Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sabarimala row and beyond

There seems to be more to the controversy surrounding the defilement of Sabarimala temple by a Kannada actress, Jaimala, than meets the eye. Her revelation came after the temple conducted a deva prasnam — an astrological examination of the state of affairs of the temple -- which had reportedly found several ‘inauspicious’ goings-on in the management of the temple’s affairs.

She says she touched the idol with utmost reverence after being pushed by the crowd. But I don’t know how it could happen since the idol is not in a place where you can even accidentally come in contact with it. Secondly, during her visit, she was clearly at an age where it would have been apparent to anyone (importantly, the large number of officials and policemen) that her presence was in contravention to temple regulations. What were they doing?

There were deva prasnams before also, but no indications of defilement were noticed.

Regular rituals and other procedures for conforming to spiritual correctness can and should carry on in accordance with temple rules and customs. I have no dispute with that. After all, these are matters of faith, and temple administrators are the best to determine what is right and what is wrong. We aren't dealing with science here.

But that doesn't mean certain temporal aspects should be lost sight of. Sabarimala temple officials should focus more on enhancing facilities for devotees. Of course, things have improved by leaps and bounds. Every year, one can see some change for the better. But considering the increasing number of devotees there’s a lot more to be done.

Every season, it’s always a near stampede-like situation. The officials should think in terms of throwing open the temple permanently, rather than merely during the season and on the first of all Malayalam months. The queues should be more efficiently managed. The present situation is a danger to life and limbs. The administration should computerise the queue system and examine options like providing advance tokens etc.

The temple officials should also set apart of good amount of the income to charitable work, like providing educational aid to children, sponsoring orphanages and old-age homes, helping to make the lives of terminally ill patients more comfortable, subsidising life-saving drugs for the poor etc.

A society progresses not merely from government patronage but also from philanthropic activities of communities, among them especially cash-rich religious institutions. Serving the poor and disadvantaged, after all, is the best ritual and offering to the God.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

BBC blog: The Editors

I'm an addict of the BBC. I grew up listening to BBC Radio. BBC was one of the elements that nurtured my interest in journalism. During my childhood, there was just the radio. I could miss Radio Australia, VOA, SLBC (Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corpn), Radio Netherlands; but I could never miss the BBC.

Today, because of too much of radio waves in the atmosphere (thanks to mobile phones), it has become very difficult to tune into shortwave broadcasts during the day time. Of course, the BBC World (TV) is there. But ever since it became a pay channel, our local cable operator has stopped transmitting it. But I don't miss BBC. Thanks to technology, today I listen to it on the web also. It's on right now: a programme on World Cup Football. Reminds me of the days when my little transistor on the study table used to be tuned into the BBC.

Much has changed, including the format of the news itself. I used to listen to South Asia Survey at 7.15 am, The News at 7.30 am, Radio Newsreel at 7.45 am; then the Hindi News on AIR at 8 am, before going to school. Outlook which used to be broadcast at 7.30 pm was one of my favourite. In the night, I used to take my dinner break with BBC News at 8.30 pm, and AIR Hindi and English News after that. And, in music there was the John Peel Show. Those were the days!

Mark Tully's voice was associated with accuracy and authority. The famous news break on BBC on Oct 31, 1984, when the whole world, including Rajiv Gandhi, got to know of Indira Gandhi's death from the BBC. He was and still is more of an Indian than all of us. I read somewhere that he refused a transfer to London with promotion, since he wanted to be in India. He used to relentlessly push positive stories from India with the desk in London which in those days had only an image of poverty and bullock-carts when it came to India.

It was a pleasure listening to Paddy Feeny's presentation of Saturday Sports Special. BBC stopped broadcasting the Test Match Specials, with veterans like Brian Johnston, Don Mosey, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Henry Bloefeld etc. Now thanks to Internet, we can listen on to BBC Test Match Special on the web.

Tim Sebastian (who is now famous for Hard Talk programme on the TV) was the Warsaw correspondent during the strike by Solidarity trade union at the Gdansk port in Poland. This was in 1980, and his reports inspired me a lot. So too Alex Birdie's reports from Iran, during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88).

BBC continues to change, but still retains its high levels of professionalism. It gives lots of importance to development issues: very often we can see poverty and health issues of Africa taking the lead slot in the news bulletins.

Now, BBC too joins the blog bandwagon. How could it remain out when many similar reputed institutions have blogs of its own! Better late than never! Incidentally, it is not the BBC doesn't have an interactive programme. What was earlier the "Phone-in programme" is now called Have Your Say". Till recently it was called "Talking Point".

BBC's political editor Nick Robinson says he doesn't think blogs will necessarily change the world, but does believe blogs will offer a fresh way of turning the traditional roles of writer and reader into those of people having a conversation.

