Friday, January 05, 2018

Look, one last time...

Deccan Herald
December 31, 2017

As the door to 2017 closes, Gautham Machaiah takes us through the significant happenings from around the world that shaped the year.

Pidi, newly appointed Congress president Rahul Gandhi's pet, has emerged as the most adorable character of the year for infusing some much-needed humour into an otherwise drab political dialogue steeped in abject negativity. Admittedly, the wittier of the two, Pidi is credited with the manifold increase in his master's Twitter followers, including a flock of Russian glam-'bods' going gaga over RaGa whose image saw a major transformation this year.
Perhaps, the next time Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to the United States for a jaadu ki jhappi with President Donald Trump, who assumed office early this year, Rahul should consider sending Pidi along. While 'covfefe' continues to befuddle the world, Trump courted another controversy by debunking theories of weather change and global warming. But Mother Nature had other plans.
While 2017 emerged as the hottest year in recorded history, natural calamities like floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and landslides left a trail of death and destruction across the world at the rate of at least one devastation a month. Over 1,200 people, including 250 in Gujarat, were estimated killed across India, Bangladesh and Nepal due to the wrath of nature, the latest being Cyclone Ockhi. The death of about 25 people, a majority of them jawans, following an avalanche in Jammu and Kashmir in January was perhaps the most heart-wrenching incident of the year.
While Delhi battled thick smog, Bengaluru received the highest rainfall in 116 years, and the city's in-charge minister K J George, who had to bear the brunt of citizen's ire over potholed roads, faced a double whammy with the DSP M K Ganapathy suicide case being referred to the CBI. Yet, Bengaluru emerged as the world's most dynamic city.
In and around the US, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria uprooted millions of lives, but to Trump's credit, the GDP advanced, fuelled by job growth and a booming stock market. The hurricanes, on their part, spurred increased consumer spends on replacing damaged cars and rebuilding infrastructure.
Ghosts of the past
In India, the ghost of last year's demonetisation continued to haunt the economy, leading to depressed business sentiment, the collapse of the unorganised sector, and subdued GDP growth. "The economy is going through a tailspin and is heading for depression," BJP MP Subramanian Swamy would say, but the World Bank and rating agencies Pew and Moody's would give the prime minister a pat on the back.
On the positive front, the introduction of GST promised to be a game changer despite the initial glitches, the stock markets touched a historic high, digital transaction received a fillip, the 92-year-old Railway budget was merged with the general budget, while the country jumped 30 places within a year to become one of the Top 100 for ease of doing business.
Demonetisation also did not seem to have the desired impact on terrorism. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, Kashmir Valley recorded a 42% growth in terrorism-related deaths and 72% increase in security personnel killed from 2014, compared with the preceding three years. The government, which adopted a 'zero tolerance' policy, announced that it had gunned down over 200 terrorists during the current year.
Across the world, terrorism assumed a new form with the stabbing and mowing down of innocent bystanders, claiming many lives in Paris, London, Stockholm, Finsbury Park, Antwerp, Alberta and Marseille, while some radicals preferred traditional methods of shooting or bombing to claim their promised reward in heaven. In the US, it was not terror attacks but mass shootings that were extinguishing lives.
As armed conflicts and civil war continued across the globe, lakhs of Rohingya Muslims - described by Amnesty as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world - fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh. It is estimated that the number of displaced people in the world reached 66 million, with Syria, Colombia, Afghanistan, Iraq and South Sudan being the top five contributors. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte declared a war of a different kind in which, according to human rights organisations, over 14,000 drug dealers were killed.
Amidst all this came Trump's executive order banning people of certain countries from travelling to the United States.
While the men were at war around the globe with North Korea upping its nuclear ante and Catalans demanding independence from Spain, women were silently scaling new heights and leaving an indelible mark on the earthscape. Halimah Yacob became the first female president of Singapore; German Chancellor Angela Merkel topped the list of 'Forbes 100' most powerful women, with British Prime Minister Theresa May who is steering her country through Brexit taking the second place.
