Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israel pounds Gaza, calls this an "all out war" with Hamas

Israel's fierce and relentless air strikes on the Gaza Strip, with a grim determination to punish Hamas and stop the barrage of rockets launched at Israeli civilian targets, has been called by Ehud Barak, Israeli Defense Minister, an all out war on Hamas.

The effective and deadly use of bombing targets after using drones for identifying these, causing loss of some 350 lives, and the injured numbering in their thousands, makes the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, very much immoral and wrong, look like marbles flung at an adversary.

CNN reports Ehud Barak calling this strike an all out war. This statement in fact highlights the Israeli action an illegal war within the framework of United Nations' resolutions on war.

Understandably, at first sight, this action appears as a retaliation for rockets launched into Israel; but the scale and ferocity of the reaction seems unjust, cruel and ghastly.

Hamas look like a bunch of fools, small Davids, who should not have angered Goliath, so you get what you asked for.

World media, that always looks for sensational news, their eye on their advertising income etc. did not bother to give proper coverage to the rocket attacks by Hamas, with no information on extent of damage and loss of life............so nobody outside of that region know what was the actual scale of attacks, and the resultant loss of Israeli lives and damage to property.

By contrast, the Israeli action is getting 24 by 7 coverage and Israel appears the bad guy.

Actually its time the world wakes up and calls the whole region a lawless rogue bunch of states, with their endless tit for tat, now going on for over 50 years.

In a war with ceaseless confrontation such as this Palestinian Israeli conflict, nobody is, as the saying goes, the winner, and, on all sides, its the innocent, the common folk, women, children who suffer.

The world must understand, every player in this situation, especially the US, are just fooling all of us, making out the impression they are good guys with good intentions of bringing peace in this region.

A real close look will show every side of this game are looking to get the best for themselves, the United States and other western powers' efforts to bring peace, but that "this is a very complex issue and will take a long time to bring to a close," a clear ploy to keep the fat bellies of oil rich countries, on one hand, in somnolence slumber, and an eye on the rich pockets of the rich Jews in their home countries, for their political coffer fill ups.

Why should the issue take long to arrive at a settlement? All it takes is to bring both sides to the negotiating table and a no holds barred warning to both sides ...............make a permanent peace, do not needle each other or else the UN and cooperating countries will place a huge, huge, effective peace keeping force in the region, and all errants on both sides, both sides, will be "punished" by economic sanctions and other effective boycotts.

Both sides need to be stopped in their tracks with "threats," of sanctions and boycotts, clipping their wings, so to speak.........why can't Israel be warned to always behave with restraint, or face a boycott from the world body of nations............both sides sternly warned to stop all forms of violence, no land encroachments, no rocket attacks, no military or terrorists incursions.

In fact, the kind of reaction from the world body of nations, here and in other areas of conflict, in Africa and elsewhere, is the same, hypocritical cosmetic set of shoutings and empty threats............at the end of the day every nation with fewer problems shut themselves in their homes, say a good night and to hell with the rest.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bernard Madoff and the $ 50 Billion blowout!

Pictures: Bernard Madoff, Steven Spielberg and Alan Greenspan; and......the HSBC bank towers in Hong Kong (with Standard Chartered bank in the background); and HSBC Bank futuristic building in Brazil; Royal Bank of Scotland UK; all emptied out?


Big news, bad news, on media "front pages" also feature the "who's who" who we know, and the "who's who" we don't. Frankly, I am not one for big Wall Street investment; one thing, the omnipresent (not any more) American dollar costs a hell of a lot, and it's big game for big fish.

So never heard of Bernard Madoff, the guy who has come out last week with his ponzi scheme bust, has lost $ 50 billion to people and institutions, and charities(!!!); we common folks know the great director Steven Spielberg of 2001 A Space Odyssey fame, and iconic banks- HSBC, The Royal Bank of Scotland, BNP Paribas of France, and people we guys down under have vaguely heard of, Fred Wilpon, owner of the New York Mets baseball team. And who doesn't know Alan Greenspan, at one time, after President George Bush, the most visible face on TV- did he push up interest rates too high that partly led to all this?- the economic recession in the US.

Now, whilst we were just wondering how a huge amount of US $ 35 billion was being held like a carrot's stick, like a suspended toy over a baby's cradle, over those giant car auto makers GM, Ford and Chrysler, here, we have an individual who swindles some 50 billion dollars from big names and small investors, like a retired couple who had placed all of their one million dollars savings with him!

I would not just blame an individual who can manage this, but the system.........the world's free economy is full of holes, riddled with so many contradictions, so much confusion, conman ship, pirating, money sharks, loan sharks, plastic money................why, those enemies of the free world, won't they laugh all the way to the bank........oops, sorry, laugh all the way to their automatics muzzles!

Just look at this, China, with its brand of free market communism, has gone ahead.......at least it seems like that, I am doubtful if some huge loophole or heist in their money market would not become known to us. So it seems it was right, all along, to have some sort of controlled economy.

Lehman Brothers, Citibank, Merill Lynch, Bank of America, Ford, GM, Chrysler, GE Capital..................what's this, these are certainly not bad companies.

Recently, I asked a young friend, a Certified Chartered Accountant, working for a reputed audit company, an international firm, I asked him if they continue to look at Reserve Funds in a client's Balance Sheet, during the audit overview, represented by strong assets and cash surpluses ............he blinked, and said no!


Cavalier and arrogant attitudes that present day young managers and regulators flaunt, especially in the western world, has got us all into this mess.

In my time, up to the 1970s/80s, a bank manager, for example, diligently scrutinised all papers and documents put up for a house or car loan, with pre conditions set by the bank owners and government regulators...........a certified salary statement as well as tax paid proof, valuation of the house by an approved valuer had to be topped with proof of municipal council completion certificate of the home, the property title is verified, a letter from the employer certifying the applicant's permanent status in the employer's company...............

Now, with finance companies competing for getting people to take loans, expecting to stash in on interest revenues, frantically chasing people and putting sops for attracting more to go for loans, unmindful of risks, has done exactly that- risks ignored during evaluation of a person's capability of paying back a loan became risks that stare them in the face...........the domino effect of this, and more, has brought down the proverbial house built on cards!

Joe takes a house loan, he can hardly afford, from a finance company.....Joe's loan is fore closed, the finance company can't pay back its loans from the bank.........the bank faces credit crunch so Joe's employer has to pay higher rates for loans, Joe's assembly line product costs more......... business declines, Joe loses his job......he can't pay bills ......his super market, electricity and telephones, gas companies all start to feel the crunch.........recession sets in............Joe's investments are with just one big investment company which was doing a ponzi............no home, no money........

I want to keep adding to this post...........THE FOLLOWING TRENDS VERY DISTURBING:

Greed, unbridled greed, led to throwing common sense and caution out of the window. Add to this the very sad inclination of "main street" investors' blind trust in Wall Street.

