June 29, 2011

Doing good comedy is tough

Comedy brings humour into our lives but being good at it is just not funny:-). I recently happened to read in the paper on the mushrooming of stand-up comedians in India. The article had few of their best jokes... Some were ok, most were not funny and some had the yuck factor!! Don't get me wrong, I am not being snooty, but after seeing Seinfeld to have to watch these, is an insult to the audience and to comedy per se.
We do have some good clean comedy in theatre and movies, rare though.. Recently, I chanced into reading a site - fakingnews.com, a wonderful satire on India. Amazing how somebody has the time to write so much, and its good read! Its very topical and only those of us following news related to India will actually understand the satire. Bernard Shaw, the ultimate satirist would approve, I am sure.

Satire is even more difficult than plain comedy.. its subtle, witty, intelligent, yet entertains. No wonder your truly likes it best;-). How I enjoyed the humour of Yes Minister series:).. Brits are clearly the best at it, I guess... We do have our own desi ones.. Cyrus' programme on the "Week that wasn't" is pretty good on some days... And we do have Sidhuisms in cricket, although some border on being vulgar or mean; subtlety and Siddhu can't go together, I guess.

R. K. Laxman's cartoons simply stand out from the rest. He is simply brilliant. He was good at both, the caricature and the satire. I used to catch his joke everyday in the Times, even if I didn't have time for the headlines! And his collection series of the "You said It" cartoons of the "common man"are simply outstanding... If you go through them, you realise you have actually caught up with all the trials and tribulations and politics in post independence India

June 22, 2011

Change is the only Constant

Philosophically speaking, change is inevitable and is supposed to be the only Constant! Infact, most of the challenges we face in life is when we resist change:). This is so true, isn't it? Some of us welcome change in some areas and resist in some:). Change often gets us out of boredom, gets enthusiasm back in our life. Take music for example, we listen to different genre, based on our moods, weather, time of day etc. We like to party on some days and some days, we love to be left by ourselves. Even the cuisine, its plain Indian some days or some exotic Orient / Chinese / Italian, on some days.

Often, our accessories speak for our moods.. While our personality doesn't change drastically, we use accessories to speak our different moods... We are a colourful personality and play many roles during the day. We are formal at work and the opposite with family and friends. Recently, I tried out a pair of coloured contacts and loved it... Women have always had opportunities to accessorise but today, there are options for both, men and women.. To cater to our moods, we do have interesting products:
  • mobiles that come in different colours
  • watch straps to add colour
  • sarees with different colour options
  • coloured contact lenses
  • laptops with interchangeable covers
Go on, try these out and its sure to be fun:). And perhaps, we would also be well equipped to adapt to changes in our life, easily.

June 17, 2011

Do we need new Bills??

Its true that Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev have brought marked awareness to the general public and highlighted the widespread corruption in high places, in record short span of time. But what about the degree of corruption in everyday life? Will that get taken care of in the Lokpal bill? I am for stengthening the mechanism to bring anyone against whom there is proof of corruption, to docks. And I am not sure if I want the Lokpal bill as envisaged by the Anna camp nor the Sibal camp. While the government obviously wants a watered down bill, the Anna Camp wants to create a new fourth powerful body other than the Executive, Legislative and the Judiciary. There is an inherent check and balance between the three and I wonder if a fourth can be accomodated. I read a very balanced article on this subject this morning.

I would rather look at implementation of the many laws / bills that already exist in our Constitution to bring transparency and accountability at all levels in the government. I would like the Anna team to focus on implementation of existing laws and usher in electoral reforms and such. A very important facet to this movement is also to reform society, at large. There has been so much written 'for' and 'against' the Lokpal bill that most of us have become either neutral or indifferent to the issue as the so called 'civil society' has not been able to consolidate and sustain people's attention, for long.

Its time for the Anna team to also work on transforming minds for which I think spiritual leaders like H. H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar can play a very significant role. Its also important for people to start maturing and not engage in war of words and slanging matches. India is poised to becoming one of the important economies of the World and we need to start preparing to be world leaders and not behave like petty school children.

