DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

FROM THE SCRAPBOOK :: 2


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Euthanasia

I had heard about Euthanasia, the process of physician-assisted death of terminally sick patients or of patients suffering from progressive incurable diseases, more than forty years ago. It was being talked about in the newspapers when cancer was slowly assuming menacing proportions with practically no cure available. In those days it went by the term “mercy killing”.

My late brother who was at one time Special Assistant to Dr. Karan Singh, the then Health Minister, also once happened to tell me that the minister wanted to know more about the process. No progress has, however, been made since then and Euthanasia, as an alternative to acutely suffering patients from several kinds of fatal diseases, continues to remain only in the realms of possibilities with no prospects in the near future of its being introduced.

In the United States euthanasia was introduced in the state of Oregon as far back as in 1997 and since then it was introduced in several other states like Montana, Colorado, Vermont, Washington DC etc. Perhaps, California, known as the trend-setting state, was so far the last to put into effect only in 2016 the law relating to assisted suicide. According to the available data as many as 504 terminally ill patients have requested for life-ending drugs since the law came into force. While the state authorities have not released any figures it is presumed that the overall figure would be much higher. Nonetheless, it is apparent that the law in question is working pretty well. The families of those who have made the choice have indicated that the law has provided comfort and relief to the dying from intolerable suffering. Some see providing the option to the dying as a logical evolution in the current medical care system.

Euthanasia has been in medical discourses for quite some time. I recall having read the depositions of elderly people in the West who did not wish to spend their last days in nursing homes or hospices regardless of the high quality of nursing care in them. The prospects of suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia, insufferable body and joint aches, chronic constipation and all other diseases that are associated with failing vital organs as advancing age chips away at the system is frightening to them, as it is to all of us. Most of them demanded the choice of assisted suicide particularly when there was no hope of recovery and the suffering was likely to pile on by the day. What they wished for was a self-willed dignified death without the hassles associated with interminable deep suffering – both physical and mental.

If one wishes to see the sufferings of the terminally ill patients a visit to any cancer hospital would be fruitful. I have had occasions to see from time to time the agony on the faces of these patients in the local JL Nehru Cancer Hospital. However much the hospital provides palliative treatment to those who are at the terminal stage the effort only marginally lightens the patients’ sufferings. Perhaps, an option for assisted death would be far more welcome than the prolonged pain and agony from which release is unlikely. Forcing a terminally sick patient to live out his life of acute pain and misery in keeping with the prevailing societal mores would not seem to be making any sense. An option for termination of life, if exercised, would release not only a patient from his/her unbearable, insufferable and intolerable pain, agony and misery but also relieve his/her family and well-wishers from prolonged exposure to the sufferings of a loved one that heavily impacts their psyche.

Unfortunately, in this country there is neither enough social cohesion for making a demand for euthanasia nor are the governments so enlightened as to enact such laws on their own. Besides, the leaders of the society are far too busy in garnering votes at future elections. Even the medical fraternity has failed to propose such a measure which apart from providing relief to terminally ill patients would make their own life a little easier. Besides, in the prevailing environment of shortages and inadequacy numerous beds/wards could be released for treatment of those who have better chances of recovery to lead a healthy life.

One tends to feel that the debate on the matter needs to resume. A time seems to have come when a scientific and more modern view of this important matter is taken by people in authority. After all, when medical science, despite its rapid advancement, is not able to provide release from pain and suffering to a patient wouldn’t it make sense that the patient, if he so wished, could ask for a dignified termination of his miserable life?

CICLOVIA

Somehow or other Colombia has been at the vanguard of urban transport initiatives. The Bus Rapid Transit System, BRTS for short, though established first in Curitiba in Brazil, it is Bogota in Colombia that we in India drew inspiration from. The country has a fascinating rapid transit system which we have tried to emulate but have miserably failed in the effort for varied reasons that need not be gone into here.

A fresh initiative has come from Colombia and this time it is not about the polluting diesel buses that are used in the bus rapid transit system. It is about good old bicycle and an attempt to resurrect it after it was virtually pushed into oblivion as a means of personal mobility. The Colombian initiatives have had emphasis on conservation of environment. Just as the BRTS was meant to apply brakes on the rapidly increasing green house gases in the atmosphere the new initiative that goes by the name Ciclovia attempts to popularize  emission-free transport as also to improve the health of people and their general wellbeing.

Ciclovia is not, in fact, a new initiative. It was commenced around 1974 when sections of roads were closed on Sundays for motor vehicles for half a day and only cyclists, walkers and joggers were allowed on them. The Indian Ambassador in Colombia writes that what started as a small exercise now covers more than 121 kms. of Bogota’s roads with the participation of one fourth of the population of the town of eight million on every Sunday and on other holidays that work out to 68 days in a year. He says, from 7.00 AM to 2.00 PM young and old come out in colourful apparels to give themselves an outing in their own city.

