Friday, December 24, 2010

Whither non-violence? Or Wither non-violence?


While in Bhubaneshwar, I was curious to go and see the 'Shanti Stupa', a memorial to commemorate Emperor Ashok's 'change of heart' after witnessing the carnage of the Kalinga Battle. The visit was eminently disappointing, to say the least.
The Kalinga battle has been taught to every Indian child in history classes and portrayed as an event that shaped Indian culture and its ethos of non-violence. Ashok himself has been immortalized by his 'Chakra' on our flag and his Lion capital being our national emblem. Given the importance of this event and Ashok's contribution to India, I expected a lot from this monument. The reality turned out to be quite different.

A stark white stupa stands atop a small hillock at Dhauli, about 20 km. from Bhubaneshwar. It has four statues of Buddha, each in a different pose on the sides. Eight lions stand watching outward, towards the vast plains that witnessed 
the grim battle of Kalinga.
   
That's it. There is not a single plaque, not a word written anywhere in the premises stating the importance of this place. I later found out that the stupa was actually built by the Japanese Kalinga Nipppon Buddha Sangh as recently as 1971.
Steps leading up to the stupa are flanked by the usual shops selling odd assortment of objects, the kind of shops that one sees outside any Indian temple. The place appears to be a popular picnic spot for people. While returning I couldn't hold on to my disappointment and feigning enough ignorance, I asked the taxi driver whether this place had any significance or whether the stupa was built here 'just like that'. He said he didn't know. Then as an afterthought, he said "you know Ashok, the King? It has some connection with him". Some saving grace, at least.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Be a sport....

The curtain has just come down on CWG 2010 and the media has been overflowing with medal-news, and for very good reason. India has put up a great performance, and the efforts of all athletes, who have or not have won a medal, must be applauded. It was a great show. The grit of Saina, the tenacity of Jwala and Ashwini, or the sheer dogged persistence of Harminder (bronze medal in 20 km walk, in case you missed him.) The medal sweep in women's discus, or the gold in women's 4x400 relay. Many more. Not to forget the unheralded heroes of swimming and gymnastics.
 Picture Courtesy - Google
I was watching an NDTV debate focusing on the future of Indian sports, and whether the medal bonanza will give a much-needed boost to Indian sports. While watching the debate, this question popped in my head.
What place does spectator involvement hold in a sport getting promoted?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ayodhya - the one without war...

Long long ago, when I was a little boy, I asked my Dad,
What exactly was this thing called partition, was it really bad?
He answered with a heavy voice, just imagine son
If the line was between Pune and Mumbai, wouldn't that be sad?
I was horrified. Coz Pune was where my grandma stayed
and Mumbai was where we changed trains every summer
I had wondered, could someone be so stupid?
To draw a line between two cities? So bad?
But then.... somebody had.

Many years later, when I still believed, naively,
that famous people just kind of passed away
I mean, just peacefully, you know, just like that
Till that one day when I saw
a Prime Minister become a crumpled heap of blood and guts
I couldn't believe that someone could be so mad
But then..... somebody had.

More years passed, and I thought
I was grown up to understand it enough
I believed that only capability mattered, not caste
And that stupid rules were a thing of the past
But then, I saw a student
must have been just about my age then
Who set himself ablaze, and
the frenzied mob did little to save him
I still thought, how could others be so bad?
But then... sombody had.

Some more years passed, and I thought all was OK.
For there was this young man who said to the world
"India is an old country and a young nation
and I am young, and I have a dream."
He seemed to set all things right,
when one day,
I saw him too being blown to small bits
So much that all they could find of him were his shoes
I had ALWAYS wondered, could anyone be so mad?
But then.... somebody had.

Even more years passed, at least by now I should have learnt
For my entire childhood was spent quite close to a mosque
That it didn't matter which God you bowed to
As long as you were humane to one and all
But I then saw a mindless mob tear down a mosque
Did they gain anything from it at all?
I wished nobody had
But then.... somebody had.

By then, i was sure I was old enough to understand
That night in a chowk in Pune
I was in that frenzied mob, all wide-eyed
Watching on a screen a horde climb those domes
Armed with crude weapons, deadly nevertheless
Shouting hoarse a name which I thought stood for integrity
But they showed none, were just proud to exhibit brutality
I still looked askance, how could anyone be so mad?
But then.... someone had.

Not too far back, some men simply sailed across the sea
And happily went around shooting anyone they could see
They went to those very places, where I had made friends
Some of my friends lay dead as I watched horrified
All I did was howled and cried
Yes, I too lit a candle, but
That wouldn't have brought my friends back
Really, how could someone be so mad?
But then ... someone had.

Many years have passed, and I have greyed now
Have long since stopped asking the question
How can anybody be so mad?
I was afraid I would have to ask it again today.
But then.....

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mockery of justice once again.

