Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Local press, including leading dailies, underplayed the incident saying it was a retaliation (as if in agreement that the license to police the state is given to the political parties, and not the police) to an accident near the outlet, involving a couple of alleged frequent customers of the outlet, who were racing ("illegally"!!) their cars (or ?bikes) on the adjacent Kowdiar road (which is the only road in the city without potholes and has two lanes - one lane is used for parking and the other for traffic by the law-oblivious population of the city, aided by the jawless, understaffed traffic police - and hence celebrated as the "model road" for Kerala).
Whatever the incident or the "provocation", it is this kind of freehand given to the thugs with political backing that is the biggest hindrance to a civilized and peaceful society in Kerala. It is so enraging to read about goons destroying property and beating up civilians when they fancy. One wonders if the police has even a little bit of shame left when they walk around in their khakis. Ofcourse, our leaders have none of it. It was reported that while these goons were on the rampage, the police who arrived in a jeep were mere onlookers. The goons after completing their "job" even hung around for a round of slogan-chanting before marching away as a group. And all this while, the police just looked on, and later reported that no case was registered since "both parties had no complaint". It is sad that the police has been brought down to such a level by our rulers. One wonders how brave and honest officers can function in such a system.
These incidents are no different from the Mumbai incidents if you think deep enough. And it is this kind of laxity in policing and governance that ultimately cultivates terrorists and criminals. Kerala has reached a stage where any thug or criminal with political backing can do whatever he wishes to do. Police will just watch like a bunch of ball-less people in uniform. In Kerala, it is not the courts or the police that enforce the law these days, but political "party workers" who force injustice, for their vested interests and selfish gains.
The above incident is surely not an isolated event, but just another "routine", daily instance of absolute lawlessness and selfish political mastermind. Doesn't it stink with shame to be a part of this culture and political system? We cry in fury and agitation over terrorists and lack of security and intelligence, but isnt it so obvious that the system we have created is not even able to provide a safe and secure environment in our daily lives? Do we need people to die to wake up and cry foul? If we are threatened every day by our own people (or are they not ours?), and if we cannot have order and system within our own societies, why do we mourn our martyrs and celebrate our commandoes from Mumbai and Kashmir? If our government and police cannot protect our lives and property, and enforce a civil society (even after we shamelessly claim to be 100% literate), why are we shocked to read about riots and killings in Kandhamal and Gujarat, or terrorists striking at will? Its all the same and the result of 100% irresponsible governance.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
This is a list of key projects that we wrote on this blog in December 2005; projects that we thought will bring in the much needed change to Kerala.
Vizhinjam International Port: After much fanfare of getting central government clearances, the project is muddled in local bickering. Whether its due to the inefficiency of our government to even execute tenders professionally, or if there is a political-financial scam involved (as alleged now), the project does not look like it will materialize in the near future. The only people who benefitted are the real-estate folks who sold plots around the port and made crores. Land mafia or real-estate mafia or land grabbers..whatever you call them, you can be certain its only our politicians who have gained even while the state is rotting.
Smart City: The current government toiled hard to ensure that this project does not happen during the previous governments tenure. And after getting into their power seats, though they gloated over the fact that they signed a deal with the Dubai based builders, nothing has transpired even after 3 years, except for bickerings.
Technocity off Technopark: After the initial enthusiasm over 9 leading builders of international repute bidding for this several-hundred crore project, thanks to our "celebrated" labour unions and selfish, short sighted, politicians, the IBS fiasco has ensured that no sensible IT company will risk their money and assets in Kerala.
Capital Development initiatives: The only development in the capital city, which I visited recently, is the number of union meeting arches (which is banned in the city apparently!!), party flags, and banners of scums on the walls. A fly-over (just one!) in the city, planned probably a decade ago, is still "under construction" for the last 5-plus years. And ofcourse, the number of thugs and criminals have gone up.
Trivandrum International Airport Expansion: Thankfully, this is a central government project, but our leaders have been successful to the extent that it will not open on the last revised dates for inauguration. The expansion, first planned in the 90s, when completed, will ensure that we need another expansion since the airport will not be able to handle the traffic of the airport by 2010.
Vallarpadam Transhipment Terminal: The work for the proposed international container terminal is yet to begin. The land acquisition was opposed by a group called "Janakeeya Samithi". This samithi is probably a group of 4-5 people with vested interests and political leanings, but thats all it takes to stall any darn project, mega or minor, in Kerala.
We also dreamt about an LNG Terminal, "Apparel City", Express Ways, and what not. The only way highway and road development funds (worth crores) are spent in our state is by repainting the medians and dividers. The rest is probably shared.
Our leaders are good at just making deals for themselves in the name of the poor, whether its fleecing the tax-payer who toils to earn his living or acquiring land and then giving it away through shady deals, and assigning consultancy projects worth crores for every single thing (perhaps if we had educated people in the government, this wouldnt have been so necessary!). They are also very good at doing nothing and letting the state collapse. Talk about the state going to the dogs.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
But the bubbles have all almost burst, and the blankets cannot cover the nakedness of bad governance and uncivilized living anymore. The foul smell has become unbearable and global. Its almost as if the state and its people have caught some dreaded infection.
They say politics stinks. Then Kerala politics must be the most septic and the foulest of it all. After the chief minister's "doggone" comments on national television, he suspended an IAS officer who came to air his own office, filled with the stink of infighting, insubordinate secretaries (allegedly), and gathering moss. The home ministry, after a busy period of shielding themselves over recent USA trips and its motives, is sighing in relief after Mumbai. Atleast nobody is worried about the thugs and criminals in Kerala who are looting, murdering, and beating up people on a daily basis in front of a muted police force (reminds me, hope you read about the fight between an inspector and a constable in the commando unit, doing nothing but protecting our "VIP" leaders, in Trivandrum - no they didnt have pistols or automatics with them, luckily, instead they bit eachother to settle scores! Why do we have such a title for this blog, anyway).
The sports ministry informed that the National Games, intially planned to be held in Trivandrum, will be spread over all the 14 districts. Ola-madal winners (Kerala's highest civilian honor) from all party units are being asked to form panchayat level sports councils. Electricity ministry surfaces occasionally to increase power rates and announce further power-cuts. The transport ministry must have been in for a rude shock when the recent stats revealed that Kerala was a topper for accidents, not to mention the tragedy in Kannur when children were mauled by a drunk driver. The transport ministry allegedly shrugged off all responsibility and said that they are not to blame since the surface transport affairs has been taken over by the inland water transport ministry officials, since almost all the roads have been filled with enough potholes to allow boats. Almost all the other ministries are quiet since our industries, agriculture, fisheries, IT, ports, etc are..are "not doing so well", to put it mildly.
Oh wait..Do we have an opposition party in our state? No activity there either.
At the other end, the "saadharanakaran", in whose name blood is shed and wars are fought (sob,sob!), now alleges that the buffoons you and I elected (mostly by not voting) are doing nothing but filling their own coffers (either directly or through their children and in-laws).
Saturday, December 06, 2008
There are several questions that the Mumbai attacks have raised. But the biggest questions are the ones that will prick the conscience of every politician who is still remotely human. What about the others who have only manipulated the nation and divided it using religion, caste, ethnicity, crime and money? Its time to isolate them and shun them like the scums they really are. Venom against politicians is all over the nation. And rightfully so. The now famous SMS says it all: "Where is Raj Thackeray and his brave Sena? Tell him that 200 NSG commandos from all over India (No Marathi manoos) have been sent to Mumbai to fight the terrorists so that he can sleep peacefully - Mumbaikars". But how long will this energy last? Lets hope the constructive debates will be successful in channelising the energy into transforming the way we live and conduct ourselves every day. Lets constantly remind the politician that they are elected to serve the people, and not the other way around.
