Sunday, June 12, 2005

Adios Amigos?

Ok guys, it's been 4 days since my last post. This is probably the longest I've gone without posting anything since I started blogging.

And the reason's pretty simple - I'm suffering from a MAJOR case of the blues. (That's 'major' with a capital M, capital A, capital J, capital O, capital R btw.) And although I do write a lot of stuff when I'm sad, I just don't think it's the kind of stuff any of you would want to hear about.

So I don't think I'm going to be posting anything for a while now. I don't know when (or even if) I'll ever post anything again. .

Thank you guys for having visited the blog. Hopefully I'll be back.

Been fun while it lasted guys...

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

From the Little I Know...

This post is in response to this post by Gaurav.

Now, I know that when it comes to speaking on India I am a little out of my depth, but here are my own two cents on the matter.

I think there are four specific reasons for most of the trouble in the country today -

1. Population:

Too large a population is arguably the biggest bane this country is facing today. Most of India's problems can be traced down to this single core issue. Issues like poverty, illiteracy, crime and other evils all owe their existence to the single fact that there are too many people in this country.

I agree that a larger population means a larger work force, and therefore you do require a certain minimum number of people in the country to be able to perform all the jobs that need to be done. But any addition to the population over that limit is always a bad thing.

One of the reasons that places like Canada, Australia, the Scandinavian countries etc have such a high quality of life is because there are fewer people living there. Larger population means distributing the wealth and resources of the country amongst more people, and thus each person would obviously get less.

In developed countries, a child a guaranteed education because there are few enough students for this to be feasible. In India, currently, it isn't. At least it's very hard to see how it could happen unless we start reducing the population. But I'll get back to education later.

Even the functioning of the Government is based on the amount of people living in the country. In developed countries it's easy for the Government to grant various aids to the public because once again the population is small enough for it to be able to do so. Thus in Europe a man may be jobless and unemployed, but he can still be ensured of living a decent life. He can still be confident of getting the necessary medical treatment should he require it.

Ultimately, the fewer people you have to care for, the better you can care for them.

2. Corruption:

The levels of corruption in this country would shame even the most unscrupulous of individuals. (It apparently has no visible effect on the politicians though!) From something as insignificant as a traffic ticket to something as large as a Government deal, corruption raises its ugly mug everywhere. It's difficult to get your driving license made without paying off an agent to do it for you. And someone who does indeed try to do it would only be scoffed at!

The trouble with the corruption in the country is that it exists not just in the bureaucracy but also in the general populace. When a driver is stopped for a traffic offence, he fishes out a bribe to pay the cop even before the officer can open his mouth to ask for it! I once tried to insist on being given the ticket, but was instead almost threatened by the officer to grease his palm. Finally, since he didn't have the ticket book with him and I refused to be cowed down by his intimidation, he let me off with just a warning.

3. Religion:

While some people may feel that the plethora of religions existent is this country are a good thing, I feel they are the cause of some of the biggest problems in the country. More people have probably been murdered in the name of religion than for any other single cause. And after all religion is nothing more than something man himself has invented!

A classic example of the horrors perpetrated in the name of religion was the bloody butchery of thousands of Sikhs in the riots in 1984. Going even further back, who can forget the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives that were claimed during the post independence partition? Countless individuals on both sides of the India-Pakistan border savagely done to death all because they belonged to a different creed. Innumerable women raped on both sides of the divide, and even children barely old enough to stand were not spared the slaughter. For a heart-wrenching description of the Partition, I would recommend Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. It's one of the best (and most touching) non-fiction books I have read.

We don't even have to go all that far back in history. The riots in Gujarat in 2002 were evidence enough that the inter-religious hatred is still prevalent in this country.

Priests are being murdered and nuns raped all because certain people are under the impression that these missionaries are trying to forcibly convert the tribal populace to Christianity. I don't agree. Even if they are indeed trying to convert people, they aren't doing it against anyone's will. And even if they were, that isn't the slightest justification for murdering them.

Although it is considerably less prevalent in today's India than in the past, the caste system continues to spread its evil tentacles, especially around the lower strata of society. I find it totally impossible to believe how people in this country can treat two persons differently just because they belong to two different 'castes'!

The final point can actually be thought of as directly resulting from the first point - excess population.

