Tilak Rishi's weblog

Musings on writing, expression, world politics, journalism, movies, philosophy, life, humour...

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Tilak Rishi, born in India, has been working as a career corporate executive, after doing his MBA. Passionately pursuing his hobby for writing, he also remained a regular contributor to newspapers in India and the U.S. Many true happenings and characters he came across in life, including interaction with former president Bill Clinton, inspired Paradise Lost and Found, his first novel. A family saga, it starts from Kashmir, when this paradise on earth is lost for the tourists who thronged in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. Terrorists have turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world. The family is not only a witness to the loss of this paradise, but also to another tragedy of much bigger magnitude. In the aftermath of the partition of India, along with millions uprooted from their homes in Pakistan, the family leaves behind all that it has in Lahore. Starting from a scratch on the difficult path to progress, it still has many joyful moments when along the way it makes a difference in many a life. The survival-to-success story climaxes in California where the family finds the paradise that was lost in Kashmir.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Simply blog on!

Here is a “Thank you” quickie to kick off the new year.

Thank you Sulekha Team for being my mentors on weblog. I could never have reached 100 and beyond mark in writing blogs but for your most inspiring posts with motivating words like “Your call:”. “What's your stand?”, “Simply blog on..”, and so on. And, add to it the encouraging “Hurray!” and “Congratulations” emails sometimes, that made my day.

Thank you Sulekha Team, for keeping us, the members, informed, and connected with the community worldwide; for new ideas discovered, or blind alleys averted. You have proved Weblogs have a place in society that's as strong as their place in decentralizing news gathering and reporting. And there's more. All you are doing is lowering the barrier, making it easier to get in. That's a big deal of course, because every year, and each time through the loop, it's bigger, and it gets easier. You, I have felt, place no restrictions on the form of content being posted. It can be anything: a passing thought, an extended essay, a quick reflection on some subject or another, or a rare childhood recollection. Everyone could publish, a thousand voices could flourish, communicate, connect, nothing less than an outbreak of self-expression. Each is evidence of a staggering shift from an age of carefully controlled information provided by sanctioned authorities, to an unprecedented opportunity for individual expression on a worldwide scale.

The Sulekha bloggers, by virtue of simply writing down whatever is on their mind, are confronted with their own thoughts and opinions. Blogging often, they become more confident writers. A community of people may spring up around the public record of their thoughts. Being met with friendly voices, they gain more confidence in their view of the world; they begin to experiment with longer forms of writing, to play with haiku, or to begin a creative project--one that they would have dismissed as being inconsequential or doubted they could complete earlier. As they enunciate their opinions daily, this new awareness of their inner life may develop into a trust in their own perspective. Their own reactions--to a poem, to other people, and, yes, to the media--will carry more weight with them. Accustomed to expressing their thoughts on Sulekha, they are able to more fully articulate their opinions to themselves and others. Ideally, they become less reflexive and more reflective, and find their own opinions and ideas worthy of serious consideration. Their readers will remember an incident from their own childhood when the bloggers relate a memory. They will click back and forth between blogs and analyze each blogger's point of view in a multi-blog conversation, and form their own conclusions on the matter at hand. Doing this, they may begin a similar journey of self-discovery and intellectual self-reliance.

New Year’s Blog Resolutions. Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? I usually don’t because I find them so difficult to keep. But, as we enter 2009, I’ve been thinking about them as they relate to blogging. Here is one blog resolution that, I hope, should be easy to keep and that will go a long way towards ensuring a successful year: Spend more time commenting on other blogs. This one is easy to forget in the push to create more unique, quality content, but it’s not something to lose sight of, no matter how successful our blog becomes. Building relationships with other bloggers is important, I have realized. This profound experience of engaging other bloggers in conversation about the interests they share is, indeed, very exhilarating. We may reflect on a book we are reading, or the city we have visited, or may simply jot notes about our life. These fragments, pieced together over months, can provide an unexpectedly intimate view of what it is to be a particular individual in a particular place at a particular time. I must acknowledge here that I am motivated to make this resolution by many of my fellow bloggers and readers who were kind to make comments on my blogs from time to time. Thank you Kala, Gopal, Ether, Sridharra, Sudha, Gopalkrishnan, Bina, Nidhana, Divya, Promila, Neera, Aditi, Ranjani, Shripriya, Ratan, Ysadesi, Meera, Supriya, Krishnan, Smita and all the others who enriched me with their views by posting comments on my blog posts. I was so excited whenever Sulekha sent me an alert informing me of your comment on my blogs, and felt grateful for giving your precious time to read and respond to my posts. I thought if you could do it, why can't I. Hence, the new year resolution.

With my best wishes for a HAPPY NEW YEAR 2009 to Sulekha Team, Fellow Bloggers and my Readers: May this new year bring many opportunities your way to explore every joy of life. And, as Sulekha Team puts it very often in their posts, “Simply blog on!”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Precious Pepsi Crate!

