Saturday, April 29, 2006

If pigs have a say, they would sue the mayor

(Written, May 2005, when the pig menace at its peak, rather activists-group generated media noise was loud. The then mayor had made it his crusade to banish pigs from Mysore city limits. Nothing much came of it. I don’t suppose the Mysore pigs have a grouse against the present mayor.)

If pigs in Mysore are allowed to have their say, they would bring a class action suit against the city mayor, for his threat to liquidate them. If, by divine intervention or through Hollywood special-effects, they acquire the power of speech, our city-bred pigs would rush to the media and hold a press conference, lashing out at the Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP). Dubbed a consumer 'anarchist' group in some quarters, MGP has been pressing for action against, what they call, the pig menace. Pigs are not amused at such activism.

And then pigs need to counter the scare-mongers who cry ‘encephalitis’. If they can learn to write, the pigs would e-mail a forceful op-ed piece or send a ‘mother-of-all’ letter-to-the-editor to local media to put an end to all letters from health alarmists who drop unpronounceable medical names and drip like a tap with their unending grouse against neighbourhood pigs.

In view of the incessant complaints from anti-pig residents and the MGP's unceasing call for action, the municipal corporation has resolved to combat the menace on a war footing. It is reckoned that Mysore has a pig population exceeding 18,000. And for years they have been accustomed to having the run of the streets, working the garbage dumps, thoughtfully left un-emptied and overflowing by municipal sanitation staff.

We have it from a Siddharthanagar resident that our pigs are accomplished trench diggers as well. With their sharp teeth and strong jaws, pigs work close to people's compound walls to tunnel their way under the wall into residential compounds. They fancy electrical insulation material. Pigs dig holes around electricity poles to be able to chew on the casing and cable insulation.

The city mayor has notified a shoot-at-sight order against pigs found on streets after June 1 (or is it June 15?). If pigs don't seem particularly perturbed, it may be because of our civic body's poor credibility among people. Perhaps even pigs don't take their pronouncements seriously.A few weeks back the mayor had declared that special squads were out on the streets, rounding up pigs and holding them at a specially designated pen outside the city. A pig squad seen at work in the city provided a photo opportunity for local papers.

A week after 'Operation Pig' got under way, some MGP members along with a few media men visited the place to see how the pigs were doing in captivity. But there was not a soul to be found in the pen.The city mayor was quick with an explanation. There had been a glitch in the choice of location and the civic body was looking at another site for the pig rehab centre. The mayor, however, refuted any suggestion that the civic body played out a 'farce' that was billed ‘Operation Pig’.

The mayor's shoot-at-sight order is the latest in the ongoing pig story.But then other municipalities elsewhere in the country had announced such radical measures and invited trouble from animal rights activists. The Mumbai city corporation notified some time back that stray pigs in Mumbai would be killed at the rate of 1000 per week. This was to prevent spread of infection from the Japanese encephalitis virus. It is a mosquito-borne disease that hits animals and humans alike. Mosquitoes that feed on pigs infected with the virus transmit it to humans.

The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) advanced the argument that the answer to the virus was vaccination, and not annihilation. PETA has it that the encephalitis virus has been contained through vaccine, not pig killings, in China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Thailand. PETA campaigned among Mumbaikars, with a plea that they flood the city corporation with letters, asking how they could think of killing pigs as an option when vaccine was available.Relocating city pigs raised the issue of animal rights abuse.

Pigs, like most of us, are said to be sensitive to withdrawal of long-enjoyed benefits and privileges, such as unfettered freedom of movement on the city streets. How could the municipal corporation now talk of driving them off their familiar environs? No self-respecting pig can be expected to put up with this. The authorities also expose themselves to the charge of discrimination. They want to drive pigs out of the city streets, while no one is calling for action against cows and other livestock that roam the city streets.Such blatant discrimination by humans would not go well with pigs.

Animal experts would have us believe that pigs are stubborn and headstrong, and, like many of us, they get bored easily. It is unlikely that city-bred pigs would enjoy relocation to a 'halli' setting. We are cautioned by behavioural experts that when pigs get bored they become very destructive.