BBC News has got together to start its own blog, called The Editors, which was launched yesterday. The hope is that it will become a discussion forum for all sorts of issues and dilemmas surrounding the BBC news programmes. Now, this will become another medium for me to follow the BBC.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Cellphones and lightning

People should not use mobile phones outdoors during thunderstorms because of the risk if they are struck by lightning, according to a group of doctors.

Read on

Also, fuel stations have restrictions on use of mobile phones. They say it could cause fire because of radio waves. According to GSM World, there isn't any conclusive proof for this; like the link between cellphones and cancer. GSM World addresses the issue of lightning also.

There is a health scare with all modern gadgets, is it not?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Bangalore vs Detroit

Bangalore is held aloft around the world as a symbol of the new economic order triggered by dramatic advances in information technology.

From being a staid and placid garden city to where retirees headed to build houses and spend peacefully the evenings of their lives, Bangalore is in the throes of rapid transition. It's definitely no longer the Pensioners' Paradise.

On the contrary, it is a bustling city -- largely populated by youth -- where offices work around the clock. Bangalore's 5.7 percent annual rate of growth has made it one of the fastest-growing cities not just in India but in all of Southeast Asia. It is also the second most literate city in India after Mumbai.

Inspite of all the richness of entrepreneurs and their employees, poverty and depravation is so evident. One example, a disgusting one, is the sight of children, sometimes even adults, defecating in the open beside the road, in small pockets of slums in upmarket localities. The paradox is so glaring as much as it is shocking.

So, I was pleasantly surprised to see an article: What Detroit Can Learn From Bangalore: A booming city’s lessons for a town in decline. The article, a well-researched one, is written by Shikha Dalmia, a senior analyst at the Reason Foundation.

There are two parts to the article: one, what Detroit can learn from Bangalore; and what Detroit can teach Bangalore. It's an interesting point-by-point comparison of Detroit and Bangalore.

Two quotes from the article:

-- Bangalore, a Third World city beginning with nothing, has experienced meteoric economic growth, while Detroit, once a formidable industrial powerhouse, can’t crawl out of its economic rut.

-- Bangalore has also made an important mistake. By favoring the I.T. industry with measures that range from preferential tax treatment to outright land grabs it has created a town too dependent on a single industry. In that respect, it could learn a sobering lesson from Detroit’s sad decline.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Blog power

Where blogs stand in the vast canvas of mass communication is often not clear.

On the one hand, what is published in a blog is in the public domain, and to that extent the author of the blog is fully accountable for whatever is published. It is definitely not a “write whatever you want in your blog” sort of case. The writer of the blog is fully subject to laws of the land like libel, defamation, contempt of court etc.

On the other hand, it is a highly personal and completely unmonitored medium. Whatever written is not gone through by a second person, and once published goes straight into the public domain. The highly personalised, unedited nature of blog postings is seen as its strength and weakness.

The different forms media complement one another, and blogs have become one more source of information. The most dramatic demonstration of the power of blogs was during the US presidential campaign in 2004, when
bloggers landed the celebrated CBS news anchor, Dan Rather, in serious trouble.

Monday’s Detroit Free Press has carried an article on how bloggers ensured the defeat of the longest serving commissioner of Birmingham in an election. The article also talks of how a blogger was once sued for defaming his city’s fire force chief by accusing him of teaching during business hours!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Job satisfaction or money - II

This is a continuation of my previous post, which attracted a number of interesting comments. This is what I feel about the issue:

Money is, no doubt, a great necessity; not just for survival, but to indulge in some luxury as well. Luxury is important to cushion the hardships of life. What is luxury varies from person to person. Even the poorest-paid worker, if he is prudent with his income, finds money to splurge, may not be everyday, but at least once in a while. 

When we say we are poorly paid, it is more often with respect to our aspiration levels rather than survival levels.

I believe job satisfaction takes precedence over money; because, it is the love for our vocation that will keep us going finally. There is a limit to which money can motivate us, but there is no end to which the passion for our job can take us.

If the passion for our work is taken care of, money will come. It's only a matter of time.

A love for money need not necessarily translate into a deep passion for work. A well-paying job may lead to greater love for work, but more often than not, that love proves to be temporary. It vanishes the moment we get used to the fatter pay check.

It's also because at some point, we discover that there are limits to things that money can buy. Some of the most abiding and long-lasting things in life can just not be bought with money.

It is sad if one's success is weighed against designations and salary. It's not a proper assessment. Success should be determined by the usefulness of the work that one does. Felicitations for promotions, for example, are only symbolic, they don't have any deep meaning. Real appreciation should be on a daily basis for the work we all do in our different roles.

