Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book Review: Myth = Mithya


Myth = Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology
By Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik

Hinduism is full of quirks. As the back cover of the book points out, Hindus have millions of Gods (at one time, exceeding the total population of Hindus) but have no representation of Satan! Indeed, Hinduism can be some confusing for its followers that many choose too simply focus on one God and end it there.

However, the truth is that the religion actually has just one God and everything else is a representation of that one God. Think of it as a diamond - it looks different from different angles, but it is essentially the same continuum. In this seminal work on Hindu mythology, Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik takes us through some of these concepts and tells us about the meaning of various forms and representations of God.

The entire book is divided into three parts - one for each God of the Hindu trinity. But the division is not firm and, like the religion itself, it tends to overlap at many places. Dr. Pattanaik has added a number of simple tables and flow charts as well as hand-drawn illustrations to bring out his point. So a picture of Lakshmi and Kali clearly allow the reader to see the difference between the two, until they realise that two essentially represent two different forms of the same thing - nature!

My favourite section was the one on Shiva. The author has a nice way to presenting his views - he first expresses an idea and then backs it up with an illustration from an ancient text. The entire books follows this path and we get an insight into what various incidents in the Ramayana, Mahabharat and other works really mean.

Overall, Myth = Mithya is a good read for anybody interested in religion from an academic perspective. This is not a religious book as such - it does not discuss devotion and prayer. Instead, it is a refreshingly academic work on one of the world's largest and least understood belief systems.

What Just Happened?


SHOR IN THE CITY (2011)

Producer: Balaji
Directors: Krishna DK, Raj N
Starring: Tusshar Kapoor, Nikhil Dwivedi, Amit Mistry, S Ramamurthy and others
Rating: 0 of 5
Pros: None, except for a good song
Cons: Everything

I'll make this short and simple - Shor in the City is one of the worst movies that I have ever seen, a thoroughly B-grade film with a poor storyline, poor direction, rubbish acting and an unintelligible ending.

The idea behind the title in interesting: over the days of Ganesh Chaturthi, a city full of horrors and emotions. The film takes you into the underworld of a city, the stuff that does not make it to primetime news. What a small businessman has to do to protect himself; how a newly-wed man earns a living; how the rich and famous are so far detached from their compatriots. Quite fancifully, it's about the noises that we have relegated to the background of the city.

Sadly, it sounds good in writing but bombed on execution. There are just too many stories being being told all at the same time. Tusshar Kapoor's role has absolutely no influence on the story - he's like some angel caught in hell who discovers bliss at the end with his wife, who seems to have no purpose apart from a sleazy little scene. The other stories too warrant little interest. Perhaps the only time I actually found the movie interesting was when the story focused on the America-returned businessman, but even that didn't last very long.

The music is so-so, except for one song saibo, which was good. But the worst part of the movie was the climax, or rather the anticlimax, where everything ends for no reason at all and you are left wondering as to why you even cared to waste your time on this movie. Believe me, don't take the trouble to find out. Give this one a skip. (OTFS)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Disaster Looms over US Economy


The last few days have seen some serious political jockeying in Washington, DC over the US debt limit and the imminent danger of the first ever American sovereign default in history.

The debt limit is a strange feature of the American system. In theory, once Congress passes the annual budget, there should be no argument over debt that the Government be allowed to take. After all, it's written into the budget and approving the budget is tantamount to approving debt. Therefore, the debt limit is a sort of double jeopardy for the US Government.

So much so that the debt limit has never even been a cause for political debate until now. With US debt at record highs, Republicans are trying to pass their political agenda with the debt limit as their weapon: they blame the Obama Administration for the high debt, conveniently forgetting that it was under a Republican administration that the financial crisis took place in the first place and also that it was the giant Bush tax cuts that precipitated American debt.

