Friday, April 24, 2015

Kejriwal turns dictatorial

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The trio
There is something unstable in Kejriwal’s persona that makes him behave in the way he mostly does. He has that penchant for ‘self-destruct’ and, in the process, he betrays the faith reposed in him by hundreds and thousands of common, educated and well-meaning people as also civil society organizations. One wonders whether he has that inscrutable split personality like that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as it seems there has been a sea change in his personality and conduct since the days of the movement appropriately known as India Against Corruption (IAC).

A man who joined the modern-day Gandhian Anna Hazare in 2011 to campaign for enactment of an anti-corruption law instituting an office of Lokpal (ombudsman) has moved on incredibly fast, so much that he has now taken recourse to political sleight of hand, sought help from goons or more precisely “bouncers” and tried to garner support from corrupt politicians just to gain power – all examples of political corruption. This was not what he created his Aam Admi Party (AAP) for. In 2011 means ostensibly were important to him to get to the end that was combating corruption but in 2014 & 2015 they ceased to be so. A man who campaigned for days in not too distant past against corrupt in the government has himself become as corrupt with the sole aim of grabbing power. His is a personality that effectively masked the sinister and the devious that lurked within him that even Anna could not detect, much less his supporters.

If one harks back to Anna’s movement in 2011 and recalls the massive civil society support that it elicited one would be frustrated by its eventual denouement. The IAC campaigns of April and August 2011 had a singular aim, that of eradication of corruption in the government through the instrumentality of a law for creation of an independent and powerful Lokpal. In the backdrop of massive corruption in the 2010 Commonwealth Games and allotment of 2G spectrum, it caught the imagination of the people, especially of the youth and the rising numbers of middle classes. As the movement gathered strength in August 2011 the media, too, got into the act and gave extensive round-the-clock coverage. And, the tech-savvy members of the IAC made deft use of the social media making the movement somewhat akin to the then ongoing campaigns in North Africa and West Asia for regime-change, eventually coming to be known collectively as “Arab Spring”.

The government at the Centre got flustered and indulged in nervous acts. Having been outmanoeuvred, parliamentarians quickly rustled up a “sense of the house” resolution unanimously passed by its both houses agreeing to action on all sticking points to pacify Anna. Acquiring a larger than life image, Anna broke his 11-day fast. Standing as a colossus, he and the IAC activists mobilised public opinion charging up the whole nation against political and bureaucratic corruption.  A patently middle class movement, IAC’s offshoots cropped up virtually in every nook and corner of the country. Young and old joined it putting the government on the back foot. A bill for creation of Lokpal (ombudsman) that was said to be in cold storage for forty years amply displaying aversion of politicians to curb corruption in public life was expected to see the light of the day.


But that was not to be. Even in 2015 the bill continues to be in the cold storage, for soon after came Kejriwal’s first betrayal of Anna’s movement that brought the government to its knees. Reasons were many including Anna’s failing health and an unwise and ineffective sit-in in Mumbai later that year that was largely ignored by people. What sounded the death knell of IAC was Kejriwal’s uncalled for untimely 9-day fast in July 2012 that gained nothing except ill-health for him and a decision to move away from the politically unaligned agitational approach of Anna. That is when he decided to give up the movement and politicise it by creating AAP (Common Man’s Party), disappointing thousands of the IAC supporters, workers and volunteers who had made enormous sacrifices for the success of the movement. All of them felt terribly let down and betrayed as it proved to be curtains for an unprecedented civil society upheaval like of which was never seen in the country before. It was Anna’s persona and his perceived uncompromisingly honest attitude and those of his close supporters that brought people in droves to join the movement. Splitting the IAC was Kejriwal’s first insidious act.

The political outfit that he created met with unexpected success in the Delhi state Assembly elections of 2013. In the 70-member assembly AAP got as many as 28 seats with the Hindu right Bharatiya Janata Party getting 31. The Indian National Congress that had an unbroken rule of 15 years was reduced to 8 seats. Nonetheless, it was a hung assembly – where the party with largest number of seats refused to form the government, leaving the field open for AAP to run it with outside unsolicited support offered by Congress. Ironically, AAP accepted support of the same party against which it had campaigned for corruption. Fully aware that he had no majority in the house, Kejriwal wanted to introduce an anti-corruption law which expectedly the Opposition did not allow. Kejriwal promptly resigned after ruling for only 49 days fetching the sobriquet “bhagora” (quitter). In view of his earlier threats of resignation, perhaps, this was only a ploy to get out of a hung situation or, maybe, he was aiming to become prime minister as the Parliamentary elections were in the offing, the response of voters having buoyed his hopes.

What has happened in his second avatar is, of course, far more serious and reprehensible. Having been decimated in the parliamentary polls Kejriwal was reported to be frustrated and felt that his Party faced an existential crisis. Unless it did well in the then oncoming Delhi elections, he thought, AAP would have no future. That is when he gave up all his put-on idealism or pretences thereof, bringing to fore his undemocratic, ambitious and authoritarian traits, Late last year many well-known stalwarts including Sahzia Ilmi, one-time face of AAP, left the party feeling suffocated.

 Later his unethical ways were made public when an audio clip of a sting operation on him was released indicating that he was prepared to accept support of proven corrupt Congressmen. Then, after an extraordinary electoral win with not-so-clean means, his feud with the ideologues – legal activist Prashant Bhushan and intellectual-cum-psephologist Yogendra Yadav, both straight players, - made headlines. The stunning electoral win seemingly had got to his head. Not only they were abused in the sting, they were undemocratically expelled from the Party’s Executive Council and have now also been unceremoniously expelled from the party in a high-handed manner. Anybody opposed to his inner party moves is considered undesirable and is promptly axed. Obviously, his true self has taken over and he is now strutting around AAP as a “Hitler” with lies, subterfuge and the like for props. “Clean” and “new” politics has been given a summary burial.

