Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Freedom of press?

20-25 odd journalists gather at DM Residence at 2:30 in the night.
Knowing fully well that DM is not in town.
Reason: They wanted to register their protest against alleged misbehaviour with an IBN7 journalist by Lucknow Police by presenting a memorandum.

SDM Sadar had to travel 30-40 kms to accept this memorandum on behalf of the State.

Q1. Is 2:30 in the night an opportune time to register protest however peaceful?

Q2. Do public officials have no personal life or more precisely, 'Right to get a peaceful night's sleep'?

Q3. Is this the kind of Fourth Estate our democracy is built upon? Absolute freedoms and no sense of responsibility.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Left or Right? Which way ahead?

A friend said, "Right is always Right and Left is what is leftover." Again, the chants of  "El Peublo Unido Jamas Sara Vencido" rattle through my memories. Two different universes. Two mutually exclusive and exhaustive worlds(to borrow from the language of set theory).And it is also not as if it is a binary choice whereby one could choose between the two. The spectrum of political ideologies is a vast and varied one. There are those who are to the left or to the right of the centre. And there are also the extremists of far right and far left.

As a student who was closely influenced by both ideologies, I often wondered why one has to necessarily make a choice? Why is it important to identify oneself with an established stream of thought? And why is it important to subscribe to a monolithic ideology? Academic traditions demand that we borrow liberally from the ideologies and synthesize the same. It is not necessary for the emergence of  a 'synthesis', that there be an 'antithesis' to every 'thesis' and this 'thesis' essentially be replaced to make way for a 'synthesis'.

Economic ideologies do not operate in a political and social vacuum. While pure sciences like chemistry, physics etc yield predictable results for a function of given set of variables, the social science are evolutionary by their very nature. Unlike pure sciences where the variables can be predicted by their physical and chemical properties, in social sciences the variables are the human beings themselves. There is nothing in the genesis of the world to ensure that two human beings (even twins) would respond to a given situation in the same manner. Statisticians have invented 'the law of large numbers' to estimate the average response with a certain degree of accuracy (probability) but then why do the poll results repeatedly throw up surprises which could not be gauged by the exit-polls. And even further, how come different channels show different predictions based on exit polls based on a sample of the same electorate?

The socialists believe that the community ownership and a stateless society are the ultimate paradigms of society's evolution and something we must continuously strive for. The experiments in Israel and erstwhile USSR though did  not yield very encouraging results. As I have explained above, humans differ by their very genetic make-up. A system based on collective rewards and punishments would thus, inevitable kill any incentive to work harder, to improve, to innovate and any feeling of entrepreneurship. At the same time, such a system would promote inefficiencies and it partially explains the typical government servant's lackadaisical attitude towards work.

Yet the very fact that the society as a whole could come together in the pursuit of  a larger goal and could take responsibility for the common assets is a very noble one. It is this very mantra which forms the basis of RWAs (resident welfare associations), management of village commons, decentralization of power to the local bodies and the more ritzy 'PPP' (public private partnership). Similarly, the leftist concern for the poor and their belief in the dignity of labour can not be rubbished by sheer indifference that characterizes our society today.

Marx, however, on the other hand believed that the capitalist system of production is beset by inherent contradictions and would not be sustainable in the 'longer' run. The chief contradiction amongst these being the alienation of the workers from the surplus(profit) produced by them. And once the resentment which stems from this sense of alienation reaches epic proportions, the capitalist means of production would be overthrown by means of a revolution and replaced by an egalitarian socialist society. History however does not corroborate the same. While there  have been 'velvet' revolutions and coups around the world and we still continue to witness the same, capitalism as a system of production has managed to entrench itself well since its humble beginnings in the Medieval Ages. The reason, in the words of Schumpeter, are the "Creative gales of Destruction" which wreck havoc for the capitalist economy. But each gale of destruction leaves the economy more resilient and better equipped to face the impending crises. At the same time it doesn't at all imply that capitalism as a mode of production is the best and is just on the verge of attaining perfection.