The outcome of a failure to resolve the crisis is catastrophic: the US would face a debt downgrade and the entire International financial system could come to a halt. Developing countries are sure to experience a great deal of stress due to capital flows and sharp fluctuations. But the worst sufferers will be the American people themselves, already burdened with massive unemployment that could scar over 10% of an entire generation. A sovereign default would wreak havoc on an already fragile recovery.

However, the political truth here is that the status quo is on Obama's side. Too many times before has he blinked and handed over to the Republican's whatever they asked for an a silver platter. But the prospect of a sovereign default is too much ever for the Republicans to digest - their business interests and contacts would suffer tremendously from it. Eventually, they will blink and it will probably be at the eleventh hour, but for that, Obama will have to hold out long enough and talk tough. His actions in the next few days could change the course of history.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Good Start, A Bad Start

One week back in Roorkee and I've already had a hailstorm of problems on my head. Of course, the beginning was quite good. It all started at the Airport, where, for the first time ever, I managed to get a seat in the first ten. Of course, that means nothing as such, but it was good to see the air hostesses from so close up :)

A good meeting with friends and a smooth ride to NDLS later, I found myself on Dehra Dun Janshatabdi, which was amazingly on time. A firangi lady was next to us, and she was quite sweet. As we made our way to Roorkee, we realised that the train was actually on time - a hitherto unheard of feat! For the first time ver, I actually saw Roorkee station in the sunlight in the evening (it still sucks).

Then came the rickshaw ride to RKB. This is a dreaded part because the drivers take the shorter but bumpier route, which is a terrible ride. But this time, the UK Police miraculously blocked the route, forcing us to take the longer (and smoother) one! Once in RKB, we saw the hell that was the cloak room. And then started an epic search for luggage. Many people lost some precious goods, and most loose buckets were destroyed. But I managed to get all my stuff, that too within an hour!

But the next day, it all went downhill. First, the confusing registration process, because of which one of my copies was left unsigned (but it was accepted, somehow!). Then, an error on my DD caused a huge flurry that involved a Registered Post, NEFT and a lot of running around. And I that wasn't enough, I got a grade sheet without my proficiency grade and a thoroughly unhelpful bureaucracy to deal with!

However, the good news is that I'm still DR1 by a very slender margin of about 0.012, I've gotten an intern offer from Germany (already!) and Kshitij has started off well. So overall, there were a lot of ups and downs (and there are more to come, especially with NTSE), but then, that's all a part of life. And after meeting some of the new branch changers from DPT, all I can say is that I'm surprised myself by how far I've come!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

An Impressive Start in Bengal


Within just two months of assuming office, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has made some impressive changes to West Bengal. From the very basic change of imbibing a professional work culture in Writer's Building to ending the corrosive cycle of violence in Jangalmahal to suggesting a change of name for the state, her work is impressive.

But the true crown jewel of her work would be the successful creation of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, which finally brings some peace to the restive Darjeeling region of North Bengal. The most interesting part of the agreement is the stealth with which it was undertaken.

However, it is apparent that the issue is far from over. Banerjee insists that she will not see Bengal divided (again) while the GJM insists that its ultimate aim is a separate state. Sooner or later, these two opposing visions will clash. But till then, Darjeeling (and with it, Sikkim) can heave a sigh of relief. The fact that the 34-year-old Left Government was able to do nothing on the Gorkhaland question shows that Banerjee can deliver.

Of course, she has also used the old trick. While ceding more powers to the GTA than the old Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council had, she has also announced a slew of projects in the area. She hopes, perhaps rightly, that with development, things will calm down.

Her other achievements in a short span of time, particularly the release of political prisoners of Kamtapur, all add to her kitty. But the real test will be fixing Bengal's financial mess. That might turn out to be her hardest target yet.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Yawn! What a Bore!

