Sunday, August 5, 2012

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012


I stood in the boat, sullen and anxious, while the instructor helped me into the SCUBA Gear. Sullen, because I was seasick, and anxious because I had never as much as dived in a swimming pool. But I had chosen to come for the SCUBA Diving experience at Netrani Islands near Murudeshwar, and that involved diving very much into the Sea.

Ready to start for the Island
I have a little problem - I cannot say 'I am scared'. Whatever it is, I have to give it a try. So when Kartik, KG and Prarabdh asked me if I would like to come to Netrani, I had to say yes. Now they were all already in the sea water, splashing around like the three happiest kids on earth, while I readied myself for the impending disaster. It was hot, I was hungry, the lifejacket was too tight, the fins were making everything so awkward, and the mouthpiece - oh I hated the mouthpiece! How many people had put it in their mouth anyways? And of course, the oxygen cylinder was heavy, and they had put extra weight beneath the life jacket. I didn't really belong in the air with all that gear. Sooner or later, I had to jump in. So when the instructor told me to jump in, I jumped in. Not exactly though - first I swallowed, then I swallowed again, only to realise that I had nothing more left in my mouth ; then I gave in and jumped.

The Happy Kid - Prarabh Awasthi

The water was cool, so one problem was solved. And the weight was gone too. I was just about to feel happy about my situation when the instructor told me to wear the goggles and start breathing using the mouthpiece. Swallow, again. But then the three happy kids started egging me on (or that's what they thought they were doing), so I put the abominable mouthpiece into my mouse, and I swallowed, again. 

Well, this time, the swallowing was protocol. That was how I was supposed to breathe. And that felt easy enough, until the instructor told me to do that underwater. Underwater - well, that was what we were there for. Reluctantly, I reminded him, I cannot swim. It's OK, he said, he is there for me. I wanted to say that I didn't trust him, but instead, I swallowed and thrust my head underwater. 

We practised breathing under water for some time, then he deflated my life jacket a bit and we descended downward. 
The Descent
Suddenly, I felt a lot of things changing around me. The first change was the silence. No, not the deathly awkward silence, but a lively, comfortable silence that simply belonged there. The second thing was the colours. Suddenly, everything around had become a beautiful shade of blue, the most beautiful blue I had seen. And this beautiful blue of the Sea was teeming with a lot of even more colourful life forms. It was almost as if we had developed the ability of seeing more colours underwater. And the third was distance. All distances seemed magnified underwater. Refractive Index, I mused. I could go to any extent to feel comfortable there you see, and the concept of refractive indices seemed familiar and comforting for some reason - which brings me to the fourth change I had felt. I felt uncomfortable, very uncomfortable. 
The Marine Scenery
I felt pain in my ears, which was to be expected and which was why I was supposed to equalise. Equalising required me to balance the pressures in my lungs and sinus with the water pressure outside. We fail to realise how easy our lives are because we breathe the same air that surrounds us on earth. To achieve the same balance underwater you have to breathe in through the mouthpiece and try to release the air through your ears. And you have to keep breathing in all the time. Sounds simple, IS simple, only - I was scared. I looked around for the three happy kids, who were the only people I knew in the vast entirety of the Arabian Sea, and I couldn't see any of them at that moment. Though I hated them for putting me in the situation, I knew I would feel safer with them around. But the one I had around me was my instructor, who, I must say, was a very good swimmer (despite his heavy set figure and a huge round belly). And at that time, he was telling me, i.e. gesturing to me to equalise. I sighed, then realising that sighing underwater was not a good idea, I swallowed. Luckily, that worked.

The instructor helping me equalise
Slowly, we started going deeper and also started looking around. Once I got used to the feeling of being underwater, I realised that the Sea was not a bad place to be. The fish live an uneventfully peaceful life, with nothing to worry them apart from the bigger fish. They keep moving around in the water looking for food, dancing all the while with beautiful graceful movements. Looking at them makes you feel almost jealous of them, you being human and having to struggle so much for a living.

