Archive for May 31, 2008

Urban Wars: Revenge of the cockroach


With growing economic independence, the urban landscape is being continually altered. This leads to an interesting subset of micro issues that add to the idiosyncrasies of living in a chaotic city.


Urban warriors awaken at the crack of dawn, preparing themselves for the struggle that lies ahead. They step forward with steely resolve to survive another day. The blue sky above bears witness to this haloed battleground where each individual is left to fend for oneself.
Darwin is redeemed everyday as in this battle only the fittest survive.


The sound of rubber grinding away at asphalt brings a new found hope to this bemused tribe. The open road provides enough traction for the common chariot to halt at a mild signal by the lone trooper, which is commonly agreed upon to be an indication of shared camaraderie.


But alas, the trooper is left waiting, staring into the horizon, longing for another chance. The sight of white smoke rings glowing at a distance bring with it new possibilities.


Travel travails


In Mumbai, an average person travels at least for one and a half hour using a broad spectrum of transport options to earn a livelihood. This dramatic scene fairly describes the plight of the urban trooper who is dependent on a rickshaw to get to his next mode of transport.


The local trains are bestowed upon with the title of being the ‘spine’ or ‘lifeline’ of Mumbai and with good reason. The monstrous metal organism spews millions of rodents on to the streets of this congested city. Lugging them from far flung places and scattering the load in all directions.


The humble bus service run by the BEST is the backbone of road based public transport in the city. But, it is the auto rickshaw which is witnessing a new resurgence and wielding enough clout to leave a person stranded and perplexed.


The auto rickshaw known by its many names like ‘auto’, ‘tuk-tuk’ or just simply ‘rick’ is anointed with a very apt title by the urban dweller, ‘cockroach’. Like the roach, the auto is unruly, ugly to look at, spews grotesque waste and has an uncanny ability to survive even the most devastating swats inflicted upon it.


They are everywhere, infesting roads, taunting the bystander with their yellow and black hideous exterior. Unlike the majestic taxi, which has come to blend into the fabric of the city, the rickshaw sticks out like a sore thumb.


It is relatively easy to romanticize about a cab ride on a rainy
South Bombay day, across the washed, splendid streets and overlooked upon by beautiful facades of age old structures. It is equally difficult to withstand the rickshaw. The taxi is the loved daughter while the rickshaw is a bastard child.


The roach strikes back


With economic confidence comes the aspiration of a better, comfortable and seemingly seamless life. The new converts benefiting from their interactions with the market perceive the rickshaw to be a symbol of this initial upgrade in lifestyle. The contention is that we haven’t arrived yet, but sure are on the way!


This is wherein, lies the rub. Disposable income has made such ‘comforts’ seem mandatory for better living. Of course, you are better with your own car, but if not, this is the next best thing. It is the Indian middle-class’s noble chariot.


Even though riding in these three-wheeled cantankerous beasts is hardly a comfortable experience on pot holed riddled roads, a true rick addict will tell you that it beats traveling by the bus by a mile.


This results in those endless battles in peak hours for a rickshaw to get to work or jut to the railway station. The entire focus is to get the driver’s attention by any means possible. And you are left at the mercy of the rick guy to pick you!


In the last few months, I feel the situation has worsened. Hordes of angry workers during peak hours throng the streets of
Bombay in search of this affordable and yet elusive mode of transport. The BEST buses on the route I travel are almost empty.


This ungainly sight of a mass of people trying to outwit each other with their different strategies to attract a rickshaw for themselves seems ridiculous, especially when witnessed from the window of an empty bus with lots of room to accommodate these tiresome troopers.


In an urban jungle personal space is a rare commodity. This may be one of the reasons that drive people to travel by a rickshaw, as opposed to a bus, so as to have his or her own personal space. Each pore on a body is aware of the existence of its counterpart on another while traveling en mass via public transport. The thronging masses seldom leave an individual alone.


Whatever may be the fate of the humble rickshaw in the coming times, its position in history is assured as the chariot of the middle class. It is the bastion of personal travel and enterprise, the symbol of an individual’s initiation towards economic prosperity.


As the cliché goes love them, hate them but you sure can’t ignore them.

