Saturday, March 25, 2006

Highway Star

Yesterday I survived an 8 hour drive across Kerala. Well yet another drive, considering I would have driven tens of thousands of kilometres by now, of which atleast 50% has been within Kerala. Here are some resourceful points that I want to share from my rich experiences.

The Truth About Highways in Kerala: Lessons you might not want to forget

You realise, very rarely, that a highway means a two lane stretch, but most of the times it is just one road with traffic in two, and sometimes even more directions. But who wants an expressway anyway. Anyways.. Be Alert!

You realise it is truly God's Own Country that you are driving in because here people believe in sharing. No matter how many lanes we have, we all share the lanes and preferably go through the middle, if not in the opposite side of the road. Share!

You get trained for a lot of situations in life. Some day, God forbid, India is at war and we will have a lot of trained Keralites ready for dog fight. Because attack comes constantly here in Kerala, in the form of pan masala (ground and liquidy red) delivered covertly from inside the KSRTC buses (sometimes you escape one and smile to yourself, when a second delivery hits you. surprise!!), banana peels from cars, spit made with lot of effort from passing scooterists, fishy salted water from fish trucks, sand grains from lorries.. the list is never ending. Bottom line - You have no escape. Please keep your windows up for your own safety!

You understand that not everything changes with time. You pass through certain stretches and see people walk across the road like they are going for their evening stroll, at snail's pace. I mean, we are talking about a highway!. And if your vehicle is fast approaching and you dare to look into their eyes, you will get the stare of your life so that you dare not make the same mistake again. The ground they walk on once used to be the land they walked on not so long ago too, the one they took their stroll on, so they dont care if its a highway or super highway today. You just need to stop and let them pass. Like wildlife. I remember doing the same once in Bandipur, when I had to wait for more than an hour for a lone tusker to move from the road. You just have to learn patience!

You firmly end up believing small is beautiful. The smaller your vehicle, the more your chances of reaching home safely. Small vehicle owners are kings. If you own a scooter you can go on the dividing line, right in the center of the road. If you end up in an accident, it doesnt matter who's fault it is, the smaller vehicle owner is the king - the larger vehicle owner gets beaten up, along with his vehicle. (And its even better if you dont have a vehicle and you are involved in an accident). Small is in!

You will realise, if you have driven long enough, that 60% of the people driving on the road are driving under the influence of alcohol. Just yesterday I saw an accident happen, probably a few minutes before I reached the spot. Two trucks collided, both the drivers were badly injured and taken to the hospital. Along with the wreckage, and among the glasses, I noticed atleast 3 liquor bottles and playing cards scattered. When you talk about Kerala, you talk about in-house entertainment.

You will see signs saying speed-limit is 30 and 40 kilometers per hour, which means you have to keep your engine going atleast at 60-80 kilometers per hour, or you risk being hit by fast moving vehicles. Always look for the real truth!

You might see trucks and lorries with the sign "sound horn"and "keep distance" behind them. The first, that's purely for your own entertainment, and the second is what will happen to you. Sound horn, and you will always be kept at a distance, behind!

You might, as an experiment, want to just try honking when you want to overtake, the next time you are in Kerala. You will realise what a mistake it was. Because 99 out of 100 times the vehicle in front will, slowly, veer towards the center of the road and ensure you eat your honk before they let you overtake them. But strangely, the horn is the most important tool in your armamentarium as well. Honk with care!

You would not want a medical check-up for a couple of months atleast after a drive in Kerala. The very fact that you are still kicking-alive is proof of a strong heart, good senses, good reflexes etc. Check your medical fitness before driving!

You realise the single important thing in your vehicle are the horns - thats the thing you will use the most in Kerala - not your brakes, accelerator, engine, wipers etc. Check your vehicles horn before you start, always!

You are always fraught with danger. But alas, never underestimate the danger, coz it comes in many forms. Pedestrians dancing along the road, children darting across, scooterists turning abruptly, cars changing lanes without signal, trucks stopping on the middle of the road, buses moving on your lane - towards you as well (the good thing about KSRTC buses is that you wont be able to identify the front or back of it - both look the same and the headlights wont work anyway!). Dangerous is the danger of driving here!

You will get to see, along with the green fields, serene backwaters, blue mountains, some of the most gruesome accidents. Seeing is believing!

