Driving Skills – 2

Stirred into action on seeing two accidents in a short ten kilometre stretch from home to my son’s school (click Driving Skills – 1 for full story), I have started compiling a list of easy-to-follow guidelines designed to bring equality and democracy to our roads. I am conscious that some of the guidelines set out below are more applicable to male drivers, and some to drivers in the Delhi/Gurgaon/NCR region, but that is more on account of a) more drivers being male and b) I have lived in the Delhi/Gurgaon/NCR area for over ten years, rather than a desire to give these two constituencies a competitive edge over others.

In order that benefit to society is neither delayed nor denied, I am not waiting to complete the document and, instead, will publish it, as I progress, in instalments. This is the first instalment. 

While going the wrong way on a one-way street (“is there any other way to go?” you might be tempted to ask if you live in Gurgaon), if oncoming traffic honks at you, flash your high beam. We all know the magical properties of the high beam. When aimed correctly, it should make the errant vehicle vanish. Especially in India, a generally hot country with long hours of bright sunshine, where, particularly in the daytime, the beam’s magical properties make it invisible to the naked eye.

If they don’t get out of the way when you flash the high beam which they could not see, roll down your window, make a tight fist and wave it randomly in the air. If the oncoming car still does not get the message, stop your car and get out. If you can’t go the wrong way, nobody goes nowhere mister. At this point roll up your shirt sleeve for the trading of punches which is likely to follow shortly.

If you need to turn right at an intersection, ensure you are in the left-most lane at the moment you need to begin the turn to the right. The right turn must be made in a graceful arc sweeping across the rushing vehicles in the centre and right lanes in a manner that brings them to a screeching halt mid-stride. This strategy is even more effective when you have to make a U-turn to the right. The simple beauty of this strategy can be judged by the fact that it is equally effective the other way round; while turning left from the right-most lane.

Never, ever, stop on the left side of the road where it is prohibited to either stop or wait. Stopping on the left side of the road, next to the kerb, will only cause a minor disruption. For maximum impact, stop right in the middle of the road. Purpose of stopping is irrelevant. It can be to let a pedestrian jaywalk across, or to ask the driver of the taxi next to you for directions. Experienced drivers will know that the second reason listed above has been found to be most effective for maximum disruption as two cars will be stopped in the middle of the road side by side while others try to navigate around them.

In any condition of stopping in the middle of the road, never forget to turn on the blinkers (the flashing lights that are meant to be a “caution” signal for others) to gain the moral high ground in any ensuing confrontation, should you encounter outraged fellow-travellers or even a rare cop trying to enforce rules.

If you see a traffic signal turning amber in the distance, what do you do? Even young children know the answer to this. It is obvious really. You must speed up in order to ensure that you are able to reach and cross the signal before the light turns to red. Distance to the signal is irrelevant. If you can see it, you can cross it.

A corollary of the above rule is that you should never, ever, be the first to stop at a traffic signal. Doing so is bound to lead to an immediate and irrevocable deterioration in your social status, if an acquaintance were to notice this act of weakness, especially if you happen to belong to Delhi or its surroundings. As we know, acquaintances of people living in Delhi hang around at traffic signals waiting to spot you being the first to stop at the signal.

The other outcome of this unnatural behaviour, should to choose to indulge in it, is that everyone behind you will need to stop. Can you imagine the chaos a moment’s irresponsibility on your part will create for the city? Choose to act in a responsible manner today. Never be the first to stop at a red light.

Always drive with your child, preferably an infant, in your lap. Borrow one if you don’t have one of your own. In order to create the right environment it should be done without the child wearing a seat-belt. In any run-in, either with infuriated fellow-commuters, or with the law, blame the other guy for not being sensitive to the child. An unintended benefit will be that the child will imbibe these driving habits early.

Please understand that the law asking you to wear a seat-belt while driving has been introduced for the safety of the cops trying to enforce it. Never, ever, wear a seat-belt while driving. Make sincere efforts to avoid detection by holding the buckle end of the belt and stretching it as far as the point where it could be buckled, without actually doing so. Not only will this permit you to cock a snook at the efforts of the traffic policemen to become safe by getting you to wear a seat-belt, you will also be able to engage one hand with the belt buckle, leaving only one hand to drive, shift gears, etc. The situation, as you can guess, is pregnant with possibilities.

In order that you are not overloaded, we will stop this instalment here. We hope you will find these guidelines useful in bringing order to our increasingly chaotic roads.

Driving Skills – 1

I drove my son to school today morning because he had to reach earlier than the regular school time.

Almost as soon as we had started we heard the siren of an ambulance behind us. We gave way. A few hundred metres down we found the ambulance waiting by the side of the road, with its staff trying to evacuate an injured person, lying on the side of the road, with a damaged two-wheeler lying flat on the road, and a car standing near it, facing the wrong direction (opposite to the direction in which traffic is supposed to flow). It appeared to be a case of a car, travelling in the wrong direction on a one-way street, having hit a two-wheeler travelling in the right direction. The one-way street I am referring to, if you are familiar with Gurgaon, is the one that stretches from Fortis hospital and ends at the intersection with the Golf Course Road. Thank God for the alert common man. Many cases of hit-and-run become hit-and-be forced to stay, thanks to his alertness and willingness to get involved.

