Babble Without a Pause

December 8, 2015

Perspectives On Being Fleeced (and other stories)

paul-noth-then-we-carefully-disguise-the-bribes-as-legal-fees-by-changing-the-word-new-yorker-cartoon

INDIA (2005)

  1. Passport office. 10am. Stand in line 4-5 hours to get your passport renewed. Wait for hours. Get told to come back the next day.
  2. You decide it’s not worth your time.
  3. You pay some Rupeeses to expedite your application processing.
  4. Case AUTO-MAGICALLY gets processed the next day and you have your passport.

    BRIBE, they call it.

    “Third world country. What did you expect?” I overhear.

    200_s

 

U.S.A (2015)

  1. Submit application to have your work visa renewed. Wait 4 months for  a process that typically takes a month or two (AT MOST). Get informed by friendly neighborhood attorneys that it could take up to 6 months more, BUT nice guy that you are, you could technically continue working while waiting for approval, but you are virtually under house arrest and literally cannot leave the country for vacation, emergency, or even if Jesus returns (because History lesson, Jesus was from the Middle East, not Amurica).
  2. You decide to not have to be stuck for another 4 months due to government inefficiencies and red tape.
  3. You pay some Dollarses in fees to expedite your visa processing.
  4. Case AUTO-MAGICALLY gets approved in two weeks and you have your visa.

    PREMIUM PROCESSING, they call it.

    “First world country. Things get done quick.” I overhear.

    200_s

#JustSaying

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November 27, 2015

Of Intolerant Views On Intolerance

FULL DISCLOSURE – I am not a fan of celebrity culture, but make an exception for this man. In my opinion, he is an actor who treads off-the-beaten-path. Like his film roles, he is an unconventional celebrity, and embodies for the most part, a forward thinking mindset, one that I find myself aligned with. There are exceptions, most recently when he criticized the comedians operating a satirical Youtube channel titled AIB for their vulgar language, despite having himself acted in a handful of roles that involved crude language. Sometime between 2 and 3 years ago, Mr. Khan was the face of Satyameva Jayate, a national show that broke from traditional Indian talk shows with its hard-hitting analysis of issues plaguing our country. The toast of the nation back then, everyone crowed about how he was a rare celebrity with a conscience, seeking to do public good, by bringing to light the many issues plaguing the country.

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intolerance
“FUCK Aamir Khan, man” I overhear this afternoon, as I sit down to lunch at a restaurant some 12,000 km from Delhi.

If you haven’t heard the name Aamir Khan in conversations over the past two days, I have one question for you. That rock you’ve been living under, is it sedimentary, igneous, or metamorphic? On a more serious note, in case you aren’t aware, the name belongs to an Indian citizen and prominent actor vilified by countless twitterati, blogophiles, and social media enthusiasts over the past two days for comments he made in an interview. Lest I be accused of not quoting accurately or misrepresenting context, here is that question, and his answer:

Anant: Aamir, are you agreeing with the protest (award wapsi, or the recent trend of Indian authors, artists and prominent figures returning awards previously handed out by the Indian govt) or do you think it’s uncalled for… do you think it is premature?

Aamir: Well, I think, if I am not mistaken there are so many people in this room who are much more knowledgeable than me so I am feeling intimidated to speak in front of all of you. But my understanding is that a lot of people from the creative fraternity are protesting because of the growing discomfort they felt or the growing atmosphere of intolerance that they felt around them… growing sense of insecurity and disappointment with that, and as a result that was their way of showing that they are not happy with the situation.

