Kashmir : A comforting Viewpoint

Vikas Variahwa and the Muslim Hindu relations in Kashmir
I met Mr Vikas Variahwa (VV – name tweaked slightly) at the recent French National day celebrations in the open but tented lawn in their Embassy . He is 81 years of age and former CEO of a leading compressor manufacturer and a corporate Director now in some leading companies.
When I mentioned I was from JK, he mentioned someone’s name and said ‘you can ask him – I had dealt with him several years ago’. He recalled how Mr Mittal (of Arcelor) recognised him nearly after 20-25 years of his meeting with him, when he had sold him some compressors as a Sales Executive, although it was in competition with 6-7 others.
During the course of conversation, I asked him about his place of residence.
I have two bases – Delhi and Srinagar. Spend equal amount of time in both places.
‘Is Srinagar safe’, I ask (his name was obviously Hindu).
Him: ‘Why are you asking? Whenever I am there, I play my Golf every morning at 6 am. I have been born and brought up there and I have lived there for 80 years now’
Me: Isn’t the place violent and militancy dangerous?
Him: ‘I avoid going to downtown areas. And you don’t go into areas which are into trouble. Apart from that i see no difficulty’.
I would at worst say, things are abnormal but not scary or dangerous.
Me: ‘But that’s not the way we hear from the media and TVs?’, i said. ‘Are the TVs and media mis-representing then’.
Him: ‘They may not be. Whatever they are showing must be true. may be overexposing. But i would still say things are abnormal not scary as you seem to fear’ and his gaze locked with mine and he let the statement hang in the air. I was trying to figure out the meaning. A big sigh.
[My Words: The public expects the Government to run as per its perceptions (nothing wrong), public opinion is formed on the basis of information made available by TVs, Newspapers, and now increasingly Social media (nothing wrong again).The media as it is designed is to report exceptions and aberrations to normal (Nothing wrong again. You don’t keep reporting ‘things are normal’ stuff). But the media by repeating the aberrations and exception again and again may make a 2 to 5% abnormality as 50-60% abnormality and thus create misperceptions of degree – lets call it ‘exception trap’. Both the media – even the responsible ones without any ulterior motives or agenda or sides to take – and the general public can get sucked into it. The reality on the ground may be far less intense, harmful or scary like in the eyes of VV, who doesn’t think he is betting his life by living there.
This exception trap is an unexplored dimension of Right to Freedom of speech]
I felt more confident to raise ‘What about Hindu Muslim relations’.
Relations in my younger days … there was a lot of comradery and cordiality. I would say between the elders even now there is no rancour but friendly exchanges. But we have to recognise it is a Muslim majority state. A minor section of youth – i would not call it anywhere close to majority – is misguided and misdirected. But things will be normal. Things do take time to sort out.
(For the first time I was hearing some comforting and confidence inducing words from anyone on the subject of Kashmir and naturally it induced a huge sigh of relief).
Me: What about Tourism?
VV: Yes it is down. Things can be better.
Me: But who will go there if in danger of life
But they don’t kill anyone at random with whom they have no agenda. Look they may also be sensible in a way… but with an agenda.
Me: So there may not be an issue if i travel there?
Him: ‘Look. If a bullet is meant to get you, it will. (I said you are going philosophical now). Let me relate a story … about Arun Kirpal Singh, brother of Army (some high meaning rank he mentioned). He was travelling to Chennai and he came to the airport … had a peg in the lounge and when it was boarding time he reached the gate only to be told that the flight was getting delayed by an hour and half. So he went back and had 2-3 rounds more and passed out’
VV caught hold of someone jostling his way through by his elbow and said ‘Hi.’ They exchanged some pleasantries of long last friends and he introduced him as the Mr Mishra an ex Cabinet Secretary. (Later i gathered he was Naresh Chandra’s batchmate). ‘I was telling him about Kirpal singh’s story. And resumed.
‘When he got up, he went to the counter which was shut after the Aircraft had left. He argued with the station staff that it was their fault blah blah … and the counter staff kept saying that they had paged for him several times but had to let the aircraft go.
‘Disappointed he started back but before he was out of the airport the Public address system announced that his missed flight had crashed. (I tried re-jigging my memory of AI air crashes for flights meant for Chennai 25-30 years back, but not able to recollect).
‘And a personal one. A few days back there was an accident involving Gondola rides in Gulmarg. (i did recollect reading from papers about 3-4 weeks back some such accident which killed 2-3 people). My Sister, her sister in law and niece had gone there and were seated in a cart with some others. The attendant came to them and said that there were 3 more who were part of same family of three who were already seated with them. He conveyed to them that the others want to be seated together and if my sister would be kind enough to move to the next cart. My sister obliged and moved to the next cart. As it happened there was some strong winds due to which a big tree fell on the Cable sending it wobbling and getting stuck. The cart by which the six travelled hit the pole, the glass door opened and some were thrown out resulting in death. My sister and co were dangling for nearly 4 hours in the next cart before they were rescued. But they escaped death’.
I was trying to connect with a French Banker and had messaged and whataspped him 2-3 times about my whereabouts without connecting with him. I told him finally that i would go behind the Beer Bar and stand with an empty Wine glass so he could identify me. We did connect in 2-3 minutes and I wanted to join back with VV and take a picture and quiz Mr Mishra on a few items about Bureaucracy then and now. But they had melted into the crowd.
There was a gleam in VV’s eyes which conveyed success with the past and hope and confidence about the future. I was 2/3rds his age and the curious quizzer – so he could have easily gotten patronizing or pontificating or at least superior sounding (a disease 99% of Indians suffer from). There wasn’t any of these. He kept his enthusiasm also in check – enough to interest me but not going overboard or argumentative or overly critical (another national epidemic). … I hope someday i would acquire those qualities in myself … in this birth or the next.
For the first time I heard someone talk differently about Kashmir and it was energising and confidence boosting… and that too from a man on Ground Zero. I could not thank him for his inputs though.

