It was quite a sight. A sight that is not a regular one at that. You can see a parade of cars. A convoy of jeeps. A bevvy of bikes. But then, what do you do when you are walking down a road and you see a set of donkeys walking by. In big city Mumbai!
First the eyebrows arch. Then seeing the number, the mouth goes open. But the sight of them all being deployed to carry construction material gets the mouth to stay open. 
As an city dweller who has been part of the technology revolution, the mobile phone is phished out from the pocket and a couple of snaps result. The sight of construction workmen with harnesses, helmets walking in near formation with a set of donkeys was something that the camera could barely manage to capture. 
Growing up in a smaller city, the sight of donkeys carrying sack loads of clothes to the laundry was common.  These days the donkeys with four legs are a rarity. 
As the donkeys walk by, there are a set of people having the tea break from work. Fashionable. Young. Creative folks, perhaps. At the local tea stall.  They sit and watch the donkeys pass.  They watch the donkeys unmindful of the pair of eyes that are watching them watch the donkeys. Erudite people. One of them asks, with a pronounced drag of a half done cigarette. “What is the collective noun for donkeys”?
A discussion ensues. Pride. Convocation. Army. It continues. They laugh. Giggle. One of them offers to look up Google. But then, the cigarette is done. Last  droplets of tea to wash down the conversation flows down their alimentary canals. Dusting their behinds they walk off towards their work places. ‘Forget the donkeys. We have to face the asses now’. They say. Grim faced, they walk away. The world is ruled by sign off lines. 
If any of them is reading this post, well, the collective noun for donkeys is : ‘drove’. Or ‘herd’. Or ‘pace’.  
Of course, this  piece of information on collective nouns, is useful to all of us in the country at this point in time. There are so many donkeys all braying out aloud, that reminding ourselves of a collective noun will well help us bunch them together, complete sentences properly and get on with life. 
No, there isnt anyone particular in the mind. There are hordes. Oh no. There are droves of them.  

A 1000 elder brothers…

“There was a time when I typed Anna, and google threw up Kournikova” says a friend’s status message on Facebook. Anna mania has gripped India, perhaps far better than Kournikova gripped a bored bachelors imagination. Perhaps. That coming from a 70 + year old gent, is no mean achievement in a country with a penchant for ‘moving on’ from one issue to another with adroitness that could teach the most flexible ape, a lesson or two in dexterity !

These are strange times. A time, when speaking anything against Anna Hazare and his supposedly substantially burgeoning bandwagon evokes a George Bush kind of ‘Either you are with us or against us’ response, that eventually leads to being pilloried a traitor with no love for the nation.

Any word that strikes a discordant note against the grain of Anna and his team, invites a flurry of responses that have ranged from the ‘considered’ to the ‘dismissive’ to the downright silly. Unfortunately, with the last two dominating.

Well, this is a free country. On that note, lets face facts and call a spade, a spade. Half a spade, half a spade.

There are three roads that have lead us here.

The first one. It’s a fact that Anna Hazare stands tall. In a time when chaps half his age could have ‘turning the pages of a newspaper’ as their most intense physical activity, his energy and verve has lit up people. He seems to have a steely resolve and a resolute purpose. Fundamentally, his heart seems to be in the right place.

It is a different matter though, that has had generous helpings from extravagantly dimwitted attempts by those in the government to discredit him and a disproportionately loud and insistent singing of paeans by the electronic media. Matters that we shall keep aside for now.

He oozes confidence and a shrewd team with the likes of Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi, add larger than life dozes of credibility that lend themselves well to a perception that his armoury is chink free. That is such a romantic fit to a population that is starved of a charismatic leader with compelling story to tell.

On the second front, the vexed issue of corruption is something that every Indian has encountered. As a giver. As a taker. Or in an off chance, as a fighter! The last few years’ litany of loot is ridiculously unparalleled. The brazen size of the embezzlements and the shrill cry of a media that seems to be in perpetual hunt for a good story, catalysed by the penetration of the internet with space for the common man and woman to vent, collate and seize up the collective spirit have had a substantial impact on the psyche of the populace.

On the third front, the government seems to have floundered much like a pathetic array of generals who ride on new horses named ‘arrogance’ ‘pelf’, ‘doubt’ and the like, only to completely lose their way and meander aimlessly. Specialising in retreat after retreat, as foray after foray seemed ill-conceived, inconsistent and remarkably insouciant.