The wounds inflicted by the atrocities on the Sikh community in Delhi in the aftermath of Indra Gandhi's assassination were too deep to heal, even long after the disturbances had subsided and the Sikhs had come out of hiding, to carry on with their normal life. Many amongst the Sikh youth, who had lost their relations in the riots, were incited by extremists to join them to avenge the killings. In such an atmosphere of anger and hate, innocent Sikhs, especially the youth, were the worst hit. They were suspected of extremist affiliations, and not trusted for employment. It was during that time, my wife noticed a Sikh youth traveling daily in her bus but going nowhere to work. Once in a while he would be driving the bus as the substitute driver, when the regular driver did not report on duty. It was a private bus running under contract with Delhi Transport Service. One day my wife, out of curiosity, asked the young man as to what brought him to the bus every day when he worked as a driver only once in a while.
“Aunty, when one has no work, even a few days' work is fantastic. So that I do not miss the rare chance to work, I must come daily.”
“Have you tried for a full time job?”
“I tried very hard but did not get any. I have a bachelor's degree and I also know typing, still no jobs. It is a curse to be an unemployed Sikh in the capital, nobody wants to employ him.”
“You should try in an establishment owned by a Sikh entrepreneur.”
“I did, but it was no different. Even they avoid hiring Sikhs, being scared to lose business from their Hindu clients.”
“I will check up with a Sikh friend of ours, who owns a travel agency, if he can help you.”

Pratap, the Sikh youth, got a job with the travel agency the next day. But his bad-luck, he lost it after a few months. The owner, our friend, who gave him the employment, sold the company and migrated to Canada, as many Sikh businessmen were doing those days. The new owner did not take time to sack Pratap, as he did not want to take the risk of employing an “extremist”. Pratap was once again on the road, riding the same bus my wife took to her school. He told her what happened at work. He also informed her that during the time he worked with the travel agency, he was also trained to serve as a tourist guide to meet the rush during tourist season.
“How about starting your own tourist service, and take advantage of the training you got?”
“No Aunty, it's not that easy. Leave aside the money part that I may be able to arrange from my family, no one will let out premises to me for the purpose.”
“I know, but what I have in mind does not need to rent out premises. You only need resources to buy or rent out a cab or a three-wheeler, and then you can operate from your vehicle parked outside any hotel that is popular amongst foreign tourists. I have seen the system working at many tourist places.”

And within a week, Prarap was driving a three-wheeler auto-rickshaw, taking tourists from their hotel to sightseeing places in Delhi. He was making money, but only in the tourist season, which was the shortest of all seasons, hardly a month and a half around Christmas. This was not enough to sustain him for the whole year. What to do? He knew the answer was with his bus-aunty. As soon as the season was off and hardly any tourists were left in the hotel, he came to the bus to consult my wife on the problem he faced. And as he had hoped, she had an answer.
“You are a good driver with experience of driving heavy vehicles on Delhi roads. There is a huge demand for truck drivers in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. My husband knows someone who recruits drivers and other workers for working in the Middle East. He may be able to help you.”

It took a little over a month, the time taken for obtaining passport and completing other paper work, for Pratap to be on his flight to Kuwait. A contractor had employed him as a truck driver, through the recruiting agency run by a friend of mine. The contract was for three years with a provision for extension for the same period after its expiry. However, even much before the three year contract was to expire, Pratap's stay in Kuwait was cut short. Iraq had attacked Kuwait and the Gulf War was about to start. Air India evacuated Pratap, along with thousands of other Indians working in Kuwait in one of the biggest airlifts in the world. And there he was, once again without work, to consult my wife, concerning his next occupation. It was Sunday and we were both home.
“Thank God, you are back before the war begins. I would have felt guilty all my life for suggesting you to go to Kuwait if something had happened to you there.” My wife was happy to see him return safely.
“Thanks to Air India, we were evacuated from Kuwait in time. But it cut short my career in Kuwait, and I am again without work here.” Pratap did not hesitate to straightaway come to the subject of his next employment.
“He had helped you get a job in Kuwait, it is now his responsibility to find you a replacement for the one you lost there.” She laughed looking at me.

I suggested to Pratap to try walk-in-interviews for drivers-cum-salesmen, the position advertised by Pepsi in the paper the same day, which had attracted my attention just before Pratap came. The interviews were scheduled to start the same day and Pratap thanked us and rushed to reach the company to take a chance in Pepsi. Next day a big Pepsi truck stopped in front of our house from which Pratap stepped out carrying a crate of Pepsi. It was his first day of service in Pepsi. He put the crate on the floor, touched our feet, trying to find words to express his gratitude.
“I thought it would be the most auspicious start to my career in Pepsi if you agree to be my first customer. How blessed I feel before you is beyond anybody's imagination, not even of my parents.”
“Of course, we would be the happiest to be your first customer . God bless you.” My wife said.

Pratap continued his career in Pepsi, working hard to go up the ladder of success, step by step. For us, that was the most precious crate of Pepsi we ever bought. We, especially my wife, always cherished it for the joy of making a difference in Pratap's life.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Foreign Trained Montessori Teacher!

In our spare time, while my wife did watercolor painting, I decided to do what I always wanted to do, since my school days when I used to write a couple of columns in my school magazine. I started to edit and publish my own weekly paper, The Priceless, not as a full time profession or business, but purely as a pastime. It was a weekly paper of ads with a sprinkling of popular features like film reviews, food recipes from my wife's kitchen, fortune forecasts for the week from Zodiac books etc., and was distributed free with the weekend edition of daily newspapers. It was then a new concept that instantly clicked. Neighborhood shops and commercial establishments, which could not afford expensive advertisements in the national newspapers, advertised in The Priceless, paying a very affordable price. With its increasing popularity, my wife's involvement in its production also increased, and besides contributing the recipe column, she also booked ads and attended to calls from the readers and the advertisers. She could give more time as her school job gave her many more spare hours than my office timings.

