Status Quo

After a heated, one-sided debate in Parliament, held in response to a public petition filed by concerned citizens, the Parliament has unanimously voted to speedily address the concerns of farmers protesting against the farm bills recently introduced by the government.

It was a huge help that the matters pertaining to which the resolution was passed are those of farmers in India, especially in the state of Punjab, while the unanimous vote was in the UK Parliament. Hence, once the resolution was passed, nothing needed to be done. There were high fives all around in the hallowed portals of Westminster after the vote.

Demonstrating alertness to threats to the nation from foreign sources, and taking immediate cue from the example set by the UK Parliament, India’s foreign secretary Harsh Shringla immediately summoned British High Commissioner to New Zealand, Laura Clarke, with the intention of issuing a demarche, an official protest, purposefully ignoring the British envoy to India, Alex Ellis, who may have, at least, been able to understand the issue.

As Ms. Clarke was unable to attend the meeting in person, Mr. Shringla read out the demarche to her over a phone call that included a request for the British Parliament to debate and pass resolutions on the rising fuel prices caused by escalating state and central levies, Haryana’s proposal to reserve 75% jobs for locals, the Indian cricket team representing England in Test matches in view of the English team’s recent capitulation and the widespread disbelief at replacing Amitabh Bachchan’s baritone with an unknown female voice in the mandatory-to-hear-before-every-call Covid message, among many other issues of international significance. Ms. Clarke has promised to share the message across the British envoy world, so that more and more Parliaments around the world, who have nothing to do with the issue, can pass these resolutions.

Om Birla, the speaker of the Lower House of the Indian Parliament, saluting the continuing leadership demonstrated by the UK in best practices for parliamentary democracies around the world, scrapped the day’s agenda that included a discussion on the Uttarakhand tragedy last month caused by a suspected glacier burst, and replaced it with a debate to fix responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan ten years back. He also removed the motion to condemn suspected police atrocities against alleged Naxals in Jharkhand in favour of a motion condemning marginalisation of indigenous people in the US. He has also scheduled a motion for a peaceful handover of the part of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan, to India.

Alarmed at its Punjab farmer issue being usurped by the UK, the Canadian Prime Minister has summoned an urgent meeting of the Parliament (not yet clear which, but could just be Canadian) to pass laws to pave the way for immigration of farmers from states of India other than Punjab. This, he says, will bestow upon the Canadian government of the day a moral right to pass resolutions on how farming should be done in these states.

The US, the torchbearer of freedom and liberty, not to be left behind in the revolution sweeping across parliamentary democracies around the world, has scrambled to unanimously pass a resolution making communism illegal in Cuba. That too voluntarily. A unanimous resolution for China to accept responsibility for the Covid-19 outbreak is slated for the coming week.

Meanwhile, signatories on the resolution that led to the resolution on farming in India, in the British Parliament, have refused sponsorship to their brethren and ‘sisteren’ in Punjab looking to migrate to the UK to escape the draconian laws recently enacted. “It is for their own good,” they have clarified in a joint statement issued after Parliament passed the resolution. “If they also migrate, whose lot will we improve? They need to stay there so that we can fight for them.”

In the history of parliamentary democracies, this has been the most productive period ever. Never have so many resolutions been passed unanimously.

As a result, nothing has changed.

Tuning In

Another sensational high profile suicide or murder?

Or is it yet another ghastly rape?

Or, could it be the discovery of another wrongdoing by Bollywood, like being involved in making movies that people like?

Of course, the unmasking of another attempt at influencing the presidential elections in the US cannot be ruled out either.  

These were the thoughts uppermost in my mind as I sat down and dug my eyes into the newspaper report headlined “Cops summon three over TRP scam.”

“At least three channels have manipulated TRPs,” the article quoted the Mumbai Police Commissioner, confirming my worst fears. Concerns for the law and order situation started running through my mind, painting dire doomsday images. Who cares about whether Rhea procured drugs or not, when channels are busy manipulating TRPs. “There is a need for further understanding the situation,” the same article also quoted Karti Chidambaram, a Congress MP. Challenge that for a sentence laden with meaning, if you can.

