Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir's assassination: Terror takes a new turn in Pakistan

Till the day before yesterday, we had only 'suicide bomb' attacks. Yesterday, we saw for the first time a 'suicide gun and bomb attack'.

See video of the BBC report on the assassination here.

The game between terrorists and the state is one of improvisation. One tries to outwit the other. As Margret Thatcher said, a terrorist needs to be lucky only once, but others have to be lucky always.

Ever since Benazir Bhutto came back to Pakistan confronting headon explicit terror threat to her life, she has been lucky -- the closest she came to losing it was immediately upon her arrival when a suicide bomber killed scores except Benazir. Yesterday, an attacker improvised the cruel methodology, shot at her during the brief moments she emerged out of her secure van, and set off an explosion. Benazir's luck ran out.

Yesterday evening in my office, when I saw a colleague was rushing to our boss's cabin, I knew there was something major that had happened. "Bhutto has been killed," he blurted out. I couldn't believe that. The news spread all over within minutes. A strange sense of disbelief combined with shock descended, as we all looked at the streaming video on news channels.

One way Benazir was risking her life by doing what she did. But in another way, her return and willingness to be as close to the people, epitomised not just her faith in democracy but, more than that, her sense of conviction on what she believed in and her bravery. She was brave. She was brave to return to Pakistan in spite of threats. She was brave to campaign. She was brave in spite of the insecure environment. News reports had said she had even written to President Musharraf naming the people who were after her life after the first attack.

Will Pakistan be the same again? It's not the first political assassination or unnatural death of a Pakistan leader. Prime Minister Liaqat Ali was shot dead in 1951 -- very close to yesterday's incident. Pakistan has always been on the edge. And, that has never been a comfortable scenario for India, which has consistently taken huge blows because of the ideological turmoil within Pakistan.

Yesterday's turn is yet another new one. Pakistan will need radically new approaches to solve the unprecedented crisis it is facing. It's too complex an international issue that it'sn't easy to even suggest remedial measures. But now, it's a feeling of dreadful uncertainty of the future. One can only be hopeful that things would get better.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

BENAZIR BHUTTO KILLED

Pakistani former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been killed in a presumed suicide attack, a military spokesman has announced on TV. Ms Bhutto had just addressed a pre-election rally in the town of Rawalpindi when the bomb went off.

More here from BBC.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

BBC does not use the word 'terrorist'

The BBC as a matter of policy does not use the word terrorist. They choose words very carefully. Day before yesterday, there was a bomb attack on a mosque in Pakistan in which more than 50 people died. In their TV news bulletins, BBC did not use the word terrorist. More than that, they had a sentence: "... search is on for the organisers of the attack."
  • Read Telegraph story on bomb attack here
  • Read BBC online report on the bomb attack here

This is not a new policy. It looks like the decision was taken in the aftermath of the July 7, 2005 London Underground and bus bombings. While the first reports on the BBC website referred to "terrorists" later they changed it to "bombers". BBC's explanation was: they do not want to use words that "carry emotional or value judgements".

  • Read Telegraph report of July 12, 2005, on this here
  • Read the Criticisms and the BBC's explanation on July 13, 2005 here
  • Read the BBC's editorial guidelines on "Use of language when reporting terrorism" here
  • Read the BBC's editorial guidelines in full on war, terror and emergencies here
It's not surprising that BBC has gone for this, since it has a worldwide audience. What is okay for one is not for the other. One man's freedom fighter is the other man's terrorist. The bigger the audience, tougher it's to satisfy all, and more are the probabilities of inviting criticism. In India, some of the big newspapers and TV channels which have high readership and credibility have to tread such cautious paths to ensure they don't rub anyone on the wrong side.

Objectivity and impartiality are difficult to achieve, if not altogether impossible. And efforts to achieve that only robs the reportage of life. Use of seemingly neutral expressions runs the risk of making the report insipid. If one follows BBC news reports, it'll be clear that they use lot of hard facts and try to balance views with counterviews as far as possible, probably to make the news reports more authoritative and impartial. The challenging tightrope walk is probably the price BBC has to pay for the acclaimed global audience.

I watched all the three programmes telecast yesterday by the BBC to commemorate 75 years of the BBC World Service Radio. They highlighted the difficulties experienced by reporters in covering conflict, where truth isn't in black and white but in different shades of grey.

The episode I liked was the one on West Asia, probably because it's one of my favourite subjects. The region is described as a crucible of violent ideologies and it's also one of the most difficult areas to report from. The reporters are clearly told not use the word terrorist, and to be objective and neutral. The programmes showed the efforts the BBC takes to ensure they have accurate information in their quest to get to the truth.

Reporting from West Asia can be tricky -- no one would know that better than BBC's Barbra Plett. In the programme "From Our Own Correspondent" broadcast on BBC4 on October 30, 2004, Plett said, "..... when the helicopter carrying the frail old man (Yasser Arafat) rose above his ruined compound, I started to cry... without warning...." That got her into real trouble. BBC is more often criticised for its anti-Israel stand than the other way round, and there was a barrage of complaints over the use of the word "cry".

The BBC governors upheld part of a complaint against Plett. Her comments "breached the requirements of due impartiality", they ruled. From Our Own Correspondent is a programme which, unlike a routine news report, allows the listeners to get the correspondents' personal experience of the news event. It's difficult to be impartial and objective while being personal. It's tough reporting under such circumstances.
  • Read Telegraph news item on the controversy here
  • Read the BBC transcript of Barbara Plett's report here
  • Read BBC report on their governors upholding part of the complaint here.
Barbara Plett now reports for the BBC from Pakistan, and is one of my favourite reporters. She has a very unique way of signing off.... "Barbara Plett... BBC, Islamabad". You need to listen to her!

Friday, December 21, 2007

London Calling: BBC World Service completes 75 years

The British Broadcasting Corporation is arguably the best mass news media organisation in the world. What is most remarkable is that it has kept pace with time, without losing its traditional core values: it hasn't changed, even though it has adapted to modern technology. Not many media organisations can claim that.

Some of the other channels that were quite popular in India were the Voice of America, Radio Australia, Radio Netherlands, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Deutsche Welle etc. I said were because today it's extremely difficult to receive these stations even on a good shortwave radio because of the crowding of the airwaves by other signals like that of mobile phones.

Up to a good 15 years back reception in the morning and evening was so clear, it was a pleasant experience listening to these international radio stations, some of which also have broadcasts in Indian languages like Hindi, Tamil, Gujarati, Punjabi etc. These vernacular language broadcasts are very popular in smaller towns and villages. I guess the airwaves there aren't as crowded as in cities like Bangalore, so probably reception there must still be good.

Though in cities we don't get good radio reception, those of us who have good broadband connectivity can go to the websites of these radio stations, and listen to podcasts. So to some extent the loss has been compensated, but it'sn't the same as listening to the transistor radio.

I first began listening to the BBC news in 1980, mainly because of the Iran-Iraq war launched by Saddam Hussein. That was the first proper war I could understand, so I kept tuning into the BBC to understand and follow it. Soon, I began to listen to many other programmes -- music, current affairs, documentaries, radio plays etc. Though I also listened to other radio stations, I was spending more time listening to the BBC.
  • From Marconi to MP3; the History of the BBC. Spend some time reading it... There are some radio clips dating back all the way to 1940s... Amazing... Click here.
This month, BBC World Service radio completes 75 years. It began as Empire Service. On Christmas Day King George V gave the first royal broadcast to the empire. It was scripted by author Rudyard Kipling.

The BBC World (television) has lined up a three-part series London Calling on December 22. "....To coincide with the occasion, independent film-maker Neil Cameron has been given carte blanche to film the BBC World Service’s journalists and managers in London and in bureaux, studios and front line reporting locations around the world...." says the promo announcement.

Click here for the programme timings. The programme timings in India are: (to get GMT subtract 5h 30 min):

Part I Winners And Losers
Saturday 22nd December at 1340
Repeated: Saturday 22nd December at 1940; Sunday 23rd December at 0140; Sunday 23rd December at 0640; Sunday 23rd December at 1340 & Monday 24th December at 0140.

Part II The Battle For Truth
Saturday 22nd December at 1540
Repeated: Saturday 22nd December at 2140; Sunday 23rd December at 0740 & Sunday 23rd December at 1740

Part III Changing Faces
Saturday 22nd December at 1740
Repeated: Sunday 23rd December at 1540; Sunday 23rd December at 2240 & Monday 24th December at 0740.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Blogger comments using openID & Google's Knol

Two interesting tech-related developments.

Blogger now supports openID

Blogger has fulfilled one of the most persistent demands. It now allow readers to comment by using their blog URL with openID-enabled services like Wordpress, Livejournal etc.

What is openID?

