Monday, 12 December 2011

Our Standards, Western Standards, PODs for Trivandrum, etc.

When you travel abroad and get to actually see how other countries (not necessarily first world countries) address issues related to urban infrastructure, garbage or mass transit, you may be tempted to think, “Hey, if these schmucks can do it, definitely we too can.”
Well, I have to cut you off from that reverie right there. You can’t, even if someone bribes you with a billion dollars. There have been times when I was also lulled into believing it is possible after seeing newspaper headlines like “Kerala to be garbage-free”. I remember one such announcement 4-5 years ago by the then LDF minister, which had all the required jargons – ban plastic, intensify this, enforce that, follow-up there, suck up here, etc. Recently, this government also launched (is it re-launched) a new, fresh drive. I hope to see the next LDF government to re-re-launch the drive in another 4 years.
There is a reason I think this, and many other things, will not work here in Kerala or India. And that reason was elucidated by one man some time ago. His name is Lalit Bhanot. Now, here is a dishonest man who gave a brutally honest opinion. His response to a pile of doo-doo on a shower floor in CWG village was, “Everyone has different standards about cleanliness. The Westerners have different standards, we have different standards.” I immediately liked this guy. We, as a people, have this extraordinary tunnel vision to see only the good parts. We have Photoshop built inside our eyes to brush away the piles of filth around our glitzy apartments and malls. We have nostrils that are immune to stink. We find it difficult to throw a piece of paper from an ATM into the trash can provided (explains why we are not good at basketball). We work in the IT field, live in swanky apartments, wear jeans and t-shirts, and have nice cars which we use to drive down to the nearby Akkulam lake and dump our $**t into the lake (personally saw it; didn’t have the time to get down and kick the $**t out of her). The politicos and other worthies who lead the annual cursory cleaning efforts pile up everything and burn them in front of TV cameras, leaving behind half-burnt piles of plastic, Styrofoam and carcinogenic fumes that the TV cameras don’t see, while creating a space where people come and dispose off more of their filth.
I was involved in a clean-up operation with our residents association. My idea was for a group of us to go around and sweep up the garbage and get the corporation to take it away. The first part was vetoed immediately. “No, no, we’ll just get a few migrant laborers and they will do it.” Don’t want to get our hands dirty; don’t mind making our land dirty –seems to be our motto. It took a few days for the guys to cover the entire area and in between I fell sick. Well, the streets were clean (though it didn’t stay like that for long) when I came out next but I was shocked to learn that the garbage was not taken away by the corporation. Instead, they paid some guys to take it away, who probably dumped it in the highway somewhere. If there were some soft object nearby, I would have banged my head against it (no point in hurting my head). That’s when Mr. Bhanot’s view really sunk in and I realized the futility of trying to explain why moving a pile of crap from here to there IS NOT cleaning.
So, if any of you guys have grand dreams, just forget it. Sit back, enjoy the ride up $**t creek, accept our inner scumbags and stop blaming our politicians and officials. Remember, they are also us. FIFO – Filth In, Filth Out. 
P.S. Monorail, maglev saga continues. The latest idea is Pods for Trivandrum. I didn’t even bother to read the report fully. Our CM would have loved it, as it will give him another opportunity to save millions of rupees for the people of Trivandrum. Y’know, we already have pods. A few people get in, give the destination and the pod takes you there and you pay the fare. It is called a frikkin auto-rickshaw. Some tweaking is necessary with the rates and the software installed in the morons who drive it, but otherwise it is perfect.
The guys who dream up these things have peapod-sized brains filled with slush and two brain molecules - one to control their mouth and another to control their anal sphincter. And they disgorge the same stuff through both holes.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Maglev, Trivandrum Monorail, Railway God and Confucius

