ARC

A little bit of everything


Month: January, 2008

Gandhi and Godse

Years ago, sixty to be precise, a ‘crazed madman’ entered an evening prayer meet with a revolver hidden in his clothes. His intention was to assassinate the man leading that prayer meet. Nathuram Godse believed that this man, whom some had foolishly dubbed ‘Mahatma’ was in fact just the opposite: a ‘moorkhatma’. He entertained foolish notions of Hindu-Muslim unity at a time when it was more profitable to make incendiary speeches baying for the other community’s blood. Worse, he was emasculating Hindus by publicly calling for restraint and forgiveness when Muslims were on the rampage demanding Pakistan. What was unforgivable was that he had demanded that the newly formed Indian government pay up the finances owed to the equally newly formed Pakistan government  which they had been holding back. This mad man had to be stopped at any cost.

On January 30, 1948 Nathuram Godse entered the Birla Bhavan grounds in Delhi and made his way through the crowd towards Gandhi. He touched his feet and pumped two bullets into him. As he fell the Mahatma uttered the name of Ram while Godse dropped his gun and surrendered himself to the mercy of the crowd. A shocked nation listened as Nehru tearfully said in a radio broadcast later that night that the ‘light has gone out of our lives’. 

The act of assassinating Gandhi, though a sad and unfortunate event, was nevertheless not surprising. Probably Gandhi himself realised his growing marginalisation in the political process as the independence movement reached its culmination in 1947. His protegees, Nehru and Patel had taken over the reins within the Congress party and Gandhi’s role became more of a spiritual guide and adviser. And Jinnah? Oh, that insufferable fellow-Gujarati had always been Gandhi’s photographic negative: immaculate, English educated, stiff and distant with a fondness for the finer things in life, secular, prim and proper. 

Nehru was the quintessential modernist: His feet were in India, his head in Russia and his heart in England. He believed in science and progress, big dams and rationality, scientific temper and education. As for Patel, he was the clear and level headed iron man of India, a believer in realpolitik who had begged, coerced and bulllied over 500 reluctant princes and petty royalty to join the new republic. Neither had time for the Mahatma’s vision for the newly formed nation. 

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Trio

Trio
January 2008, Cologne.

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Man of God

Man of God
January 2008, Cologne.

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Mute

Mute
July 2006, Cologne.

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De-fencing Procurement Policy

The Indian government is revising its Defense procurement policy yet again. The new policy is more complicated but more vendor-friendly. Earlier, vendors had to prove that 30 % of their order should come from India. The new rules would mean that if a contractor like Lockheed Martin has been sourcing parts for his civilian jets from India, then he can be waived off this 30 %. Similarly, if a contractor proves that in some other way, he has been doing technology transfer to India, he can be waived this requirement. On the face of it, this rule seems rational. But in reality, this is symbolic of the woes that have beset our procurement policy forever. We do not have sufficient transparency in defense procurement. Unless something turns up during a CAG audit, there is no way of finding what went on in a defence deal. The other extreme of such opaqueness is over-sensitivity to scrutiny.

For e.g. the Government is now relaunching the bid for artillery guns, since the contender who seemed ready to win on technical grounds, was the Swedish firm, Bofors. Unwilling to let itself be associated with the name, the government wants to relaunch the bid. This does not augur well for India. Defense procurements should be made on the basis of technical and to an extent financial considerations. (for e.g. with a 70-30 ration being given to technical and financial proposals). Politics should not be allowed to intervene. Though to the credit of our folks in Ministry of Defense, we have a comfortable hybrid of Russian, French, German, Czech, Israeli and now American weapons and our military capabilities are rated even par with the chinese by some experts, the procurement process is all too often doubted by any and every politician. for instance, some years ago, HD Devegowda who was in the opposition, raised a stink saying the T90S battle tanks from Russia were inferior in quality. Exactly how much does HDD know about battle tanks and who were his advisors. This kind of political mudslinging kills any room for bold and timely purchases. As a result, most of our hardware gets outdated before it is even procured.

Yet another problem is that due to the rules of the Indian civil services, no bureaucrat is allowed to spend more than 5 years with the Defence ministry. This is problematic in an area like defense procurement where it takes at least a few years to understand the dynamics of the international arms trade and the country’s requirements. Just when the bureaucrat gets a hang of the job, he is posted out. Since defense tender bidding processes can take up to 3 years, this means that often a bureaucrat in charge of a deal maybe posted out before the deal is signed thus killing continuity. Doesn’t altogether lend us a lot of confidence, right?

It’s time India’s defense ministry and the procurement policy underwent a major overhaul. What we need possibly is a separate service for the defense ministry, an IDS, and greater transparency through ombudsmen etc. Transparency without politicisation. A difficult balance but a necessary measure.

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Two

Two
February 2006, Cologne.

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The Shame of the Indian Male

It is as if India is losing her humanity part by part. Coming close on the heels of the recent spate of reports on women molested in various parts of India is this horrific and tragic report from Surat about a brave man named Keshav Vishwakarma who tried to prevent a woman from being heckled. For being a good Samaritan, four hours later, he was doused with kerosene and put on fire. Incredibly, with 75% burn injuries he walked two kilometers to a police station to report the incident. Unfortunately, he later succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.