The silent revolutions in the rural hinterlands over land acquisition and alienation of tribal from their ancestral forests are but tiny impotent gales of destruction which are portents of the impending doom. While the capitalist India moves ahead to take on the challenges of development and considers these silent revolutions an inevitable trade-off, the voiceless, un-unionised and unacknowledged denizens of the lesser Bharat find it difficult to partake the fruits of 'inclusive growth'. Writers, critics and candle-light vigils try to keep the flame of revolution burning but one wonders again if anyone speaks the whole truth and whether there is a selfless champion of the real cause. Can the real cause itself be defined? Do we go by the larger good or a future unseen good?

Our thoughts and beliefs are often shaped and influenced by our immediate surroundings and most of us choose to ignore what goes on outside our comfort zones. As they say people who look through keyholes are apt to get the idea that most things are keyhole shaped. Nowhere is the Einstein's Theory of Relativity as relevant as it is in describing one's perspective at a particular juncture in our lives. What we perceive is conditioned by the our 'frame of reference'. As Pascal puts it, "There are truths on this side of the Pyrenees, which are falsehoods on the other".

Expectant of greater things,
We try climbing -
And Higher;
An effort that costs us much,
Leaving us short of breath
To find only
The ground below is much prettier.
~Phillip Pulfrey, "Mountains" 

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Planetiquettes anyone?

How many steps would one associate with 'Travelling in a flight in India'? If experience serves me right, may be six- seven at max. Count- Airport check-in, Flight check-in, Luggage/Security Check, Taking the bus till the plane, Completing the journey, De-boarding/Alighting and lastly, Collecting the Checked-in Baggage. Does the law of the land bestow discretionary power on airlines to choose and pick their customers without necessarily having to comply with the steps above?...... (1)

Ever heard of an incident where a flight operator has deliberately refused boarding permission to someone with a valid boarding pass on the pretext of delay in take-off? Ever read about somebody left behind in the plane after landing only to discover himself in the cleaning bay (like it happens in trains and buses)? Has any passenger ever been made to walk till the arrival terminal because the airport bus drivers are off for lunch?...........................(2)

Is it possible under aviation rules in India to jump from an aeroplane taxiing on the runway in case of an emergency or an important business meeting? Reminds one of the opening scene in Three Idiots but has it ever been heard of from family and friends?.............(3)

If the answer to all the questions asked  above is a definite NO then why do we run and scramble and push and shove our way through the journeys? As it is, the Indian response to the word QUEUE is not genial enough and to make matters worse, we have multiplied that response by a standard multiple of indifference and unjustified haste.  The Reliance Net-connect Ad takes a dig on this very tendency. It is one thing to be smart and efficient in whatever one does and one understands that the open market era has completely transformed the pre-liberalization connotations of smartness and efficiency even in the popular mindset. But does it necessarily imply a near complete absence of kindness and consideration for the fellow passengers? While I firmly believe in gender equality, the elderly ladies and mothers with kids definitely deserve some extra time and space around them.

Repeatedly during domestic flights one witnesses cellphones ringing during landing and take off despite the umpteen requests and reminders from the crew members. If there were such important calls to attend, then why board the plane in the first place?! And once one has boarded, there seems no necessity to introduce oneself by loudly shouting over the phone. It is human and understandable that soaring in the skies gives a feeling of high and for the ambitious young men it is a realization of their long cherished dream to become a frequent flyer business tycoon but no matter how important one might be, if one is inside the plane the matters outside need to be put on hold. A crippling limitation as it might sound but given the current level of technological advancement it can not be helped.

Also learnt during the recent flight home, that the disposal paper bag provided for mid-air motion sickness has found new usage of being used as a spitoon for paan/gutka. Imagine the response it would evoke if the fellow passenger was- firstly, a lady; secondly and more importantly, not a paan/gutka addict. To add to the tale, the   gentleman didn't consider it even important to discard the same when the crew members collect garbage from every passenger. I instantly wondered- Is there a penalty prescribed for such actions under any law? If it were considered 'public nuisance', which court/ area will have jurisdiction over the same?

In college, I once learnt that despite the overwhelming presence of Indian diaspora in the West, it is not considered polite to open tiffin boxes carrying pungent smelling curry items/ pickles in closed spaces like flights, trains or air-conditioned boardrooms. But then the Western democratic traditions have reached the level of maturity where freedoms are perfectly counterbalanced by responsibilities and civic sense.

