Amit, The Wandering Mind

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A blog at last, this time on the Idiot Box

Well, well, well, a blog after a really really long time. The last time I blogged was when I was in the US before my better half joined. After she joined, as is to be expected, I got no time to blog Then after we got back (finally an overseas journey together), days got really full, as is actually the case with most days in India. I can bet that one manages much more work in the same or less time abroad than in India for whatever strange reason. Maybe its the work culture or just the amount of time we spend on unproductive things like waiting in traffic just to get to office, whether its your car (self-driven or other-wise) or company provided transport or the amount of time we Indians break for tea in groups, the fact remains that productivity tends to be low.
 Anyways, all this digression was to justify that I really did not find the time, so then how did I find the time today. Well, for a change I actually fell ill, with my body temperature hovering around the 102 F mark, it was pretty scary. But, what this meant was that I simply had to stay home and today that I am feeling much better, I thought its time to post something on my blog, which has remained static for a long long time.
Over the past 4 days, during periods that I was feeling relatively better, I tried to catch up on some reading. Finally finished “The Black Swan”, a truly amazing book about learning to expect the unexpected, but for once after a long time I became a true blue couch potato, flipping channels with a gusto, which if observed by a third party, could easily be coined as “surfomania”. I watched the Indian team lose in the most pathetic fashion in the World T20 Championship. But most of all, I took in a liberal dose of something that none of you would expect a person of my age to take in. I actually watched quite a few soap-operas with their boring daily episodes, made-up and bejewelled women in which, every alternate dialogue has to be interspersed with some kind of blaring music. So, after all this long prologue, I intend to devote this post to this topic of television serials.
It is truly amazing how much the idiot box has gripped the imagination of our nation. My parents generation nowadays, actually adjust their schedules according to the daily-soap time-table of various channels. My brother-in-law who happens to be in the the sales deparment of one of the vernacular channels, tells me that, soaps are actually tailored to the taste of the viewing public, since all that matters in the Channel rat-race is something called TRP. What this has resulted in is a proliferation of serials which are generally dumbed-down. Maharashatra and especially the Mumbai-Pune region is blessed with a huge history of drama. This region is thus blessed with a lot of very talented artists. It thus seems to be simply unfair to ask this talented bunch of artists to act in soaps whose story-line is not just thin, but at times so vague that one wonders what is the message that the director is trying to convey. Most of these soaps carry on for years on end. My parents were telling me the other day that there is a tele-serial that is running now for close to eight or nine years. My brother-in-law tells me that the channel guys  actually hasten or slow down the pace of a serial depending on the instantaneous TRP. Kindly note that most of what I speak here is about the channels in my vernacular language, since I was able to watch only these (or was forced to watch these, since most of the times, the remote is not actually in my hand :-)).
So, you have a channel that shows some kind of reality show 4 days of a week. Two of these are devoted to a show on music, where the partcipants sing various songs. Now, there have been six schedules of this show and the same songs might have been sung ad nauseum, but the channel insists on having this show, which means either people like this show too much or the channnel is simply unable to produce better programming. The serials are extremely loud. There was a serial where people used to die and then for no strange reason become alive again. Talk of spreading superstition in a country that still has its educated population believe in things like horescopes. There was a serial that I recently followed very closely. The serial, thankfully lasted only about 2 years (thats short by Indian standards). The characters were very well developed and the script-writer had somehow managed to keep something hidden and mysterious from the audience till the very end, but the end was a total anti-climax. Apparenty, the protagonist in concern had to grow up away from his parents and siblings due to some vague state of his stars at the time of his birth. To me it was unfair on the part of the writer and the director to give this type of message after having the audience glued and rivetted to the idiot box for close to 2 years with his immensely talented cast and well-developed characters. To be very frank, this dabbling with the super-natural by means of various miracles or thru' characters that seem to forsee the future seems to a common thread in a quite a few serials irrespective of channel.  I sometimes wish I could go back to my child-hood days when there was only one channel and we used to laugh heartily with a serial called “Yeh Jo hai Zindagi” and identify with the earthly characters of “Hum Log” and “Buniyaad”.
In my opinion, for a country like India, which even in this 21st Century of the internet, is still grappling with issues like “honor killings”, what is needed is a liberal dose of whole-some entertainment, with a decent sprinkling of programs that will inculcate people's scientific temper.
Otherwise, India will embrace technology like a fish takes to water (look at what cell-phones have done to the country), but will use it for devious purposes. Making a computerized horoscope, having language and caste-specific matrimonial web-sites are just some examples that come immediately to mind.
Television is an extremely powerful medium, and has unusually survived the onslaught of the Internet and will continue to play an important role in a country like India where the penetration of the internet is limited. I wish the channels self-censored themselves and give us more meaningful programs that will not just entertain us but also inculcate amongst the masses a sceintfiic temper that will help create a more rational India.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Public Transport In USA

