November 22, 2012

New York and Mumbai

My stay in the US has been enlightening. The US is no longer a country whose sights and smells I felt in Hollywood movies. It is real, it is here - the sights, the tourist destinations, the roads, the rules, the cops, the accent, the greetings, the sense of being a misfit. While I'm getting to know this country a lot better, I'm also getting to know my own country a lot better and how a big mess it is in. I am getting a chance to have a look at my country from an external viewpoint and the view is disappointing.

Politics, goons who become politicians, fast food being labeled as a catalyst for rape, maximum city being reduced to a minimum after the death of a leader, women arrested for voicing their opinion on this bandh, their relatives' livelihood being broken to pieces by vandals. Our country is such a mess. It is not that I am realizing this only now - I did get to see such things when I was back in my own country, where media runs free (amok). But, now, I am able to objectively compare this country with my own. Every new thing I see here, I wonder when it will be seen in our own country. Traffic rules being obeyed, respect for personal space and opinion, smooth and hassle-free public processes, innovative use of technology in common aspects of life. Life is a lot easier here, life is valued more, life has a lot of breathing space and money. Life very much revolves around the self.

And, this is exactly where my country is ahead - culture. Our culture tries to prevent us from being self-centered - decisions are influenced by family, marriage is a social occasion and a one-time commitment (though that is changing, and that gives credence to our 'cultural guardians' when they say we are getting 'westernized'), friends have a different meaning in our lives, parents are priority before marriage and wife and kids after marriage. I have hardly scratched the surface, or maybe missed the whole point, in describing our culture - most of the features I have listed about our culture apply to most other cultures, even the US culture. We all know what the Indian culture is about, I just can't put it in enough words.

And it is exactly this culture that puts my country behind. Our culture wreaks havoc in the public service system and leaves a lot of room for corruption, lack of accountability and general callousness. Khap panchayats, regional political parties, the caste system (it still determines who marries who), illogical reservations in the education system. These are just some of the outcomes of our culture. I listen to general discussions about the Indian and US cultures here, and the Indian supporters fall flat on their faces, when the point of public accountability comes to the fore.

So, when we hear an NRI say that he would never like to come back to India, our neo-patriots scoff and mock him saying that 'money is money after all'. I'd say, it's not just the money, it's a lot more. Yes, our country is more human (People manage to survive in Mumbai inspite of the sheer size of the population, imagining New York with this population would engender a book in its own. Hurricane Sandy showed just how shallow the human heart is here - people attacked each other when there were long queues for gas). But, I'd say the NRI is justified.

We visited New York the other day and when we reached Times Square (this is where I witnessed the most number of people in one same place inside the US, although Andheri station in peak hours easily beats this crowd), my friend said, "This feels like Mumbai".


April 25, 2012

Mumbai autos: the tariff guide

On an unfortunate day like today when I had to travel home from office in an auto-rickshaw, I had a chance to look up the new tariff card, which has been made effective from 20th April, 2012. I verified the tariff card to be genuine, thanks to an article I read in the paper a few days back. The fares are costly now, no doubt, but the fares are easier to calculate now.

The fare card says that the minimum fare is Rs.12, and Rs. 7.5 for every km after. It basically translates that for very tick of the meter, the fare increases by Rs. 1.50. That in turn translates to a nice little formula you can use to calculate the fare of any auto-journey. Read on:
  1. There are 4 digits in the meter. Separate the first 2 digits and the last 2 digits, with a decimal point, e.g. 1020 means 10.20
  2. Multiply by 15 e.g. 10.20 x 15 = 153
  3. Subtract 3  e.g. 153 - 3 = 150
Simple! Now that there are cell phones with calculators, you can use this formula to make sure that the auto-guy is not cheating you with a fake tariff card. Hope this helps!

April 21, 2012

BEST management ever

Some 3 weeks back, there was this horrific news story of a BEST bus overturning at high speed. Reading the article and thinking how it might have happened, I imagined myself being in that damned bus. Picture this:

Seated at the window, I feel a sense of adventure as the bus speeds and honks its way on the highway, brushing smaller vehicles aside, swerving at the corners and bumping over the speed-breakers. Being me, I enjoy the ride, happy that I'll reach my destination soon, even as some of my co-passengers swear at the bus-driver and some others share my joy. Some uncles are visibly angry, some discuss about the BEST's plight and stuff, and maybe, some lady is arguing with the conductor. Everyone sense something might go wrong. But, no one acts. They all just swear and abuse, the bus-conductor timidly listens, or abuses back, giving some lame excuse but none of them move their asses to get the right thing done - confront the driver and stop him. I am having a good laugh, as I always do when I hear people abusing each other in regional languages!

