Better India!

My dear friend Shrikant wrote a message on our WhatsApp group, which truly reflected his frustration. But It is not only his frustration but all of us have the same feelings. I will briefly write what he said. “Since I remember, I feel as if I am living in a vicious circle of development and expansion. First, the roads are broken, then later they are broadened because of capacity issues. Then comes tarring, and then the time comes to build flyovers! After that, the time for concretisation comes. All the time we have pollution and traffic congestion. Now at the age of 70, I am looking at the Metro project coming up. There are so much indiscipline and chaos that I am fed up, mainly because I have to go Chakan every day! I hope now at in this phase of my life I will sometime see everything going smoothly with regulated traffic and less chaotic life!”

He is right, and he has hit the bull’s eye with his thoughts. All of us have the same feelings. There have been responses saying that the development is a never-ending cycle; the fruits of work done by grandfathers are for the grandchildren to enjoy etc. These responses are also correct. The phenomenon of development cycle happens all over the world. But to me, Shrikant’s frustration has a different connotation.

British rule ensured that our infrastructure remained poor. In the US, highways were built in the 30s /40s of last century. Hitler built autobahns in Germany in 30s of the last century. In India, this cycle has started in the last twenty years!

We as Indians have diverse culture, 25 main languages, snow-clad mountains and lovely beaches; we are a nation of diversity. But we have one common culture that of personal and public indiscipline, and I care two hoots attitude! It is not only on the roads; you go anywhere in public place; things will be chaotic. We at heart have remained villagers from the time of Baba Adam! This attitude continues irrespective of whether you are rich or poor, educated or uneducated. One can give many day-to-day examples. In the cities or towns, one basic rule is followed, not to follow any rule. Shrikant was talking of Chakan. In Chakan and many towns, there is an excellent four-lane road. But the divider in between is sometimes breached “officially” under pressure from politicians, and at other times unofficially. For taking a U-turn, people do not want to drive a Km or two more! Cutting corners where ever possible is there in our DNA! Add to that indiscriminate parking in such towns along the roads. Driving on the wrong side of the roads is also very common!

If you drive on Mumbai Pune Expressway, which is like an expressway, anywhere in the world, we sometimes see people driving Motorcycles on the road skirting! The road is meant only for four-wheelers and multi-axle vehicles! There are two places where you pay the toll. Near these toll booths, there are washrooms. But we invariably see a few men relieve themselves in the open about 100 to 200 meters away from the urinals. In the main city areas, there is a thought process that vehicles used by the government departments can be parked anywhere, including on footpaths. Cutting the red signal is a norm rather than the exception. The police department tries to discipline, but when a significant % of people start breaking the rules, how many police can you deploy?

These aspects should be taught to children right from KG schools. But when their mothers break the rules, children grow up thinking the same way. I was waiting at a signal to cross the road in Montreal a couple of weeks back. My granddaughter Rhea was with me; she is six years old. She asked me a question, “Why don’t people in Pune wait for the signal to turn green?” I had no answer. When there is a traffic jam in Pune, we see people driving their motorcycles on the footpaths to move ahead! All of them are “busier” than the Prime Minister of the country and have no time to wait!

World over in most cities, there is work in progress for an extended period! In Boston, the tunnel work was going on for ten years. In Mumbai, flyovers were built over a few years. Same is true with Metro. But if the primary discipline is not followed, the indiscipline and chaos will never go away. The problem is not city-specific, it is India specific.

In today’s newspapers in Pune, there was a news item. A car used by an officer of the Municipal Corporation was parked on the footpath. It used to be at a specific place, with the driver sitting in the car. The driver was told to park it in the right zone. The driver said, “The car is used by Asst Commissioner!” The police were not impressed. After the same suggestion for a couple of days was ignored, on the third day, they put a jammer on the car and fined him Rs.2000/. The officer tried to pull rank on the policeman, but they were not impressed. He had to pay the fine.

As against this, I had read a story. Commissioner of Tel Aviv was found talking on a cell phone while driving his car. A police officer stopped him; he did not recognise the commissioner. He fined him but later came to know that he was their biggest boss! The next day, he was called to the commissioner’s office. The policeman was worried and was trying to find a way out of the situation. To his surprise, the commissioner received him in his office, and there was a two-minute ceremony. The Commissioner congratulated the policeman for doing his duty, issued a special commemorative certificate for performing his duties in an exemplary manner! It shows the difference between developed and undeveloped societies.

In India, we are lucky that because of the temperate weather we can do all our development work almost round the year. In cities like Montreal, because of the snow in winter, the road work can be done only during 6 to 7 months in a year when there is no snow. So, every year, on many roads, some repair work or the other is going on all the time. New development work is also going on during this period. Traffic gets choked, it gets slowed down, but no motorcycles are driven on footpaths! On the street where we lived, pipeline work was going on for almost four weeks. Car parking was not allowed from 7 am to 7 pm. Not a single car was ever parked during this period!

