Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hindutva: The lexical, Social and Political Significance

Media, most political parties and many intellectuals use the word Hindutva in a very derogative manner, always in association with BJP. They try to give an impression that Hindutva is something so despicable and intolerable in a modern, secular and democratic society that anyone associated with it should be banned; that Hindutva is an uncivilized and fanatic concept that has no place in any civilized society. Ask Arundhati Ray about Hindutva and she will immediately write a few articles on it and all the media will jump to publish each of those. Hindutva is stamped as a fanaticism that BJP supports and want to preach.


Well, let's see what Hindutva is and why there's so much noise about it.


Lexically Hindutva is a new word of Sanskrit origin. I don't think it was ever used in any of the old Sanskrit literature in India. But then Sanskrit grammar rules allow creating new words and the word Hindutva has been coined recently to mean 'being a Hindu', the same way 'naritva' means 'being a nari or female' and 'devatva' means 'being divine'. So now let's see what does the word Hindu mean or signify.


Let's see what Swami Vivekananda told to the Parliament of Religions at Chicago on 11th September, 1893:

"I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects. I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation."

Swami Vivekananda was always referred to in the west as a 'Hindoo monk'.  His entire life was all about 'being a Hindu'. Tagore's Gitanjali, had shaken the west so much. W B Yeats had said it as "... the work of a supreme culture, ... a tradition, where poetry and religion are the same thing, has passed through the centuries, gathering from learned and unlearned metaphor and emotion, and carried back again to the multitude the thought of the scholar and of the noble." Though technically speaking Tagore was not a Hindu by religion, still his poems speak about the age old Hindu culture and philosophy to which Gandhij had adhered to throughout his life. So all of these personalities, perhaps the three most important people involved in shaping the socio-religious-political profile of modern India, had tried their best to show to the world and us all about being a Hindu. So it's very true that though the term Hindutva is new, but the essence of 'being Hindu' is not new. If 'being Hindu' is derogatory then we have to banish almost all the important personalities of India, including Buddha, Mahaveera, Akbar, Guru Nanak, Kabir and everyone else who represents the very essence of Hindustan and her Hindu people.


So now let's see who is a Hindu and what Hindustan is. Historically the entire land of Indian subcontinent and her people have been always referred to by various names derived from the river Sindhu - be it Megasthenes' Indica, or Persians' Hindu. The term Hindu was never associated with any religion, but to the people of the subcontinent. Likewise the term Hindustan or Indica refers to the entire Indian subcontinent.  In spite of the various faiths like Brahmanism (which later became associated wrongly with the term 'Hinduism'), Buddhism, Jaisnism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianism and most recently Islamism and Sikhism, which the people of Indian subcontinent have followed for thousands of years, still they were always perceived as to have a common culture and philosophy. All Indians were seen as Hindu people and their land Hindustan. Even quite recently Iqbal mentioned to Indians as 'Hindi' people in "Sare Jahan Se Achchha" just a few decades ago. So Hindutva is just being a Hindu or Hindi or Indian. Hindutva is all that those unknown sages of the Vedas, Gautama, Mahaveera, Akbar, Nanak, Kabir, Tagore, Vivekananda and Gandhi stood for. Hindutva is about a united nation with people of all sects and faiths having a common culture binding them all. Hindutva is all about staying together and allowing everyone else to stay peacefully. Hindutva is about everything that stands for the prosperity of India or Hindustan, whichever name you call. If you take out Hindutva, then there's no identity for us. So why so much fuss about Hindutva?