Vietnam’s Sensible Communism Vs India’s Dysfunctional Democracy

Vietnam’s Sensible Communism Vs India’s Dysfunctional Democracy

I started following Vietnam with my 1st visit to that country. Brief comparison of Per capita income (current $) with India between then and now is below:

  2007 2016 % growth
India 1081 1850 71%
Vietnam 920 2306 151%

I would attribute Vietnam’s faster progress to the following:

Respect for the government,

Fear/respect for law,

Better road discipline and public order,

Its sensible and sensitive communism,

Pragmatic Economic planning and policies – no dogmas and every regulator is sub-ordinate to the government, and

Focus on a select few industries.

I am not sure if our Democratic rights is worth this kind of price (if indeed the difference is due to this factor). I would largely prefer getting rid of our poverty first before aspects of freedom we are supposed to be enjoying.  As a nation we spend so much to elect our representatives but tether them in every which way and make them as constrained, dysfunctional and impotent as possible. The judiciary, NGT, Johnny-come-lately Regulators, Independent Monetary agencies, NGOs, PILs, and of course the Opposition and the media which is answerable to none all play their part to this collective coma and inertia.

And of course ‘We the People’. We are perhaps the most argumentative and critical people on planet Earth. We mistakenly celebrate a right to abuse as right to criticise. I would think criticism to be constructive should exhibit the following characters:

  • The person being criticized should feel like listening to the point being made, whosoever makes them.
  • Having done so, he should feel like entering it into his consideration set.
  • And if he does accept, he should feel like acknowledging it publically.

You may say I am a dreamer… but so be it.

Vietnam has not lost its energies in vague policies and utopian and unpragmatic copycat controls like tight monetary and fiscal policies, demo, or swatch bharat, digitisation, corruption eradication, ease of doing business, etc. It just focussed on 4-5 industries where it had /developed cost competitiveness.

Like Textiles, Electronics, Tourism, Wood plantation, select spices. It reversed the conventional approach of economists and started at the delivery end. Wood plantation created 2 million jobs in remote rural areas, in textiles it zoomed past India in just 7 years (its current output of textiles is capable of generating 2.2 cr jobs by India’s standards of mechanisation) much of which has come at the expense of India’s unpragmatic approach in textiles…nose to the ground politicians engaged in job creating in select few industries.

I personally feel that we have more to learn from Vietnam (or South Korea, China, or Taiwan) than the stupid West (I mean West is not stupid, we are… in aping them) as far as it concerns Economics of development and salvation from Poverty.

I would think that PILs should be asked to prove their Public interest character. They should be made to submit signatures of at least 1000 people or 1% (some such thing), who shall be made to deposit a bond of Rs 1000 each. Select few should be called to testify in the Court. The lead sponsor should be made to deposit 10% of the likely damage being suffered by the Society (or some lumpsum amount which can be a % of what the Government alleges is the cost of delaying). This should be forfeited if the case is not admitted or dismissed.

I would also think an independent body should verify the proofs of news and broadcasts by Media and if found insufficient, the concerned channel should be made to show blackout of related programmes for 3 days. Unbridled criticism in our society has only been an invitation to chaos.

(the picture shows the Visiting Dy PM – HE Pham Binh Minh).

India’s Culture Boast tries to hide serious shortcomings

 

This is rather bashful and may sound offensive to some of you; so please exercise discretion to read or reject. But pl feel free to be copious in criticism , in case you read it:  I will know if my line of thought is directionally correct or i need to relook.  Thanks.

From time to time there are whatsapp waves or internet deluges claiming or implying India’s Culture is the Best and that it can teach so much to the West but India has itself nothing much to learn from the rest. (if You don’t agree? – you can trawl internet. Or give up reading further). Sure any ancient civilization like India’s must be having something great to give others. The things cited in favour are the family values, mohella culture, way we come to others’ rescue during crises, our everlasting marriages, and of course West’s flippant marriages and divorce rates of 43%, 67%, 97% whichever way the tongue twists[1] and as soon as this trump card is dealt … if you are sensible you are supposed to concede defeat and shut up.

