Wednesday, November 19, 2008

North Vs South

This topic sprang to my mind because of two global events. One hopeful and another quite the opposite.

Thousand of miles away the great American election jamboree came to a historical if not totally unexpected end with Barack Obama becoming the first American President of African-American ancestry. Just when everyone had started losing faith in the economy and foreign policy of the world’s sole “Superpower”, Americans rose as a nation and voted for the man who vowed to put the nation back on track, packing off the dumb cowboy from the Oval Office. (It’s a great tragedy that no such leader is in sight for Mera Bharath Mahan but if Winter comes will spring be far behind!!).

While the Americans decided to pull down the cotton curtain (a term denoting denial of rights to Blacks) and bridge the race divide…..

A few hundred miles across the Indian Ocean the Srilankan Army decided to do a Hitler in the tear drop island (Perhaps nature knew that the emerald island would be drenched in tears). The Final Solution as imagined by the government thirsty for Tamil blood has seen millions of Tamils flee their already ruined homes and with nowhere to run, either fight in the ranks of the LTTE or die by jumping into the ocean. A whole new example for people caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

The great North-South divide seems to be prevalent almost everywhere on earth irrespective of the nation’s size, geography, race or population. A nation as big as USA or one as small as Srilanka can be victims of this parochial mentality. The basal “US Vs THEM” thinking has been the root cause for every single conflict the poor little planet has been seeing and bleeding from. The Northern states of America that wholeheartedly supported the abolition of slavery and acceptance of equality of African-Americans had to fight a long and bloody Civil War with their slavery mongering Southern counterparts to realize the American dream. Even today in the final election tally, Northern, Eastern and Western states have formed the bulwark of Obama’s win.

A similar fight for survival and self-determination is raging in the lush green island’s northern parts. A tiny minority that alternately ruled and slaved in the land is fighting what seems to be a final battle. And the root cause, one of the usual suspects –Race!. Ever since the Bandaranayake clan announced the Sinhalese only policy, violence against the Tamil community started rising and reached its crescendo during the 1983 Venni Prison riots. The Tamil race had ruled the island either directly or directly during the reign of the Cholas and then started inhabiting the island as slave workers in the tea plantations of the British. Through sheer hard work and enterprise the Tamils formed a vibrant and peaceful community in the north, north-east and west of Srilanka apart from a sizable presence in Colombo, the capital. They played a key role in the Srilankan economy and cultural life. But the ugly face of race started rearing during the early 1970’s and the ethnic strife morphed into a brutal civil war in the 1980s.

Today the entire northern region is raging with air-raids and bombing. Not even women and children are spared. International aid-organisations have been banned from entering the area. The southern and central Sinhalese hawks see this as the final countdown to ending the reign of LTTE in the north. While I firmly agree with the international community that the LTTE should be brought to justice for the brutal slaying of Shri. Rajiv Gandhi, it neither gives the Srilankan army the right to kill innocent Tamils nor guarantee the silence of the Indian government.

It’s a tragedy of Himalayan proportions that the tiny nation lacks a statesman on either side who can unite the nation in peace and rid the parochial tendencies. The Americans have shown that if people unite under a just and fair leader US and THEM can become WE and OURS. Let us unite under the banner of Humanity! Lest we forget, Only the dead have known the end of war.

Monday, June 2, 2008


May has gone. The sweltering heat is slowly abating (Chennai is an exemption), the rains are coming in fits and starts (again, SingaraChennai is exempt), stock markets hope to shed a tepid summer of trading looking for the horned harbinger, M/s M.Singh P.Chidambaram & Madam Sonia await the rains as anxiously as an embattled Indian farmer to escape the ‘inflation’ trap, trains are bursting to capacity and kids are getting anxious looking at the calendar –fine, June is here!

It’s now more than a decade since I passed out of school yet the memories keep flooding back with the arrival of June. The crisp feel of a new uniform, the sweet smell of a virgin notebook, curious glances at the pictures in the history text, anxiety at the growing size of the books (Kid1: Dei, Science book 180 pakkamanda, Kid2: appa book cricket vilayada nalla irukkum), background check on the new class teacher (that’s how I ended up in Market Research), joy at the newfound status as a bigger boy and an indescribable excitement about the days ahead.

