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.

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