Saturday, July 24, 2010

Modest Proposals

The neighbour's maid's eight year old tomboy daughter who owns a prophetic squirrel told me that she had heard from a man who knows all things that the world as we know it will come to an end in 2012. It sounded complicated as the sentence itself. I tried to verify the prophecy from the rest of the informed neighbourhood. The ironing woman next to the gate, the odds and ends seller across the road, the kindly house help who walks a blind dog every morning, the litti maker and his bootlegging wife: each one said the same thing. The world as we know it will come to an end in 2012. Each one said that Kimli's daughter Simli had heard it from the man who knows all things and that her prophetic squirrel whose chirps she can interpret accurately had also chirped the same thing. In some ways reminiscent of Isabel Allende's fiction. As a sign of the coming khatam shud, Mars would come ominously close to the earth in August this year appearing like a second moon as a dress rehearsal for 2012. Trusting the squirrel more than the man who knows all things, I decided to be smart about my life. I called up all my friends and shared this secret about the future of the world.
At this very existential conclave, it was decided that if it was indeed true that the world would come to an end in 2012, we could all recast our lives and have a good time until the end came. We have twenty-four months for Epicurean ecstasy.To live it up. With the sensex touching 18000, we can sell off all our shares, stop paying the insurance premium, skip paying bank loans, better still apply for a huge bank loan and book a one way ticket around the world, stopping at Kerala as the last destination. The logic of course was that if it is God's own country, even if the end comes, we would still be there relishing appams with Prawn Moily and Currimeen Polychathu. With God in his own country.

And for letting us know of the future early we could buy train tickets for our neighbourhood Samaritans to travel to Kerala before the apocalypse. After all if destiny had other plans, our neighbourhood soothsayers and collaborators would inform us in advance and we could once again take remedial action.

If you believe all that I have had to say, you could take appropriate measures and redefine your lives. And yes, when I shared the news with a colleague in the academia, the Book who Speaks told me to insert this in my piece. Philanthropy guides a blessed destiny to heaven. Raise funds for those who have been deprived, denied and dispossessed. For the Mahadalits of society. At least for two years, for that's how long we have, remember. After all they are called the nation builders every 5th of September. Religiously. At public functions, in institutions, in Government Houses and in Rashtrapati Bhavan. Complete with marigolds and mementos. They are the University teachers and they have not been paid for three months. And the Book who Speaks says the drought will last ten months more. And some people love droughts.

Their condition has been manufactured by the dregs at the bottom who have become the scum at the top. Isn't that what a civil rights activist said and what Suketu Mehta quoted in Maximum City? The morphing of dregs to scums?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

It required the media's chronicle of death to make some cosmetic adjustments to the rogue traffic of Patna outside St. Xavier's. One precious life has been lost and no lessons have been learnt. It was not merely a news item. It asked questions to which the state and its citizens have no answers. After all the child was not someone who came to school in an official car with a beacon light as a public marker of importance, escorted by khaki-clad bodyguards: a governmental undertaking with the honest tax-payer's money. She was riding a pink bicycle enabled by the Chief Minister's initiative on the education of the girl child.

To call Patna's traffic indisciplined would be an embarrassing understatement. It is wild. With the upwardly mobile social structure jubilating in new found wealth and no sense of social responsibility, many parents give their teenage brats motorcycles to emulate the devilry in the advertisements of those mean machines. And they live up to the peer-pressured demands of adolescent heroism to zed.

If that is not bad enough, the rogue bus drivers of the city, road-hogs who are infinitely more efficient as killers than the DTC, are always there to add to the tally of road mortality.

This morning's paper said that we shall have a new traffic regime in place in the months to come. It is being worked out in Singapore!!! I blinked once, twice and a third time. Why does the traffic arrangement of Patna have to be worked out in Singapore or Johannesburg or Rio de Janerio? Why not in Patna? Next we will claim that the governance of the state needs to be outsourced to some off-shores agency. Then why did we drive out the colonial British after the great freedom struggle that is touted in all the post-independence history books?

