Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Travel Diary Day 13, 14 & 15

Travel Diary - Day 13, Day14. and Day 15

We took the morning flight to Shanghai from Shenzen. Unlike the internal flights within China such as Beijing-Xian, Xian-Guilin and Guilin-Shenzen, this flight from Shenzen to Shanghai was rather longish. We were served a brunch sort of a meal. I had earlier mentioned that Cathay Pacific would be our air carriers throughout the tour. This is not factually correct as I discovered. The internal flights within China were by the domestic airlines such as Air China or Southern China airlines. This stands to reason. Domestic airlines tend to be cheaper than International airlines and there is no reason for the tour operator to bear the extra burden.

On arrival, we were whisked off bag and baggage to Bund Water Front. A nice “ Ghat “ sort of structure has been built on the edge of the water where one can saunter, sit down and rest.. An underground tunnel has been built under the Huangpu river bed for going to the other side of the river. This is an area known as Pudong. While we travelled by an electro-mobile contrivance, our bus took the surface route via a ropeway bridge to pick us up on the other side. We were then taken to a Maglev train. Maglev is the short form of Magnetic Levitation. Here, the entire train does not touch the track. The track is what looked like concrete platform. Due to magnetic repulsion, the train stays above the track by a few inches as in a Hovercraft. In a Hovercraft, the craft stays above the surface by powerful blast of the air. In Maglev, it is because of the magnetic repulsion. In both cases, the craft or the train, on account of not coming in touch with the base, has no friction to overcome. High speeds can therefore be attained. The Maglev has the advantage that an entire train of a number of bogies can be carried while the Hovercraft can at the most be of a giant helicopter size. The Hovercraft scores over the Maglev on water surfaces where magnetic repulsion is difficult to create. We covered 30 kms distance to the airport in 7 minutes flat. The highest speed attained was 431 kms per hour. Every bogie in the train has a speedometer telling you the speed at which the train is travelling at any time. We felt that the train had considerably slowed down as it was approaching a station. However on looking at the speedometer, we found that the speed was 250 kms per hour ! As fast as the bullet train that we had travelled by in Japan. That was when we got a practical lesson in Relativity. After a speed of 431 kmph, a bullet train’s speed viz. 250 kmph seemed to be slow ! Before our leftist friends start crowing that the left – China is better in terms of technology than the right – Japan, let me deflate them. The technology is German and the equipment imported from Germany. Both Japan and China are unashamedly westernizing as I had mentioned earlier.

Next we went to an ocean aquarium. I had seen the Taraporewala Aquarium in Mumbai during my college days. This one is far larger in terms of size as well as the variety of shallow and deep water ocean creatures displayed. Next, we went to the city planning office. On one floor, is a scale model of the entire Shanghai city. You can view it at the same level as the model by going around it. For better appreciation, one can go to a higher floor, where there is an opening in the floor of a size bigger than the model. From an upper floor, you get a bird’s eye view of the entire city. Go to the topmost floor and you can view the city in actuality from the viewing gallery. This was the end of the day and we retired to the Hotel for the night. With our return to the motherland within hailing distance our weary bones picked up a new spirit.

The last day of the tour ! We went to Yu- Yuan garden complex. This is perhaps a feudal lord’s palace. A number of buildings to house the family members and concubines are inter connected by water canals, giving you an impression of Venice. Along the canals rockeries made from a variety of stones are built. In the old days, perhaps access was limited but now a large Bazaar has come up to cater to the tourists and the approach is quite crowded. We visited the Jade Buddha temple where a large size statue of Buddha is sculpted out of a single piece of jade stone. This Buddha is depicted as a young person. We also went to a temple of the reclining Buddha shown while resting. Next we went to a shopping centre with a very large number of shops selling a variety of goods After a field day of intense bargaining, all of us bought articles to take home. Our last item of the day was to the Shanghai Circus where we witnessed a spectacular acrobatic show. There were no animals in the circus.

On day 15, we boarded a flight to Hong Kong, reaching there in the night. We had to change flights here. Our friends from the South of India took a direct flight from Hong Kong while the rest of us took the flight to Mumbai. At the Hong Kong airport, I bought a couple of bottles of Chinese wine. We reached Mumbai at 1-30 A.M. Mr. Agarwal, my companion from Vadodara and I had a scare during this flight. He had misplaced his Passport somewhere and it was simply not found. An announcement was made on the public address system, air hostesses of all sizes and shapes were exhorted to locate it. All toilets and passages were minutely examined but to no avail. As we were nearing Mumbai, the worry was how could we get through Immigration without the passport. There are indeed some ways out for such exigencies but that would take time and we would miss our Shatabdi Express from Borivali to Vadodara which departed at 7-00 A.M. It was impossible to relax all through the flight. Even a couple of pegs of the Chivas Regal did not help much. A senior air hostess advised us to wait in the aircraft till everybody else had vacated and then to scour the area around our seats. We did so and on lifting Mr. Agarwal’s seat cushion, the passport was located to our great relief. How he managed to insert the passport between the cushion and the rest of the seat is a mystery that shall remain unresolved for ever. Not that it matters. We waited at the Mumbai airport till 4- 45 A.M. before taking a prepaid taxi. We were at the Borivali railway station by about 5-30 A.M. Then started the bargaining with the coolies. Thinking that two old men were at their mercy, they quoted exorbitant rates. We started shifting our luggage ourselves a few feet at a time. That brought their sense to the fore and they agreed to a comparatively reasonable rate. The Shatabdi duly arrived at 7 A.M. and we boarded it. This train like the Rajdhani serves tea breakfast etc. For me this was my first journey by this elite train. Reached Vadodara at 11-15 A.M. Anuj, Shri Agarwal’s son was on the platform to receive us and dropped me home in his car, Thus ended our 15 day visit to Japan and China.

Ramesh N Desai

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Travel Diary - Day12

Took the morning flight to Shenzen. Shenzen is on the Chinese mainland, separated from HongKong by a small strip of water. The two places are now connected by a bridge. In the old days, it was a place used for smuggling goodies from Hong Kong that were not available in diehard Maoist China. After the ceding of Hong Kong by the British to China and acceptance of one country, two systems principle which is indeed very pragmatic and has prevented large scale dislocations, the Chinese thought of copying Hong Kong by building from scratch, a huge city. They have eminently succeeded in this effort. In a time span of 30 years, a city with a population of one crore and forty lakhs has come up. Very modern, with lots of flyovers, wide roads, bridges and parks not to mention the industries of various hues and of course the sky scrapers. Both Japan and China have been unashamedly westernizing their countries, the latter, a bit slowly. They have realized something that I have always believed. What we call westernization is in reality industrialization. Industries of the modern kind did not exist in the East. When industries came to the East, there came along with it the social set up, family reconfiguration and so on suitable for an industrial milieu. As the West had industries earlier than the East, the necessary social transformation took place earlier in the West. If the East is - what is called - westernizing, it is in reality merely adjusting to the industrial milieu. Any change, anywhere is resisted and large scale changes, rapid changes are resisted vehemently. The laggards would like to give a moralistic, an idealistic colour to their reluctance to change. Hence the denigration of the so called Westernization and glorification of the ancient. The eastern most part of our planet Earth viz. Japan understood way back in the latter half of the nineteenth century, which way the future lay and the Meiji restoration – the restoration of the real power to the Emperor from the hands of the warlords - was used to re-orient the country in the desired direction. To make up for the lost time, they adopted workaholism, sacrificing of individual’s interests for those of the collective, productivity as a religion and continuous innovations as their creed. In the process, they developed into a mature society. China, elephantine in size, is indeed slower but they too are very decidedly going in the same direction. I must say that Nehru foresaw the general direction; only the means were not apt. Besides we are slower than even the Chinese. We first went to an ecological park. There were a large number of mangroves in the area. To protect them from the rapid development taking place around them, it was decided to turn a large swathe of land adjoining it into an ecological park and plant all kinds of vegetation in it. It has become a great tourist attraction now. The bridge connecting Hong Kong and Shenzen is skirting the park While others were sauntering around, after getting the general idea of the place, I took advantage of the place and time to get a bit of rest on a bench in a shady grove of trees. Next, we went to a very interesting place. It is a theme park aptly called “ The Window to the World “. All the sights worth seeing in this world of ours, are represented in a miniature form here. There is the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, the Colosseum and so on You name it and it is there. Go round this theme park and you get the feel of seeing the whole world. African bushes are there, the Inca civilization, European cathedrals, the Greek civilization, the Roman civilization, everything is represented The Niagara falls, both the American and Canadian are there for you to see. It is a practical lesson in World History and Geography. As if this is not enough, there are stage shows going on at various locations to give you the feel of “been there, done it “. If you have less time or want to walk less, you could take a monorail ride that takes you everywhere overhead. We hitched a ride on it and got a bird’s eye view of the whole world in its miniature form. We also went up the mini- Eiffel Tower by means of an elevator that was superfast. In the time that a normal elevator climbs one floor, it climbs five ! I understood how one would feel when going up a hundred storey building..The mini Eiffel tower is nearly one third the height of the original. The view of the entire park from the vantage position of the topmost platform was breathtaking. As if our senses were not satiated enough, as a grand finale, we were taken to an open air sort of theatre. The stage show was spectacular, with a very large cast, wonderful period costumes, dances, songs and what not. The central aisle between two blocks of spectators suddenly came alive during the show and performers as if from nowhere appeared in the midst of us. The whole aisle was bodily lifted by some mechanism and came level with the spectators. It was indeed an extravaganza as it was touted to be. Tired , I hit the bed as soon as possible on reaching the hotel.

