22

Amazon Kindle's' my literary tastes!!!

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 10:50 AM in , , , , ,


Prologue
If you're one of those people who grew up reading good books and still can’t live without a good title on your bed-side table, then this might interest you. Amazon has come up with a new E-book console called the Amazon Kindle. It is a gadget by Amazon.com for reading e-books as well as other digital media like newspapers and magazines.

Advantages
Several things about this device impress me. First is that it is simple and sleek to use. Make an account on amazon.com and punch in your credit card details with it. Order your kindle online and once you get it, just plug it in and order a book. It downloads in under a minute. Kindle's 6-inch screen and e-ink format makes the reading experience almost like a real book. Its 2GB memory can hold nearly two thousand titles. At just 289grams, it is the lightest console in its category. The Wireless internet is called WhisperNet, and it works in most countries including India via AT&T's partner mobile networks. Amazon claims a two-week battery life with wireless off. The new Kindle also has a "text-to-speech" which reads out text loud. This feature makes it useful for the visually challenged or simply lazy!

Shortcomings
Although the Kindle is good in most aspects, some glitches would make you reconsider a buy. Priced at over Rs.19,000 including device cost and shipping, it is a little overpriced for Indian buyers. Upon subscription to various magazines and newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, there is an additional monthly charge that has to be paid. On international roaming, a charge of $4.99 per week has to be paid despite non-usage. That fact alone makes it an expensive buy. Another shortcoming is the absence of any back-light. This makes it impossible to read from the Kindle in the dark. There are no Indian newspapers on Kindle yet, but I hope that would be sorted soon. Also, there are no Indian authors in the over 3,00,000 books available online on Amazon.

Technology of E-Ink
The display of Kindle is almost zero-power and lasts for 15 days. It is made possible by a new technology called E-Ink. It makes displays that are low on power usage flexible and readable in most of the lighting conditions. While it may look like normal ink on the display, it works by filling millions of micro-capsules or cavities. By using 5200 times less power than liquid crystal display, electronic ink only needs power when changing its display. Infact a digital book can display the same text for weeks without any additional charge applied to it. This makes it the closest thing to a printed book.

Competition
The e-book market is heating up. Amazon faces competition from several quarters to retain the top-spot. Sony introduced the E-reader in the market before Kindle. After staying on the second spot for a long time, it is now launching two new models - Reader Pocket and Reader Touch - to take over Kindle. Barnes and Noble, Amazon's biggest rival, has come up with its own e-book reader device called Nook. It sports a touch screen feature and allows book-sharing option too. The Korean major LG has also introduced the world's first solar power book reader. Its 6-inch display incorporates a thin-pin solar cell which minimizes the risk of running out of power during an engrossing read on the beach. And with rumors of Apple and Microsoft joining the fray by 2010, consumers are going to be spoilt for choice.



Epilogue:
With the ease of use and portability, some people like Prasanto Roy of Cybermedia are calling this ‘the future of the book’. Whether that holds true or not, only time will tell. Meanwhile, if you’re planning to make a purchase… let me know and I will assist you with the formalities!


26

A Princess Remembered

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 10:29 AM in , , ,


Maharani Gayatri Devi
23 May 1919 – 29 July 2009

Vignette…
Born in London as the princess of Cooch Behar (West Bengal), voted by Vogue magazine as one of the ten most beautiful women in the world, third wife of the last ruling prince Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur, a pioneer in women’s education in Rajasthan, an avid equestrienne like her husband, a Guinness record holder for the biggest landslide Lok Sabha victory of 78.25% of the total votes cast during her term in governance in 1962 (C. Rajagopalachari’s Swatantra Party, running against the Congress), brand ambassador of Nakshatra diamond jewellery for their royal princess collection, and the owner of a Rs.2000 crore legacy after her death – are some feathers in the cap of an enigmatic Rajmata of Jaipur, Maharani Gayatri Devi.

A walk down the imperially embedded corridors of royalty…
My first impression of the lady was to see her show up meticulously for each school function. As it happens, I am an alumnus of Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ Public School in Jaipur. The school was founded by Rajmata in 1943 and subsequently the management was handed over to the double tier staff. Like most aged educational institutions, the school started off with just 30 students in the first batch. Overtime, the numbers have increased to encompass about 2500 students studying at the institute at one time.

During my younger days in the renowned institution, I remember seeing Gayatri Devi grace each occasion with her presence. She used to turn up in a convoy of white Ambassadors on both ends and a glistening swanky sedan for herself in the middle. Draped in crisp chiffon sarees, she would wear spotless white pearls for jewellery and cover her head in keeping with the tradition. Others of the royal family, including Rani Vidya Devi, often accompanied her on various occasions. When asked to speak on the stage, she would speak passionately about women, the importance of their role in the society, the importance of good education and the power of knowledge. Citing examples from her personal life, she would speak to us about the struggle of growing up as a woman and would constantly encourage us to take life head-on as it comes. She discussed the challenges of her own life, and would talk to us about her lost husband and son in a ceremonious manner. We would listen to it with unwavering attention.

The one thing that she never spoke about was the valour that she displayed when the Indira Gandhi government locked her up in Tihar Jail for five months in 1971 on charges of tax evasion. Eventually she was released for lack of evidence. Humility and modesty infested her in good measure. Upon her release, she quit politics and went on to write an autobiography. The book was called ‘A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur’ and that’s where we get our knowledge about her days in prison. It also talks about her responses to the several challenges that she faced as a maharani.



