Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Hindu Republic of Gujarat

We, Indians, are an inherently hypocritical nation. Wait, Did I say nation? We are not even a nation.

To define us as a nation, we have to have some sort of common binding thread running through all or at least most of us. It could be a shared history or shared aspirations or shared language or perhaps shared values. But that is not the case. We are just a conglomeration of peoples who share the same geography but have disparate aspirations and languages and do not even share the same history. One man's hero is another man's tyrant and oppressor. Our historians have been fooling with history, presenting facts in a manner that fits in the larger scheme of things according to their ideology and serves their particular agenda.

And our aspirations are divergent as well. Some of us want to turn this country into a dar-ul-islam while others are clambering for a hindu nation.

Talk about languages. We have a multitude of those. Someone from Sonepat would have a hard time in Mettupalayam getting about his daily business and vice versa.

Hypocrites, because racism runs in our blood. We look down upon dark-skinned people and tend to classify people according to their origin or language. We classify people according to their social status, the region they are from, their sex, their caste or/and their religion and treat them accordingly. Yet we cry foul when we are at the receiving end of discrimination.

We bow humbly before powerful or privileged people anticipating favours and take advantage of the powerless and the under-privileged without any compunctions.

We are a subcontinent of contrasts. Female deities are revered and yet no one desires a girl-child. Women are routinely discriminated against in all walks of life.

This is the India that I left in my youth. And the mentality is still the same, except that the fringe hard-liners have grown in numbers and are slowly encroaching into the mainstream.

I own a residence in Mumbai and was dreaming of spending my retirement there after a lifetime of staying outside India. But lately Mr. Thakre and his goons have made me realise that I will not be welcome, just be tolerated.

I guess sooner or later, I will have to take up residence in the Hindu Republic of Gujarat and will perhaps require a visa to visit Mumbai.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A true story

Once upon a time there lived a man who had two grown up sons. The elder son had an argument with his father on some minor issue which might have seemed really huge at that time and the son stopped communicating with his father and the rest of his family.

Years passed by and the man grew old. And with old age came ailments. The old man had a series of strokes and lost first his motor functions, then his speech and ultimately became bed-ridden. The younger son stood by his side during this traumatic period, helping as much as he could, while the elder son did not care enough to even inquire about his father's health. Perhaps because he had become stuck in that moment in time, when he had that raging argument with his father. That was the picture of his father that he carried in his mind and his anger had perhaps still not subsided.

One day, the old man died. As everyone does, sooner or later. At the funeral, what was surprising was that the elder son was weeping uncontrollably, while the younger son had not even a tear in his eyes. Later, when someone inquired why this was so, he said 'I have watched my father die a little everyday for the past few years and have already grieved for him, while for my elder brother, his death came as a shock.'

Relationships are an evolving phenomenon because you need people for a relationship and people keep evolving. If you had a falling out with someone today, are you doing the right thing by putting the relationship on hold and by going katti with him or her? Especially when it is family? Because you can't choose your family. You are stuck with them for the rest of your life. Because there will be a lot of pain and heartache that you will have caused in the meantime, by your being incommunicado. And because no amount of remorse can turn back the clocks. Does it really matter who was right and who was wrong, in the long run?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Zuma took a shower

When you say South Africa, Nelson Mandela is the name that instantly comes to mind. He was the face of Black Africa and under his wise guidance, the ANC came to power in 1994. And it has been downhill ever since.

Jacob Zuma is the current leader of the ANC, after Tabo Mbeki's resignation. And what kind of a person he is, can be gleaned from the fact that he was accused of rape and admitted during the trial of having sex with a woman less than half his age, who happened to be the daughter of a family friend and who he knew was HIV positive. What does it tell you about the intellect and the morality of a person who says that he took a shower after that because that "would minimise the risk of contracting AIDS".

Democracy throws up some weird characters to the highest positions of power, but ultimatley this is a reflection on the electorate's morality and intellect. Otherwise, how can we explain Narendra Modi's and Mayawati's re-elections in spite of what they have done, or rather not done?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why you earn what you earn

Some years ago, three brothers left the farm to work in the city. They were all hired by the same company at the same pay. Three years later, Jim was being paid $500 a month, Frank was receiving $1,000, but George was now making $1,500.

