Monday, September 26, 2005

Singapore: setting standards in governance

Singapore no longer comes as a surprise to visitors from developed nations. Quality of life in Singapore is better than best cities in the world. It is stable, safe society despite having motley of multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-lingual groups. It has as much high-class business environment as is for arts, education and fashion.

What could be the possible reasons to make Singapore a success story? Perhaps a small country size that makes it easy to manage. True, a small country is easy to govern but it is also vulnerable to succumb to any natural or human engineered external risks. Bigger countries have inherent cushion to withstand any danger, smaller countries may not have the same. Imagine what would happen to Singapore, if Hurricane Katrina were to hit her. Moreover, if it was just the size, many African nations could have been another Singapore.

I think Singapore stands out in terms its leadership qualities and the manner in which state is governed. Those who have observed life in Singapore can feel that it is ruled with firm hand. There are stringent laws that maintain greenery, cleanliness, discipline, and order but they do not create a fear in people. Democracy does exist to an extent that it does not spill over to street protest or disrupt day to day functioning. Singapore is ruthless against littering of any kind. First-time offenders are fined S$1,000 and repeat offender face additional fine and Corrective Work Order (CWO). The CWO makes offenders spend a few hours cleaning a public place by wearing bright jackets with the local media covering the event. Smoking is not allowed in public buses, taxis, elevators, theatres, government offices, air-conditioned restaurants, and shopping centers.

No one can argue the comforts of Democracy. However, democracy doesn’t always allow efficient governance that benefits its common people. Some people argue, “What is the use of democracy when it cannot fulfill the basic needs of the country’s masses.“Some even contend, "what good is a country that has a free press, but the average person cannot afford to buy a newspaper " or that “ a country that holds regular elections, but the average person is starving “.

In Singapore, pattern of governance is inherited from Lee Kwan Yew, undoubtedly an architect of modern Singapore. He showed how capitalism could be pursued with one eye on social welfare. Lee Kwan Yew single-handedly changed the course of Singapore. His autobiography “From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000” is an illustration to his unrelenting crusade in making Singapore a dream nation. I believe Singapore have since relied on leadership qualities that are espoused by Lee Kwan Yew.

Lee Kwan Yew says in order to be a state leader - you must have a passion for cause; must be able articulate your ideas to others, are consistent with your stance, are honest to yourself and others and above all maintain high standards all your life. It seems, Singapore have espoused these qualities not just for political leadership but also for all people in bureaucracy, judiciary and police machinery. Singapore is paranoid to get the best-qualified, least corruptible people in senior positions in the government, judiciary, and civil service. It pays its prime minister a salary of US $1.1 million a year. It pays its cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justice just under US$ 1 million a year, other judges, and senor civil servants handsomely down the line.

Hallmark of Singapore is good governance and implementation of law. How handsome the returns are! With Population of four million people with no natural resources it has build a foreign exchange reserve of US$ 100 billion, equivalent to that of India’s (with population of 1 billion) When a subway tunnel in Singapore collapsed in April 2004 and four workers killed, a government enquiry concluded that top, executives of the contracting company be fined and jailed. Think of Uphar theater tragedy in New Delhi, India.

Corrupt Investigation Practises Bureau (CIPB) in Singapore have sweeping power to conduct arrest, search, calling of witnesses, and investigation of bank accounts and income tax returns of
suspected persons and their family. CPIB can investigate any officer or minister. Several ministers have already been charged with corruption. India has more watchdog agencies and has exposed more corruption but leadership in India and state of governance may be under the constraint of democratic norms to take any tangible action.

It is no surprise that Singapore leaders spend their time equipping their people with education, job skills and empowering them to grow themselves while our leaders are using their time making polemic speeches about eradication of poverty with an eye on garnering votes. I had read somewhere, India just needs 200 Singapore. I agree with this statement but we also need 200 leaders with qualities as that of Lee Kwan Yew. Chandrababu Naidu, Sheila Dixit has shown the way to some extent in qualifying the benchmarks that he has proposed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

western versus orientals : From Dubai's perspective


Last week, a job notice board put by an Indian businessperson in South Africa caused furore. It said his work place needs hard working Indian accountant, Black slim (not fat) sexy African as counter girl and tall white woman as a manager. Media lambasted him of racial bias while he defended saying that he is fair in accommodating all races. I do not know if he would be paying equivalent and just salary to all three races.

