PAGES

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Where's the money going?

Karnataka's revenues have registered a phenomenal growth of 26 per cent in the last four months of the current fiscal after introduction of VAT, so says Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister Siddaramaiah. Details here.

But where's all the money going?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Tiles fall off Discovery

Discovery lifted off yesterday. The day before, NASA issued a strange statement. That the shuttle will be launched even if it is not fully fit to fly. I thought it was most strange, if nothing else. There was no controversy over this remark. Still strange!

And today, I find news and video clips of a tile falling off the shuttle. And, missing tiles were the main reason for the previous disaster.

Are the astronauts up there in space know of the tiles falling off?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong is not just the greatest cyclist the world has seen, his life is one the rare success stories. Today he won the Tour de France for the seventh time in a row. We wouldn't see him cycling again, for he has called it a day.

In 1996 October, after he was ranked Number one cyclist in the world, he was diagnosed with cancer, which spread to various organs of his body. He was put on chemotherapy with doctors giving him less than 50 per cent of survival. He fought his way out, successfully, picked up his cycle again, and rode his way to immortality.

An amazing inspirational story really worth reading.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Costs Children Pay

An interesting article in USA Today on "The Costs Children Pay"

Last year, the number of premature babies — those delivered after spending less than 37 weeks in the womb — climbed to 480,000 and now accounts for nearly 8% of all births.....

Cohabitation is getting to be a habit with Americans. From 1960 through 2000, the number of unmarried couples living together increased tenfold. Today, about 8% of all households with couples are cohabitors....

The steady climb in the number of couples living together sans wedding rings is one reason the divorce rate has been falling. That sounds promising — until you realize that the divorce rate is falling only because there are fewer married couples around to split up...

Suddenly, the story becomes about the children. Years of research by sociologists have pinned down the need children have for stability. If home life is destabilized, a long list of child well-being indicators, such as school performance and behavior problems, tilts downward.
Some social trends are unstoppable. Even so, assuming there's no impact on children would be naive.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Potter mania

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince hit the stands on July 16.

View 1: It’s all just hype. A mad, meaningless craze. A cleverly staged PR stunt.

View 2: Before Rowling came of the scene, when did we last see children queue up for a book early in the morning, world over? What a refreshing sight it was. We always keep saying no one reads books; now it is all visual, computers, DVD, cartoons, graphics etc. How wrong are we! The written word is not dead, not at all. Even elders are reading, to see what the craze is all about!

My view: the latter.

And Rowling, just imagine someone writing seven volumes, having the world's children under her spell, and no complaints yet. Some achievement this!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Rich poor Bangalore

We Bangaloreans are through with Singapore. Now the city will begin to look like Shanghai, or that's what some minister says. Comprehensive Development Plan 2005, Metro Rail, International Airport... what not...

Every time I am violently shaken my through some of the craters that are also called roads, I wonder what is dream what is reality.

We can't get a few stretches of road tarred in time. What are then we talking about?

World's most IT companies have an office in Bangalore. Rs 1-crore houses are not unheard of. Monthly rent of Rs 50,000 plus is becoming common. A plant sapling that used to cost Rs 10 is quoted at Rs 85. (That woman who was selling it off Marthahalli on way to IT Park, could have rounded it off Rs 100!) Bangalore is a rich city, how much ever poor we are. Private companies are minting money. The government is earning crores by way of taxes. Where is it all going? A big scam here? I am sure, there is.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Lab goes out of Bangalore

U.S. software firm Versata transferring lab from Bangalore, India, to Halifax

Keith Doucette, Canadian Press
July 15, 2005

HALIFAX (CP) - An overheated information technology sector in India is behind a move by American software firm Versata Inc. to transfer its development lab from Bangalore to Halifax, eventually locating up to 85 jobs in Nova Scotia.

Brett Adam, Versatas' chief technology officer, said Thursday it is increasingly difficult to retain staff in Bangalore... for more than nine months due to the number of rich job opportunities available to them.