June 15, 2011

Life is Colourful

Can you imagine life in black and white? Just running through past memories of events conjures up colourful images in our brain. Even philosophically, there is no black and white, its all various shades and hues of colour, in between black and white:-). Ah yes, black and white does have an old world charm and is good to see once in while but its the colour that brings Life to a picture, be it our family album, World history, movies, simply anything! Just imagine a picture of you playing Holi in black and white, for example? It just wouldn't be able to bring back the entire scene vividly, as much as a colour snap would.

Lets take our daily routine and see how dependent we are on colour to brighten up our life:
  • Lets take the formal reports that we prepare in our offices. There maybe just a dash of colour in the logo in one corner of the page but it does add to the overall presentation and appeal of the document. The technology in printers have really improved and are a far cry from the inkjets and lasers of yesteryears. Check out the HP laserjet site for their latest offerings!
  • And surely we use colourful powerpoint templates to impress our audience:). Imagine black and white presentations... will have a retro feel but cannot capture our interest 100%.
  • And imagine your life as a creative / graphics designer in an era of black and white!! You will have your task cut out and have to work much harder on your designs... But with colour, a simple stroke carelessly thrown in, can make all the difference to your designs.
  • And imagine teaching without colour! A simple guide to bird watching or a book on flora and fauna of a region is a good tool for a nature lover, if its in colour, and can replace hundreds of words.
  • We now have lovely colourful options with textures, for doing up the walls of our home /office unlike drab and fewer options a decade ago. The wall hangings add to the ambience. We have one at home that every guest with an eye for Art says is the most arresting in terms of the choice of colours used.
  • Imagine MF Hussain and his ilk! What would they do without colour in their profession:) - pun intended:-)

A lazy rainy day and Goli Vada Pav

There is a certain excitement when the rains come on, the first rain of the season is indeed joyous and one can sees children prancing in the rain, and the young at heart enjoying the walk in the rain. Its such a pleasure to just be in the 'moment', not to have to worry on falling ill, getting the clothes slushy or getting a sermon at home on our impulsive behavior:-). Indians get highly romantic over the first rains and every second movie features a song and dance sequence in the rain. Who can forget the song from the Raj Kapoor - Nargis starrer, Shree 420, pyaar hua ikraar....

However, once the rainy season sets in, we don't enjoy it anymore; suddenly the romance with the rain is over! All we are left with is the blocked and choked drains, bad roads, traffic snarls, damp clothes, walking in slush, wading through waters, dirty footwear, often leading to blocked noses too!!

Personally, having grown up in Bombay, monsoons remind me of having freshly roasted 'bhutta' (corn) with liberal doses of chilli /lime sprinkling. Or having garma-garam aloo tikki:-). Yesterday was one such day in Chennai! We had sudden showers and the first rains to mark the season. Ended up driving in the rain and caught up with Goli vada pav at Express Avenue and came home happy!!

June 11, 2011

Indian Weddings of today

Indian weddings often conjures up images of days of gaiety as a run up to the wedding day, and post wedding, there are a series of formal exchanges and luncheons and such niceties. Depending on budgets, the weddings get longer and grander but has a common thread of laughter, fun, music, dance and poignant moments all thrown in!! This is how most typical traditional weddings were!

But with current fast paced lifestyles, its often not an enjoyable experience. Also, personally, I think weddings are a huge waste of time and money. Its over rated and most families look at it as an expense that they wish can be avoided, but they finally end up outdoing their relatives and friends:-). And so it continues, generation after generation with some modernity added too!! Nobody wants to break the tradition with weddings, although there are a few sensible couples who go in for a temple wedding or a simple civil wedding followed by a feast for friends and family.

