Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sanjay Dutt jailed

This is one celebrity verdict the nation wouldn't forget so fast.

The arrest, 14-year trial and coviction in the 1993 Mumbai blast case has been a humiliation and a punishment for Sanjay Dutt. A mistake is a mistake. The smallness or bigness of it is relative, subjective.

There is a lesson here that shouldn't be missed: It'sn't worth getting on the wrong side of law, not even for some time. The law will catch up sooner or later. That it hasn't caught up with some (many criminals) is no justification that it shouldn't catch up with the others.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman dead

A glorious period in world cinema has ended. Though in his 80s, he continued to cast a spell with his directorial genius. A few years back he was in news for the hugely successful teleserial Saraband.

His movies are a must-see for mass communication students in general and film students in particular. Not without reason: his ability to convey with huge impact deep emotions was extraordinary. His movies are a permanent fixture in most film festivals.

Three Oscars out of 9 nominations; over 40 directorial ventures in a career spanning over 60 years is no mean achievement.

One reason I like Bergman movies is because many of them have the common theme of human relationships. Aspirations have a way of bonding lives. The twists and turns these lives endure play their own angelic or deathly roles.

Bergman movies have intense impacts. Through a glass darkly, for example, is a haunting medical movie.

Bergman is not around, but his movies will live on forever.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Madam President, be a Kalam in your own way

A P J Abdul Kalam takes a walk at the Mughal Garden at the Presidential Palace premises on the eve of his demitting office in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, July 24, 2007. -- AP Photo/Saurabh Das (Source)

Corridors of power don't inspire anyone; but the elevation of a rocket scientist -- Abdul Kalam -- to the position of India's Head of State in 2002 was an exception. The question on everyone's lips then was: isn't he a misfit? But the majority public opinion was people like Kalam must enter public administration and infuse the much-needed brain power.

Kalam's hairstyle; his sprightly gait, his pedagogical articulation; the true patriotism he espoused; his intellectual vision; his bountiful affection towards and encouragement of children -- no person brought to the Rashtrapti Bhavan in the recent past. I don't think we had such a President since Dr S Radhakrishnan. We had a President who became a youth icon, who inspired the nation's working class, intellectuals and students alike.

India's Constitution doesn't envisage any constructive role for the President. He is a counsellor for the government and the lawmakers, and for the nation at large. And, it's a role that Dr Abdul Kalam played remarkably well. But, how much of his counsel and suggestions have been taken in the right spirit and practised is, sadly, a moot point.

As Kalam stepped out of the Rashtrapati Bhavan today, he must have surely carried with him a definitive pride and conviction that he conducted himself as the Head of State with elan, grace and poise, that more than anything inspired and ignited a million minds in India. All our admiration for this gem of a man will mean just a cypher if we do not imbibe and assimilate in our consciousness and practise the tenets he believed in and worked for.

Thank you, Dr Abdul Kalam! You will be remembered by generations to come!

New Indian President Pratibha Patil waves after inspecting a ceremonial Guard of Honor at the Presidential Palace, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday July 25, 2007. Patil, 72, was sworn in Wednesday. -- AP Photo (Source)

The excitement this day evoked five years back was evidently missing today. Then, reams and reams of paper were published and many hours of airtime spent on eulogising the achievements of Dr Kalam. But none in the case of Patil today. Not without reason.Kalam has set a tall order for his successor Pratibha Patil to emulate. Let us be fair to the new President. Let us wait and see if she has some surprise up her sleeve. After all, she has a rich legacy to live up to.

At the same time, let us not be overawed by the tokenism of "the first woman President of India". It means nothing. We have had for decades women occupying positions of power, no less than that of the Prime Minister -- Indira Gandhi became India's first woman Prime Minister in 1966. Women in India have risen to stellar positions. But that has in no way reflected on the position of the ordinary woman or that of a girl. Reasons are many and they have been endlessly debated. Surely we can discuss again.

Since Pratibha Patil will be remembered, if not for anything, for being the India's first woman President, she has one clear agenda before her. She must use the influence of her high-power office -- not to bring in more laws in favour of women but -- to radically change the way our society looks at women, which no law can bring about.

Just as Kalam taught many of us to dream and aim for lofty goals, Patil can lead the society in extending a helping hand to countless deprived and harassed girls and women -- mainly in villages and small towns -- so that they can step out into a progressive world. Hopefully she will -- not just raise her voice but -- act against the persecution of women -- in cities, in towns and in villages -- merely because of her sex. Let us hope she will be a Kalam in your own way!Low expectations can sometimes be a boon. Hopefully, it is so in the case of President Pratibha Devisingh Patil.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Cricket in China

Guess what Rashid Khan.1, the former Pakistan cricket allrounder, has been doing. He has been coaching a cricket team, of all places, in China! That he should be effusive about the talent he is grooming is only natural. But what must not be missed here is the possibility of the emergence of China as an ICC-recognised cricket team.