4. Illiteracy and Education:

Illiteracy is a major concern in India and until it is eradicated one cannot expect the country to progress very much.

As long as the poor remain illiterate, they are going to remain poor. There is no arguing that fact. The country may be largely agriculture based - but who says a farmer should remain illiterate? Farmers in developed countries aren't. No matter who you are or what you do, basic education is necessary.

Another important feature is using education to improve the mindset of the population rather than just to disseminate knowledge. An average Indian will not think twice before expectorating on the road or littering in public. The average Indian kid will finish his candy bar and throw the wrapper in the park. (Actually, the average Indian kid will probably never eat a candy bar or visit a park, and itself is the bigger problem.) It is a common sight to see someone, driving his two-wheeler, lean over and send a nice big globule of saliva out onto the road, not even caring for the fact that it has probably also splattered all over the poor individual following him. (Imagine a big corpulent man on a motorcycle way too tiny for him doing the spitting and imagine me as the hapless victim and you'll have exactly what happened on my way home from college today!)

Bottom line, cleanliness in this country is non-existent because no one cares about it. It's funny how when the same Indians go to Singapore or someplace like that (where even dropping a single piece of paper in public can prove to be rather heavy on the pocket) they all of a sudden exercise great caution with how they get rid of that candy wrapper!

A few days back I saw some slum children stand behind a wall and hurl stones at people passing by on the other side. One of the stones actually hit an elderly lady. So what for them was fun was actually a major grievance for someone else. Why do you think they were indulging in such an act? Because they weren't educated. It's simple.

I'm not saying that education is going to get rid of all the evils of today's society - because it isn't. But I do feel things will get a lot better if the entire population were educated.

Is India better off as a single nation?

This was the main question raised by Gaurav in his post. And it is indeed a rather tough question to answer. What would have happened if India had been several small states instead of one big one? It's hard to say.

My own take on this is that India on the whole would indeed have been better off as 8-10 smaller nations. It's fairly obvious that not all of these smaller regions would be better off than they are now. But on the whole I feel it would have been a good thing.

There is an extremely unfair distribution of power in India today. This inappropriate concentration of power in the wrong places could have been avoided if the country were split up into smaller states. This would perhaps have led to better governance.

There would certainly have been a few bad points though. For example, two of our neighbors - Pakistan and Bangladesh - do not seem to be fairing much better than we are. Besides, the fact that we have so many regional languages is the main reason for English remaining an official language almost 60 years after the exodus of the Raj. A person from Madras and one from Calcutta would naturally have to converse in English since it would be the only language that both of them were comfortable with. I can't start to imagine what I would have done here had English not been so widely spoken.

I do not plan to remain in this country for more than another year or so, although I know that I'll be back again sometime. I don't know how much improvement one can expect in the situation here in the immediate future but I do hope there's a start. The four problems I mentioned above need to be tackled and quickly. India needs to reduce its population with immediate effect and educate it. That should take care of most of the other problems.

Here's hoping...

Monday, June 06, 2005

Of Spelling and Women!

I was watching the National Spelling Bee Contest on TV the other day (and when I say 'National', I mean the American national one) and what was interesting (and heartening) to note was the number of Indians taking part in it. Well, not Indians exactly (although some of them were NRI's - Non Resident Indians), but mostly People of Indian Origin (PIO's). Most of them were probably second-generation Indian immigrants, born in the States and therefore, natural born U.S. citizens. Names like Akshay, Sonal, Mihir were not just ubiquitous but actually doing pretty well. In fact, the competition was ultimately won by one of the PIO contestants. It's nice to see that the Indian Diaspora is keeping the flag held high overseas!

The other point worthy of a mention was the unbelievably high level of competition. Here we had 7th-8th graders spelling out words that most of us had never heard before. In fact in most cases, the kid is hearing the word for the first time too. The contestant is given the word along with its meaning(s) and is allowed to ask for the word's language of origin, alternate pronunciations (if any), which part of speech the word is (noun, verb etc.) and may also ask to hear the word being used in a sentence. So sparing the odd exception, the kid basically has to spell out a word he/she has never come across before based on the above information. And bear in mind, a lot of these words are terms from specialized fields like medicine and wouldn't even be found in your Webster's English Dictionary!

