Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Moving Story, neverending...

My arms ache. Individually moving a quarter of a ton of clothes, books, DVD's, electronics, and assorted household goods has left it's mark - but has fortunately not fucked my spine like last time.
And I have a partially functional new apartment. No cable, but 650 movies; no internet but 250 GB of pics, videos, comics, and games.
And finally, at long last, parking.
I have spent the last 2 days packing, moving, shopping, moving the shopping, unpacking, rearranging, and screaming like an enraged orangutan at the shocking lack of storage space. Not that the new flat lacks it; there are cupboards, shelves, minibars, lofts, cabinets, and box beds galore. Unfortunately, they all appear to be used. I have never seen a larger collection of glass and china in one place together. It's crammed. Plates, cups, saucers, humorous coffee mugs, mementoes, beer glasses, steins, creamers, bowls, wine glasses, shot glasses, chalices, dishes, mugs, lids, baking thingies you make veg au gratin in, platters... I am exhausted. I need to banish all these somewhere and I have no clue.
Photos coming soon.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Moving Story, Reloaded

It's that time of the year again, the annual event that happens every 11 months.
There's a nip in the air, the birds are chirping, the cellphones are ringing, and as my lease expires, I am out again, back on the Hunt For House.

An elusive beast, it hides in the concrete jungle, brilliantly camouflaged in dug-up roads, malfunctioning lights, absent owners and unavailable keys, ensuring you don't get to lay your eyes upon it.

But if you're patient, persistent, and have a healthy dose of sheer bloody-mindedness, you can penetrate this first layer of defense and see the house.
That's when the second line of defense gets activated - leaking roofs, the worst possible neighbour to have (i.e. the owner), termite-ridden beds, a dead rat in the kitchen (I swear there was one, and it had been eaten by other rats. I know what a patch of coarse black fur, bones and a stain means), A fairly deaf sadhu baba in a short-short kurta and nothing else answering the door, a continuous low growl coming from under the sofa with a harmonic that says 'I've nearly chewed through the leash, just take 2 minutes and check the loos again please', pigeons (!!!), dust allergies born of some spore imported from a pharaoh's tomb, violent red walls and silver furniture... the list goes on and on, often too painful to talk about.

But finally, you will find the perfect place. Like a presidential plane knowing there's missile launched at it's tail, a last-ditch countermeasure is deployed - financial chaff. Deposits, rent, brokerage, registration fees, parking permissions. Owners are ok, but the brokers are all-out to increase the rent so they benefit. Thank God I have access to one of the few good guys.

But as of last week, it's all behind me - agreement, registration, biodata, police verification, thumbprints and passport photos, society letter, reposession letter, Form 20-A and Form 29, witness signatures, receipts, et al... and I am the proud possessor of a heavy pair of of keys (and appropriately enough, on a golden keychain) which shall lead me into my perfect apartment.

Now comes the shifting... but that's another story.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Indian Politician

Justify FullLet's take a deep breath for a moment, and hard as it is, think dispassionately.
We - the Indian People - are in deep shit. The machinery and infrastructure that is supposed to care for us is, at best, ineffective. There's a lot of anger, frustration, and disgust in us - and most of all, everyone is asking - what can we do?

I am trying to create an answer.
It may not be the right one. A lot of you may disagree with some of what you will read. And I admit I'm not either qualified or in any way, or have any special access or information, that entitles me to do this, save for one reason - I'm just one more person on the street, one more passenger in the train, one more tourist in Kashmir, one more traveller in an airport... and every time something like this happens, the first thing that comes to my mind is - it could be me. It could be someone I know.
I've been lucky so far - but you and I both know that if things continue, it's just a matter of time.

The reason why these things keep happening - in my opinion - is because the infrastructure isn't sufficiently equipped to deal with management of porous borders, a billion plus population, understaffed, underpaid, under-trained and underequipped police, and specialist agencies too caught up in political games to be allowed to function effectively.
But that's not really the reason.
The political class - our so-called 'masters' and trust me, even saying that word brings the bile to my throat - is not doing it's job.
A politician enters the system with a clear objective. Power.
Power equals money, status, assets, previliges.
But NOT duty, responsibility, accountability.

