Monday, June 30, 2008

Evolution and Insult of Rules नियमांचा फज्जा

In the year AD 66 a guy called Gaius Petronius said, "What power has law where only money rules?"

He couldn't have said it better today.

Rules. Those noble things that made life simple and sometimes , tolerable.

Earlier these worked. Now, I'm sorry to say, it appears, that they don't.

In our primary school, Class II, we learned the Rules of Crossing the road .
It went : "Look right, look left, when you cross the street; use your eyes, then your ears, and then you use your feet."

( Denizens of advanced countries addicted to driving on the right may design a suitably altered version for themselves).

(Mrs Desouza (my class teacher of 50 years ago who taught us this ditty) , if you are reading this, remember me as one of those, who stood with palms out and open, as you moved around with ruler(raised sideways) , punishing those who messed up subtraction-with-carry sums).

At that time, this rule worked like a charm. We believed everything our teacher told us. We follow somethings even today, unconsciously. So did the traffic on the road.

An effort at doing that
recently, outside on the road, nearly lead me to an accident and traffic jam .

I looked right; only to have a policeman blow a whistle, and wildly gesticulate asking me to move back from the path of a bulldozer trying to make a right turn , from the opposite side of the road,almost on me. An agitated leap back, almost caused my collision with the fashionable exterior part of the bonnet of an unusually upmarket car with highly evolved occupants , who proceeded to give proletarian-me , disdainful looks.

I looked left; and got a whiff, then a blast , of diesel , as all the traffic had stalled at the turning, and I barely escaped being part of the pile up. Seeing stopped traffic on the road makes me very happy these days. I CAN CROSS SAFELY !

I used my eyes (after rubbing the diesel particles out), used my ears ( no dangerous accelerating engine noises, no police whistles, no one-shouting "Oye, dikhta nahi kya ") and was about to use my feet, when a motorcycle whizzed past, with the pillion rider, shouting at me saying"Watch, watch", and the driver did one of his angular 40 degree bends to the side in typical filmy style. He barely avoided crushing my extended right ankle. One of my friends was not so lucky. In a similar situation, the occupant of a rickshaw shouted in a similar manner, but in addition pushed her back (supposedly for her own benefit) , from inside the rickshaw, with the result that she fell to the ground, as the vehicle disappeared into the traffic.

Sorry Mrs Desouza. Rules today are designed , so we can all break them.

Smoking in public vehicles is banned . (notice how I hesitate to even mention public "places"). A request to a middle aged chap in my bus, (who alternated between "enjoying" his mobile phone and cigarette, and caused nauseated uneasy reactions in some of us), to put his cigarette "out" , brought forth questions about who owned the bus, and did my father figure in that ?

Ladies seats in the same buses, are another cause of Rule trauma. The Bus authorities, in their wisdom , and out of great concern for Mumbai's embattled, public-transport-using women, reserved certain seats in the bus for women. This rule has been disobeyed so many times, leading to arguments , finger pointing at the painted rules, and adamant males, that one day, has simply been etched into my memory. I got into a bus, and kind of squeezed ahead to the aforementioned seats, to find two guys standing next to them, leaving those seats vacant, for stumbling folks like me. I emerged out of my utterly speechless state, to give them my thanks. Really felt like nominating them for some awards.

(But I didnt know the RULES for nominating them).

Nowadays, I suspect there is another reason for making rules. Every rule and regulation has an equal and opposite reaction. I don't think even Newton realized how widely prevalent his 3rd law would be. Every new rule spawns a set of experts who specialize in bypassing them . Mumbai has an industrious lot that designs systems to bypass rules , for a price.

Buying of tickets, reserving bus,train and other seats , admission to colleges, getting identity cards, applications to various posts in government institutions, buying grains at subsidized rates, obtaining ration cards, getting unentitled medical care; the list is endless.

They don't spare people even in death. Crematoriums charge a fixed amount as per municipal rules. Details of the cremation are forwarded to the municipal ward office, for further processing, leading to the issuance of a death certificate.

A certain electric crematorium has evolved a "tip" culture where people pay them substantially more than the designated charges. Those that stick to the municipal rules, thinking, that decency and respect will prevail in the last journey of a tired life, will be left making innumerable trips to the ward offices for the certificate, as the relevant information doesn't move from the crematorium, without the "green" tip.