Indian-American Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, ranked 11th, while others who wound their way to the Top 100 included ICICI MD Chanda Kochhar, HCL CEO Roshni Nadar Malhotra, chairperson of Bengaluru-headquartered Biocon Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, chairperson of HT Media Shobhana Bhartia, and actor Priyanka Chopra.
In politics, Nirmala Sitharaman became the second woman after Indira Gandhi to hold the Defence portfolio, the embattled Smriti Irani rebounced as Information and Broadcasting minister, with Sushma Swaraj continuing at the helm of External Affairs.
Karnataka became the only state to have women at the top echelons with Neelamani Raju taking over as the first woman director general of police, and Ratna Prabha as the third lady chief secretary.
A black spot on the year was the gunning down of journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh, known for her fearless writing. The stars also did not seem to be smiling on Sasikala Natarajan, whose hopes of becoming Tamil Nadu chief minister crashed after the Supreme Court sent her to jail on corruption charges.
Of firsts & lasts
In the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth at 91 years became the only monarch to commemorate her sapphire jubilee marking 65 years as sovereign, even as her 96-year-old consort Prince Philip decided to call it a day after participating in over 22,000 solo engagements from 1952. It was another story in Denmark where the 83-year-old Prince Henrik, who felt slighted by Queen Margrethe, announced that he would not be buried next to his wife in Roskilde Cathedral where all Danish royals were laid to rest from 1559.
The winds of change were blowing across Saudi Arabia as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took baby steps towards moderate Islam, while simultaneously consolidating his position by purging powerful princes through an anti-corruption drive. Over five decades after Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova scripted history by being the first woman to orbit space, Saudi Arabia became the last country in the world to allow its women to drive cars. For the first time in the kingdom's history, women were also allowed to attend sporting events in stadiums. In Pakistan, however, the Islamabad High Court would order a permanent ban on the celebration of Valentine's Day.
In India, the Supreme Court struck down the regressive instant triple talaq, while capital punishment was handed down to the four convicted in the 2012 Nirbhaya gang-rape case. Self-proclaimed god-man Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was incarcerated in a rape case, leading to violence by his followers which left nearly 40 dead.
The empowerment of women though did not prevent predators from having a field day. Former US president George W Bush senior faced flak after groping a number of women from the safety of his wheelchair. Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of rape and sexual misconduct by multiple women, prompting a social media campaign through the hashtag #MeToo.
Men's world saw the fortunes of many change overnight. A virtually unknown Ram Nath Kovind was catapulted to the post of president of India, while Venkaiah Naidu had to retire from active politics to become vice-president, a ceremonial post. Uttar Pradesh saw the rise of Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister and with that the controversy over cow vigilantism, anti-Romeo squads and the large number of child deaths at a Gorakhpur hospital.
While Dipak Misra took over as the chief justice of India, Karnataka got a Lokayukta after a year with the appointment of Vishwanatha Shetty. T Suneel Kumar became the police commissioner after his predecessor Praveen Sood was transferred abruptly; B S Yeddyurappa was declared the BJP's chief ministerial candidate; G Parameshwara had to resign as home minister to retain the KPCC president's post.
Globally, South Koreans elected Moon Jae-in as their president; in China, Xi Jinping consolidated his position after assuming his second term as the country's paramount leader; Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Japan Premier Shinzo Abe were also re-elected, while in Malaysia, Muhammad V was installed as the 15th king.
But destiny did not favour all men. In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe, who at 93 years was the oldest serving state leader, fell from 'grace' even as the Panama Papers singed Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan. In Venezuela, which is facing its worst ever economic crisis, President Nicolas Maduro was lucky to survive two coups.
Playboy founder Hugh Hefner had to bid goodbye to his bevy of beauties, while James Bond Roger Moore left millions of fans shaken and stirred. Others who moved to the ethereal world included former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh, former ISRO chairman U R Rao, well-known scientist Yash Pal, Bollywood stalwarts Shashi Kapoor, Inder Kumar, Vinod Khanna, Om Puri, Reema Lagoo, Tom Alter, playwright Taarak Mehta, and former Karnataka chief minister Dharam Singh. The exit of Abdul Karim Telgi put a lid on the multi-crore fake stamp paper racket.
