Saturday, December 22, 2007

Taslima Nasreen: Where does she go from here ?

Where does she go from here? I refer not merely to her ‘homeless’ status, but also her literary works in progress, if any. I am not familiar with her writings; Taslima Nasreen is less widely read than written about, not always for the right reason. Leading a life, unsettled and under constant threat of violence takes courage. But can Taslima, or anyone else in her nomadic situation get any writing done at all?

I wonder if she ever regrets having written something, so long back, that was to pose a life-long challenge to her life; to brand her infidel and be banished from Bangladesh. Not that an apology would now alter her life. I am all for freedom of expression. But those who assert their right to write their personal truth on socially sensitive issues ought to realize that such freedom comes with social constraints, and consequences.

Arguably, the city she came to adopt as ‘home’, and the local authorities there have an obligation to protect Taslima. This hasn’t happened, which is why she is ‘on the run’, for her safety, from her beloved Kolkata. Her current situation is fluid, and sticky. And Taslima hasn’t helped matters by talking to the media from her ‘undisclosed location’.

She told The Hindu that the external affairs ministry has conveyed that she wouldn’t be able to return to Kolkata anytime soon; and wherever else she chose to stay in India, she would have to lead a life in captivity.

‘Captivity’ isn’t quite the word I would use to describe ‘security cover’ extended to the high profile writer. “Why do I have to lead a life in captivity?”, Taslima is quoted in her telephonic interview with The Hindu’s Marcus Dam, “all I’m asking for is to be able to lead a normal life”.

Isn’t she asking for a bit too much? Celebrities don’t have the luxury of ‘normal life’, as you and I understand it. Snag is Kolkata isn't the only city that isn’t happy to welcome her back. Authorities in Hyderabad and Jaipur have demonstrated their disinclination. However, Mr Narendra Modi of Gujarat, during his poll campaign, is reported to have invited her to his state. I don’t know if Taslima reacted to Mr Modi’s offer, which could well be public posturing.

Meanwhile, our media tracks Taslima wherever she goes, even in an ‘undisclosed location’. What’s more, she appears more than willing to oblige them, with quotable story. This, at a time when those concerned with her security would want to keep her location a secret. Wouldn’t it help if Taslima were to maintain a low profile, by staying off headlines, till such time the authorities finalize arrangements to settle her somewhere safe and secure?

The Bangladesh writer has, on more then one occasion, expressed her gratitude to the media. Their presence have been a life-saver, at times, for her, when Taslima came under attack from a bunch of intruders at the Hyderabad Press Club not long ago. But media exposure could also work against her; and it doesn’t always win her public sympathy. As she herself put it, “I have become, it appears, an embarrassment to all…”. And media interviews at this time don’t help matters, do they.

Cross-posted in Desicritics

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Brand India or business pariah ?

News: Orient-Express Hotels rebuffs Tatas’ proposal again

The bit in this news that bugs me is the Orient’s statement, saying that aligning with Tata’s ‘predominantly domestic Indian hotels chain’ would adversely impact the brand value of Orient’s premium properties.

I see it, not as just a rebuff to Tata’s, but as a statement that undermines India’s business pride. It may well be the Orient’s considered opinion that aligning with Tata’s hotels (that run the Taj Group) doesn’t add to Orient’s brand value. But to say that dealing with hotels that are Indian would adversely impact the Orient brand value is a bit thick. They make India sound like ‘business pariah’, don't they?

I claim no knowledge of the intricacies of valuation of corporate brands. Correct me if I am wrong in sensing that Tata’s is a reputed global brand, and the Taj Group, rated high in the Indian hospitality sector. To say that aligning with them is bad for one’s brand value doesn’t make business sense. If anything, it smacks of corporate apartheid.

This reminds me of Arcelor’s initial reaction to Lakshmi Mittal’s takeover bid - “we don’t share the same strategic vision, business model and values”. Arcelor, you may recall, was then the second largest steel makers in the world; and Mittal Steel, the world’s largest. India-born Mittal was portrayed “in terms that could be described at best as xenophobic’ and they questioned his company’s “European culture and value”. That Mittal took over Arcelor is now history.

Unlike the Mittal's, Tata’s are not in a hostile takeover mode, not as yet. With a 11.5 percent stake in Orient-Express, all that Tata’s seek is an alliance that would bring its non-Indian hotels under the Orient-Express fold; enable both companies hold minority stake in each other’s equity capital and have representation on each other’s boards.

It’s is difficult for a corporate novice such as yours truly to understand how such an alliance would adversely affect the brand value of Orient’s premium properties. What is clear, however, is that Indian business enterprises, setting their sights on global strategic alliances, may well face rejection, not because their company performance records are not up to the mark, but because they are Indian.

Maybe corporate India needs to take a hard look at our efforts at building Brand India. Maybe, our ‘India Everywhere’ campaign at Davos hasn’t been good enough. What India needs to get herself ‘shining’ is produce more of the likes of ‘Steel’ Mittals and ‘Citigroup’ Pundit.

For all the spin and hype, 'Brand India', to my mind, is a concept that is largely illusory. But it is an illusion that appears to sway some global business minds.

Monday, December 10, 2007

'Hotmail' Bhatia on the idea of 'failure'

When Sabeer Bhatia, who made his first million early in life, talks about the idea of 'failure' he ought to be taken seriously. It is not in our business culture to embrace failure, he says - 'we have not matured with the idea of failure'. People are surprised when he tells them that the story of Silicon Valley has been that nine out of ten products failed, but the one that made it more than made up for all earlier losses.
A failure is seen in the US as 'a badge of honour', as he put it; as an experience you learn from; something that spurs you to try again; and something that works up your hunger for success. And what does he find in India? You have people (promoters) saying, "Oh God, you've failed; I'm not sure if I would want to come anywhere close to you".
Mr Bhatia told the BBC(view video)the other day that raising funds for new ventures was tough here. India sn't such a hot or happening place for young techies with big business ideas, particularly if their ideas entail risks. And it is not in our business culture to factor in failure. Safe and secure are the attributes that attract funding. A project idea fraught with risks is, simply, no, no. According to Mr Bhatia, any new product that comes out of Silicon Valley takes five to seven years to realize its business potentials.
Google Search, starting in 1999, didn't make a go of it till 2005. Sabeer's 'Live Documents' took four years in developing. Mr Bhatia conceded he was lucky to have made a pile on Hotmail within two years. This was a decade back. As a student in Pilani he never thought he would become a businessman one day. And he did, with a bang, at Silicon Valley. Perhaps, it had something to do with Mr Bhatia's peer group at Stanford - Steve Jobs (who started Apple Computer) and Vinod Khosla of Sun. Though his subsequent business initiatives have not been such big hits, Mr Bhatia's Hotmail story still opens many doors for him.
I wonder if our home-grown first-generation millionaires in business – Infosys' Murthy, HCL's Nadar, Jet's Goyal and Deccan's Gopinath – share Mr Bhatia's perception that desi business culture constricts techno-preneurs, and that institutions in India tend to value experience and seniority, rather than intellect and creativity. His insight into business culture helps us get a sense of the predicament of our middle-class entrepreneurs, with knowledge as the prime asset. Power-point presentation of their bright ideas is, perhaps, the only collateral our knowledge-driven entrepreneurial class, can offer prospective funding agencies. These guys can take their bright ideas elsewhere. Some do.
Which is such a pity. For, in Mr Bhatia's reckoning, "our economy, the way it is going, allows people to take phenomenal risks and become superbly successful in three or four years." He concedes cultural constraints made it tough for many young techies to explore their bright ideas, and take them to entrepreneurial level - "we have so many have-nots that people here are happy differentiating themselves from the have-nots."
Our mindset is not amenable to taking risks; our business mentality finds failure unacceptable. Maybe, when they next hold or a global business summit, organizers should have a session on the dynamics of failure, inviting speakers who have faced notable failures.Our business leaders are fond of summit-ing only with those who have made it big. It is time they realized there is much to be learnt from the failures.
We needn't celebrate failure, as Mr Bhatia says Americans do, and see it as 'a badge of honour'. But we need to learn not to be scared of failures, if we want to realize the full potentials of our economy, as Mr Sabeer Bhatia sees it.

Cross-posted: Desicritics

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Our celebrity-obsessed media

Fireworks,the fanfare and the media fuss over Sanjay Dutt's homecoming from Yerwada were in keeping with our Bollywood fan-club culture. The Sanjay admirers who thronged his Pali Hill residence wouldn't have,probably,settled for anything less spectacular.For the celebrity-obsessed electronic media it was the big story of the day. Most channels led their lunchtime news bulletin with Sanjay's home-coming, while around the same time, in neighbouring Pakistan, Gen.Musharaff shed his uniform and took oath of office as his country's civilian president.
NDTV, arguably, one of our more respected elite news channels, went for live coverage,tracking Sanjay Dutt's travel home from the Pune jail to his Mumbai residence.The young and energetic TV reporter, positioning himself across the street from the block of flats where Sanjay lives, gave us details of the scene around him. A huge hoarding put up on a sidewalk read, 'Welcome Sanju Baba'.We heard the TV reporter tell us about how the cops on the scene, present in strength, formed a human-chain to stem the surge of fans onto the street that was cleared for Sanjay's arrival from the airport (he made the trip from Pune in a helicopter).
We learnt a convoy of five media cars followed the Bollywood actor on his drive home from Mumbai airport. As the car carrying him neared the closed gates of his residence hell broke loose and the assembled media'went berserk',as our TV reporter put it.
Wonder what Sanjay Dutt made of such fanfare. A sensitive mind would have felt awkward and acutely embarrased by it all. It wasn't as if he was coming home with an Oscar. Lesser mortals in his circumstances would have preferred to make a quiet entry and slip into their homes unnoticed, even by those in their neighbourhood.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Get Real, Arshad Warsi; This Isn't Reality TV

I thought you were cool, Mr Arshad Warsi; one of the more sensible guys in Bollywood. And, I reckoned you would give it back to those blighters who racially abused you and Bipasha, while filming in London. What you did, instead, was disappointing; you cribbed about it in the media – “I was shocked; I am not used to this sort of thing”. This isn’t on, not from ‘Circuit’, of Munnabhai fame.