So there. Three different fronts. All leading up here. Inflammable material needing just a spark, placed next to each other ! Bingo. So we have an issue at hand. .

An emotionally charged and ‘affected’ population that has for long grown up aiding or staying mute to a culture of ‘giving’ to get by / to get ahead etc etc, suddenly sees a messiah who has brought the manna they were in search of, in a zipped file! Which they can download and install and ‘lived happily ever after’ endings would follow.

Anna Hazare’s charisma, in-your-face 24 hour media coverage and our own impatience to shake off a 40 year lull in four weeks, have had many of us jumping in. Candles. Topis. Flags. Dharnas. Shouting Vande Mataram and such else.

Don’t get me wrong. The intentions are pure to a large extent for most people, that have joined the protest. ( Builders, who ever so often seek black money on the sly, joining the protests presumably because they could pass on huge discounts to consumers that they otherwise would have to pay as bribes are one of the reasons as to why I say ‘most people’). The selfless passion that several other ordinary people have brought to the front through this movement is goose bumps creating stuff and reinstates hope that ‘all is not lost’.

Yet, even as the pitch gets shriller, could we care to read the Jan Lokpal bill in its current form. Examine the practical implications and sustainability please? Just give it a read. Lets understand what we want! The bill and its provisions are a far distance away. Nevertheless, that’s my opinion. Lets give it a read , form an opinion and enter the debate.

On another note has anybody considered the kind of a precedent we are setting in forming laws for the country ? We are not in cowboy backyard. India has a set of rules and governed by a constitution that is supreme. Sure, many of us are supporting the Jan Lokpal bill. But, since when did ‘many’ become ‘all’? Or ‘most’, for that matter ?

Lets face issues : Corruption is no CIA implant or a conspiracy hatched in a Pakistani madrasa. It is perpetuated by ‘us’. So much so, its existence is a ‘way of life’ for us! It is too far well entrenched for one Kryptonian bill to change it, as though it is some rogue software virus that could be removed by hitting the delete button on a keyboard.

Think about this. The political class is not the only one that is corrupt, although it sits at the helm of it all. Offering money to the cop in the corner, after breaking a signal is as much a form of corruption as is not raising a voice when the Reddy brothers offer a diamond studded crown worth 45 crores to Lord Venkateshwara, especially after illegally blasting away the good lords backyard in Bellary!

To many of us, corruption is an issue only when we part with money when everything is hunky dory on our side. Yet, to break the queue, skew the law in our favour, evade taxes, to get ahead, or to get an undue favour ( which, by the way, is quite often, given our laws) we could grudge but willingly pay! Or take a slightly circuitous route of saying ‘I wont pay’, but pay an agent ‘service charges’ to facilitate ‘transactions’.

As a society, our moral compass has shifted. To get it to point in the right direction would require the collective will of everybody. The collective will of ‘We the People’. A will to stand in queue. A will to endure discomfort that is far greater than an empty waving of the flag. Many a time, fighting a lonely battle. To face the heat that is many times more than holding on to a simple candle. That’s what it takes, to stand up to the corrupt.

A simplistic law is far from an effective solution. We cant rid a cancer in the blood with a cleanser for the face.

The fabric of the country is dialogue. An inclusive participative dialogue. A willingness to listen and engage. Not a set of deadlines and a ‘do this or else…’ set of demands. My way or the high way’ may sound good coming from a Bollywood superstar in a scripted movie. Real life is no cine script, where blockbusters are rarer still. Change happens in small doses.

Lets get real. Anna Hazare is no Mahatma Gandhi. 2011 is not 1947. And by the way, we are not fighting a parliament that is in London.

There is now a certain level of focused conversation on corruption across the country, all credit to Anna Hazare and his team. This is a unique moment pregnant with possibilities. Hopefully, pragmatic sense would prevail and this societal momentum will be channelized for greater dialogue with everybody.

Lets consider Inclusive and participative dialogue providing space for words to get spoken and voices to be heard. Hopefully it would also provide the self indulgent indignation of every ‘I am Anna’ topi wearer a chance to pause and ponder on his or her own actions and responsibilities as well.

Lest it whittle away in the excitement of participating in the frenzy of war cries ranging from “2nd freedom movement” and such else. Taking with it whatever hopes that there was for change to emerge and further deep rooting the disease..

Barracked in Bangalore !

‘Bangalore is very connected to the US’ said a friend. Over breakfast. And to prove his point, he quoted Barack Obama talking of Buffalo and Bangalore on an even keel.

