Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Season for Colours

 There’s no electricity and our taps are dry. How are we going to last the season without water?

The air-conditioner does not work when we want it to.

Mom, I don’t care if we are out of salt. Its 3pm and I am not going out in the heat.

Mom, can I go out to play?
In this heat? You must be mad.

Couldn’t sleep a wink last night, it was hot and there was no electricity

Summer is the season for angst. Any situation that can be even remotely connected to the heat qualifies for a complaint or an excuse for inactivity.

But summer is also the season for colours. 
Colours that brighten
Colors that soothe
Colors that enliven

      Gulmohurs dominate the summer landscape. It is impossible to miss
      this huge treaa near Dehu Road on National Highway-4

The flowering trees are at their brightest best. So, stop that whining and feast you’re your eyes on a palette that is full with very color that you can think of-red, orange, purple, pink, yellow, and more. You don’t have to travel far, too; they are right there in your neighbourhood.

Summer Colors: Gulmohurs, Bougainvillae, Acacia, Jacaranda and more...
 I love the festival of colours and , these days, it takes a lot more than the heat
to keep me indoors!

Enjoy the colours while you can. In about six weeks the the first showers of the monsoon will wash that palette.  Then, green will dominate the landscape, but that is another season and another story

Beauty in Starkness. Monotony and preoccupation with our daily routine
blinds us to some compelling sights. If only we could stop and stare more

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pani Puri, Anyone?

It began with an emergency meeting of the AIAPPMV- All India Association of Pani Puri Manufacturers and Vendors. (Just for the record, the Association is an affiliate member of United India Federation of Street Food Producers and Vendors, UIFSFPV). A longstanding member was assaulted by customers for using  his utensils of trade for purposes not indicated by the manufacturer of the said utensil. (Plainly put, he had emptied his bladder into the vessel). To add insult to injury, his raw material was destroyed. To add more insult, the law took an unsympathetic view of the matter and fined the said vendor for endangering public health.

The President of the Association started the meeting with a condemnation of the unprovoked attack on a senior member and called for a nationwide strike. The proposal did not find much support as –in the words of one of those present-it was a purely local matter. Serves the chap right, said another. Most of those present, however, were worried about their  losses and they were too scared to go out to work. They wanted the AIAPPMV to do something about it.

A worker with a NGO, which was a support group for the Association, then stood up. He explained how the world had changed and why it is important to be clean and maintain hygiene. He also gave examples of how a clean and pleasant environment actually helped businesses to grow and flourish.

New ideas have their share of opponents and skeptics and this was no different

“We have worked like this for several decades, why change now?” was the immediate reaction.
“It won’t work in our case,” was the considered opinion of the wise one
“Can’t afford this, we are barely able to make ends meet.” This came from the practical one.
“Things are bad enough as it is; trying out something new is not going to make it worse.” Here was a grudging acceptance, at last. The NGO worker had had his way. All that remained was to discuss the plan and put it in action.

Soon, there was a noticeable change in the way business was conducted. The foodstuff was stored in shining stainless steel vessels, it was handled with disposable plastic gloves and the pani was made using packaged drinking water. Cleaner than clean was the driving motto.

The vendors also wore neat uniforms which reflected the colour of their servings- greenish brown trousers (for the pani) and beige shirts (for the puri). They wore chef caps on their heads.

The AIAPPMV and the NGO also installed a large potted plant near every pani puri stall.

What a pleasant ambience, exclaimed a foreign tourist as she reached  for her camera.
One could hide behind it, commented another customer.
Yes sahib, replied the pani puri seller humbly, the plant is of great help in many ways.

The changes also attracted media’s attention. The president of the AIAPPMV was much sought after for interviews.  Soon after, he was invited to lecture Management Students on “Street Level Changes”.

The whispers began a couple of months later. No one paid any attention at first. The whispers gave way to low mutters and then to loud rumblings. Reality had to be faced. The pani puri business had not improved. In fact-as one pani puri vendor put it- it was as bad as it could be.

The same vendor quoted an old customer, “Your pani puri just doesn’t taste right these days”.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Corrupt? Who, us?

People’s power asserted itself peacefully and forcefully-as would be expected in a vibrant and functioning democracy- when the Government agreed to form a committee to draft the Jan Lokpal Bill.

I remained in ignorant bliss as history was being made. After the cricket world cup, I did not consider any event as worthy of being reported. So I had stopped reading the newspaper and did not pay my cable television subscription. Now, with the impending Jan Lokpal Bill, I told myself to take my obligations as a responsible citizen  very seriously.   I must make amends quickly.

First, I will get myself and a few friends photographed with the national flag. Then I will superimpose our picture on a newspaper photo of the scene of the historic fast. Many years hence, I must not be found wanting when my grandchildren ask me about “the second struggle of independence”. I must have a good story to tell. But, on second thoughts, that is still too far into the future.Life is so short and uncertain. Instead, I will put the photo on my Facebook page.