Well, another weekend in cold Michigan and another blog. I was going to write another one on a book that I finished recently, but then my brother who is a student in the United States and follows my blog suggested that I write about the public transport system in the States.

It so happens that weekends tend to be boring, especially if you are alone and so my relatives here in the States suggest I visit them, which is a perfectly valid expectation, more so because, I come here at most once a year (at least have done so till now, barring the last year) and that too not for a very long duration. So I repeat its a very valid expectation. Now, by quirk of fate, I always seem to join companies that dont ever have offices in large cities. So Rheine, Greenville and now Kalamazoo are all relatively non-descript places that my companies required me to visit and stay for a significant duration of time (significant is anything greater than 1 month). Believe me there is nothing wrong with the places, for barring Rheine, Greenville and Kalamazoo are not that small, but all of them are more than an hours drive from the nearest significant big city, so to go anywhere, one has to first go to the nearest significant place. So for Rheine, it was Cologne or Muenster, for Greenville it was Atlanta and for Kalamazoo, I am learning it is Detroit.

Anyways, thats not the point of this blog. I was hoping to travel to Pittsburgh to my cousins place, which is like a good 5-6 hours drive from Kalamazoo and I was just exploring my options short of renting a car, since I am a little bit flustered about driving in the snow. So I was checking the flights and to go to Pittsburgh from Kalamazoo, one needs to first go to Detroit. So if one has grown up in India, one says "Ok, so can I take a bus to Detroit (something like Pune-Bombay)?" So you look around and find that the bus takes over 6 hours for a journey that would take normally less than 2 hours by car. Then you ask, can I take a train, well yes you can, but that is like a 3 hour journey, but there are only like 3 trains in a day, and you are like whoa, there is a bus every 10 minutes between Pune and Bombay, innumerable trains all day etc. Anyways, so you can't take the bus, you might take the train, but you will need a lot of planning and the train station and the Airport are not close, so then whats the best solution? You ask your American colleagues, what they would do and they say, " Well, I would rent a car and drive to Detroit and then fly". Then I ask them if I have to rent a car to drive to Detroit, I might as well rent a car and drive to Pittsburgh, the whole idea was to make the journey without renting a car. In short, to do something significant in this country, one just has to have a car (rented or bought).

Having gone thru' this, I start fondly remembering my Europe days. Remember, that I was staying in Rheine, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I mean the place is charming in its own little way (maybe I am nostalgic), but yeah, the beauty of the place was that it was small and it still had everything one wished for in a radius of 5km. You could wake up one fine morning and decide I want to go to Bremen for a lark. Just walk to Rheine station, tell the guy at the counter in your broken German , you wanted to do so and he would come up with a print-out with multiple options to get there, some taking longer times than the others, but then there were always options. You simply bought a ticket, which on weekends was valid for 5 people on any slow train in Germany till 3:00 am the next morning. If you just followed the options given to you,  there was almost 100% guarantee that you would actually get to Bremen at the time mentioned in the print-out. I often wondered, how they scheduled their trains with such precision and was amazed at the reach of the network. Sitting in Germany, I could go by train to quite a few EU countries, be it Austria, Netherlands, Italy, France or Switzerland and could buy a ticket sitting in Germany. It was just amazing and the system worked with clock-work precision. Sometimes the connections you had were in 4-5min and all you had to do was to change platforms (that much delay is not considered delay in India, in fact 30 min delay is not considered delay in India, the announcers at times will not even announce it). Whats even more amazing is that, there is a train-station at most major airports and airlines gave you a Rail-to-fly option, where you could buy a train ticket in the air-fare and travel to your international airport, by train. I guess, these are some of the benefits of paying high taxes in Europe, but it makes things so very convenient for new-comers.

