Living Dangerously

I opened the door leading out with trepidation. I did not know what to expect. It was not a situation I, or, for that matter, any other modern human, had been in, ever before.

I breathed in. Tentatively at first. Half expecting the atmospheric oxygen to have turned to chlorine, burning up the trachea even before the passage was traversed. And a painful death. Fists clenched and eyes shut, I braced for the burning sensation.

“Are you feeling OK?”, a passer-by enquired solicitously.

I could hear. I was alive. The air had not turned to noxious fumes while I had started that fateful journey almost an hour back. I gulped mouthfuls of air greedily.

I did not see the speaker as I was looking down. Even if I was looking up I would not have seen the speaker as my eyes were shut. But I managed a weak smile.

I was in the open now. I looked up, still cautiously, to see the setting sun, which was higher when I had gone inside. Evidently, the Earth had not stopped rotating during that hour.

I have never jumped into the cage of a tiger. With the tiger present. Or without.

I have never dived down to the Marianna Trench, stripped down to my shorts, just holding my breath.

I have never cartwheeled down Mt. Everest. Or Kanchenjunga and K2 for that matter.

I don’t know if others have, but I have not.

It is not that my life has been a series of predictable, boring events, bereft of those magical moments of human endeavour, flirting with danger and excitement, that give meaning to life. I have been brave, when the need for being brave has arisen.

‘Twas me who, once upon a time, in college, had answered “Present sir” on behalf of a classmate missing from an Accounting class.

‘Twas me again, chipping in from a point just off the green from where I could just as easily, and with better results, have putted.

I get goose pimples just thinking about these incidents and look forward to the time when I will recount stories of these extreme adventures to my grandchildren, with a fire crackling in the background.

It is the daring and adventurous spirit of motivated individuals that has made the human story that much richer. Individuals who sailed the deepest oceans, climbed the highest mountains, trekked through the densest jungles, with scarcely a thought for personal safety. In short, boldly went where no man had been before.

Mankind has often found itself at a crossroads, where selfless sacrifice and the daring spirit have lit up the way for future generations.

Another such crossroads had been reached by mankind.

Unanswered questions had been gathering. Dust. The thought that mankind might never know, had been disturbing me no end.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Not one to be cowed down in the face of danger, as readers would have realized by now, I made the ultimate sacrifice. So that future generations do not have to live in the dark. So that the human story can continue.

Throwing caution to the winds, I left my mobilephone in the locker when I went to the gym for resuming my losing battle with creeping unfitness. For an hour.

Yes. You read that right. I left my mobilephone in the locker when I went to the gym. For an hour.

To seek an answer to the question that had been disturbing humanity ever since the invention of mobilephones, and one that no human had dared to seek an answer to, “What disaster would befall humanity if I stopped peering into the mobilephone for a short while?”

As soon as I shut the locker door…Silence…More silence.

Imagine images, perhaps blurred, moving in circles in slow motion and incoherent sounds emanating from them. As happens at a momentous turn of events in real life, as we know from Hollywood and Bollywood movies. Like when Harry Potter went looking for the Horcruxes. Like when Ram unleashed the arrow that eventually felled Raavan.

By now we all know that I survived the ordeal. But only I know how long that hour was. Everywhere I turned, there was a caring human tightly clutching his mobile to ensure that atmospheric oxygen does not turn to chlorine; or one looking at his mobile screen every three seconds to ensure the Earth does not stop rotating; and yet another continuously talking on it to prevent an alien invasion. I felt like a total misfit there. I was surrounded by accusing eyes inside the gym. Right under the myriad signs pasted on the walls that said “Do not use mobiles inside the gym”.  

The effort, the moments of self-doubt, the hours of indecision, have taken their toll on me. My nerves are shattered. I don’t know how many more posts I can write.

How will posterity judge me? I hope as a person who made the ultimate sacrifice. Of staying away from his mobilephone for an hour to seek answers to questions important for mankind and light up the way for future generations. And not as one who put mankind in danger because of his cavalier attitude. After all, anything could have happened in that hour.

At least I will have another story to tell my grand-children. I stayed away from my mobile for an hour. Do you think they will believe me?