Back in our own little state, our Chief Minister had his foot in his mouth, yet again. Nobody in Kerala felt anything unusual about the comment. Some leaders said its expected of him, others said its his usual style; and yet others said its the same style that won him elections. But the rest of the nation said dogs are better than politicians, even as Kerala hung her head in shame, and wondered why our leaders wanted to mark their attendance at a Malayali martyrs house in Bangalore only two days after his funeral and incessant chiding from the media about the disrespect shown by their stark absence at the funeral.
Reminders of our totally paralysed administration and government are everywhere and are being shoved down our throats every day. But we, the people, remain mute spectators and suffer through the days, as though its normal and part of some elaborate ritual that needs to be silently performed in order to appease the Gods. Just as the Mumbai attack was a national tragedy, the politicians we have, and the system they have created, have all become a national shame. And it stinks, unbearably. Its time to get together and clean up the mess. Like someone very smart said, "(its) time to wrest politics from the politician's hands". Lets not wait for more reminders.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Politicians and ministers jumped on to this obviously private matter of the company and issued enquiry orders and investigations, and call for action against private companies. On television, one notable personality, while spewing venom against private companies, stated "This is Kerala!". Yes, this is Kerala dear friends. Dont invest here or think you can work and earn your living comfortably here. We, the jobless, are here to loot from you, in the name of the poor and downtrodden. We dont differentiate between industries and sectors. If you work and prosper, we need a share of it. So much for Smart City, Technocity, and Technopark, and IT parks in all the districts. Now we can conduct party meetings in all these places.
A little further south of the capital, Trivandrum, another mega-project that was hyped and celebrated is gathering dust. After blaming everyone from USA to China, and the central ministry to the Tamil Nadu government initially for lack of clearances and approvals for the Vizhinjam International Port, now that we have the green signals from all quarters, we are faced with our biggest enemy: our own politicians. The tempo behind the project is slowly waning, and the project is being opposed by the local political outfits disguised as "protectors of the downtrodden", trying to fit in their own interests.
The lessons to learn are repeated almost every week. The politicians spoiled our own harvest and let crops worth crores get damaged while they played their cards in the name of the workers. Later, as the workers and the people of Kerala suffered, they went on a begging tour to the center asking for more support and to stop the negligence. Wonder when the people will ever wish that our own politicians stopped neglecting the state first. The irony didnt end there. Ending a week long protest against USA and after several rounds of "West-bashing", some of our top ministers are on an international trip to find investors willing to put their money in Kerala. And no points for guessing where. The West, ofcourse, and specifically, the United States of America.
While they are away, crime and violence continues unabated and Keralites were being hauled up from across the country for terror-connections. A section of the top police officials had more important things to attend to, and were reportedly gathering at party offices and meeting political godfathers to plan a strategy for the next elections, and how they can connive.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
This blog is only a small initiative against the shackles that are holding us back from making advances as a community, state, and therefore, the nation. But I also want to clarify that this is only a blog (atleast as of now) that wishes to expose these lackings and issues, and discuss and debate them in a constructive way, so that it creates awareness, and hopefully inspires people to change or act proactively to foster change. So for people who ask, what is this blog doing besides "talking" about change and the negative issues, I have only one thing to say: I sincerely hope this blog and our collective efforts will make us ask the question, "what can WE do?" some day very soon.
But for now, as long as people are reading and thinking about whats written here, I consider this blog is a success. What this blog will lead to, and how we can collectively make changes, is the next step. But before we draw action plans and try to influence policies more vehemently, we need to unite and make sure that the majority of the people have a common vision and inspiration for our state. We need to ensure that our mindsets change. Development and progress is not just about industries and infrastructure, but its about civility and character too. You and I still may not be able to influence the entire state. But we can influence our neighbours, our relatives, our co-workers, our local rickshaw driver, or the local shopkeeper. Thats something we can do.
One of our biggest challenge and the main factor that hampers the progress of the state is our political interference and polarization. I dont know how long it will take for our "100% literate" people to understand this basic fact. It is evident in our day to day life how deeply and adversely this has affected us and ruined ourselves. Whether its the criminal who gets away with the crime from the police or its one of us wriggling out of a traffic offence, or the dispute between students getting settled in a group clash, the political influece and the wielding (and misuse) of power backed by politicians is very clear.
Ofcourse, we need politics and politicians for running the state and governance. But thats where it should end. We should eliminate politics and political interference in areas such as religion, education, judiciary, and in particular our own civility and conduct. I think in general we, especially the youth, are disillusioned by baseless ideologies fuelled by too much politicization. If that ends, things will begin to look much greener again.
In the movie Rang De Basanti, there is a character Laxman Pandey (played by Atul Kulkarni) who blindly believes in the political ideologies of the party, and unknowingly becomes their best tool for selfish and communal activities. It took a great awakening for him to realize how flawed the politicians are and how empty and hollow the ideologies he was made to believe in were compared to reality. We need such an awakening in Kerala.
We actually need politicians and leaders who are educated and qualified for this perception against politicians to change, and politics to become a mainstream and dignified path that people who are truly dedicated can take. It may be oft-repeated, but in a world where we insist on minimum educational qualifications even for posts such as peons and aids, how can we allow uneducated people with dubious backgrounds rule our state(s) and imagine that they will ever take us forward? This is a very important thing that each of us need to consider and work towards collectively. Do we really need politicians who get selected on the basis of their crime records, wiliness, and past atrocities.
What is the sense in being so proud about (falling) social development indices if we cannot respect eachother, and we forget basic human values in our day to day life? How can we claim to be cultured and refined if we cannot respect our women and treat them as equals? Why do we call ourselves 100% literate when we still cannot resist selfishly motivated political and religious influences?
Would we prefer to continue to wag the dog?
Saturday, October 25, 2008
First, because I want to preempt any criticism that I'm an NRI so I don't know what it means to be a Keralite, I'm going to state that part of my livelihood is in Kerala. You might ask, does that mean you live in Kerala? No, but I have lived here and visit Kerala very frequently. Just because I find opportunities to work overseas as well does not mean I am any less capable of talking about Kerala. That bit was for those on this board who think "Non-resident Keralite" stands for "Non-Keralite".Pick issues with what I have to say, not where I come from.
Second, as a Keralite, I am used to being the recipient of a great deal of admiration for Kerala's achievements. And I am proud when I hear it because it is an uplifting chapter in the story of India's general social stagnation. But no one on this board or anyone still alive is directly responsible for this success. Oh yes, we have teachers, a newspaper savvy public, ambitious parents etc, but these are all the products of an infrastructure that was laid down more than fifty years ago. So what, you might say, we are still the most literate state in India! Well, the thing is, once you become literate, you should cease holding yourself to the standards of less fortunate states. You should hold yourself to the standard of self-progress. Put very simply, have you expanded the opportunities in your immediate environment to grow? I believe the answer to that for the past few decades is a resounding no.
It is one thing to be proud of a reformist past and another to be a reformer. MC is not claiming to be a reformer. As he has made it plain, he is just a commentor. But he is not resting on his laurels either. I would take that perspective any day to any Keralite who is wilfully blind to our political stagnation. I don't think DOC has ever pretended to be a "get your Kerala news here" blog. If that's what readers want, they are better off going to a newspaper. What MC has done here is to carve out a little niche to bring up Kerala's problems and to take our leaders to task. And that is still a just cause. I can tell you from experience too, I hear a lot less praise about Kerala than I did in the past. Literacy and healthcare are growing in other states. And others are becoming better informed about Kerala's poor political culture. Pretty soon, it will be no miracle to be a literate, healthy, non-violent and civilized state in India. When that happens, I would be disappointed if it weren't Kerala because that would mean we squandered our head start.
