Thursday, September 07, 2006

Good Old Letters...

How long has it been since you wrote a letter? Ah, I am not talking about writing an e-mail. I am talking a physical letter. A hard copy! Postcards, inland letters, remember?? Sounds like a bygone era, eh?

Frankly I don’t remember the last time I wrote a letter to someone and posted it. I think it was sometime in 1999 or 2000 when I wrote to my dad’s long time old friend’s daughter, thanking her for the Rakhi she religiously sends me every year. And that is about the only time in the year me and Usha (that’s her name) kept in touch.

I remember the not so distant past, when my mom or dad used to receive inland letters, faded blue in color, from my aunts and uncles living in different parts of India. The call of the postman, “Saar post”, used to get an immediate response from my mom.

Letter in hand, she would thrust her index finger in the gap of the inland letter and tear it open, careful not the tear the contents by mistake. She would perch herself on the doorway of the verandah, adjust her glasses and read the letter with great enthusiasm.

She would then relate the news to my dad when he comes back from office in the evening, reading it out aloud for extra effect! I can still hear the opening sentence and closing sentence which my mom used to read out aloud “Priye Janaki, Asha hai wahan sub teek honge” (Dear Janaki, hope everyone is fine at your end) and “aap logoan ko hamara ashirwad aur bacchon ko hamara pyar” (our blessings on you and love to the kids).

I especially remember the letters from my uncle, my dad’s elder brother living in Delhi, who would always have a paternal word of advice about life in general. The best part about his letters, was his impeccable handwriting.

I miss wetting the stamp with my tongue, sticking it on the envelope and then riding to the post office on my happening “Street cat” bicycle, in a hurry to catch the 10:00 O’clock post in the morning! The next clearance being 12:30 in the afternoon when the sun would be burning hot or at 3:00 p.m when it would be hotter! Nothing is more pleasurable, than the thrill of catching the postman in the nick of time, clearing the postbox.

The best part about letters, is it invokes a personal touch. The personality and mood of the writer could be felt from the letter. Till date I haven’t experienced, this feeling from an e-mail.

The personal touch is lost, the mails get delivered instantaneously, and a reply received almost before the minute is out! Sometimes, the simple pleasure derived out of waiting for a reply is also lost…

I wish we could go back in time. I would have loved to write a few more letters, and live to cherish the memories in the age of e-mails and chat rooms…

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Pathan Taxis

When I first came to Dubai a little over a year back, one of the first things I was cautioned about was never to get in to a Pathan taxi! At first I thought it was something to do with patriotic fervor. A deep feeling of hatred, stemming from enmity since the days of seperation, rooted in the heart of every Indian that they would never get in to a taxi driven by a Pakistani. But later found out that the caution was two fold, one they were illegal taxi drivers not permitted by the Govt. of Dubai and second and most importantly, they stink! Stink with the smell of their grimy sweat.

Now I was someone coming from a place where stink is commonplace. I thought it really wouldn’t matter much to a nostril which has smelt the notorious Cooum river. A once beautiful and clean river, which adorned the length of the city of Chennai, but now just an abysmal area to dump all kinds of refuse. For the uninitiated, the odor it emanates can be overwhelming to the sensory organs, specially the sense of smell.

Now given this unenvious history of mine, I thought “big deal, I can put up with the stench, and as for the illegality, well if the police stop us, they are going to catch him, not me”. The only incentive to travel in these taxis was, these Pathans charged a third of what a national taxi would charge. For a middle class Indian, who has come to Dubai with the sole aim to make money, this was an attractive deal.

Now you may ask me how do we identify a car as a Pathan taxi? Well this needs a little bit of getting used to, else you will end up embarrassing yourself by stopping the wrong cars (happened quite a few times to me). These cars are normally run down old cars, mostly Toyota Corollas older than 5 years, with ridiculous colors, like a paki green with red upholstery in the inside, off white (and I mean it), pale black, off color red, and if you peer in, is normally driven by a bearded Paki wearing a Pathan suit. More often than not, these guys flash the headlight at you. It’s an indication that they are looking for customers.

I have taken these cabs many times. And I realized that these Pakistanis are as human as we Indians are. Most of these Pathans are very chatty and love talking to Indians, or so they say. I am yet to encounter a Pathan taxi ride, where the cabbie has kept his mouth shut. They love talking. They have their opinion on all topics. Be it politics, sport (read cricket!), religion, world economy, Bollywood, life in Dubai, or their lifestyle. I have had some interesting and often enlightening conversations with some of these cabbies.