(In this case, a visit by the daughter of the deceased , and some loud questioning by her , in a place where women are not naturally seen, seemed to do the needful, and the information was forwarded to the ward office , more out of a sense of getting rid of her and the ensuing embarassment in front of the "paying" people, than any remorse on their side).

They want to convert Mumbai into Shanghai. Maybe even Singapore or New York. But in the euphoria of brick-and mortar progress, and unnatural huge attention to money matters, we are certainly destroying peoples good sense and minds.

It's a sign of the times. There is degeneration. The impressive Asiatic Library Town Hall building in Mumbai, today is direly in need of maintenance, if the original structure and wealth of books and knowledge, are to be saved .In all the statue obsession and individual avarice, funds seem experience obstructions. Aldous Huxley, who would certainly know what he was talking about, once described the Asiatic Library town hall building as the only gentleman amidst cads and bounders.....

Will a real gentleman ever stand up amidst the rule breaking cads and bounders of Mumbai ?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A question of statues....पुतळेच पुतळे

"Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”

The great Michelangelo, probably said this between finely chiselling away at someone's nose or giving a great gradient to someone's waist, on his way to creating another masterpiece in Rome.
Michelangelo Buonarroti was , to put it mildly, a very creative person. Very fond of sculpting, he also had some other things to say (as above) , which , it appears, are being avidly followed by the government of this state.

The trouble was, you needed to find free ,available, and unencumbered blocks of stone, possibly with a clear title, in this city of Mumbai. And that was the tough part. But, as someone said, where there is a will, and a possible early election, there is always a way .

And in Leonardo da Vinci,
(1452-1519), Italian draftsman, Painter, Sculptor, Architect and Engineer whose genius epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal, they found some great support when he said:

"I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.(Italics mine. Leonardo possible couldn't have known about the current intricacies of "applying" for stuff and "getting stuff done").

If you cannot find a block(s) of stone(s), not to worry. For a government which has managed to convert water into land at an amazing and profit making speed, why stop at blocks of stone?

Aim high . Create an island.

And so the powers that be got into a speedboat, skimmed through the crashing waves, life jackets and all, assisted by what may be called "affirmative" men and women , and did a recce of the wild waters of the Arabian Sea a mile into the sea. They came back, and decided that they would create an "island" .( Eat your heart out, Aristotle Onassis. Gifting your wife an existing island may be a laudable proposition, but I bet you never created one).

Why all this ?

The urgent need to create a Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Island, as a grand home for a huge statue of Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, that will look down victoriously in international globalized splendour at the Statue of Liberty, which will now be 4 feet shorter. This feat , that is, the "gazing down" at Old Liberty, appears to be a bit difficult due to various guys like Galileo declaring that the earth is round, despite modern Friedman types declaring flatly, that it is, what else, flat.

The Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Island, will host a Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum, the Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj sound and light show, the Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Gift shop and Food Court. Special buses will be run from The Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Train Terminus(CST) and the Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport. When visitors of ranks higher than you and me visit, there will be an n-star hotel on the premises, so they can have "Paav sur le Vada", "Misal a la Kolha" "Soul Kadhi Supreme, "Thal-i-Peeth au Konkan" and unnamed carnivorous items (unknown to shakahari me) , about which details will be known later. Various motorized water vehicles, will skim across the Arabian Sea (now to be shortly renamed as the Shri Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Samudra, as soon as the PM is free of the Nuclear stuff, for the inauguration), carrying passengers to the island.

Did someone ask about a freeway being earlier planned through the waters , to ease the traffic congestion in South Mumbai ? Simple.
The Government is all set to drop nearly four kilometres of sealink between Malabar Hills and Nariman Point which is part of the ambitious Rs4,500-crore Western Freeway sealink project. The reason apparently is to give an unobstructed view of the Chhatrapati Shivaji statue which is to be installed in the sea, off Marine Drive.

The cost of all this ? A mere 25 million dollars. One billion rupees. The number of zeros is enough to send arithmetically-disabled-me into a dead faint.

And another cost too. A long term one. Without Zeros.

The Indian Express of 24th June 2008, on page 4, reports that a bunch of politicians have been visiting the chief minister, and asking that a statue of Dr B. R. Ambedkar be set up ,off the sea of the sea coast of Mumbai. What the Chief Ministers reply was , is not reported.