Adam said the "post-bubble" environment of the technology sector in the United States, Australia and Canada is more stable than in some other countries.

Read more here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Learning English

The debate raging in Karnataka over teaching English in government schools from Std I baffles me.

My logic is simple: you don't need to be taught your mother tongue. It's there in your blood. The importance of English today is only too obvious. I just can't understand what's to be debated on whether children should be taught English from Std I.

The apparent fear is that Kannada will die if children are taught English. Who needs whom? Children need the language, or the language needs children? Whose death is more important: language or children?

Language is a tool; used for a purpose. A one-year-old doesn't need a language to talk to her mother. Later her needs increase, and thereby a language to communicate.


There is a world of difference between a bicycle and a car. When you need a car, you don't take your bicycle. And, you don't refuse to buy a car, because you feel bicycles will become extinct if you don't buy and use them. A local language has its use. The bonding it can create is amazing. But that's just about it. English can take you much farther, like a car.

I have seen many people, residing outside Kerala, who have grown up speaking English at home, later picking up easily Malayalam, without anyone teaching them. A cousin of mine, who grew up in Bhopal speaking Hindi with his siblings and parents, did his MBA in a Kerala college, and got his first job also in Kerala. Nobody taught him Malayalam. It just came to him. And, it served its purposed well, just to talk to the localites.

The misplaced chauvinism is not restricted to Karnataka. It's rampant in the supposedly intellectual state of Kerala. English is scorned and condemned, there. People are looked down upon if they speak in English.

Mercifully, the youth who want to learn English do so, quietly. And, India has a good number of them. So much so, countries like the US and Britain are mighty impressed and outsourcing their work from India.

Wish our language chauvinists knew this!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Bangalore after dark

The cover story on the Sunday supplement of New Indian Express is on Bangalore. It's specifically about the night life, from anywhere between the streets to the call centre office rooms.

The article is a first-hand account. Edited excerpts are below as an appetiser. Below that is the link to the original artcle. And, in case of difficulty in accessing the link, the entire article is reproduced at the end.

We Bangaloreans may find the article quite an uncharitable description. So before we judge it, let us remember that the article selectively focusses only on one particlar aspect of a multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic, multiprofessional, muliti... (whatever) city.

Excerpts:

** Three young men are peering into a piece paper, and one of them is scribbling on it furiously. The fourth occupant of the table, a woman in her early 20s, has no interest in what they are doing. She takes leisurely drags at her cigarette, coming to life only when the man sitting beside her puts an arm around her and leans to whisper something. Then the man quickly returns to the piece of paper. A difficult question has to be answered: Which company owned the Titanic?.....

** It is Thursday evening.... at The Night Watchman, a pub on... M G Road. ...they have this quiz programme called Booze and Brains. To Bangaloreans...who know how to handle their drinks... the booze does not seem to slow down their brains...

** Booze is not difficult to find in Bangalore even long after the police deadline.

** At Mojos, a cosy pub on the Residency Road.... more than a watering hole, this seems to be a place to catch up with friends after work.

** Bangalore never parties: partying is an extension of work here. It’s your right to have a mug or two of beer after work: even single women, unlike women in most cities, are entitled to that right. They just walk in, order a beer, and say ‘Hi’ to whoever they know, and walk off — without worrying about dealing with single men trying to pile on. And nobody is piling on here: everybody is out on work — on an assignment called ‘chilling out’. No wonder Mojos, like The Night Watchman, is packed.

** Outside Styx, a pub on M G Road that plays hard rock. I have reached here after walking the length of the road – walking past groups of “software professionals” (a term journalists have turned into a cliche) taking a break and also groups of exceptionally well-dressed women. The women, it turned out on closer inspection, were gaudily dressed. And some of them were not women at all. Solicitation of this kind does not happen in any other city in India – I mean in the heart of the city and that too as early as 9 pm.