After some time, the instructor started showing me the plants and the fungi. And I hated them! Well, in reality I was scared of them and that's why I hated them. OK, I am not scared of EVERYTHING, believe me - but I am mortally afraid of moving things like earthworms, leaches and centipedes, which have a trecherously soft hairless body and fine attachments that move. And all those fungi and corals looked just like that - soft with fine hair like attachments.So I held myself close, scared of touching or brushing against any of the rocks, and allowed the instructor to navigate through them.

The fish surrounded by the something
(You have to admit, the surroundings are scary!)

A fish surrounded by mushrooms - it was the mushrooms that scared me :|
But when the instructor lifted a Sea Cucumber and almost shoved it into my hands, I gasped, backed away, and the mouthpice fell out of my mouth! With great difficulty, the poor guy calmed me, helped me put in the mouthpiece again, and led me out of the hellhole. After that, he gathered it from me, through signs and gestures, that I wasn't interested in any of the plant life. I was bored of the fish and scared of the plants and more than anything else, I just wanted to go back to the boat. He told me, through gestures, to relax and told me that we were at 7 metres depth in the Sea. Didn't I want to go deeper?

Me telling the instructor to take me up again, the instructor telling me to relax

Of course I wanted to go deeper! The maximum allowed was 12 metres, and I was sure all the three happy kids were already there. I had to reach 10 metres at least! Resigned, I allowed the instructor to hold me and carry me deeper into the sea. This time, he knew fully well what I didn't want. So he took me to the beautifullest place he could find underwater. It had no plants and very little fishes - it was completely barren. 

But I was completely enchanted. Everything had come to a standstill there, I could sit there in peace and just enjoy the tranquility for ages. The entire sea floor was covered with sea shells of all sorts of shapes and size. It was vast, wide and open - as open as it could be under the water. It looked almost like a playground, and for once, I really wanted to romp and play there! I conveyed my appreciation to the instructor and asked him if he could pick a few shells for me. It was against the rules, but seeing me happy for the first time in the past hour, he obliged.

We could have spent more time there, but my oxygen cylinder was almost empty, and we needed to go back up safely. Slowly, we began ascending. On the way up, we caught up with the happy kids and took a lot of pictures. And then, when all the cylinders were empty, we went back to the water surface. We spent some time just lazing in the sea without all the SCUBA gear. Later, when it was late, we left for Murudeshwar.

I might have complained a lot, but SCUBA diving was a life altering experience for me. I realised that when I woke up the next day morning and was surprised to find myself wishing I was underwater. The peace and feeling of weightlessness haunted me, and breathing with the nose suddenly felt like too much of an effort. While idling at the beach, I felt that the water surface, even at its best during sunrise and sunset times, was nothing compared to what laid beneath. I knew, at that moment, that I would always remember this one hour spent underwater everytime I looked at a waterbody in my life. SCUBA diving, finally, had grown on me.

P.S. There are no photos of the barren landscape, we had given our camera to another team before we went there.

P.P.S. The Entire Underwater Album (courtesy Dreamz Diving)

(Written for a contest

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bisle - Darr ke Aage Jeet Hai!

When the trip started, it promised adventure. By the time we were halfway through it, it became much more.

We had started from Donigal, Karnataka fully loaded with our camping gear and accessories. With our rucksacks stuffed with Maggi Cup Noodles, rice, eggs, bread, sleeping bags, a few tents and the occassional clothes, we had set out for a 2 day long 50 km trek along a railway line. The final destination was Kukke Subramanya.

On the mark, ready, get set, go!
We brushed our teeth in a little stream, with a few crabs to keep us company. After a while, we had breakfast - bread, jam and peanut butter - by a charming waterfall along the railway line. With a few Kodak moments here and there, the trip was going perfectly as planned - until we were suddenly stopped by a few Government authorities.

