Thursday, October 31, 2013

Narendra Modi and Sardar Patel

If Mr Narendra Modi’s admiration for Sardar Patel is born of a genuine understanding of the latter, his Statue of Unity project merits the nation’s approval. 

Modi has decided to spend an estimated sum of Rs 2500 crore to erect Patel’s statue in the Narmada.  Cynics and Modi’s critics will thumb their noses at the expenditure incurred at a time when a large number of people in Modi’s state are labouring under the burden of day-to-day subsistence. But Shahjahan would not have built the Taj Mahal had he applied this kind of logic to his historical aspirations.  India would have missed one of the world’s wonders.  Modi is the contemporary Shahjahan giving us the world’s tallest statue.

Is Modi merely a modern day Shahjahan trying to engrave his name indelibly in the annuls of history?  Or is he playing yet another political game to add a new avatar to the already overcrowded pantheon of the Sangh Parivar? 

Does Modi know what the Sardar really was, how diametrically opposed his views were to those of Modi?

People like Modi have tried off and on to portray Sardar Patel as a champion of Hindutva.  Modi’s recent remark that Patel would have made a better PM than Nehru is not without substance.  Nehru was a Romantic “with child-like innocence,” as Patel described him in his letter to D P Mishra on July 29, 1946.  Patel was a very pragmatic man who never hesitated to call a spade a spade.  In fact, Patel’s pragmatism coupled with his ruthless frankness was a tremendous asset to Nehru in the traumatic days that followed India’s Independence.  It was that ruthlessness which brought Liaquat Ali Khan rushing to Delhi in April 1950 leading to the Nehru-Liaquat Pact.  Patel might have made a better PM.  But such conjectures don’t take us anywhere really.

Patel was never a Hindu communalist.  On the contrary, peaceful coexistence of all communities was as close to his heart as it was to Gandhi’s.  Under pressure from many lobbies to declare India a Hindu state since Pakistan had become a Muslim state, Patel told B M Birla who had strongly advocated such a step, “I do not think it will be possible to consider India as a Hindu state with Hinduism as a state religion.  We must not forget that there are other minorities whose protection is our primary responsibility.” (P N Chopra, The Sardar of India).  Patel asked the senior civil and police officers to protect the Muslims in case of any communal riot.  

True, Patel did not like Jinnah whom he viewed as a mere power-seeker.  He was deeply anguished by the “gullibility” of the Muslims who put their trust in the crafty Jinnah rather than in the visionary Mahatma.  He dared to question Gandhi whether there were any Muslims who would listen to him.  He did not mince words when he warned the Muslim nationalists, “I want to tell you frankly that mere declarations of loyalty to the Indian Union will not help you.... You must give practical proof of your declarations.  I ask you why you did not unequivocally denounce Pakistan for attacking Indian territory with the connivance of Frontier tribesmen?  Is it not your duty to condemn all acts of aggression against India?” (quoted from The Statesman, Dec 28, 1947 in Sardar Patel and Indian Muslims, Rafiq Zakaria)

When Pakistan drove out Hindus in large numbers especially from East Bengal, Patel thundered, “We would have no alternative left except to send out Muslims in equal numbers.”(Rafiq Zakaria)

Such utterances of the Sardar are quoted by certain members of the Sangh Parivar as evidence for his Hindutva legacy.  But as Mahatma Gandhi said, “The Sardar had a bluntness of speech which sometimes unintentionally hurt.  Though his heart was expansive enough to accommodate all.” (Gandhi, Communal Unity)

Patel’s was a magnanimous heart which loved the country and all its people.  He does deserve a Statue of Unity.  But he certainly does not deserve to be metamorphosed into a symbol of any factional ideology. 

If Mr Narendra Modi has a proper understanding of what Sardar Patel stood for, we should salute his new venture.  Some conversions are welcome.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rotten Onions

Husband came home jubilantly because he had managed to get a kilogram of onions at half the market price, thanks to Sheila didi.

“Rotten,” said Wife in her characteristic laconic way after opening the precious packet of onions.

“Really?”  Husband was agitated.  Agitation was his characteristic way.  “How could the government sell onions at half the market price?  It has to be rotten.  No dealer will sell onions at that rate even to the government in these days when governments are dictated to by traders.  The question is why the media didn’t pick it up.”

