Monday, April 27, 2009

Zardari beats Descartes, any day

This is really a continuation of the earlier post because it too deals with politically (in)correct statements by leaders. But then thought this one deserves a special separate post.
Pakistan's President, Asif Ali Zardari, has gone to press saying that Osama bin Laden might be dead. And what makes him say this? Because there is no proof that he is alive.
Can you beat that? What did Zardari expect? That Laden should give a public darshan every morning outside his cave to his followers? Something like Amitabh Bacchan does every morning outside his bungalow?

This should go down in history as one of the most meaningless statements ever made by any. Descartes had said "I think, therefore i am". That is passe, really. Move over Descartes, Zardari is here. He has said "I don't think, therefore he isn't!"
If Zardari writes an autobiography, he could include this little poem in it. I hope he will pay me royalty for the same.

Laden, ol' man, time and again I have said,
Come out of your cave,
and give us a wave,
Else I will believe you are dead!

Definite fast.

Today has been a day of politicians providing us with some badly needed humour. And they are providing lots of it.
First was the Karunanidhi fast - which ended very fast, indeed! Early morning today Karunanidhi decided to use Mahatma Gandhi's favourite weapon - the 'indefinite fast'. The point is, there was hardly anything indefinite about it. As of yesterday the Lankan army had pushed the LTTE (what was remaining of it, that is) to a few square km of area. LTTE then proposed a ceasefire and Sri Lankan authorities promptly rebuffed this suggestion as 'a joke'. It was a joke definitely. I could hear the Sri Lankan army top brass saying, "So you want a ceasefire? Sorry pal, but I am not asking you what you want. You can keep your demands to yourself, because I am coming and getting you. Just you wait!" This was a clear indication that the LTTE game was as good as up. Clearly, there was very little time for Karunanidhi to get some political mileage (and several Tamil votes) out of this battle that was about to end more sooner and later.
So he had to act fast, really fast. Pun intended.
Then there was Ramadoss making the atrocious remark that Prabhakaran was not a terrorist but was actually a freedom fighter and could be compared to Nelson Mandela! By that logic, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale should also be considered a freedom fighter. Not to speak of Dhanu and Sivarasan. I suppose that Ramadoss believes that all of them were also freedom fighters - if in the process of fighting they blew up innocent people, assasinated a Prime Minister and sparked off a political crisis in anther country, then so be it.
Ramadoss, will you wake up, please? Kindly note that you are backing an outfit that assasinated your PM. I would say you are actually insulting the very constitutional fabric of my country. I hesitate to say 'your country' because you are hardly behaving likewise. The next thing you might go and say is that Prabhakaran is actually a Tamilian reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, but I am afraid people don't take you seriously these days.
The best part, cherry on the cake really, came later today. Sri Lanka authorities declared that "the conflict had reached its conclusion and that the army would now focus now on rescuing civilian hostages. No heavy arms would be used." Just as you would expect, this was promptly followed by Karunanidhi gratefully accepting the glass of sweet lime juice (or butter milk or kaapi) to end his fast. Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram wasted no time in claiming Indian contribution to this decision. These statements were pathetic attempts at claiming credit for something they had nothing to do with. I saw an interview of a Sri Lankan official - who went by a charmingly musical surname of Hullugale - on TV. It went something like this -

Sir, what has been the Indian contribution to this decision?
....... sorry? I can't hear you?
Sir, what has been the Indian contribution to this decision?
Oh, well. Indian govt has been very cooperative in this case. They have not put any pressure on us.

Mr. Hallugale is a perfect diplomat. What he managed to say without actually saying it was - Hello? What do you think you are talking about?

Suffering from pessimism? Watch IPL.

