Sunday, February 14, 2010

Aladin and Four Dacoits


Irrespective of how strongly you wanted to come to an alien land to pursue your goals or dreams, sooner or later, you are bound to feel homesick. I remember missing home so much that I almost decided to pack my bags within days of starting my course at the university. It took a few good Indian friends (and an attractive Turkish woman) to hold me back. Yet another factor that tacitly helped was an Indian grocery store. I am sure this is what every foreigner looks for in an alien land. The usual chawal, daal, rajma (and for some of you buttermilk!!); a particular sauce or condiment, the aroma inside the store would give us the sense of familiar comfort ... an illusion that little has changed ... a feeling that life is and will be as usual ... a desperate attempt to cling onto your past. I was no exception frequenting the local Indian stores ... familiar appetizers, familiar spices, Bollywood movies on the shelves. Now imagine the excitement if it was a 'Bengali' grocery store! Think about all the eclectic fish (ilish, pabda, parshey, rui, mourola) and vegetables (thor, mocha, chalkumro, laal chaak). Now add a Bengali restaurant to this grocery store, and you have a little peace of immigrant heaven in a foriegn land. A sumptuous spread containing bhaat, daal, alu chochhori, machher jhol, mangsher jhol … ending with mishti doi, roshogolla, bow(n)de … you won't feel the need to go anywhere else. This is exactly how I felt when I first visited Los Angeles with friends in the winter of 2004. Someone directed us to a local restaurant serving Bengali food. In a city were roads are congested, directions are confusing and drivers worse than anywhere else in the country, the fact that we were very tired and hungry did not help. It was dark, cold and raining. On top of it, the directions turned out (not to my surprise, considering the source) to be 'slightly' incorrect. It seemed as if HE was stacking up all kinds of odds against us to prevent us from getting to our 'promised land'. After going round and round inside the Hollywood maze (remember these were pre-GPS days), we were almost ready to give up, when we accidentally found our destination ... a small shop right next to a non-descript strip-mall on a dirty road in Hollywood that read

‘ALADIN SWEETS AND MARKET'

Rushing into the store right away, we were greeted with smiling faces speaking Bengali. The air was filled with the aroma of a cocktail of Bengali savory delicacies, that were already on display. Being stuck in the not-so-populated (and not-so-popular) Midwest for over 4 years, entering a world that offered freshwater Bengali fish, familiar Bengali sweets and a menu that read … BIRIYANI was something beyond my wildest imagination at that time. “Where is the God’s name are we” … I asked myself … “Is this real?” We spent two hours in the restaurant ordering possibly every decent dish they had on their menu. I wished and wished and wished to be able to be within 100 miles of this place, so that I can stuff myself with these anytime I wished to (and that in American lingo means "anytime during the weekend"). Well someone heard and within a couple of years, I was back there ... this time permanently. Not only that, my apartment happens to be a few blocks away from it.

An atheist as I am, I now believe there is a God of Gastronomical Delight.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Mujhe Gussa Kyon Ata Hay - Part 1

My friend lost his fiancĂ©e on Christmas Day because a reckless driver, while speeding with an SUV on the wrong side of the freeway, landed up in a head-on-collision with her car. The driver had prior violations and convictions that included driving without a valid license, speeding and a DUI. On Saturday, he was driving with a suspended license and in being investigated if he was drunk. According to me, this guy should be brought to the city center and hanged until death in full view of the public in order to make an example for all those who think drinking and driving is OK, speeding is fun or driving like a maniac is some kind of real life video game. However, in reality, ‘the greatest country on earth’ will cite several articles and amendments of its constitution that give him full rights and benefits of his citizenship, get him a cushy lawyer who will spin all kinds of stories to prove this man's innocence and then he will be tucked comfortably behind bars to spend (I am hoping) for a long time on taxpayers money, which includes contributions from the woman that he has just killed. And then … life will go on … with speeding, reckless driving and DUI continuing to remain a part of this country’s tradition … an evil that is denounced on paper but fully practiced and … for some mysterious reason … never attempted to be completely eliminated.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Noble Nobel

Here are some of the comments that I collected from Orkut, Facebook, Chats etc. from some of my friends in response to Barrack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

Me: NObama!!

Aniket: YES WE CAN win the Nobel Prize!!

Sayandip: Its the 'Nobel Piss Prize' because it has pissed almost everyone.

Aniket: Obama should just be given the Oscar for the best actor, the Emmy, the Pulitzer, the knighthood..... just every damn award that man can think of... Only then.. yes.. only then will mere mortals stand a chance to compete!

Deepankar: nobama pelo peace prize for thinking about increasing troop levels to afghanistan.....next year its going to be the chinese premier for protecting the sovereing rights of the uighurs and the tibetans.....maybe narendra modi after that year for maintaining peace by threatening to kill muslims and anybody who's against him.

Me: Those of you who wish to be considered for the next years' Nobel Peace Prize, please send in your entries for the lucky draw.

Aniket: I was supposed to win it this year for not fighting with my wife.

Me: I was supposed to win it this year for not INTENDING TO fight with my wife.

Me: I also WANT TO develop the Grand Unified Field Theory ... errrr ... can I get next year's Nobel Prize in Physics?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dear President Elect Obama ...


Congratulations! I am sure you have heard this word over a million times in the past 3 weeks but your victory is so significant that one cannot help but start a conversation with this. It indeed was a historic moment in ways more than one. However, it is sad that even after 8 years in this country (and as surprising as it may seem … legally) I had absolutely no way of taking part in the debate, discussion or the decision making. So, I thought the only way to communicate with you and share my thoughts would be through this open letter.

