|24 th August 2015|
There is perhaps no use keeping a diary is updated only after nine months. Here are the high points:
I was invited to speak on the side-lines of the Commission on the Status of Women at New York in March 2015. Of course the whole conference was on gender and I tried to focus upon why certain things like ownership of property are critical for giving a status to the woman and without a say in decision-making, everything else will continue to be influential but comparatively peripheral. It was an interesting outing and I am happy I could speak to an audience which expectedly was all women!When will me start taking interest in the other half of mankind – not as a part of official duty but as an investment in the progress of society and generations to come!
In April I got an opportunity to visit Morocco – Rabat and Casablanca. Life there is really quite egalitarian. I lived in the heart of the Medina where a labyrinth of streets zigzag through rows and rows of houses – one would never know from the door outside whether it is a rich man’s house or a poor ones! The streets are narrow and have any number of cats but not a single dog. In the house I stayed in, one enters a door which places the street – it just looks like any other door -nothing more. Once inside it opens on to a beautiful courtyard and the rooms can be viewed from all four sides as they all face into the central space. The courtyard is used for informal chats with visitors, as a small swimming pool, as an indoor garden and most important give a clear idea of what is happening in every room downstairs or upstairs.
Moroccan food simply delicious. Apart from their well-known Tagines it was the huge couscous dish full of dried fruit like prunes and apricots and vegetables like baby pumpkin and eggplant, with the aroma of baked chicken embedded into the couscous that impressed me. The use of several herbs together gives a wonderful flavour – coriander, parsley, basil and celery leaves all chopped up with onions into a finely cut and aromatic infusion. The Moroccans use a special kitchen implement – it is semicircular and has two handles on either side. So one places all the herbs on a wooden board and slices through the ingredients holding the knife at both ends and moving it like a pendulum. The result is far better than what can one can do with the knife and of course one cannot achieve that texture with the blender. I brought back one of those knives of course.
The people are modern looking.Some womenswear the scarf while in the same place there are others in western clothes – figure – hugging.I did not see a single sign of misbehaviour – men keep their distance, are friendly but respectful to women of all ages.I was intrigued by the stark difference in clothing – a bit like India where saris, salwar kameez and jeans are all worn by different members of the family- depending on age and occupation.
Morocco is nowhere near India when it comes to scale, technological advancement and scientific prowess. But I was impressed by the fact that there is very little difference between the middle class and so-called poor. Everyone takes a certain standard of living for granted. The people are gracious but they hardly speak any English – Arabic and French is what they know. They have some beautiful leather and of course I could not stop myself from acquiring two leather moodahs which I brought back all wrapped up and got them stuffed at the local razaiwalla.
May and June in Delhi were pretty suffocating without the air conditioner. I laboured hard to shed the extra pounds I had accumulated through winter and visits to the US and then to Morocco. Walks were difficult to undertake because of the heat. A few shows on TV which I had the opportunity of contributing to kept me wired up with the latest happenings. Then a family friend suggested that we go up to the hills to Bheemtal near Nainital and the four of us and the driver managed to find the place after an eight hour drive through potholed Uttar Pradesh. No it was no drive at all once the highways were behind us! But it was nice to see that the eateries on the highways were clean, served a variety of snacks and à la carte menus and the loos were real restrooms – not holes in the wall.
Bheemtal was pretty and although I kept up my routine of morning walks, it wasn’t much fun because the usual diesel run station wagons and trucks ruined the atmosphere. Our host took us to the house of a retired admiral who has acquired a whole hillside going down to the lake. Admiring his trees laden with peaches and apricots amidst exotic trees like Magnolia and a profusion of hydrangeas, I really wondered why we did not have the courage to live like that. The admiral was my age but much more sprightly as he went up and down the hillside showing us the flora and fauna he had adopted. I have no idea about the minus side of such a life but in a way if one has to retire peacefully – perhaps nothing can give as much joy as going back to nature. Yes there was a minus side. I learnt that the children and grandchildren seldom come and the opportunity cost of travelling all the way to Bheemtal is higher than the joy of reaching there!
Perhaps because of boredom or because I am very fond of cats, I mentioned to the vet that I wanted to keep a jet black female cat. He answered my prayer there and then – he gave me a number and said I could contact the owner and take it from there. I rang a woman who had an Indian name but was surprised to find a very American accent at the other end. It turned out that she had kept this kitten in her house for adoption and it belonged to the family of strays in the American Embassy compound! So, on 17th of May I drove my little Nano and went and inspected the kitten in her house on the embassy premises. The kitten was two months old, jet black, female but painfully thin. She was not a pretty specimen but because she purred so much when I lifted her, I decided to bring her home.
The first week was Bedlam. Our dachshund Kiwi was extremely angry, jealous and brought the house down. The kitten looked like something out of stories about witches on broomsticks- she was so scared, so ugly and so vicious that I thought I had made a mistake. But having brought her home I could hardly throw her out. So I got down to the task of making the two animals meet each other first at a distance and then nearer and nearer to they were separated by a glass door. Sometime after 10 days or so, they settled down but it was the other extreme! Now they chased each other round and round the house and the kitten always got the better of Kiwi. I named her Litchi to go with Kiwi but as the days went on I thought I should have named her Lucifer – she really looked like the devil. Over the months Litchi – Lucifer has filled out. The coat is now smooth and glossy and she is actually getting to look pretty! It is fun having both the pets and watch how they love each other and yet can’t stop wrestling and boxing if they are together!
In July I got the opportunity of visiting Istanbul – another splendid outing. I took a family friend along with me and we shared a house with another two women so it was quite a riot. It was a real holiday- no time- table, get up when you want and go where your fancy takes you. The best part were the wonderful fresh fish and vegetables I could cook in a jiffy.
The management of thousands of tourists visiting any number of monuments is very efficient – of course there are long long queues but the temperate weather, easy availability of clean street snacks, ( bhoonoed or boiled bhutta, roasted chestnuts, whole wheat unsweetened donuts and mussels- all very healthy and filling snacks) the spotless public toilets and an amazing transport system contributed to a lovely vacation at a very low cost. I don’t think we ever waited for a bus, a tram, a ferry, the undersea rail for more than five minutes at any point! We must have walked something like 10 km every day just seeing the monuments and then browsing around in fascinating shopping centres – without buying a thing. People are friendly, courteous and helpful. What they do not like is a good morning or thank you in English being thrown at them by tourists. One shopkeeper was good enough to write down the greetings in Turkish and all but ordered me to use the expressions if I was in Istanbul.The locals just did not seem happy with English. I loved that cafe culture – men sitting on the footpaths on tiny stools playing backgammon as hundreds of beautiful furry cats owned by local households, cafes and shops lazed in the mild sunshine. People all drank Turkish tea or coffee but smoked like chimneys. Backgammon seems to be a national occupation. I really wondered when India would be able to start the cafe culture – it’s probably our weather which makes it so difficult to sit outside.
By – the – way my friend who accompanied me had a raucous, hacking, unproductive cough when we left.The absence of pollution cured her in just 5 days! Is MOEF listening?
There is not much else to report except to say that I’m going to start posting my views on this blog and then tweeting so that people can read something longer than a tweet but shorter than a newspaper article. So many things keep happening about which I long to express a view point. Blogs are meant for that and that is how I’m going to use this medium.
Goodbye for now!
|28th November 2014|
This update is in two parts .External Publicity recounts my Opeds in a nutshell followed likewise for TV appearances. (The entries are all on this Blog under the Home button.) The Domestic Front describes home life, gardening and more .I have not touched upon Board and Committee meetings which are necessarily sector specific and of little interest to most.
Shailaja’s External Publicity:
During the last two months lots of things kept me busy-mainly writing articles and appearing on TV. I wrote in Deccan Herald on swachha bharat and the opportunity to do things differently.I was so incensed by the way the sanitation programme had been handled over 10 years I proffered my suggestions on how evaluation could be done by linking toilet construction to toilet use with the bench-marks being a decline in children’s deaths, diarrhoe and malnutrition.Minister Nitin Gadkari actually listened to me but left soon thereafter.After his departure my ideas received tea and sympathy and a polite ” good-bye.” Who wants more work or even bother to think laterally?
My Indian Express article on cleaning up Sarkar told the story of government offices accumulating rubbish. Obviously there is crying need to change the rules which forbid officials from disposing off mountains of accumulated Government rubbish except after following a convoluted process which hardly if ever sees light of day. Change must come and can easily be brought about by the Ministry of Finance (the originator of the rules) but without that, government rubbish and rusted cars will continue to clutter staircases, lobbies and storage space besides hogging up prime land.