Have I missed any? Must look up the thesaurus.
I am referring to the TV commentary of IPL matches, which is getting really tiring. The matches are entertaining, as any T20 matches are supposed to be. But the commentators also seemed to have been bitten by the tamasha bug and are going overboard. Anything and everything that they describe about the match is using one or more of the above superlatives.
If a batsman gets out to a stupid shot, it is called clever bowling. If another batsman goofs up and gets his partner run out, it is brilliant fielding. (Watch the pick up and throw.... brilliant!) If a bowler sends a rank dolly deserving to be hit out of the stadium, it is tremendous batting (picked the slower one early..... that one went like a tracer bullet....... That is maximum!)
Take Ravi Shastri for example. Usually in all other matches he alternates between being boring and dreary with his commentary. The height of excitement that he can muster is "Edged.....and taken!!!" (said with a special throaty voice.) But not so in IPL matches where he also revels with superlatives and excessive praiso-mania.
Maybe they should get the cheerleaders to do the commentary - at least it will be more entertaining. Else, they can sack all the commentators and show the cricket and the dances alternately. Won't make an iota of difference the the advertising revenue. It will actually save a lot of money for Lalit Modi who can then plan on having the next IPL in the Bahamas, then the next in Mauritius, and so on.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Yet another succesful brand

There are many cases where a brand name has become synonymous with its product category. It must be a dream come true for the people behind the brand. Probably the best example is Xerox. The others belonging to India are
1. Dalda (this is history now, but valid example nevertheless)
2. We made Maggi at 3 in the night. Could have been any brand....
3. Ek thandi Bisleri bottle dena.
4. Cadbury's chocolate. I have once heard a little boy in the shop asking for 'one Kit Kat Cadbury'...
5. Godrej steel cupboard. Any steel cupboard, even a local make, is a Godrej ki almari.
6. Also Godrej locks. Same story.
7. My son goes to a Casio class..... Any keyboard aka synthesizer.

I chanced upon another example, this time on the Thane toll booth. So it is for all purposes an 'official board'. I first thought it was remarkable that Tata Sumo should have become synonymous with jeeps and that this could be proclaimed on an official board. As I passed through the toll gate, I realized that even 'Jeep' is a brand name! How regularly we use it to describe anything from a Willys to a Sumo to a Scropio, Bolero, Trax.....
So this board is an ultimate proof of a succesful brand promotion strategy.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tamilnadu Bandh - living through an oxymoron

I am in Chennai for work. I have to conduct training for new members of the organization and also conduct interviews for five new candidates. Part of routine - you would think. But then today is a government-sponsored bandh here. So no autorickshaws or buses on the road, shops closed. Thankfully the training program is proceeding on course because they have been at this venue for the past three days. But as for the interview, only two out of 5 candidates have braved the bandh and reached here. Who is responsible for the other three, who have probably lost out a chance to secure a job? Will the government take this responsibility? I don't know about the family background of these three gentlemen. How many of them have old parents dependent on their sons to support them in their old age? Do they have children aspiring of getting admission in decent schools? Do they have young wives with dreams of building a happy family? And what about the dreams and ambitions of these young men themselves?
I have no clue what views these three people have about Sri Lankan Tamils, but I am sure they are keen to get a job and bring a smile on the face of their families.
I always thought that governments are meant to run things, not stop things. So a 'government -sponsored bandh' is a classic oxymoron.
I am witness to just a small human drama here involving the future of three families. Guess what a one day's bandh is doing to millions of families all over the state. Further, I cannot understand the fundamental purpose. How is a one day bandh going to have any effect at all on Sri Lankan government? They have had enough trouble for decades and seem to be now determined to go ahead and do whatever they have to for solving this issue. Bandh or no bandh, I wonder if they are even paying attention to what is happening across the strait of Munnar!
I now have the challenge of reaching the airport. My colleague here is aghast because the cab operator just informed her that no cars can be made available till 6 pm. Thankfully the hotel has agreed to arrange for my transport and it looks like I will eventually make it to the airport. After that, I should be able to reach home, unless the pilot is also a supporter of the Lankan Tamil cause and decides to fly to Jaffna! Going by the 'government-sponsored bandh, what shall we call it then - an airline-sponsored hijack?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Unforgettable song - Lakh lakh chanderi