As your team comes out of the euphoria … as the excitement dies down … as everyone starts getting back to their usual political life and ways … the real challenge starts. Your website has listed several issues most notably economy, healthcare, war in Iraq and global leadership that will serve as the primary focus of your presidency. Sadly, issues will remain issues unless a majority of Americans, irrespective of their identities, can agree on the basic fundamentals. It was Vice-President Cheney who once said that one needs the support of only 51% of the people to become a leader. The reason you could win in spite of the South or the conservatives or disgruntled HIllary Clinton supporters was because you inspired a large chunk of predominantly young liberal crowd who were, up until now, disenfranchised largely by the political process of this country rather than the dogmatic positions that the conservatives adopt. Just like your predecessors, you were compelled to win through majority and not consensus. I may sound unreasonable, but this looks to me precisely the old Washington ways that you have sworn to bring down. Throughout your campaign I heard you boldly say time and again that there are no red states or blue states … there is the United States of America. This may have been a source of great electoral inspiration but campaigning is over and now would be the right time to make the candid admission (even if it is to yourself) that, in fact, your assertion about the unity of this country is quite the opposite. "United States of America" should be the final goal of your presidency and not its foundation or starting point. This country is as divided as a nation could possibly be. There is very much a Left and Right America, a Rich and Poor America, a White and Black America, a Native and Immigrant America … to say the least. Americans love to choose sides and adhere to opposing views ... to the point where this becomes a part of their identity, irrespective of the actual position and the ironies and inconsistencies that come with it. A notable example is the issue of ‘abortion’ … one of the most hotly debated topics in any election (unless it is stumped by the receding or failing economy). I am surprised how comfortably the American people and media continue to refer to these ideological positions as “pro-life” and “pro-choice”! People who claim to be pro-life would fight with you until hell freezes over using either logic or the Bible and argue strongly argue that human life begins at ‘conception’ (the concept of which, pun intended, still eludes my partly biological mind) and that it should be treated as such. They are not deterred by the hot sun or the wet weather or the snow and would stand for hours with a sign on Main Street voicing their vehement opposition to such practices and demanding a u-turn on Roe v. Wade. Tired and hungry after the exhaustive experience, they would then walk right next door into the local steakhouse … order a flat-iron or rib-eye and munch down with utmost satisfaction the sanctity of another life … with a pinch of salt and may be with a bit of Worcestershire sauce. On the other hand, the ‘pro-choice’ people who claim that it is the right of the child-bearing mother and her only to decide to terminate the life of her unborn child would stand under the umbrella of organizations such as PETA and argue how it is unethical to terminate the lives of laboratory animals, even it meant inching towards to finding a cure to the most horrific diseases that still plague humankind. According to them, the female is free to terminate a human life but the professor, who has devoted his life to finding a cure to cancer, would not be able to do so with his lab rats! Bringing people, who love to compete on almost anything and everything, together for one cause at this point looks like an insurmountable task. However, the choice is yours and yours only on whether you are going to be at the dead center (like Bill Clinton) … drive so close to the double-yellow lines that one would spend 8 years on the freeway on cruise control … never to take an exit either way and go somewhere. If you intend to be different, you may start by yelling at them “Hey … you guys!! The jury is still out there. So, so stop telling us what’s right and what’s wrong!!” It would be dandy, Mr. President Elect, if you were to then hold these juvenile squabblers by their ears and force them sit down and at least listen to one another and acknowledge the argument of the other side, even if they don’t agree on it. And while you are at it … would you please use your ‘executive powers’ to make them rename their positions as “pro-human life” and “pro-female choice”?

The Democratic Party has long touted itself to be a “party of inclusion” (it’s not surprising how it has seamlessly “included” of millions of illegal immigrants in my state of California and passed on the burden to the legal taxpayers, republicans and democrats alike). As a candidate of this party, your campaign soared to victory over the wings of hope and the wind of change. Considering the historic significance of this situation, I don’t think I would be out of the line to expect that come January 20th, when you raise your right hand to read your oath … your left hand will not be placed on the Bible. Just as you will still be the president of the millions of Republicans who did not vote for you … you will also be the president of the hundreds of thousands of Jews, Muslims, Hindus and dare I say, agnostics and atheists. Mr. President Elect, you will be their president too and using the Bible to bring on the wind of change or send across the message of inclusion just does not sit right. My suggestion? Use Plato’s Republic.

Sincerely,

An Alien

Thursday, August 14, 2008

This is how it started ...

Unarguably, the most important event of the 20th century was World War II. Overall, the historians agree than it started officially in September 1939, with the German invasion of Poland and subsequent declarations of war on Germany by the United Kingdom, France and the British Dominions. It went on for six years straight and took away the lives of 60 million people of this planet. It presented the world with concepts such as genocide and ethnic cleansing, reducing the Jewish population on this planet by more than half. Lastly, the emotional and mental trauma that humanity had to endure as a result of this war will take centuries to properly heal and be forgotten. We have elephant’s memory when it comes to tragedy. Even today when a Muslim refers to how Richard the Lionheart butchered their people during the crusade 800 years back, I don’t foresee the animosity resulting out of such bitter events to fade away anytime soon. Thus, more than what these events cause in the present, the potential fallout that they may have on the future of our race is what makes them critically important.

Looking back, I am sure if the allied nations must have thought that if only they had picked up the early warning signs that this as not going to be just another war, they would have acted differently and prevent this catastrophe. When Hitler became the German chancellor in 1933 and in open defiance of the Treaty of Versailles started remilitarizing Germany … that should have drawn their attention. When he started giving hate speeches based on his racist doctrine ... started talking about a global empire fulfilling his lifelong ambition of world domination by his so-called ‘Aryan’ people … that should have raised their eyebrows. Finally, eleven months before the official start of the war, when Germany invaded Czech Sudetenland in October, 1938 ... that should have been the early warning sign that it needs to be stopped ... through aggressive negotiation and, if need be, military confrontation. Instead, Stalin shamelessly signed an official treaty with Nazi Germany where they freely looted and plundered the weaker Eastern European nations and the Baltic States. The ever-aristocratic British under Chamberlain (and the French led by Daladier) tried to engage in a dialogue with Hitler to find a middle ground in this insanity. This only fueled Hitler’s confidence and strengthened his resolve and, finally, in open defiance to all deals, treaties and natural and social laws, pushed us into the most devastating global conflicts humanity has ever witnessed.

