Friday, December 26, 2008

A call centre saga...no...make that two...

Over the last week, I have been wondering if I should refuse to call any customer care centre as a mark of protest. The first of my two experiences was exasperating. But, the second, was infuriating. But, let me start from the beginning.

It was Monday morning. Our fax in office was not functioning. I had to call HP customer care and complain. More importantly, the printer was not picking up paper properly and I had to get an engineer to visit. The process took me 45 minutes. Here is how the conversation went. I call, identify myself and my company and politely ask explain my problem. My first call goes waste as the Customer care executive has no clue what to do. She promises to call back. Which she does. Here is how the conversation went.

Me: I have an all-in-one. The printer and scanner are working fine, but the fax is simply not going through.

Customer Care Exec.: Ma'am, you will have to follow our instructions so that we try to resolve your problem over phone.

Me: Uh, ok. What should I do?

Customer Care Exec.: Ma'am, there are three cables behind your printer; a fat one, a very fat one, and a thin one.

Me: (already exasperated) Which one are you talking about, the power cable, the RJ45 or the RJ11 telephone cable?

Customer Care Exec.: Pardon me ma'am, but I don't think you understood. There is a fat cable...

Me: (interrupting) Yes I know. But which one do you want me to check? The phone cable, the data cable or the power cable.

Customer Care Exec.: (Finally catching on to the fact that I am not completely illiterate.) The power cable ma'am. Please follow it to the other end and check if it is plugged into the mains.

Me: Are you mad? I am telling you my scanner and printer are working fine. How would that happen if the printer is not turned on? Will you please send an engineer to set my fax right and to check on my paper pick-up mechanism?

Customer Care Exec.: Sorry ma'am, we are only authorised to send our service engineers for hardware problems. Is your fax having a hardware problem or a software problem?

Me: How the hell am I supposed to know? You must tell me.

Customer Care Exec.: But, we can't send an engineer unless we know ma'am.

This conversation continues for a good half an hour before she has a brainwave and decides to log the complaint for referral to her supervisor. Soon enough, she returns.

Customer Care Exec.: I am sorry ma'am. The paper pick-up seems to be a hardware problem. We will send an engineer and he can fix the fax also while he is there.

Me: Thank you.

Customer Care Exec.: And ma'am, we have a special offer. Would you like to go in for a low-cost inkjet at just Rs.7999 for pesonal use?

And and that point, I give up trying to reason with her. I am calling from an office that will soon have close to 200 employees. And she proposes a personal inkjet?? I do wish these call centre executives would use their God-given brains once in a while!

Now, the second incident. The call centre in question is Airtel. I was getting unsolicited calls from a particular Airtel number. The calls were sometimes exasperating, but mostly irritating. The subscriber has obviously got my number from somewhere and the calls I got were bordering on sexual harassment. I decide to report abuse to the Airtel customer care, despite the fact that I have a Vodafone prepaid connection. The conversation goes like this. The emphasis, needless to say, is mine.

Me: I am calling to report abuse by an Airtel subscriber.

Customer Care Exec.: I am sorry ma'am. We cannot reveal details of one subscriber to another.

Me: I don't want the details. I don't care who he is. I want to register an abuse complaint against him. That's all.

Customer Care Exec.: Ok ma'am, I will register your complaint. I will send an acknowledgement number. Please save it. Thank you for calling Airtel, have a great evening.

Please note, that at this point, he neither asked for my name, nor my number, nor even the number of the person I was complaining against.

Me: (almost shouting now) Will you please listen? I have not finished. I want to file a complaint. A complaint of abuse. This is sexual harassment.

Customer Care Exec.: I understand ma'am. But, we cannot do anything. You must go to the police.

Me: Are you telling me you will not register a complaint against the subscriber?

Customer Care Exec.: How a subscriber uses his number is not Airtel's responsibility.

Me: Are you willing to go on record on that?

Customer Care Exec.: Yes ma'am.

Me: Well, all right then. I will register a police complaint. I will include Airtel as accomplice, as you are refusing to register my complaint.

Customer Care Exec.: Ma'am,  understand your problem. You must go to the police. Handling cases of sexual harassment is not our business.

Me: Do you have an email id where I can put this down in writing?

Customer Care Exec.: www...

Me: I was an EMAIL ID, not a web URL.

Customer Care Exec.: oh. ok then, 121@airtel.com

Me: Ok.

Customer Care Exec.: Thank you for calling Airtel.

The phone line is cut. The executive has still not taken my name, number or the number of the person. The name of the executive is with me. He revealed that after asking three times, while they are in fact trained to identify themselves personally before proceeding with the call. Is there something I can do? The call centre executive I spoke to treated me as if I was the criminal, not the victim. He hasn't bothered to get the basic minimum details from me. He has in fact, on record, absolved himself and Airtel of all responsibility for how a subscriber uses his number. If the problem was a terror threat and not sexual harassment? Will Airtel behave the same way?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Spread the cheer...it's Christmas time!!

Yay! I have been awarded again. And since it's Christmas time, I am spreading the cheer by awarding my fellow bloggers. Here we go...

The proximity award and the Cup

the-award-cup proximidade_blog_award

Nita awards me the Cup and the Proximity award. I love the proximity award. And I am certainly glad my readers love me. Thanks people. :-) I pass these on to Imp's Mom, Chandni, Mad Momma Silverine, Alankrita, Krishna and IHM.

Butterfly award

butterfly

 

Trailblazer and Nita give me the butterfly award too for being the coolest blog they know. :-) Thanks. Me feeling shy now. Here, I pass them on once again to Alankrita, Krishna and IHM. I seem to be giving them a lot of awards. And to Nita of course, whose blog is super duper cool.

Certified Honest Blogger award

honest-blogger-award

And, saving the best for the last, Trailblazer gives me the certified honest blogger award. What do I say? I am absolutely thrilled. Thank you so much Trailblazer. It is greatly satisfying. This is perhaps the most satisfying award I have ever got. Thanks again. And I pass it on to the Minking Than, and Idea Smith. Good work dude! It's quite obvious you think. I award Alankrita, Krishna and IHM, again! But anyway.

There! I am finally done!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mob justice is not justice

I recently came across a news item, where a lawyer was forced to give a written statement that he would not represent Kasab, the lone arrested terrorist of the Mumbai attacks, by activists of the Shiv Sena. A blogger asks why we must not skin him alive, because the public is baying for blood. He is outraged that we are actually talking legal action against someone who was seen massacring people on camera. Now, there are two things to consider in this issue. The first is firmness in dealing with terror. The second is respect for the rule of law.

Rohit, in his blog on Nationalinterest clearly argues that this is not the way to fight terror. I agree.
The first of the concepts is firmness in handling terror. India can show the world it is firm by bringing the culprits to justice. And bringing them to justice through the due process of law. Lynching, skinning him alive, killing him in a fake encounter or throwing him to hungry lions will not do the job. After all, there must be something distinguishing India from the terrorists. That something is its justice system. I am not saying that India's criminal justice system is infallible. I am just saying saying, let's save what we have. It is easy to get carried away and demand an eye for an eye when we are angry. But an eye for an eye is not bring back our lost eye. Of course Kasab must be brought to justice. But, this time the evidence is watertight. The judgement will surely be favourable to the victims. He will be punished. But, to argue that we must not contemplate legal action but hand him to wild dogs is unacceptable in any democracy. If there is one thing we must pride ourselves on, it is our democratic system. To behave in such a barbaric fashion would amount to compromising the basic principles that India represents. On that note, read this excellent article by Salil Tripathi.

If philosophy and justice do not appeal to the likes of Roshan (the blogger who calls for blood), I think one simple technical detail will. Our criminal justice system is founded on the British Common Law principle. If an accused is not represented in a trial, and if he refuses to defend himself, he can be released and walk scot-free. Indian jurisprudence speaks of such a situation. The course before us is now clear. We allow our best lawyers to defend Kasab, but still mete out the sternest punishment to the man who massacred before our very eyes. After all, that is only fair. Kasab will be punished, but not by throwing him to hungry lions. The courts will still be the supreme deciding authorities. The rule of law will still prevail. After all, that is what we fought long and hard for. And that, to me, is what distinguishes us from Pakistan.

Edit: Dr. Roshan, whose blog I linked to in the first paragraph, has changed his mind. He accepts he was frustrated and that his was a knee-jerk reaction. I will only say this. Thanks for understanding Dr. Roshan. :-)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On the media in terror attacks

This is a continuation of sorts of my previous post on the Media and Government in Mumbai. I came across this post by Anjali Deshpande and S K Pande in the Hoot that effectively chronicles all that is wrong with media coverage of the Mumbai attacks. Also, Mukul Kesavan makes a couple of compelling points in his article in the Telegraph. At least someone is thinking right! This is reassuring. And both articles make a compelling read.

