Saturday, October 31, 2009

What’s “Kachha” What’s “Pucca”, Gormint Decides!

It’s a shame that the Gormint discriminates when giving what it calls “relief” to flood-hit people of Northern Karnataka in the districts of Dharwad, Haveri, Gadag, Bijapur, Bagalkot and Belgaum. These districts have been badly affected by the recent floods and the press coverage shows a grim picture. According to this article in Outlook many lost their homes and the gormint, in what would seem straight out of a Dickensian novel is discriminating between “Kachha (roughly built with mud)” and “Pucca (concrete built)” houses. What they dole out is paltry by all extents (a mere Rs. 2,500 for the mud houses and Rs. 25,000 for the concrete house. What a shame!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bloggers, Facebookers, Tweeters Rejoice - the Future Is User-generated Content

Bloggers, Facebookers, Tweeters rejoice, the future of the internet is user generated content – that too real time user generated - according to this article quoting Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Excerpt:

“It's because of this fundamental shift towards user-generated information that people will listen more to other people than to traditional sources. Learning how to rank that "is the great challenge of the age." Schmidt believes Google can solve that problem.”

This blogger saw this coming, honest. Michael Jackson’s and Ranjan Das’ death came to him through Facebook, every few hour he checks for updates and somehow it all gels, what people and Tweet and what people Facebook (had to invent that term, you know).

How will Google rank them is the question. Already this blogger’s facebook page appears on a search of “John + Matthew” on Google. Trust Google to spring a surprise this time. (Hat Tips: Madhavan Narayanan)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lest We Forget That Night...

He is a sad old man selling boiling gram on Azad Maidan. He does a day job somewhere and sqats opposite the Bombay Gymkhana facing the Municipal Corporation building across from the cricket pitches of Bombay’s landmark green area. He has eyes that weep, clothes that have not been washed for, maybe, weeks, he looks depressed, I can see the head droop, the listlessness of his movements as he parcels the gram to his customers. His eyes are lost, as when one hold memories of someone who is not quite there. On some days he isn’t there at the spot, the space is empty, and I walk past.
In the office we discuss the November 26 strike and I mention that our memories are short. We are more concerned with what happened on the way to work today than what happened only eleven months ago. Come to think of it, next month – November – the anniversary (some perverse anniversary this!) of the incident. What has changed? What have we learnt? The military guards at VT station are alert, expecting a strike any time. I know it from their looks. They are trained to kill, no mercy, no second thoughts. The railway protection forces’ commandos standing next to them loll and talk among themselves, awkwardly cradling their AK47s in their lap, shifting it here and there as if it is a toy. If terror strikes it will never be at VT station, don’t you think? I want to ask, but who am I?
It was sometime before I could muster courage to ask the old man what was wrong. Why was he always so glum, so self-absorbed, what happened? His friend (maybe, a fellow villager) explains to me, “His son was on duty at VT station when the terrorists struck.” He was a vendor at one of the food and knick-knack stalls that provide snacks to commuters. The shooting starts, he tries to climb over the counter to escape, the bullets rain death, one catches him in his side, he collapses into a heap of blood and dies, the gram vendor’s son. He knows nothing about the agenda for which his life was martyred.
Yes, we have a short memory, indeed, I tell my colleague. There may be a few candle-light vigils by concerned citizens at VT (which will be photographed, and then ignored), a few speeches by politicians (who will hog prime time), and then? How will we convince a recalcitrant and truculent generation that terrorism is not good? How can we teach their religious leaders that all religions preach peace and love and nobody’s virginal fantasies are fulfilled in heaven for killing fellow human beings?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

“Jack and Jill” According to Indian Television

This is hilarious, really is. We all know how Indian television reporting goes in a circle, circumambulates, and returns to the very point it started from. While on the screen plays repeated clippings of the same video over and over, ad nauseum. You sit on the edge to catch every word (of some earth-shaking stuff that just happened), you crane your neck, you grit your teeth till your lips are half chewed off, then you sit back and mutter, “television.”

Hat tips for the link: Max Babi.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

An Open Letter to Kapil Sibal-ji

Dear Kapil Sibal-ji,
This missive is my humble appreciation of the efforts you are taking to improve the education system (which has been pulverised and prostituted by the education mafia) in this country. I also speak as a harried and harassed parent who has spent his entire savings (and that of his wife, a teacher [see the irony?]) on educating the only child he has.

