Tuesday, December 17, 2013

      It Takes a Two wheeler to ‘Bang’alore

Two wheeler deity or Dwichakreshwara
One fine morning if I find a temple built as such on any pavement (where else would you find Gods nowadays?) in Bangalore, I would be least amused, to say the least! A two wheeler is just like an alter ego, or better, an avatar of every Bangalorean! More often than not any art director worth his paint (or an event anchor) would cite Vidhana Soudha as the most common icon of Bangalore. I for one beg to differ. For me it is the two-wheeler.  A two-wheeler is to the Bangaloreans, what a local train is to the Mumbaikars. The Bangaloreans ride on it, pride on it, live on it and sadly, die on it! Nothing, nothing they read, see or feel about global warming seems to have made any dent on their mind-set. It is a prosthetic limb of their anatomy-detachable when one wants! Or unless and until a TW says no to a Bangalorean, he or she just won’t kick it off. It is their better-half. Even for distances a stroll would do, they love to take their TW out. And they never want to lose a chance to curse others for the mess they are in and they too are responsible for! ‘What a traffic’ is the signature tune of every serial TW rider, no matter what the brand is.

Adding to the paradoxes we are quite comfortable with, in modern times, here are these Bangaloreans descending at the entrance of Lalbagh, the sprawling acres and acres of botanical gardens, in the wee hours every morning. Fueled as they are by a noble mission of maintaining their fitness, they prefer to take a morning walk amidst verdant greenery. But how? At what cost? Reaching Lalbagh by a car or a two-wheeler!  They don’t mind polluting rest of the Bangalore, that too in the twilight hours, when the non-walkers can afford to have some ounces of ozone! It never dawns on them that the lesser they ride their two-wheelers or drive their cars, the more the entire Bangalore would be like Lalbhag! That, they add their share of the mess, to the early morning traffic woes of other duty bound workers and employees is a different matter altogether. So, what matters for them, is their health, and not the health of Bangalore! If they are fit, so would be the world, seems to be their dictum. They give no two hoots to issues like automobile pollution etc etc! They are the morning-park- walkers and walking on the road all the way to Lalbhag is infra-dig for them. How about cycling all the way to Lalbhag and back home, in the morning? Any takers?

In a way I too belong to the fraternity of TW owners. Note that I said ‘owners’ and not riders since I am one of the most passive and dispassionate riders in the metro. I ride it not feeling great but feeling victimized by a public transport system that is hopelessly haphazard, inadequate and poor.  I bought and rode it feeling as reluctant as I felt when I met with some minor accidents later, which some of my acquaintances brushed aside as too common, only next to mosquito bites. The day I rode it I realized what it means to ride a tiger. There is something like peer-pressure transforming as wheeler-pressure! You own it, you ride it. It is as simple as that! In the beginning, whenever I used to opt for a walk, glad as I was, relieved of my newly acquired nuisance, people in the know were eager to know whatever had happened to my gaadi! ‘Did you give it for servicing?’ ‘Not working?’ The apparent tone underlying those remarks was just this- ‘why walk when you own a vehicle!’ Never did I know that I was supposed to flaunt it as a status symbol, admittedly a very negligible one at that, yet a symbol it is, and why walk like the ordinary when it symbolizes one’s transition from the fraternity of mere walkers to that of riders.

 In Bangalore a mere walker is the one for whom the city roads are just the despicable manifestation of our legendary bureaucracy, chronic corruption  and a civic sense that is abysmally low,  whereas a rider is the one who invariably has a brush with the roads to the hell per se! An almost dysfunctional or chaotic public transport system forces a middle class Bangalorean to beg, borrow or steal a two-wheeler to survive in the cut-throat competition and then only he or she realizes that an even more daunting task is ahead. The roads! A day may come when India finds cure for AIDS but not for its roads! It is a curse. It is a karma we stoically endure. On several occasions the auto drivers in Bangalore have stayed off the roads citing a number of reasons for their action. Bad roads have never been one of them. The very auto-drivers plunge into a brawl with the passengers at the drop of a hat-as if the passengers are to blame for all their woes. But the roads are like Gods! May be Shani (Saturn) took the avatar of roads in India in Kaliyuga it seems. So they can’t confront the roads face to face! When an organized lot like autowaallas do not raise the banner of revolt against the system responsible for bad roads where is the question of the poor two-wheeler riders doing it? Hence caught in the vortex are the TW riders in the most happening city. It lives up to its sobriquet The Silicon (Valley) City of India, like a tee! Come monsoon, with the riders, drivers and a few divers negotiating on the puddles of water across the valleys one passes for roads, the city gets a new tag line ‘the adventure sport-lovers’ delight’!        

