Sunday, September 20, 2009

What Animal Farm Can Teach US( read U.S)

Animal Farm was written during the Second World War and published in 1945. To review a book which has so firmly established itself amongst the greatest literary works of all time would be redundant. What would be far more interesting is to see the relevance of Animal Farm today. The books main ideas about greed, freedom and power are timeless. Reflecting on a book that was set during the most gruesome war of the 20th century may help us understand what we are still doing wrong in the 21st.

Animal Farm is a satire on revolution and its outcomes told through the events that unfold in a fictional farm. The book starts with the telling of a dream. An old respected pig called ‘Old Major’ relates to the animals what he has distilled through his lifetime. He tells them of the in-equality between men and animals. He tells them that man only gives them enough to survive on. Instead if animals were free of man there would be “enough food to eat for all the animals of England.” This promise is filled in the first few weeks after the rebellions success but soon begins falling apart as the pigs begin distinguishing themselves from the rest of the animals. The ideology of ‘Animalism’ is constantly tweaked and twisted to suit the rulers(pigs) who eventually begin practicing all the vices of humans like drinking and walking on two legs. The commandments of Animalism are simplified to the few words like ‘Four legs good, two legs bad’ for the benefit of the largely illiterate class of animals on the farm. This is similar to the constitution of India who’s Preamble is simple as it is superficial. The depth that the constitution reaches is far beyond the masses of this country. The minority educated are left to amend and tweak the laws that govern a majority. This divide between the upper and lower class is exactly what breeds further acts of revolution which keep the cycle moving. Ultimately the pigs who led the revolution grew greedy with power. And if left unchecked the same fate befalls every civilization, present or future.

In the initial stages the author, George Orwell, couldn’t even `find a publisher for his book due to its heavily anti-communist tone. Ironically the book attempts to show that neither communism nor capitalism is much better than the other. An idea that today’s capitalists would vehemently try to refute. The crux of the book attempts to display the corruption that can consume a ‘peoples movement’ if an elected government does not take shape after revolt. The resemblances to past events draw the reader into the book by constantly evoking visions of Hitler’s Nazism and Stalin’s communism. Similarly, the relatively recent overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s Bath party in Iraq by American forces has left both countries struggling for stable Governments. Hamid Karzai runs a heavily western backed government in Afghanistan, but, is facing strong charges of corruption over the recently held elections. The U.S.A is trying hard to spin both Iraq and Afghanistan as ‘victories for democracy’. If these are victories it shows what a state democracy, as a whole, is in. At least in Afghanistan the Northern Alliance was on hand to lend some ‘local touch’ to the demise of the Taliban. But in Iraq there was no such group. Instead the Americans walked in, replacing dictator for dictator. The Iraqi people had very little say in the invasion. Their current leaders sit walled in a city within a city termed the ‘Green Zone’ otherwise known as the only ‘safe’ place in Baghdad. This is why sympathy has developed for Islamic organizations who say the west is attacking Islam and the only form of response is violence. Ironically the revolutionaries in Animal Farm fashion a flag with a hoof and horn set against a green backdrop. Similar to the hammer and sickle representing communism but more relevantly it is similar to the crescent and star of Pakistan (the book was released well before the birth of the Islamic state).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lou lou lou

The last valentines day saw a load of right wing extremists in India attacking women for frequenting pubs. I just noticed a chunk of the article is missing at the bottom. Will try and fix that ASAP!

My very first article :)


One heck of a journalist.
This is the 'Masthead' of my paper. Ze Mysore Mail :)

Must thank a certain bunch of friends for giving me the idea on this one.

