Thursday, August 14, 2014

India @ 67

14th of August. The eve of Independence Day. And I continue my little tradition (now in its 8th edition) of having a little post on the year gone by for India. (2013 edition is here).

We have officially added a new state with the splitting of Telengana from Andhra Pradesh. The formation has just given further fuel to voices demanding further states reorganization, some on administrative grounds, some on purely emotional or for political gains. Waiting to see if there are any more additions in the next year.

We had our biggest festival - the elections. The elections were ugly, long and frankly tiring and marked by an unending torrent of allegations and counter-allegations. The expected government change happened, though the magnitude of the rout of the UPA wasn't imagined. The people voted out the corrupt in the hope of the promised "achhe din".

Now have the "achhe din" really arrived? Well, too early to say. That will be the subject of next year's state of the nation post. But there is hope (which is simultaneously a beautiful and dangerous thing). At least the stock markets thought so. And social media certainly rejoiced.

Media is becoming more and more a propaganda tool. The "reported" news has multiple versions suited to fit your political/religious beliefs. Stories are being "presented" as per the most marketable version depending on the target audience. Social media, especially Twitter & Whatsapp, is becoming even more damaging with lies/untruths/rumors propagating at the speed of light. 

Never knew there were so many authors amongst our bureaucrats and politicians. Anyone and everyone is now writing a book with "inside" stories. And there are more in pipeline as counters to the ones already published.

The Aam Aadmi Party proved to be the biggest disappointment. Their performance in the Delhi state elections gave a hope for a potential change in politics. But instead of capitalizing on the faith reposed in them, AAP moved on to become like any and every other political party. And the party got nearly wiped out in the General elections. From a party of hope to a party of antics and drama, the fall has been swift.

Imitation is the best form of flattery. And most of the action on the sporting front proves it. Every sport, hockey, badminton, football, tennis and even kabaddi are now running their own IPL style league copying cricket's format. Finally, learning something from cricket rather than blaming it for all their "woes".  The performance on the field in the Commonwealth Games shows continuing signs of improvement though the antics of officials off the field show that more the things change, the more they remain the same.

100 crore club is the new definition of a "hit" film. And the entrants in these clubs are not the ones which would appear on anyone's favourite movie list. 

But all the gloom and doom can wait, because we will celebrate our national day.
Happy Birthday India. And wishing that your & our "achhe din" arrive soon. 

Monday, August 04, 2014

India @ Commonwealth Games 2014

2014 - Gold 15, Silver 30, Bronze 19 - Total 64 - Overall 5th in the Standings
2010 - Gold 38, Silver 27, Bronze 36 - Total 101 - Overall 2nd in the Standings

At first glance, seems a big drop in results over the 4 years. But if we go into the details, a better picture of the Indian sports scene emerges. Table below compares the discipline wise performance of the Indian contingent at the recent Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow and the one held in Delhi 4 years ago.

E-Events; G-Gold; Silver; B-Bronze; T - Total; Diff - Change in Total medals with respect to 2010
A few key observations from the table
  1. Archery & Tennis which combined to bring 12 medals in Delhi were dropped from the Glasgow roster and replaced by Judo & Triathalon which brought 4 medals for India. 
  2. Number of events in Shooting and Wrestling were drastically reduced. So 57 events which brought in 49 medals in Delhi became 33 events bringing in 30 medals. So a better proportion overall.
  3. Athletics had a major climbdown from 12 to just 3. Here the quality of participants changed drastically from Delhi. There were fewer big names pulling out of competition in Glasgow as compared to Delhi. 
  4. Table Tennis was another event which went down with the haul reducing from 5 to 1. The Chinese imports on the TT arena are hurting us badly now.
  5. Boxing is becoming an area of concern. There is a visible slide in the results now. No gold medals and a reduced overall haul should be a sign that the Boxing team, though still good, needs to pull up its socks.
  6. Weightlifting has shown quite an improvement. More than the medals, hopefully there is an end to the multiple doping scandals of the past which had earlier led to India being banned from international competitions.
  7. India got its first ever medal in Squash and that too a Gold. Good signs.
  8. We now have India's first ever female medallist in Gymnastics. Something which couldn't even have been imagined till Delhi 2010.
  9. Even the Lawn Bowls team reached a Bronze medal face-off though lost at the very end.
  10. The higher number of Silvers against Golds should be an area of concern, specially with regard to the number of losses suffered in the finals. A lack of finishing touch or just a one-off case?
The Commonwealth Games in Delhi may have been marred by lots of corruption allegations, but they did raise the profile of the other sportspersons (i.e. all non-cricket) in India. Also factor in IOA being suspended for quite some time. So in all not too bad a result for Indian sports overall. 

