Friday, December 21, 2007

Woh Kaagaz Ki Kashti, Woh Baarish Ka Paani

Being Aamir's directorial debut, one was sure "Taare Zameen Par (2007)" would be a didactic film. Somehow, Aamir never sets out to just tell a story or make a movie; the social message is never far away. He would almost be a Shyam Benegal if not for the dollops of humor he manages to sprinkle in his movies. The archaic belief that humor stains the “purity” of a serious message is the biggest mistake made, I feel, by "art movie" makers. A brilliant work like "Khoya Khoya Chand (2007)" was ruined by its droning pace and monotonic atmosphere. You look forward to Aamir’s cinema because he uses humor, songs-- even pretty heroines-- to make sure his serious cinema is taken seriously!

The movie is straightforward. Tells the story of a misunderstood dyslexic kid who leads a tortured life till new Teacher Aamir uncle comes and makes everything OK. Everyone is sorry they treated him bad. Happy ending! Blah Blah.

Hardly a spoiler, would you say?

What I was not ready for was the dollops of tears that forced their way out of my eyes. I am a "Kill Bill (2003)" type of viewer and any movie with less than 100 explosions and 35 gallons of blood is usually not worth my while. Imagine my surprise when TZP easily squeezed those emotions I never knew I had. So much for predictability!

What makes it stick with you is the uncanny acting of the kid. I must commend Aamir's direction, in the absence of any other reason, to get so many kids to act so naturally. Move over, Mr.India! The repressed anger, the fear, the small joys and the yearning to belong. Ishaan displays everything so effortlessly it would put many matinee idols to shame. He manages all this without being corny or melodramatic.

Then there is Setu's photography that captures the tiny details we all remember having watched as kids. Then forgotten in the rush to to attend the next con-call. Like the ripples made in a puddle after a car runs over, the aggressive spray of shower in the bathroom ("c'mon, you wanna fight? c'mon!!"), the miracle of watching "ice gola" being made at Juhu beach... the kaagaz ki kashtis, the baarish ka paanis...


Finally there is Prasoon Joshi. The only reason one would watch this (like, RDB) many times over-- in theatres! Simple, non-complicated (Gulzarji, you listening?) and pedestrian lyrics. Stuff you can identify with, stuff that makes so much sense and yet sounds so poetic! Funny and sad at the same time. Added to Shankar Ehsaan Loy's music and Ram Madhvani’s (of "Let's Talk (2002)" fame) cameo direction, each song tells a story.

The innovative start credits and lovely collage during end-credits are not to be missed. The movie got a standing ovation at the Bangalore theatre we visited, from a predominantly college crowd at that.

I hope it sensitizes Indian schools and society to treat all children as mere “children”. We have to let them enjoy the colors and miracle of nature that adult life requires us to ignore. I loved this movie not so much for its message on dyslexia (although it makes a powerful statement) as for how it reminded me that I was a kid once. It reminded me how I wished those damn adults would just “understand”! I remembered how I’d decided to remember my childhood and not change into an “adult”.

Now that I have a kid of my own, TZP is just what I needed to make sure I treat my little star with the respect he deserves and not as a “race horse”.

Friday, November 23, 2007

God Vs Gowda

In recent weeks, Shining India has been splattered from all sides by pigs who revel in the muck of old days. They are so comfortable romping in their swamp that it is not possible for anyone to pass them by and still stay clean.

There's the Dumbledore Vs Ministry of Magic type fantasy being played out between the AIIMS Director and Ambumani Ramadoss. Horror of horrors, unlike the children's book, the obviously egomaniac Minister will actually succeed in running AIIMS like his personal fiefdom, with the gracious support of the Official Termites of India-- Communist Parties.

Then, of course, there's the carnage in Kolkata and Nandigram led by the Termites themselves. Gnawing away at the foundations of India's most cultural and erudite State, they merrily kill and claw at ghosts of the past.
On the other hand, looking at Congress' record at using riots as a political weapon in the past, I am inclined to believe conspiracy theorists who suspect that spontaneous burning of Kolkata that caught many school-children in the crossfire was organised by Congress to avenge their humiliation by the CPM at the Centre. Hmmmm...

In the middle, there was the tiny story of Shiv Sena rioting outside SRK's house to protest against the spoof on Manoj Kumar in "Om Shanti Om (2007)". Only in India can a spoof be expected to not make fun of anyone or anything!
Geez

Finally, there is Deve Gowda and Son playing she-loves-me, she-loves-me-not with the horny as hell Yeddiurappa of the BJP. For more than 10 weeks now, the threesome have let Bangalore burn while they indulge themselves in some Power Orgy. Yeddy will bend in any direction as long as he gets to be CM-- if even for a week!!! Gowda and Son will state anything and behave anyway they want, because ultimately they only need to state their Caste and all is forgiven.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurs are shying away from Bangalore, the roads and power gets more dodgy by the day, there is no one to ponder over long-term solutions to new Airport access or illegal hacking of trees. The grand-old men of the city have decided the city needs a facelift to look like something out of a B-Grade Kurt Russel movie (read: Escape from LA).

The funniest part is that come elections, Gowda will defeat God and everyone who believes in his justice to emerge as a majority party in Karnataka (remember Mayawati's betrayal of BJP?). Ramadoss will go on to become Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. CPM will go on to rule another 25 years in West Bengal.

And Manoj Kumar will play the lead (with Dev Anand playing Pappu) in OSO-- The Sequel.

Airtel Narrow Minds

This is an amusing anecdote.

With all my BSNL troubles, I applied for an Airtel broadband connection in the meanwhile. This was, like, a month and a half ago. Two weeks back, an executive calls me and asks if I need DSL at a certain address. I said, no, that is my office address. I need DSL at my home address. He said, oh, I will ask the executive of that area to call you back.

Yesterday, another executive called back. He asked if I needed DSL at a certain address. I said, no, that is my office address. I have applied for DSL at home which-- despite what companies would wish-- is still not the same location as office. He said that area has no feasibility. I said, I know. That was the case 3 years ago as well. I just took a chance that in 3 years, Airtel would have attempted at penetrating more of the city rather than merely squeezing more out of existing customers. After all, isn't that the reason the government is wary of letting private sector rule the roost? That they will merely focus on a minority that is profitable and lose sight of rural-obligation or wide penetration.

He said, yeah whatever. Then he added, but sir, if you want at the certain address I can come and fill the forms now!

With morons like these representing the best Indian firms, I wonder how far the Indian success story will last?

On a related note, I have been so disappointed with India's answer to Fry's and Circuit City. Everytime I go to eZone, the electronics super store by Big Bazaar guys, I leave without buying anything. Yes, they stock well and cost less-- which is what will make them successful in India. But they staff so poorly that the "fun" of discussing technology with an expert before buying some high-tech gadget is lost. They do nothing more than point to the items, after reading the labels as if its the first time they've been to the shop!

In the race to be low-cost and high-profits, we are losing out on developing a professional, smart bunch of workers. In the long run, what our large population needs are motivated, driven people and not merely zombies manning McJobs.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Daddy Day Care

Our son is now Three Months Three Weeks Old

It is almost a year since the cold winter day my wife jumped onto the bed and sang, "Samjho ho hi gaya... waah waah waah..." to the tune of Lage Raho Munnabhai. She was referring to the positive home-pregnancy test and I was waiting groggily for my morning coffee. Half a day later, the doctor confirmed it. Half a week later, it sunk in. Golly Gee Whiz! I am gonna be a DADDY!!!