Third, we have a long list of social and economic problems. Which state doesn't, you might ask. But that is the wrong question to ask. One should ask, why do we have them at all? Why is it that even when we are a largely educated population, we still cave in to the threat of a hartal and stay at home? Why is that many of our college campuses, not all, are still beset with political violence? But most importantly, are we asking the right questions? That is, should we even be concerned? To me, the single most glaring example that some things are wrong in Kerala was last year's Onam. While hired hands went around town curling their moustaches and enforcing a city-wide ban, state-sponsored stores made a killing at the expense of the consumer. I seriously wondered (to myself mostly, because the people around me have been rendered numb to all this from age), are these hartals conducted for the benefit of opposing "imperialism" and the thousand other causes we have been told, or for the people who exploit the cracks in the systems that is our public food supply? Do not tell me we have the most efficient public distribution system in the country. Tell me if we have an efficient public distribution system to begin with.
Fourth, this blog's title. I had my personal debate with MC a while back over the blog's title. I would still like to see it changed, but it is merely a superficial concern. So superficial that I have left it to him to decide. I still write here, because you cannot judge a book by its cover. Isn't that the main criticism hurled against so-called money-grubbing NRIs? That Kerala can't be judged by its cover...that you have to live there to experience it. I believe that applies to everything. Just because our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters toil away in other lands doesn't mean you somehow forget that once upon a time, there were no jobs in Kerala but government jobs. Just because we are the healthiest and most literate state in India doesn't mean we sit on our laurels and don't criticize our leaders when they fail to provide us with more than literacy and healthcare.
It is human to idle, human to criticize, but divine to reform. Do we have any angels on this board? I don't think so and I don't think any of us should stop being just critics till one of us shows the way.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
While in the Gulf, I had the opportunity to meet several malayali entrepreneurs who are now among the well-known Non-Resident Keralites. Despite their success and stories about their hard work, they had one common regret to share: how Kerala has treated them. Almost all of them described their persistent efforts to set up business in Kerala (some before leaving to the Gulf, and others after they made some money in the Gulf and wanted to reinvest in Kerala), and how difficult it was for them because of our wily politicians and corrupt systems. Not only were they constantly required to pay bribes, but they also had incessant political (one even described how a local committee member of a party threatened him) demands and threats. And I am talking about stories and events as early as the mid 80s to the present day.
I also talked to several malayali construction workers and cab drivers. Even they had a common grouse - their own state and the peoples attitude. Even they couldnt refrain from scolding our politicians, our hartals and egoistic society. Even they seemed to recognize the stark differences in attitude and conduct between a malayali in Kerala and a malayali outside the state. But it was really heart-wrenching to see their plight, and despite the burning sun they toiled so hard and without a complaint or remorse of separation from their dear ones.
Why? To make their Gulf dreams come true. To not let down their families back in Kerala. To save the little that they earn and send it back to their loved ones, even if they miss a meal. At the airport I saw several of them at the money-changers, converting their soiled Dirham notes into fresh, ironed Rupees that they could proudly show home and their curious neighbours. Despite their tired faces, they had a little smile on their face. I noticed how most of them kept combing their hair and fixing their moustaches, preparing for the home-coming with so much aniticipation of being with their loved ones again.
Back home, it was not difficult to see why there is an air of arrogance, disobedience, and disregard for the system. A state with an economy totally dependent on the toils of its people outside it. Unemployed youth who take for granted their livelihood. Adults who dont really need to work, but can engage in timepass and gossip since they are assured of their moneys via UAE exchange and Western Union.
But have we wondered who is paying the price of all this?
Monday, October 06, 2008
Ofcourse, one could argue and list out the number of new "shopping malls" that have come up in Thrissur or Trivandrum. A new "mall" that opens in Kerala, just for example, will inevitably have an "Ammus Fancy Store", a "Pretty Ladies Center", and a "Shanthi Bakery". Add to it a "Kailas IT and Communications Center" which sells mobile recharge cards and provides photostat services, and "Sheetal Multicuisine Restaurant" which will have chicken fried rice and chilly chicken in the menu.
Alright, now thats a wee bit of an exaggeration (just a little bit of humor, so the sensitive ones out there, please dont take it to heart) but the point is, despite headstarts and huge "first" advantages, we have literally fallen back on almost all fronts and stagnated. As citizens, we seldom have choice and continue to be stuck with whatever is thrust upon us. And without the power of choice, we can never call ourselves empowered or progressive.
The most classical example is of the Technopark in Trivandrum, which was claimedly India's first IT park, started in 1994. But 14 years later, how far behind other states are we in terms of generating IT jobs and revenues? (Its great to see that finally we are picking up pace and increasing our IT exports. But vultures in the form of politicians and unions are ominously waiting to fleece the industry and ruin the new-found pace.)
Or take the example of Tourism. While Kerala Tourism has done exceedingly well and created a real good avenue for catapulting our state in the international tourists map (we almost made it), I can sense a decline over the last couple of years. Its partly due to lack of infrastructure keeping pace, and partly due to the attitude of the people. I have seen how harassed tourists are in Kerala. Whether it is by professional beggars or touts selling "collections", or auto/taxi walas trying to fleece them, or punks trying to tease the women, or the infamous year-long hartal festivities, it all adds up.
Last week at the Cochin airport I could see a airport security person really tormenting a foreigner couple, shouting in Hindi at him to keep his cellphone in the bag for Xray screening, while the couple were helplessly fumbling not knowing what to do. The other officers and officials at the airport, most of them malayalis, just giggled and stood watching. I spoke to the couple and they were all praises about the wonderful state that we have. But they also mentioned how a few of the people can really cast a negative shadow on the overall great experience and beautiful state that we have. They also mentioned how disorganized the tourism experience in the state is, despite its huge publicity and hype, allowing only seasoned travellers manage without getting harassed.
Questions for our politicians: Apart from fleecing and milking any entrepreneur or industry that does well, what has the government done to help our people progress? As soon as tourism started to develop and private players started making progress, the political buffoons have interfered and ensured that they get a large piece of the pie (all in the name of the poor, but what did they really get?). Its the same with healthcare or higher education. 75% of the healthcare in Kerala is provided by private hospitals, but apart from fleecing the hospitals in the name of various taxes and regulations, the government has done nothing concrete or sufficient to promote healthcare on its own. Similarly for higher education, instead of ensuring that the private players maintain a standard, our politicians were only interested in making sure that their parties and leaders get their coffers filled. In the process, they have made sure that the sector has been ruined.
Questions we should ask ourselves: Isnt it time we felt a bit ashamed of electing such inefficient people, year after year? How has our much-acclaimed 100% literacy, best in India health indices, best in India education indices, and other ratings that we rant about at the drop of a hat, helped us as a state? Have we really been able to take advantage of them or made any genuine progress since then? Or for the least, have we, as a community, been able to refine our behaviour and attitude? We are failing to provide a good environment and congenial atmosphere even to our own children, and they are left with no choice but to go elsewhere to learn or earn a living comfortably, and live a better life. And worst, we have now begun to see them, quite easily, as a separate group who dont belong to us. Now, that is a very ominous trend.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
The concept brought to my mind a very infamous characteristic of us malayalis, one that we cannot really be proud of. Many people have related the "crabs in the can" theme to malayalis. And in some aspects its strikingly true. We have this nasty habit of trying to "look" better by putting others down. Instead of focusing on our own deficiencies (at least the ones that are correctable) and trying to improve ourselves, we always expose the flaws of other people, and then try to look relatively better of (or probably console ourselves).
While our politicians are the biggest trendsetters for this sort of trashy attitude, it seems to have caught on with the people in general as well. It is this same false prestige that leads to so many of our woes, including the deeply instilled sense of casteism, communal divisions, and gender inequalities.