“See this,” said Wife.  She showed him the front page report on his favourite newspaper, The Hindu, which said, “Delhiites say Govt selling ‘rotten’ onions”. 

No wonder there was no rush for onions today, mused Husband who would not have bought the onions otherwise.  But he had to justify himself before Wife. 

So he said, “I wonder why the media doesn’t pursue the matter beyond the obvious.  For example, where did the government get the onions from?  Was it from people who were hoarding it with the malicious purpose of raising its price and then sold it to the government when it started rotting?  The big farmers or the wholesale traders made a deal with the government and the government cheated the people.  Simple, you see, darling.  Cheating is what life is about today.  If you don’t cheat, you are a fool.  The media just wants to prove that we are fools...”

Wife understood.  Her husband was trying his best not to appear a fool before her.   She smiled.


PS. Not from personal experience.  Inspired by the front page report in The Hindu.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Casual Vacancy

Book Review

Barry Fairbrother dies giving rise to a vacancy in the Parish council.  There are many aspirants for the vacant post.  J K Rowling’s novel, The Casual Vacancy, is partly about the struggles of the aspirants to materialise their dream.  The novel is more about such social issues as juvenile aberration, pornography, drug addiction, and child abuse. 

The novel presents a terribly bleak and partly frivolous world.  Linguistic obscenity hangs heavily on the reader’s mind as he/she turns pages hoping to see some light at the end of the tunnel.  But all that you will get is more and more darkness.  Rowling is writing about a society that shrugs at revelations of evil.  A character in the novel, the adolescent Stuart “Fats” Wall, tries to defeat his father in the Parish council election by hacking into the council’s website and posting a report that his father was a thief, only to realise that “the world, it seemed, had merely shrugged.  Evil is a natural concomitant of existence in such a world.  

Sons and daughters fighting their parents, adults deceiving their friends, parents fighting their children... there’s a whole lot of fighting throughout the novel.  There’s fornication and adultery.  There’s lust of all hues. 

The adolescent “Fats” may be taken as the metaphorical protagonist of the novel.  Apparently he is the only character who is in search of something beyond the given world.  He “had discovered,” says the novel, that other people “were mired in embarrassment and pretence, terrified that their truths might leak out, but Fats was attracted by rawness, by everything that was ugly but honest, by the dirty things about which the likes of his father felt humiliated and disgusted.  Fats thought a lot about messiahs and pariahs; about men labelled mad or criminal; noble misfits shunned by the sleepy masses.”

Fats is on a quest “to be who you really were, even if that person was cruel or dangerous, particularly if cruel and dangerous” [emphasis in original]. 

The novel presents a lot of darkness.  Superficiality and resignation to the status quo.  Varieties of perversions.  The innocent child dies in this world...

PS.  I bought this book tempted by a 70% discount offered by an online seller.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

My School – a fantasy

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“We have all learned most of what we know outside school.  Pupils do most of their learning without, and often despite, their teachers.”

I don’t know how many people will agree with the statements above.  Ivan Illich wrote that 4 decades ago in his deservedly celebrated book, Deschooling Society.  He argued that “Everyone learns how to live outside school.  We learn to speak, to think, to love, to feel, to play, to curse, to politick and to work without interference from a teacher.  Even children who are under a teacher’s care day and night are no exception to the rule.”

I am a teacher who has been working in an exclusively residential school for over a decade.  I won’t disagree with Illich.

Of late, my mind which is normally logical is flooded with fantasies.  The fantasies are all about a dream school that I would like to open. 

A school where children will be free to bloom without constraints imposed by systems.  Play, sleep, eat, and let children do what they like.  Freedom to children.

No, I should correct it: freedom to children’s creativity. 

Let the creativity unfold itself.  The school will provide all the infrastructure required.  The best teachers will be available for all those who ask questions about the stars beyond the horizon.  Einstein’s theory of relativity and the carpenter’s skill will all be taught, provided the student demands it. 

Thirst will be quenched.  No hunger will go unfed.

If the hunger is for food, healthy food will be provided.  If the hunger is for knowledge, the horizons will expand.

