Friday, March 29, 2013

Indian of the Year 2012

And the Winners Are...

Indian of the Year 2012
Ratan Tata

Custodian of India’s greatest indigenous business empire and a man who has never cowered from taking bold decisions, Ratan Tata stepped down this year as Chairman of Tata Sons, thus completing a successful innings that saw the Tata Group as well as India itself transform.

POLITICAL AWARDS
Troublemaker of the Year: Mamata Banerjee, for her meaningless tirades against innocent people and the Central Government
Politician of the Year: Manohar Parrikar, Chief Minister of Goa, for showing the way ahead with his clean politics and professional work
Memorable Visit of the Year: Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to India, for reminding us of the everlasting bond between the two nations

COMMUNITY AWARDS
Best State of the Year: Gujarat, for successfully completing irrigation projects that has made agriculture a successful venture in the state
City of the Year: New Delhi, for rekindling the spirit of Indian democracy in the protests against the Delhi Gang Rape. 

MEDIA AWARDS
Best Newspaper: The Times of India, for its coverage of the Delhi Gang Rape
Best Documentary: Nobody’s Countrymen, 30 Minutes, CNN-IBN
Best Movie: Vicky Donor, for its refreshing take on urban India and its message of national integration
Best Ad: Dil Dheere Dheere, the Hero MotoCorp official theme song, for its motivational message and music

SPORTS AWARDS
Sportspersons of the Year Krishna: India’s distinguished medalists at the 2012 London Olympics: Vijay Kumar, Sushil Kumar, Gagan Narang, Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom and Yogeshwar Dutt
Team of the Year: Indian Men’s Field Hockey Team, for qualifying in the 2012 London Olympics and helping restore the pride of India’s national sport
Memorable Event: World Series Hockey
Commemorative Award: Sachin Tendulkar, for a distinguished innings in ODIs

BUSINESS AWARDS
Businessman of the Year: Dilip Shanghvi, former chairman of Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, for leading India’s most valuable drug-maker in a field that gives India immense International weight
Car of the Year: The New Maruti Alto 800, for resurrecting India’s favourite family car

OTFS AWARDS
Series of the Year: The DAAD Files, for a unique perspective into the life of a DAAD intern in Germany
Documentary of the Year: 1966: The Bombing of Aizawl, for an insightful view into one of Northeast India's darkest chapters. 








IOTY12: Troublemaker of the Year

The nominations are:

  • Mamata Banerjee: For her vicious verbal abuse of a college student and mindless actions against the Central Government and all those who oppose her
  • Robert Vadra: For his unabashed arrogance over his wife and his contempt for the Indian masses.
  • Manmohan Singh: For summing up all that was wrong in UPA-II with just two words: "Theek hai." Ironically, he was IOTY Indian of the Year 2008: oh, how the mighty have fallen! 

Vegetarian in Japan

Before going to Japan, I was quite concerned about the sort of food I would get. I was not looking for traditional Indian food, of course, but my overriding fear was that there would be nothing more than salad for vegetarians like me. The later realization that most of the participants were Bongs who adored meat made it worse.

However, we soon discovered, on the flight itself actually, that the JICE people had handled it: knowing that the Indian subcontinent is the only place on earth where you find a large number of vegetarians, they took care to find the choicest of vegetarian food for us. In Chiba, Hotel Springs provided us with excellent breakfast with a variety of things to have - from basic orange juice to ratatouille.

But the best food of all was in Sendai, where Hotel Ark was subject to the shocking Indian appetite - and rightly so, what with the delicious mushroom spaghetti, cream of corn soup, lime juice, chocolate cake and what not. It was by far closest most of us had ever come to royalty!

By contrast, the food at Minamisanriku was far more humble. Traditional Japanese with all the meat substituted with mushrooms, the hotel staff nevertheless took care to make it as good as possible. While I can't say it was delicious, it was still good and certainly something that should be tried in Japan. Eating with chopsticks was a challenge though and although I never managed to master it, I did make considerable progress.

There were the odd Indian and Italian restaurants here and there, which the JICE people discovered using Google. It was actually impressive to see Japanese eating in an Indian restaurant on their own volition, with Indians (and not Pakis) running those restaurants. A perfect gastronomical tour on the Land of the Rising Sun!  

Return to Utopia


"So you have returned, how nice. Am I supposed to rejoice?"

She had not changed at all - the same crisp words, the same air of nonchalance. She did love me.

"Well, Anatolia, you don't have to rejoice per se, but then, royalty would demand so."
"Don't tell me about royalty, I have grown tired of them. I shall not rejoice until given a better reason. Now go away you rash fool."

