The Crotchet’s Corner

My perspective about all things inconsequential

Hey, you, Fresher !!!


“You, fresher, come here,” bellows a voice as you timidly enter the college gate for the first time. Your toes curl, your blood curdles, and your knees quake, as you glance anxiously in the direction of that unfriendly voice.

 

You have arrived. Welcome to college!!!

 

The fear of being ragged reaches fever pitch as opening day approaches, and hundreds of thousands of kids dread the first few days/weeks of college life.

 

Ragging has been around for decades, and despite the best of intent and laws being enacted to ban this practice, will still continue to exist.

 

Speak to anyone who has been ragged and you will hear a broad spectrum of reactions and views.

 

There are many who defend the practice stating that, in its mildest form, ragging toughens up a kid and makes him into a man. It is meant to be a process of evolution from a sheltered existence to the harsh realities of the environment.

 

But, the way it is done can be extremely harrowing for the newcomer.

 

Day scholars get ragged. But, those who live in hostels face an ordeal that can be much worse.

 

I studied in one of the country’s best colleges, one that had a phenomenal reputation for quality education. It, however, had one of the most notorious hostels. I lived there for a year – my final year in college. On my first day in the hostel, a “senior”, unaware that I was also one like him, hollered out to me, but backed off when informed by others that I was also a “senior”.

 

Sure, this happened several years ago, but I do not recall seeing the hostel rector show up even once in the first month.

 

What I witnessed there was mild compared to some of the narratives I had heard. Many are the horror stories of what went on in Engineering and Medical colleges all over the country. One has heard of freshers being asked to walk into mortuaries at night, or being made to “volunteer” as guinea pigs for “scientific experiments”. Tales of sadistic brutality, and mental and physical torture.

 

The attitude was one of being subjected to ragging in one year and gaining revenge in subsequent years. Being macho, being seemingly superior. And, this was prevalent irrespective of whether you were from some small town or a product of one of those elitist public schools. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to make a differentiation here – it’s just that there is a perception that only certain types of guys indulge in this.

 

Being asked to climb up a tree, while dressed in your underwear, and polishing the leaves while singing a vulgar song in vernacular is mild, and can be amusing and entertaining if you look at the funny side of things. It is also comparatively clean. Being asked to stay awake for several nights and clean the rooms and wash clothes of “seniors” is menial, but is not as bad.

 

But, when things degenerate into physical torture and mental agony, things begin to get out of hand. When sexual harassment is added to the equation, trouble is around the corner.

 

One has read of students escaping from college, some going insane, and, worse, some others committing suicide.

 

Educational institutions have, for long, spoken about clamping down on ragging. If this actually happens, then it’s fine. The problem is that students often hesitate to speak out about what happens for fear of being at the receiving end of reprisals.

 

Mild ragging is fine, but the question is about where one draws the line. Legislation to ban this scourge is appropriate and necessary, but what is crucially of essence is a mechanism that can monitor and control these unsavory practices.

 

If you have to transform a kid into an adult, surely there are other and better ways!!!

 

Think about this : a bully who relishes ragging freshers, graduates from college and enters the business world or government service; perhaps the armed forces or the police. What is his attitude going to be? It’s scary.

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March 30, 2009 Posted by | About this and that | , , | Leave a comment

Jai Ho versus Bhay Ho


There is never a dull moment when it comes to the general elections in India. Political parties of all hues pull out all stops, the campaign is intense, and there are no holds barred when it comes to calling names.

 

Creativity is at its peak during the elections, and gimmicks galore. Even if one is merely a silent observer, the occasional humour and irony is inescapable.

 

The incumbent Congress party adopted “Jai Ho”, the title song of Slumdog Millionaire for its campaign. Watch one version at :

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOlcGruEZ44

 

Did the party’s biggest rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party sit idle and watch? It might have been created by a party supporter, and, therefore, not official party material, but the parody “Bhay Ho” of the Congress version describes, in the party’s view, how the nation has been facing ‘bhay’ (fear), ‘bhookh’ (hunger) and ‘aatank’ (terrorism) over the past five years. Watch it at :

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4Nodf1aetA

 

The parody is sung to the tune of “Jai Ho” (wonder what the copyright owners might have to say), and the script runs thus :

 

‘Aaja aaja voter is jhanse ke tale, aaja aaja jhoote moothe vade ke tale … Bhay ho bhook ho.’

