December 30, 2005

Girish: Giving up his childhood for dad’s greed?

Elsewhere on this site I wrote about eight-year old chess champ, Girish; had read about him in ‘The Hindu’ and, after a phone talk with his father, I shot out messages to 40 e-pals on our MyMysore network for exploring sponsorship possibilities. On meeting Girish’s father, Mr Kaushik, and from his subsequent conduct I am constrained to believe that helping such a guy might not be such a good idea, and it might even hurt the chess kid’s future.
My perception is shared by Ms K R Prathiba, a social activist, who lobbied Girish’s case for sponsorship at the Town Hall; took the boy and his father to the mayor on the very day she met Mr Kaushik. She was to set up a meeting for him with the DC the subsequent day. But then Mr Kaushik, presumably, found something else to do. He didn’t even bother to inform Prathiba, let alone thank her for the trouble she had taken.
Lack of such niceties apart, I found Mr Kaushik to be not very straight-forward in his talk. He told me that the recent New Delhi trip for the Asian chess championship ties had set him back by Rs.15,000 (of which Rs.7000 he claimed was entry fee). What Mr Kaushik neglected to mention was the Rs.50,000 cash award announced by the Central ministry for sports. The first we heard of it ( Prathiba and I ) was when the mayor quizzed Mr Kaushik, “Isn’t there a cash award that goes with the chess gold ?”
And then there is this aspect. In response to my network messages an e-pal put me wise on the danger in pushing child prodigies into public shows. This had happened again and again, he said, and added, “parents who want to exploit the rare talent of their kids are sometimes too greedy for fame and profit to think of giving the kids a chance to experience childhood”.
(See item: Girish brings chess gold to Mysore)

December 24, 2005

Civic activism

Wish I am proved wrong, but I sense that our civic authorities (read mayor/commissioner) have already made up their mind on the Devaraja Market issue. The kind of public pressure we tend to exert doesn’t seem to work. This may be because of a conspicuous lack of rapport between MGP/ACIC and MCC. Correction - it's mutual mistrust. Isn’t there something we are missing here? I thought both have the same mission statement - strive for the public good. Besides, I don’t get the point of another group. Is the Association of Concerned and Informed Citizens (is that right?) an alternate group or an alternative to MGP?
Problem is some of our self-styled caretakers of the interests of ‘informed’ and ‘concerned’ citizens do not seem to realize that they are not taken very seriously by an overwhelming majority of lesser residents. Maybe it’s our mindset. We tend to view with suspicion even the most civic-minded individuals who show up too often in newspaper photos and press statements.
I can see my friend Dr Shenoy taking me on. Do I suggest MGP stay silent when things go wrong? We have been through this, Dr Shenoy and I, in private conversations. His grouse is the good work MGP has done in exposing wrong-doings and the wrong-doers goes unappreciated. As for arm-chair critics, his prescription is, “why don’t they come forward, and take over?” A valid question, to which other arm-chair critics and bloggers might have a definitive answer.
It is not my case that MGP has no role to play. Nor would I say that those at its helms are less capable. In fact, they have expertise in varied fields. To my mind there appears to be an attitude problem – an attitude of confrontation towards MCC. Elsewhere in this site I have held forth on how MGP could do better.
As for arm-chair critics such as yours truly, there are many of us who are not cut out for a meaningful role in MGP. So of us are more inclined to do some public good in our own limited sphere. Individual efforts of a civic-minded few have made a big difference to life around them.
I read a web magazine piece about an NRI pair -”. Aravinda Pillalamarri and Ravi Kuchimanchi – who transplanted themselves from the US to Gujarat, to bring electricity to an Adivasi village . When the web editor Veena Rao asked what NRIs could do to help people back home, they suggested that urban educated individuals, especially NRIs, can help by taking a live interest in issues of public concern back home, and ‘write to our government officials and civic authorities, who tend to behave differently when they know they are being watched, especially by NRIs’. I see a message here for non-resident Mysoreans with a feel for Devaraja Market.
Incidentally, Aravinda and Ravi were the inspiration behind Ashutosh Gowariker’s “Swades”, a Shah Rukh Khan starrer..

