Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A New Ideology

Well over two months into my new life in the Department of Civil Engineering, I've been trying to understand the significance of the strange events that I've been through. It's one thing to change your school, quite another to change your college. And I haven't really changed my college, just my department. But when it comes to IIT Roorkee, "college" is not one place.

I've concluded that the tangible gains of the branch change are very high i.e., the gains in terms of education and job prospects, as well as additional activities (guest lectures, workshops etc.). But the intangible costs have been high as well: I've just about lost over a hundred friends; I've lost the clubs I was in; I've lost the secy posts that I could've held; and I've lost the certainty of the future that I had built at DPT.

Now, it's important to balance the losses and gains. I gave up a lot - a LOT - to study Civil Engineering. And I'm not going to sit back and waste my time. There is a great degree of incompetence in the Civil Engineering group, an unwillingness to work hard and compete and a sense of retribution towards those who do. I will not bow down to this: by taking a branch change, I bonded myself to the cause of learning, and that is what I will do.

A new ideology is emerging, in sync with the ideology of Independence. An idea that costs have to be met: the cost of all the losses must be met by academic gains. And in the endeavour to balance the cost, I will do whatever it takes. No matter what anybody else thinks.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Series: We the NE


The North East of India is often seen as the "non-existent" part of India, with public debate hardly ever focusing of the region. Yet, the North East is a crucial part of the nation, strategically, culturally and economically.

But the region is not just its land, but more importantly, its people. And the question remains as to how the people can feel more a part of India. It's a difficult question to answer, but OTFS will attempt to do so in the new series, We the NE under the OTFS Editorial label.

Valuable comments are welcome.

The Media and the Games


Over the last few weeks, a lot of controversy about the 2010 Commonwealth Games has been generated, mostly about the shoddy pace of work.

However, the last few days has seen the media concentrate almost relentlessly on the cleanliness of the Games Village. The sight of spit-stained basins and dirty toilets disgusted everyone. And the declaration the the Village was 'uninhabitable' was a shame for the entire country.

However, the media appears to have lost control all over again. Perhaps peeved by the media blackout that the OC delcared (and subsequently lifted), the media has been making a case that India is unfit to host the games. Completely ignoring the positives of the Village - such as most of the residential buildings, the International area and the dining hall - the media has been depicting some rooms in bad condition as though the entire village is in that state!

Clearly, the media has yet again lost control of itself. True, the media is supposed to report the truth. But it is supposed to report the whole truth, not just the "juicy" stuff. The Indian media keeps forgetting that, somehow. But this time, they've painted the whole nation in black through their irresponsible reporting.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not calling for censorship of the media. But I'm calling for control, regulation. The media's attempt at self-regulation has failed atb each and every step: not a single example of success exists! Thus, we need a Government-run (I typed it correctly) regulator. It is not uncommon (Britain has one too). The regulator need not control the media, only make sure that it doesn't get ahead of itself.

This is no laughing matter: the Indian media has gone out of control and something needs to be done.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Funny Weather

The past week has seen some pretty funny weather in and around Roorkee. Just a little over a week back, the rains played havoc and many people lost their lives. There was the tragic story of a woman and three children dying when the roof of their makeshift home collapsed under the load of incessant rain.

The next week was extremely hot, to put it lightly. Yesterday, standing on the pavement outside RKB, I could literally feel the hot air rising off the concrete. The sun blazed down with a vengeance.

And this morning, lo and behold, we had the season's first fog! That too, a few weeks in advance. The morning was very cold and cycling through the fog (although it had thinned down considerably by then) was troublesome. But by the time my classes had ended (facilitated by a tutor who never showed up), it was blazing hot again.

Meanwhile, the Met predicts that the monsoon will begin its retreat in a few days, hearlding my favourite season: autumn!

Friday, September 24, 2010

RKB+2 months

Well, it's been two months since that day I joined the Civil Engineering Department and entered my new Bhawan: Radhakirshnan Bhawan (RKB). Since, I've had the chance of seeing IITR's first experiment with high-rise hostels.

The biggest problem to date has been with the lifts. For about a month, two of them have been out of order and they still are. The others keep getting stuck now and then and the supervisor (who really is doing his best) has to get someone to fix it fast.

