Season of Surprise

‘Tis the season to be merry?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But ‘tis certainly looking like the season to be surprised.

Once again.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has set the ball rolling by predicting that large parts of the country will reel under temperatures higher than normal and that the seasonal average temperature is set to be higher than normal by over 1 degree Celsius.

We are surprised.

After years of rapid development, with millions of fossil fuel burning cars added to the roads, agricultural and forest lands being consumed to build wider and wider roads in an effort to get those cars moving and so that the common man feels like he is living anywhere but in India, building shiny new energy-guzzling highrises, putting many water bodies out of the misery of their daily struggle for survival, transporting food and water from greater and greater distances, we are surprised.

We are surprised that this is happening again. Because it had happened just last year in the summer, which was one of the hottest recorded in recent memory. And the previous year in the summer. And the previous year again.

Despite doing nothing to prevent a recurrence, it is recurring. Isn’t it surprising?

It is a surprise that summer is coming back at all. With its many surprises.

We will be surprised to see peak load requirement going up in the summer as more and more people switch on their air-conditioners.

We will be surprised to experience frequent failures in the grid-supplied power as the grid buckles under peak-load demand.

We will be surprised when residential societies as well as commercial developments switch on their diesel-powered generation sets and produce their own power to offset the grid failures. We will also be surprised that noxious fumes emitted by these generators will add to the pollution woes of the city.

We will be surprised when, despite uncontrolled drawing of ground water for industrial and other uses, the water table plunges further.

We were expecting November-like bracing conditions to prevail through most of May and June, but looks like IMD had other ideas. If putting out realistic and reasonable facts and figures is all it can do, does a rapidly developing nation like ours really need an IMD? But that is for our political leaders to answer. Let us enjoy the beauty of life while we can. With its ability to throw up surprises every day and every minute.

Summer will be followed by monsoon. Yet another surprise. Seriously, did anyone know about this?

Come monsoon and we will be surprised to realise that water can flow from higher to lower level of ground. And that constructing in its path without adequate assessment of capacity will lead to impeding the flow of water and cause water-logging.

We will be surprised to know that open ground absorbs rainwater much faster than land that has been constructed over. As a corollary, we will be surprised to realise that slower absorption of rainwater leads to a slower recharging of groundwater resources.

We will be surprised to know that that poor quality material used in building of roads leads to the surface being washed away leaving gaping holes for traffic to navigate. We will be equally surprised to understand that gaping holes in the road surface and water-logging on roads leaves only narrow usable channels for traffic on otherwise wide roads, which leads to massive traffic jams with people leaving office at 6 PM reaching home 15 km away at 5 AM the next morning.

We will be surprised to realise that rainfall does not have a mechanism through which it can stay away from areas prone to water-logging and poor drainage.

We will be surprised to know that random dumping of waste and stagnant water is a toxic combination that leads to breeding of mosquitoes, among other vectors, that leads to the spread of malaria, chikangunya, dengue and other diseases. As a corollary, we are even more surprised to learn that preventing collection of stagnant water and keeping our surroundings clean can prevent vector-borne diseases to a great degree.

It is a surprise that these are happening again. Because they had happened just last year during the monsoon. And the previous year in the monsoon. And the previous year again. Despite doing nothing to prevent a recurrence, they are recurring. Isn’t it surprising?

The beauty of life. Knowledge and learning at every step. The faster one is able to forget past learnings, the more one will keep learning. As long as one is open-minded. And not repeatedly asking “why is this not fixed?” or “who is responsible for this mess?”

And if that is not enough of surprises, winter, which just about got over, will come back. Did you know that?

We will be surprised that the cold winter air, with all noxious fumes and other pollutants emitted into it, will hang low and not get dissipated as easily as in the non-winter months, when it blows the pollutants away to unsuspecting people in other geographies.

We will be surprised that respiratory issues will abound in the winter months and that the masks people wear are not a natural adaptation of the human species to environmental stimuli.

We will be surprised that the days are short and nights long.

We will be surprised that it gets cold.

It is a surprise that these are happening again. Because they had happened just last year in the winter. And the previous year in the winter. And the previous year again. Despite doing nothing to prevent a recurrence, they are recurring. Isn’t it surprising?

And then, surprise of surprises, maybe even a shock, summer will be back. Who could have predicted that?



You Can

“A horse a horse, my kingdom for a horse,” spake King Richard in Shakespeare’s Richard III.

In a slight twist to the Shakespearean phrase, we say A can a can. A can for my car. A Swachh can for my Hyundai Accent car.”

Hyundai Motors, a leading car maker in India, has boldly gone where no car has gone before. It has done the unthinkable. It has introduced a Swachh can inside its cars.

