Saturday, January 26, 2013

Eyes Right

 There are times when you have to feel good about India. In the prevailing atmosphere of extreme negativity, it is easy to fall into the trap of despair. Patriotism may be the last refuge of the scoundrel (no thanks Samuel Johnson), but it has its uses and I don't mind being a scoundrel. The Republic Day parade is one such occasion, to feel good.

I know very few watch the parade these days, but it is an eminently watchable spectacle. Other countries put on a show like this - the Bastille Day parade in France and the Victory Day parade in Russia, being the more prominent. But the Indian parade is extremely impressive and can raise goose pimples, especially if you can understand the honour and significance of it.

It all begins with the laying of the wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyothi - the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the sounding of the Last Post - a tribute to the fallen. The Parade itself is rich in tradition. The President's bodyguard gives the order for the National Salute and you cannot but help feel a lump in the throat as the National Anthem in played. After the Parade Commanders, come the living recipients of the Param Vir Chakra and the Ashok Chakra - India's highest gallantry medals.  This year it was nice to see all the three living PVC holders in the parade - Subedar Major Bana Singh, Naik Subedar Yogendra Singh Yadav and Havaldar Sanjay Kumar. The 61st cavalry often leads out the marching contingents - this is probably the last Cavalry regiment anywhere in the world ; old traditions kept alive.  The impeccably turned out Army contingents lead the parade - this year the famous Maratha Light Infantry, the Dogra Regiment, the Kumaon Regiment, the Garhwal Rifles were all there - regiments with traditions going back 200 years. The Air Force contingent had a surprise with Flight Lieutenant Heena Pore leading - probably the first time a lady officer was the commandant . When the camera cut to probably her family wildly cheering, you could not have failed to be moved. Contingents vie with each other to win the best marching contingent award. To me the highlight is often the NCC boys and the NCC Girls contingent ; when she gives the call to salute the President, you can't quell the surge of emotion.

I normally discount the cultural shows that follow ; the military parade is the highlight. Its is an honour to march - if you wish to know how much of an honour it is and how much of training and selection precedes it, read this lovely account by Smriti Rao.

The dampener is the extremely poor coverage by Doordarshan. For a lesson on how not to cover an occasion of such grandeur, turn to Doordarshan. They have to cut all the time to show the faces of sundry VIPs - this being Delhi after all. How can you cut away, when the commandant's deep bass voice is giving the command for the salute. They couldn't even get the national anthem right - there was static and blackouts. Yuk !

But despite Doordarshan, this is an event that can make riveting viewing. You can watch it here, if you like.

Which is why, I say - I am sorry Colleen Braganza - I simply cannot stomach your article in the DNA.  There is a time to protest and make your voice heard. There is also a time to honour and cherish.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Out of the mouths of babes ......

Isn't that a brilliant question.  This is a question asked by 7 year old Loulou.
This is part of Facebook initiative by the Holland based banking giant ING . Its is part of their recruitment portal called ING Careers and this idea is called Next Generation banking. In it they are asking children to ask simple questions and for prospective employees who wish to join ING to answer them.
Here are some of the answers
  • We need banks to keep money moving and safe
  • Banks are also a safe place to put your money and not only that but the bank will even make sure the amount you gave them increases over time by using it in different businesses
  • We need banks for your money:
    1. To be safe - Your piggy bank can get lost, stolen or empty.
    2. To grow - Do nothing and see your money grow each year because of interest.
  • So banks were a place you could keep your money safe and also get some extra money if you agreed to pay it back soon
  • So you see banks are there to help people. They have a lot of helpful ideas to make life easier for everyone
  • We need banks because there are two kinds of people, people who has money and want their money to be in a safe place where they could get it anytime they want and people who wants money to make things and sell them in order to make more money.
  • To keep it very simple. Banks make our life easy
------- And so on and so on.
All perfectly true of course. The problem is that this is no longer what banks mostly do.  If senior bankers read this and reflect, perhaps some blinding truths may strike them.
Maybe every industry must do something similar and try and explain their reason for existence to children. They may find themselves squirming and very uncomfortable.
As it is said in Psalm  8:2 , "Out of the mouth of babies and sucklings hast thou established strength ......... "

PS : This blogger had to hold his nose and go into Facebook to get the material for this post. He has quickly exited and is somewhat affected even by this short experience. He won't be going anywhere there in a hurry !

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Eighth Deadly Sin

Alongside  wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony - the seven deadly sins - should surely be added "money". For it is now proving to be a deadly sin even in the Vatican.

News came out on Wednesday that all forms of plastic money - ATM cards, credit cards, debit cards, etc have stopped functioning in the Vatican. So if you want to visit the Sistine Chapel, you have to fork out cash for admission - cannot wave your plastic.

