Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ooty - The Queen of Hill Stations in India

Getting to know the real Ooty - Things you won't get off the internet!

I don’t think I have ever come across a single place with so many names! Most popularly known as Ooty, this quiet South Indian hill station is also known as Ootacamund, Ottakalmandu, Whotakaymund, Udhagai and Udhagamandalam, its official name (for NOW). Ooty is the capital of the Nilgiris, or the Blue Mountains, and has been christened as the Queen of Hill Stations for its outstanding beauty. Founded in 1819 by John Sullivan, the then collector of Coimbatore, Ooty is a blend of British colonial architecture and a natural beauty unique to Southern India.

Click on the title to read my detailed article or paste the following link in the address bar of your web browser

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Till death do we part? - Empowerment enables urban Indian women to end unhappy relationships

While being educated and financially independent is helping urban Indian women to now walk out of dysfunctional relationships, there are several social stigmas that endanger their chances of living a normal life post divorce. This article is an attempt to change this mindset of the society at large which considers a divorced woman to be 'substandard'.

You views on the subject would go a long way in helping this change to take place!

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Changing Mindsets - The rise of the urban Indian woman

Urban Indian women have turned the mindsets of their generation and are surging forward towards farther horizons of success and progress. It will be, we can hope, only a matter of time when women of rural India can join in this wave of change.

Click on the title to read my detailed article or paste the following link in the address bar of your web browser

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Why do we have such few GREEN days in Indian cities?

2nd June 2010 was observed as 'Paperless Day' in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Over a hundred thousand people from government agencies and schools participated in the event in order to help tackle the environmental problem of carbon emission and deforestation.

September 22 each year is declared 'World Car Free Day'. On this day, private vehicle owners should avoid using their own transport and use public/ government services instead. Such schemes are followed by several countries like China, Britain, France, Indonesia and Columbia.

Then, of course, there is the highly popular 'Earth Hour' when, on a specified day, for a specified hour, cities all around the world switch off lights in an effort to reduce energy consumption and control climate change.

Indian cities are developing at such an amazing rate that environmental conservation almost always takes a back seat. Just ask anyone who has been in Bangalore for the last 4-5 years (like ME) and they will tell you how the cities climate is disintegrating right before our very eyes. So why don’t we have more of such GREEN initiatives running across Indian cities? Given below is a link from the Ministry of Environment & Forests site which lists its major initiatives planned for last year (2009-2010).

When I read through it, it sounded very complex, expensive and, at the end of the day, not very result oriented. Well, at least these initiatives won’t have any immediate impact towards improving the environment. State level initiatives DO get launched once in a while but these are half hearted efforts which are not followed through efficiently. It is obvious that, if we wait around for the municipalities and governments to start acting on environmental issues, we might end up living in a city that looks like a dump yard and feels like a sewer, hot, humid and smelly!

So what do we do?

What we need is well planned, well orchestrated and well executed drives like the ones mentioned at the beginning of this article. These drives can be planned by NGOs or the corporate world (Corporate Social Responsibility has got a log way to go in India). Individuals with great environment saving ideas should be able to get sufficient assistance from such institutions. We don’t want to end up with hundreds of small NGOs with limited resources. So it would be great if all the many NGOs merged into easily distinguishable and approachable departments. Once this infrastructure of Providers (Companies), Organizers (NGOs) and Workers (Volunteers) is set up and focused towards achieving specific goals that is when each and every city in India will be able to take care of its own environmental issues. Such collated strength will also enable us to get some hard to get help from the state/ central governments and ministries.

Being more organized, well funded, thoroughly planned and efficiently executed, I am sure that the people of not just India, but any country facing the kind of environmental challenges that we face, will be able to tackle the problem on a more immediate and effective basis.

And not just have ministries spending millions of rupees on research that never gets done!

