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Aisha – stop faking it

Yesterday I had the unfortunate experience of watching a new Bollywood film called Aisha starring Sonam Kapoor. I was actually looking forward to watching a witty, sassy, romantic, woman centric, chick flick but this film had none of the above. Aisha is a second rate knock off, of the original cute, tongue in cheek film Clueless. Clueless(based on Jane Austen’s Emma) was original because it gave Emma a modern twist, Aisha has brought absolutely nothing original to the table, they have copied every single scene from Clueless and even the actors are cheap fakes of popular American film/television characters.

To make a film like Aisha makes absolutely no sense in the Indian context, in fact it reinforces the idea that the Indian elite live in a bubble cut off from the grim realities of India and glorifies it. A smart Indian filmmaker might have given the film a funny twist depicting rich, Indian, spoilt brats and how removed they are from reality. Anyway that is expecting too much from the braindead badshahs of bollywood.

My analysis of why we Indians are devoid of a single new idea is the culture of rote learning imparted in our education system. Through our school years we are told to regurgitate what we learn and reproduce it verbatim and that is why today we are completely incapable of inventing anything original — a la Aisha. Aisha is a metaphor of the typical Indian way, which is to forge and mislead the public and get away with it, this mockery of the Indian audiences also draws our attention to the weak or non-existent copyright laws in this country. A blatant copyright infringement like Aisha would be a criminal offence in the US.

I was also astonished by was the film review, in The Times of India, of a well-known and highly qualified critic who gave the film 4 stars. I find it hard to believe anybody with even a single brain cell could give this film 4 stars which leads me to suspect that sadly, that just like everything else in this country this review too had a price.

August 9th, 2010

Petrol price hike — National strike

 

Today I’ve had to forcibly take a day off from work because the BJP government in Karnataka has put its weight – and lumpen footsoldiers — behind a national strike protesting the recent (mid-June) 5-7 percent increase in petrol, diesel, kerosene and cooking gas prices. Curiously I am in agreement with the BJP and the communist parties about the timing the necessity of the fuel price increase.   

The Congress-led UPA government’s rationale for raising fuel prices is that the global prices of crude oil have risen and local derivative prices need to rise commensurately. But the intelligent argument against the sky-high Indian petrol and diesel prices is that the major components of their price structures are made of of  taxes. According to a calculation  made by us in EW, the ex-refinery the pre-tax price of refined diesel  would be a mere Rs. 19 per litre. But because of customs duty on imported crude, and heavy excise imposts on refined diesel, sales tax imposed by the states etc, the price more than doubles. The question that needs to be asked is where’s all that money going? Answer: into wasteful government expenditure, to pay for the private airline of ministers, their motorcades, Z-Security and leaky programmes such as NREGA etc.

The official argument that petrol and diesel prices in India should be the same as Europe is ridiculous. Their per capita incomes are $ 30,000 plus while India’s $1,000 with some 700 million citizens earning less than $1 per day. Yet because of the cascading effect of diesel prices, the poorest Indian citizens have to pay more for food as farmers’ cost of  getting produce to market has to rise. In the circumstrances the logical option is to reduce  government taxes on transport fuel and cut government expenses down the line. Justice, equity and reason dictate that rising crude oil prices should not be passed on to the citizenry and to slyly increase government revenue. What a shambles. And the media too supports the price hike without debating ridiculously  high taxes on petrol, diesel and their  cascading effect on the prices of food, manufactures and even services. Nor is runaway government expenditure to little effect questioned.  Wake up, folks!

Dilip Thakore

July 5th, 2010

PALINMANIA

Most often you hear ostensible intellectuals talk about Sarah Palin with an air of contempt.  They brush her off as a “dumb woman” (woman being the operative word) but the fact of the matter is her book “Going Rogue: An American Life” has sold 300,000 copies on its first day. Publisher Harper Collins said it is among the best openings for a non- fiction book ever. Sarah Palin delivered the highest ratings in 2 years to “the Oprah Winfrey Show” when she was on it last Monday. Whether you love her or hate her you just can’t ignore her, she incites a curiosity in everyone. Sarah Palin is a major force, she can get the press out unlike anybody else, she can raise money for republicans, women, talk up candidates and people listen.