But today, my point is somewhat different. While there is no debate on the fact that the media behaved irresponsibly, the Times of India came up with something worth reflecting on. In a short write-up on Page2 of the Chennai edition, it spoke of the psychological effect of constant media coverage on kids. This is especially true in Chennai, because kids were home all day, thanks to incessant rains and flooding, and sat glued to TV all day long. They may not understand the gravity of the situation, but they certainly understand that something is wrong. They can’t figure out why people are killing one another. This trauma is especially high when one of the parents is always travelling.

This is exactly why the television media needs to show some restraint in airing unedited images of the carnage. News channels are aired 24/7. There is no censorship possible, nor is it desirable, with respect to news channels. But, is the media not responsible for what it airs on prime-time television. As an adult, I remember being both shocked and traumatised with the gory images and bloodshed on television. The image of two guests lying face-down, shot dead by terrorists at the Taj were too horrible to forget. Of course, with the level of maturity I possess as an adult, I was able to overcome that shock. But, imagine the state of mind of a 10-year-old who watches this on TV. The child, being a child, is scarred for life. Does the media have any answer to all this? Or will they continue to be guided by the cardinal principle of TRPs and viewership? We may never know.

Friday, December 05, 2008

On media and government in Mumbai

A lot has been said about the role of the media in covering the Mumbai terror attacks. And the government has often been criticised for colossal failure. But, we need to take a step back from the blame game and think. Who is responsible for the current state of affairs?

First, the government. Over the past few days, I have heard many people tell me, time and again, that we need a strong government that will impose emergency. We need someone like Indira Gandhi. Do we really? Think about it? Many of us were not even born at the time of the Emergency in 1977. But, ask your parents and grandparents. Would they like to go back to a time when banks were nationalised, IBM and Coca-Cola were thrown out, and unmarried young men were forcibly sterilised to meet some quota? Are we, as a people, willing to give up our liberty and right to free speech in exchange for security? Let me tell you. I am not. I would rather die free than live a long and bonded life. Yes, everything is not right in India. Yes, the government is weak. Yes, we have a lame-duck Prime Minister who listen to high command at 10, Janpath. But, at least he is an elected representative. Let us not forget that his faults are not his alone. Who is responsible? We. We elected him right? We elected the government. We are responsible for the government we have. In a democracy, people get the government they deserve. And we are a democracy. I would rather India remain that way.

Next, the media. The way the media behaved was unpardonable. This article by Barkha Dutt hits the nail on the head. In trying to justify the media's actions, she actually exposes the real motives behind their actions. The viewer is king, she says. So, what the public wants they will give. This is pure and simple commerce. With no sense of responsibility, they cater to the whims of the market. For all they want are TRPs. The coverage of the attacks were simply irresponsible and reprehensible. There are no two ways about it. Whether the likes of rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt accept it or not, the media has lost its credibility and given in to sensationalism of the worst kind.

That said, I still stand by the right to free speech. However much we may want to censor and control, it is not the way to go. We need to give space to differing opinions. We need to encourage free thinking. And most of all, we need to stand by our democracy in the worst of times. Only then, will we survive the threat.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

An open letter to Vikram Chandra

This is a guest post by my friend Sriram. He is sending it to NDTV. I was not sure they would actually publish it though. So, I got permission to publish it on my blog. Mail him (and me too if you want to), with comments and feedback.

Thanks to the storms that ravaged in Tamil Nadu, I was marooned in my house through the latter part of the past week. This in fact gave me enough time to become a couch potato. I had been sitting glued in front of the proverbial idiot box as things unfolded at the three places as also the programs in the after math of the incidents.

In a sense I was taken in by the moving comments of Prannoy Roy and that of Vikram Chandra. I also concur that some thing needs to be done. But what?

Where do we start was a question that kept coming back to me. I guess, we were posing all the right questions at the right time but who was asking, mattered the most.

Will the Home minister take the responsibility?

Now at least will we have reforms in the Police?

Will we have reforms in the home land security?

All these were on air, for the most part of the week end. Let us stop here for a moment to think over these questions. Are we on the right side to question the Central ministry? I guess not. Here I am putting myself on the frying pan and try giving an answer this simple question.

I guess I am not. The mere fact that I exercise my franchise does not give me the right to question the top most authority. I have also exercised the same franchise to elect the local governance. Do I stand up for my rights, when I am affected? Here I mean, Power cuts, water logging, etc. which affect my life on a daily basis. Sincerely, I don’t.

Then when such a ghastly act of such magnitude happens how can I pose questions like these? The truth is we are all caught up in our own rat races in life? And as Shekhar Gupta put it in your channel - Let us see if we carry on in this same vigour two weeks from now. It is not only for your media channels, it is the same for any common man. The simple truth is – Life must go on.

Having said this I am not meaning we should take this lying down. Yes we need to do some thing. Most of the times we expect the government to do everything that we desire. Let us face it, it is impossible for any elected government to always fulfil every dream of every citizen.

What we can do is, start taking over a few things that we expect the government to do on ourselves. For example, have mock drills similar to the fire drills in all places of employment. Highlight the importance of saving a injured soul, an invalid, aged persons who might be caught unawares. In cases of such hotels please invite the guests to go through the drills by highlighting the importance of such drills. Have experts come on television and talk of the importance of staying focused on what has to be done in such situations. These should be made mandatory in all offices, Places where there can be a mass movement of people.

On normal days, How many of us stop and help people who have met with an accident. All we need to do is call a toll free number and state that a person needs help. But do we do that.

We should look at organizations similar to that of St.John’s ambulance Association in India and get those organizations to train common people in First Aid and help in Trauma care. These kinds of measures will mitigate or in the least try to mitigate knee-jerk reactions by the people affected. We can at least save a few souls, rather than mourn for the colossal loss of human life.

This would at least help the agencies of the government who take over the control during such situations carry on with their work and not get overloaded.

I guess this is an important lesson that we have learnt by being a citizen of this glorious country. This is only the beginning, everyone who has been affected by this incident will learn a lesson and the question is how we put that lesson into practice in the most objective manner is what matters.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A bad night...and a worse day ahead

I was planning to move to WordPress today. But, there seems to be a problem with the move. I still haven't figured out how to move without damaging the blog. But, all these troubles suddenly seem trivial. I sat glued to television for almost 2 hours this morning. I couldn't react. I was shocked beyond measure. A bomb blast is one thing. It has happened before, and will continue to happen for many years to come. But, the audacity with which terrorists stormed the Taj and Trident, is too horrifying to analyse. It has taken me nearly six hours to come to terms with the tragedy, and gather my thoughts to actually write about it. I am still not being very coherent. I am sitting in far-off Chennai, but you never know. I could be next on their radar. Or the people I love and cherish. Suddenly, the world seems a lot more unsafe than it was yesterday.

But, taking a step back from the human tragedy that is playing out all around us, we must ask the all-important question, "Is the Indian State soft on terror?" I am not an expert. I have no idea what kind of intelligence the government had. But, I do wonder how 20 terrorists managed to sneak into Mumbai, armed with AK-47 assault rifles and grenades, by sea, without being detected. Are our coastlines that porous? I understand that the coast can never be hermetically sealed. Fishing trawlers, merchant vehicles and catamarans will continue to ply, and for entirely innocent purposes. But, the terrorists used rubberised boats to get into Mumbai. It's too scary to contemplate what this means to other, not-so-safe locations along the coast.

Amidst all this drama, the Prime Minister has not uttered a single word. We hear he has called for an emergency meeting. Good. But, is it not his responsibility, as the Head of the Government to reassure his people that his government will act? I don't know about protocol, but the PMO claims it will be inappropriate for the PM to address the nation while military operations are still on. I just do not get it. Why? Why is it not appropriate for the elected representative of the nation to talk to those who elected him? We are not asking him for information on the operations. We are simply asking for a reassurance that the state will not hesitate to act. Is it too much to ask?

I have refrained from criticising the government so far. I have tried my best, despite my dislike for the Gandhi family, to give the government the benefit of doubt. But now, I am not so sure. They are keeping a convicted terrorist alive and politicking. Politicians are busy playing the blame game. They are delaying Afzal Guru's execution for fear of hurting minority sentiments. Do we really think our country's Muslims are pro-Guru? I seriously doubt it. What are they waiting for? For another attack on Parliament? Or one on 10, Janpath maybe? It is time for the government to act. Before it is too late.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Comment policy revisited

Ok. This is getting annoying. I really need to reiterate some things. I have a comment policy. So, please read it before commenting. Also, I need to add a couple of things to it. Insulting me (or women in general) via e-mail and claiming it is personal just does not cut it. I am open to discussion, but that means my readers must be open to criticism too. If you can't take it, stay away. Here is an updated version of my existing comment policy.

