Thursday, 29 August 2013

India - Pakistan : Enemies Forever... Or????

The mere mention of the word "Pakistan" is enough to drive an average Indian bonkers with rage, or indignant with passion and anger at the very least. Yes, exceptions are there - with more than a few people being pacifist. And then you have the idealists, who still advocate an India-Pakistan Bhai-Bhai situation in the distant future. The mere word conjures images of war and terror, with the sad history between the two of us driving a wedge in each Indian heart. 

Beyond this, of late, there has been an increasing tendency to want to "move on" by a large majority of Indians, self included. At least, among the educated classes, judging from the people I have regularly interacted with. The flavour of the moment is a comparison with China, driven by our status as one of the faster growing economies in the world, current problems notwithstanding. 

We (well, at least I do) take pride in the statement that India should de-hyphenate itself; that we are in a different league; that we are China-obsessed; that we can forget Pakistan and move on. But is that really possible? Leave alone possible; is that even recommended? Is that desirable? Can we indeed forget all that has transpired - and by that, I dont mean the bloodshed alone. 

We share a common history, and a remarkably similar culture in terms of language, food and clothing. Our internal contacts go back millennia; this has not been changed by partition. We - the two of us - are like brothers, born of the same mother: Greater India, or Bharat, or Aryavart. Call it what you will; that is a fact. And just claiming descent from Ghazni will not change this reality: 66 years ago, we were one.  

Partition - which is remembered as a tragedy by all of us Indians, and as a liberation by all Pakistanis - cannot and will not take away the above. That has been written in stone - we are bound together by our shared history, never to be parted. We also share a common and long border. Pakistan cannot be wished away; and neither can we forget and move on. Again, I am not talking about bloodshed; that comes later. 

Would you forget a brother who has become estranged? You may harbour enmity, or ill-will towards him, but you would not and could not forget him. And you certainly cannot ignore him. Same is the case here. This is further complicated by the difference in the success of our two nations - India is seemingly pulling away in most spheres, with a stable polity, a stable society, improving economy etc; while Pakistan is struggling to get a democracy going, and is in the trap of its Armed Forces. 

It is in this overall backdrop that we have to view the terror; Pakistan has been fomenting problems in the name of Kashmir for 25 years now; before that it was Punjab. We have been at loggerheads for 66 years, with not an year going by without terror raising its ugly head. How is it possible to move on from this  scenario? Even if we move on, the difficulty is that Pakistan remains where it always was: at ground zero! And so long as it is fixated on ground zero, we cannot abandon that ground!

The proof of the above: a few years ago, a few retired generals from both sides came together in San Francisco for a war game. The Indian side attacked the terror training camps on the Pakistani side. They were expecting the Pakistanis to escalate the entire border issue by attacking a different sector. The Pakistani response was telling: they attacked the Infosys campus in Bangalore. The reasoning: it was the symbol of Indian growth. To them, it did not matter that the pilots might not get back alive- if they got there in the first place! This was re-iterated by a director of the ISI. 

Yes, there are a good many Pakistanis who want peace; that is a given. What is also a given is that they are utterly unable to influence the powers that be in Pakistan. And that is why, despite massive goodwill among overseas Indians and Pakistanis, among common citizens - a Bhai-Bhai situation is not tenable. 

As long as there is an India, and a Pakistan - we will be ranged against each other. We may forget our enmity; we may forget the blood - but we will always be competing against each other. We  cannot unite now; and we cannot fight. We are to continue as we are: neither can die while the other lives. The moment one tries to pull away, the other will pull it back. A nation on our western borders, not fully in control of non-state actors, and not fully committed to peace - is not an ideal partner for peace. 

That is a hard reality - high time we got used to it. And neither is differentiating ourselves, or looking elsewhere an option... while tectonic forces are indeed pulling us apart, tearing us asunder - these forces will not change the ground realities above; none of which have anything to do with religion. At best, we can hope for a cessation of hostilities, and a return to democracy over the long term for Pakistan.

Rather than go ballistic over Pakistan, we would do well to support the fledgling peace process as best we can. The alternative does not bear contemplation - and not for that nuclear bluff. That would only strengthen the anti-India brigade in a society that is already facing a heavy anti-India rhetoric on an almost daily basis - leading to further trouble. For Pakistan is not going away; it is right there; right beside us - for all perpetuity. And that is one fact that is inalterable...

Monday, 26 August 2013

THE GENERATION THAT CHANGED INDIA

THE GENERATION THAT CHANGED INDIA
The future is not as dark as it seems; the silver lining in this black cloud is getting stronger each moment

The recent past has been very tumultuous for our India; the period since beginning of 2008, from the start of the stock market slide, has been unforgettable- with every week being witness to a new tragedy, a new scam, a new event and a new breaking story. This has been an unprecedented period in the history of our ancient civilization, and our young nation; one that has brought us to the brink of disaster, and has forced us to introspect deeply into what we have become as a nation, and what we want to build for ourselves. It has brought in its wake gut-wrenching change, and a deep sense of disquiet at what we have become as a nation. This recent past has forced us to look at our real selves in a mirror, and realize that the image is not a very healthy one.

