Return of the Culture!!!

Pardon me for joining the “Return” bandwagon😉 But hang on! This piece is not on the “Return” which is in news in India these days! This is the time of the Navratri festival which is celebrated all over India with much gusto and gaiety though in different forms. In Mumbai where I live now being a melting pot of cultures it is, we get to see the Garba nights, Durga Pujo pandals of the Bengalis and ofcourse the South Indian way of celebrating Navratri in close quarters.

Before I landed in Mumbai in the early 90’s, I had not heard of Garba or Dandiya Raas,… During those college days, Disco Dandiya nights were popular among the youth who were getting drowned in the Remix wave. In Churchgate – cars with disco lights and blaring music used to be parked in the centre of the roads. Boys and Girls were seen crooning to the songs and rhythm of Garba all night long! I see less of them now. Today there are many Garba festivals almost in all suburbs featuring celebrities and wannabes where people let their hair down during the nine nights and have fun. Specialist singers and folk artists get imported from Gujarat for the same to belt out more traditional and original songs. (Doesn’t mean that there are no songs dripping with Honey Singh’s lewd lines and all that😁

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There are also a few like Phalguni Phatak who have become celebrities by just making people dance to their tunes during Navratri. There are different types of Garba steps and in Mumbai a month before the season, classes spring up to coach people on those! I have been personally witness to the enthusiastic crowd in one of the classes in Mulund a happening suburb for Gujjus!!! Not to forget the crowd in outlets selling traditional wear like Gagras and Cholis! And talking of attire, these days the vogue thing is to follow the Navratri colour codes for the 9 days (even to office) so much so couple of days back which was a Green day – a ladies coach in Mumbai local resembled a cricket stadium in Karachi😁😁

This year, Raj Thackeray’s MNS which has an ongoing axe to grind with the Gujjus in Mumbai – wants to give their own “Marathi” twist to Garba it seems. They see Garba as another conspiracy of the Gujarathi traders to take over Mumbai. So at MNS supported Pandals (yes where there is money there is politics) as per party diktat no Gujju song is to be played and Garba will make way for Bhondla a form of Marathi folk music!!!

My exposure to Bengalis and the Durga Pujo (not Puja) festival was only after I started visiting Kolkatta on work. Bengalis are extremely proud of their culture. As oxymoronic as it may sound they are “passionate liberals” when it comes to their culture. For Bengalis, Durga Pujo is more than a festival which I understood in early years of my career. Once when I called for an important review meeting in the midst of the Pujo festival, I got a call from the wife of one of my team members from Kolkatta to reschedule the dates!!! Politely but firmly she said that her husband will not attend the meeting because its Pujo time in Kolkatta. I realized that Pujo was bigger than Diwali in that part of the world. Amidst the feverish pandal hopping they indulge in, eating, shopping and even match making happen feverishly! I see the Pujo pandals increasing every year in Mumbai as well. I don’t miss visiting atleast one Durga Pujo Pandal every year. I like the one at Hiranandani Gardens, Powai which is elegantly decorated devoid of too many ugly sponsor’ billboards.

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Coming to my own backyard, I have fond memories of Navratri of my growing up days in Trichy. Every year we used to have our vacation to coincide exactly with Navratri after the Quarterly exams. Though it’s a festival which brings the ladies at home to the fore, at home we equally participated. The Kolu (tradition of arranging idols of Gods nicely in steps) at our place was popular among the neighbourhood. Apart from the Kolu steps we used to set up some theme based arrangement every year. Usually my dad threw the ideas and my brother did the execution with me and my sister pitching in with colouring and stuff. Those were not the days of Google or readymade clay, colours, models,.. Most of the stuff like a hill temple or an exhibition ground,.. were painstakingly constructed with waste material and made at home! Our mom was good at making different stuff made of beads which we used extensively in these theme based parks! We used to make some change every day which is what made our place👍

Nine days mean nine varieties of Sundal which is made and distributed to all who come as Prasad. If Bengalis do “Pandal hopping”, we Tamilians do “Sundal hopping”😁😁. Our decision to visit other house Kolus used to depend on the type of Prasad😜. Popular one being Puttu (Jaggery and coconut laced steamed rice flour). And generally houses which had paruppu masiyal (a very sticky paste like stuff made of dal) that day were given the cold shoulder😜😜. Navratri used to be the time those days when mamis feel much empowered sauntering in and out of the house wearing a different Kanjivaram every day and associated finery while mamas sit quietly in a corner reading newspaper😄 without getting much attention. One favourite question of the mamas to their wives was “Enna Innikku collection ellam aacha???😄” In those days of no WhatsApp, invitation to the Kolu needs to be done personally which is the job of us bachas. (Today a WA fwd does the job in a jiffy). As an interesting aside I vividly remember that in our one neighbourhood house in Thillainagar Trichy, during every Navratri there used to be a baby arrival!! This went on for 4 years in a row. Letting one naughty mama to comment – Koluvila dasavatharam bommaigalaa ivaa aathu pasangalaiye koodiya seekiram vechudalam pola irukke😁😁 (Soon we can keep 10 children of this house as Dasavatharam idols in the Kolu looks like)😁😁