While the world's oldest man, Yisrael Kristal, also the oldest living survivor of the Holocaust, died at the age of 113 years, millions of Indians were more concerned about why Kattappa killed Baahubali. S S Rajamouli did not disappoint and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion topped the charts. In the Kannada market, Puneet Rajkumar-starrer Raajakumara was the highest grosser, while movies like Ondu Motteya Kathe, Hebbuli and Bharjari created waves. Even as the illegal ban on dubbing continued to be a sore point, the year saw a resurgence of 'Kannada pride' and a determined stand against 'Hindi imposition', which soon spread to other states.
Glitz & glamour
At the Academy Awards, Moonlight won the most coveted Oscar, but not before some heart-stopping moments with La La Land being mistakenly announced as the winner. The romantic musical fantasy Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson as the lead went on to become the biggest box office hit of the year. At the Grammy's, Adele walked away with the Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Record of the Year awards. At the Miss World, it was Manushi Chhillar from Haryana all the way, as she brought home the crown after 17 years.
The celluloid world, however, was not free from its share of controversies with Padmavati, Indu Sarkar and Mersal being caught in a crossfire. Actors like Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Upendra and Prakash Rai made loud political noises, only adding to the cacophony.
Away from the glitz and glamour, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus shut shop permanently after 146 years; Big Ben struck for the last time until 2021 as it prepared for repairs and renovation; and the Big Maple Leaf, a solid gold Canadian coin weighing 100 kg, was stolen from the Bode Museum in Germany.
In the sports arena, for a country obsessed with cricket, disappointment was in store when Pakistan beat India at the ICC Champions Trophy. India also lost the Women's Cricket World Cup to England despite Harmanpreet Kaur's electrifying performance. In the 2017 Badminton Championship, P V Sindhu graduated from bronze to silver but had to concede defeat to Nozomi Okuhara of Japan in a nail-biting finish.
Against the backdrop of the Dokhlam standoff, India beat China at the Women's Asia Cup hockey to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. While Pankaj Advani won the IBSF World Billiards, Kidambi Srikanth went on to wrest the French Open Super Series badminton title in men's single category. Rafael Nadal set the court ablaze at the US Open, but Tiger Woods had other plans, this time being arrested for driving in Florida under the influence of drugs.
While our sportspersons were winning laurels for the country, Mukesh Ambani's family topped the Forbes List of Asia's richest, pipping the beleaguered Lees of the South Korea-based Samsung whose senior executive was arrested in a political scandal. Apple X and the re-launch of Nokia's smartphones only added to Samsung's woes.
At Infosys, the normally docile N R Narayana Murthy turned into a raging bull over corporate governance issues, leading to the exit of CEO Vishal Sikka, entry of Salil Parekh, and the return of Nandan Nilekani as the chairman. Elsewhere, Nilekani's brainchild Aadhar was ruffling feathers over 'linking' issues. At Tata Sons, N Chandrasekaran became the first non-family member to be appointed chairman.
Anil Ambani's Reliance, which shut its tottering 2G mobile business, won a bonanza cornering a lion's share of the Rafale aircraft deal, which raised the hackles of the Congress. At the same time, the noose was tightening around Vijay Mallya, Saharasri Subrata Roy, and directors of Jaypee Infratech, which filed for insolvency leaving hundreds of homebuyers in the lurch.
In Karnataka, S M Krishna's defection from Congress to BJP could not save his son-in-law's company from IT raids, which came close on the heels of similar searches on the premises of minister D K Shivakumar, who was entrusted with the safe-keeping of Gujarat MLAs.
The other major news that grabbed the headlines in the State included the private doctors' strike against the KPME Act, the controversial Tipu Jayanthi celebrations, legalising of kambala, opening of Indira Canteens as part of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah's larger plan to create a hunger-free Karnataka, DIG Roopa's exposé on special treatment to Sasikala, and the completion of Phase 1 of Namma Metro.
On many local television channels, however, the biggest breaking news was that the world would come to an end this year, but all of us have lived to see another day. And, as the year draws to a close, let us welcome 2018 with Lord Tennyson's famed words:
Ring out the old, ring in the new;
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Overheard at coffee shops...

