Archive for February, 2010

Costly Award

Monday, February 22nd, 2010 February 22nd, 2010 Praveen Bose

A blue eyed boy of the Indian economy and the markets and the economy in general recently learnt a hard lesson.

It had begun to give out awards carrying its name. This year it had decided to present the award to one of the better known intellectuals.

The firm had decided to hold the awards function away from it’s home base. But, it had a whole bunch of people to be moved to the place where the function was scheduled to be held. It booked them on a flight on the economy class.

The intellectual, was a harder nut. He decided to book his own ticket, in a higher class. His age, he said, did not permit him to take the rough and tumble of the cattle class. He was not in the country then.

The award function was over, with all the glitz and glamour, and all pictures taken with smiling faces, and pleasentaries exchanged. It was splashed over all newspapers and magazines and TV news channels that mattered. The firm got it’s media coverage.

Now came the moot question. How much did it cost the firm to gain all that fame and publicity? The intellectual’s bill for the flight continues to stand out like a sore thumb many days after the award function.

After the function he had sent them a bill for $17,000. That was probably what the firm must have spent on flying the whole contingent out from it’s home base. The firm now doesn’t know what to do. The bill is moving from one superior to another in the firm.

Perhaps the next time the firm will ensure that the awardee is in the country itself or perhaps will give a condition for the award — “Travel only by economy class if you want the award.”

Nanny-free library

Monday, February 22nd, 2010 February 22nd, 2010 Rrishi Raote

One of the most nourishing and restful afternoons I have had in a long time was the one I recently spent at the J N Petit Library in Fort, Mumbai. It’s not far from VT, in a beautiful Bombay Gothic building with a turret and a rattly-looking cage lift. The building is deceptively scaled: from across the street it looks smaller than it is, because the ceilings are so high.

The bulk of the library is on the first floor, with a broad shelf-lined gallery above. On the main floor are many tall shelves of the more often read books, such as thrillers, popular literary fiction and books in Indian languages. Gujarati is particularly well represented, which is fair because the library was built and partly stocked with funds from a Parsi philanthropist in the 19th century.

On the gallery above, the books are those perhaps less often loaned — obscure as well as well-known 19th- and early 20th-century fiction and memoirs, and various editions of writing that is much older, from all periods of time.

There are not many visitors to the library as a whole, and up in the gallery there are hardly any at all. I sprang up the circular stone stairway to the deserted gallery, seized the bunch of keys which open the shelf doors (locked so that the doors don’t swing open), and set to browsing. Seated on a chair of firm wooden frame but fraying fabric, in the bright, diffuse light of a Gothic window arch, with two arms of the gallery stretching dimly away to front and left, and with the broad pit of the main library nearby, I read snatches of two books which I have not seen anywhere else: Wings for Words (Rand McNally 1940), an attractive and intelligently fictionalised biography of Johann Gutenberg, and another whose title I forget on the court of Louis XIV in the time of one of his great mistresses.

This ate up most of the afternoon. It was very comfortable, despite the dodgy chair. A washroom was at hand, there was drinking water from a clay pot, the weather was mild, and everywhere were the sounds of distant traffic, birds, trees rustling in the breeze, murmurs of salesmanship and conversation from the road below (one amorous couple leant against each other and a parked car for nearly an hour, adding to the atmosphere).

Downstairs again, in the reading room the regulars were pointed out to me: a man in a bright waterproof jacket and cap, a quietly snoozing student, an earnest woman researcher, a middle-aged MBA holder with a set of management books and magazines, a Gujarati columnist, the seat normally occupied by a writer…

Nobody was supervising anybody. There were no hanging signs indicating where to go to do what, and when. No librarian or assistant marched by with beady eye. No tiresome nannying. One computer with a good and well-organised catalogue — far better than those in more heavily frequented libraries like the “information resource centres” of some foreign embassies. At J N Petit, they leave you to your own devices. Altogether a modest, respectful, respectable and firmly adult space. There are not many like it any more.

Saving the tiger, and Thackeray

Monday, February 22nd, 2010 February 22nd, 2010 Devjyot Ghoshal

It is ironic that a tiger is the mascot for the Shiv Sena. Because both are rather publicly fighting for survival. At the heart of both battles, however, lies a phenomenon that has almost always evoked strong reactions: migration.

