Archive for January, 2013

The Parivartan of club culture in Bengal

Thursday, January 31st, 2013 January 31st, 2013 Namrata Acharya

While owning a car can be in the wishlist of most middle-class individuals, traveling in public transport comes with some sops too, especially if you are one of those loquacious creatures, who find observing silence for more than a minute at a stretch, quite discomforting.

In Kolkata, you will find many such human beings. These people are born to talk, spread their inexhaustible words of wisdom to the world, and chatter with absolute strangers for hours. I have been to Delhi and Mumbai, but by far, I feel Kolkata seems to have highest concentration of such verbose people.

Then, there are some organised forms of such chatterboxes, popularly known as Para Club (local clubs). When I was a kid, these entities didn’t seem to enjoy much respect among conservatives. They were perceived as a notorious lot, who engaged in Bomabazi (bombing the neighbourhood clubs), had some Dadas (or macho men) in the frontline, and were at their best during Durga Puja, for extorting donations, or what can be best expressed only with the word “Chanda”.

On the positive side, such clubs concatenated our old tradition of Durga Puja with the present times. Again, like the headmen of villages, they could be approached anytime, for even personal problems. So, be it a case of domestic violence or medical emergency or even a case of eve teasing, you had a whole troop of men in support of your cause. Probably this was the reason that Kolkata was seen as safe place for woman and elderly. Kolkata was unlike any other metro city, one of which had a reputation of nursing the most selfish, money-minded people, in the country. Now, that is not my personal opinion. I have grown up hearing this. Leave aside, the large number of Bengalis who have migrated to Delhi for a better life, and more money.

However, in the last decade, the Para culture seems to have changed a lot in Kolkata. Like in any other city, if someone has snatched your purse at night, there would be barely any help from strangers. Durga Puja is tinged with, rather soaked in commercialisation. There are enough corporate sponsors to fund lavish set-up. These days, to donate for Durga Puja, sometimes you need to walk up to the organisers.

Probably, with a motive to resuscitate the waning clubs of Kolkata, our chief minister Mamata Banerjee decided to give one lakh rupees to each of them. But then, how can money change the social matrix, the thinking, or reverse a societal change?  Probably, today’s youth is more interested in studying for some competitive exam at home, rather than engaging themselves in a heated discussion over politics. Our 24-hour news channels and some firebrand news presenters serve the later purpose well.

Moreover, over the years, clubs have become symbols of political outfits. Though they were always associated with one party or another, never before have they received such backing in the form of monetary help from the state government.

And all these thoughts stem from eavesdropping a casual conversation in a train, where a group of women had a good time mocking the policies of state, like  distributing funds to clubs when the government is literally out with a begging bowl for funds. Certainly, times have changed. Bengal finance is the topic discussion in the Chatter Box group like never before!

Sadly, the changed government has failed to see this change.

Don’t call us, call customer care

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013 January 29th, 2013 Nivedita MookerjiNivedita Mookerji

Can you call this a moment of truth? The moment I realized my bag had slipped out of my hand and that it was too far for me to catch it, however hard I tried? I could see the bikers speed away into the dark with my deep purple bag, and my world in it.

“My bag”, is all I could faintly utter and felt an emptiness hard to explain once I began to assemble the contents in my mind, while trying to chase the almost flying bike. The black phone diary, which had thousands of numbers of bureaucrats, businessmen, economists, ministers, MPs, and even film stars, collected painstakingly over many many years, was gone, I told myself, almost stopping to breathe. Some of those numbers were not meant for dialing ever, but for embellishment of the diary. I trusted this black book more than anything else, believing that it would never let me down, even if the phone was lost.

Also remembered how my friends had pulled my leg when I spent time organizing phone numbers in that black diary while on a holiday to Lansdowne, a small hill station not very far from Delhi. Many of them, who later called to mourn the lost bag and its contents, told me that they remembered the phone diary with much fondness!

Even though my mind was stuck on the phone book, I knew I had lost many other things too. Counted the cards, six of them. “Why on earth were you carrying those many cards,” was a voice I heard from somewhere, and chose to ignore it.