A few kilometres further, on a road that has been cut through the Aravali hills in the last few years, and on the side of the DLF Golf Course, at the only intersection on that road, we found two big, expensive cars, lying upside down in various stages of damage. It appeared to be a fairly recent event from the shards of glass lying all over the road and the road still wet from the various bodily juices that may have oozed out from the two vehicles. It might have happened in the wee hours as we did not see any bodies. Even the alert common man crowd had thinned out. James Bond would have struggled to engineer a more spectacular crash. A few beggars who perhaps ply their trade on that intersection were seen telling interested passers-by of what, according to them, had happened. If I can say it without sounding judgmental, it seemed to be a case of, plain and simple, rash and negligent driving fuelled by an assumption that I (the driver) can do no wrong and since everyone else is a sissy and will drive carefully, I can get my way on the road. Apparently, in this case, there were two such un-sissies, who probably ended up in a tie at that intersection. And, this is one of those cases of a tie in which both combatants lose.

If you are familiar with Gurgaon in particular and the Delhi / NCR area in general, you can be excused for saying “so?”.

But some of the more vigilant readers might notice something amiss. “You are not telling us the full story” they would say. “Only two accidents? On almost ten kilometres of road? And you expect us to believe that?” is what they will confront you with.

They have nailed it, as usual. On a good day one might see three fist-fights in parking lots, a couple of traffic jams on account of illegal obstruction caused by triple-parked vehicles, a two-wheeler mowed down by a speeding car, a couple of trucks in a no-truck zone, and a couple of fatal accidents, all on the same ten kilometre stretch. There could also be some bad days. Like the one I had today and that I described earlier.

The world keeps changing all the time. Cities have changed. Cars have changed. Drivers have changed. Driving habits have changed. “Courtesy”, “caution” and ”yield” are some of the words that have been deleted from the modern driver’s lexicon.

Unfortunately, our traffic rules and their meanings have failed to keep pace with the changing times. An unfortunate outcome is that some people still insist on following traffic rules. Some people still express anguish at the chaos on the roads.

Perhaps today morning’s drive was the last straw. Instead of merely complaining at the turn of events, and with a view to doing my bit at conditioning the modern driver to feel at ease in today’s conditions, I have taken upon myself the task of compiling an updated set of traffic guidelines and recommendations which I will be sharing in the next few days.

Here’s to equality on the road and effective and stress-free driving for all.

 

Rich culture

Stopping his motorcade by the side of the road and hurriedly stepping out to ease himself, per established cultural traditions of the country, the Minister for Tourism has stated in Goa that Pub culture will not be tolerated in the state and the government will only support trends that fit into the Indian culture.

Relieved at having watered the wall of a private home under a sign saying “This is not a urinal”, he got back into the car and his motorcade passed through the crowded thoroughfare with well-fed, well-armed security guards hanging out of the minister’s car, at state expense, threatening the common man on the street, as per our rich culture, to get them to move out of the important minister’s way.

He was a self-avowed culture buff and never let pass an opportunity for practicing it in real life. Such was his dedication to the cause.

Afraid of his efforts at protecting the nation’s culture being misconstrued, he made it a point to clarify to the media that our culture requires us to drink in private so that we can proudly proclaim we don’t drink. “If we drink in pubs how would we be able to hold ourselves up as role models to the young?” he queried a media left dumbstruck by the simplicity of his logic. “Do you have any idea how many young people this country has? Who will the youth look up to? Our country will be bereft of leadership and vision. Drinking in private, away from the eyes of the world, also allows us the liberty of abusing our near and dear ones, both mentally and physically. It is an onerous responsibility shouldered almost exclusively by males in this country, such is our culture”, he said, puffing out his chest, to express solidarity will suffering fellow-males, tortured by the responsibility of upholding cultural traditions of the country.

“Moreover, drinking in pubs brings upon drinking adults the responsibility to behave, well, for want of a better word, responsibly, in public. Responsible behaviour has never been a part of our culture. When we have bigger problems to solve, like changing the education system of the country without any reason, deciding whether people living in the country should be called Indians or Hindus because people living in Germany are called Germans, and many others, why needlessly open up another front and ask the already suffering males to start behaving responsibly?”

One could feel the powerful logic seeping down into the consciousness of the gathered media representatives. One could almost sense mental notes being made by people in the room, especially those given to drinking in pubs, to henceforth only drink in private, to honour and uphold tradition. The minister moved in for the kill.

“In any case, even where, because of cultural traditions, liquor is banned totally, as it is in some states, our culture enables us to bribe officials and create a supply situation that states which don’t ban liquor would be proud of. How do you think this is possible?”

“Because of our rich culture” the media responded in unison.

“How do you think government officials responsible for enforcement of laws are able to make end meet on their meagre government salaries?”

He had made his point. The last question was rhetorical. The gathered media personnel filed out of the room with their heads hung in shame.

The Minister’s bold initiative of restoring cultural traditions has, predictably, created a powerful multiplier effect throughout the country.

The armed forces, always alert for opportunities to improve their capability and preparedness to handle exigent situations, have started training in the use of culturally superior weapons like bows and arrows and maces, with which our ancestors fought invaders valiantly and lost repeatedly. Soldiers are being trained on new techniques of reverentially touching the arrow to their forehead, with eyes closed, to invoke divine powers, which will convert the arrow into a nuclear missile, and launch it in slow motion, for maximum destruction. TV serials are testimony to the destructive power of these weapons.