There are songs and then there are songs. And then there is 'lakh lakh chanderi tejachi nyari duniya.' This song has captivated me for years. I don't remember when was the first time I heard it. But it was certainly many years ago, where TV had not become a round the clock phenomenon. News channel anchors did not shout at you non-stop. (They swatted flies instead.) I stand corrected - there WERE no news channels, sports channels, fashion channels, sports channels. It was all bundled into one large nebulous entity called Doordarshan. Everything was so simplified that 'Saptahiki', which was a sneak preview of the programs of the week ahead, was also a huge hit. Children never had to be told to be away from the TV because after 'Bacchon ke liye' (Kilbil for those in Mumbai) that ended by 7 pm, there was nothing that could interest them anyway. The opening jingle of Aamchi maati aamchi maanse (program for farmers) was a potent enough signal for the children to get up and do their homework.Having grown up in Delhi, Marathi programs were rarer than even blue moons.

But one day there was a Prabhat talkies movie belonging to another era. Shejari, produced in 1941 by V Shantaram. My father was never a great movie buff, but was Puneri enough to be proud of Prabhat Talkies. I remember him telling me the whole story in advance. He clearly did not believe in spoiler warnings. So he had already spoken of the vivid details of how the dam bursts and how the Hindu-Muslim neighbours die hand in hand. I actually don't remember seeing any part of the movie except this song. The song simply became a part of me that evening, many years ago.
There is something about this song that never fails to give me the goosebumps. The lyrics (Shantaram Athavale), music (Master Krishnarao), chorus, choreography, cinematography (V Avdhoot), the three parallel themes unfolding in the song - all make up a potent mixture. But its not just that. This song proves that oft-repeated phrase - the whole is larger than the sum of its parts. I need to take a pause here. Watch a video of this song.
As you watch the video, don't miss the action at 5.42 - the I-throw-you-catch-the-torch manoeuver. It happens in a flash, fast enough for someone to miss it. It is phenomenal, truly.

I remember my father telling me that the song was shot on what is today the Law College Ground in Pune, with the camera on the adjacent hill! I am sure that this is more of a legend than truth. It adds to the romance of the song nevertheless.
Last week I went to see 'Marathi Bana' - described as a 70 mm Marathi cultural program. They perform a dance on this song and it is spectacular. If you haven't seen it still, don't miss it the next time.
The song stands for joy, celebration, hope, a sense of wonderment at the divine beauty that life is. And yes, romance. It is about romancing life itself.
It continues to fascinate people nearly seven decades after it was conceived. Don't forget that this was done in 1941. No digital recording. No sound mixing. No dubbing - music was played LIVE when the shooting was done. Director did not have the luxury of watching a sequence of monitor and shouting "CUT! Retake!". Get the camera settings, sounds levels, lights and the people right, and shoot. Then wait for agonizing days till the processed film arrived and then edit. Mind-boggling in today's times.
Watch the combination of camera movement and choreography at 1.10. Then sit back and be transfixed by the hypnotising moves of flaming torches. Wait till it is 1.28 when there is a breathtaking camera angle. But wait, the best is yet to come. First watch the use of lights and dance movements at 1.41.
And then the piece de resistance at 3.40. The camera cuts to a young couple, all by themselves, away from the prowling eyes of the crowd. The sound levels drop drastically! For some time after this transformation - there is magic, romance and the dance of life. Not to forget the captivating sequence at 5.42.
On the movie at large, it is significant that as far back as 1941, the Director expressed his views about communal tension in no uncertain terms. The frank statement he makes in the movie is - people of different religions have no inherent reason to fight each other. It is petty-minded lawmakers and authority who create these rifts to attain power and personal gains.
Sixty eight years later, things haven't changed much.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bungee accident - another wake-up call for many

Long weekend with friends. A young engineer wanting to experience the adrenaline rush. An ideal opportunity for the budding adventure industry in our country. Unfortunately it all took a horrible turn, ending in a fatal accident. Who is to blame?
The most obvious answer is the organiser of the reverse bungee event. Right of course. But I feel the buck does not stop there. There is a long list of people who have to accept a share of the blame. Its 'moral responsibility'.

