Thursday, August 23, 2007

Destiny or Coincidence?

It is believed among the Hindus that the Himalayas are the abode of the Gods. In fact, Mount Kailash is believed to be the mythological Kailasa where Lord Shiva resides. Accordingly, the Hindus also believe that these mountains are the resting place for the spirits of their dead ancestors. The Hindu association with the mysticism of the Himalayas doesn’t stop at that. It is also believed that one cannot go to the Himalayas until their destined time.
Of course, a pragmatist would dismiss these beliefs as just mumbo-jumbo.

And I set out to do the same as well, when some of us friends went on a Himalayan trek a few months ago. We planned to start our trek from Solang, and go all the way to the Beas Kund, the source of the Beas River, where, as the legend goes, the great Hindu sage Veda Vyas (also known as Beas) wrote the epic Mahabharata. What followed, however, was a series of events that seemed to warn us to not proceed on our expedition. Call it coincidences, or omens. But they did occur.

The first incident happened a day before we were scheduled to start our trek. Right next to our hotel in Solang valley, a new house had been constructed and the house warming rituals were being performed. At about 9PM in the night, 3 of us were sitting on the hotel lawns and observing the rituals in the adjacent house. The Himachali ceremony included a “Spirit Invoking” ritual where a big, burly man in traditional Himachali attire and long, unkempt hair had offered his body for invoking the spirit. We watched the big man gradually become possessed and get into a trance, followed by the customary goat sacrifice. As the possessed man circled the house to ward off the evil spirits from all directions, he suddenly looked up and saw us at a distance. Immediately, he started screaming at us, and began to run in our direction. Although we were initially dismissive of his reaction, when he came almost within striking distance of us, our instincts led us to run and lock ourselves in our room. As much as we hate to admit it, we were all scared. It took us by surprise, and we simply couldn’t understand why the spirit chose to target only us, and not anyone else around.

After calming our nerves, we finally got back to our partying. However, the coincidences just didn’t seem to end. As soon as I raised my scotch glass for a toast, the glass broke in my hand without any provocation. As per Indian traditions, breaking of glass or mirror is considered a bad omen.

Despite knowing that these could be warnings, we didn’t let it deter us from our trek the next day. After braving the sudden rain on our trek up, we finally reached our overnight camping site. Even as we slept after a tiring day in the cold, several of us could hear weird sounds of things moving outside our tents.

The next morning, when we were about to start again on our journey to the Beas Kund, Rach suddenly started feeling dizzy, and had a stinging pain in her stomach. Again, it seemed as if we were being warned not to proceed further. However, Rach decided to brave the pain and continue the climb. After an hour, Rach finally had to give in when she couldn’t continue anymore. After convincing the others to continue, the two of us returned to the base camp. The return journey was also not uneventful. We lost our way a bit, and ended up climbing a real steep hill before realizing that we were on the wrong trail. Surprisingly though, Rach had fully recovered from her illness by the time we reached the foothills.

Finally, when we managed to reach the road and hitch-hike a ride to the town, the local guide who helped us find our way back mentioned that the mountains are guarded by holy spirits, and that the spirits will not allow anyone up the hills unless they are destined to.

In our case, it turned out that we were not. Destiny or coincidence, the fact remains that we encountered a series of obstacles on our way to the Himalayas, and finally, we had to give up. To fight another day*.

Although one can still dismiss this episode as just a series of coincidences, the suddenness and the frequency of these incidents have baffled me. As a pragmatist, I don’t completely subscribe to the concept of destiny yet, but a few more such episodes and I could be convinced to cross-over.

* I might have been turned away this time, but I still harbor hopes of someday scaling the sacred Mt. Kailash and the mystic Manas Sarovar.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

India Ahead - The Roadmap for the next 60 years

Continuing with the Independence Day fervor, my good friend Maverick has an interesting list of things that will make India an icon in the next 60 years. Click here to read the article. While I agree on all of those, I also have a few other points that I think are equally, if not more, important in curing India of its ills.

1. Ban Caste/Religion based politics and policy making

This has been the bane of our system ever since independence. The country has not been able to overcome the strong caste/religion divide, and politicians, in their vote-bank appeasement policies, have exploited this to the hilt. Minority appeasement, for example, has reached such sick proportions that one wonders if it is a crime to be born in the majority community. Further, the lack of a uniform civil code has reduced our secular credentials to a farce. The so-called intelligentsia has always turned a blind eye to such critical issues as these, but pounces upon irrelevant issues to garner press and mileage rather than for any genuine concern for the nation.