The new canteen is great, with Pav Bhaji being my favourite there. Of course, that is subject to change, since I haven't eaten everything (yet). The mess is trying to improve, but it isn't doing that well.

The new TV is up and running, although the watchmen like to use it as much as the students. But when it comes to cricket matches, there's peace all round. The newspaper comes regularly and the dhobi comes regularly for a about a week before it's time to pay him!

The electrical wiring is still a serious issue, but the bathrooms get cleaned regularly now. Top that of with some great new Bollywood music, and IITR could have just set a trend for gigantic hostels. Now, hopefully they'll learn lessons and Rajiv Bhawan, set5 to open next year, will
be the best new Bhawan ever!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Flight of Fantasy

UDAAN (2010)

Producer: UTV Motion Pictures
Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
Starring: Ronit Roy, Ram Kapoor, Rajat Barmecha, Aayan Boradia and others
Pros: Wonderful story, excellent music
Cons: Somewhat unrealistic at the end
Rating: ******* (7 of 5)

Once in a while, Bollywood comes up with a movie that's so good that you watch it again and again. For me, Udaan was one such movie, having watched it three times in a row.

Let's cut to the chase: this was a fabulous movie. The story is highly believable, except at the end, the music is divine and the acting takes your breath away.

Rohan (Rjata Barmecha, in a great debut performance) was virtually abandoned by his twisted father in a boarding school for eight years. But when he is expelled from the prestigious school, he comes back only to realise that he now has a six-year old step brother, with whom he is expected to share everything. Well, it doesn't really work out so well. To make matters worse, his father is an absolute despot, taking out the frustrations of his life on his children. At the end, it's upto Rohan to free himself from the shackles of his father and fly to his dreams.

The best part of the movie is the evolving relationship between the step brothers. Little Arjun (Aayan Boradia) is tormented by his father, as is Rohan, but finds no friend in Rohan. Not at first, at least. But at the end, the two brothers come together to share a common destiny. It might have been unintended, but this was the centerpiece of the movie.

The acting was very good, with Ronit Roy playing an exceptional role, never allowing it to become stereotypical. The young boys performed well and can be sure of picking up a few awards next year. Sadly, Ram Kapoor's role lacked lustre.

The music was wonderful, with Aazaadiyaan and Geet being my favourites. The lyrics complement the story and keep you hooked.

Overall, this was a great movie about a very real part of life. It does not glass over the injustices that children have to bare, nor does it try to create a fake happy ending. It's a movie that everyone can relate to. Don't miss it: such great movies don't come along often. (OTFS)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Calling for Peace

Sep. 24, 2010 is all set to turn into a major law and order challenge. The Allahabad High Court has decided to give its verdict on the six-decade old Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site title feud, a battle that has polarised the right wing.

With the approval of the Union Cabinet, the Government published an appeal today in all major dailies, calling for peace on that day. The UP Government has asked for several companies of Central Forces, while right-wing groups have come together to oppose or "implement" the court verdict.

The situation is extremely dangerous and could go out of control. it is necessary that all right-thinking Indians oppose any violence on that day. Fortunately, the BJP, as the principal Opposition, has also called for peace, although its Sangh affiliates don't seem to agree. Nonetheless, such a volatile situation must not be vitiated by posturing. All must respect the court's order and not take the law into their own hands.

The Flu and the Food

Conjunctivitis - commonly called "eye flu" - is spreading like wildfire in the hostels of IIT Roorkee and indeed, throughout Roorkee and nearby cities. Although the disease is not dangerous and recovery happens from anywhere between a few hours to a week, it has caused quit a lot of inconvenience to the general crowd, what with ignorant people believing that a laser of bacteria shoots out from the eye, so that if you look at an infected person's eye you will be infected, although sitting next to the person or even kissing them has no such effect!

Somehow, I've been spared (maybe it's because I already had it in Class 11, but I'm not sure it's that kind of a disease). So, how have the not-so-fortunate been coping? By mixing stylish clothes with dark glasses, so that they look like they're just come from a disco to the morning's class!

