Archive for June, 2010

When we were in school, the day we had our class test results or had not done our homework, most of us would reach school wearing plastic bags, rubber sheets and even note books inside our pants! That wasn’t because we feared soiling ourselves, but because slackers invariably got “six of the best” and it reduced the agony of resting on our laurels for the rest of the day. The trick was to wear reinforced underwear in a way that it was never detected. It was a part of the growing up process in a boy’s school.

“Six of the best” was the ultimate pain we suffered in school and we accepted it as punishment for not doing our homework or messing up our class tests. Some of the teachers used something called a “Flat” which was shaped like a cricket bat, but with dimensions of a table tennis bat. It hurt a lot less than a cane because it covered a larger area but it still hurt.

It was hilarious watching peers sticking their bottoms out to get six of the best and walk away smiling. That was a mistake some students made. The smart ones pretended to be hurt and made painful faces, so the teacher in a rare moment of pity reduced the caning! Quite a few of our teachers never figured out how we could walk away unconcerned after a caning, till someone ‘snitched’! Then it was back to the drawing board, devising new ways to escape the punishment.

I remember two teachers in particular under whom a lot of us ‘suffered’. There was a Mr Dawson who had a cane that was carved. One on the bottom with that piece of furniture and the mark remained engraved for a week. The other was Mr Wright who tonked any part of your body within reach. The folklore is that one day Mr Dawson’s cane broke as he was using it on a student, and it was given a befitting burial under the school building which was then being constructed.

Sure, we didn’t like it. No one likes getting caned in all those sensitive places but it was part of the growing up process in a boy’s school and no one complained – unless in an extreme (and rare) case the teacher went overboard. At the most we shed a few tears in the toilet but I don’ think suicide ever crossed our minds.

Remember the Jungle Jim in school where we would all think we were Tarzan and leap from one bar to another? Well it lay in the open ground ravaged by the elements day after day and it was never cleaned. Every day we would be up there playing on it. The thought that it could cause lead poisoning or rust poisoning never crossed our minds. If we did hurt ourselves on it, off we went to the school infirmary or the family doctor and got our shots of anti-tetanus. It was the most normal thing in the world. Most of my peers are healthy and kicking today, even after inadvertently swallowing all the lead.

When we were kids, my mother, maybe once a week or on special occasions, asked my brother and I what we would like to eat. On most other days we ate what was put in front of us without questioning and if we did ask, we were told “it is good for health!” In other words, just eat what is on your plate!

My wife taught in a well-known school in Lucknow and every year around the time the results were due, parents would drop in home with sweets and gifts or accost her in school, with demands to improve the grades of their wards! She told me about the time a parent pleaded with her to increase seven marks in his son’s examination aggregate so he could be first in class. The reason – the kid had “NEVER come second in his life and would not be able to take it!”

When the school refused because it would not be fair to the student who was first, the parent pleaded that they could then at least ensure that both students stood first! When that didn’t work, entreaties turned to threats. He said he would withdraw his son from school if the impossible was not done. The school still refused and the parent did pull his son out! The boy was then in the 6th Standard. I wondered how this kid would ever go through life if he ever came second in anything!

Another student of the same school, who was in 4th Standard told his parents not to send the driver with their Maruti 800 to pick him up after school. He got an inferiority complex because the other kids came and left in much more expensive cars!

I tease my wife about following Dr Benjamim Spock’s methods on bringing up children. She will ask our son what he would like for lunch or dinner. So the kid now believes he has the right of refusal if he doesn’t like something! So how have things changed in the past so many years?

I don’t think we ever considered leaping off the terrace of the school building as the ultimate solution. I’m sorry if I sound callous here but I do think that, to a large extent, as parents we are to blame for the situation our kids find themselves in today. Have we become extra-protective and over-sensitized to things? Is it also the single child syndrome, where parents bend over backwards to do anything for their child? You tell me…


Our kids, who have it all (and more) and still complain about how life is a bitch, should take a leaf out of Pooja Hule’s book.

Pooja is a student who appeared for the SSC examinations recently. Nothing unusual about that you might say. But here’s where our kids can stop a while and think before they whine on about life and how the whole world is conspiring against them; about how much they have to study, no time to play, complain about their teachers, school, college, Mess food, distances, etc etc.

