Saturday, October 10, 2009

Time to wake up, Raj

When you are born in a family that holds considerable political clout, it becomes difficult for you to carry their legacy forward. And you try really hard to be up to the mark.

Raj Thackeray is facing a similar situation. The nephew of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray wants to establish himself as a independent, firebrand leader and a true son of the Maharashtrian soil. That is why he quit his uncle’s party and formed his own radical Hindu outfit, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). And the forthcoming Maharashtra Assembly election is his first real test.

So, a desperate Raj is doing all he can to pass the test with distinction. And he is going to any extent to stir the emotions of the people of Maharashtra. Be it the Bihari migration issue, or use of the term Bombay in Karan Johar’s latest flick, Raj is not ready to leave the battleground without putting up a decent fight. He has hijacked the Marathi manoos issue.

But what Raj is not realising is that such exasperated moves are not going to help him win the game. A Mumbaikar doesn’t care if he is called a Bambaiya or a Mumbaiite. Even for a Maharashtrian, a dialogue from a film is not going to change anything. What they need are real changes.

For a city battered by the deadly 26/11 attacks, what matters is that its borders are secure; for people who lost crores in the recent financial onslaught, they need stability; farmers of the Vidarbha region who lost their lives due to poor crop and scanty rainfall, need a continued source of livelihood and a secure future.

Instead of talking about these issues, Raj Thackeray is crying hoarse about non-issues. His not talking in English during an interview, or beating up a group of North Indians in Mumbai, are not going to help him in his political journey. Raj must remember – politics is not about naam ke wastey, it’s about kaam ke wastey!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

...and the tweets go on

Elections or no elections, our politicians always make it a point to grab the eyeballs. And more often than not, it’s for the wrong reasons.

When Congress leader the Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor tweeted, it snowballed into a major controversy. In a rather off-the-cuff remark, Mr Tharoor wrote on Twitter that he is happy to travel ‘cattle class’ in solidarity with the 'holy cows’.

His remarks came in reply to a journalist’s question about the Congress’ ongoing austerity drive. But the party, which is literally worshipping its ‘go austere’ campaign these days, took these remarks in bad taste and called them insensitive. The party also distanced itself from his remarks.

An avid tweeter, Congress’ remarks came as a stern warning for the UN-returned politic, who later apologised to the public saying his tweet was ‘just a humorous comment and nothing else’.

After the incident, one would have thought that Mr Tharoor would take a while to come to terms with the setback and would be cautious in his future tweets. But no. After a few days, he tweeted again – and this time about Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi.

In his latest tweet, which came on Gandhi Jayanti, Mr Tharoor wrote that there is no need for a holiday on this day as for Gandhiji preached ‘work is worship’. This, too, was given thumbs down by the Congres who dubbed the comment as ‘his personal views’.

What I don’t understand is why make a fuss about such things when our politicians have much better things to do? What happened to someone’s freedom of speech? Why is politics taking over a man’s words? What Mr Tharoor said might have hurt some sentiments, but everyone has a right to express his or her opinion. Wonder Mr Tharoor answer this question in his next tweet.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Summer of '09

I got my first real heat stroke
On a bike out in the sunshine
Fell down and got a bleeding nose
It was the summer of '09

Me and my folks got worried
Got at doc's who gave a li'l shot
Told me to better not hurry
And lie down for quite a while

'Oh!' I said and looked outside
The summer seems to last forever
And if I had a choice
Ya, I'd never wanna be there
Those were the worst days of my life

I knew it's no use complainin'
When you got a shot to prove
Spent my evenin's down on a bedding
And that's when I cursed YOU (God)!

Standin in pyjamas and shorts
Told the God it's now or never
Oh you either kill the man
or give him li'l time to wander
Those were the worst days of my life

Monday, June 22, 2009

Metro in East Delhi: A boon for commuters

Summer has been pretty hard for the people in North India, especially Delhi. Temperatures have been touching new highs almost every day. And to further aggravate the problems, there are power cuts and water shortage. The people of Delhi are really facing tough time and everyone prefers to stay at home to avoid the scorching heat.