What else can explain why retired people, small time investors, people who run charities, even the super rich, putting all their savings and/or surplus cash with one investor, and doing that without gathering prior information on where their money is being invested.

Before signing away their hard earned, or otherwise, savings and surpluses with an investment company, does it take a lot to see where the money is being invested......something like $ 10 million in auto industries, $ 10 million in shipping, $10 million in software companies,etc etc etc., and this financial info release certified by a Certified Accountant, with dated updates to the last financial quarter.

Besides, I am perplexed of people putting their investments with just one investor/investment company.
It would be wiser placing anywhere between 25% to 35% of your money safely in the best bank with a proven record, of several years, of safe 100% guarantee of immediate withdrawals, (see the bank's financial statements to be sure a goodly amount is in reserves as cash and/or solid assets......consult a friend or professional consultant,)-ofcourse in the present circumstances this is, ironically, risky as well.........25% or more invested in gold, and the rest with investment companies where a great deal of your money is likely to face unforeseen risks of trading..............here too, place your money with more than one company..........opt for companies that invest in a wide range of businesses. Ofcourse, all this after Joe gets some money in his hands again.






Monday, December 15, 2008

Shoes thrown at President Bush. The President gets a shoeful.

Shoes thrown at President Bush

Nothing like this, absolutely nothing like this, whilst we are getting somewhat "accustomed" (and that is sad, real sad) to expect surprises and unpleasant or sad tragic or horrific moving frames on TV...........this absolutely takes the cake. Its not tragic or horrific, its something by itself!

Everyone, everyone who saw that unbelievable sight on CNN (link to this news) will sure take those images to their .................. . I mean who would expect this? Please let things don't get any worse.

I can't make up my mind whether those shoes flung by a lowly simple simple journalist were aimed at George Bush or at the President of the United States of America!

The world's most powerful man, his finger on that button, the....the world's biggest mover and shaker, yes, the world's most powerful man has a pair of shoes flung at him!

Not one, two shoes through the air, travelling a considerable distance, the second a trifle later than the first, this second shoe flung before people in the room could recover from the first...........whew!

This is the ultimate ..............someone or something is telling us anything is possible, this is it.........no one, absolutely no one is above anything.................anyone down the street can plain well treat anyone anyway...or so they will try.

That was this morning. This evening I watched a DVD movie, Get Smart (the 2008 remake by Peter Segal-is he related to George Segal....... not 1965 movie by Mel Brooks.) Very slick, very funny, but no shade near the movie I watched on Saturday, the very hilarious and very very funny Mad Money ............the director Callie Khourie is genius and Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, Katie Holmes a superb trio with Ted Danson, Daine's bewildered hubby...........a must watch! A movie, sadly, closer to reality.

Back to Get Smart; this comedy, a satire on movies of the James Bond genre, but still not without a great deal of irony...........with the latest loss of 30,000 jobs at Bank of America, loss of some 5,30,000 jobs this November in the US, its not funny any more............to watch a movie so far far removed from reality.

I mean, come on, a movie is a movie, a hour and half of entertainment..........but now seems a little hard to take............the futuristic slick hidden headquaters of a US Intelligence wing.........the high high profile.............no other country has these..........gadgets and screens............so unreal..........pathetic. With the sad and unfortunate state America is getting into, with predictions, not by present day Nostradamuses, but some respected economists of possible
food riots..more on food riots ...........will the Hollywood folks please get real?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Zealand! Pomp Ceremony and Politics.

Pictures: the Chief Justice, flanked by two judges declares Parliament open; the new Speaker the Hon. Dr Lockwood Smith; Governor General Anand Satyanand inspects a Guard of Honour; the GG escorted by dignitaries into Parliament House; Black Rod, the GG's representative summons MPs who sit behind the closed doors waiting for the GG invitation/summons!

This 8th and 9th of December were historical days in New Zealand, the State Opening of New Zealand Parliament, in Wellington...............Parliament TV channel showing viewers live events surrounding this political, historical and cultural event; the channel has gone live since the morning of Monday and is even now (evening of the 10th) telecasting a heated debate on a Finance Bill that the new National Party government is rushing thru, on the basis of a promise to the electorate that electoral promises will be fulfilled in the first 100 days in office!

I have sat glued to the channel since the morning of the 8th. What I have seen is not "pomp and circumstances" as seen for the State Opening of the British Parliament, but a series of events and ceremonies far more subdued but not any less in dignity and decorum; small is beautiful, it sure is!

The State Opening starts like this: taking a page from the hoary traditions of the British Crown, the Governor General Anand Satyanand (of Fiji Indian origin, distinguished lawyer and before this appointment the NZ Ombudsman, a position of legal watchman) sends Commissioners, the NZ Chief Justice with two senior judges, to declare open this 49th Parliament. The Governor General, representing Queen Elisabeth II, will only enter parliament after the MPs are sworn in; so the declaration opening Parliament is done on his behalf by Commissioners
(His majesty's Commissioners) , senior judges led by the Chief Justice.

The British Monarch has, since the past three centuries, entered the British Parliament only to deliver a speech, from the throne, outlining government policy of the day, the speech prepared by his Prime Minister, and this after Parliament is declared open earlier by his representatives.

What does it look like here in New Zealand? "Small," simple and dignified, as the Chief Justice
Dame Sian Elias walks down, yes walks down, with two seniormost judges, all in regal flowing red robes and white judicial wigs on their heads, their walking across to Parliament House, not in the least diminished by the lack of horse and carriage, or a limousine!! Very stately and dignified.

So this regal trio walks up the red carpeted steps of the stately building and, led by an Usher, walks past a Maori welcome greeting, very colourful, and enters the Debating Chamber of the House of Representatives, where the elected, but not yet sworn ed in, members await to hear the Order from the Governor General.

The Chief Justice, a bespectacled, somewhat frail and small lady with quiet dignity and poise, reads out the Order, and sits, along with her two judicial colleagues, at a table below the vacant Speaker's Chair whilst the Clerk of the House, also a woman, in black robe, (look at this: some time back the Prime Minister Helen Clark, the previous Governor General, Dame Cartwright, Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias....... women led NZ !!) ...........I was saying the Clerk of the House also reads out communiques and orders.........................and thats it; with the equal quiet dignity and poise, the Chief Justice and the two Justices walk out of the Chamber!

With this formal opening of Parliament, its time to swear in the MPs; again a subdued but very interesting sight as MPs take the Oath of Office with the Clerk of the House officiating; the Oath to "Queen Elisabeth II, her heirs and successors," some swearing their oath on the Bible or other holy books, their oath ending with the phrase "so help me God"- and the secularists or atheists ending the oath with the words "according to Law." I think a couple of Maori members took the oath, in the Maori language, by the Treaty of Waitangi added in by them before the oath to the Queen! A good sample of Kiwi democracy!

