Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Road Rush

A few months back, having witnessed a spate of accidents and near misses during a 15 minute bus ride, I had written this post. It was pretty disturbing to see all these totally avoidable incidents. A little bit of road-sense and restraint could have easily avoided all these incidents. These thoughts came back to me after witnessing some more such drama again.
Incident 1 - Was waiting for the bus to come to take me back home. The bus duly came, slowed down while getting near the stand. However a car also stopped bang in front of it to pick a person waiting there. The bus driver had to brake real hard to avoid running into the car. Not only ignorant of his mistake the fellow driving the car starts shouting at the bus before moving away.
Incident 2 - on the same journey.  The people generally get on from the rear of the bus and get off from the front.The bus was crowded. And there was a heavy rush at a particular stop. Some ladies started climbing on to the bus from the front. This inspite of the protests from the driver. The bus got further jampacked. This also made it more difficult stuck in the middle to get off at their designated stops.
Incident 3 - Well this is a daily happening and not particular to this day. At the traffic signals the vehicles are stopped right over or in some cases even after the zebra crossing. No thoughts spared for how the pedestrians are supposed to navigate through and cross the roads. And I just not understand how much of time is saved by stopping a couple of yards behind or ahead.
Incident 4 - A bus was trying to turn into a street. Task had been made more difficult due to an SUV parked at the corner. As the bus turning, a biker came in trying to weave his way through. And that was the start of a small traffic jam. All the biker had to do was wait for maybe 30 seconds at most. Instead the ensuing jam must have resulted in a 5 minute delay.
In conclusion, all I can say is, We, the people of India just lack traffic sense, and have a knack of not following rules which have been made for our own convenience. I know our road infra-structure is bad, our streets are crowded with vehicles, and the traffic police is more interested in money making but the traffic would still improve drastically if we showed even an iota of respect to these rules and had basic road sense.

P.S. All incidents from Navi Mumbai area on the evening of August 30th, 2011.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Anna & the Anti-Corruption Movement - My Take