63 years after the end of this war when I would like to believe that we have come a long way and socially evolved into a different species, I sadly witness the that phrase “History teaches us nothing” is not just a clichĂ©. As the Russian tanks march through South Ossetia, I feel magically drawn towards its similarity with the events surrounding the German invasion of Sudentenland. Instead of being apologetic for violating the sanctity of another sovereign nation, for making the United Nations look pointless, and, for forming a precedent for any nation to single-handedly occupy territories that are disputed bilaterally … they started bombing the Georgian mainland. They have blatantly admitted that they are not even open to discussing giving Sudetenland back to the Georgians and feel that Abkazhia should follow South Ossetia in seceding from the Georgian nation. Again, you would think that there would be checks and balances and that the other superpowers in the world would jump in and do what’s right and justified. Apart from all the meaningless anti-Russian rhetoric that has been flowing around, nothing concrete has been done. France, as usual, went the diplomatic route and hastily brokered a peace deal, which only the Georgians (getting their butt royally kicked) seem to be complying with, while the Russians, while ‘being a part of the deal” are doing whatever they wish to at this point. United States, as usual, is watching it with a cautious eye. With their military powers spread thin fighting two unnecessary war … one in the name of futile revenge in Afghanistan and the other in the name of cheap oil in Iraq … the Government has ruled out any military action. The situation would have been totally different if South Ossetia had been sitting on oil. They then would have found hundreds of reasons to go to war. Remember all the flow charts and the satellite images that Collin Powell made at the floor of the UN to falsely justify the invasion of Iraq?

While we celebrate our independence day, take a moment to imagine a situation where Pakistani tanks are rolling into Srinagar or the Chinese army entering Arunachal Pradesh and starting to bomb New Delhi … and we are made to hopelessly wait while the world engages in round table discussions with the enemy!! I am sure your blood has started to boil at this thought and you are immediately thinking about our weapons arsenal and the great Indian Armed forces … but pause for a second and think that not every country may afford to take on the Russian army head on …

This is exactly how it started … and if we don’t stop it right now … the end might just be a bit more brutal than last time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Mayonnaise Jar and 2 Cups of Coffee...

One of my office colleagues forwarded this message to me and I thought it was simply splendid. Instead of people cursing back at you for sending them forwarded emails ... let it be here for the accidental peeker ...

"When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee. A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous 'yes.' The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

'Now,' said the professor as the laughter subsided, 'I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things---your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions---and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else---the small stuff. 'If you put the sand into the jar first,' he continued, 'there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you. 'Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first ... the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."


One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled and said, 'I'm glad you asked.' The coffee just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, here's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Latest Traitor

As the political weather of India went 'nuclear' hot this week, lots of fools like us were glued to their television screens, trying to catch every bit of news piece and finally, the much awaited debate. Even though it seemed that the members of the house were passionately debating issues and the stand of their respective political parties, it was hopelessly fixed. They made up their mind even before they went inside the house and asked their representatives to defend the party line and condemn any opposing views, even if it made complete sense. In order to enforce this directive and also to prevent abstentions and cross-voting during the vote, they issued a Three Line Whip, which is a strict instruction to attend and vote according to the line adopted by the party, breach of which could have serious consequences like expulsion from the parliamentary group or (under worse circumstances) from the party. From my limited knowledge of democracy, I thought it involved a process where debate precedes decision and NOT the other way around!

The Speaker of the Lok Sabha, however, is a constitutional post ... over and above any political or party affiliation and so, Mr. Chatterjee couldn't have fallen under the whip. Of course, a political party can expel any of its members for what it deems unacceptable behavior. Thus, the CPI(M), licking its wounds at this point, didn't waste any time to meet hastily and came to a 'unanimous' decision to expel him from the party. It took them less than 40 hours to expel someone who has been with the party for over 40 years. Irrespective of my political inclinations or my impression of Mr. Chatterjee, it deeply saddens me to see how allegiance holds absolutely no value when it comes to political parties, especially the left. It doesn't matter if you have given your lifetime to the party or walked many a difficult mile to send across the message of social justice or waged impossible wars to uphold its principles ... you have to endure the pain of seeing friends getting critical and distant, colleagues turning into political enemies and overnight being turned into enemy number one amongst your followers and fellow party members. In almost all cases, swift expulsion is followed by vicious propaganda against the expelled 'comrade' stating how all along he/she had been a 'bourgeoisie' in thoughts and 'counter-revolutionary' in actions. Such practices have been rampant within the communist parties in Soviet Union (Stalinist purges ... which most notably took out Leon Trotsky amongst countless thousands), China, Cuba all the way to India (Nripen Chakraborty of Tripura, Saifuddn Chowdhury of Katwa, etc.).

It would be wrong to think that the Left allies had nothing to do with this expulsion. The allies had been expressing their dissatisfaction at his decision to continue from the very beginning and have been putting pressure indirectly on the CPI(M) to take some kind of action. Even during the debate, Gurudas Dasgupta of the CPI could not hide his dissatisfaction and almost accused the speaker of being partial towards the UPA. The bitter comments from the left allies is almost identical to how often your neighbors seem to be more upset and concerned about your undisciplined child than you yourself are. The left allies are so hurt and frustrated at not being able to pull this coup-d’etat they, at this point, they want blood, even if it means slaughtering one of their own.

I am not sure whether Mr. Chatterjee had any clandestine political aspiration or motive that made him act the way he did … but may be in doing so he pointed out a priceless aspect of democracy ... once you enter the altar of the parliament … your obligation towards your constituents and your country far outweighs your political agenda. I earnestly hope that this brings about a welcome change … heralding a new era in Indian politics.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Who needs IPL when we can have this?