Multinational corporations, always on the lookout for local traditions in the markets they operate in that they can cater to without doing anything, especially ones that allow them to not spend any money, have started raising Purchase Orders for bullock carts for transporting their senior employees. Some have gone a step further and suspended their email services. Pigeons are being brought back for communication between offices in different locations. Experienced people say this is only the tip of the iceberg. They expect a total revolution in the way business is done in the country.

Meanwhile, the Minister, after the meeting, checked the time on his Swiss-made watch, stepped into his car, made by a Japanese company, wearing clothes made of Egyptian cotton, sporting an Italian designer label, with his retinue of guards carrying Russian automatic weapons, and reached home to recline in his favourite chair, made by a Swedish furniture-maker, open his bottle of whiskey made in Scotland, mix some of the whisky with blackish sugar-water made in the US, and quaff it down in a glass made in Belgium.

He soon fell asleep. Tomorrow was going to be another busy day. Lots still to be done to protect the rich culture.

FIFA World Cup 2014

Determination is a key ingredient for success.

One needs to be flexible to be successful.

Keeping your goal in sight helps in reaching it.

Past success means nothing.

Talent does not always win.

Strategy is important. In fact, it is the ultimate weapon.

Never stop. Even when you are ahead.

An Action Plan will win against No Action plan.

An underdog can spring surprises.

Isn’t it is amazing what the FIFA World Cup 2014 has done?

So many things we would never have known but for the World Cup.

Whichever way you turn, you come across “What the FIFA World Cup taught me” stories. About winning. About goals. About strategy. About success. And the pitch has become even higher since the mauling of Brazil by Germany. The world has been learning even more things after that.

There are lessons for senior executives. There are lessons for HR Managers. There are lessons for entrepreneurs. There are lessons for Sales people. Even for startups, which is where I currently count myself, there are learnings. Who would ever have thought startups can learn anything?

I have been unable to look my friends in the eye ever since the start of the Cup. After the Brazil-Germany game I have even been unable to look people in the street in the eye. How could I look into the eyes of people shining bright with knowledge gained from watching matches in the FIFA World Cup 2014? I have enjoyed watching some matches. Got bored watching a few others. But never did I learn anything from these games. Whenever I am out on the streets, I feel like the only person in the world who did not learn anything.

But it was not always so bad. I have been a quick learner in the past. In fact, regular readers of this blog might recollect the insightful sessions I had in front of the TV watching advertisements in Educating Ankur.

Deep inside, I knew I had it in me. I knew I could do it again. I shook myself out of the funk I had got myself into by watching FIFA World Cup matches merely for the pleasure of watching fine young athletes compete, and sat down with a pen and paper and started to reflect upon the learnings I had received.

In case Benjamin Franklin did not, someone may well have said, “you can do anything you set your mind to”.

This is what I learnt…

There are numerous knowledgeable people who know how a match was going to turn out, but choose to reveal their knowledge only after the match has finished.

There are World Cup tournaments where participating teams are from more than one nation.

Strategy plays an important part. It is important to have a winning strategy. With a winning strategy you could end up winning. With a losing strategy also you could end up winning. You could also end up losing.

After the discovery that there is human life outside the country, said to have happened over a hundred years back and that took a century to be verified and accepted, the discovery that there is a sporting event more popular than the Superbowl and World Series has again set the dovecotes aflutter.

I have not been able to establish if people still watch sport for the joy and emotional high of watching fine young athletes in action. It is rumoured that there are, but has not been conclusively confirmed.

I know the learnings are few and I have only the final and the third place game before that to redeem myself. Though I promise to try, a big challenge lies ahead for me.

I have been an ardent Argentine fan since I saw Maradona create magic in 1986 with his weaving, solo runs. It is great they have made the finals, though not in the prettiest manner. The problem is that they face Germany in the final. No, not because Germany destroyed Brazil in the semis. But because both my teenage sons are long-time fans of German football. And they have planned to invite an army of supporters over to watch with them. And we will probably be watching the match together.

At least for the duration of the match I must learn to keep my emotions in check.

Groundhog Day

With the raucous general elections finally over and a new government, armed with an overall majority, installed at the Centre, the largest democracy in the world can now go back to the business of living and look forward expectantly to a watershed period of untrammelled all-round development and progress.

While leaders and economists understand terms like “Inflation”, “Recession”, “GDP”, “economy is looking up”, “in real terms”, etc., which they use with great effect to convince the common man that they are doing a good job, what can the common man really look forward to in this eagerly awaited period? We hazard a guess…

The common man can look forward to a period during which stock prices will go up on some days. Not only will they go up on some days they will also come down on some other days. He can expect the value of the Rupee to go up on certain days during this period. He can also look forward to the value of the Rupee going down on certain other days. And, believe it or not, he can also look forward to prices of daily-use commodities going up on some days and down on others. In an even more unprecedented development arising out of the change of government, he can expect the price of gold to go up on some days and down on others. And, in case you thought it could get no better, he can even expect oil prices to go up on some days and down on others. It never rains, does it? It always pours.

