31 July, 2013

Our Phuket Odyssey (20th July - 27th July 2013) !


(Pic courtesy : Vic Krishnan)


Where do I begin ?  

Do I begin with the sereneness of the place or with the warmth of the people there ?  Do I begin with the natural beauty of the landscape or the inner beauty that resides in the hearts of the people there ?  It is a very difficult choice and not one that I choose to entertain. 

We spent one week in Phuket – one glorious week and Phuket and its people have left an indelible imprint on our hearts and our minds.  The only other place that has come close or an even par where natural beauty and personal warmth go, is Bali.  The Balinese too, are a very hospitable people and this was the one feature that we found remarkable even among the Thai people.  It made a world of difference, that one week.  Especially going into a place like Phuket from a place like HK which, all said and done, is emotionally quite sterile, was like dropping into a warm bathtub after trudging through the cold weather outside.  The warmth just envelops you, it encompasses you, it disarms you, it takes you over – mind, heart and soul.

The Thai people are quite a remarkable lot.  They go through a lot of hardship, from what we could see.  They work hard for the money they earn and more importantly, they take pride in what they do.  Almost every morning, at breakfast, there used to be a smiling Thai lady at the egg station, who would cook eggs, the way you wanted them cooked.  I’ve come across many chefs who do the same thing in many different countries that we’ve visited but this lady was special.  There would always be a wide, broad toothy smile every morning she was there and one would be greeted with a loud “Sawatdee Kha ! Good Morning Kha” when one stepped into the restaurant for breakfast.  She was, quite literally, the life of the restaurant, so much so that people actually missed her when she was not around.  We did too, when she was not around in the restaurant.

The housekeeping staff at the resort could not speak much English, nor could the security ranger who used to do the rounds of the resort to make sure everything was alright and the place, secure.  But in their own warm way, they made communication easier.  They make people realize that all it takes to humanize things is just a smile.  To them, it comes so naturally, almost as if being warm is ingrained in their psyche. 

 It was predominantly evident the next morning, at breakfast, when people of many different nationalities converged at the restaurant.  No one knew each other, yet there were friendly smiles and cheery “Good Mornings” floating all over.  Since the resort has standalone suites, there were plenty of instances where our neighbour would be on the porch at the same time as we were and a wave and the ensuing chat seemed completely normal there.  While walking down the path we would either run into people or see them relaxing on their porches.  There would be smiles, waves and a little chat.   That is what Phuket does to you.  It peels off that layer of wariness, that cloak of guardedness that people normally learn to wear around themselves in cities like HK.  Like I said earlier, it totally disarms you, it beguiles you, it woos you with its simple yet pure warmth, sincerity and cordiality.  

We took a boat trip to Phang Nga Bay one of the days we were there.  While on the boat, I was chatting up our tour guide and she was telling me about her family, who were sea gypsies.  Her grandparents had a thriving coconut business and they used to just trade in all sorts of coconut products.  They lost much of their land during the Tsunami and since then just have a small business, supplying fresh tender coconuts to a few restaurants in Phuket.  They have, however, begun tapping rubber trees for sap and are trying to extend their income with rubber farming.  Life has not been easy yet her confidence, her pride in what she does for a living shone through just about everything else.  There was a genuineness about her, a silent dignity that one could not help but respect.  Yet again, despite everything life has thrown her way, she was a person who warmed the heart with a realness that was refreshing.

There were three scheduled stops on the boat trip.  Two of those stops involved the boat laying anchor quite a distance away from the islands.  To get to the islands, we had to hop on to little canoes and the canoe guy would paddle the canoe over to the little island.  Now, water is not my element.  I have never ever been a water person but once we got onto that little canoe, as it kept bobbing like a cork in the water, the feeling that encompassed me was one of sheer awe, respect and reconciliation with Mother Nature.   One look around and all I could see, as far as my sight would permit, was a vast expanse of clear blue water.  It did not scare me in the least.  It was actually reassuring.  The only thing I remember is being filled with this immense sense of peace.  Despite a number of canoes in the water, there was a stillness, a serene tranquility.  The only sounds I could hear were the gentle sounds that the water made as it lapped against the sides of the little canoe and the occasional shrill chirp of the many different species of birds.  Chirps that split the serene air like lightning does to a sky darkened with clouds.  Just as lightning serves to illuminate the dark clouds, these chirps just served to accentuate the tranquility.  Despite so many human beings around, the sensation that filled the mind was one of harmony.  We were at that place and time in life when humans were in complete accord with nature and the feeling was beyond description, the essence way too wonderful for words to capture, in its entirety. 