Why not also, a statue of the Rani of Jhansi, Laxmibai, who was a part of the original war for independence, thus also celebrating the outstanding contribution of women to the nation's independence, as well as giving it the honor it deserves, as a precursor, to a series of women in power in India over the years since 1947. (And we will just forget about those insecure types who keep opposing the 33% women's reservation bil in Parliament)

People in Kolkata will not rest unless the Marxists, currently reeling under Sangrur and Gorkhaland, agree to install a statue of Shri Subhash Chnadra Bose in the Bay of Bengal, and flights from
Anadaman Islands to Chennai will fly low over the approach to Chennai to point out the huge statues of MGR, Annadurai, Jayalalitha, Karunanidhi and others , standing somewhere in the ocean, looking back at the land they called theirs. Of course Gujarat would not rest unless their Iron man , Vallabhaiji Patel was given his rightful place , looking benignly across his land of birth from his perch in the Arabian Sea, maybe just off Dwarka.

Helpless ignorance allows me to avoid mentioning who Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthann, Haryana, Punjab UP, MP, and Bihar might nominate for an honorable place in the Sea. And lets not even think of states that would start clamouring for Statues in the mountains of the north.

The possibilities are endless. The consequences , frightening.

It is very clear, that someone needs to pay great attention to this new fashion of erecting statues, on what would essentially be, land stolen from the sea.

Cut to Mumbai monsoons in the year 2030. There will be no flooding in Juhu, simply because there will be no Juhu. The sea will have taken over. Folks will look back nostalgically at the walks they took on various promenades at Bandra, Worli, and Marine Drive, and mourn their loss, and look angrily in the direction of the statues on islands, then hidden by the south Mumbai smog, thanks to vehicle exhausts. The Thane Creek will suddenly look huge, what with most of its banks, minus the mangroves, flooded with sea water , consequent to an all round rise in sea levels. People will stand on the Pedder Road flyover, and look down into the water swirling below, and wonder about where Breach Candy used to be, and how they stood in line for their US visa 22 years ago. The US Consullate, having switched to the Bandra Kurla Complex, at a huge cost, will wonder why flooding is inexplicably linked to their location, now that BKC is also water engulfed. The Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai will be relaxed at the sudden decrease in maintenance of manholes and storm drains, since everything is now officially , "the sea", and will hold a press conference on a ship to announce his success. The Taj will now be a 10-star floating hotel, and school children will wonder what the idea of the Gateway was, if King George had to wade in through deep water anyway, since the gateway was way out in the sea.

Maybe we need to create a single island for all statues. Mark out areas. The government will have its work cut out, trying to balance all the political demands. New statues will come up as new coalitions come into Power. Parliament will have an entire session to decide reservation issues in statues. All those great men and women immortalized in stone will look on aghast as the representatives of the people resort to fighting,sloganeering, and flinging of microphones and chairs. Regional infighting on the island consequent to political compulsions, will make people stay away. Mumbai Police, will come steaming in in their Maruti launches, IPC section 144 at the ready. It will be an island of statues, of people, who if they could, would simply shake their heads, as if to say "I told you so" island of figures, standing tall, looking out at their land, and wondering what it had come to..

And far away from Mumbai, in a load-shedded small town in Interior Maharashtra, thanks to all the power concentrated in Mumbai, electrical and otherwise, a child will be pouring over his homework, in the light of a lantern; something he needs to finish fast, since he needs to get up very early as his school requires that he walk there 8 kms each way, thanks to the school in his village that exists only on paper, and the broken bridge that no one wants to repair. And nobody really cares.

The homework assignment ? An essay on Maharashtra's greatest glory : The Neta Island - off Mumbai.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Matric fail मँट्रीक फेल

There is a very disgusting ad doing the rounds on television these days. Contrary to what most suspect, it has nothing to do with displaying maximum parts of the female human anatomy with minimum clothes.

It advertises some energy saving CFL bulbs being marketed by what I thought, was one of India's leading IT companies(Wipro), who was, or maybe is, also involved with soap. As in washing, not operas.

So what is disgusting ?

A very presumptuous, money minded man, talks down derisively to a slightly older, supposedly uneducated, confused man, to tell him that the energy saving capabilities of the CFL bulb were really equivalent to putting money in your savings account. He ridicules the man , treating him like a dumb kid being subject to rote learning, and abuses and addresses him loudly ,as "matric fail", clearly designed to elicit a "laugh" from everyone around including the shopkeeper .

Given the lopsided standards in society today, he succeeds. I wonder what the company is trying to tell us besides the wonders of the CFL bulb.

