Wednesday, July 31, 2013

'Network!' They Say

Networking is something that I have not really done very well at IIT Roorkee. And it was not by accident - the Working Model explicitly moved towards eliminating the very need. To be sure, I had not completely stopped, there was always the desire to find someone like-minded. At times, I did, and those were memorable moments. But overall, the number of people who were willing to invest as much as I was into a friendship were few and far in between.

However, I realize that there was actually a veritable horde that wanted to add me to their trophy chest. Although it went on for most of the last two years, the last two months in particular saw several people on Facebook whom I had never met trying to befriend me, ostensibly for the same reason i.e., to build up their contacts. I have consistently ignored them, with some valid exceptions.

However, I do realize that this will no longer do. While many Indians think that networking is an MBA phenomenon, it is actually a crucial part of doctoral studies and preparation for an academic career. I will probably have to finally harness my vast digital footprint, maybe even join LinkdIn at last. This is not just about attending seminars and conferences - those are essential in any case - but about following them up, creating a network of acquaintances. The last word is essential - I am still very skeptical about any new friends, and certainly none in my inner circle, but the so far neglected category of acquaintances will have to be expanded.

I have been reading PhD Comics and, while I do realize that it is just a joke, it is clear that grad school is going to be very different from undergrad. Certainly, the same principle will not do.   

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Is it the end of the Republic?

The UPA Government has finally broken its silence on the issue and has declared that it will begin the process for bifurcating Andhra Pradesh into two states of Seemandhra and Telangana, with Hyderabad as a 'shared capital' for a period of ten years, following which Seemandhra's capital would move to a new city of their choosing, within their state (probably Kurnool or Vizag). The move has generated a storm in the Seemandhra camp, with some leaders insisting that they will never allow it to happen. In Telangana, there is widespread celebration, but the issue of Hyderabad's exact status remains a matter of concern. After all, Chandigarh was supposed to be handed over to Punjab eventually, but it does not look like it will ever be.

Whatever it may be, one thing is clear - the decision, in the end, was hardly based on merits. Instead, it was based on cold electoral calculations, with the Congress surrendering before the YSR Congress in Seemandhra and virtually demanding that the TRS merge with it to save its fortunes in Telangana. Clearly, the aim is to do whatever it takes to contain the BJP, which still remains the only party that can possibly dislodge the Congress from power (and looks to be set to do so in 2014). We have had states created through both violent (Bombay/Mizoram) and non-violent (PEPSU) means, but never before have electoral calculations determined something that will have far-reaching consequences for the whole country.

The formation of Telangana does two things. First, it opens the floodgates for the many demands of statehood pending - Gorkhaland, Bodoland, East Nagaland, Vidharbha, Northern Tamil Nadu, Saurashtra, Meru Pradesh, Khasi Hills, Garo Hills, Jammu, Ladakh, Mithilanchal and whatever UP is supposed to be carved into. In 2001, the CWC had resolved to settle all of this at one go via a second SRC; today, the same CWC has abandoned the idea and has decided to make the whole process ad-hoc, obviously to consider each case electorally. Second, as J&K CM Omar Abdullah pointed out, it gives the impression that violent and sustained movements can be a legitimate means to achieve a new state. Already, the leaders of the GJM are considering this, much to the ire of Mamata Banerjee. This is bound to have ramifications for all future movements as well.

As for Telangana itself, while there is much jubilation, there is also this misplaced belief that a separate state is a panacea for all their troubles. This is simply untrue - the experience of smaller states has been mixed, with Himachal Pradesh doing extremely well and Jharkhand going from the frying pan into a blazing fire. In addition, smaller states have had diminished bargaining powers with the Central Government, in a country whose Constitution can be described as quasi-federal at best. A clear example lies in the North East, where only Assam and to some extent Meghalaya enjoy any political power in Delhi. Statehood is an opportunity that can quickly fail and at the rate that TRS leaders have been promising the moon if voted to power, there is not much to be optimistic about.

Interestingly, the Constitution mandates a non-binding resolution from the State Assembly on the issue before it can be taken up in Parliament, but even this can be dropped if the Assembly fails to respond in time. What would be worth watching is a situation in which the Assembly, where Telangana is in a minority, passes a resolution against the division of the state and Parliament decided to divide the state. Can a state which, officially at least, does not want to be divided (by a majority), be divided? This will be an uncharted territory of the Constitution and could even drag the Supreme Court into the mess. The best route would be to ignore the Presidential Reference and let it lapse so that Parliament can go ahead with it without any constitutional issues to look into.

As for Hyderabad, its position remains unclear. Will it be a joint capital under the administration of Telangana or will it be a Union Territory? The former will make it extremely difficult for Seemandhra to function while the latter will hurt Telangana badly, because tax receipts would then go to the Central Government and not the impoverished state - that from Telangana's only industrial area. Also, being a UT would be a huge setback for Hyderabad, which would then be hopelessly run by a bureaucracy under a Lt. Governor. In Delhi, we have already seen the CM pleading helplessness in all matters concerning local residents the most, because the Lt. Governor controls most of them. There, people can protest outside the office of the Union Home Minister, under whom the Lt. Governor functions. Where will the people of Hyderabad go to protest? Being a UT is a terrible thing, something that a proud city should not have to face. Goa took years to 'graduate' from a UT to a State and Hyderabad is being sent on the conveyor belt in the opposite direction.

The Indian Republic is now a Union of 29 states. If the Congress has set any precedent, there is not much to stop another 29 from appearing (and, on the side, with what the UPA has done to national security, a few of them disappearing too). The question is not whether smaller states are good or bad - the answer to that depends on what sort of government runs the state, rather than its size. Neither is it whether Telangana is a good idea or a bad idea (economically, it is quite viable). Part of the question is how and why we should form new states. And the bigger question is what sort of a federation we are to remain. First came the idea of linguistic states, then tribal states, then backward states and now 'self-respecting' states. This is gerrymandering of a higher order. Eventually, the Republic will become impossible to administer. Richer states will have to cough up just too much tax money to support smaller, backward states that have disproportionate power at the hustings due to their large (and mostly poor) populations. At this rate, some day, the Republic will cease to exist.

It was Indira Gandhi who had recognized that creating smaller states for something as abstract as 'self-respect' would open a Pandora's Box. Ironically, the PM who went the farthest in crushing democracy in India also did her best to prevent anything that could lead to its disintegration. Her daughter-in-law however, has neither the foresight nor the political prowess to do that. Today is a good day to be in Telangana and a sad day to be in India. It depends where you think you are. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Lessons from the Opinion Polls

First it was CNN-IBN/The Hindu and now it's Times Now. Yes, as the campaign trail starts, it's that time of the democratic cycle again when news channels come out with their opinion polls. This time, a newspaper got into the business too. This time, alarmed at the fact that voters have learned a little bit about statistics, the polls have been transparent enough to indicate their sampling scheme to prove that they are indeed close to the population, going by the Census data. However, whether the categories used by the Census are actually valid for such polls is the moot point. But let me not get into a debate over statistics.

Both polls do show one thing - as of today, the BJP-led NDA stands to emerge as the single-largest pre-poll formation, but not by a large margin. Within the NDA, which is now just three parties, the BJP stands to retrace its record tally of 1999, while the SAD looks to sweep Punjab and the Shiv Sena, as usual, does poorly in Maharashtra. Within the UPA, the NCP looks to do well in Maharashtra, the JKNC poorly in J&K, smaller parties like the IUML sticking to their core, communal boroughs and the Congress looking to face a beating, losing almost 100 seats from 2009.

How should one read these indicators? Well, it does not take a genius to guess that people are angry with the UPA. One commentator explained it well - the UPA is caught in a particularly tight spot. On the one side, a declining economy is making Indians very glum, with consumer inflation refusing to come down and a depreciated rupee making everything more expense, starting with petrol. At the same time, the string of corruption scandals makes people squarely blame the UPA for their misfortunes, because it looks as if the corrupt are living a life of luxury from taxpayers' money (which they do). More than secularism or Rahul Gandhi-worshiping, this is the central theme that people will look at.

For the BJP however, bringing in allies will be hard. Their current strategy is commendable but shaky - work hard to push to 200 seats and then horse-trade and blackmail smaller parties to join, because they would not do so voluntarily (at least not overtly). I can't say this is a  bad idea, I can already hear rhetoric of 'joining hands with the BJP to contain the communal agenda' and other such hogwash that parties come up with. The truth is that everyone wants the quickest route to power and they will do anything for it. But then, the Congress could try to do the same, akin to the United Front experiment.

Of course, a so-called third front coming to power is a real possibility, but it would be, as one commentator described, the nightmare of the Republic. For now, one can only hope that Narendra Modi has a real strategy. A lot of BJP leaders seem clueless and it seems they are simply depending on Modi to bring them to power. In UP, Amit Shah has been deployed and the polls show that the BJP does have chances of gaining a major foothold there, what with the Akhilesh Yaday Government coming in for criticism from all quarters and the upper caste votes finally returning to the BJP. But it will take more than Hindutva to win UP. 

The End of History?

The year has ended. An era has ended. Is it the end of history? It is a question worth examining from various angles. Geographically, IIT Roorkee was completely distinct for me, despite the various states of India that I have lived in; for the first time in about 15 years, since the few months in Noida, I was back in North India, a place where I could understand the local language but had some trouble understanding the culture. In that sense, it is the end of a period in history.

The memories are so many. They say your undergrad years are the best time in your life. In many ways, for me, this was not true. Most of my time in IITR came with regrets, with the fondest of memories only coming the beginning, followed by a metaphorical downward slope. But then, there were the oases, the happy moments after, which I do remember fondly. But in the end, I had my standard policy of closing loose ends. Stories were closed, chapters concluded, parties had, visits made. And that was that.