Middle East, UAE and Dubai is also receptive in accepting all races but it appears to have discrimination based on geographical status, his place of graduation. Job advertisement in UAE newspapers are prominent in specifying the requirement of USA, UK qualification but I wonder if an Asian is given the same emoluments as that of western expatriate if he has same qualification. Class segragation of western versus orientals, in terms of emoluments is distinct in work place. That is brutal reality and one must accept that.

Dubai despite all its glamour, relatively inexpensive food, and relaxed life style takes beating with astronomical house rentals, high telephone charges . However, what hits most are skewed HR policies that effect mainly people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. If you are from these countries and are newcomer to Dubai, there are chances that companies offer you meager salary saying that “You do not have Middle East experience’’, If you are middle management, you would not grow in salary with a fear of employment ban and cancellation of visa status. If you aspire to be at top management, you may have to face competition from another quarter – western expatriate. Yet, middle east is full of the above asian nationalities , more so Indians and they are here over many years. What is most interesting is the fact that they keep on projecting glossy image to their peer group in their own country resulting in more people who flock to UAE with flawed expectations.

Policies and laws in government establishment clearly favor nationals, that is understandable. After all its their country and they must develop their own human resources. Expatriates are invited because they do serve their need on transient basis and hence they are governed by different set of rule than that for Nationals . These are stated and everyone is aware of these laws. However, what comes as a surprise is the behavior of expatriate community that discriminate fellow expatriates based on geogrphical consideration. They do so despite there is no such law that compels them to do so. By and large, people from western world are paid much higher salaries and given plum designations than those for equivalent Asians. Most Asians accept this prejudice with resigned fate. They take solace in the fact that Dubai treats all nationalities very well; it is a very comfortable and great place to live. This very nature makes asians work and slog all their life. By their sheer hard work, asians particularly indians have remained the backbone of the UAE econom. Thanks to lifestyle accorded to westerners , western expatiates can afford to play golf and have beer at the Irish Village or Hard rock cafe , while equivalent asian expatriate would be it beyound the reach.

It is ironical that Arabs despite being culturally closer to Asian community have penchant for westerners. Arabs love asian biryani , Indian movies and even be fluent in Hindi but shall always consider westerners superior to Asians. It is amusing to hear some companies boasting their status by number of western general managers they have on their payroll. Is it that Arab derives a sense of déjà vu superiority of making colonial masters to work under him? The love of westerner goes beyond the office. Western entertainers also command premium over Asians. East Europeans, are the one of the beneficiaries in that segment.

One american commented that his colleague –project manager of Indian descent but resident of America could not be accommodated in his Dubai office as an existing western expatriate felt that this Asian would overshadow him. Western expatriate knew his weakness in his work but was also aware of his inherent strength that compensated for his lack of ability. This American came to the conclusion that different races in Dubai may exist in harmony but it is likely suffers from discrimination in the work place.

Everyone knows the contribution by asians in UAE. If all the asians in the UAE were to leave, the UAE would be in a crisis similar to what happened to Uganda when Idi Amin ordered them out. After the Kuwait invasion, Kuwait nationals understood that their telephones, air conditioners work because there is some Asian doing his job.

I was told that one of the premium Saudi university hospital managed with American collaboration have three levels of salaries for nurses, First level is for western nurses having UK, USA qualification, Second ; for non western having UK USA qualification, and Third level ; for Asians having no western qualification. This is not true with for salaries but also with accommodation standard. Whites get exclusive villa, Nonwhites with UK/USA qualification get shares villas, other Asians are not so fortunate

I often wonder if this trend would ever reverse or slow down. However, when I think about this issue, I realize that discrimination is deep rooted in our very existence of our lives. Even in our own country, do we not discriminate between local people and those who come from rural areas of Bihar, Orissa, UP? Sheer gigantic population of Asian sub continent undervalues the market price in Middle East. If a person from subcontinent is not happy with his emoluments, there is another person who is younger, fitter, and more qualified to do a job at lesser emolument. The answer definitely lies in national progress. As standard of living becomes better, the exploitation slows down. Look at Hyderabad, quality software people who come from Hyderabad are neither enamored by the glamour, cleanliness of Dubai, nor the work excitement it offers. They would consider Dubai job only if they get it on their terms. South Asian countries have shown that. How many Thai, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Koreans are seen working in Dubai?