What else is to be expected, in a society, where education has become such a business, that we now have, a category called "education moghuls" or "shikshan maharshi", patronized by those in politics who acquire cheap government land with spurious lofty intentions, and then build their "empires" fuelled and funded by outrageous fees charged from students , and never mind that several families may have just denied their current generation their own house , lost their ancestral land , denied a similar chance to their female offspring, or gone into debt, all under the pressure that "this admission was a must".....

What else is to be expected in a country where ability to threaten is often accepted as a management technique to be employed in communicating with examiners , currency notes are often stapled to examination answer books; come march-april, newspapers are replete with stories of how some invigilator was bashed up because he tried to forbid some guys from passing examination answers from outside a window to students inside, and june simply sees newspapers full of details of students who end their lives because they couldn't face failure and parents at the same time..........

What do you say about a place where an all-round brilliant student was once docked marks in national board exams, because he dared to solve the a mathematical problem in an innovative way, (way beyond the comprehension of those Kings of By-heart who go into a tizzy just seeing an English spelling, wrongly, but logically phonetically written), the concerned parents who brought in experts to prove their child's point were successful, and the parents politely refused when they were asked to make an "application" to have the child declared a topper in an exam he had topped anyway...........

What else is to be expected when authorities act as if education is only about college, and in the meanwhile, schools in remote parts of the state close down because the money sanctioned for repair of the roof of the single room primary school building, never reaches there, and materialises as a motorcycle for some one's son, who probably couldn't spell "truth" if he was asked......

What is to be expected by sets of parents so brainwashed by the rote form of learning, the neighbour's child's success, and intricacies and movement of the decimal system in the 90th percentile of marks, that they ridicule their child who is a gifted artist and or sportsman, reacting to low marks by acquiring into a plethora of mental ailments which they then pass on to their children , only to benefit a breed of counsellors and psychiatrists that has since become very prominent....

Does being "matric" imbibe you with common sense , or a halo of brilliance ?

For some people ,the answer is a resounding NO.

In my childhood, there were many women, who had studied only up to the class 7, prevalent in those days; sometimes due to brothers reaping most of the family resource benefits, and sometimes due to financial,societal or geographical constraints.

Some of these folks were mothers, some were grandmothers, not very "educated " in the formal sense. But their sense of the greening of the environment, their natural abilities in energy saving in most of their household activities, their understanding of economics in the home, and handling of family members with differing mental and physical abilities could teach today's educators a thing or two. This knowledge was never hoarded, kept secret, or sold. it was available to those who looked like they could use it.

They didn't have degrees in liberal arts or sciences, but were able to relate what they learnt to day-to-day matters of living, problems and all.

And lets not restrict it to the female of the species.

A lot of the men then, made their careers by being clerks, after some kind of basic education. Matriculation was mostly a function of the other requirements and needs within the immediate family, based on everyone's health and monetary situations. Being a matric didn't mean you calculated things faster, or read faster. It meant you qualified for a job in places like the government , where matriculation was a weeding process for others rather than selection process for you.

Today my "uneducated household help" , who operates her bank account with an inked thumb impression, can calculate things faster than some people I know . Her son, who probably classifies as an aforementioned "matric fail", runs a fresh vegetable stall, and is yet to be cheated by anyone, including some educated types. He married a "matric pass" girl, who, after having 2 kids , wanted to do a state government computer skills course, and it was her , so called, first-grade-fail mother-in-law , who enthusiastically stood behind her, offering to manage the kids, thereby sending a message to her sons.

Unfortunately, the prevalent thought today is that education ends with a degree; you pay for it, you get it; if you don't have a degree, you are not only unfortunate, you are stupid. Doesn't matter if you don't end up learning. You need a stamp, a label. And forget your aptitudes, your native intelligence, and special capabilities. Green doesn't mean trees, it means money, like the currency notes the "educated" man flashes in the ad, and the disgustingly subservient look on the face of the other.

And so the man in the Wipro CFL bulb ad, epidermically thickened after being derisively addressed by the so called successful, moneyed, arithmetically-enabled disgusting non-gentleman, will go home, install the bulb, and try to use the "savings" to build up a fund to send his son to some outrageously expensive coaching classes, so no one , can, EVER, call his son a MATRIC FAIL.

Deep down , somewhere , it hurts.

P. S. Does someone in Wipro actually see what ads they are putting up?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lessons from the chutney stone: Mastic-ization of Mumbai Roads...रस्त्याला टाकी लावा......