(Come voter, take shelter under false promises. Let fear spread, let hunger spread).

 

‘Ratti ratti sachi hamne jaan ganvai, bhooke pet jaag jaag raat bitayi, mandi ki maar mein naukri ganva di, gin gin vade hamne jindagi bita di, mandi ho, atank ho, mahangai ho, bhay ho, phir bhi jai ho …’

(We lost lives through dark terrible nights, we have kept awake with empty stomachs, the economic slowdown has taken away our jobs, we have spent a lifetime counting false promises, let there be a slowdown, let terrorism flourish, let prices rise, let fear spread, even then we will say, victory is ours …)

 

 

It would be interesting to see what else the various Parties unleash on the electorate. It sure promises to be an entertaining election. Never a dull moment.

March 29, 2009 Posted by | About this and that, Politics | , , , | 1 Comment

Wealth, elixirs and other good things …


On a quiet, dull and boring day, I find it amusing to browse through the deluge of emails that gets dumped into my Inbox each day.

 

And the variety is fascinating.

 

There are mails that come from the extremely generous spouses and progeny of assorted African dictators promising a share of the deceased guy’s ill-gotten loot. I have read about some naïve, stupid and greedy individuals who have been suckered into parting with considerable sums of “facilitation charges” for a share of the promised stash of cash.

 

“Serves them right”, you want to think, as you wonder just how gullible and idiotic some people can be.

 

There are offers of “replica” (read fake) high-end watches (Rolex, Tag Heuer, Omega) and handbags (Louis Vuitton, Versace). Wouldn’t you love to be seen sporting one of those at a fraction of the price of the genuine article, and no one would know?

 

Then, there are offers for those magic potions, little blue pills and other concoctions that promise solutions to erectile dysfunction, build vigour, extend life expectancy, reduce weight, increase weight, and a host of other good-to-haves. Elixirs for semi-immortality.

 

I have just seen a mail from a gentleman (???) who claims he is dying and wants to donate millions of dollars to a charity of the recipient’s choice. Since he cannot carry the moolah to his after-life, he thinks it fit to help others. Most generous of him, is what one would say.

 

And, there are those educationally inclined souls who offer you “genuine” M.B.A,’s, Ph.D.’s and other degrees from seemingly “recognized” schools of learning.

 

Makes you wonder about whether there are people who actually fall for this kind of stuff.

 

I have tried several spam filters, but some of the products of man’s creativity still sneak through. It can be a pain in the neck when you lose important mail while doing a sweep of the mailbox, and you end up cursing technology.

 

But I will persist with checking my email. Hopefully, one of these days, I will receive a genuine mail that informs me that I won a million dollars in a lottery!!!

March 28, 2009 Posted by | About this and that | , | 1 Comment

About birthdays …


They say that the easiest way to remember a close relative’s birthday is to forget it once. You will receive such a shellacking that you are unlikely to ever forget.

 

I have forgotten more birthdays than I remember. And, this has been a sore point for many in the immediate family and beyond.

 

They view my amnesia as a sign of not caring enough, indifference, lack of sensitivity, etc. They are justified in feeling aggrieved, I suppose.

 

It’s not that I don’t try hard to remember. Many are the reminder lists that I have created, but the hard part is remembering just where I have kept that list. And by the time I do, the momentous day has arrived and passed on.

 

And, consequently, there is one more sore relative to contend with.

 

To be sure, I do try and defend myself valiantly.

 

In the olden days, I got away by blaming the postal department and saying that the card I sent has perhaps got lost in transit from Point A to Point B. In today’s context, my suggestion that the congratulatory email might have got lost in the vast expanse of cyberspace invites hoots of derisive laughter.

