Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stop being a Road Terrorist

I am not a video game buff. But there is one game that I play every day. This game has innumerable challenges, obstacles, and a clock that keeps ticking before I reach my destination. The rules are puzzling because only I seem to follow them. Yes.  I drive a car in the Mad Mumbai traffic. All that this game says is players should be cognizant of the 3Ps (Potholes, Pedestrians, Pandus) and 3Bs (Bikers, Buses and Blaring horns). A word of caution - Understanding the 3Ps and Bs will make you adept at driving, but do not venture out without a health and life insurance since the Road Terrorists are out to get you!

1.       Potholes – ‘Road me gadda ya gadde me road, tu tension mat le, jaane de chod’ goes a guy on the radio as I rollercoaster my way up a hill where there is a pothole even on a speed breaker while going uphill. Why do they even take the trouble of building speedbreakers in India I wonder?   I tried complaining through various mediums, but everyone says the road doesn’t fall under their purview.
Politicians/Corporators with your tall manifestos – Either give us better healthcare facilities to cure breaking backs or repair those roads completely instead of ignoring or dumping on the road a thin superficial layer that only makes the road even more uneven than ever before!

2.       Pedestrians – The responsibility of ensuring road safety apparently lies solely with the motorists in India. In a country where motorists do not respect pedestrians, why should pedestrians respect motorists? If motorists do not stop at red signals for them to let them cross, of course, they will exact their revenge by starting to walk when it’s your green signal. Well actually, when pedestrians start crossing, it is a sign that the signal is green!  Pedestrians also usually walk in the middle of the road with earphones or mobiles in their ears and do not give a damn as your brakes squeal behind them after honking. Pedestrians are also so used to encroached footpaths that when presented with an un-encroached footpath, they shy away from it fearing it is cursed to walk on it and spill out on the road. 
Guys in your two and four wheelers - it is a good idea to let these poor guys cross the road when the signal is red. YOU BLIND MEN, please wait behind a certain real or imaginary white line that gives space and lets people cross safely at your red signal! And footpaths if not encroached are not for bikers to ride. On their part, Pedestrians will then cooperate by not jaywalking in the middle of the roads.

Encroached footpaths and people crossing over dividers

3.       Pandus or Police – They are the important guys of the road who everyone fears usually found near red signals. If there is a pandu as they are fondly called in Mumbai, then people wait at signals, and break fewer rules. These guys are usually a harried lot, standing in the scorching sun and pollution for long hours, haggling with errant drivers for petty bribes, turning a blind eye to BEST buses breaking rules or bikers who they know they cannot catch. I don’t really know whether to appreciate the hard work for their low pay or to blame them for what is happening on the streets of Mumbai.
I wish, they invoked enough fear in motorists to believe no bribe would work to enable them to get away and that errant drivers would be caught, reprimanded and penalized very heavily. It is also time we stopped taking these guys for granted and believing that we can get away by paying petty bribes.

4.       Bikers – A large chunk of this species believe they are as tiny as ants and can wiggle their way through any amount of traffic, climb on any footpath, have the right of way on both sides of the road, break major and minor signals at breakneck speed or block roads at signals in their egoistic fight to be at the very front of the line.
I ask, can’t these annoying errant bikers exhibit a mite of patience to stop clambering over pedestrians on footpaths and taking every plausible road on the wrong side if there is no pandu to catch them? 

5.       Blaring horns - ‘Honking is my birthright and I will honk it. Pippepiipii.’ This seems to be the motto of every motorist in India. As though honking makes traffic move. As though, signals turn green by honking, as though pedestrians pay any attention to it.  Everyone is in a tearing hurry to reach their destination. I don’t get how honking speeds things up!
Although extensive campaigns by traffic police can be seen at major junctions, why is the plea to stay calm so ignored? I cannot help but curse all the incessant honkers and hope they all go deaf one day. Can the government really not clamp down on the car and bike companies who provide such horns in the vehicle and make it prohibitively expensive to buy them from independent shops?  For drivers in AC cars, just because you cannot hear the honk loudly enough, does not mean that, it gives you a right to blow others’ ears off! I wish there were a reverse horn invented for cars and fixed mandatorily that would sound twice as loud inside when honked on the outside!

6.       Buses - Stay away from these unfriendly elements as far as possible. BEST Drivers are not only rash but they are also bullies. They will crush you unmindfully in their quest to get ahead of you or because they don’t like you. Buses will drive only in the middle of the road so you cannot overtake them. Keep a safe distance from them, as they screech to a stop right in the middle of the road to pick up passengers from the bus stop at the extreme left. If the bus stop is really far left, then beware of them swerving frequently to and from the rightmost lane and the leftmost lanes. The bus drivers derecognize Yellow and Red as colors and see only Green. These guys have no qualms, can rarely be apprehended and little that you can argue. They also honk incessantly. Stay Away from them.
What can be changed, is some training to these drivers and higher penalties/increased suspensions to stop them from flouting rules the way they do. I wonder if we citizens can call for a motion against them for irrational driving.

