Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top Five of 2008

Ending the year on a high- Five things from 2008 that we would love to remember:

1. IPL

The Indian Premier League (IPL) totally changed the way cricket was played, and viewed. Short and exciting Twenty20 format providing the adrenaline-rush, cheerleaders, and Bollywood beauties adding the glamour quotient and real big money on offer made sure the entire nation was hooked on to it till late nights. And it was total paisa-vasool stuff. Who can forget Harbhajan-Sreesanth slap-show and Preity Zinta's jadoo-ki-jhappi antics working wonders for her team! By the way, just for the record, Shane Warne's One-man-army Rajasthan Royals won.

2. Chandrayaan

India aimed for the moon (quite literally) and got there too, with absolute precision. No technical glitches, no reschedulings, just clinically perfect flight taking the Indian Tricolor (and a dozen scientific equipments too) to the Moon marked a begining of new era- India had joined the elite club of just five nations to have undertaken a successful moon mission. Hats off to ISRO!

3. Tata Nano

Agreed the first car is not yet out on the road, but Tata kickstarted the project that aims to give the Indian aam-aadmi a gaadi of their own- the Rs 1 Lakh Tata Nano. After hitting a major roadblock in the form of Mamta Banerjee in Singur, Tata took the smart decision of shifting lock, stock and barrel to Sanand in Gujarat rather than giving up the project.

4. Olympic Gold

After decades of wait, India finally managed an Olympic Gold Medal when Abhinav Bindra shot his way to the podium in Beijing. This also happened to be the most successful Olympics for India with the boxers bringing in bronze medals as well. Ofcourse the shameful dressing goof-up at the Opening Ceremony was forgotten after this!

5. The Common Man Awakens

The most memorable event of 2008 is definitely the Common Man of India waking up from indifference and taking a stand for his rights. Be it the simple Right to Information Act, inspiration from A Wednesday or the collective anger and frustration post 26/11, the citizens of India have sent across a strong message to the neta-log: Enough is Enough!

Let's hope the flame keeps burning in 2009 bringing about a positive change in our lives!

Wishing everyone a safe, happy and prosperous New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Light at the End of Tunnel

Genre: Travel

I get into an elevator that takes me to a huge concourse below. I get my token and swipe it against the sensor. The gate opens and allows me in. I take the escalator further down. Once there, within a minute, a four-coach train quietly enters from one of the tunnels and comes to a smooth halt. The automatic glass doors open and I enter the air-conditioned coach. Within half a minute, the doors close and we speed off into the darkness of the tunnel.

Seems straight from a sci-fi Hollywood movie? It is not. Welcome to Delhi Metro!

Clean, convenient, cheap, classy- just some of the adjectives that can describe this modern day wonder that has totally changed the way Delhi travels. And how! Ask any old-time Delhi-ite how much time, money and effort would it take a tourist new to the city to go from Akshardham near Indraprastha to Chandni Chowk at the other end of the city in the evening hours and he would be flooded with images of rickshaw-drivers trying to fish out exorbitant fares, shabby Blueline buses prowling across the streets like roadside monsters, red-light wielding neta-log holding the traffic to ransom at will, bumper-to-bumper traffic spewing out noxious fumes and finally he would just suggest that the tourist gives up this plan and go somewhere else. But not anymore. This is what I did- board the Metro from Indraprastha, cruise over Pragati Maidan on the elevated tracks, alight at Rajiv Chowk underground, take the connecting service headed to Vishwavidyalaya from another Metro line running right below the earlier one and intersecting it, alight at Chandni Chowk station, take the escalator up and bingo! I was right in the middle of the bustling bazaar in 20 minutes flat! That too in air-conditioned comfort for a meagre Rs 17!

Delhi Metro has not only made travelling easier but also brought about a paradigm shift in the general behaviour of the travelling junta. At Rajiv Chowk (which is nothing but the famous Connaught Place renamed to satisfy some political bigwigs) station, I found dozens of passengers standing calmly in queues in front of markings on the platform showing the location of every door of every coach of the Metro train, waiting for their turn to board after the alighting passengers have made their way out. A bigger pleasant shock awaited at Chandni Chowk where no less than five hundred office-goers were waiting in a single serpentine queue extending from the underground concourse, up the stairs, right upto road level, for their turn to swipe their Smart Cards and enter the Metro. No line-breaking, no shouting, no nagging!