I would look at her and wonder, the baby is going to come out in 9 months. Who the hell waits THAT long for something great to happen? How do people ever manage to live through NINE whole months of waiting? How can something we are happy today for, happen actually 40 weeks from today?!

And then, I was waiting in the Doctor's lobby while he rushed in to manage the labor. It took him 15 minutes and still no news. How do people survive that one hour (or two? or ten?) from labor to delivery? It was 20 minutes and I panicked so much. At 25, I sms'd my mom to please pray. At 30, I made all sorts of deals with God if only he made sure everything went smooth. 45 minutes later, all deals forgotten, I was staring unspeaking, unemotional and unsurely at a wrinkled bundle of flesh that the nurse claimed: "Baba zhaala aahe".
This is it? This is what I am expected to love for the rest of my life?

Then he blessed us with a smile. Bouncing, kicking and occassionally crying. Gripping a finger tightly in all his fingers. Drooling away to glory. Revelling in the wet bed sheets. Poking us with those bright beaming eyes. And smiling suddenly. At Three Months Three Weeks, one year from the day he was "announced" by Circuit (the Singing Mom), Kabir has become the "bundle of joy" and "miracle of birth" that we were told to expect. The joy of beholding him far exceeds anything I could have imagined-- both good and bad. I am so glad his mom took advantage of me, that rainy anniversary night.

---------

Yesterday, his day-care nanny started work.

This is like the biggest milestone yet. This is the lady who will be his world for the next, hopefully, year or so. This is the lady who will love him like we do, care for him and teach him so much! It is a scary thought. And yet, it is inevitable. On one hand, we are glad he will learn to become independant and strong from an early age. On the other, we fear like all parents do-- is this the right thing to do? Will she manage fine? Will he be safe?

Will he be happy?

I think so. After all, he is a chip off the ol' mom. She has the uncanny talent to stay happy and make others feel happy. He's got it made!!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Vote Bank of India

I happened to watch one of these toxic "reality TV" shows at my parents' house recently. This one was a national talent hunt. In the last couple of years, the hunt for raw-talent has suddenly turned into a "Survivor" type elimination battle! Now the best singer is someone who can use the right gimmicks and emotions to win SMS votes from the audience, not necessarily someone validated by the panel of judges on technical parameters of sur and taal.

I don't care what they do on the show, really. What amused me was that we keep criticising politicians for playing dirty vote bank politics all the time. They appeal to the caste, religion, region or even language of their constituency to win elections despite record of visiting the village only once in 5 years and having no development projects to their credit. We blame all of India's problems on their "greed" for votes and apathy towards the "big picture".

Armchair democrats found it easy to ask politicians to win votes based on "pure merit". We all claimed that had it been in our hands, we'd think about national interest and not self-promotion. Vote patterns in these shows tell a different story. This is not even subtle-- the contestants openly appeal to their region/caste to "bhaari sankhya mein support deejiye"!

Every week, Amritsar doesn't care if the singer is off-key, as long as he is a Sardar. Nasik doesn't care if the voice grates, as long as she comes from Maharashtra. People will organise collection drives in remote villages of Bengal, to bulk-sms votes for their "needy" singer. The Lingayats don't care if total development stops in Bangalore and governance becomes a joke--- as long the CM is not a Vokkaliga. Where's the difference?

The minute the common man of India has the opportunity to earn a vote, he goes all out to win them on the basis of caste, religion, region, language and even "meri maa bahut beemar hai, agar mujhe votes nahi mile toh woh mar jaayegi" type sympathy-waves! What is worse, it works and people do vote on these lines! Everyone happily calls this Patriotism.

The stakes are much lower on a TV show, but do we prove ourselves any better to "Lead India"?

Thanks to Alka Yagnik & Co., I am beginning to believe the adage I debated viciously earlier: People get the Government they Deserve...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

With Great Power Comes Great Irresponsibility

My troubles with BSNL DSL Broadband continue. It has been three months since it went down and I have yet to get a single sympathetic or sensible response from them. More than just the outage, it is the outrage that bothers me. The power they wield, the immunity they enjoy and their ability to make you feel powerless. In that sense, PSUs are a great equaliser-- whether I am in Bangalore or in Bihar!

Managed to make their chaps visit my house only twice since first registering the complaint. The first time, he told my wife the problem is with LAN cable that connects modem to laptop. Change that it will work! The second time, he said we cannot test without laptop. We will come back when your husband is home!

The issue is rather simple: the ADSL link is down. The SNR on the line keeps fluctuating between 0 dB and 22 dB. If they fix the physical line, that would fix everything. But since the voice calls work fine, lineman insists line is OK. Dataone guy insists there is nothing they can do (except send me a bill every month!) unless the local exchange fixes the line.


I have visited the customer care. The much-hyped centres opened in every locality to sell you the forms for new services. They passed me to the JTO. I called the helpdesk number at 1500. They passed me on to 18004241600. After averaging 6 minutes on hold, I get an agent who merrily gives me a new Docket Number each time and goes on to twiddle their thumbs at me-- I am here, sir, but I cannot do anything sir.

"Sorry saar, can you call to Exchange saar? It is local lead issue saar. ADSL is OK saar"
"Sorry saar, there is no escalation number or contact person. Please call to JTO saar"
"Sorry saar, we cannot do anything saar. Please call to JTO saar"
"OK saar, if you wants to disconnect connection. But even that we cannot do here saar. Please contact to Exchange saar..."

And to think my taxes pay his salary every month, just to sit there and gurgle :-(

I even made a list of all the docket numbers I collected for posterity. Maybe someday the son of a BSNL GM will be educated enough to go through Blogs and sympathise with me and ask his papa to take action on the docket!

Visits to the exchange are wasted, since the officer, (the famous JTO!) Mr.Sidappa, is never there. Everyone brandishes his number 080-2012-4087 but no one ever picks it up! I even received an acknowledgement on a signed complaint. They stamped it while smirking "Kya Ukhaad Lega?" which, unfortunately, is not far from the truth.

I took cell numbers of linemen, a Mr.Arun at 98449-76859. I sent emails to the so-called nodal officers listed on www.bsnl.co.in. No ack to the email, only more gurgle from the linemen.

The trouble is, I live in an area that has no Airtel broadband feasibility (Considering they've not arranged it in past 5 years, maybe I'm better off without Airtel!!). The comforts of public-sector monopoly in spectrum allocation make it very difficult to expect any service from BSNL/MTNL. There is no organised forum or recourse in India to make these people help you or pay for the harassement! So I blog instead.

In recent years, India's success story has outpaced even our own wild imaginations. Today, my boss in the US finds it hard to believe delays due to power outage or flooded roads or no DSL in India's Silly-Con Valley! Yet, these are real issues. There is a limit to how far we can cover up for our inefficiencies and costs, by leveraging the mega-population and weak rupee. If we continue to ignore basics like Communication, Transport, Power and Security it will not be long before smaller countries play catch-up. Already, a mere 10% rise in rupee has made some BPOs and Textile Exporters shut shop.

As for me, I guess I am relegated to the backwaters of the Information Highway until I can find an Uncle who works for BSNL or rent a house in Airtel territory!!

