Thursday, 28 January 2010

The fourth idiot

I have a request to all those who saw 3 Idiots and liked its social message, 'Keep a vacuum cleaner handy if there is a woman on the verge of delivery in the house':
Please spare a thought for Chatur.
Many years ago, when I was an active part of advertising (that is when I went out drinking with my colleagues on all week-nights), I had helped a colleague write a lecture aimed at students aspiring to drink on week-nights, sorry, to join advertising. While discussing the content of the lecture a theory had hit me smack in the middle of my forehead:

The 3-H Theory*
The theory helps a student find whether he or she is equipped to pursue a particular profession or not:
1. The first H stands for Heart. What does your heart want? For example, it took me twenty-three years to figure out that I had a heart. That done, it took me about twenty-three seconds to figure that I wanted to become a writer.

2. The second H stands for Head. What is your head capable of? That means your heart might want to become the next Einstein but if you need all your fingers and toes to count up to twenty, then you should probably have a head-to-heart talk and convince it to become something else, like a writer.

3. The third H stands for Hands. Are you willing to get your hands dirty? That is, once you have figured that your heart and head are in sync, you should be willing to work your butt off to succeed in the career you choose. In that sense, the third H also stands for Hard work. You can’t get anywhere without it. Sometimes, if the Head is not quite in place, Hands can get you where Heart wants to be. It’s rare, but not impossible.

Now to return to the blockbuster 3 Idiots, the movie urges you to follow your heart and not allow it to become a victim of the rules-norms-conventions of the System that considers only a handful of careers worthwhile. Brilliant subject and much needed in our society-country-culture and one that I completely agree with.

But let’s return to Chatur, the almost-villain of the movie and spare a thought for him. Yes, he does represent a blind adherence to the rules of the society. Yes, he does not have the brains to be brilliant and create path-breaking stuff in the career of his parents’-teachers’-society’s choice. Yes, he has been brain-washed and blinkered to follow the accepted path of success. True and sad.

But in real life, for every Rancho who is blessed enough to have Head, Heart and Hands working like an award-winning orchestra, there are millions of Chaturs, who, even if they were look into their Hearts, would find nothing, who do not have the necessary sharpness of Heads and hence may have no other option to use their Hands to achieve at least some amount of material success.

How many times have you come across people who say, “I hate what I am doing” but when you ask them what they would like to be doing instead, come up with, “I don’t know, something else!” And how many times you have muttered, “Loser!” in response to their predicament?

Think where Bill Gates would be if there were no worker ant Chaturs in the world to execute his ideas.

Think if dumb Chatur could have achieved even one per cent of the success he did if he had followed the nothingness in his heart or had accepted the handicap of his head.

Think about it.

*The 3-H Theory is the intellectual property of the author and scary legal things will be done to those try to reproduce with it in part or full.

Monday, 25 January 2010

The old men of Alandi

The first thing to strike you as you enter the courtyard of the Sant Dnyaneshwar Temple is the old men sitting around and seemingly doing nothing. They are all similarly dressed, in white dhotis, kurtas and Gandhi caps and are of an indeterminate age that says that their hair has matched the white of their clothes for a long time now. In a chamber, square in shape and opposite the main entrance, a young man narrates the Dnyaneshwari. His audience has old men and women, sitting on his either side, segregated according to their gender by habit. Here again, men outnumber the women. I am tempted to take pictures but choose to respect the signs that request not to. 

The courtyard has another unique space, an area where Sant Dnyaneshwar used to sit and read. A few steps lead up to the space that is walled on three sides. The walls have marble tablets with Dnyaneshwar's writings carved on them. More old men sit around quietly reading the Dnyaneshwari. In fact, wherever you turn, there are Dnyaneshwar's writings - painted on the walls, carved on stone tablets or printed in books...

I didn't think about the old men too much. Not while I was in the temple. Later, while I sat on the steps of the ghat, watching the Indrayani river flow by, I struck a conversation with a lone old man. We talked about the weather. He said, "It rained last week in a couple of neighbouring districts. It wiped out the jowar crop. It doesn't rain in monsoons. It rains in winter. When man starts acting funny, what do you expect nature to do?" We talked about his land: "I have some. Two or three acres". We talked about a good time to take a dip in the river: "Four in the morning. The water is warm and there aren't too many people around". A man came by and offered to put a tilak on our foreheads. The old man refused politely. "You will find all sorts here in Alandi: drunks, drug addicts, pilgrims..." The silences in our conversation are punctuated by his chants, "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna". We talked about his sons: "One is a builder, the other has a government job. But they lead their lives. Some times when they remember, they give two rupees to me..." There is no regret in his voice. It is just another piece of information. We run out of things to say and slip into silence. He begins to clap his hands gently to the rhythm of a prayer in his heart. I relax and find that my palms are clapping a rhythm on my thighs...

