Monday, November 18, 2013

Democracy and House Party

At ITM, the five of us were a very close knit gang. After college, work split us though the bond was intact.

And now, after about ten years all of us are in Chennai. We all got together on Whatsapp. Suddenly, it felt as if we were back in the small room at Vanniyambathi Street in Mandaveli, though virtual.

We decided to to have a family get together. And that's when I realized how difficult it was to run the country in the democratic set up.

Here's how the rest of the story pans out or should I say fizzled out.

1. Date: Since weekdays were impossible, there was an agreement that it has to be on a weekend. But would that be on a Saturday or Sunday, that was the question. I preferred Saturday while other friend preferred Sunday. After a bit of persuasion, we decided on a particular Saturday. But soon after agreeing, few days later one member informed that he was not going to be available that particular Saturday. Now, thankfully we all quickly agreed for the next Saturday.

2. Make, Deliver or Go Out: Initially the plan was that it would be a potluck. Each household gets to make a particular dish. While the idea was good, after some considerations we decided to go to a restaurant. So we started discussing which place and type of food. At this point, I noticed that one particular friend wasn't communicating. So I called him. As I had anticipated he wasn't happy going to a restaurant. So we decided to order and I offered to host the meeting at my place.

3. Biriyani or Pasta: The decision was to order bucket biriyani. Just as we got close, a friend checked if we could order pasta instead of biriyani. After discussing the palate of people, we decided against it. Just as we finished the conversation, we realized we had nothing for the lone vegetarian in the gang. An additional logistic load.

Of course as the day neared, I had a hunch. So three days before our meeting, I called each of them to reconfirm. As I had thought, two of them said that something had come up at home and that they couldn't make it. That was three days before our grand meeting. Finally, there was no get together, no biriyani. Just some irritation and acidity.

Now if you were patient reading all these trivial details about dates and biriyani for an insignificant meeting between friends, I thank you. All these happenings reminds me of the state of our nation. It makes me wonder if Democracy is bane or boon to our country. Is it helping the country move forward or pulling it backwards?

Take Andhra Pradesh turmoil for instance. One party brings the state to a halt as it wants a separate state to be carved out. When a decision is taken, the rest bring it to grinding halt fighting against the division. Take my own state for example, the power starved Tamil Nadu. Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project was planned more than a decade ago. The construction of the plant started in 1998, now in 2011 we have protests about its safety.

Seems like democracy in India is only letting the nation take one step forward and two backwards. The consensus building exercise is a task juggernaut with too many voices and so many power centers.

Would an autocratic rule be the answer? Would someone who can rule with an iron hand be better for the country?

And then I think about this example and feel proud that India a democracy. Because the basic bedrock of democracy is that citizens are intelligent. And that ultimately the power lies in their hands.

Think about how China and India have dealt with one of their biggest problems - the burgeoning population. While China decreed one child policy with strict enforcement. Any exceptions was dealt with strongly.

India too had a brief enforcement through vasectomy. But otherwise, India's strategy to controlling the population growth was and has been based on - advocacy and public relations. No one can ever forget hum do, hamare do (we two, ours two). You could see it everywhere, the inverted red triangle. TV programs, Radio Streams, Hospitals...The messages appealed to people's good sense. Apprised them of the benefits. No coercion, no punishment. In fact, if I am not wrong there were no incentives, as well. It was freewill.

Becoming republic was probably the best gift that our leaders gave us. But I guess with it also comes along different voices often with narrow vision. With Federal system, the power becomes fragmented. And this is a scenario not just in India. The United States of America witnessed shut down recently. There are certainly challenges, but I guess this is the better form of governance.

In the end, it is a two way process. People have to exercise their choice carefully and their representatives in the Republic have to act responsibly. Idealistic? Is that too much to expect? 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Indians and the Finishing Touch

If Frenchman Jacques Bigot had dark skin, he would look like an Indian old man. He was a short man with sharp pointed mustache. He was heading a special project of building the factory for the organization where I worked. As the infrastructure was nearing completion, he called me in to carry out branding at the factory.

Jacques Bigot had an eye for detail. He was also very particular of sticking to schedules. And while communicating, he was straight and blunt. Despite that it was fun working with him. Despite pushing everyone to commit to a plan and ensuring they stick to it, no one could ever hate him. He was jovial and fun loving.

After the completion of branding at the factory, I went a little late into the factory next day. I was feeling proud that I had done a good job and was sure Jacques will be impressed. As I entered I found Jacques outside and as soon as he was me, he welcomed me by giving a warm handshake and thanked me. I felt good. Then, he said "come with me". I knew there was something else.

He took me to one part of the factory and said "I don't blame and you have done a good job. But I have always noticed that Indians are not good at finishing things properly". Then, he showed me the mounds of mud that had accumulated on the skirting under each of the poster. He said though the posters were properly placed, the vendor had left without clearing the dust. Then he went on the point out to the pencil marks on the wall that had been etched around the poster. This is usually done to ensure that the posters are aligned properly but now they were part of the wall too.

At first, I was upset. Then after some thought I felt Jacques Bigot wasn't wrong. I have myself had such experiences after a visit from a service provider - electrician, AC mechanic, plumber, carpenter. Am sure you must have experienced this as well. Bits of wires strewn around? Pieces of wood, plastic, copper wire, dust that we clean up.

This can be experienced almost everywhere in India. Have you experienced the sudden bump on the road throwing you off balance and giving your back a big surprise. Or the other kind which emerges half feet above the road surface. Not sure if Corporation staff were planning a gutter closing or a speed breaker. The height of the pavements differ or are laid without a thought. Sometime, you wonder why the pavement was laid at all. Or take the Kathipara Grade Separator in Chennai for that matter. In one particular part, the rain water stagnates. And worse the surface is very uneven in other parts. Such a massive project handled by a professional organization with huge amounts of money invested!

Why does this happen? Lack of interest to complete our tasks fully or are we insensitive to the "finishing".