There is something about the place that simply encourages you to be yourself – no put ons, no facades – one is comfortable with the person one truly is.  For that matter, nature seems to work on this theory too.  Nature in Phuket, if it has to be described in one single word, is unrestrained.  It behaves the way it wants to, when it wants to.  We experienced nature at its mellow best and also felt its rough, forceful strength, all in a space of two days.  

We were over at the beaches almost every single day and each time, nature had a different facet to display.  Nature, especially the waters in Phuket do not seek, they demand respect.
Our first trip to Kata Beach did leave us feasting our eyes at the charm of the sea.  The waves were frothing and foaming at the caps, but were still gentle.  Even well into the water, the waves actually seemed to caress.  The experience was anything but scary.  It was a welcome reprieve from the heat.  

We went over to the same beach a day later, expecting pretty much the same thing but this time around, nature had totally different plans.  That day, the waters simply claimed the entire beach.  There was no beach, there was just water, everywhere.  The local people were stacking sandbags around the edges of what was supposed to be sandy beach area, in a desperate attempt to prevent the waters from rushing up onto the roads.  The beach chairs had all been pushed away to the fringes and actually had to be tied down to prevent the sea from claiming them.  Even as one gingerly stepped into the waters, one could feel that the sea was in an unrelenting mood that day.  It was not to be messed with and people on the beach that day had absolutely no choice but to respect nature’s wishes.  Two youngsters almost seemed to dare the ferocity of the waters that day only to be tossed around with absolute impunity.  The waves toyed around with them until they retreated.  

That morning, it was not difficult to imagine how it must have been a few years back, when the waters rose from the ocean like a wall.  Yes, the waters in Phuket have a charisma, the waters in Phuket have their own personality and they answer to no one. 

Another thing that stands out in Phuket is the ability of humans to co-exist with the other creations of nature – as in the little insects and creatures that have a right to inhabit this planet just as much as we humans do.  The natural ecosystem there is amazing.  It is a very common sight to see huge centipedes or millipedes crawling along next to you as you walk.  One day, we found a scorpion leisurely crossing the road, its tail and sting swinging from side to side like a pendulum.  Mesmerizing sight, it was.  Spiders, wasps, huge bumble bees, lizards, ants, frogs – they are all around and they live their lives, the humans live theirs.  They co-exist peacefully.

Even the butterflies out there seemed more friendly – they were gracious and sociable enough to merrily come and perch on us when they felt like.  The bees do too, sometimes.  

We went over to the Butterfly and Insect garden and it was a completely different experience.  There were butterflies of all shapes, sizes and colours, flying free all over the garden.   Stand still for a few minutes and a few butterflies soon deem you fit to be explored.  It is quite a magical feeling, to have a butterfly perch on you.  They move, slowly yet surely with those feather light touches from their colorful wings.  Their antennae move, a gentle tickle that just makes one forget everything else and revel in just that moment.  Somehow, those little winged beauties release this feeling of warmth and happiness that seem to gush from the heart and if I were to describe my feeling (when a butterfly landed on me) in just two words, it would be “light and free”.  During those few seconds or sometimes minutes, everything else ceases to exist – there is you and there is the butterfly or sometimes, butterflies.  One butterfly in particular, decided that my face looked like a doable nature walking trail and took a walk all over my face. That is one experience I will treasure forever, for, that little winged creature simply filled my mind with everything that is good and right with this world of ours.

The Thais are indeed a very religious people as is the Burmese community (quite a substantial number) in Phuket.  During the week we were there, two or three days were special Buddha days and as we drove past the lane leading to the Big Buddha, we could see thousands of Buddhist devotees lined on the streets, waiting for transportation towards the Big Buddha, high up on a hill.  We made our way to another temple Wat Chalong.  It was almost like one of the village fairs there – abundance of hawkers selling all sorts of food, children with balloons, people praying and amongst all this there was the deafening din of firecrackers being set off as offerings to God. 

