Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Big Fat Mallu Wedding

The "Mallu" wedding industry is one of the most thriving, possibly soon will be the only one, business in Kerala. (Because they cannot have a hartal against marriages, not yet. In fact, marriages are exempted from the hartals and bandhs in Kerala, as though it is some great generous act they do while they ruin the rest of the state. )Along with the wedding-bull, I mean bell, the industry also supports another raging business – Gold. Tradition, and ego, requires that the bride needs to be covered and anchored to the ground with gold. Other allied sector businessmen like Biriyani caterers, Priests, brokers also benefit from this boom.

But behind all the glam and glitter lies a rotten story.

Here is how it all begins:

Most of the times, it all begins with an innocent smile. The day people in Kerala notice that you are a happy kid, there is an uprising and voices gather storm. How can anyone in Kerala be happy and contend?. There has to be something wrong. If not he or she is becoming irresponsible and lacks a direction in life.

Of course, only marriage can save the misguided youth. “Kalyanam kazhiyumbol sheri aakum”, “pennu kettumbol oru chitta varum”, “bharthavu aakumbol padicholum” are all common pre-nuptial thoughts.

Another more factual reason is the continuity of race, bloodline or the need to reproduce. This is the single biggest reason for marriages in Kerala, probably India too. All that people look for is man and woman to be legally able to reproduce and ensure off-springs that are able to continue “family names”.

Then comes the search. Massive hunts begin to find the “ideal” partner (ideal for others, not for eachother). Entrepreneuring brokers, Blood-thirsty relatives, Nosy neighbors; all have a feast. If the victim survives all these, the power of the media is utilized, not to forget to mention the online versions and do-it-yourself matrimonial sites. Check out a few actual press “classifieds” or “matrimonial ads”:

For ease, I have categorized into different sections based on their true meaning and intentions:

For Sale
Ancient, Aristocratic, financially well-off Jacobite family with assets in Kerala and UAE invites proposals for a 24 year old white colored, tall, slim girl, homely, family oriented and excellent character. Doctors, engineers or MBAs preferred.

Syrian Orthodox boy, 27, 5'9", wheatish, working as software engineer in MNC, salary USD 100,000 plus seeks alliance, preferably educated outside Kerala.

Muslim parents residing in USA, invite proposals for their ONLY daughter born and brought up here 27yrs, 5'2" with master's degree, employed in reputed firm from professionally qualified boys of any Christian denomination with western culture.

Christian CSI, 30, 158, BBA, employed, 2,00,000 pa seeks Christian, educated brides, Malayalee also acceptable.

Religious, wealthy, ancient RC parents, well employed in Gulf, invite suitable alliance for their daughter, 22, 161, fair and beautiful, MBBS, doing PG in medicine shortly, from parents of handsome PG doctors/senior civil services employed software engineers employed in USA/UK/Australia, below 30 yrs of wealthy Jacobite/Orthodox family.

Visa available:
Parents of Nair girl 27, 157, green card holder, working in USA seeks alliance from US employed boys or boys wanting to go to USA.

Marthomite parents USA on leave invite proposals for daughter, slim, beautiful M.Sc nutrition employed in USA, from parents of well qualified god fearing Christian boys with clean habits.

Aristocratic parents of Thiya boy, 26, 5'9", working as software engineer in MNC, good salary, seeks alliance only from Thiya parents for their daughters.

Keywords and Legend:

Ancient: This means the family could be a direct descendant of our forefathers, the Apes – perhaps, if not look-wise, at least they will display character and behavior that qualify the recognition.

Aristocratic: If you would like to associate with a family who has enough people to interfere with every bit of your life, then look for this word.

Financially-well-off/ Salary quotes/ Assets: These are tricky keywords. When it comes in a “wanted bride-grooms” classified, it usually implies, money is not an issue and we got lots of dowry as long as you are a District Collector or a psychiatrist who charges by the minute or something like that. If it comes on an “ad” by the parents of a guy, it usually means if you have the money, we don’t care who or what our son is marrying.

Homely/ Family Oriented: She has a uterus, and is willing to reproduce

Green card holder: You don’t have to go stand in the long queues at Chennai or Delhi at the US consulate at 5am.

Wheatish, White, Fair, Medium Complexion: These are highly subjective color based descriptions to entice you, just like Maruti people talk about their car colors. You wont know what red or blue until you see the car. But the fact is, there is a big preference of color in Kerala.

MNC: This could be your lucky break to get out of all those strikes, bandhs, gossips and such things that make a hell-hole out of Kerala.

ONLY child: when its an ONLY child, the sale value quadruples in the market.

God-fearing: I am still confused about this one and I wonder if it means God fears these people.

