Monday, June 26, 2006

Rude jolt of rudeness

Mumbai is not the repository of polished culture, courtesy and soft spoken denizens. Such culture and polite manners are expected when you're in a Western Country, everyone's happy (never mind George Bush) and polite exchanges are flowing as smooth as the Thames.

So what makes the recent Reader's Digest survey a topic of such debate? Is Mumbai indeed one of the rudest cities in thw world? The media has had a field day discussing the issue. Precious editorials have been devoted to it, guest columnists have been invited to write about their experiences in Mumbai, Mumbai Mirror reporter Bapu Deedwania purposefully dropped a bunch of papers at road crossing, only to end up photographed by her shutterbug and appear on the cover page and to prove that somebody did help her pick them up. That's not all - even Karan Thapar hosted a show on CNBC TV-18 figuring out with the help of several icons of the city, whether the survey had hit alarm buttons on Mumbaikar's manners.

While the survey elaborated on how an average Mumbai-ite never held doors for you, hardly said Thank-you's or Sorry's, what strikes through is the fact that the survey would have been held true for all of India. Why pigeon-hole Mumbai on the rude-oh-meter? Perhaps the survey was limited to certain famous cities of the world, but isnt it a obvious question that what holds true in one city may not follow a similar pattern in the other?

I'm willing to believe that the RD survey is a mere conjecture, wherein an inference has been arrived at without situational proof. Every great city has its individual class, which is mirrored by the people who reside, travel and identify with it. Mumbai, the potpourri of the rich and the poor, the haughty and the meek, the winners and the losers, builders and destroyers, the corrupt and the principled - similarly has its own value culture. Chivalry isn't a part of Indian psyche and hence, even though we may treat guests as God, we often leave them to fend for themselves until of course they refer back to us.

However, there is no denying that Indians are helpful when it comes to guidance. This country is full of experts , nevertheless also the financial capital of the country, Mumbai is a place where the educated class thrive. But do Mumbaikars indeed have the chutzpah to slam a door on your face? I'm not sure. If you've faced it, you need to watch your nose, next time around.

On the other hand, let us not forget the limitations of a survey like this. Notice the Health pages in the daily newspaper? Every other day a new survey result emerges and a study arrives at its conclusion - but how much do we adhere to it? Chocolates are good for the womb, chocolates are good for sexual life, smoking can cause your child to grow excess hair on his hair-lobes...
How many of these surveys have actually impacted our lives with such immediacy that we take this RD survey personally?

Mumbai may surely have its own way of dealing with it, by having its own share of stories to defy the survey. It is true, that Thank-you's and Sorry's are not the most often heard words on Indian streets. But there is no denying that Indians are the most warmest and friendliest people on this planet. Ask any tourist or traveller and he'll echo the same sentiments. In a country that is bound together by so many bonds in the face of diversity, unemployment, corruption, starvation, poverty, illiteracy, it is infact the smile on the faces of our people that has taken many a researcher into a puzzle at the spirit of this nation and its people who've been brought up under sub-standard conditions, always in a struggle for survival. And dear, when life is a struggle, we often take the manners for ransom.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

India Rejuvenation Initiative

"You have to work within the system, to change the system."
- Atul Kulkarni in the film, Page 3

The common man stands testimony since times immemorial to instances of corruption at various footholds of the so called 'system'. While bribery, nepotism, favouritism and red-tapism have become a routine part of our lives, it is no surprise that we have begun to show the path of least resistance to these examples of sacrilege to a democratic set-up.

Interestingly, cinema has paved the way to show a sanguine path and the new generation (at least the educated middle-class) has begun to ventilate their grievances, intermittently. Be it cases of injustice (the Jessica Lal Case) or Mandal -II, wherein the young brigade from all sections revolted in rebellion for what it believed was a failure of meritocracy. Keeping all these recent uproars in mind, an expression of hope is a sign of relief for the future.