In light of that policy, which helped me immensely to, as the Americans would say, 'get over it,' is this the end of history? Well, it certainly is the end of one phase of it. The places are now somewhere in the past - I don't see any reason to return to Roorkee, at leas not till I'm done with my masters and doctorate. The times are certainly over - never again in history will those same set of people be united under the same circumstances again. But what of the people themselves? Are they gone.

I would have liked to believe so. I would have like to think that it's all over apart from the occasional online chat. But events of the last few weeks have reminded me of how wrong I am. People are never gone, you are forever connected to them by your past. Your past is something to be proud of and not to be forgotten, at least not by you yourself. In that sense, history is not over at all; in fact, it never was and never can be, because the longer the past, the longer is the future!  

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Year of Empire

Empire - a funny way to describe a year. What is Empire in this era of democracy and the nation state? What was my empire, me, a measly speck in the vast environs at Roorkee? Ah, but lest we forget, it's all in the mind. A journey that started full of opportunities and quickly descended into chaos and doom, eventually ended in triumph.

Empire - the culmination of a journey, yes, but also the beginning of a new one. For, winning an empire is one thing, keeping it is another. And so I learned. There is always the fear of revolt, of another imminent war. But even worse is the politics - you do not manage things by sitting back and relaxing, you do it by actively engaging conflicting forces. You can do it in many ways - authoritarian, liberal, carrot-and-stick etc. But one way you cannot do it is by ignoring it.

When do you know the Empire is gone? For, if everything in this world is ephemeral, would an Empire too not be so? Certainly, there comes a time when your Empire outgrows you, when your presence is not needed any longer. To then force it to move to your every beck and call would be doing a grave disservice to it, as I learned the hard way. Eventually, your ability to judge, to fight fades away not because it is inevitable, but because it is no longer needed. The time has come to move on.

In hindsight, was it all worth it? What alternative did I have? To move directionless, be tossed around by the will of others, to have, at the end of it all, nothing of substance and all of noise? I would do it over and over again, given the same choice. And yet, the choice itself is wrong - the final aim is not to avoid the influence of others but to become immune to it. Empire was a stepping stone, but the larger message was that the great battle is yet to come. A battle within. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Truth Revealed

A trial court's verdict on the Batla House Encounter has revealed the shameless depths to which minority appeasement has gone under the Congress regime. The infamous encounter, which took the life of a brave police officer, was instantly dubbed 'fake' by the stalwarts of the Congress Party such as Digvijay Singh and Salman Khurshid, going on to claim that Sonia Gandhi cried when she heard about the encounter, as though that is supposed to end all discussion over the issue. It was a shameless spasm of appeasement that set a dangerous precedent.

Now, with this verdict, we know for a fact that a brave police officer died in protecting the nation from a terrorist. We also know for a fact that the Congressman who shamelessly condemned the encounter were shedding crocodile tears. They have actually labeled Muslims as terrorists because, by looking to protect every terrorist who is a Muslim, because he is a Muslim, the Congress is implying that every Muslim is a terrorist. Instead of putting what it so often preaches into action ('Terrorism has no religion'), it is shamelessly using Muslims, create a sense of fear within them to keep them backward through an ineffective government while at the same time forcing them to vote for them.

In addition, this strategy has a debilitating impact on the security of the nation. If the police has to watch its step at every juncture and avoid Muslims who could be suspects, how will the investigation be carried out? The very concept of a free and fair investigation has been compromised by the Congress. Moreover, it also lowers the morale of the police, who already have a lot to be demoralized about. To then, it was an insult to a highly respected officer. Why would any policeman do his job properly if this is the shabby treatment they are going to get for making the ultimate sacrifice?

In conclusion, the court's verdict reinforces our faith in the judiciary. Digvijay Singh, who is never happy unless he gets what he wants, had demanded a judicial probe, indicating that he has no faith in the trail court and thus insulting the judiciary in the process. Quite obviously, this is vote bank politics of the most shameless kind. 

On Amartya Sen and Modi

The electronic media is all aflutter today over Nobel Laureate and Bharat Ratna Amartya Sen's comments on Narendra Modi in an interview to CNN-IBN, wherein he stated his disinclination towards seeing Modi as the PM of his country (he is an Indian citizen). Since then, a war of words has broken out over his comments, some going as far as to revoke his Bharat Ratna, which was awarded under the NDA Government.

Firstly, all talk of revoking the award is rubbish - awards are not given to be revoked for partisan politics. Fortunately, it does not seem as though anyone on either side of the fence takes the idea seriously. Many attempts have been made to turn the award into a political tool, with the DMK and the Shiv Sena both trying their best at some point of time to get their leaders awarded with the honour. Fortunately, we have not turned into such a low banana republic (yet).

The real thing that needs looking into is the substance of his interview. Economics is not a science, it is an art with a bit of science mixed in. Therefore, no one can be perfectly right or wrong. Amartya Sen has always been a left-leaning economist who has worked on some complex theories successfully. However, the left certainly does not have a monopoly on economic theory and there are a variety of right-leaning economists who challenge Sen's recommendations for the Indian economy. Quite rightly, many socialist theories of the UPA that have been derived from Sen's recommendations have brought us on the path to fiscal ruin, stagflation and a terrible investment climate. Although he is respected for his work, he can be respectfully disagreed with. None of that however, means that he needs to be vilified for his political opinions.

Any award - Nobel Prize or Bharat Ratna - does not take away an individual's right to have an opinion. Dr. Sen has every right to voice his opinion on the ideal choice of PM since he is an Indian citizen. However, he erred in that he did not stick to his field of expertise and instead chose to dabble in politics. While a private opinion is justified, to air it in full media glare can have unintended consequences, as the extant case aptly demonstrates. He should have known that the media is currently looking for every opportunity to talk about Narendra Modi - mostly against him - and will milk his statement for all it is worth and more, obviously bringing in political parties and making a mess of the whole thing.

On a side note, I might add that I did agree with one part of the interview - that subsidies for the rich must end. They are pointless, they fuel inflation and hide an economy which is in dire straits, with unemployment and real wages reaching alarming levels. Power subsidy, fuel subsidy, water subsidy, gas subsidy... the list is almost endless and in many cases, some subsidies are counterproductive. For example, as I have long argued, the fuel subsidy (now on diesel) is at odds with the JNNURM's mission to encourage public transportation. It is necessary to do away with these wasteful subsidies and create the political climate necessary  to bring in real, effective change. Of course, every party is guilty of doing nothing about it and that is the real problem. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

दृष्टि - 2

मैं उस दिन को कभी भुला नहीं पाउँगा, जब मैं सोनाक्षी से पहली बार मिला था . हम सब जवान थे तब, विश्वविद्यालय में नए-नए आये, पहली बार दुनिया देख रहे थें . हमारा देश तब तीव्रता से बदल रहा था और हम सब में प्रत्येक दिन कुछ नई कोशिश में जुटे रहने का जोश था . उसी जोश में मैं सोनाक्षी से मिला - उसका बर्ताव सब से अलग था, कभी भी हफ्तों के लिए गायब हो जाती थी और जब रहती थी तब किसी से बात नहीं करती थी . सिवाए मुझसे . पता नहीं कैसे मुझे उस से प्यार होने लगा : मैं किसी को बता भी नहीं सकता था क्योंकि लोग फिर मुझसे भी दूर रहने लगते .

लेकिन यह सब उसके उस जन्मदिन पर बंद हुआ . मुझे गलती से ही पता चला कि उस दिन उसका जन्मदिन था - मैं विश्वविद्यालय के दफ्तर में कुछ काम कर रहा था कि कुछ कर्मचारी सोनाक्षी के एक महीने की अनुपस्थिति के बारे में चर्चा कर रहे थे - बातों बात में पता चला कि उसका जन्मदिन था . थोड़ा पूछताछ किया तो उसके घर का पता भी मिल गया . श्याम को मैं उस से मिलने गया - थोड़ा दूर था तो पहुंचते पहुंचते अँधेरा हो गया था . लेकिन… उसका घर, घर नहीं लग रहा था . एक तो द्वार खुला था और अन्दर भी कोई नहीं था, बिलकुल अँधेरा था . मैं थोड़ा और अन्दर गया. कही सोनाक्षी को कुछ हो तो नहीं गया?

जो मैंने उस रात देखा, शायद मुझे भगवान कभी क्षमा कर दे, देखने के लिए . मुझे पता नहीं था वहाँ क्या हो रहा था, पर मुझे उसे नहीं देखना चाहिए था . सोनाक्षी फिर कभी विश्वविद्यालय नहीं आई .

***

आज रात, मुझे जल्दी भोजन करना पड़ा क्योंकि विद्युत् निगम से पता चला कि आज रात बिजली नहीं मिलेगी . विश्वविद्यालय के दिनों से ही मेरी आँखों की रौशनी अशक्त होने लगी - पचपन साल के उम्र में न के बराबर हो गया था तो मोमबत्ती की रौशनी में खाने का सवाल ही नहीं था . खाने के बाद मैं और सुशीला दीवान पर बैठे बच्चों के बारे में बात करने लगे . कभी उनके भविष्य के बारे में सोचते थे और अब, जब भविष्य वर्तमान बन गया था, मैं उसे देख भी नहीं सकता था!

और फिर मुझे दिखाई दी - सोनाक्षी . मुझे पता नहीं कैसे - एक क्षण अँधेरा था और अगले ही क्षण, सुशीला के पीछे वह बैठी थी . लेकिन कुछ अजीब-सी थी - उसका चेहरा वैसे ही था, जैसे उस अंतिम रात को मुझे दिखाई दी - इतने सालों बाद ऐसे लग रही थी जैसे समय ने उसे छुआ तक नहीं . पर वह दुखी लग रही थी - मैंने कुछ बोलने की कोशिश की, लेकिन मुंह से एक शब्द न निकला . और सुशीला - उसे तो पता ही नहीं पड़ रहा था कि हम अकेले नहीं थे .