As an individual myself, as a part of the country, as a citizen, we read in newspapers what’s happening and certainly I have also been alarmed. I can’t deny that I am alarmed.. by a number of incidences. For any society it is very important to have a sense of security. I mean there will be acts of violence in world for different reasons. But for us as Indians, as a part of society to have a sense of security… two-three things are very important, I feel. One is sense of justice. If there is a wrong step that anyone takes, then a correct justice is what is required. Common man should feel that justice will be done. That’s what gives a sense of security. The second and very important sense of security is the people who are our elected representatives – people who we select to look after us for five years if at state level or Centre. When people take law in to their hands and when there is a sense of insecurity, we look upon these people to take a strong stance, make strong statements and speed up the legal process to prosecute cases. When we see it happening there is a sense of security but when we don’t see that happening there is a sense of insecurity. So it does not matter who the ruling party is. It’s happened across ages. On television debates, we see where one political party, in this case, the BJP which is ruling right now, is accused of various things. They said, ‘But what happened in 1984?’. But that doesn’t make right what’s happening now. What happened in ‘84 was disastrous and horrendous. At other times also, through ages, whenever there is a violent act, when an innocent person is killed, be it one or a large number, that’s very unfortunate. And these unfortunate moments are the ones when we look towards our leaders to take a strong step. Make statements that are reassuring to the citizens.
[….]
To complete my answer that there is a sense of fear more than there was earlier. I do feel there is a sense of insecurity. When I sit at home and talk to Kiran. (Wife) Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers everyday. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet… growing sense of despondency. You feel depressed, you feel low.. why is it happening? This feeling exists in me too.”

The tendency of people anywhere, to unite against outsiders, perceived or otherwise, is nothing uncommon. Its called xenophobia, and is as old as time. As recently as 2013, Aamir Khan was praised across large swathes of the Indian community, for lending his voice to a TV show that highlighted pressing social issues, in contrast with his peers who largely made commercial films that raked in crores of rupees, but stayed silent on most national issues of any significance. But all of those encomiums were heaped on the man and his body of work at a point in time, when India was under successive coalition governments. When he spoke out against issues the country faced, nobody so much as raised an objection to his comments, as they were perceived as being intended to improve our nation’s policies and practices to better the lives of its citizens. Medieval practices like female infanticide, or the caste system were considered fair game, and nobody batted an eyelid, everyone applauded along, and hit Like/Share/Comment. Now however, it’s a different story. Any time someone so much as mentions the government, or the prime minister in a negative light, you have these rabid fanboys (and girls) climbing over each other to heap scorn on you. Don’t believe me? Check out the comments board on any social media post criticizing the Modi/BJP government, and you will see what I mean. Aamir has learned that the hard way.

If Aamir Khan says he fears for his wife and son due to what he believes is rising intolerance in the country, pro-Hindu masses assume it MUST CERTAINLY be driven by anti-Hindu motives, because he’s Muslim. A friend said Aamir’s comments outraged him because (and I paraphrase) the common man would see/hear a big celebrity speak of growing intolerance which could stoke fears in the minority community, leading to communal violence. So the expectedly juvenile solution proposed by this fringe crowd borders on “this muslim guy doesn’t appreciate that we ‘tolerate’ him and his kind here. Maybe he thinks he will be better off in any one of ‘HIS’ countries, so let’s give him what he wants and send this S.O.B. across the border, to any of a dozen Islamic countries”. Or so goes the reasoning in BJP and vocally pro-Hindu segments, who have found popular mouthpieces lately in the forms of prominent figures like Subramanian Swamy, a member of the BJP. You see, unlike Aamir Khan, who voiced his opinion in response to a question asked in a public interview, instigators like Mr. Swamy stoke communal fears without even being asked. Ask yourself, of the two, whose words are more likely to fan flames of violence.

