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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Do they know its Christmas?

Even as our media keeps its focus on Srinagar and Kashmir, it has forgotten the peaceful and docile people whose land Kashmir originally was, and who fled from the violence and massacres: the Kashmiri Pandits. On Christmas Day, I went to one such Camp for the Migrants, set up in Shahdara, along the Yamuna Riverbed. The camp was surrounded by mountains of garbage and shit, and the sanitation and water supply primitive. Surrounded by slums inhabited by the vast numbers of immigrant workers who keep Delhi turning, the Pandits Camp is a sad and pitiful place, a reminder of how they have been let down, not only by the Government, but by everybody else.
I asked them about how they manage to educate their children, and they simply said " We teach them ourselves." I had forgotten that this was a educated, middle-class community, who preferred to flee than go the Israeli settler way, and move around with a submachine strapped to their back.

     Children playing at the camp, Shahdara

                       A bird's eye view of the camp

After all, it makes for a more dramatic story to profile and write about the conflict in Kashmir than nose around with stinky refugees, right...this is what happens when you do not strike back at those who massacre you, and turn the other cheek. That's a very unChristian lesson to learn on Christmas, but that's the truth.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Victorian Angkor Wat

For anybody who reads about World War II, Winston Churchill emerges a hero. That's why it is such a shock, to read in "Churchill's Secret War", how Churchill, with his hostility, racism and arrogance, condemned Bengal to  a terrible famine in 1943, in which three million Indians died. The author, Madhushree Mukerjee, carefully documents Churchill's almost criminal negligence, and his view of Indians as a subhuman race, which led to the tragedy. Food was being exported from India to Britain, even when Indians were dying of hunger in the streets of Dhaka and Calcutta....

By coincidence, I was on Ross Island last week, in the Andaman Islands, which was the adminstrative headquarters of the British, from where the British governed the huge archipelago. It was weird: the equivalent of going to a Victorian Version of Angkor Wat, with twisted trees growing out of Anglican churches and Gothic architecture...we have made no attempt to preserve the place, which was destroyed by the combination of an earthquake and Japanese attack in 1942. A truly fitting end to a racist and arrogant empire...enjoy the pics...

This was the wall of one of the barracks which billeted Brit soldiers..

After keeping down 250 million people, the Presbyterian Church where they used to piously pray....

The Commissioner's Bunglow

Saturday, December 4, 2010

How journalists run their backyard...

The other day, I was at the Press Club around 9 pm, and the huge plasma TV (naturally, donated by some company) in the main wood-panelled room was showing Vir Sangvi defending himself over the Radia tapes. There was, as usual a huge din created by drunken journos having arguments, so it was difficult to hear what was being said. Some guys went up to the TV, and stuck their ears right over the speaker, trying to listen in. As usual, the place was overcrowded, the service was bad, and the food was terrible. Lots of people who could not find space in the main room were sitting outside on the hard clay ground (in Lutyens Delhi, the Press Club is not able find a way of growing a lawn yet), shivering at dirty red plastic tables, with dirty red or white plastic chairs to match.

There was no menu card, either for the drinks or the food, and one had to cross-examine the waiter to find out what was on offer (ofcourse, even if you somehow found what was on offer, finding out how much it cost was next to impossible)

The press club has, finally, after twenty years of begging, got a piece of land for building their building (they are currently in rented premises), and now we are trying to find somebody who will fund the actual construction .

Some politicians have been donating one lakh or fifty thousand, relishing the idea of throwing pennies to the this rate, it could take a century  to build anything.

Many of waiters are still "temporary" after decades of working there: they must be getting paid peanuts, because their clothes are dirty, and the Club cannot find a way of funding livery for them.

I have been a member of the Press Club for over a decade now, and the way it is run is a shame.

It is even more amazing because journalists keep lecturing everybody on how the country should be run, and this is how their backyard is being kept.

Just a few streets away is the Civil Services Officers Club, and it is much better run: the food is better, the cutlery is decent, there is something for members' families, there are some sports facilities...

That's why, "Radiagate" as it has come to be christened, did not surprise me much: below the veneer is the seamy underside: underpaid, overworked, without job security, with venal proprietors and even more venal editors, the average journalist today is a pitiful creature....obviously, it does not pay to expose truth, but it pays to twist it, hide it, and obscure it, like Nira Radia did, and a hundred "PR" practitioners in Delhi are still doing....

Monday, November 22, 2010

Selling global warming down the river for 40 rupees....

I have a diesel car, for which I have not been able to get a Pollution Under Certificate for years, even though, when I bought it five years back, it was supposed to have the Bharat I norms (the latest norms then). After going to PUC kiosks all around Delhi (and finding it failed to pass the emission norms everywhere), I got the Catalytic Convertor cleaned, the engine tuned up..and yet it failed to get a Certificate.
For months i was puzzled: here was a new car, a privately owned, sparingly used one, with the manufacturer promising the latest emission norms, and yet it failed : its emissions were way above normal.
Well, having been a student of TERI, the guilt of contributing to global warming was only surpassed by my fear of being caught everytime I passed a traffic constable, for not having a valid PUC certificate.
Well, I thought, maybe the new emission standards were so stringent (Bharat IV or is it V now?) that my car could not pass...or maybe something was wrong with my engine...or maybe I was driving my car badly...??
The mechanic at the Workshop cleared up the mystery: "No car can pass those norms...give the man at the PUC kiosk a hundred-buck note, and ask him to issue the people don't know how to get these things done..."
The legal cost of the PUC is 60 rupees.
This sunday, I went to a kiosk, and told him I wanted a PUC.
He said, "Okay, line up the car, and I'll charge you sixty bucks whether it passes or fails the test"
"Oh", I said, "It will fail the test. Just take a hundred bucks, and adjust something, and pass it"
The guy gave me a broad smile. "Okay. Line up the car".
I lined up the car in line with his computer, so that he could take a pic using his webcam. He took a pic, and asked, "Do you actually want to test it?"
"Not at all. I just want the certificate"
In two minutes, he put in my car number, and hey presto!, he printed out my certificate...
I remembered all those classes while I was doing my Master's Degree in Public Policy and Sustainable Development right under RK Pachauri's nose in TERI, the theory about "socially acceptable costs of pollution", the Kyoto Protocol, the "Cap and Trade Regime", cutting down on global warming, and most of all, the great incorruptible "Control and Command" model of environmental conservation...all to be sold down the river for a measly forty rupees....
How about the "Bribe and Barter" system of pollution control, folks?