Before signing off, a note of caution for readers, who would do well to understand that the acts of bravery described in the article were performed by experts. Or, at least people claiming to be experts. Any attempt to perform them unsupervised could lead to grievous injury and harm.

Moreover, in order that mankind is not put to any more undue risks, people should ensure that the following guidelines are religiously adhered to: 

  • Do not, ever, attempt to walk across a busy road without being glued to a mobile screen.
  • Do not, ever, go without your, or anyone else’s, mobile, to the gym where signs of “Do not use a mobile” are plastered on the walls around you.
  • If your mobile does not ring noisily inside the cinema hall, make sure you let other viewers feel safe by making a call every few minutes and talking loudly so that they know you are “on the watch for mankind”.
  • Drive a car only when you have text messages to type on your mobile. Even better, drive a two-wheeler while typing text messages.

Is a little bit of individual sacrifice for the greater good of mankind too much to ask for?

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Game Of The Name

Because it is a myth, silly boy!

The event was a meeting of the town council to select a new name for their town where the “silly boy”, one of the younger prticipants, had been chastised for asking a logical question. At important events logical questions have only one logical response, round chastisement of the “asker”.

A new name for the town had become a necessity after it was realised that there was no earthly reason to change it.

Tempers at the council meeting had been frayed as finding a suitable name had been an uphill task. Council members had read and re-read all known epics, and some unknown ones as well, to locate a suitable name. The elders knew that if the name did not emerge from a myth, there was no way it would be recognised as a historical fact by the central government.

Not finding a name to their liking, the town council had finally decided to invent a name. And not wishing to leave a job only half done, they had also commissioned a set of popular writers to conjure up a new epic, flowing with the valour and wisdom of the ancestors of the current ruling dispensation so that the text could soon be recognised as historical fact.

There was no time to lose. Who was to say that the criteria for granting “Smart” status to a city would not be the number of times the city had changed its name without reason. Or its name being drawn from a popular myth.

It was under these extraordinary circumstances the “silly boy” had displayed the effrontery of asking for the logic behind the selection of the new name, and had been roundly chastised.

The floodgates had opened on 12th April, when the Haryana government took the decision of renaming Gurgaon to Gurugram.

The last couple of decades have sped past as our leaders have methodically gone about the task of uplifting our collective esteem by changing colonial-era names to, well, non-colonial-era names. Time flies when one is having fun.

But, as Bombay made way for Mumbai, Bangalore for Bengaluru, Calcutta for Kolkata and Madras for Chennai, there was an increasing sense of disquiet in the common man.

Would the good times soon come to an end? Are we running out of colonial-era names to change? Would we have to go back to the days when political leaders had to at least try to govern instead of changing names? What would they do once these names had been changed?

But we need not have worried.

In corporate circles they say a capable employee will always deliver value to the organisation.

So it is with able politicians, as has been my learning these past few weeks. Elect a capable leader and leave the worrying to him. He will always deliver value.

As we have perhaps seen in the case of great corporations, each business has evolved from a human need. But once that need has been satisfied, they have kept on creating unneeded needs and the common man has kept responding, by desperately needing those unneeded needs, and buying.

So is the case with the government of Haryana, that has found ways of delivering value, as is expected of able governments working for the welfare of the common man. If changing of colonial-era names is done, what stops us from changing non-colonial-era names to, well, different non-colonial-era names? Which other state government had the foresight to offer this welfare scheme to the common man of their state? Separates the men from the boys, doesn’t it?

And it is no ordinary change. It is a change dripping with historical significance. Because it is based on a mythological fact. In Mahabharat, one of the great Hindu epics, Yudhishtir, the eldest of the Pandav princes, had gifted this site to their teacher, Guru Dronacharya. Hence its original name was Gurugram, which, translated, means Village of the Teacher, to which it has been rightfully restored. We know this since it is a mythological fact. Case closed.

