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2014 in review

January 2, 2015

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,200 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 53 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Who Could Do This?

December 17, 2014

Who can kill a child? What sort of mind can look past the deep eyes, the laughter, the simple love, the tears and put a bullet into a head, a knife across the throat?

The past few days, there were a few photographs being shared on social media platforms about missing children. Despite the barrage of useless posts on these sites, this is one post that I do share, regardless of the number of people who might see it. Regardless of the little voice inside me that says that these children might never be found. It is hard to scroll past the smiling faces and dimpled cheeks.

Children are valued in ALL cultures, regardless of how barbarian the rest of the traditions might be. They represent the possibilities of the future. They represent all that is good in the world, which is diminishing by the minute.

You do not need to be a parent to know that a child’s smile can make you smile. It could be when you are stuck in crazy traffic, cursing and swearing. You see that little face popping up in the rear window of a car, probably smeared with chocolate making silly faces at you. And you cannot help but smile.

Politically, the slaughter of children always grabs the headline, no matter how jaded the society is. The slaughter of hope has been done in so many forms that nothing else might get the same kind of attention.

But it makes me wonder how do you get your hands to commit murder of a child, whatever might be your cause. We read about it everyday… in small doses… parents who kill their own children… And perhaps you can convince yourself that some of these were acts of desperation… a jerk of a hand before you could control it… But how many times can you look past this? How many times can you convince yourself that these monsters do not exist in our society?

We ignore the abuse… even as we talk about it on social media and about how horrendous it is. But have you ever tried to imagine the pain, the confusion that the little child faces?

All the study of psychology and whatever else, I still cannot understand how one can do that to a child. What kind of person can convince themselves to pull the trigger? Not once. Not twice. A hundred and thirty two times. Aim at that little forehead, covered by silky hair, shiny and smelling sweet from the shampoo mommy did in the morning. Studiously ignore that two little eyes that are questioning you, filled with fear… perhaps they were filled with laughter a few minutes ago as they sniggered at something their teacher said. Block your senses of the smell that is no innately a child.

What possible religion allows such an act? What possible belief leads people to think that this will assure them a place in heaven? That they are fighting for a cause? Who made these people? Where did they come from? Have they seen no children? Do they have no children? Is it the same perversion that forces some to push themselves on children to fulfill their sexual need? Is it power? Is it authority? What is it? What could possibly be the answer for such abhorring decadence.

The questions come back to haunt me each time I read about a horrific act on a child. The mind shies away from graphically imagining the little snippets of news that pass your way.

Were we always a barbaric society, who wore the veneer of civilization for a short while? Were we always the raiders and looters?

A Letter to The Cab Guy

December 7, 2014

Dear Taxi Guy,

I’ve been a loyal customer since you were a mere company, not a brand. Despite various people complaining about the company and their ‘pathetic’ service, I had no reason to complain and I hung around. You have been with me through late night parties, emergency cabs to work, trips to the airport and more for the past 3-4 years.

And then you became a ‘brand’. I started seeing your logo on movie promo posters, at concerts and whatnot. It was kind of cool to see a company from my hometown grow up and compete with the biggies out there and able to keep pace.

Then we started seeing hoardings all around the city, screaming about cab rides at 49 bucks. You were trying to take on the biggest public transport service providers – the auto rickshaws. I wondered about how you were going to sustain your operational costs. It wasn’t like the fuel had gotten considerably cheaper, for starters.

But I had your app installed on my phone, and I loved the interface as well. Except, almost everytime I booked a cab in the past few months… pretty much since September-Oct, the booking would get confirmed and then the cab would not turn up. Your Customer Care would apologise profusely and then the same thing would be repeated. Once. Twice. Thrice. Four Times. Five Times. And that’s when I decided to say to hell with you.

I had to scramble to find another cab service to head to a college reunion. I had to sit on the sidewalk and wait for an hour for another cab to come and pick us up after a concert because your ‘confirmed’ cab did not turn up. I had to scramble to get home at 10.00 in the night because your cab wouldn’t turn up. I nearly missed a flight because your cab did not turn up.

