Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Modi, Obama and Aiyer


Watching the rare warmth and friendliness between Obama and Modi I was reminded of the abrasive remark made by Mani Shankar Aiyer, a member of the Congress Party, a former diplomat and a Cambridge alumnus to boot, in the august assembly of All India Congress Committee in March 2014. He had said that Modi would never become the prime minister of the country – at least not in this century – and went on to add that, instead, the Congress could make arrangements for him to serve tea to Congressmen whenever the occasion demanded. The snide remark was made as Modi used to sell tea in his childhood in his native town of Vad from the tea stall run by his father at the local railway station. Such undiplomatic conceit and pomposity from a former diplomat who happened to have served from a diplomatically sensitive position in Pakistan was not only unexpected, it also displayed acute lack of culture.

Be that as it may, Modi won the elections two months later from two constituencies and his Party won an overwhelming majority. Aiyer, however, suffered his second successive defeat from the same constituency from where he contested as many as six times since 1991. As far as Modi is concerned, Aiyer’s “chaiwala” remark made no mean contribution in his electoral victory – with his “chai par charcha” becoming a resounding success and took his campaign via the electronic media to the farthest nook and cranny of his party’s constituencies. On the other hand, Aiyer’s Congress lost so heavily that it plummeted to the third position in the Parliament with numbers that didn’t permit his party’s chief, Sonia Gandhi, to even become leader of the Opposition. What is more, since that victory in May 2014 Modi has routed the Congress in most of the states elections.

 All that apart, the same “chaiwala” has struck a fantastic rapport
with the US President who made a mention of their “chai par charcha” during his press briefing on 25th last. Modi’s bonhomie with Obama and other leaders such as Abe of Japan and Abbott of Australia has raised the image of the country internationally. Aiyer may try his best to run down the Obama visit by erroneously describing him as a “lame duck” President who, on the contrary, sealed the Nuclear Deal with Modi making it ready to be operationalised 6 years after it was signed – a decision a “lame duck” president could not have taken.

 Any person other than Aiyer would have felt ashamed after his various faux pas and kept quiet, but not Aiyer. He is made of sterner stuff !

Friday, January 23, 2015

Gas lamps of London


The feature on lamplighters of London in the Times of India of last Sunday literally dug out from the deep recesses of my mind the memories of gas lamps and their lighters in my birthplace Gwalior in Central India. More than 60 years ago in the early 1940s Gwalior was a small town of about 80000 or so but it used to be the capital of the princely state carrying the same name. Its maharaja was the third richest of all the Indian maharajas after the Nizam of Hyderabad, and Maharaja of Mysore. Being the capital, it had
stately buildings, a beautiful palace that was built in the 19th Century on the pattern of the palace at Versailles and broad roads. While most of the roads were illuminated at night by electric incandescent bulbs many lanes, including ours, had gas lights to light them up.

Our house was on the junction of four rather broad lanes. The lane right in front was the main one which took off from the main road and led on to the junction and beyond to the innards with narrower lanes, alleys and pathways. Plumb next to a wall separating a huge unused property in front of our house there used to be a lamp which
would be manually lit in the evenings and put out in the morning.  It was a gas lamp and a man would trudge slowly down the lane in the gathering dusk carrying on his shoulder a short ladder that was just long or tall enough for him to be able to reach up to the lamp to light it. There were, if I remember, four such lamps down the length of the lane and he would go to them one by one to spark them. He would observe the same routine in the mornings but only to extinguish the flames by merely capping them for a few moments.

 This must have been very early in my life, maybe in the late 1930s or even in the early 1940s. Some evenings the man wouldn’t appear
at all and the lane would remain dark and forbidding. What I have come to appreciate now is that a small town in a principality in an obscure part of India had gas lamps even in lanes in some areas, if not all, of its capital and for which the administration had taken trouble to lay pipes below the ground to take gas to them. That the feudal administration of Gwalior had thought of providing such an amenity for the common people in those early years of 20th Century takes it a few notches higher in my estimation. Eventually, however, the gas lamps were replaced by electric lights but that was much later – around mid-1940s or, maybe, even later. I wonder whether other such princely states had gas lamps like we had. I know for sure, however, that Calcutta, the capital of British India for a long time, must have had gas-lit streets before they were replaced by electric lamps. The Strand Road along the River Hoogly in Calcutta, for one, continued to light up the boulevard for quite some time with gas lamps even after independence.

