Archive for July, 2009

Inconvenience in progress…

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009 July 29th, 2009 Joydeep Ghosh

Traffic snarls are a common feature in Mumbai. Hardly a day goes, when one is not stuck because roads are being dug somewhere, there’s some morcha and if nothing else, some construction work.

I travel by road on the Western line (for non-Mumbaites, the Western line is from Churchgate to Virar, maybe even further now). And there are stations like Dadar, Bandra, Andheri, Borivali that many Hindi movies have made quite famous.

Of course, the moment I say ‘I travel by road’, friends pounce on me to with ‘trains are much more simpler’ or ‘you waste so much money everyday’. Well, after taking their concerns into consideration, let’s say I don’t feel like travelling on Mumbai locals any more.

So, road it is for me. Yes, it costs me a bomb. And on bad traffic days, it leaves a huge hole in my wallet.

But what surprises me is the complete lackadaisical approach that the ‘BMC/MMRDA/whoever else is responsible’ has towards the city.

In 2005, when ‘Torrential Tuesday’ occurred, lakhs of people were completely stuck – hey even Aamir Khan was stranded. Four years since then, things have marginally changed.

Yes, a number of bridges have been built on the Western Express Highway. But roads still suck. Entry and exit to the Andheri bridge are always full of potholes. And every year and several times during the rainy season, BMC workers keep on filling it up (why can’t there be a permanent solution???).

The best part, though, is the Malad bridge. It is being built for god-knows-how-many-years, and still everyday on the way back, commuters spent at least 30-40 minutes on this stretch.

My sources (taxi drivers and autowalas) claim that there was some litigation initially. But if my memory serves me right, this bridge is being built for several years – in fact, longer than most of the other ones in the same route. Yet, I keep hearing that it will be completed this month or next month.

Let’s take into consideration the total cost one incurs while crawling through that single stretch. There would at least be a total of 5,000 – 10,000 cars or autos or taxis passing through that road everyday and each would be wasting least Rs 30-50 because of the hold up. The daily loss: Anywhere between Rs 15,000 and Rs 5 lakh.

And if one multiples that number over last four-five years, the total amount would run into crores – perhaps, even more than the cost of constructing this bridge.

A point, the authorities should consider. But, it wouldn’t matter to them because it’s my pocket that takes the hit or their argument would be like my friends, ‘travel by train to save time and money’.

In Mumbai, one can see these hoardings all over the place. ‘Work in progress – Inconvenience regretted’.

To me it means… ‘Inconvenience in progress – Work regretted’

Where Are The Indian Oranges, Apples?

Sunday, July 26th, 2009 July 26th, 2009 Praveen Bose

Washington Apples only Rs 150, Australian Apples only Rs 135, or NZ apples only Rs 130. And, oranges too… I have lost count of the varieties of them that are available.

Indian varieties are hardly seen… or are they placed such that it is well beyond ones line of sight? I suspect the latter though. In the globalised world while we are integrating into the global market, we have also had to sacrifice  the use of some of our taste buds or we have to get used to blander tastes… Globalisation has not meant being exposed to more of Mexican or Thai tastes… but has meant getting neck deep in, what I call and will always call, the tasteless, odourless and colourless food.

While I have always staunchly stood by the market forces, I never thought that it would lead to my fellow countrymen falling more for the less tasty food.

Walk into a supermarket or a hypermarket and you have only these exotic varieties of fruits staring at you. Everytime I end up asking those at the counters about the plain (and much more tasty) Indian apples. I, many a times, end up with “the season is over sir.”

Just to satiate one’s desire to be seen as being ‘in’ one can buy them. But, no matter the price, there’s no dearth of people wanting to buy them. It is also a status symbol to be seen as eating the exotic imported less tasty fruits. Perhaps that’s what the liberalisation imports meant to do.

It’s an attack on our taste buds and a colonisation too of our taste buds. And, replacing the finer sense of tastes with less complicated tastes. Put simply, bland food.

The imported fruits that many a times dominate the shelves, draw one to them with their good looks but… they flatter to deceive. Once you taste them… it’s difficult to buy them again. It’s not value for money. But, it’s a price well paid while trying to satiate one’s ego and desire to look westernised.

Reporting from the Parliament

Saturday, July 25th, 2009 July 25th, 2009 Aditi PhadnisAditi Phadnis

As Delhi swelters, for a reporter, Parliament is the place to be. Although strict and complex rules reign in the press galleries of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha (how you sit, what you can carry, how you communicate with those sitting in the House, are all governed by rules), you can get a sumptuous lunch for Rs 13, because of the catering by Indian Railways, there is always a place where you can catch a snooze and the huge Parliament House library complex offers a temporary office.

