Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hyderabad and Vijayawada* : The tale of two capital cities

Let me put it this way: one capital city has a lake and the other has a river, now which one will fast transform itself into Singaporesque skyline? The fascination of the chief ministers of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh for vertically developed glitzy cities, bordered by seas and oceans is really astounding.
So, where is the next Singapore-or-Tokyo-like-capital going to be? In Hyderabad or in Vijayawada or both?  And how many districts will get converted to smart cities - a term that is getting interpreted in different ways for different reasons. This is really reaching cutthroat dimensions – the pace at which both the states trying to outdo the other, incredible indeed!

Of late, this seems to be the major concern, cause and a competitive differentiator for establishing the identity of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Besides being a lopsided vision, why this obsession with Singapore or Dubai or Tokyo or even Shanghai? Well, these cities may have set global benchmarks in urban living and architecture but where is the need to copy or replicate them? Don't we have any originality of ours? Why can't our political leaders come up with some innovative ideas to develop the capital cities that can bring a unique identity, keeping in mind the history, culture and environment? So, what if Burj Khalifa was built on sea and sand, why should it be re-built on the sandy soils of the river Krishna? Or, why can’t we beautify Sanjivaiah Park to make it greener rather than dot it with concrete structures all around?  These are difficult questions to explore when the notion of development and growth are already defined and confined to the idea of erecting new concrete structures, be it at the cost of environmental risks and other hazards.

Imagine the world's tallest building on the banks of Hussain Sagar and other skyscrapers crowding the poor old Buddha statue...don’t be surprised if he’s replaced with a merlion-like creature for that complete Singaporesque experience! By the way, the Buddha statue is supposed to be the world's tallest monolithic in granite and quite a landmark that never got it’s due. Turns out that some chief ministers of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh had their own peculiar vision for Hyderabad - particularly the NTR days when the Buddha Purnima project was taking shape. Then, later, the Necklace Road, a la Marine Drive in Mumbai. And now, the world's tallest tower in the same place. Poor old lake! Forget about environmental implications and all that stuff, anyways the lake is already ruined by idol immersions thanks to the good-enough-number of festivals we have. What about the supporting infrastructure for that tallest tower – power, roads, sewerage and so on.

The fascination for tall buildings as a touristic attraction may hold good. But such structures can come up in other parts of the city as well. Why should they be next to Hussain Sagar? I really wonder what these tall buildings will house in them? Already so many office and shopping spaces are lying unoccupied in prime business areas. Anyways, the theory could be: we will build and they will come...the investors, I mean. Or, tourists? Only time can tell.

Doesn’t this de-focus other key and pressing issues that should have been prioritized? What about other districts that need all the attention? I wish there was some thought and action on balanced vision for all the districts in both the states - post bifurcation. Did someone say why such a hurry with all these huge construction projects, particularly in state capitals? Well, for obvious reasons, that’s not within the scope of this blog!

*At the time of writing this blog Vijayawada is designated to be the capital city of Andhra Pradesh.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Traffic chaos, confusion at Raheja's Mindspace Circle

Where's my share of the road? This is the question I'm bogged down with almost every evening as I wait helplessly in my car - tired and frustrated, inching towards Raheja's Mindspace Circle, going towards Gachibowli. This is one of the wide-enough roads, well equipped for heavy traffic, but absolutely mismanaged. But who's to be blamed? Just the traffic police? Definitely not.There are hundreds like me who are caught in the regular snarls and gridlocks at different parts of Hyderabad. But, this circle stands out in terms of the intensity of the problem - both in terms of the number of vehicles and the degree of chaos. Here's an indication of the typical scenario on a weekday evening, courtesy Google Maps. How I wish I could take pictures of the actual scene!
Imagine the harrowing experience one goes through - swarms of vehicles coming out of Raheja's almost bumping into each other, creating a virtual hell near the circle, as they criss cross the traffic moving in the straight direction, making their way towards left, right or straight. And it is the vehicles going right that create the deadlock. Forget about lane discipline, it never existed in our city. Buses, trucks, water tankers, cars, bikes -bumper to bumper, mirror to mirror - all trying to overtake each other on that small stretch - leading to more chaos humanly impossible to be controlled by one traffic police at the circle. Least surprising, since we know how well our roads are planned - mostly as an afterthought, stretched and widened as and when the traffic grows. This wouldn't have been the case if the R&B, GHMC and traffic authorities could have an integrated preview of things.

