Sunday, July 8, 2018

Poster Menace

Four, five decades earlier `posters' meant primarily advertisements for films.  One of the famous heroes and his less famous leading lady (had to be that way, right) appeared on the poster, with minor details like the director's name and the date of the release of the movie.  The hero invariably had his arms spread out, as if to emphasize his mega-reach, striking a pose one would usually see in a song from the movie.  The objective of the poster was clear - an appeal to the viewing public to go see the movie.  In the pre-TV, enervating media blitz times, that kind of a poster made sense as a medium.  Or the poster would have a leading politician's face, either with an appeal to attend a forthcoming meeting, in which he would go into bombastic rhetoric, incessantly frothing at his mouth or showering shameless accolades on himself for some imaginary or assumed good deed in the interest of the masses.  Sure, these faces were not as palatable as the actors' but were still within the tolerance level of the populace. And, very importantly, the posters were all much smaller in size and non-threatening, not repulsive.

Down the line, as people started losing their sense of proportion, realism and normal values and general degradation in public life set in, the poster industry's growth sky-rocketed, because demand for the theatrical bordering on farcical increased in leaps and bounds.  With reality receding to the background with a massive push-back from 'appearance' and people readily and avidly embracing sheer form for form's sake, generally devoid of content, the size of the posters symbolically expanded to mammoth proportions.  The make-believe world of movies and politics attracted one more major homogeneous player, who would fit into the group like a glove fitting a hand, to make a triumvirate in the game of posters -- Advertisements.  All in fitness of things in that there is nothing significantly real about any of the three, all are given to mindless exaggeration and hyperbole and their shared objective was to constantly pull wool over the eyes of the common man.  Of course, they are succeeding in that till today and have concurrently also increased the size of the cutouts, while also spawning a widespread culture of posters at a much lower, grass-root level.  Now, one does not have to be a leader or great actor or anything worth the salt to be appearing on posters, as is evident from what you see.  Essentially because most posters are set up by one's own family or self, with black money supporting the production and erection of the unseemly projections.  Nothing but a blatantly self-serving attempt to thrust oneself into public consciousness, for no achievement or good deed, but just through large size images of oneself, in a clear attempt to encroach that space.

Recently, in our neighbourhood,  The Ugly Indians, that group which tries to clean up various blackspots around Bangalore,  organized an effort.  As part of that, some huge cutouts of the current MLA of the area were brought down from their offending positions.  One should have seen the alacrity with which some paid supplicants, the guardian angels of the politician's interests in the area, pounced on the group and vehemently protested the action in dethroning him, poster-wise.  When the current rule that no cutout can remain in place for more than a stipulated period was politely conveyed to them, guess what happened?  Within minutes, the earlier poster was replaced by another of similar proportions, which magically materialised from nowhere, depicting the revered leader greeting the constituency with folded hands for an upcoming religious festival!  Within five minutes the new poster was up and there was precious little anyone could do.  Surely this group of sycophants would have preened like peacocks and collected their rewards for their fantastic response.  While they were basking in the sun, having a tipple with pickle on the side, with their political bosses, there I was, getting my ears singed by the carping criticism of my dear wife, who justifiably just hates the fact that some ugly posters carrying sinister-looking faces, are sullying the space her group has been striving to keep clean and neat!

Such groups of hired goons, sycophants are omnipresent and have clear instructions from someone with some knowledge of the goings-on.  The other day, the fifth bail application of the son of another MLA was being taken up by a court.  This worthy son had almost killed a youngster in a restaurant, mercilessly beating him up and abandoning him for dead, of course, ably supported by a group of his own henchmen in the orgy of violence.  There was so much negative publicity and sentiment about the incident, all the efforts of the powerful father to extricate his son from jail, on bail, failed miserably for almost 4 months.  If the son thought he would beat the hell out of a fellow human being, dust his hands off and walk free using `influence', for a change it did not work out that way and he suffered the well deserved ignominy of incarceration for 4 months.  But, on the day of the bail hearing, within minutes of bail being granted, giant cutouts appeared, of the son (not the father), euologising him for his heroic acts (read, terrorising and physical violence on another person) and wonderful leadership (??).  To what depths can people blindly using and following money and power sink was evidenced by those posters!!

When one walks through a bazaar/road, one can see some store-fronts being covered by posters of multiple products, overlapping with each other, there being no indication of where one begins and another ends.  You are left wondering what is being advertised.  It is almost as if the number of posters clustered in the same location is the end-game, not the beginning of the attempt to sell.  Most of these posters serve to hide the unkempt, disorganized interiors of the stores which seem to subsist not from sales but from other dubious activities sponsored by political parties and leaders.

The one big change in the poster culture we have to day is that even for common men posters appear now and then.  You see a poster of a middle aged man and on enquiry you will find out that the man in question, aged 45 and father of four children, eloped with another woman who had 3 children of her own.  Retribution followed swiftly and the eloping man was killed by the woman's husband.  The poster was there as an exhibit to share the grief of the community at the fall of such a man.  Other similar cases involved a reckless auto-rickshaw driver who rode roughshod over everything and was living dangerously;  and a drunkard who had permanent residence in the local arrack shop and took breathers only to go home and beat up his wife and children as a pastime. Both appeared on posters posthumously, with the title `Tearful Homage'.