Sometimes it’s a humbling experience talking to them. Like this one time, I was talking to this elderly Pathan driver, who said Politics is supposed to be the face of the nation and not its arse. He said this in his crude Urdu/ Hindi mix. He said it is a chaste profession, one which should be in the hands of true leaders of men. He went on to talk about Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He said no man is perfect. Everyone errs. There are many critics who will talk a lot and keep hollering that it is these two men who divided the land and made it in to India and Pakistan.

But if others were so sensible as to find out this fault, why didn’t they take action and unite these two lands again? It’s because no one had the balls to stand up for the truth, then and even today.

He says, people in Pakistan have the same mindset as people in India. They adore Bollywood movies (and he proudly brags that some of these movies release in Karachi first, even before they are released in Mumbai), love Indian cuisine, enjoy watching Sachin Tendulkar, but it pains them when they see the occasional war movie the likes of ‘Border’ and ‘LOC’. He says such movies wont do any good to further diplomatic negotiations!

I have had many such interesting and often inspiring cab rides. If sometimes it’s a Pathan humming the tune to classic old Indian film songs and telling me how much he likes Bollywood, sometimes it’s a tale of a poor Pathan driver who has successfully sent his son to study in the US and sometimes a Pathan who regales me with the story of that dreadful match (if you are an Indian supporter) of how he was at the stadium and saw Javed Miandad hit a six of the last ball of Chetan Sharma.

I have had my fair share of cab rides with these Pathans. I even have some of their mobile numbers stored in my phone, in case I need a taxi urgently. I look at it as a chance to meet another good human who works hard for a living and also get to save 10 dhirams in the process/ aka Rs.125/-. They are jolly good drivers, slightly reckless (even with their battered car), they are chatty and they definitely do stink, no doubt about that. But it is the stink of their sweat. It’s a smell of their effort after a hard day’s work. And it doesn’t smell that bad to me.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Seen God?

An often asked question. Seen God?

What is God? Who is God? Is it a He or She? How does He/She look?

There are no definitive answers to any of the above questions.

Today I saw God. Not a statue, not a book written about him, but God, in flesh and blood!

Today morning, I went to the kapaleeshwarar temple in Mylapore built for Lord Shiva. I went at my usual time, 8:30 a.m. I made my usual rounds in the temple and came to the praharam (sanctum sanctorum) of Lord Shiva. The Archana was going on and hence the curtains were drawn. I could not see the Shiva Lingam. I was waiting for about 10 minutes for the curtains to be drawn but it didn’t seem like it was going to be.

I was just preparing to turn back and head home, when a hand tapped me on the shoulder. I turned back and saw an old man, a man whom I had met a year back before I left for Dubai.

Now I have mixed feelings about this man. The first time I met him I was under a lot of stress mentally. I was going through a tough period in my job. In order to take my mind away from it all, I used to visit the temple and empty all my burden on God. I prayed for long hours asking for many things and praying things would all turn out OK.

During one such visit, when I was stepping out of the Karpagambal’s praharam, I met this old man for the first time. He steps in front of me and very gently enquired “Did you have a good darshan?” I replied in the affirmative. He looked at me and said just one more sentence. “Don’t ask her for anything, she knows what is right and what is wrong for you. You just go in and let your mind free. She will take care of the rest”. He then went in to the Shiva temple and got me a special flower used during the prayers called “Vilva Poo”. He said, “Today is a good day to come to the temple, I am sure you will be a happy person soon”. This chance meeting and that one sentence of his when I was stepping out of the Goddess’s shrine, stunned me.

But I also considered him a little bit of a con man, for the simple reason that after all this talk about God and one’s well being, at the end of it all he would ask for whatever monetary contribution possible to feed hungry Brahmins. I never bought that story because instinctively I felt he wasn’t entirely truthful. But I used to give him what I could for his ‘noble cause’. Moreover the couple of times that I met him, it has always been only at moments like these when I was about to miss seeing the God and never any time else.

Again this time around just when I was about to turn around and leave without seeing God, he said “you waited for 10 minutes, wait for another 10 seconds and the curtains will open”.

Sure enough the curtains were drawn in 10 seconds! I had a good Darshan and what’s more the old man got me that special flower again, the ‘Vilva Poo’ used during Lord Shiva’s archana.

He did not ask me for the customary monetary contribution for his anna danam to Brahmins. Probably he had forgotten me. He was an old man after all and I was meeting him after 1 year! I don’t know what made me ask him how he was and how his family was. I also don’t know what made me ask him how his anna danam (food distribution) for hungry Brahmins was going on. I don’t know what made me give him Rs. 50/- towards his noble cause, whether he did it or not I care less. But I felt happiness in my heart. I felt light.

