Monday, December 28, 2009

The long way around

While posting about the RTI Act and how it's a useful law that's come into existence, I'd signed off on how I've asked TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) to provide me the statistics on the effectiveness of the 'National Do Not Call Registry'.

Meanwhile, I've been waging my own personal battle against the telemarketers. For the past month or so, every time I get a promotional phone or SMS I diligently make a note of it and at a suitable time consolidate this and dash off a complaint email to Airtel. Being the cynic I am, I did not expect anything to come of it. Accordingly, I'd get vague responses like 'NDNC investigations completed. Show Cause notice sent to unregistered telemarketer for 1st violation, blah, blah, blah'. And I continued to get these rather annoying text messages. My particular gripe was against 'Daily Bread', which seemed to want me to usher in the Yuletide spirit by spending money at their bakery. And I unrelentingly continued to post complaints.

Today was a surprise though. I got an SMS. 'NDNC investigations completed. Basis your complaints offending telemarketer has been identified for disconnection for repeated violations'. Hurrah.
Not that this will change anything, I feel. It's probably quite easy to apply for a new connection. The law, in all its glorious asininity, does not stop the telecom company from disconnecting the earlier connection and providing a new one. So, I fully expect the I'll get another annoying text from Daily Bread come Sunday morning. But it is a small victory.

Power to the people.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Blog Song

Admittedly, Amit's already posted this. But I couldn't figure out how to insert a trackback, so I am forced to embed the video here.

This is totally hilarious. Note how at 3:17 liberal use of 'velak yennai' puts powerful hair styling gel to shame. ROFLMAO.

Chennai (1) - Mumbai (0)

This morning, I read about Aditi and Aalif's struggle to register the birth of their newborn without providing any sort of religious identity. You can read about it here

This is precisely what I've been advocating vocally to my friends and other sundry folks for long. Why should the religion of parents be fostered upon the child? It is absurd that (like caste) a child should also acquire the religious identity of the parents. I've long felt that it is totally and utterly ridiculous, just like the actual concept of religion itself.

Imagine you consider yourself a devout Hindu today. In India's pseudo-tolerant society of today, you're probably then also a closet (or open) basher of other religious faiths. Yet, your own religious identity is a fluke of your birth. Just as you cannot choose your parents, you've not chosen your religion. You could have just as easily been born into a non-Hindu household and then you would have had a non-Hindu upbringing and a non-Hindu religious identity.

Religion as a concept seems very irrelevant to me. While I understand and appreciate the nature of excellent social work performed by religious organizations worldwide, the ultimate price that we've paid for it in today's society is huge.

Let's go back to Aditi and Aalif's quandary. I had the same issue when taking up mu first job. There was a column in the registration form for 'Religion'. I put down 'None'. Imagine my complete and utter frustration 2 years later when I found out that I was branded a Hindu by the folks in HR. Why? Because the SAP HR system in my company did not have an option for 'None'. And because I have what is a Hindu sounding name, some bozo in HR thought it appropriate to brand me as Hindu. I tried to get this reverted, but to no avail. And this was not some small fly-by-night IT operator. At that time, it was India's fourth largest software company. What was more incredulous is that this was in the private sector, and not some government body.

Interestingly, I dug up my birth certificate issued by the Corporation of Madras in 1983. There is no mention of any religion there. Actually, it does not even have my name printed on it! Are we moving backwards, or is the Mumbai Corporation just ages behind the Chennai Corporation? For more on how Chennai rocks, read this.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Right to Information Act, 2005

One of the most far reaching legislations passed in India in recent memory is the 'Right to Information Act, 2005'. It has certainly changed a lot of things in India. Stuff that was literally behind an 'iron curtain' is now available for public viewing (except if covered under the Official Secrets Act and certain other areas, like assets of the members of the judiciary).

Certainly, the RTI is a powerful tool in the hands of ordinary citizens of India like you and I. Earlier, it was impossible to get any sort of information on government expenditure. Yes, that's the money that's spent by the government; money collected in the form of taxes from you and I. Now, as per this law, every government department is required to furnish the information when demanded by an Indian citizen. Not just revenue expenditure, but even simple matters of action taken (more likely inaction) on a particular application made to the government can also be questioned in the form of an RTI petition. It also extends to public institutions in India; like say the State Bank of India. Your account opening form has been pending with your SBI branch for a month? Petition them and demand to know what action was taken!

