Alternative Public Transport in India – an Introspection

As a child, I hardly played with dolls or soft-toys; they don’t impress me even now. Rather I was always fascinated with motors, particularly cars. Later it became my hobby to collect such images (including jeeps, fighter-crafts, yachts and ships) and often I used to list the cars and jeeps that I would own some day…… 🙂

But with the ever increasing numbers (of both human-beings and vehicles) and pollution, at the core of my heart, I now hesitate to own a car or use it UNLESS the distance to be travelled is
– long or
– wearisome or
– amidst a rough weather or
– during an emergency or
– through deserted areas or
– made at nightfall or
– taken by parents-with-kids, the ill and the elderly.

Otherwise on an average course, like many I too believe that Bicycles, Trams and Tongas (also solar-powered vehicles) can be a great reliever of our city traffic woes ! These also drastically reduce instances of accidents !!! Moreover, while Bicycling is a good exercise, Trams and Tongas cast a very aesthetic and classic look. Further, both children and adults learn to appreciate the service of horses pulling a Tonga (or of camels pulling certain type of Carts), thus ultimately becoming compassionate towards these creatures.

Consider India’s IT-hub, Bangalore. The new Metro Rail services here are still like a joy-ride; even after so many years of planning and construction activities, it is limited to few spots only. The rate of completion is extremely slow compared to the growth of the city in terms of extension of areas, increase in commercial centres and population. Moreover, the city is blemished with half-laid flyovers, subways, dug soil, pot-holes, etc., which only add to further inconveniences of the citizens, particularly in the rainy season.

Moreover, presently only a few spots are merely planned (i.e. yet to be implemented) for dedicated Bicycle lanes and zones. These lanes must be at a standard height and evenly laid. Then remains the much arduous task of designing, building and maintaining efficient parking areas and abating public nuisance !! The city authorities have also reserved a good future proposal of charging vacant seats in private vehicles plying on the road to check increase in number of cars.

If Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi can progress well in enhancing public transport, then why cannot Bangalore or other cities ? Where are the loop-holes ?

A recent international study shows Kolkata to be the most progressive city in India, when it comes to public transport. Apart from the usual Trains, it has a wonderful Metro Rail service. The intermediate public transport system comprises of variety of Buses, age-old Trams, Taxis, Auto-rickshaws and Rickshaws.

I think collaborations with Japan, Singapore and some European countries can help us a lot in this regard; they already have excellent public transport systems in place along with proper usage of smart-cards.

Mushkeel Hai Par Namoomkeen Nahi‘ (difficult but not impossible) – especially when one seriously thinks about decreasing or preventing current levels of pollution, and conserving the atmosphere, land as well as other natural resources for our future folks, and implementing stricter law and order to literally pave a smooth way ! Whether directly or indirectly, does not all these take care of several big and significant social parameters ?

Hence, it is famously said that a progressive or developed nation is one where citizens are able to mostly use a good public transport system. From my personal observation during a three-month stay in an European country, I found its citizens to travel to work on all the days of the week by availing the public transport system. Even the super-rich drove their Lamborghinis only on weekends or holidays, or on special occasions. Inspiring, indeed !

Back at home, we have a long way to go. The obstacles are all not because of the huge population or inadequate infrastructure or financial deficiencies but primarily, we have to collectively change our attitude in this regard. Elucidating this point, it simply means that if my neighbour buys a car today then I should not fall into a rat-race of owning one similar or of higher price; rather I must explore ways or continue to use the public transport system best available to me and also encourage others in the society to do so by citing the above mentioned reasons. Likewise, I must actively participate in promoting or developing such a transport system that is supported by the administration of the city or town I reside. In short, my gratefulness towards Mother Earth and concern for the future generations must be carefully set on a much higher level than my vanity to flaunt my riches; I must remember ‘the dust from where I sprang’.

Wonder if we can get to see this picture in most Indian cities in our lifetime…!

Aamjunta – what do you say?

Delightful Diwali but… NO crackers, Please !!

Over the years in the Indian subcontinent, we have celebrated Deepavali or Diwali by lighting clay lamps and bursting fire-crackers to drive away evil spirits.

Now, let’s reflect from a different but existing interpretation from our ancient holy texts. It is the festival of lights, which signifies a “consciousness of the Inner Light- the Atma” dispelling ignorance and also generating compassion for all beings.

Looking at things around in this age, one can observe with a little insight that any unmeasured or unconsidered practice of bursting fire-crackers can fatally harm, aggravate and disturb four major cases of life on Earth –

1. already high levels of pollution
2. conditions of ailing people (particularly, the heart-ached or migraine-affected)
3. the common man living on the streets or slums, or awfully needing to rush his/her child, aged-parents, spouse, relative, friend to the hospital
4. creatures living on the ground or underground

Many of us have ourselves confronted these situations or watched others helplessly struggling against it. Is not it then our responsibility to check the way we celebrate Diwali and also educate the younger generations?