I have come to take you away,
To shake your heart, make it sway.
I have come to claim your hand,
To sweep you off your feet,
To never let you stand.
Oh, Anatolia, I have come at last,
To make you Queen of Syracuse!

She looked at me with surprise at the last line.

A Prince who thinks he's a King,
And a toad who thinks he can sing.
Quite the charmer, Seleucus, you are,
But here you won't get very far.
Come and snatch me, if you care,
And lets be honest, you don't dare.

I approached her and held her hand. "I dare," I whispered. I could see her smile, that smile that I had missed so much at the Academy.

***

"Oh, so that's where you were," Normander blurted out, not even attempting to hide his disgust.
"Yes, what's wrong with that? She's the love of my life, Norm, why would I not be with her?"
"Oh, no reason, perhaps the matter of the great insult heaped upon you and the Emperor by the Governor-General. But perhaps such things don't make much difference to you?"
"Calm down, my friend, I am aware."

Normander kept quiet. But he was not convinced, he was sure that the Prince's love affair with a common woman such as Anatolia would cause a scandal. If only Seleucus would care. 

The Tree Sentinels

During our visit to Minamisanriku, one of the worst affected areas in the Miyagi prefecture, we were struck by the line of grey trees that seem to line the otherwise lush green forests. It seemed to resemble one of the many Japanese artforms that make use of nature and its colours. Until we discovered the truth.

The tsunami that hit the area brought in huge quantities of saline water that penetrated the trees through their routes and killed them. This stunning revelation left us in shock as we continued to stare at the trees through the window of the bus - they, the remains of thriving, tall trees made us realize the awesome power of the tsunami. Given the elevation of the tree bases, we could even get an idea of just how high the tsunami managed to come by tracking the border of the dead and living trees. And it was high indeed.

The trees are unsafe now, of course. Like any living thing, they too seem to wait for a decent cremation. But other prefectures refuse to take the trees for incineration for fear of radioactivity. This is perfectly a non-issue of course, given that there was no leak in this area. Nonetheless, people of other prefectures refuse to see this reasoning, concerned for their own families' well-being. And so the people of this little village live in the midst of these trees, which could come crashing down at any moment. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cost of Vengeance

MUNICH (2005)

Director: Steven Spielberg

The psychological thriller has been the most popular yet most difficult genre of films in recent times. Few have been able to get it right, leave alone perfect it. Spielberg, in Munich, stands out as one of those few great directors. Set in the aftermath of the Black September massacre of Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics, the movie traces the secretive world of espionage and assassination as a hit squad is used to hunt and track down the killers of '72 with the blessings of no less than Prime Minister Golda Meir.

The movie is not however, one of those that makes espionage look 'cool' a la James Bond. Munich presents it as it really is - dangerous and full of double dealings. An informer to you today becomes and informer to your enemies tomorrow; a sly lady ends up being a counter-assassin; a failed plan leads to more failed plans. The list goes on.

The one scene that sticks out most prominently is the description of the urge of the Palestinians for a nation. Spielberg has not made this a one-sided fight against evil (unlike say, The Hurt Locker) but actually presents a Palestinian point of view as well. In doing so, he allows for a glimpse into the twisted ways of Israel and how victims of the holocaust have turned against the principles that their religion stands for, all in the quest for a Jewish homeland. The movie asks questions about the morality of the black-box operation and its effect on the lives of the protagonists.

A brilliant movie that deserves to be seen by a wider audience, I would certainly recommend it. (OTFS) 

A Game of Rules

My ten days in Japan, coming so close after my German internship, helped me gain a cleared understanding of just why India, with its large population, massive potential and brilliant young minds, is still such a poor developing nation. Although colonialism did have a role to play in filling up the coffers of the imperialists, sixty years is quite time enough for their effect to have waned. No, it's something deeper.

Japan was an Axis Power during World War II and was devastated by a crushing defeat to the mighty Americans. That was in 1945. By 1991, Japan was the world's second largest economy, with a slight forex fluctuation making it the largest for a few minutes. Germany was destroyed, partitioned and occupied after WW2. By the end of the century, it was Europe's second-largest economy. How did they do it? How did such ravaged nations manage to come back to their great glory?

Rules. Discipline. That, I have come to conclude, is the real game-changer. Law enforcement is so simple in these countries because people follow rules and trust the police (although they might not entirely trust their politicians). When laws work, they can be made to work for the common good of the public and hence, the good of the nation. That is what we desperately need in India - we are inherently an in-disciplined and unruly race of  people. We are intelligent and strong, but we are indecisive. We cannot use our strengths because we simply dither each time.

