Sunday, December 23, 2012

calling the President

For several weeks now, I have been trying to spend more time doing things and less time watching things happen or reading about events ----so there is far less of television, but even with very limited viewing, I could not turn away from the disgusting spectacle of young men and women being lathi charged and water canoned on Raisina Hill. Any one with even half a heart, any one with a family,any one with a daughter or sister or wife or mother or girl friend will empathise with the anguish and anger and helplessness that the thousands pouring out at India Gate and Raisina Hill are giving voice to.

Law and order is no more than the name of a television serial to some of us, and a rather pathetic joke to everyone else.None of us feels safe on the roads of NCR, not women, not men,not teenagers, not senior citizens. The feeling of insecurity cuts across class and community. No one is safe. Period. 

So when a particularly brutal act of aggression takes place and a young girl shows the enormous courage to survive it,does the government express contrition at its dismal record of upholding citizen security and admiration at the amazing spirit of a young Indian? No. Instead, it pats the Delhi Police on the back. 

Does it reach out to the young men and women who are voicing the concern of each one of us ? Does it speak in a voice that seeks to reassure? No. It lathi charges them instead and clamps section 144 over the entire city. Are we living in a democracy, or are this country's rulers slowly beginning to emulate the Chinese? 

Would the need for a lathi charge have arisen if the President or the Prime Minister or the Home Minister had stepped out of his citadel, begged forgiveness of the crowd gathered at Raisina Hill, and promised prompt action?   Was there a threat of violence to the person of these worthy representatives of our democracy? If there wasn't, was it merely misplaced arrogance that prevented a dialogue? We already see the sorry spectacle every year of the Prime Minister addressing the nation from behind a bullet proof glass at Red Fort. Is every other public building and public funtionary going to be similarly fortified?  

Where was the young brigade, Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jayant Chaudhary, Deepinder Hooda? Could none of them have stepped forward and bravely faced  the crowd gathered at Raisina Hill? Or do they only pontificate from the safe confines of the Parliament, or public stages barricaded by gun toting commandos? 

More than the corruption scams of the past few years, these acts of callousness reinforce the belief that what this country needs is a revolution in thinking,a new paradigm, a fresh approach to nation building. The current systems stink. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

importing a lifestyle with Walmart?

The animated debate in Lok Sabha threw up many interesting and not-so-interesting, convincing and not-so-convincing, poetic and not-so-poetic arguments in favour and in opposition of Foreign Direct Investment in multi brand retail in India.Many scholarly articles on the subject have flooded the media. There are also articles carrying the views of farmers' associations, cooperatives, traders' associations, dalit entrepreneurs' association and so on and so forth. However, my reluctance about having Walmart stores in India is more to do with the fact that the stores promote fast food over slow food and the concomitant lifestyle, a lifestyle that emphasizes individualism, short lived joys, a restless search for excitement  and ill health.

 Even without Walmart, we are inundated with packaged food and food supplements some of which only remotely resemble food. The advertising is persuasive, the availability is increasing exponentially, and a significant proportion of the urban middle class is rapidly making the transition to a state of affairs where the family either hires a cook, or eats packaged food. Families don't cook together, and cooking is considered a tedious chore. I am no proponent of a woman's- place- is- in- the- kitchen school of thought, but I do believe that it is a tragedy that women are so rapidly losing the joy of cooking for the family. To a lesser extent, this loss is that of fathers too. One of my fondest childhood memories is of my father spending hours in the kitchen, continuously stirring besan to the accompaniment of the Dilip Kumar songs he was so fond of humming ---- the fragrance of ghee and freshly prepared besan barfi will forever be associated in my mind with my father, and the love he poured into cooking for his children. 

Then of course there is the issue of packaged food being available 24x7 so that the golden rule that constituted the foundation of good health is now observed only in breach----- meals at fixed times, and no food past 9 or 10 pm. 

Packaged food is also so convenient and easy to prepare (where it requires any preparation)  that it encourages the tendency of teen age children to avoid the dining table and family meals and family conversations. 

The fact that packaged food contains chemical preservatives and colours and taste enhancers most of which have a deleterious effect on health over a long period of time is well documented and it  is no tribute to our intelligence that we ignore all sane advice and succumb to the temptations of convenience, ease-of-preparation etc etc.

There was a time when delicacies were the special attraction of festivals and weddings. Now, we  endeavour daily to experiment with different cuisines and different flavours and textures and different presentations simply because they are so easily available. The unintended result is that we weary too soon, too easily get bored, too quickly begin to look for more exciting food to eat. Eating is not so much a means to maintain good health as an exercise in "having a good time". Boredom terrifies us. 

This is exactly the kind of lifestyle that Walmart will aggressively promote. In USA, more than 50% of their sales turnover is on account of groceries and the grocery aisles are overflowing with packaged convenience food of every possible description. 

Genetically modified food is only beginning to make inroads into India ---it will undoubtedly get a push with Walmart's entry even before the Indian public has become aware of its dangers.