In this period, he can look forward to unknown socialites occupying centrefold (oops centrestage) in newspapers and magazines of national importance, including social media, needlessly occupied by politics and existentialist debates for the last few months, with their frequent marriages, break-ups, getting back together for the sake of children, wardrobe malfunctions, bare-all pictures to support a charitable cause, and other patriotic acts that the rest of the country has been deprived of. He can also look forward to people in show-business beginning a new cycle of breaking-up, patching-up, breaking-up, patching-up, breaking-up…with this cyclical occurrence speeding-up just before major releases. From the pairing of forty plus heroes with twenty plus heroines, he can look forward to Bollywood progressing to the pairing of fifty plus heroes with teenage heroines, as most heroes with the surname of Khan get into the fifties, and most heroines in their twenties, with any surname, prepare for a life in supporting roles as they get into their thirties.

As always, he can expect big business, ably supported by the government, to systematically develop the nation by uprooting trees, drying-up or polluting water sources and exponentially increasing demand for energy by building bigger SUVs and structures of glass and concrete, while competing for “Green” awards. He can look forward to big business to expect him to be beholden to them for being developed in a manner that he can be the proud owner of all the problems of the western world at such a rapid pace, without any of the benefits. More and more people can look forward to reaping the benefits of development by foregoing education and hard-work to build a livelihood and taking-up jobs as Customer Service agents in Contact Centres and Shelf-stackers in Supermarkets.

Sports fans can expect to celebrate the bright prospects of national teams and leading players prior to all major event. Sports fans can also look forward to lamenting the poor performance of national teams and leading players immediately after the major events, blaming it on poor preparation, lack of dedication, official apathy, inadequate infrastructure and lack of a sporting culture. We know that in order to change culture at the grassroots level for all sports, the government, alongwith the Board of Control for one still-popular sport, had gotten business houses to invite top international stars, at astronomical salaries, to play for teams with grassroot-culture changing names like Devils, Riders and Kings. As this key initiative has had the desired effect, of making no difference to performance in any sport, sports fans can look forward to an expansion of the franchise. Sports administrators can be expected to make firm, realistic commitments to change the sad state of affairs overnight and lead the nation to victory at future events, like winning Wimbledon in 2093, World Cup Football in 2116 and Olympics in 2240. In the shorter term, they will make a pledge to climb to 137 in global football rankings. What more can sports fans ask for?

He can expect the new government to blame all man-made problems, like earthquakes, cyclones and tsunamis, on the last government. The remnants of the last government can be expected to contend that all man-made problems like earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones are due to the divisive and pro-rich policies of the new government. To usher in an era of unprecedented economic prosperity promised before the elections, the common man can look forward to the new government unfurling a slew of measures that will enable people to undergo extreme economic depravation and hardship in order to usher in an era of unprecedented economic prosperity just before the next elections. He can expect an expansion of the nation’s sphere of influence in the region with the already announced “Look East” policy unravelled by the new government. At a suitable time, he can expect an expansion of the policy itself to “Sometimes Look East, Sometimes West, Sometimes North and Sometimes South”.

He can expect leaders in India and China to vow to settle the boundary and water-sharing disputes through dialogue and mutual respect for each other’s views. After dialogue breaks down when one party is not able to accept and respect the other’s view, he can expect them to accuse each other of vitiating the process and move armoured columns closer to the claimed boundary. He can also expect India and Pakistan, in a bid to deflect attention from the internecine disputes plaguing the two nations, to vow to increase cross-border trade. Since trains and buses have already been started and stopped by previous governments, he can expect a camel-cart route between the two nations to be opened up that can be stopped soon after. After a terror strike in India, he can expect the cross-border trade to come to a standstill as Pakistan will blame India for the almost daily terror attacks taking place in most of its major cities. He can also expect India and Pakistan to attempt to settle the Kashmir issue through dialogue and acceptance of each other’s non-negotiable points of view.

He can look forward to the opposition trashing all new proposals of the government. He can also expect the government to ignore all trashings of the Opposition with perfect nonchalance.

He can expect authorities to discover reliable information of a major strike on the eve of Independence Day and Republic Day by extremist elements, leading to an unprecedented security clampdown in major cities.

He can expect economists to warn of a looming recession. He can also expect other economists to warn of looming inflation. What’s more, he can expect yet other economists to warn of a stagflation. And it doesn’t end here. He can expect yet other economists to invent another term that he will not be able to understand and figure out whether he is in a better position or worse.

He can expect a concerted efforts to be made towards abuse of women, a national pastime that has unfortunately lagged during the elections, as most elements normally actively involved in this activity have been involved in either standing for elections or supporting those standing for elections. Surprised by the increasing reports of abuse of women, he can expect the government to renew its efforts for emancipation of women. After launching pink autos, he can expect the government to launch pink taxis. After a women’s bank staffed by men and women and with customers as men and women, he can expect a women’s call centre to be launched staffed by men and women and serving men and women.

A revolution is about to be unleashed. With bated breath we wait.

He can expect some people, who, with their hard-work, skill and commitment, had been able to achieve success in their own defined ways, during the dark days gone by, with their hard-work, skill and commitment, to achieve success in their own defined ways, thanks to the climate ushered in by the new government. Strangely, he can also expect some people, who, with their lack of hard-work, skill and commitment, and reliance on short-cuts, had not been able to achieve any measure of success as defined by others for them, with their lack of hard-work, skill and commitment, and reliance on short-cuts, to not achieve any measure of success as defined by others for them, despite the climate ushered in by the new government.

