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.

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.

Home sweet home

“But why can our airports not be as good?”

The booming voice that emanated from the vicinity, starting this polite conversation, even before I had settled down in my seat, suddenly had a calming effect on me.

I had been overseas for almost two weeks and home-sickness had set in. I was looking forward to getting back. Though I had finally set-off for home, the changing of flights at a foreign airport, hopping onto an intra-airport train to switch terminals, with language-induced confusion over gates thrown in, had left my nerves jangled. I was so out of sorts that I wasn’t even sure if I had taken the right flight.

But as soon as I heard those calming words, I knew that I was on the right flight.

For the first time I looked at the burly person spilling out of the economy seat next to me. We were on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Delhi. I wondered if it was safe to argue, considering I was going to be sitting right next to him for the next five hours.

Throwing caution to the winds I defended. A few days outside the country will do that to you. You lose reason and become inclined to take risks disproportionate to return. Like defending your country in the face of huge odds like a muscular gentleman sitting in the economy seat right next to you. No reasonable person would dream of doing such a thing inside the country. “Have you travelled through the spanking new Terminal 3? It is as good as any in the world”, I offered.

He glared at me, sensing that the conversation was not going in the direction of a normal country-bashing duel whenever two faithfuls meet.

He raised his arm. It must have weighed as much as all of me. I braced for the blow.

But the blow did not come.

Like a nimble boxer, he had quickly changed tactics.

“I am coming from Manila”, he said waving his raised arm to the right and a bit to the back, as if asking me to look in the direction of the arm’s movement to catch a glimpse of the receding Manila skyline. From Kuala Lumpur.

“I see”, I said, and for good measure added “That’s great”, looking into the screen in front of me.

Silence.

More silence.

Even more silence.

“Where are you coming from?” he asked, unable to contain himself any longer.

“Singapore”, I said, still looking into the screen.

Before I knew it, he had worked his way through my family history, how I had found the hotel I stayed in while in Singapore and how much I had paid for it, did I pay for it or was it paid for by someone else, was it a personal trip or charged to a company account, was it money accounted for or “black”, quickly and efficiently moving on to my monthly income, how much did my house cost me and whether I paid taxes on time.

With each invasive query, I was getting more and more relaxed. After two weeks in unfamiliar surroundings, I could almost smell the smells of home. It was just like talking to a stranger on the street or an unsolicited sales caller on the phone. The many pleasant conversations I have had were ringing in my ears even as I was talking to the person seated next to me. How much did the car cost you? What is the mileage you get? Did you take a loan to buy it? Which Credit Card do you have? What is the Credit Limit on the Card?

I must have dozed off because I do not remember any conversation about my criminal record and sexual orientation and stayed dozed till the plane was about to land.

As soon as passengers knew it was not a crash landing, which was almost 3 milliseconds after the rear wheels touched down, there was a rush to retrieve hand-carried bags from the overhead compartments. It was a sad sight. It seemed that a few days spent overseas in orderly surroundings, even standing in queues at times, had dulled their reflexes. I cannot recollect a single domestic flight I have ever travelled on where it has taken more than 2 milliseconds for passengers to retrieve handbags from the time the rear wheels touch down on the tarmac.

As we reached the arrival hall, we found that there were no “arrival cards” that are mandatory to fill before approaching an immigration officer for immigration clearance. Yep, this was the place I had to reach.

After some time an officious looking person could be seen sauntering towards the place where people were waiting, with a gleeful look, waving a sheaf of papers. Someone in the crowd noticed him and shouted. Fearing a lifetime spent in the arrival hall of Delhi airport, the crowd surged towards him to catch one of the elusive pieces of paper and clear immigration.

Perhaps because I was not showing any anxiety for the paper, he thought that I did not need it and hence sought me out and handed them to me and, in a noble discharge of his duties, asked me to distribute them around to others. Not one to shirk responsibility in times of need, I quickly took the three copies I needed, and, drawing from my years of experience working in corporates, found another capable-looking person and asked him to distribute them around to others.

After clearing immigration, I walked over to one of the stores selling duty-free stuff, before collecting my checked-in bags. Here, the last strand of doubt was removed. I was well and truly home.

I could see at least 15 attendants in a shop barely a hundred square metres in size. As usual, standing around, chatting with each other, telling customers what they could read themselves. I was in my element here. I asked one of them to bring me a basket. Then I kept pointing at stuff I wanted and the person kept putting it in the basket and carrying it around for me. Just six hours back I had not thought twice before carrying a basket of chocolates weighing almost three kilos around myself. I was ashamed to even think about it. I hoped nobody I knew had seen my behaviour. What depths had I sunk to when I was overseas?