I often wonder, why the US Government does not spend the stimulus money on developing a powerful rail network. Come to think of it, the fantastic highways of this country (Auto-Bahns are better, but the reach of the US highway system is amazing and the quality is pretty good too), were built during the Great Depression and still doing a great service even now, so why not spend this stimulus money on a Rail Network, that would create jobs and would at the same time make this fantastic country more accesible.

Anyways, I hope to travel more often by train in the US than on flights or in a car during this life-time of mine. Till then, I wish I could visit Europe more often, enjoy the many interesting places that the continent has to offer and travel on its fabulous train network more often. I also wish our own Indian trains got faster and I am able to visit Bangalore from Pune in less than 12 hours.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Nine Lives

Its been three weeks in the USA and given that its extremely cold outside, there is not much to do on the weekends and as such I have been able to catch up on some reading. One of the books that I read during this time is "Nive Lives", William Dalrymple's latest book.
India, its history, its recent rise as a potential economic power and prophecies of it becoming a super-power have been subjects of many books in the recent past. But here is a book that goes slightly off the beaten track and attempts to describe the role of the sacred or the place of religion in the lives of people in the sub-continent. Dalrymple, goes off to do what he does best, write a travelogue describing the lives of nine deeply religious people from across the sub-continent in a very impersonal, objective and matter-of-fact way. His objectiveness is particularly evident when he describes obscure practices and rituals of Tantriks and Bauls, which at times involve animal sacrifice, sex etc. These practices do not come out to the reader as wrong or right or gaudy, but just the way they are, with the author trying to explore the genesis of such rituals.
In the process of writing the book, the author once again travels the length and breadth of the sub-continent.
Sindh, Kangra/Dhramasala, Kerala, Karnataka, Bengal, Gujrat are some of the places the author visits. Stories span various religions from the extremely ascetic Jainism, Tibetan Buddhism, the Tantric sect of the Hindu Religion to the Sufism of the Sindh and are mostly set in small-town India where the place of religion and the sacred still plays a very important role in the lives of people. During this process the author visits some of the most unusal places and talks to some people that we folks living in Urban India and working in air-conditioned offices cannot even dream off.A crematorium in Tarapith with skulls and Tantriks being just one example of what I am talking about. It just goes on to show us folks that there is a world out there that we dont even know exists.The author also hints in some of the stories how religion and some rituals like the "theyyam" in Kerala, enable the dancer to transcend to a certain extent the barriers of caste.
So what did I learn from the book.Given that, I am not that pious or religious (I had hinted about it in my blog on Shegaon), but given that I am to a certain extent spiritual, I think the book demonstrates the power of the mind and ability of the mind to transcend the material and that human beings are capable of the unthinkable provided, they are able to train their mind and the thoughts that emanate from it.
In general, I think the book is a great read, but to be expected by a writer who gave us some amazing books like "In Xanudu", "The City of Djinns", "The Age of Kali". It is a travelogue from the author after quite a while. I would say that Dalrymple is certainly one of the best "Travel Writers" of recent times and I whole-heartedly recommend "Nine Lives"

Sunday, January 31, 2010

USA again

Well, well, here I am back to the United States of America after a slightly long hiatus. A duration of close to 1 1/2 years, this time to Michigan. To be frank with you I have visited the US almost once every year ever since I graduated in Jan 2000, and its amazing how much things have changed and yet strangely enough have remained the same.
So whats changed, politically lots of things have. After 8 years of George W. Bush, the United States of America now has at its helm an African-American President. The year I landed here first (Jun 2000), getting thru' US immigration Customs and the Security Check was a piece of cake, it would hardly take any time. Now one has to stand in queue, remove your shoes, your belt, laptop and what not. If you are "randomly" selected you might as well be frisked in detail. Over the years the craze for coming to the USA has reduced considerably. IITians nowadays seem to get great jobs in India itself and seem to be staying back home. In the 2000-2003 time-frame, you felt so much welcome here and lots of people who came would seldom want to go back. Nowadays, one hears lots of reports of people being deported. One thing certainly has changed and this is very apparent since the last time I came, is people talking politics and jobs. This is something I had never experienced in all the nine years I have visited here. People in America never seemed to discuss politics. Out of 10 conversations you would have in India amongst Indians about 7-9 conversations are likely to go in the direction of politics. That number was pretty small in the US, but I find that its going up considerably, or it just might be Michigan, where unemployment is a record high with the "Big 3" not doing so well.
And, what has not changed. I think, life on the whole still seems to remain the same. Big stores, Big cars , big people and until you actually talk to people you wont realize you are in the midst of a recesssion. Public transport continues to be just as bad. I was to go for a meeting to Detroit, which is a less than 2 hour drive from where I am currently visiting. I was just checking my bus options and the 2 hour drive by bus was going to take a whooping 6 hours. I remember going from Pittsfield, MA to New York by a bus. That was a 2 hour journey as well, but it took close to 4 1/2 hours. Add to that another 2 hours to go to Jersey, where I was to visit my uncle and a total 3 hr drive suddenly became twice as much. So, this thing has certainly not changed one bit.
One thing thats striking is the stoicism of the American people. Inspite of being thru' such a rough recession, people continue to be nice and I hope they continue to stay that way.
Anyways, that was a small post from yours truly after close to two months. I have been here 2 weeks and should be around another 6 weeks. I will try and post more especially since the weather outside is so bad (below freezing) and I have nothing much to do on weekends other than catching up on some reading or blogging or watching TV (which by the way was just as bad as it has been all these years).