A public interest litigation filed by one Mr. Ramesh Chand Tripathi in the Supreme Court has been decided in his favour. Apparently, Mr. Tripathi wants the Lucknow court to defer its verdict on Ayodhya because he feels that this might lead to communal riots. Where's the logic in this, Mr. Tripathi? All you have achieved is a delay in the final verdict on this festering matter.
It is a contempt of court according to me. I am no legal expert, even by the remotest stretch of imagination. But I still feel this way. Appealing to one court to stall another court is just a cheap trick, I am afraid to say. Why do I say it is contempt of court? Because stalling one judgement out of the fear of communal riots means not believing in the fact that law and justice are above everything else. EVERYTHING ELSE, mind you. I wish the Supreme Court had asked Tripathi to mind his own business than give him a patient hearing.
This has all gone into another endless loop, I am afraid. A loop that has extended over five decades already. Why can't we end this meaningless loop and get on with more important issues that face the country?
Just yesterday lakhs of Ganesh idols were immersed into rivers all across the country. As I understand, this is done to signal to the devotee that s/he should not get irrevocably attached to God in the form of an idol and rather look inwards for the existence of God. Exactly for this purpose, the idols are supposed to be made of clay. Earth, that is. That which is indestructible. And then we allow the whole country of over a billion people to be held ransom over one STRUCTURE?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Too much information - is it dangerous?

There is so much information on the net. Too much, I sometimes feel.
Its not just the sheer amount of information that bothers me. Its the accessibility and more, its usability that is causing me stress.
We have heard this before now - children can complete their school projects by clicking a few sites here and there and downloading the information that they want. Its a different matter that all projects from a class must be looking alike.
What you want to know? Whatever it is - just Google it. That's the way to go about gathering information now.
My stress has gone up a few notches since I came back from Shivpuri (near Rishikesh) having conducted a staff training program for the outdoor safety instructors from Snow Leopard Adventures, Delhi. Two instances stand out in my mind.
We were talking about safety aspects when dealing with adventure activities that involve ropes and mainly- HEIGHT. The topic veered around to the use of ascenders (commonly called Jumar) and then went on to using a prusik knot. I spent better part of one full day explaining the intricacies of a prusik knot and its do's and dont's to the group.
On another day, we had a session about snakes. I mean - safety aspects regarding snakes and snakebite on an outdoor site. I wished I could have shown them live examples and given them an opportunity to actually handle a snake but that was not possible. So I had to make do with a whiteboard (and the participants had to make do with my horrendous sketching skills!) Obviously, the key topic was identifying whether a snake is poisonous or not.
After I was back in Pune, I did some searching around on the net on these two topics and was swamped by some thousands of websites, blogs, e-forums etc. that provided every bit of useful and useless information on these critical topics.
What would happen if someone who has half-cooked knowledge reads all the information and makes a decision whether a snake is poisonous or not? I shudder to imagine the consequences. for example - here is the description of a Russel's Viper from the internet - (sourced from Wikipedia)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Corruption-wealth Games

Once again, the powers-that-be of my beloved country leave me surprised. The good part is, I am left pleasantly surprised.
Two top aides of the Corruption-in-Chief, Suresh Kalmadi, were sacked today post the findings of an investigation committee. This leads the already much-beleaguered Commonwealth Games further into a morass. Maybe not. After all the mess that these fellows have created, what worse could they have done? But no, thanks. They have been sacked.
Firstly, why am I surprised? Simply because while I have followed the media hollering about the malpractices going on in the preparations leading upto the CWG, I had always feared that all this will be pushed under the carpet. It is easy to play emotional blackmail with us Indians. All that one has to say is - "You see, the Games are just two months away. Why don't we all join hands (Ahem!) and make the Games successful. Our country's prestige and image depends on that. Once the Games are over, we will surely investigate all matters and all those guilty will be punished." In fact, they already had said something to the similar effect. It is another matter that some cynical Indians (me included, of course) never believe such lip service.
After all, the Commonwealth Youth Games held in Pune last year were a disaster. Did anyone get punished? No. The main road that is close to where I stay is STILL BEING BUILT AFTER THREE YEARS!!!!!!! The stadiums are still in a pathetic conditions. They WERE pathetic even when the Youth Games were on. So how do you expect anything different to happen in the BIG Commonwealth Games? All the more, when the man behind these two events is the same? Kalmadi, of course.
Now now now. There are some little glitches in the whole thing, isn't it? The so-called "investigation committee" was ordered by none other than Suresh Kalmadi himself. Which is like the robber cleaning up the safe, then borrowing the whistle from a cop and blowing it hard, yelling, "THIEVES, THIEVES, THIEVES. Help, Help, HEEEEEEELLLPPP!"
Anyways, now that someone has been sacked, what are the possible scenarios?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Octopus Paul becomes TV host

The mass hysteria that Octopus Paul has created amongst football fans worldwide has to be given due consideration. (Not to speak of the jealousy caused to millions of octopuses in the ocean). Keeping this, and viewers' interests in mind, it would be only appropriate if Paul also hosts the pre-match show tomorrow. Mayanti Langer can have a day off. Here's a sneak preview...


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bad TV commercial

Some TV commercials bring a smile to your face. Others bring a question mark. Then there are yet others that bring a frown.
This one of a UPS is currently running on national channels. Anyone who knows what a UPS is already understands what it is supposed to deliver. It is not some big secret feature. Now there could have been a thousand ideas to show something that charges fast and provides non-stop power. Of all these possible ideas, these fellows could only think of - THIS ? Watch it for yourself.

video

I think it is crude and in rank bad taste. Awful. I am not even getting into the area of PG-rated stuff and all that. In any case, I am glad that I don't have little children who might ask me, "Dad, what did that advertisement mean?" (My friend's daughter once told her to buy 'that nice kind of blotting paper which they show on TV')
PG issues apart, I am quite aghast that this stupid advt could get clearance for screening. Do tell me if you agree with my views. Is there some way that such stuff can be forced to be taken off air?
It is also possible that I might just be getting too old for the current times and you are free to tell me that too.

