Kshetrajna

An attempt to know, understand (and ultimately, transform) that which occurs on the fields of play - India (her politics, media, music) and beyond ...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Puzzles

In a recent literary review, an author was described in the following gushing manner. Who is the author thus described?

History provides us with personalities who were equally at ease with words and lethal weapons.

Each time his performance is impeccable because he activates different aspects of his complex personality. Quite uniquely, he was endowed with boundless curiosity, an acute eye for detail, self-knowledge, logical thinking, and candour that is both disarming and moving.

Equally varied is his style, which ranges from the Pinteresque to the Bollywood script.

Almost invariably, he is economical with words. His sinewy and lucid prose is on a par with the best writing of Ernest Hemingway or Scott F. Fitzgerald.

Anybody who has been in love would identify with the prose and poetry of X. That in short is the greatness of X, an accomplished wielder of both pen and sword.


Hint:
The Sikh Guru, Nanak, wrote a series of complaints against X in the Guru Granth Sahib, claiming X "terrified Hindustan" and was a "messenger of death". He also claimed that women with braided hair "were shaved with scissors, and their throats were choked with dust" and that "The order was given to the soldiers, who dishonored them, and carried them away."

"Complex personality", "Hemingway", "Fitzgerald", "Pinteresque", my foot!

Leave your guesses as comments.

Who is X may be a difficult question to answer. However, the more difficult question to answer is why is the reviewer so in awe of X?

UPDATE:Please see comments section for the solution to the puzzle.

Friday, March 31, 2006

A Man and A Spoon On A Jet

I'm glad I found the time today to blog about this incident. Here goes ...

BEGIN STORY

I am on a flight, in an aisle seat (requested it, in fact. An aside: it's quite funny how things change when you grow up. As a kid I would have given up the world (figuratively speaking, of course) for a window seat, but here I am, all grown up, requesting aisle seats, so that I can avoid having to inconvenience others in case I wanted to walk up or down aisles (literally speaking, of course) in search of toilets!). The middle seat is free, and the window seat is occupied by a middle-aged (40-50 years old) man in a fluorescent green shirt.

A quiet three-quarters of an hour had passed when the stewardesses starts distributing the snack trays. Fluoro-Man and I request our preferences and start wolfing down non-veg. and veg. snacks, respectively. The snack is about as good as one can expect on airlines: a decent cutlet, two other items I don't know the names of (one looks and tastes good, the other looks and tastes bad) and chocolate mousse. The stewardess comes back to serve us coffee/tea. And here is where things get interesting.

For some reason Fluoro-Man is bristling. He points his spoon at the stewardess [I know, I know, I tried to rewrite it, but didn't succeed] and the conversation (monologue) goes like this.

FM: What is this?
S: A spoon, Sir.
FM: No, it is a knife.

[I can't resist taking a sideways peek at the spoon. I had to agree with S's verdict on the object's nature. There was little to dispute: as far as I could see, the object was most certainly a spoon, not a knife.]

S: Sorry, Sir?
FM: It is a god-damned knife. Look how sharp these edges are.

[By now I can no longer afford a sideways peek, I nudge my head imperceptibly to get a fuller view of the implement. FM was pointing to the edges of the spoon's bowl.]

FM: This thing cut my lip!
S: Sorry, Sir. Can I get you anything?
FM: No.

[I have a tough time controlling my grin. It's quite funny: a man cutting his lip with a spoon, while eating chocolate mousse, and blaming another person for it!

A few minutes pass. S is serving other passengers in front of us.
]

FM [shouting very loudly]: HEY, THIS SPOON CUT MY LIP! DIDN'T YOU HEAR WHAT I SAID EARLIER? CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
S: Sorry, Sir, what can I get you?
FM: SUGAR!
S: Here, Sir, two packets of sugar.
FM: NO! ONE PACKET!
[FM takes the packet, opens it, applies sugar to lip.]
FM (as an afterthough): I WANT YOU TO THROW THAT SPOON OUT! YOUR AIRLINE SHOULDN'T BE USING SUCH SPOONS!
S: Yes, Sir.
FM: WHERE'S MY TEA?
S: Sorry, Sir. I thought you won't be able to drink it with your cut lip.

[S says it with such a straight face, that I almost guffaw!]

FM: NO, I WANT MY TEA!

