Friday, July 5, 2013

Battered, Bittered, Bettered.

At the outset, let me clearly state that this is not a success story. This is a journey. If you are here to look for guidelines, motivational quotes or any sort of encouragement regarding UPSC preparation, I would, in all probability, be disappointing you. And yet I feel the need to narrate my experience. Not because I want others to take lessons from it. But because I want others to avoid what I didn't avoid and pursue what I couldn't pursue. This is merely a story of hope, of patience, of isolation and at the most, of perseverance.

It all began in the summer of 2002. I'd just come back from the boarding school after having finished my matriculation. The days of disciplined life were thankfully over. No more 6'o clock rousers or 9'o clock preps. Home was heaven. Or at least it felt so, until my father dropped the bombshell, "What now?". Frankly, I had no clue. I'd been so engrossed in my everyday routine, board examinations and declamation contests that I'd never really given it much thought. Yet, the crucial time was now upon me. In those days, making a career choice was relatively simple. You took up Medical subjects in Plus one, if you wanted to be a Doctor. You took up Non-Medical if you wanted to be an Engineer. You took up Commerce if you wanted to be a business-person. And you took up Arts, if you wanted to be a loser. I picked Arts, and Medical was thrust upon me. No parent wants an unsuccessful child, right? And thus began my journey to jump from one professional option to another, having absolutely no clue about any but having relatively some idea of them all.

1. When I wanted to be a Doctor- 'A Doctor is the savior of lives. He is only next to God. It is a respectable profession. It does not have a retirement age. You can practice throughout your life, irrespective of your whereabouts.'- This was essentially a gist of the pre-medical advice I was rendered. The foresightedness of my loved ones was obviously the true determiner of my future. My myopic vision could only see laboratories, endless experiments and dissections worth throwing up. I clearly remember my first day in class. Physics disgusted me because it was the sister arm of Maths. I could never bring myself to balance both sides of an equation in Chemistry. And Biology was, well, embarrassing. The teacher's crude explanation of human anatomy, appeared filled to the brim with sexual innuendo. The boys winked at one another while the girls suppressed their smiles by putting up a straight face. Back home, everybody read the 'Reproduction' chapter over and over again, only to be repeatedly shocked and sensationalized by it.(Somehow, I feel this is what today's 'Breaking News' concept primarily relies upon. Shock, Repetition, Sensationalization). The solo class that I truly enjoyed was English. Our teacher was a stern South Indian man with a heavy Tamil accent. This challenged my level of linguistic understanding on very many levels. While on one hand, I had to deal with raising my vocabulary standard, on the other, I had to find a common ground between all that I'd previously learned and all that I was currently learning. I suppose I was one of those few rebels, who read Dickens wrapped in a thick brown paper and stamped, "Physics Notes". This is exactly what brought my percentage down to a meager 55 in the first year. I was rendered a 'Hopeless' case, an 'Average' student. For someone who was used to being featured in the top ten, this came as a shock. I instantly broke up with Dickens and hooked up with Newton, who, in due course of time, turned out to be an excessively dis-interesting partner. Nevertheless, I pretended to fall in love with Science- hiding my misery behind numericals and killing my hope with test tubes. As a result, I passed out with a staggering 78 percent. It would not take a genius to guess that English (where I scored a healthy 91/100) had provided the requisite thrust to my percentage. As is the convention with most medical pass outs, I appeared for the PMT and qualified for BDS. By this time I'd realized that I did not want to poke around with people's bodies, and certainly not with their teeth. I was at a precipice again. What do I do? My father was hell bent on pushing me off the cliff to join the medical fraternity in the valley, while I was insistent upon retracing my steps and beginning anew. And this is when Ratan Tata caught my fancy.

2. When I wanted to be a Business Tycoon- - Isn't it a brilliant word,'Tycoon'? So strong, sturdy and powerful. Almost, Godly. At the age of 16, the best way to turn on a rebellious stance was by defying the wishes of my parents. They asked me to look East, I looked West. They asked me to move South, I moved North. Add to it a dislike for higher studies in the Medical field and you get the sudden desire to do an MBA. I revolted against the 2 years of forced studies and decided I was mature enough to make my own decisions. The parental government finally gave in to popular will and I ventured into the premises of a certain University,(I suppose it will be sensible to keep its name under wraps), in order to do an undergraduate course in Business Administration. I figured this was my best bet. This way, I could pursue my love for Literature and yet earn enough money to keep me afloat. Unfortunately, Business was nothing as I'd hoped it would be. It had no glamour, no riches and no takers- unless you were shrewd enough to extract these out of it. I was not. And I'd realized this soon enough. However,giving up now would mean a loss of face. I felt my parents would never trust me to make a sound decision again and why should they? Wasn't I the one who'd fought my way out of Medical and chosen Business? I'd made my choice and I had no option but to live with its consequences. While I was struggling with the monotony and frustration which'd begun to define my everyday life, a bolt struck out of the blue. The University was de-recognized by an order of the Supreme Court. In an instant, my future hung loose in the gallows of jeopardy. The struggle to get through the trivialities of life had all of a sudden turned into a struggle for survival. The implications soon began to settle in. A lot of time, money and effort had been wasted. I ran from nook to corner, but to no avail- The University was clearly shutting shop. And that is when I realized the gravity of my blunder. A silent pin had pricked the balloon of my bloated ego.

They say when you have nowhere else to run, you run back to the mastership. And that is exactly what I did. One week and my life was completely transformed. From the searing heat of Pathankot where this college was located, I found myself in the soothing lap of Dharamshala, where a new college awaited me. In order to save an year from going down the drain, I was granted late admission with subjects I'd never dream of taking in the normal course of events- Geography and Public Administration. I cursed myself and gave in to my destiny, not realizing that blessings usually came in the form of a disguise. It was during my first year in college that a fleeting thought of IAS, struck me. I dismissed it as another reckless opinion of an infantile mind. However, by the time I appeared for my third year exams, my belief in civil services being a final career choice, had begun to take shape. And this is when I made another brash decision.