When bankers play God

Employees at AIG’s financial products division made a gamble. They lost billions of investor money and the American Government had to swoop in with a $170 billion in tax payer money to try and stop a few banker errors from collapsing the world’s financial systems. This kind of gamble by bankers happens every day all over the world trying to use our hard earned money as funds to make their investors richer. Note that whether its taxpayer money or investor money its still the average American who’s losing his cash to prop up banks whose only job in the world is to keep money safe. So in a democracy like America and India why is it that bankers have so much power? Why are the people trusted to manage our countries finances so lackadaisical? Every banker seems to have chosen finance as his career option purely for the luster of becoming rich and a startling six-figure salary. What goes through the mind of a young and budding banker while he or she decides to spend the rest of their lives managing other peoples money? If weren’t for the prospect of making a lot of their own its impossible to see why anybody would get into banking. Now that the system has churned out these ‘dedicated and sincere’ bankers, its time to hand over the worlds financial reigns straight into their palms, of course showering them with bonuses and perks all the way. When the unfortunate time comes that they mess up and the waters get choppy they are offered ‘retention bonuses’ to ensure they don’t jump ship and their ‘talents’ were retained.

Perhaps this whole financial mess was a one off mistake that was caused by bankers all over America making mistakes at the same time. Perhaps it will never happen again but either way they have too much power than their job detail, which can be classified as a glamorized math teacher. Bernie Madoff is a classic example of that. He has pleaded guilty to eleven charges in his illegal ponzi scheme which managed to pull the wool over thousands of investors eyes including some major banks. $ 65 billion was siphoned off and it’s unlikely those investors will ever see the green side of that money again. Madoff was caught because he was getting old (he’s 70). It may be a scary thought to assume that there are hundreds more young hotshots like him working the system till it runs dry and who will disappear into the sunset with billions of hard earned money. In India there is little that money cannot do. So it is even more distressing that what little infrastructure there is to detect this kind of fraud can easily be muscled aside by a wad of cash. Satyam is a case in point and though its founder Ramalinga Raju is safe behind bars a question that begs to be asked is where did all the money from India’s fourth largest IT firm disappear to? Was he alone in his cover up of Satyam or is he just a fall boy for a much larger conspiracy? And if this can happen to a company of this scale (Satyam is listed on the New York Stock Exchange) then what is the real level of corporate fraud happening in middle and lower rung companies.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Road trip :)

This trip was special to me beacuse i set out with friends and friends of friends who were all musicians. Even better we were all off to see Opeth. A band who's music i venerate and has innumerable fond memories tied to it. This is my attempt to try and do a music review/road trip journal/ personal diary :) Try and read it through :)


Ston’d is all about the music. A group of dedicated metal heads who despite their daily callings to dental college or work have managed to persevere to earn the title of “local legends” in the Bangalore music scene. They were kind enough to let me tag along to one of Indias largest college festivals where they hoped to earn new fans and maybe the respect of International Metal band, Opeth.

