Thursday, March 30, 2006 

Fashion Weeks and Wardrobe Malfunctions

It’s that time of the year again. Another India fashion week has got under way. So it will be more designers strutting their creativity on more models on the ramp once more. Does the average non-page 3 really care? Does he see anything that one can wear? Why then the hype and glamour surrounding the fashion week?

For any average person, a fashion week just means an opportunity to ogle at gorgeous models. Both men and women are more interested in what the models are not wearing, rather than what they are. Most of the dresses on show are completely unwearable for the non party-goer. Would you wear a sheer dress to your office? Or go to the mall wearing a long feathered hat? Whom are the designers kidding?

A regular feature of these fashion weeks have been wardrobe malfunctions. The Lakme India Fashion Week began on the 28th of March, and in the past three days has already seen two incidents of wardrobe malfunctions already. The term “Wardrobe Malfunction” caught public attention after the Janet Jackson fiasco at the superbowl. But in the Indian context, it becomes more important.

A few years back, Negar Khan had a wardrobe malfunction on the ramp, where she got noticed by a music video maker. How, after that she went on to become the queen of music videos and item-numbers, is history. So, for any model looking to tread this path, a wardrobe malfunction is an easy way to get noticed. A model who can keep her cool after her dress falls off, is certainly not shy at exposing, hence ideal stuff for item-numbers. Also, these wardrobe malfunctions have provided the fashion week with free publicity as well.

However it does not mean that all wardrobe malfunctions are engineered. There is some merit to the fact that there is little time between successive appearance on the ramp, which allows any model little time for change of costume, make-up and hair. So an accident is always a possibility which cannot be ruled out.

And anyways when the interest of the majority of the audience is in what is not worn, a wardrobe malfunction is always welcome thing!

Thursday, March 23, 2006 

Nullifying the effect of Amrit

According to Hindu mythology, the Amrit is a drink that provides immortality.

After the general elections of 2004, Sonia Gandhi had taken what could be called the political equivalent of the Amrit, by sacrificing the topmost executive post of the country, the office of Prime Minister. By doing this, it was widely believed (and projected) that Mrs. Gandhi had proved that she had no love for high offices, and was doing everything out of her love for the country.

It was this Amrit that protected Mrs. Gandhi from the actions of the government, time and again. Be it the Oil-for-food scam, the Quattrochi Scandal, or the midnight dissolution of the Bihar assembly, no fingers were pointed as Mrs. Gandhi, simply because she wasn’t heading the government. She was simply the head of National Advisory Committee (NAC), with the power to look at any official document, but accountable for nothing.

Somewhere in the same universe, a non-descript Congressman by the name of Madan Mohan filed a case against a Jaya Bachchan for holding two government offices of profit simultaneously. The poor lady defended herself saying that she hadn’t received a cent of the other office she held, hence should not be disqualified from the Rajya Sabha. But the EC interpreted it as not just what she was receiving, but also what she was entitled to receive, that made her ineligible.

Jaya Bachchan’s party found out that the same clause was applicable to the head of NAC. And the proverbial Pandora’s Box was opened. Suddenly all the Madam’s Congressmen were running helter-skelter to protect their Soniaji. The only way out was the promulgation of an ordinance, which left the head of NAC out of offices of profit. The parliament was adjourned sine die, as an ordinance cannot be promulgated when the parliament is in session.

And thus the effect of Amrit was nullified. There was an office (of profit, may I add) that Mrs. Sonia Gandhi wanted, unlike the popular perception. Mrs. Gandhi suddenly isn’t willing to sacrifice her parliament seat now, as she sacrificed her Prime Minister ship. Why is the heading the NAC more important to Mrs. Gandhi as compared to being the PM?

Well, one of the reasons is that the prime minister’s post is a crown of thorns, especially when heading a coalition government. Also the Prime Minister is held responsible for the failings of the government. Mrs. Gandhi got effective control over the PM’s post, minus the accountability. It was a win-win situation for her.

Mrs. Gandhi now finds herself in a sticky situation. The promulgation of an ordinance would take the sheen off her sacrifice, while being out of the NAC would leave her without any control on the government.

Monday, March 20, 2006 

Commonwealth Games: Reminders of North East

The first Gold of the 2006 Commonwealth Games for India was won by N. Kunjarani Devi. Kunjarani hails from Manipur, one of the smallest states of India, one of our seven sisters. She is just one of a strong lineup of (non-cricketing) Indian sportspersons the North East has given to the country.