From politics to bureaucracy, from corruption to negligence – every facet of non-deliverance has manifested itself. This is evident in the number – the mind-numbing number, scale and spread of scams that has ripped apart every facet of life in Modern India. This is also evident in the political scenario, the populist and at times even criminally self-indulgent policies, as well as the stasis on all important steps that need to be undertaken. This period has exposed the underbelly of our internal security as well, as is evident from a number of well-publicized instances.  This is evident from the cruelly self-centered attitude of the populace, with normal citizens preferring to let people die than come to help, and other such incidents. This is evident in the series of headline-grabbing gang rape incidents that have brought a shocked and stunned nation to a standstill in outrage... truly, a period that will go down in the annals of Indian History as a momentous and horrifying period in every which way you prefer to look at it.

There has been good news too; aplenty. Our successes in the field of technology and science are well-known; India is now known as a nation with cutting edge technological capabilities in any number of fields, with our innovations and ventures placing us in a select band of countries, which can be counted on the fingers of one hand. This is the same period that gave us an unprecedented run of wins and successes in cricket. This is the same period that has given us stars in fields other than cricket. This is the same period which has seen the Mumbai Film Industry gain major inroads in international markets. This is the same period where The Supreme Court became the torch bearer of the clean brigade and activism through a series of landmark and laudable judgments in a stream of areas that impact the high and low, the powerful and the mundane in equal measure. And most critically, this is the period where the power of our people, of our democracy has been highlighted in front of the world, such that there can be no doubt anymore of India’s democratic tradition – its many weaknesses notwithstanding; and that we as a people, as a nationality, have the will and the ability to solve our own problems.

Put the 2 paragraphs above together, and a picture begins to emerge: one that is nowhere near as dark and mournful that we had at first imagined. We have problems, that is undeniable; and serious issues at that. These are issues that are in urgent need of priority attention, that is also a given. Nevertheless, failures notwithstanding, we can be sanguine, calm and confident about one fact: that our lot will improve, and improve dramatically, in the due course of time. And this is not because time changes everything; it is because we as a nation are now beginning to put everything together in a larger picture, and create something that is much better than was previously the case.

Instead of looking at the glass as half-empty, let us take a look at the glass from the perspective that it is half-full. And that is where the promise begins to emerge. Take the cases of corruption and scams that have torn into our reputation and image, as well as our potential and competitiveness. Most of these have tentacles that go back several years. The very fact that they are being exposed – and exposed in every facet of life in India, is a positive sign – not a negative one. It is a signal that more and more Indians are quitting the fold of tolerance towards corruption. It is also a sign of the vitality of our institutions – in particular, The Media, as well as the various agencies that have brought these scams to light. The exposure of these scams is a positive sign; one that, repeated often enough – is sure to instill a culture of intolerance towards corruption, and make corruption inacceptable in our society. Given the endemic nature of our problems, the fight is a long one – but a start has been made; a very strong start.

Whatever be the reasons for the Media and the agencies – promotion, disgust against corruption, upping sales of newspapers and channels etc – the fact remains that these are institutions that have worked and performed their tasks – be it the Media or the CAG office, or any other. And they are manned by Indians – people like you and me. The fact that scams are being exposed is not a negative; it is a very powerful positive – it is a signal of growing intolerance towards corruption, increasing effectiveness of some agencies and increasing power and innovativeness of the Media. The old habits, the moral degradation, the equality aspect of society have all come under unprecedented scrutiny – in terms of popular as well as Media activism; which will lead to a push for the start of change in this aspect as well.

The increasing use of technology in various ways like sting operations, as well as normal citizens in Social Media, is another sign of the change that is upon us, a change that is showing the increasing power of the normal man, facilitated by easy communication, and catalysed by a general disgust on the status quo. The coming together of Indians from every stream in various agitations – anti-rape, or corruption, or whatever – is a sign of the increasing awareness of people power. The increasing instances of bureaucrats who are coming out in open revolt on the status quo – that too in a peaceful fashion without breaking laws – is also another massive push for the society’s movement and change in the right direction. And all of these changes are being driven by normal Indians: be it the Supreme Court, The CAG, The Media, The CEC or the Activist Bureaucrats who are beginning to emerge, and take center stage.

There is also increasing pressure on the Government and the Public Representatives to be held accountable for their actions; every step is analysed threadbare, and every decision held up to ruthless scrutiny, and in full public glare. No longer can the people who run our country hope to get away with populist or ineffective measures, given these changes. Yes, such ineffective governance is still the norm – but that is beside the point. The key point, the key change is that, unlike even 5 – 10 years ago, there is a demand for clean, effective governance, and an increasing pressure on the Government of the day.