PYAAR KA PUNCHNAMA (2011)
Producer: Viacom18
Director: Luv Rajnan (who does a lot more than just directing)
Starring: Raayo Bakhirta, Nushrat Bharucha, Sonalli Sehgal, Divyendu Sharma, Ishita Sharma, Kartikeya Tiwari and others
Rating: * of 5 (1 of 5)
Pros: Strong emotions at times that may connect with you
Cons: bad acting, bad music, slow narrative, unimaginative story, thoroughly illogical

Another film targeted at urban youth, the ones who don't seem to earn much but definitely spend a lot. And the ones looking for love, of course. Pyaar Ka Punchnama had the potential to be an instant success, but at the end, it wasn't even worth a watch.

Vikrant, Nishant aka 'Liquid' and Rajat are three bachelors sharing an apartment in Delhi and trying to build a decent life. They're three people on the typical spectrum: one who seems to repel clothes, one who has to be a geek with no social life and of course, the chocolate boy that everybody loves. Their engagement with three good-looking ladies and the 'after the honeymoon' story is what this film is about.

Now, that little summary might make it sound interesting. But rest assured, this is a loaf of very stale bread. None of the actors shows any acting that worth its weight in gold. In fact, if it wasn't for the good costumes, the audience would have probably rejected them. Nonetheless, the movie does have some moments when you can connect with characters. The trouble is, there are just so few.

The director-cum-many-other-things Luv Ranjan seems to have predetermined that his movie would last for two and a half hours and then wrote the story. Suspense is a good tool for any director, but when the ending is absolutely obvious, suspense just stretches the movie beyond acceptable limits. Two things really troubled me about the movie: the fact that Liquid paid for Charu's manicure so that she could romp up her boyfriend in Hyderabad, which I think no self-respecting person would ever do; and the horrendously long wait for the guys to dump their girls.

The acting was pathetic. The famous five-minute lecture by Vikrant (Raayo Bakhirta), which raised expectation for the movie, turns out to be just another addition to the boring diatribe that the actors indulge in every now and then. The lines have no imagination, there is nothing to hold the audience to the story... I might as well have fast forwarded by an hour and I would not have missed a thing!

Why did this movie get any audience at all? For one, the lead actor is good-looking and therefore, he sells. And the premise of the story is pretty good. In the beginning, the director tried to avoid projecting the girls as villainous fiends scheming their men's downfall, but eventually, that's what happened. From good potential the movie goes straight down the cliff.

PKP was a true test of patience and at the end, I was rewarded with a music video Ban Gaya Kutta which did evoke some laughter (especially the Monroe-impersonation). But then, it's not that good that you should watch the whole movie for it. And really, 'ban gaya kutta,' couldn't the lyricist have come up with some more imaginative lyrics?! (OTFS)

Fast Pace Saves the Show

SHAITAN (2011)
Producer: Viacom 18, Anurag Kashyap and others
Director: Bejoy Nambiar
Starring: Kalki Koechlin, Neil Bhoopalam, Rajeev Khandelwal, Guldhav Devaiya, Shiv Pandit, Kirti Kulhari and others
Rating: **** of 5 (4 of 5)
Pros: Fast-paced movie, good dialogues and some acting from Khandelwal
Cons: Unexceptional story, narrative can be confusing at times

Kalki Koechlin seems to have perfected the art of acting crazy. Being co-producer Anurag Kashyap's favourite, she seems to be the best-suited actor today for encating characters who have gone light in the head. That said, she has managed to make her mark and Shaitan is another feather in her cap.

Amy (Kalki), a forlorn teenager who misses her (dead) mother, meets some new (rich) friends. They paint the town red and wreak havoc in the name of fun, until one incident turns everything upside down. In the mean tine, Arvind Mathur (Rajeev Khandelwal), and inspector who has his own way of dealing with thugs, is besieged by a wife who loves him and hates him at the same time. And all it takes is one freak accident for their paths to cross.

