Adventure Sport

Our city leaders don’t often get the credit they deserve. While one might try to excuse it by saying that there is only so much credit one person can give; and with the central government after every ounce of it, what can state and city leaders expect, the truth is that we are a bunch self-serving, selfish, entitled people. It is a harsh indictment, but the truth.

We have seen the days when city leaders had to explain to us, logically and patiently, upon our wanting to know where the footpaths were for people to walk on, that if footpaths were left for people to walk on, where would the same people park cars and put-up electricity distribution transformers? Did we need to ask? Could we not have put two and two together ourselves?

In all fairness, we may be self-serving, selfish and entitled, but we do agree when a logical argument is presented. And, in the face of one, that was that with footpaths and the desire for footpaths to walk on.

It was, therefore, a surprise when a few months back my good friend Rohin said that he had been walking on a footpath on the city.

But there is a back-story to that.

One fine day Rohin announced that he was in hospital as a result of injuries sustained in a dangerous adventure sport.

“What?”

“When?”

“Where?”

Now Rohin is a peripatetic traveller if ever there was one. If he is not in Slovenia he is probably in Japan and if he is not in Aurangabad he is probably in Masai Mara. He writes extensively on his travels and if someone wants travel guidance from me, for whatever reason, I merely point them to his blog.

Believing he had discovered some new destination for adventures sport, I excitedly asked him those three detailed questions. In the excitement of talking about adventure sport, rarely does one worry about the condition the participant is in.

I am a nature enthusiast, at least to a degree. I have a great regard for people who test their physical limits against nature, in a respectful manner. Whether it is mountain biking, or rock climbing, or open-ocean swimming, or white-water rafting. Like Rohin. In an ocean of push-button, or picture-postcard, or even hired adventure, such examples stand out.

“In Gurgaon, where else?”

My face fell, realizing that it was not another exotic locale that I could aim for. But then, on realizing that I did not have to spend money to get to Gurgaon, as I was already there, I brightened up.

“How?”

“Outside Max Hospital,” he said, responding to my fourth detailed question. Perhaps realizing that that did not satisfy my curiosity, he added, “on the footpath.” Perhaps realizing that I was still not satisfied with his answer, he added, “I was walking on the footpath outside Max Hospital with my daughter. After some distance the footpath ended.” My ears had perked up when he said he was walking on the footpath, but I could only say, “Ended?”

“Yes. Ended.”

“Ended like…?”

“Ended like ended. Finished. Ceased. Concluded. Stopped.” He paused as if to ask if I needed more synonyms.

“I felt the breeze in my hair as I descended six feet into the gutter when the footpath ended, with a thud. It was more exciting than a bungee jump. In a bungee jump you deliberately jump, here the ground vanished from under your feet suddenly. Can you beat the sense of that thrill? You will not get such broken bones and bruises them so easily even at the best adventure sites in the world, that too for free.”

I nodded. I have done some adventure sport in my time, and I could understand what he was saying. It was beginning to make sense. While we had been mocking them, city leaders had been quietly turning the city into an adventure park.

An adventure park not like Appu Ghar, the water park, where one needs to strive for adventure, and one is conscious of it. But an adventure park where adventure can come from anywhere.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I now knew that one could walk on the streets once again, at least in some places. Seeking adventure for free, I set out immediately after hearing about Rohin’s adventure, to seek mine.

After not having found adventure on Golf Course Road, M G Road and even on the Old Delhi Road, I finally found my adventure yesterday, just when I was beginning to lose hope. Or, perhaps, my adventure found me.

It found me on the humble stretch between my home and the South City-1 colony market, less than half a km away, on the way back.

The footpath having been consumed by parking and an electricity distribution transformer as per the vision of the founding fathers, the road flooded after ten minutes of light rain, I was making my way through a dump yard that, I believe, was meant to be a park. My adventure found me as I tripped on a wire stretched across the path, barely above ground level, at the exit point of that park.

Thank you, city leaders. Together, we can make our city a popular destination for adventure sport. On second thoughts, why together; you have it in you to do it all by yourself.

My trophies from the adventure are displayed here:

Dancing in the Dark

(Translated from Finnish)

“Why does it always have to be us? Here we are, the happiest country on Earth. We have a small population and an almost unlimited amount of beautiful, unspoilt, open spaces for everyone to enjoy, with only 16 people per square km. And yet our political leaders let us down, nay, embarrass us.”

“True. Germany, not far away, has 234 people per square km. Bangladesh has 1,141. And our per capita GDP is also a very healthy $46,000.”

When this conversation between Johannes and Maria started, people sitting close to them had started to pay attention, ignoring the private conversations they were having with their neighbours before that.

“I admit she is young. But that cannot be an excuse when you contest in an election for a public role,” Johannes responded.

A hush descended over the popular crowded sauna in the middle of Helsinki. So far people had been trying to pretend it was not there, but this statement could leave no doubt about the presence of the elephant in the sauna. Even the hissing of the hot stones topping the ‘kiuas’ seemed to have quietened down. There could no longer be any doubt what they were talking about.

The leaked videos of Sanna Marin, the Finnish Prime Minister, dancing in a private party, and generally letting her hair down, has divided the nation down the middle. Some were of the view that it was OK and that as a human being she needed to let her hair down to stay sane, as well as get some exercise. Others felt that she had put herself, as well as the nation, in an embarrassing and compromising position by appearing to act like a common person and not respecting the dignity of her position.