I made some surprising discoveries.

There are a few businesses in the, well, for want of a better alternative, business, of TV programming. In an economy that operates on the principles of a free market? Can you believe it?

These businesses, being businesses, try to increase revenue and keep costs under control so that their investors can generate handsome returns. Ever heard anything as preposterous?

These private businesses have collaborated to form a body known as BARC, short for Broadcast Audience Research Council, which also comprises of advertisers, ad agencies and broadcasting companies. BARC is a private body, classified as non-government company. One of the things BARC does is collect TRPs, short for Television Rating Points, a proxy for popularity of different programmes based on time spent watching them. This is done through installation of measuring devices in 40000 TVs. 40000 installed devices that represent 200 million households and 800 million individuals. Isn’t Statistics a life saver? Or a money saver? Depending on whether you are an individual or a business organisation.

These businesses, the ones creating programmes for TV, let’s call them channels, vie for an advertising (on TV) pie that is estimated at about INR 300 billion (USD 4 billion) annually. As the potential gains are substantial, it has always made sense for everyone involved to keep the 40000 households off the gravy train. The 40000 households that, by sharing their consumption data, make these revenues possible for TV channels, and enable spenders to believe they are doing it scientifically.  

Channels are interested in high TRP ratings as that will lead to more advertising revenue. It has been argued that they have offered financial incentives to participating households to tune in to certain channels. It seems offering financial incentives is a crime. I am wondering if I should cancel the Smartphone I ordered on Amazon yesterday. Mr. Bezos could get into trouble for offering a financial incentive. It was at a handsome discount. I am in two minds.

The spenders, or businesses who spend on advertising on TV, are represented on BARC, and are also private businesses who don’t have to worry about the financial situation of farmers in rural India, or hardships faced by migrant workers during the onset of the pandemic. They have not been forced to take decisions based on BARC data. They choose to. Hence, it must be an issue of national importance that ratings have been manipulated.

It appears that the government also bases its ad spend decisions on TRP ratings. One can never be sure, but it is believed that they were also not forced to. They could follow the established practice of ‘positive mentions’ of the government by a channel to allocate their advertising spend. Of course, it helps if the two are the same.

Perhaps the channels who are a part of BARC have signed a specific clause to not influence behaviour through financial incentives. Always a great idea to insert terms calling for unnatural behaviour into commercial contracts so that taxpayer money can be spent in unravelling them. And it must be treated as a crime, so that our perpetually understaffed and overworked police force can get involved, as soon as they are done checking on Rhea’s drug usage.

Just as well, though. Can you imagine the pandemonium it could unleash if left unchecked? Viewers having to watch a commercial for Dove soap instead of the rightful Pears during their daily dose of the ‘saas-bahu’ ‘soap.’ Or, being forced to watch a Trivago commercial during the news break when it should have been Makemytrip. Or, even worse, being exposed only to Samsung phones during IPL cricket matches. The common man needs to be protected.

So, it was for a good cause. I calmed down somewhat.

And, of course, it is scientifically justified. After all, science, and statistics, have helped in designing the system in a way that a few rogue households can poison the entire data. It is science, after all, which mandates that if more than 40000 devices are installed, the cost will go up and profit down. And science again which decides that the participating households should not be equitably compensated.

Such being the case, who can argue with the government getting involved.

I am looking forward to some honest and fair news coverage on the channels being probed for the TRP scam.

Truth Will Out

It seems that people who make Hindi movies, do so successfully, i.e. make movies that make money for the makers, have been doing so for many years, with actors vying for getting roles in their movies, do not value talent. They routinely ignore talent, ignore suitability of actors for roles in their movies, and instead cram their movies with untalented actors, typically younger relatives of people already working in the film industry. Their main objective is to make movies that will fail.

Not only do they not value talent, they also have no ability to judge the ability of actors. It is actually the common man, or other actors who do not get roles in these movies, who are the best judges of an actor’s ability and suitability for a role in any movie.