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As we grew and we went in different directions in pursuit of careers, the Kolu at home tradition stopped in our place as in many households I knew. But in the last few years I see the “return” of the Kolu tradition with a vengeance. Particularly the NRIs are in the forefront of the revival. From Dunedin to Dublin. I don’t know if the infectious enthusiasm has been fueled by social media. But these days FB posts and WA shares mostly are of pics of the Kolus and Sundal of the day. Another reason for one Mark and his friend Modi to be happy! Women these days assiduously prepare for the event including rehearsing nice Durga songs, scheduling their days (for hosting and visiting others) diligently trying their best to be at most places.

“How to throw a Kolu party???” is a caption of a news item today in today’s Bombay Times (Anything to do with TOI has to end with party I think😜). Well, the tradition of calling ladies for Vetthalai paaku (Haldi kumkum) for Kolu during Navratri has been given a very contemporary twist! The same piece also talks of a “Green Kolu” where instead of idols the steps are replete with plants of different sizes and shapes!!!

Among all the commercialisation that comes along with increased market activity and purchasing power and the lament that we are missing the cultural connect I do sense a “Return” of the people including the youth to their roots and Culture. And Navratri is a shining example of the same. And this “Return” is one we must be proud of unequivocally👍👍👍

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Down Ganapathi lane!!!

It’s the Ganpati festival season now in Mumbai and as they say this city is the place to be during Ganpati time. Last Wednesday (the eve of Ganesh Chaturthi) as I was riding back home from the airport late evening, I could still see feverish activity in the lanes and by lanes of Mumbai – people thronging the market for last-minute purchases of Ganesh idols, lights, lamps, decoration items,…,… The cabbie mentioned that the markets will be open throughout the night. Well, the “Ganpati economy” is huge and thriving.  And over the years it has only been ballooning. What Lokmanya Tilak started probably as a movement In Pune to get people together during the Independence movement in the name of Sarvajanik Ganpati Utsavs are on different trips these days. Ofcourse so are Durga Pujo in Kolkatta or Navratri in Gujarat. The interesting aspect over the years I have noticed is all these festivals and expressions around them are immune to economic recession,..,… Irrespective of how the economy is, these festivals are observed with fervor only to better the previous year effort and budget.

As I watch the Ganpati festival unravelling around me now, I couldn’t help walking down the Ganapathi lane when I was in school. Vinayaga Chaturthi in Tamil Nadu was indeed celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm. Trichy being the place of the Uchi Pillayar (Rock fort temple) was not an exception. With Vinayaga temples of different sizes and scales in every nook and corner of Trichy, the day of Vinayaga Chaturthi is extremely noisy with loudspeakers blaring Seerkazhi Govindarajan’sVinayagane Vinai Theerpavane’,.. on the loop. Once the songs were done, it was the time for playing the sound track of popular Ganesh movies, top on the list being Shivaji Ganesan’s Thiruvilayadal. If I can reel out even today the fiery exchange between Shivaji Ganesan (playing the role of Lord Shiva – one of his career best) and A.P.Nagarajan (as Nakeeran) and the antics of Baliah from that film, it is thanks to the over exposure on Vinayaga Chaturthi days.

After the Pooja at home and polishing off few Kozhakattais (Modaks) – sweet and salty made at home and savoring the ones made by neighbourhood mamis – it was time to literally walk down the many lanes to check out on Ganapathis. One of the favourite competition among friends was to check who sees the maximum number of Ganapathis on Ganesh Chaturthi day. And ofcourse tasting the different Sundals offered as prasad at each temple. My personal record was 65 I remember vividly – from Thillai nagar where I stayed till Main Guard Gate area in Trichy.  In Trichy, all these Ganapathis were mostly in temples and not in pandals as we see in Mumbai today. I understand that the Mumbai style of huge Ganesh idols being kept for public viewing and worship for 10 days and immersing the same in the sea/River on the 10th day have become popular in other cities like Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and even in Trichy today.

In Mumbai, from the 1st time I was witness to the mass Ganpati Visarjan at Chowpatty from the terrace of our college hostel and now, Ganpati Utsav has come a long way.  Corporates and sundry companies pour in big money. So don’t be surprised to see “Ganpati being sponsored by Baba Elaichi Pan Masala” at one place and Kailash Kher exhorting people to use Torex cough syrup from ugly hoardings in another place.

