Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Great War 2

Mine war not a normal struggle - I was not among those who tried to race ahead of equals. I started with a huge disadvantage, one that had already defeated me once. And now I was winning... or was I? Till then I was racing ahead with no resistance at all - and then came the politics.

When one wages war, the first sign that one has reached an important juncture is resistance. The Goliath was not unable to take me on directly, but the Axis of the Goliath remained. And it was time I fought them. In that struggle lay the answers to many questions.

The Axis consisted of the unofficial Deputy in the Senior Debating Year and the former Leader. The current leader was my Ally, but refused to properly exercise his authority for fear of being sidelined. Why did my year have such an outrageously low debating strength? Because the former Leader had deliberately prevented more entries, including mine, so that Goliath would have clear path, as it did for Jt. Secretary. Why was I given such a poor grade in second year despite my strong performance? Because I had mistakenly handed my grade to the former Leader instead of the former Additional Secretary, who was my Guru. The aim was to send a warning to me - stay out.

And then the former Leader declared all out war to save Goliath's candidature for Secretary. I fought a lonely war, but I did not give up. I fought back - and my greatest strength was that I had my juniors. Goliath was a monster who would not look below it, the Goliath enjoyed no low-level support at all. I controlled it all. And then the former Leader called for more defences in the form of the Deputy. Now, this was a most crude monster lacking all the political niceties of the former Leader. It was actually very easy to defeat the Deputy, for there was a monster who lacked all logic - and logic matters above all else in the Debating Club.

But the War did not go unnoticed - my blank cheque to run the section was withdrawn by the Secretary till further notice. I was gagged. The Secy needed his Deputy, that was my miscalculation. However, he was also aware that his time was ticking and he needed to clear the succession war. The decisive moment was when the Secy needed to deal with CulSoc and asked his Deputy to do that - she, in turn, asked her Goliath, in an attempt to keep me out. As always, the Goliath showed no interest (which was always its Achilles' Heel). And then the Deputy requested me for help - it was all happening again.

The War was finally one. The Deputy gave up not just after the CulSoc incident but also after a counterattack by my own Allied Forces, who had finally come to my rescue. The Deputy was still crude and disliked me - her continuous taunts are a matter of great irritation - but she did not stand in my way. I have never won the Deputy over, I do not care to, but I was not the one to lose. The Axis of the Goliath was vanquished as the former Leader too chose to end the war as honourably as possible.

The Faculty Advisor interviewed me, a mere formality when just one person applied for the post. And I had won - I was the new Additional Literary Secretary. All the vicious politics, the double-crosses, the historical stains... all of it had been destroyed in one stroke. It was not an armistice nor was it a peace declaration - it was absolute victory.

In my second year, my Guru had asked me to sit next to him as he discussed some important events. He taunted me for a major flaw in error. I hated him and loved him for that. I knew that he meant greater for me. I had won the greatest war I had even waged in IITR. I held supreme control over DebSoc and my junior ally held control over Kshitij.

Third year was won. As a third year.

The Great War 1

The Literary Section witnessed its greatest and most tense war in its short history this year, as I stood face to face with a superpower, an absolute Goliath, and swore to not just defeat it but to vanquish it forever. It seemed so foolish - a cult personality with a huge following, a massive power base and unimaginable political strength; holding important posts in three sections including LitSec itself. And me - the "Saharanpur kid", with no major external debating experience, perceived as a complete outsider, with no posts and no experience in organizing anything (at least nothing they cared to acknowledge)... the list was endless.

But I would not give up - that vicious politics from Kshitij would not make me its victim again. I knew one thing - any small victory, any partial success would leave me as a shadow, a mere puppet. I needed absolute conquest. And I started as I start everything: a plan. The plan involved a lot of things - external participation, a Cognizance event, taking control of the debating schedule etc. - but it also included an allowable fall of 0.2 points in my CGPA. Yes, the need to win back my lost pride and glory was worth that too.

As the plan progressed, I discovered that I had actually entered a power vacuum. The Goliath had no interest whatsoever to exercise its authority - in fact, the Goliath could not have cared less for LitSec! The Secy faced an emergency since my year had a minimum participation (just two active members) and there was nobody to pass any work to. And then I stepped in - a blast of relief. I did the Freshers' Debate, I did the Mock PD, I called for every debate after that.

The section was in a crisis: no PDs, no participation. We had died - it was over. Until I stepped in and I worked to bring it back from the grave - and then we had two parallel PDs for a few weeks. From a closed section, we were a vibrant group. Under my care, we had the most active year ever.