These people, the people who make Hindi movies successfully, are not running businesses or business organisations. They are actually running charities whose job it is to continuously scan the market for everyone just got off the train from Patna or Hyderabad or Ambala or Chittorgarh or Dhanbad, at Dadar or Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), with stars in their eyes, dreaming of making it big in the film industry, enable them to realise their dreams by casting them in their movies over other actors who may be more suitable for the role, especially if these other actors happen to be younger relatives of people already in the industry. All million of them who are estimated to arrive in Mumbai every year to make it as big as Amitabh Bachchan or Shahrukh Khan.

Adults, the million who come to Mumbai every year to be a part of the world of movies, come armed with a right, somewhat equivalent to the right of first refusal, for movie roles, especially in movies made by repeatedly successful producers and production houses who make movies that make money and who have no value for talent. This right makes it a duty of producers to give roles to people from outside the industry who have come there forsaking family and other opportunities, before they even begin to consider actors who have been associated with the industry far longer or are younger relatives of people in the industry, and do so repeatedly, till they are as successful as imagined by them before embarking on the journey.

It is unfortunate that these lessons have been learnt in the immediate aftermath of the death of Sushant Singh Rajput, a popular young actor in Hindi films, who apparently committed suicide over a month back. He may not have been in the top rung of stars, but he would certainly be considered an aspirant for the top rung. Wildly successful. What would one call a guy who just showed up from wherever he was and in about ten years played several lead roles in Hindi movies, yes Hindi movies, including that of India’s cricket captain, in a movie on his life. Who apparently had 15 crores (about USD 2 million) in his bank account that was seemingly transferred out. 15 crores sitting in the account? More than what 99% of Indians will earn in a lifetime. Remember ten years back he was perhaps one of the million who arrived at Dadar or CST. Unusually academically bright. He dropped out of the undergraduate engineering programme he was enrolled in at one of the top engineering colleges in India to make a life in the movies. As most will understand, a necessary precondition for dropping out of an academic programme is to have secured admission to it first. Through perhaps one of the most challenging academic entry paths in the world.

Likely candidate for a suicide?

Shakespeare would be proud. Unlike the ghost of Hamlet’s father who kept appearing only to his son Hamlet, Rajput’s ghost seems to be appearing to several near and dear ones.

To his girlfriend, exhorting her to write to the Union Home Minister, to seek help in understanding what led him to take the extreme step.

To his father, exhorting him to file a First Information Report (FIR) with the police authorities of Bihar, where he lives, a thousand miles away where, and not Mumbai, where he chose to reside and make a life, against his girlfriend, contending, among other things, that she had befriended Rajput to further her own career.

To the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the feared central agency, whose cases hold suspects guilty till proved innocent, and not the other way round as in the case of normal criminal proceedings, exhorting them to initiate proceedings under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

To the Chief Minister of Bihar, exhorting him to offer help in requesting the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the other feared central investigating agency, to take over the case if the family requests, even while the earlier request for CBI’s involvement, apparently made by the girlfriend, seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

To his sister, exhorting her to write to the Prime Minister requesting his intervention in ensuring justice is done.

And leading to more lessons for the common man.

It is a part of the Home Minister’s job to help people understand the reason for a near and dear one taking the extreme step. One can involve the Home Minister and Prime Minister in solving wrongdoing by any authority in the country by posting messages on Twitter with hashtags like #VandeMataram and #SatyamevJayate. Much like Indians in distress overseas could post to the Twitter handle of the then Foreign Minister who would, in a blaze of media glory, rescue the people in distress. The nation does not need any other process to make justice available to the common man and let him sleep in peace. Except a few Twitter handles.

ED is a vigilant organisation. If there is a possibility of misappropriation of 15 crore Rupees (USD 2 million) in a case of death seen as a suicide, they will jump in. Wrongdoers, be warned! People with suicidal tendencies, don’t take the final step unless you have 15 crore Rupees in your bank account.

Adults can be befriended by members of the opposite sex at will, to advance their own career, and they will have no say in the matter. Adults who have probably been considered responsible and mature and allowed to lead an independent life.

Really?

Aishwarya, here I come. To use you for furthering my career in Hindi movies. You have no choice in the matter. Or should I target Alia Bhatt? There is a much greater age difference between me and her. Will look more natural in the movies.

