Tuesday, August 30, 2011

'Curiouser and curiouser'

There’s trouble in Anna’s wonderland. One member of his core team has accused another of telling a lie. Of course it has been done in a very non violent way...all under the guise of we still have a lot of respect for her and she is still a very important member of our team, but the subtext of Kejriwal’s communication to the media is Bedi is a liar.

On Monday following the conclusion of the Fast Tamasha, Bedi was interviewed by Headlines Today. ‘It was a miracle,’ she preened. And went on to say how the miracle was penned by L K Advani, who has been licking his wounds for years that despite the rath yatra, despite his most loyal lieutenants screaming ek dhakka aur do during the Babri demolition, despite the Gujarat riots, the people of India successfully foiled his attempts to be the PM, not once but twice. She also gurgled like a little baby about the fact that when all else had failed, including her vulgar antics on stage, Advani ji had called her the night before the resolution. He reassured her by calling her ‘Beti’ for the first time and told her he will set things right. ‘Anna is India and India is Anna,’ she shouted and finally ended her interview by co-opting even critics of Anna’s movement like me into the people’s victory. ‘Every single Indian is proud today,’ she thundered. I had no choice. My citizenship was at stake. If I didn’t feel happy about her ghungat act, I was not an Indian. Just like years ago her new found Papaji and his party had tried to make me feel if I wasn’t happy about the Babri demolition, I was not a true Hindu.

But another miracle occurred the next day when her trusted colleague Kejriwal was interviewed by the same channel. ‘I don’t believe in miracles,’ he said looking rather sinister. ‘She is entitled to her views but I don’t agree with her,’ he added for good measure. And then came the clincher. ‘The phone call she is talking about happened two days before the resolution was passed. A lot of things happened in the next 48 hours she has no idea about.’ That was interesting. We know that the Delhi heat and humidity had addled Bedi’s brains during the fasting days but did she really get mixed up to such an extent that not only did she get confused about the day Papa ji called her but attributed the success of the movement to a call that never happened on a day when according to her all else had failed. What are the people of India to make of all this? Should Bedi be also admitted to a hospital to clear her head or is it Kejriwal who is lying and taking the credit away from Advani Ji, Sushma Ji and Jaitley Ji because he wants it all for himself. And yesterday the spoilsport came on another television channel and once again discredited Bedi. Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai?

And like any other member of the People’s Movement( so what if I never wanted any part of it, this time round) I felt like saying Hai...Hai when the same channel decided to interview that ‘hysterical’ and ‘illogical’ Arundhati Roy. Always a mischief maker, she claimed on national television that Kejriwal, Bedi and Sesodia had received 400 Crores from the World Bank and Ford Foundation to design and deliver a people’s movement. Such lies I tell you. Worse than Bedi’s or is it worse than Kejriwal’s? Time we nailed her lies. We know Anna has some 60 odd thousand in his savings account and lives in a room attached to a temple. But it’s time Kejriwal, Bedi and Sesodia declared their assets as well as the assets of the NGOs they run before the nation. Even without Roy making these terrible unfounded allegations. they should do it. Because they are the new leaders of the people of India and whether or not they are fighting an election, the country should know they are one among the poor in India with assets or non assets comparable to Anna.

We the proud people are waiting.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Anna Ko Bhagao...Manmohan Wapas Aao

No one among the dozen odd friends and family I am regularly in touch with in Bangalore has been anywhere near Freedom Park or have wanted to participate in the so called victory march yesterday. Neither has our domestic help or the driver of the cab services I use after shifting out of downtown into suburbs. Among the 42 families that stay in our apartment block I am yet to spot one Anna cap or even the national flag that I see supporters waving on television channels.

Yesterday I went out to meet a couple of friends. I was warned that I will encounter plenty of traffic jams because of the procession. Surprisingly, the streets wore the usual Sunday look. The only crowds and jams I encountered were on a busy street in Basvangudi while coming back. ‘They have come to shop for tomorrow...the Gauri Ganesh festival is starting’ said the driver.