Pemba Tamang too hails from the same state as Kunjarani, and has won India gold as well. There is a long line of sportsperson from the NE. Bhaichung Bhutia, India football’s poster boy, hails from Sikkim. So does Tomba Singh, another Indian footballer. Half of last commonwealth games’ gold winning Indian women’s Hockey team was from the North East.

If we look at our contingent of athletes to any international sporting event, one generally sees a lot of faces from the North East. Considering the size of the North East, these athletes have brought India more than their proportionate share of glory in the international arena. However, until the time they win medals at such events, the North East is generally absent from the national consciousness. Some people consider the commonwealth games as just a part of the colonial hangover. However the games hold much more importance, more so with India and its diversity.

Why is it that so many sportspersons emerge from the North East? Yes, the difficult mountain life makes them hardier, but that’s not the only reason.

While the rest of India looks at education to provide them with a better means of livelihood, sports are considered as the manna in the North East. Now considering the deplorable condition of non-cricketing sports and sportsmen in India, one wonders if it’s the right choice. Well, this is just an indicator of how living conditions are in the North East.

The North East is suffering from acute neglect by the nation, and this has given rise to insurgency. Just take a look at the fierce pride on the face of Kunjarani Devi while saluting the national anthem. Can one believe that her state is suffering from secessionist militancy?

Saturday, March 18, 2006 

If India had a Marxist PM: My Take.

In a very interesting article on Rediff, Amulya Ganguli explores what would happen if India had a Marxist PM. He seems to have forgotten a few things. Here’s what I think would also have happened.

In all probability, India would handover not just Sikkim, but the entire North East to China as a gift, for being kind enough to allow India to exist. In addition, there might even be a promise of India replicating the red revolution. General Mao, Lenin, Stalin and Marx would replace Mahatma Gandhi on our currency notes.

The police force would be wound up. Instead, Naxalites would become the internal peace keeping force. If the government faced a shortage of internal security forces, Maoists from Nepal would be imported.

It would be a criminal offence to leverage technology. All machines would be replaced by humans, thus solving our employment problems. Any one earning over Rs. 100000/- a year would be arrested.

Books written by Romila Thapar would be textbooks for all subjects. The golden period of India would be that of Aurangzeb, and History textbooks would be full of his heroic acts of protecting his people from the atrocities of religious zealots like Shivaji and Guru Govind Singh. All revolutionaries and freedom fighters would be painted as stooges of the British Empire. India would get its freedom out of economic compulsions of the West, rather than the sacrifices of our martyrs.

The IITs and IIMs would be replaced by JNU clones. There will be reservations for illegal (they won’t be illegal then) Bangladeshi migrants in them.

Saurav Ganguly would be the captain of Indian Cricket team once more. There would be seven other Bengali players, the rest from Kerala. All imports from Australia would be banned.

Our Nuclear weapons will be gifted to Ahmedinijad, so as to show the rest of the world, how disarmament should be practiced. In return perhaps we could get some oil.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006 

TOI Goofs up Again!

We TOI readers don’t expect much from it. We know the news will have its bias, lots of pages will be wasted on tabloid worthy news, and there will be ads of indiatimes, planet M and other sister concerns masquerading as news. All we ask is to give us the content where we are used to reading it. That is the only reason we are addicted to the newspaper.

The Mumbai edition today saw another goof up. Maybe the editor had a dose of Bhaang before editing the newspaper. Maybe it was the columnists. Maybe it was just the intoxication of being a superbrand. Because today (14 March 2006), in the Mumbai edition, there appears the same article twice, under different headings. On page 16, which happens to be dedicated International News, there is an article by Rashmee Roshan Lall, titled “Low Skilled EU losing out to Asian big guns”. The same article by the same columnist also appears on its Business page (page 17) under the title “Old Europe may lose out to young Asia”.

Those in Mumbai (or subscribers of Mumbai edition) may check out the pages for a laugh. Others can log on to if you have an indiatimes (free) login, selecting Mumbai as the city. Click on international --> 16, and business --> 17 (In case one needs to check it after today, one may go to the archives.)

I think the Times group, after being voted a superbrand, is taking its Mumbai readers too lightly. Yes, the newspaper comes in the form of a thick bundle, with N number of supplements (including the tabloid called Mumbai Mirror). But hardly any of the supplements contain anything worth being called news. With Hindustan Times and DNA biting on the heels, it will not be long before a bored audience switches over to one of these. (As for me, I have subscribed to both TOI and HT).

Friday, March 10, 2006 

Formula 1: Changing Rules, Changing Fortunes?