PS: An update on Nov 3 -- The Link is UP!!! God knows if this is a coincidence, but immediately after I vented on the blog, that guy Arun came and changed the modem, line cable, splitter, everything. I now have a proper UTStarcom modem (instead of that lousy Huawei junk) and (touchwood) link has stayed up past 3 days :-)

I am happy

Monday, September 03, 2007

Be As A NULL - Chuck De India

I have a problem with my BSNL Internet connection:
When I initialize the Huawei SmartAX DSL modem provided by BSNL, it does not sync. The little green LED that is supposed to turn orange when link is UP, continues to blink green. If I let it stay on for a few hours or days, it does sync up eventually. Trouble is, with power-cuts in Bangalore, it often gets restarted again and story continues. My guess is the cheap Huawei modem must have lost it. 18 months is more than I ever expected it to function! Wonder if anyone else faced the same behavior?

I will try to get BSNL to replace the piece since it is supposed to be on rent. I shudder at the thought of visiting their offices, though. The few times someone responded to my complaint on phone, they gurgled in Kannada and couldn't even state their purpose for calling in English. After a few minutes of us both attempting some broken English, the line goes dead. The problem remains unsolved after 2 months -- although, very sweetly, they close the docket number each time they call. Probably citing the reason: "Customer was unable to say what the problem is!"

As you can imagine, I opted for a BSNL connection for DSL at home more out of Airtel's reluctance to light up my part of town than any bias for BSNL. To be fair, BSNL service has been quite good so far. That is, as long as you do not need any service. The download speeds have been between 500 and 700 Kbps on a shared 2Mbps pipe (which is rather impressive) and the link, surprisingly, has almost always been up. All this for a measly Rs.550 a month!

Despite these positives, the reason people still run far away from BSNL is the trauma that follows a service request. Most such services are hardly luxury anymore and have a direct impact on our businesses and jobs. The only person whose job is rooted in concrete happens to be the technical chap responsible for getting us back online. He has no motivation (read: fear) to improve either his communication skills or empathy. Airtel, on the other hand, would hire zombies to man the call-center but eventually you'd spook someone with the skills to fix your line.

TRAI has now recommended that 30% spectrum be reserved for BSNL/MTNL even in upcoming wireless technology. That should spur them into fearing for their jobs and improving their skills/service levels. Yeah, right!

I am sure a patriotic Bhaiyya is making some poor Kannadiga suffer similarly in Kanpur. And so on, in every state, in every babudom. I am all for the glory of regional languages. But are basic services the right forum to demonstrate that? When the British left, they may as well have repainted all sign-boards to read: "Dogs and Out-of-State Indians Not Allowed".

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dark But Pretty

These three words form the most commonly uttered phrase in India, probably beating even "I Love you". It sums up our collective psyche in a neat nutshell. It never fails to amuse me: "Dark, but Pretty"

It has multiple emotions layered in the nuances. It is a compliment, of course. Then, it is sympathy, for you are dark. It is hope, so what if you are dark. It is also justification, at least you are pretty. It gets defensive, it is full of pride. It is also a misplaced show of affection from most mothers and aunts to their daughters. It is not uncommon to hear one mom tell another on a park bench, "My Rhea is dark but she is pretty"; or to hear mummyji confess, "My son's bride might be bit dark but she has sharp features"...

My favorite is, "She is dark but she has an amazing sense of fashion!"

You are expected to lose your sense of fashion, sense of humor and even sense of direction merely by being a certain color. This is not racism. Quite ironically, the blind-faith in power of the Pale exists in a country where majority of the population is rather melanin-rich. Many years and many ebony lasses romping down the catwalk later, we still deny a concept that can be "Dark And Pretty". A flat nosed fair woman is considered a better catch in the marriage market than a yummy full-lipped, bright-eyed darker woman. Very few models make it big if they are dark-skinned, but the legendary ones (ohmigod!) have almost all been so.

Of course, times are changing.

Now even being a tall, dark and handsome man is fraught with danger. The new face of India is 'fair and handsome' and not afraid to say it. Six decades of obsessive over-use of fairness creams (and none the lighter for it) have taught us one lesson-- try harder the next six and this time, make sure the men are fair too! Life will not be "Fair" to us until then. If anyone doubts the credential of such claims, we have SRK targeting the metrosexual man in latest TVCs on air.



In true chicken and egg tradition, it is difficult to identify the origin of this stereotype. Fairness creams exist because people want to be fair. People want to be fair because they are told, often by these creams, that a lighter shade heralds a brighter life. Or, is it possible that, political correctness notwithstanding, people do see better jobs, promotions and boyfriends (now, also girlfriends) landing in the lap of the gori-chamdis?

I would love to bring Kabir into a world where it really don't matter if you are black or white (Michael Jackson promptly turned white after making this grand declaration. If it is any consolation, he was more salable before all his color drained out). To begin with, I'll call a Spade a Spade. Whether it is pretty or not depends on the other cards that Life has dealt me. Deal with it!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Axe (on Foot) Effect

Coming back to my favorite topic-- Bangalore Road Traffic. I am amused how much company I have while blogging this theme; almost any and every blog that mentions Bangalore also mentions the crazy traffic. Hyuk! hyuk!

Every city in India is crowded and congested. Note that the Bangalore traffic, though, is defined as "crazy"... not necessarily more in number or backed up due to poor roads. That is what makes Bangalore traffic situation unique.

Thanks to IT fellows traveling all over the world, it is natural to compare our traffic and find even third-world nations like Indonesia and Philippines manage better. The difference lies in the heterogeneity of traffic in Bangalore. We have equally large numbers of 2-wheelers, 3-wheelers, 4-wheelers and 6-wheelers plying on the roads. Each type of vehicle has its own characteristic. If a 2-wheeler guy sees space between 2 cars, he is bound to squeeze in. It is not a fault, but the nature of that vehicle. Similarly, a bus is expected to expect right-of-way. Again, it is natural by the size and sturdiness of that monster. As long as everyone follows a certain lane discipline, they follow vehicles of their own type, things flow smooth. When they start flitting in and out of each others' lane, causing sudden and dangerous brakes to be applied, is when the link starts to break.

Internationally, the right lane is for fast moving traffic and left-most is for slower traffic. Where the International conventions diverge from Bangalore Logic is that they think of cars as fast-moving traffic, followed by buses and trucks. Bikes and assorted vehicles belong to the leftmost lane. For us, the order is reversed and it is a matter of pride for everyone to belong to the right lane. So you will see a smoke-spewing (whatever happened to PUC?) rickety rickshaw plodding along in the fast-lane, with an SUV and a Bike jostling to overtake. While these nimble nut cases duel, the cars begin to pile up all the way to Timbuktu.

People tend to exclaim that Bangalore traffic has increased beyond control! A more patient observation reveals that the "number" of vehicles on road is a mere fraction of the quantity seen in other Indian and Asian cities. The situation merely gets exaggerated by everyone being in all lanes at once! The traffic cops could reduce their burden many-times by introducing strict lane-discipline and penalize people cutting across lanes.

This small and cost-effective measure could make going to work a pleasant experience, without adding more useless fly-overs and metro-rails to the mix.

Of course, reducing the number of auto-rickshaws in favor of more cabs and buses is always a welcome fantasy.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Yahoo! Male Beta

The date 20.07.2007 is interesting in more ways than one for me. This is the day that I joined the long and weary legion of the brave breed known as... fathers.

They talk of lucky dates and lucky times nowadays. Apparently, 21st is a luckier date than 20th. Apparently Saturday is luckier than Friday. Apparently, Leo is better than Cancer. In fact, people even schedule their child birth to ensure optimum luck. Genetic engineering of the Divine kind?