Members are, Christians of various denominations, mainly Anglican and Pebysterian, some Muslims and Hindus, even Sikh(!!), and ofcourse the agnostics and non-believers; and from diverse ethnic backgrounds, Kiwi European, Maori, Samoan and other Pacific Islanders, Chinese, Korean, Indians, Bangladeshi..............thus representing peoples settled here from all over the world. I love this!

Dr Lockwood Smith, an MP of many years, of a rather deceptively frail but proud bearing, his eyes always alert, with a look that seems to scrutinise everything without looking rude, a huge smile on his face and arching eyebrows, an altogether compelling personality, is, next, unanimously elected Speaker of the House; he walks up to the Speakers rostrum, stands just below his chair, seemingly reluctant to occupy this, delivers a short speech and then slowly ascends the steps to the Speaker's Chair!

The next day, 9th December, the formal State Opening of Parliament, and delivery of a speech "from the throne" outlining government policies, by the Governor General Anand Satyanand, follow British traditions. The GG arrives in a state limousine, is first greeted by a Maori cultural group, Mana Whenua with a traditional Maori welcome dance. A Maori welcome greeting, known as Haka , an ancient tribal dance.

A tri-Services Guard of Honor follows when the GG seemed very solemn and cheerful by turns; then, with an escort led by Black Rod (see picture above-Black Rod -knocks door of the Debating Chamber) the GG, accompanied by his wife Susan Satyanand, enters the "Uppper House"-the Legislative Assembly Chamber (this is now only used for delivering the government sppech "from the throne" by the Governor General, otherwise New Zealand has no Upper House)- and is ceremoniously seated on the throne........... this signifying the GG is the Queen's representative.

From traditions drawn from the British Parliament, the GG then directs Black Rod to summon the MPs................Black Rod then walks across to the Debating Chamber where the MPs sit awaiting the Governor General's request to attend on him in the "Upper House"; this "summons" is ceremoniously delivered by Black Rod who first knocks (see picture) on the closed doors of the House, demands entry, which is given reluctantly, the chamber doors are opened slowly and a further blockage of the aisle by a rod across it. Black Rod addresses the Speaker and Members that His Excellency invites them to the Upper Chamber...........the Speaker and MPs then slowly walk across to the Upper House..........all this signifying their independence from the Crown!

The Governor General and his wife, Susan, seated on gold trimmed thrones flanked by the Prime Minister John Keys and Leader of the opposition Phil Geoff, with a number of Judges and Chiefs from the Armed Services seated behind on both sides.
The speech prepared by the PM, with its main thrust on reviving the flagging NZ economy, delivered .................the GG is escorted out of the Parliament building, a short version of the British anthem by the services band ............and, as the TV commentator puts it............the GG and his wife now proceed to Governor's House for lunch!!

But far more moving, to watch and hear new first time MPs deliver their maiden speeches.........they are some extraordinary persons with many great stories and outstanding achievements, stirring tales of families who have worked very hard, parents giving their all, migrants working very hard in a new homeland, school and college in the day and working at nights, members who return from foreign countries after some outstanding work in jobs or business.............one MP declaring the colour of skin should not determine who is a New Zealander.........very stirring....... and a great confidence to see New Zealand has very outstanding people in Parliament!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

New Zealand! New Home!

Pictures: Auckland with Sky Tower and yatchs; Auckland Airport; St. Helliers Bay with Mount Rangitoto in the distance; typical NZ home; St. Lukes Shopping Mall; view from Sky Tower; vineyard outside Auckland; gannets nesting on a wind cut rock at Muruwai beach.







New Zealand!!! New! yes, the "new" proves right everywhere, hardly any structures, for example, office blocks or residential stand-alone or town houses, needing fresh coat of paint; neat green lawns, sidewalks with green patches, green rolling country side, some of this within city limits! (Funnily, within Auckland roads are topped with good finish surface, country roads, by contrast, in many stretches, have a rough surface, not damaged surface mind you; this is to hold wet tyres from slipping, in snow, or rain.......lots of the latter in regions throughout NZ., throughout the year.)

I have a joke, all my own.......I come from God's own country (India) to God's new country, God's beautiful country! New Zealand. Kiwis, New Zealander's name for themselves, prefer to keep a respectable distance from God, they prefer being real good guys themselves!

I always intend to nudge my visitors to NZ, after picking them from our lovely Auckland Airport, to look out the window .............every bit of the route, the Manukau harbour (where the airport locates south of Auckland,) the Hillsborough and Blockhouse Bay roads to my New Lynn suburb, mostly picture postcards.

And I would tell them, wait, this is nothing, wait till we drive down the North-Western motorway to Muruwai beach, or the other way to West Harbour, rolling green country around Whenupai airport, picturesque houses, blue waters (all these withen Auckland!!!); further up, vineyards, more green, horses grazing, English cows and sheep dotting the hill sides..............these hills, green, with some topped with clusters of trees, look suspiciously small until you look at the scattered cows and sheep, all small dots on those green slopes, and you realise the hills are not small, but slope gently..........rolling countryside.

If you intend visiting New Zealand looking for magnificent buildings, than it's better you visit London or Paris or Prague etc etc; of course, the City, with its Sky Tower and stately modern high rises around, make for good viewing, especially from across the harbour, from the shores of Davenport. And, of late, it now appears, some guys in the building business, especially residential blocks facing the city port, are bent on making money, the city views from anywhere are getting to look a trifle cluttered! And if you choose to rent an apartment in the City, you are most probably getting small poky rooms; in New Zealand you are far better off living in houses that come with their own green patch.

Auckland, City of Sails (includes the Councils of Auckland City, Manukau, Waitakere, North Shore, Rodney and Franklin) would very easily be somewhere on top the world's cities in the race for a good place to live in; the City (the Central Business District), the outlying office and residential areas like Mt Eden, Point Chevalier, Western Springs and every suburb are clean and spic, green patches, well laid roads, well marked- (more roads needed for more traffic in peak rush hours as everywhere else,) shopping malls and ample parking, no rubbish anywhere (barring a few places where residents with a scant respect for civic values leave some rubbish outside their homes, but these areas are very few.)

And Auckland is cosmopolitan, now some 43% of Aucklanders are non-European origin, indigenous Maoris, Pacific Islanders, Asians, Indians and Fijians of Indian origin, Africans, Middle Easterns, peoples from many Muslim countries, etc. There are no jostling crowds, no rubbing shoulders in crowded places, for a city that spreads out some 60 kilometers in every direction, Auckland has a modest population of 1.4 million. And everywhere, mostly everywhere, looking out from a moving car, are a series of lovely picture frames.