Pappa (Ramesh N Desai)

Travel Diary - Day 11

Today we had an extremely enjoyable river cruise along the Li river in the first half of the day. This river course is between mountains, has clear water and is deep enough for passenger boats to cruise along. At the starting point, we saw a number of flat bottomed boats similar to ours ready to take off. The boat could carry about 100 passengers. It had besides the engine room with a steering wheel, a belly room in which there were tables and chairs for the tourists to sit. On top of the boat was the deck where one could stand and enjoy the scenery while the boat was cruising along. The Li river is a river in the valley between two mountain ranges. It has a rocky bed and clear water. One could clearly see the shingles and rocks along with large and small fish of different colour in the bed. Apparently fishing is not permitted here otherwise there couldn’t have been fish in such quantity. Different shapes and sizes of the mountains on both sides with their greenery enthralled our eyes. Hawkers, paddling along on their sampans ( rafts ) peddled their ware. The same bargaining as in India went on. When I was on the deck, I managed to get a hawker down to 50 Yuans from the 200 Yuans before I bought a laughing Buddha made of beautiful jade stone. I felt a sense of victory. A little later, when I was sitting in the belly portion of the boat below, near my window, appeared another hawker selling the same Buddha figurine. He too quoted 200 Yuans. As I had already bought one, I was in no mood to oblige him. For the sake of politeness, I quoted 20 yuans in the hope that he would slink away. Surprise of surprises ! The man held out the figurine to me and asked for 20 yuans as he was in a hurry to go home. I could not resist the bargain and the share market operator in me wanted to bring down the average price of these figurines taking advantage of a falling market. I bought it. Those who had bought similar figurines @ 50 Yuans doubted whether the second one was of the same size and quality. I too had doubts initially but on checking up, I found them to be identical. Now, I did not know whether to be happy at getting a piece at a cheaper price or to be unhappy at having paid a higher price earlier. I reasoned with myself that the deals had averaged themselves out and I should neither be too elated nor too sad at the happenings. When you take life as a whole, that is what you find ! Things average themselves out. This second bargain helped me to make a new friend. An Englishman sitting near me marveled at my non-challant bid of 20 Yuans in the face of a quoted price of 10 times that amount. I had heard that the English do not speak to people unless spoken to or only after introduction. May be, because he was my age and age had mellowed the proverbial stiff upper lip. Or as it later turned out that as he had settled in Netherlands and the nether part of his adopted land had affected him. Most probably he was like me, a fan of P.G. Wodehouse and you know we Bertie Woosters tend to bond with each other ! He wanted to know if I was a jew, probably meaning it as a compliment. ( In any case, that is what I like to believe ). I said that while I wasn’t one myself, I did have a jewish connection. A niece of mine ( Dipti ) had a jew for a son-in-law and like all my younger relatives, I am proud of him, even if I haven’t set my eyes on him so far. May be that explained my skill, he said and we both laughed. He introduced himself as Bill Nicholson and we got to talking. I told him that the greatest gift of the British to India was bringing back a scientific outlook on life. ( During Vedic times, the spirit of enquiry was there and only on furnishing a proof, were hypotheses accepted, but medieval times had brought in fossilization of concepts ) He gave me his email address and wrote alongside, “ Let’s hold contact “ By sending a copy of this tour diary, I am making my first contact with him. Future will tell its own story. The river mildly meandered its way through the mountains and we were served our lunch. Ours was the vegetarian table and courses after courses of dishes came. One good thing was that the dishes were left on the table and if we thought that the previous dish was better than the succeeding one, we could simply reach out to it and partake of it, unlike western style where unless you specifically asked for a second helping, it is not served. This suited people like us who were unfamiliar with the items served. The quantity served was rather more for us, but than that is their style. I wonder what they do with the leftovers. The meal was quite a satisfying one. While the meal was on, a waitress brought in a fried scorpion as a delicacy. Even non-vegetarians who did not belong to the Mongolian races, did not take the offering despite a pretty good sales effort on the part of the waitress. Thus far, I had only heard about the unusual gastronomic preferences of the Chinese but today I actually saw an example. We disembarked at a different location but our bus was there to take us. Next, we visited the Reed Flute Cave. It is so named as it was discovered by a young boy playing on his hand made flute. The wind took away his flute and in chasing it he went into this unusual place. The rest is history. The cave has fantastic stalactites and stalagmites, of different shapes and colours. Stalactites are formed on the floor of the cave whereas stalagmites are formed on the roof of the cave. They are formed by water percolating, bringing with it some mineral particles and depositing it. Gradually and over a long period of time, these are formed. I had seen some stalactites and stalagmite formations during our geological tour but nothing on this scale and so beautiful. Simply amazing ! For more information on them you could go to google search. We then went on a city tour. The first site was the Elephant Trunk hill, so named because the shape of this largish outcrop is that of an Elephant’s trunk. We drove past the Sha lake and the Banyan lake to go to a pearl factory. We were first taken to a briefing room where a Professor ( no less ! ) explained to us that there are three main areas where pearls are found in the world. While the other two are formed in ocean water, the Guilin one was where pearls were formed in fresh water. He showed us an oyster and said that he was going to open it and if we were lucky, it may contain a pearl. We were indeed lucky and on his cracking open the oyster, a pearl was seen. We were then taken to the exhibition hall where a variety of ornaments and other articles made of pearls were lying. I made some purchases using the visa card. I have purchased a trinket for each of the girls and each of the boys ( both big and small ) in my family. It was a rather long and eventful day and I simply crashed for the day in the bed.


Travel Diary - Day 9 & 10

We took the morning flight to Xian. It is to the South-West of Beijing. We first visited the Terra Cotta Warriors’ Museum. During digging in a field by a farmer, this was accidentally discovered. An emperor got a whim. He thought that he had a lot of soldiers to protect him in this world but when he died and went to the other world, he would be totally unprotected. He had convinced himself that he was too precious whether in this world or the next to be left unprotected. He therefore made advanced preparations. He got an army of soldiers, officers and Generals along with arms, horses and so on made in terra cotta. He got it buried next to the designated place for his own burial. This is what was discovered in subsequent archeological excavations. Replicas of these soldiers are available for tourists to carry home. I bought a brass one that doubles as a lighter – a combination of the ancient and the modern. I have also bought a horse carriage replica reminiscent of those days.. Next we saw a film show in a circular auditorium where you get the feeling that you are right in the midst of all the happenings being projected on the circular walls which double as a screen. In the evening we were taken to a theatre where a stage show on the Tang dynasty that ruled China once upon a time was shown. The show was quite a glittering affair full of costumes, dances and songs. The show went on till late and being sleepy, I had a nodding acquaintance with the last part of the show in the sense that I alternately dozed off and awakened when some loud music was played. During the day, we were taken around in Battery driven cars that can carry 10 persons at a time. We do not have such cars in India. They could replace our “ Chhakdas “. We would, of course have to put up charging stations around the cities and towns to support them. Being non-polluting, they are worth a try. Next morning in Xian itself, we visited Wild Goose Pagoda. A pagoda is a structure built over some of the body remains of the Great Buddha such as nails, hair…etc. We also visited a giant size statue of a Buddhist monk around which a park has been built. Bazaars have sprung up around tourist sites and the same bargaining as in India is visible and audible here. There are two systems at work in China. The Communist and the free enterprise are managing to live cheek by jowl. As far as governance is concerned, it is Communist but in the field of Economics, it is free enterprise. This has the advantage that land acquisition or demolition of old buildings in areas to be re-developed is easy unlike in India. Free enterprise in a totalitarian regime that is supportive of business, has a great advantage unlike in a democracy where the wheels move rather slowly. On the flip side, a wrong decision, hastily implemented can result in a Himalayan blunder. Chances of course correction are less. In a democracy a Mamta can say Ta..Ta, Good bye to a Nano without bringing in any alternative means of economic development if she is able to carry her flock of sheep on a wrong path. In a totalitarian system, the fears and / or prejudices of the top man or men can result in a wrong decision. One of the young Chinese guides said that while her parents and grand parents were extremely appreciative of Mao tse tung for heralding the revolution, she was of the opinion that he lived beyond his effectiveness as a leader. According to her his two Himalayan blunders in his last days were :- 1) cultural revolution that took China back by a few years and 2) Allowing uncontrolled population expansion in the belief that more people meant more strength without taking into account the resources required to support a huge population. The present regime has had to impose a harsh measure of a one child norm to correct the earlier blunder. This public airing of a divergent opinion in front of a n alien audience like ours can be a propaganda stunt to show the kind of freedom available or that except from public platforms, one can air a dissident opinion without the secret service breathing down your neck. To me, it appeared to be the latter. We took a flight to Guilin and on arrival, we were taken to an educational institution where accupressure, physiotherapy are taught along with the use of typical Chinese herbs and oils. The total number of our group of tourists is 40 and all of us were individually attended to by a student of the Institute. We were given a bowl of hot water in which some herbs were put and asked to immerse our feet in it. Uncomfortable at first, later we got used to it. When the water got cold, some more hot water was poured. The massage, pounding and vibrating of our feet by manual means continued for an hour and a quarter. In my case my shoulders were also attended to. I have never felt so relaxed after a massage before this. The Institute’s director told me after inputs by the student attending to me that I had some problem with my lever that needed attention. One reslt of this massage was that next morning along with the stools, I passed a water coloured liquid. My sleep has slightly improved since. Checked into a hotel for the night and promptly fell asleep.