Not a bag. Not an envelope. A can.

I am sure my erudite readers understand what a can is. But a Swachh can?

My erudite readers, a Swachh can is also a can. In this particular case it is the size of a Venti Latte takeaway coffee cup of Starbucks. Or an ice-cream cone with a slightly upsized mound of ice-cream.

And Swachh? Swachh means clean. Swachh Bharat, or Clean India, is the call given by the present PM to keep the country clean, which is why our countrymen did not keep the country clean before the call. They were waiting for the call I believe. Now they are waiting for something else. We will find out as soon as that call gets given.

They, Hyundai Motors, have splashed advertisements in all prominent media to ensure no person is denied this pleasure. And roped in Shahrukh Khan, the leading star of Hindi movies for almost two decades, and their brand ambassador for perhaps as long. Of having a Swachh can in his car.

swachh can

But if Hyundai wants to place a can in its cars, why should we care? It is a free country after all. They are free to place a can, a flower-pot, or a steering wheel, in their cars. They have to figure out the commercial model of their decision and ensure it is legal.

We care because we are sensitive and caring human beings. We care because we believe Hyundai’s hand has been forced. By the draconian Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) law. The company has admitted that it is using its Corporate Social responsibility (CSR) funds for this initiative.

The CSR law, as some might already know, mandates for-profit corporations of a certain size, to spend 2% of the average net profits of the last three years, on CSR activities.

In order that the law is transparent and fair, the government has sharply identified what qualifies as a CSR activity by only recommending particular areas of need, including eradicating hunger and poverty, maternal and child health, HIV, TB and malaria, promoting gender equality and environmental sustainability. Companies can develop their own investment strategies and decide where to invest as long as it is approved by their Board which has one independent director who is paid by the company. To make the law even more clear, it also does not define an enforcement mechanism or penalties for non-compliance.

The Swachh can ticks off all boxes.

The CSR law, apparently, has been brought in because it is believed that for-profit corporations are best suited to carry out CSR activities since welfare of society is neither their primary, or secondary, or tertiary objectives or any part of their reasons for existence.

And since one of the primary responsibilities of a government is understood to be to determine high-priority needs of society and target public expenditure in these areas, what better way to discharge it than to abdicate the responsibility to for-profit organisations. After all, since corporations exist, why should the government do any work beyond making vague and misleading laws? We all know how difficult that itself is, don’t we?

Instead of managing a billion people many of whom are poor and expect the government to actually work for improving their lot, why not just manage a few thousand business corporations who will make the process of governance easier by contributing handsomely to politicians and political parties for these rights and laws.

Governments and politicians are happy because they will have even lesser work to do and can make good use of their time by making baseless accusations at other politicians for questioning this law.

Corporations are happy because what was required as an essential part of the success of their business and anyway being done, now can be quantified in Rupee terms and showcased as their selfless contribution to society.

A billion people are happy because they believe a huge amount is being spent on them and not on for-profit corporations making money for themselves, and their gradual decline into greater misery is either not visible or on account of their own incapability, and not for lack of government and for-profit corporation support.

Armed with the CSR law, for-profit corporations are boldly going where they been many times before.

Like a hydrocarbon extraction company who has decided to use the CSR funds for training displaced independent, proud farmers to handle jobs as drivers, security guards and pantry boys in their offices.  Which they were doing even before the CSR law was introduced.

Like a soft drink manufacturer who is using its CSR resources to recharge ground water supplies in the areas they produce their drinks. Which they were doing even before the CSR law was introduced.

Like Hyundai Motors putting Swachh cans inside cars.

No wonder cars were not clean. No wonder roads were not clean. There was no Swachh can inside the car.

Now, as soon as there is trash inside the car, what will you do? You will open the lid of the Swachh can and poof. The offending trash will vanish inside the can. And, as soon as the can is full, what will you do? You will open the lid of the can and poof. The offending trash will vanish on the road.

It was the absence of the can that kept our roads dirty. Not the absence of a mindset that allows us to respect others and the space of others.

Pressed for answers on the genesis of this CSR initiative, Hyundai Motors says they have done it because in a survey 98% of respondents have said that they deeply care about cleanliness of outside infrastructure such as streets and roads. Respondents were given two choices, as below:

Q. Cleanliness of outside infrastructure such as streets and roads is a big issue in India. Which of the following statements describes you best?

  • ˆI care about it
  • ˆI don’t care about it

And 95% of respondents said they favoured a portable covered bin inside the car in which waste items could be conveniently disposed off. Again, respondents were given two choices, as below:

Q. For conveniently disposing off trash inside the car, would you

  • ˆPut the trash in a portable covered bin inside the car
  • ˆThrow the trash outside the window

Since people told us, we have invented from scratch and given you the Swachh can.

