Sunday, October 31, 2010


I have often wondered why people celebrate birthdays.
We start doing it right from childhood. Children look forward to their birthdays. On your birthday, you need not wear the school uniform; you can come to school in your favourite dress. Distribute chocolates to the entire class. To me, not getting to wear the uniform for a day was the biggest attraction when in school. Unfortunately, I myself never got to do it, as my birthday happened to be during the vacations. I looked at others with envy, who were luckier. But since it was vacation time, my father used to take me out for English movies – Bruce Lee movies, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, which I still remember fondly. In college, the uniforms were gone. Here, a birthday meant going out with your friends to a nearby Udupi restaurant and eating your favourite dish. Onion Uttappa. Pao Bhaji. Cassata ice-cream. Those days, even this was a luxury, and so birthdays were eagerly awaited.  In many of the offices I have worked for, there is a custom to cut cake within your department on the birthday. Others bring the cake and you cut it. Then someone comes and applies it to your face. Sometimes, they even kick you in the ass. Everyone laughs (obviously). I don’t know what’s in this that is worth enjoying. Is this a celebration or a punishment? By the time you are working, even the joy of growing is gone. You wish you were younger. Birthdays never came.
An achievement would call for a celebration. A victory would. Good news would. But a birthday is none of this. From the dumbest idiot in town to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, everybody was born on some day or other. So what is the big deal about a birthday? Why do people celebrate birthdays?
I have raised this question many times to many people, but only once have I got a somewhat meaningful answer. This only shows that most of the people who celebrate birthdays have no clue why they do it.  They probably do it because it is the custom. Because others do it. How sad.
But once, a friend told me it is a celebration of life. You are glad to be alive. That’s what you are celebrating.
This set me thinking.
This is probably how the custom might have originated. In the olden days, death rates were high. Epidemics devastated nations. An entire generation would get sacrificed in war. Floods and famines would ravage the lands, and no formal relief mechanisms were available. Infant mortality was high. Medical science was not developed. Life expectancy was low. Yes, staying alive itself was an achievement. Call yourself lucky if you are alive and growing (in age atleast!).
But is this argument valid today? The answer may be yes, if you are born in sub-Saharan Africa. But ironically, they are not the ones who celebrate their birthdays. Those who do, face no such challenges. Unless you are very very unlucky (and die in a plane crash or something, which was no fault of yours), and if you drive sensibly, don’t drink too much or smoke, maintain decent eating habits and give your body sufficient exercise, it is not difficult to stay alive and survive till your average life expectancy. The world population is growing. And growing fast. Which means for most of us, there would be no justification to celebrate birthdays till the age of 70 or so.
There is another – and a more important point. What have you done all these years that justifies your being alive, that makes your life worthwhile? Try to answer this question – what good deed have I done today (something over and above the normal duties at home and office)? Or this past week? Or this past one month? Or one year? Or several years? Try to prepare a list – and see how difficult it is. Seriously.
If your list is empty, what are you celebrating really?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Who is Robert Vadra?

