Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The Return of the Passport Ordeal -- Success

To recap, I had a short term validity passport which was expiring in December 2010. I had to get it renewed, before I left for the US. 

Yesterday, after 3 months of tension, running around government offices, standing in queues, bribing people (also known as: helping others help me; chai-paani; fees; mithai ke paise), I finally got the passport in my hands. It's now valid till 2015.

In most cases any government process (sarkaari kaam) is slow. It has always been slow. And it always will be slow. People, including me, never want to realize that. We are still living in a dream that India has gotten technologically advanced, and all that advancement has trickled into the place known as the government office. Making it a fast, streamlined, well-oiled organization. Not so.

The government office is a part of the Indian Experience, but something which can very easily get you frustrated.

The frustration is especially evident in the queues. These long, slow moving lines are filled with tension, anger, and a ton of ideas on improving productivity. Of course, the ideas only apply to people on the other side of the counter -- the government officials. Few of the ideas which I have noted:
  1. Everything should computerized! -- People say this even if a major portion of the task is in fact computerized. 
  2. There should be more counters! -- Evidently, so that there can be more queues and more ideas.
  3. Wow this guy is so slow, he should learn typing -- Something which I always think when I'm in a queue.
The other frustrating aspect of the queue, other than the endless wait, are the queue jumpers. These people will innocently meander near the front of the queue, their honest intention being only to ask a question or talk to a non-existing friend. Very soon, they are ahead of you. You ask them, to go back. And they say, that they have always been there in front; also, you are a liar and are creating a ruckus.

In my experience, women jump queues more often than men. Maybe these women feel that there is no explicit women's line, and are just correcting that mistake. But I guess the reason, men don't jump queues that often is because they will get beaten up. Women, not so.

But after dealing with all the queues, the people, the wait, the heat and humidity, the dripping AC, the rude security guard, when you finally get what you want, it's some feeling. Till 2015. Bye bye passport office.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Routine Post

Days have been passing by with nothing much happening. I have settled down to a new routine. In which most of the day is spent between browsing the internet and reading from a number of books which I have purchased. My current taste of literature is mostly modern history non-fiction and anti-war or dystopian fiction.

After lunch, I usually sleep for an hour or two. I wake up in excitement to check the status of my visa. It's always excitement, followed by disappointment and then frustration. My visa is always "pending process" where others' are "issued." I hate this wait. Yeah, "Don't worry, it will come through."

Late in the evenings I try to go for a run. Mostly this ends up being short 5Ks, with average times. It's been a long time since I did a run longer than 10KM. There has been a slight but bothersome pain in my left knee which has been there for 2-3 weeks. It gives me another excuse for my poor mileage. I should probably get it checked out.

Not being at work is not as bad as it seems. In fact it's quite pleasurable. But the only thing frustrating me right now is not knowing where things are headed.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

US/Israel war against Iran imminent?

Iran is a country which has had cultural ties with India for a long time. It's also the 3rd largest oil reserve in the world.

Of late there have been a number of articles being written on the possibility of a US/Israel war against Iran. The bone of contention is Iran's nuclear program, which Iran concedes is for energy purposes. US, Israel and other countries think not. They feel that Iran is in the process of building a nuclear bomb. 

Other than to maintain the dominant position in the middle east and some strategic reasons, the articles give reasons to justify a preemptive strike on Iran. These are:
  1. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, then that will be a blow to the nuclear nonproliferation effort.
  2. The U.N and International Law will be undermined, because Iran has signed the NPT. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, that would be a violation of the treaty.
Both of the reasons are valid only if Iran does have or acquires nuclear weapons. There is no proof that Iran has any. Iran has claimed that all its uranium enrichment needs are for civil purposes.

When Turkey and Brazil brokered a deal with Iran which met the requirements of the UN security council to prevent sanctions, it was greeted with skepticism. The weeks following that saw sanctions from the US, UN and the European Union.

While all this was going on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, talks of which have been going on for decades (since 1990), was caught in the crossfire. Pakistan signed the deal with Iran in June. The US first said that it was OK with  Pakistan's deal on the pipeline and then changed its statement, saying "new sanctions on Iran can impact Pakistan." India is currently not talking about the pipeline.

But coming back to the arguments presented in the articles. Regarding non proliferation. Who has the majority of the nuclear weapons in the world and in the middle east region? Which countries are not part of the NPT but possess nuclear weapons? Where is the effort to disarm these states?