Pappa (Ramesh N Desai)

Travel Diary - Day8

We left the hotel in the morning for going to Bedaling and to see the Great Wall of China. There was excitement as we were actually going to see one of the seven wonders of the world that we had merely read about in our primary school text books. The spot that we went was mountainous in nature. Originally the plan was to traverse a part of the wall in a cable car. There was some problem with the cable car and we had to go up the wall by climbing it. The wall goes up on mountains and descends into valleys repeatedly. It is about 3200 kms in length and was built in the 3rd century B.C. Astronauts have reported that it is visible from space. It was built to prevent raiders from the north. Funny thing is that some of the areas from which the raiders came are a part of China now and some other areas are a part of a nation state which is not only friendly to China but is also following a similar system of governance. There is no more any danger from them. Time and Technology have changed the situation drastically. In hindsight, it appears that this garrgantuan expenditure of money, materials and labour could have been avoided. We have done actually it in India. We too had gaps in the mountains in the form of Khyber and other passes in the Himalayan range. Countless raiders came from these passes, whether it was the Hun or the Shak, Mongol, or Persian or the Arab, the British, the French, the Portuguese ( from the sea ). All of them followed a pattern. They came, sacked, looted and went back. Some of them stayed back. When they did that, it was an improvement. Earlier, they assumed no responsibility. They simply killed, looted and went back. Now they assumed responsibility for governance. When you settle down in a place and govern it, you form an attachment to it. This is what happened. The descendents of the Moguls, Huns, Shaks and others are today indistinguishable from other Indians. They added to the diversity of India. They brought some new systems, new arms, new culture and so on. They added some muscle. The English though were different. They did not stay back and settle down.. We are however colonizing their land in a sort of a tit for tat deal. Internally, in India, the Marathas headquartered in Pune, used to do the same sacking, looting, and killing before going back. As a first step, they were persuaded to stay put in their own place and receive money in the form of protection money without having to take the trouble of venturing out of their homes. This was a win-win arrangement. The populace avoided collateral damage in the form of destruction of crops when the raiders ran their horses on the standing crops and killing of innocent people apart from the men of the resisting armies. The raiders too used to suffer some losses. Some people who were trusted by both sides were appointed to collect the protection money from the populace and pass it on to the raiders. For areas contiguous to Pune, where it was easier for the raiders to play mischief, one fourth of the revenue was to be paid. For areas farther away, one tenth of the revenue was fixed. Those who disbursed one fourth were called “ Chauthes “ and those who did the same in respect of one tenth were called “ Deshmukhs “ or : Desais “. In return for this service, they were given “ Inami “ lands which could be passesd on from generation to generation but not sold. Still later some of the Maratha chieftains were persuaded to settle down in the lands that they used to sack and become local kings. This was a further improvement on the protection money system. Now, in return for the revenue, they had to provide service in the form of governance. Gaekwads of Baroda, Scindias of Gwalior and Holkars of Indore are some of the notable examples. Some of the descendents of these dynasties like Sir Sayajirao Gaekwad did remarkable work in development of their state and its people. For example, introduction of free and compulsory primary education, free libraries ( static in towns and mobile - bullock cart laden - for the villages ), local self government in towns and cities and partial democracy with a 50% elected and 50% nominated legislature, special fillip for women, scheduled castes and so on by nominating them to these bodies. I can vouch for this as my mother was a nominated member of the Mehsana Municipality back in 1930s. Each collective of people deals with the same situation in ways that suit their genius. In my view, ours displayed a long term vision. The point is that by becoming proactive rather than being reactive or isolationist, raiders can be turned around into benefactors over a period of time. Japan seems to have learnt this. On the flip side; but for this fear psychosis of the Chinese and their reaction to it, in the shape of building the great wall of China, we might have been deprived of one of the seven wonders of the world ! At the base of the wall, I bought an eagle made of silk cloth and bamboo frame with quite a long wing span. When thrown from a height, it can actually fly and swoop down on a target. Perhaps in the old days such eagles were used as mobile missile scarecrows. It can also be flown like a kite ( Patang ). Now it adorns my front verandah where real sparrows are fighting it ! On way back we passed by the village built for the 2008 Olympics. We saw it from the outside only. The view conformed with the visuals that we had watched way back in 2008. Next on our itinery was a visit to a jade factory. Jade, a semi-precious stone is found in abundance around here. The traditional artisans who used to operate individually have now been collectivized into a corporate body. They seem to be doing rather well. There were some large showpieces depicting yachts, animals, landscapes and so on. I bought a couple of trinkets. Thus ended our long day. Back to the Hotel for a well deserved sleep.

Pappa (Ramesh N Desai)

Travel Diary - Day7

We left Osaka in the morning and reached Beijing in the afternoon.Lunch was in the flight itself. On reaching Beijing, we were taken ina bus with a commodious underbelly to accommodate all our luggage. Itwas a 45 seater bus for the forty of us. I got the last seat which noone wanted. The last seat was more like a berth as there is no longera requirement for a passage in the end. In view of the fact that theroads were smooth and there were no bumps, the last seat i.e. theberth proved a boon for me. I could comfortably recline on it tocompensate for the deprivation of the afternoon siesta that I amaddicted to in my retired state. During the tour, we do sight seeingfrom morn till eve, rather a tiring schedule, but one does not want tomiss any site. So I found my solution. I converted a seeming threat toan opportunity and grabbed it. My co-tourists, used to the bumps inIndian roads were avoiding the last seat like a plague. I embraced itlike a lover. They later realized the wisdom in my step, but by thenit was too late. Thereafter the last seat became my permanent addressin all the buses that we travelled.Our first stop was the Forbidden City. It is really a condominium ofpalaces for the Emperor, his immediate family and the lesser gentry,not to mention the retinues of all these people. It is called theforbidden city as it was out of bounds for the Janata - the hoipollois - the common people. Only the priviledged - the VIPs couldenter it and even more priviledged - the VVIPs could reside in it. TheAdarsh Society scam in Mumbai tells us that we have our own version ofthe forbidden city. We have the advantage that we have a very largenumber of forbidden cities, thanks to our bureaucrats first creatingscarcities by their bans, prohibitions and delaying tactics followedby the use of discretionary powers of our politicians. Our governingclasses are not as blatant as the old timers' emperors but effectivelythey are more devastating than the former, even if in a subtle way.It was the next day after the Chinese revolution day and huge crowdsfrom all the moffusil areas of the country had come to see theforbidden city. The place was teeming with a multitude of people.There was hardly a space to move. It was in this millieu that I gotseparated from our group. Our tour manager from Kesari Travels usuallycarries a red flag in his hand with 'Kesari' written on it. That helpsus to locate our group. Unfortunately, today, there were any number ofred flags carried by the communist visitors. However hard I tried, Isimply could not locate our group. It took quite some time for theidea to sink in that I was really and truly lost on my first day in analien land without any local currency and my total inability tocopmmunicate in the local lingo. Al the road signs were in Chinese, alanguage even more unfamiliar than Greek and Latin to me. Thealphabets of the latter are at least vaguely familiar but the localalphabets seemed to me like ancient hieroglyphics carved on stone.However I did not lose heart and pushed ahead in the general directionthat we had been going. I knew that we had entered the forbidden cityfrom its rear gate and that we would emerge from the front gate intothe Tiananmen square. I felt heartened when I came across a group ofGujarati speaking N.R.I. s. I ascertained that I was headed in theright direction from their English speaking Chinese guide and pushedahead. Soon I emerged into the Ill-famed Tiananmen square where amultitude of protesting youngsters were shot down a few years back.This place too was no different from the forbidden city. The samecrowds. I approached a policeman but he did not know English nor didany of his colleagues nearby. I then did a crazy thing. I shouted intothe crowd, " Does anyone here Speak English? " Luckily for me a younggirl of Chi. Pallavi's age came forward. I told her my predicament. Ihad a 100 dollar note and a credit card but no Chinese money. Gettingback to the group seemed improbable. The only thing for me to do wasto head straight to the hotel where we had reservations. Fortunately Iknew the name of the hotel. I could take a taxi if she helped me withthe communication. There was also the problem of money. The taxidriver could not give me change, even if heaccepted dollars. The girl suggested a way out. We went to arestaurant that accepted dollars. We ordered a soft drink. I wasreally in need of one. The waitress not omly accepted the 100 dollarbill, she gave me the balance in Chinese currency i.e. Yuans alsoknown as Renminbi. Armed with this, I ventured out. One more problem.No taxis were available. The girl helped me to get a 3 wheeler, thetype that Santosh calls " the rat in the urban sewer that goes by thename of a road ". True to his species, he would not go by the meter.After bargaining, a sum was agreed upon and the girl left after I hadprofusely thanked her. The auto driver, like his Indian counterpart,went through a no. of lanes and bylanes, meandering his way throughthe traffic and deposited me at the rear gate of the hotel. Thereception confirmed that we had reservation there and helped me to getin telephonic touch with the local Chinese guide helping our tourmanager. Wherever we go there is always a local guide to help out thetour manager. To the relief of our tour manager, I told him that I wassafely in the hotel. Poor chap had been scouring the forbidden city insearch of me and worrying whether my cold, cough and wheezing haddeteriorated and I was lying in some corner. The group then came backto the hotel.After a little rest and freshening up, we proceeded to an Indianrestaurant for our dinner, followed by a stroll in the Tiananmensquare. After a leisurely stroll, we returned to the hotel and retiredfor the night.

Pappa (Ramesh N Desai)

Travel Diary - Day5&6

I forgot to mention that I spent my 77th birthday at Hiroshima. Allmy co-tourists wished me a happy birthday and Kesari Travels, the tourconductor gifted me a packet of chocolates. In the morning weproceeded from Hiroshima to Nara by bus. We visited the Todaiji templethere. In Hindi the suffix 'ji' is an honorific. In Japan, itsignifies a temple. We also took in a deer park. There are vendorsvending feed for the deer and the deer freely roaming about , nudgeyou with their noses and cajole you to feed them. We refreshedourselves with Tea, Coffee,juices etc. I took a can of the cider whichwas rather good.
We then went to Kyoto city which in the old days was the capital. Itis the only place in Japan where you see traditional architecture. Therest of Japan is so much westernized that but for the presence of theJapanese people in such an overwhelming number, you could mistake thecities for America. Japan has out-americanned the Americans in manyways, in many spheres. At Kyoto, we visited the Kiyomizu temple, theGolden Pavilion and the Nijo Castle that gives you an idea of howthings were for the powerful in the days of the Shoguns ( Warlords whowielded real power, while the Emperor was merely a figurehead ).
Next, we travelled to Osaka and visited the Osaka Castle. It wasinterestig to see the sliding wooden shutters. All the constructionwas wooden, beams, pillars, flooring - almost everything. They hadkept some statues in their traditional dresses in various postures togive one an idea of the kind of life, the inmates of the castle, led.In the evening we went to check in a hotel nearer to the airport toavoid waking up at an unearthly hour for catching the next morningflight to Beijing. One interesting fact is that people in Tokyo andother big cities in Japan prefer to use the public transport such asbuses, trains, metros etc. rather than personal cars and two wheelersfor commuting to and fro their places of work. They sacrifice personalcomfort willingly for a collective good in terms of lesser pollution,lesser traffic jams and so on. The public transport is sutablyefficient to aid them in this.
Japan is Japan because of the quality of its people. Verydisciplined, courteous to a fault, hard working enough to beworkaholics, forever innovating, improving things, be it products, beit services, be it systems. Productivity is a religion here. A shoefactory on strike does not stop production. It merely produces onlythe left shoe, so that the management cannot sell the shoes. Oncehowever, the accord is reached, the right shoe is produced in therequired number, so that sale can take place. There is temporarydislocation but no big loss to the organization which is mother toboth the employees and the management. Had Netaji Subhash Chandra Bosesuccededwith Japanese help and Japan had come in place of Britain, ourBengali friends would have been the first to rebel ! Such is thedifference in their collective characteristics.

