Saturday, May 24, 2008

Report card after 4 years: Exceeds expectations?

After four years in office, the UPA Government could have done more to the people of this country than what it has. Many cynics wondered if the centre would be in power to see this day because of the sheer number of opportunistic political partners it had struck an alliance with!!

Irresponsible opposition:

Despite that, in an opinion poll, the findings of which were published by TOI, people feel it has been better than the NDA simply because the NDA has been able to project itself as neither a unified nor a responsible opposition. Opposing for the sake of opposing and criticizing for the sake of criticizing has become the hallmark of all the opposition parties across the country, be it at the centre or the state level.

Disruption of parliament sessions continuously to the extent that the speaker was forced to consider some truly innovative measures and the missing liberal face of Vajpayee hasn’t done the BJP any good. This must have in large measure contributed to the public perception of better UPA performance. The nuclear deal is a quintessential example of how opposition parties in our country behave today.


Progressively, the UPA has at least given some hope to rural employment in the form of the introduction of the NREG scheme and its extension though some doubts remain as this article in THE HINDU points out:

“The problem NREGA faces can be stated in very simple terms. Its ostensible purpose is to overthrow the old contractor-raj but it has done little to offer an adequate replacement. Gram Panchayats have been designated the chief implementing agency but they have not been provided with the support structure required to execute the programme.”

It has introduced some innovative modern reforms like the RTI and the ‘Prevention of domestic violence’ act. Communal harmony has prevailed and we are forced to mark this out for such is our state of affairs. The introduction of women’s reservation very much late in the term makes one doubt the intentions and will but nevertheless something is better than nothing. The nuclear deal is path-breaking but is currently facing some problems as regards its future.

Coalition and vote bank pressures:

The centre has fallen prey to its regional and opportunistic partners in the DMK and the left in the case of the removal of a performing Telecom minister and almost grinding the visionary nuclear deal to a halt. It has fallen victim to the vote bank pressures by exhibiting reluctance to work on the creamy layer concept and also in the huge farm loan waiver which addresses neither small farm holds nor the problem of moneylenders. If the Government had stood up to its partners, it would have been difficult to see this day. It appears to be surviving on the basis of some strange compromise formula whose border lines always appear slurred.

Opinion poll indicators:

The opinion poll does not cover rural India and many important cities so at best, it is an urban indicator. More than anything, the findings show that the expectation from this Government was little in the first place.

Another pointer to have emerged is that the urban society as a whole is yet to factor in issues like stagnation over the nuclear deal and the plight of the farmers before giving their verdict for both these hardly affect their day to day lives!!

Some ministers/improvement areas:

The Home minister stands out here. Without being a member of Lok Sabha, he has been very lucky and should be thankful in large measure to Sonia Gandhi (which he obviously is!!) for being the home minister. He has some strange understanding when it comes to drawing parallels as he has recently demonstrated in an interview.

Little said about our health minister, the better. He seems to have a totally skewed list of priorities. When primary health care and infant mortality need to be addressed, he is busy on getting his revenge over Dr. Venugopal and advising our movie stars. Human resources minister must be given the shrewdest politician award for the manner in which he has succeeded in getting the OBC quota implemented and the way in which he is trying to address the creamy layer issue.

Our agriculture minister can do a world of good for the nation’s people if he changes his portfolio to something like ‘Cricket affairs’. Surface transport and shipping is in very ethical hands indeed!!

What our leading dailies say:

TOI editorial is clear that the current regime has miles to go. It attacks the Left:

“.. the achievements in political and administrative reforms are in sharp contrast to the impasse on economic reforms and the sloppiness in handling the nuclear deal with the US. Yes, much of the mess is because of the Left’s ideological intransigence. But did not the government allow itself to be bullied by the Left? As the government begins the last lap it could well confront the Left and push for economic reforms and the nuclear deal.

THE HINDU is yet to come with an editorial but Harish Khare finds that the Left has appropriated the opposition space:

“If the BJP and the NDA find themselves stranded in the margins of political imagination, it is because the Left parties have managed to appropriate the opposition space. Be it people-centric issues or the disquiet over the proposed closer ties with the United States, the Left was first off the block in protest.”

Looks like, We’ll have to wait for some time more to know what the voters will say!!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The big fat Tamil wedding!!

There is no better avenue than a marriage to observe people. It presents a unique forum. People meet each other after a long time, it presents an opportunity to catch up and say “hi”. The manner in which people move around talking to each other in itself provides ample scope for an interested person to study the idiosyncrasies in behavior and marvel at it.

