Thursday, July 30, 2009

All Truth, No Lies!

We all have heard the famous quotes – “Honesty is the best policy”, “Truth is bitter” and many of us have even read “The story of my Experiments with Truth”, an autobiography by the father of our nation.

However, truth has received a completely new and unparalleled dimension on television right now. One gets monetary rewards for speaking the truth, for disclosing the most sacrosanct secrets of his/her private life, for unveiling them in front of loved ones whom we would never want to hurt or betray. Money for ripping apart one’s respect and self esteem, the most heavily regarded and thereby guarded elements in full public view.

The questions are all prepared in such a way that the answers are meant to expose only negative traits. The person in question is seated in an apparently uncomfortable position, in one of the perfect executive-like cushioned chair to face a volley of questions, all of which induce stress in the contestant & his/her near and dear ones. When the current era talks so much on stress management, skilful techniques of handling stress at work/school/home and every place on earth, why does this TV show aim at creating bouts of it?

A test used by investigating agencies after serious contemplation on criminal subjects is the central instrument of the show - polygraph test. Did one know that the polygraph test measures physiological responses of the sympathetic nervous system like changes in blood pressure, pulse rate, respiration/breathing patterns, skin temperature etc in human? These patterns are believed to be different for deceptive responses. Is one prepared to go through this test for sake of some lakhs and crores ? Instead, it would save a million lives if people volunteered for an early diagnosis of many fatal diseases and silent killers like hypertension, cardiac problems, diabetes, cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.
If one was seriously interested in coming out clean, then why not do it in front of loved ones in confinement? That one is prepared to face the whole world while confessing on dark, inner secrets of life, sweating out and breathing faster as the process happens, goes out to show how mercenary people have become.

The show airs the truth about lives of many biggies and celebrities. So the next time India lost a cricket match, why not the captain be subjected to a polygraph on the actual reasons, why not politicians involved in many scandals get free of guilt through this instrument? Wish this show had started earlier, we could have got Ramalinga Raju of Satyam participate and check the veracity of his company’s revenue/profit reports and thereby averted the worst ever tech debacle.

Below is the link to a very well written article on what this TV show offers to the society apart from big bucks – by Santosh Desai in Times of India, dated July 26, 2009.
Below is the complete text of the article -
The Very Naked Truth
It has happened. The parliament is seized of the Sach Ka Samna question and the clouds of outrage are darkening visibly. Charges of vulgarity and fears about potential damage to the Indian way of life are rife. On the face of it, it is easy to see why this show should cause such offense. A participant performs the ultimate act of pornography as he disrobes himself in full public view of all that he considers most intimate, stripping himself of not only dignity and self-respect but dismantling in the process, the trust he evokes from those he loves most. We watch in voyeuristic disbelief, with a combination of fascination, horror, guilt and smug superiority at someone's else's misery. That a channel should produce a show like this makes us cringe, for what could be more exploitative and destructive than a spectacle like this?

And yet, the issue is not that simple. We keep talking about the virtues of honesty in our life and personal relationships. And all that this show does is to deal in the truth. Participants know not just the kind of questions they will be asked but have been exposed to the specific questions that come their way. They know their family will be at hand. The format produces a forced kind of honesty, but at least it deals with the truth and isn't that supposed to set us free?

Maybe not. This is where the motivations that surround this show become important. The show is not interested in the truth but specifically seeks that truth which will cause damage to the individual's self esteem and poison relationships. It is a spectacle only when participants disclose something scandalous. The reason why the family is such an important part of the show is because in some ways it is the show. We have in effect created a market for preying on someone else's personal misery. Once we accept a show like this, what stops us tomorrow us tomorrow from going further down road- for instance why not do an organ donation show tomorrow where a donor chooses from among a long list of critically ill patients vying for the life saving donation? The word 'elimination' will have an altogether realistic meaning then. Or why not make siblings fight for their parents attention and have a panel of esteemed judges give them points?

The commoditization of truth is part of an overall movement towards taking all that constitutes the personal and private and giving it exchange value in order to make it marketable. We can make money on the basis of our looks, education, ability, luck, our willingness to do stupid things and our openness to making our private life public. Everything has exchange value; we can monetize all parts of our life as evidenced by people marrying, dying and selling their virginity on screen for a price. Reality shows in general and Sach Ka Samna in particular serve to turn society's instruments against themselves. The individual is extracted from the folds of her inner world as all that constitutes ones private inner world is laid bare with the seductive aid of money and fame. We become consumers of ourselves as we turn our insides out for the consumption of the outside world. In effect society turns cannibalistic as it feeds on itself and its most cherished institutions. Of course, these institutions themselves are not built on any absolute truths and are riddled with contradictions. Even in this case, we can see how the professed ideal of honesty in relationships comes with clear limits. Relationships are not based on absolute honesty. Given the way society has been constructed, they cannot be. In fact they are based on the opposite- they need others to be insulated from all of an individual's real feelings. It is revealing that almost all viewers who recoil at the show and vow never to take part do so not because they have nothing to hide but because they do and are smart enough not to hurt their loved ones with the truth. This is not limited to a few of us, but is close to being a universal truth.