Apart from Kalki, Rajeev's acting stands out. Without very few dialogues, he manages to say quite a lot! With his sidekick in tow, the story of finding five missing friends might not sound very unique for a movie. However, Shaitan's fast pace is what keeps the movie alive. Agreed, the first fifteen minutes or so could have been better, but it picks up dramatically after that. At no point of time will you be bored - everything is just changing so fast!

The supporting actors put up a good show, although Tanya (Kirti Kulhari) could have had a better entry. A girl who is so emotionally weak should not have such a strong, overbearing entry. That said, her role in the movie was mostly secondary till the end. The costume design lacked imagination though and the songs were not particularly great. Shockingly, the best part of the promo, a remix of Hawa Hawaii, does not feature in the film!

If you're a film connoisseur, Shaitan is not for you. It's not exceptional in anyway. But if you just want to watch a good movie, rest assured that it fits the bill. At a slower pace this would have been an instant flop, but the crisp dialogues, Khandelwal's effortless acting and most importantly, the fast pace that never gives you a chance to breather, all ensure that this movie gets my recommendation. Don't watch it with the family, though. (OTFS)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Time to Return


Two months is a fairly long time to stay way from college, but it's a very short period of time to stay with family. However you may look at it, two months is what I had. Now, it's time to return.

These two months were fairly productive, as I had pointed out in an earlier post. But another important reason for that is because I have now found a great degree of clarity. I'm in third year, after all: college is going to end soon and I need a plan.

In mid-2012, I'll be writing GRE, following which I'll apply to various universities if my score is good. If not, in February, 2013, I'll write GATE. Now, I can theoretically join M.Tech in an IIT with my CGPA alone, but I need a valid GATE score for the MHRD Scholarship. So, there's another exam to write. If in case it does came to GATE, then I hope to attempt the Civil Services exam in 2015.

So, once I get back, I'll need to pre-order the new Barron's book for GRE and also look in the library for any resources for TOEFL. And of course, study for GATE. I've discovered that I'm pretty weak in Fluid Mechanics and Environmental Engineering, so those will be the focus areas.

This summer was definitely the last one when I was absolutely free. The best thing about second year is that there is some power but still no responsibility. But in third year, there is a lot of power, a lot of freedom and a hell lot of responsibility! The time for fun and and joy is clearly over and as I return to Roorkee tomorrow, there will be the realization that half my time there has already ended. And the future awaits.

The next post will be from Roorkee. I hope you enjoyed OTFS' summer presentations.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dreams of My Father: Part 3


Convinced that all the soldiers were dead, the Commander-in-Chief ordered his men to take their weapons. They were at war and they needed all the resources that they could get. He wanted to cover the dead bodies with mud, but the villagers objected. They wanted to give them a decent cremation.

As some of the men went out to collect wood, the Commander-in-Chief returned to the village. He seated himself next to an old woman, who smiled at him.

“Paresh,” she said to him. “You work so hard to keep us Assamese united. Your father used to do that too, but the two of you are so different.”

Paresh Barua smiled. “My father believed in dreams. I believe in reality.”

(Concluded)

Dreams of My Father: Part 2


The War had grown so vicious by now that air raids had become common. The advancing troops had the element of surprise on their side, while the British-Indian forces were plagued by unstable mountain paths. It was a land both alien and familiar that they were fighting for. For as the Netaji’s forces drew nearer, the local population grew wild with the idea of Independence.

Calls from as far away as Lahore reached the ears of the tribes in the mountains; the air was full of calls for freedom from the foreign powers. In its own way, the call of ‘Quit India’ echoed in the valley and across the mighty Brahmaputra. In thousands of tongues, in every hut and in every field, the same call for Independence could be heard.

In the milieu, one man’s words flew through nature’s barriers. He called for unity amongst the tribes; unity in the final hour. For in the last moments of subjugation, He asked every man and woman to pledge allegiance to the new nation that was soon to be born. And soon enough, the moment came.

