Saturday, February 28, 2009


Indian Home Maker has written a thought provoking post on provocative dressing here. And Nimmy has written a post in reply here.

Universally, society sets the norms for acceptable behavior. All the individual can do is try to raise awareness and contribute towards changing how a society deals with issues. Even in the west, emancipation and equal rights for any underprivileged section of society, whether women or blacks, has been won one small step at a time.

Here is a story from today's Saudi Gazette. A 23-year-old unmarried, gang-raped woman was awarded a one-year prison term and 100 lashes for committing adultery, getting pregnant and trying to abort the foetus. The judge was considerate enough to postpone the lashes to be administered after the child is born.

I have read somewhere that a society is judged by the way it treats its weakest members. And I guess this society has a long way to go before it can be called compassionate or just or civilized.

The Lure of the Gulf

Visit any Gulf country and you will see Indians laboring away industriously in all types of jobs, from the menial jobs that no local would want to do, to the highly sophisticated ones which require professional qualifications. Most of these migrant workers are from South India and a great percentage of them are from Kerala. This has led to the saying that most people from Kerala are more familiar with Dubai than they are with their own Trivandrum.

Southern India has enjoyed a historic trade relationship with the Arab world with Arab settlements in almost all notable coastal cities and ports of Kerala. The current outflux of workers to the Gulf began in the seventies with the price of oil skyrocketing and the Gulf economies starting to enjoy an economic boom. Most of those workers migrate on bachelor status, leaving their families behind. They live in cramped accommodations, segregated from any interaction with the opposite sex for long periods of time. This results in a host of social and psychological problems both among the migrant population and the population left behind in the home country.

Most of those migrant workers work hard and long hours and remit their savings back home for their families to enjoy a comparatively good standard of living. This influx of Gulf money has proved unhealthy for Kerala. Because it has not generated any lasting development back home. Instead, it has made the local economy even more dependent on exporting its human capital for the purpose of earning remittances.

But things are changing. It is not only monetary considerations these days which come into play when a highly qualified professional decides to migrate to the Gulf. Nowadays for the Muslim professional from the subcontinent, migrating with his family to the Gulf is a chance to enjoy the best of both worlds. Because they get all the material benefits and the infrastructure of the first world, while living in an Islamic state and retaining their own cultural heritage and identity. So they get to live in the West, but without its decadence. Plus they are close enough to the home country to be able to frequently travel and visit their relatives back home. While for other non-Muslim migrants looking for a better life and looking to escape the madness that is the subcontinent, the Gulf is the first step in their trajectory of ultimately migrating to the West.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Jai Ho............

Amidst a raging controversy over 'Vande Mataram' in 2006, while there were fatwas being issued in the name of Islam against singing or performing it, A. R. Rahman came out with his version 'Maa Tujhe Salam'.

His version eventually won the Channel [V]'s Viewer's Choice Award and at the ceremony, when asked, Rahman unflinchingly sang Vande Mataram and took a stand. That proved to me that he was my kind of Indian.

Yesterday, I happened to listen to the dialogues of the ending scenes of "Guru" where Gurubhai addresses the AGM of shareholders in his company and asks them amid jubilant shouts "Shall we show the world that we have arrived?"

Well, Rahman, you have done just that. With the Oscar you have shown the world that we have arrived and you have made every Indian proud. This is a win not just for you but for everyone who believes in the idea of India.

"Jai Ho".

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Regulating Conversions?

The preamble of our Constitution guarantees every Indian the liberty of thought, belief, expression, faith and worship. Further, Article 25 of the Constitution says that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.

The right to propagate religion creates controversies every once in a while. Because propagation naturally leads to conversion sooner or later. Mass conversions always give rise to allegations of coercion and bribery. Even individual conversions are not always above such accusations.

Should the religious sector be regulated? There is a school of thought which believes that there should be a 'cooling off' period required under law to protect the rights of all vendors and consumers. Vendors in this case being the various religions vying for the individual's soul and the consumer being the individual, who should be protected from making vital decisions in the heat of the moment, or under the influence of bribery or coercion. Thus giving all religions an equal opportunity to present their case during the 'cooling off' period, before the individual takes a final decision on whether to convert or not.

There is another school of thought which believes that the state should not take part in any such exercise, but instead insist upon all religions putting their minds together and coming up with a regulatory body to oversee conversions. A self-regulating body formed by all religions, which sets up the code of conduct for conversions, is the best answer to this perennial question according to them.

And then there are those who believe that the state should not do anything at all and let things continue as they are. Because they believe that any regulation would be an encroachment on individual liberties. Why question only religious conversions, why not political ones as well, and then what about career changes by professionals? They too are conversions of a sort. Sooner or later, they feel you will be asking the state to regulate what to cook on which day too.

Should the state just be concerned with maintaining law and order, or do we need some sort of regulatory mechanism to oversee religious conversions? I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In the arms of another woman

A popular motivational speaker was invited to give a speech to a sales team. And he was very good at his craft. He was trying to explain to them the importance of grabbing the client's attention, even if that meant using unconventional methods. The audience was getting bored and started fidgeting in their seats and whispering amongst themselves.