Though The Priceless was not a newspaper, by a twist of fate, it became the biggest news story of the mainstream newspapers. It could do what the police failed to do, tracing a teenage girl in Delhi, who had disappeared from her home in Singapore. The girl's mother pursuing a clue, a postcard from her daughter with a Delhi postal marking, had come to Delhi in search of her missing daughter. She sought the help of Delhi police, but in the city with a population of seventy million then, it was too difficult to trace her daughter without any definite leads. As was its routine in such a case of suspected kidnapping, the police raided the 'Red Light' area, in case the girl was a victim of traffickers who might have sold her for prostitution. But it was of no avail. When all efforts by the police to trace her daughter in Delhi failed, the mother decided to go back to Singapore, disappointed and distressed. However, prior to leaving Delhi, she advertised in the newspapers about her missing daughter, offering a handsome award for any help in finding her. As soon as my wife saw the ad, describing the missing girl as a Montessori school teacher in Singapore, something struck her mind.
“I have a hunch that the missing girl might be traced at the new school in our neighborhood, which has been advertising in our paper for the last several weeks announcing its opening.” She said excitedly on seeing the ad.
“What makes you think that the girl would have run away from her home in Singapore to join a starter school like this one?” I was curious to know the clue she had in her mind.
“Because the Principal/owner of the school called the other day to add this line in their regular ad, 'Kinder Garden classes taken by a foreign trained Montessori teacher.' I cannot say why, but I'm quite certain that this foreign trained teacher must be the same missing girl from Singapore.” And she immediately called the number given in the ad about the missing girl, and asked the excited mother to come over to our place to pursue a vital clue she had on her daughter's whereabouts.

My wife told the mother, who had rushed to reach our house by a taxi from her hotel, that she suspected that her daughter might be working at the new school in our neighborhood, which had publicized in our weekly paper the addition of a foreign trained teacher. And she took her to the school, not far from our house. To the mother's most joyous moment, Mona, her missing daughter, was very much there. Mona, though momentarily shocked to see her mother at the school, was overjoyed to be reunited with her. It turned out that Mona had left home as she could not cope with her step father's continuing misbehavior with her. She came to Delhi because she only knew this city other than Singapore, having visited it many times with her mother. She had been planning secretly for some time to leave Singapore, and kept looking for a suitable job, scanning classifieds in a Delhi paper, available in her school library. Responding to an ad of the school, requiring a Montessori teacher, she flew to Delhi without informing anyone. She straight went to the school and met the Principal, who not only gave her the job but also helped her getting a paying guest accommodation with a lady teacher in the same school.

Mainstream newspapers, which were following the story of the missing girl from Singapore, came out next day with the details how the case had closed with a happy ending. They had especially praised my wife's role in reuniting the mother and the daughter, connecting the two ads and her refusal to accept any reward for this from the mother. The mother, though very happy to have found her daughter, returned to Singapore without her. She had acceded to her daughter's request to let her continue with her job at the school, only when my wife persuaded her in view of Mona's plight and agreed to be her local guardian in Delhi.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Columbus Stole My "American Visa"!

Columbus Stole My “American Visa”!

While working with a reputed company in New Delhi, I also passionately pursued my hobby for writing whenever the time permitted. I started with writing “Letters to the Editor” in Hindustan Times, which very soon became a regular feature of the column. At that time the paper used to publish writer's address too under his name, and I started receiving a lot of letters from the readers, some as rejoinders but generally in appreciation. One day I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from a publisher. He had been reading all my letters and was very much impressed by my style of writing, and offered to publish a book that I had already written or would like to write.

The publisher's letter proved the biggest motivation for me to write the book that was already in my mind. Ever since our son went to the U.S. to pursue higher studies, after going through tough grilling in the interview with the visa officer at the U.S. embassy, I had been wanting to write a book for the benefit of all, especially the students, who aspired to go to the U.S. for studies or economic advancement. I had sufficient material stored in my memory from our own travels to the U.S. and the talks I had with many Indians who had settled there. I started writing the book in right earnest, my wife helping me in the project with her recollection of interesting experiences and anecdotes in the U.S., which could provide a good source of guidance to the readers in coping with the cultural explosion and other initial difficulties they might be confronted with on arriving in the U.S. With both of us working overtime, we were able to complete the manuscript in two months, and ready to approach the publisher who had earlier offered to publish my book.

The publisher responded promptly and invited me to meet him with the manuscript. As he was glancing through the introductory pages, I could see an expression of appreciation and enthusiasm on his face.
“I'm sure it is going to be a great book when it is published. With millions of people aspiring to settle in the U.S. and students dreaming to go there for studies, the book will be like a bible for them, their best guide on Mission America. We would be only too happy to publish the book, but before committing or finalizing on the contract, I will have to send the manuscript to our acquisition editor for his approval. It is the normal procedure before accepting a book for publishing. I hope you will not mind leaving the manuscript with us for the purpose.”