When we visit websites, some of them require us to register with them using a username and password. The problem is for different sites we need to login with (sometimes) a different username and password. Websites that conform to OpenID technology allow us the convenience of logging in using the same username and password for all. Read more about its what, where and how here.

Blogger has chosen a few popular OpenID providers -- like Wordpress, Livejournal, Typekey etc -- to highlight on the comments form. But since the whole technology is literally "open", we can use any URL that we control as our "OpenID URL". Read more what is Blogger is doing about it here.

A competitor for Wikipedia?

The other bit of interesting news is that Google is testing a possible competitor for Wikipedia.

"The service, called Knol, which is short for knowledge, would allow people to create Web pages on any topic. However, unlike Wikipedia, which allows anyone to edit an entry, only the author of a “knol,” as the pages in the service would be called, would be allowed to edit. Different authors could have competing pages on the same topic," says this article in The New York Times.

Related links:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

School shootout in India too: now what next?

Ever since yesterday's shooting of a 14-year-old boy in a Gurgaon school I have been speaking to a number of people, children included. After all that, I am more worried than relieved.

This morning, a friend of mine gave me a shocking bit of news. She told me how, last evening, a few boys in the 16-18 age group in her neighbourhood almost justified yesterday's incident. "Probably the boys may have been provoked so much," is what they told my friend. She was so shocked she didn't know how to react.

It's very clear children aren't able to comprehend the gravity of the incident. "What crime a child could have done that needs to be punished by shooting him dead" is not a question a teenager can understand. Leave children, today we are supposed to be progressing to a stage when the crime of even an adult is not worth being punished with death. Reformation, not punishment, is the key. Or, so I thought.

If a teenager has to plan a murder 24 hours in advance, steal his father's gun for the purpose, smuggle it to school, discuss the plan with his friend, shoot his classmate, then pass on the gun to his friend to carry on the crime.... well, this is the limit to which our society can descend. Or, is there something worse that's awaiting all of us?

I don't think the boys can be blamed. Their parents in particular, and we elders in general, must share a good part of the blame. Every human being is born innocent until he is corrupted by the society of elders. There is no use blaming western influences, violent computer games and English movies: after all, villains -- virtual or real -- are not a modern-day phenomenon. If "the evil" is able to increasingly influence our children, then it only indicates how less potent "the good" has become. We have been celebrating festivals commemorating the victory of "the good" over "the evil". But in our day-to-day lives, who is winning?

Today, we have news that the parents of the killers have gone into hiding, and left their children alone in a juvenile home with no visitors at all. How tragic that that these teenagers have parents who have left them in such a plight. Should these children, may be cold-blooded murderers in the eyes of the law, should be punished? Hopefully, the law-enforcement agencies, in whose care they are, will provide counsellors and therapists to these children; so that, may be not immediately, but gradually they can be reformed, and they can grow up into responsible adults.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

British Library, Thiruvananthapuram, to close down

"The British Library in Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala, south India) will cease to function on March 31, 2008. All transactions will be terminated on February 29. The library’s stock of books will be redistributed among other British Libraries in the country. These decisions were announced at a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday by British Council’s Minister of Cultural Affairs Rod Pryde," says a report in The Hindu.

Of course, no reasons have been given. But it is obvious: lack of money.

With a presence in 11 cities, the network of British Libraries in India is the largest in the world. The cities are Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi, Pune, Thiruvananthapuram. The Bhopal centre will also be closed down.

It's depressing. It's sad that a state like Kerala should lose such a treasure of knowledge. The libraries used to get a lot of support from the British government, but over the years that aide has been reduced; leaving most the centres to find resources on their own.

What is more surprising is the low membership the Thiruvananthapuram library had -- just 6,100 since 1964 when it opened! Kerala is a highly literate state, a vast number of students, a number of colleges and research centres... well, it's quite surprising. Was it the lack of proactivity on the part of the library administration or the lack of enthusiasm of the public? Or was it both?

I became a member of this library in 1980. I'm still a member, having transferred my membership, to Bhopal, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and now to Bangalore. The annual fee then was Rs 40. The Thiruvananthapuram library was one of my favourite haunts. Whenever I got free time, I headed to this library. I remember the pin-drop silence inside. People spoke in whispers. An amazing variety of books and magazines. During mid-80s video cassettes were made available, which could be viewed in library.

The librarian Mr Parthasarathy used to be so kind to give a complimentary copy of "London Calling" -- a monthly magazine the BBC used to bring out. It gave the programme schedules, write-ups about presenters, newsreaders, correspondents etc. It was such a great help as I used to be really addicted to the BBC. It has tapered off a bit now.

I used to spend hours going through the reference copy of Wisden. I memorised the laws of cricket (since I used to umpire school cricket matches), pore over statistics and profiles of cricketers.

I used to borrow fiction and non-fiction alike, mostly biographies, travelogues and books on cricket like those by Neville Cardus. I used to sit for hours reading British papers like The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, and magazines like New Statesman... The library was a wonderful window to the world.

It's truly sad that this window is being shut. Of course, today there are a variety of other means to get information but I doubt if there are many other places that give the same ambiance as a British Library gives.

The Kerala government (a communist one) has shown interest and assured whatever help it can give to help keep the library open. Even chief minister V S Achuthanandan made a surprise visit to the library on Saturday. But I doubt if the British Council will reconsider the decision, though I wish it does.

No doubt, Thiruvananthapuram will miss the British Library.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Malaysian Indians: Resolve the issue

One thought that the situation in Malaysia, where ethnic Malaysian Indians have been carrying out a campaign inter alia for equal rights, would sort itself out. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem so. And, what a bad time for this to happen: Malaysia is celebrating 50 years of its independence from Britain.

Background

One of the underlying causes is the issue of Malays being favoured over other immigrants in Malaysia (Bhoomiputra Policy). Then there is an issue of ethnic Indians seeking compensation from the British for the plight as it was the British who brought them in 19th century from India to Malaysia as indentured labourers.

It all came to a boil on Sunday, November 25, when thousands of Indians gathered, in violation of a court stricture. One of the aims of the rally was to demand the compensation. The rally was broken up by the police. The next day the protesters, who had been charged with sedition, were released since the prosecution could not translated the words purportedly uttered in Tamil.

Then charges and countercharges were traded back and forth between government and political leaders in Malaysia and India. Even PMs of two countries spoke on the issue. Things now have taken a new twist, with 31 of the protesters being rearrested and charged with attempt to murder -- on Dec 4, 26 were charged, and the next day 5 more and the bail applications of all of them were rejected.

Here are links to two blog posts on this by Sophie:
Possible fallout

The unfortunate result of all such agitations is that the real issue gets pushed to the sidelines. I think whatever issues the immigrants have they must present it in such a way that the Malaysian would do well to address it. Now for at least some time the focus will be on the court case: the attempt to murder a police officer during the Nov 25 rally.

Discrimination on whatever counts need to be redressed. But I don't think it will serve the Indians' cause well, if they violate established rules of the land. Mahatma Gandhi managed to bring British empire to its knees by violating the rules and gathering mass support. But times have changed. Even the Mahatma would have modified his agitational approach to suit today's realities.

What should be done

Every nation, just like India, is conscious of its identity and security. How sensitive are Indian politicians and people when it comes to foreigners! Forget foreigners, each Indian state and its people are so conscious of the language and culture that their possessive obsession and intolerance find expression in many covert and overt ways. So, to that extent one has to recognise Malaysia's right to ensure discipline and order in their society.

I guess organisations like the Hindraf (Hindu Rights Actions Force) should try to change the anomalies by being within the Malaysian system; not by forcing itself out. Indian have a representation in the coalition government -- Malaysian Indian Congress is their party and its president Samy Velu is also a works minister.

The organisers of the movement should also realise that much of the Indian immigrant community is not as well off as, say for example, the Chinese. So, it's important that the leadership of organisations like Hindraf show lots of maturity and farsightedness while resolving this matter. I don't think these issues can be sorted out on the streets. The Malaysian PM has appointed a committee to look into the anomalies in representations and benefits. The Malaysian Indian leadership should seize the opportunity and get their issues resolved.

Malaysia is a multicultural country and not without a number of underlying issues. But that should not stop it from continuing to be a model for many other such pluralistic societies. It's a Muslim country but people of all other beliefs have full freedom to practise their beliefs. That freedom should not be misused. The society and the government are much more tolerant than in some some Gulf nations or even the neighbouring Singapore. It's in the interests of all immigrants as much as of Malays themselves that this issue is not allowed to escalate.

Useful links:

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A filmy reality

The reality for many people is just filmy: as thin as a strip of film: thin and light; hazy and misty; sometimes fine and gauzy.