Delving a little deeper into the story, sorry historical fact, Guru Dronacharya was the one who refused martial arts education to Eklavya, a child of low birth. The guru who, a few years later, astounded by the prowess of the child who he had once refused to teach, asks for his thumb as guru-dakshina (offering for the teacher) so that he could never compete with the princes he was instructing. How was the guru to know that democratic and fair winds would be blowing in the 21st century, calling upon all human beings to be treated equal. How could he have envisaged that? Hence it is important that we name it after the guru and not after Eklavya.

The sigh of relief across the nation is palpable. Yes we can. We can change the names of places. Whether colonial or non-colonial.

It follows, therefore, that we will be able to dodge nuclear missiles and hydrogen bombs from hostile states.

Bareilley to Barasat and Mandu to Meerut, each self-respecting village, taluka and town is voraciously reading up historical myths to find a suitable name that will lead them to everlasting happiness. They don’t want to be left behind.

The Haryana government, it appears, even after taking this momentous decision, was humble enough to acknowledge the role the common man has played. “This has been done because of a demand from the people”, they have graciously acknowledged.

Now we know why potholes in roads have not been filled. Why electricity supply is erratic. Why there is no street lighting. Why loudspeakers are allowed to operate beyond 10 PM at night. Simply because there has been no demand from people. What other reason can there be?

But this humble acknowledgment has confused the common man. If it was a demand from the people, how many were killed and how many billions worth of property destroyed, they have demanded to know. After all, the last demand from the people in the state was for reservation by the Jat community a couple of months back in which several were killed and property worth billions destroyed, and rape allegations pertaining to which are still being investigated. When did this, the name-change, demand come from the people?

The government has clarified that for a demand from the people to be accepted by the government, it needs to be made on the night preceding the night of the full moon, at a time that is neither prior to 7 PM nor later than 8 PM, on a day when an earthquake of an intensity of at least 6.5 on the Richter scale has struck with an epicentre that is not more than a thousand miles away, the Chief Minister is wearing a pink kurta and had consumed three idlis for breakfast alongwith cold milk, and within 24 hours of the 75-year old Governor having run 100 metres in under 10 seconds.

If the above conditions are not met, then, to be successful, the demand from the people, whether made or not, will be for an ideology based decision the government has been dying to take.

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, argued Juliet in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. But that was her opinion. We have ours.

Cause and Effect

On 15th April, the Delhi government took the decision to introduce the odd-even scheme for another fifteen days. Once again, private vehicles with an odd-numbered licence plate can run only on odd days and, even-numbered ones only on even days.

It appears the scheme has been reintroduced at the first available opportunity because the original odd-even scheme, introduced in January for fifteen days, was a resounding failure and did nothing to solve the problem it was introduced for, that of reducing atmospheric pollution in Delhi.

But what it did do during those fifteen days in January, as our leaders have discovered, is that it seemed to have resulted in some reduction in traffic on the roads. Quite against the run of play, it seems. Now who would have guessed that if you prohibit half the cars from coming onto the roads, the number of cars on the road will reduce.

At least not the Delhi CM, alumnus of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). How, then, can one blame the Delhi government for not knowing?

Displaying maturity and foresight far beyond any political mandate, Delhi’s political leadership has decided that atmospheric pollution, a raging issue just three months back, does not need to be solved any more. Till, of course, it becomes an unsolvable issue once again next winter, requiring drastic measures that don’t work. Which gets solved once again by the onset of the following summer, creating bigger problems to solve.

As is the case this year. Freed from the yoke of solving the pollution issue, as summer is now raging in Delhi, the government has reintroduced the odd-even scheme, this time to reduce traffic on the roads. Like atmospheric pollution, traffic needs to be reduced only for fifteen days. Of course, as with all good schemes, it has been reintroduced because of pressure from the public.

Quite a handy scheme this odd-even is turning out to be. First it is introduced to reduce atmospheric pollution which it does not. Now it is introduced to reduce traffic on the roads. Wonder what else it can be introduced for? For solving the issue of the plunging water table? For providing food to the poor? Poor performance of Delhi Daredevils in IPL? European refugee crisis?

