Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mumbai’s Lifeline:

Well, If you ask Euclid what will be the shortest distance between any two points, He would say it will be a straight line, Put the same question to Einstein and he might say, not necessarily a straight line as Space can be bent! Put the same question to a Mumbai commuter and you will get only one answer, “It’s by train”.

Trains have always been the lifelines of Mumbai. They are analogous to the Farcasters in Dan Simmons’s Hyperion trilogy; cheap as hell, amazingly efficient, almost always on time and carrying at least 200 thousand people every day to various destinations. Mumbai would certainly not have been the economic capital of India without them. It’s also a place of sorts for people of different faiths, ideologies, and political convictions to come together to discuss and deliberate upon issues. These discussions are generally more intelligent, smart and to the point than the debates we have in the Indian Parliament. In fact I have got to hear many interesting points of views and opinions without being a part of these discussions.

However, the most interesting people I have met in trains are the hawkers who get on trains to sell their wares. These range from Pens, chocolates, Wallets to books, fruits and even electric shavers. They can come up with the most interesting pitches and could put the sales representatives of the most reputed companies to shame. I suspect they also have a proper time sharing mechanism in place. Till date I have not seen two guys hawking the same product in the same train.

I was traveling to Church-gate yesterday. As usual, the hawkers were all around selling things like wallets and Folders. But what did catch my attention was a sales pitch given by a guy who was trying to sell perfumes. He started off with explaining the science of Perfumes and how alcoholic perfumers loose their “flavor” within a couple of hours. The perfume he was selling was supposedly non alcoholic, so it could retain its “flavor” for the entire day. He went on to explain how we spend our hard earned money away on expensive perfumes when his product costs just 10 bucks and gives them much more. And to add to it, the perfumes were supposed to be of Denim, Charlie and Havoc.

By far the most interesting sales pitch I ever heard, was from a guy who started off by saying, that the world was full of cribbers; Right from our bosses to co workers to friends and relatives. But as per him the worst cribbers were wives. And for cribbing wives he had the best solution.

I was attending college back then. But even I was drawn to this pitch. Almost everyone in the compartment was looking towards him. He looked like a Godman who was going reveal some divine secret . He put his hand inside his bag and pulled out needles, threads and buttons. For a moment I thought he was going to say, “Stitch their mouths with these”. But the guy was a progressive thinker. He recommended to all the husbands in the train that they do they own stitching. The Kit he was selling had everything in it, including a device which could help them put the thread through the needle. By doing that he said; they could prove to their wives that they were loving and caring husbands. I am sure that would be giving the exact opposite pitch in the ladies compartment.

The second category of non commuting people in trains are the Performers (or more aptly beggars). They would come in with their harmonium or flute or sometimes with just two slices of Rock and start singing and playing their instruments. Most of them would just irritate you into paying them some money so that they would leave. But some are particularly gifted. I particularly enjoyed listing to a blind musician who used to play old Bollywood songs on his flute when I used to travel to national college. The music was always soothing to hear.

The railways would always be there in Mumbai. And No matter how rich we become, or how many new flyovers are built, and how many Nano’s we buy. Trains would still be the preferred way to travel in this city. When the trains were targeted on 11th of July serial bombings, this lifeline got affected for a mere 2 hours. Something which even the London civic atrocities could not accomplish when their subway faced a similar threat.

Nothing can stop a Mumbai train on its tracks (except of course for the rains). And with the Mumbai metro all set to open next year, I can’t help wondering what lies ahead for this lifeline of Mumbai.
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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Finally !!!! Indian Democracy comes off age.

The signs of change was always there. But every one looked in the wrong direction.
The Indian electorate was waking up from a long and deep slumber. People were getting more restless and impatient. Everyone ignored this "people resurgence" in 2004. But After the 2009 elections every one will have to take notice.

Caste, Religion and Regionality were hugely influencing the electorate in India. People were always taken for granted. Fake and unconstitutional promises were always made and forgotten. Secularism was seen as a tool to get votes rather than as a fundamental tenet of Indian democracy. Spreading hatred and inciting fear were key elements to gathering votes.

It was all true till the 2009 General elections.
I have been watching election coverage’s since the 1996 general elections. And my mood after every election has always been that of despair; People discussing about horse trading and corruption within the Indian political establishment; Criminals winning by huge margins; Open and shameless negotiations by parties which held as low as 3 Lok Sabha seats and Unworthy people grabbing top jobs in the parliament.
But this time my mood was positive and upbeat.

In fact when Kalyan Singh swore in 95 members of his coalition as ministers in the UP government, it was seen as a necessary evil for stability in UP. Not long ago in the 2007 Assembly elections both the SP and BSP boasted of along list of convicted criminals who contested elections under their banner and won.

But, it all changes in 2009. Most of the criminals were either denied contesting elections by the supreme court or lost them. Mayawati’s Caste politics took a huge beating. The Shiv Senas communal agendas got a thumps down and MNS’s rationalistic politics hardly got them a single seat. Even the Tamil Ultra nationalist Leader Vaiko, failed in the elections miserably.
All of them had failed to interpret the signs of change.

There was but only one mantra to win these elections; “Development”. The BJP’s manifesto did contain a lot of positives, but was highlighted very poorly by the Party leadership. The only message which was delivered to the common man was, “We will build a Ram Temple”, “We will not allow the setu samudram project to take off”. On the other hand the Congress manifesto highlighted the schemes such as NREGS which they implemented during their rule and promised economic reforms after the elections. This time, Probably the BJP lost the elections even before the votes were cast.

Of course Narendra Modi won more seats than the 2004elections. But the BJP will be totally wrong if they attribute this to the hard line Hindutva policy he follows. He won solely on a development platform. Even the muslims were keen on seeing him in Gujrat. The BJP got more seats in Bihar, where Nitish Kumar was the face of the party, and he spoke only of Infrastructure Development, elimination of criminals from his state and a more responsible and transparent government. Yes !!! Varun Gandhi won in Philibit , But that was based on his mothers reputation. The price for supporting Varun Gandhi was paid for by the BJP at the state level. The BJP did win the kandhamal seat, but lost face and partners in Orissa and were demolished. The Left paid the price for not supporting the Nuclear deal and for all the atrocities they committed on the people of Bengal.

In the coming elections, every party will have to keep development high in their agenda. They will have to put religion and region on the back burner. Even the Congress will have to stop harping about “Secularism”. Their strategy as far as projecting a secular image to gain votes failed miserably in Gujarat, Orissa and Bihar. They will have to focus on delivering their promises to the people of India now that they are in the center. If they tread on the path of minority appeasement and Vote bank politics the will meet the fate of the BJP in the next elections.

Today as the counting winded up and the process of government formation started, I wonder; Where do we go from here. Will the VHP start a new campaign in Mathura or Kasi for creating a situation similar to Ayodhya? Will the congress attribute their success to Vote bank politics and intensify their efforts in that direction. As Always, I can think of only one thing. “Time will tell”.
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