Let’s consider what really happened. Warsi, with co-star Bipasha Basu, was filming outside a pub at Southall in London. A couple of whites in a passing car stopped by, shouted at them something about ‘brown skin and black skin’ and buzzed off. I know this could hurt a sensitive soul, but Warsi, you can’t be too sensitive to stray utterances of berserk minds.

Any Asian resident in Britain would tell you this sort of thing happens to us all the time. Pubs and street-corners, notably in a working class area, are designed for hoot-and-run racial abuses. Most people ignore it as public nuisance. Some hoot back at the racists, if it makes them feel any better.

The incident happened in a predominantly Asian locality. Those familiar with London would tell you Southall is so desi that no white, with racially abusive intentions, would want to be caught making trouble there. It is not an area for anyone to take panga with desis. What Warsi encountered was a couple of cowardly, car-borne cat-callers of the racial kind. They, presumably, were unaware of Arshad Warsi’s celebrity status. Maybe, they didn’t care. Which may well be the sticking point with Bollywood visitors, accustomed to strangers seeking autographs, rather than shouting swear words at them.

“For me it was an alien thing,” Warsi is reported to have told the media. Another actor chipped in, “you come to London, and you’re shooting; this is the last thing you expect”.

Come now, Warsi. You should know better. Skinheads and hoot-and-run scumbags are almost everywhere. You could report to the police. I reckon Britain has a law against racial abuse. But then you can’t legislate against racial mentality, can you ?
Lage Raho, Arshad Warsi.

Cross-posted from Desicitics

Friday, November 16, 2007

Karnataka CM on thanksgiving rounds

I can’t figure out what our Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa is up to. He has been doing the rounds of temples and mutts, has done homa at his official chamber at Vidhana Soudha. He has paid a visit to his village astrologer near Tumkur. And, between trips to temples, Mr Y has ordered transfers of some key IAS and IPS officials. He has also managed to give sleepless nights to several others in bureaucracy, which is as clueless as you and I are on what he might do next.

A media report spoke of elaborate official bandha during CM’s visit to his village astrologer, near Tumkur. Senior government officials had reached the village the night before Mr Y’s arrival, to be at hand, just in case Mr Y needed to have a word with officials. As it happened, the astrologer reportedly advised CM to maintain silence till he returned to his office in Bangalore from the village visit. Such fuss and official fanfare may not be in the official protocol book. It would have been much simpler to have the astrologer over to the chief minister’s chamber, for consultations.

We have a chief minister who turns his official chamber at the state secretariat into a venue for Vedic rituals, including homa. Mr. Y is entitled to his puja at his official residence. Having it at his office in the state secretariat may be good for Mr Y’s soul, but such things wouldn’t go down well with those of us who believe in the sanctity of the seat of government. Mr Y may not think much of it, but there is a distinction, however subtle, between the CM as a person and his seat of power.

Today’s CM is Mr Y. Tomorrow, the seat may be taken by ‘X’Ali or ‘Z’Anthony. Mr Y, I reckon, isn’t conscious, or he doesn’t care, about such finer distinctions in a secular democratic set-up. If anything, our five-day old CM has been sending distinct signals to the people that, in governance of the state, he may well be guided by the Parivar and the divinity, rather than his cabinet and officials.

The media carried the other day a picture showing our CM prostrating before a spiritual leader. For Mr Y this may be personal. I don’t know what our swamijis and sadhus make of heads of government touching or falling flat at their feet. Surely, there must be more dignified ways of seeking their blessings.

My take is such gesture, by those in power, send out wrong signals to people. They can’t be blamed for thinking that they could have their work with the government done, if they seek a reference or recommendation from this guru, that sadhu, or such and such swami. Such public perception, of a close connect between spiritual leaders and the seat of government, is extra-constitutional, Besides, it doesn’t enhance the prestige of the community of spiritual leaders.

Meanwhile, we have the CM’s word that he wouldn't take any official decisions for the next few days and all decisions his fledging government has taken till date would be put on hold as he spends time visiting temples and offering prayers till Nov.19 when Mr Y is scheduled to prove his majority on the floor of the Karnataka legislative assembly.

Cross-posted from Desicritics

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Reinventing Nilgiri’s local media

A friend in Coonoor, Rev. Philip Mulley, mailed me a couple of recent issues of The Local that carried his article, tracing the beginnings of road building in Nilgiris. It all started in 1819, with the then collector of Coimbatore, John Sullivan, taking up a path-breaking expedition to Kotagiri. It then took over 50 years to build a road connecting Mettupalayam with Ooty.

And in the early years travelers to Coonoor/Ooty took ‘fast tongas’ that changed ponies in relay at every third mile. A retired colonel once told me that there were only seven cars in Coonoor town when he first came to the town in the 50s. A fascinating read, but The Local published Rev. Mulley’s piece in three installments spanning as many months. This isn’t the only aspect of this fledging community paper that doesn’t appeal to me as a reader. It is slim, a 10-pager, tabloid sized, and is priced Rs.7. As a community media initiative The Local is the best thing that has happened to Nilgiris in a long time. But as a publication this undersized, overpriced monthly has much to be modest about.

Glossy paper with bright colour photos add to the cost of production, but they do not necessarily sell the magazine. Pricing and periodicity of publication matter; so do mode of distribution, readership profile, and the mix of content. Publisher Edwin David in his note printed in the August issue would have us believe that his print-run of 3,000 copies is sustained by subscriptions by well-wishers who order The Local not only for themselves, but also for friends, their offices. And there are those who sponsor copies for distribution among a core group of planters, the army brass at Wellington, and professionals such as bankers, accountants and doctors.

The Local has focused mainly on content and quality, says its publisher, adding that it has managed to stay on, stubbornly, with costly glazed paper and color photos, hoping advertisers would come their way before long. The publisher refers to a leading car dealer in Nilgiris and a Coimbatore real estate developer having committed to taking ad. space, and several potential advertisers having “expressed their intent”.

I have heard it all before, from a friend Sasidharan who used to bring out a modest six-page weekly tabloid from Coonoor. He even managed to get a handful of advertisers and had a strategy for developing classifieds columns that attract its own readership, besides adding to the ad. revenue. Sasi’s concept was that of a community weekly with a mix of content generated by informed readers and experts such as Rev. Mulley.

The publication was short lived. Because it was brought out under a franchise arrangement with a Chennai group that published Apollo Times. Under the arrangement Sasidharan was obliged to name his Coonoor publication, Apollo Times, print it at their press in Chennai; and pay for it at the rate of Rs.1.50 per copy. The Chennai media group was interested in promoting its brand name; and in exploiting the Coonoor market to further their plans for opening an edition in Coimbatore.

As Mr David suggests in the publisher’s note, advertisers in Coimbatore have their own agenda and perceive Nilgiris as a small market. The Coonoor publication, being ‘a small paper within a so-called small market’, was seen by major advertisers, not so much as an independent media entity, but a mere add-on to a franchise publication in Coimbatore. The Coonoor edition of Apollo Times came to be exploited towards this end, bleeding Sasidharan’s meager resources.

If the Coonoor media failure established anything, it was that there is space for a local media in the Nilgiris. Within its short span of life the modest community weekly had acquired readership in Ooty and Kotagiri. Unsound business arrangement and cash crunch forced the Coonoor Apollo Times closure, even before it had a chance to develop a network of local advertisers who could not afford to advertise in mainstream newspapers. A local media with a critical mass of readership would serve the interests of small businesses better, and at a cheaper advertising tariff.

The Coonoor community weekly was distributed free. Free publications, as a business model, have worked well for neighborhood weeklies that are published in Chennai’s Mylapore, Adyar, Egmore and, Purasawalkam. What’s more, there are two or more players vying for the free-media space in Chennai. The latest in such Chennai publications is Velacherry Plus.

Pricing The Local, that too, at a stiff Rs.7 a copy, doesn’t appear to make marketing sense. What’s more freesheets brought out elsewhere have more pages, and lots more of reading material. Globally, the Metro group of free newspapers publishes local dailies from 70 cities in 23 countries.

The Local, I reckon, has potentials if only it re-invents itself. Besides a rethink on pricing, and periodicity, publishers of the Nilgiris monthly would do well to start an interactive website of The Local to synergize with the print edition. It would make a lot more business sense, if the readership of The Local extends beyond the geographical confines the Nilgiris and reachs out to non-resident population with Nilgiris connection. Rev.Mulley’s article can be accessed the world over, if The Local were to go online.

Speaking of online community initiative we once had a Coonoor blogsite that made a connect with non-resident Coonoorians in Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi, Muscat, Singapore, Australia, Madrid, Peru and several other places within three months of its inception. As a Coonoor-connected person staying in Mysore, I wish I could access The Local online; and,maybe, even put in my input occasionally. At the Coonoor blogsite we had an ‘Ideas’ page that had Nilgiris folks from all over posting their thoughts.