1. Ministry of Sports - This is what the official website of the ministry has to say by way of its Policy for Sports.
Quote -
Adventure Sports, in particular, have great potential for the promotion of tourism. Towards this end, the concerned Ministries/Departments of the Union and State Governments, that is those handling Sports, Tourism and related subjects, will strive to draw up joint/unified Plans and Proposals for various parts of the country, with due reference to the possibilities in the North Eastern Region, and to execute these programmes in a systematic and coordinated manner.
Unquote -
Adventure sports have an integral requirement of safety. If the Sports Ministry's efforts towards "systematic and coordinated manner" in a metro like Bangalore are like this, what the case in NE states could be is anybody's guess.
2. Adventure Tour Operator's Association of India - Yes. Just in case you didn't know, there is actually a body like this. Once again, their official website says that they are committed to -

a) to strictly follow environmental practices,
b) employment of the local community
c) social responsibility of helping the community where ever possible in integrity, learning and employment with the help of adventure tours activities.
d) to bring professionalism in the adventure tour industry and foster fellowship and friendship among the professionals.
One of the objectives of the organization is - "To set up and maintain high ethical mores (sic) in the industry."
Outdoor and adventure industry is still an unorganized sector in our country. Anybody can get up, gather equipment, advertise on the net, and be free to take a group of gullible novices into the wilderness. There is nobody stopping anyone. Great for the entrepreneurial spirit and all that, but a disaster that is unfolding with every such event.

3. Instructors of the organising team - That is - CARE and Head Rush Bungee. (This happened with a company that calls itself Care - show me a bigger irony). The head is responsible as I have already said. But one person cannot monitor every little thing that is going on in every event. It is the responsibility of each instructor to uphold and follow safety standards. During the outdoor programs that I facilitated, I used to always admire the patience of the instructor who would put on the safety harness to each participant. Honestly, it can be a boring job. Imagine putting the harness on roughly 500 people a month (sometimes this number is much larger). For any such event, the participant could very well have been the 23,543rd person that the instructor was harnessing up. But for the participant, it was always the FIRST time. There is no scope of even an iota of negligence.

4. Local Police - It appears that the organizers had not taken any NOC from the local authorities. I don't need to say more.

5. Each layperson who goes to participate in an adventure event in India. How many of these people ask the relevant questions before paying to risk their lives? Do they ever ask for licences, testimonials, check on rescue and evacuation readiness? How many of these even bother to find out whether the organisers have a proper first aid kit? Having spent more than 25 years in the adventure world, I can confidently say that the proportion of 'safety aware' participants is abysmally low. A multinational FMCG company for whom I conducted several programs used to conduct a safety audit before every program. It was a document that ran into several pages. Guess how many questions were relevant to outdoor and adventure? One. JUST ONE, mind you. And it went something like this - "in case any outbound activities are to be done, have the relevant safety precautions been taken? - Y/N." This amounts to nothing actually.
I am reminded of an incident that I was witness to about 10 years ago. We were conducting an outdoor program in Savandurg (not very far from where the bungee accident occurred). One evening at about 7 pm, three youth came running to our campsite, breathless from a 45 minute downhill scramble. "One person from our team has had an accident, he has fallen down from a cliff, can you please help?" Six of us picked up our first aid kit, material to make a stretcher, and ran all the way up to the site of the accident. A 20-something youth lay on the hard granite slab below a 25-foot cliff. He was profusely bleeding and barely conscious. Our first fear was a back injury. This prima facie diagnosis was inaccurate, yet close. He had fractured his pelvic bone. We set upon the first aid and evacuation procedure. Mercifully, cell phones were working and Raju could call up a hospital in Bangalore and request the doctors to be on standby. It took us nearly two hours to lower him on a stretcher and send him off to Bangalore. He spent some weeks in the hospital and several more weeks on crutches, but survived to get back to rock climbing soon afterward.
This is what emerged when we reconstructed the event. This fellow (to be fair to him, he was an accomplished rock climber and well aware of safety procedures) took eight friends up to Savandurg for a day-hike followed by rappelling. There is no doubt about whether he knew how to conduct rappelling, that's ok. But the point to note is - he was the only instructor in the group. He gave a demo first, then got everybody else to rappel. As he was about to wind up, they asked him to give another demo. And that is when he took a fall.
He was fortunate that there were others around who knew what to do. But that doesn't absolve him of the basic mistake - of going alone with a bunch of novices. There are many others who have not been so fortunate.
This is not the first time that a fatal accident has happened due to negligence in a commercial outdoor event. I can mention a painfully long list here, but that's futile.
Can we all hope for more stringent standards?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Indian Politics - 'Back to the future'

