Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Ayodhya Verdict

There are many absurdities that have piled up in the years since the Ayodhya cases began to be heard decades ago, so it is hardly surprising the verdict is itself a hodgepodge.
I am particularly taken by Justice Dharam Veer Sharma's summation of the matter.
The way I see it, there are four issues that can be enumerated in descending order of certitude:
1) We can be absolutely sure a mosque existed at the spot for centuries.
2) We can be fairly certain the mosque was built on the order of Emperor Babur's general Mir Baqi around 1528.
3) We have strongly divided views on whether the mosque was built after demolishing a temple.
4) We have no way at all of proving the spot is the birthplace of Lord Rama. What archeological evidence we have suggests that the present site of Ayodhya was not settled at the time when Rama is supposed to have been born.

In Justice Sharma's 'issues for briefing' the order of certitude I have outlined is reversed. In his view:

1) The disputed site is the birthplace of Lord Ram.
2) The mosque on it was constructed after demolishing a temple.
3) The year of the mosque's construction is uncertain (the verdict says the plaintiffs have failed to prove it was built by Mir Baqi or Babur).
4) It cannot be treated as a mosque at all, since it "came into existence against the tenets of Islam".

I feel I've travelled through the looking glass.

And now, onto the Supreme Court, and a few more years of the same arguments.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why we make such terrible films

The opening show of Complicite’s A Disappearing Number, based on the life of Srinivasa Ramanujan, brought plenty of North Bombay celebs to Nariman Point. In the lobby of the Jamshed Bhabha auditorium afterward, I heard a veteran film star loudly complain that the play was as incomprehensible as Ramanujan’s mathematics. The problem, I was tempted to tell her, was not with the production but with her movies, whose intellectual range stretched all the way from infantile to juvenile. A diet of Bollywood pap creates an incapacity to chew and digest more substantial matter.

The rest of my article on the subject of movie quality, published in the current issue of Time Out, can be read here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Recipe for Famine

My Yahoo! column on free enterprise and food security can be read here.

The image is of a 1944 drawing from Chittaprosad's Famine series. The work was featured in Saffronart's December 2001 auction, and is reproduced without permission.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Indigo wigs out

A month ago, I posted about my favourite budget airline Indigo's new look. I wrote about the short bobs all the flight attendants were sporting: When it works, it looks great in a chic French way. When things go wrong, the hair seems wig-like..."

It now seems the hair looked like a wig because it WAS a wig. A number of flight attendants didn't want to cut thier tresses, and were given the wig option. Now, in a further relaxation of rules, Indigo is allowing long hair to be pinned up neatly. I knew that would happen sooner or later. My final comment in that previous post was: "I wonder how long it will be before a very Indian combination of laziness, love of long hair and hatred of regimentation leads flight attendants to protest the airline's extended uniform." Not long at all it turns out; the uniformity lasted all of one month.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bulbs and ovens

About two years ago, we began switching all our bulbs to CFL. Everytime a bulb popped, we'd replace it with one considered more environmentally friendly. Today, the first CFL bulb flickered and died. Two years seems like a pretty good run, but considering these lights are seven times the price of normal ones, I doubt if it makes economic sense to use them.
Having said that, I was very annoyed by the frequency with which the standard bulbs had begun to blow. I thought there was an issue with the wiring, which is why the CFL test was important; it proved it was the bulbs and not the wires that were dodgy.
Did light bulbs always die so early? Or are they just not making them as well as they used to? There are just so many products now that seem built to malfunction in short order: printers, DVD players, washing machines, not to mention small things like faucets. Then there are services that keep breaking down: satellite TV, broadband, stuff like that. There seems always something in the house that isn't working the way it should do.
I suppose I shouldn't be nostalgic about the old days; partly because one simply didn't notice things going wrong when one was a child, since that was someone else's responsibility; partly because there were far fewer appliances in homes, and that's not a state to which I wish to return; and partly because government services were poor enough to leave indelible memories: telephones that went dead at crucial times, gas cylinders that didn't arrive for weeks after they were ordered.
There are, however, some products that force one to exclaim, "They just don't build them like that any more". My favourite is the Belling oven. Tens of thousands of Indians travelled to England after independence, and every single one of them returned with a Belling.