  • All opinions expressed in the blog posts are mine and mine alone. If I have used someone else's comments or opinions, I either cite them verbatim, or link to their blog (assuming they have one) or at least credit them in some way. So, if you have a problem with it, you are free to say so. But, that DOES NOT MEAN you insult or degrade or threaten.

  • Opinions published on the blogs do not reflect those of my past, current or future employers. Here again, I am solely responsible for all that I say.

  • Comments on my blogs are not moderated. That is because I believe in the right to free speech. But, let me make it clear that the site, and blogs associated with it, belong to me. If I find inappropriate or insulting comments, I reserve the right to delete them. I refrain from moderation because I believe my readers are informed and educated people who can differentiate between a disagreement and hate speech.

  • Comments that spread racial, ethnic or caste hatred, and those that are discriminatory will be summarily deleted.

  • I neither endorse nor necessarily agree with opinions expressed in the comments.

  • If you want to send me an email, you are most welcome. I entertain mails on my site, things that I have said, or professional inquiries. I DO NOT, however, entertain any provocative comments. If you want to be provocative, you are free to be so on my comment forum. My email is not a tool to fight.

  • I made the mistake of bothering to take someone seriously once. All provocative emails will henceforth be summarily deleted and NOT ACKNOWLEDGED.

  • Finally, please leave a name when you comment. Anonymous comments are not disabled, but you will make a better impact if you leave a name, any name, even if it is a pseudonym. I don't take opinions of those who refuse to name themselves seriously. Nor to I deign to reply. That should speak for itself.

Got it?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

On Feminism - II

Cris commented on my previous post saying my post was more subtle than she expected it to be. I explained that the stimulus was intellectual and not emotional and so I was able to take an objective stand. But, it seems that the heavens think otherwise. Why else would I get a mail, with a comment to the post, that provokes and insinuates and almost dares me to respond? Sigh! Divine providence! :-P

Mahesh Anand, who commented on the previous post, (I removed the link because the author deleted the post) also sent me an email with comments. I will try and rebut the major points. He says he does not want to start an argument. Doesn't matter. Some things must be discussed. For the better or for the worse. So, here we go.

First, the question of smoking and drinking. He says smoking and drinking are a vice anyway. I agree. But, my opinion is slightly different. I have no problems with smoking being condemned and criticised. It ruins one's health and can cause a wide range of ailments, from impotence to cancer. But, I feel the need to clarify that alcohol in itself is not bad. It is the excessive consumption and abuse of alcohol that make it dangerous to well-being. But, my idea was not to eulogise smoking and drinking. People are free to decide what the limits of socially acceptable behaviour are. But, whatever they may be, they should be the same for men and women. That is all. Whether that freedom is exercised by the woman is another question. The keyword here is equality. As for women smoking in Mumbai, I do not see the connection. Men smoke in Mumbai too. Why are women singled out to become symbols of decadence? I don't get it.

Next, to my comment on beauty treatments and threading, he says, "To your comments about beauty, waxing, facials, eyebrows.... i feel that you are being noticed for all these that you are doing this." I am sure many of you will agree, but what women do is their business. And the men may please stop deluding themselves. We do not do our eyebrows and fingernails, wax or get facials for you to notice us. You are not the be all and end all of our existence. As a woman, I do all this because it makes me feel great. Just like getting a nice oil massage makes anyone, man or woman, relax. And there is a more important person in the whole waxing, threading, facials deal. Me. Men just happen to occupy the same part of the world. That's all. Thank God, all men are not the same.

Finally, a comment on women wearing sleeveless. "I have always wondered why its the ladies who always prefer tops without sleeves.I have never seen gents preferring the same to show their biceps." Same answer as above. We wear sleeveless because we feel nice in them. Men just happen to be there when we wear them. We do not wear them so that men can ogle at our skin. Ok? If men do not wear sleeveless, it is their choice. Don't expect us not to wear it simply because men do not.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

On Feminism

I have been tagged (by Cris) to write on what feminism is to me. Well, ok. Here we go. First of all, I do not like the term feminism. It has too many negative connotations, too much baggage and too much snobbery associated with it. Many people seem to think that feminism means man-hating. Or man-bashing. Sorry, but I do not agree. So, to avoid all that historic and cultural baggage associated with the term, I will try and not use the term.

To put it simply, feminism to me, is the notion that women must be as free as men to do what they want to. Note that I have deliberately used the phrase "as free as men". I do recognise that as human beings, we are all bound by society, by rules and by traditions. But, if something is morally and ethically wrong for a woman, it must necessarily be so for a man too. Take for example, drinking and smoking. If it is socially unacceptable for a woman to smoke, it must necessarily be so for men too. What I cannot tolerate, is mothers defending their drunk, and totally brainless sons by saying they are men. Trust me, it happens. My friend's husband comes home drunk every night. His mother defends him thus, "He is a man. He must be having a million problems in office. So, he drinks to relax. You have no business asking him to stop." This violates my innate sense of justice. If the mother's justification must be accepted, then the daughter-in-law must be permitted to come home drunk after a long day's work too. Ok? Got it?

Also, being a feminist does not mean doing things like a man. I am not a man. I cannot behave like one. I will not keep my nails dirty, my underarms unshaven and my eyebrows looking like a forest simply because men do have to wax, pedicure or thread. This is ridiculous. I have heard many self-proclaimed feminist protest against the feminine stereotype of beautiful, smooth legs and shaped eyebrows. Excuse me, but I love to do all that and more. It makes me feel feminine. I refuse to change for some deluded notion of feminism. I am a woman, and I would like to feel like one. This includes having regular periods (and no, periods can never be happy), waxing, getting facials, going shopping and buying footwear. I love all of those and I am not planning to stop any time soon.

Another difference of opinion I have had often with feminists, is on the question of parenting. I admit that men have an equal responsibility towards their children. But, I still believe that a mother's caress and care is irreplaceable. I believe that nobody can do a better job than mom in caring for the babies. If it means that my career takes a back seat, so be it. It is for my children. My career can wait. I simply do not agree with some feminists equating stay-at-home moms with prisoners. Many do it because they care. I would.

Feminism means not being forced to do, or not do, certain things simply because we were born women. It means having the right to take decisions that will affect us without external interference. It means that as a girl, I must be treated exactly the same as my male siblings or cousins. It means being respected as an individual, cherished as a daughter, pampered as a sister and loved as a wife/girlfriend or mother. Is that too much to ask for?

I tag:

Nita - Expecting a balanced opinion on things. :-)

Christina and Deepan - Very occasional bloggers. But have a blog dedicated to feminism. Would like to hear both.

Roop - Runs a blog against female foeticide. Feminism is her pet subject.

Indian Homemaker - Would love to hear her reaction on the stay-at-home mom bit. :-P

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Feedback please!!

I just switched to a simple Wordpress theme adapted to blogger. Please do tell me how it looks. And tell me if my header image looks appropriate. Will look for something else otherwise. :-)

Legalising live-in relationships

No, I am not doing that mandatory post on Obama. Many others have done it. You can read those. I personally do not care what happens to Obama. I am going to wait and watch how this reflects on US-India relations. In the meantime, read this article on the Times of India, on legalising live-in relationships. It contributes very little to the debate, being as it is, a report. But what gets my goat is the refusal of either the media or the people involved (husbands, wives, lawyers or the general public) to recognise that the live-in girlfriend need not necessarily be the "other woman." She may as well be the only woman in the man's life.

One comment by an aggrieved wife goes thus.

“If those who are living together want the same rights as married couples, there’s an easy answer: Let them get married. They can’t have their cake and eat it too. And has anyone spared a thought for the wife,’’ says Riddhima, a 36-year-old whose husband left her two years ago and has since moved in with a colleague.

Right! Of course. I agree that she has been wronged and have every right to feel that way. But, how is it fair that she blame the girlfriend? Also, what difference does it make to her status as wife? She is still the legally wedded wife. She still has a right over her husband's property, and alimony in case of divorce. Why is she so against the girlfriend having the same rights? To say, "let them get married" is ridiculous. Any number of people stay out of wedlock for many reasons. It is the unwillingness to commit for some, the fear of responsibility for some, and maybe an ideological problem for others. Marriage is essentially a social contract. Personally, I think marriage is the way to go if the people are serious in the relationship. But, I do know some who consider marriage a waste of time, money and energy, especially the way it is done today. Are we going to penalise them for wanting to live their lives the way they deem fit? I think not. While social sanction cannot be forced, at least the law must take steps to ensure that cohabitation is treated on par with marriage. The Maharashtra government proposal is a step in the right direction.