Priyanka’s husband, of course. But that is not what I am asking.
I was curious to see that a couple of days back, The Times of India carried a half page interview of Robert Vadra. For a man married into the India’s First Family, Robert has maintained a surprisingly low profile, avoiding the glare of the media that rest of the Gandhi family members have constantly been under. In the above mentioned interview, Robert Vadra comes out as a soft spoken businessman, running a small business exporting costume jewellery and handicrafts to Europe and elsewhere. He refuses to give any figures on the size of his business, but claims he employs 38 people. He also comes out as a fitness freak and a sports enthusiast, a passion he says he shares with brother in law Rahul. He claims to have never used his position as Priyanka’s husband for his personal and business’ benefit and downplays the frisking controversy since it is applicable ‘only when he is travelling with Priyanka’. (For the uninitiated, Robert Vadra has been exempted from frisking at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, a privilege available only to a select few VVVIPs like the President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Foreign Diplomats etc. ) He also claims he can win an election ‘from anywhere’ and does not rule out joining politics in future. But at present, he is happy and content running his business and spending time with his family. Click here here for the full interview.
For a man who has always been shy of the media, I do not know what the sudden provocation of giving this interview was. But the very absence of media glare on Robert should, in my opinion raise eyebrows. For a media that has often been accused of sensationalizing trivial things, Robert’s background provides enough ammunition to provide full time employment to an army of journalists.
  • Robert was born to a Rajinder and Maureen. Rajinder belonged to Moradabad in U.P. while Maureen was of Scottish origin, and the family was originally called Wadhera. It is not known when and why the surname changed to Vadra.
  • It is not clear whether Robert is a Christian or a Hindu. His marriage to Priyanka was carried out with Hindu rituals. But the first names of the Vadra siblings (Robert, his brother Richard and sister Michelle indicate they may have taken the religion of their mother)
  • Robert was not on good terms with his family, and had disowned his father and his brother legally through a press release. He alleged they tried to misuse his name and position (as Priyanka’s husband) to seek undue favours from third parties. The claim was vehemently denied by his father who challenged him to bring even one witness to corroborate his allegations.
  • In 2001, his sister Michelle died in a car accident.
  • In 2003, his brother Richard was found dead in his room.
  • In April 2009, just a few days before the country’s General elections, his father was found dead hanging down from a ceiling fan. His death was declared as a suicide. Surprisingly, the Indian media, so ever eager to “generate” news out of trivial nothings, completely supressed this news and never reported it. So much for a free press! Was there something that his father knew?
Even the interview mentioned above skirts all the inconvenient questions and only seeks to ask what Robert would like to answer. To me, the very secrecy surrounding Robert sounds suspicious. Will the truth ever come out?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Good news

Over the last few weeks, I have been consciously searching for ‘good news’ in the country’s mainstream media. I don’t see much of TV, but I do read newspapers and browse a lot of news related websites. I am surprised how difficult it has become to find ‘good news’ these days.
Open the newspaper and see what is making the news today – corruption charges, murder, terrorist attacks, thefts, protests, strikes, rape, dacoity, frauds, accidents and so on. Downright depressing. 
Then, there is a second category of news, which can be classified either as good or as bad – depending on your point of view. A corrupt politician is exposed. A gang of dacoits arrested.  A child rapist sentenced to life imprisonment. I don’t know whether this should be classified as good news or bad. Though a gang of dacoits being arrested is good news, the fact that dacoities happen is not. We know that for every one thief who is arrested, there are nine others who go scot free. For every one corrupt politician who gets exposed, there are nine others (or ninety-nine?) who never get caught. Here, the glass is either half full or half empty, depending on your point of view.
These types of news form a large chunk of the front page and the first few pages of the daily newspapers. This is not what I am looking for.
There is a third type of news which I call the ‘neutral’ news. Plain and simple reporting of events or objects. A foreign delegation visits our country. A sports event takes place in which one side wins and the other side loses. The Election Commission announces dates of a particular election. A book fair is organised in the city. A local festival is celebrated by the people. And so on and so forth. These happen in the normal course of one’s day to day routine. Nothing great about it. This is not what I am looking for either.
I am looking for ‘good news’ in its purest form.  Something which truly radiates positive energy.
More than four hundred volunteers have agreed to contribute four hours a week to help the traffic police manage the city’s maddening traffic (see the blog a few days ago). Not only will they perform this free, they will in fact spend money out of their own pockets to take training, buy badges and so on.
A hospital in South India performs free Angioplasties on 175 poor and needy people. An angioplasty costs Rs.2 lacs. For the paan-wallah and rickshaw-wallah who benefitted out of this scheme, it is like getting a new lease of life. They would never have been able to afford an angioplasty at full cost.
Residents of a locality in Malad celebrate Dussera by sweeping up the entire locality and making it spic and span.
This is the type of news I am looking for. Good news in its purest form. Surprising how difficult it has become to find it. Try it out yourself.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Relevance of Durga Puja today

I went to the local Durga Puja festivities yesterday. The “Durgostav”, as it is called, at Lokhandwala has become very popular lately, with not just the entire Bengali community in the area coming together but everybody else too. The below photograph is main deity from this year’s pandal.

Watch the photograph. To be politically correct, it symbolizes the victory of good over evil, with Goddess Durga holding a spear in her hand and killing a demon. This is our original culture, and I find nothing wrong in it. Kill the demons.