From a basal perspective, the Sena and India’s endangered national animal are fighting to save their respective turfs from outsiders.

Although the analogy is far from complete, what brings the two further together is that both are failing to realise that their survival lies not in evicting the itinerants. Rather, defining the ‘insiders’, as it were, and embracing the migrants is essential for their continuity.

Initiated in 1972, Project Tiger was India’s biggest chance of saving the big cat. But as has been declared recently, only 1,411 of them are left in the country. Sometime in the 1990s, their number stood at 3,500. Clearly, something has gone wrong. And it is not just the lack of money.

A few leading conservationists are steadfast in their belief that the relocation of villagers who live in and around the 40-odd tiger reserves in the country must be undertaken to save the tiger. Primarily, the lack of employment opportunities juxtaposed against a booming economy often drives those who live in the vicinity of these reserves into the lucrative ‘tiger trade’.

At the risk of oversimplifying the complexities, a possible solution would be to integrate them into these projects as some sort of stakeholders. After all, most of these communities have shared a historical relationship with the tiger. Without them, protecting one of the most awesome creatures to walk the forests of India will be next to impossible.

However, the questions remain: who exactly are these stakeholders and what should be their actual stake in these projects? Who should stay and which section have to be relocated? How much responsibility should be invested in whom?

These are yet to be answered comprehensively. One can only hope that the voices of the stakeholders will be given a fair hearing. Thankfully, Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has shown a seeming affinity for public consultations, so far.

In the jungle that is Mumbai, the situation isn’t altogether that different. The Sena is the ‘tiger’. In that the organisation’s mascot is the national animal, maybe it enjoys the particular anthropomorphism.

The Marathi Manoos, the Sena claims, are those it has shares an ethnic relationship with. Not unlike the association between India’s four-legged tiger and the villagers that live in and around the forests.

Here, too, the difficulty lies in defining the demographic entity. Mumbai, like much of the country, is a fascinating smörgåsbord of peoples and cultures. But then, possibly the ‘Bun Maska’ really is anti-Marathi.

More importantly, though, it is hard to imagine that the Marathi Manoos, whomsoever they might be, would want all the others to pack their bags and leave a city shaped by over a century of multiculturalism.

In the disturbance that has erupted since taxi drivers were asked to take tuitions, the commoner has been relegated to the shadows. Most bow before the blow.

But as Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray continues to roar, he forgets that the Sena’s mascot is endangered today because it was hunted. And today, if the tiger has a future, it is because the huntsman has turned crusader.

But who will save the Sena when its fort crumbles, as it did in last year’s parliamentary and assembly polls? Certainly not a man called Khan.


Needed: quality criticism

Friday, February 19th, 2010 February 19th, 2010 J Jagannath

In his early 20s, film-maker Quentin Tarantino used to wait for movies to release. Not necessarily to watch them but to read the trenchant reviews of Pauline Kael, the then New Yorker  movie critic. The way she used to tear into movies was a masochist’s delight. In India, we too wait every Friday to watch the Bollywood fare and as far as film criticism is concerned we go by the ‘stars’.

Despite the existing shoddy standards in the country I still consider film criticism as journalism and this star system would qualify for that ultimate term of humiliation, lazy journalism. I don’t know if Google is making us stupid but this star system is definitely dumbing us down. As Richard Schickel , a Los Angeles Times book reviewer puts it,  “Opinion — thumbs up, thumbs down — is the least important aspect of reviewing.”

French film-maker  Jean Luc Godard once remarked that a movie should have a start, middle and finish but not exactly in that order. Maybe he was referring to his days as a film critic as well. Writing a movie review is as creative as any other art form is. The proof is in the pudding called Western journalism. Pick up any daily or magazine in US and UK and their reviewing standards are so high that it would seem they were always destined to be film critics.

Cut to India, except Bhardwaj Rangan, who reviews for The New Indian Express, no other Indian movie reviewer (film criticism is not their forte) comes closer to global standards.  (Full disclosure: I worked at the desk of The New Indian Express in Bangalore for 19 months.) Rangan is the only person, who seems to have taken Godard’s remark to heart, and that can be seen in his reviews. He doesn’t start like everyone else in his Indian brethren with mundane details like plot outline, how good or bad the lead actors were, if the second half was better than first half or vice-versa.