Travel Diary - Day4

At Hiroshima, we went in the morning to the bombed out dome of abuilding that we all have often seen in the TV. Nearby is a river.When the heat following the dropping of the atom bomb becameunbearable, some people jumped into the river only to be boiled in thehot river. The only people who survived are those who were inbasements and did not venture out. They were saved from the radiation.In a radius of 3 kms, hardly anyone survived. Even the description ofwhat happened was enough to send a shiver down my spine, so many yearsafter the event. What surprised me was a comparatively muted hatredtowards the Americans for what they did to the Japanese in the war andduring the occupation. They adopted good American practices and evenbettered them. As a nation they have proved to be really "Sthitapragnya " as described in the Gita.
Next, we went to the Sadako memorial. Sadako was a 2 year old girlwhen the atom bomb was dropped. Till the age of 10, she was normal.Then, she developed Leukemia, as a delayed after effect of theradiation. Despite best efforts, she died. Sadako was fond of theJapanese craft of Origami (paper folding). During her illness she wenton making paper cranes in various colours. Cranes in Japanese lore,are symbols of fertility. Her story galvanised other school childrento do the same and to contribute their pocket money towards building acenotaph and the Sadako monument. It was indeed a moving story!
Next we went to a huge building which is the History Museum. Itcontains graphic account of what happened on that fateful day andafter. It also shows preserved human skin that peeled off people,nails, hair and so on. Photographs, artistic impressions of the eventwere all there. They have also marked out India as a nuclear bombmaker among others. We then went to a Peace Park created in place oftotally destroyed buildings. We came across an old man who hadsurvived unscathed. He works as an honorary guide and describes theevent and pleads with people to prevent such a happening again bybanning nuclear testing.
We had lunch at a restaurant run by a Maharashtrian. The previousIndian restaurants that we had been to were all run by Panjabis. I haddraft beer there and bought a bottle of Japanese liquor made fromwheat and rice. We then proceeded by bus to Osaka which took us fiveand a half hours. Checked into a hotel for the night.

Travel Diary - Day 2 & 3

We went to Asakusa Kanon temple in the morning. Temples here are anamalgam of Buddhist and Shinto faiths. Shintoism worships nature andits various elements. For example, Mount Fujiyama or 'Fuji San' as itis referred to, is worshipped as a God. Buddhism which came via Chinalater on was accepted as a more evolved religion but without giving upon Shintoism. Sort of best of both the worlds. The Japanese were verymuch under awe of the Chinese in earlier times. Their occupation ofManchuria appears to me to be a sort of delayed reaction to asuppressed inferiority complex. One great thing about the Japanese istheir quick recovery from setbacks and acceptance of reality.They havean enviable knack of converting threats into opportunities.
Another thing that impresses immediately is the spotless cleanlinessof roads, footpaths, buildings, public places and so on. This is aningrained characteristic of every individual. Nobody forces them to doanything but they do the right thing every time without exception.Rule of law is embedded in their brains and workaholism, a religion.
After the Meiji restoration they adopted westernization in a big wayand to make up for the lost time under the warlords, (known asShoguns), workaholism was adopted. Even though they are much moreadvanced than the West in many speres of life now, this culturecontinues. After seeing the Japanese at work as well as play, Mybeleif that it is the collective characteristics of the people thatdetermine how they will govern themselves, how they will develop,prosper or take to terrorism and negativism, is further reinforced.Whether it was the Emperor's rule or General MacArthur's hegemony,development went on unabated. To a lesser extent, we dispensation of Narendra Modi,progress has been unabated. The only difference that rulership makesis the extent to which it facilitates the fulfillment of the naturalurges of the people. Some Gujaratis alsohave this trait. That is why under indigenous outdatedmonarchy/feudalism or under the British or under the sham socialism ofNehru-Gandhi kind or under the present are better at it, some are worse while someare proactive and give a further fillip to the people.
Next, we went to a large mall. I had made purchases at the shoppingrow in the temple itself. Hence, all that i did was window shoppinghere. Next, we went for lunch at an Indian restaurant. After lunch wewent to the Toyota Museum. Here, the Universal design studio impressedme. The concept is that every product should be so designed thateveryone including the handicapped or the gadget unfriendly peoplelike me can use it. We saw a robot blowing a trumpet on voice commandsfrom a girl demonstrating the robot. I asked whether her husband toofollowed her voice commands. She said that she wished he did so alwaysbut the product is under constant modification and will, with age,become near perfect!
Then, we went to a theatre sort of place where we saw a formula onekind of race on the screen. What was exhilirating was that we got thesame thrills that the drivers were getting. Our seats were rattling,getting raised, tilting and so on as if we are riding the racing cars.It once again brought out the child in me, with all the fears,exhiliration and a ffeling at the end as if I had committed a greatact of bravery,despite knowing that it was all a make believe. Then I'drove' a vehicle as one does in a video game but the seat , steeringwheel, brake and accelerator were all there.
In the evening again we went to an Indian restaurant before turningback to the hotel. Next morning, we went by bus to Otemba park wherethere is a Buddhist Pagoda, then to Lake Hakone where we had a packedlunch. From there on to the railway station Mishima for the first ofour rides by a Bullet train. When one stands on the platform and onesees it sizzling past, one is scared at the incredible speed withwhich it zooms past. From Mishima, we went to Shin Osaka. Shin meansnew. We got in at 3-48 P.M. and covered nearly 450 km in 2 hours and15 minutes. We had half an hour's wait at Shin Osaka and then got atrain to Hiroshima, this time, covering 337km in one and half hours.There were fewer stops this time. Had dinner at an Indian restaurantand checked in to a hotel for the night.

Travel Diary - Day1

I have got internet access today hence the delay. We started from
Mumbai at 2-45 A.M. yesterday, the 28th September 2010. Anand dropped
me at the Sahar international airport at 11-30 P.M. on 27th i. e. 3
hours behore departure time. Previous day, Ankoor had received me at
Borivali rly. station at 11-45 A.M. His son Vihaan is 7 months old and
reminded me of Santosh's infancy. Neither afraid nor shy to go to
anyone, he is a great favourite of the neghbours as well. Ankoor has
taken some photos of him with me which he has forwarded to me.
Ankoor's younger brother Anand ( yes, he is Anand too ), between jobs
- from IBM to HCL was also at Ankoor's on that day. He is an MCA.
Ankoor helped me with reinforcement of my training on the use of the
camera. He also scanned Kesari Travel's itinery with a camera and
forwarded it to you and Ashesh. He has also given me two rechargeable
batteries along with a charger.
I shifted to Anand's at night. Ankoor dropped me. Ankoor who is quite
aresourceful person can turn threats into opportunities. When put in
an unenviable position of being jobless at the peak of the recession
he quickly took to teaching online and earned Rs. 40000 in a month's
time. Sam Pitroda is now his employer. Anand and Ankoor have agreed to
meet more often as was my wish. Both can benefit from each other's

We reached Hong Kong at 11-00 A.M. local time. We wrere straightaway
whisked off in a bus, bag and baggage for sight seeing. We saw on the
way a large no. of high rise buildings including for the lowest
income. group. Land cost is extremely high in view of its scarcity.
Most of HK is hilly and unusable We also saw the port, a long ropeway
and certain historic buildings. We went to Repulse Bay, Victoria Peak,
a wax museum similar to Madame Tussaud's. In the night, we saw alaser
show in the bay area. We went Aberdeen fishing village, which is where
the British started their historic association with HK. We also
visited Kowloon, the erstwhile high end district ( Read British only )
and its yellowish sandy beach. I went to bed early as next day, we had
to report at 6 A.M. for departure to Tokyo. So far allthe meals that
we had were at Indian restaurants which seem to be not doing badly.

Today we reached Tokyo in the afternoon with lunch in the aircraft.
Cathay Pacific are going to be our air carriers all through the trip.
Today we had only the evening which was spent at the Fuji Tower that
gives a good view of the surrounding area. We also saw live a 3 D TV
show. Tomorrow we shall see Tokyo sights.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010


There is some talk these days of reform in Land Acquisition Act. I fully agree that what suited colonal rulers does not suit a more eqitable society. I am however against going 180 degrees from the present position. Before I go into this question, let us lay down some facts.

1. The Society is supreme.
2. Governments are structures created by the society for regulating some aspects of its functions. Let us not mistake the part to be the whole - the servant to be the master - the government to be the society.
3. The society can not and should not delegate all its responsibilities to the government especially to one that is capable of transmitting only 15 to 17 paise out of a rupee spent for the purpose intended ( as per the admission of no less than a person than a former Prime Minister. )
4. One peculiar Indian structure - the N.G.O. has fared no better. In fact, it has fostered what I call crony parasitism on the same lines as crony capitalism.
5. Forms of governance - Monarchy, Dictatorship (whether benevolent or otherwise), Socialism, Communism, Democracy, Plutocracy and so on are again created by the society to fulfill its needs at a given time and given circumstances. No form of governance is sacrosanct. If it does not fulfill the needs of the society, it gets changed, however slow the change may be. We just have to look at history of the past centuries of the various countries of the world to realize this.
6. There is no panacea for all our ills such as poverty, ill health, illiteracy and so on for all of India which is a multi - religious, muti - linguistic, multi - ethnic society. Different paths, different methods are required for eradicating these ills. What is true for Gujarat or Maharastra or Panjab is not true for the south or for that matter the east. Some principles followed by Mahatma Gandhi are however relevant even today.
7. We need to accept that the maturity level of the Indian society is not uniformly distributed. This is much more disturbing than the inequitable distribution of wealth or incomes. You can not for example, equate Kerala with say parts of India which kill their own offsprings for the crime of being the unwanted gender or for the crime of marrying a person not in consonance with parental idiosyncracies. One can imagine what can happen if the principle of grass roots democracy is unifdrmly applied throughout India right now.
8.Perhaps if Mahatma Gandhi had his way, he would have preferred Indians to become self - reliant and independent economically, socially, educationally, healthwise and so on before becoming politically independent but the overwhelming majority of the then existing lower rung leadership was too impatient.
9. Consequently, politics of service to the society was replaced by the politics of power over the society. Both the crony capitalism and the crony parasitism are the products of this phenomenon.