I let out a snicker. The other passengers are either disturbed by FM's ranting or find it tremendously funny and turn their eyes to my row. I exchange mental laughs with a few passengers through smiles and eye-rolls. And go back to staring at the seat in front of me.

When the stewardess finished serving FM with tea, sugar (more) and tissues (for the bleeding lip), I ran down the aisle and locked myself in the toilet. I haven't laughed out that hard and loud in a long long time.

The rest of the flight, whenever I got bored of reading newspapers and magazines and needed some entertainment, I turned to my left to get a glimpse of FM smothering his lower jaw with tissues and cursing the spoon.

END STORY

There are plenty of discussion points in this incident regarding behaviour in public places, customer service etc., but we will leave all that for later. For now, let us amuse ourselves by picturing a self-righteous middle-aged man wearing a flourescent green shirt cutting his lip on a spoon eating chocolate mousse and making a fool of himself in public.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Cost of Elections in India

A couple of days back I wrote a post that dealt briefly with the tremendous costs of conducting elections in India. I wrote how developing countries such as India cannot afford throwing valuable resources (time, energy, money, human resources) into conducting frequent elections (brought on at the whim of our thin-skinned politicians). At that time I had completely overlooked another aspect: the mounting cost of the freebies promised (and delivered, in part at least) by our imagination-deficient politicians during election time. I have to sincerely thank The MuKa for bringing this humongous lapse of mine to attention.

I quote from a report of The DMK Manifesto for the 2006 TamilNadu Elections. Read and weep, denizens of other states! Either move here (TN) or home-grow your own versions of The MuKa, so that you too can get these benefits!


Quality rice at Rs. 2 a kg on ration cards, free colour television for every family "for women's recreation and general knowledge," a maternity assistance of Rs. 1,000 a month for six months, wavier of all cooperative loans to farmers and free electricity to weavers in addition to farmers, were some of the highlights.

The DMK has promised free gas stove to all poor women, a monthly financial assistance up to Rs. 300 to unemployed youth, assignment of two acres to landless poor families, restoration of all concessions withdrawn to government employees and teachers and reservation for Muslim and Christians.


In case you are wondering why the above quote is all in bold, here's the explanation. I started out highlighting "promises" that included the terms "free" or "waiver" or can be construed as a sop by a reasonable person, but soon realised it might be handy to just mark the whole thing in bold! I dare say that what this basket shipload of freebies costs the treasury will dwarf even the regular expenses of elections!

I am surprised why they didn't promise employment to all employable people? Oops, sorry, that falls under the domain of the UPA Govt.

Wait, The MuKa adds an important caveat to one of the sops.

Karunanidhi said the free colour television sets would be given to families after ascertaining whether they had a TV or not.


Phew ... that's a relief! And here I was thinking that this is just going to be a reckless waste of public money. The MuKa is going to give free CTVs only to those who don't have one. I'll say it again: that's the hallmark of responsible economic policy!

I am quite disappointed that The MuKa hasn't promised free Internet (DSL, of course), free set-top boxes (oops, that'd affect the profitability of Maran's Sumangali Cable Vision, so that's a no-go), free transport, free education (for girls only) in State Board of Education schools (a la what the Clueless Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) tried to do, but eventually reversed) ...

Indeed, the Vision of The MuKa is quite glorious. While educated folks like us can only dream of free-trade zones, primary-school dropouts self-educated geniuses like The MuKa aspire to make TamlNadu a Free-For-All-Nadu! With everything free in the not-so-distant future, money will have no place in TamilNadu! By money, I mean cash, cheques, credit cards, banks, the whole shebang! What a revolutionary state that will be! A Giant Leap Forward to The Stone Age!

Such are the Tall Leaders we, the Indian people (and especially, the Tamils), are blessed with!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Wasteful Elections Brought on by Sonia: What Can We Do?

Last week we were subjected to Mahatma Sonia's resignation and the subsequent drama enacted by her minions in her party and the media, portraying an act of shameless selfish self-preservation as one of high scarifice.

The New Mahatma had declared that she was resigning because it was the right thing to do. The right thing, since she did not want to be found out and sacked by the Election Commision, not because of any new-found sense of probity.

