Labels (choose what you want to read about)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wikileaks and other entertainment

The first batch of the Wikileaks documents are out, and they are good timepass. Refer below link for the kind words US diplomats have on world leaders. ROFL.

Then there is the whole unflattering bit about how most of the world sees Pakistan as a worst nightmare (due to its potentially uncontrolled nuclear arsenal). Super fun to see Pakistan getting trashed thoroughly and publicly.

Was also fun to note the Aussies suffer like dogs at the Gabba in the Ashes. England scored 517 for one!! Unbelievable score. Super amused - am grinning, even!

Friday, November 26, 2010


Its the season of scams in our glorious nation. 2G, Adarsh, Yeddy, CWG...each one bigger than the last. And more blatant - the guilty are not scared anymore. I suppose they never have been, in this nation where the laws are laughably weak, and immunity over and above these weak laws can be bought by the rich and powerful.

I am reminded of Haryana's DGP Rathore, who went on to head the state's police after being implicated in her molestation and suicide. After tonnes and tonnes of media action the courts finally reversed their acquittal and convicted him 20 years after the incident - for 6 months. Maximum punishment is any way 2 years. Even as prosecution attempts to give him the maximum term, he has been given bail and is out now.

If this is the punishment a person gets for one of the most high profile cases seen recently, what kind of deterrence does it provide to others? Yes, Indians are hugely huuugely corrupt, but thats an outcome (of our system and processes), not an inherent evil that cant be solved.

Just yesterday night I came across this case of an IAS officer (a director in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs) being arrested for selling state secrets. The poor investigative agencies recorded his calls, followed him and even videotapes his clandestine meetings for 6 months. The evidence against him would be vast I presume. The whole thing didn't get too much media coverage though. Any guesses if he is finally going to get convicted? Will he spend more than 6 months in jail? And will he be barred from his IAS 'duties' later? Check out my previous entry on Justice Dinakaran.

And not just powerful bureaucrats, ministers or businessmen, even small time goondas can act with impunity if the victim is just a regular person without connections. Check this out: Yesterday in Lucknow 3 people accused of rape went ahead and raped the victim again to scare her and shut her up. Link here.

What is the solution? We can do many things, but one of the most elegant ways of deterring people is the DEATH PENALTY. Be it corrupt bureaucrats, scheming mantris or impudent rapists, making examples of their brethren would put some fear in their hearts. This writer is baying for blood.

EDIT: 12 Dec 2010, girl gangraped in Delhi because she chose to fight back at eve teasers. They abducted her in their car and gangraped her to 'teach her a lesson'. They were caught immediately due to a police manhunt, but what is the worst they will go through? 14 years of punishment IF convicted AFTER 5-6 years of random court work AND they might get a reduction in sentence after 7 years due to 'good behavior'. What the f*ck is wrong with this country? Humane punishment and human rights can be talked about in countries with humans, not animals. We are still a primitive society where deterrence ought to be strong. Link here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

On Free Markets

Our government doesnt interfere where it should, and meddles in affairs such as these. For the life of me, I cant fathom why the civil aviation ministry should care about rising air ticket prices.

Sanity returns to tarmac as low-cost airlines reduce fares

For the uninitiated, and those too lazy to read the above link, ticket prices for sectors such as Mum-Del zoomed in the recent past. If you bought tickets for 3-4 days away, you would be fine, but within 1-2 days, prices really spiked - particularly noticeably on low cost carriers. Eg: Rs. 20-30,000 for a one way Mum-Del fare. So on for some other sectors as well. Mainly happened due to supply issues (esp. at Mumbai airport) and high demand due to seasonality.

The aviation ministry got really pissed off about the high fares, and gave earfuls to all airlines (now the situation is supposedly back in control - but read on to see why it is not). My question is: why should the civil aviation ministry care? Aviation is a private sector industry, not subsidized by the government in any way, and which caters to the elite. So why should the ministry care?

Now some may want to dispute the elite bit - using two broad arguments:

1. Air travel is increasingly a middle class affair, and should be encouraged
More than 70% * of our country lies below the middle class benchmark. I can somewhat understand the government being bothered about affordability of rail travel, but air travel? Are there no other means available to Mr.-Verma-clothes-shop-merchant if he is only getting Saturday's ticket to Delhi for 22,000 on Friday? Cant he take a train o

2. Air travel is also important for businesses etc
I have this it hunch if you will...that businesses wont be impacted too much by fare spikes which are last-minute AND on weekends AND for low cost carriers. I mean, this is the segment which gave birth to the idea of an expensive business class with 3x-5x fares!

As it so turns out, there appears to be some indication of shady collusive behavior by airlines too, apart from supply-demand mismatches. And by god if that is true then it should be stopped by the regulators and ministers. But thats not the line I see the minister take - its just the same old "consumer-friendly" posturing... "We will not let them increase fares likes that" etc

For once I say, let the free market decide! The current spiky system was good - in the absence of sufficient supply, those who REALLY needed to fly could still get seats at a premium till the very end while others would drop out of their plans / take a train. Now, everyone sees low fares thanks to socialism, but those in urgent need at the last minute will never find those seats! Sigh. and interferes where it should not!