Yes, politicians pitting citizens against each other is a real thing. Has been, will be. The pattern certainly didn’t begin and end with the BJP coming to power. It is called vote bank politics in India, it’s called pandering in the US, and is known by various terms in various nations. The very notion of us-against-them is a time tested way to cut up a country into little parts, divide and conquer, until it is neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, friend against friend. I say this to clarify this is NOT a new phenomenon under the BJP, but has existed in previous Indian governments as well. Having said that, the sheer volume in such incendiary comments and commentary has ratcheted up, with the tacit approval of this government. And it hasn’t happened silently, secretly, or under the table, but fairly brazenly, by leaning on the RSS and other communal-based organizations for inputs on governance. Sample this: a year into its rule, the BJP government held behind-closed-doors meetings with its parent organization, the RSS. The official tagline for this 3-day meet was an ‘exchange of notes’. The prime minister himself attended and spoke at the event. How is any member of the religious majority, or anyone from the minority for that case, supposed to expect any measure of objectivity and even-handedness from a government that rather openly associates itself with a hardline right-wing group committed to an openly communal ideology. Why then is a citizen not entitled to a viewpoint that says that intolerance is on the rise. You see, communal incidents aren’t just restricted to a number, a statistic that goes up or down with each successive government. The same statistic that says communal incidents aren’t on the rise, could say the opposite a few months before. A government leaning on its parent organization for inputs on governance and policy, is no longer the government of all, but government of a few, as reflected in cabinet appointments of trusted RSS sevaks to key positions in education and other ministries.

But we are tolerant, you say. We are, yes, compared to several other countries out there, most of them theocracies who outlaw other faiths. But that is the DIFFERENCE. India is not a theocracy, has never been one, and hopefully never will be. So we can and should do better than those other nations. Abhorrence for the Congress model of pandering to minorities should not be used as a pretext to indulge in outrage against any vocal member of the minority demographic that the Congress sought to appease. Look at the comments board on almost any online media site, and you will see large portions of the majority Hindu population across the country expressing sentiments akin to saying out loud that their time has now come, and that it is time to set right the skewed prioritization of minorities which happened under the Congress watch while overlooking the majority . I’m certainly not talking hatred of non-Hindu populations bordering on violent intent, but more of a smug one-upsmanship level of glee that the government in power represents Hindu interests, and not “sickular” interests, a supposedly derogatory term for fake secularism as practiced by the previous ruling party at the center.

Rabindranath Tagore is the author of one of my favorite poems, “Chitto Jetha Bhayshunyo” (loosely translated as ‘Where the mind is without fear’), a call to action in pre-independence India, that sounds like it was born from desperation. Had Tagore written this poem today, it is safe to say he would’ve been harassed on social media, his fans would have lined up outside his home to shout slogans about him being a “sickular” celebrity bent on weakening the multi-cultural fabric of the country. Except, there would have been no chants for him to be deported to the nearest Islamic nation. Consider the number of artists, meritorious citizens, scientists and others who chose to return awards and honors previously bestowed on them as a symbolic gesture (titled in the media as ‘Award wapsi‘) protesting growing intolerance and government silence in these cases. There were certainly Hindus in this group of silent activists. Yet, besides the expected disappointment expressed by some diehard fans of this government, there were certainly no ethnic slurs, abuses, or faux threats in their direction. Certainly, none of the Hindu participants were harassed to leave the country. If they were, I certainly didn’t hear it. Why is it then that Aamir is told to be grateful for the tolerance this country has shown him, and to be respectful for what “the country has made him”. Would such expectations be leveled against an Anupam Kher or any one of the multiple national award winners who returned awards bestowed on them by the government, who also happen to be Hindu, had they echoed similar sentiments under a Congress-led regime? What makes a Muslim any less of a citizen, or supposedly less entitled to an opinion than a Hindu citizen. There lies your answer.

humanity
You see, Khan being Muslim, or Kher being Hindu, is merely incidental to the fears and emotions they express. As a country, it is our duty to ensure that no citizen feels that way. It’s a lofty ideal, and one that we won’t ever solve in the near or even distant future. No country or civilization has, and we certainly aren’t going to be among the first. But it is an ideal that we must at least aspire to. Yet, because he belongs to a national minority, our basest instincts make his ethnicity the easiest to target, with comments such as these that have been doing the rounds on social media everywhere:

“My country is tolerant. Let’s see you find this level of tolerance anywhere in a theocracy like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia”.
“My country is tolerant, how dare you say it isn’t. Get on a train and get out, go back to Pakistan”.
“My country is tolerant, so what if ONE stray citizen was lynched a month ago for the contents of his plate”.
“My country is tolerant, so what if it really isn’t, the previous government was no better”.

