Patriot Acts

I think the society management team should cancel the DJ (loud blaring music that needs to be heard by people not participating in the event the DJ is playing in) during the Holi party that has been planned, as a mark of respect to the martyrs,” beeped the message on our housing society’s WhatsApp group.

The reference, for the uninitiated, was to the terrorist incident on 14th February this year when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives laden car into a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the Pulwama district of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which resulted in the death of over forty personnel of the CRPF apart from the attacker.

And Holi, which falls on the 21st of March this year, is perhaps the most widely celebrated festival in India, after Diwali.

Though the tension has since eased off, for a few days, the nuclear powered neighbours had stood eyeball to eyeball, primed for escalation of hostilities. Ably led by politicians who, protected by hundreds of armed elite security personnel, were fulfilling their constitutional duty and ratcheting up the patriotic ante by making angry, threatening speeches and sending other people’s children to die in a blaze of glory for the nation.

Ably supported with minute by minute strategic guidance to the armed forces provided over WhatsApp messages to each other, by a vast populace just as willing to send other people’s children to die in a blaze of glory in the service of the motherland. Their job made twice as difficult by having to continue pursuing their regular money-making professions of selling flavoured, coloured sugar-water or a revolutionary, newly invented shampoo, in the service of the nation, even while providing this strategic guidance to the armed forces and telling them to “kill them in their own lair” and “they should know we will hit back”. All so brave. From the confines of their bedrooms and warmth of their kitchens.

And then, as soon as the situation had escalated, it eased off. Perhaps you can send other people’s children to die for the nation only for a few days at a time. Perhaps the untimely death of forty security personnel can only fuel patriotism for a few days at a time.

But the dovecotes had been set aflutter. Once more.

Why only DJ?. If we want to pay a tribute, we should cancel the entire party,” came the riposte.

A hush fell on the group. The bar had been moved up in a flash. “Sorry for the late response. Just got back after celebrating my husband’s fortieth birthday with some friends over drinks in Cyber Hub. Why Holi? I think we should cancel the Diwali celebrations. Would that not be more appropriate?” came the next message.

The bar had been moved higher yet. Diwali was at least seven months away. But it was the biggest festival.

And Eid and Christmas too.

Why leave out Budh Purnima and Gurpurab?

How much higher could the bar go?

Hey guys. Have you heard about the shooting in Christchurch? Over forty feared dead in a gun attack in peaceful New Zealand. What does the society plan to do about it?

Till I received the message I had not realised that it was our housing society’s responsibility to do something about the terror attack in New Zealand.

But that happened in faraway New Zealand. Why should we cancel the DJ for that?

By now apparently it had been accepted that cancelling the DJ would become the society’s main method of honouring the memory of the deceased.

You mean if our soldiers die in battle in Africa, you will not cancel the DJ for them? And I believe there were several Indians among those killed.

I agree. We have to get over our parochial mindsets. A life is important. We should show solidarity with the global community.

What about casualties of the civil war in South Sudan. Over a hundred thousand people have been killed in the conflict in the last four years. I think we should show that we care for them.

But we cannot cancel the DJ for both Pulwama and Christchurch, can we? Would that be the right way of honouring the memory of people who met an untimely death at the hands of a deranged fanatic?

More silence.

Sorry I had to travel to Bangalore for an important meeting. I think we should take out a cycle rally to honour the memory of those killed in Christchurch. I will be in a business meeting but my thoughts will be there with the cycle rallyists.

Guys, guys, guys, why are we not thinking of a candlelight vigil?

More silence. Possible struggle with internal shame for not having thought of a candlelight vigil to honour the martyrs’ memory.

What about the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008?

What about it?

Why don’t we cancel the DJ to honour the memory of those killed in that attack?

But that was more than ten years back.

So? You mean the people who lost their lives became irrelevant to us after a month? Or two? Is there a cut-off date to honour the memory of martyrs?

More silence.

Have we already forgotten that at least nine CRPF personnel were killed when Maoists blew up a vehicle with an IED in Chattisgarh just a year back? I don’t recollect cancelling a DJ ever for that incident?

You want to cancel a DJ for nine CRPF personnel killed? Nine? Do you realise we may need to start honouring every two or three or four poor people on the footpath run over by expensive SUVs driven by drunk drivers?

IS THERE A MINIMUM THRESHOLD IN TERMS OF LIVES LOST THAT QUALIFIES FOR RESPECT AND HONOUR?

