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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Creamy Layer

He and I were both in the same section in the same school, in class XI. We were both studying Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics as the main subjects, besides English and Punjabi as the the auxiliary ones. Both of us were also coached by private tutors, in order to prepare us for entrance examinations for engineering courses. We even lived in the same sector in Chandigarh.

However, his father worked for the government and mine for a private company. They had their own house and we lived in rented accomodation. My father owned a beat-up, second-hand car, while his had a spanking new model. I used to go to school on a bicycle and he had a motor-bike. I asked my parents for money only when I had to buy something essential, while he used to get a lavish allowance. His father obviously managed to earn some 'extra income', being a highly-ranked official involved with granting permits, licences, etc., for which he was said to charge a certain 'fee' from those whom he 'obliged' with his signature and official rubber-stamp.

Still, my class-fellow and I were friends and visited each other's homes often, after school. We were part of the same gang and often hung out together, along with all the other guys, or went to the movies, trips to the Sukhna Lake, etc.

Two years went by, almost in a flash, and soon it was time to appear for the various competitive examinations. Over these couple of years, I realised that although I had taken up the subjects that I had, I did not really have a head for calculus or trigonometry, which was reflected in my below-average scores. Anyhow, I decided to appear for the Combined Entrance Test for admission to engineering and architechture courses in Punjab and Chandigarh (which is a Union Territory, even though it is the capital of the states of Haryana and Punjab). I was placed around 10,000 among approximately 16,000 candidates. Since there were only about 2500 seats available in all, I saw no point in filling in the admission forms.

So, I was obviously surprised when I found him filling up an admission form, even as he had been ranked around 10,500. When I asked him about it, he said his father had told him to do so and he was complying with that. It was only later that I learnt that he had been admitted to the best architecture college i.e. the one at Punjab University, Chandigarh, in the reserved quota, because he belonged to one of the Scheduled Castes.

Later, when I had earned a B.A. degree from a local college and was to leave for Indore in the state of Madhya Pradesh to pursue an M.B.A., he was in the second year of his course, having finally cleared the first year examinations after several failed attempts. It was too bad that there was no reserved quota that could have helped him clear his B.Arch. examinations, as there would have been for promotions in the (reserved) government job that would have been waiting for him as soon as he graduated, so as to ensure that he retires as a high-ranking government official!

I am reminded of all this whenever I read a news report about some politician having made a statement against the directive issued by the Supreme Court of India for excluding the 'creamy layer' i.e. the economically well-off among the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Castes from reservations in admissions to courses of higher education as well as selections for government jobs and promotions while serving therein.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

In The Line of Fire...

The other day I was watching the movie starring Clint Eastwood, after which General Musharraf has decided to name his book (I refrain from using the term 'memoir', for it is still not very clear as to how much of it has been written from memory and how much from pure imagination.), and it occurred to me that the character, called Frank Horrigan, played by Eastwood in the movie appears to have a lot in common with the General, at present.

Like Horrigan, the General is, or at least appears to be, at the fag end of his career. Apart from the political opposition he faces in Pakistan, serious resentment is brewing against him in the Pakistani armed forces, as is evident from the recent failed coup attempt. In any case, it is difficult to predict as to how long he will be able to remain president, once he relinquishes the top post in the military, which I think he will have to do sooner rather than later.

Also, President Mush's relationship with the US government appears to be quite analogous to the one that Eastwood's character shares with his love-interest (played by Rene Russo) in the movie, who is fascinated by him but does not quite know whether to trust his capabilities completely or not.

Besides, the oganisations that are responsible for the attempts that have been made on the former commando's life in the recent past probably mean nearly the same to him as the character played by John Malkovich did to Horrigan. This analogy may not appear to be as precise as the ones described above though, since he probably leaves it to others to review his personal security.

Meanwhile, the Hindi version of the book is titled 'Agnipath', after an Amitabh Bachchan-starrer by that name, which I have not had the opportunity to watch, so far. So, I can not say if any parallels can be drawn from there, as well.

However, even though I have no way of ascertaining whether the majority of the Pakistani people agree with him or not, for it would take nothing less than a referendum to be able to do so, Pervez Musharraf definitely does seem to think of himself as a super-star!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Tagged again...

This should be fairly simple, I suppose. All I have to do is to answer ten questions.

So, here goes:

1. Do you look at country of manufacture or quality of manufacture while buying clothes?

I do not care much for international brands any more, especially since I started making my own money.

I have been acquainted with the finest though and Van Heusen used to be my favourite brand for shirts at one point of time, courtesy my family, especially my oldest cousin, who has always been the elder sister I never had otherwise.

2. Do you make sure the clothes you buy are natural fabrics?

Since it is a pair of jeans and a full-sleeved shirt that I wear mostly, the trousers are cotton by default. The shirts are generally either pure cotton or mixed fabric, but almost never completely synthetic and that also goes for the odd pair of formal trousers (for eventualities like job-interviews) that I get stitched by the friendly neighbourhood tailor.

3. Sunglasses, fashion or protection?

I never wear sunglasses.

4. If you were a dog, would you bark or bite?

I can not say for sure, though being able to scratch my ears using my feet sounds like a rather exciting prospect!