The Track Trek
Waiting while Swapnil tried to bribe the Govt authorities 
The railway line, normally open to the occassional adventurers like us, was closed for that particular day due to some visit by the higher authorities. We tried to request, reason, plead and bribe, but they just won't budge. So there we were, 21 people, stranded in the middle of nowhere and stumped as to where to go and what to do for the remainder of 1 and a half days. Finally, we hitchhiked to the nearest main road, asked the driver of our Traveller to meet us there, and then set out in a general direction. On the move, we decided to go to Bisle.

The Awe-freakin-some Ride to the main road!
Bisle is a little village located on the outskirts of a forest known for its population of Tigers and King Cobras. But we didn't know the tigers and the cobras part back then. When we reached the village,it was just 9 o clock, but it was pitch dark - no electricity, no telephone lines, no civilisation. The villagers knew only Kannada, so Kaushik (also known as Kaustubh, Kishore and Kasturba) became our spokesperson. Slowly, with the help of the villagers, we started setting camp.

Kaushik beside the historical well
Our campsite was the ideal Bollywood horror movie set. A dilapidated temple surrounded by broken trees, a huge hall with a high ceiling, broken windows and a thousand cobwebs, and a well with the historical pulley and bucket attachment - together they completed the perfect camp site scenery for us. The villagers allowed us to use an old tap near the temple, sparing us the use of the well. We were too scared of using the trees near the temple as firewood - what if it offends the Gods and awakens the unknown devils who haunt the well? We instead collected some wet branches lying around and a few wooden pieces of the broken windows, and with the kerosene sold to us by the kind vilagers, we started making fire.

We realised why the making of fire was the biggest discovery by mankind, because believe me, making fire, even with a matchbox, is no easy job. But the fire was the only protection we had against cold (yes, like those stone age days), and it was also the only way of cooking food for 20 odd people. So, we persisted. It took us an hour to lit a fire enough for cooking for all of us.

We had fire-cooked Cup Noodles and Maggi, followed by boiled eggs and roasted potatoes. Slowly, the tents were pitched and a few of us took to their sleeping bags. A few preferred to sleep outside, while a few continued to sing songs lying in their sleeping bags, and looking at the stars overhead.

The next morning, we set out for a 6 km long trek into the forest (yes, the one which had tigers and king cobras). Our guide was an agile villager who spoke only Kannada, and our destination was, no kidding, the terrace top of a tiger's cave!

The Final Destination!
(We will approach it from the left)
The trek was simple but trecherous, with branches and brambles lying all over the occasionally rocky ground. Midway through the trek, we reached a small stream and filled our water bottles with world's sweetest water. Little did we know that behind the veil of sweet water, the stream had little black squigly secrets (called leaches) hidden all around her. The moment we left, we realised that they had climbed up our feet and made themselves comfortable at all the odd places. We spent the next 20 minutes getting rid of all of them with matchsticks, salt, Deo and Iodex. We also realised that looking at a leach burn in fire is real fun.

The Bisle Forest
Then we proceeded to the next part of the trek. It was more rocky than the previous, and the excitement of climbing the top of the cave had our nerves racing. The last bit of the trek was particularly difficult. We had to climb over a smooth spherical rock with nothing to hold onto except the rock surface. Our guide, with his Paragon slippers, was over the top in a few moments, while we struggled to keep pace in our sport shoes. After some time, all of us were up. And then, the feeling sank in - we are atop a tiger's cave!

The Last Mile
And who thought we would lie down atop that piece of rock!
We took pictures, made a video, had some water, and then, very soon, it was time to go back. The descent was even more difficult, and the fact that we were tired didn't help a lot. Soon we were near the leach infested stream, and then the campsite loomed closer. We left after another Maggi lunch, and by nightfall, we were back in Bangalore.

Later the trip was named as 'Darr ke aage Jeet hai'. And for days to come, we will tell everybody the story of Anuj and Sandhya, who got married in the temple, and lived in the high ceilinged house. One day, Sandhya committed suicide by jumping into the well. That night, when we reached the campsite, Sandhya had called her love back to relive their romance. And romance it was, a romance with adventure!

