Sunday, January 27, 2013

I feel old

It has been a few days since I last wrote. I am feeling old, tired and very bored. I feel as if I am living in some horrible time warp, in a time machine and have regressed. I am confused, like old people are.

First there was a Coronation. The cherubic, dimpled Rahul `Baba’ Gandhi was crowned Prince of India. Please do bear in mind that Saurav Ganguly is only the Prince of Kolkata. Sachin Tendulkar is the God of Cricket. At last we have Vice President in the Congress Party who will lead us into a great future, who will take India as well as Bharat [where women do not get raped] to great heights. Rahul `Baba’ Gandhi, a man who is a mere 42, who has never lived on his own, who has only worked in his family business, is the person who represents young India. Mind you a lot of young India lives in their own homes bought by taking a home loan. Young India works, and works dam hard and generally not in the family business. This, if you ask me, is a serious disconnect, but then who am I to say anything. Once the Coronation was complete we had a sprightly 42 year old Rahul `Baba’ Gandhi inspiring us with a speech that asked several questions. I presume he will provide the answers. Then the fawning started, Congressman after Congressman said how great the Coronation was. I felt old. I am several years older than Rahul `Baba’ Gandhi.

Just as we were recovering from the sheer joy and excesses of the Coronation it was time to celebrate Republic Day. I knew it was Republic Day as the newspapers carried 2-3 full page adverts imploring us to go shopping and enjoy the massive discounts on offer. Unpatriotic, to say the least. We should all stay at home and watch TV.

On the eve of Republic Day we had our very Bengali President Pranabda Mukherjee addressing the Nation. His speech in, I believe English, was unbelievably difficult to understand. His Bengali accent was very very thick. The way he spoke was a throwback to my schooldays. Remember having to make a speech to the class at assembly? Remember reading a poem? That was exactly how it sounded? From what I could decipher the speech was written by someone stuck in some sort of almost Dickensian past? The speech was replete with every cliché you could think of and with his thick Bengali accent phrases like `combating forces of ee-bhil’ [evil] sounded positively hilarious. Do we still have speech writers who write like this? Obviously yes. The whole thing reminded me of school. It made me feel old, very old. It also made me laugh, most unpatriotic. In these days of clear talking leaders like Obama and Cameron this was so out of place.

That evening, the eve of Republic Day, we had to drive into South Bombay for a dinner. We were treated to the wonderful spectacle of the Bandra Worli Sea Link lit up. Obviously the lighting was in the three colours of our National flag. Folks, its 2013, surely there must be some way of lighting up the Bandra Worli Sea Link in some sort of more imaginative way. Some sort of laser display? Nope all that is too new for us, we have to stick with the clichéd, `thakela’ lighting. Old. I felt old.

Next morning was the obligatory Republic Day parade at Delhi. I confess that I have not seen it live. Nowadays I cannot even watch it on TV. It is just so absolutely boring and old. It’s as exciting as watching paint dry. And who was the chief guest? The King of Bhutan!! Yes folks, India, a superpower, a shining economy, the biggest and brightest hope in the Economic world had the King of Bhutan as its chief guest. Bhutan! Are you shitting me!! The revenue of Indian Oil Corporation in USD is 76 billion. The GDP of Bhutan is 1.7 USD billion. Would it not have made more sense to have the Chairman of Indian Oil Corporation as the chief guest? How about Mukesh Ambani at 76 billion USD? How about Ratan Tata of Tata Motors at 34 billion USD? I am sure we all have our prejudices about Mukesh Ambani but Ratan Tata surely he has done no wrong. What a nice present it would have been for him on his retirement, getting to be chief guest at the Republic Day Parade. King of Bhutan???  The same old march past, the same old cavalry, the same old camels, the same old floats the same old dancers, the same old battle tanks rumbling along, the same old flypast, the same old men on motorcycles.

Man, I feel old.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Today's special - Horse Meat Hamburger

If you were to believe television in India, we are on the brink of war with the Pakistani army/Jehadi’s beheading our soldiers. Never mind killing the poor chaps, it’s the beheading that has got our retired moustaches i.e. Generals out of their club bar and onto our TV screens. They have fine moustaches, but, unfortunately, according to me, they are all living in la la land.