* Figures are for representational purpose only; quite unverified

And they want me to be optimistic about my country

How can a tainted man be CVC, says SC
(read it here, else the text is reproduced below my 'commentary' / ranting)

Heights of shamelessness eh - the government appointing a tainted man as the CVC (Chief Vigilance Commissioner). This the guy who the CBI will report to. The guy whose scathing comments in the past have brought governments down on their knees. Now this institution is also forever compromised. Wonder if they will create a protocol as to how his own corruption case should be treated by the CBI if it gets that far!

Ah if only one lets the imagination run wild. The muzzling of the CBI would be complete. Perhaps they could even dismantle it altogether. Etc etc.

The optimists will point out that the courts are doing something about it. It gives me little comfort. What I am scared about is the fact that corruption is now becoming Mainstream *. Acceptable. Expected pretty much from everyone. Even Respectable? Earlier a minister caught in a scam would resign. Now there is no shame, just defiance. Exhibit A Raja. (now thats a good pun, dont you deny me!)

* Rumor has it that Indiabulls is actually a front company for the Nehru-Gandhi family's ill-gotten assets. That is still believable - those folk have been around for generations - but how about this? Some chitku** politico called Sudhanshu Mittal has apparently poured some Rs.8000 Crores (partly by looting the CWG) into his front company IREO. Read more here (its been all over the news lately but then you probably missed it between all the other big scams).

** Well, not anymore I guess...Respect!

How can a tainted man be CVC, says SC

The government placed the file relating to the appointment of P J Thomas as the Chief Vigilance Commissioner in the Supreme Court, which questioned as to how he would function in the post in view of a pending criminal case against him.

"Without looking into the file, we are concerned that if a person is an accused in a criminal case how will he function as CVC," a bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia [ Images ] observed after Attorney General G E Vahanvati placed the file in a sealed cover.

The bench said it will go through the file and posted the matter after two weeks. "We will sit together and go through the file," the bench also comprising Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar said. The name of Thomas figures in the chargesheet filed in a palmoleine export case.

After the file was placed before it, the apex court bench said it would like to know whether the eligibility criteria of impeccable integrity has been met. The bench told Attorney General G E Vahanvati that the issue as to how Thomas will function as CVC when his name is there in a chargesheet will crop up at every stage. The AG sought to clarify that there was no involvement of Thomas in palmoleine export case and the sanction to prosecute him had not been processed.

The bench, however, said, "Let us proceed on assumption that at every stage there will be allegations that you should not process a file as CVC as you are accused in a criminal case. How will you function as CVC? "In every case the CBI has to report to him," the bench pointed out. "Under the service jurisprudence, a person cannot even be considered for promotions when a chargesheet is pending against him," said the bench.

"At this stage as a chargesheet is pending against him since 2002, he is not even considered to be promoted. We are only suggesting whether he will be able to function as CVC. He himself will be an embarrassment," it said. "Since this matter is very important, we will structure our order on this basis," it said.

The bench clarified that it was not on the merits of the case but it only wanted to know if the whole procedure including the criteria of impeccable integrity was followed in the appointment of Thomas as CVC. Maintaining that whole process was followed, the Attorney General told the court that if such allegations are taken into consideration, every judicial appointment may come under scrutiny.

The bench said the palmoleine case was handled by the state wing of the CVC and Thomas is heading the central organisation. The AG said J M Lyngdoh, who filed the petition, had himself prepared Thomas' ACR stating that his integrity was beyond doubt and yet he filed the petition.

Refuting allegations in a petition filed by civil societies - Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) and Common Cause - questioning Thomas' appointment as CVC, Vahanvati had said the statements made in the petition were not correct.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Kingdom of the blind

My attention was today drawn to this amusing article about the vatican's pov on contraceptives: Condoms sometimes permissible to stop AIDS: Pope
The subject of the vatican's pea-headed resistance to contraceptive usage is of course not new. I am reminded of the Daily Mash article run in 2008 when the pope said something to the effect: "Global warming is not a problem, gay communities are". Enjoy the gross satire.

But reading the latest news piece just makes me think: aint some pople* so so blind? I mean, my current thoughts are that devotion and belief in god in a person/family/society reduces with increasing prosperity and well being. Its majorly those in strife or some form of occasional / recurring trouble that turn to god and vest their hopes in a higher being. The ones doing well just dont care.

And that is where the pope and his gang of primitive beings come in. Growing up in a modern developed society (the West), there are still these sects of people who remain inveterately and unbelievably Blind.

Thats it. Thats the end of the blog. Really. Nothing more coming. I dont feel like writing an essay on theism and atheism. All I will do is make one twittoral (and vague?) statement:

Belief in god partly stems from the human mind's wired-in sense of establishing causality.