Their father decided to visit the employer. He listened to the confused father and said, "I will let the boys explain for themselves."

Jim was summoned to the supervisor's office and was told, "Jim, I understand the Far East Importers has just brought in a large transport plane loaded with Japanese import goods. Will you please go over to the airport and get a cargo inventory?"

Three minutes later, Jim returned to the office. "The cargo was one thousand bolts of Japanese silk," Jim reported. "I got the information over the telephone from a member of the crew."

When Jim left, Frank, the $1,000 a month brother, was called. "Frank," said the supervisor, "I wish you'd go out to the airport and get an inventory of the cargo plane which was just brought in by Far East Importers."

An hour later, Frank was back in the office with a list showing that the plane carried 1,000 bolts of Japanese silk, 500 transistor radios, and 1,000 hand painted bamboo trays. George, the $1,500 a month brother, was given identical instructions. Working hours were over when he finally returned.

"The transport plane carried one thousand bolts of Japanese silk," he began. "It was on sale at sixty dollars a bolt, so I took a two-day option on the whole lot.

I have wired a designer in New York offering the silk at seventy-five dollars a bolt. I expect to have the order tomorrow. I also found five hundred transistor radios, which I sold over the telephone at a profit of $2.30 each.

There were a thousand bamboo trays, but they were of poor quality, so I didn't try to do anything with them."

When George left the office, the employer smiled. "You probably noticed," he said, "that Jim doesn't do what he's told, Frank does only what he'd told, but George does without being told."
h/t: darsh1994

Friday, September 19, 2008

Take a nap....

A bear was walking across Rainbow Bridge (Old Hwy 40 at Donner Summit, Truckee) on Saturday when two cars also crossing the bridge scared the bear into jumping over the edge of the bridge. Somehow the bear caught the ledge and was able to pull itself to safety.
Authorities decided that nothing could be done to help Saturday night so they returned Sunday morning to find the bear sound asleep on the ledge.
After securing a net under the bridge the bear was tranquilized, fell into the net, lowered, then woke up and walked out of the net.

There is a moral to this story, you know; this old bear made a wrong move and found he was hanging by his nails. Somehow he was able to pull himself up onto the ledge where he saw he was in a very bad, impossible situation and what did he do? Yep, he took a nap and sure enough the situation took care of itself while he was asleep.
The moral of the story is that when confronted with a bad situation sometimes the best solution is to take a nap....

H/T: Jump

R.I.P. BraveHeart

Senior Police Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma succumbed to his injuries sustained in line of duty and died in the evening today.

Heroes like him put their lives on the line so that common people like you and me can have a normal existence and go about our daily business in peace.

He had been injured earlier in the day, alongwith head constable Balwant Singh, while leading a raid on a terrorist hideout in Delhi's Jamia Colony in the morning. They were greeted with gunfire and at least 30 shots were fired from both sides, resulting in the death of two terrorists and two officers injured.

What really irritates you is the negation being spewed forth by so called residents and local Muslim leaders on the TV and other media. But that should not be surprising considering the long history of negation and obfuscation that those people have been leaning on. Someday I intend to write a lengthy post on this, outlining the history of this negation and the genocide that has been conveniently forgotten.

The United (Socialist) states of America

Okay. Capitalism and 'free market economy' are officially dead as of today. 

President Bush and Treasury Secretary Poulson announced a plan 'that would cost hundreds of billions of dollars' to shore up the ailing US financial system. This was necessiated by the fall of Lehman and Merril Lynch and the resulting loss of faith in the system by investors. The US Federal Reserve had to pump 85 billion dollars earlier into AIG, the world's largest insurer, to keep it afloat.

Where is this extra money going to come from? Of course by printing more of it and increasing the money supply. And what else does that lead to if not increased inflation?