Most shopping malls are spic, with gleaming floors, well presented shops, some with cinemas, Village Cinemas, at the top level, groceries-Food Town, Pack and Save, Countdown, and plenty of food courts (with choice of European and Kiwi, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Indian, Iranian and Turkish cuisine).........malls seem to be favorite places to window shop, sit with a coffee and pastries, very cheerful places......an afternoon at the food court, those old tottering folks, probably on dole (family assistance in NZ.) whiling away sipping coffee or gorging on pastries and pies.......mind you, these same oldies, 70/75 and above, will drive away in their car, some new and flashy breeds!

Aucklanders, though not some of the best dressed, would easily rate high for their style, heads held high, a quick spright in their walk, women very pretty with fine figure, many blondes; and somehow in the midst of this, some Kiwis choose to go around bare foot and shabby...........

and if you come from a country where people stare, or at least show some curiosity, Kiwis by sharp contrast will never meet the eye..........in crowded malls, everyone will pass by everyone without looking you in the eye, never.....you will never be looked at; somehow a straight ahead look, not rude, not indifferent, just plain everyone minds their own business..............so if you are looking for a smile or want to be looked at, you better go some other place( meaning country.) Rather, exception to this are morning joggers/strollers............ all say good mornings! I like that.

These same Kiwis, yes these same Kiwis, if they happen to sit by your side, and this sometimes encountered whilst sitting opposite Food Town- (I hate going inside, and sit opposite the cashier counters)- a bored fellow, first looking askance at you to judge if you are the communicative type, with time on your hands, will give you his full life story, very warm and friendly.

Besides, for Kiwis and other New Zealanders, when it comes to communicating with one another, things are quite different; a telephone call to confirm an event like the estimated time your courier will arrive to pick your parcel, is a friendly, polite, cheerful and honest piece of information-if he or she knows you, its all on first name basis-cheery and "its a fine day out there isn't it?" ............if your tradesman gives you the time he would do your work, and something keeps him, he will phone and apologise for the delay; a hospital nurse will talk cheerfully and make your day with light banter; your physiotherapist or doctor, call center lady, your regular scheduled time bus driver will strike up a light conversation at the slightest chance. (Hi mate, how are you this morning.)

You must meet a tourist bus driver in the Bay of Islands......on a full day tour of North Island he will not stop his light banter, sprinkled with jokes..........passing a cemetery, he said, I have booked my plot here before the land prices go up! I asked him how he could keep up this continuous one sided, but entertaining, conversation, and he said "mate, if I don't, I will fall asleep on the wheel!"

But the same people (not those you have met/or with the usual formal/informal introductions,) the same people will not meet the eye, no way, no sir, whilst passing you in the mall, in the car park, at the post office or gas station queues.

When you decide to get accustomed to this, you get an unexpected jolt, you find yourself getting a cheerful smile....................Kiwis are sure moody people!

And the Council chaps treat you with VIP status...........I have had to contact them sometimes and sure made to feel I get my taxes worth...........if the street lights are out, just phone the Council.........they will have these fixed within a day, sometimes two.....and you will get a call later: "are your street lights working today, everything fine?"
I had one incident where a neighbour's dog, on leash with the owner, got irritable and charged at me; I was lucky because the owner pulled at the leash or I would have had my face torn out. The incident unnerved me, but some friends adviced I contact Dog Control...........I did that and was amazed at the repartee I established with them........several calls were returned from Dog Control, updating me how the dog's family was being counselled so the dog would not be a nuisance in the future!!

There is also some degree of slide downhill.........one rule, dogs should be accompanied by owner and on leash-only after 7 p. m. your dog can be roamed free-.............these rules are sadly ignored..................there have been several incidents in the last two years of dog attacks, some by the Rottweiler breed.......and these are quite something.

There are an increasing number of young, good for nothing, punks, who drive crazy through the nights, their car engines roaring away and loud rock music. The police plan to use ariel surveillance for spotting these chaps and for other road violations, like speeding. More instances of house invasion and burglaries, hold ups at groceries/dairies, purse snatching..............and one of the worst irritants, painting and disfiguring walls, fences, house exteriors...........stores are banned from selling small paint spray canisters, but this has not worked.

New Zealand traffic is one of the best well mannered courteous driving anywhere in the world; migrants and tourists can drive on an international or their home country driving licence for one year. After this, a written test on road rules and a no nonsense practical driving test will get you a NZ licence. Warrant of Fitness, WOF, has to be renewed every six months, and a WOF licensee is likely to ask you to spruce up your car.

I was saying traffic manners are some of the best in the world; everyone, almost everyone, barring a few exceptions, follow traffic rules and road rage is almost non exist ant. Preference/give way to traffic on the right, stopping at stop signs and at zebra crossings, allowing traffic from an inner road to join the main stream, overtaking/passing only in permitted stretches of the road, signalling before changing lanes, no honking, headlights never on full, and lights "on" during rain spells, waving out and thanking fellow motorists for any reasons etc etc. After the chaotic driving in India, driving in Auckland is a cheese!

Rarely, quite rarely, the quiet pattern of traffic is thrown out when a couple of police cars have to chase an offender.
No policemen at traffic crossroads, but they do park with some degree of stealth with speed cameras..........some roads have an electronic meter that displays the speed of your passing car.

More in the next post.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mumbai Under Siege-the Taj Palace Hotel Legacy.

Pictures: Jamsetji Tata, bearded patriarch in the center with his family (around 1900);
R D Tata (Jamsetji's cousin) center, and father of JRD, (JRD Tata, founder of Air India) pictured as as a child;
room in Tata Esplanade House, the Tata home for several decades;
Tata Steel;
Tata Hydro -Electric, power generation for Mumbai;
Tata Institute of Sciences;
JRD Tata, (fourth from the right) piloting first air mail from Karachi to Bombay-precursor to AirIndia (Air India later nationalised-and standards down!!!);
image of Guggenheim Award medal to JRD for Outstanding Achievement; he was also awarded Bharat Ratna (gem of India) India's highest civilian award!

(all pictures courtesy Tatacentralarchives.com - I wish to bring the Tata legacy to wider attention through Blogger.---what the Taj legacy means, one of the world's great legacy.)




This is not ironic that the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai takes people around the world to ask why the Taj Palace Hotel an institution Indians are very proud to call an icon of their city.

Far more than its immense stately presence, the Taj Palace Hotel is one of the flagship symbols of the otherwise globally little known Tata family, with Jamsetji Tata and his descendants making huge contribution to modern India.

Jamsetji Tata comes from an illustrious line of Zoroastrian priests of Navsari, his distant ancestor first High Priest of Navsari, Dastur Meherji Rana, so impressed the Great Mogul emperor Akbar, made this great king incorporate tenets of Zoroastrianism in his syncretic faith Din I Illahi. The significance here is that at the time of Akbar, the Zoroastrian Parsi immigrants from Iran numbered roughly not more than 50,000 and to draw the attention of the great Akbar far away in Delhi (Navsari is on the Gujrat coast some 600 miles south) speaks how even then Zoroastrian Parsis had begun to make their presence.