Oh, and about the food. After a brief period in which the quality was on the rise, it has fallen back to terra firma. Lunch is getting worse and worse, with baingan being served twice a week! And IMG's new idea to make the mess menu interactive is a flop show for us because the all-new RKB is not even listed on Channel-i! Amazingly, what was once the worst meal of the day - breakfast - is not the best, because lunch and dinner have fallen so low.

So, with an infectious disease and sub-standard food, life at IITR is great. How's yours?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Back to Reality


PEEPLI LIVE (2010)

Producer: Aamir Khan Productions
Directors: Anusha Rizvi and Md. Farooqui
Starring: Omkar Das, Raghuvir Yadav, Shalini Vatsa, Naseerudin Shah and others
Rating: *** (3 of 5)
Pros: Great script, delightful ending
Cons: Somewhat depraved in between, clear sense of sensationalism

In this media-generated wonder of Rising/Shining India, most movies ignore the stark reality of farmer suicides in thousands of villages across the country. Why movies? Even the media, which is supposed to create awareness about our nation, is busy dealing in TRPs.

In this jungle of mind-numbing movies, Peepli Live comes as a whiff of fresh air, putting the focus back on the farmer who is burdened bu debt and Government indifference. Natha (Omkar Das) is a poor farmer deeply in debt. The bank is about to auction his land away and the local politician is indifferent. Then, he gets the bright idea of committing suicide and using the ex-gratia to keep the land! However, the media hears of his plans and the entire village of Peepli turns into a media circus, literally.

The script is the strongest part of the movie: realistic and in-your-face. The movie does not try to gloss over the crudeness of our politicians or the sheer stupidity of the media: it shows them all with no misgivings. The way the media's sensationalism is depicted is a good indicator to the path directors should take in the future.

However, the way death is made fun of in the movie ('Natha zaroor marega!') seemed depraved to me. In an attempt to show reality, the director has forgotten to stay off the audience's finer sensibilities.

The music is quite good, especially Des Mera, which plays in the beginning. The costumes are very realistic as is the set.

The best part of this movie is the ending: it makes you wonder where all those labourers who build modern India come from. After all, 8 million farmers quit farming in just 10 years since liberalisation. Now, that makes you sit up and think. Brilliant ending and a must-watch movie. (OTFS)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fishermen are not POWs

One of the most disturbing consequences of the over-six decade long Indo-Pak hostility is the illegal detention of fishermen who mistakenly cross the maritime border of the two countries.

Now, it is a crime to enter another country without legal papers. However, the law must be humane. These are poor fishermen who do not have sophisticated GPS technology; they can only guess how far they are allowed to go, and their guess could be wrong. These fishermen on both sides are often arrested and detained for inhumanly long periods in the opposing country. What's more, they are not freed and repatriated even after they complete their assigned prison terms, but are kept as trading chips in the great game that nations play, like Prisoners of War!

Recently, the Pakistan Supreme Court, acting on a petition, ordered the release of hundreds of such Indian fishermen who have now come back to their motherland. The Indian Government has promised to do the same, but such promises are usually empty words. the Supreme Court of India must take suo moto action against this illegal detention. The Constitution of the nation comes before diplomacy and the Constitution does not allow prisoners to be detained beyond their term.

Civil society should also make an effort for the release of such prisoners. They are poor fishermen who are caught in the crossfire between elitist politicians on both sides. It is out human duty to help them, and the law is on our side.

A Failure in the Making

As part of its commitment to the Commonwealth Games Federation, the Delhi Traffic Police has introduced a new, "liberated" segment of roads in the National Capital, quaintly called "Games Lanes."

The idea is simple: for a few weeks, these specially-marked lanes will be closed to all traffic except those plying between Games venues. This is legally enforceable, with a proposed fine of Rs. 2,000 and even imprisonment! These lanes will be freed up after the Games of course, but till then, they will be in place in a large number of roads in New Delhi.

So, what happens if one frustrated Delhiite, who desperately needs to get to work, is caught in a traffic jam of gigantic proportions and just happens to have the cash on him, decides to jump into the Games Lane? Well, the police could catch him instantly and fine him. But rest assured, at least a hundred other commuters will follow his lead. The police can fine 50, 100 or even 500 motorists. What happens when everybody decides to break the law and jump into the Games Lanes?