(Written for a contest

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Late Goodbye

He had never seen her so vulnerable before. He couldn't really do anything about it, but that didn't stop him from being concerned. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"There is no other way." She sounded stern. Her voice betrayed no weakness.

"But you would destroy everything in trying to destroy him. You know that."

"I do, but I cannot take this any more. This needs to end, he needs to be taught a lesson."

"When do you plan to do it?"

"The 21st of December."

He took a few moments to work out the meaning of this new revelation. And then, he realised. "Oh, that's cruel."

For a split second, her lips broke into a tired smile. Then the smile vanished just as it had come.

After a long time, she spoke again. "Its all my fault. How could I be so naive! When I first saw him, he looked so different from the rest that I was worried about him. But then I saw him defend himself, find his way in the world - he stood above all the rest. But above all, he understood me like no one did. He wanted to know everything about me. Right then, I chose my favourite. The strongest, the coolest, the most accomplished."

"The fittest." He added, understanding.

"Yes, the fittest." She said, after a pause."And I helped him get fitter. I gave him everything I could. I invited him to exploit me." Her voice was bitter. "Before I could realise, his hold over me had reached dangerous levels. I tried to retaliate, but he knew me too well. By then, he had mastered the art of squeezing out whatever he wanted of me."

"And not just me," She continued, "He oppressed all of his friends, MY friends to win his way. Some he coerced to his bidding, some he just used for his own fun. Later, he ruined them all alike. The ugly bullying monster!"

When she spoke next, her voice was distant. "Looking back, I realise how my entire reasoning for choosing him was flawed. He was the fittest among them all, but he wasn't fit for me. At least the rest of them loved me - he didn't. He understood me, but understanding doesn't guarantee love."

"If he does understand you as well as you claim, wouldn't he know what he is heading to?"

"Oh he does!" Her voice now sounded angrier that it ever had all this time. "He knows. I have given him so many signals - even the blind and the deaf and the dumb could understand them. I have been moody, I have thrown tantrums, I have rained tears, I have been angry for days at a stretch... He knows. He understands. He just doesn't care. He is too comfortable to change, and somewhere in his mind, there is an utter disbelief for anything that could go wrong, anything that could defeat him. He really believes that he will always have his way. I don't know what's brewing in that cunning mind of his, but unless he could brew up another planet, I do not see what options he has."

She looked away. Her anger, mixed with distress and pain was palpable. Her chest was heaving - she was trying hard to keep herself calm. He moved closer to her. "Can I ask you something?"

Her eyes were closed. And her silence was unnerving. He hesitated, and then, moving closer, asked again in a careful voice. "Earth?"

She was startled. "Yes?"

"Earth," he continued, "Is correcting his mistake now as option?"

She looked into his eyes, anger flashing in hers. But he continued nevertheless, in the same calm, careful tone. "What if he accepts his mistakes and starts correcting them starting today? Would you forgive him, for the rest of them, for the rest of the species?"

She stood silent for a long time. When she spoke next, her voice was soft, and steady. "I do not know. I am broken, Mars. I don't know if the damage is reparable. And I would rather see all the species die than see them rot to death in this world Human has bestowed upon them. However, I will decide when the time comes, if it comes at all. But if you ask me - I do not think Human has it in him to correct this. It requires him to give up all of his pride and come to all of us with a modesty that is impossible for him to feel. No, I feel that we will never reach that dilemma. 21st December, 2012 will be a day to remember, for him and for all of us."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Girl with Messy Black Hair

As I passed by her house everyday,
In the mud and the grass, I would see her play,
In her frilly little frock, that pink little frock,
She was there, the girl with messy black hair.

Sometimes, she was all immersed in her play,
with her dolls and her toys she would talk all day,
happy and content, with her own little friends,
She would be, the girl with messy black hair.

Sometimes she would be like a butterfly,
grinning and waving at every passer-by,
hopping around, flying all over the ground,
In tow, all of her messy black hair.

One day she gave me a shy little smile,
Then lowered her eyes, stole glances for a while,
Then again surfaced, with a lit up face,
Her face, the one with messy black hair.