It is always darkest before the dawn – a statement that fits well into our current status. Bogged down as we are by an unprecedented set of problems in every sector of public life, all does seem rather dismal. The scale of challenges facing us in the Economy, Governance, Corruption, Social Equality and Poverty are grievously massive. And yet, perhaps for the first time in our Independent History, we can be truly confident that things will change eventually. It may take time, given the scale of the problems, but the set of circumstances outlined above - with rising awareness and intolerance among the people, adherence to peace and non-violence, increasing sensitivity in Bureaucracy, increasing use of technology in every way, active intervention of The Supreme Court and the common, felt and vocal demand for effective and clean governance – will eventually lead to change. Further, the confluence of activism, technology and awareness is set to bring in change, which in some ways, that change is already being felt

The momentum of these changes can only increase, with increasing awareness, penetration of technology, increasing education, and the attendant demand for a better quality of life. The people, who have started the power of passive activism, will only get more demanding, the various institutions, which have seen how their actions are both inciting action on the guilty, as well as how the people support them vocally and actively, will obviously become more effective and vigilant with time. These changes have now acquired critical mass; it is no longer possible to muzzle the activist Supreme Court, or Media; it is no longer possible to reign in the desires and dreams of the people.

The fun and exciting part of this is that this is being achieved in the time-honored Indian tradition of peace, slow but effective change and non-violence. This will aid in the establishment of a stable order; even the most cursory perusal of change the world over will reveal that the only stable change has, by and large, been slow, steady and methodical. We should all feel lucky to be a part of such a defining moment of our national history – our personal problems notwithstanding, when the old ways are being challenged, and new ways are being discovered. Along the path will lie some speed breakers and false starts, but the overall direction seems right.

And if all this does come about, if we do manage to complete what we have started, then the future is ours to take. The momentum built up in the past few years has given us a direction, and a new hope for a new India, an improved and confidant India. The choice is ours to make: continue on this admittedly tortuous and long path of change that has just been started – and realize the potential that we all know is present in the ancient Land of Aryavarta, the land that we now know as Modern India, or Bharat. And, when all of us are gone from this Earth – and we reside in Vaikunth, or Heaven, or Jannat, or are in another life -  maybe, just maybe it will so transpire that we and our generation will be remembered as:



 The Generation That Changed India… 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Yet another incident and proof of our lack of humanity...

Heartless Kolkata watches woman commit suicide - The Times of India

Courtesy The Times Of India:


No words, just shock. Read it yourself, and see into a mirror that portrays how uncaring and cruel we have become... we need urgent attention to our  internal value systems, which, far too obviously are skewed up, and screwed up big-time! Our internal compass, which I had thought to be in dire need of correction, is actually lost somewhere; we just lack a moral compass in totality. Read this if you care; move on if you dont! 


Jaago, Sonewaalon!



KOLKATA: A woman climbed on a lamp-post on Friday evening, took her time fashioning a noose from her dupatta, put it around her neck and jumped off. Heartless Kolkata passed by as she choked to death. It was 4pm, rush-hour on Central Avenue, and no one had the time to stop to save a life.

Even when the body hung limply from the lamp-post, no one stepped up to see if there was a heartbeat left. The culture hub ofMahajati Sadan is nextdoor and MG Road Metro station right in front but commuters glanced at the body and went their way. It was 15 minutes before someone informed a policeman and 10 minutes more before the body was brought down because no passerby wanted to help the cop with the grisly job. The victim was identified as 50-year-old Soma Bakshi, who gave up after a bitter fight with her addict husband.

The incident reveals the dark, uncaring side of the city that was not long ago known for its compassion and helpfulness. In October 2008, two police stations squabbled for four hours over jurisdiction as a 37-year-old man lay dying in Howrah and in November that year, hundreds filed past an old man who was shivering to death on Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road. In August 2011, a teenage boy lay bleeding for an hour after an accident on the busy AJC Bose Road but no one tried to save him.

Even on Friday, insurance agents were milling about the place when Soma carried out her suicide preparations, witnesses told TOI. They had come for a musical soiree at Mahajati Sadan but no one reacted when she climbed a tree, clambered up to one of the lamp-posts set up recently, and threw herself off.

"Soma lived on the pavement in front of Mahajati Sadan with her husband Dipankar and a daughter. They slept under the open sky and when it rained, they would take refuge on the porch of the Metro station. Soma was the bread-earner and the couple often quarreled because Dipankar didn't work and blew up her money on drugs. So when they fought on Friday afternoon, none of us paid much attention," said tea stall owner Pawan Jadav.

Private firm employee B S Chouhan was the first to react when he saw the body after exiting the Metro station. "I was shocked to see the woman hanging while people went about their life as though nothing had happened. I alerted a traffic constable. But when he sought help from passersby to bring the body down, no one agreed. Only when two other constables arrived could the body be brought down and taken to hospital," said Chouhan. Police have ruled out foul play but have detained Dipankar for questioning.

Gopal Das, who sells fries on the adjoining pavement and knew Soma, rued how insensitive everyone had become. "I am to blame as well for not realizing that Soma had snapped. We are too busy with our own lives and don't bother if the person next door lives or dies. Had I turned when the quarrel intensified and seen her, I could perhaps have saved her," he said.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Rape! Attitude... or something else?




For once, I am at a loss for words... a total loss for words!

Yet another morning, and yet another rape... a simple google search threw up the shocking statistic 68000 rapes in our nation just 2 years. I am speechless, and shocked...