It is good that some sense is coming into the holiest-than-thou system that is under your control. Do you know that to gain admission into a Kindergarten class these days you have to pay a bribe of from ten- to fifty-thousand rupees? And after gaining this admission, the teaching is so poor that our children have to be sent to private tutors at additional expenses?

Do you know that these same schools employ teachers on contract basis for Rupees three thousand a month, and sack them at will if they raise their voices? It worries me that teachers in some private non-government schools virtually work for free; just so because they don’t want to descend to decrepitude sitting at home? Just imagine how a badly-paid, badly-treated teacher would instil learning in students? Badly, no? Could you make it compulsory for teachers to be made permanent after three months? That way schools can’t fire teachers at will.
And this thing about cut off percentages for IIT is bothering me. Why have a high cut off percentage when it’s the talent of the candidate that’s in question. So, okay, agreed, if a candidate goofs at the board examination, couldn’t you give him a chance to make good in the IIT entrance, what say?

I think the grade system is good. It makes students become more creative instead of parroting his lines, and eases the tension in households, already burdened financially because child goes to school. But please, good sir, make it compulsory for teaching to be done in schools and not outside it. I mean let not the responsibility of teaching their wards (as you call them) rest upon the abovementioned parents and their private tutors (who are also a burden on the said harassed parents). Agreed, then? To put it simply (or, as my ilk are likely to say, “zimbly”: teaching to be done in schools by well paid teachers, and strict monitoring should be done by inspectors, without news of their visits reaching cane-wielding, thickly-glassed school managers (I know of certain schools that offer oily gourmet stuff to visiting education officers).

And one more thing, lastly, I might add, make all those exclusive corporate-ised, international-ised schools less elitist and make it compulsory for them to participate in local school events. After all, we aren’t breeding a superior race of students, are we?

Yours truly,
Humble blogger.



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Just Back from Kerala....

Just back from Kerala, beautiful Kerala, the state of my birth, mother country, the state that confounds me still with its vivid contrasts and inexplicable charm. I was born there, but somehow I can’t understand it well enough that too after all these years of visiting it, at least, once a year. I have to explain this, um, so here it is: why are there so many palatial but unoccupied houses, why are there so many abodes that have been started but are still struggling to find concrete shape, why are the rice fields filled with wild plants instead of paddy, why are the coconut palm fields empty, why are there more hoardings than coconut palm trees now, why are the areas along the train tracks littered with plastic bottles, cups and food plates? Why are the labourers on street corners dress one day in blue, another day in green, the next one in orange. I learn later that they are the different colours of the political parties they represent – blue is for Republican, green for Muslim League, orange for the Hindu party, etc. So on and so forth.... More of this in the book I am planning to have published, if the goddesses (meaning editors) of the publishing world oblige! Cogito ergo sum.

I had left Bombay with a lot of expectations. I had intended to add a few more chapters to the travelogue I was working on, also about Kerala, something like, “To God’s Own Country – a Serendipitous Journey to Kerala”. This time I wanted to discover the culture of Kerala – how it had managed to maintain the oldest art forms of India like Koodiattam, which according the Kalamandalam Sridevi Mohan (who along with her husband FACT Mohanan runs Samskrithy, a school for traditional Kerala arts like Kathakali, Mohiniattam, and Kalari Payattu) is a play, so vast in scope that it is presented over 4 entire nights, that too in chaste Sanskrit. The content? It’s pantomime, opera, musical, all combined, presented by the flickering light of the holy lamp - Nilavilakku. It’s common knowledge that Koodiattam is the only extent form of Sanskrit theatre in the world. The fact that it is preserved in Kerala shows the love of the arts in this abode of the Gods. Have patience, till you read it all in my proposed book, snatches of which appear here.

I had maintained my Facebook account all through the journey, posting updates, receiving comments, and replying to them immediately. Soon I found myself running out of the balance in my cell phone, making me scamper to get refill, which, alas, was not available in the nearby towns. Finally, as all crises do in my insignificant life, it blew over and I resumed my life of contented online networking. To see some of the crazy messages and updates I shot out of my Nokia go here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Economists' Spat With Arundhati Roy

The Economist published this review about Arundhati Roy’s Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy which wasn’t very laudatory. I guess, in my humblest of opinions, the Economist reviewer wasn’t much aware of Roy’s work for the destitute and dispossessed victims of India’s grand dam projects, economic growth muddle, and craze for catching up with the Asian Dragon (China) and Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan), who have languished close to a tenuous subsistence. Therefore, humble opinion and all, the reviewer has overstepped in calling the review, “Necessary, but wrong” which is rather wrong in itself. Nobody can brand a book, whatever its magnitude or significance, as “wrong.”