The key to the prosperity of the nation is the discipline of its people - lesson learned. 

The Background

State vs. Jasbir Singh alias Billa and Kuljeet Singh alias Ranga
17 (1980) DLT 404, ILR 1979 Delhi 571

This case was one of the earliest and most shocking cases of rape and double murder in India, one that caused widespread outrage and lead to two executions. Opinions 24x7, using the records of the case, recreates the story...

The Family
Captain Madan Mohan Chopra, an officer of the Indian Navy stationed at Naval HQ Delhi, lived in Dhaula Kuan in 1978 with his family: his wife, college-doing daughter Geeta and son, Sanjay, who was a students of Class 10. At the time of the crime, Geeta was 16 years old and Sanjay, 14. Being children from a naval background, the children enjoyed working within the community. Geeta was a gifted orator and was thus scheduled to compere a program on All India Radio, Parliament Street, at 8:00 PM on August 26, 1978. Her brother was to participate in the same show and both had to arrive at AIR by 7:00 PM.

Thus, the siblings left home at 6:15 PM and hoped to take a taxi to AIR, while their father was to bring them back at 9:00 PM after the show. At 8:00 PM, Capt. Chopra and his wife sat down to hear his children speak - but they heard someone else speak. The show had been cancelled for no apparent reason. Surprised, they assumed they were catching the wrong station. At 8:45 PM, Capt. Chopra arrived to pick up his children but could not find them. After hectic searching proved unfruitful, he approached the Police Control Room at 10:15 PM.

The Hospital
While Capt. Chopra was searching for his children, at 10:15 PM, an injured man by the name of Vinod came to the Casualty Ward of Willingdon Hospital by one, Harbhajan Singh. Vinod was found to have a major laceration on his forehead for which surgery was recommended. Being a medico-legal case, Sub-Inspector Ram Chander came to the hospital to investigate the matter. Vinod told him that he was robbed of his wristwatch at Bangla Saheb Marg and the ensuing brawl had caused the injury.

As Vinod insisted on leaving against medical advice, he was asked by the SI to take him to the scene of the crime, where no sign of any ruckus could be found, His suspicion aroused, he asked the two to come to the Mandir Marg police station for questioning. Just then, Vinod complained of severe pain in his head and asked to be allowed to meet his mother. The SI took down their address and allowed them to go on the promise that they would return.

The duo failed to return. The address, 4, Pushpa Building, Fatehpuri, was found to be a fake.

The Bodies
Dhani Ram, grazing his cattle on the field at 6:00 PM on August 28, 1978, discovered the dead bodies on a boy and a girl in the middle of the fields. The bodies were already heavily decomposed. He reported the matter to the police, SI Hari Chand began the investigation. Suspecting the worst, he asked Capt. Chopra to come with his wife to see if the bodies were those of their children.

The Chopras identified the bodies. It was a case of murder.

Next: The Missing Links

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Bold Tilt

OH MY GOD! (2012)

Produced By: Viacom18 and others
Director: Umesh Shukla
Starring: Paresh Rawal, Akshay Kumar, Mithun Chakraborty, Yusuf Hussain and others
Pros: Bold approach, smart story
Cons: Gets rhetorical
Rating: *** (3 of 5)

In the Republic of Hurt Sentiments, it is hard to imagine a movie that takes a direct dig at the business of organized religion. Oh My God! is one of those rare movies that did not face the ire of the religious right or the censor board and yet managed to carry the message home.

An enterprising shopkeeper loses everything to an act of God decides to sue Him to recover his losses. The ensuing court cases pits the salesman of God against this businessman with surprising consequences. Based on the Gujarati play 'Kanji virudh Kanji,' the movie has a fresh feel to it, with Paresh Rawal using an ideal mix of humour and common sense to get his point across, even as the so-called representatives of God resort to ungodly activities to defend Him.

In many ways, the movie is bold - the scene talking about wasteful usage of milk, chadars and candles would have riled the forces of the right wing against director Umesh Shukla had it not been so carefully handled. Indeed, the movie does not reject God per se (though if would have been interesting to see how it would have been if it had) but organized religion, something that is sure to catch the attention of the urban audience. Add to that a decent soundtrack and you have a good movie.