In response to Aamir’s comments, taken out of context of course, have been two prominent viral posts doing the rounds. One is by a Sikh gentleman who speaks at length about how tolerant all of India has been to watch his movies, even the ones portraying Hindu gods in a negative light, and how if he had experienced intolerance all these years, even back in 1984, he never spoke up about it. The other, by a Muslim lady from Bangalore, a doctor who claims to never have faced discrimination or intolerance for as long as she can remember. To both these fine folks, I say I’m glad to hear that. But for every one citizen who hasn’t had to face intolerance, there are many more who have. So if expressing concern over the intolerance in the country is too sweeping a generalization to pardon, then so should attempts to brush every single instance of actual intolerance under the carpet by citing one person’s individual experiences.

Incidentally, today is the 26th of November 2015. On this night, 7 years ago, terrorists launched what was the largest coordinated attacks on Indian soil in a long while. In times of war as on that night, we band together, united under the flag of country. In times of peace, almost counter-intuitively, we challenge each other’s pride in country, patriotism, or religion. It’s almost like when there is no war, we seek out and set up reasons to wage ideological wars. Where terrorism is involved, it is clear that these incidents have nothing to do with religion. If they were, then terrorists would handpick and save their own, and kill only others. No, that isn’t the case. Muslims also died in the Mumbai terror attacks of  2008, because “religious” terror really has no religion. Communal violence and unrest, on the other hand, are instigated and perpetrated, strictly in the name of religion, or ethnic identity. And it is these communal incitement that needs to be carefully monitored, because as long as politicians are allowed to bait citizens, whether in India or elsewhere across the world, a nation’s people will fight outsiders in times of war, and fight each other in times of peace.

January 21, 2012

Facebook and the Age of Virtual Activism

Time was when activism meant picketing on the streets, getting your voice heard. Or sitting in a cramped prison cell in silent protest, against a despicable racial segregation movement eating your country. Time was when protests were something you DID, for something you believed in wholeheartedly. Time was also when if you thought something was f*cked up, you’d do whatever it took to fight back. Like parking yourself in front of a military tank about to crush you down like a flea, and take a stand.

 

 

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NOW, is obviously NOT that time

 

 

 

October 30, 2011

Trash Metal and the Indian Grand Pricks

Delhi. That land of political scams, that Indian-Italian lady, and anti-corruption protestors with varied names like Ramesh, James, Iqbal, Mona, Donna, Shoewalla, Rocketwalla and Jain, wearing placards and all holding banners saying “I am Anna”.  Identity crisis? Me thinks so. Their parents would be so sad. Yes, the same Delhi that last year played a clueless, ill-prepared host to the world’s athletes (and some local stray canine friends) at the Commonwealth Games, and came out with its head held high, by some stroke of blind luck.  Yes, that very Delhi was in the news for all the wrong reasons (shocker!) yesterday.

First, certain hardcore music fans took the term ‘Trash Metal’ a trifle too seriously. Word on the street is that some half-wit Delhi loons, upon hearing that Metallica and co. had expressed reservations about the security arrangements, took it upon themselves to express umbrage the way only Delhi waaley know how. By storming the stage for a theatrical re-enactment of St. Anger, followed by the customary mother/daughter/sister slogans, and general destruction. Metallica, you only have yourself to blame. The people of Delhi when asked, chanted in unison that you are hereby Unforgiven. To them it’s all about the music, and Nothing Else Matters.

The violence on Friday was a perfect advertisement for the Formula One race coming up on Sunday, where a dog almost ran onto the track during practice on Friday, almost causing an accident that would’ve added to the list of unfortunate casualties in auto racing in the past week around the world.

