Over the past few years, there was one thing that struck me while going around Trivandrum. Our obsession with gateways, and I have been trying to guess the reason for this obsession.
I remember my mom’s ancestral house in rural Trivandrum which had a small gateway –the kottiyambalam- built onto the compound wall. Nothing fancy - just a simple door with a wooden bolt opening out to a small ledge with places to sit on both sides, and steps leading down outside to the pathway and the railway track about 50 feet away. As kids, we cousins used to sit there and wave at passing trains and then as teenagers we sat there and smoked and drank. Sadly, the kottiyambalam is just a memory now. In its place, rather near where it stood, stands a regular iron gate stuck in a concrete wall (which replaced the mud kayyala). The kottiyambalam as such is experiencing a revival in Kerala with rich blokes incorporating it in their designer homes. But, I am not talking about those gateways.
I am talking about the gateways that are there or are being built at the entrances of government buildings such as hospitals or this or that directorate. There is one being built in front of the Corporation Office, two in the General Hospital and one at the entrance to the Eye Hospital. Then there are the existing ones like the one at the Medical College entrance, the DME office, the Science and Technology Museum. There is one thing common to all these. These are all equally ugly, serve no purpose and are a colossal waste of money. Well, at least that was my initial reaction. Then on deeper analysis I regretted doubting our government. Guess what? The government has a vast checklist of priority stuff, which it goes through before making any such spending decisions. It roughly looks like the following:
Schools Constructed (some even have pools during monsoon)
Healthcare Universal (the general wards in the aforementioned General
Hospital even have some broken toilets!)
Hospital even have some broken toilets!)
Criminal gangs Wiped out
Crime Unheard of (ever since said gangs were wiped out)
Corruption Being institutionalized (oops!)
And the list goes on and on.
The government honchos poured over this checklist and saw that everything was good. “OK guys, now since everything seems to be taken care of let’s use the spare money to build some gateways. Y’know, concrete, fake traditional stuff and use colours that are in vogue now among mallus –pink, parrot green,” they decreed and lo, we have gateways.
P.S. The monorail saga continues – Recently the railway god paid a visit to the Calicut monorail site and gave his approval. He said it was viable in Kozhikode and probably agreed with the government proposal for a global tender. It warmed the cockles of my heart and made it tender. He is ready to give approval to any two-bit town that needs a monorail as long as there is a global tender. I am not saying that Calicut is a two-bit town. It’s every bit an 8084, 8-bit town like the other two “huge” cities in Kerala. I’m digressing. The point is about the global tender. Here was a man who just a few weeks ago bullied and blackmailed the government against a global tender for a metro. He said the metro would get JICA funding only if it went through him. Nobody asked anything. The media, the politicians, the academicians, no one. Zip, nada. Why was that? What if, say, Hitachi had won the bid? Would JICA have refused? I don’t think so. Still, there is an explanation for his actions.
Japan, despite the overall good image, is not that transparent in many of its dealings. It is not corrupt in the way we experience it here. A common man need not bribe a government official to get a certificate or some such thing in 99.9% of the cases. Corruption there is more at the higher end, institutionalized and subtle. Companies and government are all in it together. Bids are rigged. Everything is shared. Everyone is happy. Worked for quite a long time too, but has run into trouble with globalization. There is a practice called Amakudari in Japan where senior bureaucrats join private companies after retirement. Gratitude for favours received. This is the word that popped up in my mind when I read his threat on not receiving funding from JICA. Here is a powerful retired guy in a private position and the Japanese could relate to that.
And, for him, he got what he wanted for his former company and didn’t care one way or the other about global tenders for other stuff. Stuff he is not interested in. The worrying factor for me here is the total lack of spine from anyone in questioning some of the things he said including the double standards in global tender. He is definitely a rare specimen in our country (people like him are dime-a-dozen in any reasonably well-run democratic country including Japan), did some great things and deserves the accolades, but that doesn’t mean everything he says is sacrosanct. His comments (or at least stuff that the media have attributed to him) related to the maglev and high-speed trains are ridiculous to say the least. He is for building the high-speed rail and said that Japan will give its 700-series shinkansen to Kerala. Of course they’ll give it. And you’ll pay for it with the money they lend you so that their corporations stay afloat while you drown in debt for eternity. All for the benefit of a few rich people who may or may not travel in such trains. Incidentally, Japan built its first bullet train line between Tokyo and Osaka, which are Intel Core i7, 64-bit cities unlike our 8-bit ones. Ideally, the left should have questioned this absurd idea, but they don’t want to be seen as anti-development, it seems. They appear to have lost their you-know-what somewhere and they are not even aware of it.