As the recent fiasco with the nuclear deal and Indian politics unfolds, I feel nothing could more appropriately describe the current state of affairs with our parliament, government and democracy than Lenin's famous phrase ... where he compared the “parliament” to a “pigsty”. Majority of communists take this phrase literally and completely refrain from active participation in any kind of parliamentary democracy. However, ingrained in human consciousness is the intent and ability to interpret every instruction or words of wisdom to suit their needs. Thus, a large faction of communists argue that Lenin’s analogy shouldn’t be converted into a grand universal communist philosophy and that, in fact, he recommended parliamentary participation of revolutionaries in selected occasions, when it was not predominantly run on the principles and practices of the bourgeoisie. Luckily, Indians were a direct witness to such conflicting views back in 1996 during the formation of the United Front government. While the CPI(M) refused to participate in the government (similar to what they did again during the formation of the current UPA government), its close ally and friend, the CPI became an integral part of it, with their senior leader Mr. Indrajit Gupta accepting the post of Home Minister. Irrespective of their interpretation, my take on Lenin’s phrase is blatantly literal … the parliament is a filthy, smelly, ugly and unhygienic place … it IS a pigsty! Ideally, the Indian parliament is supposed to be a temple of our freedom and democracy, where the unity and common ethos of the Indian people are supposed to be represented in its full diversity by the most sincere and able administrators who are, in their, conscience above the ordinary person because they have chosen to sacrifice a part of their personal and professional life for the greater good of the country, its society and its people. In reality, humanity hasn’t yet assigned a name to the number that is large enough to describe how far our parliament is from the above description (gazillion isn’t a valid number and billion is way too small). As far as our politicians are concerned ... honesty is unheard of, qualifications are rare, loyalties are fragile, ideologies are convenient and constantly changing, and lastly, conscience is a joke.

One of the most visible aspect of this characteristic is shifting loyalty and changing alliances. One must understand that although we seem to have a multi-party democracy, it is essentially bipartisan, with Congress and BJP occupying the ends of the political spectrum. Apart from these two parties (who have been engaged in a blood feud from the times of the Big Bang), there is hardly any political party that hasn’t aligned themselves with both of them under different circumstances and at different times. Worse is that in both cases of opposing alliances, they successfully defended their stand and that we, the people, somehow accepted their argument. Indian politics has suffered so much from this incurable plague of politicians changing parties that laws had to be written to prevent it from happening (one of which is called the ‘whip’ that is misused these days by parties to force their members of parliament to vote along with party lines even if it is against the conscience of the individual). There could be a million examples of such shifting loyalties in the past but the few notable ones that come to my mind right away are those of Shankar Singh Vaghela (from BJP to Congress), Renuka Chowdhury (from Telegu Desam to Congress), Jaipal Reddy (from Janata Dal to Congress), Narayan Rane and Sanjay Nirupam (from Shiv Sena to Congress), Arif Mohammad Khan (from Congress to BJP) and as recent last Friday, Shahid Siddiqui, the longtime spokesperson for the Samajwadi Party (SP) who announced his move to the camp of their bitter rival, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). I am a regular viewer of the popular NDTV segment called ‘The Big Fight’ where he is a familiar face. He is often the third non-polar option and debates vociferously in the program. Even though he hails from UP, one of the most corrupt states of India and SP, one of its most ill reputed political parties … his amiable looks, confident posture, and often a neutral stand (different from that of both Congress and the BJP) lend him some credibility. Just last week on the program, he stridently defended his and his party’s position on the nuclear deal as well as supporting the current UPA government, a surprising political development that literally took our capital by storm, given that the relation between the two political parties have been sour for quite some time now. He also pleaded to all the politicians (especially the left and the BJP) to rise above their political affiliations and act according to their conscience in order be a part of a larger effort for the country as a whole. I was shocked to see this same person come on live TV and announce his “giant leap sideways”. He now (almost overnight) feels that ''For the last one month, I have been feeling uneasy over the nuclear deal. I am of the opinion that it is not in national interest. I have been opposing it for the last three years” (Really? In your dreams may be!). A person, who would refer to Mayawati with a disdained tone … who built his political capital through hating Mayawati and her politics, now claims that “I will fight for Dalits and Muslims under Mayawati's leadership.” I am sure personal gains had nothing to do with it … it was a decision based on pure “conscience”. Frankly, this makes me want to throw up. Political crimes like these have become so commonplace that the Indian parliamentarians themselves have started referring to it as the ‘Great Indian Parliamentary Bazaar’. Politicians (Chaudhary Munawwar Hasan and Akhay Pratap Singh, both from UP) are now openly admitting to being offered bribes (of the modest amount of 25-30 crores) which, of course, they have gracefully rejected … because they are, after all, here to serve the people … not themselves! Political parties are openly accusing one another of horse-trading and some like the illustrious Amar Singh of the SP have candidly admitted to promoting such through talking to their rival BSP MPs hoping to “influence” and “persuade” them to come over to the SP’s side.

This discussion cannot be complete without touching upon some of the precious leaders and their parties in a little more detail. One of the key players in this numerical manipulation is Shibu Soren … the leader of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha or JMM (whose existence I frankly find meaningless after Jharkhand has so successfully achieved its "Mukti" after being carved out from Bihar). Shibu Soren is so public in his controversial activities that apart from the skeletons in his closet, he has to constantly juggle with a host of criminal investigations and civil lawsuits against him. Most important among these is the murder of his private secretary Shashi Nath Jha in 1994, who, according to the CBI, had knowledge and critical information about the amount of money he had taken to vote for the Narasimha Rao government back in 1993, in a similar test to prove its majority in the parliament. He commented today on NDTV that in spite of being stripped of his precious coal ministry, long fallout and bitter relations with the Congress, he has decided to fully support the UPA government. I am fully confident that, unlike what he did in 1993, he has categorically refused to take any money this time.