I have distorted parts of the advt on purpose. Why should this brand get further mileage? If I post it as it is, I will simply be giving more publicity to what I find objectionable.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

FIFA 2010 - a tournament of Humpty-Dumptys?

Football statisticians have a far easier job than their colleagues who keep track of cricket statistics. There is no end to cricket statistics. There are so many variable that you can just go on and on. In football matches, there are fewer variables - just the percentage possession, shots on target, corner kicks, fouls, and just about a few more. Hmmmm... is that all? No, there's more interesting stuff! Falling!!!
Source - Google/www.fifa.com
So I thought I must invent some new statistical variables for football. The inspiration for this brainless activity came from the just-concluded Spain-Chile match. The first half left an impression that players spent more time in falling down and getting up than trying to score goals. So during the second half, this is what I did.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Simplify life - watch TV after midnight

If you happen to have the genes of a bat or an owl (like me) and tend to watch TV in the wee hours of the night, then don't read this. Because you would already know what I am going to say. For others, read on and get enlightened.
Post midnight, there are the following categories of programs available for you.
1. Channels from a certain part of Indian geography (OK OK, I am just being politically correct. Like the news reporters who think they get away by saying "people of a certain community...") that show songs of only one type. And that type is called 'conjug... sorry, communal gymnastics in the rain'.
2. Then there are the omnipresent news channels who show nothing new. What's new in that, you may ask. DON'T ask!

That's all? Is that ALLLL ?? No my dear early-to-bed-early-to-rise friends, that's not all. Don't be disheartened. The third category is actually a VAST category. A category that cynics might write off in one phrase as 'online TV shopping'. But actually it is a mind-boggling cornucopia of products that promise to make your life simple. Here's a sample of what you can get. JUST a sample. This is by no means the complete list.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Vuvuzela - an overdose of culture

Life was simple during school days. There was only Olympics that happened once in four years. For all the hype around Indian medals in Asian Games, these games hardly attracted much attention till Delhi hosted them in 1982. As for Winter Olympics, I didn't even know that such a thing existed when I was in school. Commonwealth Games too passed without making much of a dent on my childhood memory.
Now there's Summer Olympics, Winter Olympics, Commonwealth, Asian, and as if these are not enough, there is Cricket World Cup, T20 World Cup, IPL, Champions League, Formula 1, Hockey World Cup and yes, FIFA world cup. So much to remember.... :-(
Each game promises to be bigger and better than the previous one. And the organizers pull out all stops in the opening and closing ceremony. Either they are getting repetitive and/or monotonous, or I am losing memory, but after all these years and all the ceremonies that have come and gone, only TWO instances remain etched on my memory.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

About 'Anonymous' comments

Thanks to Pune rains and the ensuing power failure and resultant net failure, I was away from blogging for some time.
OK, that's an excuse that is valid only for the last nine days. Before that, I had stopped writing just because I couldn't think of what to write. The usual rampant infection - writers' block.
After returning to the internet, one of the first things that I did was look at comments 'pending approval' on my blog. Not surprisingly, there were only useless Anonymous comments just waiting for me to press 'delete'.
But that very thing has prompted this post.
I admit that I am a little naive in this area and am asking you all for some enlightenment. WHO writes all these anon comments? Who has so much time, I mean?
Earlier I had kept the setting for comments as unmoderated, so had to constantly watch and delete all the nonsensical stuff. (It has a collateral benefit. If, say, you have 10 comments, and 5 of them are fraud anon ones. You delete those five. Blogger still shows the footer as '10 comments' ! Haha!
Coming back to the point. Some months ago, I decided to change the setting to 'moderated' and set upon the noble task of preventing the senseless stuff appearing on my blog.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Dirty politics in India - is their a bottom to the pit?

This must be one of the most reluctant posts that I have written. It is almost a compulsive one.
Nearly 150 lives were lost in the train accident in Bengal. On one hand, I was  glad that there actually were helicopters carrying the injured to hospitals. Otherwise, one always wonders how in USA helicopters are always present to rescue people. So it can happen in India too, I said to myself.
Barely 48 hours later, I see the ministers divided in their opinion about how the accident happened. I am OK with people having different opinions, but can they hold their tongues for some time?
Mamta Banerjee has hit her all-time low by claiming that this was a result of 'political conspiracy'. How insensitive can one get? It is no surprise that this statement comes with WB civic body elections around the corner. The last time she did this was when she raked up the Singur controversy. Clearly, she was keeping the oncoming general elections in mind at that time. Now it is the civic body elections.
Mamta seems to have got her act together in terms of her moves in the arena of electoral politics. I just hope that the voters get their act right some day and hand out to her what she deserves. A resounding defeat.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

When will the British learn ?

The British parliament election results are out and everybody there appears to be perplexed. A hung parliament has emerged from the ballot boxes, and the last time something like this happened there was 36 years ago.
So what? All they need to do is look at how Indian politicians have tackled this with consummate ease. A hung parliament has never been a deterrent for our leaders. They have been able to change their colours of loyalty faster than a chameleon. All that it takes is to follow the rule of four Ds. Here's a simple guide.
1. Defect - The simplest of all techniques.
2. Defy (the voters, that is) - What we said before the polls is a matter of history. We can always change to some other agenda. Even give it a politically correct name of 'Common minimum program'.
3. Deny - That you said something before the polls. Statements like 'there is no question for forming an alliance with XYZ' have to be forgotten and any alliance can then be defended by saying 'politics has strange bedfellows'.
4. Dogged pursuit - of power, what else.