The trouble with Sach Ka Samna is not that India is not ready for it- at a certain level no society in the world is, given the way it challenges the fundamental assumptions on which we build societies. It is also almost certainly not illegal- nothing that is said or shown in the show is particularly shocking or new. That husbands stray, wives fantasise and siblings betray is hardly anything we have not around us in our lives. It is also unlikely to specifically lead to permanently damaging the fabric of Indian society. The trouble with Sach Ka Samna is that it crosses an invisible line we had drawn for ourselves. It tells us that we are comfortable consuming all that we value in our own lives in the name of entertainment. In the guise of modernity it takes us back to the primitive, as we take pleasure in a new and refined form of an ancient bloodsport.
The most striking thing about this show is that the channel thought it was alright to produce it, that so many participants took part and most importantly so many millions watch it for now. Sach Ka Samna is not a sign of the changes to come; it is a symptom of the changes that have already happened.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Just GOOGLE and find it!

It just struck me as I was reading through the deal between Yahoo and Microsoft. Remarked as a victory after an year for Microsoft, the terms and conditions of the deal between two companies on advertising and web/online search will be out in few hours. After Yahoo vehemently resisted the take over bid by Microsoft last year, the two have turned attention now to a joint venture (I guess after lots of contemplation) , possibly made a solemn promise to act strategically to get close to the behemoth - GOOGLE!

Yes, GOOGLE, the global search mantra that has a 67% share of online search space. Well, you don't find answers to something/your understanding on a topic is clouded, never mind , just GOOGLE and get all answers!

Right from code cracks for video games to detailed pictorial descriptions on various subjects for school projects, from materials for thesis presentations in college to official project related stuff and open source software, from sharing photos, blogs, calendars and recipes to daily news, from Archaelogy to Zoology, encompassing all age groups, GOOGLE is no easy competitor to tackle!

The deal, the press, reveals focusses on leveraging support from Yahoo for Bing, the new search engine developed by Microsoft. As readers of this news, we wish success to both Yahoo and Microsoft :)

By the way, I wanted to have a cursory glance of BING - I typed in my IE toolbar and searched for BING, good!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Nothing Endures but Change!

When Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher (535-475 BC) remarked – “Nothing endures but change”, he left behind a highly important notion that finds place in every walk of our life, in a person’s development from infancy to adulthood, in industry – be it marketing, electronics, finance, agriculture, medicine, in global environment and climate. Rephrase it as “Change is the only constant”; “The only constant is change”; ‘Change alone is unchanging”, we sure would have heard the phrase in most meetings in our workplace, if not explicitly, earlier in our life.

Though change is inevitable and typically a regular feature, we try to resist it with immense effort, only to embrace it half-heartedly later, until it becomes a watertight compartment of our life. In my four and half years stay at Bangalore, mostly restricted to its south east cosmopolitan part, changes I have observed have been minimal, well pronounced of them being- hotter summers, lesser rainfall in May-Aug, more glass buildings/brand stores with aluminium glass composite panels, more tech parks, more bore wells, greater felling of trees, increased traffic with years. Whilst, my myopic exposure to changing urban life leaves me pondering on what the city will be like in 5 to 10 years, for those who are natives of Bangalore, the change over last decade would truly be overwhelming, exponential and nettlesome.

Below is an article, published in Times of India, Bangalore edition, dated 23rd July 2009 on the changing face of Bangalore Cantonment. (I have gotten into this habit of collecting/blogging some good articles I read for any future references). The article can be accessed at and if the link becomes inaccessible one fine day, below is the body of the article written by Anita Rao Kashi.
Changing face of Bangalore Cantonment
Never, ever, try this: toss the question `Is it a good thing that Cantonment has changed over the last few decades?' into the midst of a gathering of old timers, especially residents of Cantonment area. Or do so if you love living dangerously and or if strolling g through a mine-laden battlefield is your idea of fun! The resultant pain, suffering and hand wringing are almost too much to bear.

