in Delhi and subsidized travel tickets to and from Mecca. People shouting that the allotment of the land to the shrine board will create a demographic shift in the valley were either born in last five years or need a history-101 course, not to mention a copy of "common sense for dummies". The land is for the use of pilgrims. Pilgrims, by definition, leave after the pilgrimage is over with a transitory effect on demographics. Still, if someone really thinks that they wont leave and at the same time worries about demographic change, I think he should instead be happy about the change. After all, it would just reverse the damaging effect on demography that the exodus of Kashmiri pandits had about 19 years back (refer to the history-101).

The fundamental problem in the valley boils down to the deeply embedded notion in Kashmir that the valley is separate from the rest of the world (starting of course with India). Some influential people in the Kashmiri power circles do not want anything to do with the rest of the country. If it was upto some of them they would rather close the Jawahar Lal Nehru Tunnel and sever any ties that they have with India. Nothing would come out of the valley and nothing will go in. Of course, this doesn’t entirely work either because the terrorists need to come out to spread to the rest of the country and they need the food and other daily supplies to come in. So the motto is: feed us, clothe us so that we can kill you in return. Article 370 has put a shell around the valley that even the authors of the article will find difficult to crack. The people belonging to the valley get a separate citizenship like status within Kashmir. While they can travel, study, work and live in other parts of India; no Indian citizen who is not a "Kashmiri citizen" can do the same. The professional colleges do not admit students from the other parts of the country and non-Kashmiri's cannot buy land in the valley. When the valley erupts in flames, rich people with means send their kids to the professional training schools in the technically advanced cities of India while, the people with lesser means are forced to opt for the other kind of professional training across the border for their teens. But that’s not the point here, the issue being that the shell around the valley has created so severe an atmosphere devoid of cultural heterogeneity that Darwin would turn in his grave. More so, this non-exposure to the developing world is bringing another part of India down with it. I am referring to the broader region of Jammu whose inhabitants are peaceful people and have been suffering silently while they get clubbed with all the non-sense going on in the valley. Majority of the state government officials hail from the Kashmir valley (unofficial rumors vary between 70-80%) while the Jammu region gets the smaller share of the administrative posts. Same is true about the state assembly as well. The result is a non-proportional division of developmental funds between Jammu and the Kashmir valley. Apart from the fact that most of the officials belong Kashmir and have their loyalties figured out, some corrupt officials also find it easy to bag the money when it has to do with developmental activities in the valley. After all, who is going to check there?

Combine this with the historic inaction from the central government and this pot was bound to boil over one day. Two weeks back week it did. Today the peace-loving people in Jammu have said that they cannot take it anymore. Now the central government can either stay scared of the fundamentalist forces and their terror tactics or take an action showing that when a law is passed and legally signed, a terrorist's gun or a fundamentalist's hunger strike cannot change it. Can we finally shed this jet lag and wake up on the right side of the world? Establishing the original agreement on the allotment of the land to the shrine board will be a token gesture to show that the government means it when it says that Kashmir is a part of bigger India. If regional demography is an issue in our country than the software professionals from outside Karnataka should leave Bangalore, people should stop looking for work in states other than their own and the government of India should take steps to get Kashmiri pandits back to their homes in Kashmir. It is time we realize that out country is bigger than just one state or one valley. If we want true secularism we need to co-exist without boundaries and if someone has an issue with this, we need to address that person and his problem without chopping down the fundamental pillars on which our country is built.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Intelligence Games

U.S. officials said Thursday they concluded that elements of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, aided the attack, based on telecommunications intercepts linking Pakistani intelligence officials to Afghan insurgents.

Pasted from here

The statement was published in Wall Street Journal and taken up by most of the high profile western news outlets during the last week. The central event of discussion was the brutal bombing of Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008 that left 58 people dead and more than 170 injured. Among the dead were two senior Indian diplomats posted with the embassy. The news above was a refreshing admission, from the more widely read free world press, of the fact that India has been trying to get out in the open for more than two decades now. In fact various Indian governments, however crippled their response to the threats of internal de-stabilization may be, have never lost a chance to point out the role of padosi desh (neighboring country) in the orchestration of unfortunate terror incidents that seem to have become a part of life in the world's biggest democracy. This fact has been pointed out by multiple Indian leaders so many times that these days the media agencies might not even wait for a confirmation from the government press sources before they get a press release ready that blames Pakistan's agencies for the carnage the latest bomb has unleashed. The customary finger pointing gesture has become almost a joke now and nobody seems to take it seriously. The cycle of events goes like this:

1. A bomb explodes somewhere in India or near Indian interests abroad
2. Indian government: Isme padosi desh ka haath hai (Neighboring country is to blame)
3. Pakistani Spoksmen: Nahi hai (Nope, not true)
4. A bomb explodes somewhere in India or near Indian interests abroad
And so it goes….