Why not?  There is no longer any qualification to be on a poster, right??  A poster is a mighty leveller.  If it is illegal to fix posters, cutouts etc why should that illegality be the domain of only the powerful and monied.  I am all for everyone sharing the space.  Just that one day I hope the governing authorities and judiciary would wake up and ban posters, period.  No posters for any reason!!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Maids For Seniors

"Have you found the girl"?, was the first query raised by the somewhat feeble voice on the phone.  It was my mother (Amma), aged 85, calling from Madras.  No, she is not in the matrimony business nor is the family looking for an eligible girl for a match.  She was asking about the maid we were supposed to identify and get home in time for her own arrival in Bangalore in a week for her three-month stay.  The anxiety-laden voice betrayed significant tension, understandably, because Amma needs some help with her mobility inside the house and also in managing her daily chores.  Her anxiety automatically transmitted the tension to all of us this side and an already concerned household dispersed in different directions with the single objective of recruiting that most important individual of the moment - the Maid.

Easier said than done, even though there is a plethora of agencies helping people source such maids.  This is because most of these agencies seem to have an existence span slightly longer the ephemeral firefly.  A good agency of yesterday mysteriously develops a level of enviable notoriety in a short span and disappears from the face of the earth quickly.  No one associated with that agency is contactable the next time you try, as if some pestilence pointedly wiped everyone.  The more reasonable guess is that the agency got into some kind of trouble with the maid, her family or with the customer and had to go into hiding post-haste.  These are all single family businesses; the wife manages the Human Relations and Public Relations side - like sourcing, recruitment, compensation, tariff setting, talking to customers and all follow up.  The man of the house has the unenviable job of managing logistics -- primarily picking up newly recruited arrivals, lodging them, dropping them when they are assigned to homes and then picking them up again when they move temporarily or for good.  We know how difficult it is to pick up and drop one woman in our lives, imagine the lot of this unfortunate character whose livelihood and marital life depended on ferrying his wards from/to various locations.  If you thought this is a breeze, you should cast another look at that care-worn visage or the man and the hang-dog expression sported all the time.  This comes from the job requirements as well as having to listen to belligerent instructions bawled at him by the boss day in and day out.

The first major hurdle in getting the appropriate type of  help is that there is always a personality mismatch.  When the oldie is from Tamil Nadu, the available maids are all Telugu speaking without a smattering of any other language.  All of a sudden the supply of Kannada speaking maids surges inexplicably when only a Hindi-speaking maid will do for you.  And so on, with other parameters also.  Compromise you have to and will, at the risk of an unhappy elder, who struggles to communicate with the person who seems to hold the former's lifeline.  Another critical exercise is untangling the very complicated compensation structure stipulated by the agency.  Invariably, one gets fed up with the various conditions and just agrees to pay whatever.  When most of the horoscope and personal attributes seem to match and I heave a sigh of relief, rejection from you know who, my dear wife, is ruthless and swift because of some very minute deficiency which we had all overlooked during the entire process. Then the wait begins all over again.

More often than not, the arrival of the maid with the escort is shrouded in half-mystery because the timing is always skewed towards dusk or dark.  And the escort ensures that there is no scope for too much conversation at that juncture.  It is almost as if the agency does not want to encourage an on-the-spot rejection of the maid on the grounds of looks, appearance etc, so strategically chooses a delivery time when the lady of the household has no way of a thorough examination of physical attributes.   By the time this gets done the next day, all parties expect a reasonably fair run for the maid before serious judgement can be passed.  This ingenious process ensures that even the least desirable girls get equal opportunities and get a shot at the job, until the wheels come off the arrangement shortly thereafter, when she is subjected to closer inspection in terms of attitude, work ethics, cleanliness etc.  But considering the fact that getting an alternative, a better one at that, is well nigh impossible in the near term, more compromises are made willingly unless the situation is impossible.  The reality-based thinking of the agency, supported by empirical behaviour of customers, must be that (1) unless absolutely unacceptable, maids are taken in and trained by the household and (2) if rejection takes place later, such maids are better for the duration of the training in the house and can be parcelled off as better person, which would be an undisputed fact.

Two major irritants in the eyes of the household with reference to the maid's performance are the habits of having a cell phone attached to the ear permanently and thriving on TV-watching for twenty of the twenty four hours in a day.  Try as anyone may, it is a humongous task to separate the cell phone and the maid.  Some maids are more partial to cell phones and others to TV, but there is a special breed which combines the two into a deadly concoction.  We have seen a few of them, sitting in front of the TV and talking loudly on their cell phones, completely ignoring the fact that some elders are also watching the TV programme.  Whether it is Kannada or Telugu or Thamizh, all the maids loudly speak a robust version of the language prevalent in the rural areas, with the gay abandon that is par for the course in the villages or small towns.  The problem is that the decibel level seldom sounds like originating from a single individual; but it resembles more, the roar of a crowd in an IPL match, appreciating a wicket, a four or a six.  When it was politely pointed out to one girl that the elders cannot follow the TV programmes, the cheeky girl had the temerity to say that anyway the elders could not hear much of the TV audio.  And to boot, the first thing such a maid does is taking control of the remote, to play the channel of her own choice in her own language, thereby depriving the elders of the only source of entertainment they rely upon.  To give them credit, these maids actively encourage the elders to learn to enjoy TV serials and shows in other languages!!

