Thursday, March 24, 2011

Urban Landscape-A Walk Home

Depending on your perspective, you might want to call Pune a pensioners’ paradise(which it most certainly is not any longer),  the Oxford of the East( the jury is out on that one)  or the two wheeler capital of India( which is a pretty accurate description- it is perfectly acceptable  to cite the anarchic  traffic  as the reason why you were delayed for the meeting )

Runaway urbanization has resulted in an urban environment that is definitely pensioner unfriendly. The best and the not so-good educational institutes flourish cheek-by-jowl. Motor vehicles of all sizes and shapes democratically share limited road space. The green cover is fighting a losing battle with concrete. So what’s new here? We have heard this before. My point is that, we are losing in many ways and it is not easy to articulate the sense of loss.

Some months back I sold my car, the deciding rationale being that it was nearly ten years old and the family deserved something better. At the same time, a sense of idealism pulled tangentially and I decided that, for the time being, I would walk or take the bus. Three months on, there has been no cause for regret. One recent experience opened my blinkered eyes to face up to how much I have missed.

Blinkered Vision: I parked my car outside this lovely house for many years
and hadn't even noticed. The Ashoka trees outside can't be blamed for
blocking my sight

One day, I walked  from Deccan Gymkhana to my home in Kothrud. Everything about the decision went against good sense. It was late afternoon (35 degree Celsius plus), the traffic was getting thicker (the homeward exodus had begun) and, with no clear pavement to speak of, a walker had to be both stupid and brave to bear with the traffic. heat, noise and the foul air for most of the  distance (5km).

Going, Going... and soon will be gone. A huge mound of rubble outside this
partly demolished house waits to be removed. In a few months an unfamiliar,
imposing , glass and concrete structure will intimidate those who pass by

What struck me immediately- and hard- was that that very few of the familiar houses were left. They were there for many years and they imparted a sense of permanence and reassurance, the no-matter-what-I-am-there-for- you feel. Many of them barely appealed to one’s aesthetic sense; yet, their presence was so taken for granted that they are now conspicuous only by their absence. (Hey-I passed-this-house-every-day-what-happened-to-it). 
Handsome, Solid and Dignified: Who does not want to be known to possess
these qualties? More importantly, who would really notice?

Change is inevitable and we are all a part of it. The old must eventually make way for the new. I know that. But I also hope that some things don't change. (I still miss the reassuring warmth of my grandmother’s embrace).We flirt with the transitory, but yearn for permanence. Many of the houses I passed  probably  reflect the qualities of the people who first built them-qualities that we claim to value so much,yet fail to appreciate when they present themselves before us.

So, for now, I will continue to walk. The new car can wait.

This path connects Prabhat and Bhandarkar Roads. A pity
that many people don't use it- for about 400 metres one is
spared the stress and din of traffic


Friday, March 18, 2011

How Scams are Investigated

The basic lessons were learned one warm afternoon in early summer….. It was also that phase in our lives when our minds were illuminated with the realization that there was more to birds and bees than, well, just birds and bees. There was a lot to be learned, the mind was fighting to be freed and imagination would often run out of control.

It was no secret that our class mate V…. had eyes on S…. Ours being a boys’ school, pairing opportunities were almost non-existent. Thus, V… was the envy of everyone. No one knew what S… looked like, so it was left to the creative minds in the class to describe - and often draw- her. Not surprisingly, her appearance changed almost daily, depending on what one thought about V…on a given day.

Classes were over that day and we were out playing in the school ground. The teachers were relaxing in the classrooms, correcting our exercise books and glad to be rid of us for the day

Earlier, one creative mind had come up with the noble-but unnecessary-idea of immortalizing the relationship between V… and S…. He drew a sketch which was passed around the class for comments, changes and approval. Expectedly, the sketch quickly metamorphosed into something quite graphic. During the games hour, the class snitch or-if you prefer-the whistleblower got hold of the incriminating drawing and, with a righteous smirk, presented it to the teacher along with a few names.

The teacher decided that the matter was serious and warranted a proper investigation. A teacher from the next class was co-opted into the inquiry. The first group of suspects was rounded up and made to stand before the panel.

BOYS! How could you do such a thing?!!
Miss, it wasn’t us.

But you drew this
Miss, but A… told us to.

Call A… ( A… is summoned from the playground)
What, miss?

These boys say that you said something about V…
No, miss

Don’t lie!
Yes, miss (almost a whisper)
Speak up!
Miss, I saw B…C…D…talking about it. God promise, I swear!