As I sat in the cab I breathed a sigh of relief. I had reached home. In fact, in some ways, I had touched down before the flight had even taken off, when I had heard the words “But why can our airports not be as good?”

Oh, the places you’ll go

I have been in many places, but I’ve never been in Cahoots.
Apparently, you can’t go alone. You have to be in Cahoots with someone.

I’ve also never been in Cognito. I hear no one recognizes you there.

I have, however, been in Sane. They don’t have an airport; you have to be
driven there. I have made several trips there, thanks to my friends, family
and work.

I would like to go to Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I’m not too
much on physical activity anymore.

I have also been in Doubt. That is a sad place to go, and I try not to
visit there too often.

I’ve been in Flexible, but only when it was very important to stand firm.

Sometimes I’m in Capable, and I go there more often as I’m getting older.

One of my favorite places to be is in Suspense! It really gets the
adrenalin flowing and pumps up the old heart! At my age I need all the
stimuli I can get!

And, sometimes I think I am in Vincible but life shows me I am not!

I have been in Deepshit many times; the older I get the easier it is to
get there.

Note: This is kind of a reblog. Came to me on email from my wife. Seemed like a piece which readers of my blog might like, with its gentle play on words. Have taken the liberty of using a Dr.Seuss title as the title of this post. And, to end, as the good doctor himself said:

“You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know.

You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact

and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

And never mix up your right foot with your left.”

Death of unemployment

It started out as a normal head of state visit to another country, with billions of taxpayer money being spent for promising co-operation in a wide range of spheres.

However, it soon turned into the most unlikely, and most productive state head visit in history.

It is no secret that a somnolent economy and rising unemployment were the two issues that had been dogging the government of the most powerful nation in the world. With the elections over, the President lost no time in getting down to serious business, like scheduling state visits.

He had seen some signs during the last visit but, since, like any respectable state head, he was grappling with many other serious problems at the time, like people who wanted solutions and an opposition that wanted answers, he had not paid much attention. But now, with elections just over, and there being no need any more to provide solutions or answers to anyone, these issues started taking centrestage, because of which he lost no time in in scheduling a state visit to the large democracy.

On his instructions, and in an effort to look like “everyman”, the trip planners had included activities that a common man would do, and planned to make him unobtrusive. As unobtrusive as a posse of six armoured limousines in a land of cycle rickshaws and scooters could be.

The first of these was a trip to the local mall where he would hang-out at a coffee shop and talk to people without ordering anything from that shop and having other customers wait for the coffee they wanted to order.

His entourage of six bullet-proof cars drove into the underground parking lot of the mall, like any common man. The President’s eyes popped out when he saw that when his car stopped at the entrance to the parking lot, no ticket came out of the ticket machine next to the driver’s window. The driver stuck his hand out but nothing happened. The driver then looked at a person sitting in a small cubicle just ahead of where the car was standing and nodded his head briefly. The person in the cubicle nodded back, and punched a key on a keyboard with flourish. As if by magic, the ticket came out. The driver took the ticket and moved forward, only to stop immediately else he would have crashed into the boom-barrier. There was another person standing next to the barrier who looked at the driver. The driver looked back. There was a moment of awkwardness. Then the driver relaxed and nodded his head. The standing person smiled and pressed a button and the barrier opened. The driver moved forward.

The President relaxed and smiled. His memory had not failed him. He took out his notepad and quickly made some notes. This was important. He could not trust any other person with the details.

His joy was short-lived, though. When his entourage drove into the parking lot of the next mall, there was no attendant to pluck out the ticket from the machine and hand it to the driver. Was it an isolated case in the previous mall, the president wondered? Instead, there was a booth where one paid the fixed parking charge. There was no other person in sight. The President drooped in his plush seat in the car. He had built up hope from the last parking lot. He was in a despondent mood right through that mall. When his entourage was driving towards the exit of the mall, however, he saw a lonely figure standing in the distance, right at the exit of the parking lot. He sat straight again. He could sense hope once more. The person at the exit was checking the ticket receipts to ensure that the entry fee, without paying which the car could not have entered the lot, had been paid. And, in another bold step that showed the importance and necessity of the the job being performed, not to forget the highest level of decision-making skills, if the car-driver could not locate the receipt, he just waved the car on. He again took out his notepad and made notes.