Another notable figure is Ajit Singh, the leader of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), who in spite of being a part of the UPA all along has suddenly jumped ship to be with Mayawati. So fluid is Mr. Singh's sense of affiliation and hollow his ideology, that he has broken and created political parties and alliances more than the number of time I have clipped my fingernails. He has the rare feat of holding ministerial berths in both Congress and BJP led governments … a new level of political disgrace. He has been demanding a separate state of Harit Pradesh, to be carved out of western UP, of which obviously he has ‘no ambitions whatsoever’ of becoming the chief minister unless the people of Harit Pradesh ‘force him to be so’. I am sure none of that has been discussed in his latest break-up of yet another alliance.

A mind-boggling player of this game is our ex-prime minister Mr. HDD Gowda, leader of the Janta Dal (Secular), who has stopped believing in the concept of political accountability. In Karnataka, the JD(S) formed a coalition with the Congress party government led by Dharam Singh, which seemed natural owing to the magic word secular in the name of his party. However, in January 2006, his son H.D. Kumaraswamy took support of around 40 of their MLAs and the BJP to bring down the Dharam Singh led coalition government (so much for secular eh?). This prompted Devegowda to curse his son, branding him a traitor and resign from his post as party president owing moral responsibilities for failing to save the coalition government. However, the very next month, he withdrew his resignation and suspended his entire group of rebel MLAs, including his son and Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, from the primary membership of the party. This entire game seemed to have been orchestrated by Deve Gowda himself to bring his son to political prominence. A little later, he changed his stance and started openly supported his son's move to align with the BJP and has also suggested that he would be willing to coordinate the BJP-led alliance on a national level. However, their honeymoon was short-lived when they failed to honor a power sharing agreement with the BJP, which led to another collapse of the government and Karnataka was forced to go to the polls once again.

What comes almost as a shock is that in case the UPA government fails to seek a majority on the floor of the parliament coming Tuesday, instead of fresh general elections, a third alternative with Mayawati as our prospective prime minister, is being considered as an option (who by the way has 17 MPs, only 255 short of the minimum 272 MPs required to form the government). This is similar to the earlier Chandrasekhar and Deve Gowda governments, where each choices had their own compulsions. For those of us who remember the disappointment of seeing the weak Chandrasekhar and the oppostunistic “son of a farmer" Mr. Gowda ... But Maywati? Seriously? … being referred to as “Sushri Mayawati” by her admirers not to hide her rustic unimpressive looks but truly the ugliness of her politics. She, who rose to power by calling Mahatma Gandhi a “son of the Devil”, has based her politics myopically on winning the heart of the majority ‘dalit’ population of our country. We have witnessed Mayawati lie on camera in front of millions of television audiences on her position and choice of vote that brought down the 13 day long Vajpayee government in 1996. We have seen her public yet shameless attempts to make the ongoing CBI investigation against her disappear forever (accused of embezzling crores of rupees from the Taj Corridor project). We have seen her political opponents from all corners criticize and accuse her of all possible crimes that could possibly be done at this level and new ones being invented on an almost regular basis. We have seen her vanity and pompous lifestyle, when her ‘dalit’ subjects go without “Roti, Kaapda aur Makaan”. This person who is an embodiment of political disrespect and crime will represent the people of India? Wow!

In all this, the left parties who started this whole thing seem to have been marginalized. Although, they wanted us to believe that their opposition to the deal was based on principles, what followed their decision to withdraw their support and bring down the government, would make Marx and Lenin roll over in their graves. The left parties, in tune with their core philosophy, have always chosen capitalism to communalism as the lesser evil and at times, learnt to be in bed with the former, even though it may have been a one-night stand. This meant that they were fierce critics of Mayawati, who is probably the most dangerous communal leader in the country today. This is the reason why the left parties have been a fierce critic of her despicable communal politics. How does one explain Prakash Karat being on the same political platform as her? Why do we see CPI General Secretary Mr. A. B. Bardhan, one of the most respected leaders and a senior member of parliament, have frequent meetings with her? Perhaps Mr. Bardhan has forgotten the words of his own leader, Indrajit Gupta, on the evils of caste-based politics in this country. Mr. Gupta says

A caste-ridden society and a bitter caste war is a very big inhibiting factor that has held the Left back. From the beginning, we never bothered about the caste factor. In the old days the Communists never bothered about this. We were all class-wallahs. Exploitation of one class by another class is okay. But exploitation of one caste by another caste was never a big factor in our minds. But in a Hindu society, I find this (the caste system) is the dominant thing - much more than class. We have a working class in the big industrial centres where we (the Communists) were the dominant force among the workers, particularly at the trade union level. Big strikes were taking place. We were leading those strikes. But when it came to elections, the same worker who was carrying a red flag on his shoulders in order to get a higher salary or a bonus, would look towards his own caste”. He goes on to say … “I don't think the Communists in this country paid sufficient attention or made a proper study of this phenomenon. It is not a phenomenon which started one day. It has been there for one thousand years. And every educated fellow, the elite of our society, goes around saying that we are above caste. This is telling lies. Read the matrimonial columns in the papers. Yes, they don't indulge in crude forms of casteism - not allowing someone to drink out of the same glass - but will they allow a Dalit to come and sit at their table and eat with them? I doubt it very much. Of course, marriage is out of the question. This thing is so deeply rooted in our psyche, to get out of it will take a thousand years”. Such deep and profound words that aptly describe the core weakness of our social fabric and to think about the one person who exploits this social evil for her own political gains be the next Prime Minister of our country is frankly abominable.

I don’t know whether the nuclear deal is good for India or not (that is only for time to tell), but definitely this entire charade has once again struck an almost fatal blow to the final remnants of the Indian democracy that our forefathers had so vociferously fought for against the British Empire and so carefully put together.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Vox Populi Vox Dei??

