Tuesday, June 22, 2010

D*** of the month - Joe Barton

I accompanied S-man on his trip to the RTO, where, when we were not rebounding from desk to desk, we were being made to wait for no other reason but that one sadistic clerk wanted to assert his dominion. After an experience like that I invariable turn libertarian and I want the government to get out of my way. I do see merit in that argument; the government's role should not be to entrench itself but to setup structures so that it can render itself redundant. But for taking that idea to an absurd extreme, I give you the d*** of the month, Joe Barton.

The BP oil spill has screwed up a huge water body, several beaches, numerous livelihoods and countless birds. After that disaster, the first decent thing that BP has done is to agree to spend $20 B on those affected by the disaster. But before they could put that money to use, Barton, Texan republican and member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, had this to say to the CEO of BP Tony Hayward when the latter appeared before congress
"I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation (BP) can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case, a $20 billion shakedown, with the attorney general of the United States. But I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong is subject to some sort of political pressure..”

Thank God we'll never let something like that happen in India. Right?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lessons in Journalism - The Story of Pothan Joseph

Link to the book.
The stories from the indian struggle for independence can never bore me. Between sepoys rebelling, folks walking to the sea to make salt, young men lobbing grenades into the parliament, intellectuals building armies in exile, there's enough to keep a reader entertained for eternity. Yet I can't help feel that our popular history texts trivialize the characters turning them into single-layered cardboard figures, and reduce the happenings to a Ramayanic good-vs-bad narrative. There were a bunch of other visionaries who played their part; through their letters they shifted the consciousness of an empire and chronicled the goings-on for future movements to emulate. Pothan Joseph, one of the stalwarts of that tribe, offers an exhilarating study. Joseph edited dozens of newspapers and was directly responsible for the Hindustan Times, the Indian Express, and the Deccan Herald to rise to such heights. Joseph's body of work, of which I was woefully unfamiliar till I read this book, is a rich collection of some of the most inspiring stories of the Independence movement. Along the way you meet some unheralded characters; freedom-fighting brits such as Annie Besant and B.G.Horniman who challenge our predilection for an indian-good-english-bad outlook, pathbreaking journalists such as Khasa Subba Rao and Frank Moraes. Most revelational for me, however, was the introduction of a fresh dimension to the well known protagonists - Gandhi, Jinnah, Sarojini Naidu, Rajaji etc. not as freedom fighters but as journalists and media managers. One of the most enjoyable biographies I've read! Be warned that at the end of the book, especially after you read the appendix containing reproductions of Joseph's articles, you might feel disdain for the Indian print media in its current form.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Notes from the Thanjavur Trip

* I remember that the Bruhadeshwara temple had taken my breath away when I saw it for the first time nearly 18 yrs ago. Later, I learnt that the top dome on the tower is a single stone weighing 80 tonnes - the Cholas built a 4km ramp to move that stone to that height. I visited the temple again this weekend, and I must say it's one of the most awe-inspiring structures in this country.
* They should send all the cooks from all the Shanti Sagars in Bangalore to Thanjavur for an idli-sambhar making course.
* It was my first journey on a sleeper bus. Before the bus started moving, the berth looked exactly like those on trains. From the start of the journey, however, dealing with all the haphazard movements due to the bends in the road, the roadhumps, the bad driving, and the torque shifts that accompany gear changes made it one uncomfortable experience.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Keeping the Small-talk holster handy

R & M hadn't seen each other in a while before they met in the elevator car. "Hey R". "Hey M". It would have been perfectly ok to end that conversation right there. It would have been acceptable etiquette to spend the remaining 15 seconds staring at the LED numbers. However, R said "How are you?". "I'm fine", M replied. That would have been yet another place to put a logical end to that exchange. Just 5 more seconds to go. But R chose to prolong it "Anything special going on?". "Nothing much really". After this there were only two ways in which this could have ended well. The elevator could have stopped and exactly one of them would get out mumbling a hurried "Catch you later". Or R, as the initiator could have come up with an interesting enough leading question. The weather, the evergreen fallback, was out of question because when you are in an elevator you tend not to be sure what it is like outside. Faced with the lack of ideas, R got too busy rueing his poor judgement at having dragged this little interview too long. As it turned out, they just stared at each other awkwardly and went their separate ways after an interminable journey to the top floor. Both will remember this the next time they meet. That lack of closure will cause a discordance that will linger on, especially for R. Several potential topics flashed through R's head while he was walking away from the lift lobby. He can't wait to meet M again so that he gets a chance to erase this memory with a complete conversation. Until then he'll stow the burden away in a dark corner

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Auto-wisdom: Love is poison

I like to blog more than I like to tweet, because I find the 140 character limit severely restrictive. I have enormous respect for people who can pack a pithy punch in almost no words. That's probably one of the reasons why I am so fascinated by the wisdom on auto rickshaw hoods. Each one of those aphorisms tells a story that goes beyond the words. Like this one above ("I suck at spelling!")

Anyway, every once in a while, there comes an auto-rickshaw driver who plays on a stage much bigger than the one destiny picked for him. Then the hood is not expansive enough as a canvas. And the result is this most endearing website. If the "My Friends" page doesn't make you smile, you're probably clinically dead.