One wonders if any other scheme will ever be required…

The big question everyone is asking is; what will the scheme solve this time. Last time it was introduced to solve the pollution issue and ended up reducing traffic on the roads. As this time it has been introduced for reducing traffic on the roads, it cannot be expected to reduce traffic on the roads. One wonders what it will really solve. At every corner tea-shop, in every metro coach, people are busy guessing the problem that the odd-even scheme will solve this time. Radio jockeys are having a field day running contests for people to guess the problem the odd-even scheme of April 2016 will solve.

There is really no saying what a decision of the government might end up solving.

A senior minister in the AAP government in Delhi, who had taken it upon himself to treat all women of visibly foreign looks as being of questionable character and personally led police teams to raid their homes, is preparing to start these raids once again.

“We don’t know what we might end up solving,” he looked somberly into the horizon and stated, while putting on his helmet in preparation for the raid later in the night.

In Gurgaon, or Gurugram now, always eager to copy from Delhi, transport authorities are busy breaching medians on busy roads, contrary to the once popular belief of reducing criss-crossing traffic to smoothen the flow.

Their response to enquiries from the media is, “We know it will solve something. As of now we don’t know what. But we will tell you as soon as we find out. Meanwhile, expect more central medians to be breached.”

The political will to take decisions without thought and logic is back.

“I have no idea what, but I might have solved something today,” is the new war-cry of members of the Delhi cabinet.

For more details of the odd-even scheme, go to post titled ODDities and EVENtualities.

Party Hall

My favourite people are at it again.

No, I am not talking about politicians.

I am not talking about business-people either.

And, neither am I talking about spiritual leaders.

I am talking about the faithful; the followers of the spiritual leaders.

They were there when a geriatric spiritual leader was accused of rape and forced confinement by two young women.

They were there, with their infirm and frail, thronging to the retreat of the spiritual leader who saw visions of some 15th century mystics, raised a private army and used children hostage as he kept law-enforcement agencies at bay with firearms.

And they are there, in thousands, at every townhall meeting held by another spiritual leader, popular on TV, who randomly imagines objects associated with a memory or experience a suffering devotee has shared; it could be a tree, a stone, a cow, or anything else. Anything. If the devotee is able to see the object imagined by this guru, the cure involves him doing an act suggested by the leader that he has not done before. If he has done that already, the cure requires him to stop doing it, or undoing it. In case he fails to see the object, which is rare, the burly security guards help him see the light.

I used to often lie awake at night, worrying for this leader. Since rape and firearm brandishing had already been taken, I would wonder if he had any means still at his disposal to distinguish himself in this crowded space.

But I needn’t have worried. Spiritual leaders will find a path.

The latest path laid out for my favourite people leads to the World Culture Festival being organised in Delhi. By yet another organisation run by yet another renowned spiritual leader. They will be there. In millions.

Because this is a private function, the army, funded by taxpayer money, has been called in to erect pontoon bridges over the Yamuna to make the venue accessible. And not without good reason. After all, as a ministry spokesperson has explained, do we want a rusty army to protect our borders? What better practice to keep them in shape than working like daily-wage labourers to construct a pontoon bridge for a private show. The shape that guarding the borders in frozen Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield, or working as part of a multinational Peace Keeping Force operating under the UN banner in Africa, and many others, could not give them.

In addition, of course, to “in public interest”, that most transparent and explicit of terms.

To do their bit for the highly respected forces, patriotic citizens are sending invitations to the army to come and fix their light-bulbs and mow their lawns. What if I cannot guard the nation’s borders. I can contribute by keeping the armed forces in good shape. And because it will be “in public interest”. Such patriotism never fails to move me.

And because doing so has been banned by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the function is being held on the flood plains of the Yamuna, facilitated by No Objection certificates from several agencies. And because it is such a sensitive subject, the only other structure allowed to come up is an ancient temple constructed fifteen or so years back.

Apparently flood-plain destruction could lead to floods. But how is a spiritual leader, or anyone else, to know? Did anyone know that topography alteration and unchecked human activity on the riverside, could make the Uttarakhand floods a few years back so devastating, before the devastation happened? Could anyone know that haphazard construction along the banks of lakes, blocking channels which would have normally allowed rain water to drain out, would cause unprecedented floods in Chennai, before the floods happened? How is anyone to know that flood-plain destruction could lead to floods, before they actually happen?