"Realistically speaking China is a viable commercial growth market (for cricket)... in the next 10 years," Reuters quotes Khan as saying. "The ICC sees China as a key country for the growth of cricket. Its delegates frequently visit China and are assisting the Chinese Cricket Association in establishing more facilities," says the report.2

Sports is big money, and cricket is no exception. Why China's entry is striking is because the so-called Communist nation has seen money in this game..3

Cricket in China is not new: the first recorded match was in 1858. Communist Revolution of 1949 eclipsed the game until Deng Xiaoping opened up the state to the world in 1970s. And by late 1990s, six-a-side international matches were being organised, with representations from Australia..4

One needs to admire China's resoluteness to achieve a goal: and given that attribute, it shouldn't be a surprise if we see a Chinese team playing a Test match or One-day international before long.

The BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) is among the richest sports organisations in the world. But how much of that is translating into developing cricket across the country?

Today, the Indian team had to thank rain for saving it from a defeat in the Lord's Test match..5

Source links:

1. Cricinfo
2. Reuters, July 23, 2007
3. China's Cracking Cricket, Forbes, March 10, 2005
4. Ibid
5. England frustrated, July 23, 2007

Friday, July 20, 2007

Malaysia tour diary - I

I had the good fortune to be in Malaysia for a week from June 10 to 17. I took down plenty of notes and just clicked away. I shall put up here a series of diary jottings. So keep coming back. If you want to read them all together, click on the label "Malaysia". Here is the first part:

No litter, no horn

There is a strange calmness to the bustle of Malaysia’s cities and towns. Kuala Lumpur is crowded with high-rises, flyovers, people and vehicles. Even in that crowd cars move at 50 to 60 kmph. One reason for the jam-free movement seems to be good roads that are silken smooth with well-demarcated lanes. No garbage or litter on the streets. On public vehicles there is a message: “Please do not litter outside this vehicle.”

Drivers are patient. No one is in a hurry to break through the traffic. Never can one hear a honk. If at all a driver does, it is a sign of rebuke. This quietness, it is said, has come about in the last 10 to 15 years after some sustained campaign.

One incident tells it all. A person just after alighting from his car was talking to a friend without realizing that he was blocking the path for an oncoming car. The driver, instead of honking, waited for the man to finish the conversation. Meanwhile, the ‘offender’ noticed the waiting car. Realizing he was blocking the way, he sheepishly moved away apologising to the driver!

The photos on the top and below are of downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Romanisation of script

Imagine, being able to read Malaysia’s official language before having spent even a few minutes there! It is as easy as English, because the scripts are the same. The official language is Bahasa Malaysia, written in the Roman (Latin) script, called Rumi. The old Arabic script Jawi has been pushed into extinction. Malaysia being a multicultural society, the Latinised script is playing a unifying role. Besides, for the local people, learning English is so much easier since the script is the same. There are plenty of borrowed words: buku, dunia, guru, jawab, roti

Tinsel delight

“O, you are from the land of Bollywood! How is Abhishek and Aishwarya!” The exclamation from a Chinese restaurant owner in Kuala Lumpur was a surprise. Soon, one got to know that it’s hard to find anyone in Malaysia who doesn’t know something about our movie stars. And it looked as if the entire nation was following that celebrity wedding to the minute detail. There seemed to be a good following for Shah Rukh Khan songs. “I have been trying to learn the words of some of them,” said my tour guide.

(To be continued)
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Friday, July 13, 2007

Gurudakshina Tower project

This in continuation of my postings on July 7 (Guruvandanam) and on July 6 (Going back in time).

Here are some photos of the project at different stages:

A 2005 photo of the incomplete 'clock tower'. The 1982 Batch of the School volunteered to take up clock tower project as a token of gratitude to the alma mater that has played a major role in the lives of each of us, students.

The work in progress in mid-May 2007

The completed clock tower with the Stupa of Remembrance in the foreground, on July 7, 2007.

A dream come true for the school and more importantly for the students of my batch which undertook the project. The tower was named "Gurudakshina Tower" and it was dedicated to school on 07-07-07.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Fever scare in Kerala

People are dying in Kerala due to fever. Unimaginable, but true. Over 250 people have died in the last 3 months. Everyday on an average of 5 to 10 people are dying due to fever. Now, it is not just fever; the patients are reporting rashes and wounds as well, according to Malayala Manorama.

It is believed that this is a disease called chikungunya, caused by a virus spread by mosquitoes. This is not the first time Kerala is in the grip of fever. In the last three years it was rat fever and Japanese Encephalitis.

I don't think any state has ever called in the Army's medical personnel to help fight fever. Reactions like "this is just a media creation" don't help. The threat is real. During my recent Kerala visit, I found six people whom I know down with chikungunya. Two of my relatives in Bangalore have now decided to postpone their visit to Kerala because of the epidemic.

This is worrying because Kerala is known for its clean environment and high health standards. Public health indices are commendable. People are highly educated and well-informed. Even the remote villages have public health centres. People have good access to doctors and medicines. Basic infrastracture in smaller towns and villages is much better than in any state in the country.