The all Caps had its impact. “I am sorry. Did not mean to offend. Just wanted to clarify. I agree. We need to cancel the DJ to honour the memory of those nine brave CRPF personnel.

Silence.

The management committee of our housing society, I believe, has decided to book ten different DJs for the planned Holi party and then cancel them to mark different terror incidents.

Like religion, what good is patriotism if it cannot be made a show of or foisted upon others.

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#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: 12 Survival Tips for Writers

via #AuthorToolboxBlogHop: 12 Survival Tips for Writers

My guess is that many of the readers of my blog are writers themselves.

And, much like me, I have no doubt that as writers, you would be facing your share of difficult days for writing.

Sharing a post from my long-time blogging friend Jacqui’s blog that might help us through some of those days. She is a treasure trove of nuggets of information for writers.

 

To India, My Native Land

Where the nose breathes unhindered and lungs fill up with joy;

Where clean air is free;

Where the tongue craves taste and the stomach eats without concern;

Where food is safe;

Where winter fog envelopes all beings in its mysterious, soft embrace,

Free from the tentacles of its cousin, itchy smog;

Where sunlight, life-giving, source of brightness,

Has not been replaced by Vitamin D tablets and LED lamps;

Where clear streams of water gushing down Himalayan heights,

Have not been polluted by toxic waste and industrial effluents,

Where the world has not been divided,

Between cocooned, paid for life

With managed water, managed food, managed air, managed light that are safe,

And gushing water, unpesticided food, free air, abundant sunlight, that is not;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action;

Into that heaven of salubrity, my Father, let my country awake.

There, I did it! Wrote a poem. But I confess. The words are mine but the form that of  a poem by 1913 Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, fondly known as ‘Gurudev’, titled simply as Poem 35, when it was published in the English version of Gitanjali, by the Indian Society, London, in 1912. Written before India’s independence, it represents the poet’s vision of a new and awakened India. This poem was most likely composed in 1900. The English translation was composed around 1911 when Tagore was translating some of his work into English.

I don’t know whether Gurudev, if he were to see the nation today, would consider his century-old vision articulated in the poem having been fulfilled or not. But I am taking the liberty of putting out this modified version of Gurudev’s poem on the occasion of the 70th Republic Day of India, as my own vision for a new and awakened India.

The title used is the title of  a poem by Indian poet Henry Louis Vivian Derozio in 1828.

The English version of Tagore’s poem:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason
has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action—
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Best wishes to all readers on the occasion.

Road to Happiness

There was once a happy stretch of road. Road1

It used to witness lots of happy people in happy cars go back and forth.Road2

There was a place where the road crossed paths with a railway track. It was called a level crossing. For protection of road traffic (a train is much bigger!!) a barrier was put on the road to ensure no one crossed the railway track when a train was passing.Road3

Cars waited patiently when the barrier was lowered to block the road and let the train pass. When the train had passed and the barrier was raised, the cars went past on their way. Happy people in happy cars on a happy road.Road4

One day, there was an impatient man waiting at the railway crossing and getting more and more restive as time passed. He did not like waiting for the train to pass. He did not like waiting. He believed he had important things to do while others did not and it was the world’s responsibility to make him succeed. He had a manic need to prove that he was better than others, all the time. He was second in the queue on one side of the track.Road5

Determined to get ahead of others, as soon as the barrier was lifted, he swerved his car to the right, overtook the car in front, swerved left again back to his lane, before the first car from the other side could reach him.road6

He was thrilled at his cleverness. And at the stupidity of the others. And that he had once again bested the others, who were following rules. He thought he was the smartest of the lot and would always stay ahead of others, as was his right. He looked back in glee at the car he had overtaken and drove off.

His feat had not gone unnoticed. Occupants of the car ahead of him, who he had overtaken, mine, were upset. Not so much at being overtaken, but overtaken rashly and then being mocked by the errant driver.  The cars on the other side who could see this manoeuvre also noticed. They thought if that guy could get away with it on his side of the road, so could they on their side. They made a mental note of adopting the same strategy next time an opportunity arose.

As luck would have it, in the not too distant future, their cars were arrayed at the railway crossing exactly as they had been earlier. This time, however, he was not the only ‘smart” one. Everyone on both sides of the track had been smarting and turned out to be as “smart”.