Well, how many people can the police fine or detain, given the millions of vehicles that ply on the bustling city's roads everyday? What guarantee is there is that people are going to follow this rule when they don't even follow basic traffic rules that they teach you in school?

Karan Thapar, writing in HT, rightly pointed out that you should never make rules that you cannot enforce. In fact, to enforce this rule, the Delhi Government would probably need to build a 10-foot high wall, and even then keep up police patrols to ensure that there are no holes in it! Come the Games, this is going to be a big flop.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Think Out of the Box, or Else


Come this November, US President Barack Obama will face a major test to his leadership with the mid-term polls which, going by current polls, will see his Democratic Party lose control of one of the two houses of Congress.

And, going by the mood of the Republicans, if they control one House of Congress, that would officially mean that the Obama Presidency will be reduced to a powerless Government which cannot pass major reform necessary to support the fragile US Economy. And that might be the best case scenario if the GOP tries to bring down his Government altogether in a Clinton-era style Government shutdown!

Clearly, if Mr. Obama wants to pursue his campaign promises, he will have to do something big to get people to vote Democrat. That includes making grand speeches, which he is already so adept at doing, but must also be accompanied by the powers of Government. The recently-announced idea of publicly-funding a project for the American Highway system is a good start, but more needs to be done.

With unemployment at 9.2% and rising (and that's only the official figure), people are clearly disgruntled. But the spin masters in the GOP have managed to create a web of lies so strong that most people are worrying about Obama's religion rather than what he has in plan for the economy! Clearly, the President will have to reach out to the people and convince them that he can do more, nay, much more, if he has the full support of Congress. If not, this could be a failed Presidency.

End this Inhuman Crackdown


French President Nicholas Sarkozy's crackdown and deportation of the nomadic Roma population from French territory is inhuman and displays a grotesque use of power against the powerless for political gains.

Already, protests within France have grown and the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the acts. Hindu and Jewish groups across the Atlantic too have come out in condemnation.

The Roma, a nomadic tribe that migrated to Eastern and Central Europe from India over 1,000 years ago, have been systematically targeted by so-called advanced European states for generations. They have the lowest indicators in terms of health and education in Europe. It is a fact that in many hospitals in Europe, Roma children have been aborted by fooling the parent.

In such a situation, as per European treaties, it is the right of every European state to provide protection to such people. And despite that, the French President has overruled Europe, his own people and his Cabinet by forcefully deporting the Roma, destroying their camps and humiliating them, all in the name of maintaining law and order, as if only Romas commit crimes.

Every civilised nation must condemn this cold crackdown lest we see another modern day genocide.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Stormy Monsoon Session


The just-concluded Monsoon Session of Parliament could be described as one of the best ever of the current Lok Sabha. The session saw several ups and downs but overall, a lot of useful work was done.

The top agenda of the session was the Nuclear Liability Bill. Despite the Government's repeated attempts to hoodwink the Opposition and rush the unacceptable bill through, the Opposition and the Media teamed up and after a lot of jostling, a final, acceptable version of the Bill was passed by Parliament.

The issues of the blockade in Manipur was also taken up and fortunately, the blockade was lifted after two months. However, the very fact that the blockade was allowed to happen, thus causing a humanitarian crisis, shows poorly on the Union Government and the Opposition did point this out.

The lowest point of the session was seen over the MP (Salaries and Allowances Amendment) Bill, wherein some Opposition parties not only stalled proceedings but chaired a mock session in total disregard for decency. MPs should not be able to set their own salaries in this manner. It is necessary that we find a way for an Independent body to do that.

Apart from these three key issues, the bogey of 'Saffron Terror' also took some time from the Session. Also, several bills were referred to Committees (most significantly the flawed Prevention of Torture Bill) and will be taken up in the Winter Session, including the conversion of IT-BHU to an IIT. Overall, this session was highly productive and the Opposition, particularly the BJP, did a good job in most cases.

Waiting for The Games


There's less than a month to go for the biggest sporting event ever hosted in India: the XIX Commonwealth Games 2010. Thousands of great athletes from around the world will converge on the Games Village besides the Yamuna River to participate in the event that will last for about a week and a half.

