Sunday, April 4, 2010

Jantar Mantar back to its ethereal self

Jantar Mantar is not happy. When I visited, it told me there is nobody to talk to because the police removed all the protesters, thanks to Commonwealth Games. The astronomical observatory, built by the king of Jaipur in 18th century, always saw a deluge of protesters all the time. Many of them had made it their permanent residence.

"Lekin ab sab saaf kar diya hai. Ab aap logon ko koi takleef nahi hogi (Now we have cleared the place of protesters. No more trouble now),” said a beaming policeman. And the shopkeepers are happy. "Our business was on decline as none of the visitors came to our stalls/eateries. They feared that the protesters, living here permanently, would rob them." They say the move was inevitable because “Jantar Mantar is very near to the Games office”.

On March 17, at 4 pm, the police came with some trucks, sealed all the exits, started grabbing the protesters and stuffed them in the trucks along with their belongings. By 9 pm, there was no protester at Jantar Mantar. "It just took them 5 hours to clear years of mess," said an eatery owner.

While the authorities and business establishments are celebrating the clean up operation, the protesters are devastated. One or two families/groups of them, who have nowhere to go, sit there quietly staring at torn posters and broken tents. They have nothing to say.

Some protesters may not have been genuine, but others sat there for a reason. Their demands were reasonable and they wanted the government to listen to them. But now, no more camping is allowed at the site. And all the protesters can do is wait.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Women's Bill: Less equality more politics

After 14 years and numerous proceedings of Parliament, the Women’s Reservation Bill cleared its first hurdle – when the Rajya Sabha passed it. But only after a lot of drama which even saw Chairman of the House and Vice President of the country being attacked by the leaders.

The government missed its date with the Bill on International Women’s Day, thanks to 'kill bill' Yadav troika – Lalu, Mulayam and Sharad Yadav. Sloganeering, ripped off mics, and torn papers were all that was left on Day 1 of the presentation of the Bill. And the Chairman of the House also had to go through humiliation; it had turned into a 'Hall Of Shame'. A jittery government too decided not to aggravate the tension and put the Bill on hold.

This led to some angry voices from the Opposition as well as allies who slammed the government for not doing its homework. So, a determined UPA government was back with the agenda in the Upper House the next day. It even ignored a threat to its stability. And it worked this time, though everyone was not happy. While UPA allies like Mamata Banerjee sulked over not been taken into confidence, Lalu and Mulayam confirmed they will formally write to President to withdraw support from the government.

But, is this Bill really going to help? Call me pessimist, but I believe reservation of all sorts is dangerous. I believe in achieving everything through hard work. If the government - or whoever - is promoting reservation, it is killing hard work, merit, and thereby excellence. Forget about Parliament. There’s reservation in education system which begins right after school. A meritorious student who is burning the midnight oil preparing for the entrance exam like engineering or medical, may lose his seat to those coming through reservation/quota system. And this may even mean no entry into on of the country’s premier institutes.

Moreover, if the student getting selected through reservation is a friend/colleague/classmate of the one who couldn’t make it through, it may strain their relationship and the effect may last for a lifetime.

And it was more than the betterment of women which led to the involvement of Sonia Gandhi in pushing the Bill through. It was sheer politics, and of course, her ego. By providing reservation to women in Parliament and state Assemblies, she and other politicians alike are undermining the achievements of women. Those who reached the helm of power, never needed reservation; even in the corporate world the women entrepreneurs who are among the most powerful persons, never reached there through reservation.

The point being raised by them is that women need equal status as men. According to me, every person is capable of reaching highest echelons of power and success without the aid of reservation. But for our netas, it's just another time for politics!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Murder tourism

Yesterday, I was returning from market when I saw crowd gathered at local naala. It was a curious mix of policemen, ladies and small kids. I found it rather strange so got attracted towards it. Reaching the spot I found out that it was a murder and the cops had gathered there to take the body in their custody.

But what came as a shock was the people’s response. A few ladies, along with their kids, were anxiously looking for a perfect spot so that they can take a good look at the dead body. And they were telling their kids: "Aao tumhen laash dikhayen." I was stunned! When I first looked at the crowd I thought it's rural tourism, or eco-tourism where people are busy with some government-sponsored activity. But no, it was ‘murder tourism’ where they were enjoying the spectacle of death!

