Guns N Roses

A restarted, and perhaps soon restopped, Delhi –  Lahore bus service could not do it.

The Samjhauta Express train service through the Wagah-Attari border crossing could not do it.

Shimla and Agra accords could not do it.

Handshakes at Davos and the UN could not do it.

Having a PM on one side and President on the other, born in territory on the “other” side, could not do it.

Yet, the unthinkable has happened. Catalysed by an unexpected event.

Extreme right-wing groups, that comprise most of the relevant population in each country, the ones supported by democratic governments, the ones who know what is good for everyone else and do not hesitate to intimidate others into agreeing with them, in antagonistic neighbours India and Pakistan, are now fighting for a common cause.

Can you believe it?

It is apparently a cause worth fighting for. After all, in a modern society, do you really have a cause, that will be supported by the democratic government of the day, if you do not intimidate others into agreeing with you, for their own good of course?

It passed this litmus test of worthiness.

No, it is not Kashmir that we are talking about.

Not even Baluchistan.

We are talking about Valentine’s Day celebrations.

The Islamabad (capital of Pakistan) High Court has banned Valentine’s Day celebrations at public places in Pakistan acting on a petition claiming it to be un-Islamic.

Apparently, it was important that it was banned because it was providing enjoyment for youngsters without throwing bombs or undertaking suicide missions while celebrating. Not even intimidating others into joining their celebrations.

It was important it was banned because businesses, without threatening or intimidating customers, were managing to sell everything from roses to cars to houses to salt to mobilephones to shoes to vegetables to floor tiles to butter to light-bulbs. This could only lead to greater economic activity and economic liberation. Who has it ever helped? 

It was important it was banned because in a modern society, often claiming to be democratic, only expressions of hate are to be allowed in public places, especially when backed by tactics of intimidation.

It was important it was banned because youngsters were spending their own time and money on the celebrations and letting others live. Who in a sane, modern society can call this a celebration? Especially if you are a leader of some sort who knows one can celebrate only when one gets to spend other people’s money.

Though initially stumped by the verdict as it took away the primary reason for their existence, of Pakistan-bashing, groups on the Indian side of the fence have displayed their maturity by applauding the decision and calling upon the Indian government to consider meritorious judges of the Pakistan High Courts for the many positions lying vacant in the Indian High Courts. As the request was backed by violent demonstrations and looting and arson, the government has agreed to consider the request sympathetically.

In deference to the secular nature of Indian society, these groups have refrained from calling Valentine’s Day celebrations un-Islamic or un-Hindu, plumping for a secular un-Indian instead. They have also identified it as an insidious western ploy to capture the minds and hearts of our responsible, intelligent, sensitive youngsters. Our responsible, sensitive and intelligent youngsters do not know what is good for them, one of the main reasons we allow them voting rights. We do. We will not let western culture corrupt our youngsters, debase our religions and denigrate our culture.

We know how. As do our political leaders.

We will shamelessly pander to rich companies in the West. We will change rules to make it possible for them to come and invest in our country and create opportunities for them to bribe decision-makers. We will raise a hue and cry when a western society seeks to reduce the number of Indian job-seekers and immigrants. So that our youngsters can get more jobs in western companies and promote Indian culture.

We will continue, year after year, to go to Davos and other destinations outside India that claim to be solving the world’s problems, on taxpayer money, to be clicked with the rich and famous and get our children admitted to Ivy League colleges. We will continue to send large delegations to western countries, especially in their pleasant summer months when it gets very hot in India, to learn about things that we will never implement here. 

We will not let our youngsters be corrupted by western influence.

We wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day.

All’s Well That Ends Well

‘Twas that time once again. The time that cometh but once every four years. The uniquely Indian festival. The time of celebration, of joy, of revelry. Almost sacred time. Marked out on calendars much in advance. Being prepared for over several years.

It seems like the revelry of the previous event had not even finished when the latest edition was upon us. Time flies when you are having fun, isn’t it?

You guessed it right. I am talking about the period immediately after the conclusion of the sporting extravaganza called the Olympics.

It is the period when many Indians, especially middle-class urban, become experts on the miserable performance of the Indian contingent. For committed participants, of which ilk there are millions, as are of any ilk in India, preparations begin well in advance.

Like creating (based on anecdotal evidence only; FBI and CBI are still trying to trace the creators) and circulating WhatsApp messages ignoring performance data and commending the preparation of the contingent and putting pressure on them by asking them repeatedly to bring in a rich haul of medals beyond their capability.

Like indulging in harmless banter on Facebook by ridiculing the rich haul of other teams and lauding the commendable, mostly medal-free, performance of the Indian contingents in past Olympics.

Like not lampooning (before the Games) folks like writer Shobaa De, who, swimming against the tide of data and trends available on FB and Twitter, and only relying on actual historical data and her own gut, had the temerity to say that the Olympic contingent will disappoint.

And, of course, during the Games, rapidly moving from channel to channel to collect data on poor performance. And expertly navigating away from the performance of athletes putting up a fight and extending the inevitable and preventing a viewing of a larger cross-section of events.

The seat at this table does not come cheap. Participants need to possess sterling qualifications for this task and spend years preparing.

Most of them have spent a good part of their adult life only trying to become rich.

They are committed to the cause of a healthy, physically active lifestyle. Whether it is mowing the lawn, hammering a nail in the wall, or fetching a glass of water, they steadfastly refuse to do anything physical.