The Elephant Ride through the forest was a new experience for all of us, though not one that I would ever want to repeat.  It is like one of those slow roller coaster rides, with the sudden dips and the stomach lurching climbs.  It was me and Pecan on one of the elephants while Daddy and Macadamia had another elephant to ride on.  I, for one, spent almost every single minute of the half hour ride hanging on to my seat for dear life, for, there were instances when I thought it was going to happen – me falling off a huge elephant, that is.  At some points, me and Pecan were hanging on to each other and Pecan saying things like “ok. Be prepared for a broken bone or two” did not quite help right then.    The elephants in this particular safari respond to voice commands alone because for a major portion of the ride, the mahout does not even sit on the elephant.  You cannot possibly imagine the kind of scenarios that went through my mind as we lurched on through the jungle – just me, Pecan and the gentle giant elephant.  The mahout was walking at a leisurely pace as though it was the most natural thing to do right then.  Now I am a person who feels dizzy when I look at anything from a height and looking at the uneven jungle terrain from atop an elephant’s back was quite disconcerting, to say the least.  I was rather adequately terrified and with the elephant’s huge ears flapping around my feet while I was being swung around like a toy, ahem … it was not exactly a reassuring situation.  

 Another reason why we, as a family, have decided not to do this sort of stuff again is because we actually felt bad for the elephants.  They are extremely intelligent animals and this, in a way, is their means of earning their food.  It rankles because that’s not how it should be.  I vividly remember the moment when the mahout asked me to step on the elephant’s head to get on to the seat and I refused.  I somehow shimmied up into the seat, all the while hoping that I didn’t unceremoniously land on my butt in front of whole load of mahouts but right then, I just could not bring myself to climb onto the head of an animal that has been, by circumstances, forced to earn its living.  The mahout was extremely amused when, at the end of the ride, we actually said “thank you” to the gentle giants with the wise eyes.  We really wish we could have fed them at the end of the ride but it was late evening and it was time for the elephants to shower.  So off they went.

This world of ours is definitely a small place.  We visit many different places through a lifetime and yet, there are some that leave their mark on our minds.  An indelible mark.  Many a times, if we actually care to give it a thought, the places that capture spaces in our hearts, minds and souls for an eternity, do so with things as straightforward as simplicity, genuineness and warmth.    


As we got onboard the aircraft at Phuket International Airport, as the aircraft taxied onto the runway,  gathered speed and took off, there was no “Good Bye Phuket” – not in my mind, not in my heart, not on my lips.  It was simply “Au Revoir, Phuket.  Till we meet again.”  I know we will, sometime in the future, for, Phuket, with its open arms, its warmth, humility and hospitality, is a place I’ve rather hopelessly fallen in love with.  

My first post at Parentous.com


(Pic courtesy : singlemindedwomen.com via Google)

Oh well !!  Let's face it, shall we ?  We did not like to go back to school after holidays when we were kids so now, as parents, it is not even fair to just presume that our kids are going to be jumping for joy and doing the hooplas when vacations end and schools begin.  

I guess this is something every parent can relate to, at some point of time or the other in their child's school life.  I wrote about the "Going back to school Syndrome"  at Parentous.com.  

Here's the link :

http://www.parentous.com/2013/07/04/back-to-school-anxiety-syndrome-deal-with-kids/


19 July, 2013

Warren Buffet - What a life !! (A guest post by Abhay Venkitaraman)


(Pic courtesy : QuotesHDWallpapers.com Via Google)

 Warren Buffet

Warren Buffett is a multi-billionaire. He is an investor, philanthropist and a tycoon. Forbes has rated him as the 4th richest man in the world. He owns Berkshire Hathaway.

Warren Buffett was born on August 30th, 1930 in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents were Leila Buffett and the U.S representative Howard Buffett. He began his education at Rose Hill elementary school. In 1942, his father was elected to the first of 4 terms of in the Unites States congress. And after the Buffet family moved to Washington D.C, Warren finished elementary school. He then attended Alice Deal junior high school and then graduated from Woodrow Wilson high school in 1947. 