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“Eco friendly” is the buzz word. From the idols to decorative items to the prasad bags – pandals try to be environment friendly. The latest innovation in this Eco friendly business is the campaign I heard today on Radio. Red FM’ Visarjan squad” – where they urge people to carry out immersion in artificial tanks instead of spoiling the waterfronts. Supported by corporates, in this campaign – you give a call and a Visarjan squad comes to your place with a mobile artificial tank and carry out the immersion. Cool isn’t it???

When we talk of cool and innovation can “apps” be far behind? Literally Ganpati Bappa this year has become Ganpati bAPPa!!! So you have a “Times BAPPA” app where you can decorate your Ganesha idol in the most creative way and then share it with your friends!!! Most liked and shared entries get points and get featured in Times Of India it seems. Ganpati bAPPa morya!!!

And for pandal hopping celebrities, the latest craze is ofcourse “Selfie with Ganpati“☺️ And so is a pandal showing Lord Ganesha taking a selfie with his parents☺️

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or a muscular six-pack Ganpati as Baahubali carrying a massive Linga Idol ☺️☺. In these days of health and fitness can Ganesha be left behind. Is Ganesha’s tummy size reducing by the year????

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The civic administration of Mumbai I would say comes out at its best during Ganpati I would say. From filling up pot holes in a hurry to controlling  crowds to handling traffic to managing the immersion at different spots in the city – things happen efficiently. Few years ago I was travelling on the next day of the Mega Visarjan. Much to my pleasant surprise, even early in the morning as I was riding to the airport, the Powai Lake road near IIT which is a major Immersion point was swept clean with hardly any signs of the crowds and revelry of the previous night. I was told that many volunteers of NGOs and Sansthas work with the civic administration for the massive cleanup.

In addition, there is the other “Terrorism attack” menace to be handled. So most pandals bear signboards goading people to call the Police if they spot unattended/suspected things!!!

After so many years 30 to be precise, I would like to again walk the Ganapathi lane in Trichy to see the changes in the Uchi Pillayar town during Vinayagar Chaturthi. Trichy being in the Govt.’s “Smart city project” list, who knows may be Ganapathi pandals will be free wireless zones to enable easy sharing of the “Selfie with Ganapathi” over WA ofcourse 🙂 🙂

A watch on “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”!!!

“I have read in history and folklore that kings in those days used to take rounds of the countryside in disguise to understand if aam admi are happy in their regime. I thought I will also ape that idea and do some MBWA (Managing By Wandering About) in disguise to mainly see for myself how this ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ is working on the ground.  I chose to move about in the guise of a Sardar (clearly avoided the pinned stripe suit and all 🙂 ) and do the wandering about this Sunday morning in a Mumbai suburb – Mulund where I was holed up in a friend’s house. I chose Mumbai because of my firm belief that if we clean up Mumbai, we can clean up any place!!. Over the years Mumbai apart from being the “Melting pot” of different cultures, had also become a cold pan of civic apathy.

As I started my morning walk, though its’ a Sunday early morning, as it is typical in Mumbai, the roads are quite busy. And what I saw in that 1 hour walk set me thinking:

  • Just next to the gate of the building I stayed, stray dogs were devouring the contents from inside the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) dustbins and thereby littering the whole place. The place was also wreaking with foul stench. If only the bins had tight lids I thought.
  • The road adjacent has a large peepal tree under which I saw a heap of banana peels. This must be a regular place of a banana vendor I reckoned, where people come to eat bananas after their meal, eat and throw the peels on the road there itself. After all it is the job of the municipality to clean up the next day!
  • Just ahead where a few chawls line up both sides of the road, a young lady was helping her infant kid to do his morning chores right on the side of a drain.
  • As I was wondering “if Swachh Bharat will ever become a reality?” a set of volunteers wearing uniformed T-Shirts got down from a bus and swiftly got down to the task of cleaning up both sides of the L.B.S.Marg. I was impressed to see them coming fully prepared with all kinds of paraphernalia needed for cleaning. Interested in knowing about them, I engaged in a conversation with an elderly gentleman who seemed like a leader of the group. He mentioned that like-minded people have all come together to do their bit in response to the Prime Minister’s clarion call to clean up India. So every Sunday they spend 3 hours in different parts of Mumbai and today was Mulund’s turn. Not bad I thought.
  • Just as I watched them cleaning, there were dividers on the road with signage of “Green Mumbai, Clean Mumbai”. One could hardly read the signage properly as they were half buried in red paan stains. I thought to my mind that this paan chewing is a curse for our country. Many young and old, rich and poor, literate and illiterate, men and women all take the pleasure of chewing paan and spit the red juice on the roads, walls, steps, stairs in short wherever. No amount of the poor volunteers cleaning week after week is going to make India clean if this paan spitting is not stopped in public places. Ills of spitting in public itself can be a topic of one “Man Ki Baat” broadcast.
  • While I was pondering on this, I saw a pretty young girl in her teens walking her dog and she wanted me get out of her way. I stopped my MBPA (Managing By Pondering About 🙂 ), mumbled a Sorry and moved to the side. She walked ahead and then stopped for a while as her dog pooped well, yes on the road. The PYT got immersed on her phone while her pet nastied the public place and then continued to walk when her pet finished its quota of Aswachh Bharat Abhiyan 😦 😦 . In most of the developed countries pet owners are required to clean up their pet poop.
  • As I turned towards the corner and headed back to my place, I saw a paan shop littered with cigarette buds and Gutka packets (And I thought Gutka was banned in Mumbai!), crushed sugar cane trash of a juice vendor lying on the road so on and so forth. Can’t they have small dustbins outside their outlets and get their customers litter into them?