Often, much time and energy is lost in planning the logistics and shopping and food for the guests that the brides' and groom's parents are a bundle of nerves and finally fall ill, out of sheer exhaustion. Their ill health prevents them, often from enjoying their own plans for the wedding:-). Weddings these days are used as occasions to prove a point or two to our peers and family! Guests, often, get stressed out at weddings, they need to leave from work early, buy gifts, dress up and drive in heavy traffic, all to participate at weddings, where they yawn for a while, make boring polite conversation with faint acquaintances and eat food that's often not to their taste:). Everyone, from the hosts to the guests seem to be mighty compelled to go this ritual grudgingly and silently! 

High profile weddings have celebrities drop by, they do a small jig (get paid for it handsomely, ofcourse). The recent talk of the town is somebody's wedding where the 3 Khans of Bollywood are expected to arrive but they will give their timings well in advance in order to ensure none of the three bump into each other!! Ah well, good old weddings were always a place to make amends and let bygones be bygones... But no, we have the media and the organizers bending backwards to ensure the 3 Khans don't meet at this wedding!! We have complicated weddings so much so that we now engage a Wedding Planner to take care of arrangements and food, so the hosts can take care of the guests:). And then we have these hi-fi corporate weddings, where the close family and office colleagues are invited with security swipe cards, to ensure there are no gatecrashers! Boring weddings:-).

Nett nett, we still continue to spend obscene amounts of money at weddings, however modern it maybe. 

June 10, 2011

Movietime folks!

Well, after a couple of serious articles on Lokpal and Freedom of Expression, I want to tell you guys that yours truly, also engages in entertainment activities... All my friends were raving about a tamil movie Kho, that's showing for about 2 months now... Everyone I asked said its great and a family entertainer and good clean fun, etc.etc. Also, my research on the net confirmed these views.... So, with great expectations and anticipation, we went for it. As you may have guessed, it was a huge let down. So, fellas, those who are still planning to go watch, do yourselves a favour, pass it completely. Alright, it does have a different storyline but the movie is so badly taken and completely lacks class... To be different, the movie often bordered on being too contrived...

There is so much violence and gore and fights, that it beats me to think this movie is hailed as a family entertainer!! Either I am completely disconnected with the current moviegoers or the other movies currently showing or recently released, are even worse!!. So, people seem to like this..

Its a perfect example of how a nice story can be killed and made boring by extremely poor direction. Music is also pathetic, as has been the case in all tamil movies for some years now. And it runs for 3 full hours. Nett nett, go for it if you like the food in the theatre or if there is a power cut in your home:-)

Freedom and Responsibility - in an Indian context

As students of Civics class in school, we are taught about what democracy means and the true meaning of freedom as envisaged by those who participated in the freedom struggle. I found Civics extremely boring and dry but there is one line that stays in my memory, "..with freedom comes responsibility.."; there is no 'one' without the 'other'.

These past few weeks, this line has been ringing in my ears as I watch news on TV. But since yesterday, this line apparently is considered 'right wing' and if I were to state it in public, I am almost likely to be arrested for being 'not secular' and for curbing the freedom of expression!!!! I am naturally shocked. So, I write this post and request readers to kindly enlighten me. I also have a couple of lines from Gandhi (I think he is still called the 'father of the nation' and I will not have the secularists baying for my blood if I call him so:-)) that I would like to share:

Gandhi explained his idea of Swaraj carefully: "The root meaning of Swaraj is self-role. Swaraj may, therefore, be rendered as discipline role from within... 'Independence' has no such limitation. Independence may mean license to do as you like. Swaraj is positive. Independence is negative... The word Swaraj is a sacred word, a Vedic word, meaning self-role and self-restraint., and not freedom from all restraint which 'independence' often means." (CWMG 45:263-64) He made this comment in 1931, having emphasized this interpretation of freedom since 1909 from the publication of Hind Swaraj. His purpose was consistently to teach this hard political lesson, that freedom demands responsibility, that rights are earned through civic service and the attainment of difficult social reforms.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect."