The very idea of Hindutva is attacked whenever we have a communal riot.  No one appreciates communal riots. They are the biggest scars of our society. But sadly almost all political parties have resorted to some form of communalism in recent times to gain political mileage. Often the ruling political party didn't want to go against the sentiments of the majority community - starting from Suhrawardy's (the then Muslim League CM of Bengal province) role in Hindu genocide on "Direct Action Day" on 16th Aug in 1946 (FYI, that's the biggest genocide of any community till date in India killing more than 4000 people in 72 hours), to the Shikh massacre under Congress and finally the post Godhra riots under Modi. It's a practice for many people to tarnish the secular image of India with such incidents. In this respect let me refer to something mentioned in "Discovery of India" (despite my not-so-much liking for Nehru). In reference to Tagore's severe criticism of the sort of the Indian history, full of wars and massacre and internal fights, taught in schools Nehru mentioned that all these wars are just like blips in the annals of the Indian history, but still people tend to talk more of these negative things rather than highlighting so many good things about the prosperity and growth of the subcontinent over 3000 years in all aspects. As a matter of fact despite all these wars and fightings Indian subcontinent have been the strongest economy in the world till the British rule. Even in 1700, when India was not at one of her highest points, she used to contribute to almost 30% of World Economy, very close to the share of entire Europe despite the fact that Europe was basking in the success and glory of Industrial Revolution in that period. It's really a pity that we learn about the invasions of Timur, Chenghis Khan, Muhammed Ghor and so on, but the fact is that these are just so few in number in the span of 3000 years that they could have been just ignored. 


Just consider this: the Bengali San Calendar, considered to be a Hindu calendar, was actually synched up with the lunar Hijri during Akbar's reign, but the counting remained Solar. That's why the date in the Bengali San calendar is quite close to that in Hijri. This means that my marriage, on some auspicious day as per Hindu norms, has a reference to the day when Prophet Mohammed marched from Mecca to Medina. Well, you might argue that Akbar might have forced this on the Bengalis. But then the Bengalis didn't change this ever - even after the death of Akbar or the end of the Muslim Rule in India. Is there any other place in this world where a Muslim calendar is synched up with Christian era or vice versa? Has anyone spoken about this? The sound of Shehnai is part of the ritual in any Hindu marriage in North India even though till date I haven't heard of any Hindu playing Shehnai. In older days even the staunch Brahmins used to invite the Muslim Shenai players to perform in their marriages. Is there any ritual in any part of the world where people of different faith play such a great role? Bismillah Khan's shehnai was one of the main attractions in the temples of Benaras till his death. Can you show me any single church or masjid in the world where a Hindu has been asked to sing Bhajan? Have you ever heard of any Hindu preferring the Brahmin Kishore Kumar Gangopadhyay over a Muslim Mohd. Rafi for religious reason? Have you ever heard of any actor becoming superstar by virtue of his religion? Khans are the rulers of Bollywood. Some of the richest Mulsims, the likes of Wadias and Azim Premji, of the corporate world are in India. The biggest real estate company, Prestige, in Bangalore is owned by Muslims. One of the poorest persons, also a Muslim, from one of the remotest villages went on to become the top boss of India's premier defence research organization and later the President. Ask Abdul Kalam, ask Mohd. Rafi, ask the Wadias, ask Azharuddin, ask Bismillah Khan, ask Shahrukh Khan, ask Amjad Ali Khan and Ali Akbar Khan, ask the sexy Katrina Kaif, ask Omar Abdullah, ask Ghulam Ali if they have ever faced any discrimination? No.... India never discriminates. All that you hear about the riots and genocides are not the only things to hear or talk about. They are just like Timur's invasion and the plunder of Delhi, like Nadir Shah's atrocities, which the historians want to remember more than the fact that some Muslim King in South India (well it's Tipu Sultan, in case we've forgotten) had named his capital (Srirangapatnam) after a Hindu God Vishnu.....

India has been always secular. It has been the Veer Bhoomi (land of the brave people) for the Veers. What Darwin told some hundred years back about survival for the fittest, we knew for ever - Veer Bhogya Vasundara - the world is for the brave. Indians are a brave lot. Hindutva is all about being that brave Indian. Hindutva is about getting rid of the 'minority' tag from anyone and make each and every Indian an integral part, rather than major or minor or backward or scheduled part, of India. Hindutva is about living and letting live - not driving out Tasleema Nasrin out of country. Hindutva is about giving equal rights to all. If an artiste is allowed to paint Saraswati in nude, then "Satanic Verses" shouldn't also be banned. If saying anything derogative against Prophet Muhammad can hurt the sentiments of some people, then denying the existence of Lord Ram can hurt the sentiments of many other people. 