A setback to his ambitions at the parliamentary polls brought the true Kejriwal to the fore revealing a political fiend – self-serving and aggrandizing.

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Photo: from the Internet


Monday, April 13, 2015

A kiosk that is called "gumti"

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We, in India, somehow have developed what is known as a “gumti” culture. “Gumti” is nothing but a kiosk selling odds and ends or occasionally some specified items like paan and cigarettes or rendering some services like plugging punctures in tyre tubes or even repairing tyres.. They are ubiquitous in every Indian town and, I dare say, one occasionally finds them in metros too, especially close to “jhuggies and jhonpries” (shanty towns) which come in handy for the residents of the shacks. These are so common all over the country that there is a saying that if ever the moon were to be colonised the first “gumti set up there in its icy environs would be by an Indian.

I remember to have seen them for the first time in Gwalior in Central India where I was growing up. Soon after independence and the accompanying partition of the country in 1947 an unforeseen two-way mass scale migration of people had taken place between India and Pakistan, accompanied by beastly violence on both sides. Those who survived the violence came rolling in and settled down in various parts of the country. We in Gwalior had our own share of refugees from Pakistan. They were a mix of Punjabis and Sindhis – largely the latter. Sindhis are mostly a trading community and within no time the town square, with its beautiful late 19th and early 20th Century public buildings dominated by the statue of the Maharaja Jayajirao Scindia plumb in the middle surrounded by broad beautiful roads were occupied by the Sindhis and their “gumties” in multiple rows. Not only the beauty of the town-square was demolished within months, the Sindhis, having started trading from “gumties”, soon replaced the local Baniyas (a trading community) from their well-established trade in grain markets and eventually captured from the same community the cotton textile trade. One cannot, therefore, underestimate the power of a “gumti” if properly used by a resourceful man.

It does not take much to erect a “gumti”. One needs only a few discarded tin sheets to provide a covered working space of 30-odd square feet. Any public space is good enough for installing one. Generally these are erected on government or public lands with or without permission. Those who have no permission and yet carry out retailing from their “gumties” end up running the risk of being hustled out of the place. In the alternative, in order to ensure some sort of trouble-free permanence (if one might call it) in their venture they have to shell out money to the officials of the municipal corporations and “haftas” (weekly payments) to the police beat constables. Of late there are reports of municipal councillors or even members of state legislative assemblies muscling in for their share. So, one tends to wonder how does a “gumti-walla” make do with whatever is left of his income after the payoffs. The fact, nonetheless, is that just a single “gumti” provides wherewithal for survival to quite a few. There are certainly a few thousand “gumties” in Bhopal, a town of around 18 lakh and so many “gumties”, obviously, generate a substantial amount of black money, besides providing livelihood to their owners. No wonder most of the councillors and members of legislative assemblies look so prosperous.

 All this is a part of the informal economy. Participants in the informal sector are those who “do not have employment security, work security or social security”. The works they do are of diverse nature. These can range from self-employment involving working out of homes to vending on the streets and may also include shoe shiners, junk collectors and even welders. In India the range is vastly extended. One can find typists with obsolete typewriters to type out documents or public notaries who can sign away declarations made without any collateral evidence, making a living all the same out of a “gumti”. A “gumti” could also accommodate a kewab joint or even a shoe-mender or soft-drinks dispenser. Most of the operators are self-employed and, generally, falling outside the labour or tax laws and are outside the calculations for the country’s GDP. The estimated numbers of people engaged in the informal sector are not quite reliable but it is reckoned to be near about 20% of the population – quite a hefty portion that could raise the GDP up by a few notches.

And yet “gumties “are generally frowned upon. They not only are marked by filth and squalor, they are also spoilers of a city’s urban-scape – run as they are generally by the rural migrants or deprived sections or under-privileged of the city with little sense of cleanliness or aesthetics. The planners of older cities never planned for them and hence they become eyesores for visitors and the city administrators – who find themselves unable to banish them having been emasculated by the political establishment. Those who run the “gumties”, generally, have substantial political backing as they constitute a formidable vote bank – votes driving, as they do, every activity of public import in the developing world, perhaps more so in India.


“Gumties” are therefore here to stay and cannot be wished away in the foreseeable future. We all will have to live with them and sometimes even make use of the services they render. Likewise, howsoever the municipal administrations might try they cannot get rid of them. The only thing they could, perhaps, do is to upgrade them, giving them a better appearance with proper fixtures and arranging them more methodically in cleaner surroundings. Those that come in the way of movement of pedestrians or cyclists and obstructing smooth flow of wheeled traffic should be ruthlessly removed, providing to the owner, conditions permitting, suitable alternative locations for plying their trade. It has to be accepted that an Indian street can, perhaps, never look like the “gumti-less” streets in towns of advanced industrialised countries unless the country attains the levels of their development after banishing poverty.

Photo: from the internet 

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This was earlier published in Record, a blogging site of Record newspaper published from Williamsborough, NC

Thursday, April 9, 2015

DESTINATIONS: MUSSOURIE (1961)

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The Administrative Block of SAT Narain in the Academy
After I did my post graduation my father told me to prepare for the Civil Services Examinations. In those days there was no other alternative except taking a shot at these exams if one wanted to do well in life. This was more so for those who had opted for humanities, as apart from getting into a college to teach the only other option was to try and become a lowly clerk in a government office. Many of my classmates had to take this option as decent jobs were just not available, unless of course one knew somebody weighty enough to lean on an appointing authority. Thankfully, two of my older brothers had cleared the exams and were well placed by dint of their own merit.