Rangan starts his review with a minor gem of a scene in the movie (a la Roger Ebert and Nigel Andrews) and from there on he takes off. He tries to find global parallels for even the biggest cinematic duds. I am not even talking about his breathtaking writing, which would leave all the other reviewers’ writing akin to hanging their underwears in the open. Case in point: I almost barfed when the review of Kurbaan in a ‘reputed’ daily started off with “first things first”. I wonder if all fourth ratehacks end up as film critics here. It’s so easy to imagine Rangan as a Woody Allen character in an empty train coach and on the parallel track is revelry populated by the other reviewers.

Some less-informed people tell me that conventional reviews will die soon what with the blogs allowing everyone to voice their opinion. I don’t think this argument merits a counter argument simply because our blogging culture is still in its infancy. We have people who watch the movie first day morning show and put up a wishy washy ‘review’ on their blog. With a vocabulary that doesn’t go beyond ‘awesome’ and ‘superb’, I don’t want to waste my time reading such spontaneous drivel. Rangan too started off as a blogger but then he took his craft seriously unlike the latest crop of smug bloggers, who think of themselves as the final authority on any movie and can’t say who A O Scott is or what Criterion Collection means. Had J D Salinger ever ventured out of his Cornish castle, these bloggers would have been the first ones to be branded ‘phoneys’. 

For Christ’s sake, Sistine Chapel is awesome not the jejune balatkar joke in Three Idiots. I know am digressing. The need for conventional criticism has never been more felt than now when life is manically divided into 140 characters,  three minute you tube videos and “my kitty is sick” status messages. Any form of art that is not on the top will have to vie for space with millions others because of the fragmentation of media. This is where the critic can make all the difference by separating the wheat from the chaff (read sensible from juvenile).

For now, the situation seems so dire that I am forced to give an extra dimension to a Richard Feynman’s statement:  “movie reviews are as important to Indian moviegoers as much as ornithology is to birds”.



Agitation due to vegetation

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 February 17th, 2010 Joydeep Ghosh

I am not a sociologist. But few things are quite stark. Food and clothing, education and jobs (in that order) are main concerns for every society.

Whether it is a tribal in West Bengal and Orissa, the unemployed in Bihar and UP or even, an Ajmal Kasab in Pakistan, these simple needs drive people to crime, agitation and all forms of violence.

And proponents of ideologies use this deficiency in the society to their fullest. Without pointing at any particular party or terrorist outfits or even, religious fanatics (because all of them are to blame), over the years, it has been clear that a few people can gather thousands and lakhs around them by promising these few things.

Yes, many will argue that there are college students from affluent families who are indoctrinated at an early age. True, but the bitter truth is that I have seen a whole lot these ‘ideological students’ settling down in proper lives after college. (Come on guys, in most cases, it is not about a country’s independence)

In fact, one of my seniors was a part of the group that demolished Babri Masjid demolition. Today, he is happily settled as an information technology professional.

Many so-called communists of the 60s and 70s are happily working in capitalist organisations, quite a few even in business newspapers, magazines and television channels.

Governments, as a result, should primarily focus on the troika of food and clothing, education and jobs. Instead, we find politicians taking positions that they will use force to crush the agitation.

Sure, it may be crushed. But a next generation of poverty stricken and oppressed will always rise.

A small example is a place like Manali. In a recent visit, I discovered that even if one wishes to travel late evening (which is like later than 10 pm), there is little fear. Most people, though not so affluent, are working.

My car driver on the last day was an interesting chap. The 25-year old owned 8 cars, a few apple and other farms. But he was still driving his own car. Whenever I had to leave the car to make a purchase or see a location, he would assure me that none of my valuables would be stolen. And nothing was.

The satisfaction of a full stomach, decent clothing, some education and a job goes a long way in keeping people happy. Alas, our problem solving measures tend to concentrate on too many other things.

How black can kajal be?