3. When I wanted to be on Television- - This time, my decision led me to the heart of India,or as they call it- Delhi. I chose Mass Communication as my subject for Post-Graduation and came to believe that this would be my final calling. Not only did the choice help me vent out my creative energies but it also provided me an opportunity to do everything that I ever wanted to do- Write, Read, Speak. Marvel & Excel. Things went on in an amazing manner until I was allocated to a certain channel in order to pursue my internship. That changed everything. I will not name the TV channel lest they take offense at the kind of treatment I was meted out. Nevertheless, my dreams were shattered on the very first day. It began as a jovial interview after which I was ushered into the Production room so that I could get a hang of how things worked on Ground Zero. As I entered, I felt an unseasonal chill. The room was exceptionally cold and the four people inside were wearing shawls. The artificial cooling, I was told, was undertaken to keep humidity away from production equipment. A heavy set man, probably in his mid-forties was supervising the four interns. He looked at me warily and asked me to stand at a corner and observe how others were working. I could not contain my thrill, as I traced my steps to a far off corner of the room. The way their hands moved on the control panel, The way they consistently spoke on headphones, The noise, The cheer- Watching it all caused a flutter in my belly. I was soon going to be a part of this world! At about 6 PM, the shift ended. A rerun of some poorly crafted astrology show was put up, while the four interns packed up and left.
"Sit on the Panel", the man instructed me, "I"ll teach you how to control it before the next set of interns come in".
I happily made my way to the revolving chair. As I settled, he came up behind me and pointed towards the screen. "Don't take your eyes off it", he said, "And move your hands as I tell you to". With this he placed his hands over mine and brought his face so close that I could feel his breath on my neck.
"You have a beautiful smile", were the next words that he uttered, "How about coming in for the night shift tomorrow?".
The question hung mid-air. It was as if a noose had been tightened around my neck. But, That was the last straw. I got up, turned back and angrily whispered, "Don't you dare", before I picked up my stuff and stormed out of the room. By the time I reached college, the story was already known to them. However, the version they'd been told by the channel related a trivial argument over not being offered a chair. I was beckoned to the Director's office and offered some harsh words. They never asked me my version, I did not bother to explain. I consoled myself simply with the fact that I was not going to let an idiot ruin either my career or my peace of mind. I went on to complete my course, do another internship and isolate myself for an year to prepare for civil services.

Today, when I look back at the last ten years of my life, I realize the importance of whatever happened, whenever it did. Had I not taken up Science then, it would've been very difficult for me to revisit it during my preparation. Had not the Business college been de-recognized, I wouldn't have been pushed towards taking subjects which later served as my optionals. Had I not had that 'experience' during post-graduation, I would've never discovered my zeal to set things right. All my life, I'd tried to break free, not realizing that I didn't really want to do so. All I ever wanted was to pull the chains off and yet stay put to exercise my will and assert my rights- as an individual response and as a collective force.

If you've reached till the very last of this terribly long blog post, let me only state this- As I enter upon a new phase of my life this September, I will try to live up to the standards I have set for myself and the expectations others have tagged unto me. I've had my share of struggles, my chunk of battles- unwise,immature,foolish but as an Officer of the Indian Administrative services, I will yearn to become the voice of the unheard, the light of the unseen and the compassion of the unkind.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Modi Mirage.

The constant clutter surrounding Mr.Modi and his inevitable ascendance to 'The Chair', is only getting louder. The sounds which previously pleased the ears, are gradually turning into a desperate noise. Turn on the Television, Log on to the Internet or Read a Newspaper- everybody seems to be espousing the cause of Mr.Modi's Prime Ministership. Or so it seems. In the hullabaloo, voices of dissent and varying opinion are consistently being overlooked, stifled and suppressed. While India stands on a precipice- choosing its side amongst a Communist Left, a Socialist Center and an Anarchist Right- its citizens are left to deal with massive corruption scandals, the resultant political bickering and frequent parliamentary disruptions. Amidst the chaos, Narendra Modi appears to be the only sane choice! He is a strong man. His oratorical skills are polished. He has made Gujarat prosper. Yes. He can indeed lead us towards a new Revolution, can't he? This line of thinking has assumed such a massive proportion today, that if you don't blindly side by it, you end up becoming an object of disgust and public ridicule. More often than not, you are labelled corrupt, biased, non-patriotic and even non-religious. Despite these connotations, it is important to objectively analyze the successes and failures of Brand Modi. What is it that the man truly stands for? Are we really seeking deliverance through him or do we plan to jump from the corrupt frying pan into a criminal fire? Simply put, Is Narendra Modi actually the magic wand that Dr.Singh doesn't possess? Can he take this nation to greater heights? Is he, as the urban middle class puts it, "the answer"? For this purpose, it is vital to decipher the code of the aura that surrounds him.
They say the deeds of the future can easily be gauged by actions of the past. Let us understand how much of Mr.Modi is authentic, and how much of him is cooked.