Sunday, November 29, 2009


A blog from yours truly after a long long time. Well, to write something decent one needs some peace of mind and when you are in the middle of a job change, peace of mind is the last thing that one has. Yes, after 9 1/2 yeas in an organization, I finally changed jobs. It is something I never imagined I would do, given the kind of risk-averse person I am. Also, given the kind of recession the world is in today, I think I managed to find a pretty decent job, that too in my home-town. Coming back to my hometown is something, I myself would have never imagined when I left home 10 years ago for my Masters. Anyways, here I am, almost full-circle, back at least for sometime to the home I grew up in.
Now, my better-half, who is much more pious than me, wanted us all to visit Shegaon, which is a small shanty town in Vidharba, Central India. Shegoan happens to be the home of the Late Shri Gajanan Maharaj, a Saint of the late 19th and the early 20th Century. gives some details about him. He has been attributed to numerous miracles including, "giving a fresh lease on life to one Janrao Deshmukh, lighting the clay-pipe without fire, filling a dry well with water, drawing sugar cane juice by twisting canes with his hands, and curing leprosy of a woman." (Quotes indicate straight cut-paste from Wikipedia). He left his physical body on the 8th of Sept 1909 and his samadhi and some of his last belongings can be found in a huge temple.My wife, her parents and my father all happen to be devotees of the late Shri Gajanan Maharaj. I, for one am not really religiously inclined, but am not totally agnostic either, so I had no real reason to refuse to accompany everyone, given that the trip was planned on a weekend.
So, here we were boarding the famous Maharashtra Express. Don't let the word "Express" in the train's name fool you, for the train is by no means an "Express" and it stops at stations that no express train worth its salt would dream of stopping. On our way to the Railway station, my father-in-law told us that we were visiting on "Ekadashi", which has some special significance for devotees, all of which we had all been blissfully unaware of till now. It also happened to be Friday night and Saturday was also supposed to be Bakri-Id. In short, we had to be prepared to face the brunt of multitudes of the Indian public who use the Railways of India for close to 12 hours.
The train journey started of rather uneventfully, but it probably was just a lull before the storm. Given that we were travelling 2nd Class, we had gotten our own bedding, which we now put in place to ensure that we got a good nights sleep. Having done that, we all duly went to bed hoping to have decent nights sleep to be able to brave the long day ahead of us. But that was not be. On one of the stations en route a lot of people got onto our coach. They were I believe talking in Tamil. They tried entreating the ticket checker to some-how get them some seats, but given that there were none, all that this resulted in was a lot of chatter for no reason. After this two people from this group started having some deep philosophical conversation in Tamil. My mother-in-law, who knows some Tamil, wanted to give them her piece of mind in their language, but then, I guess "Discretion got the better part of valor". People were continuing to stream into the coach at the many small stations that this train stops. Finding no seats, or rather having reserved none, people were actually now sleeping on the floor. Soon the entire train floor was occupied with people sleeping. If this was not enough, some people were also sitting at the feet of people sleeping on berths, with valid tickets. My father was the victim of two such people. At about 6:00 am in the morning, one guy sitting very close to where we were sleeping (rather attempting to sleep) got for God-knows-what reason, the strange desire to call up his mother. The conversation he was having, was certainly not for public consumption, since he was talking about his marrying his girl-friend and his mother not quite agreeing to the proposal. The guy was pretty animated and probably did not realize that he was being heard by the entire coach. Some part of the conversation, would have been a perfect fit for a Bollywood block-buster. Some guy finally got annoyed and shouted out, " Why don't you get a loud-speaker?". It was then that he realized his folly and shut-up. At about 7:00 am these folks got down and some semblance of normality returned to the coach. At the next station, more people boarded the train and once again chaos reigned. The toilets, which were close to our seats were by now stinking. People were standing, some people were sitting where they were not supposed to, utter chaos reigned. There was no way we could use the toilet. We could even find our footwear, which we had removed when we went to bed, with great difficulty. Enduring all this we finally arrived at Shegoan at like 11:45 am like 45 minutes behind schedule.
Shegoan is a pretty small place in comparison to the cities that I have dwelled in. Rheine, where I stayed in Germany, might come close to Shegaon in terms of population and city size, but then Rheine is Germany and Shegoan is India and that too rural India. So auto-rickshaws will carry 10 people when they are supposed to carry only 3, the roads will be ridden with pot-holes, open drains on both sides will be over-flowing. After every 50-100m there will be a heap of garbage. All this was very apparent in this town as well. We took two auto-rickshaws to the temple premises. The temple authorities have a facility for lodging and boarding for a nominal fee but given the rush, we were unable to avail of the facility. My Father-in-law and I scouted out some hotels close by (or guest-houses as they were being called). After finding some to be too expensive for the duration of the stay and others with either a poor toilet or no ventilation, we settled for two rooms and decided to share them three each. The hotel owner agreed to provide us with hot water. So after a glass of sweet milk tea and a hot water bath we were all set to visit the temple. The temple premises has two parts. The first part, called the “Dhuni” is basically the place where Shri Gajanan Maharaj left his physical body to attain salvation. It also has the bed, on which he actually did so. The second part is the actual temple, where he was laid to rest. There is actually a temple of Lord Rama right over his final resting place. The story goes that Shri Gajanan Maharaj had actually indicated where he should be laid to rest. A “darshan” to pay respects was going to be a long 3 hour wait at his final resting place. So we decided to visit the “Dhuni” first, then get something to eat and then pay our respects to the final resting spot. The temple premises was a stark contrast to what Shegoan actually was. The floors were sparkling clean. There were people who were constantly ensuring that. People where chanting some mantras. The staff was entreating the devotees to be quiet, but they were having limited success with that. In fact, this is one thing that eludes me. On a visit to any church, one is stuck by the silence that surrounds you. A silence that will make you introspect, think hard about your life. But, silence is generally not something one finds in Hindu temples. I know that there are a lot of exceptions, but this place with the number of people was certainly not one of them, atleast not on that day. Maybe on a less crowded day, it might be much queiter and nicer. As we approached the points of key interest, the spot where Shri Gajanan Maharaj took Samadhi and the bed where he did so, there was some amount of pushing a shoving around by the staff to ensure the crowd keeps moving. Although, some amount of it is inevitable, I feel this could have been done in a more polite and quieter manner. In any case, having finished off with the first part of our “darshan” we found some lunch to eat, simple stuff that gave our bodies the much needed energy.