While we are at it, here are some suggestions for GREEN initiatives and how often they should be held:

1. No Car Day – Once a month.
2. Paper Less Day – Once a month
3. Clean up your neighbourhood day – Once every quarter.
4. Plant a tree day – Once a year, with a commitment to take care of the tree for that year.
5. Recycling Day – Once a month. Set up collection points in as many areas as possible where people can deposit material collected over the month.
6. Family Picnic Day – Once every quarter. Families should be encouraged not to use electronics throughout this day, instead plan an outing to a local park for a fun filled, low environmental impact day.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Inadequate police force a problem - Chidambaram

The Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram admitted today what every man, woman and child in Indian cities knows.

'Policing a country of over 1.1 billion people is not an easy task. Policing a country in a troubled neighbourhood makes the task more difficult. And policing a country with insufficient police stations and inadequate and an ill-equipped police force makes the task almost formidable,' Chidambaram said in a speech at the 40th All India Police Science Congress in Raipur.

This isn't news for the common man. We have known this fact for years now, haven't we? Still, thank you Mr. Home Minister for acknowledging it!

However, we still need to acknowledge that the situation is REALLY bad because a whole lot of this inadequate force is busy taking bribes and freebies from city shops and vendors.

I have already written about constables taking bribes from road side vendors.

In Bangalore, the law states that all liquor shops, bar, lounges, basically any place serving alcohol, should close business by 11pm each night. It is the police's job to ensure that this law is followed. Most Indian's reading this will be able to predict what REALLY happens. Yes, instead of enforcing the law, the police have 'tie ups' with shops and vendors who pay them a monthly fee to keep their business running beyond the deadline. This is, of course, in addition to the free drinks the police get to pick up from them. Just hop on a bike and go through the streets of Bangalore at 11pm. You will be able to see the live action of what I have related here.

So, Mr. Home Minister, while you try to increase the police force and equip them better, it would be a good idea to put them through some moral training as well. Otherwise, you could keep adding to the force and people will end up with more corrupt pockets to fill.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Role Reversals – A ‘Wife-ish’ Husband and ‘Husband-ish’ Wife Tale

In modern day India, it is common for both the husband as well as wife to be working. The high cost of living, the standard of lifestyles in cities, the cost of educating the kids, the cost of bringing kids into the world in the first place et al has made dual income in a family a necessity.

The age old custom of arranged marriages in India used to be: Well educated, well settled, high salary boy weds fair, slim, homely girl from a respectable family. Times change, however, and the norm now a days is for grooms to look for brides who are not only equally educated but also almost as well salaried as them. It is the latest ‘success formula’.

It often happens though, that the husband faces a downturn career or a wife experiences exceptional spurt in their careers. Or, as in the many cases post the recent economic recession, a husband finds himself out of work and the wife assumes the position of the bread winner of the family. This is when things get a little tricky.

Under normal circumstances, both husband and wife share the household tasks in addition to sharing the responsibility of keeping the financial wheel turning. So long as the husband is earning more than his wife, she is, however, expected to place greater importance to the running of the house. In fact, this is supposed to be her ‘natural place’. It is the ‘A woman’s place is in the kitchen mentality’ which somehow doesn’t change much no matter how well educated and morally advanced the couple is. Even in the scenario where the husband is out of work, the wife is STILL held fully responsible for running the household, even if the husband DOES take up a lot of chores.

Now, before you start calling me a paranoid feminist, I would like to add that the same kind of thinking applies to a husband. There are several men who, when in the state of unemployment, take complete responsibility of the household as a kind of recompense for the lack of financial contribution. This may seem and in fact IS something to be appreciated, not all men like being seeing in the role of a home maker. If, however, this goes on for a prolonged period, let us say over a year, the wife WILL start blaming her husband for ignoring his primary responsibility – of being the main bread winner.