Still I feel I owe a lot to my two-wheeler for all those defining moments it blessed me with. How elated I felt amidst a traffic snarl, to join the club of an enlightened few, who know what Einstein meant by his ‘space-time continuum’. Amidst traffic that negates its very dictionary meaning, keeping my fingers crossed and just whiling away, realizing that when nothing moves, time too just follows suit! Or watching some two-wheelers slithering towards the side ways, it dawned on me what Edward De Bono means when he explains parallel thinking et al. How amusing! The very two-wheelers that rule the roads simply do not mind getting edged out to the margins as cleverly in a traffic snarl!
Most of the two-wheeler riders in Namma Bengaluru break-traffic rules in gay abandon. They go footloose on footpaths. Like classic cases of colour-blindness, they jump red-signals. They do away with one ways and the stunts they practice on roads may give a run to the stunt masters of Bond flicks! Road, for them, is a level playing field. For every notorious ‘killer BMTC (city bus)’ on the prowl, there are at least a dozen two-wheeler riders on a ‘suicide mission’. So the combination is as deadly! Some even lay down their lives to set an example for other dare-devils. ‘Ride carefully, lest others who follow me would do so to the grave’-seems to be the epitaph they deserve or desire to have.

Even the rule, making helmets compulsory, has miserably failed to act as a deterrent. Some sport their bare-heads in bold display of their defiance. Some sling it from their arms, some place them snuggly in the rear…one finds them everywhere except where they are supposed to be, as if to drive away some evil spirits like practicing some voodoo! Most curse the albatross. But ride, they will! Some subscribe to the theory that helmets lead to hair-loss. So they are ready to place hair over head, literally! Head injury is fine whereas bald-head injury is a strict no-no for them! For a generation that swears by the slogan ‘no mobile, no way’, ignoring a mobile call or SMS alert is out of question-even if it is actually Yama ( God of Death) himself calling. Since it is quite irritating to take a call with helmet on, they simply keep the helmet anywhere in the two-wheeler so as to wear it the moment they spot a traffic police. So a helmet placed somewhere in the two-wheeler saves them from the traffic police at least.
The mess, soberly termed as traffic just hit to a new low with the mobile menace. As if holding an advanced license to do some aerobics, one finds some high performing riders calling on their mobiles, fiercely gesturing, gyrating, fuming…some even skillfully texting…leaving one wondering what they would have done over ten years ago when mobiles were not around!    

On Bangalore roads another strange phenomenon one encounters is the luggage two-wheelers  carry every day. The size of the two-wheeler is inversely proportional to the luggage it is burdened with! For many, it is their life-line indeed! From the mobile tea-vendors to the distributors of cigarettes, chips and other crunchy eatables the two-stroke two-wheelers are simply gifts of God! The low-priced vehicle is a boon many an entrepreneur who toils on the roads.
When not carrying luggage, one finds these two-wheelers carrying an entire family against which the luggage they carry is quite negligible in size. Happy lots! Whoever doubts the saying ‘money can’t buy happiness’ have not seen them at all.  

    And there are others waiting in the wings to add their share to this tragedy of errors. If it is not the never-ending works by the Namma Metro, who have arrogated to themselves the right to finish the ‘work’ done by the BBMP, that is, damaging the roads already in shambles, there are the other big ‘Bs’ like BWWSSB, BESCOM etc etc who get some vicarious pleasure in digging a newly asphalted road overnight to spring an unpleasant surprise to the riders. One fine morning one is greeted with board on the road displaying the message ‘Work in progress- take diversion’.
Grinning and bearing it the rider takes a diversion not knowing where he is heading! Only to find the conspicuously missing traffic police appear at the other end, demanding money from the rider for enlightening one about the fact that the street is actually a one-way!