Let us care a little for Mother Earth and ALL beings living on it. Human beings are the highest kind of intelligent animals here. Therefore, as long as it is within our control, we should avoid killing or hurting even lower and weaker life forms; we should rather strive to protect them.  FOREMOST, we can surely try and make things Safe, Secured and Clean !!! That would in fact bring us closest to attaining the real “ananda” or “rejoice of the Inner Light”…

Lets make it a festival of lights for all; not festival of darkness for some !

Wishing everyone a truly Delightful Diwali.

Aamjunta – what do you say?

Eunuch or ‘Hijra’ – the third sex in India

Before delving into our current title, I would like to make a small note on three important (re-)defined terms which I came across reliable sources in the internet: Gender, Gender Equality and Gender Mainstreaming.

Gender: Prior to John Money’s work in 1955, the word “gender” was commonly used to refer to grammatical categories only. Gradually, as various sociological contexts were understood or emerged, this term also evolved in its definition. It now assimilates the aspects of biological sex (i.e., male or female or inter-sex), social roles (as the Hijra of India and Pakistan) or gender identity. In simple terms, it distinguishes between masculinity and feminity in a broader socio-cultural context which is also time-specific. The socio-cultural contexts include considerations for class, race, ethnic group, age and poverty level.

Gender Equality: It means that rights, needs, interests, resources, responsibilities, protection and opportunities (including decision-making) must be equal for all, irrespective of their sex or socio-cultural diversity. The United Nations Millennium Project that aims to end world poverty by 2015 claims that no society can develop in a “sustainable” manner unless it is modelled on gender equality.

Gender Mainstreaming: It is the process of integrating a gender perspective into all policies, legislations, programmes and activities in political, societal and economic spheres, at all levels, to transform that which generates or perpetuates gender inequality. Therefore, the ultimate aim of this socialisation process is to achieve gender equality.

Now, coming to the topic…

The eunuch or Hijra (in Hindi) is usually considered as a social stigma in India. Though the concept of “third sex” or “tritiya prakriti” exists in India from its ancient era, it was formally recognized in India in 1994. At present, “third sex” is being recognized in India with an option to identify them as “Eunuch (E)” on Passports and on certain other documents. However, it is yet to be accommodated fully in all other departments. Though there are efforts seen within and outside the Government to grant the basic civil rights to the eunuchs, it is still discriminatory in many cases. For example, in 2003, the Election Commission of India did not allow eunuchs to vote, unless they identified themselves either as male or female. In 2009, three eunuchs were not allowed to contest election, citing the very same rule- male or female.

The discrimination towards eunuchs is not new in modern India. During the British Raj, authorities attempted to eradicate eunuchs, citing them as a breach of public decency. Eunuchs were labelled as criminal tribe and were placed under the Criminals Tribe Act, 1871. They were subjected to compulsory registration, monitoring and stigmatized. However, on a positive note, independent India de-notified this in 1952; still the century-old stigma continues which labels the Hijra only as a social role and not as a “third sex”.

For their survival, the Hijras have developed a secret language called Hijra Farsi, which has a sentence structure loosely based on Urdu and a unique vocabulary of at least thousand words. Beyond the Urdu-Hindi speaking areas of the Indian subcontinent, this vocabulary is still used by the Hijra community within their own native languages.

On a socio-economic analysis, eunuchs in India live at the margins of the society, with a derogatory reference to the term Hijra. Hijras are not defined by specific sexual orientation, but rather by renouncing sexuality altogether. Many believe that their sexual energy is transformed into sacred powers. For this very reason, the Hijras were employed in royal houses and during ‘hom’ (a Hindu ritual of making holy offerings) in the past. Until even a few years back, the Hijras were invited by rich families /landlords to distribute sweets and clothes to the poor during festivals or bless a bride on the day of her wedding. But in reality – Hijras are today often self-employed as prostitutes for survival reasons.

It is often noticed that without any major employment opportunity and social acceptance, eunuchs in general get their income by begging, sex-work, working as escorts, performing ceremonies, etc. Study conducted by Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka in 2003, is an eye-opener in many forms. Without any social acceptance and with the discrimination in health-care, education, employment, income, housing, legal and social justice, etc., eunuchs in India are forced to live in sub-standard conditions and in inhuman life style. With a eunuch population of 10 lakh or more, and with such little efforts, the acceptance of the “third sex” in the Indian main stream is a dream that may not be fulfilled at all in the near future. Unless a comprehensive civil rights legislation is enacted to offer eunuchs the same protection and rights as guaranteed to the two other forms of biological sex i.e. male and female, nothing can be expected from the society.