Immediately after calling 100 for cops, I dialled the relationship manager of a bank. He, who calls a dozen times a week asking me to invest in some scheme or the other, offered me some out-of-the-world advice. He asked me to call the customer service, which meant waiting for several minutes before connecting to the right fellow and getting down to business. It didn’t matter to him that the snatcher could well have shopped with the newly acquired debit cards! After a few seconds of screaming at him, the relationship manager agreed to help, perhaps putting on hold his dinner or movie or both!

Oh, but another bank had offered the card protection service some time back. While I had subscribed to the service, the number wasn’t saved on my mobile; hold your breath—it was neatly written in that black phone diary, which I had lost.  Once the number was arranged through calls to colleagues, all the cards got blocked in a jiffy, and I was grateful even in the midst of sorrow that I didn’t turn away the bank exec who had introduced me to the “virtues” of the card protection service.

Getting the cards re-issued was another experience altogether. For some reason, none of the banks entertained me at the branch for re-issuing credit cards. The standard answer was, “call customer service”. For settling the debit card issue, most banks promised to get the job done in three to five working days, with varying degrees of indifference towards the customer. There was one bank however that stood out. After a few minutes of queries on the kind of card that one held, this banker handed me two envelopes—one had the fresh debit card and another the PIN—there and then.

Cash, PAN card, identity cards, cheque books were all there in that bag. All that can be handled over a period of time, I consoled myself. Some things however are irreplaceable, still trying to figure out what else was there in that not very large bag.

Besides the phone book, there was also a hand-written letter with colourful sketches and signs all over, given to me by a young colleague who was joining another media organization. I had read it many times but wanted to keep it for good. There were other precious pieces of papers too, some with scribbled verses that one had kept for reading again, sometime later. But that time may not come.

Still hopeful that I may just get back some of the things, maybe the phone book, the letter, the papers, I asked the cops at the police station whether there was any chance. “If a good soul gets any of the things and posts it, only then will you get it. Otherwise, no….”

While the cop’s reply broke my heart one more time, it’s time to look back and laugh over it. My sister reminded me it was a ‘Coach’ bag that she had got from some place and that the replacement must be a very local one for sure. My mother wanted to know if I was talking on the phone, as usual, while someone took my bag away. My colleagues wanted to know how exactly the bag was snatched. A friend, when he heard about the incident that very night, just laughed aloud as if I had cracked a joke.

But the best one was from a cop who was around while I was filing my complaint—when I mentioned PAN card as one of the lost items, he asked with a straight face, “which bank?” If nothing else, at least he cheered me up that sombre night last week!!

Zero Dark Thirty

Monday, January 28th, 2013 January 28th, 2013 J Jagannath

After her Oscar-winning PTSD saga The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow went extremely low-key with her follow-up effort Zero Dark Thirty (Army parlance for half past midnight). The movie is a blow-by-blow account of the events that led to the eventual death of the dreaded terrorist Osama Bin Laden. Anyway, what you are about to read is not a review. It’s an intervention.

Ever since the movie released it has been subjected to a lot of censure for its near-accurate depiction of waterboarding. The US Senate condemned it unanimously by saying that torture techniques was not what led to the eventual capture of Osama.

In a stunningly original critique of the movie, Ramzi Kassem wrote in the Al Jazeera that “Zero Dark Thirty lionizes those who ordered and implemented torture. In this respect, the filmmakers are complicit in reinforcing the impunity shielding the culprits”. But Kassem’s arguments have their flaws.

Bigelow never ventured out to put a spin on the original happenings. She could have been accused of that for Hurt Locker but not for this. The movie is largely faithful to Mark Boal’s astringent and factual script. Earlier last year, New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins wrote an enormous piece on how American pullout from Afghanistan is going to be eventually a messy affair.

About how the Afghan National Army can never really protect the Afghans from the terrorists. The recent spate of attacks in Pakistan on polio vaccination workers too is inextricably linked to CIA’s operation of employing a fake vaccination campaign to ferret out the details of the Abbottabad house where Osama lived his last days.