Some of the comments to posts on this blog also point towards this characteristic. You can see scores of comments about how Kerala is better than Bihar and UP in many aspects. When we talk about how malayalis mistreat women, we dismiss it by talking about Delhi. If its about hartals, we see comments about the farmers strike in France. If we talk about personal freedom, we get comments comparing ourselves to Iraq and how better off we are. We try to focus on all the ills and troubles of everyone else, and try to cover up our defects, while we, as a state, sink further down.
I remember a forum on development in Trivandrum, where almost for a year people celebrated the widening and beautification of a half-a-kilometer stretch of road in the city, and termed it as the "model road". Every day there would be pictures of that stretch from various angles. And alongside that there would be bitter comments about how Kochi roads are congested and pathetic, which made for greater celebration.
I think this is a very laughable way to look at ourselves, while we gloat ourselves claiming to be 100% literate (which itself is a very silly claim in my opinion!) and the malayali culture being so superior to everybody else. I think this false sense of pride and inflated ego really holds us back from progress, and is one of the biggest reasons why we get stuck in time.
Agreed we have a great culture and tradition, but it should not be something we hold on to obsessively and bring ourselves down by disallowing change and fresher perspectives.
Thanks to Silverine for this link. Absolutely classical malluism.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I personally was witness to the antics of the inebriated average malayali scum-bags. I ran into several drunk motorists creating havoc on the roads, bikers racing with their stands scraping the road to create sparks and scare other motorists, third-rate punks hurling abuse at women. The list is endless. Sadly, I could not the see the Onam spirit on the streets that I have seen as a child. I could barely see families enjoying themselves on the roads. Most people I talked to said it was not safe these days, and all of them preferred to stay indoors and "enjoy the peace".
Ironicaly, earlier this week, Kerala won the IBN channel sponsored Diamond State Awards title for infrastructure, womens' empowerment, health services and education system. Come to think of it, all the above are taking a big toll in Kerala and those are the very sectors worst affected in Kerala over the last decade or so. I guess the jury had very little to choose from, and were left between the devil and the deep sea.
After fighting for the Vizhinjam port for over 2 decades and trying to hog praises, now that the project is approved, the politicians are now trying to oppose the project saying that the land acquistion is illegal and will be resisted at all cost. I guess the uneducated scums thought that a port for ships would come up on the sea and will not need any land. Talk about 100% literacy!
There is so much more to report from little ol' Kerala. But I decided to cut it short since I have a very interesting question about Keralites for our readers. You can post your answer as a comment. Lets see how many of you know our land and people well enough to get it right.
Where is the only place in the world that a malayali will stand in a queue?
(Oops..since most malayalis will not know what a queue means - queue is a line of waiting people)
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
So now what can we do? Clearly, at this stage, I am not in a position to go out and protest [or call a hartal against hartal as someone joked :)]. And I am not interested in filing a public interest litigation and adding to the long list of petitions against hartals.
I am going to list a few of my ideas against hartals and banhds. I welcome all our readers to contribute to this post and add your suggestions. All reasonable, sensible, and practical ideas and suggestions will be compiled and sent to all leading newspapers in Kerala/ India. (jokes are welcome, but wont make it to the final list) You can choose to give your real name or a nickname (even if you dont have a blogger id), but preferably avoid anonymous comments.
1. I have always believed in creating awareness and educating people. Whenever I get a chance, I speak about hartals and the loss they create to the state. I explain how only hard work can lead to progress. I also stress on the importance of working within the system. I tell all these things to whoever I can in Kerala - be it a driver, rickshaw-wala, shopkeeper, policeman, businessman, or engineer. Giving such perspective can make them think, and realize themselves. And in turn, they will spread the good word to many others (hopefully). So my first suggestion is to:
"Spread the word against hartals and its ill-effects to everyone you come across"
2. For those of you with considerable local clout, please encourage the local decision makers and people to work against hartals and strikes. I have read about one or two towns in Kerala that have people working together against these political games, and remain open during hartals. If this can become a mass movement, and spread across Kerala, then Kerala will surely make progress, and more importantly, it will cut our wily politicians to size.
"Encourage pockets of community activity against hartals"
3. Another longer term action that we can take is to stop voting for parties/ leaders that encourage hartals. Obviously, that would mean that we will not be able to vote. But the idea is to create an awareness among the scumbag politicians that hartals and bandhs will only earn negative points for them. Hopefully its some discouragement for them.
"Vote out politicians and parties that encourage hartals and bandhs"
More suggestions and action points are most welcome.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
The facility, is set on a sprawling 30 acre land, and will provide entertainment.
At the very least, to the leaders who will be in charge of the management of the park. But if you think of the irony of the whole situation, then perhaps you could also share the muse.
After entertaining the people via TV channels (Congress party owns Jaihind, Commies own Kairali, NCP is starting one soon - and I cant remember who else does what - and not mention our religious-politicians also airing their own channels), the entrepreneurial skills of our "moonam class and gusthi" politicians seem to be getting better when it comes to fooling the public.
Food for thought:
What is a party that preaches so much about social inequalities and about saving the poor doing with an amusement park? Or have the people of Kannur and rest of Kerala all crossed the poverty line and gotten into the wealthy list suddenly?
When the biggest issue in Kerala today appears to be the "land mafia" and land grabbers, how easy was it to get these 30 acres? Wasnt there a big hue and cry about the 26 acres of the Golf Club in Trivandrum being a "waste" and the "concerned" leaders wanted to acquire it so that it can be shared among the landless? Have we already forgotten the crores worth of buildings destroyed in Munnar in the name of the landless? A few days ago, even the plans to expand the Trivandrum Medical College was stalled when local commie leaders opposed land acquisition under the pretext of protecting the landless. What about the land scams implicating our leaders, including that for the ISRO? The list is endless, but the memory seems to be very shortlived for our politicians.
Where will all the water and power come from for this park? They say they have a big rain water harvesting facility? But even with rains, our dams and reservoirs are unable to generate enough power, and we have to suffer through daily powercuts. God save us if there are no rains. Coca-Cola was ousted saying they are draining away the water from our land.
Trade union leaders, social activists, and cooperative bank members head the amusement park. Ofcourse, considering the amount of money the politicians fleece from the hardworking people (in the pretext of social justice and saving the poor), I am sure 30 crores is not a big deal. Also, understand larger interest and motives when political parties try to infest such organizations and councils with their own fleas. Its so evident here.
Anyway I hope this will at least do some good in the long run, and sooner or later, these politicians will realize the importance of hard work and labour. Probably they will start with exempting the amusement park industry from hartals!
Well, while we continue to slog and toil in order to feed our politicians, lets for a moment, enjoy the irony and dwell in amusement.
Are you not entertained?
Thursday, August 28, 2008
This is an excellent and thought-provoking post by one of our readers, Satish from Dubai
In one modern definition of terrorism, it is violence against civilians to achieve political, religious, personal, or ideological objectives by creating fear. This includes the use of violence for the achievement of political ends and thereby influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.
The United Kingdom defines acts of terrorism in the Terrorism Act 2000 as the use or threat of action where:
· the use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public
· the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause
· involves serious violence against a person
· involves serious damage to property
· endangers a person's life, other than that of the person committing the action
· creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public or
· is designed to seriously interfere with or to seriously disrupt an electronic system
The US FBI’s definition is "Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a Government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."
In one of its rulings, the Supreme Court of India had opined that "It may be possible to describe (terrorism) as the use of violence when its most important result is not merely the physical and mental damage of the victim, but the prolonged psychological effect it produces or has the potential of producing, on the society as a whole. There may be death, injury, or destruction of property or even deprivation of individual liberty in the process but the extent and reach of the intended terrorist activity travels beyond the effect of an ordinary crime capable of being punished under the ordinary penal law of the land, and its main objective is to overawe the Government and disturb the harmony of the society or "terrorise" people and the society and not only those directly assaulted, with a view to disturb the even tempo, peace and tranquility of the society and create a sense of fear and insecurity"
Looking at the above in the context of the recent spate of Hartals in Kerala, I am inclined to believe that, to a large extent, the state is in the grip of 'political terrorists'. Can any of the political party representatives who were on the panel on a recent show aired on Asianet repudiate this? Most of them were talking as if protest is a kind of divine right. Yes, people should have the right to protest in any democratic state, but not at the expense of development or well-being of the very society that the protest is intended to aid.