2. Mandate based politics, and a move-away from nepotism and dynastic rule

For years, we have been ruled by dynastic leaders who, despite not having done anything to prove their mettle, are allowed to “inherit” power. In a democratic set-up, this is not just an insult to the system, but also a reflection of the lack of political awareness among the voting public. Although we are no longer a kingdom, we still have several fiefdoms thriving in our system. Unless, politics is fought based on progress-oriented mandates, along with a certain minimum accountability to this mandate, India will continue to degenerate in the hands of nepotism and corruption.

3. An honest attempt to weed out corruption

Corruption in public life is no longer scorned at anymore in India because we have grown so used to it. The public has now resigned to the fact that every politician is corrupt and ends up amassing huge wealth for himself/herself. The only expectation from these politicians is that, amidst their personal wealth-amassing spree, they should also ensure some minimum development for the constituencies that they represent. It is sad to see how our expectations of morality and ethics from our leaders have deteriorated. It is sadder to see that our leaders do not meet even these low expectations. In order for a better country, an honest attempt has to be made to eliminate corruption. Corrupt officers and politicians should be punished so severely that it should set an example for others. Yes, it might seem cruel and draw a lot of criticism from our intelligentsia but in the interest of the country, some compromises have to be made. Further, our education system needs to be revamped to instill the right moral and ethical values in our future generations to ensure that our future leaders are governed by a strong sense of ethics.

4. Revamp the Education System in the country

This might seem trivial and out of context, but a country which has such low standards of morality and ethics should start rebuilding from the roots. As a rule, the NCERT has been told not to depict the medieval periods of Indian history as a period of conflict between Hindus and Muslims. Further, the directive also mandates that our history books depict all our leaders/politicians as honest and noble people. In the process, our education system completely defaces our history. And it is a proven fact that nations learn from their history. Evidence of this is in the fact that Germany mandates that its Nazi history must be taught to all its students so that they know about the mistakes that were committed in the past. As a result, future generations can learn from their past, and also develop a sense of moral and ethical righteousness. Unfortunately, our education system has been built on denial, and as a result, our kids are denied the precious opportunity of learning from our past mistakes. A total revamp of the History textbooks is required, and for a change, let the communists and pseudo-secularists not write it this time around.

5. Check the Population menace

As a country, we do not have unlimited resources, and therefore, scarcity is an inevitable truth. The only way to ensure we optimally utilize the scarce resources available is by checking our population growth, both organic and inorganic. Organic growth should be controlled by a combination of education and incentive/disincentive based policies. Education on birth-control and the need for it is critical. The disincentive based population control policies have not been very successful the world over, but China has been fairly successful, and therefore, India should look at some similar policy to curb the population growth. But the key here is that a disincentive based policy will fall flat on its face if it is not complimented by a strong emphasis on education. Inorganic population growth in India is largely due to the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, Nepal, Tibet etc. A citizen identification number/ social security number system may have to be introduced in India to enable tracing and identifying illegal immigrants.

6. Social Security System

A social security system should be introduced in India to administer state-sponsored welfare benefits. Currently, we read about millions of rupees sanctioned as welfare for victims of floods etc, but it is common knowledge that very little of it actually reaches the victims. This is because there is no traceability of these funds to the victims. A SSN system should alleviate these problems. In addition, this will also help in a gradual elimination of the reservation system that is so rampantly abused in India. To move away from a caste-based reservation to an economic status based reservation system, the SSN system would be ideal to trace and administer the benefits to the economically poor sections. Of course, the implementation of such a system would, in itself, pose a huge challenge.

Most of these points might seem far-fetched in the current times, but these are surely achievable over a 60 year window. After all, how many people in 1947 would have believed that impoverished, Socialist India would become the capitalist, market-driven, billionaire-studded India in 2007?

Change, however improbable it might seem now, will happen. After all, change is the only constant!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ten Things that make me see “RED”

As Independent India is about to turn 60, here is a list of 10 things about our country that I absolutely hate, and desperately wish I could change.