But last week, suddenly all that finger pointing by the Indians seemed to make sense. After all it was American Intelligence that came to the same conclusion that the Indian Intelligence had made. So after all, there is truth to all these allegations. US, India, Afghanistan all cannot be lying about the ISIs role in promoting fundamentalist terror activities to sustain their own nefarious goals. With US on the same side of the table, people became confident that it was time for action. Now the rouge elements in the ISI will be reigned in and people will stop dying in carnages for no fault of their own. America's findings found a prominent spot in all of Indian newspapers. Two democracies, biggest and the oldest, would come together and make the world safer and better place to live. This would be a natural extension of the ongoing "War on terror". What could the actions be:

1. Would they work with the Pakistani government an weed out Taliban and terror supporting elements from ISI.
2. Would they work together to make Pakistan a more just and true democracy. After all US holds the key to Pakistan's money chest.
3. Would they pool their intelligence resources to reduce or eliminate the threat that these anti-human forces pose at the life of peaceful citizen worldwide.

With the South Asian eyes glued to any report of possible action, the western press obliged on Saturday Aug 02 2008 with the following recommendations from the US Intelligence and politicians:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama proposed just that in an interview last week. "If one of the central concerns of Pakistan is its security posture towards India, then we need to put that on the table for discussion as we try to solve the problems in Afghanistan," he said.

The officials say a better U.S. policy would have been to limit India's high-profile activities inside Afghanistan

"Having the Indians running around Afghanistan was sure to invite retaliation," said a U.S. intelligence official with extensive experience in Afghanistan. "We may need to play a more direct role in calming things down."

Pasted from here


So again, we have decided to run than chase. The policy seems to be that if we take away the target, the terrorists have nothing to shoot at. There may be some substance in that approach if we first gave it a bit of thought. What was the "target" in the first place? Was it to bomb the embassy or get democratic influences out of Afghanistan? Instead of moving the target we end up handing the terrorists scopes that they can attach to their weapons so that they don’t miss the next time. We are losing the war just to avoid a battle. I think the conversation at some high level US intelligence/political headquarters went like this:

Big Politician (BP): So do we have any idea about who caused the bombing
Intelligence Guy (IG): Yes sir, it was Taliban with the help of ISI
BP: Why would they do that
IG: Well sir, the Pakistani intelligence establishment has some elements in it that resent the spread of Indian influence and democracy in Afghanistan so they orchestrated this bombing.
BP: Uh..looks like we should do something.
IG: Really?
BP: Yes yes, after all we are the major force in the region and the stability of the region affects us directly, or something like that. You can read the presidents last speech about why, but something should be done.
BP: Lets analyze this: If Indians stay in Afghanistan, Taliban will be angry and there will be bombings.
IG: Yes sir we need to stop Taliban.

BP: Right, ask the Indians to leave
IG: What?
BP: Yes if they are not there then Taliban will be happy and they will join the main democracy and then they will call us heroes because we bring them peace.
IG: Genius sir.
BP: Mark my words, there will be temples in our names everywhere in Afghanistan.
IG: Err…sir Taliban don’t worship in Temples, in fact they get really angry if they see one.
BP: Oh…ok, no temples. Looks like we have found a real solution to all our problems.
IG: Yes sir we are really winning this war on extremism.
BP: Yeah baby, where is OBL. We are kicking his butt here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cry of the Valley

A cold winter night has fallen outside and the power cut makes it all the more gloomy inside. Huddled together in the warmth of blankets and a kerosene lamp we just sit silently watching each others expressions. I am too young a kid to understand the full implications of what is happening and my younger sister is busy watching a small bug circling the candle our mother had lit in the gallery just outside the kitchen. My thoughts drift from game of cricket I'd played earlier that day to how bright the snow makes outside look. Among all these childish thoughts is a nagging feeling that I'm just not able to get rid of. I feel I'm never going to be in this house again. Never ever in my life will I play cricket with these friends again. Never ever will mother and father have the careless laughs that I so love. Never ever will the things be same again.

