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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gender awareness

I was reading "The Professional" by Subroto Bagchilast Monday(19th October, 2009). In part VI in his book, he was discussing about Inclusion and Gender. It was a highly rewarding reading as Bagchi subtly but surely opened my blurred vision on gender bias.
Incidentally, almost at the same time a journalist friend invited me for an interactive session on the topic 'Is there an undercurrent gender bias in all sphere of Assam', which unfortunately I had to decline because of prior engagements.
What Bagchi had written and what has been prevailing (not only) in Assam now, has much similarities. Bagchi was describing an incident when he went to a leading private sector bank along with his writer wife looking for a loan to build his home in 1998. There, seated in front of the manager, he explained that though he would be the borrower on records, the financial decisions would be taken by his wife who had been managing the finance in the family. His wife had some questions before deciding on the loan and once the manager was ready, she started her questions.
"For every question she asked, the manager would steadfastly ignore her and look at me while answering. It was clear that he did not consider her important enough and kept focusing on me", wrote Bagchi.
Mr. & Mrs. Bagchi then decided to settle for a loan from another bank despite the first bank's rate of interest being lower because of the simple practical reason that it would have been impossible for Mr. Bagchi to accompany his wife for all the meetings with the banker as she would be dealing with him on an ongoing basis. Like the banker, hundreds of us discriminate against women, possibly unknowingly, in our daily life - everywhere in this country. Same applies for Assam.
To stop discriminating against women, we need to have gender awareness. It is much more important to understand the difference between the genders then to simply look for equality. The genders are not equal - physically, emotionally, economically or socially. There is no point trying to make the genders equal - they can never be. That's why there has to be reserved seat for women in public transport, women should not be engaged in jobs requiring hard labour and so on. They are not equal to men. Situations where physical attributes are not vital, they are probably better.
So, what is gender discrimination? We are discriminating against women, when they are judged only on the basis of their physical, mental and emotional weaknesses - not on the basis of their strong points. Or not on the basis of their equal abilities. However, putting women in jobs which are best suited for men like dressing them in battle fatigue serves only the purpose of inflating the ego of those screaming hoarse for gender equality without understanding the gender difference.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Like most of us, I also face the dilemma of choosing the right kind of gift for someone very often. Not because of the consideration of the cost involved alone, but also because of two other more important factors.
Essentially, a Gift is something for 'giving' without any consideration for return; it is meant to be free. But again, that is hard unrealistic theory only. In reality, we all expect reciprocation in return of a gift - may be not in kind or cash, may be only in terms of love or respect or may simply be the glowing smile on the face of the recipient or the momentary glint in the eyes . Sometimes, the fact that the gift is likely to fulfill one of the many needs of the person getting it weigh heavily in favour of a particular gift. But, return we do expect. When we expect return, the selection of gift is also bound to be guided by that consideration.
The other factor is the recipient of the gift. There is no point giving a camera to a blind person, or a book to a illiterate snob. Me and my wife - we have spend hours at times to zero down on the most suitable gift for someone we really love and really care for. Because, we know, a small hint of dissatisfaction or rejection on the face of that person after receiving the gift would spell hell for both of us. But, when it comes to people we actually do not care for much, it takes hardly a minute to decide on the gift. That, despite the fact that our tradition says 'donation to the unworthy is a sin'!
It is very difficult to choose the right kind of a gift for the right kind of a person because of these two overwhelming factors. Is the person fit for the gift? Or is the gift right for the person? When we fail to decide, we opt for money as gift. Let the person know his worth for us and also let him/her decide on what is right for him/her. That way we escape from the sin and get the privilege of believing that our money is being put to the most correct use. A simple solution, isn't it?