This is not an India specific mentality, it is also prevalent in foreign countries (financial inequality is one of the main reasons for divorces in the US). I suppose it is part of our grain, no matter how loud we trumpet the rise of the woman or the sensitivity of man. At the end of the day, each has certain instinctual expectations of the other. So, to sum it all up, if a relationship is to be happy (at least in financial terms), we need to stick to our natural order. Women, though they may earn, should be accountable for the running of the household, and the man, though he may help out with chores, should be primarily responsible to bring the cash in. Keep this line of demarcation clear, for storms arise when it gets fuzzy!

Freedom Flotilla Massacre – A Crime against Humanity

So Israel has a blockade up against Gaza as part of a war that has been going on for decades. The Freedom Flotilla was going to violate that blockade to bring much needed aid to the impoverished Gaza strip. Israel reacts by storming the ships making up the Freedom Flotilla in international water at night and ending up killing 10 civilian activists and arresting the remaining activist. Of these, 50 were deported while the others have are been held in prisons.

Israel had made several claims. First, that the Freedom Flotilla was not carrying aid and was a threat. Second, the Freedom Flotilla violated its blockade. And lastly, that the activists on board the Freedom Flotilla were armed and had attacked the raiding commandos first.

None of these claims change the fact that the issue of the Freedom Flotilla’s cargo was not raised earlier, that the ships were raided in international waters and that the civilian activists were attacked with fire arms by trained commandos. How the raid COULD have been handled has been debated vastly over the internet and most experts believe that there was no need for the Freedom Flotilla to be stormed. Also, why is Israel refusing families and human rights groups to contact those who have been arrested?

This is yet another case of excessive force being used by Israel to tackle a situation which could have been handled without spilling any blood. The Freedom Flotilla massacre does not go towards clearing Israel’s trigger happy image, especially when the issue has been in the international eye for weeks.

So why did they do it? Was Israel trying to make an example of the Freedom Flotilla, to set a precedent of how it will deal with those protesting the blockage against aid to the Gaza Strip? If this was the case, then it has failed miserably. Not only have its actions brought on worldwide fury but the organization which had sent the Freedom Flotilla has already dispatched another batch of aid to be followed by yet another. They are refusing to back down its efforts to bring an end to the blockade and end the suffering of the 1.5 million impoverished people of Gaza.

Well, at least their course of action is loud and clear. What remains to be seen is how Israel reacts to Freedom Flotilla 2. Will the world simply react to the massacre through verbal condemnation? Will the US administration, which has been tight lipped about the entire incident, remain non-reactive and lose its credibility as well?

Whatever may happen, the Freedom Flotilla massacre is a crime against all of humanity. No one has the right to prevent aid from reaching war ravaged civilians. Period.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Mumbai Kolkata Gyaneshwari Express Derails After Blast - Maoist Hand Suspected

The Gyaneshwari Express connecting Howrah (Kolkata) and Kurla (Mumbai) was derailed after a blast and collided with a speeding goods train on another track. The death toll currently is at 35 but is expected to double as many people and bodies are still trapped in the mangled carriages. Rescue worker who report that trapped survivors are crying out for help from the boggies are having cut through the wreck to retrieve the survivors and casualties.

The blast took place at Jhargram which is has a high rate of Maoist activity and it is being reported that they are responsible for this act.

Helpline numbers have been set up around the affected area. These are:

Kharagpur -- (03222) 255751, 255735
Howrah -- (033) 26382217, 10722 (toll free number)
Tatanagar -- (0657) 2290324, 2290074, 2290382
Rourkela -- (0661) 2511155
Chakradharpur (06587) 238072
Jharsuguda (06445) 270977
Mumbai CST (022) 22694040
Thane (022) 25334840
Kurla (022) 25298499

Thursday, May 27, 2010

We are colour crazy hypocrites: Who cares what colour Michelle Obama's dress was??

Of all the things to kick up a fuss about!!!

People dying of hunger? - No sweat.
Terrorists blowing up people? - Big deal, happens all the time.
Human rights being violated around the globe? - So?