Election aftermath

In the aftermath of the BJP’s absolute majority in the recently concluded Lok Sabha (Lower House) elections, the political scenario in the country is fast unravelling.

“We failed to gauge public mood”, the Congress Party President profoundly revealed at the recently concluded joint meeting of Members of Parliament (MPs) of the party from both houses of Parliament. Members, initially stunned by this revelation, later thanked her for the insightful analysis of the election debacle. Left to themselves, they would never have guessed, they sheepishly thought to themselves.

Thanking the group for their misguided faith in the party, she said, “The Congress has lost this time. You all know this is not the first time. With your support and my leadership, God willing, we will lose many more times. We have earlier come back after losses. I assure you no such debacle will happen this time. No more the pressure of performance. No more the burden of anti-incumbency going into an election”,  she said to thunderous applause. A scuffle broke out as soon as she said “we have sat together and fought together in the past, there is no reason why we cannot do it again”, amongst loyal members keen to follow orders, or even faint hints of anything that could be construed as an order, without taxing their grey cells. It was impossible to be unmoved at such a spontaneous show of loyalty. Only a dyed-in-the-wool cynic would write off this party in future elections.

Acknowledging the mistakes made by her as President, the group unanimously voted to retain her in the position. This was, however, not done on a whim. It was done based on a process enshrined in the Constitution of the party and honed over a hundred years of repeated use. They found Singhs. They found Khans. They found Scindias. They found Pawars. They found Chidambarams. They found Deoras. They found Azads. But, amongst the many well-known surnames of people attending the meeting, there could not be found a person with the surname of either Gandhi or Nehru. The group really had no choice. Upholding the highest traditions of democracy and reflecting the trust placed in the capability of a population of 1.2 billion by the grand old party of Indian politics, they selected one of the only two names available with either of those surnames.

Meanwhile, in a gesture of support, the BJP working committee has come out with a strongly worded statement appreciating the Congress party leadership for their leadership and have thanked them for their (the BJP’s) success. They have even made a plea to them to not make leadership changes in a hurry. At least not until they have had a chance to win another general elections. Such bonhomie amongst parties at different ends of the political spectrum has rarely been seen.

A young satrap who questioned the role of the advisors to the leadership after the debacle, has come under fire from party seniors. Explaining his remarks he said that his comments were “out of deep loyalty to the party, pain of our performance and a sincere desire to bounce back”.

Several other party members are understood to have issued thinly veiled threats, including death-threats, to the party leadership “out of deep loyalty to the party, pain of our performance and a sincere desire to bounce back”. Some participants have stated that the voice of the former Prime Minister was also heard on the occasion. Repeated attempts at replaying the recording in an effort to identify the voice have yielded no results. It appears that no-one in the party was in a position to identify his voice, having not heard it in the last ten years.

The Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M), from their ideological ivory tower protected by hardbound copies of Karl Marx’ Das Kapital, have blamed voters for not knowing what is good for them.

A founder-member of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the party that rocked the political firmament with their stellar show on debut in the less-than-a-year-old Delhi state elections, has quit the party citing differences over lack of internal democracy. This was done after she lost in the recent Lok Sabha elections from a seat that was, apparently, not of her choice. Even under such trying circumstances, displaying maturity far beyond the brief existence of the party, she said that if offered a position of responsibility, she might reconsider her decision.

The PM designate had caused consternation amongst his advisors by insisting on inviting heads of government from neighbouring countries for the swearing-in ceremony. Concerned that this could be a case of withdrawal symptoms, with elections over and no-one to swear at, advisors had sought explain to him the difference between swearing-in and swearing-at. They were successful in their efforts, it seems, as the swearing-in ceremony happened yesterday without any untoward incident.

The good that men do

I recently got a message from my bank, one of the largest private banks in the country, informing me that with immediate effect, they would stop sending the monthly statement they have been sending for several years. Instead, they would issue a Passbook which I would need to get periodically updated by visiting the bank. This, they went on to inform me, was for my own good, as this was what most customers wanted.

Never one to stand in the way of someone wanting to do me a good deed, I welcomed the decision.

I recalled an occasion a few years back when the same bank had discontinued the Passbooks that were being used till then, and, instead, started sending monthly statements to customers. Even on that occasion, I fondly recollected, it had been done for my own good. After so many years, I am unable to recall if it was because that was what most customers had asked for. But it was certainly for my own good, since the bank had said so. One does not easily forget such things done for your own good. The memory brought a lump to my throat.

I have often struggled with making choices in an increasingly free-market driven society where there is a plethora of options available, often letting choices be made by default, in order that I cannot be blamed for making the wrong choice, except by my wife. But, I was happy that at least I had chosen the right bank. One that has never wavered in its resolve to take decisions for my good. One that did not shy away from taking decisions for my good that were the opposite of decisions taken for my good at other times. I thanked my stars and mentally patted myself on the back.

Sceptics argue that these could be examples of temporary aberrations. Satirists poke fun at and find faults with decisions taken for the good of others. But I disagree with them. To hell with the nay-sayers, I say. I have faith in mankind’s desire to do good for others. In fact, in my view, people act only for the good of others. I am going to town with my belief that the world is full of do-gooders. And, my belief is not without good reason.

I have worked for many years with multi-national corporations, those paragons of virtue. I was there when they decided to withdraw the transport facility provided to junior staff, for their own good. I was there when accumulated leave of staff, normally encashed at the time of leaving, was cancelled, for their own good. I was there when a part of fixed compensation was converted to variable, management-decision based award, again, for their own good.