The one hour stroll in Mumbai was enough for me to understand where the campaign is working and where it is not.  

  • While it is good to nominate celebrities and entities to get involved in the programme to get visibility and continuous awareness, that in itself is not enough
  • Any amount of cleaning is not enough unless aam admis realize that they should not litter in public places.
  • And in public places there aren’t enough dustbins.
  • Cities with more population are dirtier than smaller towns and villages.

 On my flight back to Delhi itself I thought of the next steps for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. 

  • Focus first on the 6 metro cities, then next 14, then the next 30 and so on. Build on one success after another.
  • Carrot and Stick approach towards implementation of the programme. Rewards for success and introduce stiff fines as deterrence.
  • Call a meeting of the municipality heads in these cities to get them involved.
  • Get Municipality wards to provide dustbins in every conceivable public place. Involve large corporates to give dustbins as CSR initiative.
  • Competition among wards and awards for the cleanest wards.
  • Involve set of NGOs to do repeated door to door campaigning for creating awareness about not strewing in public. Duplicate the success of the door to door polio eradication campaign.
  • Collect all who are involved in begging and “transform” them to “Swachhata watchmen”. Find a way to empower them to collect “On the spot” fines when they catch people red handed for paan spitting, not cleaning up dog poops,…
  • Request the celebrities who have been nominated to focus on spreading awareness about not littering rather than just spend few hours cleaning with a jaadu.
  • Tell Arun Jaitleyji to levy a x% cess on companies earning more than 100 Crore profit in a year in the forthcoming budget to fund the campaign
  • And finally in order to put the foundation for a clean India, call up Smriti behen and get her ministry to include importance of public cleanliness in school curriculum to indoctrinate “Swachhata” from childhood. 

As the Prime Minister of this country who brought the issue of cleanliness to the public agenda, I have to keep a watch on this Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and make sure that this campaign succeeds. We indeed have to wake up to a “Clean India” in Oct 2019. And for that if I have to disguise myself and make more clandestine trips to different parts of the country and continuously crowdsource ideas so be it” !!!

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That was a bit of imagination going wild – as if our PM Narendra Modi himself hits the ground to check what’s happening and taking some corrective actions!!!

Image courtesy: India Today

Towards Swaasth and Swachh Bharat!!!

It’s not often that you get up early on a Sunday morning and go on a long drive. But when I did that this wannabe winter morning, it was nice. Oh, not just because of the weather or the lazy weekly off feel.  There was something more surreal.  Enough to conclude that the change we have been yearning to see in India is finally happening.

The Eastern Express Highway stretching from Thane to Kurla was nearly empty as if it was a “Sena Bandh day” of yore. But hold on. The highway was empty, the service lanes on both sides of the highway were not.  Right along the stretch of the service lane – ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages, sizes and shapes were seen – some jogging, some running and some walking briskly. The many cars seen parked in the side meant they have all come from not so near places. As I moved further, I could see people huddled together and putting up banners of their upcoming locality marathon. (Is there any activity these days without the proverbial marketing I wonder?) It looked like they have assembled for the practice runs.

Further ahead on the highway, an impressive volume of youngsters were cycling attired in fluorescent colours (as is the norm) in groups. Just about as I was begin to wonder if all this cycling and practicing for marathon running are just upper middle class or “US returned Desi” phenomena, I saw a group of young boys and men. Under the vast span of land under a flyover these guys mostly bare footed and in vests and shorts were seen carrying out some exercise regimen with a leader in the centre. (In Mumbai the areas under the flyovers mostly left vacant without any landscaping,.. come as a succour for many group activities – Exercise, Humour club, Bhajan Mandalis, Street play rehearsals,…,…)

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So it appears that India or for want of empirical evidence may I say Mumbai has caught on to fitness adroitly these days or so I found today. And that this phenomenon cut across different strata of society comes as a welcome news if not as a surprise.

