Friday, October 15, 2010

Bombaypolis Moments.... Part 10

A view of Worli from Bandra Reclamation!!!

Sunset at Carter Road!

A lovely view, at Carter Road!

The stray chills out at Carter Road!

My doctor's calender says it so rightly!

"Oops, I just pee'd!!!"

Lokhandwala Pizza Hut doesn't even a proper complaint book. Yum! seems to have awful standards in India!

Terminal 1C at CSIA is breezily smooth! Imagine how a little common sense made all flights take off on time!

A rain-kissed view of Juhu beach...

This is the best view of the Monsoons - bright, vibrant colours, with dark clouds adorning the horizon!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Ant and the Contact Lens

There are somethings in the morning that make a great day. One of them is listening to Rainbow 107.1 FM on the way to office. Great soulful music certainly makes the day. But the icing on the cake are inspirational stories that the RJs narrate, which despite being simple, actually force one to think about one's life and how blessed one is, despite the troubles!
On today's edition of Break Free on Rainbow 107.1 FM, RJ Vinod Advani narrated a lovely story titled "The Ant and the Contact Lens", which was truly amazing, inspiring us to take on the challenges that we get each day.
Here goes:

Brenda was a young woman who was invited to go rock climbing. Although she was scared to death, she went with her group to a tremendous granite cliff.
In spite of her fear, she put on the gear, took a hold on the rope, and started up the face of that rock. Well, she got to a ledge where she could take a breather. As she was hanging on there, the safety rope snapped against Brenda's eye and knocked out her contact lens. Well, here she was on a rock ledge, with hundreds of feet below her and hundreds of feet above her. Of course, she looked and looked and looked, hoping it had landed on the ledge, but it just wasn't there.
Here she was, far from home, her sight now blurry. She was desperate and began to get upset, so she prayed to God to help her to find it. When she got to the top, a friend examined her eye and her clothing for the lens, but there was no contact lens to be found. She sat down, despondent, with the rest of the party, waiting for the rest of them to make it up the face of the cliff.
She looked out across range after range of mountains, thinking of that Bible verse that says, "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole Earth." She thought, "Lord, you can see all these mountains. You know every stone and leaf, and You know exactly where my contact lens is. Please help me."
Finally, they walked down the trail to the bottom. At the bottom there was a new party of climbers just starting up the face of the cliff. One of them shouted out, "Hey, you guys! Anybody lose a contact lens?"
Well, that would be startling enough, but you know why the climber saw it? An ant was moving slowly across the face of the rock, carrying it!
Brenda told me that her father is a cartoonist. When she told him the incredible story of the ant, the prayer, and the contact lens, he drew a picture of an ant lugging that contact lens with the words, "Lord, I don't know why you want me to carry this thing. I can't eat it, and it's awfully heavy. But if this is what you want me to do, I'll carry it for you."
I think it would probably do some of us good to occasionally say, "God, I don't know why you want me to carry this load. I can see no good in it and It's awfully heavy. But, if you want me to carry it, I will." God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It is time for some Realpolitik!