In a true free market economy, sick entities would be allowed to die a natural death and others would learn from their mistakes and avoid the route to disaster. But with government handout programs like this, you can be sure that if you are big enough, you will come to no harm, no matter what you do.

India at 61: here's looking at you, kid!

Antara, daughter of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, sensationalizes and uses worn-out  cliches in her article about how India is faring.

What she fails to mention is that India and ordinary Indians have achieved so much in spite of all the negatives mentioned in her article. Most of what she writes is true and I have to agree with that. But in spite of all the negativity, it is no mean feat to have become and remained one unified country thru those turbulent 61 years.

Looking at India as if it were some sort of homogeneous idea or country is another of the article's failings. India is not homogeneous but a conglomeration of various peoples and faiths and cultures, most of which have disparate histories, speak different languages and have different aspirations. The reality that those various entities have been able to co-exist and thrive as a single political unit, under a democratic form of government, has to be appreciated.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A First for Gold!!!

Gold has had a 70 dollar range today so far! This might have been unthinkable a few years back but with the increase in volatility in the financial markets worldwide, we will have many more of these in the days ahead.

There are various theories floating around as to how this unexpected rise happened. Most analysts and traders were expecting Gold taking a dip below 700 and this was a very welcome surprise for goldbugs. That Jim Sinclair guy has really proved himself dumb this time! He has been predicting $50 and $100 up days since quite some time now. Cheers and wish everybody many more of those ahead!

Edit: Gold made a high of $865.5, so it has been an over $90 day!

One fine day

It was 1975. Indira Gandhi had imposed emergency rule in India. The beureaucracy had unlimited powers and the common man had not much recourse against the excesses of the beureaucracy.

It was a fine day in September. The sky was a bit cloudy and there were fleeting showers. There were these guys at a college in Agra. Kid#1 was of the 'bhailog' sort and had his own coterie of chamchas who were ready to join him in any mischief.  Kid#2 was from a poor Sindhi family who had migrated after the partition and were trying to build a new life in a new land. Kid#3 was an out-of-state student. #2 and #3, being outsiders, were usually at the receiving end of the mischiefs thought up by #1.

Since it was really a fine day and none of the students was in the mood to go to class and study, #1 took the leadership and exhorted the students to ask the principal for a holiday. The mass of students was milling around in the college grounds instead of going to their respective classes.

When the principal came to know of this, he was enraged. The usually mousy principal, who had been emboldened by the powers bestowed on him because of the emergency, ran out into the grounds. It was obvious to the students that he was in a fury. He demanded those students who wanted a holiday declared, to raise their hands.

#1 hissed, 'Don't do it. He can expell us.' He and his group all stood there silently, with heads bowed. Only two hands went up and you can guess whose. The principal immediately ordered those two to leave the college and the rest to go to class.  And no further action was taken agaist these two later.

One incident can provoke different reactions from different people. #1 had a new-found respect for #2 and #3 from that day onwards. Quite a few teachers and students approached them later and praised them for their courage, while others thought they had acted foolishly.

#1, Ajay Dixit was working for Indian Airlines at Delhi, the last I heard of him. #2, Khub Chand, I have no news of, after we finished college and parted ways. #3, yours truly, blogged about it 33 years later.

There are a few defining moments in your life, when you are required to plant your feet firmly on the ground and take a stand, regardless of the issue or the consequences and this was one of those.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Nero and his fiddle

While Delhi was reeling in the aftermath of the recent bomb blasts, Indian home minister Shivraj Patil was busy changing dresses for his various media appearances that evening. When questioned about this, he said "I live in a clean, neat manner".
One can't really blame the guy. After all, he had nothing new to say. Better say it in a new set of clothes every time, might make a better impact.

Life is easier, if you don't speak up.

Life is easier, if you don't speak up.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The movie, A Wednesday

This is embarassing, but I have to confess to it. I just stumbled into this movie today. And it proved to be even more rewarding than what names like Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah could promise. The movie has a rating of 9.0 with 385 votes, including mine, at imdb and if you ask me, it is well deserved.