Let's not attach any taboo to 'being Hindu'. All Indians were always Hindu or Hindi and our land was always Hindustan. So why so much fuss about being what we've been always?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Some Simple Ways to Fight Downturn

Since the collapse of the financial giants worldwide economists have been quite vocal about the dos and donts during the downturn. Several propositions have been already put forth. Most of the governments have taken several corrective measures. Things should turn around soon. But beyond the governments and the economists even we all can take some simple measures to fight against the down turn.

The basic philosophy is very simple. People should have capacity to buy more things - which in turn will trigger more production - which in turn will result in more revenue for the government - which would translate into more facilities for the people - thus finally the standard of living and the economy both growing at a good rate.

In India close to 900 million (~180 million households) people live on $2/day. Even with this level of income most of these households could afford to buy at least one mobile phone. This clearly shows the capacity of the Indians to buy. A little improvement in their income would translate into huge consumerism which can drive India's economy strongly. So the basic philosophy should be to help raising the incomes of these people. These are some of the simple things that the most prosperous 2.2 million households, earning more than Rs 1 million, can do.

  1. Spend your money on products & services that involve more people in their manufacturing - this means that the money you spend directly reaches a wider group of people. For example, the people involved in making an N series  Nokia phone would be insignificant compared to the people involved in making a shirt. If you don't need the phone, better spend the money on shirts, shoes, restaurants or even movies, books, CDs.
  2. Keep as many helping hands at home. Gardening is a good thing. But if you can afford to spend Rs 500 every month better keep a gardener to look after your garden. More number of people you employ, more is the money getting spread. If your gardener finally buys a mobile phone it's good for you finally because you might be designing that phone.
  3. Travel as much as you can. Travel and tourism is one of the most effective ways to improve the economy of nondescript places. India has a diverse culture, history and geography. There are innumerable places that you can see. Go to places that are not in the popular tourist maps. Tourism might create the only possible employment in many places. Stay in smaller hotels and eat at smaller places rather than staying at Taj.
  4. Spend some money on noble causes like sponsoring the education of a child for one year in a village school. There are several NGOs who are involved in this. Your money will reach faster than government spending. Indirectly this has a very positive impact on raising the economic level of any individual.
  5. Very broadly, the present economic crisis can't be solved till the US economy turns around. As pointed by Swaminathan, among the many things that the people of US should do now, one is that they have to save more, consume less, produce more and export more. Conversely countries like India, China, Brazil etc have to save less, consume more, export less and import more. This will turn around the economic wheel across the world. So in India we should try to spend as much as we can, without being extravagant. Sitting on huge cash and saving aggressively thinking of even worse times might not be a good thing at this moment. As the prospects of export for India are not good in the short term, we have to compensate for the loss in export by consuming more. Also we have to import more and consume that too. So overall we have to keep spending as much as we can. This means spending in everything that's useful for us. But remember, never spend on things that you don't need!!

My Contribution to Current Economic Mess

I'm facing the heat of the current economic crisis. My clients are doing bad and our business is hit. Same is the story with many companies that deal with consumer products. Though I'm a victim of the crisis but to some extent I'm also responsible for the same crisis which is hitting me hard. It's like shooting on my own feet. 

The present crisis is mainly caused by excess consumerism driven by the urge of consumers (I'd say dumb consumers) to buy things, which they don't need, with the money that they don't have. These dumb consumers world-wide (not that much in India, but mostly in US & EU) kept on chasing their aspirations of possessing the latest mobile phone that should take a 5 mega pixel photo or video and upload that immediately to the web for sharing with their near and dear ones; should have the space to contain 1000 mp3 songs so that they can keep on listening to the songs in office, buses, trains and every other place where they go; should have a screen of good resolution so that they can see youtube videos; should have all the facilities of checking mails, creating power point documents, editing excel files and everything else that they generally do in office; should have a well enough speaker so that the phone can be used as a boom-box if required; should have bluetooth, GPS, WiFi and many more.  I know that people are getting busy now-a-days and they should be always connected to the world of their office. Hence checking mails is something very essential. But I really don't know how efficient and ergonomic it is to check mails in such a small screen of a mobile phone. And believe me, even if Obama doesn't accept it openly, he will surely do so in private that typing a mail in a laptop is much easier than using even the QWERT compliant keyboard of a BlackBerry phone. Even if I accept the real need of checking mails while on the move (as if businesses used to collapse even a few years back when BlackBerry or similar services were not available), I really can't understand why people are so obsessed with clicking low quality photographs with their mobile. These photos are never usable even if it's 5mega pixel. A cheaper CyberShot camera worth some $50-60 has any day better picture quality than even the most sophisticated camera on a phone. A very ridiculous thing is watching a video on a small screen of the mobile. When the TV sizes are getting larger and larger to give a better feeling of watching a movie, does anyone really enjoy seeing the jerking videos on their phones? 3G is being promoted with the main intention of doing video calls and watching videos - as if the technology came into being just to facilitate a few jerks to view jerking video clips on their mobiles. I can tell some thousand more such useless innovations which have caught the fancy of the dumb consumers and the manufacturers have spent millions in R&D to come up with much more dumber features in gadgets. 