Deccan Herald
Nov 11, 2017

There's always something more brewing than just coffee in coffee shops. You just have to tune in, writes M Gautham Machaiah.

The cuppa that cheers may invigorate the mind, but a visit to a coffee shop can also tickle the funny bone if you have honed the skills of prying and eavesdropping like me.
As I sip my cafe latte, I overhear a person giving directions in broken Hindi to somebody who does not seem to understand any other language. After a few exasperated efforts, he says, "Hand over the phone to some local person." The guy apparently gives the phone to a passer-by who speaks only Telugu. "Saar, please pass the phone to somebody who knows Kannada," our man pleads.
The next one to come on the line is a Tamilian who does not understand Kannada. "Kannada... Kannada..." our man insists. The phone is now in the hands of a gentleman who speaks Hindi and English, but not Kannada. Almost half an hour has passed and the person on the other side is none the wiser about the directions.
By now, the man in the coffee shop has lost all patience, "Yelladru hogi haalagi hoogu," (Go somewhere and get lost) he shouts and hangs up. Living in a cosmopolitan city like Bengaluru can lead to some hilarious situations!
Another day. Another coffee shop. A college-going couple is about to indulge in some public display of affection, when the girl suddenly spots me and warns her boyfriend through her eyes. Unfortunately, her eyes meet mine. "Do not worry about me," I say with an evil smile and point to the closed-circuit camera staring right at them. They quickly pay the bill and leave.
Sometimes, I notice how a few customers make fools out of themselves by being cantankerous. A guest who is served a tall glass of mosambi juice protests loudly, "I asked for sweet lime, not mosambi." It appears, he has mistaken sweet lime (mosambi) for fresh lime (lemon juice). The bearer politely explains the difference and the guest is finally convinced, but his ego does not permit him to accept his ignorance, especially when accompanied by a lady companion. "Next time, please do not mislead your customers," he warns. The bearer responds with a smile. The customer is always right.
Another guest who has ordered a sugarless cappuccino fires the bearer, "Why have you not added sugar? The bearer respectfully replies, "Sir, you asked for sugarless coffee." But the customer throws a googly, "When I said sugarless, I meant less sugar, not no sugar." Phew, it is tough being a bearer. Once, I find a very obese man - forgive me for being judgemental - who orders a jumbo burger with double cheese, french fries and extra mayonnaise. Just the sight of all that food on my plate would give me a heart attack.
The man polishes off the fare with relish and then, perhaps overtaken by guilt, he orders a cup of green tea, insisting, "No sugar please."
On another occasion, I come across an ex-MLA known to me and walk up to his table. His face turns chalk white as he stands up nervously to greet me. He does not recognise me as we have not met for a decade.
Raids have taken place on the houses of some politicians a few days ago, and going by my build and short hair-cut, he has mistaken me for a CBI officer. When I introduce myself, he is visibly relieved and lets out a sheepish smile. While I get my regular dose of comic relief at coffee shops, there are also times when I am inspired by what I hear, like this piece of advice by a young girl to her friend:
"There are certain things in your control. 
There are certain things that are not in your control. 
Don't worry about things that are not in your control."

Friday, July 21, 2017

Let us give the new President a chance

M. Gautham Machaiah

Our elitist mindset often creates a bias against people who do not measure up to our own convoluted standards. The same holds good for President-elect Ram Nath Kovind who has received a luke warm response from the day his candidature was announced. But are we right in pre-judging the man because he has maintained a low profile all his life?

There have been several precedents where the President of India has risen above party considerations to uphold the Constitution. Kovind's impartial role as Bihar Governor gives an indication that he might follow in the path of some of his illustrious predecessors.

In 1996, President Shankar Dayal Sharma, a thorough bred Congressman invited A.B. Vajpayee to form the government because the BJP had emerged as the single largest party though it did not even have a simple majority. The government fell in 13 days. Sharma could have created a condusive atmosphere for the Congress and allies to form the government, but he did not.

In 1998, President K.R. Narayanan, another Congressman, set a healthy preced Our elitistic mindset often creates a bias against people who do not measure up to our own convoluted standards. The same holds good for President-elect Ram Nath Kovind who has received a luke warm response from the day his candidature was announced. But are we right in pre-judging the man because he has maintained a low profile all his life?

There have been several precedents where the President of India has risen above party considerations to uphold the Constitution. Kovind's impartial role as Bihar Governor gives an indication that he might follow in the path of some of his illustrious predecessors.

In 1996, President Shankar Dayal Sharma, a thorough bred Congressman invited A.B. Vajpayee to form the government because the BJP had emerged as the single largest party though it did not even have a simple majority. The government fell in 13 days. Sharma could have created a condusive atmosphere for the Congress and allies to form the government, but he did not.

In 1998, President K.R. Narayanan, another Congressman, set a healthy precedent when he refused to go by Sharma's single largest party principle and directed Vajpayee to prove he had the majority before being sworn in. In 13 months the Vajpayee government fell with Jayalalitha pulling the rug leading to a phase of instability, when President Narayanan dissolved the Parliament and ordered fresh elections to prevent horse trading and instability.

There is some criticism that the BJP has replaced a statesman like Pranab Mukkerjee with a non-descript Kovind, but let us not forget that the Congress had preferred somebody like Pratiba Patil over Abdul Kalam, who had come to be known as the people's President. And if one has a good memory, you will remember President Ghani Zail Singh who publicly announced he would sweep the floor of Rashtrapathi Bhavan if asked to do so by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

A majority of Presidents of India have proved that they are capable of rising above the party that they hitherto represented and let us hope Kovind follows this precedent.

Kannadatva v/s Hindutva

M. Gautham Machaiah

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has set the cat among the pigeons by igniting the emotion of Kannada pride in the run up to the 2018 Assembly elections much to the chagrin of Hindutva and nationalism advocates.