We also heard from Sonia that although she had resigned her post as a Lok Sabha MP, she was going to contest elections AGAIN to become the MP from Rae Bareilly AGAIN. And we heard from her various stooges that the people of Rae Bareilly would deliver the verdict, absolving her of all (alleged) guilt, and The One could return to Parliament for our sake.

Now as easy as it seems for the Congress party (the UPA Govt.) to call elections at will against established constitutional norms (e.g., Bihar, now), it is extremely difficult for the rest of India to be subjected to frequent elections. Understandably, since elections cost our developing country a lot of resources: money, time, energy, people - resources that could otherwise be devoted to bettering public welfare. Now to the Congressi, 'public welfare' may mean the welfare of the First Family (no, not that of Prime Minion Manmohan Singh). But to most sane Indians, the appeasement of Sonia's easily-bruised ego is not a good enough reason to call for elections.

And what exactly will the elections achieve? The expected result is obvious: Sonia will win and become the MP again. How does this absolve her of the unconstitutional act of holding offices of profit while being an MP? Or by then will the unprincipled alliance that passes for Govt. have already passed a law exempting Sonia? And are the congressis hoping that the EC will not rule on the current petition filed against Sonia because she has resigned her MP position?

I can understand if mid-term elections are held because the sitting MP has had to resign because he/she cannot hold office any more and SOMEONE ELSE will be elected as the new MP. But this is ridiculous!

Have you ever heard of elections being brought on mid-term by an MP to elect his/her own pious self again from the same constituency? Oh wait, let me take that back: we are talking about Indian democracy, where the egos of the politicians are larger than the public treasury ...

At least from now, can we stop wasting public money on frivolous elections?

How about putting together a petition that can be the basis of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) preventing MPs/MLAs (and their families) who have resigned their offices from contesting elections brought about by their resignation?

C'mon, Indian blogosphere, let's bring about a change for the better in India's sorry political scene ...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Rediff's Sheela and Sonia's Resignation

More biased (pro-Sonia, of course) coverage of the sham of Sonia's resignation: this time, courtesy Sheela Bhatt writing on "How Sonia cut her losses".

Given how the Congress' witch-hunt targetting Smt. Jaya Bachchan has boomeranged against itself, a more appropriate title for the report should be "How Congress cut its nose to spite its face"!

Enough of that! Let's proceed to the text of the article.

There is much of the usual tarring of the BJP, e.g.:

The BJP's shrill propaganda ...

Without losing a moment, Leader of Opposition L K Advani and other BJP leaders revived fears of the June 1975 Allahabad high court judgment that was the catalyst that led to the imposition of Emergency.


There are the visions of sacrifice, probity, sainthood, all that's good in this world, e.g.:

Sonia Gandhi, who had told the nation convincingly on May 18, 2004, that her "inner voice" compels her to forsake the prime ministership, now faced a test where the depth of her inner voice was being doubted.


There is anger at how the Congress can be so stupid to mess things up for its leader, e.g.:

The stupid thing about the whole episode is that the entire mess was of Congressmen's own making. And the only way out of the mess was for Gandhi to resign.

The villiain [sic] of the piece once again was Law Minister H R Bhardwaj, who mishandled the internal discussion among members of Parliament over some kind of changes in the Members of Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Act of 1959.


And back to the gushing praise of and awe-struck wonder at the stature of The Saint of Sacrifice:

Some would term her decision to quit as as a panic reaction but Mrs Gandhi is not one to mess around with the family's credibility to which she herself has hugely contributed since May 2004. Since the last two years she believes that she is above politics and that she has a special role to play in India's public life. By default the BJP gave her a chance to prove this point once again.


What Sheela says is if you (dear reader) think that Sonia panicked, you are wrong. St. Sonia is above panic, she is above Indian politics (and law, if only the Constitution would allow it). Seriously, when such things (above, special role in politics) are written about (and proclaimed by) The Saint (herself), aren't you reminded of missionaries who claim they are here and in it only to save our wretched souls?

Mrs Gandhi has once again projected her moral edge against the existing lot of politicians.
...
Before and after her resignation Mrs Gandhi remains the most powerful person in the government and outside. So what's all the fuss about?


What's all the fuss about? Well, how about the fact that Sonia has illegally run the country for 2 years from a spurious council and there will be no punitive action against her and her cronies (including Manmohan)? If a corporate officer resigns when his financial crimes have been uncovered, won't the law still go after him? What action can we expect against Sonia? Let's see, how about: NONE!