Economic considerations also dictate the geographical discrimination. I wonder if Emirates airlines pay the same salary to all nationalities that do the same job as airhostess or flight purser. If they pay same salary as Asian expatriate, they would not get any western European or Japanese work for them. If they pay Asian same as others, it would drain them economically. Most companies tend mix a right balance. Backdoor hardworking Asian workers at competitive prices, Front door, visible glossed image of western aristocracy at premium prices. - Much the same way as Indian businessperson in South Africa did with his job advertisement.

Imran Khan in his autobiography nicely summarized the mindset of people from Indian subcontinent. He felt that in 70’s, Pakistan cricket team despite all their superior skills and spirit surrendered the match to English team well before even a ball was bowled . For them, being invited to England and given an opportunity to shake hand with British Queen and play shoulder to shoulder with english players, itself was a great honour and privilege. How can they be impudent in defeating their host on cricket field? He said, his first task was to remove inferiority mindset of his teammates and once he did, victory was easy.

It is unlikely in near future, discimination in Middle East would go down. I only hope that a realization among people of subcontinent will make them rally with eachother to reduce the geographical, religious bias among their own fellow citizens.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Terminal: Movie is good But DVD Part II & Website is amazing. !!


Generally not many movie producers - directors are keen to make a movie from an event that is widely known and publicized. This is understandably so. The characters that emerge from incident based script are known; plot of the movie being familiar is difficult to sustain viewer’s interest and climax if any can be fairly predictable. However, some duo thinks it otherwise. For some directors, a known incident is an excellent opportunity to create an imaginative approach in transforming the very event into a form that will bring his dramatized characters. In doing so, they have a firm belief that their new creation would make a new benchmark by which a real characters associated with the real incident be remembered. It seems they thrive on such challenges. One must also admire the producers who back up such directors with their risk taking ability.

There are number of movies that have been wonderfully crafted from a real life incident. I can remember, Bandit Queen by Shekhar Kapoor, Kala Patthar by Yash Chopra. This week, I saw one such effort by Steven Spielberg in movie ‘The Terminal’.

When the movie was launched in 2004, I was not keen to watch in theater. I felt it was not so wise to spend money (movie theater in UAE cost fortune) on a movie whose storyline and plot was known. Moreover, I was not ready to erase the image of pathetic, forlorn looking, worn out; bearded jeans clad Iranian that I had seen at Charles De Gaul airport in Paris. Last week, when I looked at the DVD of ‘The Terminal’, I changed my mind. I am glad that I did so.

The performances, direction, and cinematic approach of The Terminal have already been dissected in detail in various reviews. Hence, I would refrain from going into the details of this movie and performance. ‘The Terminal’ is worth watching but whats more essential is to watch DVD part II. This part II covers all the behind the scene activities along with interviews with Director, Producer, Production controller and Performing artistes of the movie. This interaction lets one realize the gigantic scale of operations that was conceived and executed. The set of the airport terminal look real - in fact very real – every minute aspect of the airport is taken into consideration - from Check in counter, Baggage claim area, Duty free shops, Cafés, Book shops, Telephone Booths, Security operations, Toilets. However, what is unbelievable is the whole terminal is built, fabricated and manufactured just for this movie. From computer design to layout, construction to interior is done in an abandoned airport hanger that used to house six Boeing aircrafts. All this is done in space of few months. Steel structural specialists, architects, interior designers, civil engineers, carpenters, welders made a fabulous terminal with transparent roof, granite tiles, lights even real escalators. I wonder what they did to this Terminal once the movie was completed. I am sure any third world country would have been happy to buy this which had retail outlets of Baskin Robbins, Hugo Boss and Starbucks Café.

