Monday, March 19, 2007

And Man Created God... then God Frustrated Man

“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.” —Steven Weinberg

Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes. Marx called it opium, which helps people forget the suffering. Marx was not right (pun intended), and religion may not be all that bad. I am a religious person, though I do not consider myself belonging to a particular religion. I take part in rituals but I cannot claim to have any great faith in them. It’s just part of the greater game called life. I go to temples as and when I feel like it. I visit gurdwaras, dargahs and churches with the same devotion. I am religious about the upkeep of my home cinema, receivers and speakers. I am religious about many things at work. I wish I wasn’t. Being religious can bring a lot of joy in life.

And pain.
What happened last night in Port-of-Spain caused a lot of pain here in our homes and hearts. Most people I know had their TV sets on, eyes fixed on the screen and a prayer on their lips. Dravid and his 10 dwarfs were so consistent in their performance, nobody had a heart attack. Thank God for small mercies.

We call cricket a religion and religion does make you blind. We demolish mosques, shed blood, burn people alive in the name of religion. Since the cricketers were out of our reach, some of us burnt their posters, spat on their mugs and garlanded Chappell with chappals. Just the other day, they were tigers roaring to go. MetroNow frontpaged a story headlined There Is Only One God, next to Sachin Tendulkar’s photograph. It’s true. He is God to the followers of the religion called cricket. We worship him and his friends. The problem is Gods aren’t supposed to fail. So when Sachin failed, self-declared statisticians tossed figures from the past showing how the master blaster has never won us a match, how Sehwag is a disaster, how Dravid is a failed captain, how Sourav could have saved the day, why Dhoni should play at no. 3 and why the paanwaala should be the president of the BCCI.“How can we lose to Bangladesh?”

This question started criss-crossing phone lines and airwaves since 2.30 on Sunday morning. No one bothered to say even hello before going off like a bomb: “Shameful.” Eleven people losing the country’s izzat on a foreign field! In a few hours, a billion best wishes had turned into a billion abuses.

A country desperate for heroes had put all its ego... err... eggs in one basket and sent them to hatch in the Caribbean climes. Out came chickens. Now we are crying over what comes naturally to chickens. We all know the chicken verb, don’t we? And the chicken joke. No, it didn’t cross the road. It fell off a cliff, pushed over by some teenagers termed minnows. A chicken has wings but it can fly to just about a couple of yards. Chicken don’t soar.

The real joke was on the moneybags sponsoring these cricketers. Ladega to Jeetega, World Cup Ko La, None of These Can Get You to Play for India. These commercials were a comic relief during breaks between scenes of Dravid devouring his nails in a not-so-nail-biting match. Our boys had given up the match much before Bangladeshi boys took it away from us. So, dear heart, stop howling and hurling abuses at 11 losers on the rolls of a private concern called BCCI and advertisers. They aren’t the national team, BCCI has said it on record, neither is cricket our national game. But logic was never religion’s cohort.

Experts have already asked Team India to do some introspection. But why only the team? Why not the fans including the fanatics. Where is our sense of outrage when our national investigative team or the CBI loses to Quattrocchi in the hide-and-seek game? Where does our idea of national shame go when police kill innocents, brand them terrorists and bury them denying them dignity even in death? Where is our sense of pride when Naxalites kill 55 policemen and civilians at one go, at will? Our heads don’t hang in shame when a girl is raped in a train while people look the other way. Perhaps honesty, propriety or moral uprightness is yet to become a religion in this country.

Postscript: If India beat Bermuda, the marigold garlands will be back. If India beat Sri Lanka, we will reclaim our Gods. If India enter the Semifinals, we will forget Bangladesh. If India enter the final... okay, let’s not talk about heart attacks now.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


The All-India Street Dog Association has decided to hold a mass movement against Palaniappan Chidambaram’s Budget 2007-2008, proposed in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday. “Bow Wow, Down with PC,” their president Moti barked aloud to over a 1,000 dogs assembled at Jantar Mantar in the afternoon.

Earlier, in the Lok Sabha, Finance Minister Chidambaram had proposed that the duty on pet food be reduced to 20 per cent from 30 per cent. Pet dogs across the country were glued to the TV in their owners’ living room areas and were going wow-wow. Some went ahead and licked Mr Chidambaram on the cheek. Sushil Manchanda’s latest plasma doesn’t exactly feel like chubby Chidambaram’s cheeks, Tojo went ahead risking his master’s ire.

“What on earth are you wagging your tail about? Did I ever get you any less imported food? I have spared nothing so that you have a good life. This 10 per cent is not going to make much difference. We spend at least five thousand bucks on your salon treatment every month,” Mr Manchanda told Tojo. Tojo apologetically snuggled up to the boss and said: “I know you care. But it’s nice to know that even the finance minister cares.” And tears of joy, salty with emotion, flowed down his cheeks.