Later writing in the Indian Express I described a ridiculous state of affairs when the Ministry of Home Affairs which has absolutely nothing to do with municipal affairs handles everything which needs a change of law,rule or regulation concerning the 3 Delhi Municipal Corporations and NDMC because of an old anachronism which has prevailed for 70 years!
I also wrote an article on Medical Pluralism and the Truth about Ayurveda for LiveMint although I doubt whether the Ayurvedic fraternity found it complimentary.
I appeared on TV and gave my views on hiking parking charges (overdue in my opinion). Speaking on malnutrition, poverty and whether welfare schemes have helped, I took the position that there has been marked improvement and the latest figures about the decline in malnutrition is something about which we can legitimately express satisfaction. However we are still unable to think laterally and overcome working in departmental silos which limits what we could collectively achieve. This drags progressive ideas backwards for which I gave examples- particularly related to malnutrition.
I was invited as a panellist on several TV programmes. My views on current governance approaches are given in NDTV India’s program on “Nyunatam Sarkar,Adhiktam Shasan’ . Here I point out that everything does not happen from the top and unless ideas that come from officers that bring experience from the districts and states to their posting at the centre are picked up by experienced Ministers and allowed to fly initiative can get wiped out. At this point there is undoubtedly a need for getting the bureaucracy to work but equally in a federal set –up, there is a need to learn from good ideas and models which have succeeded elsewhere.
The sterilisation deaths in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, shattered whatever belief existed in government run programs and the exercise of drug quality control. I spoke on Headlines Today, RSTV, NDTV (We the People) on this. Particularly on Barkha Dutt’s programme I was very surprised to hear the comments of people who claim to have extensive knowledge of what happens at the grassroots. A lot of rubbish got spouted, courtesy self-styled do-gooders and NGOs who actually have very little conversance with the macro picture and base their advice on a few examples picked up in what they call India’s villages but are nothing more than a days ride to some district or Block Headquarters. The family planning program will now face a decline because of the terrible adverse publicity which was warranted but unfortunately failed to draw the attention of policymakers to changes that are essentially needed and brook no delay.
I participated in Karan Thapar’s show on Headlines Today where I pointed out that the Rampal situation could not and would not have arisen had officers not connived with politicians (all along) in giving protection to this wanted criminal. Further when action has to be taken under law and officers have to show allegiance primarily to perform their public duty and only then to the diktats of the political executive. And if those orders or unwritten messages are illegal (as these clearly were in the case of protecting a bounder like Rampal,) officers (DMs and SPs) should have refused to carry them out. When officer equate the orders of politicians with the duty to enforce the law it leads to ignoring and conniving with a Rampal like situation. Officers are blameworthy I had argued but under law should be left to deal with the situation and take responsibility.They can do it but for the daily behind the scene phone calls,overt bullying and interference from political bosses. A one-time politician remarked that I was being theoretical and my ideas were irrelevant in the current milieu when neither laws nor rules are followed by anyone. I believe that as long as the law of the land has not been amended, it has to be obeyed and an attitude of lassitude from political parties and top bureaucrats is responsible for the malaise which is fast beginning to look like anarchy. India’s problem is that the guilty never get punished and the innocent getting trampled upon. The bureaucracy has let down this country by pandering to the wishes and wants of politicians – many of whom are criminals and crooks.
Finally I gave my views on the Ebola scare and took the view that India has had months of warning and has sufficient armies of public health professionals which the country capable of tackling Ebola. However that does not mean one should be complacent. In any event public awareness must be built and reinforced to look for the danger signals and report them without delay. That includes symptoms shown by fellow passengers on incoming aircraft.
Shailaja’s Domestic Front;
My life is not as perfect as my daschund Kiwi’s but nothing to complain about either.
We had a visit from our son which took me on a guided tour of Red Fort, Jam masjid, the spice market( Khari Baoli) – sights and sounds that I have seen 100 times before. But some things had changed- for the better. Everything looked cleaner and better organised, despite the milling crowds. Our guide gave little nuggets of information which history books do not carry but which can easily be checked up. For instance that the opening of Kinari Bazaar was called Mali bazaar and the Royal gardeners used to buy their gardening implements there. That all rich people lived in the havelis and the very avenue we stood on was exactly where untold marriage and funeral processions must have assembled. It must have been a bustling neighbourhood with everyone knowing what was being cooked next door!!
Talking of today,things are incredibly cheap in the wholesale markets and I would definitely suggest that four women should get together, make a list of household must-haves and make a pilgrimage to Chandni Chowk for annual household shopping-not simply because the prices are a third of what one pays anywhere else but because everything is so fresh and new and the shopkeepers are so indulgent.
At home on my terrace garden and balcony great things have been happening. The cineraria, salvia and marigold saplings are doing well, growing by leaps and bounds every day. My bamboo car shed has finally got a roof – a very pretty one covered with lilac flowering blooms. I had planted a 20 year old potted Ficus Benjamini at the entrance of our house and had often wondered why it was growing so very slowly. Three days ago I found that it had literally fallen as though someone had hacked it down mercilessly. On closer examination it turned out that the tree ws termite ridden which had led to its premature death. I was sorry but also something told me it was the best thing to happen. As a tree it would have grown very high, given very little shade and obstructed the view of my magenta bougainvilleas. Yesterday I sat and had the whole root dug out – a process which went on for 45 minutes. I have replaced the dead tree with a Ficus Panda with golden leaves to offset my Furcarias.
One of the nicest days I spent recently was with a college friend who later became an IAS woman colleague. I drove my Nano the two of us went shopping for curtain material followed by a visit to the DLF mall where we both experimented with lots of lovely garments, shoes and baubles as we preened before each other in admiration. I bought a gorgeous black tea shirt for the winter, shimmering with golden flecks, while my fiend bought a stylish poncho type herring bone cape with a knitted turtle neck. (From M&S and Fabindia-where else?) A wonderful lunch at Big Chill topped it all with a bacon and blue cheese pizza and an unforgettable roast potato stuffed with mushrooms! It was such fun and utterly therapeutic too! Nothing can beat the enjoyment of two women- “been there, seen that” types- aging together, sharing so many happy memories, (sad ones too), living in the same colony, loving the same food and with similarly placed offspring and grand-offspring. Always ready to lend a sympathetic ear, pay each other compliments and blast bores!
Until next time,
|2nd October 2014|
The last fortnight was my turn to get a bad,bad cough.The type that keeps you awake at night and prohibits talking- even breathing fully.Dry, rasping , irritating and without any treatment.I am fine now and I extol the virtues of Ayurveda in a forthcoming article.
I used my being grounded to do many things I enjoy but which get relegated to the ” when there is time…. ” status.Among these I repotted the plants,invested in lovely coleus and gainda saplings for the balcony and the driveway.
A creeper ( nameless unfortunately) which I saw covering an entire building in Luchnow was my biggest must have – then.I brought back 2 tiny plants which the Institute Maali gave me.It is a wall- hugging creeper which gets yellow bell shaped flowers which turn into long bean pods.I planted the saplings in 2007.Over the last 7 years I watched them grow higher and higher and becoming more and more luxuriant.Now the creeper has covered one side of the whole house completely,climbed beyond the first floor to the terrace even as cascades of new shoots flow down from the terrace on the second floor – all scrambling for a piece of wall from which to draw sustenance.
I love the creeper because it has made a blank, white wall look green and fresh.I need not paint that big expanse which cuts down on expensive maintenance.The creeper is rooted in a pot and is not in the ground despite its fantastic growth.Even so it has spread over a large wall and is now busy stretching itself around the front of the house.
Why am I writing all this? Because there is a moral to the story: You need your parents and teachers to give you a start in life.But after that you are on your own.You have to climb and clutch and spread and stretch wherever you can to make a mark.My creeper has done it and they tell me that even if it is now disengaged from the pot it will grow as it has rooted itself to the wall from which it draws nourishment.Like children who make their own lives without your support.And that’s how it should be.Agree?
|11th September 2014|
What a long time it has been since I updated this blog. So much happened in the month of July and 2014 -certainly one of the most unexpected and worst months that I have ever faced. My husband (72)started returning from his new assignment and would sit coughing in front of the desktop computer as he played solitaire. One day I noticed that he was going to pass out even as he continued to play games on the computer something that he does routinely for relaxation. As he coughed uncontrollably I held his shoulders and asked him what the matter was.As usual he said “nothing” but I noticed that just before that he had a blank look – almost as though he had passed out.