“Why did she do it?” Anneli, sitting on the other side of the sauna, wondered, adjusting her towel. “I am travelling to Italy tomorrow. No way am I going to say where I come from. Tomorrow she will want to go and order an Americano in a coffee shop. Where will this stop?”

Antero, throwing a ladleful of water on the hot stones, to get them hissing again, looked around for an opening and added, “It is not that she has a shortage of role models in terms of popular, democratically elected leaders around the world, many of them much more experienced. She should be open to learning from them.”

“Is it a surprise that America is the richest and most powerful nation today?” asked Olavi from the far corner of the rectangular room lined with wooden benches, to no one in particular. “They have an equally mature voting population who have chosen a leader who can barely stand. Can he ever embarrass the nation by even attempting to dance?”

There were nods of agreement all around. Anneli added, “And when he goes out cycling, he falls over. She could at least have fallen over or had two left feet, instead of the competent performance she put in. Could she not have fallen over or bumped into someone to save us from this embarrassment?”

Maria, sitting next to Antero, said with some nastiness, “Did she not know about the island nation in the Indian Ocean where the leaders appointed relatives to positions of power and led the economy to ruin through mismanagement? It may cause a popular uprising and a revolt but does it divide opinion in this way? No way.”

Annelli added, “And do you know how they were getting exercise? By filling water in the huge swimming pool in the presidential palace while people outside the palace did not have drinking water. No, not swimming. Filling water. Could she not have done that? And then the president got more exercise when he ran away from the public to another country, in time-tested political tradition.”

The temperature in the sauna was rising, and it wasn’t only because of the hot stones on the ‘kiuas’. The owner adjusted the temperature downwards to prevent an explosion.

“Then there is India, the world’s most populous democracy,” Helena, just back from a vacation to India, piped up. “They also have a young leader and a great role model. He may be seventy years old but for a country with 90 being the usual cut-off for a Prime Minister, that is young. Has he ever been caught out dancing? He is like a rock. Check out his pictures in front of popular holy shrines around the country at the taxpayer’s expense. He is absolutely still, and usually covered in an orange coloured cloth. Do you know what he exercises? He exercises his vocal cords. That is what experienced politicians are expected to do.”

“She does not need to look far for inspiration,” it was Olavi’s turn to speak. “She only needs to look at our neighbour Russia. Why can we not randomly invade a country and kill ourselves some civilians? Letting hair down and exercise can both be achieved, not just for herself but for a lot of people at the same time, without anyone even noticing. And once it starts, it can go on indefinitely.”

“And what about Bolsonaro?” Anneli found her voice again.

“Bol who?” asked Maria. “Anyway, what about Bol whatever?”

Directing a cold glance at Maria inside the hot sauna where the temperature had already topped ninety, Anneli said in an even colder tone, “For those of you who don’t know, President Jair Bolsonaro is, well, the president of Brazil, the biggest country in South America.”

Quickly getting over the disappointment of not receiving an ovation at the momentous declaration, she asked, “Do you know how he exercises and loosens up?”

Seeing blank faces around she answered her own question. “Well, he goes around meeting people face to face. And, when he does not like a question someone has asked, he lunges at him, grabs his shirt and tries to snatch his mobile away from him.”

“That is what I would call a true, traditional politician,” Olave clapped and said. “My fear is, with leaders like Sanna, we may be running out of such leaders. It will be a sad day for the world when that happens.”

“Could she not have violated some Covid-19 related or other protocols, as done so effectively by Boris Johnson just a few months back?” Helena asked, a bit ruefully, thinking about the missed opportunities. “Party if you need to, but what is the point of being the prime minister if you are not even going to break some rules while doing so?”

Cross-talk began as the temperature and emotions started to rise.

Johanna, who had just returned to the sauna after a refreshing dip in the adjoining lake, and eager to contribute, said, “And did you know that in North Korea…” But she was not allowed to complete her sentence. There was a hissing sound, not from the stones, but emanating out of the people, as they picked up their respective, and so far unused, ‘vihta’ and set upon her.

Over The Top

I was shocked. And I am probably putting it mildly.

“Shamita – Raqesh part ways” screamed a headline in the morning paper.

And I had no idea. Was I living under a rock?

Without losing a moment, I switched my glance to the write-up. If Shamita and Raqesh were parting ways, the least I could do was find out who there were, or are, even if I am not able to find out why they were doing what the newspaper said they were doing, parting ways.

Turning to page 4, where the write-up was, I unearthed a treasure trove of important information. I found:

  • Their names were Raqesh Bapat and Shamita Shetty
  • They met on the reality show Bigg Boss OTT last year
  • They made a music video together in May
  • Shamita even wrote: “I think it’s important to make this clear. Raqesh and I are no longer together.” Important? The fate of humanity hung on a slender thread. You have saved it Shamita.

And here I was, trying to follow the Russian invasion of Ukraine, India’s border conflicts with China and Pakistan, the PM race in the UK, and tennis at Wimbledon, the brickbats between political rivals, huge stashof cash found with an aide of a Bengal minister, and the Indian cricket team’s efforts in England and the West Indies. I was wasting my time would be an understatement.

Shame on me.

It is not that I did not care about this section of the newspaper. It is called HT City and comes every day, I think. I would pick it up, turn to the Calvin and Hobbes strip, read it, fold and put it back. What was I thinking?

But, like they say for statistics telling you a lot but leaving out the really important parts, the write-up provided a lot of information that I have already summarized above, but left out the important bit, at least for me; who the hell were they?

Did I have a choice? No. I turned to Google. What did I find?