You dont want to argue or justify yourself in case of an accident or a dispute, unless you are a thug or goon material yourself. It wont matter what the truth is or is not. Even if you are right, you will be argued with, shouted at and stared away! Doesn't matter what you believe, but attitude is what matters here!

You might not want to drive if you have motion-sickness. Chances of a road straight for more than 100 meters is very unlikely. Head spinning experience! Literally!

You understand that when a two wheeler rider turns his head to the left or right, it means only one thing. That he is going to turn left or right. And remember this, because this will be the only indicator, there wont be a blinking amber or a hand sign. Always look for the small signs!

You learn the tricks in night-time warfare. You may see a scooter with a single headlight moving towards you with great speed, but be warned, for it wont take long before you realise it was a bus with a single headlight working. Similarly, when you see two headlights approaching you, dont get worried, it could just be two scooterists chatting and driving side-by-side. Night vision goggles will soon become a necessity.

You end up thanking the person who taught you to drive. In my case it was my father, and the first thing he told me was "Anticipation is the most important thing while driving". Today I realise how true it was. I am always wondering what next. what if. will he? wont he? Anticipate!

You become a believer. You believe that God exists. Especially when you reach home safely. Always say your prayer!

So next time dont be surprised if you hear this annual news headline: Kerala continues to have the highest accident rate (number of accidents per thousand vehicles) in the country. The last few years have seen over 45,000 recorded accidents every year in the state, a big jump compared to the previous years.

We can blame the government, the roads and the vehicles, but most of all, we should blame our citizens.
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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Still Absolut! Kerala!

Thiruvananthapuram, March 21 (IANS) Kerala is heading for an all time high sale of so called Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) and beer, with the figure expected to cross Rs.26 billion by the end of the current fiscal in end March. A top official of the Kerala State Beverages Corporation, the sole wholesalers of IMFL and beer, said at the end of last month the sale of IMFL and beer stood at Rs.24.01 billion - higher than the Rs.23.20 billion sale in the last fiscal.

That is Rs. 26,000,000,000!!! Or Rs. 2,600 crores worth of liquor consumed by our fellow Kudis. And there is nothing official about it. Just add the volumes of toddy, arrack and all those wonderful illegal cocktails to this, and any other industry would be put to shame.
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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

State of the Malayalam News Media

I started reading Malayalam newspapers early on, when i was in 6th grade or so. Ever since I am a proud news junkie:) My home, those days, was sort of like a hub for newspaper delivery men. The papers for our neighbors were also dropped off for them to pick up later. So everyday, my morning ritual included skimming through three or four different newspapers, till I really have to run to get to school before the final bell.

As I learned quickly, there is a lot of humor associated with reading more than one Malayalam Newspaper, daily. You will see a lot of conflicting reports that will make you laugh your a** off. You will hear many different climaxes to the same 'story' like that movie - 'HariKrishnans':) Thrilling reports on politics often leave the readers on edge, hungry for next dose of suspense. Anyhow, one thing that is guarantied from the Malayalam news media is that you will hardly ever read an objective News report!.

In fact, there is no such thing as objective reporting in Kerala. Facts are speculative. Sensationalism is the driving principle. Journalistic ethics are thrown into the garbage bin. Competition is so tight. Most of them cannot even survive another day without fabricated, dramatic, sensationalized pieces of 'stories'. They are like a bunch of hungry hyenas, so hungry for (negative) news. They will beat down any dead horses they can find . If they can't find real News, they will 'create' their own news (Ie. controversy). Often the violent political mobs of Kerala comes to their rescue, forming a dangerous partnership between the spoilers in politics and in news media.

Kerala politics is often compared to the act of "fishing in shady waters" ('kalakka vellathil meen pidutham').. Who are the ones helping to make the water shady for politicians?? Our media, who else??

Why is good Journalistic ethics is so hard to find here?? One main reason is that the owners of these media entities themselves have their own vested interests. Journalistic ethics, simply is not one of their top priority. In Kerala, if Hindu upper cast has a Newspaper representing their interests, so does the lower casts. Likewise, different factions within Christians and Muslims have their own media representations. Political parities of course have their own mouthpieces. All these media organization (that include virtually all media in kerala) are expected to act biased when it comes to reporting news that touches their core 'constituents' and often seen engaged in propaganda wars against each other. In this kind of environment, true editorial freedom simply cannot exist.. Much like in an unstable war zone, meaningful development cannot take place.