The spiritual guru, himself, has spoken about how 100,000 volunteers had been releasing eco-enzymes into the Yamuna to improve the river’s water quality and the improvement could be gauged from the fact that water buffaloes, which had shunned the river in the past, had now come back to it. Since these enzymes have neither been tested by any scientific body for their efficacy, nor has the organisation asked for permission from the Central Board of Pollution Control before releasing them, what the guru is saying must be true. Moreover, these eco-enzymes are so effective that they do not appear to have been used for cleaning-up and other major river system.

Moreover, now the Central government has also given him a character certificate and clarified that his intentions cannot be doubted as he is committed to protecting the environment. They know.

In all fairness, the Delhi government has responded to the questions asked by NGT and washed its hands off the controversy, citing conflict of interest. They come into the picture only if there are floods, they have clarified. They have no role to play in preventing floods. And it is logical, they say. If they were to prevent floods from happening, how would they ever get to discharge their duty in the event of floods as there would be no floods.

Even Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has objected to being unfairly targeted by NGT. “We have only issued a No Objection certificate. It does not mean they start building. Where in our certificate does it say they can go ahead and build?”

Answer that.

The Prime Minister and President have been slated to participate as is a private function. Like they participate in private functions of the common man. The President, since, appears to have withdrawn.

An NGT bench has directed the organisers to pay Rupees 5 crores as environmental compensation, down from the 120 crores apparently being considered at one stage, and permitted the event to go ahead. As can be expected from a spiritual organisation, it does not appear to be facing any difficulty in paying this fairly substantial amount, even though it says it is considering an appeal in the Supreme Court against this order. So that my favourite people, with perhaps many political leaders, bureaucrats and business leaders in their ranks, can go and benefit from the spiritual experience that starts today.

A leading businessman, meanwhile, seeing an opportunity that only successful, seasoned businesspersons can, has applied to DDA for holding his daughter’s birthday party next month on the Yamuna flood-plains alongwith a request to the Army to serve drinks at the event, to keep them in shape and “in public interest”. At Rupees 5 crores (approx. USD 750,000) for 3 days for a space of 48 acres, that could be illegally expanded to cover a thousand acres, it sounds like a great bargain. The Yamuna flood-plains could become the most sought-after Party Hall yet.

Train of thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I responded, “No, do you?”

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

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

Making India proud

“What a great day for India!”

Having just glanced through the front page of the printed newspaper, with its usual dose of an Opposition walkout in Parliament, a Central Minister being questioned for undue favours to a tainted businessperson, rapes, stampede deaths at a religious congregation, and not having a clue to what he was talking about, I pretended I did not hear.

I racked my brains. Wild thoughts were coursing through my mind; Did India move up to the 132nd place in world football rankings, by some stroke of luck? Or did we finally, irrevocably nail some senior politicians for stashing away illegally collected billions in secret Swiss bank accounts? Or was it religious tolerance; did the nation finally find a solution to its internecine religious squabbles?

“Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?” In his excitement he had failed to notice my response, or the lack of it.

Affected by his excitement, even wilder thoughts started occurring to me; Did we finally manage to get people to start arriving on time for an appointment? Or did we get people to start respecting the vulnerable sections of society? Or, even more difficult, did we manage to get people to understand the purpose of traffic lights?

It still did not come to me. Not one to flinch in the face of adversity, I held my nerve. I did not give him the satisfaction of knowing that I did not know.

“Apna (Our) Sundar is the new CEO of Google”, he burst out excitedly, not caring whether I was participating in the conversation or not.

Sundar?

The question was, perhaps, visible on my face, because he said, “Yes, don’t you know Sundar?”

I racked my brains yet again. ‘Twas the day for the brains to be racked.

Like in any engaging and meaningful discussion between close friends, he continued without waiting for my response, “Sundar Pichai has been appointed as the new CEO of Google.”

As if on cue, my phone beeped. In one of the WhatsApp groups where I am a member, a college friend had posted, “do you know Sundar’s wife is from my state?”

