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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Satiated Python?

The question, however, is whether it is a python at all or any other kind of snake, as for that matter.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reflections - II

Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, New Delhi, photographed by yours truly on November 6. I had published another photograph earlier.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lax Security at Chandigarh Railway Station

I had to catch the Kalka Shatabdi at 6:23 p.m. that evening and arrived about an hour earlier at the entrance on the side of the station facing Panchkula, since that was where I had been staying with a friend. He also accompanied me as he hoped to travel on the same train up to Ambala. Each of us carried a shoulder bag spacious enough to contain a bomb as large as any used in recent incidents of terrorist violence (or an assault rifle with a foldable butt and a few hundred rounds of live ammunition) and yet got in without any security checks, simply because the police seemed to have decided that any one with malicious intent would never come that way. So, we reached the platform unmolested.

We could very well have boarded the train without having to go through any sort of security procedure, but for the fact that my friend had to purchase a ticket. For that reason, we had to step out briefly and return through the entrance on the side facing Chandigarh and this time we did have to pass through a metal detector. However, the police man posted there appeared more interested in the newspaper he was reading than us and I suppose we could have smuggled in improvised explosive devices sans metal parts or shrapnel.

Later, as the two of us waited at the platform, a pair of sniffer dogs were brought in and traversed the entire length of the platform, even though neither came within three meters of where we stood, at any point of time. Whether the canines could still have detected explosives, had we been carrying any, remains debatable.

Once we were on board, we stacked our bags on the overhead racks provided for the purpose and since the railway police personnel who came to question passengers about ownership of various luggage items appeared well after the train had gone past Ambala, my friend could easily have left his behind, possibly with a bomb in it. On the other hand, if I had been a suicide bomber, I could have accomplished my grisly task without further ado as I was only asked to point my bag out, like every one else, before a "checked" sticker was affixed to it.

One can only hope that all loopholes in the security shall be plugged before a real terrorist chooses to take advantage of the situation.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Corruption in India and Laws against It

Let us consider the following instances:

1. As my father and I await our turn to pay for our purchases at a local Mother Dairy outlet, a man arrives on a motorcycle and buys a few litres of milk. He proceeds to empty it into a number of canisters attached to his vehicle and then asks for a bucket full of water to dilute the milk with. He, apparently, is a milkman, off to his daily rounds to supply the liquid to several households, probably telling them tall tales of cows that he rears in a pen at home for good measure.

2. When my mother visits a friend's house, the lady's young grand-daughter runs up to greet her, gives her a tight hug and enquires whether she has brought along any sweets. Upon finding out that she has not, the child's facial expression immediately changes to a rather rude one and she turns around and leaves. The same sequence is repeated on several subsequent occasions, until my mother relents and does take along some toffees.

3. The cashier at a local pathology lab tells me that she does not have the exact amount of change and tells me to collect the balance the next day, along with the report of the medical test for which I have just submitted a sample. When I do, she looks crestfallen, even though she does return the money. The same sequence is repeated a few months later.

4. As it continues to rain incessantly for several hours, a group of children from a nearby slum block the drains  on the road that runs beside our house. Then, they offer to push any car that gets stalled due to water entering the exhaust pipe or another part, for a suitable fee. They do roaring 'business' until my mother realises what they are up to and decides to shoo them away. They are back a few days later, when it rains again.

5. A puncture repair-man scatters a pack of iron nails at a crossing, about a kilometre from where he has set up shop, to help bring in more clients.

6. A neighbour keeps his house centrally air-conditioned using free electricity supply obtained through greasing the palms of a few officials of the distribution company, which, incidentally, was privatised a few years ago.

I am sure that most Indians come across many such examples almost every day, i.e., when they are not the examples themselves, of course. The question that arises then, at least in my mind, is whether a Lokpal Bill or any other such piece of legislation can help eliminate corruption in a country where it is so deeply engrained in the culture now.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Real Gender Equality: Women Storm A Few More Male Bastions

With Ms. Kanimozhi being charged for the 2G spectrum scam (mobile telephony service providers given access to spectrum at subsidised rates, causing loss to the exchequer), it has been confirmed that Indian women have successfully stormed another male bastion, i.e., of large-scale corruption. Although she is being credited only with having siphoned off about Rs. 200 crore (1 crore = 10 million) by the Central Bureau of Investigation at present, it is widely believed that she has made several times that amount (running into thousands of crores) through ex-telecommunications minister A. Raja, who shared the spoils with her in return for ensuring that he retained his position in the union cabinet. Therefore, Ms. Kanimozhi seems to have broken through the 'glass ceiling' that appears to have existed for women 'scamsters' earlier, with the highest scorer previously being Ms. Mayawati, the chief minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh, who is said to have 'earned' about Rs. 150 crore from the Taj corridor scam.

