Free Basics

Big business is at it again. Doing what they are best at. Making the world a better place. By telling us what is good for us.

According to some reports, Facebook has spent close to a hundred million US dollars in promoting Free Basics in India. How’s that for a start to altruism?

Free Basics, for the uninitiated, is a concept being promoted by Facebook, alongwith Reliance, one of India’s largest business houses, who are about to launch their 4G enabled mobile telephony services, whereby a certain set of websites will be made available for free to all users. Accessing websites beyond this permitted list will attract charges.

As is always the case in India, the lesser the understanding about an issue, the more the number of people offering knowledgeable opinions, including yours truly. While some of the debate has been on the role of Telcos in a society, whether they should merely be the conduits of Voice and Data, charging on the basis of volume, or whether they should have a say, and interest, in what passes through their network, most of the uninformed knowledgeable voices have been on the role and interest of Facebook and its founder and primary shareholder, who we will refer to as MZ, which, clearly, is everyone’s business.

In order to cut through the dross of uninformed debate, and present the real picture to the public, MZ agreed to an interview with a prominent reporter of a leading daily. Here are some extracts from the freewheeling interaction.

Reporter: Thank you for joining us today MZ. I know you are a busy man. Let me come straight to the point. Why are you promoting Free Basics?

MZ: After creating a successful business, a lot of responsibility is thrust upon you. People look up to you. It becomes your responsibility to decide what others should do. We have decided that others should follow Free Basics.

Reporter: Thank you. That is very eloquently explained. Tell me, why is Free Basics important?

MZ: That is the wrong question. The question we should be asking is “what will happen if there is no Free Basics?”

Reporter, sheepishly: OK, what will happen if there is no Free Basics?

MZ: Nothing. Absolutely nothing will happen if there is no Free Basics. Hence all the more reason we introduce it without any delay. Before this realisation becomes common knowledge.

Reporter, mentally clicking another “Like” for the answer: You have decided on a Free Basics model where you define the websites that a User will get access to. How did you decide on these websites?

MZ: All our decisions are guided by one mission; of helping people. The websites included are the ones which people really need for their day to day activities. Like Facebook. Isn’t that what a poor farmer in Cuddapah district of Andhra Pradesh, praying for rain while sowing seeds in the searing heat, really need? Isn’t that what a hard-working miner in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand, while working underground in the peat mines, where he cannot even access the net, really need?

Reporter, clearly impressed with MZ’s passion for helping people: What about the other sites?

MZ, without noticing the interruption by the Reporter: …and the list has been rounded off by adding other popular websites in each category, which nobody has heard of; like Jagran Josh for Career and Jobs, instead of Naukri and Monster. It was a lot of hard work, unearthing sites that nobody has ever used. But I am thankful to our dedicated team that we have filled all categories.

Reporter: There is some research you have quoted that in 50% of the cases, after a User has tasted the Internet, within 30 days he starts accessing it on a paid basis. Does that not defeat the purpose of providing Internet for free?

MZ: Don’t you want to see development in this country? If the poor farmer in Andhra Pradesh, or the hard-working miner in Jharkhand, cannot contribute to making Facebook shares rise year after year, how will you call them developed?

Reporter: Would it not have been better to give a certain amount of data free of cost? That way, they could visit the sites that are useful to them, and also limit the time spent on surfing.

MZ, displaying signs of exasperation: Did you grow up in a socialist state? Looks like you don’t understand the meaning of freedom and democracy. In a democratic society, freedom is the right to choose from the list that big business and government have dished up for your own good. Do you want to create anarchy? Everyone accessing websites that are useful to them. Unthinkable!

MZ, while waiting for the Reporter to recover from this outburst: Besides, if he got what he wanted for free, why would he ever graduate to become a paying user of the Net and become developed?

Reporter, a little defensively, having no words to counter that iron-clad logic: One hears that none among what we call developed countries have opted for Free Basics. The only countries which have permitted some form of Free Basics are Uganda, Tanzania and Philippines and a few others.

MZ: There are many reasonable nations in the world. They see reason as soon as I offer to buy out their country with Facebook shares.

Reporter: You have spent a hundred million dollars in promoting FB. Would the money not have been better spent if you had used it to create Internet accounts for a million people.

MZ: You need to get your facts right. We have not spent a single cent on promoting Free Basics. We have run a campaign to educate people so that they understand what is good for them. Are you questioning the value of education?