Perpetual state of flux tends to equipoise social order


Most of the polity is in a state of constant flux in a socially conscious robust evolving economy. The ensuing chaos may be the key to functional social order


Even as the unbridled romp of free market philosophies ravage through this vast wasteland, a new breed emerges which brings with it hope, faith, compassion and social consciousness. The select few who chose to abhor consumer instincts in a vibrant economy and want to do right by the less fortunate. Social justice must prevail is their vehement demand and pledge to fight relentlessly towards large moral goals.


Economic liberalization has not broken the spirit of the urban few who truly believe that social parity is of prime importance. Amidst increasing disparity there seems to be a new voice of compassion which attempts to uphold the core values of humanity.


But there is a huge gulf between the presumed utopia and ground realities. The stark contrast could not be more apparent and yet they say we are on a ‘sustainable growth path’ which will bring us prosperity and ‘economic freedom’ to every individual who walks this ‘haloed land’.


If the new conscious is emerging then why are these voices not being heard? Or is there a need to consider a more plausible possibility of those presumed voices being non-existent? Are we delusional and beginning to hear imaginary things?


Do we perceive what they want us to perceive? Are we content in not questioning the systems beyond a point which would make it uncomfortable for us to face the answers?


The newly disoriented enter this environ with naïve hope. The noises made are right. These may be inclusive of all reasoning that must be considered before making broad assumptions.


With economic opportunities on one hand and the will to contribute to socially relevant issues on the other, the choice is fairly an easier one. The ensuing conflict is difficult to navigate.


It is in this state of constant flux that most exist. The odd humane gesture that one may come across in this largely callous, individualistic society emanates from this Kapraesque complexity.


Those firmed up to either rhetorical consonants of thinking are vying for the triumph of their agenda. The disoriented merely swing from one side to the other, feeding the frenzy that ensues in this perennial battle of ideological supremacy. The accepted norms are interchanged along with the ever changing mind space. Distorted reality becomes the basis for future corrections rendering them inviable, non sustainable.


The crucial role this polity plays in defining the destiny of a society cannot be ignored. At the same time, the human race may benefit at large from this critical mass of populace in constant flux, as this would ensure enough space of constant systemic evolution.


So, those confined in this compounded state of confusion may revel as the newly disoriented will remain so until the paradigm of direction changes. The voices may not be heard but their existence is proven by the dynamic nature of the system.


This may not be Utopian, but it tends to a state of balanced governance and systemic social parity. In chaos, clarity reigns supreme.

Blank noise


You can run but you can’t hide. They entice you to buy or sell something or go somewhere or just want you to know that they exist. They relentlessly pursue your last buck and even when they have it, it’s not enough. Then they want to give you their money for a while so you can go ahead and feed the system. They want their money back, of course, albeit with an interest.


It is not only the corporates or even a common advertiser that I am talking about. Also, the conversations which revolve around the same damn thing, the disturbingly stupid get who insists on testing his mobile phone ring tones in a miserably crowded train, the constant chatter about issues that nobody really gives a damn about and so on and so forth. I could go on, but I guess you get the point


The concept of individual space is completely lost in a city like Mumbai. Before you scream bourgeois elitist, let me tell you that I love the city and its crammed trains, just spare me from the incessant bullshit!


The constant messages to which a common person is subjected to are multiplying by the minute. Like a virus replicating till the entire space in infested with the disease.


The entire expanse is riddled with bullet holes on a clear canvas of lush green tress under the canopy of the bright blue sky.


We are to blame ourselves for it. The obsession to keep oneself entertained has reached its crescendo. It begins from television for all, a book for the discerning kind, an i-pod for the young yuppie, the internet for the socially challenged and last but certainly not the least a mobile phone for the perennially bored. The entire objective is to keep oneself occupied so as to stop the possibility of thought at its inception.


‘The century of self’ as Adam Curtis would put it, is truly evolving into a heightened social chaos promulgated at an individual level. And to a great extent it is all self-inflicted.


The natural environs are cluttered with hoardings, blaring noise, LCD screens, posters, a discourse on the public announcement system, advertisements on vehicles, blinding neon signs, etc. The shared commons are defaced by this irreverent abuse.