Michelle Obama's fashion designer Naeem Khan calls her dress 'Nude' and a newspaper calls it 'Flesh, but it’s not the colour of her skin? - How dare they! Its a crime against humanity. It’s racist. It’s discriminatory. I'm offended!

Yes, I AM offended. Not because someone was a little careless in choosing his words to describe a piece of fashion but because it gained so much limelight! Seriously, I am certain that, if we looked around a bit, we would find some bit of news more worthy of first page coverage than Michelle Obama's dress and how Naeem Khan or some newspaper described it. But then again, the media reports what the common people want to hear. Even news channels and prints have a TRP to maintain. If they highlight such trivial issues, it is because WE give it that level of importance.

We, the people of the world, are obsessed with the colour of skin. We are bothered about what others think of what hue or shade of brown we are. WE are the hypocrites who rave and cry when someone calls us black or brown and claim that we are being discriminated against. Yet, we are the first to try out the latest fairness creams to hit the market! It is WE who fuel the fire of racism by considering ourselves inferior just because our skins are darker. It is WE who are discriminating against ourselves.

Think about the last time you sat through a 5 minute break time between some Ekta Kapoor soap opera and DID NOT come across the promo of some fairness miracle or the other. Soon after being crowned Miss Universe, the dusky Lara Dutta was seen in the promo of one of Garnier’s fairness products. More recently, the actress Kajol is appearing in some age defying product’s advert in which she is portrayed as being ridiculously fair. I don’t remember seeing a Naomi Campbell or Tyra Banks in a fairness product commercial.

Its about time we stopped being two faced about our colour consciousness. Either we are not happy with our own skin or we are so proud of it that casual statements describing a dress are offensive.

Make up your mind!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Indian Blasphemy: Constable takes bribe from road side vendors

There is a lot of talk going on in the Indian leadership circles about what needs to be changed about India in order to push its progress. Amongst the suggestions thrown up was education for all, control of population, personal responsibility, a better government and so on. One of the most common suggestions was the annihilation of corruption. Makes sense, doesn't it? Easier said than done? But what I witnessed two days ago made me realize anew just how close to impossible this task is.

There I was, with my mom, shopping in the Shivajinagar bazaar in Bangalore. It was 4 o' clock in the afternoon and the area was packed with avid shoppers. The heat was unbearable so we stopped and picked up two kala khaTTa golas (Ice popsicles) which a little boy was selling for ten rupees each. Next to his stall was a man who was selling popcorn on a cart. We took our golas and moved aside to cool off. That’s when this pot bellied police constable strolled up to the man selling popcorn. He picked up a packet and in turn asked the vendor to pay him 50 rupees. The vendor smiled cordially and while indulging in small talk, stealthily handed the amount to the police man. The vendor seemed more eager to cover up this act than the law enforcer.

The constable then moved on and collected a gola and another 50 rupees from the boy selling them. All this happened in broad day light, in front of all the people present in the vicinity. What bugged me the most, was the attitude with the constable collected the bribes. He held his head high, behaved as though he was doing the vendors a favour, swinging his cane baton all the time.

The constable moved on. We finished our golas and went ahead with our shopping. A little down the same lane, an old man was selling jogging pants at an asking price of 150 rupees. As soon as he noticed hesitation on my part, he brought the price down to 125 rupees. Another woman joined us and started bargaining, asking him to sell it for 100 rupees. She walked off when he refused. The man must have been really frustrated to pour his heart out to a customer. He said that, he too, had paid 50 rupees to the constable we had seen earlier. He said that what the constable collected randomly on a daily basis, was in addition to a fixed monthly amount the vendors had to pay him to be able to sell their products.

Sure, road side selling of products is illegal but this is the only way that these men and women of all ages have to make a decent living. Corruption at such a base level, which exploits those who aren't even capable of supporting themselves, is simply inhuman and can carry no justification.