“Shamita Shetty (born 2 February 1979) is an Indian Bollywood actress, model and interior designer. She made her Hindi film debut in the musical romance film Mohabbatein (2000)…” A bulb lights up. I remember watching that movie. In my defence, I was young, I was even more foolish.

“Raqesh Bapat is an Indian actor and model. He is known for his work in films like Tum Bin (2001), Koi Mere Dil Mein Hai (2005)…” No lighting of bulbs here.

I get it. This is important. When one watches shows on TV and OTT for entertainment that make little sense, and may or may not be entertaining, but that is a personal choice, it needs to be complemented by snippets of the personal lives of the people they see in those shows that make equally little sense, in the media. It is a right. As simple as that.

How else will viewers know what Shetty had for breakfast?

How will they know where Bapat went to a holiday?

How will they know what they wore when they were in college twenty years back?

And without this information, can the entertainment that makes little sense, not make even lesser sense? It is obvious, is it not? If I am not trying to make Netflix and Star TV richer does not mean that others will also shirk their responsibility.

I did the Google search two days back. Today my browser is already full of helpful suggestions about reading who Bapat went to an awards function with and watching a video of a gym session of Shetty. I think I may have arrived. I can sense a void in my life is about to be filled with meaningless information about other people.

Not one to rest on his laurels, after hungrily reading all this, I moved my gaze to other parts of the newspaper. The pickings were rich. I could see “Huma would rather take a day off on her birthday than work” and “Why Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor won’t say yes to a regional language project” lined up next to each other.

Did you know? I bet not.

Are you dying to find out? I bet yes.

I will stop here, as there is work to be done. I need to first find out exactly who Huma and Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor are and work my way up to the answers to these important questions.

Bermuda Flyover

“To my naked eye, #Dehradun cannot take the load of any more new buildings. Wherever one goes; on ones left or right, one only gets to see four storey commercial buildings coming up. This rampant and unabated construction spree is neither wise nor suitable for the sensitive #DoonValley”

What was he thinking?

I am talking about my old friend Anoop Nautiyal, Brand Ambassador Dehradun and Founder – Social Development for Communities Foundation, Uttarakhand, who said these words, apparently a few days back.

Take a guy back to a formerly pristine town that Dehradun was before it became the capital of the newly formed state of Uttarakhand and got developed, and he starts believing that he has to save the world.

Must big cities like Delhi and Gurgaon continue to bear the responsibility for creating ecological disasters? There is something known as a shared responsibility, though I suppose Doon residents would not have heard of it. Hearing Anoop, the common man might even start thinking that all the shiny new buildings in Gurgaon have been built because Gurgaon can take their load. He might even start believing that there is adequate power and water for the common man.

As luck would have it, I was on top of a brand new architectural wonder planned and constructed by the city of Gurgaon, where I live, that was thrown open to the common man to marvel at and benefit from, when I saw this message posted by Anoop. I understand there is confusion about the constitution of the seven wonders of the world, but I also know that there will be no confusion or disagreement about the inclusion of this marvel in the seven wonders, regardless of which the other six may be.

The architectural marvel I am referring to is a flyover. For readers who may be more familiar with other traffic lingo for it, a flyover is an elevated road, like an overbridge, built usually for the purpose of crossing over an obstacle, and getting traffic moving smoothly. The obstacle could be a railway track, it could be a river, it could be another road going across, it could be a traffic signal, or some such thing. There is always something.

“But is a flyover not a common structure that kills the pre-flyover businesses on the road and creates dead spaces where the homeless often take shelter, what with expanding road networks and burgeoning car numbers?” you might ask.

And you would be right. A flyover is indeed commonplace. There must be thousands of them around.

But this is not any flyover. Unlike your ordinary flyover that would have been built over a railway track, or a river, or another road going across, or a traffic signal, or some such thing, this particular flyover goes over nothing. Well, not literally, of course. It is built on the base of solid ground and on top of the flat, ground-hugging road that was already there.

Just to give you an idea of the lay of the land, this is what I am talking about:

The light blue shaded part is the road in question before the flyover came up. There is no railway track, or river, or another road going across, or a traffic signal, or some such thing, that is impeding the flow of traffic. The dark blue structure is meant to indicate the presence of a pedestrian bridge over the road for, what else, facilitating pedestrians crossing the road. It is well understood that the purpose for pedestrians to use an overbridge is to get to the other side, regardless of which side they start from. In this particular case, the purpose of almost all pedestrians to cross this road was to either get to, or from, the HUDA metro station. That being the case, this pedestrian bridge made no effort of delivering its users to, or from, the station. People coming out of the station would take the escalator or stairs down to the ground level and then take the escalator or stairs up the pedestrian overbridge just a few metres on, and then the escalator or stairs down on the other side. This, of course, was done by the handful conscientious ones willing to follow rules and put their lives at risk by climbing a pothole-ridden pedestrian overbridge, while the masses would take the safer route, flag down the traffic and nonchalantly cross the road where you see the thinner dark blue strip across the road on the map.

But what is to be done. If a pedestrian overbridge cannot go into the HUDA metro station, it cannot. End of story.

The other manual addition made by me on the map is the red dot that represents a traffic signal.

And this is the map after the flyover was constructed. The reason you see no difference in the road is because it is an aerial view, from the top. The flyover is exactly on top of the road, which, of course, is still there, buried under the pillars and construction material of the flyover.