Even though this phrase sounds obscure for most of us, it may seem familiar to students of political science, sociology or even philosophy. Translated from its original Latin, it literally means "voice of the people is the voice of god". The ideology reflected in this one sentence has almost single-handedly swept across the world and seems to have perfectly filled the void left behind the wake of the political hurricane that defined the first half of the 20th century. So strong has been its impact that it has almost been elevated to the point of infallibility only comparable to how people treat the Bible, Quran or Torah. Democracy these days can only be compared to an all-encompassing inescapable mist of narcotic that can intoxicate an entire mass of people. These universal concepts make it easy for people to abandon self-assessment and independent thinking and conveniently go with the flow and subscribe to mass (read mob) mentality. What we need to do is look at the entire original sentence in order to understand what Alcuin of York, an astute scholar of his time, truly meant when he wrote this to King Charlemagne in 798. It goes as:

"Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit"
"And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness"
What this means clearly is that democracy is nothing but an official way of legitimizing any form of mob mentality. If a sufficiently large number of people pool together and demand something, irrespective of the outcome, democracy guarantees its deliverance and execution. A prominent example of this was how Adolf Hitler came to power as head of Germany not through a military coup-detat, but through legitimate democratic processes (general election). Very recently, on a state visit to USA, our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh commented that he was representing the largest democracy of this planet to the people of the oldest democracy of the world. Factually true (and praiseworthy as was seen on the floor of the US Senate that day), these two democracies represent a democratic extreme of some sort. While the US version is toothless and ineffective with changes occurring on an almost geological time scale, the Indian version is swift, aggressive, volatile and, often, violent. In the USA, for over a decade the American people are being deprived of the basic rights that their ancestors so righteously fought for. In terms of Economy, large corporations are snatching jobs away from the American people and shipping them overseas in the name of free trade and global business. This is the ugliest form of economic polarization where these greedy corporations strive to increase their profit margins, fill their coffers while forcing the American people to go hungry, sick and untreated … hollowing out the very core of the most cherished element of this society … the American dream. In terms of healthcare, the doctors and allied professionals, the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical corporations have formed the true axis of evil to hold this country hostage to a helpless situation of rising healthcare costs, increasing incompetence and mediocrity, falling coverage and last but certainly not the least, frightening stories of ghastly treatments of unprivileged patients. A vivid testimony of all this can be found in Michael Moore's documentary “The Sicko”. This is a burning testimony of how Democracy failed one of its staunch believers, the American people, who gathered in protest in front of the Lincoln Memorial, shouted at political fundraisers, wept at Townhall meetings, only to witness the hopeless blind and mute system they so dearly believed in for centuries. On the other end of the sociological spectrum is the Indian democracy, where things are swift. As I pen down the words here, news broke that the protesting (read plundering and pillaging) Gujjar community in Rajasthan has reached a landmark agreement with the state government, about their demands of reservation after months of mindless destruction of both public and private property, violent obstruction to proper functioning of daily activities for not only the people of the region but for all Indians. Whether caste-based reservation is justified or not is a whole different can of worms … for a different time and day. This way, the Gujjars (or anyone else) can almost be demanding anything and our hopeless democratic system, where every political party was either too frightened to lose their vote or eyeing the same, would have caved in. For all I care, they could be rioting to legitimize the tradition of 'Sati' or any other outrageous demand and they would get it!! It is sobering that the people of the largest democracy in the world subjected its own (people’s) government hostage to its crazy and unfair demands and time and again we are shocked to see how they are met! Perhaps it is time to break the vicious cycle and rethink the subtlety of its limitations and inabilities. It is democracy that is supposed to protect and uphold the rights of the people and not the other way where we commit our unconditional allegiance to it. "Democracy for People" and NOT "People for Democracy" …

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Khel Khatam ... Paisa Hajam

One of Shahrukh Khan's pet dialogue in his recent blockbuster “Om Shanti Om” was “film to abhi baki hay” (The show is still on). I wish he could say the same for his much pampered IPL team, the Kolkata Knight Riders. Interestingly, in rural Bengal, it used to be a common practice (even in the early 20th century) to make village idiots (who would create a nuisance) parade all around the village sitting on a donkey, facing its ass. I think its time SRK’s team gets a new name … the “Kolkata Donkey Riders”. May be he needs to finish his sentence … “film to abhi baki hay … parantu khel khatam ... aur paisa hajam”. May be he sensed that and made an exception to his enthusiastic presence by being surprisingly absent from the last match against Rajasthan Royals. The man can certainly entertain, probably can act but sure doesn’t know squat about cricket.

Most of the IPL teams were built on a common principle that involved nucleation around an Indian cricketing superstar. This is evident in Tendulkar, Dravid, Sehwag, Laxman and Yuvraj, respectively, leading Mumbai Indians, Bangalore Royal Challengers, Deccan Chargers, Delhi Daredevils and Kings XI Punjab. Rajasthan and Chennai were an exception because they don’t have a local star in the Indian team right now. When it came to Kolkata, Shahrukh obviously picked Saurav Ganguly as its leader. Even though Ganguly is not at the best of his form and also not unequivocally proven in this format of the game, at least he is a crowd puller and his leadership skills are unparallel, which could be an asset in the field. Overall, when you mix cricket and Kolkata, the answer is only and always … GANGULY! However, we know from the Mike Brearley example that a captain does not need to be the meat of the team. SRK and Ganguly had ample opportunities to build a strong and balanced team that included international cricketers who either have a flamboyant batting skill or a lethal bowling prowess as well as Indian cricketers who have either done extremely well in the T20 format or have the potential to do so (like Swapnil Asnodkar). SRK had both the money and influence that was necessary to bring in almost anyone he liked. Yet he landed up with a team that did not have any of these essential ingredients. With Ricky Ponting failing repeatedly, Ganguly showing his worth only with the ball and others such as David Hussey and Brendan McCallum having sporadic success, the Kolkata Knight Riders were left with NO ONE TO BAT!! Why weren’t players, Yusuf Pathan, Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma, Gautam Gambhir tried when they are proven players of T20? Instead, they picked Akash Chopra, who was so slow and mediocre in his batting that he was dropped from the test team, never even got considered for the one-day international, let alone T20!! Even when it came to all-rounders, SRK and Ganguly bid for Laxmiratan Shukla and Ajit Agarkar over other choices such as Shaun Pollock or Irfan Pathan. Laxmi Shukla has suddenly found himself in a slightly stronger position within the Bengal team after a mass exodus of most of its players into the ICL. He has had a long history of trouble with authority with multiple suspensions in his record, which kept him distracted long enough to hardly take cricket seriously. Having said that, I will not waste my time (and yours) by talking about Agarkar … he is exactly what he has done in the tournament … a big NOTHING! He is one of those rejects who somehow manages to crawl back over and over again for reason that are beyond any logical comprehension.