In the times that we are living in, the printed word has lost its currency. It’s the cinema that is burning the images into our cortex currently. Zero Dark Thirty has many such images. The last 45 minutes where CIA makes its plans on how to attack Osama and how finally the Navy SEALS carried it out to the T is a lesson that will forever resonate in the annals of history. 2012 had another CIA movie Argo, which made a mockery of the organization and somehow the world unwittingly loved that.

Ben Affleck’s caricaturish attempt to recreate an original event that took place in Iran is a total washout of a film that has unbelievably captured the audience. Probably the world doesn’t deserve Zero Dark Thirty yet.

We are what we speak

Sunday, January 27th, 2013 January 27th, 2013 Veenu Sandhu

Some weeks ago, while getting a flat tyre fixed at a petrol pump, I saw a middle-aged, and a rather distinguished-looking, gentleman walk up to a mechanic. It was a cold winter morning and he was wearing a hat and a red muffler. Perhaps he had come from one of the upscale localities near which this petrol pump was located. He looked like he belonged to Delhi’s educated and upwardly-mobile world.

These thoughts flashed in my mind as thoughts are wont to do and then other thoughts – of the many that keep our minds occupied during the course of the day – took over. Suddenly, an obscene abuse shouted out loud in Hindi interrupted everything and everybody at that petrol pump. All eyes turned to the source of the profanity. It was that man in the hat and the muffler – that ‘educated’, ‘civilised’ man. Expletives were pouring out of his mouth and the target of the cuss words was the mechanic who had messed up his car. The abuses that the man was shouting were aimed at the mechanic’s mother and sister. We all know those. We’ve heard them hundreds of times – on the streets, in shops, and in the movies. They are blurted out without a thought, sometimes even by us.

This incident at the petrol pump took place less than a month after the brutal rape of a 23-year-old in Delhi. The man in the hat was probably among those who had followed her story with horror and anger. And yet, here he was standing in a public place and shouting out expletives degrading to women.

In doing so, he displayed the attitude we as a society collectively have towards women. Even in our choice of expletives, we refer to the mother or the sister. When we want to hit out at a man, we will go for profanities targeted at the women in his house. It’s disturbing how often we hear such expletives today.

I remember the time when Shekhar Kapur’s film, Bandit Queen, on the life of Phoolan Devi hit theatres. There was immense curiosity about the film. Cinema halls were choc-a-bloc. The one I went to in Chandigarh had mostly students. Anybody who’s familiar with Chandigarh would know that this is a city where people choose to be proper. Life is easy and the reasons for losing your cool or abusing are few. And if you do abuse in public, you’re bound of invite several disapproving looks from the elderly uncles and aunties who are found in good measure in Chandigarh. Back in 1994, when the film was released, the city was even tamer and majority of the young folk minded their language. Bandit Queen, which is loaded with cuss words, soon had the women in the hall cringing. Given the subject and her life, I cannot imagine how else Shekhar Kapur could have delivered this brilliant film. So the movie wasn’t the problem. The problem was what I witnessed after the film. As they got out of the hall, the young men – mostly students from Chandigarh’s well-to-do, educated families – went berserk shouting profanities. They abused as they kick-started their scooters and bikes. They abused as they drove away. They abused as they crossed the women on their way. It was horrifying. All it had taken was a 119-minute film to cut through what was socially acceptable and have men switch over to the other side. In less than two hours, the film had shattered the veneer of decency which the society had been living with.

If I were to watch Bandit Queen with the same set of people today, I’m not sure the women would cringe the way they did then or the men would get out of the hall and shout out the expletives to celebrate their freedom from social and moral barriers. There’s no novelty associated with these expletives anymore. We hear them all too often now. And so we’ve progressed.

A behind-the-scenes video of Jackie Shroff which recent went viral on Facebook and Twitter shows just how far we’ve come. In this 1998 video, the actor is shooting for a pulse polio awareness advertisement in Hindi and Marathi. He keeps getting stuck on the sentences and rolls out a string of expletives degrading women. He does it again and again to the point that it is utterly disgusting. Yet, the social media was delighted and celebrated this video by posting it over and over again. Some serious news channels also carried the story and labelled Shroff’s obscene tirade as “hilarious abuses”. The man, instead of being censured for spewing such profanity, was suddenly back to being a hero.