And a plastic one too, by the looks of it.

Boyed by the resounding success of the CSR initiative as it seems to have changed nothing, and since 30% of their profits paid by for-profit corporations to the government as taxes cannot be used for governance since there are other important uses for that money, the government is considering enactment of laws to get for-profit corporations to spend 2% of their average annual net profit over the last three years to ensure that crimes against women are eliminated, and penalise them if they are not.

Why did we not think of this before? Everything the government could not do now seems possible.

Padmavati to be released as Jill and Jack

“Jill and Jack.”

There was a hushed silence. People in the audience looked at each other. They were used to outlandish statements by Bollywood film folks, but this one took even them, hardened film scribes, by surprise.

“Jill and Jack”, the veteran film-maker repeated, in a louder voice, to make sure everyone heard it clearly, lest another fringe group decides to save the country’s honour laid low by film folks not speaking clearly. “Yes, that is the name we have now settled on for our movie that is based on a work of fiction of a noted Indian Sufi poet of the fourteenth century, which will be released this week in theatres across the country. It has been chosen after careful thought, since works of fiction, and movies based on them, are bound to tarnish the reputation of historical figures whose veracity has not been established, and bring shame upon our rich culture of tolerance and plurality.”

The veteran film-maker had been here before. He could sense that it was all getting a bit confusing for the gathered scribes. He decided to elaborate.

“You know that ‘not on my watch’ was the verdict of four states ruled by one particular political party, who, despite clearance by the highest court of the country, banned this movie for fear of a widespread public outcry since only a handful of fringe groups had raised the outcry for banning the movie. These states were also concerned that a widespread law and order situation would have arisen. And this was despite taking the last letter, the letter ‘i’, out, and changing the name of the movie to Padmavat, from Padmavati originally.”

The gathered media persons were only too aware of the situation. They were proud participants in the democratic traditions of the country where fringe interest groups protected the country’s rich culture and traditions on behalf of a billion who did not give a second thought to them. These groups had such a great influence on the hearts and minds not only of their members, but also of the common man, that if they gave the cry for boycotting a certain movie, nobody would heed it. As such, per highest traditions of democracy and civil society, the only logical way out was to resort to threats of physical violence on behalf of all the people who did not pay heed to their cry, as it was for their own good.

“You have witnessed the agitation that gradually spread across other states, as we kept dropping letters from the name, first dropping the “t” from Padmavat to make it Padmava and then dropping even the “a” to make it Padmav. We kept dropping letters like items of clothing worn by a screen vamp while seducing the hero in a seventies Bollywood movie, and fringe groups, working for protecting the rich culture of our country since time immemorial, kept taking birth like the hundred Kauravs born to Gandhari. These name changes stoked the embers of not only cultural, but also literary fires buried deep inside the hearts of fringe groups unilaterally representing the entire nation. We were blamed for distorting and misrepresenting not only the rich culture, but also the richness of the Hindi language as no words like Padmava or Padmav existed in the language.”

Gathered media persons were riveted. They did not realise that such a logical thought process had been followed behind the naming of this movie.

“Now, we are a reasonable set of people, as you are well aware, especially when commercial interests are at stake. Taking a cue from the fringe elements claiming to represent the entire nation, we dropped one more letter and changed the name to Padma.  Now, as you all know, Padma is a synonym for Lotus. It is also a popular name for females. As you all also know, Lotus is India’s national flower. And as you probably also know, Lotus is the symbol of the party currently in power at the Centre. While I consider myself to be brave in the face of adversity, suicidal is not a trait I associate with myself. Having already upset the cultural and literary fringe groups unilaterally protecting our heritage, could I afford to distance even the political establishment and the female population? Hence, without waiting for a new fringe group to take birth claiming to protect our rich culture from time immemorial, we took suo moto action and changed the name to Padm, in effect dropping the anglified “a” at the end, as many Hindi speakers call the Lotus Padm and not Padma. Like Ram and not Rama.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

“But superficial actions can only take you so far. And people cannot be fooled easily, as we realised to our anguish, especially the fringe elements who claim fiction and mythology to be the rich history of this land. Unfortunately the meaning of the word did not change from Padma to Padm. It stayed as Lotus. So we made it Pad. “Guess what? The movie Padman, which was scheduled to release on the same day as the now-rechristened Pad, took objection to the move and blocked its release. Left with no other option, the name of the movie was soon changed to Pa and soon thereafter to P. I sometimes marvel at the federal setup of the country. Did we need so many states? Every time we dropped a letter 4 new states stood up and banned the movie. This could not go on forever. Fortunately we started with 8 letters when we started dropping letters with Padmavat.“

Normally a boisterous lot, the audience of film scribes did not even have a question to ask.