I also saw the episode of Oprah where she has Aishwarya Rai on the show. The episode dealt with women from around the world and the different lifestyles they live. One of the other guests on the show was a stunning blonde who was a TV show host from Iceland. There was a 2-minute clip of her in Iceland where she was trying to explain to Oprah and the viewers about the Icelandic way of going about life. Now, Iceland is well known as one of the freest societies in the world but what she said still surprised me a little - although pleasantly!

She spoke of how the Icelanders are very relaxed and easy going. How it's normal for people to be in a live-in relationship with 4-5 kids and yet not be married. How there is no stigma associated with a woman being a single mom. How Icelandic women like to take control of their relationships - if they feel something about a guy, they just tell him, straight! How it's normal for a guy or girl to start having sex at the age of 15 and no one will think any less of them because of that. How it's not strange to have sex on the first date (if fact it's strange not to do so)! How they have an extremely low crime rate, and crimes like murder or rape are unheard of.

She also spoke of other things - like the night life in Iceland (and when you have 20 hours of darkness a day in winter, there's a lot of it!) and how Icelanders love to relax in the natural hot water pools found everywhere there. She brought with her on the show some traditional Icelandic delicacies and some Icelandic liquor. The former consisted of a dish of rotten shark meat and another dish of lamb testicles! Needless to say Oprah initially seemed a bit hesitant about giving either a try, but after downing a shot of the fiery liquor she was a bit more game.

Basically, even though everything may not be perfect about Iceland (every society has to have some negative aspects, and for Iceland it's probably the rotten shark and sheep balls!) it does seem like a nice progressive place. A lot of the Icelandic way of looking at life is of the same wavelength as mine. Maybe I'm part Icelandic. Hmmm...

Contrast this with another story that they showed on the show - of an Arab woman from Saudi Arabia. Now Saudi Arabia is, as you probably know, one of the most regressive societies in the world as far as women's rights go. It's not possible for a woman in Saudi Arabia to step out in public without a male consort, and then too only if she covers her entire body with the traditional Arabic garb so that no part of her skin is visible (at all). The woman featured on the show was a Saudi Arabic television presenter and was married with two kids. And was incessantly being abused physically by her husband. Now, a woman speaking up against this in Saudi Arabia is completely unheard of. Finally, one day the matter came to light after he beat her so badly that she suffered multiple facial fractures and almost lost her life. And yet the bastard was sentenced to only six months imprisonment and 300 public lashes!

What's sad is that this practice is not only widespread in the Arab world but more importantly that the women there are not allowed to do anything about it. Opening your mouth against it would mean incurring the wrath of a society so medieval that the punishment for adultery by a woman is being stoned to death!

Now, compare this with Iceland and you'll see why I'm so happy about the progressive nature of their society. India currently lies somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum, but sadly it's in many ways closer to Saudi Arabia than Iceland.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Post Exam Fun

Who says having a poor memory is always a bad thing? Far as I am concerned it has often proven to be quite useful! So while everyone else is staggering out of the exam hall with sullen faces and dragging their feet, I'm practically skipping and dancing. Not because my paper was any better than theirs, but because I'll have already forgotten all about it!

During yesterday's exam, we were all asked to keep our mobile phones on the teacher's table. And two students actually forgot to collect their phones before leaving! (Ok, so maybe a poor memory is great all the time!) Now in any other situation these poor folk would never have seen their phones again, but fortunately for them I was there to play Mr. Honest Guy!

I recognized one of the phones as belonging to my friend Animesh. The owner of the other was a complete mystery. So I decided to scroll through the phone numbers stored on the phone to see if that would help. The only information I could elicit from that was that the owner was either the BIGGEST player in the world or a girl! Because a large percentage of the numbers were of girls.

So the only thing I could do was call up one of the numbers in the list and see if that person recognized the number I was calling from. But which number should I select to call up? 'Home'? 'Dad'? 'Ravi'? Nah, nah and nah! Why, of course! Pick a girl's number! So, then I had to try and decide which girl's number to pick!

Alice Joseph? Hmmm... not bad! But unfortunately it wasn't a cell phone number so I couldn't be sure that she would have a Caller-Id facility to help me identify the owner. So after quite some deliberation, I settled on Mahima.

