Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Auto Strike

It was a weird sight this afternoon, returning to the office after an appointment outside, there were not many autorikshaws on the road. Autos as we call it here in Madras, seemed to be in short supply. Normally you would always see a swarm of them at every corner or even on the road sometimes. I waited for almost 5 minutes to stop one that was slowly cruising towards me. It was after i acquired this for myself, as my ride, that i learnt about the auto strike today. Apparently auto, trucks, and cabs were on strike to protest the increase in petrol prices.

The petrol price was increased by the Union Government about a week ago,based on the international pricing. The price per gallon of oil had just recently touched 60$, and so the Govt felt necessary to shift some of the burden to the consuming public. The Govt had also been slowly dismantling the subsidies on Cooking Gas, Kerosene and Diesel. It is but natural, atleast as the current global thinking on privatization and globalization goes, to let the price move up and down based on demand and supply. But one thing that the people of who preach globalization and privatization dont want to admit is free movement of people. If everything were to be left to demand and supply, then let people also move to where jobs are available and where labour is paid more, so that they can pay more to buy these things that are produced by private companies.

Back to the strike. What purpose did it serve ? Did it get the empathy of the people ? I am not so sure of any of these things. The Govt surely was the least bit bothered by it. The deciding authority sits in Delhi and they were busy attending a conference, so apart from enjoying the lectures and speeches there, and all the free food that would be floating around, there is no time to be affected or concerned by the strike in Chennai. Unfortunately, the auto drivers dont have a great following either, thanks to their regular and continuous harassment of passengers. If you look at their plight objectively, you would realize that they too are a suffering lot. They are affected by privatization but cannot privatize themselves. They are more like a bonded labour class. And they have no other choice but to fleece.

For people who talk privatization, they must also be able to perceive its full impact. Partial privatization doesn't help, partial globalization doesn't help. If we are to be truly governed by capitalistic morals, then let all barriers fall.

-- this article was written on June 28th.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The War in Iraq

In what seems to be quite a revelation, the US is slowly admitting that Iraq is not going well. The rumbling Rumsfeld made some comments on the sunday TV, the weekly morning talk show, where the spin of the week is addressed or launched. This comes at a time when yesterday's attacks in Mosul killed nearly 33 people. A lot of innocent civilian, do and die soldiers and equally stubborn terrorists have been killed in this war. The ratio though is very clearly tilted in favour of the innocent. Let me be very clear here, so that the message is not lost in sarcasm, lot more civilian deaths for every supposedly terrorist killed by the US and the new-Iraqi soldiers. And more US soldiers dead or wounded in line of duty for every such terrorist killed by them. Its hard to blame the soldiers, but the administration that send them to the war, must have some explaining to do.

There must be a sudden reason of this admittance. Could it be that a recent poll conducted by Ipsos-AP indicates that a good number of americans today consider the Iraq war, a mistake. The current US administration had been touting the war and were also elected back into power because of their actions in the war. For sometime, everything seemed to be going in their favour. The army just walked over Iraq, and then the capture of Saddam and then the elections. But all along there was some news that were never making it to the US press. The US press too, typical of its 'stand by your President at the time of war', never bothered to look under the rug. The molding rot that was accumulating, is now touching civil war proportions.

Wonder if the neocon theory had actually factored this into their calculations, in their quest for control of Iraq and the oil beneath it. A bloody civil war, will not do good for any US administration, but a limited war, where a few bombs are thrown here and there, will be enough to justify military spending and also keep attention focused on those issues, instead of real ones regarding Iraq.

Friday, June 24, 2005

India, that is Bharat

India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.
So begins the Article 1 of the Indian Constitution. The constitution so far is one of the world largest, actually it is the second largest, next only to Ireland. Anyway, thats a tidbit about the constitution. This very statement in the constitution has lead to a lot of controversy and provided impetus to a large number people to take note of the two names, India and Bharat.