"तुम मुझे छोड़ के चले गए, राम? मेरे जीवन में एक तुम ही थे जिसके साथ मैं रहना चाहती थी, और तुमने मुझे छोड़ दिया . मैं इतने साल अकेले थी … और अब तुम भी अकेले ही रहोगे!" यह कह के, सोनाक्षी फिर से गायब हो गई . या फिर मैं फिर से अँधा हो गया . मैंने सुशीला को बताने कि कोशिश की , लेकिन उस से कोई जवाब नहीं मिला .

सुशीला मेरे सामने उस रात मर गई थी . नहीं - मारी गयी थी . उसके साथ, आँखों की कम रौशनी भी लुप्त हुई .
***

नरेश से मिल के मैं बहुत खुश था - कभी वह एक छोटा बच्चा हुआ करता था जो मेरे घर में खेलने आता था तो आज वह एक इंस्पेक्टर बन के मुझसे मिलने आया! बहुत सालो बाद मैं मुस्कुरा रहा था . अपितु नरेश के विभाग में बहुत काम था तो केवल दूसरे श्याम को ही मिल सकता था . ठीक है - मैं अपनी ख़ुशी अपने नौकर को बताता था और वह भी सुनता था - शायद अगले दीपावली पर अधिक इनाम मांगने के लिए!

"साहब, दस दिन बाद रात को बिजली नहीं आएगी, विद्युत् निगम ने सन्देश भेजा है . आप उस दिन जल्दी सो जाइये जिससे मैं जल्दी से घर लौटूं।"

यह बात सुनके मैं स्तंभित रह गया - नौकर के चेहरे पर चिंता देख के ही मुझे समझ में आया कि मेरे हाथ से खाना गिर गया था और मेरे माथे पर पसीना था . लेकिन विद्युत् निगम का सन्देश इक्लौता कारण नहीं था इसके लिए . मैं उसे देख रहा था - मेरा नौकर . और उसके पीछें - सोनाक्षी .

***

नरेश बाहर दीवान पर सो रहा था - मैं सावधान हो कर प्रतीक्षा कर रहा था . कुछ तो होने वाला था - एक नौकर के साथ ख़ुशी से बात करने के लिए उसने उस नौकर को मार डाला, तो भगवान जाने नरेश के साथ क्या कर सकती थी!

मुझे ठीक समय याद नहीं है पर मुझे पता था कि सोनाक्षी आ गयी थी - मैं फिर से देख सकता था . मैं कमरे से बाहर निकला तो वह नरेश के पास खड़ी थी - बिलकुल वैसे ही, जैसे विश्वविद्यालय में थी . मैं उस पर टूट पड़ा - मैं उसे नरेश को हानि पहुँचाने नहीं दूंगा! उसके हाथ, उसके कपड़े इतने ठंडे थे, मानो बदन में गर्मी ही नहीं थी. मैं उसे खिड़की तक धकेला और वह चिल्लाने लगी, "नहीं, राम! नहीं! मैं तुम्हें खुश नहीं रहने दूंगी! तुम्हारे सामने इस लड़के को मार डालूंगी। तुमने मुझे अकेला छोड़ा, मैं तुम्हें इसके लिए कभी क्षमा नहीं करुँगी!"

उसे सुनके मेरे रोंगटे खड़े हो गए … वह इंसान नहीं थी . यह सोनाक्षी नहीं थी .

"दूर रहो उस से! मैं तुम्हे नरेश को नहीं लेने दूंगा! सुन रही हो मेरी बात? नरेश को कभी लेने नहीं दूंगा!"

यह बोलते ही वह गायब हो गयी - या फिर मैं फिर से अँधा हो गया . नरेश का बुलावा सुनके ही मैं वहाँ से हिल सका .

***

मैंने बहुत प्रतीक्षा की उसके लिए. वह दायन मेरे सामने नरेश को मारने की प्रतिज्ञा ली थी - लेकिन अगर मैं ही न रहा तो? अगर मेरे सामने मैं ही रहूँ, तो किसे मारती? मैं रात भर उस आईने के सामने बैठा रहा . और अब, वह आ ही गयी . मेरी सोनाक्षी - बिलकुल वैसे ही, जैसे मुझे याद है . वही भूरे आँखें , वही काले बाल, वही मुस्कुराहट।

मेरी सोनाक्षी … इतने सालों बाद, मेरे सामने . मेरे पास . उसके हाथ उतने ही नरम, जितना हुआ करते थे .

(विराम)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

नई कहानी : दृष्टि - 1

बीस साल पहले की बात है, जब मैं जमुनानगर से पढाई के लिए चला गया था . तब लगा था कि बस कुछ सालों कि ही बात है और मैं लौट आऊंगा पिताजी के व्यवसाय में भाग लेने . इन बीस साल में न पिताजी रहें और न उनका व्यवसाय . शायद मैं कभी लौट भी न आता अगर सरकार से आदेश नहीं मिला होता. पर अंत में, मैं लौट आया उस दुकान के सामने जो कभी पिताजी चलाया करतें थे. मैं, नरेश गोयल, आई.पी.एस . जो लोग कभी मुझे देख के प्यार से पुकारते थे, आज मुझे देख के सावधान हो कर 'इंस्पेक्टर जी' बुलाते हैं! सब, सिवाए एक - रामप्रसाद जी, मेरे पापा के बचपन के मित्र. मेरे तरह, उनके बच्चे भी चले गए थे जमुनानगर से, अपनी जिंदगी को लक्ष्य देने के लिये. शायद वे भी चले जाते, यदि उन बड़े शहरों में एक अंधा मनुष्य सुख से रह पाता . अपितु भारतवर्ष का कोई भी शहर उस शिखर तक न पहुँच पाया और रामप्रसाद जी यही रह गये.

क्योंकि वे अकेले रहते थे,  मैं हर दूसरे दिन उनसे मिलने अवश्य जाता था - उनके स्वास्थ्य के बारे में पूछने और यह देखने के लिए कि उनका नौकर ठीक से काम कर रहा था कि नहीं. मैं इसे अपना कर्तव्य मानता था. जब वे लगभग पचपन साल के थे, उनकी पत्नी की मृत्यु हुई थी और कुछ साल बाद ही पापाजी भी दुनिया से चले गये. उसके बाद रामप्रसाद जी के यहाँ मेहमानों का आना बंद हुआ. शायद इसलिए वे मुझे देखके अत्याधिक प्रसन्न हुआ करते थे.

परन्तु आज कुछ हो गया था - वे बहुत बेचैन लग रहे थे. पहले तो कुछ भी बोलने से मना कर रहे थे, लेकिन कुछ देर में उन्होंने मुझसे कहाँ कि उन्हें एक नौकर की आवश्यकता अगले हफ्ते से होगी . मुझे समझ में नहीं आया कि वे ऐसा क्यों कह रहे थे जब कि उनका वर्तमान का नौकर ईमानदारी से काम कर रहा था. लेकिन वे कुछ भी समझाने से मना कर रहे थे, तो मैंने भी और नहीं पूछा .

***

कुछ तो अजीब हो रहा था उस घर में . रामप्रसाद जी का नौकर ठीक एक हफ्ते बाद एक गाड़ी के पहिए के नीचे मारा गया . मैं हैरान रह गया लेकिन वे मुझे कुछ भी बताने से इनकार कर रहे थे . और तो और, मुझसे मिलने से भी हिचकिचा रहे थे . आज अचानक किसी ने उन्हें बताया कि विद्युत निगम एक रात के लिए शहर में बिजली कातने वाली है - यह कोई बड़ी बात नहीं है इस छोटे से शहर में और उन्हें यह बात भी ज्ञात था . फिर भी उन्होंने मुझे सन्देश भेजा कि आज रात मैं उनके यहाँ सोने के लिए रहूँ . पहले तो मुझे इनकार करने का मन था लेकिन बीवी ने समझाया की एक वरिष्ठ आदमी को ऐसे न कहना सही नहीं होगा .

इस प्रकार मैं रामप्रसाद जी के घर सोने आया . थोड़ा अजीब अवश्य लग रहा था क्योंकि बचपन में हम दोस्त यहीं आते थे रात भर मौज करने . वे अपने कमरे में सो रहे थे और मैं बाहर दीवान पर . मुझे ठीक समय याद नहीं जब वे बाहर आये, लेकिन मैं उनकी दर्दनाक चीख कभी नहीं भूल पाउँगा - खिड़की के सामने खड़े, चिला रहे थे - "दूर रहो उससे! मैं तुम्हे नरेश को नहीं लेने दूंगा! सुन रही हो मेरी बात? नरेश को कभी लेने नहीं दूंगा!"

मैं केवल उनके शब्दों से ही हैरान नहीं था - उनके कमरे का द्वार और उस खिड़की के बीच अनगिनत असबाब थे, जो कि बिलकुल अस्पृष्ट थे . क्या एक अँधा आदमी बिना कुछ हिलाए कमरे के एक कोने से दुसरे कोने तक चल सकता है? मैं उनके पास जा कर उन्हें शांत करने ही कोशिश कर रहा था जब वे अचानक से चिलाना बंद करे .

"अरे नरेश बेटा, तुम सोये नहीं ? सो जाओ अब, क्या समय हो रहा है?" उन्होंने मुझे कहा जैसे कि मैं उनके कमरे में उन्हें जगाने आया था !