Outside on the street, Bholu was shedding copious tears of sorrow. Licking his latest wound inflicted by the thousand-times cursed silver Santro, he looked up and said: “God, why did you save me from that Santro? To see this day?” And then he addressed the other resident dogs of that street. “The government discriminates against the poor, what happened to the promise of aam aadmi?”

Bholu, the president of the Gulmohar Park Road No. 3 Canine Resident Welfare Association, lives next to a tent made of plastic sheets. A woman named Sundari and her children live in that. Sundari does utensils in over six houses on the street, including the Manchandas. Her earnings have not increased in the last two years, but her pulse has been rising with the price of pulses. She has been cutting down on pulses in her own makeshift kitchen. With that cut, Bholu’s dinner has become irregular. Sundari’s two kids now clean off the plate. Bholu has to scour the bin for bones twice chewed, once by the Manchandas then by the Tojos.

Bholu and other Gulmohar Park Road No. 3 dogs have joined Moti’s morcha against the Budget. “We want prices of rice, pulses and milk to come down. People can’t afford to waste any food, how can they afford to throw some in our direction? Humans have started licking their plates clean like us. Instead of bringing down prices of essential commodities, this Budget is rubbing salt on our wounded guts. No more staying silent. We must have our day. We have always boycotted the Tojos of the world. We shall be more aggressive now. They aren’t dogs anyway. Their collars cost more than the per capita income of humans in this country. We will bark in front of parliament, we’ll howl in the central hall.”

“We will bark in front of MCD,” whimpered Puppy the pup.

“No MCD. They’ll trap and cut off your thingy. We don’t go near MCD, beta,” Puppy’s mother Lucy silenced him with a firm nudge. Then she looked towards the gathering and said: “Sorry. He’s young, you know. But I propose that we protest in front of Palaniappan’s house.”

The government however seemed unmoved. A party spokesperson said, “We have to take care of all dogs. Besides, pet dogs are genuine voters. A man is as much a dog’s pet as the dog is his. On the other hand, the street dogs are mostly illegal immigrants. They are barking up the wrong tree.”

“Barking up the wrong tree, eh? We will show them what we do to a tree,” Moti thundered lifting his hind right leg. Human anger often spills on to the streets. This time, the canine anger is spilling out of the streets and into the budget debate.

The Unbearable lightness of Budget 2007-08

Indians wait for February 28, when the finance minister presents a bulky document, popularly known as the annual budget, before the Lok Sabha. Yesterday too began with hearts beating faster and the stock markets beating themselves down. Who’s coming? Who’s coming? P. Chidambaram’s long foreplay ended in a sigh, so empty one could hear his starched dhoti’s creases crumple under his weight. When the wait was over India had another lifeless budget betraying a total lack of imagination. It was yesterday once more.

Wallet wise, these are extraordinary times. Indians had never had it so good with the economy in the fast lane. The poor Indians had never had it so bad either, at least in recent times, with their monthly expenses racing past their monthly budget. Those earning in daily wages don’t watch budget-shajjat, they have to earn their bread. It’s the Great Indian Middle Class that suffers the live telecast and its effects. Old habits die hard.

In the days before India surrendered to the market forces, the annual budget did decide how we lived and died. But, then, the government also decided what car you drove, what rice you ate and what poison you drank. No longer, apart from controlling what TV channels you see, the government has outted itself. But the middle class fascination in the annual budget has not died yet. The budget, alas, is dead meat:

I Want Your Tax
If you are among the salaried class, this budget brings you no relief. You will continue to pay through your teeth. But don’t worry, the government is not killing the golden goose yet. Predictable. That’s what boring budgets are. Your tax exemption limit is raised by Rs 10,000 to Rs 110,000. The increased education cess will take care of that half-hearted smile on your face. Rob Ramalingam to Pay Palaniappan. Simple, da! If you get ESOPs, it will get hit by the lunatic fringe benefit tax.

Cheap Thrills
Some things catch the government’s imagination during Budget time. And TV channels and newspapers immediately announce they’ll become cheaper. Nothing of that sort will happen to diamonds, I bet. The service tax on polishing diamonds has been cut. It will however save the diamond cutting-polishing industry in Gujarat. Cheap Chinese labour was threatening to take that business out. Slashing excise on watch dials doesn’t make watches any cheaper. Bio-diesel will be exempt from excise. Huge favour! Try finding bio-diesel in the city. The normal diesel and petrol prices will not be reduced despite an excise duty cut on auto fuels. That’s to protect the government-owned petroleum companies. And by the way your dog’s food got cheaper.