As far as violating International Law and undermining UN is concerned, a preemptive strike itself is against International Law (under Article 2 of the UN charter) and would undermine UN (which ostensibly doesn't want war).

The articles fail to assess the impact such a war will have on the people of Iran and the soldiers who will fight. Another war will only lead to more innocent losing their lives. More suffering. More tragedies.

We can just hope that it doesn't happen.
"War is Peace" - 1984, George Orwell

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Change of Perspective

Ever since I can remember the Indian common people have had a great admiration for USA.

I remember when American President Bill Clinton and Microsoft CEO Bill Gates first arrived in India. Both of them were greeted with great fervour. Bill Clinton was mobbed wherever he went (all out of admiration). They had never done any wrong and they could do no wrong. Mostly that was the attitude.

When I used to think of America, the picture would be that of a rich, developed nation. Which had some problems in the past, but most of them were solved. 

Who hasn't the heard the line "This is India not America", when you complained about the roads, the traffic; when you had to wait 3 months for your passport to get issued; when there was a power-cut or water shortage, etc? Or the fact that in a lot of our advertisements, the word of the American expert is taken to be the truth. Or when we see American expert teams come to India, to coach Indians about Indian problems. Or when students go to America to gain a better education. American superiority is taken for granted in all fields.

But at the same time, some men (I have never heard women say this) feel that there are some problems being in America. You lose some freedom, they say. The loss being that one can't urinate, spit and dump garbage in the open. A great loss indeed.

But what is the USA? Is it a piece of land in Northern America? Is it the people living there? Is it the government of that land mass? Or is it a combination of all of the above?

And why is America admired? Does it truly have no problems?

Over the past months I have read multiple books and documentaries on America, its history. The books, the movies have all been made by dissenting voices. They don't paint a rosy picture.

Here are a few points which I gleaned from them:

  1. America has the largest military budget in the world. It has got military bases all over the world. It has been involved in numerous wars. A number of which have been fought for reasons which were later proven to be untrue. It has also been pointed out that on repeated occasions the American governments have preferred military intervention over diplomatic settlement. 
  2. In spite of being the richest country in the world, USA still has 13.2 percent (39.8 million people) of its population living in poverty. The top 1% of the population own 33% of America's wealth. In fact some believe that both the Democratic and Republican parties largely represent US corporate power (top 1%) than people's interests.
  3. The US health care industry is largely privatized and quite expensive. Unlike other developed countries (Canda, UK, France) it doesn't have universal health care. India, by the way, does have universal health care. Even the private medical expenses are far cheaper here than the USA.
  4. The US food industry is in control of a few corporations. Most of the food industry is corn based. A number of food products are genetically engineered and patented. This includes seed and livestock. There have been cases when regular farmers have been prosecuted for patent infringement. The corporation, Monsanto, which was behind the farmers' prosecution in the US also has a branch in India. If you remember the BT-Brinjal case -- that was Monsanto.
  5. USA is a large consumer of plastics. Petroleum based plastics are not bio-degradable, which means that unless they are recycled they either end up in a landfill or end up polluting the land and the seas. The rate of recycling plastics in the US is 28%, whereas that in India is estimated to be 60%
My latest fascination with America has got less to do with the fact that I might end up going there in a month's time, but more with the increasing pervasiveness of American corporations and the influence of the US government on India.

Picture a person working in Bangalore, wearing a Levi's jeans, sipping on diet Coke, eating at McDonald's, working for a US based corporation. That's what we all want to become when we graduate from college. It's approved by everyone and is equated with success and well-being. 

Well actually the pervasiveness and the influence of American corporations and governments on India has been there for quite some time now. It's just that my eyes have opened up and the perspective has been changed.

From admirer, I have become an observer, maybe even a critic.


If you are interested in the literature which will help you understand this, here are some references. The list includes books and movies.
  1. Hegemony or Survival, Noam Chomsky.
  2. Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky.
  3. Hopes and Prospects, Noam Chomsky.
  4. A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn.
  5. The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Noam Chomsky
  6. Food Inc, Robert Kenner
  7. Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore
  8. Addicted to Plastic, Ian Connacher
  9. Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore
  10. Sicko, Michael Moore
  11. Capitalism: A love story, Michael Moore
  12. Taxi Ride to the Dark Side, Alex Gibney
  13. The Corporation, Mark Achbar