Reporter, side-stepping the question: It appears that you are trying to bring about a change in the functioning of Telcos. Though run by private corporations in many countries, Telcos are still primarily viewed as utilities providing a basic service.

MZ: Look, you can only do so much. If Telcos don’t understand that complicating an existing, working model, without adding any value to the ecosystem, is what is good for them, there is not much that I can do.

MZ, suddenly becoming agitated: Your Prime Minister promised unfettered access to the Indian market when he hugged me in Menlo Park a couple of months back. Indian Telcos better agree!

And, on that conciliatory note, the interview ended.

We are all better informed and better placed to decide what big business and government have decided for us.

ODDities and EVENtualities

No prizes for guessing what this is about. The title pretty much gives it away.

In a bid to reduce atmospheric pollution and improve the ambient air quality, that, thanks to the joint efforts of the common man and successive governments over several decades, has snowballed out of control, the Delhi government has decided that, beginning 1st January, only cars with even numbered plates will be allowed to run on even days and odd numbered ones on, you guessed it, odd days.

Their hand has been forced. They have had to resort to take this step because other, more reasonable, permanent measures, that would permit the common man the luxury of choice, have never been tried, and hence can be classified as totally ineffective. Like charging a substantially higher price for gas-guzzling vehicles. Like a road-pricing system that deters driving and parking in the city. Like an enforcement of simple traffic rules such as parking to ease needless jams. Like closing down illegal factories. Like regulating construction activities in the city. What is the government to do?

A similar mandate had once been issued in the capital of a big country, to the North and East of ours, with an even larger population. My fellow common men and women had marvelled at how quickly they had been able to take decisive steps, without bothering about process and consensus, in the interest of the nation, and how we have been mired in bureaucracy while attempting to take similar steps.

As soon as Delhi Chief Minister (CM) announced that cars with odd and even numbered plates will be allowed on odd and even dates, without bothering too much about process and consensus, my fellow common men and women have broken out in criticism, of the CM taking unilateral decisions without respecting the democratic fabric of our society and the impact of such decisions on the common man.

That the decision has been well thought through and all possible angles examined is evident from the fact that the government has promised to repeal this arrangement by the 15th of January, if the common man is inconvenienced, pollution be damned.

For the convenience of the common man, emergency vehicles, ambulance, fire, hospital, prison, hearse, enforcement vehicles, vehicles of paramilitary forces, Ministry of Defence, pilot and escort, vehicles of SPG protectees and vehicles bearing diplomatic corps registration numbers would be exempted from this rule. As will be the vehicles of the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, Governors of states/ Lt Governor, Chief Justice of India, Union Ministers, Leaders of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, Chief Ministers of states except Delhi, judges of Supreme Court and High Court and Lokayukta.

As, indeed, will be vehicles of persons with disability, two-wheelers, buses, CNG vehicles, women drivers with women co-passengers and children upto 12 years of age and vehicles of persons in a medical emergency carrying proof; like a body, perhaps.

The remaining vehicles, if any, will be managed by a posse of cops withdrawn from other unimportant duties around the capital where they are deployed despite not being required so that they can be withdrawn on a whim, as well as an army of volunteers, drawn from their various important tasks of doing nothing.

In order that the arrangement gets a “trial by fire” in real-life conditions, schools in Delhi have been ordered shut till 15th January in order to decongest roads.

The Delhi government hopes to launch an App for car-pooling and giving lifts to strangers. In a display of responsible governance, it has appealed to people to avoid giving lifts to strangers for security reasons.

Meanwhile, capacity created on roads, if any, will be quickly absorbed by making new, bigger buildings, with even more grossly inadequate parking spaces, and narrowing down passageways with the help of unauthorised parking. As was so effectively done when the Delhi metro came into being and took away, we are told, some load from the roads. While absorption of road space has been planned for, it is not yet clear how the reduced pollution, if any, will be replaced, so that another hurried decision, to reduce it and save the lives of common men and women, can be taken in the future. The CM has appealed to the common man to play his part if he desires to be saved again in the future.

Vilified they may be for taking this decision, one has to grant, even if grudgingly, that the Delhi government has taken a bold step. And, in doing so, they have opened up a gloriously simple and effective path for solving many of the internecine problems plaguing the world, so that we can live together and happily, if not ever after, at least longer.