Without perfecting the art of Match making, to expect marriage that last a life time seems rather naive to me. This threat to quit I think is essential for both sides … for the men folks to defend excessive hen pecking and domineering and for the women folk against abuse and philandering by their men. Otherwise it will become like a football match where the referee has no powers of yellow or Red cards. I am within striking distance of kissing death with my first marriage intact … so i can say this without guilt of justification.

First the West, then the East

A few years back, I was escorting the CEO of the 2nd largest paper company in Europe after a day long discussions in our office. The first thing he  told me on entering the lift was that he had a 21 year daughter and that his concerns regarding her were she does not take to wrong husband or go lesbo since that seemed to be the  fashion. “i am sure she is not into drugs or other addiction”. I naively asked him if she was his daughter. “why you ask? This is my only marriage and only daughter”.

At another time the chief of Business Development of the largest European player, while on a drive to their plant, started lamenting that his daughter of 19 was not coming with them for vacations, participating in family get togethers etc. ‘We have even told her to take her separate room and otherwise offered incentives … but then you know we are clueless’. I have had a middle aged German PhD telling me once over phone on a holiday (i dialled without knowing it) that he was busy cutting trees in his father in laws farm since his FIL was too old to handle it and that he would dial once done.

I have not often come across those who are into 2nd and 3rd marriage.  I don’t go about doing a survey and hence it will be foolish of me to be conclusive. So I would rather reserve my judgement. The images I carried till i started interacting with them closely and frequently is vastly at variance with I have heard from others.

When the Vietnam Cabinet had come to India, since we were pursuing some project there we were asked to see them. We were seated and the person from their delegation who was to be seated opposite me came in and even while pulling the chair and trying to sit, shot straight as an arrow …”how many children you have”. My neighbour who was more in tune with their culture whispered ‘its normal for them’.  He enquired what my daughter was doing and i said engineering. He shared his sons plans and said ‘he is Ok, I have discussed and let him have his choice but my daughter i am confused and i will suggest engineering  to her after your daughter’.  All these even without shaking hands or introduction. I later came to know he was their Industries Minister.

So howsoever high may you be, concern for the family and sons and daughters run deep even in permissive societies.

So much for my boast about high profile meetings…now some show off about my rub with other cultures.

Whether it is our cultural shortcoming  or otherwise, we have a lot to learn where it concerns treatment of women, children and the old and underprivileged … in public and in private, collectively and individually. Without substantive correctives on this, we would continue to be a Banana republic reporting and reading daily doses of gruesome acts of murders, rapes, ragging deaths, bullying, eve teasing, lewd looks and violative abuses.

The kind of eve teasing or unsavoury remarks (even if the target of comments is out of earshot) i see on the Indian roads is aweful. A feudal mindset …as if God has created their targets for the exclusive comfort of the commentator. The same thing is the base for rampant ragging on campuses (you accept my/our superiority and we will take you under our wings). Lewd looks and cheapness of comments is something unique to India – at least the market share it enjoys in this is far disproportionate to its population. As a society and more as Individuals we show the least sensitivity to others rights, conveniences, and dignity.

Our Hindi movies peddle eve teasing and molestations as Romance. The more bizarre the Gender abuse, the better the justification for concocted heroism and chances of coffers hitting high numbers. Tell me the last time we evaluated any cinema by the social changes that they helped bring  about? But minute to minute updates on the amount grossed by each cinema are available on the internet. They have a decisive negative influence on our next generation and are my prime suspects for the increasing crimes against women.The worst of photo journalism in recent years is the wordrobe malfunction.

Give up wants and expectations and embrace Happiness

I don’t subscribe to the Western notions of women’s rights and gender equality. The fight for right itself recognises someone else’ superiority. True equality will be achieved only when people don’t even have to think about it. That I would say has been achieved in some East Asian Buddhist societies. In Vietnam, Bhutan and Myanmar there is such a high degree of respect for each other that its almost like there is only one sex where both recognise that they are designed to perform different biological functions and there is nothing more to it. I haven’t read or heard of any rapes or molestations in their societies, don’t see people teasing girls or women. During formal or informal dinners and sit ins, I see them cut even crasser jokes (enough to make me blush profusely) but its both ways. They get very explicit (like a girl about 27 years who i had known hardly for 90 secs till then once informed me that although she has a secure job and wealth she didn’t have assets in the right place and hence not able to get married). But its never with any sense of deriving cheap feudal satisfaction at being able to impose abuse and or inflict insult on the unfortunate recipients – present on the scene or otherwise: can’t be called ridicule by any stretch of imagination.

If I have to be born a woman, my top choice will be one of the Buddhist countries except perhaps Thailand if I should heed the advice of a friend who has lived there.

“Give up wants and expectations and embrace Happiness” seems to be the signature line of Buddhism. It settles a lot of modern distress including inter-gender friction, inter-age friction, and breeds responsible child care and public behaviour.