I was more than thrilled to leave the manuscript of my book “American Visa” with the publisher. I was so overwhelmed after meeting the publisher that I started to fantasize my first book becoming a best seller after it was published. I even began dreaming of my next book, “My India”, based on my memories of travels throughout the Country. As time passed, days looked longer and month like many months, without a word from the publisher. I got worried and gave a call to the publisher.
“The manuscript is still with the editor. He has taken it with him to go through it while on vacation to a hill station. I will call you as soon as he returns.”

I was relieved by the publisher's response, but only momentarily, as even after three months had passed the editor did not return from his unusually long vacation. At last, after nearly four months the publisher called to convey that the editor had returned and I could come whenever convenient. He sounded so much different from when I met him first time. Definitely not as enthusiastic or encouraging. I decided to go immediately, as I could not wait to end my anxiety. I felt like the student who knew he must have failed, but went all the same to see his result, expecting a miracle to happen. But miracle was only a mirage, it did not happen. It did not happen with my manuscript too.
“I'm sorry to inform you that it would not be possible for us to publish your book. Our editor has returned the manuscript with the remarks that we had only recently published a book on a similar subject and it was not advisable to publish another book on the same topic so soon after the publication of the first book. I'll be only too pleased to publish any other book you write that is on a different subject, as I really admire your writing.”

On the way back I stopped by a book store to see if such a book was really published or the publisher had made it up as an excuse to reject and return my manuscript. I did not have to enquire about the book, as a book titled “How to go to America” was prominently displayed near the front desk amongst “New Arrivals”. The writer of the book was Columbus, obviously a fictitious name, and the publisher was the same, which proved he did not lie to me. I bought the book out of curiosity about its contents. As I went through the book before going to bed, I found to my utter disbelief that the book was nothing but the abridged version of my own manuscript. Same subject, same style and even the same text, only made shorter and simpler, like they turned lengthy text books into the so called “Keys” for students, which they found very helpful in preparing for their examinations. It was an outright theft from my manuscript. Fighting a long legal battle with the publisher was out of question, because of lack of time and resources. Though anguished and perturbed, I tried to pacify myself with the thought that after all it was no petty thief but Columbus himself, who stole my “American Visa”.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

PDA On Priest's Call!

PDA, the topic takes me back to the nostalgic memories of the beautiful time I spent in the company of of my friends and fellow students at my dearest Delhi University. PDA for us was boys and girls going out together to the University Coffee House and have hearty laughs talking about our lecturers or the latest movies. Not that we did not have couples amongst the students, but their PDA was also confined to sitting under the winter sun in secluded corners of the lawn, peeling an orange or sharing an apple, or continuing their after class studies in the Library, exchanging notes sitting next to each other, and at the end of it to walk together up to the bus stand and waiting their for the bus, once in a while willingly missing the bus to have more time together till the next bus arrived. A quick kiss was far fetched, even holding of hands had to be done discretely. Not that they were all puritans or prisoners of their parents' orthodox values, who over restrained in enjoying innocent romantic moments with their partners. But they did it at places that provided them privacy to do it, in restaurants which had special cabins for couples to have their own space, in movie theaters in the privacy of the box provided in many picture halls. For romancing in fresh air, there were lovely, though lonely, places like the Lovers' Lane connecting the ridge and Sardar Patel road, or gorgeous gardens around historical monuments,with hardly any visitors on week days. But city parks, streets and side walks or any place within public view, NO WAY. It would be sheer arrogance shown to elders or the public, indeed a Public Display of Arrogance. Interestingly, most of those romantic partners in the University, when settled in life later, would be seen as happily united in marriage, like me and my wife. This was the norm then, and not the exception.

Films often are a true reflection of their times. PDA as we know today, was missing from the movies of that era. Instead of lying on each other on the lawns or smooching in some scenic location in Switzerland, the hero would be seen playing a piano while wooing his ladylove with lines somewhat like “Tu kahe agar to jeevan bhar mein geet sunata jaoon.” The proverbial tree proved safe bet in courting scenes to keep the lovers at safe distance from each other at public parks, or still safer, the lovers remained separated in much of the footage of the film, content to call from long distance, “Awaaz de kahan hei, dunia meri jawan hei.” With all the inspiration missing from movies, the youth then did not even know there was such a thing as PDA.

50 years later and 10,000 miles away, I find PDA believers at their best, or perhaps, at their worst. They're everywhere: the couples out in public indulging in deep kissing that goes on and on. America has become a nation of sexual exhibitionism. People feel the need to demonstrate their sexuality to others, and public displays of affection are the perfect way to prove that their private lives are truly sexual. Men like to practice PDA because it stokes their egos. Women also practice PDA as a way of sending a signal to other women that her partner is "taken. Their thinking is: 'love is beautiful, why feel shy of sharing it with the rest of the world'. Schools in USA, specially, are the worst examples of PDA. Couples do not hesitate to physically demonstrate their love in the hallways, on the staircase and anywhere in the school compound. Some schools have now made a student sitting on another student's lap in the class a ground for suspension, but most schools still do not have any rules that specifically address public display of affection. When students pass out from the schools which have not been strict even when students have been blatantly and excessively displaying affection, they continue to indulge in PDA in any and every public place, leaving its appropriateness entirely dependent on the eye of the beholder. They believe Society’s gotten less prudish; the shame’s not there, nor the secrecy, the stuff on TV is a validation of the audience’s desires.