“But objections kept coming. Having come so far we could not turn back at this stage. Being a fan of the musician Prince in my younger days, I found the inspiration to change the name to “”. Yes, that is correct. The movie without a name. As my idol Prince had once done by changing his name to a symbol followed by the tagline, ‘the artist formerly known as Prince’.

But it wasn’t so easy for us. What would we use as a tagline?

The movie formerly known as Padmavati?

Or, the movie formerly known as Padmavat?

Or, the movie formerly known as Padmava?

Or, the movie formerly known as Padmav?

Or, the movie formerly known as Padma?

Or, the movie formerly known as Padm?

Or, the movie formerly known as Pad?

Or, the movie formerly known as Pa?

Or, the movie formerly known as P?

We were forced to look beyond the obvious. That is when we discovered the rich world of fables and stories and myths outside India. That is when we settled on Jill and Jack. I have to say it was a tough choice. When the other names in contention are Alexander, Pocahontas, Shakespeare and Aristotle, a choice is never easy.”

The audience seemed to come to. A senior reported asked, “With the new name, will the film be able to overcome objections from these fringe groups?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. As the objections were raised on the basis of imagination of what the film might contain, without it having been viewed, it remains to be seen. I cannot say how creative the imagination of these groups might be and what they might imagine to be portrayed in the film without having seen it. But the good thing is that so far Bollywood films have remained confined to the actions of fringe groups operating within the country. It is our desire to take the culture overseas and be banned by overseas interest groups. So far no Indian movie, to the best of my knowledge, has been banned overseas, especially in a western society that upholds the rule of law and democratic traditions, like India does. With Jill and Jack, we expect the overseas market to open up and establish a global market for the banning of Bollywood movies.”

“Surely you meant the name to be Jack and Jill, and not Jill and Jack,” another scribe found his voice and asked.

The film-maker was silent for a few moments. Then he said, “I am not sure how to put it in an inoffensive way. You see, it appears that some of the western audiences are not as culturally sensitive to the erosion of their historical and cultural legacy through fictional books and movies as we are. A name like Jack and Jill might not get much attention. Hence, it was necessary to tamper with the name to ensure that the movie gets the full opportunity of being banned overseas.”

The audience stood up as one and applauded the film-maker’s farsightedness.

Big Brother

Unbeknownst to many, a primary school teacher recently filed a petition for “one nation, one education board” to, apparently, end disparity in knowledge dissemination during the formative years of a child. According to the senior advocates representing her, “the current education system under multiple boards did not provide equal opportunity to all, as enshrined under Article 21A of the Constitution. Otherwise, the chasm between rich and poor, reign of terror, events of looting and crimes against women that have taken the form of open threats will continue.”

By drawing a lucid, coherent, logical denouement in the form of the last sentence above, which, as is clear to everyone reading this, arises because of  multiple education boards, these senior advocates have presented an open and shut case to the judiciary.

In 2011, a bench of the Supreme Court had apparently ruled that a common syllabus between the ages of 6 and 14 would help achieve a code of common culture. “Code of common culture”, a transparent and lucid phrase that everyone knows the meaning of. Separate education facilities and syllabi, it is to be understood, are the root cause of inequality in the world.

This petition has galvanised the moribund fight for equality being waged by a few crusaders in a world where people are making choices. Even, horror of horrors, choosing schools and education boards.

Supporters of the petition have encouraged the petitioner to expand its scope and include the provision of equal marks in all subjects for all children. It is a matter of shame that more than seventy years after independence, children continue to get marked on the basis of performance. “Is this the equality that our founding fathers lived and died for?”, has been the rallying cry for supporters of equality.

When a good thing gets rolling, under the weight of its goodness it acquires a momentum that becomes impossible to stop. Committed people, often unsung, will not stop till the job is fully done.  Another group of educators has petitioned that in order that there is no discrimination after passing out from school, all children will get direct entry into college, whether they want it or not.

Different colleges, different courses, different universities, different professors, different teaching and marking styles. Is this equal opportunity? “Is this the equality that our founding fathers lived and died for?”, more people have asked. A petition has been moved to abolish the University Grants Commission (UGC), the apex body responsible for governing institutions of higher learning. All universities will become one university and one college teaching one course in order to eliminate discrimination between students studying in different colleges and universities and promote equal opportunity. Who gave universities and colleges the right to decide their curriculum and agenda? Is it equality? Such antiquated notions. Embarrassing to even read about them now.