And I had to speak to your rude, annoying customer care at 1.00 in the morning who called me 3 hours after my booking time asking if I wanted to take the cab now, since one was available.

And through all of this, the only thing that was consistent were your apologies and that ‘you will try to serve us better’.

I booked a cab again yesterday afternoon, buoyed by the news that you had launched this new ‘mini car’ cab service. I was curious, and perhaps a glutton for punishment. The mini car was not available yet, so I booked a Mini and true to your brand – you did not disappoint me. The Cab Did Not Turn Up.

This time, thanks to your new updates on the app, I could call the driver directly. And the guy says “Well, I did get a message about the booking and then another one saying it was canceled”.

So I booked another cab – and this time a cab did turn up and imagine my surprise – it was a Renault Duster.

I wondered how you had classified a Renault Duster, a car that costs at least 10 lakhs, on par with the ‘Mini’ class, which was typically a Tata Indica. And then I realised – this is what you’ve come down to – you are scrambling to keep up with your promises and promos.

You have a shortage of good drivers. You are losing control over your drivers, who have gone back to choosing (like always) rides to the airport, which are longer and have less traffic. Have you resorted to desperately hiring anyone who is willing to drive for you, which perhaps accounts for the untoward incidents being reported all around?

Your drivers are pissed off with you because they are barely able to make ends meet when you’ve chopped their revenue share to a bare minimum. As I heard one of your drivers say, he would rather go back to driving an auto because he would be in control.

Now, with 1000 new cabs on the road, this time funded by your own money, how do you intend to really keep up the brand? Because after all the ads and the articles, you do need to keep your customer happy.

This was a tale of great potential, which has now become a big question mark. True, the Indian loves a good deal but we are also growing up to appreciate quality and service.

Perhaps it is time that you realised that.

Sincerely,

A Customer

I Am Pilgrim

November 15, 2014

I haven’t reviewed a book in a LONG time. I’ve not particularly been reading books that I’d want to review… Thrillers, chicklit etc that I don’t think need a mention.

And then I discovered I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes.

I could summarize the book but it’d be so… little. It is about espionage, the pre 9/11 and a spy and a terrorist. It sounds so banal and everyday, doesn’t it?

It is the magic of Hayes’ writing that turns this plot into magic. The loner who is a spy, who is quite imperfect. The winding path of the plot that takes you through several elements, which are all enjoyable independently and makes you wonder what relevance they could possibly have for the plot. Hell, you don’t see the plot till you are smack in the middle of it.

There is a sense of urgency, wonder and anticipation that builds beautifully. I am not particularly a fan of the ending. It was a little too abrupt and… philosophical. It would be challenging to find a fitting ending for the other hero of the book, I guess. But I wish it was better.

I like the way Hayes’ build the main character, without really describing him straight out. I am trying to recall if the book was narrated in first person because that is how it felt. He doesn’t come out and say outright “I am ex-spy, friends with a cop who I met xx number of years ago at this particular place. I am a loner with a drug habit and this has helped me.” But he lets you discover him, like you would discover a normal person and it is up to you to like him or hate him.

Not since John Le Carre and Len Deighton have I found such an imperfect hero that you would actually like to hear more about.

Looking forward to the next book, because I am pretty sure there is going to be one.

What makes you a Powerful Woman?

November 15, 2014

There is just so much hooha about ‘feminism’. You are doomed if you will and you are doomed if you won’t. But then, what’s new in that? Women have always walked that tightrope… and have always gotten slammed no matter which side they picked. And the people doing the slamming are generally other women.

One of the latest things is about naked photographs of women celebrities online. Happened a while ago… photos are perhaps still circulating. But there were a bunch of articles today that were like sitting on a seesaw. They talked about naked women’s photos, women’s depiction in the media and of course, the everyday woman who is apparently beaten up by her drunken husband.

It got me wondering – who is really the ‘powerful’ woman?

Hillary Clinton on the cover of Time? Aishwarya Rai on the cover of Vogue. Kim Kardashian with her own reality show?

