Sunday, 30 December 2012

Real and Sustainable Change - still a Chimera?

The past few days since December 16th have been full of the normal public up in protest against the horrendous attack on Nirbhay. This was a reflection of the public's disgust with the police forces as well as the Government. People from all walks of life came together again to protest. And yet again, the inefficiencies of the police and the inadequacies of the political class were brutally exposed. This activism is indeed welcome, and will put some pressure on the Government to get its act together. 

The disgust in the people with both the police as well as the political class has been apparent for quite some time now; yet, there has been little discernible change. It is reminiscent of the physics law of inertia, wherein an object remains in its current state unless there is some outside stimulus. Now imagine our society as an object moving on a line, and these protests as stimulus to change. Currently, our society is moving along a defined direction at a defined speed. Then comes the Lokpal agitation, which pushes it on one direction. Next, comes this agitation - on a differnt but equally (perhaps more important) tangent. What happens to the direction of the movement? It again changes direction in another direction in response to the the stimulus. 

These are knee-jerk reactions, which are unplanned. Further, the topics at hand are highly emotive in nature; and hence it is difficult to get a perspective of the reality. The problem is not that the people are rising: they should rise; protests are a sign of the vitality of democracy. And protests are a significant stimulus to engender peaceful change. The point is that protests alone will not suffice; it requires addressing the root cause - which is our attitude. 

Our attitudes towards rules, laws, civic sense, corruption, women are all at the root of the problem. We break rules as a matter of fact; we dont question our elected representatives as a matter of course; we dont care about our environs and our cities, our people and our behaviour! Rape happens because of attitude towards women; but that is too simplistic. Rape also happens because we consider breaking rules as ok, and that the perpetors feel they can get away with it. Note that the bastards had actually thought this very thought. Why did they think they could get away with it? Why did the driver assure his partners in crime that they would not be caught?

Rape also happens because we dont hold our babus responsible for governance - leading to laxity in policing and the rapists getting off. Rape also happens because it is considered a social stigma, and thus goes unreported. Rape also happens because the victim can be threatened into silence - which betrays a lack of trust in the system. Rape and particularly eve-teasing also happens because we dont interfere as a mass; one or two people interfere- and get killled. How many people are there on roads? Only 1 or 2? How many can you see? Yet, only one or 2 speak up. Rape also happens because in some cases the victims are scared of harassment by the police - which emboldens rapists. The same logic can be applied to corruption; the corrupt are emboldened by the tolerance shown by we the people of India and our disgusting and ugly inaction. 

Yes, protests can cause a change in attitudes through forcing people to question their behaviour; which is what I hope is happening. The signs are heartening; but there seems to be no sustainability. One issue is forgotten only to be replaced by another. The prior issue is neglected. No change can happen if all such outbursts are spontaneous but lack a defined direction. For positive change, the attitude of the people has to change; there has to be sustained pressure on the Government to act. This is absent. Lokpal and corruption issues lie forgotten; likewise, this issue too will get replaced by some other equally emotive issue. The people are angry - yes; but they now have to question and change their own attitudes of tolerance of law-breaking. For example, how many people have taken down their tinted sheets from their vehicles? How many have stopped ogling girls? How many have refused to pay a bribe? These attitudes have to start to change... 

Without this happening, change - real change- will remain a chimera...


This post is in memory of "Nirbhay" who was brutalised and murdered - shaking a stoid, careless nation to the core of its existance. Rest In Peace is all I can wish you....

  • Fact No 1: Tinted Glasses were banned by the Supreme Court in 27th April 2012 in response to a Public Interest Litigation, which explicitly stated the risk of sexual assault in its submission to the court
  • Fact No 1A: The apex court said it could not impose a total ban on use of tinted glass and interpreted rule 94 and 100 of the Motor Vehicle Act which forbids covering of the glass beyond the permissible limit. “In face of the language of the Rule, we cannot grant the petitioner the relief prayed for, that there should be 100 per cent VLT. This Court cannot issue directions that vehicles should have glasses with 100 per cent VLT.”
  • Fact No 2: Nirbhay was assaulted in a bus with tinted glasses - dark tinted glasses
  • Fact No 3: The bus was moving in the city in contravention of the rules, and was not stopped; the windows being tinted, no one could see what was going on inside
  • Fact No 4: The police reform process has also been mandated by the courts of India - on which no action has so far been taken
Now the clincher: on an article on the ban on tinted glasses, I could not find a single solitary comment in support of the decision. Every single commentator could only see his side of the story. Well, to those gentlemen and ladies - it could have been your daughter or sister instead of Nirbhay.... think of that. Tinted glasses on vehicles are not acceptable.... and illegal. This incident raises social questions, true. But perhaps more than the security of women, what it also highlights is the careless attitude of Indians as shown in the paragraph above. We usually dont react until it effects us: how many of the protesters have removed tinted glasses from their cars? I would love to know! It is fine to protest; but actions should reflect in your own lives before you have the right to protest on the streets. How many of us actually respect women in the streets, and how many treat them as eye-candy just to ogle at as if they were a delectable pastry to be devoured? Change your attitudes, India! 

But this incident also raises far more important immediate issues - policing, and antiquated rules. Note Fact No 1A - and how the rules prevent the supreme court from giving an blanket ban to make things simpler. It took us 62 years to bring out an updated Company Law, for pete's sake! It is high time that this matter is taken center stage and attended to; the list of idiotic laws is far too long and horrendous to go into here...