I, therefore, took the 1960 examination held that year for the first time in Bhopal with the Polytechnic as the centre.  My sister had a house in Professors’ Colony and I would just walk across to the centre. One of my brothers had told me to take only the Central Services exams and forget about the two higher papers which one had to clear for IAS and Indian Foreign Service. Lazy that I was, I promptly dropped the two papers for which I had been preparing till then. I qualified for the interview which was held at Dholpur House, New Delhi on 30th January 1961.

 The results came out in April and soon enough a letter arrived asking me to report to the National Academy of Administration in Mussourie, a hill station of repute in Uttar Pradesh (now Uttarakhand). I was asked to report by 1st June for a 5-month Foundational Course which members of all the services had to undergo. My family and friends were naturally happy.  A Class I job in the Civil Services in those days was a big deal and coveted by many. Things are, of course, far different now after more than 50 years. Many bright people wouldn’t look at these services for a career. There are far better opportunities now – even in the field of humanities, leave alone the scientific disciplines.

So after a twenty-hour journey through a sizzling night and day
Reconstructed Charleville  after a fire accident
of May I arrived at the Dehra Dun Railway station to a refreshingly cool breeze. I was accosted on the platform by a taxi driver, who somewhat like a clairvoyant, knew I wanted to go to Mussoorie. He offered to take me there for a mere Rs. 20/- along with three others whom he had already collared. When I told him that I had to go to Charleville, he said “Oh, Charlie-billie!” He assured me he knew the place. He had a 1947 Oldsmobile and, with three other boys trifle younger than me, I travelled in style to Mussoorie in a big American car through Dehra Doon and up the winding hill-side roads of Shivaliks. The three boys got off at a tri-junction that, I later learnt, led to Kulrie. We headed for “Charlie-billie”. When stopped on the way, vehicles being prohibited on the Mall, the taxi-driver would brush aside the cops by saying that he was bound for the Academy. The man knew his way around. He stopped inside the Academy just below what was then the Administrative Block, a double-storied structure, and asked me to go up the wooden stairs.

Happy Valley
It was already dusky as it was well past six in the evening. There sitting at his desk was a frail elderly man, SAT Narayanan, the Administrative Officer, working away on his files by a lamplight. A man of few words, he shoved in-front of me some papers to sign. As I signed them I hadn’t quite appreciated that with those signatures I launched myself on a 35-year long official career in the Indian Government. After receiving the signed papers Narayanan hollered for one Gainda Lal who made his appearance soon enough and was asked to take me to Room No. 85 in the Happy Valley block. Narayanan bid me good bye after telling me that he had given me a good room. I later saw, true to his words, he had indeed given me a good room. It had an extra window that not only overlooked the Happy Valley but also let in some very welcome sun.

Retrieving my baggage from the taxi, Gainda Lal hauled the pieces down a few flights of stairs to room No. 85 located at the end of a long veranda. Since that evening this humble young man from the hills became my part-time butler serving as he did eight probationers in four rooms. He would fetch me my bed-tea, shine my shoes, make my bed, provide hot water for the bath, geysers then being non-existent in the bathrooms, have my cottons washed and woollens ironed and run other sundry errands whenever the occasion demanded. Mercifully, he was around with me for only five months of the Course as in that short period he almost spoilt me, as, I imagine, he would have others.

 Even in the gathering darkness one could feel the leafy, spread-out and quiet ambience of Charleville. After all, it was a resort hotel till 1959 when the Government of India bought it for the Academy. The batch of 1959 was the first one of the officers of combined All India Services and Central Services to be trained in here. Earlier the IAS and the Indian Foreign Service probationers used to be trained at Metcalfe House, Delhi – the latter for around 5 months – and officers of several Central Services in their respective training institutions scattered around in the country. As the accommodation available in Charleville fell short, some buildings like Chappleton and Stapleton outside the complex were also hired. After all, we were, all taken together, around 280. Now, having built up a new complex, one supposes, the Academy is self-sufficient in so far as accommodation is concerned.
Next morning, after breakfast, I happened to come across Narayanan and asked him if I could call on the Director. “Not necessary”, he said and added that the Director was out there “under the greenwood tree” and pointed towards the front lawn telling me to walk across. Sure enough a clutch of young men were gathered under a big tree around a tall, hefty,
Reconstructed campusof the Academy
impressive looking man in a light-coloured suit pulling at his pipe. That was Dr. AN Jha of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), the director of the Academy. As I walked over to the group Dr. Jha noticed me and asked me my name. As I told him my surname he rattled off my full name “Proloy Kumar Bagchi”. He seemed to have scanned the entire list of trainees – almost 280 of them – and remembered my full name, an amazing feat of memory. He shook my hands and asked whether I was from Agra. Agra had sent two Bagchis into the ICS, and, hence, perhaps the question. I answered in the negative and told him I was from Gwalior. That was my first and last meeting with the director.