Last year we were in India, hosting an American guest, a colleague of my son in Sun Microsystems. He had come on official visit to Bangalore, but extended his stay to do some sight seeing with us in New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, the Golden Triangle of tourism. One place he captured most on his camera, after the Taj, was the beautifully landscaped Lodi Garden in New Delhi. He could not hold himself from clicking the couples, cuddled in for their rare moments of romance, in this real haven of tranquility and peace. They had completely over shadowed the historical connection of the place to the medieval monuments by attracting attention to their 'no hold bars' public display of affection. Though a very common sight in his country, our friend could not hide his shock on finding PDA being pursued so boldly in India. Like most Americans, he too, perhaps, perceived Indians to be culturally very traditional and orthodox, who could marry a woman whom they had never met, in contrast to long live-in relationship before marriage, so common in his country. But globalization seems to have greatly diminished much of the distance between different cultures, as reflected in increasing public display of affection in India. Hopefully, the weddings will continue to be completed traditionally with the couples bowing to their elders to seek their blessings, instead of following the western culture of the priest calling the couple to kiss in public and the gathering giving a big hand by clapping – PDA on priest's call!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Anti-Corruption Culture A Far Cry?

The United Nation's General Assembly five years ago designated December 9 as the International Anti-Corruption Day "to recognize that we all have a personal responsibility to help end corruption.” It is, indeed, ironical that on this day came the news of the most shameful case of political corruption in the United States that shocked the nation: “Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday on charges he brazenly conspired to sell or trade President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder as part of what federal prosecutors called a "political corruption crime spree."

For me at least, having my origin from India, it was neither surprising nor a big deal for the governor to allot the Senate seat to the biggest bidder. In India, it has been a norm for all political parties to nominate candidates on the basis of their contribution to the party funds, the biggest bidder mostly preferred over all other aspirants, including the most deserving, for the ticket. And it is no recent development. Way back in 1960s, my classmate in Law Faculty of Delhi University and my closest friend shocked me with the news that he had been nominated by the biggest political party to be their candidate for the ensuing elections from his home constituency. He had never ever worked for the party, nor for any social cause that could have been considered while selecting him. The only factor that favored him was his newly acquired financial status. He had been recently given huge compensation for his farmlands which the government had acquired for developing residential areas for the increasing population of Delhi. He could easily afford to pay the highest amount for the party ticket.

The seeds of political corruption are planted as soon as the political leaders realise that power and wealth could be equals. Political corruption often begins with favoritism towards those with wealth and influence. Being placed in a position of significant political power can be overwhelming, and the temptation to bend or break rules for a perceived 'greater good' is always present. There are experienced politicians for whom political corruption is a natural state of being. History is filled with examples of corrupt public officials.

Public contracting is one way in which public policy is implemented, and it is an enormous and lucrative area of business. Most of these contracts are meant to buy or produce goods or services that should benefit citizens directly, like the construction of a road or a sewage system. Contracts are sources of power to those who give them out, and targets of ambition for those who may receive them, making public contracts particularly prone to abuse at the expense of public need. The risk of corruption in public contracting exists even before the contracting process has started, perhaps even at the moment when public budgets are allocated, and it perpetuates beyond the awarding of a contract to its implementation.

No government, state or central, that has governed the country has ever tried to address the deep-rooted problems of policing, and thereby the law and order in India. Politicians use the police for their short-term political interests. The police reciprocate their affinity to the people in power by letting them to be exploited. The public mistrust in the local police is not the result of an overnight incident. It is the crystallization of years of experience. A law enforcement agency which lacks the trust of the people cannot maintain law and order. Today in India, the police serve the rich and the powerful. To expect an ordinary Indian to approach the local police with information is an impossibility in the country. An example is the statements made by the parents who lost their children in the infamous 2006 December Noida serial murder case. The case began after the recovery of the skeletal remains of missing children in Nithari village in the outskirts of Noida city close to New Delhi.

The investigation of the case reveled that when the parents approached the Noida police to lodge complaints about their missing children, the police refused to register their complaints. When the parents persisted, they were chased away by the police with the threat that if they returned false cases would be registered against them accusing them of selling their children. The parents went away from the police station, since they were poor and could not afford to pay bribes to the police to get their complaints registered. An administration that expects the ordinary public to freely approach the local police with information is consciously ignoring the reality.

You may say, "What can we do about it? These forces are too rich, too powerful, too entrenched to be defeated." Maybe. Fighting corruption is not easy. Anti-corruption campaigns are more often limited to rhetoric, and are only rarely sustained. Moreover, political leaders in some countries are either unable or unwilling to pursue bold reforms because of the political risks. Experience has invariably demonstrated that an effective campaign to combat corruption presupposes the sway of a particular culture in society, namely one exalting transparency, integrity, and accountability. The problem is that this kind of culture is still largely deficient or lacking. Rather, the dominant ambience is one of laxity, condonance, and tolerance vis-a-vis acts of corruption. The outcome is reflected in the absence of public accountability for undue acts or deeds. The public, via the press, through polls, or by any other means, does not censure or condemn misdeeds, infractions, or misbehavior characterized as corruption. Only too often an opulent individual is revered for his wealth regardless of how he had made it.