Many cities of Colombia and Latin America have adopted Ciclovia. Apparently people like the initiative prompting the administrations to add hundreds of kilometers cycle routes in Bogota and elsewhere. Ciclovia’s popularity is being used by commercial firms to broadcast their messages through various cycling events. Even the Indian Embassy is reported to have celebrated the International Yoga Day in June 2016 using Ciclovia.

We in India were at one time totally dependent on the bicycle. It was the only vehicle for quicker mobility for the blue collared workers as also of a few sections of white collars and students. The middle class and the lower classes back then had no other alternative as four wheeled motorized vehicles were much beyond their reach andpublic transport run by the governments or their agencies was unavailable. I remember during our college days in the mid 1950s many of our professors used to cycle down to the college. They would be immaculately dressed in three-piece suits in winters with matching felt hats. In summers, it would be shirt sleeves and sola hats, bicycles remaining as the means of commuting. Reports used to be received of Pune having the largest number of bicycles. With changing shifts in factories swarms of cyclists would choke the streets. Today, however, things have changed; it is now the motorised two-wheeler or a car; a bicycle is used, if at all, for pleasure rides.

Nonetheless, efforts are being made to popularise the use of bicycles. In Bhopal already around 10 kilometres of cycle tracks have been constructed and bicycles are on offer on rent – somewhat in the pattern of Paris and other European cities after this movement took off more than a decade ago. For us in India the weather is a great hindrance, particularly in summers when due to searing heat of the sun none would like to expose oneself to the unfriendly elements. During the rest of the year, however, cycling could be promoted for hobby as also for commuting.

That is precisely what Ciclovia, with all its multiple environmental and health benefits, would seemingly seek to suggest to us.  

*Photos from internet



Monday, June 12, 2017

From the scrapbook :: 1


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Planting spruce for “Future Library”

It was in the news recently that Oslo in Norway is going to grow trees for
A spruce tree
books that might be printed a hundred years from now. One thousand spruce saplings are being planted in a forest outside Oslo. Whenever an author produces a manuscript it would go into a time capsule kept in an Oslo library to be read by none. Only in 2114 “the trees and text will be finally turned into a book”. So, whatever Margaret Atwood, poetess and novelist, produces henceforth will all go into the capsule, only to be published in the next century.

Katie Paterson, a 36 year-old European artist initiated the “Future Library” project for spruce trees to be grown in Norway’s Nordmarka forest for the books to be printed in the next century. It is she who proposed that Margaret Atwood’s book would be the first to be capsuled for the Future Library. Another popular author David Mitchell has also handed over his manuscript to be published a hundred years from now. Mitchell is reported to have said "It's trees, it's books, it's a circle, it's pulp, it's organic matter turning into this stuff [paper] …and then words get printed on them. I love that”

Katie Paterson appears to be a very hopeful person. She seems to believe that a century from now forests will still be there and there will be still people who would like to hold a book printed on paper in their hands despite the upgrades in technology taking place seemingly at supersonic speed. She is also up to creating a press which would print these books and arrangements are being made to ensure that it remains fit enough to roll out the preserved manuscripts on paper. A periodical maintenance job is being arranged. This is nothing but a strong belief in human behavior and a way of life which, she hopes, will persist even a hundred years hence. According to Paterson, Future Library believes “there will be a forest, a book and a reader in 100 years. The choices of this generation will shape the centuries to come, perhaps in an unprecedented way.”

The project has environmental undertones. It seeks to protect at least 1000 spruce trees for a hundred years in an area where the trees may come under the axe sooner than later. Norway is happily placed in respect of forests which cover about 37% of its land area but more than 23% of it harvested for commercial purposes.

Paterson’s is undoubtedly an unique project and one can only hope that her claims that a century away people will be affected by the choices made by the current generation come true.

Penalising for wrong parking

The other day a Hindi daily reported that a fine of Rs. 8000/- was imposed on a car owner for improper parking in London.  It seems a wealthy commuter arrived in his BMW near Mayfair or some such place in the Hyde Park area and did not care to keep his car within the space indicated for parking. His car was outside the line drawn for the purpose by a mere six inches or so but the London Police charged him for violation of the laws and fined him Rs. 8000/-. For us in India it looks an incredibly huge amount for a minor violation but in British currency it must have been around 100 pounds. Though 100 Pounds would be chicken feed for a man running around in a BMW in London – a very expensive place – yet it is, to my mind, a reasonably big amount. One could even call it a heavy penalty.