Friday, November 12, 2010

The most ancient place in Delhi

The date: 23 centuries before.
Approximately 230 B.C.
A group of heavily armed soldiers come down the jungle path, from the East of the land, from Pataliputra. They come to a kind of intersection in that primeval dense forest, where the path from the East to the West meets the track from the South to the North. There is  a crag at this ancient crossroads, rising out of the green roof of the jungle, a tiny spur of the Aravallis. It is not much, but it will do :  with its cliff face inscribed, it will act as a billboard for travellers along the busy route to the south, the Daksina-patha, advertising the new faith of the Chakravarthi, King Ashoka.
The soldiers carry a palm leaf inscription with them, and in their party are stone-inscribers, experienced in etching on the hardest of granite, using little more than water and a few simple tools. They climb the crag, and inscribe the long message of Compassion and Purity that their Monarch had dictated to them, which they have recorded in the palm leaf manuscript. It takes them a few days, but the winter sun of Indraprastha is pleasant on their faces as they work, guarded by soldiers. Their work done, they depart, to inscribe the Edicts of their King in some other place...
The centuries pass, the jungle covers all, and the inscription, and its message is forgotten. Indraprastha falls, empires rise and fall. Finally the City of New Delhi arises around the place, the place which was the crossroads in the jungle.

The modern ugly locality called Kalkaji arises there, and the hillock is used as an open air toilet by the poor of the place. Yards away, is the busy Outer Ring Road. Finally, sometime in the 60s, serendipitously, someone stumbles on to the inscription, realises that this is one of the Minor Rock Edicts of Ashoka, and that the site is 23 centuries old, and the ASI, in desperation, builds an ugly iron cage around the Edict, and a concrete shed to shelter the inscription.. The photo above shows what the site looks like.

Of all the historical remains of Delhi, this is probably the most ancient, arising paradoxically out of the brashest and most modern part of Delhi.

The idea fascinated me: this juxtaposition of ancient crossroads with the modern flyover, this magical crossover place from our age to the Ashokan era. So one day a few months back, I went there.

I went to the ISKON temple, crossed it, and went past a huge garbage dump. Holding my nose, I crossed over the gate of the Park that had come over the hillock. Kids were playing cricket all over and around the hillock, and they guided me on the route to the top.

I went up and gazed at the highly weathered, and faded inscription through the iron bars. Despite the grim concrete of the shed, and the noise from the busy highway, I could picture the scene, 23 centuries back...the rat-a-tat of the chisel, the thunder of hooves in the forest, the sense of mission of the leader of the group, and the solemnity that comes with the act of creating a time-capsule, to be opened and read in a distant future, when the language itself and the King was forgotten

That act of deciphering the lost language and reading would be done by a young Brit, James Prinsep, twenty one centuries later...but that, ah, is another gripping story....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Emerging country blah blah blah...

As Obama was addressing Parliament, and flattering our MPs and citizens with arfully chosen words about how great we are, I was navigating the back lanes of Okhla in South Delhi, looking for a workshop for my car. There was no tar on the roads, once you got off the main road into Okhla. There was no tar on even a single road: further, the dirt track (for that was what it was) was full of deep potholes and gentle hillocks, and I was wishing I had a four wheel drive vehicle. The narrow dirt-tracks were full of shacks built right on them, on the "side-walks'. To complicate it further, huge trucks were parked right on them. As the crow flies, the place was just half a dozen kilometres from Parliament, where Obama was providing balm (zzzzzzzzandu balm?) to the Hon'ble MPs.There were hundreds of  young men sitting on their hauches on the roads, doing absolutely nothing, and little children playing in the dirt, right next to the roaring traffic.
Maybe they were from Bangladesh, or may be they were Indian.
But all the same, it was a shame, that while we were spending thousands of crores on the Commonwealth Games, we could not even provide tarred roads a few kilometres away....after all, everybody, just everybody pays taxes to the government, either directly, or through indirect taxes, don't they?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The bad bad years of DTC monopoly

All the controversy over phasing out the Blueline buses (the private buses) on the Delhi roads, and allowing Delhi Transport Corporation to resume its monopoly reminds me of how Delhi, especially transport, used to be twenty years back, when there were no private buses.
I used to wait for a DTC bus for sometimes close to an hour, sometimes even longer: on some routes, there were very few buses. The buses, when they came, were inhumanly packed, and it used to be hell to be inside one, with the temperature at 45 degrees in the summer.
The conductors were rude, and the collective ordeal made everybody quarrelsome, and often hot words and fisticuffs used to be exchanged.
All that changed when the routes were opened to private operators.
Yes, they drove recklessly, and they killed people.
But suddenly, there were buses every few minutes, and you were being actually courted to get into a bus.
I wonder if we are going to go back to those dreaded days with the banning of the Bluelines, despite tall talk of the thousands of new buses which have been inducted.
Surely, it would have made more sense to train the Blueline drivers better, regulate them better, and have them competing with DTC, than outlawing their existence altogether. Any monopoly finally degenerates, and DTC will surely do so, with staff resorting to flash strikes when they know there is no alternative to them.
As a result of those bruising years with DTC, I have been using my own transport, a bike, and then cars, in a very dogged way for the last 18 years. If the government goes and implements its stupid policy, you will definitely not find me using the public transport in a long long time...
The Metro? Ah, the Metro is getting really crowded: the result of poor modeling of commuter growth rates, and how to expand. Though, geographically, the Metro has expanded, the expansion of train frequencies has not really kept pace with the number of people using the metro. The result: the same crush which used to be on DTC twenty years back. And the crowds, when there is a glitch on the line, are scary. Guess we need a stampede before we  pay attention to the problem.
The lessons to be learnt? Adminstrators need to apply policy prescriptions, such as the correct level of State interventions, the farsightedness of planning for future growth as much as technical solutions, to problems. Going to the USA, and studying how they do it there is of no use, unless they practice it out here!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Graduation Day to Remember....