It has all happened at an amazing pace. Yesterday afternoon, Madhuri Dixit's comeback movie Aaja Naachle hit the screens. By evening, the discusison generally centred around how good the movie is, how well she has performed, how successful has her comeback been, etc. Around midnight news came in that Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati had banned the movie across her state. Reason: a line in a song that is offending to the Dalits, or the backward caste people.

The damage control has been equally fast-paced. Seasoned producer Yash Chopra within hours of the late-night diktat, sent out instructions to get the offending line removed. By today morning, we have had apologies and clarifications pouring in on the lines of "o, we never thought it would hurt people", " we never meant it", "we are really sorry you people are hurt", etc etc.

Surprises didn't end. Many parties woke up to find how Mayawati had beaten them hollow in encashing an opportunity. Isn't that what politics is all about? Better late than never, thought Punjab and Haryana governments, so they too banned the movie, even though it was many hours since the makers of the movie had got the lines deleted and many apologies had been made. And, most interestingly, the UP government had also lifted the ban within hours of it being clamped.

This is a superb example of what our priorities are, what excites us, what is the sense of our accomplishment, what's our idea of the future.

Cynicism apart, one must notice the silver lining. Here was an issue which could turn explosive. Mayawati saw it coming before anyone else, grabbed it; and closed the issue in a matter of hours.

All said and done, rarely have decisions been taken so fast and with such efficiency. The winners: Mayawati and makers of the movie; and of course, Madhuri Dixit.

I only wish such quick decisions were taken for many other pressing issues that plague all of us; issues wherein basic necessities of livlihood are involved: food, health, education, shelter and transport (that's my favourite order.) What Mayawati achieved was victory that has no bearing on the life and limbs of people. What she did was she prevented some other political party from possibily making political capital.

She and people of her ilk -- who are, whether we like it or not, invaluable players in a democrartic society -- should be perceptive about, focus on and act on -- not lines of film songs but -- matters of far wider import and impact, that have a beairng on people's aspirations, livelihood and comfort.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Have we surrendered to terror?

As families lie shattered in the three cities of Uttar Pradesh -- Lucknow, Faizabad and Varanasi -- following the bomb explosions there yesterday, a few thoughts come to mind:

1. In UP, yesterday it was the judiciary that came under attack. One of the reasons being spoken of is that it's a retaliatory attack against lawyers for having refused to plead for people who have been charged with terrorist motives. In neighbouring Pakistan too the judiciary has been under attack for the first time. There, it's by the nation's President Gen Musharraf, for not toeing his line and overstepping the limits that he had drawn.

2. Why hasn't our security agencies been able to ensure the safety the citizens? One headline yesterday was "Terror revisits UP". The question is when will these visitations be stopped for ever?

3. How seriously do authorities take these incidents? Even before any proper examination or analysis has been done of various attributes of the tragic event, the security agencies have pointed their fingers at various organistions. All suspicions, nothing is for sure. Why do they have to do this, in the first place. Not surprisingly, not many of the charges against the suspects in such incidents have stood the test of scrutiny in the court of law.

4. In a way, it's only natural that the investigators haven't been able to do a thorough job given the politics that is insidiously brought into such tragedies. Within hours chief minister Mayawati was blaming the central government for not getting its intelligence right. In the cacophony of allegations and counterallegation muddied by insinuations, it's no wonder that neither public places are well-secured nor a meticulous investigation is done in the event of a tragedy. The investigating agencies lack both financial and human resources. The inputs hardly match the enormity of the problems we have.

5. Foolproof security is a myth. As former British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher said after escaping a bid on her life "They (terrorists) need to get it right only once; we need to get it right always." She was making a reference to the challenge. That was when terror strikes were not very common. The availability of low-intensity devices and the deviant human beings proclivity to reach for such devices is a bane of civilisation. (Look at how quickly Kolkata was paralysed few days back. That too was terror.) Today, the challenge is all the more, but how well have we stood up to it?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bangalore politics stinks

Sick -- that's in one word the state of politics in Karnataka today. Since September, the state's politics has been going from bad to worse. To what depths it can further descend remains to be seen.

In yet another disgusting turn of events, Janata Dal (S) which only a week back agreed to support a BJP government, today evening changed tack, told its MLAs not to support the government in the upcoming confidence vote, forcing chief minister B S Yeddyurappa to resign. Thus BJP's first government in south India lasted just a week. This is the second time in two months that JD(S) has played the villain.

Nowhere in the world politics has a great reputation. It's the art of intrigue, manipulation, stage management and skulduggery. However, there can also be good politics: of course, it can only seemingly be good. That's when politicians behave well, stick to accepted norms of a civil society, uphold social values, respect commitment to society and work for overall social welfare.

Politics is a mechanism of administering a society and bad politics can wreak havoc. When politics goes from bad to worse, it can have catastrophic effects on social stability. In democratic societies, good politics facilitates the fruition of inputs into various social sectors, like education, health, shelter, nutrition, infrastructure, etc. The fledgling Naxalite movement is one example of what bad politics can result.

As things stand today JD(S) is the spoiler. It's hard to imagine what people like JD(S) leader Deve Gowda, who is no less than a former Prime Minister, have in mind when engineering such reckless destabilisation games. It's not even greed for power; because, even greed for power has to end at some point. And it is also amazing that there'sn't a voice of sanity anywhere near him.

The ideal solution will be to dissolve the Assembly and order fresh elections. And hopefully, the people will set things right.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Pakistan: past and future

The Newsweek of November 19 is a must-read for students of the sub-continent's politics.

One, there are two good articles on Pakistan. In the lead piece, "Pakistan's Pinstrip Revolution", Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria speaks of the nation's struggle to break free of the military's stranglehold. "Pakistani reality is awash in grays. The task for the US and other friends of Pakistan is to guide it on a path that keeps the country stable and the jihadis at bay, pushes the political system towards greater legitimacy and openness and keeps the key forces within the society working together," Zakaria says.

The other article, 'Trapped on the Razor's Edge', is by Sumit Ganguly, Director of Research at Indiana University's Centre on American and Global Security. In a previous post, I had wondered why India and Pakistan have gone the way they have, though they got freedom within hours of each other from the same Britain.

Ganguly, coincidentally, suggests various reasons to explain why in India politics and democracy call the shots, while in Pakistan it is the military. "Top priority should include curbing military spending, limiting the scope of military intervention in government matters and ensuring the independence of the judiciary. Without such changes, you can expect Pakistan to keep repeating its history for many years to come," Ganguly concludes.

Two, a special report on 1968: the Year that Changed Everything. A highly readable retrospective of how the 1968-ers of the US and Europe viewed the world.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Journalists and their family life

This week it's my turn to take leave. Last week it was my wife's. Reason: To be with our son during his studies as he prepares for his exams. No longer people take leave only for going on holiday tours. Thanks to modern-day lifestyle, dictated by long and unusual working hours, parents have less time to spend with their children.

Journalists, like us, are among the worst hit. When children are at home in the evening, we are in the office. Even though people on Sundays follow news on radio and TV, and on Mondays read newspapers, few of them realise that journalists work on Sundays too. Yes, both of us work on Sundays, and our Sunday is on a weekday! Besides, most public holidays too are working days for us, with the result, in a year, there are very few days when all of us are at home through the day!

There's an opinion that such work schedules aren't good for the family. In fact, people do ask us: "How do you manage?!" There are also parents, faced with their children's dream to be journalists, who ask us: how good is the career, is it safe, is there family life for a journalist?

My answer: we manage just as others do. It's not journalists alone who lead such lives. Families where parents have the perfect 10 to 5 job aren't free of problems, are they? I know a family: the husband and the wife are officers in banks; but they are in two cities and their daughter stays with her grandmother. If that you think is the worst part, the best part is the daughter is so much smarter than some other girls whose parents are always with them. I am sure there are many such examples to show how generalizations aren't true.

Of course, more time with children does have its benefits. It'll be quite wrong to say that our son doesn't miss us. The same holds good for us: we too miss the evenings with our son. Family life of most journalists isn't the same as of many others. We do miss the usual weekends; but we do find time to go out as a family, relax, unwind and recharge ourselves. There are lot of advantages when you are a little different and you aren't following the crowd! That's the fun! One example, as we work from afternoon to night, we never get caught in the rush-hour traffic.

It's a tough job, no doubt. However, I believe adversities do play a positive role in shaping our lives; they make us a little harder and more prepared to face challenges in life. The trick, I guess, is not in ducking problems, but in working around them. And, it's not the problems we should be worried about, it's the way we tackle them.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

JustFemme -- women's new e-magazine

I hope there is nothing stopping a man giving publicity to a women's venture! From Shruthi's blog I came to know of JustFemme, what's perhaps India's first e-magazine "by women for women". The cover story is about an illiterate woman who "has almost single-handedly done what hundreds of educated men and women have failed to do.... " Read on here. To read Shruthi's article, click here.