Because of such stiff penalties for even minor offences one would seldom come across a vehicle parked casually without any regard to the laws as in any city of India. While in the developed countries there is what is called governance, and that too very effective, here we have none of that, mostly because of attitudes of our politicians who nurse their voters any which way, including by interfering with the policing work for all kinds of violations – even relating to violations of traffic rules. A local minister told as much to a representative team of the Bhopal Citizens’ Forum. He brazenly said if any of his constituents sought his help when in trouble with the Police he would certainly intervene regardless of whether the violator was right or wrong.

No wonder the streets of London or, for that matter, any European city one wouldn’t find encroachments on the roads or pavements. If one stood on a pavement in a street corner one would see all around roads and footpaths free of kiosks or push-carts. However, where permitted, pavements are used for outdoor cafetarias/restaurants and not for kiosks or hawkers. In Vienna I remember to have seen kiosks built by the local body well away from the Ringstrasse – a road where there is heavy traffic of locals as well as of tourists. We even had pizzas off these kiosks cooked by an Italian.

We in India are, however, very ‘tolerant’ – yes, very tolerant of all kinds of violations, particularly of civic laws. We have all the paraphernalia for enforcement of these laws but somehow these cannot be enforced largely because of vested interests and use of political influence, sometimes even of the lowest level. Somehow all the powers have gravitated towards the elected political executive and the real enforcers have been left twiddling their thumbs. Recent instances of attempts to remove illegal kiosks from near MP Nagar had to be given up because of pressure of MLAs and municipal councilors.

 Hence one can never find the same civic discipline as one finds in the developed countries of the world. Here what is needed is change of attitudes, especially of the political class. That, however, may take an eternity.


11th June 2017
*Foto of spruce tree from internet

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Destinations :: Jaipur (1980)

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A pink gate with art work in white leading into Babu Market
On our way back from Udaipur we dropped down at Jaipur. Since the railway track was of metre gauge in those days trains were necessarily slow. Hence it was a journey almost of 12 hours to cover the distance of only 430 kms. We reached early in the morning and we got out on sightseeing soon after breakfast.

Jaipur has always been known as the Pink City. Rajasthan has this peculiarity – the cities have been given different names by the colour of majority of their structures. Like Jaipur, Udaipur is known as the “White City”, Jodhpur the “Blue City” and Jaisalmer “Yellow City”.

Much need not be written about Jaipur as it is a much-visited place by Indians. It is one of the most popular tourist places in the state and its popularity prompted to make the state government work for increased
Another pink gate with beautiful art work
tourist visitations so much so that Rajasthan today gets one every three foreign tourist visiting India. Tha state has sold its forts, palaces, the rugged landscape, cuisine and colourful dresses of its people successfully both, to domestic and foreign tourists.

Among the cities of Rajasthan Jaipur has one distinctive feature and that is, it is a rare example of a planned city though its construction started as far back as in 1726. The planning for the city was based on vastu shastra and shilpa shastra, i.e the technical and specialized knowledge of town planning available to the people in those early
Hawa Mahal
days. The founder of the city Maharaja Jai Singh is said to have consulted numerous architects and books on architecture and planned the city tying it together with the help of grids The pink colour of the town came much later, during the reign of Sawai Ram Singh who had it painted pink in 1876 to welcome the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. Since then the city maintained the pink colour acquiring the epithet of “Pink City”.

 Most of the city, especially, its core, the Babu Market, wears a pink ambiance that is distinctly different from the cores of the many cities that were contemporaneous to Jaipur. Despite the heavy rush of people the market remains as attractive as ever and one occasionally comes across a typical architectural feature of Jaipur. One must hand it to the shop owners who have readily agreed to maintain the pink ambiance. The authorities, too, do their bit by painting beautiful designs in white on the pink walls of the several gates that are there as points of entry into the market. 

Very close to Babu Market is that fabulous iconic structure called Hawa Mahal that can be called symbolic of Jaipur. The amazing five-storey structure is replete with jaali and lattice work with almost a thousand windows which are called jharokhas. Built in 1799 with the idea of
Details of a jahrokha of Hawa Mahal
providing a screened view of the street in front to the women of the Detpalace observing purdah, the jaali also ensured cooling of the insides during the hot summers, and Jaipur, with a desert very close to it, can really be hot in summers. The frontal view of the palace offers a honeycomb-like view of intricately worked windows with lattice work and a miniature window in each. The whole effect is captivating besides being very photogenic.