At the stroke of the midnight hour, in a vast hall in the Capital, one man renewed a pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but substantially. A pledge of dedication to the service of the people. Crowds cheered wildly in every neighbourhood of the new country. Even in its eastern fringe, one man raised the flag that symbolized the spirit of Independence.

“We might look different,” He said. “We might speak different languages. But we are one nation today. With our brothers and sisters in Madras, Bombay, Punjab and Bengal, we stand together. A wonderful dream has begun for our people, for in the future of this new nation lies our destiny.”

But it did not take long for the dream to sour. The country was hungry for wealth, for nature’s gifts. They came in droves to collect the oil. They enjoyed the hospitality of the local population. They savoured the rich tea. And they left, having filled their barrels. Each time they came, they took some more. But they never gave anything back. Food was distributed to the poor in the plains of the North and the plateaus of the South. Here, even rats did not have enough to feed themselves.

Neither the cries of help from their famine-ridden brothers and sisters nor the march of the foreign troops could wake the nation’s leaders. If, long ago, the calls of ‘Quit India’ could reach every ear in the mountains and the valleys, today, there was a frightening silence. The motherland had left her children to their own fate.

And then it began. The man who, years ago, had called for unity of the tribes, watched as, one-by-one, they took to arms against their own brothers and sisters. The great insurgency, that was to consume the region, had finally begun. He pleaded with them to stop and talk things out. They refused to listen to him again. He pleaded with the nation’s rulers to send emissaries and leaders of good faith. They sent their soldiers to fight their own people.

It was in this bloody fight that he found Himself trapped between the devil and the deep sea. He could not choose between His people and His nation, for he loved both of them so dearly. No matter, He did not have to choose. One night, the soldiers came to destroy His village. They had the power, will and jurisdiction to kill their own brothers and sisters. And they killed mercilessly.

But before they could kill Him, his wife ran out with His child. Before father and son parted ways forever, He told his son one last thing – “Remember my dream.” And with that, his wife ran as she had never run before. The house behind her was covered in flames and soldiers killed another brother. But she did not look back, she ran for her life. She ran for her son. Into the woods, into the hills, she ran to the safety of her own people.

And all throughout, the little baby looked on. For every bead of his mother’s sweat that dripped onto his little face, he swore revenge.

***
(Continued)

Dreams of My Father: Part 1


The ground was moist; the leaves were wet from the incessant rains. The jungle was so thick that very little sunlight could penetrate through the canopy. The only sounds were those of birds and insects that watched as the soldiers made their way through, trying to avoid detection. Sources had told them that a village had been taken by the enemy nearby and they were trying to get as near as possible to investigate. Ever so quietly.

The click of a trigger. The sound of a bullet, released from its shaft, only to be entrapped in flesh. The green leaves giving way to crimson. The soldiers fought bravely, but they were trapped. The trees they claimed as their own, the mountains they claimed to want so dearly had pulled them in. In less than a minute, they were all dead.

Once the firing had stopped, the Commander-in-Chief himself stepped out to inspect the scene. He took a good look at the fallen enemy soldiers: their camouflage uniforms were so similar to the words of their masters: lies. Treachery.

He looked into the eyes of one of them just moments before the light behind those eyes disappeared. It was as though they were trying to ask him something. Perhaps they wanted to ask him: Why?

Why indeed.

***
(Continued)

New Story: Dreams of My Father

The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was once a powerful insurgent force, enjoying widespread support and sending shockwaves across New Delhi. Today however, all its forces have stopped fighting and are negotiating with the Government. All, except those led by self-styled Commander-in-Chief Paresh Barua.

However, the ULFA did not come up right after Independence. For years, the Assamese did accept the Indian Constitution. Why then, did the desire for secession come up?

In this fictionalization of the life of Paresh Barua, we attempt to answer that question.

Dreams of My Father
Coming up

Another Good Semester

Sem 4 was another great semester, virtually a repeat of the Spring Sem of first year. I was hoping for a higher grade in CE-212, but after the pathetic ETE, A is good enough. The A+ in CE-222 was expected, given the superb ETE and practical exam. However, the A in CE-242 is a major disappointment. CE-252, a very difficult subject, turned out to be much better than expected.

