Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Grand Welcome into Hong Kong

Neeti and I landed in Hong Kong this morning. The uneventful journey from Bombay into Chep Lap Kok was quite uneventful. But I couldn't help but appreciate the serenity of Chep Lap Kok despite being the 13th busiest airport in the world.

Despite the considerable distance between the aerobridge and the immigration counters, a series of escalators and inter-terminal trains helped us cover the distance in just about 10 minutes. The thought that has gone into designing the airport has undoubtedly increased the convenience factor manifold. Naturally, Chep Lap Kok had been consistently rated highly in airport rankings.

After a few minutes in the immigration queue, it was our turn.

The officer scanned our passports over and over again and asked us to follow him. We were ushered into the immigration office, a sterile, bare room resembling a hospital OPD.

The room had quite a few people who appeared to be Indians, Pakistanis, Vietnamese and Filipinos. Our passports were handed over to an officer at the entrance. Neeti asked if there was any issue, if they needed any clarification, but we were tersely asked to wait, patiently.

That was quite an insult.

Despite feeling disgusted, we had no option but to wait a while. After about 10 minutes, a lady officer summoned me. I was asked to explain why I was in Hong Kong. Explanations were not enough, we had to produce documentary evidence - details of hotel bookings, return tickets, proof of employment in India, besides the Hong Kong Dollars that we were carrying alongwith credit cards.

The lady took her own time to xerox all the documents.

What the hell was she upto?

After another 10 - 15 minutes of waiting in the "hospital - like" environment, we were ushered out to the immigration counters, where our passports were stamped with 14-day visa, no further questions asked, thankfully. No explanations were offered either, for why we were detained.

Aren't Indians entitled to a 14 day visa on arrival in Hong Kong? Wasn't I a bona-fide business visitor? Aren't HKD 9,000 sufficient for me in addition to my credit cards? Or was it my support for the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause on my blog, the real issue? I still haven't been able to figure out.

We proceeded to the baggage claim area without saying a word to the officer or each other, both of us were feeling very insulted.

As we took the Airport Express into downtown Hong Kong, I realised that I could have been a victim of some kind of racial profiling of sorts, the kind of stuff even our politicians and celebrities have gone through.

I dream of the day when such insults will be things of the past, when Indians would not need any visas to travel anywhere, when Indian Rupees would be the preferred currency the worldover, on lines of the US Dollar, the Euro or the Pound Sterling.

I am sure that day is no more than 20 years from now....

Till then, and more immediately tomorrow, spare me further interrogation by the Immigration Department of Hong Kong SAR, when we leave for a day trip to Macau.

Thanks to the Immigration Department of Hong Kong SAR, we had a grand welcome into Hong Kong!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sowing Seeds of Discontent in Success?

In May 2009, I had written a piece appreciating the coordinated approach the military and the civil administration had taken in Sri Lanka to tackle the menace of the LTTE.
I thought the manner in which the grand defeat of the LTTE was orchestrated was an ideal example for the Indian establishment, which is why I had titled the blog post as "The Fall of the Tiger - A Lesson for India".
But the way events have played out in Sri Lanka only go on to show that if the success is not managed, seeds of discontent leading to a potential disaster could be immediately sown.
The squabbles between former General of the Sri Lankan Army, Sarath Fonseka and the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa only show that success is not easy to manage, it's certainly more difficult than managing in a crisis.

It's all too easy to stand together in times of crisis. That's when you can see doomsday right in front of your eyes. It becomes a fight of survival, an existential fight. And you can't make it without standing together. You need each other to survive.

But success changes everything. Existence is no longer threatened. And egos take over reason. It becomes every man to himself, at least in the mind. Each individual sets out to achieve what his ego dictates.

That's precisely what happened in Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa's actions against Fonseka were certainly a clear indication of an ingrained insecurity that successful politicians have. Rajapaksa is not the only politician like that.

The greatest political leaders have deeply ingrained insecurities. At home, the hugely successful Indira Gandhi was so terrified of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw following the 1971 war that she confronted the Field Marshal and asked him if he was plotting a coup. The witty Field Marshal replied "Don't you think I would be a worthy replacement for you, Madam Prime Minister? You have a long nose. So have I. But I don't poke my nose into other people's affairs."
The Russian case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky is another example, where Vladmir Putin's insecurities were at work.

I am not trying to suggest that Sarath Fonseka's conduct following his resignation from the army is not questionable. He had been spilling beans on what transpired in the military campaign against the LTTE. That's not what is expected of a seasoned general.

The real risk for Sri Lanka would come in now. How Rajapaksa deals with Fonseka and other opponents will determine the destiny of Sri Lanka. If he's not careful, he may end up sowing seeds of discontent leading to another round of unrest, which is highly undesirable from India's perspective.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A National Shame

What's more important - filling one's stomach or national pride?

It's appalling to expect the Indian national hockey team to play on empty stomachs.

I was shocked to hear that our players had not been payed for months and months together.

And then when our sports officials shamelessly blurt out that players should play for national pride, they should be slapped right in their faces and sacked immediately.

Are such statements right?

It is a national shame that players who bring true glory to the country are treated worse than labourers.

This comes from a country where members of parliament and ministers get free air travel for their entire entourage, where the wife of the Chief Justice of India demands a daily allowance for overseas travel.

The money that ought to be productively used to train athletes is being squandered away.

This is certainly a National Shame!!!!
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