And I dont buy that nonsense that is oft stated - "rape happens even in the developed world, and at a greater rate". I care 2 damned hoots for what happens elsewhere, and at what rate. We are not discussing GDP Growth figures, for heaven's sake... we are discussing the dignity and life of 68000 women in just 2 years... a statistic that should be enough to jolt even the most lackadaisical and sanguine among us... a statistic that should, but does not, act as a brutal wake-up call to our society! It is not a competition; it is not as if we celebrate if our rape numbers are 0.001% below the US, or Pakistan. Having read many a statement online, like "doesn't rape happen in the USA etc", I think it essential that we deal with this matter first! Fact of the matter is that these numbers are just not acceptable! 

I  have already stated in my articles on corruption that our national moral compass is in dire need of correction; these are not signs of a healthy society. I am sorry to use such harsh words, but I am too numbed into senseless shock to be soft this time around. The sheer brazenness of the rapists has stunned me; there is no fear of the law, no fear of God, no morals, and no recourse for the poor woman either. Someone can just grab a lady and rape her at 5PM in the afternoon, right next to a railway track in Mahalaxmi, the heart of Mumbai? The enormity of the brazenness of this deed has stunned me speechless. 

It seems clear that the rapists were just not scared of getting caught, and had lost total fear of the law. And when that happens, you have only your morals and your conscience between yourself and evil.  I just don't buy that spiel that is given regarding attitude towards women; I cant see any attitude issue here. All I can see is a person who has no fear for the law, and no conscience and no morals. I can see an attitude issue towards the police; that they are ineffective. I can spot a morality that is in dire need of correction - but not attitude. Taken together with the rampant corruption as evidenced in the life around us, the signals are clear: signs of a serious societal decay, a society that is so bloody self-centred, so fearless of the law, so amoral, and so numbed into senselessness that it cannot take the steps needed to correct itself...

Do we have an attitude issue towards women? Yes, we do. A real world example from Corporate India will help to illustrate my point. This happened around 7 - 8 years ago, in one of the biggest companies in India. Two of the support staff took panning videos of the girls in my distributors' staff - full profile shots. There was a hue and cry. When I intervened, and asked - do you have a problem with our company? Answer: No, we just want justice - and these guys to pay for their deed. We don't like to have our full profile videos taken without our permission. Fair enough, and logical. They went ahead and complained. The feedback I got from a couple of senior managers was shocking: "boys will be boys. So what if some videos were taken? They are boys yaar - they were just having fun". Wow. Fun? And what about the girls getting insulted - for they were feeling insulted. This is in a small town in Central India. Someone takes a full video of a girl - panning from head downwards (as per descriptions I got), and that is "just having fun?". Now this is attitude. This is reflective of an attitude issue in society - and in my opinion, no part of India is free from it. 

Rape is far, far beyond attitude. Let us not brush it under the carpet by stating it as an attitude problem among males. Rape is far, far more serious. Rape impacts the entire life of the woman. At times, some Rambo of a husband even leaves the poor raped woman, as though she is to blame. It impacts the entire family, and engenders a fear psychosis in society. It is a crime, plain and simple. Rape happens when a man loses  sight of morality, fear of the law and is indicative of a power complex; that he can get away with it. Once that feeling sets in - that you cant be caught - then you have only your conscience and your values standing between yourself and evil. This is not attitude; this is not a complex. This is just a total lack of moral direction, conscience combined with fearlessness of the law. This is far, far more serious than attitude...

The repeated incidents highlight 2 clear points: there is no fear of the law, and that there is no morality left anymore. While we cannot do anything immediately about the moral correction bit - that is a long-term affair even at the best of times, we can and should do something about the law and order situation by improving the sensitivity, training and effectivity of the police. This is critical since it is evident that the people are just not scared of the law, due to slow pace of justice, corruption and connections which ensure that people go scot free and unpunished for years altogether. 

The problem with calling Rape an attitude issue is that it is escapist, and a euphemism. Further, the word attitude does not tackle the lack of fear of the law; it also brushes under the carpet the larger issue of the life of the woman - as then the great Rambos in our society can lay claim to the weak excuse that this is part of our overall treatment of women. You then equate Rape with stalking a woman; asking unknown women, total strangers, for a date regardless of whether or not she wants to talk to you; eve-teasing; denying equal rights to women etc etc. Rape is Rape - nothing less. It is plain and simple an act of a criminal mind that has no place in society, a mind that has lost all touch with reality - and is indicative of a man who has no right to function in a free manner in a decent society...

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Great Inclusion Vs Growth Debate

Some people state that India requires inclusive growth, that we require to support the people through interventionist and populist policies, that we need to shepherd the people with a supporting and guiding hand. Others state with equal vehemence that we require easier competition, that we require to unlock the industry, that we require to give market forces an opportunity... and so the debate goes on; and so the great Indian circus of development efforts continues; and so the great and misdirected Governmental efforts to direct - or misdirect, in reality - India continues. And the fun (or sadness, depending on your point of view) continues, unabated and unstoppable, regardless of who is in power...

A cursory perusal of the newspapers will readily bring out the above as simple fact. It is there in just about every daily; in just about every magazine that you would care to pick up and read. Some articles glibly suggest an even more diabolical and dangerous viewpoint, that the correct method lies in a blend of the above - namely, market-friendly policies and reforms with a human face of support and intervention for the poorest of the poor. These are views that, regardless of which side of this debate you are on, sound good to the ears; and yet, are totally off the mark as they don't address the core issue that is currently facing India, that is threatening to engulf all of us; perhaps it already has swallowed all of us, for all we know!