Expensive taste
Mr Chidambaram wants you to have healthy lungs, so the excise on cigarettes goes up. How original! Do not expect cigarette sales to go down due to the duty. Import duty on private aircraft goes up. If you are among those who import their own flying machines, we are sure a lakh here and there won’t pinch.

Happy politicians/bureaucrats
Rajiv Gandhi had famously said that 85 per cent of the money meant for rural development disappeared before it reached the villages. He didn’t name the politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus. Because he knew that we knew. This year government’s expenditure would rise by a whopping 21 per cent. It warms our hearts to know that the government will expend Rs 680,521 crore to meet social sector commitments and enhanced defence needs. It will make warmer the hearts of the nexus that Rajiv Gandhi, a decent man, didn’t name. A budget, cut for them!

Healthy, happy life
The good-for-your-heart sunflower oil may become cheaper after the excise duty cut. Good news. The Health and Family Welfare Department has got a good raise, nearly 22 percent. The government will spend Rs 15,291 crore on this sector. May the corrupt get herpes if they try to take their cut from money meant for controlling HIV. The government will also spend more on art and culture. So will you. Buying and selling art will attract capital gains tax.

Same middle ko finger
This annual financial finger doesn’t poke the rich. The rich don’t worry about marginal cuts and taxes. The poor is too poor to be taxed. And too fisted to even bother. The middle class gets the poke and worse, it knows it’s getting it.


Lalu may rename wife to puncture Nitish’s Patna-to-Patliputra move!
Shakespeare not available for comment

Patna or Patliputra, Feb. 22: Railway Minister Lalu Prasad has decided to rename his wife and Bihar Opposition leader Rabri Devi. However, no decision has been taken on which of the three proposed names will be chosen: Rebecca Devin, Rubiina Begum or Rabrinder Kaur.

According to political analysts, Mr Prasad would take the wind out of Nitish Kumar’s move to rename Bihar capital Patna as Patliputra, the original name of the city. Though during Mr Prasad’s regime the city’s infrastructure did go back to the ancient times, historians are livid at the comparision.

“The roads in the ancient Patliputra were much better than what they are today. The only thing common is the cow on the road,” eminent historian Ramcharitra Rehman said.Lalu Prasad wants the Nitish government to change Patna’s name to Azeemabad, not Patliputra. This is seen as a move to cement his Muslim vote bank. The city was known as Azeemabad for a brief period during the Mughal rule.

“This is why we want Rabriji to become Rubiina Begum. This will show he can take radical decisions. He is rail minister and he changes a train’s name from Patna-Surat Express to Azeemabad-Surat Express. Bihar is in Nitish hands, so he can’t do anything. But Rabriji, he can convince, nahin? It will be the final proof that if he could he would rename things to make benefit the Muslim community,” said Anil Akela of the RJD, who is in favour of what he calls “furthering strengthening” the minority image of the party.

But Mukesh Madhur, Akela’s rival for the general-secretary post in Kankarbagh Koloni, prefers Rebecca. “See, we already enjoy Muslim support. We need a Christian name for Rabriji so that the other minority community does not feel alienated. Then we can think of Jewish, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist names for their children. His brother-in-law is Sadhu, and sadhus are Hindu anyway,” he told reporters at his office on Circular Road, renamed Janpath by Laluji’s brother-in-law Sadhu Yadav.

“By the way, how is Ming Wa Chung for a name? I am thinking I should also do it, there are six votes in a Chinese dentist family in our koloni,” he said.

But in the end, Patna Sahib (originally known as Patna City) may turn it all in favour of Rabrinder Kaur. “Patna City is Guru Gobind Singh’s birthplace and an important pilgrimage for Sikhs. And since Laluji is looking at Prime Ministership, he will get a good foothold in the north if he goes for a Sikh name. He already has Muslims in one pocket and khaini in the other. He just needs the Sikhs,” Sardar Jatinder Singh, the only first generation Sikh secretary in the party said. Earlier known as Jeetendra, he changed his name to Jatinder while working in the fields of Punjab.

But there is a catch: Rabriji’s is apparently not happy being treated like a train. To convince her, Laluji told her: “What is in a name, Sekspeerwa said once and I am telling you twice.” She rebuffed the move saying “Ghar mein bachche hain, aap thoda dheere bola karo yeh sab.” “Arre hum wo waala nahin, poet waala sekspeerwa bol rahe hain,” Laluji explained. He’s yet to get her nod, but Patna will soon become Patliputra because the ruling coalitions do what they please. Remember cities called Madras, Calcutta, Bangalore, Pondicherry, Bombay?