Monday, September 29, 2014

Peer Pressure

He was staying in a boarding school in West Bengal and studying for his class ten exam. He had to share the room with three other boys. Two boys were from Calcutta and the third one was from a district town of Bishnupur. He was the odd man out. His parents were staying in Uttar Pradesh.

Boys were back from pujo holidays. They were sharing their experiences of how many pujo pandals they visited, new cinemas they watched, new development in the pujo of their locality, new girls they met and were lucky enough to go to a movie with.

Sadhan how many movies did you watch?” Swapan asked.
I watched three Bengali movies. One with Uttam Kumar was great. My friend arranged tickets. It is so difficult to get tickets this time of the year. I also managed to watched three Hindi cinemas” said Sadhan.
Man! The lead actress had wonderful chemistry with Uttam. I watched it in Bishnupur” Alokesh also joined the conversation.
“You have cinema hall in Bishnupur?"
Not one, but three” Alokesh answered somewhat irritated. “What do these boys from Calcutta think?

He usually was a silent participant in the the group. His life was much less spicy and exciting. He would stay at his uncle’s place, when not visiting his parents. During pujo time, getting train tickets was next to impossible. Uncle was retired. Aunt did not take kindly to one more additional headcount. An introvert and shy by nature,  he did not make friends easily. His aunt would allow him go out for morning and evening, but not into the city to meet his friends from boarding school. Besides, pocket money was also a constraint. If he was lucky he would get to watch a cinema. Normally, he would carry his text books home and study.

So what did you do during holidays? Did you complete at least one revision of the syllabus?
Did your aunt let you get out of the house? Did she read you stories?”
“When will you grow up man?

He was dreading the conversation will take this turn. He did not have answers.  He could not enjoy like his friends. His independence was limited. He felt inferior. In a subdued tone he muttered, “I did nothing much. Watched a movie. Visited a few relatives that's all. Nothing much, really.” In his mind, he also wanted to participate in discussion with his friends. He wanted to talk cinema, discuss actors and actresses. Above all, he wanted to prove to his friends that he can also do things that they normally do.

A few days later, he approached hostel superintendent, Shaktida. Shaktida, was a monk of Rama Krishna order. He had been managing the boarding for last ten years. Shaktida had fluctuating moods. Students have learnt to gauge  his mood and make their requests at the appropriate time. He also was familiar with the trick. One afternoon, when Shaktida was humming a tune of kali kirtan, he made his approach,

 “Shaktida, I want to go to town on Friday.”
“Why? That is a school day is it not?”
“I want to buy the test paper."
"Why not send a hostel attendants?"
 " No Shaktida. The book is in short supply. I need it badly and do not want to miss it. I cannot afford a mistake. Supply will come by afternoon local from Calcutta. I want to buy as soon as it lands in the  shop. I shall take off after lunch break.”

Superintendent, thought for a while, but did not say anything.  On the day of action, he approached superintendent after lunch. Shaktida was getting ready for a bath. Boy went and told him, “Shaktida I am going to town. Give me money to buy the book.” 

After collecting money, he took a bus to town. He bought the cheapest ticket for matinee show, prayinge no one will recognise him in the crowd. It was highly unlikely though, Friday being a working day and his ticket was for the front row. He  watched the movie starring Uttam Kumar. He was not sure he enjoyed it. He was more elated at his feat. He had something to boast before his friends. He came out of the hall around five in the evening. Loitered around the market, smoked a cigarette sitting by the river bank, before taking the return bus. He had no book to show, in the eventuality of being queried. To avoid direct confrontation, he entered boarding through a side entrance. He  avoided superintendent studiously for a few days. He was afraid, that Shaktida may ask for him and demand to see the book. Nothing happened. He got bragging right with his friends from Calcutta.

Today, looking back, it becomes apparent how lame and transparent was the lie, that appeared rock solid at that moment. Any one with half wit would have read through it. Which boy goes to buy a book at noon on a schools day? Yet superintendent who managed a boarding school with 100 plus students, let him get away! Shaktida could have demanded to see the purchase, ask for an account of time spent in town, and expel the body if not satisfied. Why did he not followup? Was he sympathetic of the boy, whose parents lived far away? Was he fond of the quiet boy? Answer, only superintendent knew.

Tags: Boondocks, Boarding School, Cinema, Durga Pujo, Kali Kirtan, Matinee Show, Peer Pressure, Pujo Holiday, Superintendent, Uttam Kumar 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Such A Great Feat

India is a poor country. Should India invest in space research? We have been having this debate ever since our independence. Critics would argue that instead of wasting money on esoteric scientific pursuit, India should spend the money on measures to improve human welfare. India must build schools, build hospitals, spend money on healthcare, distribution of free or subsidised food grains and similar things that will help poor people of India. We have been doing just that for last sixty years or more. Despite all our pro people measures, the world knows us by our poverty, our illiteracy, our corruption our lack of sanitary practices. Welfare politics have not improved our lot and have not helped us to hold our head high. 