One sees them in a number of homes fifty or sixty years later, still working, though perhaps not as efficiently as they did when brand new. Our Belling was replaced by a BPL Sanyo over a decade ago, but sits in a corner of the kitchen, used to brown pie crusts which don't acquire the perfect colour in the newer machine; and for simple tasks like grilling cheese toast.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Tata Sky saga continues

Around August 15, I made a complaint saying certain channels like CNN and BBC were no longer playing on my Tata Sky connection. I was told there were some issues with these channels, things would be sorted out in a day or two. A few days later I called to ask when things would be sorted out. The person speaking to me had never heard of BBC and CNN. Eventually, he took a complaint of a general nature. There was no follow up from Tata Sky.
Five days later I called to complain once more. This time, I was given an assurance of action within 72 hours. About 72 hours later, a man appeared, examined the cables, said they were full of water and would need to be replaced. He promised to come the next day. He disappeared.
Four days later, I called TataSky again, asking why the cable guy hadn't returned. My problem would be addressed in 72 hours, I was assured. 72 hours later, a different repairer arrived. I wasn't in Bombay at the time. He did some work for half an hour and left. When I returned, I found one of the two TV sets in the home working fine, while the other had no signal at all.
So I called Tata Sky again. They promised to send a man. Nobody arrived. I called again and spoke to a senior. She apologised and said she would check about why nobody had come. An hour later a woman called from the local office, saying the delay was because of the auto rickshaw strike. The man would definitely come the next morning.
He finally arrived at 4pm yesterday. He looked at the cables, said they were full of water and needed replacing. I said that's what the first guy had said. He didn't have the cable with him, so he'd definitely come the next day to do the job. I said that's what the first guy had said.
I'm waiting to see if the latest promise is kept.

Update, Friday September 10: Three more days of the same old thing. The man didn't return, I have spoken to three more Tata Sky executives and three more of their seniors, all of whom promised to tackle the problem immediately.
Finally, the engineer who had last visited my house called, only to say he was having trouble procuring cable and would therefore not be able to help.
Right now, the Tata Sky customer service number I've been calling for three weeks, 18604256633, seems not to be functional. I get an MTNL woman on the line saying the number does not exist.

Monday, September 6, 2010

No Free Lunch

My column on the food crisis, up today on Yahoo! India, can be read here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Went to Bangalore for a day. Flew Spice Jet, which was a mistake. I was told of a fifteen minute delay at check-in; we were cooped up in a bus for ten minutes without air conditioning or ventilation before being permitted to board; once aboard the captain extended the total delay time to an hour. After saying we'd be on the ground for another 40 minutes, he ended with, "Enjoy the flight".
The passengers in the back half of the airplane were headed to Calcutta. Why would anybody fly Bombay - Bangalore - Calcutta? Because it's a cheap fare, I guess. The Bangalore leg, though, was far from cheap. In fact, it was the most expensive flight that morning. The only one departing between 6.30 and 8 in the morning, unfortunately.
Bangalore's newish airport is about 50 kilometers from the city. My taxi's meter said 630 rupees at the end of the ride. That's a record for any trip I've taken in a taxi in India.
I wanted to try out a good new restaurant, but was forced by the delay to grab a meal at Cafe Y, the eatery closest to my destination. I'd heard about it, a hip place for youngsters to hang out, apparently.
The room was dark and warm when I entered. The only electrical appliances working were two light bulbs and two ceiling fans.
"No power, sir", the waiter smiled.
I chose to sit outside breathing diesel fumes from the generator.
Sorry sir, no power.
Soup and garlic bread?
Sorry sir, no garlic bread, no power.
I settled for two dishes that could be prepared without recourse to an oven, toaster or microwave: seafood chowder and a plate of potato disks. I ate them feeling happy about the facilities in my home town. They haven't turned the lights out yet, that's one thing we can hold on to in Bombay.