The diamond-studded battle for good health…
As part of the privileged lot who got to see her up close on various occasions we also, sadly, bore witness to her deteriorating health. For the first time in the history of the school since its inception, on my passing-out ceremony in 2005, she delivered a sitting lecture out of a chair. That night she explained that this was such because she ‘had no strength to stand for more than a few minutes.’ The end of that farewell ceremony was a detour from tradition too. While the norm was for her to sign each student’s kurta at the close of the night, that day the maharani could sign just a handful before she assessed her health was frail and decided to take off with other members of the royal family. Right then, we knew that something was not right.

The heartbreaking end and a timeless legacy…
The lady who gave us subtle lessons in sophistication by her elegant displays of royalty suddenly passed away on 29th day of July this year due to chronic health troubles and an ultimate lung failure. It would be wrong to say that we didn’t see it coming, but the abruptness of the event took us all by surprise. When the denial mode ended, the vacuum was filled by a deep sense of remorse at the tragic loss.

Along with being a lady of substance who underlined the role of women in the today’s society, she was labeled a rebel in the royal houseold because of her non-conformist behaviour and varied interests. Her rollicking romance with Sawai Man Singh before marriage, her interest in sports, her exceptional work in politics, and her unbound thoughts on the way a modern society should work helped define her as a person beyond convention. When we were in her presence, we shone in the light emanating from her glittering persona.

To walk a golden line of balance after the demise…
The aftermath of her death has been disheartening. A property dispute has broken out in the royal family. The three main claimants to her assets are – her grandchildren Devraj Singh and Lalitya Devi (born to late Jagat Singh and Priyanandana Rangsit) and her step son Bhawani Singh by the law of primogeniture (the eldest son of Sawai Man Singh with his marriage to Marudhar Kanwar). The absence of a real will is causing turbulent waves within the family affairs of the various fighting factions. A public will to be displayed to the media on 9th August never came up. Devraj and Lalitya came up with a corny one-page will of their own recently.

The disputed assets are the Ram Bagh Palace (worth almost Rs.500 crore - leased to Taj Group for running a luxury hotel), Jai Mahal Palace (another Rs.300 crore), Moti Doongri Fort (Rs.100 crore), Lilypool (the palace complex where she lived), City Palace (Rs.200 crore) and Sawai Man Singh’s clubs and investments (Rs.500 crore). In addition several pieces of art, diamonds, jewellery, designer clothes and other personal items are up for grabs too.
(Source for listing assets: India Today, 7 September 2009)

The sooner the dispute gets resolved the better. Firstly, because is brings a lot of disgrace to the blue bloods of Rajasthan. And second, because Gayatri Devi would never have entertained her descendants quibbling over property. It’s a family of plenty, and hence whatever comes out of the battle will be closely watched by the public. Till then, we should focus on remembering the maharani for what she was - a living legend and a voice to many. Count this as my untimely tribute to the lady of grace, poise and personal strength.

26

Thus spake Democracy…

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 2:34 PM


The election drama that began a few weeks back when the poll dates were announced by the EC ended in a fitting climax today. The Indian voter came out to vote and made his voice heard. In an India of rickety coalition politics, the voter braved the scorching heat to decisively vote for a stable government.

Stability was the keyword that was reflected in today’s verdict. While psephologists across the board were busy churning out unsure numbers, the voters stunned them all by passing a near-majority verdict in favor of the UPA. The Congress in alliance with its partners (DMK included, SP excluded) closed at the 261 mark, just 11 seats short of a simple majority. Most exit polls were proved wrong with Congress garnering 206 seats alone and emerging as the single largest party.

Game changers and Surprises

Tamil Nadu
The southern state that had expected to see a resurgence of Jayalalitha’s AIADMK lost ground to Karunanidhi’s DMK yet again (once before in the assembly elections). The victory added a major number of seats to the UPA’s kitty. Jaya’s hopes to be a kingmaker in central politics were rudely shattered. As was the three-woman-syndrome.

Uttar Pradesh
Behenji Mayawati disappointed with a weaker than expected show in the state. Placed behind Congress and SP, her party BSP failed to garner any major seats in the 80-seat state. With misplaced Prime-Ministerial ambitions, seems Maya overlooked the essentials of winning on home turf. Her extravagant birthday ‘bash’es only made things worse. The three-woman-syndrome was further weakened. Congress on the other hand, managed to gain equal footing as Mulayam and Maya. Its decision to go it alone in the state seemed to have paid off. No castles in the air, here. The UP verdict was a rightful slap on the face of regional politics.

West Bengal
We saw the Left biting dust with the Trinamool-Congress alliance racing past them to gain major seats in the state. Karat and Yechury’s Third Front lost ground with this defeat. Congress must be patting its back for staying put with Mamata Banerjee in the race. Seems at least one lady out of the three-woman-syndrome managed to play well in the battlefield.

Kerala
Kerala, usually an alternate swing state, swung in the direction of Congress this time. Shashi Tharoor won Thiruvananthapuram with a heavy margin. The Left front bore hefty losses. Although also facing Assembly elections, the results there were slightly different.