No spoilers here, you will just have to watch the movie to appreciate it. The two protagonists, Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah provide a balance at both ends of the sprectum, one a keeper of law and order, while the other the extortionist. The tight action packed thriller was surprisingly short for a hindi film, with no songs or dance sequences. Although I would have been happier with less drama and more realism at the end of the film, I will be watching out for other movies from Neeraj Pandey, the debutant director.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Acts of Cowardice

It keeps on happening.

And the usual reactions keep coming from the political leaders. Sonia Gandhi has condemned it as 'an act of cowardice'. And I suppose the perpetrators do not agree with her. I suppose it is brave on the part of the Indian people to become victims of terrorist incidents.

“We are fighting a proxy war and people, government, media, opinion makers, etc should come together to create awareness and work together to fight this war,”

There are certain rules of a war and if we do not fight, then terrorists will continue to attack us,”

That is Narendra Modi for you. We are at war, whether we like it or not, and we have to take steps to ensure the safety of our citizens. Even if that means a reduction in the amount of civil liberties we have been enjoying. A state at war has to recruit each and every means at its disposal to fight and win, especially against a faceless enemy.

The tragedy is that the ruling coalition enjoys being in power because of their main electoral plank — the repeal of POTA. It would be too much for Indians to expect that the Congress-led coalition would jeopardise its future poll prospects by introducing legislation which would empower the fight against terrorism. India has to wait for another government with the political will to bring about change. Till then, suffer India.

Come September

This movie has been my all time favorite. I have watched it countless times and yet it always entertains me. Especially the one-up-manship between Bobby Darin and Rock Hudson.

Every new generation thinks it is smarter than its predecessors. And is in a hurry to pass judgment on issues that require deep understanding. The tragedy is that most of the time their judgment is filtered by their own limited exposure to those same issues. It is easy for them to deride people who do not hold similar views to their own. What upsets me is their insensitivity to the people around them. How can you share a table with vegetarians and recount an anecdote where a vegetarian colleague mistakenly ate meat and was so revolted, he rushed out to buy a tongue cleaner? I did not find it humorous in the least. My own younger brother M, in his teens, mistakenly ate meat and was so repulsed that he vomited it out and was emotionally overwhelmed and then fasted for three days.

The thing is that this is not just about eating meat. It is about a belief system. And people hold their beliefs in high regard. You should be sensitive to how other people would feel to what you are saying. Do not ever joke about anyone's beliefs. And remember that empathy is a virtue which enhances the human experience.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tying up loose ends

Condoleeza Rice visited Tripoli on Sep 5 in the process to normalize bilateral ties between the US and Libya. What led to this visit was a remarkable agreement reached earlier in August.

The US-Libyan agreement established a mechanism to compensate the Lockerbie and La Belle disco victims of Libyan state-sponsored-terrorism. It also included a provision to compensate the Libyan victims of the US counterstrike on Libya, in response to the La Belle disco attack. This puts the actions of Gaddafi and the US counterstrike on Libya on an equal footing. That is a high moral price to pay for normalization of relations. Now let us wait for a US-OBL agreement to compensate the victims of 9/11 and the victims of the resulting US strikes on Al-Qaeda. Because the principle is the same.

This leads to the question, is the Bush administration in a hurry to tie up loose ends before the end of this presidency?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Human Resources Manager

(h/t RamSarit)

One day while walking down the street a highly successful Human Resources Manager was tragically hit by a bus and she died. Her soul arrived up in heaven where she was met at the Pearly Gates by St. Peter himself.

"Welcome to Heaven," said St. Peter. "Before you get settled in though, it seems we have a problem. You see, strangely enough, we've never once had a Human Resources Manager make it this far and we're not really sure what to do with you."

"No problem, just let me in," said the woman.

"Well, I'd like to, but I have higher orders. What we're going to do is let you have a day in Hell and a day in Heaven and then you can choose whichever one you want to spend an eternity in."

"Actually, I think I've made up my mind, I prefer to stay in Heaven", said the woman

"Sorry, we have rules..."

And with that St. Peter put the executive in an elevator and it went down-down-down to hell.