It started a few months before in summer when I came home after an extended play session with my friends. Father was waiting for me on the porch of our relatively new house. We were still building the second floor and it already looked like the biggest and the most beautiful house in the community. I especially liked the way the roof was built. There were multiple parts slanting over each other and I couldn’t wait for winter to see the snow sliding off these. I knew father had worked day and night to take us from a one room kitchen-cum-bedroom place to this house. The evidence of his hard work was on his callous fingertips that had hardened by continuous writing on multiple carbon separated sheets of paper that he used while teaching. I met him at the porch of our house and my instincts had sharpened enough to know that I was in trouble. But usually I knew beforehand. This time did not have the slightest of clues. The day had been good so far and I had behaved within reasonable limits. The bigger issue was not that I was in for a tough time, the problem was that I did not know the severity of the mischief I was going to be accused of and therefore couldn’t estimate the severity of the punishment. Anyway, I sat down with a feeling of a lump in my throat. Then he told me something that surprised me. He had heard me arguing with a couple of friends over a game of cricket a few hours earlier. He told me that I was to stop doing that I should either play without arguments or stop going out for fun altogether. I couldn’t understand this. From the time I could remember, these small arguments were the part of fun we kids had. Elders never cared to comment on such silly things and now I was facing an expression on my fathers face which was as serious as it I've ever known it. If I didn’t know my father better I'd have argued to get to the bottom of this but wizened with previous unpleasant thrashings I decided against that.

I didn’t have to wait long to get the cause of my father's concern. In a couple of weeks one of my cricketing buddies was missing from the game. When I suggested that friend we should go to his home and call him, one other friend said that he was not home but had traveled across the border to get training in handling weapons. Without me knowing so at that time, I'd just had my first brush with the extremism that would change our lives forever. Suddenly the world around me had changed in a way that I could never imagine. My friends one-by-started going missing. Muslim kids went across the border and Hindus mainly started to migrate across to other parts of the country. I started spending more and more time at home. When the schools closed the previous fall for winter break little did anyone know that they would never reopen. As a child that was a welcome development for me. I could have all the time in the world to myself for play and mischief. But the irony was that I couldn’t go out anymore and there was nobody else to go out with.

Then the series of events started that added terror to the misery. Repeated announcements from the loudspeakers from religious mosques urged all the non-supporters of the terror movement to leave the valley within a few hours or get ready to die. Old time friends came home to assure us that we had nothing to fear. After all, my father had taught almost every kid in the 200 km radius. Of course we would be taken care of and no one could harm us. And in some time father's old students started coming home trying to make us feel safe while emphasizing how high they were in the terror chain. They would come to make sure that we had enough food during the times that food was not available in the local market due to various strikes and government curfews. This frequent contact by the extremist entities did little to allay our fears. In fact, if anything it made my parents all the more worried about our welfare and safety. Every morning we would hear of one more neighbor that had fled the valley in the dark of the night. Many nights we were woken to the sounds of taxis gets loaded with whatever valuables and memorabilia people could gather. We would sit in dark and in muffled voices try to guess which family would be fleeing this time. Another friend that would not be there for me to play with in the morning: another house that will be occupied by mean looking people that we had never seen before.

The violence in the valley kept growing by leaps and bounds that winter. We got used to the sound of gunfire, endless police charges and seemingly continuous curfews. As children we did not mind much of it. What was not to like: no school, no homework and lots of cricket with whoever was still around to kill the time. Thinking back, I sometimes feel thankful that I did not have the maturity to comprehend how close we were living to death. Father would go to work whenever conditions allowed and come back with stories of what he saw in the town. A couple of times he mentioned meeting an old acquaintance on the way to work or back and within a few hours we got to know that the person was gunned down a few blocks from where father had met him. We got so used to the nightly gunfire that we wouldn’t let it interrupt our daily routines or whatever was left of it. If the firing started outside while we were having dinner, we would just carry our plates to a safer place away from windows and continue with our meals. Thinking about these things sends shivers down my spine now and I realize what my parents must've been going through, but at that time I wasn’t too bothered.