As regards policing, why was the bus not stopped for its transgression of the rules? There are some reports that is was an unauthorised charter bus. How has this been allowed? Flagrant violation of the law is a norm in India; at least let Nirbhay's passing away serve as a wakening call for all Indians. It affects us and no one else. We turn a blind eye to flouring laws at our own peril. At the end of the day, it comes back to hit us; sadly, it is usually the innocent that pay for the crimes of the careless Indian. The killers may have done the actual act of rape and murder, but Nirbhay was abandoned to her fate long, long before this incident - by we, the people of India who dont care about rules and turn a blind eye towards their violation. How many of us demand service and adherence to law from the  Government and the police? Answer: No one. It is our disgusting attitude of encouraging rule-breaking that is the root cause of such crimes  as far as their prevention is concerned.  It is a no-brainer that in a clear-glass bus, this attack would very likely not have happened; as also with proper policing, it could have been prevented. 

Which brings me to Police Reforms... we routinely demonise the police, but what do we do about it? Nothing. Precisely nothing. Despite having a supreme court judgement, no one has cared to ask the government as to why reforms are being delayed. I recently attended a police prayer meet and dinner. I could not see a single policeman or woman; all I could see were human beings. We do nothing to take the government to task, despite there being A Supreme Court Judgement in our favour. We keep silent, and worry about the Sun Rays in my car, we worry about the filth in front of my house forgetting the smelly railway station... I could go on and on. What right have we to question the police? Look inwards first! Sure, we know the Government is not acting, but what are we doing about it? Even ex and serving police officers are asking for reforms - but no. We are silent. 

Very good, India. Please continue silence. Excellent. And come out and join emotional protests when things go wrong... and go back to your home and cars a few days later. Good, keep it up. Just dont ask the Government Of India to be accountable to the people on a regular daily transactional basis as opposed to sporadic outbursts. The Government can  weather those with ease; as it did the Lokpal agitation. By the way, any of you remember the Lokpal agitation? 

Alternatively, use poor brave Nirbhay as a wake-up call; understand that it is your family at stake and build a sustainable issue-based pressure on the Government to be accountable - truly accountable to the people. 

Or else... another day, another time, another.... 

I sincerely do hope not. 

Friday, 28 December 2012

FDI Revisited: latest research

Date: 25th December

It gladdens the heart to see optimism and good sense beginning to prevail over this non-issue; the latest article on this matter has yet again revisited, and added to, earlier papers on this topic, which is worth a mention.

"Research on impact of retail sector regulations by the author for a CUTS international report on Competition and Regulation in India, 2011 revealed that:

(a) Globally, in densely populated countries like India (with consequent higher real estate prices), small-store formats thrive, and even flourish in the face of the competition from big-box retail;

(b) On the other hand, the introduction of foreign competition forced manufacturers to cut costs in their supply chains and small stores become more efficient, and provide more serious competition to large-store formats and centralised operation that the multinational retailers prefer;

(c) This latter trend is already becoming apparent in India, in many localities in Delhi that the study surveyed, as small store-owners are responding by upgrading to modern formats with convenient and better organised displays, ICT (information and communications technology)-enabled storage and procurement management and electronic billing counters, while building on their own areas of strength."

This is precisely what my arguments have largely been about, as presented in this blog; as well as of the entire pro-FDI community in retail; none of the above is rocket science; having said that it is important for decision-making to have a confirmed research report that corroborates intuitive analysis; analysts have been known to be wrong before! Most research was a bit dated, so it is nice to have a reconfirmation.

But the article goes beyond that; and I quote: "Though 53 cities in the country meet the population criterion, only 18 of those are in the 10 states and union territories that have agreed to permit FDI in multi-brand retail. Thus, the policy is de facto akin to a “lab experiment”. With  that, in combination with the research quoted above, comes to a close a needless argument - or, at least, it should. There will of course be political overtones and social reactions, as it is an extremely emotive topic - but that is another story.

While the article correctly touches on the rising star of online retail, it makes a link between online retail and kirana store sales. Yes, the younger generation is very adept at and comfortable with online transactions, but saying that it will impact kirana store sales seems a bit of a tall tale. I may be wrong in this; for it is too early in the day to make any comment. And this is also corroborated by the research, which comes across as a surprise. Does online retail really constitute a "more credible threat" to kirana sales?

That it is a threat in some categories - like books - is already a reality; that much is true. But does this extend to grocery? Honestly, I am inclined at this point on the reverse; that it does not - not over the short to medium term. The reason is the fast growing population, 6% internet penetration (let alone transactions penetration), low awareness & education levels, low per capita income, buying behaviour with the lady of the house preferring the physical touch and feel and sporadic, unplanned & at times impulse purchases of other categories from Kirana offtake. Perhaps, when India is a developed or middle income economy, the game may undergo a change... let us see. True, online sales are rising; but the sheer numbers of consumers in India might just ensure a safe short-to-mid term. Further, the urban and A-class consumers might shift over to retail - the threat of shift as calculated in the report can only mean that; this may happen over the mid term even. Since I accept one part of the report, I have to accept it all.