(* I swear the pun showed itself through a typo and I couldnt resist)

Friday, November 12, 2010

"The new middle class will rise from the slums"

Saw this nice post on rediff today - copying it here. (Yes, it appears as if ahfresh is becoming one of those kinds of blogs...but this is just a phase)

We need to change the way we think of slums and small towns - this is where the new middle class is being created, writes Sanjeev Sanyal.

At the heart of India's economic and cultural resurgence over the last two decades is an urban middle class that has had the confidence to take on the world.

This is not unique to India - from 19th century Britain to modern China, the self-reinforcing expansion of the middle class has been a key driver of growth. India has barely embarked on this journey.

However, the future is not an extrapolation of today's urban middle class but the creation of a brand-new social group with its own attitudes, affiliations and dynamics.

Image: Laxmi packs lime paste tubes outside her house in a slum area in Mumbai.

Think about the shop assistant at the new mall, the call-centre worker pestering you with phone calls about various insurance schemes or even the newly minted sports hero standing on the medals podium at the recent Commonwealth Games.

These are not the children of yesterday's middle class. Understanding this new group is key to understanding India's future.

Image: Call centre executives

A history of the middle class

A proto-middle class existed in India prior to the British period, consisting of petty Mughal officials, shopkeepers, master craftsmen, priests and scribes. However, they were not a middle class in the modern sense.

They would not quite have imbibed the very middle-class value that one can use education and hard-work to better one's position.

There is a difference between respect for learning and seeing it as an agent for change.

From the middle of the 19th century, the mindset began to shift as the ideas of the Industrial Revolution began to seep into the major cities of British India.

Social values were transformed by the efforts of reformers like Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.

At the same time, the growing use of the English language provided access to technological, political and cultural innovations of the West.

Thus, the Indian middle class was born. By the early 20th century, it was influential enough to provide many of the key leaders of India's freedom movement. With Independence, the upper echelons of the existing middle class became the new elite.

Others gained from the expansion of public sector jobs in the 50s and early 60s. Some new blood may have been sucked in, but much of this growth was from the demographic growth of the existing middle class.

Remember that job aspirants of the 50s would have been born in the 30s when middle-class women commonly had three or more children. In other words, the public sector did not cause much vertical social mobility.

Its main impact was horizontal by re-allocating its employees to jobs that were away from their home provinces. Housing colonies had to be built to house IIT professors, SAIL engineers and so on.

The private sector too mimicked this general scheme.

In turn, it created a whole generation of middle-class children who grew up together in housing colonies and with a shared experience - Chitrahaar on Doordarshan, the Fiat or scooter that was replaced by the Maruti 800, and the unending sequence of exams. From the early 90s, they began to inter-marry.

Image: Maruti 800 replaced scooters

For the first time, there was a truly pan-Indian middle class.

Till now, the Indian middle class had been the sum of the Tamil middle class, Bengali middle class, Punjabi middle class and so on.

However, by the 90s, we had a social group whose members had more in common with each other than with those of their caste or province of origin.

When India liberalised its economy in the 90s, it was this group that benefited the most from the boom in white-collar jobs. Some of the members of the group even set up businesses and prospered.

Still, the middle class continued to be dominated by those whose parents and grandparents would have been recognisably middle class. This is now changing.

Image: A policeman teaches children from slums

Yesterday's middle class

The Indian middle class is much smaller than casual media reports suggest.

My calculations suggest that, adjusted for purchasing power, this group is currently around 60-70 million by most international standards (far lass than the 300 million that is quoted in corporate boardrooms).

It is reasonable to expect, however, that it will grow very fast with the current trajectory of economic growth - perhaps by four times in the next 20 years. But, where will they all come from?

Image: People go to work in a Mumbai local train

Note that the existing middle class will not provide this expanded group with an anchor population.

Their numbers are being depleted by prosperity (many have graduated to being upper class) and emigration (which middle-class family doesn't have someone abroad?). Even more importantly, there has been a very sharp decline in birth rates.

By the 80s, the average middle-class family had two kids. My guesstimate is that, today the average middle-class woman produces around 1.2 children.

This is half the level needed to keep a population stable. In other words, when the Indian middle class hits 250-300 million in 2030, barely a 10th of it will be drawn from the pre-existing pool. What does this mean?


The first implication is that we are entering an era of unprecedented upward mobility. We can see this in all arenas.

For instance, it was common for officers in the armed forces to be drawn from distinguished families, often with a military past.

Now we are witnessing large-scale intake from more modest backgrounds. The same can be said of the civil service.

Similarly, the average entrant to an IIT is no longer from institutions like St Xavier's and St Columba's only, but from even a coaching centre in Kota.

Second, we need to recognise that this process will be linked strongly to the wider process of urbanisation.

The parents of tomorrow's middle class work in our cities today as chauffeurs, janitors and shop assistants.