Rajasthan
Compared to last time, the Congress gained almost 16 seats in this 25-seat state. With a tally of 20, it lost only 4 seats to the BJP (17 down from last time) and 1 to an independent. This was a tectonic shift that contributed to swinging the scales in the direction of the UPA at the centre. The result was much in line with the Assembly elections last year where Congress had displaced Varundhara Raje’s BJP government and made heavy gains.

Delhi
Astounding as the result was, the Congress swept all 7 seats in Delhi this time. From amongst the winners, Kapil Sibal and Sandeep Dikshit registered the largest margins of victory from their Chandni Chowk and East Delhi constituencies respectively.

Gujarat
Modi’s BJP won the state, but the difference in seats from the Congress was smaller than what was expected. UPA seemed to be closing in on the NDA in this key state as well. Not a spectacular landslide as was projected by many psephologists.

Madhya Pradesh
A scene similar to the one in Gujarat played out here. BJP won the state but the actual margin of victory was narrower than what had been projected by several political commentators.

Other states

Orissa
Naveen Patnaik’s BJD swept this state, both in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. The BJP paid heavily for its disassociation with Patnaik. In Orissa, it was almost a one-man spectacle.

Bihar
Another one-man show state, Nitish Kumar reined major power here by winning 32 seats (12 of the BJP) out of the 40 available in this state. Lalu and his supposed ‘Fourth Front’ faced a serious browbeat. Last we checked on him, he was regretting his decision to break away from the UPA.

Andhra Pradesh
The Congrees, once again, beat popular sentiment by delivering a better than expected performance in the state by picking 35 of the 42 seats that were up for grabs. Film star Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party also put up a decent show.

Maharashtra
Congress was way ahead of the NCP here, something that came as a dampener to Sharad Pawar and his Prime-Ministerial ambitions. NDA only did marginally well than was expected. In South Mumbai, Milind Deora thankfully beat the threat posed by ABN-AMRO’s Meera Sanyal (if you look at the numbers, it was in fact hardly a fight) and registered a clean sweep for the Congress. Priya Dutt also won from Mumbai North Central constituency.

What worked for the UPA?
The obvious answer to this question is its projection of itself as an alliance concerned with developmental politics. With main focus on infrastructure, the UPA won over several hearts by its promises to build the nation. Another factor that contributed to its win was its secular image. Indian voters did not want communal parties to rule at the centre to aggravate an already cumbersome mess created by class politics. Aggressive campaigning by the Gandhi scions also helped the UPA in scoring crucial points. People’s need for stability in governance at a time when grave dangers like volatile neighbors and economic recession were facing the country also compelled voters to turn in the Congress’s direction. Tired of the challenges thrown by coalition politics, the voter recognized the need to vote a national party back in power. In light of BJP’s eroding goodwill, the only sensible option was that of the UPA. Congress also managed to play the NREGS and RTI cards well. Along with these factors, what also worked for this alliance is what failed to work for the other alliances.

What went wrong for the NDA?
The confusion that erupted regarding the Prime Ministerial candidate must have cost the BJP quite a few votes. With Modi’s increasing unpopularity after Godhra, the people got averse to voting for the party with the fear of seeing him occupying the PM’s post. Varun Gandhi’s hate speeches in Pilibhit also corroded the party’s leftover secular credentials. Generally, as well, people refused to vote for the BJP due to its communal image and a no-apology stand regarding 2002. A break up with major coalition partners like the BJD in Orissa also cost the party dear.

What went wrong for the Left and its Third Front?
The flip-flop between offering a non-Congress non-BJP alliance, and also offering any support to the Congress to ‘keep the BJP out of power’, came back to hit the Third Front hard on the face. Never really a force to reckon with, the idea to provide such a front failed miserably when the results were announced. Compared to last time, the Left lost almost half its seats. The unpopularity could be due to the Left’s opposition of the Indo-US nuclear deal and its subsequent withdrawal of support that led to a show of strength. Also the voters this time seemed to oppose any kind of extremist ideologies, left or right.

What went wrong for the Fourth Front?
Lalu-Mulayam-Paswan’s Fourth Front proved to be the ‘shame of the season’ with a dismal tally of 27 seats, as opposed to 64 seats last time (approximate figure, keeping in mind the delimitation changes). In a scenario like this, I am sure the trio must be condemning the day they decided to break forces with the UPA and embark on a political journey with three separate Prime-Ministerial aspirants running amok.

Crux of the discussion: What do the results imply?
All “Prime-Ministers-in-waiting” were shown the dust with people opting for national parties instead of regional ones. The two biggest parties that emerged were the Congress and BJP, much to the surprise of glorified psephologists who had predicted the trend in favor of a hung parliament. The ‘landsweep’ by the UPA proved all conservative estimates wrong. The Congress must be patting its back for going at it alone in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. The Trinamool and DMK alliance too bore fruit.

The voters were smarter than what we would have thought them to be. Undeterred by showy campaigning, they took the spotlight away from regional players and put it back on national parties. By doing so, they cut oversized political ambitions back to size and ensured stability for the nation. Now, once the UPA is sworn back to power we hope that it delivers on the promises it made in these elections. The people have put immense faith in Dr. Manmohan Singh by voting him back, and what awaits him is the onerous task of fulfilling these expectations. We hope that he has a successful tenure as a re-elected Prime Minister and manages to live up to the task entrusted to him.

16

Six Degrees of Separation

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 3:36 PM
Aloha everybody!