However, there is a far bigger story emerging in the UK, and I would imagine soon engulf Western Europe. This is bound to get lots of people worked up. The Green and PETA lot who want us to turn vegetarian. The vegetarians, vegans, Jains, health freaks and so many others.  What is the problem, you ask. One word folks. Horsemeat!!  Yes friends, 4 huge supermarket chains have been selling hamburger which contains up to 29% meat from horses. Yes, giddy up!

This raises many issues. It has also had me convulsed with laughter.

I am sure you know that there is no `ham’ in hamburgers. Similarly I am sure you know that there is no `dog’ in a hot dog. In India there is no beef, no lamb, and often no chicken but only potato in a hamburger and hot dog. But that is beside the point. Many of you would know that Chicken Nuggets that are sold by the KFC’s and MacDonald’s of the world are not chicken pieces buy generally meat slurry which is liquefied chicken meat, further processed and formed into the desired shape. Of course we lovingly feed our kids this on every outing to the mall.

Ok, first things first. Protein is expensive. It’s far more expensive than carbohydrates or starch. Beef, Lamb, Chicken, Turkey, Fish, Duck, Eggs and our simple daals are all more expensive than an equal quantity by weight of all carbohydrates. Potato, pasta, rice, wheat and other forms of carbohydrates are cheap. I hope people get this simple inalienable fact straight.

Secondly, you must have heard the phrase pay peanuts get monkeys. Well, why is air travel so uncomfortable, why is food so bad on aircraft, why is service so bad? Answer, people want to pay as little as possible to fly. Price determines everything. So why should or how can, airlines provide everything if the passenger is not willing to pay a decent price for his seat. Similarly, buying hamburgers [minced meat, kheema] cheap can only mean that you will not get good cuts or the meat will be diluted/adulterated/mixed with a cheaper item to add bulk and reduce price. Why do so many cheap cutlets and kebabs not taste or not have the texture of meat? Simply because they are filled with bread, potato and what have you. In the good old days before we all got rich and fat, did your mom not add lots of bread soaked in water to your minced meat and make delicious cutlets? She was economising. Some of you may remember what had happened in the kitchens and dining rooms of the hallowed Bombay Gymkhana some years ago. The menu said `Mutton Samosas’. It turned out that they were actually Beef Samosas and not Mutton Samosas. This was not by DNA testing but just some political intrigue within the factions of the then Managing Committee and Food and Beverage Committee. That had Bombay’s social set frothing. Why did this happen? Monkeys, peanuts, budgets, pricing and unreal demands by members.  

Third, horse meat is not poison, it will not kill you. Horse meat is also cheaper than hamburgers [minced meat, kheema]. It may taste funny, it may have a different texture it may, to use an Americanism – gross you out – but if you add it to hamburgers [minced meat, kheema] you will not know the difference.

Now let’s put all this together. Large supermarkets selling cheap hamburger to people who do not want to pay good money for a product, will compromise. So how do the supermarkets compromise. To quote the inimitable Giles Coren, “You are not going to get delicious free-range, organic, rare breed, heritage beef, grass-fed, Eton-educated, humanely slaughtered, dry-aged and hand-ground beef. What you will certainly get is mechanically reclaimed connective tissue ... scrapings from the abattoir floor”. Meat slurry rings a bell? To add bulk, why not add some horse meat? Does any of this surprise you?

I confess that I am surprised as to how the supermarkets got away with labelling this product. Did they outright lie and not mention horsemeat? Did the supermarket supplier simply deceive the supermarket and add horse meat without telling the supermarket? Obviously the supermarket was not doing DNA testing on the supply, let’s be honest, one would not expect any supermarket to run such tests.

This is a most interesting story. I would like to see how this develops. Many `jholawallahs’ in India as well as abroad will be frothing.    

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Get online - buy books and grocery

The Internet is all around us. We rely on it more and more and I do not have to tell you how much it has affected, if not changed our lives and way of thinking.