But that is not fully correct. I am being unfair. You don’t see the pothole-ridden pedestrian overbridge in the ‘after’ picture. I think it was demolished based on another bold new policy of the government. Since we cannot build pedestrian overbridges in a manner they can be used by pedestrians, why build them at all? Sensible, I suppose. And pragmatic.

And this is the view of the flyover from the side, clicked as I was coming out from the station and down the escalator. You can see the cars waiting for the light to turn green. Fortis Hospital is visible behind it.

So, here I was, having driven up the up part of the flyover, drooling at the prospect of crossing quickly over something that I did not know existed. It was mysterious! Magical! I knew there was no railway crossing or river or road beneath the flyover, but, one does not know what one does not know. There must be something. Maybe the authorities have struck oil in that patch. It would have been difficult to drill with cars and other vehicles honking and running around all the time and trying to fill their tanks for free from the gushing oil. But with traffic diverted to a flyover, the authorities could carry on with the responsibility of running the city. Or maybe they built the flyover just in case they strike oil in that patch in future.

I jammed my brakes as the car ahead of me had stopped. As had the one if front of the one in front of me. As had…I hope you get the picture. I looked up. Actually, I looked down since I was at the pinnacle of the flyover, almost twenty vertical feet clear of where I would have been had there been no flyover. From that vantage point I could see that the traffic light at the bottom of the down part of the flyover was glowing a bright red, with the taillights of most cars ahead of me lit as they were pressing the brakes down.

Would they be jamming down on the brakes if they were waiting at the same traffic signal on a flat road?

No way.

WouId I have had this view had this flyover over nothing not been built?

No way.

Stop at traffic signal before the flyover is built and stop at same traffic signal after the flyover is built. Fair deal. I silently thanked the authorities and made a mental note to vote for the same people once again.

The transformative power of a revolutionary idea can never be underestimated. I can already see study tours led by city CEOs and corporators from around the world making a beeline to Gurgaon to learn more about this marvel. Personally, we have always struggled with sightseeing choices in Gurgaon whenever someone was visiting us, ending up with detested ones like the Sultanpur bird park and a walk in the Aravali Hills. That problem is now solved. It helps that we live but a ten-minute walk from this wonder.

With the Bermuda Triangle solved and people losing interest in the Yeti, I can even see correspondents of TV channels working on the great mysteries of the world descending in large numbers on Gurgaon, where else, and trying to unravel the new mystery. The cricket game I was watching yesterday was interrupted several times by ads which said, “Sensational discovery; why the Gurgaon flyover was really built. Coming soon to your favourite channel.”

Trial By Fire

“You fools!” thundered the Prime Minister from the ramparts of the Virtual Reality (VR) headset that he used whenever he had to thunder but did not have a real crowd of fools in front.

Spontaneous celebrations broke out across the country as soon as he had uttered these words. Youngsters engaged in arson and protests against the Agnipath recruitment scheme for the armed forces that has replaced traditional recruitment methods for non-officer cadres, stopped in mid-stride while trying to hurl a stone or brick at the police barricades. Throwing their projectiles on the ground, they moved forward and hugged the closest member of the police force and exchanged sweets that had magically materialized.

It is alleged that these spontaneous celebrations were instigated by coaching institutes that mattered to nobody even if they existed, as were the outbreaks of violence when the scheme was announced a few days back. Owners of coaching institutes that mattered to nobody even if they existed, were blamed for voicing their opinions on the scheme, in violation of that holiest of unwritten rules of democracies according to which an opinion, if at odds with the opinion of the government, tantamounts to being anti-national. Particularly when it is regarding a scheme that was introduced “without parliamentary approval or gazette notification” and “quashed the century-old army selection process and imposed impugned Agniveer-22 scheme in the country” as a petition filed in the Supreme Court seeking a review of the scheme says.

But try telling that to the protestors. And the celebrators.

“Do you know our Prime Minister has been ranked number one in the world on calling the people fools?” said one protestor to another, while biting off a piece of the ‘laddoo’ in his hand, and looking reverentially at the message on his phone that announced this new ‘fact.’

Of course, “You fools” is not something he said. What he did say was, “Some decisions and reforms might appear temporarily unpleasant but benefit the country in the long run.”

“Shame on you for not knowing this simple fact, you overgrown morons, especially for the reforms introduced by my government,” was also not said by the PM during this speech.

Corporate leaders, some of them bidding for large government projects, have handled their responsibility with aplomb. They have come out vocally in support of the scheme and said they will hire Agniveers, how the people taken in under this scheme will be known, on priority. Apart from the priority of hiring women and people with special needs and people from low-income backgrounds and people from rural areas and many others that they have announced from time to time. One feels for them. A corporate leader’s job is never finished.

When asked, “is that a commitment?” by a reporter, they said in unison, “Read our lips. As we said, there is a large potential for employment of youth in the corporate sector. If that is not a commitment, we don’t know what is.”

Leading universities of the country have been quick to respond and have started to rebrand their programmes. The Bachelor of Arts (BA) will henceforth be called the Agniveer BA. The Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com.) will henceforth be known as the Agniveer B.Com. Agniveer B.A. (Honours) and Agniveer B.Com. (Honours) programmes are in the offing. Master’s programmes are expected to follow suit.

Corporate leaders are licking their chops gleefully at the unexpected windfall the new scheme has brought for them in the form of talent. The Agniveer talent is proven to be better than the current talent available, since it is based on a government-in-power announced scheme and not tested anywhere, even in the form of a pilot scheme. What more could a software development company want if not a young person who can handle a machine -gun? What better resource could a bank ask for if not a young person who can do a hundred push-ups while whistling the tune of “Saare Jahan se achcha?”