Some other quirks in the maids can be sources of entertainment to the household, but for the mishaps that could result and the inconvenience caused .  Carefully concealed personality traits surface when least expected and give you a jolt.  You see while some girls are somewhat trained in a half-baked manner and are from a city or town, these are generally in the minority.  Many come with the explosive mix of zero training, very little knowledge, some native dumbness and a Columbusian curiosity to explore and experiment when they should not.  One lady had never heard of a gas stove or a geyser and was passed on to us as fully trained, with a year's experience in another household and she nearly caused serious combustion with an open gas stove once.  One night, Amma called me from downstairs to come and take a look.  I thought the maid might be trying to help herself to a scoop of ice-cream or a chocolate from the fridge.  These are crimes in the lexicon of the oldies and level 3 misdeamours in the minds of the next generation of ladies, but are to be condoned for peaceful existence, in my opinion.  But when I was on the staircase, I froze mid-step at the sight of the maid slowly perambulating in the hall, with her flowing hair completely open  -- pretty much like the sleepwalking scenes from the old ghost movies.  Only the eerie music was missing but there was a touch of modernity introduced by the girl herself -- the mobile torch to guide her instead of the kerosene lamp swinging in the wind. Soon, the entire household was watching this spectacle with open mouths, not knowing how and where it will end.  After an hour, the anti-climax was that she curled up in her bed and went to sleep leaving the stupefied audience to wonder what was likely to happen in the next hour and also at the irony of our hiring her so that we can sleep in peace!

There was another one who cleaned up the entire supply of shampoo, soap, oil, assorted toiletry (anything that smelt good) from various bathrooms, in a couple of days.  When she was asked about this, pat came the reply "I am keeping myself clean so that the elders do not get infection".  Laudable, but the cost of such cleanliness was going to be twice the compensation agreed for her; so out she went the next day, searching for other homes with inexhaustible toiletry supplies!  All the maids invariably seek indulgence in non vegetarian dishes, fully knowing that ours is a vegetarian home.  They ask repeatedly, as if they expect us to readily cook a chicken or mutton dish only for them and serve.  When they are asked to look for fresh pastures outside to satisfy this craving, they do but soon realise the benefits of vegetarianism, not due to divine intervention but the costs involved.

Then comes the finale of sorts.  Within ten days of arrival, give or take a few days, the maid falls sick, complaining of headache, body pain, flu, cold and unmentionable discomfort to multiple organ failures -- all this when she looks as normal as she does and enjoying her meals, TV and mobile phones without disruption, but looking for some rest and recuperation on the side.  Then the whole arrangement turns on its head - the paid caretaker becomes the afflicted and all the family members including the elder tend to the maid for a few days, as the latter relaxes in a friendly atmosphere without stretching a limb.  Of course, if you were promised a replacement by the agency in such an exigency, you can try as much as you like, but will not hear anything from the agency, which has taken its money in advance and is already in the process of reincarnation.  

Having said all that, let me confirm that there have been very good maids assigned to our home to take care of the elders and we are thankful to all of them for the splendid support they gave us at various times.  It is not always bad.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Election Time, Ahoy!

Our state assembly election is in May.  Peak summer time for Bangalore.  I am sure the rationale is that our incorrigible voters, usually swayed by everything but governance  -- like money power, muscle power, freebies, religious and caste considerations  -- are forced to think a bit through heat, dust and sweat about real life issues.  Like water, roads, cleanliness, lakes, rampant corruption etc. But, one is doubtful of any difference in the outcome.  People like gardeners, drivers and maids told me the going rate for their votes has gone up,  they can get money from all parties and then will vote for whoever they like.  Seems fair, eh, but then the available choices are not great. Picture a ship approaching land and a sailor saying `Land, ahoy!', with the obvious joy of someone who has been at sea for a while.  But, if he knows he will be more at sea on land really, what would be his thought?  That is how one should feel when elections come around; providing hope that things would be different, better, post elections.  But being a realist, one must reckon with facts, move away from hallucination and convince oneself that nothing much would change.

Raking my brains for the good things that are by-products of an election, I could find only one.  All the posters with the faces of politicians of all hues and sizes will be dismantled and consigned to trash bins (where they belong truly and permanently) for a very welcome interregnum, thanks to the Election Commission (EC)'s orders. Some would pine for the EC to exercise the same authority with the people involved in those posters too; only, makes the bins far deeper, so that no one can climb back out in a hurry!  That would be deliverance in real terms.  That is a genuine pipe-dream though, because the day after the election is over, new posters with old/new faces spring up - phoenix like - all over again, to simultaneously smile and threaten the populace traversing the city's roads and lanes, causing immense mental agony and inconvenience.  Symbolic of the fact that a similar lousy kind of government will be resurrected and reinstalled, with the same or different set of unscrupulous individuals.  Voters move on in resignation, with very little changing on the ground in governance and wait for the next tamasha to come around in due course.