1. Myth- The Riots of 2002 hold no relevance in 2013-

Fact- If you are an Indian sitting in North America, Yes, they don't. If you are tweeting from an Indian metropolis, Yes they don't. If you are a Hindu, Maybe, they don't. But if you are a Muslim living in Gujarat or for that matter in any other part of this country, they seem like they just happened yesterday. The horror of 2002 can not be suppressed under trumpets of 'development'. If I begin to write about the gory details of what happened in February that year, you may not want to read any further. Let us just restrict ourselves to the fact that a certain Babu Bajrangi admitted to have ripped the bellies of pregnant women apart, in order to draw the fetuses out and swing them in a pit. He also, on camera, boasted about how his goons had cut off women's breasts and played with them. All this, while the state police acted like the perfect audience- standing & watching in either absolute delight or total disgust. When the man was arrested, he revealed the names of two such individuals, who had ordered him to continue unabated with the massacre- The National President of the 'Vishwa Hindu Parishad' and our beloved Gujarat Chief Minister. As if this was not enough, a woman named Maya Kodnani was arrested in 2012. She was accused of distributing revolvers and provoking the crowds to 'seek revenge' in 2002, which lead to the grievous murders of 96 people. Do you know what she did in this intermediate period of ten years? She served as the 'Women and Child Development' Minister in Mr.Modi's cabinet. Even today, the Gujarat Government does not want them sent to the gallows. Is this Mr.Modi's unflinching belief that his minister is innocent or a back-channel sinister deal which may prevent her from spilling the beans? Let us believe its the former. Let us also believe that the SIT's 'clean chit' (The sanctity and selectivity of which has been time and again questioned in the Media) to Mr.Modi is true. Yet, is it not a fact that Mr.Modi sat like a lame duck while his state was being butchered? Is it not true that our 'Great administrator' was unable to prevent killings, order curfews or ask the police to act? Mr.Vajpayee, being the statesman that he was, called this act 'A Failure of Raj Dharma'. It is surprising that his party today has decided to overlook his observations and promote Mr.Modi as the ultimate savior. His reluctance to apologize or even talk about the riots, speaks volumes about his character- a bloated sense of power and omnipotence. Google these traits and you'd come up with a psychopathic disorder called 'Megalomania'.
A lot of times the riots of '84 are used to justify the riots of '02. The usual Congress Vs BJP pitches are raised. Let me make this very clear- ANY sort of riots are condemnable. ANY attack on humanity is preposterous. ANY genocide needs to be prevented. The Sikhs of '84 have not yet got justice, but they have delivered a Prime Minister. The Muslims of '02 too have not yet got justice, and their bete noire still refuses to wear a skull cap.

2. Myth- The 'Development' of Gujarat is exemplary-

Fact- 'Development' is too wide a phenomenon to be classified in a certain time frame and be limited to a certain class of people. If you believe that in the last 10 years, Mr.Modi has changed the face of Gujarat, you are wrong. If you believe that his 'growth' has been all-pervasive & inclusive, you are wrong again. Let me present you with factual data that is usually put forth in either a distorted or an exaggerated manner. If you think these claims are false, drop in a word in the comments section- I would be more than happy to list down my sources.

a. With about 250 dams on the verge of drying up, the water scarcity in Gujarat is mind-boggling. More than 4000 villages and 100 towns, across 10 districts have been declared 'Scarcity hit'. People either have to travel miles in order to fetch water or they have to wait for the eternally elusive water tanker, which makes its appearance once every week. The government has failed miserably on account of handling drought and water recharge. The lack of this basic amenity speaks volumes about the so-called 'Vibrancy'.

b. The Gujarat Government claims to have signed Memorandums of Understanding with foreign firms, which would entail an FDI flow of $876 Billion in the state. This would mean that Gujarat, despite its geographical and financial limitations has overtaken a country as large as China, which can barely manage an FDI of $600 Billion. Thereby, Gujarat has suddenly become an investor's paradise, a business haven! [In case you misunderstood the last statement, it was sarcastic.] Technically, the possibility of any of this occurring is veritably Zero. There have been no studies undertaken in this regard, no research conducted and certainly no data collected. I wonder where these figures came from, then. And all this brouhaha, irrespective of the fact, that the CM stands in opposition of FDI flows on a national level but invites them vigorously for his fiefdom- Genuine intention or Indiscriminate Desperation?

c. The Hunger and Malnutrition levels in Gujarat are higher than even the poorest states of India. One of the major reasons for this is a towering income disparity between the rich and the poor-the Hindus and the Muslims. The CM attributes this state of affairs to 'figure-conscious adolescent girls who refuse to drink milk'.
The Dairy cooperatives of Gujarat have indeed been a massive success- All thanks to the efforts of Dr.Verghese Kurien- A man who Mr.Modi had sour relations with. Dr.Kurien passed away in 2012 and the Chief Minister did not bother to attend his funeral- Are egos supposed to transcend mortal lives?
While a liberally 'Customized' atmosphere of booming employment opportunities is provided to the urban middle class, the rural areas of Gujarat lag far behind. Talking of rural areas, Gujarat has undoubtedly electrified all its 18,028 villages but strangely 17,940 of them were electrified years before Mr.Modi assumed power. He has merely sent electricity to the 88 remaining hamlets and then claimed the credit for all of it.
The statements above may have been haphazardly put, but there was no way to link them to one another. Such is the comprehensiveness and detail of Gujarat's inconsistencies.

d. While Corruption is a serious issue nationally, the Gujarat Government seems to make very little of it. A Lokayukta, despite constant reminders from the Governor, was not appointed for a good period of 8 years in Mr.Modi's 10 year reign. When the Governor took action and appointed one herself, his appointment was challenged in the court. The court didn't just strike down the CM's appeal but also gave him a rap on the knuckles. My question-If there is nothing to hide, why is an independent Lokayukta's appointment being feared? Secondly, the CAG reports about Gujarat government's involvement in shady land deals and trickery have been woefully underplayed. Is there a nexus that reaches right to the top, of which we know nothing? I am sure the Chief Minister will have a lot of explaining to do when it emerges that Gujarat's debt has tripled in the last 10 years. How the economy is then being managed, is totally beyond my understanding.
If such is the model that we plan to reconstruct for India, I would not give us more than a decade to survive.

3. Myth- Modi is a Lion- The sole beacon of Light in India-

Fact- Skilled Oratory does not make lions, neither does good organization. A debater and an event manager can do just the same. What makes this metaphor really stick is the ability to take well-thought out decisions, stay flexible, respect heterogeneity and be brutally honest. Unfortunately, not many of these characteristics hold good with the Chief Minister. Outside Gujarat, his magic has plummeted. Most election campaigns that he has been an active part of, have ended disastrously for his party- Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Karnataka- being the recent cases in point. He has successfully polarized the social networking sites into Modi-Lovers and Modi-Bashers, each trying to 'Trend' something fancy and in the process generating an excessively abusive environ. His 'Popularity' has been surviving on the sole crutch of 'Technology'. His 'Larger than Life' image, having been created by a PR firm, which in all probability, is being heavily funded by public money. His perseverance it appears, is surpassed only by his narcissism. Some lion, alright.
With Dr.Singh being called a Lamb and Mr.Modi being projected as a Lion, India seems to be a big Zoo that both of them are willing to compete for.

