September 26, 2013

I can see the absurdity of even recounting an act that should be considered routine. However, today is the day, when I feel reassured that it is possible to get a task done in a government office, renowned to be amongst the worst, without paying a single paise bribe. Yes, it has taken time. Yes, there were some helpful souls at the Bangalore and Coimbatore offices. Yes, there were moments of doubt. Yes, I hated the experience throughout. Yes, my wife had more persistence and tact than me. Yes, the process is unnecessarily (or deliberately?) tedious, manual and convoluted. Yes, I did encounter some real crooks, cruelly poking holes at every turn but who shrivel when you fight back.

After 1.5 years, the transfer of registration of our car from Bangalore to Coimbatore is completed, with no bribes paid – directly or indirectly. While the re-registration was a 4-5 month long process, the refund of the road tax has happened today.

I know, I personally might not have done this without shunning the corporate life – I might possibly have outsourced the act of corruption to a middleman. Now that I don’t place a premium on my time, or rather know how to utilize my time while waiting endlessly, anywhere, I can play the game at their pace. We haven’t even drawn out the RTI weapon yet – then we can possibly challenge and change the pace as well. Gained confidence for more such battles. I hope, this resolve won’t wilt under more pressing circumstances.

And I hope, there will come a time, when I don’t ever have to boastfully recount what should be a routine act, and a bunch of 16-year old girls, accustomed to hardships, will not offer a rousing ovation for such a routine act, like they did today.

For that wee bit of freedom

September 19, 2013

As I walked my daughter to school and came out, I heard a few instructions being given to older kids during their morning assembly.

Avoid talking to strangers. Do not accept anything from them. Be alert.
AVOID going out ALONE.

All sane advices, I should think, as a modern day urban parent. But damn it. What kind of a world have we created for our kids; a world, where they can not go out alone – and chase butterflies; fly kites, and run after the cut ones; spin tops, and split those of your opponents; play cricket on the streets; surreptitiously jump into the backyards of locked houses to retrieve the ball hit there by an aspiring Srikanth, alright, Shikhar; climb trees, and pluck fruits, or gather neem leaves for Bhogi, or just sleep on a cushy intersection of branches; go to the library; cycle; explore; discover; learn. Alone.

And we dare to deride this generation as loners, couch potatoes, computer game freaks and nerds.

Of course, I can hear you – they can do some of it and a lot more…within the protected walls of your posh apartment complex, if you stay in one: under the watchful eyes of security guards and caretakers. Of course, they have their private swimming pools. Of course, they travel to one new country every year; and they have their Disney Worlds. Stuff, many of us couldn’t have dreamt of.

But I dare say, a child will trade all these for that wee bit of freedom, if she knows of its existence.

Lohia on Hindu fanaticism and partition

September 16, 2013

This probably is a great antidote to the Godse-eulogizing seen on our social networks and elsewhere.

Ram Manohar Lohia, not exactly an unquestioning acolyte of Gandhi, and a bitter critic of Nehru, on Hindu fanaticism and Partition :

‘Opposition of fanatical Hinduism to Partition did not and could not make any sense, for one of the forces that partitioned the country was precisely this Hindu fanaticism. It was like the murderer recoiling from his crime, after it had been done.

Let there be no mistake about it. Those who have shouted loudest of Akhand Bharat, the present Jan Sangh and its predecessors of the curiously un-Hindu spirit of Hinduism, have helped Britain and the Muslim League partition the country, if the consequences of their acts and not their motivations are taken into account. They did nothing whatever to bring the Muslim close to the Hindu within a single nation. They did almost everything to estrange them from each other. Such estrangement is the root cause of Partition. To espouse the philosophy of estrangement and at the same time, the concept of undivided India is an act of grievous self-deception, only if we assume that those who do so are honest men.
[…] The opponent of Muslims in India is the friend of Pakistan.


I made a forecast of early India-Pakistan reunion into Hindustan. Never before or after have I made such an unwise forecast. My wish ran away with my intelligence. Nobody could indeed have foreseen Gandhiji’s death at that time. In any case, my calculations were based on his continuing presence. […] I, like million others foolishly, expected miracles from that man. There are no miracles except discovery of, and adherence to, truths and hard work.’

– Guilty Men of India’s Partition, Ram Manohar Lohia

Being a farmer

September 10, 2013

In recent days, I have been reading a few intense debates on organic vs chemical/GM farming. But, after having some long discussions with a few farmers, I get the feeling that the question they grapple with is a different one:

To continue with farming, or to sell the land and live off the interest from deposits. To be, or not to be.

Right now, they seem to think that the latter makes more economic sense for them. “Our yields have grown; farming has grown but farmers have not grown (விவசாயம் வளர்ந்துருக்கு, ஆனா விவாசாயிக வளரவே இல்லை),” said one farmer-cum-officer from Agricultural Department. But yet, some inner sense holds them back and they continue to feed us, city folks.

Even though, I know that a major chunk goes to the middlemen, I suddenly don’t grudge that Rs.70/kg for onions, as much. That, one of the farmers said, has helped him partially compensate the losses he suffered with turmeric. That, another one said, helps to make up for the onions that are rejected because they are a shade lighter (in color) or a size smaller. And they know, this is not going to last. And they know, more of them are going to harness their herd mentality to sow more onions and face losses next season.

“We don’t need any help with the production – we will manage it well enough. Help me with the selling. Farmers are the only people who can’t fix the prices for their produce,” said one farmer, quite angrily.

What made me really despondent was when I heard this – “My mother always sells off the best tomatoes and brinjals; she keeps the bad ones for us, cuts off the rotten part and uses the good portion. Why lose any opportunity to save some money?”

Finally, “when we sometimes get everything right, we get a few visitors – one elephant is enough to destruct most of the crops that are ready for harvest, and they are invariably followed by dozens of wild boars, which dig the ground and pluck out even the roots. And if one wild pig dies on our field even by accident, we had it – we have to spend unto 5 lakhs to get out of the legal mess. These lovely peacocks – if they eat a few fruits we’ll be glad; they are after all the vehicle of Lord Muruga – but they always take a bite off every fruit. Even the small rabbit – searching for water, it bites off tubes used for the drip irrigation. The deer selectively eats only the grains with such human precision.”

One young man, quiet thus far, took me on his bike to drop me off at a nearby bus-stop. “Sir, don’t listen to all these old hands. They have turned too negative. I have been into farming for the last couple of years – I am gradually shifting to organic farming. Compared to my electrical contracting job, it has less mental stress and gives me joy. And I am confident that I will somehow make money – not as much as before but enough to keep me going.”

An IIT-IIM grad-turned-natural farmer told me last month, “Our farmers, more than even our soldiers, are the bravest in the country doing the riskiest jobs.” I agree.