It is always enjoyable to see DVD Part II after you have watched movie. This gives an in idea of the intricacies involved in the movie preparation. Part II of ‘The Terminal’ provides amazing directorial insights to the thought process that guided this movie. It is interesting to realize and appreciate so many finer elements of so many activities that later become the hallmark of a movie creation. Steven Spielberg articulates his theme in as lucid manner as he directs this movie. How did he put this concept of “stranded passenger at the airport” from “enclosed space” to “microcosm of vibrant international community”? How did he transform “The Terminal” on a canvas to manifest the montage of diverse people and their emotions? How did he manage the movement of 600 extras in every scene while creating an ambience of busy terminal? If DVD is innovative, Official Website is no less. http://www.theterminal-themovie.com/ is amazingly unique and innovative. Not just in terms of contents but an imaginative way it opens the site. The best would be click and see it yourself.

While watching ‘The Terminal’, my thoughts went back to those crazy long hours spent at Delhi, Dubai, Bangkok, Frankfurt airports. At Los Angeles airport, I even spent a whole night. This may sound weird but at the end of the ordeal, I felt a sense of belonging to the very airport that I considered a torture in the beginning.

How wonderfully, director Steven Spielberg has captured that precise mindset of a stranded passenger.






Monday, September 12, 2005

Hotel Rwanda : saga of determination and compassion


My first real brush with brutal mob mentality came at the time of Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Boarding Frontier mail at Ratlam station - to escape from burning Indore city – and coming across mercilessly beaten, brutally wounded elderly Sikh couples and families was heart-rending experience. Rampaging rioters at Mathura station lynched these innocent Sikhs whose only fault was that they were Sikh.

It is true that we are influenced only after witnessing a particular event. Although 1992 Hindu Muslim riots in Bombay and later in Gujarat may have been more gruesome, it did not have the same impact on me as that of 8-hour journey from Ratlam to Mumbai. This is also true with various ethnic riots that happen in the rest of the world. Be it Bosnia, Rwanda and now Darfur, my attention span is only to an extent to what media reports. It hardly evokes any empathy with people who are suffering. Written reports, no matter how illustrative and graphic, do not have the same telling effect as that of movies. Bhishma Sahani + Govind Nihalani in Tamas , Steven Spielberg in Schindler’s list have effectively portrayed people’s sufferings and their heroic effort to cope with the situation.

Rwanda was also no exception. In 1994, in just 3 months, members of the majority Hutu tribe went on a rampage by massacring millions of minority Tutsi tribe. World -by and large- remained mute spectator, till a movie, made after almost a decade made people realize of their shameful indifference to Rwandans.

Movie Hotel Rwanda, directed by Terry George is not about Rwandan people or the atrocities created by their tribes. It is a film for ordinary people like us, who often become bystanders in a situation of crisis and end up at best, analyzing it under safe and cozy environs. Dealing with the situation of genocide is not an easy; But Terry has done it without resorting to displaying violence in graphic details. He adroitly retains the impact of the terror and violence through human emotions of Paul Rusesabagina – Hutu Tribe with his wife Tatiana, their children, neighbors, and his hotel employees (all Tutsi Tribe)

Hotel Rwanda does not create a daredevil hero but has a real and true Paul Rusesabagina who now resides in Belgium. Paul is not a man with resources or an idealist man. He is just a hotel manager who uses every trick of his profession to get his benefits and advance his career. However, beneath all that lies a compassionate heart. This kindness makes him use all his managerial and leadership skills in terms of bribery, flattery, diplomacy, deception to overpower inhumane mindset of barbaric people. In doing so, he become a savior for more than 1,200 Tutsis. Paul Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle and Tatiana as his strong, committed wife, played by Sophie Okonedo delivers an Oscar- nominated performance.

Hotel Rwanda also depicts the helplessness of United Nations through Col. Oliver played by Nick Nolte. He has the war trappings of armed battalions at his disposal but is not supposed to use them. He is only expected to inform, report the situation to his far away based superiors. His plight was summed up when his men were not allowed to use their weapons against rampaging rioters because their job was that of ‘peacekeepers’ and not ‘peacemakers’.

I feel, it is better to know a bit of Rwanda and civil war before one watches this movie. Without understanding of background, it could be confusing to know who is killing whom and why? I do not know why Hotel Rwanda - as a movie – could not make it to Oscar nominations. And when it was nominated in the category of screenplay, best actor and supporting actress, it lost out to Lord of the Rings. Still this movie should be encouraged in riot prone country like India.


As the world head towards aftermath of Afghanistan, Iraq; Fear of riots, genocide shall always loom at large. I am sure Hotel Rwanda, Schindlers List and Tamas will continue to resonate loudly so that I do not need to depend on my train journey to share the empathy and grief of sufferers.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

wow...what a business !!!!!!!