Heres something funny related to hartals/bandhs (click to enlarge):
Monday, August 25, 2008
The day after the strike, the media went on to report about how it paralyzed the state. Mind you, life in most of the other states went on just like any other day and hardly anyone even realized there was a hartal call in Delhi or Bangalore. Some of the media, while campaigning against hartals and strikes, do give adequate coverage to these political shows, giving them adequate publicity and mileage, and encouragement to continue with their gimmick. What with every political party running their own TV channel and newspaper/ magazine. And the average person here is jobless enough to view/read through the bull they air/write.
Most papers reported how some of the ministers from the state either "walked" or "rode on bikes" to reach their destination. They however forgot to mention that there were 2 police jeeps in front of the bike, and 3 behind, for "safety".
Most of the dailies also reported a particular story about how a mother whose child was admitted in the hospital could not travel to the child, and how the child died without the mother around. Pictures of the wailing mother were really heartbreaking, and so ironic when the papers carried pictures of politicians gleeing in joy since their hartal was a big "success".
Cornered, some of the politicians were asked what answer they have to give the grieving mother. One of them said that the mothers picture and "story" was just American Imperialism in action and that such people are out to undermine the "system". I have heard about heartless politicians, but these must be the cruellest and most venemous species ever.
Strike day also saw another regular but really worrisome feature in the state: Police becoming mute spectators. When the police tried to arrest a hartal mongerer who threw stones and damaged vehicles in the capital city, a bunch of protesters forcefully released the guy from the police jeep - that too in front of a larger number of cops. This is a regular thing in Kerala now, and I dont think anyone from any political party is in jail since they have all been released or acquitted by the government and their dutiful cops. For the amnesics, here is a recap of recent events (as reported by the press):
"The activists, who turned on the journalists covering their march to back the state government over a textbook row, were released last night after police pressed trivial charges against them"
"..Police and Student Federation activists clashed in front of the Armed Reserve Camp at Nandavanam on Wednesday evening. The violence occured ..when 32 activists, detained at the camp, attempted to escape from police custody. The trouble broke out when leaders led by the Mayor, and their district secretary, arrived at the camp gate and demanded that they be allowed to see the detained students." (The result? : the activists alleged that the police had `brutalised' the detained students and a police constable attached to the Nandavanam Armed Reserve camp, has been placed under suspension pending inquiry)
"The police have registered a case against district panchayat president, four others and 35 party workers for forcibly releasing a person who was taken into custody on charges of attacking a police personnel"
"Activists allegedly assaulted KSU state general secretary Ranjith Abraham in Kottayam. Ranjith, returning home after a KSU programme, was waylaid and hit on the head with an iron rod"
"During an party-sponsored agitation in Pathanamthitta recently, police took a district-level leader into custody. Activists stormed the police station and got their leader released."
"A leader of the ABVP, the student wing of the BJP, was attacked at Guruvayoor’s Sri Krishna College earlier this year after he defeated another party leader in the college union election. He was severely injured in one eye and had to be hospitalised."
I remember someone asking, why this blog was titled "Dog's Own Country"? Hope they are reading this post.
Onto something positive (on request!): Union Defence Minister and the State Industries Minister seem to be showing some success in rising about petty politics and bringing in investments to the state. After the Brahmos deal in Trivandrum, they worked together on another defence project in Kasargod. Kudos to them for whatever the deals are worth for the people of Kerala.
Kerala participated in the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, literally. The papers were replete with the news of the event at the "pakshi-koodu stay-d-yum". I couldnt help laughing at that. But my laughter turned to tears when I heard the title track of the hindi movie "God Tussi Great Ho" which goes " Gaaadu" "Gaadu". Quite sickening, even without seeing the movie and realizing how they have ruined 'Bruce Almighty'!
Monday, August 04, 2008
It lists out the adhoc committee for the state chapter of the Indian RedCross Society as per a Kerala Government Order:
The ad hoc committee comprises ......a former commie MP, ...a commie councillor, ....a commie leader from Vanchiyur, ...a commie youth outfit leader, ...a former commie councillor, ...a commie leader .....a ..who is heading the nurses union of the commie..and a well known Congress Party leader.
This is a really terrible and totally disgusting policy taken by political parties. Every time they get elected, they ensure that their cronies get into key posts within all major organizations, profit making public companies, and not to mention government agencies. But I dont think the trend has reached a low like this to include the Red Cross Society too!.
While the politicians do this for their selfish gain and influence, what really happens is that misfits and people who have no clue about (and cant even understand) how to run organizations, companies, and institutions sit in the driving seat and take our state to the pits of inefficiency, corruption, and mismanagement. Until now we had to worry only about one thing: That we have totally inefficient and useless governments ruling our state forever. Now thats extended to more walks of our life.
Incidentally, this is an email forwarded by one of my friends some time ago:
A well-known political leader, was seated next to a little 5th grade girl on an airplane. The leader turned to her and said, ''Let's talk. I've heard that flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger'.
The little girl, who had just opened her book, closed it slowly and said to the stranger, 'What would you like to talk about?'
'Oh, I don't know', said the leader. 'How about nuclear power?'
'OK,' she said. 'That could be an interesting topic.
But let me ask you a question first:
'A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat grass, the same stuff. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, and a horse produces clumps of dried grass. Why do you suppose that is?'
The leader turns towards his colleague in dismay. Thinks about it and says,
'Hmmm, I have no idea.'
The little girl replies:
'Do you really feel qualified to discuss nuclear power when you don't know shit?! '
That just about sums up the state of affairs in Kerala.
While replying to a comment, I was lucky enough to find this piece. Priceless.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
I mean why are the political leaders suddenly showing so much concern and shock? It is as though no Indian has died or been killed for a while, and these blasts were some surprise.
More importantly, arent we seeing so many deaths and injuries every day? Even if we forget natural calamities (which can be better met with better infrastructure and planning) and deaths due to health reasons (again can be improved with better care facilities and delivery systems), how many deaths occur solely due to our politicians and a general lack of law and order?
Very recently, in Kerala, a school teacher was thrashed to death by goons disguised as politicians, and earlier a policeman was beaten to death. Many are injured almost every day in political clashes, strikes, hartals, and politically masterminded attacks. People are killed and attacked without two thoughts. Thats as cold-blooded as it can get, and as heartless as any other terrorist attack.
So where does all this newfound, sudden concern and alarm come from? Arent they fooling us with their pretence? We will need another series of blasts for the next show of compassion and care from these brutally cold goons we call leaders.
I have to mention that there are exceptions and a lot of our elected representatives are genuine and at least trying to make good among the larger pack of wolves and swines. (Personally, I am so proud of the current Prime Minister. For once we have someone educated and sensible, and I hope he gets to continue with full support for at least another term!)
And I have a larger question. How much is the life of an Indian citizen worth?
Very little I guess. I think that is a huge problem we have in India. I dont know if its because we have a massive population or because we dont care, but we dont care or value life in India. Compare it to the US or UK or some of the other nations, where once you are a citizen (even if you are originally from another country), you get a sense of security and value for your life. But an Indian? We dont have any such values. Here we are still beating up eachother and killing eachother, like some primitives. We are still stuck in some older era.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Heres what I got in my mailbox today:
The Party today announced that it is changing its symbol to a CONDOM because it more accurately reflects the party's political stance.