The feature on London spoke of how the city had been a pioneer in street lighting. The first ever public lighting with gas was installed in Pall Mall in 1807. To celebrate the birthday of King George III, Frederick Winsor, an engineer, lit the most spectacular of candles. To gasping crowds, he instantly illuminated a line of gas lamps, each one was fed with gas pipes made from the barrels of old musket guns and all Winsor had to do was apply a single spark to light up the whole street. The Mall was reported to be almost impassable with spectators until after midnight. The lighting of the Westminster Bridge followed in 1813. The first electric light made its appearance in 1878 on the Thames Embankment.
But the feature was not about electric street lights which today make London streets bright and glowing at night. It was about the gas lamps, about 1500 of which still light up London, including the sophisticated long avenue of Kensington Palace Gardens. These are among the last of the early 19th Century gas lamps that are lovingly taken care of and lit by five remaining lamplighters who, in fact, are engineers of British Gas. It is a labour of love for them. Iain Bell, a lamplighter, so dearly loves them that he runs his hands over the lampposts so tenderly as if he was examining an antiquated sculpture. His objects of ardour are, indeed, beautifully shaped posts with stylised glass lanterns that decorate the streets as very beautiful components of street furniture. Bell jokes that at the time of the Olympics the lamps in this part of town were the cleanest in London; the lighters kept finding excuses to clean the lamps on Horse Guards Parade, the venue for the (bikini-clad) beach volleyball matches. 'The lamps,' Bell says, 'were so clean you could eat your dinner off them.'

The surroundings of Buckingham Palace are lit up by gas lamps.
These were reinstalled on special lamps that have a crown on top and are listed. Maintained by a team of six lamplighters round the clock, the lamps are kept in a condition to light up by themselves at dusk. In daylight, each lamp burns with a tiny pilot light. At dusk, a timer fitted to each lamp moves a lever to release a stronger stream of gas which gives enough power to light up the mantles to give off that softer light as against the harsh light of the electric lamps

Having survived the electric lamplights and the Great War II, they are well into the 21st Century mostly because of the dedicated love and care of the lamplighters. Whereas the gas lamps of Gwalior have disappeared without a trace and the current generation may not even be aware that they once existed, the British sense of history will surely take London gas lamps down to the succeeding generations throwing their soft and subdued light on their evolution and history.

Photos: From the Internet

Monday, January 19, 2015




Bhopal BRTS corridor
The state government is reported to be considering a proposal of the Regional Transport Officer to allow school buses into the BRTS corridor on the plea that it is these buses which cause traffic jams – a feature in the city which has become virtually a regular affair.

Earlier, the BRTS in Indore was virtually reduced to a mixed traffic corridor as private cars were allowed into it. The matter had gone up to the local bench of the High Court which, too, gave its clearance. The inevitable result was reducing to nought of a well-conceived government plan to not only reduce the number of cars on the roads and thus make available to other commuters space for cycling or walking but also to reduce vehicular emissions. Two other advantages foreseen were, one, of providing the common man a faster and cheaper mode of motorised transport and, two, reduce consumption of polluting fuel oils bringing down their imports and helping in reducing the almost perpetual current account deficit.

By introducing four-wheelers into the corridor the local authorities at Indore killed the very concept which had been adopted the world over for promoting public transport. It was implemented with great success in Ahmedabad where the BRTS reportedly “wowed the world”. Not only the Asian countries contemplating introduction of the system made it to Ahmedabad to study its successful version, it also won the World Sustainable Transport Award in 2009 awarded by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policies, the organisation that spawned BRTS. New York was given the same award a year earlier and last year it was Buenos Aires, putting Ahmedabad in an illustrious league of cities.

If one looks at the whole question legally, there is indeed no bar on allowing vehicles other than BRTS buses into the earmarked corridor. Even the write-up of Devendra Tiwari, Additional CEO of Bhopal City Link that runs the BRTS admits that other buses could also be let into the corridor thus integrating the entire public transport system of the city. But the question is whether the objectives of the BRTS would be fulfilled if that were to be done. Wouldn’t the corridor be choked with buses, whether those of the city services or of schools, holding up the BRTS coaches thus defeating its very objective?, Besides idling of bus engines would increase the emissions. Perhaps it is too early to cry foul and tinker with the corridor. True, even after two years there are not enough buses in the system and hence the corridor does look empty. Perhaps, the company that runs the services is, ill-advisedly, extending the bus routes. One thought, saturating the corridor with adequate number of buses would not have provoked the kind of proposals that are under consideration. While the buses are being spread out thinly all over this expanding city, the corridor itself does give the impression of being empty and that the frequency of buses is not quite adequate making the system somewhat unpopular.