And if you look at it in this way, then it begins to click and come together, As internet penetration, awareness, usage and comfort grows in tandem with increasing income levels, the penetration of online shopping in combination with Cash On Delivery will increase. Thus richer localities will see changes; the others will only feel the same over a longer-  indeed, given the realities in India, a much longer period. What precisely will those changes be, which categories will bear the heaviest brunt, what changes occur at the store level, how our shopping experiences will be redefined all lie in the future... let us see how it turns out!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The State Of The Nation... The Winds Of Change

The images above tell a story... a story that the political and bureaucratic class in India is ignoring, and has been ignoring for quite some time now. The images above are the protests against the brutality against a single citizen & the official neglect, non-performance and apathy that was a contributory factor as well as the initial response to the outrage. These protests are being attended by the very same much-maligned I-Me-Myself Indian citizen for a person they do not know and are not related to; for a system that does not exist and for a security they do no feel. The Indian is known for the chaltaa hai attitude over the years, for the lack of community feeling....

Well, everyone would do well to take a look at the images above. Or of the images during the Anna Hazare protests... 

Where is the famous careless Indian citizen? Where is his lack of community feeling? I cant spot him/her (sorry ladies) - not in these images. What I can spot is something our government would do well to spot.... I can both see and feel the winds of change. I can almost place my finger on the rampant hopelessness among the normal people, and I can almost touch their total disdain for and distrust of the political as well as the bureaucratic classes. Fact of the matter is that most Indian citizens do not trust the politician and his tools- the bureaucracy and the police. The general feeling ranges from distrust to outright naming of the politician as a class to be criminals. The general impression that any politician is out to destroy the nation, and make a killing in the process. It is genuinely sad that in the process even the genuine gems in this class  - the politicians who are clean are also branded. For it would be vastly inaccurate to state that the entire political class is like this. 

How did things come to such a pass? There is no point dwelling on this point at this juncture in time; but it is now certain that as things stand today, the younger generation - the latest crop that is now in the late teens, 20-somethings and 30-somethings have been awakened to their political rights, and are not in a mood to keep silent anymore. The increasing educational levels, awareness, information flow and rampant problems are contributory factors to this development. They are now awakened, and want change for the better. That has both good and bad tidings; good if it engenders change; bad if these people get impatient....

I wish the political class is listening to these developments, and is ready to change the status quo. For, running a country is not joke; the normal citizen cannot do it. That is a task best left to the politicians. But they, on current evidence, do not seem to show any signs of change. The country still reacts to the Supreme Court verdicts on PILs by the public on even the most mundane of issues - no brainers like Helmets and Tinted Glasses! It seems as though the Supreme Court and the people are running the country rather than the Government! The bureaucracy - nay, the pampered bureaucracy who adds precisely zero value to the people just take home their salaries for nothing. Just take a look at some recent decisions by the honourable courts: This begs the question: why are the common people of India having to resort to PILs just to enforce the most common sense of laws? What the heck are the bureaucrats and the elected representatives of the people doing? 

It is this very systemic breakdown of governance that first started the slew of PILs, and is now spilling onto the roads in the form of these protests. This is also spilling into disenchantment in the sincere officer cadres - Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Gen VK Singh are cases in point. General Malik has been similarly scathing in his condemnation of the bureaucrats and the politicians in his book Kargil - From Surprise To Victory. The Indian People have spoken: they have already given their verdict. There are those like me- who support these protests, but still hold hope in the electoral process, and are willing to give it time - we are waiting for 2014. But the events are forcing even moderates like me into total dispair... And there are some issues will not wait till 2014; like the present case. Furthermore, the disenchantment is growing, and is a signal to the government to start the process of making the good-for-nothing bureaucracy and corrupt police more accountable to the people; it is a signal to take up police reform, for which there is even a court verdict in place. Despite this, there has been no discernible movement on any major issue.

The people of India have now found a voice, and a means - a very effective and visible means - of protest. This has been amply demonstrated in the past 2 years. Sadly, rather than meet them with compassion, the government of the day can only resort to the only thing it knows how to do - suppression. It was the same last year, and the same this year. The Prime Minister did not come out to speak to the agitated people; the Home Minister - well, the less said, the better; The President did not speak to the people. Only Sonia Gandhi spoke! - who is running the nation? Is she the PM? Why did the leader of the nation, The PM and the President not express themselves? And why were water cannons and lathi charges resorted to? Could not the Government have tried innovative ways (innovative for our politicians at the center, that is), like having the PM etc speak to them? But no, only silence and oppression. I feel disappointed that even the President was silent, when all of India was agitated...

I am reminded of 2 things, an old story, and an English idiom. The story is of Nero, who is supposed to have played the fiddle while Rome burnt; and the Idiom is given below: 

last straw and the straw that broke the camel's back
the final difficulty in a series; the last little burden or problem that causes everything to collapse. (From the image of a camel being loaded down with much weight. Finally, at some point, one more straw will be too much and the camel's back will break.

Please dont wait for it.... listen to the people!

Friday, 21 December 2012

HC slams Delhi Police for report on gang rape case?????

"The hearing commenced with the court posing a query as to why the report was “evasive” about the details of the police officers who were on patrolling duty during the time when the girl was sexually assaulted and beaten for about 40 minutes in a moving bus on Sunday night."

"“Nobody is safe,” the court had said noting that such incidents repeatedly happen in the city. It had asked the police how the bus, having tinted glasses, kept plying on busy roads for 40 minutes and the sexual assault remained undetected."

"A bench of Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar went by the limits prescribed in the MV Act and said anything beyond the visual light transmission (VLT) limit of 70% for the front and rear windshields and 50% for the side windows would be punishable.

The decision came on a PIL filed by Avishek Goenka, who had complained that cars with black film on window panes were being increasingly used for crimes, including sexual assault of women"  The Times Of India, Arpil 28, 2012

"Total ban

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, A.K. Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar gave the ruling while partly allowing a PIL filed by one Avisekh Goenka seeking total ban on all forms of tinted glasses used in four wheelers."