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 February 17th, 2010 Abhilasha OjhaAbhilasha Ojha

Last Sunday, my maid’s eight-year-old daughter came home and started showing me her new frock. As she twirled and batted her eyelashes, I couldn’t help but laugh at how innocent and charming she looked. “Didi, see, I put kajal too,” she purred, widening her eyes. She’d barely completed her last sentence when I heard a rude thwack! Her mother, my cook, had hit her hard on the face. “Kajal kyun lagaya? (Why did you put kajal?)”. What’s the big deal, I asked her, defending the kid whose enthusiasm had been punctured so royally. “Didi, achcha nahi lagta. Kisi ki buri niyat ho toh kya kareingey? (Didi, it doesn’t look nice. What if someone looks at her in a bad way?)” I was, of course, at a loss of words. The little girl, her innocent face, marked with tears that steadily wore her kajal away from her beautiful eyes, was so flummoxed by her mother’s sudden rage. I could read her eyes, I understood why this happened to her and not to her brother who, she told me later in a squeaky, muffled tone, “Always wears kajal to school. Mummy, in fact, applies it herself”.
The little girl took me back to my own childhood days. Having studied in a hostel, our acts of rebellion included sporting kohl-lined eyes, refusing to tie our hair, shortening our skirts to the above-the-knee danger mark, apart from various other things. We often got reprimanded but we didn’t care. Somewhere, it was fun.

And why would anyone have a problem with kajal? I still remember the day I’d come home to Jaipur for my holidays.  I had decided to raid my mum’s wardrobe that sunny afternoon and had tried out one of her chiffons, her bracelets, her gorgeous dangling earrings and her makeup. Since she was a working woman, and my brother was away to meet his friends, I had the home to myself that afternoon. I decided to wear my mum’s salwar suit (short skirts, anyway, were a strict no-no for me) and surprise her by wearing her makeup. I was around 15 years old and quite prepared, or so I thought, to apply light makeup (my foundation, when I think about it now, was so wrong) with just a hint of kajal. I used my mum’s hair dryer, wore my hair in a bun (it resembled a nest that had been hit by a hurricane), swooped mascara on my eyelashes, readied the dining table for lunch and waited for my mum to arrive.

She did and I’ve never forgotten that look of disgust on my mother’s face. To make things worse, she didn’t say a word to me and just looked away.
Her reaction annoyed me so much that I just went in to the loo, washed my face, tore the pins from my hair and just sat in the bathroom and cried. I could hear the irritation in mumma’s voice when she asked me to come out.
“What’s the problem?” she asked.
“Nothing.” I quietly replied.
“It’s not your age to apply makeup. You’ll send wrong signals.”
She hugged me later but my mother and I never mentioned that day ever again. It was locked away from memory and forgotten. Of course, many incidents took place after that day. My Math tutor molested me the next summer vacation, on another winter vacation my first cousin who was staying with us, abused me for three nights and said “sorry” when I finally got over my fears and slapped him really hard. Then, when I joined college, innumerable strangers would feel up my friends and me in the local buses. I still remember how a friend came crying to college after a man had groped her in broad day light in front of onlookers who did nothing but snigger in hushed tones. Much later, while going out for assignments as a journalist, it was routine for fat, middle-aged uncles to get down of their cars and Vespa scooters, stick their faces in front of me and groan, “Let’s go”.
No, I don’t think I wore kajal back then.

Part of the furniture!

Monday, February 15th, 2010 February 15th, 2010 Kalpana PathakKalpana Pathak

“Oh my god, your still with BS? It’s high time you moved on,” voiced a former colleague and a good friend when I bumped into her recently.

She was quick to add, “Girl, don’t be part of the furniture. Look at growth now.”

Our lady left BS two years ago for another business newspaper. In six months she jumped to a business magazine where she had another nine-month stint before moving on to another magazine.

Part of the furniture, eh?…. this is something I ponder up on every time the ‘Are you  still with BS?’ question is tossed at me. It alarms people when I confirm to them that it’s been almost four years now and yes, I am “still” with BS.

As hiring picks up and my fellow colleagues update their CVs, one of my former senior colleagues offered me a position at her publication which I politely declined.

Certainly, it didn’t go down well with her. “People are ready to give their right arm to join this paper. Think it over, you are declining a growth opportunity,” she fumed.
And I wondered– Is switching jobs the only way to grow or is that how people define growth?

