Sunday, April 12, 2009

Me first and the rest can wait

“ If someone hits your car on the road, you should not show any kind of emotion. Not even a facial expression. You may in fact think of thanking him for teaching you a right lesson for being on his way . No harsh words , no intention of fight shanti shanti shanti…..” This was the sane advice from a colleague who regularly drives down to work from Delhi to NOIDA when I told him that I am planning to buy a car . He claims that he has seen people getting shot by country made pistol in these petty you-hit-my car fights . That is not road rage, that is simple Delhi male machismo. It is not unusual in Delhi for any car to get a dent even when it is perfectly parked or standing at a red light . It is also not unusual for people to get out of cars to settle the case on the road. Crash and there goes the front mirror. Bang and here is for your front seat ! A punch for the face may be with appropriate sound effects right there right now! Who believes in police anyways?
The metro roads on most Indian cities are buzzing with these musical sounds – which some lunatics see as noise. Getting hit by another car for no fault of yours, is just one of the perils of driving on Indian roads . Rash, reckless and even drunken driving has come of age . Its a deadly cocktail of loud music, alcohal and speeding without a reason .The Delhi drivers, fully aware of their social responsibility towards vehicles nearby , believe in playing their music on full volume. Music is good , why not share it with others. Not only that, have you not noticed that some drivers just love the sound of their horn. In a jam , just to ensure that the horn is alright , they keep buzzing it again and again. I at time feel like turning back and yelling – I am still driving an old version that can’t fly .
Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you , but not in the one ahead. --Bill Mcglashen
In smaller metros like Lucknow there is another problem of VIP sirens . Almost every second car has a dignitary passenger who claims the right of priority passage by blowing the sirens. Some intelligent car drivers even have detachable sirens, which can be used only when they can effectively pull some weight . Please do not think that our VIPs (mind you even ex-panchayat member is one!) are making noises on roads . We always have ambulances taking the nursing staff from their residences blowing a siren. In general my feelings about giving way to ambulances is echoed in this beautiful blog by Alice. But in Kolkata for the first time I noticed that ambulances of private hospitals being used for carrying the hospital staff from their residences. They shamelessly blow the sirens in a crowded street and no wonder even if there is a genuine case with a patient inside , the ambulances hardly get a way . On second thoughts , however, I feel that despite the misuse, one must give way to ambulances as just the thought of having a loved one inside it, is disturbing. Coming back to the musical roads of India , I must mention the autowallahs who feel their vehicles have model like waists and can catwalk between the zigzag of other vehicles. The scratches and marks contributed by their efforts to reach about 30 seconds earlier ….well they are incidental. Be ready for choicest of adjectives if you bar their way on the roads . If these categories of music are not enough to make Indian roads –alive with the sound of music , we also have brave hearts in pedestrians who always want to cross the road when traffic is on. You touch them and there will be a new melody instantly . Take it from me, even if the pedestrian was at fault, everyone is going to blame it on the car driver . Though sometimes, say in rainy season, when I see a car speeding and splashing the water on the poor office going pedestrians , I too feel bad. . is it that in our anxiety and urgency we fail to understand that they are exposed to the elements that we are not, or are we doing this without the slightest regard to the lesser privileged people (in terms of vehicle ownership!)?
Best sight and sound of all is the moving market on the traffic signals. So far I had seen magazines, newspapers, balloons , car cleaning service, strawberry packs and flowers …but on Delhi NOIDA highway(no.24) one can also find suit pieces , toys, vases, sport equipments and even watches with these street vendors . They must be world’s smartest salespersons for their business call time is in seconds. Their deals are unbelievable, bargain period is less then a minute and yet they do a decent business everyday . The flourish on roads because they are good for everybody- the traffic policeman gets some money from them, the passengers get some bargain deals and for rest they are tolerable distractions at signals.