Takes me back to the days when chutneys were still ground on stones. My mother must have been the last of those loyalists who looked down their noses at folks trying to make lassi in mixers, pretending that dahi became buttermilk solely due to blender brilliance, and of course those who thought that metal blades making a mess of coriander and chilles was something to be thrilled about.

There is something about fresh moist coriander, chopped finger burning chillies, fragrant fresh coconut, refreshing sprigs of mint , some lashings of kairi, all this oozing aroma as it lies on a dark flat stone, being crushed and dragged under another smaller cylindrical stone, getting enriched with jeera,salt, and other things.

So much so, that, about 30 years ago, I once lugged a biggish chutney stone from Pune to Mumbai , in a tough shoulder bag , in a crowded second class ladies compartment in the first train of the day, and won the everlasting admiration and encouragement of those hardworking women (who commute to work in Mumbai daily), who were so impressed that they even helped me carry it towards the compartment exit, as I battled entering passengers, trying my best not to injure them , and also myself, as I jumped out in a gravity defying manner , all this in the standard 30 second stop at the station.

It instilled in me a healthy respect for weight bearing exercises , as well as my clavicles. and subscapularises, and my subclavicles.

One of the things one needs to do as maintenance from time to time , on these stones, is to ensure a roughened surface. As you grind more and more chutneys, and various lipsmacking fluids kind of overpower the surface, gradually smoothening it with spicy wear and tear, a time comes, when you need to do what is called , "taki lavne" in vernacular, but simply means that you call someone to hammer the surface with a special nail in a special manner, so as to create the correct rough surface once again.

Unfortunately, the folks at the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai(MCGM), almost all of who grew up , undoubtedly in traditional chutney households, have been so wonderstruck with mastic and asphalt, that they have forgotten this simple friction principle.

So we have 136 accidents on the Eastern Express Highway in the first 5 days, of a monsoon, that has started this year, in a fury reminiscent of the 2005 deluge. Roads were treated with mastic and asphalt, to avoid fast creations of potholes, which is the norm for our roads. This time the roads became too smooth, and vehicles skidded, many people were injured, and vehicles damaged. A van returning with a marriage party skidded , killing an entire family , with the exception of the father.

I wonder if the MCGM knows that Ireland resurfaced its mastic-ed roads into a non-mastic-ed state , and restricted the mastic-asphalt stuff to roads where the speed limit was 30 mph. Police did trials on these roads before foisting it on the public, and were aghast at , what is called skid resistance.
Tests initiated by the National Roads Authorities (NRA) in the Irish Republic raised questions about the materials' ability to provide enough friction for tyres at higher speeds.

Turns out that the
Highways Agency of the UK , doesnt agree. Even though BBC reports mentioned police in Debyshire doing a test and agreeing with the Irish. Germany also has reservations about the use of this, and they actually were the pioneers of this mastic asphalt stuff.

Then there is this high cost of what is known as filler and binder material while laying the asphalt-mastic stuff. Science says that Stone Mastic Asphalt(
SMA ) mix must be cooled to 40°C to prevent flushing of the binder to the surface, and it is this binder stuff on the surface which needs to be worn off so prevent skidding.

It may be even necessary initially to do to the road, what we did to the chutney stone. In road parlance it is called applying a small clean grit.

In many ways, thats what it takes. Grit . Determination.

To do excellent scientific supervision. To ensure that the epidemic of easy money, consequent to contractors using cheaper fillers etc, is handled strictly. To ensure, that when an adverse experience is indicated in Indian conditions, technology be adapted to our situation. Maybe the roads should have been masti-asphalted at the end of the last monsoon. So the binder on the surface would have nicely worn off by this monsoon, given our huge traffic density and vehicle variety.

Our corporators gift themselves laptops. They go on junkets to Europe , ostensibly to study governance. Presumably with eyes and ears closed. Pockets open. I wish they would surf and see this .

What is interesting is that the country(UK) whose governance model we apparently follow, had apparently banned the use of this mastic-asphalt, only to overturn that some time later.

BBC did a campaign. No change. Rings a bell ?

A police seargent in Debyshire testing the surface said "
It was a sunny day in August. I jumped on the brakes and the car just kept going and going.Instead of the scream of tyre on road and a cloud of smoke there was just a gentle hiss as I passed over the road, and I skidded far further than I ever expected to."

Back to Mumbai

Those 136 accident cases in 5 days.

The marriage party where a skidding vehicle killed all but one family member.

Maybe, like the sergeant said, there was a gentle hiss.

But is the MCGM listening to the screams of those that are no more?

