Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The World’s Largest Democracy

Since ancient times, the land of Indus has been envy for the entire world. People have always been at awe of this nation diverse not only geographically, but also culturally and racially. Alexander the great, used to dream of walking on this golden land which would have been the crowning jewel in his short life. Chinese traveler Fa Hein was in awe at the richness in the culture of this nation. But, in modern times, it is not the culture and the heterogeneity that should draw attention. The survival of Indian democracy in the past 61 years is something one should be in awe off.

Many might ask why it is something so startling. American democracy has survived for over 2 centuries. It is nothing out of the ordinary.

Well, for one, the very structure and history of Indian social system is so complex that the decisions of the fathers of our nation to make it a democratic nation might have fallen flat on its face.  The heterogeneous society, which has become an abode for people belonging to almost a dozen religions. The caste system is almost as complex as the compound present in the web of a spider. And to top it all, there are scores of languages which had made it very difficult to choose our national language.

The political scenarios weren’t all honey and milk either. Unlike the Americans, Indians have a multi-party system. And when I say multi-party, ‘multi’ stands for a thousand. There is a party for every language, religion, caste, region, race, political philosophy and so on and so forth. This definitely leads to much more instability in the legislature.

And yes, Indian legislature has faced its times of trial. Over the last 2 decades, no party has ever had clear majority, but yet, somehow, the records show, that it is over this same period of time, India has made the most advances, in almost all the fields. That in more ways than one, shows the power of the Indian democracy.

Back in the 1970’s, the Indian system was in turmoil. A certain Indira Gandhi had single handedly shaken the entire nation.  Using her brilliant manipulative skills, she had managed to acquire almost all the powers of the state. But, unlike Hitler’s Germany, the Indian voters rejected her. In the next national elections her party was removed, hence again proving the power of the masses.

Earlier this century, Gujarat, one of the richest states of India, was burning. 

Thousands of Muslims were slaughtered and left homeless. Such genocide in modern days is probably matched only by the conditions in Darfur in Sudan. And during this massacre, the government in power, BJP, sat back and enjoyed a front row seat to the performance.  Despite the extremities of the entire event, Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, also belonging to BJP, was hailed as a hero by the government.

Now, BJP had been in power for almost 3 years. Under their reign, the progression of the Indian economy had scaled great heights.  Even internationally, the world was taking notice to the growing power. But the Gujarat riots turned out to be one of the black spots in their tenure. The Indian voters didn’t appreciate the divisive methods used by BJP and Modi. They weighed the work of the government, and realized that inaction during the riots resulted in scales tipping to the disapproval of the people.

And against all odds, BJP lost the elections, adding another feather in the hat of democracy.

With the examples stated above I am not trying to show the perfection Indian political system because it is far from it. But the importance of these events shows the triumph of Democracy. Despite its slow processes, it remains as one of the post powerful tools of the modern political system. In the long run, it is beneficial for all masses. And let’s face it; the masses are the ones who make the nation.

History has proved the failure of other political systems. Fascism is a strict no-no for all, except for the power hungry and corrupt politicians. But again, Fascism occurs in extreme cases like the combined efforts of World War I and the Great Depression leading to the rise of the dictatorships during the 1920s and 30s.

Communism too saw it reaching its peak one stage, but with the fall of the Soviet Union, and the liberalization of China, it once again proved that Democracy was prevailing as the most popular tool of politics.

Barring a few smalls states, even monarchy has diluted over the past century. Most royal heirs remain as titular heads and a target for the paparazzi, more than anything else.  

There is a rapid increase in mediums through which people can express their opinions, not only through words but also through films. Gone are the days when only a handful of news channels were aired on TV. Now any person, with a camera and a computer can have his own News portal on the internet. Public Opinion remains one of the essential tools for a successful democratic system. And when these tools are in the hands of the same people who are supposed to vote, it adds another strong brick to the sturdy wall of Democracy.

We live in a world where geographical boundaries are fast dissolving with the rapid advances in technology. Wyndham Lewis’ theory of Global Village is fast becoming a reality. The young generation is open to cultural exchange, thereby deleting many afore held prejudices. Anyone who has an access to internet has become a global citizen. In fact, I would even state that the world’s largest Democracy is no longer India, but the world itself.