Our Epics

Probably our cultural fault lines as far as shoddy treatment of women is reflected in our great epics. One leading Epic (MB) starts with shaming a women. What is even more demeaning is that the very group we worship today put her as the bait for their bets. The other (R) is about a hijacked women. Again after all the trauma his wife goes through, the man finds it necessary to defend personal honour above her travails – honour before responsibility of providing life along expected lines. I refrain from further elaboration due to fear of hurting religious sentiments. I am aware that these Epics have a great lot of lessons to teach. I am aware that the Epics may not be actual (but there are too many evidences at various places in India to indicate otherwise) but a mere metaphor. Even if it is, the authors could have chosen a more sensitive story line.  Sure even Greek Epics have Helen and Eurydice as the lead characters in their storyline. But as much as I have read it there is nothing crass or abusive about them.

The bogies about the Middle east

Much against prevailing wisdom, I would say that the next lesson in respectful treatment of women, children or underprivileged should be from the middle east Islamic countries. I know its not popular going by the image or false illusions that have been created by the media.

Four 4 marriages is the prime reason or target of attack as if that is where abuse starts and ends. Triple Talaks are the next reason, as if the Divorces these days take any longer in the West – just the decision on % share of spoils takes time in Courts but the physicality is as immediate as the time it takes to say Talaks in the Middle East. So who are we fooling? When the ratio of women to men develops as 4 : 1 due to internecine war between various nomadic societies or as in Vietnam when men were reduced to 65% of women due to the American War, social changes and marriage customs are bound to shape suitably. “1: 1 and let the rest go to hell” cannot be a responsible social answer. But whether such a ratio should be hard coded into religion or left to evolve with times may be a matter of debate.

Oman which has been rated as the Paradise on Earth by the Spice Jet in house travel magazine is exactly that. Although there is a slant of protection towards women there -be it in workplace or streets or I would reckon at home. But who is complaining? There is also a lot more sensitivity to treating their poor almost on socialistic lines than reliance on Fate or Karma have allowed our society. The serene face of women does not reveal any fault lines between gender or age.

Looking at some Syrian women and men and their serene faces can be an exercise in meditation by itself. Such serenity could only come out of inner beauty and happiness and peace with the World around, stability of relations, feeling of security around life. That this is my observation from my only trip there which was when the country was deeply in ‘Civil’ war should speak volumes. ( as I had cheekily written in one of my earlier posts, I would any day prefer Syrian type ‘Civil’ War to the ‘Uncivil’ violations against women in Delhi streets everyday and the mindless manner in which the Press tries to milk it).

The stories that my friends tell  about the courtesies at home (much of the hosting of business courtesy lunches and Dinners take place at home, I am told) about Iran and Iraq makes me believe that women are treated like Queens within; only they have to wear their Hijabs outside their house. The patience of Indonesia is awesome.

Whether these countries alone are representative of muslim world may be questionable. But why do we have to bother with their religion? If there is something to learn, why not?

I wouldn’t want to mix up with the debates in India/South Asia.

Repeating myself I don’t subscribe to the Western notions of women’s rights and gender equality. The fight for right itself recognises someone else’ superiority. But if we were given that scale of Income and social realities where both spouses work, stability of jobs is not a reality and there is need for frequent job switches across cities or even countries, I am sure basic instincts will overpower our values and Culture and make us behave much the same way. With our lack of respect for rules and regulations and irreverent mindset, we might even evolve rather crudely. Future alone can tell.

I don’t think our Culture and Values alone will overcome human instincts.

Lets both teach and learn

It is not just biological differences, but several things else – race, colour, income, caste, etc … we let them become permanent handicaps right through one’s life term from birth rather than be accidental co-ordinates at birth after which one is free to develop on equal terms.

I know there are a zillion other things that make upthe Culture than just the way we treat Children, a great lot of society (not all) look at women, spit on the road, defecate, jump queues even ahead of elders, break road rules, jump signals, ask for bribes and accept them, confer favours on the undeserving or have no qualms in seeking them. I am sure India can be great on all those other things … but on these things we smell foul and are way below qualifying marks.

I reckon India should market its Yoga, Ayurveda, Epics, or other aspects of its culture more aggressively for its own benefit.

In substance and summary, the boasts about our culture seems a surrogate swagger or justification for our inability to progress, a failing attempt to hide our shortcomings. (I think so). People who are at the top and truly belong there don’t go about proclaiming that they are the best. (unlike Tyson or Md Ali). If we have something great to offer others will sure learn it from us given the ways of internet. If we find nothing great about the West, we don’t have to learn from them but there are others out there who can offer lessons. But even if we consider we are 80% perfect, lets learn the balance from the rest.

(PS: God has been kind to provide lots of travel opportunities to me but also appears to have imposed the responsibility to find out more about many who are not in any way connected the underlying business purpose. Pl pardon the offshoot boasts).

[1][1] As per official reports Netherlands and Czech republic (or is it just Amsterdam and Prague) have the highest divorce rate of 52%; the highest for the balance is 1/3rd. That is in 2012 or 13. May be we have made perverse progress by leaps and bounds since then.

