Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Paradise Lost: An Obituary and a Birth Certificate

November 29, 2008 4 comments

“We are going to Bombay!” responded Dad one summer to the biannual question “Where are we going?” that I posed every time I saw Mom and him Pack. As a child, the prospect of travel always excites one, but the prospect of travel to Bombay was overwhelmingly exciting and I still remember it, for that when I classified India; into Bombay and every place else. I still do.

Events, Places and People in our memory are all subject to the impact that they leave on us. The mind, being a super efficient machine, skims out those whose impacts have waned over time to make way for the new. The impact that Bombay had on me when I first met her as a kid, may perhaps be recounted with the fact that a decade and a half later, the love affair that started back then is still as passionate as ever. I still call her Bombay and she fill me with a love so strong that when I am not with her I yearn to be with her. A love so strong that every event that registered in my memory a painful moan of that beloved city, makes me wince. The latest of these however, made me cry.

Bombay isn’t a stranger to violence, neither are those millions who have a relation with her. There have been acts of violence perpetrated throughout her past, tearing apart at least as much if not more. Why then was this the most disturbing? There are three main reasons.

The first among the reasons for this is the intent behind the attack. Terrorism, as I have noted in my writings, is not based upon the idea of violence but on the idea of threats of violence. Terrorist attacks are generally directed to create a sense of panic; the understanding behind it that out of fear of violence, their demands shall be met. Sometimes, a terrorist attack is directed to inflict pain upon those whom they believe to be perpetrator of pain to their people. But this, is a proclamation of their fearlessness, conviction and power. These attacks weren’t designed to kill more people or cause more direct damage, they were designed to get the maximum attention to them. And to one fact: We are determined to kill all who do not ascribe to our philosophy and we have the capacity to do so. It is this bold statement of aggression that fills us with much deeper distress than ever before.

The second is the fact that it exposes major flaws in our administrative and security infrastructures. Placing makeshift home bombs on cycles in crowded markets or in tiffins in trains is an act that can be carried out by people who are untrained and driven by hate and propaganda; brainwashed into these acts. Cheap local goons can be used to carry out these acts of cowardice who may have been hired for a very short duration in a tiered fashion making traceability more difficult. Stabbing the jugular vein of an economy by holding its premium stakeholders at ransom, using militants who have the backing of a money chain that allows them access to good equipment and training, is something that takes much much deeper planning. This coupled with the fact that they didn’t seek anonymity, hints that traceability was pretty much present; *we* failed to note and act to prevent it.

And the third fact is that these attacks signal a much greater link and co-operation between the global terror vendors. The arms, the training and the plan all point to a much greater collaboration. It would seem as though the groups who now target the developed nations who have waged their war on terror are not too far from those who seek to break down my country at the grass root level; destabilize its society and damage the collective economy. It connects the dots from Dawood and the Dubai Underworld to the Kashmiri militants and Al Qaeda. The writing on the wall is: We really have a united agenda: The business of death. The same people want to see Madrid, London, New York and Bombay Burn. Because they are inherently not seeking anything reasonable, they just ‘want to watch the world burn’.

Terrorism, gentlemen, now has a face, money, conviction, connections and capability to strike anywhere.

It is here that a united stand on this threat is the call of the hour. The nations of the world need to address this problem together. Our houses, are all so close together, a fire breaking out in one, can burn the whole town down.

What then do we need to address this call, the open challenge that now faces all of us? The answer to this is two fold:

  1. We need to develop strong leaders. World over, the common man is a follower. And this is due to circumstances. The ice-cream peddler on the road is not incapable of thought. He is simply not at the luxury. He has issues from income to family to health. He is preoccupied with his life and understandably so; there is no other motive for him to function as he does except for his own life. This common man needs a leader. A leader who he can look up to because he leads by way of example. A leader who can take care of everything indirectly related to his life so he can focus on his immediate ones. At no point of time in our life times, has the call for a leader been so desperate. Our representatives have failed us time and time again.
  2. We need responsible citizens. Every thing else is function of who and how we are. It is us who has places these representatives who aren’t even capable of thinking in decision making positions. We are the ones who have given birth to and consume this irresponsible sensationalist media. We are the ones who have made our systems corrupt, rusty and inefficient. OUR inaction is to blame for everything: from dirty politics to non responsive systems. All our social structures are a reflection of who we are.