Another surprising aspect is the choice of the wicketkeeper. Even though Dhoni was already taken and it didn't make much sense to get Parthiv Patel, there were a lot of wicketkeepers up for grabs. Was Adam Gilchrist even tried? What about Kamran Akmal or Kumar Sangakkara? Even the local lad Sreevats Goswami, who plays for Bengal, had a nice run at the U-19 World Cup and hit a splendid knock in a recent IPL game went unnoticed by SRK and Ganguly and got eventually plucked by Bangalore RC. Instead SRK preferred to take the relatively unknown Wriddhiman Saha and (almost coming out of oblivion) Tatenda Taibu of Zimbabwe (do they still play cricket?). I also somehow didn't understand the inclination towards Pakistani players. They are a fine cricketing nation but to pick players like Md. Hafeez and Salman Butt, who can barely make it to their national team and leave out proven T20 talents like Misbah-ul-Haq and Shoaib Malik, I frankly find confounding. After the Bangalore RC CEO Charu Sharma was fired, Vijay Mallya, the owner of the franchisee, came out in the open and admitted that even though he let the then CEO and captain Rahul Dravid pick their team, he only insisted upon taking Misbah-ul-Haq because he is such a proven force in the T20s. Did SRK put up a fight or was he too busy picking out the rejects from Pakistan? If you can’t take on Vijay Mallya head on, then how the hell can you stand as an icon … a megastar?

The cricket fans of Kolkata may appear to be boorish at times. We have been known to be vocal about our opinion as well as throw things at the players and the field (often leading to matches being abandoned) when we smell cheap politicking, when we see incompetence or recklessness and when we sense total lack of cricketing sense (pun intended). However, even Sunil Gavaskar, who had some choice words to say about the Kolkata fans when he and his wife, Marshaniel, were pelted with rotten eggs at Eden Gardens, admit that the Kolkata fans are one of the most knowledgeable and astute when it comes to understanding the game above and beyond supporting for their team. When we hit the road leading to Eden Gardens, we take our mind for the game and our heart and soul for supporting our own. It is utterly shameful for SRK and Ganguly to have completely undermined this intensity of the Kolkata cricket fans in putting together a team that is mere fractions of our true cricketing spirit. Last night in a news report covering the reaction of Kolkata cricket fans on their (of what seems like an almost certain) exit from the IPL, an NDTV reporter commented "Are the ardent Kolkata supporters ready to jump ship?" For his (and everyone else's) information ... the ship has sunk to the bottom and taken the “ardent Kolkata supporters” with it ...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bureaucratic memories refreshed

"Kya chaihiye? ... jao yahaNse"
"I don't know"
"Aaj nahin hoga ... kall ana"
"Uni to ajke ashen ni"

This is what I wrote to the consul general at the Indian Consulate here in San Francisco. I got pretty riled up this morning but it may fade late this afternoon ...

Dear Sir,

I am an Indian citizen working here in California. My Indian passport is due to expire sometime next month and I was about to send my old passport along with the necessary forms and documents over to your office. I had a couple questions about some of the instructions that were not clear or obvious to me. I did not want to interpret them and send them over in an incorrect fashion and land up putting me and your office under any inconvenience. I came to my office at 9 AM today and tried calling the couple of telephone numbers listed on your website dedicated specifically for passport inquiries. Even after 9 AM, there was no one available to answer any of the phone lines. I then called the hotline and asked to be transferred to someone in passport division. The woman who picked up the phone did mention that this was a hotline, but even before I could tell her that I simply needed to speak to someone from passport, she started talking to me in the perennial unfriendly tone, simple trying to shut me off with hurried and unfriendly manner that all of us are so used to hearing back home. I immediately recalled my occasional visits to the government offices or colleges and universities back home where the general tendency was to shoo the “annoying public” away. I can say this with certainty and confidence that even if an alien (like me) were to call the most obscure place here in the US with the most irrelevant questions, they will always be spoken to in a polite and friendly manner, which was clearly lacking here. It was disappointing to realize that the basic courtesy of warmth and friendliness that these people extend to guests like us, we don’t get it from our own countrymen … our own family members, if you will.

On a more technical note, I believe instructions need to be clear and distinct, with no room for subjective interpretation. I was quite disappointed to see otherwise. For instance, the passport application form talks about affixing 4 photographs on the pages of the form but there are places for only 2. This immediately brings a host of questions into mind. Is 4 a typographical error and it actually should be 2? If it is not, what am I supposed to do with the other two photographs? Attach with the form using a binder clip. The website, on the contrary, mentions two photographs that adds to the confusion.

Moreover, the size of the photographs to be attached to the passport form (3.5 cm x 3.5 cm) does not conform to the US passport photographs standard (2 in x 2 in). It is obvious that since we are here in the US, in order to take photographs we will visit our local post office or Walgreen’s/ CVS. There should have been some instruction on what sizes we needed to choose. Should we take a 2 by 2 and cut it down or should we take whatever is closest to 3.5 cm?

One can argue with me that in all these we can use our common sense. In that case the whole process becomes subjective and the point of having any kind of directions or instructions becomes meaningless.

I hope I was not rude while I voiced my dissatisfaction and in all this you will be able to objectively identify my suggestions. As an Indian, I hold my beloved country to higher standards than I would to any other. I hope you will understand.