Speaking of unfortunate accidents, Lady Gaga is scheduled to perform at an exclusive after-party at some yuppie upscale watering hole in some ramshackle downscale suburb of Old Delhi. An after-party hosted by Arjun Rampal, a man I thought was possessed of some semblance of dignity and common sense. That is, until, when asked about the ₹40,000 price tag for a seat at the concert,  he opened his mouth to say : “One has to understand that the costs are very high. Maybe if we had a bigger venue with capacity for more people, we could have gone easy on the price. But with less people, it becomes difficult to lower the price. After all it’s business, and we have to break even.” Indeed, break even he has to, for he is a struggling businessman with no other source of income but to fleece India’s teenage monsters. The local media have been going gaga (I’m sorry, it really was too easy, I can’t believe I held that one in so long) with reports of the exclusive after-party and Rampal’s scarcely contained glee, as he giggled and blushed like a little 10-year-old girl waiting with bated breath for Miss Gaga to perform at his exclusive event.

Out on the streets, Delhi’s sex workers were heard expressing anguish and outrage that Miss Gaga was able to rake in upwards of ₹40,000 for crooning lyrics as profound and soulful as:

Let’s have some fun, this beat is sick
I wanna take a ride on your disco stick
Don’t think too much, just bust that kick
I wanna take a ride on your disco stick

while they are barely able to command ₹500 for offering the same (in roughly similar sounding words) to commuters and passers-by at red light areas.

Back to the Formula One race itself. A long-cherished dream of every Indian. Almost as cherished a dream as becoming an engineer, once upon a time. Cue an incessant stream of Facebook news feed updates with posts titled anything from “I’m so proud of India”, to “Vande Mataram”, to “Vijay Mallya for president”. Call me silly, but I’m willing to wager a not-too-small sum of money, that AR Rahman been booked well in advance, to be up on the starting line singing the National Anthem prior to, after and during the race. Why you ask? Because it is a matter of national pride, to host a global event of such delusions of grandeur and prestige. Remind me again, why Indians are not up in arms against this race, like we all were when the La Tomatina festival reared its rotten head in Bangalore, Delhi, Ahmedabad and other cities around the country a month ago. Back then the outrage was borne out of depriving farmers of their hard-earned living, paying them a pittance, and we all were suitably outraged, venting on MyFace, YourSpace, Tumblr, Grumblr and a million other social networks out there.

To be clear, I’m not against the sport itself. But let’s try and get this straight shall we, it’s JUST a race. And like any other race, it is a sporting spectacle, run as always, by politicians who got their cut of the government money that went into financing this exercise in phallus size comparison. It is no reflection of the power of a country, it is no statement of prowess or ambition. All the pundits will tell you it is GOLD to host an international event. It brings in tourism, it boosts revenues, and gives our economy a massive erection. But maybe we can put off the jhanda waving and the tricolour hats until we don’t have as many underage children getting sold as sex slaves in the capital. Until our bhai log in the capital can keep themselves civilized at public events, instead of  going apeshit crazy at the drop of a hat. Until, perhaps, the leader of our country grows a pair, and does something significant towards bringing to justice a hardened remorseless terrorist after 3 years of dawdling. Scratch that last one, it ain’t gonna happen.

Till then, perhaps we can put hosting global events on the back burner, focus on things that need focus, and go back to paying ₹1000 to watch Shahrukh Khan whoring himself out on any number of commercial ventures *cough* movies, and give our film fraternity a well-earned pat on the back for their achievements in the field of scarcely-credible-cinema-making.

November 30, 2008

In the land of the blind…

Another barbaric attack ….. another few disillusioned young men drawn into and brainwashed into terrorism, to savage a country and hold it to ransom for 60 hours. Another hundred or two hundred lives snatched away in an instant. Yet at the end of it all, how far have we come. Since the last attack on Mumbai, that bustling epitome of India’s spirit, the instinct to survive and move on with your life, how much has changed in the way we have looked at our own security. The politician’s perspective certainly hasnt changed. He still prowls around the area, waiting for the opportune moment to pounce on a city ravaged with war, terror and attacks on its innocence. And come election time, no matter what the previous government did, the incumbent is made to look like a terrorist, with mud slinging matches waged with such ferocity and passion.