10. People who make an appointment, and then forget about it (Some of us are lousy about our punctuality and professionalism).
9. The Bangalore Auto-rickshaw drivers (everything about them makes me see red)
8. People who park their vehicles in front of garages/street corners/congested lanes with no regard to the inconvenience caused to others.
7. People who argue without even attempting to use their brains.
6. The Right Wing Politicians who forget their basic ideology, and put "Jai Maharashtra" above "Jai Hind".
5. The Congress leaders who claim to love their mothers, and yet, at the slightest opportunity, sell their motherland.
4. Communists who live in India and worship China.
3. The ignorant Islamic Fundamentalists, the ones that are taught in the Madarasas that killing non-believers is their path to salvation.
2. The educated Islamic Fundamentalists, the ones that become Doctors and Engineers in our society, and yet behave like barbarians for their blind faith
1. Islamic Modernists like Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi who hijack Prime Time television to complain of “Hindu Fundamentalism” when pro-hindu activists raise a voice against MF Hussain painting Hindu Gods in the nude, but conveniently prefer answering Karan Johar’s irrelevant questions when Muslim Fundamentalists openly attack Taslima Nasreen for exercising her freedom of expression, and even issue a Fatwa against her.

After giving it a lot of thought, I resign to the fact that none of these will change in my lifetime. And maybe my future generations will see not only "RED" but also a lot of "GREEN", thanks to our two friendly neighbours. And so I go back to seeking solace in the cliched "Mera Bharat Mahan".

Somethings about us are simply impossible to change. Nevertheless, "Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani".

Get Off "The Wall"

The Crumbling Wall, The Gaping Hole in the Wall, the Sycophant, Traitor, Toy-Captain, BCCI agent – These are all the names that are being used to describe Rahul Dravid in recent times. You can find these and many more abusive nicknames for Rahul on the Rediff forums where people, especially those hailing from the eastern corner of the country, take it upon themselves to blame Rahul for everything wrong about Indian cricket, and sometimes, about everything wrong about everything in the world.

As an ardent admirer of Rahul Dravid, both for his cricketing talent and his unerring composure and decency, it is appalling to read those abusive comments about our captain. But in a country where each and every one of the one billion plus population thinks he/she is then only authority on Indian cricket, it becomes impossible to please everyone. And just as true is the fact that it is the unhappy lot that makes the most noise, and therefore, it is this abusive section of our cricket fans that make their presence felt everywhere.

It is alleged that Rahul stabbed Saurav in the back by siding with Greg Chappell when Saurav was, not undeservingly, dropped from the team. Our Eastern countrymen very articulately remind the readers that it was Saurav who brought Rahul into the ODI team by making him the wicket-keeper during the 2002-2003 period. In return, they expected Rahul to also have backed Saurav during his time of crisis. When Rahul did not, all hell broke loose. Note that the words “all hell” and “Bengal” can be used interchangeably in this context.

However, these same people seem to forget that Saurav couldn’t have been half as good a skipper if he didn’t have the services of Rahul Dravid. Luckily for Saurav, his captaincy coincided with the best year of some of the stalwarts of the Indian team such as Sachin, Rahul and Laxman. Remember that epic series win over Australia in India, and then the drawn series away to Aussies? Take Rahul’s contribution out, and both those series would have been disastrous. It’s a pity that the same people who revered “The Wall” during Ganguly’s time at the helm have turned so completely against him just because he continued to play well while Saurav lost his form.

Rahul is also solely blamed for the bad performances of the rest of the team, and his ability to motivate players into performing are compared unfavorably to Saurav’s. Frankly, this is Professional International Cricket we are talking about, and not some “gully” cricket that a captain has to motivate and inspire the players to go out there and perform. If Sachin has aged and lost his reflexes, is Dravid to blame?

When Greg Chappell decided to expose Saurav’s “unprofessional behavior” to the BCCI, some people expected Rahul to intervene in Saurav’s support. But Rahul, typical to his character, didn’t. This is where the difference in the personalities of Rahul and Saurav need to be highlighted. Saurav was the proverbial “Maharaja”, a rebel who would make his own rules if he felt the existing ones were not right. Rahul, on the other hand, was the conventional middle-class youth who always played by the rules, and respected authority. Expectedly, Rahul decided not to intervene in the board’s decisions, especially when he knew, just like most non-fanatics, that Saurav’s performances had been abysmal for the past couple of years. Unfortunately, our Bengali brothers do not seem to be able to forgive him for that, and therefore, continue to lambaste Rahul whenever India loses. Interestingly, Rahul gets the blame not only if India plays bad, but also if Saurav plays well. It’s almost a case of “Guilty till proven innocent”.

Personally, I do think Saurav was a better captain than Rahul or Sachin, but his personal form had declined to a point where he was a liability to the team. And it is for this reason that Saurav deserved to be dropped from the team. Now that he is back and also performing decently, there is no reason for anyone to continue harboring ill-feelings towards Rahul for taking over the captaincy from Saurav. The fact remains that the period from 2000 to 2003 was the best period of Indian cricket because all the players were at their peak, and the current team is still some way off that mark. But to blame any one player for that is not just unfair, but plain stupid.