India, with its massive diversity, needs a man who can unite- not a man who is known to divide. Tolerance and Acceptance have been a part and parcel of our culture. By compromising with both, Mr.Modi can only whip up a short-lived dream, not a long-sighted reality. This article is not meant to portray him in a derisive light. Neither is this meant to support the ruling dispensation. This only intends to chalk out an actual picture of what we are being shown and what is really going on. Regardless of all his flaws, if you plan to elect him, he will certainly end up being the Prime Minister. Else, History would remember him as a Prime Dreamer who created an extensive Mirage for himself and then drowned in the ripples of his own falsifications.

P.S.- All abusive comments and angry retorts will be published. They would go a long way in showing your character and in the process, substantiate this article.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The final nail - My UPSC interview

As I begin to write this, I wonder how much and how far would I be able to do justice to what actually happened. There was so much to digest, so much to understand and so much to decipher, that a word-by-word recall becomes improbable. However, I will try to reproduce the interview to the best of my ability so that those, who reach this stage at some point in their lives, can read, derive their own conclusions and thus, benefit.
At the outset, let me do away with the details of how we were directed into the waiting hall and asked to produce our certificates for verification. Let me also not talk about how anxious everyone else looked and how most pretended to either read a newspaper or indulge in light talk. Within, we were all jittery. We just didn't want it to show on our faces. I was 23rd in line to be interviewed. The wait for my turn to come was more ethereal than eternal. Finally, the time came. The clock struck 4 and I was ushered into the board room. Quite unlike my expectations, the room was well-lit and the board members looked amicable and welcoming. They were seated in a semi-circle and each one of them held a paper in their hands, which I presumed was my bio-data.

"Good afternoon Sir", I said with a cheerful nod to the Chairman. His name was Mr.Purushottam Aggarwal.
"Good afternoon, Akil. Sit", he said, motioning towards the chair.
While I took the chair, I wished the other members too who responded cordially.
"So you have done your Post-graduation in Mass Communication", the Chairman began.
" Yes Sir", I said.
" Media is such a thrilling field. Everybody wants to be seen on the camera these days. Why do you want to join a service as boring as the administrative service?", he asked.
Me- "Administrative service has always been a dream, Sir. I have always wanted to be of service to this nation and its people. Working on-camera, does not give me the same level of satisfaction as working off-camera does."
Chairman- "Then why waste 2 years doing Mass communication? You could have appeared for the civil service exams right after your graduation."
Me- "I could have Sir. But I did not. And I had two lines of thinking behind it. One, I come from Himachal Pradesh and I needed some exposure to see and understand the working of the system. Two, despite the prestige associated with civil services, I wanted to have an alternative to rely on".
Chairman- "If that was the case, you could have chosen any field. Why this one in specific?"
Me- " If you cast a look at my hobbies, Sir, you'd see that I am a little inclined towards the creative side. Mass communication was the obvious choice to help me capitalize on my hobbies. Plus, experiencing the field of journalism only strengthened my resolve to get in the services. "
Chairman- "Hmm. I see you have done your graduation from Dharamshala. Can you name a personality who has passed out from the same college as yours?"
Me- "Mr. Dev Anand, Sir"
Chairman- "Waah, Waah!". He said and everyone gave a broad smile. I don't know if it was sarcasm or they were really expecting me to name someone else. But he is the only one that I knew about. With this, the Chairman passed the baton to Member 2.

M2- " So Akil, You say Mass communication strengthened your resolve to be in the services. What made you think about getting into the services, in the first place?"
Me- " With your permission, I'd like to narrate an anecdote to answer this, Sir.
M2- "Go ahead."
Me- "It was somewhere in 2006 Sir, when I was having a discussion with a friend of mine. He blamed all ills of our society on the government and administration. His words left an indelible impression on my mind and I realized that criticizing a system from the warmth of our cosy homes is an easy task. What is difficult is to get in there, and be a part of the change you wish to see. This is when I decided that I wanted to be a part of the administrative service so that I could contribute towards national growth and development."
M2- "So you want to work for the growth of this nation?"
Me- "The nation and its people".
M2- "Okay. Tell me, do you know who Dalai Lama is?"
Me- " Yes Sir. He is the religious head of a certain sect of Tibetan Buddhism".
M2- "You stay near Dharamshala. Have you met him?"
Me- No Sir. I have seen him in public appearances but have ever had the opportunity to personally meet him".
M2- "Is it possible for laymen to personally meet him?" (He genuinely appeared to show interest)
Me- "Yes Sir. You have to write to his Secretary and seek an appointment. Sometimes it takes years! If you are lucky, it might as well take a few weeks only".
M2- "Why did he come to Dharamshala?"
Me- " The immediate reason was the threat of his arrest. A religious function was due and it was rumored, that the Chinese authorities would take him to Beijing. Otherwise, there was a larger picture behind it".
M2- " Tell me what the larger picture was?"
Me- "Sir, essentially the friction began in 1912. The Chinese Qing dynasty was dethroned and Tibet gained independence. It retained that status till 1951 when the PLA took over. A 17 point agreement was signed between Tibet and China which made Tibet an autonomous region within China. However, Tibet claims that this agreement was signed under duress. A revolution brewed for a good period of 9 years and its culmination saw Dalai Lama crossing over to India in 1959".
M2- "1959?", he asked with raised eyebrows, "Are you sure?"
Me- " Yes Sir, I am".
M2- "What was the status of Tibet before 1912?"
Me- "It was under Chinese domination".
M2- "Has it always been under Chinese domination?"
Me- "No Sir. But it has always been a part of some larger empire. There were periods when Tibet was completely autonomous. At other times, it was subjugated. However, they have always maintained a distinct culture and lifestyle". (I don't know how right this answer was, but this was the only neutral wording I could afford to use).
M2- " When did India accept Tibet to be a part of China?"
Me- " In 2003, Sir. During Prime Minister Vajpayee's regime".
M2- "Are you sure about that?"
Me- "That is what I am aware of Sir. Prime Minister Nehru, in his lifetime, had not accepted Chinese suzerainty over Tibet".
Here the Chairman interrupted- "It was in 1956 actually", he said, " That is when India accepted Tibet to be a part of China".
I had been specifically asked not to contradict. Though this went against the common knowledge, I only nodded, smiled and said that I was not aware of this fact.
M2- "What do you think should India do in the Tibet-China dispute?"
Me- "India follows a foreign policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. The dispute between Tibet and China is for them to resolve. India can only provide conditions conducive to such resolution. In fact, we have formally stated that despite the asylum granted to the Tibetan administration, we would not permit any anti-China activities to take place on our soil".
M2- "Okay. What do you think about the current government?" (The change of topic was quite abrupt and random)
Me- "Each government has its flaws, Sir. This one has had its share too. It has created certain policies with lacunae. However, from what I have read and seen around me, it has also taken a number of appreciable steps. While it is not possible to create perfect institutions in the first go, measures have been still taken. I believe if the implementation and supervisory mechanisms are bettered, the government will be in a position to achieve much more" - ( I purposely did not name any schemes or programs as it would have lead to a discussion on that subject. Don't know if that was the right thing to do or if I could have used some names to enrich my answer).
When I finished with this though, I heard a little 'Good' from M2. Or maybe I am imagining it now. Anyway, he pointed me to Member 3 after this.