The doors opened and she found herself stepping out onto the putting green of a beautiful golf course. In the distance was a country club and standing in front of her were all her friends - fellow executives that she had worked with and they were well dressed in evening gowns and cheering for her. They ran up and kissed her on both cheeks and they talked about old times. They played an excellent round of golf and at night went to the country club where she enjoyed an excellent steak and lobster dinner.

She met the Devil who was actually a really nice guy (kind of cute) and she had a great time telling jokes and dancing. She was having such a good time that before she knew it, it was time to leave. Everybody shook her hand and waved goodbye as she got on the elevator.

The elevator went up-up-up and opened back up at the Pearly Gates and found St. Peter waiting for her.

"Now it's time to spend a day in heaven," he said. So she spent the next 24 hours lounging around on clouds and playing the harp and singing. She had great time and before she knew it her 24 hours were up and St. Peter came and got her.

"So, you've spent a day in hell and you've spent a day in heaven. Now you must choose your eternity,"

The woman paused for a second and then replied, "Well, I never thought I'd say this, I mean, Heaven has been really great and all, but I think I had a better time in Hell."

So St. Peter escorted her to the elevator and again she went down-down-down back to Hell.

When the doors of the elevator opened she found herself standing in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. She saw her friends were dressed in rags and were picking up the garbage and putting it in sacks.

The Devil came up to her and put his arm around her.

"I don't understand," stammered the woman, "yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and a country club and we ate lobster and we danced and had a great time. Now all there is a wasteland of garbage and all my friends look miserable."

The Devil looked at her smiled and told...















Yesterday we were recruiting you, Today you are an employee!!!

Two stories

Have you ever seen people trying to get into a crowded bus in Mumbai? The people already in the bus will resist your trying to enter and once you are in, you will become the same. You will complain about other people trying to board an already full bus and reducing the space available to you.

SJ was a friend I had known for a long time. He carried a British passport because he had spent his youth in Aden and after the troubles there, had gone to the UK and gained the right of abode there. He had a good job here and used to visit the UK once in a while. Every time he returned, he used to complain that Indians were literally invading London and it was not livable there any more. His complaints grew in magnitude with every visit till he finally shifted residence there and we lost touch.

The other story is about a niche mall where we had opened shop. Since the mall was not fully occupied, people who had already taken up tenancy there would paint rosy pictures to prospective tenants. So that the mall may fill up and start doing better, eventually benefiting all tenants. We were also guilty of taking this approach.

So, the moral of those stories is that if it is good, you don't want to share it with others. But if it is bad, you want others in.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

End of the World

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

The world as we know it,is going to end tomorrow according to some. Wednesday, 10th Sep. 2008 is the date the Large Hadron Collider which lies under the Franco-Swiss border will be switched on. Seven thousand scientists from around the world will have access to the LHC during the experiments and will try to find answers to a lot of unanswered questions, including the existence of the hypothetical "God Particle".

There are some who believe that these experiments would produce mini sub-atomic black holes which will devour the earth and end the world as we know it. Meanwhile, CERN, the lab running the project, has commissioned several reports that refute these fears. This is one of them, which has been cross checked by other scientists. But if you are still afraid, it is time to get out your worry beads and prepare for the worst!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Actions, Reactions and Disengagement

Every action has a reaction. I know that already. I learnt that principle in school and believed that the reaction should be equal in magnitude or intensity or impact to the initial action. But when it comes to human relationships, the reaction is at times much greater than the original action.

As a father of four children, I resolved long ago that I would try to treat all my children equally. But in reality, I am always accused of favoritism. The one that feels he or she has been slighted, immediately throws accusations that I favor one over the other. 

Siblings the world over have issues. Nothing new there. Individual circumstances and the degree of antipathy felt may differ, but still it is basically the same story everywhere. When the actions of one of your children are causing distress to another, what do you do? When you have already warned your child that following a particular course may not be morally correct because it may cause discord elsewhere. And still your child goes ahead with it and then the point arrives where what you were afraid of turns to reality. 