In many ways the corridor was not properly planned. It has taken almost five years in building and yet it is not ready till today. One wonders whether the detailed project report was adhered to and works on it started in good time. The route through the older part of the city is still not ready as its widening and removal of encroachments from it are still to be carried out. Besides, a vital flyover and an important railway over-bridge are yet to be completed. Then the feeder services with parking lots at important junctions are nowhere in sight. One doubts whether feeder services were really thought of at the initial stage and were ever integrated with the plan of running buses in the corridor.

Then, most importantly, proper traffic management was never enforced. It was a given that on creation of the corridor the mixed traffic lanes would have thinner slices of roads and the burgeoning vehicle population of two and four wheelers would choke up the passages unless properly managed. The planners knew that the local motorised commuters are an undisciplined and impatient lot, each trying to get ahead of the vehicle in front breaking all traffic rules. Management of traffic and disciplining the traffic is something which has not been paid attention to till today. Only the
A Bhopal traffic jam
other day there was a report that BRTS corridor was swamped by vehicles of politicians and their supporters who had gone to the collectorate to file nominations for the municipal elections. Politicians too are an undisciplined lot; they far too often have their SUVs parked in the corridor and the traffic police have no guts to haul them up. If they were to do so, probably, the Inspector General himself would be hauled up by the politicians in power. That is why the traffic police are very alert in so far as VIP movements are concerned but they are indifferent to management of critical areas that are prone to regular jams.

Hence, it would not be quite right to blame the BRT System. It was conceived for popularising public transport so that, inter alia, the pressure of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is eased up a bit in a bid to temper down warming of the earth’s atmosphere that is poised at a critical level threatening the very future of the planet. Precisely for that reason the advanced countries with better management of traffic, more disciplined commuters and more aware people have also opted for it. A report "Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America's Biggest Cities," said in 2013 that a study found reduced driving miles and rates of car commuting in America's most populous urbanized areas. The study also finds a greater use of public transit and biking in most cities. One of the most vital findings was that the proportion of workers commuting by private vehicle—either alone or in a carpool—declined in 99 out of 100 of America's most populous urbanized areas between 2000 and the 2007-2011 period averaged in U.S. Census data.
 If the Bhopal and Delhi BRTS have failed it is because both were not planned properly, both were not implemented properly and politicians did not have the will to intervene and set right matters as and when required. Particularly in Bhopal, the politicians are more prone to breach the discipline with its catastrophic cascading effects down to the common people. Besides, at the outset they had left it to an incompetent Municipal Corporation to build it that did not have adequate human resources either in numbers or in quality. It never occurred to the local government to take a leaf out of the book of Ahmedabad BRTS. Perhaps they just do not care.

If school or other city buses are allowed the use of the corridor, it would be the government and the municipal corporation that will have to be held responsible for wrecking the System after having spent enormous amounts of tax-payers’ money and causing inconvenience to the entire population of the city for the last 5 years.

photos from the Internet


Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Hindu hotheads threaten Modi's development agenda


RSS-sponsored conversion in progress
­­­­­­­­­­­­­The hold of religion on people seems to be strengthening every passing day. The newspapers run regular features relating to religious activities that, one can sometimes foretell, might cause trouble and conflicts. Some narratives are about the conflict situations that have already occurred and some are those that could well end up in tragedy.

With the installation of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) government at the Centre the Hindu Right Wing organisations seem to have developed a lot of muscle – or that is what they appear to think. Their recent activities and utterances of some of their hotheads inject some amount of foreboding into the environment creating a lot of unease among the minority communities as also among such of the Hindus who are not of fundamentalist orientation. While the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a right wing Hindu nationalist non-governmental organisation with the aim of consolidating the Hindu society, has started opening and flapping its wings, there are other numerous fringe organisations that take inspiration from the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu cultural organisation, are more fundamentalist in nature and have also started flexing their muscles. The latter seek to protect the traditional Hindu mores and, in the process, indulge in moral policing – sometimes becoming violent in doing so.

These fundamentalists are not much different from those of other religions, particularly of Islamic faith. Of late, they have been running campaigns of re-conversion of Hindus and even Sikhs who happened to have been converted earlier and taken into the Christian and/or Islamic folds. Branding the campaign as “ghar wapasi” or home-coming, i.e. return to the Hindu fold the various regional units fanned out in the country looking for prospective candidates for reconversion. They claim to have converted thousands of Christians and Muslims in various parts of the country. The conversions and “ghar wapasi” became hot news and provoked disorder in the Indian Parliament rendering the last few sessions in the Upper House infructuous.