Before the barrier opened cars were positioned in their lanes.road7

As soon as the barrier opened, the car ahead of the “smart” car, mine, moved up swiftly in order not to allow him space to move back into the line ahead of him. The second car on the opposite side swerved right in heroic fashion, to make a dash for cutting back into the lane ahead of the car that was in front. But the car in front moved up swiftly to block the space in front.road8

At the same time the cars behind on both sides came on fast, and filled up all intervening spaces, whether in the right lane or the wrong one so that no smart driver could manoeuvre in. The result was that while they moved into the wrong lanes, they could not now come back into their own lanes.road9

Nobody on either side was able to move. They remained there for hours, honking and arguing. Some got out of their cars and started fighting with others. There were babies and sick people in some cars who were crying and getting uncomfortable. There was even an ambulance stuck in the traffic. But nobody could move.

The administration was forced to place traffic police at the intersection, incurring an unnecessary expense for the state exchequer, eventually paid for by everyone through taxes. The “smart” drivers were thrilled. They knew this was a smart move by the administration to help “smart” drivers” like himself, while the cost is borne by everyone. The traffic police, whose job was to ensure movement of traffic, ensured that the “smart” drivers got clearance before others so that oncoming traffic could be released. Punishing the errant for causing the problem, it seems, was not their goal.

Good news travels fast. Each driver involved in this episode took upon himself the task of teaching the same “smartness” to drivers at other level crossings they happened to pass, through personal example. Today, all level crossings are “smart” crossings, where traffic has to wait for hours to be on their way. Sometimes traffic police shows up to ensure “smart” drivers get right of way in the melee.

Roads everywhere are full of idiots behind wheels. Like me. Could I not have let the “smart” driver overtake me rashly and be on his way? Could the idiots in cars on the opposite side not have avoided this unhealthy competition and allowed the “smart” driver to be on his way. Disturbing questions.

One idiot is often all it takes.

 

Tall and Taller…

It is an established historical fact known to all Indian politicians that the height of a statue determines the stature of a person. Sorry, that came out wrong. Let me clarify. Not the stature of the person whose likeness the statue is, but the politicians associating themselves with building that statue. And the benefits it delivers to people. The taller the statue, the greater the benefit delivered to people.

Like the “Statue of Unity” dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, known as the Ironman of India, credited with uniting hundreds of principalities and fiefdoms under the umbrella of a single nation at the end of the British Raj, whose statue, on the banks of the Narmada river, has recently been inaugurated by the Prime Minister. At a height of 182 meters, it is said to be the tallest statue in the world. In a touching gesture, the statue has been dedicated to the nation. Built by the money of the nation, built by the labour of the nation, built by the technical expertise of the nation, there must have been many choices for the dedication, assuming one was required, but still the leaders chose to selflessly dedicate it to the nation. The nation should be grateful.

The government of Maharashtra led by Devendra Fadnavis, the Chief Minister, is under pressure from their coalition partner to announce that the proposed statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the seventeenth century Maratha warrior, who single-handedly waged successful battles against the might of the Mughal empire, and carved out a kingdom for his people, will be the tallest in the world. They also want a name for the statue. What is a staue without a name, even if it is of a famous person? If the Ironman’s statue can have a name, why not that of Chhatrapati? “Statue of Courage” is the favoured option.

Not to be outdone, Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has lost no time in announcing the construction of a statue dedicated to Lord Ram, on the banks of the Saryu river. Lord Ram, the mythological character, protagonist of the Hindu epic Ramayan, the seventh reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, and an epitome of Hindu virtuosity. And a rallying point for Hindu votes.

“Do I need to clarify? You guys should read the news,” he chided reporters asking him for a cost-benefit analysis of building the proposed statue. “The Gujarat government has clearly stated that the Statue of Unity has been built to boost tourism in the state and generate direct jobs for more than fifteen thousand tribal people every year. It is an established model.” He added, “Not only that, despite being built with people’s money, their technical expertise, and labour, it will be dedicated to the nation.”

When it was pointed out that there were no tribal populations in the state, at least not in any significant numbers, he responded, demonstrating deep understanding of both tribals and non-tribals, “Have you seen the way people live in our state? Do you think that the living condition of tribals would be worse than that of people in our state, leaving politicians aside of course?”

Mayawati, a former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and credited with the vision of converting public spaces and open lands into constructed-over memorials with hundreds of statues of Dalit leaders, is laughing all the way to the bank. The political vote bank. “I will appropriate today what other political leaders might think of appropriating five years later,” is her new slogan for the upcoming elections. She has promised to construct a tallest in the world statue of Babasaheb B R Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian Constitution and the Indian Republic, and a symbol of Dalit pride.