It's common knowledge that good, pretty girls fall for the bad boys. Some perhaps know the dangers of falling for the bad boys, but still do and get hurt. Despite that, they fall head over heels all over again and again and again......, ignoring their misdemeanors and peccadilloes!
Perhaps living on the edge has an irresistible sex appeal that plain, steady guys can't match. They appear too dull and boring!
That seems to be the case with the United States's approach to our neighbourhood rogue, Pakistan. (The cartoon alongside , which appeared in the Crest edition of The Times of India, shows the opposite - America as the guy and Pakistan as the girl, with Manmohan Singh in the waiting, undoubtedly conveys the feeling that America is sleeping with the wrong partner!)
On October 4, 2010, the German newspaper, Der Spiegel, published something that we in India have known for ages. In an interview to the daily, the former Pakistani dictator, Pervez Musharraf, admitted to quite a lot - to using terror as an instrument of state policy, to using the armed forces to perpetrate terror, to the Talibanisation of Pakistani society, etc.
But the world had a muted reaction to the bad boy's admissions.
Clearly, the world prefers to turn a blind eye to what Pakistan is upto, be it export of terror or nuclear proliferation. Rather the United States perversely does encourage terror and proliferation by Pakistan by funding it, time and again that it seems like paying ransom to a kidnapper or "protection money" to a goon.
Surprisingly, India also preferred to be silent, or rather mumbled just a bit. The dictator's admissions should have been blown into a big issue by India. If Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is truly the world statesman that he is made out to be, his world on Pakistan's should carry weight.
Sadly, the present administration in India lacks the guts to take any concrete geopolitical policy decision.
Now talking of the Obama administration, somehow, the recent policy decisions to move out of Afghanistan by 2011 gives me innumerable shivers. Not all in the world seem to understand Obama's urgency to pull out, especially when that very act could threaten American security.
Is Obama's pullout realpolitik or a mere fulfillment of an election promise? How is Obama's pullout policy justified? Has his ascent to power reduced the hatred the Islamic fundamentalists have for America? Have his Cairo speech and his Nobel Peace Prize brought about a change of heart in the Muslim world, have they made the world a safer place?
No one can answer these questions convincingly, that's my challenge.
The world remains as volatile as ever, no matter what Obama does to appease Pakistan, its fundamentalists and army, no matter how many Nobel Prizes he wins, no matter when he pulls out of Afghanistan.
Rather America's pullout from Afghanistan could potentially have undesired effects - turning Afghanistan-Pakistan into overt fundamentalist states relying fomenting extremism all over the world (just read about fundamentalism reaching Cambodia!), creating a vacuum that China would enter into altering geopolitical calculations adversely, and what not.
All these would adversely impact American interests the world over, probably accelerating America's fall as a great power.
Perhaps the best option if America has to pullout of Afghanistan would be to let Pakistan stew in its own juices - to capitalise on the hatred the Sindhis, Pashtuns, Punjabis and Balochs have for each other and carve up, break up Pakistan into 4-5 entities. Likewise for Afghanistan - breaking it up into Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara spheres of influence would buy us some time. A breakup would make terror an unviable, uneconomical option for these entities - they would be too small to survive, let alone support terror.

All this would have to be done with active support of the Americans, Iranians, Indians, Russians and the Central Asians. We surely can expect the Chinese to oppose this balkanisation.
Mr. Obama, it is time for some realpolitik!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Redemption Could Not Be Sweeter Than This!

The world is going crazy over the grand opening ceremony for the XIX Commonwealth Games we are hosting now.

The foreign newspapers that I track, the New York Times and the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal had been panning, so far, the Indian bureaucracy and lack of management skills for conducting an event of this scale.

However, after the ceremony was over, the mood changed from panning to swooning!

The New York Times had a full photo feature on the opening ceremony. The paper also wrote: "In sharp contrast to the run-up to the Games, the opening ceremony started on time, and appeared to be meticulously planned."

As if this were not enough, there were two other features on the ceremony. One article examined the economic impact the Games could potentially have on India. The article quoted John Lee of the Center for Independent Studies in Sydney saying “Nothing will progress without the cooperation of China, India and Brazil ...... events and parades can be overrated as a measure of economic prowess .... North Korea has great military parades with 200,000 people, but no one looks to them to predict the future”.

I agree, but India cannot be compared with North Korea for sure!

The third article in the New York Times spoke of the "sharp contrast to the run-up to the Commonwealth Games, the opening ceremony started on time Sunday night and appeared to be meticulously planned, with a throbbing musical number that included hundreds of intricately costumed drummers, the world’s largest helium balloon and enormous dancing puppets...... The exuberant ceremony was a welcome change from preparations for the games, which were notable for missed deadlines, accusations of corruption, filthy living quarters for athletes and the collapse of a footbridge "

The Wall Street Journal ran a feature "Colors of India Come Alive in a Dazzling CWG Opening Ceremony" which had a round up of stories on the spectacular opening ceremony.

The Times of India also ran a sidebar, "World Goes Ga-Ga" featuring headlines from international publications. The Guardian from the United Kingdom is reported to have said "India Has Arrived: Spectacular Ceremony Opens Commonwealth Games".

The Daily Telegraph said "After weeks dominated by reports of corruption and chaos, the new ‘Incredible India’ of diversity and cultural pride showed its face. It even managed to start on time, to the very second, proving there are some deadlines that Games organisers are capable of meeting....... India put on its best face on Sunday and pulled off a brilliant opening ceremony that was extraordinary in its ambition and execution. It was everything the organisers had promised and more — an energetic celebration of all India has been and intends to be."

The Sydney Morning Herald said "An ancient land opens its heart to the world!" I cannot believe that this came from Australia!