And then one day, she wasn't there playing around,
Then the next day, and then the whole week round,
She made my day, and now she was away,
unknowing, the girl with messy black hair.

On Saturday, I went there, looking for her,
And I saw her walking back with her mother,
They were chatting together, her hand on the finger,
As I searched, surprised, for her messy black hair.

She now wore a blue frock, pleated and neat,
She had a bag on her shoulders and shoes on her feet,
On her hair was laid, in a neat little braid,
her shock of messy black hair.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tim Lak Lak

When you are little, she makes you want to grow up. When you are grown up, she makes you want to be young. When you are in college, she makes you crave for a job. When you end up having one, she makes you lust for the good old college days. When you are a subordinate, she makes you long for being the manager. When you do become one, she makes you pine for the carefree life free of responsibilities. When you are forty, she makes you yearn for retirement. When you retire, she makes you ache for the days of youth when you could make your own decisions.

But you never make your decisions. She does.

For some reason, I have always imagined life to be a female. In my mind, she is a fair-skinned woman with dark unkempt hair, big teeth and too much mascara. She is always laughing, her eyes twinkling gleefully. She is the master puppeteer and she is the audience. And she is never satisfied. When you bend, she makes you stand up. When you stand, she makes you whirl round and round till you are dizzy. Before you have regained your balance, she makes you bang your head to her beats. And when your head starts aching, she still wants you to hiphop with a smile on your face. She loves nothing more than making you dance. Whether you like it or not.

The one who always hated waking up early, reaches the office before his friends wake up. The one who was scared of crowds becomes a regular in the city bus. The one who loved cheese and cakes starts living off salads and fruit juice. The one born and brought up in the fresh village air gets used to the congested city atmosphere. The one who loved her mother the most decides to live in a city 1000 kms away. She made them dance to her tunes, and they did.

They are us. Dancing to the music of life.

Tim Lak Lak te Tim Lak Lak.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Virtues of Getting Married (Only for Women)

All ye unmarried ladies, get married. Hey, don't get me wrong, I know what I am talking about! Am I married? No, but I.. Am I out of my mind? No, not that either. But really, I have thought this our thoroughly before putting it forth. But oh, wait, are you studying? Because then you better scuttle back to your books, this is of no pratical use to you. Are you working? Do you have a boss you hate? Of course you have a boss you hate! Well then, read on. And after that, get married.

The meaning of marriage in my mind is simple. Here's what you do. Find a guy who earns well and assures you that he will be a loving and caring husband. Sign a deal with him which entitles you to at least a third of his salary every month. Then, marry him. Now, your husband is your employer and your boss. Also, your income is not taxable.

Now, enter the green pastures. Wake up with him in the morning, fix him a breakfast and pack him a lunch. Then, when he has left, treat yourself to a lazy breakfast. Then if you wish, go back to sleep. Yes, I know - you can actually do that - sleep while your boss works. Then you wake up when you please, shout a bit at your housemaid and get the real work done. Tidy up the place a bit. Play some nice music and take a luxurious bath. Then cook your favourite lunch and eat in your own sweet time, watching TV. Then you are free to read a book, learn to play the drums, take a walk in the park, or pursue any hobby. Then when the sun sets, you make some nice snack for your beloved and get ready to welcome the tired boss home. Make him comfortable, fix him a long bath or give him a massage. Make his favourite dinner. Pamper him. It shouldn't be so tough, you have had a beautiful day, haven't you?

On weekends, laze away with him. Call his mother - it will take 5 minutes, or maybe 30. While talking to her, remember your lazy afternoon and remember they are worth this. This and a few more aunts.

On some days, you would be bored of cooking. How do you handle that? You raise your voice a teensy bit, and say this - "I've been cooped up in this house ALL THE TIME. I'm so frustrated! I want some change!!" He will say, "Oh dear! I'm so sorry. Lets go out today! Is that okay?" Then you say okay, because you know its too good a deal. Imagine saying all this to a boss elsewhere and pulling it off.