I have often seen people coming back from other countries admiring the fact how people there drive without honking or without breaking rules. But all of us forget to behave in that manner in our own roads. While breaking the rules is extremely subjective in a country like India, at least the noise factor is something we can slowly progress towards abolishing. A little bit of common sense and patience if used by all , will go a long long way in improving the situations that we drive in these days. Recently in Delhi there was a drive to promote less honking. It does not appear to be very effective because an average Indian loves everything from cinema to cricket with sounds of music . A friend from Bangalore once told me that he has given up honking. “What is the use? " he argued “ …Its futile and doesn't affect anyone - animals, humans, scooter drivers , auto drivers, bus drivers et all." I don’t know if it is our ego driving our cars or our attitude of “me first at any cost” . Everyone wants to get ahead of the other even if it is a matter of seconds . We do not respect others' rights.The key is perhaps lack of COMMON SENSE. I have lost count of the number of times these "Me first at any cost" drivers overtake on the wrong side. Only to find later that our desi Schumacher is just a couple of cars ahead... or worse, cooling his heels at the next signal !!This attitude problem not only reflects in our driving style but also in our upkeep of our surroundings. I've seen educated people spitting paan on roads, chucking wrappers, banana peels and whole lot of other stuff - out of their car windows. The same lot admires the American/continental streets in more glorifying terms . The same colleague who gave me the advice for Delhi road driving, once told me the sad fact that a common thing in India is that courtesy is abused/overused instead of being appreciated. If you let one person/vehicle pass through, there will invariably be 101 vehicles behind him trying to get through.. to rub salt, they will be DEMANDING courtesy by tooting their stupid horns. Well , we do need some meditation (om shanti shanti shanti!) and some basic lessons in patience . Which on roads is definitely , the ability to idle your motors when you feel like stripping your gears.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Me and my representatives:

A muse on democracy

These days everyone in India- more so in Delhi, is talking about the next general elections. Newspapers are full of them. The candidates and their supporters are already infected with the bug. The crazy statements and counter statements (in most rude manner and bad taste) are going on full steam on the media . Even housewives talk less of the tearjerkers and more of which politician said what . In all, very interesting and happening times for our democracy.

I too joined the bandwagon recently when I got curious about the candidate profiles. Under the rules framed by the Election Commission (EC), all candidates for election to the Parliament or state legislatures are required to declare their movable and immovable assets and liabilities/overdue to public financial institutions and government dues as well as those of their family members and dependents. Every morning , in the newspaper I find well known names of candidates and details of their assets. Going by these profiles, it appears that our representatives are a super rich lot. Of course we always knew that. But the fact that they are declaring their 3-4 cars and two houses , shares and bank balances openly, should be a cause of concern for Income Tax Department . Most of them are crorepatis . Most own several vehicles and more than one house. I must feel privileged that such rich people are interesting in representing poor me . Yeah , I feel almost poor when I look at their assets. I also feel that Politics is a very lucrative career option...

Take a case of celebrity politician Rahul Gandhi . He is almost my age. Never really worked ( I don’t consider Politics as employment ) . Within one tenure of MP-ship his assets have gone up ten times!! In 2004, he declared total assets of Rs 22 lakh. In five years, the assets of this first-time MP have shot up 10 times to 2.25 crore. While in 2004, he held bank deposits of Rs 11 lakh, £30,000 and $19,200; shares of Rs 3.9 lakh; LIC and other savings certificates in Rs 3.80 lakh; jewellery worth Rs 1.25 lakh; and a farm house worth Rs 9.8 lakh., in 2009, he holds bank deposits of about Rs 20 lakh, LIC and other savings certificates of Rs 10.2 lakh; land worth Rs 40 lakh, jewellery worth Rs 1.5 lakh; and two shops in a mall worth Rs 1.63 crore. I wonder what can be the source of such steep growth.

Rahul Gandhi is not alone . Take another case of R.V Deshpande who was the Congress candidate from Haliyal constituency(Karnataka ) in the 2008 assembly elections. He had filed the mandatory affidavit before the returning officer, and every line of it reveals why Deshpande has been so cagey about his assets and liabilities. (He resisted revealing his assets under RTI several times before Lokayukta .claiming it an intrusion in his privacy .)Deshpande’s assets at the time of the May 2004 elections: Rs 9 crore. His assets at the time of the May 2008 elections were up by more than 1000% and stood at Rs 145 crore. This beats all stock markets and investment options . Then there is a classic case of Mayawati and her party. I sincerely feel that we Auditors can learn some accounting from this lady and her elephant . I do not think that nothing can be done about it under the law. If nothing is being done , however, the fault lies in the implementers of laws. People like me and my colleagues.