And yet, Cantonment, or Cantt as it is affectionately called, was set inexorably on the path of change almost from the day it was born, sometime in the beginning of the 19th century. Historically, Cantt has always been the harbinger of transformation: a colonial settlement in the midst of a conservative native population is bound to have wide-ranging consequences. So all the teeth gnashing might seem paradoxical. But the pace of change then was slow and allowed time for everyone to absorb and internalise. In the last couple of decades though, the momentum has dramatically changed, became a runaway rogue engine with a life of its own.
When it was established, the Cantonment covered a vast area encompassing present day Richards Town, Agaram, Koramangala, Langford Town, Cubbon Park, Raj Bhavan, Vidhana Soudha, Millers and Cunningham Roads, Cantonment Station and Palace Grounds. With military precision, houses were arranged in straight parallel lines with the Parade Grounds as the centre of the station's existence, and clear demarcated areas for officers according to rank and the native soldiers. Over the years though, the Cantonment metamorphosed and shed some of the more far flung areas and is now just a segment of its earlier area. But in the last few decades, the change has been so phenomenal that people who haven't seen it for a 10 or 20 years will wonder if they are in the right place.
Unlike some of the other older parts of Bangalore, Cantt has the distinction of reinventing itself the most. The reasons are too many and too complicated. Yes, Malleswaram and Basavanagudi have changed beyond recognition as well, but there are still pockets of old world charm, providing glimpses of what it was and might have been. Yet, nowhere has it been more dramatic, more pronounced than in the Cantonment, large pockets of military presence notwithstanding.

The most obvious, the most recent, and according to some, the most heart wrenching, is probably how the skyline of MG Road has completely changed with the start of work on the Metro project. The massive pillars and girders, the pushed back compound of the Parade Grounds, the absence of the much-loved boulevard, have all contributed to an irreversible surgery on the road. The pleasure of standing near Kumble circle and being able to see almost till the other end of the road at Trinity circle is now lost forever. But long before the Metro arrived, there were plenty of signs that Bangalore's most happening road was getting ready to be botoxed and take on a Manhattanesque mantle. The Bluemoon-Blue Diamond building gave way to a commercial complex as did the EGK building. Plaza theatre became defunct. Elsewhere, on Brigade Road, homegrown brands gave way to global names and the makeover headed towards completion with the arrival of the twin golden arches. And these are just a handful of the changes that have taken place.
In varying degrees, this is the story of much of the Cantt area from Shivajinagar and beyond to Langford town, from Cubbon Park to beyond Ulsoor. And depending on which side of the line you are standing, the list could be a litany of woes, an inevitable path towards development or an exciting modernistic journey. Elgin Mills came down and a classy apartment block rose up in its place; Lido is now an eponymous sprawling mall and the Cash Pharmacy building on St Mark's Road has been replaced with a spic and span giant structure. All along Cunningham Road, Queens Road, Millers Road and scores of other, shiny, glassy commercial buildings have sprouted. And even residential areas have not remained the same. Proof of this are to be seen in each of the many areas that make up Cantonment, but nowhere is it more pronounced than around Ulsoor Lake, where high rise apartment blocks compete with high rise office blocks.
Despite overarching efforts by language fanatics, much of Cantonment continues with a bit of the colonial flavour, the last vestiges actually. Fraser Town, Cox Town, Cooke Town, Richmond Town, Coles Park - the names bring with them Bangalore's association with the past. And yet, in many places, the names are only things that have remained unchanged. Strangely enough, the Bangalorean has clung to them with a fierce zeal: both Residency and Richmond roads were named after war heroes, but nobody even bothers with the new names. On the other hand, citizens have not been so kind to structures. Like fairy tales, once upon a time, this was the area that was famous for British bungalows with extensive servants' quarters, built in classic British and European style, sometimes interspersing Gothic elements with native Mysore styles, and the trademark 'monkey tops'. Today, they have been replaced by towering residential complexes and smart modern houses.
Tree lined avenues and narrow roads, unable to take the burgeoning traffic, have either become larger, or one-ways. Flyovers, underpasses, grade separators abound..... The ancient 5th century BC Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously said "change is the only constant" but old-time Cantonment residents will hardly appreciate his sentiment when applied to their favorite area, though they know in their hearts that it is inevitable.
Whether it is good, bad or indifferent is a subjective issue and there can never be a last word on it. Yet nostalgia is a funny thing.....all of us, even the most ardent change advocates, have been down that lane sometime or the other.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Vacuous Promises

How many times have we heard vacuous promises from our politicians? An attempt to count instances exhaustively will be virtually impossible. Particularly, when a politician, currently valorous enough to dream of heading the country, lays claims to an initial downtrodden status and a spate of injustice faced in early years, does nothing for the society he/she hails from, it is very depressing. When it doesn't stop with giving a cold shoulder to the impoverished but expolit and squash them totally to gasconade about one's might - the act is truly repulsive.