In fact a lot of people have been speculating whether her book and book tour is a preliminary for her presidential run in 2012. She hints of this possibility throughout her book and when one looks beyond depthless dismissal of her you recognize that Sarah Palin running for office and having a good chance at it is very possible. Sarah Palin sells her personality; she is a working class, conservative feminist who many Americans can identify with. She is no ivy leaguer, she’s a simple conservative feminist who shares the ideals of the upright, pro-life, all American way of living and people love her for that.

The GOP right now needs a face, members of the GOP are deeply divided when it comes to Palin, some say she is ignorant and not fit for higher office while others are her stalwart supporters. Palin criticizes current republican policies and comes across as a defiant and honest republican who defends traditional country values. She has positioned herself very well as the “common sense conservative” an heir to Ronald Reagan. Her allure is so powerful that it doesn’t matter whether or not she’s expertly tutored on policies and legislation.  Her fans are urging her to run for president in 2012 and her book tour looks very much like a campaign; looks like Sarah Palin is going to be a force to reckon with in the next Presidential Elections.

Bharati. T.  

 

November 21st, 2009

Raj Thackeray back to his old undemocratic ways.

Raj has once again threatened “north Indians” to be careful and not try and take control of Mumbai as Raj and his party will create a rampage if they do. He has declared he will be more aggressive on the Marathi issue now that they have won 13 seats in the assembly elections.  “Our aggression will not change. In fact it will increase now” (Hindustan Times) He claimed that did not necessarily mean violence and said that violence caused by the MNS is blown out of proportion by the media. “there were attacks in only 2 or 3 places” was his argument.

The MNS chief has also warned all the 288 newly elected legislators that they must take their oaths in Marathi. “if anyone dares not to take the oath in Marathi you will see what my MLAs can do. They will create a ruckus in the house”

Raj Thackeray is a fake politician all he can do is create a ruckus, he has not done anything substantial for the Marathi manoos besides fight for superficial issues. The Maharashtrians like everyone else judge their standard of living by the conventional standards; nice sidewalks, clean city, education, healthcare, and employment opportunity. We have heard almost nothing from the MNS on these issues as the opposition party.

Raj Thackeray is too busy wasting his time trying to keep north Indians out, forcing his will on people to speak Marathi, going after film directors like Karan Johar, trying to change the names of all our streets rather than doing anything seriously worthwhile.

 Free trade and opening up of our markets has done a lot of India’s progress and we should encourage healthy competition. The people of Mumbai have benefitted tremendously by hardworking, entrepreneurial people coming from all over the country we don’t want this to stop. Whoever wants to come to Mumbai and make a living is allowed to; it’s an even playing field.  If you’re a Marathi manoos but not smart enough to do well that’s just tough, other players should not be intimidated and forced to go away just because you can’t win fairly.

Bharati. T

 

November 3rd, 2009

Time to get the courts out of education

 

I have been struck by the rising number of education-related  disputes swamping Indian courts. This may not be surprising though given growing private involvement in provision of education services and the state’s effort to curb what it sees as rising profiteering tendencies in the sector. The latest is the Supreme Court decision which upheld the Delhi government’s right to regulate fees charged by unaided private schools.

 

The conflict between private and public good is as old as the hills. But the courts need not be the remedy of first resort as is increasingly the case. Rather this is a job for the much- discussed-but-little-seen “industry”  regulator.

 

In fact, soon after taking charge as Union HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal added his voice to having a regulatory authority oversee education. “We need to create an authority like SEBI (capital market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India) in the education sector, which actually deals with regulation,” the  minister told CNBC-TV18’s Shereen Bhan. But he also made it clear he has not yet  “made up [his] mind” on the issue.

 

Apart from SEBI, there is TRAI which regulates the telecom industry. The tricky part when it comes to education though is that since it falls in the concurrent list, there cannot be just one national regulator. But here again there is a workable precedent. The power sector which  is also on the concurrent list has both the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission and the State Electricity Regulatory Commissions.

 

Sure, an education regulator or two is not going to make private-public disputes wither away. But it will at least help get the courts out of education, even if not entirely.

 

Binu Thomas

September 10th, 2009

A documentary showing the mumbai terror attacks. Spine thrilling

Channel 4 - Dispatches (June 2009) - Terror in Mumbai from Mskadu on Vimeo.