That night I heard a loud thud and without putting on the light I stumbled to the bathroom door from where the sound had come.I was shocked to see my husband lying outside the bathroom in pitch darkness but even so it was he who said very distinctly, “I think I’m bleeding. Get some sterile cotton.”
From that moment the month of July became a long long story starting with an ambulance ride to the AIIMS Trauma Centre followed by stitches on the forehead, an X- Ray and a CT scan at 3 am. Having been assigned to the pulmonary medicine department there followed a series of visits from senior residents who took from the Departments of cardiology,neurology,ENT just about everything that could lead to frightening results.The strange part was that he was having what doctors call a cough syncope. Syncope is just a fancy name for fainting and doctors do not give it too much importance by itself and nor does whatever medical sites have to say on the subject.The fainting is momentary and although it looks horrible, passes off in 3-4 seconds.But for the onlooker the syncope is frightening as the patient loses consciousness which can precipitate a fall which itself could be very dangerous.So until and unless the fainting is diagnosed it remains a source of worry as much as it’s underlying cause.Fortunately in this case it turned out to be a bronchial cough which was brought under control with medicine.But it hit us very hard and is something I cannot forget even now.That my husband could recover now seems so extraordinary! The moral of the story- don’t neglect a cough and what seem routine irritants.They can be the cause of avoidable problems and hospitalization.God be thanked for looking after us and of course the highly competent doctors who diagnosed and treated the condition.
Despite all this upheaval, once we came home from the hospital, I got involved in batting for the CSAT component of the civil services exam and my Home page shows all the discussions I participated in. I also wrote an article for the Indian Express and Hindustan Times and got a Hindi piece published on the Modi sarkar in Hindustan in Hindi and the Indian Express.All the articles are on the Home page.Best of all BBC news interviewed me and though it boils down to just one quote I appreciate that they asked me.Here is the link:
The month of August and September were much nicer and my account of our stay with the family there is given on my facebook page which can be accessed here:
I returned to India only last night. The direct flight from JFK to Delhi was suddenly diverted to Oslo-the only airport open at 4 am because a passenger needed hospitalisation. So what was initially stated to be only a 25 minute delay turned out to be a 5 hour wait inside a closed airplane.So while the diabetic patient-passenger was whisked off by ambulance a Boeing 777 planeload of passengers missed international and other connecting flights but surprisingly no one complained.
Well I will sign off now and look forward to joining the capital’s circuit once again!
|3rd June 2014|
Yes, it is over two months since I wrote about my life, the times and my latest pursuits.
Flashbacks: Looking back on the last few weeks, I can remember TV accounting for a large part of the time spent. Watching TV or stating my views on different channels was interesting but predictable, depending on who was speaking. The whirlwind of election speeches, raucous TV debates and diametrically opposing views aired at all gatherings and drawing-rooms I got invited to are now a blur. The election results has given many of us great hope and expectations- no more wrangling by small players who had no national world view but extracted whatever they could from a perpetually anxious Government. For others it has multiplied earlier forebodings about BJP’s ideology and its fallout on future policies.But Narendra Modi’s promise of development etched on a canvass of maximum governance and minimum government has quelled many a dissenting voice for the time being- simply because that phrase cannot be argued with by anyone. Particularly so after the rudderless times people have seen.
My articles, TV shows and related thoughts:
IDEA, a Swedish think tank which supports democracy and elections, asked me to write a piece on the main factors that influenced this election result. That article is on this blog titled “Indian Elections and the Fruits of Democracy” in which I have addressed an international audience as to what seems to have worked and why in respect of India’s election outcomes.Before the elections I participated in Raghav Bahl’s “Change India” program speaking on infrastructure and later on education at SRCC. Later I joined CNN IBN TV panel in which the possibility of Mr. Modi downsizing the government was being discussed. I made the point that it is not the size of a Ministry or the number of people working there that makes Government big or small. What is most important is to succeed in grabbing the attention of a Minister- who alone can approve a change of track. That does not need more or less people. It needs receptivity to new ideas, courage, resourcefulness and initiative. Unless a Minister is willing to listen and has the guts to take a decision on a contentious matter and the capacity to persuade dissenting Departments to look at the larger picture, life will simply go on as usual and big things will not change. In a career span of over 45 years I have come across very few Ministers that showed these qualities. The country needs gargantuan changes and receptivity to new ideas and risk-taking ability is what is needed the most.
Sitting on the fence is very easy but it takes acumen to understand the social and economic consequences of indecisiveness. To fight for a budget and approve well laid out schemes and projects and make announcements about setting up new institutions and organisations is easy. Anyone with a little intelligence and a few sensible bureaucrats to table proposals and follow on can manage that. It is when there are influential people, organisations and power groups pulling in different directions that wisdom and political maturity are needed. In my interventions on TV I tried to share examples of good and bad decision making.
However few channels and still fewer anchors give time to develop such ideas. Most anchors assume that explanations and examples will bore the public and affect their TRPs. And of course fellow panelists think nothing of interrupting even as most anchors seem to like noisy participation which they think constitutes “a good debate”. While they do not have to copy BBC there is something to be said for allowing a nuanced and well argued discussion to take place instead of the raucous slanging matches that one is subjected to on most channels.
In some ways Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha channels have brought down the decibel levels and given the viewer food for thought.
Supreme Court judgement and bureaucracy: I wrote an article titled Day of the Sleuth for Indian Express and the article is on this blog. The context is the recent Supreme Court judgement giving full authority to the CBI to investigate senior officers without Governmental clearance. I gave facts and figures to show how the bulk of complaints which land at the doors of Central Vigilance Commission get disposed off. The latest annual report of CVC shows that a fifth of the criminal misconduct/ corruption cases needed to be closed because they pertained to complaints that were “anonymous,” “pseudonymous”, or “unverifiable”. Criminal action was finally recommended in only 2.6% of the cases received from the CBI and an overwhelmingly large portion – as high as 50% of the total cases – were advised be closed. While the public perception is that CBI should be given a free hand to investigate all complaints against senior officers, very few people understand how difficult it is for honest bureaucrats to function. In every matter having economic implications, someone is bound to benefit while many others would lose. Obviously the losers would generate a slew of complaints but unless an unbiased body segregates the chaff from the grain, anything and everything would look like a genuine complaint worthy of investigation.Not knowing when and for what an investigation has started,one would have a demoralised and un-functional bureaucracy which would reflect upon speed of decision-making and efficiency. Let’s see what the new government decides to do. Take on the Supreme Court of India for the third time? Rather unlikely. But unless there is some way of giving protection to honest public servants it would be impossible to make bureaucrats stop the present practice of covering their tracks by roping in as many players as possible.Which is what leads to delays.Its a Hobson’s choice.
Health policy articles:
I wrote two pieces for the Deccan Herald and Asian age. Both were related to health policy changes which could transform lakhs of lives, without spending a bomb. The articles are titled “Health Policy Re-Think and “India’s High Fertility-the Myths and the Reality.”
I was also interviewed by the Lancet in which I argued why it is necessary to continue the Institutional Deliveries part of the National Rural Health Mission. The Lancet article is also on this blog.
On a chattier note, I enjoyed writing a piece on Shovana Narayan a well-known Kathak dancer but also a senior (now retired) member of the Audit and Accounts service and married to an Austrian diplomat! What a combination! This article is the seventh in the series that I have been writing for G- files “The Older They Get the Older they get.” This article is on the blog and full of attractive pictures of the beauteous Shovana.
I also wrote a piece for my other blog on International Women’s Day and the need for women to stand apart and hold their own. That too is on this blog titled Birds of a Feather Sit Together. The article contains some tips about how professional career women ought to conduct themselves based on my personal experience but much more on research findings.
The Domestic Front:
Our son visited us in April and that gave me a wonderful occasion to pass on family heirlooms which carried so much sentimental value for me. As life moves on I have begun shedding possessions but not without caressing memories and finding the right home for pictures, precious tableware and crystal which I loved to use and admire. I know each piece would be treasured in my son’s home and that is why it felt so good even as I packed each piece individually in bubble paper and brown tape. It also repositioned my understanding of life. There is a time and a place for everything but as the years pass, it is best to simplify life and shed belongings. There is no telling when health or unforeseen events might overtake one by when would be too late to cry about what could have and should have been done years ago.