All those wanting to give 26% of profits of enterprises to the project affected people are only wanting to create a new class of zamindars - a new class of parasites. No doubt, those uprooted have to be rehabilitated, each according to his/her potential but they should not be withdrawn from productive workforce. A part of the profits must be kept aside - it could be even more than 26% - for the purpose. It must however have a time limit - till such time as rehabilitation is complete. We have not yet eradicated the old zamindari completely. Let us not create a new set of parasites. Uneducated masses with a steady unearned income and idleness could lead to evils such as drinking, gambling, womanising and so on - all at the expense of their womenfolk. I appreciate the good intentions of the proponents of the idea of profit sharing but they must not create new problems. I have given up on the political parties with their votebank politics to carry out social reforms. Those whom I would have thought as being capable of doing so appear to be muddle headed, if I may use this rather strong term. We all need to concentrate on removing social evils while simultaneously striving for economic self - sufficiency of the masses. Subsidies are the worst drugs - worst narcotics devised by our politicians to keep the poor perprtually poor and thus under their control. They can then keep on shedding crocodile tears over them while quaffing whiskey. Monarchy bred zamindari as a bulwark - a second line of defence. Our modern day rulers want to create a similar institution by withdrawing a sizeable population from the workforce. This will have long term baneful repurcussions. Same goes for our misguided intellectuals. They are adopting the agitational path in stead of going over to the villages and helping the masses to become self - reliant. Both the masses and the intelligentia are behaving like children. One hopes to please the Sarkar Mai - Baap while the other wants to coerce the Mai - Baap by throwing tantrums and creating a ruckus. All those who wish to better the lot of the dispossesed, had better become proactive, engage themselves in rehabilitation activities, train the victims in alternative trades and professions, taking help from a fund created for the purpose. The hand of the victims certainly needs to be held till they become self - sufficient. Mahatma and not Mao is our ideal.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Swati was about 3 years old, wheat complexioned,chubby and short. She was a neighbour's daughter in the Bhilai Steel Plant's township. What distinguished her from other children in the neighbourhood was the fact that she had a Russian boy friend called Sasha who was also of her age.

Swati and Sasha were inseparables. Swati spoke no language other than Gujarati and Sasha likewise could speak only Russian. This did not pose any barriers between them. They understood each other very well. In course of time, Sasha picked up a few words of Gujarati and Swati, a few of Russian. At Sasha's, both sat on the dining table for their repasts of Borsch soup or Kalabassa from ceramic tableware. At Swati's they squatted on wooden boards ( Patlas ) on the floor and feasted on Dudhpak or Dhokla from stainless steel plates.

Both were banished from time to time from their homes for such harmless acts as Sassabhai's ( his pet name at Swati's place ) presenting crabs to Swati's vegetarian mother as a token of affection or Swatka's ( her pet name at Sasha's place ) eating noisily, making slurping sounds, at Sasha's mother's table to show her appreciation of the food that she was devouring. At such times, my bachelor household provided them with a safe haven. Here, they could frolic, sing, dance or upset things without any demur on anyone's part. I was their Kaka and Dyadya Gujarati and Russian words for uncle.

All good things have to end sooner or later. So they felt when they learnt that I was to marry. They had seen my fiancee's photograph on my bedside table, so when she came as a bride to my house, she was grudgingly accepted. Luckily, my wife, unlike their mothers, had more time on her hands. She could therefore put up with their ways. On their part, they gladly ran errands for her. All went smoothly for some time.

Then, my mother came down to see how her son was coping with married life. For a week, Swati restrained herself. But then it was too much. One day, she cornered the old lady.
" Do you eat here everyday " ? she enquired.
" Yes " said my mother, somewhat amused.
" Do you bathe here also " ? was the next.
" Yes, why " ?
" You even sleep here " ?
" Yes, Of course !
"Well, when are you leaving " ? This with Swati's hands on her tiny but determined waist.

My mother was struck far too dumb at being told by a rank outsider that she was unwelcome in her own son's house. She could not readily muster a suitable rejoinder. Pressing her advantage further, Swati added,
" This is MY Kaka's house "
"Ha, MARA dyadyanun " ( yes, my uncle's ) supported Sasha in his best Russo - Gujarati tongue.

In the evening, on my return home, my mother mentioned about this tete - a - tete to me.
" Did you object to Swati's dancing on the dining table with metallic plates and spoons for musical accompaniment " ? I asked.
" Yes ", said mother.
" Did you refuse entry to Sasha when he was wearing snails for earrings " ? I probed further.
" Yes, Of course ", indignantly replied my mother.
" Well then, what else do you expect " ?

Comprehension descended on my mother like a ton of bricks. And she smiled. Needless to add that thereafter my mother became " Dadi " for Swati and " Babushka " for Sasha just as my wife had earlier become " Kaki " and "Tyotya ".

How old have I grown ? For, to-day I have on my hand, an invitation card for Swati's marriage. No, not to Sasha, you romantic fools !


During our last visit to Vadodara, our home town, we were received at the railway station by my younger brother and his little three year old son Anand. While his father rode his scooter on the way back home, Anand preferred to accompany his somewhat older cousins in the taxi that we took.

When we were passing by the impressive building of the Science faculty of the M.S. University of Baroda with its distinctive metallic dome, my sons looked at it with some amount of interest.
" That is my Papa's school ", calmly explained Anand.

Soon we passed by the even more impressive big - domed building of the Arts faculty. My sons' pupils got even more dilated on seeing this spectacle.
" This is my mummy's school " even more calmly asserted Anand.

This exhibition of his cousin's Papa's and Mummy's schools seemed to chafe little Ashesh, just a year older than Anand. Not long however.
" There goes my Papa's school " triumphantly shouted Ashesh.

Having been busy in my own thoughts about the expected reunion with the family. I had, thus far, not paid much attention to the childrens' patter. Since the faculty of Engineering was nowhere nearby, I shook off my thoughts to look in the direction of Ashesh's pointed finger.

Going ahead of our taxi was an oil tank truck with INDIANOIL, my employer's name blazoned across its rear ! To little boys, noise making moving objects are more impressive than static buildings, however beautiful their facade.


During the 1965 Indo-Pak war, our three year old son Santosh's vocabulary was enriched by warlike words. Guns, Tanks, Bombs, Fighters were words constantly playing on his lips. Soon after the war, he heard that the Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had died.
" Who shot him " was the question he shot at his mother. A little shocked, the mother somewhat testily replied that he was not shot by anyone.
"Then, how did he die " ? was the next one. Before his mother gave an even more shocked response to this second baffler, I thought I would butt in. A child psychologist that I considered myself to be, I was anxious that my son should be explained this thing about death in the logic and language of a child.
" Well, you see darling, Shastriji fell very much sick and that is why he died ", was the explanation given by me.
" But I did not die when I fell very much sick " was his argument apparently referring to his measles.
" But then, Shastriji was very old whereas you are very young " was my childlike reinforcement of the earlier explanation, Absence of any further discourse on the subject gave me the satisfaction of having used my child psychology successfully.

Six months later, we went to see our parents who were anxious to see their grandson. Mother was down with influenza so she called him to her bedside. He was immediately interested in the grandma much to the latter's delight.
" So you are grandma " ! he broke the ice.
" Well yes, I am your grandma " proudly countered my mother.
" Aren't you sick " ? my son went on.
" Yes dear, I am very much sick, that is why I could not come to the sta.....
" Oh! that's alright " interupted the little one.
" But tell me, are you old " ?
"Yes, my dear ! I am very old " piteously replied the granny.
" Well, well ! getting a little excited, the little devil spoke out triumphantly, " Then, you are going to die " !

My mother was struck dumb but her glare was eloquent. It showed unmistakably the contempt that she had for this new fangled thing called child psychology that I had been proudly parading about !

Post script:- My mother died eventually at the age of 95 years at Santosh's house in New Delhi of nothing but old age.


With no daughter who could help their mother, we had taken to encouraging our sons, aged six and eight, to do some household chores during their holidays. This would prepare them for the coming days of their married life. Who knows whether servants would exist twenty years hence ? In all probabikity, their wives would be working for a living and would dearly appreciate husbands adept in helping around the house.

Having learnt how to make tea, we left them to experiment on making boiled eggs for breakfast as a first step in cooking. After a few almost raw or highly boiled, cracked eggs which spilled their contents into the boiling water, they learnt how to boil eggs properly. I was a bit curious to know how they learnt this.

" It's easy " ! said six year old Ashesh, " When the eggs start fighting, they are no longer raw " !
"Yes, but how do you know whether they are hard - boiled " ? I questioned, a bit amused at his imaginative expression.
" That's easy too " ! interposed eight year old Santosh, eager to show his power of observation. "When my egg breaks the head of Ashesh's egg, his egg is over - boiled but my egg is just hard - boiled. "
" Well, but if you want half - boiled eggs " ? I probed.
" Oh that ! gloomily said tiny Ashesh, " That's when you switch off the gas before you have really enjoyed the egg fighting " !

So now, I know why they never eat half - boiled eggs or for that matter, their eggs are never over - boiled. They neither want to miss the fun of the egg fight nordo they want either one's egg to lose !