Please go through the Delhi Police website, as well as through the court directive of 27th April 2012 on this matter,  including the specific mention of the possibility of sexual assault in such vehicles

What is our honourable police force and Government doing? This case is an indictment of the laxity of the Government of India as well as New Delhi.... I am not stating that this would not have happened if there were no tinted glasses; but it is certain that the chances of this happening would have been minimal... it is a sad comment on the efficacy of our systems and the depth to which decay has crept in! The Supreme Court has given a specific directive...and it has not been obeyed by the police. Furthermore, even on being asked to submit a detailed report on the officers on duty, the Police did not do so!

The one question that comes to my mind: if the political class and the police do not even heed the Supreme Court's directive, if implementation is so shoddy even when driven from the highest appellate authority in India...

Then what chance do we have? Who is there for us??????? As a citizen, should I not be scared? In fact, I am now thinking that I had perhaps not write such blunt articles out of fear! 

Monday, 17 December 2012

Pakistan and their "Malik": Trouble with a capital "T"

It is important to keep the channel of communication alive; I do realise that. The visit of a diplomat from Pakistan as a step was welcome, that is also acceptable. Even the Lord Krishna went for peace when all was obviously lost in peace terms, that is also true. It is further very much a fact that India and Pakistan at least for now are not interested in war. 

But that does not give anyone the right to walk into my home and insult not only me, but even those members of my family - Like Lt Kalia - who are no longer alive. First off, it shows that the guest is an idiot, evil, uncultured and totally untrustworthy. Sure we knew that beforehand, but this serves to prove to the world what swines reside on our north west border. The comparison of 26/11 with Babri and Samjhauta prove that Pakistan is only interested in fomenting trouble; a person on a peace mission does not make inflammatory statements.These comments were not in bad taste; they seem to have been made with malice in mind. I cant make anything else out of such immature and downright foolish utterances. Now let us hope that this is the last- the very last - peace initiative with Pakistan. Enough is enough. Let us start branding Pakistan as a failed and terrorist nation, and systematically impede it in  every possible way - diplomatic blockade and isolation. And call a spade a spade. Say openly, we are not interested in talking with a failed terrorist state like Pakistan. And this should be stated by the Prime Minister, as well as in the UNO. 

Furthermore, in hindsight, what was the need of an immediate visit when MEA and the security agencies had both warned against such a visit? This step of the Government of India does not make any sense. We could have put it off till after the situation was more conducive. But no, we had to do it immediately. What was the need of pushing through this visa arrangement? And at what cost? At the cost of insulting the nation and its heroes? Is the loss of self-respect an acceptable price to pay just for a diplomatic initiative? I myself am an advocate of the Peace Process; we need a peaceful and stable Pakistan in order to divert our attention to China, as well as to grow our economy. But this is ridiculous. Even I had not expected such malicious statements designed to create trouble from a person who is ostensibly a diplomat! In my opinion, this is another place where the GOI has goofed big - time; the opposition has it right. 

No sane person will make such irresponsible remarks on a peace mission. And that the visitor is sane is beyond question; an insane man does not rise to and hold onto the position he has attained. There can then be only one remaining reason for such inflammatory remarks: he was here only to speak to his own hard-line community back in Pakistan; he may have made the statements on Indian soil, but he was talking to Pakistani citizens back in Pakistan. That apart, it could also be an attempt to foment trouble. 

But there is one significant caveat with such a short-term strategy. (Having said that, I have to admit that our worthy neighbour is not known for thinking strategies from a long-term perspective; witness their society, or their economy, or their international reputation, or their military "prowess"). This caveat is that it also serves to foment trouble on a rather different tangent. The target for the trouble-maker are the disaffected people in the target country, and raise their passions. However, such utterances also serve to alienate even the moderates among the citizens. There are people like me who are moderates, who prefer talking and continuing the peace process. Slowly and surely, the moderates are going to be pushed into the arms of hardliners who advocate a no-talks-with-Pakistan line... 

And that is dangerous for both nations. Unfortunately, Pakistan does not seem to realise that. After this visit, even a committed moderate like me does not see the point in continuing the peace process and diplomatic initiatives; in my opinion, we should openly label Pakistan a failed and terrorist state in all fora; and be very blunt with everyone USA included: no talks. Not anymore. A diplomatic blockade in the need of the hour; it is high time we Indians went on the aggressive against Pakistan as a first step. And that is the tangential impact of the utterances of the visiting diplomat. A further alienation of the people of India; far from making peace, this visit has served to harden the Indian people's stance. Thus, even for peace, no talks are recommended with Pakistan. It is high time the UPA realised that they are whipping a dead horse; the opposition seems to have realised this....

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Book Review: Land Of The Seven Rivers

Land Of The Seven Rivers: A Brief History Of India's Geography
By Sanjeev Sanyal

Sanjeev Sanyal is an Indian Ecnomist, an alumni of Delhi University and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholor. He is currently Deutshe Bank's global strategist

This book is the latest in the series of books on Indian History that have literally exploded onto the national  scene in the past few years. However, there the similarity ends. While most of the others can be classified as scholarly treatises, or a few can be classified as incomplete and / or biased; this one is neither scholarly nor is it incomplete. It is a fun book, great to read, and stunningly fast in its pace - especially considering its chosen topic. It proceeds almost like a novel, and is delightfully fast. Yet, it does not stray too much from established history and in general gives a superb picture of the chosen topic

The chosen topic is also different, as can be readily seen from its title. Instead of tracing emperors and empires, colonies and wars or indeed economics, it traces the geography of the land and how it developed over time to become the Indian nation that exists today. The biggest takeaway is that the book debunks the generally held notion of India being a new Idea, and makes a clear case of India being a pretty ancient idea, only the political recognition and identity is new. The entire book successfully forms a running picture in your mind of the India of those days, as each chapter is brought to vivid life by fascinating details about the geography and the cities of those days. It not just the trade route; descriptions of caravans, of people, of roads, of memoirs of ancient travels that bring the road to life in your mind. 