The only downside is that it gets rhetorical - instead of a court case focusing on an insurance claim, it often degenerates into a diatribe. Justified as that diatribe may be, it is just too much and you begin to wish that those parts would end soon. A little more of a nuanced approach, infused with subtleties (which seems to have become a forgotten art today), would have done wonders. Nonetheless, a decent film. (OTFS)

Not exactly LOTR

The Oath of the Vayuputras 
By Amish Tripathi 

Curiosity, they say, kills the cat. Although in this case, it actually bells it. For those who have read the first two works of the Shiva Trilogy, there can be no reason for reading the third apart from sheer curiosity. In the third and last book of the series, author Amish Tripathi takes us through a 200-page story inflated into a 500-page story, marked with some interesting interpretations of mythology at all but the most crucial points.

Let me be honest, I've read the whole trilogy because of sheer curiosity. I'm not sure if it;s on purpose, but while the The Immortals of Meluha was good, The Secret of the Nagas was downright terrible - so terrible that it left a bad after-taste that could not be satiated by anything but a quenching of my curiosity. And The Oath of the Vayuputras is probably the worst of the worst, it's long, meandering story going virtually nowhere, with just not-so-interesting military strategies being pushed onto every page.

An absolutely unnecessary trip to Persia uses up a hundred more pages (including the unending debate on whether to undertake it at all) while the ending effectively makes all the reading redundant because well, things just fell into place and the bad guys just died. Like that! As if that was not bad enough, the attempt to build parallels with mythology was so forced, with unexplained dreams and hallucinations dotting the landscape, that just finishing the book seems like an achievement in itself.

Overall, a poor ending to a very mediocre series. Read it as a substitute for Chetan Bhagat, but nothing else. 

A Moment for Vidharbha

Today is Holi, the festival of colours, mud and at times, eggs. It is the festival when people revel in country liquor and grime, which is quite a great change because our self-satisfied middle class tends to hold that combination in great contempt otherwise.

But lets put that aside and talk a little about Vidharbha. You won't find it on a map because it's not a separate state, although it has been trying very hard for that. But no worries, you can find it easily: just search for the Suicide Capital of India. Yes, while some people commit suicide because they are in love or because they are ugly, here farmers commit suicide because of drought and perpetual debt. And that drought is quite man-made. After all, Maharashtra 'boasts' of India's worst state government, one where crony capitalism joins hands with socialism to wipe off the debt of rich farmers and wipe off the lives of the poor ones.

It is only Maharashtra that had a CM who was indicted by the Supreme Court for misusing his position against farmers, with the State Government having to cough up a fine. In any other state, such a CM would have to leave politics entirely, but here, he was elevated to an even better position.

Water is the essence of the problem: India faces a huge crisis of water with the poor bearing the brunt of it, although sometimes the middle-class residents of cities like Bhopal do too. This Holi, lets keep it dry. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

MUN Streak

In 2011, a particular student, amazed by the fact that there was no literary event apart from a Quiz at Cognizance, envisioned IITR MUN to bring the love of MUNs to IIT Roorkee. With one council to create and no prior experience, he did his best and started quite well. In 2012, his followers organized the second edition, doubling the number of councils and taking the brand name far and wide. ANd in 2013, the legacy continued.

Cognizance 2013 saw IITR MUN 3.0, with two councils and some very enthusiastic MUNers eager to display their diplomacy skills in what has become one of the best-known MUNs in Uttarakhand. I played the limited role of a mentor this year, as I did for Vox Populi as well. There were ups and downs, especially with the Cognizance website, which was an engineering marvel but a functional wasteland, as well as a last-minute pull-out by the Vice Chair of the GA.

Nonetheless, the few hours that I sat in the Council and observed the proceedings made me extremely proud of how well it was managed and how good the participation was. I was particularly happy to see students of IITR excelling in the MUN after years of practice. IITR MUN 3.0 is also significant because it is the last one from the original group that worked on MUN 1.0. MUN 4.0 (if it happens) would be organized by the post-pioneer generation.

Rarely does one have the chance to see something of their creation blooming into maturity. IITR MUN is an institution that I was proud to be a part of, one that has raised the name of IIT Roorkee higher in the literary plane of India. And I hope it has many more excellent editions to come. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Media of Double Standards

The Indian electronic media has long been known to be of poor quality as far as news and opinions go, never missing a chance to sensationalize events and egged on by a middle class that is addicted to misinformation. But the new low that has been reached in the 1993 Mumbai Blasts case verdict has to be a moment of absolute shame. The cause - the randomly-generated idea that Sanjay Dutt, convicted for his role in the attacks that killed over a hundred people, should be pardoned for the mere reason that he is an actor that everyone will miss while he is in jail.