Later as I sit in the bus staring at the gathering darkness outside, the old men reappear in my head. I see them in the light of the conversation by the river. Could it be that all of them had cut off all ties and entered the last stage of their lives, that of renouncing and meditation as prescribed by the Vedas? I don't know. I will have to go back to find the answer.

The next day, the Indian Express carries an article on Narayan Dutt Tiwari, the ex-Governor of Andhra Pradesh who resigned a few months ago after a video allegedly featuring him in bed with a couple of young women came to light. The article ends with this paragraph:
Tiwari, though, is in no mood to call it a day. He's no longer in active politics but he's not content with being relegated to the role of a mentor. "Not mentor," he says promptly, "but a co-builder. I will now work towards consolidating what we have achieved. I constantly update myself. I have leapt through generations," he says.

Narayan Dutt Tiwari was first elected as an MLA in 1952. He is 85 years old.

For more pictures of Alandi, please scroll down.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Google vs. China. You vs. India.

While a lot of front page newsprint is being splurged on the Google versus China story about state-sponsored hacking of e-mail accounts of human rights activists, there has been complete silence on this:

(I quote from a news item on the front page of Sunday Hindustan Times dated November 22, 2009)

'Police can now track your e-mails
    The police can now read your e-mails without prior permission from the home department.
    The Parliament recently cleared an amendment to the Information Technology (IT) Act, allowing the police to intercept or decrypt online information without seeking the home department's nod.
    Rising instances of cyber crimes have prompted the move aimed at cutting red tape.'

What the HUH?!

That means Indian police, who have had illustrious people like ex-DGP Rathore and Senior Inspector Pradeep Sharma in its ranks, can now hack into your e-mail account without being accountable to any one (for a maximum of two months).
Why? Because there is too much red tape involved to get permission from the home department.

(Wouldn't it be nice if all of us took the same approach? For example, why can't Ruchika Girhotra's family punish Rathore [in whatever way it deems fit] and then, in two months' time let a lawyer prove that Rathore was guilty? The justification for taking the law into their hands: Red tape in the judiciary of course!)

But then I am not surprised. The tendency to come up with temporary solutions that address the symptom and not the disease is practically a national one.

For instance, take this picture shot by me on the arterial Senapati Bapat Road, Dadar, near one of the busiest railway stations in Mumbai:

For two days cars had come to a screeching halt when they were suddenly faced with a huge hole, roughly the size of the annual municipal budget, (just kidding, it was more like 0.01% of the monthly budget and still huge). On the third day, we had a metal barrier used by cops to set up road blocks. How considerate! Instead of driving into a crater, we would now crash into a metal barrier.

Elsewhere in Mumbai, every politician worth his salt is running to build a skywalk for pedestrians so they can walk without being run over by motorists trying to avoid a crater or more likely, a metal barricade. This honourable initiative would have been honourable if it weren't another example of Fix-the-symptom syndrome when the real disease is this: Encroachments by hawkers on pavements, especially in the immediate vicinity of railway stations in Mumbai that forces the pedestrians off pavements and onto the road.

The plot gets richer if you consider a government body called the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA). I do not have exact details but among the various grants received by this body is Rs. 10,000 crore (ten thousand crore), from the World Bank to rehabilitate the slum dwellers of Mumbai. The irony is: Someone encroaches on a piece of land that is not his or her, others join in and sooner or later, as a reward for breaking the law, not just Indian but all tax payers in the world pay to build free and cosy homes for them.

Several years ago a colleague who had worked in Bihar told me this real-life incident: A small stretch of a major road was under repair so the PWD created a by-pass and put up a sign saying, 'Road under repair. Please use diversion'. A few years later the road wasn't repaired but the by-pass was in bad condition and they had to repair it. So the PWD put up this sign: 'Diversion under repair. Please use road.'

Sorry, I am kidding: The sign didn't say, 'Please', but just, 'Road under repair. Use diversion.'

Now I know who that joker Rathore is laughing at in all his photographs - Us.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The new year pussy-footed in

Since the 1999-2000 millennium crossover, we haven't spent a single new year's eve in Mumbai. Because:
1. The city traffic is too crazy to try and tackle on 31st night.
2. You can, but you don't want to take kids to a restaurant, hotel, discotheque, whatever.
3. Sitting around at a friend's place and drinking silly is what you do every other weekend.
4. Most clubs and gymkhanas, including mine, insist on a suit and no kids. I don't have a suit and have kids.

We've spent new year's eves in Lonavla, Murud, Madh Island, Himachal, Rajasthan and what not. The locations vary, the pattern of the parties usually doesn't: Drink, play music, ring in the new year at midnight, act silly, talk, make attempts at dancing, drink, keel over, wake up when the new year is already threatening to become old.

This time we didn't bring in the new year; the new year took the key from under the mat and let itself in.