A picture is worth a thousand words (in some versions it is 10,000 words). This saying, I found out after painstaking research that involved googling it, was an American creation slyly attributed to Confucius to make it sound convincing. I was reminded of this quote when I saw some impressive pictures of cities in Kerala. Stunning high-rises, coconut trees and shimmering backwaters! The only problem is that these pictures are worth only about 250 words (or 2,500, whichever you prefer), or only about a quarter of what Confucius meant. None of these pictures show the streets, the grounds, the earth on which these buildings stand, for obvious reasons. It is not a pretty sight. But, I assume that is what tourism hyperbole is all about. Confucius, if he comes back now, would be shocked to learn that fishing nets from his country are being used to catch foreign tourists in a distant land.
Recently I read a comment (about Gurgaon) that you have to keep your eyesight angled up by about 40 degrees and you may be tempted to believe that you’re in some 1st world city. A similar comment was made by a Japanese guy to me many moons ago.  He said that Trivandrum looked better than Hawaii from the air. But then there was a pause, and in typical Japanese fashion, a lot was left unsaid. An American would have probably said, “yea, we got down and that was when the $hit hit the ceiling literally.” You can’t walk 10 metres or take in a panoramic view without being jarred by piles of garbage, ugly buildings, and eye-piercing colours. When did purple and parrot green become our state colours? I missed that revolution. There was a time, in my youth, when we used to (ignorantly) call any colour that is not white or its derivatives as “pandi colour”, a derogatory reference to the colourful Tamil scene. I don’t feel that way now as far as Tamils are concerned, because now I realize that such colours suit them, and their personae. Likewise, their rhythm, the beats, and the sound. Those look and sound fabulous in Tamil, but don’t work in Malayalam. Still, Tamil being the bigger cultural entity around seems to have had a bigger, detrimental impact on Kerala in the last decade than I had imagined.  (And, if I ever get my hands on the Asian Paints guys, I’ll kick them till they turn purple.)
Well, I lost track. I wanted to write about garbage-free Kerala. But then, it is a futile exercise. There was a garbage-free Kerala plan initiated by the previous government 4-5 years ago, which was thrown into the trash can after the first few days. The new plan is also destined to take the same route by the look of things, with a slight detour where a CIAL-like entity will make some money in the process.
Couple of follow-up news regarding Trivandrum monorail and railways.
Our CM has become such a visionary he has become almost Palin-esque (Sarah Palin – An US politician who said she could see Russia from Alaska) in his vision thingy. He could, sitting in his perch in the Cliff House, see all the way to Kaliyikkavila in the south and all the way up to Thalapadi in the north, to which he plans to extend the Trivandrum monorail. He is not even winking any more.
While the CM was at it and thinking up ways to carve up the state booty among corporate sleazebags as quickly as possible, the railway god revealed his plans for using maglev at Kochi. The news report quoted him as saying this technology is widely used in Japan. Now, that was taking it a bit too far even for a god, especially, in this information age. The only maglev system commercially operating in Japan is a contraption they developed for the Nagoya Expo, which they are continuing to use over an 8-kilometre stretch at great loss. The only other and oft-quoted example is the one in Shanghai that connects the city to the airport. Again, not a metro system. He said the maglev can run at speeds above 500 km/h. Now, how that is beneficial in a metro system with stops every kilometre is beyond my comprehension. But it is god’s words and you have to take it as it is.
Today you see the news that the Japanese maglev will be used for the high speed railway system in Kerala. Again, the system this guy is talking about is not operational on a commercial basis. The Japanese do have a test line in Yamanashi and have touched speeds well in excess of 500 km/h, but the way he talks about it is similar to the earlier-mentioned saying attributed to Confucius by the American. Enhances the credibility. He and the media, however, seem to be ignorant of this big world-wide internet webby thing. Interesting days ahead.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Daivathinu Oru Prasnavumilla – Devaprasnam, Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Etc.

It has been a while since the “treasure” was “discovered” at the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum. After the initial flurry, there has been a lull in the news surrounding the temple, as the Supreme Court has put a hold on the activities for reasons known only to the court. I fervently hope it is not due to an “unholy” fear of snakebites.

We can only guess the motives of the former royals in keeping this “discovery” a secret, and in resorting to medieval superstitious rituals aimed at issuing fatwas on anyone who even dares to take a peek at the treasure - a generous pile, I presume, the lord has kept aside for his retired life. Well, I was not too excited about the story in the beginning. My interest, however, was piqued when I heard the news of the devaprasnam. Wow, that was a pretty ingenious way to browbeat the courts and the politicians. Who do you believe; the “My lord” in the Supreme Court or the Real Lord?
Anyway, a group of astrologers were brought together to ask the all-important question to the Lord – “Why are we here?”

“No? I can’t ask such philosophical questions?"
"Oops, I didn’t know that. Sorry, my bad.”
How about, “Could the Lord be gracious enough to smite the unscrupulous builders who use New England autumn foliage backdrops to sell their flats instead of the actual coconut trees-flex boards-utility lines-pot-holed roads background?”
“No? He won’t do it, or he can’t do it?”
“Oh, I can’t ask such frivolous questions either.”

The question you are allowed to ask is specific. “Can we open vault ‘B’ or not?” A simple yes or no answer would suffice.

But then, the Lord moves in mysterious ways and, as expected, the answer was cryptic. There were bad omens cropping up all over the place with each passing day. A crow made doo-doo on the pond – no, I made that up; crows don’t make doo-doo on ponds, only people do. Anyway, the question was conveyed to the Lord and all these things were conveyed by the Lord to this group of guys through – believe it or not – a set of cowry shells, leaves and other stuff you won’t ever dream of when you think of communications.