But call it my youthful bravado or a penchant to check out the latest development in the city, I decided to take a ride on the Metro, boarding it from the newly-opened Metro station at Yamuna Bank in East Delhi. Metro coming the East Delhi was be a boon for its residents who have to fight a war daily just to make it in time at their respective destinations. Commuting has been a huge problem here with almost every mode of transport running packed and traffic moving at a snail’s pace during peak hours.

So I was pretty happy that finally, Metro has made its way to the eastern part of the capital. And reading about the station and the infrastructure the DMRC has put in here, the journalist inside pushed me to take a ride.
The brand new Yamuna Bank Metro station that has come up across the grand old river has been positioned strategically, no doubt. Away from the main road the entry to the station makes a person feel at ease. Though somewhat long, the road is well maintained with auto rickshaws ready to serve you so that you don’t have to face the heat.

But as soon as you enter the station a wall of chaos hits you. Despite the tall promises by the government that the premises has a very large parking area and can accommodate up to 400 cars, there is virtually no space. Plus the staff present there is not ready to co-operate. All they have to say is the place gets occupied very fast, especially by the office-goers who park their vehicles for the whole day. Agreed that the Metro was a much-needed transport mode for East Delhi, the crowd has clearly surpassed the expectations of the planners.

Talking about the station, the construction is up to the mark. And going by the speed with which the DMRC is completing its projects – this station has been made operational five months before the scheduled time -- it needs to be appreciated.

With the opening of the Yamuna Bank station will ease the pressure on the existing lines of the Metro as commuters from East Delhi can come directly to the Yamuna Bank rather than interchange at Kashmere Gate and Rajiv Chowk.

The new stretch is likely to reduce the load off roads at the Nizamuddin and ITO bridges, which are major bottleneck points in terms of traffic, especially during the peak hours.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rush hour at DU on last day of admission

It was the last day for submitting the admission forms for the Delhi University, and the city was sweating it out – literally. Standing in queue in the scorching summer, the parents and their wards were waiting for their turn. Though the university had made elaborate arrangements, the blistering heat wave was too much to handle.

Still, there were dreams in those twinkling eyes. Coming out fresh from schools, the students were hoping to get admission in one of the prestigious colleges and for a bright future. And this heat was nothing compared to the grilling they went through while preparing for scores above nineties. They went through the guelling study schedules and attended the coaching centres all year long for this one moment -- to get admission in the college of their choice.

Keeping the above thing in mind, DU offered two types of forms. A common pre-admission form gives a chance to students to apply in as any colleges and courses as they want. Plus some colleges have their separate forms. So, some students filled multiple forms so as to minimise the chances of rejection. Also, there were helplines set up by the varsity to address all the queries of the students.

Along with the regular forms, there are also the OMR forms, which will be scanned by the computer. After the exercise is over, the university will send the details of all the respective applications to different colleges. Now, all eyes are fixed on June 25 when the colleges will announce their first cut-off list.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thank God elections are over!

“I thank the people of my country to give us this opportunity to serve them for the coming five years. I humbly take the responsibility of becoming the Prime Minister and promise that after today (May 16), I and UPA chairperson Ms Sonia Gandhi will work in harmony to provide a stable government at the Centre,” BJP leader L K Advani said and together with Sonia Gandhi raised the sign of victory.

It was a historic day for India as after the election results both the BJP and the Congress have joined hands to form the government. The TV anchors were screaming at the top of their voice and surprised, stunned and shocked, I was nodding my head. ‘This can’t be happening? What kind of a decision is this? BJP and Congress are coming together? This can’t be happening,’ I was murmuring to myself.

Suddenly, the alarm clock buzzed and I was out of my dream. God knows how long it has been ringing for. When I saw the clock, it said 6:00 am. “O God! I’m late for the office!” I jumped out of the bed, recalling the marathon meeting we had at our office the previous day to discuss the preparations for May 16 -- the Counting Day. The dream was a result of that. I’ve been thinking about the elections too much. And today was May 16 and I was supposed to reach the office sharp at 6:00 am. But the month-long election coverage has left me exhausted and due to the tiredness, I woke up late.