"A condom allows for inflation, halts production, destroys the next generation, protects a bunch of pricks, and gives you a sense of security while you're actually being screwed! "
Damn, it just doesn't get more accurate than that!
The person who thought about this idea is probably one of the most brilliant characters in this world today.
Oh..And no points for guessing which party..
Sunday, June 29, 2008
By P.C. Menon
For the last one week or so, the streets of Kerala are agog with the agitation launched by the youth wings of the opposition parties. Khadi clad men run around pelting stones and the policemen make merry with sticks and teargas shells. Broken foreheads, bloodstained shirts, shouting young men fleeing from the police and the men in khaki wielding their wares in self-defense and in counter-attack, all steal the show in the visual media. The ruling and opposition parties blame one another for this calamity.
It all started with the introduction of a text book in the 7th Class for Social Studies. The book is supposed to contain all "modern thoughts" meant to reform the students, according to the Education Minister and the party that supports him; the opposition comes from all those who are not in power – political parties, religious groups, and some social organizations. More are threatening to join the fray. The youth wings of the ruling party are getting ready to defend the Government in their own way. The funny thing is that not many have seen or read the book; those who support or oppose the book generally act on hearsay. Nobody really knows the worth or 'unworthiness' of the book. The struggle will end only when the book is totally withdrawn, if we can believe what the agitators say.
I was fortunate enough to get the first three chapters of the book through internet. I have made a thorough study of the contents and, with my 32 years of teaching experience and more of the political atmosphere existing in Kerala, I am bound to say that this is a thoroughly unwanted controversy. For one thing, the book doesn't fulfill any of the requirements of a teachable text; secondly, the presence of such a book in the State Curriculum in the 7th Standard is not going to make much of a difference in the social atmosphere of Kerala or the academic brilliance of the student. This is especially true because the student is assured of 100% pass up to the 9th standard and in SSLC, one seldom fails! (Little wonder why we can claim to be 100% literate so easily, and then show no sign of it beyond the claim!)
The only effect that this book is likely to bring about is a major tear in the social fabric, a severe breakdown of law and order. Peace in the State will be terribly disturbed as the followers of Gandhi have discarded Sathyagraha and Ahimsa and have taken themselves to the streets; the followers of Marx are already famous for their militancy. Other groups who are more vociferous and villainous have offered to add fuel to the fire. The policy is to go to the street, attack the policemen, get beaten up and complain about police atrocities. How long will this continue and what will be the ultimate fallout? Not even God knows in God's own Country!
While the politicians continued to capture the heart of the workers by portraying that its all the fault of the rich and affluent farmers and ofcourse the opposition parties, decades later, the current rulers of Kerala are not far away from repeating the same kind of..shall we call it lack of sense? Or inability to govern intelligently? The current state of the farmers and the paddy fields is simplified for you very well here. But ofcourse, its all FOR the sake of the poor and needy people of Kerala.
More recently, our political leaders decided that their hard battles against the "rich and powerful" have yielded great results. Now that the poor are no more poor according to the communists, they have decided to take-over the Golf Club in Trivandrum - the rationale: its time that the sport is not limited to the affluent, and the poor and downtrodden should also get a chance to swing as well. But more importantly, the club will also be an ideal venue to host party meetings and a perfect party spot for district committee leaders and panchayat members to conduct their drinking binges. So why not?. Are we, their donkeys, ever going to protest?.
Well, I guess nobody would have protested, not even the impotent opposition parties, had it not been for the clumsy way in which the golf club take-over was attempted - once again displaying why our political leaders need to have minimum education, even if its just to do something really silly and atrocious.
The other "thing" thats keeping our leaders occupied and the people entertained is the "text-book issue". In their efforts to transform Kerala into a totally communist state, the leaders have decided to revise the state board textbooks and add chapters that highlight communist values, allegedly, so that the "next gen can grow up understanding the values better". But again, due to the lack of education, the guy in charge of executing the work didnt probably understand the difference between communism and communalism. That has set off a series of protests, hartals, battles, etc., between religious leaders, student leaders, and the political maestros of the state. Interestingly, nobody protested when our CM was, again allegedly, caricatured as a "father-figure", once again in a class V text book!
Picture Courtesy: Outlook India
Taking public-private partnership to a new low, the government has decided that we dont need Police in Kerala anymore. Instead the red brigade will administer their version of peace-keeping and ensure lawlessness. Even the commissioner will henceforth work according to their instructions, it seems. This applies to the press as well, while the "saadharankar" can watch and be entertained as usual.
Blaming the weatherman, once again, the electricity department and the KSEB have decided to re-introduce power-cuts in the state again. While the rest of the world has become educated enough to rely less on rains (including neighbours TN who harness even wind energy), 100% literate Kerala, along with its 100% illiterate political clan, are all set for darker days and nights. After all we dont have big factories or industries to run. In fact, the power-cuts will encourage our fastest growing industry - crime and theft.
Overall, we are in for the good times. Ofcourse, we asked for it, right?.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Summer rains are here, according to the Department of Meteorology and the guys there who always make predictions about the weather; and who have always got it wrong..Well, the summer rains are almost here, and will hopefully be a welcome end to the heat and humidity. Its also welcome since it will help the state clear the dumps of garbage on the streets as it floods the roads everywhere since we do not have a proper draingage system in Kerala, clear up piles of plastic in the canals and rivers, and also, with some help from the wind, bring down bad hoardings, old trees, and unsafe buildings. Of course, being the greedy malayali, we could wish the rain washes away all our scumbag politicians as well, but thats a bit too much to ask for, especially since you dont want them all accumulating in the sea, given our vast coastal line.
Rains will also be welcome by the Kerala Police. Based on my estimate (I swear I have done a proper physical verification when I travel), there are only 21 traffic policemen in Kerala (3 in Trivandrum, 5 in Kochi, 2 in Calicut, and one each in the remaining districts). But with the rain Gods arriving, the havoc on roads can be blamed on them. And the mad drivers of Kerala can continue to drive wrecklessly. The 21 cops can relax and take longer breaks in the nearby petty shop.
Talking about petty shops, Big Bazaar opened its second outlet amidst violence, protests, vandalism, and political victimization in Trivandrum - I happened to be unfortunate enough to be in the capital on opening night. The Corporation officials (a bunch who are around to fleece anyone residing in the city) raided Big Bazaar on its inaugural day, right after a party youth outfit goons rampaged the store, and sealed the store claiming that the store was selling "pappads" without license. The store however managed to "convince" the officials later that night, and also produced court orders in their favor. The people of Trivandrum appear to have welcome the freshness of the retail chains and all roads seem to lead to Big Bazaar.
Which kind of creates another problem. All roads, unfortunately, include the roads taken by "machoos"( a new breed of boys from famous localities in the state which have produced aristrocratic and ancient families of criminals, goondas, etc on stolen motorbikes) and "aliyans" (a brotherhood of eve-teasers, rapists, and gropers), and entertainment for them now begins around these new hubs.
Kerala can also entertain itself on the new craze of the its rulers. After years of collusion, sharing, partnerships, and joint ventures in crime, hawala, money laundering, political killings and ace manipulations, the political leaders have realized that the spiritual leaders are growing bigger than them. So finally the crackdown has begun from one end. Just like the Munnar-JCB-Demolition series, we will have to see how far they progress before the leaders from both sides kiss and make up, and call for a ceasefire. I just overheard someone saying that one of the christian businessmen dealing in spiritualism and mass-healing, currently under heat, is building a mansion worth 15 crores. Brother must be praying that the rains flood the entire state and people forget all these baseless allegations.
Theres a lot more happening in the state, but more in my next post..