P.S. The banks have made our dilemma much easier to overcome this Diwali. They have invented what they call a 'Gift card'. A small piece of plastic wherein the chosen amount of money is embedded. The recipient can use it as a debit card or pre-paid credit card. Wonderful!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Former President speaks

The President of India DR. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam 's recent speech in Hyderabad
Why is the media here so negative?
Why are we in India so embarrassed to recognize our own strengths, our achievements? We are such a great nation. We have so many amazing success stories but we refuse acknowledge them--- Why?
We are the first in milk production.
We are number one in Remote sensing satellites.
We are the second largest producer of wheat.
We are the second largest producer of rice.
Look at Dr. Sudarshan , he has transferred the tribal village into a self-sustaining, self-driving unit.
There are millions of such achievements but our media is only obsessed in the bad news and failures and disasters.
I was in Tel Aviv once and I was reading the Israeli newspaper. It was the day after a lot of attacks and bombardments and deaths had taken place. The Hamas had struck. But the front page of the newspaper had the picture of a Jewish gentleman who in five years had transformed his desert into an orchid and a granary. It was this inspiring picture that everyone woke up to. The gory details of killings, bombardments, deaths, were inside in the newspaper, buried among other news.
In India we only read about death, sickness, terrorism, crime.
Why are we so NEGATIVE?
Another question: Why are we, as a nation so obsessed with foreign things? We want foreign T. Vs, we want foreign shirts. We want foreign technology.
Why this obsession with everything imported. Do we not realize that self-respect comes with self-reliance? I was in Hyderabad giving this lecture,when a 14 year old girl asked me for my autograph. I asked her what her goal in life is. She replied: I want to live in a developed India . For her, you and I will have to build this developed India . You must proclaim. India is not an under-developed nation; it is a highly developed nation.
Do you have 10 minutes? Allow me to come back with a vengeance. Got 10 minutes for your country? If yes, then read; otherwise, choice is yours.
YOU say that our government is inefficient.
YOU say that our laws are too old.
YOU say that the municipality does not pick up the garbage.
YOU say that the phones don't work, the railways are a joke,
The airline is the worst in the world, mails never reach their destination.
YOU say that our country has been fed to the dogs and is the absolute pits.
YOU say, say and say.. What do YOU do about it?
Take a person on his way to Singapore . Give him a name - YOURS. Give him a face - YOURS.
YOU walk out of the airport and you are at your International best. In Singapore you don't throw cigarette butts on the roads or eat in the stores. YOU are as proud of their Underground links as they are. You pay $5 (approx. Rs. 60) to drive through Orchard Road (equivalent of Mahim Causeway or Pedder Road ) between 5 PM and 8 PM. YOU come back to the parking lot to punch your parking ticket if you have over stayed in a restaurant or a shopping mall irrespective of your status identity... In Singapore you don't say anything, DO YOU?
YOU wouldn't dare to eat in public during Ramadan, in Dubai .
YOU would not dare to go out without your head covered in Jeddah .
YOU would not dare to buy an employee of the telephone exchange in London at 10 pounds ( Rs.650) a month to, 'see to it that my STD and ISD calls are billed to someone else.'
YOU would not dare to speed beyond 55 mph (88 km/h) in Washington and then tell the traffic cop,'Jaanta hai main kaun hoon (Do you know who I am?). I am so and so's son. Take your two bucks and get lost.'
YOU wouldn't chuck an empty coconut shell anywhere other than the garbage pail on the beaches in Australia and New Zealand.
Why don't YOU spit Paan on the streets of Tokyo ? Why don't YOU use examination jockeys or buy fake certificates in Boston ??? We are still talking of the same YOU.
YOU who can respect and conform to a foreign system in other countries but cannot in your own. You who will throw papers and cigarettes on the road the moment you touch Indian ground. If you can be an involved and appreciative citizen in an alien country, why cannot you be the same here in India ?
Once in an interview, the famous Ex-municipal commissioner of Bombay , Mr. Tinaikar , had a point to make. 'Rich people's dogs are walked on the streets to leave their affluent droppings all over the place,' he said. 'And then the same people turn around to criticize and blame the authorities for inefficiency and dirty pavements. What do they expect the
officers to do? Go down with a broom every time their dog feels the pressure in his bowels? In America every dog owner has to clean up after his pet has done the job. Same in Japan . Will the Indian citizen do that here?' He's right. We go to the polls to choose a government and after that forfeit all responsibility.
We sit back wanting to be pampered and expect the government to do everything for us whilst our contribution is totally negative. We expect the government to clean up but we are not going to stop chucking garbage all over the place nor are we going to stop to pick up a stray piece of paper and throw it in the bin.
We expect the railways to provide clean bathrooms but we are not going to learn the proper use of bathrooms.
We want Indian Airlines and Air India to provide the best of food and toiletries but we are not going to stop pilfering at the least opportunity.
This applies even to the staff who is known not to pass on the service to the public. When it comes to burning social issues like those related to women, dowry, girl child! and others, we make loud drawing room protestations and continue to do the reverse at home. Our excuse?
'It's the whole system which has to change, how will it matter if I alone forego my sons' rights to a dowry.' So who's going to change the system? What does a system consist of ? Very conveniently for us it consists of our neighbor's, other households, other cities, other communities and the government. But definitely not me and YOU.
When it comes to us actually making a positive contribution to the system we lock ourselves along with our families into a safe cocoon and look into the distance at countries far away and wait for a Mr.Clean to come along & work miracles for us with a majestic sweep of his hand or we leave the country and run away. Like lazy cowards hounded by our fears we run to America to bask in their glory and praise their system. When New York becomes insecure we run to England . When England experiences unemployment, we take the next flight out to the Gulf. When the Gulf is war struck, we demand to be rescued and brought home by the Indian government. Everybody is out to abuse and rape the country. Nobody thinks of feeding the system. Our conscience is mortgaged to money.
Lets do what India needs from us.
Thank you,
Dr. Abdul Kalaam