The reality of Capital Flight is now there for all to see, as businessman after businessman invests abroad; as international investors give India a bypass; as our Current Account Deficit balloons; as inflation reaches stratospheric levels and as the exchange rate enters new territory almost every trading session! These are factors and realities that can no longer be ignored, or wished away. And neither are they unconnected; the glib reason aft stated for the slide of the Rupee - QE-related problems and developed market concerns, cannot explain away the sustained run on the Rupee, neither can they explain away the steady fall against all currencies; neither can they explain the steady decline for the past 2-3 years; and neither can they explain inflation, or investment decline or anything else. 

Similar is the case with any other solution proffered - for example, that now-famous grand strategy statement named market reforms, a statement that can have the distinction of making a great statement while meaning nothing in real terms, a feel good statement that sounds good to everyone, as they can then sidestep the real issues that are confronting India, one that no one wants to confront, as it shows  a mirror to us... and as in that mirror, we can see our own ugly, distorted faces. 

Even the most cursory eye over the various sectors of the economy will throw up one inescapable reality: that nearly every sector from core to consumer goods, from services to manufacturing has been buffeted by scams, scandals and corruption. In the entire great debate being conducted in newspapers between eminent thinkers, editors, politicians, businessmen and economists - you will be hard put to find even a passing mention to this problem. You will, at best, find oblique references in the form of beautiful statements like "it is difficult to do business in India" - statements that mean nothing, while seeming to sound informed and full of meaning. Statements that seem to address the issue head-on, while neatly sidestepping the real issues very adroitly. 

I would like to understand how can we possibly unlock our potential by mere market reforms / How can we solve the problems of the poor by interventionist policies - when 90% of the inputs don't reach the intended targets, be it investments or subsidies. It is like throwing good money away. You might as well collect the entire cash and throw it in the Indian Ocean, for all the real effect that occurs on the ground situation. This is also supported by hard-core data, as I have previously espoused on my blog on many an occasion.

No amount of policies and changes in them can make an impact, unless implementation on the field is looked at with equal, and perhaps greater emphasis. This is what the entire picture shows - when analysed from a 360-degree approach. Each round of "reforms" is accompanied by grandiose announcements of investments into the country; how many of those get translated into reality - and most critically, and in what time frame do they actually materialise? Furthermore, how many get cancelled due to various and sundry issues? How many get stuck in the red tape?

Corruption is a massive drag on the economy; it is also a brake that is stopping all development. In land issues relating to investments, in subsidies, in regulatory approvals - this is an ever-present brake that is acting on every economic activity. Projects get stuck as people don't get their dues, leading to protests. Projects get stuck due to laxity, acting as a further impediment. And the nation pays the price of the negligence of our so-called intelligentsia, who have so far not shown the guts, the courage, the audacity and the gall to take on this scourge.  

Let alone corruption, these so-called great men and women in politics, universities and society have so far not shown any inclination to seriously link the other great scourge that is acting as a disk-brake that is threatening to bring the economy to a dead stop, and as a reverse gear that threatens to pull it back. And by that, I mean the total lack of accountability in our so-called public service, for which a pretty strong case can be made out for a renaming to Civil Disservice. The total lack of accountability on Government Servants, and the intertwined corruption is like a spreading cancer that has now engulfed the entire body of Mother India. The lack of accountability means that Primary Health Centers go unattended and unstocked; that medicines get diverted; that schools go unattended, that no genuine teaching occurs, that free books get sold, that projects get stuck and delayed for sheer lack of proper implementation... and so on and so forth. 

And that is the real issue; we require someone with the bloody guts to link the two; sure we need market reforms. We sure as hell need to support the poorer section of our society. But we most of all need a strong implementation culture in our country, a work ethic and a corruption free atmosphere to do business in. 

And judging from The Great Debate that has been on in the Media among Government Servants, Politicians, Economists, Thinkers, Strategists, this is light-years away from the minds of the people who matter. The article that talks of problems facing the economy will usually totally omit the real problems of implementation, while the anti-corruption brigade totally ignores this other side. There is no one that is linking the two; for they are connected and intertwined into one indivisible whole. 

No one has shown the courage to take the real steps to tackle corruption and implementation - tame the Civil Service, include a work-ethic and culture, free the police from political control, improve overall policy implementation. Sadly, there is no debate on the national level on this problem either. All you hear is a deafening, all-engulfing silence, with intelligent people spouting grand strategies that translate into rubbish on the ground.  Only Arvind Kejriwal has come close to this, with his Lokpal campaign... only he has shown the guts... I very much fear that even he has not gone far enough!

And I very much fear that if this is not done post-haste, India faces greater tension in the day to come...