On my return, we took the famed L.B.S Marg which runs parallel to the Eastern Express Highway. By now it was already 9’o clock and not so early morning anymore. The tea vendors were busy whipping up Cutting Chai (for the uninitiated in Mumbai a half cup tea is called a Cutting Chai or simply Cutting) along with Vada Pav and Bun Maska to a variety of men lazing around with the morning newspaper. (In my house reading a newspaper in the morning is always associated with lazing around 😜) But along the long LBS Marg there were another set of men engaged in loftier acts.  In what could be mistaken for some Aam Admi Party (AAP) event, Jhadus of different hues were being deployed and the pavements and street corners were being swept diligently. Now it dawned upon me that the Prime Minister’s call for a Swachh Bharat was indeed being taken seriously by his countrymen and the effect is trickling down. Mind you there were no cameras. So these were not Netas or film stars cleaning “already clean roads” in their locality😜. Or as somebody wondered these weren’t instances of celebrities sweeping hard “dried leaves” again and again under shady trees😜😜. Or for that matter they weren’t as we saw in Delhi staged scenes of Netas cleaning after accumulating litter 😠. Or not as I saw a few days ago – a group of people cleaning for a couple of minutes and then taking pictures with banners of their party for the next 10 minutes😠😠. In reality these were common men young, middle-aged and old cleaning with a lot of seriousness not just in one place but in different spots and stretches along the road.

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And as I turned on the FM radio, RJ Malishka was heard talking to one Mr. Deshpande of a local community help group. In Dadar Shivaji Park area the civil society and Municipal Corporation have agreed upon to have a competition on which wards are cleaned and maintained better.

When the Prime Minister flagged of this now famous Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” to turn India into a clean place by 2019 by a symbolic cleaning act and goading people from all walks of life to clean and clean, I was wondering if India will become clean by just cleaning. Ergo in my earlier post (Read here) I said that Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is not about cleaning but ceasing the need to clean. I realize today that, as aam admi get involved in cleaning (as I witnessed today) may be they will stop littering and will stop their near, dear, friends and folks from littering as much as possible. More importantly, they will convey a strong message to their children and kids around on maintaining a clean surrounding. Well that atleast is the hope.

The visible seriousness I saw over Swaasth & Swachhtha this morning has spawned a new hope in me.  That Mumbai and indeed India is changing and changing for the good. And as the Prime Minister enjoys his dinner this evening in Sydney he can feel proud of himself and have an extra drink. For, his campaign for a ‘Clean India’ has hit the right spot and has begun to work.  Wait a minute – did I say “extra drink?? Oops, read that as Nimbu Paani😄😄

While on this, here is LOL one from Satish Acharya:

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For “Swachh Bharat”, STOP the Cleaning!!!

From the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the kickoff of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in India on the 15th August this year, India has been on a cleaning overdrive. Routinely we have been seeing ministers, netas wielding the broom and doing a cleaning act. It culminated in the actual launch of this new social awakening campaign by the PM on the 2nd Oct where he himself did a bit of sweeping. Its’ been a while since India actually saw the top leader championing a social campaign which Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Shashi Tharoor in their articles refer to as the “Bully pulpit” a phrase meaning to drive change top down. Close on the heels of the PM, we saw many ministers, MPs, MLAs, officialdom, volunteers from NGOs, celebrities and general public doing their bit of Shramdhan on the 2nd Oct in cleaning in different parts of the country. So far so good.

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But the moot question is does a country become clean by cleaning alone?

Among the many countries I’ve visited if I have to pick up one country which stood out for its cleanliness it will obviously be Japan. Many who have been to Japan agree to this. Is Japan spic’n span because they have more people to clean and for longer? Or do they put technology to use to ensure cleanliness? May be they do. But the fact is Japanese are extremely particular about cleanliness not just within their homes but in public spaces as well. So what they do is not just cleaning but not creating many opportunities for cleaning. They just don’t litter.  The cleaning up of the football stadium during the FIFA World cup by Japanese fans that too after their team’s exit from the World cup is now part of WhatsApp “forward folklore”. I’m sure most of the litter must have been generated by the Columbian fans!!! From having a small personal ashtray in their pockets to having 4 or 5 waste bins in every nook and corner to separate wastes, cleanliness is one of their two biopolymer strands in their DNA!!!

Contrast that to we Indians, forget DNA, cleanliness need to be searched in our hair strands!!!

I was walking down the stairs after leaving my daughter in a class yesterday. This was when the country was still reeling under the Swachh Bharat mania. A young man must be in his 30’s was standing on the edge of the stairs talking on his mobile phone. As I turned to exit the building, he used all his energy to spit the red juice of the paan he was chewing, on the floor.  I stopped and gave a long stare at him and asked him “Swachh Bharat”??? He started smiling and I felt like slapping him then and there. Now the red remnants of the “paan art” will be cleaned by someone someday. But the stains will remain to remind the world of our dirty etiquette.