Cross-posted in Desicritics and Zine5

Friday, October 19, 2007

Delhi blogger makes waves in Pakistan

'Who is this bloke?'. I wondered, on reading about his blog - Pakistan Paindabad - making waves. Mayank Austen Soofi. The name didn't mean a thing to me till then. And then there was this mail from fellow Desicritic and friend Tanay, recalling Mayank's post at Desicritics one year back, about his visit to Lahore's Heera Mandi. "I was able to smell/feel the streets of Lahore," wrote Tanay, touched by the narrative. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, they say, plans to make a film based on Mayank's post. I have plea for Mr Bhansali: Do remember to send us all DCs an invite for the film's premiere.

This new-found media interest in Mayank, I presume, started with a PTI news agency feature from Islamabad. My hunch is, in the coming days there may well be a rash of Sunday print media features and news channel interviews on this Delhi blogger who fell in love with our neighbors after a visit to Karachi and Lahore. A leading Pakistan daily - Daily Times - called Soofi's blog 'the website that teaches you neighbourly love'.

But then, it appears, not everybody loves Mayank Austen Soofi and his pro-Pak web initiative. Why would a promising young man from Delhi be blogging Pakistan? The question factors in it suspicion of a hidden agenda - could Soofi be a Paki staying in India, possibly ISI-connected. That Mayank anticipated this, but chose to press on with his blog speaks of courage. If I were in film making, I would probably do a documentary on what makes Mayank tick. Who knows such a movie might prove an inspiration for people to create more cross-border blogs; and for bloggers like Adnan (a Karachi-based blogger) to come out of their 'social closet' and declare without fear or reserve their good neighbourly feelings for people across the border.

In his tribute to the late playback Kishore Kumar the Karachi blogger noted that he had thought twice before posting the piece, declaring unashamedly his liking for Kishoreda , "Many regular readers would consider me hypocrite", wrote Adnan. His readers know him for his writings on politics and religion and "my rant on Music not (being) a part of Islam". Advisedly, Adnan, the blogger, doesn't give away much about himself, other than his first name and e-mail ID. Mayank is more communicative, insofar as he reveals he hosts three other blogs and is the owner of a private library.

Wonder if Mayank subscribes to Shelfari (would he like me to send him an invite?) so that we have the benefit of browsing his 'shelf'. It is said you get an insight into a person by looking at his collection of books. A scroll down his blogs, reading a bit here and a piece there, enabled me to draw an identikit (perhaps, as unreliable as a normal police job). Mayank, I would say, emerges as hyper-active, but regular kind of guy who likes being all over the town - at embassy parties in Chanakyapuri, a by lane in Ballimaran, used-book shop at Pahargunj or on location where a TV news crew at work in Kalkaji. (see Soofi's photo blog)

He is the type that would ask Deepak Chopra loaded questions - 'was Buddha a god?', 'how'd he feel, if he were to land in Delhi today' ('baffled', I would guess, at all that traffic). I didn't know the world's best known high-end seller of spirituality is Delhi-born, was schooled in St..Columbus. So was Shah Rukh Khan, and, I learnt from Mayank interviews, Anupama Chopra.

Blogger Soofi comes out as a skillful interviewer, drawing out well-known people to disclose value-adding trivia about their life-story. Deepak Chopra, Soofi finds out, was a part-time news reader in AIR getting Rs.75; had fun as student in AIIMS (Doctors in his time, presumably, didn't lose their screws inside a patient on the operating table).

Soofi pays attention to details - such as Chopra's Vespa scooter; and Tom Alter's (actor) passion for cycling, notably when he races to meet his girl - "I remember cycling to my girlfriend, from Daryagunj to East Patel Nagar, in 30 minutes flat". Wouldn't we like to know what Mayank Austen Soofi's preferred mode of transport is; and whether he has a girl-friend ?

Tailpiece: When this piece appeared in Desicritic Mayank wrote in response, he communtes in Delhi's deadly 'blueline' buses. And, yes, he has a girl-friend.

This piece reproduced in Mayank's blog - The Delhi Walla

Monday, October 15, 2007

All that hype over Mysore Dasara

People don’t talk of Dasara without a mention of Mysore. But how many make it their destination when they plan their Dasara holidays? How much of people’s thoughts on Mysore Dasara translates into tourist revenue for the city? Newspapers here are full of statements by otherwise sensible officials, that would have us believe that Dasara is indeed the time when all roads lead to Mysore.

We have it from the Karnataka Tourism Department Secretary that the Mysore Dasara this year (October12-21) would attract over 12 lakh tourists from across the world. Which is, presumably, why they have made the official website - - multilingual. Those hosting the site claim you can get information pertaining to the ten-day festival in ten foreign languages, not counting English.

I tried Korean the other day, and nothing showed up on my laptop. Moved to Chinese, Japanese and Russian, with equally disappointing results. And then, to French, followed by German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, before I gave up. The site did not offer any more language options. Anyway, with the festival organisers setting their eyes and hype on global tourism, I would not be surprised if the Dasara website takes in a bunch of other languages next year, including Swahili, or whatever they speak in Timbuktoo.

A call to the Dasara site software person explaining my experience with their Korean edition evoked swift reaction: “Is that so? But it appeared fine when I checked last.” Anyway, the bloke was polite enough to thank me for the call, and offered to look into my complaint. I was hoping he would call back, with the latest status report on the much-hyped multilingual Dasara website. No call; no turn in my luck with the Korean site. So much for the tourist-friendly touch of our festival organisers. When I blogged about this, an observant reader wrote back saying he got the Korean site fine, and other language editions as well. What’s more the site even has a window showing “automated robot-type woman saying stuff” on Dasara.

Maybe my laptop isn’t Dasara-friendly. I tried one last time before sending this article for Zine5. And there is improvement. I now get the audio-video window, but no text still. And here is a question for the site managers: Couldn’t they find a desi robot that can pronounce the word ‘Dasara’ unfractured and doesn’t speak in a heavily affected accent?

The authorities have hired admen and event managers to strategise Dasara for tourism. They speak the language of the marketing people – product promotion, image-building, a publicity blitz and Brand Mysore. Hype is the name of the game. A newspaper report, in a curtain-raiser story, said: For a city that is emerging as a national brand vying with the best among tier II cities as a popular investment destination, the Dasara celebrations have emerged as the fulcrum to promote tourism and highlight Mysore as a perennial destination.

Reading this, I couldn’t help wonder, as a resident of Mysore, if the newspaper and I have in mind the same city. As for Dasara celebrations “emerging as the fulcrum”, the reality, gleaned from recent media reports, doesn’t warrant such optimism. Bookings in many city hotels were far less than anticipated; not many of the 22 house-owners registered last year for the much-publicised home-stay programme for tourists are said to be in business this year. And the Rs. 6,000 gold card that provides VIP access to three persons to all Dasara events are not such a sought-after item among foreign tourists, judging by the online sales. To start with, they printed fewer cards this year (750) and a majority of them still remain unsold.

Cross-posted in Praja-Mysore, Desicritic and Zine5

Friday, October 05, 2007

Mysore writers museum

Swift, Shaw, Beckett and Woolf. “As we peeked into their letters and manuscripts on display, we’d suddenly stop dead on our tracks, as the familiar beginnings of stories and poems, or the title of a well-loved play enacted in college days, years ago, caught our eye”. So writes Indu Balachandran on a visit to Dublin’s Writers’ Museum. Reading these lines I wished, if only we could have a museum dedicated to R K Narayan, Kuvempu, Tejasvi and other writers with Mysore connection.

My friend and Star of Mysore columnist Dr Javeed Nayeem even suggested a splendid location - Oriental Research Institute – in a note a couple of Dasara’s back when he shared his thoughts with us on an idea for, what he called, the R K Narayan Walk. The idea was to take interested tourists and visitors round the writer’s favourite haunts.

Maharaja’s College Centenary Hall could be the starting point. Next stop – Ramaswamy Circle, where the Hardwicke High School student was martyred as he took a bullet fired by the then deputy commissioner during a demonstration. Then, a walk through the twin campus of the Maharaja’s and Yuvaraja’s, where many luminaries were students or teachers, before visiting the Oriental Research Institute, where a writers’ museum could be located, said Dr Nayeem, a story-teller in his own rights, and a Mysorean well-versed in local history.

The RKN Walk could then proceed, after a look-in at the un-ignorable Crawford Hall to Kukkarahalli, the lake that has many stories to tell on the time spent there by Mysore’s literary legends – Kuvempu, T P Kailasam and several others.

I gather that a group of Praja-Mysore activists led by Mr Arun Padaki, are putting together a power-point proposal for a network of heritage trails in Mysore. Whether or not they make the Walks happen, they are setting a worthy precedent for citizens-official partnership in the city’s development.

Cross-posted from Praja-Mysore

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Bring Gandhi down from the pedestal

Tamil poet Vairamuthu at a televised Gandhi Jayanti Kaviarangam read out a poem that says the hand watch Gandhi had, like his other wordly possessions, is a prized timepiece that would go for crores at Sothebys and people would line up to acquire it.

"If Gandhi were to be up for sale" asks the poet in the next stanza, "would there be takers?" Kavi Vairamuthu exercised his poetic licence to convey a reality. The things Gandhi owned are collectors' items; the thoughts he held have no takers.

A recent media report said the Bangalore University centre for Gandhian studies has had no students since they set it up. That Gandhi has no takers among today's generation shouldn't surprise us. And the fault need not totally be with the youth. It's probably because old-time Gandhians have failed; worse still, they pooh-poohed attempts to redefine Gandhi. Lage Raho Munnabhai may be dismissed by Gandhians as much too simplistic and masala-driven. But the Bollywood attempt does reflect the need for teachers to relate Gandhi to the nation's current concerns.