The month of May saw the simultaneous exodus of our three part time domestic props who between them give me the freedom to do what I enjoy. Initially I felt sorry for myself as I cooked, washed dishes, took the dog for a walk three times a day, (holding the leash on one hand and an umbrella in the other to protect myself from the scorching sun,) dried clothes, answered door bells for what felt longer than the three weeks that it actually was. Wonder of wonders, all three have surfaced and life is back to normal. That is why I can sit down and dictate my blog to my heart’s content. The funny part is that the human mind is geared to finding solutions: I discovered shortcuts and better ways of organising things to a point that I actually began enjoying running the house and finishing all the drudgery quickly and efficiently. But it is not at all easy to abandon reading, writing, twittering and the rest of the things I enjoy.In the long run quotidian drudgery can be maddening if one values other things.
The Storm and me:
When Friday’s unprecedented storm hits Delhi, I was at Doordarshan looking for the car after a recording of Badi Charcha. I managed to get into the car which was shaking to the left and right, until the driver told me to dive back into the building. Thereafter, as incredible gusts of wind and darkness descended on Mandi house, I made call upon call to the house and got a ringing tone twenty times over.Our daughter was to return from the airport on her own and naturally I was worried. Little did I know that in my absence, a Bhullar tree had come crashing down in our backyard and the fibre-glass top under which we dry clothes on the terrace had frisbeed down to earth, the storm having yanked it off eight tight hinges. The electricity had been cut, telephone lines had snapped and since we do not have a generator, it was goodbye to lots of frozen stuff I had carefully packed away for special times. But before I drove home full of forebodings, nothing mattered more than knowing that our daughter had reached home safely.I died a thousand deaths on the way. Mercifully she had reached home a few minutes before the storm started raging.
The next day I sent for my Munirka Market SOS,the Ansari family of “fix anything” fame with whom I have made friends after countless visits for household thinggys. I asked the old patriarch to get the fibre-glass roof bolted back into place.A family of three came a little later when they told me in no uncertain terms that my problem was “nothing” compared to what hundreds of people had suffered the previous evening. They recounted stories of their kith and kin and neighbours who had suffered injuries not to speak of the “nuksan” caused when their tin- roof homes which had been crushed under falling trees. That did make me feel so small and silly.
More in my next,
|13th March 2014|
This after a gap of nearly 6 weeks. For those who read the concluding part of my last narrative- basically about the AAP-I feel vindicated. Not because I disliked them initially but because the first signs of attaining power spelt disaster for all that governance stands for. Yes, politicians and some bureaucrats may have been corrupt (that however has to be proved, not just claimed,), or apathetic or insensitive but for any new Government changing things around is never easy – and although change is welcomed by the public, it must come after due consideration.That means seeking advice on the cost effectiveness and equity of a proposal and ideally asking the affected public before forming a considered judgment. Much as Shiela’s sarkar became tiresome for a host of reasons which are well-known, her earlier 3 term successes were largely due to the Bhagidari process through which she built a model of participatory democracy which has come to stay- though the now ubiquitous RWAs.
When a new Government is voted to power it has no authority and much less power to command a hurricane to sweep out all that appears dirty and unkempt without also upsetting all that may be right and functioning well. By bringing everyone into disrepute, even people who are doing their jobs perfectly well get affected. And when that happens, systems break, processes crumble and daily life, howsoever annoying it may be, becomes unpredictable. That hits the public much more than delays and apathy. When that happens, the bureaucracy which has to manage things starts to scamper around, not knowing whose head would be next on the chopping block. Files don’t move- gossip and rumour mongering starts, disgruntled people become the new saints and martyrs and effective officers start scurrying for cover. That hits the public much more than is understood because ultimately citizens want systems that work. They want predictability. They want to know who is in charge and persons in charge are competent and capable of acting when things go wrong. Sudden changes disrupt departmental working and affect service delivery. Known dead wood doesn’t suddenly sprout leaves. When square pegs are kicked up into round holes, two terrible consequences follow:
First, no one works without getting a “clearance” from the top. And if that “top” happens to be a centralised one-man-show as Madhu Bhaduri (ex-IFS) and founder member of AAP said yesterday on television, what do officers do? Nothing. Give no advice. Look dumb and pliant and wriggle out of the impeding mess if that’s possible. Who bears the brunt? The public.
Second, officers sense that sooner or later such an unruly dispensation will fall under its own weight. But when the day of reckoning comes, when wayward decisions have to be explained, it is the officers who will be blamed for not pointing out the implications. Knowing this, rather than take on tyrannical behaviour officers hide themselves until the storm blows over. Who is affected? The public.
Therefore as I said earlier, governments may be corrupt, apathetic or incompetent. But somewhere some work is getting done or else we would be without water, electricity, public transport and normalcy in our daily lives. If even that modicum of daily routine is replaced by turmoil on the streets and unpredictability in routine life, bedlam prevails. After the storm it takes time for the wheels to gain momentum again. Politicians who brandish the whip of “Of with his head” like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, need to understand that a couple of palpable changes is all that is needed to win hearts. For the rest, a government which is normal and predictable is always the preferred choice over daily productions that disrupt normalcy.
On the question of fielding journalists as party candidates, there is nothing wrong. It is a citizen’s entitlement. But unless former anchors and scribes spend time understanding the demands of public service in a complex world it is an absurd idea to catapult them overnight onto the political pitch. In their very nature journalists are creatures of the here and now. They belong to a world full of news, embellished by quotes and sound bites. They sense a story in almost everything they come across and tend to see things in shades of black and white. Their job is to compel eyeballs and grab attention – not in the fullness of time – but here and now in the very first sentence that is written or uttered. That is their training and that is why good journalists get read and listened to when learned people seldom do. They can convert rigmaroles into easy-to-understand capsules, turn an argument on its head and put incisive questions. But they are in a hurry and patience is not considered a virtue in this field.
On the other hand, working as a good MP or running the government requires unglamorous and tedious application of rules, regulations, systems and processes. Government runs on predictability and precedents. Government requires a respect for hierarchy without which reporting systems crumble. Governments perforce have to hold consultations, negotiations and build consensus. The political executive has a responsibility to convince and carry people – even those who are not supportive and gradually persuade them to come around. In a democracy fiats don’t work howsoever necessary they might be. More than anything else governments abhor controversy. All this requires qualities which generally run counter to what journalists are trained to do. That is why it is not a good idea to convert journalists into politicians and to compare them with actors and sportsmen. The latter are usually easy on the eye and rich and famous to boot. Generally they do not come with strong opinions. Journalists may also be good-looking and charismatic but they are most emphatically opinionated. That is not a pejorative statement. It is factual one but it can create a problem unless backed by experience of working with people pulling in different directions.
Here is why the AAP has erred not once, but several times. They have made decisions and announced them without seeking the advice they were entitled to receive. A Minister does not acquire power simply by sitting on the Minister’s chair. He acquires power and authority by using the institutions and wealth of experience available to him and which is for him to command. Not doing so is being irresponsible and conceited. Taking advice and then overruling it in writing, if the situation so demands is called leadership and sagacity. One can only hope that those who win the coming election will show more administrative temperance.
My life: What have I been doing with my life? I participated in some TV shows, some of which are on this blog. I wrote in Asian Age on the Myths and Realities about Fertility and showed how widely believed axioms about reproductive practices among Muslims stand negated by research. I spoke at the National Defence College- for the third time – this time on social institutions that act as discriminatory barriers to empowerment. I wrote a piece on International Women’s Day about how women need to become much more assertive and support each other to remain so. They’re all on this blog.
I went to Mumbai as a member of an Earth Awards Jury. Unrelated to the purpose of my visit, I was impressed with the way all the buildings on Marine Drive looked. I have been to Mumbai several times but I have never seen those buildings shorn of the black remnants of sea air and monsoon havoc. For once all the buildings stood in perfect symmetry painted afresh- almost the way I remember them when my parents took me in a”Ghoda-Gadis” in the 1940s.The coconut and almond trees and the clean sidewalks in South Mumbai made me want to live there-unaffordable as it must be.
From Mumbai I flew to Cochin to attend a Global Ayurveda conference. I loved the simplicity of the people and their polite, smiling faces. I got to eat fish only once but it was a memorable experience because it was fresh and spicy.