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Being the first grandchild in both her paternal as well as maternal households, little Dipti at two and a half years, was a bit spoiled. Her mother, a strict disciplinarian, found it tough to manage her in the face of all the spoiling done by the rest of the extended family. The child, used to all the indulgence from the rest of us, found this act of disciplining rather repugnant. In a sort of retaliatory tactic, she had learnt when and how to irritate the parent.

Once, she wanted to wash her hands in the dish that she had partaken her lunch from. The mother forbade it. "Why", asked Dipti. "Well, it is simply not done. You should go to the washing place for that", sternly replied the parent.
"Alright, if I can't wash my hands in the plate, can I pee in it "?
This did it. The mother boiled with rage, gave her a lecture on sanitation and finally asked,
" How could you think of such a thing? Don't you get better thoughts"?
" Tell me, Mummy, what is a thought "? This simply stumped the mother. She had no ready answer. In exasperation, she did what parents are apt to do on such occasions. She punished Dipti.

As a bystander, I was myself puzzled by this question. I could find a precise definition of the word " Thought " in the oxford dictionary but how could I explain it to a two and a half year old? The nearest that I have come to is this. " Say, you are sitting, doing nothing and in your head, some 'Yum-Yum' is going on. It is called a thought ". However, by the time, I came to this solution, I also came to realize that a child at that age acts by instinct alone. No 'yum-yum' ever goes on in their head. Action being thoughts tightly wound like a spring, the stage of thinking has already been passed by a child. It can not think just as a brilliant school boy can not act like a backward boy in the class.

It would take some unwinding or dis-education for the child to be able to comprehend even the explanation of the word " Thought " that is given by me. At thirty, now Dipti should have been diseducated enough to understand all that I have written. May be, it would give a clue to some of the actions of her own daughters.

Post script:- At sixty, now, as a grandmother herself, she would perhaps understand some of her own mother's compulsions in acting like she did !


Nirav, my nephew was then about three years old. At a family gathering of both his paternal and maternal sides, he was the youngest. Naturally, everybody fussed over him.
We were talking about his impending entry into a kindergarten. He wanted to know why he should go to a school when he was perfectly happy at home. All of us told him in our various ways, the advantages of education. We also told him what he could become after a stint in education. By way of illustration, all his uncles and aunts told him what each one of them had become by pursuing education. We also explained to him what it meant to become a doctor, an engineer,a teacher and so on. After listening to the rest of us, he turned to his favourite - his grandfather, who said that he was a retired man.

Now, we wanted to know what Nirav would like to become. Once again, each one of us vied with each other in praising his or her profession in the hope that he would choose that profession. Standing in the middle, he scrutinized each one of us by turns, while the object of his scrutiny was keen with anticipation. Nirav did not however, did not choose any of the professions listed / recommended much to our cumulative surprize.

Before the next unspoken question on our lips could materialize, he walked upto his grandfather, sat in his lap and gravely said, "After school, I am going to retire". He had chosen the ultimate destination of all the professions !


Thanks to Amy, I am in the grandparents' generation. Till now, I was made to feel like a grand father on account of the confidence reposed in me and friendship proferred to me on an equal footing by children of friends and neighbours. I am one in reality now on account of the arrival of this American citizen. Amy is my grandniece. I have dandled her mother on my feet and now it is her turn. She was born in the U.S.A. where her parents werte residing. Grandfathership was till now a state of mind. Now it is almost a state of fact.

She is a typical female. Tell her to come to you and she will run miles away. Tell her you are busy and that you should not be disturbed ; she will pester you with kisses. Being a typical female, she is always fond of males. Her daddy is her ideal. My sons being called Mama ( maternal uncle ), though less important, are immensely proud at achieving this distinction at so young an age. How can I blame them when I am myself so vain about being called Dada Mama ( Grand Uncle ). We are all as proud of Amy as if we had won the Nobel Prize.

Amy has become Ami ( Indianization of an American name ) on arrival in India. Ami means nectar and that is what she is to us. The other day, her third birthday was being celebrated. We were invited to her residence. I was the last arrival. After wishing her a happy birthday, I picked her up. Hugging her closely to my prickly beard, I asked for a kiss. "Not here", she objected. "People might be watching". I took her to a corner and kissed her. Little did I know that she, a typical female was testing my masculine ardour. I hoped that I was adequate.

The answer came as soon as I put her down. She burst into verse, mouthing a popular Hindi film song, eyes dancing along with the rest of her body,
" Ek main aur ek tu
dono milay is tarah
aur jo tan-man main
ho raha hai..........
( One you and one me, the two of us met thus. And what is happening to the body,soul........ )

And then with a sudden accelerated pace but coming to prose from verse,
"Yeh to hona hi tha" ( Well, it had to happen ! )

Friday, September 17, 2010


As far as naughtiness is concerned, Prerak is a class by himself. This 10 year old nephew of mine (nearly 50 years in A.D. 2010) has a way of measuring, on first acquaintance, the mettle of people, that would be the envy of the most experienced psychologist. When he was admitted to a new school, his father explained the characteristics of the boy to the headmaster so that the latter is not caught unawares.

For want of time, he could not repeat this to Prerak's class teacher. In the evening, my brother-in-law went to pick up Prerak and also to make up for the morning omission. He spoke to the teacher about Prerak's pranks. The experienced teacher told my brother-in-law not to worry as he had handled all kinds of children. "By the way", the teacher said as the B-I-L was taking leave, "Please do give him some pocket money. Prerak had to borrow one rupee from me for his recess time snack"

"Well, I am sorry to inform you that he has already measured you", said the B-I-L. "Prerak", he continued, "already had two rupees with him and his demand from you was just to see how you would react". The teacher dismissed this interpretation as coming from an overfond father. All the same, he made a mental note of dealing strictly with his new ward. For a month he did so and congratulated himself on having the situation under control till.........

One day, a prank was played in the class and the teacher could not apprehend the culprit. Nobody would admit its authorship. He therefore, punished the entire class to remain inside the classroom in an upright position on the bench - a punishment known in the school parlance as "stand-up-on the bench".

The teacher left the class in the recess for the teachers' common room where he was relating his strict handling of the pupils over a cup of tea. Just when he had got on to the subject of how he would have handled the Naxalites if he were a college teacher in Kolkata, at the very moment, one of his colleagues noticed a boy from the former's class loitering in the lobby. He promptly brought to the notice of the C.T.. The latter was hugely annoyed as only a disobeyed primary school teacher can be and rushed out. He caught the culprit by the scruff of his neck.

"What brings you out?" he demanded. "Why, Sir, we took the punishment that you ordered in place of remaining in the class and we were allowed to go", replied the shaken student. "What rot", exclaimed the C.T. "I never gave any alternative punishment and who is this person who allowed you all to go out?"

"Prerak, Sir! after you went out, he went towards the teachers' common room. On return, he informed us that he had pleaded our case to you. Out of the kindness of your heart, you had agreed to let us go provided we took another punishment. We agreed and he made us to form a queue. He stood at the door with a foot-rule in hand. As each of us passed him, palm held out in front, he gave one blow of the foot-rule excepting for Santosh who is not well today", the boy explained at length rather breathlessly.

The C.T., prior to consulting a doctor for a threatened attack of apoplexy, looked for Prerak, only to be informed that he had left the school to escort the sick Santosh to his home. He was already by then well on the way to the latter's home. Needless to add that Prerak had 'stomachache' for the next two days, a period in his reckoning, by which, things would cool down a bit !

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


The truth behind this adage was brought home to me one day some years ago. Ashesh, our son, was then about 2 years old and as naughty as naughty can be. His mother who was busy in the kitchen, suddenly noticed lack of any noise. A mother of three children, she knew what silence meant. She immediately looked for Ashesh. He was found playing with a knife which he had quietly removed from the kitchen !

She asked him to return it. He did not respond. She asked again, the tone changing from request to order. He ignored the peremptory note in her voice. Next, she offered him a toffee in exchange for the knife. The barter deal also did not seem to interest him. Reason and bribe having failed, she decided to resort to direct action. She grabbed the knife. He tightened his hold on the prized possession.She pulled. Her action found an equal reaction from him. Afraid that he might cut his fingers, she let go of the knife. Now, thought Ashesh, was the first opportunity for him to take an initiative in the matter. With the skill of an escaping convict, he ran.

The mother might have lacked foresight but not alertness. She chased him. Even practised escapees, sometimes get themselves into a corner when pursued by fleet-footed cops. So did Ashesh. He had the initiative and he had lost it. With the aplomb of a politician defeated at the polls, he decided to bide his time. To make himself comfortable, he even sat down in the corner that he had backed himself into. His mother towered over him. It was now for her to take the initiative, but she could not think of the next step.


Now, lack of resourcefulness is apt to result in anger. However, being angry with Ashesh was like getting angry with a block of frozen steel. In such situations, mothers have to find some other targets for venting out their strong feelings. Fathers usually fill the bill. Especially, if they are comfortably ensconced in a sofa with a newspaper in one hand and a cigarette in the other, watching the mothers grappling with recalcitrant children and on top of it, wearing an amused grin. I was in the position so described and I got the full blast of the light brigade.

I got up. I told her that she had used "Saam", "Daam" and "Dand" ( convincing. incentive and punishment methods respectively ) but these had been found to be inadequate. I told her that in such a case, "Bhed" ( trickery ) has to be used as advised by the great sage Kautilya in his welknown treatise "Arthashastra " dealing with statecraft. The look of disdain on her face told me that she was not much impressed with Kautilya. She even expected some action from me, not advice. So there was no alternative but to extinguish the cigarette, throw the newspaper aside with a flourish and get going. I did so.

I first explained to her my strategy which was based on child psychology. I had only to divert the child from his adamant posture of not returning the knife by converting the issue into a kind of game. She was even less impressed by my strategy than by Kautilya. So I had to show her that we Desais came in all sizes.