In the middle of his speech, sensing the audience's lack of interest, the speaker declared: "I have spent the best years of my life in the arms of a woman who wasn't my wife!"

There was pindrop silence in the hall and the speaker had everyones eyes and ears glued on him.

And then he casually added: "And that woman was my mother!"

Laughter and applause. The sales team really appreciated what the speaker demonstrated with his powerful example.

A week later, a salesman who had attended this training session tried to crack this very same joke at home. He was slightly inebriated after a couple of drinks.

He said loudly to his wife, "The best times of my life were spent in the arms of another woman."

The wife went purple in shock and rage and turned her full blinding glare on her husband.

The salesman fidgeted for half a minute under her stare and grew nervous trying to recall the punch line.

"Well.............." the wife prodded.

The salesman finally blurted out "... and I can't remember who she was!"

Moral of the story: Don't start what you can't finish!!!

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Attack of the Killer Rabbit

It was a long time back, but I first heard the story of the killer rabbit attack on President Carter in 1979 or 1980, and how he fought the rabbit back. I found it hilarious then because I, and everyone else believed rabbits can't swim and that rabbits do not attack people. I always thought that this incident was a figment of his imagination. That was that and I did not read much about that story later. But the connection in my mind had been made. Talk about Carter and in my mind the story of the killer rabbit attack would resurface. He was either the peanut-lover or the rabbit-attacked in my memory.

Well, it turns out that one particular species of the rabbit can swim. The swamp rabbit is a skilled swimmer. And that this particular incident had been photographed. But this photo was not published until the Reagan presidency. This is the photograph which is in the public domain now, courtesy of the Jimmy Carter Library

You can see the rabbit swimming away on the far right.
The moral of the story is that one should take care in dismissing anything out of hand. We evaluate things according to the information available to us at the time and that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Billu Barber Review (no spoilers)

The youngest one hasn't been feeling well the last week, due to a viral infection which got exacerbated by a dust storm here and so she had to be cooped up at home for the last few days. Since the dust storm has cleared and the weather is much better, decided to go watch Billu Barber last night at the local multiplex, to give her an outing.

Take away the item numbers and with some tighter editing, the movie would have been really powerful. Though I understand the compulsion of commercial cinema and the requirement for the glamor quotient. Even with the item numbers, the movie is the right length at 135 minutes. A shorter film would have had viewers complaining, although a few people might have appreciated it more.

Irfan Khan is just brilliant and Priyadarshan is very good at his craft. This is not an SRK film in spite of what you might have heard. He is just playing himself and does not need to do any serious acting till the end of the film. Even though this is his home production, SRK has given Irfan Khan the whole canvas instead of trying to dominate the movie. And Irfan has performed exceptionally well the character he was supposed to play. The director could have portrayed Billu as a man with a heart of gold with some minor tweaks, but he decided to paint him as just another normal human being, with all the uncertainties and confusion that one faces in life, and Irfan shines through.

Definitely a must watch.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ready to drive

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal is a business tycoon from the ruling family in Saudi Arabia with business interests spanning across the globe. One of his wives, Princess Amira, talking to Al-Watan said that she was ready to drive if the authorities allowed that. She holds an international driving license and drives cars in all countries she visits, except her home country.

All women are legally barred from driving in Saudi Arabia. Families of women who require mobility have to hire drivers or depend on their male relatives to drive them around. In 1990, with the influx of foreign troops in the country at the height of the Kuwait crisis, 47 Saudi women in Riyadh, took to the streets driving their brothers' or husbands' cars to protest against the social ban on their driving. The religious authorities strongly condemned this move and these women were jailed for a day, their passports were confiscated, and those who were working lost their jobs, most of them were socially ostracized. Their move led to the social ban being turned into a legal ban.

King Abdullah has in the past said that he thought a day would eventually come when Saudi women were allowed to drive. But change will be difficult in this ultraconservative society, where women are still considered and treated as chattel.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

India: Constitutionally Socialist

According to Sauvik here, "There should be a liberal party campaigning for Liberty, Free Trade and Free Markets – but that is not allowed by legislation." This was news to me and so I enquired with him as well as with the Freedom Team of India members if this was indeed true. And this is what I found out:

If you are a political party in India and want to be recognized by the Election Commisssion, you have to declare that you subscribe to the tenet of socialism. You do not have the right to dissent on this issue.

A liberal democratic party has been denied its right to participate in the elections because of its refusal to accept socialism, as its creed.

Sharad Joshi of the Swatantra Bharat Party swears allegiance to socialism, but under protest. Immediately upon gaining entry to Parliament, Sharad Joshi proposed a Private Members Bill in the Rajya Sabha to get this offending clause scrapped. Read his bill here. That would not have shifted the constitutional reference, but still would have been a good start. Naturally, all political parties distanced themselves from it. The full debates are here. The following are some excerpts:

"While socialism may be perfectly good, may be perfectly ideal thing to have but I must have the right to dissent. I am not taking any anti-socialist position. I am not taking a position that the preamble is wrong but I should have the right to change the preamble, if necessary. We decided to form a political party. We got a reply from the Election Commission saying that you will have to sign a register, or, have a clause in your memorandum of Association that you subscribe to the tenet of 'socialism.' Now, this is something which is alright for those with a pliable conscience. The problem is for the honest people who do not want to make a false statement."