Well, there are a whole lot of other factors one needs to be mindful of, but this blog would be too long then. Big vehicles, Zigzagging autorickshaws, the stray kids who run amuck on the streets, dogs who refuse to move from the middle of the road till you are almost over them, mobile phone gabbers, preening women drivers and roadside squatters and peddlers. Red Lights did you ask? Well, those we see, but have never been mindful of them except when the Pandu is around. no? .  Oprah Winfrey on her visit to India, asked if Red Lights were for fun on Indian roads. Since we all value foreigners’ opinions so much, perhaps it is time to pay heed and see some wisdom in her words instead of only raving about her sari. When we finally do, that’s when I will include the Rs – Red Signals, Right Lanes and Road Sense in here.
Amber is the new Green!
The latest world-wide statistics released by International Road Federation (IRF) reveal that 1,19,860 people are killed in road accidents every year in India as reported by the Economic Times. DNA reports that the number of accidents in Mumbai is 23,440 in 2010 with 560 deaths. This is far higher than any terror attack we have had. I welcome any bill that brings on enhanced fines, stringent punishments and lesser tolerance of repeat offenders.  Till such a bill is passed, we need to bring about discipline. All that needs to be done is to be patient, stop trying to outrace others and respect the milling crowds and fellow motorists around. Stop being a road terrorist. Go on, follow rules, be the change and lead by example for safer roads.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Book Review - The Forest of Stories by Ashok K. Banker

‘The mother of all tales’, ‘epic’, ‘grand’, ‘compendious’, ‘massive in scope, unrivaled in ambition and unequalled in length’. ‘While it is called the Fifth Veda, it is at once equivalent to all the Vedas’. ‘What is not found within it is to be found nowhere else. And all that is elsewhere is here.’ Mr Ashok K. Banker has indeed used precise words in his book ‘The Forest of Stories’ in which he starts to retell the Mahabharata.  

I have in the past read several wonderful interpretations of the Mahabharata by authors such as C Rajagopalachari, Kamala Subramaniam and others but enjoyed Mr Ashok’s Bankers interpretation more than I did theirs because of the riveting and interactive narrative style, new stories I was not formerly cognizant of and minute detailing.

At the ashram of Kulapati Saunaka, near the historic battleground of Kurukshetra, arrived Sauti, the renowned raconteur. He had braved fierce jungles to reach the ashram to pass along the news of the demise of the revered author of Mahabharata Sage Vyasa and spread the story of the epic Mahabharata. In Mr. Banker’s rendition, we readers get to be a part of Kulapati Saunaka’s ashram where Sauti is narrating his tale to the acolytes of the ashram.  It is this narration that has made for a gripping story almost as though it has been narrated by my grandma when I was a child. 

In this first part of a series, tales of valor, invincibility, power, revenge, violence, love and lust of the devas, asuras, sages, kings and other beings are graphically described in a seamless flow. Amongst the stories, I quite enjoyed the vivid delineation of Parshurama and his bloodied axe with which he slaughtered Kshatriyas or the warring clan. Despite the gruesome violence the tale entailed, the character seemed surprisingly calm as befitted him. The stories of Bhrigu, the revenge of Ruru and Janamanajaya against the Nagas or Snakes were new to me as was the story of Garuda. The book ends with the famous romance between Shakuntala and Dushyant. It is quite apparent that the book has been well researched and it is intriguing to trace the history of the dynasties of the various sages, kings and other beings in this book.

What differentiated this series was the fact that Mr Banker has not jumped headlong into the tale of the Kauravas and Pandavas but has given ample context in this book. The author has done great justice to the tale by splitting the epic into multiple books. In fact, this book does not even reach the part where Satyavati meets Santanu that is the starting point for most other condensed Mahabharata interpretations. Despite having read so many versions, I loved the fact that many of the stories in the ‘ The Forest of Stories’ were new to me.

The author has used Sauti’s narration superbly in adding that jazz of drama, violence in battles, the horror of killing, the eloquence in speech, power of mantras, and vivid imagery. This style has rendered an interactive discussion between the acolytes and Sauti answering several questions that we readers may have and stressing on what the Mahabharata highlights. I appreciated the use of good language that fortunately did not mix in Hindi or other languages that are in vogue in English books.