Good quality emerges not out of fat pay cheques; but out of passion for work.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Job satisfaction or money?

Suppose you have to choose between your favourite profession which pays less and an uninteresting job that pays a lot more, which one would you choose?

The provocation for this blog posting is not the extravagant nouveau riche youth. But the large number of youngsters, who are torn between their life's professional ambition and a quiet societal pressure to make money.

But before we discuss this, let me just go back in time to my home state of Kerala. When I see Bangalore's milling crowds, mostly youth, looking desperately for more ways to lighten their swelling purses, I am reminded of Kerala's tryst with Dubai wealth. The sudden rush of money, in the late 1970s, in fact altered the social landscape of the state.

On one side were the laments of those who missed their flight to Dubai. On the other side were families who were catapulted into a surreal world of riches from their daily grind of making both ends meet. The intelligent few invested the new-found wealth in pursuit of long-lasting, worthwhile assets like education, nutrition; and spent the rest in making their lives more comfortable.

Many people, who couldn't make sense of what it means to have more expendable income, went into an uncontrolled, indiscriminate spending spree, fully blind to the needs of their children's education, and other essential comforts at home. Needless to say, bars and gambling dens thrived.

This is one aspect. The other, perhaps more important, was the psychological one. When "a Dubai" (a person working in the Gulf) returned to Kerala on holiday, no one asked him what he did there to earn a living. The lure of the lucre was such, that many well-qualified people did menial and unskilled jobs in harsh conditions. Many of them, if asked, would avoid a direct reply. "Don't I look like a man of class, then why do you want to know what I do there," was the unstated answer.

There were many uncharitable jokes doing the rounds then. Behind the Gulf employees' backs, others muttered: "O, he must be washing cars or vessels or must be a labourer in some construction site.." For whatever reason, labour had no dignity, only money. At least it was made to appear that way.

The palatial facade of, for example, a plumber's house that overflowed with Japanese electronic gadgets, did quite a bit to stoke the angst of, say, a principal who stayed nearby in a modest house, the intellect for whom riches meant something different. Today, not much has changed, but the shock element has disappeared.

Bangalore today may not be an exact parallel. But there is an unmistakable similitude. The social transformation of the city from a laid-back Pensioners' Paradise to a 24/7 vibrant Knowledge Hub has been much written about. The IT boom has, no doubt, done the city a world of good. Businesses in everything from catering and construction to tourism and technology are booming. Lakhs are getting employed. So much is the job opportunity, I am told, every sector faces a shortage of competent manpower.

While the living standard of people has improved, the flipside of the boom is real. One aspect is the inferiority-superiority complex this has given rise to among the youth. Many feel that one has "reached" some place in life only if there is enough wealth to talk about and flaunt around. Let it be clear that "acquiring wealth" per se is not the issue here; the priority and importance one attaches to it, is.

Secondly, I have been seeing many youngsters -- all talented in their chosen professions like engineering, medicine, copy writing, journalism, accountancy etc -- floundering in a whirlpool of job offers from foreign IT companies.

"I don't know what to do," cried Amrit, who till the other day was so happy with his dream job being an ad copywriter, and was aiming to strike big in the world of advertising. It all changed after vague, unheard of portals began offering him loads of cash to stare into computer screens and write a few lines of captions for photos or catchy blurbs for articles or write 200 words on a tourist spot which he hadn't visited!

"When I checked the job profile, I knew that it was not at all the sort of work that would give me a kick. For that extra cash, should I sacrifice the love of my job?"

Lakshmi is a nurse. She loves being in the hospital and helping out patients. But "the sort of money" her batchmates have been making, has slowly begun to affect her. "After my friends forced me, I sent my resume to some companies related to health and bioinformatics. And, now they have been contacting me. Money is the big attraction, double to triple of what I am getting now. But when I ask those guys, what I have to do, it is so disappointing. It’s not the hospital and patients… Friends say money matters. I don't know, what to do ..."

Amrit and Lakshmi are just two from a large number of youngsters who have a real problem on hand. They are totally confused.

Should they stick on to, and grow in their favourite profession, which gives them immense job satisfaction or, should they quit to join BPO firms just for a fat pay packet? How do they decide?

Part two of this article

Friday, June 9, 2006

Newspaper circulation on the rise

If you thought in this age of fast-evolving multimedia applications, newspapers are dying, think again. Newspaper circulations world-wide rose slightly in 2005 while newspaper advertising revenues showed the largest increase in four years, says the World Association of Newspapers.

The WAN report released on June 5 says newspapers are "proving to be incredibly resilient against the onslaught of a wide range of media competition". There are many references to India in the report.

** Seven of 10 of the world’s 100 best selling dailies are now published in Asia. China, Japan and India account for 62 of them.