These scenes brought out an interesting question- can this happen in Mumbai? And my answer is- Highly unlikely! There are reasons why I feel so-

Firstly the amount of crowds that Mumbai Metro will have to deal with (the day it comes into existence) is far more and densely concentrated compared to Delhi. While Delhi is spread out in all directions and as a result the population is spread out, Mumbai is a narrow strip of land with all businesses tucked away down south. As a result, almost the entire traffic will be jostling on the all-important north-south corridor virtually choking up Churchgate and CST Metro stations, if ever they are made that is. Also worth noting is the fact that Mumbai is a city that never sleeps. So while at Chawri Bazar, I found my Metro train stopping with not a single passenger alighting and boarding at 9:45pm, I do not see this happening at ANY Mumbai Metro station at any time of the day!

The second (probably amusing to outsiders) reason that may be detrimental to Mumbai Metro emulating the Delhi model is the fact that Mumbaikars are born restless. They are used to jumping into trains even before it can stop, grabbing seats in seconds and jumping off the locals at their destinations the moment the train enters the platform. In fact, I myself got frustrated on my first Metro journey when the train came to a halt at New Delhi Metro station and for five seconds the doors did not open, even wondering "Why is the bloody door not opening?" only to realise that this is the norm on the Metro!

A third, and possibly trivial reason why Mumbai Metro may never reach the standards set by Delhi Metro is the fact that while Delhi Metro runs on state-of-the-art trains from Bombardier, Germany, Mumbai Metro is to run with cheap Made in China coaches. The notoriety of both- Chinese products and Reliance makes me skeptical, though I would love to see Ambanibhai proving me wrong!

It is said that strict policing on Delhi Metro has brought about this remarkable change in passenger behaviour there. I so much hope the same happens in Mumbai too, though it seems too much to ask for. But there is hope. I am banking on only one factor- If junglee Delhi can do it, why can't my Mumbai?

: The photos (from Top to Bottom) show 1) Underground concourse of New Delhi Metro Station, 2) A Metro train going towards Central Secretariat on the 'Red Line' enters New Delhi, 3) Interiors of a Delhi Metro train running from Indraprastha to Dwarka on the 'Blue Line', 4) A 'Yellow Line' train speeds off from Chandni Chowk station.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shame on You, Delhi!

Genre: Current Affairs

Just when I was thinking that India is united in grief after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, I happened to visit North India for a week and got a taste of the Delhi reaction to Mumbai attacks.

Sample these-

Hindustan Times, Delhi. 10th Dec. 2008. Page 8. Letters to the Editor.
* Mumbai is over-reacting to this incident. The kind of reaction seen in the past week are childish and immature.

* Starting non-cooperation movement against the Government is not the right thing to do. It is wrong to blame the Government for the attacks.

* How can the citizens of Mumbai say that they will not pay taxes? Why don't they realize that this will only hamper the development of other parts of India?

Yeah, without the money from Mumbai, how will the development of Delhi take place? No wonder these guys are worried!

Hindustan Times, Delhi. 13th Dec 2008. Page 8. Dialogue.
"Hey, the people of Mumbai organised a human chain to show their unity against terrorists. What a great thing to do!"

"Yeah, I read about it. I thought it was some sort of gay rights parade."

Yes, this is the chauvinist Delhi. Taking out candle light march at India Gate to get justice for Jessica Lal is fine but Mumbai getting united against terror is compared with gay rights parade.

Shame on you, Delhi!

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Scare

Genre: Life

As I took the 4:52 Churchgate Fast from Malad, I found that everyone around me was headed to the same destination that I was- Gateway of India. The occasion was to assemle at Gateway at 6:00 to show solidarity to the victims of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and raise a united voice against the incompetent government and from the response in the train itself I could sense the magnitude of the event.

I got down at Dadar from where my friend Jessica was to accompany me to CST- one of the sites of attack, before heading to Gateway. However, at the last minute I was informed that my classmates Alice, Jennifer and her friend Rosa were also joining in and we had to wait at Dadar itself for everyone to assemble. We waited, first for Jessica who arrived as late as 6:00 and then for Rosa who met us only at 6:15.