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Expensive drivers

I have very recently travelled with Air India, (formerly Indian Airlines and briefly Indian). While going out, I was upgraded to executive class and was seated in the cabin in two by two seats along with my wife and the five-year-old son. The hostess was aged, repulsive if not ugly, overweight and not at all smiling. It looked as if she had a fight with somebody and will pick up another fight with anybody who would talk to her. I was feeling totally unwanted even if I had paid close to eight thousand rupees each of the three of us for the privilege of flying with our own domestic government airline. The same day other airline were offering seats at Rs. 2600!
The Indian Airline is in crisis, i read in newspapers. What I could gather from the news is that there is not enough patronage from travellers and the cost of running the airline is too high. Air India now needs close to Rs. 5000 crores to give it a new leash of life. Government is apparently ready to give the money which actually it will get from our pockets.
Just before we were supposed to come back, the pilots of Air India went on a strike demanding more pay. Hundreds of people were either stranded or had to cancel their travel plans. What we hear from the media was that there was no co-ordination among the staff of the airline and they paid little or no attention to the plight of the passengers.
We had the opportunity to experience what we read and heard from the media on our way back home. At the check in counter the clerk demanded money for 5 kgs of excess baggage. I was surprised because among the three of us we had allowance for 6o kgs of luggage and we were carrying hardly 35 kgs. Then I realised that he had not even looked at my ticket properly. He thought that I have only one ticket which had a baggage allowance of 20 kgs. It occurred to me much later that even by that count his excess baggage claim should have been for 15 kgs and not 5 kgs. I still do not know what spectacular arithmetic did he use to arrived at that ridiculous figure! And he was not even apologetic when pointed out the mistake. The second surprise came when he handed over me my boarding passes. Me and my wife were given adjacent seats on both side of the isle and my five-year-old son was given a seat five rows ahead of us! When I pointed that out to him he did not respond but a baggage handler, who thought that the universal language spoken in this country is Bengali, told me that I should have come at least two hours earlier to the departure of the flight. Two hours ahead for a domestic flight? Can you believe that? So nothing was done and I took the seat of my son five rows ahead of my wife and son.
The cabin crew were shouting at the passengers, were very rude and were deliberate to make the travelers feel unwanted. There was no co-ordination among themselves and with the ground staff. They were hardly bothered about passengers comfort. The food was lousy. And they want us to travel by Air India!
When pilots strike work demanding more pay why do we forget that they are not very special class of people who have any kind of contribution towards society to deserve special treatment. They are only catering to the need of a minuscule part of the society. They are just a few very expensive drivers driving a very expensive vehicle to the eventual destination of doom.