Long time back I got a mail about useless Japanese inventions. I remember of one gadget that was a fork fitted with a small motor that makes the fork rotate slowly. This is meant for eating chowmein. The rotating fork pulls up the threads of chowmein and if you place the fork near your mouth you get a continuous flow of chowmein. Wow, that is exactly what Charlie Chaplin had shown in 'Modern Times' - a world full of useless innovations which are consumed by dumb consumers. Now suddenly when the consumers not only spent all their money and also the money they had borrowed from banks and have nothing to pay off their debt, the sale of all the dumb gadgets have come to a halt. And that's how we're having a tough time - no sale means less work - cost cutting - layoffs - and the full mess that we all are in!!

Now let's come to the point. I've been abusing the consumers for spending money on dumb things. But the question is who made them dumb? Why have exploited the innocent consumers to be obsessed with silly things for watching jerking pictures of Lord of The Rings on a 8x10 cm screen? It's me!! I've been working on niche electronics technologies that are meant for niche people with a penchant for technology. I've created this hoopla that the business will stop if you don't check mails or edit a document on your phone. It's me and my friends in the semiconductor industry who have been putting extra hours to create really dumb things for which the innocent consumers have spent everything they had. We've created a hype about all these junk products. A perception was created that without these the life would be just dull and dumb. And the innocent consumers fell prey to our gimmicks. 

Well, it's not only me and my industry, it's also the housing industry which did the same thing that we did. They created this scenario where a couple started feeling suffocated in a house of 3500sq. ft, with a 4000 sq. ft backyard and 2000 sq. ft front yard and went on to buy another house situated on a hill top in Saratoga with a magnificent view of the south western Bay (well, what's that??) overlooking a beautiful lagoon and complete with a swimming pool, garage for four cars (two for the couple and two for the would be children to be born after 5 years), 4 bed rooms, 2 study and multiple levels of living rooms. Unless they bought this house their dream of being engineers in Bay Area won't have fulfilled!! Again things that they never needed but still they spent money (borrowed) for that. Where ever you go you see the same thing - people running after useless things. Now suddenly every thing has come to a point of no return. People don't have money to buy even useful things. And people who really need things can't afford to buy those useless gizmos.

Had the semiconductor industry not spent so much to innovate all silly things (like ridiculously large TVs, phones packed with dumb features which if used extensively would create serious ergonomic problems, smaller and smaller sized products on hugely costly latest and greatest of semiconductor technologies like 45 and 32nm -just to name a few) and thought of really useful things like unconventional energy products, more cost effective bio-medical products and general value-for-money simple gadgets then things would have been totally different now.

Just think about this. I've mentioned this in a previous blog:
India now has 350 million mobile phone connections. Considering the fact that there are still about 180 million households (~900 million people) in India thriving on less than $2/day per head- out of which 90 million households thriving on less than $1/day per head and only 40 million households earning more than $2/day per head, it's indeed a very interesting statistic. Even if we assume that the 40 million middle and upper class households, who earn more than $2/day, have one phone each for their members, still that accounts for only 160 million connections. This means that the remaining 190 million connections are coming from the households that earn less than $2/day.  So mobile phones are no longer items of luxury or aristocracy.  Even the poorest households can afford to have a mobile phone.