However a better indicator of the progress will come via the Asian Games in Incheon later this year. 

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Friendship Day

Friendship Day 
Its nothing more than a marketing gimmick. An innovative way to make money by selling cards & bands & small items of little or no use. Some would say just crass commercialization of basic human feelings.

But its a concept which has arrived and with the increased reach of social media is here to stay. So we mark it by sending/receiving wishful messages from "friends". Every such message brings back its own share of memories of the particular friend. Memories of the times gone by. 

So in all, not a complete waste.

So here I go, marking the occasion with a little compilation of songs dedicated to all friends that I have ever had.

1. Ye Dosti Hum Nahi Todenge (Sholay) - The first song that comes to anyone's mind when in company of friends.

2. Yaari hai Iman Mera (Zanjeer) - If friendship is your religion then most of world's problems wouldn't have existed

3. Mustafa Mustafa (Duniya Dilwalon Ki ) - Was quite in vogue when leaving school

4. Dil Chahta Hai (Dil Chahta Hai) - why you want to be in company of friends all the while

5. Har Ek Friend Zaroori Hota hai (Airtel Ad) - Friends come in all sorts of packages. And every single one is essential.

Wishing a very happy Friendship Day to all those whom I have had the privilege of being a friend of at different points of my life. Cousins, Neighbours, Classmates across schools & colleges, Office colleagues & all others -  a post for all of you.

Monday, July 28, 2014

MovieNotes: Kick

Movie: Kick
*ing: Salman Khan and others in guest appearance (Randeep Hooda, Jacqueline Fernandes, Mithun Chakraborty et al)
Director: Sajid Nadiadwala 
Language: Hindi 
Genre: Salman Khan (the man is now a genre in himself)

A Salman Khan movie releasing on Eid. Low on content, high on collections. And here I am, making notes after having made my contribution. 

Basic Premise
A thrill-seeker with a heart of gold, added with the touch of Robin Hood, being chased by a good police officer. A movie which lives to its catch-line - दिल में आती है, समझ में नहीं। 

Movie Notes
  • The bit roles are impressively played out with special mentions for Sanjay Mishra's police inspector or Mithun Da's role as Salman's father.
  • The animation describing the lead character was well depicted and certainly the best part of the movie.
  • Salman Khan now can spoof himself, randomly appearing in the Chulbul Pandey persona from Dabbangg.
  • Jacqueline Fernandes makes Katrina Kaif look like a great actor. Could have been dropped altogether from the film without having any impact on the box office collections.
  • Nawazuddin over-acted but also provided a couple of funny moments while Rajit Kapoor was a complete waste. 
  • At times the film appeared to a random compilation of shots and songs with too many narration gaps. A case of haphazard editing to meet the Eid deadline?
  • The film seems to have made itself without any director or script.
  • Amidst all the buffonery, there are many social messages sent out. Kick can also be considered a good promo for all the social causes supported by Salman Khan.
Rating - X/10, X = amount of love/devotion you have for Salman Khan. Who am I to rate Bhai's work.

Previously on MovieNotes - American Hustle

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Postcards from Thailand - Part II

Finally managing to take out that most precious commodity - time. And posting the sequel to Postcards from Pattaya

Bangkok - A city where the traditional and the modern intertwine

A 5.5 ton gold statute of Gautam Buddha. Majestic, grand and spiritual at the same time

Its Buddhist country and the temples are covered in beautiful murals all over

The knight protecting the Swarnabhumi airport

A depiction of the mythical Samudra Manthan - bang in the middle of the airport

Little orangutans announcing the start of a orangutan show. Notice that a little chimpanzee has also sneaked in at the end of the line

Depiction of the floating market

It started raining. And a peacock spread its feathers in welcome.