The vision statement of the e-zine is impressive: "Our Vision is to be spunky and unabashedly female. To question the stereotypes. To see reality as it is. To grow beyond." Both men and women are victims of stereotyping; only it is harder for women to break free of it. Much of the ills of the society are also a consequence of this stereotyping. It'sn't easy fighting it; requires sustained effort.

Times have changed, women have come a long way. But that's no reason for complacency. There is still a long way to go, and en route there will newer issues to tackle. Woman has a unique role in family and by extension in society. It's a role that no man can substitute. Once upon a time this role used to be seen as a liability; probably because only those roles that a man could also take over were valued. Definitely that is not the case today. Her role is valued, respected and cherished. And women themselves aren't feeling inferior about this role, but justifiably proud.

Wishing JustFemme all the success!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Less noisy Diwali

Did anyone get a feeling that this year's Diwali is less noisy? I felt so.

Even those who went for crackers avoided the high-decibel ones. I found many children totally avoiding crackers. I am told many apartment complexes too had decided to boycott the atom bombs and the like.

This is a positive trend, and I hope it catches on and gains momentum in the coming years. Diwali, after all, is a festival of light. But during the past years it had become a festival of noise, not even sound. The worst affected are children, elders, pets and patients.

The sparklers too have their downside. The smoke pollutes the air, and the festival is a horror for asthma patients. I hope in the years ahead we get more disciplined and organised as far as festivals go.

Happy Diwali to all! Let the season usher in happiness, success and prosperity!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Stability more important than democracy in Pakistan

(Updated on Nov 10, with a new related links)

There is nothing surprising or unexpected about the emergency in Pakistan. Kargil war should have been General Pevez Musharraf's high point. But he lost that badly. He thought he could salvage some thing by overthrowing the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif. But 9/11 changed all that. The world around him hasn't been the same ever since. The purported aim of emergency to save Pakistan from terrorists sounds good, but the turmoil that could lay head is worrying so much that it offsets any signs of hope.

India and Pakistan were born together, twins so to say. But it always remains a puzzle why Pakistan has gone the way it has in comparison to India. Democracy could never take root there. Military is so much a part of the official government dispensation that whenever democracy seemed to be taking shape, the army bounced back, and it was all back to square one. The sad part is that the country has not benefited much either from democracy or dictatorship.

The situation in Pakistan is as much murky as it is confusing, and there nothing much to choose from. Personally I would say, the choice in Pakistan is not between dictatorship and democracy; but between stability and anarchy. How Musharraf achieves that is a test of his leadership.

The means is not as much important as the end. But if the desired end is not achieved something should be wrong with the means. With Pakistan a part of a wider conflagration, the current turmoil is worrying. The earlier things sort themselves out there, the better.

Related links:

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Around Bangalore and in Kolar

Not so often I am away from blogs. As regular bloggers would admit, this online journal stuff can get addictive. The maximum duration I can stay away from blogs without any adverse effect is a week. It's mostly more important and immediate work that keeps me away from weblogs. But, before long, the urge to find some time to blog becomes compulsive.

Last week, Mr Henry Whitfield was back with us. He is a family friend of ours who first came to India from the UK in 1968, and has been coming back quite frequently; one, to pursue his passion of climbing mountains in the Himalayan region and two, to see -- not the glitzy side of India's development but -- the heritage and traditional features of the country. One of his interests is rocks and minerals.

He is easily one of my best and closest friends, for one simple reason: his attitude and approach to life, the amazing realistic view he has to everyday situations; his ability to soak in and enjoy the precious moments that life has to offer. That's possible for him because he has loads of patience and he is in no hurry to flee the present to some unknown future.

On 25th, he reached Bangalore by the Rajdhani Express around 8.30 am, some 2 hours behind schedule. As we drove into the city, his initial comments were that traffic in Bangalore was much more organised and less chaotic than in Delhi. But the next day, Friday, his impressions changed. He discovered how it had deteriorated since the last time he was in the city a year back. We got caught in a awful jam for more than half and hour near the Ulsoor Lake. We abandoned plans to see a few places of interest and instead decided to get to shopping right away.

On Saturday, in the afternoon he made a trip to Lal Bagh alone. But it ended some disappointment: a plant that he bought from the nursery there got badly squashed in the crowded BMTC bus. In fact it was meant to be an addition to our little garden at home, but he was so upset at the way the plant got damaged in the crowd, he just dumped it by the way side. We felt quite bad about it. "It's okay, I must understand that such things do happen, and it's by no means the end of the world," is what he said about the incident.

On Sunday Mr Whitfield was at the at the get-together of the alumni of Sainik School, Kazhakootam. He had taught chemistry in the school from 1968 to 1971 along with my father. In a short speech there he said how important it was for all of us to get into a routine that's different from the usual one. "When I am back in the UK, I follow a particular routine. When I come to India, when I am at the foothills of the Himalayas, when I am climbing the mountains, when I am touring places, I follow a very different routine. It's refreshing as much as it is educative. Such occasional changes from the normal, helps us widen our perspective." A very profound thought.

On Monday, around 8.30 am we set off to Kolar, some 70 km east towards Chennai. The small town is known for the gold fields, which are now shut down. It was Mr Whitfield's interest in rocks and minerals that prompted this visit. He was quite curious about the KGF, the geology of the area, the methods used to extract gold, the reasons why such a successful mine has now been closed down. He said a number of mines back in the UK had shut down simply because they ran out of the minerals and ores. We were very lucky to meet an engineer, Mr K M Diwakaran, who was very optimistic about the future. He is the president of the Bharat Gold Mines All Employees Industrial Cooperative Society Ltd that's involved in efforts to revive the mines. His estimate is that in a year employees would be recruited and mines would reopen.

A section of the dysfunctional mine.

Another view of the mine.

Kolar Gold Fields is said to be one of the oldest mines in the world, though the modern history begins with the systematic mining by the English firm John Taylor and Sons in 1880. One of the first hydro-electric projects in Asia was built in 1902 to provide power to the mines. The Mysore government took over the mines in 1956, the government of India took over in 1962 and the mines closed down in 2003.

We visited the a portion of the mine and the mill tailing dumps called the cyanide dumps, because of the cyanide content. These expansive elevated plains of deposits are nothing but the mining waste and have accumulated over the years. The dumps which have in them gold worth crores themselves provide gold extraction work for so many years. At some places it rises to up to 30 meters. From the top one gets a good view of the town. It's a scenic area and not surprisingly many movie shootings have taken place there. We understood that the mines closed down because of a variety of factors: lack of far-sightedness on part of the authorities, poor management methods, and the bureaucratic lethargy many public sector firms in India have become victims of.

A section of the vast cyanide dump.

Mr Whitfield, who has a keen interest in rocks and minerals, examines a piece from the dump.

On the way to the top of the dump.


A view from the top.

Kolar has plenty of interesting places to visit. Just heard about them, didn't get time to visit. However, one wonders, why these places aren't developed into tourist centres. For a huge country like India, the tourism potential is wasted untapped.

On our way back, at a spot some 35 km before K R Puram, we saw a large nursery, from where Mr Whitfield finally bought a plant, that bears bright reddish yellow flowers. The next day, Tuesday, we had lunch at the Tamarind Restaurant on the Ring Road near the Ramamurthy Nagar junction. "The ambiance is very pleasant. I must say this is one of the best hotels I have come across in India, and it gives, what we call, good value for money."

After the lunch, we headed to the railway station to book his reservation for onward journey to Pune. He is going there with the hope that he would be able to see a quarry (quite unlikely since one needs to get permission, which he felt may not be easy) or at least meet someone who deals in minerals. I am yet to hear from him. Hope he has had some luck! He got a berth in the foreign tourist quota in the Udyan Express for Wednesday.

From the railway station we headed to the Iskcon (International Society for Krishna Consciousness). He found the spiritual and tourist side to the place quite innovative and was quite skeptical if a similar thing was possible back in his country. He felt Iskcon has been able to combine both remarkably well.

I spent a lot of time talking to Mr Whitfield: our likes, our prejudices, our cities, our nations, the world we live in, the leaders, heroes, and villains. He has the typical British understatement, and of course, what makes conversations interesting are the insights he brings into a subject.

I asked him what brings him back to India over and over again. "One, obviously the mountains and the nature in general," he says immediately. "It's remarkable to be in the midst of people who are extremely calm; Indians patiently work around situations that are very difficult, hardships that we in the West aren't used to... I must say trees are a refreshing sight in Bangalore. Roads in Delhi are broader but the city isn't as green as Bangalore. I'm sure the roads here will get better the next time I'm here."

Hopefully.