How does anyone fight a phenomenon like this? We as Indians are used to this kind of corruption, that in response to the question of what should be changed about India, someone responded ‘Nothing, India is what it is’. Sure, India has its own identity and its flaws make it look very poetic. But is mysticism worth the troubles of the common man? I know that the abolition of such social evils require mass movements, much like the one which got us our freedom. I know that this is a nearly impossible task. However, we can, at the very least, WANT to eradicate corruption? At the very least?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Curse you! O Scheming Weather!

My parents are planning a trip to Dubai, visiting the two daughters they have there. So it goes without saying that a lot of shopping is involved. And that most of this shopping will be last minute. And that, this last minute, seems to be the most auspicious time for other urgent things to crop up!

To begin with, as I mentioned in my last post, Bangalore was having a beautiful run with the weather. Despite the havoc it caused in neighbouring states, in Bangalore, cyclone LAILA made the temperatures drop and covered the skies with lovely grey clouds. Mom and I were overjoyed of course and planned a trip to the local bazaar in Shivajinagar. Clothes, shoes, trinkets and Indian sweets (Mithai) were on the shopping list. But much to our surprise and dismay,a startling sun accompanied the shopping day morning. I am not sure if this is one of the infamous 'Murphy's Laws' but this seems to have become a norm. The day that you plan to go shopping will be the hottest, sunniest day in weeks! Also, once we got there, we realized that Shivajinagar was having ts routine power cuts, so none of the shops had their lights and fans working. And since I NEARLY swooned thrice during the trip, we had to leave have the shopping for the next day (which is today).

Now for the second possible inclusion to Mr. Murphy's Laws. Last minute tasks draw last minute invitations. And no less than invitations to a wedding! That is where we had to dash off to in the evening, the wedding reception of the granddaughter of a respectable elderly man who lives in our apartment block. It wouldn't have been so bad, if the weather hadn't decided to get all sentimental and start pouring its eyes out. It rained so hard that within half an hour, all taxis in the city were booked (it being a weekend and Bangalore being a weekend city). This meant that we would have to walk to the nearest auto-rickshaw stand (dressed in our finest apparel and jewelry) and take two of them to the a hotel, the exact location of which was known by none.

Well, at least the biryani was good. So was the gajar ka halwa.

We were supposed to go for the 'walima' (reception from the groom's side) this afternoon but considering its bright and sunny again and we still have half a shopping trip left, we decided to skip. So while I go now to have my lunch of dosas, I hope the weather will be a bit merciful and give us a cloud cover later in the evening.

But the biryani was REALLY good!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rain, Chai and Bhajjis!

God turned on all the taps in his cloud garden today and just as I complained of water shortage in namma Bangalore, it rained in torrents here!! Well, at least SOMEONE'S listening.

I grabbed the opportunity and gave the family and myself a treat! A treat of.. What else? Masala chai and bhajjis of course. The serenity of it! Being at the rooftop (the covering shed of which was blown off a few days back by the approaching cyclone LAILA), sipping hot masala tea, having a choice of potato, chilli and onion bhajjis, all the while chatting and reminiscing with the family. It is a good time, a time like this, to miss those who are not with us. To remember the good things they have done as well as the bad. Appreciating them for their sacrifices and going 'tch! tch!' over their more stupid decisions. Going over childhood stories that have been repeated several times before, at a good time like this.

Sure, we could be doing this whenever we want to yet it takes a special show by nature to give us a reason to celebrate, in our own small or big way, our failures and triumphs in life. Today, when we go back into our shells to reconsider our problems, when we sit together in front of the TV and watch Hindi soap operas that don't make sense, when I climb up the staircase and on the way to my room wish my parents 'shab bakhair' (Good night), I will send out a silent prayer to God. May he take the liberty of turning on those heavenly taps and soaking the city and our souls with an all cleansing downpour. So that we may yet again sip masala chai and have bhajjis and, if only for a hour, remember our blessings and forget our sorrows.