A short call later I had the name of the owner. It did indeed turn out to be a girl. Now, looking back at the situation I should have taken up the opportunity to call up some more of the girls in the list and repeat the procedure! *winks* Just to make sure, you know!

So to end the story, I went outside and found the girl in question and returned the phone to her. Just then I saw Animesh (whom the other phone belonged to) flying past me like the Devil himself were after him! Apparently, he had realized that his cell phone was missing! I hollered out to him, but it was of little use. So I followed him (at a more sedate pace) and caught up with him as he returning from the hall where he obviously hadn't found the phone.

I gave him the phone. And told him I'd used to call Australia! The changing spectrum of looks were worth it! From 'Damn! I lost the phone' to 'Whoa man! Thanks! I could just kiss you!' (since he's gay) to 'What! Australia? I AM going to kiss you!' (since I'm straight)! Thankfully I got out of that alive! And un-kissed!

Well, those were my good deeds for the century! It's back to perpetrating evil for another 100 years for me!

Friday, June 03, 2005

My Favorite Comic

One of my favorite comic series as a kid (and I don't mind them even now) was Archie and the gang!

My favorite character was Jughead Jones (but obvious)! He reminds me a lot of myself if for no better reason than the fact that he just keeps on eating without ever gaining weight! I mean, this guy has got the secret that most women the world over would kill for! And can you imagine someone wearing the same hat everyday? Hey wait! I do that too! Yup, I'm always wearing the same baseball hat day after day! And he's lazy as hell! Told ya, I'm just like the guy!

Another character everyone can identify with is good ol' Archie Andrews himself! Just about anything that can go wrong with him, does! From a car break-down to getting late for school. From getting sent to detention to breaking a priceless artifact at the Lodges' residence! Somehow you just feel for the kid! Even though he's always got two girls whom he can fall back on!

I could never realize why Miss Nice Gal (is that the female variation of Mr Nice Guy?) Betty Cooper would keep her sights fixed on Archie when he was so obviously in love with Veronica Lodge? I mean Betty was a pretty girl and could certainly have found herself some nice hunk of a guy! Maybe there is something to this dumb blonde theory after all!

Veronica Lodge on the other hand, would play her role to perfection. The rich, coy seductress who had Archie wrapped around her little finger! Something that didn't gel well with her Dad! What's really funny though, is the way he would keep saying - "Egad!" Whatever is that supposed to mean?

Reggie Mantle - even if you liked nothing else about the guy you had to admire his persistence in hitting on Midge! And his stupidity considering the size of her boyfriend! Even though he's always got something against Archie, the two of them somehow manage to stick together when arguing something against the girls!

And let's not forget the other characters. Dilton Doiley and Moose Mason - two people who could not be more unlike each other. One's small, skinny and dark-haired, the other's massive, muscular and blond! One's a mental whiz kid, the other's as bright as a 10 watt bulb!

Mr. Weatherbee - ever notice how he always has just those few strands of hair sticking out of his bald scalp? And Miss Beazly (or is it Mrs?) - can you blame the students at Riverdale High for being so mischievous when you consider they have to eat her cooking for lunch everyday?

And who can forget Pop Tate's? Now, if there's one place I want to visit that's it! I can just imagine the business he would do if he were to open up outside our college one day!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Gays and Ball Games

I'm not sure but it seems to me as if Elton John's song Something about the Way You Look Tonight was written with reference to a woman! So what's a gay guy doing singing love songs to women? It would be like Enrique crooning about his love for a guy! Nasty thought, isn't it?

Remember recently when Elton John and his boyfriend decided to get married? One newspaper article had the following title - "Elton John to Marry 11 Year Old Boyfriend!" Now that was actually supposed to mean 'boyfriend of 11 years'! But when I read it I thought to myself, "Oh God! Here's another Michael Jackson!"

I don't see why there has to be so much discrimination against gays and lesbians in the world today? How can some people say it's not natural? Who decides what's natural? We may have come a long way with many states now permitting same sex marriages by law, but I feel we have a long way more to go. Especially in this country.