  The total number of two-wheelers registered in Bangalore has reached a mind-boggling 24.13 lakh.  (as revealed by the RTO, to ‘ Deccan Herald’ reported on the 24th of November 2013) According to ‘The Times of India,’ the Primary Abstract of the Census of India 2011, released on Thursday, puts the city's population at 96,21,551 — a growth of 47.18% during 2001-2011. Supposing some 3,80,000 were added from 2011to 2013 (by births to migration) we are today a formidable 1crore. On a rough estimate, every 5th Bangalorean owns a two-wheeler.“On an average, 353 new cars and 1372 new bikes joined the city’s slow-moving traffic every day in 2016, taking the total number of vehicles to 66.65 lakhs”- Chiranjeevi Kulkarni ( Deccan Herald 23-02-2017)

Let’s see how it is in Mumbai, the commercial capital of India. Referring to the Times’ website, we come to know that in the present financial year, the two-wheeler population has crossed 12 lakh and is expected to touch 12.33 lakh by March-end. It is half of that in Bangalore.
Now, what is Mumbai’s population? It is the most populous city in India and the fourth most populous city in the world, with a total metropolitan population of approximately 20.5 million –(as put in Wikipedia) . So in Mumbai there are around 12 lakh two-wheelers for about 2.5 crore people. On a rough estimate, every 21st Mumbaikar owns a two-wheeler. I am no statistician. So my estimates might have gone a tad bit wrong. Point  taken. But just comparing the figures, one can surmise that there’s something puzzling about the concentration of two-wheelers found in Bangalore vis-à-vis that in Mumbai.
The needle of suspicion points to the poor public transport system. ‘They have local trains you know, what do we have? Once metro gets done…’ would be a standard retort of every Bangalorean.
Deep down there’s an even more serious melody pointing to our attitude. Our attitude of finding quick fix, individualistic  solutions for civic issues. Mosquito menace? Try coils or repellents and start worrying about their side-effects. No power? Buy a UPS or a generator! So if the public transport leaves much to be desired, desire for a two-wheeler! As far as I know and to the best of my knowledge, Bangalore had never witnessed any mass agitation demanding a better mass rapid public transportation- make no mistakes about that! Metro was actor and visionary Late Shankar Nag’s dream anyway, not of the masses!

The middle class feel like trishanku in Hindu mythology, that is, a situation like ‘neither here nor there’. One runs short of money, yet keeps chasing pipe-dreams. Balancing act is all that’s there to life and that is how the middle class ride the task-balancing between the fantasies and realities. Advaitha (simply means ‘no-two’) as a philosophy is good, good for books, discourses and sermons. We, the people of Bangalore, go by the ‘dvaitha’ (‘two’-wheeler) philosophy. If that reminds someone about ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ well, more about that, next time. ‘Happy riding’, till we meet again.         

Thursday, May 16, 2013

                           Bees (+ a few) Saal Pehley

Not all generations are lucky enough to view the future Chief Ministers of their neighboring States on the silver screens. Makkal Thilakam M G Ramachandran and Puratchi Thalaivi Jayalalitha,  the inseparable duo of Tamil tinsel world of the 60s and 70s,
Devudu ( the God) Nandamoori Tharaka Rama Rao (NT Rama Rao, Lord Krishna’s celluloid avatar)…I had the privilege of seeing them all, even when I was a child in my home-town Kasaragod, both  a cultural melting pot and a communal tinder box! I mean, I was familiar with their acting talents even before they extended the same into the political arena!
Kasaragod, culturally a victim of the dualism between Kannada and Malayalam, saw Tamil winning as a dark horse, in the early seventies. Of course, the fledgling Kannada and Malayalam film industry also contributed to this state of affairs. MGR-Jayalalitha starrer ‘Adimai Penn’ was a ‘Sholay’ those days and I remember my brother telling us with his eyes and mouth wide open in awe that some people had seen it thirty times. While Tamil films were our staple diet, once in a while, we were served with a Hindi, Kannada or Malayalam movie too! Whiffs of a different air!

As is the case with most fellow Indians, our schooling in languages began at the cinema theatres! Not a single evening passed without the blaring of ‘Japan, love in Tokyo’ by Mohammed Rafi, by a nearby theatre’s mike. The same theatrewaala had devised a novel strategy to herald the arrival of a new movie in his theatre almost every week. A bullock cart displaying  shabby posters of the movie pasted on both sides of its top would be paraded, led by the beating of a drum, on the thoroughfares of the town. One of the ushers of the theatre doubled as the theatre’s  advertiser in charge! He would be holding the hand bills (notices, in our parlance) of the movie running there, literally close to his chest! He would fire us, the kids, who ran after him, lured as we were, by those notices we would get absolutely free! For us he was the Pied Piper, undeterred by whose standard retort ‘What is it for? To lick sugar?’ we would pester him for those notices which carried half the synopsis of the movie (as if it were a new one every time !) the paper quality of which, in reality, was  not a match for C grade tissue papers. Thanga Padakam (means Gold Medal in Tamil, a Shivaji Ganeshan starrer, re-made as Shakti in Hindi), Kudiyirundha Koyil, Naan (a Shaan of those days, skin-headed villain Ashokan hiding in a Bond-villain-like- den,), Vasantha Maligai ( a Shivaji starrer, remade as Premnagar in Hindi which we were to see in the same theatre later), Prem Pujari, Mera Nam Joker, Haathi Mere Saathi, Upkar…to name only a few! Of all the Kannada movies I saw in Kasaragod those days, I remember only ‘Mayor Muththanna’ and ‘Karulina Kare’, both Rajkumar hits.