There’s no need to compel anything down the throats of anyone in the school.  Thirst and hunger will determine what each individual student wants. 

What each individual student is capable of will determine his/her horizon.

Teach yourself.  Each student will learn that.  Self-made people are the most successful people.  Make yourself.  We are here to help you to make yourself.  No compulsions.

The only rule: no destruction. 

The rule stated positively: Create, You are Born to Create.  

Dear student,

Don’t confuse teaching with learning.  Learning is your personal responsibility.

Grades and marks are no reflection of your achievement, let alone your potential. Hence you will get no grades or marks in this school.  You decide your own grade.  You create it.

Know that:
Medical treatment is not healthcare.
The Taj Mahal was not built by any University-trained architect.
Social activism is not necessarily love for mankind.
Police does not necessarily mean security.
Military poise is not national security.
Success is not happiness.

Dear student, you are responsible for your own life.  Only you are responsible for your own life.

Make it.  If you want! 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Leader makes the difference

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things,” said Management guru, Peter Drucker.  Many institutions as well as nations have gone down the tunnel of damnation merely due to lack of good leadership, though their management was good. 

Doing things right is not a guarantee that one is doing the right things.  When the Jews wanted to stone the adulteress to death, they were doing things right.  When Jesus told them, “Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone,” he was doing the right thing.  [John 8:1-11]

The Hindu newspaper today [22 Oct] carries a review of Maya Tudor’s book, The Promise of Power: The Origins of Democracy in India and Autocracy in Pakistan. 

Both India and Pakistan had the same origins: a British colony.  Yet India became a democracy that empowered the people and Pakistan became a theocracy which enervated its citizens.   Why did it happen?

The answer lies in the difference between the Congress Party and the Muslim League and their leaders.  This is what I gathered from the review.  The leaders of the Congress Party had the vision of a country which upheld the growth and development of all its citizens, while the Muslim League “was driven only by its anti-Hindu rhetoric and the Pied Piper charisma of Jinnah.”

The leader makes all the difference, in short.  Jinnah was not a leader, he was a manager.  He contrived schemes to keep himself in power.  He was not even a theist though he founded a theistic nation.  Gandhi was a firm religious believer though he sought to build up a secular nation.  Gandhi was a visionary, a leader and not just a manager.

Gandhi’s vision has not been quite successful in the hands of those who implemented it eventually.  Sadly, India did not have very many good leaders.  We mostly had contriving managers.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Barbed Wires and Tall Walls


“Imagine a future, 10 years from now or 20 years from now, when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime, on a piece of land that is not part of our country.  Is that who we are?  Is that something that our founders foresaw?”

Saleem Syed’s ears stood up.  Could the President of America have really said that? 

The TV was broadcasting Barack Obama’s speech on national security.  Saleem’s hand moved impulsively to his mobile phone. 

“Can you arrange for me a visit to Guantanamo Bay?”

“Tough, boy, but I can try.  What gives you the idea, however?”  It was the editor-publisher of the weekly for which Saleem had been working as a journalist for years.  

In a couple of days’ time his editor-publisher got him the permission to visit Gitmo, as Guantanamo is known among people closely associated with it.  T&C applied, of course.

Surrounded by the sea where the steep hills did not reach, the prison camp stood like Dracula’s fort  silhouetted against the sinking sun as Saleem watched it from John Paul Jones Hill. 

“We’ll draw lots to decide which prisoner you can interview personally,” said the Commander of the Joint Task Force – Guantanamo.  Only carefully selected names will be in the draw, knew Saleem.  T&C applied everywhere.

The lot fell on Abdul, an Afghan.

“War is in our blood,” said Abdul.  “When we didn’t fight with Russians or the Americans, we fought with the neighbouring tribe.”

Abdul said that he was a warrior whom the neighbouring tribes loved to hate.  So they got him into Guantanamo.

“The American helicopters would drop leaflets every once in a while in the tribal areas,” said Abdul, “offering $5000 per terrorist caught.  Five thousand dollars is a huge lot of money for any Afghan, you know.  I was sold for that sum.”

There was a sign of the Al Qaeda on Abdul’s Casio F-91W watch.  That was enough proof for the CIA which decided that Abdul was a terrorist.

“Are you a terrorist?” asked Saleem.