Obviously, the corporate-funded media is doing this to save the big money that is at stake on the actor's films. But while acknowledging the role of corporate-funding in Bollywood and the good it has done, justice should not be rendered a mute spectator to crony capitalism at play. Sanjay Dutt is a criminal, confirmed by the highest court of the land, and his movies will not bring the dead back or provide solace to the bereaved. Moreover, if he is somehow deserving of leniency, then so are many others by the same standard. What justifies one person being given this sort of special treatment?

Amazingly, Congress General Secretay Digvijay Singh characterized Dutt's behaviour as 'childish, not criminal,' as though 30+ years of age is not enough to attain maturity. But then again, this is a party that calls a 42 year-old a 'youth icon.' But the law of the land does not recognize such silly comments and anyone above eighteen years can be held accountable for their actions. And Sanjay Dutt is no teenager.

The Indian Media is tredding on a dangerous path. Nobody asserted that Dutt should be pardoned until the media created the story itself. The Maharashtra Government even seems to be set to take the issue to the Governor, the authority that can issue such a pardon. This would be a travesty f justice that should not be tolerated, even by the people of Maharashtra who, unfortunately, seem to have gotten used to living with India's worst state government. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Mixed Legacy

The ;passing away of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez marks a turning point in the history of Latin America as his Bolivarian Revolution stands at a crossroads. A divisive leader who stood out for his rather flamboyant style but firm belief in Latin America's independence from the US, he will be remembered by his supporters for his massive oil-fed social spending programs and by his enemies for his extraordinarily harsh words against pro-American and American leaders, going as far as to compare US President George Bush to the devil at the United Nations.

Not everybody would agree with Chavez's style, of course. He ran a weekend TV show in which he 'solved' problems on Live TV for as long as chose to, virtually turning democratic politics in a personality cult in the tiny, oil-rich nation. He used his massive majority in Parliament to enact a new Constitution that would have made him President virtually forever, something that saw massive opposition from his opponents. Yet, he was loved by the rural voters for using the country's oil money to bring education and healthcare to the long-neglected lower strata of society.

On the International front, his unflinching support for Cuba in the face of American sanctions pitted him against much of the Western world. But he used diplomacy wisely as he crafted a new alliance in Latin America around the legacy of Simon Bolivar, clearly knowing the power of symbolism. And although Venezuela is by no means the new superpower of Latin America - that title remains with Brazil - his diplomacy went a long way in creating a new sort of geopolitics in the region.

Chavez did not have much to discuss with India, although the common bond of friendship with Cuba could have had some effect. Yet, his support to the Iranian regime made life even harder for Indian diplomats. Although India's politics in South America remains centred around Brazil and, to some extent, Argentina, the legacy of Hugo Chavez is sure to remain for decades to come in any foreign policy concerning the region. 

Think with a Cool Head

The flare-up among fringe protest groups in Tamil Nadu over the issue of the resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC is a testing moment for Indian diplomacy but it is important to think with a clear head and not be wavered into irresponsibility by extremists in Tamil Nadu including but not only the DMK. The hyper-competitive politics in the state on the matter of solidarity with the Tamils in Sri Lanka is mainly a distraction to make people forget about the myriad of problems in the state including the perpetual power crisis and plight of fishermen there.

While the DMK has decided to pull out of the UPA, it does not make much of a difference as the UPA was already a minority government and the DMK would not pull it down lest a Jayalalitha, drifting towards the NDA, uses her muscle against it. Therefore, the move can be simply dismissed as tokenism for an issue that is meant to be nothing more than a distraction.

That said, the latest draft of the resolution, released by Amnesty International, is clearly too weak. Sri Lanka has lied time and again to India -  there seems to be little reason to trust the dictatorial regime of Rajapaksa. Therefore, India will have to foist International pressure on it. This does come with the danger of the island nation moving towards the Chinese sphere of influence, but we must not allow a constant fear of China to dictate out foreign policy, lest we end up repeating Myanmar. On principle, the continued dithering over the 13th Amendment and the new evidence of war crimes is a serious matter, one that deserves our attention.

The need of the hour is to be firm with Sri Lanka and prevent a second wave of discrimination against the Tamils there, while also staying clear of hyperbole of the kind the DMK uses with elan. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Good Day for Pakistan

The successful completion of Pakistan's National Assembly's constitutional five-year term for the first time since the country was created from the partition of British India is a historic day for Pakistan that hopefully bodes well for the future of the country. While negotiations are on for a caretaker government to oversee the general elections, the Pakistan People's Party and its allies deserve to be praised for doing what was once unthinkable in Pakistan.