One of the best websites in India (alas, it lacks in form what it has in content - more on that later) for RTI and related activities is RTI India Organization. This website is tacky in appearance and often succumbs to cliched  comments from members, but it is a goldmine of information. Which means you've got to dig deep, but you'll find loads of useful stuff. The official website from the Government is here. This is no less tacky as well. I do highly recommend visiting both of the websites to know the exact process for obtaining information from any government concern and also help on stuff like addresses, formats, etc..

My personal experience with leveraging the power of RTI has been very good so far. My employee provident fund transfer from the Hyderabad office to the Bangalore office was pending for over 2 years. Then, in last April I chanced upon some forums discussing how one could use the power, or even the mere threat, of RTI to get the funds transfered. Accordingly, I made an application to the PF office in Hyderabad to know what had happened of my PF transfer request. The letter was written in such a fashion as to leave no doubt that an RTI application would soon follow. And lo and behold, within a month or so my PF was transfered. I've currently submitted an actual RTI application to the 'Telecom Regulatory Authority of India' to know how effective the 'National Do Not Call Registry' has been. Am still awaiting a response.


Yes, hon'ble minister

One (of the many) of the things that does get my gall up is the fact that elected representatives in India, such as MPs and the like are addressed by the prefix 'Honourable', usually shortened in print to Hon'ble. I cannot reconcile as to why this is. It is obviously some sort of colonial hangover madness, akin to lawyers being dressed in ridiculous outfits. Can you imagine having to wear that silly black outfit in a place like Madras in the heat of summer? No wonder they start beating up all and sundry!

Definitely, there's nothing honorable in India about being a member of Parliament. Many have criminal backgrounds. In spite of being fully aware that the cost of running the Lok Sabha for 1 minute is enough money to feed a family of 4 in rural India for half a year, few choose to attend Parliament. Bills get signed into law with hardly any deliberation or debate. Especially when it comes to rewarding themselves. Taxpayers like you and I are now paying for the air travel of such 'honorable' folks and their entire extended medical family. Outraged? Read about it here.

The Indian code prohibits any sort of titles bestowed by a foreign power. Hence, we do not see any Indian citizens being knighted and the like. While this is admirable in the fact that we do not want to seem to be under the colonial thumb by lending credence to their silly titles, why adopt a half-hearted approach and provide such elected representatives a title?

And of course, lest I forget, this does extend to members of the legislative assembly as well.

Gubernatorial chutzpah

You've probably heard or read of the sensational sex scandal that's hit the headlines this morning. 84 year old, Governor of Andhra Pradesh, N.D. Tiwari being caught on tape cavorting in bed with 3 lovely luscious ladies.

You can watch the YouTube version here. There are shorter versions on YouTube, one actually posted by someone called 'pornvideozone'.

I must say, I'm inclined to tip me hat to him. For the following reasons:

  • Sex with a beautiful woman - regardless of whether you're paying for it or not - is a nice thing to have. To get it on with 3 women at the same time is definitely beyond any straight man's fantasy. But to do that at age 84, is simply extraordinary!
  • Assuming this is true, he probably did not even have to pay for the women. Most likely, it's the tax-paying suckers (yes, mate, you and I again) who were stiffed (pun intentional).
  • And suckering poor Ms. Radhika into believing you'd grant her a mining license takes the cake.
Too bad you've got caught out, Mr. Tiwari. Of course, politicians and sex scandals are nothing new or noteworthy. But are excellent fodder for tabloid gossip.

It's probably bad enough even to visualize in your mind but the actual video of an 84-year old man lying semi-comatose while being fondled by 3 really lovely ladies is definitely not something you want to see while slurping down your cereal (bad timing by the news channel, I'd say). But that apart, why bother if someone pays money if they want sexual pleasure? As long as of course it isn't taxpayers' money. That does piss me off. Apart from that, is this guy not allowed to use 'hired help' to get what he wants? Of course, prostitution is illegal in India and given that he shouldn't have done it. However given that Ms. Radhika 'supplied' him the girls, it's probably not even illegal given that there's no proven financial transaction that's occurred. But then criminalizing prostitution is another archaic law that I do not see the value of. Even the supreme court has suggested it. Read about that here.

It's a bad mess you've gotten yourself into, Mr. Tiwari. My sympathies lie with you. Just so long as you pay from your own pocket.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Compulsory voting?