The handset market in India is about $5 billion. The 180 million households, who earn less than $2/day and who have already bought 190 million handsets, can still buy, on this date, 270 million more handsets (assuming 90 million households with income between $1-2/day buying 2 handsets per household and the 90 million households with income < $1/day buying 1 more per household), provided the price of the handsets comes down considerably. Even a price of $10 would mean a $2.5 billion more revenue, which is a straight 50% increase. Also at the same time the phones could have been made even more useful for the vast majority of people by providing usable Internet (say on on 3G technology) at a low price, say $15. There are 650K villages in India and it's not possible to lay the cables for broadband for all the villages immediately. But 3G has the potential to reach all such places. Exactly the way mobile went to places where landlines couldn't, 3G should go places where conventional broadband can't go. A centralized database keeping track of farming in each of the 650K villages, assessing the demands of each vegetable and grain across the country and accordingly regulating the supplies to maintain a steady price for all farm products can be a reality only if each farmer has access to Internet and that's possible through technologies like 3G. The impact of such an achievement is immense. As per reports about 72% of India's fruit and vegetable produce goes waste. The main reason for this waste is lack of proper storage and retailing facilities. With centralized database the retailing can be made much more efficient. Also government can make recommendations to farmers on various aspects of farming based on the projected demand and supply of any crop or fruit and vegetable. Lesser wastage and more efficient retailing would translate to higher incomes and facilities for the farmers - who constitute almost 70% of India's population. Just imagine how much impact can it have on India's economy!! I'm sure some one can make a gross calculation and prove that even without a single sale of niche products like an N-series Nokia phone or the biggest plasma TV, the manufacturers could have earned more had they catered to only the rural value-for-money market.

Does anyone know why a CT scan is so costly when a digital camera just costs a few dollars? The reason behind is that we've  never put our brains behind all these technologies. It's high time that people put their thoughts and energy in areas like biomedical, unconventional energy, power saving gadgets etc which are not only useful but also have immense social and environmental impact.

I feel it's good that we're having this crisis. Selfish people like us would arise and awake and do the right things that we should have done in the past decades. At the end of the crisis we'll all emerge with much better things that will remain for long and not end in a bubble!!

Gandhi and His 'Charkaa' Capitalism

I'm sure most people would think this as the most blasphemous thing to associate capitalism with Gandhi and Gandhism - which much like Hinduism is perhaps among the most misinterpreted isms in the world. People have even gone to the extent of saying that Gandhi's anti industrialism is of no use in today's world. Gandhi is often criticized of taking India backwards - away from industries. Well, I think Gandhi is the ideal capitalist of the world - at least for India.

In very simple words capitalism is an economic system where the wealth and the means to generate wealth are privately owned and controlled rather than state owned and controlled. The very essence of capitalism is to allow the production of wealth or 'capital' using one's merit, skill and expertise. Capitalism empowers people to be competitive and exert themselves to the maximum in order to reap the maximum benefit. Capitalism also indirectly promotes self independence. It's no wonder that only in an ideal capitalistic scenario can the poorest of the poor aspire to be the richest person in the country irrespective of his creed, background or social status. Capitalism creates classes based on the capabilities and the output of a person. The social status of a person gets associated with the work he does. He can always change his class by doing a work which is associated with a higher status. Off course there are several vices of capitalism. But I'd rather prefer to associate these vices with the exploitation of the essence of capitalism and not with the principle of capitalism.