Back home, I pruned the bonsai plants on the terrace- nothing is prettier than when the new shoots burst forth in shades of pink and lime a few days later! And just because a neighbour sent over a bagful of desi tamaatar from their farm, I realised the complete dissimilarity between what we buy in the market and what is grown with natural fertilizer. So I have forthwith invested in growing my own tomatoes, dhania and chillies in pots-nothing extraordinary- but certainly more fulfilling than all the chaos and confusion that screams forth from TV screens. No matter how many channels I change.
Signing off for now,
|28th January 2014|
The last 15 days have been filled with whirring around in the mixture that makes my life. (The next three paragraphs may please be omitted by those do not want to hear about house-hold trivia and would rather hear what I think of AAP and more.)
Purely on the domestic front, the month long exodus of our Nepalese cook (only 15 days gone so far) left me high and dry. I had learnt baking, grilling, broiling and roasting thanks to a boarding school education which taught such proficiencies in the hope of making good wives and mothers out of us. But the nuns bless them, never taught us to make rotis which has remained for me a challenge to this day.
Once I plunged into a career, motherhood and more, I invested in a cook, keeping my share of the burden down to shopping for groceries. That meant that I could run the house without entering the kitchen – the best of all worlds. All this lasted until I moved into non-sarkari accommodation and became dependent on a host of part-timers which is the way private colonies work. At the top of the hierarchy remains the cook but alas as has happened in my case they disappear with no notice. And so perforce I learnt to cook and am at long last able to muster up fairly good food, fairly quickly. But the “ghissa pitta “khaana ceases to inspire after a time and that is how I have taken to googling new recipes and trying them out. One principle I follow is only to be recipes which call for ingredients which are available in the house.
In the last few days I have single-handedly made carrot cake, kurkuri bhindi and dry fish curry; even Rajasthani methi kadhi just by following YouTube recipes. Every item has come out exceedingly well even if I say so! But the trouble is that I still cannot make rotis. I lack the coordination and the sense of timing – not just skill needed to make them. But watching me flounder over the flame, manhandling the little rotis to produce half ballooned, half black rotis must have been a pathetic sight for my general factotum, a proud Rajasthani from Bundi district. Until then I had never had the courage to ask himto try his hand at roti-making because he looked down on kitchen work as a woman’s job. I treated his resistance as one treats the abhorrence with which a government peon carries files yet refuses to dust them. But when this odd body watched me producing delectable savouries and sweets and yet struggling over simple roti- making, he uttered the magic words, “Chod dijiye, mai try karta hun.”(Leave it let me give a try.) And that has left me free to experiment with more exciting things like mushroom soup and a winter vegetable stew.Delicious.
Now to other things like AAP and more. I get invited to speak on television and to occasionally spout my views in print. The recent questions have focused on developments in Delhi under the AAm Admi party. My response is this: it is truly incredible that a group of people with no political history, little exposure to governance and hailing from very modest backgrounds could make such a huge dent in the voting outcomes of Delhi. Equally unbelievable is the fact that they could get the support of the rich and poor alike and much as the elite flared their nostrils disgusted by some of their pre-election antics, they discovered in the AAP a flesh and blood version of NOTA a choice that became irresistible with time. How else could one boot out those sanctimonious politicians who were impervious to citizens’ needs – who treated them like a bunch of children while they plundered left and right? How could one convey that which was uppermost in one’s mind – “we’ll show you; just you wait; you couldn’t care less and now you just face the music” and words to that effect? Here was no centre vs. state issue. It was exasperation at its worst. And that is exactly what culminated in the defeat of Shiela Dikshit in the most looked after constituency in India- her pocket borough for the last 15 years. No one disputed that she had done great work for Delhi. But she symbolised an absence of sensitivity and the politicisation of critical situations that people were tired of watching and booting her out was akin to catharsis. It was a process of cleansing – of purification which the citizen felt he had to undergo – whatever be the consequences. Consider for a moment what must have gone on in the heads of different kinds of citizens.
To start with the chota aadmi who toiled 18 hours a day felt cheated. If he did not have a BPL card how could he pay for the bare necessities of life on the wages of a guard, a mali or a rickshaw puller? And what about the lower middle-class? Were they any better off? The computer and cell phone hardware men behind the scenes, the hairdresser, the electrician, the carpenter, the driver and the low paid office multi-tasker-young men and women who had grown in Delhi imbued with hope and aspirations. What did they think when they watched scam after scam unscrambling from TV screens? No longer was it fun to watch realty shows, advertisements and serials. Because they only reinforced the certainty that there wasn’t a ghost of a chance of life improving.
And then there was the upper and middle- middle-class. Girls and boys who had studied in upmarket convents and sought-after public schools. It had been fun working in call centres and advertising agencies. It had been great to hang out with friends and blow up money on new cellphones and pizza dinners. But not after it was clear that 40 Kpm salaries could buy you next to nothing. When it was clear that there were no prospects of moving ahead; no possibility of getting past the barriers that the political and social systems had built. Politicians – be they members of Parliament or MLAs were only thinking of the next election and not of them. Government officials continued to spout inanities because they were answerable to no one. So why not cast one’s vote for someone who professed to be different, honest, sincere and accessible?
And that is exactly what happened. The rich and the poor, the rickshaw wallahs and the domestic workers, the low end professionals and the high end lawyers and doctors found one thing in common – they all wanted change. AAP was the alternative and with a sense of disgust, anger, revenge and frustration they left their homes, stood in long queues, encouraged everyone else to vote and finally did their worst. They did the unthinkable – voted in people they had never seen or heard of with just one thing in mind – throw out whoever is in power. Enough is enough! The rest is history.
But now the question arises as to how and how long the AAP can govern Delhi. And their sights are not confined to Delhi. The membership is growing by leaps and bounds and seems to have also perforated rural areas. The same thoughts that came to the minds of Delhi voters have occurred to their country cousins. Vote for something new – it can never be worse than what it is now.
But is this analysis leading anywhere? I hope to conclude it with some thoughts. While I have tested these thoughts on several people from different walks of life, I find that they do not appeal to most because they sound so status quoist and predictable. The truth of the matter is that the country is governed by a Constitution which throughout refers to the rule of law. There is nothing wrong with AAP coming to power but their style of functioning appears to be didactic. The idea that the dharna at Rail Bhavan was the right of a Chief Minister is difficult to swallow because it inconvenienced thousands of commuters, office goers and many more. It brought a situation in which the police which has to handle public order was walking on egg shells to the point that its Chief had to be pulled up by the apex court. The situation at Rail Bhavan was clearly going out of hand. The point of view that it was a “peaceful demonstration” is not borne out by people getting into fistfights with the police, jumping the barricades and forcing entry into prohibited areas- a stone’s throw from parliament. It then became a confrontation between the police and citizens – led by the government of the day.
This is not democracy. The arbiter of what is right and wrong cannot be the spokesmen of the Government if the Government itself is a party. And nor can a handful of media commentators who wish to spark a debate become the first and last word on the subject. The arbiter under the rule of law happens to be the Court and that is why we have Acts, Rules and Regulations. That is why we have institutions to look into violations of human rights and more.
Of course things are abysmally bad in many parts of the country and this city. But the logical way is to win sufficient mandate to be able to legislate in a way that removes obstacles that stand in the way of a just dispensation of democratic rights. It cannot be through rebellion because the fallout has dangerous implications. Today’s anger and frustration could be against an established order. Tomorrow’s can be against any other group or person on grounds as bizarre as race, religion, sex or belief. It is precisely to prevent that kind of chaos from overtaking society that we have laws and rules. And even if things are far from being perfect, the answer does not lie in moving imperfection through mayhem.
It is worrisome that highly educated people seem to feel that there is nothing wrong with bashing institutions and coming into conflict with law. This is when there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that ultimately the only answer is to get elected with the mandate to make drastic changes in the law and if necessary in the Constitution. But without possessing the kind of authorization that represents the people’s voice no one has a right to challenge the Constitution and the law interpreting it to suit oneself. In such a situation willy-nilly the authority and power that has been vested in an elected government would get challenged in a court of law where everything would be seen within the four walls of the law itself and not the intention or the provocation for behaviour. Who is to decide which group of citizens is right or wrong? Who is the arbiter if not the courts? One may like them or dislike them but if the executive cannot solve people’s problems, ultimately the courts will step in. That is in the Constitution and it is the duty of a citizen to lead a life as enshrined therein.
Today we speak with pride when referring to the achievements of the Election Commission of India and the Comptroller and Auditor General’s reports on public expenditure. We respect those institutions but would they be able to function if they to become subject to attack? That can easily happen when the findings do not suit those under scrutiny.