And that is not all. Only one teacher will be appointed for teaching. Different teachers could vitiate the environment of equality by giving their students learning based on their own capability and knowledge and commitment. And, of course, everyone will get the same score on every subject they have taken, which, of course, will be the same for everyone.

Of course, no pun intended, the other issue of quality of education will automatically get resolved. With the desirable goal of equality for all, with a single course in a single institution taught by a single teacher, it will obviously be the best programme with none other coming even close. Or even existing. Educational nirvana! It will cease to matter what course they are studying. Or whether they are studying anything as long as everyone is studying nothing in the same way at the same school by the same teacher.

But life does not end with education and learning. Our petitioners know that. They have expeienced life. That is how they have become petitioners. Some may even say that life begins after education.

In order that we abide by the principles of equality for all, it has been petitioned that all bright students who have completed their college education with great results (which means all students) will be employed by the same organisation for the same job. All companies will have the same name and same business and will be allowed to make or lose the same amount of money. No longer will graduates need to strive for better jobs and more money. No longer will some go without jobs. No longer the tyranny of soul-searching to identify their passion and interest for them. Should I become a doctor or an engineer? Should I join the Navy or the Air Force? Should I pursue my passion in music or painting? Over. Finito!

And they will get exactly the same pay. For doing exactly the same thing. Or exactly the same nothing. And they will all wake up at the same time. And dress in the same way. And go to work in the same manner. And eat the same food. And get the same entertainment. And the same vacation. And the same bed and mattress to sleep on. And the same kind of dwelling. And the same transportation machinery.

In order that different genes don’t start acting up and interfering with equal opportunity, a petition has been moved to ban the natural cycles of procreation. In order to promote equality, one set of parents will procreate for the entire population. Again and again and again. Children will then be distributed to all. However, as differences in upbringing could vitiate the environment of equality, these children will not be given but brought up in a common facility.

And since so many children will need people to manage them, and since each person managing them might have a personality that could rub off on the children, they will be replaced by robots. 

Equal marks to all, a common university with identical programmes and one single teacher for everyone, providing the same job with equal pay for all, procreating for all; who can do all this?

Who else but Big Brother?

We cannot trust parents to bring up their children. We cannot trust teachers to teach. We cannot trust education boards to provide education. We cannot trust businesses to provide employment. We cannot trust ourselves to take decisions for ourselves. Who can we trust?

Who else but Big Brother?  

In fact, as we have seen done in the past in some societies, the word “choice”, and its many variants like “want”, “desire”, etc., which have been found responsible for many of the ills plaguing society, will be removed from the vocabulary of all languages known in the country. Nip the problem in the bud for a just and fair, and equal, society, they say. Long live this tribe of petitioners.

Unfortunately, a 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, has rained on the petitioner parade and dismissed the petition and nipped in the bud the move towards equality.



Poster Boy


The crisp newspaper I was holding in my hand drooped, as if in response to the brute force of an invisible mushroom cloud emanating from the calmly spoken, but nuclear-powered word.

It had started calmly enough. Leafing through the newspaper I had chanced upon an ad for Padmavati, the latest Bollywood release. As the movie only claims to be “based” upon historical events, its release is being objected to by a section of the population claiming that it presents a distorted version of history. Nobody else would have guessed that its presentation is not an accurate representation of history. And, since it is a private, commercial movie, that never claimed to be an accurate representation of a period in history that is, at best, fuzzy and vague, it needs to be violently objected to as not doing so would tantamount to not upholding the honour of the nation.

BBEI9kb I was showing the ad to my wife to suggest that we catch it over the weekend, afraid that if we miss this one we would have to wait for another week (since new movies are released only on Fridays) to see a Bollywood movie that was being violently objected to by a section of the population in order to defend the honour of the nation.

One glance at the ad and the verdict had been announced by my wife. In one word.

B-b-but why do you say that?, I asked tremulously, not willing to give up so easily.

Can’t you see it? Or, rather, can you not see what is missing?

Never having developed the ability to see what was not there, I looked around helplessly.

Look more closely.

Since the ad mainly consisted of close-ups of Deepika Padukone, the lead actress who was playing the title role of Padmavati, I looked more closely.

You still don’t see what is not there, don’t you?

I nodded helplessly. That faculty had still not developed.

Tell me, where is the picture of our Prime Minister (PM), Mr. Modi in this ad?

There is only so much a man can take. Why should there be a picture of the PM in an ad for a Bollywood movie? Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? If he starts working in the movies, who will go around coining slogans for our development?

Knowing who I was up against, I had the good sense to not voice these words. But my face probably gave me away.