As a child, Warren had an interest in making and saving money. He went around selling chewing gum, Coca Cola and magazines. He also worked in his grandfather’s grocery store for some time. When he was in high school he was successful in making money by delivering newspapers, selling golf balls and stamps and detailing cars among many things. In 1945, he and a friend spent $25 to buy a pinball machine. They placed it in the local barber shop. Within months, they owned many machines in many different shops.

Warren also had an interest in the stock market. When he was 10, he went to New York and visited the New York stock exchange. When he was 11, he bought 3 shares of cities service and 3 for his sister. When he was in high school, he invested in a business owned by his father and bought a farm worked by a tenant farmer. Warren entered college in 1947 at the Wharton school of the University of Pennsylvania.  He studied at the college for 2 years until 1950 when he moved to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  At the university, he graduated with a bachelor of science in business administration. 

After Warren completed his undergraduate studies, he enrolled at Columbia Business School after finding out that Benjamin Graham who was the author of the intelligent investor (one of Warren’s favourite books for investing) and David Dodd who was a well known security analyst were teaching there. In 1951, Warren earned a Master of Science and economics from Columbia. Buffett also attended the New York Institute of Finance.

Warren Buffett was employed from 1951 to 1954 at Buffett-Falk and .Co, Omaha as an investment salesman, from 1954 to 1956 as a security analyst at Graham-Newman Corp., New York, from 1956 to 1969 at Buffett partnership Ltd, Omaha as an general partner and from 1970 to the present he works as the CEO of Berkshire-Hathaway. In 1950, Warren had made and saved nearly $9800. In 1952, Warren discovered that Graham was on the board of GEICO insurance. He took the train to Washington D.C on a Saturday and met Lorimer Davidson, GEICO’s vice president. The two discussed business insurance for hours. They ended up becoming lifelong friends. Davidson described Warren as an extraordinary man only after a few minutes. 

When Warren graduated from Columbia, he wanted to work on Wall Street but Benjamin Graham and warren’s father urged him not to. Warren came back to Omaha and worked as a stockbroker. During this time, he also went to the Dale Carnegie speaking course. Later, he started his own “Investment Principles” course at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. In 1956, Benjamin Graham retired. In 1952, Buffett married Susan Thompson at Dundee Presbyterian Church. In 1953, the couple had their first child, Susan Alice Buffett. In 1954. When Buffett joined Graham-Newman Corp, his starting salary was $12,000 a year. Working there was a very hard job. The same year, The Buffett’s had their 2nd child, Howard Graham Buffett. In 1956, Graham retired and closed his partnership. At that time, Warren had made and saved around $174,000 and started his own company, Buffett Partnership Ltd in Omaha. In 1957, Warren bought a 5-Bedroom stucco house in Omaha. Today it is still his residence. In 1958, the Buffett family had their 3rd child, Peter Andrew Buffett. In 1959, Buffett Partnerships Ltd grew to 6 partnerships. In 1960, Buffett Partnerships had 7 partnerships. In 1961, Buffett revealed that Sanborn Map Company accounted for 35% of the partnership’s assets.

In 1962, Buffett became a millionaire because of his partnerships. In January 1962, he had an excess of $7,178,500. Buffett had about 1,025,000. In 1962, he took over textile manufacturing firm Berkshire Hathaway. He bought shares from Seabury Stanton, who he later fired. In 1985, Berkshire Hathaway sold its last mill. In 1973, Warren acquired stock in the Washington post company. In 1979, Buffett began acquiring stock in ABC. Capital Cities announced it would purchase ABC on March, 18th 1985. Buffet helped finance the deal in return for 25% of the merged company. In 1987, Buffett purchased a 12% stake in Salomon Inc. This made it the largest shareholder. In 1988, Buffett bought stock in the Coca Cola Company. He purchased 7% of the company. Buffett became a billionaire in 1990. In 1998, he acquired general Re. In 2002, Warren became involved with Maurice.R.Greenberg at AIG. In 2005 the AIG board forced Greenberg to resign as Chairman and CEO after criticism from Elliot Spitzer, former attorney general of New York. AIG had to pay a fine of 1.6 billion. In June 2006, Buffett announced that he would give away 85% of his Berkshire holdings gradually in return for stocks. The largest contribution would go to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. In 2008, Buffett became the richest man in the world. He has already been dethroned.