For a while, I was of the view that public etiquette is an education thing. After seeing the walls and corners splashed in red in Mumbai, I have concluded that it is not. Day in day out in Mumbai (and indeed in many parts of our country) gentlemen “paint the city red” by spitting after chewing paan in public spaces and wherever they are.  In most walls, the warning sign goading people not to spit is submerged in paan stains.

For us Indians, by and large cleanliness is within the four walls of our homes. Beyond that is not our concern. This is the core issue and the reason behind the pathetic state of our public places.

If Ganga is dirty, it is not for want of cleaning. In the past Governments sanctioned crores of rupees on Ganga cleaning project and I am sure a fraction of it indeed would have been spent on cleaning. But if we don’t stop littering, then this cleaning is of no use. Like Shashi Tharoor in his article says, in the past also they have been different campaigns for a “Clean India” though not necessarily as visible and of this scale as Narendra Modi’s. They have not yielded results for the same reason that people don’t feel the need of a clean surrounding beyond their four private walls whether they are bus stands, temples, railway stations, airports, parks, gardens, schools, hospitals,… ,…

To be realistic, we cannot expect the PM to keep cleaning his surroundings in public every day in public view. And similarly the ministers, babus, NGO workers,.. . Even I heard that once the programme was over in Delhi, it left behind a trail of of water bottles,.. When the optics fade out in a few days, it will be back to the municipality workers to pick up the thread and litter literally.

So are we to stay condemned with a dirty India? Certainly not. From that point of view, the PM’s initiative is extremely laudable in creating awareness about cleanliness. This awareness needs to be transformed into an awakening by us citizens by educating our children right from the young age about the need to have clean surroundings wherever they are. I don’t have much hope on the current grown up generation to give up their few minutes of self-pleasure and stop chewing paan and spitting from tomorrow. That will continue. And for that may be the PM’s push to all to spend few hours in cleaning every year may help.

But, what will make India a Swachh Bharat though not in 5/10 years but may be in 20/25 years is when attitudinal shift happens in generations. For that we have to follow as per me the most vital part of the pledge which is “I will neither litter or let others litter” and drill this in our children.

Swachh Bharat is not about cleaning but a clarion call to cease the need for cleaning!!!

After thought: If Swachh Bharat Mission leads up to this type of cleaning no complaints though 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Cartoon courtesy : Satish Acharya

Do read my another post on Swachh Bharat – Towards Swaasth and Swachh Bharat!!! https://anandkumarrs.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/towards-swaasth-and-swachh-bharat/

Will Metro in Mumbai bring in more “Will”???

The newspaper of today fluttering in front of me announces the flagging of Metro Rail in Mumbai today and as I key these words, it would have been flagged off, some last minute posturing between the Govt. and Reliance over the fares notwithstanding. Reliance was the successful private bidder for this project which was supposed to be on PPP (Public Private Partnership) model. Tomorrow in Mumbai local trains and near water coolers in offices many will be singing paeans to the launch of the Mumbai Metro. Real estate brokers who have been jacking up the rates of properties along the Metro line for 10 years now claiming ‘Metro Aaraha Hai’( like they have been doing in Navi Mumbai showing picture of one empty land in Panvel with a board which says “Site for New International Airport”) will now say that their promise has been kept!!! Not to mention of the viral pictures, videos and messages which will “forward” on WhatsApp, FB,..!!! Just that the project which was an absolute must for a city like Mumbai has ambled in some 20 years late.

MMetro

If at all if there was any city in India which needed a Metro in the first place, it was Mumbai. For years the suburban rail network built by the British has been literally carrying the commute burden of the Mumbaikars without a break down as efficiently as possible. Though it was obvious that it was bursting at its seams, the administration was only working on putting bandages here and there and flogging the same without seriously thinking of an alternative. Kolkata surprisingly with Communists at its helm for more than 3 decades implemented the Metro 1st in India. With the support of Soviet specialists (not surprisingly) and inspired by the idea of Public investments in infrastructure, Kolkata went ahead with the Metro and commissioned the same as early as in 1984, 10- 12 years after laying the foundation. Delhi was the next in line to adopt the Metro Rail. Delhi ofcourse had 2 things going in its favour. The Common Wealth Games which Delhi hosted and the leadership of Mr. E. Sreedharan (Now called the Metroman). Both these ensured that Delhi Metro was on track in record time. Mumbai was not blessed with either. In Mumbai when you really want something to happen, the whole political world conspires to delay it!!! Is this city Paul Coelho’s nemesis???