It is nothing new that women in India have a torrid time in public spaces. Even as a child I could not help but notice how careful my mother would be when she had to go out alone or with me to any public space, be it to the market or to the cinema or to drop me off at school. She would carefully wrap her pallu around herself completely so that no bare skin was visible anywhere between her face and feet. In the bus she always made sure that she sat as much in the front as possible, away from the men’s seats and on the road she would ask me to walk on the outer side so that I’d be shielding her from passing traffic (meaning the sundry Indian male who would not think twice about grabbing or groping a woman in public).

Later, when I was older, I’d listen in horror as my female friends recounted incident after incident about how disgusting and desperate the average Indian male is in public. I was ashamed and embarrassed that the freedom I took for granted came with so many reservations for them. To think that every time they were out in public they had to deal with innumerable snide comments which would range from ‘kya potti hai re’ to men in cars slowing down to ask ‘ati kya?’ showed me how different a world it is for an Indian woman compared to her male counterpart. They had to be on constant guard to not let men get too close in public spaces. For if men got too close more often than not their body parts would be groped, grabbed or pawed in the most obscene way. My friends often would not take it lying down if they were in a group and always tried to fight back. But they also knew that it was safer to keep quiet especially if they were alone. They knew from practical experience how unsafe it is for an Indian woman to walk on the street alone even in a big city like Hyderabad. And these were the so called elite upper middle class women who were confident, educated and unapologetic about what they wore or how they behaved and who therefore, according to some, are asking for such abuse by dressing or behaving unlike a ‘traditional Indian woman’. A male friend, upon listening to such incidents from my female friends, even had the gall to say that if they stopped wearing dresses befitting a whore they would be given more respect! If only the truth is so simple. Even women who wear ‘traditional’ Indian dresses are not spared such abuse. I recall a nonsensical dress code directive by Anna University along the very lines of such an argument about which I had blogged here.

So why do we Indian men behave like this? Many men would object perhaps saying that men are the same everywhere in the world. To a certain extent that is true. But I’ve observed how big a difference there is between the average European male and his Indian counterpart when it comes to women. Men defer to women here in public spaces. Although men do eye good looking women here it is limited to just that. There are no snide or obscene comments passed and in my four years here I’ve never ever seen a man behave obscenely towards a woman in public. Yes, there are occasionally teenagers who seem to tease women but they are more the exception than the rule.

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Mr. Boggula

Mr. Boggula
December 2007, Mannheim.

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Year of the TV

This past year has been the year of the (American) TV series for me. I’ve watched some really great shows that have become firm favorites and which I can and do watch over and over again.

Battlestar Galactica

1. Battlestar Galactica (2003/4 reimagining): Perhaps my favorite TV series among all the shows I’ve seen. For more read my post on the show here. While Razor, which aired last November and tells the story of Battlestar Pegasus was something of a disappointment, I’m impatiently waiting for the Writer’s Guild strike to resolve so that the fourth (and final) season can air.

Firefly

2. Firefly: Coming in a close second, mainly because it ran for only one season and therefore could not complete the storyline, is this funny, beautiful, touching and well written sci fi western. The cast chemistry is one of the best things about the show as are the witty repartees. And I’ve fallen hard for Jewel Staite :) It is virtually a crime that Fox executives terminated this show after only one season. In spite of vigorous attempts by committed fans to get the show to continue and even restarted on a different network the series, except for the film Serenity in between, lies in limbo.

House MD

3. House M.D.: He is acerbic, abrasive and arrogant but you will still love him. Modeled after the great Sherlock Holmes, Gregory House is a genius medical maverick who saves people by diagnosing cases that often seem undiagnosable using reason and logic. While the fourth season has been a bit underwhelming so far the first three seasons are excellent and worth watching multiple times for House’s acerbic wit and in particular for how Hugh Laurie makes the role all his own. He carries the show completely on his shoulders with elan. No wonder he has received two consecutive Golden Globe awards for acting for this show.

Dexter

4. Dexter: A stylish thriller which offers an interesting twist on the serial killer genre. Michael C. Hall carries the show with his subtle acting and all knowing voice overs. He is ably supported by a talented ensemble cast. The show is surprisingly mature so if you are put off by blood, nudity and profanity then stay away. Otherwise, prepare yourself to be transported to sunny Miami and its seamier side. While I thought the first season ended in a slightly generic way I liked the second season even more.

Heroes

5. Heroes: While it shares some uncanny similarities to X-Men Heroes has enough new ideas to make the series work. Tightly plotted, well acted and presented in a stylized comic book format the show will keep you engrossed for the complete first season. As for the first part of the second season the less said the better. It has been a distinct disappointment so far. Let’s hope the remaining half of the season redeems itself.

Scrubs

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Eiffel

Eiffel
August 2007, Paris (Fuji Neopan 400).

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