Archive for August, 2013


I am depressed, very depressed. There is so much cynicism all round. It’s difficult to take anything at face value. As journalists we have been mentally tuned to disbelieve anything we are told. Often, that penchant for taking with a pinch of salt anything we are told, has transgressed from our professional lives into our personal.

You can’t really blame people for feeling the way they do. The ordinary citizen is getting squeezed for his last rupee while the corrupt politician is busy raking it in. The ordinary citizen is paying his taxes and then he finds the government blowing it away in daft populist schemes that are only going to increase the burden on the tax-payer.

Of all the hair-brained schemes (MGNREGA, Aadhaar?) this UPA government has come up with, the Food Security Bill has to be the stupidest. I don’t say this because I have any antipathy against the poor and the downtrodden, but because I am convinced that not even five per cent of those living below the poverty line will benefit from this idiotic scheme.

Just like the funds meant for NREGA are being siphoned away by the contractors, the food meant for the poor will be forcibly taken away by the landlords, hoarders and black marketers and sold at double the price in the open market. The worms in white Gandhi caps and their cohorts will steal even the rice that the government promises to give to the poor for three bucks. That is their mentality and that will never change. Scum they are, and scum they remain.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to understand that the Food Security Bill is just a squalid vote-grabbing exercise. No government scheme for the poor since Independence has helped improve their living standards, and neither will this. The PDS is a good example.

There is another troubling fact. Where are we going to find the funds to feed so many? If one heard Sonia Gandhi, it would seem to the whole country that it is not her problem what happens to the tax-payer. The implication in her speech was clear. She needs the money to buy the votes and if she has to ram more taxes down the throat of the tax-paying citizen, so be it. And all this when her son-shady in-law is busy making crores through even shadier deals! So can you really expect the middle class taxing paying voter to trust this government, anymore? More importantly, can you expect them not to be cynical?

And it is not just silly schemes that are leading to this all round depression. In 2008, Mumbai was attacked by a bunch of Pakistanis. Yup, never mind the cock and bull story about “irregulars”. They were Pakistanis and they waded in and set the ‘maximum city’ on fire. The Centre and the State promised a lot to make its citizens feel more secure. Then there were more bomb blasts. We were again told that the State government would (metaphorically speaking) stand on its head to ensure the safety of citizens. Then some idiots with backpacks blew up the German Bakery, killing seventeen people who were probably enjoying their Chocolate Latte or Mocha or whatever. More promises. Then the bombs went off on Jangli Maharaj Road. More promises. If that wasn’t enough, the Pakistani Army kept up its relentless barrage of gunfire on the border, pushing in terrorists into India. And Manmohan Singh and his Cabinet keep telling us that all is well. In this situation, expecting the honest tax-paying citizen not be depressed and cynical is asking a lot of him.

Even an earnest 21-year-old asking for help is looked upon with disdain. This young girl, who teaches in a school for children of the economically weaker sections, sent me an email a week ago to ask me whether, firstly, I could find a journalist to address a bunch of 11-14 year-old from her school on what the future holds for them, and secondly whether she could bring them over to our office to show them what the inside of a newspaper office looks like.

My first response: What does a 14 year-old know about journalism? I was just being me – cynical and condescending.

Another email from her turned the whole issue on its head. It won me over: …8th is an extremely crucial year as that is currently when free education stops. If the kids and their parents aren’t invested enough in the idea of education to pay for a private school, they may drop out. So, because of the limited opportunities the kids already face, we start conversations about achievement, college and opportunities with even a 3rd grade class. Most of my students haven’t ever seen an office of any sort, and apart from what I have told them, have no knowledge as to how a newspaper works. So, I think that this would be pretty beneficial for them.”

Her earnestness won me over. I personally offered to talk to the children at her school and also got an immediate approval from the Editor to show them around the office. And then I thought… if the poor children from this school can actually get out of the cycle of deprivation and poverty and make a better life for themselves, it would be a fitting reply to the idiotic schemes launched by this government for the poor – ones that would only end up making beggars of them, instead of giving them a better life.

So cheer up, things can only get worse from here on…!

Advertisements

On some mornings when I drive my son to school, at most traffic intersections I see young men and women selling lemons and a green chilly tied to a string. I’ve never bought one and don’t intend to, but I see others around me, doing that and then tying it in the front of their cars under the chassis. I’ve always wondered how that can ward off evil. But then, I always think, it’s their beliefs, so who am I to judge them. But what if I had?

Isn’t that why Narendra Dabholkar, the founder president of the Maharashtra Andhshraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, was gunned down? Unlike me and many others, he fought against the ills of superstition, black magic, blind faith, and a lot else. He tried to change the way we think of these ills and paid for it with his life.

We live in a country where people worship anything that bears even a faint resemblance to Him, in his various forms. Over two decades ago, Ganesh idols began to ‘drink’ milk and suddenly everyone was feeding milk by the gallons to the idols. I am sure if Lord Ganesh, himself, had descended on Earth, he would have disapproved of the sheer wastage in his name. But do we dare protest against blind faith?

Remember the time we saw Ramayana (or Ramayan) and Mahabharat on television screens across the country? People would bathe, pray and sit with folded hands before and during the entire episode. These were celluloid characters created by a film maker who had a finger on the pulse of a myopic audience. I have nothing against such serials. By all means let’s watch it. Even I did, because for me, it was mythology brought on the screen and I enjoyed it. But I don’t think I ever took a shower before the serial.

