Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Inflation, Competition and Depression

Yesterday a neighbour asked for some help. They needed a maid, like the one we have for my mother. It took me a while to realize that their major concern was cost! They are better off than us with children settled abroad who are very keen to help. The salary for a maid should be peanuts for them. I can only guess that it is hard for old people to get used to the increases in costs with high inflation.

Even if the work required of the maid is very little, the mere fact that she has to be present for 8 hours means that we should pay her a reasonable amount. As it is, I feel sad at the low expectations of most help; but the even lower expectations of the neighbours really depressed me.

But this depression was nothing compared to another experience. Yesterday, a new person picked up the garbage. He mentioned that the rate from first will now be X. Even though it seemed low, it just did not register in my mind that something was wrong.

Today, I talked to the new guy asking about the previous fellow and why the change. He said that he will be charging us less than our existing service provider for the same service! I was taken aback. He explained that he was reducing the charges because the other guy had undercut him in several houses from which he used to collect garbage. So, he was left with no choice as he also has to eat!

I did not change our service provider. But this destructive competition among at the bottom of the pyramid spoiled my day. There has to be a better way.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rent Control Act - all to protect the poor and the defenceless!

 The following headline "UP sends notice to Shanti Bhushan for Rs 1.33 crore" was of course very interesting. However, it was the old story which struck a raw nerve.

Lala Manohar Das, great grandfather of Sudhir Tandon, was one of the founders of the Allahabad Bank, which shifted its headquarters to Kolkatta in 1917. Bhushan’s father Vishwamitra had taken the property on rent way back in 1938.
The total area of the bungalow is over 11,000 sq metre. Of this, about one-third was vacated by Bhushan in favour of the owner who sold it in October last year. The remaining part is in possession of Bhushan’s family.
“For us, this was a win-win situation. We sold the land vacated by Shanti Bhushan for about Rs 10 crore. Otherwise, we were getting a monthly income of Rs 200 only from this property which was under the Rent Control Act,’’ said Sudhir Tandon.
A lawyer had rented our house. He stayed for many years. My grandfather who was looking after the place expired. My father was straight-forward and agreed to the extension requests of the tenant - but after many years, he still would not vacate. My cousin told my father(a phrase which sounds more poetic in Punjabi) - Has he(the tenant) been bitten by a mad dog that he would vacate your house, move to the suburbs and pay more!

Finally, my father filed a legal case for eviction. He may have lost the case on a technicality. However, the government officials take care of themselves. They created a law by which a government official could get his rented place vacated upon retirement.

It still took years as the tenant filed false statements. The supreme court did not admit the case and we are finally staying in the house now!

Still, it is depressing to read how the very well off, well connected and morally 'upright' - like a former law minister - benefit from laws like the rent control act! 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Next step - a Lokpal to decide who is mature enough to vote!

The poor opinion of Anna Hazare about democracy is not surprising but still disappointing since so many folks got carried away on Facebook. And it depressed me. The following really bugged me:
“I will forfeit my deposit if I contest any elections,” Hazare said, implying that good candidates seldom won. “Ordinary voter does not have awareness. They cast their vote under the influence of Rs 100 or a bottle of liquor or a sari offered by candidates. They don’t understand the value of their vote.”
Let's have a Lokpal who will decide the people mature enough to vote!

I am disturbed by the implicit belief that election reforms cannot ensure that decent candidates stand for election and get elected. Why bother with democracy. Let us invite Colonel Gaddafi who needs a new job. I am sure Libyans will offer us free oil if we do so :)
Expressing confidence that the Lokpal Bill will eradicate corruption by about 90 per cent, he suggested that the remaining 10 per cent could be taken care of by electoral reforms with the provision of “right to reject”. So, he advocated the need for “none of the above” button in electronic voting machines.
We need the option to reject all - I wonder if 'reject all' will result in more alcohol or sarees coming the way of the 'Ordinary voter'.

It amazes me that anyone can believe that strict punishment can eliminate corruption (or any crime)! And since these people believe that corruption is pervasive, how on earth will one person manage to bring all the corrupt to justice or even manage to filter the cases that need to be pursued? I suppose that will be determined by who pays more to prosecute/persecute someone! I am sure the Lokpal will be incorruptible; so, he will prosecute his own employees.

And amazingly the strong support for hanging the corrupt comes from a Chief Minister - oh, how he would love to apply that law to his opponents!

All I can say is that the "civil society" is not very civil in my view.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Reflection on the days of V P Singh

I had admired and liked V P Singh because of a project we were involved in. I know many opposed him.