India has been always capitalistic since the early phases of her civilization. The class system invoked by the Aryans in 2nd millennium BC was purely based on the work distribution. Certain type of work was associated with a lower social status than others. But the idea of classes was purely based on division on labour, though the very essence degenerated in the later times. In ancient Indian mythologies there are multiple instances of people of lower classes moving to a higher class by accumulating wealth. Creation of wealth was never controlled by the king or the state. Anyone from any class had the right to create wealth. The division of labour, which often became hereditary, ensured that the skill required to create wealth is never lost or wasted but nurtured and enhanced with times. People were allowed to produce goods or services that they were best at. More production was always associated with more wealth. Perhaps that was the reason why throughout the long recorded history of four thousand years India has been always the most prosperous country in the world. Based on the researches made on the historical GDP data of various regions since 1st century AD, India has always contributed to more than 20% of the world GDP till the beginning of the British colonization. India and China were always the biggest and most prosperous nations in the world in the recorded economic history till 1800 AD. The prosperity can be easily attributed to the capitalistic nature of the economy. Jawaharlal Nehru has pointed in his 'Discovery of India' that the rulers of India always tried their best to maintain an environment congineal for cultivation and harvest, production of goods and trade and commerce. The economy was very much localized, with the village working as independent self sustaining economic units. There was a sort of unwritten rule that no ruler would disturb the trade and commerce and destroy crops. Until the invasion of the Muslim rulers from Iran in 14th century AD, India never saw plundering or mass slaughtering by the conqueror, though India has been conquered by foreign rulers since time immemorial. The flourishing trade and commerce was never tampered with even when the rulers changed at the top. In many cases the village economy almost remain unaffected even with the change of an entire dynasty at the center. Also the distribution of the work forces was very interesting. Less than half of the people were involved in agriculture and the remaining in production of various goods like pottery, artisanry, metal works, construction and others. That's exactly opposite to what we see now in India, where about 70% are involved in farming. 

For the first time India lost her capacity to produce at her best when the British captured major part of India. The self sustaining and flourishing rural economy, where the creation of wealth was always owned by the people themselves, was totally ruined. The British rulers started to dictate which crop to be cultivated, how much to be sold at and whom to sell. They gradually took the control of everything, thus destroying the capitalist economy of India. The result was the fast decline in India's GDP. In 1700 India's GDP under the Mughal rule was highest in the world -  contributing 24% of world GDP. In 1820 India's share of world GDP declined to 16% (compared to China's 33%) and in 1950 when the British rule ended it was only 4.2%. The cause of this decline was just due to the fact that the rural self sustaining economic fabric of India was destroyed totally by the British authorities. People didn't have the right to do what they could do best. Instead they were forced to do things that they never had done in the past. Unemployment increased many folds at a fast pace. Everything was controlled by the state. Also the non-agricultural works were made to perish. The only employment available to the people who had created high class products with metal and wood for the past four thousand years was agriculture. Thus the ratio of people involved in farming increased considerably to close to 80%. That's a very unviable model for a good economy.

When this was the scenario, Gandhi tried to just the very simple thing that had kept the Indian economy the most prosperous in the world for four thousand years.  He wanted to make the people of rural India self sufficient. Now-a-days almost every one speaks about empowering the rural India because they are the prospective consumers and they alone can drive the economy if they have the buying power. That's exactly what Gandhi wanted to do. He wanted the Indians to take care of their own means of creating wealth rather than expecting the state to do something for them. That's what is the essence of capitalism. Yes, it's true that the entire 'chakraa' and the Swadeshi movement was symbolic, but the principle on which he did that was purely driven by a capitalist idea of empowering people to own wealth and the means of creating wealth. Don't HLL or Procter & Gamble or Glaxo SmithKlime Beecham or ITC or Nokia also want to do the same now - to enable the rural India to have more money so that they can buy more? So isn't Gandhi's 'chakraa' the symbol of a capitalism?

Friday, March 20, 2009

How Green Is My Country

When I went to Japan for the first time some nine years back I was very surprised to see that every other person there carried a mobile phone. At that time the mobile was still considered a luxury item in India - the tariffs were quite high, the phone sets were costly and the coverage not at all good. Even in 2002 not every nook and corner of our country was covered by the mobile networks. Like the feelings I had in my first US trip - when can we have such good roads in India? - the first thing that came to my mind was - when can we see every grown up Indian carrying a phone?

Things have changed astonishingly over the past few years. India now has 350 million mobile phone connections. Considering the fact that there are still about 180 million households (~900 million people) in India thriving on less than $2/day per head - out of which 90 million households thriving on less than $1/day per head and only 40 million households earning more than $2/day per head, it's indeed a very interesting statistic. Even if we assume that the 40 million middle and upper class households, who earn more than $2/day, have one phone each for their members, still that accounts for only 160 million connections. This means that the remaining 190 million connections are coming from the households that earn less than $2/day.  So mobile phones are no longer items of luxury or aristocracy.  Even the poorest households can afford to have a mobile phone. More than that even the poorest of the households consider a mobile phone as a necessity. That's what I'd aspired of when I first saw so many mobile phones in Japan. I feel so happy to see that my dream came true in less than a decade.