Every once in a while a restless soul needs a change. Just being off doing something different and seeing new things does wonders for the mind. I’m glad I had a chance this week to have a go at both. A group of friends had been invited to IIT Chennai for its annual festival called Saarang. They had been chosen for the college and semi pro band categories. Their band by the name of Ston’d being anything but. With over a 100 bands from all over the country sending in demos it was prestigious enough to be among the top 18 to be chosen. One long 7 hour train trip later we found ourselves catching buses and weaving between Chennais infamous traffic trying to get to the lush IIT campus. Another group had decided to drive down so luckily we were slightly less burdened with equipment than we would have been but nevertheless it was slightly awkward carrying guitar cases and cymbal stands in buses so overcrowded that people were hanging off windows. I hate exaggerations and this is certainly not one of them. But half the fun of a journey is getting there. Sure anybody could have called on an A/C cab with plenty of leg and boot space. But we chose to spend 16 Rupees covering the 20 Km route. Aside from saving some cash for extra food later on it also let us see Chennai the way it really was. The bus driver was friendly and popular with the locals. Aside from happily accommodating our long haired lot with excess baggage that would make any airline company roll over there were cases like the guava salesman who had brought his wares onto the bus and had placed it right next to the driver for safe keeping. Students at local primary schools were busy copying off each other’s homework on the dashboard. Everyone was given space no matter how little of it existed. Our first taste of Dravidian hospitality. By the time we finally made it to the campus however we were nothing short of exhausted, luckily the other group had made it ahead of us had brought their car to the gate and picked us up for the 5 minute drive into the campus where our hostels were waiting. Fortunately the students at IIT are a dedicated bunch with some of them staying awake into the wee hours of the morning just to ensure everyone had a room with mattresses and linen. The hostels were clean (at least the first two days we were there) and were perfect for a much needed nap. But that wasn’t to be. The Festival had started and there were events happening everywhere. From famous speakers dishing out lectures on the meanings of the universe to the trivial joys of life like paintballing and treasure hunts, Saarang had it all. It was the golden year of Saarang so IIT had gone specially out of its way to bring down some huge talent from india and abroad. In fact the main reason the metal heads of India were clamouring for tickets and a chance to show their stuff was because of a Swedish Heavy Metal band called Opeth. Opeth had been roped in to not only perform on the last night of the four day festival but also be Jury at the finals of Decibels, the Semi-Pro music competition. The Second day saw the bands sweat it out in the heat of day and with chennais sun showing no mercy it looked set to be a tough slog. We found out the Judges for the semi finals were from Junkyard Groove. More of a funk and rock oriented band they were rather known for being partial too thier own genre as well as being quick to dispel Metal bands. Added to that Stond’s previous encounters with the band had not been too courteous to say the least. But the band gave it their best. With a three song set and 15 minutes on stage they gave it their all. In fact the previous day Abhijit, the bands vocalist and de facto manager, had dragged the group to a jam room at the opposite end of the city to rehearse and make sure everyone was in the groove. It certainly paid off with praise coming in from all quarters. The band actually managed to pull the audience out of the shade and come up to the stage (and the heat) to headbang. Something not many bands accomplished that day. I must interject at this point that if they had played any longer I would have needed a neck brace for the rest of the month. But still there was no rejoicing. The mood was still one of quiet acceptance that they had come this far and this would be as far they would get this year. Aditya, their guitarist, picked up his bags and made his way back to the hostels. No looking back. When I followed him for a quick word on how he felt about the show he just mentioned how great the audience was and how awesome it would have been if they could have played in front of Opeth.

In a typical movie like scenario where most if not all hope was lost Stond were quetly listening and cheering as the top three bands were announced to go to the finals. There was even a wild card entry from the college bands called E-flat. Lauded for their use of an Indian sound everyone was jumping and cheering as Junkyard groove announced the Bands would play on the same stage as Opeth. To share a stage with an International band as famous as Opeth is an honour very few Indian bands have had, atleast at the semi-pro category. Finally in the words of Junkyard Groove “ the last and final band to be selected.....Stond”. The euphoria could last only for a few several minutes. They had to report to the stadium at 5:30 PM. It was already past five.

As a representative from Saarang led us to the VIP gate of the main stage of the 8000 seater Open Air Theater we learnt that Opeth had been staying on campus. Suprising considering musicians on their calibre generally demand nothing but five- star treatment. As we waited outside the main gate a silver Toyota cab pulled up and out stepped Mikael Akerfeldt and the rest of Opeth. So unassuming was their entrance that the bystanders present were momentarily left confused but soon the cheering and applause started and the message was spread. Opeth was in the house.

Watching the first four bands play was impressive. Starting promptly at five thirty each band was given a total of twenty minutes to set up their gear and play. As the evening progressed and got darker the stage lights started to come on adding to the drama. Ston’d managed to pick the last slot for the night and had the full effect of the darkness and stage lights. They gave it their all with Abhjith lunging into the crowds and starting up mosh pits. The crowd was nothing short of brilliant with metal horns being raised throughout the performance. Opeth too seemed visibly impressed but going by the previous performances nothing was for certain. Opeth were a seasoned heavy metal band and impressing them at their own genre is no easy task.

When the show ended Akerfeldt led his troop upto to the stage to announce the results. Anoop, ston’ds bassist won the best bass player award for the second year running. With that in the bag and a show to remember the band decided to celebrate with a midnight run to the canteen. The next day Opeth themselves played a two hour long set comprising of songs off almost all their 8 albums. Some of the songs stretching on well past the ten minute mark. Epics like Heir Apparent and Deliverance had the crowd going crazy.

