December 18, 2006

India makes headway on education issue, with new legislation.

For people like me, who love ridiculous ideas, ridiculous politicians more than ridiculous ideas, and ridiculous legislation best of all, the last week was a sensational one. Enclosed find a news report.

Dec 18 (Mumbai): Educationists will remember the last week as a memorable one.

Proceedings began with the Lok Sabha unanimously passing the bill for 27% reservation for OBCs in all educational institutions. In an unprecedented show of unity, the House passed it and praised it. We love minorities.

Also demanded were:
1. Elimination of the creamy layer (Loony Left)
2. Extension to Muslims (the Congress, who else?)
3. More, more, more percentages to be reserved (BJP, surprisingly happy)

8 institutions were exempt from this new law, including BARC, TIFR and some others. We can’t compromise on research institutes after all. It’s okay for the regulars to manage this. All institutions are to expand their faculty and infrastructure over a maximum of 3 years, so that there is no difference between the number of students admitted in “Open Merit” categories today (the poor little minority) and three years hence. A truly commendable effort by the government to think about everyone – except, of course, the institutions, which could have some teeny-weeny difficulties in expanding infrastructure by 30% in three years. But some sacrifices are, of course, necessary in the national interest.

Minorities all over the country rejoiced. OBCs, SCs, STs, Kashmiri migrants, 4th generation descendants of freedom fighters, Muslims, Christians, women – all have extended their wholehearted support to the government, now and in the future for such essential legislation. (Women are technically not a minority, but as Sir Humphrey says, “They share the same paranoia that is, after all, the hallmark of any minority.”) A spokesperson from More For Minorities told reporters, “It is a historic day for us. In future, we plan to press for similar quotas in the private sector, public sector, government offices, parliament, candidature to the President’s post and maybe even on space missions!”

Meanwhile, outside the offices of the government and the offices of More For Minorities, several young, disadvantaged and defeated youths were staging a half-hearted protest. Their contention was that they were not SCs, STs, OBCs, Kashmiris, children of freedom fighters, handicapped, Muslims, Christians, or women – in short, they were caste-less and disadvantage-less – and they were the true minorities. Needless to say, the police was called in for a lathi charge on the group for such a violent and irrelevant protest.

Meanwhile, in Maharashtra, politicians in the Legislative Assembly lamented the loss of their culture as a result of the decline of their mother tongue – Marathi. In another inexplicable move, politicians, after lamenting a fact, decided to do something about it. “Something,” this time, was to make Marathi a compulsory language for ICSE and CBSE schools, who had so far been cunningly evading this issue.

ICSE and CBSE schools, as we all know, are a hotbed of Westernization, lack of culture, lack of manners, absence of identity and every conceivable evil of the 21st century. These schools have forgotten their duty to their respective cities, districts and states, preferring to focus only on India and the global scenario. How evil.

There are some footling oppositions against such a move – for example:
1. Several students are transfer students, shifting homes across states every year or two.
2. Students are already overburdened with 11 other papers to answer and a 300-page book for each of those papers.
3. The Second Language being optional, if a student voluntarily wishes to learn Marathi, he can give up Hindi and take up Marathi instead.
4. Most ICSE and CBSE schools are in urban areas where regional languages have almost ceased to matter.
5. The idea is to create students who are competent on a national and global level, not just in Kolhapur and Sholapur.

In response to these arguments, the state’s politicians argued (very cogently, we must say):
1. Good for them! They’ll learn more and more regional languages, and that will mould them into good citizens.
2. Chamaila – you think SSC students don’t study?!
3. No, no – he must study English, Hindi, and Marathi! Majha porga has to study all three – why should your son escape that torture, haan?
4. Gappa bas! “Ceased to matter”? It matters to me! It matters to Shiv Sena! It matters to Constable Pandurang! It matters! Especially because I can speak only Marathi!
5. What is this global-vobal? Stop ruining our culture. We are proud to be Indian, we are proud of our heritage. All this westernisation and global-vobal is destroying our bharatiyata.

In addition to these statements, another politician (on condition of anonymity) remarked, “We will extend this to the IB schools as well. A few years from now, we will make them study Marathi, Hindi, and an additional regional language (of their choice) instead of French, German and all that bakwaas.”

Naturally, critics were silenced. Powerful arguments from the makers of tomorrow. The people of Maharashtra eagerly await the application of these reforms, which will bring all students to the same level and protect our distinctive regional identity.

A memorable week, as we said.