The comments of The Australian " The XIX Commonwealth Games crawled up off the canvas last night with a display of pageantry and technical wizardry that, finally, projected the image India craved on to two billion television sets around the world" were a bit(?) appreciative.

The gushing news reports were followed by India's grand performance on the medals tally on the first day. Given that India has not had much of a sporting history to talk of, this level of performance was something to be proud of.

The successful hosting of the games does prove a couple of things.

One, India succeeds inspite of a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy. As we become a bigger economy, can we afford to let that happen anymore?

Two, we as a country have a distinct management style. We thrive in chaos, or what my friend on Facebook, Aditya Kiran called the "Big Fat Indian Wedding Style of Management", which is hard for Westerners to fathom. Work will go on till the guests arrive, and yes, we have no "wedding rehearsals".

Three, we in India need to be proud of our heritage and appreciate the worth of its diversity and richness. For some of my close friends and colleagues, the ceremony was too much of heritage, just stopping short of being a cultural programme or somewhat of a Republic Day parade. But people abroad thought otherwise. Unless we take pride in our culture and value it, no one will appreciate us and respect our country. Look at the Japanese. They are proud of their culture and traditions, yet at the same time are very, very modern, and are respected.

I would love to be optimistic on all this. The Games are perhaps just a beginning, of bigger achievements to come our way, of grander successes that we would earn, rightfully. Perhaps for most of us, it may be hard to fathom how and when this would happen.

But the history of India has shown a lot. We lose hope, but we turn the hopeless situation into a grand stepping stone. The economic crisis of 1990-91 was one such epochal event.

I think the XIX Commonwealth Games is another such event.

But for now, the redemption that the initial successes have shown is sweeter than anything I could have imagined.

I am not alone in thinking that way.

The New Zealand flag bearer, Irene Van Dyk's comment that "The most colourful, beautiful and well-organised games I have ever been part of!" proves that the redemption is true and sweet indeed!!!!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Commonwealth Games - A Splendid Delhi and India on show...

Jai Ho!

The XIX Commonwealth Games are now open.
What a splendid, splendorous display of India's richness, a riot of color and celebration of joy it was, to see the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium all decked up with joyous performers and sports persons.
For me, the celebrations came as a big relief that the games were finally happening! Finally happening, despite the controversies that Kalmadi generated (and inspite of his "common wealth" principles).
The Commonwealth Games chief, Mike Fennell, should hang his head for his shameful comments on India, Indians and hygiene. Perhaps he should go, take a walk and chew some saunf or fennel(!!!!) to give him some relief for his absurd statements.

The opening ceremony represented a riot of colour. It was a real treat to watch flags of the 71 Commonwealth territories participating in the Games, for a vexillology (or a flag) freak like me.

To see the colourful flags of Antigua, Vanuatu, Niue, Tuvalu, Saint Kitts, Wales, Gibralter, Swaziland and Kenya flying in my city Delhi was indeed exhilarating. Sadly, flags of Tokelau, Fiji and Zimbabwe could not flutter in my Delhi - the latter two have been suspended from the Commonwealth.

I waited for the teams of my three Commonwealth countries to march. My heart skipped a beat when the team from my "motherland" Uganda came in. The other two countries that I have been associated with, Zambia and India came in to a thunderous applause by the crowd.

The English team walked in wearing a red sleeveless bandhgalas! I wondered whether that was that reverse colonialism at work?

Our desi, Indian, contingent walked in traditional, royal, smart and sexy maroon sherwanis and saris, showing the richness of our culture. The Scots looked amazing in their resplendent kilts! The Zambians behind the the flag bearer carried their full-size eagle flag in their hands, bringing back old memories!

It was particularly revolting to hear an applause for the Pakistani contingent. I wonder how many of those who have come in were actually ISI agents, being responsible for terror in India?

Despite the rumours that certain contingents may pullout, partially, the turnout was amazing especially from the Australians and New Zealanders. Reports also came in that the teams were rather pleased with the facilities on offer especially when compared to earlier Commonwealth Games, held in Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur. It appears India's growing economic clout prevailed over the nay-sayers.

A couple of things stood out - the applause for Atal Behari Vajpaypee, who credited for getting the Games to India were particularly thunderous. So were the mentions for President APJ Abdul Kalam and Ms. Shiela Dikshit. It would not be wrong to to say that Mr. Vajpayee and President Kalam are still much-loved and should surely be credited for building a resurgent nation that we see today, while Ms. Dikshit, despite all the flak she got recently, cannot be ignored for transforming my Delhi to a true world city!