But I know that Bumpy's luck started even before he was born. Bumpy was lucky to have a super strong mom who bore the pain so well, not letting everyone else panic more. Labor started earlier than they expected, even before her ob-gyn could reach. But Bumpy decided on a lucky time to come. Lucky because the doctor and anesthetist were on the way to hospital for another scheduled C-section. So Bumpy was delivered under care of the best in the business!

The story started late on Thursday night with absolutely no symptoms. Contrary to urban legends, Bumpy was very comfortable inside and showed no signs of coming even a week later. The doctor decided not to wait for Bumpy to share his birthday with Harry Potter on 21st July and induced labor a day early instead. The first hour we wondered if they were gonna send us back home next day, without a baby to show for the troubles.

Within a couple of hours, she was howling in pain. An anxious hour later, Bumpy was born. An hour that seemed the longest in history. An hour in which every scream, every yelp sounded final. A time when we knew all would be well, yet our hearts rammed against our chest fearing the worst.

Having a male child is the pinnacle of God's blessing in India. We were keen to have a daughter. Our family has an overflow of sons anyway. When the nurse peeked out to say "Its a boy!", some of the old ladies in the waiting room gave me glances of overjoy and envy at the same time. I am sure they found my return-envy whacko for all infants born that day, except ours, were female.

Then the nurse brought something out for us. The moment they first show you the baby is the best yet most surreal ever. This is me. This came from me. This is my new family! One look at the dried-raisin (aka Bumpy), and I to forgot all about lucky dates, lucky gender and lucky luck. I fell in love with his mom all over again.

Wow. Yahoo. Hurray. Baap Re!

His mom will blog his arrival on the official Bumpy blog, once she finishes going through the last Harry Potter installment (for which I let Crossword fleece me of a thousand bucks today!!). He still has to come home. We still have to name the kid. We still haven't started waking nights to clean the poo and feed the puke-e-mon. But boy! Am I looking forward to it. Here's wishing a long, healthy and humor-filled life ahead for you...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Rangashankara, Marine Drive and Holding Hands without TV

I don't have cable TV.

People always end up shocked and open-mouthed when I tell them this. Some people even offer to gift us a TV if we cannot afford one. Because, oh my God, how can one live without TV?? I tell them, I have a TV. I just don't have cable TV, I don't have those 135 channels and counting... and we, my wife and I, have never felt let down yet.

On the other hand, I did get to watch TV for a long-ish spell recently. That actually did let us down. We are expecting a child so I spend a lot of my time at my in-laws house, waiting for the brat to arrive. The mere act of watching TV; of switching through so many channels and yet, finding nothing to watch. Or worse, finding something but wishing that it were not playing on TV. At least not on erstwhile "classy" channels like News and the History Channel. I realised we have been missing nothing. Hard to believe. But worth a try.

It is not that we are entertainment starved. Not having cable allows us to watch movies on DVD, what we want, when we want. We even manage to catch a lot of serials thanks to television DVDs. In addition, we can also reallocate the time saved from Kasamh Se to go view live plays in the theatre. Of course, in Rangashankara Bangalore now has a platform. What it needs is performers, radicals like Makarand Deshpande with guts to do something different, in a different way, with a different vision. I am confident that soon theatre will come alive again.


Ekta Kapoor may be single-handedly responsible for driving people back to the 'live' arts!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Killer Cabs Strike-- For Their Rights

From July 1, over 10,000 lorry and cab-drivers in Karnataka will be on strike. They are protesting against the government's heartless ordinance to install speed-governors that would limit their speeds to 65Kmph.

In city conditions, even at the best of times we can hardly exceed 40-50kmph. I cannot imagine why anyone might feel "constrained" if asked to drive at a respectable maximum of 65Kmph. The cabbies might argue that, by this logic, all cars must have a speed-governor installed. Why single out those poor, defenseless killer-machines alone? The answer, in my opinionated opinion, is rather simple.

I pause to ponder, in the few moments immediately succeeding a narrow escape on way to work. I do have a few choices, when an arrogant cab squeezes into a narrow space on my left (even as I am on the left edge of the road myself). I could continue in my lane and bang into the squeezy cab. I could swerve to avoid, and bang into the guy on my right. Or I could brake suddenly, thus saving me from the converging flanks. In this case, the guy behind me would be tempted to ram it in!

In all the cases, one would deem both (or all) the drivers culpable for an accident, if any. The difference is that I am merely a driver, struggling with my gears. He, however, is one with his machine. Like a T-Rex, there is a small but nimble brain inside that gigantic body. Like a crazed T-Rex, the cabbie can stomp through the roads at will and not even feel a scratch. The pedestrians and cars trembling under their shadow are but a few twigs being scrunched in the path of the monster.

This is not a comparison between equals; in fact, this is a fight we can never win. We, who use the road only few minutes in the day, essentially to get off the road and to be someplace else. They, whose skill and guile on the wheel is at the very core of their survival, who earn a living from the road, by the road -- who live on the road. We, the average worker tottering between home and office in a 4 year old Santro. They, the lean, mean, sleep-deprived drivers ferrying call-center executives and harried passengers in their mammoth, well-embellished Sumo and Qualis.

They drive rash because they can. Because they have been on the road long enough to own it. Because the SUVs given to them, in addition to seating more people, is also an imposing creature towering over the rush-hour ants.

They need the speed-governors because we understand that they are under pressure. Pressure from the HR executives to ferry the agents on time, traffic jams be damned. Pressure to work at unearthly hours, with little or no sleep between shifts. Pressure to brave the roads of Puttenhalli at 3AM.

They need speed-governors because they might be pressured enough to not see a frail old lady trying to cross the 6 lane main-road. Because, they may be pressured enough to make mistakes even though they are still human at heart.

They need the speed-governors because, to quote another super-bug: with great power, comes great responsibility.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bangalore Passport Office - New Improved

Continuing my previous post on the ordeal of applying for a passport in India. Considering I had an appointment for 3:39PM and at 4:13PM I am already back at my workstation, typing this blog, I'd say it wasn't an ordeal at all -- rather, it was a good deal.

Some observations:

1. The old passport office kept people standing for miles outside, under rain and sun. The new one lets you sit. Under rain and sun for the ones outside, sufficient seating in the Halls inside.

2. At Rs.20 for 4-wheeler parking, the moon-surface parking lot behind the building was a huge improvement and relief, compared to the old office. I wish they'd build Multi-level parking quickly in such prime areas. The parking space is never going to be enough!

3. "Online Applications" are submitted on the first floor. The room is designed like the US Visa consulate, except leg-room between rows is better here. A token system was in place. I registered online last week, so all I had to do was wait for the token to be called. Ironically, many people do not turn up for the appointment, so the token was called 10 minutes early.

4. A Holy Trinity mans the counters. When your number is called, the first one checks whether all papers are in order and retains the application. The lady next to him verifies the information in the application against original documents. Finally the third one accepts the payment and gives a receipt. In my case, old passport was returned after "Cancelled" stamping.
All three were pleasant, polite and spoke English. (Am I in a dream?? But it was true!!)


Some gaffes:

1. The system is still confusing for newbies. Saw many urban ladies and rural families wandering aimlessly.
My View: Have couple of executives wandering WITH them, to assist and guide people. The security guy could do it, but they do nothing... not even make us feel secure!