Am I gay? No, I'm not. But I still believe in standing up for their rights. Not their rights exactly. Just equal rights for everyone. I hope for the day when being gay is as little of a hassle as being straight. When a kid can go up to his/her parents and tell them that he/she is homosexual without any fear or hesitation. When people stop caring whether you're gay or straight; you're just a person.

The Phoenix Suns lost the Western Conference Finals to the San Antonio Spurs today. I cheered for the Suns throughout the series. But the question is - when you support a team, are you cheering for the players or the team or both? I mean if you are a Manchester United fan (this would have to be a hypothetical situation, since there aren't any!), then are you actually a fan of the club or just the players playing for the club? So if all or most or even just some of the main Manchester United players were to shift base to another particular club would you then continue to support MU? Or would you switch to the new team? Or some other third team?

I've had quite a few different favorite NBA teams. First it was Jordan's all-conquering Bulls of the 90's! Then when Jordan returned to play for the Wizards, I did support the team (the Wizards) a little. Just because Jordan was there. But my favorite team was the Kings! I still remember the Conference Finals they had with the Lakers when the Lakers won the second Championship of the 3-peat! What a series!

Last couple of seasons I had supported the Mavericks. This post-season too I was rooting for them. But after the Mavs lost out to the Suns in the last round, that was down the drain. The only reason I decided to support the Suns over the Spurs in these Finals was because they had Steve Nash, who used to be one of my favorite guys when he was with the Mavs! And besides I've never really liked the Spurs.

So now that the Spurs are in the NBA Finals I don't really have a team to root for. Don't care much for either the Heat or the Pistons, although I care a little less for the Pistons. So whoever reaches the Finals from the East, I guess I'll just end up watching the basketball for once and not yelling my throat hoarse.

I guess ultimately in my case, when I cheer for a team I'm cheering more for the players of that team than for the franchise itself. Although there is a slight mix of both.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Language Foibles

Isn't it interesting that many of the English terms used to refer to or address relatives are also prevalent in India but have totally different interpretations?

Like the words Mama, Dada, Papa and Nana would all be perfectly acceptable in Hindustani but would not mean Mom, Dad, Granddad or Grandma respectively as they do in English.


Mama - Maternal Uncle
Dada - Elder brother
Papa - Father
Nana - Maternal Grandfather

A couple interesting observations here -

1. All these terms are used to refer to male relatives.
2. The two words that were used to refer to female relatives in English (Mama and Nana) are used to refer to maternal male relatives in Hindustani.

I don't know if any more such double meaning terms exist. Anyone know any?

One of the reasons I don't like the Hindi language (and a lot of other Indian ones) is their penchant for unnecessarily complicating matters. Perhaps the best manifestation of this is in their terms for relatives. 'Uncle', for example, would have two different terms in Hindi all depending on whether he was your Dad's or Mom's brother. (Funnily enough, even a stranger met on the road is often referred to as 'uncle' if he is older than you!) Similarly, what you call your brother depends on whether he is older than you or younger! Things get even more complicated when you come to terms like 'sister-in-law'! For now you would have to see whether she is your spouse's sister or your brother's wife, and then after that whether she is older or younger than you!

Another irritating feature is the plethora of terms for 'you'! All depending on whether it's singular, plural, a form of respect and who knows what else! This feature is present in many other commonly spoken languages worldwide.

Then there is the incomprehensible need to supply every noun with a gender, whether it refers to an animate or inanimate object! Hindi, like French, has everything as either masculine or feminine. Marathi on the other hand resembles German - masculine, feminine and neuter. What I don't get is that when you are going to have a neutral gender, why not use it for inanimate nouns? Why?

And as if that isn't enough the German words for girl (mädchen) and woman (fräulein) both have their gender as neuter!

English is, interestingly enough, the only major language worldwide in which inanimate nouns are not genderised. I guess that's because English hardly makes much use of noun gender in grammar and word-endings in a sentence.

eg. The adjective 'black' is 'black' whether the noun it is describing is masculine, feminine, singular, plural etc. In German, on the other hand, the word Schwarz (black) would change its ending depending on various factors including those just mentioned above. It would also depend on the case the noun was being used in. (eg. Nominative, Accusative, Genitive etc)

Ok, so maybe English does have a rather irregular pronunciation, but at least most of the rest of it is pretty simple. I guess that is what has made it an international language.