Little wonder then that reporters - and some who are reporters only in their spare time - like it when Parliament is in session. You are away from the beady eyes of the bosses in the office and once in the press gallery, can do pretty much as you like.

Entry to Parliament is much more difficult now, after the attack on it. There was a time when it used to be a more open, accessible place. Veterans recall that once, when Ananthashayanam Aiyangar was Speaker, a couple of reporters in the press gallery were reading something of a racy nature. One was telling his colleague something about a picture when the glossy magazine slipped from their hands - and fell on the desk of the Speaker.

Today you could probably be jailed for this. At that time, Aiyangar summoned the reporters. They stood trembling before him for nearly 10 minutes when he lifted his head from the paper he was reading and recited all the rules that the reporters had violated. But, he told them, they could go, he was letting them off this time. Nearly fainting with relief, the reporters scurried out, but not before one of them timidly wondered if he could have the magazine back.

What? asked the Speaker. This is now the property of the House. I have to study it, he observed and told them to leave.

Covering events in the House is endlessly fascinating - and quite entertaining sometimes. These days the most riveting is the exchange between Speaker Meira Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad. It is clear that they don’t much like each other. Equally interesting is the occasional exchange between Home Minister P Chidambaram and the Left.

And to sign off, reproduced here is an excerpt from Chidambaram’s reply to the demand for grants for his ministry in the Lok Sabha. He’s talking about the incident in Shopian in Jammu and Kashmir where a boy went missing and his body was discovered in a graveyard. He says: One example which an Hon. Member has said is about a boy missing. An incident of a boy missing is not new. Boys are missing; sometimes boys and girls are missing; and a boy and a girl together are missing. This is nothing unusual. If there is something wrong, if there is something criminal, if there is something evil, if there is something sinister about that incident, you have to register an FIR, investigate and find out if there is anything wrong.”

Where have you gone Michael Schumacher, a sport turns its lonely eyes to you

Monday, July 20th, 2009 July 20th, 2009 Aabhas Sharma

More than a half of the Formula One season is over but it has been in the news for more off the track reasons than on the track. FIA supremo Bernie Ecclestone and his right hand man Max Mosley’s over inflated egos had threatened — albeit for a short while — to derail the sport. Fortunately sense prevailed and as of now Formula One remains in one-piece after surviving the Battle of the Egos.

Although the sport has taken many body blows on the track and there is a sense of monotony developing amongst F1 buffs, thanks mainly to the introduction of FIA’s new rules and innovations, a sentiment which I tend to agree with. Not taking any credit away from Jenson Button and Ross Brawn’s dream start to the season, there is something missing from the sport, and in my humble opinion, it misses a larger than life character, which added spice to the sport.

Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Nicky Lauda, all former champions had that eccentric streak in them which added to the drama of Formula One. The legendary Prost-Senna rivalry makes you really feel that the current lot has a lot of catching up do in terms of racing as well as adding that ‘extra’ bit to the sport. And then there was Michael Schumacher, arguably the greatest driver of all time. Schumacher was somebody who was absolutely loathed by everyone barring the Ferrari fans for mainly two reasons. a) He was a great champion and b) He was a sore loser, at least in the early part of his career.

Schumacher wanted to win at all costs, and if he knew he couldn’t, he would make sure to thwart his rival’s attempts. Like the final race of the 1994 season, when he deliberately crashed into Damon Hill’s car, when he knew he wouldn’t be able to finish the race. The collision ensured that the title went to Schumacher. He repeated the trick again in 1997, this time against Jacques Villeneuve, though he lost the title on this occasion. Of course, a lot of people thought it was unsporting behaviour and condemned Schumacher for his actions. But such was his desire to win at any costs, that these things never mattered to him.

Can you imagine Kimi Raikkonen doing the same to Lewis Hamilton? Or say a Button doing the same to Sebastian Vettel? No. At least I can’t. The sport has become “too nice” for my liking. There are no rivalries at all in the sport, and that is something it needs very badly. It needs a champion who has to be hated so much that people switch on their sets in anticipation to see what he might pull off this time. Something Schumacher did regularly.

Of course, it would have all looked pretty juvenile if they couldn’t back it up with their driving on the track. You need someone to make those audacious attempts of overtaking that just simply take your breath away, something which came as easily to Schumacher as brushing his teeth.