Is India the same as Bharat ? The constitution would imply so, or atleast thats what the founding fathers thought they were envisioning when they referred to India or Bharat. Unfortunately more than 50 years since it was adopted by the Parliament in 1949, we have created a flourishing, vibrant and a powerful India, but also left behind a floundering, weary and a weakened Bharat. The much talked about middle class that was touted as the saviour of the country as it moved from a protected license raj to a free-for-all-FII, has now been left behind.
Well not exactly because the middle class has grown. The upper class are now virtually non-existent, atleast they have built their own castles, virtually in the air, or in new lands (read phoren), that they now call home. It is so common to hear, that my children are studying in Switzerland or US etc. The middle class has now broken into three, upper-middle which is now the new upper class. The lower-middle class have a roof over their head, and that distinguishes them from the lower class. And of course the mid-middle class, they have remained stagnant, not knowing what the Government and the Financial analysts are talking about.

Where is Bharat in all of this ? The rural India, which for a long time symbolized Bharat, has now build its own class distinctions. Altho' caste is a dominant factor is most decisions in rural areas (not that it is not in the Urban areas), class is taking a preeminence over caste. It is only apparent though that in a vast majority of the cases, the new higher class also happens to be the dominant caste in the geographic area. Certain parts of the country have absorbed this disparity much better and have adapted themselves to the new requirements of society. Others are still wallowing in the past and trying to fight it out the hard way, almost always a losing battle.

The ultimate chase for the pot of gold is being run between India and China to dominate the new century and create an Asian superpower. India has all the dynamics required to fulfill that role to the fullest, but will she be able to carry her almost considered illegitimate sibling Bharat to the same heights and destiny.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Black Buck and The Tiger

This is the story of a poor black buck that was killed by a tiger. In the age old 'panchantra' the tiger would have gone scott free and we will hear the moral of the story why the black buck met its unfortunate end. But today is the day of the underdog, the black bucks' of the world unite, and the tiger is on his way to the prison.

Well atleast thats how it seem so far.

But like most good stories, there will soon be a twist. It will soon appear that the tiger didnt actually kill the black buck, but it just so happened that he was cleaning his gun in the middle of the forest and this poor endangered black buck jumped in front. The tiger had repeatedly warned the black buck not to stray his course, 'ma kasam, kuthe ki aulath, agar thu mere paas aya tho, thuje mai... '. Again the tiger was not angry, but was just play acting his favourite actor of yesteryears. And so, the tiger goes scott free, because the tiger didnt commit a crime as he was only cleaning his gun in the middle of the forest. And any Indian born, Nawab (albeit ex-Nawab), has the constitutional right to clean his gun, where ever he so pleases.

This the second, if not third case in recent times, where an hero from Bollywood or otherwise has turned villain. Its time to teach some of these people a lesson. In some ways, the Tiger must have already learnt his lesson. Sure we lost one more Black Buck, just so that this elite Nawab can understand that when we mean endangered and protected, we really mean endangered and protected.

Or did he ?

Friday, June 17, 2005

Two Tumbler System

Ever since the panchayat election process had begun in Tamil Nadu about 5-6 years ago (it may been a while back too), i have been reading and noticing more information and articles regarding the practise and the prevalence of the caste system in Tamil Nadu. I am not naive or blind, that i assumed it never existed, but since living in the US and otherwise only living in Madras (now called Chennai), you typically are not accustomed to these issues. It is difficult to spot a person of a different caste, atleast according to me, and for that matter a person of different religion. If you hide the name, then an Indian can be identified and associated to a specific geography, religion or sect only if that person wore some form traditional attire. The name is the surest give away and 90% of people carry their caste, sect or class with their name. For people sitting on the top of the class/caste totem pole, it is form of prestige and for people on the bottom it is a form of banding or grouping together.