Next, the question of children arises. There should be no legal difference between children born to married partners and those born to unmarried partners. The concept of an illegitimate child, in itself, is too archaic to be retained in the 21st century. After all , it is not the child's fault that the parents chose not to get married. How is fair to label a child as "illegitimate"? Adultery or not, the children must be given equal rights as children born within a marriage. The protests of the "wronged woman" are, more often than not, a case of misplaced anger. They find themselves incapable of doing anything their cheating husbands and thus turn their anger on the "other woman." I find that grossly unfair. For all we know, the other woman is a victim too.

Finally, one argument against the proposal was made by a noted lawyer, Mahesh Jethmalani. He asks,

But the amendment has its critics, as noted lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani says, “It is like allowing bigamy for married men. Is the government trying to recommend polygamy?”(...)“Only a small number of couples live in, so what is the urgency for such a proposal?’’ asks Jethmalani.

Wait a second. Only a small number are live-in couples. So, there is no need for a law. By that logic, only a small number of people commit murder. So, there is no need for a law there either right? Since when is law governed by the will or need of the majority? Do minorities of all hues and shades not have a right to a decent law? Even if only 1% of India's total population lives in, they still must have a law to ensure that their rights are protected. The law of the majority is simply regressive in this case. That such an argument is coming from a noted lawyer is shocking. I can only hope that the debate is conducted the right way, taking into account the fact that an increasing number of young, never-married, couples are choosing to live-in without marriage. We need comprehensive guidelines for them. Even if they are minuscule portion of India's population.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The spirit of debate

There was an excellent article in the Times of India today, on how children are actively discouraged from asking questions by educational institutions. First, check it out here. We pride ourselves on our intelligence; we wax eloquent about how good we are in the sciences, how we excel in everything we do, and on how India is the destination for tomorrow's world. But, we cannot answer one single unexpected question. Most Indians cannot think outside the box. What else can explain the appalling lack of innovation in Indian industry?

Take for example the question of patents. Statistics show that India is approximately ten years behind India as far as patent-filing and innovation go. The WIPO Patent Statistics Report 2008 (PDF) presents an even more depressing picture. Consider this, The United States is the world's largest seeker of international patents. India does not even figure prominently. It is relegated to the dungeons of statistical tools under the catch-all phrase "other". Given below is the graph illustrating this statistic.

Image5

What this statistic illustrates is more important than the statistic itself. India is the world's second most-populous country. We have a population that equals one-sixth of humanity. We have the world's largest number of English-speaking people. We pat ourselves on the back for being a fully-functional and vibrant democracy. But, we cannot manage to obtain even a minuscule fraction of the world's intellectual property. To me, this is a damning evidence of the gross failure of the country's educational system. I have written about this before. But, nothing seems to change. In the mad race for marks and grades, we seem to be losing focus of the very objective of education: to educate. We are so obsessed with being the best that we forget that all this to actually learn something.

A student in India's schools and universities are banned from asking questions. We fear that questioning will lead to indiscipline. We look upon contradiction as a lack of respect. Personally, I have never felt any respect or sympathy towards teachers who stop students from asking questions. Only a teacher who lacks confidence and self-esteem will fear a student's questions. As the TOI article so aptly points out, it is Indian tradition to question, critique and argue. Why then, are we suppressing this basic instinct in the name of discipline and respect?

I am a debater. I do not participate in debates any more, but I deliberately use the present tense because I still debate in everyday life. I debate the crashing economy with my father, the reasons behind the fall of the stock market with Anand, the necessity to translate every word from French to English with my students, the price of a kilo of tomatoes with the local vendor. It is in my nature. Why then should I, or anyone else for that matter, not be allowed to question a rule, demand an explanation, argue a point or even prove a teacher wrong in our schools and colleges? I fail to see the logic. Dissent is healthy. In fact, it is life. Tell me if I am wrong.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bringing up daughters

One post caught my attention recently. Reema talks about parenting and bringing up daughters. Combining anecdotes with personal experience, she paints a rather accurate picture of what exactly happens today. Thanks Reema, for being objective and analytical. I am not going to comment on parenting methods, because I am not one. I have no idea on how to bring up a child. But, I would definitely like to contribute to the discussion as a daughter.

She cites three incidents, all of them illustrating how excessive control can actually backfire. I guess I have a lot to learn from them. Reema says all there is to say about what she calls misguided discipline. I agree. But, what I have never been able to understand is why parents feel the need to do what they do. Yes, they have given birth to the children. But, the children are individuals too. They are not cattle or property that can be subjected to stupid rules that make no sense. First, and the most obvious problem is the dress code. My cousin, all of 9 years of age is not permitted to wear short skirts or tight-fitting clothes because "everything is seen." I mean, what the hell? She is all of 9 years old for heaven's sake. She is refused capris or shorts because she is a girl and cannot expose too much of her legs. She is refused plunging (or even relatively high) necklines because her slip is visible. She is made to wear clothes that look like they have been stitched in the 60s because they are the only "conservative" ones around. Imagine her plight at 18. Thankfully, I have never had to follow such ridiculous restrictions. My mother's taste in clothes have always been more modern and even bolder than mine. I am thankful to have a mother like that.

Second, the problem of guys. Not all women fall in love and get married. Even among those who do, not all run away from home. Forbidding contact with guys or threatening to lock them up hardly serves the purpose. If someone had treated me like that, I would have eloped a long time ago. Liberty brings responsibility. And children are smart enough to realise that. Unfortunately, parents seem to be too dumb to realise that their kids are smart.

And finally, one comment on the above post pointed out that parents get their daughters married off when they are still studying to avoid problems caused by a possible love affair. Someone I know is getting her daughter married. The girl is 20. She is her third year. She is getting married to a man who is 30, going on 31. The justification?

"We want to get rid of our liabilities. Plus we have a son. We need to save for his education right? What do we do for his engineering seat if we spend all our money on educating our daughter? Plus, her cousin had a love marriage. What if my daughter gets such idiotic ideas too?"

I find this attitude shocking. For me, it was a rude awakening. I had assumed that only uneducated, economically backward families behaved like this. And here we have a chartered accountant drawing a hefty salary of 8 lakhs per annum telling me that his daughter is a liability he must get rid of in order to educate his son better. What about the girl's education? He says it is not important. Because she is going to make babies and stay in the kitchen anyway. So, what's the point in sponsoring her MBA? Then is the question of love marriages. Her cousin fell in love. So? Is that a crime? I am in love too. How does that make me a bad girl? The problem is that they don't want any social criticism. Society and "people" are more important to them than their daughter. What can I say? All this makes me wonder if India has really progressed as much as we claim it has. I think not.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Help!

My comment form is not displaying. Is blogger trying to change something? Please mail me with your suggestions at contact@amruthaupendran.com. Please please!

Edit: Managed to fix it. Thanks to IHM who mailed in. :-) Apparently, something is wrong with the embed function. I disabled it.

Arranging marriages - part II

I just came across this post by Nita. As always, she analyses the issue objectively and dispassionately, something I can never do. Maybe I will as I get older. This post is also a reply to Sidhusaaheb's comment on the previous post on arranged marriages. He links to a Times of India article stating that arranged marriages are catching up in the west. Interesting piece of news that. But, in the western context, arranged marriages would simply mean going on a blind date and eventually deciding to get married to that person.

First things first, as I clarified in the previous post on the issue, arranged marriages per se are not bad. Indeed, I know many people who have had arranged marriages and are living happily. The problem arises when these arranged marriages are forced on the people getting married. Take for example, the custom of getting married to one's first cousin or maternal uncle. A girl is forced to get married to her first cousin because the wealth should not go out of the family. This is often the case with men too. Even when the age difference is very high, such arrangements are made for reasons varying from finances to keeping the family together.

Also, the fact that the west is adopting this system does not automatically justify its existence in the 21st century. I continue to believe that people should be free to choose their partners. Whether it is for love, or for other considerations, is immaterial. What is important is that the choice be with those getting married. Much as we claim that India has evolved, this evolution remains confined to urbanised, educated India. Even in this category, there continue to be forced marriages, even if this reality is too difficult for us to accept.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Indian Feminism

Read this article in the International Herald Tribune. It speaks of Indian feminism. And lo and behold, it is written by a man. Who seems to understand exactly what women want and need. Before moving on to my post, do check out this excellent rebuttal by sociologist Shilpa Phadke. It's definitely worth reading.

Anand Giridharidas' article starts innocently enough, talking as it does about a fictitious character in a "chick-lit" novel. But very quickly, it degenerates into woman-bashing. No, scratch that. "Modern-woman"-bashing. This paragraph for example.

"Arshi and her female friends smoke, drink and fornicate their way through life. But if liberation is defined more sweepingly, as the freedom to do whatever men do, and to define oneself other than by one's relationships to men, then Reddy Madhavan's heroines are less liberated than they think."