Jaago, Sonewaalon!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Book Review: Delhi Durbar by KP Singh


Delhi Durbar is the 2nd book of the Raisina Series written by Krishan Partap Singh, a series based on Indian Politics and New Delhi

Awesome book, from an awesome series... this one is a real treat. And it is a treat from more than just the plot perspective; the series has taken my breath away with its ingenuity and sheer courage in treading untreaded paths, and going where no book has done before. I have said it before - and I am saying it again; Indian Fiction (Non-Fiction as well, of course) writing is taking massive strides every passing month. The sheer skill, imagination and guts portrayed by Indian Authors is a delight to behold. The plots and the genres that are emerging are unique and very Indian in their backdrop and approach, which make them a far cry from the pointless and senseless spy thrillers that are the norm from the West. Kudos to all the occupants of the Indian Fiction and Non-Fiction authors club! Keep it up!

The book is written in the first person - and is told through the mouth and eyes of Jasjit Singh Sidhu, the son of a powerful power broker at the national scene. A banker himself. Jasjit is employed with one of the Swiss banks, and specialises in garnering and managing Indian business. Enticing as the thought is, this fact is incidental to the story line, and only forms that background and support for the real plot, which is a humdinger! The untimely death of his father pulls Jasjit against his will - and entwines him in the ruthless power game that is New Delhi coalition politics and corruption. 

What makes things doubly interesting is that Jasjit's wife is the daughter of the ex-chief of Army Staff and currently Vice President of India, who incidentally cannot stand the person (or even the mention, as a matter of fact) of Mr Jasjit Singh Sidhu. What elevates this interesting relationship to the level of unforgettable is that the redoubtable General, who is obviously scared of no one, is scared shit of his daughter - who is deeply in love with both the men in her life, who just happen to be fighting a World War among themselves! To make this plot even more fascinating, the General has some skeletons in his cupboard; and what is more has a  naked ambition. And best of all, Mr Jasjit Singh Sidhu, the unmentionable and unfortunately Son-in-law, is firmly in the camp of his arch enemy, The Prime Minister. Not only that, Jasjit wants out - but cannot say so. The wife wants out - and can and does say so in no uncertain terms to both the commandoes in war with each other. That is the fascinating backdrop to the political scenario

This scenario is no stranger to us - a coalition government headed by a corrupt stand-by Prime Minister. This guy wants to get rich quick - quicker than quick, in fact. Tough part for him is that his fixer in chief - a certain gentlemen going by the name of Mr Sidhu (the elder one) decides to meet his maker. Inconvenient - to say the least. Especially since this gentleman handles all the moolah, such that Mr I. Tax doesnt get wind of it, and Ms C. BI dont get a whiff of the unsavoury deals that gave birth to these piles (and I mean piles, quite literally) of cash. Enter Sidhu junior, the Swiss banker. All is well again, you say?

Well, now, you forgot The General  - yes, the very same I-cant-stand-Sidhu-Junior General. He wants to clean up the scene -in the most effective way, and decides that the Pakistanis have had it right all along, and that a Presidential system is what this nation needs, with, of course, an Armed forces variety President in charge! And you also forgot that pesky lady - Mrs Conscience, the wife of Mr Honest Decency, who picks this very moment to visit Sidhu Junior. And you also forgot Mr I Tax, Mr Media and Ms C BI. (all of whom, despite never finding even a mention in the book, are ever present - an incongruity that highlight the power of institutions and the Media), the fear of whom ensure that Mrs Conscience is firmly in check in Mr Sidhu's mind, and Mr Honest Decency stays well away from Sidhu Junior's residence.  And I havent yet told you about 2 bystanders...

Meet Azim Khan and Retired Major Karan Nehru. Both true blue idealists, best friends, Both these gentlemen (no pun intended, true gentlemen. Well, Azim at least. Karan - well, you decide after reading the series!) have apparently used the Prime Minister as a stop-gap till a more permanent solution can be found, and both of whom find the ugly tactics of the PM unhealthy for everyone. They want both PM and thr President out. Poor Sidhu, hemmed in on all sides - his wife wants out; his partners in crime want in, he is undecided, as he has to get out without landing in trouble himself - is the only one who can solve the matter, as the warring parties - The President and The PM, can be approached only by him. Who won? Read the book!

A fast paced page turner filled with hair-pin twists and turns along every mile of the long road, the book is one-of-a-kind, for reasons that I shall connect up with in the review of Young Turks, which is the first part of the series. Readers are advised to read the books in order only, as only then will they make sense of the characters and the power of each character. The first person account serves to take you deep into the quagmire of dirty politics and corruption, and hear it from the horses mouth. It is this approach that makes it unique. Taken together with  the first book, whose plot plays almost side-by-side with this book, it makes for a deeply engaging read and gives the reader of fascinating insight into the corridors of power. I shall delve into a detailed analysis in the review of Young Turks, which is deeply connected to this book... 

Book Review: The Price You Pay





The Price You Pay by Somnath Batabyal

The author is a journalist with over a decade's experience, followed by a belated entry into Academics in London. He is currently emploted at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and can be found on http://somnathbatabyal.com. This is his 2nd book and his first fiction venture,. 

THE PLOT

The plot, which initially - from its back cover - seems a human life story much along the lines of Jeffrey Archer, metamorphoses rapidly into a different genre entirely. You take a ringside seat in the life and experiences of a young but confident man Abhishek Dutta as he makes his way first into print journalism and from there into TV journalism. A combination of contacts, guts and cheek land him his first assignment and his first job, from where he picks up the skills and trade secrets of a crime reporter. The young man, who is a fast learner, soon makes a mark for himself - again, due to his contacts. cheek and guts thrown alongside a dollop of luck. You are on an unstoppable roller coaster ride, as you are taken deep into the mysterious world of journalism, and the crossroads of rampant crime, naked ambition, remorseless power play and public service. 