An anti-corruption culture would only develop and be enriched over time with vigilant and determined action in both the private and public domains. The dawn of an anti-corruption culture, however, will remain a far cry as long as the structure of authority in a country is not amenable to effective accountability.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Close Friend Of The DG!

One of the assignments in my job was to appoint dealers in all the district towns in every state for sale of cassette players and stereos. The products were made for the first time in India in a factory set up near Delhi. The great train journey started, with my wife wishing me safe and successful travel and I wishing if only she was traveling with me. But she could not take such a long vacation, especially after her summer vacations which had just ended. I would spend an extra day in all the cities which had places of tourist attractions, explore those places and take notes for a book on India that had been on my mind to write for a long time. I was feeling great that side-by-side of completing the assignment, I had collected enough material for the book, when I got a big jolt and my further journey came to a sudden halt. An intruder in my compartment robbed me of all my belongings on gun point, including my most precious diary. I was left with only a sleeping suit, which I was wearing. I did not know what to do next. I had only seen such train robberies in movies, but there they would focus on the thrilling chase scene after the robbery, leaving the victims as clueless as I was then.

As soon as the train stopped at the next station, I contacted the conductor and told him about the happening. He took it casually as if it was an ordinary occurrence that happened every other day. He advised me to get down and go to the Railway Protection Force office on the platform, to report the robbery. Within minutes the train moved out of the station leaving me alone on the platform in my pajama suit in the middle of the night. As I started to walk, bare foot and without baggage, trying to locate the RPF office, a security guard standing at some distance shouted at me to stop or he would shoot me. It was obvious that he had mistaken me for a miscreant awaiting my next victim on the platform. I stood still, pitying my own condition, while the guard closed in, the gun still pointing at me. He seemed disappointed to discover that I was not the prize catch he was hoping to be awarded for, but a victim of train robbery. He took me to the RPF office and handed me over to one of the six officers standing before another, apparently their boss. After hearing from me the detailed account of what had happened and where it happened, the senior officer asked me to wait in the adjoining room while they would be working on the case to trace and catch the culprit. After about fifteen minutes the officer called me to his room.

“We are on the move to apprehend the robber. The officer in charge of the RPF at the station nearest to the scene of incident will need your help to identify the robber as well as your goods, as soon as the culprit is caught, which could be in a day or so. My man will take you there and will make necessary arrangement for your stay at our guest house.”

I hardly had some sleep in the guest house when the concerned officer came.

“Congratulations. We have caught the robber and recovered most of your stuff from him. We shall approach the court today for arranging the identification parade urgently so that you can return home.”

Admiring him for the speedy action in apprehending the culprit, I told the officer that I might not be able to identify the robber as he was wearing a mask when he robbed me.

“You need not worry, I'll take care of that.”

The officer quietly passed on to me the photograph of the culprit much before the identification parade in which I was to identify him from amongst twenty criminals in the presence of a magistrate. In order to doubly ensure that I pointed to the right person, the officer told me that the robber would be placed as the third person in the right hand row at the parade. With so many clues there was no way I could have made any mistake in identifying the robber. The magistrate was satisfied and he also gave permission to return my two bags that were recovered from the robber. Some clothes, a cassette player and my diary were missing, but not the money that my wife had hidden inside a pack of newspapers.

Before taking the train back to Delhi, I, of course, profusely praised the officer for the amazing speed with which he caught the culprit, “I have been wondering how you were able to achieve it within hours of the happening.”

“For this you must thank your friend, our Director General. He himself called me in the middle of the night and asked me to go after the robber right then. We in the police force keep track of all such criminals and know where they reside and run to after robbing passengers in the trains. We can easily catch them there, though we do not do that all the time, at least not with this speed. Since in your case the DG was personally interested to solve it, I immediately drove to the village where all these robbers reside and caught the man without much difficulty.”

It was obvious from what the officer said that he had been all the time mistaking me as a close friend of his DG, whom I had never known earlier in my life. Apparently, the officer whom I first reported the robbery must be the DG whose presence at the RPF office at that late hour was coincidental, though the concerned Inspector thought that the DG must have come specially for me, and surmised that I must be a close friend of the DG.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!!

Inderjeet, my wife, hardly ever wished something for herself, but I know whenever she wanted something, she got it without her asking, no matter the thing she wanted was important or insignificant. At times it was amusing to see her wishing for very small favors from God and He granting them all the same. We had been recently married when one weekend, after dining at a restaurant in Connaught Place, she expressed her desire to see the newly released Ganga Jamuna, running at the Regal theatre. I was surprised because going to movie was the last thing she ever got into a mood to do. May be, she wanted to make me happy, as she knew that my most favorite film star, Dilip Kumar, was in it. As we expected on the opening weekend of a big blockbuster, a huge “House Full” sign greeted us at the gate.

“Oh no, how can it happen that the very first time I want to see a film and we cannot. There must be someway we can see the movie.” She really seemed eager to see the movie.

“No way, even the black marketers seemed to have gone away after quickly making a big buck. Let us go home.” I said feeling equally disappointed.