Who gave them the right to scar my landscape with such grotesque imagery meant purely to extract a premium for a service offered? I certainly didn’t! When did we as a society decide it was alright to put up blatant propaganda instead of conserving the scenic beauty which nature has to offer every living species on this planet?


This may not go down well with my ilk but am suffering from severe media fatigue. I don’t want to read another paper, watch television, surf the net, plug in to my i-pod or answer my phone.


Silence has become a rare commodity and so also natural, uncluttered scenery.


I delve deep into my soul and look up, only to realize that the world has changed and they call it evolution, progress, better living. You decide.

The President of India DR. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam ‘s Speech in Hyderabad . *

Below is a reproduction of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’s speech meant for everyone here in India, who at one point or the other asked ‘What has this country done for me’

Why is the media here so negative?Why are we in India so embarrassed to recognize our own strengths, our achievements? We are such a great nation. We have so many amazing success stories but we refuse to acknowledge them. Why?We are the first in milk production.We are number one in Remote sensing satellites.We are the second largest producer of wheat.We are the second largest producer of rice.Look at Dr. Sudarshan, he has transferred the tribal village into a self-sustaining, self-driving unit. There are millions of such achievements but our media is only obsessed in the bad news and failures and disasters.

I was in Tel Aviv once and I was reading the Israeli newspaper. It was the day after a lot of attacks and bombardments and deaths had taken place. The Hamas had struck. But the front page of the newspaper had the picture of a Jewish gentleman who in five years had transformed his desert into an orchid and a granary. It was this inspiring picture that everyone woke up to. The gory details of killings, bombardments, deaths, were inside in the newspaper, buried among other news.

In India we only read about death, sickness, terrorism, crime. Why are we so NEGATIVE? Another question: Why are we, as a nation so obsessed with foreign things? We want foreign T. Vs, we want foreign shirts. We want foreign technology.

Why this obsession with everything imported. Do we not realize that self-respect comes with self-reliance? I was in Hyderabad giving this lecture, when a 14 year old girl asked me for my autograph. I asked her what her goal in life is. She replied: I want to live in a developed India . For her, you and I will have to build this developed India. You must proclaim. India is not an under-developed nation; it is a highly developed nation. Do you have 10 minutes? Allow me to come back with a vengeance.

Got 10 minutes for your country? If yes, then read; otherwise, choice is yours.YOU say that our government is inefficient.YOU say that our laws are too old.YOU say that the municipality does not pick up the garbage.YOU say that the phones don’t work, the railways are a joke,The airline is the worst in the world, mails never reach their destination.YOU say that our country has been fed to the dogs and is the absolute pits.

YOU say, say and say. What do YOU do about it?Take a person on his way to Singapore . Give him a name – YOURS. Give him a face – YOURS. YOU walk out of the airport and you are at your International best. In Singapore you don’t throw cigarette butts on the roads or eat in the stores. YOU are as proud of their Underground links as they are. You pay $5 (approx. Rs. 200) to drive through Orchard Road (equivalent of Mahim Causeway or Pedder Road) between 5 PM and 8 PM. YOU come back to the parking lot to punch your parking ticket if you have over stayed in a restaurant or a shopping mall irrespective of your status identity… In Singapore you don’t say anything, DO YOU? YOU wouldn’t dare to eat in public during Ramadan, in Dubai.

YOU would not dare to go out without your head covered in Jeddah. YOU would not dare to buy an employee of the telephone exchange in London at 10 pounds (Rs.650) a month to, ‘see to it that my STD and ISD calls are billed to someone else.’YOU would not dare to speed beyond 55 mph (88 km/h) in Washington and then tell the traffic cop,’Jaanta hai main kaun hoon (Do you know who I am?). I am so and so’s son. Take your two bucks and get lost.’ YOU wouldn’t chuck an empty coconut shell anywhere other than the garbage pail on the beaches in Australia and New Zealand.Why don’t YOU spit Paan on the streets of Tokyo? Why don’t YOU use examination jockeys or buy fake certificates in Boston???

We are still talking of the same YOU. YOU who can respect and conform to a foreign system in other countries but cannot in your own. You who will throw papers and cigarettes on the road the moment you touch Indian ground. If you can be an involved and appreciative citizen in an alien country, why cannot you be the same here in India?