And corporations are not the sole flag-bearers of the “for the good of others” movement. They, smart, profit-seeking entities that they are, seem to have acted upon cues received from the government, which has, as always, led from the front. Farmers’ lands, for example, have been acquired at throwaway prices for their own good so that a big businessman can set-up an industry and employ them as lowly paid workers. If their land had not been taken over at rock-bottom prices, how would they ever have found these jobs? They would have been forced to continue living as landowners and farmers.

Make no mistakes, the government has not been shy of taking difficult decisions. For the good of others naturally. The growth of the Maoist and Naxalite movements in the country can be directly attributed to the good successive governments have been trying to do to the tribal populations in the country. Successive governments have been asking tribal populations to give up their traditional lifestyles and vast areas of virgin lands they control so that they can get developed by coming and living in matchbox-size houses in cities with no electricity and water. They could even aspire to work as software engineers in Infosys. Who would not want that? Every tribal youngster should have that right. And the right to pretend to know English and work in the night-shift at a Call Centre.

The minister, speaking from his palatial bungalow in the capital, funded by taxpayer money, expressed shock when he came to know that not only do the tribals not have SUVs and powerful German engineered cars, they do not even have a single Japanese or Korean car. “How do they cross the road?”, the concerned minister apparently has wanted to know. Recovering from the shock of this discovery he went on to say, in no uncertain terms, “We know what is good for them because we live in cities. We also know how much compensation we need to give them when we acquire their land without giving them a choice, and take away their livelihood for their own good.”

Lest the government start believing that goodness to others is their contribution to the world, we need only look at some recent history that doing good to others has been a distinguishing feature of almost all governments and rulers in history. The greater the unchallenged authority of a regime, the greater the good it has done for others.

The last occupiers of the country have often being blamed for their mercenary outlook and ambition. “They occupied because they wanted access to cheap raw material”, “they occupied because they wanted a large market for goods being produced in their factories”, are some of the uncharitable reasons attributed to their expansionism.

Scratch the surface and you see the real reason. They occupied for the good of the occupied. They occupied because they wanted to reform the heathen. They occupied because they wanted to teach them about a God and a religious text born a couple of thousand years back, and not keep relying on undated, mythical, multiple ancient texts and figures. They occupied because they wanted to teach them to eat with a fork and knife, instead of using bare hands. They occupied because they wanted to teach them to use paper when they “go”, instead of water. Now, who in his right mind would not want to learn all that.

They might have even wanted to teach them how to get a job with a law firm or a consulting company, but since the twentieth century had not arrived they had to be content in doing the good they could in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

As it is election time, we are seeing that political parties are bad-mouthing opponents, digging up skeletons from cupboards and making unrealistic promises. For what? You guessed it, for the people’s own good.

Everyone is busy doing everyone else good. It is not a new phenomenon. Goodness has never been a matter of chance. It has always been perpetrated consciously and methodically.

Even in this day and age, when one comes across acts of such selfless service, it never fails to bring a lump to the throat.

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Mark Antony famously says “The evil that men do lives after them;  The good is oft interred with their bones”. I am forced to reword it to “The good that men do lives after them;  The evil is oft interred with their bones”. Sorry Bill!

Educating Ankur

I don’t watch much TV. Never have. Only occasionally watch sport or movies, with perhaps an odd Newscast thrown in. Even sport has gradually been squeezed out as my teenage sons’ interest in football has pushed my cricket-watching opportunity to a window of time when I am either not at home or asleep.

Fates, however, conspired a few days back to give me a share of the TV that I had not received in many many years. And I came away thoroughly impressed. While I have been busy not watching, TV has progressed beyond the mundane. It has become educational.

One of the most stirring debates I have seen was between two women on TV that day, on whether bathing in natural milk is more beneficial for the skin or bathing in bathing-cream manufactured by a private company is. I sat engrossed. As the debate between the two heated-up, a secret area in the room, behind the plush sofa they were sitting on, opened up, with, eat your hearts out, two tubs lined up side by side, with a gleaming tap running fresh milk into one and an equally gleaming tap running bathing-cream into the other. And, as normal women would do upon a secret area in the room they were having a heated debate in, opening up and displaying two tubs full of milk and cream, they jumped in and luxuriated.

It was edge-of-the-seat stuff. I sat transfixed. What would the answer be? Not only did I not know the answer, I had never even realised that that was a question one could ask and hold a debate on. Such was my ignorance, I hate to admit.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, I always thought it would be milk. But, guess what? It was the bathing-cream manufactured by a private company that turned out to be the winner. And, to put the issue beyond doubt, they even showed each other their hands immediately after their respective baths. Milk is overrated.

In a land where women routinely bathe in tubs full of milk and bathing-cream manufactured by private comapnies, this was a useful comparison. I am sure numerous women will benefit. Apart from me, of course.

I have seen youngsters use Deo-sprays for several years, mainly my own teenage sons. Never really understood the purpose. Till that fateful day again when I watched TV.

