Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Failure of Imagination

The 9/11 Commission Report has said what the world already knew. It was a failure of intelligence and a bigger failure of imagination. We in India have been spared the catastrophe but the twin failures refused to spare us.

The Trust goes down: No one talked about it till the Reserve Bank of India started talking. Global Trust Bank, one of the major private bankers, was about to collapse but there was no apparent run-up to the collapse. It came all of a sudden and the Indian media was caught napping. Are a bank's liquidity and transaction such secret things that no one smells the smoke until the place is up in flames? So much for transparency.

Bill ki baatein: One chief minister of the Indian state drafts a bill, that threatens India's federal structure, and presents it in the Assembly and the nation knows when it's passed and becomes an Act. We have a massive intelligence apparatus working under home ministry and the ministry is clueless about a proposed law that has the potential to disturb the order in large parts of the country. Is Intelligence Bureau really an oxymoron?

Never Soren-der: A Union Cabinet minister is not your average anonymous criminal that he can hide under the Old Yamuna Bridge for 10 days and surface after his plea comes through. Mr Shibu Soren is a known and recognised figure. He goes missing and no one has a clue where he is. Is he alive? Has he been kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents and held hostage in Fallujah? Pick your question. We still don't know where that man is. The Prime Minister writes letters to him without knowing his address. He does not come out to say the least: I'm innocent. Is it the end of innocence?

Rain, Rain, Say again! The rain gods must be crazy. When it rains it pours in Assam and Bihar. The Meteorological Department has satellites up there tracking monsoon and its behaviour. And their guess was a normal monsoon once again. Now it's been normal in just about one fourth of the land. Elsewhere, it's calamity. Is it failure of intelligence? Is it failure of imagination? Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal says it's the failure of equipment. Take your pick.

Laloo ka Prasad: Shri Laloo Prasad, oh sorry, Lalu Prasad is the president of the party that rules Bihar. His wife is the chief minister of a state most of which has been under water for a fortnight. So where is the intelligence failure in this? Well, nobody expects intelligence from Mr Prasad, much less from his wife. But people continue asking him questions about floods knowing that he's the funny man of Indian politics. He has got a sense of humour and he is the king of nonsense. The unfortunate dying for relief get a fatherly rebuke and reporters get their byte. This is not flood. Mother Ganga has visited your house, worship her, and don't crib. These floods are good. Now even the backward caste and minority community people can have rare fish, a rare delicacy. More floods, more fish. Excellent. Sheer intelligence on Laloo's oh sorry Lalu's part and a failure of imagination on our part.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Time to roll back baby

It’s rollback time. The dictionary defines rollback as a turning back or retreat, as from a previously held position or policy.

A fortnight after Union Finance Minister P. Chidamarabam presented his Budget, he took one step backward yesterday. The transaction charge on share market was brought down and bonds were exempted.

Share brokers were saying they will be broke and decided to strike, and Dalal Street was left bleeding. Since the bourse’s health happens to be the indicator of economy’s wellbeing, Papa Chidambram decided to decided to spare the rod. Now before you start rolling your eyes in anticipation, he hasn’t said anything about service tax yet.

Stephen Hawking, the celebrated physicist, has retracted parts of his black hole theory. He conceded yesterday he was wrong about his idea, long held as the final word by the rest of the world: black holes, the celestial vortexes formed from collapsed stars, destroy all molecular fingerprints of their contents.

Now, he says black holes, preserve traces of objects swallowed up and eventually could spit bits out “in a mangled form.”

Hawking's radical new theory caps his three-decade struggle to explain a paradox in scientific thinking: How can objects really “disappear” inside a black hole and leave no trace, as he long thought, when subatomic theory says that matter can be transformed but never fully destroyed?

After Sourav Ganguly’s decision to open with Parthiv Patel opened a can of worms, he went back to the mighty pair of Sachin and Sehwag.

The day Parthiv opened the match against Sri Lanka, India lost in a not-so-nail-biting finish. After biting dust and attracting bad bites from critics, his rollback decision worked. Though the contender was the eternal Test cricket pretender Bangladesh, Sachin and Sourav got back their form and the win was convincing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Monsoon, Monlate, Monwhat!

Our country is rich in diversity. In adversity too. Large parts of India are praying for rains, untouched by the unique weather phenomenon called Monsoon.

It has come late in some places and at other places it has decided to skip this year. Wherever it rained, it poured and so much that people are praying for a dry day.

Like Bihar and Assam, where floods have killed hundreds of people, uprooted thousands and terrorised crores of people.

One of colleagues went to his native North Bihar to get married and hasn't come back. He and his newly-wed wife are marooned on an island, because there's water everywhere.

Just south of Bihar, Jharkhand is facing a drought. So is Orissa. Andhra and Tamil Nadu. On the western side, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Rajasthan are fearing the worst.

Punjab and Haryana are fighting over the little Sutlej water and Delhi is caught between them.