In simple words, we need to address the situation by two means. A top down approach, finding the leaders for the world. A bottom up approach, changing who we are.

Making memories is hardwired to animals with developed brains, notably Mammals. Forgetting is an acquired trait, a conscious choice. Learning to forget is a process initiated by the choice of indifference. As with all animals, it is in our nature to survive. We, therefore, do what we believe to be the best to survive. Sometimes, it means remembering and sometimes, it means forgetting.

To survive this madness, we need to forget our differences and remember these painful events, for “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana) We also need to remember and resound the faith that Love can survive, but it needs help from us.

As I resound this faith, I can’t help but remember words from great Hasya Kavi (satirical poet) Surendra Sharma:

कोई फर्क नही पड़ता, इस देश में राजा रावण हो या राम,

जनता तो बेचारी सीता है, राजा रावण हुआ तो हरण कर ली जायेगी

और राजा राम हुआ तो अग्नि परीक्षा के बाद भी ठुकरा दी जायेगी

I write this as an obituary to two:

A Broken, shattered, beguiled, betrayed behemoth of a city and those who died in their honour.

But Bombay is an eternally regenerating strand of life; a Phoenix, that just like always will rise from its ashes. It changes bodies, forms, names but the spirit remains the same. It is capable of recycling itself, its dreams, its aspirations, its realities to create life once again. I therefore write this also as a Birth Certificate to two:

The Great Urban Metropolis, Bombay to me and several others, Mumbai to the generations after me. That Loving, Dazzlingly Beautiful, Eternally Enchanting, Magnanimous Land of Gold, that everyone can call home. And to those who realize the responsibilities upon them and are ready to take upon the duties, the dreams and the hopes of both Bombay and its Martyrs; ensuring their sacrifices do not go vain. Let this be the day we reinvent ourselves and be worthy of Bombay and all she has to offer.

I know that I shall be one such soul, I hope you will join me and someday we shall know Surendra Sharma as only a great poet, not a satirical one.

Bombay is Dead, Long Live Bombay!


Pitches, Balls and a Full Circle

May 20, 2008 3 comments

The Indian National Fetish of a Sport – Cricket; has come a full circle, not just metaphorically but in actuality.

It makes a very interesting case to put under the viewing glass so to speak. Pun intended. A sport that originated as an entertainment format, mostly popular amongst our Imperial Masters; infact one of the chief contributions of ‘The Raj’ to the nation, has returned to its roots – entertainment.

In the olden days of The Raj, we would have Gora Sahibs – settled, visiting, delegating; their days through the warmth (both social and climatic) of the subcontinent. They would have the Bhooras and the Kacharas and the Bhuwans all around them spend their time working deriliously through the heat while they would play a little, chit chat a little, screw a little (probably a lot), drink lemonade and repeat. Bliss. Entertainment at the very core.

As colonials however, the British did great good by first setting a legacy, then leting it permeate so deep into the society that inherently all their colonies became second Homes of the Queen. Soon we had nations playing it… and Not a couple of thousand square miles of land but a Full subcontinent, and just as many more – captured by frenzy of what their Gora Sahib’s did, we all picked up a Bat and a Ball and there we were! Now it just so happens that as a race, we’ve always been decidedly dedicated and serious about our stuff… If it be entertainment, then so be it! Nothing wrong with it… just what we are; a bunch of very serious people.

Of course, no master could tolerate their slaves bettering them! I mean, how sad does Captain Russell Look when Bhuwan Beats Him! Bhuwan – you did bad, you agitated the Brits. Come on Man! He had a potential girlfriend watching and you made him look bad… Not Good Manners. But more on that later.;

Enter Cricket as a sport.

So, all the cricket playing nations got into it – this time as a sport. With zest. With Vengeance. And Cricket became not just a sport but a passion so unparalleled that it belittled every other sport. Before we knew it, we were doing it all over the place. In gullies, in little rooms, on roads, in schools… every where you could have space to swing two arms. Naturally, this does to Cricket what Brazil does to Football! Everyone makes the sport sportier, more passionate, more involved. Streets would run empty when there was a big sporting rivalry! Nothing above Pride in this country after all.