This place has been barren for so long that I now realize that people will stop visiting it soon if I don’t post something new. What better than a heads up on what I’ve been up to? Currently in Rajasthan with family, your author feels baked like a cookie in the scorching desert sun. Temperatures @ 45 degree Celsius are 7 degrees above normal for this time of the year and I am very certain that global warming is fast catching up. Winters this year were unusually short and the summers are proving unbearably hot (that rhymed!). Anyway, yours truly has never seen warmer years.

Next, a lot of my time is being spent on the two IPLs:
1) the Indian Phoren League and
2) the Inland Political Lacuna.
These are the flavors of the season and I am leaving no stone unturned to get generous ‘bytes’ on both.

Six degrees of separation?
If I could, I would rename it the ‘Two degrees (or maximum three degrees) of Separation’. Beyond that the connection is indecipherable and it’s all a mumbo-jumbo of “face book”ings.

So anyway, this happened when I was traveling back to Jaipur from Delhi in a Volvo last month. The journey is almost 5.5 hours and disinterested as I usually am, I quickly lost interest in my surroundings, and switched on my laptop to play Pacman. After exhausting ten minutes there, my babylike-attentional memory needed a change and I switched to an episode of Prison Break. Ten minutes into the episode, I was starting to yawn (it could’ve been my sloth, or it could’ve been motion), when my co-passenger got inspired and turned on her own laptop. The activity caught my attention and the yawns momentarily stopped. She took out a hard disk (like me), plugged it in her computer and started watching ‘Friends’ (again like me!). In that instant I realized that there was conversational-potential between the two of us. As soon as she stopped watching the episode for a couple of minutes, I pounced and started a conversation:

Me (pointing at her hard disk): “So you have a lot of Friends in there?”
Interesting Co-passenger: “Yup, I got all the seasons with me.”
Me (excited, cause I am a huge Friends fan too): “Hey that’s great! I have them all right here in my disk too and I never get tired of watching them!”
Interesting Co-passenger (excited as me now): “Really?! Neither do I. Must’ve watched all of them almost n number of times! I even remember the dialogues now!”
Me (almost wiping away a tear of joy): “Cool so do I! Awesome. So what else do you watch?”

The conversation proceeds in similar fashion and we realize we watch almost the same kind of soaps. We thought about exchanging movies but there wasn’t much scope as we both had almost the same titles. Next, I asked her what she did and she told me she had started working four days back. Fair. When asked about education, she tells me she’s an English graduate from Miranda House and is two years my senior. Fair again. She asks me about my college and as soon as I say Daulat Ram, she quickly springs up and asks: “Do you know Titir?”

Ofcourse I did. She was my Dramatics Society senior in freshman year. I tell that to my interesting co-passenger and she tells me that Titir now works in her office. Wow. Same interests and now a common university connection… seems my college senior is her colleague. I am bemused, but not stunned, because Delhi University is a vibrant place to be and due to its vastness alumni keep bumping into each other. We discuss Titir for a while, and then I ask her about her interests. Turns out she was an active participant in inter-college events (so was I) and enjoyed Dramatics. Although she was the President of her college Dramsoc in the final year (and I had been kicked out in the first year itself due to my ‘tragic’ acting skills), we hit another note and the conversation refuses to end.

I had cleared Hindu for English honors, she had graduated in English. I am interested in media, she is dating a media person. My family stays in Jaipur, her job has taken her to Jaipur for two years. I am a social butterfly, so is she. I help her draw out a two page MS Word sheet of all the places she should see in the city. She thanks me for all the help.

Bus stops at midway, we get down together. We keep chatting… until the 20 minutes stoppage becomes 40 minutes. The angry bus horn outside breaks the spell and we run to catch the bus (and face the ire of a very angry bus wallah). We settle down, keep talking… laptops are back in the bags and almost 3 hours of the long journey are already over. Conversation refuses to cease.

We speak of college; try to establish more common links. Talking of Miranda House, I happen to mention that my mom is a graduate from the same college. This is when it turns more bizarre.

Me (conversationally): “So you know my mom passed out of Miranda too.”
Interesting Co-passenger: “Really? Which course?”
Me: “Philosophy honors.”
Interesting Co-passenger: “Oh wow! My grandma (she meant nani) used to teach philosophy in the college till the 80s.”
Me (thoughtfully): “Hmmm”
Interesting Co-passenger: “Hey which year did your mom pass out?”
Me (calculating on fingers): “Sometime around 1985, I guess…”
Interesting Co-passenger: “That’s when nani taught there!! Shobhna Sarin!! Any chance she taught your mom too?? She retired in 1987. Has your mom ever mentioned her?”
Me: “The name does ring a tiny bell. But I don’t know for sure. Want me to confirm from mom?”
Interesting Co-passenger: “Yes, if you can!”

I called mom and wonder of all wonders… Shobhna Sarin HAD taught her in college in yesteryears!! Mom is thrilled… so am I… and so is the interesting co-passenger. I make them both talk and ma takes a quick lowdown on what her (strictest) teacher is up to these days. Interesting co-passenger sweetly sings it all on the phone to her. We hang up… and the excitement in the air is tangible. “Small world” is what we both exclaim!

I feel overwhelmed… less because of the similarities (same interests, friends, mom-grandma relationship) and more because of the fact that my interest hasn’t waned in almost 5 hours. This doesn’t happen too often! Destination is nearby and the time to de-board is drawing closer. Discussion is still as furious as ever. The past five hours have flown away in a jiffy. Mentally, I am labeling this my ‘shortest bus ride ever’. Thanks to the interesting co-passenger.