In 2005, Pooja was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis, a genetically inherited disorder in which the nerve tissue grows tumours that could be harmless or may cause serious damage by compressing nerves and other tissues.

This disorder caused certain blocks in her spinal cord which needed surgery. After surgery, the doctors realised that the problem not only pertained to her spinal cord but had also affected her brain. In 2007, she underwent three brain surgeries.

Due to the frequent surgeries she lost her hearing. Soon she started losing strength and her legs grew weak. All these circumstances led to her withdrawing from school. But her love towards studies and school knew no bounds and her parents got her admitted her into a girl’s school for the physically and mentally challenged.

Even as Pooja continued her struggle with educating herself, she suffered another blow. A paralytic stroke left her right hand numb and without any sensation. But the determination to prove herself kept her going and she started learning to write with her left hand and appeared for her SSC examinations without a writer. She got 83 per cent. Incidentally, her father is an autorickshaw driver and her mother is a homemaker.

(This story appeared in a Marathi newspaper a few days ago, and Aishwarya Kadam, a student of of mine, doing journalism at SIMC translated it into English. I just thought it was worth recounting here)

Trust the politicians to indulge in their silly games of one-upmanship and buck-passing over the Bhopal gas tragedy. When they should have been going after Union Carbide and Dow Chemicals, they’re going after each other. While the farce continues, over whether Rajiv knew or didn’t know about Anderson’s flight out of India, the real issues – proving succour to the sufferers and extradition on Anderson to India – has taken the backseat.

Rajiv Gandhi is up there with Him (or down there, as some others would have us believe), so even if he did, does it really matter, anymore? The two people – one being Rajiv himself and the other P.V. Narasimha Rao – who knew the answer to this question, are both dead. So you can interview all the bureaucrats who served under them and unless someone actually says he informed the prime minister, it’s always going to be hearsay. Of course, when did that stop the politicians from flying off on a tangent?

If Rajiv really didn’t know, it casts him in even poor light – that of a prime minister who didn’t know what his chief ministers and bureaucrats were doing. Even worse is the fact that the CMs took decisions without informing him or even taking his permission. It doesn’t do much for Rajiv’s credibility as a leader of the largest democracy in the world.

I’ve always been an admirer of Rajiv – not because he was Indira Gandhi’s son, but because I think it took guts to take up the job of running the country, post the riots. And the fact that he was an honest man-made it all the more difficult in an environment where a lot of people didn’t care too much for the basic tenets of law and justice.

Compared to his mother, who was in every sense a politician – cunning, conniving and crooked, Rajiv basically seemed an honest guy and a gentleman. The problem was a lot of the people around him were leftovers from his late mother’s regime, and all just like her. They – the politicians and bureaucrats – who branded him a crook, didn’t do so because they knew he was one, but probably because they knew that once branded a crook, he would spend his time fighting off the allegations. It would ensure that he stayed out of their way and allow them to pursue their one-act agenda of making money. That is exactly what happened, till he was cleared of all charges on the floor of the Lok Sabha.

In that scenario to run a country, must have been a difficult task. As the Bofors deal proved after doing the rounds of the various inquiry commissions and being flogged to death by the media these 25 years or so, was that Rajiv had not taken a penny in the deal. So while he was basically an honest man, or at least so it emerges from various accounts heard and read, he was pretty naive and inexperienced in his early years as Prime Minister. And by the time he figured out a few things he was gone.

While I agree that the manner, in which the events that occurred after the Bhopal gas disaster were handled, was very amateurish, nailing Rajiv is hardly the solution. To first arrest Warren Anderson and then escort him out of the country was one of the dumbest things to do – especially, when he was assured safe passage into and out of India by the government. But, it still wasn’t as dumb as the NDA Government’s decision to allow the terrorists in IC 814 to refuel and then let them fly off to Kandahar!

Carbide ruling – so much for justice

Posted: June 8, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

I hate to say I told you so, but I did say in August, last year, that the Bhopal gas victims were wasting their time, pursing a case which would bring them no relief -psychological or financial.

But I was shouted down by my well-meaning friends who castigated me for being uncaring and not recognising the fight for justice. My point was that victims should fight for financial relief instead of dragging people to court with the intention of sending them to jail. It made no sense fighting a 25-year-old case which was never going to help the victims.

