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.