Monsoon is moody and that's not good for Manmohan Singh. He's just begun his life as Prime Minister of India and the weather gods have ditched him.

Almost all of India needs Central relief, some because floods swept away roads and homes, rest because drought would mean dead cattle, dead farmers, thirsty towns and craving cities.

And janta is unforgiving. It did not forgive Vajpayee.

Manmohan in America?

Here is the first para of a news I saw on wire today:

{WASHINGTON: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said India and the United States are making an effort to translate the shared convictions and values to partnership and cooperation and termed the growing Indo-American community a key partner in this endeavour.}

I was wondering exactly when did Prime Minister Manmohan Singh go to Washington. Apparently he didn’t go. Singh said all that in a message.

That shows that we have a Prime Minister who cares for safety, at least his own. It’s dangerous to go to America these days.

Ask George Fernandes, who shares his first name with the First Citizen of United States. That did not deter American securitywallas to ask him to take off his suit and shoes before allowing him in.

Manmohan Singh wears a turban and for the average security in charge at American airports a bearded man in turban is a threat to the Big Apple, especially when the threat level is raised to orange, the highest risk colour for Americans.

Vocab Refresher

Indian politics changes with the changes at the Centre of Indian political universe: New Delhi.

With the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) out and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in, one must get familiar with the new Indian political vocabulary.

Here is a list of new nouns, verbs and adjectives that are in currency now.

Daagi, The Tainted: Adj. Someone facing criminal charges.

CMP: Commonly known as common minimum programme, with an emphasis on the word minimum. A very common programme that promises to do minimum.

Left: Used to mean left, now means right. What left says is right.

Bite: What Left does if it’s wronged.

Lalu: Earlier spelt as Laloo. Cheeky antic hero with touches of Bollywood heroines. A Sadhna-cut hairstyle and Hema Malini cheeks. Friend of Mahesh Bhatt and enemy of

PC: Not Personal Computer but P. Chidambaram, the new finance minister.
Sonia: No longer followed by the phrase Yet So Far.

MS: Man-in-blue-turban-Mohan Singh. Not to be confused with the blue-chip Microsoft.

S. Jaipal Reddy: Yes, Jaipal not Ready to allow foreign newspapers to be printed in India. Foreign newspapers can still be sold and read and flaunted.

Amar Singh: Party-pauper, earlier known as party pooper. Mostly seen in Mumbai now.

FDI: Earlier known as Foreign Direct Investment before it acquired a negative connotation. Now interpreted as Foreign Direct Interference.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Main Hoon Na is bestseller

P. Chidambaram's Budget 2004 has become the first document of the government kind in history to get a place in the Top 10 Bestsellers of 2004. In the fiction category.

The 4,000-page book is selling like Mallika Sherawat posters in Muzaffarnagar as a baffled nation tries to find out what exactly did he say in those couple of hours and what he meant.

"We are lost in a sea of figures, you see," said Ms Nimmi Walia, flaunting her figure that looked a lot slimmer than Mallika Sherawat.

We are lost indeed in the fascinatingly Bollywoodish story that has suspense and intrigue with masala thrown in in good measure.

In the chapter, Main Hoon Na, he assures the aam aadmi (roughly translated as mango man) that this Budget brings back the good old days of socialist economy and that the villages will get their rightful 70 per cent of the total budget. Fruitful or fruitless is not the question.

In the chapter Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge, Laloo (who's dropped the "oo" and replaced them with a single "u", prances around the Lutyen's Delhi's trees and takes the bride, Miss Budget. But not before being offered Rs 3,200 crores as dowry. Since law has long outlawed the dowry system, it has been termed as an economic package.

In the chapter Mother India, P. Chidambaram promises the mother that he would bring back her golden bangles from the Corporate Lala but next minute assures the Lala in the same vein: "Don't worry I will not rob you."

No one knows what's on his mind. So everyone is buying the Budget The Book because it's really important to know.

"My mind tells me it's a good budget, but my wallet does not agree," said Haardy Singh, a 32-something executive with a fat salary and fatter waistline.

His slimming centre is expected to hike rates as service tax has gone up. "I want to find out if this is good for my health," a worried Singh said as he tumbled while ambling with the monster-size edition at the crowded fiction section of an upmarket bookstore.

"The book is pure fiction. It has drama, it has action, it has humour and it looks promising," said bookstore owner Karamjit Singh. Humour?

"Yes where there is Laloo there is humour. Besides where else can you find a superhero PC juggling socialism and capitalism and Leninism and what-do-you-have-ism and Laloo Prasad at one time and still stay sane," Singh tells customers. Customers nod in agreement.

It'll take at least a year before we figure out how real Chidambaram's fiction is. By that time Laloo will have learnt his English and Chidambaram Laloo's Hindi.

When they start understanding each other, we'll understand what is cooking in the Kitchen Cabinet. For now all we can do is hope there aren't too many cooks!