Roads, buildings and traffic policing
Call it myopic planning, mismanagement or whatever it's high time we had someone looking into the issues emerging from ever-increasing traffic choking our roads. To some extent the problem at Raheja's could be solved if the Entry gate is limited to entering the IT park and the exit could be planned from other gate. But, apparently, this doesn't seem to be a viable solution as per the Cyberabad Traffic Police, as mentioned in a response to my complaint on their website. This leaves me with some more pertinent questions:

What comes first? the buildings or the roads? 
From what we experience everyday it's obvious that there was no systematic plan to anticipate the traffic volume after the buildings are occupied. With hardly any improvement in public transport the number of private vehicles is bound to multiply in the coming years and one wonders how this would be tackled!

Is it like leave it to traffic police...but how will they take care?
Just look at the traffic police...aren't we expecting too much from them for the follies and faults of the builders and so-called planners. Policing can only control things to some extent, how do we go to the roots of the problem and avoid similar things in future?

What about traffic jams on the flyovers?
Instead of easing the traffic flow, the flyover, especially at the Hitech city railway station is normally jammed in peak hours. How can this problem be solved? Seems like flyover will only 'delay'a traffic jam and create it elsewhere.

'Free lefts' are free for whom? 
At almost every crossroad the so-called 'free lefts' are invariably blocked by all those who wish to overtake the rest by taking advantage of the left. And funny thing is even the large buses try to squeeze into that space! And the poor commuters who were really supposed to take the free left are left to fend for themselves, waiting for the signal to turn green.

How many U-turns can one have on a road that is hardly a kilometre long? 
U-turns at gaps in the median have come as easy solutions to manage traffic, leaving the commuters literally at their own risk. With no control of speed from the other side, one can only pray that the speedsters are in full control of their vehicles, at least if they cannot slow down as they are supposed to.

Why are traffic problems solved in piecemeal way without any longterm view?
Most solutions crop up overnight in the form of new U-turns at the medians, one-ways and other diversions. This will only postpone the actual issues; what we need is a holistic view by looking at all the interdependencies and intricacies of the way our roads are used.

One can go on listing the problems we face everyday and don’t even think twice about how we've learnt to take them in our stride. Complaining to the authorities can only bring it to their notice, for all we know, they are already aware of it and have remained unresponsive. As we've seen, temporary solutions are worse than the problems themselves. Till then, it's left to us, how we take it - either we ignore it and be a part of the clutter or voice it and try to find a solution that drives at least, some traffic sense.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

To colour or not to colour: some midlife dilemmas, doubts and decisions

Nothing can be more feel-good and flattering than compliments on how we look, especially from friends we meet after a long time. "Oh, you haven't changed a bit." “You look the same...age hasn't touched you" etc. And believe me, it really brings a smile on your face to hear such mutually admiring talk. Our obsession with looking younger and what it has got to do with feeling younger is difficult to discuss in the scope of this writeup. However, of late, I seem to have been thinking about this intriguing phase in life and how it becomes a subject of most of our discussions and the opportunities it brings while are in transition. And I don't wish to intellectualize by questioning or talking about the billion rupee industry that promises our share of elixir from the fountain of everyouth and all that blah blah...doesn't make sense when we unwittingly subscribe to the common notion of youngness across India.

Well, the truth is, naturally, we are all ageing. How gracefully is left to us. By the way, we never discuss or divulge age, it's socially inappropriate to ask or reveal how old one is! Let me put it this way: siblings, cousins and friends -some of us are fast approaching the forties, some have entered the fiery forties, some are midway and some are about to hit their fifties. Yes, my generation is into midlife! But why is this phase often called a crisis, I wondered? To me it depends on how we take it - the visible and invisible signs of ageing. I've always seen them as opportunities to try new things, to learn something new and to change and adapt and grow. Of course, there may have been some frustrating moments when I couldn't dismiss age simply as a number, occasionally reminded by my general physician.

Colour colour, what colour...
Hair and skin have generally been the most visible targets in all talks about aging. If LÓreals and Olays of the world can help us look and feel good and confident why not try them. The decision to colour our hair can be a tough one though. But once decided, it's no big deal. Not sure, if others agree with me on this topic. Some may prefer the greying-pepper-and-salt look for whatever reason.  And receding hairlines and hairloss? That’s a different topic altogether.

Just give in...
Many things tempt us and we begin to resist them considering our figure, fitness and form. Resisting, especially in case of food, makes us crave for more! It's good to give in and binge on stuff that we love to eat, at least once in a while. And what about dressing? So what if your size has changed to from 'L' to 'XL',  just try that outfit, not worrying too much about how it looks on you. For all you know, you make be making a new sartorial statement in your new look.

