Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hail Reservation

India is truly on the path to global leadership. Not only do we have a booming economy and an increasing position of strength in international politics, we are teaching the world a thing or two about liberty, equality and fraternity.

The proposed policy on reservation in educational institutions for scheduled castes and tribes is a revolutionary step towards the emancipation of the downtrodden. Of course, some of those downtrodden may well be owners of Swiss bank accounts but historically and by virtue of their birth they fall under scheduled castes or tribes. The government is showing great sense of discretion in not letting financial status cloud their vision. The other small matter of depriving the meritorious upper caste student is also been seen in its true perspective. After all, how many meritorious students actually serve the country - most of them will take the superior education provided by India and then use it for the benefit of some other country. The reflected glory that sometimes belongs to India is dispensable, especially in these days of real glory.

On the other hand, consider the benefits of the reservation regime. India will forever lose the stigma of an old social order that believes in caste discrimination - a stigma it has carried for thousands of years. The Western countries, already falling over themselves in deifying India and its talent, and its large, rapidly evolving consumerist market, will hail the move. We will be the true upholders of democracy, a country where equality is not just a word but something that we live....and suffer, everyday, with faulty diagnoses and collapsing buildings.

The other benefit is even more far-reaching in effect. Think of this. After the reservation policy comes into effect, people will think twice about going to doctors and hospitals. To ensure that they don't have to do it, they will take care of their health - they will eat right, exercise, give up smoking and drinking, go vegetarian, start mediatation and...and, practice birth control. In one fell swoop, the government has tackled the problems of overpopulation, national health, the issue of lack of beds in hospitals and so on and so forth. It won't be surprising if world leaders now look towards India to lead the path in innovative strategising and policy making.

An appeal to the demonstrators - get your perspective right. You are seriously jeopardising India's chances of global glory. No wonder the official reaction is so severe!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Ram, Shyam and Harry

Many of us have hailed the Harry Potter series and its creator the inimitable Ms Rowling for leading our children, a la Pied Piper, back to books. The hysteria surrounding every new release and the avid interest with which today’s children devour the books would tend to validate this opinion.

However, if one pauses to think, are Harry, Ron and Hermione (and most of the children on the ‘Good’ side) worthy role models for our kids? More than the dangerous tasks they undertake with such deceptive ease, it's their precociousness and audacity that is a matter of concern for parents. The attitude of the born rebel and challenger of rules and courtesies of social existence is tremendously attractive to children (one of the reasons why the books are so popular?)

Think of it. If you were a teacher in Harry’s class, would you have put up with their behaviour? They are pathologically inattentive and spend a lot of time discussing their adventures in class. Harry and Ron need frequent help, sometimes of the unethical kind, to pass their exams. They are disrespectful to most teachers and here I’m not only referring to Snape – think of the trouble they give poor little Flitwick. Breaking school rules is second nature for them and being rude to adults is also part of their ‘charisma’.

So are these the values that we want to inculcate in our children? It’s pointless to say that children today are not that naïve and they don’t imitate fictitious characters so easily. If that's true, then we won’t have all those children jumping off windows thinking they are Superman. Even if you manage to educate the children about the danger of the more physical acts of bravery in Harry Potter, it will be far more difficult to counter the insidious effect that their behaviour in the most sedate of chapters can have.

Having said this, I must also say that I’m not against the HP series. In fact, I’m an avid reader (the 6th book is the only one I have read less than three times!) and enjoy the world of fantasy that Rowling has created so effortlessly. But may be we could do with some Parental Guidance as our Rams and Shyams read and internalise everything in these books – right from the incantations and the quidditch positions to the bravado of rule-breaking and name-calling.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A pedestrian approach

She grabs her 10-year-old daughter’s hand. Then, sari firmly tucked around an ample waist, blouse fighting a losing battle with the love handles, she starts running across the street, unmindful of the vehicles hurtling down towards her. Her daughter, weighed down by the multitasking capabilities required to manage a heavy schoolbag and a dripping ice-lolly, breaks into an awkward run too.

The Crisis: A bus on route No. 47A in Kolkata
The Motto: Pran jaaye par bus na jaaye!

The empty cab puts the Mississippi to shame as it meanders, immune to the desperate horns of office-going vehicles. Just when you decide he’s going to pull up on the side, he puts on a sudden burst of speed and swerves to the right, or left, depending on which part of his brain is functioning at that moment. The horns are now replaced by the screeching of brakes and some really offensive remarks about the cabbie’s treatment of his mother and sisters.

The Crisis: Too many cabs/Too many Bihari non-drivers
The Motto:
Yeh dil, na hota bechara
Kadam, na hote awara
Jo Salt Lake wala koi apna
Pa-ssenger hota!

The light turns green. The vehicles surge forward. So do the pedestrians. For unfortunate owner’s of vehicles in Kolkata, it’s a case of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ If you stop, the car behind will have something to say about how YOU behave with YOUR mother and sisters. If you move, that hardworking representative of the proletariat, in other words, the pedestrian, will abuse your bourgeois audacity to not only own a car, but also drive it when he/she is crossing the road. Signal? It’s like your inner consciousness – it takes the shape, or colour that you decide to give it. After all, we belong to the transcendental Orient and can rise above such mechanical inventions of the materialistic West.

The Crisis: Colour blindness?
The Motto:
Yeh Mahalo, yeh takhton, yeh taajo ki duniya
Yeh insaan ke dushman riwazo ki duniya
Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hain?

The world is their playground. Free spirits, they are not bound by the laws of space, nor are they confined by the boundaries of streets and sidewalks. If they decide to greet a friend and exchange pleasantries in the middle of the road, there’s no stopping them. Minor things like cars or the laws of the state cannot dampen their spirit. If a car comes, it will stop – simple! The sidewalk? Boring. We like to take centre stage in all that we do. And if a car dares to use its rights of moving on the street, all that’s needed is a strong, hard stare from bloodshot eyes and a slow, oh so slow, swagger to the roadside.

The Crisis: Misplaced bravado
The Motto: Aa dekhe zara, kisme kitna hain dum!