Sounds like a great deal, doesn't it? But if you ask me the best part of it all, it's this - if you think you can't handle any of this, just be good to him in bed. In most of the cases, thats all it would take.

P.S. It doesn't work out with kids. Don't have them.
P.P.S. Don't let your current boss read this. Neither your husband.
P.P.P.S. Sarcasm. Go back to work.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wordly Woes

Rcntly, n infinitly annoyng habt has bcum ncreasngly prevalnt amng yngsters (n evn d eldr ppl spendin 2 mch time on d intrnet). Her Im talkin abt d habt of usin 'sms n intrnet lingo', typcally a modificatn of english in which most f d vwls (read vowels) r redndnt n most f d spellngs dstrted. While d omission f vowels arose coz f celfones n twittr, d spellng distortns containin d same no. f wurds don mak much sense.

And either way, none of them are easy to read, as you would have realised to your exasperation while reading the above paragraph. Yeah, yeah, I know, recent studies have proven that the human brain can decipher any word with letters jumbled. But when you sit down to relish your few minutes of facebooking after a long day, you hope to utilise your mental faculties for something better than decoding the intricate spellings. For example, how on this earth do you hope to be enlightened enough to know that 'ma' should be read as 'my'? For a long time, I thought 'ma' in India means Mommy, until finally wisdom dawned upon me and the codes started making sense. Also, I had made peace with 'ya' meaning yes (It should be 'yeah', people, though its ok, I can live with it.) But when people started using 'ya' at the end of every sentence, I lost it again. Then one fine day, I woke up and realised that 'ya' now stands for 'yaar'. Apparently, thats how Englishmen and Americans would pronounce it. (No, they won't. They would pronounce it as 'man' or 'buddy'. But that's ok too.)

Speaking of pronountiations, I know how 'its' and 'girls' are pronounced in English, but can someone throw light upon the pronountiation of 'gurlz', 'itz', 'iz', 'izz', 'itzzz' etc.? Also, would you explain me the meaning of 'helloz' and 'okies', or the logic behind 'n1'? (Can I start using b1, because most of the ones are not n1?)
Oh, I almost forgot this one - why is 'e' written as '3'? And what am I supposed to make of words written LiKe tHiS? They seem annoying. But are they supposed to be preEttY or fAshIOnAblE?

So here I am, absolutely vexed and totally clueless about this all-pervasive ever-changing database. And all those dear people who made me take the pains to write all this, I know you are too much into this usage to let go of it now. So lets make a pact. You won't call your language English, not even internet English, Short English, or something as cheesy. (Think of English as a patented word.) You call it something else, and we, the language lovers, don't bother you about it. You can also write blogs, books, dictionaries and thesauruses in your language ; we will try to read them if they are worth it. You can also have awards for the best works in your language - The Least Number of Vowels Award, The Most Innovative Short Form Award, etc.

On a closing note, I would like to say just this - The educated, the intellectuals, the productive ones will always use English as it is, because they have read a lot and typing the right words is a part of their psyche. You might think your language is for the busy people. It isn't. if you were that busy, you wouldn't tweet so much as to get addicted to this language. You might think that such usage shows a modern bearing and a 'cool' attitude. It doesn't. Following others randomly without thinking is the opposite of modern. Your language, I believe, is for people who have a misguided notion of cool and a craving for showing off a fake accent. On second thoughts though, perhaps its just for people who have forgotten the classroom English in this endless stream of junk. I no, I hd cn it cumin.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I finished 3 days of relay fasting today morning, and now its time to start the fourth day tomorrow. I didn't want to take a leave from work, so decided to fast alternate days while working. Its not as easy as it sounds, believe me. Spending an entire day, working, travelling, talking to people, going to Freedom Park whenever possible, and trying your best to remain cool, all this while having just water in your system - Its difficult. Doing this over a week every alternate day, its even more difficult.