The British could have learned something from a country that they ruled for so long. Maybe we can send a delegation of our politicians there , headed by people like Mayawati, Laloo, Ramadoss, Mamta and of course, Amar Singh. They can solve the problem of 10, Downing Street in a matter of minutes.
Another chance to show that Indians are going to rule the world!

Friday, May 7, 2010

The day after...

The crystal ball didn't lie, after all. With some variations here and there, many of the predictions in my earlier post turned out to be true. Unfortunately, I don't know whether to feel happy or sad about this. When one's prediction of a ridiculous and totally avoidable event turns out true, what does one do?
In all the mayhem on TV channels following Kasab's verdict, I would like to focus on that part which came as a surprise to me.
The big moment, as touted by all channels, the announcement of the verdict, was anchored on NDTV by Nidhi Razdan. Whether this was by design or some divine intervention, I was glad that the most sensible anchor on NDTV handled this part. All other channels without exception went berserk.
NDTV's late night show on 'Your verdict' anchored by Sonia Singh featured interviews of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan's father, Shantanu Saikia (husband of Sabina Saikia, who was one of the victims of attack on Taj) amongst others. I was left dumbstruck to hear Shantanu's views. I am still to get over it completely. After the day-long tamasha on all channels, his fortitude and grace were touching and inspiring. I can only quote him ad verbatim.
Quote
"This is really a personal matter. Me and my sons have forgiven Kasab long back. That was the only way we could survive. I do not wish that my sons grow up to think like terrorists do. An eye for an eye will not bring Sabina back. Our country is in the throes of social and economic upheaval, and this is the time for us to sit back and think in quiet dignity. I am neither happy nor sad at the death sentence."
Unquote
No words can encompass the gravity, the enormity of this sentiment. I can only bow to Shantanu and his family for the stance that they have taken.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Gazing into the crystal ball...

I don't claim to be a fortune teller, but this time around, I have decided to look into the crystal ball.
Picture courtesy - Google
So, what will happen to news channels in India tomorrow.....? Here's my prediction.
By 10 am, all channels would have aired (32 times, at least) a shot of the army of cops outside Arthur Road jail.
By 11 am, the channels would work up a frenzy asking the same question again and again. Hindi channels - 'क्या कसाब को मिलेगा फांसी का फन्दा? English - 'Death penalty for Kasab?' CNN-IBN will try to be stylish by saying "eyes of the entire country are now centered on one man. Judge Tahiliyani." Gargi Rawat on NDTV will try (unsuccesfully) very hard to make a serious face, because she can't stop smiling at everything. (Barkha Dutt would be sleeping at this time. She would be preparing for a long night later.)
By this time, India TV and News 24 hours (both entertainment channels actually, but masquerading as news channels) would have whipped up some crazy Hindi catchline. I can't quite clearly see in the crystal ball. Even the ball has difficulty predicting these two channels.....
By 11.30, the news will erupt. Judge Tahiliyani will pronounce death sentence to Kasab for 3 out of 86 charges, life imprisonment for 36 out of the remaining 83, and rigorous imprisonment of 10 years for the remaining 47. And all hell will break loose. कसाब को फांसी . Kasab gets death sentence. News for Kasab. Sorry, noose for Kasab. छब्बीस ग्यारह के आतंकी को मौत का फरमान. Etc. etc. etc.
By 4 pm, all channels would have sent their junior reporters to go and interview every person that they can find on the face of earth. India TV will show Judge Tahiliyani's dog frantically wagging his tail. 'टौमी ने भी अपनी ख़ुशी जाहिर की'.
By 6 pm, the channels will have caught hold of most politicians. They will be able to do this only now, since most of the politicians will be busy shouting in the parliament till then.
By 9 pm, Arnab Goswami will be foaming at his mouth, Barkha Dutt will be in fits, and Rajdeep Sardesai will be speechless. Because he would have shouted so much since evening. I hope he keeps a lot of cough lozenges with him. After all, we are all entitled to some entertainment, aren't we?
By 11 pm, all channels will be asking - what next? Will Kasab become another Afzal Guru?
And how can I forget. On IBN-Lokmat, Nikhil Wagle will have dislocated his elbow and shoulder joints by now due to his incessant and frantic gesturing.
And thus will end another day in the history of Indian news channels.
Note - As I type this, I completely feel the pain of each person who has lost a dear one in the carnage of 26/11. Kasab must be punished, no two ways about that. My intention is not to ridicule the Kasab trial. I am only commenting on how the news channels will respond.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Watch out...

Funny notices and road signs have made frequent appearances on my blog. I was amazed to notice a spelling error that I had missed for several months, in spite of being right in front of my eyes all along.
This is a bottle of Teeth Cleaning Oil (yes, I know I run the risk of being disowned by my dentist friends) which makes several claims. The first one is 'Relieves tooth ache'. At least, that's what its supposed to say. Remarkably, it actually says 'Relives Tooth Ache'. Should I be relieved?

It also goes on to say in a reassuring manner that it (relives) 'Bad Odur', 'Removes stins from teeth' and also 'Arrest bad blood form gums.
Ouch...