In some castes, there are some practices that are frankly speaking, quite outdated. Events like symbolically requesting the groom not to go to “Kasi” (the groom sets off on a spiritual path from which the relatives-to-be are expected to wean him off) and ‘Nalangu” (in which the bride and the groom are seated opposite each other and engage in playful games in the marriage hall like searching for a coin inside a typical pot!!) are not in tune with the changing face of today’s youth but are nevertheless continued by the families to stay attached to what is deceivingly termed as “tradition”.

Such practices were as some elders remarked meant as ice-breakers in the beginning when people married early, but in today’s age of internet chat and blind dates, appear churlish and ridiculous. In spite of their relevance or irrelevance in the social context, they add to the entertainment aspect.

People off-stage:

By “off-stage”, I mean the people and their behavior whilst they are not exchanging the cursory “two words” with the people under spotlight – the bride and the groom.

It is quite extraordinary a sight with people dressed in their best clothes always appearing to be in some perpetual movement/animated discussion. One isn’t expected to doze off obviously!! Women especially take quite a good amount of time working on their appearance. The best jewels and the best silk saris see the light of the day. Some carry it off with appreciable élan while others appear a little too decked up.

The universal conversation openers, “How are you?” “How is life/work?” are omnipresent. People are not exactly interested in the answers especially when such questions are asked in a forum like the one under discussion here. They are meant purely as a means to move on to greeting the next visible person by way of repeating the same question.

Digressing a little, at times I feel that it is very difficult being beautiful. I run the risk of sounding clichéd here but I take it nevertheless. Beautiful girls are inevitably, proud for we are good at forming images and relating to people from those images. Reality hence eludes us; we see a person who is beautiful and because of that getting exaggerated attention. We see the person carrying that attention gracefully but with some consciousness of that very attention. We jump to the conclusion that the person is showy and proud. Hence, beautiful girls will always be proud!!

At this wedding that has provided me with substantial observation material, I saw her. Her hair was cut short and she was in a kurta and jeans. She was playing with a little child throwing him high into the air and as he came down giggling profusely, she caught him with such grace that the air around seemed to be in awe of her every motion. Her hair was flowing free and she tried to tie it down with a band. It proved useless. She walked towards the nearest mirror, took a close look at herself and her unruly hair, took out a clip, removed the band and put it on. But on second thought, she brought out her glasses out of nowhere and wore them high on the forehead in true filmi style. The last time I saw her, she had the hair band, glasses and a clip. I couldn’t help a little smile.


The bride and the groom are expected to smile continuously for close to 2-3 hours until people stop ascending the little dais to wish them on the new journey that they jointly embark on. The numerous cell phones and digicams don’t help either. At times, the couple looked embarrassed and given a chance would have gladly merged with the rest.

Women adjust their saris and their blouses, men take the comb to their hair for one last time before getting ready for their respective smiles. Children run helter-skelter, some people forget the omnipresent envelopes only to hasten with it soon again. This moment in front of the camera is captured to be recounted later to countless workplace colleagues and scores of relatives.

The food presents a dilemma to most of us. Unable to consume everything that is served, a lot of food gets wasted…In the end, the chairs are cleared away; the bride and the groom look a lot tired. But in groups people are ready to chat away the night and their sleep.

A marriage is still an once-in-a-lifetime affair though some places in India are labeled as divorce capitals. More importantly, they provide the forum for a large number of people to partake in the couple’s joy and wish them a long and happy married life. That means, 100% entertainment is definitely guaranteed!!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

No longer self-conscious!!

“I think it is a great opportunity for you to incorporate all that you have wanted and throw away parts of you that you don’t like. A chance to change. It is easier to change yourself when people don’t know you and your past” – In an article in Frozen thoughts.

When people leave the cozy confines of their home towns and begin working/studying in other cities, a very significant transformation takes place especially if they don’t have their friends working/studying alongside them. This transformation may not be discernible in the very beginning but as one settles down, one feels it deep down and on the surface also, the change, if it is for the better, manifests itself soon.

One is no longer bound to the habits of the past; it is a new beginning in a person’s life, another chapter in the novel of the life story. Nobody in the new environment knows him/her and in this short anonymity he/she feels lost for a brief period. In this interregnum before new friends and acquaintances are developed and before the new city becomes another cushion, there is a scope for change.

I was having a discussion around this topic with my sister. I feel great just knowing that when she had been in Bangalore, she had also walked the same streets, seen more or less the same sights and the city had changed her also positively to become a still better human being. This is no digression for she told me how a person becomes more independent, more self confident and especially if in a work environment, how spending the money one earns makes one feel good.