The book is a complete history of the formation of India, starting from pre-history and the formation of the Indian Subcontinent. It traces the breakaway from Gondwana - the supercontinent, introduces the theory of plate tectonics, and explains how India collided with Asia. It traces the development of Indian flora and fauna, and then moves onto ask questions such as who were the first humans in India, and who are the Indians? 

The book makes a strong case for the people of the lost river, the Saraswati. He combines genetic, archeological and literary evidence to examine this question and derive that the Saraswati must have flowed alongside the Indus, and that the Saraswati was central to this civilization. Fascinating insights have been provided on life in those cities and the house planning etc, and their trade links with the world. Both sides of the Aryan argument have been examined, with the conclusion that the Aryans can only have been from India being supported by genetic evidence, which to my eyes settles the issue once and for all. This phase also covers Raja Sudas, Bharata tribe, the other tribes that fought Sudas, and what happened to them, as well as the role of Guru Vashishtha. It also goes on to trace the links between Avestans, the movement of the tribes etc and tries to guess the modern placement of the same. 

We are introduced us to the Age of Lions, and the Mauryan Empire. It traces the origin and development and the ultimate demise of the Mauryan Empire. However, it gives fascinating details not found in other books in so concise a form, including the geograpghy of the times. Imperial buildings and edicts, cities, pathways, aqueducts planning all find a mention side-by-side with the incorporation of the vedic way of life and references to life in those days. The history of Lions in the subcontinent is in particular a fascinating read.

We get to know and understand how India became a trading superpower in the ancient days through this book. Having heard and read of India's trade prowess, it is a refreshing change to read someone providing fascinating details in interesting prose. It leaves you with a deeper understanding of Indian trade in those centuries. Furthermore, the book delves into the South Indian Dynasties in detail, which is a decided value addition. India's maritime trade and sealinks find extensive mention, along with tantalising titbits of experiences and difficulties in those voyages. 

The book effortlessly takes us through the turbulent changeover phase from Hindu rule to Arab and Mongol invaders. Here the most fascinating part is the development of Delhi over the years, which has been peppered with references to existing ruins and their current status and exact location in modern India. The first steps of the british and the hunt for Asia has been brought to amazing life. The most fascinating read in this part of the book is the mapping of India, and the trigonometric mapping of the nation attempted over a 60-year period, which makes for an enthralling read. Also present is the making of the railway network and the challenges it faced. The book closes with an examination of how India came to acquire Junagarh, Hyderabad, other princely states, Kashmir and going onto Sikkim. 

All in all, the book is a fascinating and rapid read, and is written in a generally lucid style. The target audience is the avid reader who is not too connected with history, and is loathe to read historical treatises, but the book gives tremendous value addition even for history aficionados. The writing style is engaging, and at no point does the book meander. The entire 6000 year period has been lucidly covered. Yes. there are deviations in some places, especially in the partition phase, where the author has referred Lapierre and Collins, whose book is certainly not the best on this matter. In some cases, the latest developments have placed a different timeline, as in the case of the Indus Saraswati civilization, which has now been radio-metric dated to 6000 - 7000 BC and beyond. But overall, the book contains a potful of surprises and anecdotes, descriptions and details that come as a surprise, and make the book a collectors item....

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Book Review: 14 Hours - An Insider's Account Of The Taj Attack

How do you review a book that simply cannot be reviewed, or passed judgement upon? How do you review a book that is evocative of such a harrowing period in our nation's history? How do you review a book that transports you into the corridoors of the Taj during those terrifying days? How do you review a book that offers a ringside view of the horror? How do you review a book that deals with such an emotionally overpowering, close-to-the-heart topic? 

You cant. At least, I cant. I cant pass judgement on the writing, on the contents, on the language, on the phraseology... perhaps, these words are the best that can be used to describe this book. It leaves you speechless, and numbed. You are just unable to react in any way whatsoever, and are forced to turn page after page after terrifying page.  I finished this book in one sitting flat between Chinchpokli to Kalyan on a local train, and trust me I almost forgot to get down at Kalyan... I even remember vividly that I was on page 134 out of 154 total pages, I recall standing with the book in my hand... I was transfixed. The only way that I can review this emotionally powerful topic is to describe my own reactions, since I do not consider it ethical to question anything, or pass judgement on it. 