 It was only 14 years since independence and the legacies of the “British Raj” were yet to be shed. Efforts were still continuing to produce bureaucrats who were earlier disparagingly called “Brown Sahibs”. We were advised to go around always with a tie on with a suit or a combination or a blazer that we all had to get stitched. An alternative was to go around in a buttoned-up suit or combination buttoned-up jacket. We also had to have black buttoned-up coat with a black or white trouser for
With friends from Kerala - all in Academy ties
banquet nights which were not quite frequent. It was expected that one would wear a black pair of shoes with laces to the banquets and in no case a brown one; moccasins were not in fashion then, anyway. For banquets the table was carefully laid with several knives and forks on two sides of the plate in their proper order and the soup and dessert spoons above the plate. A circular in the form of a poem was issued indicating the way to use all the cutlery. I remember last two lines and these were “When in doubt, Look about”. Something still was in use then which one doesn’t see these days. The knife and fork specifically meant for use for fish dishes are now no longer seen. These seem to have become extinct. Most interesting part of the Dining Room was its veranda the faced North. One could see from it white ranges of the Himalayas – a fascinating sight. Located as it was on a hill feature with deep valleys on two sides, one could get an unhindered view for miles.

During the first week all trainees were asked to take lessons in musketry. We had to leg it down the kuchcha pathways past the
At the end of a banquet
newly established camp for the Tibetan refugees. I wasn’t an adventurous type and was somewhat diffident about handling a gun. In any case, I thought it wouldn’t be useful in any manner in the central services. Even then for the duration of the training I got up in the morning and trekked down to the make-shift firing range. But, when the man before me screamed with pain and sat up holding his shoulder that got a severe hit from the recoil of the .303 rifle, I decided guns were not for me. I walked off the range telling the instructor I was not for it. That ended my brush with fire arms
.

The Academy was, kind of, a fantastic melting pot where boys and girls came from virtually all regions of the country. To start with, the heterogeneity of the group was very evident. One would find people from the same state flocking together and then there were even subgroups of colleges, like boys of Madras Christian College and Loyola College of Madras or, for that matter, those of Presidency College, Calcutta. Even the St. Stephen’s products would initially stick together. Since I was from Madhya Pradesh I was, kind of, at a loose end. Even the Bengalis who would generally hang around together wouldn’t own me up. Slowly but surely, the barriers came down and the process of homogenisation commenced. Within a month or so the Academy appeared to look like a slice of India – diverse and yet friendly. We all mixed around very well with those from Kerala or Tamil Nadu, West Bengal or the boys from the up-country or the Khasis and Mizos from the North-East.

The Mall
The training was, as usual, a bore. There were lectures and lectures. Among the faculty none was interesting. The lectures delivered by the Director were very interesting.  He had a way with words and he could make any subject interesting. Besides, his good humour held the attention of his audience. The other person whose talks carry an impression with me till today are the ones delivered by Swami Ranganathanada of the Rama Krishna Mission. He delivered a series of, if I recall, four lectures and all were very elevating. His fluency was remarkable, content captivating and English impeccable.

I cannot somehow forget Prof. Ramaswami who used to take the Economics classes. For those of us who were stranger to the subject what all he said in his deep bass voice  flew over our heads. What I remember, is his lengthy discourses over numerous sessions on the economic developmental model propounded by an American economist Walt Rostow which made no sense to us at all having hardly any knowledge of economic modelling for growth. He dilated at length on Rostovian concept of the “take off” stage of an economy, on which he had written a book written that had just been published. The Indian economy was nowhere near the “take off” stage 54 years ago, limping along as it was then at the “Hindu Rate of Growth”, that was perhaps more than neutralised by the predilection of our people to produce more children than goods and services.

The Foundation Course in the Academy commenced at the peak of the tourist season. The Mall in Mussoorie was therefore crowded. People were dressed in their best and would be gallivanting up and down the Mall, the main thoroughfare of the town. That one couldn’t really object to; what was objectionable was most of the young people would have transistor radio slung from their shoulders and play it at the highest of pitch. The miniaturised radio sets were the new toys that had just come out for those with disposable incomes and a these made a mess of the pleasure of being at the hill station.

Kulri Bazaar
Although riding classes were compulsory for the IAS probationers those of the Central Services could also join them. It was quite an opportunity but I let it go, but friend of mine from the Central Services, always keen to try new things, grasped it with both hands. One late afternoon I was hanging around with a few friends in front of the Club House in the Happy Valley. At the far end of the ground the riding instructor was busy giving lessons. All of a sudden, one of the horses just took off with the rider on its mount. Soon it started galloping and turning 1800 it headed towards us.  We scampered away as it neared the Club House. Close to the Club suddenly it froze in its tracks. Seconds later whatever happened was spectacular but could have been really tragic. As the horse ‘braked’ and came to a dead-stop, this time it was the rider who, in his khaki breeches and sola topee took off from the horseback and sailed over the horse’s head and taking a somersault in the air landing on his back, mercifully, only inches away from a huge boulder. Seeing him promptly assume the vertical position we were relieved that he was unhurt. Not quite broken, some newer horses in the Academy in 1961, reportedly, still had a bit of their wild streak.

In July the monsoon broke over Mussoorie with a ferocity I had never seen. The crowds that used to flock on the Mall vanished into thin air. On clear evenings we would take short walking trips to the Mall and find the place deserted. On such an evening  a friend from the Police Service wanted me to go with him to Kulrie – a good six kilometres away – to see a movie. Not quite agreeable I was pressed into submission. While he was fortified with a raincoat and an umbrella I was only in my woollen suit. After the movie we went to the nearby Kwality restaurant for dinner. While we were still on dessert it started raining. We waited for the expected let up. But, no luck! At the hour of midnight the manager told the two of us, the only customers, he couldn’t keep the place open any longer. There wasn’t a soul on the road and on the Mall facing Dehra Dun the rain just lashed against us rendering the umbrella and the raincoat useless. We walked through the six kilometres wet and cold reaching our respective rooms around 2.00 AM