I personally use many components of the WWW. I use email, internet banking, I book almost all my airline tickets online as I do with international train bookings. Hotels are invariably researched and booked online. I also get a lot of my information online by way of blogs, newspapers and other material. I am sure you all do this if not much more using the Internet.

This is a post to tell you of two extremely pleasant Indian Internet [ecommerce] experiences.

The first is pretty obvious, While on the one hand a physical brick and mortar bookshop is almost nonexistent in India, on the other, Flipkart is really really good. Landmark as a bookshop exists only in Chennai. In Mumbai the Lower Parel outpost is shut and the Andheri one has become a toystore. Strand Book Stall in Mumbai is a joke. Crosswords is a bigger joke, literally. Besides self help, children’s books and Indian potboilers, these bookshops have nothing.

Flipkart has almost every book you can think of. They deliver within the time specified by them and they keep you informed of every move. You get a notification by email and SMS once you place the order, once the book is shipped and once the book is delivered. From the first time I booked an order in June 2010 I have placed 48 more orders and have had at least 150 books delivered. Each one came on time and was the correct book. Often I have had books delivered to me before the official date of release. Imported books, no problems they will get them for you. I use my credit card to buy the books. The Flipkart payment system works seamlessly and accurately with my credit card issuer, no sweat.

I must confess that there are two minor issues with Flipkart. The first problem I have found, and this is being picky, is that their search results are not always accurate. However I have cracked that by looking for the book on Amazon and using the ISBN number to search for the book on Flipkart. The second problem is the books are sometimes marginally more expensive than the same book in the UK. But I am not complaining. The book is delivered to your home in a matter of days, no other bookshop normally has the book in India and if you value your baggage allowance, then carrying the book from the UK is a big pain. So all things considered, Flipkart is brilliant. I recommend using Flipkart wholeheartedly.

The other site that recently impressed me is I must thank Rahul B for this. Rahul lives in Bangalore and uses their services extensively. Once I figured they also have a presence in Mumbai, I thought why not and gave it a shot. I am so glad I did. It really was a pleasant experience.

Bigbasket is an online grocery store. I did not buy any fresh produce [vegetables, fruit and meat] as I still think it’s best to buy this personally. But for all other stuff used at home, Bigbasket is the place to shop. You can see images of the packages, pack sizes and products. Prices are displayed. You just select what you want and choose a delivery slot. I chose 7 am to 9.30 am. For those who have someone at home who can receive the goods you can choose a time during the day. You pay by credit card; cash on delivery is an option too and simply collect the goods. No giving money to a servant, no getting into fights on how he spent the money, no driving to the shop, no parking hassles. It’s a pleasant stay at home experience. Let’s be practical, buying normal branded stuff like cooking oil, body soaps, shampoos, sugar et al cannot be something you want to waste time energy and discussions over. Get the site open at home, call the family over and simply order what you need. This solution is summer heat proof and monsoon rain proof, what more could you want.

The goods came as ordered and bang on time well within the time slot. No complaints.

So folks, simplify your life. Go online.   

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Damini and the media frenzy.

First, credit for this post must go to Nandan Maluste and Major General S.G. Vombatkere.

Everyone and his brother have been bombarded with material, views, news, prejudices and bile following the Damini or Nirbhaya case. The `Middia’ [media] is in overdrive, all forms of it. Calls for death penalty are all over. Damini’s father has been quoted as saying that he will not rest till the guilty are hung. A minor technical point that the `Middia’ has failed to mention is that even if the law is amended to introduce the death penalty for rape, the amendment cannot act retrospectively. So those accused of rape prior to the amendment would still not be hung.

Then there are all those who have felt grief, or felt that they need to put in their two bits worth in the `Middia’ frenzy. Leading lights in this area, as I have mentioned previously are, Dr. Abhisheik Manu Singhvi and Shobhaa De. Dr Singhvi was caught on camera, to put it mildly, in flagarant delicito or, if you want it straight up, getting a blow job from a woman he promised judgeship. Shobhaa De has written and sold tens of thousands of soft porn novels. Adding to this list is our very own Amitabh Bachchan who wrote a poem. This after a career in Bollywood where women are not portrayed in the best way. Of course, he also acted in the film with the hit song Chumma De De. Looking at it our Hobbit Aamir Khan is not to be left behind. He too has penned a poem.  Our `Middia’ loves this. Then every so often when there is a rape our `Middia’ screams how long can this go on suggesting that one Damini will change everything and overnight too.