IPL and World T20 telecast. Jeno kaam teno thaay...

There is a Gujarati proverb that says 'Jeno kaam teno thaay'. Simply put, it says one should do take up only those tasks that one can. This might sound like rather pessimistic and is likely to be looked down upon by motivational speakers. After all - they always tell people that human potential is unlimited and if you plan right, then anything is possible.
I am sorry to inform them - anything is NOT possible.
OK, I am referring to the program that is aired on ESPN/Star as part of their telecast of World T20. It is anchored by Cyrus Broacha and Shonali Nagrani. (Shonali who? Never mind.... read on if you wish.) After the recently concluded IPL T20 tamasha, this show is a let-down. It comes nowhere close.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

42 years ago....

I have very little answers to the question - why am I posting this picture now? Actually, I have none.
That doesn't stop me anyway, does it? So here it is - a 42 year old picture. From a bygone era that will never return?


Do I want it to return? Keeping all notions of nostalgic diarrhoea aside, I actually don't want that time to return. I think I have a good life just now....
But look at the innocence on the faces, (including mine!) How much has changed in 42 years :-)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The laws of cooking

  • First law - The first one always sticks to the pan. Don't get depressed.
  • Second law - Hunger levels of the cook and consistency of dosa diameter are inversely proportional.
  • Third law - If you are really hungry, dosas of any shape taste equally nice.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Stumped - completely.

Last night, I sat working till late. Very late. At about 4:00 as I went off to make coffee, all of a sudden, thoughts about Bahadurshah Zafar just dropped into my head. That's the only way I can describe it. Usually we say that a thought popped out of the head. But the feeling that this thing dropped "into" my head was just too distinct. No confusion there. I walked back reinforced with the coffee and decided to read the Wikipedia page on Bahadurshah. I also heard his immortal ghazal "लगता नही है दिल मेरा उजड़े दयार में". Out of the long and detailed Wiki page, only two sentences stayed in my head. In fact, only two words out of those. The sentence was -
Bahadur Shah died in exile on 7 November 1862. He was buried near the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, at the site that later became known as Bahadur Shah Zafar Dargah.
And the two words that I refer to were SHWEDAGON PAGODA. There was just something in the way the words sounded. At least I imagined it that way.
All this took five minutes and then I was back to work. Before I realized, it was past 6 and the newpaper boy's footsteps made me get up. As I opened the Pune DNA, my eyes fell on THIS piece. Right at the top of the first page.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

After Cadbury's - Havells follows suit?

Some days ago, I wrote about Cadbury's TV ads going from bad to worse. over the years. Now another company which had caught people's attention with their catchy ads seems to be going the same way. I am referring to Havells of course.
The ad I am talking about is doing its rounds on TV currently. I am sure you have all seen it, but just in case, here's the summary.
A hangman 'delivers' the criminal to the noose and walks back distraught to his home. As he enters his dark home, he switches on the light and the voice over says "जिंदगी में हम सबको पाप करना पड़ता है, तो क्योँ ना पुण्य कमा ले ... बिजली बचा के. Havells CFL ज्यादा बिजली बचाए." We all have to commit sins in our lives. So why not also do a good deed. By saving electricity. Havells saves power etc etc etc.
I am quite stumped by this ad. I do understand the need to save power and am all for it. Really. ALL the lamps in my home are CFL. Its another matter that they are not Havells! 
Is it really necessary to twist this issue to such extent to make people understand it only in the light of (sorry, pun not intended) sin and virtue and morality and all that? The chasm between sin and virtue in the ad is far too stretched, I think. On a silly note, are they saying that the hangman won't feel guilty pulling the lever once he has fitted  his home with CFL lamps? It's somewhat like bathing in the Ganga once a year. Commit all the sins that you want to for 364 days, then visit Hardwar once.
On a parallel note, there is a strange link between this issue and my earlier posts about punishment. Particularly death sentence. Does the hangman really commit a sin, or is he doing his duty? I can understand what a hangman must feel like. No matter how duty-bound one is, it surely must not be easy to pull the plug on someone else's life.
Be that as it may, please convert from using conventional bulbs to CFL if you haven't already done so. It makes sense. Sins or no sins.
For the inquisitive ones, the ad has been made by Lowe Lintas.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The punishment of living.

The comments on my earlier post have led me to think more on this line and am presenting a rather queer thought. I am probably contradicting myself as compared to the earlier post. (Which is OK. I often contradict myself!) Further, I might be raising a storm with this thought.
The issue is about what is the purpose of law, justice and punishment. And specifically with reference to a terrorist, whether ANY punishment really achieves a purpose at all.
Just last night, our usual gang (which means Swati, Vallarie, Prasad and Mamata) met up at my place and late in the night the discussion veered towards Ashvatthama. The curious character from Mahabharat. Krishna 'cursed' him with immortality for his evil deeds (which were too many to recount here. Suffice to say that he committed heinous crimes, equivalent to a terror attack in today's times.) In Hindu mythology, there are eight characters who are considered to be 'chiranjeev', that is immortal. These include Parshuram, Vibheeshan, Hanuman and others. Out of these eight, seven were granted the boon of immortality owing to their good deeds. Only one, Ashvatthama, was CURSED with immortality. How does one explain this seeming contradiction?