Lunch over, it was time to get in line for paying respects to the samadhi of Shri Gajanan Maharaj, for which we had to get into a long queue. The queue itself was about 3km long and went all the way into town. Here once again the stark contrast between the town and the temple was visible. While drains over-flowed in town and there were heaps of garbage strewn at regular intervals, the temple premises itself was I daresay swanky. Nothing signifies this better than the fact that there was an open drain that flowed right near the temple and one could distinctly smell it as one entered the temple. Once you enter the temple there were altleast three large rooms full of barricades (for lack of a better word), with seating facility, that ensured that folks did not break the queue and also ensured that large number of people could take the darshan, without being disappointed. One got to witness the immense faith and devotion of the people in queue, each one uttering a mantra in unison. The patience of the devotees was immense. I wish India could utilize this devotion to better effect. It goes to show that laws and a constitution probably is not quite right for us, what we probably need is some force that will enlighten this devotion and faith for the good of this country. Big words from a lesser mortal like yours truly. Anyways, after close to two hours in queue we finally reached the spot. The place is magnificent and has a statue of Shri Gajanan Maharaj at the spot. Exactly above it there is a temple of Lord Rama, once again pretty magnificent. We must have walked close to 5-6 km for this. The agnostic part of me said “ Is all the effort worth it?”, and the spiritual part of me said, “There must be something in this place that makes so many people come to it repeatedly, with such great devotion and faith.” So probably yes, there is indeed something, something invisible that makes all the effort worth it.
On our way back we visited AnandSagar, a theme park run by the temple authorities, which reinforced the contrast between the village and the temple. The fountains, the park, the computerized food-stalls, makes one feel, “ I am in another country”. If the temple authorities feel that creating such theme-parks will enable ordinary people to forget their, day-to-day hardships, I think they have been immensely successful. But, I believe the people will be immensely more grateful to the temple authorities, if they help solve some of their day-to-day issues like good clean roads, clean closed drains and access to good schools to just name a few.
After some sumtuous dinner and a taste of the famous kachori, we started our return journey. I left the place with mixed thoughts, awed by the faith and devotion of the people and my own family, slightly disappointed by the fact that the town could have been so much better. Will I visit again? I probably will, just to witness the same devotion, but I hope to visit a changed Shegaon.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Indians as Travellers