Crimes against women, committed by men, as they almost always are, will soon be history. The state government is about to issue a decree to permit men and women out on the streets on odd and even days. Only persons with disability, women with other women and children upto 12 years of age, persons in a medical emergency carrying proof, paramilitary forces, SPG protectees, diplomatic corps, the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, Governors of states/ Lt Governor, Chief Justice of India, Union Ministers, Leaders of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, Chief Ministers of states except Delhi, judges of Supreme Court and High Court and Lokayukta, will be exempt.

We can look forward to a future of rock-solid fixed-line quality connections on our mobile phones. Only even numbered phones will be allowed to function on even days, and odd numbered ones on odd days.

Death caused by irresponsible use of private fire-arms will be reduced to half by permitting only arms with an even-number registration to fire irresponsibly of even days, and, you guessed it again, odd-numbered ones on odd days.

This could change the world.

It already is changing the world. Fighting to be in the race to save the world from drowning in pollution, a village in Italy has banned the making of pizzas in wood-fired ovens, while Japan has banned smoking between 9 AM and 12 noon on weekdays. In an effort to not get left behind in the race to save the world, the Nordic countries have come together to ban walking and cycling and introduced a steep tax on all cars that are not SUVs. Found wanting in their ability to further improve the quality of their air, they hope these steps will position them well to contribute to this noble cause when the need to save the world arises the next time.

While the city celebrates, a citizen group has struck a sour note by asking the Delhi government for a refund of half of the road-tax car owners have to pay at the time of buying a car. “If you are not permitting me to use my car half the time, you can only charge 50% of the amount,” is the logic.

But the government is not letting such trifles worry them. After all, they have the power of inadequate assessment and hurried decision-making on their side.

Train of thought

I have been invited by a friend from college days to his hometown for his 50th birthday bash next week. He lives in a small town in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

I hooked up with another college friend living in Gurgaon, who was also invited, hoping that we could travel together.

“We have the option of going on the 14th night by train which reaches at 4 AM in the morning on the 15th. Or else we could take a flight on the 15th,” I confidently updated him as I had done some research on the tickets.

“Flight? To where?,” came his response, aware as he was that this small town did not boast of an airport.

“Bhopal”, I informed him. “It is then a 3 hour drive from Bhopal to his town.”

He said, absent-mindedly, “Not sure if we should take the train. The night will get messed up. We won’t be able to sleep properly if we have to get off at 4 AM. And, if that happens, we will not be able to enjoy the celebrations later that day.”

He seemed to have a point. I added, nodding, “And we could also end up messing up the night for the person who will pick us up from the station at that unearthly hour.”

There was silence at the other end of the phone line. Suddenly, the phone crackled again, “Most likely it is a poor taxi driver. And, it might disturb the sleep of his wife as well who may be getting up to ensure that her husband at least gets a cup of tea before he leaves home.” He sounded concerned. He had clearly been thinking about what I had said.

I could see where he was going, and added my concern, “What about their children? Their sleep could also be disturbed on account of the commotion in the house. Most likely they live in a small house. They may need to miss school that day.”

He was quick to understand. He said, “And if they have exams going on, as many schools do in December, they might have to miss an important exam.”

I was horrified. I said, “Noooo… That means they may have to fail the grade. They might be forced to repeat the year. Not only that, they will become the laughing stock of their peer group, and outcasts in the junior class they are forced to join.”

He said, slowly, weighing each word, “And       that     could      be     their     first     step      towards      juvenile      delinquency. They could get into acts of petty crime in order to show their defiance to the world.”

I said, “And small acts of crime, if unchecked, eventually lead to bigger acts of crime. Encouraged by their small deeds of crime, they may even run away from home to a big city hoping to make it big in the world of crime.”

“Can you even imagine what their parents would go through if that happens? They may have been able to handle petty acts of crime and bring them back in line, but surely their running away would devastate the parents”, he rightly pointed out.

“It could lead their mother into a state of permanent depression. Perhaps even an early death. The father would probably neglect his work and run around looking for his children. And that road eventually only leads to the bottle,” I said.

“The children, meanwhile, having somehow reached the big city, might have to face the harsh realities of life. They may have to beg for food on the streets,” he suggested, as if from experience. I knew where it was coming from. I shared that experience with my friend.