After some time, the story happens. The bus-driver is in cruise mode and jumps a signal, making a really sharp right turn at high speed. That's the blood-freezing moment when everyone realizes it is a double-decker bus and it is quite surely overturning to the left side. Everyone braces themselves, hanging on to something. This does not happen everyday, I do not remember seeing such a scene in any movie as well. The scene that comes closest is from the fantastic "Speed", where Sandra Bullock makes the hijacked bus take a sharp right turn, but not before everyone moves to the right. So, the bus flips back on to its wheels and moves on. This BEST bus is hijacked alright, it is already overturning, Keanu Reeves has not instructed, "This side of the bus, please, this side!", and before I complete my thought, there is a loud crash and screech of glass against mortar. The bus stops, finally, not on four wheels, though!

Seated on the left side, I bear the brunt of the accident - my back is to the ground, window glass lies shattered beneath me, there are people on top of me in a jumbled state and I can barely breathe under their weight and smell. Till the passengers come to their senses (it takes some 15-20 minutes!), I am still there, but I am used to it by now. I adjust a bit here and there and manage to survive. At the time I am rescued, it is 90 minutes since the bus has overturned - 90 grueling minutes of some sort of a forced yoga position. I have fractured something, but I feel lucky to have survived it. It could have been worse, but this is good enough for me.

In fact, none of my co-passengers died because of this freak accident. You may be feeling good, right, but hang on! The bus crushed a bike when it overturned. THE BUS (17 ton double decker) CRUSHED A BIKE (0.5 ton Pulsar) WHEN IT OVERTURNED (at some 50-odd speed). The bike, of course, had a rider (0.07 ton average guy), and he was the sole casualty of this freak show. Imagining being a passenger is okay, but imagining being in this man's position is what gives me the blood-curdle.

Back to reality - From the next day (and this was immediately apparent, since I am a regular traveler), bus drivers were more cautious. I noticed it in my daily beloved super-express 489 bus. No flyovers, no overtaking other buses, just sad, slow, harrowing journeys. I took this up with a friendly 489 bus-conductor and he admitted that it was a "management decision" to not overtake buses, especially those on the same route. What sort of a solution is this! Safe driving does not mean slow driving! This is the solution coming out of the minds of the illiterate literates sitting at the "management" positions of the BEST. These super-men have masterminded (of course, inadvertently) the declining revenues of the BEST over the years, making disastrous decisions with AC buses and silly decisions with bus routes and ticket fares. BEST bus conductors themselves admit that these "management" guys are no-gooders, lacking basic common sense - good business sense is a far cry. God bless the BEST!

April 1, 2012

Why do we blog

Hi, if anyone is reading this. It has been more than 2 years since I have posted anything worthwhile here, and sometimes I wonder why. When I first started off this blog, I was eager to try something new, get my ideas out into the world, etc. etc. But, as time passed, the ideas were forgotten, the posts got fewer, the content got drab, and the blog reduced to nothing. This can be attributed to many things - freakish job schedule, rubbish internet connection (MTNL Triband - zero connectivity in monsoon and when you need it!), general disinterest, little/negative feedback to the blog, but the main reason was lack of commitment. And a blog is like a relationship - if you ain't committed, it ain't gonna work.

Whenever I felt like posting something here, but I couldn't bring myself to log in to blogger, let alone posting something here. Unlike many other blogs, this blog is not for a business (I have no business! :P), and my motivation to earn (through AdSense) is little. In fact, this lack of motivation to blog was a part of a larger lack of motivation to live. (I do not want to delve into the reasons for this at this moment!)

So, what has changed now? Why is this blog post coming through and getting published? It is the realization of the value of commitment. I met someone special in the past week, and out of the many things I admire about her, one is her level of commitment. I realized that if I had even an iota of her level of commitment, I can progress in life and be happier. I had created this blog for my own satisfaction, and I must be committed to posting here, whatever the post content might be. After all, a blog is a public diary, and you can write anything in your diary.