30 years after it was conceived and 10 years after its Bhumi Pujan, finally the day dawned for commissioning the Metro in Mumbai. And this is true for every infrastructure project in Mumbai. I remember the ‘Vikhroli Jogeswari Link Road’ project a crucial one linking the eastern and western suburbs of Mumbai started when I joined my last company in 2000. It got completed in 2011 the year I left that company. 11 years to complete a Road project??? During those 11 years as I was passing by that road day in and day out suffering from long traffic snarls due to “Work in slow progress”, I was convinced that the much needed political will needed in ensuring fast implementation was missing among the Mumbai rulers. And this I would say is true cutting across all political parties which have been in power in the state in the last 50 years.

Here I must mention with abundant adoration the work and the difference made by one T.Chandrasekhar an IAS officer who as Municipal Commissioner of Thane in the late 90’s changed the face of Thane in 3 years. Within months after he took over, he cleared illegal slums and hawkers and launched a massive road widening and beautification drive. He had the backing of the political class till the time he didn’t touch their vested interests. Trouble started brewing when he started acting on illegal restaurants, encroachments and buildings. The Municipal councilors passed a resolution to sack him but eventually backed off when public showed solidarity behind him and Bal Thackeray the late Shiv Sena Chief supported him in his endeavour.  As part of his master plan Chandrasekhar had in fact started work on a Metro Rail project within Thane. Unfortunately like all good things in this country Thane’s tryst with better destiny ended when he was “promoted” and transferred to Nagpur. The Thane Metro dream ended then. He came back to Mumbai years later and was made responsible for Infrastructure projects. But frustrated by lack of support and political interference he resigned from IAS and is now a potential AAP candidate 🙂 In the mean-time Mumbai continued to suffer. Its clear that if there is political will a transformation is possible.

Whether it is Express highways, a decent mass public transport system or world class airport Mumbai has been 20-25 years behind in getting them. Few months back as Mumbaikars we were lucky to get a world class International airport terminal. All along we had a bus stand masquerading as an airport. As I mentioned, may be 20 years late. Today has been the day of the Metro. And by the time the 3 phases of the Metro will be completed and it begins to make a difference to commuting public I guess it will be another 10 years away.

With India in the throes of change after the recently held General Elections one can say with certitude that people have voted for development and positive change. One hopes that the administrators of Mumbai also will get the message and work towards making Mumbai a better place to live. “We will make Mumbai a Shanghai” – this baloney has been mouthed by the rulers for long. The moot question is whether there is enough stock of “will” for the same??

Ache Din Aa gaye???

Mumbai Metro pic

X: Metro came to Mumbai but it came so late!!

Y: Be happy. It atleast came late not after you became Late !!!

“Dahi Handi” & the many parallels with India’s Economic Growth

It was the 29th of August, a day after people celebrated Krishna Janmashtami with gaiety and religious fervour all over India.  It was almost around 9 pm and I was flying back after a same day return business trip, obviously tired.  I was lost in thoughts of the happenings around the Indian economy the last few days. The rupee had its worst fall in the last 20 years and nobody had a clue where it is heading to. The worst nightmares around India were coming true one by one.  Finally India beat ChinaChina was supposed to slowdown first but we beat China on this!!! On the flight for a change we were spared of the usual traffic congestion over Mumbai and we were promised a prior to schedule arrival.  Closer to touch down, one could see the narrow streets of Mumbai lit up in sparkling Chinese lights, crowds gathered around some junctions and an overall frenzy. It just dawned upon me that on that day in Mumbai and may be in few other cities in India, the Dahi Handi (Curd pot) ritual was played with increasing vigour year after year.  As per Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna as a child used to steal butter from earthen pots hung high from the ceiling of neighbours. The practice to emulate this has become an increasingly popular event in cities. The earthen pots migrated from inside houses to main roads, streets and housing complexes and Krishna’s surreptitious acts of theft have now become open opportunities for groups of men (called Govindas) to excel in broad day light in front of thousands and take home rich bounties chipped in by many a sponsors!!!

As my cab took right from the Western Express Highway (yes, in Mumbai we call long stretches of road at times narrow, at times wide, with intersecting signals every kilometre, with slow inefficient toll plazas slowing down the traffic and with no concept of a hard shoulder to use in case of emergencies – as Highways and Express ones in that) the traffic congestion which we were spared of while on the sky came to haunt us with a vengeance on the ground. The traffic quickly graduated from being slow moving to “No” moving. I got out of the car and it took me just few seconds to realize that the battle between the “Govindas” and the “Dahi Handis” perched few metres from the ground was gathering steam and so traffic blocks be damned. I decided to let myself consumed in the atmosphere and observe what’s going on. I had not watched one in such close proximity before frankly. As I watched the proceedings I could draw few parallels between the Dahi Handi ritual and our country.