I was disappointed once he became the PM. He no longer seemed relaxed. His speeches on tv were now un-inspiring.

I do not remember what I felt about Mandal but did feel that some form of positive discrimination for the deprived sections of the society was needed. However, I was horrified by Newstrack - it was the probably the only non-governmental muti-media. It was aimed directly at the well-off middle class who had access to video players. It seemed to me that Newstrack was encouraging students to immolate themselves. It was a middle class 'revolution'.

V P Singh's government fell but not a single government or major party since has expressed opposition to Mandal commission recommendations!

I recently returned from Mumbai to Chandigarh directly by flight. Had I come via Delhi I would have been stranded. Many trains, including Shatabadi trains to Chandigarh, were cancelled thanks to a 'revolution' by the Jats of Haryana for reservations - a 'revolution' not covered extensively by our news channels.

To quote from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5 - "So it goes."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Little did the Professor realise...

I loved the ending of Roman Polanski's Fearless Vampire Killers - Little did the professor realize that he was carrying away the very evil he had come to destroy.

A few minutes of watching our 24x7 channels on Hazare and the fight against corruption gave me a severe headache. It is as if one has been bombarded by nothing but the Fox News. Am I becoming right-winger? I find the current crusade to be somewhat similarly simplistic to the US Tea Party movement.

People and broadcasters screaming for some people to be jailed for various scams. It probably wouldn't even matter if the people punished were just remotely associated with the scams as long as the punishment is severe and quick. Blood is needed to make it seem that something is being done! (There is a lovely scene in  Ernst Lubitsch's Ninotchka about the state of Russia - "Mass trials were very successful. There are now fewer but better Russians.")

I had sympathized with the JP Narayan movement though I wasn't in India. Should we call that movement idealistic or simplistic? Anyway, it was followed by emergency and Indira Gandhi deserves the credit for bringing democracy back.

I do not think parties win elections by money power though the parties certainly can't win without money. Hazare was saying that he doesn't take any money but spreads his word walking around Maharashtra. I recall my father telling me about a comment by Sarojini Naidu about Mahatma Gandhi and G D Birla  - it costs quite a bit of money to keep Gandhi poor.

Instead of having a powerful anti-corruption enforcement authority why not search for transparent funding mechanisms which ensure better people in politics. Pretending that money is evil or not needed ensures the same results as the ending of the Fearless Vampire Killers.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Good mood of world cup victory spoiled by cash awards

I am not fond of sports. I usually wind up empathizing with the losing side - so it is not much fun.

Anyway, I watched the world cup final to give company to my mother and enjoyed it as well. Though it was sad to see Sangakkara's face in the final overs, it was exciting to see Sachin Tendulkar get a world cup victory in his collection as well.

However, my mood of happiness changed when the BCCI announced cash awards for the victorious team. Somehow, the reward felt tasteless and vulgar. I wish they had announced a new ground like Shivaji Park for children and grownups to play in Mumbai or surrounding areas in the honor of Sachin and the victorious team.

Memories of politicians rushing to announce monetary compensation to the dead and the injured after an accident or a catastrophe rushed to my brain.

Money, money, money...distressing and depressing.

Entering The Third Stage...

I saw Ian McEwan's Innocents on a book shop. I was about to buy it but I thought I may have bought it. I was going to Goa anyway so I would check my unread books there.

I was in for a surprise. The book was very much there. The paper had turned slightly brown. There were even noticeable dog-ears. So, I had read the book and not remembered it at all! This was troubling - till I was a student, I read a lot more and remembered the books I read. Here was one of the few books I read in my working life and by my favourite author and I had no recollection of it. McEwan's books invariably have a twist which I always believed made them unforgettable. Come to think of it, the only books I clearly remember from my working life are Vikram Seth's Golden Gate and A Suitable Boy.

I was even more shocked to find Ian McEwan's A Child in Time, which I read a year or so ago and found mind-boggling. I presume that I had not read that book. I bought it, the pages turned brown and, presumably, I forgot about it. It would be even more disturbing to know that I had read that book decades ago.

I was struck by the 4 stages of life as per Hindu philosophy. After starting work and raising a family, that is entering the second phase, the mind seems to have been so absorbed in the existential issues that books, movies were forgotten.

As the children grew older and independent, I had to make the effort to minimize interfering in their life. May be offer advice but accept that it may be ignored. Hopefully I have succeeded to some extent. But on the positive side,  now I find that I can make time to read and enjoy it.