When I reached the office, I was amazed to see the place. It was a Saturday and was supposed to be a quiet day as most of the office staff is at home. But May 16 was different. The place was abuzz with what would happen during the day. Hurriedly, I took my seat wondering I would be asked questions about getting late. But, to my surprise, nobody said a word. Everyone was busy. As soon as I sat in my chair, one of my colleagues came to me with some ‘very important work’, which later turned out to be keeping an eye on the TV just to see if there’s any update.

Well, the day began at a busy note. As soon as the counting began, there were lot of things that needed attention. Plus the boring speeches from our leaders about what they think of the result. Every politician had same words. I thought there’s no point in picking up every bit of information. But everything was just so ‘important’ that day. You can’t refuse because all your seniors are prepared to scream the moment they hear the word ‘No’. So, the work kept on piling up and the day just won’t end! Suddenly, I felt there are more than 24 hours in the day. I was present in the office since morning and now the Sun was about to set. I felt like the ever-present God of my office who saw everyone leave the office in the evening, but staying back himself.

Finally, the counting ended. The picture became clear that the Congress-led would be forming the next government, and the BJP and its allies were ready to sit in the Opposition. Its leaders have accepted defeat. Now began the tedious job of getting the statistics right. And the TV guys began their marathon rounds of telling the audience the various permutation and combinations ahead of the government formation. ‘Curse them!’ I murmured. I thought there was no going home today.

But then, I heard the magical words, “You can now go home”. The words sounded like ‘Open sesame’, which finally give you the hidden treasure. I heaved a sigh of relief and began packing for home. Though my dream of Congress and BJP making the government together was shattered by the bitter reality, I was happy that the counting got over without any hassles.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

General election 2009: The lighter side

The elections are over. And with this, the loudspeakers have fallen silent, the microphones have no more voices, and the frenzy is gone. No more rallies to be seen, no more door-to-door campaigns, and no more tall promises. Some politicians are taking rest –even applying ice to their soaring throats, which cried hoarse either for themselves or for their party candidates.
But what have begun, though, are interesting rounds of negotiations and sweet talks. As the deadline to the final result approaches, nervous parties are making last-ditch effort to place their pharaoh at the Mecca of country’s politicians – Parliament. And in this race to crown the primus inter pares, better known as the Prime Minister, leaders are exploring new frontiers or crossing over to new camps. This is being done because Left or Right, all of them want to be at the Centre.

Some of these efforts were taking place even in the campaign time or during the run up to the elections. Politics, they say, is a field where anything is possible. And to prove it, BJP’s saffron soldier Narendra Modi walked up to Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar and together held his hand high in the air -- a clear case of political maneuvering. But is it right for a leader like Nitish havinf secular credentials, to share the dais with a Right wing ideologue? The Bihar Chief Minister tried to douse the fire by saying Modi forced a handshake which he couldn’t refuse. Well, a not so secular statement.

Faced with the reality of their base waning away, a ‘dejected’ SP general secretary Amar Singh threw yet another spanner by saying that he would retire on May 13 due to ‘health concerns’. However, it was a safe bet on Amar Singh’s part to never reveal the year! Waiting for a Congress nod and facing tough challenge by Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, it seemed an emotional outburst.

The elections got a yet another emotional touch by SP leader Jaya Prada who is locked in a battle with party colleague Azam Khan. As their fight turned bitter, the former Bollywood actor resorted to her acting skills and soon, the nation heard about Jaya Prada could commit suicide if she loses the polls due to the ongoing feud. Though the statement was issued by party general secretary Amar Singh and did not get approval from Jaya Prada herself, it provided a lot of food for the gossip-hungry nation and kept them glued to their TV sets.