I swept her aside as I approached Ashesh. He seemed to take my entry on the stage with some amusement, judging by the the smile on his face. This, I said to myself, was a hopeful sign; so I made my first move. I covered my eyes with my hands. He followed suit. I uncovered my eyes. He dittoed. Even my wife now seemed impressed. Only, she averted her eyes when I gazed at her, possibly to avoid giving me the applause rightfully due to me. Not discouraged, I pressed my advantage further. I proposed to Ashesh that I would close my eyes and he could place the knife in my outstretched hand. This way, he could avoid the inconvenience of holding the knife while covering his eyes. Besides, there would be no loss of face on his part, since my eyes would be closed. He nodded agreement to this proposal. My wife did not even now applaud me but I could perceive a distinct thaw in her mien. I covered my eyes with one hand and outstretched the other. Ashesh however had one stipulation. He wanted to be sure that I could not see at all. To reassure him on this score, I pressed my hand tightly on my eyes and honestly closed my eyes.

A couple of seconds passed. No knife still. Instead I heard a peal of laughter from my wife. I decided to investigate this sudden otburst of mirth during a serious proceeding and opened my eyes. In answer to my questioning look, my wife, still convulsed with laughter, merely pointed to the the gate. I turned my gaze as directed and beheld our offspring executing a neat getaway through the gate, knife still in hand. He had, you see, made good of the opportunity !

Sunday, September 12, 2010


" Don't I look like a bu-o-i ", chirped a musical voice from a seat in a row ahead of me in the chair car of the Mumbai-New Delhi de luxe train. The voice belonged to a chestnut coloured shaggy mane. I was yet to know that I was going to meet Ninad's counterpart, a girl with a high FQ. Ninad, if you remember, is the little man with a high MQ.

" What are you? " I asked the voice. " I am a ga-al, of course " said the mane as it turned towards me to reveal a buck-toothed, freckle-faced little girl apparently of the white race with a charming gap in her front teeth. " I am wearing a boy's dress, but I am a girl " she confided in me. Love was instantaneous, simultaneous and mutual. Julie is a 7 year old girl. Pardon me, darling, for revealing your age but uncles will be uncles. We got to talking, me leaning on the back of her seat and she with her body half twisted towards me. During the course of the conversation, she got down from her chair and straddled herself on my lap as if it was the most natural thing to do.

" I have an uncle whose name is Rameshbhai " she told me. " Well, then, I too am your uncle, for that happens to be my name too " I responded effusively. I was rewarded by a hug whose feminity has not yet eluded me. " How come, you have an Indian for an uncle? " " Because my daddy is an Indian. I am an American, though " she said and sneezed. " Na Zdorovye " spoke simultaneously Julie and her mother. Surprises after surprises! " That's Russian, literally meaning - to health -" I exclaimed. " O..o..h my grampa is a Russian.. you know !" she giggled. She too was surprised that I understood the Russian language.

To pass the time of the day, I taught her a card game. That attracted two other Delhi girls of her age to join us. Fond as I am of all children, I was unable to avoid making a blatant show of my partiality for Julie. The other girls only helped to accentuate by comparison Julie's FQ. I must explain what I mean by FQ for those of you who have not yet made the acquaintance of my friend, Ninad, the chap as I said earlier with a high MQ.

FQ is short for feminity quotient. It is the ratio of the feminine attributes in a particular specimen divided by all the feminine attributes possible in an all-female female. I have yet to devise tests to determine this quotient. So, for the time being, you have to go by my instinct, which in any case, is more trustworthy.

As we tired of the card games, she recited Gujarati and English nursery rhymes to me, the former taught to her by her Gujarati father. Next, we played a game called " Simon says ", a game that I knew by the name "Gandhiji says" in my childhood, then the guessing game, the Antakshari and countless other childrens' games. I discovered that the childrens' games are universal and timeless. Whether the children are Indians, Americans, Russians or Japanese, whether of my generation or of Julie's, they play almost the same games. I had entered the railway train in one of those inexpressibly depressed moods. Books, journals, ogling the lovely ladies sitting around me, my mother's comforting presence by my side, my imagination, my thoughts, the chanting of the Gita - nothing had been able to divert my mind earlier as Julie's particular feminity did now. I even found myself playing "Hide andSeek " with the children in a coach full of adults. That was the extent of my loss of inhibitions. Thanks to Julie, I had temporarily regressed to my child ego state.

A dream like sixteen hours passed and New Delhi neared. I was breakfasting in the dining car when Julie sought me out. Holding out half a portion of chickoo, my share of the fruit, she said "Good Bye, Uncle " My heart wrenched. I too did likewise keeping a brave front as she left.

I do not know if I would ever meet Julie again. So long, darling. I know you would not grow up to be a women's libber. It is men who would have to try to liberate themselves from you and similar other specimens of your sex. Jailors do not start liberation movements, you know !

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Ninad is a 3 year old kid. A very cool customer, he is. Cucumbers take lessons from him as far as coolness is concerned. He is the son of a junior colleague and a neighbour as well. Nothing ruffles him.Punishment has no meaning and enticements flow off like water on a duck's back. Fooling him for any length of time is equally futile. He is his own master. I am fond of children and generally, children reciprocate my feelings for them. Ninad however was unapproachable and posed a challenge to me.

What attracted me to him was his rather high MQ. I should explain what I mean by MQ. You have perhaps heard of the concept of NARA and NARAYANA as enunciated in the epic Mahabharata. Arjuna was portrayed as NARA and Krishna as NARAYANA. Arjuna was supposed to be masculinity personified, being cast in a heroic mould. Wherever he went, he not only vanquished men in battle; he also conquered women's hearts and won himself a wife or two! He had all the masculine traits that a person could possibly have. Krishna, on the other hand, was the friend, philosopher and guide. A ladies' man, Krishna was more of a NARAYANA than of a NARA. People instictively looked up to him for advice and were never disappointed.

Now, every person has some male and some female traits in him / her. Very few persons are all male - males or all female - females. MQ is the masculinity quotient and FQ is the feminity quotient. This quotient is defined as the ratio of the number of masculine or feminine traits in a person divided by the total of all the masculine or feminine traits that are possible in an all male - man or an all female - woman.

Coming back to our story, Ninad with his high MQ, has his father as his ideal. He has no place in his life for the feminine gender. His mother is for him a weak boy who cooks for the family and whom he could order around. If to him, it appears that his mother did not behave as a boy should, she was a " ganda ladka " ( a naughty boy ). Any attempt on the mother's part to discipline him would bring him post haste to our office in whatever state of dress or undress, he would happen to be. He would complain to his father about his "Aai" ( mother ) being a "ganda ladka", describing in detail, her crime of the moment. Having done his duty, he would march into my cabin and perch himself on my lap. His favourite activity was to fiddle with the paperweights and the telephone instrument. At 36, I was promoted by him to the grandpa's status perhaps because his father took his orders from me. Thus I earned his respect.

Like all grandchildren, he took me to be his equal. He shared his thoughts and his toys with me - a thing that he rarely did with other children. We were living in a township still under construction that I was in charge of. Trucks, jeeps and earthmoving machinery were constantly at work. Ninad had a great fascination for noise making moving objects. Trucks, jeeps, bull dozers, helicopters were his weakness. Drivers of all these machines were special people on whose good side, he always endeavoured to be, bending as much as was possible for him in the process. He always managed to get a ride on the bulldozer, the kindly operator allowing him to fiddle with the control levers.

Once, as the bulldozer with the familiar operator, hove into view, his eyes attained a wistful look. An idea struck him. Said he to me : " Hey there! How about a ride on the bulldozer? If you like, I can ask Naqui Ahmed, the operator to give you one! " The words were simple but the idea was eloquent. I have never felt more flattered in my life. Ninad had accepted me as his best friend and as a proof, he had offered to share even his pettest machine with me!


I met 2 year old Shailav in the suburban locale of a moffusil town. He looks like a well adjusted little chimpanzee. In any case, who has heard of a schizophrenic chimp? Shailav is extremely popular in the neighbourhood. Each one of his neighbours calls him by a different form of endearment as if to establish an exclusive relationship with him. When he passes by, anyone in sight, can not resist stopping and exchanging pleasantries with him. An exchange with Shailav seems to lift the gloom off the face of his interlocutor. Age groups do not bother him. He is equally at ease with children, the young and the aged. The fair sex is however one of his weaknesses.

Shailav has an aged neighbour. As it happens in every neighbourhood, this old man is the one who detests children. According to him, they spoil his garden, clutter up his walkway with dirt and make a lot of noise outside his compound. Even when they are playing silently, they appear to him to be planning some devilish scheme to torment him. He therefore jealously guards his property, shooing off any child coming within even a mile of his domain.

One day, while the old man was attending to his fence, Shailav walked up to him, looked into his eyes and said " Grandpa " in his usual calm and dispassionate manner. Before the old man could react one way or the other, Shailav had completely forgotten him and had got busy with some other activity. For want of any other excuse, the old man had been calling him a pampered brat. However, this incident set him to thinking. At least, he is different. He has never vandalised my garden. Never picked any fruits. What if he is pampered?

Then on, Shailav got one more person to smile at. What is more, the old man smiled back. The news of this transformation of the old man spread like a wild fire in the neighbourhood. Just then, one day, Shailav was not to be found. His anxious mother, scoured the entire neighbourhood, checking out each of his numerous haunts. He was nowhere. Everybody gathered outside his house speculating on where he could possibly be. After what seemed like eternity, Shailav emerged from an unexpected place - the old man's house, mouth properly splattered with chocolate, hands and pockets bulging with toffees. To the various cries of exclamation and querries, he had very little to respond to. He merely pointed to the place of his recent habitat and said " Grandpa ". In that one word, he was telling the children of the locality that there was always a way of dealing with any grown up. To the adults, he was saying, look, the old miser is, after all, not that bad. The old man is now ready for grandfathership!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


A town planner removes slums to create a township. The result is found to be wanting and slums perhaps of a different kind – but slums all the same are allowed to develop to fulfill the needs of the society. In communism, uniformity is sought and finally diversity has to be created to fulfill the needs of the society. One great need is however satisfied in both the cases. It is the need of the man to first commit follies and then to make amends after realizing the effect and understanding the lacunae. Also the need for power and livelihood for the protagonists of the people who commit follies and people who make amends, is also satisfied.