Pigs may never fly. But Mysorean pigs are modest. They merely seek the power of speech from the miracle maker. So that they can have their say. And the first two words they utter may well be, “Enough’s enough”.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

My take on Mysore’s Miseries

We have it from MGP (Mysore Grahakara Parishat) that there are at least 3,171 residents who believe that Mysore's most pressing problem is garbage disposal. Nearly as many of them give bad roads a higher rating on the city's chart of public miseries. As MGP secretary S.K. Ananda Thirtha put it, "There is a virtual tie between garbage and bad roads for the title of Mysore's most pressing problem." He makes it sound, doesn't he, like a closely contested FA Cup tie between Mohan Bagan and East Bengal in erstwhile Calcutta.
Stray animals are the prime menace, say 2,707 respondents surveyed by the MGP as part of its 'Save Mysore' campaign. And then we have 757 residents who reckon that the worst of Mysore's miseries is mushrooming illegal structures. The image that emerges from the survey findings is that of a haphazardly built town with pot-holed streets, littered with garbage and stray animals that compete for road space with motorists.
Elected caretakers of the city, far from taking note of the findings, pooh-pooh MGP for making "mountains of molehills." It is not for nothing they call MGP a Maha Grahachara Parishat (a mighty nuisance). Maybe you don't need an opinion poll, billed rather grandiosely as 'Save Mysore' campaign, to highlight common civic concerns. Besides, MGP's issue-based priorities chart need not be common to all residents in every locality.
There is the theory of 'hierarchy of needs' that governs people of different classes in different localities. People are motivated by the immediate needs of their locality to be satisfied before they focus on higher needs. And to come up with a list of top five civic issues may not be the most sensible way to assess quality of life in any city. A more meaningful assessment could have been made by seeking public response to the question: "How is the city doing?" Are we doing fine, poorly, or not at all, on waste management, water supply and on an assortment of socio-economic parameters such as upkeep of public parks, heritage sites, road maintenance, cultural activities, transport services, public libraries, shopping facilities, price-levels, hospitals, bus shelters, public toilets, schools, art galleries, museums, eat-outs?
If MGP could think in terms of doing quality-of-life surveys, locality-wise, it would be of help to the civic authorities in addressing the varied needs of specific municipal wards. The survey findings would become valuable reference material to town-planners and social researchers. Such an exercise could help MGP remove its negative image and raise its public profile.
MGP, they say, had hoped to mobilize one lakh respondents in its 'Save Mysore' survey. That they couldn't drum up more than 14,635 residents, even after months of campaigning, doesn't speak highly of MGP's appeal among the people, whose civic concerns it claims to voice.
The city corporation and local bureaucracy appear to have scant regard for MGP, which is dubbed 'a habitual complainant.' I have heard skeptics say that if there is anything we need to 'Save Mysore' from, it is the constant bickering between MGP and the municipal body. There is a school of thought that reckons no civic cause can be said to have been truly lost until it is taken up by MGP.
It is one of Mysore's minor miseries that MGP, which often raises issues of legitimate civic concern, lacks the social clout to shape public opinion and influence action by the civic authorities. The need for MGP can hardly be over-emphasized, in a city where the civic body isn't known for public accountability; and its people are known for their remarkable stoicism. What MGP needs is public credibility. It needs to be taken seriously, by the people who have put up with poor garbage disposal, bad roads, stray pigs, unscheduled power outages, and erratic water supply, for years, with the conviction that not much can be done by anyone to alter the situation

(This piece was done in July 10, 2005, when MGP came out with the findings of its ‘Save Mysore’ survey. The issues highlighted then - pot-holed roads, garbage litter, and stray animals – haven’t gone away. Mysore survives, somehow. And MGP, at this point in time, is focused on ‘Saving Mysore’s Park’, from our politicians.)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

MyMysore dot Com

When he heard I was shifting base to Mysore a friend in Coonoor said, “So, you're moving to that pensioners' paradise.” He meant well. But that isn't how Mysoreans like their town to be thought of. When I put in this bit on our web-page I got a mail from Anil Thagadur, a Mysorean based in Dulles, saying something to the effect that it was just as well I didn’t think the way my friend did. I sensed a veiled threat in his message. When in Mysore, think as the Mysoreans do. Dubbing it a 'pensioners' paradise' gives a fuddy-duddy connotation.