We gave a pass to the Jantar Mantar having seen the one in New Delhi. Instead we proceeded to Amer Fort 11 miles away. Amer was, in fact, the capital before Maharaja Jai Singh decided to build Jaipur. A move became necessary for reasons, among others, of scarcity of water. It is
Albert Hall, Jaipur
such a pity that a Maharaja had to leave a lived-in palace imaginatively constructed, opulently decorated and impeccably furnished because of certain physical constraints. It is built in four levels on the Aravalis with a small lake in front. It is supposedly the most attractive tourist destination of Jaipur and, from all evidences, it actually is. We saw loads of foreign tourists being ferried to the Fort or Palace as the Amer Mahal is called on elephants’ back. They are dropped after negotiating a massive gate in front of the entrance that is called the Ganesh Gate which is intricately decorated.

 Built in the 16th Century by Raja Man Singh, who later became the famous general of Emperor Akbar’s army, Amer Palace is known for its artistic flavour with a mix of Hindu and Rajput architectural styles.  Constructed of sandstone and marble here one finds the Diwane Khas
Amer Fort
and Diwane Aam, a la the Red Fort of Delhi. In addition there is a Sukh Niwas which has a channel to make water flow along to keep the king, his queen and mistresses in cool comfort during the hot summers. Of all the structures, however, it is the Sheesh Mahal which walks away with the cake. It has beautifully painted walls with clever mix of glass all over. It is the same place where the Bollywood film Mughal e Azam’s dance sequence was shot with late Madhubala lip-syncing in the run-away popular song “pyar kiya to darna kya” sung by Lata Mangeshker.


Ganesh Gate in amer Fort
While there are many more sights to see we had to avoid them for want of time. But, we came across a very attractive building which is named after Prince Albert, later Edward VII, who laid its foundation stone. The building houses a museum – In fact it is the State Museum displaying the local artifact, textiles, carpets, handicraft, sculpture, gems, jewellery etc. The building is a fine example of Indo-Saracenic architectural style and having been constructed more than a hundred years ago wears its age well.

7th June 2017

Monday, June 5, 2017

Bhopal Notes :: 54 :: CM’s utter disdain for a dying lake


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Dead fish floating in Upper Lake, Bhopal
The so called Bhopal “Sthapna Diwas” was celebrated with fanfare in the evening of last Thursday at the Boat Club which sits close to the bank of the Upper Lake. At the very outset it needs to be re-stated that this lake is a wetland of international repute and has been declared a Ramsar Site and is an Important Bird Area. The custodian of the Lake, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation, draws water from it for supplies to a little less than half the population of the city.

Having set the record straight one has to say it emphatically that the ceremony – unwarranted and uncalled for – was in complete disregard of the dire condition of the Lake where, of late, fish have been dying for want of adequate oxygen. It is highly polluted and the assembly of thousands of people on its banks, as has become a matter of regular occurrence, is against all environmental norms for protection of a prime wetland. On top of all this was the display of fireworks – again uncalled for and unwarranted – was highly ill-advised. While all the carbon of the fireworks was blown towards the lake and eventually settling down on its waters the fire on the hill opposite the Boat Club caused avoidable destruction of the surrounding flora and fauna.

(I have written elsewhere about the Sukhna Lake of Chandigarh where nothing is allowed on its banks – no food stalls or kiosks or any other establishment. Recently a massive housing project in its catchments was disallowed by the Punjab & Haryana High Court. So much care is being taken, unlike the lake of Bhopal, of the Sukhna Lake, a lake that was created only around sixty years ago, when its waters are not used for drinking and the Lake is not a wetland of international importance.)

It has been noticed for some time that the government has been wearing its total apathy for this thousand-year old lake on its sleeve and its progressive degradation. It has not released for the last three years the report of the Centre for Environmental Planning & Technology on conservation of the Lake and its catchments where constructions are reportedly progressing without let or hindrance. While the Municipal Corporation is busy in making cosmetic changes in its surroundings it does nothing to prevent sewers to empty into it. Even the government does not do anything about building sewage treatment plants (STPs) for these drains whereas it has assured STPs for all the drains that empty into River Narmada.

 The latest big bash on the Lake, therefore, shows utter disdain of the government and its chief executive for the most valuable asset of the people of Bhopal. One does not know who cleared the programme but, I am sure, the Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation would neither have the power nor the money to mount such an elaborate celebration. There must have been political directions and a diktat from the government which, apparently, couldn’t care less if the water body was further damaged.

 This was the first celebration of the so called “Sthapna Diwas” which, according to reports, commemorates the merger of Bhopal 68 years ago in the Indian Union. All through the past 67 years the government did not remember the date of merger and, never felt the need to celebrate it. Suddenly, out of the blue, this year it decided to hold a celebration. Obviously it is a ploy to delude the people. One programme associated with the Narmada Seva Yatra had to be cancelled on account of the sudden demise of the Central Environment Minister who was to attend it. The government was, therefore, apparently looking for an excuse to hold a big bash and they fished out this long forgotten date.