Back home I switched on the television. The news channels as usual were full of Anna. One of them had Kiran Bedi being interviewed. She was asked whether she regretted making statements like Anna is India, India is Anna, something that had not found favour with even her comrades in arm, Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan. ‘Haven’t I been proved right?’ she countered. ‘Every single Indian is proud today,’ she preened. Looking a little like Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter movies gloating after punishing Harry for something he hadn’t done.

Sorry Ms. Bedi...I am an Indian and I am certainly not proud of how the democratic processes were subverted. Two wrongs don’t make a right as far as I am concerned.

The interviewer asked her what she had to say about Santosh Hegde expressing his disillusionment with the Anna movement when the fasting zeal was on. ‘He was a status quo ist,’ she waxed eloquent. ‘Now he has learnt from Anna how pushing the envelope helps.’ She went on to thank Advani and BJP before concluding the interview.

Until I followed Bedi’s interview yesterday I was all set to vote against the Congress in the next elections. I was open to giving BJP another chance. In the past few months, I have begun to despise the present government for its corruption, for its arrogance, for its double speak. I wished for mid- term polls and a defeat that was worse for Congress than its ally DMK got in Tamil Nadu.

Bedi’s interview was the ‘game changer’ for me. For the first time all the ruling party’s ‘mobocracy’ arguments started making sense. Bedi made me recall Advani’s rath yatra, the Babri demolition, the Gujarat genocide. I started feeling scared.

Manmohan Singh...I hate you for endorsing corruption on a scale never witnessed before in this country but at least you have never ordered the massacre of a community...you have not destroyed the secular fabric of this country...you have been more Gandhian than any of these self appointed heirs of Gandhi in your private and public life. So I have decided to cast my vote for you and your party in the next elections.

For in this great country of ours, it’s never about the greater good. It’s always about the lesser evil.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Six Questions to Anna & His Team

Now that the Anna Tamasha is over and we can all go back to work without worrying about traffic jams caused by processions of Anna supporters, are those of us who are not exactly fans allowed to ask a few questions. Thankfully I don’t live in Anna’s village and needn’t be afraid of being tied to a tree and flogged so I will go ahead and ask them anyway. Here’s my list of six questions.

1. Let’s say the Lokpal Bill is finally passed by the Parliament in a form that’s acceptable to not just Anna but to Kejriwal, Bhushan, Bedi, Patkar and all the other sideys and lackeys who hang out with them, will it put an end to corruption in this country? Do laws and those who are meant to administer them powerful enough to end social evils? In that case just having a police force in every state, every city and every village should curb crime. Why has that not happened in all these 65 years of Independent India.

2. Since this movement is all about curbing corruption, why didn’t Team Anna protest about Vilasrao Deshmukh being made the government emissary, considering his role in one of the most shameless scams has been acknowledged by even the government and he was asked to vacate the CM’s chair in Maharashtra. Is it okay for a politician to be corrupt as long as he can talk in Marathi with Anna Hazare?

3. What were all these Sadhus and Swamis doing during the fast? Why were they arrogating for themselves the role of emissaries? Sri Sri Ravishankar... Jaggi Vasudev...they call themselves spiritual leaders...what is their interest in all this? Earlier Baba Ramdev had also joined in the fray and later we learnt about the wealth he had horded. Sai Baba’s death has unearthed all kinds of hidden wealth from his ashram. With these two unholy precedents, why has Team Anna not asked these god men to stay away?

4. Why has the movement made politicians the face of corruption in this country? The politicians may horde cash in Swiss bank accounts but who bribes them with this cash? How come the corporate honchos have been left alone considering they take the lead in bribing the politicians to grab land and subvert the legal and administrative processes in this country?

5. Since the movement seems to derive its strength from the middle class, what is the position of the Anna Team on their corruption? The kind of corruption that makes them haggle over giving a two hundred rupees raise to their domestic helps and drivers but at the same time they get very strident about inflation?