Aren’t we all happy when things go according to schedule? Aren’t we all satisfied when we see less of pick and choose and more predictability about accessing one’s rights, and services? Aren’t we happy when we see punctuality, cleanliness, efficiency and polite behaviour? But to achieve all this we need structures and systems that work and sensible people who lay down processes that are transparent. Delhi has changed for the better in countless ways. Those can be improved upon and it is the duty of the government to think of innovative but sustainable ways of bringing change. Elections can be fought on the note of criticism alone. But government has to run on the basis of sustainable, implementable orders which stand the scrutiny of justiciability.
Nothing can work in a democracy unless we respect the rule of law and while it is fashionable to give kudos to TV anchors, opinion makers and all those who question elitism, inaccessibility and corruption, the alternatives must be better and more capable of implementation across every strata of society and not just on television screens and in interviews. It is time that at least those who have the benefit of education and exposure understand the importance of doing things in a rational- legal way. Democracy and good governance is not the same thing; but one needs the other. Without one the other will crumble. Surely we do not want that! Democracies have constitutional and legal apparatus to end volatility and to maintain public order. India needs leadership which believes that that is important.
For the time being that’s all from over2Shailaja.
|16th January 2014|
For full 15 days I basked in the warmth and sunshine of a one-year-old grandson’s utterly endearing presence in our home. His smiles, his pouts, his unadulterated happiness at seeing a small honey- yellow paratha set before him were the moments to live for over and over again. I took a leave of my senses and forgot to answer emails and telephone calls. But like all good things, the visit is now over and I’m back to the rather hum-drum life I have created for myself.
But I could not help peeking at Twitter and putting up pictures on Facebook. I received the usual volley of email advisories on health (according to New York Times eating nuts can be the best thing you can do to stay healthy); on the French President François Hollande’s love affairs and most entertaining of all, a play PARTITION – DRAWING THE LINES all of which were sent to me by people who live their lives on the Internet.
The partition play has been drawing full houses at the West End in London – and was being streamed live till 14th January -completely free. I watched it once the one-year-old was fast asleep. I don’t think I could summarise it better than the summary that my friend sent me with the link:
“This play lurches between crudeness and caricature, parody and parable, bigotry and benightedness. We cringe at the plump Gandhiji and the affair between Nehru and Edwina. But at moments it does strike a chord. We watch in close-up the huge calamity which India suffered because a greedy Imperial power in desperate retreat tore a sub-continent in two.
The English even today clearly continue to scratch at the scab of their conscience, sometimes remembering the golden days of the ‘Raj’ with nostalgia but always heavily weighed down by their Christian sense of guilt for not doing right. Poor fellows.”
My own take is that the play disrobes all vestiges of statesmanship, sacrifice and lofty idealism which are unthinkingly attributed to the main protagonists of the partition. That it is a play acted on stage and not a television show makes the acting and the backdrop scenery quite brilliant. It will annoy many Indians. But my preoccupation was not with the portrayal of the characters in historical terms but rather the brilliance of the acting and the admission of the machinations that took place at the very top.
The arrival of my son and his wife and the departure soon thereafter of our cook, who chose that very fortnight to attend a family wedding in Nepal forced me into the kitchen. As things turned out it was quite a joy because I got the rare chance of cooking up Maharashtrian recipes which were greatly appreciated. For those who know a little about the food of the Konkan I can only mention the delicacies – prawn upkari seasoned with haldi and asafoetida and soured with kokum petals-a dish which leaves the ubiquitous prawn curry 100 miles behind. Sabudana khichadi for breakfast and the smell of a pungent dry fish curry which embedded itself into the curtains and upholstery for the next week were additional highlights. And so was the puran poli and shanker palya – bringing back simple but unforgettable childhood memories for my son but also for me.
Now that the house is quiet, I return to the routine that retired life has carved out for me. The yoga instructor has announced that he is coming at 7 AM tomorrow – I dread seeing his outline in the sitting room as I blunder out of the bedroom wrapping myself in cardigans and shawls. Of course it takes just a few minutes of the yoga kriyas to make me feel warm and energetic. I would recommend yoga for anyone who has early signs of arthritis, back pain or even shoulder stiffness. Unlike diathermy, yoga forces you to pull your muscles and then relax them – something like testing elasticity and discovering that what one was unable to do four days earlier can be done with ease today. The only caveat is that one does need supervision as it is very easy to cut corners and delude oneself that one has done yoga. That is nothing but cheating! Frankly I have opted for the luxury of a personal teacher for the first few weeks but attending classes is in some sense even better. It challenges you to try harder but at the same time reassures you that even even young people can be completely stiff.When one does yoga, there is no competition because excelling at some postures does not necessarily mean that one would excel at all. Each body is made so differently and it is worth finding out one’s strong as well as weak points.The good news is that things will never get worse and will in fact nine times out of 10 get better. but remember what I said about supervision.
It is very depressing to hear about the drama that is going on in the AAP stronghold and those who now oppose it. How can so many disparate elements come together to govern and administer? The police may be up to no good and the bureaucracy may be worthless. But that is not the way to access their capabilities. They are the people through whom the rule of law has to be enforced and it would’ve been better to have chosen one item in each sector and ushered in completely new ways of providing services rather than acting as witness, prosecutor, jury and judge oneself. It is the richer countries which have less corruption and that is because they have opted for systems, technology and the rule of law. They are far from perfect but at least one never hears of day-to-day corruption and politicians being at loggerheads with the police and the bureaucracy. Politicians get their power from the police and the bureaucracy and they have to be handled with care, consideration but also plenty of experience – not just the art of haranguing. I do hope things will settle down as governments are supposed to govern. They are supposed to introduce policies and programmes that will benefit those in greatest need – not those who cry the loudest.
I hope to write on solutions which could work and will post the piece on my blog ere long. Until then it is over2shailaja saying good night.
|29th December 2013|
I haven’t blogged for four months. The time was taken up by travel, the comings and goings of children and Diwali. A family emergency complicated my life out of the blue. The aftermath of cataract operations was the discovery that my own retina has begun degenerating with a strange prognosis. (No one seems to know whether the degeneration will take place in the next year, 10 years or a score of years.)
Looking back on September and October, I wonder how I had the willpower to stand up to huge complications. Not being able to read the newspaper – not even the big blurb was terrifying. How could this have happened when I could read perfectly well without glasses before the cataract operations? Everyone and that included an AIIMS retina specialist did all kinds of diagnostic tests which felt like kaleidoscopes breaking inside my head – coloured lights, bursting stars and hammering pain.
And then just when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, the telephone rang on a Sunday morning. My only brother, some four years older than me in age needed to have emergency surgery to evacuate a huge clot inside the head – but not the brain. That meant flying down to Bengaluru, fuzzy eyes and all, not knowing what was in store.
God is kind. The neurosurgeon was fantastic and with few episodes in the ICU my brother was on the road to recovery. While at Bengaluru I visited the Netradham eye Hospital and had an independent check up by the retina specialist. She was gentle and kind and told me that I should not be in such a hurry. It might take up to 6 months for the eyes to stabilise. No one had told me that, in Delhi.
It was miraculous. Sometime towards the end of October, my husband showed be a news item about a health topic – something I was deeply interested in. Midway through the article, I discovered that I was reading the whole article line by line !Each day thereafter I began to feel better – I could face the glare, something I could not do for weeks. I could read signage on the roads. I even tried driving around the neighbourhood and could do it quite easily. Today I can do without specs 90% of the time unless I’m reading or watching television. As for the degeneration of the retina, I will know the latest prognosis only in mid-January. I have told both these stories not to gain sympathy but to alert people that medical science can work wonders and we must appreciate skilled physicians without whom we would be nowhere.And for those who have elderly parents, both cataract operations and blood clots just below the skull ( not inside the brain) do need surgery but surgical skills and nature bring one back to normal with time.Just be patient!
Through all this I watched the electioneering by the Congress, the BJP and AAP, mostly on television. Having functioned as the Chief Secretary of Delhi, I could make out how much of the manifestoes were bluff and bluster and how much of them were doable. Some of the promises were outlandish and regressive from an economic point of view.I am seriously worried about the implications on efficiency and on the need to make consumers pay for what they use.Shaking old ways out of moth-balls is welcome but not if the solution leads to benefiting those who can afford to pay.Systems once broken take years to re-build and Arvind should not be in such a tearing hurry to point fingers at entire organisations.