Nurturing that hope for admonishing the idiosyncracies of the system, is the India Rejuvenation Initiative (Bharat Punarothhan Abhiyan). Debate, being a compulsory and a mundane recourse to every issue, IRI comes as a breathe of fresh air since it votes for action over debate. Supported by a group of several educationists, senior IAS and IPS officers, senior government officials viz. Former Chief E
lection Commissioner J.M.Lyngdoh, Former Director General of Police J.F.Ribeiro and former Chief Justice of India R.C.Lahoti, IRI has resolved to direct action to fix accountability, transparency and probity into the system.

The need for an enterprise like this has always been felt, when the system has tried to take over virtue and principle. Key positions for senior officials in the bureacracy are often occupied by the corrupt. This prevents the new recruits - just pawns in the larger set-up to adhere to the higher authorities vested interests, often sacrificing ethics and standards, that their profession demands.

gdoh believes, "It is necessary that honest public servants must be supported strongly when they stand against misdeeds. The corrupt officers are well-known to their colleagues." IRI will come into action when it will influence key appointments. "Whenever we come to know that the government is going to appoint a wrong officer on a key post, the members will meet the authorities and request to reconsider the decision. We also could resort to other democratic means to curb such practices as and when required," he adds.

Therefore, for IRI's powers to be fully functional in efficacy, it will necessitate its urgency into full-prominence since initiatives like these have easy chance to die a stifled death, thanks to the already empowered VIP class.

The group is also against these very VIP facilities for privileged few at the cost of the common man and law-abiding citizens.
A case in point where IRI could have been effective, is a plethora of storylines, already done to death on celluloid. E.Nivas' Shool, Mahesh Manjrekar's Kurukshetra, Mani Ratnam's Yuva, Shimmit Amin's Ab Tak Chhappan amongst several others, have rightfully showcased how the system deserts the dutiful, when bribery and politics permeate a system, that should ideally remain impregnable.

While IRI should successfully create a beginning somewhere in exposing corruption, gross inaction and inefficiency in the echelons of power, it remains to be seen how much of an edge it has over agencies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). These agencies are believed to have also been swallowed into the pool of dirty politics in several high profile cases, tampering evidence and concealing information.

A welcome move would be the setting up more and more fast-track courts. This would ensure that there isn't any time spent in dispensing justice to the needy. Also, a culture of pressure groups coming up in every state would energise the intellectual vanguards of an already suppressed system. Not only that, civilian participation for IRI initiatives and citizen action groups will help constant pressure to be mounted on the administration and the media will only be to too glad to oblige by monitoring activities throughout.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Knights riding on dark horses

What can stars do? Nothing...but sit on their axis!
-Charlie Chaplin

With soccer fever flying high over the air-waves, its time the bird flu received some welcome relief. As support extends itself in the riot of colours for their favourite teams, soccer extravaganza has taken over all the world. So much so, that even in a cricket crazy country like India, the national team's Carribean tour has taken a back-seat. That's the power of the world's most popular sport.

Soccer fortunately gets more popular in certain regions of the world, with each passing World Cup, thanks to qualifying teams coming from under-developed countries. Being a part of this event does them a world of good. Similarly, at FIFA '06, emotional support rings high especially for countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Angola et al. And with good reason.

Several amateur nations have caused major upsets in the last few decades. Senegal's trounced France 1-0 in 2002, Croatia rose to the top four teams in France '98, Cameroon had a rollercoaster ride to the quarterfinals in 1990, Algeria defeated West Germany in 1982...
All of the statistics only accentuate the presence of these under-dog teams at the international arena. This not only makes them a force to reckon with, but makes the biggies ensure a spirited performance against them.

Branco Milanovic, author of a study on soccer for Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, observes, "In the four latest World Cups, there were always at least two newcomers among the top eight national teams."

While countries like Togo, with a growth rate of 1% in 2005 and a GDP just under two billion dollars, bring their citizens international repute, where does India see itself? Currently in the race for economic dominance alongwith China, India is not far from becoming an Asian superpower, with its fertile manpower resources and booming economic growth. Will soccer be a part of the national agenda for a nation that finds its denizens go crazy in support for Samba boys?