Jaipur arrives, we get down, exchange numbers and part ways. So much still needs to be discussed and we promise to meet up for coffee once the dust settles (she is new to the city). I have a grin on my face and so does she. When I reach home, ma tells me she spent the entire afternoon reminiscing about the teacher and the life that was college. My grin gets wider :)

Post script: (By now you know that P.S. forms an important part of my life. One, cause my disinterested brain refuses to concentrate for more than a fixed duration of time while writing my posts, so I always end up missing one thing or another…. and two, because the more I do it, the more these postscripts become ‘my thing’). So what was I saying… ah yes… this is a small world. We never know who we might come across while doing our routine chores in life. Be it traveling in a bus or sitting in a party (yes, its you I’m talking about :))… new relations come and hit you when you least expect them to. I (being me) can never rule out the possibility of bumping into someone familiar just round the corner. The bus incident is funny and the more I days I spend living on earth, the more I realize that my life is destined to be a series of many such incidents. As I say… its just two degrees of separation between us. Maybe three. Beyond that, its all “face book”ed :)

16

LS Elections 2009: Tackling stereotype, giving BJP some light

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 7:12 PM in , , , , , , ,


This election season stands out from the previous elections in many ways. For one, we are seeing a shift from ideology based alliances to convenience based associations. Second, the hype generated by shifting the IPL to South Africa to ensure security is putting the spotlight back on a supposed incident-free exercise of our democracy. Third, blame it on soaring ambitions, the number of contenders for the Prime Minister’s post seem unprecedented in the history of Indian elections. Fourth, political back-stabbing is at its all-time best. Fifth, the tectonic forces changing political equations are so strong that it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict the outcome when the results are declared the 16th of May this year. What is even more peculiar is the common knowledge that the jig-saw reshuffle will continue for much longer than the month of May and the new government will still stumble hard and fast to make way for re-elections.

Other less significant reasons that make these elections noticeable include a former UN diplomat Shashi Tharoor (former under-secretary general) contesting for Congress from Thiruvananthapuram, a certain Varun Gandhi making communal speeches in Pilibhit and landing up in jail, the subsequent Gandhi-family feud, the context of Mumbai’s 26/11, NREGS, global recession and economic crisis, post-sixth pay commission era, reservation debates, 123-nuclear agreement, the election of Barack Obama as the new US president (and his Afpak policy that directly impacts India), the upcoming Commonwealth Games in 2010, the showcase of wads of currency on the floor of the Parliament last year, the incessant terror strikes, the Talibanisation of Pakistan (Swat, now maybe Peshawar), soaring-to-sublevel inflation, attack on women in a Mangalore pub called Amnesia, the upsurge of outfits like MNS and Sri Ram Sene, pink-chaddi campaigns, Rahul Gandhi, etc. Public awareness is scaling high and the need of the hour is more accountable leaders. With the junta giving a green chit to a ‘none of the above’ voting option, the leaders are sitting up straight and taking action.

BJP’s dipping graph

Until as early as a few weeks back, another Congress-led coalition seemed to be the fore-runner in the race to the Parliament. After winning the crucial state of Rajasthan and even Delhi in the assembly elections, this belief was only strengthened for most of us. When a crucial ally like the BJD stranded the BJP mid-way, the sentiment was high that it was the end of road for the saffron brigade. Images of iron-man LK Advani pumping muscle by lifting dumbbells were serving no purpose. The right-wing allegiances proved to be the party’s nemesis. Talks of rebuilding the Ram Mandir were being dismissed as airy-fairy nonsense.

Crutch-less Congress
Just when the Congress was gloating at the steady demise of its opposition, the bee of bad luck came and stung the party too. The Left, after being dropped as an ally in the trust vote last year, under the leadership of AB Bardan and Sitaram Yechury formally inaugurated a Third Front. The non-Congress, non-BJP front was projected as a platform to host all parties with disturbed equations with the two biggies. The front found support from many former allies of the two parties. Then more recently a Fourth Front took shape after RJD, LJP and SP (under Lalu Yadav, Ram Vilas Pawan and Mulayam Singh) decided to take charge of the states of UP and Bihar. Mayawati’s BSP decided to go solo too. Congress was left out of the calculations. The biggest blow came in the form of PMK withdrawing its support and joining Jayalalitha’s AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. (Read more on alliances here).

Present Scenario
We all like to back the winning horse. When fortunes seemed to be turning against the UPA, media ire (for once) shifted towards the party. The otherwise calm Congress felt the jolts and straightened its back. With regained confidence, the BJP had a lot many things to say. It was interesting to watch Congress articulates like Kapil Sibal and Jayanthi Natarajan toning down the smirks and giving straighter answers. Others like Abhishek Manu Singhvi had slipped into rhetoric about the party’s dwindling fortunes. A nastier Manmohan Singh was seen dropping the façade of a subdued minister (on directives flowing from 10 Janpath of course) and lashing out at BJP’s PM-in-waiting Mr. LK Advani. Last I checked, things were as uncertain as ever.