So Roy wrote this stinging reply and got this as reply from The Economist. True, I love The Economist for simplifying a very complex subject and its reportage from around the world, but, in this instance I am not with them, especially a part about colonisation that appear in its review. According to this blogger (again IMHO, and all that) Economic Colonisation is a reality and it's happening under our very own noses.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Executives Paid Themselves Rather Well During Recession

Says this article in

“In the search for culprits in the global financial meltdown, bloated executive pay and the excessive risk-taking behaviour it fuelled stand out as prime suspects. Of the two, pay dominates the headlines and provokes the most public and political outrage.”

While the lower minions were being hit badly with the recession and it’s after effects (ah, I can breathe easy now the worst is over!) there is a lingering sneaky memory that while the lowly lost jobs and took pay cuts, the top cream of the executive churn enjoyed same pay and lavish perks, as they always did.

According to the above article bankers in the US gave themselves nearly $20 billion as bonuses in 2008, even as the economy was nose diving downward and the government was spending billions on bailouts. Obviously the person most miffed is Obama himself who says:

"exactly the kind of disregard for the costs and consequences of their actions that brought about this crisis — a culture of narrow self-interest and short-term gain at the expense of everything else."

Friday, October 09, 2009

Twisted Lines, Disappearing Acts on the Highway

This photo is for making a statement, sent to me by a friend, whom I trust. So, it’s for a fair use, I guess. The highway functionary in charge of painting this road erred, err, sorry, the tree erred in that it fell on the road and, the functionary just went around it, instead of through it. It is said that in Russia – the pre-glasnost Russia, I mean – a train left a station and never reached its destination. Every apparatchik available was put on the job of tracing the train and they scanned all paper documents, signalling records, eye-witness accounts, every possible way of recording a train’s movement. But nobody thought of walking down the tracks and finding where the train disappeared!

Another friend recently said that in certain stretches of highways in India you are supposed to drive at a constant speed of 80 kmps and should not stop come what may. If you are stopped, you are robbed and no trace will remain of you next morning, and your vehicle is stripped to its bare parts and sold in the auto parts market before sunrise. I think this friend exaggerates. I don’t know, still highways all over the world are dangerous places, in habited by the dregs of humanity. Remember the movie Mad Max, a cult movie of the eighties, also this blogger’s favourite, which shot Mel Gibson to fame.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Problem with Digital, They Don’t Listen!

This is about penetration of digital media and its impact on advertising, which is what media companies survive on.

The other day a Google representative contacted me for our online advertising account and how they could optimise it. The attitude was rather patronising, which was okay with me, knowing it is Google, and all. "Now that you are advertising heavily in the print media and, sort of, why don’t you try online advertising, kinda, you know, usually we don’t contact clients directly (true!), but we are making an exception in your case." Get the drift? Seeing as to how Google was started and in a garage/bus/whatever, it’s understandable, I mean the attitude.

Then I see this discussion about how digital is the media of the future by Madhavan Narayanan where digital guru Mahesh Murthy has this to say, “The weightage given to older media is perhaps less about the demographics of the target audience than about the demographics and psychographics of the advertiser. The TG is online, no doubt. But the advertiser and media agency aren't. When Mr. CEO and Ms. Media Director only watch CNBC and Friends, it's unlikely they'll put big bucks behind a medium they don't use or understand.” Very true! Mr. CEO and comely Ms. Media Director have a reason to be watching "Friends". "Friends" is friendlier than the average call centre guy with the funny accent hawking digital media. More of this later in this post.

Actually I am a big fan of digital advertising media having been initiated into it very early in my career, but what I am not a big fan of is the kind of attitude fostered by digital media, you know, “usually we don’t do this,” and all. It defeats the very aim of showing how digital has far superior reach, and is far more effective.

So, since I want to give my digital advertising to Google, why don’t he come down for a meeting? “Meeting? We don’t meet, that’s not our style, we could send you a powerpoint and if you are interested you could call me.” Whoa! That’s the other extreme of what business interaction is all about (at least, what I know of it), you know, the one about “close to the customer” and “understanding the customer’s need.” The powerpoint arrives and, as expected, it's all abracadabra.