All these are costing our state a lot. Meaningless controversies, one after another, are ruining the prospects of the states development. Yes, we have some stupid politicians, but in the absence of responsible media, their negative effect on state's development is multiplied. Like the Malayalam saying, " eri theeyil enna ozhicha poleya" controversies grow here, once, media pick it up from idiotic politicians often acting on their own selfish interests. It is a quite pathetic situation.

No news media organization in Kerala has ever tested the water on the possibility of being truly independent ( with the lone exception of Indiavision which btw is not truly independent in appearance, since it has a political promoter). I am pretty sure if anyone comes forward, they will realize it is indeed feasible and profitable to invest in such an independent and credible news source in our state.
Malayalees indeed deserves better from our news media. We don't need another confused, indecisive, brainwashed generation. What we need is credible sources of objective perspectives and news.

For that we need:
- We need progressive, responsible journalists who will upheld the principles of their profession ( ie, by verifying sources before reporting news)

- We need journalist professional organizations that set standards to improve the quality of the profession... Instead of unions that only protect their selfish interests.

- We need at least one profitable media outlet, both in press and in TV, that has realized the value of being truly independent- both in fact and in appearance.

- We need trusted news wire agencies like Reuters or Associated Press that is involved in local news gathering.

-We may need quality standard organizations, to inspect and audit news media organizations.

- Our education system should prepare students to clearly distinguish different styles of writings such as subjective, objective, persuasive,etc so that a natural defence is built up among youths against common propaganda tactics..

PS: If you can, please try to contribute your suggestions to this list.thnks,
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Friday, March 10, 2006

Women's Day ? What the heck is that ?

I was very very busy and caught up in work . But I had to make this post . Better late than never . so here goes :

What is it with us Malayalee Men and women ? A better question would be - what is it with Us and courtesy towards women ?

I am not going to put in a few facts or figures and analyze them . I am going to relate just one incident that I never expected would have happened.

My first job was with the IT wing of one of the major forces in Kerala's as well as India's Financial Market . At Ernakulam . The pay was a bit ummm low ? , but hey ! I have a job now . Being just out of college and staying jobless for around six months is something I would rather not describe here . ( Every job , however menial , and however minimal the pay be , has a value and has to be respected ) .

So getting a job had put me into a very very good mood and I had begun to look at the world with much more benevolent eyes and had recovered the capacity to find pleasure in little things of life. Well , I was in a general state of happiness (Bonhomie ? I think thats what it is called . ), even when I was most aware of my surroundings. In those days I expected the world to give back some of the goodness i may have put into it . The recepient need not be me. But it had to go around.

Well it was mid January last year and I was returning after spending two weeks away from my home ( at my beloved Thiruvananthapuram ) . I was bursting with happiness when the train trundled into the Railway station at Thampanoor and i was looking at everything with a new found love . Everything looked beautiful in the moonless , streetlight lit city . And I got a bus that would take me straight to home , contrary to my prior experiences . The time was around 9:30 and the city was deserted , the bus was filled with weary travellers , all of them men. All of the seats were filled , including the ones reserved for ladies ( there was no point in leaving those seats vacant since there were no ladies !!) I boarded the bus at East fort and the ride was good till Statue junction . When the bus stopped there , a man , his wife and three daughters got on. The men standing in the back of the bus ('ladies area') moved themselves over to the front , where they wont cause any discomfort to the ladies. Things were Ok till now. I was just another happy mallu at this point.

As soon as the bus started moving the lady ( the mother of the three ) very politely asked the men sitting in the seats reserved for ladies to kindly give up the seats so she could sit , she was tired , thanks very much . Believe me , she couldn't have been any politer . But these guys , they are probably an year or two older than me , they just turned their heads the other way.

Dudes ,isn't it common courtesy to give up ur seats to a lady , especially if she is tired and the seat you are sitting in is reserved for ladies only ? well these guys just plain ignored her.

The lady looked at her husband , and this guy just gives her a look filled with plain resignation , a "Please adjust , I am a worried man " look in his eyes.

( All this happens in a space of at the most two minutes . )

Well as I said earlier , I expect the world to give back something of the courtesy / goodness I may have shown to someone . And suddenly , unlike my poor mallu self I fill my voice with as much derision and insult as I can and asked the guys

"Naanamille , avarkku vendiyulla seatil keri irikkaanum , avar paranjittu polum eneettu kodukkaathirikkaanum ? "

( Aren't you ashamed to sit in a seat reserved for her and not moving over even after her request )

I realize at the next moment that these guys are not the sort who will sit around a table and listen to reason like men .

