Friday, December 25, 2009

End or re-birth of democracy?

This appeared in The South Asian Times today.

The government of Gujarat has recently adopted an interesting Bill that makes voting compulsory in local body elections thereby making it the first state in India to do it. Which means all registered voters in Gujarat will be required to vote. No excuses, no backing out. Sounds rather unsettling on the surface. Those absent will be asked to submit a valid reason with proof and if the reason ain’t valid, it could lead to suspension of benefits. Love the idea. Reminds me of middle school. Love the public and political reaction to it even more. Reminds me of college. Apparently this move has come as a way towards eradicating electoral irregularities. Oh and of course eradicating the black money that buys votes (which is not going anywhere, if you ask me). Modi optimistically has termed it a “historic move to strengthen democracy”.

Supporters are so happy that they think it should be extended to Assembly and Parliamentary polls too. Wishful thinking? You never know. The Election Commission doesn't seem too convinced though and has termed the idea ‘impossible’. But an appalling statistic reveals that a staggering 40% of the voter population (30 crores out of 70 crores) is a no show on the big day. And then we complain. And we complain. And we complain some more. It seems to have become our favorite pass time to not contribute where we can and later feel helpless when unpleasant situations crop up. Sure voting is our right, and it should be discretionary by its very nature but when that right is not exercised, can't it be enforced and what is so wrong if it does get enforced?

Needless to say, it has been the cause of a major national debate. Some believe democracy and compulsion do not go hand in hand. Others believe less stricter options like educating the voters should be considered. But that education, even if in its understated form has been ongoing for decades and the results are there for us to see. It's been the same strategy on auto play. Engage the youth, particularly school and college students, get them to do street plays, distribute literature in economically backward areas, give a few TV and radio interviews and then what? Status quo.

It’s not an innovative idea. Some 32 countries have done it before and have witnessed a steep increase in their voter turnouts. I see a number of good things about it. It can be looked upon as an essential step to tackle the decline in voting. It has the potential of bringing people’s attention to politics which translates into better informed voters. The outcome would be really representative of the masses and not just a segment of the society and ultimately it would lead to better quality of decisions.

Like any new proposal, it has a not-so-bright aspect to it as well. First off, you’re infuriating that certain percentage of people who neither care not understand politics. Making it compulsory for them might do no good. Also, a good amount may vote with no knowledge or information about any candidates which can skew the numbers. In some sense, it is a denial of people’s freedom.

How practical and useful this decision turns out to be, remains to be seen. But for now, more power to people!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Change on wheels

This appeared in The South Asian Times today.

Something about the world is changing. There’s snow on the streets in the perennially sunny state of California, the man who defines 'ideal' is now a playboy with 11 mistresses, Indian politicians have discovered this winter that we just do not have enough states in the country with crazy names, Kareena Kapur is being spotted wearing Kanjeevaram sarees and the apology of 2009 has come from pigs and not the president.

Change is good. Change is inevitable. Change is the only constant. We've all grown up letting those concepts make an impression on our frail minds. But today I ask, why change what is already the best, what is already ideal, what is just right? Different people, different answers. Boredom, lack of thrill, the desire to try something new or just plain simple look-n-learn approach. Tiger Woods would probably choose all of the above. Kareena, the same. Indian politicians, I still have to ask and I really hope its absurd logic so I can feel better about my suspicion. As for Obama, I doubt he'll get away without an apology at the end of the year unlike Bush. If not for healthcare reform proposals, if not for deploying more troops and delaying the exit timelines, if not for bringing over our friends from the Guantanamo Bay prison and dumping them in US, if not for being extremely prematurely elected for bagging the Nobel and even accepting it, he might just end up apologizing to those of us who truly live for fashion for making us live through his wife's fashion icon image.

Then I read a nice article lately by John Kehoe who teaches the Law of Constant Change. The Law states that everything in our life is in constant change, constantly in the process of becoming something else. Nothing stays exactly as it is. Nothing. Movement and change constitute the reality of our being. Our finances, our friendships, our career possibilities, our life opportunities, our health, our relationships, our daily activities, our insights, all are forever changing and becoming something else. Sure we all know that but how easy or hard it is to embrace change.

Changes in life are always followed by consequences. Some major, some minor, some inconsequential but consequences can bring instability that can be daunting. I hope drinking spicy tea and eating some chavanprash everyday can gear me up for chote mote adjustments in life!

On that note, the year is about to change soon. It’s almost 2010 and I wish all the readers of South Asian Times a great new year full of surprises, twists and turns. After all, what is the fun if you can predict it all?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Perfect Bride

This appeared in The South Asian Times today.

My appetite for television has reduced substantially lately with only reality shows left in my kitty.