The Inauguration Ceremony will be attended by the top political and sporting brass of India as well as some foreign dignitaries, most significantly Prince Charles as a representative of the Queen.

The event will comprise of 19 disciplines, all popular in Commonwealth Nations. As part of the trial runs, several smaller events have been conducted in some of the disciplines. The publicity for the event has reached fever pitch and to take it even further, the Delhi Govt and the OC have launched Shera Mera Dost to rope in school kids.

With a catchy theme song, admirable medals and a great set of merchandise, not to mentioned the revamped infrastructure in New Delhi, the Games does not deserve the kind of pessimism it has been getting. Yes, there has been a lot of corruption but that can be looked into only after the event. This is a matter of Indian pride and it would be best to ignore the words of some writers ('Boycott the Games to Save India') and Come out and Play with the fervour of Nationalism.

Stay out of Policy making


The Supreme Court of India's recent outburst against foodgrains in FCI godowns being allowed to rot has provided some good initial results, with the Centre deciding to allot more grains to the states for distribution under the PDS.

However, a disturbing part of the judgment was the suggestion (according to Minister Pawar)/order (according to the Bench) that food be distributed to the poor free of cost if its ultimate fate is to rot.

Although made with noble intentions, the "order" is unimplementable. Food cannot be distributed free of cost because that would disincentivize farmers and wreck the already poor PDS permanently. Furthermore, people will not accept it as a one-time program but will expect free food year after year.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rightly asked the Supreme Court not to meddle in policy making, which is the prerogative of the Executive. There is no law that guarantees food to the hungry (yet) and the Supreme Court cannot create such a law, which is the prerogative of the Legislature. Judicial Activism can only go so far as the Judiciary is only supposed to go through the legal aspects of a case and not frame rules and policies.

While the UPA Government has to take stern measured to ensure that food acquired by the FCI does not go to waste, the Supreme Court - and all other courts, for that matter - must not try to overstep its constitutional limits.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Theatre of Absurd


The recent happenings in the notorious world of Indian Hockey can only be described as a theatre of absurd. First, following a revelation of massive corruption, the Sports Ministry disbanded the official Hockey organization of the India: the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF). It then went on to replace it with a new body called Hockey India (HI).

Later on however, the Supreme Court declared the disbanding of IHF to be illegal and restored it, thus rendering HI a private organisation. Then, a controversy arose around which organization - the IHF and its sister organization, the Indian Women's Hockey Federation (IWHF) or HI would sent a team for the Hockey World Cup. The Supreme Court went as far as suggesting that the IOA send a team, although the IOA does not have the competence or authority to do that.

And there is also the controversy over who the International Olympic Association recognises. Overall, the whole situation has become so complex that the focus has been lost entirely from the game. Oh, did somebody say "National Sport"?

With so much bureaucracy and politics running the show in Indian hockey, does it surprise anybody that the sport is in such a dismal state in India? We can only hope that things get sorted out: but I'm not optimistic.

Do You Know What if Feels Like?

A poem on loss and change.

Do you know what it feels like,
To have it all and lose it all?
Have you ever built a wonder
And then let go, let it fall?

When the lights are on you and the stage is set.
Have you ever come so close,
To your dreams, and left them unmet?
What about those words that took you far?
Those nights we spent in tale and spar?
What of the lives that you had touched,
Now so cold without your call?
Do you know what it feels like,
To have it all and lose it all?

What of those people, once your own?
Will they remain or be rendered unknown?
What of that love, so warm, so strange?
Is love really greater than the tide of change?
Where will they go, where will they hide?
Oh, Heavens! Send me a clue, however small.
Do you know what it feels like,
To have it all and lose it all?

I know what it feels like,
Oh, yes, I really do.
I built my castles in the sky
And saw them fall as the winds blew by.
I gave my soul, my heart, my all.
And felt the bonds quiver, break and fall.
I felt the lights, the words and glee
And let them all seep into me.
But my only mistake was that I forgot,
That the tide of change cannot be fought.
And now I stand in the midst of ruin,
Where I have nothing, nothing at all.
Do you know what it feels like,
To have it all and lose it all?
I know what it feels like,
Oh, yes, I really do.