The bliss of a poster-mukht interval is severely marred by all the chaos that prevails during the campaigning period.  Heavy-duty propaganda obviously dominates because leaders rely only on that  tool and very little real worth or performance.  High decibel meetings and road-hogging processions make life miserable, especially when one knows the pitiable outcome that will be.  On top of that, candidates actually demonstrate forced humility and fake camaraderie, come up close to the voters, too close actually,  adding to the nervousness of the latter.  I am drooling over the idea of a completely digital election process, in which candidates can transfer vote-money to voters via Government-approved payment platforms; they are barred from everything other than WhatsApp and SMS messages for campaigning;  freebies like grinders and mixies can be delivered to voters through Amazon or Flipkart, errr, Walmart;  voting is entirely through mobile phones and finally, no one cares for results, since they really make no difference, zilch. 

But the voter has to go through a few contortions before vote can be caste, sorry cast.  The first ordeal is to ensure that the name is still on the list.  In the name of cleaning up, someone sitting somewhere with  keyboard unilaterally just deletes names, deeming those people eminently worthy of elimination, without any provocation.  When some voters asked why so, they were asked to prove that they are still alive, online, of course producing their Aadhaar card for evidence, without explaining a process for that.  The onus shifts wordlessly on to the unsuspecting and stricken voter, who has to go through a few somersaults and Houdini acts to prove he is worthy of his vote.  By the time this is accomplished, the results are already published and as I said earlier, what is the difference??  The democracy loving voter is humbled a bit more.

Recently, on the outskirts of the city near the golf course, my car was stopped, the boot was examined meticulously, a policeman even ducked into my golf bag to smell it. They were looking for cash and other goodies meant to suborn voters.  Not finding anything, the miffed policeman asked me who I was and what I did.  Clearly unimpressed by my persona as well as the details, he rudely shut the boot and waved my driver away.  Poor chap, he was looking for some windfall during this season and was peeved when I did not prove equal to the task.

Before the election day, all those candidates who fancy their chances of performing the dirty trick again on the suckers  -- the one who assured us 10 years ago that the lake close to our community will be akin to Interlaken in Switzerland in two years and the other one who said the same thing 5 years ago (except he painted picture of Lake Geneva) make their customary appearance.  They come to us with folded hands, Cheshire-cat smiles and God-fearing visages, ignoring the lake and the occasional foul smell emanating from that general direction (they can no longer tell foul smells I think, wallowing in everything foul more or less continuously).  The same subject is raised, assurances given with not so much of an apology or any reservation; of course, they run out of images to evoke and just say they will clean up the lake.  And, we, the always-conned and ever-willing-to-accept voters joyously nod our heads and cheer the candidate, even as we are fully aware of the foregone conclusion.  It will be nice to see new, imaginative candidates with new comparisons to our potentially-to-be-clean lake - is the only thought crossing our minds.  If this is the abject condition of educated voters like us, what can one say??

We are waiting for that man with the most fertile imagination and glibbest tongue, to come and tell us that he will personally link Godavari and Kaveri (and Ganga, if possible) and bring the new river, Gangodveri,  to run just behind our compound wall.  Now, that will surely be the tallest one so far and if he can have the temerity to fly that kind of a kite, he richly deserves our votes, is unquestionably the most qualified for our assembly, democracy and most of all, he is the one who we deserve completely.

The only good thing among the traumatic turbulence that comes to haunt us once in few years is the performance of the EC, overall.  It deserves kudos for having run elections satisfactorily all over the country and bringing the unruly Indians to some level of discipline in the election process.  Great victory for an Indian Institution!!

Jai Hind and long live our brand of democracy!!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Can We Ever Learn A Wee Bit Of Discipline?

The scene was nothing exceptional for the peak time mess on a Bangalore road -- vehicles milling around, with their noses and front wheels pointing in eight different directions, teasing the curious to guess which path they would eventually take;  people trying to squeeze past layers of cars and bikes which have intentionally overshot the `stop' line by ten feet; frenetic yelling and screaming all around, the blaring cacophony accentuated by mad honking by the privileged ones in cars, who would rather not wait to allow pedestrians to cross.  What nauseated even the most cynical was the sight of lines of two-wheelers revving up and pushing through dense crowds of people on the newly laid pedestrian foot-paths (yes!), making men, women and children do the unintended calypso, to dodge the unexpected assault.

My dear wife grimaced and said she hoped some idiots on bikes would be caught and thrashed, to prevent others from riding on the footpath. The traffic signal prolonged our stay a bit and lo and behold, my wife's fervent prayers were answered forthwith. There was commotion ahead of us, as some people came to fisticuffs in the readily gladiatorial atmosphere of our roads and we saw a couple of them got beaten up soundly.  Only as we inched toward the intersection, we found out poor logic cruelly turned on its head -- that a biker rode roughshod into some pedestrians and in the following melee, punched a few in their faces as a bonus, for blocking his right of way! So, the aggressor and violator got more offensive and got away, leaving the aggrieved parties in tatters.  Believe me, this is not an isolated instance; it repeats itself over and over again in every town and city with appalling regularity, in different contexts and at various levels, leaving most of us wondering where we are headed as a society, who is to blame and what the solution is.