On April 11th2012, Buffett was diagnosed with stage 1 prostate cancer during a routine test. He announced he would begin radiation treatment. On 15th September 2012, the radiation treatment was over. Buffett’s DNA report showed that his paternal ancestors come from North Scandinavia. His maternal ancestors come from Iberia (Spain) or Estonia.  In 1999, Warren was named the top manager of the 20th century by the Carson group. In 2007, Warren was listed by TIME magazine as one of the most influential people in the world. In 2011, Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates were named the most influential global thinkers in Foreign Policy’s 2010 report. Warren has also financed a few politicians’ election campaigns like Barack Obama and Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Warren Buffett also donates money. He and Bill Gates have started a group called “Giving Pledge” which encourages the wealthiest people in the world to donate money to poor people. Indian tribes and salmon fisherman have also sought to win support from Warren Buffet for a proposal to remove 4 hydroelectric dams from the Klamath River.

Warren Buffett is nearly at the end of his life. Many people would think, "Has my life been useful? Have I changed the world in any way ?"  Well, in my opinion, Warren Buffett has done all these things. He has been the richest man in the world, has made a small textile company a very successful conglomerate company, has started a charity and has even been awarded by the president of the U.S. I think Warren Buffet’s extraordinary life will be remembered even a century from now.




17 July, 2013

Dancing the Divinity - A Taste of Sattriya by Anwesa Mahanta

(Pic Courtesy : asiasociety.org via Google)

When one thinks of Classical Indian Dance forms, the ones that immediately come to mind are dance forms like Bharatnatyam and Kathak.  These are the more well known dance forms that people have been exposed to and as a result, have become almost synonymous with Indian Classical Dance.  There are eight traditional Indian Classical Dance forms and Sattriya is one of them.  The core of Sattriya Nritya is said to be one of presenting mythological narratives to people in a manner that makes it easy for one to comprehend the essence behind that story.

When I registered to attend  “Dancing the Divinity – A Taste of Sattriya”, truth be told, it was more out of curiosity than out of any kind of knowledge about this classical dance form.  I had not heard much about this dance form and needless to say, I’d never watched it being performed.  So yeah, curiosity egged me on and I ended up at Asia Society yesterday for the Sattriya Dance Recital by Anwesa Mahanta.

I got there a few minutes late because getting to Asia Society proved to be a treasure hunt of sorts and this feeling was further exemplified in my efforts to locate the Miller Theatre (where the performance was being held).  As we neared the theatre, we could hear strains of Indian classical music drifting out through the open door.  The simplicity of the music was rather tantalizing and the rhythmic beats, captivating.  Interesting, I mused, as we walked in and perched on a couple of seats at the back.

The next hour or so proved to be an eye opener beyond imagination.  What we were introduced to yesterday afternoon, was a classical Indian Dance form that left its mark on the mind as one of the most gentle, expressive forms of art.   Ms.Mahanta narrated two stories through her dances yesterday and in both her dance narratives, she played more than one role. 

One dance narrative was the Prahlada Charitra – the ego and anger of the father, King Hiranyakashipu on the one hand and the humbleness, humility and the lack of arrogance in his son Prahlada.  The entire folklore where Hiranyakashipu scornfully questions the presence of an Universal Force and Prahlada’s unswerving piety and faith in Lord Vishnu  were expressed beautifully through sinuously fluid hand movements, graceful body language and the immensely expressive eye movement.  The beauty of the dance also lay in the fact that Ms.Mahanta conveyed the expressions of both the characters with equal panache and the jump from one character to another was noticeable yet very smooth.  One moment, she was the pious Prahlada, exuding virtuosity and the very next moment, she would turn into the raging Hiranyakashipu, powerful, furious and intense.  It was nothing short of enthralling.

The other dance that she performed was the one in which she played the roles of Satyabhama and Krishna where Satyabhama is offended and sulks over Krishna having given the Parijata to Rukmini.  Yet again, the portrayal of Satyabhama, I’m sure, brought about many smiles yesterday afternoon.  It was beautifully depicted with a charming poise of an artiste totally immersed in the story that she was narrating through her dance.