A few days ago, I had a chat with a professor from Harvard Business School. He told me that these days, he is advising senior managers at organizations to connect with youngsters as he does not see that happening.

“…And then the seniors say the youngsters are lazy, want easy money and less work,” he added.

The professor told me that he found a problem with the mentoring of  youngsters.

He gave me an example where when he asked some senior managers to list some of their mentors, their list had three-four names.

When a similar exercise was given to youngsters, there were hardly one or two names.

I could not agree less with him. One of the reasons l left my earlier organization  was that I was not learning anything. Mentoring was completely absent.

I know of journalists who have quit organizations only because of bad bosses (including me). Some who had not-so-bad bosses have given even good a 8-10 years of their careers only to one organization in the bargain to learn.

I guess most of us who jump organizations are just looking at good mentoring. Terming it growth, by mistake.

And of course some leave for the money!

Shiv Sena and the loss of relevance

Saturday, February 13th, 2010 February 13th, 2010 Aditi PhadnisAditi Phadnis

In 1966, when Prabodhankar (a person who spreads the light of knowledge) Keshav Thackeray, who was a leading light of Maharashtra’s social reform movement, announced at a mammoth rally at Mumbai’s historic Shivaji Park, “I am offering my Bal for the cause of Maharashtra,”  Prabodhankar could not have imagined that his son one day would rule the state through his famous remote control, a man who would arouse curiosity, passion and hate across the nation.

The hangover of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement (Movement for United Maharashtra) which created the modern linguistic state of Maharashtra in 1960 had started to subside.

Marathi youth of Mumbai, who courted arrest and zealously participated in the movement to create Samyukta Maharashtra with Mumbai as its capital, were waking up to the rude awaking that though Mumbai was Maharashtra’s capital they were not really in control of it.

Businesses were owned by  Gujaratis, Marwaris and Parsees and white collar jobs were going to South Indians, who were fluent in English and trained in accountancy and short-hand. And the new rulers of Mumbai, chief ministers and ministers were not interested in their plight as their constituencies were in far flung rural Maharashtra.

Bal Thackeray, a cartoonist who had walked out of Free Press Journal in a huff in the late 1950s in protest against the management’s stand that Mumbai should be a centrally governed city state, sensed this void and decided to launch a magazine dedicated to cartoons along with his musician brother Shrikant, the father of Raj. The magazine, which was fashioned on the British magazine Punch, was called Marmik (apt comment) and it started poking fun at Gujrati Seths, South Indian clerks, Udupi Hotel owners  and Congress politicians among others – creating enduring steorotypes.

Down the line it also started to publish lists of new recruits in public sector undertakings like SBI, Reserve Bank of India, Air India and LIC  to drive home how sons of the soil were ignored. This list was titled provocatively “Vacha ani swastha Basa” (read and keep quiet).

Marmik’s runaway success attracted a large number of Marathi youth to Thackeray and finally culminated in launch of Shiv Sena on June 19, 1966.

In the first ever public meeting at which Thackeray  listed out his hate objects, interestingly Communists got top billing.  

Thackeray’s pathological hatred of Communists was a handy tool to Congress rulers who wanted to break the stranglehold of Communist and Socialist trade unions in public sector undertakings as well as the private sector in the country’s financial capital.

In fact, Thackeray and then chief minister of the state, Vasantrao Naik, shared so close a relationship that Thackeray’s party was jokingly called Vasant Sena in the state’s political circle.

Because of this, the investigation of the murder, in broad daylight, of  CPI MLA, Krishna Desai never reached its logical conclusion. Some lower rung Sainiks were arrested and a few got convicted.

But Thackeray’s Shiv Sena never grew beyond Mumbai and neighbouring Thane as Maharashtrians in the rest of Maharashtra did not see outsiders as a threat.

In fact, by the early 1980s Sena had even became marginal political player in Mumbai although its fire power was intact.

But once again, Congress chief minister Vasantdada Patil gave a lease of life to Sena. Patil, who wanted to settle scores with then Congress’s Mumbai unit chief Murali Deora, spoke about a conspiracy being hatched to separate Mumbai from the state.