These skills are so useful that no established corporation appears to have made an effort to either evaluate new hires on these skills during their existing recruitment processes or upskill them during the training phase. But, how could they? Their leaders do not have the smarts of either the Prime Minister or the Defence Minister to have suddenly decided on the new, well-thought-out programme, sidestepping parliament where questions could be raised, delaying well-intentioned schemes.

On top of the government-minted Agniveers, they will have access to Agniveers from many leading universities across the country. Graduates are delighted that their degrees, that were not considered job-worthy, and forced them into an expensive and almost equally job-unworthy MBA programmes, had become hot property overnight.

With great ideas, one really cannot say how far they can go. Agniveer B.Tech. from IIT Delhi anyone? Or, an Agniveer MBA from IIM Ahmedabad?

The CAPF (Central Armed Police Forces) like the Border Security Force (BSF) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) will get the privilege of absorbing some of the 75% rejected, sorry, not absorbed in the armed forces, population of Agniveers. There will be an additional 10% quota for this group in addition to the quota they already have, since a developing, transparent, free, open, equal, merit-based, progressive, democratic society should keep building up its quotas of reservations for reasons other than economic disadvantage. Since the training required for handling civilian situations is identical to the training necessary for handling armed forces of enemy nations, the two have been kept separate all these years.

The scheme is of a transformational nature and will significantly boost the capability of the forces. Such schemes should not get bogged down in financial calculus. Hence, it is also expected to deliver savings in the form of reduced outlay for pensions of service-folks. Pensions to politicians are of course important for national security, even for truncated terms, and must, hence, continue, so that more transformational schemes can be introduced.

Chiefs of the three forces, were nowhere on the scene when the scheme was announced by bureaucrats, in an expansion of their roles, are being paraded in front of an incredulous public to sell it, a job so far done well by the National Security Advisor (NSA).

Like all schemes that meet with opposition, it appears that we have a brave PM to introduce such transformational change at the cost of political goodwill. With two colluding nuclear-armed states as adversaries and perhaps the longest unresolved borders, one hopes he is.

End Game

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has entered its third month. Though I was following the developments closely at the start, interest has since flagged. However, questions are rising.

“14 Ukrainians including a pregnant soldier have been freed in the latest prisoner exchange with Russian forces,” apparently stated by Ukrainian sources as per the newspaper I read today morning.

A few days back, and I don’t remember the name of the town now, the Russian army reached close to a town they wanted to capture and opened up a path for people to exit.

Whatever happened to the good old playbook of reckless killing and pillage, I wondered. Is this what happens in a war?

But I jump the gun.

What happens then, I wondered, when I read about the exit path for people to leave the town.

Presumably the civilians go to the next town, wait for the Russian army to reach, threaten the town and its residents, and open up a passage for exit to the next town?

Or, perhaps the evacuees do not stop at the next town and simply seek out the nearest border to exit to another country?

But what is the big game plan of the invading army?

Is it to raze all structures to the ground?

Is it to rid the landmass of its present population?

Is it to pick and choose locations to join Russia, then withdraw, and hope nothing has changed?

What is the game plan?

Concern for civilian lives is appreciated, though I wish it was for all lives. Unfortunately, this concern seems to be only a patchwork attempt at face-saving. There are daily reports of civilian lives lost, like this one today, “Moscow has turned its focus to Ukraine’s south and east after failing to capture the capital Kyiv in a nine-week assault that has flattened cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 5 million to flee abroad.”

So much for rules of war, if there are, that both armies have to abide by. But, why could these rules not be extended to a blanket ‘no armed conflict’ rule? Would that work any worse than the present rules? By the way, did the Taliban sign off on them?

And if the big idea is to bomb the agricultural fields and vacant buildings and factories without any human beings, into submission, would it not be better to earmark a desolate piece of land, and the air and space above it, as the designated ‘war zone’ instead of inflicting collateral damage on the global GDP by destroying stuff and killing people?

The battle of Kurukshetra in the epic Mahabharat holds a lesson for all of us. The great battle was fought between the Kaurav and Pandav armies on the plains of Kurukshetra, about a hundred miles from Delhi. The blind king Dhritrashtra, too old and inform to fight, could continue to live comfortably in his palace far away from the battlefield, with Sanjay giving him a running commentary on the unfolding battle.

Where can this place be? How about Siberia, since Russia is one of the antagonists in the current conflict? Or the Australian outback? What about the Sahara desert? Greenland? The Amazon rainforest? Nations that have a score to settle would need to reserve the place in advance. For a fee. Since we live in a GDP-driven world, imagine what it might do for the economy of the host nation?

The United Nations will work out a cost-sharing formula between the adversaries in advance, lest that become the reason for another conflict. Hopefully they will be better at it than at preventing and resolving conflict.

But I jump the gun. Once again.

In my early understanding of the conflict, it seemed that Russia was concerned at Ukraine’s attempts at gaining entry into NATO, as that would bring NATO warheads to its doorstep. And that it had given fair warning that such ambitions should not be entertained. Leaving alone the argument about independent nations deciding their alliances and fate themselves, one wonders what Russia would do after subsuming Ukraine (assumed since it is the much larger and much better armed adversary). Would Poland, then, not become a neighbour? Would it then dislike having a NATO member on its doorstep once again and take suitable action? Would Germany be next? Is there any satisfactory end in an armed conflict?

But that is conjecture.

What is probably fact is that Russia has sent blind soldiers to Ukraine.