And, most significantly, any event can be used for settling political scores, especially where different political parties are involved, like the BJP led Union government, Shiv Sena led Maharashtra government and JDU led Bihar government in this case. There is value in multilateralism.

Don’t get me wrong. It is tragic. Any unnatural loss of life, any loss of life in its prime, is tragic. As is Rajput’s. While one can understand heightened emotions of near and dear ones, one expects governments and government bodies to behave in a judicious and equitable manner which is what eventually allows the common man to feel safe. Of the more than hundred thousand suicides in India every year, I wonder how many get investigated by the ED and CBI.

Hopefully, as Shakespeare says through Lancelot in The Merchant of Venice, the ‘truth will out.’

Baby and the Bathwater

Regulators have done what they do best. Regulated. Without taking any responsibility for the creation of the problem they are trying to solve.

The Supreme Court has upheld the decision of the Environmental Pollution – Prevention and Control – Authority (EPCA) to ban diesel generators in and around Delhi, including Gurgaon.

Makes complete sense, does it not?

After all, people, fools that they are, have been increasingly resorting to buying and using diesel generators to run everything starting from lights and fans gradually progressing to increasingly heavier power-consuming gadgets like geysers, TVs and air-conditioners because they have had a regular, assured supply of grid power throughout their lives. Fools that they are, they have generated the means to, when possible, make investments in equipment like diesel generators, to provide for themselves and their dependents, a more comfortable life, at least to the extent a reliable supply of electricity can provide. In Gurgaon, a condominium without a captive diesel generating capacity is like an oxymoron, a self-contradicting phrase. Such an animal does not exist.

To be fair to them, the regulators have been fair in their failure. They have failed to provide an assured supply of power to households just as efficiently as they have failed to provide assured power to industrial establishments and to shops and establishments. The only place they seem to have failed in failing is in providing assured power to themselves. Chief Ministerial houses, Legislative Assembly buildings, and other Institutions serving the common man, for example, are often a beacon of brightness in a sea of darkness during power failures, at least in the minute or two it takes for standard diesel gensets to kick in.

It is not that we have not made progress. Far from it. During my growing up years in a small town in the northern part of India, circa seventies, there were power failures as well. However, during those days, and we probably have to blame our lack of development for the situation, they were often planned and predicted well in advance. For example, the Department of Electricity would announce that our area would have a power cut from 7 AM to 10 AM every day for the next three months.

What did that mean?

It meant that there was a power cut between 7 AM and 10 AM. And, for the rest of the time, electric supply would be uninterrupted, barring the occasional thunderstorm that brought down electric poles or uprooted trees that fell on overhead wires. Even then, we could call a number provided by the department who would be patient and provide an indication of when we could expect power supply to resume. Before Call Centres were invented.

And the elders would hold out promise of a ‘bright’ future, with uninterrupted power supply just around the corner, with the commissioning of projects like the Bhakra Nangal dam for producing hydroelectricity. That has turned out to be an endless curve with nary a corner in sight.

But we have made progress, as I alluded earlier, and it is there for all to see. Today, no such information is available. Power supply can be switched off at any time, at least in Gurgaon, many times a day, in keeping with the vision of successive governments to keep the populace on a high level of alert for any eventuality. Like an earthquake, or tsunami, or war, that can strike unannounced and requires immediate response, a power outage can strike any time and requires immediate response. What better preparation for an earthquake, tsunami or war? In the event a sudden power outage happens in Tokyo or Chicago or Frankfurt, who are the people who are the calmest and seem equipped to handle the situation? The Indians who grew up in India. Try it out.

Of course it needs to be done in a hurry. Since successive governments could not provide an assured supply of electricity over half a century, since they failed to see the rising usage of diesel powered generators over half a century, the common man needs to ensure he is equipped to handle the situation in fifteen days.

The same order also requires the RWAs (Resident Welfare Associations) to provide electric heaters to security staff. Which they can presumably run on the fresh air that will be available as a result of the Order.