P.S. For all my fellow-ICSE students – Prof. O. P. Sinhal passed away last week. Remember those Math textbooks (orange and brown covers)? Strangely enough, without even knowing the man, I felt really bad about this. As AVM-ites, of course, the first thing that comes to mind when “O. P. Sinhal” is mentioned, is Subramaniam Sir’s alternate praise (“What a question! Feast for my eyes! Hats off to O. P. Sinhal!”) and criticism (“Originally Pathetic Sinhal!”). But now who’s going to write those Math books for the kids? :(

November 30, 2006

Yet another mob, yet another rampage. Jai Bhim!

Nov 30, Maharashtra: Dalits protest against vandalisation of an Ambedkar statue in Kanpur. Mobs burn the Deccan Queen, stop trains, pelt stones, shut shops. It's a free for all. Come, join the mob, express your hatred for humanity, scream your lungs out, leave. Do it all in the name of "protecting a national icon" and consider yourself St. Baburao or St. Pandurao.

This is one of the few times that I'm not going to be frivolous. I hate - yes, I positively HATE - these protests. For the mindlessness, the pointlessness, the hypocrisy, the vested interests, the losses, the politics. We're protecting our national icons, eh? We can't bear a blemish on them? We hold every mark of them as sacred?

What exactly is a "vandalisation of statue" anyway? Mud thrown on it? Portions broken off? Deliberate damage by person/persons unknown? Fine, take the worst case - a group of people who HATE Ambedkar, came along and broke the statue (if possible). Let's say there were five of them. Now a sensible nation with sensible people would probably catch hold of them and punish them according to the law for defiling public property. But the bottomline here is, we aren't exactly a sensible nation.

What we do is go on a rampage. We break, burn, injure, kill, stone. Remember a similar incident in June/July when there was some dirt found on Mrs. Minatai Thackeray's statue? The Sena decided to avenge that by declaring a "Mumbai bandh," burning buses, breaking shops that stayed open and basically bringing the whole city to a standstill. The whole "protest" was widely identified as simply a Sena tactic to show its power and existence, but you can't ignore the damage done.

The utter mindlessness is something that fascinates me. Dirt on a statue as a reason to kill people (who, by the way, sir, had nothing to do with it)? Vandalisation of statue as a reason to stop and burn trains? Heck, even 'Rang De Basanti,' (which I didn't like) had a shadow of a reason for killing. (Illogical movie, by the way, as Sharman Joshi himself says hysterically at one point, "Haan haan! Sabko maar daalo na! Tish tish tish!") That's somewhat similar to the present-day scenario.

Rebels without a cause. Avengers with no reasons. Martyrs from whom sacrifices were never required. Why?

It's the mob mentality. If you watch anything carefully, you'll realise that it all boils down to this - the psychology of the mob. Not one man in the mob is capable of protesting alone, on his own footing. Not one. Each man in a mob is fully dependent on the others. Because, when you come right down to it, each one is a coward.

These are men who, in their daily lives, rue the state of the nation on a personal basis. Many issues in the nation affect them personally - and, may I add, they affect them much more than the vandalisation of an Ambedkar statue. Health, education, cleanliness, discrimination, human rights. But they do nothing except swear at the government in their houses. Why? Because they don't have the courage to fight something in the way it should be fought. They don't have the courage to walk up to their government office / Ward officer / MLA's office and lodge complaints or protest peacefully.

But on an issue like this, all the anger from their personal lives and their frustration comes boiling out. Hell, this isn't even an issue - but they make it one. Because this is an event where they can join and be joined by hundreds of other men. It becomes the perfect opportunity to vent frustration. Each man is surrounded by five others. Not one of them has to raise his voice individually. The "cause" is apparently a patriotic one. Great. So now they're like brave lions, roaring all over the city and causing terror.

If any single man was singled out from a mob, and asked to do exactly what the mob was doing (burning buses, trains, and shops) without being backed by the hundred-odd people behind him, would he? I don't think so. To be able to express your anger ALONE, and in the face of opposition, you need: a. courage, b. a cause that you really believe in, c. a willingness to even die for it. They have none.

And there's always the political scenario. The CM goes from place to place, trying to calm down crowds. The rest can just go from place to place, instigating them and offering votes. Nothing like riots between communities to get a stronghold over votebanks.

(In passing mention, I just saw this mystifying video on NDTV of MLAs in West Bengal having a free-for-all. The caption read "Mamata protesting against Tata plant in Singur." Now I don't know where Singur is, or why the plant is being set up, or what problem they have with it - but then again, I doubt if the protestors know either. Seeing them protest really brought me face to face with the fact that our politicians are nothing but... erm... a bunch of hoodlums. I can't paint a word-picture here, you have to see it to believe it - utter chaos, huge tables overturned and broken, Legislative Assembly furniture being broken, official papers all over the place, politicians shouting naras. One message to all the goondas, sorry, maananiya netajis out there - Dude, break your own ghar ka furniture! And tear up papers that have drafts of your own speeches! The money for Legislative Assembly furniture documents comes from my pocket, as does your own salary, housing, food, electricity, car, driver, transport allowance, dearness allowance, and pension.)