Enter Me. And I inherited all of it. Before i knew how to tie my shoes, i knew how to swing a Bat. Maybe not well, but thats the entire Brain thing inside my head, which is oh so obvious and needs no mention… it had to be balanced by little less skill for playing Cricket. So then I did what 98% of India, that plays mediocrely does – Watch cricket. Live Cricket. Worship Cricket.

Down the line, actually before this entire scheme of me coming in and spoiling the fun; there were people who were born with such prowess that they knew they were special at the sport. That’s when it became a game. A Game where there were a few Good Men. And wherever there are Good Men, there is bound to be some stakes… In a fast commercializing world, all games were HUGE pots of Moolah! That was when some people realised, the wise ones ofcourse that people are so emotionally involved with it that they would invest moolah! And thus started Betting in the game, on the players, over the teams, fighting for the winner!

Now, i was a kid then but i wasn’t actually Naive to the entire scheme, but then I wasn’t averse to the idea of people making moolah over some thing that i actually worshipped; Pujaaris do that anyways! But then there was the prospect of More Money – by controlling the Betting. eh? Fix it, man!

And fine men, men i respected, those I devoted 9 hours just to watch play came on this route. I was 15, I guess. Some retired, some died mysteriously, the others just stumbled to appear clean. But the facade of naivete was broken. I gave up this religion.

Then there was a time of dismal interest in the game, general dishevelment I guess, there are bound to have been more like me who turned from staunchly religious to agnostic as regarded their stand on cricket – after all, why spend 9 hours on something that someone already knows all about! Naah…

Then there was Mandira Bedi. And Her… lets just say Sarees. For those who realised, that was Glam, entering Cricket. Cricket became more than a game, it became a TRP war… and all is fair in love and war.

Circa 2008. Enter IPL. Cricket goes back to where it came from. A form of entertainment; unparalleled as a moolah generating factory; unequivocally strong as a TRP Hoarder; Dazzlingly glamourous to the ever-willing-for-titilation audience.

Entertainment – Sport – Passion – Religion – Game – War – Entertainment. Everything that has a Beginning… Has an end. (Thank you Wachowsi Brothers)

Brewing Lifestyles

November 8, 2007 3 comments

There’s Big money to be made in the Indian Coffee Market and the Amalgamated Bean Company is the first to realise this. While ABC always had a variety of beans and an interesting concoction of brews to offer both from their own plantations and from other imports, the indian consumer wasn’t so coffee wise. Put simply, coffee drinking isn’t a culture that is intrinsic to us like the Israelis or French and there are few connosieurs; much like America not too far ago. But Cafe Coffee Day or CCD, is changing things fast. And the way they are doing it is reminiscent of the manner in which Starbucks did it – by creating a lifestyle.
So lets start with Starbucks and US in those days when people were growing Sleepless in Seattle because of Meg Ryan and well, caffeine. Starbucks realised that there is big money to be made and it was the first to respond with lifestyle chains. Of course, with Americans and Indians, Movie Stars define Life Style Benchmarks & with a little help from Meg, this is where they’ve come.
Though i respect what Starbucks created, I must also confess that they aren’t the best of coffee makers and this point is subtly put to rest by the poor performance of the chain in places which have cafe’s as pre-established businesses. Consider Israel, they don’t have a single store in the bustiling metropolis of Tel Aviv that boasts of 600+ Cafes! Or Take France where the average Starbucks drink costs you lesser than what it would in any of the old cafes; the exact opposite of the US. Back to my first premise, therefore, Starbucks success is more lifestyle than coffee.
CCD, started a few years back, being the second one to realise the potential moolah in this business. Although the first one was Barista, a chain now owned by the Italian Super-chain – Lavazza, which it bought over from Sterling Infotech (wtf? yeah, me too) for about 480 Cr (about 120 Mil USD); all they could come up with was mugs. Now, You wanna make a lifestyle, you gotta do better than Mugs!
Long story short, Barista spoilt its huge advantage of being the first one to start to CCD; a competitor who didn’t miss the opportunity. Perhaps a catalyst to their phenomenal growth was the fact that they have a good coffee to back up with it. Given Lavazza’s takeover, I guessed that Barista would begin serving better coffee, and it had when I last visited them but I still didn’t see the makings of a lifestyle.
Contrast this to CCD, which has mimicked Starbucks so Well: All that has changed is who they partner with, which too has been largely governed by who is the best bet in the Indian Market as a partner. Snapple (drink if you don’t want coffee), UniBic (cookies), Airtel (WiFi)… they’ve structured it all, and they haven’t forgotten Coffee. And with the chain opening up a cafe almost every working day of the year around the country, Starbucks better make that move fast or it may be too late.