 Worse, the Hindu fringe elements have been travelling to places that are communally sensitive where communities are already polarised and the chances of conflicts were bright with the persisting tensions. Some converts who were formerly dalits (untouchables) were assembled and were claimed to have been “reconverted” as Hindus at some places. There have been charges flying around that they were conned into the claimed conversions and were offered illegal inducements.  Many Hindu religious organisations disowned such conversions as the obligatory procedures were not observed. Besides, the question of putting them in a caste slot was also not possible as Hinduism has castes as an essential feature of its social set up. Besides, an institutional weakness, or strength whatever one may call it, is that none can really be converted as a Hindu. He or she has to be a born Hindu. The Supreme Court of India has pronounced a judgement to this effect way back in 1977. The ritualised (re)conversions would, therefore, seem to be of hardly any consequence.

All this apart, fishing for trouble the fringe elements of Hindu organisations pick on issues that could cause communal discordance. One such was about a recent Bollywood film “PK” which, according to them, had insulted Hindus and their gods and god men who in India have somehow come to abound. Their shenanigans have been exposed by some of their one-time gullible faithful. If not more, at least two of the very popular god men are now in jail for conning their followers and for rape of their female followers besides being charged for other criminal offences. It is the poorer and less aware sections of the population that fall prey to the machinations of the so-called god men who are nothing but confidence tricksters. After having viewed the film, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous province of India, exempted it of all taxes in order to enable more people to watch it and presumably get educated. The central government has also declared that, unlike previous occasions, the film would not be subjected to a review by India’s films Censor Board. Even the chairperson of the Censor Board, Leela Samson, emphatically asserted that “PK”’s certification would not be reviewed. And, now a high court has pronounced that there is nothing in the film warranting its review or re-consideration. Nonetheless, the unHindu-like demonstrations by Hindu groups, sometimes violent, had already done damage to various cinema halls as they went rampaging through them breaking furniture, kicking and spitting on the film’s posters with photographs of its hero, Amir Khan, a highly respected film artist of the country.

The governments earlier yielded to such unreasonable demands and the agitating fundamentalists got away with whatever they wanted. Salman Rushdie, An Indian Muslim litterateur settled in England,  was prevented from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2012 as the Islamic fundamentalist groups asked for banning his entry into the country because of his book The Satanic Verses published years ago which they thought insulted their Prophet. Likewise, Tasleema Nasreen, a Bangladeshi author of repute, was chased out of her own country for her book “Lajja” (shame) written on the anti-Hindu riots soon after demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in India in 1992 and settled down in Kolkata only to be blatantly chastised and threatened and was chased out of the city again by Islamic fundamentalists for her mere plain and forthright utterances. Both the state and the central governments proved to be so weak that they succumbed to the unreasonable demands of the Indian Islamic fundamentalists and refused sanctioning extension of visa to her. Likewise, MF Hussain, an eminent Indian artist, spent last years of his life abroad as Hindu fundamentalists were up in arms against him for depicting Hindu goddesses in the nude - a way of depiction they did not like. There have been umpteen instances where Hindu and Muslim right wingers have forced the government to take steps to prohibit art and literature on frivolous grounds.

The recent activities of the Hindu hotheads were exploited by the Opposition in the Upper House of the Parliament where the current government lacks majority. The last few days of the winter session were disrupted because of the disorder created by the fragmented Opposition which managed to unite against the government. No work could be performed and many of the bills that were slated for introduction and discussion could not be dealt with. The BJP government had come to power with a mandate of development and had shelved its controversial issues that it had been pushing for long years. Those mandate-based plans of the six-month old Modi government were seen to be fizzling out. As was generally expected Prime Minister Modi expressed his displeasure at ‘re-conversions’ and rabid Hindu utterances and activities of members of his own Party and of several Hindu organisations. Eventually, the RSS let it be known that needless and avoidable controversial speeches or actions should be avoided by the right wing organisations. Even the “ghar wapasi” had to be put on hold by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

Looking at all these confrontations over religious affiliations of people one wonders as to why has the world been reduced to a battleground over them. Religion, faith or belief is a very personal matter that evolves in an individual over a period of time according to his/her upbringing, education and exposure to the world around him. Each has a right to have his own faith and belief and practice in any which way he/she likes. Each, likewise, has a right to associate with any faith or religious group and interference in this matter by others ought to be unwarranted, even unwelcome. In today’s fractious world where there are numerous issues that could light the fuse what seems to be necessary is to cultivate humanistic traits among people and not religious bigotry. Religious leaders would do the world a great service if they converted people in their fold as genuine ‘humans’ – with all the positive human attributes.