Very very briefly, (I prefer the images here will better illustrate this Taj legacy) Jamsetji, born in Navsari in 1839, preferred (like his father Nasserwanji) to try his hand in business than his priestly calling, has by 1874, at the age of 35, floated a textile mill, then went on a highly ambitious plan with such driving force and vision, and although he died in 1904, his goals to modernise India were and are pursued by his
descendants even today :

in his lifetime he laid the foundations of an industrial India, and after he passed away, his sons Sir Dorab Tata and Sir Ratan Tata, his cousin R.D. Tata, the latter's son JRD Tata, Naval Tata, now Naval's son Ratan Tata who presently heads the Tata Group, went on to establish an industrial empire -steel, hydro-electric power, locomotives and cars, airlines (Air India), chemicals, now computer software (TCS), branded wear, department stores, and more, to rival this, Institutes for scientific research, scholarships for higher studies abroad, and rural upliftment schemes in India, hospitals, housing; the Tatas were the first, in the world, to introduce an 8 hour shift!

This is what the Taj Palace Hotel stands for..................AND THE TATA SHARE OF OWNERSHIP OF THE TAJ GROUP OF HOTELS IS HELD FULLY BY THE TATA GROUP OF TRUSTS FOR CHARITIES AND SCHOLARSHIPS.






Thursday, November 27, 2008

MUMBAI UNDER SIEGE!!! Mujaheedin strike the commercial capital of India!

Over 100 dead, over 300 injured!

Pictures:the CSRT railway terminus, an UNESCO heritage site-several commuters were indiscriminately sprayed with bullets and injured/killed-(?) inside;
the magnificent Taj Palace Hotel and Taj Towers with the Gateway of India in good times; an old picture of the Taj rear side-(IT IS NOT A SQUARE/BLOCK STRUCTURE AS PROJECTED BY THE MEDIA); the Taj today, victim of terrorism.
Update: Saturday, 29/11/2008
160 dead .............Indian authorities are probably upto their old game, they are known to submit official figures like dead and injured numbers close to the real numbers much later.

And this is proving closer to home to so many of us..........my son's yoga teacher in Pune has lost her son, killed by these aweful terrorists; he was a manager at the Taj Palace Hotel. A very close friend of mine here in NZ
reports his nephew with family and friends have holed up in a hotel close to the Trident Oberoi, they were having dinner there when this happened.
But I like what that great doctor and philosopher, Dr Deepak Chopra, said on CNN yesterday: this is ultimately a message to Washington; this is two sided, the same petro dollars go through Saudi to Pakistan and then to these terror groups; the muslims make up 25% of the world's population and the fastest growing group..........don't do things that would make a moderate become radical..............make sure they are won over, that would lead to an end to terrorism.


Below:Wednesday and Thursday, the 26th. and the 27th. of November 2008.


This is, this far, the worst terrorist attack on India; notwithstanding the large number of previous terrorist attacks, some very recent, in New Delhi and Assam, this one takes a new turn; several large very well known iconic places targetted, with the terrorists implanting themselves for a prolonged siege, providing a shield for themselves by taking hostages, AK rifles and grenades, not rudimentary or text book bombs, and probably confusing intelligence services and the world at large by "presenting" themselves as a little known outfit, the Deccan Mujaheedin." THIS IS NOT A GUERRILLA OPERATION BUT A FRONTLINE WAR!


India's premier railway station, built in 1888, and now placed on the UNESCO list of heritage structures, two of the best hotels, one a heritage hotel that had opened for business in 1903, cinemas, suburban locations........this is a very well planned and coordinated attack, and worst, has also target ted foreigners............as I write this, rather rewrite/rephrase this, a hostage crisis still remains unresolved at the two hotels and some other places.


I am stunned and grieved; nothing absolutely nothing compares to this.........I would rate it the worst attack since 9/11, and certain ways of looking at it, its worst.

To people familiar with Mumbai/Bombay, and I am "born and bred Bombayite," the extent and scale of operation can be modestly described as awesome, my guess, some hundred terrorists involved.

The scale of the attack, in terms of the area covered, some of the busiest locations in Mumbai, 24 by 7, is unprecedented; I should know, I have lived 57 years there and in Pune. And this made far worse by the taking of hostages, including foreigners, from several locations...........this is new, terrorism taking a new turn in the way it intends to operate in this region.

Two hotels, the Taj Palace Hotel and the Oberoi Trident, two of the best in India, India's busiest railway terminus, the CSRT, which is officially an UNESCO World Heritage site, the classical Metro Cinema, at one time the pride project, in Asia, of MGM studios; and horror of horrors, a medium sized hospital, the Cama hospital which, as far as I know, from the time I lived in Mumbai, specialised in maternity care!!!

At a very personal level, I am particularly shocked at seeing the well loved Taj Mahal Palace Hotel(see here its history) on fire...............this heritage hotel built, in 1903, by a great son of India, recognised there as the "father of Indian Industry," Jamsetji Tata, and a great icon for myself, as Jamsetji was a great Parsi and a visionary who did not live to see his dream of an economically independent India, (steel, textiles, electric power generation, scientific research initiated during his lifetime..........the present Tata group covers a huge range of economic interests rivalled only by a huge amount of scholarships and charities by them .................his descendents, JRD Tata, founded Air India, and now Ratan Tata, equally a visionary of sorts, has conceptualised, and put on the production line, the world's cheapest car, the Nano, priced at somewhere around US$ 3500.00!!!)

The Taj Hotel is to hotels, what the Buckingham Palace or Versailles is, compared to some of those new glitzy palaces of the oil rich Sheikhs!!! .........it "houses" some, now rare wood work, intricate stone work and marble lattice work, rare furniture and rare paintings, and a feel of heritage in its architecture...............and as I could guess, from pictures on CNN and BBC, its right wing, the Radio Club end, is on fire.

Memories of great times at the Taj, dining at the pricey Rendevouz restaurant (I think I have done that just twice, very unaffordable,) or coffee at the Coffee Shop on the first floor, with a superb view of the harbour, or munching on some of the best cakes and savouries from La Pattisserie; and a more "emotional" connection, my father was posted there at the CitiBank branch for a few years from his 35 year career at the Citi.

The Leopold Cafe, on the main Colaba Causeway road, behind the Taj, a family run restaurant by Zoroastrian Iranian emigres, renovated and styled to attract dinners from the Taj and other hotels, also came under attack...........this single piece of evidence points to the fact that these terrorists did their homework.........my guess Leopold is, even to the present day, a 100 table affair, but has attracted foreigners who frequent here for modestly priced food and beer........not otherwise a target deserving the attention of terrorists, but the knowledge that foreigners dine here the deciding factor to target this joint.

I live in NZ, and would not be right to use my blog to cover live these horrible events taking place in Mumbai; that coverage should rightly be left to bloggers and others living in Mumbai.......