** The next evening I am at a family joint — the Indira Nagar Club. Just before dinner, we go to the men’s room of this family club. There I spot something that resembles a public telephone box: drop a coin and make a call. It turns out to be a condom-vending machine: drop a five-rupee coin and get a pack of four condoms, “Manufactured by TTK, Cathedral Road, Chennai.”

** The condom is a subject of discussion in Bangalore these days. The drainage pipe of a call centre in the city was recently found clogged with used condoms. Also recently, a friend of this filmmaker friend, who is in the business of supplying air-conditoners to big firms, got a complaint from one of the call centres that some of its ACs were not working. When this man went to inspect the machines, he found their vents clogged with used condoms.

** Still, condom-vending machines are available in several call centres: the idea being their employees should be safe than sorry. Yet these big IT firms are doing whatever they can to check the promiscuity resulting from odd working hours. Some of them are said to have replaced couches with single chairs, while some others are said to have instructed security guards to take a round every 10 minutes.


Full article
here

Bangalore after dark
Friday July 8 2005 14:08 IST

Bishwanath Ghosh

Three young men are peering into a piece paper, and one of them is scribbling on it furiously. The fourth occupant of the table, a woman in her early 20s, has no interest in what they are doing. She takes leisurely drags at her cigarette, coming to life only when the man sitting beside her puts an arm around her and leans to whisper something. Then the man quickly returns to the piece of paper. A difficult question has to be answered: Which company owned the Titanic?

The quizmaster, Mark Rego, repeats the question. Most tables fall silent. The occupants gulp their beer, think, and jot down their guesses. The next question is rather easy: Which country was known as Siam? The third isn’t too difficult: Which US city is named after St. Francis of Assisi? Next comes a question whose answer every Indian should know but nobody seems to: Who is the architect of the Taj Mahal? A few more questions follow and one round comes to an end. The DJ plays Summer of 69 and people order more beer and ask the waiters for fresh sheets of paper to answer the next round.

It is Thursday evening and I am sitting with a bunch of newly-made friends at The Night Watchman, a pub on an innocuous-looking street off Bangalore’s famous M G Road. The place is packed on Thursdays, when they have this quiz programme called Booze and Brains. To many the title might sound as an oxymoron, but not Bangaloreans, who know how to handle their drinks. The booze does not seem to slow down their brains, for someone or the other in the crowd knows the answer to even the most difficult of questions — Which country outlawed religion in 1967? I say ‘Cuba’ and one of the friends, Vikram, jots it down. I am confident that a free, moisture-coated pitcher of beer would soon be sitting on our table. But the pitcher was destined for the man — or the woman — who gave the answer as Albania.

“Who minds a free pitcher of beer? And if you score the maximum points, all the booze that you have here is on the house,” says Vikram, a creative writer with a top advertising agency, explaining the crowds at The Night Watchman on Thursday evenings. The evening, meanwhile, is coming to an end. It is night now — 11.15 pm to be precise. The Bangalore police wants all watering holes to be shut by 11.30. So we troop out. The quiz is still on and as I near the exit, I hear another question being thrown up: What is the title given to Camilla Parker Bowles?

Outside, the air is chilly. This is June but this can also be a Delhi January. An argument breaks out between my new friends: Whose place are we going to spend the rest of the night? Spending the night means more drinking — that was a given. And booze is not difficult to find in Bangalore even long after the police deadline. So I find myself heading to the place of a man I have known barely for hours. But they are comfortable with me – only that they don’t call me ‘uncle’, maybe out of politeness. Though they keep referring to each other as ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’ — as anyone in his or her late twenties or early thirties is labelled in Bangalore.