It was just the four of us, the wife and kids. We had a glass of wine each, no, not the kids, and were in bed by 10PM and snoring. We woke up ten minutes after each other, starting with me at ten past four in the morning, yeah 4:10 AM, so we could spend some precious time sleeping while the others used the bathroom. It was too early and too cold to be excited about the new year and wishes were muttered rather than shouted. We stepped out at five and into a chilly dawn that immediately froze the palms of our hands. We had mufflers for the ears and the neck, and layers of clothing and socks and woollen caps, but no mittens. By half past five we were shivering in an open Gypsy, waiting for the gates of Kanha National Park to open.

A slow mist was rising in the jungle and there was frost on the dry grass that lined the mud roads. We drove straight to the centre point, put our name in the list of those wishing to get onto an elephant in case the forest department mahouts sighted a tiger.

The guide and the driver decided to explore the Churi region of the jungle. As we drove up, a returning group made a face and shook their palms to say, 'No tiger'. We continued peering into the bamboo thickets on either side until the guide suddenly declared, 'Fresh pug marks, he has passed from here recently'.
We had seen too many 'pug mark' signs, it was our third trip into the jungle and it was too cold for us to feel any kind of enthusiasm. Five minutes later:


There were three vehicles ahead of the tiger and two, including ours, behind it. We walked the tiger, that is, the vehicles kept moving steadily, egging him on and keeping enough space ahead for him not to feel trapped... Until a late vehicle roared in from behind, in hurry and excitement to catch a glimpse. It did catch one - of the tiger's tail disappearing into the jungle.

Ten minutes. But what a frenzied ten minutes. Teeth almost chattering, frozen fingers barely able to focus the lens and click, the vehicle moving, the constant worry that the vehicles ahead will not leave enough space and the tiger would get off the path and out of sight...

In our first two trips we had been labelled lucky by the guides because we saw the rare and shy leopard on both occasions. The first time, from a distance; it sat in the thicket eating a fresh killed monkey. We could barely see its back, neck and head. The second time, two vehicles had pulled over and were peering into the jungle. We pulled up behind them waiting for them to locate him. For some reason the wife turned around and there he was: Walking away from us! "Rare, very rare," the guide and driver said, "To sight the shy leopard walking down an open road".

But rare or not, it was no comparison to seeing the tiger. The sheer indifference stemming from his arrogance of being the most powerful predator in the jungle. His pride, his smooth coat... A tiger is a tiger. Only he can create that strange hollow feeling in your gut and choke the words in your throat.

Later in the evening, among the new year wishes flooding the phone, was this one: "Bid farewell to the Chinese year of the Monkey. Welcome the year of the Tiger".

Yes. The monkey was dead and the tiger had arrived.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Work - The American Way

In ‘I am a Stranger Here Myself’, a collection of weekly articles about life in the USA written by Bill Bryson for readers in the UK, Bryson talks about how the average American gets up at the crack of dawn and starts working etc.
I guess that's true of the machines in this great countries too.

How else can you explain this:
Spam from US-based servers starts hitting my mail box just after it is morning over there?

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

This round to Facebook.

Did you notice it? This phenomenon when last year turned into this year? Unlike the non-stop buzz and ring of the mobile phone in the past, as it received Happy New Year text message after text message, this new year’s was quieter, wasn’t it?
So was Diwali, Eid, Christmas and damn it, even your birthday was quieter!
Exchanging greetings, thankfully, has moved onto Facebook. Or Orkut. Or Twitter.
One stone greets all birds.
I wonder how the telecom companies are reacting and if the bonus of my friend who works for one has been affected this year.
Unless they are making up the loss by those who log onto Facebook from their mobile phones.
Now since Facebook reminds you, ‘Today is the birthday of…’, I have a question about social networking site etiquette:
(Tangent within tangent: My wife would be happier if Facebook reminded me of things like: ‘Bring glue for the kids’ project’, ‘We’ve run out of eggs’ and etc.)
Back to tangent one:
Facebook reminds you that it is the birthday of someone from your Facebook friends’ list. Now you have known this guy (or girl) for the last 20 years. But have never wished him (or her) in your life before this because:
You didn’t know the birthday.
He/she was not on Facebook.
What would you do? Wish. Or not?

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Upside down houses, Kanha, Madhya Pradesh

The rest of the world paints their walls white above waist level and in darker colours below to protect them from passing hands, leaning feet and oily heads that rest against them while sitting cross-legged. 
Not Kanha.
The effect is unique and pleasing to the eye. Greek island-like some even have blue doors contrasting against the white of the walls.
The driver who drove us into the jungle said, “The people here can’t afford distemper (paint). Along with slaked lime they buy a small pack of colour and paint only a part of the outside walls. Looks good too. In the money people spend on painting a room with distemper an entire house gets painted here”.
But the driver is not a local. He has migrated from Raipur, the capital city of neighbouring Chattisgarh. So I also ask a local. The answer doesn't change.
In an article titled, ‘The year the world changed’ in today's Indian Express, Lord Meghnad Desai writes how the recession has created a new multi-polar world. To quote him, ‘The poles are of unequal size but India is one of the pole’.
And one hundred rupees is all a villager in Kanha can afford to spend on painting his house.