6. How will Anna react if some of the people in his village decide to protest against his authoritarian ways by going on a fast and tell him they will go on fasting until he changes his way?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cerberus and Hydra- Anna and the Congress

Greek Mythology is a rich source of inspiration to draw metaphors from. Especially in the current context, when one monster has sprouted to fell another. The Congress after all is like Hydra, the multi headed serpent living in the swamp of deceit and double speak. You can destroy one head of corruption and another will quietly and unobtrusively take its place. Be it Rajiv Gandhi and Bofors or Suresh Kalamadi/ Sheila Dixit and CWG or Manmohan Singh and 2G. They never run short of heads to oversee the nation looting sprees. There was a time when we used to make an exception for Manmohan Singh but we are wiser now and know how misplaced our naiveté was. With everything that has tumbled out of late I am not even sure whether anyone can vouch for Singh’s personal integrity any more. Maybe he has not hoarded personal wealth but he has been willing to do just about anything under the sun to remain in power. If that’s not corruption what is?

Now we have also saddled ourselves with the Hound of Hades Cerberus, the bloodthirsty watchdog with heads ranging anything from three to 50. We may need a ferocious canine to guard this nation but surely not the one who endangers the democratic fibre of this country. There is something very sinister about Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi and the Bhushan father-son duo. They no longer carry the halo of the pure and pristine fighting for the integrity of this country. Instead what they are doing appears to have all the trappings of a gang of individuals who may not seek personal power themselves but won’t be averse to playing king makers. Besides both Anna and Bedi look like despotic autocrats armed with able lawyers at their disposal to give them legal aid whenever they cross the line.

The nation seems to have jumped from the frying pan into the fire and if anyone has to be blamed for this state of affairs, we don’t have to look beyond the ruling coalition. If the UPA allies of the Congress had any brains, they should use this opportunity to cut big brother to size. It is clear this country is really furious and if the citizens have to be appeased, the only way to do it would be to sacrifice a number of honchos in Congress including Singh, Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal. The party should also get itself spokespersons that don’t look or sound as obnoxious and arrogant as Tewari and Sanghvi. May be it’s time for Rahul Gandhi and his young brigade to take over to revitalize the party as well as the nation.

Otherwise the Congress looks all set to meet the same fate in the next general elections as the DMK did in Chennai. It just cannot afford to go back to the country and ask for votes with the same faces leading it. Mobilized by Anna and his gang, the incensed people of this nation are all set to consign them to the trash cans. We may have the opportunity to meet Singh and his men only when we set out to dump our garbage at that time.

And who will rule over us then? The same saffron brigade that has not shied away from ordering genocide whenever they have had the opportunity to do so. All the prospects look frightening hereon.

Why fear another recession? We have worse in store for us.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Man Who Won't Be Tamed

He was not exactly my generation. By the time films became an integral part of my life, the next generation of Kapoors had taken over. It was Randhir and Rishi Kapoor who were keeping alive the legacy of the first family of Hindi cinema. But the Shammi Kapoor songs lingered on and blared from loudspeakers during festive occasions in the small town of my childhood. ‘Aasman se aaya farishta’ was a perennial favourite and so was ‘Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra...there was ‘Zindagi ek safar hai suhana,’ from one of his last films as a hero, ‘Andaaz,’ but they gave that one to the rising superstar of the time Rajesh Khanna. I wish they had made Kapoor sing that one too. It epitomised the zest for life Kapoor brought to his onscreen persona.

Shammi Kapoor was truly an original. By the time I was in college, there was a Kapoor revival of sorts. We were all discovering him in the reruns of the cult films he made. Those days every town had a rundown theatre or two which specialized in old films and his yesteryear hits would run there for a week. The 80’s also had a booming parallel cinema movement with the so called serious actors. The most prominent among them Naseeruddin Shah never failed to acknowledge Kapoor as one of the influences who drove him to a career in film acting. It was a striking paradox. A legendary actor, trained in the craft from the premier theatre and film schools of the country paying a tribute to another who relied only on his instincts in front of the camera.