State governments with no known plans of building a tallest in the world statue are worried.

The Chief Minister of Bengal is understood to have floated a proposal within the party to construct a statue of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore at the renowned Viswa Bharti University, founded by Gurudev, apparently with the money he received for his Nobel prize, in Shantiniketan, that will be the tallest in the world. This proposal has met with stiff opposition from a section of the party who want the tallest statue in the world to be that of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, leader of the Indian National Army, who had defined an alternate path to independence from the British and vanished, never to resurface, in mysterious circumstances in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1945, and who feel that Netaji has not received his due recognition in the struggle for attainment of independence.

The government in Tamil Nadu is waiting and watching. They have drawn up a list of leaders whose tallest in the world statues they will construct along Marina Beach in Chennai. But only after the others have constructed theirs so that they know how tall to build it.

Descendants of Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay, the RSS ideologue and former leader of the Jan Sangh, a forerunner of today’s Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party at the Centre, are miffed. Why has he been relegated to having only colleges and the Mughalsarai train station named after him? “Could a tallest in the world statue that boosted tourism and gave direct employment to over fifteen thousand tribals not have been constructed at Mughalsarai station?” They have queried.

A cartoon carried by today’s The Hindu newspaper:

26thcartoon-2

I am beginning to understand the meaning of a tall leader. And taller. But not our leaders. They only understand the tallest.

After Math

The best time to prevent a problem from happening is after the problem has already happened.

Just the other day people in our housing society got into a heated argument, almost verbal fisticuffs, over a video circulated over, what else, WhatsApp, of a child being run over by a car within the secure boundaries of a housing society. Somewhere. May have been in our building or may have been in some other. No way of knowing for sure. May have been in our colony or may have been in some other. May have been in our city or may have been in some other. May have been in our state or may have been in some other. Such was the relevance of the video to our society residents. The only certainty, based on the physical features of the people involved, and the car model involved, is that it was recorded in India, if we assume for a minute it was a real video.

It might have been recorded yesterday or it might have been recorded last week or it might have been recorded last month or it might have been recorded last year or it might have been recorded any time before that. The only certainty is that it was perhaps recorded after the time when video recording technology started becoming commonly available, perhaps twenty years back. Moreover, it seems that neither of two main characters in the video, the child and the driver, were known to any of the people involved in the heated discussion. Over this undated and possibly morphed video, with unknown characters, residents of our housing society got into a real-time heated argument, with name-calling and walkouts from the virtual group.

But that is us. We Indians, at least most of us, are caring, sensitive people. We will not shy away when a needless fight, at least a verbal argument, looms, particularly over events already transpired, at an unknown time, involving strangers. We will not turn away like cowards when there is an opportunity of offering homilies that shed a new, well researched light on the situation, like “people must drive carefully” or “parents must ensure children play in safe areas” or “traffic lights should work”. How would we know if they did not tell us? Did you?

And always in a timely manner. Like for a few hours after a child has been hurt by a careless driver. Like for a day after a fire in a building that firefighters were unable to access because of the path being blocked with castaway furniture. Like for a few days after firecrackers have been burnt on a festival adding to atmospheric pollution in the winter months.

We don’t waste time in preventing problems before they have happened, or even offering homilies. How would we squabble over it afterwards if the event was not allowed to happen? Forcing others to discover for themselves that “people must drive carefully” or “parents must ensure children play in safe areas” or “traffic lights should work”.

In the days, months, and most thankfully, years when a child did not get hurt, how many times have we seen residents get into a huff about someone driving rashly inside the society? Or been careful themselves while driving? How many times have we come across a resident chiding an irresponsible parent for letting their young children play without supervision? Or not let their own children play without supervision? Never, right? In fact, some residents of our society wanted to permit holding skating classes for young children on a section of the road. Since an accident had not happened in the skating class in the past as there was no skating class, it was safe to allow an accident in the future. “We just need to be careful.” “We just need to post a guard there.” “The trainer is an adult, he will ensure children are not hurt.”

When an errant driver hurts a child of irresponsible parents, all hell breaks loose with insightful observations that should have been implemented earlier. Mostly by someone else. Like the society management. Or the traffic police. Or the government.