M3- "So you write stories?"
Me- " I do, Sir",
M3- "What kind of stories?"
Me- "Short stories, Sir. Both realist and non-realist fiction".
M3- "Okay. One of your hobbies is also Oratory".
Me- "Yes Sir"
M3- "I'll give you a topic. Think about it for 2 minutes and then give me an extempore speech. Can you?"
Me- "I'll try my level best Sir"- ( This actually excited me because it was pretty much within my sphere of competence.)
M3- "Your topic is- Should India have a Presidential form of Government? You are free to choose sides- For or against. Take your time to think".
While I gave myself a minute to ponder over my points I realized that while I was conversing with M3, the Chairman had gone to the washroom. He came back just then, saw me sitting without uttering a word and casually asked, "What happened?"
Before I could answer, M3 explained the situation to him and they sat quietly. After about 45 seconds, I began. The following is what I can loosely recollect. It explains the line I towed. I don't recall my exact words. It was extempore, remember?

"The founding fathers of India have blessed this nation with a democratic set-up. This decision was arrived at after thorough consultation and debate. The primary reason why India adopted a parliamentary form of government was to ensure that representation was provided to even the lowest rungs of the society. Considering the diversity, in terms of religion, culture and tradition, of India, transferring the power to the hands of a single person does not seem feasible. Not only would that hinder true empowerment but there would also be a worry of the man turning into a dictator".- I spoke for around a minute and I am not too sure what else I added in there, but yes, by and large, this was it.
M3 responded with an 'Okay', wrote something on a paper and referred me to M4.

M4- "How many deserts are there in India, Akil?"
Me- "There is the Thar Desert in Rajasthan and the Cold deserts of Himalayas" - (I believe this is what he wanted to check. If I knew about the deserts in the upper reaches of my state)
M4- Right.
While he sat looking at the paper in his hand, I added- "Also, the Runn of Kutch in Gujarat, Sir".
M4- "Oh Yes. I'd forgotten that"- And everybody shared a laugh. On what, I have no clue. However, I kept my smile on.
M4- "Do you know what is the minimum temperature in the cold deserts of Spiti?"
Me- "I can't be too sure Sir, but I believe it ranges between -10 to -20 degree Celsius."
M4- " You're right. Its. -15". He paused for a bit and then went again, "What is the minimum temperature in Antarctica?"
Me- " I can't be precise again Sir, but it should be somewhere between -60 to -80".
M4- "It is -129!". The Chairman interrupts, "Really?", he looks at M4. M4 nods.
Me- (With a look of genuine surprise on my face- or at least that is what I hope it was)- "Oh. I didn't know that, Sir".
M4- Smiles and continues with his tirade- " If you are posted as a DC in Lahaul-Spiti, what kind of statistics would you like to collect?"
Me- " Should these be in terms of physical or human statistics, Sir?"
M4- "Any. That's up to you."
Me- "Sir, the first thing I would do is to collect data on soil fertility. Agriculture has been a constant issue with these areas and a lot of land can be reclaimed for other income-generating purposes"
M4- "Like growing orchids and orchards?"
Me- "Yes Sir. Flori-culture and horticulture have a lot of scope in these areas"
M4- "Go on"
Me- "Secondly, I would come to the health and education parameters. If the populace is healthy and well educated, the technological interventions are well received. This would mean that economic and social inclusion would be easy. Finally, I would pay my attention to the infrastructural facilities and collect data about their presence and functioning".
M4- A sudden change of topic again- " If you are posted as a DC in Shimla, how would you handle the 'theft of' electricity?"
Call it a bad stroke of luck or the stupidity of my auditory mechanism, what I heard was "tapped up electricity". Or Maybe it was simply his pronunciation. Nevertheless, I asked- "I am sorry, Sir. Did you say tapped up electricity?"
M4- "Thaaaft", he clarified- It was his pronunciation after all. This may have irked him.
Me- " The first thing I would do is to try and find out the reasons for this theft....."
M4- "Are there reasons for electricity theft?", he cut me short, "What are they?"
Me- "Sir, they may range from unequal distribution to diversion for other purposes. Even over-consumption is a reason"
M4- "People simply put a hook over the wire which runs in front of their house and steal electricity. What reasons do you want to find? Don't you think you'll encourage corruption this way?"- He uttered this sentence in an extremely sarcastic manner, or so I presumed. He looked at other members and they shared a laugh. I felt a little embarrassed here but showing that publicly would have been disastrous. My damage-control mode got activated.
Me- " My apologies if I seemed to convey that message, Sir. I suppose my articulation was incorrect. When I said 'reasons', I meant, the 'how', 'when' and 'where' of the theft taking place. Once that has been determined, I would take a two-pronged action. One, the lapses on the part of the authorities would be accounted for. Those who are responsible for overlooking would be brought to book. Two, I would conduct household checks to ensure that they are not misusing electricity."
M4- "Okay", he simply said and motioned to Member 5. - I somehow feel I messed up with Member 4. My answer was probably not good enough.