“Who can be worse terrorists than America?” asked Abdul in return.  “They fuck everyone in the world.  If they cannot do it literally, they do it in the name of democracy.  Or in the name of economic liberalisation.”  Disdain foamed in his mouth and he swallowed it.  “Allah has given each people their own land to live in the way they deem best.  Why does America walk with an erect cock on all those lands pretending that fucking is America’s birthright and sole obligation to the world?  There have been prisoners from 48 countries here, you know.  How did 48 countries become enemies of America? ”

“Are you a terrorist?” asked Saleem again.

“I want America to leave us alone.  Is that terrorism?”

“Were you ever part of any terrorist attack anywhere?”  Saleem changed his question.

“No,” said Abdul after looking into Saleem’s eyes for a while.  “I’m not a terrorist and never wanted to be one.”  He said that he was just another Afghan who worked in his field during the day and spent time with his family in the night.  Yes, he did fight occasionally with some fellow or the other from another tribe.  That too was part of the harsh life in the desert.

“What will you do if you are set free from here?”

“I want to see my daughter.  She is eleven years old now.   I haven’t ever seen her.  She was born the night I was arrested.  I was taking my wife to hospital for the delivery.  I was arrested on the way.  And the scare made my wife deliver the baby in the van itself, before reaching the hospital.  I want to meet her, my daughter.  I want to love...”

He broke off.

“You are a journalist and you know how much of what people say may be true,” said the military officer who escorted Saleem out of the prison camp.  “Look,” said the officer.  He was pointing at the wall opposite a prison cell.  The wall carried many stains which looked like shallow dollops of filth.  “Faeces and urine.  They mix it and throw it at the guards passing by.”

“I want to love...”  Abdul’s words distracted Saleem away from the faeces and urine.   

The sun was sinking into the Caribbean Sea as Saleem walked out of the cage of barbed wires and tall walls. 

PS. This story was inspired by a report, “The Week Goes Inside Gitmo,” in The Week [October 27, 2013].

Thursday, October 17, 2013



Sheila could not sleep.  She turned this way and that in bed.  Her husband was working on his computer as usual to meet yet another deadline. 

Life is about meeting deadlines these days, she thought as she turned yet again letting the bed sheet fall off her body.  She could never sleep without a bed sheet on her body, however hot the weather might be.

Has little Robin’s angst entered my body like a ghost?  Sheila wondered.  Robin was a student of hers in class 4.  Sheila was a teacher in a residential school.  Robin, one of her students, had lost his usual cheer and grace in the last few days.

“What happened to you, young man?”  Sheila confronted Robin in the hostel before his bedtime.  The little boy wouldn’t speak.  He began to sob instead. 

“Come on, tell me, what’s the problem.  I assure you of a solution whatever the problem.”

It took much cajoling and more tenderness to get words through Robin’s sobs.  “They not believe, Ma’m... Dad has a BMW, I say them.  They make fun...”

“So you want to prove to your friends that your dad has a BMW, is that all?”

“He has, Ma’m.  You also not believe?”

“I know, dear.  I know that your dad has a BMW.  So why don’t you ask him to come in that BMW to meet you tomorrow, the Parents’ Visiting Day?”

“Dad too busy, Ma’m.  Only Mum comes.  In old City Honda.”

“We’ll get your dad here,” said Sheila confidently though she was not sure how she would do it.  

She dialled the number of Robin’s Dad on her mobile phone and he agreed to come the next day in his BMW.  Not a bad dad, thought Sheila who was familiar with too many dads who would normally need more cajoling and tenderness than their sons and daughters.

Robin fell asleep in the cosy comfort of the woollen blanket that protected him against a chill that the air-conditioner could cause.

Teachers had no air-conditioners.  Sheila’s husband worked in an air-conditioned office.  He was a manufacturer of computer software for a reputed firm which worked for Bill Gates.  He met deadlines every night.  Sheila met curlicues every day.

Her husband had finished his deadline.  His computer sang its turn off music.

“When can we change our Maruti 800?  Don’t we deserve a little better ... comfortable car?”  Sheila asked when her husband came to sleep.

“Can we discuss that on Sunday?  I’m tired.”

