Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pre-marital torture

When the alliance of a girl and a boy are getting finalised, what should normally be the mood?

Happiness. An eager anticipation of a great day when two families join to become one. A day that will see two young hearts merge in a sea of love.

What should the parents of the boy and the girl be looking forward to?

Towards the happy married life of the children; towards greater happiness of the boy and the girl; towards the building of a new family.

Unfortunately this is not the scene, at least in one case, that I am getting to know.

The girl and the boy -- who got to know each other after their parents looked for an alliance -- are well-educated, and well-employed in MNCs. They are bright, knowledgeable, wise enough and well-off financially to take care of themselves. Ever since the parents decided that they had indeed found the match for their child, the two -- the girl and the boy -- have been interacting and getting to each other.

The good news: The two are hitting off well. It's after some four or five years that an alliance had finally fallen in place for her. They are discovering each other's wavelengths, and feeling comfortable with each other. They are fast falling in love, if not already in love.

The bad news: The parents are squabbling over dowry. The claim of the boy's father is that he has spent a fortune to educate his son, and through the alliance the girl is benefiting from it. The price is Rs 4 lakh. The girl's parents can, with great difficulty manage now Rs 2 lakh, but have assured the groom's parents that the rest would be paid after marriage. It's not that the groom's parents don't believe the girl's parents, but they say if the money is given after the wedding, it would go to the girl; meaning, the parents of the boy won't get it.

What do the children feel about this? They have no say in this. The boy feels there is nothing to worry and such discussions do take place during the firming up an alliance. The girl is too taken in by the attention she is getting from the boy and the prospect of a happy married life, that all this is just like a bad dream for her, nothing more.

The boy and the girl have got too close now that they can't think of separating. For them, no options; only marriage; come what may.

I am getting to know of this only from the girl's side. She is being advised by her friends to tell her father not to commit anything that is impossible to keep. She is tense, but the hope of joining the guy is too overwhelming for any worry to take root. The boy should be told to prevail upon his parents against tormenting the girl's parents.

The way the groom's parents are looking at making money (or recovering the cost of educating their son) through the son's marriage, is too shocking.

What more should parents want than see their child / children happily settled in a good career and family?

Why don't the parents realise that the squabble for dowry vitiates the atmosphere and strains the relationship of their child with his/her partner?

How can the parents of the groom ever think of making a holy alliance like marriage a business proposition. And the look at the excuses they have to demand dowry!

Shouldn't the parents, instead of bargaining for dowry, help the children settle down happily and set up a home?

Why can't the boy step in? Why can't he put his foot down and tell his parents in clear terms that marriage is not an excuse to make money. Why can't the boy tell his parent: "You helped me get a girl. Thank you. Now leave the rest to us..." Few parents would go against their son's wishes.

Hope it's all resolved amicably...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Barack Obama's YES WE CAN victory speech in South Carolina

This is a great speech, worth listening to. Obviously Obama and his supporters are all fired up. Because he has got a huge morale boost ahead of the February 5 Super Tuesday, when most probably the lineup for Nov 8 should be clear.

In South Carolina, it must be remembered, the African-American voters make up make up almost half the electorate, and majority of them support him rather than Hillary.

Reports say S Carolina voting was polarised along colour, gender and age. It's funny that in the world’s greatest nation people can’t look beyond these physical attributes. Probably it’s because there'sn't anything else to choose, with both Obama and Hillary speaking pretty much the same thing.

Obama is, I guess, aware of this, and tries his best to dispel it, when he says in his speech, “So understand this, South Carolina. The choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders. It's not about rich versus poor, young versus old. And it is not about black versus white. This election is about the past versus the future. It's about whether we settle for the same divisions and distractions and drama that passes for politics today or whether we reach for a politics of common sense and innovation, a politics of shared sacrifice and shared prosperity."

Any way, the contest is in no way over.

