Monday, December 29, 2014

Suit yourself time..

Thanks to my children, primarily my daughter, I have been introduced to a fantastic animation series (we don't call them cartoons, any more, do we?) called Sofia the First.. To quote IMDB,
 "This animated series features Sofia, an ordinary girl who becomes a princess overnight when her mom marries the king. The adventurous young girl, first introduced in the 2012 TV movie "Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess," must learn how to adjust to royal life. Offering Sofia words of wisdom are classic princesses -- including Ariel, Belle and Jasmine -- who make special appearances as they help advise the youngster during her transition to royalty. Throughout her journey, Sofia learns that it isn't having a title that imparts royal demeanor; it's that having the characteristics of honesty, loyalty, compassion and grace make one worthy of the role" 
And oh, it's "awesome!!".. There are Victorian palaces, royal wizards, Hogwarts style schooling, kings, queens, princesses (but of course), the works..

All this would be educational, but for one tiny problem.. While all the bit players - the butler, the school headmistress, the help - seem straight out of a proper British / Victorian era, the main roles are all speaking with an American accent!!

Now you might say, they're playing to a primarily American audience, and c'mon it's Disney!! And I get it.. I get it that the core audience of these princess sagas (of which my daughter is only an adjacency) is the American 8 year old girl.. And princesses, this way or that, HAVE to live in a Victorian world, and there has to be an ability to relate to the protagonist for any entertainment to succeed.. But this cherry-picking of entertainment is somewhere delusional..

I understand that children need to shielded from realities of life, but then there should be a limit to which you can cherry-pick facts and data, and randomly join the dots to make the most bizarre things look coherent..

But then I see our Prime Minister cherry-picking history about how genetic science existed in mythological times and some random dumbass turned political gadfly saying that a fictitious Lankan was actually a Dalit from Ghaziabad and then I wonder whether it's just preparing Annika for growing up.. :)

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

On Uber..

Something horrific just happened.

And needless to say, the first available scapegoat has since been butchered. At worst, Uber could be guilty of carelessness, and taking shortcuts, but there’s no way, in a society that is supposedly just and “maximum governance”, that this incident would be dignified by a #UberShame hashtag.

I actually used Uber on Friday for the first time.. My experience was extremely positive, and the driver who was also using for the first time, also had only positive things to say. He was most amazed by the fact that the entire roll-in process was handled by 2 people.. It helped him that he was able to opt in and out whenever he was free, so it allowed him extra cash.. As a passenger, I had absolutely no issues, and the whole thing was really seamless.. Including a receipt, no cash transaction involved, no "price extortion" that I normally face when looking for a rickshaw in Pune..

In some quarters, I hear that Uber has itself to blame for its destiny. Maybe so, but I would argue that this is more a classic case of brand positioning and multinationals not understanding the core market dynamics..

In the US, Uber/Lyft/AirBNB etc benefit from "regulatory arbitrage".. Regular drivers have to go through a huge amount of certification and licensing requirements on a periodic basis. Being a cab driver, requires regular visits to the DMV and also periodic inspection of the vehicle. Uber (and Lyft) allow drivers to circumvent this by calling themselves independent contractors. The core benefit of Uber is to the driver, who doesn't need to go through rigorous regulatory oversight and can earn an income as well.

In India, the regulatory compulsions for cab drivers to go through rigorous licensing simply do not exist.. Anyone can go through the RTO to get a commercial license, and get registered as a driver. That's it!! The core benefit is to the passenger, in that he/she doesn't have to wait alone for a cab driver, nor go through ridiculous negotiation on the price. In-addition, the car is available on-call, and is rather cost effective (at least as long as private investors keep pumping $$ into Uber). I'd be willing to bet, that Uber will not succeed in Mumbai, where you have a rather systematic cab & rickshaw process where passengers don't need to go through the kind of hoops that those of us in Pune and other towns have to go through.

However, calling itself a cab company will get Uber into needless hassles, something Uber has no need, nor the business model to sustain. There's no way an Uber could/would or even should, get in the business of background checks, especially in a country where there is an entire ocean of individuals who go nameless in the system, with no way to know their identity, their background, and where, regardless of what the paid hacks at Times Now say, we remain innocent until proven guilty. All Uber can do is provide the guarantee to comply with the law and hand over all relevant evidence for speedy resolution. That the law takes so long to work it's way around, has more to do with the legal system than with Uber. 