People are perpetually looking to blame something or someone who is not present to retaliate and are always quick to point at that somnolent, ghostly institution called `government', for everything that is wrong with us.  Because it is easy and also this establishment usually richly deserves all the condemnation it gets.  But to an extent this seems blatantly unfair.  Most of the incidents are triggered by people with little or no discipline, deliberately looking to flout rules with impunity, just to get ahead a few inches in life.  They know fully well that they could wriggle out, even if caught, using some clout somewhere and the omnipresent holes in the process. They then use the tested template and repeat the offence at will and the impunity level just creeps up.  Most of us would nod understandingly and agree with this hypothesis because it sounds reasonable, but still find it necessary to question what the government is doing.  Because the actual guilty parties are faceless individuals, too many to count, spread out far too widely and therefore impossible to identify and confront!  So, the immediate challenge is `what is the police doing'?  The simple answer is police cannot be present everywhere, definitely not in all street corners.  And until people get to be decent enough to self-regulate and control themselves to stay within some basic rules, incidents as described above would continue to happen, leaving the general populace in disarray.  It does not take too much for the motorbike/scooter riders to stay off the pedestrian pathways, even if that means they are going to be delayed by a few minutes. The rest of us should stop blaming the government for everything and work towards making the small percentage of offenders realise the futility and iniquity of transgressing rules all the time for selfish reasons.  The problem is we don't know how!

That leads me to the other part of the equation -- have we all become far too complacent and indifferent to the unruly behaviour and unlawful aggression bubbling around us all the time?  Are we forgetting the fact that tomorrow we could be the victims and we should be acting in some way to protest?  While the offenders have lost all civic sense and respect for others, have the rest of us forgotten to join hands and stand up when the need arises?  The answer is in the affirmative. Lack of time may be a small factor but lack of mental fibre is possibly the more truthful answer.  Who wants to get into a tangle with a rowdy on a bike?  Let him use the footpath, so long as he does not hit me -- seems to be the general thinking.  Hence the prevalent apathy.  Most of us are guilty of such pathetic, spineless attitude which cause us to look askance in such situations.  It is true that most of the offending dregs of the society are quick to draw a knife or other deadly weapon out to keep the public at bay as they make their breezy escape after the shenanigans.  This does not inspire confidence in the people at the site to confront the culprits.  Distressing reports of innocuous bystanders/well-wishers being stabbed or clubbed to death are all over the media and this is a big dampener for anyone to interfere and question the offenders.  Who wants to get killed in the bargain, is a perfectly solid rejoinder.

Take the stinking example of garbage on Bangalore's roads.  Time and again we have seen people riding bikes visiting a specific spot, carrying plastic bags full of garbage from home and swinging it into the dump as they ride past. The only qualification the spot has is that it already has a lot of such bags accumulated over a few hours.  Education or literacy has nothing to do with this.  We have seen owners of mobile carts selling food, carefully disposing off garbage into a bin properly while more affluent and educated people behaving atrociously as if the garbage is just an extension of their own selves.  There is no use blaming the government, which is ineffectual any way, because it does make a feeble attempt to collect sorted garbage from homes.  The fact that people come on bikes swinging the garbage in bags just tells us that they do not want to go through the little pain of sorting the stuff.  It is obvious that the government cannot assign a goal keeper to each little garbage dump and this is not going to change until people change.  Next time you see someone doing the honours, at least politely question him; yes, the risk is there that he is carrying a machete and might want to sharpen it on you!

Indian men happily whistling and urinating on the road-side may not be as ubiquitous as it used to be, but that spectacle still happens.  Now, is it the government's fault that when the need arises for an individual, it has not been clairvoyant enough to position a urinal just there, ready for the person?  Can he be disciplined enough to look for the next public facility in the neighbourhood?  Yes, but why do that if the roadside is a good alternative?  I have always wondered why only men indulge in this. That alone should be a lesson to men to hold on and dispose at the right place.  So, why are men so?  Because this specie is absolutely shameless and crude beyond words?? Can we politely ask the person not to -- at the risk of being the target of the pee-shower??

While it is irrefutable that our government needs to upgrade governance in a lot of ways, it is equally true that individuals have to learn discipline and self regulation in a big way for our society to see some improvement in various areas.  Otherwise, we are just doomed to live peacefully in the company tons of garbage, gallons of urine etc whenever we step out of our homes. 




Saturday, February 24, 2018

GreyHair Goes To A Filmi Concert

Waving the newspaper vigorously, my wife wafted in, all aflutter and effervescent.  She gesticulated to an advertisement for a forthcoming Shreya Ghosal (SG) concert at a popular mall in Bangalore and I immediately had the foreboding of doom.  She archly said `You like her songs'.  Of course, who doesn't?  The next installment of her statement turned out more malignant - `I want to treat you for your birthday; let us go to the concert'.  She has been desperately trying to shepherd me to a concert for years but I had been managing to ward off all such nefarious designs.  See, I am of the firm belief that there comes a time in your life when you can watch a cricket match more comfortably on TV than in a ground and listen to your favourite singers on your own music system within the cool confines of the home.  In my case, that time had clocked in at least a decade back and I had furiously thwarted most attempts to drag me, screaming and kicking, to some match or concert.  My dear wife was well aware of my predilection and yet was putting on this orchestrated show - why?  Because SHE wanted to go to the concert and so, that conveniently became a birthday gift for me!!  I urged, then begged her to go with her band of friends, who would very gleefully join the hustle, bustle, chaos and noise usually associated with this kind of concerts.  But she was adamant, she went with me or didn't go at all!  That Brahmaastra settled it and I trundled along, like a lamb to slaughter.