My View
For a party that is trying to learn from past mistakes, the BJP ought to be treated with a little more respect that what we otherwise bestow on it. When the Hindutva plank failed to translate into votes, the party revised its strategy to developmental politics and addressing corruption. With strategists like Arun Jaitley and Sudheendra Kulkarni, the party still has a future reserved for itself. When Varun Gandhi first sprang up to spread communal hatred, the first reaction of the BJP was to distance itself from his beliefs. What subsequently followed was simply crisis management. (As noted earlier, alliances in modern India are a result of convenience and hence the divide that arose within the party over the issue was not unusual).

Then if one were to talk about the NCP, the track record isn’t exactly flawless. The biggest mistake that will hurt the Congress dearly in the elections is the inability of its ruled states to provide security for the next season of IPL matches. It is clear that Lalit Modi’s known intimacy to Vasundhara Raje cost him his presidency at RCA. It also sadly led to the repudiation of his brainchild, the Indian Premier League. Uncannily all Congress ruled states namely Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Delhi communicated their inability to provide security for the event. A party that doesn’t think twice before mixing almost-sanctified sports with complicated politics at least needs a rethink.

The Commonwealth Games are another issue that needs to be analyzed. The third-term Congress in Delhi is finding it difficult to get ready in time to host the event in 2010. If our worst fears were to come true, the games would be transferred to another country due to the UPA’s inept disability, widespread corruption and disrespect for deadlines.

Next, the incidents of terror that this 5-year term of the government saw are aberrant. Never before had it taken so many jihadi attacks to make the government realize that its security measures were inadequate and its citizens unsafe. Border infiltration is peaking and it took a 26/11 for the Congress to dismiss its wardrobe-friendly home minister Shivraj Patil and reinstall P Chidambaram to take care of home affairs.

Criminals like Shibu Soren were offered Chief Ministership in return for trust votes. Morals were up for sale. As was proved by a CD unearthed after the shameful wads-of-money-in-parliament incident, money was offered in return for votes. Others accused in 1984 anti-Sikh riots like Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and Kamal Nath have been made nominees for different LS seats in the coming elections. And these are just the cases that have been bought to book. The number of skeletons hidden away in the closet is anybody’s guess.

When Mangalore happened, Congress CM Gehlot from Rajasthan came forward and revolted against the ‘mall-culture’ (whatever that means). He brandished his intolerance towards two people holding hands in public and even increased the duties on liquor in the state to ‘discourage the culture of pubs and bars’. That aside, Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit (instead of admitting a lapse in security and stepping up measures) labeled all working women who came home late from work as ‘adventurous’ after the infamous Soumya Vishwanathan murder case. Now she has pitched her son Sandeep Dikshit to contest from East Delhi in the LS polls.

UPA, the same party that blames the NDA of being communal and polarizing the voter base, is guilty of recommending and implementing the infamous OBC quotas in institutes of higher education under Arjun Singh. The uproar and dissent that the move generated is still fresh in the minds. It is because of this inducement that the Gujjars in Rajasthan came forward and demanded a status change for themselves as well (read about how the author faced the wrath here and here). The incompetent handling of the issue cost the incumbent BJP heavily in the assembly polls. Meanwhile, the Congress was busy proposing (and in some cases implementing) quotas for Muslims in education and jobs too. So much for blaming the NDA of ‘dividing the society’.

Rationale for this post
I pen all of this down because I get slightly perturbed when I observe how people are completely writing off the BJP this season. Sure the party has had its share of gaffes and wrong alliances during the process. But who doesn’t? And sure it projects itself the wrong the way when it endlessly elaborates on the Congress’s mistakes instead of telling the people what it can do for them. But we need to accord the party some patience in terms of hearing and understanding what they mean to tell us. Advani’s challenge to Manmohan Singh for a presidential-style debate needs to be heeded too. Only a party that is sure of its agenda can come forward and dare to debate in public. I see people ridiculing the ‘Advani for PM’ ads on the internet as being rampant. Say I ask them if is it bad to be tech-savvy in the 21st century? At least he’s getting us to notice that he’s contesting through the most frequently used medium. Our attention captured is mission accomplished. Now assuming that it would irk some people was, admit it, unforeseeable for the old chap. My only appeal to the readers of this blog is to patiently hear the BJP out and not base their opinions on the old stereotypes. The changing face of the BJP, and more importantly the Congress, needs to be looked at carefully before we make up our minds.

Post script
Don’t get the author wrong, she’s not a blatant supporter of the BJP. She only believes that casting our votes on the biased images that we might have of our leaders would be unfair to people trying to usher in change. The Congress has been the mai-baap of Indian politics for a long time… but we need to be aware and educated about other party options that we might have. I know the Left wing and other independents would agree with my view. Although if you don’t, feel free to vandalize my comment section with your opinions. Bouquets and brickbats invited alike.

17

Glory: lost and found

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 11:47 PM



Soul-curry. Inspirational and mesmerizing. That’s AR Rehman’s music for you. After a string of popular songs (Vande Mataram - 1997 being my favourite), his efforts were finally recognized on the global platform in this year’s Academy Awards that were announced in Kodak Theatre today. So what if it took an English director for him to find his path of glory, the legend had already been recognized on home turf a long time back.

Gulzar, who gave us some of the most beautiful lyrics in Bollywood, rightfully shared the honour for Best Original Song with Rehman. The media channels, spiraling in a tizzy, gave little space to the modest lyricist who missed the ceremony. From home, he congratulated Rehman and said he was happier for him than he had ever been for himself.