If any Democracy can survive and have successes in a diverse country

 like India, it is definitely can be a major tool in international politics as well. With proper awareness and outreach, the dominance of one super power can be nullified.  Though the hostilities and tensions won’t go away, Democracy can bring in a sense of equality. In the words of Abe Lincoln, one of the stalwarts of politics: “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.”

It may not be the perfect system. There are a lot of loop holes. But still, at the end of it, the ultimate power will always remain in the hands of the people.  End of the day, the people in power, will always be accountable to the people. Though it is far from perfection, the system allows room for improvement. Democracy has stood the test of time. Democracy is here to stay.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Sadist Humans

Over the past few weeks, whenever we picked up a local tabloid, the pages were flooded with reports on the ongoing reality TV show, Big Boss Season 2. From the incident of Monica Bedi crying to the politician Sanjay Nirupam insulting his fellow contestants, the Indian audiences were very much hooked on to the show.

Somehow, people found a lot of joy in seeing the troubles of other people. Some people said, that it is entertainment. But, I see nothing entertaining in people being stripped naked emotionally in front of an entire nation. Is it something that has arisen over the past decade? 

Well, actually it has been a very integral part of the entire human existence. Remember the ancient Romans, when the toga wearing citizens used to enjoy gladiators spill blood on the grounds of the Colosseum. With each wound inflicted on the warriors, the crowds cheered and applauded the efforts.

During the medieval times, public execution was an integral part of social life. People through rotten fruits and vegetables at the accused to punish them. They cheered as the executioner used to tie up the prisoners to the guillotine. 

But, humans have matured in the last century. They believe in peace and non-violence. We do not like inflicting physical pains on others. We would rather see them break down emotionally. We would have them cry and speak about their personal lives. 

We enjoy the judges in MTV Roadies abusing at the participants. We laugh when the judges of Indian Idol comment on people's singing. One can't help but wonder, why we enjoy such content?

Is it because it gives us a vent to our frustration of our daily lives, where we go through equal amount of emotional turmoil. In that case, are we laughing at ourselves? 

With the media being insensitive to such issues and actually feeding on the sadistic tendencies of humans to increase the TRPs, this trend doesn't show any sign of stopping. Is it just human to be sadist? If that is the case, then I guess i am better at not being much of a human.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

From the HEART of INDIA

Just before the onset of monsoons, the peacock opens its glamorous feathers and dances in joy. The myriad of color displayed by the Indian national bird is a treat to the eye. It is like a prologue to the coming showers of blessings from the heaven, due to which the countryside springs up to life.

One can spot miles and miles of lush green fields. In the words of my colleague Meghna, “It almost feels as if some eternal source turned up the saturation of the entire nation.” This greenery lasted for most of my journey from Bombay to Harda, a small town in Madhya Pradesh. But as always is the case, looks are deceptive.

The ride from Harda to Bajwara was more eventful than I anticipated. The van which came to receive me was unique. When I walked out of the station, I noticed that it was parked in one corner of the empty parking space, that too on a slope. This seemed odd as to why would anyone do that while there was perfectly good parking spaces available nearer to the station. My doubts were soon answered.

One couldn’t start it by just turning on the ignition. The wheels had to be in motion before it is actually kick started. So the bricks under the wheel were removed, the car rolled down and the car chocked back to life. We were on our way to Bajwara.

Cows are an essential part of rural India. They are as symbolic to the villages as the crowded local trains are to Mumbai. Now, for all those who haven’t visited the small towns too often let me tell you one of the obsessions these holy animals have. They hate mud and dirt. Unlike their family members, the buffalos, who sit, eat and sleep in the same place where they dispose of their body excreta, the cows have a lot of self esteem. As the monsoons had made their favorite places all muddy, these poor creatures had to look for a dry place. And the only dry place they could get was the highway. So proudly they seated themselves in the middle of the busy road. The traffic had to make sure that they avoided hitting them.

Bajwara is a beautiful little place. The picturesque landscape was further enhanced by the fact that it is located banks of the mighty Narmada. And in the middle of this place was situated a small hut outside which Dr. Deepak Suchade awaited to welcome me. At first look, Deepak-ji would remind everyone of the great poet, Rabindranath Tagore. Thin, tall grey locks and grey beard. Dr. Suchade had been working on the organic farming for over 40 years. He lives in this small hut with his ageing mother and his young son, who lends a helping hand to his visionary father.