Whatever be the fate of the promises the AAP has formed the government. I was invited by several channels to give my views on AAP’s promises about free water and 50% reduction in electricity bills. Also the promise of setting up 500 schools and scores of hospitals. Added to that, the regularisation of the unauthorised colonies and grant of permanency to contractual government staff. I said what I had to bluntly and it goes to the credit of the present set of spokesmen and women that they did not indulge in haranguing me (which unfortunately was the default style before the election.) Nonetheless AAP’s arguments seem to rest upon the hope that by stopping big chori and little chori and by hauling DJB, the power companies and key bureaucrats over the coals, money would come tumbling out like manna to reinforce an already insufficient budget.And to reward citizens who have the highest per capita income in the country! Every spokesman made it clear that solutions would not be found by pursuing schemes and projects but by pulling everything into the public arena. This strategy would be employed so that citizens come to know how they were being defrauded and denied their rights,authority- even statehood. And the party would snatch back its rights with full public backing ! (No one spelt out quite what that means! But it will not be business as usual for sure.)
I hope that the aspirations of millions of people will not remain unfulfilled. As I had tweeted, even the owners of BMW’s and Mercedes-Benz cars who never bothered to vote had come out in favour of a new and clean government. They believed that AAP would deliver. And so it was with almost everyone I met from every walk of life. Every driver who came to ply me to the studio, every guest relations contact person, every TV anchor I came into contact seem to be consumed by euphoria which was personal and very palpable. It was exactly the same when dealing with the odd carpenter, plumber, tailor, electrician, the many guards who mind posh residences, the part-timers who float in from the jhuggi jhompri colonies. The expectation that everything would be given as promised continues to be backed by trust- almost like small children looking forward to a birthday. At the same time there seems to be great happiness at having engineered the change.
I gave my views on what it would mean by way of governing Delhi in an article published by The Times of India. It is on this blog.
During the same period, once my eyes were better, I travelled to Mumbai and delivered an oration at the Haffkine Institute on the occasion of the centenary of Somnath Bhat an eminent Vaidya who practised Ayurveda, working for the rich and poor alike. While in Mumbai, I co-chaired a group of experts who wanted to make use of the phyto-pharmaceutical route to drug production. Later I delivered a rather strongly worded address at the Bharatiya Vidyapeeth in Pune when I did some plain speaking about the use of modern medicine by Ayurvedic doctors (sometimes to the exclusion of the Ayurvedic system.)
Well friends, it has been a long time. I wish everyone who reads this blog a Very Happy New Year and pray that2014 will see the election of a stable, honest and forward-looking government. If only politicians realise that people care about development and at the end of the day, goodies will not matter. Giving education, health services, jobs and a level playing field to every citizen is what is expected. The country needs money to do that and waffling ideas can ruin our economy – let us hope some U-turns will be possible even now when a new government comes to power.the good news is that the days of caste-based politics and fanning animosity on the grounds of religion and regionalism might be on the wane.Good riddance !
Before signing off I encourage readers to please see my story on Swami Nirliptananda who was once an IAS officer. It is on my blog and has been published by G files.
Here’s wishing everyone a very Happy New Year and also a wonderful 2014.
26th of August 2013
So many people ask me, “When do you find time to write so much?”
The secret is that I never write or type. I sit on a rocking chair with a glass of nimbu-pani or a cup of coffee ( especially when it’s raining outside) and simply dictate into the computer. The best part is that you can just say anything that comes to your head. As soon as you read what you have written you know how much of it makes sense and how much is nonsense! To make changes, I simply say “select that,” “cut that” or “bold that” or “underline that” or “paste that” and the computer complies. Instantly. There is really no effort talking or giving commands, particularly when the words flow almost as fast as the thoughts come.
Throughout my working life I have had to dictate to stenographers of different kinds. The result was usually from a middling 50% to 80% but never,ever near perfect. The voice recognition software I use is virtually infallible and I have no regrets discarding what I have warbled forth if it looks like drivel. Just look at those three words – ‘infallible’ ‘warbled’ and ‘drivel.’ They would have tripped up the best of stenographers but not my software. That’s what makes it fun!And without the hassles of checking spellings to boot!
But like all software it can crash and crash it did, last week. Recovering from my cataract operations, minus a new reading number and new spectacles I felt as though my life had come to an end. I could not see TV properly. I could not read a book and worst of all I could not dictate into the computer. The depression this brought was far worse than I expected. It was like losing all the props one had and worse than being laid up sick!
Getting the software to start functioning again was not a simple matter.I dug up all the telephone numbers and email addresses that I could find on the Internet and telephoned each outfit in Nehru Place, Jangpura, Lajpat Nagar, Greater Kailash – even Faridabad. But they all turned out to be sham shops running out of people’s homes. I telephoned the dealer who had sold me the software for the nth time (he is actually a nice guy,) but he was under medical treatment and incommunicado. I told my story to all the computer geeks and nerds I know of but none of them had used dictation software. Finally I asked my computer expert who taught me how to use Flickr, Twitter and Facebook but he too drew a blank.
It was then that I looked up the Asia Pacific offices of the Holding Company with an address in Bengaluru and Gurgaon.This time on my 41st try I was lucky. At 10 AM on a Monday morning a polite young man listened to my woes and actually deputed a youngster on a bike to have a look at what had gone wrong. The problem was resolved in a few minutes (free of charge )As soon as that happened I felt the need to write on the computer.For starters, I have sent a proposal to a magazine and let’s see if the piece gets accepted.
Meanwhile I encourage all of you that find typing a bore (or debilitating with all kinds of shoulder and wrist related injuries) to PLEASE get hold of the voice recognition software and start training and practicing ASAP. At least those who write a lot need to know the joys of sitting back and letting the computer do everything.
Until we meet again,
12th August 2013.
Life has been quiet after I underwent two cataract operations (both eyes). The operations were smooth and quick but the aftercare has been annoying because my walks which had become so regular have stopped and yoga has been abandoned.Horrible !Giving up exercise has so many terrible repercussions-the worst being the double effort needed to get back the momentum. I hope to restart exercising this week but the body refuses.While all this was going on I could not resist giving my views on the Durga Shakti matter on Doordarshan ( Charcha Mein)and on Lok Sabha TV ( Public Forum).My article on the larger questions that go beyond Durga’s case has been published by Indian Express today (12th July). It is on this Blog.
I also started writing pieces on unusual retired civil servants for GFiles. I explain the reason for doing this followed by the first article on DR Mehta of the Jaipur Foot fame in the current issue of the magazine. The articles are on this Blog.
I would greatly enjoy hearing from the people who read my blog or articles.
1st August again. (See story below)
Right do you want to chat on the Durga Shakti Nagpal part of my Blog ? Well I am on-line from 3 pm today for half an hour and here is the link. Shailaja
The Durga Shakti Nagpal story is simply the worst in the annals of political witch hunts of IAS officers and making a spectacle of their public humiliation.But I really don’t know why the senior officers get off the hook in all the brouhaha that the channels are broadcasting everyday.Who examined the Suspension case on file ? Who justified the suspension and what were the facts adduced ? Did anyone stand up and say the case was unfit for invoking the suspension clause ? What did the Principal Secretary Appointments and the Chief Secretary write on the file before the CM signed it?? I tried calling the Chief Secretary Mr.Javaid Usmani to be told that he was on leave for personal reasons and would return in a few days. The acting CS’ office took my call and I was assured they would ring back. No one did. What can one conclude ? That he had nothing to say ? This is a very very serious matter because the Constitution has set up the All India services and the protection given to the officers has to be safeguarded not by convention or by brotherhood but by following the procedures set out in the conduct Rules which are statutory in character. What was the Chief Secretary real or acting doing ? The real fault lies there.
Nothing different can be expected from or written about the political class which has sunk too it’s nadir. But if only all senior officers would collectively refuse to carry out wrong orders and not place such a premium on proximity to power and the trappings of high office and post – retirement sinecures,no one would be available to issue wrong , illegitimate and partisan orders.And only a bureucrat is authorised to issue a Government order – politicians cannot as they are not authorised to do so.That is the rule of law.If all officers refused to issue illegal, irregular and illegitimate orders it would become poitless for politicians to even try.That is the change that should come for the sake of doing the right thing no matter whether the highest in the land demands compliance. It is for senior IAS officers everywhere to stand up collectively and understand that the public recognition you seek so much does not come by strutting around in Government houses and cars but by the way you are regarded by society.What your peers think of you is of little consequence and if you teach your spouse/ children early enough in life that they should have no expectations from you except a decent upbringing and good education,they will stand on their own. What could be worse than an IAS officer who touches a Minister’s feet for a particular job because he has three daughters to marry?That’s the bane of the civil service- the need to have visible importance to make other officers envious.Or to grasp for power ,influence and the possibility of big financial rewards to help ” settle ” the family. Is all that more important than self- respect?