(I sometimes wonder if Bombay was awarded the Games, surely, there would have been potholes, crazy bandobast, sheer chaos and endless confrontation between BMC, MMRDA, the state government, the armies(!), etc.)

The aerostat served as the impressive backdrop for the flags of the Commonwealth fraternity. The real killer was the aerostat which was made the Mahabodhi tree for our visitors to see.

The depiction of the seasons (particularly the Monsoons), yoga, Indian mornings and the railways was amazing.

We may hate to admit it, but we have the capability, we have the resources, the ingenuity to turn a failure in success, to create a masterpiece of out of a mess. (I can say that for sure - I have closely seen a number of luxury hotels under construction - one month to two weeks before launch, there is always a royal mess, but it is all turned around for a grand opening. Those hotels where I used to be sceptical now earn over $500 a room for a night!)

I knew that could happen with the Games facilities too - that's what I used to tell my sceptical friends and colleagues!

And I have been proved right!!!!

And now we have the next target - the Olympics - Chalo India Ne Bula Liya!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Has The Bee Has Lost Its Sting?

They say that the bee can sting only once. Once the bee does sting its victim, the barbed sting lodges itself in the victim's skin, tearing loose the bee's abdomen and it is condemned to a slow and painful death.

This perhaps holds true in geopolitics and statecraft as well.

History has shown us that whenever a civilisation thinks it has grown too powerful for the rest of the world and sets out to dominate others, it suffers a slow painful decay, if not death thereafter.

The ancient Roman, Greek and Persian empires prove that hypothesis, so does the Mongol empire. In the middle ages, the Spaniards and the Dutch dominated the high seas and set out to plunder the world but ultimately met with ignominy of decay.

More recently, we have seen the decay of the high and mighty British Empire (as indicated in the animated map of the British Empire) in the last century, though the proud British did claim that the Sun never set on their Empire! (Undoubtedly, the British weren't as cruel as the medieval Spaniards, Dutch or Portuguese!)

The decay of the British Empire started in the 1930s, when Canada, South Africa, Australia and Ireland moved towards free rule. Also the hub of technological innovation shifted from Europe (and Britain) to the United States, which also developed the expertise for advanced weaponry.

The American military might was fully supported by their technology in World War II.

Then began the decay of the mighty British Empire. The Americans orchestrated the victory of the Allies. The Marshall Plan concocted by the Americans for the economic renewal of Europe and the iron-clad military alliance, NATO, ensured the Americans dominated the post-World War II stage in Europe, overshadowing the British.

That was coupled with a rapid rise of nationalistic fervour in Britain's Asian, African and Caribbean colonies, which slowly led to a decline of Britain political influence around the globe. Independence in these countries led to nationalisation of British companies in these countries, constricting their supply of natural resources. This clubbed with lack of technological innovation in Britain led to their ultimate economic decay, that we have seen recently.

Arrogance can be the undoing of nation. The British example shows that.

Can America go that way?

Certainly, America will not go the way Igor Nikolaevich Panarin had suggested - a possible Yugoslav-type disintegration. But it could end up considerably weakened, unable to stand up to the evolving world order.

America under Obama seems to be doing exactly what he should not. America thrived because there was a free flow of capital and intellect, or rather it acted as a magnet for both. But his concept of protectionism ignores realities of a new world order and all that America historically stood for.

By insulating the United States economy, the effect would be the exact opposite of the desired. Innovation would be strangled. Protectionism would bring about ineffectiveness and render American products and services uncompetitive. The effective nationalisation of American corporates and Wall Street firms would only accentuate the problem.

Effectively, we are seeing America, where Britain was in the 1950s.

India and China, historically, did not sting. That is why they held on for ages, while other civilisations came and went.

China's rise (in just about 20 years, as compared to 100 years for America or 150 for Britain) has been too rapid and that is a danger because a rapid raise can only be accompanied by a swifter "decompression"!

We can only wait and watch to see when and how that happens.

Some suggest the rising disparity between interior China and the "developed China" as evidenced by the worrying Gini coefficient or changing demographic patterns or simmering ethnic unrest could precipitate that.

If that does happen, we would face a chaotic world. America would the way Britain is today. India would be a good 2-3 decades from attaining superpower status, then. There would no rational power rendering stability to the world.

At that time, we will miss America's superpower status. And now, we can only guess whether the American bee has lost its sting or not.....
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