In this context it is important to talk about recent entry of Indian Mars probe, Mangalyaan, into martian orbit. This is a great feat because scientists from Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have been successful in their first attempt. In the world, only USA, erstwhile USSR and European Union were able to successfully launch a mission to Mars. However, out of 51 missions, only 21 have so far met with success. This success by scientists of ISRO indicate our scientific and technological prowess.

The cost of Indian Mars mission was around 75 million dollars. Compared to a program launched by NASA of USA, Indian mission costed nearly one tenth of the American program. On rupee spent per km basis, 660 million km travel to Mars at USD 75 million (Rupee 450 crore),  comes to approximately Rs. 11 per km. A taxi or auto ride in Delhi costs more than this. At USD 100 million, cost of producing Gravity, a Holywood movie, was higher than the cost of Indian Mars mission. Again this feat demonstrates innovative spirit of Indian scientists and engineers. This success also opens up business opportunity for ISRO and India, making Indian space research more self sustaining.

By the way, critics, who complain about money being wasted on space program, must remember that Indian welfare programs are leaky and reaches not necessarily the needy. Also, India lost more money through different scams compared to money spent in space research. Space research eventually yields dividend because it helps improve lives of Indian poor without discrimination.

Tags: Engineer,  Healthcare, ISRO, Mangalyaan, Mars Mission, NASA, Science, Poverty, Scientist, Tecnlology, Welfare

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Game of Chinese Checkers

India and China are two big countries of Asia. Both countries a share common border. British had drawn line separating India from China. This line is known as MacDonald line. After British left, China has gradually made it known that it does not recognize sanctity of McMohan line. China claimed Arunachal Pradesh, which is part of India to be their own as part of southern Tibet. China had occupied Tibet and Dalai Lama, the supreme spiritual leader of Tibetans had taken refuge in India. China had attacked India in 1962. A part of Indian territory, Aksai Chin, still remain under Chinese control. Since 1962 North Easter border of India has remained peaceful yet undemarcated. Many a time Chinese troop move inside area that Indians consider their own. Of late, their incursion frequency has increased.

Recently, Chinese President Xi Ping visited India. Even when India and China were celebrating new found friendship, Chinese and Indian troops were in an eye ball to eye ball face off in Ladakh area. Although, tension eased, when Narendra Modi prevailed over Chinese president, the Chinese troops moved back but did not retreat. Troops came back after Chinese President went back. It is true, that Indian army has improved in terms of training, armament, preparedness etc compared to 1962, we are still ill prepared compared to the Chinese if case a war breaks out.

How does India deal with Chinese aggression? After returning home, President Xi Ping has advised Chinese generals to be prepared to win limited war. How does India read this? In a chesss board like situation, there are several possible scenarios play out. India fears China and thinks China is trying to encircle India by building ports in Sri Lanka, by allying with Pakistan, by aiding military in Myanmar. China feels USA is trying to pin down China using India, Japan, Korea among others.

 China thinks Arunachal and Aksai Chin are historically Chinese territory, so are islands in South China sea. Indian oil exploration in South China Sea in collaboration with Vietnam is a major irritation for China. So are several islands that both China and Japan claim ownership of. India Japan collaboration is a matter of concern for China from military point of view. From this perspective, China wants to maintain pressure on Indian North East. China will press the button when it feels India is going too far in her friendship with Japan or in oil exploration business with Vietnam.

Chinese society is very different from Indian system. Chinese, very much like Japanese, make long term plans. Once plans are made, they adhere to it in a sacrosanct manner. As per Chinese plan, they are not going to scede any territory that as per Chinese history belonged to them. So peoples liberation army will defend and if necessary occupty territories that Chinese leaders think to be their own. Chinese believe in psychological warfare and wants to beat down opponent without firing a bullet. May be present incursions are an effort to cow down India army, thinkers and planner.

What can India do? I think India must be ready to defend her territory. We must bolster our border infrastructure. Given nuclear status of both countries, mutually beneficial business interest, economic cost and global ambition will stop China to initiate full scale long term war. Besides, history tells us that long term occupation of a foreign land is not a viable option. Neither US nor USSR could sustain a protracted occupation in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq to name a few. To neutralise a short and swift attack, India must be at her  defensive best and repulse any attack in any sector. India must be ready. We have come a long way since1962, I would certainly like to think so.