The religious India however treats the Hijras in a different form – the bahuchara mata in Gujarat, a form of ardha-nari-swar (Lord Shiva and Parvati) and the aravanis in Tamil Nadu. On a different note, beginning 2006, eunuchs were engaged to accompany Patna city revenue officials to collect unpaid taxes, receiving a 4-percent commission. India’s first eunuch legislator, 40-year-old Shabnam Maushi joined the mainstream politics in the state of Madhya Pradesh in the year 2000. The success story of Shabnam Maushi has encouraged other eunuchs in India, resulting in more of their participation in Indian politics and policy-making as Mayors, Legislators, Councillors, etc. But surely, more remains to be achieved for them in any advanced civil society.

Moreover, as Gender Mainstreaming is gaining momentum in India, we should therefore no more ignore the eunuch or Hijra… but respectfully treat them and work for their well-being at par with every other strata in our society.

Aamjunta – What do you say?

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) – A Necessity in India !!

There are arguments and counter-arguments on FDI or Foreign Direct Investment in India in the Parliament, in election rallies, in TV-debates, in newspaper articles, in general strikes in the country or Bharat Bandhs… There are obvious fears by the farmers, retailers, small-scale manufacturers, and the common man on the effect of FDI in India. Some say that FDI in India will bring major Multi National Companies (MNCs) in India which will abolish small-scale retailers and businessman. There are arguments saying that the MNCs will have a monopoly in the market resulting in a sharp rise in price of items in India. Further, there is also a fear that the country’s security – both internal and external, will be at stake due to the involvement of MNCs in Telecom, Internet, Aviation, Infrastructure, Retail, Healthcare, Insurance, etc.

Not that all the above arguments against FDI are invalid. However, with a positive mindset, we can certainly overcome such apprehensions. This can certainly be done by bringing reforms in our Judicial system, and by resetting a stronger regulator like the Competition Commission in the line of Election Commission of India or Auditor General of India. Moreover, Vigilance Commission has to be more responsive and aggressive in its activities. Along with these, the concept of Lokpal needs to be operational in India and the nature of functioning of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) needs to be completely autonomous in this regard. And of course, the public (consumers) must be aware, prompt and pursuant with regard to issues and their solutions ! With a proper check-and-balance policy implemented, we can  certainly reap benefits from FDI in India. In the current economic scenario – stiff rise in corruption, lack of accountability and transparency – FDI seems to be the right answer and is a dire necessity in India.

Here are some reasons favouring FDI in India…

It is really surprising to know that only 2-3% Indians pay Income tax. Does this figure say that the income of 97-98% Indians are less than the taxable limit (INR 2 Lakh/year) ?? A serious doubt. There are many reasons to it. The first and foremost is the lack of transparency and lack of accountability in our financial transactions – be it in income or expenditure. People prefer cash transaction over card or cheque while buying any item in India. Starting from a kirana shop (local general store) to a jewellery shop, everybody prefers cash transaction and giving and taking a bill /receipt is mostly discouraged. Some feel it is a taboo to ask for a bill, and some think ‘why to pay tax and take a bill’ ? But have you ever wondered that in not asking for a bill /receipt, who is getting benefited – the customers or the aamjunta ?!? ‘No’ – they are the losers only !!!

With direct and organized marketing which will mainly result out of FDI, the financial transactions will be mostly transparent and will be accounted for. Payments will be mostly in online mode. This will not only improve the tax scenario in India but also curtail huge corruption in India. Poor customers will not be cheated… and even if they are cheated, with a valid bill /receipt, necessary complaints can be conveniently filed in the Consumer Court. The investigation process will also become  easy and quick as everything would be duly accounted.

In India, we have the wide concept of “Middle-Man” or “Agent” or “Broker”, who always demands his/her share in every deal; sometimes even more than the actual cost of the product or service, without actually doing any thing or adding any value to it. The concept of direct marketing is hardly available in India, especially in Agriculture, Medicine, Grocery and Household items, etc. Surprisingly, there are many middle-men involved in the process – from the farmer to the consumer, from the factory-worker to the customer, from the laboratory-technician to the patient, and from the poor manufacturer (workmen) to the average consumers. This not only increases the price of the items but also encourages hoarding, corruption, unethical practices in business, unfair trade dealings, and above all the big bug i.e. inflation.

As per a study commissioned by the World Bank, farmers in India hardly get anything more than 12-15% of the price consumers pay at the retail outlet for Agricultural products. The reasons being –  (i) lack of education or awareness (ii) poor infrastructure (machinery) (iii) poor storage system (more than 25% food-grains are wasted in India today due to poor storage system) (iv) poor transport (e.g. non-urbanized roads leading from the agricultural fields to the towns) (v) middle-man (market-domination). With direct marketing as expected because of FDI in agriculture, the involvement of middle-man will be minimized in the process. Both the farmer and the consumer will be benefited largely – quantitatively and qualitatively. Direct sell by the farmers to organized retailers can render them a profit about 60% higher than that via ‘mandi‘ (a big un-organized wholesale /retail market in India) or the middle-man ! This will also check inflation of food items. Moreover, FDI will also ensure adequate storage facilities for food items, improve infrastructure scientifically and transportation facilities.

