Sunday, October 30, 2011

2 free schools a district

The Azim Premji foundation is about to start an initiative that aims to start 2 free schools per district of India by 2025. Thats 1300 schools by 2025. This is the year 2011. In 15 odd years, each district of the country will be covered. This is a laudable initiative. Think about it. While the government is launching cheap tablets - the crying need is not tablets, but schools. In the 21st century.

Imagine that this is the year 1947 or even 1950. In 15 odd years - by 1965, all our districts would have been covered by a network of quality schools. And it is ironical that all these years of socialist talk have not managed to get us a basic school system that works.

So, somewhere in the 21st century, a many who runs a company in a much derided industry (the much reviled IT which has given affluence and dreams to many Indians) operating in many parts of the world opens his pockets to build schools for the nation. The same thing that our much highly held in esteem leaders could have ensured 50 years ago.

But pray how the man made his money? By the very forces our future prime minister opposes. Globalization. Yes. It is globalization that enabled Azim Premji to make money to spend for Indias future. Not socialism. Not selling soaps and oils in socialist India (which was what his company did before getting into IT.)

There is no greater force in nature than mans entrepreneurial nature. And let us not curb it. Let us make it easier for people to build companies, sell ideas and open up the country by de-licensing and less rules.

Let a thousand Wipros and a thousand more Premji foundations rule. They do much better than foundations launched in the name of politicians, dynastic or otherwise.Thank you Premji Sahab!

(Before we close - spend a moment on the linked report. A sentence in it pissed me off. "If the idea succeeds, it could shame India's dysfunctional public education system - and perhaps inspire other wealthy tycoons to look beyond their personal status-building." Sigh. Surely, many tycoons and politicians will be ready to open their pockets on reading it.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Diwali memories

Diwali is by far my favourite festival. And we celebrate it early in the morning (the majority of people celebrate it at night). So, today is our Diwali.

On this day, we wake up early in the morning (before sunrise), have an oil bath and burst crackers. The person who broke crackers first was the one who "heralded" Diwali and in the place where we lived, there were many claimants and sub claimants. Usually, the first cracker went off at about 4 am. Whenever that first cracker went off, it meant that Diwali had arrived. It also served the purpose of waking up those who thought they had overslept. One of the few days where there was an advantage of being a morning person.

And then the others would turn up - the kids brigade. Candles to light up sparklers for the crackers, agarbattis to light up the noise making crackers and spare candles and so on. After the kids brigade, the adults would turn up with their bombs and Taj Mahal crackers. All in all, a good couple of hours of bursting crackers.
And then we spent some more time searching for unbroken crackers and trying to extract some more light and sound out of it. This phase had experiments - like putting crackers in a dabba or a hole and hearing its echo or joining a bunch of crackers and watching them burst. This was followed by a visit to the temple, dressed in our best. And somewhere in between was a breakfast of idli and chutney (I asked my mother why this was always idli and chutney and she said, it is the easiest thing to do on a festival day and besides all other things we eat on that are rich). And then the exchange of sweets and savouries.

The preparations would start much earlier though. A few weeks earlier we would start preparations for the savouries. Each year, we would, depending on the mood, make pakodams or coconut barfis or Mysore paks or murukkus or mixture.

And the crackers. Dad would buy crackers from Essabhai in Md Ali road usually - and about a month before, so we would beat the Diwali rush. And we would spent the next few weeks lovingly drying the crackers in the sun. This hard work paid off since our crackers would burst better than those who did not go through this drying process - or so we felt - as we watched cracker after cracker of ours burst nicely.

And Diwalis in Mumbai had a vacation as well at school, so we spent quite a while playing chor-police with cap guns...

Such it was the festival which heralds the triumph of good over evil. May this festival literally symbolize the same in each of our lives. And of course, build newer meanings through it as well - as Seth Godin does today - Diwali and Digital lights!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The speech that wasn't

Talking and writing on socialism while accepting payments in capitalist dollars, sustains many a socialist writer’s/anti globalisation activist’s capitalist lifestyle. Most of these writers hold fancy positions, usually in the US or Europe, and travel business class to make their anti-globalization ranks. Take any activist and writer and you will find this to be true.

Into this abyss falls Mr Rahul Gandhi. Half-Indian, half-Italian by parentage, he has studied abroad and lives in India. He travels frequently abroad to exotic destinations of the world and has arguably benefitted out of globalisation. He could very well be a poster child for globalisation — and you can read that in any way you like. And after benefiting out of all the things that globalisation has to offer, he now warns us that this comes with its own dangers. Ironically, all the problems that he mentioned India had could all have been solved by the rulers, by and large from his family, with, without or in spite of globalisation.

