From Class-less Mumbai Trains to Caste-less Indian Society

Abbé aee— first class hain, First. Chal peeche waala dabba mein ja,” (this is first class, go to the compartment behind) is a common refrain that can be heard in the suburban trains of Mumbai day after day. Depending on the time of the day, the tone and the tenor of the words change; it will be irritated and scruff in the mornings and evenings during the peak hours when space is at a premium and it will be calm and brotherly during the afternoon, or late at night when there is much space around.Mumbai-train-station-main

In 10 cases out of 10, the admonishment above would have been uttered and directed at a person based on how he looks and what he wears. If a man is a short, black fella with oil in his hair and in chappals or slippers, if he is wearing faded shirt and a worn out pant, if he carrying a common bag on his back, a cheap mobile in his pocket; he (don’t know if it happens in a she-compartment) is most likely to be reprimanded so, and reminded of his status in the scheme of trains. In most cases, the man uttering this phrase is right in his judgement, as ridiculed one would look around confused and dazed, and would scamper out to squeeze himself in the ‘other  compartments’ meant for him. In this way the ‘premium’ness of the First Class is assiduously protected. And rightfully too, after all the fares of the First Class are around thrice and more of the Second Class, there are just 3 coupes of First in a train of 12. This economic barrier is what ensures that a corporate executive travels to work comfortably while reading news from a pink paper, and poor peon hanging for his life and trying not to become one.

Pic: http://shoooonya.blogspot.in/2012/07/mumbai-local-first-class-vs-second.html

Pic courtesy: http://shoooonya.blogspot.in/2012/07/mumbai-local-first-class-vs-second.html

Honestly speaking, there is no real physical difference between the First and Second Class in the suburban trains, at least no discernible one. Both arrive at the station simultaneously, the interiors are the same, and so are the exteriors. Even the seats are the same, and the pattern of seating. It is not as if, after paying a premium you are showered with fresh scented air, or extra leg space or something. Neither do you have the privilege to disembark first or something, like you have in planes. In fact, travelling in either class is the same, what really changes is kind of gentry, and so the attitude of the traveller based on his or her perceptions. Thus, a First Classer is much gruff around with his personal space, they will only seat 3 on a seat that on a supposed to seat 3, unlike in the Second Class, where they always ‘adjust’ 4, and even more based on size of the occupants.  Continue reading

How mythology is not a science, and why it should not be treated as one!

“Who really knows?
Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
Who then knows whence it has arisen?”

 Rig Veda, 10:129-6

 Somewhere embedded deep inside the Rig Veda — which happens to be one of the important canonical texts of Hindu religion, the four Vedas — is Nasadiya Sukta, or what is known as the hymn of creation. Of unknown authorship, this hymn poses some very cryptic and incisive queries on the purpose of life and the very existence of an all-bearing god. There is an element of agnosticism, of query, of doubt. It starts in a rhetorical fashion, posing incisive queries questioning the singularity itself. And while numerous interpretations of the Sukta have highlighted the scientific temper and the inquisitive Indian mythology1temperament of the early sages who penned this and the very many hymns found elsewhere, the fact remains that Nasadiya Sukta is also a very humane and emotional query. For instance, when asked to believe in something, don’t we always begin with scepticism and doubt, it is only later when through understanding and acceptance that we move to the next level. Until then, we are atheists, sceptics, agnostics and so on.

In that way Nasadiya Sukta is most special, it accepts doubt and empiricism as part of the man’s spiritual and scientific journey. It encourages questioning the very fundamentals, even the existence of a supreme being or many is not taken for granted. It is in this sense, Hinduism differed from all else, you did not have to believe anything that your rational mind did not. Faith was not a mandatory imposition; that is, not believing in the trinity — Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh — did not make you any lesser of a Hindu, than say a temple priest who spent a lifetime propriating the very triad. And so the ancient Vedic Hindu was a questioning, open-minded, person, not a self-deluded proud oaf who saw Meru as the centre of the universe, denying everything else.