The politician’s point of view hasn’t changed one bit in those 2 years that have gone by, purely because he hasn’t lost a close member of his family. He still drives around the city when and where he pleases, with his Z-level security, attending the occasional session of Parliament, storming the well of the house (Lok or Rajya Sabha), demanding adjournement for the days proceedings, throwing that tantrum long enough for the speaker to adjourn the session. A nice leisurely stroll outside Parliament lawns, and back again that afternoon for another stalled session of parliament, held up by another moron, armed with the most trivial of reasons to postpone the parliament session till the next day. All done for the day, and its back to the free airline ride back home in business class, and all the other perks. If there’s one thing our politicians haven’t realized till today, it’s that they are reponsible for the security of India. Yes, INDIA. NOT Mumbai, NOT Chennai, NOT Hyderabad, NOT Delhi. FOR INDIA. For the security of its people, and to uphold the sovereignty of the country, that has been entrusted into their not-so-able hands. Death hasn’t hit them as close as it has hit us, hit our friends and their families, hit our own loved ones. Which is why they still walk around with the audacity to tell us we’re safe when clearly we are not.

When a boat loaded with armed youth docks near Colaba to offload a few young men, with satchels on their shoulders, everybody shrugs, pays little heed, and walks on. Not one suspicious look here or there. Thats cause we’ve been exposed to so much in our lifetime, that when we see obvious hints before us, we often fail to see them. What was the Coast Guard doing at the time. Shouldn’t every single boat/ship/cruise liner entering the maritime border be subjected to the most intense scrutiny and security check? Its easy to say this in retrospect, once you know where they come from. How much easier should it have been then, for politicians to stop their bickering for once, and realize the threat before it struck in such horrific fashion. POTA came into effect in 2002. In the intervening 6 years, how many terrorists have been detained under this law, found guilty and been sentenced to death or life imprisonment ? Easy. Barely a handful. Contrast this with the number of politicians who’ve used and abused this for their whims and politican mileage. Vaiko, an inconsequential player in Indian politics, is symbolic of this problem. Pass a law into effect, and the loopholes in it get used by every singe politician. Compare this with the USA. As those of you who know me will agree, I’m not among the biggest fans of the USA. The one attack that was perpetrated on their soil was 9/11 and their reaction was so swift, so hard, it crushed the forces of terror that carried out those crimes. In the past 7 years, NOT ONE single attack has been carried out on US soil since. This isn’t to imply that the USA is suddenly a safe haven in the midst of global terror. It’s just the way they have responded. They’ve got into the mindset of that terrorist, and acted swiftly and with force. Contrast this reaction with that of the Indian government.

Look at this video, and tell me how much confidence you got in the government and their capability to handle the situation, by hearing Mr. Manmohan Singh talk here. NONE. In all honesty, it looks like the PM was reading his message off a teleprompter as is so often the case, NOT speaking TO the Indian populace from his heart, from a strong conviction that the perpetrators of this crime would not be let free that easily. In all honesty, if you want visible proof of the last vestiges of Manmohan Singh’s manhood, you could probably find them floating in a bottle of formaldehyde, on Sonia Gandhi’s desk. Truth is, the man lost all trace of his manhood the second he got installed as the puppet Prime Minister by Sonia Gandhi. The man has POSITIVELY NO SENSE of how to lead a country. For those who disagree, let me remind you here is the man, the self same man who was our leader when Mumbai got attacked in 2006. There again, he promised to find the terrorists and hunt them down. Whats changed. The answer? NOTHING. Nothing has changed cause this government, as others before it, believes in patching up the system, not overhauling it in its entirety. Nothing has changed because apart from talking, this government has done absolutely nothing, to ensure such terrorists are nabbed. Life simply goes on, the politicians make their stump speech about the Spirit of Mumbai, among other cliched terms, to stir up strong emotions within us, to inspire some hope, then pray really hard that the citizens forget the trauma, and that life goes back to normal.