“And who knows, they could become eager recruits for one of the many crime syndicates who keep looking for recruits for their cause all the time,” I said, trying to objectively look ahead, based on extensive knowledge on the subject from years of watching Bollywood movies, especially about twins separated at birth or in the local fair.

“And one day, having achieved a modicum of success in the underworld, they might return to their town to look for their parents. Finding their mother dead and father gone to waste could only incite hatred against the world, for causing such untold misery and pain to them and their parents, and motivate them to take revenge,” he said confidently.

“And, as we know, anger can cause a dropping of your guard and lead to mistakes. In such a state one can become blind to dangers. They could invite the wrath of law-enforcement agencies, leading to either arrest or elimination in an encounter,” I added.

Even the thought of such a possibility was too much to bear.

He asked, “Do you want to be responsible for the untimely death of two school-going children and their mother, and the father going to waste over drink?”

I responded, “No, do you?”

“Not at all,” he responded without a moment’s hesitation. My chest swelled with pride. There was a reason he was my friend.

We decided to make informed, responsible choices. We decided we will not go by the train that reaches at 4 AM the next morning. We decided to take the flight, narrowly averting the calamitous chain of events we could have triggered had we taken the train.

Traitors

“Hold your horses woman. You will have us exiled before we can say Singapore. Or Equator. Or any three syllable word for that matter. Or even two. And our patriotism questioned to boot.”

My wife was complaining about the short but harsh winter in Delhi and wondering how nice it would be to be in an equatorial climate like that of Singapore at this time.

I looked around furtively to make sure we were not within earshot of anyone. In a country of 1.3 billion, it can be a task. Even inside your own house.

“Do you think our great leaders think about foreign climes when faced with harsh weather, whether it is the winter of Delhi, monsoon of Mumbai or summer, again of Delhi? Do you think Dr. Ambedkar, the founding father, and mother (I added as an afterthought lest a zealous, nameless, self-appointed guardian of something or the other label me something or the other) of the Indian Constitution, was never faced with harsh weather in his life? Do you think he dreamt of sunny equatorial climes?” I confidently added, knowing fully well that she would have no idea what our great leaders thought but did not express. Neither did I for that matter, not being one of the omniscient, zealous, nameless, self-appointed guardians of something or the other who somehow always know exactly what a great leader of the past, dead long since, thought and meant, even though he, or she, is not known to have ever shared that particular thought.

I was on a roll. Seasoned husbands would understand the rarity of the moment when one gets to pontificate to the better half. I was not about to let go.

“Be gone!

Run to your houses, fall upon your knees,

Pray to the gods to intermit the plague

That needs must light on this ingratitude.”

I would have assailed her with Shakespeare’s lines but discretion got the better of valour, knowing that she was adept at assailing me with many other lines, from Shakespeare to Sachs. I continued with a more sedate “Then what right have you to think? Do you want a bounty on your cheek, with some unit, publicly chided and privately rewarded, of a political party, offering a reward to anyone who slaps you, as has been done for Aamir Khan? Or do you want another political party to book our tickets to a neighbouring country, as, again, has been done for Aamir Khan?”

She kept quiet. Even though the last idea would have sounded tempting, considering our free travel, while looking busy and important, has stopped ever since I stopped working for large corporations.

It could be because the Sheena Bora murder case trial is playing out in the media. It can be a challenge when two issues of national importance occupy your mind.

The second, of course, is the case of Aamir Khan, Bollywood superstar, who, during an interview, when asked about the issue of rising intolerance in India, stated, frankly and honestly it seems, that his wife Kiran Rao had suggested moving out of the country fearing for their children under the conditions the country currently is in.

As it is a matter of national importance, and being everyone’s business to decide what Aamir Khan and family should and should not feel, and say, this comment was not taken lightly by many who targeted the actor for spreading fear instead of thinking about his influential status before speaking. Their unambiguous message to him was, “India is a tolerant country, and you better apologise for what you said. Or else….”

We have always known that wives can get you into trouble.

Anupam Kher, a popular Bollywood actor, took it upon himself to lambast Aamir Khan for his views on intolerance and called him unpatriotic, giving rise to the Kher law of inanity:

Expression of intolerance = Intolerance

Intolerance = Being unpatriotic

Hence, Expression of intolerance = Being unpatriotic

He is understood to be on course for a Nobel Prize.