Once in an interview, the famous Ex-municipal commissioner of Bombay, Mr.Tinaikar , had a point to make. ‘Rich people’s dogs are walked on the streets to leave their affluent droppings all over the place,’ he said. ‘And then the same people turn around to criticize and blame the authorities for inefficiency and dirty pavements. What do they expect the officers to do? Go down with a broom every time their dog feels the pressure in his bowels?In America every dog owner has to clean up after his pet has done the job.Same in Japan .

Will the Indian citizen do that here?’

He’s right. We go to the polls to choose a government and after that forfeit all responsibility.We sit back wanting to be pampered and expect the government to do everything for us whilst our contribution is totally negative. We expect the government to clean up but we are not going to stop chucking garbage all over the place nor are we going to stop to pick a up a stray piece of paper and throw it in the bin. We expect the railways to provide clean bathrooms but we are not going to learn the proper use of bathrooms.

We want Indian Airlines and Air India to provide the best of food and toiletries but we are not going to stop pilfering at the least opportunity.This applies even to the staff that is known not to pass on the service to the public. When it comes to burning social issues like those related to women, dowry, and girl child! And others, we make loud drawing room protestations and continue to do the reverse at home. Our excuse? ‘It’s the whole system which has to change, how will it matter if I alone forego my sons’ rights to a dowry.’ So who’s going to change the system?What does a system consist of? Very conveniently for us it consists of our neighbors, other households, other cities, other communities and the government. But definitely not me and YOU.

When it comes to us actually making a positive contribution to the system we lock ourselves along with our families into a safe cocoon and look into the distance at countries far away and wait for a Mr.Clean to come along & work miracles for us with a majestic sweep of his hand or we leave the country and run away.Like lazy cowards hounded by our fears we run to America to bask in their glory and praise their system. When New York becomes insecure we run to England. When England experiences unemployment, we take the next flight out to the Gulf. When the Gulf is war struck, we demand to be rescued and brought home by the Indian government. Everybody is out to abuse and rape the country. Nobody thinks of feeding the system. Our conscience is mortgaged to money.

Dear Indians, The article is highly thought inductive, calls for a great deal of introspection and pricks one’s conscience too…. I am echoing J. F. Kennedy’s words to his fellow Americans to relate to Indians…..

‘ASK WHAT WE CAN DO FOR INDIA AND DO WHAT HAS TO BE DONE TO MAKE INDIA WHAT AMERICA AND OTHER WESTERN COUNTRIES ARE TODAY’

Lets do what India needs from us.

Thank you,
Dr. Abdul Kalaam

Gems from the Train

Somehow, the daily morning commute affects me more than the other trivialities i experience all day. It has such an impact either because its the first assault in the morning on my (somewhat)sleep refreshed brain or maybe because it is rather profound (only no one realises it except me of course). Anyways from this week onwards I plan to share these gems which I see, hear and experience, most mornings in the ladies first class compartment virar to churchgate, 1 and a half hour of uninterrupted cacophony and mindless laughter coupled with a few unmentionable things which will spoil the spirit of my blog so i choose to let them be.

I dont know if there ought to be a corresponding section on ‘Travails in the Gents Compartment’, but the ladies are hilarious in their own right. Call it naieveity, or pettiness, the bottomline is undivided entertainment if have ur funny bone in its right place…it cant help getting ticked. Tho tickled is a mild word to use in context if u can call being squashed till ur ribs interlock in a mass of heaving scrambling humanity …bein tickled…well…good for u. In addition to being assailed with all kinds of perfumes, deos and talcum powders, gajras and assorted hair-oils, ur also bombarded with every variety of senseless humour and yes, also other banalities which make u cringe. Also unherd of beauty treatments and a healthy dose of gossip and snide comments, some sotto voce and some not so discreet. No sense is left unassaulted.

So here are some of my own experiences heard in real-time…recounted

Gems from the train:

I
Lady !: Aye, Sujata ur wearing black today!!!!
Sujata: Haan re…ur wearing white…
(laughter)
Lady !: We are black and white today. (Squeals of helpless laughter)
(I fail to see the humour in that)

II
Lady !: (To the lady in front of her) Take your hairs that side no..
Lady 2: (sweeping her hair onto one shoulder) Its not that big ok…
Lady !: But its still hurting me…
(Hairs??? Big hairs??? Hair capable of hurting ppl?????)