Deepak-ji quietly explained me the entire concept of NETECO farming. It is organic farming and much more. It is about spiritually attaching oneself with the soul of the earth. It is about being friends with the plants you grow. It is about allowing the insects and pests infiltrate your farm and enable the land to give rebirth. At first read, all this may seem to be too philosophical and theoretical. It did to me as well.

Dr. Dabholkar, a pioneer in the field of organic farming, had put in 40 years of extensive research. And as I filmed this unique method I realized that not only is it economically more viable but also leads to a higher yield. One of the main principles of NETECO science is that it does not require any tilling. All one needs to do is recycle the soil and the dead parts of the plants which we dispose so disdainfully. The concept of Amrut Jal and Amrut Mitti shows the capacity of cow dung and how it can multiply the fertility of the soil almost 5 times.

Dr. Dabholkar had proclaimed that an average farmer can live a contended life with just 10,000 square feet of land. 10 Guntha Zameen, as it is so named, can provide a farmer with not only food to eat, but also cloth, spices, oils, fruits, water and even medicinal plants to cure basic physical ailments. Dr. Deepak Suchade is a living example of this. In the one week that I stayed with him, everyday the food was made from the output provided by the farm in his backyard.

Another amazing concept for women farmers of India is the Ganga Maa Mandal. Patronized by an Australian Horticulturalist, Bill Mollison, it makes the rural Indian woman capable of looking after her own family and also produces extra for the market. He even has an acre land prepared for cultivation of necessary crops.

Other simple methods like pruning, root treatment and seed treatment ends up increasing the output of the farm. A 50 year old mango farm, in the village had not flowered in 5 years was pruned up to 70%. This led to the mango tree bearing fruit over the past 2 years.

The above mentioned methodologies mentioned are based on proven science. But as Deepak-ji so proudly says, “It is much more than science.” When he walks through the farm one can see that he has a personal relation ship with every plant which grows there. “Plants feel vibrations. If you are good with them, they feel it and make sure that they give us the best results.” Over the one week, many of the local farmers kept visiting Deepak-ji.

Undoubtedly he has a lot of respect in the area. People greet him with Naramada Hare or Ram Ram Guru-ji. Quite a few of them have come to him to speak to him about their agricultural problems. They have confessed to the fact that Deepak-ji’s farm has shown an amazing yield in just 2 years. The bananas and papayas are far greater in number than their huge plantations.

Now one must be wondering that if organic farming is so beneficial, then how come it is not applied nationwide. Well, the answer is quite simple. Politics! This form of farming had been going on for centuries. But the invasion of the British, led to the revamp of the entire agricultural processes of India. The usage of fertilizers, pesticides and other harmful chemicals increased. So much so that despite 60 years of independence we haven’t been able to wriggle ourselves out of the stranglehold.

Majority of the farmers still believe that chemicals are the way to go. The government does not apply subsidies to the vegetables produced out of the organic methods. Why? Well, quite simply because the government officials have to take care of their households, which happens with a large influx of money from the multi-national chemical industries who use us Indians as guinea pigs for their pesticides

This is one fact which is yet to fathom me. The so called pests are living organisms which breathe the same air and eat on the same food. Hence the chemicals which harm them are bound to harm us. Yet, the most of the fields are sprayed with the harmful chemicals. The very vegetables we consume are exposed to this pollution. Hence we too are taking in these harmful chemicals, thereby reducing our immunity.

The past decade has seen an increase in food crisis in India. Farmer suicides have been on the rise. The chemicals are not only harming our health, but also affecting the fertility of the soil. Nature has an amazing ability to recreate itself. It has been doing so for the millions of years. But the addition of artificial substances like genetically modified seeds prevents the natural processes to take place and thereby reducing the output.

With almost a decade gone into the 21st century, us urbanites are eagerly awaiting the time when we overtake the Chinese economy. We dream of booming stock market and a healthy infrastructure. All of this is great, but it seems that it will affect only about 30% of the entire population.

The remaining live in a village like Bajwara, hoping each year that they will be able to get themselves out of their problems. There are a few like Deepak-ji who are trying to help them. But alas, unless our own government wakes up and reintroduces the traditional form of farming, the future is very bleak.
Every year, after the festival of raksha bandhan the villagers in this part of India have a unique celebration called the hariya. On that day they dissolve all the enmities and differences they have with their native villagers. They give a grass of rice to every villager as a token of friendship.