The Gandhian Studies Centre at Bangalore University has provision for annual intake of 40 students, is endowed with a Rs.15-lakh annual budget; has built over the years an infrastructure, including a 200-seat auditorium and an open-air theatre. Media report says that the few who applied for the PG diploma course offered by the centre did so to take advantage of free hostel facilities. The authorities who got wise withdrew the facility. The applications for Gandhian Studies dried out. No free hostel, no students.

One has to be naive not to ask why the university authorities would still want to continue with the studentless Gandhian studies centre (now a campus within the univeristy campus). And even if the decision-makers at the university view closure of the studies centre as an option, they couldn't be expected to voice it without risking stiff resistance from flag-waving Gandhians. I mean the type that comes out of woodworks, once a year to garland statues, and pose for media pictures.

The name 'Gandhi' brings to my mind a pedestal bearing a life-size statue, soiled with clotted droppings of a thousand pigeons that use as rest-room the statue's head & shoulders. Once in a long while you see municipal workers putting the statue to a beauty-parlour treatment. Which is when we realise that Oct.2 must be around.

We can’t think of a town in our country without a Gandhi statue. If only a statue can speak, we would probably hear from Gandhi Square in every town a cry of anguish, ‘Hey Ram, what have I done to deserve this?’. When people want to forget someone special, they set him up on a pedestal. And Gandhi is the best-known among the forgotten figures in our recent history, sentenced to a 'pedestal' that is frequented by passing pigeons.

Even during his lifetime, Gandhi proved inconvenient to many of our leaders. Subsequent generations found his socal prescriptions, such as caste equality, communal harmony and corruption-free society, tough to put in practice. Those who put Gandhi on a pedestal are happy keeping him there, for ever. If the statue on our neighbourhood Gandhi Square is allowed to make just one wish, it would be, ‘Bring me down from the pedestal’.

My thought on this Gandhi Jayanti Day is that the father of our nation, who had led a simple life amid ordinary folk, would probably like, more than anything else, a 'parole' from life on the pedestal, so that he could step out on the street and join the never ending public morcha of social activists against the powers that be.

Cross-posted from Desicritic.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Whispers in New Delhi's corridors of power

Presumably, the most read media in New Delhi bureaucratic circles is not The Times of India or Hindustan Times, but a little known Bhopal-based website with a pedestrian title – Whispers in the Corridors -it keeps you posted on impending postings & transfers of IAS/IPS officials; it carries rumors on who’s under suspension, who are tipped to go on deputation to the Centre, from where; and whose name is up for reversion to the parent state.

Whispers publishes political tidbits, corporate changes and other water-cooler gossip. A recent post in Whispers claimed that intelligence agencies have put together a list of top 50 movers & shakers in politics, the men who call the shots in corridors of power in various state capitals. The website calls them ‘big brothers of political masters’; and it claims the PM has the list, along with information on the degree of their proximity to PMO and 10 Janpath.

Whispers doesn’t name names, but throws up clues for the benefit of those familiar with the dynamics of power. A certain Mumbai-based businessman is said to have the remote-control on Rajasthan; he can get done anything in the state. If you can’t guess who, here is a clue - he takes active interest in cricket; holds a diplomatic passport. Another businessman, again from Mumbai, can move matters in Bihar; clue – deals with auto industry. ‘A shipping and trading magnet’ can do things in Gujarat; a Mumbai builder is the man for Maharashtra. A Delhi-based real-estate developer is said to be calling the shots in Haryana; A promotee police officer is believed to be doing it in UP.

How about Madhya Pradesh? The site has nothing on this. But my guess is Suresh Mehrothra, the man behind Whispers in the Corridors.

Anyway, reading Whispers is fun. Much of it is, admittedly, hogwash, but many of its hunches, they say, approximate facts. Snag is in figuring out facts from the hogwash.Which is why Whispers, they say, has become required reading for the bureaucrats in the reckoning, besides liaison men and the lobbyists who do the rounds of the Secretariat corridors and the central hall of the Parliament House.

Whispers reminds me of Claud Cockburn’s cyclostyled gossip-sheet that kept London’s Whitehall on the buzz in the 30s. Called, simply, The Week, the gossip-sheet was read by bureaucrats, by leading politicians, bankers and journalists. Philip Toynbee said, “this cyclostyled sheet, which made public all the news and rumours of news which the official press fought shy of, was a squib which exploded effectively in many strange places”.

Claud Cockburn, in an introduction to a book by his wife, Patricia – The Years of The Week – wrote: “Friends and enemies are in agreement at least on one fact. It is that The Week exercised an influence and commanded an attention grossly, almost absurdly, out of proportion to its own resources”.

Perhaps, one could say the same about the Whispers of Bhopal. The Week of London was produced with the help of a few part-timers, in a dusty, one-room office in Victoria Street. The Bhopal website is brought out from a modest government quarter (allotted to journalists) at T T Nagar. The Whispers publisher, Dr Suresh Mehrotra, has a degree in medicine, but he has been a journalist as long as I have known him.

The media incarnation of Suresh, I believe, had its beginning as a Hindi journalist reporting for a news agency from Ujjain. Most high-flyers have had humble beginnings. Suresh and I came to be posted as newspaper correspondents in Bhopal around the same time, in early eighties. I worked for The Times of India, and he, for the Free Press Journal that had opened an edition from Indore.

For someone new to the print media (he had till then been a UNI wire service reporter), that too, in a paper that had yet to make its presence felt in Bhopal, Suresh kept up a steady flow of ‘exclusive’ news stories, much to the surprise and envy of his colleagues in the media. He was quick to earn a grudging recognition from media peers; he developed a network of contacts in official and political circles. I found him unfailingly helpful whenever I needed a contact or information on a story I was working on.

Contacts are the life blood of a newsman; and Suresh had it in abundance. Whispers thrives on official shop-talk; and it has sustained for six year now, on the strength of Suresh Mehrotra’s extensive contacts. Soft-spoken Suresh has a way with people that makes you swap cell number and e-mail addresse with him on your first meeting. I lost touch with him long before they invented e-mail;before the cell phone tsunami hit us.I learnt of his Whispers during a recent Delhi visit.

Cross-filed from Desicritic and in Zine5.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Accident victim care court ruling

My public-spirited friend ERR passed on a mail he got from a friend, with a note that if we spread the word widely and long enough, lives could be saved. The message in the mail, doing the rounds as chain-mail and among bloggers, pertains to a ‘Supreme Court ruling’ that enables a by-stander to rush victims of hit-and-run accidents/assaults to hospital, without anxiety over hassles with the police or court-kachheri chakkar.

A stranger who brings an accident victim to hospital can walk out after leaving the victim in ER and it is the hospital’s responsibility to inform the police. First-aid /medical care come first. Question of payment and police formalities would arise only after the victim had been given immediate medical attention at ER.

My thoughts on reading this was, how come the mainstream media and TV channels missed such critical public interest court ruling. What was the case in reference to which the Supreme Court gave the ruling? In fact, did the apex court give such a ruling at all?

Googling for answers I ran into this observation from an Ahmedabad-based law firm. Its prime spokesman Mr Homi Maratha, in response to a post in, is quoted as saying that hospitals have their own policies and as part of the procedure they adopt the responsibility of the person who brings in the injured does not end at leaving the accident victim at a hospital. You can always refer the SCC or Constitution Law of India, ‘you can find certain relevant authorities’.

Another advocate, Mr Sidharth in New Dehi says an answer could be found in the Commentary on the Constitution.

This was where I left my Google search. Maybe, someone legally knowledgeable could take this from here. Wonder if a query under RTI Act would be admissible in this case; in ascertaining the authenticity of what is being widely circulated as a Supreme Court ruling.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Dosa of San Francisco

At Sunnyvale Saravanaa Bhavan, we had to wait for 30 minutes for a table of four, that too, after a 40 minute drive on a freeway at 60 mph. Which goes to show the lengths to which NRIs can go for ‘desi’ food.

My visit to Sunnyvale Saravanaa was two years ago. There has since been a proliferation of Indian eateries in the San Francisco Bay Area. What’s more, desi food has come to figure in ‘Food & Wine’ section of the mainstream US media. A hefty Sunday paper gave big play recently to a restaurant called The Dosa in San Francisco. The newspaper write-up apparently worked up a prominent Indian resident, B S Prakash – ‘I read it, first with amusement, then with irritation and ending with burning indignation’.

Mr Prakash, reviewing the newspaper review on the web, says he was amused at the description of dosa as ‘a large thin crispy crepe - sour and not sweet’ filled with buttery potato, onions and cilantro, to be eaten with a dip of chutney’. He made a mental note that he ought to repay this with a review for Rediff of a snooty French restaurant serving crepe – ‘a crisp, smallish dosa-sweet and not sour, and with a topping, not of masala but of maple syrup’.

Mr Prakash, who does a monthly column for Rediff, holds a day job. He is India’s Consul General in San Francisco. What irritated our columnist was the firangi’s description of dosa, embellishing her narration with references to mutton and egg-fillings, the things not palatable to a traditionalist. His ‘burning indignation’ was, however, reserved for the foreign restaurant reviewer’s perception of desi service.