The new friend, whose home I am headed to, shares his flat with a colleague. The colleague, called Yashwant, is fast asleep when we arrive. He has to be kicked awake — literally. But once awake, he is jovial. “Do you smoke?” he asks me. I say yes. “No, no, not that, I am talking about this,” he says, pointing to the grass he is crushing on his palm. I say no. By then he has already made out joints for himself and his friends who, by now, are watching, on their DVD player, a movie called American History X.

The next evening I find myself at Mojos, a cosy pub on the Residency Road. Waiters are carrying around pitchers of beer, but more than a watering hole, this seems to be a place to catch up with friends after work. Bangalore never parties: partying is an extension of work here. It’s your right to have a mug or two of beer after work: even single women, unlike women in most cities, are entitled to that right. They just walk in, order a beer, and say ‘Hi’ to whoever they know, and walk off — without worrying about dealing with single men trying to pile on. And nobody is piling on here: everybody is out on work — on an assignment called ‘chilling out’. No wonder Mojos, like The Night Watchman, is packed. I find myself seated right in front of the door to the men’s restroom, and throughout the evening I am shifting my chair frequently to allow the beer-guzzlers in. That helps anyway, because the loud music prevents you from making conversation unless you keep moving your chair forward. From one wall hangs the poster of John Lennon — he is striking a contemplative pose, with a cigarette in hand. From another wall hangs a picture of Eric Clapton – he seems to be meditating with his guitar.

I am still looking at the posters when my attention is drawn to the T-shirt of a young man who has just walked in. It reads: “Led Zeppelin.” Only in Bangalore can you often find people wearing T-shirts like that. Here, Rock is religion. And people like Zeppelin the presiding deities.

Now playing: Led Zeppelin, says the electronic scroll outside Styx, a pub on M G Road that plays hard rock. I have reached here after walking the length of the road – walking past groups of “software professionals” (a term journalists have turned into a cliche) taking a break and also groups of exceptionally well-dressed women. The women, it turned out on closer inspection, were gaudily dressed. And some of them were not women at all. Solicitation of this kind does not happen in any other city in India – I mean in the heart of the city and that too as early as 9 pm. I fled from the sidewalk, crossed the road and was about to turn into Brigade Road when I saw the electronic scroll: Led Zeppelin. But for the scroll, I would have missed Styx — it sits unassumingly on the first floor of a nondescript building.

A burst of energy hits me as soon as I open the door. I am in a different planet, whose inhabitants drink beer and who speak only in the language of the guitar. This is also one place where guitars speak, and each time a guitar acquires the vocal chords of a human, the crowd goes berserk. I have a difficult time making it to the bar, navigating through half a dozen swaying bodies playing imaginary guitars. There are quite a few single women sitting at the bar, drinking off the counter. I have no courage to make conversation with them. They look the no-nonsense, out-on-business types. I somehow conclude they are “IT professionals” — another occupation reporters freely attribute to any source who does not want to be identified.

I get my beer and survey the electrified atmosphere. There are many more single women around. One of them is standing next to me. She must be in her early twenties. She has her lower lip pierced and she is smoking incessantly — lighting a new cigarette from the glow of the dying one — and constantly swaying her head to the music. Behind me, on the sofa, are two young men who are also swaying their heads but their heads are tilted down: they clearly have had too much to drink. And those half a dozen boys are still playing imaginary guitars. One of them, however, is taking frequent breaks unlike the rest — a tall boy with shoulder-length hair. Wherever he spots a glass of beer, he takes a sip. Nobody seems to mind. Not even Ms Pierced Lip. Soon Mr Long Hair gets talking to her. Since the music is too loud, any conversation is not possible without the brushing of cheeks. Kisses follow, and soon after embraces. Ms Pierced Lip and Mr Long Hair have discovered each other – at least for that night. When I walk out of the pub, I feel I could have done better by borrowing a bit of courage from Mr Long Hair.