As for the non-departmental courses, ES-201 was perfectly along expected lines: possibly the easiest subject yet! BM-201 was a close shave and it was a hilarious ETE that saved the day. Finally, IMA-01 was perfectly fair and definitely the best subject of the sem.

Next sem onwards, we have just seven subjects and marginally fewer credits. Phew!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Needed: Security Overhaul


After terror struck Mumbai yet again, the entire political spectrum is abuzz. Younger MPs talk about intelligence and security (without really understanding the terms well) while older ones are busy poking fingers, with LK Advani first off the mark.

However, now is not the time for another blame game. The outrageous events in Mumbai present an opportunity to overhaul the entire security and law enforcement architecture of India. And it is highly imperative if we are to survive as a democratic, secular state in the most dangerous region in the world.

The most important requirement is police reforms. This has been promised in umpteen manifestos and if there is anything that could symbolize a classic political lie, it is police reforms. States much work to end political interference in the police force. As former IPS Officer and Magsasay Award winner Kiran Bedi pointed out, the situation is so bad that to get an FIR registered, one needs to go to the Chief Minister for intervention. Normal policing is not taking place, there is no local participation in peacekeeping. How can the police look into terror plots?

Politicians have used the police force for their own gains. This has to end for the good of the nation. Police reforms is the most important change needed if we are to fight terror, maintain communal peace and check corruption. No bill can do anything without police reforms in place.

Next, the intelligence architecture needs to be changed. The current NSA has too many powers. He is involved in a lot more than national security. The NSA has become a tool by which the PMO usurps the authority of the MEA. This must end. The NSA should be made accountable to the Home Minister, not the PM, and be given exclusive jurisdiction over security issues, divesting him of foreign affairs responsibilities. At the same time, the PM must intervene to see that the current turf war over the proposed NATGRID ends. The NATGRID, which will supersede the current MAC, is a major necessity to ensure that intelligence is available real time and with every agency possible.

Lastly, the pressing need for a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC), which the MHA has been championing, must be looked into. Every moment lost increases the risk to national security.

These, and other, more local-level measures, will be necessary if we are to secure Mumbai and other megacities inside India from terrorism and insurgency. Time is of the essence here because the citizens of India are fast losing their patience.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Where is the Vision?


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's latest cabinet reshuffle was an excellent opportunity for him to change the rather soiled reputation of his Government. Instead, he chose to do very little and might have added a little more grime.

The biggest shock from the reshuffle is the fact that Jairam Ramesh was removed from the MoEF and sent to Rural Development as a full Cabinet Minister. Now, some might argue that he's been upgraded; I disagree. He was an exceptionally good Minister, one of the few in the UPA, and he had much more to do. Removing him gives a sense that the PM has succumbed to corporates who dislike Ramesh's style of functioning (and honesty), which is rather unfortunate.

Then there is the Veerappa Moily affair. The former Union Law Minister was shifted to Corporate Affairs. Now, this is a clear downgrade and is probably due to the repeated troubles the UPA has been facing in the Supreme Court. However, Mr. Moily did some good work at the Ministry and if he had his way, the problem of lengthy trials could have been within striking distance of a solution. The new Minister, Salman Khursheed, has not given any reason in his previous avatar for anyone to hope that he can do the same things that Mr. Moily did.

Another surprise was the fact that Kapil Sibal retained both his portfolios of HRD and Telecom. This is disturbing becase both ministries are important enough to have their own, full-time minister. It's well known that the Congress expects Mr. Sibal to douse the 2G flames, but it is also well known that Mr. Sibal himself has some big plans for HRD. At the end, this seems to be a compromise, which speaks poorly of the PM's leadership. Almost as if to compensate, a new MoS was sent to HRD.