With so much action going on in Indian politics, a gullible Indian voter can be excused for being confused. What with politicians putting chameleons to shame by their ever-changing colours, and parties forming and breaking alliances at the drop of a hat. Why, even before we were getting some clarity about what exactly the Third Front is and who is in and out of it, there is already talk of a fourth front! Going at this rate, we could easily have the forty-third front by the time counting of votes is over. Whatever number the eventual front identifies with, the Left and Samajwadis will be in it surely. Why? Nobody else wants them in, as simple as that! Going by the Left's views on economy and the latest brilliantly retrograde manifesto of the SP, I recommend that the new coalition should be called 'Left Backs'. So here is a glimpse of the future cabinet of ministers.

Minister for Law - Pappu Kalani. He has spent such a long time in jail, doesn't he deserve a recognition for that? He has actually contested elections from inside the jail and won! Who else can claim to know our legal system better.
Minister for Road Transport - Laloo Yadav. With his new-found love for road rollers, he is clearly an easy choice for this. He will also hold the extra charge of Minister for Family Welfare. With nine children of his own, he knows what family welfare is all about.
Minister for Urban Development - Maneka Gandhi. She will reserve all open spaces in cities as sanctuaries for stray dogs. That would include roads also, of course. So no traffic, leading to no pollution, further leading to better economy, health and overall urban development.
Ministry for Wildlife - Dharmarao Baba Atram. He has got the rare distinction of being involved in a Chinkara hunting case while being Minister for Forests for Maharashtra. So we should now promote him to cabinet grade.
Minister for Industries (read Strikes) - Mamata Banerjee. This is clearly an open and shut case. Which means people can try to open industries, but she will always effectively shut them.
Minister for Home Affairs - Achutanandan. Why? Well, you see - this is a very sensitive ministry. Thus it can only be headed by the most insensitive person around.
Minister for Finance - Bangaru Laxman. Finance is all about making money. He knows it well.
Minister for Foreign Affairs - Vaiko. He has promised a bloodbath if Sri Lanka continues its campaign against LTTE. What better example of understanding of foreign affairs?
Minister for Sillycommunications - This will replace the current telecom ministry. With SP promising to take our country several decades, if not centuries back, we won't need telecom at all. The new sillycommunications portfolio will be headed by Amar Singh.
Minister for Cultural Affairs - Varun Gandhi. For his recent comments that reflect a refined cultural bent of mind.
Minister for Sports - Ambumani Ramadoss. He is so good at political gymnastics.
Minister for Rashtrabhasha development - Nafisa Ali. Main Hindi bhi bol sakti hoon!
Minister for Defense - Deve Gowda. For defending our country, we need someone who is always alert....

What about Prime Minister? I have a novel proposal for that. Mulayam Singh, Ramvilas Paswan, Mayawati, Prakash Karat, AB Bardhan, Jayalalitha, Sharad Pawar, Karunanidhi, Chandrababu, Kalyan Singh.... There are so many, isn't it? We can easily have a list of 52 such people. Then they will each take turns to be PM for a week each. Why only one week? There are 2 reasons.