** The five largest markets for newspapers are: China, with 96.6 million copies sold daily; India, with 78.7 million copies daily; Japan, with 69.7 million copies daily; the United States, with 53.3 million; and Germany, 21.5 million. Sales increased in China and India and declined in Japan, United States and Germany in 2005.

** Indian newspaper sales increased 7 percent in 2005 and 33 percent in the five-year period.

** Twenty-one countries saw newspaper advertising market share growth in 2005: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, Finland, Germany, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Lithuania, Malaysia, Panama, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

** Over five years, newspapers in 24 countries and territories saw increased market share: Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Greece, Iceland, India, Ireland, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Myanmar, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia and Slovenia.

** In India, newspaper advertising revenues increased +23.18 percent over one year and +107.69 percent over the last five. South Africa also saw remarkable gains -- +20.71 percent over one year and 232.23 percent over five years. Turkey’s percentage gains were even higher -- +39.14 percent in 2005 and +236.61 percent over the past five years.

Read the full report here

Monday, June 5, 2006

Vacation jottings

It feels good to be blogging again; after a long break. I haven't kept off from blogs for so long. All those days I didn't read newspapers or magazines, didn't listen to radio news bulletins, didn't watch TV news programmes. I was cut off from the world, the world I am used to.

It is very relaxing to spend a few days in a house located amidst lots of trees. I was in one such house of a relative for a few days. The late evenings are the most peaceful and rejuvenating. Darkness all around, barring the distant light of the street lamp, silence punctuated only by the cries of a few insects flying around. Mosquitos are the only spoilsport, but the repellents work well on them.

One good part of the holidays was the monsoon. This was the first time in the last 16 years, I was in my home state during the rains. The south-west monsoon enters the mainland via Kerala, and customarily the date is June 1.

In mid-May, the Met department had predicted that the monsoon would arrive early. When intermittent showers began on May 25, I wondered if the Met office had indeed got it right. The Met offices in India are very poorly equipped, and so few take the predictions seriously.

On May 27, it rained continuously through the day. And guess where I was -- driving from Thiruvalla in central Kerala to the temple town of Guruvayoor in the north of the state. Driving seven hours in the rain isn't pleasant for sure. But I had no complaints.

At the Vivekanananda memorial (pix on the left, along with the Tiruvalluvar statue to the right) in Kanyakumari, you find boards saying: "Photography strictly prohibited" -- a rule so flagrantly violated. I wanted to take a snap of the notice board. But seeing the security staff right near it, I thought I may be asking for too much; eventhough my journalistic instincts told me otherwise. After all, I am on holiday, not out to expose the security staff in Kanyakumari! We missed the sunset due to heavy clouds but were lucky to catch the sunrise (pix below) on May 22.!

Cut off from my world, I was; but not enough to insulate me completely from some current events. On the 22nd, while we were driving back from Kanyakumari, my brother-in-law, who looks after investments in a bank, was tormented with phone calls from clients who were worried about the market crash that morning. Before long, he had to divert all his incoming calls to his bank.

Caste seemed to hound me even during the holidays. Kerala Assembly elected its speaker: K Radhakrishnan. But what got more than a passing mention was his caste. There were outpouring of compliments from political leaders who said he had risen from the very lowest layer of society. Compliments are fair, no doubt; but it's the tone and tenor that matters. When everyone has only one thing -- his caste -- to talk about, there's something wrong, it looks very odd. It is most unfair to the person to make it appear that he has no creditable attributes, other than his caste. It indicates an obsession, a vicious cycle, we have to definitely get out of.

The lush greenery and lakes are so soothing. To the right is the Manimalayaar (Manimala river) captured at Thuruthikkad in Pathanamthitta district in south central Kerala. Incidentally this is just 300 meters behind a house.

One thing I noticed in most houses in smaller towns and villages was two kitchens: one with smattering of soot on the walls and other more swanky. Obviously the former is used for firewood-stove (mainly for boiling water) and the latter for LPG stoves.

The Krishna temple at Guruvayoor is a popular temple. One flipside is non-Hindus are not allowed in. A celebrated case is of singer Yesudas being disallowed entry. He is a devotee but a Christian. He wasn't allowed in even to hold a musical concert in praise of Lord Krishna. There is often a long queue to get darshan. Apparently, if one paid Rs 100 or so "to agents", one could jump the queue.

Payment is not the issue; the underhand and unaccounted method of payment is. Tirupati temple has devised excellent innovative methods to obviate the problem of crowd and long queues. Probably Guruvayoor temple authorities should think on those lines.

Guess what is the building seen to the left. This is in Guruvayoor, and I was staying in a hotel opposite to this building. I wondered who must be living in such a house. Only when I looked carefully, I found it houses the post office.