The sport badly needs an icon, an eccentric genius who can infuse a fresh lease of life. Sorry Jenson, you might be winning race after race, but there’s no thrill and it’s all pretty bland. The sport misses Michael Schumacher. Sunday evenings have never been the same since he put his helmet away.

What eat is?

Thursday, July 16th, 2009 July 16th, 2009 Pablo ChaterjiPablo Chaterji

This will sound pretty obvious, but part of the many, many pleasures of being able to travel around the country is the chance to unashamedly gorge on different kinds of food. Yes, there are other delights too – natural splendour, dazzling architecture, tangible history, dusty by-lanes, amusing characters and suchlike, but I’d have to say food is of paramount importance. Apart from the basic bodily need for sustenance, there’s a similarly basic desire for culinary indulgence that I believe is in all of us: it’s in me, that’s for sure. There’s a particular thrill in discovering a little eatery (or, indeed, in going to a famous one, just for the ‘I’ve-been-there’ touch), in being suddenly ambushed with an unexpected aroma or taste and even in the surroundings in which you find yourself eating. Take, for example, the time that I had gone to Kaziranga, in Assam. I was staying in a lovely resort abutting the national park and, one morning, was invited into the kitchens to have breakfast with the staff. As I entered, the smell of wood smoke enveloped me, with strong whiffs of pungent potato curry and freshly fried puris thrown in. My mouth watered instantly; by the time I had settled in among the staff at the communal table, my back being warmed by the winter sun, I could’ve eaten a horse. Needless to say, it was a breakfast I’ll never forget – oh, those fluffy puris, that sweet-salty potato curry, the sheer-genius bamboo shoot pickle, that strong Assam tea! There’s a lesson here, folks. Want the real McCoy? Head to the source.

Another time, a friend and I had gone to Bhopal, where we had been assured that the food stalls on one particular street were to die for. This wasn’t too far from the truth; we took one look at the appalling lack of hygiene there and had graphic visions of dying of dysentery. Deeply disappointed and ravenous in the extreme, we wandered around until, out of sheer exhaustion, we selected a new-ish eatery and plonked ourselves down. It was spotlessly clean and quite cheerful, but looked like your typical pizza/burger/sandwich joint rather than a disburser of authentic kabab/biryani/kheer. You know what follows, of course; those wizards dished out some of the best kababs and biryani I’ve ever had – and I do mean ever. It isn’t often that a new kid on the block comprehensively outguns the old guard, but it bloody well happened in Bhopal. If I ever go back there, it’ll be to visit that restaurant.

Highway dhabas are, of course, part and parcel of a traveller’s life, but one particular dhaba I selected at random, about 150 km outside Delhi, will remain etched in my memory. Firstly, they conjured up the best (yes, the absolute best) chane ki dal I’ve ever had the good fortune to taste. Secondly, the elderly owner hitched a lift with me to Delhi and kept me in a near-hysterical state of mirth with stories from his childhood and about various visitors to his establishment. Oh, and no narrative about food and travel can be complete without mention of the tea and jalebi shop that a colleague and I stopped at in Baran, Madhya Pradesh, on a Mumbai-Gangtok drive. Granted, we were tired and hungry, but there can be no taking away from the simple fact that those jalebis, hot off the stove, were like the proverbial manna from heaven. They were crisp, squirted just the right amount of sugar syrup with every bite and strode the fine line between being eye-openingly and hair-raisingly sweet. After a couple of plates each, we felt we could drive to the ends of the earth and back without so much as a pause. I haven’t been on a road trip in a while, and one of the reasons I’ll be setting out again very soon is to satisfy my stomach’s cravings for culinary variety and adventure.

 

Tickety-boo

Monday, July 13th, 2009 July 13th, 2009 Rrishi Raote

(1) Here in Delhi traffic tickets tend to arrive in the mail at least a month, and often a few months, after the alleged offence took place. On almost every occasion the alleged offence was committed at a time and a place where our car was not. Every year we receive a ticket relating to an unlikely offence allegedly committed on the suspicious date of March 31. The alleged offence is never severe — jumping a red light, taking an illegal right turn, speeding, not wearing a seatbelt — and attracts a fine of something like Rs 100.

I heard about someone (for the gossip-wary, this is a source just once removed) that she has had her traffic tickets cancelled by the simple expedient of having a friend in the traffic police shift those tickets to some other car license plate number in their database — any one, just so long as it is not her own.