Of course, the military had a role to play in this as well: Pervez Kiyani has proven himself to be a different sort of general, who prefers to work in the background instead of openly ditching democracy. Added to that is the fact that the 19th Amendment makes subversion of the Constitution an act of treason and this certainly means good days ahead for Pakistani democracy.

Unless, of course, the insurgency gets worse. The massive rise in violence against minorities and the general increase in militancy can derail not just democracy but the entire country itself. The PPP, despite its solid secular credentials, has done little to contain this, while the Opposition, particularly Imran Khan, have actually helped these tendencies to rise, putting the whole country and the region into danger. The 2014 pullout of ISAF forces from Afghanistan will further put the country in danger, demanding a strong, democratically-elected government to handle the situation.

Many other challenges remain, of course, particularly on the economic front, with industries having to shut shop because of the crippling power shortage and IMF restrictions hurting the poor directly. Clearly, much work is left for the next dispensation. But for now, it's a good day. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

On Accepting Pakistan

I go through a lot of online discussion and chat forums revolving around the Indian subcontinent. There is much gained in listening to Track-II discussions, which tend to be more free and frank and help you understand what the other side really thinks. I have found a common thread that runs through most Pakistanis: that India does not accept the reality of Pakistan, that somehow most Indians (read, Hindus) still cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that such a large chunk of 'their' territory was lost to Partition. And that Indians should accept this reality and deal with Pakistan on an equal footing.

I find this very funny: most Indians know very well for a fact that Pakistan as a country exists. Nobody would talk about Lahore or Karachi as being Indian cities under 'foreign occupation': these are Pakistani cities that most Indians alive today have never been to. We do not define ourselves, like the Chinese do, by some notions of supernatural existence. For Indians, India is that territory that came of Partition of the subcontinent (and that includes Jammu and Kashmir). That's it - not the land of Ram and Akbar or anything of that sort (though we acknowledge the shared history).

However, these is one point: Indians do reject the notion on which Pakistan was created. We cannot accept the Two Nation Theory - it goes against the very basis of Indian democracy and civilization. We do not believe that people of different religions are two separate nations rather, we believe that India is a strong, united country of many nations, something of what Europe wants to become. Therefore, the birth of India and Pakistan was not some antisymmetric break-up: Pakistan was formed as a homeland for Muslims. India was not formed as a homeland for Hindus: it was a homeland for all Indians. And this is a fact that will never change.

I find that the real grouse that Pakistanis hold is just how far India has gotten ahead of it. Consider that Pakistan was once a more prosperous nation than India and its cities were once seen as the safest in the region, and how the tables have comprehensively turned today. India today has a new-found confidence that deeply hurts Pakistan, which can barely hold itself up in the comity of nations. And this hurts Pakistanis, who call our confidence our pride and arrogance simply because they themselves cannot hold that sort of confidence anymore. Therefore, talk of 'rejecting Pakistan's existence' make no sense at all: India stands to gain nothing by rejecting reality, but its very basis is built on the idea of rejecting the idea behind Pakistan. 

With Excess Money...

My time in IITR has been rather rewarding in financial terms. Taking together in cash and kind, I have probably gotten back, if not exceeded, my fees. The biggest credit to the account is obviously, the Kizuna Project, in which the Japanese Government spent several lakhs of rupees on each of the participants. Then there was the DAAD WISE internship, which was nothing short of an amazing vacation in Europe (and plenty of work at TUM too).

Apart from the prizes in kind, there was plenty of direct cash involved too. The OPJEMS scholarship was the biggest bonanza, despite the delay in receiving the money. In fact, I have still not touched a penny of that amount. For my high grades, I received Rs. 15,000 so far from the institute, Rs. 12,500 of that just last month. And then there was the Rs. 7000 for LCDMUN. I also expect a good haul at the next Convocation, if not the ultimate prize.

So, what do I do with so much money? Call it the epitome of geek-dom, but I buy books on Flipkart. Lots of them at that - from Cables from Kabul to The Krishna Key, you can see my favourite line-up of genres. This habit has left me with a formidable little collection of books in my hostel room, rivaled only by my equally formidable collection at home (most of which were won at various competitions). And this time, I decided to go a step further: I got myself an external HDD. While at first it may seem like a luxury, I actually had little choice because this terrible BTP has eaten up a great deal of space on my laptop, forcing me to part with some popular movies.

But no more: with 1 TB of space and friends in the LAN Bhawans, the time has come to create a permanent collection of my own! 