If this is the way we are, then how can we as a people who allow or participate in such obscenity then turn around and put all the blame on the governments and the authorities when women get targeted? How much can things change until we change ourselves?

Wanted: A new King Bull for the new bull market

Friday, January 25th, 2013 January 25th, 2013 Sundaresha Subramanian

It has been a couple of decades since our only legitimate Big Bull came into the horizon. Rakesh Jhunjhunwalla famously was an outsider, who bought stocks on borrowed money and made a fortune. We have since had many non-bulls such as Harshad Mehta, Ketan Parekh and more recently Nirmal Kotecha. These non-bulls were flattered initially, only to deceive one and all very soon. They rose steeply, but soon found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Most of the other investment gurus and stock experts who pass off as bulls are salaried people, which means they are playing on other people’s money and their views and actions are driven by the interests of their paymaster. Even the more upright ones do not say and do things that may directly hurt their bosses/owners’ positions. Therefore, you often find perennial bulls as their job description does not allow them to be anything else. That makes them more of domesticated bulls.

To inspire younger investors, bring in new money and lead a new bull market, we need a new King Bull. We need him to come from outside Dalal Street, from somewhere near in Southern Tamil Nadu coast or from Kashmir’s snow clad peaks or from Wasseypur’s gangs. May be he can be a Goan with a sexy sounding Portuguese surname. But, he should not be a corporate honcho’s distant relative or his classmate in the snobbish college he dropped out from.  He should not be a broker’s son or his daughter-in-law.

Recently, I read a book review by one of the BS colleagues, which talked about how Fortune, the magazine of the rich, has had a dedicated Warren Buffett reporter for some four decades. Therefore, the drought of those iconic King Bulls is not just an Indian phenomenon.

World over it has become difficult to find real bulls because the insiders have kept it a closed club. It is not easy to break in. The scarcity of a no-strings attached, legitimate bulls, in a way points to this utter lack of information symmetry in the Street. Some cynics even say 80 per cent of the gains made in the market place today are driven by unpublished, insider information or by front running the foreign moneybags. Since small guys trust these tidbits of information more than balance sheets, a self feeding vicious cycle is created where most people are looking for these to make money in the market. This cycle invariably makes slaughter cows out of the innocent small investor, eventually making the market as shallow as it is today.

Only a head-strong, charging and brand-new King Bull can blast past this vicious cycle and bring hope for the small guy.

Why skill training is still an ugly word

Thursday, January 24th, 2013 January 24th, 2013 M Saraswathy

Skill education has been the most abused term in the Indian education system. With the employability ratios of Indian graduates decreasing, academic consultants say skill education and vocational training are the only option for these students. However, human resource officers of companies explain that instead of students enrolling into skill development courses, educational institutes should instead focus on enhancing action-based learning for students.

Institutes offering such vocational courses to students also complain of very high dropout rates. While they continue to enrol for these courses, students either do not attend half the classes or do not actively take part in the projects. All they want is a placement at the end of the course, say directors of reputed vocational training institutes. But they wouldn’t be too much concerned, as long as they have the revenues coming in.

Companies are also having to pay the price of hiring these students, whose training periods often have been extended by at least three to four weeks, according to skill trainers. And, the respective companies are having to foot the additional bill incurred per student on account of administrative expenses.

These issues could be resolved if skill training could be made part of the curriculum. Instead of spending thousands of rupees in skill training institutes, HR players suggest that skill and action based learning should be made a part of the curriculum. Giving a popular example, the human resource head of a conglomerate says that students know the name of Akbar’s father, but wouldn’t know how to stitch a button on a shirt. This is because, according to him, Indians are used to rote learning and not practical learning.

Another HR consultant suggested skill development schools be given the status of institutes of national importance, with companies being mandated to recruit a certain percentage of students from them  to prominent posts. This way, institutes could also improve the quality of teaching, and students could also get placed with reputed companies.