So Shrikant, it is about self-discipline, it is about the implementation of rules. Improved traffic rules have been created by the Central Government; hefty fines have been suggested. But the state governments don’t want to implement this because of expected public backlash. It is the will of the people, will of the government that needs to change. Development thing is going to be WIP all our life!

I am an absolute optimist, but I told a 25-year-old boy the other day, that if the primary self-discipline does not become our culture, India will be at the same place even after 50 years! (Of course, I won’t be around!)

But many good things are happening! Metros are made ready in ¾ years, ISRO is doing a great job, online payments, online railway bookings are improving day by day at breakneck speed! Many good things are happening, but people’s attitude is not changing. The problems we face daily are the result of this unchanged attitude! Let us hope at some stage this will also change.

Human Traits!

The more we live in this world, the less you are surprised with human reactions. Poorest of the poor will share food with the needy, and the rich guy will not give a morsel to the deserving. I am talking about human behaviour and the so-called traditions that are followed in our society. Now that I am near the seventh decade in life, I get a feeling that I have been there and I have done that. Nothing will now surprise me anymore. I suddenly come across surprises.

We have a lady who does cleaning work at home. She is 36 years of age and quite a chirpy lady. She asked Jaya for a couple of days leave as her daughter was to travel back to her husband’s home. Surprise one. The daughter was here for the birth of her second child. Thirty-six years of age and the second grandchild. Oh! Maharashtra is a progressive state; child marriages have stopped long back. I asked Jaya why does she need a couple of days of leave? There is a tradition in their family, that when the daughter goes home after delivery, her inlaws are gifted with 150 Puran Polis! Puran Poli is a Maharashtrian delicacy; it’s a bread with a sweet filling and very tricky to make. In the current summer weather, the Poli can quickly get spoiled! But who cares, there is a tradition, and it must be followed. How can any family finish 150 Polis before they get spoiled? But logic is not part of the culture. The anecdote is from the family who are in the lower economic strata. The expense to make the Polis must have been around Rs.1000/. That is a lot of money for her plus several hours of efforts.

But here is one about people from very high economic levels. There is a housing society in Pune Called Himali Soc. It is one of the oldest high-end housing societies with row houses and condos. In Pune, we usually have water scarcity during the summer, especially when the monsoon gets delayed. The people from that society complained to the municipal corporation about the water supply. Since the problem was not getting resolved, the society people kept on complaining. Finally, the corporation sent a team of people to check the issue. They found that there was no apparent issue with the supply side. Still, the problems in homes persisted. They started checking individual dwellings. They were shocked to find out that out of 30-row houses, 25 had installed pumps, to pull the water from the main supply line. Using pumps is strictly against the law. They acted immediately and confiscated all 25 water pumps. These are supposedly highly educated, sophisticated people living in a high-end society. But they were in the least bothered about the law and the inconvenience it caused to others. I am sure most of the people must be leaders in their own fields. For small gain, they behaved in an incorrigible way. Is this fair? Is it the right thing to do? These people could have easily bought their drinking water supply if required. Friends, do you approve of such behaviour?

Then there is one funny story about a petty criminal. The person is 49 years of age and is a habitual offender. Sometime back he had a minor fight with a cigarette kiosk owner. The criminal beat the owner and stole a few thousand rupees from him. He was duly caught by the police and kept in the lock-up at the Police Station. At night, he started making noise, shouting and created a big ruckus. He had a habit of making a show which an outsider would think that the person is mentally derailed, almost on the verge of being mad. Most of the times, the Police would get fed up with him and his noise. The situation would ensure that the Police release him. The officer in charge that night was a smart person. He decided to send him to a large hospital to check his mental health. The doctors put him in the psychiatric patient’s ward. The patients from the ward, started to interact with our petty criminal, they would hug him, they would shout at him. They would scream at him. On the third day, the criminal got both scared and fed up. When the Police team came to check about his health condition, he privately told them that he was wrong and he would never throw the tantrums again, ever. He requested them to remove him from the ward. He now behaves appropriately in the jail without troubling anybody.

Modern technology has achieved a couple of great things. It has given a gift of longevity to people in India and has brought old friends together. Whether longevity is a boon or bane depends on individuals and their attitude towards life. I have observed that people die much later these days. In my father’s generation, dying after a few years after retirement was the norm. When people died between 60 and 70 of age, it was not a surprise. But now this range has moved more towards 75 to 80. As usual, it has its pro and cons. One thing is your attitude and secondly the money. You now need more money after retirement than you would need previously. Once you are sure that there is enough money, then it is up to you to see how you remain happy.

From one of my groups, people have been doing many things; we are all around the age of 70. Pravin, the singer, has now started writing poems and does some paintings. Sudhakar has been doing lovely pictures for quite some time. Hemant remains busy as the board of director for several organisations. Vasant is active with social work. Another friend takes discourse on religious matters. One more friend has formally learnt to perform puja and goes to various homes as a priest. Suresh teaches yoga on weekends in Sydney, Australia. Surendra has passed a competitive exam and now is going to take admission to a full-time course to become a lawyer. I have now joined an online course at Oxford University for creative writing. Two or three friends have already checked with me the procedure to start a blog site on WordPress.