And I believe the court ruling on Monday has proved just that. All those who were found guilty were out on bail within minutes. The near senile CEO Warren Anderson will NEVER make an appearance in an Indian court, because the US Government would never allow that.

And I’m not rubbing salt in the wounds of those who fought long and hard for justice, but if the survivors had asked for an enhanced financial relief package (apart from the $ 470 million they received initially) they might have got it, because the Americans would have paid, more out of a misplaced sense of guilt and pressure from lobbies within the US. But court cases, as the present one has proved, don’t matter an iota to a company like that because they have enough money and time to spend.

And look at what the US government said – that they don’t expect the verdict to reopen any new inquiries. They also hope this will bring the whole thing to an end! Is it their way of saying that sometimes pragmatism works better than sentiment?

What is interesting is the comment of a survivor, Rashida Bi, who I saw on TV saying that maybe it’s time the survivors too picked up a gun, because it seems the government only listens to those who hold them to ransom. Does everything have to end with a bullet? This could only happen in India…

India’s bureaucracy is the most inefficient in Asia, says Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy as reported in rediff. You might well ask, ‘what’s new?’

The report talks about the problems investors face with red tape. But is that all there is to this “inefficient bureaucracy?” The fact is when we’ve been handed down a system which has flourished for so long in Great Britain, so why look to change it – especially since it keeps all the bureaucrats in the lap of comfort (if not luxury), and most of the people in the country eking out a hand-to-mouth existence?

Some years ago, when the BJP was in power, a national magazine did a story on the ministries that were bleeding the government dry. The Heavy Industry ministry was one such and the report said that even the minister concerned had said that his ministry was a white elephant and should be shut down, because it served no purpose. Suddenly a spate of stories appeared in the media of the ‘good work’ being done by the ministry.

The thing is the babus are so well entrenched and experienced in the art of juggling fact and figures and keeping ministers in check, that by the sixth month in office most ministers are house-trained! The babus know exactly what to make the minister say and not to say. So which minister is ever going to talk about reforming the civil service? As fictional civil servant Humphrey Appleby, said in Yes Prime Minister, “Reorganizing the Civil Service is like drawing a knife through a bowl of marbles.” In other words, it’s an exercise in futility!

Doesn’t this huge bureaucratic machinery know that every single government – Central or State – managed scheme is a failure, because of a colossal mismanagement of funds? And if they want to end the wastage of funds, they can. But they won’t, because that would amount to cutting the ground beneath their feet.

The other day I read a lead story in a ‘national’ daily, which fawned over the redoubtable Mrs G and the formation of the NAC, and how it intended to deliver on its plank of social justice or some such nonsense. I was appalled at the story and how it had been displayed. When the media itself plants such stuff, how can they ever write against the slothful bureaucracy?

Take the NREGA or The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. It is a complete sham. For a man who never believed that no job was below his dignity, he must surely be turning in his grave!

Someone who was working with NGOs sometime back gave me some very interesting feedback on the NREGA. They spent an evening with some NREGA workers who told them how it was a hollow programme, meant just to push Rahul Gandhi into the limelight. The scheme was supposed to give them 100 days of work. But on an average it granted them 12-15 days of employment and that depended on how lucky they got. Usually the NREGA failed to work in areas where it should really have been. Here, it was the local contractors and agents who provided work on a contractual basis. When one of the NREGA workers tried to question the person who distributed the funds, they were told the money was used for some “very important” purpose, so it was never provided to them!

In another instance another official said that if someone took a walk along the corridors of the Writer’s Building in Kolkata one would find files that were being eaten away by rats, and rotting in rooms with high ceilings. She said that these papers which contained details of such government schemes go back over a decade.

Like the NREGA, in almost every other scheme, the funds supposed to help the poor go into paying the salaries of the workers, while quite a bit of the rest is pocketed by middlemen. The ones who should be getting the funds because their very survival depends on it are not getting it. Since they don’t know any better they go along with the false promises that they are offered within the pamphlets and live in hope.

The Late Rajiv Gandhi once said that out of every ten rupees which were meant for the poor, they ended up getting just one rupee. The other nine rupees were pocketed by middlemen and officials along the way. He wanted to disband the PDS and take a relook at other such schemes. These very schemes are now being actively promoted by Rahul Gandhi in the villages of Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere. It’s hard to believe that neither the politician nor the bureaucracy knows these facts.