A Salute to Teachers

September 5 is a hallowed day for India, being the birthday of our first President Dr. S Radhakrishnan, one of India’s greatest teachers. In his honour, the day is celebrated as Teachers’ Day throughout the country.

For me, the day has always been meaningful. My mother has been a teacher for as long as I can remember and I have seen firsthand the kind of dedication needed not just to be a teacher but also to balance life after school. A teacher has a great responsibility on their shoulders: that of putting the future of the nation on the right path. A teacher’s job is not just to teach what the course demands, but also to instil values of discipline, kindness and curiosity in students.

It would not be wrong to go as far as saying that a teacher’s role is nation building is as great as was that of the Founding Fathers of our nation: what the latter did during the glorious freedom struggle, the former is doing every day. Sadly, teachers are some of the least cared for professionals, earning a pittance in comparison to other professions. This is a result more of our culture, in which we reward big, flashy CEOs but not silent teachers.

This Teachers’ Day is an interesting coincidence for me as my new Bhawan is named Radhakrishnan Bhawan after the first President. A truly wonderful coincidence.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Ground-Zero Mosque: My Take

In what has been a public display of Islamophobia in America, the controversy over the building of a large Islamic Centre two blocks from the site of the fallen World Trade Centre in New York City has raised a savage storm in the US, bringing even President Barack Obama into the argument.

As such, I think the whole episode reflects just how fractured Americans are but also the immense level of hypocrisy in the system. After all, as the President himself said, why should people object to the building of a mosque but not to that of a Church, Synagogue or a Hindu Temple? The answer is simple, but nobody is willing to say it out loud: Americans blame Muslims for 9/11 and do not buy the (very true) idea that it was a group of radical fundamentalists that did it.

Of course, by "Americans," I do not mean all Americans. After all, the President is an American too and he did the right thing by upholding the freedoms enshrined in the American Constitution and supporting the project. But he has faced a wave of criticism from the right wing because of that, with insinuating allegations about his religion, citizenship and patriotism. The very term "Imam Hussain Obama," says it all.

In my opinion, the truth is that the Islamic Centre is perfectly legal and if America is a really secular society (as it claims to be and also lectures the world about), then there should be no objection to that. For a country that bemoans sectarian violence and considers itself the world's guardian of religious peace, this episode casts a pretty grim reflection.

A Shameful Episode

The ugly face of match-fixing - or it's shorter version, "spot fixing" - appears to have reared its ugly head once again in the world of International cricket. The News of the World's explosive sting operation, which blamed three leading Pakistani cricketers of deliberately bowling no balls and losing their matches against England, has set off a storm. The ICC has suspended the three players and, if found guilty, they could face a life ban.

Now, The Lede Blog on NYtimes.com has done what it does best: tell the world about more Pakistani conspiracy theories. So, according to a self-declared "Global" Pakistani newspaper - The Daily Mail (not to be confused with the one in London) - the whole sting operation was masterminded by - you guessed it - R&AW! This simply has to be the height of denial, a national pass time in Pakistan.

However, the sting operation itself is damning on the condition of Pakistani cricket, with the now infamous line - "they don't care for cricket, just money and women." It's time for Pakistanis to introspect and the Pakistani media to stop doling out stupid theories. It's only then that Pakistan can get down to the serious task of repairing itself.

PS: My favourite comment on The Lede Blog: "Either RAW is the world's smartest, the very most brilliant conniving intelligence agency or the Pakistani people that buy these conspiracies are the world's most pitifully dumb people. For once, the truth is not anywhere in-between."

Oh, those Mid-Terms

Well, after four days (including a holiday in between), the mid-terms finally came to an end. I must admit, they were worse than I had expected.

In short, I can say that exams which I had expected would go badly (CE-201, PH-201) went extremely well, while those which I had hoped would go well (HS-201, MI-201, ICY-01) went badly. CE-241, on which I already had pretty low hopes, was the worst exam of all and I can hope for 10 marks out of 35 at best! Luckily, the exams ended with CE-251, which was a rather unusual exam where we just had to keep drawing sketches!

Well, the exams were a very irritating experience indeed, what with the holiday packed in between and the fact that we weren't able to set our own schedule for the Core subjects. And, given the lack of sleep over the exam days, it felt funny to attempt a night out on the night after the last exam!