The audience was also given a background into the Sattriya form of dance through a short video which explained that till date, there are no written manuscripts for this dance form.  Instructions are passed on and the dance is taught only through oral instructions.  Another feature about this dance form that stands out is the absence of anklets.  The performers do not wear anklets when performing the Sattriya dance which probably just adds to the aura of gentleness that this art form exemplifies.

Ms.Mahanta also pointed out during the question and answer session towards the end of the performance that in the Sattriya form of dance, the artistes actually withhold energy and it is a carefully timed release of energy rather than the sudden expulsion of energy that symbolizes other Indian classical dance forms.  Also, when the artistes jump, their feet make absolutely no sound when they land on stage after the jump and one can only imagine how much of practice, discipline and restraint it must take to be so fluid and graceful and yet so soft footed. 

My sincere appreciation and thanks to Ms.Mahanta for presenting an experience that was culturally enriching and inspiring and my heartfelt thanks to SPIC MACAY for helping make this event happen.

We look forward to many more and here’s wishing Ms.Mahanta the very best in all her future endeavors.


15 July, 2013

China's Rich "Suckers" !!


(Pic courtesy : scmp.com via Facebook)

Babies all over Mainland China are planning a protest.  How they are going to do this is something no one has figured out yet but they seem hell bent on voicing their protests.  Not that it is going to make any difference in a country like China which pretty much lives by its own rules or bends them to suit the convenience of the rich and the mighty there.  Right now, this is turning out to be the veritable battle between David and Goliath. 

It has all the elements of a mutiny here, except for the fact that the mutineers in this case would be crawling across the roads of China, with bibs around their necks.  Rightly so, I say.  Why are they doing this ?  Because they are being deprived of their source of nourishment.  The Goliaths in the country are taking away what rightfully belongs to the babies in the country.  Yes, the rich and the powerful in China claim to have discovered the latest magic potion, the wonder tonic and they are coming out in droves to get their share of this magic potion. 

Breast milk !!  That’s what rich adult men in China are raving about now. 

Reminded me of a scene from the movie Mangal Pandey.  During those days, it was quite normal for the rich ladies in society to hire ladies from the poorer sections of the society to nurse their babies.  They used to be called wet nurses.  Quite apparently, men, adult men in China have decided to take a page out of the very same book.  That, it seems, is the latest fad among the rich and the powerful in Mainland China.  Yes,  adult men in Mainland China are now hiring wet nurses to ensure that they have a steady supply of breast milk to consume.

While at first glance, the initial reaction is one of outrage, what stands out here is the ever increasing divide between the rich and the poor in China.  You have the rich section of the society with its whims and fancies, the latest being consuming breast milk, and you have the not-so-rich section of the society that caters to these whims for a price.  Who loses out in the process ?  The future generations of the country.  While the number of babies being fed infant formula increase on the one hand, one sees “wet nurses”  being hired out to service and cater to rich men.

One of the managers of Xinxinyu, the agency which was hiring out wet nurses to adult clients, is reported to have said that clients can choose to consume breastmilk directly through breastfeeding but they could always drink it from a breast pump in case they feel uncomfortable drinking it from the source.  He is also reported to have said that “better looking” wet nurses are paid better. 

What sort of a world do we live in ?  A world that looks down upon a woman if she chooses to breastfeed her hungry baby in public, yet, is this not the same world that is looking on, fingers on lips, as China turns breastmilk and breastfeeding into a business to cater to the perversions of a rich few ? 

What is even more glaring is the fact that according to UNICEF, China is one of the countries with a very low percentage of breast feeding mothers.  This has mainly to do with the fact that there are huge constraints on maternity leave and the fact that baby milk formula is marketed quite aggressively through the country.  Yet, in a country where the incidence of babies being breastfed is so low, there are enough wet nurses to cater to the whims of the rich adult male population.  Sadly, all this does is points out yet again to the ever growing divide between the rich and the poor in the country.   This seems all the more perverse in a country which has seen infants die of tainted formula feed. 

If one were to look at wider ramifications, this also comes at a time when the world is increasingly aware of the fact that even today, women are looked upon as commodities.  