This book is indeed a treat to all mythology fans and I give it 5/5 stars. Now that this book has me hooked, I certainly look forward to continuing the tale in forthcoming books in the series – ‘The Seeds of War’ and ‘The Children of Midnight’

About the author
Ashok is an internationally acclaimed author of mixed-race and mixed-cultural parentage based in Mumbai, India. His Epic India Library is a lifetime writing plan that aims to retell ALL the major myths, legends and itihasa of the Indian sub-continent in an interlinked cycle of over 70 volumes. This includes the Ramayana Series, Krishna Coriolis, the Mahabharata Series, the contemporary thriller Blood Red Sari and other works. His books have sold over 1.2 million copies in 12 languages and 56 countries worldwide. With the launch of his own AKB eBOOKS imprint he became India's first bestselling ebook author as well as publisher and bookseller.

Thanks BlogAdda for selecting me for this review. It certainly opened a whole new world that I had missed out on!

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

What's in a Name?

"What’s in a name?", an oft restated sentiment has acquired a whole new meaning when I recently changed my last name after some years of marriage.  The feeling is still sinking in. I am suddenly shocked by the revelation that I have gone from a Miss to Ms to a Mrs and it has suddenly made me feel several years older!

With my family hailing from the western part of Maharashtra- Vidarbha, my maiden name is KHOLKUTE pronounced as KHOL KOO TAY. Well, one would think I would be happy to shed that name! but no, it had to become SONPATKI, probably an equally difficult last name!

But now that it has been done and I see it in black and white in front of me, I ruminate, really, did I want to do this? A girl who has been carrying an identity all her life suddenly is forced to take on a new name, a new identity. Why does her existence have to be forever linked to a male in the family? Be it a father’s name as her middle name or the husband’s name.  And more complex is the fact, that world over, the last name is something that is mostly acquired from the father’s side although there are a few cultures which take it from the mother’s side or find a middle way such as taking both their names or even blending the names.

I wonder what it is that makes a woman change her name in societies where this is prevalent. It is the norm and the tradition which most of us blindly follow.  Pressure to follow what is accepted is another common reason.  There could be insecurity on the new family’s side which does not feel comfortable if the wife or the daughter-in-law still struts with her maiden name and is supposedly not integrated with the new family because she does not carry their name. Perhaps it is because the woman herself does not feel integrated enough till she changes her name to match the name of the majority she lives with! Some girls even change it to prove their love to their new husbands though I don’t see why her love could be any less or more even if she does not have the same name. Perhaps it is a little of all the above reasons that make a fairly well-reasoned person like (I would like to think) me, take the big leap.

In the days of the yore, when most women honestly didn’t have as much as an identity that they have today of their own, change wasn’t quite as difficult technically. Having a good education and multiple jobs, one is straddled with not just certificates and degrees with a different name, but also endless number of bank accounts, credit cards, identity cards such as a pan card, driving license, passport and a motley of investments and assets that require to be changed with a brand new signature. Besides the things that mandatorily require change, there is a whole virtual life out there which requires a new identity! Networks drive the world, social or otherwise and even though you painstakingly inform half of the million people you know, chances are they will most likely forget you or won’t find you ever again if you aren’t in touch.   A long arduous road it certainly is, but women do it. I am doing it and I am at a loss to understand why! It is with a foolish sentiment that I cling on to my old passport, pan card, bank cards, credit cards, identity cards, driving license and all the myriad things that are associated with a name. It is almost as though a different person had experienced so much in life!

Well, I do take consolation in the fact that my new name is atleast unlike many of the crazy Maharashtrian last names (to completely go off the topic). One would think a Maharashtrian colony were a forest with vegetable families coexisting amicably with animals in one neighborhood.  For example we had Bhende (Okra), Bhople (Pumpkin), Gawhare (French Beans), and Mule (radish) all in one colony alongside animal families such as Wagh (Lion), Landge (Wolf) and Aswale (Bears) and Undre (Mice).  Of course, an ecosystem would have its terrible elements such as Bhoot (Ghost), Aghore (the Terrible), the animal killers such as Waghmaare (Lion killer) and Aaglave (Fire setters).  Maharashtrians also come in all hues – Kale, Gore, Saavale are common place.  Amongst the other funny ones I have heard are Udyasangin (I will tell you tomorrow), Gapchup (Keep quiet), Gaitonde (one with a cowface), Paidhare (Hold legs) and Potdukhe (One with a stomach ache).

But that aside, I reckon, I will now learn to accept and live with my chosen new identity. After all, no one forced me to take it up. Perhaps change is good with a new phase in life. Perhaps it will be easier to not to have explanations of why I want to retain my maiden name.  Maybe, the new name will auger well for me! And it certainly will not break any ties with my parents of course or change who I am. It is time to ponder over the other famous nugget of wisdom – That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. I shouldn’t be moping so, should I?