Incredible India & The Butterfly Effect

November 6, 2007 Leave a comment

Advice from the most unusual of people can sometimes be the most interesting. I was at my optician, seeking a new pair of spectacles. Now he is way too senior for me to strike up a casual conversation so i was sticking to the normal stuff when my Mom bustled into the store, visibly distraught – a traffic cop had booked her for parking in a no-parking zone. Now the parking situation in India is so tough in our prime cities because of the huge number of vehicles. (It is, across the globe in all major cities, atleast downtown, but the scene in Indian cities gets complicated by the non-existence of Driving, let alone parking, Etiquettes.)
To this, Khanna Uncle (my optician) said, it’s all because of the Banks. And i couldn’t resist but prod further.
“Banks, uncle?”.
“Yeah, you got that right; Banks.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that because of the banks, we have a huge credit scene today. The indian market is growing at such pace that they give out loans to anybody and everybody for a dime, nickle, cent each! If you give out a loan to people who don’t know shit about driving, and they all end up buying a vehicle each; how many are supposed to be educated enough to understand these etiquettes. Besides this is making the number of vehicles multiply at a level greater than at which the other infrastructure can expand.”
WoW! I was spellbound by the depth of his argument. He should be in the later part of the third quarter of life and am sure isn’t very well researched on the topic per say. But i daresay that the point made sense.

Pride and Sensibility

November 4, 2007 1 comment

As one grows old; time accelerates for him so this may be a disconnect for many but i can’t remember when was it last that I saw people with a sense of pride in someone/thing or a sense of self-respect… hmm… can’t remember… query returns zero records. It used to do at some point of time when I was younger… probably in college.
When did people stop understanding that one should have self-respect and take pride in what ever one thinks is worth and not the other way round, which is the way it is these days – be proud of yourself and respect what you think is worth? The subject of the two issues have completely changed somewhere and this happened like Global warming! I was alive and have seen it happen! Maybe time has really accelerated; for i wasn’t around for the other events which changed us as a society, as a culture, as a race…
The issue is Since people these days have have no self-respect, it makes them forget that others do and they need to respect others even if not themselves! Likewise, if the subject of your pride is yourself, all you are concerned about is yourself! This is the source of all objectification.
Drive on any of our urban roads and you can easily notice this change. You are too proud to stop at a red light, too proud to let a guy on a bike overtake your Santro (and you add that disrespectful scorn too), too proud to respectfully allow that old gentleman to cross the road before you… And you cuss at all of them: “Hey Oaf! You could’ve crossed the crossroad by jumping the signal! Now because of you, my and my santro are gonna have to wait another signal! Damn You!”.
There was a time when i used to think that it’s consumerism that is responsible for this… for commoditising the nation and the world in general… having seen people from several other cultures, specially the commercial ones, I am rested that consumerism (Capitalism, in general too) is no where to blame for this. Everyone of the individuals from the capitalistic society (we are still capitalizing… with a burden of Democracy to drag around, the great Indian bird is usually too slow to respond to phenomenon, unless it’s a matter of life or death… heck, skip that too, we are the slowest with those.) that i’ve met has immense self respect and the same shows to others around them. The same applies to their sense of pride as well.
A question comes to my mind, and please do note that this is just a thought, no offence intended or implied… What history does America have to boast of? and yet they are all proud of their heritage, even if it be a 200 year old building. A stark contrast is posed by our country – a HUGE heritage to boast of and yet no one takes pride in it!
Have we really lost things worthy of being proud of? Has life for the average urban citizen become so unfair that he considers nothing worth his respect? What marked this change and what caused us to degenerate to such garbage?
I’m sure, we have them all around us, things that we can all deem need respect and things that we all must be proud of, both in the collective sense and at the individual level; how, is what befuddles me.
I don’t need to expidite either now and I’m sure you’ve understood exactly what I mean. The question i am searching for an answer is; Before we get anywhere, are we sure we are going the right way?