“No, let us wait a little while more, who knows some surprise help may come, and we may be able to see the movie,” she said as if actually expecting someone to show up and lead us into the hall. And there that someone was, as soon as she completed her sentence. It was no one else but the manager of the theatre himself. He offered to give us the tickets which he had kept for a couple, who had just called to inform they would not be able to come.

I could not believe it, even if it could just be a coincidence. But in another case what happened could not be explained by any logic. A very famous Guru, having a huge following in India and abroad, had come to Delhi for the first time at the request of her devotees. After reading a beautiful write up on her in the newspaper, Inderjeet expressed her desire to see her personally. We went to attend her discourse, being held the same day in the Modern School auditorium in New Delhi. Although we went very early to have seats near the dais, we were disappointed to find that the auditorium was already full and no further admissions were allowed. Even the lawn outside the auditorium, where they had installed a TV, was almost filled up, and we got seats towards the end of the lawn from where we could not get a good view of the TV screen.

“I had wished to see Guruma but not like this. On TV we could have seen at home, watching news coverage of the event.” As she was complaining, we saw a female volunteer of foreign origin coming towards our direction from the distant corner of the compound. Crossing through the entire lawn, she came straight to Inderjeet and said, “There is a seat for you in the auditorium, please come with me.” I could hardly trust my eyes when I was watching the discourse on the TV; she was sitting just in front of Guruma, in the very first row.

The most amusing wish that inderjeet must have made in her life was when it was raining heavily one Sunday morning and she had a craving for 'jalebis'.

“Wouldn't it be wonderful if somebody brought us warm jalebis in this wet weather?” She gave went to her wishful thinking, when there was a soft knock on our door. As I opened the door, we were delighted to see Ahluwalias, our dear friends and the sweetest couple we had known in our life. The husband had a packet in his hand which he passed on to Inderjeet. “Here are some jalebis for you. As we got down from the bus we saw a vendor frying them, and thought there could be nothing better to enjoy in this weather than eating warm jalebis.”

As I kept counting in my mind the countless such instances, major and minor, amazing and amusing, when she got whatever she wished, I was getting more and more confident that this time too her wish would be granted. I had asked her to pray that the book I had almost finished writing would be published in USA, where we were moving to join our son, settled there. I knew how hard and tedious task it was for a new author to have his book accepted for publication. Even before our plane touched down at San Francisco airport, I had made up my mind how to go about it. Immediately after arriving in the U.S., I would go to the nearest library, study all the guide books on the subject, get the names of prominent publishers and agents, particularly those who were known for encouraging new writers, write to them about my book and so on.

As it happened, more than my efforts, it must have been my wife's prayer that paid off. It did not take long to receive a positive response to my query letter from a renowned publisher. They desired to see my manuscript, which they liked immensely and accepted it for publication. Our son, who had prepared me to be patient for a long wait as his friend had been waiting for his first book to be published for many years, did not believe it until he saw the publisher's letter of acceptance. He said it was a miracle that within months of landing in USA I had my first book published. “How did it happen?”, he asked. In reply I could only point to his Mom, “She must have wished so.” I knew that was the truth.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"I Will Be Back!"

The attacks targeted the heart of India's financial district, but the shock waves were felt around the globe. Wednesday 26th Nov., we watched the anchors on CNN stutter about events, waiting for some account of how the Taj Hotel was a hostage situation for over sixty hours. Ambulances, flashing lights, bodies lying on the ground, fire through the trees - the news coverage continued for the next four days, 24 hours every day, most of the time live with their field reporter Sara right in front of the magnificent and majestc Taj Mahal hotel, displayed as the CNN montage throughout. The coverage more or less concluded on Sunday reporting “India is showing remarkable resilience. They're trying to get back to business as usual. They were planning to open the stock market, which is not far from the Taj; they're encouraging people to go back to work. That's the best thing about an open society. They're trying to project an image of resilience.”

The key questions are what they intended to achieve in their murderous rampage, their identities, and who sent them to Mumbai. Answers are likely to come in the first instance from one of those who clambered out of the inflatable on Wednesday night - 21-year-old Mohammad Ajmal Mohammad Amin Kasab - the only terrorist known to have been captured alive by Indian security forces. As details of his interrogation were disclosed in the media, the first proper understanding of what happened in three days of bloodshed began to emerge out of the contradictory details - building a case that pointed ever more strongly towards Pakistan. It is too early to tell with any precision who is behind these attacks. Indeed, Pakistan’s intelligence service has waged a proxy war against India using terrorists for decades. Today’s attacks, if they are indeed a continuation of Pakistan’s proxy war, threaten to destabilize relations between the two nations further. In the coming weeks, when the chaos has played out and authorities stabilize the situation, it will be crucial to pay attention to the evidence accumulated by Indian authorities. It is possible that Pakistani intelligence played no role in this attack, but it is equally possible, if not likely, that they did. That the tensions will increase in the coming days seems likely. If the attackers' intention was to stir up tensions between India and Pakistan, they most certainly succeeded. For now, however, it is a moment for India to come to terms with what has happened.

While the blame game is on, people blaming the leaders and our leaders blaming the Pakistan leaders, let us in the meanwhile salute the men and women wearing uniform, whether of the commandoes or the hotel staff, who saved many lives, not caring for their own lives. And also take solace from the courageous and very encouraging words of the worldwide survivors:

Sir Gulam Noon, also known as Curry King of England: “Of course, I will be back. Mumbai and India are my home. If I do not come home, these terrorists would win. We can’t allow that.”