The Indian authorities will now have to come up with more dynamic and effective intelligence gathering, with more active liaison and cooperation with and support from international intelligence agencies, more alert to terrorist warnings and messages, and a more efficient security check up at all sensitive locations....................breast beating, loud protests and promises to do better in the future, these wont work.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What if there was no Big Bang, no meteor that destroyed the dinosaur, no hominid that walked upright, no flint that sparked the first fire, no.......

When, and if, you chance upon this essay, and you decide its worth a read, the first impression, rather two impressions, and the right ones, bang on, you are sure to gather, are: this guy has idle time on his hands and, he is no original................I (that's you) have read this piece somewhere.

Of course, you have! But its my way of putting ideas important to me!!

Most odd ball inspirations come sitting on our throne..........wastage out from down there, and fresh ideas flow in up there..........now, that is original!

I began thinking, how many probabilities and improbabilities, and these are infinite, make up for our existence on this rock? There are so many "if this had not to happen" and "what if this had happened" that we are left wondering how the hell are we here at all!!

Lets try and list some of the what ifs.

What if the Big Bang, or whatever caused all this Universe getting created, had not taken off? Nothing, absolutely nothing would have been here, not me, not you, not this laptop, no birds and bees......yes, yes I will stop here. Maybe, there would have been some other type of everything...........ask those clever physicists.

They tell us that all the millions of Galaxies in the Universe are moving away from one another.............they have concluded this by the red shift, the spectrum of light coming from all these bodies out there; it indicates everything is moving away from our galaxy, hence by physics analogy, every galaxy is moving away from every other galaxy!

For now, this was good.........our Solar System, and billions of other systems had ample "breathing" space, hence planets formed around stars. But billions of years from now its going to be pretty lonely..............we won't be around to see that...........the entire Universe is going to disperse into oblivion.......billions of galaxies will be infinitely distanced from one another..........what an awesome thought! (And here we, petty petty piece of nothings, are trying to match wits with one another.)......

I have just seen a very informative, and not very pleasant, documentary on History channel (3/Dec/2008) with astronomers prediction that our Milky Way galaxy is on a collision course with the neighbouring galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy......if our huge spiral side of our galaxy where our Solar System is located remains outside the collision, we will witness astronomical fireworks that may last a million years!!!

This Earth is estimated to be five billion years old...........does this include the billion years it was in some dust and gaseous state, slowly solidifying into a rock? (the outer crust we live on; otherwise, below the crust is a fiery ball of fire!)
The Universe is variously calculated a 13 billion to 15 billion years, our Star, the Sun, should be around of a much younger age, because the old blokes have lived out their full life, become huge monsters and then collapsed by the awesome force of their own gravity, become Black Holes......Black Holes, one is at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, (estimated to be a million times bigger than the Sun, sucks in everything that comes near, even light is absorbed..............gluttons of the Universe!

So our tiny Solar System is lucky it remains "unscathed" so far!!!

Now here goes, if the Earth had not solidified to its present state, not formed the atmosphere needed for life to sustain itself, this happened by a torrential rain that lasted some 70,000 years, life as we know it, again impossible............anyhow life would have evolved someplace else; in any case, scientists conjecture, life, several million times over, is replicating in other parts of the Universe.

There are some conflicting theories on how life formed, and physicists in particular thrive on this; life came from meteors that crashed into Earth, these bringing bacteria and building blocks of life from deep Space. No, others differ, life was accidentally formed from the soup of chemicals in our oceans that churned out the right mix of building blocks that form life.

Are there any other theories? I can't think of any right now, no wait.........I think I had read somewhere, bolts of lightening flashing across the skies triggered life formation in the oceans. One of these or
some other, not yet postulated, formed life.

Perhaps there is most likely some Force, some Energy, a Supreme Intelligence, not the God we conjecture and imagine we are made in His image, but a Force with an infinite Intelligence...........how else can you explain the pattern in everything..............the atomic structure in everything, the atoms are an universe within itself........zillions of Universe, each atom with protons electrons neutrons and the smallest particle, the Quark.............my apologies, if more infinitely smaller particles have been discovered...............I don't know.........I feel like an illiterate who has only learned to sign my name yesterday!

But I have heard of the String Theory, all things in the Universe are "connected" by an infinite infinite number of strings, smaller than the atom(?) that holds things together, read Stephen Hawkinns "A Brief History of Time."

Look at the pattern...........this Earth revolves around the Sun, is at the exact optimal distance that keeps the right atmosphere etc in place for billions of years, billions of years............sorry, no amount of persuasion from physicists that a number of clever mathematical formulae explain this and many other things.............ok, a huge number of formulae..........but how and where did these formulae, perfect explanation for everything, spring from? A Nature without intelligence or a Force hidden behind Nature that provides this intelligent pattern.

Look further at this pattern of all things..........all species mate within their species, every specie has its own DNA structure and set of instructions ...........a cow's DNA structure is not going to accidentally produce a human............but the DNA instructions will make you look a little like your father and mother!

or, a DNA structure with instructions for your nose is not going to "build" your ear...............look at the heart, it has DNA instructions, giving the heart's "battery," the small Bundle-Recording above the heart, to give out electric currents to beat the heart ceaselessly for the life span of the owner......amazing!

Its the same pattern, the same infinite number of events and coincidences or patterns that got the human race going ...................from remote hominids, around four million years ago, who from the neccessity to stand upright to observe danger better........ started our species! Vertebrae, those series of bones running down the central back part of the body, had evolved for some million years, enabled life to walk on fours, and then, our hominid ancestor, on two......legs!

And millions of years before this, in a one in a million rare event, a huge meteor, crashing into the Earth, "destroyed" those egg laying dinosaurs...........in fact, scientist tell us, dinosaurs never died out, but evolved over millions of years into birds! (When you eat chicken, remember its ancestor was probably a specie of dinosaur!)

In the meantime, species, that "grow" their off springs in a womb within their body, the mammals, unlike through eggs that incubate the offspring outside the body, got preponderance, with the big bully dinosaurs out; and these, the mammals, began to do better in the game of evolution.

Some of these mammal species began to use their hands and fingers, one of the first things.....to hold their bodies from falling, these mammals held tree branches with their limbs, thus giving an impetus for the brain to "grow." These were the ancestors of the ape family of which we humans are a branch. (If these ancestors, of hominids, were to have stretched their necks to reach out for food-berries etc, growing on trees, we would probably have evolved into an animal with long necks and a small head with a small brain!

With more flexible fingers, and hands, these early apes began to hold foods in their hands, eating, by transferring foodstuff into their mouths held in a grip in their fingers.............this "tool, our hands and fingers," got more agile only by an increased brain capacity.