She got up quietly, went to the cabinet where the old newspapers were stacked and returned with a sheaf of them.

She casually opened up one of them and thrust it in front of me. There was an ad in front of my eyes.


I looked up at her.

What does this ad tell you?

Beyond telling me that the more money I spend the more I will save, ads have never really told me anything. This one was no different. It told me nothing. I merely stared blankly at it.

You will probably want to tell me that the back-breaking work of connecting the remote parts of the country and enable digitisation has been done by thousands, perhaps millions of lowly-paid workers and hundreds of dedicated engineers, toiling in hostile conditions.

Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? You may even wish to ask if he is an engineer or a worker.

Isn’t it clear from this ad where the credit belongs? Isn’t it clear who is responsible for achieving success in connecting the remote areas? Do you see the picture of any engineer or worker in this ad? But the PM’s picture is there, isn’t it?

It was an open and shut case as far as she was concerned, but seeing the still slightly hostile look on my face, she flung another half-opened old newspaper towards me. As if by magic, the old newspaper, while in flight, opened up to another ad when it landed in front of me.



Knowing you, you will perhaps argue that the rapid strides in medical facilities, eradication of killer diseases across the length and breadth of the nation has been done by doctors spending the prime of their lives in studying and understanding medicine, and then committing themselves, alongwith health and social workers, to improving the lives of millions of poor people across the country.

Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? You may even wish to ask if he is a doctor or a nurse.

Isn’t it clear from this ad where the credit belongs? Isn’t it clear who is responsible for the success of prevention and control of diabetes, and many other diseases? Apart from the model, do you see the picture of any doctor or nurse in this ad?

Though still unable to see what was not there, I was decidedly getting the drift, as I often do when my wife gives it to me. The drift that is. But she was not done with me. Not just yet. She picked  up another old newspaper and opened it right under my nose.

Again there was an ad in front of my eyes.


You will surely try to tell me that the reduction in GST rates for leather exports is the result of the hard work and research done by traders and producers in the industry who got together to put up a rational and logical case for the reduction of GST being in the best interest of the country leading to its reduction.

Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? You may even wish to ask if he is a leather trader or exporter.

Isn’t it clear from this ad where the credit belongs? Isn’t it clear who is responsible for the industry achieving success in reducing GST rates? Isn’t it clear that the PM, out of the goodness of his heart, has decided to shower this munificence on the leather export industry at this time, for the good of the nation of course. Do you see the picture of any hardworking leather producer or trader in this ad?

I was speechless. As usual.

Are you now convinced?

I am a reasonable man. Faced with a wife with an opinion in direct conflict with mine, and a bundle of old newspapers still unflung, I became thoroughly convinced.

Tell me, if the makers of a Bollywood movie do not have the self-respect to include a prominent picture of the PM in their ads without him having any role in it, what kind of a movie do you think it will be?


Every Breath You Take

It was too good to be true.

I stepped out onto my balcony and opened my lungs. I could finally breathe.

The air quality had improved.

Future generations, coming after we have fully developed our society, may find it hard to believe. But it was true for us. The air quality improved and finally became very poor. From unfit for human consumption just a day earlier.

It came like a breath of fresh air. Or at least like a breath of very poor quality fresh air.

I breathed deeply. I was afraid it may not last and wanted to drink enough to last me till the next opportunity. Who knows how many of us would live to see the next occurrence.

And, like all good things, or at least very poor quality good things, it vanished almost as soon as it had come.

The Indian Meteorological Department has blamed the once-again unfit for human consumption air to the stagnant air that was a result of a depression in the Bay of Bengal that normally results in gale-force winds. The stagnant air apparently led to the particulate matter hanging in the air above us not being blown away to hang in the air above people in other locations, and be replaced by other particulate matter hanging in the air above people in other locations blown in to hang in the air above us.

As episodes of the depression in the Bay of Bengal and stagnant air happen several times every year, we did not expect it to happen and enervate the atmospheric conditions in Gurgaon. We would not have known in the monsoon season that preceded winter, that winter conditions will set-in in October and create challenges of atmospheric pollution because they have been happening every year and getting worse year after year. And if we did not know in monsoon that winter conditions will set-in in October and create challenges of atmospheric pollution, how could we have known it in the summer months which come even before the monsoon months. Every year. And we know that one can only try to manage something that one knows, or at least knows of.

Senior leaders have expressed surprise at the presence of the Bay of Bengal in the Bay of Bengal and believe it is a conspiracy hatched by the previous government. Despite them ruling the country for a good part of the post-independence period, the Bay of Bengal is still in the Bay of Bengal, they indignantly say. Expect a global tender to be floated to move the Bay of Bengal from its current position in the east of the South Indian peninsula, they have announced, in an oblique reference to the soon-to-be-granted mining and exploration rights that are highly regarded for their unique ability to convert any environment to an utter wasteland.