The topic is close to our hearts, is deeply intertwined in our national consciousness. 26th November 2008 scarred us deeply, and left deep and lasting impressions on our national psyche. No Indian can and will ever forget it; it is an event that has angered the entire nation like nothing has ever done before- and I hope and pray to God that nothing ever will. That is precisely why I cannot and will not pass judgement. Besides, the very fact that I consider myself unable to judge is proof of the quality of the book, and the fact that it makes a connect with the reader. Yes, to be sure, since it is such a vital topic, flaws are bound to be hidden to Indian eyes... but then this book is for Indians only, for only those people with a deep emotional connect to those horrifying days in November 2008

The book showcases the terror in the minds of the people, and brings to the fore the myriad human reactions under terror. The first question is : has the author been honest? Yes, in my opinion he has. You can discern the initial terror, and the freezing; you can see how external stimuli - sometimes a boss, sometimes a colleague- brought the author out of his terror-stricken mindset. The next question is: has the author portrayed himself as larger than life? The answer, in my opinion, is no. The author has just penned a straightforward memoir of those 14 hours. You can see how he obeyed instructions, looked to superiors for orders, you can discern his internal tumult and instinct for self-preservation vying with the requirements of sanity and duty. 

The book also brings to the fore the initial chaos, and how the staff reacted to the challenge, and then rose. It is remarkable indeed in that reactions were not automatic; quite obviously the staff were scared, and were interested in self-preservation. And yet, one can see how slowly and surely sanity and good sense, duty and humanity prevail in the large majority of the staff. Hats off to the staff of the Taj Hotel! You can see into the minds of the people, read the terror - and most importantly, the reaction to terror, and how the Human Spirit succeeds in overwhelming the odds and triumphing over fear.

All in all, this book is a must read for all Indians; it will take you to the Taj during those hours, and leave you with a better understanding. But above all this, the book is about hope, about the indomitable human spirit, about how your mind and body get accustomed to the situation; and the way your being adjusts and then finds additional resources within your own self that propels a person to success. This is a sterling account of victory in the most insurmountable of situations, and  an account that will teach you to believe in yourself.... 

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Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Defence Of India: Anyone paying any attention?

'via Blog this'

"Ask any of the 20-odd Indian Air Force (IAF) test pilots who have flown the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and they will all swear that it is a great fighter to fly. It handles beautifully, screams along at Mach 1.6 (2,000 kilometres per hour) and fires the full range of air-to-air and air-to-ground weaponry. With 2,000 test flights under its belt, it has already proven that it can fly and fight better than most fighters on the IAF inventory. It is vastly superior to the MiG-21, and is not too far behind the Mirage 2000.Yet the IAF is cool towards the Tejas. It is desperate for more fighters — against an assessed requirement of 42 fighter squadrons, the IAF has 34 squadrons today, which will fall to 26 in 2017 if the Rafale is not inducted by then. But the IAF chooses to live with this dangerous shortfall rather than inducting the Tejas more quickly. Just as the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF), Avadi, mismanaged by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), causes the army to believe that the Arjun is unreliable; similarly Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), a public sector undertaking under the ministry of defence ( MoD), makes the IAF sceptical about the Tejas."

When will we Indians wake up from our abhorrent stupor? When will we learn to jettison our "Chalta Hai" attitude? The above article is yet another example of the bureaucracy keeping the nation to ransom, of the IAS lobby and inefficient babus ruining the nation. We have what is arguably one of the finest fighter aircraft in the world as an internal design - but are not manufacturing due to shoddy implementation. We are seeing this in every sector where the government is present; in education, in health... everywhere. Corruption and inefficiencies have rendered the system toothless and ineffective. And the rest of us are just ignoring this reality! Even now, when this is affecting the safety and security of our nation, I can hear only profound silence everywhere.... Chalta Hai, apparently

All it requires is for each one of us to demand the very best from the government, and not "make do". Nahi Chalta Hai, bhai... I am paying taxes, I am also giving the toll / fees / price (whatever) of the service, so kyun chalta hai? Why? Why should we accept it? Damnit, we are paying for it. We deserve the best since we are paying for it. Even if you dont care about your nation (which is a distinct possibility given that most of us haven't seen fit to do anything about this), you can at least care about your own hard-earned money! 

Why is this absolutely ugly and pusillanimous acceptance of substandard services a feature of our lifestyle? Why the heck cant we be more demanding? Why should I have to put up with such nonsense, given that I am a law-abiding tax paying citizen? And yet, we accept it... chalta hai.... chalta hai... chalta hai... chalta hai... chalta hai... chalta hai...

Haan. Chalta hai. Aur chalta hai isiliye China ne band bajaa di thi 1962 mein. Phir ro karr kyaa faaydaa? Tab kyaa karr rahe the jab Armed Forces ki Band Baj rahi thi? Agar Chalta Hai, toh mere bhaiyya, us waqt kyun nahi chalta jab koi pandemic disease kaa outbreak hotaa hai? If it is all so acceptable, then why the screams when the Chinese whipped our backsides in 1962? Why the howls of anger during the Surat Plague? Why the protests on any number of issues that crop up? Why curse the government when the light fails? Why blame the government when the train runs late? Kyun? Nahi Chalta? Not acceptable? What were you doing when all this was happening? Could you not see the lack of preparation? The dirt and the lack of hygiene? Why weren't you demanding your elected representatives to rectify the power scenario? What were you as a citizen doing? Sleeping? If so, sorry to say - but then you deserve it. Aren't we guilty of double standards? Arent we guilty of not holding the Government and the bureaucracy accountable? 

Remember: what goes around, comes around. This attitude is going to come back to haunt us one day... Wake up, India... wake up from your stupor and start asking some bloody tough questions to the good-for-nothing babus and the polticians... 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Book Review: Fall Of Giants

Book 1 of the Century Trilogy, by Ken Follett
Category: Historical Fiction

In the Century Trilogy, the author has attempted to explain how the modern world came about, and exactly what were the seminal events that lead to the fall of the world order of the earlier century, eventually leading to the demise of colonialism and the emergence of the modern world order. The series deals with ground level changes - tectonic changes, as it turned out - and how all of these came together in shaping the world as we know it today. The narrative is blunt, and many a person will be rubbed the wrong way; but it is uncomfortably accurate. The book leaves no major question unanswered, eventually leading to a deep understanding of the history of that time. The single aspect that takes this above the ordinary is that both the new-age and the old (outdated and amoral) viewpoints are explained without value judgements. This is a series that everyone must read, as it leaves a deep impression on your mind....