These are the definitions that I learnt as a kid and believed them to be true. But the distinguished panelists and artists on TV news channels yesterday, feel otherwise. Each one went on and on about how M. F. Husain had a right to 'freedom of expression', as an artist, and the intolerant goons in India drove him out of the country. He may have been the greatest artist from India, but nobody has any right to hurt any section of society, irrespective of the religion he hails from. If it was unintentional, he could have apologised and got on with life... But he chose to be obstinate and later regretted not being able to live in India. I think his life is a perfect case of enjoying the consequences of one's own action.

And needless to say, I am not an artist, or an intellectual. I am an ordinary citizen of India

June 5, 2011

The Means to an End

"Means to an End" is the guiding principle in my life. I have always been on the side of 'means' being as important as the 'end' in itself, in all discussions. While we can quote instances from the Ramayana and Mahabharata (I have not read any other scripture - so please pardon!) to be otherwise, as mere mortals, I am firmly of the opinion that its our dharma to also consider the 'means'. (I am reading Krishnavatara and so my language has been influenced by K M Munshi here:)).

Lets take the current civil society movement, as an example. The intentions and the 'end' is highly desirable and needed in our country but the 'means' through which it is being fought leaves one a little dis-illusioned. It is extremely commendable what Shri Anna Hazare and his team achieved and mobilised swiftly. Creating awareness, making the Indian citizens aware of the extent of corruption and strenghtening the Lokpal is simply brilliant. The whole nation rallied behind this move and captured the mood of people. For the first time, I believed that the apathy levels amongst average Indians are not that bad and people do respond to 'social movements'.

What is equally important is to also know when to take a bow and also to work within the democratic machinary. This sadly is not being demonstrated by the Anna Hazare team. And if we were to take Baba Ramdev's recent 'fast', the credibility further comes down and leaves more questions in people's mind than answers them. Baba Ramdev says he has simple demands which the government ought to agree upon, failing which, he will go on a fast unto death. Is this the way to make the government work? And if you read his demands, he seems to have a say on black money, MNCs, land aquisition act, genetically modified food, indian currency denominations etc...

While asking for money stashed abroad is an important point that will have consensus, who is he to tell the government to send the MNCs out, and ban genetically modified foods? Does he know more than experts in this field?? In today's world of globalisation with all its pitfalls, shunning MNCs is the most ridiculous argument, that holds no water. Today, we have Indian companies that have taken over companies in UK, US, South Africa etc.  What will you like to call these?? Does he know if ICICI is an Indian or foreign bank? Today, Indians can and do invest in companies abroad and vice versa. So what's he saying about MNCs.

I have written many posts on genetically modified food and the concerns and myths... To put it simply, he knows not what he is talking about. Does he think all the best brains with the experience behind them, don't know what they are doing and he knows ALL?? 

So, that brings us to the question of "to what extent can civil society go in using these pressure tactics??" Whilst such movements have their place and are certainly required, one needs a little maturity to also rein in, and not get carried away by the success of the movement. One needs to know when to start and where to step aside in such movements. In my opinion, the movement has started well, the leaders ought to know the limits and learn to withdraw and work within the domain of democracy. Its a skill and I hope they learn to practise it as there will be no difference between these leaders and others who pronounce that they are fighting for a cause, too!! (terrorists, naxalites, maoists, secessionists, etc.) 

Which is why I feel my stand is vindicated on the means being as important as the end - holds true, once again!!

June 2, 2011

Technology vis a vis Safety

The latest WHO report has people wondering how safe their mobile phones are and whats the risk of developing brain cancer... I am surprised the news is hogging so much space on prime time because there is nothing new in the report and the report also says they need more data to make a direct co-relation between cancer prevalence and mobile phone use! We all consume so many things that are carcinogenic like coffee, for example. All of us know the harm caused by alcohol on liver and cigarettes on the lungs. Have any of these come down?

But I look at this brouhaha as a positive development. Now the activists have another product to be "against":-). Looking back, I am glad we now have news reports of the safety concerns of nuclear energy, mobile phone use etc. Earlier, the activists were not educated on these issues and they thought that genetically modified crops are probably the only dangerous products in the world.