Much has changed in the journey from a Vedic Hindu performing a homa on a vedi in the ancient time, to the modern Hindu blogging and posting on the Vedas on FB and Twitter today. The progress of technology and evolution has left its mark on the religion itself. New gods have emerged, old have been dislodged, there have been numerous reformist movements from Arya Samaj to Theosophical Society, from Iskcon to Art of Living. Hinduism probably is the only religion in the world, where new deities keep emerging at different time, and all the time. Take the case of Sai Baba, there are numerous temples dedicated to him and many more are sprouting all the time. In fact, Shirdi which was the seat of Sai Baba has become a huge pilgrimage centre, with annual donations running in many millions. Faith is always good business in any religion.

Sadly, the Vedas to a large extent have now been relegated to the domain of the experts and the scholars, with newer texts taking their place. The Hindu theology can be broadly classified into three buckets:

  • Vedas & Brahmanas
  • Upanishads 
  • Puranas & the Epics

The four Vedas – Rig, Yajur, Attharva, Sama — primarily are a collation of hymns, rituals and prayers, propitiating the various Vedic deities (32 approximately), like Indra, Agni, Varun, Maruts, Prajapati. There’s much lesser storytelling in them, and whatever are there, the purpose is to present a reasoning for a certain ritual or sacrifice. For instance the tale of Apala in the Rig Veda provides a clue as to why certain rituals like the turmeric

Indian mythology3ceremony is performed during the nuptials. Thus, the tales are a sort of story to explain the science. There is a purpose, a well-thought objective. The sheer depth and complexity of the Vedas are tempered by such tales. Also, it is important to note that there is a lot more cultural and scientific material in the Vedas, through careful examination and interpretation, one can understand the nature of being, and the natural world that surrounds it. Indeed, there is theology and philosophy, but only to a limited extent. For instance, we get to know about how the world was created through Purusha Sukta and to an extent the Nasadiya Sukta. Matters like philosophy of religion is dealt with much greater emphasis in the subsequent works like the Upanishads.

So, broadly speaking Vedas are the scientific texts, Upanishads are the philosophical treatise, and by the time we reach the Puranas, all we are left with tales and myths. The Puranas are much later compositions and were written for a specific purpose to promote and endorse one deity over all else, thus in the Shiv Purana, you are told that Lord Shiva is ‘dev adi dev, mahadev’ (the super-duper god), the Vaishnav Purana would tell you about the Maha Vishnu, who creates a million universes with each breath lorded over by a smaller Vishnu in his own image. The Devi Purana, similarly pronounces the supreme-ness of the female deity. All this is done through prose stories, and almost every time the story of creation is reinvented with a new twist.

Meanwhile, the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana penned by Vyas and Valmiki respectively are Maha-Kavyas, great poems and work of fiction, like say Iliad and Odyssey. These are fantastical tales possibly of fantastical people and times, but then in lack of larger proof in terms of historical finding or artefact, they cannot really be considered as real.

Yet, since the epics are much a part of the religious ethos, the Hindus treat them Hindu mythology 2with much deference and respect. Considering that the two major Vishnu Avatars are at the core of each of this epic, raises the religious value of these works beyond comprehension. Little wonder, when the same epics were adopted on television the actors playing Rama and Krishna were treated like gods, and there are stories of how people would offer flowers and fruits to the TV when the episodes aired. In that particular timeslot the television set would turn into a temple of sorts. That is the power of belief.

Little wonder, the amazing tales told in the epics, or even the Puranas, are not fiction for many. There are numerous who believe them to be real, and so many scholars and researchers spend their lifetime looking for clues, meanings and physical markings of all the things and places etched out in them. This is a sort of retrofitting research, wherein you try and find the physical manifestation of a fictional object or thing. People give real world dates, 4000 BCE, 8000 BCE, 80000 BCE and so on. Ramayana came first, Mahabharata second, and so on.