Slowly but surely the thought of leaving the valley had started brewing in my parents' minds too. They had invested their life's earnings: both material and emotional in our new house that my father was working on till the last month we left the valley. They were getting troubled about the fact that our education was suffering and at minimum my father wanted me and my sister to get out of the valley so we could go to a school that remained open for more than three days a month. The thought of leaving home started making its way into my head too. I remember feeling quite sad on thinking that I might never see our house again. Today it is quite surprising for me to believe that I was capable of such an intense emotion at that age. But at the same time it feels comforting to know that I left that place with appropriate unhappiness. I don’t know if I could handle the thought that I had no idea of what I was losing when we left the valley. Though what I lost was much more than just a house, it still comforts me that I was aware of losing something big. The final nail in the coffin was driven the day one of our family friends visited home on his regular mission to make us feel safe. While talking about the fact that we had nothing to worry about he happened to mention that once the extremism takes more solid roots in the valley, we would have to convert our faith and things would be just dandy thereafter. Now, I think of myself as a much more tolerant person of other faiths than my parents. But I can't digest someone telling me to change my faith to save my life. So my parents decided that it was time for the kids to leave the valley. We could continue our studies outside the valley in a safe environment while my parent would stay back and decide on the next course of action. My uncle already worked outside the valley and we were supposed to go and stay with him.

There was a catch though. My grandparents still lived in the valley in another town and they didn’t feel safe either. Being old they could not take care of travel arrangements by themselves. My father also wanted them to travel early so that if something bad happened at my place at least they would be safe. So the plan was made for me and my father to go to my grandparents' place and then take them outside the valley. My mother gathered all the expensive ornaments that she could get her hands on and put them together in a cloth bag and sew it close. The bag was then attached to the inside of my fathers shirt for safe keeping. I do not remember taking a last look at our house when we were leaving. Right now I will give a fortune to get that moment back so that I can just see that house once more, run through all the rooms and the backyard. Swing the rope that we had tied to the tree outside just one last time. While traveling to my grandpa's place we met a couple of father's acquaintances who jokingly asked him if he was planning to leave and told him that he has nothing to worry about in the valley. We reached grandpa's place in the afternoon. The tricky part now was to get a cab to take us outside the valley without getting shot in the process. Any suspicions raised could get us all killed. I have no idea how it was done but father went out for a very tense couple of hours and came back with a good news. He said we have to be ready at the crack of dawn and a cab will come to pick us up. Grandma collected everything that she thought valuable and would fit in the trunk of a cab. Considering that she was leaving a three story house that she had lived in since her wedding, I cannot imaging what the decision process for her would have been when she was picking things to take with her. We cleaned the house one last time in the hope that when we come back it would still be inhabitable and the settled for a long night's wait. Everyone was scared and this time the fear had gotten to my young mind too. Nobody slept and we kept talking in whispers throughout the night. As the dawn approached our hearts leaped on any sound of an automobile or a human outside. We kept watching through the small window cracks, that we did not open fully for the fear of getting shot and waited for our cab. After what seemed to be an eternity, the cab arrived and we were ready to leave. But father asked us to wait. He wanted to make sure that it was the same driver who he expected and also that he was alone. There were stories around about cab drivers who would inform extremists in return for the share of the victim's house and other belongings. While we were waiting we suddenly saw two people appear from an alley and talk to the cab driver for a few minutes. I can't begin to fathom what my father and grandparents must have been going through at that time. We waited till the people who had come from the alley finished talking to the driver and went back into the alley. My father was not ready to step out as yet. Surprisingly, the driver got into his cab and sped off without us.

The day that came was the one of the longest of my life. We all huddled together in one room with windows closed and lights turned off. We kept making theories about what must've happened between the cabbie and the strangers in the morning. But none of the stories were encouraging. I wanted to talk to my mother but those days we did not have phones in every house in the valley. I did not even know anyone in my neighborhood who had one. So we kept waiting for something to happen in that small room. We had cleaned the kitchen off the previous day so there was nothing to eat. We survived that day and the coming night with water and lot of muffled talk. While it was agreed upon that going out was not safe, it was also decided that the current situation was not sustainable. So my father said he will try for another cab in the morning. We all had our fears but nobody could think of any alternatives. Early at dawn we were again stuck to the slots of window openings looking outside at the empty street when we saw the cab stop outside our house. The same driver again and apparently alone. After waiting a few minutes, father went out and had a few words with him. He came back and asked us to hurry out into the cab. Talking to the cabbie later revealed that the strangers were asking him about the details of his passengers the previous day. He did not tell them much but he decided that it wouldn’t have been safe for us to come out in open under such conditions so the went back. In about 9 hours after a serpentine road trip, a nap and a full meal we were outside the valley.