The next evening I am at a family joint — the Indira Nagar Club. A filmmaker friend, Anand, whose number I have managed to dig out from the directory, has called me for dinner. Here, for the first time, I hear Kannada being spoken as my friend instructs waiters about the drinks and dinner. But then, who will speak Kannada? Only 30 percent of Bangaloreans, I am told, are Kannadigas. Even the FM channels in Bangalore play Hindi songs most of the time: in fact if you listen to the radio here, you will never know whether you are in Bangalore or Banaras.

Just before dinner, we go to the men’s room of this family club. There I spot something that resembles a public telephone box: drop a coin and make a call. It turns out to be a condom-vending machine: drop a five-rupee coin and get a pack of four condoms, “Manufactured by TTK, Cathedral Road, Chennai.”

The condom is a subject of discussion in Bangalore these days. The drainage pipe of a call centre in the city was recently found clogged with used condoms. Also recently, a friend of this filmmaker friend, who is in the business of supplying air-conditoners to big firms, got a complaint from one of the call centres that some of its ACs were not working. When this man went to inspect the machines, he found their vents clogged with used condoms. Still, condom-vending machines are available in several call centres: the idea being their employees should be safe than sorry. Yet these big IT firms are doing whatever they can to check the promiscuity resulting from odd working hours. Some of them are said to have replaced couches with single chairs, while some others are said to have instructed security guards to take a round every 10 minutes.

While the companies maybe more worried about sex in the workplace, people like Ashok K Rau are worried about AIDS infiltrating into the IT industry. ‘High’ = High Risk = HIV Positive, reads a poster in his office, Freedom Foundation, an organisation which rehabilitates alcoholics, drug addicts and victims of HIV. His logic is simple: when you are high on alcohol, you think of sex. And when you think of sex, you don’t really where who you are getting it from. In the process you can get the virus. And in a work culture where sex is rampant, you can pass the virus around.

“You have people who have not even finished college but who are getting Rs 10,000 as the starting salary,” says Dr Rau. “So they might have the money to spend, but they are hardly mature.” He warns “IT professionals” against thinking that AIDS is a disease that afflicts only commercial sex workers or truck drivers. “Today, the IT industry has become a vulnerable group as well, just like the sex workers or the trucks drivers,” he says.

His organisation recently conducted a poll among a cross section of youth employed in the IT industry — including the call centres. Nearly 80 percent thought HIV was only a problem for sex workers and poor people. As many as 25 percent admitted to having casual sex. About 72 percent of the men said they never used a condom because they presumed their partners were either “clean” or “decent”. And 15 percent of the single women said they had their first sexual encounter under the influence of alcohol. About 40 percent of the respondents believed that pre-marital sex was permissible. And 24 percent said “no” when asked whether they should have sex only with their spouse after marriage.

One doesn’t know if Bangaloreans — rather the people who populate the IT industry of the city — would ever have the time to ponder over Dr Rau’s statistics. There is so much they can do in that time. Such as grab a glass beer in one of the countless pubs and listen to Pink Floyd.

Saturday, July 9, 2005

US must wake up

I am never tired of repeating this. Had the world's superpowers, particularly the US, been serious about the terror attacks in India during the 1990s, the hideous, cataclysmic events of 9/11 wouldn't have happened. The Times of India has put out a story on how terrorists prior to 9/11 used India as a laboratory to perfect their strategies and make dryruns of their plans.

Some of those deadly attacks in India were:
* 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai and subsequent incidents of bombing commuter transport.
* Hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane in December 1999.

The hijackers who successfully bargained their way out, walked cross the border from Taliban's Afghanistan to Pakisatan. Less than two years later, George Bush realised the Pakistan link to 9/11, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Mumbai blasts took 258 lives, and the mastermind, Dawood Ibrahim is in Pakistan.

The report says: "Last year, new methodology used by the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center to tabulate terrorist incidents showed that India was the worst victim. Of the 651 terrorist in the year, over 40% (295) took place in India with Iraq coming next at 201. The US and UK were not even on the board. But such is the nature of the western media that the London attack, which has claimed 50 lives so far, gets saturation coverage, while the Akshardam massacre, which claimed 37 lives, was just a blip on the western radar."