--------------This is to be continued.... but let’s assume I passed out and woke up on a train station ;)

check out Ston'ds music at

Global Warming's Exaggerated Warning

Debating a case as un-deniable as global warming can be like walking a tightrope below which lay a few hungry tigers in waiting. On one hand to deny that Global Warming exists would mean you were in the pay of oil companies or any heavily industrialized countries that would stand to lose from a consensus that global warming was real and manmade. On the other hand protagonists of the global warming saga are accused of stopping development and trying to inhibit the growth of third-world countries that need cheap energy that many of them readily have in the form of coal and other fossil fuels. It is prohibitively expensive for the western nations to conduct what one African economist called “luxurious experimentation” in developing solar, wind and nuclear technologies. Implementing these technologies in impoverished third world countries is tantamount to developmental suicide as the prohibitively expensive costs combined with the relative unreliability of these technologies make their implementation, on a wide scale, nothing short of stupidity.

So what decides where people stand on the issue of global warming? It is the science behind the facts. Unfortunately in an issue as politicized as this with both sides standing to lose, the facts and the science behind it has all come under a dark cloud of intimidation and corruption. Each pressure group has its set of facts backed by ‘eminent’ scientists who distort charts and research to prove or disprove either side. The truth is that even the noble intentions of the scientists can be swayed by donations to their research fund or the draw of fame through media attention in making the most striking revelations. This had led to a frenzied cycle between the newly spawned breed of environmental journalists and scientists, both feeding off each other to make the most sensational headlines. The journalist knows his job depends on the scientist to come up with the most sensational headlines while the scientists knows the more publicity he gets the more fame and ‘credibility’ he will receive in the public eye and perhaps more funding for his next research into the supposed catastrophic climatic events yet to befall mankind.
Now that the world has been confounded into believing what they have been told for the last generation it is almost impossible to call for a requisitioning of the facts and the science. While two Billion people still live in unfathomable conditions due to lack of electricity delegates from governments from all over the world debate on tougher emission laws. The main argument global warming enthusiasts use is the carbon emissions released by automobiles and factories. However carbon dioxide constitutes a meager 0.054 % of our atmosphere and the largest among the ‘harmful’ greenhouse gases is water vapor that accounts for 95%. While western nations criticize their developing counterparts over emissions they gladly ignore their own countries were built on a wave of rapid industrialization. Sadly the methods that could prove or disprove the facts on whether global warming was manmade or not are heavily debated. One film by former Vice President of America Al-Gore titled ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ is an example of the west brazenly championing environmental reform without looking into their own backyard. A counter film made by British filmmaker Martin Durkin for channel 4 titled ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’ challenges pre-conceived notions that environmental change is man made and is simply a natural course, which has progressed for millennia. Both these films are a must watch for anybody seeking to investigate for themselves the truth behind the greatest potential threat facing us today or perhaps the biggest swindling of billions of dollars in phony research into a phenomenon that lays far beyond our control.

Cricket and its Fat Cat Whore

Originally titled "Cricket Haters". Wonder why my editor wanted it changed:P? Published a day after the Lahore attacks on the Sri Lankan Cricket team.

Cricket lovers; bow your heads a moment. Your sport has been attacked and the spirit of your game shattered like the windows of the Sri Lankan team’s bus. Tuesdays attack could not come at a more twisted moment not just for the sport but also for affairs of the region in general. In one instant three neighboring countries were tied to one attack and people of Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka were glued to their screens.
The Indian looked for similarities to the Mumbai attack, the Pakistani looked for the possible Indian hand involved and the Sri Lankan looked for his beloved Kumar Sangakkara. Perhaps the rest of the world simply looked on in dismay at yet another piece of turmoil and instability in our region. What the attackers themselves hoped to achieve is best answered by psychiatrists studying the shoot-self-in-foot syndrome. Simple logic and reasoning from any half-witted individual would say that attacking a neutral country’s cricket team is certainly the most retarded tactical move possible. It has put Pakistan’s bid of hosting the 2011 world cup into the trash can. It gave India (and the rest of the world) a chance to pooh-pooh Pakistan’s claim to be tackling terror. Poor Sri Lanka, the neutral country, almost lost its entire cricket team.
Overall a loss to cricket but if that was the aim of the terrorists they have brought down the bar from holding entire countries to ransom to merely shooting themselves in the foot. Some quarters speculate that the original motive was far more sinister and that the target would’ve been the Indian cricket team had they not very wisely backed out. Sri Lanka unfortunately, eager to make friends, rushed to fill in and tout its ‘loyal relations to Pakistan’. Let us forget that loyalty would disappear as soon as Pakistan’s arms shipments to Lanka stopped. Lanka being in the middle of slamming the tigers back into their caves is in dire need of friends. Unfortunately Prabhakaran has his good friend Vaiko in India to promote the ‘eelam’ cause. So Lanka has to go elsewhere and it just so happens that Lanka decided to trade its cricket team for guns in order to keep its good relations going. God forbid India’s own pro-cricket-no-matter-what lobby had its way and sent the Indian team despite 26/11, the likely hood of this newspaper reaching you would be most improbable. But let’s not get ourselves down in gloom. Whilst the events in Pakistan unfolded India won the first one dayer against New Zealand. So cheer up cricket lover. All is yet not lost. Jai ho!