Like the parents of several medal-winners at the Delhi Commonwealth Games, they are systematically investing in their children's future. This is why they endure the indignity of a life in the slums.

As I have argued in my earlier Business Standard columns, this has important implications for urban policy.

We need to change the way we think of slums, small towns and public housing - this is where the new middle class is being created.

Third, the new entrants will bring with them different cultural attitudes. This has pros and cons. What may appear energetic in some situations may appear brash in others.

Most importantly, from a political perspective, this group will not have the old links of patronage that connected the elite with the old middle-class.

The recent Adarsh real-estate scam in Mumbai is a graphic example of this incestuous relationship. It is possible that the new entrants could begin to ask uncomfortable questions about corruption and nepotism.

Alternatively, it could take an approach that pays scant regard to the rules, further eroding the institutions of governance. Whatever it is, we can no longer ignore the new middle-India.

Image: A child working on his XO laptop

The writer is president, Sustainable Planet Institute and author of 'The Indian Renaissance: India's Rise After a Thousand Years of Decline'.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"The Karmic Lie"

From this blog comes a great post:

Will Wilkinson points to research that confirms my otherwise weakly substantiated biases and so naturally I am inclined to cite it.

Karma is not an exclusively Hindu idea. It combines the universal human desire that moral accounts should be balanced with a belief that, somehow or other, they will be balanced. In 1932, the great developmental psychologist Jean Piaget found that by the age of 6, children begin to believe that bad things that happen to them are punishments for bad things they have done.

My take is simple: Karma is bullshit – the greatest lie ever told. In truth, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards death and destruction. The universe is either utterly indifferent to your suffering or it actively seeks to destroy you and repurpose your molecules for other uses. In no way, shape or form is it your friend. In no way, shape or form is it balanced or just. If there is evil in the world then it is nature. If there is a God then he is a demon. If there is fate then ours is doom.

This story only has one ending and it ends with the extinction of all life. Good will not ultimately be rewarded. Evil will not ultimately be punished. The story will simply end. It is not just. It is not fair. It is not OK.

The only remedy open to us is to fight daily for our survival and our values. To live in open defiance of the physical laws that will eventually extinguish us. To suck every ounce of happiness from the world before it is done. To eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow the universe will grow cold and all life will die.

And, to along the way, ease the suffering of those we can. Suffering is not a lesson or a just dessert. It is an evolved mechanism that serves not our purposes but the purposes of natural selection. Poverty is not the punishment for ills but where the evil of nature has not yet been beaten into temporary submission. It is an uncaring universe crushing our brethren underfoot.

This will not end well, because nothing ends well. In the end, the universe, like the house, always wins. Yet, we do not have to tolerate agony and pain all the way up until our inevitable demise.

We live. We love. We laugh in defiance of that inevitability. If we have our heads on straight we’ll do it right up until the cold, bitter, utterly unjust and utterly unavoidable end. We are mortals – those who die. That fact should infuse our every value and animate our every action.

When my loved ones take ill they sometimes ask me –with hope in their eyes – “Am I going to die?” Yes, I answer, I cannot change that. But not today.

Not today.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Foot for thought

So I woke up the other day and what do I see in the mirror, but my own feet. And I was surprised at how big they were (are). Well they have been that way for a while now (duh!) , but the image still got me thinking.

Did your mother also chase you in your childhood, going 'Drink your milk baba, else you wont grow tall!'. I dont know about you, but my mum did use to chase me, but I used to hate milk, and scoffed off the idea that milk would make me taller. It was all the genes, wasnt it? Drinking more milk aint gonna make a genetically short guy taller da.

Well thats not true. After all these years now I find out that nutrition has a large impact on how tall we get. Ever wondered why Westerners are taller? Its partly genes but also partly the fact that they get more nutrition.

Or else, ever wondered why we are by rule getting to be taller than our parents, and they themselves are usually taller than our grandparents (exceptions are few)? If this were to happen all the time shouldn't we all hit 7 or 8 feet heights in two centuries? Actually this generational height creep is only happening in developing worlds - not in the West. And that's because nutrition levels are still getting better in India. We are finally reaching our full height potential after generations of under-nourishment, but there is still probably a couple of generations at least before we tail off and stagnate.

Sadly, this height creep is not really happening for a lot of communities in India. I observed in Ahmedabad how sweepers and janitors are usually so so short. 4 feet tall and such. Casteism showing up its ugly head.

So, to come to the point, ie, my morning musing. Perhaps your feet and palms* grow as big as your genes define them to, but your body may or may not, depending on nutrition. So those with disproportionately large feet and palms (such as yours truly) just missed out, but perhaps their offspring will end up being tall if they listen to their mothers about milk! What do you reckon 0 aint that foot for thought?