Ravana_seizes_the_chariot_Puspaka_from_KuveraAnd this is essentially where the anomalies start, in the fascination and fastidiousness of proving the epics as historical contrivances, supposed scholars start building fancy hypotheses.  Thus, a Brahmastra in Arjun’s  quiver becomes an equivalent of an atomic missile, Ravan’s Pushpakvimana turns into an early age helicopter, Gandhari’s mechanism of having kids by raising 100 embryos in 100 earthen pots is like test-tube baby, replacement of Ganesha’s head with that of an elephant is surgical procedure, the Jambudweepa is another term of the ancient Pangea, the extreme slowness of Brahma’s time is actually time dilation, the Krishna’s precise and pinpointed Sudarshan Chakra is actually a cruise missile, and the list just goes on and on.

Looking from the prism of today, these scholars try to reinvent the past using the epics as the base. The core idea is to impress upon us that our lineage actually hails from a very scientific and advanced race. It is like reading Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues under the sea’ and deducing that the medieval man had a powerful nuclear submarine like Nautilus, or using HG Wells novel to claim the indisputable existence of a time machine. The lines between fact and fiction gets blurred.

By the way, in no manner do I imply that our great ancestors were some pastoral oafs. Indeed they were ahead of their times, inquisitive and used science as a tool. Anyone who has ever visited any Indus Valley Civilization’s ruin — even excepting Harappa & Mohenjo Daro (because they are far too superlative to not impress) — would immediately realise the scientific temperament of the ancient Indians, the town planning, the right-angled streets, the sewer system, the trade mechanism, etc. do provide a glimpse into the scientific past. Continue reading

Here is what they should not tell you about Hindu mythology

While I much respect and admire the kind of work Devdutt Pattanaik is doing in bring Indian mythology to the fore, he has written numerous books and spoken at various TedX events on the same, yet I am much disappointed by his latest post on qz.com, titled “Here is what they don’t tell you about feminism and sexuality in Hindu mythology”. It is a well-written piece on a well-read website, yet at the core of it, it makes a lot of errors not only in terms of judgements but also on inferences drawn from them. The very first words of the piece start with, “Hindu Mythology reveals”.  This can be a very dicey phrase to beginMahabharat1 with. You see, mythology by a simple definition is actually a story or a tale. And being one, it cannot really reveal anything; one can only make interpretations of it, to guess what the thought process was in that time when the same had been supposedly penned. Thus, as a corollary, etiological study of epics like Mahabharata or Ramayana are as prone to misinformation, as say an archaeological study is.

Coming to the primary premise of the said piece that talks about a very important issue of feminism and equality in ancient Indian times. The objective is much noble, but then, it starts of in a weird manner, stating that in the Mahabharata, there is an allusion of a time, where “men and women were free to go to anyone, until it became important to establish fatherhood.” Mahabharata is a vast epic that has much in it, like an ocean, where you can dive and find different gems every time. Hence, finding instances that support such inference is not really a surprise. Yet, in the phrase above, the allusion seems to be either on promiscuity or freedom to choose partners in ancient India.  Continue reading

Will someone kick the #StupidBucket

Imagine for a second, what would happen if  someone pours a bucket of ice-cold water over your head? A slight chill runs through the body, the hair gets spoilt, the dress gets wet, and god forbid if you are carrying your wallet or your phone on you, the person with the bucket would possibly be buried in one.

But what if you could have some fun, get publicity, and indulge in friendly ICB11bantering with your colleagues or friends, and finally, the beatific feeling of having contributed to a good cause, all at the same time. If imagine you could get all this by having a bucket of cold water poured over your head, would you not agree to it?

This is what essentially the Ice Bucket Challenge (or as it is known #IceBucketChallenge) is all about. Lots of fun, PR gimmicks, bantering and all this in the name of a charitable cause. Apparently the Ice Bucket Challenge is being taken for spreading awareness on ALS or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. A neurological disorder affecting the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Patients suffering from ALS or Lou Gehrig Disease as it is also known suffer from a degenerative loss of control over their bodily functions, leading to total paralysis and subsequent death. Typically, the time-span between the onset of symptoms to death is around 2-5 years. It is a painful and traumatic disease, which leaves the person debilitated and is incurable. Hence, people having fun with cold water in the name of such a traumatic disorder must make you sick. Right?