The Press Corpse

(Published March 3rd 2009)

No, that is not a misspelled headline. The press has truly turned into a group of mind numbed zombies on par with corpses. After our media began to boom along with the economy and thye number of news channels quadrupled in less than a decade we are now ‘blessed’ with an endless stream of news updates and opinions. The Indian media has taken it upon itself to be the guardian of Indian society and seems adamantly proud of it and determined to exert its influence in every conceivable way. No doubt some of the stories carried by the press prove vital in indicting corruption and waste. But there seems to be an obvious co-ordination between which stories are picked up by the media and tossed about like a dead sheep just like in a game of Afgan Buzkashi. It seems to be far more than coincidence that of the hundreds of happenings all over the country and the dozens of news stories coming in every day, we see about five making it to the National Prime Time. And you can be just as sure that all the other news channels would carry the same story, only at different levels of enthusiasm and glam. Indeed some channels more than others. This was all too apparent after the Mumbai attack that were quickly dubbed India’s 9/11. But just like a bad honeymoon the media frenzy is beginning to sour or even stink according to some off-beat commentators in the web space. The web is certainly the one saving grace for the voice of dissent.
Though not always accurate and unbiased (just like their mainstream counterparts) the Internet has given voice to many new opinions. One portal called details the process that American media goes through to categorically brainwash its viewership at the behest of Washington. An example of an Indian media critic can be found at Proof of bias in the print media according to the author is determined by how much space is given to real news stories against the number of ads being placed in papers. With the election season coming up he says that ads are being placed at a premium and that along with the recession that makes Government spending for egotistical politicians eager to see their face in the paper the main source of bread and butter for newspapers. Combined with the endless reels of coverage of Slumdog Millionaire the real quota of space for real news is insignificant. We are all proud of A.R.Rehman for bringing home the two Oscars but the real problems of solving poverty go beyond a few lines of Jai Ho!. Why are more relevant stories not being picked up by the media? Why did we have to wait for ‘Smile Pinky’ to win an Oscar award at a big ceremony in the west to acknowledge the documentary and the work being done by doctors to help children with cleft lips? Why is truth being shunned for glamour and the idiocy of wealth? Indian media dates back to the 1700s when small printing presses were clandestinely operated against the British Raj. It is now nothing but a sham. Journalists once braved imprisonment during the 70s to voice opposition against the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. Would they be so brave and vociferous now? Leaf through any of the national dailies and you will find your answer. Count the ads too.
“The subtle and not-so-subtle art of deception and disinformation through the media dates back till the time humans had brains large enough to process that idea. Propaganda has even been categorized into varying degrees of deception by terming it Black, Grey and White propaganda. With black of course being the most serious and white being a merely a slant of the truth.” -

The Frankensteins

(Originally titled Binding Lies. My editor dint like it.)