Looks like, the chief minister has been under pressure for some time and he has been trying to divert attention from the allegations against him of involvement of the members of his immediate family in illegal sand mining. The Opposition, the Indian National Congress, has gone hammer and tongs after him and, for once, has been right in effectively mounting on the chief minister a direct attack. And so has a former minister of the chief minister’s cabinet who has filed a case against sand mining in Narmada with the Bhopal Bench of the National Green Tribunal.  

There are numerous issues involved with these celebrations. The first question that occurs in one’s mind is why, out of the blue, these celebrations were held when during the last 68 years nobody ever thought of celebrating it. There has to be motive behind it. One newspaper has gone on to describe it as the day when people of Bhopal won “freedom”. But it has not been explained as to why the attainment of “freedom” was not celebrated all these years This is nothing but spreading untruth and obfuscating the fact of merger of Bhopal state. While it is true that the then Nawab had procrastinated on deciding merger of his principality into the Indian Union but eventually he was left with no other alternative.

To say that the people of Bhopal won their freedom on 1st June 1949 is nothing but an attempt to muddle the issue. Before that date the people of Bhopal had as much or as little freedom as those in other princely states that merged with the Union. Besides, if the date of merger of Bhopal needs to be celebrated, the government should also celebrate the anniversaries of merger of Gwalior, Indore and numerous other former princely states that merged into the Indian Union. After all Madhya Pradesh was constituted of only former princely states barring the areas of former British India like Mahakaushal

In point of fact, from all evidences the “Sthapna Diwas” as an ill-thought out celebration which wasted a few crores from government exchequer and, in the process, dumped tons of pollutants, including, carbon into the Lake.


I am posting this on the eve of the World Environment Day in the hope that better sense will prevail among the politicians and bureaucrats to take care and protect this gift of legendary Raja Bhoj who was so concerned about water needs of his subjects more than a thousand years ago.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memories of the National Academy of Administration, Mussourie


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The Administrative Block, National Academy, Mussourie
After a twenty hour journey through sizzling night and day of May in 1961 when I arrived at the Dehra Dun Railway station I was accosted by a taxi driver, who somewhat like a clairvoyant, knew I was wanting to go to Mussourie. 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 model Oldsmobile and, with three other boys trifle younger than me, I travelled in style to Mussourie. The three boys got off at a junction that, I later learnt, was for 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.

It was already dark and was well past seven 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 and 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.)
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Retrieving my baggage from the taxi, Gainda Lal hauled the pieces down a few flights of stairs to the room. 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, polish 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.

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Next morning, after breakfast, I happened to meet Narayanan again 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, impressive looking man in a light-coloured suit pulling at his pipe. That was Dr. AN Jha, the director of the then NAA. He was holding forth on something which apparently was humorous as there was quite a bit of laughter. 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 – more than 250 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.
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During the first week all trainees were asked to take lessons in musketry. We had to leg it down the kuccha pathways past the 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. When the man next to me screamed with pain after the recoil from the .303 rifle and sat up holding his right shoulder in great agony, I decided guns were not for me. That ended my musketry training.
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 Lectures were mostly boring except, of course, those rare ones delivered by the Director. 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 must make a mention of Prof. Ramaswami who used to take the Economics classes. For those of us who were strangers to the subject what he said in his deep bass flew over our heads. What I remember, as indeed many of my colleagues would, is his lengthy discourses over numerous sessions on the economic developmental model propounded by Walt Rostow which made no sense to us having hardly any knowledge of economic models for growth. He dilated at length on Rostovian concept of the “take off” stage of an economy. The Indian economy was nowhere near it 50 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.

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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 my friend from the Customs & Excise Service, Sukumar Mukhopadhyay, 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, Nawal Singh, 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 landed 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. It was none other than Sukumar. Not quite broken, some newer horses in the Academy in 1961, reportedly, still had a bit of their wild streak.

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Soon after the monsoons struck, and they strike the Himalayan foothills on which Mussourie is situated I fell sick. I told my room-mate to inform the PT instructor that I wouldn't be around as I was feeling unwell. Surprisingly, soon enough the instructor turned up armed with a thermometre. As the temperature was high the official car was requisitioned and I was sent to Kulrie around 4 miles away to the Academy physician. While a throat swab was sent to Dehra Dun, the doctor, as a measure of caution, suggested my hospitalisation for treatment against diphtheria. For me it happened to be St. Mary's Hospital up on the hills above the Mall where four well-built rickshaw-pullers hauled me up and deposited me there. It was empty - bereft of patients, most unlike hospitals in the plains. Clearly, it was off-season for the hill station. I was put in a beautiful well-lighted room but it smelt of DDT. The only physician on duty went through his chores and pumped twenty shots of painful Sodium Penicillin on my backside in the course 72 hours. He was a good soul, had lost his wife a few days before I turned up and had become a little spiritual. Despite the pain he administered to me I came to like him. The anti-climax happened on the third day when the report on the swab arrived saying it was not diphtheria, after all. But I had already gone through the pain and the back side was still sore.