What defines them as successful? Nigella Lawson would be called successful by some, till photographs of her being manhandled by her husband showed up and then she became ‘oh that poor woman’.

I’ve often struggled with being nice to women who have chosen to be housewives. I felt it was an insult to all mankind and womankind because here were are, trying to say that we can do things too and be all strong and independent and then you go and become a housewife because you are too damn lazy to get off your fat ass and actually do something.

Actually, I still do have a problem with these women… because this isn’t about women empowerment shit. This is about the fact that you are taking advantage of someone else.

The reason there is so much of fuss about ‘feminism’ is because of people like this. Feminism is not a bra-burning, men-hating movement. It was a movement that was born to remove some of the oppression. Sure, we might not see this sitting with our really cool, evolved friends who have more than two working brain cells. But after several decades of being a second-class citizen, where you did not have the right to study, vote, own property or work – which basically meant you were a burden on the rest of the family – people decided that they wanted to do stuff too.

Feminism is about equality. And I really do mean equality. Because when you put one side of the seesaw down, the other one goes up. If one person in a family is not working, that means the other one needs to work doubly as hard. If one person does not have the opportunity to follow their dreams, it means the other one does not either. This is not about putting men down… it is returning a part of what was lost to them in the trial of machismo – an opportunity to be themselves.

Which brings me back to the question – who is the powerful woman? Is she the waitress who turned into a politician? Is she the small-town girl who is plastered as a semi-naked poster in a teenage boy’s room? Is she the social worker who turned into a politician? Is she the everyday woman who does what she has to because she has a family to maintain? Is she the woman who chooses to sit at home and not work because someone else can?

A powerful woman is not really the one who is out there and being seen. To me, she could be the little village girl making her own way in a patriarchal society. Because when we have the liberty to make our own choices, we sometimes forget about the millions of others who do not have that liberty. Who cannot even wish of it.

We cannot stand for those people every single day. We have our lives to get on with. But maybe, once in a while, before berating a woman for a making a choice that is not socially acceptable, perhaps we should stop to think that mere decades ago, you would not even be allowed to have an opinion. That is not about being powerful. It is about just being.

Did Twitter kill Blogging?

November 11, 2014
Age

Okay… I know that bloggers are the “in” things of today. There are plenty more people writing blogs about all sorts of things. But I think back to some blogs I used to follow in the “blogspot” days… about 8-10 years ago, and I realise that they were so much more fun, interesting blogs.

And ALL of those people today post ‘micro blogs’ or have turned to Twitter entirely to express their funny but short viewpoints. And the blogs that were awesome then have gone a little commercial, such that it feels like reading a popular newspaper on the Diwali weekend.

I dug back into my memory and found vague names of the blogs I used to read quite often. Half of them were dead and most of them had migrated to tumblr or some  micro blog site. And most of them were just giving a 240-line explanation of their 140-character tweet.

Now, it is definitely more challenging to be intelligent, funny and good within 140 characters, that too without offending too many people or getting misunderstood. But there is something about scrolling through a nice blog on your computer on a lazy day, sort of like reading a novel but more of a real person’s thoughts.

And then of course, there are the photo blogs. I like photoblogs. I own one of them but as someone pointed out, it sometimes get boring looking at just photographs on a blog. Pages and pages of awesome photographs – how long are you going to see that? Unless, of course, they are all photo essays.

The Definition of Hindutva

October 17, 2014

(A work in progress)

I’ve been reading a fair amount in recent times about the definition of Hindutva and its interpretations.

The true and agreed upon definition of “Hindutva” as defined by Savarkar is “an ideology that sought to define Indian culture in terms of Hindu values.” which translated to a simple statement that the Indian subcontinent is the home of the Hindus and the Hindus are those people who live here.

Then came the Supreme Court interpretation of the word, who tried to clarify any remaining misconceptions.

However, since my childhood, the word Hindutva always has a negative connotation. When I read into the definitions and the literature available about Hindutva, I wondered about this connotation given these definitions.