The other day, the US secretary of state Antony Blinken and defence secretary Lloyd Austin crossed the road into Pushkin Park in Kyiv, wearing their sharp business suits, dodging Russian tanks, for tea with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky among the elm trees. Later the same day, President Zelensky hopped over to the Ostannya Barykada, a bar inspired by the three Ukrainian revolutions since 1990 – the Revolution on the Granite, the Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, for a drink in the evening with UN chief Antonio Guterres. Many other leaders are said to be on their way to meet him. Video calls no longer work.

Only the Russian troops don’t seem to be able to find him.

And I cannot seem to be able to find the reason for the senseless loss of life.

The Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was recently reported as saying that “progress has not been easy” even though negotiators from both sides talk every day. I can imagine. It has only been 67 days.

Still looking for the reason, I looked up the stock price performance of two of the larger arms manufacturers. And yes, there are big corporations in America that are not called Google and Tesla and Amazon and Apple and Meta.

What did I see?

Lockheed Martin went from USD 386.46 on 18th February to USD 441.71 on 28th April.

Raytheon went from USD 93.37 on 18th February to USD 98.08 on 28th April.

In the same period, the NYSE composite index went from 16392 to 16032, while the NASDAQ composite index went from 13751 to 12871, both in the opposite direction.

The war started on 24th February, 2022.

I wonder how and when it will end.

Truth Be Told

“Which word I uttered did you construe as conveying that?” The words were uttered in an even tone but the menace was palpable. If this was a comic strip, icicles would have formed around the speech bubble.

“Does that mean that you are against the Kashmiri Pandits, who have suffered so much?” was the query from a reputed reporter upholding the noblest traditions of media reporting, of asking irrelevant questions, that had elicited the response from John Abraham.

This question had been the natural outcome of Abraham’s silence on the earlier question asked by the same journo, “What do you think of Kashmir Files?”

Kashmir Files, incidentally, is the name of the commercial movie directed by a private individual that, according to some, lays bare the ‘truth’ behind the atrocities against the Pandit community by another community in Kashmir leading to a mass exodus in the eighties and nineties. The truth that the director was able to lay his hands on, that multiple governments formed by multiple political parties at the centre, could not unearth. That no enquiry commissions or judicial cases or military action could unearth in the last thirty years.

In fact, going by the reactions, it seems our political leaders had no idea about the ‘truth’ till the movie was released, as they appear to be quite effusive in praising it. I think we are in good hands. Immature leaders might have taken issue with being upstaged by a private individual with perhaps no access to government archives and records, presenting a ‘truth’ that they could not. But mature leaders take it in their stride and shower praise where it is due. On a private individual who has made a commercial movie.

Several states, it appears, have also exempted the movie from entertainment tax, in order that more people have access to the truth presented by a private individual in a commercial movie. Seemingly a better choice for entertainment tax exemption than ‘83,’ a movie about India’s unlikely victory in the World Cup of cricket in 1983, that, arguably, put India on the path to leadership in world cricket, that released around the same time.

But then, ‘83’ did not need a director to unearth truths that no government could access. The truth it presented has been known to everyone interested in cricket for 39 years. It is only a feel-good presentation of that truth. So, on second thoughts, how can one justify entertainment tax exemption for such a movie? Good it did not get it.

But I suppose I am guilty of doing to Abraham what the journo did to Attack; of ignoring him.

It was clearly the most pertinent question as the occasion was of Abraham promoting his upcoming movie Attack. He should have come prepared to answer questions about Kashmir Files. What was he thinking?

“What do you hope to achieve with Attack?”

“Will Attack be a suitable movie for families to watch together?”

“How do you keep yourself physically fit to execute the demanding action sequences in the movie?”

“What advice do you have for youngsters who come to watch your movies?”

Such questions are passe when there is an unrelated commercial movie in the ecosystem directed by a private individual that claims to lay bare the ‘truth.’ They need to be consigned to the dustbin. When you come to participate in a promotional event for the movie Attack, you must, as a journalist, ask for the producer’s views on the unrelated commercial movie. Quite simple.

And Abraham should have come prepared to answer questions about Kashmir Files whether the name of the movie he was promoting was Attack or Defence. Quite simple.

In any case, who is he trying to fool? Does he not know that there is also an interpretation for silence?

The Kashmir Files director is expected to announce the commencement of his next movie, Taiwan Files, to unearth the mystery behind Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s plane crash and disappearance in Taiwan in August 1945, followed by Tashkent Files, to unearth the mystery behind the death, apparently of cardiac arrest, of then Prime Minister Las Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent in January 1966.

The judiciary is considering keeping the execution of death sentences for heinous crimes pending till the same private individual has been able to craft a commercial movie on the case, so that there is no chance of an injustice. The trial of heinous crimes may be entirely done away with.

The possibilities boggle the mind. The common man will finally get a Bollywood commercial movie directed by a private individual to provide the answers, beyond doubt, that governments and commissions have failed to. Most importantly, the answers that he wants.

K is for…..Kings

The remarkable wit of Baldmichael Theresoluteprotector’s son…

The Tree of Life

By Baldmichael Theresoluteprotector’sson

19th March 2020

This is posting a page I did near the start of my journey into the unknown as it were, when I set up this site. I am still struggling with the Ukraine issues. It is certainly not all cut and dried and Zelelensky certainly looks dodgy to say the least.

In the meantime here is a piece that may amuse those who know something of the history of Britain.