(2) On 18 June I parked my little car as usual in the municipality-authorised lot a stone’s throw from Delhi Police headquarters and a short walk from this newspaper’s office. The parking attendant gave me a ticket and I paid him his Rs 10. Come evening, when I returned to collect my car I was told it had been towed away by the traffic police. The parking contractor had been waiting for me so that he could take my keys and recover the car from Daryaganj police station. Why was it towed? I was told by the attendants that this was because the local traffic cops had not received their monthly monetary subvention from the parking contractor. So a traffic cop came and picked up one car, which happened to be mine, allegedly as a means to harass the contractor. The attendants urged me to “write about it”. (My car does not bear a “press” sticker.)

Case (1): The ticket system needs to be totally overhauled. Protesting a wrong ticket is an impossibly inconvenient process; the fine is low, therefore one grimaces, pays and forgets. But it’s an unjustly obtained revenue stream, wide open to abuse. I want my traffic tickets to arrive within a week of the offence and carry a photo of my car committing the offence (or the name of the ticketing officer, if it wasn’t a camera-caught offence). Yes, traffic cameras are expensive, but as even relatively law-abiding Washington, DC, found, a sizeable investment in cameras and systems yielded an immediate and huge income in traffic fines. The city earned back its money within several months, as I recall, and everything earned afterwards and since is gravy.

Case (2): Parking policy is a mess. Rs 10 for a whole day’s parking is an absurd indulgence, but one which, not being lavishly paid, I am grateful for. The contractors’ attendants are very useful because they watch our cars while we’re away (yet petrol vanishes from my tank). Having individual contractors, though, is a problem, because it opens the way to abuse. I can’t think of any good solutions. But perhaps we can bypass the problem by making parking totally fee-free. Parking zones should be very brightly marked (we’ve needed more intelligently designed street furniture for a long time now) so that any illegal parking can be noticed and the owner ticketed or the car towed under the transparency safeguards in case (1) above. The lost revenue can be made up by boosting fuel prices and instituting a respectable annual car-owners’ tax.

Whatever it is, the traffic police and those who plan and build our transport infrastructure need to be efficient, responsive, transparent and responsible. There’s too much traffic on the roads, and too little logic and design going into managing it. What’s the use of always playing catch-up? Eventually, this transparency thing is going to become a significant local political issue.

Certainly not at its BEST

Saturday, July 11th, 2009 July 11th, 2009 Namit Gupta

This one is going to sound like a rant over a seemingly trivial issue, especially for those who do not have to rely on public transport. Who on earth would want to read a thousand-word diatribe against what almost everybody—including this blogger—thinks of as Maximum City’s iconic service? Nevertheless.

I have always marveled at the clockwork efficiency of the two pillars of Mumbai’s commuting system—the local train and the BEST buses, and have often harped about them in discussions with colleagues from Delhi, a city which is only beginning to get a taste of what public transport should really be.

Which is why it came as a bit of a shock to me when the guy behind the wheel in one of those new air-conditioned BEST buses refused to open the door for me and a fellow passenger. His reason—we weren’t at the designated stop.

Here is what happened. The two of us had just missed the bus at the stop, but saw that it had halted at the traffic signal some 15-20 feet ahead. So we run up to the vehicle and knock at the glass door, asking to be let in. The driver, however, decides to throw the rulebook at us instead and doesn’t oblige despite repeated pleas, while the conductor merrily sits down nonchalantly on one the seats, deliberately oblivious to our existence.

That’s when the two of us decide to play tough. We go and stand right in front of the vehicle, blocking its path for a good 10 minutes, because of which it misses as many as four green signals. Charlie, meanwhile, is unmoved. He simply switches off the AC, throws out a yawn, while deputy digs his little finger into his ear, waiting for the “cattle” to clear the road.

All this while, none of the other passengers decide to take up for us. Instead, two elderly persons come right up to the front of the vehicle and start yelling at us from inside, ostensibly holding us responsible for a possible blot on their punctuality record. Doesn’t getting to office on time matter to us as well? While neither side can hear the other through soundproof doors, a little bit of lip-reading tells us one of the old men is threatening to call the cops. We don’t relent, so he does. We stay put.

Moments later, my ‘partner in crime’ sees the next AC bus approaching from a distance and decides to call off the protest. We head towards the stop where two cops accost us, asking what the problem is. We explain our point firmly but politely, are asked for our names, ages and mobile numbers, but not home or office addresses, and are allowed to hop on to the next bus when it comes.