A question worth pondering over is how dark horses for the World Cup have garnered support in a sport where Ronaldinho hogs cover pages of all World Cup specials. England, thanks to its widely telecasted English Premier Leagues remains the most hyped team so far and Beckham, the only player to have been in the news always for anything but his football playing prowess.

There's a thrill in cheering for under-dogs, always. Not only for soccer, but for every sport on this planet - the favourites are undoubtedly most written about, but when the under-rated team goes a step ahead and creates a major upset, that is when we have a match on our hands. The under-dog has the extra edge of improvisation and elevation, while the favourites always need to retain their pride. Over confidence, under-estimation are few vulnerable qualities which corrupt the favourites. On the other hand, a constant hunger of trying to level the favourites keeps the under-dogs mentally agile. The result can be quite a humdinger in such cases.

As far as a game like cricket is concerned, there's a reason why there is pride in cheering for India. Not because I'm an Indian myself, but because India has always been a dark horse in the race for glory. Unpredictably classy and failingly consistent, the dark-horses perform at the most unexpected and opportune moments. They have the capacity to sniff lethargy in the body language of the favourites; they capitalise on vanity from the opponents often leaving them completely flummoxed.

Building on the same hopes, India can also make a mark for itself provided there is the political will to upgrade the sport's presence. Its not just the infrastructure nor is it the absence of finances, but majorly the political will to place the sport(s) as a medium which can take the country places. And since India is an underdog, you never know - the next time you hear crackers burst in the neighbourhood, you won't think of an Indian cricket victory. Rather, you'd most probably say, "Bhaichung scored."

Friday, June 16, 2006

Suspense-thriller books don't make great films

There's been quite a lot of debate so far whether a good book makes a good film. I havn't been exactly a participant in this debate, but surely have harbored certain views on this topic. And most of them have been formed with the release of the recent blockbuster 'The Da Vinci Code'.

I believe the debate is not a platonic discussion. There can be certain books which have fuelled the imagination of millions and have tremendous fodder for visual appeal. For example, a movie in the Harry Potter series holds extravagant visual imagery and cinematic content that can take the book ahead in our imagination. Hogwarts, wizardry, dragons, Quidditch, Voldemort...there is immense scope for interpretation on part of the director in the way he portrays the characters, sets, make-up of the film. It is only when the director's interpretation and our own tread on similar grounds, that we identify with the film and begin to like it.

Surely, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings went through this process of identifying with the imagery the books once created in our minds. The books formed movies which were magnum opei and the rest is history.

Thrillers or suspense potboilers in books for films, aren't exactly what you expect to be curious about. Since the plot and the mystery has already been revealed in the book, there is hardly anything to sustain viewer interest, unless of course if the script-writer adds his own spice to the film.

The Da Vinci Code, to me, unfortunately suffers from the same anomaly. Let's leave aside the fact that director Ron Howard is a scholarly director - not the first person who comes to mind, when you want to produce a suspense thriller.

It is the mere fact, that the film offers very minimal visual curiosity, grandiosity and unpredictability to sustain audience interest. Unless you haven't read the book, the film definitely is a drab show. You know the conclusion, the villian, the sequence of events, the answers to all the codes ...the suspense has already been revealed to you long back alongwith its manifestation in steps of several clues! What could you possibly like this movie for? Tom Hanks' dry performance? Or Audrey Totou's francoise English accent? Not Ian Mccallen's pretentious role of course!

When films were made on HP, LOTR, Chronicles of Narnia, there was an awe and curiousity attached to the different fantasy world created by their authors. Fantasy sells quick when it is converted into celluloid, since the fantasy has been converted into a format which till then never orchestrated itself in front of your eyes.

Under such circumstances, the Da Vinci Code lacks any curious imagery that we would have formed. It grandiose for some portions if you've not seen The Louvre ever, but that's about it.