Charles Cannon, a spiritual leader from Virginia, USA: “ We plan to return to India. We choose life, and we forgive."

MicKinney and Jan Taylor, a Virginia couple: “Every time there was an explosion out in the hall, I'd open the door just a little bit. And about the fourth time I opened it, I startled some person out in the hall, slammed the door real fast and locked it and about that time he fired at the door, and it missed me by about six inches. We have a souvenir from that experience, in fact, because the bullet pierced our "do not disturb" sign.”

Brooke Satchwell, Australian film star: “Really bloody lucky. But for the brave hotel staff I would not have been alive.”

Mark Abell, London lawyer: "Very efficiently, they took my luggage, put me in the lift, took me down to the lobby and walked me through the carnage. These people here have been fantastic, the Indian authorities, the hotel staff. They are a great advertisement for their land."

Allens of Maitland: "Just like we don't want the world to judge us based on the people that live on the fringes of our society, we don't want others to think badly for just a few people that wreak havoc like this," Maxine Allen said. "They can't win from that stance."

Peggy Sterm, Los Angles: "Evil is everywhere, we have to remember to have more love to counteract it."

Prashant Mangeshiker, gynaecologist: "The man in front of my wife shielded us. He took the bullets. The hotel staff has been very, very brave. But for the courage of Mr Rajan, his wife and daughter could have been dead. I owe it to that brave man."

Kanda Noriyaki, a chef at the Taj Mahal's Japanese restaurant, led trembling and screaming guests to safety. "We hid in the restaurant," he said. "We could hear the firing somewhere very close. Intermittently, there were blasts."

Another recounted how Taj staff stopped panicky guests from rushing into the lobby where militants could have shot them. "They were brilliant," Bhisham Mansukhani said. "If they hadn't kept their cool, many more lives would have been lost."

Bob Nicholls, security director for the South African bodyguards providing protection for cricketers playing in the Indian Premier League tournament, helped lead 120 hostages to safety from the Taj Mahal. Armed only with knives and meat cleavers, the seven guards helped other hotel guests to safety down a fire escape, carrying a traumatised 80-year-old woman in a chair down 25 flights of stairs.

There are many more unsung heroes who appeared like angles and gave a new life to those who had almost given up on this life. God bless them all.




Monday, December 01, 2008

Our Little Guest

Like my mother, my wife Inderjeet believes in the age old saying that God visits us disguised as a guest. Our open house often has a guest, invited or not. Most come to enjoy Inderjeet's culinary art and our hospitality, but there was one guest, a little girl next door, who came for freedom to move freely which was denied in her own house.

As Principal of a government school, Inderjeet had been allotted official accommodation to which we had shifted recently. She observed that every day when she returned from work in the afternoon, a small girl started to cry from her window next door. She would wave to her smilingly to make her happy, but that did not help. When she saw that it had become a daily routine, she became curious and could not resist knocking at the neighbor's door. An elderly lady opened the door. She was the grandma of the girl, who would tie her leg to the bed so that the girl did not bother her while she was cooking. The girl's mother was a working woman who returned from work in the evening. Inderjeet offered to take her to our place and keep her there till the grandma was free from her kitchen work. The grandma was only too happy to accept the offer. Since that day, Sapna, the little girl, was our daily guest. Inderjeet would pick her up on her way back from work and keep her till her mother came back from work. It continued for days, months and years when Sapna had long passed the age when she needed to be tied to bed by her grandma. Inderjeet helped her get admission in the best school in the area, and she would still spend most of her after school time at our place. Now seven years old, Sapna had become an inseparable part of our family, till fate separated her and pulled her back to the period when as a cute toddler she would cry for Inderjeet's help to attain her freedom.

The year was 1984. Prime Minister Indra Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards belonging to the Sikh community. Fanatics amongst her followers avenged the assassination by killing thousands of Sikhs on the streets of Delhi. It was the most horrible happening in the history of Delhi. Life in Delhi limped back to normalcy in a couple of weeks, but deteriorated for our little guest from the next door. Sapna's parents stopped her from coming to our house because of Inderjeet's Sikh connection. They were scared that the Sikhs would now take revenge by killing the Hindus, and since Inderjeet was from a Sikh family, it was risky to leave Sapna with her when she was alone as she might also avenge the killings of her community by harming her. They also tried to brainwash their daughter into believing that it was no longer safe to go to our house or even meet or greet Inderjeet. The innocent seven year old girl did not get even a bit of what all they were talking about. This made Sapna sick, sick of her parents for preventing her to go to her dearest aunty's house, and physically sick too. Her condition kept on worsening and the doctor was worried and puzzled as no pills or injections were working on Sapna. We came to know about it from the doctor who lived in our neighborhood and knew about the bond Sapna had developed with Inderjeet during the last few years. On her advice, Inderjeet immediately went to see Sapna, in spite of her parents' strong objections. On hearing her voice, Sapna opened her eyes and greeted her with a broad smile. It was like a miracle. Her speedy recovery thereafter surprised the doctor. Her parents apologized and sought our forgiveness for the sake of Sapna's health.

Our little guest was once again a regular feature in our family.