Thus, the positioning of Uber has to be more like an online market place, which it actually is, one where it plays more the role of getting the two individuals together to meet a mutual need. The passenger understands that they're getting into a contract with the driver, and Uber acts as the intermediary. When it comes to issues related to criminal law, Uber has the technology to trace the driver in a jiffy (which is what happened in this case, the guy got caught inside 48 hours, in Mathura all because he had the Android GPS on in the car). Actually, let me rephrase that. Uber has the technology to trace the driver AND the passenger who have been the co-signees of this contract. (The potential of a psychopath passenger slashing the neck of the driver is equally likely). 

It could also point out, given the significant sample size and grossly underreported tragedy called marital rape in India, no one is blaming

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bheja Fry!!

Every so often, I meet an old friend / acquaintance and he/she asks me why is it that I have not written much on my blog lately.

It’s a pertinent question, since the frequency is definitely lower than what it should be. (and that would be quite an understatement).

At this point, I really don’t know what I should write.. There are many things I would like to write about, but there’s really nothing that comes to mind when I wish to write about something.. It’s as if there’s an immediate writer’s block that comes up when I see a blank MS Word screen..

But more importantly, there’s really nothing intelligent to write about. And even if I do think it will be intelligent, I doubt it will be read by many. And in the event it is read by someone, I am almost certain that the said reader will vehemently disagree with me. 

For example, I have been meaning to write about this new stupid concept called “Love Jihad”. In my 36 (or so) years, I have not seen a stupider concept, trumping even Freedom Fries. The thought is that somehow there is a conspiracy of Muslim men trying to “lure” innocent Hindu women into marriage, thereby increasing the Muslim population to a level that one fine day, the population of Muslims in this country will outnumber the Hindus.

It’s almost as if someone went “You know, this idea is just so crazy, it might actually work!!”

I mean, think about it. 85% of this nation is Hindu, 13% (or so is Muslim). Assuming that normal birthrates apply, it would take roughly 150 years for the balance to go 48:48. Surely, there’s no strategy in place where the earliest possible solution is so far away.

But let’s not get sanity get in the way of a sexy conspiracy theory. However, there’s a much bigger problem at hand.

The problem is not that this is a foolish theory. The problem is that by writing about such bullshit, even if we’re conclusively proving that it cannot happen, we give it a level of legitimacy. Simply by writing about this, even as nonsense, this article will pop-up in a Google search about Love Jihad.. We just accentuate the entire cycle just by talking about it, nonsense as it is. And that, only helps the whole myth to get a life of its own. 

And that’s what this entire exercise does, it gets you down to talk at an intellectual level which is so low that there’s no chance you’re going to win..

Which is why it is probably better not to write at all.

(picture courtesy: Conrad Hackett)

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Giving idiots their due

There's this dude who goes by the name Dinanath Batra. He's 85 years old, and lives in Delhi. For roughly 84 years and some months, this chap was hardly known to anyone other than his family (and a certain Narendra Modi, but that's not important)

Frustrated by this anonymity Mr. Batra went and raised some shit and got a book that no one had read, pulped - thereby helping the English language reading public in India understand that books that are not read are "pulped" - kinda like mangoes, except that there's no edible use for the pulp in this particular case.

Even now, all this would have just passed by completely uneventfully, in a water-under-the-bridge sort of way, except that this book that he got pulped, was a book called "The Hindus" and that this year is an election year, where a certainly Hindu partisan party won an astounding majority.

Oh, and when the aforementioned Mr. Batra wrote a book (which no one had read, by the way), which has some fascinating material about how the birth of Krishna, was through stem cell research, and the mythological rishis of centuries past, were actually scientist, it also contained a foreword by the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Narendra Modi.

Perfect recipe for a hullabaloo about nothing in a 24x7x52x137  news channel world.

Long story short, the simple entry of Dinanath Batra leads to 382,000 results on Google. Other than the standard, RSS bot created, Wikipedia entry for the man, 381,999 results are expressing outrage.

God, how I miss Lewis Black!!!

Why do we need to spend so much time on someone who's irrelevant anyway?? Conversely, is it necessary now to make a fool of yourself, come up with the most ridiculous soundbites just to gain some attention?? Has news really dried out so much, that we need to give cartoons like this our valuable time? DId I miss the memo where it said that all idiots will be given their 15 minutes of fame??

What the f@#$ is going on out here??? 

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Them's the rules!!!!

The irony was inescapable.

Rush Hour traffic at one of Pune's largest chowks. A large poster overlooking all offering Shraddhanjali to the Divangat neta - Maharashtrache laadke - Gopinath Munde.

And 3 cars attempting to cut their traffic light.

Honestly, this post is not about the late Mr. Munde and his unfortunate, fatal accident. It's not even about traffic sense (or lack thereof) or traffic congestion or anything of that sort.