Food wastage will increase too ---- an insightful article by P Sainath in The Hindu spoke of Walmart's insistence on the cultivation of large onions ----- the onion is so large that small families do not consume the whole onion, and throw away what remains after cooking, only to dig out an equally large onion the next time -----the more food gets wasted, the more it is bought. 

Perhaps it is old fashioned to want family meals, lovingly cooked, promoting good health, discouraging wastage ---- but I'd rather Walmart stayed out of India.

Monday, December 3, 2012

an hour a week

A shrill, over bearing Barkha Dutt made for a very poor anchor but Mani Shankar Iyer in his dry, slightly supercilious manner and Patrick Heller in a calm, rational tone made a valuable point last night  in "We, the people".

Citizen participation in the political process is not only about casting a vote in the Parliamentary General Elections. It is also about participating in the elections to and the activities of the local elected bodies, be it the gram panchayat or the nagar panchayat or the Municipal Corporation. There are more than 6 lakh villages in India and more than 5000 urban centres, which gives us at least 3 million elected representatives in the villages and 25,000 elected representatives in towns and cities at the local level. The local bodies carry out a range of activities which significantly impact our day to day lives, whether it be roads or parks or sanitation etc etc. How many of us know the name of the Municipal Councillor/Corporator? How many of us have ever voted in the local body elections  or considered contesting the elections? How many of us have made an effort to hold the Councillor/ Corporator accountable in the sense of obtaining information about his duties and responsibilities, ascertaining the extent to which he is performing such responsibilities , and mobilising public opinion if he is not? How many of us have considered assisting the Councillor if he is inclined to promote citizen friendly initiatives but is bereft of the requisite skills (including technology) and possesses the right intention alone?

There are so many other ways in which one can participate in the community. There are citizen initiatives to do with environmental conservation, protecting our cultural heritage, sanitation, building zero waste communities, promoting pedestrian friendly urban spaces, creating parks, libraries and other public spaces, and so on and so forth. Upon reflection, one will see that each of these involves working in a group, engaging with the local administration, and improving the quality of life ----- which is partly what politics is about. We are so busy living our frantic 9 to 5 lives and over compensating over the weekends via movies and shopping and eating that most of us have no time or inclination to participate in any of these community activities. 

Once a year, I organise a collection drive for GOONJ ---- collecting old clothes, utensils, linen, books etc for re distribution to the less privileged. In a community of approximately 1000 families, the same 50 or so families respond every year. Interestingly, these are the very same people who participate in all manners of citizen initiatives that impact the whole community ----- every one else is cocooned in the comfort of job and family and doesn't venture out, except to complain that the country's systems are rapidly going downhill and someone should do something about it!

If each one of us stepped forward and spent even an hour a week participating in community activities including local governance, imagine the difference it would make!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

not my vote, Shweta

Were I living not in NCR but in Maninagar, I would not vote for Shweta Bhatt.

I am no fan of Narendra Modi nor do I think that the BJP is the nation's saviour .

I have no particular antipathy for the Congress, it is as good or bad as the other political parties. 

I am not a male chauvinist in disguise and do not think that the home and hearth are where women belong, not politics.

While prior experience is necessary for most corporate jobs, civil servants who run the country's 600 districts have no prior experience so one can waive that requirement for elected representatives as well, although it would certainly be my preferred option to see in Parliament/Legislative Assemblies people who have some experience in running organisations, be they corporates or NGOs. 

It would help if our elected representatives were articulate. While they do not necessarily have to be powerful orators, and the best orator may mean only half of what he says, or nothing at all, its my perhaps erroneous belief that clarity of thought is reflected in clarity of speech. However, it is not for reason of lack of oratorical skills that I will desist from voting from Shweta Bhatt. 

Does she subscribe to the Congress manifesto? Has she even read it? Does she have a vision for the nation, other than routing Narendra Modi? Is she simply a pawn being played by the Congress which knows that no Congress candidate, be it a Gandhi or a Bollywood superstar or a sports icon, can defeat Modi? None of these matter to me, for we'd be hard put to find candidates who contest elections on a party ticket having read the manifesto and are in agreement with its vision.

The reason why I will not vote for Shweta Bhatt is that her candidature smacks of complete lack of integrity. Why has Sanjeev Bhatt fielded his wife as a candidate? If he has courage of conviction, he should resign from government service and enter the political fray. Instead, his wife, whose name we had not heard till yesterday, has stepped forward as a proxy candidate. That she has agreed to contest elections as a proxy for her husband places a question mark over her integrity as well. Is this the kind of politics that Sanjeev Bhatt wishes to promote, where the alleged authoritarianism of Modi is attempted to be toppled by a mere mouthpiece while the de facto candidate remains in the background? It is not enough that one be seen as a person who does not demand or accept bribes of the pecuniary kind. Integrity is a much larger concept ---- any contradiction whatsoever between word and deed lays one open to the charge of lack of integrity that Sanjeev Bhatt makes against Narendra Modi and is himself guilty of as is his wife. You do not get my vote, Shweta Bhatt.