I couldn’t have wanted more assurance for I was wondering how far Bangalore has had a positive influence on me. I have shed my inhibitions and am no longer as self-conscious as I used to be. People from the past are no longer around me to make me feel limited; their image of me isn’t influencing me. I no longer feel compelled to think whether my behaving in any manner will take people around me by surprise. In a sense, this has made me more social; new surroundings have goaded me to listen more to people around and connect with them. Seeing and knowing about different perspectives and aspirations are making me feel small.

It seems as if I was ignorant all along or is it that I have discovered a new sense of observation? Time will answer. But Bangalore and the work environs away from the pseudo-conservative, hot Chennai has so far been a more-than-welcome change in my life and I’ll remain thankful for it!!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Coolie by Mulk Raj Anand: Pathos and subtlety

Describing Mulk Raj Anand as a free radical, India Today in its list of sixty greatest Indians goes on to say, “Anand’s novels lent voice to the voiceless…”

Reading his ‘Coolie’, one can’t agree more. We may have read stories set in pre-independent times but this one is different in that the focus is not on the struggle for collective freedom but on an individual’s. Almost with the belief that he was born to serve his masters, the hero of Anand’s story if one may hazard and call him so is moved to happiness when his masters show him the least kindness.

The language and style employed moves the reader to contemplate on some facets of life then, when sections of Indians were in awe of their English rulers and did anything to ingratiate themselves into their good books. As the story starts, the carefree village life of ‘Munoo’ ends abruptly one day as he travels with his uncle to work for his master. The young boy seldom loses his vitality even as he is at the receiving end of the whims and fancies of his masters.

“He laughed, sang, danced, shouted, leaped, somersaulted, with the irrepressible impetuosity of life itself, sweeping aside the barriers that separated him from his superiors by the utter humanness of his impulses, by the sheer wantonness of his unconscious life force.”

As destiny takes him from Shamnagar to Daulatpur to Bombay and finally Shimla, he takes life as it comes at him even pausing to thank God for his good fortune. Even offering glimpses of communal discord, Anand chronicles through Munoo what the book’s cover describes as “a fight for survival that illuminates, with raw immediacy, the grim fate of the masses in pre-partition India.

Certainly one book that will leave the reader sad but at the same time marveling at the resistance and innocence of the human spirit!!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Premier book shop, a book lover’s dream…

Situated off Church Street, Bangalore, this shop is truly a book lover’s dream come true. I first came across this shop in a blog – “There are layers and layers of books and as you remove a book from one layer you see few layers behind that layer.”, writes Anuradha Goyal.

The owner, Mr. Shanbhag, an old gentleman has assembled such an astonishing collection under a single roof that one is almost spellbound. Baby care, Panchatantra, pocket dictionaries, choicest non-fiction from ‘A Russian diary’ to ‘My country, My life’, books on programming languages, management books, classics, some truly rare fiction collection, best sellers, philosophy, Indian writing – all under one roof not even spread across multiple floors as is the wont in book shops these days. It is also Ramachandra Guha's favorite book shop as he tells in an interview here - "
But the one I love most is Premier Bookshop, off Church Street in Bangalore. Its owner, T. S. Shanbagh, is a man of much charm combined with a sly humour. His books are arranged in a most eccentric fashion, but he knows where each one is, and knows too which new arrival is likely to interest an old customer"

He has some very regular customers who rely on his wealth of knowledge to get them the books they need. An young parent was enquiring about a specific book on baby care while another man was looking for something that has the “history of Rajputs”. He politely asks for the customer’s personal phone number and promises to call them back once he procures the books.

I went on a splurge and brought what I believe to be some very good ones and true to this other blog got 20% discount on the total amount. In my happiness, I forgot the umbrella before starting back. When I returned for it, Mr. Shanbhag in his booming voice remarked “We tend to forget it when it doesn’t rain, isn’t it?” Yes, indeed.

Thank you, Premier!!

When Nargis was furious!

“It might be raging as far away as 550 km off the coast of Tamil Nadu, but the impact of cyclone Nargis has reached into the very heart of the peninsula, bringing rain and howling winds to the city of Bangalore.” – reported THE HINDU.

When I was washing clothes, things started flying around within the room all of a sudden that evening and I realized that the wind wasn’t an ordinary one. Soon, enough thunder and lightening accompanied the “howling” and furiously raging winds. Expectedly, the lights went off and in the candlelight with the deafening roar and passing time, I got anxious about dinner.

As I went out looking for something to eat, all shutters were down and the only sound I could hear was that of ambulances. Grabbing a few biscuit packets and bananas I returned home and waited for the lights to come.

What is seen are pictures I took on way to office the next morning. Evidently, Nargis had been furious and trees were the hapless victims. I felt sad seeing huge branches touching the ground and leaves sprayed all over the roads haphazardly. That was one unforgettable evening though!!