Friday, October 25, 2013


A reader told me he did not like my last post as much as the earlier ones and I decided to re read again. And I saw my page of rant had hit 10,047 clicks!
While it is a free widget that calculates traffic for me, there is a setting that has allowed me to discount my own clicks, so I figured this is where I should say thank you.
For clicking, reading, commenting, critiquing  and most importantly, sticking by.
When I started scribbling here, I was in J-school and was living in what would be the second in the line of many adopted cities I'd call home.
10,000 visits later, I'm not in school any more, have lived in two countries, four more cities ranging from a couple of months to a couple of years, met scores of new people, had a few adventures of my own and am hopefully somewhat wiser for that.
Eh, I guess the blog will tell if I am. For now, thanks again. Let's move on before this turns into one of those long, doleful thank you notes. It's a Friday, let's bring out the wine!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Things I do not understand. Do you?

I’ve been sick lately, and in the tradition of sickness all over the world, I stayed in bed (or couch) and watched TV and read and wondered as the world passed by. Kind of.  As I was swallowing Amoxicillin and taking shots, the government of the world’s most powerful nation shut down, a leader in the world’s biggest democracy cried “mummy”, Mahalaya (and so, Durga Puja) settled in, another Gandhi Jayanti came and went, Jhumpa Lahiri brought out yet another book to talk about identity loss among second and later generation immigrants, mad men killed almost 70 people in Nairobi, Tom Clancy died, there was a car chase in D.C, and I re-learnt the use of the Oxford comma. I also realized there are some things I never understood well and ask as I may, have never really gotten good answers to. Worse, I've been carrying around some of these for years and have debated and fought over with friends every single time we’ve met over chai, but be that as it may, there have never been satisfactory answers. I’ll list some here, not is order of preference. If you know the whys and hows, do tell:

   We’ll start with the Government shutdown: apart from the fact that no one should be totally surprised by it, no matter how outrageous the concept, I never really understood the opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. I've very little political sympathies; my question is based on general curiosity. Everyone understands the concept of universal healthcare, and from what I read, Obamacare is broadly based on the premise that those who can afford to, will pay more in taxes so that that money can be used to expand health coverage to those who cannot afford to get it. Mitt Romney used this model and it was successful. So it can’t be a Democrat/Republican thing. So what is the deal? And whatever it is, is it worth shutting the Government down over? My tax refunds are stranded because the office is closed. Come on, now.
For those of you who want a ready reckoner, I think this is easy. If I share the other stuff I read on Obamacare, you’ll think me mad for reading that through a fever. But I did re read Harry Potter and Famous Five, so we’re good. Meaning to say, I’m not a nerd. Ok, maybe a little.
I also don’t totally get the transformation of the Republicans into conservatives. I mean, given that this is Lincoln’s party, won’t you think they’d be more tolerant? Yeah fine, he was a moderate and this is no more Lincoln’s party than the Congress in India is Gandhi’s, but I still can’t help wondering. About both.

 Somewhat related, but more broadly, here’s a rider to question 1. Why do we grumble so much about paying taxes? If we pay up, they get to have money to do stuff like build schools, roads, get potable water and feed the army. Of course, if you’re a corrupt Indian politician you’ll eat up all that money and build a bridge that breaks in two months, but those who think that is reason enough to grumble about paying taxes, what is your better solution?
Also, from what I see, corruption is an unavoidable by-product of democracy. Even of autocracy, but the point is, as long as there are taxes, how is it unfair to say that the rich should pay more than the poor?
And while at it, how on earth do we think we can demand better trains, roads and other public facilities but not pay for those? Strictly in the Indian context, we yelp every time they raise fuel rates. Even those of us who read the papers and know that India subsidizes fuel to a fault.  Or public transport charges. So what do we really want? World class service at rates that were good in the 1950s? And when the government says that cannot be done, they are no good. Sure.

  Talking about public transport made me think of this fight between aesthetics and utility. I visited Jamaica recently and found out that the big cities there (at least the two I visited) are very much like the tier two cities in India. The roads are potholed; the bazaars a melee of make-shift stalls put together in a haphazard way, there's a lot of use of plastic, even the Caribbean could have been so much more attractive if they’d beautified it more. I see the same in India: we have so much prettiness, but we take it for granted and do nothing to conserve it. And we’re always shouting about how beautifying things are a waste of money. On my last visit home I found out that the chief of a state that is not doing very well had installed street lights and put a fresh coat of paint on structures that had been discolored by paan stains for decades. I thought residents would be happy about it, but local university boys (and their fathers) were grumbling the same: if you have no money, why spend it on beautification? Ok, so no one’s really saying starve to make yourself look good, but as a state (or a country) trying to impress investors, I’d think a well-lit street, an international standard airport and a city that does not look impoverished are important. Why do we always think utility and aesthetics have to be mutually exclusive? When I looked at the reading room in the Library of Congress, with its airy room and stained glass windows and oculus, I wanted to spend time there and read. When I looked into a classroom in Calcutta University with its broken furniture and cobwebbed halls, I wanted to write my epitaph. I know great minds have come from both places but there has to be a reason why Washington built that city so beautifully and why they have a “reflecting pool” outside the Capitol, right? Or why Apple spends so much time over design and looks? If just utility was everything, they wouldn't spend so much time, energy and money on beautification. And Keats wouldn't write Endymion.

 I’m also getting a little tired of the Modi vs Rahul G shout outs. At one point I’d wished they’d put out Gadkari/Kumar and Chidambaram as candidates but despite what the Economist said, a small part of my head knew it was wishful thinking. RG suddenly woke up from his slumber and like a high school student, ranted against the potential ordinance. While I support the rant, I laughed out loud when I read about how he did it, and how he returned to salvage himself. If you still need your mom to tell you that using words like “nonsense” at a presser is wrong, I don’t know what to say. I laughed. Yes, I laugh when my brain freezes. It helps the brain unfreeze. And then he thought it is fine to somehow salvage his situation by the feeble excuse of his being “young”. My cousin of 18 is young. RG, you’re 43, for god’s sake. I am almost as scared to see you as my chief as I am your opponent.

 This will bring me to my eternal gripe. Why will people not read? How are these two related, you ask? Here’s how: Julius Caesar. Gharey Bairey. Godaan. The Mahabharat. Grapes of Wrath. To Kill a Mockingbird. Great Expectations. Every single piece of good literature (fiction, even if autobiographies get too tedious) have taught us, no spelled it out for us. That the fear of missing out is not the same as support. That not thinking is not a good thing. That the “fool multitude” does not know. That tempestuousness is not the same as patriotism. That no greater good comes out of cheating yourself.  That the only thing new on earth is the history that we do not know. That was Harry Truman, by the way. Yet, like idiots, we go on repeating the same mistakes. Is it because it is important for every person to make their own mistakes and then understand? But surely, learning from someone else’s mistake is the more effective way? I don’t know, I’m asking. And if reading helps sort out so many problems, why won’t we still do it? All great men and women do. They run countries, invent life-changing things, make history and still find time to read. We copy-paste software codes or stuff we hope will pass off for "thesis" (and often don’t even get paid for the extra hours) and claim we don’t have time.  

    This list is making me sad, and adding to it is going to make it longer still, so I’ll stop now. I’m thinking I’ll deal with the other questions in part II. Let’s see. For now, I’m going to go laugh my brain freeze off.

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..