Monday, June 09, 2008

The power of a Canis Familiaris *** मुम्बई का कुत्ता

Have wings. Will fly.

Lest you think that I hop from plane to plane and travel a lot, let me explain that the scope of my travel normally extends to three wheeler and bus travel between Mumbai's eastern and western suburbs, and occasional suburban train travel, when the skies are not excessively overcast , and threatening to discharge fifteen kilometres of high dark and loaded cloud cover in 8 hours , as happened in July 2005.

As a person with feet more or less firmly planted , not only on the ground, but these days also in deep and watery potholes, I often feel a tinge of envy as I see planes coming in for a landing beyond the hill in the distance; no slush, no wetness, no wet mud splashes on your window (if not on you, in a 3-wheeler), no pushing and shoving in buses, no defining your space with unfolded umbrellas, no glaring and , hopefully, no shouting.

No more. Because of a dog.

A stray dog, the mongrel type that wanders aimlessly in crowded areas, trying to snatch something to eat from something we humans trash, the type that children like to stone and run away, and the type that often runs in a pack with other like minded homeless dogs, suddenly realized that there was this huge clean inviting expanse that he could run on to in the rain, now that a portion of the airport perimeter wall, had collapsed, thanks to the aforementioned rain.

So what's new ? This.

One dog, was able to divert 5 flights, delay 30 , and have hundreds of folks running around trying to catch him, as he frolicked on the runway. He appeared on the scene, a few minutes before another runway was to be closed, and so all these high tech, radar technology enabled folks were desperate to catch him. Of course , there were other things like cargo planes which had made emergency landings and blocked some area, but the dogs timing was, if you forgive the usage, superb.

Just think. Diamond merchants, bankers, stock exchange honchos, looking forward to landing, whizzing off to their air conditioned offices in their air conditioned cars, to make an air conditioned profit, suddenly realized that they were not landing, but diverted to say, Ahmedabad. And you could not use your cell phone.

Maybe , some of our captains of industry, no longer flying junta level planes (but their own private ones), winging into Mumbai for a meeting and a page 3 party, suddenly realized that they were going round in circles, and not likely to land soon. Think of the revenue lost per minute, collaborations left unsigned, and lets not worry about the jet fuel wasted.

The idea that the world's 3rd richest man, trying to land in Mumbai in his own jet, waiting to helicopter over to his south Mumbai abode, is unable to any of it, all due to a dog , is simply outrageously funny. Not that it has happened but the scenario simply sizzles. How very unReliable.

Politicians, some brimming with optimism after a successful visit to Delhi, others, seething with anger and discomfort after a perceived treacherous episode in Delhi, and some others, simply wasting their country's resources, flying into Mumbai with large families and even larger Z-plus securities, for a social event camouflaged as a working visit , must have wrung their hands in despair, as the air hostess announced in shudh hindi about the diversion to an airport 600 miles away. (And that state was ruled by the opposition....).

The rest kept circling round and round , giving everyone a birds eye view of the flooding , the slums, the traffic, and the uprooted trees.

Some flights were international. Some carried people from the worlds most advanced IT companies. NRI chaps returning home, participating in the newly happening "brain gain". Some were terribly embarrassed. Some were desperate, they had interviews to appear for. Some like my friend, were actually kind of relieved - this would be an unexpected off, in their heavily crowded, day-to-day routine, they were returning to. Some just took a deep breath.

But I often wonder. Knowing the nature of the population and density just outside the perimeter wall, should they be pursuing some added technology besides the brick and mortar wall ? Some kind of ultrasonic/electronic sound technology that only animals would hear and keep away ? Is building an airport only about making five star amenities in lounges, and newer technology for the air traffic controllers? For a city with a huge population, would it be a feasible solution to train and employ local lads to guard the perimeter walls to avoid such things ? Is technology all about machines, smarter, faster, bigger , or is it about trying to improve the lot of the people who live around you?

Maybe the dog has an answer. Maybe it is trying to tell us something. Maybe we need to pay attention to the little things.

Like someone said, "
The intelligence of a Poodle and the loyalty of a Lassie. The bark of a Shepherd and the heart of a Saint Bernard. The spots of a Dalmatian, the size of a Schnauzer, and the speed of a Greyhound. A genuine, Mumbai ka kutta has it all."

***Canis Familiaris : mongrel dog

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Tencket, anyone ? अगोबाई, टेनीस का क्रीकेट हे ?