And with better food intake, the bodies of some of the ape species grew larger..........at this point, for reasons still not understood, one branch of apes separated from the other, and the ancestor of hominids began to evolve............a specie of more intelligent ape that used more small rocks to break open nuts etc...........and easily from there, the descendant of these apes, the hominids, began to "flake' these stones to form tools, their brain capacity growing larger, the forehead gradually standing higher to enable enclosure of a larger brain.

It took a few million years for the early hominids- the Ramapethicus, the Homo-Habilis, and many other branch descendants of hominids, to evolve into ancestor of Man, the Homo Sapien Sapien....................even here, great competition for space, and what else, took place between the Neanderthals (one descendant branch of later hominids or early humans) and the Homo Sapiens Sapiens (that's us)............with the latter winning out!!

A further quirk of evolution, more recent, humans branched into several races, the Caucasoid, the Mongoloid, the Brown, the Negroid (the last probably the oldest.)

And one spark, one spark accidentally produced from friction of flints, caused man to make his own fire..........the world's greatest ever invention!! and the seeds of civilisation..........domesticating the first wild seeds and shifting out from caves to the first simple structures..............burying the dead or exposure (cremation), domesticating goats first(?) then cattle........

Monday, November 17, 2008

The West and the East--The tortoise comes in from the rear!

This seems to be the decade of the tortoise!

This laggard (one of the synonym describing this shelled friend in Thesaurus) has come in from the back and overtaken the hare!

Aesop's Fable tells this story where the timeline is just a few hours; but the tortoises of the world have been trudging for centuries and the hares (plural sense) have been running as well..........looks like the hares have tired out, at least for now, from this race of centuries!

The West is the hare, the East the tortoise-(this is the case since the great Industrial Revolution in the west.....otherwise the East was for centuries fabulously rich-Alexander the Great's soldiers needed several thousand camels to take away loot from the Persian capital, Persepolis.....the kings of india wore rubies the size of eggs!); now, the tortoise, this slow shelled scaly skinned creature is aptly carrying a burden on its back- the shell, very easily symbolic of the East, burdened with its baggage of poverty( more poverty since its colonisation by the West,)...... religious prejudices, "slow" modern development begun decades after the West, huge number of ethnic groups, high castes and low, and many other disabilities.

The West, inventions of the modern age, the Industrial Revolution, discoveries, science and medicine, Isaac Newton, Marie Curie and Pasteur, the humanists and social scientists, with an ugly side as well, the pirates and the colonists, the slave traders and the racists, apartheid, and dictators like Hitler and Communism, East Europe and Bosnia. (Of course, the East gives us the Pol Pot in Cambodia, Saddam Hussien, the Taliban, the harsh regimes of North Korea, and China- harsh where it suits them.)

Somewhere in between is the great continent of Africa, mother of the human race! Its people under great burden, first 'inflicted' by their ancient rulers, then by the western masters, and now by their new leaders; and you have Darfur, Zimbabwe, and Congo, blood diamonds, and a new breed of mercenaries that terrorise its people, Idi Amin and others. But the one person that belongs to all ages and peoples of the world is Nelson Mandela, whose "mentor" Mahatma Gandhi the great sage of the modern world who had spent some years in South Africa.)

I would group Africa with the East, so the election of the first Afro-American as the President of the United States, Barack Obama, in a sense stands for the tortoise winning (although Obama himself never never uses his black background to any advantage,)...........and, in hindsight we should not be that surprised.

The one voice that is heard so avidly in the US is that of Oprah Winfry, an Afro-American (this info for those very few who don't know!) , America's best rated talk show hostess, and who the world saw crying at Obama's speech in Chicago (after winning elections;) and the greatest icon of that country, Hollywood, has more than its fair share of black actors: Morgan Freeman, Eddie Murphy, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Jammie Foxx, Samuel Jackson, Forest Whitaker, Halley Berry, Queen Latifah and Whoopi Goldberg. US sports has been dominated by Afro-Americans for decades, the athletic fields at the Olympics splashed with black, not just from America but from Africa as well!

And now, China and India, and the wealthy countries of the Middle East, Dubai and Saudi Arabia, cheap and very hard working labour, software and outsourcing, oil money, seems to confirm that the tortoise is in the winning game!

And what happened to the hare?
Decades of a very liberal society, born from the very high ideal of freedom, but which has given the world hard rock music and drugs that have held young minds in the new shackles of free sex and drugs, hip culture and what else!

Whilst the deprived child in India, for example, did his school homework below the street lamps for lack of lights in his home(and because he works during the day), a burning desire to educate himself, and thus seek freedom from poverty, his western counterpart chose a different kind of freedom, filling the streets of cities with violence and petty theft. (Please forgive me for the generalisations, the west still has the very best educational institutions with a fair share of the young there studying for the "college degree.")

And the West chose to work at very high salaries, and spend spend spend, no savings and mollycoddling by their governments, ............buy homes on unaffordable mortgages, change cars on a whim, go on world tours, over dress, fashion and cosmetics; and the masters of the great companies, with their craze for profits and piracy in their veins, chose to take jobs where they did work cheaply (to the few people I have talked with, westerners, they seem to point fingers at India and China for the loss of their jobs. This is only partly true, the blame should also be placed on those thousands of Companies and their CE Os for deciding to take jobs to the cheap markets.....you cannot clap without two hands!)

And, no one seems to know that the lowly priced Indian Rupee, in the Foreign Currencies Exchange Market, proved a boon...............a salary of Ind. Rs 50,000 per month-- (it can buy you the world in India-bread Rs 17/; good pair of shoes Rs 4000/; haircut-gents Rs 100/; a midsized Chevy- Rs 4,00,000 [US$ 8200])-- works to US $ 1,000 per month!!! .........................and the hare got left behind!

But the world should be a place of equal opportunities, no hare and no tortoise; somehow a logical, not equal, distribution of all the world's resources, an end to all forms of exploitation, a sharing of and pooling of talent and jobs, an ideal Platonic world where the whole human race stands to benefit............with the first logical requirement- all those men who would do anything for money, power and personal gain, somehow neutralised!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Software Parks, MegaCenters, Malls, Pune 2008






For the past two decades, India is following an economic policy, with private enterprise and foreign direct and indirect investment encouraged, where wealth created is expected to trickle down to people, thus alleviating poverty; yet somehow, the problems are not getting solved at the right pace.

Although for the first forty years, since becoming an independent country, India followed the socialist path, discouraging monopolies, more weightage to the growth of indigenous industries, nationalisation of all infrastructure- railways, roads, water resources and electricity, airlines; there was a good side to this which is now apparent.

A massive boost to education, since independence, for example, churning out graduates by the thousands, did not make sense, until, some decades now, these educational institutions began to pay dividends by a wise switch to quality education- so India has one of the largest pool of engineers and software engineers, followed by good doctors, and management cadres..........some of the best international companies have Indians at the top- CE Os.

What seemed senseless some forty years now, building of water dams all ac cross India, seen as a threat to ecology, are now also seen as paying dividends; India is self sufficient in agriculture, its milk and wheat production, for example, is one of the highest in the world.