However, this is not the first time I’d seen this. A few months back when I visited Bhopal, I got that news that a 22-year-old engineering student, staying next to my apartment, had committed suicide by jumping from fourth floor. And instead of consoling his parents, one of the residents gathered there said: "Lucky lad! He died right in front of the temple!" Again, no words to describe how I felt.

Earlier, kids were asked to stay at home whenever there was a death in the neighbourhood. They were prevented from looking at the corpse. But today, call it the reality TV effect, everything has become the stuff of entertainment. Added to this are increasing individuality and growing number of nuclear families. People have become so self-centred that they do not care about someone else’s tragedy. For them, it’s just a source of amusement. I don’t know where will this end?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The trip that wasn't

"Oh this damn fog!" I said and hung up. It was 4 in the morning. I had called up the Railway enquiry to know the schedule of the train I had to catch. I was told the train is running late by two hours from its scheduled time of 6 am.

I was so excited. After all, I was going to attend my best friend's wedding and our whole group was going to attend. But fates had determined something else. Cursing the fog, I slipped under my quilt once again, but could not sleep. 'This means I won’t be able to meet my friends? This means no masti?' The thoughts were making me uncomfortable. While I was thinking all this, I remembered the argument I had with my father.

He had warned me about the fog in and around Delhi and had said that the schedules of almost all the trains and flights have gone haywire. But an ignorant soul as I am, I never paid heed to what he said. My father also told me not to choose a train which leaves Delhi in morning as it'll never make it on time. But again, I refused to listen to him. And here I was, paying the price.

Veering through all this, I looked at the watch. It was 6 in the morning now. I called up the Railway enquiry again, hoping to hear some good news. But alas! I was told the train is now more than 6 hours late as yesterday's rake is yet to arrive. My friend's wedding was in the evening and I'd thought that I'll reach by afternoon. But now, all my plans were derailed! I tried to sleep again, but couldn't.

With a glimmer of hope, I picked up the phone again at 8 am. But no. The same, boring voice said the train is getting late by the hour. Frustrated and cursing the Railways, I banged the phone and chose the better option: To cancel my ticket! I turned around and saw my father smiling. We didn’t exchange any words and I left the room quietly. But the message was clear - that my father had the last laugh!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Homeless in Delhi

Clad in frayed woolens, draped in thin quilts and huddled around small fires, the homeless people in Delhi have to battle the harsh weather conditions - and sometimes police beatings - trying to survive.

The national capital has lakhs of homeless people and a majority of them camp outdoors throughout the year - sleeping on pavements, rickshaws, flyovers, under the bridges and in parks. And in the prevailing harsh winters, they battle all odds armed with just a couple of quilts and a few woolens.

They have nowhere to go, and no one to listen to their cries. But now, in a positive step the Supreme Court has asked the Delhi government to ensure adequate shelters, blankets, and water facilities to these people and to protect them from chill.

This direction is a positive step towards helping the homeless people, and a wake-up call to Municipal Corporation of Delhi on shelters. But what didn’t happen in so many years, will it happen this time? The need of the hour is to empower the homeless so that they can take up issues affecting them on their own. An institution like the Supreme Court can provide immediate relief to the destitute but a concrete step is needed so that they can lead a respectable life.

Currently, the shelters provided by the Delhi government to house these people are ill-maintained and inadequate in number.

Let's hope that instead of healing their wounds with warmth of words in the biting winter cold, the order results in providing shelters to all of the capital’s homeless.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A day out in Delhi

Delhi, with its fast-paced life and mechanical and human traffic, can be confronting and confounding for the first-time visitor. But for me, it's my home - a truly multidimensional metropolis. Scratch beyond its coarse and boorish surface and you will discover that India’s capital is sprinkled with enchanting ancient monuments, magnificent museums and some of the yummiest places to eat.

So today, I decided to discover the soul of the city that is engrossing as it is exasperating; a mix of ostentatious wealth and inescapable poverty; and is calm yet noisy.

My day began with a visit to the Humayun’s Tomb in soft morning light. And the winter fog and chill made it a memorable experience. An architectural marvel, the elegant red and white mausoleum - also known as Purana Qila - is an ideal getaway from crowd and routine life. The peace and serenity of the place was a breathtaking experience - something which will stay in my memory forever.