As I stood their on the banks of the Narmada under the sinking sun, I couldn’t help but marvel at the irony. I think its time we dissolved the distance that we have developed between man and nature. Despite amazing the technological and industrial advances, India still is predominantly an agricultural nation. Our true wealth is being squandered.

The peacock called India is dying. It needs to be saved.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Steam to Smoke

Myths! Legends! Epics! Stories! Theatre! Movies! Have you ever wondered why we humans are so enthralled by the various arts of storytelling? The twists in the tale excite us. The ups and downs of the protagonist always seem to relate to our own stories.

But, even though we humans are so absorbed with our own story, we fail to acknowledge that all of us are a part of a much bigger story. A story, which is yet to see its end. A story, which has dominated the social, economic and political scene. This is the story of us humans; and it began around 350 years ago.


Long time back, even before the formation of the great United States of America. There was this inquisitive boy named James. He used to a dream a lot. He used to ask questions about the wonders of nature. He wondered about how the earth, the moon and the stars moved. To some of the questions, he found an answer. To others, he kept on searching.

One day, when James was much older, he sat in the kitchen of his house, in his usual pondering mood. As he munched on his breakfast, he kept his eyes on stove. More specifically, he kept his eyes on the kettle boiling the water for tea. Within a few moments, he could hear the rumbling of the boiling liquid inside. He did not blink an eyelid as he saw
the steam come out of the nose of the kettle. And as the whistle sounded, the cap on the kettle shook. The steam was looking for a way to escape the utensil.

Many years later, while working in a workshop, James enacted the same action. But this time on a much larger scale. The onlookers stared dumbfounded at James mechanical wonder. Thus was invented, the steam engine.
The invention spread quickly. From factory to factory! From city to city! From country to country! From continent to continent! And within a half a century, there were hundreds of innovations made of James’ original engine.

Industries boomed. People migrated from villages to the
towns in search of new jobs. They worked under hazardous conditions. They lived in slums. They got little money. But that did not seem to matter to them. They took whatever was given to them.

The entrepreneurs exploited the use of cheap labor. They reaped million
s, but gave the workers peanuts. But no oppression can go unnoticed for too long. And soon enough, a philosopher in Germany came up with a theory, which at that point seemed to be quite an interesting answer to the problems of the workers.
Karl Marx, along with a close aide, Engel, came up with the theory of the communism. He detested the bourgeoisie style of living. He believed that the workers should earn the right to the profits. In fact, production should lie with the masses.

Marx prophesized, an armed revolution of the workers. They would seize everything. The richer class would be driven out. There wouldn’t be any classes anymore. There wouldn’t be any more states. There would just be one society. All the man made boundaries will be erased.

Marx proclaimed this; and like all great visionaries, never saw his dream come true. But the seed that he sowed would grow. And the farmer who would water this plant was a Russian revolutionary, Lenin.

The dawn of the 20th century saw things going from bad to worse in Russia. The royal family headed by the czar, didn’t really care for the troubles of the masses. Blindly they followed the advice of the villainous vicar, Rasputin.

Rasputin was a tyrant without any legal power. He had mysterious powers. He won over the royal family with his sweet talk. Rumors spread that the “man of God” was having an affair with the czarina.

But the anger against Rasputin wasn’t amongst the masses. The remainder of the aristocrats felt jealous of his personal relations with the royals. Hence one fine day, they killed him. Not once, but 3 times! He was poisoned, stabbed and shot.
But the killing of Rasputin left a big hole in the government. There was no other person as charismatic and brilliant who could manipulate the people. And by now, Lenin had returned from his exile in Germany and within months the revolutionary war began.

The red army, which would become the hated name in the west, began an all out attack against the bourgeoisie as well as the royals. The czar’s family, while trying escape, was captured. They were made to face a firing squad.
The communists came to power in 1919. The renamed the world’s largest country Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) This spread a shockwave throughout the world. Marx’s words, no matter how theoretical, were coming true. The western countries, especially, the US of A, were scared that a similar uprising would happen in their own country. The universally proclaimed super power of the modern world was mostly run on donations from rich businessmen; the same class that the communists wanted to eliminate.