K is for…..Kings

10th July 2020

…and queens. Well not many queens. Of England that is. The internet indicates eight who ruled, but Lady Jane Grey wasn’t crowned. And Mary of William and Mary was only crowned, along with her husband, by a bishop. So not sure that counts, strictly speaking.

Anyway, I thought I give the full list of monarchs and my alternative history, somewhat à la mode 1066. Thank you Sellars and Yeatman.

View original post 3,649 more words

Course Knowledge

“It is quite clear the government has opted to focus on the long term, instead of the short.” I decided to take the bull by the horns and fired the first shot on the par four first hole that curved left.

The ride to the course had been a study in silence, both of us perhaps lost in thought about the future of the nation, like all responsible people who have the weight of the nation’s affairs on their shoulders and not that of the state or city or locality or household.

Pat came, “You know I am concerned about manufacturing. For all that the government claims, will India be able to live up to its potential in manufacturing?” demonstrating, by starting a new line of thought, that he was in fine form as he lined up for the putt that would give him a par on the first hole.

Equally respectfully, I did not even acknowledge the concern by stating, “with frozen squids becoming cheaper, it could well be the inflection point our fishing industry has searched for in vain in a vegetarian nation,” as soon as I had teed off on the par three second, landing just beyond the green on the right.

“With X-ray machines becoming dearer, could we be deferring the cost of curing a sick nation down to future generations? After all, many people may not be able to go in for a more expensive diagnostic X-ray which could lead to incorrect diagnosis and wrong treatment. For that matter umbrellas are becoming costlier. Does it not mean more people getting wet and falling ill?” The concern was writ large on his face as he walked down the fairway on a glorious February day to hit his approach shot. We were already on the fourth. Time flies when one is having fun.

“Let us take cryptocurrencies,” I began, without any preamble to clarify why one should take them or where one should take them. “Since the government has had no role in their creation and trading and the profit and losses arising from them, it is such a great idea to tax the income from any virtual digital asset. This looks like the shortest path to Amrit Kaal,” I said, mentally patting myself for remembering to throw in the great new era recently invented by the government, over and above the sacred texts, as I teed up for a drive on the next hole, which was the stroke index one hole of the course.

It gave our deep conversation a new twist. He was well prepared as he did not react and added, just as we were sitting down for a quick snack before proceeding to the back nine, “Gatishakti can be such a gamechanger. Like so many initiatives in so many years past that could have been such gamechangers.” In fact, I realized with some shame, that his preparation extended to years past as well, as he had alluded to them with such conviction and fact.

I could only offer, “I wonder why nobody thought of Parvatmala earlier? I mean yes, plans have been made around developing ropeways in the hilly regions, but why is it that it had to be left to this government to call it Parvatmala, mountain garland if we translate it literally. One can only conclude that since they could not call it Parvatmala, the earlier governments had no intention of developing ropeways in the hilly regions.”

“With services activity slowing down, would it not be important for normalcy to return before needless consumption can improve?” It was said with a distant look in his eyes. He had, obviously, seen his ball lose momentum, veer off track and drop into the bunker while trying to climb up to the green.

“If the government is serious about balancing its books, it has to watch out for the pension figure, which is slowly creeping up and is now almost 4%,” I countered, not his point, as usual, but just countered. Anyone has a problem with that?

“What about the real estate sector I say? We are all customers of the sector with our little properties here and there. They seem to have been left in the lurch, to make do as last year. How unfair on part of the government. No needless policy change. No nothing.” He was getting excited and seemed to be warming up to the discussion. So much so that while my attention was on searching for my tee on the seventeenth, he added, “What about the common man? He does not deserve to be ignored. He is not a nobody. Why did they not change the income tax slabs and then change them back next year if no change was needed?”

I had recovered my tee, as well as my senses, but I had run out of answers. I clutched at straws which, in India, are either cricket or Bollywood. I said, “Taapsee and Tahir’s Loop Lapeta has been leaked online. It is distressing to know that some people don’t seem to have any scruples.”

It was obvious he had heard it as, like my earlier observations, he completely ignored it, and said, “Like all past years, at least 6 million jobs are being created. In 75 years, 450 million jobs must have been created as every government every year has been creating them. What is a government to do if people cannot stick to jobs? I think we should encourage population growth, else we will have to import people for these jobs.”

I heaved a sigh of relief as we both parred the par five eighteenth and packed our bags and readied to leave. It had been a competitive round and we had ended up even. I mean in the game. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. This being a two-ball affair, came to an end all too quickly.

The last two days had been tumultuous, as they are every year at this time. You may be able to run, just maybe, but you surely cannot hide. That is the territory that comes with having made it through to a much sought-after business school, even though it was around the Palaeolithic Age. The attending of the business school, not the Palaeolithic Age itself. And if you have worked for a big bank for many years after that, forget running too. People just seem to crawl out of the woodworks and keep making doggy eyes or popping the deep question “Well?” at you. Some are more brazen. They will even directly ask, “So, do you think the infrastructure investment spending of the government will have the desired results?” or “Is the time right for the introduction of a digital currency?” These are important questions that they must know the answers to, since they will all vote in the upcoming elections based on either their caste or religion.

I could see that my partner, a classmate at business school and later a colleague at the big bank, had gone through the same turmoil. His face now bore an easy smile against a grim look and tightly pursed lips at the start.

To be fair to the occasion and its organisers, the moment was not a surprise. The date is always known in advance. Every year. To be fair to me, I have my schedule mapped out for the day for many years. I always spend the day in going over the event and understanding its ramifications that I am always unable to. I was happy to know that my friend and playing partner had been doing the same.