Nationalisation of banks, for example, was decried loud from the rooftop, and some of the nationalised banks are seen as poor cousins, in terms of efficient service, of private banks, established later; but these banks, thanks to regulated financial activity by government, are very strong financially whilst foreign banks and finance hubs like Lehman Brothers collapsing like nine pins.

Some of the indigenous companies, allowed during those years of socialist policies, like Hindustan Motors, churning out old models, have now taken a deserved beating; but some of the pharmaceutical, steel, hotels, and others, changing with the times and pursuing the best business policies, companies like Tata Steel from earlier days, or Reliance Industries and Airtel, which came up later; Reliance has, for example, put up the largest oil refining plant, in Asia, in Gujarat. Airtel has one of the largest network of mobile telephony in Asia. Heritage hotels run by various companies are running some of the best hotels in the world.

Whilst in India, in September-October this year, I watched quarterly results of some Indian companies on CNBC, and Infosys, and others, continue to make profits, planning to increase staff!!

Economic policies that take a very severe beating are the nationalisation of electric production..........in Pune, thanks to this very inefficient handling of plans for growth of electric infrastructure, power is shut for six to seven hours each day!! Just last Sunday, from here in NZ, where I now read Indian news reports, power was shut in some parts of Pune from 7 a. m. to 8 p. m.

When this happens most of the companies, industries, hotels, restaurants, malls, provide power to themselves from generators run on diesel............I wonder how much diesel is consumed this way.........and how it might be more pricey than electricity. Now, the electricity provider, the MSEB (Maharashtra State Electricity Board ) wants to raise rates, pay more per unit, for assured 24 hour supply!!!

Since the opening up of the economy, some two decades now, the India story has never looked back...........huge building construction, for residential as well, but most parts unbridled, with roads and water and electricity poor and far behind; new hotels, new cars manufacturing, restaurants, shopping malls, software parks, call centers, innner walled in cities, multiplex cinema, and modern industries-mobile telephony, airlines, textiles and fashion, software and outsourcing, new pharmaceuticals, oil refining, the list can go on ..................just one of the enterprises run by the government seems to do well, atleast partly, the railways, with luxury trains for tourists, and running some 11000 trains ac cross India.

But pollution and dust, water and electricity shortages, poverty and old badly dilapidated houses, are very much evident as well!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Traffic! Mumbai-Pune, India Sept-Oct.2008. - 3.







Left, 1st picture: view, from a car-notice the riders on motor cycles on the opposite side chatting (see circle mark.)



Traffic!
By hindsight, I am quite awed insurance companies cover accidents and mishaps driving in India, Pune in particular.

If you want to experience driving at its very worst, then choose to hire a rental car or sit in a three wheeler rickshaw, select the morning or evening office rush hour times, and ask to be driven on some main streets of Pune...........the experience will remain with you forever.

Your driver and every other driver......... cars, rickshaws, buses, trucks, delivery vans, motor cycles, scooters, and cyclists in their midst, compete to stay on the road to the exclusion of all others; it is the stiffest competition of survival of the fittest.

Right of way is amply expressed by jerking the car forward in first gear, and quick timely split-second braking if someone is in your way, and that always is the case (the vehicle in front doing the same thing, or a pedestrian darting through )..........in the meantime every man/woman behind the wheel, on your right or left, and behind you, will try their very best to get you into a corner so he or she can pass you............in all this it is not uncommon to see two or more riders on motor cycles or scooter riders riding alongside, in earnest conversation(!) .....their wives riding on the pillions, in animated conversation as well!

Every motorist is subjected to constant rude blowing of horns for slowing down, never mind the vehicles ahead have slowed down! Pedestrian crossing/zebra crossings are death traps, you have to go on looking at the traffic or get mowed down........that never happens because the Indian pedestrian competes with the swiftest animals for accelerated jumps.

In any case, the majority of pedestrians cross ac cross roads where ever and whenever they please............Very often they will not even care to look at the oncoming vehicles, they just saunter ac cross........their faces turned in any direction but the direction of oncoming vehicles..........hindi, national language: "rasta tere baap ka?" .... Marathi, local language: "rasta tujha bapacha kai?"........ translation into the colonials English: " road belongs to your father what?"

Be prepared to be entertained when you wait at a red "stop" signal..........by the way, cyclists continue riding, red signals are not their concern! When you stop for signals, beggars will crowd you and if you draw up your window, this does not deter them, they will knock on the glass. One incident, we were seated in a rickshaw and a very young street urchin, a girl, went up on her hands, her palms unmindful of the hot road asphalt, and did a somersault................she got ten rupees from me! The most awful sight are women, in tattered clothes, carrying babies in their arms, these children of God, not older than one year, are very still, almost lifeless........are they drugged? These women stand at traffic junctions and approach with their bundle, God's children, eliciting your pity and kindness to get some alms.

And this is the most amazing........at crossroads, all kinds of vehicle drivers are very mindful of traffic signals or a signalling cop; but where signals, for some reason, are not operating or stop operating, or the cop has retreated for a cuppa tea or gone off duty, then all hell breaks loose(!!!).............every vehicle, from every side of the cross roads, considers their right of way paramount, the muddle and jam, with vehicles of all kinds inter vined and almost stuck to one another, gets very chaotic and can be very dangerous; it resembles series of knots, irretrievably fully tied up in more knots!!!

To add to woes, roads in Pune, especially roads leading out of the city, are not roads but craters, in parts; vehicles naturally drive around the pot holes, but when the traffic is dense than the unfortunate vehicles have to wobble their way........a high end vehicle or a fully loaded truck is a sight, its upper top swaying like a boat in rough seas!

My very good friend, Marz, lives in Koregaon Park and frequents the "German Bakery" there for coffee...........he has got himself some German and European friends and they say "Marz, we love it here, driving is adventurous, keeps you alert!" And, living in close proximity to the Osho commune, pretty girls in abundance!!

Many of the major roads have night illuminated "buttons," embedded on the road surface, dividing lanes, and centre dividers, green trimmed plants/shrubs topped on yellow stripped blocks; its not that the civic body is not trying to improve things!

And, this time, I have seen a new innovation : all types of adverts on billboards on tall steel masts fixed on specially designed trucks, these parked on the road side, passing vehicles can view the ads.

But the economic boom is evident in Pune, hotels and restaurants, some very swank, shopping malls, office and residential buildings everywhere, again some very modern glass and steel exteriors, new cars on the roads, Hyundais, Hondas, Toyotas and Chevrolets, Fiats and Fords, and some spanking new Mercs, BMWs and Audis. But dust, pollution, broken roads, stray dogs, chaotic traffic, poverty evident in most places ..............in the Cantonment area or Boat Club road, and Kalyaninagar, for example, you might drive for several kilometers and see nothing of poverty and old dilapidated structures.