Kher has been followed by many other actors, supporting one view or the other.

The teeming millions, already on the bandwagon of giving opinions when none are required, are freely taking sides. Some are criticising Aamir. Some are defending him. Some are doing both. And some are doing sometimes one and sometimes the other. Their self-belief is so strong, their courage of conviction so remarkable, that they follow whichever wind is blowing at the moment.

Now, I have never been blamed for being lucid and clear in my thought processes. But this controversy has left me even more thoroughly befuddled.

Is Aamir Khan expressing his views an expression of intolerance? Of what he perceives to be a rising tide of bigoted right-wing views.

Or is that tolerance? Of the national fabric by expressing concerns in a public forum, like a concerned citizen.

Is Anupam Kher lambasting Aamir Khan’s views an expression of intolerance? Of another person’s point of view.

Or is that tolerance? Because he is being intolerant of someone he perceives as being intolerant of the tolerant national fabric.

If the teeming millions criticise Anupam Kher, are they being intolerant? Of the views expressed by another countryman.

Or are they being tolerant? By being intolerant of the intolerance demonstrated by him on the statement of Aamir Khan.

If they support Anupam Kher, are they being intolerant? By being tolerant of the intolerance demonstrated by him on the statement of Aamir Khan.

Or are they being tolerant? By being tolerant of the intolerance demonstrated by him on the perceived intolerance of another to a tolerant national fabric.

Clear?

Meanwhile, as the debate rages on, our world is coming crumbling down around us. Pillars of society, both individuals and institutions, are turning out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing. We have been surrounded by traitors all this while, as is now becoming clear.

Big, public banks, for instance.

A well-known Indian businessman has accused banks of being intolerant. According to him banks have become intolerant of loans not being paid back. This is not the country our founding fathers, and mothers, wanted to create, he has lamented.

The well-known Indian businessman, for instance.

He is thinking of moving overseas to a more tolerant society. Is he so intolerant of the intolerance of banks?

The Indian diaspora, for instance.

They were intolerant of the lack of opportunity and overbearing politicians and chose to make a life elsewhere. It now transpires that the Prime Minister has been wooing an unpatriotic group ever since his party assumed office at the Centre a year and a half back. The PM is in a state of shock. His record-breaking accumulation of air-miles is at risk.

Youngsters trying to bring in change through their efforts, for instance.

Why do they need to bring in change? Are they intolerant of the suffering and misery they see around them?

The government, for instance.

It keeps talking about its intolerance of corruption and black money. Have we voted in the most unpatriotic government ever?

What about Mahatma Gandhi?

Was he intolerant of the opportunity in India, going to South Africa to practice law? What does that make him? What about his intolerance of the British rule?

Of course, many others are chipping in.

Taslima Nasreen, noted Bangladeshi writer, says Aamir Khan should be glad he is living in India and not Pakistan or Bangladesh, which are far less tolerant. Yes, we know. India has a great soccer team because it is ranked above Timor-Leste and Bhutan. And it only narrowly lost to Turkmenistan in the World Cup qualifiers.

“Whatever be the case, don’t be a traitor. Stop thinking. Start obeying”, I concluded, taking advantage of my wife’s silence.

What’s the beef?

Unequivocal.

Unambiguous.

In keeping with the stature of his office, the Prime Minister has ensured that the above two words cannot be used as adjectives for the message he has sent out.

The message he sent out was to senior ministers in his government, who were seen to be making unequivocal, unambiguous statements, to keep the communal pot boiling, as is the responsibility of senior ministers. If they don’t, who will?

These senior ministers had been forced to take the responsible, mature stand they took, owing to a man being lynched just outside Delhi, the national capital. Apparently because the man was eating beef. Or planning to. In 2015.

The PM sent out the message, not directly, but through a trusted aide, who went and whispered into the ears of these senior leaders. The message whispered, as he informed the media later, was that those leaders should not make a fool of themselves and embarrass the party. This, as is clear to everyone, means that they should encourage communal harmony, peaceful co-existence and sensitivity for each other’s faith, beliefs and way of life and come out strongly against the perpetrators of violence.

The message was so un-unequivocal and so un-unambiguous, that most of the leaders whispered to, had come out with clarifications within twenty-four hours, that no such message had been whispered to them.