Like Agriculture, Retailing in India also requires FDI and organized marketing. The quality of the products will be improved and at the same time the price of the retail items will reduce severely. Moreover, it will also generate employment in India. With India’s traditional family system, culture, population and needs, the small retailers will also remain fully functional… but with enhanced accountability – in services and products. It will create a healthy atmosphere for a sustained competitive market.

Other than Agriculture and Retail, FDI will also benefit India to improve its Telecom penetration, Internet affordability, etc. At present, Broadband Services are mainly available in cities only. With better infrastructure and technology, it can be expanded to villages or rural areas at a lesser cost. Growth of Telecom and Internet in India will lead to better Governance, Healthcare, Insurance, Education, etc. This will ensure more and more participation of the common man in day-to-day services or the Public Services of the government. All services can be improved and a better lifestyle can be provided to the common man.

With FDI in Healthcare and Insurance, better care facilities can be provided at a lesser cost in the villages and expert advices can also be effectively delivered through e-health programs. Cost of Medicines will also come down drastically, if the system of generic medicines is adopted in India. In any case, with no middle-man involved, the prices of medicines can be brought down at least by 15-20%. Awareness for insurance schemes – be it life insurance or crop insurance or health insurance – will also greatly benefit the people in general.

What we need is very simple – accountable and transparent services at a better price with growth-oriented policies; create more jobs and provide better services. Political parties – ruling or opposition – must explore maturity levels in understanding the various issues by discussing and debating these in the Parliament, and not on the streets and election rallies ! Nation-wide or state-level strikes must be discouraged outrightly as these activities often spread the wrong message to the unaware folks. Parliament can introduce or change Laws and Institutions such that things can be improved to a larger extent in the interest of the common man.

Many may differ regarding the implementation, policy and the limits of FDI in various sectors. But if FDI brings organized market, with accountability and transparency, then it should be definitely welcomed in India, without any politics.

Recently (May,2013), the Supreme Court of India has aptly remarked that ‘Consumer is King‘ !!!

So, let the consumer decide…

Aamjunta – what do you say ?

Yes to Telangana – Opening of the Pandora’s Box or another European Union !!

With the formation of 29th state of India – “Telangana” (carved out of 10 districts of earlier Andhra Pradesh, with some decisions pending regarding allocation of 2 more districts and the status of Hyderabad)… the political parties, the intellectuals, the political commentators are making calculated comments. Though there is a sense of pride and victory by some people of Telangana, the general mood of the people of remaining Andhra Pradesh (AP) and people of other parts of India is not happy about the way this particular issue was handled and the states are being created. One simple question always arises time and again – on what basis new states are being created in India – on political ground or, on language or, on religion or, on ethnicity or, on some growth-model or, on some kind of compulsion ?

It is certain that the creation of Telangana is more due to political reasons than that of administrative or governance or people centric ones. With 2014 General Election in mind, the UPA-II government in general, and the Congress in particular, have played a game to win more seats in both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, to counter the growing popularity of YSR-Congress and/or to take Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) into their coalition. This political will is yet to be ratified by the people in 2014 – time will be the best judge of course !!

Though it is being argued by TRS (in particular) that the creation of Telangana is to handle the (under) development of that region, it is not difficult to understand the political motives of TRS leaders. It is certainly a mix equation of power – hunger of power and abuse of power; hunger of power is more destructive than the the abuse of power though.  This also results in mistrust between common citizens or aamjunta, business men, companies, politicians in various degrees. The mistrust being created with the formation and demand of new states also have long lasting impact on the development of the states in particular and India as a whole nation. This is a very sensitive issue and needs to be handled carefully.

The impact of creation of Telangana is definitely not limited to Andhra Pradesh; its impact is being felt in Odisha in the form of Kosala, in Maharashtra in the form of Vidarbha, in Uttar Pradesh  in the form of Harit Pradesh, in central India in the form of Bundelkhand and in the East/North-East in the form of Gorkha Land… ! It may not stop there; it did not stop with Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Goa before. The Pandora’s Box is opened now with many political compulsions, intentions and possibilities !!!

If we analyse the impact of creation of smaller states, we can certainly find two major points – (i) smaller states boost regional parties, which are definitely not a healthy sign for a democracy like India and (ii) smaller states bring political instability as in Jharkhand and Goa – 8 Chief Minsters in last 10 years (9  governments in last 13 years) in Jharkhand, and 14 governments in 15 years between 1990 and 2005 in Goa !! The instability can be frequently created by regional parties, especially in a coalition type of government.