The result  was obvious. The 1985 Mumbai municipal corporation elections were won by the Sena with a thumping majority – a majority that it was not able to achieve even at the height of its anti-South Indian agitation. Chhagan Bhujbal became the Mayor of Mumbai.

Sena, which had alliances with political parties right from the Praja Socialist Party, the Janata Party and even the Muslim League had an alliance with new born Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections.

Although the alliance candidate fail to win a single seat, it garnered sizeable votes in Mumbai. But again, in 1985, Sena and BJP parted ways and contested assembly elections independently.

By this time Thackeray, who had started nursing pan Maharashtra ambitions, sensed popular Hindu polarisation in the country in the wake of the Ramjanmabhumi agitation and the infamous Shahbano case and decided to champion the cause of Hindutva.

And the young general secretary of the BJP, Pramod Mahajan, realised if they teamed up with Sena which had a charismatic leader like Thackeray at the helm of affairs, the two parties could break the Congress monopoly over power in the state. Thus after lot of persuasion Thackeray agreed to contest  the 1989 Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the BJP.

The alliance was not without its pitfalls. Mahajan had to use his persuasive skills more with the Sangh and BJP leadership who saw Sena as an organisation of ruffians of little use outside Mumbai. In fact, few know that to this day, BJP leader and former President Dr Murli Manohar Joshi does not share a podium with the Shiv Sena because he feels they are against the Constitution of India.

Apart from the Hindutva plank, the opposition space vacated by Sharad Pawar who had merged his Congress (S) and returned to the Congress fold in 1986 helped Thackeray to spread his party in Marathwada and other regions of the state.

The youth from Marathwada who joined Sena were mostly from upper caste Maratha or Other Backward Classes (OBC)  but not from the elite 96 Kuli (96 families) or Deshmukh Marathas that form the core of Congress politics in the state. These were lumpen youth who were left out or marginalised by Congress’s politics of cooperative institutions.

Chhagan Bhujbal, an important OBC leader from the state, helped Sena bring OBC youth from across the state to Sena’s fold.  However, after the 1990 assembly election, the post of leader of opposition went to Manohar Joshi who went  on to become first non-Congress chief minister of the state and speaker of the Lok Sabha.  Hurt, Bhujbal waited for an opportunity and crossed the floor on the issue of Sena’s opposition to the Mandal commission.

This was a major setback for Sena but the polarised atmosphere which followed the 1992-93 Mumbai riots and blasts, helped Sena to ride to power with its alliance partner in the 1995 Lok Sabha elections.

Aggressive posturing on Hindutva and the active role played by Sena in these riots helped Sena to extend its support base in Mumbai.  Many non-Maharashtrian communities such as Gujaratis, North Indians and Kannadigas helped Sena win 31 assembly seats out of 32 in Mumbai during 1995 election.

Besides taking bold and aggressive positions on the sons of soil issue and Hindutva, its brand of Robin Hood style of politics also helped Sena to gain popularity among the masses.

Shiv Sainik stood between the citizen and corruption, made things work and offered protection in a variety of ways. Nothing is free, so petty criminalisation and extortion lubricated the vast and complex shakha machinery. But by the mid-1980s, the collections of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) were beginning to swell. At the same time, privatisation of development meant the state had to be bypassed in providing many services, in a practical manner. The Shiv Sena filled this breach. 
The rise of the Shiv Sena as a major political force across the state also heralded the rise of the second generation of Thackerays on the political scene.

The 1990s election saw Raj hitting the camping trail and people immediately realized that here was a chip off the old block.

For Swarraj aka Raj Thackeray it was always ‘ like uncle like nephew’, especially because most of his childhood and adolescence years were spent at his uncle’s house at Bandra.

For Raj, Balasaheb’s house was second home as not only were Bal and Shrikant  brothers but his mother Kundatai and Balasaheb’s wife Meenatai were sisters.

Raj was launched in politics by floating the party’s students wing called the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Sena (ABVS).  By 1995, when the party came to power Raj had established himself as youth leader and crowd puller.