I didn't feel much the first two days of the fast, but the third day, I could feel a strange kind of a lethargy creeping over me. I grew silent and introvert, my thoughts eating up my hungry self. Today, I have been eating all day, but somehow, my body seems to be recuperating from some illness. My cheeks look sunken, and I look terrible, people say. My body has slowly started persuading me to stop, and her arguments are tempting.

But I don't want to stop. There are some causes for which you should do something, anything. Then, there are some causes for which you must do everything, everything that's possible. This is one of them. If I won't, who will? If not now, when? And if I don't give it my best now, how will I ever live with myself?

As a kid, I grew up listening to the stories of our freedom fighters, listening to how the greed of a few people cost us our freedom and the bravery of a lot many won it back for us. And when I listened to them, I told myself - I won't be selfish, I will be brave, like my freedom fighters. I grew up in the world of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, and I grew up with the assertion that I will be courageous like my heroes, I will be strong, and I will stand up for the Good. If I don't live up to my own words, who will? If I don't become my own hero, who will?

Yes, my body is complaining. Yes, she is tired. But more dreadful than this fatigue is this chilling feeling - What if this crusade doesn't work out? What if there aren't enough people? What if, even after getting this one opportunity, we fail? Will I be forced to live in this corrupt India? Will I have to bear with all the injustice around me, even if it kills my heart to look at it? I would rather live with a tired body for a fortnight, than with a sorry heart for a lifetime. That's my reason.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Why Jan Lokpal

A lot of people I know believe that the entire nation fighting for one bill to be passed against corruption is not justified. There is a widespread belief that a bill cannot root corruption, that corruption is a mindset which every individual has to let go of. That we have to first stop giving bribes ourselves, and then only can the problem of corruption be addressed. I disagree. I agree, on the other hand, with Anna. And I know this is being really imposing, but I want you to understand why I say this so confidently. I will first elucidate why I think this school of thoughts might not work, and then I will tell you why the bill will.

A. Why the individual fight against corruption might not work:
1. These are all Utopian imaginations, and we, unfortunately, live in India. This is the country where people won't throw a plastic in the dustbin voluntarily, even though it doesn't cost them anything. Do you really expect 1.2 billion people to change their attitude, when it will cost them a lot of comfort?

2. You and me want to change, do you know why? Because we are the bribe payers. Give me one reason why the bribe takers will want to change.

3. I know, if nobody in the country gives a bribe, what will the takers do? Thing is, corruption isn't just about the small 100 Rs. bribes circulated among the middle class. The corruption which affects the nation is at a much larger scale, and the people involved needn't be Indians in such cases. Right there, this theory crumples down. (Go to Things You Should Know for an example.)

Why Jan Lokpal:
1. Can I safely assume that the government officials and bereaucrats do not form more than 30% of our population? I will, for now. Now, corruption is a two way process, as you said. Disable one side, and the process stops. Its easier, arithmetically, to control the 30% of the population, the bribe takers, than it is to control the rest 70%, the bribe givers, don't you think?

2. The above-mentioned bribe-takers wouldn't give up corruption voluntarily, ever. They have to be made to do so. Hence we need something that makes them do so - law, punishment, force. Jan Lokpal.

3. No bill can remove 100% corruption. The Jan Lokpal promises around 60% reduction. But the presence of an authority which has prosecuted 60% of the criminals instills a sense of fear, at least in the minds of the officials of lesser stature. That helps induce a non-corrupt mindset. We are a lot more closer to Utopia already!

4. Nothing stops the Jan Lokpal from being corrupt, except that the Jan Lokpal can be prosecuted by another Lokpal. But we will get a chance to elect them again. All we have to do is ensure we don't vote for the one who has been corrupt. Note that this committee will be structurally much simpler than our Parliament. So we will have a much bigger say in their election. Also, a big number of them will be civilians having no ties with politics or bureaucracy. There would be a lesser conflict of interest there.

C. Why you should fight for the Jan Lokpal even if you think all of this was bullshit:
1. These protests have been a nightmare for the government. Next time they will watch their step. And every added protestant will increase their fear. The next Government, whichever it is, will dare not commit the mistake this one did.