 

There are moments when I gently remind them that getting older is not necessarily the best of things to celebrate. But, this is viewed with a “have you gone nuts?” kind of response. There are other times when I defend my forgetfulness by saying that I would prefer to wish them on their astro-star birthday (that is invariably later than the Gregorian one). That cuts no ice either.

 

I should, perhaps, invest in one of those remind-me computer programs. Or, learn how to put in reminders on my mobile phone.  

 

Which brings me to the question – why do we celebrate birthdays, anyway?

 

One way of looking at it is to suggest that having arrived thus far, we look forward to the future, a declaration of sorts that we have the potential to reap the benefits of the what the next few/many years have to offer. A delusionary proclamation, perhaps, of our somewhat suspended mortality, if there is such a term.

 

The downside is that as we get older, the concept of diminishing returns kicks in, and it is, therefore, irrational to mark this as a special day.

 

It’s not that I don’t believe in celebrating birthdays. It’s great to remember that one has survived, that one has had the privilege of ticking off yet another year of existence. And, it certainly feels good when others remember, wish you, and give you presents.

 

Ah!! That is one thing about birthdays I like, especially when it is mine!!!

March 27, 2009 Posted by | About this and that | , , | Leave a comment

Gizmo-ed


“How are you? We hope you are keeping well,” wrote my parents some years ago when I moved to a country four thousand miles from home. “I am fine, and doing well,” I replied.

 

It took three weeks for my hand-written letter to reach them. In the intervening period, I had suffered variously from a bout of malaria, a stubbed toe when I banged the limb against the table when waking up to go to the bathroom one night, was at the receiving end of a mouthful from my boss, and almost starved when a local riot shut down the neighbourhood grocers for three days.

 

However, it was fine. We communicated, and that was that.

 

My daughter called some months ago to enquire why I had not replied to her mail. “When did you send it” I asked. “Oh, about ten minutes ago,” she replied. “Ah, let me switch on the computer and check,” I replied, mustering as much dignity as I could while trying hard to avoid sounding like a technological relic from prehistoric times.

 

Life has changed. I no longer travel without my Blackberry and mobile phone. My slim notebook computer sits snugly in my jacket pocket, and I stay at hotels that have Wi-Fi in the room – no point in taking a chance about an email that appears in your laptop that your Blackberry did not pick up. My electric tooth brush is packed in the toilet kit, and the shaver cum moustache trimmer connects nicely to the 110V outlet that the hotel has thoughtfully provided.

 

We have become obsessed with gadgets, and find new toys for even the simplest of jobs. My grandmother used a knife to peel potatoes and chop vegetables. No self-respecting housewife can, today, imagine life without that kitchen food processor with ninety three attachments (the manual for which is totally incomprehensible to all except the most tech-savvy).

 

In the good (??) old days, you waited patiently for a couple of hours after “booking” a “trunk call” to a town thirty kilometers away. Today, a mobile phone that cannot access the internet, show your location on a map, monitor your biorhythm and, perhaps, speak out your horoscope for the day, is considered to be obsolete.

 

LCD panels (we no longer refer to them as televisions), portable DVD players, electronic aids for playing, sleeping, walking, breathing, cooking, eating, or, indeed, relaxing, are necessities.

 

These gadgets have become addictive and, perhaps, in a sense, debilitating.

 

Yet, we love them. Why? Because they are fun; because they give us bragging rights; because the neighbour has one. We regress into childhood. We play out our fantasies.

 

It is not enough that a watch tells the time. It has to tell what time it is in six different time zones. And, there is a work-day watch, and an evening social outing version. We have become obsessed with time, but for other reasons.

 

I knew an elderly friend of my parents who took pride in maintaining a 1950s Buick in gleaming condition, and occasionally took it out of the garage. If you don’t change your three year-old jalopy today, you are considered to be dim.

 

The fact is that obsolescence is built into our psyche and the products that we are fixated on.

 

Prehistoric man crafted bigger and better sticks to fight stronger and dangerous animals. The bigger the stick, the stronger he thought he was. In the natural progression of human evolution, men who make gadgets survive to make more men who make increasingly more complex gadgets.