But complainers abound. Trying to fix a problem even before it has happened. Trying to prevent people from living their life. Always complaining.

To all those complainers who complain about overcrowded vans picking up even more children going to school, I say, “Why should they not? Have you heard of any accident involving overcrowded vans ferrying school children in the last twenty four hours? So what if there have been accidents earlier?”

To all those complainers who complain about people blocking corridors with big planters and bicycles and spare furniture and impeding passages for emergency services to operate, I say, “Why should they not? Have you read about a fire breaking out in the last few days where firefighters were unable to access a flat on account of corridors being impeded? So what if there have been instances earlier?”

To all those complainers who complain about traffic cops turning a blind eye and letting cars drive in the wrong direction on roads designated as one-way, I say, “Why should they not? Have you seen an accident in the last week in which a vehicle driving the wrong way was involved? So what if there have been instances earlier?”

In any case, if a problem does happen it is someone else’s fault. Like it was the train’s fault that it  continued to move on the tracks laid out for it instead of getting down into the fields to avoid people standing on tracks to watch a performance near Amritsar. Like it is the government’s fault when devotees rush to the most crowded places in the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad to get the most bang for their holy buck and a stampede ensues.

I feel safe. If I ever get hit by a speeding truck or a car travelling in the wrong direction on a one-way road, or get caught in a stampede at the Kumbh Mela, I know well-meaning people will try to solve the problem by squabbling about it and offering well researched homilies for almost twenty four hours.

Mergers and Acquisitions – Part 2

Much as we admire the government’s handling of mergers and acquisitions, as we saw in the last post titled Mergers and Acquisitions, the government has a lot to learn from private businesses on the right way of doing mergers and acquisitions.

Take the case of the recent acquisition of Flipkart, India’s largest online retailer, by Walmart. Excuse my ignorance, but I was honestly not aware of the real reasons behind Walmart’s acquisition of Flipkart for USD 16 billion, the largest e-commerce deal in the world. Ever. 

Because they can, is what I had always put it down to, when news of this event had first surfaced, barely giving a second thought to what the real reason might have been. Till I was enlightened by several articles in April and May this year, like one titled “Walmart-Flipkart: How will you benefit” in MSN Money.

Benefit? Me? USD 16 billion? They did it for me? Unbelievable.

As opposed to mergers of government entities that have absolutely no impact on the common man, private businesses, it emerges, are competing hard to merge and acquire for the good of the common man. Yes, for you and me.

Now, I am the first to admit that I have been quite critical of corporate actions being at odds with their stated intentions. But Walmart bought Flipkart for me? I still can’t believe it. But the evidence is overwhelming.

Through the various articles I came across during that period, I learnt that Walmart bought Flipkart for USD 16 billion in order to serve customers, support job creation, small businesses, farmers, and women entrepreneurs.

I learnt that Walmart bought Flipkart for USD 16 billion to partner to create sustained economic growth across agriculture, food, and for extensive job creation through development of supply chains, commercial opportunity, and direct employment.

I learnt that Walmart bought Flipkart for USD 16 billion to support the ‘Make in India’ programme of the government, through direct procurement as well as increased opportunities for exports through global sourcing and e-commerce.

I learnt that Walmart bought Flipkart for USD 16 billion to partner with Kirana (mom and pop grocery) store owners and members to help modernise their retail practices and adopt digital payment technologies. They will also support farmers and develop supply chains through local sourcing and improved market access.

I learnt that Walmart bought Flipkart for USD 16 billion so that the Indian consumer base – a huge chunk of which is the middle class, gradually moving to lower middle – can benefit from cheaper prices through Walmart’s playbook, which has seen success across the world.

Silly me.

I had always thought Walmart bought Flipkart for USD 16 billion because executive incentives are aligned to phantom metrics that reward not shareholder value creation but short term revenue spike.

I had always thought that Walmart bought Flipkart for USD 16 billion because companies take advantage of their over-valued stock to make an acquisition while their currency is strong.

I had always thought that Walmart bought Flipkart for USD 16 billion because of the vanity of decision makers.

I had always thought that Walmart bought Flipkart for USD 16 billion because of fear of competition stealing a march over them.

I had always thought that Walmart bought Flipkart for USD 16 billion to become a giant in the space it operates in and makes its owners rich beyond belief.

But I could not have been more wrong. It was me all along. They bought Flipkart for me.

“Everything I do, I do it for you”…sang Bryan Adams.