Modi’s 500/1000 move may have sent him to stratosphere; but he has to be more convincing

 

I have a slightly negative view on the likely impact of demonetisation more especially the proportion of people who have to undergo the pain for catching a few (may be less than 1%) errants. In many cases the Govt may also know who those politicians/individuals are. So spoke to several people (besides several corporate types during the course of meetings) to gauge the mood; lucky I have not gotten beaten up yet.

First a Kaamwali (she wasn’t all that specific except that mentioned that she has just got Diwali bonus), a Receptionist in Mumbai at one the largest cement firms (she was inconvenienced but said that she supported Modi since it is required for the nation), an Old and frail Tamilian lady who needed some help with Kiosk check in, and my driver for the day. He with a bit of glee and satisfaction said “I had only Rs 3000 which I will exchange”. “Is it required? Do you support it?”. “Yes He has fixed all those **** (reference to some community). They have been asking for it, crooks. They were hoarding so much black money”.

A slightly serious looking Security staff who frisks you at Airport at CS in Mumbai.  When I opened the topic he was cross with me and put his finger on his lips to ask me to shut up. I trailed off with Modi’s name. His outlook took an about turn and asked in utter curiousness ‘Kya Kya Kya?’

I said Rs 500/1000. … he: yes yes. Me : Do u support it. Him: Yes sir.

Me: Why? Aren’t you inconvenienced?’

Him: ‘Yes sir. But that’s little’.

Me: So you can bear it.

Him: There is Hope sir now. I will bear it. His mouth was quivering. I was expecting an English response I was not prepared for an emotional response. I just patted him and said “great man Keep it up” and moved on.

 

2 jet pilots flying off duty. “Sir I can hope to buy a house now. They used to be asking so much cash… where will i go for that kind of cash. We support it”.

My next victim was a 5th std Master Kavya studying  in Singapore Public School in Dahisar seated next to me. Slightly on the studious side but very eloquent and fluent for his age. I took his mothers permission to talk to him for a few minutes.

He would have liked Clinton to come back, since she would have succeeded Obama who is a great friend of Modi. He likes Modi because he is the one to start Swatch Bharat which will clean up India.  They debated the effect of Rs500/1000 in the school.  The teacher briefed them on what ‘black money’ is. They had concluded that black money is not a fair system that some people bear and some people go free, it is cheating. He said that his parents would be greatly inconvenienced but still he supported Modi wholeheartedly.  ‘Its required for the Nation’. Views were erudite but he made his point in a manner befitting his age.

 

I was zipping thru most of Delhi and India Gate at 9.45 which was deserted like someone had announced that a nuclear bomb is going to be dropped there in an hour’s time. ‘Aaj Kya hai?’ I asked the Mega cab driver. ‘Logoan ke pass paise nahi hai’ he refrained. I thought I had at last found an ally and started a conversation. But he was more than a fan of Modi; he almost looked an appendage to him. Next 15 minutes he gave me a lecture on how Modi is good and how what he does is good and how it will benefit in the long run. I had no choice as his captive audience.

 

With 6 -7 others also, Modi seem to have scored a perfect 10 with this move – somewhat surprising for a debative society…he has managed to whip up a frenzy to ecstasy in support of his action. ‘Sock those Black Money B***ds’ seems to be the mood.

 

I did not expect such a one sided view from lower /middle income people.  So when I write this piece i know I’m in a minority. But still i present my sour grapes.

 

And Now the Sour Grape

Someone asked Deng Xio Ping the architect of Chinese reforms, on the 200th anniversary of French Revolution as to what its impact on Democracy was? He replied, ‘Too Early to Tell’. My instinctive reaction is to reserve my judgment on this recent chest thumping by Modi fans on his recent salvo (Mandatory Disclosure : I am a Modi fan myself, except i want to temporarily suspend that status on this issue till i get convinced on the benefits of his recent action).

What has been done is bold, no doubt. His speech was more patriotic, but it needed to be convincing more than being patriotic is my opinion. He could have told the nation on how much Black money he thinks is in circulation, how much the Government aims to garner thru this action, how much Taxes the Govt hopes to get as a one-time measure and how much on a running long term basis,  how much additional growth its going to create.

Most of all how am I as an individual going to benefit for the pains imposed on me – at least in qualitative terms. I have not earned a penny with tax dodge – rather I am yet to get so many I Tax  refunds (petty though) from the Govt since 1995-96. This is a pure compliance measure; so to impute any sense of patriotism is unwarranted, i reckon.

Half way into Modi’s term, i am far less convinced about his (or rather his cabinet’s) ability to deliver on the one most important thing – growth and with it employment for the rural, youth, newly graduating. I don’t think there is even a plot or story line leave alone a convincing plan. So i am not willing to be mesmerised by side shows, however impressive. If MMS was lack of action, Modi’s cabinet seems to be lack of ideas. Growth seems to be in an anaesthetic state. Just excessive focus on a few things  alone is not enough to run the country. And he hasn’t addressed the core issues causing black money – unreasonable stamp duties and Capital gains taxes alongwith election funding… in that sense the monster will sure take rebirth and start from zero again

When some Isreali said that even they would have been proud of India’s surgical strike, sure my chest went up 560 inches. Sure he is doing a great job of whatever he is doing; but then is he doing what all needs to be done?