December 17, 2005

Siddharth is out and kicking

In my opening blog piece – New Avatar – I referred to my son and his wife conceiving around the same time. His ‘baby’, a revamp of, came out in September. Meera took longer to deliver Siddharth – nine months, to be precise. I don’t suppose genetic engineering has yet come up with a mechanism to shorten the process or devised an enabling technique to have a baby without pangs. Mid-way through the 24 hours that Meera spent in the labour room my son sent an e-mail saying she was going through severe discomfort and pain, but managing with great calm and confidence. And this was just a build-up to an excruciatingly painful finale that took several hours in coming.
The FIR (first information report) said the new arrival weighed 6 lb.13 oz., was 20 inches long, fair, with a headful of jet black hair. Time of birth: 7.03 a m (in San Francisco); 8.33 p m (IST).
I don’t know if other NRI parents ponder over this: Which time do we take into account to draw up the child’s horoscope? US, or the Mysore time? “Our time, of course, 7.03 a m,” said Meera, from her Oakland hospital bed. She made sense.
My thoughts, however, are philosophical, if utterly anachronistic. Astrology, presumably, predates America by thousands of years. Legend has it that someone in Ayodhya drew up Lord Rama’s horoscope, which was ages before they invented the concept of Time Zones. If there hasn’t been much change since, in the way we draw up horoscopes, wouldn’t ‘India time’ be more compatible than the relatively recent US Time Zone phenomenon? A swift Yahoo Search reveals that Time Zones were first instituted in US by railroads on Nov.18, 1883, though an amateur astronomer, William Lambert, had reportedly made a plea in 1809 to the Congress for establishment of time meridians.

December 13, 2005

What’s in a name(u), Bangaluru ?

Mr U R Ananthamurthy, who started it all, was heard telling NDTV that Kannada had this capability to embrace a foreign term by suffixing a ‘u’ – a table becomes ‘tableu’, a chair, ‘chairu’, and a bore, ‘boru’. Kannada is that simple. Tamil, a designated ‘classical’, tends to complicates things.
Had Madras been part of Karnataka we could have, simply, added a ‘u’ and called the place ‘Madrasu’. In its current Tamil ‘avatar’, Chennai has little in common with the good old Madras. I’m sure Mr URA had sound reasons – cultural and emotional – for coming up with an idea, so thought-provoking that it managed to move our government into action within days. Normally, any bright idea the government receives is put through the bureaucratic wringer, of a departmental committee, cabinet sub-committee, legislature debate, resolution and such rigmarole.
I, for one, find the name-change idea particularly appealing, as it plays on our innate instinct for keeping up with the Joneses. If TN and Kerala, not to mention W B and Maharashtra, have done it, why shouldn’t we?
But then in a democracy we have people who raise silly questions, such as, ‘what is the big deal?’. Bangalore, whichever way you pronounce it, would stay a city of IT-walahs, drought beer, bad roads, and traffic jam. What’s in a name? Bangalore, by any other name, would still have traffic jam.
We could say this about Mysore. When it becomes Mysooru, it won’t rhyme with eyesore.

Sheila Irani, an inspiration

Irani, F K is a name Mysoreans associate with Ideal Jawa. They don’t make the mo-bike anymore, but the brand name – Ideal Jawa - is still with us, in reference to the building housing Mysore’s Rotary headquarters and one of the city’s better run schools. The Irani name is also linked to a not-so-widely known, but equally well-run, institution – Chamundi Children’s Home. It’s a living testimony to Sheila Irani’s work of charity, says my friend T V Raghottam Rao, who is actively associated with the home. They take care of 25 boys and girls who are parentless or from broken homes. Inmates are schooled till Class-12, and in any vocational training of their interest. Many from the Chamundi alumni are known to have made it in the outside world. We don’t know if the trustees have case studies.
Statistically, it’s a drop-in-the-bucket effort. But Chamundi home represents an endeavour that has inspired individuals. Paddy Navin, a theatre person in Britain, is one such individual, says a report in ‘Star of Mysore’. A visit to Mysore in 2002 and meeting with Sheila Irani proved an inspiration for Paddy to do her bit for the underprivileged in this part of the world. Back in London, Paddy organized a concert that raised funds enough to educate four children till the college level. Two of Paddy’s chosen children – Pushpa,10, and Esther, 8, are now studying at the Good Shepherd’s School, Masinagudi, near Mudumalai, TN. If only everyone in our own entertainment world – actors and producers – were to emulate Paddy’s example, it would be a turn-around in the lives of thousands of our underprivileged children.