Excuse me, but all women need not smoke, drink and "fornicate their way through life" to be considered modern women. Indeed, women who have never done any of the above can well be considered modern. If the author of the novel reviewed really intended to show the shallowness of the women who pay "lip service to women's lib", she might have said things differently. Then again, all we have in the article is a skewed and prejudiced viewpoint as projected by Giridharidas. Too many generalisations, too much prejudice and an assumption that he knows all about Indian feminism results in a badly-written review that is insulting to the book, and to the intelligence of the readers. The author allegedly said in a telephonic interview that the book reflects the "real dualities" that Indian women straddle. According to the author, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, her heroine sees men as "emotional and financial feeding tubes." It cannot get any worse. The author is free to create any heroine she wants. But claiming that it represents a large majority of Indian women is ridiculous.

I just don't get the point. So, urban women, however educated they may be, smoke, drink, get laid with multiple lovers and get married for money, simply because they want to show the world they are feminists? I am insulted. I belong to that category of urban, educated and independent Indian women. I do not do any of the above simply to prove I am liberated. I made certain choices. They were entirely mine. Smoking, drinking or getting laid are not symbols of modernism. Nor are they symbols of feminism. I am tired of explaining this over and over. Feminism does not mean behaving like a man. If men sleep around, it does not mean we must do the same to be feminist. Feminism simply means having the right to choose how to live, within the framework of a society. Having as much freedom as any other individual.

Anand Giridharidas makes yet another unpardonable generalisation when he says,

"Indian feminism is the feminism of compromise. It is the feminism of daughters who press their parents for late curfews, but would never hurt them by dating a man of another religion. It is the feminism of women who collect big paychecks by day, but do not question husbands who treat them like maids by night. It is the feminism of women who cope privately with workplace harassment, but never see it as a systemic phenomenon to be fought."

All this is simply untrue. Yes, daughter hesitate to hurt their parents by falling in love with someone from another religion. But, that is not because they are scared of them. It is because they, or should I say we, love our parents too much to see them hurt. But, if it does happen, we are not scared to stick to our decisions. Sexual harassment at the workplace is hard to fight because people in decision-making areas are men. And those men do not want to see change. It is also because when a woman is sexually harassed, she somehow brought it upon herself and invited trouble. It is because our society does not want to see harassment or even rape as a crime. It is a way to prove to the world that you are a man.

On that note, I saw a movie the other day. Titled "Varalaaru a.k.a Godfather", it symbolises the worst of Indian society's attitude towards its women. The heroine stops her wedding to an effeminate man, a classical dancer. The man, wanting to prove that he is indeed a man, rapes her. This act is condoned by the mother of the victim, because her daughter is arrogant and adamant, apparently enough reason to rape her. What the hell? The victim, not even called a victim in the film, ends up in the psychiatric ward, mentally deranged by the injustice meted out to her. But the story is not hers. It is the story of a noble classical dancer spurned at the altar by an arrogant bitch, whom he taught to a lesson. You seriously expect women to report sexual harassment in the workplace, given that the movie was a stupendous success? She will be blamed of course. Labelled characterless, she will lose her job and be rejected by family and friends to die lonely years later. What do you expect?

Finally, Giridharidas assumes he knows all that women want. And he is not even one. What gives him the right to generalise and assume the way he does? The fact that IHT has given him a regular column? Oh come on! Give me a break!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Tagged! :-)

So, I have finally been tagged. Was thanking my stars nobody thought of me so far. But Cris broke the jinx. Thanks Cris! :-) Here we go. The rules, as I found them on Cris' blog.

RULE #1 People who have been tagged must write their answers on their blogs and replace any question that they dislike with a new question formulated by themselves.

RULE #2 Tag 6 people to do this quiz and those who are tagged cannot refuse. These people must state who they were tagged by and cannot tag the person whom they were tagged by continue this game by sending it to other people.

1. If your lover betrayed you what would your reaction be?

Hmm. Tough one already. Probably walk out. And certainly never forgive.

2. What’s it that you see in an ideal partner?

A stable head on his shoulders, and a mind of his own. Even if it means we fight.

3. What, according to you, is the perfect date?

Cappuccino, and more cappuccino...and more cappuccino! :P

4. Would you like to have children soon enough? Or would you wait till your mid-thirties for the first child?

Replacing question: Do you like children?

I prefer to answer Cris' question. I like kids as long as they don't cry.

5. Will you fall in love with your best friend?

No. We were never friends. Cannot think of a friend as a lover.

6. Which is more blessed: loving someone or being loved by someone?

I am greedy. I want both. But, if I have to choose. Being loved is much better.

7. How long do you intend to wait for someone you love?

As long as necessary. Forever.

8. If the person you secretly like is attached, what will you do?

Walk away. It's not worth it. As I said, being loved is better than loving.

9. If you could root for one social cause, what would it be?

Free education for children. For as long as they want to study.

10. Do you lie?

Yes. I would be in major trouble if I did not. :P

11. Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

Happily married, two kids, enough money to live, happy with work. Don't ask what work I will be doing. I have no clue.

12. What’s your fear?

Losing people I love. It's always been my greatest fear.

13. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is?

A good writer who I hope will be famous some day. Then, I can proudly say I knew her all those years ago. :P

14. Would you rather be single and rich or married and poor?

Married and poor. Can't think of life without him.

15. If you fall in love with two people simultaneously who will you pick?

Lol. Sweet dreams. Falling in love once is bad enough. Twice?? No thanks.

16. Would you give all in a relationship?

Yes. Without compromising some basic principles.

17. Would you forgive and forget someone no matter how horrible a thing he has done?

Same as Cris. Might forgive, but will definitely not forget.

18. Do you prefer being single or in a relationship?

In a relationship of course.

19. Your all time favourite song. Only ONE. And why?

Hmm... Tough one again. Will settle for New York Nagaram from Sillunu Oru Kaadal.

Tagging.

Can't think of anyone in particular. I leave this tag free for anyone to take up. :-)

Friday, October 03, 2008

On the US financial crisis

Check out this great post by Greatbong. If you have no idea what the hell is happening in the US, this is a good place to go. :-)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sexism among IITians

There! It's official. You have no business being in the IITs if you are not a man. What else do you assume while reading this webpage (the page has since been modified) on the site of the latest IIT global summit? The IIT alumni global summit will take place in December, at IIT Madras. While the IITian "chooses to inspire, innovate and transform", the organisers have thought of "an exclusive track designed to keep Spouses and Families completely informed and entertained". And presumably, spouse in their vocabulary means wife. Because presumably again, all IIT graduates must necessarily be men. Women have nothing to do the institutions unless they are married to its male graduates, right? And the programmes are meant for the "complete woman", who must balance personal and professional life. The men have better things to do. Like inspire, innovate and transform. Seriously, what the fuck?

They have a fantastic guest list of "complete women." Hema Malini, because she is the very epitome of womanly grace. Shilpa Shetty, because she shot to fame with Big Brother and because of Richard Gere kissing her. Then the women will be taken shopping for jewels and saris. Because, that's all they care about anyway. Emma hits the nail right on the head. It sucks! This reeks of a very chauvinistic attitude. IITians may be brilliant, but they certainly do not seem to hold much store by women's intelligence. Abi compiles a list of all those who are disgusted. Ludwig calls its "unfuckingbelievable."

Well, it is. I am rapidly losing respect for that bunch of morons who are organising this event and irritating the life out of the rest of the educated crowd. But to me, this is simply a manifestation of a deeper malaise in Indian society. Some men, however educated they may be, cannot really accept that a woman can be equally intelligent. They don't seem to see, their IIT education notwithstanding, that there can be women IIT graduates who choose to bring their husbands around. Oh of course not. A woman IITian would only be married to another IITian right? After all, which man would want to marry a woman more intelligent than him? It would hurt his, already fragile ego, right? Ugh! These men!! They are disgusting. Someone tell them they are being complete asses!!

Also, here is an image from the 1950s. Speaks volumes about the sexism that existed at the time. All of it is crap, but this one takes the cake.

"Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first - remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours."

Of course. Like this...

Husband: I had a terrible day at the club this evening. I was interrupted three times while drinking whisky by some moron.

Wife: Listen, I have something to tell you. The gas connection expired, the TV conked out and you have forgotten to pay the electricity bill.

H: But listen, the whisky was anyway very watery. God knows what they did.

W: The home loan chap came home today. We have to vacate by tomorrow because you have defaulted.

H: The whisky...

Of course. His topics of conversation are more important than yours. But of course!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Globalisation and higher education

I attended a CSA conference on Globalisation and its Impact on higher education this morning. I came away feeling that the speakers were tilting a little too much towards the left for my taste. I also found that one particular speaker was stuck somewhere in the 19th century for his attitude towards globalisation in the education sector. The speaker in question, Dr. Loganathan, is from the Department of Economics at Sir Thyagaraya College in Chennai. So far so good. The problem starts when he opened his mouth to talk economics. Let me explain. He has a problem with the private sector in education. He also has a problem with foreign participation in education. That is fine, as long as you can substantiate the belief, especially in a panel discussion, with decent arguments. That is where the core problem lies. I wanted to rebut him point by point right there, but not wanting to hijack the discussion, I am limiting myself to this blog. His arguments are given in bold. They are summarised from my notes and are not quoted verbatim. My rebuttals in normal font. So, here we go!