The Characters
There are precisely 124 characters - and yet, you dont feel overwhelmed,, or lose track of the story!  I cant possibly go into even all the significant ones, so I shall only concentrate on those who left an impression on me : either favourable, or unfavourable

Earl Fitzherbert: Unfaithful, stuck-up, arrogant, pompous... in short, a rotten arsehole
Billy Williams: Pure Gold; a fighter to boot; almost qualifies for the centerpiece of the novel, bar 2!
Ethel Williams: One mistake... but it turned out great in the end
Maud Fitzherbert: Balanced, mature - a woman ahead of her times;  the center of the novel bar one
Walter Von Ulrich: Frontispiece of the novel, bar none... the single most impressive person
Lev Peshkov: I-Me-Myself, but he doesn't forget those who helped eventually
Grigori Peshkov: Fighter, idealist, Born Leader
Gus Dewar: Initially non-descript... but proves to be a tough but straight man...

The Analysis
The author has attempted to tell the story of the World from around 1910 - 1924. This has been achieved through 5 families - British, Welsh, German, American and Russian. These families are at the center of historical events, or they rise to the center in the novel, becoming active participants in the significants events of this period- for example, universal adult suffrage and rise of the labour movement in Britain, Bolshevism in Russia, World War 1 in Germany and Britain, and the American dream & decision to enter World War 1.

The reader is given a ringside seat as the pressure mounts on the british government to include women in the electoral process through the eyes of Maud and Ethel, while through the eyes of the arrogant idiot Fitzherbert you get to understand the response of the powers to these steps. Through the travails of Grigori, you get to understand how and why Bolshevism rose to such prominence in Russia, while through his twisted brother you are exposed to the American dream. Through Gus Dewar you understand the politics of the day in USA, and can feel the tension as the country tries its best to stay out of the war. Through Walter, you understand the German on the street and empathise that they were pushed into a war they did not want because of the people in power... this approach has enabled  a deep understanding of the formative events of the first quarter of the century, which we can now identify as being seminal changes. That is why I keep universal suffrage above the War: for that is what determined a lot of the politics of the period after 1950...

I cant see the British being too delighted with this Novel, for it is the one nation that emerges with a tattered reputation from this Novel. Even Germany comes out trumps over the British, with the internal fight to keep Germany from declaring war, the ultimatums and peace proposals (and never mind the arrogant language - they made the peace proposal, which was not even discussed by the British and The French) - as well as the warning to the American people to stay away from shipping travel. Britain, by contrast, comes across as stupid, brash, cruel and arrogant as firstly they got into a war that had absolutely nothing to do with them, secondly the way they denied even basic rights to their own people. This is the first western Novel I have read that makes a direct linkage between the war and British Imperialism as 2 characters openly question why it is wrong for the Austrians and Germans to have an empire, and what entitles Britain to an empire? Africa, India etc are mentioned by both sides as arguments - what will happen to the Empire? A soldier asks his officer this question - to which the officer answers bluntly that "We are British"; meaning that the fact that they are British entitles them to enslave others! The book makes a clear point: WW1 would have been lost, but for the timely American entry...

The characterisation is excellent, as you can literally get into the skin of each character of the novel, and form a picture in your mind as to the character traits of the person in question, his language and his overall responses to various situations. What is more, each character sketch helps in  taking the story forward, and is clearly representative of the class of society he represents, In other words, stereotypes have been relied upon, and the character has been modelled upon the general person from that class of society - for example Earl Fitzherbert. You can see how he fits the general impression of the nobleman, and Billy Williams, and how he fits what we all understand by an underprivileged working class man. The is a stunningly fast read, and is a page turner. The pace is relentless, and despite its length of 1000+ pages, is extremely well put together. At no point do you lose track of the story, or lose interest. All in all, a must read for all... 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

India Pakistan Ringa-ringa-rosy....

Oh, sure. They would l-o-v-e to discuss all - repeat, all - issues in a fair, frank, honest, straightforward, decent, upright, righteous, moral, correct, upfront candid manner, We all know that. Oh, how well we know that! They are in fact quite keen to take forward their Indo-Pak agenda with unprecedented vigour. I can even surmise the to-do list of the visitors:

  1. Eat Parathas in Paratha Galli; enquire recipe. Threaten if not made available
  2. Eat Rossogullas from Calcutta; they already have recipes - so they think. So no recipe required
  3. Discuss what the story of Dabang - 2 will be
  4. Make fun of Indian Cricket Team in good humour, offer Coaching Expertise in a Nobel-Peace-Prize-Winning initiative
  5. Offer the honour of a cricket tour to India
  6. Visit Fatehpur Sikri
  7. Visit Malls in New Delhi
Eh? What's that you say? 26/11? Dont remember. Now be a sport-  give a hint to us visitors will you? No, no, no, no, wait. I got it! 26/11 we had asked India to send us some Strawberries, which we hadnt received. Never mind, we will forgive India for that. Send them over now, will you? Thanks a bunch, mate. 