M5- "Since you have studied Mass communication, you must have studied advertising?"
Me- "Yes Sir."
M5- "Then tell me, what is the difference between Advertising and Publicity?"
Me- "Advertising focuses its approach on 3 things- There must be a product, There must be a sponsor and the sponsor and the product must share a 'paid' relationship. Publicity, on the other hand is usually not about products. It relates selling an idea or opinion..."
M5- Interrupted me in the middle of the sentence, "Does Publicity have anything to do with being paid in comparison to Advertising?"
Me- "Sir, Advertising must be necessarily paid while Publicity may be either paid or unpaid."
M5- "Okay. Do you know about Oglivy's contribution to advertising?"
Me- "I am sorry Sir. Advertising was not my branch of specialization". - I realized the blunder later. I should have at least mentioned that Oglivy was the father of Advertising.
M5- "No problem. So, you have done your post-graduation from Amritsar."
Before I could say No, the Chairman corrected him, "No. He has done it from Delhi. Their University has a campus in Amritsar".
The he turned to me, "Am I right?"
I smiled politely, "You are, Sir".
M5- "Where in Delhi was your college located?"
Me- "At the Dwarka Institutional area".
With this M5 nodded. The Chairman picked up a paper, smiled and said, "Thank you, Akil".

I uttered the well-rehearsed Thank you's and walked out. Strangely, I neither felt anxious, nor nervous. There was just a subtle exhilaration at the interview being over. Since this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I had to write it down. If you are reading this, please don't judge the conversation. I haven't got my results as yet. When I do, I'll know whether I am still in the frying pan or I have jumped into the fire.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dear Terrorists, You have Succeded.

Disclaimer: This article has been written in the wake of the tragic Hyderabad blasts. It does not intend to hurt the feelings of any person or organization. I do not intentionally mention 'caste' or 'community' because I do not believe in them. This post merely seeks to convey and register a voice of protest against consistent terror strikes, in a manner that functions somewhere between satire and sarcasm.

Dear Terrorists

Many Congratulations!!!

You have once again conducted a brilliant strike against all odds and have successfully executed your designs. As of now, about 15 people have been killed and around a hundred others injured. The number of those who are slowly succumbing to their injuries is gradually rising and despite India's state-of-the-art hospital-care, they are giving up on their cherished, satisfied lives. The time and place of your strike was commendable too- it aided in inflicting the maximum damage by putting in, the minimum effort. However, I wonder why you chose to stay away from a city of larger importance. In case you guessed it wrong, I meant Delhi. Every other city in India is taking care of itself. Mumbai has its own brand of terrorists who help you out by scaring away North Indians, East Indians and couples in love. Kolkata is currently being led by a dispensation which runs on the whims and fancies of its firebrand chief minister. Hyderabad is already in shambles owing to strikes for statehood and a few openly aired venomous opinions. At this point, Delhi would have been the best place to attack- Nothing major has really happened there since the Gang rape, Has it? Moreover, the city is crowded enough for you to get your point across. Yes, the excessive security may have been a problem but it doesn't take a genius to understand that those renowned metal detectors and CCTV cameras, which go off on the slightest hint of a noise, can be easily handled. Additionally, going unnoticed by the superbly managed 'Intelligence' agencies and striking at the 'Heart' of this nation would have been orgasmic, No?

Anyway, India has fallen to its knees but it will live. Our intellectually gifted political class, the extremely efficient bureaucratic system and the quick and responsive judiciary would ensure that. The 3 C's of our existence have been put to work yet again- Condemn, Compensate and Continue- The blasts have been condemned, compensation to the victims will be announced and finally we shall continue with the regularity of our monotony. Nevertheless, Dear Terrorists, you need not feel disappointed. You have registered beautiful victories in your ventures over the years. This war on India was launched many, many years ago and today you have succeeded! Don't believe it? Well, let me give you a brief description of your achievements. Maybe that'd help boost up your sagging spirits.

Success 1- You have created a deep-rooted fear psychosis in the Indian society. When a woman steps out of her house today, she has to guard her body from rapists and her life from terrorists. A child has to make sure that his tiffin box or his teddy bear is not stuffed with something other than sandwiches or cotton. A man has to resist facing those horrendous strokes of luck which lurk around every nook and corner. I would not bore you with those long, forgotten stories of how mothers lost their children and how people lost their livelihood. I would also not bother to narrate the sagas of heroes, who died as martyrs. Rather, I would appreciate you for turning this nation's psyche into an amputee. We have ceased to think and act. All we have become good at doing, is either seeking asylum in our 'Great' culture or praying desperately to our 'Omniscient' God- neither of whom come to our rescue. Whenever we are slapped, we talk of Tolerance. Whenever we are dragged, we speak of Non-Violence. Whenever we are killed, we build a temple and move on. Let's face it, you have successfully killed the conscience of this nation. You have turned sisters against brothers, religion against religion, state against state and people against government. Today, we are a heavily-armed but scared country. The tanks and missiles which we proudly display during our celebrations, fall flat in our faces when it comes to citizen protection. We are afraid to move about freely without the shadow of rape, torture or murder crouching around us. We have become a country, dipped in the fever of death. What else do you need?