I am a big fan of democracy. Of course, alternative forms of government have their own merits. Usually, the entertainment value of a monarchy is incredible. But let's park that aside for now.

We technically are 'the world's largest democracy'. Only largest because we've got over a billion folks. Certainly not the world's best or most effective or most legitimate. But maybe it is better than our neighbors to the north.

I've been reading that Narendra Modi of Gujarat CM fame is trying to make voting compulsory in Gujarat. Hmm. I've mulled over this for a bit. For too long have ordinary citizens complained that 'Gorment is useless. What good will voting do?'. And I do share some of their skepticism. Also, given the fact that good candidates are usually hard to come by, is it any use voting for just another elected representative? But then, I also believe that it is much easier to complain rather than to do something about it. If we really are seeking change, shouldn't we initiate the same? Shouldn't we actually try to become part of the whole political process? And where better to start than to actually go out and vote.

But the government forcing us to vote also seems rather a contradictory stance in a democracy. Honestly, I believe government shouldn't be telling us what to do or what not to do. Like telling us if we can dance in nightclubs or not. Or if women can drink beer at a pub in Mangalore. Sorry, Mr. Muthalik, but that's none of your business, either. If a citizen chooses not to vote, s/he must be given that option as well. Of course, I'd expect that they then shut up about the whole process and not complain. Just pay your taxes and be done with it.

I do know that in places where voting has been made compulsory (usually if you don't vote, you end up paying a fine), voter turnouts have been boosted. Whether that has made a difference to the quality of candidates or government remains to be seen.

It'd be interesting to see what would happen if voting were made compulsory in urban centers of India. For a fact, most of the upper middle-class and the affluent couldn't be bothered to vote. It's either too hot, or too rainy, or too damned long a line. And the cynicism that no government would cater to their needs also is a leading cause of their indifference to the whole electoral process. I mean, yeah, I'll give you free electricity, but only if you're poor and don't pay any taxes. And I'll keep the prices of kerosene low, so that the people who pay taxes can pay more for their petrol.

It's an interesting conundrum. If the middle-class were forced to vote, would our politicians be forced to consider what they can do for them? Like improving public transport? (Or actually building one where it fails to exist?) And if the we know that they'll be so many people of a hitherto largely untapped economic demographic will that be a factor in more (better?) people contesting elections? If I know that 80% of the South Bangalore constituents will be voting, and knowing that I can reach out to the 50% of them who are my 'electoral base', will the fact that 40% of the voters might be inclined to vote for me cause me to stand for elections? Because, I know what that 40% wants. Better urban infrastructure. Period. They couldn't be bothered with subsidized electricity or kerosene. Again, very interesting.

I'm still sitting on the fence on this one. Inclined to move towards compulsory voting, but my left-leaning liberal views cause a visceral reaction in me whenever the government forces me to do anything. Maybe compulsory voting with negative voting allowed would be a nice one. Hah!

Show me the funny

One of the obvious goals of publishing a blog is hoping that eventually your blog will generate enough interest in the *blogosphere* to attract a fair number of regular readers. So, I've been thinking. Most of the popular blogs seem to be the funny ones. Typically satirical ones. And of course, the target of such satire are usually politicians. They might be worthless self-serving nincompoops, but are definitely an excellent source of entertainment.
I am wondering if I should try satire. It is difficult, eh?

Couple of blogs well worth reading; especially for hard-core Madrasis, oops, Chennaiites like I.
Anand Ramachandran has a fairly funny blog at
And another one recommended by my friend is at Just started having a look at this blog by Deepak.

Cheers. And a very merry Christmas to you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Into the sunset; ride hard, ride safe.

Why is it that we are drawn to the spectacular and unperturbed by the mundane? What is it in our collective psyche that will pander to the visually arresting, the vilified horrors and the verbally abusive? And why will the voice of cold hard facts always be bested by the clown with a joke?

Case in point: When the news of 26/11 broke, most Indians (and other folks around the world) were outraged. And in their belief, rightly so. Here was the collective failure of a nation's security process being beamed live into your household. What better way to bemoan the sorry state of affairs and also express solidarity in grief? Hey, they went out for dinner at the Taj and instead got shot at!!! Can't one get a decent meal outside anymore? However, being a complete cynic with scant regard for the efficiency of our entire internal security process, I couldn't be bothered, actually. My reaction was apathetic at best. 