How true! Bush's war on terror is fine. No one has any objection to the larger goal that Bush is pursuing. But the war will turn out to be an investment with diminishing, or even no returns, if Bush doesn't sincerely take note of and act upon attacks elsewhere. The recent attack on Ayodhya evoked little comment from the West.

The US and the UK, particularly should realise that the terror attacks in India emanate from Pakistan (despite Pak's protestations to the contrary), and the global terrorism is only an extrapolation of this. Bush must take the whole world along, particularly in today's global geopolitical configurations.

Today's Times of India report:

India a lab for terror strikes

By Chidanand Rajghatta/TNN

Washington: Has the failure of western intelligence agencies to recognise India as a victim of terrorism and their lack of interest in terrorist modus operandi in India over the past 15 years brought them grief in recent years? It would appear so, going by the action replay of terrorist acts in India that one is now witnessing in various parts of the world.The serial blasts that shook London on Thursday show again that India has been used as a laboratory by terrorists.

The Mumbai blasts of 1993 and subsequent incidents of bombing commuter transport may have been a dry run for attacks in Madrid and London among other places.It does not stop there. The hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane from Kathmandu to Kandahar also seemed a practice run for what happened on 9/11 — five men to a plane, armed with nothing more than box-cutters managed to commandeer a flight, the only difference being they did not fly and crash the planes into any buildings.

All that may be changing, now. Last year, new methodology used by the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center to tabulate terrorist incidents showed that India was the worst victim. Of the 651 terrorist in the year, over 40% (295) took place in India with Iraq coming next at 201.The US and UK were not even on the board. But such is the nature of the western media that the London attack, which has claimed 50 lives so far, gets saturation coverage, while the Akshardam massacre, which claimed 37 lives, was just a blip on the western radar.

Some of that change is evident in high-level exchanges. Two years ago, then home minister L.K. Advani entered the portals of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, for talks with America’s top spooks, in a repudiation of the stigma that was attached to the agency in India. In June, India’s national security adviser M.K. Narayanan held talks with the new US intelligence czar John Negroponte.But Indian officers say there’s a degree of reserve in intelligence dealings between the two countries.

The litmus test is the Dawood Ibrahim case. Despite naming him in its terrorism watchlist, Washington has shown little urgency in helping India extradite him from Pakistan, where he is believed to be staying. Recent reports of Dawood’s daughter’s marriage to the son of Pakistani cricketer Javed Miandad have brought the underworld don within range of intelligence agencies.

The question is whether they can nail the man who masterminded the mother of all serial bombings in Mumbai, an act which claimed 258 lives.

Friday, July 8, 2005

O, I just don't have time!

That's one excuse -- or rather a reason, justifiable or not -- we always have for not keeping up a promise or commitment. I have been asking myself how true is that. Are we really short of time? Or, is it that our planning is so bad that we don't find time for important things? Or, is it that some things just don't interest us?

VG is a typical citizen of New Bangalore whom I know well: an Information Technology Professional. After studying in IIT, he walked into a US university, landed a plum job and spent some 15 years there. A year back, he accepted, after prolonged contemplation, a lucrative offer of a very reputed MNC to relocate to the comforts of Bangalore as the head of worldwide operation of a segment of the company.

Whenever I talk to his proud father and mother, I enquire about VG. "O, he has just no time," they tell me, with a tone of disappointment or frustration, I am unable to make out. "He has no time to talk to us even. Even on Saturday he has to go to his office. Sunday is the only holiday. On that day also he keeps getting phone calls and is constantly on the phone and laptop. Lack of time has become a real problem."

On a Sunday, I went to their house, after prior appointment. But, he wasn't there. He had gone to check out a house he planned to buy. I spent time talking to his parents. After an hour or so, he landed up. After those usual... "O, where have you been..." "It's a long, long time since we met..." we settled down. Easily we slipped into that familiar topic of US v/s India.