While resolving strictly to comply with the rules, i am tempted to suggest the following actions:

Devalue our currency also – to may be around Rs 76/$ which is its true value. Impose a 30% tax on Chinese imports citing national security interests (their actions on Brahmaputra and POK).

It will create all the jobs that our youth and country needs.

To give a sense of balance, sure Demon’n will ease inflation and hence interest rates. It will make real estate more affordable and not prone to periodic price spirals and so people may not invest in them out of desperation but only when needed and look for better alternative investments. May reduce fees and prices of sectors thriving on black money like doctors and lawyers and some professional classes. It will motivate me more to pay taxes…but that alone may not convince the 99% abiding citizens to strain themselves (i thought so… but quick survey exposed my hollowness) to facilitate the government to catch the errant few.

With some serious disgust i should also mention that balanced debate seems impossible on this subject. Modi baiters throw all kinds of silly bile  … it won’t work, too draconian; what happens to A, AA, MA, BA,him, etc., will not succeed using anything from vile adjectives to heavy invectives. On the other hand Modi fans are rather obsessed – they talk as if this is the best thing that could have happened to the country since independence, this act required stature of Go… or such terms. You utter your reservations, abuse is not far away in time.

I am sorry. I am a big Modi fan myself. But i refuse to back him wholesale. I retain my right to be critical on certain issues or as in this case certain aspects of proposed action. To surrender this right of mine is an assault on reasoned debates and a vacuum of balance.

When we were descending I asked Kavya as to how he would like to be told by the teacher on any issue (i) Just be told by the teacher what to do in a stern way or (ii) she explains the matter, tells him about the risks and benefits and recommends that he acts. He didn’t hesitate to vote for 2nd option.

At last some consolation for me. Modi could have taken the convincing route than the prescriptive school teacher approach.

Ramdev’s Republic

It is 45 years since I visited Rishikesh last. My memories were of floating wood logs, young boys and girls with tins tied to their back jumping into the river learning to swim, and boat rides when even as a kid I could stretch over and touch the cool waters of the new born Ganges. The promise of 4.58 hrs in Google as average travel time was tempting, so we chose Rishikesh as our week-end outing destination  when my niece and nephew landed up.  In the end, we spent the weekend, shall I say, trying to ‘reach there’.

We had our lunch at Ramdev’s ashram (or more appropriately his mini republic in the making) near Haridwar at around 4 pm… on the recommendation of our driver, who always recommend places that fit their standard of hygiene and cleanliness or where they get their food free. Sometimes they kind of force that choice on you. But in this case it must have been more due to affiliation and reasonable prices.

His establishment on the right side of road looked massive, huge herbal gardens, what looked like factories, and Patanjali research centre, Yoga centres, etc following one after the other. The food courts housed with some other facilities are on either side of the road just outside Hardwar towards Delhi. We saw a fleet of cars and buses parked inside the campus (thank him for they were not spilling over onto the roads. He seems to have skillfully estimated his following or having established the facilities created the requisite following). There was a milling crowd even at the time.

Most of the crowd was middle age – people who looked between 35 to 60 years – hardly any older ones (i could have counted them on my fingers), with their young ones in tow. I saw the same kind of devotion or urge in their eyes as when i go to India’s religious places like Tirupathi, Siddhi Vinayak Temple or SriNadhwara. Except here there was no God, it is more Ramdev. He seems to have become a sort of a messiah for the low income or low-middle income class. They were not chanting his name like in Trirupathi, but the vibes in the air was clear.

I may not be able to put a finger on what exactly his USP is – but it is not just religion: it is something more. May be they feel left out by the political process or that their lots have not improved as much in recent years as that of others. Or they are feeling culturally betrayed and need a new sense of identity. Or the rest of India has tried to fast forward traditions beyond what this class is comfortable with and Ramdev is the best bet to put the much needed speed breakers. There seems to be a huge vacant space of serving which marketers and political parties seems to have missed which he is serving which should account for his popularity.

I may not be conclusive – it is not just religion or yoga alone. Or just product benefits, aroma, taste, medicinal value, or environmentality, superior packaging.  It seems much more, much different. May be Ramdev knows or may be he himself does not know but has per chance hit upon the magic, like sometimes you succeed without knowing the reasons for your success. He would require a lot of de-coding. His products are a huge succees and I reckon that even if he were to put Patanjali banions and underwears, they will become instant hits. Such seems to be the sense of affiliation in the Ramdev Republic.

Now on to the food. The food itself was tasty – better than Ammas kitchen (Chennai), or Brahma Kumaris (BK) or Sri Sris (SSR), or Tirupathis Anna Prasadam (free).  Reasonably clean.