Communism is an ant’s philosophy. The majority are worker ants who plod on, uncomplainingly and in a coordinated manner as decided by the powers that be. Monarchy is a lion’s philosophy. Here, the king does not bother so long as his needs are fulfilled. There is no questioning of the lions’ decision. Democratic socialism is a philosophy of animals in jungle who wish to have some justice while retaining their hierarchical identities. Vegetative philosophy believes in allowing nature to take its own course – a sort of laissez faire policy. In the end, however, all philosophy is foolish. It is the KALAKRAMA – The cyclical nature of nature that brings up one or the other philosophy to the fore so as to suit the requirement of prevailing circumstances. Nature does this to make each soul to realize that each one is right at a particular time in the universal chronology. Each species seeks NIRVANA or salvation through extinction. None achieves it really. It has to come up again and again in another form, another guise. NIRVANA or salvation has been an age old dream of philosophers. It will be achieved when life, that is both energy and matter are completely destroyed and there is no chance for any regeneration. Will this ever happen? I don’t know and as matter of fact I don’t care.

A wise man in an assembly of fools is a fool and a fool in the assembly of wise men is a sage. Actually, neither the wise man is wise nor is the fool, a fool. It is the time, the circumstances and the environment that determine wisdom. In the ultimate, wisdom like all other things is relative. There is no absolute wisdom. Search for it can be abandoned. Instinct alone is wisdom. It leads you into the life. It also leads you to your death. The proper thing to do at any given time is as the hippies would say, “Do your thing man!”

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


12th April 1961

I was smoking a cigarette ( called papirossi ) in a corridor in GIPROKOKS office, Kharkov, USSR. Time around 11 AM. Local time. My boss comes running, grasps my hand and makes me run along with him all of a sudden. To my anxious enquiries, he only replies, “Wait”.

Visions of the building being on fire or an imminent ICBM attack of the “imperialists” and so on quickly appear before my eyes, one after the other, only to be discarded when I am taken not to some fire escape ladder or to a bombproof shelter but only to my own workplace.

A radio is on. Everybody is excited in the office and to my anxious enquiry, the chorus of replies is, “Listen”. I do so. As seconds tick by, the well modulated vice of the famous Russian announcer Yuri Levin ( USSR’s Melville De Mello ) who had announced all important news on the radio for over a couple of decades, comes on once more.

“Pyerviy pilot-cosmonot Yuri Alexevich Gagarin litaet……………”

Despite my having picked up sufficient Russian language by then to understand the meaning of this announcement and my nodding in reply to his question whether I understood, my boss, in his excitement, could not help in translating to me in his smattering of English, “First man in space, ……….Gagarin”.

I am excited too, catching the infection quickly. I am proud that I am a human being- a contemporary of the first man in space, even if not his countryman. All work had stopped despite the customary office discipline, so great was the intoxication caused by the news. For the first time, a rule is broken. Someone brings a bottle of champagne ( called Sovietskovo shampanya ) and everybody vies with the next man in proposing toasts to Gagarin. People drink probably for the first time in a work place during working hours. The big boss, instead of fuming, joins in.

Slowly, however discipline reasserts itself without anyone’s prodding. People go back to their work but only leave their pens and pencils when the radio announcement is repeated and replenished with further information about Gagarin and his flight.

People are flocking in the streets, parks, restaurants and other public places. The conversation is all about Gagarin. Even the young men for once shun their favourite topic – girls. They are all agog with stories about a man instead – the first one in space. The girls are sorry that Gagarin is already married. The older people can not help reminiscing about the revolution, the Civil War, the purges, the World War and all the bad days gone by. They are glad to have survived the stark days and to see this glorious day as a sort of unexpected bonus.

A couple of days later, the grapevine passes the news. Gagarin’s reception in Moscow is being televised live. The whole office rushes to the common room, where a large size TV set is on. Once again discipline is forgotten.

The TV shows millions and millions of Musovites and people from surrounding places at the airport and on roads leading to it. All important party and government officials are there. The Central Committee, the entire presidium and the President himself are present. In the foreground is a short stocky man prancing about like an excited child.

The plane lands. Everybody watches with baited breath. The door opens. A fraction of a second of animated suspense passes and the hero alights. Guns boom in salute. Clapping is tumultuous and the noise created by the people competes with that of the guns.

The stout man suddenly comes to attention. So do the President, the Presidium and the Central committee. Everybody salutes. Gagarin comes forward with firm steps, his face emotionless and salutes in return. The stout man who is none other than Nikita Sergevitch Khruschev, First Secretary of the party and Prime Minister of USSR is no longer able to contain himself. He hurries forward but is stopped by the delivery of the report by Gagarin delivered in a firm tone:

“ I have fulfilled the duty given to me by the party and the Government by orbiting once round the earth….All equipment worked satisfactorily…I thank the party and the Government for the opportunity given to me to serve the nation”.

Khruschev runs, embraces Gagarin and kisses him on both lips in the Russian fashion. Like a proud father, he introduces Gagarin to his colleagues or rather his colleagues to Gagarin. Gagarin’s wife and parents are getting impatient in the meantime. Khrushchev notices, cuts short the introductions and escorts Gagarin to his family. The reunion is touching.

“What’s all this going on”? questions a shrill voice from the door of the common room. With a shock, the viewers come back to senses, as if waking up from a dream. It is a lady clerk from the personnel department. She has come to enforce discipline. She switches off the TV and the crowd begins to disintegrate, making faces at the intruder in a good humoured fashion. A tall man is trying to hide himself. The lady however espies him.

“You! Are you not ashamed? You are the Chief Engineer and you wasting time like this! Devil only knows what this world is coming to!, shouted the old lady. The crowd roars with laughter at the Chief Engineer's discomfiture but soon rallies to his defence, And “You! Yourself! How is it that you found time to shout only when the TV show was about to be over”?

For once, the grim old woman permits herself a smile. A guilty one! Even in a strictly regimented society, common sense prevailed on an uncommon occasion.

Friday, August 27, 2010


An Analysis of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) faced by the people of


Ramesh N. Desai & Bharat R. Dholakia

Bihar has been in the news for all the wrong reasons such as floods, droughts, Bhagalpur bljndings, caste clashes, Naxalite attacks, personal animosity- the list can be long.

India is a land of diversity in terms of language, culture, customs, religion, festivals and a host of others. Some people are with the times-progressive. Many others are unfortunately not so for a variety of reasons. For sociologists and psychologists, the study of these issues in respect of Bihar and Biharis in the form of a SWOT Analysis may be of interest. This study has been made by outsiders with some experience of working in Bihar.It has been done in as balanced a manner as possible.


1. They are extremely intelligent.
2. Have a logical and argumentative brain.
3. Proud to be Biharis.
4. Extremely competitive. There is a large no. of Biharis in civil services such as IAS, IPS etc.
5. Very perseverant.
6. Strong caste affinity.
7. Conscious of their rights.
8. Love values in OTHERS and respect outsiders with values.
9. Blessed with highly fertile land, huge water resources, abundant mineral wealth etc.
10 Ancient learning centres, universities, religious places that they have reason to be proud of.
11 Two religions viz. Buddhism and Jainism originated here.
12 Deeply attached to community festivals and celebrations.


1. Within the state, they avoid work.
2. Extreme caste system generating perpetual animosity among castes. Caste comes before state, nation or any common goals.
3. Human Development Index very low.
4. Though highly educated, people tend to be violent- this in a state where not one but two religions extolling Non-Violence originated.
5. Respect and worship only powerful people and tend to repress people less powerful than them. A hierarchy of power gets established.
6. Dowry system very strong. Boys can command any sum depending on education / job / wealth.
7. Can flout rules for personal gain.
8. Performance only under authoritative pressure- a slavish characteristic.
9. Strong belief in PAIRAVI (manipulation) and SIFARISH (Recommendation).
10. Strong feudal outlook Unduly submissive to strong boss / landlord.
11. Capable of manipulating documents for selfish ends.
12. Low standard of honesty in business deals.
13. Lack entrepreneurial spirit. Would rather seek positions of power.
14. Cleanliness at a total discount.
15. Family planning is more or less absent. Even educated people have many children. Lalu Prasad is more the norm in this matter rather than an exception.


1. Optimum use of natural resources such as land, water and minerals in a scientific and businesslike manner.
2. Use of intellectual capital for research, I.T., BPO, Advertising, Marketing, Financial services etc. Service industries in general can be started here.
3. Establishment of Entrepreneurship Development Institutes in every district for producing job givers rather than job seekers.
4. Community education (in the right sense of the word) for bridging gaps between communities.
5. Use of LPG i.e. Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization to overcome feudal system.
6. Vast pool of unskilled labour can be put to optimum use for construction and in industries on the lines of the early days of the Chinese revolution. They used human conveyor system in place of conveyor belts or other mechanical means for intra-plant transportation of raw materials, intermediate products and finished products. Unskilled labour can be used in greater quantities than at present in states short of unskilled labour. If the rest of the country benefits from the use of Bihar’s minerals like coal, iron, uranium etc., it stands to reason that they play host to Bihari unskilled labour as well.
7. Establishment of world class educational institutes like IITs, IIMs, Agricultural Universities.
8.Setting up ITIs in every Tehsil for training apprentices in various trades including construction and agriculture related trades.
9.Promote Dairies and other Agro-processing industries.
10. Invoke past glory to infuse sense of capabilities and potentialities.
11. Welcome people from other states to come, settle and contribute on a reciprocal basis.


1. General disinclination to discard social behaviour such as casteism, feudal living and past animosities.
2. Badly managed educational institutes where degrees are manufactured rather than preparing learned students. There is a possibility of a Bihar degree to be considered a disqualification rather than a qualification outside the state.
3. Migration of good, capable and honest people to areas outside the state in view of an unsuitable environment within the state. This aggravates further, the troubles of the state.
4. Literacy levels appear to be sinking lower and lower. Children to be found more on buffalo backs than in schools.
5. Industrialization may be reduced rather than enhanced if money/muscle/land power continues to prevail over better sense.
6. Threat of Maoists’ takeover akin to neighbouring Nepal.