***

मुझे रामप्रसाद जी के नौकर ने बताया की उनका व्यवहार बहुत अजीब हो गया था . पहले तो उसने मुझसे झूठ बोला की वे घर पर नहीं है, लेकिन मुझे पता था की वे कभी घर से बाहर नहीं निकलते थे - एक अंधे आदमी के लिए ये जान से खेलने से कम नहीं है . तब मुझे पता चला की वे मुझसे मिलना ही नहीं चाहते थे और अपने नौकर को झूठ बोलने का आदेश दिया था . मैंने चिंतित होकर और पूछताछ किया और पता चला कि रामप्रसाद जी दिनभर आईने के सामने बैठने लगे थे, यहा तक कि उसके सामने ही खाना खाते थे और  उसी के सामने कुर्सी पर सोते भी थे .

मुझे लगा था कि यह सब बुढ़ापे के कारण हो रहा था और मैं और जांच करना उचित नहीं समझा . लेकिन अब मुझे लग रहा है कि मैंने बहुत बड़ी गलती की थी ऐसा करके . कुछ ही घंटे पहले मुझे पता चला कि रामप्रसाद जी अपने कुर्सी पर बैठे-बैठे रात में मर गए . सब की तरह, मुझे भी लगा था कि उनका देहांत उम्र के कारण हुआ . लेकिन अब, जब मैं उन्हें देख रहा हूँ, मुझे कुछ और ही लग रहा है… ऐसा नहीं लग रहा है जैसे वे नींद में मर गए . वास्तव में मुझे लग रहा है कि वे जगे हुए थे , क्योंकि उनके आँखें खुले थे और हाथ ऐसे थे जैसे मरने से बिलकुल पहले कुछ पकड़ने की कोशिश कर रहे थे .

मैंने जांच करने कि कोशिश की लेकिन दुर्भाग्य से विभाग में कोई मेरा साथ देने को तैयार नहीं था . मैं उन्हें दोषित भी नहीं ठैरा सकता हूँ क्योंकि विभाग में लोगों की  कमी थी और यह सब को एक प्राकृतिक मृत्यु लग रहा था . मैंने भी कुछ दिनों बाद बात दबा दी . लेकिन कभी-कभी मुझे सपनो में रामप्रसाद जी के चेहरे पर वही मुस्कान दिखाई देती है, जो मुझे उनके शव पर दिखाई दी थी .

क्या हुआ था उस रात, जब वे मर गए? वे किस पर चिला रहे थे उस रात, जो मुझे हानि पहुँचाना चाहता था ?

(जारी: http://opinions24x7.blogspot.in/2013/07/2.html)

No Counterinsurgency without Justice

The recent events in Ramban in Jammu and Kashmir and a Supreme Court-appointed committee's report on extrajudicial killings in Manipur continue to point out what many have long-known: the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) continue to be misused and takes us several steps back in the counterinsurgency operations in the area. What is even more disturbing is that the rogue elements within the armed forces that abuse the powers granted to them under AFSPA are now beginning to do so with a sense of impunity, secure behind the knowledge that not only do they have AFSPA at the moment but that the UPA-II at the very least in incapable of doing anything about it.

Much brouhaha was made over amending AFSPA and lifting it from peaceful districts when the current administration assumed office. Since then, and a few committees down the drain, absolutely nothing has improved on ground. If anything else, the late-night, covert rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama seems to have been an extremely responsible activity unlike the violence that is now being inflicted in broad daylight. This is counterproductive, because no insurgency can be defeated by alienating the local population. It might seem to armchair thinkers in India's big cities that this is simply a war that needs to be won with brute force, but that approach is a one-way ticket to defeat. We cannot and should not wage war against our own people, counterinsurgency is the correct way to characterize the operation.

After over half a century since it was brought into effect in 1958, there is an urgent need to read the writing on the wall - AFSPA has failed to achieve its objectives and is now working directly against them The Army and MoD does not see this for obvious reasons - governance is not a part of their mandate. The armed forces, as they should, look at it from a battlefield perspective, where they need certain institutional protection to defeat the enemy. However, the Government of India in not a war machine and has a duty to reach out to its own people and find political solutions. At the end of the day, counterinsurgency cannot be won by fighting - it has to be a political settlement.

Amending AFSPA is long due. Even the Supreme Court has said that soldiers cannot claim immunity from accusations of rape and sexual violence that do not come under any standard operating procedure. With even more evidence of widespread human rights abuses under the cover of AFSPA, it is high-time for the Government to do what is right and stand up for its own people. Sadly, with its basked already full, the UPA-II will never be able to do this. Perhaps, as Jayalalitha put it in a different context, there will be a better government in Delhi next year. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cute and Innocent

TURBO (2013)
Animated - 3D

Produced By: DreamWorks
Director: David Soren
Starring (voice): Ryan Renolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena, Samuel Jackson, Snoop Dogg and others
Pros: Good story, fell-good movie, decent jokes
Cons: Couldn't exploit 3D
Rating: **** of 5 (4 of 5)

Let me make it clear, first and foremost, is that this movie is for kids and families who want to have a good time, not charged-up teens looking for a kick. As a simple entertainer, the movie definitely stands. Although it is made in 3D, there are not too many scenes that take advantage of the extra dimension, which is the one element missing from this movie.

Nonetheless, Turbo does have a good story. A snail dreams to make it big on the racing circuit, but takes seventeen minutes to cover a few centimeters. Then one day, some unexplained magic (it's just a kids' movie!) turns the snail into a living race car. And then you have the typical triumph of the underdog, something even the script writers acknowledge! But then again, who doesn't love a David versus Goliath tale told in an entirely new manner? The primary purpose of this movie is to make children and possibly their parents smile and a fell-good story is as good a tactic as ever. It also comes with a good set of characters, each adding variety to the storytelling. The voice-overs are quite fun and it is was a pleasure to hear Snoop Dogg in a new avatar!

Overall, a good movie to watch with kids, or if you simply want to smile. Generous doses of comic relief, effective ones I may add, make it even better. Take your favourite ten-year-old for this one, they will thank you for it! (OTFS)  

A Very Long Poem

Anthem
By Ayn Rand

This novel is not a novel. It is a poem. Why do I say that? The characteristic of poetry is the use of what is called a poetic license - an agreement that allows a poet, unlike an author, to bend the rules of grammar to push their point across. In Anthem, Ayn Rand does just that. Like a poem, the book seems strange at first. The author seems to have used pathetic grammar, making the story very confusing. It is only on further reading that you find a wonderful story.

It is the utopia we have all longed for. It is the dystopia we have created with out own hands. A world where everyone works for the benefit of others and where no one is above the other - a completely equal land. The unhappiest land in the world. For, if knowledge is not known to all, it does not exist. Therefore, no new discovery is possible, no innovation permissible. Set in this land that communists today preach of, a hero rediscovers the meaning of loving himself, of doing what he wants, for his own benefit and because he and he alone wants him to do it.

Characteristically, Rand used this poem to express her philosophy as applied to love, juxtaposing the inhuman love that is preached in a state where every man lives for every other man, and a state where a man's love is an expression of his pure selfishness. Truly, a book set in the future with a strong message for the present. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Modi from a Regional Perspective

Narendra Modi is clearly the hot topic for the next general elections, at least at this point of time. While he was already well-known in Western India and the English-speaking middle class, and also among Muslims, the ferocity with which he has been pushed into the national limelight by not just his own PR machinery and his party, but by the Congress and other pseudo-secular parties as well. A friend of mine, recently returning to Haridwar after a few months near Chennai, told me about sitting in a bus where each and every person discussing Modi in shuddh Hindi.

I myself have discussed the topic quite a lot. But what I would like to write about is the symbolism Modi carries from a regional perspective. I know this is probably blasphemous, but it's also probably true - 'If India were just its southern and western parts, it would have been a developed country by now.' For those who didn't recognize, that was something P. Chidambaram was supposed to have told a US diplomat, as revealed by Wikileaks. India is, after all, a big country. And yet, for some reason, our Central Government considers Hindi its primary language of communication.

Let me just get to the point. For someone not from North India, it is very frustrating to see that most of our Prime Ministers, including all of those from 'The Family,' are from North India and UP to be more specific. It makes sense that the region has the highest population but it is also quite frustrating to see the hard-earned tax money of the South and the West going to feed people in the North who more or less always vote along caste or religious lines irrespective of what sort of governance any party is giving them. Which is why all parties seem to be the same - everybody needs to win UP, for that you need to get your caste cards rights. If that's not enough, you must promise free food, water, laptops, electricity, education, cycles and what-not. A state in which the producers decide the leaders is sometimes called a plutocracy. Somehow, I think it should be called 'fair'!

Which is why Narendra Modi means so much to those not from North India. Finally, we have someone from the more progressive and more developed West who stands a chance at the top job. Finally, we have someone who knows how to bring development outside of caste boundaries. It is frustrating to see UP being the centre of every election campaign for the simple reason that it has more people in it - it is one of the most backward, violence-ridden, caste-fragmented, communally-tense states in India, with a pitiful number against every social indicator especially when you juxtapose it with any state from the West or the South. And yet, this state sets the agenda and being from UP statistically boosts your chances for the top job.

From a regional perspective, seeing someone 'of our own' doing so well makes you very happy. It shows that you need not be from the North, with a thick Hindi accent, to make it there. Other issues aside, Narendra Modi's role in these elections brings a lot of hope back for regional balance in this country. 

The Land of Forms

It's a little over three weeks left for me to fly to the so-called Land of Opportunities - the United States of America. While I suppose going for an MS and hopefully a PhD is indeed a good opportunity, I've also seen that the road to success in America is lined with reams and reams of forms from every bureaucracy imaginable.