It is an important occasion. Especially since these decisions and announcements can be made on any other day of the year as well.

We had risen to the occasion is all I can say. We had sparred with each other over four hours and successfully failed to understand and respond to not a single statement made by the other pertaining to the Indian Union Budget 2022 announced earlier in the week.

We headed back warm in the thought that the nation, as well as the two of us, were now well prepared for the challenges the world was likely to throw up, including people making doggy eyes or popping the deep question “Well?” at you. Even for the more brazen ones.

The time has come

Life imitates art.

And governments imitate private corporations.

Now light years ago, I started working life as a Management Trainee at a global, UK-headquartered bank in Mumbai, a bright eyed and bushy tailed graduate from the Well Know Institute of Management in Western India, or WIMWI, as referred to in case studies. Upon getting the first role with responsibility, after an initial training period, a Management Trainee became an Assistant Manager. In due course, and with some good performance evaluations, one could become a Manager, and thereafter, a Senior Manager. The world beyond a Senior Manager was too far and too dim to worry about at that stage.

Management trainees joining the big American banks of those days, went from Assistant Manager to Manager, then to an Assistant Vice President followed by Vice President. Perhaps there too, the world beyond Vice President was too far and too dim to think about.

As realisation of this unfairness dawned, the bunch of Management Trainees in our bank were up in arms, to the extent well-paid and well-fed youngsters can be up in arms against a desirable to work for corporation. This ‘upping in arms’ was usually a whisper in the ear of the boss after a monthly report had shown signs of an improvement in performance, or as a joke with the HR Manager when he was sufficiently drunk.

I cannot be sure about the other participants in this ‘upping in arms,’ but I don’t think we were very serious about it, nor did we ever believe that it would happen.

If ever a war was won without a shot being fired, this was it. A few months later the bank had adopted the structure of AVP and VP after a Manager. It was a heady feeling. Not a paisa increased in our salary. Not a single benefit changed. Even the dark abyss beyond Senior Manager, which everyone secretly hoped to reach fast as that is where the serious money apparently started, got pushed back further away by a step. It was a victory that we savoured for many months.

Many years later I came to know that my WIMWI classmates who had joined American banks were fighting for a Senior Manager designation that they did not have. But it was after a few drinks. I cannot be certain.

It was our secret. It was our victory. Though I departed for other pastures after some years, friendships formed in the first job endured. At a recent meeting with some people from the bank, I learned that management trainees can now go all the way to Senior Assistant Certified Business Corporate Vice President, though it might take 86 years. I was glad to know that youngsters have so much to look forward to even before they reached the point of serious money.

I was reminded of this history when I read the headline in today’s newspaper that screamed “Indian Railways redesignates post of ‘Guard’ as ‘Train Manager’ with immediate effect.”

I looked up from the newspaper, refocused my gaze, and read it again. To my amazement, the headline had not changed. Indian Railways, India’s largest employer, and that counts for something, clarified that the move, being demanded for some time, would result in a “dignified designation for them without any financial implication, so that, they can also lead a respectful life in the society.”

Further, it seems that “The demand was raised as the designation ‘Train guard’ had become outdated and in society people commonly draw reference that he/she may be a guard in some private firm etc..”

Clearly, all those who answer to the designation of a ‘guard’ in some ‘private firm etc,’ belong to a species that deserves our contempt and scorn. Thank you, Government of India, and thank you, Indian Railways, for making that clear.

I was overcome with emotion, thinking about the thousands of people designated as ‘guards’ toiling away at their jobs who would now be able to lead a life of dignity toiling away at the same job for the same pay under the same working conditions.

And that is not all. “An assistant guard will now be called assistant passenger train manager, and the goods guard will be called goods train manager. Senior goods guard has been re-designated as senior goods train manager, senior passenger guard is now senior passenger train manager.” Trust the government to go the whole hog.

“Manager, huh,” I said to myself, looked away from the newspaper and wondered how much time would be allowed to pass by the government before making the move to the vice president structure.

There were questions on my mind as I have a train journey coming up soon. During past train journeys I have met various people working for the Indian Railways, such as the people who keep the cabin clean, those who serve refreshments and the obvious ticket checker, but never the erstwhile ‘guard.’ I was left wondering if the person serving the refreshment would take umbrage if I called him ‘bhaiya’ (brother in Hindi) which has historically been acceptable in all situations, or would I be better off addressing him as “Assistant Manager In-cabin Passenger Nourishment?”

It is another matter that the opportunity of meeting the ‘Train guard’ has been taken out of my hands, for no fault of mine.

Word gets around. One man’s meat is another’s poison.

The lady who works in our house is on leave today. Her phone is switched off. My wife is wringing her hands. We can anticipate the issue. For once she believes I am better placed to solve the problem, with my long years in large corporations. Our neighbours seem to be faced with a similar situation. Another chapter is about to be written in the struggle for the development and recognition of the disadvantaged, that has gone from servant to maid to house-help over decades, with no change in duties or benefits. Clearly it will no longer be enough. The time has come for a new name to be called by.

The residents’ society has called an emergency meeting to decide upon the new designations for the help. I did not know this, but the email also said that the society guards are not at their stations and are engaged in a heated discussion in a corner of the society and words like ‘Director,’ ‘Manager,’ ‘Founder’, ‘Evangelist’ have been heard issuing from that direction.

Uncertain times seem to lie ahead.

Your suggestions on possible designations will go a long way in enabling more people to live a life of dignity.

Did someone say, “What’s in a name?”