The New Formula 1 season begins today at Bahrain with the qualifying session. Last season had its share of controversies, with the Indianapolis fiasco being the major one. With only teams on Bridgestone tyres racing, Ecclestone’s vision of making F1 the #1 motorsport in Nascar country were dealt with a major blow. The last season also saw some new rules, which saw the end of Ferrari domination of the sport. This year too many changes will be seen, some in the teams, others in the rules of the game.

There are two major changes in rules this year, one of them being the reintroduction of tyre changes. This will be beneficial to all, as the changes in weather can be set off by changing tyres according to changing weather conditions, thus making the race fair. (The next season will see a single tyre maker rule, so that another Indianapolis can be avoided.)

The second change is that V10 engines have been replaced by less powerful V8 ones. This will bring down top speeds. Drivers will also find lesser power and torque to get them out of tight spots, so the emphasis will shift from speed to control.

The qualifying sessions will see a completely different format, that of a Knockout. In 2006 season qualifying will involve 3 sessions.

Session 1, 15 minutes: 5 slowest drivers will be eliminated
Session 2, 15 minutes: next 5 slowest drivers will be eliminated
Session 3, 20 minutes: 10 drivers will compete for the grid

(Don’t know how it will work, so be ready to tune in to watch the qualifying, live in some time.)

On the grid, one will find old faces in new colours. Ruebens Barrichello will be seen outside his traditional Ferrari reds donning the Honda outfit. Fillipe Massa will replace him in the Ferrari team. Our local lad Narain Karthikeyan will be missing from the grid. McLaren cars will be sporting a new look, out of their traditional black to a new pink-blue combination. A new team, Aguri Suzuki will be lining up as well.

Another bad season this year my see Schumi hang up his boots, while a championship might delay it for quiet some time. Will Barrichello be able to assert himself in his new team? Will Massa be given a free hand, or need to play second fiddle? What impact will the new rules have? Will change in colours change the fortunes of McLaren? Will Button win a Grand Prix? Answer coming up these season, do watch out!

Thursday, March 09, 2006 

On Women's Day & Modern Feminists

As has been my ideology, I don’t believe in special days. Even in my earlier posts, I have been critical of being a way just for a particular day, and forgetting all about it the very next. International Women’s day is one such day, chauvinist and discriminatory. Shouldn’t feminists realise that by celebrating one day a year as women’s day, all they manage to do is make the remaining 364 days, de facto men’s days?

But the feminist movement has been such, full of symbolism. Feminists have demanded equal rights through affirmative action, using terms like the glass ceiling as an excuse for this. But it is obvious, looking at the history of reservations, that it is a discriminatory practice, and serves only to deepen whatever divide it was supposed to narrow. Many of the same feminists claim to be against any kind of reservations, but find an excuse for supporting the women’s bill.

Feminism is also a matter of convenience. Feminist have battled in many places to get women included in areas considered male bastions. But most of these are domains of convenience. There are many laws that discriminate against women from entering particular specializations as they are seen to be hazardous (These fields are equally hazardous for men). But feminists never argue that the same thing is anti-women or anti-equality. An example of this is Mining Engineering in India which continues to be a male bastion, as law does not permit women to enter mines. (Why allow women in armed forces then? Aren’t they equally hazardous?)

Many of the laws supported by feminists, like the anti-dowry law, are draconian in nature. It allows no room for the alleged culprit to prove his innocence. Many husbands have been harassed by their wives through the misuse of this law, but I haven’t heard a feminist complain.

It is always difficult to understand feminists. If you open the door for them you are an MCP, but if you don’t you lack basic courtesy. On one hand the expect chivalry, but on the other hand they will condemn chivalry as treating women as an inferior species.

I don’t understand if feminists are just confused themselves or out to confuse others. I believe that feminist movement has fallen prey to self interest, and is being abused by publicity hunters. As with all equality movements be it gender, caste, race, or religion the mission seems to be hijacked by symbolism more then benefit of women.

Saturday, March 04, 2006 

Protest against Bush Vs. Public Opinion

The American president was on a visit to India, and if one is to look at the media, it seems that the peoples of the entire sub-continent are up in arms against him. At the same time, the government heads, and the oppositions are seen shaking hands with the president with a big smile on their faces, welcoming him with open arms. And this is the largest democracy in the world. Isn’t there a contradiction here? In a democracy, isn’t the government supposed to reflect the will of its people?

But the question is: Do the protest actually reflect the will of the people? Do Indians actually hate Bush? Do we hate America? Do we really think that linking up with the US is against India’s interests? Or are these protest the voices of a very vocal minority, namely some sects of India Muslims, and the Leftists? Are these protests actually against the deplorable human rights record of President Bush?