It all starts with the admission, where the Justice Department issues you a form I-20, which you need to apply for a visa. The visa itself requires you to obtain a DS-160. But that's not enough - given the high tech monitoring of all alien students in that country, you are also required to pay a SEVIS fee, whose receipt is a form called an I-901. After a few days, you receive a confirmation called an I-797. Now, if you get your visa then good, but in some cases they reject you and issue a form 214(b) or ask you to supply further information through a form 221(g). Once you are admitted into a US port of entry, you need to print an I-94, which has now gone electronic.

In the university, you don't have too many forms to fill - in my case, just a medical history and immunization form and an adviser's form to register for subjects. Oh, but wait, I have a fellowship. Now, what I've discovered is that in the US, if they pay you, they will ask you to pay them back not just by working but by navigating through a mountain of paperwork. First comes a simple form - Notification of Fellowship Appointment. That's easy enough, just need to check some boxes and sign. If you need an SSN, you have to fill out a form SS-5 and also fill a part of a form I-9. However, in my case, I can't get an SSN and so I have to get an ITIN (tada!). Form that, I need to fill out a form W-7. And to report your status, you need to fill out a form 8843.

And I am told that this is nothing - the real 'form'alities start when you need to pay your taxes. Your employer is supposed to send you either a form W-2 or a form 1042-S or, in some cases, both. With that, you need to fill an online form W-4 if you are an American citizen or else mail the IRS a form 1040NR. In case you really enjoy filling tax returns, you can try a longer form 1040NR-EZ! In case there are any errors in these, you can simple try a W-2C, a 1042-SC or a 1040X. And if you happen to prefer Spanish, you can use a 1040NR-SP too! And yes, if you happen to be lucky enough to claim some sort of treaty benefit (which all Indians do), you need to give your university a form W8-BEN.

And these are just federal taxes. How can one forget the state taxes in the American Federation? Form IL-1040 is the tax return form for Illinois. I'm not sure if the state requires more forms, but from all this I can see that the good ol' days of just writing an application for anything on a blank sheet of paper is over. Now, everything needs a form. I wouldn't be surprised if question papers had forms attached to them! 

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Naked Truth

We The Living
By Ayn Rand

The foreword describes as a book set in Soviet Russia but in essence characterizing all dictatorships. And it does not fail to live up to its promise. If, in a free country, the fire that rages at very heart of the State is 'We The People,' in a dictatorship, it is the state that makes it its goal to extinguish the flames of 'We The Living.' Set in Russia just after the Bolshevik Revolution and describing the lives of bourgeois families after it, it sheds light into the truth behind those fancy slogans that have become the elegies of Marxists around the world.

Written in typical Rand-style and with a lot of incipient hints at her Objectivist theories that later lead to the twin successes of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, We The Living is as much as a novel as an appeal to reason. No major parts of it can be deemed to be too magical or unrealistic to be true; almost all of it is as true as the earth we live on. A is A, as Rand would say. On a philosophical level, it challenges the very grounds of Communism with the one weapon that Communism fears: the self. Individualism.

On a social level, she describes how the Communist agenda can destroy people - how they interact and how they perceive of themselves. You can see people betraying their own blood for the sake of power and other betraying themselves for the same. But none of them are doing it for any natural wants - they are doing it because it is the only logical things to do in a Communist state. On a political level, it describes how easily an idea can be corrupted and used for someone else's benefit, how people who refuse to challenge ideas eventually ruin themselves through it. A funny take on the attempts such a State makes to manage propaganda sums up the enlightening insights this book provides.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Idea of NEET Stands

The Supreme Court today struck down the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test for admission to all postgraduate medical colleges across India, an idea mooted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and implemented this year by MCI, the test envisioned a single, national test that would allow students to access the portals of PG courses. Now, with this judgment, students are once again forced to run to every corned of the country and write a plethora of tests, which itself is a huge expenditure for parents who have so far had to fund their child's MBBS.

Let me be clear hear - the Supreme Court is perfectly correct legally. The MCI does not have jurisdiction to dictate terms to private colleges on admission procedures. From a point of view of domain and jurisdiction, NEET was flawed right from the beginning. However, when looked at from the perspective of students, the idea still carries a lot of water. Indeed, the idea is not new, it was implemented for engineering institutions this year as the JEE (Mains) exam without much hassle insofar as the idea of a common entrance test goes (inclusion of board exam marks is a different issue). A common entrance test is good for students and most particularly for poor students - it will allow students to worry about the exam and not how to reach a far-flung city to write it; it will create a common standard of admission for students across the country and thereby make the system more fair; it will introduce transparency in the process and help in reducing the massive amount of corruption in the admission process, which is an open-secret.

One argument against NEET is that it forces students to put all their eggs in one basket. True, every test has some limitations and it is unfair to say that a test accurately gauges the intelligence of each and every student. However, one must weigh this argument against the benefits of NEET. Although it will be the one big exam that can make-or-break everything, it will also give students access to seats that they could never have hoped to even write the entrance test for. Currently, students aspiring for a PG seat can write 5-6 tests at most, since many of the tests have overlapping dates - that is 5-6 of nearly fifty tests, constituting perhaps 10% of available seats. Instead, NEET will in theory give a student access to 100% of seats, thus creating higher rewards for a higher risk. And even if that is not convincing, then we must consider it from the prism of basic democracy, that more students, especially poor students, will benefit from a single test than the small fraction that, for some unfortunate reason, do badly on the day of the exam despite being well-prepared. It is just not an argument that can hold the issue to ransom.

A legitimate concern about NEET was that many State governments would like to admit their own students. This is perfectly justifiable given the nature of the medical profession. However, systems can be built around NEET - a rudimentary system of quotas for students domiciled in their state. This is actually a no-brainer and is actively pursued in admissions to NITs and state colleges; and we Indians certainly have a lot of experience in managing admissions with quotas. Some colleges can justifiably demand some sections to have more importance in the paper than others. Very well, divide NEET into such sections and allow colleges to set their own weights and cut-offs. It is only the admission test that we seek to unify for eliminating the challenges outlined; the admission criteria need not be rock-solidly attached to NEET.

On a technical note, the Supreme Court has rightly dispensed with NEET. However, the Court is here simply to interpret laws and protect fundamental rights; the larger problem of the crisis in higher education in medicine and systemic corruption need to be handled by the executive and the legislature, elected by the people. Courts cannot and should not be solving all problems. It is up to the MH&FW to find a way out and bring some form of NEET that the courts will not quash, because it is in the larger interest of society. 

No FDI Will Come

In what is obviously one last desperate bid to shore up the economy ahead of the crucial 2014 general elections, the Manmohan Singh government raised caps on Foreign Direct Investment in various sectors. This is not just an attempt to bring in more investment but also to find a way to shore up the Indian Rupee and cover the burgeoning current account deficit. However, it won't work. For some inexplicable reason, the UPA-II seems to believe that 'reforms' simply means raising caps on investment. This is fallacious - what investors want is 'access' and raising caps is just one step.

The problem with the Indian economy that is holding back private investment is the overall investment environment in India. Our economy is slowing down, our infrastructure is crumbling, corruption has risen to record levels, there is a great deal of regulatory uncertainty and the overall mood is very poor. Pre-existing bottlenecks including land and labour reforms have not moved forward, adding to the problem. The net effect is that companies do not want to invest in India, even if they are allowed to.

One reason for this situation is the International economic crisis, which has hurt major consumer nations. But to a large extent, it is because of the policy paralysis that UPA-II pushed the country into. Every government comes with some problems, Mamata Banerjee would know this best, but it is supposed to work towards solving those problems, not balancing them delicately. The UPA has done far worse than that - it has continuously wrecked institutions in this country in a bid to ensure status quo, while actually pushing the country further and further into the abyss. Conjurers in the Congress can say what they want - or the FM can go on claiming that the Indian economy is doing 'fine' - but that will not hide the naked truth that is apparent to everyone - that the Indian economy has sunk under an economist Prime Minister.

What is truly bewildering is the fact that this impulsive behaviour while in government - of taking some bold steps only when a crisis is at hand - seems to be typical of the Congress. On that note, the NDA Government was light years ahead, envisioning projects like the Golden Quadrilateral to spread Hindutva create the necessary infrastructure that would allow investment to come in. A BJP spokesperson said that the UPA-I enjoyed high growth rates because of the base left behind by the NDA, not least of which is a budget surplus; he might not be too far off the mark. Indeed, given that the NDA's policies were forward looking, it was natural for the UPA-I to have been able to reap benefits from it; as an extension of that logic, the UPA-II's abysmal performance on the economic front also says a lot about what sort of a base UPA-I left behind.

The so-called reforms announced by the Prime Minister are bound to fail. Since that announcement, Posco has withdrawn from Karnataka and ArcelorMittal from Odisha. It does not take rocket science to extrapolate from here. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bhaag Milkha, Just Don't Dance

BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG (2013)

Produced By: Viacom 18 Motion Pictures
Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Starring: Farhan Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor, Dev Gill, Prakash Raj and others
Pros: Fell-good story, forgotten scenes from real life
Cons: Too long, boring song-and-dance sequences, too broad in scope
Rating: ** of 5 (2 of 5)

Inherently, biopics tend to be one-sided. Perhaps that can't be helped and perhaps it need not be. It is, after all, film-making and not journalism and there is nothing wrong with taking sides. But even film-making comes with some rules and structure and a free-for-all, however reverential, cannot be called a good biopic.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is probably as reverential as it gets, taking us through the life of the 'Flying Sikh' through various periods, from his days of escaping his little village in Multan during Partition to his crowning glory at the Olympics. It makes you feel all good, even bringing a few tears to your eyes now and then. The usual Punjab-centric partition stories (has everybody forgotten the Partition of Bengal?) do raise a hair as do the moments of pride when Milkha Singh makes India proud in country after country. The director makes clever use of archival footage to add to the effect.