* And something else too, I know you were thinking of that!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The center of the universe

I have often found it amusing when people say the *vastness* of the universe brings home to them the message that they are so small, their lives so insignificant. Truth is, even I find some of these things extremely spiritual. Stark landscapes like Kutch and Ladakh fascinate me no end. I am sure being in the middle of the sea with endless miles of water in all directions would also mess with my mind. And I dont understand why I feel that...that profoundness. But its there - and the feeling is STRONG.

However. Knowing that there are 10^gazillion stars in the universe does not make my life seem insignificant to me. For, I argue, I am at the center of my universe. I wouldnt care if there were ten thousand billion more people or worlds out there, after all my feelings and experiences are tethered to my life right? Right?

Actually, I am not sure. After all, (I dont know about others but...) I personally feel very strongly about a lot of things that do not concern my own immediate existence. Like justice to all human beings, par treatment (with humans) to all other creatures, no screwing around with nature, maintaining the heterogeneity of the world (the beauty in the diversity of natural landscapes, people, languages, music, professions, culture, everything!). These are things which are very dear to my heart. So what does it all mean? I think these issues convey a message. I think they show that my existence is much more purposeful than the pitiful hankering after a perfect life in my own private universe.

And this idea (if it makes sense), may fit in with Buddhist philosophy. Buddhism being the one religion, nay, way of life, that I respect immensely and am comfortable giving credibility to, even though I probably dont understand 90% of it. What I do understand of Buddhism is that we should stop caring for material possessions. And subsume the self. Because the Truth is that we are all one. We are not distinct from the world, we are the same as the world.

Now, I havent figured this out yet, but it feels right. I mean, I figure it HAS to be right, but I havent figured WHY it is so. Of course I am shooting in the dark having never read a serious spiritual Buddhist text. But for now, when I agree that I am the same as the world, the view disappears that I am the center of my universe.

Finally I revert to the opening topic of this post. Why I find it amusing when people say the *vastness* of the universe brings home to them the message that they are so small, their lives so insignificant. Perhaps its just the case of different strokes for different folks. Some core ideas, call them Fundamental Ideas (justice, equality, beauty etc)...these make my life feel small and insignificant. Whereas the vastness of the universe makes others feel small and insignificant. Ok, I give it to you guys.

Though I dont think the mystery behind my own feelings of profoundness when confronted with vastness / emptiness can be explained as awareness of just smallness or insignificance. It HAS to mean something. But I dont want to tear into it right now (or later). Its just sublime. Something to be experienced rather than cognicized about (which is just bald conjecturing).

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Funny ads. Really?

So there are these few ads that I actually like, though they dont appear to be that popular.

First is the Havell's shock proof RCCP-HCCP (?) ad where three people inadvertently dance to 'shock laga'.

Then there is the Docomo series (hear your tune): i found both the interview one and the tambrahm one funny

There are probably more - dont recollect at this stage. Wonder why they are so disliked by some others. :?

But then there are those which I am sure no audience can like: The IDEA oongli cricket and Pepsi Youngistan series (YUCK!), JK Cements (random woman in swimsuit) etc etc

BTW I thought this was one of the best outdoor and print media ads in a long time...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Justice Dinakaran

From Rediff:
The Supreme Court collegium on Friday transferred Justice Dinakaran to Sikkim high court.

On April 3, the collegium had asked the chief justice of Karnataka high court to go on leave.

Dinakaran, 59, has not been performing judicial functions after Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari admitted a motion in December seeking his removal on charges of corruption, land-grab and abuse of the judicial office.

Allegations listed in the impeachment motion against Justice Dinakaran included possessing wealth disproportionate to known sources of income, unlawfully securing five housing board plots in the name of his wife and two daughters, entering into benami transactions, and acquiring and possessing agricultural holdings beyond ceiling limit.

(If you dont know enough about this esteemed gentleman, please do take some time out to read some more. His conquests are all over the news)

What is it about Indian public services that a tainted man gets to continue his job in some way or the other?! In the private sector this insect of a man would have been fired unceremoniously. In China or in some Arab countries (even Korea), he would have been hanged. But in our Democratic system (the pride of our country's politicians and journalists, mind you!) our Democratic system, the judiciary simply allows Dinakaran to continue in Sikkim. Poor state.

Poor country.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Maximum City

As anyone who has been to Mumbai for even a brief while knows, the city is bursting at the seams. Well that has been the case for decades, but I think the current phase of ‘growth’ is going to bring India’s financial capital to its knees soon. Let’s have a look at the symptoms.

WaterThe city has been growing at an unbelievably fast pace since forever, yet water supply was never much of a problem (at least for non-slum dwellers). Today that invincible foe is snapping at even this city’s heels. This city, whose annual rainfall comes to 300cm (that means over a few rainy months, clouds blanket three meters of water over every square inch of the city. Imagine that). This city, which has dozens of huge freshwater lakes close by and at higher altitudes, meaning it’s amongst the best placed world over to easily procure fresh water for its denizens. And yet, today a bleak future stares the city in its face: water shortage is a reality even Mumbai will have to live with in the future.