December 6, 2005

Mysore in a debt-trap

Thank you, Gen. Vombatkere, for putting us wise on how ADB loans work. It hasn’t occurred to the powers that be that they owe us an explanation of how a Rs.140-crore loan has morphed into a Rs. 295-crore liability. It took Maj. Gen. S G Vombatkere (retd.) a trip to Manila (where he attended a civil society consultations at ADB headquarters) to figure it out for us. As he explains, ADB charged a mere two-percent interest on its loan advanced to India government. The Centre passed on funds at eight percent to Karnataka. And the Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development and Finance Corporation (KUIDFC) gave it to the Mysore municipal corporation at 12 percent interest.
MCC can't get it from ADB, straight away. I can see that our municipal commissioner can’t just fill in a loan form and get a DD for the loan amount directly from ADB or IBRD. It is understandable that those doing it for us are entitled to service charges. But what I didn’t know, (did you?) is that development loans help, mainly, ‘development’ of the intermediaries; and, what is worse, have the effect of pushing the end-user (of loan) into a debt-trap.
Going into the nitty-gritty of how the money was spent by our civic body, with what results, would open quite another can of worms.
Meanwhile, how do we get out of this loan mess? My guess is that our municipal corporation would go in for a steep hike in levy, in line with the time-honoured bureaucratic ploy – ‘When in debt, pass the buck’. The buck stops with the law-abiding tax-payers here.
This is where our public administration/finance whiz-kids ought to think of something out-of-the-box. If it were a private firm, ‘liquidation’ would be the word.

December 2, 2005

Munnabhai’s message & Iqbal’s impact

I checked out with administrator of a lead hospital , specializing in heart, if he had watched ‘Munnabhai MBBS’, and whether he sensed a social message - ‘Healthcare with humour, and compassion’. His response was, ‘we all know most simple ailments can be complicated with a psychosomatic factor that has to be addressed’. He referred to head-ache, most bowel symptoms, and many other unexplained ones.
Evidently, the Munnabhai storyline has aspects that medical administrators wouldn’t find amusing. But then the movie wasn’t made for their amusement. This Bollywood masala mix obscures its message in clownplay. Our kind of films are not made with social change in mind. In fact, as actor-director Naseeruddin Shah put it at the Goa film festival, ‘I’d write it off (cinema) as a medium of social change’.
Mr Shah appears to have been proved wrong, for once. Iqbal, a film in which he plays a role, has indeed impacted the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) into making a radical addition to its school curriculum. NCERT, taking a cue from Nagesh Kukunoor-directed ‘Iqbal’, plans to teach sign language to std. III students in all NCERT-run schools in the country.
Iqbal is a deaf-mute boy who dreams of playing for India cricket team, as a pace bowler. He has the backing of Khadija, his ten-year-old sister. Kadija learns sign language to interact with Iqbal, and to interpret his hopes and aspirations to the world at large. Learning from Khadija’s example, NCERT has decided to include teaching sign language in its school curriculum. If normal children could learn to communicate with the hearing impaired, the needs of the disabled could be better understood, and the disabled could be fully integrated into the mainstream school environment.
Kamala Balachandran, in her Deccan Herald article, summed it up by saying the NCERT idea is simple, and yet so potent that it could revolutionize the way the next generation of children would look at a disabled person.