Today, the government will react, I’m sure, by deciding to pass a law to secure the water boundaries all around its perimeter. Too little, too late. In the land of us blinded by rage, the one eyed man has convinced us that we are indeed blind, and that they know the path to safety. To them, i say ENOUGH. ENOUGH of your abuse of power. ENOUGH of trivial words like loss, unity, patriotism, anger that you bandy around in moments like these. ENOUGH of old men, past their 60s, 70s and possibly 80s, running their country, like a record player stuck on the same discordant note. ENOUGH of petty bullshit like Mr. Manmohan Singh, Jaswant Singh, and L K Advani bickering on whether or not to fly in the same airplane side by side, while the paratroopers, the NSG are forced to wait 15 hours. 15 BLOODY HOURS. And ultimately take a ride on Delhi BestBus to get to Mumbai. If you leaders can’t coexist, why are you in power in the 1st place. it is US, the imbeciles, the fools who vote you into power every single time and are made to feel like bigger fools with every immature, reckless and political statement you make. Imagine the leader of a country, supposed to be a minority leader, for whom it is too low or demeaning to fly with the opposition leader. For whom his ego needs to be massaged in the midst of a national crisis. What kind of IMPOTENT wimp of a leader of a nation is this. No wonder we are the constant target of terror strikes on such a scale.

Dawood Ibrahim must be sitting in Pakistan now amazed beyond his wildest imagination at the ease with which he was able to carry off this entire mission. Yet we’re the ones left grappling and trying to come to terms with this monumental loss of life. The first step we can take as a nation is not to play the blame game. Thats the prerogative of the government, and thats something they are specialized at. I was rather amused to hear this piece of analysis from one of the experts, on one of the leading news channels. He said “I dont think the government itself knows the meaning of intelligence, and I’m talking about a different kind of intelligence here”. When a government deliberately ignores intelligence reports indicating a major strike on the country, some heads must roll. But apart from the traditional rolling of heads, concrete steps must be taken to ensure this kind of idiocy, foolish ineptitude is never witnessed again, not by our generation, and for sure not by our children. Government at the highest level needs to be purged of the officials who do nothing. We’re sick of words. We want deeds to back up those empty hollow words.

More than anything else, this incident should be the wake-up call for the rest of us. Never before in terrorist history has the entire event played out before our very eyes. 60 hours of non-stop coverage of the event, almost turned the lives of Mumbaikars into reality TV beamed into our living rooms. By taking it lying down all these years, we’ve emboldened the terrorist organizations worldwide to attack us. 2 years back, they used bombs planted in crowded suburban trains. Today, they walked into our bus terminals, our homes and hotels in a city we are proud to call ours, and opened fire with the confidence that comes only from foolishness or the confidence that comes from a feeling of invincibility. I suspect it is the latter. Today they took our hotels hostage, tomorrow it could very well be our homes. We aren’t safe in our homes anymore, and this wake up call has sounded way too close for us to ignore any longer. Our entire political system needs upheaval, and the government should be held responsible for its actions (more so, the lack of any).

Above all else, here is a message to the government. STOP taking the SPIRIT of this great country for granted. Every single time we have been held to ransom by terrorist forces, Mumbai has stood tall as a beacon of strength, a symbol of perseverance through personal loss and bereavement. People have woken up the next day and taken the same metro train that was blown to bits the day before. That comes from an inner resolve, a strength that goes beyond human fortitude. It has come from the belief that we are strong enough to make it through anything. But this crisis has shown us that we are all too mortal.

But here’s my one SINGULAR message to the political hierarchy in Delhi, Mumbai and our country in general. Today you were lucky to survive. Tomorrow it could strike closer home to YOU. That could be YOUR family in the Taj or some other posh locale. Even an iron-clad spirit can break. the most strong-willed resolve can crack. Don’t wait for us to crack. Be the support we need to hold us up. STOP TAKING THE SPIRIT OF MUMBAI FOR GRANTED. JUST AS YOU SHOULD STOP TAKING YOUR COUNTRY FOR GRANTED. The spirit of this glorious nation is in the courage of its brave people. It not some untapped resource for you to use at ur whims to explain away all your failings. We’ve been blind to your ineptitude till now, and you have convinced us all along that you knew better. We’ve got our own eyes opened now, and we’ve got them focussed squarely on you.