Many reasons have been provided as to why rape is so prevalent in India. The main reason is a shockingly low rate of convictions. They say that low convictions are caused by shoddy investigations, botched up police work, judicial delays and many other reasons. The sequiter being, possibly, that things are better in the West.

In light of this I was rather surprised by what has been published in the British press. It makes most interesting reading.

As I write on 3rd January 2013, there are 3 articles that have appeared in the British press. These are also doing the rounds on Facebook. The first was written on 30th December in the Independent by Owen Jones. Mr. Jones says many things among which the most shocking for me was the sentence “a 2009 study revealed that Britain has the lowest conviction rate of 33 European countries: it’s a shockingly pathetic 6.5 per cent.

Then, Libby Purves a columnist for the London Times wrote a rather strange column in the Times on 31st December 2012 basically saying that sexual crimes against women were endemic in India and the Third World and suggesting that the West had progressed therefore there was far less crime against women.

Libby Purves column prompted a response from Emer O’Toole on 1st January 2013 in the Guardian. She criticised Ms Purves naive view of sexual crimes in India. Ms. O’Toole referred to several reports all skewed of the so called high number of sexual crimes against women in India and demonstrated that the position in Britain is worse or as bad as in India. She goes on to say that in the USA the arrest rate for rapes is just 24%, obviously meaning that the conviction rate is much lower.

Then, on 3rd January 2013 Sunil Khilnani a Professor at Kings College London, in an article in the Times of India, referred to a recent piece published in Bloomberg News where journalist Lisa Beyer drew attention to an extraordinary set of figures. According to UN statistics, Sweden has 63 rapes annually per 1,00,000 people, the UK 29, the US 27. India has 1.8. Mr. Khilnani says that the low figures for India are because the vast majority of rape crimes against women are not reported. This may well be true.

The point I want to make is simply this. Here is one instance when things in the West are not better than India. There are broadly as many rapes per 1000 in the West as there are in India. The arrest and conviction rate for such crimes in the West are abysmally low as they are in India. Mind you the question of shoddy investigation, non sensitised police and judicial delays by and large do not exist in the West, and if they do, they are far less than in India. This being the case, why barring the 2 articles I have referred to [Independent and Guardian] is there a perception that crimes in the East are many and horrific and not punished when statistics show the contrary. By the same token, why are our ladies rights activities and general `jholawallas’ complaining so bitterly when things are not much better in the West despite many of the problems of investigation et al not being as hard there?

Mind you I am not in the least suggesting that two wrongs make a right or that just because things are as bad in the West we should do nothing. All I am saying is that could we be a little more balanced and a lot less hysterical.

Yes, there exists violence against women of the worst possible nature in India. Yes, this is done with impunity because the perpetrators think they can get away with it. Yes, more often than not they do get away with it. Yes, all of us need to and do condemn rape and violence in one voice without any petty politics or one-upmanship.

But seriously. Calls to hang the villains who raped, brutalised and led to the death of this one young lady are rife. They may well hang since now that the girl is dead, murder will be a charge they have to face. So let us not confuse matters and say they hung because of rape. What about all the other cases of rape that are pending in courts? Are they less heinous? Hang them all? And what is this about chemical castration? How does it help if we start baying for blood like mad dogs? Yes we are all outraged but surely the media needs to be a little more mature and balanced. Surely we don’t need yet another set of new laws but rather effective implementation of existing laws. Surely our politicians need to rise above petty politics and come together in condemning this act as one voice. Surely effective investigation by the police and timely conviction by the courts will act as a deterrent. Surely in the long term education and effective female empowerment is the only answer.

By the way, where is Rahul Gandhi the youth leader? Not a peep out of him so far.

Theek hai?