Photo: from the Internet

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chickens coming home to roost


A blood-splattered class room in the Army Public School, Peshawar
So snugly does the idiom fit Pakistan. The terror that it disseminated has now come to haunt it. Purveyor of terror has now become its victim. And the worst manifestation of it was the Peshawar tragedy where as many as 145, including 132 children, were literally gunned down in a mid-morning attack in its Army Public School. It was said to be in revenge of the killings by Pak Army which has been conducting military operations against several terrorist groups in North Waziristan. It was a planned attack by a suicide squad of seven belonging to the terrorist group Teherik e Taliban Pakistan. With prior knowledge of the lay of the land they had come only to kill army officers’ children and they ruthlessly killed as many as they could. That some others, mostly teachers, were killed in the process was probably incidental. The attack created shock and awe, not in Pakistan alone but all over the world as this was perhaps the most barbaric and dehumanised act of terrorists bred in the fertile Islamic theological seminaries.

Having been the epicentre of terror it was a sad denouement for Pakistan to have been at the receiving end of their own terror network. Pakistan was probably enjoying the show when its terror networks were killing elsewhere. Their boys, radicalised to the core, were terrorising Eastern Europe, Russia, Central Asia, China, South East Asia and, of course India in the name of Allah and the daring brutal killings of the so-called non-believers was a matter of pride for their masters. In the process, a number of young and courageous young lads were lost, so brainwashed were they that they were prepared to give up their life in the prime of their youth for the cause of spreading the massage of the Prophet. Running seemingly an assembly line, the merchants of terror, the maulanas, mullahs and their ilk, have no qualms in readying young children or adolescents as suicide bombers or “fidayeens” for sacrifice for a cause that is as preposterous as their progenitors. Hitherto acting on foreign lands, their masters have now turned their evil eyes inwards on their own people and, what is more, on fellow Muslims. That they have the support of the Pakistani military in their endeavours is also a truth and yet the military launched blistering attacks on the perpetrators of the demonic Peshawar attack killing as many as 120 militants within three days in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Pakistan has had a violent streak since its inception. Although the country was created for Muslims who felt they could not live with non-Muslims (read Hindus) yet its founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah had visualised a secular state. Ironically, he was at the back of the attack in 1947 on the Valley of Kashmir by Pakistani Army regulars and other tribal raiders just because a Muslim majority princely state acceded to a Hindu majority state. He wanted to grab by force whatever did not come his way in the manner he thought it should have. The violence fostered by the father of the nation has somehow stuck with the country and it happily treaded its violent ways down the years. A virtual genocide was launched against all non Muslims in Pakistan, Hindus getting the best of attention. Hindus constituted 15% of West Pakistan population when the country came into existence. By 1998 their strength had come down to 1.6% and today it should be much less as most of the Hindus have been driven out of the country. A majority of the Hindu population of Sindh is now in India, harassed as they were by abductions and then conversions of minor girls, demolition of temples and just plain killings.

 Gen. Zia ul Haq’s advent as the dictator of the country saw incremental increase in violence. Having been unable to wrest Kashmir from India in as many as three wars, he planned to bleed India with “a thousand cuts” – in the shape of terror and proxy war in Kashmir. Radicalisation of the country and its Army was seen in full play in the 1980s during the Afghan War where Zia threw in his radicalised Army as also Mujahideens to assist the local resistance with the financial backing of the Western Powers to drive the Soviet Army out of Afghanistan. As the Russians withdrew the mujahideens morphed into two jihadist groups – the Taliban and al Qaida. It is these two groups which have spread the cult of violence. While al Qaida is somewhat quiet, the Talibans continue to operate in Afghanistan and in the FATA along the Afghan border, each distinct from the other with a different name and not quite aligned. Tehrik e Taliban Afghanistan generally takes on the government establishments and security forces of Afghanistan and Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan has earmarked for its operations the FATA region.

