Saturday, June 24, 2006 3 reflections

It must be love...

‘Whoa! Look at them go!’ exclaimed a Latin colleague of mine when he experienced his first visuals of Bangalore traffic. We were looking at the Internet-based cameras that have been installed to monitor traffic conditions across the city. As we watched the delirious pattern of metal crisscrossing each other on a bustling tar strip, I could not help but smile for having participated in this chaotic ritual for many years myself. Watching my city’s traffic from atop a building was like watching a one-day international cricket match. What always seemed like an easy ball to strike would end up getting through the wickets. The ground reality however was a different ‘ball game’ apparently.

Hailing from an organized chaos of a traffic system in Bangalore my migration to western lands had me puzzled initially. The similarities between the two patterns of traffic were plain and simple. The traffic looked and felt the same. The roads were definitely built with pretty much the same engineering skeleton. The traffic signals behaved the same way with the same set of offenders equally distributed. The distribution of four-wheeled, two-wheeled, HMVs and public transport too was not a major concern either. Then why was it that the traffic in Bangalore seemed so much harder to deal with? How could it be possible that I was able to cover a distance of 10 kilometers without working up much of a sweat when the same in Bangalore meant an entire day’s energy? What was the one thing we seemed to be doing that others were not?

Geography is the only proof we have to try and experiment with what the roads will look like in the next 10 years. Fair enough. But what about the constant migration happening in the city? Studies show that an average of 80 - 100 new families are entering the city each passing day and at this rate it will not be long before Bangalore alone starts to resemble the apartments dotted across China. With such a mammoth increase in the city’s population it is only natural to notice near impossible traffic situation at ground zero. Everyone wants to reach his/her destination first. Why? No one knows. How? By squeezing into each available crack in the traffic. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Adding to the already established geographical proof a mathematical theory emerges.

Let us take an average of 10 vehicles, which include two Kinetic Hondas (or any two wheeler), two auto-rickshaws, four four-wheeled vehicles (cars, jeeps, vans etc), one truck and one BMTC bus. Considering the bus is the largest of the lot, the average length of the road’s area covered would be that of the bus - 35 feet. This again means that the remaining 9 vehicles will have to huddle around or within this area. There is also a good chance that some of them will peep out of this 35 feet boundary due to variations in individual length. Now multiply this total area with, say, a hundred thus calculating for 10x100 = 1000 vehicles. Given the finite length of the roads there might be instances where some vehicles will have to stand sideways or in irregular positions to make up for the lack of space. There are also bright chances for vehicles to use the footpath for extra comfort. Pedestrians will have to oblige since they too are a variable part of this equation. Considering this mathematical approach, I think it is safe to assume that we Bangaloreans have indeed followed this rule with a lot of enviable jingoism. To the untrained eye we look like an anthill but the reality is that we too, as crazy as it might seem, have a system. This truth dawned on me as I sat watching my city from above a building the other day.

‘So what if the roads are finite? Can’t you have a lane system? This way there might be delay but at least there will be some order. Democratically designed traffic?’ reflected my innocent colleague when he noticed smaller vehicles hastily buzzing around larger ones in a bid to take over. What he did not seem to understand is while keeping our scientific logic in place, we also travel dangerously close to each other since there is so much love and affection in the land. We don’t want some regulated system to take this away do we? What possible cutting edge traffic concept can help preserve this unique feel we spend an entire day on? Right?

An edited version of this piece was recently published by Deccan Herald in their daily.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006 4 reflections

If only looks could kill - DH Article

Cosmetic advertisements have been throwing around the myth that being 'fair' in complexion is a known benchmark for success in the society. This disturbing cliche of selling their products is true to this day in India. Featured here is an article I had written for DH on this issue. It was published in the June 20, 2006 issue on Page 11.

Please click on the image given for a larger version.
Friday, June 16, 2006 2 reflections

Venezuela - Beer, Babes, Bolivar and Baseball

A crescendo of exuberant voices greets a first time visitor to the Simon Bolivar (the founding father of the nation) International airport. The brightly lit interiors and LG flat screens announcing your flight's details are the common sights on arriving in Caracas City, Venezuela. Just a few minutes earlier you would have been hovering over the majestic Avila ranges that form the borders of the city. As you look down upon the barrios dotted across the fabric of green a mixed emotion wave flows across your heart. The tiny huts on the gigantic mounds look back sadly at you like a grinning child in a poor neighborhood. You fly past heavenly clouds that sit with an air of regal supremacy on the mountain tops giving you a spectacular view of the capital city of this country.