Not really. In our disjointed world, something as abominable as this is repackaged as a philanthropic and social exercise. SO, the Ice Bucket Challenge has a social side, the participants in the challenge have a choice of donating $100 or having a bucket of ice-water poured over their heads. Ideally, you’d expect folks (especially the uber rich ones) to opt for donation, so that there can be more research on the disease, and the possibility of finding a cure. But no, in a sort of pseudo machismo, people will have water poured over their heads as if it is a very brave and gallant thing to do. The script is similar in almost all the videos posted, the person will ICB2“accept” the challenge, rattle of a few more names, steel himself/herself up, have the bucket emptied over self, smile, shriek or just look bewildered. The length of the video varies from 30 seconds to over 2 minutes, directly proportional to how desperate the person is for publicity. In fact, in many videos the celebs don’t even mention ALS or do it very casually, thereby defeating the whole purpose for taking up the challenge (remember the greater good of spreading awareness). Continue reading

Is Bhagvad Gita actually an *(Asterisk) in prose?

Bhagvad Gita is one of the most sacred, if not the most sacred of Hindu texts. It has gained cult status, with people from different walks of life, from religious to completely non-religious background emphatically thumbing their support for it. Even the common man is sensitised to its sacredness, what with the oath of honesty one has to take while in matters of courts and law. In that way, it is to Hindus what Koran is to Muslims or Bible is to Christians.

Yet, Gita is not a standalone work or complete in itself, like say the Koran and Bible are. It is a part of an overall epic of Mahabharata. In fact were we to make a size based comparison, it is very small part of the epic, having some 700 verses in a family of some 200000 verses. Nevertheless, Mahabharata is not sacred, but Gita is. I well remember in the past, there was a pervasive notion that if there is a 101734067Mahabharata copy in your, there will fights and clashes in the family. Result, not many would keep the Mahabharata copy at home. But Ramayana, and more importantly Gita always find a place of honour in any Hindu god-fearing home.

Recently, while discussing Mahabharata at the Comparative Mythology class, there was this bit about how Hindu epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana had numerous editions of interpretations. Through the ages, these stories have been told and retold, with a little tweak and a little addendum, for instance, Ram in a version of Bengali Ramayana is portrayed as a weakling, while Sita is the strong character (not surprising since in Bengal, woman have been always at the centre of things be it literature Labonya in Gora, films – Charulata (Satyajit Ray), or even in politics like Mamta). Similarly, in a tribal version of Ramayana from Madhya Pradesh, the second brother Lakshman takes a much bigger role, and is central to the theme. Meanwhile, in places like Thailand and Surinam, Hanuman is much more than a devout monkey-follower of Ram. Thus, in every retelling of a tale, there is some embellishment of it.

Mahabharata too has undergone many such interpretations, the story being told from varying perspectives, be it Karna, or Duryodhan (or should one say Suyodhan). There is even one work from the perspective of Karan’s wife. The sheer depth and character of the epic, lends itself to such works.

Gita somehow seems to have escaped from the cycle of interpretations. I mean there is much work and analysis on Gita, but there is not much interpretation. As the lecturer said in the mythology class, storyteller and mythologists always keep a healthy distance from Gita. It makes you scratch your head, as to what could be the reason for it?