I know the above sounds sarcastic, but I think I have genuinely put forward what the common people think of Pakistani sincerity in doing anything concrete about the real problems afflicting the relationship. Sad part is that both countries are paying for it. Worse still, strident calls from moderates are in danger of dwindling; and that would be a sad day for India. Cynicism is the order of the day among the normal people of India towards Pakistani overtures, and the Government is not unaware of this reality. It speaks volumes for the Indian Governments strategy and courage that they are still keeping tongue in check, and looking for diplomatic solutions. For the alternative does not bear thinking about; it is in Indian interests to ensure a stable Pakistan. And thus it is that yet again, we open our land and our hearts to the visitors from across the border. Welcome, sir - welcome. But we, the people of India, dont have much in the way of hope from this visit, In fact, most of us have precisely none. Previous experience with you is a very effective barrier to trust, sorry...

Luckily, our Media is not going gaga over this visit. Full marks to Indian Media for that! And as far as the initiative is concerned, it is welcome - my sarcasm notwithstanding. Dialogue is anyday better than Bullets. My only point is that let us not hype this visit - let it be low-key; and let us expect nothing out of it. They have to act on our grievances for our negativity to change into positivity - I mean the Indian People's negative view of our neighbour. Perhaps downplaying the hype will create the needed atmosphere in due course of time, as the nay-sayers will not be under public pressure. Worth a thought, that. Lets forget that this guy is coming over, and expect nothing. For nothing is what will be achieved over the short term. But one can only hope that keeping the door open will lead to results in the time-honoured Indian peaceful tradition...

Book Review: Banquet On The Dead


I can conclude this review in one line, which will be enough to stoke curiosity about the book. "It pays to experiment; experimentation reveals new vistas and experiences, new sources of joy". Meaning: if you avoid new authors, you might just miss out on some lovely reading! On a side note, it is heartening to see the flood of Indian writers emerge on the scene, especially as most of them are of a uniformly high calibre. Another person who belongs in this cadre is the current author Sharath Komarraju. Yes, he can improve; but what he has produced is by no means anything to sneeze at, as you can see for yourself in the review below

The Characters
Kauveramma: The Peice de resistance; the unfortunate victim
Inspector Valmiki Nagarajan: Quintessential policeman, but with some redeeming points
Hamid Pasha: Dogged, Intelligent, Reticent, Discerning

These are the 3 principal characters in this whodunit; the others comprise the family members of the victim - Prameela, Karuna, Venkatraman, Kotesh etc; each  a suspect of the crime

The Plot
Kauveramma, the head of the family - an old lady, falls into a well and breathes her last. The case is closed as an accident case, and life moves on. But one family member is not satisfied, and appeals to the police to reconsider. This starts a private, quiet investigation into the matter, which forms the subject matter of the book. Each family member is interrogated, every circumstance gone into and the crime scene reconstructed as the investigators try to get at the truth. The problem is a classic whodunit - the lady died in a well in broad daylight, right in front of the house, with windows looking onto the well from the house. Did she fall, or was she pushed? And if she was pushed, how come no one saw her either from the house or from outside - it was after all broad daylight, and the well was slam-bang in front of the house!

The Analysis
First, let me spell out the only negative that I could find, as well as what I think might be the only possible explanation for it. The characterisation is non-existent. You just do not manage to get into the skin of any character in the entire book. You totally fail to visualise the character in your mind, or his mannerisms. A character does not only mean the physical aspects, but the entire set of beliefs, behaviours etcetera that go into an individual identity. The characters have not been fleshed out enough. I got the feeling that the aspect of characterisation has been deliberately underplayed. If that is indeed the case, then I for one don't have any issues. 

The plot is excruciatingly slow in its build-up - not contrived, just slow. And the pace is deliberate, and adds to the overall book in no small amount. The background, and the scene of the crime are superbly created. In fact, Sharath has the art of using words to create visual imagery. Right from the first page, you can visualise the scene in your mind - the road on which the inspector drives, the home of Hamid Pasha are all superbly created in your mind. This sets the pace for the book, as the murder scene, the house and its frontage, the well, the grounds and the rooms are virtually erected right in front of your eyes. This enables you to appreciate the impossibility of it all: as you can get a 360-degree view in your mind of the murder scene. It also ensures understanding of the interrogation, since you can actually visualise the scene in your mind. This is a powerful talent, and one which I have seen in only the very best of writers. Thus, the current author has the talent; it is upto him how much he can tap into this reservoir on his innate ability. 

The investigation is a thing of beauty, and in the end you have to admit to a logical conclusion. Every seemingly unsolvable knot has been untangled, and every alternative explained. The lines of interrogation shown are extremely pertinent, and very clear in themselves. The entire plot has been constructed with expertise, and at no point do you get the feeling of unreality. In fact, Agatha Christie bores me, but this novel I enjoyed despite it being of a similar genre. And the reason for that is the visual imagery and wordplay, that elevates the book into a class effort!

That is also why I get the feeling that characterisation has been deliberately underplayed. I cannot say more, as anything else I state with dampen the enjoyment for the reader. This book is a good one to read, and easy on the pace. The language is simple and easy to understand; you dont have to be a genius in "angrezi" to fathom the content. It is a light read, and interesting. Those who  are avid readers, or whodunit fans, or like light fiction can regard it as a must-read. If you are fond of slam-bang action on every paragraph and get easily bored by prose that relies on lines of investigation and visual imagery, then problably this is not for you. But, as I said, whodunit fans, avid readers or those on the lookout for a light read can regard it as a must-read