“I’m on duty on Sunday.  I work in a residential school.  And we have a residence because of my job, don’t forget that.”

Her husband sighed.

“Suppose I buy a new car,” said her husband.  “Where will you go?  When on earth do you get the time to go anywhere?”

“We can at least show the people that we have a good car,” said Sheila. 

Sigh, again.  “How obnoxious, these sighs,” thought Sheila.

“Darling,” said Husband.  “My job is at stake.  The day I don’t meet the deadline, I’m dead...”

Sheila fell asleep in the cradle of her husband’s elbow.  In her dream she drove a BMW.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rich Man’s World

The prices of food and other essential things keep rising.  Newspapers and TV channels celebrate it in catchy headlines.   But the number of private vehicles on the roads keeps increasing indicating that people have money to buy them and fill their tanks with fuel.  The number of people spending time in expensive shopping malls and multiplexes have not decreased.  So who is affected by the inflation and price rise?

Economist and Nobel laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, delivered a speech recently to the AFL-CIO convention and said:

95% of the gains from 2009 to 2012 went to the upper 1% (in the USA).  The rest — the 99% — never really recovered.

“We have become the advanced country with the highest level of inequality, with the greatest divide between the rich and the poor.

The situation is not confined to the world’s most “advanced country.”  It is replicated in every country which follows the same economic policies, including India.  The American economic policies are tailored to make the rich richer at the cost of the poor.  Earlier, in the toddler days of the system, about 20% of the population were benefitted by the system – their wealth increased.  The proportion continued to dwindle systematically and has now become a mere one percent.  That’s the tragedy (or advantage, depending on which side of the dividing line you are) of the system: it works for less and less number of people.  The system is manufactured to cater to less and less number of people at the expense of all others.  It is tailored to create the ultimate plutocracy.

Is such inequality inevitable?  Stiglitz raised the question for the umpteenth time in his recent speech.  He said:

Inequality is not inevitable. It is not … like the weather, something that just happens to us. It is not the result of the laws of nature or the laws of economics. Rather, it is something that we create, by our policies, by what we do.
We created this inequality—chose it, really—with [bad] laws …”

The system we adopted refused to address the problems and needs of the vast majority as any good system should do.  Instead, it focused on a few in the name of “wealth creation.”  Profit became the only motive.

The insurance companies deny the rightful claims of their clients in order to maximise the profits of the company.  The business people bribe the politicians in order to formulate policies that promote trade and generate profit.  Educational institutions appoint people in managerial posts so that the entire staff can be exploited to enhance the profit of the institution.  Hospitals prescribe all the tests available to the new technology.  Banks have to innovate strategies to retain balances in the accounts of the aam aadmi.

Unemployment and poverty rise in such a system.  Crimes become natural offshoot. 

And crimes won’t be confined to that side of the dividing line where the survival game is on.  The crime virus identifies no borders.  It penetrates even the holy of holies.  And then godmen rape their devotees, and godwomen erect empires of commerce.  Spirituality metamorphoses into a drug to sedate the harrowed nerves of the hapless 99%.

Is there a way out of this enormous trap laid by the economic system?

“It is plain that the only true and sustainable prosperity is shared prosperity. If we could ensure that everyone who wanted a job and was willing to work hard could get one, we could have an economy and a society that is both more equal and more prosperous,” said Stiglitz.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

What use is religion?

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“Why Blame Religion?” asks Matthew Adukanil in an article of that title published in the Open Page of The Hindu (Oct 13).  [In the online edition of the paper the title is Blame it on politics, not religion.]  The article is a response to an earlier article by Vasant Natarajan, Let’s aim for a post-theistic society.  While Prof Natarajan’s article was a rational and sensible argument why we should strive to create a world without religions, Prof Adukanil’s is sheer trivia fit for catechism classes.

Religion and science “are twins, one imparting wisdom and the other knowledge,” argues Adukanil.  There are many problems with such statements.  For example: Does religion really provide wisdom?  If it does, why is it the cause of so much misery in the world?  Why has it engendered so many crusades, holy wars, jihads, terrorists, and other appalling evils?  What about the numerous atheists and agnostics who were/are wise?  Aren’t they proof that religion is not at all necessary for acquiring wisdom?  How many people, in fact, become wise because of religion?  If we examine wise people who are also religious, we are likely to find that their wisdom is a product of their character rather than their religion, though religion might have played some (minimal, most probably) role in the formation of that character. 