First, the food writer didn’t relish that The Dosa doesn’t take reservations. This can’t be an issue with most NRI restaurant-goers. If anything, they factor in the waiting time while planning to eat out. My experience at Saravana Bhavan wasn’t uncommon. It was the same story at Milpitas Bhima’s, where they have a pager system to facilitate the throng waiting for a table.

While registering your name at the reception counter they allot a number and and give you a pager. The idea is that you don’t need to crowd around the restaurant door, waiting for the reception desk to call out your name and number. With a pager you can stroll out or wait in the parking lot; and pager-buzz alerts whenever a table is made available.

In fact, there are quite a few classy restaurants in the California Bay Area that don’t take reservations as a matter of policy. I know of an Italian joint in Pleasanton (or is it Dublin?) that doesn’t accept reservations. The wait-time is 20 to 40 minutes. The restaurant has, helpfully, a liquor-dispensing counter that enables you to linger over a glass of wine or beer while waiting for a table or delivery of your take-out order.

Apart from no reservations facility, Marianne, the media food columnist, finds other aspects of the service in the Indian restaurant unacceptable. Having found a seat at The Dosa, she was made to order straightaway. Presumably, she is used to the fuss made by the bloke in a bow-tie with a writing-pad who hands out an oversize menu card and a wine list, and waits on you to order. Instead, she got a tattered menu card, only after she asked for it (normally, desi customers have their minds made up on what to order even before settling in). She started with idli ($4.95 a plate), moved to masala dosa ($8.95), and, presumably, wound up with carrot halwa. Marianne’s complaint was that they brought her a bill (instead of a ‘check’ placed in between a leather padded folder) even before she sent for it. And then there was this ‘water boy’ who kept filling her glass with water even when it was not fully empty; and refilling her sambar bowl, unasked for.

Marianne found the service appalling. I wonder how she would rate Mysore’s GTR Tiffin Room or Indira Bhavan; and the Bangalore Udupi, close to the central bus stand, on a narrow one-way street, with no parking;it is always crowded. The place has an age-old reputation for vannai dosa

As for The Dosa of San Francisco, Marriane has better credentials to comment on its service. Because neither I nor Mr Prakash have been there. He admits he cannot as yet vouch for The Dosa’s authenticity - “it is not easy for me to shell out $8.95 plus taxes for a dosa”. In my case, it would work out to another $1,200 or more, by way of airfare from Bangalore.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Tribute to film critic and friend M Shamim

Retired journalist Atul Cowsish doesn’t visit the Delhi Press Club often; and whenever he does, he doesn’t stay beyond eight or half-past. When Atul went there a couple of Sundays back, for a condolence meeting, he stayed on for an hour after the meet, hoping that I might drop in at the club. I was visiting Delhi then, after a 11-year gap. The condolence meet was for a senior club member and common friend M Shamim. The three of us, Shamim, Atul and I, had been part of the local media scene in Delhi of the 60s and the seventies, when newspaper reporters were a close-knit group; and everyone knew everyone else.

I didn’t go to the club that day because I didn’t know about the condolence meet. In fact, I learned about Shamim’s demise only at a subsequent visit to the club to meet Atul, by appointment. Cowsish and I used to cover the Delhi Administration (or was it the municipal corporation beat?); he, for The Statesman, and I, for The National Herald. We met that evening at the club after three decades. To celebrate the occasion Atul stayed beyond 9 p m, lingering over his customary two smalls.

Shamim and I were on a different beat together. We did the round of cinema houses on Fridays to review, for our papers, the latest releases. We saw two, and, on occasions, three films, back-to-back as they say, and also took in a late-evening booze party hosted by a visiting director or Bollywood star.

There was camaraderie among film critics of English dailies and the bunch of us taxied together from one cinema house to another, to catch up on the latest releases. The core group comprised K M Amladi of Hindustan Times, Debu Mazumdar of Indian Express, Habib Tanveer of The Patriot, Amita Malik of The Statesman, and yours truly, then representing National Herald. Shamim of The Times of India was our group lead, a dada in fact.

At the press club condolence meet a former Times colleague Yogendra Bali said in his tribute, “I remember the whole of Bollywood used to be scared of him (Shamim), for he never spared anyone in his (film) reviews”.

Bali often used to tag along with Shamim on his Friday rounds of cinema houses, and, occasionally, stand in for him whenever Shamim couldn’t make it to a show. I wouldn’t say, as Bali does, that Bollywood was scared of Shamim. He was pampered by most Bollywood busybodies; and many held him in high regard. But no one who was anyone in Bollywood those days could afford to ignore Shamim.

As someone from a lesser paper(National Herald) I basked in the reflected clout Shamim had with Bollywood folks. He wouldn’t let them take any of us for granted in the matter of invites to a special screening or a Bollywood party. Shamim rarely accepted an exclusive invitation from any film world biggie. It was all or none , he used to tell them.

He was on first-name terms with all big actors of his days. Amitabh Bachchan was then a ‘bachcha’. If I remember right, Saat Hindustani was his first notable film; and its maker, K A Abbas, a good friend of Shamim, held a special screening for us at the Mahadev Rd. Films Division auditorium. I can’t recall what we wrote about the film, and if we mentioned Amitabh's role in it, at all.

Yusuf bhai (Dilip Kumar) who rarely interacted with Delhi film journalists used to phone Shamim whenever he was in town. And Shamim, true to his all-or-none principle, had him call us over as well for an afternoon drink at Oberai. I also remember us spending a long afternoon with Kamal Amrohi when he shared with us the factors responsible for the long delay in the making of Pakheeza. Matters no one would discuss with gossip-driven film media. Such was the relationship Shamim had with Bollywood folks and the trust they reposed on his film critic friends. Amrohi was married to the leading lady Meena Kumari when Pakheeza first went on the studio floor.

And then there was Aradhana, for the release of which the producer had flown the lead players to New Delhi. The Shamim gang was invited to meet Sharmila Tagore at Hotel Imperial. Rajesh Khanna, making a debut in the film, was staying in the adjacent suite. Yogendra Bali might remember this incident, for, I believe, he was also with us then. As we left Sharmila’s suite Mr Khanna’s PR man, met us on the hallway to plead with Shamim to spare a few minutes for Aradhana’s leading man. Shamim turned him down, but politely in his Lucknowi andaz, as we headed to a Connaught Circus cinema house to attend a film premiere.

This was the Shamim I knew. Such was his clout in Bollywood.

Cross-posted in Desicritic and zine5

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Human Rights course for Karnataka cops

We have it from the officer in charge of Karnataka police recruitment and training that constables and sub-inspectors study human rights as a subject during their basic training and that they undergo refresher course at various stages in their career. I read this in The Hindu open page where the officer, Mr D V Guruprasad, gives his take on the Bhagalpur brutality. It is refreshing to note a top cop, in the rank of additional director-general of police, taking a stance on the issue in an open forum.

What I read in his article, however, wasn't so heartening. He says he wasn’t shocked by the TV pictures of a Bhagalpur cop on a motorbike towing a battered chain-snatcher tethered to his vehicle. He attributed the continuing incidents of police in various parts of the country to public apathy. What shocked him about the motorbike incident was that onlookers who watched the brutality either cheered the police or preferred to be mute spectators.

In reference to the public attitude Mr Guruprasad write, “ I have come across many educated and well-placed citizens telling me that if the police do not use the third degree, a criminal cannot be taught a lesson”. This tends to shut out further debate on police excesses. Maybe Mr Guruprasad has a point – the public gets the police it deserves.

In an environment where people passively approve police excesses on crime suspects, Mr Guruprasad says, the police brutality would stop only when policemen are made to realize that there is suitable punishment in store for those who take the law into their own hands. That reminds me; does anyone know or care to find out the current status of the case against the cop on the bike? Has anyone seen a follow-up story in a newspaper or TV channel?

One would have thought the department would, in the interest of discipline of the force, want to see the policemen guilty of excesses (recorded on live TV with no scope for doctoring) meted out a severe punishment in expeditious manner. The irony is those who take the law into their own hands are dealt with in accordance with due process of law, which is not always sufficient or swift enough to be exemplary.

Mr Guruprasad, in his article, refers to the 1980 Bhagalpur blinding of 31 under-trials. A Google search on the progress of the case revealed that three policemen – station in-charge, an ASI and a havildar – were convicted and sentenced to two years in jail plus a fine of Rs.2,000 by trial court in 1987. The main accused got bail and appealed against the sentence. The apex court cancelled the bail and dismissed his appeal in March 2004. And it wasn’t till a month later a special magistrate realized the Rs.2,000 fine and sent the accused to serve out his two-year sentence.

The law, sure, takes its course, though this may take some 24 years after the incident. I don’t know if the court included the interest on the Rs.2,000 fine, realized 17 years after it was imposed

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Manivannan, Mysore's man of the hour

With Mysore municipal commissioner Manivannan P joining Praja-Mysore, we can count on a spurt in the ‘hits’, and hopefully, action-oriented input on the fledging community site. I have had the benefit of a look-in on the communication between Mr Shastri, representing the Praja admin, and Mr Manivannan. Was struck by his observation that a ‘city grows as much as its citizens are ready for it; and it can grow only when it takes its citizens along with it’.

Found it so apt, in the context of what I experienced during a recent visit to New Delhi. Going there after 11 years proved to be a trip of re-discovery, not just of the place but also its people, even those I thought I knew. What with its flyovers and the Metro it is evident that Delhi aspires to become world class city. The question Mr manivannan’s growth mantra raises is: Are Delhi people ready for it? Aspiration needs to be backed up with a change in people’s mindset as world class citizens. A mindset-aspiration gap is an issue that needs to be addressed in Mysore as well. And the hope is Praja input/interaction would create necessary awareness conducive to the much needed change in the public mindset.