And with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 followed by the great depression, led to the belief that maybe the free market economy was going to fail. But during this same time, Lenin died and Joseph Stalin came into power, and communism took a whole new turn.

F.D. Roosevelt has been the only President in USA, to be re-elected 4 times. He might have continued to do so, had he not passed away. FDR, as he is so fondly called, was man with a remarkable will power. In his youth, he was struck with polio and by the time he was 29, his lower body was completely paralyzed.
And from this state, he got up. He sat on wheel chairs. He did his campaigning on crutches. And he won the elections. He introduced economic reforms, which though criticized at the start, got America out of depression. The stock market rose again. Things were going normality. And then world war 2 happened.
On the onset of the Second World War, USSR was an ally of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler. Stalin knew, who by now had gained dictatorial status in the government by eliminating all other rivals, knew that the Soviets were not in a condition to face the Nazis in war. So he bought time, by allying with the Hitler, so that he could re-build his army.

Meanwhile, Hitler went from strength to strength. He conquered the eastern and the western front with utmost ease. He received a set back in Britain. Then he turned towards Russia. Stalin was smart. He had anticipated this move. He was ready for the attack.

He stalled the marching German army till winter fell. And that was that. The Soviets were better equipped to fight a war in the sub zero temperatures. They pegged the Germans back out of USSR.

By now USA, had already been attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor. They declared war on Germany, Italy and Japan. They joined USSR and Britain in an effort to liberate Europe. And by 1945, after leaving a million dead and even more homeless, the war was done.

Have you ever seen a pack of hyenas? After they have hunted down a prey, they fight within themselves as to who would get the larger part.
That is what happened. Whatever peace was expected after the war was shattered with the passing away of Roosevelt. Truman and Stalin didn’t get along. Germany was divided. USA despised the communists. USSR hated the capitalists. Each one claimed that they played a bigger role in ending the war. America had the Atom bomb, to show their power. And within months, USSR came up with the hydrogen bomb. An iron curtain fell upon the globe. The Cold War had begun.

Over the next 40 years many incidences rocked the world. Beginning from Berlin Blockade to Korean War to Vietnam, to Spy planes to Cuba, the things didn’t show any signs of improving.

By now, a little known group, called the Ayatollah Komeni, came into power in Iran. They publicly denounced the neo-colonialism approach of the Americans. The Americans were looking to tap the rich oil resources lying in West Asia.
Now, America was afraid that Iran would be attacking Iraq and then head on to Kuwait, which has a very rich oil base. So the Americans then supplied a healthy stock of weaponry to the Iraqi government, which was very soon toppled over by Saddam Hussein.

Meanwhile, USSR, feeling left out in the entire Asian political scenario, attacked Afghanistan. America, disapproved of this, but did not want to do anything in the open. At least not until a US Congressman named Charlie Wilson sympathizing with the Afghans, pushed the government to help them.

The Taliban who were supplied with the state of the art weaponry and training headed the Afghans rebels. Osama Bin Laden, a charismatic soldier headed the Afghans. The Soviets were defeated. And soon after, the communist regime in USSR fell.

America had won the cold war. Now, they were the undisputed leaders of international politics. But, trouble was still brewing in West Asia.
Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait. USA, as always disapproved all attacks, which are not made by them. They sent their aircraft carriers and dessert troopers to push the Iraqi’s back. In the process, they had to built air force base in a neighboring country. The country was Saudi Arabia.

This angered the Islamic world. Foreign flag flying in their holy land was something they could not tolerate. That is when Osama Bin Laden proclaimed
that USA was now a sworn enemy of Islam.

And over the next one decade, Osama built an international network of ter
rorists called the Al-Qayeda. A multi-billion dollar industry, they made small attacks on America. But they reached their peaks when on September 11 2001; a series of ingeniously planned attacks hit USA. The Word Trade Centre collapsed. The Pentagon was damaged. The war on terror was on.

7 years later, Al-Qayeda threat still looms large. Terrorism still poses a great threat to the modern civil society. It has affected other countries like Britain, India, Indonesia and Spain. Despite investing Billions of dollars, USA hasn’t been able to uproot terrorism.

This story hasn’t seen its end yet. No one knows how it will end. But, I guess
all of it can be traced back to a very humble beginning when a young man wondered if steam had enough capacity to move objects.