Our voracious appetite for the celluloid spared not even a tent talkies lurking on the outskirts of Kasaragod! We walked all the way to the tent to watch ‘Bombay to Goa’, unmindful of the strain of walking which the excitement took the better off! Yes, excited, because the actual hero of the movie was its villain, Shatrughan Sinha and his dialogues were already on our lips-thanks to the commercials and radio programmes aired those days in Radio Ceylon  and Vividh Bharati. Of course we were courteous enough to know who the hero was! To our casual enquiry, our elder brother replied “some Amitabh Bachchan!” in an ‘it- does-not-matter’ tone. He was right. It did not matter! And we took the small B for a Navin Nishchal, by some other name! Little did we know that we were witnessing a part of  Bollywood’s greatest history in the making- one of Big B’s unsuccessful attempts to find a foothold in the Bollywood. ( It is a different matter that we became his biggest fans even before we saw ‘Deewar’ and he was, for us, Shatrughan Sinha zoomed, amplified and in multiple avatars)

Back to the tent talkies! To support its thatched roof the tent had a few wooden pillars here and there inside which obstructed the screen. Means, some seats in the tent had pillars censoring the movie. So the viewers who came late, resigned to their fate and sat in those seats. Remember, no seat numbers and hence no unsettling claims. Since consumer courts were never heard of those days, such viewers would only curse their karma and put up with their fate-never demanding half of the ticket fare for ending up watching only a half of the movie!
 Interval over, the theatre of the absurd would be staged among the viewers as if to entertain the ‘pillar viewers’. In a situation where there are no seat numbers and some seats are behind pillars, the inevitable would happen. Those who forgot to place a hand-kerchief on their seats ( having no pillar in front) while going out during interval would find, to their chagrin, their seats usurped by someone else ( obviously the ones sitting behind a pillars before interval ). So a sort of class-struggle would ensue between those ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. Let alone reality shows, even TV was not in vogue in India those days. Means, these scuffles were free-entertainments (reality shows, that is) for other viewers (apart from the bed-bugs viewers carried home free). Charged as they were, watching their matinee-idol thrashing a dozen goons single-handed, the distraught would go to any length to get back their priceless seats! The chairs, already rickety ones, would prove ‘Weapons of Class Destruction’ in their hands. Like the UN, the management would intervene only at that stage knowing very well that whoever wins the war, it was the theatre owner who would bear the brunt! Those fighters for seats were in fact fit to be our rulers. I mean the MLAs and MPs who often settle their scores in the assemblies and parliaments using the mikes, paper-weights or whatever they can lay their hands on, as Weapons of Democracy’s Destruction!

Chaos apart, there was something about the tent that made itself etched in my memory. The movies it screened. ‘Minchina Ota’ a Kannada classic directed by the Late Shankar Nag, a movie several years ahead of its times, Balu Mahendra’s  ‘Azhiyaadha Kolangal’ starring Kamala Haasan and Prathap Pothen, reminiscing their childhood spent in their non-descript native, on hearing about the demise of their teacher who was their first-love…the teacher was Shobha, an Urvashi-award-winner, who was to marry Balu Mahendra later, only to end her life leaving the genius of a director shattered! He shot into national-fame with his ‘Moondraam Pirai’ remade as ‘Sadma’in Hindi.
Raja Paarvai was another classic Tamil film featuring Kamala Haasan in the role of a blind-man.
In the same tent we saw several B&W flicks with Kamal, Rajanikanth and Sridevi in the lead-roles, as newcomers or budding stars!
Be that as it may, we never felt they were new comers! We all became their instant fans. Sridevi, with her Pinocchio-like nose (before she underwent plastic surgery), Rajanikanth at his best in Balachander’s flicks and as villain in others. ‘Moondru Mudichu’ was one such film in which Kamal Haasan is the hero, Sridevi the heroine and Rajanikanth a villain! If you remove posters one by one on the wall of time, you would be amused to find Rajanikanth, Mohanlal and Late Prabhakar in Sandalwood, all transforming from heroes to villains!
This is only some of the vignettes I picked from the treasure-trove of my memories of my tryst with India’s tinsel world. That too dating back to my childhood days only! If I write about all the films per se, it might run into another article or may be a book!                   