Just do it!
I feel this is the best time to fulfil all those small dreams we nurtured for long. That hobby we longed to pursue or start all over again – biking, writing, theatre, cooking, painting, drawing, singing, gardening, travelling, etc not only give us creative satisfaction, they also make our lives more meaningful at a point when we reflect on our professional achievements and find a huge gap in our personal achievements.  Learning new skills and grooming our talent is always a nice thing to do to beat any kind of stress.

Looking back and forth
Sometimes, wallowing in nostalgia really cheers us up. Occasionally, looking at those old pictures, reliving the growing up years, recollecting the fun and foibles of our friends makes me remain connected with the past. When we look back, often we tend to compare “before”and “after” and judge them – I guess that should not be the way to do it. Just leave the past for what it was and let the present be what it is. I've backed on positive memories to deal with anxious, uncertain moments.

Learning from kids
Never forego an opportunity to learn from your kid, who could be in tweens or teens. Though parenting has been a remotely vicarious experience for me, I've discovered the joy of learning new things from my niece - her choice of books, music, sports, food and movies. It's refreshing to know about their perception of things around them rather than imposing our worldviews most of the time. The joy and happiness they show when we appreciate their taste for things is simply priceless.

Where is the time?
It’s a funny feeling all the time, we mostly seem to complain about the time fleeting away. Weekends are lost in a jiffy leaving us fretting and fuming about the things we could not do. Over a period of time, it makes us guilty about the books we are unable to read, about fitness and gym, about the friends we could not meet or simple chores that get missed. It’s never too late to complete them.

Did I hear someone say forgetfulness? Apparently, that’s another sign that you’ve joined the 40s club

Picture: courtesy:

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Swachh Bharat – beyond the politics of broomsticks

Look at the way the broomstick is held in these two very different campaigns. Do you know what the humble broom said to Arvind Kejriwal?
“Sir, you didn’t know how to hold me in the right position in your election campaigns, otherwise you’d be not only winning with a sweeping majority, but sweeping the corruption away!” However, this was not to be. As we all know, the story took a different turn when the honourable prime minister Mr.Modi launched the broom as a weapon to fight for clean and green India. Are we ready to make small changes to our lives, may not be sweeping though, to be clean?

Perhaps the humble broom never got such media attention as it is doing today. It really has traveled a long journey from the hands of the aam admi to the rich, the famous and the powerful, making it to the national headlines all over the country.

The taste of Hyderabad in Swachh Bharat campaign
Some snippets from conversations in the heart of Hyderabad:
In a wholesale shop in Begum Bazar...a customer looking at the almost empty stack of brooms:
“Arre jhadu poore khatam ho gaye kya... mereku dus hona tha”                     
“Hau bhai jhadu ke achhe din aa gaye ich nahin hai ... itta demand bad jaara roz roz.  Sab logan jhadu leke safai shuru kar diye...apni Sania ko dekho tennis chhod ke jhadu pakad li...”

In an early morning shift, two GHMC women sanitation workers looking at a picture of the film stars wielding broomsticks on the roads of Banjara Hills:
"Chusinava akka, pedda pedda actorlu, ministerlu andaru cheepurlu pattukoni photolu digutunnaru...mana photolu eevaraina teesinara?"
"Aunu nijamee...idi manam roju chese pani kada eevaru pattinchukuntaaru?...ippudu mana udyogala sangatenti?"

In an undergraduate college, the campaign coordinator, preparing the team of volunteers:
"Listen all of you, please come dressed up in your Swachh Bharat T-shirts, the brooms and the cleaning material will be available on the spot. You don’t need to worry about selfies, we have hired a photographer to do the job!"

It is really heartening to see the enthusiasm and involvement from all walks of life in this much needed campaign. It’s nice to see everybody talking about it. But how do we move from ‘talking’ to ‘taking and owning action’? Especially, when we have always considered littering as our birthright! Imagine the humongous challenge that our country faces – with ever increasing consumption patterns, lack of organised waste disposal and an ingrained apathy towards the ownership and maintenance of public spaces. Unlike many other top-down campaigns, Swachh Bharat is as basic and essential as the requirements of food, clothing and shelter. But somewhere down the line, there’s an apprehension that this well-intended initiative may become a symbolic episode if we don’t take some immediate actions, of course, besides the high-profile campaign with top celebrity endorsements.

Six points that can make Swachh Bharat a reality
Inculcating a sense of ownership of public spaces and natural resources– the roads, the common amenities, places of tourist interest and historic value, the lakes, the rivers, forests, the buses, the trains,  the railways...the list can go on. The problem is that our notion of cleanliness has long been confined to the walls of our homes and this will take a long time to change!