While i was waiting for my turn to pick up my Thali, the man ahead started an argument with the counter server. It was about the quantity of Rava Kesari (Sheera) in his meal. I thought it was alright but he was arguing it was less in comparison to his predecessor’s. It filled the steel saucer alright but still the man kept arguing over what perhaps would have been 2-3 gms difference or perhaps the shape it was served. I don’t know what gets our (all Indians and I stand at near the head of the queue) worst guts out when it concerns food. May be long years of seeing starvation around and many of us would have liberated out of that only recently and embedded memories and psyche remain.  Finally when the man behind counter obliged him in sheer frustration, the customer walked away with a smug (or triumphant) smile on his face.

Even while the drama was unfolding at my counter there was some heated exchange at the other. The customer was insisting that the kichdi be packed and the counter man as explaining that there is no such system. With each denial the temper was shooting up. The man behind counter turned around and asked his colleagues if there was some such system. Finally he lost his cool on his own ilk and ‘why don’t they tell at the counter itself that we don’t pack food’. And some mild adjectives to describe their mental state, etc. He was at his wits end … about to become one of the ilk that he himself described moments back. Finally he served kichdi to the brim on the plate (just that it wasn’t spilling over) and sort of threw the plate at the customer. I felt sorry for the counter server. I thought it was too much of a sampling error (2 in parallel) what i noticed. But if true, i suspect I may not last that job more than a couple of hours. Poor man from the interior or upcountry area in search of a daily living by serving people … we can be sympathetic or sensitive to each other a lot more. This is where i find Buddhist countries far more evolved.

I had been to Ammas kitchen a year or so back. They served too much of kichdi. I tried reasoning (when i argue with the counter clerks, i call it reasoning, pl note) i was imply incapable of eating their serving … it may last 2-3 sessions etc. and that she could serve as I deem full. But she said that she had to serve 275 gms (or 375gms) as the board announced and nothing short as per strict instructions, and that i could throw the excess if so desired. Some such similar disciplining happens in Tirupathi as well (they won’t serve anything in side cups or rasam and Butter milk in tumblers – impossible). I realised the value of standardisation of serves after seeing the quarrels.

A simple board announcing ‘No packing of food’ and just keeping a weighing scale near the counter and mentioning the size of serving (gms) would have quelled both the ‘Beja Frys’ I thought.  In both cases, my sympathies were overwhelmingly with the counter salesman.

Rating wise Ramdev’s food was tastiest, Tirupathi service quality the best (for the volume they handle anything less would be chaotic in no time), and for overall experience Ammas kitchen stands out. Ramdev must be recovering full cost at least and others don’t.

Whatever it is Ramdev Baba stands for or preaches, he could also teach them some basic courtesies, politeness, respect for rules and queues and sensitivity towards others. I have not found ground level sensitivity being taught at SSR, or BKs either. The 11 year old boy at Ramakrishna Ashram who showed me around in 1994 near Trichy was dignified and self assured. I wonder if they have such programme. He could have a huge impact. They all have raw love – if i fall ill on the road or down with an accident these are the very same people who would most likely rush to my rescue, not the priests of polish and outward politeness – it is the just the briefing which may be the missing link. Ramdev may be the best placed to bring about that welcome change.

May be he could teach them some basic hygiene, cleanliness and lessons on littering. They could become a million walking advertisements for his enterprise and convert a lot of the as yet unconvinced.

Rats and the Bureauc’rats’

Rats and the Bureauc’rats’

This is not a fib. Shows me in an awkward light. But it is OK.

I have been living in a flat in the 4th floor which belongs to a MP, in a fairly decent locality of East Delhi for the last almost 10 years now. His wife in whose name the flat stands has visited our house 3-4 times in the last 10 years and he – never. I have attended his Iftars a couple of times and met him once in his office. Very decently behaved.

The first 9 years we have not had much problems with the flat – no problems from cockroaches and other insects or rats. In the last year or so a lot of people have started remodeling their kitchen or bed or toilets and have had to work upon the pipelines and drainages. And suddenly rats started invading our house about 4-5 months ago. From being an occasional visitor to weekly to daily their familiarity with us seemed to improve with time.

My wife is mortally afraid of them and exhibits a near phobic reaction seeing them. The store is somewhat tucked in and I don’t need to go there for my daily routines. So whenever my wife used to complain or start discussing their presence or disgust I will simply bark back at her and put her down or somehow make it out that she is more of a problem than the rats. From being a weekly routine, it sort of became a daily scene – with the watchman coming to take the trap and leave them in the nearby park. The more frequent their visits, the more frequent my wife’s screams for help and more intense my reaction. But apart from the occasional help with setting the trap – grumpy and grumbling – not much of an intervention from me -at least they were not crawling on our dining table or bed or drawing room.

And suddenly one Wednesday about a month ago my wife had to leave for Chennai for some urgent work.

I prefer to cook my own food whenever she is out. I sort of like it for its meditative value. I need to concentrate to get it right, mixing or clubbing various activities so as to optimize time, scheduling them etc. and during that time, normally I don’t think of thinking about my boss or meddlesome colleagues or irksome tax authorities or Kejriwals or Arnab Goswami or the plethora of scarecrows and demons in our daily life. The 40-45 minutes is a pure yoga for me.