But then who made me the arbiter of their morality? I am not God. There is a huge gap between how I see an issue and how they see it. Perhaps it is time for disengagement. We are talking about adults here. Most pain is caused because of the attachment you feel for your own. I should rather start disengaging, because I do not really need the pain anymore. They are adults and have their own set of views and approaches to their issues. Let them sort it out among themselves. Let them learn their lessons through their own heartaches, because I have had enough of those already.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

At last, a clean NSG waiver for India!

India has received a clean waiver from the NSG meet at Vienna. Let us review the facts first and then decide whether it is time to celebrate:

1. India has achieved a nuclear deterrent capability and is accepted as a de-facto Nuclear Weapons State by the international community.

2. India has a declared no-first-use policy as published in the draft report of the NSA Board on Indian Nuclear Doctrine. 

3. India has been a pariah in the Nuclear community since Pokhran I and India's progress in the nuclear sphere has been curtailed  since then, because the raw materials for nuclear fuel are not naturally occuring in India, in feasible quantities.

4. India does not have an immediate need for Pokhran III. What India needs is the expansion of its civil nuclear energy sector because that is what is needed for India's continuing economic development. With increasing economic clout, the need to develop a nuclear arsenal diminishes.

5. What we do not need to do is keep re-inventing the wheel, that is what we have been trying to do for the last four decades and our efforts have been constrained by our natural resources and the state of our technological infrastructure.

6. The BJP and its percussor the JanaSangh have been the only Indian political party which has actively supported nuclear armament for India. Their opposition to the Indo-US deal is not an ideological one, but politically motivated. Had they been in power, they would have ardently supported the deal.

When I look at the above facts, I believe it is time to celebrate!!!

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Friday, September 05, 2008

India and the NSG

What do the White House, the Taj Mahal and Kumbhkaran have in common?   They were the code names of the shafts in which were placed the devices for India's 1998 nuclear test series. Even though India first successfully tested a nuclear device at Pokhran in 1974, it did not become a nuclear weapons state - in the sense of having the ability to deliver nuclear weapons until it passed a full field drop test in May 1994 at Balasore, though most observers thought that this milestone had been passed years before. Because having a weapon without the means of delivering it does not make for a nuclear weapons state.

With the current ongoing wranglings at the NSG meeting in Vienna, it is time we took a look back at India's nuclear program and to evaluate it with the advantage of hindsight.

India's nuclear program started way back in March of 1944, even before independence when Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha submitted a proposal to found a nuclear research institute, over three years before independence and a year before the first ever nuclear weapon test. This led to the creation of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) on 19 December 1945 with Bhabha as its first Director. The new government of India passed the Atomic Energy Act, on 15 April 1948, leading to the establishment of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) not quite one year after independence.

Sixty years later, I wonder how we arrived at this stage where small and inconsequential countries on the world-stage like Austria, New Zealand and Ireland are able to dictate terms and humiliate India? I remember a quote from former prime minister I. K. Gujral saying that the door to the Security Council was open only to Nuclear Weapon States or those with economic clout. I completely agree with him that on the world stage, might is right and in our case, our progress in the nuclear sphere has been curtailed by the political upheavals that a functioning democracy experiences. Pokhran II which could have taken place a decade earlier, had to wait for the correct political atmosphere to build up.

I have been following the frustrating NSG deliberations and will continue this in another post after the final verdict.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Starbursts and Halos.....

It has been just over three weeks since I had my Custom Lasik done. The procedure itself was quite painless and took just a few minutes and I was able to see clearly immediately after that, but was advised to rest my eyes for at least the following 24 hours. I could feel that my distance vision had improved dramatically right after the surgery and the post-lasik exams have confirmed that I have 20/20 vision now. For a few days following the surgery, my night vision was quite bad, but it has improved since then. I see starbursts or halos around bright lights and I have talked to the surgeon about this and according to him, this problem should disappear in some time since the full healing process takes about three months after the surgery. Life has been busy recently and I wish I had more time to devote to blogging, since there is so much to write about, but as they say, everything in its own sweet time!