Tuesday, November 25

Shanipar yenar?

Nothing, not even Chintoo or Calvin and Hobbes has ever amused me so much. Everything was fine until...

"Dubbed "common man's radio taxi", the pilot project, first of its kind in the country, equipping auto rickshaws with GPS-based systems is being launched by the Urban Development Ministry in Pune on November 29."

And it did not just end here. The news continues.

"They (drivers) will also be given special training to deal with passengers."

Really!! have they even ever seen, let alone talked to a rickshawala in Pune ?! For all we know someone will have the audacity to give them special training in driving. Civilization as we know it will cease to exist. Such decisions cannot be taken hastily...afterall the security of the realms is at stake. We cannot let it happen! Puneri asmita is at stake here people. Raj Thackery was right. Those northies are trying to destroy our culture, our way of living. They should go back to their 'north' and teach their rickshawalas how to deal with passangers. What business do they have teaching us anything. We are Oxford of the East. We teach people. People don't teach us. Definitely not the northies.

We have to do something.

(Getty images)

Tuesday, November 18

It's raining pirates!

"Pirates capture Saudi oil tanker."

"Hong Kong grain ship hijacked by pirates."

"Danish oil ship briefly seized off Nigeria."

Recycling habits

Reading this article in the NYT about a six cent charge on plastic bags, made me think once again of how environment friendly we in India have been. Baring the air, noise and water pollution issues due to vehicle and factory emissions, there are numerous ways in which I think we are more environment friendly than the western countries. Of course it does not mean that we are necessarily environment conscious or aware of our green duties. We have a long way to go. The reason may be financial inability or lack of other resources, but the habits have been comparatively green.

The case being made in the NYT story is about using reusable bags for shopping. We have been doing it for years now. Who can forget the ubiquitous floral-print-sometimes-homemade-five-rupee grocery bag. To be found in the most shocking pinks and greens, mostly made from leftover cloth. Many of these would come with an attached pocket to fold the bag into, so that it fits in your purse/pocket. Imagine my surprise when I saw the same bag (maybe made of a better cloth) being sold for $10 in the Skymall magazines you find on flights. I had to feel smug.

And then there are other things like using only cloth napkins and hand towels in kitchens and bathrooms. (I know some consider kitchen towels unhygienic, but to me it is but BS.) No paper towels or bathroom tissues. Steel plates, spoons and forks in restaurants, even in the local fast food joints. Using a bucket of water for bathing, rather than a shower. Drying clothes on a clothesline. And the like.

What is sad though is that with increasing prosperity and in a case of blindly aping the west, environmentally damaging habits are being acquired under the guise of modernity. Paper towels and bathroom tissues have started showing up in houses. Reusable grocery bags are disappearing with bigger grocery stores behaving like Giants or Shoppers. Disposable cutlery is conspicuous in houses. (I know it saves time and energy.)

Instead of partaking in environmentally damaging habits for the wrong reasons, it would do us good to be proud of and continue with some of the old practices. Neither do we have the infrastructure to manage it, nor can we afford large landfills full of plastic, and clogged drainage systems and rivers. Our industrial emission standards are hardly enviable. If we could help ease the burden through everyday activities and habits (that we grew up with), while lawmakers figure out when and how to implement better standards it would go a long way in helping our country's green image.

Disclaimer: My observations are based solely on cities like Pune, Mumbai, Banglore etc. All habits might not stand a rigourous scientfic test for environment friendlyness, but they make common sense.

Friday, November 14


We are finally on the moon now :)

Thursday, November 6

Reflecting on elections

Ashutosh’s experience with volunteering for Obama made me think again of what this campaign said to me - the conspicuous absence of middle class and student participation in elections in India. I don't remember any of my peers or colleagues that I genuinely respected campaigning for any party or candidate. I always carried an image of the mawali kinds campaigning in jeeps and motorbikes, and an important reason why I never thought about participating actively. It is a stereotype and not a completely honest representation, but that is the image I still carry when I think of Indian elections.

Because I was always interested in politics and elections excited me, I could have been easily recruited into campaigning for someone. But no one appealed to my rationality as a voter. No one every tried to convince me of their worth such that I could then plausibly pass it on to others. There was no way I could rationalize and argue for any one candidate with sincerity and conviction. I never felt that any one candidate deserved so much of my time and energy. Every candidate and party had in fact insulted my intelligence.