To change the subject,I am reviewing books written by civil servants ( rather good )- only failure is the complete absence of human interest stories, humour or witty self deprecation. But truly admirable for facts, organisation,analysis and presentation.
I have also begun on my once a month longish articles on unusual civil servants and the first one appears next week. I have interviewed 9 persons already and each is a story in itself- inspiring only occasionally- but hugely interesting only because the events and experiences are so unusual. Locating these guys was itself an interesting venture and I must have spent about 15 hours on the phone taking down the stuff in long hand as dictaphones don’t have the stick – in – the – memory effect as the jottings do.If it looks and sounds good in print I will turn it into a book.Unfortunately I can’t find even one unusual woman – everyone has honed into a life of domesticity ( nothing wrong but not unusual) or dabbled here and there. Nothing worth writing about like the others.Ideas are welcome but it’s about unusual retired civil servants who have a story to tell others.
Till we meet again,
24 th July
The last few days have been somewhat packed.Two TV shows (on my blog) on the mid-day meals disaster in Chapra, the SC judgment on the medical entrance examination.
My article on political finance appeared as the Lead article in the Hindu.Alo on the Blog.
I went to Bhopal to chair a meeting of the Advisory Council for the development of Ayurveda in the state of Madhya Pradesh. It was a great meeeting – thankfully not more of the usual -which made it a promising discussion. The vibes were strong and faourable for doing things differently.
The rains lashed on in Delhi and everytime I wonder what people living in the juggies do. We worry about every little leakage and seepage on the spotless ceiling or wall of our homes. What about the inside of the juggies? How do they cook? Sleep? Protect their TVs? I dare not ask because I feel so stupid and so humbled to do so. And yet they show up for work to clean our houses,cook for us, walk our dogs and answer to our daily demands. I know I can’t make the difference that their lives need, so I look the other way.Feel so inadequate at times.
More in my next.
14th July 2013
This update is overdue. The last three weeks have been rather full but in a different kind of way. As far as activities go, I was invited by NDTV to participate in a discussion on whether the Armed Forces are heroes only in a time of crisis. I said what I had to which is on this Blog. My view is that every country and every society has structure. Internal security and external protection are the responsibilities of the police and the Armed Forces and their members have joined of their own volition and not as a result of conscription. They have chosen the profession, been trained and received many generous allowances which far exceed what 120 other services get. The government has also instituted several rewards, awards and avenues for recognition for bravery during wartime as well as in peacetime.
Comparisons with civil servants cannot be made because as a part of their profession, they have volunteered and undertaken to do jobs which require not just valour but also sacrifice. There is not a single person in the country, old or young, educated or not who would not applaud, even venerate the Armed Forces for protecting us, not just in times of war but also when natural calamities strike or there is distress for which the help is sought; but it must be understood that this too is a direct component of their responsibility and should not be treated as an obligation.
But that does not mean that every such occasion should be used to trump up stories of gross neglect by the government and to forever seek status and importance comparable with that of civil servants. We are a democracy and in that the people supreme and are represented by the elected Government in power, headed either by ministers or by civil servants, depending upon the situation. Simply because one does not like politicians and bureaucrats it does not mean that the Armed Forces are by virtue of the special sacrifices they make, entitled to demand civilian privileges while keeping their own.
This piece in my blog should not be read as a diatribe against the Armed Forces whom I admire and respect greatly. I have worked in the Ministry of Defence and enjoyed the best of relations with all the “OGs” that worked in the red carpeted South Block with its wood panelled interiors. Earlier my local guardian when I was in boarding school in Shimla was an Army officer and that gave me the opportunity for many years thereafter to enjoy the rudimentary but fantastically interesting lives they live.
With that special relationship which is even today unforgettable, I feel surprised at the tendency to resurrect old wounds which have to do with pay, pensions, perks by making impassioned speeches in the media, deprecating everyone else. That is not the best way to gain public sympathy. That every Indian recognises the contribution and salutes it goes without saying.
On a completely different note, I started reviewing books written by civil servants. I am truly amazed at the hard work and dedication of so many who have used a particular posting to glean information and voted together in a way that a wider public can understand the status of something as vital but unglamorous as female foeticide, open defecation and the like. I hope the reviews I write would lead to more people using the vast amount of information that has been collected in such an authentic way.
Lots of other things have happened, chief among them being my newfound interest in somehow increasing my energy levels and agility. After undergoing rather exacting (and exhausting) yoga sessions in the morning and striding the treadmill at 6.5 kilometres an hour most afternoons, I can at least attempt to squat on the floor and get up without a hand. I can certainly get into and out of low-level cars without having to clutch the driver’s seat or the door. The best part is that I can find my own shoes.
But there has to be a fly in the ointment- surely. Two such flies have cropped up suddenly to spoil the fun. I need cataract operations in both the eyes and have therefore to confront the fact that although it may be routine, old age has come.
See you soon, hopefully after at least one operation is done. Before signing off, I got the bad news that a relative has been diagnosed with stage IV of colon cancer. Were there any symptoms? No no symptoms whatsoever. Since the patient is highly educated and Internet savvy she was surprised when during a routine check-up the TSR was high and hemoglobin somewhat low. Two general practitioners told her it was nothing to worry about and to take iron supplements. But she knew that a high TSR meant that there was some infection inside and she went to a specialist who first ordered an ultrasound and then a CT scan. The bad news came soon thereafter. I am ending on this unhappy note just to warn readers that we must all learn a little about the basics of medicine and be prepared to investigate even if doctors pooh-pooh a medical report whether because they are too busy or could not care less!.
With all good wishes,
We returned to India quite comfortably even landing before time although we took of late. Indeed it was a really restful flight and I slept through most of it. The security and immigration lines at JFK were however crazy if they were not so scary. Unlike our system, immigration and security at JFK are both done together at the same place but when the numbers run into hundreds, there is no question whatsoever of saying, “I will miss my flight – please let me go ahead” – you are just a dot on the horizon and if you miss your flight – bad luck. No one cares. .
A blast of hot air greeted us at Delhi airport. Except for staying awake all night the first night, things have fallen into place quite smoothly. I spent the weekend sending out photos and clearing the cupboards and as usual was delighted when I found all kinds of things which had been lost and forgotten. Of course one misses the American walk in closets- the last word in finding what you want, when you want without so much as bending down for perching on a stool !
Uttaranchal and all the fights that are unrolling in the media make one feel disgusted. I was not invited for any TV show so I am giving my views anyway.The fact of the matter is that every state – ruled by the BJP or by the UPA has the right to insist that disaster management and relief have to be coordinated by the state. There will be bedlam if different state governments and NGOs start working for groups of people. After all they have been disasters in the past – be it the earth quakes in Bhuj and Latur, the cyclone in Odisha and the tsunami in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Things got coordinated and everyone got a chance to involve himself and collaborate. But to go directly and expect to set up relief operations independently is being arrogant and foolish – both.
But extremely worrying is the fact that greedy politicians and spineless bureaucrats have got together and ruined just about every hill station. Mussoorie the so-called Queen of the hills, Simla where I went to school when diesel fumes and vehicular pollution were unknown, Kulu and Manali have been overtaken by shabby shops selling rubbish, bad food with the level of overcrowding one can only find in dirty street bazaars. Who allowed all the encroachments? Who allowed high-rise five and six story buildings to come up on the precipice and cliffs of mountain slopes that once held their integrity bound by the roots of the majestic Deodars and pines? Could the bureaucrats not see the writing on the wall? All these places are doomed to meet their nemesis and Uttaranchal is only a harbinger of times to come. I know I sound angry but I cringe at the thought that so-called leaders and opinion makers and public servants allowed this to happen and now dare to throw stones at one another as people lose their family members and burn their dead. Uttrachal collapsed in a heap because of the unprecedented rains. But much of the collapse could have been anticipated and instaed of pandering to public sentiment the authorities are blameworthy for ignoring public safety.
On that tearful note,