People will now wake up to reality as it is. Life is tough and with increased technologies and constant need of man to want easy and cushy lifestyle, we are exposing ourselves to different risks. I must say that the developers of new products do undertake rigorous testing and quality checks before commercializing a product. So, as educated citizens / government policy makers, we need to weigh the risks / benefits of any technology and strengthen safety and regulatory mechanisms for any and every technology. And not discard any technology (the recent decision by the Germans to close down all their nuclear reactors can be likened to pressing a panic button).

Some of the commonly used modern lifestyles that causes harm to the environment but we still use are driving cars; using jet planes, burning fossil fuels, generating tonnes of e-waste, producing more babies than the earth can hold, mining indiscriminately, building huge dams, etc. etc. The next time some activist talks about GMOs, you are now informed and armed:-)

June 1, 2011

Twists and Turns of the Lokpal Bill

There is such a buzz about the Lokpal Bill in 2011, that most wouldn't know that its been in the pipeline for 42 years now!! (almost as old as yours truly:))... Well we ought to thank Anna Hazare and team for bringing it back from the backburner...

Anna Hazare is an impeccable man and having him rally us Indians for the Lokpal bill is appropriate, at face value... I was as charged as many other fellow citizens and was happy to see that a mini uprising against corruption by the citizens had the government sit up and take notice. But with time and also some analyses, I have many second thoughts on the whole issue of Lokpal bill and the constitution of the members who are drafting it. To be fair, the large numbers who turned up in every city / town in India was to do with the fact that 2010 was an amazing year for unearthing scams; from CWG games to 2G to housing scam to black money laundering etc etc.. People were horrified at the magnitude and scale of immunity that politicians enjoyed and they all rallied behind Anna Hazare. Also, the 24/7 TV channels took the issue up, to beat their rivals in TRPs. So, it was more a case of having the right man, at the right time and at the right place.

Post the April fast by Anna Hazare, a 10 member committee was formed to draft the Bill, 5 from the government and 5 members were from "Civil Society". Since April, I am completely confused on this term "civil society". Are politicians not part of civil society?? Are they aliens? Civil society was a term used to distinguish the armed forces from the rest... But post April 2011, here was a new meaning to "Civil Society". I lapped it up reluctantly.

Human mind loves to ruminate and on further thinking and discussions I slowly found myself getting disillusioned with this new so-called "civil society members". As a thumb rule, I have often observed that anybody with a 'holier than thou' attitude falls, sooner or later. But these civil society members basked in their glory of fame and actually think the people are behind them... I have problems with some their assumptions.

  1. Who has authorized these 5 members to represent civil society?? (why not me for example:-))
  2. What is their term? Where is their accountability? How do they get elected / nominated?
  3. And if we do get a Lokpal bill passed on the lines of these members, what is the role of the Executive, Judiciary and the Legislative? Will this bill not undermine the role of PM, President and the Chief Justice?
  4. Are we not empowering another body with Supreme powers that can itself become corrupt?
I am now of the view that we are better of without the Lokpal bill, and instead I believe in the power of democracy, to be able to vote a government out, just as we saw in the elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal.
And to top it all, we have had many volte-faces from Anna Hazare himself. Within a few days of the appointment of the Lokpal drafting committee, he read out a letter from Sonia Gandhi and praised her for her offer to help, in the War on Corruption. Recently, he blamed her and praised the PM. Two months back he praised Narendra Modi and last week he called Gujarat a badly governed state... He clearly seems to be a green horn. The less said about the Bhushans the better... these two are lawyers who own acres of land in UP and Delhi, between them. That leaves us with an emotional Santosh Hegde and an activist in Arvind Kejriwal. In contrast we have solid veterans politically and legally in Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal and Salman Khurshid and Pranab dada and Moily.... If the meeting on May 30 is any indication, these thorough-breds are capable of disarming these rookies and will probably have the last laugh:)

Don't get me wrong, I am no UPA supporter, but I don't see much hope for the "Civil Society":):), from these Aliens!!