The massacre of the children saw Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan meeting chiefs of all political parties to arrive at a consensual approach for dealing with the escalating terror. Obviously the consensus was to deal with the terrorists with a strong hand and the Prime Minister, a bit carried away, declared that he would root out terrorism from the country. In fact, earlier he had said that the entire region had to be rid of the scourge. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen. In the scheme of things of Pakistan and its Army, the Taliban working the Western frontiers have become a menace and need to be liquidated. But that apparently, would not apply to those who operate in Kashmir and other parts of India. They, after all, are “strategic assets” nurtured by the Inter-services Intelligence of Pak Army in pursuit of the planned “thousand cuts”. Called “non-state actors”, they are as much state actors as any. No wonder the mastermind of 26/11 attack on Mumbai was bailed out soon after the Peshawar massacre and, despite broad hints to the contrary, the Pakistani prosecution failed to file an appeal against the court’s orders.

 As it appears now, regardless of what happens, Pakistan, , will not touch Dawood Ibrahim, Lashkar e Toiba and Hafiz Saeed’s conglomeration of terror organisations. Saeed went about spewing venom against India, brazenly holding Narendra Modi responsible for the Peshawar attack even as the dead children were being buried. The intense hatred for India that permeates the Pak Army, the Pak government and some terror outfits would not allow dismantling of all terror infrastructures especially created for India. That would leave Pakistan as Bruce Reidel, Director of Brookings Intelligence Project said, with the only alternative, “to play patron while bleeding as victim”. An Indian retired general too had said that keeping snakes in the backyard and feeding them milk is a sure prescription for getting stung once in a while. Apparently, only after the loss of many more innocent lives can one, perhaps, expect Pakistan to change its spots.

Photo: From the Internet

Monday, December 15, 2014



Old Delhi in 1955
In 1955 I was in my late teens and it looked like as if I had been somehow put on travel­­­­­ mode. I had just been to Bombay where I had spent most of my two- month long summer vacation. And now it was October and there was a chance of visiting Delhi. An uncle of mine was a touring officer of the C & E Morton, the confectioners, and he was going to be in Delhi for a week. He wanted my sister and me to visit him.

Getting into Punjab Mail that used to run between Bombay and Amritsar we were off for Delhi. In those early days the more important trains wouldn't go to New Delhi station for the simple reason that it was still in the process of coming up. Delhi Junction or the Old Delhi station used to be the scene of most of the railway action. Gwalior to Delhi was a distance of only 200 miles and the train used to take  a little more than 5 hours. As the train slowed down at Old Delhi a few coolies jumped into the compartment. Tall, well-built and fair, some with even thick beards with red turbans, were intimidating characters. The Bombay coolies were no patch on them. However, soon I spotted uncle. He got one of the coolies to pick up the luggage and promptly asked him to show his token number. It was only eight years after the partition which induced a two-way traffic of millions between the two newly-independent countries. Many of those who migrated this side of the newly created borders had chosen Delhi for making a fresh start in life and a large number had settled down as coolies to convey passengers’ luggage to and from the station. It was laborious work as we didn’t know till then of the concept of travelling light. Instances of disappearance of coolies with luggage of an unwary passenger had seemingly assumed alarming proportions and hence the need to check the token number.

Once outside we came across a veritable jam created by tongas (a horse-drawn carriage).  Looking for fare all had almost converged in front of the station exit. My uncle was staying in a hotel in the Old Delhi area. Those were early days  and most of the towns had only one or two really good ones, the star system had not been introduced till then. Delhi was no different and had The Imperial and the Maidens, the two reputed high-end ones and the rest being ordinary. My uncle had a biggish room in one of the ordinary ones in which three of us could accommodate ourselves pretty comfortably though it was nothing much to write home about. Surely there were better “ordinary” hotels in the same area.

Our first tripin the town was inevitably to Connaught Place. As soon as our uncle left my sister and I climbed into a Tonga and went there. Autos had not arrived on the scene yet and the tongas could go all over the town. Their movements were later restricted and they are now an endangered species, confined only in the Old Delhi area. Connaught Place was an immense largely vacant circular colonnaded market with very few cars running around. The
A Tonga
shops, however, were impressive - big and holding most of all the goodies that one could conceive of. We were happy to see the Scindia House, coming as we did from Gwalior – the erstwhile Scindia capital. On another of our excursions we went to Chandni Chowk which we found very dusty and crowded. Tongas in fair numbers were plying on the main road kicking up a lot of dust – not like the Delhi of our imagination. A few trams that looked ramshackle after the ones of Bombay were plying on the crowded street.