My uncle was not happy about letting my father go back to get my mother and sister from the valley. He thought it was too risky. Someone from my grandparents town might have noticed that they had left and if the word went to my town, people would deduce from my fathers absence that he had left too. It would be a problem for him if he showed up in the valley again. It took father two days to convince my uncle that there was no other option but for my father to go back and make sure that mother and my sister were safe. He, however, promised that instead of staying in the valley he would come back with the complete family in a few days. He would not leave us children but we would all stay together till the conditions in the valley improved. Father was scheduled to travel back on the third day but early that morning a cab brought my mother and sister to my uncle's place. My fathers absence had made the people around suspicious and my mother thought that waiting for him to return back was not safe for anybody. She is my hero for she single handedly managed to get herself and my sister out in such a tense situation. We lived in a male dominated society where women hardly ventured out. The same process had made two men and a boy remember God just a few days back and she had pulled it off alone. She also managed to get with her some groceries and essentials that would last us a few weeks while father tried to get us back on our feet right from scratch. He was again in a situation where he had no money and a family to take care of. But the warm thoughts of going back home soon kept him active and working.

After more than 19 years of leaving the valley, I have left the state and the country for education and work. I am currently thousands of miles away from my first home. I have never set foot in the valley again. Though a couple of months back I flew over the valley when I was visiting my parents back in my country. The plane flew quite low and I kept searching for that vaguely familiar rooftop that has imprinted itself on my mind. Of course, I couldn’t place anything I saw but the urge to jump off the plane was intense. I know one day I will see that place again. The house will still be there surrounded by the red brick wall and lush landscaped grass with flowers. Mother's kitchen garden would still have lot of vegetables and fresh fruit and my toys would still be there under the patio in the back. I know that some people have moved into the house and we hope that they care for it like mother did. For me the life will have come full circle if the last thing I ever see is the first thing I remember.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Yesterday a social conversation shifted toward the topic of outsourcing and how some radio/TV anchors portray outsourcing as a problem that is making their life hell. In this particular case, a TV anchor had bought a computer that for some reason stopped working and to his apparent surprise his call to the customer service was directed outside the US. Now, according to him the agent on the other side of the line was trying hard to understand the problem but because of his "funny" accent it was getting tough for our beloved host to communicate. The "funny" accent in the previous sentence belonged to the agent and not the radio host. That confuses me, if I'm the one trying to explain something, shouldn’t my accent determine if I'm getting my point across? I'm imagining a exasperated tech agent pulling his hair saying: "I don’t know what language this customer is using, but it definitely is not what I was trained in. Maybe I should ask him to use someone else to get his problem explained to me. Maybe someone who communicates in English a lot, maybe a radio talk show host. Now wait, did he say he was one? How do people listen to him?"

Then the host went on to make a point that he wants American agents handling his problems. That would really take the language problem out of the scene, wouldn’t it. Except the fact that the whole computer is being made up of parts that originate from all the corners of the world but America, someone in these countries will have to sit with a potential American tech support agent and tell him how the whole thing works so that he, in turn, can help the others in trouble. Again, the language barrier. I have a solution, educate yourselves a bit: you can be better show host when you address a bigger audience and know the nuances of different accents and while you are at it get some computer education as well and find out what happens when you press more than one button simultaneously on the keyboard. You will be surprised that is anatomically possible and solves a lot of your computer problems. You might even get some exercise in the process, and boy: do you need that!!