And the discussion meandered around the floundering economy and how long its going to take for the US to wriggle out of a recession and for Bangalore to get back to the top of its bent again.

Needless to say, the cows came home. Ate. Got hitched. Delivered. Died. Had rebirth. Twice over. And yet, that discussion didn’t get over !

So much for Obama and the Bangalore connection.

But there is yet another Obama connection that towers. Right opposite to the McDonalds store on old Airport Road.

Now hoping Obama will work his ‘magic wand’ to move the economy is worth a prayer. But to use his Cairo speech (& him) as a bridge head to help understand the Quran is a height that had me letting go a chuckled gasp in surprise.

I don’t know what happens when you call these numbers. Perhaps someone should try. But Obama as a bridgehead for the Quran? I wonder why. Is it because Bangalore has a US connection and hence Obama a better presence here ? Is this opportunism ? Is this an example of what a simple speech can achieve : instilling of hope in a divided time ?

I wonder. As people from the McDonalds store dive into their burgers. I wonder what you think ?

Shoe Story !

Pic from web

So there is lot of news. About Jeetendra. About L.K.Advani. About Navin Jindal. And ofcourse about P.Chidambaram. And a host of others. Which includes Narendra Modi for putting up a volleyball net !

A kid in India with average IQ would point his footwear at you, if you mention these names in unison. Hold on. Its not (necessarily) an insult. But hey, footwear is the connecting factor ! Or rather footwear being hurled at these gentlemen is the connecting factor.

To me it reads like this is best proof that advertising works. With brands slogans like ‘Just Do It’ and ‘Impossible is Nothing’ we have proof finally.

But hey, the trend is disturbing. To say the least. And of course, footwear sales will take off. But that’s the only respite. Of all the grand thoughts that pop up in the mind, this is particular cause for worry : There is a surfeit of chappals available. Especially if you are looking for some.

In India, it is common for us to leave behind footwear at the door ! Of temples. Diagnostic centres. Hospitals. Some offices. Homes. Dentist. Marriage halls. Some have polite requests and other have terse one liners all to the effect of ‘leave your footwear at the door’ It was all ok till a few weeks back.

But not now. For, it is a potential weapon ! There are countries ( you know which ones ) where owning a gun is common place and pumping a bullet because the coffee tasted different is like your car hitting a pothole. You dont like it. But you are not surprised either.

And now in India, you have have chappals available and lying around. All you need is a strong arm, a strange calling and a steady aim. (The steady aim is relatively unnecessary i guess. None of the hurled footwear have found their target thus far ). All of them have made a symbolic point and forced some action and provided the media with options for hurling ‘Breaking News’ !

But here is my question. If somebody borrows / steals your car ( God forbid) and crashes into someone else ( God forbid ), the first person the cops come to is YOU.

If some one hacked your computer to send a terror message ( God Forbid ) you could land in jail. At least for a few weeks / months / years before you are cleared. etc etc !

So now, if you wear a high heeled gum boots and someone flicks it when you are in deep prayer, with the doctor or generally having a momentary lapse of reason. And then, hurls your high heeled gum boots at a ‘Mr. Z category’… finds the mark, leaves the Z category with a gash…

Will you boldly claim the shoe ?

Enough is Enough ?

These are new days. Of customary security checks, animated conversation and bristling anger at almost every thing / person in sight. The flavour of the season, that India has for breakfast, lunch and dinner goes by the name of ‘Politician’.

Unexposed to such groundswell animosity before, two kinds of responses from this clan, reach the eye. Complete silence ( I haven’t seen a Raj Thackeray sound byte). Or lunatic expressions. Like this. And this. And this. And this.

And the Naval Chief demurred about height.

And ah. The media. Much has been seen, said and written. Especially so about the brazenness of coverage and repeated visuals of blood and people dying replete with ‘ you saw it first in this channel’ sound bytes ! And i cringe.

Today there is a bloke who gets interviewed on TV. And he proclaims, ‘I want war with Pakistan’. The camera hovers around that large rimmed face. And continues to hover. And continues to hover. The gent continues his tirade. I have to take action and i switch channels.

Another channel shows how the Pakistani media is reporting all of this as a Zionist game plan. I am not sure of any other point in time where Pakistani newspapers like this one have been read with such fervour.