Friday, April 5, 2013

The news ‘In top league: 12-year-old British girl has higher IQ than Einstein’ published on the front page of ‘Deccan Herald’ dated 05-10-2012 came as a shock to me because the image of the genius I have carried so far is just the opposite. A brooding philosopher in the garb of a mere scientist, not in a haste to prove to the world how intelligent he was but always curious about the phenomena in the universe which others took for granted. His passion lied in unravelling the mysteries of the universe, not in achieving academic excellence.  According to his biographers he was not very good in studies and he always regretted his average memory power. Moreover there is nothing on record to say that his IQ was 160. It is all hunch and done posthumously. It is a pity that Einstein is always equated with the so called ‘bright students’ who are good in mugging up, matching a set of questions to a set of answers (so, go by the guide, never read the text book!) and who master the art of excelling in exams! His was not an intelligence which the simple IQ tests can reveal so easily. To assess the intelligence of Einstein, the world needed another one, who could device a novel testing method! Unfortunately, like the speed of light, Einstein’s intelligence seems to be the limit of human intellect!
For your reference I have cut and pasted content from the website www.einstein-website.de which reads as follows:
As far as we know today, Albert Einstein has never done any IQ test. Thus his IQ is unknown!
In the 20ies scientists had tried to estimate the IQ of deceased personalities such as Mozart (1756-1791) and Goethe (1749-1832) by means of biographic data; thus they wanted to estimate Albert Einstein’s IQ, too. The value estimated for Einstein was between 160 and 180. But this rough estimation can not count as Einstein’s IQ!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

                                            Chocolate Diaries

From dad to dad, the mode of expressing one’s love for one’s children varies a lot. Some  explicit, some implicit. For some it is a routine to carry home chocolates whereas some are at pains to prevent their children from such indulgences. Gandhism, Nihilism, Narcissism, Buddhism, buddu-ism  all come into play in those daily family dramas. Less sinful are the hands of parents going home empty handed whereas more tearful are the eyes of their kids. Those who offer chocolates and other junk food as staple diet feel relieved of their guilt for a moment as the faces of their kids glow in joy. Happiness is a great leveller. For one, I stand on the middle of the road. I do buy chocolates for my son but not too often. Whenever I offer him one, I bend before him pleading for my alms. “Please spare a square for your dad” I cry. In doing so I am hopeful of reducing the ill-effects chocolates would have on him and hence assuage the guilt I feel for having spoilt his health! Any way it leaves no bitter taste-this act of sharing the spoils! Only that my concern for his health grows in proportion to the quality of chocolates he bites. If it is the mouth-watering Swiss ones- I am almost restless with my concern for his health at its peak! And my wife looks the other way. Recently my health mission received a shot in the arm. It came in the form of a news report which claimed dark chocolates are good for health, according to a recent research. Good for heart ailment and hypertension, to be precise. Though I have none of these ailments, why not take daily doses of the health shots? Isn’t prevention better than cure? Enlightened and hence emboldened, I upped my health mission so much so that my home almost began to witness a reversal of roles! I was audacious enough to swallow dark chocolates in my son’s full view, ignoring his histrionics. I know that he being what he is, his dad’s son, chances of his standing on his own feet until he reaches his middle age are very remote and hence my longevity has a vital bearing on his well being  and hence I was not being selfish when I was devouring dark chocolates as antidotes against my aging. But could I ever convince him about these facts? Little did I know that my grandiose plans for enhancing my longevity were so short-lived! Close on the heels of sweet news about chocolates, came a dampener. This time another team of researchers (may their tribe decrease) had a word of caution for health freaks such as myself passing dark chocolates for manna. According to ‘Lancet’, a leading medical journal, the reports hailing the health benefits of dark chocolates should be taken with a pinch of salt. For it is  not the dark chocolates per se that are good for heart diseases and high blood pressure but ‘ flavanoid’ instead, supposed to be there in it as its ingredient. Pity, most chocolate makers remove it from dark chocolates due to its bitter taste, says the report. So I was back to square one, literally eating my humble pie…the squares of chocolates doled out by my munificent son. That left me wondering why truth tastes so bitter, notwithstanding Robert Browning’s take on it!