Kind regards,
Siladitya

Friday, January 25, 2008

THE ONE ABOUT "Ganguly dropped as selectors focus on youth"

While I was still in Calcutta (it became 'Kolkata' only after I came here), seldom has a test match been played at Eden Gardens without me being present in the gallery. I am not just an ardent cricket fan but a dedicated lover of the game. With love comes the obligation to behave responsibly which meant I had to follow the unofficial edict laid down by the Cricket pundits that appreciation of talent, sportsmanship and the game should come before any emotional aspects. I have tried this and had limited success with other teams playing but failed miserably when it came to India. When Miandad would frustrate the Indian bowling attack or people like Afridi, Jayasuriya, Saeed Anwar, Ponting would mercilessly thrash our bowlers all over the ground ... I could hardly appreciate their cricketing genius and my patriotic sentiments hoplessly took over. However, the buck stopped there and no emotion would trickle down to the domestic level with thoughts of regionalism cropping up. This is contrary to how most Bengali's would probably approach the game in thinking that when it comes to Cricket, Saurav Ganguly is God. Such has been the impact over the past 13 years that his name is, at times, uttered with that of Rabindranath Thakur, Satyajit Ray or Amartya Sen. Most Bengalis believe that we desperately needed a cricketing role model from Bengal in order to wipe off the smirk off the rest of the country (especially Bombay) that Bengalis can't play Cricket! "Be with your Football and East Bengal and Mohan Bagan .... this is different ... leave this to us". From the very beginning, the Indian cricket team has almost been run like a personal piggy-bank of the Bombay Cricket Association, with our cricketing history filled with hundreds of negative decisions against other provinces (including Bengal), who were not considered to be of the right 'pedigree'. The popular thought went as this ... if you can hold a cricket bat in Bombay ... you can stand in line for the India cap. Finaly in 1995, with a couple of dazzling centurion innings in England, Saurav Ganguly debuted as a prominent beacon of Bengal cricket. Surprisingly, even at a young age of 20, I was not washed away by popular clannish feelings. I remember being simply happy that we found a couple of strong and powerful cricketers because I was tired of seeing a lot of mediocre ones that just acted as fillers in our team. In case you are wondering what I meant by 'couple of ... cricketers', I am referring to Rahul Dravid who also started with Saurav and handsomely scored 95 and 87, unlucky to miss out on his centuries but enough to leave a strong impression. Even though I am a Bengali and did not have very respectable things to say about the Bombay Cricket Association, my version of God when it comes to Cricket is ... unarguably ... Sachin Tendulkar. I have literally admired, revered and worshipped him. He single-handedly pulled Indian cricket during its dark ages, when he did not have the support of players like Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag. Of all the Cricket, Bollywood and Hollywood celebrities taken together, it was only Sachin's poster that was proudly put up on my bedroom wall. Even today, given a choice, I would like to speak and shake hands with Tendulkar. He is not a player but a phenomenon in Indian cricket and I can frankly give a damn if he is from Bombay or Bhilai or Barmer. In spite of this, my non-bengai friends at the University tried relentlessly to awaken the sleeping lion inside my Bengali soul by choosing to say negative things about Saurav (which I am sure they didn't mean) just to see how this Bong reacts but they were never succesful. I would not bite the bait and always convert the discussion into a technical one, putting emphasis on the exchange of cricketing logic and statistics. Never have my friends heard me speak out for Saurav Ganguly simply because I am regionally and culturally predisposed to do so. Why should today be an exception? It isn't ... it is logic and statistics all over again. The decision to drop Ganguly it seems was a result of strong opposition to his inclusion from our one-day skipper MS Dhoni. This is the same person who, a few days back during the 1st innings of the Adelaide test when India really needed him to stay put and score some valuable runs, scored 16 off 64 balls! Instead, it was the old horse Anil Kumble and the eternal toss around Harbhajan Singh score 87 and 63, respectively and put some respectability into our total. The skeptic would argue that test cricket is a completely difefrent game and shouldn't be mixed with ODIs. But, that shouldn't mean in tests he doesn't need to bat or score runs. After all it is on the same turf against the same bowler throwing the same ball at the same speed from the same distance. Then what is the God damn holdup? Anyay, I will satisfy the skeptic and ignore his recent Test record and focus only on ODIs. In the One-Day Internationals (ODIs), Dhoni in the past 1 year has scored 1035 runs in 35 matches with an average of 43.12, while Ganguly has scored 1129 runs in 30 matches with an average of 43.42. Even today at the lone T20 match at Melbourne, our proud skipper scored 9 off 27 deliveries. So, the guy with more runs in fewer appearences with an equal (to be precise slightly better) average has to drop out of the squad and the other gets to lead the team??? I must have gone stark raving mad as to not see the obvious flaws with Ganguly, which Dhoni himself or the selectors could easily observe. To rub salt on his (and our) wounds, he was replaced by Suresh Raina, who magically keeps coming back after having gone through multiple cycles of trials, tests and failures. His statistics show a total 612 runs in 36 matches with an average of 26.60. This person will replace Ganguly? Well .... the official comment was "Ganguly has been left out because youngsters are being included in the one-day squad with the future in mind ... and he is not a very good fielder". So, it is not about talent, experience or even record ... it is about age and fielding skills. There is nothing Ganguly or anyone can do about his age, so it is pointless talking about it. As far as fielding is concerned, isn't that why we dropped Md. Kaif? In spite of being the most athletic and agile fielder, we said "enough running around .... you bat or you go". So, with this burning example of how fielding skills alone cannot justify someone's presence in our team, we dropped one of the most experienced and talented cricketers in our team with someone who has no experience, talent or record and point fingers at fielding? I could never understand the need of our selectors to keep trying players like Sunil Joshi, Nikhil Chopra, Ramesh Powar, Dinesh Mongia (to name a few) over and over again in spite of them failing to make a mark on the international arena. We see it, you see it, everyone sees it yet the selectors mysterisouly (or conviniently) don't! I though it is the job of our politicians and beaurocrats to look after the downtrodden and make it easier for them AND NOT THE JOB OF THE BCCI SELECTORS!! Is it some kind of delicate cosmic balance that they are after by ading junk to quality every time? The mysteries of indian cricket continue ...