2. SpeedPost will deliver the new passport and only to the residential address. The RPO still lives in a world where your wife would obviously be home to collect the courier!
My View: Allow for "delivery address" to be different from the residential address on passport. How will this cause any security breach??

All in All?

So far it has been a painless exercise. I commend the RPO for taking the right steps and wish that, for all our sake, they succeed in making this as easy as opening a bank account.

For now, I must wait for the delivery by Speed-Post and/or run around for collection of the courier (since no one at home all week, high probability that it will be returned). Then, of course, starting the process all over again for Bumpy's passport.

Aaaarghhhhh

UPDATE on AUGUST 2

I must blog that my experience has been pretty good with the RPO. The application itself was well regulated using Internet registration. The delivery was done promptly within 20 days of applying. Since I was not at home, the speed post guy left a note. I was able to collect the passport from Speed Post office within 5 minutes this morning. So relieved to see they had not made any typo or other silly errors.

These instances provide some semblance of living in a developed country. Feels great when that happens!!

Passport - Freedom of Movement

India has been making strides in reforming the most cumbersome of Government processes. At the forefront of this effort are the Income Tax, Election Commission and the Passport Authorities. Considering these affect almost the entire population, success in making these procedures hassle and corruption free will take us quite a few laps forward in the "Developed Nation" tag race.

In Bangalore, two changes have happened as regards the Passport procedure.

The first is outsourcing fresh passport application to something called the "Bangalore One" initiative. This is a public-private partnership with centres across the city. Their aim is to assist citizens of the locality in getting routine government works completed in a techno-savvy, comfortable and courteous surrounding. Typically, one can submit fresh passport application at BangaloreOne with a minimal queue (unlike the three hour wait at the RPO) and with polite, patient guidance from the agent sitting there. I would strongly recommend using their services.

The second has been shifting the Regional Passport Office (RPO) for Karnataka into a massive new building in Koramangala. The earlier passport office was a cramped space in the heart of Bangalore's MG Road. The new premises should help not only process the applications faster, but allow the process to become more transparent and hassle-free.

Of course, being Babus, they cannot help be themselves to some extent. For instance, the website does not give a location map or any landmarks for the new premises. The layout map, the instructions and other details still refer to the old office. The cryptic 'postal address' works only for those who already know the location!!

Then of course, there is the process itself, with its police report and list of documents. Even in the age of nomadic IT workers, the RPO is heavily tilted in favor of "ration-card holders". The alleged reason for making the process so cumbersome, is to prevent people from flying under the radar. As the Katara and Abu Salem cases show, those who need a fake passport can still get it pretty easy. All that these archaic procedures do is to introduce knots into a system, that unravel only with lubrication obtained from "well-versed" facilitators. Hasn't everyone--and i mean, barring no one-- received the police report after greasing the constable palms? This is valid even if you did your first poo poo in that house!!

My take is that while some sections of the bureaucracy are working to mitigate the ills, there are others who wish to retain secret trap doors for misusing the system. It is near impossible to prove misdeeds in such case and the Rs.200 bribe is cheaper than the hassles (and eventual victory) one might gain from protesting.

60 years after the success of Gandhi's freedom movement, freedom of movement still does not seem like a birthright.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

(Ad)Sense and Comment-ability

I stayed away from blogging for many years since first signing up on blogsites. For fear of not being read. For fear of not being any different from the billion blogs cramming cyberspace. For fear of simply vanishing. Or worse yet, being found and dispensed with!

Which is exactly what happened finally. I get comments commenting on the utter lack of comments on any of my posts! From an alleged friend. Well, as he/she said, that's what friends are for. To protect you from the ignonimity of being yourself before the whole world finds out!!

While I contemplate options before me, to create multiple fake id's to leave comments here or make this blog "by invitation only", I wanted to take a last chance. For those who may not know, there is a little link at the end of each post that says "0 comments". Click on that to leave comments about what you liked/disliked in each post.

While you are at it, please click repeatedly on the Google Ad next to the post as well. It will help me buy diapers for Bumpy!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Myspace doesn't end at Death

Came across an eerie website while browsing for something completely unrelated. I have no words or opinions. It is just something that made me uncomfortable.

The fact that the images are taken off MySpace profiles gives it a familiar, yet morbidly surreal aura...

I first came across something similar when an Indian student died at Virginia Tech shootout and someone faked her Orkut profile "as a joke". This website is no joke. Unless of course, you enjoy the irony that it is hosted by Blogger and features exclusively MySpace members!

Wonder what kind of people spend their day maintaining the portals such as YourDeathSpace - A Collection of Dead MySpace Users

Ewww!



Volvo - Mass Transit Made (Un)Comfortable

About 5 years ago, two things happened to road travel in India. The first was the massive pan-India highway reconstruction project, heralded by Atal Behari Vajpayee as "The Golden Quadrilateral". The aim was to connect major metros by 6 lane, secured toll highways. Spanning the country, they provided comfortable connectivity to smaller towns along the way as well. This project has largely been a success, even though the momentum has slowed since the last elections.

The second was introduction of so-called "Volvo buses". Initially started on popular routes such as Bombay-Pune, Goa-Bombay, Delhi-Jaipur and Chennai-Bangalore, soon every small and big operator had a fleet of Volvo buses, thanks to the canny operation cost and huge demand. These were the B7R model buses made by Volvo of Sweden, with a dreamy suspension, comfortable reclining seats, low-step access, space-age driver's cockpit and bump-free rides at greater speed.

It was even said that Volvo would ensure maintenance as per stringent Volvo standards, failing which the warranty would be void, and also train the drivers for a smart international experience. Road travel in India had leaped from the era of hard wooden seats in over-crowded, rickety metal heaps spewing black smoke.

Five years later, Volvo has sold whatever it can. The warranties are all long expired. Volvo doesn't care anymore. The owners never cared.

On a recent trip from Bombay to Pune on "Shivneri" (branding for Volvo buses owned by the State Government), the air conditioning was broke and helpless passengers sat sheltering their babies from water dripping through the AC vent above. Indian ingenuity made up for government apathy (once again!) as this picture shows.

Even on the streets of Bangalore, attractive red Volvos ply intra-city, routinely spewing thick black smoke and change lanes suddenly. Add, of course, my pet grouse of regional script on number plates. The designers never imagined that the maneuverability of these monsters in the hands of KSTRC drivers was like an AK-47 in the hands of an infant!

In case of these buses, despite the huge initial costs, we scrimp on maintenance costs. As a nation we destroy the environment for future generations and continue to remain backwards despite the prosperity!

Why do we as a nation pay such low premium on "maintenance"? Can a penny-wise pound-foolish nation really aspire to become the next super-power?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Metro - Life in Oscar's Apartment

Read an article in some TOI publication today that the script of UTV's "Life in a Metro (2007)" has been selected for preservation in the Oscar Script Library. It is one of very few Indian films to make it. Couldn't find this news on any online forum, so it probably is one of those 'sponsored' news inserts. It better be, because it is too fantastic to believe!

Metro has been one the most debated movies in 2007 (which in itself is an achievement, na?). Everyone I know either hates it or loves it. Even Anurag Kashyap has blogged in favor of Metro's technical finesse. This is ironic, since the only reason I went to see Metro was a misconception that it was an Anurag Kashyap film. By the end of this predictable soap-opera, I was aghast how AK could have gone so weak. Turns out the movie was, in fact, by soap-opera king Anurag Basu. I am still aghast; original Anurag actually liked this movie! Maybe I need to see it again...