TrafficWe have flyovers popping up dime a dozen, there is a new ‘Sealink’ skirting the Western coast, and the Eastern Express highway is being elevated right across Central Bombay from Byculla to Matunga. And yet the traffic woes don’t seem to end, do they? The Sealink takes 5 minutes to cross, but the snarls at either end take 30 to negotiate. Each flyover that is built only seems to be postponing the inevitable. The Western Express Highway already sees crawling traffic even on the flyovers!

SlumsWell slums are all over the place now, but they have been around for a long time now. So doesn’t really qualify. Naah enough about the symptoms, let’s move on. So basically I think the main problems with Mumbai are Overcrowding and Transportation. I am going to deal with Overcrowding in this blog, and talk about Transportation in the next. And if you thought I mean all those slum-dwellers when I talk about overcrowding, you are dead wrong. I mean it’s all the hot-shot uber-cool tower-residing people in South and Central Mumbai who are overcrowding the city.

New demography

Historically South Mumbai was the CBD (Central Business District) and most folk lived in the Eastern/Western suburbs, commuting to work and back on the locals. Central Mumbai was full of self-sufficient mills, in the sense workers lived there and worked there so there wasn’t massive people movement out of there. Cut to today, the mills are gone – most of them shut down or sick units. Even for the healthy ones, how can you have your factories in some of the most prime real estate locations in the world? Is it not more feasible to sell out, make a pile and rebuild your mill somewhere else (if interested)?

So Kaboom, Central Mumbai is shorn of all its mills, and we see hundreds of skyscrapers coming up instead. This puts a huge strain on the city’s roads because the guys living here won’t use the locals – they want to take a cab/car down to work. In fact it’s the same even with non-mill locations like Worli and Prabhadevi. You just have these gargantuan 50-storey towers popping up everywhere. If you think the skyline right now is cool, wait for what it will look like in the next 5 years. Every other plot is being converted into a huge tower. And all of these chaps will drive down to work, not use public transport.

What’s the big deal you say. It’s a free market isn’t it? The city’s infrastructure will have to be expanded, aur kya? Doesn’t every other city on the face of Earth cope up with growth? Well it’s time to discuss some FSI fundas. Each zone in a city has certain FSI (floor space index) limits. An FSI limit of say, 4.5 means means that if you have a plot of say, 1000 sq.yards in that zone, you can’t build a property with more than 4500 sq.yards of built-up area on it. All floors combined. It’s your choice whether you want to build a large house covering almost the entire area, and with only 3 floors, or whether you would like to leave large open spaces and thus build a property with a smaller footprint, but going upto 5 or 6 floors. This concept of FSI exists everywhere, even in skyscraper crazy cities like NY and Chicago. No amount of roads or flyovers would be able to service zones which have super-high FSIs. It’s simply not possible (can you imagine a zone where 70% of all area is road? That’s what would probably be necessary if you want balanced traffic in areas with skyscraper-permitting FSIs). So how do NY and Chicago have less traffic problems than Mumbai? The simple answer is that the zones over there are sustained by Public Transport. Make that Rapid public transport (usually a Metro network). Even NY would fall to its knees if it gave out high FSI limits all over the place, with only roads to take care of transportation needs. Which is what is happening in Mumbai. For example, have you seen what happened in Hiranandani Powai? Such a nice idyllic location it was, until Hiranandani went crazy starting about 2000. Today the area has far too many towers, leading to the irritating fact that there are huuge jams within a 'planned' colony! Talk about killing the golden goose..

So we have shoddy, nay, corrupt urban planners who are giving out skyscraper permits to all builders ready to grease their palms. But we have no coherent plans for rapid transport, and the current Metro/Monorail projects don’t really solve this particular problem (more on that in the next blog). So what we will see in the next few years is that South and Central Mumbai will have hundreds of towers, all filled with residents too snooty to take the local, and thus we will reach a situation where the roads will be in a constant state of gridlock. This illegal (speaking from a civic sense) mass of skyscrapers is also the reason the city’s water supply is getting stretched. Most towers have private swimming pools. Can you guess the water required? Swimming pools apart, the rich have a much higher per capita consumption of water even otherwise.
So this is why I think the city’s infrastructure will find it impossible to cope with the current phase of growth. We are simply not giving it a chance! What is that you say? Water will always be available to the rich? Hmm you are right of course. It’s the Dombivlis and Mulunds of the world that will see shortages, the Mahalaxmis and Prabhadevis needn’t worry too much. But what you gonna do about the traffic? Thousands of cars all over the place, and none can move an inch. It will cost you 60 minutes even to get away from your place onto the liberating SeaLink. What you gonna do then?

So next time you admire Mumbai for beginning to look like NY, realize instead, that behind the shiny new façade is a dying, decaying city which will soon screw everybody’s happiness.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

7 The Kasab trial

Is praised by all. Fair trial. Democratic. Blah.