According to Adukanil, the problem lies in mixing religion with politics.  What good is religion if it does not suffuse the entire life of the believer?  “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is,” said Mahatma Gandhi.  If religion indeed makes people as wise as Adukanil claims, it should be the guiding force behind the entire continuum of an individual’s actions as well as thinking.   That’s why religion was meaningful for people like Gandhi.  The truth is that people like Gandhi would have been eminently good people even without their religion.

And that’s precisely my argument.  Religion is redundant.  It does no good to anyone really.  Good people will be good even without their religion.  Bad people will use their religion for politics and other evils.  So who needs religion?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Where Pigs have Horns

I’m not surprised that the Harvard University invited Lalu Prasad Yadav to deliver a lecture on management.  If he could create horns for pigs, Harvard could colonise paradise. 

The cartoon is taken from the latest issue of Tehelka.  The magazine says that Lalu’s Rs950-crore scam that sent him to jail (which he will make a paradise inviting the Harvard professors to visit him) had some “fantastic” statistics.  For example:

“... Rs 15 lakh worth of mustard oil for polishing horns of buffaloes and pigs (yes, pigs) and several crores for transporting cattle on oil tankers, police vans, autorickshaws, and scooters (yes, scooters)."[emphasis added]

The title of the article is: “TAKING THE STATE FOR A RIDE: How a CM & Co gamed the system.”

I think the cartoonist should have added horns to the pigs on the scooter.

Lalu Yadav should be given management lessons in oiling  the horns of pigs in the jail.   

How long will ordinary people continue to let politicians like Lalu Yadav take them for rides?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Utopian Dream

Book Review

Title     : Swaraj
Author : Arvind Kejriwal
Publisher         : Harper Collins India & India Today Group, 2012
Pages               : 151                            Rs. 150

Arvind Kejriwal is driven by his passion to sweep clean the Indian political system.  His book, Swaraj, is redolent of that passion from the first page to the last.  The book, claims Anna Hazare on the front cover, “is a manifesto for our times and for the anti-corruption movement...” In fact, the book may be seen as a manifesto of Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party whose election symbol is the broom.

The book reads like a pamphlet written by a puritan mind seized with the zeal for political reformation.  The tone is very demagogic and self-righteous.  Examples are taken randomly from here and there to substantiate arguments without giving certain necessary details like the names of people or firms involved. 

There is only one central argument in the book: power should be given to the people of India and the gram panchayat is the ideal form of governance.  Let the people of each village take the decisions on matters that affect them.  Give power to the people to made decisions as well as to implement them.  That also means revenue which should be placed in the hands of the people.

Kejriwal makes it sound effective.  He gives apparently convincing arguments against all possible criticism of his view.  For example, if you question him on the efficacy of the gram panchayat  citing the example of perverted khap panchayats in some North Indian states he would say, “It is a matter of contention whether the khaps have given such judgements, but without getting into the debate, we would like to reiterate that under the present law, the gram sabhas do not enjoy such powers (as pronouncing death sentences)...” 

The real question is not what powers gram sabhas have or do not have, but whether they are incorruptible.  Kejriwal thinks that they are incorruptible.  A whole village cannot be corrupt, he thinks. 

It is true that Indian democracy stands in need of redemption from the many evils that plague it today.  But will Kejriwal’s suggestion be a real panacea as he would like us to believe? 

The book reads like a villager’s guide to the Aam Admi Party’s political vision.  Those who are aware of the country’s complexities – cultural, social, religious, ethnic, political, and so on – may find Kejriwal’s exuberant tongue lashing (which is how it came across to me) a rather simplistic utopian dream.