Private participation in education has resulted in too many private engineering and arts and science colleges. Since these colleges charge very high fees, the weaker sections of the population are denied access to education.

Right! I agree. But, these private colleges exist to supplement supply of education on the government's side, and not to replace it.These "weaker sections" have access to public institutions (colleges, universities, schools etc.), which provide highly subsidised, even free education. Now, what about those who are economically backward but cannot access public institutions because of our reservation policy? I admit, that is a problem. But, one that is completely irrelevant to the discussion on globalisation and its impact on education in India. Another theme for another day.

Private institutions will deny the right of the teachers to form unions, and therefore, the right to go on a strike if they so wish. With education being completely public, there is no such danger.

Of course, there is no danger of anyone ever making teachers accountable. Because, every time someone asks questions, they will go on strike, colleges will shut down indefinitely and students will be affected. Let's get one thing straight here. Going on a strike in not a right. It is a criminal waste of time, and the taxpayers' money. Will our communists ever get this right? Kerala is stagnating because of this.

With the entry of the private sector, education is increasingly commercialised. This results in the degradation of Indian culture and the disappearance of the Guru-shishya Parampara.

Eh? Of fine. If you insist. But frankly, I don't see the point at all. I dismissed this one as the rants of an old man.

The entry of the private sector creates competition. This results in private institutions offering sub-standard education.

I beg to differ. Competition inspires improvement in quality. Also, all public institutions are not great. Our very own Madras University is a case in point. It is not equipped with the most basic facilities such as a photocopy machine or a fax. It possesses hardly any computers for a university of that size, and a wi-fi zone is perhaps too much to hope for. In brief, lack of quality is a generic problem in education in India. At least in the public sector, they can procure these things from a part of the profits they make (we hope).

IIT graduates quit the country to serve a foreign state. This is a waste of the taxpayers' money. In effect, we are subsidising education for those studying abroad.

Hmm. What to say to such a dumb argument? Don't give things away free. Follow the IIM route. Make credit available for students who get admission into premier institutions. That way, you provide access and don't waste taxpayers' money. What say?

Foreign universities want to accredit and evaluate Indian universities. This is a loss in national pride and dignity.

It is not. We really need a global yardstick for measuring quality of education. If that must be done by foreign universities, so be it. Why are we unnecessarily making this an issue of national pride? We could insist on the same in other countries. If our universities are willing to go abroad that is.

On the whole, it was impossible to digest the fact that a senior professor from one of Chennai's oldest colleges was talking as if he belonged to the 19th century. We need this mindset to change. Maybe it will be difficult to change the mindset of that generation. It is after all, the generation that has seen the worst of economic crises in their youth. But, let's hope that at least the younger generations will see globalisation and liberalisation of trade, not as a threat but as an opportunity. Let's hope.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

On violence and CEO deaths

The lynching of the CEO of an Italian auto parts manufacturer is bad enough. What's worse is the Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes' justification of the violence proportioning the blame on the management that "pushed the employees to the limit." I am no longer shocked at the politician's lack of tact, and complete callousness. My few years of observing Indian politics has taught me that we cannot expect any better from them. But, what got my goat were a few comments on Nita's post on the same issue. Especially a comment by Odzer where he pretty much justified the killing because he was a big shot. I agree that we do not hear about the death of the "common man" every day. I also agree that there is so much publicity because he was the CEO of a company. But tell me something. Does the fact that Mr. Chaudhry made a lot of money as the CEO of an Italian firm justify his killing? Does his family not mourn his death as much as the family of a sweeper who dies? Especially when the person was killed?

The problem is not just with this case. The problem lies in the basic distrust of those who make lots of money. This was a trend I noticed during the recent financial meltdown. Most people I spoke to were far from sympathetic to the fact that thousands of investment bankers lost their jobs. In fact, most of them simply said, "They made so much money for so long. It won't hurt them to be without a job now." What we do not understand is that someone is not making money at someone else's expense. Life is not a zero-sum game. For CEOs and investment bankers to be successful, a factory worker or an investor does not necessarily have to suffer. Why are we so apathetic towards the plight of a top official? We kept quiet when an engineer from IIT was murdered in Bihar. But, the Singur issue is burning. We all sympathise and empathise with those poor farmers who are being exploited by the tyrannical Tatas. But, we fail to look at the other side of the issue or take into account the loss incurred by Tata Motors. And this is simply because the Tatas are the rich capitalists exploiters. I may sound extremely pissed off. The fact is that I really am. As long as we cling on to feudal and outdated notions of industry, ownership and investment, we will never progress. That's what the Communists really want right? So that they can blame the big, bad capitalist world for the stagnation? We are a democracy> If we do not progress, if we stagnate and suffer in chronic poverty, it is because we elect people like Oscar Fernandes who will do anything to preserve his vote bank. After all, we only get the governance we deserve.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I have a dream...

I have a dream. Of stepping out one day to find that people only use the horn when they really need to. But, I have no hope that the dream will actually come true. We Indians have a highly contagious disease. That of honking. My Scooty Pep's horn stopped functioning about 10 days ago.  was too lazy to get it repaired. So, I tried managing without. Trust me, it's not that difficult. Yesterday, I finally managed to get it repaired. And I found that I honked when just the previous day, I got by perfectly well without it. I realised I honked impatiently, and absolutely unnecessarily, at least 4 time in the day.

I am no exception. In fact, I belong to the minuscule section of the Indian population who hates to honk. If I misused the horn so much, imagine what a honking addict would do. My grandmother's house is in a residential area off Nelson Manickam Road that's relatively quiet. I was sitting there yesterday when a great big Tata Sumo starts honking incessantly and insistently just before the house. It gave me a headache. Wonder why he found the need to honk so loudly in a perfectly calm residential area.

While I am on this topic, I also have a few suggestions for those of you who drive.

  1. If you are at a traffic signal, WAIT!!!! Neither you, nor the guy in front of you can move until the light turns green. If you so desperately want to jump the signal, you are free to do so, but you have no business abusing the poor, law-abiding motorist in front of you.
  2. When you come on the wrong side of the road, you are breaking a law. Your incessant honking or flashing headlights makes NO difference whatsoever to the motorist coming on the right side, nor does it exonerate you from the offence you commit.
  3. While on the question of headlights, DO NOT flash those lights in high-beam on a dark road in the middle of the road. It makes it impossible for the other motorists to drive.
  4. If you are a female driver, and are scared of going beyond 20 kilometres an hour on an empty road, please drive on the extreme left. Do NOT force other motorists to follow you car/bike at that miserable speed. This also applies to senior citizens who insist on driving despite the fact that they can neither see properly nor hear properly.
  5. If you are driving a share auto (one of those monstrosities that you see on Chennai roads), please stop at the SIDE of the road to pick up a passenger. Do NOT stop in the fast lane and then curse loudly when the poor motorcyclist behind you hits your bumper. Also applies for normal autos.
  6. Finally, if you want to take a left turn, please DO NOT overtake a vehicle going straight, on the right and then swerve left. Not only is it dangerous, but also inspires the motorist you just overtook to stop you and practise his/her karate on you.

So there! I can't think of any more right away. But, your contributions are most welcome.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Arranging marriages

There are two posts by Roop and one by Thought Room that have spurred me on to writing this post. The first post by Roop made me sit back and think. It made me want to write a more balanced perspective. It was in this state of mind that I read Thought Room's take the issue. This post, tried on the other hand, to explain the arranged marriage custom to foreigners and sounded apologetic to me. It is easy to rationalise and explain why the custom evolved, in the absence of a social security system. It has existed all over the world at some point. In Europe, the upper classes, especially the aristocracy, have married its daughters off to another aristocratic family to further political or economic interests. The difference between India and Europe is that Europe dropped the concept with the fall of monarchy and the rise of democracy. We in India have not changed for 2000 years. The fact that arranged marriages acted as a social network at some point does not justify its continued existence today. As Roop says in her second post, I do not see why I should sacrifice individual liberties in the name of marriage. This holds true for both men and women. It is no less difficult for a man to live life with a complete stranger than it is for a woman to do so.

Also, the whole concept of arranged marriages is driven by considerations of caste, class, status and money. Take for example the issue of dowry. In some communities in South India, the girl's horoscope is given to the marriage broker with the total amount in cash, and of gold that the parents are willing to give the girl as dowry. So, if a family is looking for a bride, they will first look, not at the bride herself, nor her qualification or character, nor even her family, but the amount of money she will bring in as dowry. To me, that's not marriage. That's socially accepted selling of the bride as a marketable commodity. You still think it's acceptable? I also agree with Roop when she says that we must not be forced to listen to parents on the issue of marriage when trivial things like buying a dress or a pen are entirely up to us. Of course parents have a say in our life. But, that does not include treating one's own child like a marketable commodity, as is happening in several million families today.