Anyway, getting back to the topic at hand, what is it with these people being national icons who have to be defended all the time? Would they have asked for mass protests against the desecration of their statues? Would they have asked for killings? Would they have asked for huge losses to the economy?

And come off it, is Ambedkar the property of only the Dalits? Is Minatai Thackerey to be protected only by the Sena? Why does the vandalisation of a statue by a handful of people (of indeterminate class/community/creed/colour/race) make this a community-against-community war? Were the vandalisers upper-castes (in the Ambedkar case) or Muslims (in the Minatai case)? Does anyone know? Does anyone care? All we care about is that our "representative" has been "injured" and society, as a whole, must pay. I REALLY fail to understand how the one-community-against-the-other facet comes into play. Ambedkar is a nationally respected figure. So why do Dalits feel that it is their duty, nay, their religion to be his sole defenders?

I could go on for ages. But it wouldn't matter. Because somewhere out there, the damage continues. We can only hope for it to stop if there are more people who understand the truth, and more importantly, who can do something about it. There can be a change only if every man in that mob which is burning trains, understands a simple fact - that if he can't protest alone, it's not worth protesting against.

November 02, 2006

What does Aishwarya Rai get on her birthday? An extended family.

India, Nov 1: Aishwarya Rai (Miss India, Miss World 1994) turned 33 on Wednesday. And the nation went into paroxysms of delight.

People in Allahabad ushered in a new year for Ms Rai by celebrating her birthday. Unfortunately Ms Rai could not be present, and they had to make do with her photograph. They lit candles and cut a cake, with the scintillating lady's photograph in front of them at all times. Citizens were also eager to give interviews to the omnipresent and faltoo press, which had no news that day to cover except Ms Rai's birthday.

Citizens of Allahabad insisted that they were celebrating Ms Rai's birthday not only because she was their favourite actress and they loved her stellar performances in memorable movies like 'Bride and Prejudice' and 'Mistress of Spices', but because she was now their "bahu". Children of age 8 told the press (direct quote), "Ab woh hamari chachi banne jaa rahi hai... hum bahut khush hain." And we thought that any self-respecting child of age 5 or above would rather drink milk five times a day than come on national television to call an actress his/her chachi.

While the mass-adoption of Abhishek Bachchan by Allahbad as their son is very touching, the Bachchan family, which on most occasions is prepared for such situations with diplomatic statements and press releases of "Aapke pyaar ke bina toh hum kuch bhi nahi" type (which is actually truer than they realise), on this occasion, had nothing to say - either because they were "not available for comment" or because the media finally realised the futility and utter idiocy of covering "news" of this kind.

IBN-7, which is associated with CNN and is run by Rajdeep Sardesai, ran a special feature on the occasion of Ms Rai's birthday, called "Aishwarya Rai ke Affairs" at 8.30 p.m. IST. That's India for you - a land of contradictions, where Allahbadis call someone their "bahu", the media runs the story of the citizens and follows it up with a story of the respected lady's affairs, and all the while the average person watches both with equal enjoyment, and can still believe in privacy, human rights, respect for individuals and Indian culture and tradition.

J. P. Dutta, meanwhile, in Mumbai, rejoiced at home over a glass of Scotch. By remaking 'Umrao Jaan,' he had realised too late, he had bitten off more than he could chew. But the secret of Bollywood directors' psychological survival is the fact that they believe that there is no movie so pathetic that it cannot at least recover what they sunk in it. And this time, thought J. P. to himself, is something that I've never had before. Star's birthday, rumours of impending marriages, promos that look like advertisements for Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri, and a budget big enough to feed an entire African country. God bless the age of free publicity and tabloidism.

October 11, 2006

Of Poverty and Starvation

Poverty, apparently, can be measured by levels of malnutrition. The more scrawny you look, the poorer you are. I just saw the world's poorest ladies on television recently. They were taking part in a beauty pageant, Miss World 2006.

My first impulse, when they strolled onto stage, was to pet them and offer them some biscuits. But then, they smiled those 250-watt smiles and I began to think that they actually enjoy starvation. Too enchanted to flip channels, I gazed on.

So according to the comperes (or MCs are they call them in USA - "MCs" by the way, conjures up a totally different meaning in your mind if you're Indian) - "These are the 194 most beautiful women in the world!" Umm right. So what about those from Pakistan and Afghanistan who couldn't enter? What about the 194 who were part of this last year? And what about Miss Universe?