The book notwithstanding, I’m toying with the idea of casting my vote for the Aam Admi Party in the next general elections.  There's no harm in trying out a new idea.  As Kejriwal himself says in the book, if the gram sabha decides to steal the money sanctioned at least it will be the people for whom the money is meant that will be stealing it instead of the MPs, MLAs, bureaucrats and the middlemen.  That's quite a practical thinking.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to a student of mine who gave me the book for reading.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Charity and Vision

Vision is one of my few obsessions.   I’m slow to see and understand things that matter for worldly success.  That’s why I had to visit my ophthalmologist after my duty at school today.  I had lost my spectacles in the Arabian Ocean while playing with my students at Calangute beach in Goa the other day during a tour from school.  My ophthalmologist is an organisation: Venu Eye Institute & Research Centre in Delhi.  There is no single individual who relates to you personally in that institute.  Yet every employee is a paragon of politeness.  Every patient feels like a VIP in that institute. 

I was escorted, like any other patient, from the reception to the hall where I had to wait for the first examination.  (And I was escorted similarly from room to room thereafter.) I had made it very clear that I just wanted to get a new pair of spectacles with the right powers of the lenses.  But my ophthalmologist (the hospital which is a charitable institution that charges merely Rs300 for a whole lot of exercises which make use of very expensive technology) put me through at least 5 different tests which took more than three hours.

While I was waiting for one such test, I was approached by one employee of the hospital with a questionnaire.  The questionnaire sought my opinion  on the services offered by the hospital.  Every question was meant to check the employees’ behaviour.  I ticked “excellent” for every question because that was my honest answer. 

If the medical service provided by the hospital matches the behaviour of the employees, Venu is the best ophthalmologist in Delhi.  But how can I, a layman as far as vision is concerned, determine the standards of the medical profession?

After the dilation of my eyes and the penultimate checking done by a doctor who told me that my eyes were in perfect condition provided I used a pair of spectacles whose powers would be prescribed the next day since prescription could not be done within 4 hours of dilation of the eyes I understood how difficult it was to be a doctor in a charitable institution these days.

I have decided to continue with Venu Institute for all my further vision problems.  I fell like a VIP there. 

A 3 or 4 year-old boy was with his mother who had come for a check-up.  The boy created a lot of havoc in the hospital running around in too many places making too much noise.  When one of the hospital personnel dared to complain to the boy’s mother, the mother said to the boy, “Come on darling, behave yourself.”  And the boy did behave himself.  He raised his fist against his mother.  The hospital employee, a woman in uniform, immediately held the fist and asked the mother, “Shall I take him to the children’s play section?”  And the mother said lackadaisically, “Yeah.”

I pitied the employee.  And I loved the hospital.

PS: I’m not a shareholder of the charitable hospital.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Alone in Goa

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Standing on the elevated viewpoint of the Dona Paula beach in Goa, surrounded by hundreds of tourists, I felt lonely.  There are so many people, people and people, and yet not many whom we can hug and say, “I love you.”  People jostled each other all around me.  I was watching the solitary figure in the sea far below the elevated viewpoint.  A boy (or a grown up man, I couldn’t be sure) was catching fish standing on a rock in the sea.  He waited and waited.  A long time passed.  I waited and watched.  For a fish to bite the bait. 

I had to leave the boy and the beach heeding the call of my duty; I am a fish that is inescapably hooked to a bait.  The boy’s image continues to haunt my imagination.  Aren’t most of us similar to that solitary figure, I wonder.  There are people and people all around.  Yet we are alone!

I was one of the four teachers who took a group of students on a tour of Mumbai and Goa.  Goa fascinated me with its laid back appearance.  It appeared to be a very relaxed city in spite of the hundreds or thousands of tourists who hurry along its streets day and night.  The contrast with Delhi, where I live, was too obvious. 

The beaches welcome you seductively.  Pimps accost you on and off promising an hour in paradise.  All along the way to the beaches there are shops and shops, an endless number of them, that offer bottled up intoxication.  Perhaps, the whole of Goa is a bottled up intoxication, I thought.  There is an air of resignation to some unpleasant but unavoidable destiny on the faces of the people of Goa.  Is the boy in the ocean, standing all alone amid the waves, a symbol of the people of the place?

I liked Goa because of the apparent mystery that envelopes it.  I wish to explore it more.  At my own leisure. 

In the meanwhile here are some pictures from Goa. 

A view from the Aguada Fort
Another view from the Aguada Fort
Yet another view from the same fort
Some of my students on Calangute beach
Mingling of cultures at the Bom Jesus Basilica

Pessimism of the gods

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