He was amazed at the efficient use of resources inside the big supermarket he strolled into while at the next mall. He could see young men and women, apparently employed to work in the supermarket, efficiently avoiding work and chatting inside the aisles. The less work they did, the more people had to be hired. The more the people hired, the more their idle talking and even lesser work done. So it became a virtuous cycle of employment. He had not seen this kind of commitment to the cause of nation-building anywhere he had travelled.

What really freaked him out were the security guards manning the exit points of each shopping outlet. Even a shop twenty square feet in area had a security guard at the exit to prevent any cheating. These guards would stop a customer from going out of the shop till they had checked that he was taking out only what he had been billed for. And, this being done by people who could not even read or write; it boggled his mind. How had they managed to implement this, he wondered?

He watched them for a while, took out his notepad and made notes again.

In some of the shops, grocery stores and supermarkets for example, the average number of items on the bill of a customer checking out was over fifty, with most checking out with bags stuffed with bags laden on trolleys. Each security guard was able to do the checking in an average of three seconds. He was able to “take in” the fifty items on the list at a glance and then, even more magically, check the goods without opening their bags. The entire process was completed in under five seconds, for total customer convenience.

He took more notes, even though he did not need to. He was beaming by now. His mind was clear. His efforts had not been in vain. He would go back and implement the best-practices he had seen on this trip. He could visualise his country being rid of the scourge of unemployment. He could see grown-up men and women, in their new jobs, enthusiastically doing nothing. The rest of the trip he was floating on air. He did not need to make any more notes. He could see elevators with attendants to push buttons at the bidding of people travelling in them. He sensed the presence of attendants right next to automated vending machines, to take money from customers, push it into the machine, press the right button and handover the chosen item to the customer. He saw waiters carrying trays at self-service restaurants. There were a dozen parking attendants in every parking lot. He could go on and on.

He made a mental note of sending his entire team on a study-trip to this place.

Though he was sure his country’s unemployment problems would be solved, he was still troubled by one aspect; what was the genesis of this wonderful state of being of the large democracy? How had they discovered this miracle cure that they, the most powerful nation, had no clue of. He racked and racked his brain but could not come up with a convincing explanation.

He had a scheduled meeting with the Prime Minister the following day. He resolved to ask him this question.

(To be continued after the meeting of the President with the Prime Minister…)

Summer Delight

In May and June, the Northern plains in India burn under a relentless summer sun. Daytime temperatures go upto 45 degrees (Centigrade, which, for the benefit of my western world friends, equates to 113 degrees Fahrenheit) for a good part of two months. Live here during these two months and the craving for escaping to the sunny climes will be cured, forever, if you do live to tell the tale.

As this period coincides with the summer break in schools, this is the time when people make an effort to get away to cooler climes. Further the better, of course distance being directly proportional to the wallet-size. Usually.

We took a short holiday this summer. To a nearby (don’t jump to unrelated conclusions about my wallet-size!!) hill-town, about 300 km. from Delhi.

The idea of such a holiday, to me, has always been to, of course apart from the sheer fact of getting away from the daily humdrum for a short period, breathe in the salubrious mountain air and allow the body to feel the various muscle groups by walking up and down the hill slopes, that sedentary city lifestyles makes one forget even exist. Even though it is always only for a few days. And this is what I looked forward to on this occasion as well.

It is amazing what good weather can do.

There were people checking in and out of the hotel all the time. As soon as the check-in formalities were completed, the guests would energetically move to their room, and switch on the TV. To be seen only when their favourite programmes were over, or at breakfast-time in the morning. In a place where the climate was not so bracing, the same movement from the hotel front-office to the room and switching on the TV would take considerably longer.

When not watching TV, people were energetically moving around town. In and out of indoor gaming dens. The more gaming dens and pubs they went to, the more they gave themselves the opportunity to breathe in the salubrious mountain-air while they were enroute from one to another. Even playing video games inside closed rooms becomes a healthful activity at such a place. There is no way they would get this healthful exposure in the city in between dens.   

We went on a walk / trek to the peak of the highest hill in town, which, I understand, in vertical height, is a modest 400 metres up from level at which most of the inhabited town exists. No Everest for the seasoned climber, but challenging enough for me.

As we made our way on foot to this peak, it was, again, a refreshing sight to see scores of people going up the hill and sweating. Their cars I mean. The cars made complaining sounds while battling against gravity on the narrow mountain roads. But the fearless drivers spared no exertion in shifting to the lowest gear and pushing their cars forward against the debilitating pull of gravity.