You must be wondering why I am telling you all this. Friends remaining busy is in our hands. First and foremost, we must remember that we are not immortals. Ill health, poor eyesight, physical disabilities are going to be part of our lives one day.  We may become bedridden for some time. But we should not get discouraged by what is going to happen in future. People do many new things post-retirement, you need to find your path to enjoy life, to find happiness. So are we going to give up?

People from our age group and above can set standards for future generations about positive attitude. Let us help overcome the negativity of the so-called traditions. Our “rich” traditions will continue, unfortunately. In countries like Japan, people handle their lives on their own, happily in the age group above 80. They have been doing it for many generations. By showing that you can be happy even at a late stage in life, we can make this a better world! Let’s do it!

Civilized behaviour of Oldest Civilization!

InternetGenie

Pramod somehow managed to make Internet Genie run at the high speed that was expected of him. Genie as usual started narrating a story. He started with a question, “Pramod why do we Indians behave in different ways to real life situations?” Pramod knew that if he uttered a word, Genie would slip out of his control and system will hang! So Pramod did not give any reply to the question asked.

As usual Genie kept on talking. Pramod, I read in newspapers that a girl student in IIT, Chennai committed suicide. Pressures due to studies is one aspect. But this unfortunate event occurred after the girl was caught copying in the semester examination. The result, she was asked to leave examination hall and her parents were informed. The girl went to her hostel and committed suicide. Two things were to happen, she would have been debarred from exam for one semester and parents were to be informed! When she tried the copying, I am sure she must have known the consequences of getting caught. Pramod, why did the girl end her life? Insult? Repentance? But why end life?  She was just to lose one semester! She had an opportunity to make up for her error! Why copy? Why such a drastic reaction?

Some years back I remember a news item of students resorting to mass copying in Marathwada area, in Maharashtra. Pramod, if you see the photograph below, you will be amazed. The persons helping students to copy are climbing three to four stories from outside of a building. Shocking, to say the least! Are these people not afraid of the authorities? Are they not afraid of injuries? Apparently no! Later, the government took a stiff action and made district officials responsible to stop this. What is the reason for this mass copying? It appears that on passing tenth grade, these kids could get a government job as a peon or office assistant! Before the authorities became strict the passing % was 85 to 90 %. Now it is 45%! But was mass copying the solution?

StudentsCopying

In Mumbai, Afroze Shah decided to take up the cleanup drive of Versova beach but he is now forced to stop this due to apathy of Municipal corporation, threats by bad elements forcing volunteers to stop work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04OuaathdnI

Read about their work in the link below.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/this-lawyer-spearheaded-the-world-s-biggest-beach-clean-up-at-versova/story-E75vbhoKUJXSJECsIncYkK.html

Afroze Shah is a young 33-year-old lawyer from Mumbai and he just decided a couple of years back, “enough is enough”! He started a drive to clean the Versova beach. Through social media campaign. thousands of volunteers joined to take part in the drive. This is officially recognized by United Nations as a great cleanup drive! The volunteers recently were threatened by bad elements in the society. The latest news is that Shiv Sena has fully supported Shah and has told him that they will talk to police and  corporation. There will be Shiv Sena volunteers to protect the people. Let us hope this works out. Here is one-man army who brought together thousands of people to stand in ankle deep muck, to clean the beach every week end. Why there is so much apathy from Government agencies? How are bad elements troubled by this activity? Let us hope the drive continues!

VersovaBeachCleaningDrive

There was a drive against encroachers of public space. The hawkers were removed from these areas. After eight days same drive was done again, and this time hawkers attacked the officials! It is our right to earn livelihood, they said! But what about right of other people for free space! Hawkers were doing illegal things and wanted space free, for themselves, instead of going to hawker’s zone! On top of that they attacked the officials. What sort of thinking is this? Why do political parties support illegal activities?

Pramod, I want your reply on various points, as I know that you have strong views!! Pramod just could not keep quiet. He said, “Genie, copying during exams is such an unfortunate practice that these kids do not understand that passing exams is not the end but the means of achieving one’s goal in life!  Ok, you make a mistake but killing oneself is not the solution, one can repent and correct the error! In case of beach cleaning, I simply do not have answers! What to bad elements achieve by threatening the volunteers?  Government apathy? Tell me something new!  Hawkers probably are learning from Mallya’s and Subroto Roy’s of this world, how to make money by cheating?”

With this statement Pramod broke the golden rule of silence that Genie had locked him in.  At that instant Genie slipped out of Pramod’s grasp, Genie’s speed became equivalent of 2 G and system hung!  Genie could not help but make a passing remark before escaping. ” Pramod, there is not much space here, otherwise I could have given you hundreds of such examples from oldest “civilization” on the earth!”