You know what I am eagerly awaiting? The sacking of Somnath 'Minibar' Chatterjee! It's about time someone deflates that pompous balloon.

The Puppeteer Drops the Strings (For Now, Apparently)

The Saint Puppeteer has resigned!

[Congress president] Sonia Gandhi today announced her resignation from the Lok Sabha and as chairperson of the National Advisory Council [NAC] ...


Although this resignation gives me much glee, it's not yet time to call for full-fledged celebrations. After all, what difference will it make to governance? Manmohan and the rest of the Congress (and much of the media) will continue to be the serfs (puppets) of the Nehru-Gandhi family. The NAC is but a mechanism to convey a sense of legitimacy to the puppeteer-puppet relationship of the Sonia-Manmohan duo. If it's a problem for Sonia to head the NAC and be an MP, just do away with the NAC, or her MP-status or devise another mechanism. For a lady who was once the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party without even being an MP, it won't be a stretch manipulating Manmohan and the rest of the puppets of the UPA Govt. without being in Parliament.

Oh, but wait, she plans to contest elections again. So how is the Congress going to deal with the situation then? When she wins the elections to become an MP again burns more public money, will she head the NAC again? Or does the Congress hope that, by then, everyone will have forgotten about the office-of-profit issue? [Natwar Singh who? Quattrochi who? Buta who? ... And, what's with this whole "should not hold an office of profit while being an MP" business? The office of the MP itself is an office of profit!]

The script that Madame Puppeteer reads from is straight from the I-am-doing-it-for-you-not-for-me spirit that characterizes the Nehru-Gandhi family.

'I have stated earlier also that I am in politics and public life not for my selfish ends,' [Sonia] said. 'I have taken a pledge to serve the people of the country and to protect secular ideals. So, in keeping with my public life and political principles and according to my own belief, I resign as member of the Lok Sabha and chairperson of National Advisory Council. '
...
She said she would contest again from the same constituency.


Arun Shourie wrote brilliantly in 1998 in The Asian Age:

The first and second halves of the 20th century hold three lessons. These are: all the sacrifices made were made by the Nehru-Gandhi Family, and it is because of those sacrifices that the country has risen to the heights it has, second, that no one else has made or makes sacrifices, and that is why the country is on the verge of breaking into fragments. Third, and most important for the future, that everything the Nehru-Gandhi Family does is a sacrifice.

If they do not accept the prime ministership, they are sacrificing the comforts, the pomp and show that go with the highest office. If they do accept it, they are sacrificing their own inclinations, they are sacrificing their personal interests and promising careers. If they accept security, they are sacrificing their privacy. If they do not, they are sacrificing their lives.


The fanclub is in full swing, simultaneously proclaiming a moral victory for The Puppeteer, begging her to reconsider her resignation, burning effigies and making asses of themselves. Here is a sampling:


Taking the wind out of the Opposition's sails ... [Rediff]

This is her second act of giving up a politically important position, the first being her refusal to take up the prime ministership soon after the Congress-led UPA was voted to power in May 2004. [Rediff]

Hailing her 'sacrifice', Congress supporters refused to disperse saying they will not go back until Sonia took back her resignation.

Girish Gupta, youth Congress leader from Indore, said, "Our leader has again made a supreme sacrifice. We are with her in the struggle."

Manmohan Singh, making a statement on Sonia Gandhi's resignation as a Lok Sabha MP and also as the Chairperson of the National Advisory Council, said: "Sonia is the tallest leader. She is a leader of rare committment to moral values."


Tell me something new, guys: don't recycle these tall tales of morality. It gets tedious after a while. The "tallest leader" had absolutely no qualms about violating the Constitution for 2 years. She discovers her moral sense (a.k.a the inner voice) only when the EC is on the verge of disqualifying her and when the UPA's brazen attempts (at specifically passing an ordinance for her benefit) could not get off the ground!

Before I forget, here's the headline of an earlier IBN-Live news report (not an editorial): BJP, SP out to rob Sonia of LS seat. Media neutrality: what's that?

Happily, this is my 75th post!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

March 16: The Hindu Wipes The Pages Clean

Of ANY news item on the Varanasi bomb blasts.