We had not been in Delhi for even a couple of days when we got a call from one of our Gwalior acquaintances who used to be the manager of Gwalior Potteries in Delhi. Promising to come and fetch us, he arrived one afternoon and much against the wishes of my uncle he had us piled into his car to be taken to his bungalow in the Potteries complex. It was far away in South Delhi and we had to go past the Red Fort, on to Darya Gunj, past Raj Ghat and India Gate through the leafy avenues of New Delhi and then had to wait at a level crossing. Curiously, the traffic of cars tongas and cycles was stopped here to allow an aircraft to land. The Safdurjung Airport was then the airport for Delhi and the one at Palam was still a few years away in the future. After going past the INA market we got into a dusty road that went past a government colony called Vinay Nagar (which is now Kidwai Nagar) running for about a kilometer and a half to get to the Potteries complex. It was a big complex with a pottery producing ceramic tea sets and other table-ware. At that time Gwalior Potteries was a well-known brand, particularly in North India. Now, of course, it is not to be seen or heard of. There used to be two bungalows one of which was lying unused. The whole property – quite a large one of tens of acres – belonged to the Maharaja of Gwalior, as did the Pottery. All of it was surrounded by what looked like a rural setting with a few scattered villages.

It is interesting to reflect back on this South Delhi area of 1955. The dust-laden road that we took has now virtually disappeared. There were no colonies on either side of it till it met its end at the Gwalior Potteries. There was no Sarojini Nagar or All India Institute of Medical Sciences or Safdurjung Hospital and there was no Ring Road. The road to Mehrauli continued as a narrow strip of asphalt and tongas used to ply on it right up to Kutub Minar and Mehrauli. Green Park colony was coming up a few kilometers down the road to Kutub.

The nephew of the manager, Vimal Majumdar, who passed away recently, and I used to move around in buses that we had to catch at the INA Market. Our favourite haunt was Darya Gunj which was always full of traffic of all kinds. Both of us also once took a tonga to go to the Kutub, supposedly a lonely place then and not quite safe. It was generally devoid of foreign tourists, who now flock to the place in large numbers. Bus and tonga fares used to be in annas and paises – the rupee had not been changed over to the metric system till then.

The October 1955 trip was rather uneventful apart from the fact that it was the first time I happened to be in Delhi. Soon, thereafter, in late December a friend, Ramesh Tiwari (now retired from University of Manitoba and living in Winnipeg) persuaded my highly-reluctant mother to agree to my my accompanying him to Delhi for the first Industrial Exhibition to be held at the then newly-built Pragati Maidan. While two of Tiwari’s cousins also came along, we were to put up at the house of another of his cousins who was working in the field of civil aviation and was living alone. One of Tiwari’s cousins, Suresh Dube, excellent at cooking, took over the kitchen and fed us all. Because of his innate talent he later made a career in catering after obtaining a degree from Anand in Gujarat. As everyone good in his calling looks for greener pastures, he too went away to America to work with multinationals and eventually ended with the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the UN. An excellent company; he used to make fantastic scrambled eggs.

 I had never before seen anything like the Pragati Maidan and the Industrial Exhibition held in it. It was a massive complex and there were numerous tall halls of fancy architectural designs housing the exhibits of several countries participating at the Exhibition. I remember stalls of two countries – of China and the US. The Chinese was perhaps the largest, exhibiting China’s rudimentary industrialisation. But there was practically a full display of their amazing crafts. I happen to remember their amazing kind of ceramic ware. They were just out of this world. We had never seen such beautiful bone china tea sets manufactured in India. At home, however, we used to have a few fine bone china cups with saucers made in Japan which were perhaps bought before the imports were banned during the World War. What was perhaps more remarkable at the Chinese pavilion was that the Chinese girls were not only friendly, they could also converse fluently in Hindi

 The other pavilion that was interesting was the one of the US where we saw a TV set for the first time. People would wave at themselves as they saw themselves on the screen. The camera would be kept pointed at the crowd and boys would try to muscle in into  view. Another interesting item was the Cinerama tent which showed on 11 television screens in a circular tent the films taken by a like number of cameras mounted on top of a vehicle as it moved through a street. One got a 3600 view of the street – of the two sides, and of the front and the rear sides – giving the impression as if you were moving down the street in a vehicle.

Those were the heydays of India when many world leaders used to come to visit the country. Pandit Nehru, the Prime Minister, had acquired a cult status as a champion of peace and the country still had a reputation of being an ethical force in the world where while
Bulganin & Khruschev arrive in Delhi in 1955
the ‘hot’ war had ended a “cold war” had  set in. With his socialistic inclinations he had naturally built up a good rapport with the leaders of the now-defunct Soviet Union. Two of its leaders, Nikita Khruschev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Union and Nikolai Bulganin, the Premier of Soviet Union, came on a visit to Delhi during our stay. A huge crowd had gathered on the then King’s Way (now Raj Path) lawns to welcome them. All of us also joined the crowd. It was a sight to see. Numerous trucks laden with people had collected on the lawns and, as happens, inevitably hawkers had flocked in large numbers selling roasted groundnuts by weight or Coca Cola (available then) at 4 annas (just a quarter of a rupee) a bottle.