The instructional tour took us to the then very impressive Bhakra and Nangal dams which Nehru had described as temples of modern India. We also visited Chandigarh and familiarised ourselves with the concept of a planned city designed by the French architect, designer and urbanist Le Corbusier. We travelled in an all I Class train which, on reaching Delhi, was parked on VIP platform for all three days. Our stay in Delhi coincided with the Independence Day wwhich is why, perhaps, we were asked Khad white buttoned-up suits stitched. We attended the ceremony at Red Fort, participated at the reception at the President’s House given by the officiating President Radhakrishnan. It was enriching to see all the powerful and influential people in person, including, inter alia, Nehru, Shastri, Krishna Menon and the tall John Kenneth Galbraith, the then American Ambassador, who sitting on a low sofa, seemingly, didn’t know what to do with his extraordinarily long legs. The tea and snacks were just lousy. Food-wise I was happily placed as one of my brothers was staying in Ceylonese Buddhist Pilgrims Association right across the VIP platform. There, with him, I used to have the spicy and hot Ceylonese fare.

Most interesting for me, however, was the visit to Nehru’s house where we had been taken to be addressed by the Prime Minister himself. At the Teen Murti we were herded into a massive hall that was upstairs and was decorated with the gifts given to the PM by the visiting foreign personages. A heavily-cushioned chair was kept near a window with a mike in front. Obviously all of us were supposed to sit on the carpeted floor around the sofa. I positioned myself alongside a wall next to a closed shiny wooden door and stood there all the while. I think it was around 4.00 PM that I heard a click of a bolt and, lo and behold, through the door emerged the Prime Minister himself. He was in his churidar and kurta; without his Jawahar jacket, or his trademark Gandhi cap. He had, presumably, had a snooze and was looking fresh and glowing as also perky. Standing at the door he sized up the gathering and muttered to himself in Hindi “arey, yahan to bara majma ikattha hua hai!”

Another view of Mall
Those five months of the Foundation Course did change me a lot. I may not have paid much attention to the lectures or may not have learnt the ropes that would be useful to me in my later career but I certainly changed. I tend to accept now what Dr. RK Trivedi, Sr. Dy. Director had once told us. He had said that he had seen college boys coming through the portals of the Academy and go out as officers. True to the hilt! There was a change in my deportment as indeed it would have been in others. Coming out of a small town, for the first time away from the protected environs of home, the change in environment made a huge difference and so did the exposure to an elevated intellectual ambiance as also to colleagues from all corners of the country. A colleague had said at the end of the Course that it was a “long paid holiday”. May be true, but during those five months whatever was directed at us had somehow seeped in and kept working imperceptibly inside us through our long official careers.
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Photos: coloured ones are from the internet. The black & white ones are of 1961 vintage


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Crazy Indian cricket fans blame Anushka the lost Semi Final



Australian bowler Mitchell Johnson exults after takeing Kohli's wicket
Anushka Sharma, the producer and female lead of the film "NH 10", is more in the news these days for her presence in the stands of the Sydney Cricket Ground on the day India lost to Australia in the Semi Final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 than for her film that was generally very well received by film critics. She has been held responsible for the very dismal performance of the key Indian batsman Virat Kohli. The twitterati have been very active about it and some of the tweets went beyond the limits of decency. Even the members of a state legislative assembly blamed her for Kohli’s poor performance which, according to them, led to India’s defeat in the semi final depriving India of the World Cup. Thankfully, the team members have stood by Virat, as also his skipper and the Director of the Indian team Ravi Shastri. The latter, in a column, backed Virat and asserted that Anushka had nothing to do with his dismissal and, therefore, could not be held responsible for it in any way.

In India cricket is considered a kind of a religion. Vast numbers of Indians have two major obsessions – Bollywood and cricket and they pursue both of them avidly. That is, of course, something great for the team. The players are idolized and millions of words are written on them in the newspapers of every Indian language and feature programmes and talk shows are held in English and Hindi TV channels. Enthusiasts crowd into the stands for every international match, regardless of its importance and quality of the opposition and millions of others watch the matches on TV. Cricket lovers of India, by their keen interest in the game, have made India a very powerful country in the cricketing world. Actually, because of this massive support for the game the centre of gravity of Cricket administration shifted eastwards from its original base in London.

The support from home crowd is fine but the kind of fanatic support that we see is not desirable; it leads to utter disappointment leading to curses for the team, abusive conduct against players if the contest does not go according to the supporters’ expectations. A hunt then goes on for a peg from which to hang the person whom the unthinking spectators or TV viewing audience consider responsible for the adverse result. In this case they found two individuals: Virat Kohli and, more importantly, his girl friend Anushka Sharma.

Most of the supporters are laymen as far as cricket is concerned, unaware of its technicalities. They only feel happy when the home team scores runs, preferably in sixes or in fours. They roar in support when the opposition bowlers come in for a bit of hiding or when it loses wickets. With the belief that the home team should always win, they go wild when it actually does so. And yet, most of them are ignorant of the game’s niceties and finer points.

Many of them would not have ever held a bat in hand, leave alone standing at the crease facing a pace bowler. And yet, there has been a spate of criticism, sometimes very abusive and filthy with expletives, in Twitter against Virat Kohli who, batting at No.3, scored four centuries facing all the world-renowned speedsters in the recent 5-Test series against Australia on their fast-paced wickets. The crowd does not know that when a hard and solid cricket ball made of cork and leather weighing almost one-fifth of a kilo is hurled at the batsman over the 22 yards of the pitch at a speed of 140 to 150 kilometres an hour he hardly gets a fraction of a second to judge its speed, the place it would pitch in front or on either side of him and the kind of manipulations the bowler subjected the ball to and then to select a shot. What is more, the pace at which the ball is delivered, its direction and the manipulations to make it swing either way are all varied with every ball to induce the batsman to make mistakes. Hence mis-judgments and mis-timings are seen often enough, sometimes these are harmless and at times they are fatal for the batsman.

