Saturday, October 18, 2014

Stuck on Hosur Road

Today, I had the great privilege of being stuck on Hosur Road - just at the base of the Electronic City Tollway. For many others, this may be a daily occurrence, but for me, today, this was a privilege. You see, the Bangalore traffic police had stopped traffic on both sides so that a Chief Minister who was recently jailed for disproportionate assets had to return to her home state of Tamil Nadu. Still wondering why I did not say Jayalalitha?

Well, so the police stopped the traffic leading to a long pile up along both sides of the road so that the common people who possess proportionate assets can wait to watch someone who possesses disproportionate assets I suppose. Hence, I was among the privileged crowd.

Why does traffic have to be stopped? At all? (If it is so important, why dont they take a helicopter or some other means).

That is a simple question and perhaps we have our own reasons for doing so - leave that aside.

And then her motorcade passed us by. And therein lies a bigger question. Why do we have security personnel hanging onto the outside of the cars on footboards as the cars whizz by at upwards of 80 kmph. I can understand personnel doing this at lower speeds or when a vehicle goes through crowds etc, but on a highway? I dont think POTUS motorcade has this idiotic spectacle of security guards clinging to the outside of the vehicle? I am sure armour is advanced enough to protect corrupt politicians - apart from body fat and thick skin? Why do other humans have to cling to the outside of that vehicle, or any vehicle?

(If there is some other great reason, please do enlighten, but to this observer, it seems ridiculous.) 

And yes, finally the motorcade passed and those with proportionate assets burned disproportionate amounts of petrol to reach their destinations.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Who are these people?

In the olden days, just a few elite had access to canvas and paints and became painters. Ditto for those who had access to cameras (both money and technology). I am not saying these people were not passionate - of course they were, but for someone who wanted to explore it as their passion, it was tough - there were many mountains to climb. Today, everybody is an artist. And anybody with a digital camera is a photographer. Go to a bird sanctuary and you will see what I mean. Ditto for artists - there are many. And it is a good thing. People explore what they are good at, work at it and so on and so forth.

Yes, it pisses off the established painters and photographers - because today competition has multiplied. But as in all fields, the good become better with competition - the mediocre crib and wilt.

Today media is a closed industry. Much like the other industries in India in the licence permit raj - where a certain set of industrialists got access to licences and they set up monopolistic or duopolistic companies and thrived making money. This was the socialist set up we were born and brought up in. But slowly, industry opened up. But media remains a cabal - by and large. The acronym best used is BYOC - Bring Your Own Cronies - somewhat like the BYOD - Bring Your Own Device prevalent in technology.

So, you have husband and wife teams operating out of which one or both are famous sons or daughters. Sons and relatives (legal and illegal) of politicians, editors, anchors, newsreaders, lobbyists, industrialists, diplomats, quasi celebrities - even those who get invited for those echo chambers that pass off as opinions are just one short web of hardly any degree of separation. It is an echo chamber at best and a web of multiple conflicts of interest at worst. 

The arrival of social media just turned that around on its head. Anyone can write - all you need is a blog. Anyone can create news on twitter - why some of the best twitter guys have day jobs that are anything but media. Anyone can become a photojournalist - or even a citizen journalist.

As the incident in Madison Square of a famous journo tycoon showed - one sided biased reporting wont help. Within hours, there were images and videos that completely exposed the journo tycoon shouting victim. Social media threatens these existing journalists - who got there because they are part of the cabal and they  are shouting foul because these people - whose duty is sit and watch them talk and pontificate on TV are now newsmakers and hold strong opinion.

It does not help that there is a Prime Minister who also shuns media - who now have to travel on their own to cover the Prime Minister - whereas earlier, they got reserved seats, unlimited privileges and access. They are doubly pissed off with a government that talks directly to people and people who challenge the media.

So, you have hilarious scenes of a journalist taunting NRIs asking how come you have so much time to tweet.
And of journalists referring to company handles taunting their employees.

These are just a few examples, but there are quite a few others where these journalists who got there because they knew someone (Heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by exertion, but they while their companions slept, were busy contacting the right person - Ogden Nash) are pissed off because these ordinary people are questioning them. How dare they question us? Who are these people?

Well, media may still be fighting over whether to allow FDI in media  - but the People are in it already. Get used to it. Bonus link, an old post with a review of Cognitive Surplus.  

