Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sundarban & Nano

Last weekend was one of my best investments to rejuvenate life. I went on a short trip to Sundarban.

For those who have not heard about Sundarban, it is world’s largest mangrove forest home to Royal Bengal Tiger situated on the eastern part of India bordering Bangladesh. While writing I became conscious about the fact “world’s largest…”, are we(the Indians) too focused on largest, biggest, fastest etc etc . In a zeal to quantify all good or bad things, we loose focus on quality. Which is why Niagra Falls is in our must see checklist, when visiting US, but a waterfall in Nilgiris is given a skip. However let me stick to Sundarban for today.

Last Saturday my family and my sisters back packed and left for Sundarban. Entire arrangement was outsourced, all we needed was to board a local train and reach a port named “Canning”. It is an hour’s journey from the place I live in Kolkata. From Canning we were to board a steamer, which would take us through numerous rivers and canals. The trip was for two days, with a night halt in a small resting junction.

People visit Sundarban with an expectation of catching a glimpse of Royal Bengal Tiger in the open expanse. However I had no such notion, I had my reasons too. Firstly with temperatures hovering around 41 degree celcius, tigers are unlikely to have the excitement of watching a homo sapiens, who are unpleasant animals anyway. Secondly Sundarban in India is about 2700+ sq. km. and last census counted only 270+ tigers in the zone. The probability of getting to see one was equal to winning the lotto.

My idea was to laze around soaking in the tranquility of nature. On that front Sundarban was grand success. Sundarban also gave me something, which I was not ready for, a new view point.

Sundarban made me realize why West Bengal state governments project “Nano” was a failure. Why Mamata was right, even though her ways were wrong. Before last weekend, failure of “Nano” was a mystery to me. Like many others I thought that our state is doomed to remain backwards. Why on earth a few people should stop what was so obviously a forward looking step in employment generation and general well being of the area?

Looking back at my trip, my views have changed. Canning is less than an hour’s journey in the local train, our household maid belongs to Canning, and she travels everyday to Jadavpur(where I live) a bustling part of Kolkata, much sought after real-estate location. As per the train ticket Jadavpur is merely 38 kms from Canning. Canning does not have full electricity coverage and drinking water is a privilege!

Canning onwards primary mode of power is diesel run generators. I am not finicky about getting mineral water, but even a reasonable level of clean water is scarce and you have to plan to procure it beforehand.
The night halt was named “Apanjan” or “Your own ones” was a very nice place, but there, you are paying for every drop of drinking water, since they have to get it from a place 7 kms away!
Electricity is available only between 6pm to 10 pm because the power is supplied through diesel generator!

When you consider this against the backdrop of “Nano”, question does arise, did our government have their priorities right?
If the idea was to generate employment, can we not copy Chinese model of utilizing small village communities to setup small hydro-electric power generators. Chinese model runs on theory of co-operative society and any excess power is provided to national grid. We are matching China in population but our hydro-electric power generation is only 20% of China’s.

Small village based community takes care of employment generation and co-operative nature about sustainability. If the argument is that a hydro-electric plant needs skilled force, well if we hope to train and deploy an nth generation farmer to make automotives, we can train them to generate electricity as well. What more small hydro-electric plants do not need costly investments, can be setup quickly.

Once few such plants come up, they will need maintenance, spare parts etc. etc. voila before you realize lot of indirect employment is generated.

Most importantly I feel that with innovative modeling of part-time labor concept, village youth may eye this as opportunity to garner extra income. Much like the concept of IT training institute which is filled with many aspirants, who are not actually eyeing the next software engineering job, instead they wish to utilize IT to supplement their income.

If the argument is that people of the region are too poor to afford electricity, one has to look at the number of mobile towers and their reach in the region. If mobile makes a business sense, can electricity be different?

What’s in it for the government and the politicians? Well despite the lack of electricity, power consumption in the region has gone up considerably I am told. Each household aspires for electricity and acquiring one generator is order of the day, much like the way our parents aspired for a television set in early 80s. The amount of diesel consumed in the area is mind boggling, all that is going up in smoke, adding to pollution and disturbing the wildlife, the lifeline of people around the area.

To me the idea seemed a no brainer, can you please help me understand, why people in the government fail to see it?

If you still have doubts, consider this - “Apanjan”, where we spent the night utilizes 10 litres of diesel for 4 hours of power. If Government is providing subsidy of Rs. 10/- per litre, it works out to be approximately Rs. 36,500 /- a year on subsidy, and I mentioned only one spot in a tiny village in an area spawning 2700+ sq. kms.!!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rama of Ramayana

This is my first blog and where else to start but from Hindu mythology and epics, which fascinates me to the extreme.

I am no expert, neither am I well read but just as Congress puts it, I am an ‘Aam-admi’ and I have my views, what better way than to express them on my blog.

So I am starting off my blog journey through pondering on Rama idolized by millions as the perfect one.

I read an abridged version of Ramayana when I was about 10 years, but prior to that and also subsequently I kept on hearing about virtues of Rama the character.