It is certainly hazardous to face the speedsters in cricket. Their deliveries zip across those 22 yards and before one count two the ball, if not connected with the bat, would be in the hands of the
Anushka and Virat
wicket-keeper standing far behind the stumps. Not many months ago a young up-and-coming Australian cricketer, Phil Hughes, lost his life after being struck on his helmeted head by a fast rising delivery. That Kohli faced them or even faster deliveries with aplomb all through the test series against the Australians speaks much about his skills, technical acumen and quality of his batsmanship. This wouldn’t have been possible without years of hard work on the nets and gyms with dedication, grit and determination to do well for India.

What happened at the semi final in Sydney was a matter of mis-judgment. The ball seemingly rose more than what Kohli expected and having committed to a stroke he couldn’t leave the ball alone and it took the upper edge of his bat only to balloon up to be held by the wicket keeper. Kohli cannot be blamed for it one bit as that happens in the game, and much less Anushka, who herself must have been appalled at the turn of events. The spectators and TV audiences should not get carried away and blame everyone in what, after all, is only a game. They must take losses in their stride instead of causing hurt to numerous people, especially those who have distinguished themselves in their respective fields.

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Photos: from the internet
    

Friday, March 27, 2015

Hindu fringe attacks churches

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Protesting Christians

The other day as one opened the newspapers one found that one essential difference between India and Pakistan had been obliterated by events in the two countries. While two of the Lahore churches were subjected to suicide bombing killing as many as 70 church-goers and injuring a like number (some of them critically), an up and coming church in Hissar district of Haryana was demolished. While the Pakistani attacks on the churches were clear cases of terrorist attacks and were even owned by such an outfit, the one in India was the act of rabid Hindus who not only seemed to have razed the under-construction church but also vandalized it, hoisting a flag at the site with “Shri Ram” written on it. This was a clear indication of the reprehensible handiwork of fringe elements of certain Hindu groups, who seemingly tore and shredded our claims of being a secular polity.

Surendra Jain, a spokesperson  of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a right wing organization, (claiming to represent all Hindus) aggressively defended the demolition, issuing threats that such cases would happen in future if Christians did not stop conversions. Ill-informed as he seemed to be, he appeared unaware that the right to practice and prosylatise a religion (without inducements) is sanctioned by the Indian Constitution. He also erroneously claimed that the First War of Independence of 1857 was fought as a religious war and asserted such wars would continue to be fought until the Christians mended their ways. Alluding to the razed church, he asked whether Christians would allow construction of a Hanuman temple in Vatican – as if the village where the church was demolished could be equated with Vatican.

The foot soldiers of the Hindu fringe organizations are increasingly taking the law in their hands under the mistaken notion that they would be protected by saffron governments at the Centre and in some of the states. Firstly, they are mostly unaware of what Hinduism or Hindutwa stands for and, secondly they forget that people in general are aware of their rights and they would not allow any willful infringement of laws to go unnoticed and, possibly, unpunished. Regardless of the colour of the governments, people and the electronic media are far too active for the comfort of any religious miscreant. Nonetheless, the onus of all such inconsequential acts is placed on the Prime Minister Modi as most of these have occurred in quick succession after his assumption of power.

The demolition of the church, coming as it did after the unfortunate incident of rape of an elderly nun in Ranaghat, West Bengal, attracted keener attention of everyone, including parliamentarians and the Vatican Christians are getting greater attention from the Hindu fringe elements as they probably find them a softer target. Besides, most of the religious activities of the Christians are carried out in backward and rural areas and there they are open to attacks by crude and ill-informed Hindu activists in the general absence of effective policing. However, later a church in Delhi, another in Navi Mumbai and yet another in Jabalpur in Central India were victims of stone pelting by masked men.

Unfortunately, these misguided people do not realise that Hinduism, despite erosion of its secular power over the centuries, survived for thousands of years because of its own intrinsic strength. Buddhism and Jainism, the two breakaway religions, remained as small islands surrounded by the ocean of Hinduism in India. Its spirit backed up by its ancient philosophical base gathered worldwide appreciation. It had been imbibed in many parts of the world and its cultural remnants can be seen and felt in largely Buddhist and Muslim South-East Asia. Besides, even more than one thousand years of Islamic and 300 years of British rules could not subdue it in this country where it is followed by the majority till this day. What is more, with all its warts, India with its mostly Hindu population, continues to be preferred place for residence by numerous foreigners of different religions. After all, it had historically been the haven for the tormented and tortured peoples of the Middle-East and the Far East. Hindu India embraced them all. Known for its “open-arms” and welcoming attitudes, the country, down the ages, allowed people of various religions – Christians, Jews, Parsees, Baha’is Buddhists, Jains and several Islamic sects – to come and find sanctuary here, enriching its culture as also endowing it with a fair name in the world.

 Why shatter this fantastic image by narrowness of mind as displayed by Islamic countries? Do these rabid Hindus wish to behave like Pakistanis who slowly but surely ejected Hindus and Sikhs from West and East Pakistan and also tormented the small
Another view of the protests
minority of Christians? No, we are far better than them. The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi had said, ”The lawlessness of communalism is a monster with many faces. It hurts all in the end including those who are primarily responsible for it”. None should, therefore, be swayed off the feet by what the narrow-minded and mean protagonists of Hinduism preach. Ours is a far more enlightened civilization of which we are proud. We cannot allow our fair name to become spotty because of a few misguided ignorant, uncivilised
and uncultured philistines.