Ms. Kanimozhi is reported to have achieved the feat with the help of Ms. Niira Radia, a corporate lobbyist who seems to have given male 'fixers' of 'deals' between politicians and businessmen a run for their money. So, that is another field in which women have made their mark in this country and the day does not appear to be far when more of them will claim their rightful place in the world of high-profile and high-volume graft.

Also, Indian young women have not only been marching shoulder to shoulder with their male colleagues, but, in many instances, seem to be ahead, when it comes to the procurement of fake commercial pilot's licences. In fact, the distinction of being the first such pilot to have come into the limelight belongs to a woman, Parminder Kaur Gulati. She had almost perfected the technique of landing an aircraft on its nose wheel, instead of on the rear wheels as most other pilots (even fake ones) do. Unfortunately for her, the wheel assembly got jammed following one such landing and unsympathetic officials grounded her, besides instituting an enquiry. Apparently, no one at the airline that employed her thought of promoting flying with her as a form of adventure sport quite akin to skydiving, albeit more dangerous. Even the National Commission for Women has not recognised her talent and stepped in on her behalf so far.

Another, Rashmi Sharan, studied for her pilot's licence at a flying school that had no aircraft or classroom (and closed down soon after she had completed her course) and had a 'special' examination conducted for herself by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (where her father was employed as Joint Director at that time), when she could not, unfortunately, clear the regular ones despite several attempts; an achievement that no male 'pilot' is known to have been able to emulate so far.

One wonders why the tremendous success achieved by these women towards the attainment of gender equality is not being hailed as such in mass media, as is often the case otherwise.

Update: March 25, 2012. While Ms. Gulati is a pioneer of the technique of landing an aircraft on its nose wheel, another female pilot has recently achieved the distinction of landing an Airbus A319 not on any of its wheels, but, rather, on its tail. According to an air-safety expert, "It is close to impossible to do a tail strike on aircraft like A319 and [Boeing] B737-600 because of the short fuselage length." Apparently, unlike other aircraft such as the Airbus A321 or the Boeing B737-800, an A319 is comparatively shorter and, consequently, its nose has to be heavily pitched up for its tail to strike the ground.

Also, Ms. Mayawati has stormed yet another male bastion by becoming one of the richest politicians in India. She has achieved the tremendous feat of having doubled her self-declared personal assets during her latest stint as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Discovery Channel, Live

I see a squirrel dart across to the other side of the road. Just as I begin to wonder why the poor beast would risk getting squished under the wheels of a speeding vehicle, I see a cat in hot pursuit. Both animals narrowly miss oncoming cars and motorcycles, as the squirrel manages to stay ahead and to climb a tree, out of the feline's reach.

As the cat stands under the tree, as if trying to find a way to reach the squirrel, a dog spies it from afar and rushes towards it. Before the canine can get there, however, the cat runs to the wall of a nearby compound and jumps over before the dog can see where it is going. The dog picks up the scent of its quarry and follows it along the ground up to the spot where the cat jumped on to the wall and then appears lost. A minute or two later, it gives up the chase and walks away.

Discovery channel, live, for any one who cares to watch.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

A Trend or a One-Off?

Harsh Mander has expounded on in 'The Hindu' about the aftermath of pogroms, as experienced by the communities victimised, in addition to the benefits, largely electoral, reaped by the supposed perpetrators.

I have written, earlier, about many of the issues touched upon in the article, on this blog as well as in the form of comments on others. However, I never expected any of that to appear in mainstream news media, at least in India (especially the part about those accused of organising the murders of thousands of members of minority religious communities having been rewarded through huge electoral victories by members of the religious majority), until I read Mr. Mander's article. Now, I wonder whether this is some kind of a new trend that has begun and more of the ugly, communal underbelly of this country is going to be exposed in a similar manner or whether this is going to prove to be the proverbial flash in the pan.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A War Hero I Once Knew

I knew him as a friend of my maternal grandfather, at whose house he would often drop by during his evening walk, an ornate stick in hand. Every time, he would be dressed in a formal pair of trousers and an open-necked shirt, with a cravat around his neck and well-polished shoes that I could clearly see my face in, when I bent down to touch his feet (which is a customary way to show respect towards elders in India). During winters, a warm coat or jacket would become a part of the ensemble.

His beard, which had more grey hair than black, ever since I knew him, was perfectly fixed, with not a strand out of place, and his moustaches twisted to have perfectly pointed tips. His turban was always smartly done.

He never developed a paunch, unlike many Indian army officers nowadays, serving or retired, and never trimmed his beard, unlike many present-day 'mechanised Sikh' soldiers. Personal transport for him comprised a Premier Padmini and, in his later years, a Maruti 800. His house was somewhat more modest than my grandparents'.