Of course they got up , but only to come up to me and ask me "Nee arraada chodikkan ? Ninakku chodikkaan enthaa avakaasam ? huh ? Nee araanna ninte vichaaram ?"

(Who are you to ask ? What right do you have to ask that question ? And who do you think you are ?)

Well I was plain frightened , and as one of my friends says "Pedichu kaattam ittu " . But I knew I was right so I told them that i have more right to speak than they had , on this matter . The bus conductor , the silent statue , he came over and asked me if I was so crazy as to talk and argue with these kinda dudes , and asked me to go to the front of the bus , which i do immediately . I got those dudes to give up the seats to the lady - Mission accomplished. So I escaped from the situation .

Now comes the funny part . It so happened that two people from my 'area' was on the bus , and we got down at the same stop . They came over to me and told me that what i did was very stupid. Who would argue for a woman , that too someone unknown ? That was the question they asked me. Both were pretty well educated , older than my father and I generally respected them for their plain good naturedness and outlook towards life .

Maybe it was the fact that I was fresh out of college that made me do it then . But i think that I did what I did because the people on the bus behaved in a way i didnt respect , didnt think right and I myself wouldnt have done . Its like hey I dont cheat at exams , so I hate you because you cheated at the exams .

I haven't been to big cities of India or travelled extensively or anything . I have been to Bangalore and Chennai .But I have seen women moving around freely in these places even after 7 O Clock . Girls who have been my classmates here , who now work at Chennai or Bangalore , they tell me that they would prefer a life in such places plainly because they have a far greater sense of security there than in their own hometowns back in Kerala.

Right now I am in Germany , and here , if you dont hold the door for a lady or do not give up ur seat to a lady in a crowded tram , you are looked upon with a sort of contempt..

And I met a lady who had travelled to many places in India , almost always on business . She once visted India , to spend her holidays here , in our very own kerala . She told me that Mallu men have a special skill - They can strip a lady with just their eyes alone. She thinks it must be because the men in Kerala are 'sexually oppressed ' .

I have a little sister and she is doing her plus two now. She goes to evening tuitions on most of the days . And if the tuition classes go beyond 6:30 pm , either me or my father will go to bring her back home. It irks her . She says its like we are treating her like a child . She doesnt understand .We are plain afraid to let her come back alone after 6:00 . This in the capital city of one of the most literate states in India. I am afraid , and sad .

PS : I have heard educated people proposing that some of the trees in our city be cut down to widen the roads - they dont have enought space to ride their cars. But the old hag ( "Kelavi" was the exact term they used ) teames up with some environment freaks to stop it everytime something like that is about to happen . The Old Hag they were referring to was Sugathakumaari teacher , the poetess , the lady who runs 'Abhaya' , who smiles seldome because her heart is heavy with the plight of people she sees everyday.

Dude where's my educated kerala , God's own Country ?
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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Happy Women's Day?

This was supposed to be posted on March 8th, but some person flagged and blocked my blog, and it was down for 24 hours.

As the world celebrates Women's Day, I too wholeheartedly admire and cherish all the women in my life - past, present and hopefully there will be women in the future too.

I also take this chance to continue, though I so dislike to keep up with it, with my negative onslaught on the situation in Kerala. I witnessed two incidents while in Kerala recently, which really got me upset and charged enough to blog this.

Incident 1 - 5th March 2006: One of the most brilliant employees in an institution was required to over-stay due to an emergency situation at work. We are talking about a relatively big institution with more than 75% of the 100 odd employees being women. She informs her husband of the emergency and that she will have to continue working until around 7pm, for which she was greeted with abuse and threats apparently. The husband even calls back and informs random people at the workplace that his wife need not come back and she can just go where she wants. Around 7pm the husband comes to the gates of the workplace and as she got onto the vehicle, shouts at her openly and abuses her. Next day she is back at work, with a smile.

Incident 2 - 2nd March 2006: Similar scenario, only this time the incident took place at 6pm as another one of the most hardworking and dedicated employees were leaving the premises. Her husband had arrived at the scene, apparently irked over the fact that she was not reachable over telephone or something as trivial. He shouted at her and as she was climbing onto his bike, he angrily moves it forward. She falls down, weeps and climbs back onto the bike, apologising (dunno for what), with minor bruises on the exterior but wounded on the inside for sure. Next day she is the spritely woman that we know, working hard.