“How did you convert the English alphabet ‘B’ to cowry-shell lingo? Did you use something like the ASCII-EBCDIC converter?”
“What? I have exceeded my questions quota? OK.”
 Well, after lengthy acks, naks, timeouts, handshakes, data transfer etc., the answer came forth. The Lord will unleash untold miseries on not only anyone who opens vault ‘B’, but the entire land. Scary stuff. Must be some skeleton in the Lord’s vault!
“Did the Lord…”
“I can’t ask any more questions? Well, I’m not asking the Lord, but asking myself. Is that OK?”
Did the Lord mean the original Travancore kingdom or just Trivandrum?  Maybe, he meant all of India? (What more untold misery can he unleash now?)
Could there have been some miscommunication?  You know, noise, echo?
Have these guys ever tried conch shells instead of cowries? Perhaps it would offset the echo you hear whenever the Lord speaks (you must have seen it a gazillion times in movies) - “I I I shall ll ll destroy roy roy you you you you!”    

Why would the Lord take such extreme steps for a minor misdemeanour like opening a vault and counting some gold coins? And that too, in an indiscriminate way. It is always like that, isn’t it? Floods that wipe out whole regions and people, at least some of whom might have been innocent. Doesn’t sound very benevolent or compassionate to me.

Well, that is where things stands now. Be scared, very scared. Whether the Lord loses his rag or not and your house is flooded with seawater solely depends on the Supreme Court’s decision now, if you believe this ancient ritual. How ancient can it be? A few hundred years? A thousand? Tops. And, the earth has been here for, what, four-five billion years. Go figure.

P.S.  A benevolent ruler would use such wealth to help his/her subjects. You don’t have to distribute it or sell it. A museum, as proposed by many, would be a great solution. There are some excellent heritage buildings around the temple. A palace and other buildings on the south gate, where a bank and some other offices operate, and the post office, etc. which occupy the buildings on the north gate side of the temple come to mind.
Ideally, it would be great if you could demolish the ugly add-ons and re-develop the area as a heritage museum zone, including the agraharams around the temple. The state should provide some assistance to the residents to maintain the original façades of their homes, clean up the streets, bury the cables, build nice foot paths and it will be a real solid cultural attraction. And perhaps there will be a modern, progressive entrepreneur type among the residents who would turn one of those we-own-only-two-walls places into a B&B.  If properly done, I’m sure tourists will be ready to pay top dollar for the experience.
One shouldn’t forget the existing Kuthiramalika museum either. Currently it is managed shabbily and is infested with mostly ignorant guides having brain cells made of bird poop (mentioned earlier). They need to be educated and the place needs to be cleaned up and professionally managed.
Hope ultimately good sense prevails over superstitious bovine excrement for the good of the city.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Monorail? Trivandrum? Did you just wink, Mr. CM?

“Throw them a bone, willya? Let them chew on it for a while”. This was the thought that passed through my mind when I saw the news of “monorail” for Trivandrum. It was a continuation of the institutionalized neglect of this place that has been the norm for quite some time now, regardless of the political hue of the ruling setup. Perhaps they felt a little pity after some newspapers highlighted the pittance allotted to God’s Own Capital by MANI (or da man who controls the ‘munee).
There are quite a few outsiders who consider “Pappanavan’s folks as scoundrels”. There is no point in fighting such prejudices. I personally feel that the percentage of douchebags here is more or less the same as in any other place. In fact, the majority appear to be rather naïve, considering the way they trust the government and their drivel.

Regarding this monorail melodrama - if you go back in time, E Sreedharan, “the man who invented rail travel”, and his company did a study and found that the city didn’t need a metro (didn’t “deserve” a metro). It was all the city’s fault. It had to go and settle itself into undulating terrains, with curves and hills and holes and what not, which didn't meet the specifications of his invention. How can a city like that even think of mass transit? He said "No", and everyone agreed. He decreed, “Let them have a MEMU,” and that became a meme with the government and the people. And that was it, even though the existing railway track mostly skirts the city and traverses a mere 2 or 3 kilometres of the populated areas.

In the meantime, we had a few MPs, with no connection whatsoever to the city, foisted on us by the two political groups, the latest being the glam-boy who was going to wave his magic wand and make Trivandrum a global city. We all fell hook, line and sinker for him. From the look of it, by the time he is through we will become objects of global ridicule. The guy bats for Kochi, bowls for Gujaratis and "feels" for Kashmiris, but is a spectator when it comes to Trivandrum. Till a few months ago the ruling left front was the problem. Now, he has his buddies in power. So, ideally things should get better, move faster, etc. Maybe it did.  He probably nudged the CM, after the meaty portions were passed around to everybody else, and said “Throw them a bone, willya? Let those bozos chew on it for a while”.

* Personally, I am not a big fan of monorail. The pillars and the elevated tracks will be one big eyesore defacing the city. Especially in places like ours, those pillars and the space beneath will end up being used for sticking posters as well as for peeing, pooping, puking and fornicating.