Success 2- You have helped display the glaring inefficiencies and discrepancies of the World's largest democracy to the World. In fact, it wouldn't be incorrect to state that you have effectively served as a mirror of our deeds. We knew our intelligence system needs an overhaul, but its failure has acquired such a grave extent, was unknown to us. We were aware that our security agencies were a little slow to respond, but their state of absolute dysfunction was totally hidden from us. While you were busy plotting your next attack, our governments were busy squabbling over encroachment of state rights. A move as strong as NCTC was opposed on flimsy grounds and party-specific salvos were fired. You, dear Terrorists, have succeeded in exposing the massive proportion of our deficiencies. When we try to overcome them, cupboards open and skeletons emerge. Shady deals, nefarious designs and corrupt means are brought into public view. That is when we end up realizing that the terror you spread, is Nothing as compared to the systemic terror that we spread. You can only kill, kidnap or murder - We on the other hand can extract the human soul, slice it into digestible pieces and yet not attempt a burp.

Success 3- You have doused the fire of 'Unity and Integrity' which India always stood for. There was a time when relations were formed on the foundation of mutual respect and trust. Today, the bases have shifted to the 'R' word. Oh! Religion, I mean. Did you not understand? Terror has found association with a name, a skin color and even a certain God. No matter how much we boast of the "Terror has no Religion" superlative, but, a man with a long beard and a woman with a hijab is most certainly a suspect. The distrust does not go unnoticed- It has repercussions. False charges, indictments, and riots result, which are either put down with a heavy foot or they become a food for political patronage, for times to come. A man with a long beard states, "He and his fanatic mates would kill a lot of people if the police is removed". Another man with a bald head and a balder mind responds "We killed you earlier. We will kill more of you". You have emphatically created an environment of hatred and injustice. Religious fanatics are being born everyday. They are being trained to kill for their God who either does not exist or does not interfere. Elections are being won on the grounds of 'who caused the least violence' or 'who appeased the most'. The subtle thread of Unity which bonded this country together is steadily developing knots of majority and minority. In this world of commodified life and commercial death, do you think you need to do anything more?

Now that you have grasped the true reality of our shoddy existence, I suggest you conspire a little more carefully the next time. Strike a larger city. Hit an area of importance. Or simply plan multiple strikes across multiple cities. You have done so before, haven't you? A repeat wouldn't harm. We anyhow, won't identify you, catch you or execute you. To the utmost, you'll be hanged after a decade and that too seems quite improbable. A few political parties will certainly register opposition to your hanging. To top it, human right watchdogs will issue ultimatums. In other words, you will stay safe and will be handled with care.

On that note, I, as a citizen of this successful country but failed nation, greet you again. Congratulations! May your God perform no more Malala-like miracles and help you hand out destruction in large proportions. Kudos!!!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

When the soul is RAPED

When HE was born, HE spread happiness all around.

"Ladka hua hai", (Its a boy!) the nurse screamed. The joy of HIS parents knew no bounds. Sweets were distributed in the entire colony. Relatives, from regions far and wide, graced the occasion with their presence. After all, HE was born after the couple had had a string of daughters. Daughters- who were nothing more than failed attempts at having a son. Very soon, HE became the apple of everybody's eyes. As a toddler, HE would jump about, pull hair, bite, screech and be adored for each of HIS actions. HE played with toys and broke them. HIS parents chose to get new ones for HIM. When HIS sisters did the same, they were severely reprimanded. HE hit his sisters with all his might. HIS parents chose to scold the daughters for provoking HIM. HE was praised for HIS boyishness instead.
School didn't change much for HIM either. Every other day HE would be sent home with a note in HIS dairy. Sometimes it was about HIS disinterest in studies, at other times, it was about the fistfights HE usually got into. HIS parents laughed it all off with a meek warning. Time, slowly produced a surly teenager. HE would come home late and argue with HIS parents. On one occasion, HE almost hit HIS mother. However, none of this produced any effect. "Ladke aise hi hote hain", (Boys are like that) HIS father would remark.
One fine day HE was booked for eve-teasing. HE was standing with HIS friends on the bandstand and a woman happened to pass by. The guys could not have let the 'item' pass peacefully. The teasing begun. When she objected, HE called her a 'Ra**i' (Whore). She slapped HIM. HE could not take the humiliation. HE pinned her down and decided to teach her a lesson. Had the police not intervened, HE would surely have shown the B***h her place. HIS parents bribed the officials and got HIM released. They subtly conveyed it to HIM- No matter what HE did, HE would always be protected.
Soon, the marriage of HIS sisters was arranged. The entire affair wasn't much of a problem as they had already been trained to be a good wife. They had been explicitly told," Ek aurat ki jagah uske pati ke charnon me hoti hai" ( A woman's place is at her husband's feet). No matter what their husbands did, they were meant to be forgiven. A woman should merely seek solace in the fact that her husband had decided to keep her. With this object in mind, HIS sisters were wed to wealthy houses. Despite their overflowing wealth, the houses asked for more. HIS parents made sure that every demand was properly catered to. After all, the wealthy houses were getting such a load off their chests. Moreover, whatever they had 'lost' in their daughter's wedding, they would 'gain' during their son's marriage. The system was simple- quite close to the barter system of ancient India. Nevertheless, the piously fateful day arrived. Their daughters were dressed up like sacrificial lambs. They were taken to the altar and the marriage was solemnized.
Once the ceremony was over, another one began. HE and HIS friends drank away the first half of the night. By the second half, they were stoned. In all their ecstasy, they left the venue early morning and headed aimlessly in the city. They saw a bus and boarded it for fun. An unfortunate girl, at an unfortunate time, in an unfortunate dress, was seated in the bus. It didn't take long for them to connive with the driver and conductor. An object of pleasure could just not go un-enjoyed. Isn't that what 'items' were for? Playing, enjoying and dumping?. When HE mounted the girl, his mind replayed the visions of that woman on the bandstand. This was an appropriate moment to teach her 'creed' a lesson. When HE was done, HIS friends took a shot. When they were done, the driver and conductor made their move. After having thoroughly satisfied themselves, the object was thrown out of the moving bus and left on the streets to rot. A lot of Homo-sapiens passed by- some were going to the office, others for a walk. In their hurry to reach their destination, they cast a quick look at her and moved on. Who had the frigging time to get involved in matters of this nature? The hassles of police, the roundabouts at courts- Ah, NO! After an hour or so, a Human saw her. She covered her and took her to the hospital, where she "passed away peacefully".
In the meanwhile, to escape the outrage and uproar, HE was sent to America. It was a moment of sombre pride for HIS parents. They knew what HE had done was wrong, but then "That's what men do". They were happy that they had been able to keep HIM out of jail. Today, HE is married and has two children. HE routinely beats up his wife, abuses HIS daughter's friends, inappropriately touches HIS son's mates and leads a lavish life. Yet, HE is not a rapist or a pedophile or a criminal.
Because HE is a MAN- superior and sacrosanct.