"To oppose socialism is a very unpopular thing. The strongest point that Mr. Joshi, has made is that socialism is one of the many economic doctrines that have arisen in this world throughout the core world's economic history. To say that you are bound down to a particular economic doctrine, is to curtail the liberty of a speech, and which is inconsistent with democracy. Therefore, Mr. Sharad Joshi is absolutely right that democracy and socialism cannot be equated, because democracy itself means you are right to say things which others do not accept. In spite of all things, he has no chance of getting this Bill passed through this Parliament. But, certainly, in the Supreme Court of India, he is bound to succeed on the constitutionality of the provision."

In the Indian context, there is no role or scope for a political party, which does not have faith in socialism as reflected in the Directive Principles of State Policy."

SHRI SHARAD ANANTRAO JOSHI replying to the debate, said:
"As a liberal, I stand for democracy and secularism. All that I am saying is that as you are being pluralistic in the matter of secularism, religion and faith, why are you not becoming pluralistic even about the economic doctrine? Socialism may be right, and probably, what you are doing is right. But, do I have not the right to say that I do not believe in socialism?"
f you are socialist remain socialist. But please give me my right not to be a socialist."

The Motion moved by Shri Sharad Anantrao Joshi was negatived.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Why the chicken crossed the road

As answered by politicians and other famous folks

Barack Obama:
The chicken crossed the road because it was time for a change! The chicken wanted change!

John McCain:
My friends, that chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialog with all the chickens on the other side of the road.

Hillary Clinton:
When I was First Lady, I personally helped that little chicken cross the road. This experience makes me uniquely qualified to ensure - right from Day one - that every chicken in this country gets the chance it deserves to cross the road. But then, this really isn't about me.

George W. Bush:
We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.

Dick Cheney:
Where's my gun?

Colin Powell:
Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the road.

Bill Clinton:
I did not cross the road with that chicken. What is your definition of chicken?

Oprah: Well, I understand that the chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad. So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes and take falls, which is a part of life, I'm going to give this chicken a car so that he can just drive across the road and not live his life like the rest of us chickens.

Pat Buchanan: To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.

Ernest Hemingway: To die in the rain, alone.

Grandpa: In my day we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough.

Aristotle: It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.

John Lennon:
Imagine all the chickens in the world crossing roads together, in peace.

Albert Einstein:
Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?

h/t: Spartacus

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Omid, the Chandrayaan and proliferation

On the 14th November, 2008, which happened to be Nehru's 119th birthday, India became the fourth country to place its flag on the surface of the moon. The other three are the USA, the erstwhile USSR and Japan. The satellite carried instruments for both the NASA and the ESA as well as the capability for carrying out its stated objectives of preparing a three dimensional atlas of both the near and far side of the moon and mineralogical mapping of the entire lunar surface at high spatial resolution.

More than fifty nations have space programs currently but very few have the ability to plan and execute their own missions. India was hoping to join this elite space club just a couple of years back with the launch of the INSAT 4C on 10 July 2006. However the GSLV carrying this satellite veered from its projected path and had to be self-destroyed over the Bay of Bengal. Finally its replacement INSAT 4CR was successfully launched on the 2nd September 2007 and was placed in geo-synchronous orbit on the 15th September 2007. With this success, India became the sixth country after the USA, Russia China, Japan and the European Union to have the ability to plan and execute its own space missions.

Prior to this, India had to depend on other space powers to put its satellites into orbit. Our priority was to develop the technology for building remote sensing and communications satellites and not to focus solely on developing launch vehicle technology. What is to be noted here is the fact that our objectives were not military but for the peaceful use of space technology. And it took us more than 30 years to arrive at this stage.

Yesterday night the 'Omid' or 'Hope' was launched on a Safir-2 launch vehicle and placed in orbit according to the Iranian news agency. It is Iran's first domestically built satellite and its launch has been made to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution. This feat has been achieved while Iran has been under years of western sanctions over fears that it wants to develop nuclear capable missiles.

“Dear Iranian nation, your children have placed the first indigenous satellite into orbit,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a televised message. He is also reported to have said that the satellite was launched to spread "monotheism, peace and justice" in the world. The launch has caused alarm in the West as well as in the region because of fears the technology could be used to make long-range missiles, possibly with nuclear warheads.

A powerful Iran causes unease amongst its western and southern neighbors most of whom have unresolved issues with it.

In October 2005, a Russian rocket launched Iran's first satellite, the Sina-1, which carried photographic and telecommunications equipment. And in February 2007, Iran said it had launched a rocket capable of reaching space, before it made a parachute-assisted descent to earth. Last August, Iran said it had successfully launched a rocket capable of carrying its first domestically built satellite.

The blistering pace at which Iran has been able to develop its launch vehicle technology points to just one conclusion. There is no doubt that the proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies and the help provided by rogue regimes have enabled both Pakistan and Iran to acquire such technologies and helped make their regions more unstable.