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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 were also taken to Delhi which coincided with the Independence Day. We attended the ceremony at Red Fort, participated at the reception given by the President Radhakrishnan. It was enriching to see all the powerful and influential 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.

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 Murthi 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! (Quite a big gathering!)”

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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. Somebody 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.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Destinations :: Udaipur (1980)


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City Palace, Udaipur

In the winter of 1980 we at the Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA) were required under the Advanced Professional programme in Public Administration to conduct a field study for the dissertation that had to be submitted before the end of the Programme. I was asked to study the problem of rural indebtedness in the district of Udaipur in Rajasthan. Half a dozen other participants were also given different subjects the studies for which were to be conducted in the Udaipur district. All of us, therefore, went to Udaipur for a stay of around 15 days. The IIPA had already carried out the administrative work and organized our stay at the Circuit House in Udaipur and arranged vehicles for us to be ferried to and from the villages that would come under the studies.

This was my first visit to a city of Rajasthan that was then considered to be colourful yet pretty poor. This was the land of valour as exemplified by the legendary Maharana Pratap of Mewar who reportedly never accepted defeated at the hands of the Mogul Emperor Akbar. Udaipur was laid as a city by Maharana Patap’s father, Udai Singh and hence the name Udaipur. It has quite a few lakes and is, therefore, also known as “City of Lakes”. The half a dozen or so lakes of the city have so far never been in good condition. Like many other cities with lakes like Bhopal and Bangalore the lakes have become repositories of the sewage from surrounding urban developments.

The village studies were most revealing about the working of our lower bureaucracy in the governments and banks. Indebtedness was built into the system that was perhaps made to evolve in the way the vested interests desired. In order to eliminate the scourge of the village money lender and his usurious rates of interest the government had persuaded many public sector banks to open branches in villages. And yet the villagers were thrown at the mercy of the predatory money lender.

If, for example, a villager had to buy a buffalo and had to have a loan from a bank he had to complete a number of formalities. Among the numerous formalities the villager had to first get a recommendation from some government outfit and then approach the bank for a loan. In order to get the recommendation he had to bribe the government official and to get the loan from the bank even the bank official would take his cut. If the bribes were paid the villager wouldn’t be left with enough to buy his buffalo. It was a system steeped in corruption in which the villager had no other alternative but to fall at the mercy of the usurious money lender whom the government intended to liquidate. No wonder the money lenders continued to operate and even thrived.

Be that as it may, our programme was such that we had little time for sight-seeing – which was not the purpose of the visit, anyway. Nonetheless, we did visit the two most important sights – the City Palace and the Pichola Lake. The City Palace may have been restored now and the place in front cleared but when we visited it was not so impressive. Perhaps, we entered through a wrong gate – the palace seems to have a number of entry points. It may have been at one time a little removed from the city but when we visited it seemed to be choking with constructions all around. It is reported to have been built over a long period of around four hundred years and hence it gives that claustrophobic feeling. As the palace grew over centuries so did the city, which now is too close for comfort – for a monumental structure like the City Palace.

There are supposed to be 11 palaces inside this huge complex which all
Another view of City Palace
are additions over centuries and generations that are claimed to be 70-odd in number. The palaces within are interlinked through corridors and quadrangles. One would have to have sufficient energy to see the entire complex as one may have to walk a few miles inside – for which again one had to have enough time. Both, unfortunately, were in short supply. But what perhaps was the outstanding feature of the Palace was that though it was built section by section over centuries the style was kept homogeneous.

During our brief visit I remember to have seen some beautiful pieces of European furniture, some European and Chinese porcelains, some exquisite miniatures and sundry curios. A part of the Palace was under repairs and hence was out of bounds. Anyway, I do not seem to remember having seen the Palace from its front. The view from here, apparently, is stunning.