Links:

Last year's visit by Mr Whitfield:

- Friend from Britain
- Business at Sangam
- The Gumbaz

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bobby Jindal and India

In Saturday's election, Bobby Jindal became the first non-White and the youngest Governor of the US state of Louisiana. He polled more than 50 per cent of votes in a state that has a history of racial tension.

Children of immigrants making it to high of offices in the US is no news -- Bill Clinton has a Irish background just as Arnold Schwarzenegger has a Austrian background, quite a controversial at that. Evidently, they have won the approval of their fellow citizens because of the commitment to the nation, not just in words but in deeds too. And, people have overlooked the foreign tag in favour of the work they have done.

Indian media played up the news not just because of Jindal's distant Indian connection; but also in Jindal's victory there lies a message for Indians. Would we have accepted a similar immigrant? We are often very suspect to the extent of being xenophobic.

Sonia Gandhi's example is the most debated one. In her case it's not the debate that's objectionable (that's fine), but our lack of willingness to accept that Sonia can be trustworthy, our obsession with her country of birth. We are paranoid that she can betray our country, when many of our very own Indian citizens are doing it in their own ways on a daily basis.

There are a number of other examples. Why non-Indian, within our country look at the disputes many states have with each other, and the crude jokes in one state about people of other states. Forget Sonia becoming the Prime Minister, will we ever have a similar immigrant as a corporator or municipal councillor or mayor or as head of social, cultural, business, educational or organisations?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Vidyarambham

Today is Vijayadashami, the day celebrated by Keralites as Vidyarambham.

In the north, the entire 10-day festive season is very spectacular. But in Kerala, the Navaratri season is rather low-key restricted to pujas in temples and homes. The 9-day period comes alive during the last three days, during the time of Saraswati puja. Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of knowledge and learning.

Vidhyarambham (initiation into learning) is a very unique celebration in Kerala, though in other parts of India too there are similar functions, wherein books are kept for pooja and children are initiated into learning. In Kerala, however, it is almost a state-wide festival.

Though the celebrations are basically of Hindu nature, non-Hindu parents too put their children through the Vidyarambham function. Today is a day when Keralites celebrate knowledge and learning.

Vidyarambham is function during which children, around the age of three, are initiated into learning by an elderly person who adorns the role of a guru. Most families ensure that children go through this ceremony before they even join play school.

It is a short ceremony that follows Saraswati Puja. The child sits on the lap of the guru, who writes 'Hari Sri' on the child's tongue with a gold ring. The guru then helps the child to write 'Hari Sri Ganapathaye Namah' with the right index finger on a bed of rice. As the guru says these words, the child is helped to repeat it. Some follow this with the first three letters of the alphabet.

The guru is usually the parent, grandparent or a person associated with education like teachers, professors, writers or poets or any other scholarly or religious person. It's a pleasant sight as children in various moods __ playful, obedient, curious, crying __ take their first steps into the world of knowledge.

Vidyarambham is a major function at Thunchan Parambu, 32 km from Malappuram in North Kerala, the birth place of Thunchath Ezhuthachan, who is considered the Father of Malayalam language. Many publication houses -- like newspaper offices -- and religious places too conduct the function.

Click here to watch Mata Amritanandamayi Devi at Vidyarambham last year.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sreesanth must check himself

One war has decisively ended in favour of Australia. With the victory in Nagpur today, Australians have clearly shown who the real champions are. They also sent a message that India's dream run in the T20 series in South Africa was more or less a flash in the pan.

Now, there is another war that is continuing. This is an ugly one; does no one any credit. It's the war of words. I wonder why cricketers are wasting time and energy on it. When they meet journalists don't they have anything else to talk, other than making statements mocking the rival team?

Look at today's statements:
  • Andrew Symonds has described the ongoing tour as hostile and warned the Indian team of backlash when it tours Down Under this year. "They've beaten us in a Twenty20 game and one one-dayer in four years. You can't gauge much on that, but we'll see how this so-called new Indian team goes on our soil," he has said.

  • Former Australian captain Ian Chappel has asked the BCCI to discipline Sree Santh before he becomes another Shoaib Aktar. He says Indian board shouldn't repeat their Pak counterpart's mistake of mishandling Akhtar's rage in his early days.

  • The ICC has sought an explanation from the BCCI on Andrew Symond's complaint of racist chants during the Vadodara one-dayer. The Aussie all-rounder had spoken of `monkey chants' from a section of the crowd when he was fielding near the boundary. The BCCI says it's yet to hear from the ICC.

I think Ian Chappel has sounded the right warning. Sreesanth seems to going overboard. He is a talented bowler who has years ahead of him. His on-field theatrics and needless aggression doesn't do him or his cricket any good.

It's not that Australians are angels on the field. But we must remember that players are there in the middle to play cricket and not engage in theatrical antics. If Indian players have a genuine complaint, ICC has well-established procedures to take care of it.

Sree's argument that it's in his nature to behave the way he does, is no justification. Post-victory jubilation is understandable, but definitely not anything beyond that. What are we arrogant about? Not even our cricket!

Indians should keep their mouth shut. Let their game do the talking.

Monday, October 8, 2007

It's not politics

The Karnataka politics right now is in such a fluid situation that it is difficult to predict anything. But one thing is sure: what we have been seeing over the past week wasn't politics. It was much worse than that.

Sure, politics is not just the art of governance; but it is also about strategising to obtain power. We saw ample evidence of that in Karnataka 20 months back, when a faction led by Kumaraswamy broke off the Congress-led coalition government, aligned with their arch rivals BJP and took the reigns of power.

In retrospect, the agreement worked out by Kumaraswamy and Yediyurappa was too ideal to have worked. Had the power been transferred on October 3, it would have been the epitome of a blemishless powersharing contract in practice. For, had Yediyurappa taken over and completed his 20 months quota, all three parties -- Congress, JD(S) and BJP -- would have run the government for 20 months each.

That would have been the first such instance in India -- 5 years split equally into three blocks of 20 months each. Someone would have even exclaimed how fair politics is played in India's world renowned tech-city!

Alas, that was not to be. All those who dreamed up this ideal scenario, were naive.

Politics is dirty. Who said it's clean? It's said that politics only looks clean. But isn't there also some limit to the extent to which it can get dirty? There is no morality in politics, okay; but isn't there also some limit to the extent of immorality in politics?

Readers who have been reading my postings on politics would be familiar with my line on how important politics is for a developing democratic country like India; how important that it does not descend below well-acknowledged levels of propriety in a civil society.

Deve Gowda's refusal to hand over power to BJP is objectionable mainly for one reason: because it was the failure to honour the word to given to an individual, to an organisation. A civil society runs on trust and faith. When at the pinnacle of state government administration, there is blatant contempt for solemn words of assurances and commitment, what message does that send across to others? There may have been similar or even worse breaches of propriety, which stick out as bad precedents; but definitely they aren't worth emulating.

There is an argument that when BJP joined hands with JD(S) they should have expected this, given the way party pulled the Dharam Singh government down. Partly true, BJP should have been doubly careful; they failed in proper strategising. But that doesn't take away the larger misdemeanour of an uncivil breach of trust and commitment. We can't afford to play politics of deceit. We can't afford fitter away the precious political capital this way.

Deve Gowda needs to explain what the people of the state gained from all these. It not enough to have just a government, but there has to be governance as well. But we don't even have a government.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Hacking cloud over Google products

CERTIN (Indian Computer Emergency Response Team) has put out a warning that Google and its products are vulnerable to hacking.

It says: "Multiple vulnerabilities have been reported in a wide range of Google products such as Google Search Appliance, Google (Blogspot) Polls Application, Google's Picasa photo-sharing software, Google's Urchin Analytics service, including a persistent e-mail theft issue affecting the widely used GMail service." Read report here.

Today The Times of India carries a report based on the CERTIN warning; and the report includes quotes from CERTIN director and Google India' R&D head. CERTIN's director Gulshan Rai refused to specify factors that led to the advisory but said it was backed by valid reasons. Google India's R&D head Prasad Ram recently announced that its vision for India was to empower users "by providing organised, easily accessible information and products which encourage the creation and consumption of locally relevant content". Read TOI report here.

CERTIN has put out a few precautions:

- Users should be selective about how they initially visit a web site.
- Don't click links on untrusted web pages or in unsolicited emails.
- Disable all scripting languages in web browsers.
- Users should especially safeguard their browsers by installing patches for their browser in a timely manner.

Though I use the Internet, especially Google and its products, I'm in no way knowledgeable on these technical matters. It's for more tech-literate readers to tell us what one should make out of this. Since Google and its products are very popular, the implications of the warning are quite wide.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Lost in change

I travel to office by bus daily, and the ticket cost is Rs 7. Mostly I give the correct amount, saving me the trouble of asking the conductor the change and saving him the trouble of giving me the change.