The trusted aide also clarified that the PM did not need to make a statement on the issue, as law and order was a state subject, and that the state government, where the lynching happened, run by a different political party, had to deal with it. He further clarified that only senior ministers in the central government, and senior leaders from other states, where the government was formed by the party in power at the Centre, were bound to make statements, as per the moral code binding all politicians, as they had nothing to do with the issue.

But we are losing the thread of the story. Of the incident.

“What were we supposed to do?” An existentialist question had been asked. By the group claiming to be responsible for the lynching. The gathered luminaries, among them representatives of the police, the judiciary and the media, were speechless. Feverish cross-talk broke out among them.

What is a group of people, claiming to represent the sentiments of a billion Hindus, like millions of other such groups, all claiming representative rights for the same billion, supposed to do in the face of a perceived slight to what they consider to be “their belief system”?

Of course, as is the case with all intellectual debates between a large mob and a smaller one, even as small as one, the debate ends in a consensus with the smaller mob getting its member/s killed mercilessly. As is the case in civil societies, in countries proclaiming to be secular, with a Constitution guaranteeing, among others, the right to freedom of religion and speech, and where the rule of law prevails, for the most part.

In this case, the “belief system” that got violated was veneration of the cow as sacred. Many Hindus believe in this.

And, of course, if you are a Hindu who does not believe in upholding the cow as sacred, you do not count, because you cannot be considered to be a Hindu if that is what your belief system is. Further, if you are a beef-eating Hindu you run the risk of being cast out of the religion. By one of the millions of small groups claiming representation rights over the same billion. A beef-eater cannot be a Hindu. Period. They know. They know because an intolerant, bigoted, hate-filled group always knows. Knows what others should do. Knows how others should behave.

And, being a Hindu no longer, your beliefs will not count. How can it be possible for anyone who is not a Hindu to have a belief system?

A senior politician, of a different political party, has waded into the dispute by calling out this elephant in the room. He has said that many Hindus also eat beef. As all reasonable statements, which could be true, and militate against the illogical beliefs of some, must, he has been forced to retract his words and clarify that what the words meant is not what he meant by those words. Clear?

The Chief Minister of Delhi, which is contiguous to the state where the lynching happened, displaying his pure, apolitical intentions, blamed all other politicians for weighing in on the issue for the purpose of getting political mileage whereas he was weighing-in selflessly.

Unseemly and unfortunate though the lynching incident is, it has led to a lot of dirty linen being washed in public, bringing clarity to a host of issues.

Non-believers have been asking if it is only Indian cows that are sacred or is it all cows.

One of the millions of small groups claiming representation rights over the same billion has clarified that the status of cows will be determined on a case-to-case basis. It has already been determined that cows in a few other countries, particularly the US and Japan, are in the “veneration-exempt” category because these nations supply us with important religious implements, such as iPhones and flat-screen TVs, which are important tools for propagation of the Hindu faith. For a continued supply of these goods, it is necessary that people in these countries continue to consume beef as it is a part of their diet. Leaders in these countries have expressed a sigh of relief and thanked the one of millions of small groups claiming representation rights over the same billion issuing this clarification.

People in other countries, which do not produce any tools that are useful in the propagation of the Hindu faith, have no need to consume beef, as they don’t do anything that is of value to the human race. As such, cows in these countries are equally sacred and should be protected. If these countries, with whom we have no material trade ties, don’t agree to veneration of cows, we will stop trading relationships with them, was the hard stand taken, rooted in faith and ideology.

Moreover, with clean water and air in some places, as well as wholesome, abundant nutrition, available to bovines, many countries are not able to produce cows of the same religious intensity and fervour as in India. With their diet of plastic and trash, frequent run-ins with street dogs and urchins when let loose by the owner, cows in India are on an altogether different plane. Hence, in order that the quality of the stock is not diluted, it is best cows in some nations stay off the venerable list.

Meanwhile, cows in the US have gone on strike. They want better working conditions and a more meaningful life. They have appealed to the President to arrange for H-1B visas for them to work in India where they can live in misery and be used by one of the millions of small groups claiming representation rights over the same billion, for justifying their actions. They want their whole existence to be useful to someone. Not merely their body.

Many of the millions of small groups claiming representation rights over the same billion are hurt by the accusations of intolerance levelled against them. In all fairness, they say, they have always been flexible.