“Wow!”, “You lucky dog”, “Did not know you were capable of this” and many other congratulatory messages immediately filled the screen of my phone, in recognition of the remarkable achievement of this friend being from the same state as Sundar’s wife; a state with a population of only 73 million. In such a sparsely populated state, obviously everyone would be on first-name terms with everyone else.

“His wife is from my city.” This message, on the same group, came like a thunderclap. Silence enveloped the WhatsApp group. Messages suddenly stopped. There was no way of topping that. Members, perhaps, realised they had been hasty in congratulating the guy who was from the same state as Sundar’s wife.

Now, I am not one to shy away from admitting when I have been bested. Truth be told, in the newspaper I was reading at the start, I had noticed a headline about Sundar’s elevation, but had neither paid any heed to it, nor connected it to being a great day for India. I was ashamed. Yet again.

To make amends, I asked, softly, “Why is it a great day for India?”

“Don’t you get it?”, he started, exasperated with my thickness. He halted, looked around, as if searching for the right phrase, and stammered out, “It is a…great day for India….because…because…it is a… great day…for India”. He got up and walked off, to avoid having to answer other silly questions.

It was a lucid explanation. I fell silent, as I usually do when faced with logic and reason, especially in addition to lucidity.

Between the excitement of the friend who was (or had been) with me, and the messages on this WhatsApp group, I was getting the drift. The enormity of the event was dawning on me. Now all by myself, I slipped into a haze of rose-tinted possibilities, imagining all the reasons why it must be a great day for India.

It must be a great day for India because a person, born and brought up in India, now heads an American corporation. It must also be a great day for India because this corporation, as all corporations do, is trying to become an even bigger and more profitable corporation.

It must be a great day for India because it must mean that shareholders of Google will now sell their shares in Google and donate their wealth to India, paving the way for everlasting success and happiness of all Indians.

It must be a great day for India because Sundar, instead of working for the interest of his employer, who pays his salary, will suddenly start working for India, without pay.

It must be a great day for India because the elevation of Sundar is a validation of our time-tested policy of unwillingness and inability to engage bright minds that require an orderly environment to thrive, leading them to look for, and thrive in, greener pastures overseas.

And let us also spare a thought for America, the country to which the corporation in question belongs?

It must surely be a dark day for them. They continue to provide an environment that makes it a magnet for people from around the world. Not only that, they provide them equal opportunity for success. When will they learn?

It was beginning to make sense.

We deserve credit for Sundar’s success because we have been a party to creating hurdles in his way at each step. That he was able to overcome them and pursue his life, is a credit to us, not to him.

The timing is propitious. The sixty ninth Independence Day looms.

The PM, in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, is expected to ask the rhetorical question, “Did any Indian become CEO of Google before we came to power?”

To counter the impact of this revelation, it is also learnt that the Opposition is preparing a campaign, the highlight of which will be the statement “Sundar was born when we were in power.”

I am now a prouder Indian.

I made a mental note to check if Sundar, or his wife, or any other close or distant relatives, had ever passed through my town, or state, or intend to. Or if I, or any of my close relatives, had ever travelled to the city, or the state, where Sundar grew up.

 

Cities of Joy

Even before an official announcement was made, a fight has already erupted between the contenders.

The recent announcement that a hundred “smart” cities will be created across the country has set the dovecotes aflutter. As political announcements without substance usually do.

The project has a high chance of success as nobody seems to have asked for it and nobody knows what it really means. The genius of the scheme can be judged from the mere fact that it did not promise to create seventy three “smart” cities. It also did not promise to create one hundred and sixteen “smart” cities. It has set out to create exactly one hundred “smart” cities. It is a clear sign that it is based neither on need, nor on any research or study.

The Medieval-era mystic, saint and poet Amir Khusro is said to have written about Kashmir, “Agar Firdaus bar rui zamin ast, u hamin ast, u hamin ast, u hamin ast” translated to, “If there be a Heaven on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this”. If he were alive today, he may well have waxed forth, “if there be a project destined to succeed on Earth, it is this, it is this, it is this”, in chaste Farsi (Persian) of course, the language he preferred for his verse.