Shammi Kapoor never ran into the danger of turning into a serious actor. There is nothing to suggest he wanted to be known as one. Read any of the recent interviews of his before he passed away and you will discover that he was unapologetic about the films he made. They were mindless entertainers and rode on his star charisma as he wooed the pretty lasses ranging from an Asha Parekh to a Sharmila Tagore to a Rajashri with a mixture of arrogance and mischief. They may have started off by calling him a ‘Junglee’ but the supercilious air he carried with him seem to suggest that he knew they would thaw sooner than later. After all no other male of the species could dance the mating dance as well as him. Maybe like the peacock, he had ugly feet. But no one noticed. It was difficult to look away from the quirky head and hand movements he had the copyright over.

Unfortunately he belonged to an era when actors did not pay much attention to the greatest tool they possess, their body. They had personal hangers on but not personal trainers and by the time Kapoor was in his forties he looked it. He retired too early as a hero and moved into the character actor/cameo roles slot. Think about it, all our current superstar heroes ranging from the three Khans to Akshay Kumar to Ajay Devgn are perhaps older than Shammi Kapoor when he transitioned into the senior actor category.

If he was the spoilt brat as the hero, as a veteran actor he specialised as the aristocrat used to having his way, be it ‘Hero,’ ‘Vidhaata,’ ‘Betaab’ or ‘Prem Rog.’ Unlike his older brother, Raj Kapoor who Indianized the Chaplinesque tramp, it was difficult to imagine Shammi Kapoor as being poor. Even when he was projected as being deprived, there was something larger than life about him. Like in ‘Brahmachari,’ where despite all the travails, he takes on the onus of looking after an entire brood of orphans. They remade that as ‘Mr India’ later on but significantly the remake sparkled due to the chutzpah of the leading lady, Sridevi, overshadowing the hero Anil Kapoor who essayed the title role. No leading lady could do that to Shammi Kapoor. He could beat them in all departments be it the singing and dancing or the adaas and unlike his contemporaries Bishwajeet or Joy Mukherjee who specialized in a similar genre of films, he never looked effeminate even when fluttering his eye lashes.

Shammi Kapoor directed two films for an outside banner. They turned out to be duds. Unlike his two brothers Raj and Shashi, he never started a production house. Instead he discovered a life beyond films. He was among the first Indians to get on the internet. A search engine has the same name as the opening refrain of one of his most popular songs. Reportedly when Yahoo started its operations in India, they had Shammi Kapoor as the guest of honour for its launch. For a long time it led to the misconception Kapoor owned the company.

But he was that kind of a phenomenon. About whom stories would be told true and false and contradictions abound. Like how he was madly in love with his first wife, Geeta Bali, and yet wooed all his leading ladies with as much ardour off screen. Like how he had to be coaxed out of retirement for a swan song by his great grand nephew Ranbir Kapoor to do a significant cameo in Imtiaz Ali’s latest directorial venture.

Fitting that he bid adieu to show business and life by acting in a film called ‘Rockstar.’ He was one. And while he may no longer be with us, we can always meet him in one of the umpteen movie channels to sing along ‘Sar pe topi laal, haath mein resham ka rumaal, o tera kya kehna.’

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Indian Software Engineer

The Indian Software Engineer is a strange animal. The CEO of a software organization once shared with me how adaptable the Indian Software Engineer is. Apparently he acts like an American in the US, an Arab in the Middle East, a Japanese in Japan and an European in Europe. Send him anywhere and he will give up what he is to become what they are. The Head Honcho obviously meant it as a complement but I am not so sure it is such a good thing to be so flexible.

