Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wanted: beer drinkers in Mumbai & Delhi

If you are a beer drinker living in Mumbai & Delhi and can spare 2 hours of your time for a study on what the youth think & what they drink - drop me a line.

You get cool cash (Rs 1000 to be precise!) + dinner/ high tea depending on time of day + meet some interesting people.

You need to be free on these days depending on yr age category:


Males (18-24): Fri Oct 9, 7-9 pm

Females (18-24): Sat Oct 10, 4-6 pm

Males (25-35): Sat Oct 10, 7-9 pm

Venue: Ramada palm grove


Females (18-24): Sun Oct 11, 4-6 pm

Males (25-35): Sun Oct 11, 7-9 pm

Males (18-24): Mon Oct 12

Sunday is in south Delhi (Lajpat nagar) and Monday at DLF phase 1 in Gurgaon.

Please note that you must not work in the advertising, MR, PR or alcohol industry. And that this is not a beer tasting or sampling session - you will only *talk* about beer. However you are free to go and blow up your cash however you like :)

If u think you fit the bill drop a line with your contact details including tel no to rashmi_b at yahoo.com.

Why the IIT faculty is on a hunger strike

Airline employees strike.
Bank workers strike.
But IIT professors? It is a very sad day when they go on strike!

Something must be very rotten in the state of Denmark - in a manner of speaking - for these gentle souls to take such an extreme step. Certainly IIT professors deserve far better salaries but rest assured it is not merely for a few extra bucks.

I am reproducing an email put out by the Faculty Forum of IIT Bombay which lucidly explains why they took this stand.

Dear Friends:

HRD Minister Mr. Kapil Sibal has been making comments which incorrectly portrays our protest as being for salary only. This is far from the truth and a look at our memorandum dated 21/09/09 will make it clear that the IIT faculty are fighting more for autonomy, dignity and honor that the MHRD is systematically robbing the IITs of. Our main concerns are the following:

1. In the UGC system there is a percentage cap on posts (like 10% only can be Professors). This has failed them since meritorious people may not be promoted if there is no vacancy. MHRD is trying to impose something like that on IITs, where, till now, promotion is by merit only. This is direct interference in the academic autonomy of IITs.

2. IITs heavily depend on recruiting bright young people as soon as possible after PhD. MHRD has offered that a fresh PhD graduate can only be given a contractual post with a salary of about Rs 28000. Does anyone think we can recruit the large number of good people, that IITs need, with this salary? (IITs need about 6000-8000 new faculty in the next 7-8 years)

3. The Goverment of India has honored DAE and ISRO by giving them something called PRIS (O) since they are “centers of excellence”. Everyone from the sweepers to the senior scientists are getting that which is a 20% added amount to salary. They have nt given this yet to IITs. Are IITs not as “excellent” as DAE and ISRO?

This is about prestige and honor of the faculty. All these can only have one outcome: destruction of the IIT system over the next decade or two. The faculty are fighting to prevent this from happening. The minister through the media claims that it is about money. IT IS NOT ABOUT MONEY. If at all it is about money, it is for people who are not yet a faculty member here, for students still doing their PhDs (or even in earlier stages of their career, who have the potential to teach in an IIT, but may not feel that such a career is viable)

I believe that honour and prestige is the crux of the issue. Yes, IIT and IIM faculty feel they should be paid better but I don't think they would ever go on strike for money alone.

In fact, whenever I speak to faculty about whether they would jump ship as soon as some fancy foreign university sets up shop they say,"Not necessarily."

Apart from salary, professors value academic and operational freedom.
Their status as members of a respected institution.
The kick of teaching the 'best' students in the country.

If the government keeps its hands off and allows the older IITs and IIMs to chart their own destiny, they'll have a fighting chance. Else, the war will be lost... even before the battle has begun!

White Tigress

Punjab may be the land of milk and honey but it is not the land of airports. So I found myself in a shatabdi (no complaints, excellent train!), on the way to Ludhiana, a couple of days ago.

The seat next to me is occupied by a 'typical Punjaban'. Pink suit, pink lipstick, pink cheeks, armful of red and white bangles. Add a sarson ka khet and a tall glass of lassi and I'd be on the set of a Yashraj film...