As against that, watching the campaign here I knew I could have gone out and volunteered for Obama. When the thought first struck me, I was ashamed and guilty. I thought maybe the guilt was because my thoughts were a betrayal of my country. But it was more than that. The guilt was because I had not participated enough in the democratic process in my own country. I had, like millions others merely voted. I had not demanded answers to real questions. I had laughed and brushed away the political rhetoric, and voted on lines my family had for a long time. As a student of politics and democracy, I had not thought long enough about why I was voting for whoever it was. As a journalist I had merely been a passive observer.

While nothing can replace my love and respect for my country, being here and witnessing this election has made me respect the US as a nation. Maybe it is because it’s the election season or maybe because I am in DC, but the respect accorded to rationality and voter intelligence has left me stunned. I have said earlier that the campaigns were not perfect and had their share of mud-slinging and irrationality. I am critical of the US’ foreign policy and attitude. They carry a lot of blame for the kind of world we live in today, from the threats of nuclear war to the economic crisis. But the world wouldn’t have been what it is today without the US, for the better or worse.

Talking to some friends I have heard an argument that the parliamentary form of democracy with hundreds of parties makes it difficult to have a campaign like in the US. My problem with this argument is that I am not merely asking for formal debates. I am asking for a rational discussion and argument from candidates and parties about why I should vote for them. It has nothing to do with the structure of how these policies and rationales are conveyed. It has to do with explaining them in the first place. The party manifestos are meant to describe how a party will govern the country. But I have never known people to actually have access to and read election manifestos to make a decision. But they do turn up at rallies, which is where the policies of the candidate and parties could be discussed. There are interviews and press conferences. There are the 24 hour news channels hungry for news and information. I see no reason why they would not lap up candidates’ policy explanations if they are offered to them.

How and why a person ultimately votes is his personal choice. The people we trust our lives with could at least make an effort to ensure that the reason is rational.

Good news or bad?

India's private sector defense industry is seeking higher FDI investments. [link]

Tuesday, November 4

Election fever

It is election day here in the United States, and the excitement is contagious. In a way I am relieved like many others that campaigning is finally over. I don't remember witnessing such long campaigns in any of the Indian elections in the recent past. And unfortunately neither are they as informative as the US campaigns have been.

I said this during an election event at my School and felt guilty that I was criticizing my country's democracy. When in fact I have the utmost respect for it, and the people who helped create it. But it is true that elections in India lack the informed discussion and deliberation that can be seen here. Most of the 'debates' end up being mere political rhetoric and highly abusive too. Not that American politics is devoid of such ills, but there is significant intelligent discussion missing in India. I think of it as an insult to the intelligence of the Indian voters.

Unlike in the US, Indians enjoy discussing politics. Right from the rickshaw-wala to your boss, everyone talks to everyone about politics. Everyone has a opinion. And everyone thinks it is their right and duty to express it. It is only the politicians, the candidates we would actually vote for, who are scared of discussing it. If the candidates were to engage in serious policy discussions with the Indian voters, policy and political accountability would acquire new meaning.

It would be interesting to see Advani discuss real economic policy with Manmohan Singh, instead of the Ram mandir and Ram setu. It would be good to see the marxists parties explaining to people why having fewer industries is good for them, and actually making sense. I am sure I would stop and think before I vote if I know what would really happen, and not just an utopia. The election manifestos do provide information, but how much is practical and implementable. How much is real policy making. We have seen everyone criticise each other's policy, but never putting forth a really thought-out policy that would force me to vote for a particular party. We vote on regional, linguistic, caste lines. How many times do we vote based on policies being proposed?

With the kind of media coverage that elections get, I would expect the same media to force intelligent discussion during elections. And it is very much possible. Elections give the media a new leverage and power, that they lack during normal times. It can destroy a candidate's chances if it wants to. I would like to see the media take a proactive step and demanding real policy discussion from our candidates during the next elections. If we demand it, we will get good candidates. We can force people with real potential to stand for elections and win. We can vote out the many felons that Lok Sabha houses. In a democracy we deserve the government we get, because we vote for it. If we think we deserve better we need to demand the best.

Monday, November 3

BJP, a terrorist organization?

At least that is what Mr Digvijay Singh seems to be hinting at.

"Blast happen whenever BJP is in trouble: Congress."

Question for TOI

I have a question for the Times of India reporters/subs/editors... How and why does it matter when reporting a rape if the alleged abuser was a dalit?!?!?

For one rape and murder are heinous crimes in themselves and should be sufficient premises for carrying the story. Furthermore the person concerned is a tenth standard student, which adds to the 'news value' of the incident. Why then do you need to add that 'dalit' to the sentence? Can it not be reported merely as an inhumane act?