Friday, October 03, 2014

Coffee in Puducherry

Nobody told us about the coffee bars of Pondicherry. People told us about Auroville, the Ashram, about the continental food, about the handicrafts and the French architecture and what not. But it is hard to miss them. They are there are at every street corner.  Maybe that is why nobody told us about them. Maybe they are not coffee aficionados.

But the coffee aficionados that we are, we decided to try them - it was tempting to say the least - I mean, how can you not? These are not swanky, not your Starbucks, not your CCD - there is no sitting room even. The price of the coffee at the coffee bar would be a small tip at either of these places. But they serve some absolutely fabulous South Indian filter coffee. The whole place runs around a specialist who makes coffee. The others, right from the order taker to the vessel washer to the milk boiler to any other thing are just enablers to make the coffee guy serve great coffee. The cups are washed in front of your eyes with hot water. And then he takes a metre of milk (hot, piping hot) whisks up a lather that would make shaving cream proud. adds a dollop of decoction, sugar and then just as the froth threatens to overflow the cup, he adds another dash of decoction. Take that you coffee chains.

And they have a few snacks (limited choice) to go with it, if you so desire.

The place frequented as the KBS coffee bar - right at the edge of Vysial street. It was so good, we did not try any other. But every street corner, every coffee bar was doing brisk business - and given that the flavour is so local, they have to serve great coffee else they would not be there. So, the next time you are in Pondicherry, try them and you will get the best filter coffee that will beat your espresso machine by a metre of coffee.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Is journalism passe?

You wont see this article in any newspaper.

Long long ago, the only way to consume news was through a newspaper. So the newspaper appointed many people to 'report' from the ground. These reporters were the lowest rung of newspaper staff. They walked around localities, went up to police stations, hospitals and reported from there. This news was aggregated and then sorted by importance by next level reporters and editors. And then based on the space, the news was then reported to you and me the next day.  Note that anything that is so access controlled is a hallmark of a closed industry.

Take any industry before the digital revolution or the industrial revolution. Photographers were rare. Those who had access to cameras became photographers - that is pretty much it. Now with digital pictures, everybody is a photographer. See how many 4 year olds take pictures in weddings these days. With instagram, suddenly everybody is a photographer. With a blog, anybody who can write well will write. Like the printing press made it easier to own books.

In those days, only those had access to a newspaper had the moniker of a journalist. Like only those had cameras were photographers. Its like saying only those who have watches can tell the time. Today if you are on the spot of an accident or a event, you are the reporter. And that is blogs and twitter help you do. And there is no similar format in newspapers. Today, therefore, anyone is a journalist in the truest sense - if you can sit through one issue, analyse and report out and usually you will do it better than a journo who is copy pasting at best.

The middlemen school of journalists still exists. That means, you and I cannot interview a politician - especially like Rahul Gandhi whose team will script answers for you to publish. For that you need middlemen, not journalists. But if a Narendra Modi reaches people directly through social media annd other channels, he does not need middlemen journos.

Real journos report from the field where stuff is happening. They report from the boondocks where nobody goes. They report from far flung areas - not from the comfort of airconditioned rooms. They read through judgements and analyse. They work on issues and amaze us with their indepth knowledge - usually not got through plain googling. Such journalism is clearly not passe.

But nobody needs middlemen as journos - because everybody is a reporter remember and so are you!

Modi media strategy

Once upon a time there was a Manmohan Singh,
who did anything but sing
He spoke to journalists,
who wrote it all in a list...

Stupid limerick I know, but Manmohan rarely spoke to people in 1:1 interactions. I recall a friend of mine, who shall go unnamed - who happened to meet the man himself and he asked him, as any concerned urbanite would - about the scams in the country. And my friend says, the response was a "what to do". Needless to say, my friend was very inspired by Manmohans style of leadership and went on to practice it in his job by responding to everything with a "hun ki karan" (What do I do in Punjabi). That last line is obviously sarcastic. 

During the Manmohan era, a Delhi coterie had access to him or his boss or her son or her personal assistant. These people fed news to some privileged people who trotted around as journalists and then they fed the news to the people through their media channels. At a lower level, a similar set of lower level underlings did the same and so on and so forth. Does this sound like the licence raj perpetuated by the Nehru clan? Yes, it absolutely does.