What are the dangers, is what we would like to know. His great-grandfather and grandmother ruled us with a socialist tune — a tune for that over 50 years has failed to ring — for most of us. And we have all seen the dangers of this so-called socialism. Rampant corruption, low rate of growth, poverty, lawlessness and lack of opportunity everywhere, all through those socialist decades.

Throughout the 50’s and the 60’s when other countries (our peers, who were decolonised at about the same time) climbed up the prosperity ladder, we were stuck with a Nehruvian rate of growth that saw us go nowhere. And this story continued throughout the 80’s and 90’s as well. As government after ‘socialist’ Government tried to throttle industry — corruption boomed and those with licenses operated licentiously. People thronged the employment exchanges waiting for jobs that were never theirs — except if you paid a bribe.

And many others opted to go out of India — the famous brain drain of the 80’s. The net result was that people went to either the US or Europe (if they were lucky) or to the Middle East. The former lived a good life and the latter, well, swallowed many an insult so that they saved enough money to come back home at some point and live prosperously. If life under socialism was so good, why were people running away to foreign shores for jobs and to make a decent living? For some reason, all this was supposed to be good for us. While we swung from queue to queue to shortage to shortage — we heard slogans of Garibi hatao on black and white televisions over the Government regulated channel. Sometimes vegetables were in short supply, sometimes it was LPG used for cooking. At other times it was scooters, or phones. Almost all the time, jobs were in short supply, as was opportunity and electricity. If this was socialism, then, well, I am willing to see what dangers capitalism brings.

And, we have tried that too — in small doses since the late 90’s. This has resulted in a good amount of growth — many people have climbed out of poverty in the past 20 odd years than in the previous 40 years. There are many data points that argue on a few decimal points here and there, but the directional indicators are very clear. People have moved out of poverty since the 90’s. Growth is the only thing that will bring people out of poverty — not aid, not doles, not compassionate words, not bromide, not anti-globalisation speeches in air-conditioned auditoriums. To growth, one might add equality of opportunity which socialism promises but rarely gives (read The Animal Farm) while true capitalism really does.

Ironically, for the past 60 years it is Mr Rahul Gandhi’s family that has ruled the country for the most part. It tried the bitter medicine of socialism on us and the result of it is there for everybody to see. When Narasimha Rao opened the doors of the world to India, metaphorically, many a door opened for Indians as a whole. Now, Mr Rahul Gandhi seeks to close the door once again. For starters, he could have invited a local anti-globalisation activist who travelled to deliver his speech via sleeper class having secured his tickets while standing in line three months in advance.

And to his point, having seen a bit of socialism and a bit of capitalism, I think we are ready to face the dangers of capitalism. Surely, North Korea as one of the last vestiges of socialism, is doing well — as well as East Germany did before the capitalist West merged it into itself, but we would rather try the growth route of capitalism to success in India.

And yes, people who live in capitalist homes and whose kin make good money out of globalisation are best advised to keep their socialist speeches to themselves.

(Published as an oped today in The Pioneer)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dollar earning Socialists

There is a popular saying in Hindi which goes on the lines of "Sau choohe khaakar billi Haj ko chali" which basically implies that after sinning a hundred times, people go on a pilgrimage - but loosely translated means that sinners suddenly take to god and then we are supposed to believe that is all is well.

Talking and writing socialism while pocketing capitalist dollars is a great way to make a living these days. Many a writer (alright, stringer) from India makes a living this way. The puncture Misras of the world, so many Senguptas and of course, the best known writer of small terrible prose Roys are among the poster children of those who make a living this way. They make their living raking in heady dollars of the greenest and capitalist kind, while lecturing the readers of their magazine articles (ironically, capitalists themselves - since socialists cannot afford those mags) on the virtues of socialism.

If they lived in North Korea and drove an imported East German Trabant I could believe them, but no these guys live a great life sipping the best capitalist champagne, while living on 24 hour electricity (capitalist) and using the most capitalist iPads and Mac Airs with bank accounts in the most capitalist of banks. And then they have the temerity to lecture us on the virtues of socialism.

Please, madames and gentlemen, keep this "benefits of socialism" lectures to yourselves. We dont need no education. And oh, please stop using those twitter accounts to write to us about the virtues of socialism. Twitter and Internet are decidedly capitalist tools - as well.

Let me know when you migrate to North Korea and live there for a few years before you lecture me on socialism...and yes, since I am capitalist, those dollars can be passed on to me!

The Internet Hindu Bogeyman

Nowadays, one of the prime past times on Twitter is to denounce the so called Internet Hindu -an oxymoron as it were. In the absence of anything else, so called intellectuals (anonymous and otherwise) construct straw-men out of bogeymen and demolish them with a finesse that has to be seen to be believed.