That’s the whole problem with digital media. They don’t want to reply to customers’ complaints, they don't listen, they don’t want to talk to the customer face to face and understand their needs, they prefer to sit in their “call centres” (some place in NOIDA) day and night and impose their superior-than-thou attitude on customers. If you have a problem with some digital biggie's interface you are directed to a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page and asked to (dumb you!) fend for yourself, because we aren’t interested in your WTF, goddamn business, you hear?

And that’s what should change if television has to handover the baton to digital, as Mahesh Murthy rightly advocates.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Of Chastity Belts and Feign-able Virginity Kits

We have heard of chastity belts Arab men fastened on to their women when they went into the desert, we have also heard of abstinence, but the headline Los Angeles Times headlined “ Gadget to help women feign virginity angers many in Egypt” boggles, nay, flabbergasts!

“The kit allows a bride who is not a virgin to pretend that she is. A pouch inserted into the vagina on her wedding night ruptures and leaks a blood-like liquid designed to trick a new husband into believing that his wife is chaste. It's a wink of ingenuity to soothe a man's ego and keep the dowry intact.”

More at the above link. One never knows if one gets a fair bride who is also a virgin (which is a craze in the West Asian and Persian Gulf region), the fairness may be due to a fairness cream and the virginity due to a virginity kit. What next? Power dildo kits and automatic arousal contraptions?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"That Thing Called Love"

friend and fellow writer Tuhin Sinha (author of That Thing Called Love, which, I am told, has been translated into several Indian languages and has sold a record number of copies, into five figures, which, incidentally, can be stamped “best seller” by Indian standards) has written this piece about love going wrong in mylittlemagazine because of a minor issue blowing up on the face of a budding romance, like that thing always does. I quite like his understated style and elegance.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

In the Neighbourhood of Nostalgia

This post is about nostalgia. Guess it’s good to look back when you are past fifty on my life, my times, how things were then and now. How time creeps up on you, unknowingly. For those of you who think you are going to be young for ever, fact is, you aren't. You lose hair, your body grows sluggish, you spend more and more time in your past rather than in the future. I know the time when I was a teenager and wanted so very much to be twenty, I couldn’t wait. Sometimes I think I made a lot of headway, or, call it progress, sometimes I think the exact opposite. Contrary to anything anyone anywhere might imagine – least of all my son Ronnie – I was born in a village in Kerala in an age where electric lights were rare there – we had storm lanterns for light, and the nights were pitch dark and ghostly - there was no gas to cook, my mother (bless her soul) cooked on the open fire, and there weren’t ruled notebooks to write and coloured nursery rhyme books to recite from. That's why I am dense about most familiar characters that my friends refer to in their conversations. (So, you know why I have that blank look, duh!) I learnt to write Malayalam on sand spread on the ground, sitting not on a desk but on a plank of wood spread on the very sand on which I wrote. Nursery rhymes weren’t “Jack and Jill” but the following Malayalam children’s rhyme:

“Koo, koo, koo, koo, theevandi,
kookipayum theevandi,
kalkari thinnum theevandi,
vellam mondum theevandi...”

“The fire-spitting-engine goes “koo, koo, koo, koo”
It races ahead, the fire-spitting-engine,
It swallows coal, the fire-spitting-engine,
It gulps water, the fire-spitting-engine...”

You, of course, know what “fire-spitting-engine” means. I write about it a lot on this blog everyday. After all, I spend four hours of my day in it, don’t I?

It wasn’t until the third standard when I was seven that I learnt my first English alphabet, of which I consider myself, well, a – kind of, sort of – expert now. My father was away in Bombay and only at the age of eight did I join him in this city that had electric lights, cooking gas, proper classrooms, and notebooks to write my unending oeuvres. I have been in Bombay – a city I hate and love – ever since.

All the above drivel, and stuff, is the sneakiest of sneak previews, of my autobiography, still in the churn....

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Staring Man in Red

A man in a shocking red shirt stares at me when am having my post-lunch banana. I don’t know why. I have never seen him. I look up from my banana and he is staring at me. I nibble at my banana and still he is staring at me. So I search the net and find this painting by Eddie Cunningham (used under "fair use" terms to give some publicity to this deserving artist and some hits on his website).

Does he know me? Does he have any, what to say, ulterior motives, as the cliché goes? Does he know I am a blogger? Or, wonder of wonders, have I become faymbous, vaymbous like some of my celebrated contemporaries from the blogging world?