Their commitment to a physically active lifestyle regularly keeps them engaged in stressful and physically challenging sporting activities like going for a morning stroll in the car, crossing the street on foot, or spitting out far onto public property. Most of all, they routinely exercise their vocal chords by shouting out for minions for completing any activity that remotely looks physical.

They have a close association with the wild outdoors and are avid travellers. When they go somewhere, they go to see. They go to a mountain to see the mountain and click pictures. Never to climb or hike. They go to a river to see the river and click pictures. Never to row. Why row when you can hire a boat with a 60-year old to row it. They go to the ocean to see and click pictures. Never to swim.

They have so much motivation to play that they are never able to organise themselves in order that they can play. The logic is sound. Why take the trouble when you can buy tickets for, and watch performances of sports leagues created by business houses designed to make them richer.

When called upon to participate, sometimes by family members interested in their well-being, or on account of work related requirements, they demonstrate their supreme ability to put the good of others before self by showing up and skipping out at the first opportunity.

With such qualifications, it is difficult to go wrong.

This august group always manages to find the real reasons behind the debacle. And, to their eternal credit, they find the same real reasons four-year after four-year.

They find that there are more administrators in the contingent than sportspersons and coaches. So many more that the allocated stands for supplying drinks to the nation’s marathon participant have to be left unattended leaving her to collapse at the end of the run.

They find that it was a young team that participated and that this was meant to be a great learning experience which will stand them in good stead for the next one for which they will not be selected.

They find that there is no cost in being unsporting and yet expecting the moon from people drawn from the same stock, many of whom have reached where they have because of personal motivation and desire, and not a supportive environment.

They find that the scoreline never accurately reflects performance. When we win 2-1, the scoreline fails to reflect our superiority over the rival team. When we lose 1-7, the scoreline does not represent how close the game actually was.

They lampoon (after the Games) folks like writer Shobaa De, who, swimming against the tide of data and trends available on FB and Twitter, and only relying on actual historical data and her own gut, had the temerity to say that the Olympic contingent will disappoint, because a silver and a bronze were won between 1.25 billion people.

Not one to stop at mere analysis or fact-finding, this group of experts boldly goes where no official committee dares to; they make recommendations and claims for the future of Indian sport.

As punishment, a different swarm of officials will be sent to disgrace us at the next Olympics.

A team of officials with no idea of sports will be sent to (mostly European) nations like Belgium and Netherlands in peak tourist season so that they can ensure none of their practices are ever introduced for better results.

Officials will travel first class while athletes will go by ship, instead of Economy Air, in order to keep them sharp.

The position of the Sports Minister will be upgraded with better facilities, so that athletes can perform better.

And, importantly, laws will be introduced to ensure that any youngster showing ability and motivation to work hard and perform well in sports, is either packed off to a suitable college of higher studies at the earliest opportunity or given a bit role in the next Bollywood movie. Charges could also be brought against parents of such children for not having checked the desire at an earlier stage. Booking them under “anti-national activities” is also a possibility.

This group has declared that based on performance at the recently concluded Games, it can safely be assumed that this is the beginning of a golden era for the country in the Olympics. They had declared this before the Games had started. Again, the assertion is based on hard facts.

It will be like the Golden Era that started after K D Jadhav won a bronze in wrestling in Helsinki in 1952.

Like the one that began after Milkha Singh came fourth in the 400 metres race in Rome in 1960.

Like the one that started after P T Usha placed fourth in the 400 metres hurdles in 1984 in Los Angeles.

Like the one that started after Leander Paes won a bronze in 1996 in tennis in Atlanta.

Like the one that started after K Malleswari won a bronze in weightlifting in 2000 in Sydney.

Like the one that started after Rajyavardhan Rathore won silver in shooting in 2004 in Athens.

And like the one that started after Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012 that included a gold won by Abhinav Bindra in shooting.

Meanwhile, Bollywood is abuzz with possibilities these Games have thrown up. Makers of Lagaan, Chak De, Mary Kom and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag are in a dead heat for producing the next sporting biopic on the lives of famous Indian Olympians, based on concocted stories linked to oppression under a foreign regime and the pain of partition. And if a concocted story shows that the Indian underdog always performs at the crunch, it must be true in real life too. And since we perform so well at the crunch, preparation is a waste of time.

The purpose is noble. The purpose is to inspire the youth to greater heights.

Business corporations are also abuzz. They have selflessly been trying to inspire their employees to greater performance and teaching them the fine arts of Change Management, Strategy and Leadership, by exposing them to rare snippets, that can be seen in movie halls by purchasing a ticket, from these great movies based on real concocted stories, in the confines of their training facilities. On account of the limited variety available in Bollywood, they have even exposed employees to rare footage from commercial Hollywood movies, mostly with a character played by Al Pacino who delivers a stirring speech and changes the world , that could be seen in a movie hall by purchasing a ticket. Now they will have a greater variety in Bollywood to choose from.

Indian coaches have been asked to focus on their own speech-making skills instead of working on their athletes.

Nothing comes easy in life. A few athletes like PV Sidhu and Sakshi Malik had threatened to derail the four-yearly celebration by winning medals at the just-concluded Games. Thankfully, it was not a communicable disease that the others caught.

All is well that ends well.

Already looking ahead to the festive period immediately after the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

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.