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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 have...no 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 Cornwall...bet 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.....