It is very rarely that a victim gets beyond this point. Usually the marriage occurs because “he is a doctor”, “they gave 2 crores”, “their family is famous” “her dad owns two hotels” “her studies are over, now its time to have a kid” “he has to fly abroad, so he has to marry and go” or one such insane reason.

I have seen 90% of the time these people miss what the guy and girl really wants. It never really is about either of those people, but about families, prestige, egos and social status. What good is a “famous family” if the guy and girl don’t get along well? In my opinion, majority of the marriages in Kerala end up in discontent and suppression. The couples are just forced to shut-up and live on because of the family and social pressures. But sooner or later, these frustrations give way in one form or another. In the end, its back to two people doing their own things in life, but are together only because of that “incident” called wedding. And most of the times, its only the guy that lives his life, whereas the girl suffers silently, confined to the house.

That is probably one reason why couples are “fast forwarded” into having kids. The days after you marry, aunts and uncles, or even strangers will want to know your bed-room secrets. “When are we seeing a baby”, “Don’t delay further”, “Othiri thamasikkathe oru ” are all the usual comments you get from them. And you think to yourself, “God, its just been 2 months!” or “who the hell is this guy?!!” And if it is over one year and you still haven’t had babies, then God save you. Either you will be subjected to the latest medical tests available till you conceive, or you will be branded as barren. Period.

Anyway, coming back to marriages, I don’t see why people have to bring in egos and hypocrisy into something like marriage. Aren’t marriages supposed to be made in heaven? Why can’t the guy and girl be given priority? I am not even saying Love marriages work better, but the whole system involved in weddings in Kerala is thoroughly confusing to say the least. Infact, I do think Love marriages (by this I mean, people should be allowed to find a match on their own; marriage is a personal choice in my opinion) are way better than the way marriages are arranged in Kerala. If at all love marriages fail, it is only because of the family, relatives and society manipulating the couples brains and creating rifts.

I recently heard an account from someone I know very closely, about how his daughter liked a guy who worked with her. And initially both their families were happy and fine. But mid-way as they discussed about the hows and whens of the wedding, the question of dowry came up. The guy’s folks accused the girl’s dad as being a cheapo, and he got infuriated and walked off the camp. I guess behind every marriage there is an incident or scene like this. I think the serials in Kerala depict the mental agony in most houses, and perhaps thats the reason why they are such a rage!

I have heard about insane traditions such as the guy "paying of" the girls mother with a token gift such as a sari and all. And people actually sit and spend hours on deciding these things, without even a clue as to whats going on in the guy or girls mind.

I also get bugged by the way, hundreds of strangers flock to weddings. People who you have never met before, strangers who don’t give a damn about the couple, people who come just to gossip or comment about the food. Isn’t marriage supposed to be more special than that? Why cant it be just the close relatives and friends who really mean well for the couple and family? Why does it have to be a social display?

We, or atleast our parents, were all born out of similar marriages I guess, and so in some senses the system works. But is it the only way it can work? Will it ever change?
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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Dog Day Afternoons

Post Hartal Update:

The hartal in Kerala, and mind you only Kerala, was total. The hartal called by Leftist political parties to protest against the fuel hike affected the life of the Keralite the most. But considering the sensible Keralite is an endagered species, just like the employed Keralite or the cultured Keralite, the rest of the Kerala revelled in yet another day of joblessness and politicking.

The newspapers on the day after the hartal caught the essence of it all. The Malayala Manorama had two contrasting pictures of the hartal day: One from Kolkatta, of the Howrah bridge, where roads were jammed as business and life went on as usual. The other from Kochi, the business capital of Kerala, where the roads looked deserted. Most of the other papers also questioned the double standards and selfish politics played by the commies.

But perhaps the Indian Express summed it all by speaking to the WB CM: When asked by The Indian Express this evening why the Left’s strike had paralysed Kerala today but didn’t affect West Bengal at all, veteran Politburo member Jyoti Basu said: “They (Kerala) perhaps saw an advantage out of the total strike so they went for the strike. Here, we thought a five-minute chakka jam and street-corner meetings would register our protest. So we went for that form.” Buddha apparently didn't want to send out wrong signals to "investors" in his state.

I wish our chief had gone to college too!

5 days, 2 hartals! That's how pathetic Kerala is currently. Kerala is the only state which had to suffer two hartals in the name of protesting against the fuel price hike! I am so infuriated by this total senseless political frenzy in our state. Are our people such idiots to keep on tolerating this?

The Left parties proclaim to be pro-people and socialist! But what kind of animals will be so cruel to call hartals like these? And that too when the good-for-nothing BJP had just ended one few days ago. And worst, in a state ruled by their own old clowns.

People suffer and yet vote back the same clowns to power and there are enough third-rate people in our state to support such policies and events. Apparently for tomorrows hartal, the Left leaders have warned that not even two wheelers will be allowed to be on the road by their supporters, as though it is something to be proud of! Dont they realise there are people suffering due to all these insane calls? People stuck in hospitals, airports, railway stations..