Awards for Best Lead, male and female, went to Sean Penn (Milk) and Kate Winslet (The Reader). Having seen both movies, I have no qualms admitting that both their performances were ground breaking. After multiple non-converted nominations, it was about time that Kate won the gold statuette too!

Fact-of-the-matter: After 26/11, this was Mumbai’s chance at redeeming itself. The eight awards that Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire bagged gave the crestfallen city some reason to cheer. While the debate rages on about Slumdog’s depiction of Indian poverty, there’s no doubt that the team deserves the honours it has received. Resul Pookutty won the big O for Best Sound Mixing and almost broke down while accepting the award. Danny Boyle ended the dream run on a positive note by thanking Mumbai for giving him his story and characters. Indeed a big day for the city. Congratulations to all the winners.

Post-script:Smile Pinki’ won Best Documentary (short subject) as well.

342

I was clicked!

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 4:05 PM in , ,
So the day was Valentines Day and I was on my way to Khan Market for lunch. Like most times, I was traveling by the delhi metro. Due to a recent expansion, the metro was full when I boarded. As a result I had to stand by a glass separator that disjoins the seat from the door. While I stood by the door on one side of the glass… a funny looking, 30 year old-something, fidgety man sat at the other side. He seemed deeply engrossed in his cellphone and through the glass separator I saw that he was playing a mobile game. At Kashmere Gate station (a major stop where a lot of shuffling of crowd happens), he suddenly got up and offered me his seat to sit. In my mind, I thought ‘what a sweet guy to vacate his seat for a lady!’ and sat down. Two more women came in to fill the adjacent seats that had just been vacated by people getting down at the stop.

All was well until I noticed that the 30-something old man’s phone camera was conspicuously pointed in my direction while he stood there in front of me. Although the thought that he might be clicking a picture did strike me once, I quickly dismissed it assuming he must still be playing his game. And there is indeed little room for maneuvering in a crowded train. So I decided to let it be.

After a while he turned, went and stood at another spot a few feet away from me. It was then that a 20-something year old college student, wearing a red sweatshirt, came to me and whispered gently in my ear “He just clicked your picture”. I was baffled and asked him to repeat. “He just clicked your picture. I was standing behind him and I saw”, he said. A little shaken, I poked the 30-something old man who was now standing with his back to me. He obviously didn’t respond and I had to call out to him and poke him a little harder to make him turn. I asked him if he had clicked any picture and he blatantly said he hadn’t. The 20-something guy was still standing there and affirmed that he had seen him click it. The 30-something man offered me his phone and said I could go through his gallery if I had any doubts. I looked at him a little apprehensively trying to see the truth in his face, and reluctantly declined saying I’ll take his word for it. But the 20-something boy insisted that I go through his phone because he was positive a picture had been clicked. On my refusal, he grabbed the phone himself from the 30-something’s outstretched hand and started sifting through his gallery.

Correctly indeed, there it was a picture of me saved at the top of his archives. The 20-something red sweatshirt guy looked at me and said “See! I told you he clicked it!” Wow. I was shocked at the pervert-mindedness and reached for the intercom that would’ve connected me to the metro driver. Before I could press the button, the 30-something guy immediately said sorry and promised that he would delete it. While he was talking, I saw that the 20-something samaritan had already deleted the picture and was checking the gallery for more shots. On finding none, he handed him back his phone with a disapproving look on his face. Both of them got down at the next station. The 30-something guy got down because everybody was looking at him and murmuring, and the 20-something collegian because I assume his station had come. I slipped him a quick ‘Thank You’ before he disembarked.

Post-script: For the next twenty minutes until the train terminated, the women next to me couldn’t stop discussing what a weird place the world had become. They kept asking me if he had deleted the picture and what he would have possibly achieved by pulling off a sly act like that. As if in a response to their own question, they went on to mull how many inappropriate uses were possible of such shots. They also kept reminding me that the sincere looking, red sweatshirt guy had saved the day for me. I kept nodding in agreement and continued shaking my head in disbelief.

Epilogue: Just when you start thinking that the world is devoid of all good people, incidents like these remind you that we still have a few good men left. On giving it some thought, we deduce that the college guy wasn’t going to get anything out of the whole incident. But he still stepped up to raise his voice against something that he felt was morally incorrect. I still think I hadn’t thanked him enough. If by some dumb stroke of luck he happens to read this some day, I would like to tell him that it is because of men like him (and a few others) that women nurture the hope of having a equal, safe society for them one day. A big Thank you once again.

10

Writers Ball – Jaipur Literature Festival 2009

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 10:27 PM








25th Jan 2009
Lawns of City Palace
Jaipur


21:30 hours : Amidst the regal ambience of City Palace, I was greeted by a fragrant rose garland delicately flung around my neck by pretty foreign women standing at the entrance, all dressed in our tradition ghaagra-choli. Next I was offered a pair of shimmery laakh bangles to adorn my wrists. A little unsure about whether it would go well with the casual jeans I had decided to turn up in, Sanjoy Roy saw the discomfort and cajoled me into wearing them as they were “traditional”.

