Monday, April 30, 2007

Riverbend's blog

Riverbend, the young Iraqi woman who has been writing about life in Bush's Baghdad, is finally leaving that ancient, cursed city. This is what she has to say about the experience of becoming a refugee:

We, the grandchildren of Partition, can perhaps empathise with her. The sun may set on empires that divide to rule, but the evil they do lives on after them.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Stupid White Men and their Daft Gun Laws

Yes, yes, Wild West and all that jazz is great in movies and JT Edson and Louis L'Amour books. But isn't it time those colossal idiots got rid of their phallic gun fixation? People don't need to carry guns any more. The damn things are a death threat to everyone, owners included.
I mean, I'd understand if people in countries where the effects of US foreign policy are most in evidence - like Iraq and Afghanistan, for example - felt the need to carry guns. They are living through bloody anarchy; there's a lot they need to protect themselves from. What does a student at Virginia Tech need guns for?
Really, Stupid White Men, really. All your policies are wrong...and they come back to bite you in the ass. Like your one-time policy of supporting Saddam and Osama, like your dumb gun laws.
Wait until a few islands go under; you'll find that there really is such a thing as environmental catastrophe as well.

Here's a link to an article on small arms that predicted the insurgency in Iraq. Considering that the world's only hyperpower has been whipped by a few guys with guns, you'd think Mr Bush & Co would have learnt to appreciate the power of small arms. But no. They remain resolutely blinkered. And go on and on about 'homeland security' and nonsense. Hello! If any loony with an automatic can shoot you in the street, how secure are you? Where's the friggin 'homeland security' then?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Empower the people

Let’s cut the crap and talk reality: India, would-be superpower, is a country without power. I mean electricity. Most of this nation is still literally in the dark.
I experience this every time my reporting work takes me outside the brightly-lit, superficially modern cities that I live and work in. A tour of Amethi, the parliamentary constituency represented by Rahul Gandhi – and his father before him – brought this home to me in 2004. Amethi had eight-hour power cuts daily.
It’s like that for most towns and villages across the country. In Bihar, where I wandered all around Raghopur, Rabri Devi’s constituency, most places don’t even have electric wires – they have been cut away and sold off. Only the poles remain.
In Maharashtra, the district of Sindhudurg on the Konkan coast, from where former chief minister and now revenue minister Narayan Rane comes, experiences an average of eight powerless hours a day.
The statistics show that these scattered observations are part of a larger picture of powerlessness.
The Draft National Electricity Policy of 2004 set the goal of providing access to electricity for all households in the next five years. In the same sentence it went on to say that, “As per Census 2001, about 45% of the households do not have access to electricity”. If we remember that there are over 1000000000 people in this country, 45% of the households would mean close to half a billion. There's no way that many more people in India will get electricty by 2009.
Our per capita electricity consumption was 561 KWh in 2001 according to the UNDP Human Development Report. This was up from 173 in 1980, a great leap. However, it's less than that of countries like the Bahamas (5407) and Trinidad and Tobago (4219). Let’s not make comparisons with the US etc just yet. Everyone always wants to know how we compare to China in everything – they use up 1139 KWh per capita.
Per capita electricity consumption is an indicator of development. We’re really not doing so great after all. However the per capita consumption is rising, which means shortages are getting worse. Our ancient thermal plants are creaking under the strain. The darkness is spreading; it has already reached the borders of Bombay, and every summer, when temperatures are at their peak, along with demand, it hits Delhi.
Meanwhile, important people pontificate on pipelines and energy security. These dickheads live in VIP areas where there NEVER any power cuts. They should live in places where there’s no electricity and the temperature is 45 degrees Centigrade.
If they did, they might want to adopt an alternative approach to energy security – one that places the individual at the center of the planning. This is what I had proposed at a conference on South Asia in the UK in 2004.
The basic idea was to treat energy security as a subset of human security. Not a top-down, hubs-and-spokes-only model, but a more inclusive, bottom-up model that starts with the goal of providing electricity to every individual, and then adopts any technology that will enable this in a sustainable way.
So, for example, energy cooperatives and distributed generation might help; connect these to an intelligent grid if feasible. Strengthen and modernise the existing grid. Use run of the river micro-hydel; promote bio-diesel in a big way. Let jatropha be cultivated as a cash crop. Empower the people.
It’s happening anyway. Every time the power goes and the generators drone to life, it becomes apparent that people who can are already making their own arrangements. Surely the underprivileged can be empowered to do the same, in a way that does not strain our scant oil reserves.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Fair & Handsome