But tackling pollution is not something that can be left to the central government alone. Stepping up to the plate, despite being constrained by not knowing that winter will set-in in winter and bring with it challenges of atmospheric pollution, the municipal authorities in Gurgaon have announced a slew of measures, mainly the building of several under and over passes under and over existing roads to make sure more vehicles can ply on the same ground surface area. In fact, the good work begun by them several years back, like that of cutting down hundreds of mature trees on the road leading from HUDA City Centre Metro Station to Signature Towers, on which our housing society lies, to make it possible for an underpass to be built so that more vehicles can travel on the road, is beginning to bear fruit. The spanking new underpass is now operational, blowing clean dust and clean exhaust fumes from fast moving vehicles, and not stale dust and stale exhaust fumes from idling vehicles before the underpass opened, directly onto our building in greater quantities than ever before, helping me realise my closely guarded Hollywood fantasies. I sometimes picture myself as Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” hanging outside Burj Khalifa in Dubai like Spiderman, right in the path of an approaching, freshly-brewed sandstorm.

Giant air purifiers that were installed with great fanfare at busy intersections during last year’s handling of the annual crisis, and were the greatest invention since sliced bread, were such a resounding success that nothing has been heard about them ever since. Or perhaps the new under and over passes to accommodate more concurrent vehicles ate up their space as well. Does it matter? After all, only taxpayer money was spent. To become Revenue on someone’s Income statement.

The forested Aravalli hills that abut Gurgaon are being proactively prepared to tackle the pollution menace by being urbanised for their own good. Once they are gone they will not be affected by increasing levels of pollution, is the sound logic heard in offices that matter.

Plans have been finalised to place restrictions on using motorised vehicles on roads which will enable the government to encourage people to buy more cars and keep them parked on public property. Even a motorcycle rally to raise awareness about the pollution menace has been announced, demonstrating once again that there is no problem big enough that cannot be addressed by making bold announcements.

But we cannot sit on our laurels just as yet.

A few days back Chennai topped the worst air quality charts in the country. Despite having the disadvantage of being on the coast and day after day, year after year, seeing atmospheric pollution, created with the hard work and contribution of so many people over years, being blown away by the sea breeze every morning and evening. And it has repeatedly done so. Topped the charts that is.

There is work to be done. And miles to go. Preferably participating in a rally to save the environment while driving a fuel-guzzling motorcycle on an underpass, for making space for which mature trees were cut down, to an office complex built on space earlier occupied by the forested Aravalli Hills.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

“How many dead?”


“Burned beyond recognition? At least seriously injured or maimed?”

“Hmmm…I don’t think any.”

“Any coverage in the media?”

“To the best of my knowledge, nil.”

Answering the Minister’s questions was a bright graduate of the elite Administrative Services College of the country, whose smile had been growing wider and wider as he responded to each question thinking about how effectively he had been managing his area of responsibility, and now went from one ear to the other.

“Is this an issue which the western world has expressed concerns about and which might lead to cancellation of overseas jaunts of senior ministers?”

“Not at all. We keep giving them other issues to express concerns about.”

The bright graduate was positively beaming, imagining his future prospects.

The Minister, so far looking down at a piece of paper on his desk, with a pen in his hand as if poised to sign, looked up. He took off his glasses, wiped them on his kurta sleeve, and put them down next to the offending piece of paper, which seemed to be triggering his questions.

The bright graduate quailed. The muffled sound of the glasses being placed on the desk sounded like a thunderclap.

Looking him squarely in the eye, the Minister asked, “Did you hear about the Elphinstone Road foot over-bridge stampede?”

Of course he did. It was the latest man-made disaster in a distinguished series of man-made disasters over many years and through tenures of multiple governments. On the 29th of September, till the time of writing of this article, twenty three people had died in a stampede on a foot over-bridge at the Elphinstone Road station of the inhumanly crowded Mumbai suburban rail network.

“Yes…yessir,” he stammered.

“Since when has the suburban rail network of Mumbai been inhumanly overcrowded?”, the Minister continued, even before his stammered phrase could be completed.

“I don’t know sir. I have known it to be overcrowded ever since I gained consciousness.” He was a Mumbai lad and was well versed with the history of his city.

The Minister was on a roll. He was not asking those questions to get answers. He was driving home some messages. He was fed-up of bright graduates coming out of elite colleges spouting theory at him and asking for approval for frivolous proposals. It was time they learnt some practical lessons. “How many times have safety concerns been expressed arising out of overcrowding of platforms, overcrowding of bridges, overcrowding of coaches?”, he shot back.