When we reached the venue, there were at least three long lines snaking along endlessly and we chose to take our position at the end of one, after some serious scrutiny for the most desirable line.  Just to find after fifteen minutes that it was for those who already exchanged their on-line booking confirmation for ticket cards.  Nobody could tell us where the line for the exchange was.  I cursed SG and the organizers in that order and led a combing operation; after a strenuous workout for fifteen minutes, we discovered three more lines twisting from ticket boxes some distance away.  The way people were jostling here made one wonder if there was free admission for everyone.  Another twenty minutes had passed and we were nowhere near the ticket box, but the wife breezily dismissed my concerns about not finding our seats before the concert starts.  When we got the tickets, it was already half an hour beyond the scheduled start time, but due to a carefully concealed conspiracy, except me everyone seemed to know the concert would start late - very late.  After getting squashed heavily by the crowd and feeling like some kind of pulp, we reached the seating area and found, to our chagrin, that it was free for all, meaning `open seating'.  We got pushed a few more rows back by the wave of people and finally found two seats, from where the stage itself was a tiny speck and the occupants of the stage were even tinier specks.

It is probably an open secret that all such concerts are a few hours late, that by design.  One should not blame the star artists, but the callous organizers who collect all the money and still want to exploit the captive audience mercilessly.  As it turned out, for the next ninety minutes, a couple of raving and ranting lunatics who seemed to have swallowed high-decibel mics recently, were belting out some marketing stuff for an Academy of Music in a raucous way.  Didn't augur well for the academy, but no one seemed to mind or care.  These monstrosities parading as comperes, wielded the mics as instruments of mass irritation and bellowed out incoherent babble, punctuated by some strange music originating from Jupiter or some similar far-away planet.  Their intent seemed solely to bludgeon the hapless audience, who had already withered after going through the gruelling entry experience, with words and noise of no consequence.  My wife looked at me pleasantly and asked `Bored, eh'?  Very considerate of her but I was beyond the pale of questions, answers and niceties at this stage.

Then it became worse.  Music blared out even more aloud and one lunatic announced that there would be a fashion show by one of the sponsors!! Fashion Show??  When even the stage was almost invisible from where we were??  The sadistic organizers were proving themselves to be more mindless than we first concluded.  We wondered whether those in the fashion show were wearing anything at all because it was all a haze.  There was indeed a TV screen half a mile away, but even that couldn't digest the proceedings and promptly went kaput.  Appreciating the sensitivity of the TV screen and encouraged, I also tried to switch myself off, but the bloody-minded comperes would have none of that.  They started urging the audience to clap, howl, whistle, sing and screech with them and some of their brethren on the stage, increasing the overall noise levels multi-fold.  Parts of the crowd had gotten restless and directed most of its angry howling and screeching at the organizers, but those poor sods could not distinguish anything and were giddy with pleasure at the interactive participation.

As we were being put through the above wringers, there was some additional personal irritants for me, seated on an aisle seat.  Since the concert had not started, the aisle was akin to a peak time thoroughfare, with milling traffic making its way to the facilities outside and back.  In their anxiety to squeeze the last seat into the available space, the organizers had ensured that every passing bum, male or female, brushed my body generously and one was thankful that it was always the bum, providentially.  Could have been worse, my wife pointed out when I complained to her.  On top of that there were small children and inept adults passing through, juggling and scarcely balancing some seriously dangerous foodstuff on paper plates, perilously hanging down to one side due to overloading.  While I just got blessed with bhel puri, pop corn and some cola, again providentially escaped from being anointed with pizza sauce, mint/tamarind chutney and the like.

Finally some two hours and ten minutes behind schedule, SG appeared on the stage (we did think it was she and not an impersonator, but could n't be certain until she sang) but never appeared clearer, throughout the entire concert, than a silhouette in the maniacally bright stage lights.  And that kicked up the frenzy among the audience to take videos of the stage proceedings.  Oblivious of others, many people stood up on their chairs and each other and captured something on the video for ten minutes. I would love to find out what they got on the video - something vaguely red moving like an apparition on the stage??  While SG sang all her favourite numbers during the next two hours and we enjoyed ourselves, she decided from time to time to give some relief to her vocal chords by asking the tuneless but enthusiastic audience to sing along!!  Par for the course, I guess.
At the end, I just validated my take that it is best to listen to such music from the safety and security of homes, on a good music system; use Youtube if you want videos.  Why pay and suffer all the above indignities?? People immediately jump up and hold a flag for `ambience'.  Well, that is there but the value of that seems grossly exaggerated, compared to the pain one has to go through.  And one nagging suspicion rankles me - what if the organizers put up an impersonator to lip-sync and we never knew??  My dear wife, as usual, had the answer to that too - `Those closest to the stage would have noticed, right'?  Touche!

I prefer the home ambience, for sure.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

We Are A Country Of Crooks!!