Firstly, I learnt how it should be used. The hand with the spray should be held away from the body in a manner suggesting that the arm has muscles developed to a degree that makes it impossible for it to be bent and the hand, at the end of the arm, brought any closer to the body. Then, one should press the nozzle and start spraying and moving the arm in a graceful circular motion all around in a manner that some of the droplets might accidentally even fall upon the sprayer’s self. Moreover, the entire operation is to be conducted only when a number of people of the opposite sex happen to be passing by. Till then, the holder of the spray to mouth inanities either in an unbuttoned shirt or even without one.

But, I am being superficial here. Let me get to the real point. I actually learned that all other Deo-sprays are full of air. There is only one which has actual Deo. It must be correct. Because another Deo ad came on soon after and said exactly the same thing. About all the other Deos. The other reason we can be certain it is correct is because immediately after spraying oneself in the manner described earlier, the sprayer immediately received tremendous attention from members of the opposite sex. Two of them won’t lie, will they? In fact, the second ad even clarified that the other Deos were full of gas. I wish I was more attentive during the lesson, I mean ad, and checked out which gas it was. Cooking gas prices are going up. Maybe we can use Deo-sprays instead to light a fire of a different kind.

What’s more, the benefits are not limited to education, which, at times, can be theoretical. Watching TV that fateful day has helped in finding solutions to real-life problems as well.

After so many years of married life, my wife and I have settled into a comfortable routine. She shoots down my suggestions without hearing them and I, hers. With the result that our household infrastructure, be it the fridge, the washing machine, or the stove, has grown old and often stops working. But whenever a suggestion is made by one party to replace something, it is immediately shot down by the other.

I was thinking about the fridge door, which has been refusing to shut, when a housemaid came onscreen, and started talking about the family she was working for, their spending habits, their food preferences, and lots more. I was lost in my thoughts of the fridge door and the beer bottles standing in the door and not getting cold, and barely paying attention till the time she said, “when madam says buy, sir says no, when I say buy, sir goes click-click”, indicating that the purchase immediately gets effected on an online portal.

I sat up and pressed the Rewind button. Nothing happened. I had been watching TV. But it did not matter. I had got my answer. My prayers had been answered. The solution had been found.

Now, I must confess that she did not look like a regular Indian housemaid, with her sharp side profile and dress sense. But since she said she was, she must be. This was an ad after all. One has to believe what ads tell you.

I have put out an ad for a housemaid. Including the preferred side-profile and dress-sense expectation.

I now look back on all the wasted years. Years spent not watching TV. There is no saying how much more knowledgeable I would have become if I had put those years to productive use. And we could have hired the housemaid a lot earlier.

I have asked my son to call me as soon as the ad-break begins when he is watching football. Learning never ends.

Exchanging pleasantries

“People will teach Congress, Aam Aadmi Party a lesson” said Meenakshi Lekhi, BJP candidate from New Delhi.

…which is what I base my objective assessment of victory on, apart, of course, from voodoo and black magic.

“Modi misleading people of Delhi” alleges AAP.

…that used to be our sole prerogative only a few months back.

“I’m in the fray only after proving my worth”, says Pravesh Verma, son of Sahib Singh Verma, fromer BJP CM of Delhi.

…including resisting all attempts to interact with the rank and file and encouraging cronyism.

Sonia accuses the opposition of dividing the nation.

…that her party could not despite two successive attempts.

“BJP giving up values for temporary gains”, says Jaswant Singh, co-founder of BJP. “It is putting petty whims of individuals above the greater good of people”.

…especially greater good of people like me.

“Narendra Modi a divisive leader”, said Mayawati

…since I just learnt this new word yesterday.

“Hooda, Modi, working for Ambani”, screams Kejriwal

…when will my turn come?

“We tamed inflation” Chidambaram

…so what if Rupee depreciated, Reserves fell, Stocks plummeted and we had to implement control measures on import of Gold.

Election season is here. If, like Rip Van Winkle, you had just woken from a deep sleep, you would just need to pick-up today’s newspaper to realise what the excitement is all about. All you would need to do is add the lines in italics above, to complete the sentences only half-reported by the media.

How lucky can one get? Having politicians of all hues outdoing themselves in pulling all others down with their selfless desire to win the election and serve the people. Their eagerness to serve is touching.

My blogging friend List of X said in one of his recent posts, “10 Reaction To Supreme Court Decision on Campaign Finance“, “I am absolutely, positively sure that whenever a wealthy job creator gives a few million dollars to a Republican candidate, he does so because he genuinely has my best interests in mind”.

But List of X is American. India is no America. We don’t let the rich ruin the country. In India we only permit politicians to ruin the country. Occasionally in cahoots with the rich.

To make his quote relevant to the Indian context, I will hasten to add, “I am absolutely, positively sure that whenever a candidate gives an assurance that he has no interest in power or money, and is contesting the election only for the betterment of the people of the country, he does so because he genuinely has the betterment of the people of the country in mind.”

Won’t you agree?

Today, 10th of April, is when the mind-numbing exercise that is the Indian general elections, where there are over 800 million registered voters, yes over 800 million, will begin in a phased manner.

If you are a registered voter, make your vote count. Our system may not be perfect, but is certainly better than many others. The many others where people do not have a choice.

 

Earth Hour

“It was a tough day. I was on pins and needles the whole day, in anticipation of that hour. I could hardly work. I so wanted to make a contribution.” Taking a swig of bottled water transported from five hundred miles away, he continued, with evident satisfaction of a job well done, “but, on the balance, the wait was worthwhile. In order to beat the stress I was experiencing, I drove around town aimlessly. I even played some Playstation games in the evening. It makes you feel good to be able to give back. The feeling you get when you contribute to something greater than yourself is incomparable.”