Sadly, the canvas just seems too large to be coherent. The story is not really moving in any one direction because the director is bent on exploring as many dimensions as possible. No wonder then that it extends beyond three hours, making it a real struggle to watch. Of course, it would not have been so bad if not for the needless song-and-dance sequences. I know, these are a staple of any Indian film, but the songs need to come at the right time. BMB simply has them scattered around for the heck of it! So much so that I was literally hoping against hope when I saw the signs of the last one coming.

Farhan Akhtar puts up a splendid job as Milkha Singh, putting his heart and soul into a seminal act. He has obviously worked very hard to fit his body and mind into the character, for which he deserves full accolades. A large part of the dialogue is in Punjabi, which might be a little irritating to most, but you can still make good sense of it. Sonam Kapoor however, puts up a staid performance, quite average and nothing to remember. The other characters come somewhere in between these two. Mehra seems to be so much in love with the film that he could not even avoid the temptation to play a cameo!

Overall, this movie might be good for those not interested in reading up Milkha Singh's extraordinary story. It would have made a wonderful biography but as a movie, it was agonizing to watch. Yawns every now and then became the norm. Unless you're a big fan of Akhtar or even Milkha Singh, skip it. (OTFS)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

#4: Miles to Go


Saharanpur. Western UP's industrial hub, a magnet for the paper industry. And the former Institute of Paper Technology. Saharanpur, one of the few places that I called home. It's a big city with its commercial centre - Nehru Market - teeming with life throughout the day. The city does not sleep, just goes dark in those parts where there is no electricity. Unfortunately, the transportation system does sleep, and rather early in fact. With DPT placed in a dark corner, it was not easy to hitch a ride back.

Parties are an integral part of college life - birthdays are the primary reason, although other ones do come up later. And the place to head for treats was Court Road - grab a rickshaw from DPT and keep going till you reach the bridge, from where you take a left and head down till you reach the District Court. A few kilometers, maybe 4-5. Hot Breads used to be the most popular place until Barkhat-e-Lazeez opened up, although I hear that Dominos came in two years later like a juggernaut.

We'd leave at seven. It was a little difficult finding a rickshaw then, but we always found one. The problem was getting back - at 9 o'clock, it was next to impossible to find an auto. And even if you did, you would find just one, not enough for such a large number of people. So you had two choices - crush yourself in, or walk. I chose the road less walked on - and I was not alone. I had my friend, who I suppose would not like to be named by me anymore, so left me just call him my good friend.

India is said to be the only place where distance is measured in time - 'Bas do minute ke doori pe hai!' But in those walks back to DPT, distance was measured by the number of topics you could chat about. And we probably clocked a record. In our typical style, football and politics were the major points of discussion, with one side knowing absolutely nothing about what the other was saying. And yet, it was a perfectly good conversation! There were also the talks of parents, girls, professors, plans for the future (even in the first year!)... we hardly noticed when we got back to Malviya Bhawan.

Ah, those were the days. The walks were certainly good to burn some calories and, given how much butter they use in North India, there was plenty to burn. It ended sooner than it should have - the last time we went there, we chose to grab onto the back of an auto. Not much talking. By the next year, none at all. That's how it ended. So be it - that was the way it had to end. But the memories are always there and they pop up ever so randomly! 

#3: Sachin in the Braubad


I wanted to visit Auschwitz, and a lot of people thought it would be a great idea. Until I told them that it was a Concentration Camp. After that, they would not hear a word. But then, I come all the way to Germany, where every school student has to visit a concentration camp at least once as part of their Denazification programme, and not see one for myself? No way!

Fortunately, I was in Munich, the city where Hitler started his reign of terror. Nearby was Dachau KZ, the first of hundreds of Camps. A trip on the S1/S2 to Dacha Bahnhof followed by a bus ride to Dachau KZ brought us there, but we had an unusual partner joining us. An Australian, finished high school and decided to travel the world - we met because we were all confused as to which bus to take! We decided to walk it.

What can a bunch of geeky Indians and a globe-trotting Australian discuss with each other? Well, there are actually a lot of things, and when you are in a country where nobody can read the signs, Germany is one hot topic to discuss. Like most beginners, he pronounced es-zet as 'be.' He then got his first lesson in reading German - it's 'Strasse,' not 'Strabe'!

But the real discussion came in the KZ. Like most whites I've known, he became extremely sentimental at the museum they made in the former SS Bunkers. True, it was quite saddening and everybody wore sombre looks, but our jock kept adding 'Holy Shit,' 'F*ing God' and other expletives to each expression of shock, of course in his characteristic Aussie accent. But the most amazing moment came when we went to the crematorium, the murder-machine that the Nazis used to exterminate hundreds of Jews at one go. Now that was a creepy experience, especially when we entered the showed (Braubad) that was used to gas Jews.

Everyone was a bit shaken by that. It seemed in perfect order - disinfection room, waiting room, dressing room, shower, holding cell (for the bodies), crematories. It was so well-planned. And the moment we walked out, our Australian friend had the sudden urge to discuss - what else? - Cricket! In the unlikeliest of places, as we made a dash to grad a photo in front of the permanent memorial as we had to board the last bus, we were discussing some fine shots by Sachin Tendulkar! Of course, it was to shake off the horrible after-effects of standing in that Braubad, but in hindsight, it was the funniest conversation I ever had!

Our Australian friend became a little sentimental in the S-Bahn back. We were discussing our future plans, and he did not have any. He felt a little unhappy that he had to live out of a suitcase all these years. We could sense that he did not want to talk about it much. It hurt him. He got off at Hackerbruecke. Once he was gone, we realized that we had never asked him his name. Another stranger, gone with the S-Bahn... 

#2: Mera Mitra Hai Japani


It was like a military regimen in Japan. Ostensibly, we were there on an official visit and had a lot of work to do, but since it was the first time abroad for many of us (although not for me), we would have liked to visit Tokyo on our own at least once. Luckily, one fine day, we were allowed to go there. Since we were in Chiba, we had to use the Metro. The Tokyo Metro is massive, it is probably bigger than the Delhi and Munich metros combined. Just about every stop is on some interchange, there are so many lines that they seem to have run out of colours to code them in and depended on names that left us English-speaking Indians confused.

We had to reach Tokyo station, which proved to be a daunting task. A little like Paris, the Tokyo Metro has stations that are distinct at one level and interconnected at another. The problem is that there are several lines that intersect at the station and each of those are run by some other company; so, you need to keep buying new tickets every time you change a line. And since we were all short of money and time, making wild guesses was not an option.

And that's when we found someone to help us. An Indian from Chandigarh. It was our rather loud Hindi discussion that attracted him to us - he later admitted that he had not heard Hindi being spoken at that station for years, despite the fact that he came there everyday to go to work and back. He told us what train to use which, surprisingly, was also the train that he had to take. I admit, I was a little suspicious and did not want to reveal too much about myself; but the others were pretty enthusiastic.

We chatted a bit. We were all from the IITs, which always become an instant image-booster. He had not returned to India in years; he says that when he left, Delhi was a pretty small and crowded city when compared to Tokyo. He asked whether it was true that it had changed a lot. Well, since we had no idea of what his reference for 'a lot' was, we replied in the affirmative. A little more discussion, some useful advice about when he need to return to catch the last train back to Chiba (and we literally did catch the last train) and he got off, a stop ahead of us.

One sixth of humanity is supposed to be Indian. That's just a neat statistic we use to mean that our population is just too much. But when you find an Indian quite literally in the middle of nowhere, ready to help you out, it really means a lot. 

#1: The Iraqi Guy

Buoyed by a rather good experience on Twitter, I try to take some ideas from there...

Munich. Oh, that beautiful city with its troubled past, now Germany's most expensive city. The U-Bahn, the S-Bahn and the Zug! So much can happen over a simple conversation. And that's what happened to me one day, at Munich Central Station, while I was waiting with a friend to board a train to Amsterdam.

The train left somewhere in the middle of the night. But the U-Bahn/S-Bahn would not run the whole night. So we had to reach by midnight and wait for a few hours. We were waiting on the upper deck that overlooked the platforms. I admit, we had actually tried to get into the waiting lounge, but that was only for first class. I've heard Indian Railways was also planning to start something like that - a lot cheaper, of course!

But it turned out to be a good thing, because we met a strange man over there. He was Iraqi. Obviously, it was the first time I had met someone from there. He had moved to Munich years ago, before his country was invaded by the US and the UK. Of course, we were itching to ask him about how he felt about the invasion, but we checked ourselves. While he did not address the issue directly, he did speak much of how common human beings are.

Funnily, he chose to use language as a point to emphasize how similar people are. I'm not sure if he was a linguist, but he chose to show the similarities between German and English, particularly the term 'Wilkommen,' and its similarity to 'Welcome.' I would have liked to point out that both come from the Indo-European family of languages, but I just heard him out. He proceeded to tell us about life and how he has been searching for some meaning. He finally came to the point when he said that he would like to go back to Iraq, but at the moment it would be foolish.

He asked us if we liked it in Munich. We said we did - it was a wonderful place. He nodded. He asked us how many days we had before we had to go back to India. I don't think he heard the answer. 

Non-Profit University on TV?

Of late, one interesting phenomenon on Indian news television has left me puzzled. No, it's not the bizarre lengths to which the media is prepared to go to hype any incident; nor is it the explosion of movie promotions (although that s another grouse I have). It actually has nothing to do with the content of TV news programming; rather, I have been observing the sponsors.

Education in India, by law, is supposed to be non-profit. Therefore, you will never hear of any university reeling out a balance sheet with massive profits or even discussing the idea of profits and 'donations.' One such university, Amity University, has gone to great lengths to show the nation how much it has worked to improve India's education sector, with everything from research grants to 'three continent' MBAs to a military prep school. Sharda University is another one which claims to bring the world to young Indians and open their minds. Which is all fine and commendable.