In the external field, I participated at the VMD, LSR and SRCC. In LSR in particular, I received great accolades from LSR where my position as first speaker was confirmed. In regular debates, the secy also encouraged me to adjudicate as I would need it next year. I went from strength to strength and my powers in LitSec increased while Goliath began to take a back seat...

(Continued)

To Give Back Much More

In the beginning of third year, I had concluded that my most powerful leg, Kshitij, was soon to end. I had one year to do what I wanted to do in it. Yes, due to vicious politics of the most illogical kind, I was asked to play second-, maybe third-fiddle.

Never. It is not my habit to play second fiddle and I would gain as much as I could from this situation. I was determined.

Many call me a workaholic. I do not deny it - I do not join groups to add to my resume, I join them to enhance myself. True, I had no post in Kshitij despite all my work, but that does not mean that I cannot contribute to it.

But unfortunately, posts bring with them authority. And I am not one to bow to authority that cannot match itself to my dedication. There were a few pangs, some moments where I genuinely did feel out of place. And then came the realization with the secretary that most of the team he was given to lead was rotten, politicians who would not care to move a leg, far from encourage others to.

And that's when I came in. It was crunch-time for Kshitij, with the first issue badly delayed and the recruitment on the verge of failure, I volunteered to step in. And somehow, things went very smoothly from then on... we got permission from the Dean just an hour after he rejected our first application; we got through the RJB security checks... it just happened!

The biggest challenge in Kshitij was, of course, with the Cultural Council and the most meddlesome clerk in it. Somehow, despite his great atrocities against our section, he did get along with me well. I was also fully in-charge of handling the faculty advisor, who was from my department and hence, easiest for me to catch. We were the Triumvirate - the "prime movers", the people who made things happen, who were powerful enough to even carry the freeloaders. The first Triumvir was the Secretary; the second was a Joint Secretary; the third was me, powerless, yet ever so powerful.

But how did I have my pound of flesh? Revenge. I had no way to control what came of me i.e., the past was not in my hands. But the future is in the hands of the present and the present was fully in my hands. So what if I could not become even a mere joint secretary despite my dedication? I controlled the future and I was more powerful... I cast aside those fools, those who believe that, after relinquishing their responsibilities, they can summon their powers. Posts have no powers: your work and your responsibility determine how powerful you are. As you give up your responsibilities to others, you silently give up your powers too.

And by the time we had to choose the next posts, all powers were with the Triumvirate. "The Central Team does not need to be good, there's not much work," they said. And I told them the truth - "You are wrong. Just because you did not work, that does not mean that there is no work." Well, never was I someone to speak for popularity - I stood for what was right. I am very much aware that had I gone ahead with my decision to quit since my greatest senior retired, this magazine would have been in ruins. I refused to leave it to chance again - that's how much I cared for it.

I saw to it that as many of my people got the top posts: I cleared the political decks, I erased the arguments, I tore the opposition apart. And I did show them that I was not doing them a big favour by taking up all their responsibilities: I was destroying them.

Thus was my story in Kshitij. I can recall two great quotes that I shall keep forever:

Posts are given because they have to. Your post does not determine your power or your importance. 

I am rather thankful that you came [to Roorkee Campus] in second year - you would have probably been in WONA otherwise. We needed you. 

Why did I do all this? Because I am well aware that had it not been for Kshitij, I would have been destroyed forever, a mere shadow of myself. Kshitij has given me work, power, prestige, name and glory... and I gave it back. Much, much more.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Talking of PA Sangma

The BJP and the SAD have officially come out with their support for PA Sangma, the ex-NCP leader, in the Presidential election to be held next month. With APJ Abdul Kalam pulling out of the race, the only two candidates as of now are Sangma and the UPA's candidate, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

As of now, Sangma does have some serious backing - the BJP, SAD, BJD and AIADMK together hold a quarter of the votes, which is significant. However, the votes in favour of Pranab Mukherjee just cross the halfway mark. The Congress is working to get Sangma to withdraw his candidature.

Two questions arise here. First, what is the problem with PA Sangma? In his entire career, he has held several distinguished positions, such as Chief Minister of Meghalaya and Speaker of the Lok Sabha. He is a Christian Tribal who hails from India's most backward region, the Northeast (and Pratibha Patil's election certainly demonstrated that symbolism is a major factor in Presidential Elections). The only controversy that he has ever been involved in was the one regarding Sonia Gandhi's foreign birth and that controversy has not even been settled yet, rather, it has died down for the time being. To assume that just because he was opposed to Sonia Gandhi is reason enough to reject his candidature is thoroughly hypocritical.