I am also concerned over reports of disagreements amongst the committee members. In my opinion-which is just one out a 1.21 billion- they are not focused on the basics. As I also have the right to be heard, I have decided to write to the committee with a few suggestions.

In my view the committee must address two fundamental points:

DEFINE CORRUPTION:   The effectiveness of the Lokpal Bill depends on the clarity that it brings to the meaning of the word corruption. Because of the far reaching effects of the  Bill, corruption must be defined and explained in all our constitutional languages so that it is understood by all Indians in the manner it is intended. If necessary, sub- committees must be formed to select regional language experts. This is serious work and its importance must not be underestimated. We cannot afford to have lawyers holding up cases while courts deliberate on the interpretation of the word. India has waited for forty years and a few decades more will not matter.

HEAR THE VOICE OF THE COMMON MAN. The common man supports the Bill, but is also worried that the rhythm and flow of his daily routine may be disturbed. The Committee must take these concerns into consideration. Let me explain.

Managing situations are an integral component of our everyday lives. We manage the policeman when we break a traffic rule. We manage the lineman when he arrives in our premises to cut the electricity because we have not paid the bill. A friend of mine also manages the VAT department whenever he misses the pay-by date. (The VAT officer will also vouch for my friend’s excellent hospitality). These are just a few examples that came immediately to my mind.

The committee must understand that we are honest, hardworking citizens. Most of us who cannot afford Chartered Accountants even pay our income tax on time. It is just that we do not want to bring any inconvenience and trouble upon ourselves.

So, would the committee kindly see to it that the Bill does not apply to us common folk? I am sure that there will be enough scams, frauds and Swiss Bank accounts to keep the courts busy

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Opium for the Masses

"Then ye returned to your trinkets; then ye contented your souls
With the flannelled fools at the wicket…..” Rudyard Kipling

The Minister was working very hard. It was not enough that India won the World Cup. True, during the month or so that the tournament held public attention, he did not have to be reminded daily about failed election promises and face awkward questions in Parliament. The challenge now was to keep the nation’s attention fixed on cricket. The Prime Minister wanted ideas. The Minister had responded with a proposal for a Ministry of Cricket The Prime Minister was pleased but also wanted the idea to be followed with quick administrative action. But that was not all.

A delegation of the sponsors had met him with a list of their demands. They were not satisfied that only 67.6 million had watched the finals. They had put in a lot of money and wanted more. India has a population of 1.21 billion and it was reasonable to expect that at least 500 million should watch the game. With so many people hooked to the television screens, commercials would reach a huge audience, which in turn could lead to a surge in purchases. Naturally, this would result in manufacturing growth, increased employment and more purchasing power.

The delegation also cautioned that all this will not be possible unless the game is supported by the government and built into an Institution. The Minister was impressed and the delegation left with a promise to build a cricket stadium in his village.

The Minister got down to work immediately. He was a man of destiny and this was his chance to leave his mark. His vision and plans soon took shape:

  • Cricket will drive –was that a pun?- the economy
  • There will be a Ministry of Cricket and, of course, the Minister would be honored to head it.
  • The Ministry would be run by the finest bureaucrats of the country so that cricketers can play cricket and ex-cricketers can commentate on matches.
  • There will be wide screen television sets in every office so that dedicated, hardworking employees do not miss a game
  • April 2 would be celebrated as World Cup day and declared a national holiday.The Department of Personnel will also be persuaded to add another category of leave. In addition to Earned Leave, Casual leave and Sick Leave, every employee would be entitled to seven days of Cricket Leave to watch at least one Test Match or a few one day or T20 games.
  • There will be an allowance so that employees may be able to travel to the match venues. An employee would be allowed to accumulate both leave and allowance for four years-enough to watch a full world cup
  • Exam schedules will be approved by the Ministry so that that they do not clash with match days. Students must be spared the stress of having to miss games because of exams
  • A special Act of Parliament was envisaged which will exempt cricketers from paying income tax (Farmers don’t pay tax, do they?). The Minister was also hopeful that gifts of cars, yachts, airplanes and such like would also not be taxed.
  • The Ministry will also look after the interests of cricketers who have sacrificed the best part of their lives. A special purpose vehicle will be formed to acquire land for houses and cricket academies.
There were more proposals. Indeed, the Minister’s head was brimming over with ideas. This was going to be definitive phase in Indian cricket and he wanted be known as the “game changer”.

"…eleven flannelled fools chasing a red ball, with eleven thousand fools cheering them" George Bernard Shaw

The Minister smiled as he recalled Kipling and Shaw. He had studied in England, was fashionably contemptuous of the British but, cricket- he just loved the game. In his mind, he strapped his pads and twirled his bat. He then squared his shoulders and strode to the Prime Minister's office.