Now atheists would call this chance meeting, coincidence. I like to call it the touch of God. It was God’s way of reaching out to me. The old man was the channel.

Who was it for you?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Hope. The world lives on this word. It is a very powerful word. There is just so much pinned on this one word. I hope that one day I will be the richest person in the world. I hope that I will be famous. I hope I will find the love of my life. I hope I die peacefully.

Everyone has hope. But what is it that strengthens hope? What is it that justifies hope? You can’t just futilely hope for something without doing something about it. Like for example, if I hope to be rich, the least I should do is buy a lottery ticket and then continue hoping that I win it.

In this world nothing is free. Nothing comes easy. Everything has got a price tag on it. I am not just talking monetary value. I am also talking qualitative price. You pay the price and hope things work out fine for you. But without paying the price for something, don’t hope to get it.

Let me tell you a story. A story of a nation. A nation known for its varied culture. Its rich history. A nation called India. This country epitomizes the word ‘Hope’.

With a population of over 1 billion, where close to 30% is below the poverty line, large scale unemployment, a per capita income of $600, a fiscal deficit pegged at 4% of GDP, deplorable infrastructure in more than 50% of its land, by and large inept and corrupt politicians and most citizens with a ‘care a damn’ attitude, this country still hopes to make it as a super power.

So what is it that drives this nation? What is it that makes people hope that they will be a super power one day? Like I said earlier, what is this country doing to become a super power. IF it is doing something, are the doing enough of that something? Blind hope leads nowhere.

I gather they are doing the following.

- They have liberalized economic policies. Industries have opened up and large MNC’s have started flocking India, understanding the potential this country has. This is reflected from the contribution of the service industry to the GDP, which is over 50%. This move has helped us to reduce our dependence on agriculture (30% of GDP) and if not to a large extent, at least, to a small extent curbed unemployment.

- They are looking to privatize hard core government sectors. (That it has found so much resistance is another matter altogether!)

- They have empowered rural India, by introducing schemes like PURA (Providing Urban amenities in Rural Areas), which is to be implemented in 4130 rural clusters across the country in the next 5 years. The program aims to provide road, transport, power, telecom, e-commerce, education and market connectivity to the rural areas. We have to wait and watch how successfully this is implemented.

- At the same time they have ensured that urban India equals the development of developed nations. The metro cities have been developed at a pace never before seen. Success stories include Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Gurgoan (outskirts of Delhi) to name a few.

Now when you check the pros vs. the cons the odds may seem even, give or take a few. This country has an equal share of pluses and minuses. So what keeps this nation going?

We come back to that one word. Hope. That is what is going to make this country a super power. People’s hope. Hope in the system, hope in the nation, hope on each other that one day we will all awaken to a developed India.

Are we doing enough to support this hope? Time will tell…

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Comparison

I am 26 running 27. My first 25 years I lived in India. A country known for many things, famous and notorious. The past one year I have been living in Dubai, UAE. I always considered the Middle East, particularly Dubai, as a source of making a quick buck and getting the hell back to your home town.

But then, I noticed that the only thing I was missing in this foreign place, was my family and friends. I wasn’t missing my country. I wasn’t missing my place of origin. If my family and friends were here I would be better off living here.

I sat and thought about it and the realization was pretty simple. Dubai is superior in all terms. Why?

Having spent one year in Dubai I realized this place is far well equipped from all angles when compared to India. There is social security. There are no political fallouts. The economy is booming. No tax! the infrastructure is fantastic. And above all the people are great. There is a strong civic sense.

How is it that such a small Emirate has scaled such Herculean heights? Is it because the population is small and manageable? Is it because there is no poverty? Is it because they are rich in oil? NO.

The population being small or large does not matter when running a country. Anyone who has lived in Dubai for a few years know that Dubai has developed only in the past 30 years. It was a nomadic culture before that. And for those under an illusion that Dubai is oil rich, it sure is not. Their oil reserves which has been responsible for the country’s superb transformation and prosperity is scheduled to run out in the next 20 years!

As I see it, their phenomenal progress is a culmination of many factors the most important 3 being:
- Vision
- Ownership
- Commitment

The leaders of this nation have taken it upon themselves to put Dubai on the world map and make it the place to be. Their vision is to be the destination of choice. And they have pulled out all stops in ensuring that.

Liberal economic policies coupled with world class infrastructure has created a congenial atmosphere for trade to flourish. The cropping up of state of the art business hubs like Media City, Internet City, Knowledge Village and the numerous free zones has ensured that.