Around the same time Raj’s cousin and Balasaheb’s son Uddhav, Sena’s current working president, was trying to find a foothold in politics. However Uddhav was a reluctant politician, spurred into taking bigger role in the family business by his wife Rashmi.  
How things change. Today the retiring Uddhav is firmly in command of his party, the Shiv Sena’s apparatus, surefooted and calculating, ensuring all future threats – whether it is Narayan Rane, the uncrowned king of the Konkan region in Maharashtra who was thrown out of Shiv Sena; or his cousin Raj who has recently launched the Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti (MNS) – represent no challenge to his leadership of the party.

The rift between once inseparable duo of Dadu (Uddhav) and Sonu (Raj)  began with Sena’s rise to power. Within two years of installing Sena’s chief minister at Mantralya, Balasaheb had lost wife Meenatai and elder son Bindumadha. The family patriarch started depending heavily upon Uddhav.

The organisation succeeded so long as there was Balasaheb Thackeray - larger than life, loved, feared, and revered. But he chose his son Uddhav, rather than his nephew Raj, as his formal successor. In this, Thackeray acted predictably and conventionally. He disappointed a lot of his followers. The most important of them, Narayan Rane quit the Sena and spoke out against the infallible Thackeray himself. Raj Thackeray - acknowledged to be the ‘mason’ of the Sena while Uddhav has always been considered the ‘architect’ - also walked out. Confused, the Shiv Sainiks began questioning their leadership and its ideology. Suddenly everything was negotiable. 

When faced with a setback - electoral or political - the Sena’s answer is violence. When they lost the Lok Sabha elections in 1998, Sainiks stormed the concert of Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali, they renewed their attacks on painter MF Hussain for painting nude pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses and supported the ransacking of his house by the Bajrang Dal, the youth organisation of the VHP. Sainiks dug up the ground in the Ferozshah Kotla stadium in Delhi prior to a cricket match with Pakistan. They also threatened to attack the newly established bus link between Delhi and Lahore which Prime Minister Vajpayee had just inaugurated. 

But that was all in the past. Uddhav was in charge. Raj, his cousin, couldn’t take it anymore. He left the party and launched his own outfit, the Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti (MNS).

In terms of personality the two are as different as chalk from cheese. Uddhav lacks the charisma, the firebrand oratory and the devil-may-care attitude of his father and cousin Raj. But he overcomes these handicap by being a studious, meticulous planner and hard working politician. 

When Bal Thackeray decided to turn his party from a Maharashtrian to a Hindu outfit, his instincts paid off. He could sense the popular mood in the country and state and exploited it to the hilt to expand the party across the state.  

However, when Uddhav led the party’s popular agitations on issues like  loan waiver, long hours of power cut and crumbling urban infrastructure, it was the result of a well thought out strategy to use popular anti-government sentiment against the government.

The BMC election in 2007 and subsequent victories in municipal elections elsewhere in the state have had the average Shiv Sainik bow their head in deference to Uddhav. But the 2009 Assembly elections saw the Sena lose serious electoral ground to Raj.

This is the key to understand the My Name Is Khan controversy: it is not Shahrukh Khan, and other mishmash of trivial issues. It is the Shiv sena Parivar seeking relevance.


Thursday, February 11th, 2010 February 11th, 2010 Pablo ChaterjiPablo Chaterji

When my cabbie gunned it and hurtled towards a zebra crossing, on which a woman with a baby in her arms was walking, I knew I was back home. The lunatic barrelled towards her, not taking his foot off the gas for a second, simultaneously flashing his lights and standing on the horn.

The woman took a few nervous steps forward, cradling her child tightly, and then stopped dead in her tracks upon seeing the yellow-and-black mass of metal coming straight at her. I hoped she would stay put, but she took another couple of tentative forward steps, in the utterly naïve belief that the cabbie might actually slow down and let her cross the road. Our hero was having none of it, of course; deaf to my frenzied protestations, he raced towards the crossing relentlessly, missing the woman by a foot as she ran for her (and her child’s) life.