It is difficult to fathom what would have happened to the film had there not been any controversy surrounding it, internationally. Thanks to all the furore, it is rightly been termed 'The Critic Proof Film' of all times!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Intelligent discontent calling

"Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization. Progress is born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation."
- Eugene V Debs

With the students of Presidency College, Kolkata stepping in, the Naxalite movement received the required shot in the arm. Intelligent, radical students from perhaps the most respectable families then participated in the movement that not only began to hog extensive media attention, but also managed to garner expert organisational abilities. That was India, post 1975, during the Emergency.

Similar revolutions, although not underground, have been happening in India over the last several months. Its an interesting exercise to analyse, why words like 'protests', 'anti', 'march', 'rally' have become daily parlance. It began with the Jessica Lal case, a travesty of justice which witnessed a furore across the country. Silent marches, candle-light walks, black days, petitions and silent rage were easily visible amongst the educated classes. However, a new form of protest also made head-way across satellite airwaves - the E-revolution.

SMS petitions, E-mail forwards and PetitionOnline became the latest protesting channels, which cleverly exploited the vast majority of intelligentsia with an opinion on every issue. For Online petitions, the idea was simple - all one needed to do was to register one's name, email address and their comments. Quick, easy and comfortable - three terms that today's generation eagerly identified with, have been the fountainhead of the E-revolution.

But a question worth asking is - Why a sudden burst of public opinion across every medium, in the past few months? Is the media hogging news coverage about protests? Could several mediums have collated together, giving the cause the required support? Or, was it just the Rang De Basanti effect?

As far as mediums go, intelligent and uncensored opinion has been successfully garnered through the E-revolution. In the recent fervent protests against Quotas by medicos and the subsequent hunger strike, 3 striking medicos passed away. While this news was kept at bay from the press, the simultaneous E-revolution by the protesting body 'Youth For Equality' left no stone unturned in spreading the message. The online petitions garnered against reservations, features in the list of the top 20 petitions worldwide, this year, on

The media certainly had tremendous fodder for coverage for something that it believed, was right. In fact, the Jessica Lal case went back from the cans back to the corridors of justice thanks to effective coverage and investigations on the shenanigans of the Delhi Police.

It wouldn't be trivialistic to assume that this year's most 'repeatedly' watched film, Rang De Basanti, struck the right cords with a generation that had become complacent about themselves. In fact, it gave the necessary fuel to ignite passions of young blood, which so far could merely bicker about the apalling state of affairs.

The lack of censor-ship in the E-revolution has been its greatest advantage. For a country where facts are swept under the floor thanks to the all-pervasive red-tapism in the bureacracy, any trivial information has spread like wild-fire across inboxes.

However, for the very same bureacracy, the effectiveness of an online petition by amassing thousands of signatures, is questionable. Also, while online petitions may work for national issues, their use is limited when it comes to local causes. The scope of the E-revolution still holds tremendous potential for causes which are largely unaccounted for by the daily press, viz. Alarming rate of farmer suicides across several parts of the state can achieve greater dimensions by spreading the word, online.

Globally however, petitions have acquired new dimensions altogether, moving beyond the bureacratic needs. Some of the top petitions signed this year were titled 'Please show Soccer World Cup Live at Stanford', 'Please show Rugby on ESPN and ESPN2', 'Issuance of US Postal Service Stamps on Diwali', 'Persian Gulf - a global heritage in danger', etc. In India too, recently, a petition was signed in large numbers requesting a radio station which decided to 'Go Hindi' to continue playing English tracks.

Nevertheless, we indeed are witnessing an alert generation that has suddenly begun to stand up for its rights. Artifice Inc., the private firm which runs PetitionOnline registers over 25 petitions daily, across the world. The conventional media must keep the people responsibly informed, in the meantime. After all, at the end of all the intelligent discontent, its the proposed solutions that matter. Till then, long live the revolution.