There were some positives, though. BK Handique, who has delivered a lackluster performance at DoNER, was sounded out, while the admission of KC Deo can be construed to be a positive move. However, these positives are eclipsed by the massive dark cloud of Railways, which went to a Trinamool man, thus remaining in Mamata Banerjee's kitty. Although coalition politics can be attributed to this, the sad fact is that the PM could not show any ability to enforce his rights as PM by dropping Mukul Roy from the Council after his extremely condemnable behaviour over the derailment in Assam.

The biggest problem with the reshuffle is that it lacks foresight. With no changes at the very top (Home, Defense, Finance and External Affairs), it was going to be a half-hearted affair anyway, but it seems as though more performers have been punished than non-performers. There is no reason to believe that the new team can do anything about the loss of credibility and initiative that the UPA faces.

Another pointless game of cards.

The Plastic Ban


With much fanfare, GHMC introduced a "total" ban on plastic carry bags in Hyderabad as per guidelines set by the Union MoEF. Sadly, even before the ban could even be enforced, protests from plastic manufacturers forced GHMC to back down and allow bags no less than 40 microns in size.

Now, I'm not really sure what the logic behind 40 microns is, but that's not the point. What really made me proud was the way the city took up this new challenge. Everybody accepts that plastic bags is a problem, particularly during the monsoon. And people are ready to give new ideas a try.

Sukuki Exnora, the excellent people who have been working on the environment in Jubilee Hills area, came out with cloth bags made from old clothes. Other NGOs also came forward to prepare cloth bags. The general population started carrying their own bags. For small store owners, this was was good move. However, department stores saw this as a crisis. They now give away bags above the legal limit but sparingly.

I think the move is excellent. In Sikkim, a similar ban has been very effective. Hyderabad is a city whose residents already complain about the concrete jungle that they are forced to live in. This is a good move towards protecting whatever environment we have left in the city. Furthermore, it is one that requires citizens to drive it forward, meaning that it is grassroots-led.

The only disappointment is that GHMC had to yield on a complete ban on plastic bags. Nonetheless, it's a good beginning and hopefully, once the trend of carrying your own plastic bags catches on, the ban could be made total.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Thank the Heavens for This


The newspapers are full of obituaries and photos of sad employees of the News of the World. In the midst of all this, it seems so wrong for me to express my extreme pleasure. But I'll do it, anyway!

So, lets consider this tabloid that was shut down just two days back. It reported extensively on sex scandals and celebrity gossip. One of its many scoops was David Beckham's illegitimate child. Its typeset was VERY BIG and takes sensationalism to new heights. Mundane issues like unemployment, seething voter resentment and an unending war in the Hindu Kush hardly found a mention.

And this from a newspaper that described itself as being the greatest in the world! Oh, how the mighty have fallen indeed. It was just a few weeks back when I was discussing the sad fate of MySpace with a friend that I had expressed my desire to see the fall of NoTW as well. Little did I know that God was on my side!

Let me be frank - I don't believe that tabloid journalism is journalism at all. It's more gossip - anyone can do it, all you need is a loose tongue and (preferably) good looks. But NoTW took even that to new heights, employing everything from bribes to tapping the phones of the Royal Family! It took impropriety to new heights. And the worst part is that it was damn, damn popular, with millions of junkies mopping up all the rubbish it put on paper.

And that's possibly the greatest tragedy of all - it was not some lunatic fringe paper that lived in its own world, it was a superbly popular paper that was read by millions daily. It was a newspaper that made headlines in other newspapers - it was Rupert Murdoch's crown jewel. It was everything that makes this world a dumber place to live in!

Fortunately, the good people at The Guardian and NYT brought this wretch down with a good deal of investigative journalism of their own. When the final issue of NoTW released on Saturday, I heaved a sigh of relief - somewhere, someone was now going to pick up a paper that carried some real news.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Another Batlle Online


Google+, Google's new social networking experiment that is currently in the "Field Trial" - is being billed as Google's long-awaited revenge for Facebook's steam-rolling of Orkut a few year's back. This time, Google has come up with some intelligent engineering.