If the rowdy foot soldiers of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) think that by their violent and destructive activities they would be able to protect Hindu religion they are sadly mistaken. What they should do instead is to try and get rid of the ills of Hinduism. Its caste system constitutes one of its great and inherent weaknesses and yet it is practiced with vehemence, particularly in rural areas. The so-called Dalits, the former untouchables, are generally at the receiving end of the atrocities. The incidence of rural caste violence is increasing despite the efforts of the state. Almost every day there are reports in national dailies of maltreatment of dalits and rape of their girls. It is these miserable people who prefer to switch their religion even though it might not be of great help to them. In changing over to Islam or Christianity they find light after living through a long dark tunnel of humiliation, atrocities and a miserable survival. In most cases, attempts to damage a churches are made by those who would be the very first to maltreat dalits and discriminate against them.


  This is what hurts Hinduism the most and this is what needs to be addressed by the self-proclaimed protectors of Hinduism. They should try and smash this inequity before thinking of smashing churches, for it is the Church which provides succor to the harassed, persecuted and tortured low caste Hindu.

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Photo: from the internet

Monday, March 16, 2015

Vulnerable Indian rhinos

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Whether in South Africa or in India poaching of rhinos has assumed alarming levels. In South Africa, which has the largest population of rhinos and which is an important country for their conservation, poaching has reached a crisis point so much so that if the killings continue at the current rate, it is estimated, the species could be pushed close to extinction. In 2014 as many as 1215 rhinos were killed and the South African Department of Environment calculated that that amounted to poaching of one rhino every 8 hours.

In the African Continent poaching of what are known as Black Rhinos is not confined only to South Africa. Smaller populations in other African countries such as Namibia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Swaziland and Botswana are constantly under threat from poachers. The White Rhinos found in Republic of South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland, and Uganda are by far the most numerous (around 20,000 individuals) and yet they are under threat. And so, indeed, they are in Asia. While Jawan and Sumatran rhinos are in the list of critically endangered, in our Subcontinent, i.e in India and Nepal, rhino poaching is rampant. It was recently a cause for a spat between the Governor and Chief Minister of Assam, the state which has the largest number of Indian one-horned rhinos. The Governor was shouted down in the local legislative assembly when he read his speech prepared by the government indicating that “firm steps had been taken (by the government) for protection of wildlife”.

This was, however, not the view of the Governor.  He was so worked up about the constant reports of poaching of rhinos at the 860 square-kilometre Kaziranga National Park in the state that he asked the government to change the agency that has been engaged for their protection if it was not able to prevent poaching. Obviously, the figures of increase in the rhino numbers from 2201 in 2009 to 2544 in 2013 did not satisfy the Governor in the face of frequent reports of of poaching. He said that a small number of criminals are killing a rare and threatened animal and surprisingly the government is neither able to catch them nor protect the beasts. Soon enough five people were nabbed from a neighbouring district, one of whom was a member of the forest protection force. Clearly, poaching of rhinos or, for that matter high-value wildlife, including tigers, is largely an inside job and the forest employees’ assistance is generally extended to poachers for substantial monetary considerations.

Rhinos have been rendered vulnerable for their horns. Every time a poacher kills a rhino he decamps from the site with its horn after cruelly hacking it away. Recently a gruesome video was put up on the YouTube of a rhino that was left to bleed to death after its horn was hacked away. The horns are something which fetch very high price in the international market, supposedly, for their basically mythical curative properties. Wildlife experts have clarified that a rhino’s horn is nothing but a cluster of hair with no curative attributes. Nonetheless, the animal is being hunted down for the supposed qualities of its horn to cure anything from dandruff to cancer. The roots of the myth can be found in the guidelines of traditional Chinese Medicine which suggest that the rhino horn is a potent fever reducer, body detoxifier, a cure for hangover, an aphrodisiac and a cure for cancer. This has astronomically raised the price of the horn as the demand for it has been soaring in the international market, particularly in China, Thailand and Vietnam where a kilogram of the horn could fetch Rupees 3 to 4 million (around USD 50000). Mercifully, its demand in the Middle-East has since tapered off where the rich Arab Sheikhs used to have handles made of it for their fashionable daggers.

Kaziranga National Park, a more than a century old park, and a World Heritage Site to boot, is the largest of the Assam national parks among Manas, Pobitora and Orang parks which hosts Great One-horned rhinos in larger numbers and hence feels the pressure of poaching. It is easily accessible from the North through the River Brahmaputra as well as from the South from the Karbi Anglong hills (formerly Mikir Hills). Nepal has been somewhat successful in clamping down on poaching; hence the pressure on Kaziranga has increased manifold. Besides, it is easier to smuggle out the harvested horns from here to the markets of South-East Asia through Nagaland via Myanmar and through Arunachal Pradesh to China. While it is the Nagas who are largely the people behind poaching engaging locals, the carriers, especially to China, are women who naturally are subjected to a perfunctory border checks.

Many solutions have been and are under consideration in order to save the rhinos from being killed for their horns.  One is legalising the international rhino horn trade. There is a stockpile of horns in Africa which could be sold off to feed the current high demand which, with adequate supplies, could taper off. But then it would not be long before the demand built up again and poachers start killing rhinos. Besides, one could draw a lesson from the partially legalised ivory trade that has not been successful. In fact, more illegal ivory is passed on as legal with no strict controls for legal ivory in place. China had won approval of the Convention on Illegal Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) and yet being the biggest importer of ivory it never demonstrated adequate commitment towards ending illegal ivory trade. China is the largest importer of illegal rhino horns as well and is likely to show the same lack of commitment for controlling their illegal imports once the trade is legalised. While opinions are polarised about legalising the trade, the overwhelming view is that the step was unlikely to work.