I'll begin with making one thing clear. I am against corruption. And would support any movement which can eradicate this. Do I believe that the Lokpal Bill will be the cure for corruption in the country? I do not know, but certainly would like to believe that it might help.
First a little recap of the events going on.
Earlier this year in April, Anna Hazare went on a fast at Jantar Mantar in Delhi to ask/force (?) the Government to propose the Lokpal Bill. The country was then on a patriotic high. This had come just days after India had won the World Cup. The movement generated a lot of awareness in the people about the Lokpal concept. And certainly there was a massive outpouring of support for the cause. Anna Hazare had become the rallying point for the public's fight against corruption. My thoughts post the fast are here
Post the fast there were some more copycat fasts. Prominent was the drama created by Baba Ramdev and the Union Government. A whole team of cabinet ministers went to receive the Baba. And then there was a police crackdown at his fasting stage, which resulted in civilians getting tear-gassed and injured, while the Baba did a dramatic football style dive and escaped wearing a shalwar kameez (Just wondering, with his appearance, how much of a disguise was a woman's dress?). Post the crackdown, the public sentiment had swung in the favour of Baba till he started making weird statements about creating an armed force to take on the government (I guess a good enough reason for putting him behind bars, but the Government did not want to  take the risk).
Back to Annaji and the Lokpal Bill now. A joint drafting committee was formed with representatives from the Government and the "Civil Society" (another interesting term, which implies that the democratically elected Parliament represents the non-civil society). The Government produced a pretty mild version of the bill proposal with not too much powers to the Lokpal, while the "civil society" had a much different version. (Critique of the government bill is here and here is a comparison made by a news site, a presentation on the subject is here). Not satisfied with the Government's draft, the civil society led by Annaji proceeded on a second round of fasting.
Again there has been massive outpouring of support in the media and on the social networks for Anna Hazare. I have also seen demonstrations and rallies in his support. And these have been mostly voluntary. However I am not too sure of the public support which is coming right now. The support is there not as much in favour of getting a bill, but an outburst of the built up frustration in the people. Just too many scams, bribery at every level of the government machinery, inflation and just too many people. And the Government is not helping its own cause by behaving in an idiotic manner. Arresting Anna was a stupid move, and  with spokespersons like Manish Tiwari, Kapil Sibal, Digvijay Singh speaking for the ruling party, the Anna movement certainly did not need any campaigners for their cause. (An aside - The BJP must be really thankful that it is sitting in the Opposition right now)
The movement can be summed up as follows. The public is fed up, they wanted to do "something" and this looked like that "something", so why not do this. I am all for supporting the agitation but there are a few things about the movement/agitation which is worrying me.
First of all, there is a growing mass hysteria. Anna's supporters have built a George Bush kind of "Either you are with us, or against us" attitude. A person need not support Anna Hazare, and can still be against corruption. Try posting any statement which may seem to be in favour of government or against Anna and his team and look at the abuse you'll get. There seems to be no room for a contrarian view point. Definitely not an ideal condition in any democracy.
Then there is the hysterical media coverage. The coverage has been focussed on the activities going on while forgetting the main issue. What I see is logistics of fast being arranged at Ramlila grounds, whether and when Anna will leave Tihar or not, which celebrity has tweeted his support for Anna. What I don't see is the point-by-point debate on the two drafts. Or is that something which no one is caring about. The movement seems to be losing focus. (Or maybe it might have slipped from my attention due to all the jingoism everywhere)
The movement has been hyped up the Lokpal Bill as a panacea for all corruption. Nobody knows yet what form it is going to be, forget the implementation part. The Government draft  does not achieve anything, but neither does Anna's. If implemented in current form, that would be the end of all government functioning. We have already seen how a hyper active CAG through its "selective media leaks" has paralyzed a couple of union ministries. The ideal bill would be certainly something in-between the two drafts, but will either side listen to it. Even if Anna's version is proposed, the final law has to be passed by Parliament, which will certainly be a toned down version. What does Anna do then?
There already seems to be a 3rd version of the bill getting drafted by Aruna Roy. Hopefully that will enable public debate on the bill. At this rate I think all citizens should get in the bill drafting mode. Why not go in for a "crowdsourced" bill like the recently drafted Constitution of Iceland?
As for the public uprising going on, I get a feeling of deja vu here. Remember 26/11 and the citizen rallies which took place after that. Lots of frustration came out. People took to the streets, candlelight marches, posters and slogans against the Government. The TV channels were building up the hype. The stage looked set for a revolution. And then when the elections were held within 6 months of that heinous incident, hardly 40% people voted in Mumbai. Now where were the bringers of change?
There is a need for change. But the way the movement is going on, I do not see any change being brought forth. Though I am no expert in these matters, I guess we already have enough laws and their implementation mechanism in place. What we don't have is the willingness to follow them. And that certainly can't be created by just another law.
I don't have a solution myself but I am certain that what I am seeing all around is neither.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