Friday, January 25, 2008

NYT backs Hillary Clinton, John McCain

This is not something the media in India do -- openly backing a candidate in an election. The first two editorials in today's New York Times are about who the newspaper's editorial board thinks should be the Democratic and Republican candidates for the Nov 8 US Presidential election.

"As Democrats look ahead to the primaries in the biggest states on Feb. 5, The Times’s editorial board strongly recommends that they select Hillary Clinton as their nominee for the 2008 presidential election," the newspaper says. "The next president needs to start immediately on challenges that will require concrete solutions, resolve, and the ability to make government work. Mrs. Clinton is more qualified, right now, to be president."

The second edit on the Republican Party, the NYT says, "We have strong disagreements with all the Republicans running for president. The leading candidates have no plan for getting American troops out of Iraq. They are too wedded to discredited economic theories and unwilling even now to break with the legacy of President Bush."

Backing McCain it says, "Still, there is a choice to be made, and it is an easy one. Senator John McCain of Arizona is the only Republican who promises to end the George Bush style of governing from and on behalf of a small, angry fringe."

Opinionated media & blogs

This is quite a normal feature in the US. But in India, though the media might editorially endorse or criticise the stand taken by political parties on specific issues, they (particularly big media houses) rarely openly declare its backing for a particular candidate, that too in a parliamentary or assembly election.

I guess the highly opinionated feature of mass media in the US is an indication of the highly evolved state of its society that makes elaborate use of multimedia to access, process and disseminate information. The society is not only highly literate but also has the benefit of sophisticated technology.

There is an argument that blogs have flourished in the US mainly because of the "bias of the mainstream media". Probably. But in no way can blogs claim a "holier than thou" tag, since there is nothing to show that the blogs themselves aren't biased and they themselves don't have any agenda?

I feel the best indication of a well-evolved society is the diversity of opinions. To that extent blogs are only complementing in their own way the multiplicity of opinions in the society.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Citizen journalist reports from Iraq

Most bloggers write from the comforts of their home. Definitely there are not many are like Michael Yon who reports from Iraq.

"He went to Iraq believing that the mainstream news media were bungling the story, and he still often criticizes the media’s pessimism. But he has also praised particular reporters from major outlets, or defended the media in general, explaining how difficult and dangerous it is to cover the war." Read this NYT report. His webjournal is:

Monday, January 21, 2008

A few moments of panic

It was another afternoon yesterday as I walked briskly to the bus stop to take a bus to my office. No sooner I reached than a bus arrived. Afternoons being off-peak hour, buses are rarely crowded. But this had a few passengers standing; nevertheless I got in, for no one knows when the next bus will come.

The conductor was near the entrance giving tickets, so even before I'd got in fully -- I had one foot on the last step -- I reached for my back pocket to take the wallet. Just as pulled it out, it slipped from my hand and fell down; hitting the edge of the lowest step, it fell out on to the road.

The bus wasn't moving fast, and for a split second, I saw it lying on the road. But the bus wasn't moving slow either, so I couldn't jump out. For a moment I panicked, but I quickly told the conductor to stop the bus: "My purse fell out..." I told him. He blew the whistle, the bus slowed down and I hopped out. Quickly I turned back and ran with all my life. It must have been just about 100 meters from the bus stop.

I could see a boy picking up something and giving it to an elderly man. I ran faster. Panting, I looked at what the man had in his hand. It was something black, and I immediately recognised it was my wallet.

"Sir, my purse... "

"It's yours? What is your identity? I was planning to give it to the police..."

As I reeled out in quick succession my name, where I work, my designation etc etc, he opened the purse....

"O, you have so many credit cards...."

"No sir, I've only one credit card, one is my office identity card...."

Though I was upset about how people quickly jump into conclusions without ascertaining the truth; I was more bothered about getting that purse back from him. In fact, one was a credit card, one an ATM card, one a discount card from a bookstore; and one my office identity card. And, I had Rs 100 plus a few smaller notes.

"Okay.... " fully convinced he handed it back to me with a smile. "I'ven't taken anything, you can check..." he added for good measure.

With a smile I thanked him and God; and walked back to the bus-stop.