Inner sanctum

The constant flow of thoughts in my conscious mind represents an existential paradox. The desire to detach from the external grows stronger with every shred of thought which necessitates one to align with it.


The conversations I have are my own. They are not required to be shared, deliberated, pondered upon, endure eventual judgment or require any justification. A world isolated from the vile realities that attempt to abrogate innate voices.


The chaotic influx of random thoughts compels an individual to make a choice which is immediate and correlates with the external environment. At this juncture, the irreverent chaos does not subside but is actively subdued into oblivion. A selective cognizance of reality leads to skewed perceptions forming notions which may not be truly rooted in the universal reality as opposed to an individuals contained reality.


The instinct for survival in a dynamic universe necessitates that such decisions are deliberated upon and consciously taken to surmount any given situation in the smallest amount of time. In totality, a layer of such choices define an individual’s course of existence. The summation of momentary choices is the life that we live.


The chaotic voices still exist and will continue to do so ad infinitum. Also, the circumstantial subjugation of these free, unfettered voices proves restrictive in terms of original thought. The scope of an individual to interact with oneself is restricted to determinate choices and mostly underscores a gross falsification of perceived commonality with the external environment.


The sequential ignorance of the inner sanctum leaves a void within, widening the space between an individual and the perceptions that one holds as a result of external influences. A dialogue with oneself is necessary to align the basic cognitive processes responsible for a balanced understanding of the internal and the external.


These conversations laced with unbridled truth and ample influences expunged from interactions with the environment are the sole witnesses of a cognitive function on progression. To abandon it for an obsession with conformity in order to circumvent situational demands may deter the long term thought process that every individual is capable of.


The sanctum sanctorum exists as a premise to converse with life. A poignant reminder of intellectual existence.

You Around

My world is a better place
Because you are around
Somewhere in the future
Though you’re making no sound

Brightening my sunshine
Stretching horizons so
Adding mellow lights to
Fading dusks and more

Youa are around and I can hear
Sounds of seas in their shells near
Velvet soft and passion bright
Adding lustre to every night

You are around and thoughts abound
Of sun-swept bluffs and bright blue bells
Of tumbles rough down snowy mounds
And rushing to ur waiting arms

You are around and sights abound
Of eyes at once light and deepest brown
Of ringing bells and white-washed towns
Of smiles always and just no frowns

You around and me with my feet
Planted firmly on God’s own ground
Can feel my spirit soaring high
High up among the soaring clouds

Its a case of lost and found
With you around
I seem to have found
The beginning of a circle round.

Monkey see, monkey do: Death of an opinion


The internet is in a state of frenzy. After the dust has settled down on the general euphoria surrounding ‘social media’ and the ‘blog’ revolution in India it is time to take stock of the situation at hand.


The blog is supposedly a tool to revolutionize thought, message dissemination and freedom of opinion. The panacea to unbridled thought, free expression at its ridiculous best!


But the irony is the fact that most bloggers, including some bastions of independent opinion, regurgitate the same repetitive fare dished out across the board. The concept of individuality which the haloed blog is supposed to uphold is drastically convoluted to function as a generic voice which reflects all other noise absorbed randomly.


The boon of technology is replication of data with a miniscule effort, somewhat like an organism which replicates its genes to form new characteristics. Individuality revels in this unique progression. Evolution ensures survival.


But, this very fact can become a sorry excuse to mirror someone else’s thoughts, concepts and ideas and pass them off as one’s own.


Original work, I feel, is quite an overrated commodity. Derivative work forms a major chunk of all new developments, thoughts that appear. These may seem sporadic and unrelated but the genesis of the same could be traced in a primitive form to a source. This hindrance of reaching the right source is what most bloggers bank on to reach deep into their pits and spew the most generic bile that one could muster on to their blinking pretentious screens.


I do not claim to be any different but yes, I do give due credit to the source.


The medium is at crossroads. Its evolution is largely dependent on the unbridled freedom that it has enjoyed till now. But, credibility has remained a contentious issue. Should we have some sort of gatekeepers to mind this space? Is regulation in the offing to make some sense of this chaotic environment? Or should the message never be controlled, let the ravaging romp of words, ideas continue to pierce through a cross section of cultures.


