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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Stray dogs catch up on sleep, outside a shop decorated for the holiday season, in Connaught Place, New Delhi.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Caption Contest

Test your ingenuity. Suggest a caption for the photograph posted above. The winners shall, of course, not be awarded any prizes.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Goats in the City

A man and his goats stop for rest in the shadow of an overhead billboard.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Vlad the Impaler

The car that BBC TogGear termed as Vlad the Impaler is in India. Priced at approximately Rs.16,00,00,000, it leaves far behind the Maybach, which, I believe, was the most expensive car being sold in India earlier. With its top speed of 407 kilometres an hour, no other car sold in India can catch up with the Veyron on the tarmac, in any case.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether it can run on the Indian roads at all and whether Bugatti have prepared it for that.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Lake on A Road

This is what a road looked like on a particularly rainy evening. I suppose vehicular traffic could have been diverted for a while to hold, say, a canoe race on it. Those responsible for clearing the blocked sewers that led to this would, in any case, not have arrived until the next morning.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Punjabi Poetry by Faiz

Until not so long ago, I knew Faiz Ahmed 'Faiz' mainly as a renowned poet of the Urdu language. It was only after I started writing this blog and, as a result, came into contact with some bloggers from the Pakistani part of Punjab that I came to know that he composed compelling verse in Punjabi as well. The following piece is, arguably, the most popular one:

Rabbaa sachyaa, tuuN tay aakhyaa si
jaa O bandyaa jagg daa shaah aiN tuuN
saaDiaaN naimtaaN teriaaN daultaaN naiN
saaDa naib tay aalijaah aiN tuuN
ais laare tay tor kad puchhyaa ee
ki ais nimaanay tay beetiaaN naiN

kaday saar vi layi O Rabb saaiNyaaN
teyre shaah naal jagg ki keetiaaN naiN
kitay dhauNs police sarkaar di ai
kitay dhaandli maal patwaar di ai
iNvaiN haDDaaN vich kalpe jaan meri
jiveiN phaahi 'ch koonj kurlaaundi ai
changaa shaah banaaya ee Rabb saaiNyaaN
paulay khaanday vaar na aauNdi ai
meinuuN shaahi nahiN chaahidi Rabb meiray
meiN tay izzat da tukkar mangnaa haaN
meinuuN taaNgh nahiN mehlaaN maaRiaaN di
meiN tay jeevan di nukkar mangnaa haaN

meri manneiN tay teriaan meiN mannaaN
teri sauNh jay ik vi gal moRaaN
jay aih saudaa nahiN pujdaa taaN Rabbaa
feyr meiN jaaNvaaN tay Rabb koi hor loRaaN

It has been translated into English by Khwaja Tariq Mahmood as follows:

O God almighty, you had ordained
Go, O you man, you are king on earth
You own our benevolence and our blessings
As exalted vice-regent on land and firth

Despatching us with that pledge, did you ever enquire
How this poor wretch was faring and feeling
Did you, O provider of the world, indeed so desire
The treatment for your king that the world was dealing

By government functionaries some times repressed
By revenue bailiffs, some times oppressed
For all this, my soul seethes depressed
Like a bird in cage utterly possessed
How well you fashioned a king, O God
Incessantly pummelled and unredressed

I do not need kingship, O God almighty
I just need to sustain with bread, with respect
I just do not crave for a palatial enclave
I need just a nook, enough to protect

Your will I will respect, if you accept my request
I swear not to waver or to deflect
But, if O God, my plea is not so approved
For another God, then, I shall go in quest

As for musical performances, not only has it been rendered soulfully by Tina Sani in a recent Coke Studio episode, although juxtaposed with some other pieces of poetry (as can be listened to in the following),

but some excerpts have also been set rather well to rock music by Atif Aslam (as can be listened to below).

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Dog Rescued?

It was nearly a quarter past eleven at night and I was in the front yard to catch some cool breeze as well as to look for any suspicious activity, since there had been a burglary attempt a few days ago, when I heard a dog yelp. I looked around, only to see the poor devil rolling on the ground and surrounded by a few other canines, across the road. "Perhaps the animal is being mauled by some other stray dogs, for having entered their territory without permission", I thought. So, I picked up a stone and rushed towards the commotion. The other dogs had moved away by then and I found the one that had cried out lying on his side, with his neck stuck to a metallic cable, which I soon realised, to my horror, had broken off from a street-lamp pole and formed part of a live distribution line. The dog was, obviously, being electrocuted. He was unconscious and his jaw was contorted into a strange shape, but his stomach rose and fell in rhythmic motion, which indicated that he was alive.