The second question is regarding the very idea of competition for the post of President. The Congress seems to want to avoid competition and work toward unanimity. There is no logic in this: there is nothing wrong with two parties with different ideologies to vote on an issue in a democracy. Even a President as distinguished as Dr. S Radhakrishnan did win in an election against someone else - that is only to be expected in politics. The idea that an election would somehow degrade the post of the President is strange and stems from the elitist attitude we inherited from the British Monarchs. And we should drop it.

The BJP and other parties supporting PA Sangma have done the right thing, while the NCP has shown just how spineless it is (not that this was not an open fact). His candidature, though symbolic, does prove that democracy is still alive.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Great Capital

The DAAD (not 'daad') WISE Scholars Meet 2012 was held this yeah again for over 150 WISE scholars from all over India and interning all over Germany. The meet was held in Berlin, the Federal capital.

We arrived at Berlin Hbf with plenty of time; amazingly, the DAAD people were late (rather unusual in Germany). We spent some time in a prison-turned-park (the area was in the former East Berlin) next to the Hotel Motel 1 Berlin-Hauptbahnhof and, upon return, got some goodies from DAAD and lunch. At 1:45 PM, we were on the bus to Freie Universität Berlin.

FU Berlin is gigantic - even larger than TU München (even after you add both the Maxvorstadt and Garching campuses). We began with an introduction to the DAAD team and a few speeches, followed by a coffee break and a workshop on Indo-German group dynamics. And then came dinner at the Indian Restaurant Amrit in Berlin Mitte, arguably the best food I've eaten since the last chapo I got from Baridhi or the dinner at Delhi before I left for Munich. The place was run entirely by Pakistanis but then, that's how the market runs!

Day 2 was a disappointment though. The fairy ride was excellent, but we realised that our Embassy Dinner has been canceled - instead, we got a pretty lame speech from the Indian Ambassador. This was followed by some guest lectures on recent Indo-German research (wtf?) which a majority happily bunked, including many DAAD officials themselves!

Then came the final dinner - Italian. Alas, most Indians have no idea what to expect and were thoroughly disappointed. People drank the wine just to feel like a BOSS (!) but nearly vomited the spaghetti, which had no salt. The rice (which I liked) was also derided by many and the salad was rejected as ghaas-poos! The best part was the way people tried to figure out what to do with the salad dressing!

To be fair, FU put in a very good effort for a good programme. The trouble is, it was not meant for an Indian audience, geeky as it may be. Perhaps FU should get some training in Indo-German group dynamics too?

We spent Day 3 touring Berlin on our own - the East Wall and the other great sites in the historic city. I've developed a great deal of respect fr German perfection - this is a land of brilliant people!

Friday, June 15, 2012

TMC must go now

With the Congress finally announcing Pranab Mukherjee as its nominee for President of the Republic, all eyes were turned towards Mamata Banerjee who, just yesterday, had rejected his name and attempted a coup d'at with SP chief Mulayam Singh to nominate former President APJ Abdul Kalam.

However, the move has clearly backfired on her and badly at that. Now, the TMC is sticking to its ground that it will not support Pranab (who seems to have a personal problem with Mamata Banerjee). At the same time, the SP has broken ranks and declared its support for the Congress candidate. The BSP has done the same and it is apparent that the Left will too. Even inside the NDA, the stand is not clear. That only leaves the AIADMK, the BJD and the TMC, of whom only the TMC has any considerable weight in Parliament (MPs have more votes).

The situation building up right now indicates that the TMC would vote against the UPA's candidate - and that would make it untenable for it to remain inside the alliance. As though sensing the change, the West Bengal Congress has already requested the High Command to allow it to leave the Bengal Cabinet and sit in the Opposition.

Unless the TMC softens its stand and backs Pranab, it is clear that its days as a UPA constituent are numbered.

Through History

In three consecutive trips, I have managed to see the history of Germany a little before and well after WW2 and the experience has been wonderful. Now, before I discuss the details, I might add that a German as such might not like to discuss these issues, which I find rather funny. After all, in India, no matter how dark a part of history is, we do discuss it.

So anyway, the first trip was to Nürnberg to the Memorium Nürnberger Prozesse (The Numerberg Trials Memorial). There, for €3, you get an audio guide that takes you all around the memorial. It starts from World War I, when the Allies decided to create a system in which all issues between States were to be taken care of by dialogue. Then we come to 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor and introduced a racial policy to "Germanize" Europe and exterminate Jews.