“We want no electricity outages in these locations,” Ms. Sunita Narain, the well-known environment activist and a member of the EPCA, has demanded. Of course, as a power-positive society that has been repeatedly throwing away excess power, that should not be a problem to implement. Nobody had asked for it, it seems.

But wait. What about the economy, silly? Has anyone thought about the impact this will have on the GDP? Caused by people no longer buying and running a gadget that they should never have needed to buy and run. It will need to be a brave person who will give Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, our Finance Minister, the bad news.

But what is a government to do? People want clean air, don’t they? Well, they asked for it.

Patriot Acts

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the dovecotes had been set aflutter. Once more.

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

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

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

And Eid and Christmas too.

Why leave out Budh Purnima and Gurpurab?

How much higher could the bar go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More silence.

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

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

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

What about the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008?

What about it?

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

But that was more than ten years back.

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

More silence.

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

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

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

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

Silence.

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

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

All About Us

It has been an educational week past.

I now know that Mukesh Ambani is India’s richest person.

I am kidding. I already knew that.

I now know that he has a son by the name Akash. Actually, I might have known that also.

So how was it educational? What DID I learn?

I learnt that Akash got engaged to Shloka Mehta on 28th June and a grand party was thrown by the Ambanis on the 30th to celebrate the event.

I learnt that Shloka has known the Ambani family since she was two years old.

I now know Shahrukh Khan was the host for the evening and that he and his son Aryan had a father-son moment at the bash. I learnt that they, Shahrukh and Aryan, even shared a light moment with Gauri Khan, Shahrukh’s wife and Aryan’s mother.

I learnt that Sachin Tendullkar has a daughter whose name is Sara. I learnt that Sara looked resplendent at the bash.

I learnt that Amitabh Bachchan’s maternal grand-daughter is called Navya. I also learnt that Navya stole the show at the event in her sari.

I also learnt that Abhishek, Aishwarya and Aradhya looked like a happy family.

I learnt that Karen Tran is a luxury floral decorator from California. I learnt that Karen Tran decorated the venue.

I learnt Argentina grows flowers. I learnt some Rs. 25 crores (about USD 4 million) worth of them were flown in from Argentina to decorate the venue. I learnt that it is possible to put Rs. 25 crores worth of flowers in one single house in one single night.

I learnt there is a bakery called Laduree in Paris. I learnt that Laduree is famous for its macarons, a sweet meringue-based confection that is made with egg white and icing sugar, among other ingredients. I learnt Laduree whipped up some delicious desserts for all at the bash.

I learnt that decorations at the venue included transparent umbrellas with wax chocolates hanging from them.

Phew!

These learnings were flying at me from many directions, like TV news channels, like newspapers, like workplace gossip, like the Internet, like WhatsApp forwarded messages between other forwarded messages asking people to refrain from wasteful consumption and mind their own business.

And I was hungrily lapping it up.

Because it matters.

Because now I can speak more than others about the ceremony that I think everyone else is talking about.

Because now I can authoritatively confirm or debunk the trash that people are bound to circulate about the event.

Because I can now send more WhatsApp forwards, in between messages to avoid wasteful consumption and minding our own business.

If so much can be learnt during the engagement, the sky will be the limit when the wedding comes around. I am hungry for knowledge. I am already counting the days to it even though I don’t know the date.

Now that I know it, I wish Akash and Shloka a happy married life.

After all, it’s all about us, baby!

Poster Boy

Flop!

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.

Modi2

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.

Modi4

 

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.

Modi1

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?

Flop!

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

“How many dead?”

“None.”

“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.

 

Responsibility

I used to worry about the ability of the younger generation to take responsibility. Even chiding my children occasionally, to the utter lack of amusement on my wife’s part, leading to more nights on the living-room couch.

But recent events have proved me wrong. Once again.

It seems that while I was busy worrying and chiding my children, and sleeping on the living-room couch, organisations that stand up and take responsibility have been growing and prospering, as I discovered from a friend’s recent post.

They even have a name.

They are called political parties. And governments. And they mostly do it (take responsibility) on other people’s money. And one of the key responsibilities of governments, as I have learned, is to take responsibility for what they have either done or not done, or what others have done or not done.