It is scary to contemplate the scenario that Roop talk about. What if, after 5 years of an arranged marriage you realise this is not what you wanted for yourself? You may argue that such a situation can arise even if you chose your own partner. But, think about it. In the latter case, you would made a conscious decision. It would have been your choice. If you regret that decision, so be it. I would rather live with the regret for a bad decision that with the feeling that I could have been given a chance.

I would also like to respond to one comment on the second post by Roop. Sidhusaheb wants to know if we advocate replication of the United States' "failed society" model. No, we do not. But the climbing divorce rates in the US and elsewhere are not because they are "love marriages" but because more and more people feel the need to assert their individual identity. The fact that divorce rates in India are relatively low does not mean more marriages are happy marriages. It simply means that less number of people are choosing to opt out of an unhappy marriage. Couples stay together for various reasons: social ostracism, kids' welfare, lack of parental or family support, lack of finances for one of the couple etc. If divorce rates in India increase, that's not necessarily failure. It could well be an awakening.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Nuclear power is not a bad thing!

I am fed up. Of self-proclaimed experts and the general public ranting about loss of sovereignty and against the nuclear deal. Of bloggers asking stupid, rhetorical questions without really understanding the meaning or import of the deal to modern India. I am trying, yet again on this blog to clarify certain doubts and uncertainties regarding the deal and its repercussions on India's future.

Two posts, on different blogs, hit a nerve. Both ask some good questions, but also some extremely stupid ones. I am going to try and answer these questions as best as I can. Before I move on, let me say that I am not an expert. But, I am not an ignorant fool either. In fact, I am one of the millions of thinking, educated Indians who think the nuclear deal is a good thing. So, let's go on.

Let's look at what Barbarindians says.

We need nuclear power. We need electric power.

Yes, we need electricity. I agree we must reform the energy sector well enough to be able to generate enough electricity to power India. I also agree that we must produce enough to be able to exchange these with electricity. But, for this to happen, we need to look at alternative sources of energy. Nuclear fuel is one of the alternatives.

India's Nuclear isolation (apartheid) will end:

In case you did not read the newspaper today, it has already ended. The NSG has approved the waiver. Australia self-righteously declared it would not trade with a non-signatory to the NPT, but the rest of the world will. So there! Much as we try and convince ourselves that it has nothing to do with energy, the fact remains that we will only get the uranium required for our nuclear power stations if we import them.

The other things are not really worth discussing. He is being sarcastic in some, reasonable in others and absolutely right in the rest. So, I am quite happy he is thinking straight.

On to Reality Check India. The arguments here are stupider. One, What is wrong with coal based thermal plants?

Huh? Must I really repeat? Coal is a non-renewable source of energy. As is uranium. But we require a few thousand tonnes of coal while we require only a few kilos of uranium for the same output. So, uranium will last longer. Got it? Coal is also highly polluting. Mining safety is a huge problem. People are dying everyday the the Neyveli Lignite mines and elsewhere. And maintenance is high-cost.

I pay Rs 3.50 per KwH (unit) for thermal and hydro power today. The estimate for nuclear power is Rs 16 per unit. Farmers will expect free nuclear power too (esp the big ones). They need to power their A/Cs and 5 KW pumpsets. Who is going to foot the bill ?

Power is heavily subsidised. You pay only Rs. 3.50 because the government, and in turn the taxpayers, foot the rest of the bill. In other words, you foot the rest of the bill too. Free power (thermal, nuclear, hydel or natural gas) is wrong. It must stop at some point. We can stop free power to the farmers even without the nuclear power. It requires political will and not a nuclear deal.

I dearly hope they have war-gamed the scenario where Pakistan decides to test. In the Lok Sabha debates, I heard Pranab Mukherjee thunder “We dont need nuclear weapons to win a war”. Childlike innocence wins wars, perhaps?

What the hell? Haven't you figured it out yet? Nuclear weapons win no wars. They only destroy. We need a credible nuclear deterrent, not enough arms to destroy the planet several times over.

Finally, I do not think we have reached the dead end for thermal power (coal and gas plants). For comparison, coal makes up 70% of Chinas power. These are not old plants either, they upped their thermal capacity by 20%+ just in 2007-08.

We have not. And yes, China's power is largely coal-based. But, why does that matter to us? China is facing a shortage too. And they have no problems getting uranium ever. They are a signatory to the NPT. India is different. And for comparison, every year about a thousand people are executed (shot dead by armed police). India should follow suit right? Frankly, such comparisons are neither appropriate nor relevant. Each country is different. India must increase the share of nuclear power in total electricity generation. For a better tomorrow.

As with Barbarindians, here too are some relevant arguments. Whatever be the reasons for my not agreeing with them, the post themselves are eminently readable. At least, they present a non-political view of the issue.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

On Ram and Ravan

I just saw this post by Mumbaigirl. She says that the Shiva Tandava Stotram composed by Ravana sounds fantastic. I have not heard it and hence cannot comment. But, she also says that she somehow admires Ravan more because he was a better person than Ram who abandoned his wife after doubting her chastity. I have a lot to say. But before that, you must look at the comments section. One of the commentators says that Ram is God and therefore we must refrain from commenting about him. Another, further down the page advises people to ignore our comments because we are "girls" and "girls nature to gossip. This whole site is a gossip site." Wow! Talk about male chauvinism!

I have linked to Mumbaigirl before. Her posts are excellent. They are concise, and very persuasive. I might not always agree with her, but I certainly think she makes a lot of sense. It is the case with a lot of other women bloggers I read. But, back to the Ram-Ravan issue. Mumbaigirl was abused and insulted for saying what she believed was right. That's not fair. I repeat what she said. In fact, I state categorically that Lord Ram was very far from being a complete man. I will not insult or ridicule those who believe, but I think we must read the epics as interesting stories set in a certain time and place rather than as rules by which we must abide and live. Like Mumbaigirl, I too have problems with Ram's treatment of his wife. He made her undergo a trial by fire because she spent years away from him. But, he too spent the same number of years away from her, didn't he? So technically, he should have undergone a trial by fire to show that he remained chaste too. Right? But no. He is a man. He does need to prove anything. His chastity is a sacrifice by his wife Sita's chastity is a sacred duty. What the hell? I am sorry. I don't agree. I am Hindu too. I believe in God too. But, I refuse to endorse or accept such regressive ideas simply because some king, believed to be God himself, said so.

Then comes the issue of the washerman. He cast aspersions on the character of the Queen of the land. And what does the King do? Send the queen away to the forest. Because the word of a subject is greater than the feelings and sentiments of a wife. You call this godly behaviour? I don't even call this human. Ram is a controversial character. I don't care if people choose to believe he is God. I am indifferent to what he means to the right-wing Hindus. To me, he was a man. That's all. A very famous, and even interesting man. But an imperfect, normal, albeit confused man.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Awarded!! Yes, me...

Thank you so very much, Imp's Mom for giving me the Brillante Weblog Premio 2008 Award. It's a fantastic feeling.

image

Ok. Now, when I Googled this award, I came across this link saying it was a hoax. But personally, I don't care if it is a real award. That someone thought of me as good enough to merit a mention is good enough. So, here are the rules of the award:

Brilliant Weblog is a prize given to sites and blogs that are smart and brilliant both in their content and their design. The purpose of the prize is to promote as many blogs as possible in the blogosphere.
Here are the rules for this award:

  1. When you receive the prize you must write a post showing it, together with the name of who has given it to you, and link them back
  2. Choose a minimum of 7 blogs (or even more) that you find brilliant in their content or design.
  3. Show their names and links and leave them a comment informing they were prized with ‘Brilliant Weblog’
  4. Show a picture of those who awarded you and those you give the prize (optional).
  5. And then we pass it on!

Now, on to the bloggers I would like to award this prize to:

  1. Sidin Vadukut on Domain Maximus: This guy is an occasional (less and less occasional) blogger who has me clutching my stomach trying not to laugh every time he posts. I am kind of surprised nobody has awarded him so far. At least, not that I know of. Good work Sidin. Keep going! And more often please.... :-)
  2. Lekhni on The Imagined Universe: I like the name of the blog. I also like her brave attempts at what she calls cooking. I don't know how she does it, but she somehow manages to make the dishes look good.
  3. Confused on Life is a Street Car named Desire: Hits the nail right on the head. And runs an extremely informative and interesting blog.
  4. Vikram Nandwani on .pOINT_bLANK: Fantastic cartoons. He does not update very often, but when he does, it's worth the wait.
  5. Ideasmith on The Idea-smithy: Everything on this blog is worth reading.

