Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I pull my car off the highway at the exit and stop at the traffic light before I merge with a local road. While waiting my eyes wander to the side of the road and I am immediately met with two pairs of eyes looking at me in a pleading way that is very tough to describe. One pair of eyes catches the curiosity and surprise on my face and the looks on his face become more pleading. The other pair playfully gets distracted by something else, the head turns around and the eyes shut as if they were in deep sleep all this while and had never seen me approach. The beggar's dog curls up beside his master and tries to shield himself from the cold wind blowing in the morning. No doubt the sleepy eyes will become curious and pleading again as soon as the next car rolls in. A strange sad feeling from nowhere grabs me and I hurry to get my wallet out before the light turns green again. I get some cash out from it and hand it to the beggar. He thanks me and it is time for me to pull away.

But the morning's thoughts haven't left me yet. Why did I feel sad and why did I help? I come from a land where beggars and stray dogs are as common as land, air and sky. Still, I have never felt this bad like I felt today. Is it because in a land full of opportunities I did not expect to see someone begging or were it those pleading eyes belonging to the man's best friend that turned my day upside down. He was looking as happy as content as any domestic dog I have ever seen but then he wouldn’t know that he could have had an equal chance of being somewhere else, much warmer and with a full stomach. But then, I guess, if I was ever able to tell him this, he would prefer his beggar friend to all the comforts anyone could offer.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Auction

India has succeeded in taking the first step toward getting Mahatma Gandhi's items back home after they came under hammer in a public auction in New York. After various Indian groups and alleged government representatives with the same goal of returning the heritage back to India tried to outbid each other, in process raising the auction price close to 2 Million US dollars, the items were procured by Vijay Mallya of Kingfisher fame. He presumably will be donating these to the trust that takes care of Gandhi Ji's memorabilia in India. I followed this event quite keenly as it unfolded and I have to admit that at one point I seriously thought of putting an advance bid on the auction because of the quite a low reserve price on the items. But those thoughts of mine poofed away quite quickly after I realized how much other groups were willing to offer. Yes, people actually went on TV and said they will be bidding upto X amount (That’s what happens when you don’t train on eBay first). Here are a few things that stood out for me from this whole episode:

First and foremost was the proud feeling of being an Indian. As an Indian I did feel that after making a point about Gandhi Ji's items being a part and parcel of our legacy, culture and heritage, we absolutely had to get them back to India no matter what. I did not think that the person who owned the items (James Otis) was doing something wrong by selling his collection, he has every right to do so and from his perspective these are collectors items, nothing more. He must've at some point paid for these and it is not-logical to think that he shouldn’t expect a return on his investment. Leaving aside his ridiculous attempt at playing with India's budget distribution, which BTW I thought was a cheap publicity stunt, he did not do anything wrong in my opinion. What made me proud, however, was the stand that all of visible India took and delivered on. We heard that come what may, the items will come back to India and in the end they seem to be on their way. I feel proud when we say that we can do something and actually do it even if it is a seemingly small thing for the world. I remember a similar case about Chinese items that went on auction in France and China had to subvert the auction through false bidding. I'm not trying to demean the Chinese government by this, their bid went far higher and they did what they thought was right to protect their cultural heritage. But the fact that multiple individuals and organizations from my country can come on the world stage and commit to shell out a large sum of money separately to make sure that our identity stays ours is something. It means a lot more when you think the times in which this auction was held. The world economy is in doldrums and the last thing any big entrepreneur or a government wants to do is spend millions on a collectible and donate it to a trust. In effect we just said: even in these troubled time, we have the resources and the will to be patriotic and get what is important to us.

Second point has to do with the identity of the person who actually managed to snag the items at the auction. Dr. Mallya is a well known personality in the Indian corporate circles. But I am not sure if his ideas about living would be in sync with those of late Gandhi Ji. Apart from being the beer baron in India his company also publishes the most popular and the only major swimsuit calendar in the country. Even though Gandhi promoted the minimalistic lifestyle for all, Im not sure if he had swimsuits in mind at that time. I like to think of this as the evidence to the fact that one can serve his country and be patriotic in many ways. Great Mahatma showed us one way but we can think on our own and as long as we are honest about the end results we can all make our country the force that it should be and will be.

The last thing is actually a doubt that has been nagging me. It has to do with the price at which the items were sold. In a place where the items started out at 20,000-30,000$, how did the bidding go up to 1.8 Million dollars with most of the bidders trying to get the items for the same purpose. Why not just let one person bid on behalf of all. And why advertise how much you will be bidding upto? I guess thats what we call "order in chaos" and that’s what will keep us going as a nation.