The second part of M-mantra – a city grows when it takes its citizens along – calls for an enlightened leadership. In Delhi I noticed the one thing people are uniformly proud of is the Metro rail; and the much talked about man in this context is Mr E Sreedharan.

Needless to add, the name that springs to mind when we talk of Mysore administration is Mr Manivannan P. Googling Manivannan I found the Hubli-Dharwad municipal corporation under Mr. M’s regime as commissioner had the distinction of being the only civic body in Karnataka to have secured ISO certification. A California blogger Nagesh Tavarageri, reproducing Shyam Sundar Vattam’s article in Deccan Herald. posts:

"It took nearly two years to overhaul ‘junk administration’ and make it numero uno in the State. Hard work, dedication and commitment among all sections of the administrative agency has paid rich dividends in the form of ISO-9001;2000 certification from TUV, a German agency."

To quote Mr Manivannan’s mail to Mr Shastri,

"a city government that isn’t responsive loses relevance. But in a democracy public institutions can’t be overlooked, and hence they become fetters in the path of development."

Expressing personal views on the basis of his administrative experience, Mr M says,

"an intelligent citizen is one who understands that the chains can’t be removed, but the need is to increase the speed of the government machinery."

As I see it, Manivannan is the best thing that has happened to Mysore in a long time. Whether it was by design or administrative convenience we now have an administrator with a proven track record. And he is open to ideas, public views and opinion. ‘Informed’ and ‘concerned’ citizens, on their part, would do well to give Mr M a chance. Confrontational activism that defined the NGO-administration relations so far won’t go.

Cross-posted from Praja-Mysore

Monday, September 17, 2007

Delhi roads are not for driving

To zip on M-G Rd., you must dodge trees - News headline

I used to think roads were for driving till I read The Times of India during my recent visit to New Delhi. People there apparently ‘zip on roads’, and the newspaper I used to work for has become more imaginative in giving headlines than in my time (I left Delhi in 1982). I have a problem, though, figuring out why people have to zip, while driving can take them to places. Revisiting Delhi was a trip of rediscovery, of not just the place but its people as well. The changes there made me feel lost, baffled and initmidated. The two verbs in TOI headline - 'zip' and 'dodge' - appeared to sum up the composite mindset of folks in Delhi today.

Anyway, the newspaper story pertained to the traffic hazard posed by trees on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road. It appeared that 50 odd trees were left untouched when they widened a five-km stretch on this road. Such tree-considerate acts, I thought, made Delhi a role model for environment-friendly governance. In my town (Mysore) they have no qualms about felling even vintage trees to widen roads or have an additional building on a college campus. Growth with conservation is an alien concept to Mysore's city managers.

Delhi, I believed, was different. This was before I read the TOI story. Initially, M-G road was widened (leaving the roadside trees untouched). Now they find the trees are a traffic hazard. Unarguably, Delhi roads get clogged with cars for much of the day, despite the flyovers and the Metro. The question is: would road-widening and felling intrusive trees solve the problem of rising traffic without serious efforts to curb the number of vehicles on Delhi roads?

Maruti, they say, turns out a new car every 15 minutes, and half the vehicles produced in Gurgaon is marketed in the national capital region. The tree story in TOI was not just about the worsening traffic on M.G Road; I thought it had to do with people’s mindset. A car owner is quoted as saying, “It gets tough to swerve the car in time (to evade trees on M.G Road) if one is driving fast, more so with call centre cabs pushing you around.”

The traffic police share this view; their grouse is that the government is sitting on their plea to have the trees uprooted. The Metro rail people extending the line to Gurgaon would like to see those trees gone, to get more road space to work on. The mindset is thus in favour of flattening M-G Road of trees. But then, when the traffic on Gurgoan Road becomes unmanageable again two years from now, they would have no trees to make a scapegoat of.

The status quo is not alarming enough to warrant a tree slaughter. Everyone admits there has been no fatal car-tree collisions on this stretch so far. As a traffic police officer put it, “It is a miracle that nothing has happened so far.” Maybe the cops are counting on something happening, given people’s penchant for fast driving and the menace of call centre cabs. Are these guys reckless beyond redemption? As a small-town resident, I have a problem understanding why fast driving can’t be curbed by the police enforcing lane discipline and speed limits, as they do in world class cities. Doesn't New Delhi aspire to become a world class city?

A prerequisite, presumably, is that people in Delhi need to have a world class mindset. They could make a start by picking up proper driving sense. Take the M-G Road situation. It's my considered opinion that if only road users could be persuaded to ‘drive’ rather than ‘zip’ on the roads, there would be less scope for bang-on collisions with the trees on the road. After all, each tree has a tree guard, which is painted with red reflector stripes. The stretch is well-lit, with blinking light barricades to guide motorists around trees at night.

A car-tree collision, when such precautionary features are in place, is a remote possibility, if car owners in Delhi can learn to drive and not ‘zip’ on the road.

Cross-filed in Zine5 and Desicritic

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

World’s eldest YouTuber?

In response to my post in Desicritic You’re never too old to blog – Eric Shackle, 88, writes about the oldest YouTuber, Olive Riley, 107, who lives in Woy Woy, 50 miles from Sydney. Olive blogs as well. But then she calls it ‘blob’. Which makes her, not just the oldest, but, presumably, the world’s first and the only blober.

I mention this for the record, in view of ambiguity, raised during this 10th anniversary year of blogs, about who the world’s first blogger really was. A decade from now, when the world celebrates a decade of ‘blob-ing’, the world’s first blober issue could be settled by referring to Eric’s comment and this post. Incidentally, would anyone have a clue to when the first e-mail was sent, by who, to whom.

Eric (don’t feel comfortable addressing him as Mr Shackle), who liberated so many senior citizens from ‘computer-phobia’ and encouraged them to browse, blog and otherwise explore the Internet, writes that Sydney was the British colonial capital of the New South Wales when Ms Riley was born (1899). Describing her as physically frail but mentally alert, Eric informs us that the grand old lady of blogosphere who survived two World Wars, the Great Depression (1930), had seen life as a barmaid, egg-sorter and a station cook.

What’s refreshing is Ms Riley can recall her early out-of-this-world days. Reading her you realize that there are things that don’t change with time – such as one’s school day escapades. Olive YouTubed how she was teased at school because of her surname (Dangerfield) and how, in frustration, she landed a low that laid her tormentor flat. Doesn’t this prompt us to reach for Olive’s blob?

Must mention here a paragraph on Mr Eric Shackle. A retired Sydney journalist (do they ever do?) this 88-year-old lists as hobby, Internet searches and writing on them. Does a column for senior citizens in webzines and copy-edits A-Word-a-Day newsletter for India-born Seattle-based word-lover Anu Garg.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Reinventing Mysore Dasara

I had mixed thoughts for Mysore as I read a blog post by my Chennai-based journalist friend Vincent D’Souza. A part of me wondered why some of our creative minds couldn’t think of designing a T-shirt for Mysore. The other part of my mind doubted if such fancy ideas would be acceptable to conservative Mysoreans or go down well with their thoughts on the pig menace, garbage pile-up in street corners and other mundane concerns.

Chennai too has pig menace; is known for its Coovum, a repository of all imaginable germs. Rail passengers to the city can’t miss the unwelcome sight of discarded plastic water bottles, paper plates, polythene bags, and other non-bio-degradable wastes littered for miles on either side of the track as they approach Chennai Central. And yet the city boasts of its December music festival; and has a critical mass of city-lovers that organizes neighborhood heritage walks, celebrates Madras Day and brings out city T-shirts. My friend who sees no contradiction in this would be the first to admit that pigs and Cuuvam can’t be wished away from the Chennai scene. They are as much a factor in the city as its heritage buildings and glass-fronted high-rise structures.

Namma Chennai T-shirt that Vincent blogged about fits in with the Madras Day celebrations (Aug.22), a community initiative with corporate support. They make a song and dance of it by holding an annual T-shirt design contest. The prize-winning design of last year, by Shreyas, a design student, is on this year’s T-shirt. Made in Thiruppur, event organisers order in limited numbers so as to make the T-shirt a collector’s item. Any die-hard Chennaiwasi who develops a chaska for collecting Namma Chennai items can be counted on buying the T-shirt every year.

Founded by a Chennai community newsweekly, Mylapore Times, along with the Nalli Silks and L&T, the Madras Day celebrations are supported by nearly 40 organisations that include not just business houses, but NGOs, select schools and colleges, public trusts, and private foundations, heritage societies and PR firms. Event management and marketing skills go into the design, release and sale of T-shirts and organizing other events.

We boast of much older, better-known and big-time celebrations – Mysore Dasara. But after every year’s celebrations all we get to read in the media is how mismanaged the events were; and about the need for re-inventing Mysore Dasara. There is talk about corporate sponsorship. It is not as if major companies don’t see mileage in Mysore Dasara. Snag is that Dasara ,in the manner in which it is now run, does not leave scope for corporate participation. Over the years it has come to acquire a reputation as a sarkari event that is staged with government grants, by a plethora of officially sponsored committees, mainly for the benefit of pass-holders.

Cross-filed from Praja-Mysore

Monday, August 20, 2007


Indian Railways Minister Laloo Prasad who doubles up as a management guru has been invited to address the country's top hoteliers at a hospitality summit in New Delhi. Topic: 'Lessons from a Moving Train'. The news item, though buried on Page 12, caught my eye because I had recently blogged about a lesson I learnt from a moving train - lessons from railway catering management.