The mad rush for collecting the hand baggage from overhead luggage space even while the plane is taxiing is un-understandable. And so is the tendency to block space around the baggage reclaim conveyor belts by parking luggage trolleys all around. Unwieldy as these trolleys are, many a people get hurt while trying to scuttle past them. And this multi tiered structure also ensures that the people who have collected their baggage are unable to exit that easily because repetitive as it may sound, the passengers behind them are busy chatting on phones.

Strikingly, the arrival terminal at the Delhi's new spanking airport (T3) has a Buddhist theme and sports a beautiful ensemble of hands depicting various meditation mudras. Looking at them while one feels a strange calm from within, at the same time one also wishes that the Indian virtues of calm, peace and kindness were not forgotten as completely as the example of in-flight behaviour tends to demonstrate.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

“"You hesitate to stab me with a word, and know not - silence is the sharper sword” -Samuel Johnson

It is indeed strange that the word bureaucrat in India has come to be regarded as a synonym for everything that connotes moral decay, red-tape, power-broking, corruption and malpractices. The very mention of the word conjures up in mind the image of a pepper-haired, crisp-shirted, middle-aged, bespectacled 'gentleman' who leads a life of comfort and luxury and commands immense respect in the corridors of power. Ironically though, nobody spares a thought for the young men and women (in their twenties and early thirties) who labor their lives away in the vast hinterlands of our gleaming metropolises so that the process of development may continue un-impedimented.

The dual income corporate couples take immense pride in their multi-million swanky penthouses and bask in the glory of India Shining while having cleared a highly competitive exam their counterparts in the government take bricks and bats and slave away their prime in providing toilets and drinking water to the citizens of an immensely different Bharat. And most of these young men and women have chosen to be in their spot while they could have been just about anywhere else. While it is indeed fashionable to 'like' (aka Facebook) everything handcrafted, organic and green and to 'hoot and tweet' for the cultural icons, it takes more than that  and definitely a lot of raw hardwork and toil to keep the multitudes at sparring with each other and to keep the wheels of change chugging however slowly..

What meets the eye is not necessary the whole truth.What is often not understood is that these young men and women spend their lives away from home at that juncture of their lives when their families (read parents and children) need them most. Much later in their lives when this job affords them an opportunity to lead a stable life and be with their families, more often than not, the parents are no longer there and the children no longer need them as much.. No bungalow or the blue-beacon-ed Ambassador can substitute for the joy of watching one's child grow. The problems of development have remained since times immemorial but one's child will never be three years old again, the sister will not get married again and the wife's youth will be lost forever.. Often one feels that the difficulties borne by the officers as 'occupational hazards' fade completely in comparison to the silent sufferings of the families at large.

Those who lay down their lives as unsung heroes never knew at the beginning of their day that it shall be their last. It sends shiver down the spine to think about their last phone-call to their families, their last shared meal with their colleagues and their last words fighting for an unknown alien cause.And it is precisely this kind of uncertainty that a typical government functionary faces each day.

While it is 'expected ' of the State to provide for modern housing and broad highways, it is rather convenient to ignore the sacrifices of those innumerable government officers who provide their blood and sweat in the acquisition of land for these dream projects. It may be difficult to accept but it takes more than money and power to negotiate with the masses. The government is blamed because it is always there to take the blame and yet lend an ear to the problems. In the same vein though, one finds it  difficult to speak to one's domestic help in a slightly raised pitch. 

Unlike the spokespersons of various conglomerates and unions, the officials never get to present their side of their story and Explain!.. Reason- the skeptics wouldn't take it, the insiders don't need it and any 'medium' would not carry it/channelize for its lack of scoop-ability.. In addition, the grass-root functionaries are rather naive, untrained and powerless to read through the designs and ploys of so called 'sympathizers' who specialize at distorting facts and mis-representing the slightest of utterances. 

The pro-poor, pro-farmer and pro-development intelligentsia only wakes up from its slumber when incidents like Bhatta, Nandigram and Singur take place. In the immediate aftermath of such events, this very 'social think-tank' indulges in frenzied debating, fact-finding, writing editorials and airing discussions at every 'waking' hour. Strangely again, the majority of them do not have much of an idea of the lives of their rural 'brethren' but never shy from dispensing unsolicited but highly opinionated 'Advice' to the same 'Bureaucrat' whose emotionless facade never seems to give away the churning and turmoil from within.. 

Its time we decide to SEE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS.. These are precisely the times "when silence has the loudest voice."