Once again (what a coincidence) just as I reached the bus stop, a bus came. This one, however, had very few passengers. I got into it, sat comfortably and heaved a sigh of relief.

Then I pondered over what had happened during the previous few minutes.

  • What if the conductor hadn't whistled the bus to stop immediately?
  • What if someone had already picked the purse and walked in the opposite direction?
  • What if that the old gentleman, instead of being good, had just put it in his pocket and asked me a counterquestion: "What purse?"

These are times when I feel I must count my small blessings.

I also pondered over this:

  • What if I had, as usual, put the ticket fare in my pocket, so I wouldn't have had to take the wallet in the bus? All this probably could have been avoided then...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lives that long for family support

Recently in Bangalore there was a very tragic incident. A youth, Ramesh, accidentally hit his car against the car of the former prime minister and local Janata Dal (S) politician, Deve Gowda. The accident happened in the morning, but by evening the young man, Ramesh, had committed suicide.

What actually led him to take his own life will remain a mystery, for he is no longer with us to tell the story. But from reports it looks like Ramesh had come under severe mental and emotional stress.

One, soon after the incident, Ramesh, was subjected to severe tongue-lashing by the politician's security guard. Two, Ramesh was asked by Gowda's supporters to cough up Rs 25,000. He managed to give Rs 10,000. Three, Ramesh's brothers and sisters severely reprimanded him for having invited trouble by having rammed his car, against the car -- of all people -- the former prime minster. "How can we now live in peace," they are said to have asked. (Report in The Times of India.)

What a tragedy for the family. The car can be repaired -- but a precious life has been needlessly lost. What's more distressing than the loss of life is the way it has been lost. If someone had to end his life after an accident like this, one can imagine the extent to which he must have been driven to.

Suicides aren't uncommon. There have been many reports by many organisation telling us how it's on the rise. More than actual suicides are the 'tendency for suicide' and 'contemplations of suicide'. And, these don't get reported unlike actual suicides.

Our society severely lacks support mechanism. Hardships and tensions are part of everyone's everyday life. What we need badly is a system to help people overcome this. And, the rising numbers of suicides is a clear indication of the lack of a support system.

While religious and spiritual teachings of both old-age epic characters and new-age gurus can definitely be made use of, I think, immediate family members are the ones who can best give a person emotional solace. Home, sweet home. Home is where one runs to when in trouble, and when the doors there too are shut where can one run to?

Of course, this is easier said than done. It's often the family that comes under the biggest strain. And, for the same reason, I must say, the responsibility on the family too is that much big.

One argument is that it's very natural for family members to break down, and probably even say something that's very hard to take, like: "you have brought shame to our family", "what is the use of living like this", "it's better to go and hang somewhere than leading a shameful life", etc.

But, today going by the intense stress and strain we all live under, it's the responsibility of each one of us, to make sure that in moments of stress and strain, we don't say or do something that only worsens the situation rather than improve it. Outbursts like the ones I mentioned earlier, may be natural, but are very negative and help no one in any way. If no positive move can be made, it's very important to make sure that at least no negative move is made.

It's words like the one's like I quoted above, that finally lead people to end their lives. They feel that even the last straw they can clutch on to in the world has been lost. They flounder and in an impulsive step go over the edge.

Instead of saying those hurting words, probably one can just be with him or her at those moments. Words of assurance, words that the world is not going to crash, words like: you are not alone, we are with you, don't worry, just be calm, there's nothing that can't be sorted out... etc can work wonders and actually give a new life to someone in distress. It is tough, I agree; but doing that tough act is such a small effort when one realises what has been achieved in the process.

So, next time you see someone close to you driven to a corner, distressed and shattered; please, don't make things worse for him by blaming and heaping abuses. Just lend a helping hand, so he can hold on to your hand. One doesn't know, may be, it's a life that you are saving. Even if not, at least you won't regret not having helped.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Will Tata's Nano dent Maruti's 800?