The Left Front, too, joined the chorus though in different voices. While CPM leader Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee hinted towards a possibility of coming close to Congress after polls, fellow comrade and party general secretary Prakash Karat made his stand clear of staying away from the Congress party even after the results are out. This was indeed a bold word from a party whose numbers have decreased considerably in the last few years. They have received jolt in even their home turf of West Bengal.

And not to forget, the rift between Pranab Mukherjee and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav was also the highlight of these elections. Lalu had said in a rally in Bihar that the PM candidate of the UPA would be decided only after the elections. To which Pranab took umbrage and reportedly said in that case there would be a question mark on whether Lalu Prasad would be in the UPA government after the Lok Sabha polls. Pranab later sought to end the controversy citing his ‘poor Hindi’ for the confusion. It could have been a battle royale, but Pranab da’s clever balancing act extinguished the fire.

Election time is the period when our politicians are seen in their true colours. But in this era of uncertainty, all they are trying to do is to hold their pack together.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

No pappu factor for Delhi as 53% cast votes

Delhi went to polls on May 7. And it was the best occasion for a journalist like me to tread the length and breadth of the city so as to get the ground-level information. And to add to the excitement, it was time for me to cast my vote.

My day began as early as 7 am, when the polling was scheduled to begin. Standing outside a poll booth, I was thinking that there won’t be any crowd so early in the morning. But I was wrong. Many of the morning walkers started pouring in as the clock ticked the exact time. They were the responsible citizens of Delhi who exercised their franchise in the wee hours.

I was surprised to see the crowd. Despite so many issues and problems, why were the people coming out to vote?

“See, there is no country without problems. But voting is our fundamental right and we should exercise it. If we do not vote, our country is not going to progress,” said P C Mahapatra, 36-year-old businessman from IP Extension area.

And it was not just the middle class of the society that was showing its interest in voting. The positive mood was evident in other segments also. “We should exercise our franchise; there is no excuse for that. But it should not be based on hearsay. Do what you have to do,” said Vinod Kumar, an auto driver.

I was feeling a sense of pride after listening to these words. Even after so much our country has gone through, people are still hopeful of change. Even the first-time voters like Abhinav, 21-year-old college student, do not feel let down by what has happened till now and feels that 'everyone should vote so as to give the country a better future'.

And their strong will resulted in a rise in polling percentage with about 53 per cent of Delhi voters exercising their right to vote.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dhaba for a PhD scholar

What would you do if you had a doctorate degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University? Go abroad? Apply for lectureship? How about opening a dhaba? Well, it may sound weird, but an ex-student has done that...

This story was first published at For full story, click here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

An Amarnath diary: Testing faith

They say a nose for news invariably leads you into the thick of things. But I found myself heading north to Amarnath last year, not as a scribe eager to pencil details of the current turmoil. I was, in fact, well on my way when the latest controversy over land began. I went to Amarnath as many Indians do - it has become the Holy Grail for those who want to test their faith by taking on the elements. 

Youthful bravado and a need to push my endurance? Or new-found faith in God? Whichever, I was on my way. Spiritual quest apart, I was excited at the opportunity to visit Kashmir, which had earned the sobriquet 'Heaven on Earth'. To my generation, growing up to the reality of a terror-torn state, a visit to Kashmir is not quite as simple as a visit to any other Indian state. When you visit "heaven" you really plan for it. 

However, heaven greeted me with an eerie silence. People looked jaded, sad and devoid of any happiness. Srinagar, the enchanting and energetic destination of tourist brochures, Hindi movies of the late sixties was as dead as cold snow.

The city clearly bore the imprints of a long history of violence. The markets were flooded with armed forces personnel and even in the time of peace, shopping at the place felt like being in a terror camp. 

What should have been a boom time for business was actually a doom time. It was obvious that the powers that be had little time to waste on such mundane matters, when an issue as pressing as the coming elections was looming. 

My 48-hour stay in Srinagar was well spent as I visited all the important tourist destinations like the Dal Lake, Hazrat Bal shrine, Shalimar Garden and Tulip Garden. 