2. These protests have made working against corruption a 'cool' thing. India Against Corruption has hammered the message of 'Every Indian Anna Hazare' deep and clean. People will now be more courageous against the day to day bribery. They won't be ashamed of saying No.

D. If you still don't want to fight:
The administration has been callous towards tackling corruption with an iron fist. Every Indian who doesn't fight against this attitude, justifies it. If you don't fight, the Government takes that as a vote of your confidence. Register your dissent, just to assert what you want. Protest, just to remind them, that you are the one they represent, you are the one they should work for, and you are the one who inspires their decisions. Protest, just to tell them that you care, and so, they must, too.

E. If you disagree, still
Do  you know of any other way, one that will actually work?

P.S. Obviously, no single bill can end corruption, Jan Lokpal is not a magic wand, and anybody who believes so is seriously mistaken. But at the same time, those who claim that the bill is unfair because it covers only the politicians, are being extremely negative and unrealistic. This bill is a start. This protest is a beginning. And we have a long way to go.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Things You Should Know

Many of you think that corruption is not the only thing plaguing our nation. You are right. But there is a good chance you are underestimating what corruption does to us. You know of the small Rs. 100 bribes you pay in your everyday life, or of the 2 lakh crore scams which make it to the headlines. There's more to it, and its hidden. You know the overall picture of these things, but not the grisly details. And they make a lot of difference.

I will explain that with an example. Do you know about Enron and and the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB)? Sure, you have heard the name. Have you heard this then, that the Government of Maharashtra pays them 1000 crores a year, more than 2.5 crores a day, even today, for nothing in return? Do you want to know why? Read on.

Enron is a US based natural gas company, which in 1993 started India's first private power project. The MSEB (was forced to) pay $30 billion for a 675+2015 MW Power Plant in Maharashtra. The gross profit earned by Enron for the project was a little more than $12  billions. Yes, dollars, in bllions. Adding 2685 MW causes an 18% increase in MSEB's capacity, and 30 billion USD is 70% of MSEB's revenue.

Later, the power that the Enron project produced was 2 times as costly as its nearest competitor, and 7 times as costly as the cheapest electricity available in Maharashtra. So it was decided to better pay Enron the compulsory fixed charges required to maintain and run the plant (as a part of the contract) than actually buy the electricity they produce. The fixed charges work out to be 1000 crore a year for the phase I, i.e. the 675 MW plant, alone. 1000 crores a year for the next 40 years. That could perhaps be the reason why Maharashtra, especially Vidarbha, faces such an acute shortage of electricity. They are paying but not getting any electricity in return.

When the deal's negotiations were in progress, being undertaken by the Congress-led State Government on Maharashtra, the BJP-Shiv Sena Opposition were accusing the Congress of having taken a 700 crore bribe. The Enron itself acknowledged that it had spent millions of dollar in 'educating' the politicians and bureaucrats involved in the deal. The opposition by BJP-Shivsena led to the annuling of the bill. So then, how and why was the bill passed, you ask? Later, the BJP-Shivsena alliance got elected for a government at the Centre, and this Government lasted for 13 days. On their last day, amidst all the last day drama, they re-ratified the national government's counter agreement for the deal. After a couple of months, the BJP-led government in the Maharashtra State signed the deal with the above mentioned terms.

In my hometown in Maharashtra, in summers, we get electricity only 12 hours a day. And the number is decreasing every year. So now, you can extend this information to other situations logically. You know most of them. You have bad roads because dishonest and inefficient construction firms bribe the government for contracts. Perhaps, in some years to come, we will realise what a hoax the Nuclear Deal was. But the American companies won't lose a penny. They have the Civic Liabilities Bill. The politicians who took the bribes would be retired and happy by then. We, the people, and our country will bleed out the expenses.

If you want to read more about this and a few more things, try Arundhati Roy's The Algebra of Infinite Justice. Most of the numbers and statistics are borrowed from there.