Another point to note is that Politics in the family is good for women empowerment. I mean all dependent women, wives and daughters of these politicians are very rich and growing richer with every election . They own vehicles, shares, bonds , cash and of course jewellery . I know enough tax laws to understand the reason of such magnanimity towards women of the family .

These details are disturbing but they still leave many questions unanswered . My first question is -How well these super rich politicians can represent me ? What do they know of my struggles and my problems. Or as they say in administration – my ‘felt’ needs .

Check out this article for further details on my argument . I find it sad that people who made faces when Rabri devi claimed her jail going husband’s Chief minister ship as her family property , also feel that Rahul Gandhi is ‘ hope of young India’ .In my eyes the only difference between Sonia Gandhi and Rabri devi’s entry into politics is that latter is less glamorous than the former. The other day I found a well known fashion designer claiming that Rahul Gandhi is the most appropriate candidate for PM. It’s a shame that we no longer question the family members of politicians claiming the political seats as their family business. It is further shameful that even educated Indians find it a matter of fact that politicians will be corrupt and powerful. They will abuse their powers and there is nothing one can do about it . This indifference , this placid acceptance of wrong – is very frustrating . The least we can do is to ask at every possible forum – the source of this rising income .

But who cares for democracy ? As ordinary voters have we not accepted that for us democracy remains ‘the art of running the circus from the monkey cage’? We are happy with the tamasha going on around us. The 24X 7 entertainment these politicians provide us – these days live on our TV screens .Someone drinking water in a dalit household and someone else turning a poster boy overnight after a hate speech .All elements of drama and action . Better than even reality TV.

This reminds me of my father’s favorite my-school-days-story . He had a friend who was very good in science and maths but was a foot-dragger in the literature subjects. Essay paper was specially his Achilles’ heel . My father and his friend made a deal before exams . My father wrote few essays for him which he learnt by heart and he helped my father with science subjects in return . Dad had selected the essay topics carefully but it so happened that in that year instead of usual topics the paper setters decided to test students on ‘General Elections in India . This friend had learnt ususal topics like My favorite poet , A family vacation and 'Festivals of India' . Now after spending 15 confused minutes in the examination hall, he turned creative . He started his essay with “ General Elections in India are like a big festival. Election time is almost a festive time for us. It brings a lot of business and everybody participates in some way or the other . Other than general elections, India has several major festivals ……..” This was followed by the essay on Festivals of India which the fella had learnt by heart. If my father is to be believed , the examiner found his essay very creative and his friend passed the paper. It is so sad , however, that even after decades , elections by and large still remain just that for us- a business opportunity for us , entertainment for others .

Friday, April 10, 2009

Totto Chan and my school days

(This picture is not of my school..I have taken it from Net and worked on it through Photoshop .This is nearest to how I remember my school chapel . )