Cloudburst after cloudburst in defiance of the Met office predictions, heralding the angry onset of this year's monsoon, flooded railway tracks, deep water filled roads, municipal authorities fibbing and giving creative excuses on most TV channels, has made me gravitate towards the sports channels, which I had hitherto relegated to the trash folder ever since the ostentatious overdose of IPL happened.

It's Sunday evening, and I see Rafael Nadal serving at 198 mph at Roger Federer. Maybe it is kmph. But if you look at it from the ball's perspective, it may be similar to what it feels when being flung out of the curved palms of Ishant Sharma or Mr Akhtar.

Which has got me thinking. (Regardless of the fact that a lot of people think such an event is difficult to imagine).

Anyone interested in
Tencket ?

A bunch of 11 people , playing on a pitch, versus two guys holding bats. One guy running in and hurling a ball, taking care to not bend his elbow more than so many degrees. Bat swipes the ball, some of the 11 run after it, while the batters keep running between the two ends of the pitch.

Imagine a game where most things remain same, but the ball is flung with the help of a tennis racket. The bowler runs in, tosses the ball high up, takes a few more steps and smashes a serve on the pitch. 200 kmph . Maybe even mph, given that you need to bang the ball much closer than on a tennis court. The secret is to know how high up and at what angle to toss the ball, so you can whack it before being no-balled.

You can even call the racket , a "backet", out of consideration for cricketing types. The batting guys will have to be really alert while performing their stuff. Of course umpires will have to considerably reposition themselves so as to not retire hurt due to a tennis racket smacking them .

It will mean the bowler must take return catches, if any, with one hand. Its been done before, the one handed catches, that is.

Of course this will mean redefining the tennis racket gutting material. Normal gut will not handle the red cherry.

Just like in current matches, you have guys from the batting team running in with spare bats and gloves , sometimes to pass messages from the gurus inside, you will now have the bowling side's benched payers running in with different tennis rackets for the bowler to check. With the stunning impact on the ball, once from the tennis racket and once from the cricket bat, players will have to figure out ways to make use of the innovative wear and tear on the ball, as well as better ways of polishing the ball, than rubbing it in weird parts of their trousers.

There will be a new type of spin. Doosras and Teesras will be a thing of the past. This will some kind super fast spin. Folks will now specialize in Satwas.

Think of the new stuff you could add in the rules . Bowlers taking one handed catches from their own bowling (with a racket), can now subtract 3 runs from the batting side.

Guys fielding near the boundary in deep and silly positions, can do so with a racket in hand when required. Very useful while stopping boundaries (even as they slide in the slush), and bouncing the ball above the racket , over to themselves to take a catch. Such a "catch" would then be called a "snatch".

T-20 authorities will curse the day they made the rule about resolving a tie by bowling at the stumps . Serving and smashing the stumps will be so much easier.

Third umpires , who tend to have doubts over the television replays will now be assisted by tennis umpires. Bowlers who make a fuss, come running in, and suddenly decelerate and cancel the run-up , will be glared at by the umpire, who will, in his best Wimbledon imitation say "Time!" while giving the bowler a dirty look, and asking him to serve the next ball immediately.

Think of Billy Bowden doing some newer steps while declaring someone out. Dennis Lillee will now be assisted by a tennis player . Sania Mirza will be advising the Deccan Chargers, and people will crowd the next IPL fixture to watch her sitting in the dugout . Shahrukh Khan will hire Leander Paes for the Kolkatta Knightriders. Mahesh Bhupathi will give the nod to Rahul Dravid. Dhoni, aiaiyo, will be happy to appoint Bopanna. And Shane Warne will probably take tennis lessons himself .

With so much excitement, the Page 3 , cricket ignorant IPL owners who deemed it necessary to outsource expressions of excitement to the Washington Redskins and similar outfits (pun intended), will find that cheerleaders (version 1.1) has been upgraded, and that version 1.2 now consists of page 1 common folks, who throng the stadiums to watch their favourite players, make witty posters, do Mexican waves, bravely face up when hit by a six (war injuries are honorable), demand sixes, shout themselves hoarse over a diving catch 2 cms short of the boundary and quieten down dangerously when Sachin , just out, walks back to the pavilion, looking up at the sky.

The BCCI, in its new upwardly mobile attitude (thanks to the several hundred crores from the IPL), will sniff at Mahesh Bhupati and Bopanna, and hold talks with Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, and Lleyton Hewitt. Chak De situations will demand the presence of the Williams sisters, and there will be big competetion with Maria Sharapova announcing her entry into coaching.