I was attending the Writer’s Ball hosted by DSC as the last leg of the 5-day long ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival (Jaipur has been playing host to the event for the last two years) and was pretty thrilled at the prospect of meeting the established brigade of writers, historians and intellectuals in informal settings. Unlike the rest of the festival that was organized at Diggi Palace where the entry was free, admission tonight was strictly by invitation only. That filtered out most of the crowd and I realized that the time was ripe to indulge in some heavy duty interaction with the people who define our literary world. Notable authors who had attended the festival were Dr.Shahi Tharoor (my favourite author whose sight eluded me on that particular day), Gurcharan Das (a Harvard graduate whose next book is called ‘the difficulty of being good’), Gulzar (padma bhushan awardee), Kapil Sibal (noted lawyer, union minister and now poet), MJ Akbar (founder Asian Age), Mohammed Hanif (‘a case of exploding mangoes’ fame), Nandan Nilekani (recent node on the writing sphere with ‘imagining india’), Nicholas Coleridge, Prasoon Joshi (ad-guru and chairman McCann-Erickson), Sam Miller, Swapan Dasgupta (managing editor India Today), Tarun Tejpal (founder ‘Tehelka’), Tina Brown, Vikas Swarup (‘q&a’, ‘six suspects’) and Vikram Seth (‘a suitable boy’, the 1500 pages novel that took him six years to write while he was staying at his parents house). View the complete list here. Although to my disappointment, a lot many of them were not attending the ball that night.

22:00 hours : The ‘ball’ turned out to be a qawwali session but I was trying not to get too disheartened because many authors were still out there somewhere. The darkness and the lack of introductions was a hindrance in making out who was who, but a couple of faces were hard to miss. Tarun Tejpal, with his tall built and imposing personality, was very noticeable. But I had to withhold my urge to go up and chat with him because he looked all too happy standing by the bar counter with his female accomplices. Next time maybe, I thought. For the uninitiated, his latest book is on India and is called ‘the story of my assassins’.

Sitting on a comfortable couch with a close friend, I listened to the qawwalis and continued gaze-skimming through the crowd to find some familiar faces. The Rooshdie (Rushdie, but that’s how its pronounced) fan in me kept seeing a vague resemblance to him in a host of old faces, while my pardner relentlessly reminded me that he couldn’t and wouldn’t be here. I cursed fatwas and fundamentalists.

This brings me to telling you the main theme of the festival this year: Terrorism, Fundamentalism and Pakistan. William Dalrymple, the founder and co-director of the festival, was gracing the occasion with his presence too. A Cambridge graduate brought to fame by a host of books including the ‘City of Djinns’, he looked absolutely at ease under the huge turban that he was made to wear.

22:15 hours : As if answering to my pleas to call the famous ones from the amongst the guests for a formal introduction on stage, Sanjoy Roy (who by then I knew was the Managing Director of Teamwork Films) picked up the mike and started the usual round of expressing gratitude to everyone present. While he did not call the authors on stage, he did thank all 116 of them for attending the fest this time. He thanked the moderators as well for their cooperation (list includes Barkha Dutt and Indrajit Hazra). He also called upon his co-organizer Namita Gokhale, writer of ‘Paro: Dreams of Passion’, who had helped him put the event together. The vibrant team smiled away 1000-watt smiles to the various cameras pointed at them.

22.30 hours : Still unable to spot any famous, talk-worthy faces in the herd of personalities (most of them that night were small time writers), I reluctantly starting dragging myself to the food stalls for dinner. It was then that I bumped into Barkha Dutt who was busy punching keys on her mobile keypad. A brief conversation followed where I realized that the lady was actually very sweet to even complete strangers. It ended with a ‘mail me!’ from her side, and photograph from mine (see above).

A little charged up from the brief tête-à-tête, I decided to put off food for a little more while and kept up my with the task of skimming through the crowd. With a friend and glass of water for company… I noticed that a fusion dance-and-sing group had now replaced the qawwalas. Expectedly, they were pleasing the crowds to a far greater extent than their predecessors.

23:00 hours : By then I was sleepy and tired from a long hard day out in the sun (I should’ve mentioned my long bus journey from delhi to jaipur before). Dinner finally got the respect it deserved as I poured myself rich servings of tadka dal, dum aloo, shahi paneer and pasta. And of course butter naan. Good food, I say, is the best way to end a tiring day.

23:45 hours : One last glance around and I decided to leave the venue to head home. Just as I reached the gate of the palace, I noticed a brawl that had broken out between two drunken men. One face from amongst the onlookers was that of MJ Akbar. I cursed my luck some more for not having seen him inside. Keeping the setting in perspective, I deduced that that was probably not the best time to strike a conversation with him, and kept proceeding towards my car… Yawn. Pack up time.

00:00 hours : I reached home and made a mental note to attend the entire festival next year. I even made an organizer entry in my cellphone to that effect (the dates, as Sanjoy had announced, had worked out to be 19-24 January in 2010). With that thought in mind, I also decided to write a blog post about the night to file my memories… and here you are reading it.

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Fest facts:

- The fest is being called lucky for film premiers. While Ian McEwans ‘Atonement’ that premiered here last year eventually managed to garner its fair share of awards globally… ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ that premiered this year already has four Golden Globes under its belt. The film also promises to be a winner at the Oscars with ten major nominations to its name.

- The fest garnered bigger proportions this year. It was flagged off by the Governor of Rajasthan and the ‘attending-author tally’ had notched up to 116 from just 60 authors attending last year.

- The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) played a key role in making the festival a global confluence of writers by helping Pakistani writers like Nadeel Aslam and Daniyal Mueenuddin with their visas. Kudos to them.

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