Growing up in a township all my school life remains my most cherished memory. Life-long friendships, fierce competition, devilishly clever pranks, great laughs, quiet truths, bloody fights, emotional unions and wonderful learning without ever losing the essential fun in the process. It is my firm belief that the age from 5 to 12 moulds a child’s character. The mind is relatively uncorrupted and resembles a sponge rather than a rock which it becomes later(atleast for some boys like me). The genesis of great men lies in the environment, friendships and philosophies they encountered in this period. Mahatma Gandhi & Harischandra’s story, Arjun & Dhrona’s tutelage, Kamal Hassan & his mother’s advice to be the best even if one were to clean toilets are a few that instantly spring to mind. The green-eyed monster is still asleep; girls are nothing but playthings albeit with longer hair and funny dress; stealing mangoes, gooseberries etc without getting caught feels better than winning gold medals and your kid brother/sister is nothing more than a punching bag. Life is simple and fun.

The age from 13 to 17 could very well be the most awkward and most decisive phase is shaping the future course of life for any boy or girl. The sudden awareness of one’s sexuality and growing changes in both the physical and emotional being can be quite jarring for all and daunting for many. It’s the beginning of the end of the age of innocence. As always girls outshine boys in this department too. Their physical and emotional maturity is quicker and can prove threatening to boys. One fine day in June 1993 I found many of female friends whom I had known since kindergarten suddenly look very different in their attire and behaviour. Gone was the buck toothed grin, bony pats and the quick temper. Strangely they hardly retaliated to my banter about their funny dress and hair which would have resulted in assault & battery the year before. Boys as always scratch their heads, stare emptily and drink the milk given by mom wondering what has become of their life. Slowly they too start developing funny symptoms of sexual dimorphism and begin to understand (slow…….ly) the reality. Now, envy is up in all its glory, sharing notes and helping your nearest academic rival becomes taboo, fear of a thing called future looms large, harmless giggles from girls carry a million imaginary meanings and comics are replaced by romantic novels. The first acid test comes in the form of 10th or shall we say SSLC (makes it sound more important). Then on life takes a singular course –score more than 90% select MPC with computer science or biology or commerce  slog for a year in +2  jump into the BE, MBBS, Bcom bandwagon  do an MBA/MS/MTech  IT job, marriage, kids and death. In a nutshell cease to live, learn to survive!

Probably the only time in life I remained true to myself was my childhood i.e. upto 13 years old, when the world seemed a better place. And I fondly remember my last day in school. After a nice farewell party couple of my friends and me went around the school –smelling the trees, caressing the benches we sat as kids, savouring the moments we had in the auditorium, reliving every ounce of our 14 year school life. At the end of the journey there wasn’t a single dry eye! Many summers have come and gone. But still the boy in me yearns for those wonderful days of June, the harbinger of hope and unbridled excitement! I will carry it to the day I meet my maker!!

Those who are still trying to figure out the meaning of Hakuna Matata –watch The Lion King

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

From Boy to Man

Jan 27, 2008 changed my life forever. From an absolutely carefree bachelor life I stepped into the tough, unforgiving life of a married man. What cruel tricks life plays on an unsuspecting young, naïve boy (!!). Getting a house for rent, applying for a ration card, getting a cooking gas connection, buying furniture and home appliances, setting up a wardrobe.. bed, phone, computer, utensils, knives, provisions.. phew! the list is endless.

Getting a decent house in Chennai, Good Heavens! Let not such a suffering befall even my worst enemy. Greed is all pervasive, though it would be unfair to malign house-owners riding the wave of a “booming economy”. Crooked brokers, caste-clinging owners (if you ever thought India would become a casteless society, forget it) and above all ridiculous ads in media.

1. “IT Professionals preferred” - Meaning rents will be revised every 3 months
according to dollar fluctuations, onsite opportunities and quarterly company
results (House-owners are too net savvy nowadays).

2. “24 hours water supply” –Yes and you have a bonus offer too. The color changes
every hour and comes with added minerals and salt/pepper for taste, wow!!

3. “Vegetarians preferred” –Strictly for Brahmins with an IT tag. BTW I goofed by
asking whether eggs and milk belong to the vegetarian category and got thrown

Saravana Stores became my second home so much so that the boys started asking me “innaku enna sir”. Rumor has it that home appliances stores in T Nagar employed goons with a sketch of mine to be given special treatment (c’mon how many times can you enquire about the prices alone without even buying a bulb).

But this has been a great eye-opener for me as a person. Respecting the opinions and tastes of your better-half (hi hi, often I just shake my head like a jackass and go by her choice), making friends and influencing people (God bless Dale Carnegie), patience and above all applying every ounce of my management skills (not that I have gallons of it). For soon-to-be-hooked-bridegrooms, a piece of advice from a recent entrant –Patience pays and managing a home gives you insights that a thousand management books can’t ! Be prepared for the ride of your life!!