Breach of Trust

The Italian Government's decision to keep their marines, charged with homicide in India, in the country itself despite a promise to the Indian Supreme Court that they would return after voting in general elections is a breach of trust between nations of the kind that is only done by rogue states. The Italian move is reprehensible and violates every principle of International diplomacy established since the end of World War II.

Of course, Italy did have a grouse: it's repeated requests for International Arbitration of the event met with red tape from the Indian side, while their marines remained in India. But if Italy wishes to continue links with our emerging superpower, it will have to respect the shortcomings and legal procedures in India. By virtually lying to the Indian Supreme Court, the country has set this whole relationship back.

India has few options now. But one thing is certain: diplomatic ties will have to be downgraded. While Britain and other Western powers might call it drastic, such a massive insult to India can only be met with such a consequence and the Italians would know this. In addition, India must prepare to enter International Arbitration, for which the MoD, Home Ministry, MEA and Ministry of Law & Justice need to pull up their socks and work towards and effective strategy.

Clearly, the Italian move, reminiscent of the shady dealings that Nazi Germany indulged in with other countries, has caught India on the backfoot. But a strong response might bring the momentum back to the world's largest democracy. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Forgive and Forget

British Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to Jallianwala Bagh, the site of one of the fiercest massacres at the hands of British Imperialism, is a good gesture and model for the way former colonies and their colonizers should work on their relations. While Cameron refused to explicitly apologize, the very fact that he acknowledged the massacre as a dark period should be seen as being adequate.

Colonialism, for all its White-Man's-Burden dress up, was a mindless pilferage of resources and an attack on human dignity around the world. Yet, we cannot live in the past and need to move ahead. David Cameron has shown us the best way to do that and it is worth emulating by others.

Where is Humanity in the Law?

Irom Sharmila Chanu, the 'Iron Lady of Manipur', has been brought to Delhi to face charges for a fast-unto-death, or as the police call it, an attempted suicide. Charges have been framed against her in a Delhi Court, to which she is to plead not guilty.

While the judiciary will take its own procedure, it is worth wondering as to what sort of law the judiciary has to uphold. Based on an outdated concept sent down from the Church, suicide is illegal in India. But what's worse is that suicide seems to have become a blanket term that, in this case, is leading to the denial of a fundamental right to express anger through non-violent protest.

Calling Sharmila's fast an attempt to suicide is not just illogical, it is also an insult to the glorious freedom struggle that we are so proud of. Was Mahatma Gandhi's fast a sign of suicide or of full, conscious belief in Satyagraha? If keeping Irom Sharmila in custody for over a decade is called the rule of law, then this law lacks all humanity, it is blind to justice and suffering and is not worth respecting. What law criminalizes non-violence? What law allows the state to brutalize its own people in the name of national security? Is this the state that we have fought for. What would the Mahatma do in such a situation? After all, it was Gandhiji himself who warned Nehru that he would stand in between the Nagas and Indian guns if the Nagas were to be annexed into India by force.

While the MHA seems to have no problems with amending AFSPA as recommended by numerous committees, it is the MoD that is holding things up. It is necessary for the Army to understand that violence cannot end insurgency and that a nation is built on reconciliation and not victory. We can never fight insurgency through the gun, we can at best subjugate the people and protect the country while losing the nation. Is that what we want? 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Music to my ears

LES MISÉRABLES (2012)

Produced By: Working Title FIlms/Universal Studios
Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russel Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne and others
Pros: Engaging story, beautiful lyrics, imaginative set, wonderful acting
Cons: A little too much music
Rating: ***** (5 of 5)

Winner of the 2012 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway)

Musicals are not very common in Western cinema, which might explain how the occasional one could weave such magic. A delight for literatuers and poets alike, the adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic of the same name lives up to its heavy burden. Tracing the history of Revolutionary France over nearly two decades, this epic tale of love, imperial power and kindness is sure to touch hearts.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is an angry ex-convict who needs direction in his life. Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is a wretch who is forced to take to prostitution to support her illegitimate daughter. It is not a love story between them though: Fantine's death starts a chain of events that culminates in the June Revolution of Paris that followed the death of General Lamarque and changed the lives of two young lovers (Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne). All this, depicted through imaginative song and poetry.

The movie, being an adaptation of a classic, has an excellent story, with the unnecessary portions of the book suitably pruned, as is necessary for cinema. To this, some fine works of music, most notably I Dreamed a Dream, Do You Hear the People Sing? and Red and Black, make it a riveting journey that tingles your literary senses, even to the point of numbness. Which is the only drawback: virtually the entire movie is told through song, making it necessary to simplify the poetry slightly, which could have been avoided. Nonetheless, once the story enters the June Revolution, there is no looking back and, as the lyrics go, your heart beats with the march of the revolutionaries.

