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