Yet another TV channel has four gents in four squares of the screen. ‘New Delhi ‘says one box. ‘Islamabad’. ‘Mumbai’. ‘London’. Say the other three. And three gentlemen who make noise with the same frequency for as long as you care to watch, adorn each of the boxes.

It is apparent that in sheer anger and disbelief, a whole lot got said. But, its time to take stock. Control speed. And chart course. Enough is Enough has been repeated enough number of times, that you really think its all enough !

Its time to build bridges. Its time to put sense into peoples heads. Its time to spread reason. Campaign for change in policy. Spread awareness. Keep the restive anger and disappointment alive through thought provoking programing and engaging discussion. And , of course, realise that the best TRPs are not a function of non stop, high octane chatter !

At a personal level, messages urging you to light candles, keep a vigil, donate blood, pay homage to Maharashtrians / Keralites et al suddenly appear in your inbox. Urging you to prove your patriotism by forwarding it to as many people as your contact book would allow. Others quietly replace Maa Da Laadla Bigad Gaya with Vande Mataram as ring tones.

And the astrologers at work too. ‘Ratan Tata’s fortunes would turn next year.’ ‘Mumbai is going through a bad patch because numerologically…’Bombay’ is better than ‘Mumbai.” They say. And we read.

Elsewhere, at every hotel and office complex every cars under carriage, boot and the bonnet get inspected. Today, as i drive into a hotel, the security guard asks me to open the bonnet. I obey !

But curiosity gets the better of me. And i step outside the car and walk up to the guard and ask him what he is looking for. He smiles at me. And says ‘any suspicious looking object’. ‘And you expect it to find under the hood, amidst all those wires, oil spills and engine heat ?’, i ask. He has already moved on to the next car.

I wonder how many bonnets he would open and close today. And think if he manages to attach weights to the bonnet, he would have biceps to match Arnold Schwarzenegger!

Just then, someone else thrusts a mirror under the car, with the ostensible reasoning of examining the under carriage. And so, i ask him what he is looking for. A strange shrug escapes his shoulder. I think so. But, he doesn’t answer. With a mechanical sweep that would put an assembly line assembler to shame, he moves on.

I get back into the car and drive on. These are strange times.

….When mirrors get under the car more frequently than i would get myself in front of one.

….When you look at give a college kid with a Versace T Shirt a second glance. A suspicious second glance.

….And of course, when i and many others take the effort to clean the insides of the boot and the bonnet too.

And every time i do so, i seem to be saying to myself with the emphatic emphasis of the average TV news anchor : Enough is Enough !

I would more than gladly comply with the law and security checks. I just have a problem with doing something for the sake of doing it. We need security cover. Real cover. Not the symbolic variety. We need real journalists. Not the mike thrusting symbolic types.

And oh yes. Amidst all the blogs, interviews and other stuff crying for action, its time to go beyond this symbolic, loud murmur, and get real.

Enough is enough. Of armchair activism and keyboard rattle. Of random TV interviews and jingoistic jumble. Of hate blogs and rumor tweets.

Some where between all of these, lurks reason, pragmatism and constructive action.
And of that, enough can never be enough.

Tamil Times !

This ad launched The Times Of India’s Chennai edition. A brilliant portrayal. With a ‘background beat’ that typifies Tamil Nadu, and a catchy ‘dance tune’ ( they said), i kept getting questions about the ‘meaning’ of the song from non-Tamil colleagues and friends !

Many of my friends and colleagues were impressed with the portrayal & capturing of life in Chennai as they could see ! Upon their goading, here is my attempt at translation !

Nakku Mukka is a ‘mascot‘ to whom the song is sung to. ( I think so). However, the song itself is about Cinema ( & its heroes’) hold out Tamil Nadu !

This is how it goes. Vaguely !!

“In Choolaimedu, Teynampet, Royapettah, T.Nagar etc ( all indelible parts of Chennai ) and across all roads of Chennai, cinema lives and rocks too !!

And here is a hero who has grown, donning many a ‘heroic’ role, asking people to have massive cut-outs for himself, and offerings of milk, dance, drums, garlands in his name !!

He aspired for power, started a casteist political party, called it ‘Rice Party’, contested the elections, and won it too !!

Only to become a minister and switch allegiance to the ruling party ! Dissolving the ‘Rice Party’ that he started.

And when this news spread to the country, his hometown turned violent !

After that he lost his reputation and was shamed.

Now he stands as a scare-crow, after losing it all !!”