In a testimony to chaos and disarray that would make the devil blush this past week has seen some truly horrific events in our beloved SAARC neighborhood. From the Tamil Tiger air attack that hit Colombo to the mutineers in Bangladesh, Indian Foreign Policy and intelligence officers would certainly had their hands full. Luckily in a country as vast and diverse as India chaos beyond our boundaries rarely draws any ramifications within our country. Until of course, as in Pakistan, they begin to spill over. As our most conflict stricken neighbor (a title hard fought for with the others) Pakistan’s cracks are beginning to show up all over the place. Even as Gilani and Zardari bestow pity over their only other political rival, Nawaz Sharif, over being barred from ever contesting elections. Sharif’s supporters have gone on a rampage and protests which are now in their third day but while Pakistan burns the duo of Zardari and Gilani are busy signing deals with the murderous and barbaric “good” Taliban who now legitimately lay claim to vast areas of north-western Pakistan called the SWAT. The theory that sections of the ousted Taliban are more amicable to a truce and negotiations is ludicrous. These are tribesman who hail from Afghanistan and have been bombed out of their country. They are seeking revenge and any truce deal they sign now is only to regroup their resources till they can plot another attack. Where that attack may happen is definitely up for grabs since all that defence spending and intelligence that America has up its sleeve seems to have worked. Frustrated by this Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have and will continue to turn their attention on more vulnerable allies of America. The easiest of those targets being India of course. Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Al- Qaeda’s Commander in Afghanistan warned India just earlier this month to brace for more of what he called “Mumbai Style Attacks”. As demonstrated by those attacks India’s nearly infinite and impossible to patrol borders with Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan along with 7000 Km of coastline make it easy prey for groups looking to flex their muscle. Back down south an influx of refugees from across the short Palk Strait has placed concerns that Liberation Tamil Tiger Eelam members are simply retreating to safe havens in Tamil Nadu to re-oranise and launch attacks at a later day on Sri Lanka. In a very similar situation Pakistan is being used as a terror hub by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda India too seems caught as a middle ground in a battle between the Tiger terrorists and the Sri Lankan State. Albeit the cause of conflicts may differ, the irony is that both groups, the tigers and Al-Qaeda, were set up and funded initially as State actors. The tigers by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Al-Qaeda by American intelligence agencies looking to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 80’s. Both decisions have come to bite their respective states back. India being a vocal supporter of a unified Sri Lanka as well as Israel (Osama Bin Laden’s sworn enemy) has certainly chosen a tough path. But are we prepared to defend our choices and lay a heavy hand against these terrorists. The rebellion in Bangladesh over pay has left an eerie reminder over the discontent in our own armed forces on disparate pay scales in sections of the army. Fortunately the Indian army is one institution that has never disappointed the public and has always stood by to protect them. Perhaps its time the reverse happened as well.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The teacher's tutor

It was through an invitation passed onto me by my editor that I found myself in an auditorium full of teachers. This hardly seems like a pleasant experience for someone who has, with much relief, finally graduated his twelfth grade. The event was a documentary being screened at the Regional Institute of Education by the Teacher foundation. The Teacher foundation as I was told by its director works with a broad range of schools from all over the country aiming to breathe fresh air into stale classrooms and even staler teaching methods. The director Mrs Maya Menon was a very enthusiastic person and through the discussions that followed after the documentary I began to wish there had been more teachers like her during my school days. The documentary itself was made by an educational filmmaker, Mr Gautam Sonti. The aim as the audience was told was to bring awareness to some of glaring issues that are haunting Indias Private and Governmental schools. Maybe because it was so direct it did happen to insinuate a heated discussion and drew much criticisim from the teaching community present. Apparently the Teacher foundation does have its work cut out for them. But it did make me think back to my schooling days and to the words of a very famous song made by a band perhaps as upset with schools in far away Britain.

“ We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control”