After all, did they prevent recent occupiers from the West from consuming beef? Did they prevent earlier occupiers from West and North Asia from consuming beef? Even though they had no power to stop them, they did not. How can they be called intolerant? Even today, do they prevent tourists from eating beef? Tourists bring money. Money is useful in pursuit of religion.

Another group, smaller than the group against consumption of beef, and hence more representative of the entire religion, has decried the consumption of any meat, be it fish, chicken, or anything else, and have proceeded to hack down dissenters.

Yet another group, smaller than the second, and hence the most representative of the religion, has decried the consumption of sense-aggravating items like onions. In keeping with the peaceful philosophy of their faith, they have proceeded to hack down dissenters.

As per laws of the land, the only way to settle an intellectual debate is by hacking down of the weaker by the more populous.

Large corporations, as always, have been quick to react. Life insurance companies have revised their application process and, just after the question “Do you have any existing medical condition” and before “Are you a smoker”, have added ““Are you fond of eating food that could get you killed by people who find it objectionable?”. Premia for people responding with a “Yes” have been revised accordingly. Many airlines, as a preventive safety measure, just after “Has your check-in baggage been packed by you?” and before “Are you carrying anything on behalf of someone else?” have added a question “Are you fond of eating any food that could get you killed by people who find it objectionable?”

Lest this article convey the impression that the millions of small groups claiming representation rights over the same billion, seek to create inter-faith disharmony, I apologise. These millions of small groups claiming representation rights over the same billion are impartial dispensers of justice, the kangaroo court way. In the last couple of years, several “rationalists”, Hindu by birth, advocating objective beliefs over myths in pursuit of faith, have been killed by one or the other of the millions of small groups claiming representation rights over the same billion.

As a result, the state apparatus has asked the common man to be sensitive to the belief systems of others. To the belief systems of small groups claiming representation rights over the same billion. Naturally, this has been done for the benefit of the common man.

The bravery of these groups is infectious. They never identify themselves. They never square up for a debate. Their bravery in the face of odds when faced with an enemy, much fewer in number, unarmed, without any history of being aggressive, is inspiring a whole generation.

What should we call them? Cow-ards?

Horse Before The Car

An earlier post, on 17th September, titled Thank God It’s Tuesday, has stirred the hornet’s nest. The nest, that we also call home. Battle lines have been drawn. Predictably, as my readers would have come to guess by now, only me on one side.

Matters came to such a pass that the entire duration of a drive to a restaurant, about a week back, lasting about forty-five minutes, one of the longest forty-five minutes I have encountered, was devoted to a discussion on the subject of car-free Tuesdays, as has been proposed, and implemented in parts of Gurgaon, and, on which subject, my earlier post was based. Despite knowing who I was up against, there being no place to hide inside a car on a forty-five minute drive, the debate was joined.

Just as well, because what was understood to be a one-day adventure, is now expected to become a weekly affair. Come Tuesday, come car-free day in Gurgaon. The next Tuesday is never far away.

Reproduced below, to the best of my memory, is a summary of what transpired in the confines of a car travelling forty-five minutes to a restaurant in Delhi, with four people inside, about a week back, as night was falling. In order that you do not go scrolling down to the bottom of this post, I will only reveal here that all four occupants came out alive, without signs of any bodily harm or physical injury.

Them:

Cannot understand the criticism of car-free Tuesdays. It is a good idea. You have to start somewhere, isn’t it? Maybe it cannot be done on other days of the week for some reason. Going car-free on one day of the week is a step in the right direction and we should encourage it. And it is OK if a cost-benefit analysis has not been done. It is not possible to have a cost-benefit for everything. This is for raising awareness amongst people, of the benefits of not using cars. Even raising awareness is a benefit, is it not?

Me:

I have nothing against it. But, if it is such a good idea, why are we doing it only on one day of the week? Every day should be a car-free day. Hastily declaring a day as a car-free day sounds fishy to me. It reeks of tokenism; doing something because you are under pressure to take some action, irrespective of eventual results. The Gurgaon administration will perhaps claim that pollution levels on Tuesday have come down thanks to this drive, without certifying if the levels on other days go up.

And what about impact on output, or GDP? Is there nobody missing a meeting? Is there nobody rescheduling planned work? Are there no workers unable to make it to work? Are they going to do that missed work on another day? Will that not increase the pollution level on that other day?