My list of disappointments with the movie goes as follows:

1. There were essentially three story lines. The first one was a direct lift from 'The Apartment (1960)", even including minor plot points. I fail to understand how dumb Basu thinks the audience is, that he can pass off a movie made in 1950's as "slice of life in Mumbai 2007". This killed my respect for Basu as a story-teller. I felt cheated since I expected an auteur's original take on contemporary living. This was merely a product from Bollywood Factory-- K.C. Bokadia could have done it better!

P.S. Fans of the movie claim "copy hai, magar acchhi copy hai"; hmmm, did Basu get the pulse right, after all? :-)

2. The second story line was married-woman meets young-man, falls in love, feels guilty, goes back to save marriage. To take the cliche forward, she is trapped in a loveless love marriage, suffers an infidel husband and has a "sirf tum mujhe samajhte ho" kind of relationship with the (predictably) struggling-actor/ loser who is not understood by his ex-wife. Ends predictably with husband coming back, wife feeling ultra-guilty and everyone being forgiven. Do people seriously believe they have not seen this story rehashed a zillion times before? Educate me, what did I miss here??

3. The characters of Kangana Raut and Shiney Ahuja were not built-up well. They took Kangana for her "innocence" and let that be a justification for everything else. Her sweet behavior and suicidal actions did not sync with her gold-digging, back-stabbing, self-centered character. There was a lot of scope here, but the movie fails to develop the "what is a nice girl like you doing in a place like this" theme convincingly.
Similarly, the story does not justify how the angst, lust and quest inside loser-actor Shiney Ahuja transforms into lust and longing for Shilpa Shetty. Basu skipped some chapters from "Art Movie 101 for Dummies" and uses the "samajhdar ko ishara hi kaafi hai" technique half-heartedly. These characters could have worked beautifully had they attempted some uncomfortable, unexpected traits for both and not hid behind tired cliches.

Note: Watch "Hazaron Khwahishein Aisi (2003)" for a beautiful study of undercurrents in licit-illicit relationships and expected drivers behind unexpected actions. Shiney and KK at their best!!


4. Finally there was the Konkana Sen Sharma and Irrfan Khan story. I am sure this is where seed of this movie was sown, this is the story that Basu felt for. It was the only story rooted in reality, peppered with the right amount of tragi-comic sentiments and sharp analysis of Konkana's character. This is what the rest of Metro wanted to become...!
Then suddenly, the climax starts with Konkana declaring her love for the groom DURING his shaadi to someone else. From this point on, the climax was hijacked by Chopra-Ghai camp. Can't believe they couldn't wrap up more sensibly. The only thing missing was fat cops bumbling into the frame before end-credits!!

Metro came with a very 'Page-3' or 'Corporate' style promo and cast, a very contemporary premise and excellent performances. Even the music was brilliant, with new voices and soul rock by Pritam. The 3 rockers popping up every now and then as adhunik sutradhars were an innovative and refreshing touch. This was a part of the movie I found extremely apt, cinematically attractive and memorable. Unlike Bhandarkar's movies, though, Basu did not have the courage to take the story where no man (or horse) has gone before. Bhandarkar's stories are entertaining tippani on his perception of modern society. Basu stays true to his soap-opera roots, simply picking up tried and tested (tired and tasteless?) stereotypes of high-society.

There have been many more original and under-appreciated scripts out of India in recent times. Perhaps I shall list a list in a future blog. What prompted this blog was my sadness that MPAA would deem a plagiarised and cliched script worthy of representing modern Indian film-making!

What I did like in Metro were the production qualities, transitions, scene-setup and delicious locations in Bombay for the breath-taking backdrop of the story. It definitely is a technically well-made picture.

As a piece of Cinematic Art, it has the aesthetic appeal of a Rs.250 Venus de Milo sold at Big Bazaar.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Distance Makes the Heart Grow Weaker

Makes me wonder about the huge population of old and alone parents in India. Half the boom in USA's new IT industry is fueled by desi bachchas who left their parents in search of their karmabhoomi. They are doing amazingly well and more than just a job, many of them are impacting our very lives with their innovative work. Yet the life they impact most is two sets of parents. Parents who have large nest-eggs in a large empty nest back home.

The rest of us didn't go that far, still, Lucknow is more than a planet away when calculated from Bangalore. The best of us manage to meet them once or twice a year. Usually it is once or twice a decade. Usually it is combined with a packed sight-seeing schedule. Usually the whole deal is no more than 10 to 15 days, all inclusive!

Oh yes, I have even wondered about the alternatives.
Probably one option is to stay with parents in their city and be limited to the opportunities available out there. Chances are, your "IT" job in such case would be about as fancy as owning the dealership for Creative Sound cards. Of course, the money earned would be enough to lead a kingly life in that city. But yeh dil maange more. So even the parents sacrifice their time with us to encourage us to leave. To see us live the dreams they never dared sleep over!

The other alternative, of course, is to bring them over to live with us. This means uproot them from a comfort zone and bring them to a world where we spend more time on intercontinental con-calls and buzzing blackberry's than on talking to people within 10 meter radius of us. So now they are near and yet not so dear.

Little wonder then, that none of these options are very popular. What is common is just old parents living alone, in a big empty house, far removed from the race to get 10Gbps DSL-at-home and the next 30GB iPod. And there is a whole army of them! So many of them, and yet each one is equally lonely. Equally helpless. Or are they? My dad is quite unwell and I am the one feeling helpless. With all my brains and money, I can not "be there" at his time of need. With all their weaknesses, I am sure mom and dad will manage to triumph over this!

Us "developed" 21 Centurians have destroyed age old family systems in our infinite wisdom to replace it with no system. Somehow we are sure that 20 years of education is enough for us to challenge 2000 years of collective wisdom. We barter strong family support and social structure to root for weekend-couples and latch-key kids. The brains that created a whole new industry for "keeping in touch" failed to offer a single hug for those on the periphery of technology.

Despite being one of the strongest civilizations in the world, haven't we stooped to embrace volatile and fragile social systems from the most infantile civilization in history?

My favorite saying goes: "The best things in life are either illegal, immoral or fattening". We seem to have chosen an ice-cream lifestyle over cereals and fruits.

To live for today like there is no tomorrow and there never was a yesterday...

Sorry Dad.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Moral Science, naah, Art


Outlook has done a cover on the moral police bashing up a Vadodara University art-student for "obscene" religious drawings. It seems the famous Gujarat cops, making headlines becoming The Saint and dispensing instance justice, were more than eager to rush in and arrest the student. Ironic that a journalist called the saffron-goons who called the saffron-cops who were on the run from journalists poking into the encounter affair.

Coming at the heels of arrest-warrants for Gere-Shetty kiss, it makes us wonder about the efficiency of the judiciary. The Supreme Court has, over the past decade or so, filled the void created by criminals salivating instead of legislating in parliament. However, at the lower level, the courts are courting morality cases over billions of pending criminal and civil cases. The devastated undertrials living sub-human lives in jails across India does not ruffle the feathers of these judges. But one peck on Shetty or Sawant's cheek and they find it socially devastating!!

Experts have opined that the student should be allowed to draw obscene graphics as long as art-critics find it tasteful. It is not upto judiciary to rate the obscenity of art, they say. D'uh?! How is it any better for me, whether I face prudery from a judge, hypocricy of goons or the veiled blinkers of an art-critic?!!!! If I am to create art, I need to be unshackled from all limits of society. You may or may not "like" what I do. But true art, by definition, is beyond definition and borders on rebellion. You can hate me for creating it--- but can you arrest me for being a bad artist? Just because I happened to paint a dick?