The following is not an apology for the shortcomings in the implementation of the Demonitization exercise by the authorities, but a commentary on the way Indians at large reacted and behaved as a nation.
About this time last year, this author was stricken with an intense feeling of guilt - so traumatising  that even Macbeth, haunted by the benign ghost of Banquo, would have sympathized.  Now wait; I committed no such heinous crime, but was made to cringe for a while anyway.  By the whiplash of criticism that accompanied the Demonitization (Dem) exercise. Many of the Indian brethren, desirous of seeing a more disciplined and law abiding population were happy that a bold move is being made to reduce black money and widen the tax net.  But the overwhelmingly vituperative discourse that all the opposition parties and corrupt businessmen engaged in, along with the price we inevitably pay for greed, avarice and of course, poor implementation process in terms of human suffering, made one feel nauseous in the short run. On the face of it, the intent seemed genuinely to improve financial discipline in the country and the execution would never have been perfect, considering the chaotic and complex responses from people at large.  What made one hang the head in shame was the well orchestrated skulduggery, at various levels, that went into defeating the objective of the initiative.  Critics sniggered and gleefully rubbed their hands, saying `We told you so; it won't work in India'.  Why?  Because we are collectively a nation of scheming crooks.  The outcome left nobody in doubt.

Dem exercise was hailed and hauled over coals by the populace,  divided by their own vulnerability insofaras black money is concerned. If one had something to hide, one vilified the initiative; the generally tax compliant, who did everything above board, welcomed it as a step in the right direction.  This was expected, par for the course.  But people across various sections of society went on to exploit every devious opportunity available to ensure that their hidden wealth was laundered at any cost.  The affected parties cooked up diabolical schemes and willing accomplices pitched in to help, for some immediate and shameful gratification.  This is the part that hurt most, but surprisingly many quarters in the country shrugged indifferently and with arched brows said `What did you expect in India'?  Such confidence in the collective deceitfulness of the country!!

Politicians of various opposition parties used words like scam, scandal, etc to describe the exercise, without actually explaining who in the government or specific quarters benefited. And the accusers were primarily that tribe who knew what scams were about and how to preside over them.  All the while, such political parties and politicians were working at a feverish pace to launder their illegal hoard, even as they were drumming up popular criticism of the effort - as hurting the common man!!
Critics lambasted the government and said this should have been thought out better and notice should have been given to the public. Laughable - when without notice, banks seem to have received more high value notes than they thought were printed. Imagine what would have happened if advance notice were to be given - people would have printed high value notes and deposited them, using all kinds of fraudulent avenues!

Businessmen, who thrived on black money and used it generously for political patronage, ganged up with the politicians and used every greedy soul looking for a quick buck, to defeat the regulatory authorities.  Family members, young and old, were put to use.  Some older and sick members of the society unfortunately could not stand the stress of standing in lines and passed away.  While the inefficient process was blamed, it was unbelievable that such individuals were allowed by their families to subject themselves to that kind of stress.  Agents readily mushroomed all over the country, with access to banks and an army of people willing to supplant rule of law. They connected the dots and formed a well-oiled mechanism to route deposits to banks, in which some corrupt personnel were only too happy to collude and ignore the rules governing acceptance of such deposits.

Dishonest bankers, driven by the lure of the lucre, gave priority to helping launder black money and deprived the agitated public at large, of adequate supply of cash through ATMs.  Much of the cash intended for public use was diverted, so the ATMs were shut more often than necessary.  Hoards of new notes, recovered in many raids by authorities, with no explanation forthcoming from the hoarders, bore testimony to this racket.  Rural areas, which obviously needed more small denomination notes, did not get the supplies and suffered.  While the actual distribution system was faulty to an extent and the government should take a portion of the blame, major misery was the product of the machinations of the politicos and businessmen with some bankers in cahoots.

Common men, who saw an opening for making some money rapidly by indulging in small time crookery, helped the bigwigs by pitching in with their physical effort.  They willingly let the black money bags use their own small accounts in various banks to put through deposits and launder the money.  Millions of such accounts have been identified all over the country, in which the previous few years saw a few hundred rupees of balance and during this turbulence the deposits grew to hundreds of thousands.  Common men became con-men, for a service charge.  After doing this and pocketing the money, the same chaps turned around and indulged in breast-beating about lack of cash for their use.

Small businesses obviously suffered because they normally used cash, but they had received adequate indications from the government that sooner or later electronic means of payments will take over.  Still, they ignored those indicators and when the difficulties hit them, promptly blamed everybody else except themselves.  I personally know of a bunch of shop owners, who ingeniously decided to take cheques for small amounts and gave credit to customers for a day or two, in order to continue doing business.  Many very promptly acquired readily available electronic payment methods to continue with their business.  The obvious wish was that more people should have done that instead of crying foul and letting their business be affected.

Economists wobbled and found fault with the programme because it shrank the GDP due to the difficulties some sectors like Realty, Jewellery, etc faced.  Obviously these are the ones which played truant more than others and encouraged black money transactions all the time.  When the axe fell, they would clearly suffer, which happened.  Very logical and if the GDP suffers because of this, so be it.  Instead of that line of thinking, many intellectuals and economists blamed the government for this hit to the growth rate.

The primary lesson one learnt from all this is something like a reconfirmation of the long held belief that we are a nation of crooks, always ready to commit fraud if we believe we can get away or if the majority are doing it all around -  whether you are a politician, businessman, bank personnel, trader or common man; the primary objective always is to make money any which way and evade taxes.  Rules and laws be damned!!  Of course, with due apologies to the small segment which respects laws and pays taxes!!