Just because the supporters of these political parties dont have a job and are third-rate goons who can be hired with a supply of alcohol, does that mean the whole state has to suffer? Is this their idea of development? This is what keeps investors and sensible people as far away from the state as possible.

So why cant the honorable CM cut down the states taxes if he is so concerned about the people? Everyone knows there is no easy solution and it is only because of the international crude oil price changes that the Indian Government is forced to make these changes. It is not an easy decision for anyone.

I can already feel the state beginning to crumble at the hands of our new LDF government. The seams are bursting and soon we will be taken 5 years backwards. One of the most outstanding decisions taken by this government, in this context, has been to reverse suspensions of plenty of LDF supporters in various government organisations, including the Secretariat, who were previously suspended for violence during strikes and hartals. Green signals from the party high command and its government. What more does one need, to revel in lawlessness and violence?

Ten days ago, there was an incident which went quite unnoticed. A couple of LDF supporters went to a bank manager's house to ask for donations (pirivu) for some event in honor of Achuthanandan. They threatened the manager and hence he refused to pay. Later they came in a group and bashed him up along with his two sons. They thrashed him with bars and tube-lights. The man lost one of his eyes! Nobody was arrested. Police was numb as it was the ruling party workers involved.

These hartals and violent incidents are just beginnings of a government brought on by our own people. Literate people welcoming illiterates to rule over them. Enjoy!
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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Realities of Governance I

There is a strong reality in governance. This reality our governors face is same, whether it is LDF, UDF, NDA or UPA in the helm. The charismatic power of this reality is so powerful that it is a major factor why opposition parties flip, 180 degrees, once they come to power. It is also what forces ideological parties to take a realistic approach on their economic policies, communist China to turn capital, India to open up its economy in the early 90s, Buddhadeb to declare he is a realist, etc..

It is important that as citizens of a democracy we should take the effort to at least understand pieces of this reality before exercising our god given right to blame our governments.

A big piece of this reality is the emptiness of governments’ pocket (aka ‘Gajanave’). What is the reality of governing a state (read Kerala) thats 86% of tax receipts is spent just on salaries/pension or interest? (6 years ago, the same ratio was 104%!). Is there any financial flexibility left for the executive to carry out its mandate in such a situation? Every new government is given a mandate to do the best, better than the previous government and people have very high expectation of them. But the question is without adequate funds how can they expected to deliver on these high expectations?

If it wasn’t for the international development agencies/banks and foreign government aid, there wouldn’t be any major development initiatives going on in Kerala currently. Take a look at the following list of foreign aided projects in kerala which ranges from making sure people wash their hands after using toilet to changing the organizational set up of the government itself.

World Bank Kerala State Transportation Project.
ADB Urban development project.
WB Kerala Fostery Conservation Project
ADB, Dutch Modernizing Government Program
WB,ADB, Swiss Local Government Decentralization Program AKA janakeeya aasuthranam
Japan Drinking water project
World bank Rural Water Supply project
WB toilet paper promotion project
WB health project

This list by no means is complete and excludes a number of domestic lending organizations GoK regularly rely on for day to day activities. It makes one wonder whether keralites should pay more attention on the elections for the board of governors of these lending institutions than that of their own elected representatives.
Generally, financial leverage is a good thing, up to a point, but unfortunately GoK has crossed that limit decades ago. It is purely selfish to make future generations pay for the present expenses of the government other than the cost of long lasting infrastructure projects.

The obvious but ignored reality is that governments need to have resources to act on its promises. In the world of development ‘resource’ is the key word. Don’t get me wrong, India is blessed with lots of natural resources, we also have an abundance of human capital. Nevertheless, Indian Governments lacks the resource in its most liquid form- Cash (aka Tax Revenue). If tax revenue is low, next logical conclusion is well demonstrated by usefulness of Indian governments to the people! In fact, this is the reality of developing countries across the globe. Our governments has enormous task in front of it, it has to adhere to very high expectations without having the liquid resources to make it happen.

India needs billions and billions of cash to spend on modernizing our infrastructure (an estimated 172,000 Cr over the next 7 yrs for roads alone.) The government needs thousands of Crores to fortify our defense capabilities and to assert ourselves as a major global power. It needs to spend at least 3 times more on the social sector than it does currently. To assure reasonable quality in primary education billions more needed. Even to reform our institutions and government bureaucracy to reduce corruption to a reasonable level, a large sum of money needed to be pumped in to the system. To modernize our police force and to create a law obedient civil society 1000s of Crore more Ruppees are essential. Resource aka Money is everything. There is no doubt that the quality of government services is directly related to the tax revenue. We get what we paid for.