This is a business model that would make Donald Trump, Bill Gates and reviewers of Harvard business Journal jealous. It is not just a model, but centuries old thriving business in India that has proven to have sustained all economic cyclical patterns.

Like any other business, this business too requires an asset - machinery- , raw materials and customers for the finished product consumption. Business fundamentals remain the same but mechanism is vastly different and innovative. In order to start this business , you do not require any license; possess any formal education or business skills. You do not need to own any premises nor need to pay any rent for the same. Here raw material suppliers offer not just timely supplies but even pay cash for these supplies ; your asset (machinery) may be marginally get depreciated , but over the years adds tremendous value addition – in fact handsome capital appreciation. The finished product always has demand – in fact it is a sought after commodity -that requires no selling efforts and paid in cash. There is no Industrial waste in this business venture. On the contrary, the waste has multifold tangible benefit – both cash and in kind – and has tremendous business opportunity of its own.

Are you intrigued by such a business?

This business thrives in major cities - mostly in temple premises. Here a woman keeps neatly stacked bundles of fresh grass, customers – devotees to the temple -willingly approaches business premises, procure her grass by paying cash and feed her cow. Its matter of time , in a matter of time - cow is ready to churn healthiest food product–Milk and over the years provide generous dividend in terms healthy calves. The milk is sold in the market against immediate cash. The waste – cow dung, urine provide is a thriving business by itself with numerous benefits as follows :

Fuel - cow dung patties for cooking.
Fertilizer - composting makes it even more powerful.
Heat source - cow dung is naturally hot -compost makes hotter put in glass house to heat glass house or run pipes thru it to get hot water.
Purifier - natural antiseptic qualities
Floor coating - used mixed with mud and water on floors in mud houses. Improves water absorption of mud. Prevents muddy puddles resulting from spilt water.
Skin tonic - mixed with crushed neem leaves smeared on skin - good for boils and heat rash.
Smoke producer - smoldering cow patties keep away mosquitoes.
Pot cleaner - used dry absorbs oil and fat wet as a general cleaner
Brass polisher - tamarind removes oxidation - wet ashes polishes
Fertilizer - alkaline - cow dung ash is basically lime with a few other mineral mixed in
Mud additive - dries up slippery mud puddles, - mud and lime (cow dung ashes) becomes like cement.
Pond PH balancer - thrown into pond neutralizes acid.

Isn’t this business fascinating? No Investment, Excellent cash flow, Assured business returns and above all tremendous customer goodwill!!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

one such incident



We have a tendency to judge a person based on his attire and mannerisms. We also follow a standard set of rules to react with persons who solicit us at the public places. If we were to come across an ordinarily dressed beseeching person in public place, our reaction is often predictable. We are often indifferent to him .If he is still persistent in his endeavors - we shoo him way with haughtiest of our demeanor. One such incident happened two decades ago in Mumbai (then Bombay) that changed my outlook towards besetting salespeople.

I was learning the art of photography at Indo American Institute at Flora Fountain. After theoretical rhetoric, we were taken to Gateway of India to practice outdoor photography. It was late afternoon of Sunday. Crowds were just pouring in. Visitors from rural India were conspicuous with their curious looks. Bewildered by chaotic city life, wife and kids, holding their palm above their eyebrows as an eyeshade, stuck to their father as they gazed at far away anchored ships. The hawkers cajoled the kids with peanuts, balloons. Torn between her husband’s oceanography instructions and her nagging children who pestered her to have a look at the goodies of these hawkers, poor sari clad mom was confused. I was also part of this milieu, curiously observing these families and professional photographers who with camera in one hand and album of their photographed objects in another solicited their prospective customers. I was amused at their art of selling and wondered if I may be able to match their skills with my bulky Yashica camera.

Meanwhile, my other mates, dispersed in different directions in search of innovative objects. Some managed to get frame of Tall Turbaned Sikh at hotel TajMahal entrance, some fluttering pigeons on the parapet and some angling hobbyists along the Arabian ocean. I was happy and content watching the spectacle occasionally bringing camera’s viewfinder to avoid glaring glance of my teacher. I found observing the people and their behavior more appealing than taking their images.