My interest in him is that he is, as I referred to him, a typical New Bangalorean: one of those who have been instrumental in altering the social and economic contours of this once-laid-back Bangalore. More about the New Bangalorean on another day.

Within 10 minutes of starting a conversation with him, the phone rang. It was a call for VG. He rushed upstairs. I waited another 10 minutes. It was time for me to go. I don't know when he freed himself from whoever had called. That 10 minutes was the only meeting I had with him in the last one year!

Even after a prior appointment, he had no time. I am simply curious about this guy. What is the work he does? Who calls him with such urgency that he can't even tell him that he will call back after half an hour?

It is not about planning, it is about prioritising. You give priority to things you like doing. X may sit and watch TV, forgetful of the fact that he has to complete a project report. The next day, may be X sits and chats with his friend, again forgetting about the report. On the third day, may be X is up to something else.

I am sure such things happen to all of us. And we crib. O, there is just no time for anything!

After belting out "I have no time" excuse for long, and lately realising the hollowness of that, I have started trying to prioritise things. And, I try my very best not to tell anyone, "I didn't get time.... (for example) to write the report."

Back to VG. As I said, you give priority to things you like doing. And, it's quite obvious, meeting me and spending half and hour with me, has not been important for him at all during the past one year, at least. If at all he has a priority list (quite possible he has, going by his career profile), I must be way down on that.

It's slaves and bonded labourers who have no time, because someone else dictates their lives. Don't we all have some freedom to control our lives at least to some extent? Or are we slaves? Slaves of what? How different are from bonded labourers?

If you finished reading this (so far) 689-word piece, it is not just because you had time; more importantly you were interested in reading it. Thanks a lot.

PS: If I have to meet VG, probably I have to pose as a valuable client of his company!

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Terror strikes London

When the first bits the news of today's explosions began trickling in in the afternoon, I couldn't help exclaiming: It was long coming. Britain was nowhere even near the hit-list of al-Qaida until Tony Blair in such a servile, unabashed manner followed George Bush in the War on Terror. So much so that Britain almost became another state of the US.

Not that Bush's War on Terror wasn't worth supporting. In fact, the whole world rallied around him after 9/11. But it is the manner in which Bush and Blair conducted that war that led to the erosion of most of the support.

Britain is no stranger to terrorism, unlike the US. For nearly a century it has lived with the violence unleashed by Irish terrorists. Lord Mountbatten was one of the famous victims of that terrorism, and Margret Thatcher narrowly escaped. Post-Thatcher, Britain learnt to negotiate with the terrorists without losing face, worked out landmark agreements, and today Irish terrorism is history.

When Britain could successfully put the Irish terrorists behind them, I never understood why Blair had to commit this suicidal act of backing Bush. By aping Bush (of all people) Blair virtually invited al-Qaida's terrorism to Britain, just when they Britain had put terror behind them. Whatever stand Bush and Blair take, their lives are never under threat, since they are amply protected. It's the common people on the street who always take the brunt.

India too, like Britain, has suffered terrorism. Since 9/11, terrorism is a global problem, since on that day America was hit. The explosions also show that the war isn't over. The way the terrorists are waging war, theresn't any indication that it will end in the near future either.

We have travelled in the wrong direction so much, I don't know which is the safe way out.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Sensible people

The infamous burning of Sabarmati Express triggered the Gujarat riots in Feb 2002. But after that, though there have been terror attacks, that too on religous places, we haven't had riots.

There was a suicide terrorist attack on Akshardham temple in Gujarat itself in September 2002. 47 people also died in that. But people stayed calm.

In November 2002, there was an attack on Raghunath Temple in Jammu. People stayed calm.