It is very interesting to note the social backgrounds in both these cases. Both employees are from middle class families, and the crucial point - one had a husband who was a jobless guy turned politician, and the other employed, but a chronic drunkard. Both of them survived on their wives money, as did their children, and the women were the main providers of the family's needs. Despite this, or is it because of this I am not sure, they were abused and persecuted by their husbands.

From what I could gather, this is quite a common instance in almost every regular household in the low income to mid income SEC. And this kind of justifies the earlier statistics brought out by various organisations exposing the flaws in the social development index of the state that included a high rate of suicide among women, physical and mental abuse, eve-teasing etc. We might stand way ahead compared to most states in India but that is not an excuse for crude and unruly behaviour we display in our daily life, and it just shows still in many aspects like these we are really backward.

I think there is a lot that needs to be done for a change, because this change can come only if the mentality of the people change. For which we probably have to start right in our homes and schools, so that values, culture and ethics are driven into minds of our people. Whatever development and statistics we can project, if such core aspects do not shine as a society, we do not stand anywhere in life.
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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Empowering India

A small update related to Babin's earlier post.

On a larger scale, in comparison to the Kudumbasree and EDC, the Government of India under the leadership of Manmohan Singh and P.Chidambaram, and Sonia Gandhi ofcourse, has embarked on a never-before project - The Employment Guarantee Scheme.

The sheer scale and size of this project is amazing, not to mention the possibilities and extent to which it can impact the poor in India.

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill, 2004 promises wage employment to every rural household, in which there are volunteers to do unskilled manual work. Through this Bill the government, aims at removing poverty by assuring at least 100 days' employment.

According to WHO statistics, more than 30% of Indians live Below the Poverty Line (BPL) - the cut off at which this is calculated varies and hence in effect the percentage might be higher than this.

Thus the money required to fund this scheme is a whopping Rs. 40,000 to 50,000 crore! Our FM is quite confident of meeting this allocation, and in fact gave almost Rs.24,000 crore for the project.

Contrary to the pessimists, which naturally include the Leftists who are supposed to be pro-poor, the scheme is effectively being implemented at the grass root levels with the determination and inspiration of many Indians - rich and poor.

Despite being not directly involved with the scheme, nor being an economist, I have strongly believed in the scheme for whatever I could make out about it and these are phenomenal schemes and ideas which we all should whole-heartedly welcome. Like I said earlier, the very message they convey is so important - you get paid for working, you get everything if you help build the nation - and not for sitting idle or shouting slogans and conducting hartals.

I hope the next phase of the scheme includes Kerala - not because there are plenty under the BPL, but there are plenty of people who are committed to be unemployed-by-choice. Who would rather hang out at the bus-stops, join marches, loot, steal, strike than work.

I wish more and more people would realise what good, educated, progressive minded and visionary leaders can do to our nation; as compared to the narrow minded, always-opposing, pessimistic looting lot. Just imagine, the Left parties are busy organising protest marches and hartals against Bush's visit (LDF has called for hartal in Kerala on March 02,2006) - apart from throwing peoples lives out of gear and causing losses for the economy I really wonder what these idiots gain. Oh, I am mistaken. There are geniuses among us who still vote for them for these gimmicks.

Today I got an email from a friend. He sent me the transcript of an email from a district collector who is involved in the implementation of the EGS at the grassroots. I was so inspired and touched by his words.

the EGS is presently under implementation in 200 districts in INDIA and in Andhra pradesh it is being implemented in 13 districts.My district chittoor is also one of them and i am the project officer in my far we have received around 2 lakh applications for 100 days assured job. at present we are conducting gram sabhas for preparation of shelf of works. we are identifying works that are to be carried out in the field os the weaker sections of the society. all are done on a participatory mode and hence there will be absolute transparency. there will be no malpractices as (commonly perceived). the checks are being put in place by people's participation. we've prepared a software with help of TCS for the preparation of Job cards and estimates of the works. at present two computers each are being installed in the mandals. i've got 62 systems today and we are installing them. from 15th of this month we've to provide jobs to the applicants, otherwise unemployment allowance has to be paid. this is statutory under the employment guarantee act. i feel that india is the only country which has given a statutory backing to employment guarantee. the experiences that i'm gaining in implementing the act are very rich and highly satisfying.the allotment for our district alone is Rs 100 crores in the first phase.
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