When I read the story in the Hindustan Times a few days ago about children in Uttar Pradesh eating mud and being in the final stages of malnutrition, it didn’t surprise me at all. Not because we are a poor country, but because the money meant for the people never reaches them and is instead used to pay the salaries of the bureaucrats and line the pockets of others.

What choice do the kids have, anyway? Somewhere kids eat mud, and elsewhere other kids eat lizards, cockroaches and rats, because they haven’t got roti, dal and rice, which should have come to them from the government. And in some places mothers are busy selling their infants, because they have too many mouths to feed. And that is what they will continue to do, for the next 63 years, because the politicians and government officials want it that way. It’s a sorry state of affairs in a country with a population of one billion plus and growing. Is it any wonder that the Indian bureaucracy is the most inefficient?

“Sometimes they come so close, you can touch them,” was the forest guide’s comment, as a lion cub walked past the car, without even as much as a look at us.

We were in the Gir sanctuary and we had stopped the Gypsy in a culvert to watch two lionesses and their cubs playing near the water. One of the cubs, after wrestling with a sibling, broke away and ran towards the car. It stared at us, growled and then strolled away probably realising we weren’t worth the trouble.

Gir wasn’t on our itinerary at all. Once we had reached Udaipur from Mount Abu, and after spending a day there, we had planned to start on our trip back to Pune. That was when we decided to drive to Gir, because I didn’t know if we would get the opportunity to make it again.

Calculating the distance – 584 kms – it didn’t seem a very difficult drive. I was sure we would easily make it there by 4 pm, if we left at our usual 6.30 am departure, taking into account our usual halts for breakfast, lunch and tea. So at 6.20 am the next day we were off. Once we cleared Udaipur City limits, we reached the NH 8 bypass. Soon we were cruising along.
Once we left Rajasthan behind, and entered Gujarat, we stopped for breakfast at an eatery with an intriguing name – Asopalav. It gave us a pretty decent masala dosa and tea…is well tea! But it had very clean toilets and was generally well maintained.

Apart from the marvellous roads, what we also found interesting in Gujarat was in every major town, auto-rickshaws were run on CNG. How I wished some politicians in Maharashtra would have the guts to implement such a system in the State. We would be able to breathe cleaner air.

We discovered this very cute vegetarian hotel called Lotus in Junagadh and parked there for the night. The rooms were a revelation, and very comfortable, but the food wasn’t anything to write home about. The next day we set off for Gir, which was 57 kms away. Eighty minutes later we were at Gir Jungle Lodge, a lovely motel just off the road to the sanctuary.
At the sanctuary, we had a fruitless afternoon and were coming back disappointed – unless, you can count seeing a lion and lioness some 200 metres away in the thicket, as a ‘sighting’. As we reached the fag end of the safari, the driver of our jeep stopped to talk to a forest officer, who asked us if we had any sightings. Seeing our obviously crestfallen faces, he pointed to a spot behind us. There she was lolling on the ground.

Soon she got up and walked under the cover of the foliage till she reached an opening. Then she waited. We waited too our engines running but the animal didn’t move from her spot. It was then we realised that she was probably waiting for us to go past before crossing the road. So we requested the driver to shut off the engine. The minute the engine died, she looked once in our direction and walked across the jeep. It was an amazing sight. Even in the jungle, wild animals observe the law, unlike us humans, who don’t do it anywhere!

The next morning we were back, hoping to get twice as lucky. At one point we waited for almost half an hour because the driver of another car told us there were some lions coming our way. And emerging from the bushes, were a pride of lionesses with cubs in tow and walked ahead of us and disappeared down the road.

A little while later, as we turned into a culvert we were greeted by the sight of at least half a dozen cubs, playing around at a watering hole, with their mothers lolling nearby. Two of the cubs began to wrestle and then ran towards our jeep. They came to a few feet of us and growled, then probably decided, we were just the ubiquitous interfering humans, and continued their wrestling. I guess our holiday had been a roaring success!

We left Gir the next day and reached Vadodara, where we stayed the night. The next day we left for Pune and had an unpleasant journey back. First we got stuck in a traffic jam near Bharuch and then saw an accident right in front of us. When we should have reached by 4 pm, we ended up reaching at 11.30 pm. From the sublime it was time for the ridiculous…