Anyway, proceedings began with the starved children dancing all over the stage. Ho hum. The girls wave their arms, pirouette over the stage and keep smiling that 250-watt smile. Crap. My cheeks are aching by now. All I can see is 194 sets of bones draped by skin, 194 excruciatingly bright smiles and 194 young women who are miraculously not bored by being a part of such a fiasco.

Then we have video-taped profiles of all the ladies. Most of them look as if:
1. They haven't slept for ages.
2. They've got dental jobs done.
3. Up close, many are scary to look at. I'm not kidding. Even the best beauty experts of the world can't do anything with long teeth, hooked noses, slit-like eyes and pencil-thin lips.
4. They don't like their costumes (not surprising, considering many of them are wearing complex "ethnic" clothes that are accompanied by crazy stuff on their heads)
5. They'd love a pizza. Or two. Or three.
6. They want to win this badly. God bless their souls, I have no clue why, but they really want to win. For normal people like you or me, spending a whole year wearing uncomfortable clothes and talking to people who actually only want to ogle at you, is nothing less than torture. But they want it.

Another interesting point - somehow they are all obsessed by world peace. Hey ladies, how about racism or AIDS or drugs or health issues or economic development? At least the viewers will have a variation. What's worse still, everyone behaves as if Miss World 2006 ACTUALLY has a role to play in world peace. Yeah well, at least they bring relief to the male half of the population by flashing those smiles and prancing around in swimsuits.

So we have some more rounds wherein they walk around in clothes and no-clothes (i.e. swimsuits). I know most of my male readers would love to have descriptions, but really, that's not my department. Finally we have the question-answer rounds. These apparently check whether their IQ is 60 or 70.

Inanity after inanity. World Peace. Inner Beauty. Compassion. Kindness. Love. The whole set-up seems so fake that you start wondering whether the ladies actually think about answers or just mix and match a few dozen standard answers that they've learnt before. No matter what issue they discuss, that 250-watt smile never wavers. After a point I start feeling like catching hold of each one (delicately, though, or their bones will break) and telling them, "Wipe that smile off!! Now!!"

Evening ends in Ms. Czechoslovakia being crowned. Don't laugh, but I think that they figured that this was the only way for the world to know the spelling of the country's name. And they succeeded haan - look, I know the spelling! Next time it should be Jbouty or Bjouty or whatever that place in Africa is. Hey, maybe someday these pageants will serve as geography lessons for children. Anyway, kids at younger and younger ages are getting obsessed by their appearance. So this combines an interest value with educative value... great.

I'd like to end this with a prayer for the girls who didn't win, and a BIG prayer for the girl who won.

For the girls who didn't win: Dear God, please endow them with some brains, some common sense, and a lot of body fat. They need it. May they also soon forget that they were a part of something as embarrassing as Miss World 2006, and may they learn to lead normal lives instead of hankering after anorexia and glamour all their lives.

For the girl who won: Dear God, please give her the strength to endure a whole year of starvation. If she is ogled at by people, may she be amused or at least be able to tolerate it. May she not develop any eating disorder or health problems. May she fit into all her clothes for a year; and after that, may she look human. May she be able to get back to normalcy after her one (and only) year in the limelight is over. May she not develop OCD. May she understand that she is yet another manifestation of the "women must be seen, not heard" mentality. May she realise that contrary to popular belief, she is NOT the face of Women's Liberation; in fact, she's just the opposite. Amen.

September 18, 2006

Ahem...

Welcome to my new blog! Will you make friendship with me? Lol...

"Waah Ramesh Babu... Naya blog... Naya address... Naya post... badhiya hai!"

Ok, today's quota for sad jokes is over. People who were about to flee, please don't. I can already see the readers dwindling. I'm pretty sure that in perhaps two months, I'll have to wrap up this blog and go back to ol' MSN Spaces.

Which brings us to the question of why this blog exists at all.

Answers:
1. Telling people that your blog is on "MSN Spaces" is just too... downmarket.
2. MSN Spaces don't work about 56.47% of the time anyway.
3. Blogspot looks great.
4. When you migrate from MSN Spaces to Blogspot, you feel as if all these years, you were publishing a local tabloid on yellow tissue paper, and now, suddenly, you're running a high-end fashion magazine on glossy paper.
5. You've got backup for all those times when MSN Spaces just inexplicably crashes.

Most of my readers (matlab pals whom I bribe and threaten to read my blog) are on my MSN list and will be too lazy to read this. (Unless if I offer them extra chocolates or something.) The MSN Space will continue to exist, of course.

How I tackle the posting - i.e. whether I post the same stuff on both, or different stuff, or selective stuff, is something that I haven't yet decided. But rest assured, no matter how I do it, posts on both blogs will be 89% crap.

So that's all for today. People with suggestions regarding what you'd like to see, please write in to me. I won't take your advice, but what the heck, you'll feel good about giving it.