November 25, 2006

A health city Bangalore can do without

Read in the media that Karnataka government plans to acquire 500 acres to develop a health city near the upcoming Bangalore aireport at Devanahalli. I thought Bangalore would be the last place in the state that needs the government help in promoting such investment. Besides, medical tourism is not an area that is crying out for government promotion. If anything, the city needs to consolidate its growth to be able to serve the best interests of its residents. Infrastructure in Bangalore, such as roads, public transport, sewage disposal and affordable housing, are already stressed out as a result of haphard growth that is unmindful of its impact on quality of life of those who are constrained to live there.

A responsive government would think in terms of addressing the infrastructure situation and in regulating the growth factors contributing to this social malady, instead of aggravating the pressure on the woefully inadequate social infrastructure. The coming up of an international airport is bound to promote investment in varied sectors. And a government with foresight ought to be thinking in terms of developing health and other sector-specific townships, away from the city, within a 100 to 150 km radius, with well served rapid transit facilities.

The six-lane Bangalore-Mysore expressway project holds out opportunity for developing sector-centric, growth-oriented townships along the transitway. The expressway gains significance, not just because it can shorten Mysore-Bangalore travel time (to 90 minutes) but, more importantly, because it opens out prospects for growth oriented townships all along the expresseway. If the government is really concerned about betterment of its capital city and the greater Bangalore region, it ought to 1) facilitate early completion of Bangalore-Mysore expressway, in time to take advantage of investment triggered by the upcoming international airport; and 2) take steps to locate the proposed health city midway along the expressway.

November 10, 2006

Dhoni goes for a haircut; and the media goes ga-ga

Some cricketers, it seems, can’t even go out for a haircut without causing a law and order problem. The Ranchi police chief, Mr Akhilesh Kumar Jha, is reported to have made a plea to the city’s celebrity cricketer - “I’d request Dhoniji to please inform the police before he goes to any public place, so that it would be slightly easier for us to deal with such situation”. The situation the police chief refers to was a drive Mahendra Singh Dhoni tookthe other day to a neighbourhood shopping mall for a haircut.

A news agency report had it that some 2000 fans mobbed the mall, locking in Dhoni at Kaya Beauty Parlour, Ranchi, for well over four hours. The police were summoned to rescue and escort him home. Wow! What a story. The Hindu even carried a picture of the crush of Dhoni fans at the Ranchi mall. It became a media event because of Dhoni’s propensity to pull a crowd at the drop of his hair. It shows we have people who are prepared to drop everything to be wherever a test player is sighted.

Such is our craze for cricket, which, as Lord Mancroft put it, is ‘a game which the English, not being a spiritual people, have invented to give themselves some conception of Eternity’. My aged aunt’s take on cricket is plainly polemical. She says life would be a lot less miserable, if only they didn’t have the blessed live telecast. Her aversion to the game at any given time is directly proportionate to the level of her addiction to the daytime soap she is obliged to miss on the days of a live telecast of a cricket match. Her son and his son are cricket addicts, like millions of others who get glued to their TV sets, unmindful of the phenomenal national waste of man-days caused by cricket telecasts.

Every nation is entitled to its obsession. It is soccer in Brazil, baseball in US. Our consuming obsession is cricket. Unlike soccer or baseball, which has a season and relatively short duration of play, cricket is a day-long affair and played, nowadays, all the year round. Almost every match is telecast live and re-telecast during the ever shortening non-playing season. And there is a social dimension to the cricket telecast. It tends to interfere with your routine. You can't take the family out on days when a big match is on, nor would anyone visit you. And drawing room conversations, even within families, centre round finer points of something that someone did or didn't do at gully, slip or silly mid-on. You are made to look silly if you don't keep up with the live telecast. You can ignore the ball game at your social peril.

November 4, 2006

Remembering Rajaji

During my recent Bangalore visit I spent an evening with Mr N Nageswaran, former resident editor of Economic Times. He lives alone, with his 2-year-old Dachshund, Randy, a much mis-spelt breed. In stark contrast to his working life, when Mr Nageswaran routinely invented reasons to turn down party invitations, not many call him or drop in for chat, after retirement. This includes his professional colleagues. Friends dropped out of his life after he lost his wife a few years back.

Our association dates back to the late eighties when we used to have adjacent cabins at the Times Group office on Nungambakkam Road, Chennai. Mr Nageswaran was in a reminiscent mood, talking about his early days as a newspaper reporter in the Madras edition of Indian Express, then under the control of the one and only Ramnath Goenka. Stuck inside his head were loads of stories, anecdotes and eminently bloggable material that could be melted down into words over a couple whiskies. He wasn’t interested, not in whiskey, but blogging.

I referred to our own media veteran in Mysore, Mr Krishna Vattam, who has taken to blogging lately (with much prodding from his daughter and with help from his school-going grandson who ran a computer crash course for grandpa). When I mentioned a blog post by Mr Vattam on an incident relating to Rajaji and Mr Nageswaran’s face lit up and he promptly related a C R quote. “Consistancy is a donkey’s virtue,” Rajaji told his critics, “why should I, an intelligent human being, be expected to be consistent”. This was CR’s response to those who took him on for joining the anti-Hindi agitation, after having introduced Hindi in schools when he was in power.

Rajaji did not tolerate the media mis-reporting him. He used to send a post card to the editor the next morning. Mr Nageswaran was among the few reporters the old man trusted - ‘so I used to be assigned to all Rajaji functions’. As a reporter he was occasionally summoned to his residence where Rajaji dictated a statement, laid out on an easy-chair and sipping steaming hot coffee. The reporter had to sit on the floor to take down dictation - ‘he always asked me to read back to him what I had taken down’.

Mr Nageswaran recalled that when Sir C P Ramaswami Ayyar joined the Swatantra Party founded by Rajaji, Nehru had called it a party of old men. In a rebuttal CR observed, “Pandit Jawaharlal Neru has called us a party of old men; I would like to tell you that Jawaharlal Nehru is not a spring chicken”. Mr Nageswaran was among the newspapermen who was present at the Madras Music Academy function (in 1956?) at which Nehru paid his much-quoted tribute to M S Subbulakshmi. “Who am I, a mere prime minister, to say anything about the queen of music”, Nehru told the gathering.