It's just simply about our societal abhorrence for following rules.

What is it about our culture that we prefer to conveniently ignore any rule which stands in our way?

Is it that there is no point in following any rule since there are so many of them that it is physically impossible to be compliant with all of them at any given point in time?

Is it that in our fatalistic destiny driven culture, whether you get caught or not is all in your destiny and is God's way of testing you?

Is it that historically, we have always been a ruled-class - there have been rulers who rule, with an iron fist, and make sure you don't get caught. If you're caught you're guilty, and if you're not, you're not? It's always us versus them, and we really don't believe what "they" have decided for "us" is worth following?

Is it some or all of the above?

Weren't we supposed to in this all together, and this is our country, and we have the right people, who represent our interests and have, in keeping with those interests, set certain rules which we all have supposedly agreed to follow?

I mean, why should I ask my kids to follow rules, if all they see around them is people flouting rules and getting ahead? 

Saturday, April 05, 2014

A Rant!!!

I wish I was more prolific in writing.. I really need to pick up this habit again..

All this bottling up inside, is not good for me.. Have been meaning to write something about Modi, something about Rahul Gandhi, etc.. But really haven't found the motivation to do so.. the German phrase, "Kein Lust mehr" is probably more applicable..

I mean, what's the point?? We're on our way (or so the press says) to vote into power a man, who has significant question marks over his character in terms of engineering a massacre for political gain.. All in the name of development.. In normal times, we'd be ashamed of such a development, but in this day and age, there is no culpability, no responsibility, no accountability.. The only people eager to take responsibility seem to be terrorists, and that is after they've caused grievous harm..

The problem is not that the man with the question marks wants to be the leader.. The problem is that no one is questioning him.. The bigger problem, is more like the people are rather looking forward to him being the leader.. People in my own family, actually.. That's what is more painful.. I feel like I am wrong, and I should be the one who should be ashamed for not seeing the light..

Is it really so easy to forgive and forget?? The person who has brought shame to the country, is now looked at as a savior, and we're all ok with it??

All in the name of pragmatism?? 

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Aamir Khan and the 100 Crore war on Intelligence

We have a nightly ritual in our house, where I tell a bedtime story to our 5 year old. It could be a book, something from memory, something downright from my imagination, anything. It just has to be a bed time story..

Most often, I invent a story (Have you heard when the animals from the zoo went to McDonalds'? or the one where Chhota Bheem went to Mumbai?). It's not like I am good with inventing stories, but the lights are off, so I cannot read, my memory of my childhood stories are so sparse that the story gets invented anyway, but most importantly, without the story, the child won't sleep.. So I muster whatever ingenuity I can, and basically structure grammatically sound sentences all in sequence and hope that it makes sense, all the way till she falls asleep.

Here the story that I narrate is really not important. What's important is that the child sleeps.

And sleep she must..

Now you might be wondering what all this has to do with Aamir Khan. Nothing really.

It's just that that is how I felt when I came out of the theater after spending 3 hours watching Dhoom: 3.

The story was not important, at least to the makers of the movie. What was important is that everyone be numb at the end of 3 hours, having been transfixed at one gigantic gimmick following another, so much so that everyone (well, almost everyone) believes that they had a monumentally good time, while the only people who are having a good time are those who were financially associated with the movie..

And I really shouldn't be complaining, since you pretty much know what you're getting into when you're going for a movie like this. The 300 bucks I spent, suspending my intellect, I should have spent on something more worthwhile.

Leave your brains behind at the door. That's what they all say.

The money I spent on Dhoom: 3 would really not have bothered me much, had I not seen a beautifully crafted movie yesterday called Shahid. It's a gripping, true story of the lawyer Shahid Azmi, who as a youth was trained in the terrorist camps across the border, but saw the light of day, and eventually dedicated his life trying to get falsely accused youth (mostly Muslim) who have no other means of acquittal, against a prejudiced society, and a cold hearted system. His bravery, led him to be killed and probably would never be heard of, but for this movie.

It was cold, chilling, provocative, realistically thought-provoking, and everything else that I would want in a movie.

And I didn't spend a penny on it, since I saw it on cable. Just chanced upon it at the right time - failing which I would've ended up watching some crap called Besharam (since it had Ranbir Kapoor - I have a 5 year old girl in my house, don't you know?) - and couldn't take my eyes off the TV screen.

This was a story that deserved to be told.

This was a story that deserved to be seen

This was a story that deserved the 250 crores or whatever that Dhoom-3 made..

This was a story that truly, truly deserved my 300 bucks..