I wonder what YOUR chai and bhajji time is??:)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Indian Blasphemy: Top poltical parties wrestle as citizens BUY water

The Congress and BJP have been having a public duel over who is responsible for Karnataka's acute water shortage situation. While the center says that the state government is not utilizing its options and resources to maximum, the state's BJP government is accusing the center of not delivering on its promise of allocating extra MWs for the state. This is SO typical of political parties in India when faced with such situations. And while the people in charge of solving the problem are busy in throwing the responsibility into each other's courts, it is the common man who bearing the brunt of inaction.

The people of Karnataka, even its most developed city - Bangalore, are having to BUY water at exorbitant rates to fulfill their basic daily requirement. In the city, we recently went for 5 days without water supply. Lucky for us, our homes have underground water storage tanks and we ran out of water on the 3rd day. There is a slum area near our apartment and the people living there do not have this privilege. They depend on a daily supply of water to meet the household requirement. On the second day, we had people showing up at our door step with pots, asking permission to take some water. We allowed three such people to take water from our storage tanks. When on the third day we ourselves ran out of water, we were forced to contact companies who sell water. In normal times, a small tanker of water costs about Rs. 300/- and is enough to fill one storage tank. But during such times of need, the companies go into profit mode and charge 3 - 5 times the normal rate. We paid Rs. 900/- for water that could only be delivered the next day.

Thankfully, the common man of India is much more considerate than the people who govern them. The people who had taken water from us helped us fill a quarter of our tank from a well (Yes, there ARE wells in the city too) that was nearly a kilometer away. This is what we faced in the city which our government claims is good enough to be considered a metropolitan. One can't imagine the water problems in the suburbs and smaller towns.

The ministers say that the water shortage will be taken care of when the expected rains show up i another 15 days time. But the truth is, it has been raining intermittently in Karnataka throughout this summer! Compared to last year, the shortage should have been much less. Yet, not only are we facing water shortage but also excessive power cuts. So is there nothing that a common man can do to get their government to act in this great joke of a democracy of ours? Do we keep paying keep our inverters going and our water storage tanks filled and then pay taxes every year in hope that we won't have to bear the same thing next year around? Or do we let the government know that they are not fooling anyone with their false claims and blame games. The people of India are neither stupid nor blind. The common man needs to send out a clear message that you will not get our vote if you don't solve our basic infrastructure problems NOW (And not just provide non-stop electricity a month before the elections).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Indian Blasphemy: Power cuts in Cities and villages in a nuclear country

People have been complaining of power cuts in Bangalore for over a month now. Residents go without electricity 4 to 5 times a day, 1 hour each time. I am privileged, I live in an area close to the well maintained bungalows of ministers and government officials, so I go without electricity for 2 to 3 times in a day, sometimes we even get it back within half an hour!

Recently, my husband went to visit his parents in a little town in the Satara district. At 44 degree celsius, they face a daily power cut of 6 to 8 back to back hours. With temperatures reaching record levels, even the town's people who have been used to such lengthy absences of electricity are finding it difficult to cope with the heat. A few kilometers away, in a village names Supa, his aunt's family faces AT LEAST 12 to 14 hours without electricity everyday. And you can't even call it a REMOTE village. I mean, it is easily accessible by politicians during election time.

This is happening all over India. At such a time, in one of the groups that I am associated with, a question was raised which baffled me a bit. The question was, if I could change any ONE thing about India, what would it be? The replies were about how we need to educate every single Indian, get rid of corruption and red tapism and the usual suggestions. I kept thinking, we are a country with nuclear capabilities, we have some of the greatest brains in the world here and we have thousands of crores of rupees assigned for rural development in our budget. Yet, not only our villages and towns, but even one of our most developed cities doesn't get power 24/7. It seems like a farce, claiming to be on the verge of economic dominance when we can't even provide all our citizens with something as basic as electricity.

There isn't ONE thing that India needs to fix but an entire army of similar half fulfilled duties towards its people. First, provide electricity to even the remotest village before the next elections, PLEASE. Then we can start with the 'developing' part again.

Coming soon: Water shortage :P