Those who brutally raped Jyoti Singh Pandey on 16th December were probably not brought up in the same atmosphere. Those who disrobed a tribal girl in Jharkhand had probably not seen similar lifestyle. Those who molested and killed a 3 year old in Maharashtra were probably of a different mettle altogether. But there is one common thread which binds THEM with HIM- A distorted Mindset and a false notion of Manliness.

In the outrage that followed the heinous Delhi Gang rape, India was shocked out of its wits. Its conscience was shaken and its inhabitants were distraught. Protestors lined the streets and at places, violence was reported. The world witnessed India waking up and responding to a previously unheard and unimaginable- inhuman brutality. However, at times, I am forced to think, was our response justified? Are candle-light marches and street plays enough to deter rapists? Would protests being held in urban India guarantee the safety of women in rural India? - They may or they may not. What matters is how we look at, think about and address the situation. Let me take the opportunity to break up each of my concerns into easily discernible parts.

1. This wasn't the First Rape!- The Indian civilization (if you can call it one), has been a hotbed of forced sexual intercourse since time immemorial. Tales and fables in Hindu mythology are replete with men trying to embarrass women, on account of their gender. Sometimes a Draupadi was disrobed while the kingdom watched and at other times an Ahilya was discreetly made use of. The situation hasn't changed much today. Draupadi's are still being stripped while people close their eyes and walk away. Ahilya's are still being used as an object and are being forced to spend their lives, living (if at all) like a rock. The horrendous details of Jyoti's ordeal shocked us. But why are we not bothered about what happens in remote corners and dark alleys? Why are we not concerned about the daughters who are exploited by their fathers or the sisters who are raped by their brothers? One incident in the capital city jolted us to action but numerous incidents that occur across this nation only force us to sleep. Some intellectuals begin distinguishing "India" and "Bharat" while others start to blame the western culture. Why is it so difficult for them to understand that rapes are not bound by limits of culture, dress, provocation, food or lifestyle? A rape is the product of a sick mentality which has been brought up in a strictly patriarchal mindset. This further leads to male chauvinism, superiority complex and thus the need to "teach them a lesson" or "show them their place".

2. Is capital punishment the answer?- NO, It is NOT. Capital punishment has never been and can never be the answer. If it was an effective deterrent, crimes would never happen in the first place! Today,in India, a rape happens every 30 minutes. Most go unreported and those that are reported, go un-convicted. It happens regardless of the place, gender or age. A 70 year old woman is as vulnerable to a sexual predator's attack as is a 3 year old child. The problem essentially lies in our system of 'procedure' and 'perception'. When I say 'procedure', I refer to the entire chain of events that occur from rape reportage to deliverance of justice. Sadly, there are visible flaws at each step. At most times, an FIR is not lodged. If it is, the accused are bailed whereby they can easily threaten the victim or tamper with the evidence. If a victim is lucky enough to be heard in a court of law, the decision takes years to come. No wonder, the conviction rate in our nation is way below most developed societies. THAT is what rapists make full use of- the loopholes. Before executing a crime they are well aware of what may become of them. But they are also aware that laws are meant to be broken, officials are meant to be bribed, cases are meant to linger and their getting away unharmed is indisputable. Similarly, the 'perceptions' prevalent in the Indian moral fabric, stand in the way of justice. Rape is associated with "loss of honour" and that is precisely why most victims fail to report it. After all, it is much better to stay quiet and protect your "Izzat" instead of making a mockery of it in a public place. We, as educated-liberal individuals need to understand that "Izzat" does not rest in our genitals. It lies in our attitude, our character, our courage. If we have all these, no one in the world can snatch our 'honour' away from us.

3. What can we do?- A lot more than taking to the streets and trying to damage public property. We can channelize our anger on constructive discussions and chalk out a strategy which includes both- prevention and cure. Currently we are focusing only on prevention. Yes, we need new laws. Yes, we want them to be strict. Yes, we want speedy justice. However, none of this should come at the cost of the sanity of our collective civilization. What we truly need to do, is to find a cure. And that cure must emanate from within the society. We have to stop treating women like cooking, washing and sex machines. We have to stop encouraging our sons when they indulge in 'manly' activities. We have to stop accepting female characters on TV whose ultimate success in life is measured by how rich a man they marry. We have to learn to differentiate between open expression of female sexuality and crass entertainment being served in cinematic platter. We have to reject the viewpoints of subservience, inferiority and 'weaker sex' (Try giving birth to a baby. Weak, my foot) which are embedded in our minds right from when we are born. It is only if we can do this, that we may be ultimately able to find a cure. Remember- Rapists are not born, Governments do not create them- They are bred and we, the society, creates them.

Insanity wants us to ignore. Sanity forces us to think. The reason I am writing this after almost a month of the horrid occurrence is solely this fact. Let us calm down and act decisively. We have, over time, been failed by numerous people. We can not let this moment pass by. Our words must be strengthened by our actions. A lot of bodies have been raped, Now, we can not let our soul suffer the same misfortune. As long as the likes of HIM would be created, WE will remain insecure.
However, there is one thing we all need to clearly remember- No Messiah will ever come to save us. We need to protect our society, our women, our humanness and our character- OURSELVES.