But its also important not to miss the buds of change appearing across the state. Hopefully the blossom will not be far away. This hope and quest for change and struggle to break free is aptly evidenced by Avial and their music. The first malayalam rock band is, by all measures, superb. They are bold, chose to take the plunge, they told the critics to buzz-off, and have brought a welcome change for Keralites across the world.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
"Amma…njaan erangunu." (Mother, I'm leaving)
Pat came her mother's advice, "Poyitte varette paraaa, molle." (Say you'll return after leaving)
At the bus stand, Latha did not have to wait for long. A SAFE bus rolled in, its engine purring to a halt. The driver extended its wheelchair lift to let out a disabled lady and her companion granddaughter. The rest of the passengers petered out of the bus before Latha stepped into its cool interior. This particular bus was operated by Safe and Friendly Environment Lines, the brainchild of Abdul Majeeb, a recently returned Kerala expat. Latha had read all about him in a splashy feature story in "Dusky" - a hugely successful periodical in Kerala.
Six years ago, Majeeb had traveled to Masdar to embark on a venture manufacturing luxury boats and yachts for the city's wealthy businessmen and had amassed significant wealth for himself in the process. Yet, as he traveled between Kerala and Masdar, he was continually reminded of the world of difference between his place of birth and place of work. And nothing irked him more than the harassment women received in urban Kerala. At times, he suspected that beneath a largely literate society, lay a seething, frustrated, unemployed body of men who had nothing better to do than harass women on the streets and in every imaginable public place. Majeeb got so obsessed with the problem that whenever he met a fellow Keralite, he steered the conversation in this direction. Yet everyone, men and women, friends and family alike, just shrugged their shoulders and walked away. Then last year, the problem hit home when his sister was pinched and groped on a private bus. Shortly after that incident, he bought her a can of mace and then isolated himself in his office to apply his entrepreneurial instincts to the problem.
For decades, private and public bus lines were unable to provide safe and secure means of transportation for women and children. Surveys revealed the shocking extent of women who had some experience fending off physical advances while traveling. The numbers were lower, but still disturbingly bad for children, primarily because child molestation went largely unreported. It was a problem that left women and children scarred, and in many cases, families reluctant to let their vulnerable members venture outside for work. On the rare occasions that a woman or child complained, retribution was often swift, but the reaction too little too late. Years of building boats and arranging security for celebrity clients at his yacht exhibitions had given Majeeb considerable experience in the tourism and security industries. In his mind, the problems presented by public travel in Kerala were no different. And that is why Majeeb introduced a private protection bus service catering to men, women and children.
Ten kilometers from Latha's bus stand, Majeeb sat in his office with his legs stretched on his desk, a liberty he took on Fridays when the week winded down to a crawl. Flipping the pages of his investment book, he ran through the calculations for his proposed fleet expansion. SAFE had created a tidy profit for him within two years of its launch; now he was going to expand beyond Kochi into Kozhikode and Kollam. Yet, he knew making his figures public to attract investors, was also going to open the gates to copy-cats once competing bus lines learnt just how well he was doing. But then, Majeeb was no stranger to competition. He thrived on devising innovative services and products to differentiate his business.
Majeeb reminisced about his neighbors in Kerala ridiculing him (not to his face, because that would have been impolite) when he told them about his new bus service and his ticket prices which were twice the prevailing rate. Indians, let alone Malayalees, are driven by cost, they said. Charge twice as much, get twice as less passengers, they warned him. Majeeb shrugged his shoulders just as they had shrugged theirs. If there was anything he had learnt about business, it was that you never learn without trying. So he went ahead with his plans to recruit bus "marshals" - able plainclothesmen who accompanied his buses.
In the first month after the inauguration of the bus service, Majeeb did worry. Attendance was poor, and his advertisements attracted just a trickle of passengers, mostly businessmen. Then as word of mouth spread about Majeeb's guard service, he started seeing more housewives and working women among the passengers. Pretty soon, the inaugural bus were running at full capacity and bringing in enough money for Majeeb to justify buying a second, a third, a fourth and even a fifth bus.
In the beginning, there was a security guard on every ride. As expectations rose, he dispersed the guards among his buses. With his higher ticket prices, he was able to add more buses to the same routes and restrict the amount of passengers on each ride. Majeeb had long ago reasoned that the shortest distance from point A to point B in Kerala was not just a straight line. It was a line with bells and whistles. He was not interested in selling a commodity. He was not selling space. He was selling a service. He was selling comfort of a watchful pair of eyes. Not the kind of eyes that women were seeking to avoid. But the protective kind his meticulously-selected and screened guards offered.
Yet, Majeeb took pains to draw the fine line between regulating and liberating interaction between strangers. He had no desire to run a police state aboard his buses. He wanted men and women to converse and act decently towards each other. He didn't want to segregate the two sexes as some clerics and priests in his home town would have liked. Was he in the business of teaching decency? No, he believed such behaviours could not be forced, just internalized.
And what of the criticism leveled at him by a major daily that his rates were beyond the ordinary person's reach? He wrote an emphatic letter to the editor quoting first hand evidence that his bus was actually more affordable. Despite his relatively expensive bus fare, many of SAFE's passengers were switching from more expensive means of transportation including two-wheelers. In the cases of women who were confined to their homes, the opportunity cost was much higher. Majeeb's most cherished possession was a letter from a young lady named Latha, who had written to his office to express her appreciation for his bus lines. Latha was frequently called upon to work for long hours at her office. As such instances grew more frequent, her parents despaired and called upon the daughter to quit. Latha knew she could not heed their warning, which while well-meaning, ignored the hard facts of their circumstances. Her father was confined to the bed after a paralyzing stroke; between his medicines and her mother's care, she was the sole breadwinner in the family. Any other job would force them to live from hand to mouth. It was in the midst of this crisis, Latha wrote to Majeeb, that SAFE "rolled into her life".
Majeeb liked to think that SAFE was a social experiment, but he knew that it was a business like any other. It existed to satisfy an unresolved need like any other successful firm. Only time could tell what long-term changes his entrepreneurial abilities could shape. For now though, he would be happy just to provide law and order in the void that was Kerala's traveling experience.
A knock on the door pierced Majeeb's thoughts and he sat up. His assistant came into his office and said, "It's Minister Balakrishnan."
Majeeb raised his brow, "what does he want?"
"Something about booking a bus for his son's wedding in June." After some hesitation, she said, "Oh and Bhaskaran is on the other line."
Majeeb asked, "Bhaskaran who?"
"Union Bhaskaran…the one who's in the papers about getting you to sign an agreement for your security staff."
Majeeb took in a deep breath and weighed which call was worse.
Sexual harassment is a widespread problem in Kerala. Volumes have been written here and elsewhere on the hellish experiences women face while they travel and work in our state. According to the 2007 Kerala Economic Review report released last month, atrocities against women have increased three-fold over the past 15 years. 2,078 cases were recorded against women in 1992. In 2006, this figure had risen to 9,110 cases. Despite greater public awareness, little has been achieved as tangible results. Successive governments have failed to provide us with better law enforcement agencies. But blaming the government for everything from the lack of standards in our civic life to our economic problems is becoming more and more a convenient cop-out.
Latha's experience and Majeeb's story need not be relegated to the dusty confines of Indian science-fiction. These are very practical applications of existing business models. A little private initiative and lots of common sense can resolve many of Kerala's modern social and economic problems without resorting to charitable or publicly-funded institutions including governments. We have all seen how the latter have fared. I'll let Milton Friedman explain the power of open markets more eloquently, "The great virtue of free enterprise is that it forces existing businesses to meet the test of the market continuously, to produce products that meet consumer demands at lowest cost, or else be driven from the market. It is a profit-and-loss system."
Note: All characters in this article are fictitious. Any similarities that these characters may have to any person living or dead are unintentional.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Anyway, coming back to Air Kerala. The political fraternity is coming together in support of the proposed new airline, forgetting color, race, party, corruption history, and bank balance. Since most of them, mainly due to the lack of education, failed to understand the technical and economical advantages of having the new airline, they decided to draft their own 10 point memorandum, based on their experiences and aspirations of a "new Kerala", to be submitted to the Minister of Civil Aviation. Here is a preview of the draft.