“Many times sir.” He was a bright student and was warming up to the format. He had excelled in quizzes in school and college and followed news and current events closely.

The Minister leaned back in his chair. A smile was playing at the corner of his lips.

“Now tell me, did you read about the forty people who did not die because the Corporation fixed the platform tiles so that people did not accidentally slip and fall in the path of an oncoming train?”

The graduate was flummoxed. He had not come across such a news item. His face expressed his lack of awareness.

“Or the seventy who did not get electrocuted when the Corporation fixed the live wires that had come loose and were hanging dangerously close to passers by?” the Minister continued without pausing.

“When did that happen sir?” he could not help asking, and displaying his ignorance.

The minister looked at him squarely in the eyes once again. He shifted uncomfortably. The Minister asked, “Tell me, what is the primary duty of a democratically elected government?”

“Why, to look after the people of course”, he brightened up, on getting a question he knew the answer to.

“Exactly. And such incidents, where nobody dies, and which nobody ever hears about, who would they give any comfort to? Would these incidents give a feeling to the common man that the government has his back?”

“Obviously no-one sir.” He was getting the drift he thought. He loosened up a little.

“What is a responsible government to do? With great power comes great responsibility. Spending the tax collections is an exercise of great responsibility and a hard-earned one. Why will a government, not just ours, any government, waste it on measures that do not give comfort to the common man?”

He was flummoxed again. ‘Twas the day for him to be flummoxed. “Then what does the government do, sir?” He could see the issue, but did not have the mental capacity to imagine the solution.

“The government does the only thing that a responsible government can do; wait for an accident to happen, as we did in the case of the Elphinstone Road foot overbridge stampede that killed several people. And now that it has happened, once again, like any responsible government, we have cancelled the leave of all officials and flown them in from various parts of the country for urgent consultations. After all, the taxpayer money has to be spent productively, isn’t it?”

“These officials, as we know, are from an elite corps, and have already hit the ground running. After analysing the situation they will reach a conclusion that everyone has known for many years. But these officials will reach the conclusion while lodged in expensive hotels and eating expensive food, hence their conclusion can be considered to be the final word on the event. Moreover, they will even absolve everyone concerned of any responsibility and attribute the accident to a freak confluence of events that everyone could have predicted.”

“But there will always be Doubting Thomases questioning the intent and effort of the government. Therefore, further analysis will be done by the high-powered group who will decide to spend more money on a review of all random things that can be thought of in such a high-pressure situation, like testing the strength of airport runways in the country, checking the depth of water in lakes and canals and installing traffic lights where not required. For the safety and security of the common man of course.”

He was beginning to see the real picture. He may have received his college degree many years back, but he was getting educated today. He could picture himself sitting in the minister’s chair in the not too distant future, serving the nation and the common man. Dreamily he asked, “Then what sir?”

“Then what? Then we will wait for the next stampede at an overcrowded Kumbh Mela in Allahabad. Or the next unplanned town to be washed away in a cloubburst in Uttarakhand. Or the next 8-year old to be murdered in a school in Gurgaon. Or the next unsafe building to catch fire in Delhi with tenders unable to access the site. And roll out the time-tested plan for ensuring the safety and security of the common man.”

“Tell me. Have you not heard of Nirbhaya?”

The bright graduate suddenly came to. After all, who had not heard of the gruesome rape in Delhi several years back that led to a slew of initiatives to prevent rapes, from pink coloured taxis to women-only banks.

“And have rapes stopped? Or slowed down?”

His eyes lit up. It was all clear to him now. With a touch of reverence in his voice, he asked, “But how do you handle all this, sir? After all, manmade disasters are such an innate part of the fabric of our great society.”

The Minister took a deep breath, and slowly released it as if trying to release the burden of his great responsibility to the common man. “It is a tightrope walk. Between running advertisements announcing great achievements of the government, security detail for ministers and self-appointed godmen (and women), money paid to consultants for coining new and imaginative names for government schemes, and providing safety and security to the common man. But, like I said earlier, with great power comes great responsibility. We have to take judicious decisions keeping all interests in mind.”

The Minister was floating on a cloud of his great responsibility towards the common man and did not notice the bright graduate quietly picking up the printed proposal he had taken to the Minister for his approval for the Corporation to fix platform tiles so that people did not accidentally slip and fall in the path of an oncoming train, the piece of paper that had started the interrogation, and walk out of the  office while crumpling the proposal into a ball and expertly tossing it into a basket placed strategically near the exit.