It is around the time when I was in standard IX; my Hindi teacher popped a question to me in class, “What do you think of Rama”? I could not answer, but thinking I did, I kept on thinking till date.

On one hand I had this popular notion ingrained into me about Rama being the supreme one at the same time I was finding it difficult to justify few events in Rama’s life and the behavior he demonstrated.

So here I am posing a question to you, is Rama a character portrayed in Ramayana is a character to emulate? Did he possess the quality of supreme human being? What makes us aspire (those who aspire) to be like him or more importantly our siblings to be like him?
In this article I am putting forward the thoughts which disturbed me and stopped me short of calling Rama the perfect one. I invite you to give your view points.

At the outset I take the liberty of breaking from the majority notion that Rama is God, avatar of Vishnu, hence unquestionable. I assume that he is a character portrayed in an epic. Even if for a minor argument, I assume that Rama is God (whatever that typical notion means), then why he is the chosen one? Why not Laxmana, why not Shiva, why not Krishna, why not others? But that is the debate for some other day.

In Ramayana, Rama, first came to limelight with his fight with Taraka, the demon, who was spoiling the rituals conducted by Vishwamitra and his colleagues. Rama goes there, asks no question, kills Taraka, everyone is happy. As a child I was quite excited by the description of how monstrous Taraka was and how bravely Rama fought and won. But the question is why killing of Taraka was needed? Today Salman Khan is hunted down for 10 years to kill a black buck. We make such a hue and cry if a Royal Bengal Tiger is killed by some poacher. What is the difference? If we consider Taraka to be a wild beast, it still had her right to life. Taraka did not come to human locality to disturb peace. On the contrary Vishwamitra went into jungle and was conducting yagna, which everyone knows, creates pollution, through smoke. Was Taraka unjustified in trying to salvage her life, just like anyone else? Most snakes attack, when they are scared. Why don’t we assume that even Taraka was scared, scared of fire, smoke or simply human beings?
As a future king, was it not appropriate for Rama to look for a peaceful solution, similar to what he argues for while invading Lanka? Should he not have requested Vishwamitra to conduct yagna at a more appropriate place? Or was he scared of Vishwamitra, therefore went ahead and did whatever he was asked for?

In Sita Swayamvar, why Rama did not offer Laxmana to go for the bow, first? In normal life do we not let our youngsters attempt first, a show of skill or strength? Why Rama was different?
Rama is shown as ultimate in terms of worshipping parents, but when Vishwamitra asks him to appear in Sita Swayamvar, he obliges. Not for once he thought about taking permission of his parents.

Till return from Mithila, all he has shown is his strength and skill to fight. You may say that he was just a kid. Well if he is old enough to kill or marry, he is old enough to think, isn’t it?

His next big time comes, when he is leaving for jungle to honour his father’s promises. This is melodramatic, he was aware that Dasharath is likely to die of grief, if he leaves. There will be no king to lead the country, given that confirmation from Bharat about leading, did not reach him. In hindu mythology, a king, is suggested as descendant of God and has complete responsibility for the well being of his kingdom animate and in-animate, over and above his personal well being and prejudices. Here was the guy, who was leaving entire country in doldrums, going ahead with fulfilling his father’s nightmare. Why? Who stopped him from suggesting Kaikeyi that he will leave as per the wish, but before that he needs to ensure that Bharat is established as king and kingdom is stable and in able hands. He could have given a fixed timeframe to honour his father’s commitment. Argument, that Bharat would not have accepted it, does not cut the ice, because if the motto is elder’s wish is my command, then Bharat too would have fallen in line, which he did anyway after some time.
In fact all through Ramayana it is Laxman, Bharat or Hanuman are the ones who see the reason and act accordingly. No one could stop Laxman from accompanying Rama. Laxman was not only acting out of love for his elder brother, he was also ensuring that future king does not go un-guarded. He did not need anyone’s permission to act the way he did. He did, because that was the right thing to do. No rituals, no promises, no elders could stop him doing what was right. Sadly it is always Rama who was going by the rule book and not by the spirit of rules.
Rama is always upheld as a man of virtue, man of impeccable credentials. However his treatment of Surpanakha was what even mere mortals will be ashamed of. Irrespective of the behaviour of Surpanakha, Rama had no business making a mockery of her.
Contrary to popular belief Rama was not averse to immoral ways too. Killing of Bali goes on to prove that.
It is debatable if in a fair fight whether Rama was capable of defeating Ravana. Unless Vibhishana shared the secret of Ravana’s ways of death, probably Rama would have had to sweat, a lot more than he actually did.
After all this the guy had the audacity to ask Sita to go for “Agni Pariskha”, not for his own sake, but just to quell the curiosity and questions that would arise back home. I mean was he a man at all?

Overall I would trade off Laxman as the “Man”, a character who is the unsung hero of the entire epic. He goes off to fight Meghnad fully aware that he is no match to him. He is fighting a battle to save his brother’s wife, not withstanding that he himself has a wife too and who is waiting for him back home. A selfless character, who gave up his entire life trying to protect Rama from all adversities.

What do you think?