When you have awards like this, no wonder the country is neat and clean

Monday, June 23, 2014

Meru Cabs - Never Again

I had been booking with Meru Cabs for my intra-city travels specially where being in time was of primary importance. And their reliability had been the major factor in being a loyal customer for years now. In fact, even though the number of such services have multiplied, Meru has been the service of choice for me. Only when they haven't been able to confirm a booking request would I look for alternatives.

However, one incident in the past week has changed the entire perception. 

Had to take a flight in the morning. Keeping in mind the rush hour traffic and potential weather related exigencies, the cab was booked a day in advance. And was happy in the knowledge that the booking request had been confirmed via both sms and e-mail.

On the morning of the flight, at the fixed time, got ready to go but no cab came and neither was there any message. A little worried about missing the flight, I called up Meru. After being on hold for a few minutes, the message is conveyed that no cabs are available. And a cab "might" be arranged if someone becomes available. On being asked why was the booking confirmed, was told the slots were available at the time of booking. But now no cab is available. Now whatever this was supposed to mean. 

A furious me then took the luggage and walked over to the nearest taxi stand (some 0.5 km away) and managed to hail a black and yellow cab. A few minutes later got a call from one Meru driver but I just said no thanks. Given the half an hour delay in the drama, was lucky to reach the airport barely in time and managed to board my flight.

What really pissed me off, thought, was not the cab not turning up, but the fact that Meru Cabs made no effort in communicating the issue. And there was absolutely no apology from their side. Taking a customer for granted. The chief reason for taking a Meru had been reliability but they had failed completely in this regard. Hence have decided that will not be using the Meru services in the future. After all there are multiple operators in this business now.

Now I also needed to vent out my anger. So during my taxi ride to the airport, tweeted about it. Got a couple of responses that a Meru not turning up inspite of a "confirmed" booking is not an uncommon issue (though it happened to me for the first time). After some time got a reply from Meru Cares handle asking to for issue details. However, I had already resolved the issue and had also resolved never again to use Meru's services. And getting a standardized automated response from a bot doesn't actually help in any issue resolution.

So Good-bye Meru Cabs, you won't be taking me for a ride ever again.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

La Albiceleste

The 2014 World Cup Football begins today.

The Beautiful Game. Joga Bonito. Copa Mundial. Brazuca. Ole Ole Ole vs La La La. Fuleco - will be some of the terms in everyday parlance over the next month filled with sleepless nights.

There is a certain charm associated with the FIFA World Cup which probably no other sporting event bar the Olympics has. And it has a special attraction to the Indian sports fan too. India has never played in World Cup Finals and doesn't come close to qualifying for even the later stages of the Asian Qualifiers. Anyway, we as a nation are better at watching sports than playing any (with the exception of cricket).

So every 4 years, without being burdened by any sense of false patriotism, we adopt a team as our own. Most of us become Brazilians or Argentines, a few are Germans, and lesser numbers become Spaniards and Portugese. There maybe a few Dutch and English too lurking amongst us. But till date haven't come across any supporter of our fellow Asian or African teams.Though once the group stage is over any underdog still remaining standing gets our whole-hearted support (excepting when the underdog is playing against us i.e. Argentina/Brazil/Germany/Spain). 

As for me, always been a die-hard Argentina supporter (or at least since 1990 when I became aware of the existence of an event called World Cup football). Argentina were the defending champions and were lead by the legendary figure of Diego Maradona - a genius and yet the most flawed one ever. Enough reason to declare cent percent support to the men in White and Sky Blue. That year's bumpy journey ended via a penalty against the West Germans in the final. Since then its been a heart-breaking journey for any Argentina fan, not even making semis in five attempts. But my support loyalty to them has remained unwavered.

Inspite of the heartbreaks, and there have been many, there has been a certain thrill from supporting Argentina every time. The likes of Batistuta, Cannigia, Crepso, Sorin et al have always threatened to light up the tournament and take home the trophy yet somehow have never delivered. They have always given samples like this

The greatest team goal in the history of the tournament against Serbia & Montenegro in 2006 (Video)

Argentina are certainly amongst the strongest contenders for the championships just behind the hosts Brazil. And Lionel Messi would certainly want to etch his name amongst the footballing Gods with a victory. The squad has the deadliest attack force (as always) in Messi, Higuain & Aguero though weaker in defence (again as always). They certainly have the strength to carry them from a relatively easy group into the knock-outs from whereon it becomes a matter of performing on the 4 key days. Which this squad is certainly capable of.