People say the fever started off in areas where there are thick rubber plantations. The workers who scrape the trees as part of the process to obtain 'rubber milk' do not dispose the water used or leave them stagnant in nearby areas. I am told it's an ideal place for mosquitoes to breed. And when rain comes, there are puddles of water all around for the mosquitoes to multiply in infinite proportions and thereby for the virus the spread.

This is by no means a scientifically validated cause for the epidemic. But such instances are being pointed out to drive home the point that people, inspite of the perceived high levels of awareness, bother little to ensure cleanliness of the environment.

Many are cynical. Instead of approaching this issue scientifically some say it is a wholly exaggerated scenario; a few others say it is part of a terror plot. Instead of taking preventive measures some are busy recalling how they saw mysterious planes flying low, which they say were dropping "strange powders".

Expecting others, including the government, to clean the environment is one thing. But primarily the citizens have to be much more cautious and take steps to keep the surroundings clean. Indeed the state has to undertake an extensive cleansing drive. Also, the scientific community has to take this up and find a way out to get around the problem.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


The clock up the tower struck 5 in the evening. A round of applause filled the air. The sense of accomplishment was real. This was the way we -- the 1982 batch of Sainik School, Kazhakootam -- said THANK YOU to our beloved teachers. The clock tower is called 'Gurudakshina Tower'.

When the school was built, the clock tower was very much planned. During these 40 years it remained incomplete as many other infrastructural priorities vied for and won attention. When our turn came to sponsor old boys day, this year, we decided to complete the tower and fulfil a long-cherished dream of the school.

It wasn't easy: the logistics and finances especially. First using the power of the internet 'missing' classmates were located, a group formed, and from then on there was no looking back. The project is being described as not just what alumni can do for the school but what committed team work can achieve.

We're grateful to our teachers who graced the occasion today and blessed us.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Going back in time

It was a glorious day of recognising faces and recalling names. Some of us were meeting each other after a good 25 years. Loud exclamations and gasps of joy of finding the childhood buddy rent the air at Hotel Uday Samudra, Kovalam. One could only see handshakes and hugs.

This was in the runup to Saturday's Old Boys' Day of Sainik School, Kazhakootam, Kerala. It's 25 years since we passed out of the portals of this great institution. And we are organising this 38th alumni meet. Imagine the first meet was in 1969, no networking sites then; just inland letters and postcards. Such is the bonding my school provides.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Airavath comfort

Any service by government is presumed bad compared to private organisations. But there are so many exceptions that one wonders if those assumptions hold good.

Welcome to Airavath, air conditioned semisleeper Volvo bus of Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation. As I head for Thiruvananthapuram (to attend the alumni meet of the Sainik School, Kazhakootam) in an Airavath, I can say comfort level here is as good as if not better than in some private buses.

Bus looks majestic, bathed in spotless white with a dash of light red thrown in with restraint.

Inside it's cool comfort. The conductor welcomes passengers, gives them mineral water and freshening wet tissues specially packaged for KSRTC.

The luggage racks overhead are sufficiently broad, ambience inside soothingly dim, enough leg space for passengers. At the back of each seat is a copy of Travellers Choice, the house journal of KSRTC.

This isn't to imply you won't find such private buses. Government buses aren't bad.

Had dinner at Kuruparapalli. Movie Khiladi is playing ...

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Smoking ban in UK

In pubs and restaurants across Britain, from today, July 1, if someone wants to have a smoke, they will have to go out into the open space. No smoking in indoor public places. A similar ban has come into force in Australia's New South Wales and Victoria states.

Whether such bans have any direct effect on smoking is debatable. My belief is that if at all there is, it's minimal. It can at the most temporarily dissuade hardcore smokers from lighting up. For the casual smokers it will just be one more place not to light up when they already have enough alternative places to smoke.

A complete ban on smoking in pubs or restaurants is wrong. Smoking habit can't be kicked just like that. Many smoke not because they want to; they do out of habit. A ban only makes people to look for other places where they can smoke.

Sustained educational campaign is the best way out.

Instead of a complete ban, pubs and restaurants which allowed smoking should be allowed to have a room where customers can smoke. In this room, there should be messages on the need to cut the habit.

Allowing people to smoke outside is not a good idea either. Probably they can if there is no "smoking room". Ideally, smoking in public (open) places should be banned; because, it's logical not to allow in public something that is undesirable.

Instead, places like airports, railway stations, restaurants, cinemas, pubs, clubs, town halls, etc should have a closed (but well-ventilated) segregated rooms for smokers to light up. Such rooms should have anti-smoking messages. Besides, there should be sustained campaigning on the dangers of smoking.

This is more logical and democratic approach to stop people from smoking. Complete bans aren't the solution.

-- Discussion on this subject on Guardian blog: click here. There is an interesting post there on the first impressions of the ban. Keith Taylor says:

"First impressions? Not so bad. I've visited a few places with smoking bans in the past, and I've learned that most people are remarkably adaptable - we'll live. Yes, we'll probably all come to see this as normal. However, that is no defence of the ban. Adaptability is a fine thing, but the simple fact that we can eventually get used to something rotten is no proof that it's right..."