I worked in a software organization many years ago and it was enough to put me off from working full time in any organization. I discovered among all the different varieties of employees you find in different organizations the software engineer is the peskiest. All he is worried about is what kind of daily allowance he will be paid in his overseas visits. They compared notes with their friends in other software organizations and landed up on my table to crib and haggle. Their never ending refrain was if my friend is getting $ 55 in another organization for his daily expenditure, why I must get only $ 50.It was most annoying. The CEO of that particular organization complained to me that when the visiting software engineers were invited to the homes of their clients, they went empty handed. ‘Teach them some manners,’ she requested me. ‘They can at least buy some flowers.’ But all her nagging was in vain. They continued to go empty handed wherever they were invited because she never stopped whining about that one.

I met another software engineer a few years ago on a flight. He was sitting next to me. We started talking and he poured his heart out to me. I was partly responsible for it. I pose all kinds of questions to strangers to get to hear their stories. When I was a student in XLRI, a friend got very riled with me and accused ‘You are very evil. You manage to coax out all my secrets and I always regret it afterwards. I am sure you tell it to others.’ She was only partially right. I do coax out the stories from others but I never tell it to anyone. I just use fictional names for them and write it all down as a story. Then my friends tend to recognise themselves and get very upset. I always try to convince them since what they told me was in confidence, even those who know them would never associate the story with them. But by that time they are too incensed to listen to reason. Anyway this guy who sat next to me must have forgotten all about me by now so I will go ahead and share his pathos with all those who are going to read this one.

He was from a small town in Rajasthan and he was working for the biggest IT organization in India. He had over two and a half years experience and his boss was a sadist. So he hadn’t been sent on an overseas assignment even once. The poor guy was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. ‘All my friends who joined software organizations have made the down payment for a flat or a house with the daily allowance they got in their overseas trips except me,’ he cried out, so loudly that even the travellers in the seats in front turned and looked at us. 'Now he has put me on another domestic assignment and I don’t know what to do.’ I advised him to change his organization or at the very least change his boss. I also learnt that day why the employees of the software organization I worked in were always pestering me about their overseas allowance.

The funniest story came from a participant in my creative writing workshop. This guy had also joined the same organization I mentioned in the last paragraph. They sent him to Tokyo for a couple of years to develop some logistics software for an automobiles giant. He had to live in a poky hole in the wall and got mildly depressed. After he came back, he was never the same. He started doing a lot of weed, enrolled himself in the workshop and wrote some excellent poetry. His manager was really hassled with him because the employees in the organization had to pass some strange exams set by another global software giant to get promoted and this young man would flunk all of them. But at the same time they couldn’t ask him to leave as the managers in the client system loved him and didn’t want him replaced at any cost. Besides software organization are the biggest skinflints and sacking this maverick would have meant paying for the training of the replacement. So the association continued like Anna Karenina’s marriage.

Then one fine day this young man woke up on a working day and instead of going to work rolled a joint. Afterwards rather than go to work, he headed to the railway station and got into an unreserved second class compartment of a train heading to Howrah. He ignored all the calls his frantic manager made. He stayed in Kolkata for a week in some cheap lodge and ate in roadside dhaabas, got a bad stomach and almost died. After he came back he realized he was behaving strangely because of his strange organization and he needed to get rid of it. So he moved some family contacts to get a huge student’s loan to enrol in a second rate course in a second rate British university. When he announced his decision to quit all hell broke loose. The same manager who was always criticizing him gave him a cash reward for being the ‘Best Employee’ of the month. The young man had made up his mind and refused to get tempted. Now he lives happily in a British university town with his English girlfriend.

The most harrowing experience I had as a trainer was also in a software organization. This was in a Chinese organization and I was asked to facilitate a two day workshop on Performance Management. This organization was unique as the Chinese were Managers and the Indians Developers. The Indians were an interested lot and asked a lot of questions. The Chinese didn’t like this as they felt I was an authority figure and shouldn’t be questioned. Besides they were the managers and if anyone had to ask a question it should be them and not the Indians. So every time an Indian Developer asked a question, they would start talking in Chinese with each other. When this happened, the Indians would look at me and say wearily ‘ Yeh aise hi hain. Inka kuch nahin ho sakta.’

I don’t know how I got through those two days.