That's sheerly the kind of reaction to what Mayawati, the CM of the country's most populous state has done; builiding memorials and statues bragging endlessly about her political status and influence.

Below is an article I read in Times of India newspaper, dated 4th July 2009, on the above issue. The thoughts I share are the same as stated in the article, expressed very powerfully and tersely.
Good Read :
The writer is a freelance journalist by the name Amrit Dhillon.
Monumental Mistake

Standing beside the dirty Gomti river in Lucknow, looking at the structures Mayawati has built on its banks in her quest for immortality, is enough
to make you weep. Not over the hubris behind the self-aggrandisement. Nor over the idea of building memorials to honour Dalit leaders such as B R Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram. Nor even the colossal cost or the efforts of an army of poor workers labouring under a pitiless sun.

It is the way she has squandered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. With acres of land and billions of rupees at her disposal, this was Mayawati's chance to go down in history as the woman who gave birth to a piece of architecture rivalling anything that has come up in the past 60 years. It was a chance to be bold and daring, to create something beautiful and unique. A chance to hold a nationwide competition of architects and order them to let their imaginations soar. The competition would have animated Lucknow residents. A lively debate would have ensued on what they desired for themselves and future generations. What did they want in the city? A stadium, a museum, a university, a hospital, a park or a monument?

For Indian architects, bored with designing shopping malls and farmhouses for the rich, Mayawati's memorials would have been a dream project, a stab at prosperity by creating something as spectacular as the Bird's Nest in Beijing, the Guggenheim Museum, the Sydney Opera House, the Louvre Pyramid or the Pompidou Centre.

Most Indian cities are still symbolised by pre-independence buildings -- Kolkata by Victoria Memorial, New Delhi by Rashtrapati Bhawan and Mumbai by Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Gateway of India. The reason is not lack of talent but of opportunity and near-total absence of any aesthetic sense among the political class, coupled with lack of a desire to create objects of enduring beauty that can become the new icons of India.

Mayawati has bungled by giving Lucknow a collection of gigantic bronze statues, colossal domed structures housing Lincoln Memorial-style statues, and immense stone plazas and walkways stretching as far as the eye can see. Lifeless and insipid, they fail to move the spectator because they speak of nothing but their creator's lust for grandeur. So many trees have been felled and mountains of stone brought in from Rajasthan that residents in the surrounding neighbourhoods say the temperature has risen a couple of degrees. Instead of a beautiful building that would have put Lucknow on the world map, Mayawati has bequeathed the city a memorial with as much charm as her handbag. Grandiose and massive, pink sandstone structures offer a mishmash of styles -- East European Stalinist gigantism, Pyongyang's ponderousness, columns of Imperial Rome, mausoleums of European kings -- all suffused with the pretentiousness of a provincial housewife trying to emulate the majestic sweep of a pharaoh.

What will families do at these memorials once they have seen the 60 stone elephants, the statues and domed, temple-like structures? The vast expanse of stone, unrelieved by greenery, water or grass, will repel visitors. If India Gate has endured as a popular landmark, it's because families congregate in the evenings to enjoy the lawns, water bodies and trees. Mahatma Gandhi's samadhi at Rajghat is simplicity itself and, with its lawns, refreshing. But Mayawati, it appears, is only interested in exuding power. Delhi"s graceful Lotus Temple would find no favour with her; her intention is not to draw people but to awe and intimidate.

She had a choice: erect something original or create a landmark cohering with Lucknow's rich architectural heritage. She failed on both fronts. Moreover, as the 'Dalit Queen' whose heart bleeds for UP's downtrodden, the conditions in which her memorials are being built are shameful. Admittedly, they are no worse than the conditions at construction sites across India where labourers build the mansions of the rich while living in squalor and filth.

But Mayawati claims to be different. The very least she could have done was to create a new model and show the country the decent way to treat construction workers. Why have her labourers been sleeping under tarpaulin sheets and makeshift tents with no clean drinking water, doctor or ambulance at hand, and relieving themselves in the open? Why did she not issue instructions for massive temporary awnings to protect workers from the sun as they slaved for her greater glory, along with a creche, a canteen turning out three meals a day, tankers of cool drinking water and Portacabin toilets for privacy and dignity?

Instead, she has displayed the same contempt towards these workers as their earlier high caste oppressors, forgetting that both the devil and God lie in the details. Mayawati has built a memorial honouring Dalits and Dalit leaders through the degradation of Dalit workers. She is unlikely to grasp the irony, just as she failed to understand her own limitations and the poverty of her imagination when she started conceiving her imperial city.