Telecommunication is perhaps the only technology or industry or service that has grown at such a rapid pace in India and that has touched the lives of so many people in such short time. I can't think of any other technology that had so huge impact on the people of India. The taxi drivers can't survive without a phone; a fisherman in Kerala can't survive without the useful information that he gets in his mobile, while still in sea, about the right price of the fish at the right market; my maid servant can't manage her daily work at so many houses so efficiently without being touch with each of them and knowing when exactly both sir and madam are coming back from office, or when they are leaving; the farmers are getting used to know about the demand of their vegetables and fruits before coming to the mandi and so on. 

There's lot more scope of improving the technology and making it more useful to the mass of the country. Sadly most of the innovations in the communication have gone towards making useless and costly products which will never be used by majority of Indians for quite some time. Is there any need of making a 3G enabled phone that allows you to see live videos? How much fast the internet connection be, it's not at all an ergonomic and satisfying experience to view a movie on a small screen of a mobile phone. Instead of that all the energy and innovations could have gone towards making 3G the essential technology to provide really fast and cheap wireless broadband to villages which still don't have the infrastructures for the conventional broadband. There are around 650K villages in India, out of which not many would have internet connections. 3G technology has huge potential to provide connectivity to interior parts of India where laying cable would be quite a costly affair. Like mobile phones, that went to places where landlines couldn't go, 3G can take internet to places where conventional broadband hasn't yet reached. Also a cheap 3G device can replace a computer, the cheapest of which is still something like $200. For a village where all the households earn less than $2/day, spending $200 might not be quite feasible. But if it's something like $20 many households can afford to buy a computer and browse the internet. 

The dream I have next is to see each household in India using computer and browsing the internet. That's when I can really say How Green Is My Country!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A lesser known tale of the better known slumdogs

This Sunday, 8th March, my friend Pankaj called me up in the afternoon and asked if I'd like to accompany him for  a special screening of a film written by his childhood friend. Well, that was really very unusual, first of all, to have a friend who writes for movies and that also a movie for which there would be a special screening. I didn't have much to do interesting for that evening other than watching the Filmfare Awards in TV. Seeing a movie by the friend of my friend sounded really interesting. I picked Pankaj up from his home and proceeded towards Ravindra Kalakshetra (in Bangalore). On the way Pankaj mentioned about his friend Vishal Vijay Kumar, who had the penchant for writing since his college days. Finally he landed up in Bombay with the hope to make it big in the 'Zara Hatke Zara Bachke' city. His story is a typical one for anyone aspiring of making it big in Bollywood. Almost everyone starting from Lata Mangeshkar to Imran Hashmi has some story of struggle. Several popular stories make round in various magazines. But then listening from someone who has heard the stories of struggle from the horse's mouth is little different. Thanks to the recent movie "Luck By Chance", many insider information about movie making is known to us. Vishal's experience is also similar - starting from producers asking in a very blatant and gross way to write stories 'inspired' by any particular DVD or adding a scene where the heroine's skirt 'should'  fly off in a Merilyn Monro style out of the blue and then suddenly a song should start in the background expressing the mental condition of the hero after seeing the unseen!! Perhaps these were not anything new. Neither was new Vishal's patience and perseverance to wait till he got the right opportunity to write a story from his heart. But when I finally saw the movie "Thanks Maa", written by him, I was really taken aback. It might be easy to say ideological things, but then in reality achieving what your heart says is something else. Vishal had finally written really something from his heart - something that would touch many other hearts.

The director of the movie had come to Bangalore for a special screening of the movie at Ravindra Kalakshetra and that's where Pankaj was requested by his friend Vishal to attend the screening.

After reaching Ravindra Kalakshetra we found that some function was going on in the auditorium. Everything was happening in Kannada and the people outside also didn't know what exactly was happening inside. Someone told that it was the birthday celebration of some hero, even though we couldn't figure out which hero it could be. Pankaj called Irfan, the director of the movie. Irfan asked us to come to the green room. That's when we learnt what the event was all about. It was the 74th birth anniversary of writer and journalist P Lankesh and the occassion to give out the Lankesh Film Award by his daughter and popular Kannada film director Kavita Lankesh. Irfan Kamal, the director of the movie "Thanks Maa", has been selected as the best debutant film director for 2008. The jury of the award had seen the movie in the Indian Film Festival at Goa last year. Irfan Kamal was here to receive the award and screen the movie for the select audience. Knowing all these created a sort of interest in the movie. After the award ceremony we watched the movie.