As for the acting, it is by far some of the best from the actors, particularly Anne Hathaway, whose anguish and pain can be felt throughout the movie, only to be extinguished by the smile of her spirit in the end. High Jackman also does an excellent job, using a good mix of silence and music to express himself (and kudos to the director for that). Finally, appropriate sets and costumes completed all the requirements for an excellent experience. Certainly, Les Misérables is worth all your time. (OTFS)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Comments on the 2013 Union Budget

Although it is not a policy statement per se, the Union Budget has always been more than a mere financial statement. Rather, it has been a signal of the intent of the Union Government, what direction it intends to take the country towards in the coming year. And Budget 2013 does not fail there. From a supertax to DBT to increased social and defense spending, there's a lot that this one covers.

But first and foremost to what affects the middle class the most: the tax rates. Chidambaram has not raised taxes here although, unlike most previous budgets, he has not announced any major tax breaks either. Which is to be expected really, since the FM is looking at reigning in the fiscal deficit to 4.8% (which, amazingly, seems to be set to meet the target of 5.2% for this FY). But for the super-rich, those whose taxable income is over Rs. 1 cr, it's a bad year - a new surcharge of a solid 10% is sure to add gloom to those 40,000-odd assesses.

There is also a whole spectrum of tax increases for services, with all air-conditioned restaurants now being brought under the net. Add to that the 6% duty on mobile phones (albeit those costing more than Rs. 2000) and the ad infinitum duty increases on luxury products, and you can see just where the FM intends to get the money to run the country from.

But on the spending side, unlike what governments in the West have been doing, he went in for some significant increases in spending. The Rural Development Ministry, whose work will be central to the Congress' Poll Campaign in 2014, got a huge bounty, as did the Education Sector under MHRD. The increasing thrust on MNREGA and SSA will certainly do a great deal of good for the country. In addition, the idea of issuing infrastructure bonds will directly benefit the rural masses, who are in greatest need of better infrastructure.

And finally, the defense sector has been given an increased allocation, a little over Rs. 2 trillion, once again making India the largest spender in the sector in South Asia. Of this, a large amount has been reserved for new acquisitions for the Air Force (including the MMRDA deal with France) and Navy (which will look to improve its aviation wing once INS Vikramaditya is inducted this year). This increased spending should also put necessary thrust on modernization of  the domestic military hardware industry, which badly needs support and private-sector participation.

Overall, this budget was neither the big-bang that the hyperactive media was expecting nor was it the populist, irresponsible kind that political commentators were expecting. It was balanced and in keeping with the times. After all, given the threat of India's bonds being reduced to junk status, the FM really had no choice - he just had to stick to the script. 

What was that, again?

Science Day 2013 was celebrated in IIT Roorkee's Department of Physics and I must say, it was rather poorly planned. As the DAS pointed out, despite the mid-term exams for the IIT Students and the Class X/XII Board Exams for school students, the Bose Auditorium was jam-packed. Sadly, the late event - it started at 5:35 PM - forced a lot of people to hurry away even before the guest lecture.

I have noticed that every year, the quality of people coming to IIT Roorkee keeps falling. It was quite sad to see students taking their awards and walking out of the hall or, even worse, walking out in the middle of a speech. Students of an institution imparting professional education should understand that mere equations and technical diagrams do not constitute professionalism - it is imperative that if you come for an event, you must try your very best to attend the entire event as a matter of courtesy to those who organized it. And in no case should you walk out when a speaker is speaking: nothing can be ruder.

Of course, the event itself was not as good as previous years; the most embarrassing moment was when there was nobody to sing the Kulgeet and the audience stood in awkward silence until the Director himself started the song! The show ended quite late, mainly because it had to be rescheduled on account of the overlapping examination schedule, but the guest lecture was quote good.

Delivered by the Chief Guest, Prof. RN Mukherjee, Director, IISER Kolkata, the lecture on 'Excitements in Basic Sciences' was an intriguing journey through the history of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and thier derivatives, celebrating the heroes of the sciences in a little under an hour and a half, through which a large number of faculty members, their families and students sat with pleasure.

The event saw the distribution of the Science Quiz Prize for school students (APS-I, APS-II and ABN), Trust Awards for students of IITR and the IIT Roorkee Heritage Fund Awards (which are usually given during the Annual Convocation but had to be given out later due to an advancing of the Convocation dates). It ended a rather late high-tea and some healthy discussion.