Sharma-055One of the explanations is to look at the nature of the content of Gita. Unlike the interesting milieu of the Mahabharata, Gita is a fairly staid. Essentially, the whole of Gita is actually an elongated sermon, given by Krsna to a confused Arjun, who is sort of dithering before the great war. Right through the 18 chapters Krsna more or less sums up the Hindu philosophy of birth, death and living. While answering to doubts raised by Arjun, Krsna lays the philosophy of divinity namely that of Advaita (non duality) and merges the concept of karma, addressing Arjun (and thereby all of us), to surrender on to him and think not the consequences of action. The chapters are an assimilation of the three schools of thoughts in Hinduism, what are dubbed to be the paths leading to god, namely, karma, gyana, and bhakti. Continue reading

How the Indian PM was abused & denigrated in the name of democracy

Reading the excerpts of Sanjay Baru’s book on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, The Accidental Prime Minister (http://bit.ly/1iawxNv), I am somehow reminded of a cartoon that was done by the brilliantly nonchalant Abu Abraham. Published in the tumultuous period of the Emergency, it shows a rather ungainly President in the bathtub, signing off the proclamation. Indeed, on midnight of June 26, 1975, the office of the President of India was delivered such a body-blow, that it has not recovered even till today. Not surprisingly, the president of the nation, was considered to merely a rubber-stamp, a puppet in the hand abu_abraham_cartoon_20120326of the government, who signs off the bill, the ordinances, proclamations of Presidents Rule, etc., living off the lard in a cosy colonial palace, the Rastrapati Bhavan. Indira Gandhi, who selfishly wanted to avoid the embarrassment of having to resign following a verdict of Allahabad High Court, decided to enact the most brazen and oppressive abuse on Indian democracy. The rest of the government, including the President, were merely stooges or at-best hapless no-bodies, who could no nothing.

Somehow, the stratagem that was deployed by Indira in 1975, was mastered by her daughter-in-law in 2004, who foisted on a nation a political cipher as a prime minister, just to warm the seat for the eventual transition to her son, Rahul Gandhi. Manmohan Singh as a prime minister in 2004, was as much as an accident as much as it was a design. Just like her mother-in-law, who was under fire for electioneering crimes, Sonia Gandhi was under pressure over her Italian root. The then President APJ Kalam too had apparently raised the issue of her origins, and showed reluctance in ordaining her as the PM. After having burnt her fingers with a thankless PV Narsimha Rao and ambitious Sitaram Kesri, Sonia decided to find a PM that was not only pliable and amenable, but also deferential to the 1st family, and drawing his support from the family itself. Thus by a curious tragedy, in 2004, we never really got a prime minister but rather a care-taker prime minister, someone who was always “caring” the needs of the family and careful not to fall out of favour with his mentors.

While the stratagem deployed by Sonia Gandhi was vintage Congress-stuff, the implications and ramifications were far wider. Over the course of reign from 1966 down to 1984, Indira Gandhi had ruthlessly destroyed all the power-centres that could pose a challenge to the PMO. Stooges were given positions of power, and those who stood in the way were somehow sidelined and cut to size. For instance, not many were surprised when Giani Zail Singh on being made the President had apparently remarked, that “If my leader had said I should pick up a broom and be a sweeper, I would have done that. She chose me to be President!”. Little wonder, when Operation Bluestar was launched, the President did not even know a thing about it beforehand. India was Indira, and Indira was India, truly speaking. Continue reading

Tale of the Farmer, Rats and a Cobra

Long long ago, in a not so far-off land, there lived a farmer with his prosperous land. The piece of land was much fertile, in fact so much so that it could easily feed the farmer and his family, and even leave him a decent surplus. Sadly, wherever there is prosperity, follows the crisis. Not surprisingly, the farmer’s land was invaded by a bunch of fair-skinned rascals, who took over the land, made the farmer toil, and took away all the surplus. Suddenly, in the field which used to feed and leave a surplus, the farmer and his family were facing starvation. For what seemed like a long age seemingly stretching for two centuries, the farmer suffered, starved and toiled. The land was his but the produce was not. He strove hard against the new lords, and finally was able to evict them. And he heaved a big big sigh. His land was his again, the food was his again. He dreamed of a good future, quite unlike the time before the fair-skinned crooks had come.