Other than the above major points, smaller states give rise to intolerance, regionalism and selfish motives, which some times hinder the growth of India as a whole, and complicates the inter-state relations – water, mining, dams, power, etc. This also complicates the internal security as observed in New Delhi with many neighbours. Many fear that the anti-Maoist movement being carried out jointly by Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattishgarh, etc.  may also get diluted resulting in more and more kidnaps, bomb-blasts, killing and loots in different parts of the country.

Other than the above points, what bothers aamjunta is the possible political instability towards which India is heading with the current developments. It is almost certain that in the next General Election, no single political party will get simple majority at the centre; a coalition government led by Congress or a possible Third-Front government led by smaller parties are definitely not ruled out, and hence the fear of scams, corruptions, horse-trading will definitely rise. Even a possible BJP-led government at the centre will have many compulsions too ! Someone has rightly remarked – this will bring demons with crisis in democracy !!

The way we are creating smaller states with the above motives, an European Union model is not ruled out in India in the future – with one or two major partners (states) and many smaller partners (states) with political and financial instability.

Chanakya’s  (370–283 BC) “akhanda Bharat” (undivided India) is becoming “khanda Bharat” (divided India) !!

Aamjunta needs to awake, arise and take the centre-stage as a voter, implementer, jurist, businessman, student, teacher, social activist and others – for, by and of India.

Uttistha Bharata” (Arise India) !!!

Aamjunta – what do you say and how do you react ?

Jai Hind…

Another article on Regional Politics in India: Regional Political Parties – danger to Democracy and India?

Drifting Spirits

Whether it is Amarnath Yatra or Haj or any other pilgrimage, a few concerns have always bothered some of us !!

It is a fact that at some point in life, even some atheists among us tend to become extremely religious or try to take a spiritual discourse. This is a natural thing. Therefore, I am not at all opposed to such sentiments or pilgrimages. But linked to it, there are some concerns regarding Safety of the public and strength or mobilization of the Forces which must be primarily addressed.

Nothing should gain priority or significance to these two aspects.

Religion or such holy belief is only a way to realize or connect to God- whatever be the name. It is not universal. There may be some religions in the world still unknown to us. When compared to other religions or beliefs, some seem so simple or have such less followers that it may cast a doubt on its spiritual pursuit or existence even; these also tend to be forcibly preached in all possible ways.

Yet, religious fervour cannot be more than the awareness of public safety and a sense of national security. Because in its very essence, no successful religion has ever ignored such concerns of humanity and patriotism, and still claimed spiritual connection with the Almighty- that’s just not possible. Every page of history also proves this fact.

Let us consider the major pilgrimages of Uttarakhand- Amarnath, Badrinath, Kedarnath.

It is a treacherous terrain, and the rainy season further adds to its woes and makes it terribly unfriendly. First of all- the people, then the religious leaders, and the government should be very careful about such pilgrimages. The meteorological department may advise against a bad weather but no doubt, the initiative and go-ahead of pilgrimages always comes from the three classes I just mentioned. Such programs must be strictly limited to the summer months, however less counts of pilgrims turn up. Because a huge disaster like the recent one, causes not only loss of lives but also lot many inconveniences across societies. Some are not that candid.

The foremost of them being the burden on our already drained Forces. They are as such deficient in personnel with respect to the number, variety and quality of tasks they have to shoulder- foiling infiltration bids, counter-terrorism activities, watching the borders 24/7 right from Siachen to Kanya Kumari, serving as Commandos, building infrastructure in harsh terrains, some civilian utility jobs requiring military expertise, etc., etc. Even if a kid falls into a bore-well pit, the Army is called. Internally, they too deal with Maoism and other criminal activities daily. It has been gnawing at our roots since long. Our men, women, kids and environment- nothing is safe now.

Unfortunately, we also do not have enough of Police forces and the much needed infrastructure to address the ongoing issues. The state has failed to empower the Forces both in terms of number and might for various reasons, notably among it are huge corruption and red-tapeism. The Forces undergo a hard training and notwithstanding facilities or allowances, take home less salary than the white-collared jobs. During any crisis, they are the ones to first bear the bullets and their families are also awfully affected. Well, some may argue on the very selfless nature of their jobs.

But… when it is possible, why can we not avoid such unnecessary burden on our Forces and call for priceless sacrifices ?

In my opinion, spiritual realization or any similar enlightenment can be attained in other ways also. For example, helping the poor is a service to mankind and hence, a service or reverence to the Almighty. Howsoever ardent I might be, I cannot justify myself in unnecessarily straining our Forces (or unduely risking other people’s lives) because I have to be at Amarnath to “see” God or fulfil the final religious mission of my life. This especially, when my society needs their assistance much more than I do…when my country’s porous borders need to be guarded by them day and night, without the blinking of an eye…when and where I know I cannot practically help them in any way irrespective of nature’s whims.

This becomes crucial to consider that till date, we do not have a robust national defence strategy whether or not under a single command. How do we then quickly mobilize our Forces (on massive civilian duty) if there is an urgent demand on the borders ?