What next, China ?  Bottled breast milk ??  In that case, the ever enterprising China could start catering to that section of their population which does not fall into the category of “rich, perverse and spoilt”.  The average middle class could be catered to through bottled breast milk on supermarket shelves while the rich and the mighty could choose to tap into the source, eh ??   Babies, I guess, get to choose between the many different boxes of formula feed available in the markets.  Way to go !! 

If this is how one defines progress in humanity, I, for one, would rather go looking for a cave !!



05 July, 2013

Security v/s Compromised Privacy - Where is the line ?

(Pic courtesy : manjul.com via Google)

There have been reactions of shock and disbelief all over the media over Salman Khurshid saying something to the effect that the US were not snooping and that it was routine scrutiny.  He went to the extent of actually defending the US (even though India is listed as one among the countries which the US has been snooping on) by saying that he finds nothing wrong in it because the US has been able to prevent many terrorist attacks and if they can pass on relevant information and help prevent such attacks, there is absolutely nothing wrong with their “scrutiny”.
Why the Indian government has been making it a point to assure the world that India is one country that can be pushed around anytime anyone chooses to, I guess is beyond most people in the country. 
Notwithstanding the fact that nationally, to call the current government dismal would actually be giving them a compliment, they have before and they are now going out of their way to prove to the world that we, as a nation, can be pushed around.  What the Ministry has going on behind its closed doors is something that is never ever going to be revealed to the public.  But when the country’s Foreign Minister puts as much into words, he needs to remember that he speaks on behalf of the citizens of the country.
Yet again, this is not the first time the Indian government is acting submissive when it should actually have registered and expressed its indignation over incidents that have a direct bearing on the citizens of the country as a whole and on the image and standing of the country in general.
In early 2012, an Indian Air Force officer from Arunachal Pradesh was refused a visa by the Chinese government.  The Chinese government has been consistently refusing visas to anyone from Arunachal Pradesh on the basis of their argument that they consider Arunachal Pradesh a part of Chinese territory.  What did the Indian government do then ?  Instead of taking up the matter with the Chinese government, the Indian government opted for the easier solution – they dropped this Air Force officer from the group that was to visit China.  In one instance in the past, the CM of Arunachal Pradesh has been denied a visa by the Chinese government.  This matter was not raised with the Chinese authorities either.  Even when the Chinese Army crossed the line and stepped into Indian territory, the government chose to downplay the whole thing with the government calling it a "localised incident" and a "variance in perception with regard to the actual Line of Control".  The image this projects is definitely not one of a government that respects its own territory, expects respect from other countries over the drawn Line of Control or one that stands for the rights of its citizens.   
The US has always been and will always be a bully.  There is a lot of talk going on about what the US should have done, what the US should do, what the US should not have done and what the US should not do in the future.  This talk is going to continue and the US is going to continue doing what it wants to do, with complete disregard and impunity, as they always have.
While we are yelling and screaming ourselves hoarse over how the US should not have “snooped”, give this a thought for a minute.  Does India have laws laid down that clearly distinguish between privacy and “an acceptable lack of privacy for the purpose of security”?
No.  Nor is anything being done about laying down this basic framework.
There are no lines drawn on this issue, there is no clear demarcation between what is considered private and what is considered “an accessibility for the purpose of security”.   It is a given that when it comes to security, a certain amount of privacy is going to be compromised but the question is exactly where is that line going to be drawn ?  In the case of India, there is also a question of when that line is going to be drawn, if at all.  That line, in India, which calls itself a democratic republic for all practical purposes, as of today, does not exist.  What is needed over this issue is not some “behind the scenes” manipulation at the top levels of the government.  What is needed is an open deliberation on the privacy and security issue, in parliament.
Yet, without even having this basic framework in place, the Indian government has actually gone ahead, tabled and passed what it claims is the National Cyber Security Policy ??  The Cyber Security Policy is also said to have rather huge aims and objectives without actually mentioning how the government plans to go about implementing it or achieving its stated objectives.  Well, atleast they are consistent on that front - on not being able to deliver what they promise.
End of the day, the Indian government’s abject failure to even try and understand the needs of its people, let alone protect their rights, is being laid bare, exposed for all the citizens of this democratic nation and for the entire world, to see. 
Sure isn’t a pretty sight.