If the Internet Hindus (term coined by secular journo) are a lunatic and fringe group, why bother engaging with them - like they do with most other fringe groups (actually are there any other fringe groups in their lingo)? And there in lies the answer. The whole problem with intellectuals is that these articulate set of writers, tweeters and bloggers are turning the debate on its head. In the good old days of socialism nobody had access to any media except the "intellectuals". The "intellectuals" wrote all the "right" things, people read them and slept, while, deep beneath, the Congress went hammer and tongs after secularism in its true sense. And replaced it with a malicious form of divide and rule - and called it secularism. And our so called "intellectuals" want us to believe the charade that goes on in the name of secularism.

Contrary to beliefs in intellectually popular circles, the whole idea of pluralism is inherent in Hindu society. You will find that inter caste and language marriages are common in Hindu society. And if you go back further in history, even kings have come from different castes. And India, unlike any other country has always welcomed different religions into its fold quite seamlessly. And the whole basis is not tolerance, but something far better - mutual respect. Sure, there have been exceptions, but they have been exceptions, not the rule. Hindus are a pluralistic society - and there is no debate on that front.

What the "Internet Hindus" do is take apart the carefully constructed facade of the Congress on secularism. The Congress brand of secularism is an oxymoron - it is all about divide and rule. By pandering to the worst of all radicals, the Congress wants the majority to believe that is the torchbearer of secularism. When was the last time the Congress spoke about any fundamentalism other than Hindu? Even at the recent UN speech, the Prime Minster made a passing mention of terrorism which would have passed off as bad punctuation. These chaps are influencers - and thanks to the internet are using it to ask questions - tough questions which our junket enjoying, politician lobbying media will not mention, much less ask. And, ask yourself what makes these people - unaffiliated with any media - do it? What is in it for them? And ask any of these chaps - they will argue for more reform, not less. They will argue about lesser government interference, not more. And they will ask for minimum government, maximum governance.

So, is there an alternative? There is. And this is what the "intellectuals" do not want us to see - which has been proved in Gujarat to a large extent. The alternative is a development led model. A model that does not distinguish between religions and their stupidities. A model that gives electricity to you regardless of whether you live in a minority dominated area (an oxymoron as it were) or otherwise. A model that provides you access to good schools and clean water regardless of whether you wear a hat upside down or shave your head. A model that works on providing equality of opportunity, not outcome. Needless to say, the champion of this alternative model is Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

And that model exists - as proved in Gujarat. But of course, I forget that for these "intellectuals", time stopped in Gujarat, somewhere in 2002.

(X Posted in FBJP)

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Variety versus Standard

I was in the US some weeks back on a jetlagged trip and I visited two artists fairs in the Boston area. One of those fairs had a couple of farms, food products being sold and stuff like that.

What i liked about the fair was that it gave me an insight into a different sort of US.

The US I am used to is the "uniform across cities" US - malls which look the same, streets that are indistinguishable from each other. Even in restaurants which look the same across cities are servers who incredibly alike and serve uninspiring food which tastes the same.

These fairs showed me the hidden side of US - I mean, I saw stuff I had never seen in my life - husk cherries for example, purple potatoes, varieties of apple and tomatoes, desert honey and other types of local honey, different types of vegetables. The amount of people doing their own thing was inspiring. There was person who was showcasing "stone clocks" - yes clocks made of stone. There was another person who was pursuing his hobby of glass blowing - and the range of creativity I saw was inspiring. There were ranges of gourmet sauces - and none of them were the kind of "manufactured" food that we are used to.

And as I see it around me we see variety reducing all around in India - it gives me a thought. We need to figure out a way to keep those varieties preserved - in those sari weavers, in those temples, those instruments, those dances, artisans, paintings and other art and craft forms before it gets lost for ever.

And even the exhibitions I have seen in India - the Chitrakala Parishat variety - all cater to a rather narrow dimension. And I know there is scope to do more here...

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Steve Jobs effect

There is nothing that out there that is not already written about the man and his products.

The transcript of the same, here...

Here is my few thoughts on the man. I feel he inspired people the most. What he contributed the most to the vast majority of us - was an incredible amount of self belief.

Many people would like to be the Steve Jobs of their field - be it the kitchen or work or garage or art. And there in lies his biggest inspiration. More than the products that obviously inspired people and companies. More than his genius - which undoubtedly was. More than his various comebacks. More than his sheer vision. More than his confidence.

Thank you Steve, for making us believe in ourselves! We all would want to put a ding in the universe!