I was greeted by our esteemed visitor when I was preparing to cook that evening. Seeing one run to hiding in the store …I was overtaken by a sort of hesitation… in opening the doors or store, drawers or even the Microwave as if one will jump out at me. From thinking of my cooking routine most of my time went in thinking about my ‘athithi’. After dinner, set the trap and caught one and handed it to the watchmen. Not that they fall for whatever you bait. They have their own taste (hope it does not differ from one to the next) and are highly choosy. But from my wife’s harangues I had learnt some tricks about what gels with them.

The overhang of thoughts about coming face to face him made me lose some sleep. And it sort of visited my thoughts during the office hours next day. Thursday the problem persisted … looming larger. Half the sleep gone and torments from pure imagination invaded me during much of those wakeful hours in bed. Rats had become my new source of meditation.

Friday morning … and evening… it was sort of I had to do something about it kind of situation. I called my driver and society’s plumber on Saturday morning to see how to resolve the issue. Both of them were kind of amused, suppressed though since they may have learnt to live with the problem.

We searched all the possible openings in the house, the drains, the inlets of water, the electrical lines, those which had been recently re-done by others… The plumber was smirking half the time. My driver is a sort of serious but irresponsible kind of fellow. No smirks from him but blindly followed instructions…the plumber became an expert of sorts offering his own logic (mostly counters) to whatever I suggested. He kept saying where there are no droppings there is least likelihood that it may have been a point of entry. (makes sense but to me it did only in retrospect; not then). ‘Do as you are told’ was my shout and refrain and insisted on his plastering or filling whatever it was under scanner. I guess both of them must have been pretty exasperated with me.

My driver pointed to a small gap in the junction box of electricals high in the dining area. There indeed was a gap of may be one cm – good enough for a cockroach I thought but hardly could agree that a rat would be able to squeeze through. But not having made much headway, I told him to get the ladder, open it and see. He did and also saw their droppings. The ply board used as cover to the JB had wilted due to age and bent creating some gaps. I told him to put brown tape around its borders. I sealed the electrical switch box as well which was right inside the store.

Phew! For the rest of the day no rattling noise form kitchen store. Not in the night either. Not the whole of Sunday … and then Monday. I asked the plumber to seal and do up all the damage done during our investigation. And there has been no visitor since then…in fact for the last whole month.

Reflection

My wife of last 25 years was not able to get my attention at such close quarters what a 48 hrs direct encounter did. I am sure most men of my age around the world would behave similarly (at least to their wives I guess!). Unless regulated by rules, social values, culture, policing and punishment, peer pressure, etc. our reaction to others problems are likely to be equally lethargic and insensitive.

Given the current level of insensitivity to others (my neighbors park their car sometimes in mine, in Delhi the whole road however wide is a parking lot, rickshaws can drop or pick up passengers any place – right in the middle of a road busy with vehicular traffic), moral degradation, lack of work and duty consciousness, dilution of values at least in India, our model of bureaucracy perhaps has run out of context.

I don’t see similar degradation in many other democracies, some military regime and communist countries. May be this is representative of countries where corruption is high or they are both two sides of the same coin. May be around independence our Bureaucratic model of governance was appropriate but the background assumptions have so changed that it no longer looks appropriate.

So you have a defence secretary who denies snow boots to Siachen soldiers, bullet proof vests to frontline armymen, and now a massive cumulative deficit of even basic ammunition; Judges and your own lawyer least concerned about administering justice in a hurry, regulators not deciding on price hikes for Delhi Metro (actually problem I am told is a little deeper) for the last 6 years.

Given this should we not insist that for anyone to be eligible to be defence secretary s/he should have spent at least one stint of 4 months in Nathu La pass eyeball to eyeball with Chinese soldiers, one winter in Siachen and at least 3 years with other stations taken together.

I am sure if a son or daughter of the then Cabinet Secretary was in IC 183, we would not have wasted precious 2 hours at Amritsar Airport and we may all be talking of a different scenario than Kandahar.

We should also provide for 10-15% lateral entry into our bureaucracy from end users so that they can sensitize our system.

People say that we should impose a hefty fine on people asking for stay orders in Courts. But me thinks it is a waste of time. People who can pay (the rich) will impose it on the other unfortunate side pining for justice. I think it is the decider whose shoes should be made to pinch. The decider of stay orders is the Judge and we should impose a fine (or fees) on him. Even in a corruption free environment, the day we say that judges will be allowed a quota of 12 in a year and every additional grant will come at the cost of his promotion and increments, he will think deeply before granting one. (or may be he will trade his quota also).

Land Acquisition Bill – has Modi bought into wrong legacies?

Land Acquisition – Has Modi unwittingly become a vicarious Villain

I was leafing through some literature for some article of mine in 2001-2 re dam oustees and official compensation.I remember reading that for Bhakra Nangal – a dam with a storage area of nearly 168 sq km, only 3,800 families had been identified as displaced by then. (I must admit i am not able to go back to the source). In June 2012, TOI reported that after 40 years of completion of the dam, it is producing the cheapest Electricity in India but those ousted are yet to Continue reading