Yesterday, the controversial makeshift temple at Ayodhya was attacked similarly. But again life went on normally, not just in the temple town but across the country. As many commentators pointed out, people seem to be much wiser than the politicians.

Have we seen the last of the riots?

By indulging in all sorts of indiscrete statements, the politicians are only helping the terrorists. What must happens is, God forbid, but whenever there is such an attack, at least in public, the politicians should close ranks, and let life go on as normal.

Today it was painful to see radical Hindu protesters damaging public property in protest against the attack. But how that betters the situation is incomprehensible. On the contrary, the more the post-attack mayhem the bigger the victory for the terrorists. Are our politicians sensible enough to make out that?

Sunday, July 3, 2005

A friend, transformed

Today, we had a friend and his family coming home for lunch. It was after a long, long time that we could meet like we did today and sit and talk for quite a while.

He had once told me about some strange diet regulations he was into. Today I casually asked him if it was still on. He said it was. And that was surprising to me. Because, he is not the one to get into these restrictions on food so easily unless ordered by the doctor.

So, even though I don't like to ask personal questions, I asked why he has gone into this very unusual regimen. Then, his wife and he said, "There is a long, long story behind it." That made me curious and restless. What could that be?

"I have been diagnosed with blood cancer," he said.

Though it hit me hard, I just laughed it off. "Hey comm'n, don't joke. Tell the truth." I couldn't believe it. You just don't walk around like this, joking with that 'C' in you.

"But, it's true," they said with all emphasis and seriousness. "We don't joke telling such things, do we?" his wife asked.

That changed the entire atmosphere, as his wife began unspooling a life of tension and anxiety that they led last year.

"It all began with the routine annual medical checkup in the office. He was found to have abnormally high count of white blood cells..." his wife started off, as I sat frozen clinging on to every word that came out of her mouth. "His condition was diagnosed. He had Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), which is nothing but blood cancer."

It is characterised by increased production of WBCs in the bone marrow. It is due to a chromosomal translocation termed the Philadelphia chromosome.

She then narrated how they felt so depressed, and in a couple of days they got their act together and let life go on as usual even while finding out what should be done. Conflicting suggestions. Conflicting methods of treatment. Allopathy. Homoeo. Ayurveda.
Traditional treatment is bone marrow transplant, but little chance of success. Now a drug is available. But it costs Rs 1.5 lakh per month. They were devastated. Checked out homoeo with a doctor who has a record of curing such things. But the WBC count only increased.

They kept up their search. Finally got in touch with a foundation in Mumbai that supplies the medicine free, provided they enrol as a member with them. The foundation is run by a family that lost their son to CML before the drug was invented.

Today my friend takes one tablet every night, and the count is under control. The villainous cell has been partly destroyed or rather subdued. The problem is if he stops the medicine, the WBC count goes up.

"They condition has changed our entire outlook of life. We today see life as a much bigger picture," the two started off on an unusually philosophical tangent.

"We don't crib about small things. Only when something like this strikes, we realise how even so-called imperfect things are okay.... Not saying that such a thing should happen, but it is a big lesson...

"We have now learnt to prioritise things. We now know what is important in life and what just don't matter...

"We need to be courageous. We couldn't get bogged down. We could not just sit there crying. Life had to go on. We have to explore a way out of the difficult situation..." they went on, as we listened nodding in agreement, and coming to terms with we had heard from them.

And I kept wondering how I didn't know this. I remembered the last time I met him. He looked weak, and I knew he was taking some homoeopathy or ayurvedic medicine, and was under diet restriction. But I never imagined they were going through this agony.

In somewhat apologetic tone, they said, "We (my friend and I) were busy with our lives, and there was no time we could sit and discuss this. It wasn't something that we just tell you on the phone."

Life is such a journey that one doesn't know when it takes what turn. But as my friend said, we should take life as it comes. Positive attitude, confidence, strength of mind are definite assets in overcoming such difficult situtions. And as we find the going tough, our mind gets strengthened.