Imbibing, sharing and spreading “I-care-for-you" attitude – Most apathy and negligence comes from the fact that we are self-centered that we literally ignore what is next to us. When we start caring for something or someone other than us, automatically we will make a positive difference in the public domain.

Recognizing efforts at grassroots level – Sure, there are plenty of stories of how people have taken exceptional steps in making their villages, towns and cities clean. An award or incentive or some form of public recognition for the cleanest town or a part of a large city, based on some parameters could make it more participatory and competitive.

Dealing with culture and mindsets – For ages, we've been producing tonnes of waste and garbage in the name of religious festivals. It’s time people are educated about the impact of such practices in protecting the environmental disasters, besides creating a nightmare for the sanitation workers.

Including formal learning and training – Nothing like catching them young – if children can pester their parents to buy the choicest brands of TVs and cars, why not use their pester power to keep our surroundings clean. I’m sure schools are already trying their best to tell the children that if they wish to earn their right to a clean and green India, it is their responsibility to teach their elders.

Introducing fines and penalties – Bitter pills work like miracles on most maladies. It’s high time people are fined if they litter, spit or urinate in public spaces, however harsh it may sound. But then, it really needs some political faith to impose such things without hurting the public sentiment.

Public campaigns have their limitations. They can inspire and incite. But, the duty and responsibility remains with us at the grassroots to do our best. It's as simple as owning something (materialistic or non-materialistic) and flaunting it proudly and caring and sharing and taking responsibility for it. Isn't this what communities and societies are built around? 

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Happy New Year Birthday Shahrukh Khan

First, many happy returns of the day, Shahrukh. This may be a special birthday for you as you are coming close to the half-century mark. And this may also be a challenging phase professionally, for a star of your stature to keep reinventing yourself at the box office. Unlike the life and times of superstars like Amitabh Bachchan who had several ups and downs during their mid-life roles, you are lucky to have directors who create roles for you to suit or beat your age, often defying logic and belief - Rab ne bana di jodi, Jab tak hai jaan and so on. And fans like me don't like to hear when someone says that you should stop acting or taking up roles of the kind you do now. For, I'm still hopeful that you'll, some day, make some movies where we get to see you in sensible and realistic roles that suit your age and experience.

It's been a week since I watched Happy New Year. And believe me, it has left me thinking not so much about the movie itself but about the way Hindi movies are shaping up, the rat race for the fastest 100+ crores at the box office and glitzy promos, performances etc to woo the global audience. And what about Happy New Year? It’s better to leave it at the theatre for I don’t remember anything from it other than achche din spoof on Mr. Modi and the song Nonsense ki night that had some funny lyrics. In fact, as long as the movie played I could only hear some kids giggling at your antics and some laughter here and there. Nothing could bring a smile for me, neither your whatever-number-of-packs nor your jokes that tried hard to benchmark with Kapil Sharma and his team of cross dressers.

Shakrukh and the cinema of the absurd
With every movie of yours in the last few years, your roles are getting more and more absurd, at this rate, your Om Shanti Om will soon get the status of a classic. Trying to find a method to madness depicted in Ra.One, Chennai Express and Happy New Year, it seems like you have created your own definition of the theatre of the absurd for popular Hindi entertainment a.k.a Bollywood. Remember the plays belonging to this genre and absence of logic, weird comedy, and a voluntary dismissal of meaning and purpose of all our actions. (Readers, please excuse me for borrowing this term from French literature, sorry if I hurt the sensibilities of literary pundits). Today, the absurdity in Hindi cinema shows up in meaningless escapism, absolutely unoriginal comedy, wafer thin plots, rehashes and remakes, sequels, senseless spoofs – all elements of a new formula entertainment that is flimsy, momentary and lasts as long as the popcorn in your cone or bucket. As you know, with the multiplex culture taking roots, we spend more on popcorn and other snacks than for the movie tickets!

Sad but true Shahrukh, you need to do some soul-searching, especially for fans of yours who love your performances in Veer ZaraSwades and Chak de India. How about some roles where you are a normal middle-aged Indian? I know it sounds completely de-glam, but it will reinstate some faith in your loyal fans who are waiting for some serious stuff that satisfies a thinking individual. Like many movie lovers, I have my list of idols and favorites: Gurudutt, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan. I like them for different reasons - musical, intellectual, sensual, artistic, cinematic etc. My reasons for liking each one of them differ like chalk and cheese.

To put it in your own words: I know you will never underestimate the power of a common fan. I don't know what your next movie is about, however, I hope you will surprise me with at least some of the following: the sensitivity of Gurudutt, the romance of Rajesh Khanna, the angst of Amitabh Bachchan and of course, Shahrukh Khan, the sauve, smart and savvy!