So, at the ripe old age of 42, on 28th of October, I received my Master's Degree in Public Policy from TERI,
at a convocation...
His Royal Nibs, the Lt. Governor of Delhi, Tejendra Khanna was there, probably bribed by TERI's act of giving
him a Honorary Doctorate....
TERI gave a doctorate to some UAE Minister, some Sultan Royal Nibs, probably because he must have given them a contract..also some DG of UNIDO got one, probably because of the same reason...
Khanna and Pachauri gave crashingly boring speeches..
After talking about inclusive development, poverty blah blah, Pachouri got into a 70 lakh Toyota Prius and glided away...
Me? I felt depressed to graduate with kids half my age...guess there is a time for everything in my life....
Still, not a bad way of getting a degree, sleeping off every afternoon, and a trip to the US besides.....
TERI being TERI, guess everything is basically a selling opportunity...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why Good did not triumph over Evil this year...

For the last twenty years, on Dussehra Day, I have gone to the neighbouring ground, to see the effigy of Ravan being burnt, symbolizing the victory of the forces of good over evil.
Not so this year. There were no effigies of Ravan or Kumbhakarna or Meghnath.
For, thanks to the Commonwealth Games, our local ground had been converted into a car park for the Siri Fort Sports Complex where some of the games were staged, and in any case, thanks to the tight security, crackers and materials for making the effigies could not make it to Delhi, with the result that neither the Ram Lila was held,
nor did Ravan burn this year.
I, like the hundreds of others in my locality trudged all the way to the ground, and came back home, disappointed.
We switched on TV, and watched the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi witnessing the burning of the effigies at the Ram Lila Grounds.
Indeed, all over Delhi, the there were virtually no Ram Lilas staged, nor the effigies burnt this year, because it coincided with the Games...
It was a fitting finale to the CWG : after all, Evil has triumphed over Good this year.
Sad : first you steal the people's money, then you snatch their freedom to celebrate their festivals....such docility, the people of Delhi doubt, every invader worth his salt kicked us in the teeth.....
PS: Our Royals have to run Restaurants and Hotels to survive, and here we are, at the Games,  honouring Prince Charles, Prince Edward, the Duchess of Bahadur Shah Zafar will be turning in his grave....and ofcourse that butcher of Tamils, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Meeting MF Hussain...

It was June 1991.
I walked down a deserted hospital corridor in Pune, at 11 pm in the night, heading for the lift at the end.
Just as I reached the lift, the doors opened: there stood a tall, fair man, with a white beard in the lift. He gave me a half-smile, and stepped out of the lift, and walked down the corridor. He seemed vaguely familiar.
I looked back, and he was barefoot. Recognition dawned. It was MF Hussain. His son was admitted into the hospital, and he was going up to see him.
My friend, too, was admitted in the hospital, for malaria.
Both MF Hussain's son, my friend and me were all, at that time, staying at the FTII campus in Pune. A two-month film appreciation course was going on, and Hussain's son, with a ponytail, was the dashing Knight of the place, with pretty girls fawning on him.
It was eerie, that meeting: just me and Hussain in an empty corridor in the middle of the night. Surrealistic.
The rest is history: Hussain is now the most recognized name in contemporary Indian art, and I continue to bravely soldier on with my amateur paintings....

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The heppest, the most ultra-modern building of Delhi....built in the 14th century

In my twenty years in Delhi, I am yet to see a building in Delhi whose walls slope backwards, as they go up.

Except for one building: the tomb of Ghiasuddin Tughluq in Tughugabad. The walls of the tomb are set in such a fashion that each block recedes in, from the viewer, and the walls slope away from you. And to see the scale of the monument, I have positioned a human being, so that you can compare. Imagine the technical difficulties of putting in a vertical arch in a sloping wall. Each block has to be cut in an individual way, depending on its position in the tomb. Ofcourse, woe to the craftsman who got it wrong : he would have got his hands chopped off, or beheaded.
In the evenings, Ghiasuddin used to stroll down from Tughluqabad to see the progress of his tomb. Imagine the fore-sightedness of a monarch whose hobby was to construct his own tomb. His son, the terrible Muhammed Bin Tughlak lies beside him inside the tomb. I have been there many times in the last decade, but for some reason, always found the place deserted, despite it being a truly awesome and well-maintained building.
Only now, I find, at CGO complex on Lodi road, a building coming up, with sloping-away walls: walls of glass, but sloping away nevertheless...Ghiasuddin would have been happy to see it...or would he? The jealous nature of monarchs is legendary....

Living in the shadow of the Commonwealth Games...

I live as it were, on Groud Zero of the Commonwealth Games.
My office overlooks Jawarharlal Nehru Stadium, where much of the action for the Games is going to take place, and my government quarters is in Andrewsganj, barely a couple of kilometres away.
I have lived in the shadow of the Games preparation for well over a year now.
Everyday, on my way to office, I find the road jammed, because of some new flyover or road being built. The route is occasionally closed to traffic, because either the Delhi Traffic police are carrying out some trials, or some bigwig is coming to inspect the venues.
For the last two weeks, I have had to fight to get into my office, because the lane leading to Soochna Bhavan has been closed off, to let in only those who have 'valid" stickers, which is interpreted on a different basis by different policemen/policewomen everyday.
Also, these narrow roads are even narrower; a yellow line has been drawn down the middle, and the lane to the right reserved for the CMW bigwigs. So, getting anywhere at all takes hours, and as a result, we just stay at home.
Today, on Sunday, we cannot go shopping, because the Malls and Markets are closed. Neither can we go to a park, because we apprehend that we cannot reach anyplace because of traffic restrictions.
I went cycling this morning: never have I seen Delhi looking so deserted. It looks like a city having a Total Bandh, with barricades and policemen everywhere.
So, the irony is that while the Delhi citizen is forced to stay home, the Canadian and the Australian and the Brit
are partying away at the disco at the CWG village, swimming in luxurious swimming pools, eating the best of cuisine, and shopping at the Village boutiques.
When the British were blasting away villagers from cannons in the wake of the 1857 Mutiny, and hanging entire village-full of men from trees, I bet they would never have thought we'd be so devoted to the Commonwealth, even after 150 years. How we kiss the boot that kicked us...
P.S: My daughter Ria went to Jammu as part of the Under-19 football team, representing Delhi in the National School Games. She stayed in Jammu in a dormitory, with inadequate communal sanitary and bathing facilites, without sufficient food to eat, not even a solitary vegetable to enliven her dal and roti diet. She came back yesterday, emaciated and tired. Yeah, we serve buffalo tongue, cooked African style, for the athletes at the CWG village, but our budding sportspeople have to put up without buckets in their bathrooms and no sabzi in their diet. Would I ever allow her to get into this line? Never. Imagine how many medals we could have won if we had spent all the money spent on the games to encourage youngsters at the school level...
I would first like to slap Shera, then stamp on him and set his effigy on fire. I will definitely buy a stuffed version today, to work out my fantasy. Let the games begin today evening.....