Well, as always hoping for the success of the La Albiceleste. Although if they do lose there is always this song to take solace in (or cry along to) for all the fans.

Although given that after God even the Pope is now an Argentine, there is no reason for Argentina not to win. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Elections - Many Villains & A Few Heroes

The seemingly never-ending elections in India have finally come to an end. Well there is the small matter of counting of the votes, potentially some "horse-trading" and the actual government formation. 

The long drawn campaign and multi-phase voting has taken its own toll. The real issues corruption, price rise, good governance, development slowly took a back seat. Personalities took over almost as if this had become a presidential form of election when in reality the voters were voting for their local Members of Parliament who would then go on to elect the Prime Minister, a message which got lost in the hullabaloo of the elections.

Since the campaign changed into a personality driven one, the level of personal attacks also increased. And here the social media is the one which must take all the blame. Over-zealous & bigoted "bhakts" & "tards" twisted every single statement to suit their own agenda. And trigger-happy "followers" propagated all sorts of lies or rather their "version of truth". Photoshopped images, cartoons, out of context quotes were circulated. And as everyone thinks it is their duty to circulate without a basic fact check, the unthruths and rumors propagated further. Reminds me of the quote - "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on" - Winston Churchill.

The list of villains is long - the politicians, bhakts and tards, their muscle & money suppliers, some biased officials, the media. All of them preying on the gullible voters to ensure that they get to power and keep growing their influence and bank balance. After all voters get swayed easily. No one I have interacted with (very limited set of friends, family and colleagues though) thinks about how their own life changed in the past five years (whether for good or bad) and factors that in as a parameter for voting for or against the incumbent government.

There are some real heroes in this story, but as is often the case, they remain unsung. Kudos and thanks to all the people working behind the scenes to ensure elections actually happen on the ground. The booth officials, magistrates, security forces and the vote counting teams, they are the real heroes of the elections. They are pulled out of their regular work to ensure voting happens in every nook and cranny of this vast country. And they are the ones to face the ire of unregistered voters, missing names, party agents, megalomaniac candidates and sometimes physical violence and terror attacks. They are the ones who deserve the true accolades from the public but do we hear anyone ever appreciate them.

So now as the dust settles around the elections, hopefully we will have a government, which will take strong decisions. Because another side-effect of this long-drawn process has been a complete paralysis on the policy front on account of a "model code of conduct" being in place. Well, all I can say about this code is that i have no idea of the model, but the conduct was bad all-around. 

As is said, elections are the Dance of Democracy. The dance has taken place. The show is over. Now lets back to the small business of life. After all it is you, who is responsible for your own life, the government is only a distant enabler.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Postcards from Pattaya

After quite a long hiatus, the travel section of the blog makes a return. This time bringing postcards  from Pattaya (Thailand). Its a coastal area, adjacent to the Gulf of Thailand, with lovely beaches and lots of water sports options. Being quite a small place can be easily be covered in a couple of days.

It is the land of the White Elephant, so such depictions were quite the norm.

The picture perfect Pattaya city beach-front. Although the construction activity and the cranes do spoil the view.

A structure on the beach

On the Beach Road

The Ripley's museum is one highlight of the city. Located in Royal Garden Plaza on the Beach Road. Pictured above is holographic representation of Robert Ripley himself talking about his life and works
Buddha image made of tiny bells

Little figures like this welcomed you wherever you went

Killing the English Language. Also probably the only 7 Star open air "reataurant"

Well, the signs clearly show what you must not do on the boat.

Overall a fun-filled place.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

'Tis Election Time, Folks

India is in the midst of its biggest festival - the general elections. And this time the battle is really dirty. Helped by the internet and social media, untruths, slanders, allegations all are floating around in this political cesspool. And a campaign which started on the planks of "development", "anti-corruption" & "empowerment" has now turned into slew of  "hate speeches", "communalism" and slander.

And in the midst of all this comes this awesome rap campaign video by Javed Jaffery.

One may not agree to his political leanings but the video sums up all the issues facing the country as well as anyone can. The issues are laid bare but again no solution to counter them is presented. Yet the video for all the negativity it shows does bring about a whiff of fresh air in this increasingly brutal and dirty campaign