With the human resource development ministry outlining vocational training as one of its priority segments in the twelfth five-year plan, education sector experts expect more ’skilled’ students to graduate from these institutes and add to the productive workforce in the nation. However, they caution that unless the mental bloc towards the concept of skill training, both companies and industry would continue to face the crisis of skill shortage.

Matru depicts the real India

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013 January 23rd, 2013 Tarun Chaturvedi

India has often been described as an economy which is fast moving towards capitalism with a socialistic backdrop. Edward Luce in his book “Inspite of Gods” has rightly remarked that “India’s economy offers a schizophrenic glimpse of a high-tech 21st century future amid a distressingly medieval past.”

The quotation above sums up the theme of the latest release from the Vishal Bharadwaj stable - Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola.  The film has aptly captured the great Indian paradox – the continued coexistence of capitalist ambitions and social relations along side a predominantly non industrial agrarian based economy. Of course the quintessential Indian politician continues to play a corrupt role in this evolving interplay of the economic models. The movie very beautifully depicts all these underlying realities of the country.

Pankaj Kapur, representing the rich has a socialist heart but a mind of a capitalist. Under the influence of alcohol, his heart rules and he leads the poor farmers, in a protest march against himself. The moment the influence of alcohol recedes, his capitalist mind starts ruling his actions and he fires on the same protestors to disperse them. Does this mean that all capitalists are socialists at heart?

Imran Khan plays the JNU educated modern Indian youth who leads the farmers against the land acquisition plans of Pankaj Kapur. While doing so he manages to camouflage his real identity and guides the villagers by dropping pamphlets under the assumed name of Mao. This is good news for the Left leaders in India as he has been portrayed as a savior of the villagers.

In his effort to save the villagers, he does not mind going to a rich industrialist with a request to buy the produce of the farmers. This clearly indicates that both sides need each other to survive and thrive. A lesson which the Indian Left should learn and appreciate.

Shabana Azmi plays a greedy politician who does not mind compromising on any principles as long as she is able to achieve her goal – wealth accumulation. The politician does not understand what is good or bad for the people but clearly understands her goal of wealth accumulation and does not mind to use her office for goal fulfillment.

The end of the movie is a dream which most Indians would love to see transform into reality. The capitalist allows his heart to rule and he embraces socialism and of course the corrupt politician is thrown out of the scene.

Ah I wish the Indian politicians watch the movie and realize what they are in for.

‘Tomorrow, we study Human Reproduction’

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013 January 22nd, 2013 Kanika Datta

Mitali Saran’s column, Let’s talk about sex, baby, was a serious comment on the need for a healthy national conversation about sex, and the lack thereof, in Indian schools. Speaking from the lengthy distance of my school days, I couldn’t agree more, not least because of a mental giggle brought on by memories of the unintended expectations imposed on our unsuspecting biology teacher in middle school.

By then, most of us had a hazy notion of “it”, acquired through the time-honoured channels of half- truths and whispered comments among friends. We knew “it” came under the rubric of “forbidden pleasure” and, therefore, to feverish teen minds, a source of enduring mystery. We also knew that our parents were, in some undignified way, involved in “it” to produce us but the precise mechanics were not clear. This is no surprise in a convent school run by celibate Catholic nuns teaching the tenets of Original Sin and the Immaculate Conception in weekly catechisms, but I can pretty much bet every urban teenager thinks this way. Anyway, imagine the excitement when Mrs Kundu, entrusted with teaching us biology, announced, “Tomorrow, girls, we study Human Reproduction.”

Now, it is fair to say we processed this information quite differently from the way Mrs Kundu perceived it. But first, a word on Mrs Kundu. She was a stolid, non-nonsense housewifely type with a wide red track of sindoor running down the middle parting of her hair. It was hard to associate her with anything remotely “it”-ish. Her teaching methods veered to the conscientious. She purveyed information on topics as varied as the functioning of the amoeba (that curiously “it”-deprived creature) or peristalsis or carbon fixation with a matter-of-fact thoroughness that quite stripped these miracles of nature of any romance. It is not clear why we expected her to imbue the topic of Human Reproduction with any degree of fascination. Perhaps it indicated of our lack of formal sex education that we hoped to learn more about the sex act in a class on Human Reproduction taught by Mrs Kundu.