1. Given the agenda of the left backs, we will not have any advanced transportation in the country. Everyone will be back to bullock-carts. So each of them will take a week to travel to his/her constituency, cut a few ribbons there, and return to New Delhi.
2. In any case, I can't see how a coalition govt formed by the 3rd, 4th (or 43rd, for that matter) front lasting more than a week even in normal circumstances. Plus, it wont put them under any undue pressure to perform. After all, many great people have been in power for five years and done nothing noteworthy. So how can we expect them to do anything in five days?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

SP manifesto - retrograde motion

There was this joke - if pro is opposite to con, then is progress opposite to congress? Now with its startling manifesto, Samajwadi Party has rightfully claimed its position in the joke.
Never before have I heard of such a blinkered approach towards elections nor seen a more miscalculated attempt at acquiring the powers of governance. SP has truly redefined the meaning of RETROGRADE. What's more - it is hypocritical to the extreme. Amar Singh (one of the founders of this party) is as capitalistic as you can get anywhere in the world. No wonder then that the whole of today he has been running from pillar to post trying to explain the manifesto with equally meaningless statements. "We are not against English, we will only avoid computers where work can be done manually" etc etc. Pure drivel, nothing else.

May I remind all the ignorant leaders behind this crazy manifesto about some basic facts.

1. Two of the best acheivements of our country have been gaining higher productivity in foodgrain and milk production. In case the leaders dont understand what I mean (because it is higher level English!) I am referring to the green and the white revolution. Both of these would not have happened without the help from advancement in agricultural tools and technology.
2. The cell phones that you carry everywhere, the bullet-proof cars that drive you around, the choppers that take you from one rally to another - are all manufactured thanks to machines that have microprocessors behind them. The spotless white Khadi that you all flaunt (barring Amar Singh of course) - do you know how it gets produced and reaches from farmer to manufacturers to retail stores? Of course, how would you know all this? You are too busy grabbing votes and sqabbling amongst yourselves anyway.
3. How about the very newspaper that carried your common-sense-defying manifesto to my door today morning? It was composed and printed using those very confounded machines - COMPUTERS.
4. As for teaching English in schools, what can I say? You all don't have much right to give an opinion on English. Come on - some of you can't speak good Hindi either!

I can go and on, but that would be wasting my precious time on a mindless election ploy. The irony is - none of the SP leaders would anyway be able to read this post without the help of two things that they are against - English and Computers.
I rest my case.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hurried update over last post

Even as I type this, the idiot box informs me that Jagdish Tytler has finally decided not to contest. What's more, even Sajjan Kumar is following suit!
So then, Jarnail Singh DID find his target. I stand corrected - the shoe was not really badly aimed as I had said in the earlier post!
Nevertheless one must not forget that this shoe-throwing was the third in the span of just one year. First George Bush, then the Chinese premier and then our Home Minister. It does not take a genius to figure out that public dissent against incompetent governance has been on the rise. What's different is that here is a new method of expressing that dissent.
All the first three shots have missed, either because the target ducked in time or because the shoe was badly aimed in any case. Some day, some place, this is very likely to change. I am sure many politicians are having nightmares about they being the first successful hit!

Sho(e)w me the law!

Shoe hurled at Mr. P. Chidambaram.
(Photo courtesy
It had to happen some day. Someone somewhere had to let his frustration get the better of him and decide to 'Just do it'. (I wonder if it is easier if you are wearing Nike - its their tagline anyway!)
The shoe was badly aimed - both literally and symbolically. It may have missed PC in the literal sense, but its real target was the sit-tight-till-you-can-and-do-nothing attitude of the Congress. It may have made a dent in the Congress' armour, but only a dent. Political parties are amazingly thick-skinned and are adept at finding the right things to say. No wonder that such statements are called "politically correct".
To put it in perspective, the press conference that PC was addressing was NOT about this topic and that is exactly what PC was telling Jarnail Singh. In true Gandhian tradition, PC promptly said 'I forgive him', and Jarnail himself too admitted that it was a wrong act. But when asked whether he could have used any other means of protest, he articulated his anguish simply by commenting "we have waited for 25 years, how much more should we wait?" Gandhian principles of non-violence are getting 'shooed away', surely.
Through all this mayhem, the person in focus (Jagdish Tytler, who else) is amazingly unflinching in his statements. Let the law decide, I will not do anything that creates problems for the party, blah blah blah....
More than 150 years ago in 'Oliver Twist', Mr. Bumble made the classic comment -'Law is an ass'. If that is so, then less said the better about our lawmakers.