Were it not for the full page adverts in major national dailies, purchased with my money of course, I would not have known how responsible this government is.

For instance, I would not have known that the present government, that came to power three years back, is responsible for the unprecedented success of the space programme that has delivered unprecedented successes many times since its inception over sixty years back. Foolishly, I had assumed that it was the vision of the founding fathers that had created the space programme.

I would not have known that the present government is responsible for the surgical strikes that not only served as a strong warning to terrorists and resulted in spectacular lack of success on the Kashmir issue, but also introduced a new term to the vocabulary of most Indians. How many previous governments can rightfully claim to have expanded the common man’s vocabulary?

I would not have known that the present government is responsible for providing universal access to banking services. Not drinking water, not grid-supplied power, but banking services.

Even state governments have come to the party.

Kerala has claimed full responsibility for introducing the Fat Tax. Just imagine!

Chhattisgarh has claimed full responsibility for electrification of 98% villages. Without any responsibility for supplying power.

Bengal has claimed full responsibility for marching forward in its endeavour to make the vision of a golden Bengal come true. Not green. Not white. Not silver. Golden.

Each claiming its share of responsibility with its own paid advert in national dailies.

Even though we found out why Kattappa killed Bahubali, before the government could claim any responsibility for it, could it be possible that we have found an answer to some of the most enduring mysteries of the world?

In the seventies, a number of ships and planes are said to have vanished in the Bermuda Triangle. Could this government be responsible?

Would my childhood friend, who was disconsolate after losing his pet pooch when we were both children, get closure after all these years? Can we safely conclude that this government was responsible?

Quite a handful already, isn’t it?

But, as usual, the common man is never satisfied. He wants more. He has started expecting the government to take responsibility for even real day-to-day problems.

He now expects the government to take responsibility for the poor state of roads in Gurgaon.

He expects the government to take responsibility for the precipitous drop in water levels in rivers, ponds and lakes across the country?

He expects the government to take responsibility for the security of women.

Is that fair? After all, how much can a government do? Ourtax money can only buy so much advertising space.

But the government is game. To take on more responsibility.

Even though it expresses inability to take responsibility for real day-to-day issues, it has offered to take responsibility for having brought down the Ganga and other perennial rivers from their glacial abode in the Himalayans.

It has offered to take responsibility for designing and commissioning the annual system of monsoon rains.

It has offered to take responsibility for inventing the game of cricket and Bollywood.

It has even offered to take responsibility for the first man to be sent into space sent by Russia and for Chelsea Football Club winning the latest edition of the English Premier League football.

Can you ask for more?

With the government poised to take on so much more responsibility, the responsible common man can continue to provide proof of his nationalism on WhatsApp?

Black and White

“Is it not clear? By asking for explanations, you are wasting the precious time of senior government officials that can be put to use for issuing more confusing and unnecessary rules.”

A senior government functionary made his displeasure evident when cornered by a section of the media on the burning issue of demonitisation of currency notes of the two largest denominations, 500 and 1000, that contribute 86% to the currency in circulation in India, for dealing a body blow to “black money” in national interest, that subsequently changed to “move towards digital transactions” in national interest, that have anyway been growing rapidly on their own, and the latest decision of the government in this regard, of asking people, who seek to deposit the old notes even within the originally declared deadline, to provide a satisfactory explanation of why they did not deposit earlier.

“Let me explain for one last time. On 8th November, and several times thereafter, we have said that people should not be in a hurry and can deposit their stock of old, demonetised currency notes in their bank account till 30th December. Hence, anyone who tries to deposit these notes on the 20th of December or anytime after, till 30th December, is obviously flouting that rule and now needs to explain why he has delayed depositing this money. These people have brought it upon themselves.

The rule-book says stop at a red light, people don’t follow.

The rule-book says form a queue at the ticket counter, people don’t follow.

The rule-book says don’t throw trash in the open, people don’t follow.

Are you telling me that our countrymen have suddenly chosen to become rule-book followers? This is obviously an attempt of the Opposition parties to get people to follow the rule-book and embarrass the government. These people will be punished for their faith in the government’s assurances. Their actions are against national interest. If all the old notes come back to banks, how will the government make any money on this initiative and spend it on unnecessary projects?