Subtle sarcastic undertones to the story, creative portrayal of the state of affairs, leave me impressed ! So, does the filming. I particularly like the way in which our film hero segues from film star to minister !

So does calling the party ‘Rice Party’ the dissolution of which leads him to become a ‘scare crow’. Poetic justice, so to speak !!

The ad is but a realistic & sad commentary on the daily life of Tamil Nadu. Living a celluloid life, Tamil politics has filmdom woven into it. Face paint, stunts, dialogues, music and comedy rule the film world. So does it rule the politics there.

The ad though, has a polyannish ending. With the film star being reduced to a scare crow. In Tamil politics, such stars, shine ! And new ones continue to emerge !

A good friend told me, ‘Forget all of this ! Just enjoy the music’. Yeah right. I said. And forced an apathetic smile reside within.

Sure. Enjoy the music ! But catch the meaning too.

The ‘Gods’ Must Be ‘Crazy’

Readers would be familiar with my previous posts on the monsoon.
But since then, the skies have been clear for the past week. I can spot the stars clearly. The drizzle is now a trickle. And every other Mumbaikar swearing that this is the worst Monsoon in a long while.

I was surprised that it had not caught the attention of the media, before i spotted this on CNN IBN

Am already worried. As i write, the rain gods seemed to have receeded further.

So, we are told that a small change of Rs.9 crores was offered for abstaining from voting. The media cares. The people stop, stare, converse animatedly and move on. The opposition crows that the battle is far from over. Etc etc etc etc

Amidst all this, the farmers in Mahrashtra & the rural hinterland plus a small dispensable set of people are worried more about another abstention.

The abstention of the rain Gods !

Awake ?!?

Yesterday, i was watching NDTV. 76% of Mumbaikars thought Mumbai is for everyone !! But that also meant 25 % felt otherwise or did not feel so! I felt pained. A deep & distinct pain.

Many years ago we had a prayer in school. A poem by Rabindranath Tagore. Everyday morning we use to sing it. It didnt make much sense back then.

“Where the mind is without fear and the head held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action;
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

Now it does. Big time.

Here we are, talking about the world becoming a small place. About how borders between countries are getting irrelevant.

It seems to me our minds are becoming even smaller and that the barbed wires in some of our minds are becoming sharper. When will we awake ?

Of Fathers Day & snakes !

Snakes have formed an quintessential part of Indian & Chinese culture.While the Chinese use it in the kitchen, we find them in every other room! The room that a now celebrity snake chose some days back was the bedroom. Whose bedroom ? Well, stop thinking of names like Khusboo and such other film stars. Thats for the movies. They are now tired of them i guess.

This time it was that of Deve Gowda, former prime minister of India. These are excerpts from a news item on the front page of the Times of India 15th June ’07. It was almost like bit by bit account in a Bond movie. A hilarious one at that ! And by God, please read the consequences !

Deve Gowda’s hissing guest causes flutter.

A nearly six foot long rat snake pushed the political establishment into a tizzy by not only entering the former PMs residence in Padmanabha Nagar but also staying in his bedroom for two days ! The first hint came on Wednesday when Gowda, during a telephonic conversation with PM, got a jolt when some books & a few articles fell off the table in his bedroom.

As the incident happened on the eve of amavasya (newmoon day), Gowda was nervous. But he slept unaware of the snake in his bedroom. It was only around 6 PM on Friday that Gowda sighted the snake…Alarm bells rang loud, the family members were evacuated. While Gowda was wondering whether sighting the snake was a good or bad omen, his personal staff and police started a hunt.

The snake tried to slink off……People for animals volunteer Sharath caught the snake cowering behind Gowda’s portrait on the table. While Gowda and his family were relieved, fear took over fellow politicians. With Gowda’s family known to believe in superstitions, the questions that started doing the rounds in political circles were, “what does snake on a newmoon day signify ?” “Will he ensure power is transferred to BJP?” While some ministers called astrologers to find answers….

On the way home i have seen this ant – hill. For sometime now. We are used to seeing snakes reside in such hills. Well, in movies that is. I have also seen milk, eggs etc getting poured into such ant hills as a means of worship to the snake God ! This particular ant-hill has started getting attention. It is already sporting some images of the Gods. What next. Temple ? Movies ? Stardom ? Or perhaps, now, Z category security !

Well, i almost missed the whole point. I wanted to write something about Fathers Day. And ended writing about the snake in Deve Gowda’s home.

Coming to fathers day, writing about Deve Gowda can be as close as it can get !