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lessons to be learnt from the Ipad...

My brother in the USA gifted my an Ipad last week. The minimalist aesthetics are great, but boy, is it difficult to work on...To begin with, it seem to have a problem getting on to the Wi-fi network in my house: you keep putting in the network password, and nothing happens. When you do finally get on to the network (which you do when it relents...), you have to wade through one problem after another...the touch screen keypad is next to impossible to work on, every software has to be downloaded through Apple I-tunes, and for some simple software like Realplayer, there are no applications at all..Finally, you cannot chat, either on Facebook, or on Skype or Google (even a text chat is not possible). It does have a nice feel to it, and is incredibly light, and ofcourse, it is immune to most viruses...guess if you have already a laptop, maybe it will do a second laptop, just to play on, nothing serious...
To get a perspective on exactly how appealing it is, know this: my 15-year old laptop crazy daughter does not want to go anywhere near it.....she prefers a Dell Mini anyday.....
There is a lesson in this somewhere: if you make something beautiful, and if you manage to create hype about it, you can sell anything, even if it is a substandard product, as the Ipad is...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Are we turning into a police state?

Twenty years back, after I had got through my UPSC exam, a policeman came to carry out the verification of my antecedents; a pre-requisite for being employed by the state. Today, twenty years later, I have a Home Ministry card with two stars, entitling me to enter all government buildings, and a salute from the guard, in addition. I issue people OBC certificates, attest marksheets, and the government issues passports on my recommendations..
Not suprisingly, I was astounded when a policeman landed on my doorstep with a long form on saturday, and asked me to fill it up by the next day. Titled "Police Verification Form", this form asks us to paste a photograph of the Head of the Family ( whatever does that mean in the 21st century, when man and wife are equals, I wonder), telephone numbers (including mobile), details about who is living with me, from when on they have been doing so, and  and a thousand other details. Also, despite me being in government quarters(and therefore this whole data already being with the government), how long I have been living there etc...
Is there any legislative sanction for this invasion of privacy? None.There is no law asking any citizen to comply with such privacy invading measures.
Given the record of the Delhi police ( they were instrumental in guiding mobs to Sikh dominated areas in Delhi in 1984), and that of the Gujarat police, any citizen would think twice before entrusting this whole load of information to a bunch of ill-educated, corruption-ridden, brutality-ridden force.
Further, this kind of information is being collected despite there being official denials that such information is collected. In Delhi, every time such information is collected, especially from Muslim dominated areas, there is always an outcry, and the police promptly backtrack.
So, being a law-abiding citizen, I had a sleepless night, wondering what to do. By the next morning, my mind was made up: I would not comply, and fill the form. I would tell the constable, when he turned up, that I would not fill the form. But what if he summoned me to come to the Police Station? Well, I would go, but I would call the newspapers, and exercise my right to protest.
As it happened, he did not turn up on Sunday, the next day, but he turned up on Monday, when I was not there. My wife told him our form was not ready, and the constable told us to fill it up and deposit it with our colony's security guards. That may have been a more tactful reply from wifey: so the confrontation is postponed to one more day....since I am most definitely not going to fill that form.
Eternal Vigilance, the saying goes, is the  pricewe pay  for liberty.
If we are going to turn into a police state as a reaction to terrorism, that cost is too high a price to pay, and I, for one, will oppose it with all my strength....

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Best Thali I've had in my life....

A view of the Thali, served on solid silver: note the lotus-shape of the plate
The Dessert (silver again...)

The Sheesh Mahal , where the food is served

The place setting.....

Having lived in Bombay, Madras and Delhi (I'm using those old names of those cities quite deliberately), and having visited some 20 states of the country, I thought I knew all about Thalis: the "Rice-plates" of Bombay, the "Saapadu" of Tamil Nadu, the Andhra thalis, the Gujarati ones, the Marathi thalis, the Punjabi ones, the "Sino-Ludhianvi' Chinese platters, the 'Tandoori" ones from Nirulas...
Well, I had a revelation: I visited Amber fort along with my brother last month, and I noticed a neglected, deserted walkway, as I left the temple inside the fort. Barefoot, i climbed up the walkway, and viola!! I was in  
an opulent restaurant, modelled on a Rajasthani palace. Quite sceptical, we ordered the vegetarian thali ( the most expensive one of my life, at 1020 rupees a thali), and it turned out to be simply the best Thali I've ever had. Cooked in ghee, hot, with just the right combination of spices, I understood what real Rajasthani food must have tasted like, before vegetable soya oil and commercialism set in.
The Restaurant is called "1135 AD", and here's a review;
Most importantly, despite the clientèle of foreigners, they have not tried to 'spice down' the food, and make it bland, like they do in any Indian place in Delhi or Europe or America....
I guess the descendants of those who cooked for the Royals must be around still, with those skills being handed down from generation to generation. My brother, the reluctant Yankee,  called it the "best 20 dollars" he'd spent in his entire life...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Search for the Tomb of Delhi's Most Loved Prince....