But I am not a hard-hearted doomsday prophecy believer. Far from it. I feel just as much sympathy as the next man for someone's loss. Yes, sad as it was for the poor souls who perished and their families and loved ones, the only thing that really bothered me was the fact that the terrorists were able to attack targets with such military precision and impunity. Frankly, I still feel that the loss of the 160 odd lives during this terror attack is only outrageous because of the fashion in which it happened. And when they went too early, it was with the whole nation watching, sympathizing, crying and grieving. In all the spectacular glory that 24 hour live news can bring to tragedy. 

Yet, there are hundreds of ordinary nameless and faceless Indians who meet an all too similar fate every single day. They go out on the road to attend to their business, and sadly never return alive. Unfortunately for them, they do not meet such a spectacular end as the folks who died in Mumbai did. And so their deaths are hardly ever front page news or covered live on TV. Their obits are written in the back pages of papers, in small print. The grief of their loved ones is just as real. And the tragedy of their deaths is just as damning.

Some statistics from the India Today magazine, Nov 12 2009 edition. Read full article here.

Every hour (in India), 13 people die due to road accidents, the highest in the world. Every 10th person who dies in road accidents is an Indian. Every day, about 250 people die in road accidents, or an astonishing 1,14,590 each year. That's a horrific number and even more horrific considering that the majority of fatalities are the sole earning members of their families: 85 per cent are male and 70 per cent are in the working age group of 30 to 59 years.

Can you even begin to comprehend the social and economic toll of such damning statistics? Almost every one in India who will ever read this blog will know of a friend or a close relative who has died in a road accident. Do you remember how it plunged the entire family and friends in grief. Ask the father who's buried his son. Or the mother who raised her children without a father. Now, add the fact that we are not a very mature market for life insurance and with our lack of any real social security; the financial impact of the loss is an all to familiar tale that everyone's heard. And the grief is greatest only when it hits close to home.

In the race for economic development, we seem to have forgotten some of the basic things that mark a socially progressive country. Or is it that we just couldn't be bothered till tragedy strikes home?
Watch this space. I am only getting started.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Have you read about how the Public Works' Department (PWD) in Bangalore has spent staggering sums of money in doing up the toilets (yes, toilets) for various places in Karnataka? Read about it at the TOI website (link here).

Yes, everyone likes to take a shit now and then. And they'd rather in a nice and clean place than in a toilet like the one in Trainspotting. But in a state where 72 percent of the rural folks have no access to even a basic toilet, how does the government justify spending millions of taxpayers' money (yes, that's money from suckers like you and I) on building ultra-posh toilets? Led from the front by our honorable Chief Minister, I suppose. Who incidentally was actually topped in this pissing competition (pun unintended) by a lowly college professor. Surely, you know how much we've paid for renovating Yeddy's private residence?

P.S.: Usually I hate it when some rather uncreative journo resorts to appending 'gate' to any piece of news. Unfortunately, Toiletgate is the first thought that came to mine. Bizzarely, Google has over 26,000 results for 'Toiletgate'. My favorite is Nipplegate, though.

Is that all you want, more direct taxes? And would you like chips with that?

One of the things that I like to do on a dull day at work is scan the news. Google News is incredibly useful for someone who is a news junkie like I. Today, was a hectic day at work though. But I did indulge in some post-lunch browsing. Gotta get my fix.

One of the things that caught my eye was the Fin-Min proposing to tax the perks on the salaried class. Seriously, Mr. Mukherjee? I, along with millions of other usually honest, mostly hard-working people who might be eligible for any sort of official perks in this country pay 34% or more direct taxes already. Yet, we get little or nothing as direct and tangible benefits for parting with our money. And you have the gall to ask for more! You're lucky I don't have a soup ladle.

And tell me, Mr. Mukherjee, you being a minister in the government, and all. Surely, you must be having one of them official cars. And a lovely house. And servants, peons and the like. Will you consider that as 'perks' and levy this same tax on it as well? Or will you exempt yourself and your brethren and tax only the people who actually create value in this country?

An acknowledgement

While I wouldn't go so far as to say that Amit Varma's blog was my sole inspiration to choose this medium as a way to generate interest in political activism in India, it certainly gave me some ideas to find a rallying point; a battle cry if you would like. Taxes. Yes, that's my money, your money and your maid-servant's money. Excuse the blatant plagiarism, Amit.

Do visit Amit's blog on how our government loots us at