July 16th, 2009

First shot fired in India’s sexual revolution

Times are changing in India. Anyone who saw the news this weekend knows that July 2 was a watershed moment for gay rights in India. The Delhi High Court made international headlines when it struck down Section 377 in India’s penal code, an archaeic colonial-era ban on homosexuality.

Homosexuality had been illegal in India since 1860 under a statute introduced by British colonial rulers that banned “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” Conviction carried a fine and maximum 10-year jail sentence, and gays in India face frequent harassment and abuse from police and violent homophobes.

Media across the country hailed Friday’s decision — news of the ruling scrolled across all major networks, MTV’s ultra-hip  T.V. personalities devoted hours of airtime to it, and newspaper headlines countrywide voiced near-unanimous support for the ruling.

Within the media and Indian society, fierce debate erupted.

The country’s increasingly vocal and lionised youth say it’s high time the government repealed such an outdated law, while hard-liner politicians bemoan the ruling as a sure sign Indian society will plunge into sexual depravity and aberrant behaviour, predicting that incidence of HIV/AIDS and child abuse will sky-rocket. Legal experts see it as a victory for secular democracy, as religious beliefs must not infringe on constitutional rights. And many in India’s gay communities are breathing a simple sigh of relief.

Whatever their position on the issue may be, most commentators recognize that the court’s decision stems, at least partially, from mounting pressure from India’s younger generation.

Generation next is more mobile and independent than their parents, and the gay rights movement has spread from artists and members of the upper castes — gay rights protests grow each year, and even conservative Karnataka saw a vibrant gay rights parade march through the streets of Bangalore on the same day as the High Court ruling. It’s clear that India’s enormous population of increasingly progressive youth is agitating for social change, and politicians are responding.

But India’s increasingly vocal and visible gay community still has a lot of fighting left to do. The court decision applies only to New Delhi, and the right-wing Hindu group Sri Ram Sene, which infamously orchestrated a series of attacks on pub-going women in Mangalore (justified as “moral policing” with only the girls’ best interest at heart, naturally), has vowed to hold its own march  in Bangalore in protest.

Others are already blasting the decision as merely symbolic; even going as far as to warn the ruling will cause more harm than good.

Nonetheless, a beacon of hope for gay rights in India has been lit. And with emerging figures such as Manohar Elavarthi slowly building their own political following, maybe it’s only a matter of time before gays in India are no longer forced to hide in the closet.

–Paige Aarhus

July 6th, 2009

Indian child-adults

Science proves that human babies are the weakest offsprings in the world. Well, the way I look at it, Indian children are worse. They are neither allowed to grow up, nor are they allowed to decide to grow. For example, Indian children (read anyone with parents) will sacrifice their freedom for the sake of their parents and will ruin their career interest and pursue the parents’ choice to make them happy, without seeing the future, where parents will be long gone and they will need to ponder and regret the decisions they took, or rather didn’t take.

Recently a friend of mine (have to keep her anonymous) was scheduled for an interview at the Indian Institute of Science, a prestigious institute for every science student with an eye for the academics industry. That is exactly what this girl wanted to become — a professor of zoology. Being a friend, I was happy and more than anything else, I was looking forward to meeting her after two long years. Flights were booked, dates were decided and then comes a phone call.

Her parents didn’t want their girl child to stay away from Kolkata all on her own. Not only was she dependant on her parents financially, but also socially and security-wise. Her decision making skills are nil and she basically can’t live without either of her parents around. For parents, she is the ideal daughter, but what is so great about not being able to travel alone at 24 and not being able to take career and education decisions is something only society can answer. Any explanations?

Debolina Sengupta

June 4th, 2009

The protected public officers

Ministers and state heads believe that they are extremely important. I don’t disagree, but they should be open to discussion with the common public. Not only other ministers and “valid press card” holders. Well, after 4 months of regular attempts, I finally got to hear the Education Minister, Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri’s voice on his personal mobile number, while he was on holiday. For a journalist, it is a dream come true to be finally talking to someone important, someone whose movements make news. Only fellow journalists will understand what I mean.

Hegde was kind enough to talk to me on the phone and give me an appointment to talk about the most controversial thing that has happened to him, on the minister’s chair. As if preparing for my first date, I prepared questioned, planned reactions and practiced the way I could put my questions. For a cushion, I reached half an hour before the appointment time. The midday sun was hidden behind the clouds. I thanked god — thinks all seem perfect today.