This is another topic that I have been wanting to blog about, Indians as travellers. Ever since our current PM, Manmohan Singh unshackled the Indian economy in 1991, the general prosperity of the Indian people has increased many-fold and these upwardly mobile mass of people have taken to travel, within the country as well as internationally with a vengeance that knows no bounds. This is exemplified by some amazing instances I had during my extensive travels in Europe and US. I had been to Junfraujoch in Switzerland, the highest railway station of Europe and readers will be amazed if I tell them that the smell of Indian curry pervades the entire station due to the presence of an Indian restaurant on top. At some places in the station, one will find instructions written in Gujarati, that just goes to show the number of Indians visiting Junfraujoch. In a small place like Interlaken, again in Switzerland, there are two Indian restaurants. One of my colleagues had been to Innsbruck in Austria and the first question he got asked by a shop-keeper was " Which film crew do you belong to?". Choose a tourist spot in the world and if the place is not too expensive (the extremely cost-conscious people that we are), there is little chance that an Indian has not visited there. One of my friends called Niagara Falls, "Desis Kashi", since most Indians who visit the USA, do visit the Niagara Falls.
The other amazing fact is that Indians of all ages are traveling. I was aghast, when during the trip back from Mt Titlis in the revolving cable car, I heard a group of elderly ladies and gentleman at least in their sixties, with the ladies awkwardly wearing their Salwar suits borrowed from their daughters/daughters-in-law actually speaking Marathi. Believe me its an amazing feeling to find Aiswarya Rai's photo inside a Swiss train. But the thing I want to talk about is in this blog is, "Do we make good travellers?". I would rather hesitantly say, "We don't".
First of all, being used to poor service at home (I must say this is changing, but...), we tend to be impolite, sometimes even bordering on being rude. Just look at the way air-hostesses/stewards treat Indians and you will know what I mean. We just don't mind our "Pleases" and "Thank-yous" well enough. I know, in our culture, gratefulness is expressed by doing something for the person, who helped you out, but c'mon, "In Rome do as the Romans do". So if it means, saying "Thanks" and "Sorry", many times do so. I had this co-passenger on one of my flights to the US, constantly demand a "Cold Drink" (First of all, on an American flight, no one will understand, what that means). But cmon, the Flight staff is not your servant to get you a Coke after every 1/2 hour. Moreover, since she was not able to convey her message to the staff, it was always thru' yours truly, which got to be quite embarrassing after a while.
Secondly, cleanliness just doesn't come to us easily. Travel abroad on any flight originating out of India, just visit the loo and you will know very soon what I mean.
We tend to get personal too soon. Most Westerners, don't want to do that and feel very embarrassed when we start asking, "So, what does your wife do?". The guy might not even be married, he might be dating or might even have just gotten divorced, and so asking about his wife is none of your problem.
We can be very noisy and intruding. Agreed, we are a noisy nation and we celebrate our festivals by bursting crackers, but the serenity that a beautiful landscape gives a viewer will be simply lost if his fellow tourists, don't care to maintain silence. Once on a train journey in Switzerland, I had a family of three Gujaratis from Mumbai, sitting in the seat adjacent to mine. This gentleman was chatting very loudly with his wife and was constantly munching something. All of a sudden, this guy develops a liking for the guy sitting opposite to him. He asks him, "Which country". The person, who is asked this question, was a rather old guy. He would have liked to be left alone and rather reluctantly replies "England". The next question from the Gujarati was amazing, " Do you smoke?". I wondered what smoking and England, had to do with each other. The Brit, once again rather flummoxed, said " Yes I do", to which Mr Gujrati, retorts, "Smoking is very injurious to health". I could see the mans wife fidgeting with her dress, almost wanting to disown her husband for the most inconsequential conversation that her husband was trying to carry out and I wanting to disown him as my fellow countryman. But the best was yet to come. Mr Gujarati (I mean no offense to Gujratis here, they are great people, with a fantastic business acumen and am using Mr Gujarati for want of a better way to describe him), suddenly gets pangs of patriotism in picturesque Switzerland. He suddenly tells old Englishman, "I come from India, India is a great country, Mera Bharat Mahan". This made me want to jump out of the train. I guess, we ought to remember that not all the people in the world are as garrulous as us and that if they need to talk, on most occasions they will start the conversation themselves.
Being used to spicy food at home, we fuss over the bland food that you get abroad. We don't quite do our home-work on the place we are going to. Have you ever seen an Indian with a travel book? I don't recommend it, but we ought to study at least a little about the place we are visiting, to understand their history, their customs and so on. Even when we visit a tourist spot, it is imperative we understand the significance of the place we are visiting, by asking the guide relevant questions and not just being worried about when will I get my next meal.
In general the list is long, but in my opinion, we need to be more sensitive as tourists about the place we are visiting, respect the sanctity of the place and start being more polite, for wherever we visit, we are in a way ambassadors of Mother India, and I believe we would not want everyone else to have a wrong impression about us, unless of course, we believe in "We are like that only".