The tomb of Dara Shikoh

The graves of Dara, and his brother (s) ?? The little gravestone is whose, I wonder?

At the beginning of the 19th century, when the British attitude to India was full of arrogant contempt for the culture of India and its history, there came something which changed the European view of India: the first translations of the Upanishads from Persian to European languages. Max Mueller and others did the translations from Persian to French and Latin. The Upanishads had been translated into Persian by Prince Dara Shikoh, Shah Jahan's eldest son, between 1654 to 1657. Appropriately enough, the translation was titled "Sirr-i-Akbar", or "The Great Secret", since it had to prised out from the Brahmins of Varanasi. The Prince lost out in the succession battle, and was beheaded by Auragazeb. No prince was loved more in the history of Delhi, (with perhaps the exception of Prince Khusrav, the son of Jahangir). Thus, the Upanishads reached Europe, thanks to the eldest son of Mumtaz Mahal, a Sufi of the highest quality, whose life was spent in intellectual pursuits. What infuriated the Mullahs and Aurangazeb even more was Dara's bold statement, in the preface to the translation, that this was the great book, the "Hidden Book" alluded to the Quran.

A lot of books say that he was buried in an unmarked grave within the Humayun's Tomb complex, but for many of us who are his admirers, the search for his tomb is the Holy Grail of the Mughal Empire.
Well, after years of searching, me and my brother, finally found the grave one rainy morning, on the south-west corner of the platform on which Humayun's tomb stands. The sarcophagus is a marble one, ornately carved with flowers,  and bisected (Dara was beheaded, and his head was sent to Shahjahan by Aurangazeb, so the head could be interred only after  the torso was).

The grave is in a line with two graves, that of Shuja and Murad, the other two brothers who lost out to Aurangazeb, and were killed by him. Notably, the other two graves, also in marble, are decorated with verses from the Quran, unlike Dara's, reflecting the view that he was an apostate, and a crypto-Hindu.
Ofcourse, in a way, these are pseudo-graves, since according to Islamic tradition, the body has to buried at ground level, in contact with the ground, in a  simple cotton shroud (not a coffin), and without any name on the grave. So, with the platform of Humayun's tomb being a good 40 feet above ground level, the actual earthen grave must be exactly below where the marble sarcophagus stands. And since there are no names, in the absence of a DNA test, only oral traditions and legend can point out specific graves within reasonable limits of 
And who showed us Dara Shikoh's grave, which guidebooks and historians failed to? A humble sweeper working at the Tomb. The oral tradition must have survived in him. He also told me and my brother that we were the first to ask for the tomb in all the years he had worked there...... Thus, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings shall truth be born....

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The best speech ever written....

For the last twenty-five years, I have been listening to Indian politicians delivering speeches, on television, on radio, in parliament, and a zillion other places. Uniformly, I have found them badly written and badly delivered.
Speeches delivered extempore have been good: Vajpayee and George Fernandes used to hold the Lok Sabha spellbound when they started speaking.
But Vajpayee's written speeches were dull as ditchwater, and delivered in a deadpan voice. I remember asking Ashok Tandon, who used to be his Information Advisor, why the speeches were so poorly written, with jargon, cliches, and convoluted sentences. His one-line answer was : " That's because bureaucrats write them!"
One of the best speeches ever written, I believe, is Nehru's speech in the Central Hall of Parliament, on the eve of Independence, on August 14, 1947. The English is lean, spare and lyrical: the delivery full of emotion and rousing. Like Gandhi and Bose, his English language skills were terrific, and the accent clipped British upper-middle class.  Today's politicians, especially the younger ones, are not a patch on Nehru, Bose, Gandhi and Rajaji, even in language skills and oratory, much less other abilities. A look at that historic speech by Nehru, then, first a clipping on Youtube:

The text needs to be read, and here it goes;

"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity. 

At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?

Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this Assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now.

That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.

And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this One World that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.

To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we make an appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill-will or blaming others.

We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell. The appointed day has come-the day appointed by destiny-and India stands forth again, after long slumber and struggle, awake, vital, free and independent. The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges we have so often taken. Yet the turning-point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about.

It is a fateful moment for us in India, for all Asia and for the world. A new star rises, the star of freedom in the East, a new hope comes into being, a vision long cherished materializes. May the star never set and that hope never be betrayed! We rejoice in that freedom, even though clouds surround us, and many of our people are sorrow stricken and difficult problems encompass us. But freedom brings responsibilities and burdens and we have to face them in the spirit of a free and disciplined people.

On this day our first thoughts go to the architect of this freedom, the Father of our Nation [Gandhi], who, embodying the old spirit of India held aloft the torch of freedom and lighted up the darkness that surrounded us. We have often been unworthy followers of his and have strayed from his message, but not only we but succeeding generations will remember this message and bear the imprint in their hearts of this great son of India, magnificent in his faith and strength and courage and humility. We shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest.

Our next thoughts must be of the unknown volunteers and soldiers of freedom who, without praise or reward, have served India even unto death. We think also of our brothers and sisters who have been cut off from us by political boundaries and who unhappily cannot share at present in the freedom that has come. They are of us and will remain of us whatever may happen, and we shall be sharers in their good [or] ill fortune alike.

The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour? To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.

We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be. We are citizens of a great country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.

To the nations and peoples of the world we send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom and democracy. And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service. Jai Hind."

That speech can be put along Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and Churchill's famous 'We shall fight them on the beaches" speech, in terms of its sheer beauty...

P.S: Wonder whether 40,000 crores spent on the Commonwealth Games fits in with "The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity." ??

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What would those idols inside the Ka'aba looked like?