This is one guy who can recognise an opportunity for what it is, and make it tick! The enterprising young fighter soon understands that there is no free lunch in this brutal dog-eat-dog world, and rolls with the punches, avoiding some and making good use of chances and sheer guts. To his credit, he does not run, and takes it as it comes - which stands him in good stead. Eventually, he gets picked up as a TV journalist - where again, he finds that the same rules apply. You get used, and you have to learn fast in order to avoid getting used... and somehow, one has to find ones own way around one and all. The various people who come into Abhishek's life, like Amir, or Uday Kumar, Mayank Sharma or Samir Saxena all gel well into the overall plot as they shape the future of Abhishek Dutta, providing knocks or support - or, as in the case of Mayank, even a lifelong friendship - which itself has interesting implications given that Mayank is a rising star in the police forces

THE ANALYSIS
This is a superb book - quite literally, unputdownable. For a debut novel, it is awesome. One of the best debut novels I have read in a long, very long time. The pace is relentless - which is a marvel, as the genre is not one which lends itself to rapid pace. The plot is plausible, and entirely feasible in the real world, That is the clincher. While in the plot I have focussed only on 1 character - Abhishek, there are others apart from the frontispiece and his main supporting cast - people like Babloo Shankar -who makes his presence felt not by the pages he fills, but by sheer force of reputation and history as told through the mouths of the other characters. The character building is decent and functional, and you gel with each character.Most critical is the fact that each character has a ring of believability about him or her. and you can readliy spot similar people in you real life. 

 What makes the book so interesting is not just its pace, but its storyline and backdrop, which is unique. You are taken deep into the world of journalism, and that is in itself a treat - as well as a refreshing change from spy thrillers and police whodunits. This is where Indian Fiction is scoring - Indian Authors are nowadays broaching untreaded lines and environs, and carving a unique identity for themselves. The present book is one such, which is different, refreshing and unique. 

It is not a life story; it is a fast-paced thriller based on the rapid rise of the main protagonist, who uses chances, knocks, opportunities, chutzpah and presence of mind to grow. Integrally woven into his rise is the backdrop of organised crime, office politics, and falls and shocks. It is an adrenalin pumping ride through the corridors of news channels and newspapers, where real friends are rare, and one must have ready presence of mind, and common sense to survive. The backdrop of crime and politics add spice to what might have been a slow paced long-winded tale, and give it life. 

All in all, The Price You Pay is well worth the price it makes you pa y for it; it is a fascinating read, takes you into a world you know little about - journalism - and glues you to its pages from the first to the last. The prose is simple and unpretentious, and easy to comprehend. It is a light and fast read - and is unique. The book - and its characters, especially Abhishek, stay with you in your memory long after you have put it down. And that is the acid test for any author - if the reader can recall the central character and his/her main traits days after putting the book down; the author has done his job magnificently well. And that is true in this case - I am pennning this review some 20 days after reading the book, and yet I can picturise Abhishek Dutta in my mind as clearly as if I had just read the book. This is one author whose next book I look forward to... 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Brutal Reality Of The Poverty Trap: The Curse Of Poverty-3

I was waiting for a critical mail to come in - and had been waiting a long time. Before long, hunger pangs struck; and I strolled out to my favourite bhuttaawaalaa (Corn Vendor) for a Bhuttaa. I was, unusually, alone - as I prefer to partake this particular delicacy alongwith my boss. Seeing me alone, the vendor asked me: doosre saahab ke liye ek dun? (One for your friend?). I replied in the affirmative; and thus we started chatting. 

Having broken the ice, and fetched the courage to talk to me, he asked me a question that shocked me, floored me and set me thinking. Can a 10th standard pass boy learn computer science? (He meant simple data entry and dtp usage, I suppose). On being asked the reason for this, he stated bluntly: he'll get a job at least. I asked him to educate him further; his answer? I cannot afford to. I have a daughter, and am also taking care of my brother's child. I then asked him to shift him to a cheaper school; the reply was stunning, and a revelation...

He said: Fees is not the problem, it is only 50/-. The cost of books is a massive problem. It costs a lot of money for books, which are all costly. I just cannot afford the books; I cant afford to spend so much on all three kids. Hence, I am searching for a job for him. I told him about second-hand used books which can be picked up cheap from second-hand stores, and his eyes lit up. He happily exclaimed that he will suggest it tonight to the children. 

Note this interchange; note the clear willingness of both the child -probably around 16 - as well as the family towards continued education. Note also their despair, and their desperation for education. This can be seen in the father's apparent delight at having an option. And note the brutal reality of modern life that leaves precious little options for such people. Also note the failure of governance, of a people left to fend for themselves without any true and genuine support. 