Nobody wants to die. I am assuming of course, but I think its a safe assumption. Scores of people have spent their lifetimes trying to find the way to avoid, feign or hoodwink death. And an equal number of people have considered the search to be futile. As Albus Dumbledore tells Harry Potter a truth of life - "After all, to a well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." I am no expert on world's religions, but I know enough Hinduism to know that it teaches us to consider death as a comma and not a fullstop. And in being a comma, it releases one from the trials and tribulation of life and living. Suffering, I mean.
So back to Mahabharat. Even Bhishma the great warrior was granted a boon that he could choose the time of his death. So hypothetically, he could have lived forever if he wanted to. He didn't. He chose the time when he was ready for the 'next great adventure', so to say. But Ashvatthama was cursed by Krishna - he was told that he won't die and thus be able to face the judgement for his sins. He would continue to live and roam the earth forever, burning in the shame and guilt of his deeds. The most horrible curse if you see it from the Hindu point of view. Imagine being told that you will never ever get a release.
What am I saying, then? Is keeping a terrorist alive a worse punishment than hanging? The Islamic fundamentalist view also compels a terrorist to seek heaven through death, so he/she is not afraid of going and committing the act of terror. On the contrary, he is quite sure of what he is doing, to reserve a berth in heaven. So is it a better idea to deny him that berth?
I have no answers, just presenting my confusion in its most raw form.
On a tangential note, this is my 100th blog post!!! I am glad that it is a thoughtful topic. The other topic I had in mind was Mayawati's garland. Ugh. She can wait for some time.

Friday, March 19, 2010

David Headley - Justice denied, mocked at, or negotiated?

I hear on the news that David Headley has pleaded guilty on all the 12 charges against him. He did so after being assured that he would not be given the death penalty, nor would he be extradited to India. So what happens next? I suppose he will get a sentence for 186 years or some such thing. The US attorney general has said - "not only has the criminal justice system achieved a guilty plea in this case, but David Headley is now providing us valuable intelligence about terrorist activities. As this case demonstrates, we must continue to use every tool available to defeat terrorism both at home and abroad."
OK, I see the point. But I cant ignore the irony that such confessions have to be bargained and negotiated for, against a promise of deferring the death sentence. I am not debating on whether death penalty should exist or not. That's a separate debate altogether. I am distressed by the thought - doesn't this give the convict an escape route?
It is yet another debatable issue that if Headley had actually been extradited to India, would he have been convicted (and convicted quickly enough) to be punished. Going by the way Kasab's trial is progressing, Headley would have probably spent several years shuttling between court and custody. So - does this trial solve anything? As far as healing the wounds of 26/11 victims, no punishment to either Kasab or Headley will ever be enough. The scars are permanent. Which brings me to a question that has bothered me for years.
What is the purpose of a punishment? I am thinking of different options and just checking if the Headley case has achieved any.
To undo the wrongdoing that the convict had done upon the victim? - No. I doubt if that can be achieved in this case, going by the enormity of his crimes.
To reform a criminal and get him back to become a good citizen? VERY unlikely in this case. Don't forget that Headley has already spent two years in US prison in 1998 when he was arrested for drug-trafficking. So the punishment appears to have done nothing to reform him. If at all, it just made him an even more dangerous person.
To serve as a warning for others who might be plotting a similar heinous act? I would hardly imagine that to happen. If potential assasins were going to worry about being hanged, no assasination would have taken place in India after Nathuram Godse was hanged.
I am still searching for the answer. what is the purpose of a punishment?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Responsible media - a new oxymoron

ATNC, an ordeal of 40 hours is over. ATNC, the man who holed himself up in his home for over two days was a University topper in Maths. Also ATNC, he was mentally disturbed. Further, ATNC, he had 30 bullets and a gun with him.
Oh sorry, ATNC means According To News Channels.
Without getting into all the details, I will come straight to the point. Just in case you have managed to stay away from the Hindi entertainment on TV aka news channels, you can see it here.
It seems that the police thought of a smart strategy of sending this fellow's friend with a cup of tea to meet him. Now, what's so smart about that? Aha! The cup of tea was laced with a sedative. Unfortunately for the cops, the man was in no mood for a cuppa and opened fire at his friend too. Thankfully, the good samaritan escaped unhurt.
You still haven't figured out what's weird in all this? Well, the channels were screaming this story all over the news even when this drama was going on. Now it is not clear whether this fellow had access to a TV inside his home, but what if he had? Can we be sure that he wasn't listening to this piece of news about HIMSELF all the while? Its now a well-known fact that the handlers of 26/11 were conveying the movements of security forces outside to the terrorists. The media has also received enough flak for this.
This Lucknow incident may be small in comparison, but it just proves that neither our police nor our media are learning anything from the past.
Or were the cops smart enough to also cut the cable connection from outside? I just hope so. I can't be completely sure because... well, you read it for yourself. I am quoting straight from a news report of this incident. I can't decide whether this is funny or sad. You try.