Or should I say Federer ?

The last time i looked he wasn't doing to well at the French Open finals.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Let it rain ...........येरे येरे पावसा.......

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.

So said Rabindranath Tagore.

So far as the meteorological services in India are concerned, that would have been just fine. Clouds could come floating and go, occasionally drip some rain here and there, there would be a poem written about sunsets, and the meteorological types would be back to wrongly predicting light showers over Madhya Maharashtra,Telangana and other exciting places.

I watch the news daily at night. Between being thrilled to bits about temperatures in Patna hitting 2 degrees below normal (Yipee), and a western low pressure disturbance threatening to come in, (along with many other dangerous things) from Pakistan , the fun part begins when the western disturbance, simply drops its disturbing style and simply remains western the next day. Thankfully, the North, South, East and West do not change .

Last evening , while hurrying through the bhaji market at dusk, there was a different feel to the air. The covers put up by the bhajiwalaas to protect their veggies from excessive sun and possible rain, were actually flapping around. There was a lot of dust suspended in the air. Everyone was hurrying around. The last few days had been incredibly hot and humid. Post sunset, things got a bit cooler, something unusual for Mumbai. Opening my balcony after entering an empty house, I suddenly saw some lightening. First just a lighting up of the southern sky near the horizon. Almost as a reflex action, I took in a deep breath, seeking the smell of wet mud, which was not yet there. Streaks of lightening then started appearing more frequently. There was a massive wind that simply rolled in through the balcony, pushing the doors in, and scattering all kinds of papers, greeting cards and other knick knack which had been sedately sitting around all these months. A windy rain followed , with a great intensity, did its stuff for about five to ten minutes, and then , breezed off towards the ocean, leaving behind the wonderful smell of wet mud after the first rains .

Wonderful as this sounds, it would have been still more wonderful, if our esteemed meteorological pundits had predicted its possibility. A lot of mango "chhundaas ", slowly getting solar-cooked in the heavy heat on terraces, would have been saved . Housewives at the fag end of their summer stocking of papads and other storage items, would have taken different decisions had they known. What a waste !

Why is it that the meteorological services in India, explain the event after it happens? Why doesn't some one appear on TV and say "folks, if you are planning on open-air celebratory gettogethers, there is a definite chance of some rain in the evening. So take care of things".

I know countries where they predict not only rain, but how much will fall. If it is snow, they tell you which areas to avoid, due to dangers of heavy snow. A whole generation of automobile-enabled weekend-obsessed citizens, plan their outings accordingly.

What technology do they use that we cannot get? Is it that we have the technology but are not trained to interpret the findings ? If we do not have the technology, why do we not acquire it ? Is there a priority list for stuff to be bought by the government ? In all the amount of people that go abroad to learn about Hindi usage in Sweden, thief catching procedures in New York, solar energy usage by hotels in Australia, how rain is tackled in London, and laundering of a different kind in Luxembourg or Switzerland, can we not find funds for a few smart types who can learn the techniques and come back and train others here ? If not humanware and software, then do we lack the hardware ? In our great journey from things nano to things mega, are we forgetting day-today life ?

Why are most of our weather reports dedicated to telling you what the temperatures were yesterday?

Lest these questions fall on deaf ears, think of the just finished IPL. Think of the sudden rains, and the unready manpower that struggled to run with the pitch covers. Think of matches that ended differently due to the machinations of Duckworth and Lewis. Think of the points table which would have said 2-0 instead of 1-1.

We have so much know-how in so many fields; it is high time we developed the know-when.

In the meanwhile, some high authority of the meteorological type, giving avid news people , what is considered a authoritative scholarly news bite, says : "This is just a precursor to the monsoons, which should be setting in by next week. These rains came because of the excessive heat situation in the last few days/weeks/etc."

Thank you indeed.

I don't know about you, but my household help, Kusum, who is by definition , illiterate, told me exactly the same thing .

So did my daughter, who controlled herself from dashing to the terrace and getting wet, saying, this rain brought down the main dirt from the air above Mumbai ; the next rain, in a week, would be the one to get wet in and enjoy.

Why do we persist with the meteorologists ?

Maybe they are avid followers of the American Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (
1807-1882), who is supposed to have made , what he thought, was an important statement, when he said, "The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain.” ........(I resist the temptation to ask "Aur kuch?).....

And to hell with predictions of the useful kind.