Ask that to the 1.7 lakh undertrials in the country. Most of them have never seen the inside of a court. They have spent more time in jail already than they would have been remanded for IF they were found guilty AND were given maximum sentence (you see, they are mostly poor folk who cant hire a lawyer or bribe a politician to get a speedy trial). They are mostly there for petty charges.

But we somehow take Pride in Kasab's trial? What is there to be proud of when our courts spend insane amounts of time (already more than a year now) on open and shut cases? Is it a matter of Pride that all legal processes are being followed in Kasab's case?? Is it a matter of pride that our legal processes are glorious remnants from a Victorian legal era, while the UK has itself moved on?

If you think about it, half the problems in this country could be averted if the courts were simply quick. If you knew it wouldnt take 10-15 years for a case to reach court, you wouldnt have the impunity to rape your household help, for example. I am not even talking about judicial fairness and non-corruption, I am simply talking speed. But the law minister is busy banning anti government propaganda in Manipur. While judges continue to be free to take leaves when they wish. And law says they are free to adjourn cases till the end of time. Who is to judge the judges?

Monday, January 4, 2010

4 The Buffalo-Man...full of Bull

So I came across this press report and itenerary for one 'Buffalo-man' on the Blue Frog's* notice board. He is apparently some Bangla bugger who claims to be into art. Now I dont have anything against artists, nor against banglas, but frankly this one looked more conman than cowman to me. Lets look at his modus operandi.

He says he was moved by the plight of some farmer types in Dhaka or Chittagong or wherever. These poor folk were neck deep into debt, and then the bank/moneylender/MFI snatched away even the household cow (/buffalo/bull. bovine livestock basically). You would know that there aint no tractors in those parts - its the humble beast which pulls the plough. So in desperation these poor farmers resorted to becoming human beasts of burden, pulling their ploughs themselves. Pretty sad if you ask me, but what does our Mr. Smartypants do? Exploits the situation of course.

He claims to be so 'touched' by their condition that he goes on a mission to try and feel being a human bullock himself. NOT by actually pulling ploughs, but by simply wearing a pair of horns and some threadbare costume and then touring the world. Heights of hypocrisy! Mind you, this is not some social activist trying to highlight the plight of some poor farmers, the man is trying to portray this as art. He claims that he is trying to feel the pain of the farmer this way. Bollocks! Where is the art I say? Was this some great piece of canvas-on-oil? Some poignant lament of a song? Nope. Just a jackass pretending to be a bullock by wearing horns and roaming hip art galleries. Pray, how is he going to feel the connect with that poor farmer when he is hobnobbing with Neetu Ambani or Parmeshwar Godrej?

I am sure part of the reason this wannabe bungla bungler gets so much attention is his exotic roots (the only other person I know from Bangladesh is Taslima Nasreen, and lets please leave the cricketers out of this). So my anger also goes out to the Indian versions of this man-beast, who surely exploit our own nation's poor by displaying 'art' like this in the Louvres and Metropolitan of the world. This is not art Mr.Buffalo, this is you feeding off your audience's penchant for wretchedness.

Now the disclaimer. I have done zilch research on this dude. Dont even know his name. Didnt even care for a cursory google search. Perhaps he is actually a real artist with some talent. But I truly disliked this particular tamasha he put, hence the rant. One might say I used him as a punching bag, practicing my blows. Or as a guinea pig. Only fair given his tendency to ape animals, wouldnt you say? :)

*Yes, the same Blue Frog in the uber-hip Kamla/Lakshmi/Sita Mills area in Lower Parel just North of Chinchpokli. The one right next to Zinze....oops Zenzi! For the sake of the Zee effect, should they consider renaming it Blue Gazelle? or Blue Zebra? I think I should stop now...

3 Chronicles Zee

So yest we dined at the newly-opened Trident in BKC. Some fancy Italian restaurant out there. Nice place/ though the food itself was terrible (try feeding a full grown full blooded hungry male some 20 grams of pasta for 750 bucks and you will know). But really/ I don’t know if there are actually that many connoisseurs out there who would really appreciate fine cuisine and delicate flavors. A touch of cinnamon/ a sprinkling of asparagus/ a largely empty plate with some adventurous sauce frizzed across (connecting the two lone morsels of food on either ends of the plate) – get what I mean? But we Indians are just VFM folk – just give us maximum morsels per money I say! (we say!) Indian or non/ I have never figured out how all these supposed connoisseurs of fine dining end up filling their tummies. I mean/ they have to have an appetite/no? Or can they subsist on dashes and touchés and gratings and sprinklings? I bet your ass they come home after/ and tank up on the calories through good ole Nestlé Maggi or Tesco Microwave-re,ady Pasta meal for two! Yum.