For one, the concept of circles is completely out of the box. The things you could do with them, perhaps intersect them in creepy ways, reminiscent of Venn Diagrams! Add to that a clean interface, Spraks and Hangout and the new concept of '+1' (which is actually a rip-off of Facebook's 'like') and you have a potent new invention that is already making waves.

Of course, Google+ is not Facebook yet. Not by a long shot... it has no games, no apps, no awesome image uploader amongst other deficiencies. However, the omens portend good tidings for Google+, because Facebook has just come out with a disastrous sidebar that is a major eyesore, especially when you juxtapose it with Google+'s clean interface. Facebook is betting on Skype to fend off the competition, but as we remember, in the last days of Orkut, it too came out with thousands of wild new apps.

Change the Pack



If media reports are to be believed, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Cabinet reshuffle is going ahead full-steam and could climax as early as Monday evening.

With hectic discussions on between the PM and Sonia Gandhi, it seems that this exercise is going to be far more comprehensive than then last. And that's to be expected, given the fact that two Cabinet Ministers have resigned, with one of them cooling his heels in jail, and several Ministers have assumed multiple portfolios. To make matters worse, Mamata Banerjee's rise in West Bengal as Chief Minister has now forced the Prime Minister to take care of Railways as well.

Sources say that the Big Four (Finance, Home, External Affairs and HRD) will not undergo any change, while all the others are open to the reshuffle. One thing is certain than a Trinamool man will get Railways. Lalu Yadav, who thought he was superman in 2009 and is now left with a begging bowl, has been trying hard to get on the Congress' good books, but it seems unlikely.

A bigger issue is that of the DMK - with Dayanidhi Maran's exit, TR Baalu is the only senior MP left who could join the Cabinet, although the PM seems to be against it because of his poor performance in UPA-1. That, added to the fact that the DMK is in no position at all to bargain, means that MK Azhagiri could be the only DMK Minister in the Cabinet. There is some pressure from the Congress Party itself, with Jaipal Reddy on a tenterhook because of Telangana, and Tarun Gogoi demanding more Ministers from Assam.

What the PM should consider is induction of more young faces, given that the average age of the Cabinet is about twice that of the country! Some young MPs who have spent time as Ministers of State could be elevated to Cabinet rank. This would add some new vigour to this already-defaced Government and perhaps help the UPA turn a new leaf in this season of scams. Indeed, new faces seem to be the only thing that could resurrect the UPA's image.

Not an Option for Us


July 9, 2011 went down in history as the day when the 193rd member of the United Nations came into being. After a bloody civil war, a peace deal and several flare-ups, South Sudan finally seceded from its northern, Arab neighbour led by Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court.

The secession of the South marks an end to decades of strife but also marks the beginning of a new kind of strife. South Sudan is the world's newest oil-exporter, but it is also landlocked and requires the North's Port Sudan to export oil. In addition, it is also looking to construct oil pipelines to neighbouring states.

A lesson for India from South Sudan is that we should not use this method. Although India has never had a civil war, let alone one that spanned more than a decade, we have had a string of insurgencies, some seeking secession (in the Northeast as well as Kashmir) and some seeking subversion (the Naxalites). However, as the Government engages in peace talks with some of these groups, it is clear that the option that South Sudan took is not an option for us.

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointed out on Kashmir, India is open to all options except those that alter borders. Indeed, India's democratic system ensures that everyone gets a share in the pie, while liberalization has brought prosperity to large parts of the nation (definitely larger than what the License Raj brought in any case).

So, while Vice President Hamid Ansari, India's point-man for African ties ex-South Africa, attended the Independence ceremony in Juba, we mist remember that secession and loss of territory is not an option at all for us when it comes to conflict resolution.