Therefore, it is my sincere request to aamjunta to consider such issues while opting for a pilgrimage. In this ultra-modern era, we are supposed to be aware of the climate, the routes, the political situation at a place, the possibility of such a journey, the probability of a disaster, the repercussions, etc. In a comparatively good situation, there may not be constraints. The pilgrimages shall be smooth. But thinking about the boiling situations in which we are caught, then at least, let us re-instate our Forces in an indirect way by choosing a safer path. It may be a charitable work or a visit to a holy shrine nearby.

Let us – keep it simple; focus on the Almighty and our spiritual quest; serve the society; strengthen our Motherland.

What are your views aamjunta ?

Little things, Big values

When you visit a friend having a kid, its usual to carry a chocolate for the little one… But its disappointing to hear some parents remark rudely at that very instance of gifting (sometimes as early as when you have just hinted that there’s a chocolate for the kid in your bag or pocket or hand) – “hum chocolate NAHI khaate (we don’t eat chocolates)… /we DON’T like chocolates… /arreyyy, aapne KYUU laya ye sab, already itna problems chal raha hai uske dnaath ko leke (WHY have you bought all these, we are already troubled with the kid’s tooth)” !

Well, we (guests) are aware that the child may not ultimately have it owing to tooth or some digestion issues. But the host (parents of the child) needs to know and also teach the child why and how to refrain from the gift temporarily or whatsoever, and never to disregard the guest’s affection.

Some may suggest getting dry-fruits, cookies, fruits, etc. Well, if chocos can dent the teeth, so will cookies & dry-fruits ! Moreover, plain chocos will melt away and not sit in the tooth-cavities; dry-fruits will doubly harm by way of grinding and sitting in the cavities. 🙂  A kid may not realize to clean it or clean it at the earliest ! As for fruits – kids will simply throw it away for obvious reasons, and parents would not have a role to play here- good or bad. Because the kid itself is in denial mode. We are talking of a situation in which the kid is in acceptance mode and the parents are in a denial mode on the same stuff. Afterwards, some people may also comment “bachche ke liye kuch bhi nahi laye, wo kya fruits khaate hain (the guests didn’t get anything for our kids; do kids like fruits) ?” 🙂  Moreover, many people can’t afford fruits nowadays- this, as I am considering all classes in our society. The option of fruits is a healthy suggestion though. But without chocolates, there can be no melting mazaa (fun) ! 🙂

A similar situation happens when you present sweets and discover someone is diabetic or extremely calorie-conscious !! Guests usually arrive with something namkeen (salty snacks) in addition, if they know beforehand about the diabetic condition. Irrespective of the namkeen, the sweets can always be refrigerated to be eaten moderately or tasted and offered to other visitors. How does it matter as long as the generosity of guests serves the purpose of the host for whom they have after all cared this way !!

However, such giving away of “presented” gifts, whether or not to refrain from it, should not be immediate or outright. I remember that I had once been to a friend’s kid’s birthday party. Since I had a busy day and could not go to any mall to buy anything special, I opted for a big multi-variety chocolate product of a leading brand that I luckily found in a bakery on my way. I was already late for the party and on reaching, I found that there were several games going on. For one of these, three prizes were enthusiastically declared by the gorgeous hostess. When it was over, I was surprised to observe, unintended though, that the first prize given was nonchalantly drawn from the heap of gifts by her. And unfortunately it was ‘my chocolate gift’, which now appeared as if it was a mere trash among the other items that were rather big and colourfully wrapped in sparkling papers. I thought to myself, what a meaningless Namaste welcomed us !! Such parties always have games and a good hostess must not overlook the arrangement of prizes or return-gifts. Some time back, I and another friend happened to discuss a similar topic. He was of the opinion that some hosts do it that way not because they are indifferent to the guests or gifts but because that’s an economical way of hosting the party to the fullest extent ! 😦

The other callous ways of some hosts are when the item becomes sort of a flying-disc or football or lies simply unattended even after you have left the place. If you have been very sincere and keen about the gift while purchasing or if its an expensive one, then while leaving the doorstep of the host, even a faint glimpse of it will literally bleed your heart… “hai Ram, bekaar mein uthaake layee main (Oh God, got this for no reason)… /kyuu laya main isko idhar (why did I get it here at all)… ?!?”  Too late, boss… 🙂

Whether it is chocolates, cookies, dry-fruits, fruits, sweets, namkeen, a dress or colour pencils- the point is on knowing and also teaching the child how to say a polite ‘no’ and never to hurt the guest’s sentiments; it is immaterial what the guest presents as long as it suits the occasion ! As parents, we should not be over-protective or egoistic; rather we should educate children to respect the society as a whole. Such aspects, in the long run, will definitely help the budding generation to understand the older ones and to care for them, no matter what their rank or status is.