Of course there is no lassi; instead I make tea from an Indian Railways thermos. And just as I attempt to get some 'work' done (hurrah for railways - modem bhi chalega!), she strikes up a conversation.

I am a bit surprised to learn that "Pretty in Pink" - let me call her Ruby henceforth - is actually an MTech in Computer Science.

"I was teaching at ABCD (well known engineering college in Punjab) but then I got married. Now I am looking for a job again..."

Ruby's husband is in the software industry and has just joined a company in Mohali. Arranged marriage. In the general spirit of chattiness I ask impolite Indian questions: "How did you decide.. how did you know he was the *one*?"

And she replies,"I left it to my 'payerents'. I said you know what's best for me... you decide".

In fact, Ruby did not even 'meet' her husband separately before marriage. Ladka ladki ne ek doosre ko sirf dekha, with a hundred relatives hovering around with chai and barfis. As is the Great Indian Dekhne ka Tradition.

But don't boys and girls usually meet separately a couple of times these days... before making a final decision?

Yes, but in her mind, it was a 'foregone' conclusion.

They did speak about a few things. Like she would work after marriage - as a lecturer.

"Actually my husband is less qualified than me. He is only MCA, that too distance. But he was in a good job, good family, earning well... "

Isliye pitaji ko theek laga.

It's tough to find a job right now as the semester has started, she added. Perhaps she should also look for something in industry.

"No, my father told me long back ki beta you join academic line. If both husband and wife are in industry then there will be no time for family..."

Of course she has no plans of having an 'issue' for next 2 years. "I want to enjoy married life", she adds.

Great, but she does not seem too happy to me.. just one month after. I wonder, if marriage has been this compromise, a duty to be fulfilled, what happens if one fine day she meets someone who makes her heart flutter?

"You mean someone who I can really connect with."


"No it can't happen."

Why not?

"Because I cannot think that way.. feel that way. I am not an expressive girl..."

Us tarah se kabhi kisi ladke ko dekha nahin... Aur agar kisi ne dekha to I won't give him a chance to get close to me.

Fresh from reading the White Tiger, the words Rooster Coop flash in my mind. There is one coop which keeps the have nots in their places. And another which does much the same for women - The 'Hen Coop'.

You bring up girls in this society *knowing* and *believing* it is dangerous to dare. And of course, to dream.

Abort your unborn ambitions at the altar of family. Ensure the heart is like banjar zameen where 'love' cannot and will not take root! In return we offer izzat, motherhood, lots of jewellery and the tag of Mrs to use on Indian Airlines...

The Hen Coop is what keeps the Great Indian Family going, even as the rest of the world hurtles towards chaos. Not that 'all is well' behind the closed doors of a courtyard where one SUV, one Honda city and one Alto (best for going to sabzi mandi!) stand proudly.

And then Ruby blurts,"Actually if I had met my husband properly before marriage.. I would not have married him!"

Bhai kyun?

"The other day he told me.. he had many girlfriends before marriage.. he was working in IT and BPO you know wahan to yeh sab hota hi hai."

Better before marriage, than after marriage, no? I venture.

Her eyes flash,"What guarantee is there that he will not be tempted after marriage also? So many families, so many, I have seen like that...!"

And suddenly I get a glimpse of a completely different person.

"I told him clearly one thing. If you ever have any hanky panky with anyone.. that day, that moment I will walk out and NEVER come back."

Under the pink salwar suit, I see stripes.

I see a 'white tigress'.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The White Tiger - a review, and then some

I picked up Aravind Adiga's 'White Tiger' only recently. Definitely a late lateef purchase and no, not from the traffic signal. I hate badly printed books and do not pick up pirated copies as a matter of principle.

It's the least one author can do for another :)

Well, the first 40 pages of 'White Tiger' did not take my breath away.

a) I felt it was written for a foreign audience. The way journalists write about India in Time magazine. (Yes I know, the author was a reporter for that very same magazine not long ago!)

b) The idea of Balram Halwai, the driver from the heart of Darkness writing a letter to the Chinese Prime Minister in the Queen's English bugged me. I mean, really, it did not seem like his voice.