The thing about railway caterers is that they manage to maintain uniform standards of tastelessness and yet sustain a growing demand for their meals on moving trains. Our rail minister's choice of topic for the hospitality summit had me wonder if someone had drawn his attention to my earlier blog piece. The Hindu news item said the rail minister would articulate "his now famous management tips on how turnaround of the Indian Railways was achieved." I would say Bihar could have done with his 'turnaround mantra' when Mr Laloo Prasad was at the helm in that state.

I recall a tip the minister shared with IIM-A students on his achieving the railway 'turnaround.' The minister noted that the railways were like a Jersey cow. The cow fell sick if it wasn't milked fully; so would the railways, if their full potentials were not tapped.

I can understand students from Wharton and Stanford taking in an audience with Laloo during their study tour of India; and then telling CNBC how "wow-ed" they were with our minister's management insights. What I can't figure out is how our b-schools, business chambers and hoteliers association, who know well enough how our railways work, can fall for the minister's Laloopadesa, as if it was a management Gitapodesa.

At the coming hospitality summit, Mr Laloo Prasad, as a seminar speaker, figures in the same league as managing director of Switzerland's international hotel management institute. The next thing that we might hear is that one of our premier universities such as JNU is to confer a doctorate on him. My sense is Mr Lalu Prasad has been such a hit for so long, with so many, because he knows not to take seriously much of whatever he says to the academics and the media.

Cross-posted from Desicritic

Thursday, August 16, 2007

An update on the Mysore commune initiative

An earlier post in Jan. on Prem Subramaniam’s ongoing efforts to develop a river bank commune near Mysore evoked following enquiries:

“…yearning for a settlement as described by you. Please count us in it and any updates on this would be highly appreciated”, wrote a Bangalore-based couple.

“…a great move. can you keep us updated on the legal transaction nuances.”

Prem, “still waiting to live my dream”, is hopeful of relocating himself in his dream setting, near Srirangapatnam, by the end of next year. Here is an update he e-mailed:

The current status on my plans to relocate to a non-urban environment in the vicinity of Mysore is that the final step in the alienation of the land is still awaited. The site comes under Mandya. Agricultural Land in Karnataka cannot be bought by anyone who does not already own agricultural land elsewhere and whose gross family income from non-agricultural sources exceeds Rs 2 lakhs a year.

People circumvent this rule. I did not want to take this risk. So an application has to be made to convert the land for residential use. This process was supposed to take about 4 months. It takes longer, as inevitably all the documents required take time to collate. The documents have to be forwarded in a lengthy process and final sanction wrests with the DC. The earlier DC fell ill and his replacement has not looked at documents relating to alienation of our site for over 2 months.So there has been no progress for over 4 months now.

Meanwhile I have finalised designs for built-up space with help from Bangalore based Chitra Vishwanath, a staunch advocate of environment-friendly buildings. There are many practitioners in Karnataka, Kerala,Pondicherry,Delhi and Mysore too, but the challenge is to have a seamless extension with the contractor chosen to execute the work. Through the offices of Chitra Vishwanath I have identified someone in Mysore.

I also have had an engineering company from Bangalore to do a report on the feasibility of setting up a micro-hydel, but since we are on the River Kaveri , I am not sure if it will be easy to obtain permissions, even though this exercise could create an alternate source of power for the village community.

I have used the time that has lapsed to visit organic farms in Karnataka, tourist attractions and do background work to establish contact with people with the kind of skill sets that I feel I will need to rely on. I have travelled by train,car,local buses and this has helped overcome the frustration of not being able to move on my project.

I have looked at an interesting model of a retirement community in Gujerat where some NRIs have taken 12 acres of land about 80 km from Ahmedabad,40 km from Baroda, and 4 km from Anand.They are in the process of building 100 one-bedroom cottages supported by about 20000 sq ft of common facilities.They accept only those over 60 and are offering the cottages on lease for 10 years with a reasonable deposit and a monthly outflow towards meals,maintnenance,electricity etc.

I am told that a similar variation is on offer by Classic who have the Kudumbam project near Chennai. There are variations to the theme in Coimbatore too. In Uttaranchal Anil Nayyar,formerly of Airtel, is setting up a residential Knowledge centre.

My own sentiment is not to relegate older people to a commune. It is meant to be a place for those who do not need to be on a 9 to 5 regime. So could include those in part-time jobs, those who can work out of home, those who may need to go to an office once in while and not on a daily basis. It should be an place which can provide a nourishing environment to at least three generations of people.Where grandchildren could come and spend time with their grandparents if the parents do not have time.Where the skills of the elders is available for a variety of purposes. I see value in offering an alternate tourism experience.

In the ideal world I would like to see about 4 to 5 sites of the kind I have envisaged within a 100 km radius and perhaps have these replicated in other regions of Karnataka.

The learning experience from attempting to convert agricultural land is that it maybe simpler to buy plantation land in Coorg, Chikmagalur or similar or look for similar terrain in Tamil Nadu. However these will be a little remoter and may not suit all.

There has been expressions of interest on what I am attempting to do and I have therefore initiated dialogue with someone in Coorg to acquire a 3 acre site about 8 km from kushalnagar.It is just 0.5 km from the Kaveri and amidst coffee plantations. Close to Bylakuppe,Dubare Elelphant Camp. If this works out I can include those interested in the development of this site for creating a commune.

Alternatively, if there are individuals with sites which are suitable, we can think of collaborating. I have to emphasize that I am not driven by commercial interests as much as making my concept work and share the knowledge so that an alternate quality of life is available for those seeking it. Underlying the work is the 4 cardinal principles of consumer satisfaction, commercial viability, benefit to local economy and engagement of local communities ,and long term sustainability.

Still waiting to live my dream!

Related posts: Dreams of a commune on the Cauvery bank
More on the Mysore commune initiative

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

No-taker Gandhian studies

Bangalore University centre for Gandhian studies has no students. Hasn't had one since they set it up, says The Hindu. Lack of interest among today's generation shouldn't come as a surprise to many. The fault need not totally be with the youth. It's probably because old-time Gandhians have failed; worse still, pooh-poohed attempts to redefine Gandhi. Lage Raho Munnabhai may be dismissed by Gandhians as much too simplistic and masala-driven. But the Bollywood attempt does reflect the need for teachers to relate Gandhi to the nation's current concerns.

The Gandhian Studies Centre at Bangalore University has provision for annual intake of 40 students, is endowed with a Rs.15-lakh annual budget; has built over the years an infrastructure, including a 200-seat auditorium and an open-air theatre. Media report says that the few who applied for the PG diploma course offered by the centre did so to take advantage of free hostel facilities. The authorities who got wise withdrew the facility. No go. No free hostel, no studients for Gandhian Studies.

One has to be naive not to ask why the university authorities would still want to continue with the studies centre (now a campus within the univeristy campus). The determination of education administrators to press on with the course may have to do with their devotion to Gandhi and his thoughts; their belief in Gandhi's continued relevance. Wonder if the authorities ever viewed closure of the studies centre as an option. Even if they did, they couldn't be expected to voice it without risking sharp resistance from staunch Gandhiwadhis.

Also read Talking Gandhi over brandy

Cross-filed in Praja-Mysore

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Karachi blogger's tribute to Kishore Kumar

Those of us who take our freedom of expression for granted don’t give a thought to what it is like to be living under socio-cultural environment in which listening to film music; or even of writing about the singer is taboo. Adnan, a blogger in Karachi writes that he thought twice about posting his tribute to late Kishore Kumar on 78 birth anniversary day (Aug.4).

Adnan says he usually blogs on religion and politics and many of his readers who believed music to be not Islamic probably “consider me a hypocrite”. The Karachi-based blogger rationalises his Kishore Kumar post saying that he blogs not for others – “I write for myself”; and that he couldn’t wish away a past in which Kishore da was his favorite singer.

Adnan’s mamoo and dad were Kishore fans; they rarely missed the Akashvani programme playing old film songs. Adnan recalled he got initiated to Kishore songs when he heard Kumar Sanu on cassette singing Kishore songs. Adnan went for the original singer, and liked what he heard even better.

It wasn’t just Sanu who copied, says Adnan, several Pakistani singers copied Kishore. He mentions Alamgir, Sheikhi, and Sajjad. Among his all-time Kishore favorites Adnan lists – Zindagi ke safar in Safar and the Aandhi numbers that are best heard in your darkened room, late in the night.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Casablanca in Malayalam

My friend S P Dutt, whose way of staying in touch is by sharing with e-pals interesting items he reads on the web, sent me a Guardian story on the making of a Malayalam movie, Ezham Mudra. The movie, inspired by Casablanca, would have in the lead Suresh Gopi and Mandira Bedi in the roles immortalized by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

Director Rajeev Nath, who is scheduled to start shooting in Kerala in September, is reported to have said his film would be a tribute to the original (he has watched it 20 times). Most film goers of today are unlikely to have watched the original to compare Mandira’s performance with Bergman’s.

A notable aspect is that this sad love story, set on a beachfront café in southern India, would play out in the background of Tamil Tigers’ fight against the Sri Lankan authorities. There was an earlier film in Tamil with the militancy in Sri Lanka as its backdrop – Mani Ratnam’s Kannathil Muthamittal.

Copy or inspired, Ezham Mudra raises viewer expectations. For those familiar with the old classic I’ve a question: Which desi name comes to mind at the mention of Ingrid Bergman?
Multiple choice - Mandira/ Monica/Pooja/ none of the foregoing.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

You're never too old to blog

Elderly folk generally stay away from the computer, saying they can't get a hang of it and that it is too late to try. And lack of awareness of potentials of the web, even among younger middle-class parents, accounts for a low PC density. In Mysore, they say, there are no more than 5,000 broadband connections. People who ought to know better associate a computer and the Internet with video games and porn.