Indian Heroes --- written in Nov 2006

Today's useless worry: We Indians don’t respect our heroes. I saw this headline on one of the online newspapers and it just touched me. It is true and in my view one of the biggest reasons that we will never be able to really command respect. We hold our leaders (in any field) in a very high esteem but only till they hide their "humanness" from us. It is almost like they have to be gods to be respected (or they should be respected by the rest of the world before we can give them a shot at it). As soon as a great leader shows his human face we do not waste a moment in bringing him down to earth (and below). Latest case in point, Ganguly's exclusion from the playing 11 (well... 12 or 11.5…whatever). I keep saying that rather that excluding him so unceremoniously the Indian cricket board could have given him a chance to "voluntarily" step down or retire. But looking back at the situation I feel that even doing that was being unfair to the most successful captain in the history of Indian cricket. Not to forget, he has been one of the most successful batsmen we have ever had and an above average bowler too who got us out from a many a tight situations. Considering the quality of talent that is getting a chance to play in Indian cricket today, Ganguly certainly deserves a place. What happened here was exactly the thing that I am talking about. For the duration that Saurav was a God in cricket in a way that he could stand up to the most aggressive teams in the world and put India on the list of serious contenders for world cup, we were singing songs about his greatness. But as soon as he lost a couple of series and began showing his frustration publicly, he was no god anymore. And as far as India is concerned, he never was great. We shoved him aside like he is a nobody. There is no doubt in my mind that great people have personalities that make them great. Greatness is a sustained state of behavior and external stimulus may be able to ruffle it but great people always do great things and are out of league of an average person. So Ganguly will continue to be a great personality since he was that way before we spotted him and we did not give him his personality when we picked him for the Indian team. Similarly we cannot take it back from him. But what is lost in the whole process is the self-confidence of an average Indian. We lost one more ido whom we could look upon for confidence when facing the tough competition of today's world. We could say that if MK Gandhi, Ramanujam, S Ganguly and Aryabhatta could emerge from India and show the world that we deserve a unique place in the world, so can we. All the other names that I mentioned above (MK Gandhi, Ramanujam and Aryabhatta) sustain their reputation as "great people from India" since the west agreed that they were so. There has never been an internal effort from within India to recognize greatness. We want to pick and choose extraordinary people and then wait for them to prove their worth, not before us but before the western world. And in the process they seem to show even a hint of normal human behavior we treat them like dirt. I do not know who in his right mind can captain Indian team in near future and give it all he has got without worrying about that fact that greatness in India is temporary until certified by the rest of the world.

As long as we depend on others to tell us what we can or cannot do well and who should do it, I do not see India as a nation having its own way with the world. I know that things are going great right now for India but we should not forget that we are doing well because we have been chosen to do well by others. And as long as our well being serves the world interest we will be doing fine, but what after that? We need inspirational leaders and we cannot get those if we keep digging their graves ourselves. Though cricket is something that touches me deeply this story will be true for any other field. Just change the name of the person. Some examples: Jagmohan, Vajpayee.... <>

Middle Class growth in India

Widening gaps in society with increasingly rich middle class is seen as a negative development in "emerging" countries like India. One needs to recognize that the income gap that has reportedly risen from 1:5 to 1:500 in the past decade is more due to the fact that the middle class is proportionally earning more as compared to the loss on income at the poor level. The gap has widened due to the improving life style of a particular section of society. While it is a noble thought and a goal to keep this ratio at 1:5 levels with same increases in the income at the higher end, one needs to understand that such a change maintains the status quo in absolute terms. For a non-socialist nation to be richer overall, some classes have to take a lead. It’s the middle class in this case. Looking back, many of these rising middle class people have their roots in poor families which decided to educate their children rather than have full stomach of food everyday. They deserve to be where they are right now and role-model the coming generations from poor families. That is not to say that the poor should remain poor but to make the point that for the poor to be better of, someone else above their income level needs to earn much more so that they can spend it and buy whatever goods/services the poor are selling. Measuring growth in percentages at different class levels has its faults too. The quality of living for a person who earns 1000 rupees a month increases if his income doubles to 2000. But is this change in quality of living the same if the income were to double from rupees 20,000 to 40,000. The point here is that as a nation improves economically, the people with higher financial bases will appear to be doing increasingly better than the people in poor classes but that doesn’t necessarily paint the right picture. Ultimately, it’s the most poorest class of people that form the first link in the chain of goods and services that make up a heightened middle-class lifestyle. As people get more to spend, it will ultimately trickle down as income for all the working class. Granted, it is a slow and an irksome process in countries that are relatively young and still coming out of bureaucratic tangles, but it is happening nevertheless. The areas of country where the middle class earns more has seen a general increase in prices for everything from food to real-estate. And the layers of economy who are benefiting from this are getting deeper and deeper with time. One would really like to ask the critics who use sentences like "people used to be more compassionate toward poor in old days" and "rising middle class stampedes the poor" what their solution to the issue is. Is it better to be poor and appear compassionate to make a decent living for yourself and help the poor and the overall economy grow in process. To all those who sit with their pens and look and write for the plight of poor, I have one advice: It’s a great time for intellectual people like you to get out there and make some money. And once you do that try investing the new found wealth in such a way that you don’t have anything to write about.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Om Shanti Om