And as a closing shot to all those Ganguly fans who claim that Rahul owes Saurav his career, I think, on the contrary, Saurav owes Rahul all his successes as a captain. And in that same vein, I think it is time now for Saurav to repay the favor by actually starting to help India win some matches under Rahul Dravid.

After all, even “The Wall” could use some reinforcements.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Himesh ka Surroor

Ooooooooh Ooooooh………

If you have lived in India during the last couple of years, you’d recognize that nasal humming instantly. The capped-crusader has been everywhere since early 2005 when Aashiq Banaya Aapne (ABA) was released. That was the first appearance of Himesh, the star.

For those of you who were following Zee’s Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2005, you’d know the startling image makeover in Himesh before and after ABA. The shoddy wig gave way to a hep cap. The dumb gujju look had been smartly replaced with a grunge stubble look. The soft, shy Himesh had metamorphosised into an aggressive, confident, vociferous personality. HR had arrived!

Since then, he has gone from strength to strength, churning innumerable hits, as a composer and as a singer. The nasal twang in his voice is very pronounced, but the masses simply loved it, and lapped it up with open arms. The so-called connoisseurs of classic music dismissed HR’s singing as cacophony, and sniggered at his success. But that didn’t deter HR who continued playing to the galleries, and in the process, even notched up a Filmfare Award for best male singer, much to the chagrin of the Bollywood elite.

With so much success, HR had to change, and his arrogance and overtly melodramatic outbursts on the new SRGMP series is rather irritating. Especially when he berates a Pakistani Sufi singer in his Gharana for trying to sing other genres, and screams at the top of his voice “Mujhe tumhare ghar mein roti chahiye”. If that isn’t proof enough of success having gone to his head, he boosts his ego further by carefully promoting his “mystery man” image, that “HR never smiles because of some mysterious reason”, and “HR always wears the cap because of some deeply shrouded secret” etc.

When the suspense and the hype reach proverbial proportions, the egomaniac in HR decides to encash on it by actually making a movie “loosely based on his life”. And yes, he stars in it, composes music, and croons too. What else? And the cap doesn’t come off, contrary to the pre-release hype that HR’s publicity team created about “Watch the movie to find out why HR always has his cap on”.

And so “Aap Ka Surroor- The Moviie. The real luv story” releases to a packed audience. Within a couple of days, all the trade pundits unanimously declare HR’s debut to be a massive hit. The music had already been declared a chart-buster anyways. In short, for HR, the dream just doesn’t seem to end.

The Bollywood hotshots continue to snigger, and bitch about HR’s success as a flash in the pan. They even liken him to Altaf Raja who, a decade ago, churned out one of the biggest hits in Indian music with the interestingly worded “Tum to Tehre Pardesi” and created a rage among the masses only to disappear in a couple of years. The critics simply panned the movie, and dismissed it as trash. In fact, it became fashionable among the sophisticated elite to actually catch a scene from “that ghastly HR movie” and talk about the nightmares that followed since.

With every intention to shred the movie to pieces, and with a deep desire to finally be accepted among the elite, I embarked on the torturous mission of watching “Aap ka Surroor” last weekend. As I waited for those ghastly scenes to haunt me, I realized I actually started liking the movie. HR is not a great actor by any stretch of imagination. But he has done such a fabulous job in creating and nurturing his brooding, eccentric, arrogant, egotistic image that when he does the same act on screen, you don’t find it unnatural anymore. In that sense, HR was definitely decent. The movie had some great locales and the music was very good. All his songs anyway grow on you after you’ve heard them a few times. There are some pretty faces thrown in, and the movie is really slick at just over 2 hours. In short, “Aap Ka Surroor” is definitely watchable.

If you are surprised that I am recommending it after my tirade against HR, let me assure you that I am equally surprised for having recommended it. However, if you are expecting to know why HR wears his cap, the movie doesn’t reveal it. Instead, just watch HR on the “Koffee with Karan” show where he very candidly confesses that the cap is intended to hide is baldness, and nothing else. In fact, the chat show also portrayed HR in a very different light, and HR actually came across as a humble person.

Despite all his eccentric outbursts and odd mannerisms, one cannot deny the man his due. He is the only composer, singer, hero in Bollywood who has been successful at all three at the same time. Not even the great Kishore Kumar can match that.

Ooooooooh Ooooooh………