Did we behave like juveniles? The pair of geriatric commuters obviously thought we did, though I can’t say anything about the other mutes inside the bus that morning. Let me make my case for why I think we were right.
 
For starters, we were consumers of the service and if we felt it was deficient, we were well within our rights to protest peacefully—which we did. I also say the driver’s ‘official’ stance was that he was merely following BEST rules was not driven by conscience, but by a self-acquired right to act tough and say no.

AC buses don’t run throughout the day. What if this one were the last of the morning? Worse, what if I were a pass-holder? Could I be denied the comfort of traveling AC when the establishment itself has taken a month’s fare in advance for a promise of service?

Secondly, any Mumbaikar will tell you that for all its efficiency, the BEST is making huge losses. In fact, its accumulated cash losses are estimated to have exceeded Rs 1,600 crore in 2008-09. And all of this was on account of the transport division—BEST’s other service, power distribution, is profitable. Despite this, the transport division’s employees are among the most highly paid public utility servants in the country. The pay, in fact, is so good, that the division’s establishment costs, which include wages paid to drivers and conductors, amount to as much as 96 per cent of the revenues the division generated, according to news reports quoting the utility’s general manager, Uttam Khobragade.

While figures on seat occupancy are difficult to come by, one can safely assume that if the transport division has to stay afloat in the long run, capacity usage has to be ramped up.

BEST, in fact, has been spending huge amounts on ads, appealing to Mumbaikars to move from private transport to its buses and has even introduced a facility that allows commuters to flag down and board moving buses on routes such as 211, which serves Bandra West. The driver has to oblige and can be hauled up if he doesn’t.

The flag down rule obviously doesn’t apply to AC buses, but I don’t recall having seen any other driver of such vehicles refuse passengers the right to board if the bus is absolutely stationery and has vacant seats. And I am not too sure BEST has instructed its drivers not to let in passengers in such cases in the first place.

By denying us entry, the driver served to defeat the efforts of the establishment to keep its head above the water. My fare was Rs 25, that of my co-passenger, Rs 15. Assuming that’s the loss the bus makes on every journey, the establishment will be forced to forego revenue of Rs 2,080 a month on a single bus, based on two trips a day for 26 days. I don’t what BEST drivers earn in a month, but anyone’s uncle can tell that’s a huge percentage of their gross monthly pay.

Thirdly—and this one is for the geriatrics and the mutes—BEST has been known to discontinue loss making routes in the past. By lambasting us (as the old men did) and for keeping quiet (as the rest of them did) they were working against our interests as well as their own. All they could and should have done was to ask Charlie to open the door and let us in. There’s strength in numbers.

 

 

Chrome coloured Windows, anyone?

Thursday, July 9th, 2009 July 9th, 2009 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

google-windows_1439540c.jpg

The New York Times wrote in its editorial - There is a kind of bloodthirsty thrill in learning that Google plans to develop a personal computer operating system to compete with Microsoft Windows.

That’s what it is, a bloodthirsty thrill. With Google announcing its intent to launch Chrome OS — an open source, lightweight operating system — for the netbooks by 2H10, we wonder whether Google can actually live in direct competition with Microsoft.

Google’s case

Think of it this way, Chrome OS comes with the promise to expand the usage of web-based apps and services, stimulating search and page view volumes, which are critical to Google’s ad-based monetisation strategy. Second, this move exerts a price and margin pressure on Microsoft’s netbooks business plan unerringly when Win7 launch is just around the corner. Lastly, Chrome OS will ensure a continued availability of its search, apps and services even if Microsoft insists on a tighter coupling of Win7 and Bing.

Already, over 30 million people are using Google’s Chrome browser, says Sundar Pichai, VP Product Management, Engineering Director on Google’s official blog.

You might have noticed that Google has also done away with the “Beta” label from its Google Apps such as Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar and Google Talk. This move, we believe, sends out a signal to enterprise buyers that Google apps has reached a degree of maturity and that it should be considered as a viable option to Microsoft Exchange and Office. Enterprises could find Google’s cloud-based app strategy compelling if the total cost of ownership of software, infrastructure and support services remain attractive.

Microsoft’s case

The strongest segments of the PC market have been the netbooks followed closely by consumption in the emerging markets. The lower-priced version of Windows XP is the only operating system that currently runs on netbooks. However, Windows 7 OS, when it is released, will also run on netbooks and allows Microsoft the ability to re-evaluate product and pricing for netbooks.