Our hand has been forced. This is why it has been decided that people who seek to deposit the old notes need to provide a satisfactory explanation of why they did not deposit them earlier despite the government’s assurance that the deposits could be made till the 30th of December. What’s more, this explanation needs to be recorded in the presence of two bank officials, because bank employees have no guidance or authority on which explanation to accept as suitable and which to not.

As elected representatives of the people, if we don’t call upon commercial entities like banks to sacrifice their business interests, who will?

As you might know, apart from accepting deposits, issuing advances, managing operations and risk, opening and closing accounts, selling financial instruments like mutual funds and insurance, transferring money, handling trade transactions, dispensing and accepting cash, our bankers have really very little to do. We successfully employed them in fruitless activities like repeated exchanges of discontinued currency notes from 8th November. As the exchange scheme was withdrawn randomly one fine day, we have now involved bankers to witness recording of statements from mostly honest account holders as to why they did not deposit money earlier, despite the deadline still being ten days away. Think of the millions of youngsters graduating from college every year, many of them aspiring to work for banks, especially the engineering graduates. We have to protect their future as well. If the situation starts improving anytime soon, we may increase the number of bank officials required to witness depositor explanations to three, or even four.

And this decision has not been taken in isolation. We have gradually built up to this by issuing false promises and assurances from time to time, like this is a short-term pain, like it will take only three weeks for the situation to improve, like there is enough stock of new currency, like the government is closely monitoring the situation, and many more. Even today, the common man seems to be expecting that he will soon be able to withdraw and deposit his own money from and into his bank account.

Meanwhile, as you may have heard, the Finance Minister has clarified that RBI has enough stock of new currency to fulfil the need of all banks and account holders. They are just not releasing them to banks. Just like that.

This is necessary for patriotism. If we had not brought the banking system, and all business, to a grinding halt, would you feel that you are undergoing this pain in the national interest? Tell me honestly, would you ever?

Some of you might even want to know the logic behind the introduction of the Rs. 2000- note. Do you?

Well, just like that.

Yes, just like that.

Because there is no logic.

Tell me, what better way to thwart potential black-money hoarders, the objective initially put out, than by creating utter confusion?

Since we ourselves have no idea why we have introduced a Rs. 2000 note, how do you expect anyone to, be it the common man, the politician or the black-money hoarder?

And since they have no idea, how do you expect them to indulge in their corrupt practices?

The common man, on the other hand, has tasted blood. He wants to contribute to the national interest. He wants more. More de-monetisation. More pain. More suffering. He is willing to live in perpetual penury so that black money can be eliminated for his good. May his tribe increase.

Where do we go from here?

First, we prevented people from using their own money that they had in cash. Then, we successfully prevented people from using their own money lying in bank accounts by creating unending queues for withdrawal. Now, we have prevented people from depositing the cash they held. I think the virtuous circle is complete.

But, for an elected representative of the people, the work is never complete. Since people have elected us and reposed their faith in us, it is left to us to decide what constitutes national interest and patriotism. The battle is far from over. People are clever. They have deposited all the money we had called “black”, back in bank accounts. In such a situation what can a well-meaning government do? Launch a witch-hunt of course against citizens.

Further, in order to promote the patriotic spirit and national interest further, we plan to soon bring out rules that prevent people from living in their own houses, wearing their own jewellery and driving their own cars and bikes.

We are geared for the challenge. By the time you go to press with this interview tomorrow, we would have already rolled back, though only partially, the rule introduced with great fanfare yesterday, requiring people depositing old notes to explain reasons for the delay. We will also ensure that only a small section of the impacted banks are advised of the change. We will then partially roll back the roll back announced.

I don’t want to reveal the hand, but you should soon start seeing a removal of the curbs on withdrawal of cash from accounts. However, since banks will not be given any cash, they will not be able to pay any to customers. It will be the problem created by the inefficiency of banks, despite the best intentions of the government.

As you may have overheard the common man say confidently, ‘only the execution is faulty’ :-).”