Soon it was time for us to leave for home. As I remember it, Delhi was still somewhat primitive, not like Bombay I had seen a few months earlier – more glittering and glitzier. It looked more like a sub-urban town, with ramshackle buses loosely run and bus-stands generally non-existent. After dusk the streets would be dark with very little illumination from the street lights because of either low voltage or low wattage of the incandescent bulbs. The streets were not yet fully paved or asphalted – much like our own Gwalior, barring areas where roads had already been concretised. Nonetheless, we had a good time and came back home – but not before we spent a night unrolling our bed-rolls on the platform of the Old Delhi station having missed the late night-train – richer in knowledge and experience. At that time it never occurred to me that in the future not only would I be visiting Delhi several times, I would also live and work there for as many as 14 of my 34 working years. 

Photos: From Internet

Monday, December 8, 2014

A death caused by “chin music” of cricket

Phil Hughes
The funeral service of Phil Hughes was held the other day. A precious and promising career in cricket was lost to Australia’s own “chin music”.  “Chin music” is nothing but bouncing a fast ball to literally shave the chin, if not hit it, of the batsman facing him. Admittedly a difficult ball to bowl and also to play as the ball rises rapidly off the pitch. A batsman needs to have very quick reflexes and needs to be very quick-footed to put it away. Initial reports said that Hughes was quicker than necessary in negotiating the ball which proved to be lethal. He was playing in a Sheffield Shield match of Australia’s domestic tournament like our own Ranji Trophy.

“Chin Music” is also used in the game of baseball. The ball is pitched aiming at the batter or near about his face. The intention is naturally to intimidate the batter or to force him away from the ball. But in baseball there is a difference; if a pitcher overdoes it the umpire can eject him from the game. In cricket there is no such provision. There is only one provision that a bowler can bowl only two bouncers that are essentially part of “chin music” in an over in one-day cricket matches. In test matches there is apparently no such condition.

That reminds one of the “Bodyline” controversies that raged around eighty years ago when Bradman, the God of Cricket, was in top form. England having been defeated by Australia in the 1930 series mainly because of Bradman’s unfailing form while touring England, the English team devised a strategy for its Australia tour in 1932-33 to attack the Australian batsmen’s bodies. Bouncers were being directed at the batsmen and Bradman, as indeed others, were repeatedly hurt. Despite unavailability of any protective gear other than leg-guards and gloves it was a life-threatening situation that led to a diplomatic row between the two countries. Bradman seemingly was intimidated and his rate of scoring fell to an average of around 50 whereas in 1930 he averaged  100 per innings in England. Soon, however the laws of cricket were changed to ensure that “bodyline” bowling was made illegal.

Apparently, the changed laws seem to have now been given up, as in place of “Bodyline” we now have “chin music” that is as bad. With the untimely and unwarranted death of Phil Hughes there is now an international discourse going on whether to ban the bouncers or to restrict them. Many cricketers feel that banning bouncers will take the thrill out of cricket; after all, a pull off a bouncer is a delectable sight. Even Bradman as far back as in 1930s, though he got the ball several times on his ribs and back, soldiered on dealing with the short-pitched fast rising deliveries stepping back hitting them on the rise to the off-side, seldom giving a chance to the fielders in the leg trap set for him to hold any of his catches.. Besides, there have been very few fatalities because of the short-pitched fast deliveries and Hughes’s fatal injury was, apparently, of  a one off kind.

Nari Contractor
Even our own Nari Contractor having had two ribs broken in a Test against England in 1958 played on to make 81. While leading the Indian team to West Indies in 1961-62, he got a severe hit on his head by a beamer, not a short-pitched one but a ball that never touches the ground and is aimed above the waist, from the young fast bowler Charlie Griffith. Contractor collapsed in a heap on the pitch and later had to undergo surgery. And yet I recall seeing him only around two years later in Ahmedabad in 1964 opening the innings for India against England. Two severe injuries seemed to have made no difference to his psyche. He is still around celebrating the eighth decade of his life.

 Perhaps, cricket administrators expect from cricketers such guts, fearlessness and determination to prove themselves as world-class cricketers.

Photos from the WWW