It is widely expected that a version of Windows 7 will have a price in line with the current XP version, to help Microsoft get an easy entry in the netbook space. Win7 is also said to fix many of Vista’s problems, including better ease of navigation, start-up time, general performance, and compatibility.

Microsoft too believes that as economy improves, the new Win7 could help spur PC and thereby the company revenues.

The verdict

Google’s new Chrome OS has grown directly out of its browser, also called Chrome, which was introduced last year. Google could see lasting benefits by bringing together incremental traffic through its OS and applications. The technical drawback that stares Google in the eye is that 70 per cent of enterprise applications cannot run in a browser (Google’s Chrome is essentially a browser-based OS) and there are major limitations to the amount of computing that can be done within a browser today. Experts also allege that while the Linux kernel underneath Chrome OS could be packaged up with a suite of peripheral driver controllers, it is not clear who, if anyone, would provide on-going patches, critical bug fixes and other updates for Chrome OS on Linux.

Seems like Microsoft will not let the Google Chrome OS steal away the thunder.

Duronto, Ijjot and now… Boget

Monday, July 6th, 2009 July 6th, 2009 Joydeep Ghosh

Budgets always invoke a lot of speculation. While a whole bunch of experts believe that it is a non-event, a lot of people keep themselves hooked on to the television. And then, the usual culprits come and demystify the numbers for ‘aam aadmi’.Here are some common features of every Budget.

The opposition will always say that the incumbent government could have done much more. Some like the Left even say that government is anti-poor and anti-labour. And that, even after the FM allocates some 50,000-60,000 crore for the poor.

The finance secretaries, who helped prepare the Budget, will come and defend it stoutly.

Then corporate honchos will give ratings. Seldom it’s very low.

The worst part – the poor FM has to give interview-after-interview to television channels. Given that the number of channels have increased manifold since the mid-nineties, I wonder how any FM gets the energy to speak to all of them.

In my view, the FM should call all of them in a single forum and let the editors shoot their questions. And let all channels telecast it at the same time.

For one, it will save the ‘aam aadmi’ from flicking through some 20 channels (all of them claim that they have an exclusive with the FM). More importantly, it will help the FM save some serious breathe because he has to answer the same questions to different editors.

Most importantly, since the crème de la crème editors land up to interview the FM, they will make sure that they do not repeat the same questions. The result – good quality questions from the best editors. And the best part – television watchers won’t have swollen fingers due to channel-flipping.

Coming back to the headline… Mamata didi brought the ‘Bengali flavour’ back to the Budget on Friday. After Lalu’s crude humour, it was back to ‘duronto’ and ‘Ijjot’.

Now I am waiting for Pronob da’s ‘Boget’ … :)

I Am Moving Into the Slum

Sunday, July 5th, 2009 July 5th, 2009 Praveen Bose

I should probably look to move into a slum, at least to some erstwhile slums. The idea comes from what I have been seeing lately.

While many of them have officially maintained their status as slums, there is no dearth of people living there worth a few millions. They still enjoy many of the basic amenities that most denizens can’t even dream of.

The slums, the old and well-established ones, have no problems with water or power. Even when the taps go dry in the house or if the motor of the tube well goes dead, leaving me wringing my hands in frustration, the domestic help would say with a smirk, “I didn’t have to store water in my house. We never have problem with water.”

And, the best, all this for free. We shelled out a neat sum, both as bribe and also to get the official sanction for the water connection. We also need to pay for the water. But, not so where the domestic help lives (rather where all domestic helps who work in the neighbourhood live).

There is indeed agreement on the need for help to the less privileged, but why shouldn’t the ones who pay not get the civic amenities? The domestic help has her explanation to that. “We all vote and go to political or other rallies whenever and whereever the politicians need us to go.”

The slums, all on encroached land, also have continuous power. Power cuts could mean the power distributor’s office could get attacked, or even burnt down.

The experience of an acquaintance is a case in point. He lived in a house in a place that continues to be designated a slum. What still gives it away is the width of the roads. Otherwise, you do not have any other signs.

He moved out, and shifted to a place closer to his wife’s office, in a relatively upmarket area. And, all hell seems to have broken loose. “I am water starved now,” is his lament. “I have to make all arrangements for storing water and be prepared for power cuts all the while. I never had this problem in the earlier place where I paid just about a quarter of what I pay now.”

He, never bothered to buy anything to store water. He virtually had 24-hour water supply. Here, he was speaking of the municipal water supply.

Perhaps I should take a cue from this. Taking a leaf out of the acquaintace’s book, I must probably do the opposite. I must move into a slum.