The idea of non-violence came later on, and was probably ‘promoted’ by the British (our enemies at that time) since it suited them the most! Better have a non-violent enemy than a violent enemy, right? We need to bury it now. Now-a-days, I find ‘the spirit of non-violence’ has become an excuse to hide our weaknesses. As a nation, we have become too docile and lazy. We have become non-violent not because we believe in it, but because it is the easy way out. We take refuge in it under the wrong notion that it gives us the ‘high moral ground’ in front of others. The result? It allows evil to exist, sustain and spread. Time to shun it. If not, why worship Durga at all? 


A pigeon had laid a couple eggs outside our bedroom window. I wasn’t sure the eggs would hatch, but today one of them did. The below photograph shows a baby dove within hours of its birth.

The next photograph is of a bird I captured from my balcony this morning…looks like it’s a very ‘birdy’ day today.

Or is it an Omen? I am 'flying' to Bangalore tomorrow....

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Today there are reports that Mukesh Ambani is ready to move into his new home, the 27-storey Antilla. Dubbed as the world's most expensive home built at a cost of anywhere between Rs.200 crore to Rs.9000 crore (depending on who you believe),  Antilla is a 50,000 sq. feet home with 600 servants and a parking space of 6 floors for 160 cars. Some stunning photographs of Antilla can be found here. While some have gasped in awe, others have criticized this vulgar show of wealth in a country where millions of people don't have enough food to eat two meals a day. On which side are you on? 

I, for one, don't mind it at all. Mukesh Ambani's contributions to the country are so extraordinary that he deserves every bit of it. In our country, a gas cylinder was a luxury just a few years ago, now we are self sufficient in gas and exporting petroleum products to other countries. Mukesh turned his father's dream of making 'a phone call as cheap as a post card' into reality. Reliance has more than 30 lakh shareholders (the most for any company in the world), who have become richer because of his extraordinary vision and project execution skills. Writing about Mukesh and his achievements is not the subject of this write-up, it is a separate topic altogether. All I want to say is that if he deserves it, if he has earned it, why can't he spend it the way he wants?

One question however interests me - now that the elder brother is moving out of Sea Wind, where will Kokilaben stay? Which of the two brothers will get to say "Mere paas Maa hai?" Lets wait and see...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Traffic Warden Scheme

Today's newspaper reports that the city's Traffic Department's scheme to enlist Traffic Wardens has received an enthusiastic response. This is good news. Under the scheme, the Traffic Department will enlist volunteers who will assist the Traffic Department to manage the city's traffic better. The volunteers will be given initial training by the department and later will be required to serve four hours a week assisting the department in managing the city's traffic. The Department has published eligibility criteria at its website. More details of the scheme can be found here

Not only is this a welcome initiative, the fact that it has received a good response it heartening. India has one of the worst traffic disciplines in the world, not only in comparison with the developed world, but even in comparison with the relatively  more 'backward' countries. I hope this initiative will make this better. Within India of course, Mumbai is much better (or should I say less worse?) than other large cities. Other cities should also emulate this initiative. There are so many good Samaritans around, who want to do something good for others, but don't know where to start. Such initiatives give them an avenue to do it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

SKS Microfinance

SKS Microfinance is in the news today. A minority shareholder holding a few shares has gone to court and obtained a stay on the summary sacking of its CEO Suresh Gurumani. So, looks like the issue may drag on now. I am neither a shareholder in SKS nor do I plan to become one (surely not now!). But the episode interests me. It is one more example, as if any was needed, of how company promoters pay lip service to Corporate Governance. Small shareholders are held in utter contempt, and have no rights to any information whatsoever, even in companies that they put in their hard earned money (at much higher prices than the promoters do). You can sack a CEO and not bother to explain why he was sacked! Just say that it was done in the interest of the company - what a joke this country has become! Company boards too continue to be rubber stamps - nothing meaningful has come out of the Satyam Saga, where this issue was discussed and debated so intensely. Ironically, SKS has the God of Corporate Governance in India, N.R. Narayana Murthy as one of its investors. I wonder what he must be thinking now.