The real estate and the retail sector is booming as the focus shifts to transforming Dubai as a tourist destination. The contribution of the non-oil sector has risen for one third of GDP in 1993 to over two thirds today. They had the vision to realize that oil is not going to last forever. Their dependence on it should reduce.

And why are they doing this? Because, there is a sense of ownership towards the nation. Every citizen of this country feels the country is their home. Unlike in India, as our Honorable President Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam put it, in India everyone is out to rape the nation. In Dubai, they ensure through rigorous rules, that it does not allow anyone to rape it. Any initiative taken is given the full respect it deserves.

This sense of ownership, leads us to the next factor, commitment. Since people feel they are a part of this place, there is a sub-conscious commitment to the set vision. Rules are also set which ensures that people are committed to their duties and responsibilities to the nation. The commitment to good governance is supreme.

I noticed that of the above three factors, at least 2 are missing. Ownership and commitment. A country is only as good as its people. You may have the vision set for the next 20 years, but if the ownership and commitment is absent among the administrators and the citizens, there is absolutely no use.

This commitment and ownership should flow right from the politicians to the peon in a government office and every citizen of the nation. The day we understand this, is the day we will start overtaking other nations in the quest to be known as a developed nation.

Till then, you will have people like me writing blogs like this. I know what you are going to ask me. What am I going to do for my nation? Frankly, I don’t have an answer. I believe no one can single handedly bring about a transformation. It has got to be a collective effort. The sooner this enlightenment happens the better it is for India.

Friday, February 10, 2006


Nowdays, after Sex and Sharukh Khan, the third ‘S’ that sells in India is Sensationalism. And who understands that term better than the News Channels! Sensationalism was always part of Media, but the last decade or so has seen it go overboard.

Dig this. Star news in the name of a cover story runs the news about the breaking up of Karishma Kapoor with her husband ‘whatshisname’? How important is that to the nation? Another terminology abused by this news channel is ‘breaking news’ and ‘flash news’. Check out the following ‘breaking news’, ‘flash news’ I have come across in this news channel.

BREAKING NEWS: “Shahid and Kareena Kapoor caught kissing”
FLASH NEWS: “Laloo Prasad plays cricket”
BREAKING NEWS: “India won the toss and elected to bat”
FLASH NEWS: “Man slides down a mountain as part of a religious ceremony”
BREAKING NEWS: “Mangal Pandey fares badly in the box office”

I grew up thinking that “Breaking news” or “Flash news” was something which news channels flashed across the TV screen when there was news of “National Importance”. Like the following:

BREAKING NEWS: “Tsunami hits South India”
FLASH NEWS: “Rajiv Gandhi assassinated”
BREAKING NEWS: “India wins Cricket World Cup”

The third one is wishful thinking but definitely “BREAKING NEWS” alright!

So what is causing these news channels to take to sensationalist journalism?

Is it fear of competition? I don’t think so. Because to counter competition in the Media industry, I believe strongly you got to turn to quality journalism. Report truly “ground breaking news”. That’s the only way to remain on top.

A couple of things where I think these news channels have got it completely wrong.

- They got the pulse of the nation all wrong. People, who watch news, DO NOT want to see an analysis of why “Kyunki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi” is doing so well on TV.

- They are concentrating on beating their competition by telecasting any and every news and focusing on blowing it out of proportion.

Living in Dubai I get to view only Star news. Some of their rubbish programs include:

- Match ke Mujrim: A “below the belt” program which crucifies cricket players who didn’t do well on a particular day. They haven’t even left out Sachin for Christ’s sake.
- Sansani: An utterly ghastly host, with a hoarse voice assisted by “khufiya camera”. They call it investigative journalism.
- Cover Story: Covers everything but quality news.

The garbage is endless.

India IS a land of great potential. The world has realized this. They view us as an upcoming super power. But, there are so many pressing issues which need to be ironed out in our great nation.

We have so many social, political and economic issues much much greater in importance than an actress’s marriage gone bust or a cricket match or a godforsaken Don (they ran a cover story on Dawood by the way and treated him nothing short of a Demigod, an outsider would think he was Robin hood).

If India is to become a super power, an average citizen HAS to realize the magnitude of these social, political and economic issues. He/she needs to realize what their contribution should be towards the nation. He/she needs to realize their role. The only medium through which this “Realization” can take place is the Media, specifically, the News Channels, given the number of people who own TVs and have a cable connection.

It is high time they started acting responsible.

When and how, they intend to do it? Now that will be “Breaking News” isn’t it?