With a renewed vigour and zeal, he started toiling, it was his time in the sun. And then one day while taking a stroll in his field, the farmer heard a squeak, and spotted a little mouse. Looking at the field that produced so much, the farmer thought how much could the poor famished rat eat. So he let it be. Time passed, and as the farmer toiled through the day and night, getting his rewards, he could hear the squeaks getting multiplied. But then he was too happy and glad, to bother about a few or more rats.

‘God has been kind, and its his wish’, he say to his family. This went on for a long time, and in the same time the mice turned into medium sized rats, and then into huge bandicoots. They thrived on the land and its surplus. And then came a time, when the pestilence grew so much that the farmer’s output was affected. First his surplus was steadily wiped off, and then his subsistence ration was. The farmer realised his folly, but alas it was too late. He tried killing a few with sticks, scaring them, but it would make no dent. The rats had reached a point, where a few dead was no issue. Newer ones were quickly added. Continue reading

The Legacy of Sultan Manmohan Singh Tughlaq

Time is a rather malleable entity, unpredictable and quite unfathomable. Linear it is, say many, like a fabric all meshed up, say few, heavy like gravity, like a quasar, multi-dimensional, ephemeral, unreal, say the rest. The passage of time, quantified by the circular rotation of two sinewy arms on our clocks, is meant to signify a sort of permanence, a moment that is lost or gone, ceases to exist. There’s nothing that one can do to bring it back, lost in the ever-infinite sea of eternity. Past is past, and present is present, and never the twain shall meet, is good a testament, that could have well been etched in stone on that tablets that were forged at Mount Sinai.

And yet for all its permanence, time sometimes also seems permeable, like a sponge or something. The little circles on one side forming a connection to another side. The connections are unmistakable, inescapable. And while the recorded history of our species only stretches a couple of thousand years, even in this short period we have seen events taking shape in different time, different climate, mirroring each other in a very strange ethereal manner. Separated by a vast ocean of time, yet, these events seem like some sort of cosmic clones of each other. History (which is a product of time) indeed has a very uncanny knack of repeating itself.

To give you an idea, lets flashback to 14th century India, much long before the very idea of India even firuzexisted. The precise time on the dial is set to sometime in the latter half of the century, somewhere say 1380s AD. The place is Firozabad, not very far from modern-day Delhi, and it’s the reign of Malik Feroze ibn Malik Rajab or more renowned as Sultan Feroze Shah Tughlaq. The Sultan is a septuagenarian man, lording over a dominion that is much weaker and lesser than what his pre-decessor had bequeathed to him. He is a sort of weakling, little in control of things around him. He had succeeded the strong-willed and maverick Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq, who was most famous for his decree to shift the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad or his experiments with token currency that failed spectacularly. But unlike his predecessor, Feroze Shah Tughlaq was a softie, or a little more of fruitcake. When he took over in 1351, the empire was vast but in a mess. There was much confusion as Muhammad bin Tughluq had died without an heir, and in the ensuing unrest, Feroze was enthroned as the new sultan. Continue reading

A billion reasons why India should be scared — really scared!

Years back, when I had a stopover at the Heathrow Airport for a connecting flight to Mumbai, I had noticed something amusing. Over the 8 hours spent there, I spotted more browns than black or white. The whole airport complex was teeming with Indians. Left, right or wherever one could see there were Indians (possibly Pakistanis or Bangladeshis, as they are hardly discernible from us). I have been, ever since, joking about how we are extracting sweet revenge against the ‘Goras’ who colonized us for 200 years, by reverse-colonising them. And this time, there won’t be a battleground or bayonets, say like the Battle of Plassey. Instead, every fertile womb in India is a battleground, and every loaded prick is a bayonet. These ‘teen-gunaa lagaan’ British gentlemen will forever rue the fact as to why they ever came to India. It is now time to pay back ‘teen-gunaa’ (three times) for all those lagaans (taxes).