Circa 2000 found me stepping foot into this rollercoaster of a country for the first time. A time when I could not speak a single word of Spanish (that is Español) and yet had a weird sense of comfort and acceptance right away. An hour's ride through the gorgeous mountain passes and magnificent gorges later the traffic jams of the city hit you unawares. From a beautiful paradise island your surrounding would have transformed into an organized chaos engulfing you completely into it. The irate taxi-walah tells you about the complaints he has about the traffic situation but you pretend to be reading a book since you neither understand nor care for his tantrums. Within an hour's time your experience of being one with the nature has become a part of the past as you wonder where Mother Nature suddenly disappeared!

"Where exactly are all these people going?" if I were to ask a colleague referring to a major cola or traffic-line he would mischievously grin back and say "Nowhere! The petrol is so darn cheap they just keep going round and round. Like the Truman Show!"

Despite this seemingly madman ramble about a very Mumbaiyya situation Venezuela has a lot to offer. If you look past the concrete madness of Caracas you will notice Mother Nature playfully appearing all over the place. If at one point she is in the wide landscapes of the Andes Mountains where the Angel Falls (world's highest waterfall) is, then on the other she is teasing you into her bosom as the plains of the Llanos. If at one point she swims with her characteristic charm in the Orinoco belt then on the other she is a caring parent for cities like Valencia, Maracaibo and Barquisimeto among others. Yes. Mother Nature is definitely everywhere in Venezuela.

The first time I heard about the country was during one of the beauty pageants in India. I remember using Venezuela as a strong metaphor for beautiful women as a teen but little did I know I would have the pleasure of living in it someday. Venezuelan women are very beauty-conscious. They want to look beautiful at all costs which is why cosmetic surgeries in this place are the cheapest in this part of the world. It is indeed ironic that in a country which lives in the shadow of Mother Nature finding naturally structured women can sometimes be a challenge. I sometimes joke with my colleague that the country's name should be changed to 'Vain-ezuela' given the strong undercurrents of vanity I have experienced.

Venezuela has room for everything and everyone. It is one of the most open-ended and accepting civilizations I have come across. Despite being a rather new international traveler myself I can safely vouch that Venezuela welcomes all foreigners with open arms. You will find all kinds of people here – Asians, Europeans, Africans, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus. Fitting into such a diverse culture makes living here an amazing experience. The connections I have formed with the people here are priceless. The warmth with which they greet a foreigner is truly worth applause. This is probably why that despite a shaky political scene and the constant accusation of being a communist-country in a democratic disguise, people still remain loyal to this land.

The desi presence in Venezuela has never been a constant. Being one of the primary petroleum and pharmaceutical hunting ground for Indian engineers Venezuela has managed to retain only a few of them. Over the past few years the Indian embassy in Venezuela has formed an association through which a humble desi like me has had the privilege to gyrate to 'Kajra Re' during Holi and sniff in delicious matar paneer during Diwali parties. These have been the only safe getaways for a vegetarian like me since finding meat in Venezuela is like finding temples in India. That said it also has given me an opportunity to explore some amazing Italian cuisine, some mouth watering Lebanese bonanza and some interestingly different Chinese menu.

Apart from food Venezuela definitely does cater to all other conceivable kinds of appetite. Be it sports, bar-hopping, adventure and hiking, politics, dating and of course music. It is interesting to note that a large ratio of Venezuela's population is the young crowd (18 - 40) and hence the very obvious 24/7 party scene in the country. Despite the many ups and downs the nation has seen in the last few years with regards to its socio-economic scenario, the place is pulsating with endless energy. The Venezuelan laid-back attitude of mañaña (tomorrow) only fuels this never ending party zone further. Here is one true country where the cities never sleep nor pretend to.

To make an end less preachy and more reflective, all I can really say is Venezuela is one place that everyone needs to visit at least once. I am sure no matter where you are from or what your passion is – Venezuela will definitely have something you will fall in love with.

Venezuela para todos.

Saturday, June 10, 2006 0 reflections

Traps in a system - Deccan Herald article

Writing only makes sense if there is someone to read it, has always been my belief. That belief bore fruit a couple of days ago when my first official article was published by Deccan Herald newspaper for their Bangalore/Karnataka Edition. I had sent them an article on the increasing student deaths in India and given on the left is the newspaper clipping of the same. Please click on it to view the entire article in a larger version. This is an edited version of the original titled Educational Euthanasia published on this blog a few days ago.

For those who do subscribe to Deccan Herald then please refer to the copy of June 8, 2006 and flip to Page 13. Under the 'Panorama' section my article is published as 'Traps in the system'.

If you would like to read and/or comment on this piece online then please click here.

This is a great moment for me and I hope there are many more like this. Amen.