Imagine this: that someone would rise up someday and say: the Tirupati temple is sacred, that is,  the structure is sacred, built in a sacred spot, but that the idol of Venkateshwara inside should not be worshipped, but should be smashed...
And then that person would say: you're worshipping the wrong way, and you need to do it my way. And then those worshippers would say: let us pray to  our Venkateshwara idol the way we want. And then that person would say: no, you need to give up that idol, but you can worship that structure in which the idol stood, and the place where it stood is holy.
So finally, a new religion is born; the worshipers of the idol finally give up the idol and the temple after years of war, and the idol is duly smashed, and the building in which the idol used to stand becomes the center of the new religion.
That, roughly, was what happened in the 7th century when the idols inside the Ka'aba were given up by the Meccan tribes, after they were militarily defeated . Prophet Mohammed smashed the idols inside, but the Ka'aba became the centre of the new religion, Islam. Muslims believe that the Kaaba is holy because it was built by the Prophet Abraham.
As an idol-worshipping Hindu myself, I always wondered what those idols would have looked like, inside the Kaaba.
Well, an ancient kingdom, Lihya, excavated in Arabia, threw up massive statues. Those statues are on  display at an exhibition in the Louvre, which is on now. Though those statues are thought to be of the Lihyan kings, they give us a clue as to how, artistically, those idols in the Kaaba may have looked like. The massive 2.5 meter polished red sandstone statues show amazing sophistication. Even more likely is another statue, with minimalist design, titled 'suffering man" which is probably closer to what those idols may have looked like.
I'm attaching a link to the exhbition, which has the pictures of both the Lihyan statue, and the 'suffering man', and details of the exhibition

You can be sure that the Saudi King, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, is not too happy with people excavating statues from Arabian sands, 14 centuries after the Prophet destroyed all the idols of Arabia....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Neo Colonialists

A hundred years back, no white man in India felt that he or she should be subjected to any laws by any "native Indian"'. Only an Englishman could judge or be trusted to judge an Englishman fairly. The result: no Indian, however senior, could be a judge over any case that involved the British. British judges, in cases which involved blatant transgressions by the whites, including murder, were mostly racist, and the accused got away lightly. The Times of India would be the watchdog for the British, utterly parochial and racist, keeping guard that no justice would ever be done to any Indian.
If you thought those days were over, you just have to follow the case of Blackberry, the global multinational which provides cellphone services across the world. In blatant violation of the conditions under which it was allowed to operate in India, it has been encrypting its services, and Indian enforcement officials have not been allowed to "listen" to selected customers.
During the Mumbai attacks, the terrorists were using Blackberries, not the "satellite phones" that we have been told they were using. Our police have neither been able to eavesdrop nor trace the calls, thanks to Blackberry's non-cooperation. But Blackberry has been allowing US officials eavesdropping facilities in America, and also other governments in much of the world. They apparently have problems only with places like India.
Blackberry had the nerve to refuse the Indian government which wanted both the code and listening facilities, at a meeting last month. The UAE banned Blackberry services after a similar refusal by Blackberry last month there, and one hopes that the Indian government follows the lead of that tiny country.
The only refreshing change has been the attitude of the cheerleaders, watching from the sidelines.Unlike Times of India a century ago, the New York Times today has a refreshingly non-racist attitude to the whole thing, which you can read below:
The NYT concludes its analysis of the case in a simple way : "But in the end, it is governments, not private industry, that rule the airwaves and the Internet. The Emirates acted understandably and appropriately: governments should not be timid about using their full powers to ensure that their law enforcement and intelligence agencies are able to keep their citizens safe."
Ofcourse, we'll probably hear the US ambassador in the next few days drop a veiled warning that banning Blackberry services in India will hit US investment, or CII/FICCI, issuing a statement, urging the Indian government to reconsider the situation in the interests of the Indian image abroad. Bet every single businessman whose company is a member of CII or FICCI is one of the estimated one million Blackberry users in times watching these jokers in action reminds one of the Marxist's axioms about the "comprador" class in each country, the handmaiden of international capital.....

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Barkha Dutt's "Scoop" : allowing Syed Geelani to preach on prime time

Anybody who has followed Syed Geelani's words and deeds over the years would know how much
of an India-hater he is, and what a Pakistan toadie he is.
The other day, I was flipping channels, and there he was, on NDTV, pontificating and posturing, pretending to be a dove.
Barkha Dutt was interviewing him, and it seemed that, in return for "scooping" other channels by allowing to be interviewed, she had decided to give him a free run.
I watched, as he spoke non-stop, mixing hate with lies, sanctimonious, and when Barkha tried to feebly interrupt,
just silencing her by raising his voice.
She looked totally out of breath, and totally out of control of her own interview.
If I were teaching journalism students how not to interview, this would be one interview I would show them: an interviewer who is ill-prepared with her questions, who is docile and awed by her subject's hostility, and finally an interviewee who can keep talking without having to pause for breath.
Geelani's ilk believe women are just animals, and  would choose an Islamic hell over a secular Heaven, given a choice. A clever interviewer would have exposed those attitudes: but I wished it was Tim Sebastien or Wolf Blitzer doing this interview: confrontational, irreverential, in-your-face, humbug-exposing...
Despite her  friendship with Omar Abdullah, Barkha Dutt is the kind who is referred to as a "heli-copter" journalist, who drops in on any news-making event, running down from Delhi, as though jumping out of a helicopter, and start yapping non-stop. That she was of the helicopter kind got confirmed, as the interview went on, and Barkha kept watching him open-mouthed, totally out of her depth...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Khudhah Key Liye

Last weekend, just by chance, i flipped through DD National, and found the Pakistani hit, "Khudah Ke Liye" being screened. Sceptical at first, I was finally gripped by the central theme: the damage that fanaticism of any kind can do to a person's character. It is a powerful PR film for the secular cause, and trust DD to air it without any kind of publicity. In the media clutter, with hundreds of programmes being on in any given evening, it would have made sense for DD to advertise about when the film was being aired...
Coming, as it did, with India-Pakistan talks going in the background, it provided a powerful commentary on the illness that has overtaken Pakistan.
Thus do our PR coups go unnoticed....

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Grinning like a jackass..
It seems to be a great PR idea.
When you are making a movie around a cartoonist, a famous one, and that too, around his "common man', why not visit the actual guy, who is in his deathbed at a hospital ?
And invite the cameras in, for a great photo-op?
That's what Akshay Kumar, actor did: he walked into the ICU ward where cartoonist
RK Laxman is struggling for life,
and sat next to him, grinning, as one critic put it, 'like a jackass".
Well i dont know what a jackass is...but the picture sure made my stomach turn.
Akshay with a wide grin on his face, as though he's just got an Oscar, jubilant and healthy.
Laxman, frail, confusion showing on his face, tubes poking out of his body, staring at Akshay kumar.
Akshay should fire his PR consultant, for sure.
Knowing when a PR idea can become a disaster is sure tough, eh ? Those kids coming  out from IIMC better be promotion has limits, right?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Is democracy really better than old-style monarchy?