This is the real trap of poverty; there is a desire to grow, to educate; but there is the attendant total absence of a support system, and an attainable affordable source of education for the poor people. The real and felt gaps in the system are so cruel, that it leaves little option for the unfortunate. Take the example above; the cheaper schools have been launched; they are charging a measly 50/- for fees. But what about the rest? Why are books not made available at affordable rates? Where are the libraries? Such is the cruelty of the trap that a parent who can at least afford to spend 150/- a month on 3 kids (which is a treasure for any number of poorer people) cannot afford books, and is pulling his children out of school. Therein lies the real tragedy that grasps at your heart; the failure of the system to provide a complete resource to those who need it lies brutally exposed in this real life tale from India. 

How can a person grow out of poverty without education? They will sadly be condemned to another generation of continued destitution and poverty. And all because the parents do not have money for books! Is this how we are going about providing education for the disenfranchised? Is this how we are focussing on education? Is this the system, that does not provide even the most basic of thoughts and resources? How will the people be uplifted in such a brutal, hopeless and cut-throat atmosphere? Why is help and advice not provided to such parents and children in such schools? If this is the norm - then it is indeed a sad thing. What is my government doing? What has it been doing for the past 66 years? And even if it is not the norm, then even if a small number of Indians are in such desperation, that is a sad state of affairs. But I am afraid, judging from the sights around me, that this is indeed the reality...

Today, as I stand on the eve on Independence Day, it is a sad reality that has manifested itself before me: we may be independent, but we are still unable to provide the most basic of solutions. The stark, naked reality of a father, whose desperation for his children is leading him to pull his children out of school. All for the want of books! Why cant my government provide free books, or proper libraries to children, in place of pointless populist policies? At least, that way, we will be investing in the future! 

And in conclusion, to all those who blame parents for child labour, please get out into the streets, meet and talk to the real people facing these problems. If this child joins the labour force at age 16, how is it his fault? Or his parents? What option do they have? None, at this point in time! You cannot legislate away child labour; it requires a more holistic approach!

Disclaimer: As told me to me by a roadside vendor

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Lets Get Ruled By Criminals...

So at long, long last our political classes do unite... wouldn't have thought it possible. Silly me. Of course they can unite; but this is for something important. Where is the need to unite for stupid, inconsequential and frankly pointless idiocies such as education, health, corruption, economic scenario et al? Now if you consider the really important deals and ideals like pay for politicians, or criminalisation of politics: and they will unite like a shot! Hey presto! Abracadabra: and before you can blink your eyes, unity! And who the hell says we have a divided house and a multiplicity of parties? Look around you now: you will find only one party! 

The main objection raised is that old familiar bit of nonsense: supremacy of parliament. And silly, stupid, idiotic, naive me thought that the people were supposed to be supreme, that Democracy was for the people, of the people and by the people. That politics was about serving people. That the political class exists to serve the people, to solve their problems, to run the country efficiently, to ensure equity for all, to ensure robust institutions in the country. How wrong could I be? Wow, man! And those civics books that I studied - who gave them the right to teach us that rubbish regarding of and for the people? What utter nonsense I mugged up to clear my civics courses in school! What a waste of time! Let us change that : politics is of the politicians, for the politicians, and by the politicians. Let us further change the meaning of Democracy, which will now mean "any system of government that the political class deems fit". Let us further stipulate that Democracy and Politics are interchangeable and synonymous. That is the reality, is it not? So why should we we learn such rubbish as Of The People, By The People and For The People? 

Let us also further stipulate that anyone without a conviction cannot enter Parliament; that you need to have a long criminal record to enter politics. How can a clean person tackle those ugly criminals that are rampant nowadays? How can a clean person run the country, with all its corruption, its massive problems? You actually need a bad man! (Oooooops, sorry Gulshan bhai... didnt mean you). That way, the decent and clean men can concentrate on trying to live and earn a living. Whether or not they succeed in their endeavours of earning and getting rich is another matter entirely. And the bribe givers can merrily bribe their way to all their needs and requirements. 

A Parliament is the highest body in a Democracy; the only means through which we people can exercise control on the Government. It is - or should be - sacrosanct. (Stupid thought, I know. Humour me, please). It befuddles my admittedly uneducated mind (uneducated in the finer aspects of politics mentioned above, at least) as to how criminals in this august place can be a benefit? I think I need a re-education along the line mentioned above. My hopes, my dreams of a clean political class lie in  tatters, torn to tiny shreds in the light of the efforts of our political class to fight the supreme court on this matter. 

And the people? What to say of them? Well, what is there to state? They (the people, that is) have been honed in the fine art of modern politics. The silence, as usual, is profound and total, the people uncaring. Maybe my education was wrong; maybe the problem lies with me, and people of my ilk - who dream of equality, equity, inclusive growth, clean politics, a great and thundering India, minimal corruption. Maybe we should stop expecting for all the above ideals and objectives...

Meantime, our critical parameters keep slipping on health and education. Meantime, our GDP growth keeps plummeting. Meantime, businessman after Indian businessman continues to take money for outside investments. Meantime, scam after scam continues to rock India. Meantime, infrastructure projects get jammed due to lack of investment paucity and corruption. Meantime, Indians continue to suffer malnutrition and poverty. Meantime, business confidence continues its downward spiral. Meantime... there will come a day when our international rating gets downgraded to junk; when we slip to the old 3-4% growth rate... 

Jaago Sonewaalon!