A strong pro-Kannada, anti-Hindi ‘imperialism’ sentiment fuelled not by traditional Kannada chauvinists but by well educated, English-speaking corporate professionals and volunteers has been brewing in the State for sometime now, and Siddaramaiah has latched himself on to the bandwagon, first subtly and now boldly. The Chief Minister’s clever move seems to have caught the BJP off-guard as the “local pride” agenda does not fit into its hyper-nationalism narrative. At the same time, the newly born Kannada constituency is something the BJP cannot afford to ignore.

The Chief Minister has been deftly moving his pawns for over a year now beginning with the reservation of jobs for Kannadigas in the private sector, followed by a decision to make Kannada a compulsory language in all schools. When there were protests against the use of Hindi in Bengaluru Metro, Siddaramaiah saw an opportunity and declared rather forcefully that he would not allow “Hindi Imposition” at any cost, in contrast to BJP’s befuddled response. His most audacious move to date was the setting up of a committee to explore the possibility of a separate flag for Karnataka.

This has left the ‘nationalists’ fuming, but the Kannada brigade is thrilled. While nationalists are in favour of one-nation-one-flag, others cite the example of several federal countries which continue to remain united though each State has its own flag. The challenge before the BJP now is to arrive at a via media to guard its nationalistic flavour without hurting local sentiments.

The BJP might have suffered a set back over the Kannada issue, but it has already begun consolidating itself in other areas. The ‘vistarak’ (direct contact with workers) programme is a huge success and party has gained an edge over the Congress when it comes to ground level campaigning. The Congress may have to quickly get its act together, because emotive issues alone cannot turn the tide in its favour.

As of now, the Chief Minister seems to have driven a wedge through the Hindutva / nationalist camp by carving out a niche for himself. Is this niche big enough to make an impact during the polls? Is it sustainable? Is it just a fume that will soon evaporate or will it hover over the horizon until the elections? Answers to these questions will be known only in 2018.

Monday, April 24, 2017

When pets die, they take away a part of our soul

M. Gautham Machaiah

We humans claim to love unconditionally. But in reality, all of us expect something in return. If nothing, we at least expect love in return for the love that we give. The only living beings that according to my experience give love unconditionally are dogs. Rivalling humans in selfishness are cats.

When I was a student, our little dog Rover was an inseparable part of our lives. The love he gave us was unquestioned and even when he was punished sometimes, he would forgive and forget as if nothing had happened.

Just as our bond was growing, Rover suddenly fell seriously ill and had to be taken to a veterinarian, who being a man of humour assured us that the dog would soon be running like a wild boar. The doctor then put Rover to sleep. When my brother Vikram and I saw his lifeless body, we were inconsolable.

“Doctor, you said you will make him run like a wild boar, but you have killed our dog,” we confronted the veterinarian, who wryly replied, ““Of course your dog will run like a boar, but in his next life. How can a dog become a boar in this life?” We saw no point in arguing and buried Rover in our backyard. For the next four days at least, the household was drowned in tears.

Once the sorrow waned, we adopted two rabbits who were named Keechu and Meechu by our cousin Kartik, after the popular Tinkle characters. But the rabbits became a source of nuisance, burrowing holes around the house and our father decided to give them away to one of his colleagues who had a big compound.

A few days later we visited the colleague and after a sumptuous meal, Kartik asked him about Keechu and Meechu. Imagine our shock when the gentleman replied with a straight face, “What Keechu, Meechu? You just had them for dinner.” We have not forgiven him to this day.

Our next pet was again a dog, Pepsi, who I adored. When Pepsi littered, one of her pups was brought to Bengaluru by Karthik who named him Kobi. I had never seen Kobi because by then I had shifted to Bengaluru from Coorg, but every time I visited Kartik’s house, the dog would be over-excited and would greet me like a long lost friend. That is the power of intuition that dogs have.

Soon, Pepsi died and when the news reached me, I was heartbroken. Seeing my forlorn face, my colleagues thought I had lost a close family member. When I told them it was a pet, they tried to make light of it. But only a pet lover will understand the pain of losing them.

Then on, we have never had pets, but of late I have a new friend—a cat that has made a neighbourhood club her home. I feed her every time I go to the club, but the next day she royally ignores me and walks away with her tail high in the air. But when she is hungry, she comes to my table and literally demands food, something scratching me and leaving a gash on my skin. On the other hand, the street dogs near my house are ever grateful even if I feed them once in a blue moon. As the saying goes, “Dogs have masters, cats have slaves.”

If I were to have a pet again, it would most likely be a dog, never a cat…but definitely not a rabbit.