With much fanfare Ratan Tata unveiled his dream car Nano at the Auto Expo in New Delhi yesterday. He says he took up the project more as a challenge to a journalist's question whether he could provide a people's car? Any way, hats off to Tata for having kept the word and delivered what he promised in spite all the problems he had in his factory at Singur in West Bengal.

Undoubtedly, Nano is the cheapest car around. But how quickly would people junk their 2-wheelers and jump on to Nano is a question, especially in Indian cities.

Cities are getting crowded at an unprecedented pace. There's simply no place to park. You find lots of cars parked outside even residences. Even new shops and offices -- built well after we all realised that parking is a major problem -- aren't providing adequate place for visitors to park in basement or on the terrace. With the result people have no option to park on roadside and residential bylanes. No one -- neither the government nor the builders -- seem to be bothered about the need to provide parking place. In a city, 2-wheelers will continue to enjoy their distinct undeniable advantage: manoeuvrability.

I think, Tata's Nano has a great future in developed countries where smaller towns are better developed. In India, we still have no plans to develop smaller cities and towns; if at all there is a plan, nothing seems to be moving. All the focus is still on the few big cities crowding them further and further. If our smaller towns grow with infrastructure and investments, well one could definitely see lot many Nanos there.

Of course, there is the city middle class, who are looking at their first car. Well, Nano will definitely be an option for them. That's where Maruti has a real reason to worry about.

  • Homepage of Tata's People's Car - Nano
  • World's cheapest car goes on show - BBC
  • Why farmers opposed Tata project - Rediff

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Hillary, McCain make it a contest

Just a few hours back, I was ready to hear not just Hillary Clinton conceding New Hampshire, but even pulling out of the race in favour of Barack Obama. Over the past few days, she was looking so downcast, the feeling of resignation written all over her face. O, what an upset! It's good there is a contest out there, there's some excitement remaining. Even on the Republican side, thanks to John McCain. But where is Giuliani, who was supposed to be leading in the national polls? O, right, in NH, pollsters couldn't get even Hillary right, could they?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Harbhajan issue & Indian pride (or shame?)

The Sydney Test between India and Australia will be remembered for all the non-cricketing reasons -- not one but many. How quickly over five days it degenerated and plummeted to shameful levels.

Two main issues (whether related is debatable) which have made the Test controversial are:

1. Some Australian players said Harbhajan Singh called Andrew Symonds "a monkey".

2. The umpires -- Steve Bucknor from West Indies and Mark Benson from England -- made horrendous errors, most them by Bucknor, and most of them, going against India, costing India the match.

  • Photo above: Harbhajan Singh, right, and Australia's Andrew Symonds walk past each other on day four of the second test in Sydney, Australia on Jan. 5, 2008. Credit: AP Photo/Rob Griffith,Files on Yahoo News

  • The match scorecard - here on Cricinfo

  • India fume at Aussies and umpires - here on BBC
Do Indians dislike Blacks?

The debates on Indian TV channels through the controversy have been dominated by personal and derogatory remarks directed against Bucknor on the umpiring issue; and by jingoistic outbursts in support of Harbhajan. ("Indians can never be racist. The accusation has hurt our pride.")

The point largely missed is why should Harbhajan call a person like Symonds, who is of Caribbean origin, a monkey? By terming this 'racist', the Australians have sought to widen the meaning of the word 'racist' to include even a conflict between two non-white persons, or within such groups of people. Generally, racism is understood to be practised by the whites against the non-whites. Australia has tried to convey the point that not just whites, but even non-whites can be racist.

There is a background here. During Australia's recent tour to India, Symonds was subjected to "monkey chants" by an undisciplined crowd. This point has been forgotten in all the debates now. Since Indians behaved in such a manner, neither Harbhajan nor Indian team members have a moral high ground. Instead of proclaiming that an Indian would never say such a thing, our senior players, Harbhajan included, should have apologised if an impression had been created that Symonds was called a monkey. An impression of mistake is as bad as a mistake.