The 6:21 CST Fast arrived at Dadar almost totally empty and I asked the girls to accompany me but they insisted on travelling by the Ladies compartment. Alone in the General compartment, I was enjoying the evening breeze standing at the door when my phone first rang just as the train departed from Byculla. Mom called in to inform that two bombs had been recovered from CST station and were defused by the Bomb Squad just minutes back. Immediately I took the decision to abort the Gateway plan and return home as soon as possible. But that was not my only concern. There were four girls with me and I had to ensure their safety as much as mine. Without a second thought, I called up Jessica- the most understanding among the present and informed her about the turn of events and our further plans and hung up hoping that she would deal with the other girls.

Just as our train halted outside Sandhurst Road due to a red signal, Jessica called up frantically informing me that the girls were getting panicky and even thinking of stopping the train midway. I don't know how that would have helped but girls being girls, you don't confront them on logic in times of crisis! Thankfully better sense prevailed and the train was allowed to pull into CST on time. I had informed the girls to vacate the Ladies compartment and rush back to the General compartment where I was waiting and they obliged. Our plan was to stay put in the same train and return to Dadar. The train started its return journey in five minutes as 6:43 Titwala Fast and the regulars sensing the tension on the girls' faces suggested that we get down at Byculla itself as alighting at Dadar in an evening peak hour Titwala Fast would be a Herculean task.

As the train pulled into Byculla, we hurriedly got off and the girls, led by Jessica and Alice ran out of the station premises on the west side. Byculla West is not an area anyone of us is familiar with and hence I suggested going to the East instead from where we could get buses to Dadar. But the girls, fearing getting caught ticketless on the Foot Overbridge, objected. After ten minutes of deliberations, I enquired with the policemen at the station who, considering the situation at hand, allowed us to cross the railway bridge without tickets and go to the East side.

Once on the highway, it was time for second round of deliberations. Jessica did not want to take a train ahead because she feared Dadar station might be bombed anytime. Alice was also against train travel, not due to bomb scare but because she believed she would not be able to alight at Dadar in the crowd. Jennifer was adamant we take the train and was willing to take up the responsibilty of making the girls safely alight at Dadar. Rosa, a stranger amongst us, watched the spectacle quietly, willing to take the route decided by majority.

This was proving to be quite an experience in disaster management! Finally it was decided, though not unanimously, to go back to the station and take the train to Dadar. While myself and Jennifer were keen to reach Dadar at the earlist, Jessica and Alice were still skeptical. Thankfully Jennifer persuaded all the girls to board the Ladies coach of an Ambarnath Slow while I got into the General compartment. Alice spent the train journey sitting uncomfortably, still scared and unsure, while Jessica prayed for her own safety all the way till Dadar.

Thankfully the ride to Dadar was uneventful and contrary to prior fears, the girls managed to alight comfortably. I escorted Jessica safely out of Dadar station from the backdoor avoiding the crowd she badly feared and returned to continue my journey back home. It was then that a fellow commuter got an sms who broadcasted it to the entire coach in Marathi- "CST वर दोन bomb सापडले! Police ने defuse केले!" Without wasting a second, a voice spoke out from behind- "Defuse झाले ना? आता काही tension नाही! ठीक आहे रे! " This is Mumbai! Life goes on!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Maharashtra Government cha Maths

Genre: Blabber

Maharashtra Government seems to be using a number system that is totally unfathomable to common citizens like us. See this two examples-

1) On Thursday, the central government dispatched 80 NSG Commandos to Mumbai to fight the terrorists followed by another batch of 90 Commandos. When Maharashtra CM was asked how many Commandos were pressed into service, his reply- 350.

So, in Maharashtra Government Number System,
80 + 90 = 350

2) On Sunday, Mumbai Fire Brigade Chief declared that 160 dead bodies were recovered from Taj, 60 from CST station and 10 from Leopold Cafe. Even after this, in the press conference, Maharashtra CM and his Deputy stressed repeatedly that the total number of casualties in the Mumbai attacks is 172.

So, in Maharashtra Government Number System,
160 + 60 + 10 = 172

Earlier I used to doubt our neta log are illiterate, now I am sure!
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