Tags: Aksai Chin, Army, Arunachal Pradesh, Border, China, Dalai Lama, India, Japan, MacDonald Line, Narendra Modi, North East, Peoples Liberation Army, South China Sea, South Korea, Tibet, Vietnam, Xi Ping

Sunday, September 21, 2014


The day had started normally. As usual, he was sitting on the second bench. Didimoni, teacher in local dialect, was explaining something on the black board. Something terrible happened. He soiled his pants. He was mortified. Did not know what to do. He sat there thinking. Who should he inform? How is he going to tell? What will rest of the class think? He will be a laughing stock for rest of his life. He tried to think that he was in a state of bad dream. He woke up from his deep reverie when a student sitting behind him in third bench screamed,
Didimoni, didimoni, he has soiled his pants”.
 “What? What are you saying?” asked somewhat puzzled teacher.
Yes didimoni, he has soiled his pant. Come and see”.

Didimoni, gave a look mixed with revulsion, contempt and anger. She looked at him as well as at the deed and barked, “ You!, go stand outside. Someone call Sundari. Class go and sit in section B”.

Boy was standing outside class room. By now news has spread. Students from other sections were trying to catch a glimpse of him. He tried to hide himself behind door pane. Sundari, the school ayah, looked at the boy and murmured, “It has come to this? Now I have to clean up human waste! Oh god what next?  Waste collector in the city?” The boy contracted in shame even further.

Sundari opened school gate and ordered “Go home. Ask your mother to clean you up. She should teach you some manners”. Ayah shut the school gates behind him. He was all alone on the road. Standing under mid day sun, school bag on his back, shorts in his hand. Taunt of the ayah was ringing in his ear. Shame of standing half naked on the main road was burning him from inside. He wanted to cry. Tears would not flow. He wanted to move away from the school. Far, far away. He started running. He left Rajbari and an incredulous Shivani masi behind. Finally, he reached home. A place, where he is safe.  No one will mock him.

Mother opened the door. Looking at the absurdity of situation, a smile crossed her face.
“You laughing at me, ma?”
“ No baba, I am not laughing.”
“Everyone is laughing at me. Everyone is making fun of me. I cannot go to school again.”
Like an opened flood gate, all pent up anger and pain found release. He cried inconsolably and fell asleep. His first humiliation in a four year long life.

Next day will be another day. When life has to be faced afresh with past baggages and fresh challenges. Life goes on.

Tags: Ayah, Black Board, Class room, Didimoni, Humiliation, Rajbari,

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

India, A One Sport Nation!

Every once in a while we engage in self-flagellation about how India is a one sports nation. How cricket is the only sports India is crazy about. How, India is neglecting other sports. This debate has again resurrected itself, after release of the movie Mary Kom, starring Priyanka Chopra. 

May be this charge is true to some extent. It is important to understand, that we are too many, we are too poor, our resources are too few. For most of us, immediate concern is to find a job after education. Parents must be convinced that by joining a sports their kid is improving his earning potential. That is exactly what is happening in cricket. 

I think of all Indian sports, cricket is better managed and better marketed. Cricket has been able to harness talent from all across India. Cricket players have three level contracts with cricket board. This guarantees them a regular income. With the advent of IPL, many lesser known yet talented players  have got opportunity to earn good money while playing with international players, and being  coached by successful coaches from across the globe. 

Indian football and Indian hockey could not model themselves in the same way as cricket. Given the short duration of these games, both football and hockey had the potential to become as popular as cricket. Provided these sports were managed and marketed better and players and/teams had done well at national and international levels.  Indian hockey now has a premiere league where international players play. A similar league is coming for football. Now it is upto players to pickup their game and show their mettle in global stage.

Less popular and more individual centric sports like badminton and wresting have found sponsors. Saina Nehwal, Jwala Gutta, Sushil Kumar are a few high profile players have found sponsors and big contracts. A badminton tournament, in the fashion of IPL, has come up. Tennis players are not doing badly either. Even though we do not stand anywhere in ATP ranking among singles players, our players have done well in doubles and mixed doubles. Point being once a player does well in his sports, money will come. No one is biased against one sport over other. 

I do not think India is cricket loving or cricket crazy nation. We do not really applaud good cricket. We applaud India winning a cricket match, and we are crazy about it. We see so much second rate things all around us, when we find a team in cricket that can beat the best in the world, we love it. Give us something to cheer in other sports, we shall go out there and take the roof down.

Tags: Badminton, Cricket, Football, Hockey, IPL, Jwala Gutta, Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, Sports, Sushil Kumar, Tennis, Wrestling,