I have found that giving Rs 12 is as good as giving the exact Rs 7, because it gets me back Rs 5 note or coin. It worked well, till one day, when the conductor didn't give me back the expected Rs 5. Instead, he wrote on the ticket Rs 5. (That's a common method conductors adopt to crosscheck when passengers go back to them to get the change.) It took me by surprise; to be fair to him, probably he didn't have any coins.

When the bus reached the destination, I presented the ticket to him, to get my Rs 5 back. He looked into his bag; and took out a Rs 1 coin. No change, sir; he pleaded helplessly. Hard to believe, though. Possible.

I lost Rs 4 in the bargain. Looking back, I thought, if I had not given that Rs 2 along with Rs 10, I would have lost only a maximum of Rs 3! I stopped this practice of voluntarily giving the additional Rs 2, unless the conductor asked for it.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Kudos to Supreme Court

Can't help wondering what would the state of our country be if there wasn't the Supreme Court!

Look at how the Supreme Court described the state of the nation in its ruling yesterday while staying today's Tamil Nadu bandh:

  • That's the problem in this country. We have to deal everything with an iron hand in this country. Otherwise things will not work. Every organ, let it be the legislature, executive or judiciary has to deal with an iron hand...
  • We have come to this stage in the country that everything has to be monitored, hammered or directed by courts. Even orders of the supreme court are not observed, what to talk of the high courts. Ninety-nine per cent of the high court orders are not complied...
  • If it is a bandh then it is a breakdown of the constitutional machinery. Your own resolution says that the programme on October 1, is intended to ensure complete cessation of all activities, then how can you say it is not a bandh...
  • Where is the public meeting you show us. Your resolution say it is cessation of all activities and work. You want to show your popularity. Why do you want to close all down educational institutions and commercial activities. Where will you then find the people for your meetings...
Today, the Supreme Court took off again when the opposition AIADMK party counsel told the highest court in the land that yesterday's orders weren't being implemented and Tamil Nadu state had virtually shut down.


  • If there is no compliance with our order, it is complete breakdown of constitutional machinery. We will then have to direct the government to impose President's rule... Is this a government. Is this the Tamil Nadu government. Is this the DMK government, a strong ally of UPA government? If this is attitude of the DMK government, the UPA government should not feel shy of dismissing it and imposing President rule.
  • You (counsel for the opposition AIADMK party) can file a contempt petition... What is the government doing when some unions are trying to perpetuate the bandh... The unions are being allowed to strike and the government is not doing anything...
But the most interesting part of it all was what happened today morning. Soon after the Supreme Court's strong words were conveyed to chief minister M Karunanidhi, who was on a hunger strike, left the venue for the secretariat and resumed his work! Other ministers also followed him to their respective offices!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Vanishing hyphen and National Punctuation Day

Is it a coincidence that the venerable Oxford Dictionary is dumping the hyphen (always a source of confusion for writers) just around the National Punctuation Day in the US?

Last week, the sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary knocked off hyphens from around 16,000 words. (BBC report)

But the dictionary still hasn't been able to knock out the confusion. Earlier, the doubt was whether a compound word is one word, hyphenated or two words. But still there still no clarity on when is a compound word one word and when two words.

Fig-leaf is now fig leaf and pot-belly is pot belly -- two words; while a few others have fused to become one words, like, pigeon-hole has become pigeonhole and leap-frog has turned into leapfrog. Similarly, ice-cream is now ice cream, but post-modern is postmodern.

Maybe someone with a strong knowledge of English language can throw some light on this.

Shorter OED editor Angus Stevenson doesn't give a clear explanation on why some words have split into two while others have merged into one.

"We only reflect what people in general are reading. We have been tracking this for some time and we've been finding the hyphen is used less and less," he says.

Why people are using the hyphen less? One version doing the rounds is they don't have the time or inclination to reach for the hyphen key while typing.

By the way, around the time the Oxford Dictionary knocked hyphens off, in the US National Punctuation Day was celebrated on September 24.

The official website says, "But what started as a clever idea to remind corporations and professional people of the importance of proper punctuation has turned into an everyday mission to help school children learn the punctuation skills they need to be successful in life."

No doubt punctuations are so important, wrong usage can change the meaning. "My sister, who is in the US, will come tomorrow" implies I have only one sister. But the same sentence without the first comma, could mean I have more than one sister, and it's the one in the US who is coming tomorrow.

But the most celebrated example is this:

An English teacher wrote these words on the whiteboard: "woman without her man is nothing". The teacher then asked the students to punctuate the words correctly.

The men wrote: "Woman, without her man, is nothing."

The women wrote: "Woman! Without her, man is nothing."

(My earlier post: Punctuations are important)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

India Twenty20 World Champions

What a telling picture this is. India's players celebrate after the dismissal of Pakistan's Misbah-ul-Haq at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, last evening. (AP Photo by Themba Hadebe)

For a change, it was Pakistan that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

I wonder what reception awaits Misbah back home; the awkward scoop that he played wasn't the last ball of the match, there were three more deliveries to go, and Pakistan needed only 6. Given the way Misbah was playing -- only the previous ball he had clubbed a low full toss over the ropes for a six -- he could have done it.

Here is the Cricinfo commentary of the last over:

19.1 Joginder Sharma to Misbah-ul-Haq, 1 wide, short of a length and far outside the off stump, that one barely lands on the pitch. Nerves here for Joginder Sharma. Big, big wide. Easily called.
12 needed from 6 now

19.1 Joginder Sharma to Misbah-ul-Haq, no run, short of a good length and outside the off, play and a miss, the tension mounts.
12 from 5 needed

19.2 Joginder Sharma to Misbah-ul-Haq, SIX, full-toss outside the off, that's not the place to bowl at this time. Misbah is cool as ice, lines this up and pounds the ball straight back down the ground. This is a baseball style home run. Such incredible hitting under pressure. You have to give it to Misbah.
6 needed from 4 balls now

19.3 Joginder Sharma to Misbah-ul-Haq, OUT, India! It's all over here! Full and on the stumps. Misbah goes for the scoop shot over short fine-leg. That is a risky shot to play with only 6 needed from 4 balls. Straight up in the air and Sreesanth takes the catch. India have won by 5 runs in the inaugural ICC World Twenty20.
India win by 5 runs, three balls to spare.

This match last evening at Johannesburg, the final of the first Twenty20 Championship, was much closer than India's semifinal against Australia. That victory looked much more emphatic than this one. Actually, this seemed to be drifting perilously to the earlier India-Pak match which ended in a bowl-out.

Pakistan was so close, they were almost there. In such situations, unlike wide-margin results, it's the slightest error that does one team in. It looked like Joginder's loose final over was gifting the match away to Pakistan, but before Joginder could do that, Misbah did.



Reuters photo by Juda Ngwenya of India's players posing with the ICC World Twenty20 trophy.

With each Twenty20 match, I am getting more and more convinced that this abridged version tests the cricketing skills to the maximum. Cricketing fame has been biased towards the batsmen. It has been always thought batsmen won matches. T20 will change that.

Bowlers are so crucial to this form of cricket, more than, if not as much as, batsmen. Like I said in an earlier post, each ball sent down has to be of perfect line and length. A skilful bowler who can keep his cool, will strike gold here, since batsmen under pressure are bound to miscue a shot.

Can't believe it has been 24 long years since India won a Cricket World Cup. Hopefully the Cup will come home again sooner. Kapil's win was in the pre-cable TV era. Then we all crowded around the radio. And for the vast number of teenagers and twenty-somethings, who dominate the world so much now, this is their first cricket World Cup.

What is T20 is for Sachin, Sourav, Dravid was ODI for Gavaskar, Vengsarkar and Viswanath! What a generational change cricket itself has undergone!

By the way, I don't know if anyone of us realised that it was only six months and one week back (on March 17) India lost to Bangladesh by five wickets in a Group B ODI World Cup match at Port of Spain. Then, on March 23rd, Sri Lanka drove the final nail defeating India by 69 runs. What a humiliating run it was. People vowed never to watch this game ever again. It's all forgotten and forgiven!

The next action isn't far off. Not the T20 but the ODI: India take on Australia in Bangalore on September 29, the coming Saturday, just four days away!
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Sunday, September 23, 2007

India-Pak dream final

What a game it was last night! The best part is how Indians held their cool.

Yuvraj is turning out to be pointsman. After it was 41 for 2, it was he who changed the scene -- 70 off 30 balls. Who said style has gone out of cricket with T20? Some of Yuvi's strokes were just executed with great style and beauty. And, the way he waited for one of the deliveries to come up so he could power it over the ropes... That was a majestic six, I think it was the third one.

And, each time the bowler sent down a dot ball, a roar went up, as if a wicket had fallen. I love this focus on tight bowling. I get great pleasure in seeing a batsman tied down by the bowler.