As I was strolling, a person in ordinary trousers and shirt confronted me. He had white paper and pencil in his hand and slinging cloth bag around his shoulders. He asked my permission to draw my portrait with his nails for just 10 rupees. I reacted with a polite refusal. He was persistent; he tried to explain to me that he could even do it for five Rs. He even offered to have a look at his work before I could say yes. Seeing no positive feedback, he even offered to do it free. Now my annoyance was overtaken by suspicion. I checked if my wallet was in place. In unspoken words, I conveyed him that he should stop harassing me. From the corner of my eyes, I could see his going back to his place only to solicit another person. This incident would have forgotten had I not watched national TV next week.

Those days, India had only television channel and people had no choice but to watch stapled Doordarshan entertainment of interview and news. However, this interview took me to the edge of the sofa. The man on the idiot box looked familiar but I was not sure. As interview progressed it became clear that it was him !!. The very man at Gateway of India of India was now being interviewed as a celebrity. This man was no ordinary person but renowned artist whose fingernail sketches and portraits had adorned rich and famous. He was in India at the special invitation and was about to meet then Prime Minister of India Mrs. Indira Gandhi. This artist went on explaining his art form and narrated his experience in India- particularly standing at Gateway of India in Bombay and India Gate in Delhi and drawing sketches of ordinary Indians – at price just to cover cost of his paper.


Needless to say, this one incident made me treat the soliciting salespersons with dignity and respect.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Impressionable Young Minds


This incident has remained vivid in my memory. I was having lunch with my Yemeni host and his children at his palatial house in Sana’a. The eldest son was around 9 year old followed by his siblings of age 6 and 3. With siesta time in hand, it was an opportunity to play some truants and games. Kids could not speak English but it did not hinder our kiddish fun. I asked 6 years old cuddly”what would you like to be when you grow up? “Prompt comes the answer “I want to become pilot! “ Nothing surprising, considering most kids at his age like to be a pilot. I asked him benignly “why do you want to become pilot?“ “I want to become pilot so that I can bomb Israel; they kill all Arab children so I must also kill them.” His answer numbed me.

I was wondering if this is the impression on Yemeni child who is so far away from Palestine. What must be the situation with Palestine kids? Who could have been responsible for his impression, was it the media, school, parents, just innocuous picture, or casual remark by adults ? It was certain that someone, somewhere have left lasting impression on this child without knowing it. I hope this incident remains an aberration. Most of us have wonderful, cute impressions of childhood. We chuckle and laugh when we remember our innocence in being naïve of believing something so weird and bizarre.

http://www.iusedtobelieve.com/ is a website dedicated to such crazy child impressions and beliefs. This site takes us to the wonderful journey of our childhood saga. It is neat compilation of crazy ideas that we thought were true when we were children. Rummaging through this site brings us nostalgic aura of our beautiful, innocent days of child – equally vulnerable to fairy tale fascination and scary horrification. You can also add your own childhood impressions to the site and make this treasure grow. As you read the impressions of others, your very own early impressions that were forgotten start emerging .You quickly realize that you are not the only one who was crazy. It may be tempting to introduce this site to your kids. However, do not do this. Some of the impressions and believes are of very adult nature and may mislead children.

Child Psychologists say that all of us in our formative years learn by imitation and then by memory. Memory leads permanent impressions, so whatever we encounter in our lives, leads to ‘impressions forever’. I do hope and pray that charming innocent Yemeni kid shall have many more pleasant memories to have the feeling of hatred never to surface again.

Some of my crazy childhood beliefs were:

· That most professors have to manage one shop or another (In India, every board on the shop had word “pro” written (proprietor)
· One has no choice but to die after getting third heart attack. First and second are your warning reminders.
· What we see on movie screen is actually done behind the screen. I wondered how BEST BUS could come there!!!
· Judges in the court have to go special hair cutting saloon to make his hair wavy and curly.
· Every time you tune your radio, operator at the other gets what you want and make changes. I wondered how he could do it so fast; I kept on increasing and decreasing audible levels only to get whacked by mom.
· I was also intrigued why water level in toilet never goes up when it is flushed. I kept on flushing at breakneck speed hoping that it will overflow. Imagine how much water I must have wasted.