India @ 64

Its Independence Day time. And also the time for my annual review of the year gone by for India. A tradition which has now gone into its 5th year. (Previous editions are here: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010).
The year gone by could be summed up in one word - Corruption. You heard the word everywhere. It was associated with every major and minor happening in the government, media, sports, wherever you like it.  The scandals and scams kept rolling out. The Commonwealth Games, the 2G Spectrum case, the Nira Radia tapes. The CAG was in a hyper active mode, investigating one issue after the other. But with almost every report of theirs being leaked to the media before getting tabled in Parliament, some doubts regarding their motives also came into mind. Amidst all this there was a large anti-corruption stir being raised in the people, with Anna Hazare being at the fore-front of it all. However, even this movement was almost hijacked by the antics of certain jokers. The government tried to crush some of the movements but don't know if it worked. (Just an aside - Baba Ramdev's jump from the podium during the police lathicharge at his fast reminded me of Christiano Ronaldo's dives for a penalty more than anything else). 
The Prime Minister seems more helpless then anything else. The opposition is useless. The President and Vice-President are unheard. I guess a total lack of leadership right now. Then there are politicians like Digvijay Singh, who has become a case of diarrhea of words. The various party spokespersons provide perfect examples of why "Freedom of Speech" can be taken away in some instances.  
The Nira Radia tapes showed that the bringers of "news" can't be trusted any longer. The media has long since degenerated into a sensationalist "Breaking News" mode. Even trivial incidents are blown up. When the blasts took place in Mumbai, from the news channels it would have seemed that the entire city was under siege, whereas in reality most parts of it were quite calm. Another case in point, repeatedly showing the video of a family getting washed away during a flash flood without caring about the sentiments of the relatives. Then of course we have the "Match Ka Mujrim" type shows which bring in some failed international cricketers then speak about the performances of the current players as if they are criminals.
The sports front had some extra-ordinary highs and then deep lows. There are some major contenders for sporting highs. Saina Nehwal winning the Badminton gold to take India to the 2nd place in overall rankings in the Commonwealth Games, the 4X400m relay quartet winning the gold and the biggest of them all, the ODI World Cup victory. Don't think there would have been a bigger celebration than when Dhoni hit the winning six. Indian cricket was the top of the world. We were the Test No. 1, and ODI world champions. Since then the dream run has turned sour with an ordinary performance in West Indies and then getting hammered by England to lose the No. 1 test status.  In other sports, we had the super athletics shows in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. The 4X400 women's relay final in the Commonwealth Games was one of the sporting highlights of the year. However, the star 4X400 relay quarter has been since involved in a big doping scandal. In tennis, the Indian Express is back together. And we are all set to host our first F1 race, with the likelihood of  2 Indian drivers racing.
Dabbang was awarded the national award for "Wholesome entertainer of the Year". I guess that sums up the state of the entertainment industry. The item songs ruled the roost with Munni & Sheela top of the charts.

So this is how much I can recall of the current Indian state. There are bad things going on. But the awareness against them is increasing. And the public wants to act. Its good to see some hope.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

When the Phone Went AWOL...

"Its not just a phone, its You", so says Priyanka Chopra in an ad for a mobile company. Couldn't have been a more apt description of what the cell phone has become to our lives. And as with all good things, you only realize its importance when it goes missing. And I had the first hand experience over the past 24 hour period.
Yester evening, climbed on to the public bus to take me home. After some time checked my pockets to realise that my cell phone is no longer there. So asked around, then borrowed a fellow traveler's phone to dial my number and heard the following words, "आपण डायल कियेला नंबर बंद आहे" (The number you called is switched off). Definetely hadn't switched it off myself. So the obvious conclusion someone had nicked it and switched it off. On any given day losing something is bad. But having lost a newly bought smartphone was pretty devastating. Reached home, used the world wide web to ask a few friends to keep trying my number. All of them reported the same "switched off" message. Pretty much confirming that it had not been misplaced but stolen.
While sitting at home, realised that no one could call me up if they wanted to. I was pretty much untraceable. Now this was a thought which was at the same instance very liberating and very scary. What if somebody was trying to call me. What would they be thinking? (And someone actually was and was getting very worried). Amongst the random thoughts which came in during this period was how was I going to order pizza? (Ok some misplaced priorities here). Thoughts also went to the amount of personal info I had on my phone that could be accessed. Pretty scary.
Now for things to do in case of losing a phone.

  • File an FIR with the police. But be sure you go to correct police station. I went into 3 different ones before being able to file the report. Learning - The police have very well defined jurisdiction areas and they follow it very strictly. You cant, just CANT, file a report anywhere else. The closest station from the incident need NOT be the correct one as I found out today morning.
  • Next step. Get the SIM blocked. No thief will have the phone ON after taking it. But it needs to be done to get your old number activated on the new one. A process which may take a day or two.
  • Register your phone IMEI number. Would not help in getting your phone back but still is a good idea.
  • If you are accessing mails, twitter, social networking by your phone, CHANGE your passwords immediately.
  • And most importantly. Inform your loved ones immediately. Lack of access in these heavily connected days is very unnerving.

P.S. And forget about the handset. Very unlikely you are ever going to see it again. Probably the ideal time to move on to the next one.