I rushed back home and returned, shortly, with a wooden staff. With its help, I managed to move the dog away from the cable, but his head was still only an inch or two away from danger.

Even as I tried to shift the cable, which looped around the spot where he lay, away from him, the dog came to his senses. Probably because I was the only other living being around, he seemed to have figured out that I was his tormentor and snapped at me. Although I retreated, in an attempt to keep him away from the source of electricity, he tried to move and in the most obvious direction i. e. forward and got electrocuted again.

His body shook violently, even a few moments after I had managed to roll him over and out of harm's way for the second time that evening. Amazingly, he had tried to bite at the staff, even while the current coursed through him and into the ground, which was actually good in a way, perhaps, since it probably kept him from biting his own tongue.

A pair of kind young men on a motorcycle had arrived at the scene by then and pointed their vehicle's headlight at the cable to assist me as I tried to straighten it, to prevent, as far as possible, any others from falling victim.

There seemed to be little that I could do to help the dog any further, especially in view of my lack of knowledge of veterinary science, so I just left it there and went home to ring up the appropriate authorities. As I was to find out later though, electricity department personnel were not that concerned and would only respond to my pleas late next morning.

After I had reported the incident to the municipal corporation, my attention turned once again towards the distressed animal and I went to check on him again. I had located the contact details of an 'animal ambulance' service and hoped to receive some assistance in the form of information, since it already was close to midnight and they would probably not have had any transport available until the following morning. However, the dog was nowhere to be found. I went to look for him again at day-break and there was absolutely no trace of him. Therefore, I surmised that he must have recovered enough to be on his way to wherever he was headed before the cable interrupted the journey.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Easy Rider

As I reversed my father's car out of the gate and turned it around, a rather thick-set brown dog trotted into view. He wore a collar and, therefore, was obviously not a stray. Within a few moments, he got on to the patch of grass that separates the boundary wall of the house from the road and began to sniff around and to go around in circles. I realised what he was up to, tapped the pane of the half-open front passenger-side window and called out to him to stop, just as he had begun to answer the call of nature.

He gave up his endeavour midway and came towards the car. Shortly, he disappeared. I was afraid that if I tried to drive away at that point of time, I might run him over. Then he appeared at the window on the driver's side, front-paws planted firmly on the door, apparently looking for a joy-ride. I would have gladly obliged, but did not want to deal with his (possibly) annoyed master/mistress later. Besides, he had not cleaned his rear end by dragging it along the grass for a bit, as dogs usually do after relieving themselves. So, I apologised and drove off with laughter suppressed until the disappointed canine, whom I had seen for the first time that evening, was out of earshot.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Death of a Mouse

It was evening and I was seated in the dining room, when I saw a pair of black, beady eyes, set in a small brown face with rather large ears, peering at me from under the refridgerator. It was time to look for the mouse-trap, I realised, and sought help from my father, since he had put the contraption somewhere when we moved house a few days ago. As a rule, we never use poison or any other lethal methods to get rid of the mice that come as uninvited guests from time to time.

So, I set the trap with a tiny piece of chapatti dipped in ghee (butter-oil) as bait, in the dark alley behind the fridge. I heard the door shut with a loud click late at night, a while after I had gone to bed.

The following morning I got up at the usual hour, which was not very early, performed the daily ablutions and saw my father off to office, before I was ready to go and release the poor creature on to a piece of open land, where I generally set the mice free.

As I closed the gate behind me, the thought of releasing the animal into the nursery across the road did cross my mind, but it was almost instantly negated by one of the keepers accusing me of letting in a pest that might nibble at the roots of the saplings. So, off we went to the clearing, after I had spoken to the rodent for a bit and it had responded by putting on a display of acrobatics for my benefit.

