Thursday, May 18, 2006

Jadugar Anand's magic show

The first day of my two-week vacation. And what a way to start off! Had a wonderful evening at the Town Hall in Bangalore today with Jadugar Anand and his team.

Performance of magic is all about perception. Making impossible possible is impossible. So magicians make the impossible seemingly possible.

Children enjoy it the best; because they are the least skeptical about reality, and different perceptions of reality. Adults too enjoy; because a willing, though temporary, suspension of disbelief is a highly satiating escape from hard realities.

The last time I saw a magic show was that of P C Sarkar in Hyderabad in 1998. I am a skeptic. (May be that is why landed the job I am in! For, someone said journalists need to be necessarily skeptics.) And, not surprisingly, I was quite unimpressed with the initial numbers that Anand performed. But he won me over gradually, I must concede. Everything that is unreal seemed real. The conflict in perception was as much interesting as puzzling.

The most dramatic one the "beauty and the beast", wherein a girl turns into a chimpanzee. There also this one, where an elephant appears from nowhere. And this gigantic animal got down from the stage, walked into the audience, along the aisle... I was sitting beside the aisle and never had I found myself so close to an elephant, that too inside a room.

Everything has become interactive. A magic show too. Anand got members of the audience participate in two of his numbers.

In one he asked a teenage girl to come up to the audience. And, she was (apparently hypnotized and) made to sleep suspended in air. That was by far the most impressive to me. Impressive also because, he used a member of the audience for it. "Your are the medium, but the magic is mine," Anand declared triumphantly.

And, of course, breaking free of closed enclosures and his disappearing acts, like that of Statue of Liberty, were also quite impressive.

Anand hit the headlines for riding a motorcycle blindfolded from Indore to Bhopal, a distance of 200 km in 210 minutes, in October 2004. Incidentally, he was denied permission to do that here in Bangalore last month. The reason was not stated.

Anand hails from Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. It seems he learnt hypnotism from spiritual guru Rajneesh (Osho) who also hails from the same place. Anand's brother, Rajendra Awasthi is a noted writer in Hindi. Anand learnt magic at the age of seven, apparently inspired by street magicians, who used to get him ladoos from nowhere.

I am off to Kerala tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Where is the need for this quota policy?

The anti-reservation agitation is spreading. The danger of a confrontation is real. Because the government is going ahead with the new reservation policy.

The question the government must ask itself is: where is the need for reservation in IITs and IIMs?

Consider this: A person of OBC has come up to the undergraduation level (Bachelor's course) in engineering, medicine, management or whatever. If he has scored well, he goes through to the next level. If he doesn't, he doesn't.

How can technocrats like Abdul Kalam, Manmohan Singh etc be such mute spectators to a device that makes one's lower caste a qualification over and above the academic merit?

What matters: the quality of the bridge constructed, or the caste of the engineer who constructed it?

What matters: the efficiency of a manager / doctor or his caste?

Does the value of an end product change depending upon the caste of the people involved in the chain or their professional and academic brilliance?

The fact that a candidate has been able to reach the level of graduation is reason enough to let him sail ahead himself. Does he need to be walked through still? It's also enough proof that he has been able to overcome any discrimination, if at all there was any.

So, why reservation in higher educational institutions, where nothing, absolutely nothing, other than merit should matter?

Where is caste-based discrimination in higher levels of education? If there is, this policy is not going to remove it at all.

People in all walks of life, belonging to all strata of society are handicapped in one way or the other. Gone are the days when caste was the biggest handicap one faced. Not now, at least in cities, where a person resides while pursuing higher education.

Handicaps that citizens face have to be addressed and redressed. But definitely not this way.

Read my earlier post on the Way out of the caste cauldron.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Assembly elections, afterthoughts

Sonia Gandhi wins from Rae Bareli by a record 4 lakh margin. All her opponents polled so low, they lose their deposits.

Irrespective of one's disposition to "India's Kennedy family", the huge popular mandate obviates any accusation that the "incompetent outsider" has been thrust on India's polity. India's political families are a creation of the voters, thanks to our well-functioning democracy.

The focus is not on Sonia though, if looked at carefully. The winners are Rahul and Priyanka. They have "rightly" started their career at the grassroots, as election manager and election agent. That it is for their own mother is beside the point. Sonia's style of political correctness, if you like.

LDF back in Kerala

That is not the point. In 2001, UDF got 100 seats and LDF 40. This year it is the other way round. UDF 42 and LDF 98.

Last year Congress came to power with dissensions: Karunakaran opposing Antony. And, the government squandered the huge margin of victory firefighting most of the time. Congress lost badly the Parliamentary election.