A poll conducted by Outlook Magazine may hold some answers. In the poll conducted in major cities of India, 66% agreed that Bush was friend of India, something the president himself quoted. Only 19% disagreed. Similarly, 46% said they loved USA when asked their feeling towards the country, compared to 14% who hated it. People who hated US or were neutral to the country were asked if India needs the US, surprisingly 54% agreed. And yet, with all this love, 72 % Indians think that America is a bully. And if it was about human rights, why weren’t the same people protesting when the Chinese premier arrived in India? What was Ms. Arundhati Roy doing then?

What does this poll indicate? That the protesters are completely out of sync with the public opinion. That the leftist are only addressing their constituency. That the protesters are playing to a gallery, just strengthening their vote-banks. It doesn’t matter to them, if in the process, they project a poor image of India, or even if they disrespect a state guest.

I remember General Parvez Musharraf using the term silent majority to reflect the Pakistani feelings towards the 9/11 terror attack. Why is the Indian majority silent? Why not let the majority voices be heard?

Alas! The answer lies in political correctness. The attitude of the Indian polity is such that speaking against the minority, irrespective of how wrong they are, becomes a symbol of communalism. So our political parties, in order to retain their "secular" structure, turn a blind eye to their excesses.

Thursday, March 02, 2006 

A Hair Raising Story

I hadn’t met a close friend for some time, so I invited him over to my place for a coffee. It was almost six months since I met him. The moment he saw me, the first thing he said was, "What’s with the pony-tail?"

For the past few weeks I was asked this question increasingly. "It’s a long story" I said, looking to put him off. "I am not going anywhere", he said.

It was a Sunday morning a few months back. I got up, half-asleep and went through my morning ritual. While brushing my teeth, I looked into the mirror. My mane had really grown. I had been putting of the haircut for too long now. My appearance was similar to people who had been mistakenly been identified as terrorists. So I decided to head to the barbershop before I had a bath.

As one can guess, being a Sunday morning, there was a queue outside the barbershop. I remembered my reflection in the mirror and decided to wait. I frittered away time looking through a range of outdated Mayapuris and Screen (Hindi) lying outside. Bored of waiting, and suffering from hunger pangs, I was just about to leave, when I was called in.
As I entered to the loud Tum to thehre pardesi playing in the background, I saw that the barber signaling me to the only empty chair was a young guy barely 15. The appearance didn’t arouse my confidence in his hair cutting skills. In jest, I asked him, " Kya Chhotu, pehle kabhi kisiske baal kaate hain?"

"Kya baat karte ho sahib! Aap ke sar pe baal hain usse zyaada logon ke baal kaate hain". Taken aback, I checked my hairline in the mirror. I knew that my hairline had started receding, but had baldness set in overnight? Checking twice, I assumed it to be a gross exaggeration. Still apprehensive, I took a seat, just because all other barbers looked busy, and I had waited long enough. "I need not worry until he takes the scissors in his hands", I thought. Instantaneously, I realised how wrong I was.

The barber now draped me in a white apron and tied it behind my neck so tight, that it began choking me. Unable to speak, I pointed towards it vigorously, but the fellow did not notice. Somehow I managed to loosen the apron using my finger. It was now that he noticed me and said, " Zyaada tight tha to bolna chahiye na sahib", and loosened the knot. Now it was so loose, that falling hair would go into my clothes. Given the choice between breathing and avoiding pricking hair, I chose the former, and didn’t comment. I was going to have a bath anyways. "Baal jyaada lambe ho gaye hain, chhote kar dena", I said.

Then the barber picked up a comb. Seems harmless doesn’t it? But in his hand, it was no less than a weapon. He tried to run the comb through my dry hair, (forgetting the basic tenet of barber-ism, wet the hair first), pulling it nicely until some of my hair decided to depart from the scalp. This reminded him, and he sprayed water on my head, drenching it completely. Now the comb would run smoothly. But the barber continued to run the comb well after my head, scratching my neck in the process.

Not too bothered by these little irritations, I kept quiet. He now picked the scissors. I shuddered, but controlled myself. Things didn’t seem to be going to bad until he came to the edges or my hairlines. Trying to trim the edges, he poked my skin with the scissor. I flinched. To add insult to injury, the barber said, " Itna hiliye mat sahib, hiloge to lag jaaega". Not wanting to use the choicest expletives in a place where people knew me, I kept quiet. The poking continued, (It seems the barber was enjoying it) as I struggled to keep myself still. (I didn’t want to give him an easy excuse to hurt me more).