Anyway the recent article in The Hindu throws up this issue into limelight again. Off and on, there has been these issues of excommunication, disenfranchisement, and also more importantly access to employment and means of livelihood. Dalits as they call themselves are supposedly a protected fraternity of people. This segment of the society has been favoured to get jobs in the Government, admissions to schools and colleges and also have rights to limited parliamentary, assembly and local panchayats seats. Inspite of all this, this fraternity of people, in India is still chased, raped, illtreated, murdered and shunned for society daily. And it is a shame on the educated sect that this practise continues to this date. The educated seem to care more about the equality of status of all people and are more concerned about the preferential treatment being handed out to these people. Argument for and against reservations of jobs and college admissions has resulted in lost lives across the country.

How can you stand up and say, 'the Dalits are being treated equal and dont deserve any special treatment', when even today, if nothing at all, they have to drink out of a special tumbler (glass) that is kept aside for them ?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Whitie on the moon by Gil Scott Heron

A rat done bit my sister Nel
with Whitie on the moon
Her face and arm began to swell
and Whitie's on the moon

I can't pay no doctor bills
while Whitie's on the moon
10 years from now, I'll be payin' still
with Whitie on the moon

You know the man just upped my rent last night
cause Whitie's on the moon
No hot water, no toilet, no lights
but Whitie's on the moon

I wonder why he's uppin' me,
cause Whitie's on the moon?
well, I was already givin' him 50 a week
and now Whitie's on the moon

The taxes taken my whole damn check,
the junkies make me a nervous wreck,
and as if that crap wasn't enough

A rat done bit my sister Nel
with Whitie on the moon
Her face and arms began to swell
and Whitie's on the moon

With all that money I made last year
to put Whitie on the moon
How come I got no money here?
hmm, Whitie's on the moon

Y' know, I've just about had my fill
of Whitie on the moon
I think I'll send these doctor bills,
air mail special, to...

Whitie on the moon

I first heard this sometime in 1998. I dont quite remember the context, but it was mentioned by my Irish friend. This was the time when the world, at least the one i was living in and me included, were busy making money the easy way. We were buying and selling paper, actually it wasnt even paper, it was just an entry on a stock trader's web site. The impact of it was so minimal to me then. I didnt know what i was buying or why. But i was picking quite a few winners, just like an average monkey on the wall street. Back to 'Whitie on the moon', as soon as i heard this, i got the import of the lyric, crystal clear. Only recently, India had gone nuclear, and this poem or song couldnt have found a better home. Not that the land of oppurtunity has become any better since Gil wrote this, but more importantly more countries were abandoning the poor to chase the bandwagon of economic freedom and wealth and a newly coined name 'globalization' made it more fashionable to do so.
I have very little doubts that India is also following a path that is causing the gap between India and Bharat to increase. But i can also see that the immediate beneficiaries are also increasing in numbers to include a clan of over 500 million middle class population in India. So there is some right in this. However, to completely ignore the existence of the other 500million and to strut about in a flashy and airconditioned car doesnt serve the country well either.
And so the Whitie lives on... only now the Whitie has managed to find more converts.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

In search of saraswati

I spent a few hours late last night looking for the river Saraswati. Of course most people already know that the river doesnt exist today. But it did at one point in time. Where is it now ?

Although i have heard about this river right from my childhood, from different references and stories told by my grandmother about Triveni Sangamam, ganga/yamuna/saraswati etc. The river according to her flows underground, which is probably a floklore which resulted because the river dried up at some point in time. It is impossible for a fiction of ones imagination to spread so far and wide across the entire country and to influence one's psychy. There had to be some truth that resulted in a story that was passed down generations.

With the launching of remote sensing satellites, there was improved capability and increased access to images of the sub-continent. This also allowed limited funding to stretch to areas that were not considered for research earlier on. Theories and also some proof, lots of documentation and literature started flowing regarding this holy river, which today only existed in our imagination. Suddenly also, isolated discoveries of human settlement started emerging into a theme. People settled on either banks of a river. If people were so deep in the sub-continent and co-inhabited the planet as early as the Indus-Valley civilization, or even much earlier, then what also happens to the theory of Aryan Invasion.

Well the truth of our ancestors, the culture and our history is so entwined with the search for this river.