As I would listen intently to their conversations, my grandfather and he would discuss matters all and sundry, but not any of his military experiences. Being the shy child that I was, I never picked up the courage to ask. I might have, if I had known the nature or extent of his exploits.

With the passage of time, however, the number of such meetings dwindled, and, after my grandfather passed away, stopped completely, except for one last time, when I ran into him at my school, where he had come to visit some one. He was dressed impeccably, as usual, in a crisply ironed suit and starched shirt. Despite his age, he held himself erect, although he no longer had the soldier's gait and walked a lot more slowly. I bent down to touch his feet and found that his shoes shone as brightly as ever. I have no recollection now of who broke the news of his having passed away to me, a few years later.

Afterwards, I did realise that he must have been a fine soldier and even better commander to have risen to the rank of Major General in an army where 80% officers retired by the time they became Colonels and in which, especially, there was some kind of a 'glass ceiling' for Sikh officers. However, until very recently, I did not know that he had also been a war hero and winner of India's second-highest gallantry award, i.e., the Maha Vir Chakra.

Apparently, he had commanded a unit in the 1965 Indo-Pak war that had been responsible for the  destruction of almost an entire armoured division of the Pakistani army. He and his men are said to have hidden their tanks and recoilless guns in the fields that had a standing sugar cane crop, in a horse-shoe formation, and let the enemy tanks drive into the trap. He had ordered strategic portions of the area to be watered using irrigation channels, a few hours earlier, which was unknown to the opposing army and many of its tanks got bogged down, thus becoming sitting ducks for the gunners in his unit.

I have so many questions for him now, but he is no longer around to answer those. For example, did the Lieutenant General in charge of the Western Command at that time consult him before refusing to accept the Chief of Army Staff's 'suggestion' to withdraw up to the river Beas, in the face of the opposing army's superior fire-power and greater numbers and, if so, how did the conversation go? Where did he set up his command post? When (i.e., at what stage of the battle) and how did he come up with the strategy that finally carried the day? How did he and his men ensure the element of surprise? Where, according to him, did the enemy commander go wrong and what did he think of the enemy's strategy? Assuming that he joined service before independence, did he know of any of his former batch-mates on the other side and, if so, what went through his mind when he went to war against them?

Had I known of his achievements earlier, I might have asked.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Public Transport in Faridabad and New Delhi

"Passengers are requested to not sit on the floor."
- An announcement on the Delhi Metro.
That sums up, to a great extent, the dichotomy between the latest addition to public transport that runs on a pair of iron rails in India's national capital region and the older constituents, which, like the Metro, are electric multiple units (commonly known as EMUs). It is not uncommon on the EMUs that travel between Faridabad and New Delhi or even beyond, for instance, for a group of passengers to spread a sheet of cloth on the floor of the carriage and sit down to play cards. Often, they also munch ground-nuts and leave the shells behind. On the Metro, on the other hand, consumption of food and/or drink is prohibited.

Some of the regular commuters on the route have formed bhajan mandlis and recite their prayers loudly every morning and evening, to the accompaniment of musical instruments like the dholak and the chimta. The first member aboard usually unfurls a cloth banner outside the window, for the rest to know which coach to get into. The end of the session is marked by the distribution of prasaad. On the Metro, however, passengers are not even allowed to play music on their mobile phones or iPods.

It appears to me that Delhi Metro Rail Corporation need not have worried too much about any of the above, for most of the passengers on its trains seem to be from the upper middle class and less likely to indulge in such activities (since they tend to be rather conscious of their social status). That could have a lot to do with the fact that the fares for travelling on the Metro are 5-6 times higher than those for the older EMUs.

Then, there are those who hardly ever purchase a ticket to travel on the trains plying between stations in Delhi and its satellite towns. They include ground-nut or poppadom sellers, beggars, and, at times, even performers. The entertainers are generally children with brightly painted cheeks and caps with long plaits attached (which they can spin with dramatic effect, through corresponding movements of their heads), who do a few somersaults on the floor of the train or pass themselves through iron rings, to the accompaniment of a song or two sung by an accomplice who often plays a dholak as well, before they pass the hat around. I suppose they are quite incapable of getting past the Metro's tight security arrangements. That should also apply to the milkmen who carry canisters full of milk, which they load and unload with amazing speed, to various parts of Delhi, every morning, from their villages on the peripheries of the city. They return with the empty vessels in the afternoon.

Similarly, the small-time businessmen who transport consignments on the EMUs without paying for freight are unlikely to be able to do so on the Metro.

So, there already appears to be a distinct class divide between those who travel on the Metro and those who travel on the other EMUs, although an intersection does appear likely in the form of students and others like me who may not make a distinction even when the Metro begins to serve the population of most parts of Delhi and its surrounding areas and both services are in more of a direct competition.