I peek in through the glass door of the neighbourhood chemist shop. A neighbour is inside. Maybe I can come back after eating some panipuris, I think, but she's still there 10 minutes later – in fact, there are two more now. This is going to take another visit. Next time is better. The coast is clear. I walk in and am about to place my order when a neighbour walks in. I buy Vicks lozenges and leave, crushed. It is only after a smoke and a shot of vodka that the man in my soul perks up. There is a job to be done, he says, and great sacrifices will have to be made. Chin set, I march into the chemist shop and ask for a tube of ‘Fair and Handsome’.
Of course the fellow didn’t have it that day four weeks ago when the Editor of Brunch asked me to sacrifice myself to the cause of science. My brief was to use the recently launched fairness cream for men, and write about the effects. Any hope of getting off the hook due to non-availability of the product was shattered a day later when the Editor herself handed me a tube.
The experimentation began. I was to use the cream twice a day for the following four weeks. Experiment design was an issue. How was anyone to judge whether the cream worked or not? Since I have only one face, the idea of applying the fairness cream to half the face didn’t appeal too much to me. It’s difficult enough finding a date anyway; who will go out with a guy with one fair cheek? Our Editorial Director Vir Sanghvi came up with the solution: use it on one hand.

Day one: I’ve read everything that’s written on the tube a few times. This is going to “penetrate my tough male epidermis to regulate melanin production”. It will also “create a natural sunscreen to protect against UV rays”. No problems there, but what would father think? He might start wondering why I haven’t married yet. Gravely, I apply a dab on my face and left hand, and survey the consequences.

Day two: I think I’m looking fairer already. This thing works instantly! And I’ve seen the ad too, the one where a giggle of girls drape themselves around the model after he starts using ‘Fair and Handsome’. Maybe I should go to a well-lit pub today; someone might drape herself all over me saying ‘Hi handsome’.

Day seven: The double strength peptide complex for tough male skin doesn’t last too long. I forgot to use it for a day and am back to being myself again. Well, at least I know now that the experiment is reversible.

Day 12: I have to be careful about this thing. Today a woman landed a peck on my cheek and then looked at me very queerly indeed. It must be the smell – this cream has a sweet, feminine smell to it.

Day 13: Wonder how double strength peptide interacts with aftershave? There’s only one way to find out. If I end up mottled pink, say on my epitaph: “For your tomorrow, he gave his today. Now use Fair and Handsome without aftershave”.

Day 13: I’m still all one colour, thank God, and white as a sheet - from fear and peptide. But at least I smell straight.

Day 22: No limousine, no mansion, no little boys yet. I’ve been expecting to wake up as Michael Jackson, but from the available evidence it seems I’m still me.

Day 24: Today a colleague asked if I was using the cream. She couldn’t say if I was, though. Maybe I was always this fair. And handsome, of course.

Day 28: Eureka! Archimedes! Whatever. Today I subjected myself to intense non-medical examination by the Health Editor. I asked her to say which hand was fairer. She chose one, then the other, and finally plonked for the wrong one. Looks like I’m not dappled like a horse. On the other hand…now the girls won’t drape themselves all over me, will they?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Jeet's poem

This is a poem my friend Jeet Thayil sent me a little over a year ago. I remembered it now after an event that still seems impossible, unreal. Jeet's wife Shakti, beautiful, talented, vivacious Shakti, died suddenly last week. She was barely 25.


When it rains, the dead descend.
You appear,so real I can smell the rainwater in your hair,

can touch the circle I placed on your finger.
And the box that our future was wrapped in,

does the scent of happiness still linger
on the paper, the velvet, the ribbon?

Your lips, clear of the color you always wear,
are not new to me, they're lovely and bare;

and our old argument still turns, it burns.
How soon will you forget me if I die?

By the water in my eye and the way it returns,I swear:
If I forget you, let the world die.

When it rains, the dead ascend. You disappear
where I can't follow: into the upper air.