When someone mentions Mysore, my Coonoor friend visualises tree-lined avenues, spacious gardens, and a park bench seating a happy-looking greying couple, like the ones we see in LIC ads. I don’t know where he got his picture from. Maybe he had seen some vintage Kannada films, when Girish Karnad played a college kid.

The parks and gardens of Mysore had been all green and wooded when Karnad used to do the run-around-the-bushes routine for films. As for those greying couples, my random check with friends reveals that many oldies have moved away to the USA, presumably to baby-sit for their sons and daughters. It appears Mysore is losing its pensioners to the US, thanks to their green-card holding children. A pensioners’ paradise - could anyone still say?

I can’t say I’m familiar with paradise. Nor do I know of anyone who has been there. Available reports, gathered from sadhus and TV evangelists, indicate that it can’t be much of a fun place. I doubt if they have Pizza Hut and Planet X in paradise. We have them in Mysore and, what’s more, a throbbing club-life. Everyone I know here either belongs to a club or knows of someone who does.

The dial-a-Domino pizza joint is a five-minute walk from my place. The Cosmopolitan Club is close by. So is The Hutch Shop. Equally close is Devraja Urs Road where the executive types shop for ‘power dressing’. Mysore has the very things today’s youth simply can’t do without - pizza on call, the cell phone and the club-life.

I have been here a month now, and have started feeling at home already. One of the first things they say you do in an unfamiliar town is opt for a crash course in the local lingo. I have already mastered a modest vocabulary of two words - eshtu (how much?) and saaku (that's enough). Trick is to try and muddle through with filmy Hindi. It works with many people on streets and in shops. Where Hindi doesn’t work, you mutter the magic words, namme gotheela, and move on. For those who don’t know what that means, it means ‘I don?t know’.

People who have been here long say this is the kind of town that tends to grow on you. Never mind the open sewage that runs through the old town; the cows that have the right of way on streets; and the pigs let loose to feast on overflowing garbage bins. The city mayor reckons that Mysore has a pig population exceeding 18,000. It is such life’s little touches that lend Mysore its distinct feel and flavour.

It is the most comfortable place to live in, says Vinod Maroli, whose business often takes him away from Mysore .”I get this comfy feeling every time I see Chamundi Hills from afar, as I approach the town”. The feel for the place gets more pronounced among non-resident Mysoreans. Harimohan P, of Manhattan NYC, a civil engineer who emigrated in 1969, would like to see a civic campaign launched to get something done about those open channels of untreated sewage flowing right through the city. Harimohan reckons I couldn’t have made a better choice than Mysore, given the awful state in which most other cities are.

Here is a sampling of other people’s take on Mysore, posted in Dr Ramprasad V, a Mysore-born dentist from Trichy, would like to reconnect with his Sardavilas cronies, and to hear from anyone who has anything latest on his revered gurus - KVN, SR, NSS and Tata Ramaswamy.

A Bangalore-based journalist, K G Vasuki, pines for the city he knows he cannot come back to live – ‘How could I forget GTR, Chamundipuram, and those bicycle rides to Gangotri (University) from the Agrahara’. Ananth Iyer, born and brought up Mysore, would want to settle here. That is a long way ahead for this young man based in Pennsylvania. Iyer misses set-dosa, two idli with scoops of chutney at GTR, Gangotri bread-bonda, the drive-in at Ramya's, and the Nalpak.

And then there is Sandhya, wife of cricket legend ‘Googly’ Chandra. She tells everyone she meets how great Mysore is. “The best city to live in,” she would say, “it is royal, roads are broad, and there is freshness in the air, palace illumination, and, most of all, Goddess Chamundeshwari.” Sandhya ends her e-mail with, ‘Lots of love to Mysore, its people.’

(Wrote this piece – Apl. 2005 – a few weeks after we shifted base to Mysore. I have been here over an year now, and I can’t bring myself to be that exuberant about the town. I feel more at home insofar as I’ve discovered Mysore to be not a ‘show-case’ town as others had made it out, but a place where you can actually live in – can’t live in a show-case, can we. I find here umpteen things to gripe about, as I’ve in any other town that we have lived in till 2005. Must catch up on my Kannada, though.)