On 6th of July, I got out of office at 6 pm. From my office (Lodi road) to home in Andrewsganj is just 2.5 kilometres. I reached home at 7.30 pm, a full one and a half hours after i set out. The roads were totally gridlocked. To add to this, was the convoy of Shiela Dixit, Chief Minister of Delhi, with sirens blaring, impatient to get out of the mess into which her adminstration had pushed us into. None of us gave way to the convoy (we physically could not have, unless they had winched our cars out by helicopter),,so finally they went back to her office, without attending the function which she was supposed to attend. (The function was the inauguration of a foot-bridge across the ring road, by the way). That gave us some collective satisfaction. Half my tank of diesel was over, because i kept my A.C switched on , as it was very hot and humid.
All this happened within an arms' reach of Humayan's Tomb. The vision the Mughals had for the dead, our government is unable to have for the living!! The irony...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

SSSSSSSnakes in the Grass..

All practioners of Public Relations would do well to follow the McChrystal episode in American politics closely. One of America's well known Generals, the top military man in Afghanistan, he made the singular error of loosening his mouth around when a journalist was around. Thinking that whatever he said was "off the record", he and his entourage carelessly badmouthed everybody in the Obama administration, in the presence of a journalist from "Rolling Stone", who hung around with them for a week, sharing their drinks, eating their food, and eavesdropping on everything they said in their private moments. The journalist went back, and wrote a profile on Gen McChrystal, titled "The Runaway General". The article added up bits and pieces of whatever the hapless General said to his underlings, and put out a picture of military disrespect and insolence for civilian authority.  When the article got published, not surprisingly, Obama sacked the General. The magazine claimed that the General knew that everything he said was on the record. They further claimed that they had sent the article to the General before they published it. What they actually did was send an innocuous little questionnaire, called a fact-checker, which did not even reveal the countours of the devastating article....
Funnily enough, the General actually had a "Media Advisor", who had invited the journalist to spend a week with them...
Moral of the story? Never trust the press to actually put out the story you want them to put out. They are there to make their living by spitting on you.  Never, never let your guard down.
As we know, there is no corporate tycoon or a politician out there without his little "Media Advisor", who would  be able to string together two decent sentences, or sniff a PR disaster, even when it stares him in the face....

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Tomb, and the humble villagers..

The tomb at the Center of the Lodhi Park is absolutely great for those who like to sketch...many an afternoon have I spent in the shade of that tomb, pleasantly drowsing away ...wonder what ever happened to those who were forcibly shifted out from here, when the Park was made in the 1930s ? For there was a village here when the British decided to build the Lady Willingdon Park, as they called it. Guess there are no eye-witness accounts of forcible translocation of poor people. Imagine, after living for centuries near the tomb, being thrown out to some godforsaken wilderness...

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The Lodi Garden...

This must be one of the most photographed spots of Delhi, but still the Lodhi gardens are so photogenic, especially towards the end of winter, that I could not resist the thought of inflicting my amateur photos on those who read this blog...

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Pictures of the HUDCO park in Andrewsganj..

You would never believe this, but in the concrete jungle that is South Delhi, there are secret oases which flourish, tended by god knows whom, for whatever purpose.. This oases, the HUDCO Udayan, near my house is a little known garden, beautifully landscaped, dotted with flowerbeds and silkcotton trees..One morning, as I took my walk, I clicked a few pics to give you a feel of how it looks...

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Friday, June 25, 2010

A meeting with David Davidar..

As I read the controversy over David Davidar's alleged sexual harassment of his female colleague at Penguin Canada, I remember my only meeting with him.
It took place when I was in All India Radio, and was looking for an interesting personality to interview for the then newly started FM Rainbow channel.
Since Indian writing in English was then (as now) the flavour of the season, and since Penguin, under Davidar was one of the trailblazers, I called him up, and he agreed to the interview.
The Penguin office was in Shahpur Jat, a congested urban village set in South Delhi, squalid, with electricity wires  sprung up all over the place, jostling with banana sellers, and ofcourse, the huge inevitable Mughal ruin rising out of it all.
It was a fifteen minute interview, and Davidar was articulate, pleasantly modulated, and very learned.
He had absolutely no airs at all, despite being the Chief of India's most famous publishing house, and his office was unassuming and modest.
After the interview, we chatted: both of us had done our college from Chennai - he had done it at the Madras Christian College, while I had done from a college nobody had heard of- and it was a very interesting chat.

We were also from the same District, Tirunelveli. His forefathers were Dalits who had converted to Christianity, and I was a Brahmin. In other words, we were from the two sides of the caste divide from the same district of Tamil Nadu. Davidar would write his first novel, "The House of Blue Mangoes", based on the circumstances which had led his people to convert. We, of course, like civilized Indians, did not discuss caste or religion.
Funnily enough, despite being Tamilians, we did not speak a word in Tamil.
As I went back to AIR to edit the interview, it did cross my mind: two people from the same place, but such different fates and careers...I envied him his success, his job, the job of publishing English novels, the celebrity glamour of Page 3 parties...
As I read the headlines yesterday morning, I finally understood: never envy a man till he is dead.! Maybe he should have named the "House of Blue Mangoes" simply as the "House of Blue" ?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Anthem of Doomed Youth..

More than a decade back, we were doing a radio documentary for All India Radio on the 1971 war. We interviewed  one of the heroes of that war, Gen JFR Jacob. At the end of the interview, his eyes misted over, and in his faltering voice, he recited this beautiful stanza from a poem, as a homage to all the young men who lay down their lives in war:

"What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

- Only the monstruous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires."

Back at the editing suite, I was moved by the soft sad voice of the General reciting this sad poem, and I ended my documentary with the stanza.