“That is the time of day I am usually on the road on my way back home after work. Not to miss out on this opportunity that comes once a year, I got my driver to drive back home and fetch my son’s bicycle. Then, after work, as the hour had come, I rode the bicycle home with the driver driving the car behind me. I even instructed the driver not to run the air-conditioning in the car”, he said, looking at the mirror on the wall, as if trying to locate the halo he expected should have sprouted around his head by now and tenderly touching a spot on his neck he believed would be the point at which it is tethered.

Let us call them Friend A and Friend B, in order of appearance in this story. The three of us, third being me in case you did not guess, were meeting over a cup of coffee to catch-up and discuss some business possibilities. It was a few days after the day the world had contributed towards saving the environment during Earth Hour. But the reverberations were still being felt.

“Couldn’t agree more. After all we have a responsibility towards the future generations. If we don’t discharge our responsibilities, who will?”, asked Friend A, rhetorically. “I had instructed one of my team-members to stay back in office and ensure all lights and ACs were kept on till 8 PM, the Earth Hour time, so that we could switch them off sharp at 8 and contribute. Normally they would be switched off at 6 PM, when most people leave office.”

“I had asked my wife, who was at home, to switch on the ACs in the house at least a couple of hours earlier than usual. Even the ones we don’t normally use,” said Friend B.

“That was very thoughtful of you”, complimented Friend A, while making a mental note of doing the same when Earth Hour came around the following year.

By now it seems they had realised something was amiss. I was not participating in the discussion. Perhaps seeing the blank look on my face, like a sensitive, concerned friend, Friend A slapped me on the back of my head and asked, “What’s biting you? The cat got your tongue?”

I was feeling smaller and smaller as the conversation had progressed. I had always felt out of place in such discussions. But, with the Earth Hour looming large, I was afraid my inability to participate in affairs of the world would finally be exposed.

“I could not switch off my ACs”, I said in a feeble voice.

There was a look of disgust on their faces which they tried to hide for the sake of old friendship. Unsuccessfully, as always. “What right does this fellow have to endanger our future generations?” was the question writ large on their faces.

“But why? I am sure you know how to”, Friend B asked in a reassuring voice.

I looked sheepishly from one to the other. Then said, “because I did not have them on.”

This statement confused them. But they quickly gathered themselves. “But why?” they asked in unison. “Why did you not have them on?”

I was trying to avert their piercing gaze. Looking down at the floor, I said, “I am sorry. But the weather has been quite pleasant. I have not felt the need to use ACs. Even today, a week after the Earth Hour, I am not using ACs.”

Friend B gave me a pitying look as if to say “you are beyond redemption.” He added, in a slightly exasperated tone, “Fine, you did not switch off your ACs. But at least you would have switched off your water-heater.”

I was hoping the earth would open up and swallow me. No words came from my mouth. I could only shake my head from side to side in denial.

There was a look of even greater disgust on their faces which they tried to hide for the sake of old friendship. Unsuccessfully, as usual. “Not only has he tried to endanger future generations through his actions, he is even trying to endanger the lifestyle of the present generation through his utterly responsible and unnecessary ways. Not only has he not been running ACs, he has even been bathing in unheated water”, was writ large on their faces.

After a few minutes they softened a little. We were old friends after all. Friend A tried to reason with me. “Don’t you see the problem? If you don’t sleep with the AC on, how will you be able to run the water-heater through the night and bathe in hot water in the morning? You will not feel the need.”

Seeing that the logic had not registered, he tried again. “Look, let me say this in a different manner. If you don’t bathe in hot water in the warmer months, how will you have the urge to emerge from the hot shower into an air-conditioned room?”, he asked, with irrefutable logic.

“So, guess what, we were able to contribute even more to the environment by switching off the water-heaters as well. Everyone knows they are second only to ACs in power consumption”, Friend B added helpfully.

I was having trouble meeting their eyes. I never knew they carried such a flame for the environment in their hearts. AC because it is too hot. And water-heater because it is too cold. Masterful. And then switching off both for Earth Hour.

“Look, I can understand some of this can be difficult to do. But you are a smart guy. I am sure you will do better next year. All it takes is a little practice. A big party has been arranged this weekend to celebrate the successful observance of Earth Hour. It is an all-night party, under lights, in an AC venue. People who made sacrifices for the Earth Hour need to relax and let their hair down. Join us there. You will be able to experience the joy felt by people who were able to contribute”, Friend A said reassuringly.

“I even carry the news-item in my pocket”, Friend B said, pulling out a crumpled piece of paper as proof of his commitment to the cause. I had read that piece a couple of days back. It called upon people to actively contribute to the Earth Hour by turning off unnecessary lights and electrical gadgets to show you care about the environment. It was a stirring call to action.

“Next year we are thinking of instituting a prize for the person who turned off the maximum number of unnecessary equipment that he had been keeping on for the rest of the year. And for creative ideas. Like the folks who have kept their back-up power generator running even though there is no need for back-up power, so that the Earth Hour savings can extend beyond electricity to fossil fuels.”

Yet another Earth Hour had come and gone.

Yet another opportunity I had missed of not contributing to the cause by switching off things that I had needlessly put on.

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