We were at the peak for over fifteen minutes. During this period, several groups of people came up, in cars and occasionally on motorbikes. They would, unfailingly, be awed by the mountain vistas visible, click pictures, picnic on bags of potato chips and soft-drinks, and start to go back, within about three minutes of arrival. I need to learn this sense of purpose.

Who knows, they may be in a hurry to drive back to their hotel and spend some quality time on the machines in the gym in order to stay fit. Unlike us who first wasted time and effort in walking up a motorable hill, and then loitered around for all of fifteen minutes.

Or they could be in a hurry to get back in time for their daily dose of various pills to contain and push back the advancement of diseases like blood-sugar, hypertension and heart-related ailments, caused by a sedentary lifestyle and inadequate physical exertion. If this is indeed the case, their discipline needs to be lauded.

We got an opportunity to commune with nature. And observe and mingle with different kinds of creatures inhabiting that world. From inside the comfort of our car. The outside world looks so pretty viewed from the insides of a temperature controlled car!

But before you again jump to conclusions (I use “again” as I assume you did (jump to conclusions) on the earlier occasion), I must clarify that, as always, we had stepped out of the hotel with the noble intention of a stroll around town. On foot. Yes you read right. We stepped out of the hotel with the noble intention of taking a stroll around town on foot. We even stepped out of the hotel premises on foot as the first step.

As happens on many occasions, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. As soon as we got out of the hotel and into a shaded path covered by trees, we were waylaid. By a bunch of monkeys. When I say waylaid I mean they were doing their usual stuff; swinging around from branch to branch, foraging for food, making noises, and all of that stuff, from at least fifty feet away. Now, for a city dweller, who has had as close an encounter with a monkey only from the other side of a cage wall, this was like being waylaid.

But the monkeys, I am sure, had not bargained for our sense of purpose and commitment. We hurried back inside the hotel and emerged, within a few minutes, inside our car. It was a really peaceful communion with nature. If nature was testing our mettle I am sure it had got its answer.

The locals will never understand this pleasure. We saw the locals walk past the monkeys as if they did not exist. They do not have a hope of experiencing nature from inside a car.

As city-dwellers, we don’t give up a good thing easily. We continued our stroll around town. Inside the comfort of our car. Try it, if you haven’t. It causes much lesser strain on the body.

They (the locals) also still need to walk across the street to cross it. They haven’t cottoned on to the idea of hopping into a car to cross the street. Or riding on a cycle-rickshaw manually pulled by a person twice their age.

They have a long way to go before they can catch-up with city folks in terms of development.

I hate travel

Manager, back in his office after a week on the road, to Team Members : Good to be back in office. Some respite from constant travel. I am sick of constantly having to rearrange my personal life on account of business requirements. Seems as if my life is spent in airport lounges more than home. And the hotel food really gets to me. I hate all that.

Team Members, in one voice : We know it must be difficult sir. But isn’t it exciting to visit new places ?

Manager : Yes it is, but you know me. I am happy between my home and my office. I will tell my Boss that I am not travelling for the next one year. If the company insists that I need to go because nobody else is qualified, I will resign and leave. After all, there is a limit to everything.

Team Members : You are so simple and straightforward, sir. How we wish we had these opportunities to travel.

Manager : Well, you know me guys ! Focussed only on work and family. Of course I understand your feelings. And, believe me, when the opportunity next arises, I will nominate one of you to travel and represent the company.

In the middle of the meeting the Senior Manager (the Manager’s Boss) drops in and says, “Oh, by the way, we have been invited to the Industry Conference in Las Vegas end of the month. It is for a week and the company will bear all expenses. We would like someone from this team to attend the conference on behalf of the company. I am leaving the choice to you guys. No specific qualification or knowledge is required as we are not anchoring any session. The participant would mainly need to listen to the speakers, make notes where appropriate, collect Business cards, and come back and debrief. We don’t mind if you want to take your spouse / partner along as long as you pay for it.

Team Members, in one Voice : Hurray. We love the company.

Before leaving, the Senior Manager to Manager : Send me the name of the person chosen to attend by end of day please. My secretary will make necessary arrangements.

After the Senior Manager leaves, the Manager turns back to his team and says : See, it never ends. Just when I thought I will have a few peaceful days at home comes this requirement. I will again have to pack my bags and go. Such is my life!!