Have fun browsing http://www.iusedtobelieve.com/

Sunday, September 04, 2005

shall we dance ?


By and large, definition of a perfect marriage would be “an agreeable, harmonious, peaceful co-existence of man and woman who don’t harbor any ill will, despise eachother. The couples in such marriages often are cynosure in the eyes of others with remarks “they have smooth life with no troubles “Now these very words are breeding ground of “boredom marriage.” It is like a soda without bubbling fizz. Marriage is becoming predictable without any surprise or challenge.

This topic of “marriage boredom “is nothing new for any moviemakers. It is a potent situation to make script with elements of infidelity, identity crisis that will portray heady sensuous affairs and resultant complex relationship.

“Shall we dance “ a remake of Japanese movie, deals with the very topic of “ marriage boredom” without resorting to any temptation of using ‘seductress’ Jennifer Lopez to wean the handsome Richard Gere from his wife Susan Sarandon. Instead screenplay writers Masayuki Suo (Original Movie), Audret Wells and Director Peter Chelsom brought out the fact that if love between the spouse is intact, then boredom in marriage can at best result into sins of omission than sins of commission.

John Clark loves his wife Beverly but after 18 years of marriage feels that, his life does not have any excitement despite having everything that a man would ask for. He has a caring and lovely wife, two teenage daughters, successful thriving career, yet the spark is missing. He is afraid to tell his wife lest it would hurt her. While commuting from office to home, he catches a site of a lonely woman, standing out of window of run down dance school. It becomes his everyday ritual to have a glimpse of her through passing train window. His predicament of marital boredom coupled with his curiosity for this woman makes him climb the stairs of this dance school. Soon this place becomes his evening stopover. Despite fear of alerting his wife with his late arrivals at home, he cannot deny the temptation to continue with newfound obsession of this woman. Surprisingly, Paulina - Jennifer Lopez for whom John took a plunge to dancing school remains an enigmatic person only to have her own life transformed with the presence of John. But can this woman in dance school able to rejuvenate him from marital boredom shackles?

How does Beverly – John’s wife take this bizarre behavior of John? Does it lead to estrangement any further? A movie answers these questions through innovative exposure of Latino dance. Script has some philosophical touch when Beverly justifies the existence of marriage with amazing quote: “With billions of people on planet, who cares what happens to one life? But we still marry someone to have a witness to our lives. In a marriage, we promise that one person to witness everything about him, the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. We proclaim him every time that ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’ ”. Susan Sarandon as his Beverly wonderfully portrays her initial marital insecurity only to become philosophical.

In this movie, there is no ‘love at first sight’, no dalliances, nor titillating dance sessions. Instead, it is a wonderful dramatization of diverse characters that have come to this dance school for their very own funny but valid reasons. All of them not only accomplish what they intended to but also transform the very substance of their life

Richard Gere has played the part of John Clark with ease and finesse. Jennifer Lopez does not have same meaty role as in ‘Maid in Manhattan’ but she matches Richard Gere with her silent aplomb and elegant body movements.

‘shall we dance’ also illustrates various forms of Latino dance and skills that are needed to appreciate the essence. For example in Rumba – a type of ballroom dance, it is not just enough to know the dancing steps but feel a rage and passion for your partner. “You need to hold her as if; her thighs are the existence of your reason for living. You need to let her go as if your heart is being ripped from your chest. You need to pull her back as this is the opportune moment for you to have her right here on the dance floor. And then seek that ultimate revenge as if she's ruined you for life “.

The rest of the characters in the movie worked very well to orchestrate the right steps. There is no grandeur in sets in order to make the movie look realistic. The climax of the movie involves medley of Latino dances that has some charming costumes. Richard Gere in Tuxedo looks awesome. The musical score is captivating but it does not get prominence as all the attention is usurped by outstanding dancing sequence.CNN has been very harsh reviewing this movie after comparing it with original Japanese movie. However, for ordinary moviegoer, who has not seen Japanese version, this movie is a pleasant experience of watching wonderfully woven fabric of human emotions with Latino dance theme.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Samurai Prayer

I make the heavens and earth my parents
I have no home.
I make awareness my home
I have no life and death.
I make the tides of breathing my life and death
I have no divine power.
I make honesty my divine power
I have no means.