When I found a shady spot under a tree that seemed perfect for the purpose and opened the door, the mouse would not move. I raised the trap on one side to nudge it a little and it rolled on to the ground, belly-side up. I could see its stomach rise and fall as it breathed rapidly and its eyes were open, but it seemed frozen. I used a twig to flip it over, so that it was the right side up. "Perhaps it has passed out due to the oppressively hot weather and will revive in a while.", I thought. Just then, a crow that must have been watching from a branch somewhere above, glided down. I drove the bird away, but almost as soon as I turned my back, it returned to pick the mouse up in its beak and to fly away. I was filled with remorse; I, who hardly ever think twice before digging into a plate of chicken-masala.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

A Dog and A Gourmet

On summer days that he can manage to sneak past my mother into the house, my friend Zakhmi (he, who is an expert at non-verbal communication) likes to laze about or catch up on his sleep on the floor in my room, while I read or work on the computer or watch television. He generally tends to leave only in the evenings, when the heat subsides and the weather outside is pleasant enough for his evening stroll in the street, unless he chooses to move to another (and cooler) part of the house for his siesta before that and gets evicted by the lady of the house and the thick stick that she wields.

On one such afternoon, recently, I thought I might be able to interest him in some lunch and waved a chapatti in front of his nose a few times. He did not move. My mother even tried to thrust a piece into the side of his mouth, so that he could taste it, but he was having none of that and only clenched his jaws shut tighter.

Then, I noticed diced paneer garnished with tomato ketchup, on my brother's plate. I asked him to wipe a cube of the cheese clean and to give it to me.

As soon as I brought it near the old rogue's nose, his senses appeared to have been electrified and he gobbled it up almost at once. He sat up immediately thereafter and fixed his gaze at my brother's plate. Bite-sized pieces of the same chapatti that he had rejected earlier were made quick work of subsequently, when crushed paneer cubes were applied to each of those.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Quote of the Year - II

"Jihadi terrorism may not exactly be the flip side of communal violence, but communal violence and communal disharmony create an environment where jihadi terrorism can flourish."
- P. Chidambaram, Union Home Minister, Government of India

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Some Likely Consequences of Women's Reservation

As I had written earlier, the Women's Reservation Bill is a direct assault on the self-respect of Indian women in my opinion and reservation, in general, as a policy, is fundamentally flawed, because it breeds and perpetuates incompetence and largely benefits the elite sections of the demographic that it is supposed to alleviate, which has become evident over the past six decades. However, even those women who had braved laathhi-charges (baton-charges) and water-cannons or gone on hunger-strike to protest against caste-based reservations do not seem to have a problem with gender-based reservations. Perhaps they have decided that just as there can apparently be 'Good Taliban' and 'Bad Taliban', there can be 'Good Reservation (read gender-based)' and 'Bad Reservation (read caste-based)'.

In any case, the bill has been passed by the upper house of parliament and will probably sail through the lower house as well, since some of the opposition parties have also decided to vote for it.

As far as I can see, the pieces of legislation that are likely to follow this one are likely to include reservation for women in institutions for higher education, government jobs and, ultimately, promotions as well. So far, the honourable Supreme Court of India has limited reservation, inclusive of quotas of all kinds, to 50%, but that could change once the Constitution is amended.

Let us suppose that the quota for women will be pegged at 33%, just as in parliament. That would leave only 17% seats in the 'General Category' (100% - (50% + 33%) = 17%), implying that parents of young boys who are not eligible for any kind of quota should start saving, in order to be able to send their sons to study at colleges outside of India. That is especially so since the entry into India of foreign universities, which would not be obliged to implement the quota system, appears difficult, since the relevant legislation is being sought to be blocked by the opposition.

Educational loans should be of assistance, but are unlikely to cover the entire expense. Some relief might come in the form of a few privately controlled institutions from India setting up branches in neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. In view of the demand, some Western Universities or even some reputed ones from the Asia-Pacific region might also set up branches in those countries, to provide a more economical alternative to students travelling to the countries of origin of such universities.

I would also expect emigration from India to North America and Europe to increase, especially by families with young male children, on account of the increased reservation.

The scenario described above might appear alarmist and might ultimately turn out to be a bit of an exaggeration, but I am quite convinced that it correctly indicates, at least, the shape of things to come.

On the other hand, one can expect the number of achievers and competent professionals amongst women like Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Sarojini Naidu, Kiran Bedi, Bachhendri Pal and Arundhati Roy, to decline, rather than vice versa, because of the women's quotas. People generally tend not to work hard towards something that they can obtain without actually having to make too much of an effort, as has been demonstrated by most of those who have availed of the caste-based quotas over the past six decades.