dahi handi,1

The Handi I guess was suspended about 20-25 m high and I heard that the height varies from mandals and it could be even 40 m +. The chants of ‘Govinda ala Re and ‘Haathi Ghoda Palki Jai Kanhaiya Lal Ki’ accompanied by beats of the Dhol amplified the already noisy surroundings. It signaled the arrival of a group of Govindas all attired in yellow with sponsor’s logos (as is the wont nowadays) to take a shot at breaking the pot. They took a few minutes to size up the challenge and as the beats started hitting a crescendo they began the task of putting together the human pyramid. Expectedly, strong, taller men formed the base and layer by layer they built the structure. So far so good. With few thousands of people watching the scene with breathlessness some with jaws open like me, the tension was palpable. It was now time for the kids to be lifted up as the pyramid gathered height.  The pace slowed now. One could hear many instructions going around. It was clear that these groups practiced collective leadership and were mainly driven by instinct. With just few meters away from the pot, it was time for the last part of the pyramid – a small kid may be 6-7 years of age to be thrown into the ring. The boy wearing a yellow protective vest (happy to see that but surprisingly he was the only one to wear that) slowly helped by many limbs, biceps and shoulders gradually made his way up. The cheers now get really boisterous.  And as he reached the top and tried to balance himself – lo somewhere something went wrong and the pyramid fell apart and with it the hopes of the participants to hit the pot and jackpot accompanying it. It’s very difficult to pinpoint who did what and what went wrong.  What happened immediately after this was interesting. Few seconds of disappointment later, the group recouped itself.  Took a few minutes off breaking into a dance to ‘Sheela Ki Jawani’ and goading chants and went for the 2nd attempt.  Ironically they didn’t manage to break the pot in that as well. When the crowd withered away, we got some leeway and got out of the spot. Another group may be in a red uniform might have come next. They also might have given a crack at the pot. Might have failed once and may be finally accomplished on the 2nd or 3rd attempt. The 1st yellow group forgetting the experience would have moved on but with renewed energy to the next mandal and hopefully succeeded there.

I was soon in the cab continuing my journey back home and couldn’t help myself reflecting on what happened.  What I hear is that while the Govinda groups are highly enthusiastic about hitting the pot, there is no training or rehearsals done before the day. There are also no structured strategy / tactics adopted to hit the pot which could be of different heights from mandal to mandal. The groups just move on from place to place, size up the task, put together a quick approach and give it a shot to hit the bull’s eye. If it’s achieved well and good. Everybody is happy. The prize is won.   People all around are excited. If they fail, there is disappointment for few seconds. But there is no despair. They again give a try. May not do anything much differently.  May succeed this time. If not just move on and may be give a better try next year.  Political parties associate themselves with different mandals. Bollywood joins the party. As I mentioned before businesses are anyway part being sponsors for different teams.  The next day every year invariably newspapers report of a few hundreds of people who got injured and a few who even died due to mishaps and accidents in the whole Dahi Handi revelry. I asked the cab driver if there is any formula for success here. He said – Nothing Sir, just try, try and try till you suceed oops succed sorry succeed (YES!!!)

Unfortunately our approach to managing the economy and achieving growth rates is eerily similar. The breaking of the pot is similar to the GDP growth rate India can achieve. Just like the different heights of the pots it can be 6 %, 9% or whatever. Just like different groups trying to hit the pot, there are different groups working in different areas to make the economy grow and hit a GDP rate figure. The target may be 8%, 9%,.. in the beginning of the year but only at the end of the year depending upon the height of the handi we will know if we have hit the same or not.  Though we want to grow there is no structured plan or strategy which is put in place. We just hope that the consumption fuelled by our great growing population or economic growth in the developed nations will use more of our products and services and propel our economy. That’s the reason why our economy grows one year at 7 %, few years at 8%, drops to 5% and so on. If the GDP target growth rate is achieved, everyone is happy, plenty of jobs are generated, billions of FDI comes in, stock market booms, realty picks up,.. ,.. and there is happiness all around. On the other hand when the economy doesn’t achieve its growth, and goes down, it drags with it thousands of people who lose jobs, have to take pay cuts,.. like the hundreds who end in hospitals the next day injured. But is there a major despair?? No. Just a bit of disappointment and people just shrug off and continue their day to day work hoping to contribute to a better growth next year.  In governance too there is no leader but something called a collective leadership which essentially means no accountability. In the whole process of driving the economy, politics, government policies and corporates all play their part – sometimes helping the cause and (as we see these days) at times hampering the cause.

On the day when rupee depreciated close to 2 rupees to a dollar, there was panic and gloom in the corporate board rooms as reported by pink papers. But not on the streets. The Dahi Handi was going on in usual raucous fashion.  So that is India. We have our own way of balancing our lives by shrugging off our woes and still moving on in life with fun and revelry. The festival season has just kicked in. Janmashtami was just the start. Tomorrow is ‘Ganesh Chaturti’ – a time to chant “Ganpati bappa morya’ and forget what’s happening to our Rupaya!!!