There is no proof of the monkey comment. It's one man's word against another's. In that context, the line India should have taken was: "We never said like that. Even if you heard something remotely resembling that m-word, we are sorry. We don't talk like that, we are friends, let's us get on with the game...." That should have been the approach, pre-empting Australians from going ahead with the complaint.

Let us be honest

Let us not pretend that we have no racism or casteism or we don't discriminate looking at the colour of the skin in India. Look at the number of parents rejecting matrimonial alliances merely because of the caste. Educated people are so conscious about caste, they go to the extent of judging others merely by their surnames. Less said about the villages (where real India lives) the better: people try to find out who cooked the food, who brought the water, etc. It's not just shameful, it's tragic.

Look at the lengths people -- especially women -- go to make themselves fair. Our movies and serials are replete with scenes that project the advantages of being fair. In the movie Shivaji, there is an entire sequence wherein Rajnikant goes about trying to become fair (by applying creams and shielding himself from sunlight) so that he is more appealing to a girl (reference here). And every day, we see how people are preferred just because of the colour of their skin.

The point here is to be realistic. We don't have a great image abroad when it comes to our own caste and religion tolerance record. Eventhough we claim ourselves to be a very peaceful country with a great heritage, there is nothing on the ground currently to prove that. As a country, it's a shameful fact that we are as much guilty of racism, in our own way, as much as the west. Let's accept that first, and then, try to correct that.

I am not for a second believing that Bhajji said the m-word. Our prestige and image would have only gone up manifold if we had reached across and sorted out the matter amicably. It's never too late to mend fences.
  • Read or listen to the discussion on BBC's World Have Your Say here.

  • Racist and blind to it: Indians face the miror - Read CNN-IBN Face the Nation here

  • India, Come Back - Read NDTV editorial here
Umpiring row

I am sure it's a coincidence: Steve Bucknor, who gave so many wrong decisions against India, is also from the Caribbean. I think he and Benson should have referred to the third umpire whenever there was a doubt. But, tragically, even third umpire failed. Even the best technology is good enough only if there are good enough humans to make use of it.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Obama, Huckabee off a great start

The excitement is on. The year-long process to elect a successor to George Bush has begun. Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee are off to a colourful start. (Read report) The race is a year long. So, there is no guarantee that one of these two will be the next President.

America has one of the most complicated process of electing its President -- arguably the most powerful person on earth. Whether one likes it or not, America, its politicians, policies, and society have a great influence on rest of the world. As the saying goes: If America sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold. It's a different matter if America realises this, and does something about it.

The election process
  • BBC has excellent details elaborating the complicated electoral process. Click here to know everything about it.
Here are some extracts:

Most states hold state-wide votes, called primaries, to determine their preferred candidates from the two main parties. Others use a slightly different procedure involving public meetings, called caucuses.

This is the process by which supporters of the Democratic or Republican parties, in each US state, say which candidate they would like to see representing their party in the November presidential election.

Each state gets to send a certain number of delegates to the parties' national conventions in August or September 2008. Bigger states have more delegates. During these national conventions each party's nominee is formally chosen.

The primaries and caucuses determine which candidate the delegates will vote for. Suppose, Obama has has got more votes than Hillary in Iowa. It means, more delegates, who have pledged support to Obama -- than who have pledged support to Hillary -- will be sent from that state, Iowa, to the Democratic party's national convention.

The candidate with the most delegates wins the nomination. Usually this becomes clear early on in the primary season. This year the winning candidates are expected to be known in February.

The Democrats will hold their convention in Colorado in late August. The Republicans will hold theirs in Minneapolis in early September. The presidential candidates will take part in TV debates on 26 September, and 7 and 15 October.

Voting takes place on November 8. Americans do not, technically, participate in a direct election of the president. It's the delegates / electors who actually select the president.

