There Go Human Rights Campaigners Again

This is what the IBN Top Headlines gadget in my iGoogle home page looks like. Check out the first 2 headlines.

I'm reproducing these headlines in text below (in case they are not legible in the image).

Headline1: Naxals strike, kill 26 CRPF men in Chhattisgarh (link)
Headline2: Dead Naxals carried like animals, NHRC objects (link)

Dear NHRC, don't you have any objection to the 26 CRPF men being slaughtered (like animals or otherwise)? Never mind. You might consider re-christening yourself to “National Criminal Rights Commission”, and then work actively towards this kind of goal.

The Saga of an "Organic" Food Product

So, one really hot afternoon, after going through the malls with a fine-tooth-comb, looking for some decent clothes my size, I give up and decide it's time to quench my thirst. I walk up to this juice counter that is in the shape of an orange.

Me: Hi, do you have fresh fruit juices?
Counter Guy (CG): No sir, but we have better than that. We have [brand-name-I-cant-recollect] “naturals”.
Me: Oh, what is that?
CG: Sir, it is a new product that we launched few weeks back. Try it out sir. Natural is good for your health .. blah .. blah ..
Me: Oh that's great. But don't you have plain old orange juice made from real oranges?
CG: No, sir. You see, this is better .. this is completely natural – no chemicals, no preservatives .. .. yada .. yadaa ..
Me [cutting him short]: So, your company has invented some organic formula for orange which is more natural than orange itself?
CG: No sir, but this juice here is natural and does not have any artificial flavors. It is organic and it is good for your health. Also, sir, this is a best-selling product. You can see how popular it is by looking at the queue behind you.

Sure enough, when I turned, I saw about a dozen people lining up to have this “organic” and “natural” juice. The question of what can be more natural than fresh orange juice is of zero relevance for these people.

That's when I realized you can sell anything to the urban crowd by labelling it as “organic” or “natural”. Anybody wanna join me in venturing into the “natural synthetics” business?

3 Jobs I'd Give a Limb For

We all have our own “dream jobs”. Now here's my list of three that I'd give a limb for.

Ian Wright's in GlobeTrekker
Who wouldn't want to tour the world and get paid for it? Although I think that to do this job role any semblance of justice, I'd have to become a lot less particular about my food habits (read: give up vegetarianism!) There are so many places on this earth where you cannot survive without eating meat – aren't there?
An interesting tid-bit I read somewhere: Ian Wright is a vegetarian – except for the show :)

Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May in Top Gear.
They get to drive every car that we lesser mortals can only drool over. They get to drive on the best roads in the world. They get to be part of crazy experiments. And of course, they get a paycheck at the end of it all!

Imagine a job which combines the above two – you get to tour the world, driving some of the most desirable cars along the way. Now that'd be heaven, wouldn't it?

Cameraman for Discovery/NGC
I think this would be the most challenging of all. I just wonder what the cameramen go through when they shoot all those mind-blowing scenes – especially wildlife and nature sequences (like volcanoes). Let me also take this opportunity to doff my hat to them!

What's your dream job?

55er: Tranquil

He sat on the shore, watching the sun slowly retire.
Everything seemed so calm, so tranquil.
No blaring horns, no vehicle engines, no buzz of conversation.

But wait, he could see vehicles moving nearby; and he now saw a crowd of people within earshot.

That's when he remembered the accident that had rendered him deaf.

Back Breaking Expectations

It has come to a stage where State Governments, the Central Govt and even the Supreme Court are involved. There's talk of court orders and even laws are being mulled. What impression does this project about our prestigious urban education system?

Little children are being over-burdened by the weight of their school bags. This has always been plenty obvious. Couldn't our “reputed institutions” see this? Couldn't they take steps to set this right of their own accord?

No. It took PILs, media clamour, national debate and Government intervention before our great education system even acknowledged the problem. The solution still escapes us. Even if laws are implemented – it doesn't erase the blot on the schools that allowed it to go this far. And I can think of only one reason for the schools not having nipped it in the bud – their false notion of competitiveness.

More books = Better education being imparted. More marks = Better school.

It makes me sick to think that all these schools which'd rather risk a child's health permanently, than give in and take innovative measures to reduce his burden, receive so much adulation and respect – from media and parents alike.

Maybe it is time to have city-wise databases of schools, graded by parents on these “peripheral” parameters in addition to the so-called “core” ones?

Good for S'Pore, Therefore Good for India?

Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy has re-opened the “congestion tax” debate. Congestion tax is a concept followed in several “modern cities” the world over, including London and Singapore. It is a charge that is levied whenever you drive into the “central business district” of the city – or in short – the “heart of the city”. It works well to discourage people from driving – and use public transport instead.

Now, our honourable minister wants to follow the same model in Indian cities. Dear Ministerji,

* How about we first start a pilot phase for this initiative where the netas and babus start paying congestion charge? They either pay hefty taxes or leave their caravans and motorcades back home and take public transport. Deal?

* You say that such a model is implemented in Singapore, and hence, it should be in Indian cities too. Do you have the remotest idea how good the public transport system in Singapore is? Show me one city in India which is anywhere close to Singapore in terms of buses and metro and what not.

This is not to say that I am opposed to the imposition of congestion charge. On the contrary. However, before doing that, we need to get other things in order. It is common sense that when you tell people not to drive, you need to provide them a viable alternative.

* Improve the public transportation system, make it attractive to people from all sub-strata of the middle and lower classes. Case in point – Bangalore's BMTC, which has in its fleet, the entire range of buses right from the “ordinary” to the“luxury” (Volvos, Tata Marcopolos).

* Metro and mono-rails are good for high density corridors but will definitely fail if the last mile connectivity is not good. Also, nothing can replace the bus as the ubiquitous, reach-all-corners-of-the-city means of transportation. Hence, these must be improved (especially places like residential sectors in Gurgaon where buses are practically non-existent, forcing people to use cars)

Okay, so far I have been stating the obvious. Next is an idea that I heard as a rumour – but I think will be very effective. I heard whispers that some companies in Bangalore are mulling introducing parking charges, i.e., employees will need to pay to park on campus. This comes across to me as a pretty good idea. A few extensions to this come to mind:

1) Governments or city corporations can enforce rules that a company having more than a stipulated number of employees must provide transport facilities.

2) Industrial estates, technology parks and even large residential townships should be required by law to provide public transport. This has dual advantages
a> It shifts the onus of providing transport from the companies to the builders
b> It enables even smaller companies, which might otherwise be unable to participate in the process, to jump onto the bandwagon too.

3) Once these means of mass transportation are in place, the companies/builders can go ahead and charge parking fees/entry tolls etc.

In conclusion – borrowing successful ideas from elsewhere is a good thing, but we need to be that wee bit more innovative in giving it a Desi twist, in-line with our very unique conditions. Improve public transport, mandate companies/builders to provide transport to huge campuses. And then, introduce congestion taxes and parking charges.

55er: While You Were Speaking ...

On her birthday morning, she was in the school van, speaking on the cellphone with her best friend.
At around the same time, he too was on the phone , cribbing to his boss. Only, he was driving a passenger bus.
The van bore the brunt of the collision. She never lit her birthday candles.

This post is a fictional twist on this news article.

It has now become acceptable for people driving any sort of vehicle to speak on the cellphone while at the wheel (or the handle). From 2-wheelers all the way to massive lorries and buses. What only compounds the problem is cops turning a blind eye. The rules are there – but rules are only as good as their implementation.

An acquaintance from a neighbouring state had driven to Bangalore in his car. I, along with some common friends, had gone out to lunch with him. He was on the phone more than half the time. When I tried to reason with him that it is dangerous – he laughed it off. In fact, he took it as an insult to his driving skills – an ego problem – when I implied that speaking on the phone while driving results in loss of concentration. Only when I vastly exaggerated the seriousness with which Bangalore traffic police treat such cases, and quoted more then five times the actual fine amount, did he relent.

So a well-educated fellow will follow rules not on his own accord, in the interest of road safety; but only out of fear of getting fined. The operative phrase here is “well-educated fellow”.

I wonder what scale of disaster will it take for both, the cops and general public, to wake up to the massive dangers of speaking on the cellphone while driving.

55er: VIP Visit - Hope Extinguisher

The storm caught her unawares. She suddenly found herself among debris, pain searing through her body.
She managed to call emergency. They immediately dispatched a rescue team.
Alas! Traffic diversions for a VIP's visit meant they lost vital time.
She was alive when they reached her; But she breathed her last en-route to the hospital.


Read this news item from today's ToI. Pay special attention to this para:
Fire brigade vehicles and the rescue squad were stranded in a jam, with traffic cops making way for VIP vehicles to pass through to Palace Grounds, to attend the marriage of a politician’s son.”

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