Pink Floyd’s The wall

When the days in school got too long, monotonous, mechanical or boring it’s comforting to let those words ring through. It was reassuring to feel I wasn’t the only one in the world who felt the space time continuum being distorted the moment I walked into class, right to the point when seconds felt like hours and maths class felt like a lifetime. To be fair I will take some of the credit for not excelling at school till the very end of my academic days (even then it wasn’t academics i excelled at). But my less than enthusiastic teachers played a pivotal role in this. However every school i attended (all 5 of them) I did find at least one teacher who kept me afloat. Who believed I could be a little more than what I was. To that unnamed teacher, I thank you. I am what I am because of you. But the rest of the teaching community at large I feel just spout out the same old rhetoric. Like a march past calling out commands like left-right-left or attention! Something stinks in the system of schooling India. Osho once asked very rightly what the difference between schools and jails were? The almost mechanical routine that school provide pupils allows for no questioning, No outside thought that deviates from the rules. This environment is so plastic, so far out of touch with the real world. At school you’re just another face in the crowd. Separated into classes, divisions and of course IQ levels. There are the few who do well in this system. But these few would do well in any system. They are the exception more than the rule. It is impossible to ask that all students be of the same maturity and intellectual level that they too would benefit optimally from the system we have now. There lies, left behind, a vast medley of academic outcasts who’s talents lay hidden and shunned by the very teachers entrusted to bring the best out of them.

And parents too. No one is supposed to know your child better than you. Stop expecting so much from schools. And start taking a larger interest into the lives of your children. It’s no wonder that so many teenagers are clueless with where their lives are to lead after they finish school. At school and at home they are persistently programmed to do what they are told unquestioningly and that’s that. Where is the individuality so characteristic of every human being? Where are all these unique talents being nurtured? India, a country with the world’s second largest populations and one of the largest exporters of qualified professionals to the west (not to mention our software programmers) still battles with one of the world’s lowest literacy rates! Doesn’t anyone realise there is something fundamentally wrong with the way our education system is functioning? Why do we have such high dropout rates? Why are children is rural areas just not motivated to get the education that is the key to taking not just themselves but India out of poverty? And it isn’t just the small poorer rural schools that can be accused of pupil negligence. Even the proudest urban public schools aren’t fairing much better. Maybe their dropout rate isn’t as high since their students aren’t faced with the option of going to work in a paddy field but are their students really being allowed to do anything beyond the boundaries of their text books and compound walls? Where is the real education happening? Some brave schools aside most schools in India are not willing to question the age old system of memorise or be damned. As for that extra bit of encouragement that often makes a world of difference (at least it did for me) most students are lucky to escape without getting a few bruises through school (I didn’t). Against this backdrop it’s indeed heartening to know that the teacher foundation is there to accept there are flaws to be remedied and classes to fill. I just wish there were more people listening.
If the central and state governments along with Boards of education brought their noses back down to earth and realised this problem exists we would start to see real change in India.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In America....

In America, a land far, far away people are hoping for change. They call it the land of opportunities. They have the world’s largest economy and the best standard of living going by all conventional economic indicators. So why do they want change. They are allowed to vote and choose leaders of their choice. The voters are by and large educated. Something we in India cannot claim and blame our bad political choices on. But eight years ago the Americans chose a man called G W Bush to be their President and Commander-in-Chief. That mistake has multiplied itself over the eight years. From the Clinton years when the economy was strong, everyone had a job and loads of national debt. They have now gone to having an economy in recession with job losses mounting every week and even more national debt. That’s why everyone wants to be in Washington on the 20th of this month to see the man they believe can bring all the good stuff back. No not Santa Claus. This man has been running around America campaigning for a change. He wants to change the way America thinks and does politics. He wants to do away with the Reagan era and usher in an era of his own which hopefully will heal the badly bruised American economy and by default the world’s economy. If you have heard or watched him speak, even read the transcripts of his speeches you would realize that there is a piece of history right here in the making. America needs, as any country would, to stand united. Historically they have always managed to churn out leaders who have rallied the nation at a time of crisis. Real crisis. Unfortunately the Monica Lewinsky scandal that rocked the Clinton administration was not a crisis enough to bring in any president better that Bush. But by some cruel twist what Bush brought upon America forced America bring out Obama. True Obama has been growing as a person for 30 sum years but there could not be a better time for his rise into politics and for him to take a seat behind the desk of the oval office. This brings to light Obamas current status as a pop and political icon. There are striking similarities between Shepard Fairey's portrait of Barack Obama and the famous Che Guevara picture that adorns t-shirts all over the world. Except Mr Obama’s portrait will hang from the National Portrait Gallery. Its selection marks Obama’s ascension to a status of cult icon. Someone who teen generations to come will know of not from text books but possibly from being a really cool poster or t-shirt print. It isn’t a jibe at Americas first black president. Che Guevara died for something he believed in and he’s on a lot of t-shirts and no one seems to be complaining.