Except that Amity University is the title sponsor for The Newshour on Times Now, which at one point of time was the single most popular news show in India. And, if rating are to be believed, it still has a huge following, which means that the advertising space is prime. Now, how can a non-profit institution afford prime time advertising space? The cost would easily go into several crores, which should be beyond the means of any university that is supposed to use every penny of revenue to improve its own standards. Similarly, Sharda University also sponsors several popular news shows, albeit none as high-profile as The Newshour. But, to their credit, at least none of their ads describe them as being non-profit, unlike Amity's ads.

Let me be clear here - I am not a socialist who finds fault with profit-making. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to run a university without expecting some profits. The Government can do it because it has a guaranteed source of income (taxes), but private organizations do not have that luxury. State-run education is already woefully inadequate and most of India's higher education needs are actually met by the private sector. If any private individual feels that they can provide quality education, he should have the right to ask for it to be profitable. Good education at the cost of a profit is not bad. What is bad is to make windfall gains and box students into a corner for lack of better options. But controlling that need not be tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Therefore, both Amity and Sharda are quite justified in their ads and sponsorship, if the aim is to bring in good students.

What I do object to is Amity's description of itself as a non-profit university. It does not take a certificate in accountancy to see that non-profit institutions cannot run expensive ad campaigns. There must be a profit somewhere in those books, unless it can claim to have achieved the best possible infrastructure and education standards in the world, which is clearly not the case. This seems to be a distortion of facts, which is wrong and illegal. 

Farewell, Oh Telegram!

Today marks the last day when a Telegram will be sent in India by any state-run institution. A relic of a past that was teeming with innovation, the telegram was nothing short of revolutionary in its time, being the harbinger of news good and bad. The linguistics of telegram became a sort of rage, with people strutting to the nearest Telegraph Office, wondering how to shrink their message as few words as possible. Many would end us shrinking the address of the recipient, which caused quite a lot of problems, so much so that India Post (which used to run the Telegraph Service before the Department of Posts and Telegraphs was bifurcated) had to allot a few free words to prevent telegrams from being returned!

However, like everything, the telegram's time too has come. It was obvious that it was coming - e-mail and mobile phones were always at its heels. In fact, the biggest patron of the telegram soon became the Government itself for no other reason than that you get a receipt for a telegram, which is necessary in any bureaucracy. But with the Government increasingly embracing e-Governance and Speed Post becoming the norm for sending official communication, the final blow was coming.

Tonight, at 9:00 PM, BSNL will close down the last state-run telegram counters in India, putting a lid to a long and glorious history. Personally, I have never seen a telegram nor do I know anyone who has ever sent one, although I did have this exercise in school wherein I had to write a telegram. But that was more to teach us how to use words judiciously. Or ,maybe it was just because the curriculum was outdated. In any case, in real life, I have never sent a telegram. I have however sent tens of thousands of e-mails, which my preferred mode of communication. So, I won't be weeping over the end of the telegram. It's just another moment that had to come. 

Hopefully, A Better Future

This is Post #2222

After much needless controversy stoked by an unscientific, visceral opposition to any form of progress, the Kundankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) finally took off yesterday with one unit going critical. Although some more trials are required, it is only a matter of time before it starts feeding power into the Southern Grid, with power-starved Tamil Nadu being the biggest beneficiary. No wonder than that Chief Minister J Jayalalitha rightly put her weight behind the project.

The recent floods in Uttarakhand and the spate of extreme weather that we have been seeing for some years now are the clearest indicator yet that global warming will have a devastating impact on India. We can haggle with the West as much as we like but the fact of the matter remains that India is the world's third largest producer of greenhouse gases, after China and the US. True, the number is insignificant on a per capita basis, but if we intend to develop on the same road as the West, our total pollution output can quite literally dig our own grave. Therefore, we need to find new avenues for power generation. While renewable energy is certainly the best way forward, it is not intensive enough. We need to grow quickly and not just grow and for that, nuclear power is a necessity.

Several NGOs, which have gotten used to taking poor people for a ride so that they protest against their own development, have tried to scuttle KKNPP and intend to use that model to stop nuclear power altogether in India. Thankfully, the Government and the Supreme Court rightfully thwarted their attempts while at the same time keeping in mind the need for safety mechanisms to be in place and alert. To that effect, the Government desperately needs to change the nature of the AERB and put in place a more reliable authority to deal with nuclear safety.

At this moment, the nation must stand together and congratulate the engineers and scientists who braved all odds to mark this milestone in the KKNPP. Similar projects envisioned around India must be pursued with vigor if we are to grow and develop, a prerequisite to eliminating poverty. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Countdown Begins

July 13 just went by, leaving me with one month here in India before I move out to Champaign to start a new phase of life. I know, at this stage, that line is a little corny and sounds more appropriate for an undergraduate student. But then, there is a life after undergrad and it is certainly worth enjoying! Furthermore, from what I've found out, grad and undergrad students rarely every speak to each other at UIUC, so that phase is effectively over.

Right on cue, I bought myself my second suitcase. I know I could get three, but I really don't see what I can carry in three. Clothes, some utensils, some books and some food. How all this can go beyond 46+8 kg I can't see. In any case, I will not be carrying those South Indian packets of powders and pickles, for which I have no appetite. For food, I just see maggi noodles for a few days, and maybe some soup.

Fortunately, I've gotten my shared apartment set in Champaign and, although I didn't know it while signing the lease agreement, it's actually an excellent location, with an Indian store, an Indian restaurant and a County Market within walking distance as well as a nearby bus stop for a route to either of the two Walmarts (in Urbana and Champaign). Not to mention that my classrooms in NCEL and a US Post Office are also within walking distance and also on the bus routes. Just to be sure, I also found out that the landlord does not have any complaints on their heads at the Tenant Union.

However, there is still a lot to do in India. July 29 is my set date for the last vaccination, MMR-2, after which I can get my medical form finalized. I still need to buy some clothes and utensils. Seems like a lot, and it is, but I suspect once I start I'll finish soon enough. Once in UIUC though, I've already got a list of six offices to go to before I can even register for my subjects. The place is very decentralized and highly bureaucratic, which is not what I was expecting in the USA.

Still, perhaps the happiest moment for me was when I logged into NESSIE New Hire and finally found out my status - Pre-Doctoral Fellow. It's a good feeling to read that, despite the obvious load of responsibility it puts on you. One more month, and here comes life! 

Getting Around Japan

During our ten days in Japan, we had to keep moving to different places. Even though we lived in just three places - Chiba, Sendai and Minamisanriku - we had to keep moving to various sites within the cities as well. For this, there was an excellent system that I think would actually be very common in the world, but certainly a novelty in India. Each group had a 'leader,' who would hold up a colour-coded flag. We just had to make a line and follow the flag, while also trying to keep up and not fall too far back. This proved to be challenging for us Indians, who enjoyed talking a lot and walking very slowly, while also pushing other people on the street!

The best transit was within Chiba, where everything was pretty close to the hotel and we could walk. But for longer distances, we used a chartered bus. In Japan, like the rest of the developed world, they believe in dignity of labour. So, the driver was not expected to place our bags in the undercarriage, but he did it anyway, for reasons ranging from courtesy to practicality (for, if we were to do it on our own, we would have a very poor packing fraction indeed!). In return, we were repeatedly told to thank him, which we did ('Arigato gozaimas' for enhanced effect!). Some of the bus rides were short, like those in Sendai, while some were quite long, such as the one from Sendai to Minamisanriku or even Chiba to the Hitachi factory.

But the most exciting part of our transit was the ride on the bullet trains (Shinkansen) from Tokyo to Sendai and back. Unlike the German ICE, in these, you could actually make out the high speeds from the windows. But quite like them, the ride was so smooth that I don't think I ever slept better throughout the trip. Of course, the scenery was nice but, like almost all train journeys in the world, it gets boring after sometime. I still remember though, how I woke up a little ahead of Sendai Station to see everything covered in snow outside!

One drawback of all this travel was the strict timings we had to maintain. Sleeping in late was impossible and the coordinators did not forgive those who came late. It was a little difficult for us lazy Indian students to wake up so early, but we eventually got used to it. By the last day, we had no trouble at all. 

Keeping the Flame Aglow

The Japanese have this wonderful way of keeping stories alive for generations so that the lessons learned from them are not easily forgotten. During our tour as part of the Kizuna Project, we saw some of those initiatives. One school of thought advocated forgetting those horrible tales from the great tsunami, but the vast majority believe that they must be told and re-told so that people know how to protect themselves in the future.

In Japan, I found that local communities took the lead in preserving stories. In our hotel in Minamisanriku, which was a veritable refuge for survivors, volunteers and SDF soldiers during the disaster, the local manager told us about the events he and his staff witnessed. They have reconstructed the place now, of course, so you cannot actually know about all this unless you ask someone, which can be a little awkward. Minamisanriku now also offers tours, where guides tell you about their lives before the disaster. It was a profound moment for us whe n our guide pointed to some rubble and said that there used to be a large market there!

In Sendai, we also saw other forms of storytelling, including one brilliant form in which the storyteller depicts certain key moments through drawings while continuously reliving those moments through sounds and dialogue. I think it was such a form that started modern cinema, which also explains why you see so little of it. Many of her picture books have been translated into various languages.