Can we nurture a semblance of hope about the current mindset changing?  The optimist in me says `May be, if we persist with tough measures for a few decades'.  The realist in me frowns, shakes his head sadly and says sarcastically, `Our collective crookedness will always prevail'!!


Monday, November 27, 2017

Ortho Viral Fever

`Ortho Viral Fever' (OVF), declared the young doctor at Emergency in the hospital, almost gleefully at first - as if he had succeeded in a scientific discovery after torturous research.  And then, when he realised it was far from a Eureka moment for anyone else there,  he modulated the voice to just sound triumphant, shorn of the intense happiness one sensed in the previous declaration.  Considering the fact that the patient was a young girl of thirteen or so without any earlier history of bone related problems, we were surprised about the `ortho' connotation and waited for the excited doctor to cool down and formulate his explanation.  Eventually he did that and told us that OVF meant very high fever for 4-5 days, accompanied by body pain.  Then the fever subsides but the body pain, with particular reference to aches at the joints, persists for anything between two weeks to four months, depending on the level of affinity the pain develops for one's body.  Hence the inclusion of `ortho' in the name of the fever.  Many of those in the Emergency room that day cluck-clucked or shook our heads in disbelief in sympathy for the kid, but forgot all about it after an hour.  Until OVF decided to descend on us in our household - one by one, in some vague order, which we are yet to decipher.

Initially the blasted OVF just starts with high fever for a few days.  Of course, accompanied by severe body pain.  We realised that the doctors in the hospital called this Dolo650 fever, because that seemed to be the fixed prescription, on which there was astoundingly rare unanimity among the doctors.  That itself is some kind of a record engineered by this disease, since usually no two doctors agree - neither on the diagnosis nor on the prescription!  For the record, this author is not recommending anyone starts on that tablet without checking with a real doctor, who might just confirm that prescription.  The body seems to constantly receive external heating directly from a thermal or hydel source and the fever is high enough for one to end up bleary-eyed, thirsty and weak after 2 days.  When you enjoy some marginal success in moving from the bed, you really do not know where you are going  -- to the bathroom or kitchen (because you have lost a significant part of your steering capabilities), until you get unusally kind words of direction from the loving wife (she is eminently qualified because she went through the whole process a couple of weeks before I did).  And then, you find that you cannot move back to the bed because all the energy you had, has been expended in that 20-step sojourn.  So, you wait, pretty much like the astronaut who has just completed an exhausting space-walk, waits to enter the International Space Station.  You feel very flaky too, because you have no memory of walking to your temporary parking space five minutes earlier.

The doctors make it clear that OVF is probably just the staging area for one to get Dengue and/or Chikungunya.  So, as is customary with hospitals, they insist you be tested for all these and few more things in one sweep.  I am sure everyone has this experience of going to get a small bruise treated and returning home wondering whether it was leukemia or HIV or cerebral hemorrhage or something more serious.  Until the 33 tests done by the hospital all indicate it is just a bruise.  Likewise, after the plethora of tests (all those that hospital is equipped to do), you are declared a victim of mere OVF --without any likelihood of being upgraded to Dengue or Chikungunya-- by the medical staff, who just cannot mask their terrible disappointment.  So, here is a disease which sets you back by a few thousand rupees in the `testing' phase but costs you less than hundred rupees for the actual treatment because it is Dolo650 all the way and nothing else.  I guess this compounds the confusion of the already delirious patient as to whether be happy about the latter or complain about the former.

The patient is advised to drink a lot of fluids.  The obvious reason given is to avoid dehydration, but given the fact that everything the patient attempts to consume tastes like paper (no, this author assures he has never eaten that but making the aforesaid statement purely on hearsay) and seems to involve forcing things through a much narrower gap where the throat used to exist, fluids make better sense.  Water, especially, since as we all learnt during school, it is tasteless anyway -- Aristotle said so! The one single part of the body which completely forgets its function during the period of OVF is the tongue.  While one can feel its physical presence at the appointed place, it is like some absolutely useless spare part added to an automobile, God knows why.  You hurriedly go through this phase in life --struggling with anxiety and fear -- so that you can reassure yourself that this eminent part of the body will regain its functionality  eventually!  And, it does, God bless!!

But the most distinct feature of OVF is that the joint pain that afflicts the patient for a disproportionately longer time, compared to the fever that seemed to introduce it to the body in the first place.  Two things happen with the joints -- one, all of them like ankles, knees, elbows, shoulders uniformly pain jointly and severally; two, those joints which already had a diagnosed problem, like one somewhat arthritic knee or one partially frozen shoulder, are blessed with special, incremental pain.  As if, the bacteria knew uncannily where exactly the chinks in your armour are and direct themselves to be residents of such places to increase the pain value.  One also is able to generally come to be re-acquainted with many joints and bones one had forgotten as a child.  So, as a pure journey of self-discovery, I would rank OVF higher than most other meditative or yogic experiences -- primarily because the latter are not so easy to attain and require sublime mental adjustments!

So, here I am, after three good weeks, still struggling to climb stairs and lift somewhat heavy substances.  My dear wife points out I have developed a unique style of climbing up/down the stairs, with the knees kept wider apart than usual and a resultant wide-angled movement so that a beholder would not, at first sight, know whether I am moving up/down or sideways.  I live in the hope that eventually, after a couple of months, I would revert to my original style.  But that seems very far off, at this juncture.