 

Viewed objectively, we are into that mind-set today.

 

We have become too dependent on gizmos. And, we have become extremely lazy, too.

 

Let me share a secret here. I was exaggerating. I don’t own a Blackberry, my laptop actually weighs three kilograms – leaving me with a permanently lop-sided droop of the shoulder, and the only hotels I can afford to live in have not yet heard about telephones leave alone the internet.

 

But, that is beside the point.

March 26, 2009 Posted by | About this and that | , | Leave a comment

Are they all guilty??


American International Group (AIG) was the world’s 18th largest public company according to the Forbes Global 2000 list, and was the largest insurance company in the U.S. One of the most prominent companies to be affected by the economic meltdown. AIG reported a whopping $61.7 billion loss in the first quarter of 2009.

 

A significant part of the company’s business came out its London office, and about half of the company’s employees work in Asia. The main centre for AIG’s credit-defaults swap business, that nearly doomed the company, was the financial products office in London.

 

The U.S. Government, using public funds, has bailed out the ailing company through infusion of over $ 150 billion and acquisition of almost 80% of its shares.

 

No surprise, then, that there was widespread outrage and indignation when AIG paid out $ 165 million as bonuses to some of its senior executives – 73 of whom got in excess of $ 1 million each.

 

The U.S. Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, has said that AIG would have to pay back the $165 million, as lawmakers debated ways to make the executives pay back the bonuses or face public revelation of the their names.

 

It now appears that some of the senior executives have decided to pay back their bonuses amounting to around $ 50 million, and it is expected that a total of $ 80 million might eventually be returned. But considering that approximately $ 85 million was paid to executives working outside the U.S., a major portion of this amount might not be returned.

 

Viewed in totality, it would appear that paying such fat bonus is a travesty, and makes a mockery of the efforts put in to bail out companies using public funds. However, not all recipients of the bonuses are connected with the devastating meltdown of the financial products business, and, therefore, not guilty of undermining the system.

 

Jake DeSantis, an executive vice president of AIG’s financial products unit has decided to quit, and wrote a detailed letter Edward M. Liddy, the chief executive of company. He has decided to return almost all his post-tax bonus amount. Not to AIG, though.

 

Go to http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/25/opinion/25desantis.html?_r=1 to read this letter – it’s interesting.

 

The financial system worldwide is in such a huge mess. Hard to tell when things will rebound.

 

The sheer greed of some individuals and institutions has caused so much agony for millions of innocents. There are many who feel that companies that acted irresponsibly should be allowed to sink, and not receive bail-outs. That is a narrow view, though. For, this will only erode confidence further, and place untold more millions of people, worldwide, in jeopardy.

 

All we can do is to pray that things turn around … and soon!!!

March 26, 2009 Posted by | About this and that | , , , | 3 Comments

Non-Resident Indian Premier League ???


So, it’s going to be a Non Resident – Indian Premier League.

 

Indian Premier League

 

The IPL was all about City Franchises competing against one another, and the idea was to have local talent on show, with local flavour thrown in. Sure, it was all about cricket, but there was a lot more besides – glamour, glitz, drama, Bollywood, business tycoons, etc.

 

The fact that each Indian “City” team of sixteen players could have eight foreigners was merely a matter of incidental detail.

 

Ok, that’s fair enough. English, and for that matter many European, football clubs are stuffed to the gills with foreign players – Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger once sent out a starting 11 consisting solely of imports.

 

The IPL business model was to provide cricket fans with good, clean, unadulterated fun, with all the excitement of a truncated, and increasingly popular, version of the game. The fans present at the stadia in 2008 lapped it up, eager for an encore. Television watchers enjoyed a game that lasted three hours.

 

Even the critics of the Twenty-20 format condescended to give their grudging acceptance of the IPL as something that was here to stay.

 

Fans, advertisers, broadcasters and media types had a great time. The IPL and the BCCI stocked up their coffers while other less endowed boards watched with considerable envy.

 

And, now, the paradox – the INDIAN Premier League is to be played on foreign shores.

 

Politics has, unfortunately, got rolled into the cricketing batter.