Call B…C…D… at once!

B…, C… and D… are hauled in. They were quite puzzled about the accusations but were anxious to get out of the mess. They did the obvious- by implicating a few more. It went on like this till the classroom was filled with forty bewildered and frightened  ten and eleven-year olds with nightmarish visions of punishment-both in school and at home.

It was no easier for the teachers. They were getting nowhere. Hopes for a quick detection and punishment vanished and the only thought in everyone’s mind now was that of a dignified exit and, of course, of not missing the bus.

And the collective wailing was making matters unbearable

The teachers sighed loudly.


Forty terror-stricken and tear-stained and faces looked up..

Are you sorry?
Yes, miss. Forty voices chorused as one.
You won’t do it again?
No, miss

Now, go.
Yes, miss, thank you, miss

We grabbed our backs and rushed to our buses.

And the anonymous artist continued in his creative vein for the rest of the school year.

Many years later there was Bofors, which was followed by the Telgi incident. CWG and 2G are still in the news. Investigating methods haven’t really changed much; nor have they been particularly effective. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Of Cricket and Exams

Up until the cricket world cup, C… was a very worried man. His tea-shop was the hub of local gossip. With the local elections over and the stock market having sunk below the horizon, there was nothing of topical interest to keep a conversation going. As a result, there was a drop in customers and those that remained found that the tea being served was also worthy of analyses. The scrutiny made matters awkward for C… and put his business model at a considerable disadvantage as he was compelled to use more milk. Naturally, his bottom line hurt badly.

Thus, no one welcomed the World Cup more than C… did. His mood brightened considerably. The shop was getting crowded and the animated chatter at the tables was clear signal that his tea was forgiven and forgotten. He turned up the volume of the television and went back to serving his tried and trusted concoction.

That morning, we had gathered at the tea-shop after our calorie burning routines. God was in heaven, cricket was being played in India, C….’s tea was forgiven and all was well with the world.

Well, not quite……Cricket is funny game-both on the field(about which much has been written) and off it(about which we know nothing).

It was exam time and in some families, cricket and exams didn’t seem to mix. In fact, it brought unimaginable stress to one home. My friend F…. had this story to tell about his neighbor.

It began with Mr N…..., a senior bureaucrat, informing his family that he could not get his son’s exam postponed. Equally worrying was his failure to obtain an exemption from appearing for the exam.

(The minister had told him that the rules did not permit exemptions to watch a game and even he, the Minister, could do nothing about it. He also –somewhat sternly- advised N… not to compare government employees absenting from work watch a cricket match with children wanting to miss  an exam for the same reason. To emphasize his point he even wished Junior well for his exams).

This was indeed bad news as the family had placed lot of confidence in Mr N…’s ability to manage things. Indeed, he had never let his family down before.

It was a worrisome situation. To begin with, N… had managed tickets for the best seats in the stadium. Being able to skip an exam to watch the game would have raised Mrs.  N…’s status among her friends. But this was the least of the problems. Indeed, as F…’s narration continued, the picture got more and more and more complicated.

To his parents, Junior was Indian cricket’s next big hope. It was small matter that that this view was held only by his family. But so unshakeable was their belief that they spared no efforts to ensure his smooth ascent to the summit- a place in the national team. The trip to the world cup match was a part of the larger plan, which was set in motion with junior’s school coach being instructed to pick ten of his best players.The principal exercised his discretion and chose  the eleventh. That player, of course, was Junior.

There was no dearth of well-wishers as Junior’s cricketing career continued on its smooth progress-till today.

It was a tense scene at home. Junior sulked as only a pampered child would, his mother searching for more words to berate her husband with, and Mr. N….desperately trying to restore calm.

“Dear boy,” he began, “Write your exams. We will go to Singapore afterwards. I will arrange everything”.

His wife snorted in contempt at the promise to “arrange everything”.

“Papa, I have not studied.” Junior was wailing now. “You had promised that I won’t have to take the exams”.

Mrs N… looked hard and long at he husband. “My son will not suffer for no fault of his.You have to do something”, she said. Her tone was uncompromising.  Mr N... was silent for some time.

"Hmmm. Let me see", he responded after a while.

At this point, F… paused in his narration. Every story must have an ending and, naturally, we were curious to know how N… would redeem himself.

F…. looked bemusedly at the bottom of his glass. “Would you believe it?”, he muttered,"The chap is now trying to get his hands on the question papers”.