It then moves on to the Allied Victory and the Nuremberg Trials, going into the constitution of the IMT, the punishments handed out and new wings related to the Tokyo Trials and the International Court of Justice.

Just two days after Nürnberg, I headed to Dachau, the first Concentration Camp established by Chancellor Hitler in 1933. It was scary to say the least - ARBEIT MACHT FREIE said the entrance: the greatest lie in history. It was a sad place to be in - those were the houses of death. Amazingly, we found ourselves a random Australian backpacker to travel with! The scariest part was, of course, walking through the crematorium and the gas chamber in particular. To imagine that an elaborate system could have been created just to kill people is shocking.

Finally, we went to Berlin, where I had a chance to see the Berlin Wall. After WW2 and the end of Nazism, there was still untold suffering as Germany was zoned and Berlin sectored. Even today, the former East Berlin is far behind the rest of the city and appears to be mostly cordoned off. It felt pretty unsafe there, especially at night (we're used to the safety of München). The Window of Remembrance was the final monument near the wall in our wonderful trip through German history.

Germany - a nation of untold suffering. And still so very great... 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Year of Victory

When this semester and year began, I had concluded that in order to wipe out the savage propaganda related to my first year in DPT, Saharanpur, I would have to take some bold and drastic measures. It began with a denial of a position despite having done the work for it, in Kshitij, for that very purpose. Therefore, the war cry was simple:

Third year will be lived as a third year.

What did that mean? Third year, in my opinion, was the year when you take up responsibility - when you do something to contribute to the IIT, to be remembered. Authority does not come before responsibility; it is the other way round. Therefore, I had made up my mind to involve myself in extracurricular activities like never before, even at the risk of a slight fall in my CGPA (which did not happen, eventually).

And it meant more - it meant preparing the ground for my return to Empire. I had already failed to seal myself a truly powerful spot on Kshitij, while I missed the Jt. Secretary post in Literary. Therefore, within a few weeks, I had found my work cut-out:
  1. To  ensure that, since I could not be anyone important in Kshitij, someone important to me would.
  2. To achieve total domination of the Debating Section
  3. To organize a centre-stage event at Cognizance
  4. To moderate the rate of increase of CGPA accordingly
As subsequent posts will show, I met all of these except the last - and that's a good thing!

My second semester was the Golden Semester. And I thought it could not get better - I was wrong. This semester was great. It was greater. It was the Great Semester - a Year of Victory.  


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What Madness is This?

Veronika Decides to Die
By Paulo Coelho


Few authors can delve into the power of the human mind and spirit as Paulo Coelho. Writer of the modern-day classic The Alchemist, Veronika Decides to Die is one his lesser-known but thoroughly under-appreciated works. It goes deep into the madness of the human mind and concludes that madness is just one of the many ways to live, but possibly the most non-conformist.

The story deals with Veronika, a Slovenian girl who chooses to commit suicide but fails and is admitted to Villete, a mental asylum. She has just a week to live as her heart rots away from her suicide attempt and in that week, she realizes what life really is - and changes her life and those of the other inmates forever.

A warning here - the book is not for the weak of heart (no pun intended). It is a powerful tale, one that might set you on a trail of thought so long that you might not come out of it. The story can scare you, it can inspire you, it may even arouse you. The book is very difficult to read at one go and deserves to be read in parts so that you may digest each of the complex ideas presented.

The most amazing aspect of the book is the treatment of Dr. Igor who, till the very last page, remains an understated character, only to come out as both hero and villain. His experiments with Vitriol not only have the potential to change the psychological sciences but to truly change lives - if only it were not a work of fiction!

Mari, Eduard, Zedka and other characters all add to the theme of madness and its subtle definition. Coelho mixes a complex set of characters in one place and finally sets them free - a wonderful work indeed!

Sprechen Sie Deutsche?

As part of our internship under DAAD WISE, all of us were enrolled into a free online German language course from Deutsche Uni-Online. I suppose the reason for this was because you do need some knowledge of German while here, it makes life a little easier and helps to connect.

I being me, took up the course - jumped at it rather! I've always wanted to learn German and was meaning to join the HS Department's German Language Course (and pay up Rs. 2000 for that) but never got the time. This was the perfect opportunity.

German is a pretty easy language - the grammar is just like Sanskrit (and that includes the painful part about learning the gender of every word) while the script is the Roman script with a few extra letter. The pronunciation is rather different though - a 'v' is pronounced like the English 'f', for example. And the language, although the most widely spoken in Continental Europe, is not uniform - the Swiss and Austrians speak a different dialect of course, but even the Bavarians say it a little differently.