While de-horning of rhinos is not considered the ultimate solution, the Assam government recently constituted an expert committee to consider its feasibility for checking rampant poaching of rhino. According to Sanctuary Asia, more rhinos were killed after being de-horned in Africa as even after de-horning 10% of it remains and the animal could be killed for even that. Besides, poaching in Kaziranga being a nocturnal activity, none would ever be keen to check whether the target is horned or dehorned.

Apparently, there is no solution for the problem except taking good old measures that are conventional. And that would mean intensive human checks by a substantially larger security establishment, especially for extensive and widespread parks like Kaziranga. The Assam government has already decided to raise a 1200-strong specialised Rhino Protection Force for Kaziranga. For once displaying great political will the chief minister declared the force will be aided by modern arms and fighting gear, and other modern equipment like night-vision devices, thermal scanners, surveillance cameras, GPS etc. Even use of drones for tracking poachers is being considered. While incentivising protection from poaching of rhinos and other wildlife, he announced he would persuade the National Investigation Agency to investigate cases of poaching.

If the announced measures materialise the government, perhaps, would not need to try and experiment with Black Mambas, an all female unarmed protection force engaged within the Kruger National Park for preventing poaching – as eyes and ears working like a British Bobby. Their mere presence has brought down the incidence of poaching. That, however, may not happen in India.


 Across the border the rhinos seem to be thriving in West Bengal. In Jaldapara National Park, the second biggest habitat for rhinos after Kaziranga, their number has risen to 186 - a rise of 25%. A similar trend is likely to be shown by the Gorumara National Park – a much smaller habitat – when counting takes place there. The authorities of the two parks have claimed that they had not come across any case of poaching of rhinos. Apart from the other measures that the Assam government is taking, perhaps, it needs to look at the reasons for this somewhat strange phenomenon in West Bengal.
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Photo: taken by self one foggy morning in 1989 in Kaziranga National Park, Assam

Thursday, March 5, 2015

DESTINATIONS: KASHMIR (1957): GULMARG

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Meadows of Gulamarg
We had heard of Gulmarg much before we ever saw it. The name suggested “meadows of flowers”. A visit to it was, therefore, obligatory. As it was only about 30 miles away it could be done in a day. The bus took us only up to Tangmarg (meaning a place of pears), then a small town and now a revenue sub-division. Though known for its pears the place has now strongly come in to grow strawberries. It is from here the climb for Gulmarg commences. The road to Gulmarg was not till then motor-able, not even jeep-able. Hence, one had to make it on ponies or horses. Horses were organized for our parents and we, two brothers, decided to trek it up to Gulmarg. It was only around 6 or 7 miles away but at an elevation of more than 9000 ft. We, however, took the short cut and went up the steep slopes on the tracks that were used by pedestrians – mostly locals.

Although it was supposed to make the distance shorter (I do not have any idea by how much) it was tough negotiating it. The track ran up the steep hill through thick pine forests and, using as we did ordinary leather footwear with leather soles, the fallen pine needles made it tough for us for climbing. Pine needles are highly slippery and we had to make that extra effort to get traction on those steep slopes.

Occasionally the track opened up on to the road as it came winding up the hill where we would also meet on the road others who too were legging it up. But what stood out were the fantastically beautiful landscapes that met us every time we came out of the
The Pir Panjaals
deep woods - the green hills, the deep valleys and above them the snow-white Pir Panjaal. There were young Westerners who would hang on for minutes to take in Nature at its best and murmur to themselves “lovely country”. We would take the road for some distance and again get back to the track when we found it to be able to reach Gulmarg more or less around the time our parents reached it on horseback.

Huffing and puffing we kept pushing ourselves up and up and a while later we hit what seemed like an opening in the woods, And, lo and behold, at a little lower elevation than ours was an incredibly beautiful sight. Huge expanses of rolling greens on which a few horses happened to be grazing and all around there seemed to be thick forests of pines. It was an amazingly pastoral sight that was so fetching. There were hardly any structures around; it was unqualified Nature, uncluttered by human interference barring a few what looked like gravel paths, some low wooden fences and a few tiny wooden bridges. Up in the distance was the majestic range of Pir Panjaal, its whites glistening in the sun a magnificent sight, in fact idyllic, that is etched in my mind till this day even after more than fifty years! That is why when I visited Gulmarg again in 2011 I was terribly disappointed. With the road becoming motor-able, the place was chockablock with hotels, SUVs and thousands of tourists and, worse, the greens that had since become patchy. Unrestricted tourism has played havoc with the place.

Soon we were down on the greens and met up with the parents who were taken by the men who hired out the horses to a hotel. If my memory serves me right, it was Neadous, a branch of the one in Srinagar. It was till then a small outfit given the small number of tourists who would stay overnight at Gulmarg. We all had tea and then went out for a stroll on the pathways between expanses of
Nradous as it was then or a little later
beautiful green. Very few people were around, some of them being Westerners who were camping in the huts that were unobtrusive and away from the greens and, perhaps, were built before independence. One elderly English lady struck up a conversation with my father. She was delighted to know that he was a teacher, a professor teaching English. As was the wont of English people, she, apparently, was going to be there for some time in nature’s lap, perhaps reminding her of home. It was she who told us that we would be able to see Nanga Parbat if we were lucky. We were not lucky as it was shrouded in clouds.

We could not attempt a trip to Khilanmarg either. It is at more than 11000 ft and we just did not have time as we had to catch the bus back home. On our way back we stuck to the road, giving a wide berth to the foot tracks infested with those infernal pine needles.

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Photos: from the Internet