Either way, she had an unexpectedly attentive class that day. And predictably, by the time she finished explaining the journey of millions of “spermatozoa from the male body” up the “fallopian tubes of the female body”, we were suffering a crashing let-down. Hey, this was no enlightenment, just more stuff to mug up! “Any questions?” Mrs Kundu asked at the end of the lecture as she always did. Well of course we had, but none we could ask Mrs Kundu. Her quelling eye – she was no fool – forestalled even the most adventurous back-benchers from explicit queries. So, it was back to wildly inaccurate samizdat literature, Donna Summers’ heavy breathing and mildly “A” films. Yes, sex education would certainly have gone a long way towards filling the gaps in our teen imagination more fruitfully.

Change Your Lifestyle - Lace Wigs

Sunday, January 20th, 2013 January 20th, 2013 Abhineet KumarAbhineet Kumar

How To Cook Your Lace Wig Collection
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The Ballon d’or question

Thursday, January 17th, 2013 January 17th, 2013 Nitin Sreedhar

Lionel Andres Messi wrote yet another page in footballing history on January 7 as he won an unprecedented fourth-consecutive Ballon d’Or award at a gala ceremony in Zurich. The polka-dotted Messi humbly accepted the prestigious award, thanking a long list of well-wishers who voted for him. The diminutive Argentinean — via a Catalan Tv channel — later thanked Barcelona Coach Tito Vilanova and teammate Eric Abidal (both of them had taken ill). He mentioned how their absence had taken away a part of Barcelona and it was encouraging to see that both of them were on the road to recovery.

With 41.6% of the votes, Barcelona’s crown jewel was the clear winner. He pipped his Real Madrid archrival Cristiano Ronaldo (23.68%) and teammate Andres Iniesta (10.91%) to the award.

But from the viewpoint of an ardent soccer follower it would be fair and just to say that perhaps Messi shouldn’t have been awarded the award this time out. It is true that in the past year, Messi has broken several records. In winning the Ballon d’Or for the fourth time he broke Michel Platini’s record itself. He also broke Gerd Muller’s long-standing world record for the most goals scored in a calendar year, which also saw him surpass the legendary Pele. He ended 2012 at an astonishing 91 goals. Despite his extraordinary goal-scoring prowess, it is logical to add that Messi did not have the league or cup success which would have complimented his marvellous feats and maybe made him a worthy winner. Barcelona, with Messi, failed to defend their La Liga crown and could not retain the coveted UEFA Champions League. Real Madrid toppled them from the helm at the La Liga, and one of the main catalysts behind Madrid’s record-breaking performance last season was Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portugal skipper was in blistering form last season. He amassed an astounding 60 goals in 55 appearances in all competitions. 46 of them came in the league itself. In doing so, he was also awarded the Trofeo Alfredo Stefano — the best La Liga player of the season. Ronaldo’s goal-scoring exploits helped Madrid record 100 points in one season; 121 goals scored and a massive goal difference of +89.

Barcelona did keep the pressure on Madrid last season, but Messi — the heart of the team — failed to titivate his teams vibrant play and Tiki-taka style of play. Ronaldo on the other hand inspired Real to victories, putting in match-winning performances.

But awarding Messi his 4th Ballon d’Or already — when he has a whole glittering career ahead of me — looked more like a formality.

And one should spare a thought for Andres Iniesta. The Spanish playmaker has been virtually overshadowed by his Argentinean teammate at Barcelona. But it was Iniesta’s irreplaceable midfield- combination with Xavi that provided Messi ample opportunities to put the ball in the back of the net. They have literally been the brains behind Messi’s performances most of the time.

If it was upon me to pick a worthy winner for the shining Ballon d’Or, based on their performances in the past year, clubbed along with their respective team honours, it would undoubtedly be Ronaldo. The Portuguese hotshot has bought a new dimension to Real’s attack ever since his world-record transfer from Manchester United four years ago.

And if not Ronaldo, then Iniesta surely would have topped the lot. Messi…? Probably not this year…