Now, LDF too comes to power with dissensions: Pinarayi Vijayan opposing Achutanandan. Will LDF too spend much of the time firefighting? Already, Achutanandan's has a bad reputation of stalling progress. Not so inaccurately he is spoken of as Kerala's Deve Gowda. Keep your fingers firmly crossed.

The Kerala's political configuration of Congress and Marxists leading opposing fronts is actually a cool win-win arrangement, since they are "partners in India's progress" in Delhi. A Congress functionary's comment: "Who said Congress lost in Kerala? The Marxists have won in Kerala on the basis on the impressive work of the Manmohan Singh government in Delhi, of which Marxists are an active partner."

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Sonia questions Manmohan on economy!

Sonia Gandhi has once again played a superb political masterstroke, though a bit late.

One day before her election in Rae Bareilly, she wrote to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today questioning the government's decision to sign a free-trade agreement with ASEAN nations. She has asked Singh to protect Indian farmers' interests first.

A rank politician questioning an internationally renowned economist, that too on economy! Incredible!!

One doesn't need to know the merits or demerits of the free-trade agreement to realise that her letter is a complete eyewash. Singh government has already signed FTAs with Thailand and Indonesia. He wouldn't have gone ahead without the approval of Sonia Gandhi who is constantly consulted on all government policy matters.

Moreover, any day Manmohan Singh knows better than Sonia on what is good for the country.

Tomorrow as people who go out to vote in states of Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Pondicherry and in the parliamentary constituency of Rae Bareilly (where Sonia is contesting), fresh in their minds would be the national headline of Sonia standing up for farmers' interests.

Not that she needs this desperate act to ensure her own win. But an oblique benefit to the Congress is definite.

They say in politics, more important than you being right is, you should appear to be right... even if you are not. It's the public perception that matters, and not the truth.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Autorickshaw ride -- an experience

Drivers of the ubiquitous autorickshaws in India are largely a cursed lot. Well deservedly, because they are rude and arrogant; almost always looking for ways to cheat the unsuspecting passenger.

[What is an autorickshaw? Photo credit]

They are cursed even by people who don't end up as passengers! That's when they refuse to ply on a route a person wants. The refusal is curt. Reason is rarely stated; but often it is that the destination is too close for them to get a hefty fare.

My experience today evening was exceptional. I was at Benniginahalli (on Old Madras Road near the rail- over- road bridge) on my way to M G Road. There is an autorickshaw stand where the narrow road to C V Raman Nagar/ Kagdaspura begins. There were at least 10 vehicles parked.

To one driver after another I said, "M G Road." The only reply I got: "No sir." Most of us are used to a couple of them refusing to ply. But six of them, one after the other, was downright frustrating.

I asked them, why they wouldn't come to M G Road, a good 10 km away. Reason: Heavy traffic. When I told them I'm not asking for a free ride, one of them said he would come if I paid him Rs 100. This wasn't the dead of night, but 5.30 pm.

When I reminded him that it was illegal to refuse to ferry a passenger without a valid reason, and that one could complain to the police, one of the drivers nonchalantly said, "Tell anyone you want. Nothing will happen to us." I saw no point in being there.

I then walked up to the bus stop and waited for "line autos" (as different from parked autos). Within a couple of minutes, I noticed one coming by; and I promptly flagged it down. I noticed that simultaneously a young gentleman just beside me too was flagging down the same auto.

He said, "Majestic" (the name of a theatre by which the area -- where Bangalore bus-stand/ railways station is located -- is known). I said, "M G Road". He got into the auto. I looked at the driver as I involuntarly made a move to get in. He nodded to signal that I too could get in.

There was a look of protest on the face of the other man, and a feeble murmer too. I could understand his concern; for, there have been many cases of suspicious characters getting into an auto in tacit collusion with the driver, and then indulging in crime.

But, the driver ignored him saying both of us were headed in the same direction. I made use of his tacit approval to get in, even as I enquired with the driver if he would let us pay half the normal fare, since two of us were there. He said, "No. Normal fare." Which means, either of us passengers won't lose anything nor gain anything; but the driver would earn double the fare!

I couldn't help thinking of those six drivers who earlier refused to ply, and wondered whether this guy was smarter than them, though with no conscience.

My fellow passenger sat silent, sipping mango juice, eventhough I tried a couple of times to strike a conversation with him. In reply to my questions he said, he was heading to Majestic to catch a bus to Pune.

When it was time for me to alight, I looked at the meter. It showed Rs 38. He asked for Rs 50 (what according to him would be the new meter rate. Most autos haven't recalibrated their meters to the new rates.) I gave him two Rs 20 notes. Normally the fare would have been more than Rs 40. He too was in a hurry to escape the eyes of the policemen (why, I couldn't figure out).

I just slipped out, thanking my fellow passenger for tolerating me. How much he ended up paying, I don't know. But I felt I had saved Rs 10.