So folks, isn’t it better and decent on part of all parents to teach the child with a smile rather something like “say- thank you Aunty /Uncle b-u-t… we will relish it later… /I will have it when I grow up a bit… /I would be able to enjoy it after I am through my tooth or digestion issues…” ? And then actually show the kid to store it in a refrigerator to be either eaten later or offered to someone else. If the gift is a non-edible type, then also a similar step can be taught. For example, a dress whose colour you don’t like or which is under-size for the kid, can be either exchanged at the shop with approval of the guest or in case that is not possible, donated to someone needy. Till then, it should be properly kept in the wardrobe. That way, the kid also learns how not to waste things or how to bring under-utilized stuff to better usage.

It may seem trivial to us, the so-called grown-ups. But these things can have a big implication on the EQ of children as they gradually learn life’s ways and then mature into adults one fine day ! Why expect their sense and sensibilities to bloom over-night ?!!? Let’s nurture it right from now on, whether it is a small or a big thing…..

What do you suggest, aamjunta… ?

Tyre Kharido, Car Free :)

“Tyre Kharido, Car Free” (Buy one Tyre, Car is Free)!

Sounds funny? Might be, but believe me, it is true !!.

Couple of months back I came across with this advertisement in a national daily. Was curious to know the deal, on a close look found an * mark with conditions apply. And you can imagine the “condition”... the usual ones… “On purchase of so many tyres, your chance to win a car doubles up and blah blah…”. Quite usual advertisements in print media or in electronic media. Not unusual these days !

The interesting part is the “conditions apply”  – in almost zero font size :); quite similar to the statutory warnings on Cigarette Packs. Not only that, the price of the selling items are hiked considerably in general, which go un-noticed by the customers as the attention gets diverted to the free tag. One should be very careful while going for these kind of deals and should understand the Conditions carefully. Else…. But unfortunately the conditions are never explained properly in the advertisements.

On a similar note, I came across with another advertisement “Cooler Kharido, Refrigerator Free” (buy a cooler and get a free refrigerator); during the hot summer days of Delhi. Was fascinated by the advertisement at that time. Next morning I went to that shop (spend some 4 hours to locate the shop and Rs 200/- by auto) to get the air cooler and a refrigerator. But, to my surprise the Air Cooler which normally costs Rs 3000/- in the market, was labelled with Rs 6500/- and the free refrigerator was of no use for me as it was very small. Came back home on a sad note 😦 . I should have understood the conditions applied well before spending my time and money.

On a slightly different note, every one of us have experienced the famous “Buy one and Get one Free” deals in malls, in cinema halls or in eating joints like Pizza-Huts, Dominos or McDonalds etc. These tag lines are to lure the customers to and to sell more. Customers buy more and spend more — it does not matter whether the need of the free item as well as the first item is there or not!

The tag line “Buy one and Get one Free” is just another marking concept and a sales promotion method for shops, companies and dealers. Companies/dealers usually adopt this method to clear the stock or to quickly reach the market. One should not get lured by the word FREE, instead should realize Nothing is Free, some thing or other has to be paid to get that which appears to be Free.

Selling something and giving something free is becoming a regular marketing concept; either buy one get one free (of the same or different item) or “buy two get one free” or “buy this get that free”, are free flowing tag lines now a days. Be it “buy one and get one free” or “buy this get that free”, these lines are usually profitable to the company and can be profitable to the customers if they buy the items judiciously. It is profitable for the shop/company in the sense that, shops usually hike the price of the first item to a certain extent (off course not by 100% !!), such that the price of the free item is covered to some extent. They earn profit from the huge amount of sales due to the promotional offer.

The customers too can make the deal profitable, only if there is a need to buy the items both first and the free item. Else, the customer will end up paying more not only for the first item, will waste the second item (happens mostly in food items). Being aware of the cost of the individual items definitely help the customers to decide, whether to go for the deal or not.

Saying that, let me narrate some of my experiences on the free purchases….

Recently, I went for a magazine deal and ended up paying Rs 1500/- for 3 years subscription, which was almost 50% of the regular price. Yes, it was profitable to me in one sense that I saved 50% on the price, not only that I also got a pair of shoes FREE 🙂 . But, when critically analysed, I realized that, it was not at all profitable to me. Because, neither I’m a fan of that magazine and nor I need a pair of shoes at this point of time. Not only that, the same magazine is also available for reading in my Hostel/Office for free.

So, what do you say? Profit or loss for me? But, it is definitely a profitable deal for the publisher. Not only the publisher got some money as investment (by bulk number of 3 years of subscriptions), but also, it got some sure-shot number of readers or customers, which can be priced to the advertising agencies in their future issues as the magazine reaches out for wide circulation.