This has happened because the Bank of Italy (Italy's Central Bank) has suspended all electronic operations by banks inside the Vatican in exasperation at the Vatican's continued inability to follow anti money laundering and anti terrorist financing regulations. This has been going on for a long time - the Vatican does not meet the anti money laundering requirements that all countries have to meet and has not been able to set this right for years.

Part of the problem is "Ramamrithamisque". Regulations demand all sorts of KYC forms and it is quite likely that the Holy Fathers have not been rigorous enough in filling 74,432 forms - their minds being, hopefully, absorbed with higher matters. Here, my sympathies are with the Vatican.

But the other half of the problem is serious. The Vatican, as indeed many successful religious organisations are, is a huge business enterprise. In this, they must follow laws that seek to curb international crime. But they usually turn a blind eye to where their money comes from , and this is an unpardonable eighth deadly sin.

This problem is not unique to the Vatican alone. Every religious organisation, I dare speculate, would fail the test of anti money laundering. Much of their finances are murky, shady, and accounting rigour, transparency and tightness of control is conspicuous by their absence.  If you stretch the argument, is it right for the Tirupathi temple,to accept donations from every scoundrel who goes and makes an offering of a fraction of his ill gotten wealth as appeasement ?

Religious organisations have to be whiter than white. These days, they are as much business organisations as religious ones, commanding large capital and cash flows. Excuses that they are solely concerned with matters temporal, won't fly. They must meet every test of international law, as all of us are expected to. Failing which they must be blacklisted, as the Bank of Italy has tried to in a small way.

"In God we trust" cannot be an empty slogan.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Ramamritham has been found !

Voilà . The real Ramamritham has been found !! He does exist. Hurray !  Or at least he did.

See this post from my good friend Sriram for irrefutable proof !

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The young shall inherit the earth

The birth of a new year is a time of rejoicing, of drink and dance, of fireworks, of endless wishes, of resolutions and maybe the odd wistfulness of a year gone by. It is also a moment to reflect on the passage of time - of years whizzing by. I was prompted by this brilliant article in the FT  to muse on what sort of a world are we leaving for the young - for it is they who shall inherit the earth.

It is the fond wish of every parent to care and provide for his children. Yet collectively, humanity seems to be doing the opposite. How can it be that a powerful motive for the self, disappears when it comes to the whole ?

December was an awful month for the young. The shooting of school children in Newton, Connecticut and the rape and death of a young lady in Delhi would have shocked the most hardened of souls.  But those awful incidents have to stand by the side of equally awful things we do to the young

Many children under the age of 5 die. Its a shame on humankind that 19000 children under the age of five die every day, largely from preventable causes,  and my own country India, is the top contributor. I don't even want to guess the number of children we enslave, prostitute and kill. We are unable as a race to send 70 million children to school. We discriminate against the girl child in all sorts of ways and shoot the brave Malala, all because she wanted an education. In some countries, mainly the US, we have made the cost of college education so prohibitive that every student passing out starts life with a staggering amount of debt on her back.

All countries in the world are on a borrowing binge and leave the debt to be picked up by future generations. Every nation. including China, has a mountain of debt. We would individually cringe at leaving a debt for our child instead of a house, but as a collective nation, our sense of responsibility seems to have deadened.We all want fat pensions, but do not want to pay for it and are very happy to leave that liability unfunded for our children to bear. In many countries in the developed world, we offer no chance of employment for the young - we want to protect our jobs and make it impossible for anybody to fire us, but are happy to not even give an opportunity of a job to our children.

We debunk the theory of global warming because it does not suit us. We do not care much for the environment and are happy to leave the world a littered and polluted place. We do not even want to begin action on climate change. We exploit every fossil fuel that we can , knowing that very soon they would run out - that's a problem for our children to deal with. We deplete ground water in my country at such an alarming rate that very soon the next generation will fight wars over water. The less said about the number of trees we leave for our children, the better.

Our families are no longer the rock on which the young can grow on. Joint families have given way to nuclear families. Nuclear families are giving way to single parents. Many of us are far too busy running our lives. Our time, the most precious commodity for a child is, alas, is short supply. What has happened to the values, the most precious gift we can give our young. Not one of us, in my country, stops at a red light unless a policeman is watching - and sometimes not even then.  We teach the next generation by example, it is OK to do virtually anything as long as you don't get caught.

What has my generation come to. What do we do the many things we do, for ? Aren't we interested in how history will judge us by - aren't we afraid that we will be looked at with contempt by future generations.

Forgive us Lord for we know not what we do. And show us the way, for we are lost.