In almost every state, the winner of the popular vote -- on Nov 8 -- gets all the electoral college votes in that state, even if his or her majority is wafer thin. So it can happen that a candidate ends up with more electoral college votes than the rival candidate, and yet a smaller share, nationally, of the popular vote.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Pak should have a national government: Waris Shere

Recently I had the good fortune to meet a Canada-based academician -- Prof Waris Shere -- who is an expert on international affairs, which is one of my favourite subjects. We got talking on a number of global issues from the US to West Asia to Europe to Pakistan.

He says in the aftermath of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the best way forward for Pakistan would be the formation of a national government. “Under the present leadership, the future of Pakistan, which is undergoing a major crisis, looks bleak. A national unity government, comprising all major parties, would help the nation find a way out of the difficult situation it finds itself in.” he said.
“There is an urgent need for dialogue, especially in the light of the current situation in Pakistan,” Shere, who had discussed global peace issues with Bhutto during her visit to Canada in mid-90s, said. “A stable and progressive Pakistan would be in the best interests of India.”
Referring to the debate on opening a communication channel with the Taleban, Shere who is currently on a visit to Bangalore said, “Yes, talk to them. That’s the only way out. Violence wouldn’t lead us anywhere.” He suggested that the US should adopt a carrot-and-stick policy in Afghanistan and bolster the moderates in a bid to win over the extremists.
He quoted the example of former US President Ronald Reagan, who invited the then Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to a dialogue only weeks after terming the Soviet Union an evil empire. “Today, there is no option but to start a dialogue with the enemies. Look at Libya; it was a terrorist state, it abjured violence and joined the mainstream,” he said.
Shere said the US should recognise the position of Iran in the region and open talks with a view to creating a framework to regulate Iran’s influence, displaying a willingness to coexist with Iran while limiting its excesses. He said the US must not only ensure consistency in foreign policy but plan it on a long-term, rather than focus on immediate gains. In matters like human rights and political freedom, it has different yardsticks for different nations, said Shere, who has authored seven books and over 40 articles.
“Today, terrorism is the new international anarchy. Yet the overall picture, while of concern, is by no means bleak. It must be dealt with by new agreements and meaningful dialogue. Peaceful change requires systematic diplomatic effort with friends and foes alike. Global leadership must be accompanied by social consciousness, and a readiness to compromise,” Shere says in his latest book, ‘The Struggle For Peace’, an anthology.
It has contributions from a number of international political figures and academicians, like former UK PM Tony Blair, former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former US national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, president of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Hass and member of the Harvard Department of Government Samuel Huntington. Most of the authors in the anthology agree that today there is a high level of inter-cultural interactions that is in turn intensifying inter-cultural awareness.
Shere believes that India was lucky to have leaders like leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. “Though India and Pakistan were born together, look at how Pakistan is today. That’s because there was complete political vacuum there when it won independence, unlike in India. Nehru banked on democracy even though at that time India was very poor. He could have easily been a dictator. Even while recognising all the shortcomings of the newborn nation, he firmly decided that democracy was the path for India. He stands vindicated today,” Shere said.
(Published in The Times of India, Bangalore, on December 29, 2007)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Lunch at MTR on New Year Day

Yesterday a few of us, office colleagues, got together for lunch at the famous restaurant -- MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Rooms) -- near Urvashi theatre on Lalbagh road. It's an experience to dine there. It's impossible to get a seat, unless one reserves well in advance. Needless to say, we'd booked our seats. Yet, we'd to wait for about 15 minutes, along with at least 25 others.

It's like a traditional feast. Items, at least 15, are served one by one; it's so filling, it's impossible to complete the whole course. You wonder why people are willing to queue up for so long, when you get good food elsewhere. The ambiance is in no way glitzy 5-star. It's ordinary; the interiors like that of a middle class traditional house.

One reason for the crowd could be the yummy food. The other could be simple homely ambiance. The third could be a result of these two: an addictive urge to have a filling, satisfying meal at MTR. If you are in Bangalore you must check out MTR: for, as they say, the proof the pudding is in the eating.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year...

It's New Year... It's time to look ahead with hope...

May 2008 bring in lot of joy, success and peace, to you, and all those near and dear to you.