The movie "Thanks Maa" (see a trailer here) is about kids in slums of Bombay. After the recent hoopla about "Slumdog Millionaire" the story of Bombay slum is again in the spot light. So I didn't expect anything special or unique in the approach or treatment of a topic that has been dealt too much in movies and media. But I was there for a surprising shock. The movie indeed revolves around five kids from a typical Bombay slum - Soda, Cutting, Sursuri, Dhed-Shaana and the hero called Municipality Ghatkopar. But the essence of the film is not just the slum life. It's a poignant tale of an orphan kid who comes across an abandoned new born baby and goes out of the way to unite the baby with his mother. The orphan kid is called Municipality Ghatkopar because he was found abandoned in a Municipality hospital in Ghatkopar. He was raised in the slums of Bombay, just like any other slum kid. But there is a difference between him and the others. He always has an yearning to meet with his mother, whom he never saw in his life. This yearning is so deep that he keeps on going to the hospital where a security had found him abandoned some ten years back. For all these ten years he kept his hope of uniting with his mother alive. Nothing in his life is the pain of not knowing his own mother. That's why when he discovers the new born being abandoned by a lady he makes it a mission of his life to unite the baby with his mother. Nothing is more important to him at that point of time

The rest of the story is about how he finally reaches the mother of the baby. But the biggest shock was waiting for him when he found the mother after so much pain. 

In course of his search for the mother, helped by four other kids, Municipality Ghatkopar experiences a lifeful of experiences. But never for a moment does any of the kids show any sign of depression or frustration. Their lives seem to be so normal amidst all the extreme happenings which can shake even a most unperturbed adult. It's the maturity, that the few immatures exhibit through out the movie, that stands high. The universal feeling of motherhood, that very sadly never arises among those mothers who dump their new born babies in hospitals, arises in a slum kid, who himself has been dumped by his own mother. The care that he takes for the baby, the ingenious ways that he invents along with the other kids to feed the baby and keep him alive is just incredible. It's really heartening to see such an unusual story of a kid. The critics of "Slumdog Millionaire" would surely come up with arms to criticize such a good piece of art on the ground that it shows the brutality and the ruthlessness of a dark side of humanity that's better hidden for ever. But they will surely miss the main thing of the movie - that has nothing to do with the slum or the poverty or the brutality - it's about the need of a mother in your life, a need that only an orphan can feel, a need that's the fortunate kids with parents might never understand as a need at all, a need that turns a ten year old kid into a man!!

Another striking thing about the movie is its sense of humor. Kudos to Vishal, the writer of the movie, for inter spacing the harshness of realities with fun and frolic and humor. The kids never express their helplessness. They are just enjoying their lives to the fullest with all their zeal and vitality. They crack jokes, fight with each other, make fun of each other the same way the rich kids of some international school would do,.... perhaps. That's a very beautiful thing that Vishal and Irfan, the director of he movie, have brought out. It's the story of life, it's the story of hope, it's the story of love.... that has nothing to do with the slums or the brutalities. It's a universal theme presented in the backdrop of a harsh reality.

Now coming to the technical aspects of the movie - for a debutant director it's really a well made movie with barely any trace of amateurish handling of anything. At some places the things become a bit gross, might be for an Indian audience, but overall it's well made. Special care has been taken for minute details to make everything look very real and authentic. Pankaj told me that not a single set was used for the movie. All the scenes were shot at real locations. The editing, music, background scores all were good. There was a feeling of a thriller throughout the movie. The climax scene, where Municipality finally unites with his mother (did he finally untie or that was just a wild thought of the expecting audience??) is well thought of and superbly presented. The movie leaves the audience in lot of thoughts. That's the right way to end a good story - to allow the reader or the audience to think loud and come to his own conclusion.

I really hope that the movie gets released finally. It somehow reminds me of "Chandni Bar", another well thought of  and well made movie.