So the real question we need to think about is, how do we force our MLAs, MPs, and Ministers to start doing the job they are supposed to, instead of creating private empires and fortunes and hijacking the state machinery - that we pay for, by the way - for their own perks.
The next time you're stopped to let a 20-car convoy with the flashing red lights pass, remember your salary is 33% less because of that petrol. Because they're on their way to some international event with family and press and shopping, sorry, 'expenses'. Because they need to stock up and furnish that 3000-square foot house in that 2-acre plot for which, unsurprisingly, the paperwork is proving... elusive.

Yet, we are a democracy. We voted. We put these ______'s where they are.
We thought, choosing the lesser of two evils will make it a little less unbearable. But it won't, because it's not the people, but the system that's ineffective. Apart from the fact that the power without responsibility it offers acts as a magnet for every criminal, low-life, unqualified, and plain wrong person for the job... in the ensuing dirty fight the good people get sidelined.
If you want to win, you have to play the game, and playing the game makes us all the same.

So - and this is where the ideas begin - can we do something to make the filtration better? Make sure the right people reach the right positions?

1. Make a mandatory requirement for standing for elections - a blood relative in the armed forces. On active duty. The minute he gets a desk job, or retires, you're out.
What will this achieve? A little more responsibility towards those people and that institution that keeps the country safe. A budget cut that cancels snow boots for the Siachen troops will be more debatable when it's your son's toes that are amputated because of frostbite.

2. Minimal security. Let the ministers and functionaries be moved to quarters attached to the offices and government centers. Let them even bring their families. But Keep it basic, minimal, and only what's necessary. It's the center and the position that is to be protected, not the man occupying it. If he has to leave the proemises, privately, give him a two-man civilian security detail.
What will this achieve? Fewer unpopular decisions. Ignore an illegal slum for years, and someone will throw rotten eggs at you. Renege on your promises, and the man in the street will walk up to you and spit in your face.
What's that? Criminal elements have it so much easier to kill you now? Well, you should have thought of that when you were drawing up the police training and equipping bill, shouldn't you?

Let 'Serving the Public Trust' actually have some 'serving' in it. And for someone looking to make a fast buck - shouldn't you be thinking of something safer?

3. Link their salaries to the sensex.
What will this achieve? If the country does well, you make money. If the economy falters, so does your own direct take-home.

4. Delink the police from political control. Make them independent. Increase their salaries to the point you're comfortable that they won't take a bribe from Dawood to kill you. Increase their training and equipment to the point that they can protect you if someone decides to pick up an AK56. Let the military handle recruiting and training - but they have got to be a separate, independent entity.

5. Get back the RTI, but in a much more effective way. The Right To Information Act currently allows anyone to request information from the government. But how many know what to ask for, and if they do get it, what it means? Set up a specialist media team that reads, interprets and reports on existing policies and policies under debate. Let them talk about it in a language that the average man-on-the-street can understand. Set up centers that can liase between the government and the citizen to give what information is needed.

6. e-nable EVERYTHING. Every bill, petition, paper, file, request, order, document has to be online, and not just as a scan; the world's largest democratic machinery will need the mother of all SAP systems. But every single document must be traceable, at any time, by any person.

That's it for now. I do not know HOW this can be done. The people in power right now are the ones who have everything to lose if they change the status quo; we can't expect any help from them.

This is a call to anyone reading this - if you have ideas, suggestions, advice, or even if you just agree - think about it. Think of what we can do. Some of us will know, will figure out how to make it happen.
A candlelight vigil, a facebook page, an email forward, a petition, a satyagraha, a peace march - these are good things. These are necessary things. But don't let them remain just that.
Think of how we can make these ideas work.

And many of you will have brilliant, revolutionary, and most of all, workable ideas. Make them public. Make them known. If you know what should be done, someone else can tell you how. Just make sure they know.

Update 03/12/08: Facebook group is up.