Some of the actors who played leading roles in those serials even won elections because people thought they were voting for Ram and Sita who would deliver them from all evil, give them Ram Rajya. So many decades later the halos have disappeared and those actors have moved on. But as a nation, we are still where we were then – no Ram or Rajya in sight – only Sonia and Manmohan Raj, where petrol is 80 bucks, cooking gas is 400 and onions until recently was 80!

Then there was the film titled Jai Santoshi Maa, which ran to packed houses, where women of all ages danced, sang bhajans, distributed prasad and prayed loudly in theatres during the movie. The lady who played Santoshi Maa, became a household name and people touched her feet wherever she went. If nothing else, it really showed how intelligent we were.

When she was alive, and even after her death, there was a concerted movement by her well wishers to canonise Mother Teresa. There is no denying the fact that the Mother along with her Missionaries of Charity has done tremendous work for the poor, the dying and the downtrodden, first in Kolkata and then all over the country and the world. I believe the jury is still out on this one.

However, while faith, rightly or wrongly, may motivate millions, there is another segment of people, that believes, the only way to stifle opposition or dissent is with blows or bullets. Sadly, it is our leaders who refuse to discourage these things, for fear of a backlash. The Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and Other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Bill, has been stalled by politicians in the State Assembly for many years. It is vote-bank politics at its worst.

Some ministers have been gunning for the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, which has been spearheading the movement against these ills. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has promised to get the bill passed. Let’s see when that will happen. One hopes it will be before another Narendra Dabholkar is felled by the gun of another intolerant Indian.


I don't know the source of this picture, and will happily give them credit.  But it really puts in a nutshell the issue being discussed here.

I don’t know the source of this picture, and will happily give them credit. But it really puts in a nutshell the issue being discussed here.

So the Pune Police Commissioner Gulabrao Pol finally articulated what a lot of us have been saying for years – that Pune’s vehicle owners lack traffic sense and discipline. Earlier, we used to joke that Pune’s traffic has become so bad because of the influx of North Indians, especially motorists from Delhi. But that comment was made more in jest because the national capital has become everyone’s favourite punching bag when it comes to issues about crimes against women or even bad drivers.

However, for Pune’s top cop to make such a statement also mirrors the frustration of the police force in being unable to control the menace of rash driving. Just the other day, while discussing the future of the Buddh Formula 1 circuit in Noida, after F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone pulled out of India, my colleague at the sports desk was telling me about how the race track was doing just fine even without the annual jamboree. It seems the rich and famous from Delhi and the NCR pay out a fancy sum to race their Ferraris, Porsches, Lamborghinis and other mean machines at the Buddh circuit because the roads in Delhi are really not the place where they can keep their foot down on the accelerator! Even there, one has to follow some rules.

But that is Delhi and we aren’t talking mean machines. We are talking about the citizens of Pune using the roads like it is their private racing track, with utter disregard for the law. That there has been a huge spurt in the number of vehicles – both of the two and four-wheeler kind – seen in the city, is obvious. The police chief said there were 12 lakh more vehicles in Pune as compared to Mumbai and everyday 931 vehicles are being added to that number. A few months ago I used to cover the distance of approximately 14 kms from my home to office in 30 to 40 minutes. Today the same distance takes me between 60 and 90 minutes. It’s surely not the state of the roads or the number if vehicles that are alone to blame. It is also the idiot on the road who believes traffic rules are meant for Martians and not Earthlings.

So while I still wait at the traffic intersection behind the zebra crossing, for the lights to turn green, I find others, driving past utterly contemptuous of the law. I also see Pune Police personnel looking on impassively, probably frustrated, because they also know there’s nothing much they can do except penalise someone. And then should they spend their time worrying about directing traffic on a busy intersection or waste time cutting a receipt? That is when you realise that it is not just the citizen, but even the law is an ass.

With nothing stricter than a few hundred rupees as a penalty for flouting traffic rules, no one really cares. Six hundred rupees is the maximum penalty and that is for not carrying valid insurance papers! For offences related to driving alone the fines range from 100 to 500 bucks. Sure you can go to jail for killing someone, but that is an extreme case and even then, it is a bailable offence. You don’t need to be Einstein to figure out why vehicle owners use the roads the way they do. Hundred rupees is small change today for most people. It means a packet of cigarettes less that day or roughly a litre of petrol less. It’s manageable. Just yesterday I was reading that in PCMC the fines for erring vehicle owners are being upped to between Rs 1000 and Rs 5000. That’s a start.

What the Traffic Police in Pune should do instead is to confiscate not just the licence of the erring vehicle owner, but the vehicle as well and then make the offender travel across town to pay the fine.  For example, if the offence is committed at Swargate, the offender should be told to leave his vehicle at the nearest police station, travel to the RTO at Vishrantwadi or a place even further away to pay Rs 1000 as fine, and only then pick up his vehicle – at his own expense. If the offence is committed at Vishrantwadi tell the offender he or she has to pay a fine at some obscure RTO post or police station at the other end of town. And if that means you’re going to be late for a job interview, too bad…The next time you might think twice before breaking the law.

But are Pune’s errant vehicle owners alone to blame for this mess? At the same event on Wednesday, the police chief spoke about the use of crash helmets. He said there are more accidents in Pune than there are in Mumbai, but people refuse to wear helmets. How many police personnel do you see wearing helmets? I have often seen police vehicles drive on the wrong side of the road, and also ignore a red light. When the police department itself treats the law with such contempt, what do they expect the citizens to do?

Unfortunately, even our politicians who frame legislation are only worried about the impact such harsh laws could have on their vote-bank. Traffic safety and lives lost is not really their concern. It’s the guy who stands in line to vote who is their concern. After all, the dead can’t vote.