I only have five on the list because others have already awarded my other favourite bloggers. But, I will mention them because some of them truly deserve to be awarded more than once.

First, I would like to mention Krish Ashok for his absolutely brilliant sense of humour. Then comes Nita for the painstaking research she does before every post. Each post if wonderfully informative and interesting. Roop Rai for the passionate champion she is for the cause against female foeticide. Also for the blog on female foeticide that enlightens and informs. And finally, Planemad for inspiring me to love the city I live in. His photos of the city are fabulous.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Joint families and daughters-in-law

I came across this post by Indian Homemaker just a short while ago. It's interesting to read. But, wanting to read the original post to which the current one refers, I clicked back to this. Let me take deep breath. I have so much to say, but I don't know where to start. In the post on joint families, IHM says that joint families are extremely convenient for the boy's parents/grandparents. I agree. She also says that when a bride steps into her marital home, every action is scrutinised and she ends up being loaded with plenty of responsibility without the authority needed to carry them out. I agree with that too. I also agree when she says that the boy's parents tend to take the new daughter-in-law for granted. One such case is that of the anonymous daughter-in-law who commented.

However, I think it is important to nuance the arguments a bit. While it is unfair to expect the bride to take on all that responsibility without the authority required, we must also realise that sometimes, the Indian joint family can be a huge safety net. It starts with mundane things like housework. Two daughters-in-law in the same house means that the work is shared. Sometimes the mother-in-law is also nice enough to help. Granted, most of them behave exactly as IHM points out. But, there are exceptions who deserve to be acknowledged. This safety net extends to caring for the children when the mother goes to work. I know many women who feel that their mother-in-law takes better care of the kids than a paid nanny or servant. The kid is their grandchild after all. Also, in cases where the couple goes through a though time financially, the joint family can step in to provide the much-needed solace and support. I understand that this is declining but in case of a problem, the parents' (of both spouses) step in to help. I would give anything for a safety net like that.

That said, I fully sympathise with the anonymous daughter-in-law. She is unfortunate enough to have in-laws who neither care nor empathise with her as a human being. Such parents deserve no respect. In this context, I would not spare the husband either. A man who is capable of censoring the blog of his wife, one he is supposed to trust and support, deserves a talking to. The bride/wife/daughter-in-law, is a human being and an individual first. She reserves the right to say anything she pleases on any forum. Nobody, especially not the husband, has any power to stop her in that. If he treated his wife well, and made sure his parents did the same, she would find no reason to complain. I read so many blogs that talk about husband and family, that make one envy the family they have. If you are happy, it shows, on your blog and elsewhere. But, if are being abused, dominated or suppressed, that will show too. In the lack of ease with which a suffering blogger writes, and in the melancholy surrounding the blog. As IHM puts it, an adult requires no permission to go shopping, meet friends and family or watch a movie. She is an adult and an individual. It's time parents-in-law realise that. On that note, check out this post. It contains advice to the in-laws. Good job!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Socially relevant soap operas?

Let me state, at the very outset, that I hate soap operas with a passion. I rarely watch any and the few that I have come across make me want to scream. On that note, I quite agree with Rashmi Bansal when she says that soap operas need to be responsible to society. The soap in question is titled "Balika Vadhu" and is aired on Colors. It deals with an 8 year-old bride who is put to sleep by "Sasuma" with stories about Rajkumars and is forced to eat after her husband and the other elders of the house and on the plate used by her husband.

The reactions to this are surprising. I am rather shocked to see viewers defend the serial on the grounds that child marriage still happen in India despite the fact that they are banned. Of course it happens in India. But to say that it is acceptable on television because it is a fact is stupid. Let me extend that logic a bit. Bride burning happens in India. Would you accept it if the protagonist in a serial planned to kill the bride? I would not. The fact that something happens does not make it right. What I find even more galling is the fact that the serial is sponsored by the Women and Child Development Ministry, as Rashmi points out in her subsequent post on the issue. The Ministry allegedly wants to create "awareness" about the plight of child brides in India. I doubt portraying a child as a normal bride with normal adjustment problems amounts to spreading awareness. In addition, the protagonist is a child. Ever heard of the rights of children? How can you even think of portraying a child as a normal bride? A child is supposed to enjoy her childhood under the care of a parent and a loving family. What exactly was the Ministry thinking when it decided to extend its support to a serial like this? Sigh!

My grouse is not just against this serial. I hate all serials, as I stressed a while ago. All of them uniformly treat women as some sort of Sati Savitri. Those who are not are the villains of the piece and spend all their time planning to take revenge on other women for some assumed wrong. And if the likes of Ekta Kapoor are to be believed, all good women take all that bullshit lying down and emerge victorious. During my many brief encounters with the K-serials, I came to one, albeit rather comical, conclusion. That all good women wear unpretentious round and red bindis. They wear sindoor in their maang and worship even philandering, corrupt and abusive husbands as God himself. the vamps on the other hand, wear highly elaborate, Sudha Chandran style bindis, in designs ranging from the sun to snakes. They may wear sindoor in their maang too but their husbands are normally hen-pecked and do everything their wives tell them to. Trust me, I have done my research. All K-serials are like that. Now, you must be wondering if I spend all my time watching these serials. The answer is no. You don't need to. Just pick any random soap opera and watch it for 30 seconds. You will find proof for my thesis. To summarise, I think that the goodness of the television character is inversely proportional to the level of complication of the bindi. I call it Amrutha's inverse proportionality law. Howzzat??

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Of bride (bridegroom) hunting...

Just saw a series of absolutely hilarious posts on bride hunting. The Fool recounts how he "saw" prospective brides, 7 in all, and came out unscathed, still a bachelor (I think.) Read them here, here, here and here. I envy this guy. How can anyone write so well?? Sigh! Thankfully, I have never been at any end of this ridiculous concept. I have a boyfriend. So, no bridegroom hunting for me. Yippee!!!!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The dreaded C-word

Wondering what that is? Caste of course! We Indians are obsessed with it. By either denying it exists or insisting it plays an important role in everything we do, or by simply refusing to discuss the issue openly, we somehow convey that it is an uncomfortable idea. I just came across this post by Preethi. It is not a rant. She somehow seems more tolerant of it that I am. But, what I find rather intriguing is that people go all the way to England and Scotland and France and make friends based on the caste of the individual. She says an acquaintance of Indian origin asked her for her caste. In her place, I would probably have taken offence. I can't really explain why, but I find it insulting when people ask me what caste I belong to. If I choose to reveal it in the course of a conversation, that's my choice. But, I don't see what difference it makes for those who talk to me.

She goes on to state that,

"During an expert interview I was warned that the caste system is very prominent amongst the South Asian diasporas in the UK but I never imagined it would be such a guiding force for young, second generationer’s."

I can't get over that. I am probably just very naive, but I somehow imagined that people become more open to other cultures when they travel. I was apparently wrong. I have relatives in the US and in Canada who take pride is forming Tamil Associations and Brahmin Societies and discouraging all contact with those who don't conform. What are we doing? Why the hell can we not treat a person as a human being rather than as a Brahmin, Hindu, or other? I probably come across as cold when I say this, but during my 2-year stay in Paris, I never found the need to bond with other Indians through social gatherings aimed exclusively at Indians. Of course, I have many Indian friends there, but the presence of a non-Indian never made a difference to the gathering. It was a meeting of friends, not one of Indians away from home. I somehow preferred it that way. My brief visits to the Maison de l'Inde were far from welcoming. I found people far too nosy and noisy. I faced questions regarding my origins, caste, parentage, language et. al. It did not matter that I was Indian. I had to be Tamil, Kannada, Hindu, Brahmin or something else. I had to "belong". To one of the numerous groups. I wonder why. No, I am not from JNU. And no, I am not from Delhi either. I did not study at Stephen's or LSR. And yes, I come from the apparently conservative city of Madras. And yes, I still use the two names interchangeably. I refused to be typecast as a Tamil, Kannadiga, or Hindu. I am just me. Is that so difficult to digest? I don't get it at all.

It is disheartening to see the caste system being not just preserved, but also reinforced every day of my life. People want to know what my caste is. My students want to know what I am. Is it not enough if I am their teacher? How does my caste matter? With the overzealous government wanting to bring in reservations in the private sector and in schools, I am being surrounded. Everywhere I go, my caste matters. I don't care any more whether X, Y or Z gets a seat in a college because of reservations. But, I would like to see my children grow up without that all-important question put to them. When I do have kids, they will not have any answers to give. Will they have to explain each day that their parents got married out of caste? Will they have to justify our choices each day of their lives and feel apologetic about not having a clear answer to that question? I certainly hope not. But, to be truthful, I see no improvement. I am losing hope.