I am not quite sure whether aligning your self with a blog search, or a group or a creative commons license is the best approach for this medium. Aren’t we evolving through similar systems which exist in current
MSM space?


The tendency of a human being to congregate, to form groups, to exchange ideas, to share thoughts and accept different perceptions lead to a more complex system whose dynamics could change the way we think. But, is it safe to assume that those aligned with certain groups or have some form of certification or validation from a more ‘experienced’ blogger is reason enough to tolerate mediocrity.


There are still many questions which plagues this space and its eventual resolution through exchange of opinions and consensus will significantly change the models of messaging and thought dissemination that exist. Nonetheless, the system will perforce lead a revolution that will redefine the ideas that threaten to stifle innovation and stagnates dynamic process.


Until then, there exists a void which gnaws at the very foundations of this medium.

On Mothers…comment by Shubha K

The State of the World’s Mothers report is there on the net. Have you read it? Perhaps not. I haven’t either. But I do know certain things.

While it is acknowledged that the (hated) Americans do have extraordinary talent to commercialise and commodify anything under the sun, we also need to acknowledge the horrendous hypocrisy that thrives in the name of `Indian culture.’ To give a simple example, it is quite common in India to blame the influence of `western materialistic culture’ for female foeticide and dowry deaths. Edward Luce in his highly acclaimed book `In Spite of the Gods’ points out with brutal clarity that neither problem exists in the west.
We all know that in India mothers of boys are treated differently from mothers of girls. Does that happen in the west?

A `culture’ that discriminates against the female of the species right from the time she is physically conceived, and continues with the injustice throughout her life: can it be logically expected to suddenly wake up one day and give to a mother due respect? No, we can only expect loud and shrill glorification of motherhood that is designed specifically to camouflage the inglorious truth.

Renowned journalist and author from Bangalore Amu Joseph in a scathing and well researched article in October 2005 highlighted the miserable plight of senior citizens in India, where the shrill hype about `respect for elders’ is unparalleled anywhere in the world. This article too is accessible on the net.

There have been plenty of news reports in the Marathi press about how people take their aged parents on a pilgrimage and abandon them there in the crowd. Old age homes are thriving in such pilgrimage centres, and a large majority of the residents do not wish to go back to their children.

Narayana Murthy of Infosys spoke some time back on `What Indians must learn from the west’. It is a sizzling eye-opener on how easily we turn a blind eye on our own shortcomings.

The speech is available here: http://www.indiainfoline.com/view/041002.html

Nobody denies that celebrating a Mother’s Day is nothing more than tokenism, sometimes grotesque. But if we wish to fight this trend, the least we can do is to take our blinkers off. It will be a good beginning.

Mothers

According to the State of the World’s Mothers report, brought out by an American humanitarian organisation Save the Children, India is ranked a dismal 66th among 71 less developed countries.
What should we do for mothers?

Celebrate Mother’s Day?
Which is yet another addition (like the World’s Mothers Report??) to the long list of marketing gimmicks brought out by the West to rape Indian culture of its origins and emotional sincerity.

The way Mother’s day has added one more to-do item in lists which we never bother to follow or fulfill; this report does it in a subtler way. India has traditionally been a land where mothers are second only to God. (Think Mother India, and think of your dad’s answer the last time your mom tried to crib about her mom-in-law).

Probably the Italians give Indian men a fair competition, when it comes to being mama’s-boys, but Indian mothers have been right up there (or at least used to be) commanding a position of love and respect, and all surveys be damned.

I don’t think anybody in Rural India knows or cares about Mother’s day, but yes they do know and care about their mothers, thank you very much. So do the millions of middle-class and lower middle class families that dwell in our cities and metros, till now.

They are yet to join the rat-race, of city-dwelling, west-aping, wannabe yuppies and will soon take to purging their guilty consciences by the once-a-year ritual of a fancy restaurant (whose cutlery confuses mom) or maybe a movie in a multiplex (whose escalators probably make her nervous as hell) and consider their duties as adoring children done.

So instead of American Humanitarian Organizations telling us we rank dismally I think it is we who should look within us and wonder why. And this is exactly why. Don’t do anything for mothers, children, do something for yourselves. If you can.