With my press card clutched tightly in my hand, I didn’t really believe that entering the Vidhana Souda compound would be a cake walk. And as believed, the sub-inspector at the gate looked at my press card and asked me to get a “pass” from the “reception”. I followed his pointed finger to a crowded room filled with the smell of stale alcohol and stinky sweat. My anticipation to meet Hegde was still running high. One look at the press card, the “officer” in the dirty room instructed me to show it to the sub-inspector at the gate. All my fight through the dirty male bodies seemed like a waste. The sub-inspector asked me for the “accreditation card”, which I didn’t have. I was not allowed inside, even after attempted calls to the Education ministry.

I am not venting out my anger here that I was not allowed inside for a pre-decided appointment but for the fact that ministers and public servants should be open to meeting the public and answering questions. Not only when they want to through press conferences, but also when the public wants to. The media can be the mediator in between, but there should be a certain amount transparency to at least allow people inside government offices, which is in fact funded by the public themselves.

Debolina Sengupta

May 27th, 2009

When exams are a matter of life or death– Student suicide epidemic

In India and North America alike, thousands of students are rejoicing at the end of another school year and eagerly anticipating months of summer vacation that lie ahead. Many are also suffering the same old bouts of dread, anxiety and nail-biting brought on by final exams.

I graduated university in Ottawa, Canada last year and I can still remember the cold sweats and sleepless nights that preceded each one of my finals. Like many students, I procrastinated and delayed studying, choosing instead to enjoy the return of spring weather with my friends, and as a result I often found myself in a panic the night before each exam.

I would down litres of Red Bull and coffee, skimming through months of notes and dozens of textbooks until 5 a.m. in a desperate attempt to cram a semester’s worth of knowledge into my brain. Sitting in a huge gymnasium the following morning with hundreds of other students who seemed well-rested and prepared, I often thought to myself: “Please just let me die now.”

I wasn’t being serious, but it appears many in Canada and India would rather die than fail their exams.

Competition between students and fear of failure can be terribly destructive. Students pin the hopes of their entire futures on the results of final exams. A good grade can be the golden ticket to a high-paying job and launch a successful career; failure can be completely devastating to the student and their family.

In Canada the mainstream media doesn’t report suicides unless the person who died is a famous public figure. In India I can’t pick up a newspaper these days without seeing a story about exam-induced suicide. It’s a sad indicator of the intense pressure every undergrad goes through, pressure that seems to have no outlet and can easily result in terrible tragedy.

A 17-year-old in Guna, Madhya Pradesh, hung himself after learning he’d failed his high school exam. A 15-year-old in the same state poisoned herself and died after receiving a failing grade.

Or take for example the 18-year-old student from Subrahmanya PU College in Mangalore, who hung himself after learning he’d failed an exam.

Or the 17-year-old in Hyderabad who went from straight from his exams to the school bathroom and hung himself.

What’s truly tragic is that all these suicides occurred within hours of eachother on May 10.

I often saw the signs of mental breakdown during exam periods in Canada — my friends and classmates would become distant, sleep-deprived zombies, prone to jags of crying, over-drinking and abuse of prescription drugs that helped them stay awake for days on end. Many of the tactics we used to study did more harm than good — studies have repeatedly shown that students who cram and pull “all-nighters” perform more poorly on tests than their peers. But the panic and desperation that hits when a student doesn’t feel smart enough to do well on an exam is intense and illogical — it really does feel like the end of the world when one is unprepared for a final exam, and failing an important exam can feel like failing at life.

Thousands of high school grads won’t be accepted by their college of choice and job markets are choked with college grads. The current global economic crisis has left entry-level positions in high demand and short supply. Students are cracking under all that pressure, and an alarming number are unable to cope. In 2006, an astounding 6,000 students died by suicide in India, a 35 percent increase from 2004. Student suicide rates in Canada are hard to come by, but about 300 youth kill themselves there this year. It might not seem like much, but considering Canada’s population is only 30 million, you could say the problem is even worse in the Great White North.

How does it get to the point that a student feels they have no other options available except death? Where are parents, friends and teachers who will notice the signs of severe depression and try to intervene? Clearly more support networks and mental health counselling services are necessary in secondary and post-secondary institutions. One can argue that a student who is prepared for their tests deserves to fail, but no one should ever become so isolated and depressed that an exam grade determines whether they live or die.

Paige Aarhus

May 11th, 2009