Perception is a strange element of mind . Things and events that make part of our memory , may often be perceived quite differently as they actually were. Yesterday afternoon I watched a movie 'Fireflies in the garden’ where a son perceived his relationship with his strict father in a very selective way. He had childhood memories of being afraid of him, his disciplines and his bad behaviour but he failed to remember the happy moments they spent together . Its not always like this. In our childhood memories, many of us often remember only the happy parts while deleting the embarrassing or bitter moments . Perhaps it has to do with our overall frame of mind, what those times made us feel...and what touches our heart and goes to permanent memory is a mystery most cases it is unconsciously selective. For example I have been thinking about my old schools . I had 5 in all . I remember different things about all five . Last week I was reading this cute little book ‘Totto Chan :The little Girl at the Window’ by Japanese writer Tetsuko Kuroyanagi . Tetsuko Kuroyanagi writes about her childhood in a unique school in Japan. I finished rereading the book last night. This beautiful book about author’s school days and unconventional schooling reminded me of my own. Let me confess . I hated schools….all of them . Resisted going there for years and finally as an alternative plan decided to clear them off at the earliest. I always believed that I am better with my story books at home rather than sitting in the class of 25 and doing what I am told to do. I liked the Totto Chan book because I too was rebelling of the school discipline….of studying the subjects in one order…as per syllabus and not doing what you want to do. Incidentally, the book begins with Totto-chan's mother coming to know of her daughter's expulsion from public school. Come to think of it, how many schools give freedom of expression to its pupils? Many children are looked as indisciplined and somewhat 'abnormal' when they show their independent mind or are simply hyperactive like Totto Chan . It was lucky for Totto chan that her mother realizes that what she needs is a school where more freedom of expression is permitted. Thus, she takes Totto-chan to meet Mr. Kobayashi, the headmaster of the new school , Tomoe Gakuen. The book goes on to describe the times that Totto-chan has, the friends she makes, the lessons she learns, and the vibrant atmosphere that she imbibes. More importantly the book is about what she remembers about those days . Her perception of things and people around her .
The book brought back memories of my five schools . My parents unlike most parents of today, were totally cool about schooling of their kids. My father believed in sending his children to the nearest good school and never went competitive in search of the Best one. He was confident that once a basic school structure is there, he can take care of rest of learning outside the school . I like the way my parents brought us up. Without religion. Without tradition. Without the dogma of being good and doing right . I am grateful to them for letting me keep my mind the way God gave it to me. For being proud of their children when there were no reasons to be……for loving us so unconditionally, so freely… helplessly…for so many other things. And so it was for all three of us. We were never barred from reading any book, magazine, paper available in our house. I used to read my elder sisters’ books(specially literature text books) from elementary classes. We invented weird games and of course there was no TV/DVD in those days. To top it all, we had friends of all types. There were no bars on being friends with people elder to us or with children living in servant quarters. When I see children around me these days, I find them very conscious of their class . We were most carefree lot.

Most unconventionally I started my schooling from a university. My father was at that time posted at Pantnagar Agriculture university and in the Home Science Department an experiment of learning behaviour of children was going on. Me along with few other kids of the campus were enrolled as Guinea pigs of the project and started our nursery from a university . It was an interesting ‘school’.There were two teachers (PG students of Home Science) per students. We were not taught writing but encouraged to learn orally .The hypothesis which was being tested says that children who spent initially two years of schooling without learning to write pick up information much faster and greater details ,later on. So while we were told everything about colours, fruits and things around us ….we were still illiterates as far as writing was concerned . In the end of that year instead of one page report card….my parents got a thick file on my behaviour, learning and other characteristics. Later on reading this ‘performance report' - in my teenage days , was hilarious. Interestingly , they judged my strengths and weaknesses in various subjects quite accurately. But then, dad got his transfer . In the new city when I went for an admission test , the teachers were shocked to find my level of enlightenment when they tested me . I am told I spoke in complete sentences about how apple is good for health and what vitamins it contains.(The question was to identify apple from its picture.) Impressed by my performance they decided to put me in 1st standard directly…but then someone thought of testing me on writing alphabets . Now there I proved to be a total failure .I did not even know how to hold a pencil. They were dumbfounded by this strange profile of their future student . But instead of giving me up as abnormal, they decided to work on me ..and they did. I hated the forced education but loved that school .
Now looking back….At times I feel I must go for a pilgrimage of all old schools and universities of mine . I need to know how they fared with the test of time. Those lovely places which I used to hate . I also want to complete my memory of these places, specially my school at Jhansi ( H.M Memorial School -in the mission compound) with its huge Chapel and a church on a hillock nearby . This school was built in 1926 by the Canadian Presbyterian Church to offer education for daughters of the poor.We had many tribal girls studying with us. All I have now is hazy memories of places and people. I remember attending midnight mass in the school, there are memories of a ‘jail’ inside the school and I can recollect some faces- e.g. Ms. Wordsworth, our school manager . A tall Canadian lady worked extensively for tribal children of Bundelkhand . I wonder how are those places now? Where are those people ? Sometimes I also doubt whether my memory of my early school days is factual or not ? I need to check out the real places to ensure that .

Memories of old days coming back like floods…A desperate urge to live back the happy parts of past ....a sure sign of old age .