The latest one to haunt me is The Perfect Bride. It's a reality show on Star Plus where several street smart and candid beauties have bravely taken the plunge of very publicly finding a groom on television. Or perhaps finding a modeling assignment, a second lead in a telefilm or an anchor's role on a cooking channel but let's not go there. The title has really caught my attention. It totally catches the pulse of the nation. So apt. It's on every family's wish list and it's every man's secret desire. Regardless of their own standing, caliber, appearance or attitude, everyone's shopping for a perfect bride. The bachelor boys will reason that they deserve one and their mommies will nod in unison.

What rarified qualities define a perfect bride and why the emphasis on it? It appears that those who're extremely pleasing on the eyes, cool and confident, well educated with a high flying job, dress nicely, talk their minds, share great camaraderie with everyone in the house, sing & dance to peppy bollywood numbers, cook a storm, clean like it's going out of style and even make decorative garlands out of flowers meet the criteria, on the show at least. Is this true for real life? If one is lacking in one or more qualities mentioned here, does the radar not beep? Benign smirks from apparently unassuming dulhas, dramatically romantic moments and quick witted conversations between the girls tried to digress me from understanding the crux of the matter so far but I seem to have grasped it now. It's all about expecting the world from a 5'3" skinny girl with long shiny hair.

Why is Shahrukh’s wife Gauri Khan considered more of a perfect wife than Aamir’s wife Kiran Rao? Sure Kiran is an intelligent brain from JNU but can she pull off Dolce & Gabbana’s white strapless gown with sweetheart neckline from their spring 2010 collection and bronzer all over on the cover of Vogue India like Gauri? Probably not. Can Kiran be her husband’s shadow like the impeccable Tina (Akki’s wife)? Probably not. Can Kiran go gaga over husband and family during public speeches like Aish? Probably not. Are we trained to look for stereotypes? Most definitely.

I possibly am no different so just to practice what I preach, I’m going to look for new friends. And not those who’re like me or my other half. No more stereotypes, whatever they are. I’m going to look for incredibly brainy/slightly wonky/deeply sarcastic/phenomenally arty/completely unfortunate looking/anything but the kind of people I know to this date. I’m gonna find them, hang with them and make an earnest attempt to get to know them at a deeper level. And hopefully understand people on the other side of the river.

Someday, one day, I’ll be able to tell you what perfect is. Unless you’ve figured it out for yourself already.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Study abroad? Really?

This appeared in The South Asian Times on Saturday.

I was just watching a promo song, Mudi Mudi, from Amitabh Bachchan's latest Hindi movie, Paa, and instantly recognized the location. It's shot in Cambridge, UK where I was, just two days back. The song shows Vidya Balan and Abhishek Bachchan, looking sharp and very much in love, chasing each other on the streets of this adorable little town. Some scenes showed them in classes at various colleges that belong to Cambridge University. I recognized St. John's College, Kings College and Trinity College from some skillfully taken shots. Google them and you'll be confused whether you're looking at palaces or universities. They are in fact all palaces, most built in 1500s, some exclusively for the royalty to study and learn various crafts and centuries later, opened up for the plebeians as the queen would call them for education.

If you've lived the phrase 'losing oneself into the moment' ever, that's exactly what happened to me when I was in front of these magnificent universities. Mind boggling architecture with fine details, their vastness and their grandeur, opulent gardens complete with rivers and bridges for as far as your eyes can see, colorful trees, profs who looked like the rare cerebral types and students discussing pure science concepts made up for an overwhelmingly wonderful picture. It came to mind that noted poet Harivanshrai Bachchan was the 2nd Indian to earn a PhD from Cambridge in 1950s and hundreds have earned it since. For a second I felt like if I didn't study here, I missed out on a whole lot in my life.

Needless to say, India has a wide array of great universities to choose from but an vast amount of student population still prefers abroad education for a variety of reasons. Let me talk about Europe since I started off on that. What it is about studying there that sounds so appealing? Whether it's Istituto Marangoni in Milan for fashion design, INSEAD in Fontainebleau for MBA, London School of Economics for social sciences, Trinity College at Cambridge with its impressive list of Nobel prize winners or the oldest surviving Oxford University, each university has something phenomenal to offer. Throw in a few factors like history, culture, technological advancement, international influences, fashion and food and you've defined perfection.

Unless one has inherited wealth or works in private equity or in legal or medical fields, Europe is a tuff place to conquer. For international students, it must be fairly challenging I presume. Odd jobs is not an odd concept on most campuses but having seen everything from Indian boys wearing Sherwanis instead of warm coats and selling restaurant discount coupons on super chilly windy nights in crowded areas, Indian girls assisting underground train passengers with ticket gates and a couple of young boys even going as far as selling drugs as I saw first handed, it must be harder than it seems.

Isolated cases? I bet. But I have no doubt there are more of the same struggling away. I'm sure Europe is worth the experience as a student but at what cost I wonder.