Heard of this guy called Joginder Sharma? Everyone, surely the Aussies, thought the match could be won off him. Since all the other bowlers had done their quota, Joginder was the inevitable choice. But instead of letting the match slip away, off the second last ball of the match, he cracked the stump of Lee.

The best comment was made by Sharad Pawar: "See how the boys are playing well without a foreign coach."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Success story of Malaysia

Malaysia turned 50 on August 31. From being a poor poverty-stricken, Communist insurgency-plagued nation, today it is a fast-developing multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, tolerant society. Much of the credit goes to Dr Mahathir bin Mohammed, who served as the nation's Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003.

"The Malaysian Miracle" by Joseph Stiglitz, traces its mainly economic success story. The author is University Professor at Columbia University. In 2001, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Twenty20 is cricket

We are in the midst of cricket's latest form entertainment Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa. We are also in the midst of discussions and debates on whether this truncated version of the game is a success or failure.

Maybe it is too early to pass a verdict. But after watching a few matches, including the thrilling Indo-Pak bowled-out tie, I think this will be a success. Just give it some time.

The shorter duration is the key. One doesn't have to sit through long hours to watch the match. And look at the pace at which the game is being played. The speed gives it an added attraction. It's much faster than the 50-over one-day internationals.

One casualty, I admit, is the graceful defensive stroke, which we could see even in the ODIs. Here, no batsman can allow a dot ball. So, he has to swing the bat in some direction. But on the plus side, this form of cricket gives full expression to the saying: "attack is the best form defence".

There is an argument going around that Twenty20 is only slam-bang, and is just not cricket. I strongly disagree with this view. There is cricket in Twenty20, complete with all the strategy, if only one cared to notice and play that way.

The point that is being missed is how important the accuracy of bowling has to be. No bowler can afford to let go a loose one. He has to keep a perfect line and length. He can't let even one run slip by and also he has to lure the batsman into playing a stroke. There aren't many overs to make good the mistakes.

That makes field placing very important. It has to be accurate: one, to check the runs and two, to take the catch off the miscued shot. A bowler has to bowl to the field like never before.

Twenty20 takes the battle between the bat and the ball to new heights of intensity. In a Test or ODI, a batsman can play safe to a ball that is not "scorable". Either he lets it go through to the keeper or gets on top of it to smother it down. In Twenty20, there is no such luxury, the batsman has to convert even "non-scorable" deliveries to scorable ones. And the challenge here for the bowler is, how to penalise the batsman for daring to do that.

I think the Test matches will survive. Because it is a different form of cricket altogether. The battle is on a different level. What Twenty20 has encroached upon is the 50-over version. They are very similar to each other in approach and with T20 more racy, it could eventually overtake the one-day internationals.

One last point. When I watched the bowl-out in the Indo-Pak match, I was reminded how we used to practise. The coach used to say: every ball should hit the stumps. That's the foundation of bowling.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bad society gets tough laws

Aren't rules and regulations determined by the lowest denominator in a society? More hardened the criminals, tougher the laws. When rules are framed, the determinants are the possible offenders!

Rules are tightened so that the worst offender doesn't get away. Ironically, the law abiding people pay a heavy price, adjusting their lives to rules that have been indirectly dictated by the criminals.

We've railway level cross gates because society has crazy people who would attempt to cross the track when a train is approaching. We've most inconvenient speed breakers, because of a few reckless drivers. Security at public places are ridiculously tight, often casting suspicion on people who are very much law abiding.

So can we say how good or bad a society is, is indicated by the type of rules it has for its people? Rules are rarely relaxed, they are mostly tightened.

Is that a good sign? As we progress rules should get relaxed, is it not?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My blog is 3 years old

Today my blog completes three years. Started on a 9/11, three years after the deadly attacks

Read my first post here

Friday, September 7, 2007

Kerala must change

Today's New York Times has an article on Kerala: Jobs Abroad Support 'Model' State in India. Click here to read the article.

The Trivandurm datelined story by Jason DeParle starts off thus: "This verdant swath of southern Indian coastline is a famously good place to be poor." The author says: "It (Kerala) is poor, even by India’s standards, with an annual per capita income of $675, compared with $730 nationwide. (The figure in the United States is about $25,000.)"

My understanding has been that the large majority of Keralites don't live in poverty. It could be so in a few in interior villages, but that's too few when seen in the whole context of the state. If Kerala is poor, then what about many other states, which are actually poor?

People in Kerala have enough income, and to know that, all it takes is a drive through the interiors. Most of the families are more than self-sufficient financially. On the contrary, I think, it's the flush of funds in Kerala that has made Keralites complacent and resistant to any change.

The author follows up the "poor" statement above with: "But Kerala’s life expectancy is nearly 74 years — 11 years longer than the Indian average and approaching the American average of 77 years. Its literacy rate, 91 percent, compares to an Indian average of 65 percent, and an American rate (the United Nations estimates) at 99 percent."

The author also says: "Talk of the Kerala model began after a 1975 United Nations report praised the state’s 'impressive advances in the spheres of health and education.'..... Amartya Sen, a future Nobel laureate in economics, wrote widely on Kerala, arguing (in a book with Jean Dreze) that its “outstanding social achievements” were of “far-reaching significance” in other countries."

The dramatic opening sentence of the NYT article is misleading as the thrust of the article isn't poverty of Keralites. It's about how there's lack of employment opportunities in Kerala and how Keralites are going outside the state in search of jobs. If the author thinks that lack of employment opportunities in Kerala hasn't rendered the state poor, that, I think, is misplaced.

The Socialist policies have done Kerala a world of good. The author has to accept that fact. But where I would agree with the author is that today's socialists and Leftists can't live in the past, which they are doing. That's the problem with Kerala. This is where Kerala, its politicians and people have to change.

Migration to another place in search of work, per se, isn't bad. Today, in the globalised world migration happens in all directions. Look at the number of foreigners coming to India for
training in IT and on work. Keralites began to migrate to other places because the small state didn't have enough jobs for the large number of employable people, and at the same time, the rest of the country had a shortage.

Now the scene has changed. Many hitherto poor and educationally backward states have caught up, leaving Keralites with more competition outside the state too. That's why, employment opportunities in Kerala, should now be in focus.

The issue is not migration, the issue is lack of employment opportunities. The current policies not just that of the Congress-led United Democratic Front, but of the ruling Communist-led Left
Democratic Front) aren't entrepreneurship. Besides, there is the Leftists baggage from the past, which sees entrepreneurship in poor light. This has to change.

Looking at a pan-India level, lack of development is not a Kerala-specific issue. The contribution of anachronistic policies of the Leftists is only one part of the problem. Since Kerala has a Leftist
government, for some, the state is an easy example. For example, the author says suicide rates (in Kerala) are four times the national average. But suicides aren't because someone is poor or because one member of the family had migrated. What about the rich -- who live with the whole family and all material comforts -- committing suicide?

What Kerala must do is capitalise (pun intended) on the achievements that socialist policies have delivered. With the momentum that the state has gained, it should lead India in many fields, and be a model to the world itself.

What politicians and policymakers, in particular, and Keralites, in general, must guard against is the danger of the state slipping back. For that:

1. Politicians, especially those in power, should look beyond themselves and their party. People's comfort and well-being should take precedence over party policies. If an accepted practice has to be reversed because that will serve people better, politicians should have the guts to do it.

2. Kerala must work against the high level of inertia. The attitude of "Why we should change. Let things be as they are" has to go.

3. Kerala must be open to modern economic concepts. They may not be panacea for all ills, but it has its pluses too, which Kerala's Leftists must be progressive enough to accept and put into practice. For example, trying to curtail private entrepreneurship, when state enterprises are
themselves are functioning below par is akin to being a dog in the manger.

4. Kerala's trade unions (belonging to both Communist and Congress groups) should change their obstructionist policies. The trade unions have served their time, and served well. Let us be fair and acknowledge that. Now they must change. For example, they should stop the practice of calling for strikes at the drop of a hat. Stopping others from working is not just a negative and perverse attitude, it achieves nothing in today's world. It's a defeatists approach that will only lead to doom.

5. Finally, Keralites must bother as much about their responsibilities as their rights.

Monday, September 3, 2007

India's middle class and development

This section of India is as much talked about as the economic boom. Naturally so, because it's the middle class that is fuelling the boom. I stumbled on this analytical article -- India's middle class failure by Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad. The author says that the economic boom will have little meaning unless the middle class engages itself politically. But the author doesn't clearly say how they can do it in a way different from how the middle class engages now.

While there is lot of truth in what the author postulates, one must remember that politics as an institution in India is far from evolved, even though we have had 60 years of trouble-free democracy, stable government transitions etc. We have had good governments and ministers (who are good individually), but we haven't had any good governance, especially at state and village levels, which matter the most.