But to get to the punto. (I know from Fiat that Punto is Italian for point and Linea Italian for line. Encyclopedic knowledge of cars helps somewhere!).
To get to the punto…
So after teasing our tummies at the Trident/ we went pub hopping/ and flitted past this chic place called…umm…let me see/ Zinza? No that’s not it…was it Zizou? Zozu? Not quite…hmm…Zenzi!! The place was called Zenzi. Ain’t it awesome? Go on/ roll the name around your tongue and check out how it feels. Can you feel the woody texture of the twin Zees/ the smoky samurai-ey evocation of the Zen / the full syllable-ization? (warning: wine tasting classes are harmful to wannabe bloggers).
Don’t get me wrong/ I do think with that name the Zenzi chaps have latched on to something good. Don’t know about you/ but names with Zees and Xs seem to me nice choices for nightclubs. Don’t ask me why – an etymologist is the dude you go to for scientific mumbo-jumbo. I will just speculate here. Guess it all started with the clothes line ‘Zod!’. Or maybe not/ but atleast my awareness of the coolness of Zee started with Zod! (I am not being like Archies comics where each statement ends with a ‘!’/ it is actually Zod with an ‘!’. BTW I kid you not/ each and every statement in Archie’s comics ends with a ‘!’)
So assuming Zenzi’s owner were similarly enamored with Zee/ lets see how he would have gone about thinking up a cool name for his place.
OK/ I am gonna build a cool nightclub in Parel (it is in Kamla mills but mills are hep nowadays so no worries). Got the place/ got the green/ now lets get a name. Chhotu (the sidekick)/ we gotta be really chic…I mean/ here we got (at this stage not yet invented) hep names like Zenzi/ and you think I could settle for something staid like Rodas? Bet your ass not! It has to be with Zee get it? OK/ here goes

Zizou? Far too oriental.
Zoozoo? Is taken by Vodafone; besides/ doesn’t sound chic to say ‘we are off to Zoozoo’. Doesn’t help its case that it rhymes with Susu! Not to mention it’s weirdly Junglee.
Hmm Junglee? Doesn’t ooze enough class. Too Andheri.
Zanzibar? Too African I say. I guess it’s still a nice idea for a lounge bar/ perhaps not for a nightclub.
Zouv? Difficult to pronounce/ and a shade of the French? Still/ could work so let’s keep it on standby.
Zara? Reeks ethnic wear
Zune? Monosyllable. Besides/ didn’t Microsoft have a gaming console called Zune/Xune?
Zuno? Rhymes with Bruno (yuck!)
Zenzi? Hmm…sounds hep! Go on Chotu/ roll the name around your tongue and check out how it feels. Can you feel the woody texture of the twin Zees/ the smoky samurai-ey evocation of the Zen / the full syllable-ization blah blah? Zenzi it is. Lets build the signboards – quick!
Thought experiment done/ let me continue with the Zee experiments for the day that I am gonna build a nightclub …
Zion. Wow. Chimping cool name for a nightclub. Same full syllable-ization. Plus/ brings up visions of Neo/Trinity and Morpheus. Cant go wrong with this one. Taj Lands End are you listening?
Zouv. Our friend kept it on standby/ thinking it has a shade of the French. It actually sounds Russian. And that’s good. Russian nightclubs are greatly admired world over (apart from when they go up in flames that is). I am sure Zouv would be a great place. Dream it…Tulsi Mills location (can it get hipper?!)…Russian dancers for effect…house drink Absinthe (that green alcohol with some 70% concentration)…Zenzi would be raped by Zouv! I gotta sell this idea to a VC!
And how is Zavi? No/ Xavi! Yep/ Xavi is cool too. Maybe not for nightclub/ but sits well for a restobar. Try it: ‘We are going to Xavi’. Say what/ I bet it sounds cooler than the name Titan gave its range of ‘Swiss’ watches: Xylys. That one sounds too much like a musical instrument if you ask me (Xylysphone anyone?)
But the question begs to be asked again/ why are Zs and Xs so cool? Perhaps because we find Mellus so cool? Didn’t get it? I mean/ itz zo zimble! Mind it! Instead/ just forget it. Usual apologies apply.
Anyhoo/ Fuck all Zese. Lets talk about the place itself. It was Salsa night (Samba night?) and I really dislike that cha-cha kinda music/ not to mention grooving to these Spanish types is not as easy as leg-shaking to our ole Himes bhai’s tunes. I was at Poly-Esters the other day/ and I ended up liking this amazingly funny Himes song which goes ‘Ahoon ahoon ahoon! Ahoon ahoon ahoon! Ahoon ahoon ahoon ahoon/ ahoon ahoon aahh!’ Can you beat those lyrics? And yet it was such a hit on the floor – and it was really danceable (dancy?). So I say gimme Himes anyday over this Spanish/Latin-A tango samba thingies. Of course if I were to actually master those steps I am sure I would be dancing to a different tune/ so don’t hold me to thees!

That’s it for now folks. Later tonight/ we explore the curious case of the Buffalo Man from Dhaka. Sublime or Facile? Stay tuned!