By the way, how does a campus display for examination purpose constitute public display of immorality? Who will judge these judges?

Thankfully, the artist was not a muslim. At least this remained an establishment versus freedom fight and didn't turn uglier. Isn't it amazing even how easily we are drawn into debates on such manipulated trivialities?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Road Safety - Number plates



For the past few weeks I have noticed a new trend on Bangalore roads-- Kannada number-plates. This is a new high in patriotism.

Far as I knew, it was illegal to have regional script, calligraphy, hieroglyphics and fine print on number-plates. In fact people were made to fork over 500 bucks to change even the color code for "security" reasons, about 3-4 years ago! Same goes for darkly-tinted glasses, driving perpetually on high-beam, lane-cutting and eye-level disco brake-lights. All of these rules are being flouted with increasing impunity on the streets of Bangalore. Traffic cops are too busy lolling about at tea-shops to pull-over anyone for such "patriotic" crimes. Earlier it was just the rowdy call-center cabbies, today I saw high end cars such as a Hyundai Verna and Santro (see pic) with illegible number-plates!

The transport authorities made it clear that the provision of rule-50, sub-rule-2 and proviso-D of Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989, specifically states that letters on vehicle number plate should be in English and numerals in Arabic. The Government of India in a notification (No.SO. 444E dated June 12, 1989) issued under Section-41 (6) of the Motor Vehicle Act , 1988, also made these rules mandatory.

Probably this is what goes on inside the "logical" brains of our administrators, when they condone such violations: now that even courts and governments have been directed to conduct all business in regional languages (tamil in chennai, marathi in maharashtra, hindi in UP... and so on), your doomed struggle for justice begins with the license-plate of the hitting car. If you cannot even read the license-plate, you don't deserve justice anyway.

Breaking the law has been a "status symbol" for a while now. That it is also equals patriotism and regional pride, is something I wasn't prepared for.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Banergatta Road -- U Turn Away from Development

The citizens of Bangalore have adjusted and adapted to a bumpy, by-lane ride to work while swanky fly-overs are built to decongest the main roads. The flyovers take an average of 3 years to be ready. Even in less developed countries they take no more than 6 months, with amazing pre-fab material available nowadays. At the end of these 3 years, at least, the commuter expects an uninterrupted ride. The intersections have been looped and traffic can flow without traffic-lights and crossings.

What remains true is that traffic lights are removed. The crossings, however, remain. On the Banergatta Road stretch there are about 3 flyovers till one reaches the MG Road intersection. Each of them has a provision for U-turns, turning left/right (with help of traffic lights) and skipping the junction (underpass or flyover). The distance between the flyovers is not more than 3-4 km. So far so good.

What comes next is the unique and interesting "Bangalore Logic". Before and after each flyover, people have dug up parts of the median. Trucks, buses, scooters, buffaloes... this "self-service" intersection is used by everyone to make turns. In essence, an arterial road that had 3 intersections (that the flyover fixed) now has 8-12 junctions! To the commuter, the wait for traffic jams to sort out at the junctions has simply multiplied from three years ago. The billions going into building the flyover and years of patient diversions produce only more chaos and longer delays.

The cops and politicians conveniently blame the mess on increase in traffic, influx of migrant software engineers and even rains. Sometimes one can see cops rush there to regulate the traffic jams. But no one ever fines or prevents the drivers from making those dangerous and illegal turns!

For someone who has not been here, even imagining the ludicrousness of the situation will be difficult.

The reason behind this quite simple: people wish to avoid an extra 7-8km round trip for making the U-turn. Cops and politicians seem to avoid antagonizing the locals by enforcing common sense rules. If they did that, traffic would move smoothly in each direction and people making the U turn wouldn't disrupt traffic flow either. As things stand, everyone is happy they can save 3 minutes by turning just before the designated U-turn spot. Everyone is also upset how it takes 30 minutes to cover a 6 minute stretch of road!!! D'Oh

My take is that people never "want" to do the right thing. It is for the enforcement agencies to make sure the right flow is established. They can help by putting proper signage, building good roads and have synchronized traffic lights. Another default accessory to flyovers is pedestrian subways or bridges; no flyover must open without care for the pedestrians, yet these are conspicuously missing even today.

Bombay's Western Express freeway had a similar problem when they first built it. At that time a few school children had to die before we got pedestrian subways and median-control. Do our khadi-clad Gods require the sacrifice Again and again?

All it needs is little bit of "planning". And a whole lot of enforcement. Is that so difficult??

I am sure the citizens of Bangalore will adjust and adapt to a smooth and efficient ride equally well.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bumpy -- Coming Soon to a Potty Near You

Bumpy is in its 7th month now. The wait for sleepless nights and potty training is all but over. People tell us this is the most sensitive phase and we should take extreme care of Ba and Bumpy. We are going around meeting relatives and friends. Having a gala time playing with lots of kids and listening to excited chatter centred around Bumpy's arrival. That makes Ba happy and I am sure anything that makes Ba happy will make Bumpy grow better!

School Killings -- A Prayer for Innocent Lives

30 kids mowed down in a US college yesterday. My brother left to live the American dream last weekend and my brother-in-law leaves in a few months. Wonder if there is much of a dream left. During the short time I was there, it was not difficult to see why kids would be growing up all nasty and hasty. People seem to be running all the time, chasing their own dreams and outpacing their neighbors'. No one has the time or inclination to talk to each other unless it makes business sense. In such an atmosphere, the kids have nothing more than a TV or iPod or PSP3 to turn to. Kids need attention, guidance and love. They get all of this from savvy marketers. Of course, sometimes, the guidance only guides you to the nearest store. If you cannot afford what's in there, no more love, guidance or attention. Popping the nearest neighbor does seem like the next best thing to do. I remember feeling like killing the bully many times as I grew up. I play-acted movies like "Vaastav" and "Satya" many times in my mind, where all problems are solved by placing a muzzle on the kanpatti-- often without the need to fire a shot. If only all of life were that simple. In reality--and even in those movies--the nice shooter guy ended up dead. Bad dead.

I pray for the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the Virginia Tech massacre. I pray that India decides to remain the boring, cultured country it has been and not want everyone to become Barbie Doll and Gameboy.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

India -- The land of cows, crowds, potholes... and love!!

Did my first US visit last week. Now I can stand up and face the world.

Sadly, by the time I got the chance to visit USA, the "awe" factor has been lost. India has progressed enough for us not to go oooh and aaah when we see a Go-Karting track or a Sports Bar or even super-cheap electronics with nearly-nil warranty. As I would joke, the same factory in China supplies iPod clones to both of us. So why buy in San Jose flea market when I can get the same--probably cheaper-- at Kempegowda's National Market!

The only thing that did awe me, perhaps, were the roads. Something not difficult for India to achieve. Yet, something that does not have national will behind it. My take is that India's progress is purely entrepreneur driven with no strategic direction by our governments. This is unlike China, Vietnam or even the US where a lot of energy goes in creating the right "ambience" for business. In the long run, it takes more than just cheap labour and Rupee-Dollar disparity to sustain success!!


Despite everything being so 'perfect', I did miss the 'human interaction' that is part of life in India. I pray that with all our 'practical thinking' and 'progress', we retain the human element of daily lives. In the US, it seemed to me that people get so comfortable with machines, meeting other fellow beings for any non-profit purpose scares them into hiding in a cave somewhere. Then we need to send in Deepak Chopra and Bikram Yoga to bring them back.