This morning outside St. Xavier's, there were traffic separators and two potbellied khaki clad red-capped constables by the local refreshment stall. They are the markers of a response to a tragedy that could have been avoided. Avoided very simply. By putting speed breakers. As indeed there should be speed breakers outside all educational institutions. This does not require international consultancy. Just common sense. But it may not be just as simple as applying common sense. St. Xavier's happens to be on the traffic route of very important people. People of national importance. People far more important than Reema Gupta. When they travel, the state cannot afford two bumps on their backsides. Cheers Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This was a Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kal Kya Hoga Kisko Pata?

Since the earliest of times, human beings have invested quite a bit of time and money on getting to know the future. From the Pythian priestesses at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi on the slopes of Mt. Parnassus, through the warnings of Caesar's soothsayer to the brilliant Paul, fortune-telling has provided its share of joys and sorrows to the world. Except for Paul, the results, if they could be computed would probably be 50:50. But Paul is an exception, the latest icon of anthropocentric deconstruction. He is after all an octopus and his specialisation is football.

But spare a thought for Mithu the prophetic parrot that belongs to Purple Trivedi. When he was born Trivedi was given the name Popul. During his growing years, unemployment drove him to this unusual profession under the tutelage of his grand-uncle who was an innovator of rare forms of income. For many years now, Popul can be found either at the roadside in the vicinity of the civil court through most of the year or near the High Court to cater to the litigant clientele at both the courts of justice, as well as to scholastic futures at Patna Women's College.

Several years ago when Mithu his capricious parrot pulled out a slip of paper to predict excellent B.A results for a student of this premier college, Popul received Rs 100/- and in front of fifteen of her classmates, he was anointed 'Purple'- the royal colour that now defines this fine professional. Purple, I suspect, earns most of his money from the litigants but derives a great deal of aesthetic pleasure from the opposite location.

Once, many moons gone by, I tried to talk Purple into getting educated but he politely spurned my offer saying that he now earned more than what most vocational courses would enable him make. Instead he wondered if I had any questions to ask about the future and said that he would be happy to offer answers at a discount. Being a hard-boiled rational skeptic, I thought it would be a sheer waste of time. But on each of these occasions I would give him some small change for Mithu's bird-feed.

This happened until the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, when I actually paid Purple to get predictions from Mithu. I did so because I wanted to prove that the prophetic Indian parrot could be at least as good as a German octopus. Sadly Mithu got most of the answers wrong. Why is it that Paul the Octopus in Germany can get it all right and Mithu in Patna gets them mostly wrong? The injustice was plainly, well ..unjust.

Purple, I asked, what's going on? Purple thought for a while and said that Mithu for some reason had been a little out of sorts. Perhaps, he was a little unhappy. I felt bad and gave Purple some more money for Mithu's bird-feed.

When I went back to Purple and Mithu the next day, I asked two questions. One, are the university teachers actually going to get the new pay scales? Mithu came out of its barred cage, picked out a fraying slip and Purple read out NAHI. I asked the next question: will the ruling coalition return to power after the autumn elections in Bihar? Mithu walked across to the same fraying slip and pulled it out and once again, Purple read out NAHI. As I was returning home, I was wondering if the law of probabilities would finally catch up with Mithu and Paul. If it were so, I'd head for an Indian version of Canterbury, wait for the events to unfold and perhaps write an unpredictable tale.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Wisdom Literature

Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept was a recipe for failure in the real world.

Rule 1 : Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2 : The world doesn't care about your
self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3 : You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4 : If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss

Rule 5 : Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6 : If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault , so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7 : Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8 : Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9 : Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10 : Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11 : Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one. Or under one.

If you don't agree stick your head in the sand and take a deep breath! Or anywhere else for that matter.
True of the U.S of A., true of elsewhere in the world. Hence true of India. Its not for them, its for us.

If you can read this .. thank a teacher! Is any one listening? or reading?

P.S. Thank you Anita.