Most people over 65 have faith in the printed word. They don't care for what appears on the web, according a survey done by Hariharan Balakrishnan. In The Hindu write-up he says respondents to the survey included professors, padma bhushans and even Jnanpith awardees. It is not that they don't have computer at home. Nor do they lack computer-savvy children and grand-children. Balakrishnan says 95 percent of those who responded said they were 'computer-illiterate'. Apparently, they chose not to do anything about it. How many of the uninformed elders have taken initiative to seek guidance from their youngsters, asks Balakrishnan, adding that not many computer-savvy youngsters have been enthusiastic enough to educate their parents.

Wider computer usage, notably by senior citizens who have perceptible presence among NGOs, could change the way we address public issues. Those in Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP) believe in morchas, and in old-fashioned petitions , signed and secured through written official acknowledgment by the departmental dispatch clerk; and they then complain that officials rarely give them a hearing or read their petitions. Tell them about putting their case online, and skeptical elders in MGP would retort, "but who reads your web?". A fair question; and an effective way of saying 'no' to change. Maybe, the word on the web may go unread by officials; but it is there online for anyone to see, anytime.

An MGP convener Dr Bhamy V Shenoy says their NGO is 18 years old with over "700 members on paper". It takes up civic issues, and in Dr Shenoy's words, "has served Mysore over the years often silently and sometimes through the press". Didn't I say they have faith in the printed word? Anyway, Dr Shenoy reckons MGP has failed to develop the way it should have because "of lethargy and indifference of the people". Ironically, Dr Shenoy made these observations in an online discussion forum.

A bunch of web enthusiasts in Bangalore have announced a citizens civic network site for Mysore that seeks to synergize with, not supplant, the work of MGP, other NGOs and also public spirited individuals who wish to be heard. Skeptics, of whom there are many to be found in any city, ask if we need yet another NGO. Efficacy of PrajaMysore would depend on the strength of its online members. Success of any online network calls for wider public awareness of computer usage.

Balakrishnan refers to the initiative of an 88-year old Sydey-based web enthusiast Eric Shackle to persuade senior citizens the world over to overcome their fears of computer. There is a world of information out there; life's experiences of a multitude waiting to be discovered through a computer. Eric calls it 'the magic carpet of the Internet' that anyone can hop on, without giving up the comforts of one's study room at home.

Eric has put down his thoughts in a web-book aptly titled, Life Begins at 80. As an Australian radio interviewer put it, Eric who led a busy life as journalist and PR man found it all coming to a dead stop on his retirement - "to go cold turkey after retiring can cause psychological problems; and Eric dealt with them by discovering a new world - the world of the web". Eric, now 88, was 79 when he got his first computer; 81, when he set up a website with a friend in South Africa.

Which reminds of a blog-to-blog chat(B2B) with my friend T R Kini. We are both 65 plus (I'm 69). We lost touch in the late sixties, and the web helped us re-discovered each other, after four decades, when we chose to trade nostalgia about our time together in London in the sixties. The B2B morphed into an eminently readable travelogue in which Kini recalls his hitch-hike from Delhi to London.

First published in Desicritic

Friday, August 03, 2007

PRAJA bangalore, a citizen’s network

It seeks to be a networking platform for concerned Bangaloreans;it's an attempt to bridge those who serve the city (municipalities and development boards) and those who care, and wish to participate (residents).

The other day I heard a spirited Mysorean, who has signed public petitions and joined deputations complaining that their petitions go unread by officials(who say,“we have no time”); and that MLAs don't find enough time to pursue their own priorities and agenda. Praja Bangalore works on the premise that this can’t be said about all officials and MLAs; and that there are still enough of them, MLAs and officials, who care; and can do with public feedback. Their task can be made easier with more people participation.

Of course, there are NGOs that carry public grievances to the civic authorities. But a citizen networking on the lines of Praja Bangalore would in no way minimize their role or compete with NGOs;it would complement the work of NGOs. Besides, it gives officials a wider perspective on issues and concerns of the people. Praja’s agenda, articulated in its ‘About Us’ page speaks of the scope and structure of the online initiative at citizens networking.

It is an initiative worthy of emulation. My thoughts are that it may not be worthwhile reinventing such website for Mysore; not now, at any rate. Because, Mysore has relatively low broadband density (5000 connections, according to some estimates) and lower web browsing public. But those of us who are familiar with the potential of the web would benefit, if only Praja Bangalore could be persuaded to open a Mysore page on their site. This way, we can count on networking the small, but significant, section of the Internet-connected Mysoreans, but also on the input and networking support of a sizeable number of Bangalore-based folk with strong Mysore connection.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Free public transit

The Tyee, an independent alternative newspaper from British Columbia, Canada, in a recent investigative series made out a case that it was time people in cities got a free ride in public transit system. Free public transport, they say, would help reduce traffic congestion, carbon emission, and, save the authorities the establishment costs involved in collecting fares, which, in some places may be more than the collection made through tickets sales.

San Francisco mayor is reported to have ordered a serious study be made of the cost of charging people to ride public transit. In New York the mayor would dream of a mass transit given away for nothing, while an awful lot is charged for bringing an automobile to the city.

Fare-free public transit is an interesting thought; might even work somewhere (Portland, Seattle). It has been tried and given up in New Jersey and Texas; and attracted the homeless (using a running train or bus as shelter) and the hooligans on board in Florida, driving away the core passengers.

For those of us in India free public transport is no one's dream. It's an academic concept that we read about in blogs or the Tyee kind of publications that investigate issues and carry viewpoints widely ignored by the big media.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Guru Dutt’s cameraman

Cinematographer V K Murthy has in him a book or two; and it is time an enterprising publisher talked to him into writing them. In a recent visit to his native Mysore (Mr Murthy is now settled in Bangalore) the man who shot Guru Dutt’s classics such as Pyaasa, Kagaz ke Phool, and Sahib, Bibi aur Gulam spoke of his life and times with famed director in Bombay.

Mr Murthy who gave up his schooling in Mysore and violin lessons to go to Bombay in search of work in visual media was with Guru Dutt for much of his career. Following the death of the latter Mr Murthy worked with directors such as Pramod Chakraborthy, Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani. But Mr Murthy is best known in the film industry for his association with Guru Dutt.

Perhaps, no one else has better credentials to do a definitive biography on the late director. So close to him was Mr Murthy, it is said that every time Guru Dutt had attempted suicide the first call from the director’s household went to Mr Murthy. As he put it, “whenever the call came…I would run to his house and rush him to the hospital”. When it happened the third time Mr Murthy’s efforts failed. Guru Dutt died.

In response to a query whether Kaagaz Ka Phool was autobiogrphical Mr Murthy is reported to have observed, “It looks like that….It almost seems like he rehearsed before actually committing suicide”.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Why this fuss over Mysore Utsav?

Thought we’re in a free country where anyone is free to organize a utsav; and anyone else is free to oppose it.Which, in a democracy, is the prerogative of opposition netas. Shouldn’t we, the freedom-loving citizens, recognise the right of a bunch of political has-beens to protest the upcoming Mysore Utsav (July 26-29)? I only wish they raise objections that are credible.

The opponents of proposed utsav say 1)it is an attempt to dim the glory of Mysore Dasara; and 2) it is not proper to hold the utsav at a time when farmers are facing financial hardship. No, these objections are not my invention. They are credited to a former minister Mr H Vishwanath. Equally inventive is the justification the utsav organizers trot out for holding the four-day festival – “to foster a great tradition, culture and heritage of the royal city”.

And what have they lined up to uphold this heritage? Free screening of Rajkumar films, a fashion show to promote Mysore silk, a kite-flying event and filmy music by Shaan and Udit Narayan. Sure, they would be fun. But I’m not sure if these cinema-based events help “foster a great tradition and culture”. And there is no mention of involvement of the person who has a very personal stake in sustaining the city’s royal image. Mr Wadyar and the palace appears nowhere in the organisers' scheme of things.

Instead, someone who anchors TV programmes, Mr Deepak Thimmaiah, held forth at a Hotel Metropole press meet in the run-up to the Mysore Utsav. Insisting that it is a purely private affair, Mr Thimmaiah spoke of the initiative being taken by the minister in charge of Mysore district, Mr G T Deve Gowda. Presumably, there is no contradiction or clash of interests here; and presumably,there is nothing in the ministerial code of conduct precluding Mr Gowde from proactive participation in a privately sponsored mega mela.

Considering that the utsav is likely to cost at least Rs.2.5 crores it makes business sense to involve someone with official clout to attract sponsors. According to Mr Thimmaiah, the four-day utsav will be managed and marketed by TV House (rather naïve of me not to have heard of such corporate entity) If better known companies are sponsoring the event, the spokesman didn’t mention them at the Metropole press conference.

The Hindu reports that the mega event is being opposed by many political parties because they reckon it would “affect the prospects of Dasara”. I have a theory on the prospects of Dasara 2007. Prevailing uncertainty over Janata Dal (Secular) intentions regarding its commitment to hand over the government to BJP this October is bound to impact the plans for the state-sponsored Dasara. For the city corporation and some departments such as public works, tourism, horticulture Dasara is all about grants. Last year these departments had put in demands for nearly Rs. 25 crores. They have reason to be concerned about allocations this year. Lower grants; not much of Dasara.