It reinforces the courage of political leaders in taking the difficult decisions they have taken in the past, braving ridicule and protest. Of repeatedly permitting slums and shanties to mushroom in all major cities, right under their collective noses, as they looked the other way. Of permitting millions of people to live without basic amenities like water, electricity and sanitation while charging them taxes. Of regularising these colonies each time an election was around the corner, for the next unauthorised colony to start rising immediately thereafter. Had these difficult decisions not been taken, the dream of creating a hundred “smart” cities would have remained just that, a dream.

It reinforces the vibrancy of our democracy by sending out an unambiguous message to people to exercise their right to vote. If they don’t vote, how will they elect such governments that make such promises?

Political leadership of the country, cutting across party and ideology lines, stands together as one in telling people that they, the political leadership, have no time to waste on creating a fair and transparent environment where people get just reward for efforts; where there is rule of law that facilitates organic growth; and where cities develop in a manner desired and dreamt of by people who live in it. They will continue to bow to the demands placed on them by our democratic traditions, and reward the faithful by bestowing political largesse, drawn from them as taxes, back to them, periodically, in order that they can feel beholden.

As the criteria for selection has not been specified, there is rejoicing across the length and breadth of the country. There is even more rejoicing across the length and breadth of the country because what is meant by a “smart” city has also not been specified.

There is excited “chai pe charcha” (discussion over tea) all around on the subject. Will my “smart” city look like Bangalore? Can we really all but destroy a once pristine environment in one generation? Is it even possible to do it again? Or will my “smart” city be like Gurgaon? Can we really build another modern, planned city right from scratch in twenty years, and still ensure that the water table plunges, electricity is in short supply, parking cannot be found for love or money, and there are bars and restaurants at every nook and corner, as every “smart” city must have.

And there is still more rejoicing across the length and breadth of the country as people will now not have to take responsibility for the development of their cities. Apart from their municipal authorities, they will now also have the central government to blame. What more can citizens of “unsmart” cities ask for?

The deal has been made that much sweeter by the government insisting on replacing the current municipal officialdom with a professional municipal cadre.

Really? Could one ever have guessed that there was a professional municipal cadre, straining at the leash, waiting to be let loose on “smart” cities, to solve all their problems, that has been kept hidden away in the corridors of bureaucracy, while the current officialdom gnaws away at the bulwark of functional cities? A cadre, despite being drawn from the same source, trained in the same manner, and responsible to the same set of self-seeking superiors, that would behave in an entirely different manner. And, of course, this cadre can be let loose only on the “smart” cities.

Since ours is a rich culture which prohibits corrupting foreign influences, especially when it threatens us and our agendas, we have to invite Singapore, Toulouse and Tel Aviv to set-up these “smart” cities for us. In addition, an American organisation which has the word “Philanthropies” in its name has been roped in to identify the cities.

Major builders are salivating at the prospects the “smart” city project presents to their ilk. Efficient public transport, abundant power and water, clean environment, a technology backbone for all services may still be debated as to them being rightful constituents of “smart” cities, but the presence of grotesque looking glass and concrete buildings with inadequate parking and zero accessibility in a “smart” city, alongwith elevated and tunnelled roads to ease the traffic woes created by the lack of planning, no person in his right mind would question.

With this achievement, of the announcement, under their belt, the political leadership is already looking ahead to the next project. A senior leader, in a moment of weakness, revealed that to a close confidante. On seeing the quizzical look in the eyes of the listener, the leader clarified, “You see Delhi. It was expected that pollution levels will come down once metro is introduced. Also, transport woes will ease. But, has there been any change? What does one do now? One cannot rest on one’s laurels. That would be cheating the public who has reposed their trust in us and put us in this position. If we don’t keep showing them a brighter future that will never be attained, how will we ever repay our debt to them?”

“Hence, we are preparing to launch the ‘smarter’ city project soon”, he revealed.

The erstwhile “smart” cities, meanwhile, continue their inexorable march towards becoming “smarting” cities.

The fight between contenders continues to intensify. It is not clear if cities fighting for inclusion are “smarter” or the ones fighting for exclusion are.