While India’s teeming story is fairly pervasive everywhere across the globe, from ‘Kaneda’ to Australia, thep-1 demographic boom is most visible in India itself, say in a city like Mumbai. Over the past three decades that I have been around this metropolis, I have seen the city been inundated with numbers far beyond the capacity. Earlier in the city, you had peak hours and non-peak hours for travel, based on the crowds and the absence of it. But now you have peak-hour and hyper-peak hour. There’s no escaping the crowds anywhere, anytime. For instance, I grew up spending very many evenings that turned into starry nights at the Juhu Beach, building castles of sand and digging pits. Nowadays, let alone building castles or forts, if you find yourself sufficient place to even stand, you would count yourself lucky. And no, this isn’t a phenomenon in Mumbai, as a handful of politicians who play migrant-politics would like us to believe. Mumbai is just a snapshot of the bigger illness.

Quite like Mumbai, India is bursting at the seams. There are just too many of us, at any given time. India accounts for a meagre 2.4% of the world surface area of 135.79 million sq km. Yet, it supports and sustains a whopping 17.5% of the world population. The fact of the matter is right there for anyone to see, the population of India is almost equal to the combined population of USA, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan. Continue reading

Death of the Purple Canaries

Mining can be a quite a hazardous vocation. Deep inside the burrows of the earth, miners dig for minerals, coal and other stuff to satisfy the ever-increasing appetite of our society, risking their very life and limbs in the process. In the wibbly-wobbly shafts, that can collapse at a moment’s notice shutting them forever from their loved ones, the miners look for reassurances in whatever manner they come, be it scientific or superstitious.  A little yellow canary in a cage is one of them,  renowned for its life-saving charms.

For ages, these little-cute-yellow-fluffy-birdies have been carried down the mine tunnel, often at the very front of the miner party as a good luck charm. These pale-coloured birds are very sensitive to dangerous gases like methane or carbon monoxide, and whenever they encounter it, they die rather swiftly and stoically. Their deaths are construed to be an alarm by the miners, to exit the tunnels immediately before the leaked deadly gases affect them.shutterstock_66032467

Do the miners love these canaries while they are alive, or possibly love them even more when they are dead, no one knows for sure. Yet, the death of these little canaries spells life for the many miners. Or one could say, that their deaths is a precursor of worsening times ahead, a warning of impending doom or destruction in case of status quo. It is a rather poetic or a prophetic end, depending on one’s objectivity. But one thing is for sure; no canary has been celebrated or knighted once dead. When they die, these birds are unknown and unwept. Their death is not a sacrifice, but merely an early sign. That’s how cruel life is.

Much like the canaries, though not an iota as cute, lives a species in our modern-day society. They are celebrated and feted, and fed and fattened. Yet, when they are sacrificed, not many tears are shed. This urban species is rather purple in its behaviour, and swiftly meets the end, when the economic conditions wary. They are most sensitive to forces of economics things like recession, depression or slowdown hit them hard. And their doom should be a warning for lot others, yet is often ignored.

Who are these little fluffies living out in our modern day cities, who aren’t so little anyways? Well, these purple canaries are also known by other synonyms like the fourth-estaters, the journalists, the presswallahs,  the jhollawallahs or whatever you call them. They live boxed in little cages, twittering nicely on a sunny day, when all goes well. Yet, when things go south, so do these chaps. In most cases, they will be the first ones to be retrenched, sacked or just booted out. A little visit to the local press-club will enlighten anyone on this rather ironical tale of a breed that gets to break bread with the high and mighty, yet, when the bread is at a premium, they are broken up easily instead. Thus, whenever there’s an economic descent or a slowdown, you will find more journos with their resumes on sites like Naukri.com and others. Continue reading

India Gangraped

In the aftermath of the heinous Delhi gang-rape case and the Mumbai gang-rape incident, numerous people were out on the roads holding candles, placards and what not. The media, as it is nature, went into frenzy; solemn anchors asked dire and direct questions. Panels were formed, experts were asked, politicians expressed outrage, protestors ranted loud. Newspapers and magazines too joined the  frenzy, with relentless coverage, sad statistics, and unending stream of visual infographics that drove home the point firm and hard: India is being raped and brutalised; left, right and centre.