I recall that in the hospital where free medical care was provided for all employees and their families by the pubic-sector unit that my father used to work for, most patients avoided the 'reserved category' doctors. I had the misfortune of visiting such an E. N. T. specialist once, who made the pain in my ear much worse and I had to be taken for treatment to a registered medical practitioner by my parents. The R. M. P. managed to cure me within two days (He prescribed ear-drops, to soften some solidified ear-wax, which was subsequently cleaned away.), something that the 'quota doctor' had not been able to achieve over a week (He even contemplated surgery!). Proof also exists in the form of the fact that caste-based reservations in educational institutions had to be followed with quotas in jobs and, subsequently, promotions.

The policy of reservation should be scrapped and replaced with scholarships, fee-exemptions and free board & lodge for bright students among the poor and allocation of more election tickets to candidates from the so-called underprivileged sections of society by political parties that really want to help them.

Unfortunately, however, it has become a tool in the hands of politicians, who use it to build captive vote-banks for themselves, since whichever section of the population is brought under its purview suddenly seems to discover how noble it is supposed to be, even if vehemently opposed to it earlier.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Punjabi Poetry by Rajab Ali

It was at the funeral service for one of my father's aunts (the wife of a brother of his mother's) that I heard the kathhaa-vaachak (preacher) recite a few couplets by Rajab Ali. It was my first encounter with his poetry and I was enthralled. The departed lady's oldest son i. e. my father's cousin later promised to collect as many of Ali's verses as he could and put those down in a notebook, for me. I never found out whether he was able to do that as he succumbed to cancer a few years down the line and, somehow, I did not get a chance to meet him in-between.

Apparently, the poet was an overseer in the irrigation department, posted in the Malwa region of Punjab, before 1947 (after which he moved to the newly-formed Pakistan, along with his family), and he spent a good part of his tenure at my paternal grandmother's ancestral village and a few surrounding ones. Many of those from my parents' generation and those preceding it still recite and listen to his kavishari over there, probably not as often as before though. So, it was quite a pleasure to come across some of his poems posted online, in the Gurmukhi as well as Roman scripts.

One does wish that the great man had been treated better by the country of his birth and provided with adequate security at the time of partition to protect him and his family against the violence that took place, so that he could stay and practise his craft in India, or by his adopted country, where his services to the Punjabi language never really received due recognition.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Indo-Pak Collaborations

An on-stage performance, somewhere in the UK, by two artistes from India (Gurdas Mann, Sukhshinder Shinda) and one from Pakistan (Abrar-ul-Haq), has been presented in the video posted below. The track is a part of a Punjabi music album titled Collaborations. The Times of India and Jang groups could very well have invited or, perhaps, could still invite them to join the Aman Ki Asha campaign.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Another Year: A Few Beginnings and an End

As I picked up the newspaper on the very first day of 2010, I was very pleased to read about 'Aman Ki Asha', an initiative of The Times of India & The Jang Group of Pakistan. It is difficult to predict as to how far it will actually go in terms of achievement of lasting peace between India and Pakistan. However, it definitely does denote progress in terms of the fact that it is for the first time that leading media houses from the neighbouring countries have joined hands in such a manner. If nothing else, at least some journalists from either side might make friends among their counterparts on the opposite side of the Indo-Pak border and work with greater conviction towards sowing the seeds of friendship in the hearts and minds of the general public. In any case, the contents of The Times of India over the past ten days have been rather interesting.

It is a case of the mainstream media treading in the footsteps of bloggers. Yours truly, for instance, has managed to make a few Pakistani friends in the past three years, largely through the medium of blogging.

The beginning of the year also brought some hope for justice for the victims of anti-Sikh riots of 1984, along with their co-religionists around the world, as the Central Bureau of Investigation (C.B.I.) was granted sanction to charge sheet Mr. Sajjan Kumar for 'spreading enmity between two communities'. It is certainly not the most serious crime that he is accused of, but the pending sanction was an impediment to the pursuit of the other charges.

The new year also marked the passing away of noted conservationist and author, Billy Arjan Singh. I had read one of his books a few years ago and was mighty impressed by his unorthodox approach towards the protection of wildlife, in particular, and life, in general.