So how does it feel like to see a movie with 31 stars? In as many seconds may I add. The theatre was all excited to see their hard earned money generate interest like never before. They paid $10 to see the great Khan and they "saw" him alright. They also got to see a host of other stars, if they didn’t wink during that flashy song sequence that is. So adding another $2 for each star and a few cents for Rekha, Jitu Ji and Dharam Paji (that’s the ticket price they are comfortable with), the audience actually made money by watching this movie. I wonder, if following the roaring success of OSO we will get to see a host of other movies made around old concepts with no effort put in to make them better or even somewhat structured. We know what happens to such "serious" efforts (Don, Sholay, Umrao Jaan come to mind). So I guess the winning formula is to get a s*$t load of *stars* and make them sit together to watch an old blockbuster and after a couple of drinks let the cameras roll. If a star takes off his clothes in the process, you got a hit and if it’s a female star, well you could try all over again. People have all ready seen that "story" in numerous Miss XYZ campaigns.

But the best part of the movie is the storyline. How numerous seemingly random acts of directorial genius come together to form an equally seemingly random story line is beyond the realms of understanding of the mortal audience. They see their beloved hero getting thrown out of a burning building right onto a road where an established movie personality happens to drive his wife for a last look at the movie city before she succumbed to the labor pains and kicked his ass for not driving to the hospital. There is the hero's mom who after about 90 years of age (she was 60 when her son decides that the best way to get to his dreams of starhood is to die and find a new mother) over-acts with same youthfulness as her son has been doing for all the movies he ever made. Then there is the beautiful but dumb actress who doesn’t know that she looks like a superstar of yester-years. Wonder if it was her studious and seedha-saadha nature that kept her away from movies. When she finally realized that all her classmates were busy making the chart popping item numbers she decided to give acting a try. The seventies song sequences did bring laughs in the hall. If this trend continues, a few decades down the line films will make pun of the movies in our generation by just parading the characters in skimpiest of wardrobes jumping around making monkey noises. Coming back to that song with 31 stars, the promotion photo of which shows SRK on a podium with Salman, Govinda and Sanjay Dutt. Now, call me paranoid but the future doesn’t look great to me when star of the day decides to advertise himself with a person known for his aversion to both animal and human life, a person convicted of arms hoarding and a failed politician. That photo must be framed and mom's someday can use that to make a point about bad company and future prospects to their kids.

Hats off to Farah Khan for pulling this one off. A great director know when he/she needs all the help the industry can provide to push a movie across the profit zone and boy, does she get all the help!! It felt like she had to throw a fancy dress party and film the stars as they arrived to greet her. And I have to confess that I didn’t know that Karan Johar was into costume design. But given the complexity of dress design for OSO I'm sure he (or she, depending on how intimately you know him... or her) didn’t have much of a task on his hands. With our heroes following the lead from our ladies, there isn't much fabric requirement in our movies these days. Considering the amount of "hari patti" that goes into the movie business these days, I'm sure the costume designers will take the cue soon and we will see some "hara patta" being used to cover the strategically important anatomical areas. The include the forehead and the thin area around the waist above navel. For heroes, the waist clothing is waste clothing.

While first half had its funny moments, the second half seems to be a bit drag. One of the reasons is that SRK actually acts like himself in this part of the movie. You feel like getting up and leaving the hall but there is a glimmer of hope that since the hero exposes quite a bit in this half maybe it’s the heroin turn next. And, to make the things worse, the hero does not die in the end of this movie so we might have to suffer more in OSO-2. Come to think of it, who am I kidding? Even if he died he'd be born again and will come back to haunt us in flesh. And don’t forget, he will get his 200 year old mom with him.