Why we need Kerala Airways - Submitted by the politicians of
Saar, our on
1. the pilots wont act smart anymore..
2. by the by...we can sit in the cockpit and fly..and not just in the front row of the first class cabin..we are servants of the people after all and deserve to be treated better than this. our leaders can also then transport their guns and bombs very safely.
3. saar, we can grab women travelling alone safely
4. it will also help our PAs and supporters also travel more comfortably..we can have an emergansy quota for all of them, just like we have in the trains. and if our friends need tickets, we can release EQ for them too, just by dialling the yair-line office - we can post one of our boys as the manager so he wont be very smart or educated, and will listen to us
5. once we have our airports in all the 14 districts, kerala yair-line will provide better connections in kerala. we can have more meetings and our
6. saar, nowadays we are facing lot of problem. the air india and other private airlines (who are not for the saadharana-karans) dont allow us to drink alcohol or smoke beedis inside the plane. where is justice? in kerala yair-line, we can do all that and more..
7. one more problem our malayalis face is in using our mobiles. we are 100% literate and because of that we need to switch on our cellphone and talk to our friends and party people even while the plane is taking off, or just as the plane lands or taxis into the parking area. we are not able to do this now, and every time our malayali saadharana-karans talks on the phone while the plane is moving, the arrogant airhostesses announce and ask as us to switch off our phones. this is humiliating saar! injustice. what do these airhostesses think of themselves!?!
8. your owner, our saadharana-karans who chew paan and others who like to spit frequently are now facing problem in the plane. where will they spit? the windows are sealed. in our own yair-line, we can feel free since its our own yair-line.
9. saar, its very bad in yair-lines of nowadays..we have to wear soot-and-kuppayams and appear to be decent..why? for what? why cant we travel comfortably in lungi and shirtless? why should we pretend to be decent when we are not?
10. last but not the least..actually most important..our malayalis are used to rushing and creating confusion. but in the yair-lines we have now, we are facing lot of problem. every time our saadharana-karans stand up immediately after the plane touches down on the runway, the airhostess shouts at us for standing up and forming a queue to get out. saar, why cant we rush to the door once the plane touches down? isnt this our right? isnt the yair-lines there to serve us? we have example sir for you. recently, just as the plane touched down, one of our classmates (who is a senior party leader) jumped up and started taking out his bag. so the airhostess announced again asking everyone (we know who she meant!stupid oversmart!) to be seated till the plane comes to a halt and seatbelt signs are switched off. our class-mate got so angry and shouted at her "are we going to take-off again?..dont play with me".
saar, we are sure you fully understand why we need a kerala yair-line for our 100% literate saadharana-karans. it is arggent saar. give us permishan very soon. otherwise... otherwise we will perform hartal! ha ha ha..
Friday, March 28, 2008
Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of experiencing the joy and pleasure of many typical government offices in Kerala’s capital city, Trivandrum, in pursuit of various clearances and permissions. Initially it was the KSEB and the city Corporation, visits which have scarred my soul permanently!. So let me wait a bit more and let them heal a bit more before I write about the "gods" there.
More recently, I had to go to the Tahashildar’s office (TO) in Trivandrum. This is because I made the mistake of applying for a particular permission some time last year at the District Collector’s office. The Collector’s office had processed my request within a month and in august last year they had sent out an order to the Tahashildar’s office, aptly copied to me, asking them to verify my records personally and report back WITHIN A MONTH so that they can grant the permission at the earliest. Now that there has not been any response for over 6 months, as a citizen in dire straits, I decided to do the needful and visit the gods at the TO.
The look and feel of the TO at Trivandrum is similar to that of any other Government owned office. There will be people thronging the entrance, with a very knowledgeable and influential cart-wala selling ethakka-appam (banana fritters, or fry for the uninitiated) and tea. The experienced person will know that this cart-wala is the man. I mean, The Man. The man who was the sole authority before the Right to Information act was passed recently, and the only person you could get any valuable information from. He will know how to get what you need, who to meet, how much to bribe, when to come, what time the particular office “section” person goes to the loo, after how many weeks he will come back from the loo-visit, and most such very essential details for you to get your work done. He will also sell you the required application and request forms, although they are "supposed to be" obtained only from inside free of cost. But you wouldn’t want to displease the gods.
If you observe the people, you will notice that there is a pattern. Every group will consist of one officer and his clients, and in most cases, an external consultant also. Consultants are required for cases which are chronic (acute – upto 5 years, limited to one office; chronic – 5 or more years, involving many offices, probably in different cities or towns, or many cart-walas). Most of them will be in their mundu, folded up high, smoking (remember smoking is banned in public places in Kerala) and randomly spitting to announce the satisfaction of the tea they just downed.
Once you enter, you will find more hapless people. These “ignorant fools”, the naïve applicants and aspirants from out of town or the relatively uncorrupted lot, who stand in queues in the sun, in front of the enquiry counter and other "windows", waiting for a darshan of the concerned officer to direct them to the higher gods.
After a few hours, if you finally manage to make it to the counter the enquiry guy directed you to, and by some stroke of luck you reach there some time before or after the tea break-lunch break-tea break sessions of the employees, you will again most likely see an empty seat. The other people in the next seat or “section” wont even look at you. And if they do, they will eye you with an evil look and throw up their question in a fast move to ask “what the hell do you want?”. Some others may enquire and make you spill out your entire history before dismissing you to come when the concerned person is there and not on leave.
While I was there, a hapless old lady who had come from another town, and was enquiring about some payment she had to get as refund. She was desperately trying to get the attention of the officer who was luckily in his seat, but was talking to his colleague three tables away, not bothered about the lady muttering “sir…sir”. Finally, irritated, he asked “what?”. And she began her story. He asked her straight to go to some other section, without even looking at her paper. She then explained she had gone there and showed the remarks made by that section. To that he asked if she had gone to another office at another place in Trivandrum. Tired and irritated herself, she explained that all the other offices had directed her to him.
As I witnessed the sad plight of the lady, I also observed how the noticeboards and even the doors and windows were pasted with notices from various unions calling for strike or raising demands. There were computers on a lot of tables, all looking like age-old junk, uncleaned and kept shabbily. I saw the “peon”, who peered at you as though he is above the Collector (must be, in a literal sense, in collecting bribes), throw files signed by the Tahashildar, onto the respective tables from far away, as though he were delivering newspapers. The officers didn’t mind; after all it’s the "chief collector" himself delivering the goods. 3 out of 10 officers in that room were wearing khaddar, possibly implying they were one of the union leaders. I also saw how papers kept flying from some of the tables. Some were picked up by the person at the desk, some others were left lying only to be picked by some passerby and kept back on the table. Some others were still on the ground as I moved away, wondering what if its some piece of paper that’s so vital to one of us.
I could move away since my number had come. This was my 6th visit to the office to meet the person in charge of my file. I was lucky enough to meet the person this time, and even luckier to make him move it to the next "section", which was at the next table, in just an hour - something that didnt happen for the last 6 months.
But if you have “met the right people” and “seen them in the right way”, you will see that these hardly working people become so hard-working, showing personal interest, full of energy, cheering up their colleagues to process your request. Files, which usually take weeks to move between adjacent tables, begin to move rapidly between rooms and even buildings. People even recognize you during your second visit.
There is so much more to write about our government servants. The same people come back to private offices, hotels, and hospitals, and demand quick service and better facilities, preferably for free. And one would think its only the older lot who were the problem. But I couldn’t find a lot of difference in attitude among the younger officers either. I suppose its only a matter of time before the rot spoils the good apples too.