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dhoni and his Hummer

I guess it was a week back, I was in the gym burning a few calories on the treadmill. This was one of those treadmills that has a TV attached to it and while flipping channels, I happened to see this news of Dhoni unabashedly driving around in his latest acquisition , "A Hummer". As is the case on most occasions nowadays, the same news was on other news channels as well, with the same pictures of him having a car in front and a few in tow. I went like "Wow".

Now, I have tremendous respect for Dhoni. He has a tremendous cricketing sense, has a lot between his ears and does not fear about calling a spade a spade. With him at the helm, I believe India will win more matches than we lose (I say this despite, the recent debacle in the 20-20 World cup). Players like him are icons, and the younger generation look up to such icons. This is especially true, since he comes from a small town like Ranchi (I know its a state capital, but then its not Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkatta) and just demonstrates the art of the possible in new age India.

But I must say, by driving around in a Hummer without any compunctions, he is setting a very poor example to the youth in this country, who aspire to be Dhonis and Tendulkars of tomorrow. This, for the simple reason, that a Hummer represents everything that's wrong with the way the Americans live their life. Its big, ugly and boy, "Does it guzzle!!!". By just using it, Dhoni just increased his Carbon-Footprint many-fold, more so with the security that these folks have with two cars in front and a few in tow, to ensure that the Captain of Team India is safe and sound. But, what it does more than anything else is, it sets the bar on the aspirations of the entire nation, a nation full of young people. Imagine "India's Demographic dividend" aspiring to own a Hummer. Indians on an average have a Carbon footprint of about 3-4, while Americans have a Carbon-Footprint of about 12. It means that, if all the world starts living like Indians, then we would need 3-4 earths to live (apply the same argument to Americans and you see why its dangerous to aspire to live like them). This Carbon-Footprint of 3-4, however hides some crucial facts. It is at 3-4 because, so much of India lives in the villages and so much of it is just plain poor. As these people start becoming upwardly mobile, the average carbon footprint of Indians is bound to increase. It is thus imperative upon us, to get development to the "have-nots" without increasing this Carbon footprint any further or to take the argument even further, get it to around 1. By owning a Hummer and driving it, Dhoni and the TV channels that are airing this news repeatedly, are doing a disservice to the nation and to Mother earth, for the way forward for a young country like India is to not repeat the mistakes that the Americans made, but to imbibe concern for the environment during the process of becoming a developed nation.
Guess what, to reinforce what I said, I read a news in the papers today that, now even Bhajji, is a proud owner of a Hummer!! Talk of setting an example !!