5. Do you turn your cell-phone off before going to sleep?

No, I do not.

6.You came home from outside and have an hour to kill before going out again to meet a friend. What is the most probable thing which you will do in that hour?

I suppose I will either read a newspaper or a magazine or watch television or surf the internet, or a little bit of all that.

7. What’s you favourite state of chocolate, liquid or solid?

The one that is more easily available at any particular point of time, is my favourite state of chocolate at that point of time.

8. What would you choose a noticeable pay hike or noticeable improvement in work environment?

The latter, if both are not possible at the same time.

9. What do you enjoy more… staying indoors with friends talking meaningfully or hanging around outdoors with friends?

It all depends on the weather (No point going out in the rain, you see!), though I do not quite know what to make of the 'meaningfully' part.

10. If all the music artists come to a deliberate agreement to perform their last concert on the same day, whose concert will you attend?


I will catch all my favourite artistes' concerts on television re-runs, later.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Reservation is an insult...

As I tuned into a news telecast the other day, Sonia Gandi was making a speech.

"Mujhe Lalu Prasad Yadav ko banaana hai." (I have to fool Lalu Prasad Yadav.)

"Mujhe Dr. Karunanidhi ko banaana hai." (I have to fool Dr. Karunanidhi.)

I can very well understand that coalition politics has its own compulsions, but this seemed rather too audacious by any standards, considering that this was a speech being made in public and was sure to be reported prominently in all kinds of news media.

It was a little later, however, when the correspondent elaborated on what Mrs. Gandhi had been alluding to, that I realised that she had, in fact, been saying:

"Mujhe Lalu Prasad Yadav ko manaana hai." (I have to persuade Lalu Prasad Yadav.)

"Mujhe Dr. Karunanidhi ko manaana hai." (I have to persuade Dr. Karunanidhi.)

I suppose that means that either I am beginning to go deaf or Sonia Gandhi and Hindi do not go too well together! Anyway, that is besides the point.

Apparently, Mrs. Gandhi hopes to persuade the Congress' allies in the coalition that runs the government of India, to support a proposed bill that is meant to reserve a certain percentage of seats in parliament for women.

I think it is an insult to the women of India to imply that they can not 'secure adequate representation' in parliament unless this is done. I am sure they are as capable or incapable of making it to the Lok Sabha (the lower house) or the Rajya Sabha (the upper house) as the men are, on their own steam.

Female politicians in the country including the dour, the manipulative, the foul-mouthed, the feisty, the corrupt and ruthless, the hard working and competent, the benevolent and socially active, the erudite, the brilliant orator and the extreme right-wing and radically divisive, come in different shapes and sizes and have different temperaments, ideologies and modus operandi. So, I believe it is fair enough to say that they are as good or bad at politics as their male counterparts.

Besides, I do not see why only women can represent women and only men can represent men in parliament, as the proposed bill appears to imply.

After having sought to divide society along the lines of caste through caste-based reservations in government jobs and admissions to educational institutions (including highly technical courses) and therefore having insulted the brilliant, the hard-working and the competent among the so-called Other Backward Castes (OBCs), the political class now seek to polarise society even further by bringing in such legislation.

I really have no idea where this ever-expanding quest for 'vote-banks' is going to lead to.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Abode of Love

The blog entry titled 'Abode of Love' that I have linked to here, describes the rich cultural and architectural heritage of, as well as the present state of affairs at the town of Malka Hans in Pakistani Punjab, where Waris Shah (the legendary Sufi saint and Punjabi poet) is said to have composed his magnum opus i.e. his version of the immortal love tragedy Heer-Ranjha, in 1766.

His version is widely regarded as being the most popular, among some 76 known ones. As the poet Mohammad Ilyas has rightly said:

Khabar pal tey naa ik saah di ey
Ajab kheyD us beparwaah di ey
Heer Ranjhyaa teri naa ho saki,
Heer ho gayi Waris Shah di ey

(It is a strange, Divine play that no one is definite about the next moment in life. O Ranjha, instead of you, Heer has been named after Waris Shah.)

During the trip to Pakistan in April, I had the good fortune of being able to buy, at Hasan Abdal, a set of books containing selected verses by famous Sufi saints including Waris Shah, Bulleh Shah, Sultan Bahu, Mian Mohammad Baksh, Baba Farid and Shah Hussain.

Not only do I find Punjabi poetry by the Sufis to be a very engrossing read, but I am very often also able to connect it with my experiences in daily life.

The author of the books is Professor Saeed Ahmad Farani, who, I believe, also writes a regular column that is published at the website of the Academy of the Punjab in North America (a non-religious and non-political organisation that is making a highly commendable effort towards promoting Punjabi language, literature and culture.).

A remarkable coincidence was that the good professor was present at the book-stall at Hasan Abdal, while I was making the purchase and my father was able to exchange a few words with him. He came across as a very humble man who does not seek fame or fortune, but only to serve his mother tongue to the best of his abilities. May the Almighty bless him with a long life!

As Waris Shah has declared:

Waris Shah oh sadaa ee jewNdey neyN
JehnaaN keetiyaaN neyk kamaaiyaaN nee

(Waris Shah! Those who perform good deeds shall receive eternal life.)