Now, this journalists pool was fed and kept in good humour by these politicians by advertisements, contracts (remember Commonwealth Game Contracts), interviews, government junkets - and there will be surely be other perks on both sides which we may never come to know. This group was not happy with Narendra Modi and were very hostile to him (and that is an understatement).

Modi quickly discovered social media and reached out directly to people - no middlemen, no hangers on, no access based journalism. He had his own website, blog, facebook feeds and finally twitter. His speeches were tweeted in real time and of course, he ran a campaign in which the traditional media came in only at the fag end by which time they were just like the trailing bogies of a train.

Now, as Prime Minister he does something similar. He has completely eliminated the journalists who were just middlemen. Like the dismantling of the licence raj eliminated the companies who traded licences, these set of journalists traded news. He has put them completely out of business.

One of the first things was launch a Mygov.in portal. Once you sign up for it, you get a weekly newsletter. His speeches are now tweeted almost live. He takes no journalists on government junkets. No media briefings. No leaks.

He also does things that the previous leaders never did - he met a crore students in a live interaction on teachers day - that is his strength. He spoke directly to people in a beautiful speech on independence day. A leader who cannot talk has to hide. A leader can talk, does not need to hide - he reaches the people directly. Maybe they had much to hide. Maybe they were elitist. They needed access control.

While he uses social media, what the media does not realize that the role of a media as a middleman has been completely eliminated. They need to do real work on the ground to report - or like some do - wait for what he says on twitter or blog and react accordingly.

Many a ream has been written on the cribs of journalists these days, like this one...

Friday, August 15, 2014

An Independence Day Speech

I cannot remember the last time I sat through and heard a Prime Ministers speech on Independence Day - much less remember. The last one I remember was PV Narasimha Rao saying, "Without you, without you, inspite of you, Kashmir is ours."

Yet, today, I was up in the morning, connected my television (which is rarely used), checked if it was all working to hear Narendra Modi speak. Post forming the government, he has not spoken - which was quite unlike the chatty persona he was during election time.

And, he did not disappoint. He spoke extempore (no teleprompter, no text, no nothing) to an audience of millions. He spoke of basic things - after all what are castles, but in the air, when there is no foundation. And unless we get the foundation right, there are no castles.

He spoke about rape, female foeticide, toilets, cleanliness and even admonished parents of boys (ask your boys what they are upto as much you ask your girls). Which other leader has told the population to get their country in order. It takes a rare courage to address basic issues like these at an occasion like this.

The speech was inspiring, exhorting the people to go out and do the right thing. He recalled many a freedom fighter long since forgotten by previous regimes which had viewed even our freedom fighters and gurus through a 'secular' lens. He thanked all previous governments and called out Lal Bahadur Shastri (again a name forgotten by his own party) and his Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan.

But, more than that...he laid out a few simple and effective ideas. A Sansad gram yojana  - a Parliament Village scheme - which he said will be outlined soon. The idea is simple. Every legislator creates an 'ideal' village by 2016 and two others by 2019 and from then on - one per year. This idea is disarmingly simple. The government provides metrics and each village gets rated on these parameters. He went on to say, if every legislator of the state houses also did it - it would amount to something substantial. And in my view, keeps poverty mongering NGOs out of the fray as well.

He asked legislators to ensure that every school in their constituency has a toilet- and a separate one for girls and boys. Implemented well, this can be like the mid-day meal scheme in schools - and will ensure that girls continue to be in school.

And he dismantled the Planning Commission - a grand relic from the days of our fascination for Soviet style communism - where a planning commission would plan for the country. The unveiling of this will happen soon, he said, but yes, this is clearly taking down the Nehruvian Socialism edifice brick by brick.

(And a simple question - arent we the ones dirtying our country? If every citizen keeps his locality clean, does not trash it, how will our country be dirty?)

Simple problems - which have remained unsolved for decades - simple ideas and inspiring. Metric driven, target driven. Have we had an inspiring leader like this in our lifetimes?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Non violence anybody?

As yet another outfit goes on rampage in Iraq - this time an outfit named ISIS carrying on the glorious goal of creating a Islamic caliphate, it is time to ask, Why isnt being non violent winning against these jihadists?