Yet, the focus of the country is seldom on resource accumulation front. India’s tax base is pathetically low. Only 3% of the population pays income tax in our country! The need of the hour is to come up with a plan to widen the tax base to at least 10% in short term.

India’s Tax to GDP ratio is half as much of an average developed country. That means Indians have to pay twice as much tax than they do currently for India to be in par with the taxation levels of developed countries.

For the fiscal year ended in 2005, only 8 lakh people from Kerala paid their income taxes to the central government. Their collective payment was merely 1,724 Cr. In comparison recent hike in kerala government employees compensation did alone cost state govt exchequer an additional 1,600 Cr.

I am sure any top level political executive who has a shed of statesmanship in his/her blood has experienced this reality and forced to think with common sense. But the problem is those who aren’t able to experience this reality, which include overwhelming majority of politicians and influential citizens, ignores these obvious but crucial facts of governance.
Unfortunately, those few elite politicians who experienced it are hesitant to convey it to the masses because of the very nature of their profession and our media’s vested interest is better served by looking away from it. End result of this 'trap' is the continuation of the same old politics of fooling people, and substandard economic policies that undercuts the maximum potential of the country.
India has to bravely implement smart tax and economic policies that will double and triple the governments’ revenue- that can be used for development projects. But the challenge for the policy makers is to make citizens appreciate reality based governance as opposed to populist idealism so that the resistance against intelligent reforms will be in the low end.
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Monday, June 05, 2006

First Anti People Policy of LDF Government?

Recently the new Minister for Labor in Mr Achuthanandan’s cabinet P K Gurudasan has said that Government will not be implementing “THE KERALA LOADING AND UNLOADING ACT, 2002”. He termed the act as a “BLACK LAW”. This made me write this post.

I was in the first year of Engineering (1994) when we decided to construct one more room to our house. Each day we have to bring in 50 sacks of cement. As soon as the mini lorry arrived a group of about 10 CITU workers came from nowhere. They wanted Rs.1000 to unload the cement from the lorry. My father was ready to givel Rs.300. They came down to Rs.750 and started using abusive language. The so-called leader told “Give us Rs.750, otherwise we will sit here and will make sure no one touches it ”. They thought we would finally oblige to their threads. Another chotta (small) leader shouted at my father “If you keep us like that finally you may have to unload it”. My father asked them is it ok that I can unload. They thought we can never do it and agreed. My father and myself unloaded it in about 45 minutes.

If you are a Malayali or if you have stayed in Kerala for a period of time you will surely have some stories like this to tell - unruly behavior of so called trade union leaders. One more example of highhandedness of head load workers, which I can recollect – My first job as a Civil Engineer was in BSES Kerala Power Ltd during its construction stage in 1998. Some stuff like generator that weighs about 5 to 10 tons will come to the site and you have to unload it using a crane. The head load workers just have to put the hook on the generator and they charge Rs.1000/ton. In addition they have what is called “Nokkukuli”. Can you believe this? How can any industry come to Kerala?
The High Court of Kerala while delivering a verdict in the M. Jnana Prakasam Vs M. Natarajan case in 2001 blasted the trade unionism of head load workers
They were considered as a group of belligerent and quarrelsome group, always charging exorbitant wages even for carrying petty loads. They enforced the wage rates prescribed by themselves by monopolising the right to do loading and unloading work in a particular area. `Engage them or do not engage anybody' was their motto. This monopoly brought in affluence and headload work became a lucrative job and this prompted many to attempt to enter the field under the leadership of rival unions
To put a control on the highhandedness of head load workers the government introduced this act which was termed as “THE KERALA LOADING AND UNLOADING (REGULATION OF WAGES AND RESTRICTION OF UNLAWFUL PRACTICES) ACT, 2002 “. The salient features of the act were
  • The owner of the building has the right to carry out loading and unloading work for domestic purposes by himself or by employing workers of his own choice
  • In notified areas under Section 5 of the Act, the employer has also been given the right to carry out loading and unloading works for non-domestic purposes, either by himself or by employing workers of his own choice. These areas include industrial parks, export processing zones, industrial and commercial zones, tourism project zones and agricultural markets notified by the Government from time to time
  • Wages of the head load workers will be decided by the Government and will be notified from time to time
  • The Act empowers the police to register a case against offending workers either suo moto or on a written complaint made in this behalf by an employer or any person aggrieved.

This act came as a great relief for the common man as he no longer has to battle it out with the unruly head load workers. It is an irony in Kerala that a law which common man has welcomed with both hands was termed as black law by a Minister. May be for communist ministers all laws that don’t allow petty comrades from harassing common man and make money may be a black law. LDF has showed within a fortnight of coming to power that they have “comrades” interest in mind than the interest of common man who voted for them.


photo courtesy "The Hindu"

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