Rape, yet again, was the hot potato, right from the panel studios to the living room. Rapes were being reported with amazing regularity from all over the country, foreigners, Indians, no one was spared. Numbers that came out only underscored the point. Here are a few statistics that will scare you:

rape 1

 

  • 24,206 rape cases were registered in India in 2011, according to NCRB.

  • A woman is raped every 18 hours or molested every 14 hours in the Capital

  • Cases of rape went up by 873% in the last decade. Shockingly, between 2007 and 2011, rape incidents increased by 9.7%, three times faster than all other crimes put together

  • Nearly 68,000 rape cases were registered across the country during 2009-11 but only 16,000 rapists were sentenced to prison

  • NCRB data shows there were 1,22,292 cases of molestation during 2009-11

The statistics don’t stop, like an endless stream of data they just keep going on. But what essentially can be summed up is that women in India are never safe, with one being raped every few minutes in some part or the other. The figure could be very high, as it is generally assumed that a majority of cases are never reported out of fear or shame.

The moot question is, how did the affairs come to this end so suddenly? Were we always like this, or have we become so in the past few years? Were the Indian males sleazy, opportunistic bastards all this while or have they become one suddenly? Continue reading

Why Mumbai needs Meru? And, why there’s more to it than meets the eye?

On Feb 4th, major newspapers in Mumbai carried a fervent (and a rather long one as well) appeal from Meru Cabs, asking the lay public for support, something that went like, we served you now, support us. Saying it in short, the ad talked about how hoodlum practices had forced the company to stop its operation and how in spite of almost all the drivers wishing to return to work, they were not let to, by a “handful of people with ulterior motives”. At the end, there was a business plea, to let a corporation carry out its business unhindered by political machinations.

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For many of us in Mumbai, the current Meru fracas is certainly not a new one. Over the past year or two, it has become a regular affair. Over some trifle issue or the other, the olive-green taxis will be off the road, and after some reconciliation they will be back. Only for the same cycle to repeat all over again. In fact, the ad itself mentioned that the company has suffered such “strikes” 6 times in the past two years. None of the competitors, the Mega, the Easy or the Tabs, have faced such issues. So, what exactly is the company doing so wrong that it’s facing such backlash again and again?

Curiosity finally, got the better of me, and I started Googling on the subject and asking my friends in the industry to find out how and why things had come to such a pass. And here’s how the story unfolded. Starting off in this very city of Mumbai in 2007, Meru today is India’s largest radio taxi operator and world’s 3rd largest company, operating some 5500 cabs in metros like Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad, in addition to Mumbai. Statistically, Meru serves more than a million passengers a month; executing over 20,000 trips on a daily basis (it even holds a Limca Book of Records for the same).

Now, just as Redmond is synonymous with Microsoft or Atlanta with Coca-Cola, or even closer home how Bangalore is synonymous with Infosys, Mumbai and Meru have an intrinsic connection. In fact, it should be a matter of pride for all of us that in a short course of half-dozen years, a start-up from the city attained such success that it was even featured in WSJ or even as a Wharton case-study. Meru’s success is symbolic of Mumbai’s entrepreneurial acumen, where if you have a great idea and a determined will nothing can come in the way to success. Except possibly for politically-aligned trade unions.

Time for flashback. When Meru started operations back in 2007, we Mumbaikars were completely at the mercy of the city cabs (referred locally as kaali-peeli). Hyper-inflated bills, rowdy behaviour, rash driving, and others were all the calling cards of the kaali-peeli. Commuters were helpless in front of these cab-wallahs, who ran according to a writ of their own. In this mire, appears Meru, a professional run-taxi operator, that delivers a swanky sedan at your door, with a civil driver and a mechanism to ensure no over-charging. While over the years, Meru added a lot many features to their cabs, like web-booking, credit-card payment, etc., the earlier 3 were its only USP. Continue reading