The only mentions of the bomb blasts in the Chennai paper edition (dated Mar. 16, 2006) are in the Letters to the Editor, where there are two letters: oh wait, these are letters cribbing about Advani's yatra. So does that count?

IT'S NOT BEEN TEN DAYS SINCE THE BLASTS, YET "INDIA'S NATIONAL NEWSPAPER SINCE 1878" HAS COMPLETELY WIPED ITS PAGES CLEAN OF ANY MENTION OF THE BLASTS!

Life goes on ...

Meanwhile 8 Shia Muslims call on Governor Barnala. For what?

Led by Prince of Arcot Mohammed Abdul Ali, the delegation, on behalf of the Tamil Nadu Shia Muslim Convention, presented a resolution to the Governor, which criticised the publication of the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper, and the demolition of the holy shrine at Samarra in Iraq.

The delegation requested the Governor to forward the resolution to the Governments of Iraq and Denmark and to use his good offices with the Union Government to lodge its protest with the Iraqi Government for not adequately protecting the shrine at Samarra.


Yeah, that's right. The Indian Govt. should protest to the Iraqi Govt. that the latter is not adequately protecting the shrine of Samarra. Are these guys for real? When the Indian Govt. cannot protect its OWN citizens from terrorists, they want it to haul up Iraq for not protecting shrines ... High expectations, indeed!

Economics of Plying Autorickshaws

On an autorickshaw ride yesterday I gleaned info on the economics of driving autorickshaws for a living.

Take a case where an autorickshaw driver hires his vehicle from someone on a daily basis (rather than owning one of his own). Here are typical numbers for expenses (I have indicated within brackets whose responsibility it is to pay):

Daily Rental: Rs. 130 (Renter)
Daily Petrol: Rs. 150 (Renter)

Maintenance:
Any expense under Rs. 50 (Renter)
Any expense over Rs. 50 (Owner)

Yearly insurance for the vehicle: Rs. 2000 (Owner)
Fuel efficiency: 25 KMPL (Even 30 KMPL for new vehicles)

The auto-stand works on a queue basis.
With the above expenses, a "good day" is one which brings in revenues of Rs. 500 or more (for a profit of Rs. 200 or more).

My driver mentioned that he works daily, except when he is ill.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Dilbert and The Prophet

The internet is an incredible roller-coaster in the dark (like Disneyland's Space Mountain) for the mind: you never know what's next. Today morning I was reading the wonderfully funny Scott Adams on Dilbertblog and within a few minutes I was inexorably drawn to another link on The Prophet. No, the link didn't have to do with The Cartoons (enough of them already!): it had to with Kahlil Gibran's work "The Prophet".

I had heard of Mr. Gibran before, but had never read him. Today I took the chance to read a couple of chapters from The Prophet and was completely awestruck by the thoughts expressed and the manner of expression. Here is a sample, the chapter On Marriage:

Then Almitra spoke again and said, "And what of Marriage, master?"
And he answered saying:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.


And from the chapter On Children:

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, "Speak to us of Children."
And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.


And the following section, Mr. Kahlil Gibran seems to have directly observed India's moral-policers and law-makers:


But to whom life is a rock, and the law a chisel with which they would carve it in their own likeness?
What of the cripple who hates dancers?
What of the ox who loves his yoke and deems the elk and deer of the forest stray and vagrant things?
What of the old serpent who cannot shed his skin, and calls all others naked and shameless?
And of him who comes early to the wedding-feast, and when over-fed and tired goes his way saying that all feasts are violation and all feasters law-breakers?
What shall I say of these save that they too stand in the sunlight, but with their backs to the sun?
They see only their shadows, and their shadows are their laws.
And what is the sun to them but a caster of shadows?


Brilliant, isn't it?

Wikipedia tells us that
The Prophet is a book of 26 poetic essays written in 1923 by the Lebanese artist and philosopher Khalil Gibran.

In the book, a prophet who has lived in the foreign city of Orphalese for 12 years is about to board a ship to carry him home. He is stopped by a group of people, to whom he speaks about issues of life: love, marriage, hate, etc. Considered one of Gibran's best selling books, Gibran followed it by a book called Garden of Prophet, and was due to produce a 3rd part when he died.


What Mr. Gibran does on paper via sublime poetry, Mr. Julian Beever does on the sidewalk with chalk. Human creativity at its wondrous best!