Quote
The man fired five rounds. And started shouting that he would kill everyone outside.
At 10.30 am .... a drill machine was used to make a hole in the terrace to put in a light bulb so that he could be monitored. He broke the bulb.
At 11:30 am on Friday, police spoke to a team of doctors, including the Chief Medical Officer of Lucknow and decided to make him unconscious and then capture him.
At 1 pm, two more fire engines were called in to use water pressure to overpower him. He stood next to the door to avoid the water pressure.
At 2 pm, the police tried making him unconscious by using gas.
On Thursday morning too, the police had tried hard to coerce him into coming out. They sent a friend of the man's with a cup of tea laced with tranquilizers to his room. When the friend approached the locked door, the shooter opened fire. His friend escaped unhurt.
Later, the police tried to drill a small hole in one of the walls of the man's room. They hoped to throw a teargas shell into the room. Instead, the man shot bullets through the hole at the police. An officer was shot in the hand.
Unquote

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Variety, thy name is life!

As I look back at the last weekend, the only phrase that comes to my mind is - blinding contrast. I am searching other examples of an extreme of experiences in a single day.
The morning began with me going to the municipal garbage dump, armed with my camera. Why would I want to do this, rather than spending a Sunday morning relaxing over a coffee and solving the crossword? Because Bhaikaka is making a film, and Swati and myself are doing our little bit to help him. More about this film when it is complete.
I knew what a municipal garbage dump looks like but still its magnitude hit me. More than its sheer size and its squalor, the sight of people clamouring around the bulldozer, picking things off the garbage brought home an unpleasant truth.



These people have their individual roles defined as to what each one would pick. So one picked only footwear, while another only picked thick plastic bags. One picked only metallic objects, while yet another scoured the garbage for glass. If these pictures compel someone to start segregating dry and wet garbage (biodegradable and non-biodegradable) in their homes before throwing it out, I will be pleased. Saying that "how does only me doing it help? Nobody else in my building does it" is an excuse. Start at your end, and persist.
As the afternoon turned to evening, I looked forward to the dance concert in the night. On the way, I stopped at my customary paanwallah and got to hear about ic terror attack. So far, German Bakery always meant apple pies, butter cookies and large mugs of coffee over a languid evening. It would not mean only these things ever again. What does a terrorist seek? What change does he/she mean to achieve? Other than permanently scarring the lives of innocent families, it achieves nothing. All that we can do to stem this disease is to be more vigilant and alert. Once again, saying that - "how can just me being vigilant achieve anything, the Govt. is incompetent anyway" is again an excuse. I will start at my end, and persist.
The concert by noted Kathak exponent and Guru Maneesha Sathe and her senior disciples was unforgettable, as always. I have no words to describe it really. I am just hoping that the pictures will convey at least one percent of the impact that the performance had on me.



At the end, I wondered - would there ever be another instance where such variety of life experiences will meet me in a single day? Persisting with life is what I can continue doing.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Cadbury's girl dances on...

I ate a chocolate today. Cadbury's obviously. Plain and simple Milk chocolate, no fuss. As I savoured it, I recalled the associated old TV commercials and all those childhood memories flooded me.
An old man and his wife walk down the road as a football comes bounding their way. Suddenly the man, not quite fitting his demeanour and stature, performs a little jig and finally gives a ball a solid kick. As the ball disappears skywards, he looks back at his wife admiring him. Or the one where a well-dressed corporate-looking manager drops a piece of chocolate on the road. Then he picks it up, hopes that nobody is looking, and proceeds to eat it.
Or the
young girl desperately wanting to eat a chocolate but is hampered by mehndi on both hands. We all know what happens after that.
And maybe the best of all. A sprightly girl throws all protocol aside and rushes out to the cricket field, breaking out into a celebration of dance; even as the batsman blushes and hides his face... What moments!
Compare these with the series of flops that we have encountered in the later years. Pappu paas ho gaya,
Palanpur ki Radha and all that. Not to mention the one where Bacchan's 'ghost' enters a girls body.
Ugh.
Cadbury's ads have just kept
going from bad to worse after those initial years.
So I sat thinking as to what made those ads so memorable? The chocolate was over, so there was little else to do. Plus, as Wikipedia tells me, chocolate has theobromine, a mood enhancer. So what was it? Was it the jingle, the visuals, or the actual words? Yes, I think their core lay in the copy..
Remember the words? They said "कुछ ख़ास है
हम सभी में, कुछ बात है हम सभी में. ख़ास है, बात है, स्वाद है. क्या स्वाद है ज़िन्दगी का." Wow. So the words exactly mirrored how we felt when eating a chocolate? I mean, we did feel special and pampered. I surely felt so when I got to eat one FULL chocolate without having to share it with my brothers or the neighbour। (This was when I earned my first salary।)
So they
said to us, "kuchh baat hai hum sabhi mein." There is something special, something nice in everyone. Prince or a Pauper, but there is always something special in each one of us. Yesssss! The ad appealed to our sense of identity and probably ignited some deep existential questions. Who am I? What is the meaning of life?
You know what. I am just kidding, really. I just made this all up. All that I have written by way of analysis is pure nonsense. Poppycock. Cock and bull. Bull-whatever. And anything else you might want to call it.
Those old ads were simply good. Rather, simple AND good. Which brings me to a point, and now I am serious. No kidding, no existential psycho-babble here. Without exception, everytime the topic between friends veers towards old ads, this is ALWAYS the opinion. Cadbury's old ads were better than the later ones. Now if EVERYONE has no doubt about this, then have Cadbury's (along with their ad agency) gone deaf and blind?
Thank your stars that the chocolates have remained the same. Except the price.
So be it. Go eat one today. And answer the existential question. As the chocolate melts in your mouth, do you feel like the dancing girl or like the one who acquired Bacchan's voice?
And just in case you are still in doubt, here are some old memories. Enjoy!