Through the reading, I came across statements made by the current followers of Hindutva. The RSS Leaders, the Shiksha Bachao Andolan members… and therein was the problem.

Any religion, caste, sect or club are left to interpret the laws in their own way. The written text could very well state that “Hindutva is all inclusive” but the way it is actually enforced could be very different.

For instance, the ‘all inclusive’ part could be enforced with a particular standard of behavior that a group of people think is correct and adheres to the Indian culture.

Let us first consider RSS, one of the key proponents of the Hindutva Culture and definition in India.

The history of RSS has been conflicting. I have not particularly been associated with the organization in any manner. I remember some families, including mine, refusing to let their male kids enroll in RSS. The RSS never came recruiting for women in those days, for some reason. It was considered a ‘brahmin’ organization and my parents who were firmly against caste did not want anything to do with the organization.

The RSS might claim to be an all-inclusive party, but majority of their leaders have hailed from Brahmin families. Which probably explains one interpretation of Hindutva. Agreed, there were leaders amongst these who had liberal views and have achieved more development than the political parties of the time.

Consider M.S. Golwalkar, who took over the reins of RSS in 1940.  His views were consistent with the sentiment of the time… India was on the throes of independence. The RSS had staunchly refused to be a part of any political party but did contribute to the freedom movement in their own way. And the ‘Hindu’ sentiment rose high after the ‘divide and rule’ policy followed by the British.

He wanted everyone to revert to a specific definition of ‘Hindu’ – which was defined more by religion than geographical location. I have not delved enough yet into his policies to understand if these were guided merely by the thoughts of those times and what his definition of being a ‘Hindu’ was.

Proceed to his follower Deoras, who had a more moderate view on the Hindutva policy compared to his predecessor, attracting more people towards this simplified definition of the policy.

Now, let’s jump forward to our times – the modern India. Most of our generation is barely aware of the work that RSS did in the initial days or what the policies of any of the older people were. Today, what we do know are the foot-in-mouth habits of its current leaders and known faces, which we believe is a reflection of their policies and interpretation of the Hindutva policy.

Perhaps these statements are truly a reflection of the policy, but it does leave people with a bad vibe about the entire thing.

RSS and its associated members (in the recent past) have consistently tried to rewrite India’s history according to their interpretation.

Example 1: Mr. Dinanath Batra, the founder of Shiksha Bachao Andolan, has raised several petitions claiming that there is wrong information in Indian textbooks (some of which are horrible, to be fair). But his books, which are currently mandatory is Gujarat, enforce a whole load of misinformation on children. And his statements supporting these books reflect the ancient mind that interprets India as a pure, leaning towards Brahminical leadership structure that leaves no place for the hundreds of other castes that have been considered ‘Indian’ for centuries.

He was also the person who was instrumental in getting M.K.Ramanujan’s Essay “Three Hundred Ramayanas” from Delhi University’s syllabus. The essay is a discussion of various essays and interpretations of Ramayana across the world.

Example 2: Numerous statements made by Mr. Mohan Bhagwat, the current RSS Chief, regarding women, the Hindu culture and the ‘destroyal’ of the Hindu culture.

The statements are scary because I read into it a trend of thought. A thought that does not really interpret Hindutva as the way Savarkar meant it to be. It seems to me that it interprets Hindutva as an encompassing policy of Hinduism, which they believe is a religion and not a philosophy.

Because they might say that this is what Hindutva is and the statements that follow go against that statement.

They say that women going out is against our culture… which means their interpretation of culture is dated only to a certain century. They say that they are happy to accept everyone into their culture, but they have issues with people eating meat because it is against our culture. Which means they refuse to accept a huge section of our population (who consider themselves to be Hindu) who do eat meat.

These conflicting statements do leave me wondering about their very intention.

It is a very pious Indian thing… like a merchant who has photographs of 10 gods up on the wall behind me but has no compunctions about cheating a customer. He is pious and follows all the rituals but has none of the humility and grace that the religion preaches.

The ambigious statements made thus far and my reading leaves me confused as to their true intention.

(To be continued…)

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