He picked the razor, and cut me in a few places, commenting every time, "Aap hilte bahut hain sahib". As if the pain wasn’t enough, he would rub every cut with a piece of alum, causing a sharp burning sensation in the cuts. I decided to close my eyes throughout the rest of the process.

"Ho gaya sahib!" said he. Music to my ears! I opened my eyes. Oh horror of horrors! My hair had been made mincemeat of. It seemed like someone had let loose a goat in my hair, and it had eaten away patches of it. Most of it was so short, that it stood on its end. Angrily, I asked the barber what he had done. Very innocently he replied, "Aap hi to kahe the, chhote kar dena". I regretted my choice of words.

"From that day I decided, come what may I’ll not cut my hair." I told my friend, "And wipe that grin on your face!! What happened was by no means funny." Controlling his laughter my friend replied, "Well, It wouldn’t sound funny to me as well, if I were you!"

(Other than the phony pony tail, the rest of the incidents are based on real life incidents in my life, albeit at different instances at barbershops)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006 

Budget 2006: Mixed results

I had earlier put down some expectations for the budget. Some of them were fulfilled. Others, I didn’t expect to be fulfilled. Yet others, which I expected to be fulfilled, weren’t. Here’s how it went.

1. Improve infrastructure: With Rs 18,696 crore allocated for Bharat Nirman Mission, Rs 4,595 crore allocated for Urban Renewal Mission, metro rail consideration for Hyderabad, Chennai, power generation capacity to be increased 5,038 MW this year, and a host of other measures, the FM has done as expected, full credit to him. Implementation however has never been our strong point. The FM needs to ensure that the money reaches where it is required to go.

2. Create job opportunities in rural areas: Rs. 14,300 cr spending for rural employment programme, 50 m rural telephone connections in 3 years, budgetary allocation for Rural Infrastructure Development Fund has been stepped up to Rs 10,000 crore in 2006-07. A job well done, again pay attention to implementation.

3. Encourage English education: Education allocation up in FY-07 to Rs 24,154 cr, allocation for national Urdu education programme increased to Rs 13 crore from Rs 10 crore. Nothing done here. A big disappointment. The Urdu education corpus was unnecessary. Minority Politics?

4. Abolish (or at least modify) FBT: FBT was modified, albeit symbolically. No real changes, except reduction of FBT on business conveyance from 20% to 5%. Telephones at least should have been spared.

5. Tax agricultural Income: Did not realistically expect this, especially from a government whose strings are pulled by the left. (P.S.: Nothing was done)

6. Reduce the burden on the Oil companies, as well as the housewife: The FM did just the opposite. He raised duties on Petro-products. Tough times ahead, as any increase in petrol prices lead to an overall inflation. Another thumbs down.

7. Don’t listen to the left: Again, the FM did the opposite. Not a word on reforms. For the past few years, one has become accustomed to hearing a major reforms announcement in the budget. This year, one expected at least labour reforms, but nothing was done.

8. Increase expenditure on sports: The FM increased allocation for sport of Rs 162.01 crores in the budget for the next financial year. But the disappointment was 150 crores for the next commonwealth games preparation, which are to be held in Delhi in 2010. So that leaves only Rs. 12.01 crore for actual sports.

9. Introduce inheritance tax: Didn’t expect it realistically, didn’t happen

10. Please do not mask old schemes as new ones: This is what the FM did last year, and he continues to do the same.

In addition, there were a lot of steps taken in the budget, some very good, others, not so good. Here is my analysis

· Increase in defence spending (Rs. 89000 crore): Unnecessary, especially in view of improving Indo-Pak relations.

· Cut on customs duty on Textiles (from 16 to 8%): A great move, looking to leverage the benefits of NAMA for the textile industry. But unless the issues of labour reform are addressed, will the textile industry be competitive enough?

· Decrease in duties on small cars: Aimed at making India a small car-producing hub. Good initiative, but why limit ourselves to small cars? Why not all kinds of automobiles? We can at least dream big, can’t we?

· Decrease in duties on aerated drinks, condensed milk products, pasta: Unnecessary. These are, by no stretch of imagination, essential commodities. The money generated from these was required. Whom is the FM trying to woo?

· Increased service tax: Simply outrageous. People were expecting service tax to go or drop to 5%, but the FM increased it to 12%. Indirect taxation helps no one. If the service sector needs to be taxed, why not impose the tax directly?

Somewhere, in a poll year, the Finance Minister seems to have lost focus. In trying to please everyone, the FM has pleased no one. The left turn by the finance minister leads the economy nowhere.