Sri Lankanised

An attack on Sri Lankas largest private media operator has left many raised eyebrows over the freedom of the press in the country. The attack came after sections on the state media heavily criticised the company for apparently biased reporting on the war. The attack, which left millions in damaged equipment, was specifically targeted at crippling the broadcast capability of the stations 3 free to air channels and 4 radio stations. No other part of the property was damaged. In an address to the parliament after the attacks the main opposition party (UNP) head Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe made it clear that the transition from rebel sponsored terrorism to state sponsored terrorism was like taking Sri Lanka from the frying pan into the fire.

The Sri Lankan government in recent times has been lauded for its tough stance on terror and going ahead with tackling separatist groups despite calls from the international community to strike a peace deal with the rebels. The government is riding on a wave of popularity after successive military victories have left the tigers cornered in the jungles of northern Sri Lanka. But what of its promise to create a free and fair democratic state? Unfortunately for the government its long standing policy of preventing any neutral observers into the conflict zone has left a large gap in unbiased reports which has fuelled speculation on whether the Media Centre for National Security, which is the only official source from which the press can get reports, is trustworthy enough. Added to this heavy censorship amongst the local media and allegations of harassment have constantly cropped up. Any dissenting voice is instantly labelled as a traitor and branded anti-patriotic. It was against these same allegations that the private station in Colombo was attacked.

The Rajapakse government is presently struggling to control the economy to fund its massive war chest. It has repeatedly raised taxes on every commodity or service under the sun. This has caused inflation to persistently remain in double digits. The Lankan people feel the burden heavily but they believe that it is a price worth paying to get rid of the tigers. The opposition party recently took a petition to the Supreme Court to have fuel prices reduced on par with the drop in international crude prices. Despite the court ruling to do so the government has refused saying that it has to pay off previous oil bills. This belief that it is above the law of the land leads to question whether Sri Lanka, after years of war scars and a national debt that will take generations to pay off will really be a free and fair democratic state.

Silence can be deafening

As we drive through the main gate our ears pick up the vibrations. The characteristic rapid beats that sound like machine gun fire. They get louder as we work our way down the line of people standing outside. The usual crowd of long haired metal heads wearing black shirts form a sea of bobbing heads swaying to distorted riffs from one of Bangalore thrash metal bands. Its Independence day and there is an air of rebellion, of non-conformism and a mission to make a mark at one of the year’s biggest music festivals that Bangalore's had to offer. Freedom jam was the most sought after platform for upcoming bands to be heard and hear the veterans of the trade. A bigger version than the monthly Sunday jam, it took place every (or around) Independence Day.

That however that was more than three years ago. Since then the organisers have faced multiple hurdles such as finding locations, getting permits and rowdy locals. The final blow hit when the government passed a law banning all live shows. This was meant to target the dance bars around the city but instead due to its ambiguity caused immense dispute for musicians and organisers. Now the main and only sponsors of the event, Levis, have pulled out. This was the final nail in the coffin and what happened to the freedom jam is only a symptomatic effect of the broader neglect being dished out to the local non-Bollywood music industry. The industry as a whole creates jobs for innumerable people besides the artists themselves. Due to such senseless bans they suffer heavily. Even the government is losing revenue from a potentially highly profitable industry. The whole scenario is very similar to Bollywoods predicament before it was given industry status, a time when the whole film world was run by mafias and shady wheeler dealers. Now the same injustice is being handed out to a whole generation of musicians who have a small or nonexistent avenue to show their talent.

There are small pockets all over Bangalore where musicians meet to rehearse. Watching these rehearsals I realised what they have achieved with little resources they had. If they were given the right platform and sponsorship there is no doubt Indian bands would be on the international scene. Instead of allowing foreign bands from America and the UK to play in India at a premium we should encourage our own concerts headlined by home-grown acts. T-he day might be not far off when an Indian bands garners enough respect to tour the states. Provided the public make enough demand to bring back the bands in their home grounds.