 

The politicos don’t like it and are reacting like children who have had their candy snatched away. The franchisees are relieved that the event will, in fact, take place, fans who would have thronged the cricket grounds are grumbling, and the TV watchers do not care a jot as long as they get to see exciting slam-bang cricket.

 

The IPL and the BCCI would have lost money big-time had this year’s edition been shelved. Postponement was not an option considering the tightly packed international schedule. Hence, they did the sensible thing and decided to move, albeit temporarily. It is going to cost an arm and a leg to do so, and it has been reported that the new hosts are eager to get involved – I’ll bet they are, for there is a big money windfall that has unexpectedly come their way.

 

Moving the event away from home turf will, unquestionably, dilute some of the charm. Sure, a vociferous youngster from Rajauri Gardens, Dadar, Villivakkam, or Behala is likely to lend a more passionate presence as compared to his counterpart from Johannesburg or Durban. That will be a sad loss.

 

However, in the larger scheme of things, it will still be great fun to watch. Would you rather see the event canned?

 

Call it the Non-Resident Indian Premier League, if you please. You will enjoy it nonetheless.

March 25, 2009 Posted by | About this and that, Cricket | , , , | Leave a comment

Feel good …


There are days when you feel really good. Sometimes, you know the reason why; there are times when you don’t.

 

smile1

 

It could be that somebody said or did something nice to you. Or, that you approach some event with trepidation and discover that your apprehensions were unfounded. It could be that you heard some good news, or that you merely had a satisfying meal. An unexpected order, or one of life’s many little surprises, all conspire to bring out a smile.

 

Life can be depressing sometimes, and the rat race does occasionally get to you. Traffic congestion, frayed nerves, stress at work, social expectations, and temper tantrums – they all add up.

 

It is at such times that the “feel good” days enliven you.  This is when you push all your problems momentarily aside and bask in the warmth that these moments provide.

 

You begin to appreciate the perspective of the half-empty or half-full glass.

 

Given a choice, one would opt for the half-full glass any day!!!

 

There is another way of looking at it.

 

If you feel good today, you don’t need to question or wonder why you feel that way, do you?

March 24, 2009 Posted by | About this and that | , , | Leave a comment

Normal service resumes …


i-am-back

March 24, 2009 Posted by | About this and that | Leave a comment

Double standards !!!


A few of Mahatma Gandhi’s long forgotten possessions were to be auctioned in New York. Indians of various hues suddenly woke up and expressed outrage at what they perceived as an insult to Gandhi and the nation.

 

Auctioned Gandhi possessions

Auctioned Gandhi possessions

 

“We will bring them back to India,” proclaimed the netas.

 

And, ironically, the possessions of a man who advocated prohibition were purchased by someone who made his fortune manufacturing alcohol.

 

India celebrated. National dignity and pride had been restored.

 

Vijay Mallya has stated the he plans to display these memorabilia at a prominent place so that people can see them.

 

We now hear, though, that he might be asked to pay import duty to bring the items into the country.

 

Under the norms of the Central Board of Excise and Customs, these items will be categorized as “collections and collectors’ pieces of zoological, botanical, mineralogical, anatomical, historical, archaeological, palaeontological, ethnographic or numismatic interest”.

 

If not waived, the customs duty payable on Gandhi’s items will be INR 1.35 crores on the bid value of $ 1.8 million. Incidentally, Vijay Mallya had purchased Tipu Sultan’s 42-inch sword in 2003, but has kept it outside India since he was asked to pay customs duty on that item, too.

 

Amazing, isn’t it?

 

Conventional wisdom would suggest that these pieces are of Indian origin, hence no customs duty is payable.

 

But, that is hardly the point. If the Gandhi memorabilia were so important and constituted a national treasure, where does the levy of duties come in? Paradoxical, surely.

 

And, where are those netas who beat their chests and screamed about national pride? They seem to have done the disappearing act.

 

It smacks of opportunism, hypocrisy and double standards, if nothing else.

March 22, 2009 Posted by | About this and that | , , , | Leave a comment

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