Pichola Lake is also a more than six centuries old artificial lake designed to bring water close to Udaipur for the use of the citizens. Rajasthan is an arid land and water is scarce. Whoever ruled over the land, therefore, had to have water for the people. Pichola Lake is one that was artificially created to start with to make provision for water. Later
The Lake Palace on Pichola Lake
other interconnected lakes came up. Lake Pichola pre-dates the city of Udaipur by at least a century and a half. When Maharana of Mewar decided to shift his capital from Chittorgarh to Udaipur it was on the banks of the Pichola Lake that he built his palace. A number of islands in the Lake have some beautiful structures one of which is the Lake Palace Hotel. Some others have temples from where one gets incredibly beautiful views of the Lake. It is for its Lakes and Palaces that Udaipur has been the location of Hollywood and Bollywood films.

On the two Sundays that we had we had two excursions – to Nathdwara temple and to Chittorgarh. The latter is about a couple of hours drive from Udaipur located on the ancient Aravali Hills. It has one of the most important forts that figured in various battles over the centuries with the Mugal invaders. A massive fort by all reckonings, it has some fabulous specimens of architecture – of both Rajput and Jain varieties. The Vijai Stambh (Victory Tower) is a remarkable architectural feature of the Fort that dominates it. It was erected by Rana Kumbh more than 500 years ago in commemoration of the victory against the forces mustered by Mahmood Khiji. The tower is richly worked that is representative of Rajpiut expertise in cutting rocks and chiselling them.

While Chittorgarh is famous for Rajput bravery and valour, it is also well-known for two of its queens, one, Meera, a devotee of Krishna whose devotional songs are sung till this day and the other a brave and captivating queen, Padmini, who did not fall in the trap set by the
Vijai Stambh (Victory Tower) Cittorgarh
Mugal warrior who had captured the fort and was smitten by her beauty so much so that he wanted her to be added to his well populated harem. Repulsing all his attempts she preferred to self-immolate herself in true traditions of a Rajput queen. The part of the Palace where she did that is still around and is an object of curiosity for the visitors.

The other excursion we went on was to the famous temple of Nathdwara about fifty miles away from Udaipur in the midst of the hills of Aravali. We had to go through the famous pass of Haldighati where a fierce battle took Place between Maharana Pratap and the forces of Akbar. A small memorial for Maharana Pratap’s horse Chetak has been erected here. The favourite horse of the Maharana, although wounded, carried his mount safely away before succumbing to his grievous wounds

According to legends, the temple came up where the bullock cart carrying it away from Mathura got bogged down in the mud. The image of Lord Krishna or Shrinath-ji – a 14th Century 7 years old infant - was being brought away from Govardhan near Mathura for fear of the evil eye of the Mugal Emperor Aurangzeb. The shrine was built in the 17th Century.

The deity at Nathdwara
It has always been known to be a very rich temple. We could not get a view of the infant Shrinath as we were hustled away by the minders. There was a big crowd for what is known as “darshan” – a glimpse of the deity. In any case in the darkness of the sanctum the black figure of the infant Shrinathji did not quite make itself visible. I, however, still remember the jewels that glittered in the darkness on the infant deity’s ornaments.

An incredibly huge amount of ‘prasad” (religious offering) was being prepared. These are generally edible sweets in which ghee (clarified butter) is the cooking medium. In view of the amount of Prasad the temple authorities have to have enormous quantities of ghee. We were shown four wells about three feet in diameter and twenty feet deep where ghee is stored. By any stretch of imagination, that is enormous quantity of ghee. They gave us huge packs of Prasad soaked in ghee but it solidified as soon as it was exposed to the cool ambient temperature.

Rajasthan is well-known for its miniature paintings. Nathdwara, however, is famous for it “pichwais” that are not miniature and are used for decorating the wall behind the deity. The paintings depict Lord Krishna in various moods and basically are meant to educate the lay
A "pichwaii" painting
worshipper about His life. The “pichwais” have become very popular and there are numerous artists who make them. Some of them are so good that they get orders from abroad. We saw some of them at work – downright ordinary folk who have king-sized imagination and a very keen eye for details.  


23rd May 20017

*All images are from internet

Monday, May 22, 2017

Stirring words of encouragement


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Above is clip of a feature that appeared in the Indian Express on 7th May 2917. It has some stirring words of encouragement by a senior to a junior police officer who was (figuratively) waylaid by a petty politician. One wished that all the seniors in different departments could come out publicly similarly to raise the morale of the administrative machinery. For too long the politicians have used it for their wile purposes

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Bhopal Notes :: 53 :: VIPs at play on Bhopal Lake

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A jamboree in progress at Boar Club during "Rahgiri"days
A news item the other day reported the highhandedness of the so-called VIPs. The widely circulated Dainik Bhaskar had reported earlier that there was an encroachment in the Boat Club area by a party which had been allotted 600 sq.ft. for running a food joint called Food Point. The newspaper reported that instead of using 600 sq.ft. the proponent had created a facility of 4000 sq.ft.