Of the many stories we heard, that of the Indian contingent that came to a village and prepared Indian 'curry' there, was close to our hearts. The village actually fell in love with that curry and continues to consume it. A rare connection in the least likely of places! 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Lowering Discourse to Ridiculous Levels

Two events from today go on to prove just how ridiculous our political discourse has fallen in this country. In the morning, we had the news that Union Minister for Minority Affairs Rehman Khan, who has presided over the Rajya Sabha, wrote to the PM asking for a 'task force' headed by the PM himself to review each and every charge of terrorism against Muslim youth in the country who are languishing as undertrials in jails across India. The idea was quite obviously taken from the Akhilesh Yadav Government's similar attempts in UP, although it has ostensibly been borrowed by a similar attempt in London.

The second event is Narendra Modi's impressive interview to Reuters, where he said that, as a born Hindu and a nationalist, he was a Hindu Nationalist, in reply to a question on the topic. He was, of course, walking a tightrope, since has to keep his core voters with him while also looking to project himself as a leader for the whole nation.

The reaction from the Congress to these two issues says it all. On the extra-judicial task-force, since the matter came up from within the Congress, these is sympathy. This is of course, nothing new; this Government is led by a Prime Minister who declared that minorities (read: Muslims) have the first right to India's resources. The Congress party in Andhra Pradesh worked tirelessly to give a religion-based reservation to Muslims, doing its very best to get over every hurdle placed before it by the High Court. In an interview to Times Now, Mr. Khan insisted that religion was a reality in India and therefore, any task-force focused around one religion is not wrong. When quizzed further, he essentially gave up and said as the Minister of Minority Affairs, he was just concerned with minorities (who, for reasons best known to him, seem to be include only Muslims). On the question of whether such a move would not be extraconstitutional, he did not answer - truly speaking, there is only one answer (it is!).

However, on Mr. Modi's lines, all hell broke loose. A lot was said, but the gist was that it is 'wrong' to describe yourself as a nationalist belonging to one religion; that if he is a Hindu, he should keep it to himself; and of course the usual lecture about Hindutva and the much-abused phrase, 'The Idea of India.' Taken together, these two events clearly point out just how ridiculous the whole minority-majority debate has gone in India. Ideally, in a democracy, minorities are of ideas, not religions. The idea with a majority rules. But in India, where people prefer not to think too much, religion is the first of many ideas, the other one being caste, that divides our society. Our founding fathers knew this and hence wrote a Constitution that sought to eliminate these existing differences.

Sadly, political parties, first and foremost the Congress, have used these divisions for their own gains. In the situation today, we see a classic display of what many thinking Indians have been saying - that the Congress has defined secularism to be minority appeasement; that calling yourself 'Hindu' is a bad thing but it is perfectly fine to not just call yourself a Muslim but demand special benefits because of it. And the levels to which these special benefits have sunk is spectacular, with this attack on the criminal justice system being the tip of the icerberg. Instead of calling for reform of the system to benefit everyone, Mr. Khan has called for fast-tracking all terrorism cases involving Muslims. And the simple reason he gives for this is that his Ministry is limited to that much. By that logic, the absence of a Ministry of Majority Affairs should be a clear sign of communalism!

As though a Haj subsidy and Constitutional protection to minority institutions was not enough, such measures actually weaken the idea of India as a country where all religions are equally respected. Now, it seems that the law is not equal anymore. Perhaps the Congress should try to bring back the disastrous Prevention of Communal Violence Bill and hammer the final nail in the coffin. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What's wrong with Normalization?

A lot of hue and cry has been made about the recent admissions to the IITs based on the 80 percentile system as well as admissions to NITs and other institutes via a combined score from JEE (Mains) and normalized Board Exam scores. Though several nuanced arguments have been made, the short of it is this: nobody is happy with the system. This is a little ironic, because a lot of students from NITs in particular were rooting for inclusion of board exam marks in some way or the other for IIT admissions, and now admissions to those very NITs is mired in controversy because of the inclusion of board exam marks. Anyway, you really cannot make everyone happy and should not try to either. 

I do not want to discuss the merits of including board exam marks - I actually think it is a bad idea because the board exam is nothing more than a competition in rote learning in any board in this country. Although the CBSE has brought in some good reforms, it only extends to Class X, not XII. On a side note, it is worth mentioning that students are equally angry with the board exams when it comes to DU admissions for the liberal arts. So, obviously, nobody likes the system. But a lot of people have been arguing that it is not fair - now, there is a major difference between something being a bad idea and something being unfair; for starters, the latter is illegal while the former is not. 

I believe that the system is fair. Fair in the statistical sense, of course. Consider each board exam to have normally distributed marks (which is probably true, if you believe the Central Limit Theorem). Each being independent, they have their own means and standard deviations. Some boards have five subjects, some have seven; a percentage brings all these together. To be further able to compare scores, one way would be to normalize them i.e., divide the score by the highest score and multiply by 100. That way, all the top students in every board would have a score of 100. This means that for the top students, which board they are from makes no difference. If you work on it further using some t- and f-distributions, you can eventually bring all the scores on the same platform - this is somewhat the procedure suggested by ISI, Kolkata and adopted by CBSE. Statistically, it is very fair and, as a simple RTI can show, very simple to evaluate with minimum human intervention. 

The reason students are crying out now is because it hasn't worked to their expectations. For example, I remember newspaper commentators from Andhra Pradesh last year rejoicing, since AP students tend to get higher scores in their liberal Class XI and XII combined board exams. This year, AP students are at the forefront of the 'movement' (albeit an online one) against the system because, to their surprise (although anyone with some knowledge of statistics could have said so), AP has the highest 'cut-off' i.e., a student of 90% in the AP board is as good as one with 60% in say, Tripura. The fallacious argument now is that this is unfair because 90% is after all greater than 60%. This, from a group that was rejoicing at the fact that their board is more liberal than others just a year back! Now, the entire argument is back to that stage, because AP students have suddenly found that their exceptionally high board exam scores are actually working against them. 

As someone from the AP Intermediate Board, with 98% overall and 100% in MPC, I can say without any sense of shame that it is damn easy. You don't even need a teacher - cramming for a week before the board exams is enough. The same questions come in the exam, without any change in the numbers even. I remember, in Class XII, the formula for a standard ellipse accidentally had a '-' instead of a '+', which is an elementary error that anyone who has studied some analytic geometry can correct. Yet, this question was deleted from the exam. That's what I mean - questions perfectly match the textbooks and if they don't, they are deleted! 

And truly speaking, it's not just the AP board that has the problem; students from all boards including CBSE do not like the idea that someone with a lower percentage goes above them on normalization. It is a bizarre ignorance of very simple statistics at play - and it is very logical because those who lost their golden rank will do and say anything to stop it from happening. This is what we are seeing - students who did well in both the JEE papers now protesting because their ranks have been lowered, saying that it is unfair because their rank has been lower than what they expected from last year, when the system was not in place. That is circular logic if I have ever seen it!  

Strangely - or maybe not - nobody wants to challenge the central surmise that makes the whole system wrong: that the very board exam system is broken and is no longer capable of measuring intelligence. And on an even greater level, depending on any one exam to gauge intelligence is wrong. With no hint of humility do I say that IITJEE got it completely wrong for me, putting me at a so-called 'bad' rank and therefore, at a so-called 'bad' branch, and me finally leaving the IIT system with a fellowship from one of the world's best universities, an honour that is supposed to be reserved for the very best of applicants from around the world. No Government, least of all UPA-II, wants to fix the mess that primary and secondary education have become in India. And that is why no system will ever make anyone happy - because until you fix the foundation, no amount of improvements to the superstructure will save you! 

Although, I do wonder what effect the system will have on the group it was intended to benefit i.e., rural students and the poor who cannot afford coaching. A study I had done in IITR showed that a vast majority of students come from the middle-class and depend on coaching classes. The idea behind the new system was to ween people away from coaching classes and make rural students competitive again. Whether this has worked or not can probably be gauged by how the HRD Ministry responds. 

Case Closed

Although both the confessions were retracted, they were corroborated with other evidence. As per various court judgments, a retracted confession cannot be presented as evidence but, if it can be corroborated with evidence, it can be used to secure a conviction. While all other angles of the case were proven with evidence, the matter of the rape was not, because it was not even under the scanner of investigators till the confession itself came. However, Geeta's missing undergarments proved to be the evidence required that she was, at the very least, stripped naked. This served as adequate circumstantial evidence and was accepted by the court.

Furthermore, the prosecutor also argues that the retracted confessions were not false, given the professional manner in which they were made before a magistrate, who diligently explained to them how the confession could be used against them and gave them plenty of time to reconsider. It was thus a tactic to waste the time of the court and delay the trial. Most importantly, the two were kept separately in jail and yet, their confessions largely corroborated each other except on the part of who actually killed the children. This is further circumstantial evidence. As to who actually committed the act of murder has little bearing on the case - what is important that both were involved in the whole affair of kidnapping, rape and murder, followed by disposing of the bodies and tampering with evidence.

The prosecutor made an impassioned plea for death for the two accused, going as far as to point out that it was a matter for Parliament to decide whether capital punishment is right or wrong and the courts could only dispense justice within the legal framework created by Parliament. That is the only fair thing in a democracy. Finally, after a round of appeals, the two were sentenced to death and hanged

Aftermath
The Sanjay and Geeta Chopra murder case shook the nation. It was not just the gruesome manner in which two young children were killed, it was also the fact that this happened to children of a Naval Officer in one of the most posh areas of the national capital. If safety could not be ensured even here, what would happen in the rest of the country?

In 1978, in commemoration of the murdered children, the Indian Council for Child Welfare instituted two awards named after each of them for acts of bravery by young children across India. They are given each year along with the National Bravery Award on Republic Day. However, whether that has managed to change anything in India is an open question. Have our cities become safer for children? Has our police system become as efficient and responsive as they need to be?

Who knows how many more Sanjays and Geetas came after this case.

(Series Concluded)