I make adaptability to all circumstances my principles
I have no tactics
I make my mind my friend
I have no enemy
I make carelessness my enemy
I have no armour
I make benevolence and righteousness my armour
I have no castle
I make immovable mind my castle
I have no sword
I make absence of self-interest my sword.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Culture or Religion: whose dominance will prevail?


1984: Ginza, Japan . During dinner with Izawa san – then marketing manager of Hitachi Medical Corp, Japan and another gentleman from Nissho Iwai Corporation whose name I now forget, I listened intently to their discussions about 21st century world order. This Nissho Iwai person had read a book that predicted the world situation that would be after 50 years. Their forecast was based more on the situation analysis of ground realities with intelligence inputs than mere astrological crystal gazing. He mentioned that this book had predicted three major outcomes that would happen in next four decades. First: Western Europe would come under one flag, one currency and one army; Second: USSR would be challenged by Muslim dominated southern part and it will be split between Muslim and others. Third: India would be divided into 20 smaller republics based on cultural and language identity. Its ironical that First and Second did happen to a large extent and Third was almost following predicted course. India appeared veering for multiple splits with Khalistan, Kashmir, Bodo , Naxal and LTTE separatist movements going gung-ho and vociferous demand of separate statehood for Vidarbha, Jharkhand, Bundelkhand, Telangana. Political leaders were clueless to stop this tide. But at half way mark of this prediction period, some how India appears out of this crisis and portrays more cohesive face.

I am always intrigued by the evolution of various nations. Is it culture, religion, economic prosperity or just geographical topography that drives its formation and growth?

It is no surprise to get divergent reactions on this topic when one gets an opportunity to talk to Indians who come from equally diverse backgrounds.

By and large, most Muslims and Christians reside in Maharashtra (barring Bombay) identify themselves more by their religion than their geographical affiliation. In Middle East, I met many Muslims from Konkan, Marathwada. They speak impeccable Marathi, well versed with Marathi literature and have maharashtrian culture embedded in their lifestyle. But often, when you ask them ‘Are you Maharashtrian?’ the answer comes ‘No, I am Muslim’. It is indeed sad that the State of Maharashtra failed to assimilate other religions into her fold. Somehow being Maharashtrian is relegated to Marathi speaking Hindus.

However, opposite is the case with Bombay - now Mumbai-, the capital of Maharashtra. Here people loudly proclaim themselves ‘I am from Bombay’ even if their association with the city is just for few years. They even go to extent of identifying themselves with the particular suburb they stay. This often leads to additional bonhomie and camaraderie that never happens with any other city residents. It may be said, Bombay has been the place that helped most immigrants to climb the ladder of their material success. People love to associate themselves with good things.

But if there is one state that has succeeded in achieving dominance of culture over religion, that is Kerala. Be it Hindu, Muslim or Christian, all Keralites are woven by web of Malayalam Manorama, Mohanlal, and Karimeen Fish. They all speak same language, wear same attire, cook same dishes and identify themselves as Keralites. This is very consistent from Kasaragod to Trivendrum. Punjab, Bengal, Tamilnadu are not far behind in terms of unified cultural identity. But Maharashtra is definitely no longer in the race.

Dominance of culture is also apparent with neighboring nations despite different religion. Pathan taxi drivers often mention that their region (North West Frontier) has nothing in common with rest of Pakistan. Their language (Pushtu) is vastly different to Urdu and so is their life style. According to them, they should have been part of Afghanistan and Lahore a part of Punjab. This is also true with Muslim Punjabi from Pakistan who is at home with Hindu or Sikh Punjabi from India. Had it not been for economic disparity, Bengalis from India would have been at as much ease with Muslim Bangladeshis. In Trinidad, current generation of Indian immigrants is completely cut off from India. Since three generations, they have never been to India; don’t know any Indian language, but two things they faithfully do: wear dhotis when they do Puja on the day of Deepawali and have Ram Katha during 10 day Dashehera festival. It’s amazing how the cultural traces refuse to diminish. Now Internet and Satellite television have fueled people’s desire to reach for their cultural roots than just being identified with cultural inheritance handed over from previous generations.

We still have another 20 years to judge if the prediction of this book reaches its culmination. Till then, we shall wait and see; if India gets split in 20 different countries based on cultural identities or get unified as a single economic block.