It was only sevaral years later, thanks to the internet, that I looked up the poem. I found it had been written by Wilfred Owen, a young British chap who perished  in the great carnage that was World War I. Before his death, he wrote several pacifist poems, the best known of which was the poem called the "Anthem for Doomed Youth". Gen Jacob's stanza was from that poem, a brief and shining gem, which I place below in its entirety. Above, I'm also attaching a link to the flash version of the poem, which tries to convey the sadness and futility of WW I, with the whine of shells, the patter of rifles, photos and great music. So, a la Kurt Vonnegut, here it goes:

"Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

- Only the monstruous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?

Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.

The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds."

The flash version of the poem, is also at:

However, till today, I am amazed at Gen Jacob, an old soldier,
showing such sensitivity and poetic taste.....I guess in his old age,
after all the glory and valour, he had to find something to console
him for all the friends that he had lost to the grim reaper Death....


Monday, June 14, 2010

To strive, to seek, to find, ...and not to yield

Guess all of us have a favourite poem, one which has almost become a kind of motto of our life,  to which, one seeks to match our actions. The poem that always inspired me, ever since i read it as a 13-year old schoolboy, was "Ullyses" by Lord Tennyson. The poem is about the the hero Ullyses, who has come back home from the Trojan war after twenty years of wandering in the Aegean sea, but who once again becomes restless, and his wanderlust begins to rise again...the poem starts gently enough, but rises to a  glorious crescendo. It gives a raison d'etre for discovering things, for doing heroic things.....great stuff to read when you are a schoolboy, with stars in your eyes, and also to keep remembering, even when the grey has touched your temples...and so it goes:

   "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,

By this still hearth, among these barren crags,

Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole

Unequal laws unto a savage race,

That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink

Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed

Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those

That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when

Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;

For always roaming with a hungry heart

Much have I seen and known; cities of men

And manners, climates, councils, governments,

Myself not least, but honoured of them all;

And drunk delight of battle with my peers;

Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough

Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades

For ever and for ever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!

As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life

Were all too little, and of one to me

Little remains: but every hour is saved

From that eternal silence, something more,

A bringer of new things; and vile it were

For some three suns to store and hoard myself,

And this grey spirit yearning in desire

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,

To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle —

Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil

This labour, by slow prudence to make mild

A rugged people, and through soft degrees

Subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere

Of common duties, decent not to fail

In offices of tenderness, and pay

Meet adoration to my household gods,

When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:

There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,

Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me —

That ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed

Free hearts, free foreheads — you and I are old;

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;

Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:

The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep

Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,

'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Culture of Obedience, as opposed to the culture of professionalism...

Those in the government who are watching the TV channels and newspapers unravel the true story of how Union Carbide chairman Anderson got away, after being arrested , should not be surprised...The bureacrats- the District Magistrate, the Superintendent of Police, the Chief Secretary himself- gets oral orders from the Chief Minister to find "some way of releasing Anderson", and presto, he is released, flown back to Delhi...this is the culture of unquestioned obedience that prevails amongst India's bureaucracy. Most bureaucrats in their position would have acted in the same way.
After all, from day one at the academy, what is taught is obedience to one's seniors, deference to orders, and the
dangers  of "insubordination" in  a civil servant, rather than the need for integrity, honesty, and professionalism.
Edgar Hoover ran the FBI for two decades, never allowing any political interference from any US President; Richard Nixon was brought down trying to cover up a burglary that he had authorized on his political opponents, which was being investigated by the FBI; in India, it is the civil servants who have to run for cover from their political masters..
I know of one IAS officer from the Maharashtra cadre who was implicated in several criminal cases by a spiteful local politician who was angry that his benami companies were not being given contracts.Today, the honest officer, fed up with the corruption in the State, is on deputation to the centre, in some obscure post, but happy nevertheless...
Only when we have real debates within the government, and the replacement of this culture of deference with a culture of professional pride can administration improve. Right now, across various ministries, in every meeting, the senior-most officer/politician speaks, speaks, and goes on speaking through the meeting, and the others listen, listen and nod..and take notes...if any officer brings a problem to the table, or has a different opinion, it is taken as downright misbehaviour, and he is told to shup up and carry out orders.
A real weighing of pros and cons, a real assesment of the situation never takes place. I wonder how much of this is a colonial legacy, how much of this is the "ji, huzoor" culture inherited from the Moghul empire, and how much of it the Hindu fatalism about life....

Why the government's social message advertising does not work...

I joined DAVP yesterday, after 2 years and four months as Director (IEC) in the Ministry of Rural Development.
For those who are curious, IEC stands for Information, Education and Communication. Despite there being a lot of money ( 52 crores this year, for instance), it was virtually impossible to carry out effective publicity and awareness campaigns for the Ministry's programmes (NREGA, for instance) due to continuous interference from  the senior levels of the Ministry. I found that everybody claimed to be a specialist in fhe field, and my experience or expertise counted for nothing: despite an Annual Plan, adhoc expenditure was the order of the day.
I now realize why the social message advertising of our government is largely a failure: there is no consistency, and at the end of the day, the whims of bureucrats and politicians for various TV channels and newspapers ensures that effective publicity of progamme messages remains an impossible task. If one Minister likes to put out full-page advertisements across the country's newspapers at the cost of one crore rupees a day, another Minister wants to put advertisments aimed  at Below Poverty Line families in pay-TV satellite channels!!
All this is in sharp contrast to private sector advertising, where, if your publicity is not well-researched, well-planned and effective, your product just does not sell, and your company goes broke, and you lose your job.
In the government, even if the publicity is ineffective, and even if the social "product" is not sold, nothing much happens, and there is the next budgetary allocation of huge piles of money to look forward to...
In addition to political interference, there is the bureaucratic ineptitude: in most Ministries , IEC is a minor function, looked after by a Deputy Secretary or Director who is given additional charge. Since most of these officers are not from the Information Service, they think of this as just an additional irritant, and carry out the work without flair or interest.
With this kind of systemic weaknesses, even if the funds increase, the poor are largely likely to ignore the goverment's poverty alleviation schemes, and remain,  untouched and  unaware...