‘Are you crazy?’ I inquired of him, posing what was probably the rhetorical question of the year. ‘Couldn’t you see the woman was on a zebra crossing, and that she had a baby in her arms?’ The fellow looked indignant. ‘So? Who asked her to cross in the middle of the road? Was she blind, couldn’t SHE see ME coming?’ I seriously contemplated head-butting the man, but I had just stepped off a 10-hour international flight and was too tired to get into fisticuffs; instead, I did the Indian thing, closed my eyes and told myself ‘We’re like this only.’  I’m going to be accused of being a whinger, of being unpatriotic and all that horse manure, but the point is this – our country, for all its multifarious charms, really sucks sometimes, and never do I feel this more acutely than when I return from a trip to a ‘Western’ country. It all usually starts at the airport. Take this particular flight back, for instance. Is it not conceivable for a major international airport like Mumbai to have an efficient baggage belt system? A full Boeing 747 worth of long-distance baggage was unloaded on one teensy belt, which jammed, rolled over and died minutes into the procedure; bags and suitcases fell off the belt. Tired and bemused passengers waited for someone to take charge until, seeing that not one official was willing to step forward, they took matters into their own hands, climbed on to the belt and moved bags so that things could get moving again. Some people, obviously first time visitors to the country, asked each other whether this was what they should expect all over India. ‘Yes!’ was the jovial answer, given by returning Indians. The visitors laughed uncertainly. I swear to you, I’ve been to little sheds abroad, acting as airports, where things function more efficiently and courteously. Why do things have to be like this here? Why?  Having collected my own bag, I made my way through the X-ray machine at the exit (I haven’t seen this in any other airport) and was promptly stopped. ‘You are having lens for your camera?’ a greasy-looking customs official asked. ‘Yes, it’s normally useful to have one to take photos with,’ I replied wearily. He made me take my camera out and examined the lens, asking for my customs declaration, filled on my way out of the country. ‘Very costly item – and looks like you have under-declared the value. You have under-declared the value?’ I was beginning to burst at the seams now. ‘You have my declaration, signed by your own colleagues. The full value has been declared. You can either let me go, as you rightfully should, or you can keep the lens and use it as a paperweight while I go home, get a good night’s rest and then make an official complaint about harassment in the morning – your call.’ He looked taken aback. Perhaps he was unused to light sarcasm. Perhaps he didn’t expect me to stand my ground quite so forcefully (I think I rather surprised myself, to be honest). He blinked at me for a while, scratched his ample belly and then wordlessly handed me back my camera. I left, only to get into the taxi mentioned previously. Why do things have to be like this here? Why?


Mad ad world and reality

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 February 9th, 2010 Sohini SenSohini Sen

Many-a-times, reel life imitates real life and vice-versa. But what do you call it when the real life starts imitating the ad world?

It all started with the Lead India campaign. But the campaign and the work which followed was by and large organized, and watched over, by the campaign makers. The citizens were guided by them and to a good result. Though the initiative did not come from the people at first, they did take it up. Teach India was, and still is, a success story. Hundreds have registered for the campaign and go to government schools after college or work and do their bit. Those who couldn’t join on time, began tutoring underpriviledged children from the neighbourhoods in their own houses. The kids got taught. The elders got to take part in the movement without being directly involved.

Likewise, the Aircel tiger campaign has struck a chord with gen X, as can be seen in the facebook groups: ‘Stripey the cub’ and ‘Save tigers’. The fact that only 1,411 of these feline beauties have survived till 2008 is depressing. And that number is only of the 2008 census. So for all you know, there might be less than a thousand of them remaining.

You know, campaigns like these have come and gone. We have shaken our heads, we have clucked in disgrace, but have seldom taken action. This time around, however, the social networkers have decided to take it a step forward. Enthusiasts and concerned people from all across the country will be meeting on February 14 in their respective cities and make a plan to bring the issue to the government’s notice. It remains to be seen whether it would bring about any change. Yet, it cannot be ignored that an ad has sparked so much interest in a problem that was always there.

This morning I heard another. Remember the Idea Cellular ad where the neta wants to know if a particular bridge should be built? And the citizens send smses supporting it? The Maharashtra government has, likewise, asked people to send in their opinions on the Best-of-five subject selection for junior colleges. If concerned people support it then the government will introduce the Best-of-five system during admission for junior colleges, a move which is already being happily appreciated by school students and their parents.

So..What do you call it when the real life starts imitating the ad world?

For now lets just call it a good start.