As the Yazidis are seeing, when the group that is killing them is killing them for their very existence (because they believe in a different god you see), non violence is not exactly helping them. If anything, fighting and fighters are. Candlelight vigils, peace marches and sit ins and demonstrations are not exactly furthering their cause.

Ask the other minority communities in the Middle east. The Parsis of Iran. The Pandits of Kashmir. The Hindus in Pakistan. And the Sikhs there. And others like the aborigines and American Indians and the Hindus on whom an entire mountain range is named as Hindukush (killer of Hindus). How come being non violent never got them anywhere except closer to death?

And therefore, should not Israel defend itself against Hamas whose stated goal to eliminate Jews or should it just allow itself to be attacked by rockets?

Yes, to those who think that world peace will be achieved by keeping quiet, it is time to revisit this quote - the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. (By somebody)

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The ecosystem, the matrix and human behaviour

In the book, the Devil wears Prada, there is a exchange between the two main protagonists that goes like this...

(Miranda and her assistants are deciding between two similar belts for an outfit. Andy sniggers because she thinks they look exactly the same.) Miranda Priestly: Something funny? Andy Sachs: No, no, nothing. Y'know, it's just that both those belts look exactly the same to me. Y'know, I'm still learning about all this stuff. Miranda Priestly: This... 'stuff'? Oh... ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise, it's not lapis, it's actually cerulean. You're also blindly unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic "casual corner" where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of "stuff."  [Link]

What Miranda says is that the act of choosing a so called non-conformist sweater - that Andy thinks defies the system - is a part of the system itself. The ecosystem. The matrix of fashion.

Now what is a fashion quote doing on a blog like this.

A few months ago, I wrote about the Macaulay rebels who conformed.

The ecosystem around us - starting with our education system - especially the hand me down English education that we inherited which was spiced by left and socialism oriented thoughts bolstered by Christian education institutions has left us trapped in this matrix. The vicious circle of educating the rich in English and weaning them off traditions has slowly created our local version of English who work on civilizing the natives - from attire to accent to behaviour. (There is stuff to be changed, but there is much to be appreciated as well.)

In this present matrix, it is very difficult for you to appreciate anything Hindu. Of course, the caste system is bad and discrimination is high and the priests are rapacious and our traditions are bad. Our festivals are bad (Bursting crackers for Diwali, wasting water for Holi and our homas and poojas are a waste of resources and visiting a temple is pointless) - isnt that what you learnt in this ecosystem?

First of all we learnt in an English medium school - which makes you think that your own mother tongue is not good enough to be studied (yes, I am also one of them who studied in an English medium school.). This by itself is not a problem - but it also means that most likely, you did not have the time and energy to study your language, your traditions. And if you did study your traditions, you were most likely seen as 'uncool' by your shades sporting uncle and aunts.

Like in that lumpy blue sweater example, if you chose to ignore everything around you - the tradition of the country, the culture, the history-mythology, the architecture - it is because the ecosystem around you - the matrix wants you to do exactly that. It wants you reject everything around you - and mark it off as regressive and go in for that blue sweater.

That means being a non-conformist is not easy. A true non-conformist has really rebel out of the matrix. Which means, if you visited the coolest joint in town or went to the coolest tourist spot makes you a conformist, not unique. Which means, if you are in touch with best brands - you are probably conforming more than differentiating yourself. Which means, if your thought processes are matching with the talking heads on TV and the people who write in print media - then again, you are conforming, not differentiating.

And that means, the true rebels are the sadhus who give up everything and rebel agains the material world.

That means, if you truly want to find someone different, it is unlikely that you will find them in an airconditioned boutitue/office/retreat/hotel - you will find them at a place that is truly offbeat and it wont be easy. And if you want to be different, that is even more difficult.

That means, we all live in the matrix. Knowing the matrix, recognizing that the ecosystem is THE matrix and you have to get out of the matrix to truly be different - is perhaps a first step.

But to truly rebel is difficult. Human behaviour is all directed to being cool, being accepted by the cool crowd. And to differentiate yourself as apart from the crowd is difficult - especially if your life depends on facebook likes.

[Evolving thought, but I think this thought process will get somewhere!]

Because on the other hand, the ecosystem while driving you away from something - is also driving you toward something. Slowly, surely...across generations...