Same thing applies to free credit cards, where the joining fee is mostly waved (or  pay the fee and get free vouchers), with a substantial 2nd year renewal fee (with or without free shopping vouchers). But, the question is why should we pay and then get a shopping voucher in return? Forcing the customer to buy some thing? and most important is to forcing the customer to visit a shopping mall for that? Interesting 🙂

In another case, one of my friends bought a washing machine for Rs 14000/- using his credit card (as he was short of money at that time). The reason being, he got a free item of Rs 700/- (got a Coffee maker by the scratch card) and a discount of 2%! Yes, by doing that the shop cleared the stock and sold many washing machines in a month’s time; naturally increased its total profit.

But, my poor friend, has a habit of forgetting paying the credit card dues in time — paid a fine of Rs 1500/- (including the interest and late fee) to the bank. Not only that, he never uses his coffee machine (as he does not drink tea/coffee). So for him, the deal was a total loss (which might be a profit for some one else!). He hardly realizes and repeats his mistakes again and again !!

Those are just some of the experiences; which every one of us have experienced in some or other context. So next time when you see “Buy one Get one Free” or “Tyre kharido, Car Free”… do not get fascinated, keep cool, think twice whether you really want to buy this and do you really need that free item or not… Else, you will end up with same stories…

Aamjunta … what do you think?

PS: A shortened version of this article was published in July 2008.

Those Two Rupees…

Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.

Garrison Keillor

“Babu, will you please give me two rupees more than your usual rickshaw-bhadda (fare)?”

The poor rickshaw-puller innocently asked me on my way to Sheltar Chak from Barabati Bali Yatra (one of the traditional carnivals of Odisha) Maidan.

Before I could say anything, he added, “I’m just requesting, don’t give if you don’t approve it”

I retorted back with irritation. “But, you had agreed for six rupees as the bhadda, why two rupees more?”

He was mum for some time and then said, “I’m falling short of  two rupees”.

From what?”, I questioned him again threateningly…

I’m falling short of two rupees to buy a Milk Dabba (can) for my 6-month old baby. I’ve collected thirty-eight rupees only from my entire day’s rickshaw- pulling, and the Milk Dabba costs forty rupees”.

I tried to open my mouth to say something. Before I could say anything, he stopped the rickshaw, looked back, saw my face and said, “no problem, I just requested you, if you don’t want.. don’t give, will wait for some more time and by God’s grace, I hope I will be able to earn two rupees more”.

Then he started paddling towards my home. After a couple of minutes, he murmured to himself (addressed to his kid), “By the time I collect two rupees more, shops will be closed, and you (his kid) will have to sleep again in hunger tonight”.

It was 11 P.M. at night in the month of November, quite late for the eastern part of India. He was pulling me in his cycle-rickshaw to my brother’s place in Cuttack. I was in my 12th standard at that time, studying at Ravenshaw College. That evening, I got late watching music and dance numbers in the famous Habib Melody. No one agreed to go for a fare of six rupees; all the rickshaw-walas (pullers) were charging ten to twelve rupees. I was bit surprised when this rickshaw-wala had agreed for six rupees after a moment’s thought. May be he was a bit calculative at that time and thought of losing the chance to earn four to six rupees more, just to get that Milk Dabba home in time. Even though he fell short of two rupees, he did not lose faith on his profession.

It is a 10-15 minute journey by rickshaw from Barabati Stadium to Sheltar Chak. In the entire conversation, I was silent for most of the time, thinking about him, his 6-month old baby, me, my friends and the society in general. I was not that matured at that time to understand everything. During Bali Yatra, I found some people throwing money on anything and buying trinkets indiscriminately. But the same people would have gone to any extent to bargain with a poor rickshaw-wala. I too had spent a lot from my pocket-money on eating and watching melodies and operas. Whereas the rickshaw-wala was struggling to save forty rupees by a whole day’s toil, in order to feed his small kid (forget about himself and his other family members).

The value of two rupees for him was the value of his kid’s life, whereas it had no meaning at all for some other people. Such is the denomination of money- something which has no value for someone might be a whole life for somebody else.

Those two rupees ….. aamjunta think about it.

“Mumbai Blues”- Aamjunta’s Aankhon-dekhi

With Food Security Bill pending in Parliament and debates over the implementation of it in real-life, I remembered an old story… This was there and now, it has perhaps become worse in most parts of India…

Life of an "Aamjunta"

It was almost quarter to eleven on a regular working day…

I had a tough day at lab and hostel trying to juggle with balancing my time and thesis writing. Additionally, summer seems to take toll on one’s energy level. That evening I got so irritable, stressed and exhausted that was unable to utter a single word. The demand and supply chain of the thesis writing was not matching. Demand was very high resulting in high pressure on the quality, quantity and the pace of my output. Anyway, I decided to skip dinner, had some biscuits instead in lab itself. Suddenly, my exasperation with the process made me think seriously of taking a break and I decided to go to either lake side or some where else and to sit there for some time by myself. I decided that I will not seek company and so did not ask…

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