Later, I left for Baltal-one of the starting points of the Amarnath yatra. Pilgrims gather here in groups, stay in tents and are led on by their collective faith to soldier on in inhospitable terrain to reach the abode of their deity.

I ascended steadily and realised that the place was really beautiful. Splendid trees, enchanting views, breathtaking heights and mesmerising Valleys appropriately adorned it.

Then, after a few kilometres, the trek became tough. As I was moving very fast, I started breathing heavily. Fatigue took me over and I sat down. While resting, I overheard two other young pilgrims discussing the Kashmir Valley and its various problems. Like me, they too were visiting the Valley for the first time and were clearly not happy at what they had seen. Lack of infrastructure was making things worse. 

We talked about how all the news reports that emanated out of here did not talk about a sense of kinship between members of different communities. About the burning land donation issue and how much more political these things were than social. On the way, Kashmiris offered a glimpse into their lives. Tough lives. About the ground realities in and the agonies of Kashmir. It was heartrending. 

Against my will, inside me an urgency battled the stillness that spirituality seeks. A rebellion was beginning to boil. Because there is a difference between hearing and reading about the travails of the people of Kashmir and actually witnessing it. Because those in power were just not listening. The violence of everyday struggle is grosser than the violence of the periodic terror strikes that the people have come to expect.

I met a soldier guarding the route. He talked about how politics was ruining a matter of faith. People, regardless of community, were terror -struck and the government was fast losing control. 

I moved ahead, slowed by thinner air and the burden of my thoughts. I was dejected, deflated, nowhere near the high that I should have been at. The 14-km trek took me through filth and purity, animosity and spirituality, highs and lows. So when I finally reached the holy cave, I thanked God for making it possible. 

As a first -time trekker, the mountainous terrain was difficult for me. The conversations enroute made the Amarnath yatra became a memorable experience. I was moving toward the cave thinking about all that I had heard and seen. Instead of God, I was visualising terror. Unfair, and I blamed the people who should have made it better rather than fritter it all away. 

Climbing the stairs to my destination, it became clear to me that the road to God is not an easy one.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A road less travelled

Away from the chaotic streets of Delhi, lies Yamuna Pushta road which once held the proud distinction of being the only connecting link between Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway station and Mayur Vihar. It was the road which used to help a large number of commuters, especially cyclists and scooter riders, to reach Ring Road by the shortest route free of any charge.

A world within a world existed in Yamuna Pushta. It was also host to migrants from small towns and villages of Uttar Pradesh who are settled there who worked closely with the community, bringing about immense positive change in the lives of the residents. But it all changed a few years back.

When the government of Delhi, in collaboration with the Japanese government, constructed the Indo-Japan Friendship Bridge – better known as the Nizamuddin Bridge – this road lost its relevance. Now there was no need for any temporary arrangement. So, the pontoon bridge was discarded and the Nizamuddin Bridge became the primary link to the Railway station.

But this did not affect the spirit of the people living near the Yamuna pusta road. For these 2,000-odd people, it’s life as usual. Many of these come here from places like Badaun (Uttar Pradesh) for about a year. But these people have created a whole new world for themselves. From temple to school; nurseries to farming, they have everything they need to lead their lives.

These villagers live like a close-knit family, helping out each other. When I reached there, it was a warm welcome for me. Sipping tea offered to me by one of the villager, I came to know that they are primarily engaged in farming and nursing the plants. The vegetables these villagers grow here are sold in the nearby markets.

As I wandered inside, I found a Ram temple. Built several years ago, it has attracted a lot of devotees over the years. I entered the premises and spoke about the area to the priest present there.

"This temple is 25 years old and I have been the caretaker from the beginning. I want to tell you that over the years, it has seen a steady growth in the number of devotees. Though the road is closed those who believe in this temple, are still visiting regularly," the priest said.

I was enjoying my stay there as the area was so close to the metropolis, yet so quiet and so pure. The area lies just across the Mayur Vihar main road, but as one crosses the road it’s a whole new experience. From the sky high buildings and highly polluted environment, where Metro Rail is adding to it, coming at this place was a refreshing change.

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