This visit made me appreciate our lives in India a lot more. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay out there. On the other hand, I was surprised to not feel the over-powering desire to migrate which seems to be part of Indian DNA.

All the baingan-lores that form our daily grind, that is what separates us from the Matrix. I wonder, how much longer?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Chowdiah -- The Warm Welcome (Too Warm!!)

My wife took me to the Russel Peters show last Tuesday. I say "took me" because she decided to spend one week's salary on the tickets within blink of an eye. I salute her foresight and ability to enjoy what may be called as "once in a lifetime" experience. Had she allowed me to decide, the show was sold out in about 5-10 blinks it normally takes me. In 15 blinks, all 3 shows were sold out--- even the free passes were gone!!!

This chap is a stand-up comedian of Indian origin, born in Canada and cracking up in US. A staple on youtube, this was the first time he visited three Indian cities. All the "cheap downloading bastards" (as he called us) decided to fork over some dough for once, and landed up to watch him live at Chowdiah Memorial in Bangalore. The audience was heavily titled towards 22-25 year olds, which I found odd. It also reminded me that I already belong to a "has been" generation. As my wife reminded me yesterday, "during college" is now a reference to an era 10 years past...!

The show itself was a laugh-riot as expected. What was unexpected was that NONE of the jokes were repeats from other DVDs and snippets we had stolen off the net earlier. It was by and large original and adapted to Indian audiences. That is not to say it lacked any trademark grossness, obscenity or hilarious toilet audio. A friend of ours managed to grab front-seats in another show and make full use of Peters' interactive act. He got himself "picked upon". During our show, we settled for watching him pick on (random?) members of the audience as nothing remained sacred-- their names, race, color, hairstyle, education and pubic hair. It was hilarious to watch it all being ripped apart by the master comedian (no pun intended).

Since this features on my blog hailing the idiosyncrasies of Bangalore, time now to indulge.

Chowdiah is the local equivalent of something like the NCPA auditorium. Just like Rangshankara imagines itself to be the local Prithvi. While RS has managed to emulate Prithvi in spirit, if not in content, the only equivalence Chowdiah shares with NCPA is higher ticket prices!

It shocks us to find, all 4 times that we have been there, everyone sweating it out. The humor in the production is offset by the human comedy dribbling down my neck. The Air-conditioning is either switched on late or pathetically incapable to cool that size of theatre.

We have noticed this peculiar energy-saving "logic" to switch on the AC late and switch it off about 10 minutes BEFORE closing time at numerous multiplexes, theatres and malls in Bangalore. Once upon a time Bangalore was called Garden-city and did not NEED any AC or fans. Wake up, guys, that "once upon a time" was a long LONG time ago!!

The other craziness at Chowdiah is the pedestrian cafeteria and the virtual stampede that a 10 minute interval can cause. RS charges a tenth of the entrance fee (upper end) and yet has such a well-managed and well-maintained cafe.

Thirdly, while the parking seems to be better, the approach and exit roads are a maze of narrow one-way bylanes. How can such a premium venue be tucked away so secretly that not one sign directs us from the main road? Can the government not make a better route to-and-fro considering it hosts the best of international acts and audiences?

I reckon the monopoly position as a large-enough venue and our high threshold for sub-standard quality allow places like Palace Ground and Chowdiah to get away with this "take it or leave it" attitude year after year, performance after performance.

Koramangala - Oasis or the Desert itself?

Moved into a new office today. In the middle of Bangalore's hullaballo-est places-- Koramangala. This used to be at the forefront of IT Boom way back in 90's when an idyllic, faraway village made way for snazzy boxes to house software professionals. Over the years, lanes stayed lanes and drains became lanes. A memorial to greed, near-sight and unplanned progress, Koramangala today is synonymous with pollution, water-logging, traffic snarls and some more traffic snarls. Yet, it continues to play host to some of the best IT companies, funkiest shopping malls, grooviest "north indian" food joints and yummiest ladies in Bangalore. As a happening address, its value cannot be beaten.

The silver lining is the very jazzy office interiors that they came up with. Once inside, the walls and rugs reflect the company colors. Spacious cubicles ensure that some of us walk miles to meet our supervisors. A cool cafeteria and table-tennis table might seem overkill for just 26 guys... but then we plan to become 70+ in a blink. The state-of-the-art lab occupies over 50% office-space and is something we all are mega-proud of. Photos will be uploaded soon.

So far, we cannot dare travel to work in an auto or bus for fear of being held ransom to "double meter, saar". The extortionist auto-drivers and stunt bus-drivers force even eco-conscious commuters to use private transport. The new CM, HD Kumarswamy, is doing some great work in terms of making the roads and infrastructure of Bangalore more human again. Next he *must* focus on multi-level public parking and organizing public-transport. I shudder when I imagine traffic on these crumbling roads by March 2008...

In the past few weeks, we have started noticing many subtle but strong positive changes in Bangalore. More power to him!!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

US Visa -- The Business of Security

I went for my US visa interview to Chennai yesterday. Had heard horror stories of the process earlier. When I complained about Airport hassles when traveling within India, some foreigners had remarked once to me "If you think this is a hassle, wait till you visit a US airport". Gee, I always thought things were very organized and people friendly in the US of A.

The friendliness became apparent in Chennai. It seems one cannot take mobile phones inside the US consulate. Considering one is allowed to take it almost EVERYWHERE else in the world (including Operation Theatres!!) I fail to see the uniqueness of the Consulate security, to excise a mobile phone ban. To make the matters interesting, there is no counter where disallowed items can be checked-in for safe-keeping. The visa-candidate is all sweat and shivers. The answer for this "security consciousness" soon became clear. Right after the cops finish their self-righteous tirade, they offer to keep the cellphone for us at a nearby tea-shop. They even accompanied me to the shop and assured me that the expensive Nokia N series would be returned safely. All this for only Rs.100. If half the 1500 people visiting daily bring one disallowed item, this enterprise earns them a cool 15 Lakh monthly.

No wonder Bush is having a hard time convincing the Iraqis that the Security Forces are there to "free" them. The next thing you know, the high-tech Airport X-ray scans will be available on porn-sites the world over. It is indeed sad to see Security forces make a mockery of the REASON they are there in first place!

It seems in New Delhi, the embassy has a locker to check-in the mobile phones. If a tea-shop can do it, I doubt it takes heavy resources or space to create this system in Chennai and other consulates as well. High time the Chennai consulate became people friendly.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Introduction - A Blog for the Baby

Signed up 3 years ago to blog my existence through the "culture shock" of moving to Bangalore from Bombay. Never got around to expressing my delight with 30 variety of sambar for lunch or the generous use of carrots in "chaat". Before I could get over the fixation for eggplant in the daily meal served at these darshinis I was married and eating home food. The next thing I knew, we had moved into a larger house (from the 1 room dwelling). A process that took an year but seemed like a jiffy. Now we gonna be parents. This is the kind of stuff that happens to other people!!!

Nine months. Seems like a huge way away. Looking at the past 3 years, am sure it won't take too long for this period to become a distant memory. We wanted to make memories of making babies. Maybe a blog is a good idea. If I can write regularly.

Hopefully the maman will blog religiously.

Watch this space, or some of the Links nearby.

Thanks for visiting :-)