Where do the bicycles and shuttle buses being used on Tuesdays come from? Is there an alternate use which they are being forced to cancel, for their availability for car-free Tuesdays? What about the GDP loss on account of withdrawal from those services? If not, then do we have an excess of this equipment? Who is responsible for spending people’s money on buying needless equipment which will only be used on Tuesdays?

If the administration is saying that private companies are providing these resources at no cost to the exchequer, we will obviously believe them. Because private companies in India are set-up for the purpose of charity and public good. To chip-in as and when a government official gives a call for a car-free Tuesday. Making money is not part of their DNA. They will neither look for compensation nor contracts in lieu, for the services so provided.

Before the government implements a plan, there needs to be an assessment. The assessment needs to say that the plan will add value, or, be good for the world, or the part of the world they are responsible for. If assessed to be good, it should become a law, and implemented forever. If not good, what is the point of doing it even one day of the week? One does need to have a view. It may not be an exact mathematical assessment, but a view needs to be taken, based on available information, whether a proposed action will be of benefit or not.

If the population being addressed is that of adults, where is the need for “show and tell”? Are we saying out adult population is not smart enough to know what is good for them and what is not? There are education and awareness mechanisms available, like advertising. Why not use them? And, if people, based on their assessment of the world around them, have come to the conclusion that driving is the most effective means of transport for them, are they not going to continue driving on other days of the week once these special shuttle-buses and cycles stop being available on those days?

If raising awareness were to be enough, why don’t we switch off all traffic lights and make them work only on, say, Wednesdays, to raise awareness among people that it is good for them to follow traffic rules. The rest of the days should, arguably, be smooth because we would have told those foolish adults what they would never have otherwise known. Or hang people for murders committed only on Thursdays. Murders on other days will automatically stop. Of course we have a foolish adult population and we need our wise administrators to tell them what is good for them.

Though I have clearly expressed my views in the earlier post as well, having heard strong contrary opinions from my family members, I wanted to open up the debate to a larger audience. I have been known to be a fair person, especially when under pressure to be fair. Would welcome your views on the subject. Of course, any views different from mine could be subject to summary deletion.

I have also attempted to use the polling option to seek specific feedback, if you can spare a minute.

 

Dilbert’s one liners

These quips came to me as “Dilbert’s one liners” on a WhatApp message. Some of these don’t sound Dilbertian. I am a fairly avid follower of Dilbert and could not imagine a context in which some of them might have been voiced. But then, you never can say. Dilbert also has off days!

Nos. 3 and 30 are the ones I liked best. Hope you will be able to laugh at least at some of them.

1. I say no to alcohol, it just doesn’t listen.

2. A friend in need is a pest indeed.

3. Marriage is one of the chief causes of divorce.

4. Work is fine if it doesn’t take too much of your time.

5. When everything comes in your way you’re in the wrong lane.

6. The light at the end of the tunnel may be an incoming train..

7. Born free, taxed to death.

8. Everyone has a photographic memory, some just don’t have film.

9. Life is unsure; always eat your dessert first.

10. Smile, it makes people wonder what you are thinking.

11. If you keep your feet firmly on the ground, you’ll have trouble putting on your pants.

12. It’s not hard to meet expenses, they are everywhere.

13. I love being a writer… what I can’t stand is the paperwork..

14. A printer consists of 3 main parts: the case, the jammed paper tray and the blinking red light.

15. The guy who invented the first wheel was an idiot. The guy who invented the other three, he was the genius.

16. The trouble with being punctual is that no one is there to appreciate it.

17. In a country of free speech, why are there phone bills?

18. If you cannot change your mind, are you sure you have one?

19. Beat the 5 O’clock rush, leave work at noon!

20. If you can’t convince them, confuse them.

21. It’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the sudden stop at the end.

22. I couldn’t repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.

23. Hot glass looks same as cold glass. – Cunino’s Law of Burnt Fingers

24. The cigarette does the smoking you are just the sucker.

25. Someday is not a day of the week

26. Whenever I find the key to success, someone changes the lock.

27. To Err is human, to forgive is not a Company policy.

28. The road to success…. Is always under construction.

29. Alcohol doesn’t solve any problems, but if you think again, neither does Milk.

30. In order to get a Loan, you first need to prove that you don’t need it.