The online course is really good and the teacher - Ms. Shatha Kilani - is extremely dedicated, although very few DAAD Scholars are actually cooperating with her! She sends repeated reminders to them, which they ignore. As for me, I'm one of her best students, so much so that she herself asked for a second Skype chat with me, although only one is compulsory under the course.

If there's one thing I'll be taking back with me after this internship, it will definitely be the knowledge of a new language, little as it may be.

Ich spreche bisschen Deutsche, Danke DAAD!

Long Overdue

The directive by the Ministry of Home Affairs to all state governments to book anyone calling a person from Northeast India 'Chinki' under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act is a long overdue exercise to arrest the alienation felt by people of the region to come to other states.

The term Chinki, as OTFS has often contended, is purely racist is nature and is meant to humiliate people from the region. The term has become increasingly controversial as more people from the region settle down in other states - despite it being over 60 years since they were made a part of the Indian Union. This only goes to show the failure of policymakers in the past to successfully integrate the region, a fact that has led to a vicious insurgency there.

Some have described the punishment - five years behind bars - as being too harsh. However, harshness is just what the doctor prescribed: people in Delhi in particular have a tough skin and will do all sorts of stupid things to defend their machismo. It is necessary to have exemplary punishment to curb this menace that could lead to secession or a violent subversion.

Despite his very poor track record, OTFS congratulates the Union Home Minister for this far-sighted move and hopes that it will go a long way in reminding people from the so-called mainland that nationalism does not change with region.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Nauseating

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island recently indulged in a four-day celebration of the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II's reign, complete with fireworks and a thousand ferries on the Thames. Millions across the world watches in awe as recession-hit UK splurged.

The fact is that for many of us, it was absolutely nauseating. Apart from the unnecessary expenditure at a time when everyone else is being forced to cut back to the point of survival, it also displayed just how out of tune with the times Britain is.

After WW2, most countries chose to become Republics. The reason being that only a republic symbolizes fairness - where anyone, irrespective or birth or background, can become Head of State. It represents the values that humanity seeks to achieve. Sadly, the British (like in most other things) have gone against the tide of the world.

The British Monarchy represents an unequal society - to the extent that it is illegal for 'commoners' to even touch the Queen, let alone visit her castle, which, by the way, is paid for by the public! At a time when the British people are being forced to live on very little money, a large budget goes towards maintaining the royal family's extravagance (imagine the Queen having bread and water for supper!).

The marketing and the PR machine that go into maintaining royalty in Britain are paid so much that the money could well go towards paying teachers and doctors more. Or, if the British have concluded that austerity is the best way to live, towards feeding some dying children in former colonies that the Monarchy so nobly impoverished.

The sight of so much being spent on a family and people being conditioned to accept that from birth is nauseating and clearly an anachronism.

Make it Free - for Real

The steep increase in petrol prices and the subsequent partial rollback brings us back to the endless dance with oil prices that the UPA has played despite have decontrolled Petrol prices. The political oneupmanship by the Opposition aside, the fact of the matter remains that the UPA is responsible for this mess it has brought this country into.

No, I am not referring to the high oil prices. The UPA has tried to bring a GST but states that blocked it. The problem is rather with steep increases instead of Internationally-linked, small increases every fortnight or so.The truth is that petrol prices were only decontrolled with a wink - OMCs still need the government's nod to change prices and the Government, instead of acting responsibly, has always looked for political advantages.

Well, you can't fool the economy or the citizenry for too long. The OMCs have reached a state of virtual collapse and have rubbished the politically-motivated claim of 'huge' profits (which are less than 1% of turnover). Citizens will no longer take the lie that OMCs have taken all decisions on their own accord. In short, the UPA has tangled itself up in a dirty web of its own making and is now paying the price for it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

By the River Rhine

A little poem I wrote during a walk at night in Zurich.

By the River Rhine I walked,
Against its flow I wept.
Its mighty course from the majestic Alps,
My tears and sorrows it swept.

By the River Rhine I sat,
By my great tragedy, appalled.
Its vast reaches and unbound depth,
Reminded me they were so small.

By the River Rhine I stood,
Ready to drown and live no more.
Its meandering path to the Nordsee,
Told me there was so much to go.

By the River Rhine I lay,
I felt Mother's kiss as a child.
Its cool waves across my face splashed,
And I finally smiled.