 The Mayor took prompt action. After his office verified all the related records and found that there were breaches of conditions of the lease and signs of massive encroachments by the allottee he visited the site with his anti-encroachment squad and a posse of policemen just in case the situation turned ugly. Facing no problem he  cancelled the allotment. The operation to remove the encroachment, however, was halted as the Mayor was spoken to by somebody very high in the government.

Later it transpired that the allottee happened to be the son of a major builder in the city who was also close to a former minister in the government. The allottee’s father seems to have influenced the officers of the Municipal Corporation at lower levels to allow the massive illegal construction. They did so behind the back of the Mayor who was not put wise about the underhand developments. The phone call that stayed the hands of the mayor must have come from one of the powerful persons involved.

 This is how the “important” or “very important” people subvert the rule of law. First they manipulate the bureaucracy and if necessary they also get the political executive to step in and help them out. The political executives are mostly beholden to them for the favours they might have received or are likely to receive from them. The VIPs – for such a person is a VIP in the current Indian context for whom rules can be thrown away to the winds – are, in fact, law-breakers who subvert normal functioning of the official agencies, bending them to work to their own (VIP’s) advantage. They are, as the saying goes, more equal than others.

 Shiv Vishwanathan, a reputed social scientist, in one of his very interesting pieces has said that the 20th Century writer George Orwell understood the Indian brand of socialism very well. His book Animal Farm was taken to be a critique of Indian socialism where the pigs challenging equality asserted “some were more equal than others”. Vishwanathan says, as animal symbolism goes, “the Pig is the archetypal VIP” but some have added, even “the Pig looks restrained next to our product”. (Incidentally, Pigs Snowball and Napoleon are characters in Orwell’s Animal Farm)

Vishwanathan goes lyrical when he describes the Indian VIP. He says the VIP was the Indian Republic’s glorious contribution to the idea of “conspicuous citizenship”. The VIP did not live in the “world of entitlement or rights”. He claimed excess as his birth right. Besides, he has the constitutional right “to disturb, to interrupt and to deprive.” The VIP threatens everyone’s rights but becomes “violent” when his entitlements are threatened – and his rights include (those) “of his lackeys and his family”. No VIP is ever alone – he represents a ”retinue” of people, perpetually surrounded by relatives and friends. According to him, VIP, unlike a citizen, is not singular. Vishwanathan likens him to an epidemic who feels governance was invented for him.
Calling him an “Ugly Indian”, Vishwanathan says that the VIP is a greater threat to democracy than poverty. The affluence of the VIP feeding off a community is obscene. But that is precisely what is happening all around – from encroachments on public lands to illegal sand mining on rivers that are denuded of their sands or even in competitive examinations for admissions in professional colleges where the monstrous Vyapam scandal revealed the activities of this species.

In this particular case, whoever this “Ugly Indian” is he has done a great disservice to the citizens of Bhopal. The city’s pride, the eco-sensitive millennium-old largest man-made lake of the country, is already on its last legs. Having been subjected to myriad atrocities by the likes of this “Ugly Indian” the lake is on the verge of death. Already, the oxygen content of its waters has ebbed so low that dead fishes have appeared close to the Boat Club. Apparently, its waters may not remain fit for drinking for long even after sophisticated filtration. Its waters have never been taken care of as the custodian of the lake, Bhopal Municipal Corporation, is more interested in beautifying its surroundings than purifying its waters. This is happening when a large number of government departments and agencies are involved in its maintenance.

 The saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” is in operation here on the Upper Lake if one cares to look at it. But there is one which is out to exploit the Lake’s existence for its own benefit and that is the State Tourism Development Corporation. It has secured its bottom-line by exploiting the Lake and its environs by running highly damaging motorized boats on its progressively deteriorating quality of water, running restaurants, food joints, etc at and near the Boat Club and organizing jamborees on its banks in not too distant past.

On a number of occasions attention was drawn through these columns on the ill-advised activities that were being carried out on the banks of this very vital lake for the townsfolk but there was no one to listen to them. All were probably pulverised by numerous “Ugly Indians”. Now it seems that what the chief of Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology said about a month back that the Lake would cease to be of use in another 20 years’ time was perhaps an over-statement; it is already gasping for breath and the end is not far away.

Once it is dead the “Ugly Indian” and his ilk would perhaps have no sorrow but would jump in joy with saliva dripping from their mouths on the prospects of getting the biggest piece of prime real estate available for them to use it any which way. Their insatiable lust for land, however, will only be partially sated even as the city’s denizens go water-less – deprived of their inalienable right to life.

*Photo from internet

20th May 2017