Friday, 11 April 2014

Quarterly Musings?

Well, 2014 is into its second quarter and here I am sitting in a place that is so far removed from Trivandrum, the election heat as well as the real heat there seems surreal. It is -1°C and snowing outside where I am now. The year started off crazily for me, when I was woken up at 6 am on January 1st by a distress call from Kanyakumari. I was sleeping at my friend’s place, where I had gone to welcome in the New Year, saw the city explode into colours across a 180° arc at midnight from his apartment balcony, drank and played cards till the wee hours. The call was from a group of Japanese college kids, who had gone to celebrate the New Year at the land’s end of India. “We have been robbed”, the girl said. And I felt relieved. Nobody drowned! So far, so good. She said the police just came and went and did nothing.
So, there I was, in Kanyakumari at 9 am, Jan 1, 2014. The police station is less than 100m from the hotel (Shivas something) where these kids stayed, but it might as well have been in another planet. They were robbed of couple of Macbooks, 2 smartphones and a watch, probably by the hotel staff who were watching them getting drunk and sleeping without locking their door. The kids called the police, who came after some time and asked a few questions to the night clerk and left, and refused to register any complaint. The kids were dumbstruck! Why in the world would policemen refuse to file a complaint and investigate a theft? Well, welcome to India, I said.
I took the two guys who lost the stuff and went to the police station. Only acceptable language is Tamil! The police and the hotel guys all seemed to be in this racket together. I somehow managed to impress upon the SI and ASI the need to file a complaint and give a copy each to the two kids, which they gave by noon and we left the place. They lost stuff, but stuff can be replaced, and I was surprised at the speed at which the kids recovered and decided to enjoy their rest of the vacation in Kerala. (As I was leaving, I also saw these same police guys totally ignore a man from Meghalaya, who too was robbed, and who couldn’t speak Tamil. In hindsight, I should have helped him out too, but I was hurrying to get the kids out of that place, partially driven by the shame I felt as an Indian, and partially by hunger.)
So, that was my New Year. A reality check of how things work, rather don’t work, in our country.
I was not planning to write about the election, nor anything else, for that matter, but since I started writing I might as well throw my two cents in. Last time, I persuaded at least one person to vote for Mr Tharoor. Here was a man of international stature, famed author, journalist (I used to enjoy his articles in the International Herald Tribune) and above all, a man with experience living in international cities. The only negative I could think of was his involvement with the mother of all inefficient, ineffective bureaucracies, the UN! Just kidding.
The expectations were quite high. He did perform well compared to all his immediate predecessors. But, was that enough is the question. I, personally was expecting a Rolls Royce, but think we got a Honda Accord. To be fair, the Honda Accord is an excellent upgrade, especially given the Ambassador and Standard Herald models we had before that. Still, I must say I was a bit disappointed. And, though not his fault, the fact that the State government didn’t care about our city hurt too.
So, how is the field this time? The positives, stated above, are still valid for Mr Tharoor. The controversy (controversies?) surrounding his personal life, though, is a bummer.
The BJP candidate could spring a surprise, as they have succeeded in creating lot of hype, similar to some states and cities. It could also end up as usual – all fart and no $hit.
The only thing everybody know about the Left candidate is that nobody knows him. It is a tragedy, and a pointer to the sad state of affairs in our State, that the Left is resorting to caste-based politics and pandering to mullahs, bishops and living gods for survival. He might win, if that particular group vote en-bloc for him, as it is wont to do.
A message to AAP – get rid of those ridiculous caps. You started off well by ridding yourself of that Anna Hazare clown. Now get rid of those caps. And, get some people who can speak the lingo, i.e. Malayalam, like the common man to be your spokespersons.
All said and done, the buttons have been pressed, the machines have been packed and we have a month to find out who will eventually disappoint us.
I am, however, not so sure of the voting machines. Did we have a transparent process for introducing them? Was the technology verified independently? Some did malfunction here and there. Could these be tampered with?
Most of us would like to think it is all fool-proof, but this is India and anything can happen.
Here’s a story. Long back, in the 1980s, if you were a Mallu in Bangalore trying to take the Island Express back home urgently and needed a reservation, you went to the railway canteen on the 1st floor of Majestic station and checked out Mr N, a waiter there, and he would give you a ticket, at least an RAC seat, for a small extra. Then, at the turn of the decade, going into the nineties, Indian Railways began computerizing their reservation system. Everybody thought Mr N would go out of business. He didn’t. He just moved his base to Krishnarajapuram, a small station near Bangalore, and continued with his merry ways. You had to travel that extra mile to see him. That was all. 
P.S. I would have voted for only one person (perhaps two) this time. Her name is Sheeba, and she is a candidate from Alathur. She, it seems, asked her staff not to put up any flex boards as part of her campaign. I hope she wins. Just go to Vellayambalam and take a look at those huge faces sneering down from ugly flex boards on what could have been one of the most beautiful roundabouts in Trivandrum.