If middle class in India has to participate in politics, and by extrapolation, I mean, in governance, there has to be decentralisation of governance, not in theory but in practice. Even this (panchayati raj, which former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi began) is a total failure.

If, for example, something as basic as road has to be repaired, a citizen (middle class usually) doesn't know whom to call up, if at all he or she is able to call up, there is no proper response, if at all someone responds, there is no clear guarantee that the problem is set right; and at the end of the whole process, the road is just not repaired, for days and months together. There is no accountability. This is because, development is linked to politics.

In the south Indian state of Kerala, the public works department minister is on his way out, and as a result the tarring of roads has come to standstill. Can one believe that! Look at how the state of road is linked to state minister. This is not the way it should be.

Glitzy malls are fine, but where is the road to get to the mall? Lots of colleges are fine, but where is the electricity to run them, and for children to sit and study. Malls are good to look at, and shop in them, but they themselves are no indicator of the citizens' standard of living. It's a huge myth. More malls don't mean the society is more developed. The development indices are still the same: the basic amenities for citizens like food, shelter, clothing, transportation and other necessities that make one's daily life comfortable.

Middle class can involve themselves in societal development only if basic development activities are depoliticised. We need good road irrespective of the party in power. There can't be politics in development issues.

What is needed is not more political involvement by middle class, but more involvement in social reconstruction in a depoliticised environment. For that, first politicians will have to let go of their monopoly on development.

PS: This blog is being cross posted on The Prospect Magazine blog.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Malaysia tour diary V

This is the last of the tour diary pieces. Links to earlier ones and two related pieces:

* Malaysia, Truly Asia - Read here
* Shoppers head for Malaysia - Read here
* Malaysia tour diary I - Read here
* Malaysia tour diary II - Read here
* Malaysia tour diary III - Read here
* Malaysia tour diary IV - Read here


Devotees offer prayers inside the St Paul's church, Malacca.



Most police stations typically have blue roof.

BABAS AND NYONYAS

Immigration of Chinese to Malaysia goes back to the visits of Ming dynasty’s Admiral Cheng Ho to Malacca. His fist visit was in 1405-07 when he also came up to Kerala, India. One of the Ming dynasty rulers of China, eager to expand ties, is said to have sent his daughter Hang Li Po (Hang Libao) to Malacca. There is no clarity as to which emperor’s daughter was Li Po. One view that she is the daughter of Yongle is disputed. But it is known that she was married to the Malaysian sultan Mansur Shah, the great grandson of Parameswara.

This girl and about 500 others who also got married to Malay officials are considered to be the first Chinese immigrants in Malaysia. They later married among the same group and gave rise to a mixed Chinese-Malay breed called Peranakan, the male called Baba and female Nyonya. They adopted local customs like dresses and language, but largely kept their style of marriage.

A Nyonya in her typical dress

Given their ability to adapt easily, during British rule they learnt English and occupied many administrative positions. They are quite western and most of them affluent businessmen. While many nyonyas have taken to typical Malaysian dresses, their marriage customs are typically Chinese. Their language, Baba Malay, is now getting slowly extinct with only some elderly people speaking.

A Baba-Nyonya restaurant.

BABA FOOD

The Baba-Nyonya restaurants are immaculately decorated inside, food is yummy and the hosts are courteous and affable. The food is very close to the Indian style while retaining the Chinese flavour. It is, I am told, a fusion of typical Malay and Chinese cuisine. It is spicy.

STADTHUYS

This was the official residence of the Dutch governor and his officers. A typical example of Dutch architecture, it was built in 1650. The Stadthuys in Malacca was the state town hall, official functions used to be held during Dutch rule. Today it is a museum that showcases the entire Malaysian history, customs and traditions. It’s very exhaustive and takes at least two
to three hours to go around it completely and appreciate the full extent of the exhibition.

One of them (pictured above) caught my eye. In the wedding and family section, there is a replica of the bedroom where typically a Baba and Nyonya spent their night, possibly nuptial night. What struck me was beside the double bed, there is another one. Why three? No one seemed to have a clear answer, though one tourist said it could be in symbolic anticipation of the first child.


FOUNDING OF MALACCA

At the Stadthuys museum, there is a painting (pictured above) that shows the widely held origin of Malacca. The popular legend has it that Malacca was founded by Parameswaran, a prince who had fled Sumatra in 1377. He reached the port of Malacca around 1400. He was apparently taking rest under a tree. He noticed that one of his hunter dogs was chasing a deer. But
what he found amazing was that the deer had in fact managed to push the dog into the river. The triumph of the weak was taken by Parameswara as a good omen and decided to stay on. He later changed his name to Megat Iskandar Shah.

A prayer in progress at the Cheng Hoon temple

CHENG HOON TEMPLE

You thought the Chinese are all Communists and there is no religion. Wrong. Founded in mid-1600s, this is Malaysia’s oldest Chinese temple (pictured above), located at Jalan Tokong and covers 4,600 sq metres. It propagates San Chiao or the Three Doctrinal System of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. There are a number of traditional Chinese rituals. The carvings and figurines are stunningly beautiful. All the materials used in the construction were brought from China. Unlike Indian temples photography is allowed here and many tourists were seen happily clicking away. The temple has won a Unesco award for outstanding architectural restoration.

The typical house of Chinese tribesman


SUNWAY LAGOON PARK

This water theme park (pictured above), spread over 30 acres, was once a mine! It was set up in 1993 and is a big tourist attraction in KL. There are three parts to it: Waters of Africa, Wild Wild West and World of Adventure. The last section has the world's longest suspension pedestrian bridge of 428 m and offers a beautiful view of of the whole lagoon. Today, in celebration of tomorrow's Independence day, a 'My Nation' Merdeka Countdown Party at Sunway Lagoon Theme Park.

A majestic creation outside the park

HOP ON HOP OFF CITY TOUR BUSES
Introduced in the end of last year, these luxurious doubledecker buses (pictured above) go around 40 tourists attractions in KL. Tourists can take a ticket and use the bus to hop on and hop off at tourists spots.

BATU CAVES
This is an amazing place, a little over 10 km from KL. There are at least three caves big and small, which were discovered in 1892. The caves are of limestone 400m long and 100m high. You need to climb 272 steps to reach the caves. This comes alive in January during Thaipusam festival.
The entrance to Batu Caves complex, the steps can be seen behind the statue
Inside the first part of the cave. There is another set of steps to the second part.

A view of the entrance to the caves from inside.


NATIONAL MONUMENT
The National Monument, called the Tugu Negara (pictured above), commemorates war heroes who sacrificed their lives for the cause of Malaysian freedom. This is near the parliament building. Interestingly, in 1966, when this was constructed, there was no good Malaysian sculptor, and this was designed by the renowned American sculptor Felix de Weldon.
In the nearby building, on the roof are replicas of all regiments which took part in the wars and one is from the Jalalabad, India: seen in the photo above, the one on top right.


OLD RAILWAY STATION
This was once the hub of rail transport, till KL got its Metrorail and Monorail, and then the KL Sentral station came up. This one built in 1910 is a tourist spot now. Many trains do pass but not many stop. This has snack kiosks, money changing booths, souvenir shops, and rest houses.

MERDEKA SQUARE

It was here (pictured above) that exactly 50 years ago, on August 31, 1957, the Union Jack was lowered and Malaysian flag was hoisted. There is a 100m told flag post. Earlier, it was called Selangor Club field and for the British during those days this was a central point from where every important place could be accessed. Now, concerts, carnivals etc take place here.

On our way to Putrajaya, we looked for a place to have food. I had no doubts: I had already fallen in love with Baba-Nyonya food, and I suggested their restaurant, seen above.

PUTRAJAYA
This expansive capital city, around 25 km from Kuala Lumpur, spread over 4,931 hectares is still under construction, and when it is done in another 5 to 6 years, it's going to look majestic. Already it is! A good part of it is natural, comprising lush green landscape, and lots of water bodies and wetlands. The plan to have a capital city was first mooted in 1980 and in the next decade work began. It now houses government complexes, parks, eateries, shopping complexes.
This is one of the bridges that was photographed during a river cruise in Putrajaya.

On our drive back to the airport, at the end of the week-long tour, in one area of the Expressway, I counted 12 lanes, 6 on either side!
The landscape of Malaysia bears close resemblance to that of India. But what struck me most was the amazing amount of infrastructure work that is going on. And, secondly, the warmth of the local people. The society, that is predominantly Muslim, is so diverse, but the at the same time, is a model to the whole world for its inter-racial cordiality, tolerance and broadmindedness.
Malaysia, truly Asia. It was a memorable trip there. Would love to be back in Malaysia!