After spending a few hours at the place, I reluctantly decided to move on. As I reached the main gate, I was jolted out of my thoughts by loud honking. It was Delhi’s famous traffic mayhem! In a bid to get away from there, I jostled my way through the crowd and reached the bus stop. It was after a long time that I took a bus ride and my destination was Connaught Place.

Connaught Place takes me back to the golden days of Delhi. While the handicraft outlets and bangle market still give you that rustic feeling, the quirky T-shirts and contemporary Indian art at Janpath reinforce the modernity of the metropolis. Looking at the British designed buildings, house to some of the costliest shops and office space in the country, competing with the new wave of mall culture is truly alluring.

It was now time step back centuries at the Red Fort, in the heart of Old Delhi. Strolling down the souvenir arcade, I marveled at the inlaid marble at Diwan-e-Khaas; it is an experience which cannot be described in words.

Roaming around so much makes you hungry. So, I headed to Chadni Chowk - to indulge myself in the pleasures of different flavours of paranthas and sinful sweets. Heading back through the labyrinthine market, I went on a trip down memory lane - to the time when I used to come to my uncle's place, and the chaat I used to savour. On my way back, I also saw Jama Masjid - the sandstone and white-marble masterpiece of Islamic architecture. There is a superb view of Delhi from its gallery.

I was exhausted now. Though I wanted to visit more places, but my body started aching. So, I boarded the bus and came back home. But the experience was memorable.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Commonwealth Games: Delhi's acid test

The Commonwealth Games is a multinational, multi-sport event. Held every four years, it involves the elite athletes of the Commonwealth of Nations. Organising the world-class event involves a lot of hard work and commitment. And this year, it’s Delhi’s chance to prove to the international community that it can perform its duty efficiently.

The beginning, however, has not been rosy for Delhi. As the deadline approaches, there are increasing concerns that the venues won’t be ready in time and India will have to face embarrassment at the international level. Reports of incomplete stadia, unprepared organising committee and unfinished work on some key projects made the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) president Michael Fennell nervous and in a tizzy and its president rushed to Delhi to tke stock of the situation.

Then, it was the turn of allegations and counter allegations between the Indian officials and the CGF members. While CGF Secretary Mike Hooper was 'abused', there was a clear difference of opinions between Fennell and Indian Olympic Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi. And what they forgot during the fight was the image of the country.

The matter was finally sorted out with the intervention of the Prime Minister himself and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. She assured the worried lot of people that Delhi will be ready in time.

And taking inspiration from the Beijing Olympics held last year, the Delhi government, too, is keen to display its commitment towards the conservation of environment to the world. It plans to introduce ‘hybrid’ electric buses during the Commonwealth Games to be held in October 2010.

There are other plans as well, like making saddi Dilli free of street vendors; making the traffic smooth; penalising those who spit on the roads etc. This means, the Delhi government has undertaken Herculean task to tell Delhiites to behave! This is surely going to be a tough task.

But in order to make the Games a success – or any other international even for that matter – the government has to change its image. They always say this, but it never happens. All we can hope for is that it happens the same way they are saying.

Recent reports that work has progressed gives relief to the people. And the government now has to ensure that the Commonwealth Games do not become international embarrassment, and next time India is entrusted with organising the Olympics.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Oh, winter

Hello friends! It has been a while since I posted anything on my blog. Well, blame it on the season; it’s too damn cold in Delhi! And then there’s fog. For anyone who has to be out on the roads for some reason or the other, driving is a nightmare! A drastic reduction in visibility has led to slowing down of vehicular traffic, delaying trains and disrupting flight operations in the capital.

A look at the temperature in the city: The maximum temperature recorded in Delhi in the past 24 hours was 16.2 degrees Celsius, 4.8 degrees below normal; the minimum temperature in the past 24 hours was 8 degrees Celsius. Now it is understandable why my fingers were just not listening to me!

And according to the Meteorological Department, these conditions will continue for the next two days. But now, I promise that I’ll pull up my socks and be more regular in updating the website. For now, enjoy the winters!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Is Google India biased?

Well, this happened by chance. I was searching Google for information on Pakistan; typed 'Pakistan is...' in the search engine bar and the following suggestions were shown just below the search field:

Then, I decided to do the same thing with the keywords 'India is...' and the results were just too funny not to share:

So, is the search engine giant biased or is it really the fact that the sharp contrast between the two countries who started together have grown over the years so much?

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