But 100 pages on I fell into the rhythm of the book and started enjoying it. And I was filled with sneaky admiration for what Aravind was trying to do.

The White Tiger addresses the issue that we live with each and every day and which shocks every White Man who visits this country. How can we as a nation exist skyscraper to slum, BMW to bullock cart, PVR to piss-on-the tracks and never quite blow up?

If the have nots outnumber the haves by so many millions why don't they simply rise up and finish us all off?

Well, the answer according to Aravind, lies in the 'greatest thing India has ever invented' which is the Rooster Coop.

Just like roosters who are caged and accept their fate at the hands of the butcher, so do human beings accept the cage they are bolted in. The poor have a station in life, which is to serve the rich, and theirs is not to question, or to rebel. As Balram aka White Tiger puts it:

"A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 % - as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way - to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man's hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse."

Hmm. Dark thoughts but much of the book is laced with equally dark humour. Or so it appeared to me - one man's tragedy is another's comedy as they say!

Never before have people like me smelt the insides of a servant's quarters and visualised the nocturnal dancing of cockroaches. Thought about how icky it might be to massage hairy feet. Or realised the importance of caste, of religion, of 'background'. Even to get a lowly driver's job.

(Yes, we had 'Slumdog Millionaire' but that was more of a fairy tale)

I was also fascinated by some of side characters like Vitiligo Lips, Pinky madam and the idea of drivers passing their time reading Murder Weekly (is there really such a publication? Perhaps a spicier version of Manohar kahaniyan which I remember from summers spent at my native place!)

I wonder how much time Aravind actually spent observing Balram types, to be able to touch upon the hierarchy that exists even in a servant quarters. Like in college - "Main tera senior, zara bach ke rehna"!

For every blonde Ukrainian prostitute there is the fair skinned Indian with the dye job. Because everywhere, there are two Indias.

There's English liquor and country liquor.
There's penthouse and basement.
There's Light and there's Darkness.

We who type away at a computer connected to broadband in a language left behind by our former masters are in the 'light'.

But every day we brush shoulders with those in the darkness. Maids, cooks, ayahs, sweepers and of course, drivers.

I am surely a much kinder employer than the Mongoose or even the well meaning but ill fated Ashok (for context, refer book!) but when one Rajendra Yadav reports to work tomorrow... For a moment, I will be reminded of the White Tiger.

As long as the tigers - or the roosters, who form the majority - remain in their cages, life as we know it will go on. Naxal movements are wreaking havoc but are yet to touch the main cities. And so it that we have the occasional report of murder or dacoity but on the whole still feel 'safe'. And believe we will stay that way, for another generation.

But who can really say?

I sure hope our various social upliftment programs do some good because I really don't want to see more 'entrepreneurs' like Balram Halwai... angry and not so foolish ones! The kind who get their start up capital by slitting their employer's throats.

And then cross over to Our Side, melt into the neighbourhood and become 'high net worth' customers.

The White Tiger, Rs 395

P.S. Harper Collins, I hope you are coming out with a paperback edition soon coz the Balrams of the booktrade have been hawking it for months now!

Also read: my blog titled White Tigress

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Amazing grace

I went to Hypercity today thinking I would pick up a couple of things. Went a bit berserk (vegetables! detergent! icecream!) and emerged with five not-so-light shopping bags.

"Can I take the cart upto level 1?" I asked a guy in uniform near the exit.

"Aapko ricksha lena hai.. chalo main chhod deta hoon," he replied.

We got into the lift, then out, I walked slightly ahead of him - no particular reason. But maybe unconsciously in memsaab mode.

I fiddled in my purse to find change. First I took out a five rupee coin. Then I thought nahin, I have shopped so much. Should give him at least 10 bucks.

He patiently waited for rick to come ahead, carefully arranged my bags and then I got in.

I said, "Thank you" and handed him the note.

He gave a really wide smile and shook his head,"No madam, yeh to maine dekha aapko.. to aa gaya saath mein.. insaaniyat ke naate."

That guy - I don't even know his name - left me humbled.

There are good people everywhere, practicing random acts of kindness. I was feeling a bit low today - he made my day!

May more insaans practice this insaaniyat ka naata. And make the world a more beautiful place.

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