video
Girl dancing - cricket ad

video
Girl with mehndi

video
Kya swaad hai!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Complex vs Simple - Two movies

I saw Harishchandrachi Factory and Ishqiya on successive days. For those unfortunate readers who may have remained ignorant about the former, it's a Marathi movie and was the official Indian entry to the Oscars to the Foreign Film Category. The irony lies in the fact that I didn't feel compelled to explain likewise for Ishqiya. After all, it is made by a well known Director (Vishal Bharadwaj) and boasts of an impressive star cast (Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi and Vidya Balan).
Harishchandrachi Factory is delightful - to say the least. It gives a lighthearted peep into the trials of tribulations of Dadasaheb Phalke (aka Father of Indian Cinema) as he struggled with adversaries of all kinds in his quest to achieve his dream - to produce the first Indian feature film. It takes a fresh look at a character well known to anyone who is even remotely interested in Indian movies. The film had an apparent handicap of having a debutant director, a lesser known clutch of regional actors, 'seemingly' a simple plot - but they are all weaved together into a worthwhile experience for the viewer. It was a delight to watch the audience not just chuckle and laugh but also spontaneously applaud at some sequences. At the end, I was left wondering whom to admire more - Phalke himself or the team that made this film happen. Take a bow, Paresh Mokashi and the whole team.
I had high hopes from Ishqiya. (We also paid eight times more to watch it in a multiplex compared to the simple theater where H Factory happened to us. Not joking. Just in case you don't believe me, here's proof. Don't get me wrong. I am not comparing Alaka and Inox. I am comparing our state of minds during the two movies.)



Disappointed is the only way I can describe my state of mind as I walked out after Ishqiya.
It was a let down, coming from a director who has given us gems like Maqbool and Omkara. He had both the right raw materials - good actors and a solid germ of a story. Its not a Freudian Slip. I didn't mean to say gem of a story. I mean a germ that could have led to a good story. In spite of Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi doing what they were supposed to do, the movie totally lacks in the overall impact, mainly because the story goes haywire. So you are only left admiring the art direction (Nitin Desai) and rather captivating use of lighting. The best part of the movie are surely the two SUPERB songs by, who else, Rekha Bharadwaj.
I missed watching Kaminey and am not regretting it now. I heard from friends who saw it that Vishal Bharadwaj got himself entangled into a complicated plot and couldn't resolve it in the end. Looks like by the time he made Ishqiya, this affliction had become more acute!
So my friendly advise (albeit unsolicited) to Vishal Bharadwaj is - take a walk in the nearby park and look at some simple things. Just let the grass grow under your feet for some time.
Or, go and watch Harishchandrachi Factory.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Is Rahul Gandhi relevant to the context?

Rahul Gandhi tour to Mumbai has started a new chapter in Indian politics. It is clear that his 'surprise' train ride and all that followed must have all been scripted carefully. Be that as it may, it was a well-made script - no doubt about that.
Cynics will argue (they have already started, in fact) that it was nothing but a political stunt. But they won't see the fact that a stunt also has to be timed very well otherwise it can quickly turn into a disaster. One can argue that Mahatma Gandhi's charkha-spinning and fasting were also gimmicks (undoubtedly there must have been people then who thought this way) but it had the necessary impact.
Politicians of that era formed an elite class of their own. They were far removed from the realities of the population. So the rhetoric of 'Aam aadmi' of Congress is not really new. It is over hundred years old! Gandhi acquired an image that people could relate to. If it meant going for 'padyatras' and spinning a charkha in prayer meetings, then he did that very well.

Here is a description of the Congress as it was then. In the words of none other than Jawaharlal Nehru himself.
Quote
It was very much an English-knowing upper-class affair where morning coats and well-pressed trousers were greatly in evidence. Essentially it was a social gathering with no political excitement or tension.
Unquote
The situation is uncannily similar today, although politicians have not remained elite really. Far from it. But they have definitely alienated themselves from the masses. Majority of college students in Mumbai couldn't care less for what most leaders say or do. But watching Rahul Gandhi walk into the local train would have touched more than just a few chords. I hasten to add that I am not immediately comparing the two Gandhis - Rahul and Mahatma. All I am saying is that the person (or team) who is writing the script for Rahul is doing a good job at making him relevant to the times.
On the other hand, Shiv Sena's scriptwriter is producing one miserable flop after the other. That's another story....

Monday, January 18, 2010

Another classic from streets of Pune

Here's another one in the long and (always growing) list of queer signs in Pune. I saw this outside a shop and as has often been the case, could not resist posting it here.

For the unfortunate souls who do not understand Marathi - I can only make a weak attempt at translation. I say so because the classic Puneri expression of काढून मिळेल (Kadhun milel) has no parallel in English.
Nevertheless, the notice proclaims two services available at the shop. One - you can sell scrap newspaper (colloquially called 'Raddi') and Two - you can get a PAN card here !!!

Wow, now I have to admit that this is entrepreneurship of a different level. No matter how much I racked my brain, I could not see the connection between these two business propositions. So I presume that this guy truly believes in diversified business interests. But being a Puneri, he had no qualms in proclaiming both COMPLETELY unrelated matters in one single desultory flick.
On second thoughts, I see that both these businesses have a common link, in that both have something to do with paper. I now sincerely hope that the two businesses are really distinct !