August 19, 2008

My reservations about reservations

Reservations, quotas, SC, ST, backward classes, all English words, yet all are indicative of one country, India, and symbolic of a deeper malaise. Whats the deal with reservations anyway, and why do people in our country fall over each other clamouring for admissions to schools, colleges, universities and jobs alike. You know something is wrong when meritorious students line up for admission into prestigious engineering and medical institutions of higher learning, only to see a SC/ST/OBC student in front of them whip out his SC certificate, and walk away with an admission that he might not necessarily have deserved. Meanwhile the deserving student is left biting the dust. With such foolish and inept politicians in charge, such laws have come to be expected. Increasing disillusionment among the working class and students alike has already begun to have a telling effect, with more and more students leaving India to pursue their higher studies abroad. Who would blame them? I personally would be sick to my stomach to even consider continuing in such an educational system either, if i were to be rejected admission because of some undeserving backward caste person taking my place, when i clearly had more merit and stronger ranking than the other guy.

One of our presidents once famously quipped “India is probably the only country in the world, where people fight and protest to be called backward”. I couldnt have said it any better. In the midst of a generation and a global race for development and progress, it is indeed an oxymoron to hear people protest for reservations for “backward” classes. Lets stop for a minute. Who the heck are these BACKWARD classes anyway. Those who cannot stand up on their own feet ? Give me a break. If at all there are people who can’t stand on their feet, it is those who are poor. Those families, those citizens of our nation who deserve support and help. Yet, often it is these families, and children from such backgrounds that show they have the gumption, the desire to fight the odds and reach great positions in society. I firmly support and endorse (and I’m confident that most people of our nation would agree with) reservation/quotas for poorer sections of society in universities and other places in society. That makes some sense, and is probably what the original spirit of the reservation and quota system was intended to be.

Yet, somewhere down the line, quotas and reservations have been synonymous with robbing the deserving of their due, and thrusting it into the hands of a handful who call themselves BACKWARD to move FORWARD in life, thereby diluting the quality of graduates and the system in general. Latest in this series of incidents is the announcement by the Indian government, of a controversial affirmative action bill in Parliament, under which the number of seats set aside for lower-caste students in premier institutions like AIIMS, IITs and IIMs will increase to nearly 50% to “enable more underprivileged and disadvantaged groups access to higher education”. Yeah right Mr. Arjun Singh, if thats what you say. Our politicians, in their blatant greed for votes and power, and with one eye on the vote bank, are seeking to entice these “BACKWARD” communities by canvassing for increased reservation in education. The one sphere of life where quotas have no place is in education. It is here that a student’s dreams are shattered or allowed to soar. By promoting casteism, and segregation of communities based on draconian systems, India’s stock is only bound to fall in the coming years.

To counter this growing push for reservations, I’d like to throw in my 2 cents worth. How about this for a solution instead? Since BACKWARD castes are seeking permanent BACKWARD status, why not have 1 or 2 national level institutions on the same scale as IIT set up with the primary goal of assimilating the best and finest of talents among the quotas. While this would guarantee the regular crowd of students a fair shot at their ambitions, it would also ensure that the minorities or quota seeking crowd are given a fitting chance as well. By having a separate institution or entity created with the sole intention of accommodating these classes, it would also ensure fair and equal representation of this section of society. This would also push the SC/STs to fight for their position or admissions based on merit, rather than survive all their lives living on quotas. Consequently, it would help generate healthy competition, so that being a SC/ST does not automatically qualify a person for undeserving benefits.

In a country like India beset by growing pains, and struggling to bridge the gap from being a 3rd world country into a developed country, it is issues like these that keep us from becoming a global economic and knowledge superpower. While the perfect solution to this menace would be to do away with reservations and quotas altogether. However, knowing the Indian political situation, it appears unlikely that this is going to happen anytime soon. By isolating reserved quotas into their own institutions, their quality can be monitored by government and/or private organizations. This would enable deserving students attempting to get through on merit, from both categories, to achieve what they have set out for, while also weeding out the posers, those in it just for the quota, those who do not belong. In the long run, the Indian education system would be the richer for this change.

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